6.29.2016

YouTube: Every Frame a Painting and Nerdwriter1

Those are two different, er, channels I guess? I don't spend a lot of time on YouTube, so I'm not savvy. But for film lovers, I can recommend looking into these two.

Every Frame a Painting looks at film techniques. As it's helmed by a film editor, most of the discussions are about the visual, like tracking shots. He also looks at certain actors and directors; if you like Edgar Wright, check out the episode about how the editing in his movies adds to the visual comedy. Overall, there is a teaching tone to this . . . series or whatever it is. Film students might find it particularly insightful. (I have a film degree but did no practical work, by which I mean I did not take camera or editing courses.)

Nerdwriter1 has a variety of things, including case studies of various movies like The Prestige and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I can also recommend his look at Neil Gaiman's Sandman, in which he focuses on the use of Shakespeare. His stuff is broader is scope than Every Frame and may have wider appeal, but both are good, even for people not coming from a film background.

Television: Houdini and Doyle

Okay, so when my dad told me about this show I thought it would be exactly up my alley. But when I went to find in On Demand, they didn't have the first four episodes. So I had to begin at Episode 5. I don't know how this might have impacted my perception of the show, and I might try one more episode to see if maybe this one was just off, but . . . I wasn't wowed.

The overall premise of the show is that Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle help London Metropolitan Police solve crimes. Sounds fun, right? Since I didn't get to see the first episode, I don't know much more about the setup—how they got tapped for this or whatever. But anyway, in this particular episode they were looking for kidnapped girls and the Met was leaning on a proclaimed psychic to help them as well. Meanwhile, Harry was worried about his mother's latest boyfriend.

The whole thing was very . . . serviceable? But not particularly well written or engaging. It lacked banter and the very fun I'd expected. And I figured the culprit out the moment he appeared. (You don't give a character a cut on the cheek without that being important for some reason.)

Kudos, I suppose, to their trying to make it not entirely a boys' club by adding a female detective named Adelaide. I don't know, based on this limited outing, whether I'm supposed to believe there's any chemistry between her and either of the titular leads, but I certainly didn't feel any.

As I said, I might try one more episode just to see if maybe this one was off. On the whole I'd liken the production values to The Librarians, which is in itself a fun enough show. Houdini and Doyle, however, lacks the lift of The Librarians. Or at least this one episode does.

6.28.2016

The Passage of Time in Game of Thrones

I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering about this. I don't read all those GoT blogs and whatnot; there are just too many, and so many are nitpicky and getting down to a level of detail I have no interest in. But all this season I've had to wonder about how time works in Westeros.

IIRC (and I may not because I don't watch with the kind of avid attention so many others do), we spent almost an entire season a while back trying to get Arya and the Hound to her family, just in time for them to be slaughtered. And then there was more wandering around or whatever. It took ages, or seemed to. But this season people are zipping around like they've managed to build transporters or something. Theon and his sister turned up in Meereen, like, that fast. Varys was in Dorne and back in Meereen in the same episode! And how did they have time to make all those sails?

I suppose we're supposed to assume an amount of time has passed, but we're given no good indication. It's like the writers decided they needed to skip on ahead and keep things moving else this show would never end. And it would also get really boring to watch people trudge/ride/sail from place to place.

Still, the pacing just felt really off this season. It was a good season, mind, and the finale sets up some nice situations. One can see an end on the horizon. Which may have been the point of moving people so quickly.

6.22.2016

Books: The Caped Crusade by Glen Weldon

I picked this book up not because I'm some big Batman fan (I'm not) but because I like Glen Weldon on Pop Culture Happy Hour and wondered if his unique voice transferred well to the written word. Short answer: it does.

Longer answer: I bristle a bit at the term "normal" to stand opposite "nerd" in this book. Glen doesn't take time to define either, which means we're either supposed to know or draw from context which camp we as readers fall in. But is "nerd" here solely Batman fans? Or the wider world of nerddom? I don't find this an either/or classification, more a sliding scale that moves not just horizontally but in three dimensions. You need a plotted, 3D graph to see where people fall as "nerds" or, ugh, "normals." And what is normal? There's no such thing really, and here Glen seems to use it to mean people who only engage with Batman in the larger pop culture world rather than people who consistently read the comics and stick with the character through thick and thin. So I guess, when it comes to Batman, I'm a normal.

When it comes to comics, I'm a normal, more or less. I read Betty and Veronica as a kid, and all my parents' old Peanuts books, and I had all the Garfield books too. Later, I subscribed via my local comic book shop to the ST:TNG comics and The X-Files. Superheroes were never my thing.

I first connected with Batman when I would watch the animated series after school. With my mom of all things because she really liked it too. I was in high school at this time, had blissfully missed all the Burton and Schumacher movies. I wouldn't bother with the Bat again until Christopher Nolan made his films.

So that's where I'm coming from in approaching this book. Weldon does a nice job of chronicling—and chronologizing (I made that word up)—the life of Batman in all his various iterations and cycles. I found it easy to read, even for a "normal," and engaging enough, even for someone who has no real investment in the character.

It's clear Weldon is invested, however. And he does a good job of conveying his knowledge and research. There's a lot of information here, and it's organized well. Though, if he wanted to really punch up the whole nerd culture angle, he could have done more with that. As it stands, this is largely a history of Batman with some editorializing on how nerds felt about each new version versus how the wider world embraced the popular films, TV shows, etc.

No mention of Gotham, though. Hmm.

Overall an interesting read.

Shout out to Dean Trippe, who earns a mention at the end of the book. Incredibly talented guy with an origin story that he's used to help others in wonderful ways.

6.17.2016

Music: Songs I Hate

Lately my kids have been weirdly persistent in trying to figure out which songs I hate most and why. It all started when I asked my husband to make me a piña colada and he started singing "Escape" (also known as "The Piña Colada Song") and I demanded he stop. The kids found this extremely interesting, no doubt adding it to their arsenal of ways to get at me.

Thing is, I used to like that song, but there's something about it that is too catchy, and I sort of hate songs that sing in their claws and won't just go away. Also, as I got older and better understood the song's meaning, I found it unnaturally upbeat for the subject matter. (Haha! We were both planning to cheat! But since we ended up with each other anyway, it's all good!)

Now of course it would be impossible to create a list of every song I dislike. For one thing, there are whole categories of music I don't even listen to, but I can't generalize and say I hate all those songs. I don't know them, am not particularly drawn in by them, but I don't actively hate them.

For the purposes of this post, then, I will talk about songs that, when they come on the radio, I cannot change the station fast enough. And still this list won't be exhaustive. Because I'll almost certainly have forgotten something.

As for "Escape," I'll sometimes leave it on. Songs I cannot stand to hear even the first few notes of, however, include:

"I've Got You, Babe"
"Wind Beneath My Wings"
"Killing Me Softly"
"Somewhere Out There" (yes, from An American Tail)
Most Dan Fogelberg songs*

These are songs that, if I'm somewhere and they are playing, I have the strong urge to *ahem* escape. You'll notice they are all relatively slow songs. I think I dislike songs that labor under a certain amount of weight. And yet I love Christopher Cross songs, and I'll listen to "One More Night" by Phil Collins without complaint. I even learned to play "Against All Odds" on the keyboard, though I've since forgotten how.

*Yet I like some Dan Fogelberg. "Go Down Easy" is a great song. In fact, I enjoy most of the High Country Snows album, but that may be because my parents exposed me to it early. Sort of like being inoculated.

As I said, I'm probably forgetting a lot of songs here. Ones I perhaps have managed to avoid for so long I've forgotten they exist. Which is sort of the goal. If you have any songs you hate—or songs you think I'd hate—let me know about them in the comments.

Movies: Midnight Special

I met Jeff Nichols at a film festival a few years back, and he was very encouraging about my screenwriting. However, I wasn't—am still not—ready to take his advice, which was to mount my own production of my script. Does that mean I'm not passionate enough? Or am I simply acknowledging my limits? I don't know.

Anyway, I feel the need to let the reader know my feelings about this movie might be colored by the fact Mr. Nichols was so nice to me.

I had heard good things about Midnight Special, and I have to say it was fairly entertaining. Reminded me of Starman, which was a movie I truly loved as a kid.

Midnight Special is about an 8-year-old boy named Alton who has special abilities. He seems to catch satellite signals, and he also sometimes has light shoot out of his eyes. As the film begins, we only see that there is an amber alert for the boy, and that two men are holding him at a hotel. Then we also see a sort of Branch Davidian-like cult is looking for Alton, too. They want to retrieve him, so it's apparent this cult is where Alton was living.

The FBI gets involved because Alton somehow has access to highly guarded, encrypted government secrets. Things go from there.

While the setup definitely had my attention, I have to say the plot is very linear and thin. This isn't a layered movie, and though there is some action, it's not at the level of the usual sci-fi film. The cult plot is . . . not dropped exactly, but rather abruptly severed. And there was really only ever one possible end result to this movie, so it didn't keep me guessing or anything. But I still enjoyed it for what it was.

6.15.2016

Television: O.J.: Made in America"

Okay, so let me be clear about where I am with this. I caught part of the first episode while at the hairdresser's. Then I watched most of the second episode, and I've just seen all of the third. I believe there are five total, but at about two hours each, one can only absorb so much at a time.

We all know how it ends, but I'm enjoying the interviews and in-depth reporting. The people who made this documentary managed to get access to a lot of the players in the O.J. circus. And everything is visually interesting in the way it's edited together, interviews + archival footage.

This makes the American Crime Story show look campy, though that already did to a point. Now just more so by comparison. ACS appears glib next to this. Though I'll admit to saying, "Oh, that's the David Schwimmer guy" and so on when they show old footage.

Things like the Bronco chase happened just after I graduated from high school, so I wasn't really paying much attention. We weren't sports fans in our house, so I had no particular feeling for O.J. Simpson one way or another. I'd seen him in a couple movies maybe, and I knew him from commercials, but whatever. There's a newness to all this, for me, that might not be there for those who were more invested when it all went down. That is to say, others may not find it as interesting since for them it might all be a rehash.

At the time of the trial, I was only marginally aware of it, though I remember my college roommate turning the TV on to watch the verdict. No one was going to class; everyone wanted to know. I had no opinion about the case itself, whether he was guilty or not, because I simply hadn't been paying any attention. Looking at it now, I have definite opinions, but I don't want to start any fights, so I'll keep them to myself.

In short, I'll say again that I'm enjoying this documentary miniseries. If this sort of thing interests you, give it a look. I'll be watching the last couple episodes in the next few nights.

6.12.2016

Movies: Zootopia

Finally got to see this one now that it's out on DVD. Everyone went on and on about how wonderful it is . . . And it is pretty great. I think it's voice cast perfectly, and while I found none of the "twists" surprising, I still enjoyed it.

I'd say this one is, for me, slightly better than Big Hero 6? Which I also loved but found rather rote and predictable. So the thing that makes Zootopia just a smidge better is that it's more original in its world building. Though I do wonder what the predators eat now? Manufactured proteins? Or has everyone gone veggie?

For the maybe two people out there who haven't seen it, Zootopia is about a bunny named Judy who dreams of becoming a police officer in the big city of Zootopia. Everyone tells her she can't; there's never been a bunny cop before. But of course she proves them wrong and then must battle prejudices while also facing the realization that, for someone so proud of herself for being open minded, she has some prejudices of her own. There are additional themes of trying even when everyone tells you to quit, and of helping others once you reach the top.

It's a super cute movie, one of the few I'd be willing to sit through again with the kids if and when they want to watch it. Then again, I could listen to Idris Elba talk all day long, so . . . While I don't know that this was laugh-out-loud funny the way some people told me it was, I did very much enjoy it.

6.08.2016

Movies: More Gay, Please

So I was reading this Variety article about how Finding Dory isn't as gay as people might've hoped. And they talk about none of the big superheroes are gay, and James Bond isn't gay, and isn't it time for a little more gay in our movies?

Which is why I once again want to make a case for bringing The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller to the screen. He's more intellectual than Bond, but he is the next best thing to a gay Bond.

(I know a lot of people don't want gay characters in their movies. They also don't want chocolate in their peanut butter and vice versa. But not all movies are made for just those people, any more than all candies are.)

The article cites the need to be able to market to China, which has no homosexual rights. Well, okay. But if we start letting close-minded countries dictate our entertainment policies, we'll be just as censored as they are.

So I guess the rule is: No expensive movies unless we can sell them to China. Which is why we don't have gay superheroes or gay James Bond. Cuz those movies cost too much to make for them not to play in the lucrative Chinese market.

Sigh.

For the record, I don't think Peter would cost all that much . . .

6.07.2016

Books: Day for Night by Stacey Bryan

Okay, so I haven't read it. But I did interview the author! Please read all about her and her book (described as "urban paranormal comedy") here.

6.06.2016

Movies: Alice Through the Looking Glass

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen
Directed By: James Bobin
Written By: Linda Woolverton, from characters created by Lewis Carroll
Walt Disney, 2016
PG; 113 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


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We only recently watched Burton's Alice in Wonderland on DVD. My daughter loved it; I did not. But when she lobbied to see the sequel, I didn't say no.

I'll say first off I've never been a Burton person. It's just not my thing. Add to that the recent Johnny Depp news (true or not, it sits in one's mind), which did definitely color my feelings about these movies, and . . . I mean, the first one just didn't make a lot of sense to me, which isn't unusual given Burton, but then also he probably felt that since it was Alice in Wonderland he didn't have to make sense anyway.

To be clear, Burton did not direct Through the Looking Glass, which may be why I enjoyed it more than Wonderland. Faint praise, I realize. Though I felt the reason for Alice's quest was weak (she's worried about the Mad Hatter and feels she must go back in time and find/rescue his family), I did like Sacha Baron Cohen as Time, and that's pretty amazing since I've never liked him in anything. And I do like the character of Alice as well. Yet in both movies I'd just as soon have watched her in the real world than bothered with all the Wonderland (or Underland) nonsense. I can't seem to find any affection for the Wonderland characters in these films, although this one did at least try to give more context for them. Points for effort.

Sum total is that Looking Glass is better than Wonderland. Neither is fantastic, but I found this one watchable in a way the first one, for me, almost is not.

6.05.2016

Television: Preacher, "Pilot"

Here is yet another comic book property brought to the screen, and yet . . . This one, I like. Maybe it's just the superheroes I'm sick of.

I haven't read the Preacher comics. Though I'd heard of them, had probably even had them recommended to me, I never sought them out. (My history with comics is spotty and largely informed first by what was allowed by my parents, then by the TV shows I watched that had comics tie-ins, and finally by stuff people gave me to read. But seeking anything out directly? I can't be arsed.) I find the stream difficult to wade into. You're either coming in at the middle of things, or else you start at the beginning and can never hope to catch up. The idea of something going on indefinitely does not appeal to me. And maybe Preacher is self-contained; I don't even know. I've never bothered to look.

In short: I'm coming at this show only as a show, not as an adaptation. And I enjoy it. The music choices, the Texas setting (cuz I grew up in a small church in Texas, and then we moved on to one of those mega-churches, so I connected well there), the hint of other things going on—just enough to whet the appetite and keep me interested. This show had my attention, which is harder and harder to keep these days. By the time Jesse opened his can of whoop-ass, I was like, "Yessss!"

For those who need more information, Jesse is the preacher in a small Texas town. He's "come back" based on a promise he made to his dad [insert some kind of flashback that we assume will get longer with time so that we see the full picture and get the full story eventually]. Seems his dad was a preacher, too? Jesse isn't very good at the preaching bit, but he finds new zeal by the end of the episode. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, something alien seems to be entering into preachers, priests, etc. and causing them to explode. ????

Jesse's past is hinted at in the form of one Tulip O'Hare who arrives to urge him to do "a job" with her, something he evidently used to do regularly before hanging it all up to come preach. Hence his mad fighting skills when it comes time to beat up a guy who shows every sign of being about to abuse his own son.

But something else happens, too. Jesse spends the episode trying to convince a complainer named Ted to tell his mom how he really feels. "Open your heart to her," Jesse keeps saying, but Ted would much rather complain to Jesse about his mom. And then . . . at the end of the episode, Jesse's words become infused with power, and Ted drives to his mother's nursing home in Florida, tells her how he feels, then cuts his heart out in front of her. Literal much?

So has the alien force come into Jesse but failed to make him explode like the other men of God? Maybe the others could not contain it, but Jesse is made of sterner stuff? We also have a demon of some kind name Cassidy to account for . . . And some kind of syndicate . . . All the building blocks of conspiracy and mythology.

In the end, it all comes down to the pacing. This show hands out information in the right portion sizes. There are quieter, slower moments, the stuff of character development. But this is punctuated by the action scenes to keep things moving. Preacher strikes a good balance. Let's hope it stays that way.

For now, I'll be watching.

6.04.2016

Movies: 10 Cloverfield Lane

I didn't enjoy it as much as Cloverfield, but part of that may be because I saw that one in a cinema full of people and this one at home.

10 Cloverfield Lane also does not have the conceit of "found footage." Instead, its the story of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who leaves her fiancé after an unspecified argument, packing her things and driving off only to get in a terrible car crash. She wakes up in a bunker where Howard (John Goodman) tells her he saved her from some kind of terrible attack. Howard used to be in the Navy and has evidently worked for years on building this bunker for just this purpose. Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) helped him build it and demanded admission when the attack occurred. So the three of them live there amidst questions of whether there really has been any kind of attack, or if maybe Howard is crazy. The story tilts one way then another, and the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but I won't give it away.

There was definitely some tension, and no one but John Goodman could have pulled off the part of Howard. But aside from the tension and the questions hanging over everything, I can't say I was as entertained with this one as with Cloverfield. It was clever and interesting but not, somehow, actually as engaging. Again, that might be the difference between a darkened cinema and my living room, but that is what I walked away feeling.

That said, still definitely worth watching.

6.02.2016

Television: The Night Manager 1.6

Okay, so the whole thing wraps up with a decent amount of tension and a satisfying ending. I'll give it that.

Jonathan, Roper, et al are in Cairo to complete the deal. I'm not sure why Jonathan would tell such a stupid lie when Roper asks whether he's ever been to Cairo. (For the record, Jonathan says no, but since he worked at a hotel in Cairo in the first episode . . .) So of course it's only a matter of time before he's recognized, but at the same time he also has access to human resources that help him set bombs on trucks or whatever.

Angela and Martian Manhunter (seriously, can't even be arsed to go look up the character name) are also in Cairo after their respective assignments are scorched after the last mishap. You know, the one where they had the wrong trucks. Jonathan had managed to get a call through to let them know where he—and everyone—was.

And then of course Roper continues to sound Jonathan out about his loyalty, and it's clear Roper isn't sure, though it's the wife thing that tips him rather than any of the other bazillion red flags. Roper even ends up admitting he'd gotten Jonathan wrong, and that just plays false for a man we're supposed to believe is so cunning and careful. The whole thing hinges on Roper being played, after all. By the time he unmasks Jonathan, we're trying to decide if Roper is that stupid (despite everything we've been told to the contrary) or else wondering why he took so long to make his move against such an obvious threat.

Then again, the case is made for Roper to be simply too arrogant to believe he can't squash anyone or anything that tries to work against him. And yet . . . Why not squash sooner? Why, in the last moments, as he's pulling out his trump cards only to be holding Jokers . . . I dunno. There's a disconnect in there somewhere between all the lead up and the end. Yet the end is actually quite good, so I'm willing to forgive a lot.

Makes me wonder about the book, which I have not read. And as I've said, I'd love to see The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller get similar treatment. Though I think it would have to stay set in the 60s . . . Or not. Might be something worth exploring.

6.01.2016

Movies: Love & Friendship

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel
Directed By: Whit Stillman
Written By: Whit Stillman, from the novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Amazon Studios, 2016
PG; 92 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


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Because, honestly, I do love Jane Austen. So I was probably going to love this movie no matter what.

I haven't read Lady Susan, a sad omission on my part. But that made it all the more fun to watch this film and have no expectations aside from wanting to see some costumes and hear some witty period banter. Both of which Love & Friendship delivers.

The story is relatively simple. Lady Susan is a widow who must remove herself from the home of friends after she is accused of, let's say "unladylike conduct" with a married gentleman. She goes to her late husband's brother to stay with his family and has designs on one Mr. Reginald DeCourcy though his family does not approve. When Lady Susan's own daughter Frederica is shipped home from her boarding school wires become all the more crossed. Lady Susan wants Frederica to marry the addlepated Mr. Martin but Frederica resists.

I cannot do it justice. The whole of it has a lot of moving pieces and there are so many characters they are introduced, wink-like, with title cards. But it all adds to the fun, and the wit is definitely there. Beckinsale does remarkably well as Lady Susan, and Tom Bennett is a highlight as the the lackwit Mr. Martin.

Certainly it's worth finding a local arthouse and seeing this surrounded by others who will comprehend and laugh at all the jokes. But even if you can't find it playing near you, I'm sure Amazon will have it streaming before long. If you enjoy Austen and her ilk, and if you have no trouble keeping up with some rapid dialogue, this one is for you.

Short Story: "Aptera"

My short story "Aptera" has been published on Aurora Wolf. It's a contemporary tale of mythological sirens. Check it out here.