The Sherlock Holmes Tarot

I pre-ordered this ages ago and am just so excited to add it to my collections of Tarot cards and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia.

The cards arrived today and I've been fiddling with them a bit, trying to get a feel for them. I like them already; something about them seems very direct, rather like the Great Detective himself—these cards will not mince around. So far they've answered the couple questions I've put to them with unapologetic candor.

The cards themselves are on the large side (about 3.5 x 5 inches? same size as my Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery) and come boxed with a handy guide. While the artwork is not my favorite in style, it suits the deck very well (the more I look at it, the more I grow to like it), and as a fan of the original stories by Doyle, it is fun to pick out the sources of the images. Though sometimes the images are necessarily generic (as in Holmes reading the Times).

The suits are not what Tarot readers would be used to in a traditional sense, either. Instead of Cups, Swords, Wands and Pentacles we have Analysis, Observation, Evidence, and Deduction respectively, each indicated by a symbol on the card plate: a magnifying glass, an eye, a footprint, or a question mark.

The 9 of Deduction (Pentacles) + a sample of the card backs
It says something about the creators—something good—that even before I consulted the accompanying manual, I could discern the suits simply from the images chosen for each.

For court cards this deck uses Baker Street Irregulars as Knaves/Pages, Peelers as Knights, Ladies as Queens, and Inspectors as Kings.

There is also a bonus "wild" card: The Giant Rat of Sumatra. The manual gives several suggestions for its use, but I take it somewhat like a blank rune. In canon, the story of the giant rat of Sumatra remains, like Wyrd, a great unknown.

This is, if nothing else, a unique deck, and I would want it in any case. However, I'm that much more pleased with the fact that I've found it reads quite well (for me; your mileage may vary) and that The Sherlock Holmes Tarot and I get along and communicate with one another nicely.


Television: The Leftovers, "Gladys"

I don't really mean to go into the details of this episode; I'll give you the bare bones. Gladys, a member of the G.R., is duct taped to a tree and stoned to death, and the episode weaves through the aftermath of that crime, highlighting the town's general hatred of the G.R. and Kevin's duty to protect these people even as he despises them.

One has to be amazed at how bad the police in Mapleton are at their jobs. I mean, Kevin must be the worst police chief ever (late for everything), and yet he's still better than most of the guys working under him. Watching this show, one has the feeling Mapleton is pretty much fucked.

I've read a lot of online grumbling that nothing seems to happen on The Leftovers, that they're no closer to figuring out what happened when all those people disappeared or why. But—and I've said this before—I don't think this show is meant for that. I haven't read the book, but The Leftovers seems to me to be, at its foundation, a story about what people do when they have no answers. Apparently they create meaning in the form of religion/cults . . . At its core, The Leftovers is largely an anti-religious tract showing how beliefs will cause people to behave erratically, irrationally, and even dangerously, and how that behavior not only effects the people directly but their extended families as well. Religion/belief in The Leftovers is a kind of disease, the byproduct of something happening that no one can explain—it is used to stop up the holes left in people's lives when they have no answers.

In short, this isn't Lost, and I don't think the goal of the show is to tell us (the viewers) what really happened or how to fix it. I'm not defending the show or saying it should or shouldn't do that, I'm only stating my understanding based on what I've seen thus far.

I'll admit I was sort of lukewarm about The Leftovers (ha, lukewarm leftovers . . .), only half paying attention, but the show seems to be getting better and more interesting in small increments. But again, this show is not going to satisfy the kinds of people who are looking for the intense plotting and action of something like True Blood or even Game of Thrones; there's something very psychological about it, even when plot points are emphasized. And while GoT has psychological elements as well, those are generally based on strategy and manipulation, while The Leftovers explores something a bit more primal and less higher consciousness. Maybe it's my psychology minor that keeps me interested, but one can look at the characters in The Leftovers (and none of them are anyone you'd really cheer for) and wonder: If the Sudden Departure had never happened, in what ways would these psychoses have eventually manifested for these people? Because the Departure was clearly just a catalyst. It triggered something in all these characters, but that something was always there, under the surface.

They say you see a person's true colors at times of intense stress. Well, in The Leftovers we are seeing everyone's true colors. Which may be why there is so little to like about so many of these characters. At their most base, few people are truly good. (Or were all the truly good ones taken? Despite Jamison's assertions to the contrary?)

I think I like this show. I didn't at first, but it's the kind of show that, once you start to think about it, gets better for having been examined. Which is probably why so many people don't enjoy it. On a Sunday night, they just want to sit down and not think at all. But on the surface, The Leftovers is not very satisfying; it takes some digging to really appreciate it.


Movies: Transcendence

When the previews for this movie came out months ago, I was pretty excited. Good cast and what appeared to be an interesting premise. Plus, a shout out to the local Livermore Lab! But when the actual film came out, critics panned it, and I decided it wasn't anything I absolutely had to see on the big screen. So I waited.

The good news: Transcendence wasn't as bad as the reviews led me to believe.

The bad news: It still wasn't great.

Johnny Depp plays Will Caster, a scientist working on A.I. When he's shot by an anti-tech group called Rift—with a radioactive bullet!—after giving a lecture, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max (Paul Bettany) use Will's remaining time to "upload" his consciousness so he can continue his work.

Okay, so it's a stretch. But other sci-fi movies have reached further and grasped at less.

Almost immediately, Max begins to doubt. But Evelyn, of course, wants to believe it really is Will living on in the computer(s). She hooks him up to the Internet and he plays the stock market so they can go build a massive lab out in the middle of the desert.

At this point, I'm not sure what Evelyn does any more, since Will pretty much runs things in the lab. Also, it's not clear how much time passes in building this facility; it seems impossibly fast, but maybe that's because Will via computer is able to sign shipping manifests and requisition materials at, er, will. A little later a legend reads "Two Years Later," but at that point it doesn't seem much has changed.

Max, meanwhile, is abducted by Rift and kept as the world's worst zoo exhibit until he agrees to help them.

Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy are also wandering around as another scientist/guru (Freeman is the go-to for that kind of thing these days) and an FBI agent.

Thing is, there are some interesting ideas underlying the terribly generic plot, and if they'd taken the movie in any number of directions, it might actually have been really good. For example, the way Will as a computer watches over Evelyn. That's super creepy. They could have punched that up and made for a truly horrific stalker angle. But my guess is they didn't want to taint the "love story."

And then, when Will begins "enhancing" the people he helps so that they are networked together? What if the zombie apocalypse came at the hands of such a thing? People connected via technology . . . It could be a Doctor Who episode, really, and probably has been (Cybermen?), or a Stephen King novel (Cell?) . . . So while it's not an original idea, it still could have been put to great use in Transcendence. But wasn't.

Finally, the question of what one would be willing to give up in order to be "enhanced." Or, looked at another way: Is it worth healing the world and providing resources for all at the cost of individuality? What is the risk of having whole populations able to be commanded by a technological consciousness? (Is it a consciousness? Or merely a code?)

I won't say how it all gets resolved, but it is the fad these days to play upon the fear of technology meltdowns. What does it mean to be so reliant on technology, even just electricity? Shows like Revolution explored that, and Transcendence touches on it as well. But again, the movie only skims; it never delves. And that's its greatest sin. While attempting to transcend, Transcendence is merely mediocre.


Television: The Leftovers, "Two Boats and a Helicopter" and "B.J. and the A.C."

So let's look at the past couple weeks of this show. There was the episode that focused on Christopher Eccleston's character, though I was mostly distracted by how he was talking like Jimmy Stewart. But never mind. Short story is: Reverend Jamison (Eccleston) is in danger of losing his church—the physical building—and gambles in order to get the money to save it. At the same time, he is the regular victim of attacks because he declaims those taken in the Sudden Departure as not heroes, not special . . . In fact, he actively seeks stories about how those taken were bad: abusers, drug dealers, etc. If I had to dig out my psychology texts, I'd say he's suffering from having been left behind in what to so many appear to be a "rapturous" event. He's driven to prove he's better than those taken because he's scared that he's not and he missed the boat.

Whatever. He kills a guy anyway. And gets beat up again and ends up not being in time to save his church after all, even though he won the money.

Oh, and he's the brother of the lady who lost her whole family in the Departure? (He even tells his sister that her husband was having an affair. Nice. Does he not understand that it's not about whether those people were better? It's only about the fact they're gone, and those who remain would prefer to remember the good. Speak no ill of the dead, they say. Or the Departed.)

"Two Boats and a Helicopter" suffered a bit under the weight of one big story line rather than having a few things to keep people entertained. "B.J. and the A.C." brought back the jumble of things: Tom and Christine waiting for Wayne to call and give them instructions; the baby Jesus being taken from an outdoor Nativity; the G.R. sneaking into houses and stealing photographs; and Laurie serving Kevin with divorce papers. None of it particularly compelling, but whatever. This episode did bring me to the conclusion that Christine is kind of awful for having been made into a bit of a diva (and she's pregnant with Wayne's baby, btw). And I also had the fleeting thought that a cult (like the G.R.) that doesn't have a good way to articulate what it stands for is kind of a crap organization. They can behave like Grinches or whatever, and maybe their actions are supposed to speak for them, and one joins only when one "feels" it, but . . . It's just dumb. Both in the original sense and the commonplace. Also, they should have a white van.

I suppose the interesting thing about the show is that it has this fantastical premise—the Departure—but focuses on the mundane fallout of that one event. Sort of like FlashForward did some years ago. Shows like these pose the "What if?" and then try to find interesting ways to answer the question in regards to the impact of such bizarre events, what singular individuals might do in response to them. It is, unfortunately, a genre without much of a track record. Because viewers begin to get impatient and want to see some actual plot kick in. They don't want to sit around people's houses and offices and listen to them talk or argue; they want some action. They want someone to be finding the answer to why the event occurred, and they want someone to do something about it. But I don't think The Leftovers is that kind of show. I think it's based at least partly on the idea that sometimes things happen and we don't know why and might never know why but we still have to deal with them. It borders on pretentiousness, and I don't like The Leftovers near as much as I did FlashForward, which did work toward answering "why" and "how." But I do still find it moderately interesting. I am still curious about which way things might go. But I can't see the show sustaining itself indefinitely, either. Coming from a finite source (a novel), it surely must work toward some end. The question will be whether any viewers are left before that happens.

Books: Persuasion by Jane Austen (Chapters XIX–XXIV)

When two people share a mutual attraction but neither will move to do anything about it, it is agony. Somewhat juvenile, perhaps, but I am not altogether immune to the romance of the situation. I've felt it often enough myself in the past.

In truth, what with the Asperger's, I usually ignore people. So when someone intrudes on my consciousness, one of two things occurs: anger at the interruption, or a sort of paralysis, as if someone were walking across my very heart.

But that's neither here nor there, except to say that the last bit of Persuasion is spent with Anne and Captain Wentworth locked in mute struggle of attraction. Like so many teens could sympathize: Is he looking at me? He is! He was looking at me! But what kind of look was it? Attempting forever to extrapolate hope from the smallest expression, gesture, or word. And fearing always that the next look or word will shatter that fragile hope.

Anne had been worried that Wentworth was attached to Louisa, but hearing that Louisa has become engaged to Benwick, and then Wentworth's subsequent appearance in Bath, gives Anne hope that he may yet harbor feelings for her. Warm ones, that is, beyond the resentment he would have every right to feel after she gave him up some eight years before. (Turns out love is the stronger emotion, however.)

And Wentworth spends his time hardly daring to speak to Anne and falling prey to the general gossip that Anne will most likely marry Mr. Elliot. Again, it is all the schoolboy theatrics: Does she like me? She's nice to me! But maybe she's dating that guy . . .

Oh, for God's sake, somebody say or do something!

Finally Wentworth does write Anne a hasty note that delineates his true feelings for her. It is a fabulous missive of the kind every girl would love to receive. I've had poems and songs written for me, and my artist friend was once moved to create a book of love quotes for me, but this kind of letter is something else entirely. Possibly because men can be so reticent. Letters like Wentworth's are rare, and so it becomes something precious.

In any case, one can move to the logical conclusion without my saying anything: Anne and Wentworth end up together, none the worse and possibly somewhat the better for having waited the eight years.

The title refers to Anne having been persuaded by family and friends not to accept Wentworth all those years ago. And the book then shows how it is better to follow one's good sense and heart rather than be pressed on by people more interested in rank and appearances. It doesn't much say what one should do if one has no sense or heart . . . I would venture you should then take the good advice of someone who does possess these attributes. Assuming you can find a person of such description. They tend not to go out in public much, so you may have to knock on some doors.

As for the remainder of characters: Mrs. Smith imparts to Anne the truth about Mr. Elliot—Elliot's unkind words about Sir Walter and Elizabeth behind their backs, even as he ingratiates himself to them, and also Elliot's own mistreatment of Mrs. Smith as executor of her husband's will—thus validating Anne's own misgivings of his character. Once Anne and Wentworth become engaged, Mr. Elliot quits the field and takes Mrs. Clay with him, setting her up in London as his mistress. (The idea being that Elliot's goal was to make sure Sir Walter did not remarry and have any heirs, thus taking Mr. Elliot out of line for the baronetcy.) And so his black mark gets darker, and the reader is thus assured Anne and the others are better off without him.

And Mrs. Smith, once Anne is married, has Captain Wentworth to thank for helping to untangle all the threads of her late husband's will, thus restoring her to some level of fortune.

Lady Russell does finally accept Captain Wentworth as the key to dear Anne's happiness and eventually becomes like a mother to him, just as she is like a mother to Anne.

Sir Walter and Elizabeth evidently remain silly and stupid and no one thinks of them in any high regard, so that they are reduced to following in the train of Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret with no one to follow them.

It is mentioned that Anne is only sorry she could not provide Wentworth with better relatives, but the fact he takes her in spite of her family shows the depth of his love, I think. That and the whole waiting around for eight years. Though I can relate, having grown up in a very traditional way and with very definite ideas about what was and wasn't proper . . . And these ideas only supported my natural shyness . . . It is an odd thing to be reluctant and impatient at the same time, a very frustrating feeling. Which is probably why I enjoyed this book and sympathized so greatly with the two principle characters.


Movies: Double Features

Lately I've been thinking about movie pairings. You know, just like some people would think about food and wine pairings, I've been thinking about movies that make good back-to-back viewings.

When I was a kid, it was practically required that we watch The Last Unicorn and Labyrinth at every sleepover. So that's probably my first experience with pairing up movies. Though, thinking about it now, I do feel The Neverending Story works better with either The Last Unicorn or Labyrinth, more so than TLU and Labyrinth do together. Both TNS and Labyrinth have the Creature Shop factor to tie them together. Meanwhile, there's something similar in tone in TNS and TLU.

You see I take this seriously.

Of course, some movies are natural mates. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan must necessarily be followed with Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. And the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies . . . Any series, really. But when you are dealing with something as massive as Star Trek, I can personally suggest Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home be paired with Star Trek: First Contact, as these share the time travel theme. I watched them both the other night and they played well together.

It's relatively easy to pair sci-fi type films. For sci-fi comedy, I tried Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Galaxy Quest, and they were a good duo.

But what if you don't want action or sci-fi? The most common thing, then, is to either choose an actor or a genre (or both) and go from there. My friends and I did The Innocents and The Haunting for a chilling evening of entertainment. To see Cary Grant get knotted up over ex-wives, go for The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday (where Grant plays against Ralph Bellamy in both). If you're looking for more modern rom-com, My Best Friend's Wedding + Runaway Bride works pretty well.

Harder to pair is drama, because so many dramatic movies can feel "heavy," and it can be difficult to watch more than one. You could maybe pick any two Coen Brothers movies, though many of those are more dark comedy than drama. Or you could do one drama and one comedy, like Steel Magnolias followed by some other Julia Roberts movie to lift your spirits. I know at least one person who really hates Julia Roberts, though, so maybe I should come up with another example . . . St. Elmo's Fire and Sixteen Candles?

You could pick movies based on stage plays. Arsenic and Old Lace and Rope, for example. Or throw in Suddenly, Last Summer with one of those. California Suite and Sleuth (I recommend the 1972 version). Or, keeping with Michael Caine, Sleuth and Deathtrap. (Actually, I believe Caine was also in California Suite . . .)

Taking that up a notch, musicals are fun features, too. However, many musicals have a longer running time, so be sure you take that into account if you're planning back-to-back viewings of, say, My Fair Lady and Camelot.

I could go on and on, of course. There are infinite combinations to suit every whim and mood. I'm only here to say what's worked for me (Secret of NIMH + Anastasia, if you like Don Bluth). I'd love to hear what you come up with.


Books: Persuasion by Jane Austen (Chapters XIII–XVIII)

So after all that fuss at Lyme over Louisa Musgrove's fall and head injury, Anne eventually returns to Kellynch to stay with Lady Russell until it is time to go on to Bath to meet up with her father and older sister. (You'll remember them as Sir Walter and Elizabeth.) And the somewhat awful widow Mrs. Clay continues to hang on to Elizabeth and, by extension, Sir Walter as well.

In Bath, Anne begins a formal acquaintance with that Mr. Elliot, her cousin and Sir Walter's heir, the one she twice passed so briefly in Lyme. Mr. Elliot, it seems, has attached himself to Sir Walter's household and has been forgiven for past slights which have been explained away as misunderstandings and foolish, youthful follies. Lady Russell has it in mind that once Mr. Elliot's formal mourning for his wife is over, he will make a play for Anne to be the next Lady Elliot. And while there is some comfort in the idea to Anne—of being what her mother once was, lady of Kellynch Hall, secure in her home and place—she cannot bring herself to entirely like or trust Mr. Elliot. It's almost as if his manners are too pretty. Anne finds the fact that everyone likes him a mark of dishonesty; that is to say, if everyone likes Mr. Elliot, it must mean he works to ingratiate himself to all, and is therefore not entirely sincere or honest about his true feelings about things (assuming he knows himself how he does feel). And Anne has seen Mr. Elliot speak ill of Mrs. Clay behind Mrs. Clay's back.

Also in Bath is a Mrs. Smith, now a impoverished widow but once a great friend of Anne's when Anne was away at school; they strike up a new friendship. And Lady Dalrymple, cousin of Sir Walter, whose favor Sir Walter and Elizabeth seek. Sir Walter is singularly focused on people's looks and rank; he goes on about how unattractive are so many of the people at Bath.

Then Admiral and Mrs. Croft—those who have been renting Kellynch Hall—also come to Bath because of the Admiral's gout. They bring with them letters from Mary to Anne that say Louisa is engaged to Captain Benwick! And when Anne meets with Admiral Croft one day, he talks to her about the engagement and how surprised he and Mrs. Croft were that Louisa and Frederick had not ended up engaged instead. But Anne is forced to admit (to herself, never aloud!) that she is oddly happy to hear that Frederick Wentworth is not attached . . .


Books: Persuasion by Jane Austen (Chapters VII–XII)

I must say, I find Anne a bit colorless as a heroine. Fanny in Mansfield Park is no less retiring, though I suppose Fanny at least had her cousin to speak openly to, when he happened to be around; Anne mostly keeps her own counsel and is hardly heard when she does try to say anything.

Except that's not exactly true. In this part of the book, a troupe of characters goes down to Lyme, and Anne finds herself attended to by a Captain Benwick. They discuss poetry, and Anne gives him the titles of some books she thinks he might enjoy.

Anne also proves valuable when Louisa Musgrove tosses herself down the stairs of the Cobb. Captain Wentworth is meant to catch her but he does not, and Louisa suffers a head injury that leaves her "insensible" (that is, unconscious). Indeed, at first everyone thinks she's dead, but no. Louisa is left to be looked after at Captain Harville's home (Harville being a friend of Captain Wentworth), while Wentworth, Anne, and Louisa's sister Henrietta travel back to Uppercross to tell Louisa's parents of her fall.

The one other interesting incident would be that they crossed paths with one Mr. Elliot, the heir to the baronetcy. Sir Walter had aimed to have Mr. Elliot marry Elizabeth, but Mr. Elliot . . . Let's say he did not pursue the connection. Though invited to visit, he never did, and he eventually married someone else. But now he is a widower. Meanwhile, Sir Walter and Elizabeth took it quite personally that Mr. Elliot did not fall in with their plans. And Anne never met the man at all, so though they crossed paths twice in this selection of chapters, she did not know him until after he'd gone. But it is said that Mr. Elliot looked quite admiringly at Anne; the fresh air at Lyme had done her some good, it seems.

Where does this leave Anne? Well, she is growing accustomed to the new circumstances between herself and Captain Wentworth; they are civil but not warm toward one another. And it has been expected that Wentworth might choose either Henrietta or Louisa as a future bride (though Henrietta is moderately attached to one Charles Hayter, a curate). But now we have Captain Benwick on the scene, who seems to enjoy Anne's company, and even Mr. Elliot admired Anne's looks, so . . . Might she have other suitors? Other options?

Louisa's headstrong determination and refusal to listen to others is what has put her in a bad place. This much seems to be the point of this part of the story. Yet it was Anne's lack of determination that kept her from happily marrying Wentworth some seven or eight years prior. I suppose a balance is needed, or at the least one is meant to pick one's battles. Not to force things, but instead to allow natural attachments to form and then nurture those. Rather like planting native plants and cultivating them instead of trying to force an unnatural transplant. When two people discover they have things in common beyond an initial liking of one's looks—that is the difference between an annual, short-lived attraction and a perennial affection that can last over many seasons.

Television: Extant, "Pilot"

I know, I know, I'm a week behind already. But I did finally make my way to this one on my DVR queue. And . . . I'm intrigued.

It was a slow start, and I don't like the kid at all (am I supposed to?), but there were enough weird little things going on to keep me interested enough to watch another episode (now also on the DVR).

Set in the middling future, Halle Barry plays an astronaut named Molly Woods. She's just come back from a year-long solo mission and is having a difficult time readjusting to family life with her husband John and son Ethan.

There's an A.I. thing going on with the robot son . . . Does he grow? If not, at what point do the parents get tired of raising a perpetual child? When the fun and novelty wear off, can they just stick him back in his box? Sell him on eBay? Do they still have eBay?

Anyway, Ethan and other A.I. children for those who can't have their own and aren't qualified to adopt, is John's pet project for which he's working to get funding. But Ethan is having weird "malfunctions" where he exhibits aggressive behavior. This kid was definitely born/manufactured in the Uncanny Valley.

And Molly . . . She comes home from a solo space mission . . . pregnant? And she's tried to cover up some weird goings—dead people visiting—on by erasing footage from the space station cameras. Hmm.

Final puzzle piece: Talk of another astronaut having had mental issues after a mission. He supposedly committed suicide.

So yeah, there are some interesting things happening on the show, and despite the slowish pace, it fed me just enough to entice me to come back. We'll see if it holds.


Books: Persuasion by Jane Austen (Chapters I–VI)

More from my stack of classics that I never got around to reading, and in particular the Jane Austen novels I have not yet read.

In this one, the persecuted party is Anne Elliot, middle daughter of a baronet. She is perpetually overlooked by her family, and her one "claim to fame" is that she nearly married one Captain Frederick Wentworth except her father refused to allow such a "low" connection.

Anne lives retiringly in her sister Elizabeth's shadow. Their younger sister Mary is married and lives in the area. And their dead mother's friend Lady Russell also lives close by; Anne is used to spending a fair amount of time in her company, and is something of a favorite of Lady Russell's, though that lady has done little enough to promote Anne to her own family. I gather Lady Russell has tried to get Elizabeth and Sir Walter to take notice of Anne to little avail. But Lady Russell also opposed the match with Captain Wentworth thinking the then 19-year-old Anne would find it a hard living being a military wife.

That was some seven or so years ago. Now Elizabeth and Sir Walter have removed to Bath and Anne is to join them at Christmas. For now Anne is splitting her time between Lady Russell's home and her sister Mary's.

Where is the conflict? Why, here: Sir Walter was forced to let their grand home and move to Bath because of his debts. He has let the estate to relatives of Captain Wentworth. And now, of course, that very man is expected to come visit his sister and brother-in-law. (Well, either Frederick or his brother Edward; it has not been made clear which.) So of course Anne is on tenterhooks in case it is Frederick.

That encapsulates the goings on thus far. I'm reading some old Book of the Month Club edition from 1996 that has illustrations by Hugh Thomson, too. Quite fun.


Food: Dr Pepper Vanilla Float

Had to try it. Had to. Because I love Dr Pepper, and I love ice cream, and by extension floats.

Now, upon reflection, I'm not sure what I expected. This is, for all intents and purposes, vanilla Dr Pepper. And that's fine. I'm cool with that, in theory.

Thing is, it doesn't have the full flavor of Dr Pepper. Nor does it have a very strong vanilla taste either. Except when you take that last sip from the can, which tasted very strongly of vanilla. Is the vanilla flavoring denser than the soda syrup? But it's not like I could shake the can before actually drinking, so . . . Well, I mean, I could. But I'm not that stupid, nor am I that desperate to disperse the vanilla throughout the drink.

On the plus side, this drink didn't leave the weird aftertaste in my mouth Dr Pepper sometimes does. I didn't feel an immediate need to go get a stick of gum after finishing the drink.

Bottom line, this is like Dr Pepper Jr. or something. Intern Pepper? Whatever a junior doctor is called, I guess. It's nice as a novelty, but I wouldn't drink this all the time; it will only leave me wanting the real deal. (Or, carrying on with the doctor metaphor, a second opinion.)


Books: Cary Grant: A Class Apart by Graham McCann

I've been familiar with Cary Grant's work since I was very small. He was first known to me as an angel named Dudley. You see, my parents watched The Bishop's Wife every year at Christmas. And I, like so many, was drawn to this sophisticated man. I've since seen many of his films, though not all. And I still watch The Bishop's Wife every year, too.

So not too long ago, I thought: Why don't I know more about him? It's a mistake to assume the person on the screen is the equivalent of the person themselves, even if an actor plays a certain type. And Grant—romantic comedian, suspense hero (or anti-hero)—played a lot of types. So who was he really? I decided to read about it.

I went to Half Price Books and there were two Cary Grant biographies. A quick check on Amazon showed me which had "more stars" (that is, was better reviewed). It was between this one and Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart, and according to Amazon it was no contest. This one won. (Though, flipping idly through the other, I did find some intriguing passages.)

It's not entirely possible to be subjective when writing I biography, I don't think, and anyway, readers don't want an objective story. To remain objective would be to boil the person's life down to stale facts and figures: He was born on this day, in this place, and these were his parents . . . He went to school, here are his marks . . . He made this movie, that movie, and here are the box office totals . . . Dry stuff fit for a résumé or Wikipedia but not a book.

In this case, Mr. McCann is clearly a fan of Grant, but then so are many people. The readers of the book almost certainly would be. So maybe McCann just writes to his audience, though there is a defensiveness in his tone that it sort of strange considering he goes on about how fiercely private Grant was and then is writing a book about the man's life. The way McCann goes after other biographers of Grant, how he bitingly touches on the  rumors of homosexuality, and in the epilogue of the book degrades other entertainers for more or less not living up to Grant's standards . . . There is a definite bias at work.

Not that it's a bad read. No, A Class Apart is very readable and enjoyable. Set up largely in chronological order, it is neatly arranged. McCann clearly read a lot about his subject, though it doesn't seem he spoke to anyone directly; everything appears to be culled from other books or magazine articles and interviews. I could be wrong, but that's the impression, and while I skimmed the notes and saw nothing to suggest any one-on-one conversations between McCann and anyone who knew Grant, I could have missed it. I guess many of the primary sources have since passed away themselves.

As the subtitle suggests, the book largely promotes Grant as sophisticated, intelligent, and though shy also very friendly. Not so different from his screen persona after all. But it does seem to gloss over his relationship problems, except to sympathize with Grant's failed marriages. A Class Apart downplays anything that might damage Grant's standing reputation. It brings up and then quickly buries the homosexuality rumors and moves quickly through the LSD years. In short, this isn't a "dishy" kind of book. It really seems designed to preserve the idea of Grant as set in celluloid: talented, funny, possibly with a little bit of a shadow side (but if there was one, McCann seems to posit, it wasn't his fault, it was the circumstances, the difficult studio system and wives that did it). Archie Leach appears to have been a naturally buoyant personality; only later did those aforementioned circumstances shape the more grave Cary Grant.

In any case, A Class Apart is a good primer. I would still like to read a couple other biographies about Grant, if only to pull together a few different points of view. And maybe a few of those details that McCann felt necessary to sail past.


Favorite Movies

There's always sort of a question in my mind when someone talks about their favorite movies. Because what makes a movie a favorite? Is it something that astounded you when you first saw it? Something that influenced you in some way? Or just something that stayed with you? Maybe it's just a movie you watched over and over as a kid; I have a few of those myself.

And of course the list of favorite movies changes. Depends on the day, one's mood, and whether any great new movies can be added to the list. Weirdly enough, though, with so much out there, I find my favorites are still the older movies. I am less inclined to repeatedly watch newer films. Maybe it's elitist of me, or just nostalgic—maybe I'm getting old—but they just don't make 'em like they used to.

With all this in mind, some of my all-time favorite movies (at least today) are (in chronological order):
  1. The Bishop's Wife - watched it every year at Christmas growing up and still do
  2. Rope - though I didn't see it until film school, this is a movie I come back to again and again; it amazed me then and I love it still, try to watch it at least every couple years and would love to see the stage version
  3. The Innocents - because I love the Henry James story and this is an appropriately creepy adaptation of it
  4. Summer Magic - I spent a summer in the 80s eating up this cute Disney pic
  5. My Fair Lady - my favorite musical, was also lucky enough to see the stage version featuring Richard Chamberlain
  6. Grease - loved it as a kid and have to watch it every time it's on television
  7. Watership Down - both the book and animated feature left a huge impression on me
  8. Raiders of the Lost Ark - first movie I can remember seeing in a cinema, and I went home and pretended to be "Petey" (I misunderstood the name), would later play Indiana Jones often with my best friend.
  9. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - would watch this on VHS often, along with Search for Spock
  10. The Secret of NIMH - another one my best friend and I would play
  11. Young Sherlock Holmes - watched this one every day after school (not an exaggeration) and played it with my best friend as well
  12. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - memento of a fabulous summer spent with my best friends
  13. Jurassic Park - holds the record for the movie I've seen most times in a cinema
  14. Anastasia - my favorite animated feature
  15. The Matrix - runner up to Jurassic Park; too bad about those other two movies
  16. Hot Fuzz - I could watch this one over and over (and I have)
I'm sure there are others. I vaguely remember really liking Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, but that was when I was extremely young and didn't know the Bee Gees weren't the Beatles. I certainly know better now. (Though I'll admit a lingering fondness for Yellow Submarine.)


Movies: Saving Mr. Banks

I don't know anything about P.L. Travers outside what Wikipedia has to say. And I don't know anything about Mary Poppins except what I've seen in the Disney film (the book was, alas, not part of my childhood . . . or adulthood, for that matter). So I have no way of knowing how accurate Saving Mr. Banks is in terms of whether Travers was really so difficult and how she received Disney's movie version of her book. I suspect, perhaps, not very.

That she'd cried at the premiere—I'd heard that before. But were they tears of anger? Or, as Saving Mr. Banks suggests, was she moved by the movie?

I can't say Saving Mr. Banks entertained me much. And it was a sadder story than I had expected, what with all the flashbacks to Travers' childhood and the death of her father. I was confused a bit by her not wanting such fanciful elements in the movie, since her father was portrayed as having great imagination. If she wanted to honor her father, would she not want to include such flights of fancy? But then again, that imagination was part of what hindered her father and kept getting him fired, so . . . Maybe she felt if he'd been more realistic and so forth, he'd have done better and lived longer. (But then he'd have been a different person, wouldn't he? Not the same father she'd adored.)

Well, at least the movie gave me that much to consider. But now what I really want to know is the truth of the matter. I may, after I finish reading this Cary Grant biography, have to read more about Travers. I may even read Mary Poppins.

It must be the height of self-satisfaction on the part of the Disney corporation, though, to put forth the notion that they (Disney himself, along with his employees) got through to Travers and touched her heart in some way. Not only that, but that they spurred her to write more books! It was all them! Disney was as good as a therapist! Even the chauffeur helped!

Again, I really don't know how accurate any of it is. But the victors write the history books, right? And produce the movies, too.


Television: 24 & The Leftovers

I finally gave up on 24: Live Another Day.

I know, I know—I stuck it out for so long, why give up now? Well, I got nearly to the end of the June 23rd episode that was sitting on my DVR and realized I'd barely seen any of it because I was more interested in Bejeweled. That's a pretty bad sign. And I still had another episode waiting on my DVR, and I was faced with another hour airing tonight, and . . . All at once it was a chore rather than entertainment. And since I watch TV to be entertained, when it stops being fun . . . I stop watching.

Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

The Leftovers, on the other had, actually got more interesting. Is Garvey going crazy? How much of all this is in his head? Getting a glimpse of his dad and seeing that maybe it runs in the family . . . And yet Jill did seem to see the unnamed man on the doorstep . . . Little tidbits like the video interviews for "survivor" benefits or whatever add texture and depth to what is going on in the world. Though why would an agency feel the need to compensate people for what insurance would surely label an "act of God"? Is this a government agency or a private non-profit or what? Hmm.

And we also saw the source of tension between Lucy and Kevin; seems she and Kevin's dad have a thing?

I don't much like Liv Tyler, and Jill's friend is annoying, but I can get past that (for now). Should be interesting to see Christopher Eccleston's character's story next week.


Movies: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence (and ~10 mins of Patrick Steward and Ian McKellen)
Directed By: Bryan Singer
Written By: Simon Kinberg
20th Century Fox/Marvel
PG-13; 131 mins
4.5 stars (out of 5)


I only went to see this one because I didn't want to see Transformers or any of the other crap that's out there on offer at the moment. And I was surprised to see the cinema was still pretty full, even though this film has been out for several weeks now. But maybe that's because they'd slotted this one into a smaller theater, giving the illusion of a packed house. Let's just say people were having trouble finding seats before all was said and done.

As for the movie itself, I really enjoyed it. The right mixture of action and humor, and well paced besides. I was worried I'd have to dredge up some kind of memory of all the previous X-Men movies but it wasn't really necessary. I know the key players, and that was sufficient to enjoy the show.

The plot is roughly thus: Some years in the future (circa . . . 2023?) there is a nasty war against Mutants—and against any humans who support them. Trask Industries has created Sentinels, which are designed to hunt and destroy Mutants and yet use DNA from Mystique in order to function (they can change and adapt to any powers the Mutants they fight might try to use against them). Only a small band of Mutants still survive.

Also, these Sentinels are able to identify potential Mutants—anyone with the genetic makeup that might turn them or their children, etc., into Mutants—and so they destroy them, too. So while it would seem at first that the Sentinels protected society from the Mutants (assuming, of course, "normal" people needed to be protected from Mutants), these protectors eventually also turned on the people themselves . . . Although it's difficult to tell what the percentages are. I mean, how many people have the potential for mutation? And if Mutants really are the next wave in evolution—or would have been, anyway—does that mean more and more people are being born with that potential? And so more and more people are being wiped out by Sentinels? Who is controlling these things? Or have they taken on lives of their own?

And if the Sentinels use Mutant DNA, why don't they destroy one another?

Whatever. Bottom line is: The future is a bad, bad time. So it's decided that Kitty needs to send Logan (aka Wolverine, aka Hugh Jackman) back to 1973 to stop Mystique from killing Trask because that's when she was captured and they took her DNA and upped the Sentinels' programming.

Here is where the fun begins, naturally, with Logan tracking down a young Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto). I'll admit I did have a bit of private fun with James McAvoy as Charles—like, you know, thinking that maybe his legs had problems because they were goat legs, and when he asked Logan, "What do you want?" nothing would have made me happier than to hear, "Give me back my socks, you goat bastard." All that aside, though, McAvoy did a great job, as did Jackman, Fassbender, and Hoult. And of course Peter Dinklage as Trask was a brilliant bit of casting. I'll admit I'm no Jennifer Lawrence fan; I think her talent is more in picking juicy roles than in actual acting.

Especially good, though, was Evan Peters as Quicksilver, and he stole the movie, even though he had only a few scenes.

There were plenty of moments CinemaSins could have fun with, like why Erik would bother to rip the door off a metal room if he's then going to rip the whole side open, or why the Sentinels don't kill him first when he instructs them to "do what [they're] made to do." But despite all the little hiccoughs, Days of Future Past was highly entertaining. Exactly the right length, too; these days so many action films push the envelope by running 2.5 to 3 hours long for no good reason except to add more FX. When the plot is already thin, you really shouldn't risk stretching it like that.

But here the plot wasn't thin. In fact, it was remarkably straightforward. And if there were a few holes, well, that was okay. Because the overall design was pretty good.


Television: Tyrant

I tried. I really did.

I got 15 to 20 minutes in. And I wanted to watch the whole pilot, give the show a fair shot, but . . . I just couldn't take any more.

In my review of The Leftovers I fussed a bit about the mode of throwing a bunch of bits and pieces at the audience in the hopes it will intrigue viewers enough to stick around and see how they fit together later. Tyrant goes the other way, being almost too linear and slow-paced. It was really almost excruciating to watch. It's like the writers were working overtime to establish character, but as viewers we "got it" within the first few minutes. No need to drag things on and out.

At one point I felt like I was watching Downton Abbey via a modern Middle East filter. So maybe I'll be the odd person out and one of few who don't love Tyrant. Because I've tried to watch Downton Abbey, too, and while I can appreciate the fine acting and direction and even the story itself, it bores me to tears. For me, the pace is akin to a very, very slow cart wheel trying to get unstuck from a muddy rut. I kind of want to see if and when it gets unstuck, but the longer it goes on trying to get free, the less I care.

In what I saw of Tyrant the kids were such stereotypes, too. The son who takes to being a member of the royal family and the high style of living versus the daughter who sides with her dad and would rather remain disassociated from all that. And the wife is, of course, the American Barbie blonde that stands in such contrast to all the Middle Easterners. Then there is the evil, cruel brother who is heir to the throne. (Mind, this is just what I culled from those first 15–20 minutes.) All pretty basic and none of it compelling.

One more show I can strike off my list.


Books: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

I happened across this book while killing time in a bookstore. I didn't buy it right away but made a note of the title and then finally got around to reading it. There are two more in the series after this one.

The book is incredibly well written. Sort of a mix of Regency and fantasy, set in an alternate but very similar universe to ours. The country of Altania is clearly Great Britain, with Torland in the north as a stand-in for Scotland. Invarel = London and so on. And in this relatable but slightly different world, magic is, if not common, not unheard of either. In fact, in some circles it is quite fashionable to be a magician. (Witches, however, are not to be borne.)

Beckett populates his story with interesting characters like Miss Ivy Lockwell, whose father was once a magician himself and has left her a riddle to solve. And Mr. Rafferty, son of Lord Rafferty, who discovers he comes from an ancient line of magicians and has a talent for magic. Meanwhile his friend Eldyn is a hard luck case roped into treasonous work by a highwayman. Yet he also has an aptitude for magic; he can cloak himself in shadows and more or less make himself invisible.

All this against a backdrop worthy of Austen or the Brontës. From Invarel we spend the middle of the book on the windswept countryside of Heathcrest before returning to the city . . . Though I must say the shift in POV threw me a bit. The first and third parts of the book are third person omniscient but the middle is told in first person by Ivy. While I understand why, I didn't care for it as much. (I also don't love the cover image, though it is true enough to the book, I suppose.)

Overall, however, the book kept me engrossed. Toward the end, things moved quickly—almost too fast in comparison to all the build up. But there is much yet set up for the subsequent novels, which I look forward to reading in good time.

Television: The Leftovers, "Pilot"

A slow start. It seems to be the fad these days to throw a lot of pieces of information into the air and let them scatter: here's a character and a flashback, here's another person, oh and look! they're related! Things of that sort. I suppose it's meant to keep people actively engaged in the story, but I find it annoying. And tiring. And boring now because everybody does it.

I dig having multiple story lines, but there's always going to be a few that are stronger and more interesting than the others. Which means when the show starts to focus on a less interesting plot, viewers sort of deflate and groan, "This again."

Anyway, for those who were trying to figure out from the cryptic previews what the show is actually about—is it the Rapture? what is it?—it's pretty much exactly what the ads said: A bunch of people all over the world disappeared on October 14. No one knows why or where they went or anything. Fast forward three years and the world is still hung up on this mass disappearance. Which makes sense, I guess . . . Or maybe it's just that the episode focused on the third anniversary of the event. Maybe on a normal day no one really talks or thinks much about it any more. It was difficult to tell from the episode.

At the very least, the characters we're dealing with are hung up on it. Justin Theroux plays Kevin Garvey, police chief of the very generically named Mapleton. His life has unraveled since the sudden disappearance, not because he lost anyone (his immediate family seems to be accounted for) but because it broke his family apart in other ways. His wife joined the Guilty Remnant, a cult-like group that smokes but won't speak. His son has hared off to help some kind of modern messiah named Wayne. And his daughter Jill is acting out in bizarre ways. Kevin himself seems to be prone to drinking and hallucinations.

I realize The Leftovers is a drama, but I found the pacing of the pilot somewhat slow. I spent a lot of time thinking, Yes, we get it, move along. There was a desire in the writing and/or direction to linger a little too long on people and things. That was when I got bored and played Bookworm on my iPhone.

But there are interesting elements. Something seems to be building, and I'm curious to see what might happen. What's Wayne's deal, for example? Why does Tom need to guard Christine, and why would Wayne put Tom in that situation knowing full well that Tom is in lust with Christine to begin with? I also want more of Chris Eccleston's character. His job this episode was a tidy bit of exposition declaring it wasn't the biblical Rapture because the people taken weren't especially good—one was a child abuser, for instance. Answers that question, I suppose, and with so many people in the world gone, can anyone hope to find a common denominator?

Here's hoping, then, that The Leftovers picks up the pace a bit and delivers on all the curiosities it has presented. I'll give it another couple episodes (assuming it doesn't bore me too much) and see if it makes any real progress.


Television: Catching Up

Sorry for my silence the past week; I was away at a family reunion. I do plan to begin catching up on 24 and trying The Leftovers and Tyrant, all of which are waiting for me on my DVR. I managed to watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver at least; I love that show. Ages ago, before I had kids, I would stay up and watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report . . . Maybe I should go back to those. But in the meantime, I wait all week for John Oliver. Maybe righteous anger at the U.S. comes across better from a transplanted Brit.

Of course the other big news is Community will have a 13-episode sixth season thanks to Yahoo! That's pretty stellar. I'm finding it more and more difficult to locate decent comedies, so I'm glad Community will be around to make me laugh a little longer.

And Doctor Who has a premiere date of 23 August. I'll be away on a writing retreat that weekend but at least one of the other writers I'll be hanging with is a big DW fan, so maybe we can schedule in a viewing break.

I did watch the second part of The Escape Artist and very much enjoyed it. But then I liked it when it was Cape Fear, too.