Movies: 22 Jump Street

Starring: Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Ice Cube
Directed By: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller
Written By: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman (screenplay), story by Michael Bacall & Jonah Hill
Columbia/MGM, 2014
R; 112 mins
4 stars (out of 5)


Once again, expectation makes all the difference. I really enjoyed 21 Jump Street when we watched it one night at home long after the cinema release, mainly because I had zero expectations for it. I'd never seen the television show, though I'd had friends who'd loved it, so I went in with a working understanding of what it was about. But other than that . . . Nothing. Which led to me laughing like mad when I finally saw the movie.

But a sequel necessarily carries expectations. Even when I told myself not to hope for too much, I couldn't help expecting a certain level of funny. And I feel 22 Jump Street met that level of expectation, but did not exceed it.

Oh, I laughed. At some points I was laughing when the people around me weren't. (They didn't seem to get the fourth wall jokes about budgets and Plainview Red Herrings.) And what saves 22 Jump Street is that it moves along quickly. There are no lulls. So while I was way ahead of the main characters in terms of their investigation, I was still pulled along by the force of plot momentum, with eddies of funny swirling through the current. Ice Cube did an especially good job, and Tatum and Hill were at par. Though I do kind of wish we could not lean so much on "ha-ha, it's like they're gay" as a punchline.

Bonus points to the end credit sequence in which Seth Rogan is substituted for Jonah Hill.

In all, an enjoyable romp that was exactly what I expected it to be.


Television: Fargo, "Morton's Fork"

So I guess there was some fuss about feminism? About how Molly Solverson—after being set up as the smartest gal in the room and all—ends up not being the one to save the day? Cuz instead she's reduced to pregnant woman needing to be protected by father and husband or whatever?

I dunno. I mean, I've said before that I didn't really see Molly as all that to begin with. At best she was an example of slow and steady winning the race. She was smart in her way, and she did scuttle around the barriers when people told her to stop and drop it, but . . . ::shrug:: I just never could get behind her as a protagonist. It's like cheering for a C student because she's in a room full of failing classmates.

Some of the fuss stemmed from the useless Grimly suddenly being elevated to hero status when he acts on a hunch that allows him to corner and kill Malvo, thus slaying the monster of the piece. I'll admit it was odd to have Grimly, you know, do something. After doing a whole hell of a lot of nothing. But at the same time this illustrated the lengths to which he was willing to go to protect his family. The stark difference between Grimly and Lester Nygaard is that Les only thinks of himself, and that ends up being a large part of Lester's undoing.

The sum total of the series (this season, anyway) is: tortoises win. Molly is a tortoise. Malvo is a hare. Lester started as a tortoise but tries to become a hare, and look what that gets him. Hares run over everything in their paths and leave destruction in their wakes. Tortoises, meanwhile, plod steadily along. If you think about tortoises . . . They live a long time and exist largely untouched by outside forces.

Fargo was an interesting series—good characterization and character arcs, very nicely filmed—and I'm curious to see what the next season will bring.

Television: The Escape Artist (Part 1)

I think the slow start and only intermittent action in this mini—being about lawyers, it's necessarily very talky—may work against it for the average American audiences, but after a somewhat slow start, I found The Escape Artist enjoyable, if horrific (which is the point). I won't deny that a large part of my pleasure is derived from David Tennant, whom I always enjoy. But he's almost upstaged by the creepiness of Toby Kebbell.

Tennant stars as Will Burton, a barrister (in American he's a defense lawyer, possibly even a public defender, though I admit my understanding of the nuances of the UK's legal system are beyond me) who has never lost a case. I'll go out on a limb and say I find this a bit over the top as a rule—no one never loses—but Will is young, so maybe he just has the odds in his favor?

Fine, fine. But then Will is given the defense [defence, if you're British] of Liam Foyle, a man accused of the torture and murder of a young woman. Liam is every kind of creepy, and the case against him seems pretty solid (not helped by Liam being the kind of person a jury would like to lock up just on principle), but Will gets Liam off on a technicality. Due process and all that.

But then Will makes the mistake of refusing to shake Liam's hand at the end of it all.

And Liam, being a creep of the first order, takes that personally.

And here's where the plot really kicked in and things began to happen as Liam stalks Will's family and then murders Will's wife. So now we'll have another trial, and yet Liam is being defended by Will's greatest rival Maggie (Sophie Okonedo, doing a fine job as usual), who is tired of being second fiddle to Will's bright and rising star. (Note: Maggie does shake Liam's hand, though she's quick to use hand sanitizer once he's walked away.)

Meanwhile, Will cannot be directly involved with the prosecution and so champs the bit while his firm mounts its case. Will is also dealing with the domestic fallout of his wife's murder as he is now single parent to their son Jamie. Jamie may or may not have seen the killer; he was hiding (or had been locked in?) a hope chest during the murder.

The scariest moment came when Liam was released on bail and Will found out somewhat later and had to race to make sure Jamie made it home from school.

As I mentioned, a slow start, and American sensibilities may find The Escape Artist slower than they're used to. But I'm curious enough to see how it ends—and I enjoy David Tennant enough—that I'll watch the rest.


Television: 24: Live Another Day, "6:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m."

If you came looking last week, you'll have noticed I didn't even bother with a recap. There's very little to say because this mini is not the action-packed, fast-paced 24 we're all used to. I can sum up last night's episode in one sentence: President William Devane gets blown up in Wembley Stadium by a drone missile. The Brits won't be too broken up about the U.S. president, I'm sure, but they're not going to be happy about the state of their football [soccer] pitch.

BTW, how was it just fine—completely unremarkable, even—to land a helicopter in the Wembley Stadium car park [parking lot]? I guess having those "codes" or whatever made the difference? Security knew to expect a helicopter? Were told to just ignore it? Sure, okay.

What else is there? Navarro is still the mole, working with Chloe's "friend" Cross. They killed that one little computer guy. Wannabe Sansa also is, if not dead, very nearly. (Did she die? Do I care?)

Now we're set up with Jack spending the final four hours seeking revenge for the president's death. And Mummy fighting with her son over whether or not to honor her word and destroy the remaining renegade drones. (Terror Son is keen to blow more shit up.) And we'll need to ferret (ha!) out Navarro and Cross as well. And find a vice president to swear in. And I'm sure we'll have to deal with more of Audrey's overacting. Bullet to the head should clear that right up.


Television: Those Computer Shows

So I tried Silicon Valley and I tried Halt and Catch Fire and . . . Nah.

Silicon Valley just wasn't funny. I'm sure it is to some people—it's been renewed for another season and seems to be doing well—but its humor didn't appeal to me. Maybe it got funnier? I only watched one and a half episodes. I get the idea that people want to see the underdogs win. It's a "revenge of the nerds" kind of thing, and in the tech world it's funny to think there's still a sense of the "jock" techies versus the nerdy ones, but . . . Whatever. It felt to me like HBO was trying to find a new Entourage, the problem being Silicon Valley's niche is much smaller than the vicarious wish fulfillment of running around and having adventures with a movie star.

And Halt and Catch Fire, well, I just don't find the characters at all engaging. And watching people scrabble for funding and try and find ways to cram more computer into less space . . . If I wanted to watch people struggle to problem solve, I'd go back to working in an office. Halt and Catch Fire really needs better characterization and more interesting interactions. But as of now, I've cut it from my DVR.

Things I'll be trying soon: The Leftovers (though I'm sick to death of the ads) and Tyrant.

Blockbuster Fatigue

I was trying to find something to watch the other night—you know, a movie. I scrolled through all the new On Demand options and everything that was "hot" on Netflix . . . And it was all sci-fi and action-adventure and big-scale crap. And I wasn't in the mood for that.

Seriously, my eyes started to glaze over. Every option looked alike. Even the posters, all blues and blacks and silvers . . . Every now and then a brownish one that made me think of pollution . . .


I tried to narrow down my choices. I looked for a comedy, but they were all older and stuff I'd seen, or else the raunchy stuff I don't find funny.

Clearly the studios are mostly targeting men. And China, which has a huge, insatiable appetite for the epic blockbusters. Every now and then a little indie film comes along, but you never hear about those so much as stumble upon them accidentally, assuming they're lucky enough to get distribution of some kind. But those middle movies? The rom-coms, for example? Nobody will make them any more because there is this prevailing notion that movies like that won't sell. And the idea isn't entirely unfounded; look at how poorly Blended did.

But then also look at how well 22 Jump Street did this weekend. And yes, women went to see it. (I want to see it; I thought the first one was great.) But that movie wasn't targeted at women; that women want to see Channing Tatum is just a happy side effect for the studio.

I don't know where I'm going with this except to say I'm tired of having to go re-watch Dodgeball or whatever to find something that suits my mood. I'm tired of my only current options being big science fiction and action movies. I'm tired of not being able to find what I want to watch because studios don't make those movies any more.

What did I end up watching? Well, I had the disc for The Young Victoria in from Netflix, so I popped that in. It was okay. Not great but kind of a nice, quiet break from all the pounding action films. And I do like Emily Blunt. (Who, coincidentally, stars in Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise . . . another big sci-fi flick. Because roles for women have been shunted into "sexy sidekick/love interest" territory.)

Dramas now go to television to be born . . . Though we're in danger of losing comedies on the small screen now, and the dramas themselves are skewing ever darker, ever closer to the same sci-fi thrillers of the film trade. Hmm. While I think some of the best work—writing, acting, etc.—is being done for television now, I do worry it will all start to look and sound alike, too.

Honestly, it's like going into the produce section of a store, and all they have is a bunch of different kinds of apple. There are some differences in flavor and color, but they're all apples and the texture is pretty much the same. And I think, What if I don't want an apple? What if I want an orange or a banana or something like a mango? But good luck finding it.


Television: Fargo, "A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage"

Things aren't looking too good for Lester.

You'll recall that last week he happened upon Lorne Malvo at a Vegas bar. When Les approached Malvo's table, Malvo pretended not to know him. Here's the point at which a smart man would walk away. Actually, a smart man would never have approached the table to begin with. Why seek a connection with a known killer?

I understand from a character standpoint why. Lester, new and improved, feels the need to show himself off. He wants to prove his worth. And Malvo brushing him off only makes Lester feel worthless again. It sends him back to that time and place in his life when he was easily pushed aside. So Lester—stupid, foolish Lester—stands his ground.

Anyway, Lester follows Malvo and his "friends" into an elevator. Malvo, as it turns out, has been playing the long game, posing as a dentist in order to get close to another dentist's brother who is in witness protection for turning evidence on the mob. Lester forces Malvo's hand, however, and Malvo shoots everyone in the elevator. Except Lester, of course. (I don't understand how Lester got blood on his face but his white shirt remained pristine.)

Malvo seems to expect Lester to help with the bodies. But Lester, in yet another really stupid move, tries to knock Malvo out (fail) and then takes off for his hotel room and makes his wife pack and leave in the middle of the night. They go back to Bemidji, which is another really stupid move. Fly anywhere else, dude. But no, he goes right back to the town Malvo knows they live. And Malvo follows, though he's tripped up a bit by the fact Lester has moved to a new house.

Meanwhile, the two FBI agents get wind of Molly having called about Malvo and the Syndicate and all that. So they head to Bemidji to check out her evidence, and over Bill's objections they praise her fine police work.

And now Molly has a new wrinkle to iron out: Lester has been identified as the possible witness to three murders in Las Vegas. So she goes to question him. But Lester tells her everyone in the elevator was alive when he got off. (Won't the cameras refute that pretty easily?)

Malvo goes to Lester's old house and is confronted with new inhabitants. And just because he likes to fuck with people, he tells the man and two young boys about the murders and ghosts in the house. I have to say, I found this a bit over the top, even for Malvo. I know he does this kind of thing a lot, but in this one instance it seemed excessive in a way that was almost out of character.

Then Malvo hits up the diner and tries to get Lou (Molly's dad) to tell him where Lester lives. But Lou has enough sense not to give out that kind of information. And in one of those cinematic near misses, Malvo leaves through one door just as Molly comes in through another.

There is only one final option for Malvo: lie in wait at Lester's insurance shop in town.

And though Molly told them not to leave town or anything, Lester buys tickets to Aruba and he and his wife head down to the shop to fetch their passports and some extra cash.

Now it seemed to me that Lester knew exactly what he was doing. He sent his wife in for the passports and money. He had her wear his coat and told her to put the hood up. And yet he looked so shocked and horrified when he saw Malvo shoot her in the head. Maybe expecting it and seeing it are two different things, though.

Malvo leaves the shop. And Lester . . . Well, it's going to look pretty weird, a guy having two murdered wives a year apart. Even if Malvo were to leave him alone—and he probably won't—Les would be screwed.

Finale next week.


Books: StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

There's actually not a whole lot to this book. There's some intro material and then you're prompted to use the code in the back of the book to log on to the Web site and take the assessment. Which I did. More on that later.

The general idea here is that we spend too much time trying to get better at things we just have no natural aptitude for. Instead, we should pinpoint our strengths and capitalize on them. This makes complete sense to me; it's why I always say, if I don't know something, I go find someone who does. If I can't do something, I find the person who can. We can none of us be everything. Much as we'd like to be. We are not islands. And it's been shown time and again that effective leaders are the ones who know how to delegate. They know their own strengths and weaknesses and they build teams whose strengths and weaknesses complement one another, adding up to an efficient whole.

Still, I was skeptical about the assessment. How accurate can these things really be? I've done Myers-Briggs and Keirsey and Big Five, and really it always seems that one can find ways to relate to all the outcomes. "Yes, this is me," one says. "At least, it's me today. It's me sometimes. It describes me that one time I did this particular thing." Like horoscopes, all these can be generalized enough to fit anybody.

Too, one has to take into account the test-taker's mood at the time. I tried to answer as generally as I could, but I've been struggling with my work lately and feeling pretty morose. Would I answer differently on a day I'm feeling confident? A day when I received an acceptance rather than a rejection?

The StrengthsFinder assessment does try to cut down on waffling by giving you only 20 seconds to answer each question. "Go with your gut" is the rule. But I still had difficulty. A lot of the items—you choose a range between two endpoints—were not mutually exclusive, and I felt they equally described me. On those I was forced to leave the indicator directly in the center.

There are 34 "Themes" for StrengthsFinder and the assessment lets you know your top 5. Mine were/are:

  1. Strategic
  2. Futuristic
  3. Intellection
  4. Input
  5. Ideation

I have to say, when I read the descriptions, yes, it all sounds like me. But if I go to the book and begin reading about other Themes, I wonder if I wouldn't be able to say, "But this also sounds like me!" . . . I haven't. Yet. Again, sort of like reading other horoscope signs and thinking, "I dunno, I may be a Sagittarius, but I had kind of a Pisces day today." (I actually could do a whole post on why that might legitimately happen, but that's something else again.)

Anyway, with each of these Themes I've been given "Ideas for Action." In other words, ways to put my strengths to good use. A lot of them I already do, so this part of the book is less useful to me. I really want to know how to be successful, and I already know using my strengths will help with that, but . . . I need the opportunities to use my strengths in a way for others to notice them. And I don't seem to get many of those. What good is all this natural talent if no one is looking? Yeah, it sounds vain, but it's true. You can be great at your job but if no one notices . . .

Maybe the work should be its own reward. But that's not the way I'm built. I'm partially satisfied when I know I've done good work. But I'm only completely satisfied when that work gets recognized and rewarded. Blame the school system. Years of working for that gold star and teachers' acknowledgement have taken a toll.

And then sometimes the Ideas for Action are kind of . . . Well, for example, I'm encouraged to engage people in philosophical debate and discussion. I love that kind of thing. Too bad it's almost impossible for me to find other people willing to have long discussions like that. Most of them are only willing to talk about what they did over the weekend.

As ever, easier said (or written) than done. But it is a neat little resource. And I agree overall with the idea that people should play to their strengths. After all, how many people love doing stuff they know they suck at? Life is generally happier when you figure out what you do well and then do more of it.


Movies: Maleficent

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley
Directed By: Robert Stromberg
Written By: Linda Woolverton
Disney, 2014
PG; 97 mins
5 stars (out of 5)


When my son, now eight, was about three years old, I showed him Disney's animated feature Sleeping Beauty and he immediately made a connection between me and Maleficent. I wasn't sure quite how to take that. Did I seem evil somehow? Unkind? But no, as it turned out, that wasn't it at all. My son saw me as powerful. Capable of magic. Even believed me able to turn into a dragon.

Still, isn't it a little awful that the depiction of a strong woman is equal to her being shown as a villainess? Or in more modern-day parlance and movies, a bitch?

Even though Sleeping Beauty was one of my favorites as a child (that one and Sword in the Stone), I didn't have much interest in Maleficent. I almost didn't bother to go; it was the thought of cinema popcorn that actually coaxed me into it. And I am oh so glad I did see it. Maleficent was immensely enjoyable.

Most interesting about the movie is the fact there is no single villain throughout. Maleficent starts out good; Stefan does too, more or less, though we first meet him as a thief and he is admittedly ambitious. It is betrayal on various fronts that engenders anger and evil throughout the movie. When people act out of anger, greed, fear, revenge—this is when things go wrong. And these emotions only propagate one another, breeding more of themselves in heart after heart.

And love, of course, is what drives these feelings away. Compassion, kindness, generosity, etc.

It's a very simple lesson told well here. My son, the one who so long ago likened me to Maleficent, came out of the cinema and said he liked that, "Sometimes she was the bad guy, and then it was the king, too."

I'll say the latest "true love's kiss" fad is already getting old. But whatever. This is small in the big scheme of the film.

I especially enjoyed Sam Riley as Diaval, but then again, I always liked Maleficent's raven in the cartoon as well. I have an affinity for blackbirds. Nice makeup choices, too, with the almost scar-like skin formations that show he is no natural human.

In any case, I wholly enjoyed Maleficent. Not only did it tell an old story in a new way, it told it well, and delivered its age-old messages in a palatable package.

Movies: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ever since we read "How to Name a Dog" in school, I've enjoyed James Thurber. I'm sure many people have had to read "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" for school, too, only to immediately forget it when given something else to memorize and be quizzed over. So I'll give you the short version—really short, since the story itself is short to begin with: It's all in Walter's head.

That's not a spoiler, by the way. I didn't just ruin the movie or give away the ending. That's the premise, the foundation of the film, and the core of Thurber's original story. In the story Walter is driving his wife somewhere and has a bunch of daydreams as they go along. That wouldn't make much of a movie, so of course they took the character of Walter Mitty and made him daydreamy but put him to work in an office, namely in the photo department at LIFE Magazine.

I could get into the history of LIFE, but it isn't really relevant except to say to pick that magazine is an interesting choice that makes sense in the context of the story. LIFE (the monthly version, which appears to be what they're working on in this film) quit publishing in 2000 and was known for its beautiful photographic covers. And so here Walter (played by Ben Stiller) is responsible for something key to the magazine. He in fact has a good relationship with one of the best photographers, Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn).

Alas, as the film begins, LIFE is being bought out and will be printing its final issue as it moves toward an all-digital format. O'Connell has sent Walter a roll of film and has requested negative #25 be seriously considered for the last LIFE cover image. But negative #25 isn't there.

The first 30 minutes of the movie were a bit of a drag; it wasn't until Walter started having his real-life (real LIFE?) adventures that I got truly interested. The only thing in those first 30 minutes that kept me from turning it off entirely was the beauty of the movie. It is gorgeously shot. And as Walter goes to Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan in search of O'Connell and the missing negative, the movie only gets better both in plot and visual interest.

Still, as to the plot I do have to say I called every "twist" well ahead of time. And I did have to wonder whether Walter had some kind of mental condition. Because it's one thing to daydream, but it's something else entirely to completely zone out like that. He should maybe be seen by a professional for that.

Kudos to Adam Scott, though, for playing a most convincing asshole. Wow. I really wanted something bad to happen to that guy.

In all, it was a cute movie once we made it past those first 30 minutes. Beautiful to look at, even if the plot wears thin in spots. And though it sometimes gets classed as a comedy, if you're looking for out and out laughs, this one will disappoint. Pick a different Ben Stiller movie for that.


Movies: Zero Effect

Somehow I missed this one when it came out in 1998. Probably because I was graduating from college and traveling through Europe and moving into my own place. 1998 was awesome. For me, anyway.

Anyway, this is a kind of cute pseudo-Sherlock Holmes movie featuring Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero, a social misfit who is also a brilliant detective. Ben Stiller plays his Watsonian sidekick Steve Arlo. It's a setup that has a lot of potential, but the movie itself is longer than it really needs to be. Then again, back in 1998 there was still, you know, pacing in movies instead of having everything just sort of thrown at you really fast. Even so, Zero Effect plods a bit in places.

The plot involves a very wealthy Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal) having lost his keys. That alone would be funny—a rich guy hiring a detective to find his keys—but there's more to it; one of the keys on the ring is for a safety deposit box, and Stark is being blackmailed by someone who says s/he knows of something in Stark's past. Stark has been paying the blackmailer but wants to cap his losses once and for all by exposing him or her.

It goes from there. Zero, er, zeroes in pretty quickly on an EMT (Kim Dickens) and the obligatory romantic relationship ensues. It's similar to Irene Adler, only this being a modern take, they do actually sleep together.

The movie might've been funnier if there had been more between Stiller and Pullman. As it stands, Zero ends up documenting his cases on his own because his "Boswell" isn't at all interested. On the whole, they don't spend a lot of time together on screen, and Stiller's Arlo has very little to do (except complain) once Zero immerses himself in the case.

Overall, it's a cute movie. I feel like the idea is/was really good but the final product could have used some punching up.

Books: The Perils of Sherlock Holmes by Loren D. Estleman

I have a pretty extensive Sherlock Holmes library, and yet there's still so much out there I haven't read. There's almost too much Holmes to hope to keep up with it all. Point in fact, I had not read any of Estleman's work until this book was gifted to me, though his introductory essay touts his Holmes-Dracula and Holmes-Jekyll/Hyde novels. (The fact that his essay on "Channeling Holmes" is mostly used to promote his own work is a topic for a different discussion.) I do have, however, Fred Saberhagen's Holmes-Dracula File. If that counts for anything.

Given the nature of that opening essay, I suppose I should have been better prepared for almost every story in the anthology to be pairing Holmes with some other famous figure. This is apparently Estleman's preferred point of entry for writing Holmes. In this collection we get explorer Richard Francis Burton; Dickens' Tiny Tim all grown up; author Sax Rhomer of Fu Manchu fame; Wyatt Earp; and the Devil himself, kind of, maybe.

I get it. With all the Holmes literature (and film and television) out there, everyone needs a gimmick. An angle. This is Estleman's. And it's certainly fun to speculate on what it would be like for Holmes to meet other famous contemporaries, genuine or fictional.

Still, I found the stories themselves somewhat simplistic in nature. I remember commenting at one point that I felt I was reading at the Encyclopedia Brown level of Holmes stories. I couldn't see much about any of these "perils" (and there were hardly perils to begin with) to engage Holmes' mighty mind.

Twice Estleman takes a run at the supernatural: "The Adventure of the Three Ghosts" revisits Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and "The Devil and Sherlock Holmes" is just what it sounds. Actually, the unfinished "Serpent's Egg" also had a supernatural bent. I wasn't convinced of Estleman's take on Holmes' behavior in these cases, his automatic dismissal of potential supernatural causes; as I recall from Doyle's "Hound," Holmes did not not believe in the possibilities, he simply preferred to eliminate all earthly options first. While "Three Ghosts" has an expected conclusion, "The Devil" is left purposefully amorphous and is on the whole somewhat unsatisfying. "Serpent's Egg" showed great promise—of all the tales in the book, it feels the most like a Doyle story—but as it is unfinished, it is difficult to judge.

On the whole the anthology is average but not strong. The tone is Doylesque, but lacks some of Watson's deeper writing, glossing in places where Doyle's Watson would be likely to go into meaty description. There is, as I've mentioned, such a wide range of Holmes apocrypha out there, from fantastic to abysmal, and this one falls squarely in the middle.


Books: Grown-Ups Who Read YA

So this Slate article is being much circulated on my Facebook feed. Most of my reader and writer friends are up in arms over it, but . . . at the risk of having things hurled at me . . . I kind of agree.

Not wholly. Provisionally.

I think it's sometimes fun to escape into YA books. But as an adult with real life adult dealings, I also spend time reading literature that features people my age and/or older. This is because I cannot, at my age, live on a steady diet of teenage drama and angst. And I sort of distrust anyone who can.

That sounds . . . stuck-up or something, but I'm only being honest. I've found in dealing with a wide swath of readers that adults who read only YA aren't generally equipped to deal with the pressures of adulthood, or else they actively avoid and deny them. These are the people who want to be young forever—sure, who doesn't?—and will in fact pretend it isn't happening. They foster drama in their own lives and make other adults miserable because, hey, get over it.

I get the draw of YA. While for a teen the stories speak to current experience, for an adult they're kind of a break. YA books are sweet, simple; the problems of the characters seem small compared to the responsibilities of adulthood. In a YA book, chances are there will be a solution, a happy ending, some hope. That's because young adults have their whole lives ahead of them and are looking for stories about others who also have their whole lives ahead of them. They can do anything, go anywhere. They are standing on a brink, all options open until they make a choice.

For adults, though, reality sets in. Choices have been made and our lives reflect those choices. Life single, life married, life married with kids, life divorced, life widowed . . . Jobs, bills, aging parents, grown siblings, illness. Adult literature is piled with all these for a reason: it's meant to speak to adult experience just as YA books speak to young adult experience. Here there are not always pat answers or endings. Here there is not always hope or satisfaction.

Look, I don't read a whole lot of "literature." I prefer genre stuff (mysteries, some romances). Because like a lot of adults, I don't necessarily want to read about people whose problems are just as bad or worse than mine. But I also don't read a lot of YA either. Because while I can enjoy the lightness of it, can even wax nostalgic for my first love or whatever, I can't entirely relate. Like Ruth Graham, author of the Slate article, I end up rolling my eyes at the page.

So. I think there's room for adults to read and enjoy young adult literature. I think there are a lot of good YA authors putting out a lot of great writing. But I think adults should not only read YA. Their brains should stretch past high school romances; their thoughts should be bigger and deeper than that. And maybe you'd argue, "So long as they're reading, who cares what they read?" Well, the writers of adult literature care. Though you'll notice many have gone and started YA series (looking at you, Jasper Fforde). Instead of encouraging adults to read YA, maybe we should encourage young adults to graduate to bigger and [sometimes] better books.

Television: Fargo, "The Heap"

I said in a previous recap that I can't really cheer for Molly Solverson, and at the time I said I wasn't sure why. Just something about her character that I couldn't put my finger on. But after some thought, it occurs to me that I just can't respect her. And I feel like she went about the whole proving-her-point thing the wrong way. So maybe it's her lack of finesse that puts me off?

And there for a while, too, I think I felt badly enough for Lester that I didn't necessarily want him to get caught. Part of me just wanted Solverson to drop it already.


Getting away with murder does very little for one's character, does it?

So here's what happens in "The Heap":

  1. Lester gets a new washing machine.
  2. Bill fusses at Molly and tells her that, whatever her feelings about the case are, she needs to let it go.
  3. Lorne Malvo visits Mr. Wrench in the hospital to let him know how and where things stand. Namely, that Mr. Wrench is now unemployed because Malvo has killed off the business.
  4. The FBI agents who completely missed Malvo's entering the building with an automatic weapon are put on file room duty.
  5. The Widow Hess and her henchmen sons confront Lester in the insurance office because her dead husband hadn't paid on his policy, which is why she's being denied the money. Lester says he'll make some calls but is force to get a bit violent when the boys threaten him. This impresses the girl he works with (Linda).
  6. Molly and Grimly continue their courtship.

And then . . .

We jump forward a year and discover:

  1. Molly and Grimly are married and expecting a baby. (Here, then, is the pregnancy so prominent in the film?)
  2. Molly is still fixated on the case and calls the FBI semi-regularly about it.
  3. Those FBI agents are still in the file room.
  4. Bill has adopted an African teen(?)
  5. And Lester is Insurance Salesman of the Year at an annual meeting in Vegas. He's also now married to Linda and has much better hair. But he's far less likable, too. That hubris he's acquired is what allows him to confront Malvo when he recognizes him at a bar.

People might ask why the decision to skip a year, but it's pretty clear to me that the idea is to give the characters more to lose. A single cop with a sorta romance is one thing, a pregnant woman with a family—those are higher stakes. Lester had little after the loss of his wife, and he betrayed the rest of his family, but now he has a whole new life and a lot more that can be gambled and lost. Also, in the course of a year the characters feel "in the clear," making it that more of a punch to their guts when all this comes back to haunt them.

I'd been sort of idling with this show, half watching and still enjoying, but this episode brings things to a new crescendo. The final two of the season should be interesting indeed.


Television: 24: Live Another Day, "4:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m."

In which they finally unleash Jack and set him loose on London.

I can't say I've been paying much attention; things in this mini season have been too dull to absorb me. So to the best of my abilities given I wasn't paying full attention, here is what I understand to be happening:

President William Devane gives Jack free rein, and Jack demands Kate as a sidekick. Together they go to infiltrate the terrorist that has ties to Catelyn Stark (aka "Mummy"). Something to do with bank account records, but whatever. The short version is: Jack uses Kate as a peace offering, and while the terrorists string her up to interrogate/torture her, Jack (linked to Chloe) works on getting into the bank account. But it all goes to hell when MI5 turns up because Prime Minister Stephen Fry doesn't trust President William Devane to get the job done.

Still, in the most dramatic keystroke in television history, Jack gets the job done.

And Mummy sends Wannabe Sansa off to kill her sister-in-law and niece. Wannabe doesn't want to do it, tries to convince Mummy that there is no need, that her sister-in-law and niece don't know anything and are not a threat. Mummy doesn't believe it. And so Wannabe tries to warn her sister-in-law but . . . Accidentally stabs her anyway? (The sister-in-law was going to call the police, so maybe it wasn't so accidental.) The niece runs for it, Wannabe pursues her through London traffic, and then Wannabe is hit by a bus. Seriously.

Oh, and Navarro (Benjamin Bratt) appears to be a mole. Because it's not 24 if there isn't a mole.

Plus, the Chief of Staff is being pressured by the Russians to turn Jack over. Cuz he had forged the president's signature on a extradition order that would allow Jack to be transferred to Russian custody.

At least things are beginning to happen, but really, it took way too long. We're not even halfway through, and maybe things will be insanely action packed from here on out, but the sluggish start has made it harder for the show to capture and keep my attention. I no longer trust or expect it to deliver. Here's hoping it surprises me.


Movies: Austenland

On the heels of reading some Jane Austen, I had to watch this movie, right?

Let me begin by saying, as an undergrad I had a roommate who was a fan of the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice and known to watch it repeatedly whenever she was feeling down. This young woman strove to uphold the kinds of manners and propriety of the Austen era. She favored Empire-waisted gowns whenever gowns were called for (and she positively looked for reasons for which they might be called). She baked Regency type dishes.

In short, she was a romantic. And there is nothing wrong with that, within reason. And this roommate of mine was not, say, incapable of functioning in modern society. So, you know, to each her own and everyone needs a hobby. And I can't really be one to talk since I was watching things like Highlander and Babylon 5 at the time.

What I mean to show in all this is that I know people like Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) exist. I've lived with one of them. And at first I wasn't sure if the movie meant to make fun of such people or encourage them. But neither option was optimal to my way of thinking. One is plain mean and the other is fueling a fire that is best kept moderate.

Truly, I had no real expectations of Austenland anyway. The reviews had been somewhat lackluster (30% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, though 56% of viewers liked it). I think I may have read the book some years ago, or a book with a very similar conceit, but I don't remember enough about it to even know . . . Which probably says something about the book . . .

So I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed the movie.

In short, the film is about the aforementioned Jane, long a lover of Austen's works, who blows her savings on a trip to the titular Austenland, an immersive Austen-themed experience complete with gallantry and romance. Each guest (and they're all female; wonder what would happen if one were male?) is assigned an actor as a love interest for the duration of their stay. Hilarity ensues.

Jennifer Coolidge is the best thing about the movie, what with her ad libbed lines that had me roaring. The theatrical scene, too—the looks on some of the footmen's faces in the audience were priceless. And I don't mind looking at JJ Feild, either. (Though maybe not enough to watch TURN. Can we import him to Sleepy Hollow instead?)

It was easy enough to call the "twist" at the end well ahead of the reveal, but in all it was a cute movie. And it didn't make fun of Austen fans, and it didn't unnecessarily encourage delusion; instead it showed pretty cleanly there is a time and place for everything.

So go! Hang out at a Renaissance Faire, daydream about Mr. Darcy in whichever form you prefer him. But don't wait for something or someone who doesn't really exist. Therein is the lesson, neatly wrapped in Regency paper and topped with a romantic comedy bow.

Books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Chapters 41–48)

Whoa, what?

And things were going so well . . .

Mr Crawford goes to Portsmouth to see Fanny. He notices that her health is suffering for lack of good food and fresh air, and he entreats her to let him take her home to Mansfield. But though Fanny is slowly thawing, she continues to have reservations about Crawford (probably at least in part biased by the knowledge that her beloved cousin Edmund loves Miss Crawford). And so despite wanting very much to return to Mansfield, Fanny declines Crawford's invitation.

Crawford leaves and Miss Crawford writes to Fanny. With every letter from Miss Crawford or Edmund, Fanny lives in exquisite pain of hearing her fears realized: that they are engaged. And yet there is never any such news. Painful enough, one supposes, to have to read Edmund's rhapsodic ramblings of Miss Crawford's sterling nature tarnished only by the influences of bad society. Ugh.

At this point it seems things must have a predetermined end. Fanny will eventually accept Crawford and Edmund and Miss Crawford will "hook up." Right? Because though Fanny is an excellent observer, surely many of her conclusions are colored by her own feelings, particularly those she has for Edmund?

But no! The plot twists! For one, Tom (eldest son of Sir Thomas) suffers an injury that may be life-threatening! Could it be that Edmund will inherit Mansfield? Will that remove the last of Miss Crawford's obstacles? (And if it did . . . Isn't that almost worse for Edmund? To be accepted only on the strength of a dead brother's legacy? Not wanted enough for himself—he is not enough for Miss Crawford, she must have the money and lifestyle too.) A letter from Miss Crawford to Fanny suggests that Miss Crawford's mind runs exactly on such lines, reaffirming Fanny's suspicions of Miss Crawford's singularly mercenary nature.

And then! That old flirtation between Mr Crawford and the now Mrs Rushworth springs forth anew! Indeed, they run away together! Such shame on the family . . . And now there is no question of Fanny marrying Crawford or Edmund marrying Miss Crawford. The connection must be severed. Fanny is upheld again.

Miss Crawford blames Fanny in part for the drama. If she'd simply agreed to marry Mr Crawford, none of this would have happened. But one must wonder how much worse it might have been if Fanny had married him, how much more miserable she might have been. Because who is to say that Mrs Rushworth and Mr Crawford wouldn't still have had an affair? And they'd have been thrown together so much at family gatherings that it would have been that much easier. Would Mr Crawford's love for Fanny—if it's to be believed he really did love her—been stronger than his vanity? Would Mrs Rushworth have succeeded in wooing him anyway? If only to soothe her own vanity and pride at having her inferior cousin chosen by the man she loved?

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

But the game of What If? has no place in the real world of fiction.

Finally, Julia elopes with Tom's friend Yates. Though in the bigger scheme of things, this is hardly irreconcilable.

In the aftermath of family ruin, Fanny is fetched from Portsmouth back to Mansfield, and she brings along Susan as well. Paradoxically, Fanny's greatest happiness is nested in the deterioration of the Bertrams. She is treasured now in contrast to her cousins who have failed the family. She is safe now from any fear that Edmund might marry Miss Crawford. Nor is she frowned upon for having refused Mr Crawford; instead it appears as great good sense on her part. And so while she is sensible of the sad situation, she is quite satisfied with the outcomes. The pride of the Bertrams heralded their fall. Fanny's enduring humility lifts her up.

Tom survives, and not only that but becomes a much better person for having come through such personal peril. Julia and her husband are welcomed back into the fold of the family. Maria is sent abroad to live in disgrace under the care of Mrs Norris (of whom Mansfield is well rid). Edmund nurses his broken heart and hopes and eventually comes to see the kind of woman he's searched for all along has been right in front of him. He and Fanny are happily married and Susan takes Fanny's place as Lady Bertram's companion.

All's well and all that jazz.

And good things come to those who wait. Patience pays off. Good is rewarded in the end. &c. &c.


Books: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Chapters 33–40)

Mr Crawford will not take "no" for an answer, no matter how many different ways Fanny tries to say it. And she gets no help from Edmund who, while acknowledging he wouldn't want her to marry against her wishes, says he does wish she wished to marry Mr Crawford. Could there be anything worse than having the person you love say they wish you'd marry someone else? Well, there's the fact that Edmund is in love with someone else too. That's pretty heartbreaking for Fanny as well.

Fanny is rescued two-fold from all the pressures of Mansfield—that is, the hopes she'll come to her senses and accept Mr Crawford, and the hateful pressure of having to hear Edmund rhapsodize over Miss Crawford—by (a) Mr Crawford and his sister going to London, and (b) a visit from William. Together, Fanny and William plan to go to Portsmouth where William's sloop is docked and where the Price family lives. Fanny hasn't been "home" in some eight years or so.

As Bartok says: This can only end in tears.

For one thing, Fanny has been brought up so differently. And for another, she has been absent so long that there really is no place for her in the family. It might have been all right if William had been able to stay and ease her into the household, but upon their arrival in Portsmouth, William is informed his ship is almost ready to leave. He must go.

Fanny struggles to fit into the Price family but she is used to quiet and the place is noisy. She is used to order and the place is highly disorganized. She is used to propriety and in the Price home there is none; her father drinks and swears, people yell through the house, the children misbehave, and the servants can hardly be bothered to do their work.

In one person, however, Fanny finds some comfort: Her sister Susan. At first Susan appears too strident and temperamental, but Fanny comes to understand it is only because Susan struggles against the very things that upset Fanny and shows her frustration in ways Fanny never would. Susan does not scruple to speak out and tell her brothers, her little sister, the servants what they should and shouldn't do. To no avail. And so Fanny shows Susan how to sit quietly up in their shared room, away from the bustle, thus removing themselves from the very stimulants that strike them the wrong way.

Meantime, Fanny has word that Edmund has gone to London himself. Now Fanny lives in dread of the news that Edmund and Miss Crawford will officially be engaged . .  .