7.23.2017

Movies: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna
Directed By: Luc Besson
Written By: Luc Besson (screenplay); Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières (comic books)
Europa, 2017
PG-13; 137 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

Look, it's not . . . terrible. It's just not amazing, either, and movies like this need to be amazing.

I haven't read the comic books, so I can't speak to whether this film does them justice. I can only comment on how this movie does on its own. And that is: okay.

First, the story: 30 years after the destruction of the planet Mül, Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline are given a mission to confiscate a Mül "converter" which is really a cute little creature that, if you feed it things, it poops out lots more of whatever you just fed it. So people are mostly interested in feeding it things like money and jewels. And with the Human economy in the toilet, the government could really use something like that. Cuz I guess just printing more money or something isn't an option.

Converter acquired (after a certain amount of fuss, of course), Valerian and Laureline take it to Alpha, the titular City of a Thousand Planets. Strange things are afoot there as Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) tries to suss out why a radioactive area has suddenly appeared in the center of this station.

Nothing in this movie comes as a surprise; it's fairly rote, a kiddie roller coaster that stays on its tracks and doesn't even go very fast. My eight-year-old loved it. The remainder of my family walked out shrugging. Meh.

Problem areas include:

  • Zero chemistry between the two leads.
  • Clunky, poorly written banter between the two leads.
  • Lack of tension in any scene—action or otherwise.
  • Valerian's "arc" feels fake; we're supposed to believe he's a changed man by the end of the movie, but he doesn't seem any different from when we first meet him.
  • Aforementioned predictability.
  • Lost opportunities that I will discuss under the spoilers heading below.

I didn't really have any expectations going in, so I can't say I was disappointed. I just failed to be wowed.

SPOILERS BELOW

We spend some time on Mül before it is destroyed, and Valerian is then imbued with the soul of the dead princess Lïhio, something that is hardly utilized during the rest of the movie. At the very least, have Laureline call him "Your Highness" or something. Geez.

And after all the talk of the beach, the movie ends with them in some space capsule?
                           
END SPOILERS

The best parts of the movie are the ones without Valerian, or at the very least the ones in which Valerian and Laureline are apart. What does that tell you? DeHaan seemed to be trying for "Discount Leonardo DiCaprio"? For all I know, he's a fabulous actor, but Valerian is not a particularly likable character (and maybe he's not meant to be, maybe the comic character is just as bad), and since, as I mentioned, Valerian's "growth" as a character feels nil in this film, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about him or DeHaan.

In all, Valerian has very little energy behind it. It moves quickly enough from plot point to plot point, but there's no tension. I can't tell if it's the lack of chemistry between the actors, or the weak dialogue, or some combination thereof, but this movie needs a shot in the arm that never comes. Instead it just bobs along . . . Again, it's not the worst thing ever. It's just not all that exciting either.

7.17.2017

Television: The 13th Doctor

I've pretty much actively avoided reading any comments or ongoing debate about the reveal of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor in the Doctor Who universe. I don't really care what most people think, I guess, and I don't particularly need the input to figure out my own thoughts and feelings about it. Which are:

  1. Yay! Not because it's a woman, specifically, but because at least it's not another white man.
  2. If people can change gender, why not the Doctor?
  3. I don't give a flying fig about "retconning" or whatever is being claimed. (Okay, yes, I saw at least that much fuss thanks to a friend's Facebook comment.) Moffat mucked up plenty, so it's all fair game now.
  4. I liked Whittaker on Broadchurch, but that was a very serious and dramatic role. Will this new Doctor be that serious? Or will I simply see Whittaker in a new light? Curious to find out.
  5. I'm confident in Chibnall's abilities, too, as showrunner. And I know he's worked well with Whittaker in the past, which is a good start.

So, yeah, I think this will be interesting.

7.13.2017

Books: The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry

I'm not sure how much of my enjoyment of this novel was heightened by my personal knowledge and experience of Salem, Massachusetts and its surroundings. I lived in Massachusetts for twelve years, half of those in Boston and the other half north of there, and so all the details of highways and such featured in The Fifth Petal make sense to me and add a level of veracity. However, if I were unfamiliar with Salem and/or Massachusetts, I do wonder whether those same details would simply be annoying and unnecessary.

The story itself is a good one, for those who like its ilk: at age five, Callie Cahill was found not far from the spot her mother and two of her mother's friends were brutally murdered. Twenty-five years later, those murders get dredged up yet again and force Callie to think about things she's avoided.

Besides Callie, The Fifth Petal offers an interesting cast of characters: a local witch, the chief of police, and a number of blue bloods whose pride in their deep roots gets outlandish at times. And though I saw the "twist" coming from early on, I still found the book mostly very compelling.

[spoiler below; skip the next paragraph if you don't want to know something specific about the book]

I only wish we'd been allowed to see a redeemed Paul since our final interactions with him as a character are of him being a drunken jerk.

[end spoiler]

This is a book about things hidden and buried. It's a book about the way we put a veneer on things to make them prettier than they really are. It's a book about root rot.

In short, it's a good summer-into-fall read, particularly ripe for the Hallowe'en season.


Television: Doctor Who, "Smile"

I've got all these DW episodes on my DVR. Class, too. Don't know when or if I'll ever get around to watching it all.

I mentioned liking Bill when she was introduced in "The Pilot." And I do still like her; I think she's a nice contrast to Capaldi's grumpy old man schtick. But I do also feel like Bill is something of a device. It's like the writers decided she would ask all the questions posed on the Internet about the Doctor/Doctor Who so that the show could pithily answer them. "Why is the TARDIS shaped like a police box?" "Why are you Scottish?" etc.

And this episode about killer emojis . . . more or less, anyway . . . Eh.

I suppose I should keep in mind that Doctor Who really is middle-grade television. It's meant at heart for pre-teens, I think, regardless of the adult following. When I remind myself that it's really more on par with something like The Librarians, it's easier to forgive a lot of the dumb. (Nothing against The Librarians, either, which is a lot of fun. The correlation just gives me more perspective.)

Still. The Doctor couldn't have "rebooted" the robots with his sonic screwdriver, like, first thing? Would have saved everyone some serious trouble.

7.08.2017

Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau
Directed By: Jon Watts
Written By: so many people you don't even want to know
Marvel, 2017
PG-13; 133 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

First, some context. (Stop groaning.) I saw the three Tobey Maguire movies, never saw the Andrew Garfield ones. Didn't love Tom Holland's turn at Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War and so wasn't even sure I wanted to see this movie. But I'm glad I did.

On the plus side, we skip the origin story this time. Since Spidey has already been introduced via the last Captain America movie, we're able to go to the head of the line here and assume Peter Parker's transformation and abilities are established. Hooray!

Instead, this film uses Peter's eagerness to help and be a real Avenger as the diving board. Happy (Favreau) is Peter's "handler" and Peter dutifully calls in regularly to let him know all the little things he's done to help his neighborhood: gave directions to a lost woman, kept a bicycle from being stolen. But as Happy—and by extension Tony Stark—continue to give him the brush-off, Peter's frustration mounts.

Then Peter stumbles across something bigger: someone selling really strong weapons. But again he's told to stick to the little stuff.

Of course he doesn't.

And, yes, the school's homecoming dance is a turning point.

Usually a movie written by committee (as, based on the long list of writers this one seems to have been) is a recipe for disaster. But somehow Homecoming bests the odds. It has the right amount of humor, and it's tight—nothing is wasted. Holland as Parker manages to be eager but not quite as obnoxious as I feared. Batalon as Peter's friend Ned is golden, too. And Michael Keaton as a Birdman of another kind . . . In fact, the whole film is incredibly well cast.

Up until now I had really enjoy Macguire's Spider-Man 2 the most, with his first one a close second. Homecoming gives them a run for their money, though. I'm not quite ready to say it's better, but it's at least equal to those. Possibly better. Probably. I don't know; it's been too long since I've seen the others.

I don't usually have the time to see a movie more than once in the cinema, nor the inclination to re-watch very many films, but I'd see this one again. That alone makes it pretty special. I may be tired of the typical Marvel/Avengers/superhero movies that have flooded the market lately, but this one . . . It's just different enough not to feel like I'm being fed reheated leftovers. That may be faint praise, but I'll count it as a win.

Movies: Logan

For what it is, Logan is a fine movie. Its tone sets is apart from the typical superhero blockbuster; instead it feels much more Terminator. But while the character depth is there, the development of these characters stays very much within the expected and predetermined. There is nothing new or interesting offered.

We all know Logan (aka Wolverine), or if you don't, I'm not sure why you're watching this movie. The future is here, and Logan is the last Mutant. He's got Charles X locked away and is dosing him up with stuff to keep him tame so that his powers don't go out of control. (Sort of like an old man's bladder, Charles can't always hold his powers in.) There's an albino aide named Caliban, too, helping Logan care for Charles.

Logan works as, for lack of a better current analogy, an Über Black driver. He's accosted by a Spanish woman who wants him to take her and a girl to North Dakota. She's willing to pay $50k. But of course this woman and girl are being pursued by a team of tough men because (surprise, not) the girl is actually part of a secret project to create and train mutant fighters.

As I said, it all goes as expected. Logan does it for the money, albeit reluctantly, but then finds himself caring about this girl. We go from action scene to action scene, soft moment to soft moment, until we come to the big finale fight. Shrug.

There are true moments of humor here, at least, that help elevate the otherwise somber mood.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, a bit. But I would have enjoyed it more if there'd been something a little surprising about it. As it stands, Logan is rather rote. Not for a superhero movie—it's better than most of those—but for any movie. It feels like a throwback, which makes it feel like something I've seen before. Maybe not recently, but that's beside the point.

7.06.2017

Books: The Furthest Station by Ben Aaronovitch

I've written often enough about how much I enjoy the Peter Grant books, even if I thought the last couple weren't quite as good. This little novella is a return to form, a streamlined and engaging tale set in the magical world of Grant, Nightingale, and the Folly, with Grant's precocious cousin Abigail along for the ride. While the story leans a little more heavily on Abigail than I 100% enjoy, it's such a quick, fun read that I can overlook that.

Short summary: ghosts are turning up to hassle riders on the Metropolitan Line and it's down to Grant to figure out why. Kinda difficult when the riders forget the interactions almost as soon as they occur. That is, spooked commuters call the police only to wonder why the police turn up because the can't even remember calling them.

I won't say more so as not to give anything away. In short, I can highly recommend this one, though if you aren't yet familiar with Grant some of it might sail past you in a blur. This is a series that really needs to be read in order.

7.05.2017

Television: Riverdale

Was casting around for something to watch and settled on trying this one. (I'm not at any loss for things to watch, mind; my DVR is packed full of stuff that I just didn't feel like watching.)

Anyway, I used to live in the town Riverdale was modeled after. The local Applebee's was practically devoted to all things Archie. It really was this one town's biggest claim to fame. That and Rob Zombie.

As for Riverdale, it's so corny and self-aware that I couldn't help but enjoy it. The pilot, that is. Jughead as the narrator . . . It's really all pretty ridiculous, and of course all the characters are turned up to eleven. The mean girl is not just mean but MEAN. Betty isn't just sweet, she's SWEET. And layered under it all is the drama and decay. Nothing simply is in Riverdale; it's all extreme. A breakup leads to someone being institutionalized, and of course there's MURDER.

I dunno. I guess I was just in the right mood for this amount of silly. It's sort of like if the Archie comics went slightly Twin Peaks.

And of course I grew up reading Archie. They were some of the only comics my mother felt were clean and wholesome enough to allow. But Riverdale seems to be making a concerted effort to skew the other direction. No one wants to watch wholesome. So let's go salacious instead and have Archie bonk a teacher.

Yeah, okay.

Archie isn't entirely likable here, but then again, at least from what I recall, he wasn't all that likable in the comics either. Kind of a chowder head. But in innocent ways, whereas here he makes more egregious errors in judgement. Makes for better drama, I suppose. In any case, while Archie is central, he doesn't come across as the main character. As far as the pilot goes, Betty gets the focus and the sympathy. Maybe that changes as the show goes along.

I'll probably watch more. Don't know yet if I'll get through an entire season though. Will largely depend—as tonight's outing did—on my mood and viewer appetite.

It's IWSG Time Again!

Cross posting from PepperWords:


It's time again for the Insecure Writer's Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

I recently completed a writing retreat and workshop in France. As idyllic as it sounds, I was insecure about it! Six writers, all strangers (at least to me), in an intimate setting . . . But of course it went beautifully and was a wonderful experience. Now my insecurities are based on living up to all their faith in me and my work! I've been given a deadline for Hamlette, which is actually good for me; I work so much better under deadlines, particularly ones imposed by someone other than myself. I'm glad to have people to hold me accountable.

Question of the Month: What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing?

I've learned so much over the years, so it's tough for me to narrow it down to just one lesson. I will say that it's important to set goals. Realistic ones. Bite-sized ones. Know what "success" looks like to you, whether it's landing an agent and a major publisher, or self-publishing and selling X number of books. And don't let anyone tell you your personal version of success is wrong. That is, don't let them tell you what you "should" want. That's their idea of success; it doesn't have to be yours. (This is the whole point of my screenplay 20 August, btw.) Anyway, be sure and clear about what you want. Then break that goal into steps and start taking them.

7.04.2017

Books: Peter on Sale on Smashwords

My publisher has put my spy novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller on sale on Smashwords for the month of July. So if you haven't already grabbed it, this is a great time to pick it up at a discount.


1960’s London: British Intelligence agent Peter Stoller is next in line to run the Agency—until he falls in love with cab driver, Charles, and his life goes off the road. When Charles is accused of treason, Peter is guilty by association. Peter manages to extract them both, but the seeds of doubt have been planted, putting Peter’s mind and heart at war. Is ignorance truly bliss or merely deadly?

7.02.2017

Movie: Bridget Jones's Baby

This was a stupid movie. Which is maybe all it was meant to be, but still. Just really dumb and rote.

I only watched it because I was captive on a 10+-hour long flight and the movie options were really pathetic. There was stuff I'd seen and had no particular desire to see again and stuff I hadn't seen and mostly had no interest in. Which is surprising since there are plenty of movies I want to see but haven't had the opportunity to yet. Somehow this airline didn't have any of them. So I was forced to settle for something that I thought might be mildly entertaining.

This was . . . not. While watching I constantly debated whether to just turn it off and stare into space for a few hours rather than continue the movie. Seriously.

Okay, so I saw Bridget Jones's Diary, like, years ago. Way back when. Can barely remember it. Never saw the second one at all. And then there was this. Bridget celebrates her 43rd birthday, gets a hip new boss who wants to rebrand the television show Bridget works on, gets dragged to (a) a memorial service for the Hugh Grant character because he apparently couldn't be talked into returning to this train wreck, (b) a music festival where she hooks up with the American equivalent of Hugh Grant (aka Patrick Dempsey), (c) a christening where she hooks up with Colin Firth's character. And then of course she's pregnant and isn't sure which of these hook-ups produced the baby. Everything then goes on at a predictable clip until the equally predictable ending.

Colin Firth is the only good thing about this movie. The fact that he's able to do anything with the material is a flat-out miracle, but his reactions are priceless.

If you have time to waste, as I did, I'm still not sure I'd recommend you do it with this movie. It fails to be funny at all, instead leaning on really old and used bits of humor. It's almost painful to watch. Skip this one.

6.21.2017

I'm Away

Okay, friends, I'm about to fly away to France for a bit. If you want to follow along in that adventure, be sure to Like and Follow my Facebook page.

I also just sent out the first newsletter in a new series that will feature an ongoing fantasy story set in the fictional world of AElit. It's not too late to join in. Click the "Sign Up" button on the aforementioned Facebook page.

6.18.2017

Movies: Cars 3

Voices by: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Armie Hammer
Directed By: Brian Fee
Written By: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich (screenplay); Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart (story)
Pixar, 2017
G; 109 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

I really enjoyed this movie, and I struggled over how many stars to give it. I might, with time and/or persuasion, think of it as a five-star film.

Truth is, I liked the first Cars movie, was indifferent to the second, and had no real expectations for this one. But of course it's when you have no high hopes that it's easy to be wowed. So many people really disliked Cars 2, almost anything would have been an improvement. However, Pixar still made a solid film that stands tall in its own right.

Going back to what worked before, the story here is that Lightning McQueen (Wilson) begins to lose races and suffers a crisis of confidence because of this. Younger, flashier cars with newer, better features are displacing McQueen's "generation." After a horrific crash, McQueen decides he just needs to train faster and harder, but it becomes increasingly clear that he has limits—he just isn't as fast as the rookies. So he needs to be smarter instead.

When his corporate sponsors are bought by a mud-flap billionaire, McQueen is assigned a personal trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Alonzo). But it's McQueen who teaches Cruz a thing or two about old-school ways of training. They survive a demolition derby and seek out Doc Hudson's old mentor Smokey (Cooper).

McQueen must win the first race of the season or be forced by his new owner to retire to a life of pitching products and selling his name.

There's nothing surprising here, no big twists; Cars 3 shows you the map well ahead of the journey. Still, it's an enjoyable ride. They do a fine job of making the demolition derby terrifying, and I, at least, am grateful for the lack of Mater in this installment. After hinging Cars 2 on him, someone finally figured out less is more when it comes to that particular sidekick character.

Still, while there are real jerks in this movie—McQueen's new boss, and the flashy new Jackson Storm—it lacks any real villain. This is more about becoming a better you than about beating anyone else. Which is fine, but may be lost on the younger crowd. In fact, I noticed a marked restlessness in the cinema whenever the story got quiet or introspective.

But there are plenty of races and racing scenes to keep the kids largely engaged. I, for one, would like to see it again in a cinema without a mostly juvenile audience to distract me. In short, this is easily my favorite of the Cars films, though that's not saying much. And I still have a lot of questions about the way this world of theirs functions. The Sistine Chapel is referenced and someone does a cover of a Bruce Springsteen song, so . . . People did exist at one time? Or in this parallel universe does the Sistine Chapel feature a mechanic creating the first car? Why is there a school bus if there are no children to ride it? Should a bus for cars be a car carrier? Cruz mentions going to school, too . . . Driving school? Do "young" cars drive on a learner's permit? How do they grow? I just . . . I know it's a kids' movie and all for fun, but some of these details really need to be hammered out.

Oh, and why in one scene does McQueen have functioning headlights? I thought they were stickers?

::SMH::

It would be easy to go down the rabbit hole. Try not to think about it too much. Just enjoy the show.

6.11.2017

Movies: Wonder Woman

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Directed By: Patty Jenkins
Written By: Allan Heinberg (screenplay)
DC Entertainment, 2017
PG-13; 141 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

I teared up a few times while watching this movie, seemingly at random. I mean, I honestly don't know why. There's a force of empathy behind this film; it has a depth most superhero movies lack or try to fake. And Gal Gadot is simply amazing. She brings such a blend of wonder and purpose to, well, Wonder Woman.

The story is straight forward enough. Diana, Princess of Themyscira saves a WWI pilot who flies into their bubble and crashes in the ocean. When she learns of the war, Diana feels compelled to go stop it. After all, it is the sacred duty of the Amazons to bring peace to mankind and to put an end to Ares, God of War.

Reluctantly, Diana's mother lets her go.

Cue the fish-out-of-water story in which Diana is introduced to the world. But while it has its funny moments, this is not played so much for laughs as for contrast. Diana sees what is and imagines what could be if only men weren't at war and under the influence of Ares. Her focus on her goal is a through line that holds things together. We see and feel Diana's pain whenever she witnesses some new act of insensible violence, whenever she reacts to seemingly bizarre pronouncements that will doom thousands of men to die. "How can you say that, believe that?" she cries, and we nod. We're used to thinking of war as hell, but here we're shown that war is pretty fucked up, too, and it's the little guy who pays the hefty bill for it.

I'll say some of the plot twists were pretty telegraphed, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. This is well written, well acted, and beautifully directed and filmed. (Don't bother sitting through the credits, though; DC has opted not to follow Marvel into the world of little teaser scenes at the ends of their movies, at least in this case.)

Chris Pine does a nice job as the love interest. He's the typical Chris Pine type of character, but without the cocky smugness. In fact, he plays the fish out of water more than Gadot as Diana, as someone trying to steer this strange and beautiful woman through the world, and he does it well.

I'd say more but I don't want to give anything away to those who've yet to see the movie. In short, it's really good, and I was especially glad to be able to see it with my daughter, who was awed by Wonder Woman . . . And really wants some boots like hers?

6.03.2017

Movies: The LEGO Batman Movie

This was . . . okay. Not as funny and cute as The LEGO Movie. I think maybe the Batman character, as portrayed in the LEGO movie(s), is better in small snippets rather than 100+ minutes.

Part of the problem may also be that The LEGO Movie had original characters while here Batman is necessarily circumscribed by his known self and the DC Universe.

Also, a lot of this seemed rushed and not fully explored. Why have Voldemort and Daleks, etc. and not use them to full potential?

As for the plot, it was generally this: Barbara Gordon takes over as Commissioner of Gotham City and believes there is no longer any need for Batman because look at how long he's been on the job and there's as much crime in Gotham as ever. Not a bad point. Meanwhile, Joker is upset that Batman won't "commit" to their hate-ship. When Batman sends the Joker to another dimension, one filled with bad guys (see aforementioned Daleks et al), the Joker brings these baddies back to Gotham. Hilarity does not ensue. Instead a rushed and chaotic battle of the kind one usually sees in Avengers movies occurs. Meh.

Oh, and there's Robin spending all his time trying to find ways to call Batman his "dad" without offending him.

Except maybe for the would-be bromance between Batman and Joker, I wasn't all that hugely amused by this movie. It wasn't terrible, just not as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected, which means I was disappointed in the end. Maybe Unikitty needs her own movie instead.

6.01.2017

Television: Legion, The Leftovers, and Fargo

Okay, so I finally got around to watching the last couple episodes of Legion. As promised, the story finally came together. But I still didn't care enough about anyone—except maybe Dave—to be very interested. I just really feel like they could have cut so much of the mushy middle of this season. It could have been tight and fast and breathtaking. But instead it was a lot of style and not so much substance. Sort of like the Twin Peaks revival (though I will admit Parts 3 & 4 of that were far more engaging than the first two). I'm not sure I'll be back for another season of Legion.

[I'm one to talk: I write for character and tend to meander in my plots, too. Kettle, you're black.]

And now we need to talk about Kevin. Garvey, that is. In The Leftovers. This is the final season, and it's getting to be an awful lot like Lost. I'm not convinced that's a good thing. While I'm mostly enjoying the season, and the idea of Kevin as a new Messiah is highly entertaining, he's just so Jack (from Lost) and things seem to be falling that way, meaning the show doesn't feel very fresh any more. Only one episode left, and I don't think we're going to get closure, exactly; this isn't that kind of show. But I believe you can have a satisfying but open/ambiguous ending. Let's hope we at least get that.

Finally, let's loop back to more Noah Hawley with Fargo. I'm a couple episodes behind, but it appears Emmit may be hitting his breaking point. I really enjoyed the sidebar episode in which Gloria went to L.A. on a wild goose chase; it was nice to infuse something a little different into things, rather like tapping into the Coens' other works. David Thewlis as Varga is particularly abhorrent, which is just as he's meant to be, so bravo there. But I can't help thinking of Sy as "discount Joaquin Phoenix." Why is that?

All told, I'm not as fully engaged with Fargo this season despite the fabulous casting. I think maybe the story just doesn't grab me. Scene by scene, it's so well done, but put together my mind starts to wander pretty quickly.

5.28.2017

Movies: The Rewrite

A film from 2014 masquerading as something from around 1999. A cute story that has potential collapses under its own lack of direction and any real conflict.

Hugh Grant plays Keith Michaels, a once-hot screenwriter whose star has faded. Desperate for work, he agrees to teach a course at a university in Binghamton, NY. Almost immediately he falls into bed with a cute student, catches the ire of the resident uptight, tenured professor (Allison Janney), and finds himself dogged by a persistent would-be screenwriter (Marisa Tomei). Chris Elliott and J.K. Simmons round out the pretty stellar cast—too bad the movie didn't do much with them.

Despite so much being thrown at its main character, The Rewrite fails to provide conflict or tension of any kind, almost as though it can't bear to be too mean to bumbling-but-well-meaning Grant. It also can't muster any kind of through line. Instead of a stretched, taut rubber band, this movie is more like a rubber band ball, everything mushed together. Situations are set up and then dropped or let down in a anticlimactic way.

1. Professor Weldon (Janney) takes a dislike to Michaels at his first staff mixer when he admits not liking Jane Austen then proceeds to also bad mouth the idea of kick-ass women in films. But while this does come into play a little bit later, Weldon is mostly absent from the film, a potential point of conflict left unused.

2. Michaels starts a relationship with one of his students. Obviously a no-no. But when they break it off, the student does not go in for the kill, and [spoiler alert] Michaels is able to talk himself out of trouble.

3. The supposed building relationship between Michaels and Tomei's character is practically non-existent. They chat, they chat, they fall in love? I think? Zero build up, zero chemistry.

4. There's some kind of story about Michaels trying to reconnect with his estranged son, but that is marginalized to the point one wonders why even have it in the movie at all?

We're supposed to feel bad for Michaels because he's being aged out of Hollywood. They want "fresh voices." But we're not given time to sympathize because he immediately begins doing stuff to get himself in trouble.

I also had a problem with the subtle misogyny in this movie. It's insidious but there. Janney's uptight spinster character; the way Michaels gets away with boinking a student; the ongoing jokes about J.K. Simmons' character having a wife and four daughters; and—most tellingly—the fact that one of the only male students in Michaels' class has a brilliant script that gets snapped up immediately. Because the girls are only meant to be pretty, of course, and none of them can actually write.

It's a shame, really, that this movie isn't better. Because it could have been. Loads. It's the kind of movie I usually enjoy, but this one was just off enough that I didn't. Go watch Music and Lyrics (for your Hugh Grant fix) or Wonder Boys (for a story about a washed-up writer) instead.

5.26.2017

Audiobook: Sherlock Holmes Stories

Hey ho! If you've been putting off reading my Sherlock Holmes stories because you wanted someone else to read them to you, your time has come. They are now available on audiobook, read by the amazing Jared Ashe who does a lovely job of giving voice to Watson. I do hope you'll go have a listen.

5.24.2017

Television: Elementary, "Hurt Me, Hurt You"

Whew. It wasn't Sherlock who had a sister but some gang guy. Instead, Sherlock just has a mental manifestation of someone who looks like his mother?

Still not very original, but better than I feared. I mean, someone clearly watched some Mr. Robot and said, "We can do that!"

Sigh.

And the gang war thing . . . So the bad guy from last week kidnapped and murdered the sister of a rival gang's leader in order to spark an all-out war. This gave him the opportunity to divest himself of his unwanted gang because he waltzed into the police station and, in return for immunity, gave up all his gang members. Except he said that someone else killed the girl. Too bad evidence circled back to him, nulling his immunity.

Meanwhile, Sherlock is slowly cracking up. He puts items into boxes then tries to remember what's in the boxes. And this woman he keeps "meeting" is just a figment of his imagination. So while he "blames" her for texting people, he's really the one texting people? From a phone number he doesn't even remember having? Or something?

I dunno. Whatever. He ends up setting fire to the townhouse, or at the very least wrecking the place. Not clear if the fire was also in his head . . . Damage didn't look like fire damage to me . . . But then he went for an MRI cuz there's maybe something wrong in there.

I've been for MRIs. They're loud.

Going for one on Friday, in fact. Not for my head or liver for once. But that's beside the point.

Season ends with questions about Sherlock's health (mental, physical, emotional). Show could get interesting again if we go back to Sherlock + Joan dealing with more personal matters rather than crime-of-the-week. But it doesn't return until next spring, so . . . Gives them time to do it right.

But seriously, why do magnets have to make so much noise?

5.23.2017

Television: Twin Peaks, Parts 1 & 2

This show isn't made for me.

I kind of hoped it would be, but I knew it was a long shot.

You see, aside from a couple of key exceptions, I don't actually enjoy David Lynch's work. Those exceptions are the original Twin Peaks network series and Dune. Yes, really.

My theory is that I only like Lynch when he's being constricted or restrained in some way. Network television has a lot of rules. Dune was based on a book. But now that the Twin Peaks revival is on Showtime and no one is putting reins on Mr. Lynch . . . We get stuff I don't care for.

And that's me. Lots of people will surely love this. But I was falling asleep. It was slow, soporific, and IMHO pretty self-indulgent. As bizarre and disjointed as one would expect, but—for me, at least—not nearly as interesting.

I won't even try to recap it, it's such a scramble. Other sites have surely done that job anyway.

So yeah. Not for me. But if you like Lynch, you'll probably enjoy this too.

5.19.2017

Television: Elementary, "Scrambled"

Oh, Jesus, are we doing the Sherlock's sister thing here, too? Groan.

The bulk of this episode deals with Shinwell's murder and taking down the gang he had infiltrated. It was the story of two brothers being in charge of SPK, one very visibly and one as the power behind the throne. There was stuff about secret messages/instructions sent via Twitter or whatever. But then as Holmes, Watson and the police began to close the net, the social media account is deactivated and one brother—the showy one—ends up snorting bleach instead of cocaine. He survives but will be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Though the other brother is Suspect #1, there is no proof... yet. Meanwhile, the vacancy in leadership is set to create friction in the gang community.

Fine, fine, whatever. In truth, Watson's lecture to one gang member smacked of 80's MacGyver, and the whole story line feels somewhat dated. Or maybe it's very on point for people living in major cities. I honestly don't know, and that probably makes me a bad, uninformed American. I just know that when I was young (in the 80s), there were lots of lectures about gangs and drugs. Then, as I got older, there weren't. So when I see a story about gangs and drugs, I just think: 80s.

Plus, gangs rank right up there with the mob/organized crime on my list of things that don't interest me. Yes, I am the one person with a film degree who doesn't appreciate The Godfather.

Anyway, B Plot = Holmes having random meetings with some woman who keeps turning up. He tells her about a case, and she jumps ahead and interferes. I mention the "sister" thing because the previews for next week's season finale hinted at something along those lines. And I groan because Sherlock did such a abysmal job of it that I couldn't even be bothered to untangle everything wrong with it, and yet here we are again with the same idea. Really? Two different shows going to the same well? No one had something better and more original than this? No one?

I suppose I should at least congratulate Elementary on pulling out the nod for a sixth season. Or half season, anyway, as it's set to return next spring. Here's hoping they use this opportunity to right the ship. If you're going to sail into the sunset, do it properly at least.

Like Sherlock Holmes? My three original stories, written in the style of Doyle, are now available in one collection. Read it for free via Kindle Unlimited. Audiobook coming soon!

5.17.2017

Television: Great News

If you like Tina Fey's brand of comedy (and I do), Great News is more of that. Some of the lines are so Fey, you can imagine her saying them. As it is, Briga Heelan nails the delivery. (Note that Fey did not write any of the scripts, but she is an executive producer.)

What's the show about? Briga Heelan plays Katie, a segment producer on the afternoon news magazine show The Breakdown. Echoes of 30 Rock abound, though the personalities here are slightly less eccentric. Just as neurotic, though. And yes, there is a difference.

The entire cast does a fine job, but John Michael Higgins as news personality Chuck Pierce is the one who makes me laugh out loud. Nicole Richie holds her own against him as they form a mismatched pair of old-school anchorman versus millennial ADHD energy.

Katie's mother Carol (Andrea Martin) comes to intern on the show. (Don't ask, just watch.) Somehow she ends up being the only one who can manage Chuck and therefore becomes indispensable. While PCHH gushed over Martin, I can't say she's my favorite character. This is only after three episodes, however; maybe she gains depth over time. For now she's one joke: helicopter mom annoying her daughter in the workplace. It has its moments but isn't consistently funny. Though it comes in myriad flavors—Mom tries to hook Katie up with coworkers, Mom tries to keep Katie safe during a potentially dangerous assignment—it's all really much of the same: Mom meddling.

Still, if the show should branch away from Carol and Katie a little, I can anticipate devouring the episodes in short order. There is a lot of fun to be had if we can stop focusing on the one gag.

5.15.2017

Where Am I Today?

Over at A Writer's Life answering questions about, er, my writing life. And giving people a chance to win that $15 gift card.

5.14.2017

Movies: She's Funny That Way

If you like Woody Allen and/or screwball comedies, this movie should be right up your alley.

A theatre director named Arnold (Owen Wilson) gets his kicks by giving call girls big payoffs so they can start new lives. When one of those call girls named Isabella (Imogen Poots) turns up to audition for a play, Arnold's life begins to fall apart. For one thing, Arnold's wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) is also in the play, so the risk is high she will discover what Arnold has been up to. Meanwhile, Isabella has an obsessed stalker who has hired a private eye to follow her. The story is rounded out by a terrible therapist (Jennifer Aniston), her boyfriend who is the playwright (Will Forte), and the sassy star of the play (Rhys Ifans).

There's a bit of a frame story in that Isabella is talking to a journalist, and one is led to wonder how much of the story she tells is true and how much is romanticized.

The cast is stellar, and the movie is legitimately cute and funny in a sweet way. The whole thing feels a bit like a stage play itself, or like it could be. Even Richard Lewis and Cybill Shepherd turn up as Isabella's parents. (Hey, I loved both Anything But Love and Moonlighting back in the day.)

In any case, I'm glad to have stumbled across this little gem. Really enjoyed it.

5.11.2017

Television: Elementary, "Moving Targets"

Yes, I'm catching up. Though I guess we're never going to see "High Heat." The week it was supposed to air, our affiliate instead re-ran "Render, and Then Seize Her." The Steve Winwood gave it away immediately.

Anyway. This episode is about the murder of a reality show contestant. She had been wearing a body camera as part of the show—instead of a crew, they use captured footage. Apparently the contestants "kill" each other with paintball guns. But someone used a real gun on this woman (and took the body camera to hide the evidence).

The number one suspect is another of the contestants, of course, specifically one who turns out to have been a war criminal in Africa. But he's turned over a new leaf and been pardoned, more or less, under a treaty. Then there's the fact the victim, who was in law enforcement, was possibly on the take. Except that in reality she was investigating something much deeper.

This is the point at which I wonder why no one is looking at the people who created the show. And sure enough, it all loops back. But I did find it a fairly entertaining story line. Much better than the Shinwell stuff going on.

Yes, there was more Shinwell.

Watson receives a message from him saying they need to meet. Knowing that Holmes and Shinwell are on the outs, Watson attempts to hide this from Holmes, but of course he immediately deduces what's going on. Here is where I tuned out, so I can only give the gist of the B plot: Shinwell has Watson go talk to someone who'd been investigating a murder; Watson is able to supply information/evidence that solves the case? Something like that? And then Shinwell manages to be promoted inside the gang, so he prepares to move out of his apartment. Except Watson then finds him dead in said apartment. Which means, I guess, that the gang figured out Shinwell was an informant. Or not. Who knows? Who cares?

Alas, it does mean the next episode will deal with the fallout. Shinwell may be gone, but his plot arc lives on to slowly strangle the life out of this show.

Speaking of which, we're still waiting to hear if Elementary will be renewed. It's sitting atop the bubble . . . The real question is whether CBS has anything else on hand? If not, it may well leave Elementary where it is while it works to develop new material. Not that many shows would be clamoring for the 10:00 p.m. Sunday time slot anyway. But a place on the schedule is a place on the schedule. "As soon a spot opens up on the map, we're next!"

5.10.2017

Television: Elementary, "Fly Into a Rage, Make a Bad Landing"

So Chantal is hospitalized after an attack, and all indications are her ex-husband Roy is the culprit, right down to the urine sprayed all over the bed. Roy reasonably points out that, having been a cop, he knows better than to do something like that [throw his DNA all over a crime scene]. But his history of violence is working against him.

As it turns out, however, the attack has roots in Roy's work as a private investigator. Maybe. When Roy ends up dead via what is meant to look like a suicide, Holmes and Watson drill down. The discovery of a safety deposit box filled with cash leads them to believe Roy was being paid off by someone. Someone who was tired of paying.

After more digging, it turns out Roy's partner killed him after setting Roy up to take the fall for Chantal's attack didn't work.

A fairly straight forward story, though I haven't seen enough of Marcus and Chantal to feel any strong feeling about their relationship, or to even feel very sympathetic toward him specifically. The revelation that he grew up in an abusive household felt pat, too, rather than empathetic. Which is a shame because I do like Marcus Bell as a character. There's just a disconnect in the way they inject his backstory (and the same is true of Gregson as well)—I still don't feel like he's a fully fleshed character. More like the writers sometimes say, "Oh! We should do something with him." And they do for an episode or two and then go back to whatever.

Character development has been rather thin all around this season. Holmes and Watson appear to be in a kind of holding pattern. This is what comes of five years with someone, I guess. Instead of working with the existing characters, the show attempted to introduce new ones like Shinwell. But that's not what viewers want, not what (and who) we tune in to see. Elementary has devolved into an somewhat outr&eactue; procedural that lacks the charm that once set it apart, which is to say its unique take on old characters.

5.09.2017

Books: The Reluctant Wife by Caroline Warfield

So I've only read one other book by Caroline Warfield, but I can say this one was pretty similar to that so . . . There's something to be said for consistency, I guess. But when I say "similar," this is what I mean:

  1. Both books I've read by her feature a young widow whose first husband was a loser, making the female MC reluctant to trust a man or ever marry again.
  2. Both books feature a soldier living far from England and often under harsh circumstances, by which I mean poverty or ignominy or some combination thereof.
  3. Both books feature a child or children in need of guardians and care. "Custody" seems to be a running theme.

I will say, I enjoyed this book more than Dangerous Secrets. I found the main characters more engaging in this novel, and the attraction more believable. But I do have to wonder at the MMC's lack of sorrow when his mistress—mother of his two daughters—dies. Like, the book starts with a fuss about the funeral and what to do with the girls, and I'm like, "If he's had this mistress long enough to have two daughters with her, he must know he has children? Like, he knew there were times his mistress was pregnant, right? So why is he suddenly confused by all this?" And if it had been presented that he was overcome with grief, I might have bought it. But instead he's just harried. He doesn't want to be bothered with the fact he has daughters, and he doesn't seem too distressed by the fact this woman he spent years with has died. And I'm supposed to like this guy?

To Warfield's credit, we do come to like Fred, but I continue to be troubled by that jumping off point.

A handful of punctuation and formatting errors also distracted me. But overall, this was a quick and enjoyable read.

5.05.2017

Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista
Directed By: James Gunn
Written By: James Gunn (screenplay)
Marvel Studios, 2017
PG-13; 136 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as the first film, but nearly. There is a lot of humor, as usual, though most of the funny stuff goes to Drax this time. I can't remember the last time I laughed that much at a movie. Visually, this is an eye-catching film, too. And it has the soundtrack you expect as well.

But I was also really aware of stuff in this movie in a way that I wasn't last time. And I don't know if that's a good thing.

The "family" theme—I felt hit over the head with that, with how often they felt the need to even say the word "family." I kept thinking, Yeah, we get it. Same with Quill insisting that he and Gamora have an "unspoken thing." You don't have to keep saying it; we're smart enough to read facial expressions.

Chris Pratt is also only ever Chris Pratt, and the more movies he makes the more obvious that becomes. I wish someone would give him a role that's at least a little bit different. (Then again, if he is terrible at anything but this one thing he does, maybe that's a bad idea. Maybe we just need new types of characters in movies, or else Chris Pratt is going to be in ALL THE THINGS.) Don't get me wrong, I love what he does. It just no longer feels very fresh.

That said, some of the lightness of the first movie is gone from this one thanks to heavy character moments. They've stacked a lot of pathos on top of the humor here. I'm not sure how well it works; I'm still processing some of that, I think. I did feel like we were getting a lot of sobby backstories, though. A lot of exposition via one character feeling the need to tell another character some stuff.

Okay, so what's the actual movie about? Um . . . Quill's father Ego (Kurt Russell, perfectly cast) turns up to take Quill "home" to the planet he created, or maybe actually is, or something. Ego is a "Celestial," which means he's kind of a god. He can manipulate matter, and he wants to teach his son to do the same. I won't give away anything more than that.

Meanwhile, Gamora's sister Nebula continues to pursue her.

And a race called the Sovereign are after the Guardians because Rocket stole some batteries from them. The Sovereign are consistently good for laughs throughout the movie; they are self-important and "fight" remotely by manning ships via what approximates a video game interface. If you're familiar with arcade culture, you'll find it amusing.

Yondu is there, too, facing a mutiny as his men think he's gone too soft.

The script was written to be quoted, pithy with many one-liners. And the movie does what it's meant to do, which is entertain. I'd certainly go see it again, as it's very watchable. The points above are mere nits I'm picking, because any time I find myself noticing something while watching a film, I have to wonder why I'm noticing. What's pulling me out of being totally immersed? But these are small things, and though they distracted me, they did not sink the film for me. And the addition of Pom Klementieff as Mantis is fabulous. She makes a great foil for Drax.*

Meanwhile, my kids think it's the best movie ever made, so . . .

*It's been pointed out that Mantis' role emphasizes the stereotype of subservient Asian women. I hadn't really thought about it; I was too busy enjoying her role. But I can see the problems with it, and also with her being even "stupider" than Drax. The dumb female is another stereotype we could do without. It left me to wonder whether Klementieff cringed at some of the lines she was given?

5.03.2017

Don't Forget!

I post IWSG on the PepperWords site. So if you've stumbled over here, click to go there!

5.02.2017

Television: Elementary, "The Art of Sleights and Deception"

A magician dies performing a bullet catch . . . with his mouth. Turns out the bullet was poisoned. We get the usual meandering parade of potential suspects. Whole thing boils down to an old how-to magic book and some Nazi paraphernalia. Watch the episode to see how they get there; despite liking magic and magicians and shows about magic and magicians, I half tuned out pretty early on. Something about Elementary has been kind of dull lately.

Meanwhile, Plot B was about Bell being brought up on charges that he pulled his gun on someone at a red light. Since we all know this is not at all Bell's style, and because the "previously on" went to pains to remind us of Bell's girlfriend and ex, we already know where this is going. The ex was in the force, was able to get a friend to lie about Bell, and had enough inside knowledge to know the make of Bell's gun to lend credence to the accusation. Things do look dark for Bell for a while, but naturally he comes out ahead . . . Except when he finds his girlfriend left for dead (or maybe just dead, but I feel like I saw something that made me believe she wasn't? previews? I can't even remember because this show falls right out of my head after I watch it now. It's just not interesting enough to stick).

Yeah, so . . . That. Happened.

Apparently I'm not the only one losing interest as ratings have slipped over the past couple weeks. While there has been no official verdict from CBS about the future of the show, assuming the network has enough fun new stuff for next season, it seems likely this is the last we'll see of Elementary. But I could be wrong! I'd love to see them have a chance to perk it up again. At the same time, I hate watching something saunter vaguely downward. I can't promise, if there were another season, that I could stick with the show if it kept on in this vein.

4.30.2017

Books: The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb

Chalk this one up to being a fairly interesting, if predictable, story but the writing style didn't impress me.

On the day Adele Alban agrees to meet with a reporter, she dies abruptly before the meeting can take place. Her daughter Grace comes home to Alban House for the first time in some 20 years, her own daughter Amity in tow. From there, family secrets begin to unravel.

I have a love of gothic stories and ghost stories, so when I read the description for this book, I was excited to try it. Alas, I didn't find Grace a very engaging main character (excepting the first chapter, the novel is written in first person from Grace's point of view), and there was none of the delicacy of prose I expect with this kind of story. It was all a little bland for my taste.

Added to this was a romance with a local minister—so color me surprised when he was okay sleeping with Grace even though they weren't married? Yes, I know it happens, but to have this character spouting his faith constantly (I really did wonder if the book was being marketing as "inspirational" at some points) and then act against the tenets that faith felt hypocritical.

As for the plot, there were no particularly amazing twists. I had most of it figured out early on. But the base story line was at least interesting. Too bad we were living it through such a dull character.

Oh, and the epilogue was just . . . The book would have been better without it, I think.

There is just something so matter-of-fact about Webb's style that I couldn't really immerse myself in it. And for a book like this, that's what I really want to do.

Ah, well. It's not a terrible book. I just didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped to.

4.29.2017

Television: Fargo, "The Law of Vacant Places"

We begin with an incident in Berlin, 1988: A man is seemingly wrongly accused of murdering his girlfriend, all based upon his living at a certain address. The man insists he is not the person they say he is, that he is happily married and has no girlfriend, but the cold efficiency of the State is not to be denied. He lives at said address? Then he is this man and he must have killed the girl.

Jump ahead to 2010 and to our more familiar surroundings. Ray Stussy (Ewan McGregor) is a parole officer having an illegal affair with one of his parolees. They also play competitive bridge together. Ray's (twin?) brother Emmit is a successful businessman, and also the inheritor of a valuable postage stamp. Ray is still sore on this subject—he inherited a car, Emmit got the stamp, though now the car is falling apart and Ray insists Emmit used reverse psychology to dupe him. Ray therefore gets the brilliant lightbulb of an idea to send yet another parolee named Maurice (Scott McNairy) to steal the stamp. But Maurice is a pothead, loses the instructions, and robs the wrong house. In fact, he robs the police chief's stepfather's house and kills him in the process.

It can only go downhill from here. Which is pretty much the normal state of things for this show.

Meanwhile, Emmit and his business partner Sy are trying to pay back a loan they took out when beginning their business. Alas, the investor who comes to call—V. M. Varga (David Thewlis)—is not interested in money. He (and whatever larger organization he works for) wants Emmit and Sy to act as some kind of front for something shady. Emmit and Sy are understandably uncomfortable.

Maurice shows up with the wrong stamps and a gun and attempts to blackmail Ray. But Ray's girlfriend and bridge partner drops an air conditioning unit on his head. So. Yeah.

A pro forma start for the series, which isn't a bad thing. This is what they do, and they do it well. We'll see how things develop.

Television: Doctor Who, "The Pilot"

This was actually a pretty good episode. Pardon me for sounding surprised, but good Doctor Who has been few and far between in recent days.

Here we establish a few things: that the Doctor has given up on his wandering ways and settled down to being a university professor; he has Nardole (Matt Lucas) on hand as an assistant; and there is a new companion in town, a young woman named Bill who works in the canteen (cafeteria) serving chips (fries) but sits in on lectures in her spare time. Which is how she comes to the Doctor's attention. He offers to tutor her.

If it's a bit coincident that weird things begin to happen only once Bill begins hanging out with the Doctor, well . . .

In this episode, Bill meets a girl named Heather (Bill is a black lesbian, btw, which makes me wonder whether Moffat was ticking boxes after all the backlash of putting yet another old white guy in charge of the Box—yet there's no denying Pearl Mackie is fabulous and the chemistry between her and Capaldi is spot on for the roles) and of course things go south when Heather shows Bill a weird puddle that distorts people's faces. The puddle eventually absorbs Heather and then chases Bill, Nardole, and the Doctor across time and space, all because whatever is left of Heather remembers Bill and still has a crush on her. When Heather had said she wanted to leave, Bill had jokingly asked, "Can I come with you?" and Heather had said, "Maybe." The invitation still stands as Heather has become the titular pilot for this watery entity.

Yeah, it's a bit hokey. But so is a lot of Doctor Who, and it was still loads better than most recent episodes. And as I mentioned, the introduction of Bill breathes some new life into the series. She's fresh and fun and just a really good foil for Capaldi's Doctor.

4.28.2017

Books: The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

A couple of things might have worked against this book for me. 1. I had just finished Bring Up the Bodies, which is so spectacularly written, this pales in comparison. Actually, it isn't fair to compare the two—though both are historical fiction, they're written for different readers, I think. But proximity bias still colors how I received this book. 2. I'd also read Queen's Gambit not so long before, and I found that one a more interesting take on Katherine/Kateryn Parr. I also liked how Queen's Gambit played out through Parr's marriage to Thomas Seymour and her eventual death, whereas The Taming of the Queen ends with Henry VIII's death.

So. Now that I've given the ending away (for anyone not aware of history), what's this book about? It begins with Henry VIII proposing to Kateryn (as she's called in this version). Kateryn must give up her love of Thomas Seymour and marry Henry, then navigate the pitfalls of a court torn by religious differences and Henry's own mercurial temperament.

Anyone familiar with the story knows some of the plot points—how Kateryn was to be arrested but managed to save herself just in time so that Henry shooed the guards away when they came for her. How Anne Askew was eventually burned at the stake for heresy. The goal, then, for a historical fiction author is to bring these moments to life and pose a reasonable version of the people and events of which we have little to no primary knowledge. Gregory is one of the best-known historical fiction authors, and she does this on a regular basis. The result is consistently good and sometimes great work.

Alas, I wouldn't call this one "great." It does the job, but dragged in the middle quite a bit with Kateryn having this and that preacher come to her presence chamber, and having her go on and on about writing and studying. Sometimes it felt as though Gregory were trying to insert her love of writing into the historical figure of Parr. I mean, I understand the reason for showing Kateryn as intelligent and eager to learn, but . . . It felt repetitive after a while. And so did the damn dream sequence that was repeated over and over until I felt beat over the head with it. As though the book needed padding or something.

Meanwhile, if Gregory needed to make a minimum word count, I might much have rather had her go into Kateryn's eventual marriage to Thomas Seymour and everything that went on there. Hence my preference for Queen's Gambit.

Final criticism: hate the cover. The slightly blurry girl looks like she's 15, not like the 30ish protagonist.

On the plus side, the tension as the net closes around Kateryn and she is nearly arrested is palpable here. That part of the book is done really well.

All in all a solid effort (though I got bored in the middle and began reading other things), but not my favorite in the genre, or even my favorite fictional take on Parr.

4.27.2017

Television: Feud: Bette and Joan

How do we feel about this series? I'll say overall I enjoyed it. I think Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange did amazing jobs. In fact, everyone involved did really well. And the broader look at how difficult it was to be a woman—especially an older woman—in Hollywood was equally spot on. And continues to be relevant now.

Of course, I worry that whenever a show like this tries to embed social commentary in the spectacle, that commentary gets lost under the color and noise of the story. It's easy for people who don't want the system to change to ignore what's being said and just stay in the plot. One can discard the additional layers the way one eats just the frosting on a cake and throws away the rest.

But anyway. The arc of this particular season: Joan and Bette are each tapped for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? We see how, for them this is a step down in the world, but they're desperate for whatever roles they can get. These two women, clinging to their heydays . . . And here, too, is where the message about women being disposable in the industry can also be subverted by anyone who would rather things remain the way they are. Because it's just as easy to say, "Those broads shoulda known when to let go and retire gracefully."

Of course, if they'd done that there would be no story.

Feud: Bette and Joan is as much a story of two strong personalities as anything else.

In any case, the arc goes on, through the troubled production—though it felt somewhat tame in this retelling—and the nasty Oscar race that followed (probably the best episodes of the season). And then continued to meander through each actress' career and personal life, though the second half of the season felt a little limp. They almost worked together again, but things got vicious (again), and then they lost touch and each slumped in her own way. It's tough to maintain tension at this point because they didn't work together again or even stay in touch from what we see. We can only marvel at the similarities and wonder at their lack of mutual compassion, even as one character points out to Bette that Joan is probably the only other person in the world who understands how she feels. But instead of commiserating, they bristle at one another. The two cats of Kilkenny come to mind.

Any time you retrace someone's life, you play a game of "if only." The missed opportunities, the what ifs. There's a lot of "it's too bad" in there, too. One can feel sorry for Bette and Joan, and one can also feel frustrated by them, but what's the lesson here? Aside from a sad story of two women struggling against a system stacked against them, that is? What can we take away and use? Because if there's nothing but the tragedy, we're really only voyeurs.


4.25.2017

One More Time

Thank you so much for helping Brynnde to win the weekly cover contest! Now she's moved on to the finals for the month of April. So if you voted before, you can now vote again! PLEASE! And then I promise to stop bugging you about it.


4.24.2017

Brynnde's next blog stop

Is here, along with another short interview with yours truly. Don't forget to enter to win the $15 gift card, too! And after that, why not zip over to InD'Tale and vote for Brynnde in the Creme de la Cover contest?

Thank you for all your support!

4.23.2017

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.

Meh.

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.

4.20.2017

Show Brynnde some cover love!

My novel Brynnde is up for another cover award. I'd much appreciate your vote! You do have to register on the site to vote, but it's free and I promise they don't spam you. And once you're registered, you can vote on gorgeous new covers every week if you want. Click here to go to the site.

As a reminder, my book looks like this:


And don't forget you can read this pretty little thing for FREE via Kindle Unlimited, too!

4.19.2017

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.

4.17.2017

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!

4.16.2017

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.

4.11.2017

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 . . .

4.09.2017

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?

4.05.2017

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.

IWSG Reminder

If you got here by looking for my IWSG post(s), you should click over to PepperWords for that! Cheers!

4.04.2017

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.

4.01.2017

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 . . .

3.27.2017

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.

3.23.2017

Books: Brynnde is FREE (for a limited time)

If you haven't yet picked up my sweet, clean Regency romance novel Brynnde, you now have the opportunity to grab it for free! Click here to go to the Amazon page. And if you don't have a Kindle, no worries—you can download a free app that allows you to read Kindle books on your smartphone or tablet.



And if you do read it, a request: Please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are very helpful both to me and other readers. Even just a star rating helps! Thank you for supporting my work!

3.22.2017

Television: Elementary, "The Ballad of Lady Frances"

SPOILER ALERT

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.

3.19.2017

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.