12.30.2016

Movies: Don't Think Twice

Don't Think Twice is an indie film about a group of improv actors called The Commune. Their venue is being sold out to Urban Outfitters, and they're struggling collectively over a number of issues. When one of them gets picked up by the equivalent of Saturday Night Live (here called Weekend Live, but not fooling anybody), things further unravel.

While this is an ensemble, some characters definitely get more attention than others. In particular, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) are the resident couple in the group, and they are both invited to audition for Weekend Live. Jack gets the job, and Sam . . . Well, she doesn't go to the audition. Because she's not into doing things alone. To her, the best thing in life is improv with The Commune. The underlying theme here is: What is success? What if what you want is not what everyone thinks you should want? It's similar to what I explore in 20 August, though at the quarter-life crisis rather than mid-life.

Meanwhile, Mike Birbiglia (who also wrote and directed this) is featured as Miles, a guy who feels like he's constantly on the verge of making it only to see everyone else move up without him. He's finally told, "You've never been inches away. You don't have it." Harsh. But this allows him to accept what he does have and turn his attention toward other fulfilling things. Would you rather be told flat out that you're never going to get any further in your aspirations? Would you at least see this as a way of no longer wasting your time and energy? I do feel like hollow encouragement can be far worse than honesty. I've seen it in writing workshops; no one wants to crush anyone else, and that's fair—I wouldn't want to either. But what is the way to tell someone they're barking up the wrong tree?

As someone who has lived in a house full of actors and then also been a writer, I found Don't Think Twice thought-provoking on the levels mentioned above. It's overall a movie about finding your place and maximizing it, rather than trying to fit in somewhere you don't belong. That's important for anyone to consider, even if they aren't "creatives." The ultimate goal in life is learning what to hold on to and what to let go.

12.25.2016

Crabtree & Evelyn

When I was six or seven years old—definitely not more than eight—one of my mother's friends (she had a lot of strange friends) came back from a trip and brought me a little square box inside which was a shell-shaped soap. It was the kind of thing that came from a hotel, or at least that is what I assumed at the time. But I found it endearing and enchanting, and it smelled amazing. Almost too good to use, but certainly too good not to use.

Years later, as a preteen, my friend Emily and I were at the mall and we went into a store called Crabtree & Evelyn. It was filled with soaps and lotions, and somehow to us it felt like the height of elegance and luxury. And then I saw it: the shell-shaped soap of my childhood! Only much larger. I learned the name of the soap was "jojoba," and I absolutely had to have it. I used my bit of allowance to buy a bar, and after that I only ever wanted soap and lotion from Crabtree & Evelyn.

Until . . . By the time I was in high school Bath and Body Works had become the gold standard for soaps and lotions. And B&BW were in almost every mall, unlike C&E, which was harder to find. I abandoned C&E and forgot about it, later only occasionally buying their products if I happened to stumble across a store.

I realize that now I can buy these things online. But for soaps and lotions, I like to be on site, smelling the product. While jojoba remains one of my favorites, I also am easily bored and don't like to have the same thing all the time. And I like to have options.

Before long, I became tired of B&BW too. Disenchanted with it. In our local mall, we have LUSH, and so I frequently buy my soaps there. And I discovered Molton Brown and often use their lotions and body washes.

BUT. The other day—my birthday, in fact—I came across a Crabtree & Evelyn. Hadn't seen or been in one for years. So I had to go. And they had so many great soaps! Some I remembered from before, some were new to me, but I had such a wonderful time picking them out. And when I came home and used one, oh! I'd forgotten that, besides the fragrance, C&E soaps are so soft and moisturizing. Heavenly.

All this is to say, I'm so glad I rediscovered C&E. I'm particularly enjoying my Summer Hill soap at the moment, but can also recommend Nantucket Briar, La Source, and of course Jojoba. I used to use their Lily of the Valley a lot, too. (I'm really curious about Somerset Meadow, but they had no tester at the store and I only found it as part of a set, at least at that store.) As someone who dislikes soaps and lotions that smell like food, I'm happy C&E has an abundance of floral scents. And for the gentlemen, Moroccan Myrrh and Sandalwood are fine options as well. (Though I use them myself, too, because I love those scents!)

Do you have favorite soaps and lotions? Favorite scents? Let me hear about them!

12.20.2016

Television: Elementary, "It Serves You Right to Suffer"

This one is all about Shinwell. But at least it isn't about Watson trying to convince Shinwell of anything.

A gang member is murdered and Shinwell is a suspect. His prints are on the gun—or will be once the prints are run. But as it turns out Shinwell is actually an FBI informant? Except the agent he reports to isn't authorized to run informants so he refuses to help Shinwell because that would get himself in trouble?

Um, yeah, okay. Whatever.

Long story short (spoiler follows), the FBI agent and a couple cronies were the one to kill the gang member who, as it turned out, was also an informant and was putting said FBI agent at risk. But when Watson confronts the agent, he chooses to blow his own brains out rather than admit to everything. Which leaves Shinwell still in the lurch as the gun goes to be processed.

But Holmes does Shinwell a solid by pulling a few strings that allow him to get access to the gun and wipe the prints from it. So, you know, nice tidy finish there.

Can we be done with Shinwell now? And done with Watson trying to help stray criminals or whatever it is she's doing? Because it's totally not interesting and detracts from the show. She's interesting when trying to help Holmes. But Holmes helping people (Alfredo) and Watson helping other people (Shinwell) = not interesting, just annoying. The focus really needs to be on Holmes and Watson, their bond and them working together. That's the core strength here.

12.18.2016

Movies: Florence Foster Jenkins

Um . . . This was cute, I guess?

For those of you who only know about the big movies, this one is an Oscar bait flick starring Meryl Streep as the titular Florence Foster Jenkins, best known for being a terrible singer in the 1940s. In particular, the film focuses on Jenkins' desire to give concerts and sing at Carnegie Hall. After being moved to tears by seeing a young opera singer there, Jenkins—who evidently had more money than talent—hires a voice coach and pianist and begins to practice in earnest. And she is earnest. And easily taken advantage of by said voice coach.

It falls to Jenkins' life partner St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) to do things like make sure the concert audience will only be kind and hide any bad reviews from the fragile Jenkins. It turns out that Jenkins is ill with syphilis, which she contracted from her first husband. So not only her ego is fragile, but her body too. She does not have a physical relationship with Bayfield, but they are devoted to one another. Except that he also has a girlfriend on the side. Facebook status: It's Complicated.

This film carefully treads a line between comedy and drama, and while it does so nicely, the end result is flat. I found it less than engaging. It wasn't funny enough, but also failed to pull my heartstrings so to speak. Grant does a marvelous job here, and Simon Helberg as the pianist is likewise really good. But on the whole, the movie did nothing for me.

I did wonder at some of the biographical changes that were made. For instance, Jenkins suffered her heart attack five days after the Carnegie Hall concert, not the day after, as suggested by the film. She died a month later. Also, though the movie shows Kathleen leaving St. Clair, in reality they married after Jenkins died. The end notes of the film made no mention of that. I suppose it's all in the service of story, but if you're going to do a biopic of sorts . . . ::shrug::

tl;dr: Meh. Needed to be funnier.

12.16.2016

Movies: Rogue One

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk
Directed By: Gareth Edwards
Written By: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (screenplay), John Knoll and Gary Whitta (story), based on characters created by George Lucas
LucasFilm, 2016
PG-13; 134 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

It's not Force Awakens, and Disney (now owner of LucasFilm) insists it's not meant to be, but...

This is a story taken from a single line in Star Wars, you know, the one about how many people died to get the plans of the Death Star? So, taking that into consideration, it's no wonder a movie based on a line of dialogue is a bit flimsy.

PLOT DETAILS FOLLOW
(skip to next header if you'd rather not know)

Galen Erso helped design the Death Star but then "retired" or something as a farmer because he no longer wanted to be part of the Empire's big plans. So when he's recalled to complete the job, he sends his daughter Jyn into hiding and she ends up raised by Saw Gerrera, who in turn becomes an extremist against the Empire. Jyn wants nothing to do with that life, but of course gets dragged into the Rebel's efforts because of her ties to the Death Star.

There are some problems. Like the fact that Galen sends a message to Saw but the message is mostly aimed at Jyn even though Galen acknowledges in the message that he doesn't know if Jyn is alive, nor does he assume she is with Saw. Like, what? Why send Saw a message and then talk to Jyn the whole time?

Then there are things like the semi-reanimation of Peter Cushing so that Governor Tarkin can live again. Yes, I know they also used Guy Henry, but there are still some issues that become increasingly obvious the longer he's on screen. It's like they were so proud of themselves for this technology—and it's very good, no question—that they wanted to parade it a bit. Problem being that the more it's paraded the less wonderful it appears. The skin over the cheeks in particular did not move correctly, and once I'd seen that I couldn't stop seeing it.

The story then devolves into an overlong bad-day-in-IT in which servers and networks and communications break down and need to be put back online or something. Yes, I'm oversimplifying. But the movie really did not need to be as long as it was.

SAFE ZONE BELOW

I will say that I really liked a lot of these characters. Donnie Yen did a nice, gentle job with a role that could have leaned toward corny. Alan Tudyk is, as ever, one of the best things about the film. (And hey, I've worked with Forest Whitaker, which puts me two degrees from the Star Wars universe now! Woohoo!) I guess I just wish there had been a bit of a stronger story for all these great characters and actors. It's not a terrible movie, and I didn't go in with any big expectations, yet I still walked away a wee bit underwhelmed.

ETA: Upon second viewing, I did like it a bit more. However, I still find the last part of the movie too long. And I realized part of my problem with the reanimation of Tarkin is the way he turns his head and the way his eyes move . . . There are just a combination of elements that make him a little too animatronic.

12.11.2016

Movies: Jason Bourne

Oh my God, you guys. This movie was so f***ing boring. I tuned out pretty early on, glancing up now and then, and still knew exactly what was going on because nothing much happened. Even the action scenes weren't that fun.

Part of the trouble may be that all these movies now look and sound alike, and there's just nothing new under the sun. Here's a car chase, here's a crowd scene, here's someone hanging off the side of a building . . . *yawn*

But part of the trouble also had to do with the very flimsy plot. Bourne suddenly cares about whether and how his father was involved in Treadstone? Whaaaa? That's fine, but none of us care, nor does this movie make us care. We hardly care about Bourne any more, much less his dad.

Like, they didn't try to make Bourne sympathetic at all. We're just supposed to care about him because we saw those other movies or read some books? Nope. We don't. Sorry, but you do actually have to put some character development in your movies, even when they're part of a series.

Then there was some side plot about using a big tech company to mine data for the government. You know, the CIA was going to buy all the data off them, I guess? I mean, it wasn't a very well-developed plot, so . . . Whatever.

Other things that distracted and bothered me: Tommy Lee Jones' lips—were they, like, really chapped or something?—and Alicia Vikander struggling to mask her natural accent.

So yeah, this movie is NOT worth wasting your time. It's SO BORING. Go do something fun instead, like making a big stack of toast or clipping your toenails. Seriously, those would be way more entertaining.

12.09.2016

The Wild Unknown Tarot

I'd been eying this deck for a while, but I also felt for the longest time that it was not meant for me. I actually sent it to a friend for whom it did feel right. But then I just kept coming back to it.

It wasn't until I'd more or less given up tarot that I suddenly felt like it might be okay for me to own this deck. So I used my birthday/holiday money and bought it.

And I love it.


It comes nicely boxed, though I'll say that I had a dickens of a time getting the paper sleeve off the box. Yow. But the packaging under the sleeve is just lovely, very sturdy, good quality.

The guidebook is likewise very nice. Each card has its own two-page spread with the card on the left and the write-up on the right. The book also contains a few spreads to try if you're a beginner.

I feel very intuitively connected to these cards, which is pretty amazing for me because I struggle with intuition, at least when reading for myself. I can read for others quite easily, so the test of a deck (for me) is whether it makes sense when I'm talking to myself. This one answers me clearly. It resonates with me.

It's a very calm deck. Soothing. Deep, like a still pond. Use it in quiet surroundings and really listen. The Wild Unknown Tarot is meant for serious readings, nothing quick or on the fly. This is a deck that demands commitment. If you give it that, I think it will give back one hundred fold.

12.06.2016

Television: Elementary, "Bang Bang Shoot Chute"

Look! I caught up! (But only because there was no episode this past Sunday.) Guess I also watched them out of order? Whatever. It doesn't seem to make a difference.

There comes a time in every long-running show's life when the characters become static. They're established and don't change much if at all. The relationships between them are likewise set. At that point, a show becomes all about story, and the stories get increasingly . . . convoluted, bizarre, whatever. Each episode becomes a series of narrative hoops to be jumped through. I remember this happening with Bones, and it's now happening with Elementary too.

This doesn't mean a show is no longer good, only that it has changed. Whether a viewer sticks with it depends on whether they're okay with that change. I'm a character person. That's always going to interest me more than the story of the week. So yeah, I did eventually drop Bones (the baby in the manger was my breaking point), and if I weren't relatively sure Elementary was on its way out anyway, I'd probably blow it off, too. But that's just me. (As it is, I'll stick out the season.)

In this particular episode, um . . . A guy and his friend go base jumping off a skyscraper and the guy gets shot twice on the way down. Besides that, his chute was sabotaged. So even if he hadn't been shot, he'd have died. Which leaves one really simple question: What kind of f***ing idiot doesn't check his equipment before jumping?

Narrative hoops in this plot include the pregnant wife, the other dead friend who used to jump with the victim (and whose family may or may not blame the victim for the dead friend's death), connections with the military, connections with terrorists . . . You see the way things are going. Increasingly unlikely scenarios presented as twists and turns in the story until we eventually complete the circle by coming back to the pregnant wife, her father, and a secret girlfriend whose brother felt the guy was dishonoring his family.

Oh, and then there was also Shinwell stuff. He gets caught talking to an old friend who is/was a member of his gang from before he went to prison—a parole violation. Watson talks to both Shinwell and the friend and is told by Shinwell to buzz off. It's pretty clear that the friend has made some kind of threat and Shinwell is trying to protect Watson by pushing her away. But the amount we don't care is staggering. We're talking negative numbers here.

The Watson-Shinwell story line is maybe meant to sub for actual character development, but no characters are developing. Everyone is just doing what they do, and it's not even interesting. Characters are really only interesting when they do something unusual, or are put in situations that force them to act differently. Which is what I mean about stagnation in these shows. The main characters just do what they do, and watching them do it can sometimes be interesting, but . . . It's like watching a person put together a puzzle. It's more fun to help, and barring that, it's more fun to watch a brilliant person flounder than do their job well. More awkward, please!

12.05.2016

Books: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

I'm not going to say very much about this. I will start by saying I tried a few times to read House of Silk and could never get into it. So at least I finished this one?

This is a Sherlock Holmes book without Sherlock Holmes in it. So, you know, be aware of that. It approximates a Sherlock Holmes adventure but uses two other characters as the would-be Holmes and Watson.

It's an okay book. I saw pretty early on what the twist was going to be, and ended up skimming the rehash at the end that basically retold the story from a new perspective. (Trying not to give anything away here.) Just pay attention and you'll get it. Start with the cover. I mean, seriously.

I give Moriarty 3.5 stars overall. It's fairly short and a quick read. Really violent, though, so if that bothers you beware. And in the end, despite the twist and supposed cleverness of it all, I found the book just a tad unsatisfying. I can't put my finger on it, but . . . ::shrug:: It's all subjective. A book can be technically well written and fabulous, but if it does not fulfill the reader emotionally . . . Well, I guess it depends on why we read in the first place. For a good story? But also for something unsubstantial that has no name? A feeling we're left with when it's over?

I'm getting philosophical. Long story short, this is a solid book that is slightly better than average and a nice addition to my Holmes library. Probably wouldn't read it again but not sorry I did.

12.04.2016

Television: Elementary, "How the Sausage Is Made"

We've come to the point where the show is just kind of silly at times. This episode starts with someone having died, and then it's discovered that the guy had eaten another person . . . Or at least part of one that had been in the sausage or hot dog or whatever he'd eaten. Turns out the victim of this cannibalism is a guy working for a company trying to create meat in a lab. So, you know, it's meat—like, it's grown from animal cells and the properties are all the same—but no animals are harmed in the process, so the animal activists can feel okay about eating it. Not a bad idea, really, and probably worth a fortune. Hence the murder.

It goes on from there. Interesting side discussion about whether such meat would be parve (kosher to eat with dairy since it's not exactly from a dead animal). I was less impressed with Holmes' insistence on using the term "shmeat."

Side plot was about Holmes lying to Watson about going to sobriety meetings. Turns out he's bored with them because all those other junkies are so stupid. Cuz, you know, only brilliant people have any legitimate reason to turn to drugs. Or . . . Maybe you're not so brilliant if you turn to drugs? There's a lost opportunity here for Holmes to come up against another brilliant person who does drugs out of mental boredom (or to slow down his/her mind). As it stands in this episode, Watson calls Holmes out on being a condescending prick, so that was good.

And again, no Shinwell. Also good.

Thing is, I have no problem with Shinwell as a character. But as a plot point he drags so much of the show down. And makes Watson somewhat monotonous. She's fallen into being this droning noise of . . . I don't even know what, but it isn't working for her character or the show as a whole.

Elementary started out strong with good character development, but it has plateaued. The arcs are now clich├ęd and forced, and we've lost facets of personality in all the polishing. Ah well. All good things.

12.02.2016

"Tea Time" on Red River Radio



Mark your calendars! On December 12, I'll be part of the "Tea Time" crowd on Red River Radio! Come listen to me and my fellow authors yak about writing. Well, probably about writing. Maybe also about other things. We're an easily distracted lot.

Link to the show is here. Starts at 1:00 pm PST, 4:00 pm EST. Hope you'll tune in!

12.01.2016

Book Reviews: Uncaged Books

So I'm not reviewing a book here, I'm pointing you to a book reviews outlet that just happens to be featuring me this month. You can read the magazine free online here. They didn't get quite all the details about Manifesting Destiny correct (it's Dracona, not dragona), but they still rated it 4.5 stars, so I call that a win. And there's a little interview with me in there, too. Enjoy!