Movies: La La Land

I wasn't as transported by this film as so many others seem to have been. I'll tell you what I did like:

  1. The music.
  2. Ryan Gosling.
  3. All the bright colors.

Now here's what I didn't like:

  1. The entire first hour, which is the story of Seb and Mia falling in love.
  2. Mia in general.

Fundamentally, I have a problem with movies where the female character is this perfect little ball of cute and sweet and she's struggling in a world of not cute and not sweet. This gives the character nowhere to go. I mean, the character fights for what she wants, but she doesn't actually grow in any way as a person because she's already perfect. And then she ends up having the perfect life: happy family, big career.


Also, why is it okay for a woman to be obnoxious—because somehow that's "cute" and funny—but if a man were to do the same thing, he'd be an asshole?

Why does the woman have to be the one that got away, or the great unattainable object?

Something about this movie—or a lot of little somethings—just doesn't sit right with me, and while I understand I'm probably working too hard here, I walked away with a sense of nagging unease rather than elation or regret or whatever else the filmmaker was going for.

Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind, I don't know. I see the merit in this movie, but I feel like I can only see it from a distance; there's too much between me and it for me to embrace it.


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Television: Broadchurch 3.8

And so it ends, again with a lot of misleads, though I had the gist of a lot of it correct. (SPOILERS FOLLOW)

1. I did suspect that the porn videos were playing into the rape, and they were to an extent.
2. I thought more than one person was involved, and that was true.
3. I had Leo pegged as the mastermind, and he was.

It is, of course, a shame that Michael ended up roped in. There is a definite thread of "be careful who your friends are" throughout this series.

I won't spoil the ending (any more than I already have) by going into details. Let's just say it was satisfying enough, and that I'll miss the show. Part of me really wanted Hardy to go to the pub with Miller, but I know that to have it be so would have undermined the character and the relationship between Hardy and Miller that had been so carefully constructed over the three series (seasons). Miller will always be looking for ways into Hardy's life, and he'll always be fending her off.

I don't know that I would say the third series was as compelling as the first or second—though definitely more difficult to watch—but I'm gratified with how story lines were wrapped up as much as they could be and still give the sense that life goes on. I'm not entirely sure why they felt the need to have Paul or Maggie around since they didn't really get much in terms of plot, but I suppose if they'd been absent things would have felt strange. Better to have a little something than a vacuum.

All in all, Broadchurch remains some of the best dramatic television I've seen in recent years, due largely to its fabulous writing and acting, the consistency of the characters while still giving them compelling arcs, and the beauty of the cinematography. Lovely work all around. We need more television like this.


Brynnde Begins Her Blog Tour

And YOU can win a $15 Amazon gift card by following along! Every Monday between now and June 5, Brynnde and I will be making a stop or two. Today you can find an interview on Christine Young's site and a guest post on Long and Short Reviews. I hope you'll swing by and visit!


Television: Broadchurch 3.7

In the penultimate episode, the net begins to close not around Ed but Jim.

But first things first, Mark Latimer is pulled from the water suffering hypothermia. Beth tells him to live in the present instead of the past, and Chloe asks him why they aren't enough for him. Sometimes I do think there's a subtle sexism going on here—that Mark is fixated on the loss of his son in a way he might not have been if it had been his daughter?

Speaking of daughters, Hardy's wants to leave town after being really embarrassed by some digital photos of her that got passed around the school. Miller tells Hardy to tear up her train ticket, and he eventually dresses down the boys who started the whole thing and does as Miller suggested. "I've been too nice," Hardy tells Miller, and her expression at that is priceless. Olivia Colman has the best reactions.

Anyway, they're unable to keep Ed in custody due to lack of hard evidence (though I would have thought a dirty suit with blue twine in the pocket would be enough?), so he's released on bail and told not to contact Trish or her family either directly or indirectly. Ed slouches off home to drink and his daughter comes around to lash him a bit, too. Later, while moving pallets at the store, Ed finds a bag of blue twine, shows it to Harford, who examines it and notes there are blood stains on it.

Ian comes into the station and tells Hardy and Miller that he had put spyware on Trish's computer. They drill him down and he is forced to admit he didn't put the spyware on, but he's not ready to tell who did. They give him until that night to cough up the name, and he does eventually call in and let them know it was Leo.

Leo is oddly contrite during his police interview. After everything we've seen of him, it doesn't feel honest that he would behave in such a way. He admits to doing it, says Ian was a teacher who helped him a lot, finally admits he was at the party for a little bit...

Meanwhile, Cath's spidey sense begins to tingle and she finds a box of condoms in Jim's car, complete with timed and dated receipt. Guess when they were bought? The afternoon of her party, natch.

Jim gets pulled in, and it's confirmed that he towed one of the other victims' cars, and Cath also confirms that she was away the two dates of the other two attacks. Uh-oh, Jim.

BUT. In the midst of all this the cab driver's wife discovers his porn on his computer and then discovers Trish's keychain in a locked drawer in Lucas' workshop. Of course Lucas drives up just in time to see her finding the evidence. Uh-oh indeed.


Television: Broadchurch 3.6

Known as: "The one where Ed gets arrested."

AKA: "The one where Harford gets in big trouble."

So in the previous episode, Ed went and beat Jim up. Turns out this was less about defending Cath as it was about Ed having a crush on Trish. A terrible, awkward, stalkery crush that (we discover) includes taking lots of pictures of her, though at least he only seemed to do that when she was out in public?

No big surprise that Ed is the one who sent Trish the anonymous flowers. Miller finds the exact same kinds of cards in Ed's desk. (I'm not sure if the UK has the same rules as we in the U.S. do in terms of things having to be in plain sight or else you needing a warrant? Maybe it was okay to look in the desk because Ed admitted to beating up Jim? But then the cards were not directly related to the offense Ed was being arrested for . . . It's a little muddy to me.) Anyway, then Miller also notices the blue twine Ed uses on the vegetables in his store. And when they ask Ed to show him what he wore to the party the night Trish was attacked? Yeah, blue twine in the jacket pocket.

Looks bad for Ed. Which probably means he didn't do it, but you never know.

Meanwhile, Harford only now thinks to mention Ed is her father. Way to compromise the case, Little Miss! She's immediately booted from the investigation, of course, but the damage is [potentially] done. If the case were to go to trial, this bit of info would make for a veritable media circus.

Ian steals the laptop and tries to get Leo to clean it for him, but Leo won't touch it because things are getting too hot for his liking. Cath and Jim talk about leaving everything behind and starting fresh elsewhere. Beth has no luck trying to convince Nira—another rape victim who had been attacked some time before all this—to come forward and help the investigation. And Mark, who had tracked down Joe, finally confronts him . . . but can't bring himself to act on his anger. Instead he has Joe tell him everything that happened, and Joe tells Mark there's nothing he [Mark] could have done to stop it. By the time Mark had returned to the car park, Danny was already dead. So . . . Mark calls Chloe and says a kind of goodbye, takes the boat out, and tosses himself into the water.

Only a couple episodes left! (Well, only one if you're up to date; I'm a week behind.) The gyre is narrowing . . .


Four Kinds of Incense

Okay, so I burn incense in my home office while I'm writing. This is a fairly new thing for me. I used to burn scented candles, but the soot was discoloring the ceiling. I tried the little wax thingies but don't enjoy them as much.

I don't know why I want happy smells while I work, but that's beside the point. Now I have both a cone incense burner (it's a cool dragon that blows smoke out of its nostrils) and a fairly standard stick burner. I've been trying lots of different kinds of stick incense, buying groups of them from Amazon, and here's how they shake out—in my opinion and personal experience, anyway.

I have four different brands of stick incense at the moment: HEM, Satya, Aromatika, and Divine.

HEM is the one that comes in the hexagonal box. I generally like it—it burns for a fair amount of time and the scent lasts—but in some scents I've noticed an underlying charcoal or chemical smell. I have yet to figure out what makes the difference, so it feels very hit-or-miss. I can say the Dragon's Blood and Goddess are probably my two favorites in this brand.

I bought a huge variety pack of Satya incense, and I really like this brand, but I've found it the most likely brand to give me a headache. In particular, their Romance and Jasmine scents are really strong to the point of almost overpowering. However, they do great with things like Nag Champa, Sandalwood, and I really like Sunrise, Celestial, Midnight, and others of that ilk. These sticks burn for a moderate amount of time and the scent does linger; if I close my office up for the night, I can still sometimes smell it the next day.

Aromatika sticks don't burn as long as HEM or Satya, but the scent is, for lack of a better way to say it, purer? Less "burny"? Their Frankincense & Myrrh blend is my favorite of theirs, but they make a nice Sandalwood and also a good Patchouli.

Of all four, the Divine sticks burn up the fastest. They are so fragile that even just taking one out of the box can cause it to crumble a bit. These have light scents that feel very natural (though this may be because I have only the floral scents). I like all their scents—no headaches here— and do particularly enjoy their Rose and Lavender sticks. However, as I mentioned, these burn fast and the scent does not linger.

Do you burn incense? If so, what kind(s)? Anything I should especially try?


Books: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

This is the second in Mantel's historical fiction series about Thomas Cromwell. The first was Wolf Hall, which I resisted for some time before finding it at Half-Price Books and deciding what the hell. Two long flights from coast to coast gave me ample time to sink into that story, and once I had waded past the first few pages, I found myself fully immersed.

The same holds true of this book, which is also much shorter than the first. If you consider that Wolf Hall begins with Cromwell in his youth and his climb through the service of Cardinal Wolsey to the ascension of Anne Boleyn as Henry VIII's second wife, it makes sense. That's a lot of ground to cover. Bring Up the Bodies takes the story from Henry's waning interest in Anne and growing interest in Jane Seymour through the former's execution and the latter's marriage to Henry. All from Cromwell's point of view as he works to keep the king happy—and if the king's wishes are in some accord with Cromwell's desire for revenge against those who brought Wolsey down, that is just an added bonus, yes?

Again, I struggled with the first few pages, even though I'd loved Wolf Hall in the end and was sure this book would be just as good. I don't know why I have such a hard time getting into them, but if you're like me, do try to stick it out for a bit. Don't give up too soon.

Mantel's characterization of Cromwell is very rich; he feels real here, almost everyone does. I did find it distracting that, because of the point of view from which the book is written, Mantel was forced to often use 'him, Cromwell' and 'he, Cromwell' in order to make clear from whence the action or words issue. There is no way around it that I can see short of changing the POV, and that would be a crime. Still, it was something very obvious, something I noticed every single time it occurred.

If you know your history—or are inclined toward Wikipedia, I suppose—you can see where this is all leading. I know my fair share of Henry and his wives, but I'll admit my knowledge of Cromwell is limited. I'm avoiding the Wiki entry now because I'd rather read Mantel's books and be surprised, at least by the details. (I do have a sense of what eventually happens.) No spoilers, please! Yet even if you do know the details, these books have plenty to offer. If you love rich historical fiction with depth of character, these books are for you.

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Television: Elementary, "Dead Man's Tale"

It's about pirates. Kind of.

It's about a pirate known as Black Peter who left a book that showed where treasure and/or a wreck was, I think? I dunno for sure because I lost interest pretty quickly. Anyway, it was clear the minute the murderer appeared on screen that he was the one, so I mostly waited for them to come around to the same conclusion.

I guess what happened was, a guy found the Black Peter book and tried to find someone to go with him to the wreckage and salvage the treasure, but then someone else killed the guy because he wanted the treasure to not be there because there was some investment scheme. Wait . . . Then why not just let the guy with the book go get the treasure anyway? Oh, wait, because there was a thing about a professor who wanted all that stuff to go to a museum . . . I dunno. It wasn't all that interesting.

Oh, but then the Shinwell stuff. Groan. Holmes confronts him about having murdered his friend/fellow gang member, and of course Watson is all of two minds about the whole thing, and then the episode ends with Shinwell attacking and threatening Holmes, telling him not to get in his way while he takes the gang down.

Okay. There is a kernel of something good in here that has been wildly mis-sown. The idea of Holmes training someone only to have them flip and become evil? That's fantastic. Love that. But Shinwell is not a compelling character, not as a good guy and not any more so as a bad one. What a missed opportunity.

Six more episodes, I believe? Elementary was not on CBS' early list of renewals, though it has not been officially cancelled either. It, along with a handful of others, hangs in the balance.


Movies: Doctor Strange

Never send a Brit to do an American's job.

I guess they figured since it worked (kind of) with Christian Bale? But at least Batman had a reason to disguise his voice; his hoarseness had purpose. Here it just sounds perpetually like Strange needs to cough something up.

Other problems included the weak attempts at defining character (that music thing, I guess?), the unconvincing arc of Strange's asshole-to-hero story, and Cumberbatch's utter inability to sell a joke. Which became a joke in and of itself, but hanging a lampshade on it does not excuse it.

The plot, meanwhile, had all the usual earmarks. A "regular guy" (by which we mean, of course, a rich jerk, in this case a neurosurgeon) goes through a terrible ordeal (car crash caused by his own assholery) and in the course of recovering discovers amazing abilities that allow him to transform into a superhero. His mentor (the much decried Tilda Swinton) turns out to have a fatal flaw and of course dies and leaves the hero to take on the heavy burden of continuing the goal/quest/whatever.

Oh, and the goal/quest/whatever in this case is to fight someone the mentor trained who then defected, and beyond that to fight the "dark side" or something, and then to continue the job of defending against that dark magic or . . . something . . . that we're never really made to care very much about.

They also shoehorned a romantic subplot into all this that was pointless and held no chemistry.

I suspect what they might ultimately have been going for was: "What if Sherlock—arrogant know-it-all that he is—gotten taken down a few notches and then became magical?" Why else get Cumberbatch, whose high note as an actor is: insufferable? Seriously, half the time Strange simply comes off as a facet of Sherlock anyway.

Also, Cape of Levitation? Really? No, I get that a lot of this comes from the comics, but when the CGI cape is funnier than you are, there are problems.

And just because you learned some magic, you did not suddenly learn martial arts. Those aren't the same thing. That's a different skill set.

There are some nice visual effects here, but they can't make up for the blandness of every other part of this movie. So. Pedantic. So. Rote. Just no charm to it at all.

Television: Broadchurch 3.4 & 3.5

I have the definite feeling that what we're dealing with is an underground porn ring where they attack women and film the attack. Like, the light that Trish saw? Camera light from someone filming?

Just a theory.

But I'm pretty sure the boys watching porn and the computer stuff (remote viewing spyware so Ian can watch Trish is my guess) is all related to the attack(s). I use the plural because two more potential victims turn up in the course of these episodes, one from as long ago as two years before. She never reported it because she assumed that, because she was done up for a night at the pub, she'd be considered as "asking for it." Or earn a reputation as a slut.

Look, this is a difficult season to watch. Painful even. But it's doing a very nice job of delicately prying apart the layers of rape culture. I commend it for that. (Still, if it were any other show but Broadchurch, I probably wouldn't be able to stomach it.)

Meanwhile, Mark has gone off to find Joe after getting info on his whereabouts from a private investigator. We find out the man Trish slept with the morning of Cath's party was Cath's husband Jim—no relationship ties, just both feeling sex starved. Still, after the police get to the truth of it, Trish feels like she must tell Cath before Cath finds out some other way, and that goes about as well as can be expected. Ed weighs in, too, by beating Jim up.

Still can't entirely figure Ed out. At first I thought maybe he was sweet on Trish, but then he also seems protective of Cath? Or did he beat Jim up because Jim slept with Trish, not because Jim betrayed Cath? SMH. Who knows!

We're halfway through—more than halfway—so things should begin to tighten. Dare I say the net, the rope? I still feel like Leo is the lynchpin in all this . . .


Television: Legion

I don't even know what episode I'm on now. Four? Five? I'm not convinced I care enough to keep watching. On the Little Gold Men podcast they said it's worth it to get to episode seven, but Jesus, a television show shouldn't make me sit through 6+ hours before it gets good or even coherent. (And LGM mentioned that, too.) Don't waste my time being all weird and visually interesting. Give me a goddamn story, one I can follow at least a little, and give me characters I actually care about. Cuz right now I don't have any of that.

Thing is, I really enjoyed the first episode. It was just the right level of crazy but still cohesive. And then it went off the f***ing rails. In David's head, out of David's head, and who are these people, and why should I care about any of them if I never really get to know them? Oh, but look at all the cool lighting we're doing!

Don't care, don't care, don't care.

That about sums up my feelings for Legion at the moment.


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Television: Elementary, "The Ballad of Lady Frances"


Lady Frances is a guitar.

An expensive, vintage guitar.

That gets stolen.

And the person from whom it was taken sends a hitman after the thief. Which is where our episode begins: A hitman threatening and shooting a man, demanding the return of Lady Frances. We have a moment of anxiety, thinking someone has been kidnapped. But no. It's a guitar.

At which point we think, Oh, yeah, that was in the preview.

Then there's this whole thing about a new technology that, like Siri, is always listening, waiting for the moment you need her it. (My Siri is a man, anyway, and he addresses me as Miss Kitty Boo. TMI?) Anyway, for the purposes of our story, this technology listens for the sound of gunfire and reports/records whatever is happening in the vicinity of said gunfire. Like, the entire city is bugged? I guess? Seems like there would be too much "noise" to get clear audio, but the glory of television is that they can pretend that's not an issue. And that somehow all of NYC has been mic'd up.

In a stupid coincidence, the guy monitoring this particular altercation regarding Lady Frances is a guitar enthusiast and edits the audio before passing it on so that he can go retrieve the well-known-in-certain-circles instrument. But then he ends up dead, too. And of course it all turns out to be a corrupt politician. How original.

Oh, and Meat Loaf was the guy who had the guitar and hired the hitman. I mean, he wasn't playing himself or anything. He had the decidedly Teutonic name of Herman Wolf. But if you did steal a guitar from Meat Loaf, it's not difficult to imagine he might at least send someone to break your knees. So that's good casting. Though I really enjoyed Mark Boone Junior as the guitar expert. Put him in more stuff, would you?

And now we must address the Shinwell story line. Sigh. I wasn't paying super close attention, but it seems like someone shot at him? And it turned out to be the same gun (based on ballistics) that had been used to kill a gang friend of his back before he went to jail? I'd say I'm trying hard to care, but no. I'm really not, and I really don't. I was way more interested in the idea of Holmes redecorating the townhouse. I wanted to see the wallpaper choices!

Still, I noticed while watching there was something off about this episode. The script was fine, I guess, but something about the way it was filmed . . . I actually asked aloud, "Did they let the intern shoot this?" Specifically the scene where the guitar enthusiast-turned-thief was addressing an unseen person and then is murdered—it was just so ham-handed. Really clumsy. Maybe that was the script's fault, though, because it required keeping one character out of the frame or silhouetted. I dunno. Did not feel right.

All in all, kind of an odd episode but not terrible.


Movies: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
Directed By: Bill Condon
Written By: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Disney, 2017
PG; 129 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


I was 15 when the animated feature was released, and like many a girl, I was charmed by Disney's take on the fairy tale. I could identify with Belle, being that I was also a bookish, lonely outcast. And I remember loving the stained glass of the opening narration, and thinking Adam (I took pains to figure out the prince's actual name—remember that this was before the Internet could be found in every house and library) was quite handsome for an animated guy. I liked him more than The Little Mermaid's Eric anyway. I think it was the hair. Again, remember: 90s.

Still, the charm faded over the years. I got older and life happened. Even once I had children of my own . . . I don't know. Disney used to feel like something magical that happened only once in a while. Now it's everywhere all the time. Its ubiquitousness has cheapened it a bit, at least for me.

So. This live-action remake of the beloved animated version. Well, it goes to some effort to answer lingering questions from its predecessor, like, "Why didn't anyone notice the prince and the castle were cursed?" And, "How does Belle get the Beast onto her horse?" It also expands the stories of the castle servants and tells us how Belle and Maurice came to be in Ville Neuve. And it goes back to the original fairy tale in that the reason for Beast imprisoning Maurice is that Maurice tries to take a rose from Beast's garden.

It also gave us some new songs that weren't all that necessary.

As for all the fuss about Le Fou being gay, it wasn't nearly as in-your-face as I was expecting. I think they could've done more, in fact, but I suppose they feel they need to be gradual with these things.

There was a moment when I was afraid they would err on the side of "men dressed as women = shaming for the men," but I was glad to see they twisted that a bit.

I was entertained, yes. I thought the production design was magnificent. The acting pretty much spot on. But the sum total did not, as they say, bowl me over. I didn't walk out wowed, merely satisfied.

And that's fine. Not every meal you eat is going to be memorable. Some will simply fill you when you're hungry. At least this isn't one I'll remember for being terrible.

Television: Broadchurch 3.3

So Trish is understandably weirded out by the anonymous text telling her to "shut up or else." Shut up about what? She doesn't know who attacked her. So is there something else—something she does know—that someone doesn't want her to spill? Does it have anything to do with whoever she slept with the morning of the party, whose name she refuses to give to the police?

There's a lot going on but not a lot of progress being made. The man who owns the estate where the party (and rape)  took place mentions in passing that he used to go by the waterfall as a child. Ding ding ding! Ian confesses to Jim that he made up what he told the police because he blacked out and can't actually remember everything that happened at the party. Guess that explains why he went and cleaned his clothes, except . . . Why have the clothes in a bag hidden in the closet? And what's on his computer that he needs Leo to scrub? (Probably more of that porn...)

And why do I have a sneaking suspicion the porn Tom and his friend (who turns out to be the cab driver's stepson) are watching may eventually connect to all this? Did someone video the attack?

People I hope bad things happen to: Leo mostly, but Harford a little bit too. Leo is the worst. Harford needs to be taken down a few, which Hardy did a little bit. Need more of that.

Oh, and Mark Latimer refuses to move on with his life because he feels justice hasn't been done. So he corners Beth with an attorney who starts giving them information on pursuing a civil case against Joe (they don't even know where he lives now or under what name). But Beth isn't interested, and neither is Chloe. Beth points out that Mark is wasting his time with his living children by fixating on the dead one. Ouch. I mean, not inaccurate, but still. Ouch.

Best moments are always between Miller and Hardy. Let's just take a second to admire Olivia Colman's amazing reactions to her co-star's grouchy. The two of them do so well together. It will be sad when this season ends and the show with it, but I can see a line of novels picking up these two characters. They're the starting point of what makes it all worth watching.


Movies: Passengers

Okay, so I took great pains not to read anything about this movie before seeing it. I was aware of some buzz about women being upset about it, but I didn't read any articles to figure out why. I didn't really even know how critics felt about it. Like, all I knew was what I'd seen in the trailers.

Turns out, it's a crap movie.

For a lot of reasons.

So let's go through a few of those reasons:

1. We're supposed to sympathize with the stalker-y character who ruins another person's life because he's lonely. And I almost can sympathize with him, but this movie is so written from a white hetero-male perspective it hurts.

2. The main female character is a writer. Ugh. Can writers please stop romanticizing their own craft? This character is practically flawless—she's a wonderful writer (whose father was a Pulitzer prize-winning writer as well), she's beautiful, etc. *gag* So we've compounded that white hetero-male perspective with this ethereal, beautiful writer thing. [And note: I'm a writer and I still hate this.]

3. Um, it was boring. Like, from the trailers we already gathered that Jim (Chris Pratt) had woken up Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence)—and can we just pause for a moment over the lack of subtlety in using Disney's name for the Sleeping Beauty princess?—so that was no big surprise. And then there was the, "We've gotta fix the ship and save everything!" part. And then it was over. No twists. And largely really boring because it was them talking and goofing around a lot of the time. Jesus, this movie could have been a short.

4. Not sure how I'm supposed to feel about the wronged woman falling in love with and forgiving her "captor" of sorts. More male fantasy. Excuse me while I vomit.

The only good thing in this movie was Michael Sheen as the android bartender. And I thought the ship was pretty cool. But this movie is so bad . . . The dialogue is fine, I guess, but the plot crawls and with all the above issues, the sum total = BAD . . . and yet the guy who wrote it continues to get tons of jobs . . . I really hate a system that rewards this kind of crap.* Guess I'll always be indie.

I still haven't read any of the articles about why women were upset, though I can certainly guess (see above list). I did just pop over to Rotten Tomatoes after the movie and saw that, while audiences found it middling (64% fresh), critics really disliked it (31%). Looks like I fall in with the critics here.

*I understand what's being rewarded is the fact that the movie made money. But I'd say reward the marketing team, not the writer who, in the end, received terrible reviews from the critics. This screenwriter also wrote Prometheus, which was awful as well. Maybe stop giving him these projects since he's proven he's bad at them?


Television: Elementary, "Fidelity"

Continuing from last week, Holmes has been arrested by some federal agent named Gephardt who baldly admits to murdering the people from the previous episode. There's some government conspiracy angle, but I honestly lost track of things after this because I was distracted by other goings on and none of what was happening in this episode was very interesting. Kitty spent a lot of time trying to get Holmes to admit he was angry about her having a baby and quitting detective work, but he just told her the baby was "beautiful" and then he and Watson ended up being the godparents. So... That's a thing that happened, and pretty much the only thing I remember.

Holmes was arrested but then released, so that felt like a feint to get people to tune in from last week. Also a cheap way for Holmes to get info. After that... whatever. This is me throwing up my hands. The Gephardt guy was bad and they went after him, and in the end he was... taken into custody, I think? He was bloody, but I don't think he died? God, I don't even remember. That's how not at all engaged I was.

But next week is about a famous guitar or something, so that should be fun? Assuming the episode doesn't start with the guitar thing and then veer off in a random direction like so many recent episodes? Seems like the preview almost never has anything to do with the actual plot any more; it's only ever a tiny moment in some straying story line. Like a fly landing on a wall then flying off in loops to land somewhere else on the wall. That's what Elementary is now. Buzz buzz.


Television: Feud, "Pilot"

I've watched my share of Ryan Murphy: some seasons of American Horror Story, the first season of Scream Queens, American Crime Story (which he produced and directed some of but didn't write), and I did try Glee way back when it first started. In any case, I think Murphy has a definite brand, though I'd be hard pressed to name it. Maybe it's more of a spectrum? From glossy to gritty, from howlingly ridiculous to . . . slightly less ridiculous.

Given that spectrum, Feud fits squarely in the Murphy mold. It archly and colorfully examines the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford at the time of their making Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. Their rivalry is Hollywood legend, of course, and quite vivid at a time when a certain amount of class was expected from the film elite. (Made the feuds all the more delicious, though—like a luscious dessert. Nowadays Twitter feuds make these things less of a treat.)

In the first episode of this mini, Joan Crawford (played by Murphy favorite Jessica Lange) is nearly bankrupt and searching for the right property (I'm speaking in the film sense rather than real estate) to restore her to Oscar glory. The scripts being offered her don't do her justice, at least not to her way of thinking, so she raids bookstores and finds Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. After reading it, she takes it to Robert Aldrich and promises him she'll also deliver a perfect co-star. She chases Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) down on Broadway while Aldrich shops the story and strong arms Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) into financing.

Of course there are problems even before shooting begins. Joan gets a glimpse of Bette's contract and sees Bette is getting more per week. And so it begins.

Since Murphy never met a frame story he didn't like, there's one here too: the conceit is that some kind of documentary is being filmed, and so people like Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Joan Blondell (Kathy Bates, another of Murphy's regulars) give tidbits of backstory about Joan and Bette.

Certainly this is an entertaining show and I'll continue to watch. So far it's not outrageous, but I'm sure—just based on the actual history of the subject matter—it's building to that. I will say I'm way more excited about the prospect of a Charles v Diana story line next season. In the meantime, I'll enjoy this one. There is, after all, a reason I keep watching Ryan Murphy shows. For the most part, they serve up the very thing(s) he promises. It's just a matter of deciding which of those things I want. In the case of Feud, yeah, I think there's room on my plate for a little.


Favorite Movies

I'm not sure anyone can truly narrow down their "favorite" movies. Or maybe only a dull person could, someone who never has moods and is always the same will perhaps not change his mind about which films are his favorite. Whenever I'm asked, there are a few that immediately spring to mind. But there are others that I have to dig deeper for.

When someone asks me what my favorite film is, I answer without hesitation: Young Sherlock Holmes. This is the movie that had the largest impact on my childhood, so I think that's a fair answer. Alongside it, I might mention the Indiana Jones films which also had a huge impact on me. The Secret of NIMH and The Last Unicorn and Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal and The Neverending Story . . . I watched Clue whenever we had a rainy night . . . I remember being enamored of Annie for a while . . . Watching Summer Magic over and over one summer when it aired constantly on the Disney Channel . . . Quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail . . . Watching The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock a lot, too . . . And The Point. I used to write in my school notebooks, "A point in every direction is the same as no point at all."

But these are all movies from when I was young ("young" being relative). In high school, I fell in love with Jurassic Park, to the point that my classmates gave me all JP stuff for my birthday. As an undergrad, I was blown away by The Matrix.

So how do you define a "favorite"? I suppose that's what it comes down to. Is it a movie you watch over and over again and always enjoy? Is it a movie that made a difference in your world somehow?

I'm asking because tonight I showed my oldest son The Prestige, which I had forgotten how much I liked. I wouldn't hesitate to call it a favorite. Certainly I think it's my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. I never fail to be wowed by it, even though I know, so to speak, how the trick is done. What I mean is, I never get tired of the story.

Is that the key to a favorite? Loving the story beyond its years? Then some of my other favorites would be Now, Voyager and The Innocents. My Fair Lady remains my favorite musical. Oh, and Rope. I do love Rope. Easily my favorite Hitchcock film.

These are just the ones I can think of right now. On a different day, at a different time, the answers could change based on my mood and what comes to mind. Are there any that never change? If so, is that how I know they're my favorites? Because I always name them, no matter what? Well then, Young Sherlock Holmes still tops the list. It will forever be the one that comes to mind first. And the Indiana Jones movies, though which one I like most will fluctuate. (I don't count Crystal Skull. I pretend it never happened.)

I can trace a path through my life as it was impacted by movies. The ones I would see and then my friends and I would act out. The ones my family and I would quote. I remember seeing Ghostbusters and being too afraid to walk home from my friend's house down the street because that movie really bothered me. I remember collecting the Dick Tracy trading cards after that movie came out.

But then I wonder at which point the impact began to fade. Film school? When I was subjected to so many movies I could no longer feel them? Oh, but that's where I saw Now, Voyager and Rope and so many other movies that I'll remember even if I didn't love them.

I do love a lot of movies, but are they favorites? V for Vendetta is a fantastic film that I'll watch almost whenever I come across it, but I don't think it's a favorite. Maybe "favorite" films have to connect in a way that is unable to be articulated. But it does leave me to wonder why I can truly enjoy some movies without feeling that connection. What forges that bond?

This post is just a lot of me musing and rambling. Trying to suss out which films are truly my favorites. I don't think there's a firm answer. But after re-watching The Prestige tonight, I know it's on the list. And that makes me feel good. Because it means that my list didn't stop when I was young. It means it's still possible for me to have new favorites ("new" also being relative). That gives me hope. Because I've liked a lot of movies, but I can't remember the last time anything I saw became a favorite. I hope it happens again soon.


Television: Broadchurch 3.2

We begin compiling a list of potential suspects by taking note of their strange behavior, which mainly consists of them looking shifty. Trish's estranged husband (is "estranged" the word? they're separated but still see each other around town) tops the list, not for refusing the DNA swab, though that's reason for pause, but because he pulled a bag out of his closet and began washing the clothes in it, right down to the soles of the shoes. Hmm?

Also, smarmy kid running the fishing line manufacturer, acting like heir to a throne (made of fishing net). Someone slap him, please.

Ellie asks Beth to nudge Trish in the direction of giving her statement, even though Trish isn't ready. Then Hardy makes the decision for everyone by demanding Trish get down to the station at 4:00. I think the acting here is brilliant, btw. The tug of war between wanting to be compassionate and needing to find the rapist before he can strike again is both subtle and palpably tense. I also had a moment in which I felt like Hardy was angry, not just about the urgency of the case, but about being a man forced to deal with what another man had done to a woman. (Angry at the rapist, mind, not at having to do his job. Angry and maybe a little guilty by association with his gender.) I'm not sure I'm explaining that well, but again, it's such a subtle thing but done so well. It's why I love this show.

What else? Maggie hates what's happening to her little newspaper, and then she's told that they're closing the Broadchurch office anyway and taking the paper in a more regional direction. "Redefining 'local'" they said. I can see both sides of this. Newspapers don't sell like they used to. People go online or to the telly for news. Crying, "It's an institution!" won't save things. But, cute as the kittens were, they shouldn't have been the lead. Sure, put the picture on the front page, but then direct readers to page six or eight or whatever.

It occurs to me that I sort of miss getting a newspaper . . .

And Paul is mad, too, because no one goes to church any more. Or they only go when something is wrong, never when times are good. Church has become a kind of last resort when one is desperate.

There's a lot of social commentary in this show. But for the millionth time, it's done so well, I don't even mind.

Finally, that little pissant Harford runs off to . . . was it her dad? Anyway, she's related to the guy who owns the store Trish works in, and after being told not to talk about the case, of course she does just that. Well, we assume she does. We don't see the conversation, so we can't know what she said.

Sum total of all that occurs in this episode: Trish is sent a threatening text from an unknown caller telling her to shut up.

Dun dun DUN.

Seriously, though, I do love this show. I'll be sorry when it's well and truly over, but at the same time it's not the kind of thing I'd want to see them drag on indefinitely. Better to end while you're on top. *sob*


Television: Elementary, "Wrong Side of the Road"

Was anyone really asking, "Whatever happened to Kitty?" I'd think we'd be more curious about Mycroft or Lestrade, but okay. After all the Shinwell, maybe Kitty is a relief.

We gloss over the fact that Kitty is wanted for murder by saying she sent Gregson a letter, so that when she arrives at the precinct, she is welcomed with open arms and much love. "Must've been some letter," mutters Watson, as if hanging a lampshade on it excuses it for being a plot convenience.

And why is Kitty back? Well, someone she helped Holmes put away in prison is now out on good behavior and people connected to his case are starting to die. So the concern is that Holmes and Kitty are on the hit list. "Get them before they get you," more or less. Until the guy they think is behind the hits ends up dead himself.

Someone appears to be covering up evidence, too. When it becomes clear that one "natural causes" death may actually be a lethal injection that prompted a heart attack, the body is dug up in the dead of night and set on fire before it can be exhumed and re-examined. Hmm.

There seems to be a Red-Headed League threading through all this, as red hair abounds from various sides, including a strand (dyed from gray) at the scene of the body burning.

Oh, and Kitty has a baby. ::shrug:: I guess this gives her more to lose? That's the usual dramatic reason for giving someone a sudden wife/husband/child/pet.

The episode ends with Holmes being taken into custody because the government was behind it all along. Or something. It's not entirely clear because it was a cliffhanger. Maybe they'll enlighten us next week.


Television: Broadchurch 3.1

The final series (season) begins with Hardy and Miller handling a rape victim. Fair warning: it's difficult to watch, even though the program handles it with utmost tact and respect.

Trish was raped while at a party on Saturday night but doesn't say anything to the police until Monday. Why? Shame, confusion, ??? Evidence supports her story, but there does seem to be something "off" about the whole thing, too. So long as this does not turn into yet another "she lied about rape" story line, I think I'll be okay. I'm pretty sick of accusers being portrayed as liars in television and movies just for the sake of drama.

Meanwhile, Miller's father is apparently staying with her. Pro: he can watch the kids. Con: he doesn't seem quite all there? Hard to tell from the short scene in which he was featured. Oh, and surprise, surprise, Tom is having issues. After everything that's happened, color me not at all shocked.

The episode is a subtle enough start, the equivalent of dipping toes in. This has never been a fast-moving show, so the sedate pace is nothing new. The episode lays the groundwork; let's see what builds from here.


Television: Legion, "Chapter 2" & "Chapter 3"

Um . . . Okay. After a pretty strong start, we're now mired in David's head. I guess we're trying to figure out exactly what his powers are and how strong they are? And somehow this will help determine that?

I'm a character person, so the fact that this is character-driven is not a problem for me. Except that this character isn't doing anything but lying around and remembering stuff. And sometimes not remembering stuff. Or stopping others from knowing what he remembers. Or something.

What I'm saying is: it's getting kinda boring. Kinda monotonous. I'm hoping there's a payoff for all this at some point, but right now it feels a bit interminable.

I think we're supposed to be worried that, while they faff about with David's memories, the bad guys are going to find them. Except there's been almost no tension from that quarter since the first episode. Jean Smart (yeah, her character is named Dr. Bird, but she's always just going to be Jean Smart—which really does sound like a superhero name, come to think of it) talks about how there's a war and they're losing and they need David, but I don't feel any of that from the show.

I haven't watched the episode that aired last night yet. Maybe something finally happens? I mean, besides people getting stuck in David's brain or whatever?

Stylistically, this is a great show. And it has such potential. I loved the first episode. But I think we need to move things along now. This tendency to dwell doesn't do Legion any justice.


Movies: Ghostbusters (2016)

This was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be, though not nearly as bad as people seemed to make it out to be. That is, it was the same kind of funny as the original (and with more or less the same plot). The jokes flew thick, and some landed and some didn't, but none were left hanging long enough to matter either way. No dead air, as it were.

There were some missed opportunities, I think. Jokes that never went anywhere. Like the dog thing, or the fact that Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) had no lenses in his glasses. Shouldn't he have been stumbling around slightly blind or something? I also found his suddenly wanting to join the Ghostbusters somewhat odd since there had been zero setup for that. He'd shown exactly no interest in them or what they did, then he wanted to join the team?

I also felt the big, final fight was a tad too long, but that's become common in today's action films.

A lot of cameos, of course.

In all, not terrible. It entertained me in exactly the way I expected, which is pretty much the most one can ask for from a movie. (It's only bonus if a movie goes above and beyond what is expected.) If you like the kind of humor in things like 21 Jump Street, this one is similar. I think it suffered from the weight of its source material and probably was never going to get a fair shake on its own merit, which is a shame.


I have honest concerns about the direction of our country. To the point that I'm having nightmares about it. Even as a kid during the Cold War, I didn't have nightmares. Now maybe that's because I was too young to truly understand all that was going on, but still . . .

There appears to be a definite design here. Attempts to discredit and squash the experts (scientists), and now also to silence any unflattering press so that we only hear one "approved" message. This is a slide toward fascism, and we cannot allow our democracy to fall to it.

I'm not sure what can be done besides being vigilant. It's tiring, to be sure, but we must speak out when we see the wrongs. It worries me that our elected officials are not stepping up to do their jobs. Just goes to show how corrupt many of them are—and the rest are cowards. Mid-term elections feel very far away, and I worry the system will continue to be rigged so that the wrong people remain in power.

What can we do but fight? Resist? Speak out? Hector our congresspeople? What happens when the system fails its people and is hijacked by rich and powerful maniacs? I'm afraid we're finding out.


Television: Elementary, "Rekt in Real Life"

My kids all watch these YouTube videos of other people playing video games while keeping up a running commentary. That's, like, a thing apparently. And someone who writes for Elementary probably has kids like mine, because they decided to do a story about these famous YouTube video gamers.

(Seriously, my two youngest were playing Mario Kart and "commentating" as though they were YouTubers. They're seven and eight.)

Anyway, Elementary's latest MO has been to see how far from the original incident they can possibly get as far as plot goes. So while this episode began as YouTube-gamer-is-murdered, it went on to be about human trafficking, seal hunting, and global warming. Not necessarily in that order. But maybe. I don't really remember. Once we got away from the murder, I began to lose interest. The suspect-turned-victim was someone we never really met, so it was difficult to feel anything for him or care what happened.

I'd like to see an episode where you really are made to sympathize with someone only to discover they're horrific.

Speaking of horrific, there was more Shinwell plot this episode, too. Look, I want to like Shinwell as a character, but he's kind of one-note and his side plots are just so much padding. They don't contribute meaningfully to the show as a whole. In this case, his estranged daughter contacts him as a last resort because a gang boy won't leave her alone. After Shinwell clears that up, the daughter tells him she only came to him because she had no other choice and that she doesn't want him to be part of her life. That's pretty awful, actually, and so I do feel bad for Shinwell and want to slap his daughter. Using people is not okay. But that isn't enough to make me want to sit through anymore Shinwell storylines. Because ugh.

So there's been a lot of starting out interesting and then going off the rails in recent episodes. Maybe for once they should start with something small and go big? (They probably have done, but clearly not enough to make it memorable for me.)


Books: The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

I've been evangelizing for this series since I first read Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot). But after Foxglove Summer and now The Hanging Tree, I find my enthusiasm waning. And that breaks my heart.

It could be that it's been just long enough since I read the earlier books that, when this book references characters and events, I struggle to recall what happened when and who so-and-so is. The whole thing has become unwieldy; I almost need a cast of characters or a timeline or something. (That probably exists online somewhere...)

Can I even describe the plot here? It's kind of a mess. Starts with someone overdosing at a party, and Tyburn's daughter Olivia is implicated. But then things veer off in a variety of directions, with American magicians thrown in. And of course more with Lesley and the Faceless Man which, though progress is made, I'm sort of sick of this particular plot. The "we almost caught them!" thing is getting really, really old.

In any case, this one felt disjointed, what with the hinky plot going from one thing to the next like a pinball. And I noticed the typos became more frequent as I went along, which makes me wonder whether there was deadline pressure and they cut a copyediting/proofreading pass toward the end. (Having worked in publishing, I've known it to happen. And Foxglove Summer similarly felt rushed at the end.)


I still think this should be a television series. And I'll continue to read the books, at least for now. Maybe these are just a slump. Though I also acknowledge how much harder it is to hold something together the larger it becomes. The Peter Grant series is starting to be behemoth. Lots of characters, lots of rules for how the magical world works . . . Might be time to contract it a bit and get back to the really good stuff.

Movies: Nocturnal Animals


And I realize it's meant to be, yes, but there you have it.

Parts of it are truly difficult to watch. Again, it's good sometimes to engage with art that disturbs you, but I wish I'd been warned.

Haven't read the books, so I can't comment on the adaptation itself.

It's a beautiful movie cinematically and has a brilliant score.

There's not much more I can say for it. I'd never watch it again, and I have no desire to read the book now either. ::shrug::

I guess on the whole this movie turned me off.


Movies: Money Monster

I don't think this movie was as bad as the ratings suggested. I actually kind of enjoyed it. Sure, it's basically 90 minutes of watching George Clooney charm his way out of a bad situation, but there's entertainment value in that.

For those of you who are thinking I've never even heard of this movie, let me summarize. George Clooney plays Lee, who is more or less that guy on television who screams about stocks and investments. You know the one? [Looked it up: Jim Cramer.] Anyway, a disgruntled viewer who lost his life savings manages to waltz into the studio one day, pulls a gun on Lee, and forces him into a vest with a bomb in it. So then we get Lee trying to talk the guy down.

At the same time, there's a pseudo mystery plot about the particular stock the guy lost money on. A company called Ibis. Lee and his TV crew end up helping the bad guy by solving the big question of how and why all that money was lost. (You know Clooney wouldn't have agreed to do the movie if he couldn't be a hero in the end.)

I imagine this got greenlit not only because they attached A-list talent (Clooney, Julia Roberts), but because they were able to pitch it as limited locations which saves a certain amount of money. Then again, there are some major street scenes that might've cost a pretty penny.

Long story short, I was entertained. Maybe because it had such weak ratings, I had low expectations and so wasn't disappointed. If you ever want a movie with Clooney at his Clooniest, this one will serve.


Television: Stuff I Stopped Watching

Okay, so I really thought Timeless was cute and all, but then my DVR got full and I realized I just didn't care enough about the show to keep it. Like, I was never going to get back around to catching up with it.

Same thing with Scream Queens. The first season was so much fun, but after a couple episodes of the second season, I realized I was sort of tired of it. I wish they had all new characters instead of extending the story of the first season's characters. I felt done with them.

Was enjoying Designated Survivor but . . . somehow lost track of it as well.

With so much content out there, I'm simply having to get more and more selective about what I watch. I can't just kinda-sorta like a show. I have to really like it to want to make the time.

Also, I'm finding I'd rather watch more mindless stuff than anything that requires so much work on my part. I'm tired at the end of the day. My brain is mush. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Tiny House Hunters are undemanding. Even 24: Legacy is just so much fluff.

Then again, I'm loving Legion so far, so not all my shows have to be easy on the mind. I'm willing to put the effort in for well-written stuff that fully engages me.

So what have I been watching? Um . . .

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (streaming on Netflix)
Elementary (CBS)
Legion (FX)
24: Legacy (FOX)
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

And when they're on:

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Tiny House Hunters (HGTV)
Documentary Now! (IFC)

Looking forward to:

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Fargo (FX)

And I'll be watching Game of Thrones when it's back, too.

What do you watch? What have you given up on? Is there anything I'm missing that I should absolutely try?

Books: Dangerous Secrets by Caroline Warfield

So this was a somewhat nice change from the typical Regency romance. For one thing, it's set primarily in Rome. A dissolute baron-turned-army-major is holed up there, too ashamed to return home to England. And then an Englishwoman finds him and hires him as her translator to help her navigate through the Italian culture as she tries to gain custody of her niece.

There are a lot of politics in this book, so if you don't like that kind of thing, this may not be the book for you. I, for one, appreciated the depth of research. However, I didn't 100% enjoy the plot. It just felt at times a wee bit repetitive. The niece (who at first I couldn't tell how old she must be? but then figured out she's five) disappears a couple of times, which of course causes drama. The hero keeps thinking about how he should come clean and be honest about his past. He also refers to the heroine as a "wren" for the first part of the book, but then that is rather abruptly dropped. The villains are somewhat thinly painted, too. I actually most enjoyed seeing the hero interact with his friends, but that comes very late in the book and is brief.

The romance here is . . . okay. I wasn't feeling flames or anything, but Regency is often sweet. Thing is [spoiler], these characters do get married, and there are sex scenes. But I just didn't feel the chemistry the way I wanted to.

Nor did I get as much resolution as I might have liked. Some things get tied up off the page and explained later, and some things are left implied.

Still, I have to admire Warfield for writing something other than the usual vapid Regency tale. This is much more layered and nuanced than that. And what do I know? This book won a RONE award, after all.

I'd certainly check out more by Warfield.


Television: 24: Legacy, "1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m."

This picture taken while I was watching pretty much sums up my feelings about the whole thing:

I'm the one on the right.

Don't judge; I've been crazy ill, and it's a wonder I was able to sit up at all and/or eat. It may even be that I'm so medicated none of what I was seeing made sense, but I suspect even without medication I'd have been lost. Like . . . Why exactly didn't a station full of cops jump Carter right away?

No, no, don't waste your time trying to explain it to me.

So far I'm just not 100% enthralled here. Everything seems so repressed and contained, and that's not what I want from 24. What I want is Jack Bauer (or similar) going, "Fuck it, I'll just shoot everybody and be done with it." And then all hell breaks loose and it's totally entertaining.

This is not totally entertaining.

Will it get there? I dunno. If it doesn't happen soon, I might tune out before I can find out.

Now I'm off to take more medicine.


Television: Legion, "Chapter 1"

David Haller has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and institutionalized. He seems fairly well adjusted to that. Until the day Syd Barrett arrives as another mental patient. She doesn't like to be touched but agrees to be David's girlfriend anyway. Then, on the day she's meant to be released, David impulsively kisses her . . . and everything goes to hell.

I won't go into the play-by-play; you can use a Wikipedia recap for that, or better yet, watch it yourself. I will say—coming from someone who is so done with Marvel this and DC that and superhero s*** in general—I really, REALLY liked Legion.

Okay, yeah, unreliable narrators are so done to death now, but in this case you don't feel like it's David trying to put something over on you. He really doesn't know who or what is real or not. You navigate the show inside his own confusion. And it is confusing at times (lots of times), but intriguing too.

Likewise, it's paced well, and stylistically it looks amazing.

The one drawback: the music drew too much attention to itself for my taste. Was distracting at times, and felt very Stranger Things. Like, I literally wondered if the composer had been told to make the music sound like Stranger Things. (Also: waffles.) I will tip my hat to the soundtrack used here, but when the original score is this invasive, something is wrong. Still, that's a minor beef.

I'm entering this with little to no knowledge of the universe upon which Legion teeters, so comics fans may have a different take. But coming in cold, I just was really engaged. Noah Hawley has made another good one.


"You write really well!"

I just have to laugh. Like, so many people who know me, or have known me for a while, and then discover I'm an author . . . So they ask politely about my books, and I give them a card so they can find my Web site. And later they come back, all surprised: "You write really well!"

Um, yeah. That's what I do.

I mean, I appreciate the encouragement, and I know that not everyone will love my writing. But I just can't help laughing at how surprised people seem to be. It would be like me going to their office and checking out their work and saying, "Wow! You do this job really well!"

"Well, yeah," they might say, "that's why I have the job."

I guess it comes with the explosion of independent authors. Now anyone can call themselves a writer. No application necessary.

Still, I find it amusing that people seem to think I've been hiding this side of me, this "talent" or whatever. I really haven't. It's just not something that's easy to show off like, say, juggling. Being good at writing is a quiet sort of thing.

Even my own parents said to me, "You know, this is a book I would have read anyway, even if you hadn't written it!"

I love the people in my life. And I don't mean that in a sarcastic way; I truly do love them. They make me smile, and they make all the work worth it.


Television: 24: Legacy, "12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m."

24 is back . . . without Bauer. But that's okay! We'll still have fun. Maybe.

So U.S. Army Sergeant Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins) is in a witness protection program after taking part in a big raid against terrorist leader Bin Khalid. And now some of Khalid's men are tracking down the raiders. They're searching for a "lockbox" [that Al Gore didn't have?]. Turns out some guy named Ben has it; he took it during the raid because he felt he was "owed" for his work. But this lockbox has more than money and passports in it. A quick look—that Ben never took, apparently—shows a false bottom that hides a flash drive full of information about terrorists and sleeper cells, etc.

Now Ben wants to sell the information to the government—or to Khalid's men. Cuz, you know, he's "owed."

There's some other stuff going on, of course. Like, it wouldn't be 24 without random teen drama, and since Jack Bauer's daughter isn't there to supply it, we're having to make do with some foreign high school student and her teacher, and the fact that another student has seen some texts that have clued him in to the fact that this girl is a terrorist. He doesn't know about the teacher, though. That's going to come as a surprise.

Meanwhile, Carter has dropped his wife? girlfriend? off with his thug brother because there's no one else to protect her while he (Carter) tries to help CTU with the Khalid thing.

Also Eowyn is married to Jimmy Smits. And he's running for office and she's supposed to be handing over the reins of CTU to someone but she can't let go. Especially not now with this Khalid problem because she's one of only a couple people who has inside knowledge of what went down. So she's trying to contain things, but we all know how that goes. (BANG. It goes BANG.)

So, yeah, this is an okay start. The situations are somewhat interesting, but so far I'm not seeing the spark of action hero personality that I so enjoyed in Jack Bauer. Like, I'm already missing the kick-assedness of JB. So let's hope they step things up a bit and quickly.


Movies: Arrival

Well, that was interesting.

I mean, I didn't hate it or anything. But after all the hype . . . I don't know what I expected, really. I haven't read the story it was based on. I like language stuff. I thought the aliens were interesting. But I found Amy Adams singularly uninteresting. And maybe that was intentional. Maybe she's supposed to be this just completely normal person. Except she's not really normal, is she? We're supposed to think she's exceptional because the government comes and gets her when they need someone to learn an alien language. So . . . She's brilliant but in a boring kind of way???

Seriously, I don't know. I wasn't blown away by this. I did find it intriguing. Visually, it's quite lovely. I can see why they chose Villeneuve for the Dune remake. But I also see—contrary to so many—why Adams didn't make the Oscar list. It's a perfectly good performance, but there's no energy in it. This whole movie—there's no energy in any of it. It's muted in every possible way. And that's fine; it works for the story they're telling. But it's not the kind of performance that gets Oscar attention.

Still, Arrival received what? Eight nods? And they're all earned. It's a thoughtful movie and a nice change from all the loud spectacles. But don't watch it if you're at all sleepy because it will lull you.

As for the twist, I saw it coming pretty early. And at the end, they draw it out quite a bit as though to hit you over the head with it. "Do you get it?!" the movie seems to be asking. Shouting, in a way. Uh, yeah, we get it. You can wrap up whenever you're ready.

In short, I liked it. Wasn't wowed, but ::shrug:: It posed an interesting scenario, very different from the usual take on aliens. Just for that, it's worth seeing.

Television: Powerless, "Wayne or Lose"

Um . . . okay. I really like the idea behind this show. It's about people living in Charm City (part of the DC Universe) and dealing with the day-to-day realities of having superheroes constantly fighting all around them. The main characters work for Wayne Enterprises, in particular in the R&D or something like that. Their job is to create cool gadgets and gear for WE to manufacture and sell.

All well and good, but . . . The execution was a little too . . . twee? saccharine? In short, it didn't work for me.

This first episode has the kind of plot line that feels old-fashioned in this day and age: new girl (Vanessa Hudgens) starts her first day at work, and her job is to supervise this motley crew of geeks. Same day, Bruce Wayne calls and says he's shutting them all down because they're obsolete and haven't come up with anything good in a long time. But of course the new girl whips her team into shape and they invent something amazing on the spot and everyone's jobs are saved.

I liked Danny Pudi in Community, and he's kind of doing the same thing here, so . . . I guess that's okay? And I can't help but enjoy Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne, Bruce's cousin who runs the Charm City office but aspires to be relocated to Gotham. But collectively, this is such a strange amalgam. It's like they weren't sure how over-the-top, cartoony to get. The result is, it's too cartoony to take seriously but not cartoony enough to be actually funny.

I don't know. I wonder whether Powerless will find its footing as the characters develop? I remember I didn't love Community or Parks and Rec the first time I watched them but those shows grew on me. Might this one, too? As the characters become more clearly defined and the writers get into the groove? I'll give it another one or two episodes.


Television: Elementary, "Over a Barrel"

Okay, so this was a pretty interesting entrance point: a man named Jack Burnelle keeps trying to get Holmes and Watson to investigate his son's assault that resulted in his son being in a coma and dying. But despite repeated requests, Holmes and Watson were always too busy to take his case. With the statue of limitations running out, Burnelle gets desperate. He takes a diner full of people hostage and demands Holmes solve his son's assault-turned-murder before midnight. Watson remains at the diner as collateral/increased motivation.

So Holmes and Bell dive in. Of course the whole thing goes back to gangs. This show is really into gangs lately, which for me is just another take on Mafia/organized crime; in short, I don't find it very interesting. At least not usually. But (many plot turns later) this gang happens to be smuggling maple syrup. Now that's pretty entertaining.

Meanwhile, Watson's attempts to forge a connection with Burnelle are textbook and not terribly engaging. At no point do we really believe she or the hostages are in much danger. Even the one hostage Burnelle is truly angry with—a police detective who Burnelle feels did nothing to solve his son's case—doesn't bring much emotional impact to the story. I feel like there could have been more here, but maybe it was all edited out for time?

Still, overall this was one of the better episodes.

Brynnde: Chapter 1

So my new book comes out in exactly one week. But if you're too excited to wait that long, you can at least read the first chapter, which is posted here. And then be sure to pre-order so you get the best price!


Brynnde up for cover recognition

So you may have heard my latest book Brynnde is about to be released (Feb 9). And now it's getting a little cover love, too! I can't take the credit; Lila Mijailovic designed the cover, and I think she did a fabulous job. I hope you do, too, and would like to reward her with a vote on the Books & Benches cover contest.

(And while you're at it, go ahead a pre-order the ebook for just 99 cents. Goes up to $2.99 at release.)


Book: Brynnde Now Up for Pre-Order

You can now pre-order my Regency romance novel Brynnde on Amazon! Release date is February 9. The price goes up after release, so pre-order and save!

Brynnde Archambault needs to find someone to marry, else she'll be stuck with dull Mr. Dallweather. The answer to her problem arrives in the form of handsome and witty Viscount Burbridge, but just when everything seems to be going smoothly, scandal strikes and the engagement ends.

Meanwhile, Brynnde has no trouble matchmaking her friends and even her own brother. But while she breezily finds suitors for everyone else, for her time is running out. Must she resign herself to becoming Mrs. Dallweather? Or will Brynnde yet succeed in making a match for herself?

Brynnde is a light, bubbly, and sweet Regency romance in the vintage style of Zebra and Signet.


The other day my iPod tried to tell me one of its stories. It played the following:

  1. "I Will Wait" by Mumford and Sons
  2. "Just a Memory" by Train
  3. "Through with You" by Maroon 5
  4. "Wave Bye Bye" by Gin Blossoms

Um . . .

As for me, I'm having a difficult time focusing on my work these days. There is a lot going on, a lot of noise, and it's frankly terrifying. This is how dictatorship begins: censorship and pulling the rights out from under people. Threats of torture to keep people quiet and scared. Is this wall meant to keep people out or in? We've been such a fat, sassy country for so long . . . It was only a matter of time before we'd become complacent enough that someone could waltz in and take advantage. Now more than ever we must be vigilant and informed. They will try to throw lies at us, confuse us, but we can't let that happen. They will try to divide and conquer, get us chasing our own tails, but we can't let that happen. They will try to scatter our energies by doing so many bad things at once that we don't know where to look, but we can't let that happen. We must have our eyes everywhere. And we must act before they take away our ability to act.


Books: The Face of a Stranger by Anne Perry

I met Ms. Perry at a writing conference where we were both guest authors. Can you imagine? Anyway, she's just lovely, and I felt bad for never having read any of her books; I'd always meant to, but there are so many I didn't know where to start. So I asked her, and she handed me The Face of a Stranger.

I really liked it.

It's the first in the William Monk series of books, and in this story Monk—a police detective in Victorian London—wakes up after a carriage crash and can't remember anything. Like, anything. Not even his own name. And so he must piece together his life while also trying to solve a murder and hide the fact that he kind of doesn't know what he's doing.

The book breaks a lot of rules, at least the rules that are in place for writers now; maybe when Ms. Perry was writing this those rules hadn't been set yet. For one, it begins with the protagonist waking up. Also, amnesia. And the book also jumps from one character's perspective to another, which I think nowadays is called "head hopping." But Perry is far from the only one to do this; I noticed it when re-reading Dune recently, too. So clearly it used to be no big deal.

So I will say I noticed all these "flaws" while reading. (Maybe it says something about the way we pound the "rules" into writers' heads that they can detract from reading a good book.) And there were parts that were a tad repetitive. Monk constantly thinks about who he must be, what kind of man he must have been before the accident, etc. I suppose it's realistic that he would go over the same ground a few times, but that doesn't mean the reader has to.

Still. I really enjoyed the book overall, and I'd pick up the next one.


Movies: The Girl on the Train

It seems like unreliable narrators and whole casts of unlikable characters are the in thing these days.

I haven't read the book. Maybe it's better? But I really disliked the Gone Girl book and still thought the movie was okay . . . So if I didn't like this movie, is the book worse? Or is this one just the flip of Gone Girl? Is it because David Fincher directed Gone Girl and he's plain awesome? I don't think I've seen anything Tate Taylor has done (didn't see The Help but loved that book, so . . .) I guess what I'm saying, not very well, is that I have to wonder how much of this is the source material and how much of it is the filter that is the director.

Emily Blunt slurs her way through this film as alcoholic Rachel whose husband Tom left her for Anna. Rachel and Tom suffered through infertility, but Anna promptly gives Tom a baby daughter. Rachel torments herself by riding the train past her old house each day, catching glimpses of Tom's and Anna's life, the life that should have been hers. Two doors down from her old house, too, there is another woman living a seemingly perfect life. Rachel makes up stories about who this woman is and what her life might be like. Then she flips the fuck out when she sees this woman kissing a man who is definitely not her partner/husband. When the woman—whose name is Megan—goes missing, Rachel tries to "help" by bringing up what she saw to the police and Megan's husband Scott. Unfortunately, because Rachel is constantly soused, no one believes her and they even suspect she may have done it. And since Rachel blacks out a lot and can't remember things, she wonders if she did something to Megan too. But of course we all know better because then there isn't really a story.

Not much suspense or many thrills in this supposed "suspense thriller." Again, maybe the book did it better. We know we can't trust Rachel's memories/flashbacks. So there's no surprise when she unravels things and discovers she was wrong about what she remembered. The whole thing has a Gaslight vibe that could have been really cool if played up differently. As it was, it was just kind of like ::shrug::


Movies: The Accountant

This had a promising premise but was bogged down by flashbacks, a long explanatory sequence (that included more flashbacks), and reveals that weren't all that surprising (except one at the very end that was pretty cool).

Ben Affleck, in an attempt to prove to Matt Damon that he can also play "smaht," is a math savant on the autism spectrum that works as—wait for it—an accountant. But also works for bad people, I guess? Because J.K. Simmons is there as a Treasury Department officer trying to track this accountant down.

Affleck—whose character is named Christian Wolff—takes a job for a company called Living Robotics, run by John Lithgow. There are some, let's say, discrepancies in the books, and then this other team of guys is going around killing people off to keep the truth from coming out. Chris and a Living Robotics accountant named Dana (Anna Kendrick) are on the hit list. Lucky for Chris, and actually also for Dana, that there are a lot of flashbacks to tell us how Chris' military father had him and his brother trained to fight and kill.

Honestly, the whole thing is a kind of mishmash mess with almost too much going on and lots of things filmed in heavy shadow. And then it grinds to a complete halt when J.K. Simmons goes into a long voiceover that explains Chris' criminal background and how he (Simmons) got pulled into the mystery of who this guy is. By that time, I'd all but lost interest. Still, I'm glad I finished it out if only for the final little reveal at the very end of the film. There's at least one other reveal before that, but it is underwhelming and not at all surprising.

I'd really had hopes for this movie. It had such potential. But oh, it really needed to be edited and tightened. As it stands, it's somewhat sloppy and periodically flat-out boring.


Television: Elementary, "Crowned Clown, Downtown Brown"

So the ads made this look like a killer clown thing, but in actuality it was more Flint water stuff.


It really couldn't manage to hold my interest.

However, they did a bit more with Detective Bell's character by throwing a lot at him at once. 1. Watson asked him to help her dad out with some of his mystery novels? Like as a consultant, I guess? 2. That ADA Bell had shown an interest in a few weeks back is now his semi-girlfriend? Like, this was their third date, so I guess it's not exclusive or anything yet, but it must be good enough to merit repeating. But it was sort of sprung on the viewers (and Watson), which feels a bit like a cheat. 3. And then Bell had to deal with the ADA's ex. And ended up blackmailing him, more or less? Good of Bell to show some backbone, but . . . You know, when someone feels cornered and threatened they're even more likely to lash out and look for a way to get rid of said threat. So I don't feel like this was the best way to handle the situation. Also, you're a cop. You shouldn't blackmail people. And I shouldn't have to remind you of that.

Clearly, though, I paid more attention to the Bell stuff than the clown-turned-water-filter story. ::rolling my eyes::

We're about halfway through the season now and ratings are dwindling (though some of that may be due to football). Maybe the whole Sherlock Holmes cycle we've been in is starting to come to a close. Let's just hope Elementary ends better than That Other Show*. Not that that would be difficult to do. Gah.

*I really disliked all but the final minute of so of That Other Show because that minute was the show we should have been watching all along.


Books: A Royal Duty by Paul Burrell

I written before about my feelings regarding Princess Diana. You know, I grew up at a time when she was the "real-life princess" every little girl could look up to.

Anyway, I stumbled across this book at our library's book shop, and I'm not entirely sure what compelled me to buy it. Curiosity, I suppose. And reading this book certainly gave a lot of insight into the way royal houses work and then also into Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana specifically. Which was interesting—engrossing even—but I felt kind of sick as I read it, too. I don't know how else to describe it. I sort of hated myself for reading it because it seemed so voyeuristic.

Going into the book, I wasn't really aware of who Paul Burrell was, largely because (a) I'm not British or one of those people who obsessively follow the royals, and (b) at the time of his court case I had a lot going on in my own life and wasn't paying much attention to the news. Which sort of made for nice reading since it was really all fresh and new to me. Though I suppose even if you did follow those proceedings at the time, this book is still an interesting perspective.

Burrell makes himself very likable, but of course what else would he do? He tries to make things sound reasonable, or at least tries to explain why he did some of the things he did. For me, that was only partially successful. In some instances I was just shaking my head. Because, yeah, he sort of seems obsessed. Maybe good servants are obsessed? I dunno, I feel like there's a lot of psychology to be explored here. Stuff about deriving your self-worth from whom you serve and how important you are to them, etc.

Come the end of it all, Burrell doth protest . . . if not too much, an awful lot. The letters to Charles and William were, of course, suspect since they came after the fact of his arrest. So naturally it was only when the Queen herself said that, no, Burrell had said the same things to her prior that the case against him collapsed. I'm not sure why Burrell professes in this book to be bewildered by that. He keeps going on about the letters to Charles and William but those could easily look like attempts by Burrell to cover his a**. And it's fine if we believe he's in earnest. But one has to look at it objectively, and from the court's point of view. People are tried on facts not personality. (Or should be, though I'm sure personality must color things.)

As for personality, while Burrell does seem earnest, he also comes across as somewhat smug, and then again at times desperate, almost pleading. He definitely wants to be understood, and wants Diana to be understood as well—or maybe just viewed through his particular prism? One can never be free of the bias in this book. Burrell was simply too close to everything to be able to put forth a big picture.

But one doesn't read a book like this for the big picture. This is an intimate story, if one sided. This is a man attempting to explain his devotion and also possibly excuse himself from certain things.

Burrell writes glowingly, lovingly of the Queen, the princes Harry and William, and of course Diana. He's less effusive about Charles though seemingly strives to not be outright damning. For people wanting to get to the juicy stuff quickly, there's a bit of Burrell's family history and such first. A primer of sorts on how he became a royal butler.

On the whole, it's a good read, but as I mentioned, it also made me a tad uncomfortable. I asked myself more than once: Why am I reading this? But once I'd started, it was difficult to stop. Indeed, I didn't—until I reached the final page.


Presented Without Commentary

  1. Irene - a "strong" woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero
  2. Mary - a "strong" woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero (but isn't)
  3. Eurus - a "strong" woman with a shady past who ultimately needs to be rescued by the hero
  4. Molly - a weak woman whose attempts to assert herself are unconvincing and unsuccessful, and who pines for the hero and allows him to manipulate her repeatedly
  5. Mrs. Hudson - a strong [older] woman played for comic relief

Books: My Favorite Stephen King Novels

Okay, so one of the groups I'm a member of is currently debating whether Stephen King's Revival was great or terrible. Of course, it's all a matter of opinion, but as people started writing that it was in the "bottom 10%" of his books or whatever, I began to think about which of Uncle Stevie's books are my favorites. (BTW, you can find my review of Revival here.)

Now, I've read a lot of King but not nearly all. So I can only rank what I've read. And I also sort of see Uncle Stevie's work in two parts: pre-Bag of Bones and post-Bag of Bones. So I'm going to rank them in two "eras" accordingly. And I'm only looking at novels, not anthologies.

Pre-Bag of Bones Favorites

  1. 'Salem's Lot
  2. The Dead Zone
  3. The Dark Half
  4. Misery
  5. The Shining
  6. Pet Sematary
  7. It
  8. Needful Things
  9. The Green Mile
  10. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
  11. The Stand
  12. The Tommyknockers
  13. Insomnia*

*I didn't actually finish this one, but I'm grateful to it for introducing me to the work of Stephen Dobyns.

You'll see I never read beyond the first Dark Tower book. And there's a lot more I haven't read, too, and might never get around to.

I used the press conference scene in The Dead Zone for a dramatic interp piece once. I had to do a lot of different voices!

Post-Bag of Bones Favorites

  1. Duma Key
  2. Bag of Bones
  3. Lisey's Story
  4. Revival
  5. Dreamcatcher

I really, really disliked Dreamcatcher. I started both Under the Dome and Finders Keepers but never finished either of them. Cell, meanwhile, is one I really want to read but—dare I say it—I'm a little frightened to!

'Salem's Lot, The Dead Zone, and Bag of Bones are the only Stephen King books I've read more than once. I'd definitely re-read Duma Key, though, too. In fact, there are a lot of books on this list that I find myself periodically wanting to go re-read, but then other books are stacked and waiting and I never quite get back around to old favorites.

Do you read Stephen King? If so, which of his books are your favorites?


Television: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Finally tried this one out. Well, actually, I tried a random episode some months ago but didn't find it all that funny. Over time, however, I wondered if maybe I just needed more context. So I went back to the pilot and started from there.

Now I'm bingeing.

This show is incredibly funny though at times also truly cringe-worthy. What I really appreciate, though, is that none of the characters is perfect and almost none are caricatures. For example, the main character Rebecca (played by Rachel Bloom) is socially inept but very good at her job. I'm so glad they didn't go with her being an all-out mess. She has facets, as do almost every other character. (So far—and I'm only a few episodes in, mind—Valencia is the one character that seems to be from cardboard stock.)

You can't always like Rebecca, but that's okay. They even call out the fact that she's sometimes terrible in an episode in which she tries to prove otherwise. (Remember, kids, if you're doing good things for the wrong reasons, you're still a terrible person.) But the genuineness of the characters makes them ultimately relatable. And yet they're just over the top enough to be hilarious in a way real life almost never is.

Also: musical numbers. That are amazing.

I think I've been starved for comedy, so I'm really, really glad to have this to watch. I'm trying not to eat it up too fast because then I won't have anything left.

I'd say if you like, oh, Kimmy Schmidt, you'd probably enjoy this too. Rebecca isn't quite as alien as Kimmy but they come from neighboring petrie dishes, I think. As the straight man, Greg is my favorite character and probably the most sympathetic.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend can be bought On Demand or streamed via Netflix.


Television: Elementary, "Be My Guest"

In a moment of spectacular coincidence (or possibly we're supposed to believe it's Providence?), Holmes stumbles into a case regarding a woman being held captive that is likely to be killed soon if he, Watson, and the police cannot find her first.

Because I was having to deal with my cat, I missed the exact scenario. Holmes either overheard a conversation about "take care of her" and assumed the man was arranging to have someone murdered, or he saw the video on the man's phone . . . Well, both, but I'm not clear about the order of events. It hardly matters. Sum total was that he turned his sights on said man—Decker—and from there it's a race against time and a matter of outwitting the baddie.

The missing woman proves to be an immigrant named Preeda who'd been working on a cruise ship but disappeared on her day off . . . five years before. Instead of being helpful, law enforcement had apparently chalked it up to "another illegal burying herself in the home soil and hiding to avoid being deported." Go, 'Merica.

I won't give away the ending, but I will say this was one of the better episodes I've seen in a while. Elementary seems to be upping its game in the second half of the season. All we've ever really wanted was Holmes + Watson doing their thing, and here they do just that.

There is some Shinwell. Sigh. It's not terrible, though. He tries to set up a drug deal so he can snag some better intel or something, but thanks to the training he's been getting, he notices right away when things start to go south and is able to bail before getting in too deep. Also, he learns to pick locks? But sucks at Spanish? ::shrug::

All in all, a solid episode.


Movies: Moana

I really liked this movie. Like, really.

The story is fairly simple: Moana, daughter of the chieftain, is chosen by the ocean to be the one to find the demigod Maui and take him to return the Heart of Te Fiti, a kind of earth goddess. The idyllic life of Moana's people is on the line.

The movie isn't perfect. The two encounters—one with coconut pirates, one with a crab that collects shiny things—were not particularly tense and felt like minor speed bumps rather than major conflicts. And the twist (I won't give it away) was obvious to me from the start. I didn't even think Maui was all that funny or clever.

So . . . If all that . . . Why did I like this movie so much?

I'm not entirely sure. I can tell you it's gorgeous to look at. I can tell you the music is the best a Disney movie has had in a long, long time. But in the end, the movie simply spoke to something in me. I found myself tearing up at the weirdest moments. And I'm steadfastly not a cryer.

So maybe this is a very personal kind of connection. Your mileage may vary. But, despite minor points, I think this is a fabulous movie.

P.S. The short before the film was also cute. It wasn't saying anything new, but it did get across its message in a fun way.