5.31.2016

Television: The Night Manager 1.5

That "so close yet so far" feeling. Jonathan manages to get info to Angela re trucks he thinks are carrying arms but . . . Nope. Just farm equipment and grain. On the plus side, Corky finally bites it. God, he was obnoxious. Not wrong, but obnoxious anyway.

Roper brings his chippy out to the mercenary camp, though it's not clear why. Corky warns Jonathan there can be no good reason for it, but the reason has yet to be revealed.

One suspects Roper can't be so stupid as to not have put two and two together, though. Everything goes to hell just when this one guy shows up in his life? Though his haste in making Jonathan one of the gang is also bizarre.

Meanwhile, Angela is having the rug pulled out from under her and her project. Her superior is shuttled off to a cushy new job, and her American counterpart (I just call him Martian Manhunter) is called home. That Game of Thrones guy (Tobias Menzies) comes to her house and threatens her, and the next night Angela finds her place ransacked and her husband suffering a blow to the head. All this + the bad info from Jonathan = not a good time.

One more episode to wrap it all up.

And if you enjoy The Night Manager or other Le Carré novels, try mine: The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. Let's get that one made into a miniseries, shall we?

5.30.2016

Ancient Egyptian Fortunetelling Deck

This is an oracle deck created by Paris Debono. It doesn't come with instructions, but there is a Facebook group that gives a general overview of the spread this deck uses—appropriately enough, a pyramid spread. A couple examples below:

 

The top card sets the tone for the reading. The two cards immediately below that one either support or hinder the top card's energy. "The heart of the matter" sits with Card #5, with #4 and #6 influencing that. Then you read the last line through to the outcome at #10. More or less.

It's all very intuitive, which is good for people who try to rely too much on keywords and concrete meanings. However, it's not for everyone, and I'd appreciate some little booklet or something. I mean, I get that Cat, Snake, and Jackal are . . . bad? That Mask and Sphinx suggest things hidden and mysterious. But I'd like a little more.

Still, it's been good practice for me (one of the aforementioned logical types). So maybe a deck like this is just what I need.

20 cards total. Shop this and other decks by Paris here.

5.29.2016

Movies: Hail, Caesar!

I really just wanted this to be a bit funnier than it was.

It's not a bad movie, but I think perhaps it tried to stuff in more than it should.

The overarching story is of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who is a movie studio fixer in the 1950s. That is, his job is to keep the stars in line and make sure all the PR is good. He arranges for this and that star to be seen together, covers up when someone is in rehab, etc. He traffics in stress, and goes to confession daily. There's an almost throwaway subplot of his being offered another, less stressful and better paying job by Lockheed Martin, but [spoiler] of course he turns it down. He says his work "feels right." Which, being religious, he takes to mean God wants him to continue doing it.

Unfortunately, I didn't feel much empathy or sympathy for Eddie, and since a lot of the movie rests on the viewer necessarily connecting with him . . . It fell flat for me. I only found myself thinking he was stupid for not taking the Lockheed job so he could spend more time with his family. It's hard to be sympathetic toward someone so selfish, no matter what reason he thinks he has. His studio family needs him more? Pfft.

Eddie is the connective tissue, then, for a variety of story lines that include one star (George Clooney) being kidnapped by Communists, another (Scarlett Johansson) trying to hide a pregnancy because she's unmarried, and a Western star (Alden Ehrenreich) taking a turn in a drama while also being set up on a date with a fellow star in the name of PR. His was the cutest story arc, certainly, and Ralph Fiennes does a nice turn as the director of the drama struggling against Ehrenreich's thick accent. Even so, it's not enough to save Hail, Caesar! from feeling lackluster. The setting and time period are definitely worthy, the stories told here not so much.

At the end of the day, Hail, Caesar! is less than the sum of its parts.

5.27.2016

Television: The Night Manager 1.4

Eh. So Roper rechristens Jonathan as Andrew Birch. (It's all about trees with this guy.) Sets up some elaborate deal with Andrew as the face of some other big corporation buying farming equipment or whatever. Truth is in shows like these, it hardly matters. You know who is bad and who is good, and you have some vague notion of how and why, and the rest makes little difference.

Corky is unhinged by Jonathan's promotion, so to speak. Corky is usually the wingman on these deals.

And of course Jonathan sleeps with Roper's wife. Ugh. This subplot, just please. It's so cliché and feels very forced and pedantic. Yet of course so much of what happens relies on it. Because it's Jonathan's involvement with Mrs. Roper that causes Angela to try and yank him from the mission.

Oh, and Angela is in trouble, too, because the higher-ups that have been working with Roper have been uncovered, and they know she's the one behind it. They've killed one informant, and it's only a matter of time before they finger Jonathan/Andrew.

Probably the best episode so far, as we finally get to the meat of things here. Anticipating a sprint to the finish line in the final two episodes.

5.26.2016

Television: Documentary Now!

Stumbled across this little gem on Netflix, and it's done a good job of cheering me up when I need something funny.

In this series, Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, often accompanied by other known names (looking at you, John Slattery, among many) recreate various styles of documentaries. The first is a sendup of Grey Gardens, and they barrel roll from there. All highly amusing and oddly spot on with the way they imitate old documentaries, right down to the music.

Each is introduced in Masterpiece style by Helen Mirren.

New episodes expected in August.

5.24.2016

Incensed

I've blogged about my candle habit, but I've recently developed an incense habit, too. I guess there are worse things.

It started when I went into a little Buddhist store and saw these cool incense burners. One was shaped like a dragon, and I've just finished writing a novel (first in a trilogy) featuring a dragon, so I felt drawn to it. The coolest thing was, when you put the cone of incense in the burner, the dragon blew smoke. Wow!

I had to have it. So then I also had to have some incense for it. Because I couldn't deny my dragon his smoke.

I was such a novice that the store clerk had to show me how to light the incense and use the burner.

That was last November. Then, in December I discovered stick incense. Which I like so much more than the cones, if only because I find lighting the sticks and cleaning up after them to be a bit easier. There's also the feeling that the scent burns more evenly. BUT. Down side is that the sticks don't last as long.

Okay, so the first kind of sticks I bought were a brand known as HEM. I like them pretty well. My Dragons Blood smells great, but my Myrrh is a bit weird smelling, sometimes leaves a bad aftersmell. Those are the only ones I have by them, so it's not a very large sampling. I'd need to buy a few more by them to have any real opinion.

Next I bought a huge variety pack of Satya incense sticks. Wow. I really like most of these, though there are a couple that don't work for me. The Jasmine is way too strong. Like, headache inducing. But overall, I'd definitely buy these again.

Just recently, I also bought a few boxes of Divine incense sticks. They are somewhat different from what I guess are more traditional scents in that they are "natural flora incense." I've liked most of them, though the White Sage left a charcoal smell in my office. Since I've never burned any other white sage sticks, I don't know if this is common. These are nice for a change—scents like Lavender and Rose—but for the Patchouli I prefer the Satya ones. The Divine sticks do definitely have a sweeter smell on the whole, though, if you like that.

Okay, those of you who like incense: tell me what kind(s) and scent(s) you enjoy.

Television: The Night Manager 1.3

. . . In which Tom Hiddleston becomes a terrible "manny." He emotionally manipulates a child in order to use said child as a pawn in a potentially deadly game, and he steals the kid's phone besides.

Jonathan (Hiddleston) continues to be hounded by Roper's (Laurie) security team, so he—and from the outside Angela—work to get this particular sniffer dog by the name of Corky off the job. By planting seeds of suspicion of his own, and by making a show of bonding with young Danny, Jonathan appears to slowly win Roper to his side.

Meanwhile, it's made plain that uppity-ups back in London are in with Roper. They continue to insist there is no need to take any action on Roper. So Angela, and by extension Jonathan, may have their legs cut out from under them if/when their work is brought to light. Worse still, Jonathan might (is likely to, based on previews, but then again they edit those fairly broadly) be compromised. One can only hope Angela has buried things deeply enough.

Of course things continue to be dragged down by a pseudo-romantic plot in which Jonathan can't stop thinking about Roper's wife. I'm sorry, but I just find it so difficult to believe him as a person who can't keep it in his pants. It probably doesn't help things that women always seem to be crying when he's around. He does, however, discover that Mrs. Roper (wasn't The Ropers a sitcom?) is also spying on her husband.

Minor annoyance: the On Demand feed repeated one portion of the episode. Someone should fix that.

I do wish they'd make The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller into a miniseries. I feel like more happens in that book than seems to be happening here. Tom Hiddleston would make a good Peter, too.

5.21.2016

Movies: Captain America: Civil War

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan
Directed By: Anthony & Joe Russo
Written By: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), from the comic book by Mark Millar, using characters created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby
Marvel, 2016
PG-13; 147 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________


Well, I mean, it's better than Age of Ultron, right?

After so many of these movies—not just the Marvel ones, but all these superhero blockbuster flicks—here are the two things that seem to be key: banter, and seeing how many new and different ways there are to break landmarks, buildings, and other big things. Even before this movie started, we sat through the X-Men: Apocalypse trailer and the Independence Day: Resurgence trailer (movies no longer come without colons, btw), and they looked almost identical. The same stuff getting demolished in pretty much the same ways.

These movies also come in two distinct flavors now. 1. Superhero or team of superheroes fights bad guy or team of bad guys. 2. Superhero or team of superheroes fights another superhero or team of superheroes. It looks pretty much the same either way.

In Civil War we get Captain America versus Iron Man while other Avengers pick sides. The rift begins when the Avengers are asked to sign the Sokovia Accord which allows the UN to decide when and where to use the strength of the Avengers. Given all the collateral damage they've wreaked, it's not an entirely outrageous request that the Avengers adhere to some basic rules and protocols. Tony, Rhodie, Natasha, Wanda, and Vision agree. Steve, Clint, and Sam do not.

Things go further south when, at the signing of the Accord, a bomb goes off and Cap's old friend Bucky Barnes is pegged as the culprit. Cap of course moves to save/help Bucky while everyone else is after him. Cap and Iron Man amass teams, and the shootout begins. At one point they literally stand on either side of a line and face one another. Well, no one ever lauded these movies for their subtlety.

The fight scenes in this one suffer from choppy, shaky action that makes it difficult to admire. The introduction of Spider-Man makes him more annoying than anything else, too. I understand what they were going for—"What would a teenaged superhero do if invited to join up?" The answer: talk too much and be mostly obnoxious. Don't get me wrong, he's perfect for Spider-Man. Just not right for this movie.

On the flip side, I actually did enjoy Black Panther. He felt integral rather than shoehorned in like Spider-Baby.

The plot itself involves a lot of moral gray areas, and while I can commend the franchise for attempting to address these things, they do so in such a glossed over way that it feels more like them trying to balm the critics than really say anything important. The chief villain here is a man who lost his family during the Sokovia fight—he wants revenge and decides the best way to get it is to instigate infighting amongst the Avengers. But he does this in such a weirdly complicated way that one can help but think, "Surely there was a more direct route?"

The deeper allegory here is one of America's place in the world. Should we work with other countries and come to the table to forge accords, or are we better off not allowing various sanctions choke chain our ability to act and react? Are we puppets for other countries' agendas when we agree to rule by committee? And are we tearing our own country apart via the political rift as we line up and take sides for our upcoming presidential election?

I don't know if the writers really meant anything as coherent as all that, but I was desperately searching for something to keep my brain engaged during fight scene after fight scene.

Best moment: Bucky asking Sam to move the seat up in the car. This one could have done with a few more moments like that one.

Most awkward moment(s): Vision's apparent crush on Scarlet Witch. And why does Scarlet Witch wear that pseudo-bustier as her superhero suit? Does it "bust-ier" her powers? Or is she just planning to go clubbing afterward?

All right. I'm done here. In short, it wasn't a bad movie. Telegraphed a lot of stuff, though, and didn't really do anything all that new or interesting. Except split up the team. Because, let's face it, it's getting harder and harder to fit everyone into any one movie. Better to split them into various franchises. More money that way, too.

Television: The Night Manager 1.2

So Jonathan (Hiddleston) gets tapped by Angela (Broadchurch's Olivia Colman) to go undercover and infiltrate Dickie Roper's organization.

That more or less sums it up.

Of course, all of this is way under the radar. Angela is doing it off the books because she can't get clearance from the uppity-ups. She does have some American guy helping her, though.

Then there's a lot of setup, just to get to the point where Jonathan saves Roper's son from would-be extortionist kidnappers. He's badly hurt in the process but begs for "no police," and Roper is, of course, grateful enough to take Jonathan home like a stray and nurse him back to health. Still, there are questions. Roper recognizes Jonathan from the hotel in Switzerland, for one thing. Lots of background checking that spits Jonathan out as a common thief. [To be clear, Jonathan has an assumed name at this point, but I've forgotten it. It's already taking all my energy not to think of him as Chris Pine, or even just Tom Hiddleston.]

The weakest points in the story thus far continue to be Jonathan falling into bed with women—just seems really unbelievable for some reason—and Hugh Laurie as at all threatening. He has his moments, but on the whole I'm not feeling it. Yet. Maybe this is the kind of thing that intensifies as we go along.

I do think the life insurance ads are a funny counterpoint, though.

5.19.2016

Haunted House Movies

On Good Friday 1999, two of my best friends and I decided to do a thematic movie night in which we rented haunted house movies. We tried to do it by decade. We went to a video store (remember those?) at picked up:

The Uninvited
The House on Haunted Hill
The Innocents

The Haunting
The Shining


. . . And one other movie. That none of us can remember.

(It also occurs to me that we didn't really have a 70s movie in there, unless there's another one we're forgetting we watched.)

It would help if we could even remember something about the final movie, but after the mind-numbing Shining, and given the late (early) hour, we simply can't. I only vaguely have the notion HBO had something to do with it. Like, we'd had to settle for some HBO movie rather than a "real" one. But I can't even remember who starred in it. A guy . . . with dark hair . . . I think there were kids?

Clearly, this movie did not leave much of an impression. I was debating whether it might have been Haunted with Aidan Quinn, but the plot doesn't sound familiar to me. So then I also watched the Beyond Darkness trailer, which has the dark-haired man and the kids, but it didn't spark any remembrances either.

Hmm.

In truth, haunted house movies are my favorite kinds of scare—so long as they stay largely psychological and don't get too gory. I even love really bad haunted house movies. So if you have any favorites, feel free to suggest them!

5.16.2016

Books: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

This book falls under the whole "common sense" umbrella in that it mostly spells out things that, given a little thought, seem like common sense. Still, I appreciate that it prompted me to reflect on my own experiences from childhood onward. I like books that cause introspection because in order to change oneself, one first has to be self-aware and understand what and how to change.

Truth is, I don't much like the word "grit." I don't know why; maybe being female, it's a word I shy from using to describe myself. Not that I'm particularly gritty; after taking the little test, I'd say I fall square in the middle at "Somewhat Gritty." It's more that I pick my battles, but I've found (as Duckworth's research also did) that I've gotten more gritty as I've gotten older. Mostly I have to show grit when advocating or caring for others, but I've also learned when and how to do it when there's something I really want. A "top-level goal," as Duckworth puts it.

So here's what the book covers: A definition of grit and how it ends up, in the long run, being a better indicator of success and overall life satisfaction than intelligence or inherent talent; things that contribute to grit (internal and external), and how these can be leveraged to make one grittier.

As someone marked as both intelligent and talented from a young age, I definitely saw myself in this book, by which I mean I saw how, as I got older and faced increasing challenges, I struggled more. Things had always come easy, and I did not know how to deal with failure. Duckworth points out that learning how to fail is key in becoming gritty, and from experience I agree.

"Deliberate practice" versus "flow" is another interesting topic here. It makes sense that doing the same thing the same way over and over yields few, if any, results. Deliberate practice means consistently challenging and making progress. Flow, however, is that moment when it becomes effortless. This, again, is something I experienced in theatre. There came a lot of deliberate practice in the form of memorizing lines and rehearsing. But after that came flow, ideally on performance nights. In my mind flow is the result of deliberate practice; it's something you reach. In tarot, it would be the World card, which means it's time to go back to being the Fool and start another cycle of practicing on the next thing.

In writing terms, deliberate practice are the days I write even when it feels like I can't. Flow is when the dam opens and the writing comes easy. I think writing would always be difficult, though, if I didn't go through the tough days. I would never experience flow.

I could go on and on. Duckworth's chapter on hope and fixed versus growth mindsets again showed me how I'd changed. As a child I was told I was smart and talented and that was all I needed to be. Now I know better. Those attributes are great, but not if they atrophy. A friend once marveled at my IQ, and I told her, "It's what you do with it that matters." People who think they know enough and have all the answers are the scariest people in the world. And you don't have to be brilliant to be gritty. But it takes a certain amount of grit to be brilliant in any way that makes a difference.

And that's more or less Duckworth's point. She explains why grit matters, gives insight into what contributes to grit, and in doing so also points out ways to become grittier. The book is engagingly written, filled with anecdotes and interviews so that one doesn't feel snowed in by data. Definitely an interesting angle on how and why some people succeed. Gave me a lot to think about, which I enjoy doing.


5.15.2016

Television: The Night Manager 1.1

Finally getting around to this as my usual television schedule falls away for summer break. Though I've read some John Le Carré, I am not familiar with this particular book. My understanding is that it has been repurposed for a modern-day story line.

So far the upshot of the plot is that Tom Hiddleston plays Jonathan Pine, the titular night manager of (at first) a hotel in Egypt. He's hit up by the mistress of a dangerous individual, she gives him some sensitive information which he passes on to British agents of some sort, and then she ends up first beat up by the boyfriend and—when Pine's people refuse to give her passage out of the country—eventually dead.

Pine then evidently paraphrases Davy Crockett and says, "You all can go to hell, I'm going to Switzerland," where he becomes night manager at some other fancy hotel. Like you do.

The information the mistress gave Pine hinges on a famous British businessman named Richard Roper, played by Hugh Laurie. He's clearly set up as a villain, someone peddling napalm and other such things to nasty governments and/or insurgents. But the way he announces, "I'm Dickie Roper!" when he arrives at the hotel in Switzerland is laugh-out-loud funny. He becomes very serious and dark rather quickly, but that moment is going to stick with me.

My fundamental problem with this so far is that I'm somehow supposed to believe . . . at least, I think I'm supposed to believe? . . . that Pine fell for this mistress lady in short order. He'd been the night manager for some time, it seems, and she'd been in the Egyptian hotel for a while, too, but it was only when she decided to hit on him . . . And then they had, like, one night together and it was immediate love? Maybe the timeline has been compressed, or maybe I'm not actually meant to believe it was love so much as Pine feeling bad for having compromised her and eventually caused her death, but the way it's done plays false in some basic way. As a motivator for everything that is surely set to come, I find this particular device weak.

Still, it's an interesting story so far, and beautifully shot. I'll watch more.

Meanwhile, if you like The Night Manager, or Le Carré in general, I hope you'll consider giving my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller a read. It's in the same vein and available on Amazon (as linked) and a variety of other outlets (linked by my publisher here).

5.14.2016

Movies: Gambit (2012)

No, it's not an X-Men movie.

It's actually a loose remake of a 1966 film starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine.

We stumbled onto this one while once again searching for something beyond the top layer of new releases and junk food films that rise to the top of the "suggested" list like so much scum on a pond. And though it has something like 18% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, the cast sold us on giving it a try.

And we really enjoyed it.

For one thing, the script for this rehash was written by the Coen brothers, and it shows. There were some laugh-out-loud moments that played quite well.

Colin Firth (and I've said before I'll watch him in just about anything) plays Harry Deane, art curator to the wealthy and obnoxious Lord Shabandar (Alan Rickman, who I'll also watch in just about anything). Though his personal motivations are not plumbed all that deeply—it seems the writers believe it's enough that Shabandar is a terrible person—Deane decides to dupe his employer out of several million pounds. To do so, he needs the help of PJ Puznowski (Cameron Diaz), a Texan cowgirl who happens to have the right last name for the job.

I won't go into the details, but things play out in amusing fashion. Firth is a good sport throughout, and while I could complain about the portrayal of Texan women and the stereotypes therein . . . In the service of comedy, I'll let this one go.

The overall effect was of a heist film nicely blended with a screwball comedy. Just the right thing to watch while sipping some wine on a Friday night.

Television: Danger Mouse (2015)

It almost goes without saying that when one grows up with something, that person is predisposed to like any "new" version of that thing less than the original. And so it goes with Danger Mouse and me.

I used to watch the original series on Nickelodeon, and I loved it. Sometimes my best friend and I would play Danger Mouse, and I would be DM and she would be Penfold. I was even thinking of being Danger Mouse for Hallowe'en a few years back; it would be such an easy costume to manage.

My kids are now quite familiar with the original series as well, having watched it extensively first on YouTube then on Netflix. So they were keen to see what the reboot would be like.

They didn't like it either.

Even my 6-year-old can tell when animation is cheap. He told me flat out he didn't like "the way they did the pictures." Though the pilot attempted to hang a lampshade on that by having Colonel K go on about not having enough money. Hmm.

The voice acting bothered me a bit. They tried to more or less replicate the original voices, but it's just off enough that I'd almost rather they had done something completely new and different rather than imitate. And Baron Greenback is now Baron Von Greenback and inexplicably German. His famous rasp, meanwhile, is not all that . . . raspy.

Overall, the whole thing gives those of us who love the original Danger Mouse a sense of having been thrust into a bizarro version of it.

To be fair, however, we've only tried the first episode. I will give the show a couple more tries before dismissing it completely.

5.13.2016

Free Sherlock Holmes Story!

Today through the 17th, my Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of Ichabod Reed" is free on Amazon. It's an e-book, but remember that you don't need an actual Kindle to read Kindle books. Amazon has apps for your phone or tablet, and you can even just read it on your computer. Click here to grab a copy. And thanks for being readers!

5.10.2016

Television: Elementary, "A Difference in Kind"

The season finalé devolves into a complicated game of villainy politics. The short answer seems to be that Vikner wanted Morland Holmes dead because others in the organization were lobbying to tap Morland as their new leader in Moriarty's absence. Vikner had the attempt made on Morland's life, which sidelined him as he was too wrapped up in Sabine's death. But now it seems Morland might again be able (and willing?) to step in.

Which he does. After swimming through a bunch of relative nonsense, the upshot becomes Morland having Vikner killed and accepting the role of head of Moriarty's Web of Intrigue (TM). One can't help but wonder what Moriarty would think, given she knows how much Sherlock dislikes his father. Also, if Vikner was the father of Moriarty's daughter and is now dead . . . Where is this child? Who is caring for her? (In truth, we have no reason to believe Vikner was taking care of her either. In fact, Moriarty hadn't wanted him involved if I remember correctly? But it's still a worthy question.)

Sherlock is naturally put off by the idea of his father as evil mastermind, though isn't that how he always thought of him? So maybe it's the association with Moriarty in particular that turns his stomach. But Morland tells him the plan is to destroy the organization from the inside out. Do we believe that? Does it really matter?

Morland also says they will no longer operate in New York, but that seems ridiculous. New York must be very fertile ground for that kind of work. Saying your son is off limits is one thing, saying an entire major city is? I'd question that leadership.

In the end, Morland leaves Sherlock his safe house, and Sherlock in turn tries to give it to Watson. Morland pricked Sherlock's conscience by suggesting Watson was not safe in his company, that she was made vulnerable by association with him, so he was seeking to distance her. She didn't go for it. But in an astounding show of lack of forethought, she also suggested setting Marcus up with her sister.

The episode felt very tidy, and so I have to think they weren't sure whether they'd be getting another season at the time they wrote and filmed it. I'm actually still a little surprised they did given the move to Sunday and the slump in viewership. This would have been a fine place to end it, but there's room for more story too. See you (and them) again in the fall.

5.08.2016

Movies: Tumbledown

A sweet gem of a movie that we stumbled upon while searching for something that wasn't, well, all the usually hyped crap we're so sick of.

Tumbledown stars Jason Sudeikis and Rebecca Hall, and also puts Blythe Danner to good supportive use, though I feel like there was a lot more story to the supporting cast and characters—as if maybe this could be a series of books, really, set in this small Maine town. But that's probably just the writer in me getting fanciful.

Hall plays Hannah, widow of an obscure folk musician, and Sudeikis plays Andrew, a professor who wants to write a book about Hannah's deceased husband. Hannah herself is trying to write her husband's biography but can't seem to organize her thoughts and feelings in any useful way, so she taps Andrew to help her pull the manuscript together.

Though things progress in a very predictable fashion, this is a cute-sweet film with good performances. I enjoy Hall as an actress in general; she's shown fine range in a variety of projects. And Sudeikis is still funny here, but he also proves he can do more than broad comedy.

I do wonder at Hollywood's being so convinced that any time two people [of the opposite sex] get together to work on something, it will unavoidably become a romance. I think I'll write a screenplay in which two people work together and are just friends despite all the pressure from people around them to become romantically involved. That, in my experience, is far more realistic.

Then again, I guess we don't go to movies for the realism.

This movie also reminds me of why I no longer live in the Northeast. Because it's fucking cold is why.

In short, a cute film well worth a look when you're tired of all the usual popcorn fare.


5.04.2016

'Merica!

The latest Cracked podcast is about how people from other countries view Americans. This kind of thing always interests me. As I've said before, when I travel abroad most people tell me I "can't" be American because I'm not loud enough, don't complain enough, etc. So I'm sort of embarrassed at this reputation my country has garnered.

There are things about America even I don't understand or subscribe to. For example, I've always had a lot of guy friends. On the podcast they go on and on about how that's normal for people in other countries but not here, and it's true that a lot of my female friends don't understand about my male friends. "Like, ex-boyfriends?" they ask. And I'm like, "No. Just friends. Like, you know? Friends?" We had a whole show about that, didn't we? It was a hit. But then again the natural progression of that show was that all the guy and girl friends would eventually get together, so . . . Yeah, Americans are weird about that. (Are my guy friends secretly hoping I'm into them? And no, they're not all gay. Only about half of them are.) Thanks, Cracked, for undermining my confidence and making me second-guess my healthy, happy friendships. You jackasses.

Another thing the podcast talks about is how even different parts of America are like different countries. And I can attest to this because I've lived in three very different parts of America myself. I grew up in the South (Louisiana and Texas), lived for 12 years in Massachusetts, and am now on the West Coast. So let's break that down.

Growing up in the South, we did that thing where people were Miss or Mister and then their first name. We were polite and usually warm, but even when we're giving someone the cold shoulder we sound friendly. We're the birthplace of backhanded compliments. We chat with people we don't know as if they're lifelong friends. We smile a lot.

Okay, so it was quite a shock when I then moved to Massachusetts. People do not smile there. They don't talk to you unless they absolutely have to. They're very tight knit and not welcoming. I lived there 12 years and was always an outsider. Between that and the snow, I really disliked it.

Visits home were tricky, too, because I'd forget I was back in the South and so I'd be thinking, Why the hell is that person smiling at me like that? before remembering where I was and relaxing.

So now I'm on the West Coast in California. It's more like the South in that it's friendlier, at least on the surface. But a lot of it is superficial. People here make promises they don't keep, which is something you can't get away with in the South or even in the Northeast (unless you're a politician). In California, though, everyone seems to be a politician of one kind or another. It's a game of who's who and personal leverage. And there's a simultaneous sense of being insanely busy and very laid back at the same time. Leisure is work and vice versa. It's so weird.

I knew I'd become sufficiently Cali when I got on a plane from SFO to LAX one day and I and everyone else on board kept our sunglasses on.

The Cracked podcast only touched on this, but I remember my friend Marieke from The Netherlands being amazed at the portion sizes in America. The Big Gulp in particular just astounded her.

And I thought it was interesting that one Cracked guest from Japan was perplexed by how we treat our pets like family members.

In all it was an interesting perspective.

5.03.2016

Television: Elementary, "The Invisible Hand"

Last week hinted at the return of Moriarty, or at least her syndicate as she is currently incarcerated (on at least two shows, no less, if you happen to also watch Game of Thrones). So when a guard and one of Morland's underlings are murdered at his building and then a bomb goes off, Sherlock and Watson swing into action in search of whomever has taken over Moriarty's dealings. Turns out it's a professor with business connections to rival Morland's—and also the father of Moriarty's daughter.

Joshua Vikner is his name, and he tells Sherlock and Watson they are "untouchable" because Moriarty has strictly forbidden any harm come to them. This does not seemingly extend to Papa Holmes however, and the reason for these assassination attempts remain a mystery. Is it really just business? Why so long ago and then now? Is it only because Sherlock is just now beginning to investigate the attempt on his father, the one that killed Sabine? Is he (or Morland) getting too close to something?

Meanwhile, Morland is moved to a safe house but not out of the city. I suppose he insisted on staying close to see what came of it all. He's keen to find who did it and put the screws to him despite Sherlock insisting his father allow the justice system to do its work.

The on-site murderer is our Russian friend, the one who'd skipped out of the gulag or whatever he'd been in. He gets captured then murdered before he can tell anyone anything of value. But is Vikner (the professor) behind that? It's all pretty convoluted.

Vikner, in fact, attempts to sue for peace between his organization and Morland's. But Sherlock—the would-be intermediary—doesn't bite on the offer. He's not interested in anything under the table; he wants old-fashioned justice in the form of police and courts. Seems he should know better than to believe that can be had when dealing with people who function so entirely outside the law and by their own rules. Is there an odd streak of naiveté in him, some weird optimism? Or is he that confident in himself versus these others?

The episode ends, however, with Sherlock and Watson walking into the brownstone and being faced with a bomb, so . . . Pride goeth and all that.

Season finale next week.

5.01.2016

Books: The Rejected Writers' Book Club by Suzanne Kelman

For me, this book is the epitome of average. It's got a cute story, is populated with colorful characters, yet somehow fails to rise. I didn't hate it, but there were plenty of places where Kelman slid past things that should have had more dramatic heft. Case in point: A character chains herself to a toilet in a publishing office and the others forget and leave her there. By the time they remember and go back, police and firemen are on the scene. But all we get is, "After a stern talking to by the police officer . . ." Here's a moment that should totally be shown not told.

There is a lot crammed into this book; it almost tries to do too much work. The story—more like stories, plural—is told from the point of view of Janet, librarian of Southlea Bay, which is a tiny island in the Pacific Northwest. She gets roped into a road trip with a bunch of would-be writers who actually seek to be rejected and the adventures roll on from there. Car problems, landslides, bad weather . . . It all gets heaped on.

Truth is, I may not be the target audience for this book. As a writer myself, I thought this might be more about a group of writers attempting to get published. Instead it's possibly more a book for my mother, who might identify with Janet's problematic relationship with her adult daughter (a strong-willed only child like me). All the women in the group are seemingly a generation older than me, and while I can enjoy books that feature such characters, I definitely did not get the sense of connection that one wants between a reader and the characters.

Also, there are almost too many characters, and though each is fun in her own right, overall some streamlining might've lightened the weight of all this story. Because there's a lot of it. This book is densely packed, but maybe not in the best ways.

On the plus side, Janet has a definite voice. She isn't bland. That's what kept me from putting the book down entirely.

Would I read another in this series? I honestly don't know. I'd have to be in a very particular mood, I think. But I will recommend this book to my mom.