Movies: Holy Hell

In 1985, Will Allen joined the Buddhafield, a religious group centered around a guru named Michel. In 2007, as things devolved and bad things happened, he and many others left. But Allen had been the de facto filmmaker for the group, too, and so has a lot of archival footage with which to create this documentary and spread the word of Michel's evildoings.

You might say, "Oh, just another cult film." But Allen has access to other members who left the group, and it gives wonderful perspective on what drew them in and kept them there. It's no secret that people like Michel prey on the broken and abused, people who are looking for love and a place to belong. It's a real testament that the survivors—because that's more or less what they are—do have fond memories of their "brothers and sisters" and the family the Buddhafield gave them at a time when they each needed just such a thing. And the documentary ends with wonderful updates on how those who left went on with their lives, where they ended up and what they're currently doing.

I wouldn't call it engrossing, because it wasn't entirely. But it accurately maps the insidious nature of such cult leaders, and also that trajectory from being a leader to being a narcissistic nutjob. Michel only allowed very attractive people into the Buddhafield, but he did not allow sex. He was obsessed with his own looks and with putting on ballet performances. He was also paranoid that the government would come after him. I won't ruin it for you by telling you how it all fell apart, but I will say it's disturbing that this man still has followers in Hawaii.

Holy Hell premiered at Sundance this past January, saw limited release in May, and then aired on CNN. You can find it on Netflix.


Television: Very British Problems

This show from the UK is now finally available on Netflix here in the States and it's a lot of fun. Think of it as people-watching, but you're watching an entire culture. It's an anthropological experiment or something.

In truth, I identify with most of the VBPs because they're really kind of Very Introvert Problems as well. So when the show talks about the difficulties of interacting with, well, anyone ever, I definitely sympathize.

Added to the fun are the appearances by the likes of David Tennant, Catherine Tate, James Corden (to name the ones Americans might recognize), and others (that Americans are less likely to recognize but will still find amusing).

This is fluff television, something lightweight and undemanding for the nights when you're just too tired for anything that requires you to think or follow a plot. If you've exhausted House Hunters (is that even possible with so many different versions now?), you can turn to Very British Problems to fit the same bill.


Movies: Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

Let's start with the fact that I have never seen the 2005 documentary. So I'm basing my comments solely on this film. And it was boring.

The chief problem that I could see was that it wasn't entirely sure whether it wanted to be a comedy or taken seriously as a commentary of some kind. So it attempted to straddle the line and do both and therefore did neither very well.

The "jokes," such as they were, were weak and felt old, even for something that came out a year ago. The situations were cliché—there were scenes that I felt could've been lifted from or inserted into almost any movie. Nothing about this film felt specific. Which is weird since the setup is specific: dueling political consultants attempt to get their candidates elected as president of Bolivia.

I love Sandra Bullock (and have worked with her), but her character here—political consultant Jane—I just never felt any depth with her, never connected. Everything was at face value; there was nothing deep down. Even the ending didn't make me feel anything, and I'm sure it was supposed to. If I'd been connected to Jane, and like she'd taken me on an arc of some kind, I might have. But no. This story would have been better told from someone like Eduardo's perspective. (A young idealist working in the campaign office only to be crushed when his candidate fails to keep his promises.)

It does make me wonder why anyone wanted to remake the documentary as a dramedy that doesn't really deliver on either the drama or comedy. Maybe the documentary is amazing. And we all know Hollywood really only wants to recycle the stuff it thinks will bring in viewers. Studios have become insanely risk averse. They keep going to the same restaurants and ordering the same meals, offering us their leftovers as if we want their lukewarm, half-eaten burgers, fries, and pizza. Apparently enough of us do because some of these movies continue to make money. Sigh.

But anyway. Our Brand Is Crisis—at least this version of it—isn't much worth your time. You never really feel the crisis, nor is it funny. It just sort of lies there. Maybe it has altitude sickness.


Books: Deadly Alliance by Kathleen Rowland

Check out this romantic suspense novel by fellow Tirgearr author Kathleen Rowland!

Finbar Donahue, former Army Ranger, walked on the wild side in Iraq, but now he lives in the shadows. After his evasive partner, Les, was shot in a random drive-by, Finn discovers cash is siphoned monthly. He fights to keep his investment company afloat. When the late partner’s girlfriend, Amy Kintyre, applies for his bookkeeping job, Finn suspects she knows about his company drain and hires her.

Amy needs a nine-to-five with free evenings and weekends to get her fashion design business back on track. She unearths Les’ s secret bank account and alerts Finn. Freezing of the money laundering account sets off havoc within an Irish gang. Amy witnesses a gang fight between a brutal ISIS fundraising organization and the Irish. Desperate to escape a stalker’s crosshairs, she seeks refuge with Finn. As danger heats up, sparks fly hotter.  

Chapter One

“You know I love your sportswear designs, right?”

“I’m glad you do.” Amy Kintyre sat opposite a buyer, none other than Kira Radner, at a coffee shop in Lake Arrowhead, California. This sudden opportunity to re-launch her sportswear designs gave rise to the jitters, and Amy clutched her hands under the table.

Kira pressed her face forward, Amy’s sketches drawn on figures in action poses. With the portfolio spread between them, she flipped it sideways to examine the fabric swatches stapled along the sidebar. Their earthy tones blended with the marred wooden table.

Amy stilled the chatty urge.

“You know your presentation is in two weeks.” Kira was giving her the green light with Recreational Sportswear, Incorporated.

“I appreciate this, Kira.” To get her business back on track, she needed blocks of time to sew mockups. Amy inhaled the spicy aroma of the raw cedar wood. The under-construction décor of wide, timber planks on the walls made her think of her new self. Crazy how thirty felt like seventeen when embracing life and freeing her artistic side.

“Then I beg you,” Kira said, “please, please, please have your product samples ready. Deadline is the first Monday of November.”

“Got it.” Fear over the tight time frame tasted sour in her throat, but this break called like no other. 

Kira leaned forward. “Impressive functionality with the shorts. Who would have thought this pocket holds a Swiss Army Knife!” The buyer’s fingertips traced the pick-stitch hem, made with thread matching the fabric, appearing invisible. “Nice detail.”

Amy’s only mock-up kept their face-to-face meeting running like the hum of the fluorescent lights above.

“Oooo,” Kira said and raised both her eyebrows. “Classic nostalgia with a twist. A pocket knife for hikers!”

“Useful, I think.” The bright light flickered over associates who’d worked together in the past, but Amy didn’t share the difficulty of making the deadline. Her breathing shortened, and panic carved a hole in her chest.

“Gotta bounce,” Kira said. “Get to work.”

“I will.” She pulled out a notebook and jotted down a to-do list ending with the file with various size patterns. After a half-hour of regrouping and rethinking, she stopped tapping her pen. Kira Radner took a chance on her, but to turn this chance into a reality, she needed evenings and weekends to make the deadline.

Last Sunday while pouring over Craigslist classifieds, she’d zeroed in on Finbar Donahue’s bookkeeping ad. After her inquiry, his head accountant sent her a message. She still favored the toe she stubbed after her in-box pinged.

Thanks to what happened, the call from Kira, she needed Finn’s job. Her mind raced to her third interview for his nine-to-five. Tomorrow morning, if all went well, she’d land the regular-hours job, tailor made for her time frame. She ran a hand through her hair, picturing the arrogant know-it-all with a never-ending string of women hanging on his arm.

Handsome wasn’t the word to describe Finn, her late, ex-boyfriend’s partner. She’d been around Finbar Donahue enough to know he looked at his world as if he were the Almighty himself. The former Army Ranger made her way too nervous. She tensed up to such an extent, her voice broke. 

Romance wasn’t part of this equation. Her dream to launch herself, stitch by stitch, came down to landing the job. On a mission, her goal was simple. She closed her eyes and prayed tomorrow she’d nail it.

Buy It: www.tirpub.com/DeadlyAlliance

How about romantic travel to Lake Arrowhead, California, where Deadly Alliance takes place? Fall colors mix with evergreens around this pristine mountain lake. Bring a picnic basket and rent a pontoon!

Book Buyers Best finalist Kathleen Rowland is devoted to giving her readers fast-paced, high-stakes suspense with a sizzling love story sure to melt their hearts. Lily’s Pad and the Intervenus Series: A Brand New Address and Betrayal at Crater’s Edge are sweet. Deadly Alliance and her work-in-progress, Unholy Alliance, are contracted with Tirgearr Publishing and written for adults.

Kathleen used to write computer programs but now writes novels. She grew up in Iowa where she caught lightning bugs, ran barefoot, and raced her sailboat on Lake Okoboji. Now she wears flip-flops and sails with her husband, Gerry, on Newport Harbor but wishes there were lightning bugs in California.

Kathleen exists happily with her witty CPA husband, Gerry, in their 70’s poolside retreat in Southern California where she adores time spent with visiting grandchildren, dogs, one bunny, and noisy neighbors. While proud of their five children who’ve flown the coop, she appreciates the luxury of time to write. If you’d enjoy news, sign up for Kathleen’s newsletter at http://www.kathleenrowland.com/

Find Kathleen online at these sites as well: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/786656.Kathleen_Rowland http://www.amazon.com/Kathleen-Rowland/e/B007RYMF7S/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1450835163&sr=1-2-ent


Podcasts: Radiolab

I'll admit I don't listen to this one consistently. I only cue it up if the topic sounds interesting. The figure skating one was good, and the one about the girl who doesn't exist (which even mentioned Georgetown, Texas, my old stomping grounds!), and the one about the buried bodies . . . And then I listened to "Playing God," and wow. So tough to listen to, but really one to make you think about how we as society deal with major problems and come up with solutions. When there's no "right" answer, and every possible answer has something wrong with it, how do you decide?

In short, Radiolab tells really interesting stories that pose complicated questions. It's designed to make you think. It's the kind of podcast you want others to listen to so you can have long discussions about the subjects.

I don't subscribe to many podcasts and only listen to them while out for my daily walk, but I'm always open to suggestions. Pitch me something cool to add to my playlist!


Movies: The Imposter

I'd meant to see this some time ago, then forgot about it, and then heard it mentioned again on Pop Culture Happy Hour, so finally sat down and watched it.

The Imposter is a documentary about how renown identity thief Frédéric Bourdin convinced a family in San Antonio, Texas, that he was their missing brother/son Nicholas Barclay despite speaking with an accent and having the wrong color eyes. The lingering question becomes: Did the family know from the start that Bourdin was lying, and if so, why did they go along with it? Did they just want to believe, or had they done something to Nicholas that they needed to cover up by having a stand-in?

Despite a not entirely satisfying ending, it is an interesting story. Bourdin candidly explains his methods for assuming Nicholas' identity. The family members attempt to explain the wide range of emotions that rocked them as well. But the real star comes late to the stage—private investigator Charlie Parker is quite fun to listen to. I also enjoyed the perspective of FBI agent Nancy Fisher.

If you like other documentaries like Catfish or Capturing the Friedmans, you'll probably enjoy this one.


Concert: Rob Thomas & Counting Crows at Shoreline Amphitheatre (Mountain View, CA)

Or: Partying Like It's 1996

I go see Rob pretty much any time he's within driving distance, and my husband is a big Counting Crows fan, so this concert was custom made for us.

The show started with K Phillips, someone I wasn't familiar with, but I did enjoy his music. Definitely showed his Nashville and Austin influences.

Rob's set was mostly older stuff; the only song he did from the newest album was the latest single "Pieces." I was sort of sorry about that because I really like The Great Unknown. At the same time, however, this concert reminded me how long it's been since I listened to the other two albums and how much I like those as well.

He played "Unwell," which is a great song, but I kind of wish he'd do "Dizzy" instead. I feel like those two songs have the same sentiment behind them, but "Dizzy" is the better of the two in that it cuts closer to the bone. (Wouldn't say no to "Here Comes Horses" either, Rob, next time you're in town.)

And while I'm addressing you directly, Rt, you can stop telling that same "Smooth" story now. We all know it.

But you're looking fit, and we love you, and speaking of looking well, Adam Duritz also seemed in good spirits. This was my third time seeing him and Counting Crows in concert, and the best time. Adam had good energy. Lots of cuts from the latest album, and of course all the favorites. There was also the obligatory moment in which they were all on stage together, singing "Holiday In Spain" and "Rain King" to finish things out. It's cliché, but no less fun for all that. Adam and Rob singing together met expectations yet somehow also seemed to exceed them in that it was better than it had any right to be.

As far as stagecraft, I'd call this simple but effective. I enjoyed the pseudo-cityscape of lights in Rob's set. It was interesting to watch them turn the stage over for Counting Crows; they had it down to a science but it still took a while, and they were loading some things directly into the truck. This tour must be a bruiser. Counting Crows had a panel of lights behind them, and they were used to good effect along with the usual spots.

Overall, one of the better shows, and I like Shoreline as a venue, though it more or less looks like dozens of other similar places. It was a great night.


Books: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I know I'm late to the Wolf Hall party. The size of the book put me off for a while, but I found an inexpensive copy at Half-Price Books and bought it. I'm glad I did. It was perfect for a couple long plane rides.

The opening scene of the book was a tad confusing. It took me a moment to understand what I was reading, and then also I didn't love it. I wasn't sure I'd keep reading. But within a handful of pages, the book had captured me. Once it had me snared, I couldn't stop.

This is a fictional history of Henry VIII's attempts to set aside Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn instead, all seen through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. I've read a lot of historical fiction, plenty of it based around Henry VIII and his wives. But I knew very little about Cromwell before reading this book, and I still don't know much, by which I mean I don't know what bits of the book have been extracted from truth and what parts are spun fantasy. In any case, the whole is engrossing.

As for titular Wolf Hall, well, they never actually go. It is the seat of the Seymour family, and though it is mentioned a good number of times, and Jane Seymour dances around the edges of the novel [SPOILER FOLLOWS], it isn't until the final page that Cromwell makes arrangements for Henry to visit Wolf Hall during his annual progress. One supposes this sets up Bring Up the Bodies. I'll get around to reading that one as soon as I finish a couple others I have stacked up. I'm not sure I could jump immediately into more of this kind of thing after such a hefty diet of it the past month. As a "meal," it was certainly delicious. But it's the kind of book I need to digest before having another such feast.


Movies: For the Love of Spock

So I read that this was streaming, and I went to look for it, and we have one of those TVs where you talk into the remote and it does the search for you. I asked for "Spock" and it pulls up everything but this documentary. It says, "I found some spock selections for you." Spock selections? What, did he start a frozen dinner line? And WHY wasn't this documentary included in my "selections"?

Anyway, I did find it and watch it, and it was pretty well done. Originally conceived of as something that would focus on the character of Spock for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, after the passing of Leonard Nimoy, For the Love of Spock became also a bit of a documentary about Nimoy's life and career, though still focusing on Spock and the role's impact on Nimoy's family. So the end result is kind of a mishmash, but not a bad one.

My parents used to take me to the Star Trek movies whenever they came out. I was too young for the first one, or maybe I just don't remember it, but I do recall The Wrath of Khan having quite an impact on me. But when I think of Spock, I think of my mother. She had what was, to me, an incomprehensible love for the character, and for Leonard Nimoy. I mean, I liked him fine, I guess, but Mom was a swooner. And I just couldn't understand it.

This documentary, then, gave me some insight. For one thing, some of those old photos made Nimoy look pretty attractive. I could see why my mom might crush a little. And as a person, he was so . . . personable. How could you not like him?

For the Love of Spock was directed by Adam Nimoy, with input from his father before his passing. They talk to a number of Trek veterans and fans, but these interviews are so spotty that it's difficult to pull any meaning from them. They're mostly just soundbites. Still and all, the final package is a slick and smooth overview of Nimoy's work as Spock and what that role meant to him, his family, as well as viewers. If you're a Trekkie, it's certainly worth a watch.



Crossposted from PepperWords.

 If you want to know what I'm feeling insecure about, please take a look at my post on pre-conference jitters—and then share any advice you might have! In less than a month now I'll be attending my first conference as a guest author. The panels don't worry me; it's handling my first signing table that's giving me the shakes. Safety in numbers, though, or so I keep telling myself. (But what if I'm a bust and no one comes to my table? my inner voice keeps wailing.)

I'm also a little nervous about upcoming reviews of Manifesting Destiny which are due out tomorrow and on the 23rd. Hope the reviewers like the book. And if YOU happen to be a reviewer and interested in reading MD, please let me know and we'll work out a way to get you a copy.

Okay, question of the month is: How do you find the time to write in your busy day?

Well, for one thing I'm very fortunate in that writing is my day job. I pack the kids off to school, take my morning walk, then come home and (ostensibly) write. That's not to say I don't have a dozen other things to distract me: laundry, dishes, trips to the store, other errands, appointments, etc. I try to keep all those to one or two days a week so that at least three days are clear for several hours of writing. Doesn't always work that way, and laundry and dishes are a daily thing, but if I don't schedule myself well, I feel like I'm wasting this wonderful opportunity of being home and "being a writer." I want it to be a job, not a hobby. And I remind myself that if I ever want to see the results I crave, I have to take it seriously. Same as exercise. I don't always love working out, and I don't always love writing, but I dislike myself even more if I don't do them.

Join in the fun by visiting other writers' IWSG posts here.


Small Actors

They're referred to as "A-list," but what does that mean, really? That they get paid top dollar? That they can "open a movie"? I actually see it as a weightiness. Some actors are heavy enough to hold down the big screen and some . . . aren't.

George Clooney is, in my mind, probably the Pet Rock Major of the cinema. That man pins the screen no matter what he's doing. Tom Cruise is up there, too. I'm no big fan of Cruise, but he has weight on the screen, and that's evident even in his early work. These are actors who don't need someone else on with them in order to hold a viewer's interest.

Think of the movie screen as a piece of paper left outside. A big enough rock like Clooney or Cruise can hold it down without any trouble. No breeze will blow that paper away. But some actors are smaller, more like pebbles. They need a couple helper rocks to keep the paper where it belongs.

I won't name names. But I will say that pebbles don't often become larger rocks. You kind of are or aren't a boulder. (A boulder, on the other hand, can be reduced to pebbles should the career fall apart.)

There's nothing wrong with being a pebble. Embrace who you are and work with those limitations. And, though there's talk of this being the golden age of television and television being as good or better than film, let's think of the small screen as a smaller sheet of paper. One a pebble might easily hold down without any trouble.

Many people might find this offensive. It's not meant to be. "You're telling me not to aim higher! You're trying to limit me!" I'm only suggesting you stay in your weight class. I'm practical that way.


Movies: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Yes, it was predictable. But you don't watch a movie like this for the plot. You watch it for the jokes. And while Popstar didn't have me ROTFL, it did make me LOL a number of times.

Andy Samberg stars as Conner, a solo pop star who has broken out from his group Style Boyz. Though Conner's first solo album did well, his sophomore effort hits the skids and sends his career into a downward spiral. The whole thing is done in faux documentary style.

Basically, if you find Andy Samberg's brand of comedy funny, you'll probably enjoy this movie. (Is Samberg the new Adam Sandler in that he's got a definite style?) Popstar was exactly the kind of comedy I was looking for, and so I enjoyed it. Alas, it's also the kind of comedy that doesn't come around very often any more. Guess I'm old school. I feel like most "funny" is sold now as toilet humor or earnest dramedy. Sometimes I just want some slapstick, hold the raunch. But it seems I have to reach back a bit to find those things nowadays: old Will Farrell movies, or even back to Monty Python. Yes, I know those films do have some low jokes, but they don't push the threshold, at least not my threshold. And I refuse to apologize if my bar is too low. Or high. Or something.

Popstar didn't do well, so I suspect we'll see even fewer of these kinds of films than ever. And I'll admit I'm glad I didn't pay to see it in the cinema; it wasn't worth the high ticket prices. Maybe we'll see more direct-to-HBO comedies from Samberg et al.? I know I wasn't wowed by 7 Days in Hell but... I'd take that over a lot of other comedy offerings of late.


Movies: Keanu

I went into this having only ever seen one Key & Peele sketch that I honestly hadn't thought was all that funny. I went in knowing it had something to do with them wanting their cat back. And that was the extent of any preconceptions I had before watching this movie.

With that in mind, Keanu was a cute movie. I love cats, after all. I didn't love the tension surrounding the cat however. While I knew nothing bad was actually going to happen to the cat, even the potential for the cat to be harmed really bothered me. This cute little kitten in all these stressful scenarios—I didn't like it.

Still, the movie had funny moments. The George Michael thing. (Faith was the first CD I bought secretly because I knew my parents didn't want me to have it, so I have a soft spot for that album and George Michael in general.) I liked that there were actual consequences to their actions. The romance was there but not egregious. (I did have issues with the wife getting turned on by the bad boy thing, though; why do we insist on perpetuating that? And why did the wife get boiled down to a sexual object?)

I feel as though, intentionally or not, there is a commentary on class and society in this film. Two middle-class black men playing gangster, and they ways they change their dialogue and behavior in order to "fit in" . . . I'm sure it's the kind of thing students will be able to pick apart and write papers on.

In short, it's a solid little movie, though nothing I need to watch again. I would, however, watch more Key & Peele.