12.30.2014

Movies: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
Directed By: Peter Jackson
Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay) from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
New Line/MGM, 2014
PG-13; 144 minutes
1.5 stars (out of 5)

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Well, it is what it says: mostly a movie about a big battle. There are four armies through a big chunk of it, which had me riffing on that line from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "That's four armies, I said five armies, can't you count?!" But then the fifth army shows up and the quota is met. Not that it makes any difference because the movie is one big yawn.

Smaug is dead before the title card comes up, and one is kind of glad because his dialogue is trite and ridiculous. He's also a lousy strategist when it comes to destroying things. He burns the town . . . Except not the bell tower. He leaves that standing for a while before deciding to give it a good thwack instead. And he stops to taunt the person who has arrows rather than just frying him on the spot. So by the time Bard does manage to bring him down, you more or less feel the stupid dragon deserves it.

The plot devolves for a while into petty politics. Lake-town is flattened, so Bard brings everyone to the ruins of Dale for shelter and applies to Thorin et al. for aid (and that money he promised them if they helped him). But Thorin has "dragon sickness" which is a really roundabout way of saying "greed." Might as well call it "Scrooge McDuckitis." Thorin refuses to honor his word and is additionally wound up about not being able to find the Arkenstone, which (if you didn't fall asleep in the last movie) you'll recall Bilbo has. He hasn't offered it to Thorin because Thorin is already acting crazy, and there's a fear that possession of the Arkenstone might only make him more power mad.

Elves show up wanting some diamonds they know are in the late Smaug's stash. Bilbo sneaks out and gives them the Arkenstone with which to barter. Thorin still won't negotiate, so the Elvish army and a rag-tag team of Lake-town men prepare to assail the mountain stronghold.

Oh, but then there's Gandalf. Remember how he was locked in that cage? Galadriel and Elrond and Sarumon come bust him out. It's probably the best scene, but in such a weak movie that's not saying much. Gandalf goes off to the mountain while the others go do . . . other stuff . . . We don't see them again.

So then we get Billy Connolly as leader of a dwarf army, and we get the orc army, and off we go. Some of the CGI work wasn't anything better than I'd expect to find in a video game, and there were lots of places where I felt like they'd forgotten to put blood on the swords, but whatever. It was the kind of movie where I wished I was wearing my watch so I could see how much more I had to endure. So little of it had anything to do with the novel; the film is largely an extension of the puffed up and padded story lines added to the previous movies. Bard and his family, which I suppose we're supposed to care about. And that slug of a person Alfred (this trilogy's version of Wormtongue), who is meant to be comic relief, I think? Tauriel and Kili and Legolas, with Legolas leaving at the end because he realizes he will never have Tauriel's heart, so his dad sends him north to look for "a young ranger" known as Strider. Sigh.

The desperation to attach these movies to the Rings trilogy is palpable and pathetic.

As for the titular Hobbit, we don't get all that much of him. Sure, he spends a lot of time worried about the fact he's got the Arkenstone (which is not so different from him worrying about the fact he has a Ring of Power), and Freeman makes pretty much the exact same faces as when John does like or understand something Sherlock has said or done. Then he gets knocked out for a big chunk of the battle, awakening just in time to see the eagles arrive to save the day. He gets to hear Thorin's last words, and then he gets to go home, where again that need to tie these films to the Rings arises in the final scene. Ugh.

In short, the whole film felt boring and pointless and extraneous. Every beat was easy to foretell; there were no surprises, no delights. There was, as advertised, a battle that (eventually) included five armies. That's the only reason I give it 1.5 stars.

ETA: I forgot the war bats. And the fabulous dialogue that goes something like:

"Those bats are bred for only one thing."

"What?"

"War."

Then after all that, we hardly see them. But we do discover Elven arrows defy gravity.

12.29.2014

Movies: Magic in the Moonlight

If Blue Jasmine = A Streetcar Named Desire, then Magic in the Moonlight = Pygmalion My Fair Lady. So much so that I was dying for Colin Firth to say, "I've grown accustomed to her face" at the end.

The film is set in 1928 and stars Firth as Stanley, a stage magician whose best friend Howard hits him up to come visit friends in the south of France. Howard is also a magician, though not as successful as Stanley, and he wants Stanley's help in debunking a young American medium named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone). Sophie is leeching off Howard's rich friends, and now the heir to the family fortune—a would-be Freddy dimwit named Bryce in this incarnation—is set on marrying her.

Okay, so it's not exactly My Fair Lady, but the characters are there. Allen has turned it on its head somewhat, so that [spoilers] Howard (who would be Pickering) is putting one over on his old friend. But the end result is the same: Stanley first discards Sophie then realizes he loves her, even as she is engaged to Freddy Bryce.

Thematically, this one hearkens back to You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger in that it explores the idea that anything (specifically, the spiritual and/or metaphysical) that makes a person happy, however seemingly absurd, may not be all bad. And yet the lens certainly is designed for the viewer to shake his or her head and think how stupid such people must be to believe these things. Good for them, we're supposed to say, that they are so simple-minded they can take comfort in these dumb things.

The truth is, if one thinks past the immediate gratification of the happily ever after, Sophie is going to spend her life living down that trick. Given his character, it's difficult to believe Stanley will ever let her forget it. He's claimed to have forgiven her, but . . . The chances of her being any more happy with Stanley than Bryce are questionable. And the fact that Stanley throws over a woman his own age in order to be with someone half that is a little disturbing, too (not least because it's Woody Allen). I mean, the quality of Bryce's love is that of infatuation, whereas Stanley offers more of a fatherly mentor figure. Bryce's infatuation might eventually wear off, but at least he and Sophie have things in common: they're of an age, like the same music. Life with Stanley promises to be stricter, more like a tutelage, and with fewer fun travel options.

Of course, one could say the same of My Fair Lady. Eliza stays with the much older Professor Higgins rather than accepting Freddy. But there's something about the way My Fair Lady is constructed that leads us to believe she will be happier with Higgins. I didn't find that in this film.

I also found the turning point abrupt—the moment in which Stanley begins to believe Sophie really is a medium. It felt like a slap, and I almost hoped he was putting something over on her.

In truth, I never once questioned that it was a scam, and it was pretty easy to trace the thread back to Howard. But that did not prevent me from liking the movie. I didn't love it (and I do love My Fair Lady and Pygmalion), but I enjoyed it. Then again, I'll watch Colin Firth in just about anything. Bonus points for his dapper wardrobe, but deducting a few for his inability to dance.

Infinite Visions Tarot & Color Intuitive Oracle

I've just received the most expensive tarot deck I've ever bought: the Infinite Visions Tarot. I wouldn't have bought it, but then I received some money for my birthday and Christmas, and what's birthday money for if not to buy yourself something you otherwise wouldn't?

Thing is, I'm a sucker for art decks. I love my Tarot of Delphi, which is similar in that it uses fine art. But while that deck uses the artwork as is, Infinite Visions has combined art to create new images.

The deck itself is printed on an unusual, slippery material, but it is not difficult to hold or shuffle. And Lisa Frideborg would be glad to know there are no borders on these cards, either! There are some places where the images appear a bit blurry, but overall the artwork is quite lovely. The deck comes with a certificate of authenticity and each is numbered, too.

Sample Relationship Reading

Sample Reading re a project

An interesting addition to the Infinite Visions deck is a Dark Magician and Dark Priestess card, basically the shadow sides of the Magician and High Priestess. While on the whole I have to say the booklet that comes with this deck is not very helpful (and I would say you would probably want to already have working knowledge of the tarot before using this deck), the descriptions for these two additional cards are illuminating and I like having them.

Magician, Dark Magician
High Priestess, Dark Priestess
You'll see that the Magician is almost biblical in form while his shadow side is Nazgul-like. And while the High Priestess works by purifying moonlight, the Dark Priestess has the same image as from the Devil card hanging over her shoulder.

Because I sometimes have trouble reading the High Priestess in spreads, splitting her into two personas actually works better for me.

With my birthday money, I also treated myself to Meg Hill's Color Intuitive oracle. I'd seen them used on Facebook and just had to give them a try. I'm loving them!

A Past–Present–Future Reading

The stack of cards is deceptively thin because they are printed on lighter weight stock, but they are also easy to shuffle, which is impressive given they are a fairly large size. Each card has a color and keywords printed on it, but the booklet that accompanies the deck offers greater insight to each color. I got the bonus deck, which has 54 cards + 9 bonus cards, and I'm having a great time with them. I'm enjoying expanding beyond just tarot and Lenormand, too.

12.27.2014

Television: The Wrong Mans (Season Two)

Only four episodes this time, so really it amounts to a movie if you sit down and watch them all at once.

In this season, Sam and Phil have been put in witness protection (or the British equivalent) in South Texas. Sam hates it and lobbies to go home, but it isn't until Phil's mother goes in for heart surgery that he agrees. The absurdity begins when they hit up a drug lord for fake passports.

I really like this show; it's incredibly well written, with exactly the right balance of action and comedy. Even though the situations are outrageous, they pull it off with the straight man acting.

I don't want to say too much more about the plot for the season because I wouldn't want to give anything away. Let's just say, as usual Sam and Phil bounce around from one bizarre dilemma to the next, using false bravado on Phil's part and some amount of reasoning on Sam's, along with a dollop of dumb luck to bounce them out again.

The Wrong Mans is well worth watching and available on hulu.

Tarot Mucha

I've long loved the art of Alfons Mucha, and this tarot deck certainly reflects his work. Also, while staying true to the traditional themes of tarot, Tarot Mucha makes some interesting choices to set it apart.

Click to enlarge

Above, left to right, top row: Knave of Cups, 6 of Pentacles, 3 of Swords, Devil, 8 of Wands
Bottom row: Knight of Cups, Judgement, Queen of Cups, Lovers, 10 of Swords

You'll see in the sample that the court cards (particularly for the Cups, which is why I featured them here) are somewhat dour, at the very least serious, and the Knave and Knight of Cups actually appear a bit angry.

In addition, the image for the 6 of Pentacles carries an air of haughtiness on the part of the man giving charity.

The change to the Devil makes good sense to me, however, in that in this deck she is shown as something beautiful, something that entices, yet those wings and that tail show she has another side that may be less pleasant.

In the case of the Lovers and Judgement, the looming angel figures are thematically dark, harkening perhaps to the original idea of angels as fearsome creatures.

In the sample you'll also see figures have been added to the 3 of Swords, the 8 of Wands, and an additional figure to the 10 of Swords. In the 3 of Swords, the somewhat gender neutral person has a visage that shows a mixture of sorrow and anger as s/he displays the traditional heart with three swords running through it. The image fits the emotion of the card beautifully. But the 8 of Wands—a card I've always had a happy association with—shows a woman seemingly under barrage of the flying staffs. She appears shocked and afraid. I know the 8 of Wands can mean something unexpected and sudden, but I've usually thought of it as pleasant; here it seems almost related to the Tower. As for the 10 of Swords, which traditionally shows a man on a beach having been run stabbed ten times by the swords, in this deck there is a second figure either actively assaulting the defeated man or (depending on how you look at it) removing the blades from his body. Either way, the result is the same, and still fits with the usual meaning: It's all over.

These are not the only differences from more traditional decks (by which I suppose I mean the RW and its myriad spawn; certainly these days there are so many variations that one can hardly say any deck is "traditional" any more), just some key ones that jumped out at me and I found interesting.

The little booklet that comes with the cards includes not only good descriptions of each card's meanings but a few new twists on spreads. I tried the Seasons spread:


Spring: What needs creative expression? 6 of Cups
Summer: What needs to slow down? Queen of Swords
Autumn: What is ready for harvesting? 6 of Wands
Winter: What needs shelter and care? 10 of Cups

I leave the interpretations to you!

I do like this deck, which comes in a lovely little box. I'm going to enjoy getting to know the cards a bit better. But while I was expecting something light, there is a seriousness to Tarot Mucha. It is not frivolous, nor does it try to put a positive spin on bad news. This is a matter-of-fact deck. If you want something frothier, try Doreen Virtue's Guardian Angel tarot instead.

12.26.2014

Television: Doctor Who, "Last Christmas"

In a nutshell, it was Inception meets Alien meets Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. And it was one of those obnoxious stories where nothing that happens actually matters because it's all a dream anyway.

Also, it doesn't look like we're rid of Clara after all.

I would try to recap it for you, but there's really no point. I will admit a brilliant bit of stunt casting in Nick Frost as Santa—he was a fantastically jolly counterpoint to the dour Doctor.

The upshot: the episode was designed to have the Doctor and Clara reaffirm their relationship and spark a new sense of adventure that will ostensibly boost whatever comes next. Sort of a new blasting off point. But the fact it took them 85 minutes to do it . . . Made the whole thing a bit underwhelming. I mean, by the time we get to the third or fourth, "This is still a dream!" one starts to lose the sense that anything is actually at stake. If they don't wake up they'll die, okay, but in the meantime I'm yawning and nodding off.

And why didn't they have wounds at their temples where the dream crabs (seriously? not "hypnocancer" or something, you know, better than "dream crab"?) inserted their "straws" or whatever? That would have been the fastest and easiest way to determine whether one was actually in a dream or not, I think. "I kind of have a headache" versus "holy shit, there's a hole in my head!" seems like a giveaway. But then there didn't seem to be any holes when they woke up, so . . . That's some bad writing right there.

I get most irritated when things that are meant to be subtle are not. Four sleepers and four people in the lab seemed like an obvious correlation. Everyone saying "long story" was obvious, too, well before it was called out.

Then there are general flaws like, if all it took to wake up was to begin remembering who you really are, Clara and the Doctor should have been well awake since they never forgot who they were. And if the polar station where the dream crabs were found wasn't real, where did they actually come from? The UK, apparently, since all the victims were British. Or do British brains just taste better? (That's quite possible, actually.) But seriously, is this an ongoing infestation? Didn't anyone come check on Grandma while she was napping and see she had a giant whatever on her face? Or did these crabs purposefully select victims that were (in the crabs' extremely well-developed understanding of human social dynamics) likely to remain alone for long enough?

Whatever. I'm trying to apply logic where there is none, and that probably takes all the fun out of the show, but while I can suspend disbelief to a point, sometimes I simply cannot overlook the big potholes in the plot. I might make an exception if the story felt fresh and new, but it mostly felt like a hash of all the aforementioned movies, plus Moffat has a terrible habit of repeating himself; he thinks he's being cute and clever when calling out "mind palace" (a term used on Sherlock), but it really comes off as stale and unoriginal.

So why am I still watching Doctor Who? I don't even know any more except that maybe, deep down, I'm hoping it will get good again. Though the longer it goes on being mediocre at best and awful at worst, it seems less and less likely to ever get back to good. Then again, by lowering the bar so far, it means there's less distance to jump in order to clear it. At this point I'd settle for well constructed and plain over anything ornate and lovely. Moffat gilds a few pieces of particle board and tries to sell them as works of art, but they crumble before you get them home.

12.20.2014

Movies: Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb

Starring: Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan
Directed By: Shawn Levy
Written By: David Guion & Michael Handelman
20th Century Fox, 2014
PG; 97 minutes
3.75 stars (out of 5)

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Let's be clear going in: I saw the first Night at the Museum but not the second. I doubt it makes much difference either way, but I believe in full disclosure.

This installment finds an excuse to send Stiller and Co. to the British Museum in search of Ahkmenrah's parents. You see, the magical tablet that brings all the museum exhibits to life each night is corroding. But Ahkmenrah tells Larry his father knows how to fix it. Thing is, Akhmenrah's parents are in the British Museum.

Obstacle? Not really. In fact, fun as this film is, there aren't enough challenges involved. Larry asks Dr. McPhee to arrange a transfer of Ahkmenrah and his tablet to the British Museum for "conservation work." Done. That easy.

And there's not much of a villain, either. Dan Stevens joins the cast as a waxwork Lancelot that comes to life when the British Museum is exposed to the tablet's power. When Lancelot realizes the tablet is a step up from the Holy Grail he'd been seeking, he steals it and sets off in search of Camelot and his lovely Guinevere.

As for the tablet's power drain, turns out all it needs is a little moonlight. Not much of an obstacle at all.

It's mostly a shame that what might have been a strong story was made so weak. All that aside, however, the film itself is cute and entertaining, pretty much exactly what one would expect. My five-year-old laughed the entire time. (And this is probably still way better than whatever latest terrible thing they've done to The Hobbit.)

These films have also begun to merit cameos, it seems, since we get a look at Hugh Jackman as King Arthur in a production of Camelot. Lancelot storms the stage, only to be confused when he's told Camelot isn't real. And Ben Kingsley does all of a day's work (if that much) as Ahkmenrah's father the pharaoh Merenkahre.

Fathers and sons are the running theme of the movie. The film starts with a flashback in which a young Cecil aids his father on an exhibition in Egypt, where they find Ahkmenrah's family tomb. Later, Larry discovers they've added a new caveman to the exhibit, and it's been made to look exactly like him. This caveman takes to calling Larry "Da-da" and imitating him. Meanwhile, Larry's actual son Nick is trying to convince his dad to let him take a gap year between high school and college. And then there's Ahkmenrah's reunion with his parents as well. All in all, a pretty thick layer of father-son dynamic.

One can't help but be aware of Robin Williams in this film, too. Some of his dialogue hits quite hard in the wake of his suicide. "Let us go," he tells Larry when it's decided the British Museum should keep the tablet, meaning the exhibits in New York will remain still. Ah, Mr. Williams, you will live forever, though, won't you? In our hearts and on film.

Many minor things had me thinking the Cinema Sins "Everything Wrong With" entry for this one will be quite good, but it's a kids' movie, so one can't really be all that strict about it. (But, yes, okay—in all that running around the tablet's toggles didn't get flipped? Really? Also, Dexter Ex Machina.)

We learn at the end of the film that Larry has left his work at the museum and gone on to become a teacher. History, I'm guessing. And I'm also guessing the next big museum the franchise will hit will be . . . the Louvre?

P.S. Can we please find something other than "London Calling" when people go to London?

12.19.2014

Television: Elementary, "End of Watch"

Well, it wasn't at all as I expected after last week's previews. The emotional aspect of the show had to do with Holmes being upset that someone at his recovery meetings had started an anonymous blog (or Tumblr) featuring things he'd said. "You're very quotable," Kitty tells Holmes. But rather than being flattered, Holmes feels betrayed, exposed. It's a similar reaction as to his having discovered Watson's manuscript. The idea that others might take his words, his work, and recast them really bothers him. Probably goes to his desire for control, and also to his singularity—this proof that he has touched and connected with others shakes his ability to see himself as autonomous and completely free of attachment. Even if he doesn't attach to others (and that's debatable, but it's how he sees it), others clearly connect with him.

The A plot was about a police officer named Alec Flynn who'd been shot and killed while on duty, though no one is sure whether it was a targeted attack or just someone out to pop a cop. But Holmes finds Flynn's firearm is a fake, and after a few meandering threads they discover Flynn had, after being injured in the line of duty, become addicted to painkillers and, while assigned to the armory, had begun selling the weapons and replacing them with fakes. So much for his honorable funeral. And that, it turns out, is what the murder hinged on. When Flynn's big police funeral is cancelled, another cop is killed—more specifically, another cop from the armory. Because the killer is someone who wants to raid the armory while all the cops are away at the funeral. With Flynn's funeral cancelled, the baddie needed another dead cop for another big send off to ensure the armory would be on skeleton crew.

An interesting enough story, and the episode was solid if not astounding. As for Holmes and the Tumblr, it's an interesting and somewhat different take that he would go to great lengths to protect what he considers his privacy (rather than preen and be flattered, or even start his own blog). This was the winter finale; we'll see what they come up with for spring.

This

This picture makes me ridiculously happy.


Thanks, as ever, Rob, for lifting my spirits!

12.18.2014

The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

I was given these cards for my birthday. It's actually a bit strange I didn't already own them; I had considered buying them on several occasions, but something always stopped me. But they say the right things come to you at the right time, yes?

The moment I opened the box, my hands began to tremble. At first I thought it was just the fact the box is so big and heavy, but no, it's happened every time I've picked up this deck. These cards radiate something strong.

Crossroads Spread (sorry for the glare)

Now, I come from the New Orleans area myself, and my great-grandmother taught me a thing or two about Voodoo, so it's probably no surprise I connected almost immediately with these cards. I could feel it, the roots rising up through the floorboards and up through my feet into my core. Much as I love many of my bazillion Tarot decks, none of them have ever done that.

Usually when I get a new deck, I dive right in, but this one makes me feel the need to take it slow. Just a completely different kind of relationship here. Even though I know and understand all these aspects depicted on the cards . . . And though I like to think I treat all my decks with respect . . . These cards demand more from me. More respect and more energy.

Those unfamiliar with Voodoo might have quite a learning curve, but the deck comes with a massive book (which is why the box is so heavy). Very nice write-ups detail each card, and there is also a short list of divination meanings in the back, along with more traditional Tarot correspondences. Fine for quick work, but I recommend getting to know each of the cards on its own terms. Voodoo is temperamental, and these cards reflect that. They are not to be taken lightly, and they will lash out at you if you disrespect them.

For all that, I find I really enjoy these cards. Their gravity. The chord they strike within me is a bass note, low and clear. I'm a little afraid of them, but maybe I should be of all my decks. The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot reminds me they are not a game, and that if I want answers, I must approach with the proper deference.

12.16.2014

Television: Scorpion, "Dominoes"

An intense holiday episode (and no, I'm not being sarcastic) in which the team struggles to save a 10-year-old boy from drowning on Christmas Eve after he is caught in a beach cave rockslide while the tide is rising.

Of course, before all this, we have the obligatory moment of Paige trying to get everyone holiday ready. So then we must go through everyone's holiday history/memories. Toby's dad would take him gambling and his mother would get drunk. Happy's foster families would ship her off right before Christmas so they wouldn't have to buy her anything. The usual stuff.

Meanwhile, Walter and his sister are having Fat Burger on the beach. Walter helps a kid named Owen with his kite, and Owen impresses Walter with facts about Benjamin Franklin. So when a little while later Owen is caught in that rockslide, Walter is extra motivated to help him.

I'm kidding. Walter would help no matter what because Walter loves a challenge. His brain functions best under extreme conditions.

Seriously, though, I'm trying to make light of what was actually a fairly intense episode. Sylvester first calculates that Owen will have 1 hour and 22 minutes then realizes with the tide coming in it is more like 56 minutes. Oops. When calculations go bad . . . Sylvester takes it hard and goes off to mope, giving Megan more chances to spend time with him and buck him up.

While that's going on, Happy and Toby are trying to create a jack to help free Owen's leg, which is pinned under a boulder. And Walter is working on a way to keep Owen breathing even after he's submerged. He uses the same oxygen system hospitals use to keep oxygen flowing through the body when patients are in surgery. The trick is Owen has to stop himself from trying to breathe normally because that will be his instinct. (Keep in mind this is not usually an issue for surgery patients since they are unconscious.)

Nothing I write would accurately convey the sense of urgency the episode created. They did a good job with it, and this is one of the best episodes thus far because of it. Of course Owen is saved—that's a given in a show like this. But they managed to maintain the tension regardless.

The theme of the episode seems to be science versus faith and the questioning of miracles. And then we get our happy ending with everyone having Christmas dinner together. Even Happy and her dad—it turns out he's known all along she was his daughter, and their acknowledgement of their relationship was actually really touching. Nicely done.

Overall a solid end to this half of the season.

12.12.2014

Television: Elementary, "The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction"

So . . . A woman comes to Watson in hopes of new leads regarding her long-lost sister. It turns out the FBI is involved in the investigation because they believe the disappearance is related to a serial murderer they call "Pumpkin" because of the smell of nutmeg found at each crime scene. Holmes quickly dismisses the FBI's file on Pumpkin, stating this murderer does not exist. After a convoluted bit of maneuvering, it becomes clear they are not dealing with a serial killer so much as someone who cleans up after murderers.

It's not a bad plot, actually. If the police use crime scene killers—one can actually become certified in these things—why wouldn't there be a black market in which criminals call on someone to clean up their messes? I only wish the story here had been made more interesting.

The episode devolves into criminal politics: they find Mr. Woodbine, their criminal janitor. He has a lot of information about a lot of criminals given his line of work. And when Woodbine refuses to cut a deal, Holmes and company attack from the other side, asking known criminals to turn on Woodbine. But one criminal cleans up Woodbine first.

As a story it is pleasingly twisted. For television, it's a little dull.

Per the usual MO of procedural plotting, the solution is one part going back to someone we were meant to forget and one part, "Oh, look, we just happen to have a photograph that gives us a clue we somehow missed!" Sigh. Would have been way more interesting if Holmes had been wrong and the FBI agent had made it all up to cover his own serial murders or something.

Next week is the winter finale in which they apparently turn up the heat by getting Holmes worked up emotionally. Another favorite tactic. A lack of Kitty in the previews makes me wonder if she's the emotional thorn in this go-round. Double sigh.

But I have to say, having Gracepoint and Elementary as back-to-back shows has made for nice, cozy Thursday nights. Thematically, they pair nicely.

Television: Gracepoint 1.10

They said it would be different from Broadchurch's ending and . . . It kind of was. Sort of.

The real question is whether we'll see a second season of Gracepoint. (A second season of Broadchurch is coming in February, btw.) Gracepoint's ratings have been middling at best, and the show didn't seem to spark the furor that FOX probably hoped for. I'll admit, from my own perspective, while I found Broadchurch to be appointment television, I felt lackluster about Gracepoint. I don't know if it's because I'd seen it before? People who are interested in something like Gracepoint are also interested in something like Broadchurch, so remaking the show for what amounts to the same audience probably didn't win them very many new viewers and possibly lost them a few who didn't feel the need to see it again from an American perspective.

Still, they've left Gracepoint open for another season if they choose to do it. If you're wondering about the whodunit aspect [spoilers], it was partially the same answer as Broadchurch: Joe, Ellie's husband confesses to Danny's murder. He tells Carver that he and Danny had been meeting in secret, etc. The American twist is the presence of Tom at the scene. He was actually the one to hit and kill Danny—an accident, as he was trying to defend Danny from Joe.

Maybe they were thinking this would be more palatable to American viewers, to make Joe more sympathetic by taking the fall for his son. It certainly complicates things. Joe is still kind of awful—what weirdo hangs out with underage boys? Oh, except Jack and athletic coaches and scout leaders . . . Okay, I guess a lot of people. Our culture actually fosters this in some ways. But that's another topic for another time.

I think if they'd played up the idea that Danny and Joe had more in common, and Tom and Mark too, it might have made a bit more sense. Like, I used to hang out with my best friend's mother. She was artsy, like me, and my mother wasn't. Funny about the gender lines, though. Moms are expected to nurture their kids, others' kids, whomever. If a dad wants to nurture and hang out with boys other than his own, it's . . . weird. Creepy. Something in our evolutionary history balks at it.

The episode ended with Carver realizing Tom's involvement. He doesn't know exactly how Tom was involved, but he's pulled together the evidence and seen the clear picture it paints: Tom was there. (After all, if it had been a rock, they'd have found the blood and hair, if not the rock itself.) He calls Ellie to confront her with this, but she won't answer. We're left hanging: What will she do? Go on the run with her sons? Try to cut a deal with Carver to leave Tom out of it? We don't know and might never know if there isn't another season.

But to make you feel better, here's a trailer for Broadchurch Season 2:


12.10.2014

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "What They Become"

So Skye (neé Daisy, we discover) is in the clutches of Hydra and gets to meet her dad. Then we get his whole big expositional speech about how he was a doctor in a clinic in China, and met and married her mom, and then Whitehall took her mom, etc. etc. Nothing we hadn't seen or inferred already.

In the midst of all this, Whitehall figures out—quite possibly from Doctor Daddy's shouting—who Skye is, and her dad, and also that Ward isn't 100% reliable and may need to be taught some compliance.

But as Whitehall is planning to do all sorts of bad things, Coulson, May, Hunter, and Bobbi arrive to rescue Skye.

Here's what I don't understand, though. Whitehall had Raina, so why didn't he just experiment on her and/or take her down into the alien city instead of bothering with Skye? You can't expect me to believe he cares about Raina at all and "wouldn't do that to her."

Doesn't matter, though, because Coulson shoots and [ostensibly] kills Whitehall. Really, though? Whitehall has lived all those years and now he's dead? The Marvel universe has too much of a history of bringing back the dead for me to ever fully believe it.

Losing Whitehall sends Agent 33 into a tailspin; she is now a compass without a North. So Ward—whom Skye shot several times as she escaped—takes the helm and Agent 33 latches onto him.

Meanwhile, Fitz, Simmons, and Tripp have gone back down into the alien city to try and find Mac.

Skye saves Coulson from her father's anger (he's mad that Coulson beat him to the kill where Whitehall is concerned), then goes after the obelisk to hopefully destroy it or something. Long story short, Skye doesn't want anyone to be able to use it or go into the alien city or whatever. But Raina has other ideas. She wants to go down and experience whatever transformation the obelisk will instigate. And for whatever reason, Skye goes with her. I guess to try and stop her, but if Skye had any brain at all, she would have put distance between herself and the obelisk and city.

Whatever. The sum total of all this is that Raina, Skye, and an unfortunate Tripp end up in the special chamber in the alien city. And when the obelisk is set on its pedestal and breaks open to reveal something that looks like it came from Krypton (sorry, that's DC), the three of them get . . . Carbonized? But while Skye, and presumably Raina, survive this—they "hatch" and are "reborn" from this—Tripp does not.

And a quake is triggered, threatening everyone as the alien city begins to implode, taking the Ponce de Leon Hotel (har, very cute and clever, guys) with it.

Finally, we also discover there are more obelisks and more . . . Mutants? (sorry, that's X-Men) . . . Whatevers out there.

And now we all break for Agent Carter.

12.09.2014

Television: Scorpion, "Revenge"

Unfortunately, Scorpion is starting to become very by-the-numbers. It does not require nor command my full attention.

This episode was about stopping a group of high-end thieves called The Ghosts, headed by a man named Javier. There is probably an interesting story or interaction that could have happened, but instead it all comes secondhand through Cabe's old Fed friend Simone. Her partner was killed by Javier and his men some seven years before, and she has been after him ever since. When Sylvester is harmed by an IED left behind at a crime scene, Walter is also determined to get—wait for it—revenge.

Except not really. Walter spends most of the episode the same way he spends most every other episode, which is to say he spends it denying his feelings.

I get it. I do. I have a high IQ and could do an entire series of posts on how I handle feelings and respond to situations. The portrayal of Walter in Scorpion is actually pretty spot on based on my personal experience, but it's not all that exciting to watch. We all know Walter will say, "Fine. I'm fine," any time anyone asks if he's all right. This response is what we've learned is the accepted, "correct" answer (and geniuses generally want to give the correct answer), but it's probably almost never the true one. Still, all the viewers know Walter is not okay. We're all waiting for the breakdown. If every episode is Walter giving the stiff upper lip, the show is going to become very wooden very quickly.

I'll credit Scorpion with trying to do the subtle stuff. The Megan/Sylvester relationship that is developing is nice. Walter's awkward response to an invitation for drinks was, again, pretty accurate; the show could punch that up a bit, in fact. Remember that, outside of our usefulness, we don't usually understand why anyone would want to spend time with us. It confuses us, and often makes us a bit suspicious, when someone proposes to "hang out."

But some stuff is almost too over the top. After all that concern, Sylvester comes out just fine. So either the doctors were exaggerating the injuries or . . . This is near miraculous? I'm not sure what to believe there. While it was a given, based on convention, that Sylvester would survive, I feel there should have been more struggle; maybe it should have gone on for a few episodes, them not knowing for sure how damaged Sylvester would be. Oh, yes, they decided to punch up his anxiety instead, but that really just translates to "more of the same."

And the manufactured moment of Walter's hesitation leading to Javier's death. Sigh. So cliché.

The triangle of Paige/Walter/Drew is being handled pretty well, though. Not that there should be more of it. There's just the right amount now; more would be overkill.

It's a good show. I like it. And I understand the need to make development a slow process, else one runs out of things to do. And/or the show becomes something completely different, which will turn the audience off. Like, you can't have it suddenly be all soapy and relationshipy. That would be awful. But we're already tired of Walter's withholding, and Toby's longing for Happy, and Sylvester's neurotics. These things are established and yet every episode seems to be mostly about these things again, some more. We need these characters to stretch a bit. And I think the writers have been trying to do that, at least with Walter, but honestly, it's not enough. He just keeps snapping back into his mold. Time to bend him out of shape a bit more. Get him out of his comfort zone.

12.05.2014

Television: Elementary, "Terra Pericolosa"

Which means, if you're wondering, "dangerous land" (or territory, perhaps).

To be honest, it wasn't a very interesting episode. There was a map stolen, but then it wasn't the real map, oh but yes it was . . . I knew the moment I saw Mamie Gummer that she'd done it, so the rest was more or less a wash for me. I just couldn't care. Casino this, river that. Whatever.

And the subplot involving Holmes keeping Kitty too busy to go out with her friends bordered on bad sitcom. While it was lovely to hear him articulate the sentiment behind his reasoning, the whole Holmes and Watson functioning as pseudo parents is something that has to be done a tad more subtly if it's going to work for any length of time.

But it was nice to see that Watson had jumped to a conclusion—that Holmes was being selfish in not wanting to share Kitty—and have that turned around on her. Watson is so often given the high ground that having her find herself on (ahem) terra pericolosa in this instance was refreshing. (Okay, so it wasn't dangerous so much as unstable, but it did give way beneath her when Holmes told her why he was curbing Kitty's social life.)

Then again, whether his reasons were good or not, it's still clear he wasn't 100% in the right. The episode ends with Holmes inviting Kitty and her would-be beau to a museum. Yay, a date with dad as chaperone! You see what I mean? Kind of ridiculous. Like, just barely squeaking by here.

The past couple episodes had gotten a bit stronger, but this was a slump. Very uneven season thus far. We'll see if they can even the keel.

Television: Gracepoint 1.9

The penultimate episode in which the net tightens around Mark Solano's plumbing partner Vince . . . Which almost certainly means he didn't do it. (Especially since previews promise a big twist.)

What Gracepoint is actually about—and what Broadchurch was also about—is paying attention to all the wrong things. It's about what one knows and doesn't know and about looking to one's own house. Beth didn't know about Mark and Gemma. Neither Beth nor Mark knew what Danny was up to. Ellie doesn't seem to know anything about her own house, and especially about whatever is going on with her son Tom. Susan Wright professes not to have known her husband was molesting their daughters. Carver didn't know his wife was having an affair until it all but ended his career. On and on and on, these shows are about blindness and possibly willful ignorance.

The solution in Broadchurch, that is, the answer to the mystery of whodunit, was the ultimate in this theme. (I won't give it away in case anyone plans to go watch it.) I'm guessing Gracepoint will aim for a similar revelation. They've said the answer won't be the same as for Broadchurch, but that doesn't mean it can't be close.

Maybe it'll be about the whole town not knowing something. Like that the reverend is doing bad things to the kids or something.

As for this episode, it focused on Susan versus Vince. Susan's backstory of her husband, and how it turns out Vince is her son, taken away and put into a foster system after her husband was locked up. Susan tells Ellie she saw Vince take Danny's body from a boat and lay it on the beach. Is she lying? Is she mistaken? It was dark and there was a fair distance between them.

But Vince has a tattoo of Danny's name on his arm. And Ellie's sister tells Ellie she saw the Solano plumbing truck that night, and someone putting a heavy, tarped item into it. Vince has no alibi since his mother was knocked out on cough medicine. And he had opportunity since he's known to make skateboards for the local kids. Things look pretty bleak for him. (Though motive is questionable. Kill the boss' son because you don't make enough money? And speaking of money, where did Danny get all his again?)

Someone is using Danny's missing cell, too. Hmm.

Next week we will have the answers. Next year, we will have a second season of Broadchurch. So if you haven't watched it yet, I highly recommend you catch up. Because based on ratings, I'm not sure we'll get any more Gracepoint.

12.03.2014

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Ye Who Enter Here"

Once again, I was only half paying attention. This show doesn't seem to require a whole lot of thought or focus. I don't know if that's a good thing (popcorn entertainment) or a bad one (won't matter if I miss a few episodes).

I think the opening dream sequence turned me off right away. Ugh. Skye dream remembering something about the time she was a baby? Really?

Meanwhile, Raina is saved from Whitehall's men by one of the Patton Oswalds. We're just going to call them all that from now on; there's really little point in learning their names. He's apparently the result of some S.H.I.E.L.D. cloning experiment (no, I don't think they said that—but then again, I wasn't really listening—it's just in my head). So then Raina bonds with Skye, except then Hydra comes and takes both Raina and Skye. The episode ends with Whitehall ordering the bus to be shot down, but with so many main characters aboard, I'm willing to guess it'll all be okay.

That was one plot line. Another had to do with Coulson, Fitz, Simmons, Mac, and Bobbi going to the city they spent all that time making maps of. And of course bad things happen and Mac goes kind of crazy.

There is also some Fitz/Simmons awkward tension.

And Agent 33 is stuck with May's face after their last fight, only she has a big gouge on her left side. That's how we can tell them apart, I guess, though you'd think Hydra probably has the resources to at least do a little cosmetic surgery.

That's about all I gleaned from the episode. I probably missed a lot, but I don't feel compelled to go watch it again or anything. This "meh" feeling can't be what the show wants viewers to have. And there have been episodes I've enjoyed and been engaged in. So either I was simply not in the right frame of mind, or this episode fell a bit short.

11.30.2014

Television: Elementary, "Rip Off"

Sorry to be so late with this, but with family visiting, I was unable to watch.

Here is an episode devoid of Watson, which might have been a bad thing, but they actually put Kitty to good use and showcase her relationship with Holmes. The fact that Clyde (the tortoise) opts to electrocute Kitty in tests is funny/interesting. And the ghost of Watson rises as Holmes discovers Watson has written a book titled The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, giving rise to a kind of paranoia in him so that he demands Kitty sign an NDA. And he hasn't even read Watson's manuscript!

All that aside, the core mystery of the episode is the murder of an Orthodox Jewish man who, as it turns out, is helping run black market diamond from South Africa through Tel Aviv and into the States. Without going into the minutia, it's sufficient to say it was pretty clear early on who the actual culprit was. And yet it was a decent plot barring the fact that we're supposed to believe a dead body got stuck under a car so securely that it remained there through a towing and parking process. I mean, even if it did, it would have been in a lot worse shape than what was shown. But I could just be being nitpicky.

Unevenly shoved into all this was another story line in which Gregson deals with the fact his daughter Hannah, also a police officer, is angry with him for having slugged her partner . . . In front of all the other officers. It's not clear whether she might've been fine with it if no one else had seen? This partner had been a love interest for Hannah, but there had been a couple of domestic violence incidents (at least that's what is hinted), and Gregson understandably did not take this well. While it's nice to see Gregson get more attention, this plot was not neatly tied in with the others and felt awkward and ungainly, like an afterthought. Even when Kitty talks with Gregson about it and gives a "victim's perspective" angle . . . It's strange, actually, to see Kitty so at ease with Gregson when thus far she's been rather standoffish to everyone. Are we supposed to believe she's more relaxed without Watson around? I know Gregson knows Kitty's history, and she suggests that this is the reason she's willing to chat with him about Hannah (shared secrets), but . . . It still seems strange.

The chief problem that I see arising is that Kitty—at least in this episode—is a little too much like Watson. All the things Kitty says and does in this episode could have just as easily been said and done by Watson. If Kitty is going to be her own character, and a good one, the writers will have to take care to differentiate. Holmes's companions should not be plug-and-play.

On the whole, however, a decent episode. Holmes is fun when he's paranoid, and it's fair to guess he would be somewhat put out by the idea that Watson wrote about him and, by extension, passed judgements on him and his work. While on the one hand he might be expected to be flattered, Holmes's private nature and the idea that someone who is close to him might share what she knows . . . Yes, paranoia is a possible response. Of course, Doyle's Holmes was flattered and dismissive of his Watson's literary efforts. It's nice to see a bit of a different reaction here.

Movies: Pitch Perfect

This was the kind of movie I had to be in exactly the right mood to watch, which is why I waited so long to see it. I'm glad I did. Both wait and see it, that is. I'm glad I waited because being in the right frame of mind was key to my enjoyment. And I'm glad I saw it because it's a cute movie.

For those of you even more behind than I am, Pitch Perfect is about rival acapella (yes, I'm using that rather than "a capella") groups at the fictitious Barden University, supposedly in Atlanta, Georgia, but filmed in Louisiana. The male group is the Treble Makers, and the female group is the Barden Bellas. There are actually two other acapella groups at the school, but they're mere blips in the story. And doesn't four seem like a lot?

Anyway, central to the story is Beca, who is going to Barden free because her dad is a professor there. But what she really wants to do is jet off to L.A. and try her hand at becoming a professional DJ. Her love is mixing music. Beca's dad tells her that, if he sees her really put in an effort to join in the college life and she still doesn't love it after freshman year, he'll help settle her in L.A. So, after being accosted in the communal shower, Beca tries out for and joins the Bellas.

Whoever wrote this—and I believe it's based on a book?—really liked the letter "B."

Beca also strikes up a friendship with Jesse, who in turn becomes a member of the Treble Makers. Bellas are forbidden from fraternizing with Trebles. You'd think this would cause a bunch more tension in the film, but surprisingly it doesn't really add much to the story at all.

A couple things stuck out to me while watching. One, Jesse is a bit of an asshole for dropping Beca when she won't take it to the next level with him. Okay, yes, she gets bitchy. But when she apologizes, he won't accept it. If he at least valued her as a friend, he would relent. But there's a definite sense that he doesn't forgive her basically because she won't be his girlfriend and kiss him or sleep with him or whatever. Like, he was her friend for as long as he felt he had a shot. Once it was clear he didn't, he dropped her.

On the flip side, though, turning the trope on its head is Beca having to win Jesse over rather than the boy winning the girl. And that's kind of fun.

The core story is of the groups competing through various levels of regional/state/whatever singing competitions. Very standard for the genre. And I do think competition films are their own genre of sorts. Dodgeball, for example. Bring It On and Step Up and all those types of films. They're basically underdog movies, right? Pretty formulaic. But because I actually love to sing (did a bit of it as an undergrad myself), I was more engaged in Pitch Perfect than I might have been in other such films. I found Beca refreshingly unaffected and the supporting cast of characters charming and funny. I could do without the vomit (yech), but other than that, I found it to be a cut movie overall.

A second film is due out next May. I don't know if I'd make it a point to see it in the cinema, but . . . Maybe if the mood strikes me just right . . .

11.25.2014

Television: Scorpion, "Talismans"

In which Walter leaves his sister Megan, who has MS, at the garage with Sylvester for two days because he doesn't have time to drop her off at her care facility before leaving on a mission to Bosnia. (And yes, Bosnia is "still a thing." Though it's a fair question; geniuses tend to lose track of current events if they aren't actively engaged in them. In fact, they lose track of pretty much everything unless they're actively engaged in them. I suspect, however, that the "Bosnia is still a thing" line was designed to inform/remind the viewers that it is, in fact, still a thing.)

Um, so, yeah . . . Walter, Toby, Happy, Paige (why Paige?), and Cabe go with three soldiers to Bosnia to get some data/technology from a fallen aircraft. And also to bring home the dead pilot's dog tags for his son. Except when they find the aircraft, there is no dead pilot, nor is there a computer. So off they go to rescue the pilot and get the computer. Pretty straight forward, really.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch garage, Sylvester uses his fabulous people skills to give Megan a pack of cards for solitaire while he does geek stuff. She does some decorating, then ekes Sylvester's story out of him: His parents found him difficult, so he hacked a bank and stole some money and ran away at age 16, but then Walter found him and "saved" him, so to speak. The important kernel of information was that the bank/government never found him or made him pay for his crime. This will be important later, I'm sure, though how Sylvester is on the payroll now . . . Well, no, never mind. That's actually not too difficult to believe when thinking about the government and the way it operates.

Obligatory happy reunion of the pilot with his family (especially since they thought he was dead). Also obligatory moment of Walter being awkward when someone is nice to him. But at least he makes the effort to be nice in return. I guess we're supposed to take that as progress.

A rather sedate episode overall. Megan is, I think, supposed to give us yet another facet to Walter; he's the center around which all the spokes spin, and Megan is just such a spoke. Each person in the show connects to Walter, and that's fine, but what's needed is more of the characters connecting outside of Walter. He can't be everyone's reason for existing. No matter how great he is or how much they owe him. Else the Walter worship on this show is going to get old quickly.

Television: Gotham, "Lovecraft"

We now have something called "winter finales" in television. Shows that play over a full season (meaning 20+ episodes rather than 8 to 13) take a break for the holidays and may not come back until February sweeps. Gotham had its winter finale last night, but the only really important bit of information you need to take away from it is that Gordon is in big trouble and so is being sent to work security at Arkham Asylum.

This might make the second half of the season more interesting than the first has been. But I hope we'll still have Bullock around because he's one of the best things about the show.

Other points for last night's episode include a team of assassins trying to find and kill Cat because of her ability to identify the Waynes' murderer. Turns out Lovecraft—the guy Dent was so set on catching—was still just a low man on the totem. (The assassins kill him, too, btw, which is what gets Gordon in trouble; they use Gordon's gun.)

A large portion of the episode is devoted to Cat and Bruce stuff which doesn't work well in large pieces. But it was nice to see Alfred use his skills in new ways. Meanwhile, Penguin is tasked by Falcone to find the mole in his organization. All pretty basic stuff and nothing to be too excited about. It's the switch to Arkham that provides the springboard for fresh angles and material. I'll stick around to see how that plays out . . . Which is exactly what the writers and producers want me to do.

11.24.2014

Food: Henry Weinhard's Vanilla Cream

Since Thanksgiving is approaching, and Thanksgiving is all about food, I thought I'd do a little post about my new favorite cream soda.

Let me start by saying I love cream soda. There are the staples: A&W and IBC. These are fine. But I grew up drinking Big Red (which tastes nothing like cream soda, despite it calling itself that), and I used to also buy this weird blue cream soda whenever we went on car trips . . . Not sure what brand that was, but I don't think I've ever seen it outside of Texas and Louisiana. (Nerd alert: I used to pretend it was Romulan ale.) I always order the draught cream soda when I eat at BJ's, too. Sure, root beer is nice now and again—and I'm way pickier about my root beer than my cream soda—but when I want something sweet and smooth, cream soda is a go-to . . . If I can't have a milkshake, anyway.

I'm always on the lookout for new and better sodas. So when I came across Henry Weinhard's Vanilla Cream Gourmet Soda, well, I had to. And now I buy myself a six-pack whenever I'm at the store.

This soda is butterscotchy in flavor (though not quite as much as BJ's) and produces what the label calls a "Draught Style Head," which translates into lots of foam. Like, Snoopy-at-the-bar foam. Despite all the bubbles, though, it's a light touch. When poured out into a clear glass, the color is very pale. I haven't tried it with vanilla ice cream yet, but this soda begs for that; I'll bet it makes for amazing floats. The down side is, because it's so drinkable, I finish one within minutes. It's not a soda one can nurse or make last. And it does leave you thirsty for more. (I only allow myself one a day and go for water or tea after.)

In any case, Henry Weinhard's is, for me, the take-home version of a BJ's cream soda, which probably stands as my favorite. Makes for a nice afternoon pick-me-up, something to reward myself with after hard work.

11.23.2014

Books: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

So this is the fifth in the Peter Grant series, and I'll say (again) that if you haven't read them, you're really missing out.

For background, I'll explain that Peter is a PC (police constable) in London, assigned to the Folly, which is sort of a Hogwarts/X-Files hybrid where Peter both learns magic and investigates police cases that might involve the supernatural.

In Foxglove Summer, Peter is sent off his patch and out to Leominster and its environs to help in the case of two missing 11-year-old girls. Now, I have to say that the reason for sending him felt a bit flimsy—something to do with always checking on missing kids because wizards and witches sometimes like to use them? Stuff of fairy tales, I guess, but whatever. Off Peter goes, and the short answer is that it was a slow start, a great middle, and a shaky and abrupt ending, as if Aaronovitch was racing a deadline. The best metaphor might be that he was flying along and someone told him to land the craft, now, and so he set her down none too neatly in the clearest spot he could find.

At least the book answers the question of what Molly is, exactly.

But it leaves a lot of stuff hanging, too. There should have been more to the fact the food often turned people's stomachs, and did they ever figure out who took Stan's stash? Fairies? Hmm. Fairies hopped up on goofballs . . . All that setup for Hugh and his granddaughter, too, that just gets dropped, but maybe that will be revisited in later books. Peter still owes Hugh a gift, after all.

Fewer typographical errors this time, though a few things pricked me, like the "then" that should be "than" on page 38. (I have a list, Ben, if you want the rest.)

Overall, though, another fine book in what is probably my favorite current series.

11.21.2014

Television: Elementary, "Bella"

The best episode thus far this season, though I can't tell whether I'm starting to like Kitty or if it was just that she wasn't as evident in this episode and that's what made her tolerable.

Bella, as it turns out, is a computer program designed to create true artificial intelligence—meaning the computer learns and begins to "think for itself" rather than relying on pre-programmed bits of data and/or any data it can snatch from the Internet or whatnot. Since Bella is not hooked up to the Internet, that rules out her (as Holmes would insist, its) ability to gain information that way. So the question becomes: Is Bella a real A.I. "life" form?

Turing test, yada yada, and you're wondering why Holmes is involved at all. Well, Bella's creators hit him up because they've suffered a break-in, but that ends up being the least of the issues in the episode. By the half-hour mark, Holmes has figured out a known criminal nicknamed Raffles (from the Victorian stories) went to work as head of security for some big-name company, &c. &c. Raffles, then, is the culprit.

It's when one of Bella's creators ends up dead that the mystery really begins. Did Bella think ahead and plan to kill him when he wouldn't allow her Internet access?

Well, at the risk of spoilers, no.

Turns out Bella was fed a virus that capitalized on her creator's epilepsy to kill him. All contrived by a professor who is part of a group that warns against A.I. because, if computers were ever to achieve such sentience, they would surely kill off the human race. (This sort of reminded me of the dinosaur thing from last season.)

Meanwhile, on the character development front, Watson's boyfriend Andrew is looped into the A.I. research by Holmes. Andrew has a computer programming background, after all, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that he could be useful in this case. But Watson feels certain Holmes is up to something, and that surety increases when—through the group e-mails—Andrew meets a likeminded entrepreneur named Magnus and plans to fly off to Copenhagen to further explore their ideas. Watson thinks Holmes is orchestrating Andrew's exit, and there's a nice scene of them together in the kitchen at the brownstone (was he making Yorkshire puddings again?); once convinced Holmes means no harm to her relationship, Watson threatens to hug him, and he points out that she knows him well enough to know better.

By the end of the episode, Watson is flying off to Copenhagen with Andrew. (Can I just add, I really am enjoying Raza Jaffrey in this. His role got a bit too heavy in Smash, but he fits in well here, and I hope we'll see more of him. Though, if he's playing the Mary Morstan part . . .)

Right now, Elementary's ratings are starting to slump, though one might blame the Shonda Rhimes juggernaut for that. All the old people who watch CBS aren't staying up 'til 11:00 for Elementary; they're recording it and watching it later. It's not "appointment television." And it may be that the +3 and/or +7 numbers are fine (I haven't looked). But I worry this may spell the last season for the show unless CBS decides to try a new time slot next season.

Television: Gracepoint 1.8

Things continue to narrow, though the whole Tom missing/Tom found thing felt kind of needless. And I can't decide if the police are really bad at reading kids, or if the kid who plays Tom is just not a very good actor [yet—he's young, after all]. The way he says everything in monotone . . . He's either lying or lacks appropriate coaching and directing.

Well, but we know Tom is lying about something. He wants to rid his computer of evidence of some kind, right?

Tom also doesn't appear to be very bright. I know his mom isn't around a lot, and she probably shields him from her work besides, but to be so excited that some strange lady gave him Danny's skateboard? Shows a definite lack of sense.

But then Susan Wright gets brought in for questioning but won't say anything because her dog is missing. (Vince took him, but no one knows that yet.)

The reverend continues to be a sanctimonious drip. And creepy.

Meanwhile, someone has returned to the hut where the murder possibly took place, but when Ellie and Emmett go to check it out and a pursuit ensues, Emmett . . . Has a heart attack?

My chief problem at this point is that so much of these situations—like the Solanos' day out, and Tom and the skateboard—were better handled in Broadchurch. What seemed neatly carved there (characters and their reactions, motivations) feels like a hatchet job here. I have a difficult time trying to decide what I would think of Gracepoint if I hadn't seen Broadchurch first. I'd certainly be watching it (because David Tennant), but would it feel as ham fisted if I had nothing to compare it to? Actually, I think I'd still have it pegged as a Brit's idea of what Americans watch. Except, based on the ratings, maybe not that may Americans are watching Gracepoint. So . . . Americanizing it actually didn't help it.

11.19.2014

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "The Things We Bury"

I'll admit up front I wasn't really paying much attention.

There was Coulson and the team looking for the city the alien(?) map indicated.

And there was Ward kidnapping and eventually killing his brother the senator. (I have to say it was pretty obvious to me that Ward was wired and looking to get his brother to say very specific things. Gah. So predictable.)

Also really predictable: that the woman in the flashbacks (Sierra from Dollhouse) was Skye's mother. I mean, seriously, there are some things about this show that have become too paint-by-number. But that's the whole Marvel series/universe, I guess. Formulaic.

There was probably some other stuff, too, that I'm forgetting. Like Hunter and his ex getting it on. Oh, right, because she'd been interrogating Bakshi and then he had a suicide capsule in his jawbone or whatever.

Mostly there was an obvious effort to link the upcoming Agent Carter series to this one in the hopes of garnering ratings for it.

Whatever. Sadly, I kind of didn't care.

11.18.2014

Television: Scorpion, "Rogue Element"

The episode title makes it sound like some kind of car commercial, but the episode itself was about Cabe's ex-wife Rebecca becoming a target when she stumbles across incriminating evidence against a farming corporation.

The whys are kind of irrelevant. Politician refusing to sign a bill that hurts smaller farms, yada yada, they blow him up to get a more sympathetic person in office, yada yada, ex-wife mistakenly accesses a secret computer file, yada yada. The plotting is relatively plug-and-play.

What the episode is really about is Cabe's past and (as so many episodes have been) his fatherlike relationship to Walter. We see that Cabe and Rebecca are still friendly and learn that it was the death of their daughter Amanda that tore them apart. For Walter it's especially awkward; Cabe is like a father to him, and he doesn't know how to treat Rebecca because he's never met her. She's some weird, absent stepmother. Toss in the fact that Walter doesn't do emotions well to begin with and the situation is ripe for floundering.

Other floundering occurs when Drew tells Walter that he has a tryout with the Portland Sea Dogs, and if all goes well he hopes to convince Paige and Ralph to move to Maine with him. To his credit, Walter appears to be doing his best to remain neutral, or at least to primarily consider Ralph and his needs. But what does Ralph need more: a dad or people who understand how he thinks?

Definitely, the emotional elements and character interplay were the more interesting aspect of the episode. A procedural is a procedural is a procedural, so it's going to take character to make a show stand out, and Scorpion does that pretty nicely. But we do need to stretch a little away from so much Walter. And the persistent vagueness about what happened to Cabe's daughter is somewhat annoying. (Also, her name was Amanda. I'll try not to take it personally.)

Television: Gotham, "Harvey Dent"

Despite the title, the episode didn't really revolve around Dent in any serious way. It merely established his character, which is a bit pathological (gee, surprise).

The story of the week was of a mentally ill prisoner with a thing for bombs being abducted by the bad guys so that he could help them blow their way into a bank. The prisoner tries to do the right thing and ends up in Arkham for his troubles. I know the show is called Gotham, but they sure are laying it on thick, just how screwed up the city is. It breeds all these villains and, eventually, heroes . . . But I don't know, I can't quite get behind this level of maladministration. Rather than being compelling, I just find it really annoying.

Meanwhile, Gordon has the fab idea of having Selina go live at Wayne Manor for a while so as to protect her as a witness to the Wayne murders. Selina gives a description of the killer to a sketch artist, and Dent tries to strong arm some bigwig into believing they have him directly linked to the crime. Of course the bigwig doesn't buy it; he outright laughs in Dent's face, which sends Dent a bit over the edge. Then Dent goes back to Gordon and assures him that they've got the bigwig on the run. Liar. But we already knew that, didn't we? We already know a lot of this stuff.

Oh, and Penguin makes a token appearance by figuring out Liza works for Fish. Ta-da!

I mostly enjoy the little bits of Nigma we get and look forward to his story blooming. The stuff between Bruce and Selina was kind of cute, if somewhat heavy handed. I do enjoy Alfred and Bruce's interactions.

Still, I sometimes ask myself why I'm still watching. And I keep hoping something will pay off and make my devotion worth it. So far I continue to find the show middling.

11.14.2014

Television: Elementary, "Just a Regular Irregular"

There is, apparently, a code in Hollywood that says mathematicians/computer geeks must be rotund and wear glasses. Morris in Cloak and Dagger, Aaron on Revolution, Sylvester on Scorpion, and Harlan on Elementary all spring to mind, and I know there are many more of which I'm not immediately thinking.

These, I should point out, are the "lead" mathematician/geek roles. Subsidiary geeks can be pinched and thin (especially if they're women!), and all must be some level of disheveled. Even the rich ones in the suits must have unruly hair or something.

Anyway, this week's episode of Elementary brought Harlan back for another pass (he first appeared in "Solve for X"). While playing a math game that involves solving clues that lead to a location and another clue, all in the pursuit of a large cash prize (geocaching for geeks), Harlan stumbles across a dead body. Dead people do have a great sense of timing; they always seem to know just when to fall out of a cabinet or whatever.

Meanwhile, Watson has asked Kitty for help with a surveillance job. Kitty politely declines, but later Holmes puts Kitty on the job anyway. We don't see that conversation, but I do wonder how it went: "Do as your mother says!"

And, yes, this episode acknowledges that Holmes and Watson are parental figures for Kitty. Though Watson says flat out, "I am not Kitty's mother." But Kitty is smart enough to realize if she wants to be successful in this work, she's going to need nurturing from both sides, Holmes and Watson. The trade-off is Kitty agreeing to begin attending recovery meetings for rape victims.

So did the writers figure they'd run the addiction gamut with Holmes but needed to extend the whole Watson-as-counselor theme? (And Holmes-as-sponsor theme as well, in a way.) It shows a bit of a lack of originality to go over the same ground, even in a different way.

As for Harlan and the math game, another mathematician is found dead at the next site/clue. Someone is hunting mathematicians. But this killer is also clearly looking for something because he shoots them in the foot and knee before the fatal shot to the head. Considering the killer can't know which mathematician will solve the clue, and because disposal of the bodies shows lack of planning . . . Well, whatever. We eventually conclude the killer is looking for Mo Shellshocker, a math blogger who exposes things like lottery fraud. It's a pseudonym, of course, and by miraculous coincidence it turns out to be Harlan. (As Mo, not as the killer.)

Possibly one of the best moments of the episode comes when Harlan confronts Holmes for having "fired" or "replaced" him with a Berkeley mathematician. Holmes tells Harlan that he has found Harlan a bit too clingy, inviting Holmes to parties and discussing his personal life, and here we see the difference in the way two people can regard one another: Holmes sees Harlan merely as a consultant while Harlan has thought of Holmes as a friend. The expression on Holmes's face as he comprehends he's hurt Harlan's feelings is priceless. There's bafflement and realization all in one.

And the truth to Elementary is, there's no such thing as a simple relationship with Holmes. Yet Holmes is the only one who doesn't understand that. In his mind it's all very cut and dry. But for everyone else, interaction with Holmes is complicated and often exasperating.

I feel that way about the show sometimes, too. So much potential, and it does some things extremely well. But there are times the writers seem utterly unaware of the way the show is interacting with its viewers, and that can lead to problems down the line.

Television: Gracepoint 1.7

Only three more episodes to go after this one.

Here we have: Jack's funeral, Tom going missing, the missing hiker Pierson returning, and also the return of the psychic guy. Oh, and Carver's daughter turns up, hangs around just long enough to find out her dad has a heart condition, and leaves again.

I don't know if they felt they needed to up the stakes by having another child in [presumed] jeopardy? It's pretty clear Pierson isn't all there; his cabin is filled with anti-psychotic drugs that he doesn't take because he'd rather just "walk." His story is that he met Danny, briefly, and when Danny said he'd like to go far away, Pierson gave Danny his telephone number in case he ever wanted or needed to talk. It's a weird thing to do, but not criminal. And Pierson is weird, even creepy in some ways, but . . . I think the reverend is creepier, really.

Actually, Gracepoint appears to be well stocked with weirdos. The reverend, Pierson, and that psychic guy wandering around. Jack was also pretty strange. And Vince, and Susan. For a small town, it has more than its share of messed-up people.

I suppose we could go into a discussion of what constitutes "messed up," and say that everyone is "messed up" in one way or another, some in several ways. But I'm thinking more along the lines of what is socially acceptable and what isn't. It's socially acceptable to be stressed out, overworked, overscheduled. It is not socially acceptable to threaten people, lurk, or stalk. There's a line. Maybe because those overscheduled people are connected to others while those lurkers are not. We trust people who have friends and family. We don't trust people who are alone in the world. We sense there's a reason they are alone, and our herd instinct shies away from them.

Well, there's your sociology lesson for the day. As for the episode, Joe allows Tom to ride the last three blocks to school alone (though, Joe insists, there were plenty of other people around; it was drop-off time, after all). But Tom never makes it to school. So now we must mount a search. Which is where psychic guy steps in, just in time to feed Beth another nugget of information: Tom is hurt, he's bleeding.

A tip leads the search party out toward the woods, and Tom's bike is found. But where is Tom?

Three more episodes to find out that, and (in case anyone had forgotten) who killed Danny.

11.12.2014

Movies: Interstellar

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Legendary, 2014
PG-13; 169 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)

_______________________________________________________

Lots of people talk about going into space these days. You know, even being able to take vacations in space or whatever. Like that's the wave of the future.

I don't have any desire to go into space. Even movies about space make me feel like I can't breathe. (And then movies with big dust storms make me want to cough, so . . .)

What we all know about Interstellar going in is that it's about Matthew McConaughey going into space. From the trailers, we have the sense that things are very bad on Earth and a new terra firma needs to be found. Beyond that, assuming you haven't read any articles that give anything away, we don't know a whole lot.

And, yes, this is what the movie is about. Matt plays Cooper, a pilot/engineer reduced to farming when worldwide famine hits. Crops are being wiped out by blight. Life on earth is becoming unsustainable.

Cooper has two kids, Tom (a boy) and Murphy (a girl). His dad Donald (Lithgow) lives with them, too. And there's a ghost sending messages to Murphy.

I pretty much had the ghost/bookcase thing worked out right away. I mean, I knew what was going on, but not how it had happened, which is what the movie is for.

Anyway, the ghost leads Cooper, and Murphy as a stowaway, to NASA, where Dr. Brand (Caine) is developing a couple plans to save the human race. Both plans involve shooting Cooper and some other people into space to explore potential habitable planets found on the other side of a wormhole.

For all its length, Interstellar is well paced. Things move along relatively quickly (and as they remind us throughout the movie, time is relative). There are some drag coefficients, like when Hathaway's character Amelia (also Brand) gives a long speech about love being another dimension, like time or gravity, that humans just don't fully understand yet. And there are some things that don't fully stand up to scrutiny, like why Dr. Mann wants to kill everybody rather than just, I dunno, all go home together? Is he just simply to cover up his big lie? Or has he just gone that crazy? It's not really clear.

The story starts to fall apart a bit once we get to all the black hole stuff. Also, once we get that look on Cooper's face when he's reaching into the ship to take Amelia's hand. It's a total Matthew McConaughey face, but maybe not the right one for the moment. But on the whole, the movie is entertaining.

I think anything this big, with this much hype and this much science behind it, asks for people to target it. They see it as a challenge. People are going to list everything wrong with it simply because they want to take it down a few notches; they think that somehow proves they're smarter than . . . The movie? The writer? The director? Whatever. That's fine. There are flaws. But I feel got my money's worth, which is no little feat these days ($20 to see it in IMAX 70mm).

And let me just say, it was strange to see something on film again. There was dust on the print at times . . . I'd forgotten what that was like. Digital makes things so clear, and yet it also puts a kind of barrier between a movie and an audience. Digital makes it more unreal because the images are so sharp. Film brings us back to life, and closer to what's happening on the screen. Because life really isn't that clear. Life is blurry and dirty and makes us squint.

I walked away with mixed feelings. I kind want to think it over more, but at the same time that just seems like I'm looking for trouble. Maybe the feeling one walks away with from a movie is the "true" feeling. Whenever you try to rationalize something, again, that's putting distance between you and that thing, or person, or feeling. But movies should make you feel first and think second. Interstellar made me both feel and think. But the more I think about the movie, the less I feel. And I'm not sure that's a good thing. I'm not sure that's what I want from my viewing experience.

ETA: One thing that did occur to me a bit after the movie: If the world is in such dire straits, why not at least build space stations to offload people onto? Or hydroponics labs in space to grow the food? Something like that?

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "The Writing on the Wall"

I'm kind of tired of Ward's one-note character. He went from having a smidgen of depth (and really, just a smidge) to being utterly flat once he became "evil." Like, I think they're trying to make the character complex with the whole Garrett back story, but as he is now, he's monotonous. A plot device more than a person.

Meanwhile, the main story of the night revolved around figuring out what all those carvings Coulson has been making really mean. Geez, they've been going on about that for long enough, so it was about time they got somewhere with it. As previously predicted, it was tied to S.H.I.E.L.D. members who have had that alien blood or whatever transfused into them—basically, agents who have been brought back to life (á la "Tahiti"). They seem to then go on to be plagued by these images, the ones Coulson has been carving. One woman painted them over and over again as a form of modern art. Another guy—a welder—created a three-dimensional version. He, of all the survivors, was the most balanced, possibly because he'd gotten it out of his system in the "right" way: three-dimensionally. It was never meant to be a flat image.

Anyway, the hoopla was over one of these survivor agents (who'd tattooed the image across his chest) going around to others and killing them in attempts to get them to remember and give up whatever they knew about the "map" (as Skye had called it). Possibly the most cliché opener ever: the guy coming over to the woman's apartment while sinister music plays. Yech. It would have been more interesting if she'd been the aggressor. Still clich&eacute, but . . .

Sufficient to say, once Coulson and the bad guy (whose name I didn't even bother to learn) converge on the welder, there's a fight and then the 3D model is found and we can finally move on with this particular plot. Thank God.

The question is now: "What is it?" or maybe "Where is it?" If it's a map, what's it a map for or to? I'm wondering if it's connected to Skye in some way.

And Ward is still off being evil, promising Whitehall that he can get Coulson for him, and probably planning to do something bad to his brother the senator. Whatever.

Overall, a necessary episode that they tried to make interesting, but it was really only middling.

11.11.2014

Television: Scorpion, "Risky Business"

It was really just a matter of time before Katharine McPhee sang, right?

The central plot of this episode involved the murder of a music blogger, leading to the understanding that his fellow musical friend was in imminent danger. Here is where it becomes clear that older writers are attempting to write younger characters. The 25-year-old's music blog was called something like Sweet Town Express. I don't remember the exact name, but it clearly was not ANY kind of name a 25-year-old music blogger would use.

Anyway, it turned out this music blogger and his friend had created a software program called The Hit Wizard that had analyzed every top pop song over the past 50 years and created an algorithm that ensured any song that fit its criteria would be a hit. This software had been stolen some 10 months prior, and now hit songs were, er, popping up. Walter and his crew take on protecting the living music guy and attempt to figure out who stole his software (and therefore, who is likely to be doing the killing).

While the guest character was quite engaging, to the point I would almost hope to see more of him in the show, the main plot was not the most interesting thing happening this episode. A subplot involving Drew trying to connect with Ralph (and vice versa), necessitating Walter's intervention as a kind of translator between the two, was nicely nuanced. And though we all saw it coming, Toby trying to find the right moment to ask Happy out to a Monster Truck rally only to be eclipsed by Happy flirting with the musician, was bittersweet. (You're overthinking it, Toby. But then, that's what geniuses do, and especially psychological geniuses.)

Less entertaining was the thread in which Walter has started gambling by racing Lamborghini; winner keeps the cars. Walter can't afford a Lambo, so he really can't afford to lose (but he does). Oops. Toby characterizes the behavior as displacement—by focusing all his attention on racing Lambo, he avoids having to think about other things (left unsaid: "other things" = Paige and Drew). True enough that people with higher IQs tend to seek out tasks that require all their focus and brain power. I do it with LEGOs and puzzles, even with my painting or writing when I'm able to really concentrate. I don't seek the adrenaline rush, though; I'd rather be lost in a book. Or writing one.

Though we've seen that Walter can get lost down "the rabbit hole," something about the Lamborghini racing felt false to his character. I realize they're setting up potential for greater complications down the road, and it's good to plant seeds early, but . . . I'm not sure this is the crop they should be growing.

On the whole, though, a solid episode.

Television: Gotham, "The Mask"

What would have made an interesting, if thin, plot is subsumed by other goings-on.

Case of the week: a dead man with a finger in his throat leads Gordon, Bullock, et al to a financial institution where the boss forces men to fight. Like, literally. The men are taken to an abandoned (yet fully stocked) office and told to fight until there is only one man standing. That man gets the job, the bonus, the promotion, what-have-you.

Yeah, there's not a lot to it, and you know if an episode starts with men forced to fight to the death, it's going to end with your main character in that exact situation. Which "The Mask" did. Gordon ends up forced to fight four masked guys, and then the boss himself. The cavalry comes too late, but it's the thought that counts, since Gordon is still feeling slighted by the fact the entire police force abandoned him last week.

Since the episodic stuff was watery, the episode plugged the gaps with B and C plots that featured Bruce getting bullied at his new school and Fish Mooney shoving her protégée into increasingly uncomfortable dealings. Oh, and Barbara is coming even more undone, to the point that she leaves Gordon at the end of the episode. Penguin keeps doing his thing, too. ::shrug::

Actually, I liked that there were a few different things going on; that made the episode more interesting than most. I know a lot of people get annoyed with the Bruce stuff, but I like watching his character develop. And I'm very fond of Sean Pertwee as Alfred. Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish is also pretty stellar; though the character is a bit one-note, Pinkett Smith is making the most of the material.

I'm still not 100% into Gotham. I know this because I'm not to the point where I'd be sad if it were cancelled. I wouldn't sit and wonder what had happened to any of these characters. But maybe that's because their futures have already been mapped in comics and movies. Sure, the fun is in getting there, but so far this ride has had a mix of scenery: some interesting, some not. I hope we find a stretch of highway that is smooth and has consistent views.

11.10.2014

Salmon Cannon

Mr. Oliver's show is one of the only things I'm willing to stay up late for. So I'm really sad he's on break. But glad to get more sleep?


11.08.2014

Television: Doctor Who, "Death in Heaven"

What Moffat has proven this season (so far) is that he can't write more than one thing. Doctor Who and Sherlock have become the same show with different characters.

The Doctor = Sherlock — snarky and brilliant, grudgingly helping people and having one particular companion though reluctantly willing to widen his circle to include a handful of others; on some level he craves recognition while simultaneously shunning it

Clara = John — trusted companion, the only one able and willing to stand up to the title character's snark, the person most important to that character

Danny Pink = Mary — the one stealing the companion away from the title character

Missy = Moriarty — bat-shit insane shadow version of the title character, desperate to prove to the title character that they are alike; there is a constant battle of wits involved between this character and title character

(And one supposes Kate would be Mycroft.)

Same fucking show. Seriously.

As for the episode itself . . . We left off with Danny trying to decide whether to delete himself. So . . . He didn't, I guess? Way to drop the ball there, guys. Then we get the whole story of how all the dead people's personalities have been "uploaded" into a "cloud." So now I want to know if Missy went back in time and collected every person ever to upload. Cuz . . . Really?

Now somehow this "cloud" becomes the real thing, and when it rains (which it only does over cemeteries, and the water trickles into morgues or something), these clouds pollinate those places to make the dead into Cybermen. Like, these little "seeds" of Cybermen allow what? The dead bodies to grow Cyber shells? What about dead children? I didn't see any of those for some reason. They'd need to be smaller, right? Cyber babies? Probably not very handy for an army, but how does one determine which bodies do and don't get pollinated? And how can you be sure the same personalities will go to their original bodies? (Danny did, amazingly enough, but again, really? What are the odds?)

After the Cybermen blast off, UNIT says they can't get into St. Paul's. Why not? They should be able to go in through the roof at least, considering it's wide open.

And then, when Cyber Danny saves Clara, why does he take her to the single most dangerous place: a cemetery? Which, btw, should have been full of churned-up graves. But despite there being a lot of Cybermen just standing around, the ground appeared untouched.

Finally, why are there on-off switches for the inhibitors? And if Danny's is off, does that mean Cybermen are "born" with it off? Were they waiting for someone to come flip them all on? Once it's on, can it not be turned back off? I just don't even see why there's an inhibitor switch in the first place. Except, you know, plot. Which was clearly not thought out very well.

If you could plant a Cyber seed in every grave, why even bother uploading personalities into any of them? What's the use if you're only going to switch that bit off anyway?

Peter Capaldi is turning out to be such a great Doctor. I just wish they'd write some better stories for him.

Television: Constantine, "The Devil's Vinyl"

While marginally better than last week's episode about the miners, I think I'm more or less finished with this show.

The plot was kind of interesting, if trite, in that it dealt with a recording that drove anyone who listened to it into a fatal frenzy. The story (as it ever is) was one of a blues artist who'd sold his soul to the devil and had to pay the bill on that transaction while recording the deadly album.

My chief problem with the show, though, is that the whole tone is off. I don't know if it's the writing, the directing, the acting, or some combination therein, but it fails to jibe. (I did like the Voodoo priest, thought he could be a fun long-standing character, though I get sick of Voodoo being treated as an evil.)

At the end of the day, despite the somewhat engaging plot, I found I couldn't give the show my full attention. I can't like any of the characters enough to want to spend an hour with them each week.