Movies: Star Trek Beyond

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba
Directed By: Justin Lin
Written By: Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Paramount, 2016
PG-13; 122 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


I'll start with the cons. (Khans? No, wait, that's something else.) I'm sure Justin Lin does great work with those Fast & Furious movies, though I've never seen one (I'm not into cars). But his camera direction makes me motion sick at times. It's as if he can't ever not have the camera moving, even when it's not necessary. And while I can appreciate that there is no up or down in space, I'd like not to feel like I'm on a Universal Studios ride when I'm trying to watch a movie.

And besides all the motion, there's the editing that is so fast and choppy that one can't really tell what is happening. There are moments in this film that are truly lovely, but they go by so fast one can't enjoy them.

There is also a brooding streak in this movie shaped by Kirk's opening narration via meandering log entry as he contemplates his career trajectory and his wallowing a bit over the fact that his birthday is the same as his dad's death day. Meanwhile, Spock feels burdened by a self-imposed obligation to procreate and extend the decimated Vulcan race and has his own musings of mortality upon learning of Ambassador Spock's death.

Finally, Uhura and Sulu get somewhat short shrift in this outing. But I understand that there simply isn't time in any one "episode" to give everyone a lot to do.

Those are my only major beefs with this latest Star Trek sequel. The pros outweigh them. It's a tightly written script that, after a bit of setup, moves quickly. The aforementioned brooding is mostly sidelined in light of ongoing action, which is just as well. There is the right amount of humor and the supporting characters are engaging.

The story goes something like this: the Enterprise docks in a newfangled outpost called Yorktown. When a distressed alien arrives asking for assistance, Kirk and his crew are sent off on yet another adventure. But they meet their match and then some in the person of Krall who is after a device that was on the Enterprise. Not clear how he knew it was there, but it's possible I just missed that bit. And it's very lucky for him, too, considering he's been searching for it for ages. But whatever. No time for that when there are crew members to rescue and Krall to stop from destroying Yorktown.

Elba as Krall makes a much better Khan than that last movie. But then again, Eric Bana as Nero was a better Khan, too. I understand why they did what they did with Into Darkness—going cold rather than hot with the Khan character—but it failed. In Beyond all the mojo is up and running once more.

Sofia Boutella as Jayla was also a standout.

Good use of rock and roll music. In fact, my six-year-old son had asked prior to going to the movie whether there would be any "epic music" in it. He was not disappointed.

I was glad to be able to indoctrinate my kids into Trekdom with this film. The "twist" isn't much of one—anyone paying attention can grasp it almost the moment the elements present themselves—but the entirety hangs together in a satisfying way. For the most part. And it moves so fast, you don't really have time to think too hard about it.

In short, highly entertaining. Which is all I demanded of it anyway.


Books: Changers: Manifesting Destiny Cover Reveal

Here it is!!!

Gorgeous, isn't it? Book comes out on August 5th:

Sixteen-year-old Cee has a hopeless crush on her best friend Marcus. Unfortunately for her, he's gay. In the wake of Marcus's older brother leaving home to join the Aerie, Marcus has become increasingly distant. Then, when Cee discovers she has a troublesome dragon named Livian living inside her things grow even more complicated.

Marcus urges Cee to go to the Magi to have Livian removed, but the more used to Livian Cee becomes, the less certain she is about letting him go. Should she change her natural self for the crush who will never love her anyway?


Television: Mr. Robot revisited

So I started out really liking Mr. Robot in its first season. It was quirky and weird. I had the twist figured out but was interested in the way they managed it from a writing and production standpoint. Yet somewhere near the last third of the season I realized I didn't much care about the show itself. Like, about the characters or what any of them were doing. I didn't like them. And you can argue that I'm not meant to like any of them, but in order for me to care about any of them, or about what happens, I do kind of have to like at least one of them.

So I gave up right around the time that one creep killed the guy at the party. On the rooftop. Remember? That and the guy dying on the newscast are the last things I really remember.

Still, I thought I'd try to come back for Season 2 and see if my interest could be rekindled. Elliot is avoiding doing much of anything, it seems, and F Troop Society is still doing its thing, and they're still looking for that creep, and . . . Oh, who am I kidding? Aside from that one guy's recaps of Seinfeld, I didn't find anything to keep me entertained in this at all. I just. don't. care. To the point that I find the show mind numbing. With its monochromatic wash, it's like a low hum in my brain that makes me want to fall asleep.

I realize it's popular with critics and many viewers. But I just can't plug in.


Movies: The Secret Life of Pets

Featuring Voices By: Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Albert Brooks, Ellie Kemper
Directed By: Yarrow Cheney & Chris Renaud
Written By: Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch
Universal, 2016
PG; 87 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


Well, okay. The previews made this movie appear really cute, though even then I had to wonder how they were going to turn it into 90 minutes of entertainment. This is more the stuff of a running comic strip than a film.

Turns out they didn't do anything particularly clever or new.

The story is of Max (see, not even an original pet name), voiced by Louis C.K., and how he deals with having a new dog named Duke (Stonestreet) being adopted by his owner Katie (Kemper). Typical sibling displacement tale laid over the cute-funny of talking animals.

A few things bothered me. For one, though all the other pets can talk, the parakeet does not. The hawk talks, but the parakeet doesn't? Why?

And didn't all those animals come home dirty and smelly? They were in sewers, for Christ's sake. Why don't their owners notice?

Also, given the current tension in our country, the role of Kevin Hart as a gangster-like, gore-loving, vengeful bunny who really just needs human love is borderline offensive yet played for laughs. Right up to his idolizing his fallen gang members.

The Secret Life of Pets is a largely predictable romp that has but a few moments of real fun, including Max and Duke hallucinating Grease's "We Go Together" in a sausage factory. But on the whole it's mediocre, lacking the cleverness and layered wit of other talking animal films like Zootopia. The truth is, kids aren't discerning and parents are looking for things to do over the summer, so as animation gets cheaper, stuff like this gets slapped together and still does well. Still, I'd sit up, beg, and roll over for some better writing.

Television: Stranger Things

This is a little eight-episode series on Netflix, and I was sucked right into it. Not only is it set in the late 70s/early 80s, but it looks like it was made then, too. At my age, Stranger Things hits the nostalgia bone right on its knobby little end.

I'm only two episodes in (no spoilers, please and thank you); would have gone for more but actually had reasons to sleep. I anticipate being finished relatively quickly.

The show has the look and feel of ET or The Goonies with a plot out of The X-Files. A kid named Will disappears in a small town where the police department is ill equipped to deal with such a thing. At the same time, a girl escapes from some kind of government lab, and the lab people (led by Matthew Modine) are on the hunt for her while also apparently aware of . . . some kind of alien creature? That has connections to the Department of Energy (which has a facility near the town)? Or maybe this "alien" is some kind of byproduct of said facility, or of Modine's lab.

It's all done incredibly well, right down to the music cues. Cast perfectly (Wynona Rider as Will's distraught mother, David Harbour as the luckless sheriff) and remarkably well acted, too; the Duffer brothers got some really good stuff from the kids they were working with. In short, I'm eager to continue watching and will be sad when I've finished.


My Favorite Gallagher Bit

I've heard he's a jerk, but I grew up watching Gallagher do stand-up comedy, and this is the bit that's always stuck with me. (Did it influence my desire to be a writer?)


To Which Changers Clan Do You Belong?

My badge ribbons came today:

. . . For two of the Clans in my forthcoming YA fantasy series Changers. The first book, Manifesting Destiny, will be published soon by Evernight Teen. The ribbons are for the two writing conferences I'm attending. I leave for the first one in exactly one month, and the second is in October. I may make more ribbons for other Clans as well, but these two are, let's say, the Montagues and Capulets of the story.

If you would like a Clan ribbon, stay tuned. I'm coming up with a system for readers to possibly earn and collect them.

Meanwhile, find out your Clan here. (Note that you will be required to login for your result, but you can do so via Facebook.)


Movies: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

I didn't really have any expectations for this movie, and that was probably a good thing. As it stands, I didn't much enjoy it. If I'd had any hopes for it, I only would have been more disappointed.

My understanding is that it's an adaptation of a memoir. In that sense, WTF does play out a bit like Eat, Pray, Love. But with Tina Fey being known for her comedy, it seems they tried to do a little of that too. The result is a movie that doesn't do enough in either direction. It doesn't entirely embrace its own drama, and it's not very funny either. Worse still, it's ploddingly predictable.

Fey plays journalist Kim Barker who ditches her NY job for a more exciting post in Afghanistan in the early aughts. The film begins as a fish out of water story, during which there are attempts to capitalize on the awkward humor Fey is so good at. But it's tepid at best. And then there are halfhearted tries at romantic tension as Barker remains faithful to her boyfriend back in NY, the all too easily foreseen betrayal by said boyfriend, and the relationship Barker then develops with a fellow reporter. Yawn. Zero chemistry on all fronts only serves to weigh the film down as it labors to bring the drama forward while the earlier feints at comedy disappear. If you're going to make a relationship the center of the movie—and they serve that up rather late in this bland meal—then at least make it interesting. Even a kidnapping fails to spice this one up. (Yes, it really happens.)

Because WTF is so predictable, I barely had to pay attention, instead finding the games on my phone way more entertaining. As a rule I really like Tina Fey, and I don't want to pigeonhole her into only funny roles. I think she should have opportunities to stretch. And I don't think she was the particular problem here (though I do wonder if people who went to see this film in the cinema were disappointed it wasn't more of a comedy). I think a pedantic script that attempted to be two things at once and ended up middling is the real culprit.


Television: Preacher 1.2-1.4

Still a bit behind, but just checking in regarding this show, which I have to say: I'm really enjoying it.

Let me reiterate that I have only a passing familiarity with the comic books. I read a couple, I think, way back when. But I find comics difficult to keep up with. They demand too much from me in terms of time and money, and for me those cons outweigh the potential pros.

But anyway. I find the television show to be tightly written and well paced. Characters are interesting, and while the show is tense (and intense), there's a weird thread of levity that passes through it, too, balancing it very carefully. It's the kind of highwire act that causes one to wonder whether it can be sustained, but so far so good.

The nexus of the story is that Jesse, a small-town Texas preacher, has been . . . infected? . . . with some kind of demon that allows him to make people do whatever he tells them. Meanwhile, a couple heavenly agents have arrived to get said demon back. Sidekicks include a vampire and Jesse's friend Tulip who keeps trying to get him to . . . go back to some ass-kicking lifestyle they had before Jesse came home to take up his father's mantel as preacher. (If anything in the show has the potential to wear thin, it will be this ongoing argument of Tulip begging Jesse and him saying no.)

Preacher feeds us flashbacks in just the right mouthfuls and keeps things moving at an interesting clip. Still, it's intense enough that I can only watch one at a time. I'm sure others could binge without problem, but I need to unwind after each episode. It's dark—but not too dark. Sort of like a moonless night filled with stars.



When I comment on IWSG (Insecure Writers' Support Group) blog posts, depending on the platform my comments may direct people to this blog rather than my PepperWords Site. But my IWSG posts go on PepperWords (which is a Wordpress site). This site (on Blogger) is for media reviews. Some day I'll probably try and just combine the two, but it feels like so much work . . .


Books: Smashwords Sale

Throughout the month of July, you can grab my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller (and a lot of other good books too) for half the price. That means if you buy two, it's like BOGO! Great summer reading! Don't miss out!

[Aside: A lot of hits from Mauritius today. I want to go to Mauritius. Y u no invite me?]