"Documents" pt. 3

My daughter and I took some time this morning to continue writing. If you're just joining us, part one is here and part two is here.


Poe met her gaze, and the corner of her mouth quirked upward. He gave a short nod. “Send out a droid.” He watched and waited as a small, crablike CW-6 was deployed. The first images bounced and jerked as the droid made its way up and through cracks and fissures in the rock then finally stabilized as CW-6 emerged on top of the outcropping. The picture lightened as light from the grey sky hit the camera.

“That’s Kylo Ren’s ship,” said Poe. “This is bad.” He turned to alert the rest of the team in the control center, to ready their few fighters, but Connix stopped him.

“They’re leaving,” she said.

Poe whirled back around. “What? Why?”

“We’re pretty well hidden,” Connix said. “Maybe they really don’t know we’re here.”

Poe shook his head. “No. No, no, no, it’s not that simple. It’s— Wait, what’s that?” He pointed to the monitor.

Connix squinted at the screen. “They left a coat?”

“Get a closer look at that, whatever it is,” said Poe.

CW-6 crawled forward and the long, black object grew larger in its view. “Looks like a pile of rags,” said Poe.

“Pretty big pile. Could be they left it to flush us out,” Connix suggested. “See if we’d come out for a closer look.”

Readings began to scroll over the screen. “Those are no rags,” Poe said. “Whatever it is, it’s alive. Recall the droid.”

Connix shot him a confused look. “Sir?”

“I’ll take a couple men with me, get that closer look.”

“But if they’re hiding somewhere behind the ridge . . .”

“Then we’d know it,” said Poe. “Anyway, there’s no way they could have landed ships close enough. If they’re marshalling elsewhere, we need to move fast before they make it up the ridge.” He turned and called across the room. “Finn! I need you with me. Spannik, you too.”

Finn strolled over. “What’s up?”

“First Order just dropped some strange cargo. We’re going to check it out.”


Kylo Ren opened his eyes. Everything hurt, which he supposed was a good sign; it meant he was alive. But he didn’t have to be happy about it.

Something nearby whirred and clicked. Kylo turned his head and spotted a small CW-6 droid on the rocks beside him. It’s black eye rotated as the camera focused on him. He reached out to grab it, but it scuttled backward out of reach.

The Resistance knew he was here. Were watching him.

Kylo sat up and a fresh wave of pain shot through him up his left side. He looked down, saw where Hux’s aim had been not entirely accurate. An inch or two over and the shot would have killed him.

The CW-6 retreated further, scurrying toward a large crack in the rocks. They’re down there. Kylo forced himself to his feet. He couldn’t fit through a crack, but neither could the Resistance. There had to be another way in.


Connix pushed back from the monitor as though the extra distance would save her somehow. “Oh no.” She jumped up from her chair. “Commander Dameron!”

“Commander Dameron has just left the facility,” C-3P0 informed her. “He has gone to—”

“I know where he’s gone, but he needs to come back! Right now!”

C-3P0 took a step backward. “Well, really, I was only trying to—.”

“Kylo Ren is up there! They’re walking into a trap!” She pulled out her communicator. “Commander? Commander, do you read?”

“This rock has high levels of caffellium, which can block or bounce communication signals,” C-3P0 informed her. “It is likely he cannot hear you.”

Connix rolled her eyes and scanned the room for potential help. Commander D’Acy? Captain Marcolo? What could any of them do against Kylo Ren? There was only one person who had proved a match for the Supreme Leader of the First Order . . .

No time to lose. Connix hurried out of the control room in search of Rey.


Again, we made up some stuff. Like the type of droid and the mineral in the rock that is causing communication problems. Also some names. We're having fun writing it, anyway, and I hope you're enjoying reading it!

Part 4 is here.

Movies: Blade Runner 2049

This movie was really long and kind of slow, which I guess means it matched the style and pace of the first Blade Runner film. So . . . yay?

We had to watch Blade Runner in film school, of course, and go through the various permutations of it: different endings, voice over or no voice over, etc. I remember liking it, kind of, but at the same time I don't have any distinct memory of the film itself. Only a sense of it, a big darkness lit with flashing neon and the low murmur of Harrison Ford. What stands out most in my mind is Rutger Hauer, bright against the dark sky.

This movie didn't really have a bright spot like that for me, something to grasp, something that pinpoints and condenses the sprawl of the film into a single image or memory. Which is funny, since memories are central to the Blade Runner story in both movies.

So. Blade Runner 2049. Well, it's—wait for it—2049, and Ryan Gosling plays "K," a new model of replicant that obeys and is, er, safe to use? He's a blade runner, hunting down older models of replicants. Except then he stumbles on something that suggests a past replicant had a baby, which should be impossible, but . . . ::shrug::

The miraculous birth, a new kind of "religion" for replicants in hiding—the allegory is pretty distinctly drawn. And of course the head of LAPD (Robin Wright) plays Herod, demanding this replicant child—which by now would be grown—be found and killed before news can spread and start an uprising.

As expected, the movie draws viewers and the main character down a false path before taking a turn. But it takes ages to even get that far. Gah.

It's not a bad movie. The production quality is stellar. But there was a lot that could have been cut and tightened while still telling an effective story.

Still, it's a worthy companion to Blade Runner, which was also long and slow. So if that's what they were going for, they nailed it.


"Documents" pt. 2

We were busy having family time out and about today, so we didn't have as much time to write. Still, for anyone waiting on more Star Wars fanfic from my daughter and me:

(Part 1 is here.)

Hux straightened his shoulders and followed Ren out, pulling the blaster he should have used months ago from under his coat. “Kylo Ren!” he called.

Ren whirled. “That’s ‘Supreme Leader’ to y—”

Hux shot, but Ren made a swiping motion and the blast went wide.

As expected, thought Hux. Despite the breadth of his powers, Ren had a limited repertoire, favorite moves that he called upon regularly.

Ren advanced on him, a familiar expression of fury creasing his features. Good, Hux thought. He makes mistakes when he’s angry. Still, Hux struggled to keep his hand steady as Ren’s arm came up.

Hux felt his feet begin to leave the ground, his windpipe start to collapse. It was now or never. Keep calm. Steady. He shot again.

Ren, all his abilities focused on his displeasure, had no time to react. He went down and so did Hux, landing hard on his back.

Get up, get up before he does.

Hux struggled to sit up, scrambling to make ready with the blaster should he need it again. But even as he aimed again at Ren’s prone form, Hux knew it was over. Ren lay on the rock, unmoving. If the blast had left a scorch mark, Hux couldn’t see it against the black of Ren’s clothes. Nor was he particularly interested in getting a closer look.

Stupid boy.

Hux holstered the blaster and hurried back up the plank into the ship. “Get her up!” he shouted to the pilot.


“Get. Her. Up!”

The pilot darted a glance out the windscreen. “But...”

Hux’s gaze followed the pilot’s to where Ren’s body was clearly visible. How much had the man seen?

“It’s all part of the plan,” Hux told him. He hoped it sounded plausible. “Now take us back to the ship.”

The pilot hesitated; Hux could see him calculating each possible scenario. But before Hux could snap at him again, the pilot said, “Yes, sir,” and pulled up the gangplank.

No love lost for Ren, Hux thought. Good. After Ren’s overwrought reign, Hux imagined he’d be a welcome new leader.

Supreme Leader Hux. Yes, it had a nice ring to it.


“Commander Dameron, there is a First Order command ship landing—”

Poe Dameron appeared at Lieutenant Connix’s shoulder and peered at the monitor. “That’s impossible.”

Connix sat back in her chair. “Impossible or not, it’s happening.”

“Just the one ship? Can we get a visual?”

“Not without sending a droid out,” said Connix. “Could give us away if they don’t know we’re here.”

“Oh, they know,” said Poe. “Why else would they be here?”

“They like rocks?”

Poe met her gaze, and the corner of her mouth quirked upward. He gave a short nod. “Send out a droid.”


Part 3 is now posted here.

Movies: The Greatest Showman

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Willams, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson
Directed By: Michael Gracey
Written By: Jenny Bicks & Bill Condon
20th Century Fox, 2017
PG; 105 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


This is a good movie.

Look, I suspect—and I don't know for sure because I don't know anything about P.T. Barnum—it whitewashes a lot of Barnum's actual character. But it's still a good story, which makes a good movie.

And the songs are fabulous.

For those who don't know, a summary: this is the story of P.T. Barnum's rise from nothing to becoming a famous showman. It features his struggle for acceptance and legitimacy within the higher circles of society. It doesn't portray him as perfect, far from it, but there's the chance that it also doesn't dip all that deeply into anything too dark or muddy. And that's fine. This isn't a gritty movie; it's a musical. Following Barnum's philosophy, it's meant to bring people joy.

On a broader level, The Greatest Showman asks us why we seek approval and when is something enough to satisfy us. Similar to Hamilton (though I wouldn't necessarily equate the two), it explores a man's ambition and his impact on those around him.

In addition, the production is gorgeous.

I just really, really enjoyed this movie. My kids did, too. It's not everyone's cup of tea, I'm sure, but if you're so inclined to these kinds of things, I certainly recommend it.


"Documents" pt. 1

So. My 9-year-old daughter asked me to write a "document" with her. You have to understand that she writes "documents" about characters and stories she likes. She's referring to Google Docs; her school uses Google Docs quite extensively. And my daughter's "documents" are really just fan fiction.

Well, hey, I used to write fanfic, so why not?

My daughter wanted a Kylo-and-Rey story. We started on it today. This is what we've written thus far:


The throne room was . . . untidy, to say the least. Immediately, Hux went to the body of the Supreme Leader himself, for all the good it would do him; he knew from the moment he saw the wreckage that it was all over. Somehow, they’d failed.

Snoke’s remains tipped off the throne in a most un-leaderlike fashion and fell with a thud at Hux’s feet.

Hux stepped back, scanned the room. The Praetorian Guard lay in remnants. The only sign of life was a pale form dressed in black that blended into the glossy floor—Kylo Ren. Intact but unconscious.

Hux saw an opportunity.

He reached under his coat for his blaster, but with a gasp Ren awoke.

Hux allowed his coat to drop closed. “What happened?” he demanded.

“The girl killed Snoke.”

This seemed impossible. Killed Snoke? And the entire Guard? Yet left Ren alive?

“But we know where she’s going,” Ren continued. “Get your men down to the surface.”

Bile crawled up Hux’s throat, choking him. “You presume to give orders to my army? We have no leader!”

Ren turned on him then, and Hux found himself choking on more than bile as his colleague—and nemesis—put his Force skills to use. “The Supreme Leader is dead.”

“Long live the Supreme Leader,” Hux croaked.

Ren released him. Hux hungrily sucked air as his throat reopened. He narrowed his eyes at Ren’s retreating back. An unstable, angry boy was the last thing they needed as a leader, but Ren’s Force abilities could not be contested. He would have to find another way.

Patience. That, at least, was something Hux had that Ren did not.



“Sir, we have confirmation of the whereabouts of the Resistance headquarters.”

Kylo looked up from the black slab that was his throne. Not Snoke’s old one, of course; that one had gone down with Snoke’s ship, and Kylo wouldn’t have wanted it anyway. His new ship was sleek and had been manufactured at no little cost, the throne room designed to be spare, severe, and—like its occupant—dark.

It never hurt to remind Hux and his armies of the power of the Dark Side. Keep them from getting any ideas.

“You’re sure this time?” Kylo asked. “Unlike the last three times?”


Kylo waved aside Hux’s protest. He turned slightly to one side and focused. Where are you?

No answer. There hadn’t been since Crait. But he could feel her at the edges of his consciousness, as though she actively lurked in the shadows. She didn’t want to be seen.

Fine then. He’d find her in person.

“Set a course,” Kylo ordered. “Kill all of them but the girl. Bring her to me.”

Hux cleared his throat, and Kylo turned back to him. “You’re still here. Was I unclear?”

“No. Sir. I only thought you might want to do the job yourself.”

“Myself,” Kylo echoed. It didn’t take Force powers to detect the derision in Hux’s tone, the implication that Kylo had lost his edge. You have nothing to prove, Kylo told himself, but at the same time another inner voice said, Don’t let them think you’re weak.

He rose. “Prepare my ship.”

Hux dipped his head. “Yes, Supreme Leader.”


Edowan offered plenty by way of coverage; the landscape was rocky, and made it difficult to land. Caves dotted the planet’s surface, jagged rocks like teeth acting as a natural defense to whomever braved living—and hiding—there.

“They had to have landed somewhere, somehow,” Kylo told his pilot as they circled. “Figure it out.”

“There are life signs to the east,” his control officer reported.

“Zero in on them,” said Kylo. “Get us as close as possible.”

“We won’t get AT-ATs down here,” said Hux. “Even AT-STs would struggle with this terrain.”

“Then what is your recommendation, General?” Kylo asked.

“We may have to simply lower down ground troops,” Hux suggested.

“Should we just swing them from ropes? Or do you propose to build a ladder?” Kylo’s attention returned to the front viewscreen. “Find a place to land!”

The pilot started where he sat and brought the command shuttle to a shuddering halt over an unlikely outcropping of rock that didn’t appear big enough to fit the ship. With a fearful glance over his shoulder, he set down anyway. Kylo let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. There was a reason, he supposed, that he had the best pilot in their fleet.

“Open the doors,” Kylo ordered, and a second later the hiss of the gangplank was followed by the ring of it hitting rock. Kylo turned to go.

“Sir?” Hux asked. “The troops?”

“Get them down here,” Kylo instructed. “However you have to. If the Resistance can do it, we can.”

“You’re going alone?” Hux called after him.

Kylo turned, a silhouette in the gray light of the open doorway. “You’re suggesting I’m not capable?”

“Of course not! But there are more of them than there are of—”

Kylo began walking again. “They’re no match for me.”

“The girl killed Snoke!”

“She won’t kill me.”


But Ren did not stay to debate any longer. Hux watched the swish of black cape disappear.

Impatient, Hux thought. But hadn’t the girl left Ren alive before? Why?

What if Ren turned? Could the girl do that? What power did she have?

Still, without Ren . . .

Apologies for anything we got wrong in the first part; we were working from imperfect memory of that scene in The Last Jedi. Also, we don't know if they have months in Star Wars. Considering the way we measure months, it seems unlikely. And yes, I do realize we shift POV without a break or indicator at the end of the last part. I think it's fine. Anyway, we're having a lot of fun writing this. I may post more if anyone is interested.

ETA: Part 2 is now posted here.

You Had One Job

I was recently chatting with a dear [male, because in context it might matter] friend about movies and actors and such. He hadn't seen The Last Jedi yet, and one of his reasons was because (to paraphrase): "I don't like Adam Driver as an actor. He only does one thing, and I just don't get—" here my friend waves a hand over his face, "the appeal."

Another [male] friend laughed and agreed that Driver does one thing, and in The Last Jedi "he does a lot of it."

This post isn't a critique of Adam Driver in particular, but we'll use him as an accessible example. To be fair, I've only seen him in Star Wars and Logan Lucky, so I may not be playing with a full hand.

Actors Doing One Thing

This has been Hollywood's underlying formula for decades. If you look at most Cary Grant movies, Cary Grant does his thing in them. He's charming and funny and a bit of a bumbler and he gets into insane situations that he struggles to get back out of. Every now and then he goes against type and does something sinister. In this day and age, I think things run along similar lines. If you want a Cary Grant type these days, you get George Clooney (capable of both charming and sinister). If you want an arrogant asshole, you get Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch. Goofy man-child with a side of action/adventure? Better call Chris Pratt. Adam Driver does "aggrieved and petulant" I guess?

There's a reason for the term "typecast." When your name as an actor becomes synonymous with a character type . . . When a screenwriter or director or producer can say, "We need a Cary Grant type" and everyone in the room knows exactly what that means . . . you've been typecast. And yet, it's not entirely a bad thing. It might get boring for the actors, but for viewers it's more about interesting stories and combinations of characters. What happens when a Cary Grant type gets thrown together with a Katherine Hepburn type? Sure, we like it when an actor does something different and unexpected (well, sometimes we don't like that at all), but like comfort food, we often also like knowing exactly what we're getting. It's kind of a shorthand. We don't have to work as hard.

I'm not saying actors shouldn't stretch. Of course they should, if and when they get the opportunities (and want them). But there's no harm in knowing what you're good at.

"The Appeal"

This is, of course, hugely subjective, so I can only speak for myself on this point. While I won't say no to looking at classically handsome men on screen for 2+ hours, I find that, for me, I'm much more attracted to interesting faces. I like watching them more than I do perfectly symmetrical features or whatever. That's me; I don't know about anyone else, although I can say my daughter has the biggest crush on both Kylo Ren and Professor Snape, so . . . Apple/tree, I guess? I'm sure studies have been done about the way family and/or genes shape tastes.

And then again, I think characters—those same ones that seem so repetitive, so one-note—also contribute to the appeal of an actor. My male friends see Kylo Ren as whiny, and he is, but Kylo Ren is also complicated, and that's attractive. I, and I'm sure many other people, am willing to look past a lot of seemingly negative physical attributes if there's something interesting inside. I know that the character and the actor are not one and the same, of course. My daughter knows it, too. She knows she likes Kylo Ren, not Adam Driver. (Perhaps not everyone makes that distinction; I recall being guest author at a convention and having a woman talk to me about an actor as though he was the character, and I kept trying to gently prod her onto the correct track in that train of thought, but she was convinced that the two were, if not the same, interchangeable?) But if Adam Driver plays a lot of interesting, complex characters, my daughter and I will probably start to think we like him, too, at least as an actor. At which point his name becomes a selling point for studios. This is why it's so important for actors to choose good roles. Their appeal is tied up in those choices just as much as their looks are.


Radio Show Today

If you're so inclined, I'm going to be the guest on Red River's What's Write For Me with Dellani Oakes as host. The show is at 1:00 p.m. Pacific, 4:00 p.m. Eastern. Listen here. (And it should also be archived here after the fact.) Hope you'll tune in!


Television: The Crown, "Paterfamilias" & "Mystery Man"

More Philip. Sigh. The more they show him, the less I like him, which I think is the opposite effect of what they intend. I'm supposed to sympathize, I think? But I don't.

In "Paterfamilias," Philip insists that young Charles be sent away to the same school he attended. Never mind that Philip himself was unhappy there; he considers is "character building" to go someplace that is just shy of an abusive military school. So then we get Philip's story in flashbacks, and I think that's what is supposed to make us feel sorry for him or at least give us insight. But look, misery loving company is no reason to subject your child to said misery. And sure, maybe Philip thought the school would toughen Charles up, but not all children are the same, and they don't have the same reactions to external pressures. Some rise to the challenge. Others shrink. It doesn't mean the shrinkers are bad people; it simply means their strengths lie elsewhere, to be discovered in other ways.

The episode made me a bit frustrated with Elizabeth, too. She should have put her foot down. I understand the line she's walking in trying not to rule Philip in family situations, but in this case it would have been merited.

As for "Mystery Man," Jesus, what a mess of an episode. It was as though a bunch of plot bits were thrown into a pot and stirred.

So Philip gets a crick in his neck and goes to see an osteopath named Stephen Ward. He's invited by Ward to a house party, but instead of showing us whether Philip attends, we skip ahead a year to Ward being on trial for the Profumo scandal. You have to know a bit of British history to understand this bit because the episode doesn't make it very clear at all. Short version is that Ward's house parties introduced very young women to older government officials, including possibly a Russian agent or something? Anyway, Ward commits suicide, and in going through his personalty, drawings of Philip are found (Ward being an artist). There is also a newspaper photograph from one of Ward's parties, and a man with his back turned looks remarkably like Philip.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is pregnant (as is Margaret). She goes off to Balmoral under doctor's orders to rest while Philip skips off here and there. Again, if they want me to like Philip . . . Well, but history is history, I suppose. When he does finally wander home, he and Elizabeth have it out. He swears he didn't go to Ward's house party, that he only even saw Ward the one time because the guy was weird. Elizabeth confronts Philip with the photograph of the ballerina, and he gives a really circumlocutory speech that, summed up, means he loves her and wants to stay with her. (The speech did nothing to warm my heart, and what choice does he have, really?)

We end with the birth of Prince Edward and a family photo.

In total, the season was a good one though not (in my opinion) as good as the first due to meandering interests that went away from Elizabeth much of the time. Things did always loop back to her eventually, but the episodes that heavily focused on Philip or Margaret only made me irritated with those characters. Also, a severe lack of corgi this season.

That said, it's still a fine show with remarkable production values and well worth watching. I look forward to more.


Movies: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black
Directed By: Jake Kasdan
Written By: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner (screenplay); Chris McKenna (story); from the picture book by Chris Van Allsburg
Sony, 2017
PG-13; 119 minutes
3.5 stars (out of 5)


I did not read any in-depth reviews before going to this movie; I went because (a) the trailer was cute, and (b) my kids wanted to go. I never saw the 1995 movie either. So I went into this pretty fresh, with only one word in my head: "generic." That was the one criticism I'd seen of this film—that it was "generic," its setting was "generic."

Well, you know, in board games and video games, the settings often are generic. Sure, they give places names, but those places are mapped of very generic elements: here is a desert, here is a bazaar, here is a jungle, etc. So I think those elements in this movie are kind of the point rather than problematic.

The film begins in 1996 when a teen named Alex gets zapped into Jumanji, once a board game but now upgraded to a video cartridge. Fast forward twenty years, and four teens are given detention in the school basement. They unearth this old game, and zap! In they go, their selves now transformed into the game characters they selected from the menu. If they ever want to get out of the game and go home, they must play through to the end of the game. They each have three lives in order to complete the quest.

Things play out (har, see what I did there?) pretty much as expected. The awkward nerd teen gets to be Dwayne Johnson, the big football player becomes Kevin Hart, and the self-absorbed girl morphs into Jack Black. The jokes are not original, but they work well enough. My kids loved it, and I was entertained, so . . . ::shrug::

The movie would have done a bit better if it had upped the villain quotient and made him a bit more sinister and/or given him more of a presence. The stakes here never feel quite high enough. But then again, this is a kids' movie more than anything, so I might be asking for too much.

Also, this is one movie I think would benefit from 3D. Since I usually hate 3D, that's really saying something.

Overall, not a bad movie though not a stellar one. Maybe that's the "generic" the critics are really feeling. It's a mediocre film, but if you ever need a man to play teen girl, Jack Black is the go-to guy. He's got that nailed. And it's fun to see Dwayne Johnson do, well, anything really. 😍

So. Would I recommend it? Maybe, depending on your tastes. I wouldn't warn anyone away from it at any rate. I don't think you absolutely need the big screen for it, though. This one will work just as well at home. Save it for game night?

Movies: Atomic Blonde


Okay, I haven't read the source material. But I knew how this story was going to play out within the first five or ten minutes of the film. And I could tell it had all come from men. Because this is a male fantasy masquerading as a strong female story. There are a lot of those, especially in comics and graphic novels, which is where this originated.


Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, MI6 agent sent to Berlin in the weeks before the Wall comes down to retrieve a MacGuffin list of agents (remember Skyfall?). Yawn. Her contact is David Percival (James McAvoy, with not enough to do). The list is missing and too many people seem to know who Broughton really is, so she spends a lot of time fighting off people, and the movie is really just one action sequence after another strung together by a plot none of us actually cares about. We don't even care much about the characters because we don't know them and aren't made to particularly like them. This movie is an excuse for a soundtrack, nudity, and blood. That's about it. You see the "twist(s)" coming miles away thanks to the absolute lack of originality. Boo.

Oh, and there's a frame story, of course. Broughton is being debriefed, and you're supposed to wonder why, although it's painfully obvious where everything is headed.

Look, I love a good Cold War story (I even wrote one, though mine is 1960s rather than 80s), but this clearly wasn't made for me. It's for men who want an excuse to stare at women and like to think they're supporting women by watching a movie with a "strong female lead." Or something. Yuck.


Movies: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (second viewing)

It's really just . . . It's like Force Skype, right? And Luke gets mad when he finds out Rey has been Force Skyping with Kylo.

Rey: He's not as bad as you think he is!
Luke: No, he's really as bad as I think he is.
Rey: We're going to meet and have a real date and you'll see!


Kylo watches the Millennium Falcon fly by and, I mean, think about that: It's his [late, hated] dad's ship and the girl he crushes on who rejected him is flying it. It's the quintessential adolescent nightmare really.


Rey to Luke: Okay, so he was as bad as you said.

I'm not saying this to be mean. It's actually my favorite part of the movie. It's the exact same kind of YA drama that we love in novels, right? I eat that stuff up.

There are still things about the movie that I didn't love, like Leia floating back to the ship after being Yondu'd. I get she has powers or whatever, but that stretched credulity by a lot for me. And there are plot holes, but that's almost required in Star Wars movies. I mean, why didn't Holdo just tell Poe why she was doing what she was doing? That would have saved everyone some trouble.

But on the whole I enjoyed it more the second time.


Television: The Crown, "Matrimonium" & "Dear Mrs. Kennedy"

Ah, God, another Margaret episode. So many people love them, but I don't. I find the episodes that focus on her to be pretty boring. And this one focused even more on Tony, and it tried to be all arty—I mean, even more arty than the show normally is—and *yawn*.

Okay, so the whole thing begins with Margaret getting word that love-of-her-life Peter, the man she was forbidden to marry and for whom she's pledged undying spinsterhood, is marrying someone else. ::record scratch:: So now it's very important to Margaret that she get married, too, and more than that—she needs to announce it before Peter does. She cannot bear to be the jilted one, at least not in the eyes of the world.

So she goes to Tony, and he turns her down, which miffs her. But then Tony has dinner with his mother and she suh-suhs* him, and so he thinks maybe he needs to marry Margaret in order to please Mummy. Or, more than please, but beat Mummy at her own game of snobbery.

Bad reasons on both sides to get hitched, but there you have it. There's a bunch of Tony having sex with other people, all presented as, "Well, you know, artists are like that." Barf. And there's the revelation that Tony had a sort of poly relationship with a Mr. and Mrs. Fry, and that Mrs. Fry is carrying a baby that she's pretty sure is Tony's, but I don't care enough about Tony to care about that. I don't even care enough about Margaret to care about that because Margaret isn't very likable. (At least, I don't find her likable in these past couple episodes, or even sympathetic. I did last season, so I don't know what happened.) Far more interesting to watch men try to break the news of Tony's reputation to Elizabeth.

Oh, and Elizabeth gives birth to Andrew.

Then we toss all that aside because, as I've mentioned in previous posts, the concept of flow has been completely lost this season, and we get the Kennedys. You know, John and Jackie. Elizabeth is feeling old and frumpy, and she's faced with this beautiful young American first lady that even her husband is keen to make time with. One really feels for Elizabeth in this episode. We're supposed to feel for Jackie, too, but her litany of excuses for her bad behavior feels like just that—excuses. I know it had to suck for her, the philandering husband and all the exposure. But (and maybe I'm feeling my British roots here; the DNA test says I'm pretty massively British along with the French) her outpouring bordered on distasteful to me. Get thee to a therapist, woman! Don't spill it all over tea!

I recently heard that Olivia Colman will be taking over as Elizabeth in future seasons, and I can see how they're styling Claire Foy in that direction. Ms. Foy has done a lovely job, and we'll miss her, but of course Elizabeth can't stay young forever. That was kind of the point of the Kennedy episode. I have faith in Ms. Colman's talents; she's done so well over a broad variety of work. So I'm looking forward to seeing her in this.

But! Before that happens, there are still two final episodes to watch. I'll bring them to you once I've had the opportunity to indulge.


Television: The Crown, "Marionettes" & "Vergangenheit"

This season thus far seems to have less flow than the first. For example, in the episode "Marionettes," Elizabeth must deal with Lord Altrincham, who points out that she's not very good at things like speaking to the common people. He antagonizes Elizabeth, and rather than get the usual bucking up from the press, the papers eat up the feud with a spoon—it's good for business, after all.

In the end, Altrincham's "constructive" criticism proves correct in many ways, and he offers a number of opportunities to improve/modernize the monarchy.

And then the episode ends and we all move on apparently. That's where the flow thing comes in. There's the Altrincham episode and then he's gone. (On the plus side: corgis!)

Look, maybe that's how it really happened, too. He was a flare that burned out. But it feels really random that he introduced an entirely new normal to the monarchy and then is never heard from again or even mentioned.

"Vergangenheit" instead moves on to a bit of a PR crisis when historians find old Nazi files that tie the Duke of Windsor to Hitler's regime. At about the same time, said Duke of Windsor returns to England via his niece's sufferance to poke about in hopes of landing a diplomatic position. Life in France has begun to bore him, and he says he wants to serve his country, but it's intimated that perhaps he just misses hanging out with the high and mighty. There's a lifestyle he wishes to lead, and to do so he must have the means, namely connections and a bit of money and freedom to move around. He comes very close to getting it, too, with three possibilities on the table, when Elizabeth is forced to tell him no. The historians are given permission to publish their findings, and any hope the Duke of Windsor might have had are irreparably dashed.

There's a subplot in this episode involving the reverend Billy Graham. Elizabeth invites him to Buckingham Palace and, after discovering the truth about her uncle, asks the reverend about the nature of forgiveness. Not having been alive back then, it's difficult for me to wrap my brain around the idea that Graham was such a draw and influence, but those were different times, and hey, I grew up in the American South—I remember when Jimmy Swaggart and Robert Tilton were big deals. So I guess this was kind of the same thing?

Both these episodes were some of the best thus far in the season. Though very contained (again, that issue with flow), they were interesting. I didn't feel the need to play games on my phone like during the Margaret episode. That has to be worth something in this day and age.


Movies: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
Directed By: Rian Johnson
Written By: Rian Johnson, from characters created by George Lucas
Disney, 2017
PG-13; 152 minutes
4.75 stars (out of 5)


Fair warning: I'm probably going to be a tad nitpicky here. I liked this movie, but not as much as I expected to, which is kind of sad. That said, it's still a lot of fun and a worthy addition to the Star Wars legacy. Spoilers are likely to follow, so if you don't want to know details and haven't seen the movie yet, come back here afterwards to compare notes.

We begin with the Resistance in retreat as the First Order, under Supreme Leader Snoke, takes hold across the galaxy. The hope is that Rey will find Luke and bring him back to help the Resistance. Of course, Luke is a cranky old hermit now, so . . . hilarity ensues.

I really do think that the corny moments of humor are what detracted for me. I laughed, certainly, but I wanted or expected this movie to have more weight than it did, if that makes any sense? Turning Luke into an almost punchline bothered me a little.

That said, there are some great humorous moments. So it's not like I wanted the movie to be entirely serious—of course it shouldn't be—but there were times when the jokes broke the stride for me.

Like Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, Rey has a "cave" moment that shows her . . . nothing much. So that scene felt completely pointless really.

Rey and Kylo Ren develop a kind of psychic bond, and when Luke refuses to help Rey, she decides Kylo is her new bestie and goes off to join forces with him. It goes about like you would expect, but does include a great battle scene (though why the Guard would even bother fighting at that point is questionable).

Meanwhile, Finn and some engineer (I guess?) named Rose are sent on a mission to find a master codebreaker so they can get into Snoke's ship and turn off the tracking device that allows them to follow the Resistance cruiser. So that's a whole thing.

Cute animals abound in the film, from the porgs that have been everywhere, to the cat-horse things on another planet, and the salt fox things on yet another planet. I'm pretty sure the crystal shop at Disney will have cut crystal versions of the fox things soon.

I'm a little worried about the consequences of setting those horse things free. Would the herd be gathered up and whipped? What about the kids who were meant to be tending them? (Yes, we see them at the end, but we don't know what punishment they endured.) Feels like, in some ways, a bad situation was made worse by our supposed heroes.

What I did really enjoy, however, was the moral ambiguity and nuances that infused this film. There are moments when you think, Maybe so-and-so isn't bad after all, and, Maybe so-and-so is worse than I thought. Characters—at least some of them—are fluid here, which makes them more interesting.

It's a long movie, to the point that I began to feel the length toward the end. Like, I definitely had a moment of, Is this still going? It felt a bit stretched, not always with the tension to sustain that stretching.

Still, it's a fun movie. Entertaining. My kids are highly amused by my Kylo Ren impressions, and this film gave me a lot to work with on that front, so there's that. My daughter's reaction to the movie was: "So much Kylo! Swoon!"

By the way, I get the sense that Admiral Ackbar goes through life dialed up to 11. Like, just in a constant state of panic. You could tell him you're out of milk and he'd be, "We're all going to die!"

Anyway. I enjoyed it but, as I mentioned, not as much as I expected to. And while I might need longer to mull it over about exactly why that is, I know in the long run it won't matter. People will see it and love it, and my nitpicking is just that. In the big scheme, the movie comes through and does its job, and that's really all anyone can ask for.

ETA: Oh, and . . .

Laura Dern felt really out of place to me.

AND . . .

I felt like some social commentary was being shoved down my throat. I agree with the views being presented, but it still felt like I was being hit upside the head with them.


Television: The Crown, "Lisbon" & "Beryl"

I feel like the corgi meter is way low this season. I mean, we see them in one of these episodes, albeit briefly. I'm seriously bummed about the lack of them.

That aside, "Lisbon" is a solid episode that continues practically linearly from the previous two. Philip's secretary Mike is being sued for divorce, and there is a fear this will reflect badly on Philip and/or his marriage to Elizabeth. So Philip must distance himself and demands that Mike resign. Again, I think I'm supposed to feel sorry for Philip, but I don't really. Despite Matt Smith's valiant efforts at looking hangdog and conflicted, I can't find a lot of sympathy for Philip's bad decisions.

Once we loop back around to the first episode of the season—the moment in which Elizabeth asks Philip what it will take to keep him "in"—we see him being invested as a prince. (Sorry if I've previously referred to him as "Prince Philip" in other posts; I'd forgotten he wasn't for a while. I have to admit, that makes me feel a bit sorry for him because what a yo-yo: you are a prince, then you aren't, and then the life you signed up for gets shunted down another path entirely. "Can I just have a bit of dignity?" Uh, here, be a prince again. Um . . . We all know that dignity and titles are not equivalent, right? But we'll get to that in a couple more episodes.)

Meanwhile, in "Beryl" we look more closely at Princess Margaret's continued struggle to be a modern woman in an antiquated monarchy. ("Modern" being relative to the 1950s.) I know a lot of people found this episode really interesting, but I didn't. I'm just not as into Margaret's counterculture thing as some others are, I guess. For me, she works better as punctuation throughout the story rather than a whole block of prose in and of herself.

Long story not all that short, Margaret is sad at a friend's wedding because she still can't marry that one divorced guy. So she makes a kind of verbal engagement with Billy Wallace who then can't even come to the event where they're supposed to announce their engagement because he's hungover and all bloodied up from a fight. Margaret disavows him and can hardly stomach Elizabeth's and Philip's tenth anniversary love fest, so she runs off to hang out with a photographer named Tony. Instead of going with Cecil Beaton's official birthday photos, Margaret uses one of Tony's "rawer" photographs, which appears in the newspapers and leaves everyone aghast.

Meh. This episode felt so incredibly slow, and I just didn't buy any tension between Margaret and Tony. I don't know if that's the actors or what, but I yawned my way through it. I would have preferred this woven together with some other story line rather than being the focus of an entire episode. But I know I'm in the minority here, so . . . ::shrug::


Television: The Crown, "Misadventure" and "A Company of Men"

Season (or Series) 2 of The Crown is here! Huzzah! I'm trying not to gorge on it because I want it to last. Thus far I've only watched the first two episodes. I've got a very busy week ahead, so it may be a while before I get around to watching more.

In any case, this season begins with Elizabeth and Philip having a tense conversation about their relationship. Divorce isn't an option, so Elizabeth asks Philip point blank what it will take to make it work.

Rewind five months. It's 1956 and Nassar, President of Egypt, announces that they will take back the Suez Canal. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is sending Philip on a lengthy tour of a number of remote places via the Britannica. Alas, prior to his leaving, she discovers a little photo of a ballerina in one of Philip's bags.

While Philip is out carousing on board, Elizabeth is (a) witnessing the Suez disaster as Prime Minister Eden colludes with Israel over how to handle the situation and (b) feels compelled to go to the ballet for a look at this woman whose picture she found in her husband's bags.

Philip is, perhaps, running with the wrong crowd. His private secretary Mike is a terrible influence, and they are also part of something called the Thursday Club, which encourages bad behavior, namely infidelity. Mike's own wife is seeking ammunition for a divorce and receives just that from a waitress at the club who admits to having slept with Mike. "He never mentioned a wife or family," she says.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for Philip? By the end of it all, he certainly appears to feel guilty (or "homesick" as Mike labels it for him). Too little too late? Well, we know from history how it plays out, but still. I feel no compassion for him at this stage in the story. Yes, even after the terrible interview that dragged up all his old family horrors. Buck up, man. There's no excuse for your behavior.

Now Philip is headed home toward his reckoning. And the Suez is under military fire from Israel. And Prime Minister Eden has been advised by his doctor to go to Jamaica. Wish my doctor would send me somewhere nice . . . Maybe I'd eat better and exercise more elsewhere?

These were two fairly Philip-heavy episodes. That's fine for the moment, but at the same time, we get it. You don't have to draw the picture in such detail. We know what he did (and at least he saved that one dying sailor, so . . .) Broaden the scope a little? I'm finding it difficult to breathe amid the cigar smoke and testosterone.


Books: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This is a good book. Or books, depending on how you look at it.

Susan is an editor at Cloverleaf books, and their star author is Alan Conway. He writes the Atticus Pünd novels—think "German Hercule Poirot set in the 50s" and you've pretty much got it. When Susan receives the manuscript for what will become the final Pünd adventure, we get to read it, too.

So Magpie Murders is really a book within a book.

And then Alan Conway seemingly commits suicide, but some stuff doesn't add up, and Susan becomes an amateur sleuth in her own right.

It's a cute book, if a bit gimmicky. I had the mystery figured out pretty much the moment the key clue was dropped, but then again I read enough of these kinds of things to do that. Susan is a bit of a dope, but she's personable, and at least she's self-aware enough to know she's out of her element. There is a tendency, however, to hang a lampshade on every convenient development: "I know it only happens in fiction, but it happened this time, too!" 🙄

Still, it's not terminally obnoxious. I'd recommend this one to those who enjoy Poirot and his ilk.


Television: The Orville, "Into the Fold"

Come on now. These writers are just super lazy. They're not building any kind of futuristic atmosphere for viewers. I mean, people are still using "crap" and "bitch" as swear words? Uh-uh. I don't buy it, any more than I buy that they're still watching Seinfeld and making remarks about Justin Bieber. I mean, I would believe it in small doses, but every freakin' reference is to something from our era. It's too obvious and therefore does not work at all.

Also, this episode was boring. While I appreciate giving ensemble characters their own stories, I didn't like this one. Dr. Finn and her two sons go on vacation, and Isaac invites himself along. It could have been hilarious, but instead the writers tried to drama it up with a crash, etc. And while I get that Isaac becomes a kind of unwitting father figure (that part of the show was pretty good), I feel like they could have done more with it. Some humor to punctuate things wouldn't have hurt.

And is Dr. Finn just a terrible doctor? Yelling "breathe!" at someone who can't breathe isn't helpful. Scanning them with your tricorder thingy for the millionth time is also not helpful. Does she not know how to aspirate someone? That feels very basic. I mean, I can't do it, but I'm not a doctor, and yet I at least know enough to know that's what you need to do under those circumstances.

Anyway, I didn't like this one. But I didn't like every episode of Next Gen, either, so . . . ::shrug:: Can't win 'em all. I clearly don't like the show enough to actually keep up with it either. But it's still beating the most recent season of Doctor Who, of which I've only watched three. So that's something, I guess.


Movies: Split

Finally sat down and watched this one.

Look, I know M. Night's movies have been hit or miss (and more miss than hit as his career has gone on), but I did really like Unbreakable, thought Signs was okay despite the gaping plot holes, and even went against the majority by mostly liking The Village. Sure, I think The Sixth Sense is overrated, and I hated Lady in the Water and near hated The Visit and The Happening, so . . . Yeah.

The question then becomes: Where does Split fall on the M. Night spectrum?

Well, let's talk about the movie itself first. It's about a guy named Kevin (James McAvoy) with Dissociative Identity Disorder who, acting as a personality named Dennis, abducts three teens from King of Prussia Mall. At least, I think it was the mall. I guess it doesn't matter.

The first scene, which involves Claire and Marcia talking to Claire's dad about how weird Casey is and how they didn't really want to invite her to this birthday party, is bland and oddly static. The dialogue isn't great, either. It had me worried about what to expect from the movie.

But then they all go out to the parking lot, and again, some of the logic doesn't quite scan. The girls wait in the car, and it's clear something happens to Claire's dad, but when a weird man gets into the driver's seat . . . "Pardon me, sir," Claire says, and I'm thinking, No way does a 16-year-old say that or behave that way when a weirdo gets in the car. It's also not clear why Casey doesn't jump out of the parked car rather than moving super slow and allowing herself to get taken.

Whatever. It's all setup, I guess, and what follows would be typical light horror fare except that James McAvoy totally nails it. Sure, the movie sort of devolves at times into the "James McAvoy show," but it's pretty impressive. And Anya Taylor-Joy does a fine job as wide-eyed Casey.

There continue to be logic issues—how Dennis forces two of the girls to partially undress, but for whatever reason not Casey because she has to stay covered for a plot twist to work; how Dr. Fletcher should probably have been smarter, etc. There are also flashbacks to young Casey hunting with her father and abusive uncle. One expects that to build up to something, but it doesn't quite play out the way one might think, so there's a little bit of a letdown there.

Still, the movie is overall entertaining. I didn't like it as much as Unbreakable, but I probably like it almost as much as Signs and about as much as The Village (again, I'm an outlier in that I really kind of liked that one). It definitely makes me excited for Glass, though I guess I would have been anyway.

tl;dr: good movie, mostly because of James McAvoy, but Anya Taylor-Joy plays well off him, too.


Movies: The Hitman's Bodyguard

Not quite as clever or endearing as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but in the same vein.

Ryan Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a hired protection . . . agent? Is that what they're called? He was once the cream of the crop, but after losing a client, he now slums it and picks up jobs where and when he can.

Samuel L. Jackson plays an assassin named Darius Kincaid whose testimony is needed in International Court trial against the tyrannical president of Belarus. But of course INTERPOL has a mole, or a leak, or whatever they're calling it nowadays. So one of the agents—Bryce's ex, in fact—calls in Bryce to get Kincaid to the Hague. Hilarity in the form of banter and action set pieces ensues.

In truth, Reynolds and Jackson play well off one another. However, the plot here is rote and everything that happens is utterly predictable. Also, the two love stories—Bryce's ex, Kincaid's equally incarcerated wife (played wonderfully by Salma Hayek)—unfortunately fail to have impact because we're simply told that these two main characters love these women and are expected to take it at face value. We don't see them interact much with their respective ladies, only hear them talk about their relationships. If there's anything I dislike in movies, it's being told: "Here. Believe this. We're not going to show you (which is the f'ing point of a movie), just tell you, but we need you to believe it because a big part of the plot hinges on it." Ugh. Fuck no. Do the work.

Still and all, the movie is overall fairly entertaining. Good soundtrack, too. If you like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Nice Guys, you'd probably like this one, even though it's not Shane Black. It has a similar vibe.


Television: The Orville, "Majority Rule"

You remember that episode of ST:TNG where Wesley is sentenced to death while visiting a foreign planet because he didn't Keep Off the Grass? Yeah, this is that episode.

Except instead an inept away team goes looking for a couple missing anthropologists on a planet where everything is determined by popular vote. Literally. Everyone wears a badge with a green "up" arrow and a red "down" arrow and basically goes through life being defined by how many Likes and Dislikes they have. As a person. And apparently there is a threshold wherein, if you reach a certain number of down votes, you are "corrected" by basically having your brain scrambled.

How could this ever go wrong?

Look, Star Trek (the chassis upon which The Orville is constructed) has a long, strong history of social commentary. And it's never been particularly subtle. So this isn't either. But . . . While I'm moderately entertained, I'm wondering what it says—either about me or the show—that I only watch The Orville when I'm looking for mindless entertainment. Like, at least it's entertaining, I guess? But some of the novelty is wearing off for me, and I find myself looking elsewhere while the episodes stack up on my DVR.

Besides the on-the-noseness of it all, I'm annoyed that every reference made is to 20th and 21st century television and culture. They watch Seinfeld, they talk about American Idol and mention Justin Bieber. REALLY? Did culture just stop when and where we now live and that's all the future has to go on? They have NOTHING ELSE? Nothing older, nothing more current? I suppose that would require the writing team to, you know, actually come up with stuff rather than grab the low-hanging fruit.

Maybe that's what I'm really railing against here. Laziness. They don't have the cleverness to be more subtle or to build a world populated by new cultural references. Well, sure, they give the Krill a religion, and they gave Bortus' people a poet, but apparently humans stopped short at Taylor Swift and have been coasting on that for hundreds of years.

Sigh. Whatever. It's an okay show. I'll keep in on my DVR for the rare occasions I may actually feel like watching it.


Movies: Murder on the Orient Express

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Olivia Colman, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Holy S*** How Many People Are In This Movie
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Michael Green (screenplay) from the novel by Agatha Christie
20th Century Fox, 2017
PG-13; 114 minutes
4.25 stars (out of 5)


The obligatory history: I read my first Hercule Poirot book when I was thirteen years old. It was, in fact, Murder on the Orient Express. I remember this distinctly because I was nearly finished with the book when Dad called me down to take me to Lethal Weapon 2 (my first R-rated movie in the cinema). Mom was out of town, and Dad always gave me more credit for being able to tolerate things like violence and language. I'd loved the first Lethal Weapon when I'd seen . . . either the VHS tape or TV edit? So of course I wanted to see the next one.

I digress. Let's say that Murder on the Orient Express drove me to read many more Poirot novels. It was also the first Agatha Christie book I shared with my now 12-year-old son. And so I hold it very close to my heart. And my son and I were very excited to see the movie.

This is a lovely movie. In particular, the skies and the way the train is framed in certain shots—just gorgeous. I also enjoyed the subtle humor at certain moments. Wit, really. So quick and brief I think many in the cinema missed the jokes entirely.

There are flaws, however. MOTOE has a huge cast. This is not unusual for Poirot novels, or a certain genre of mysteries in general. After all, the more people involved, the harder it is for the reader to figure out the solution to the crime. But when condensing things to the screen, the number of characters can be confusing, and no one gets full development. Backstories zip by. For someone who has read the book, this may not be a problem. (It wasn't for me or my son.) But I would think anyone unfamiliar with the story might be a bit confused.

My only other quibble is the insertion of a backstory for Poirot—a lost love named Katherine. WHY???? Was it done to make Poirot more sympathetic somehow? It really added nothing to the story and actually detracted from the established character for me. This need to make Poirot into something he never was in the novel: a brilliant mind grieving for what has been lost or denied him. They also make him fastidious to the point of near OCD. Like, yes, Poirot has very high standards, but this is beyond what I remember from the books. And while it contributes to his character's "eye for details" it is also somewhat played for laughs. If Poirot has a problem—like, actual OCD—that's not funny.

The movie does deviate from the novel on a number of points, but overall it is very enjoyable. One hopes they'll do another. Though—again, just to quibble—to namecheck Death on the Nile as though to set it up as the next film is ridiculous. That murder occurs while Poirot is present, not before. He's in Egypt when Linnet is murdered is what I mean. Poirot wouldn't be getting information about the murder before he's even gone to Egypt. That's just dumb.

Well, whatever. I'd watch it anyway, so I guess my fuss is for naught. Here's hoping it gets a green light.


Movies: The Big Sick

I'd been hearing about this movie on various podcasts for a while, but I'd never been in the right mood or frame of mind to watch it. Until last night.

There's a certain kind of movie—almost always indie or small studio pics—that bill themselves as "comedy" but aren't really that funny. I think they're using an older definition of "comedy," the one that says things end happy rather than sad. In other words, if it's not an all-out tragedy, it's a comedy. Kind of. Like, if you have to pick between the two masks, this movie is the laughing one more than the crying one, right?

Still, while it definitely has its funny moments, this isn't, you know, what some people think of as comedy. It tends toward melodrama. It's what some call "dramedy." And that's fine, but it's not the same as a comedy.

All this may make it sound like I didn't like the movie. But I did! I actually liked it quite a lot. It's one of the few I've seen that lives up to all the hype I've heard. Kumail Nanjiani is incredibly personable (both in this movie and in interviews); it's impossible not to like him, even when he's being a jerk in the film. You honestly want him to do well. You cringe for him when [mild spoiler] his comedy set bombs. You feel for him when he finds himself caught between his family and the girl he's fallen in love with. His interactions with everyone—his family, his girlfriend's family, his fellow comedians—it's all so natural and unaffected, very enjoyable to watch.

Okay, so for those who don't know, the movie is about Kumail falling in love with a girl named Emily. Meanwhile, his Pakistani family keeps trying to set him up with a good Muslim girl to marry. When Emily finds out Kumail hasn't even told his family about her, and when he can't commit to a future with her, she breaks up with him. Next thing Kumail knows, he's receiving a call to say Emily is in the hospital. He goes there and meets her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, both in fabulous form). Hilarity doesn't exactly ensue, though there are definite pulses of it.

If anything, the character of Emily is the weak link. Maybe because she's in a coma for a big chunk of the movie, but honestly, when she was awake I found her a tad annoying. I didn't 100% buy the attraction between her and Kumail. But that's a small thing in the overall scheme. That may sound strange considering this is, in some aspect, a romantic movie. And I think if Emily had been conscious for the entire film, it wouldn't have worked because her shrillness would have ruined things. But as things stand, it's livable.

In short, this is a really cute movie. It's drama punctuated with laughter. There's a little bit of tragedy, too. The whole thing is a stew, really—a tasty one.


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Movies: The Beguiled

I usually really enjoy moody period dramas, and I had high hopes for this one. What I guess I'd forgotten is that, of the few Sofia Coppola movies I've seen, I haven't much enjoyed any of them. And The Beguiled is very much a Sofia Coppola movie despite being based on a novel.

The story is very simple. In 1864 Virginia, a wounded Union soldier named John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is taken in by a houseful of women—Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) and her charges, the remaining pupils of her girls' school. A man in their midst upsets the placid setting. That's pretty much the story, really. The women become beguiled by the strange man.

One of the major problems with this movie, besides the fact that it is glacially paced and not a whole lot happens, is that none of the characters are given thorough development. A few get more than others, but overall the young ladies feel somewhat interchangeable. And where tension should be building, it just never does. We all know that, in the words of Bartok the Bat, "this can only end in tears," but we don't really feel any dread.

The movie is beautiful to look at, mind. It's gorgeously shot. And I do honestly believe the actors did the best they could with the material they were given. It was a valiant effort.

But the bottom line is that the movie was slow and pretty boring. I'm somewhat curious about the novel now; I only found out about the whitewashing scandal after looking stuff up for this post. So I do wonder about ways the book is different. I feel there could definitely be more depth of character in a novel than was portrayed on the screen. Some books just don't translate to film very well. (Then again, apparently the Clint Eastwood version of this movie is much better. Not that I'm keen to try it again so soon. Not beguiled enough for that.)


Movies: Thor: Ragnarok

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Idris Elba
Directed By: Taika Waititi
Written By: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Marvel, 2017
PG-13; 130 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


A couple of caveats: (1) the sound in our cinema kept going out, which may have influenced my overall sense of the film, even though they did fix it and rewind the scenes for us; (2) I've literally just come home from this movie, which means that I'm on that bit of a film high that one sometimes gets. I considered giving this movie just a 4/5 for a few things, but the fact is, despite the niggling issues, it was highly entertaining. And that's all it's really required to be, right?

On the plus side of this film: lots of comedy and more of the Loki-as-pseudo-hero that we all sort of seem to want. We know Loki is a villain, but we like him so much we want him to win a little, and I feel the franchise is trying to do that for us. It's a very difficult line to walk, though. We don't want him to, you know, go the way of Drax and become base comic relief. We want him to stay smart and wily, and we want him and Thor not to get too close and happy because that won't work either. Anyway, this film balances very carefully on that line, though it does teeter a bit toward Loki as goofy. We're going to want to nudge that a bit in the other direction in the next film. Loki should be darker than this is all I'm saying.

The story in a nutshell: Thor heads home to Asgard after attempting to stop Ragnarok from happening only to find Loki pretending to be Odin. So then they go find Odin (in Norway, cuz where else would he be?), and—stop reading if you don't want to know—Odin dies, which means Thor's and Loki's older sister Hela is released from her prison. Being the oldest, she assumes the throne of Asgard. She's also the goddess of death so, you know, things in Asgard go to Hel . . . a . . .

Meanwhile, the part the trailers all showed: Thor gets captured by a scraper (Thompson) who brings The Grandmaster (Goldblum) fighters for his big Tournament of Champions or whatever it was called. Thor's goal: get away and go save Asgard.

This movie is crowded with cameos and clever casting, and it mostly works. At the same time, it does pull viewers out of the moment sometimes.

My main problem with Thor: Ragnarok is that it tries to subvert expectations and yet the audience is too smart for it. An example: Bruce Banner jumps off a spaceship to face a threat. We're supposed to expect him to land as the Hulk. But he just falls face first and then, moments later, emerges as the Hulk. It's a funny moment but not as much of a cute surprise as I think the writers and filmmakers thought it would be. We as viewers are ahead of the story, and that's not always a good thing. We know Skurge (Urban) is going to have to make a choice, and we know what the choice is going to be and how it's going to end for him. What I'm saying is, this movie hits all the beats, and they're fun ones, but they're also super predictable. The story ends up tied in a neat little bow, and that's weirdly unsatisfying.

Still, this is a largely lighthearted chapter in the ongoing Marvel thread. (Too lighthearted perhaps given the gravitas that the ending needs but lacks.) It seems someone took notes from Guardian of the Galaxy's success and decided to lean in—but not as far in as GOTG Vol. 2, which was a smidge too far. Thor: Ragnarok knows not to take itself too seriously, which is a good thing. As I said, it's highly entertaining, which is all it really needs to be. If the next one could maybe be a little bit more clever or subversive or something, though, I'd appreciate it.


Story: "Professor Moriarty & the Demented Detective"

Now available on Amazon. You can even read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

What if the famously evil Professor Moriarty wasn't as evil as Holmes made him out to be? Hear his side in this new short story that revisits the Reichenbach Falls.


IWSG Reminder

If you stumbled across this blog in search of my IWSG entry, well, you're digging in the wrong place. Hop over to PepperWords for my post.

Books: Fairy Tales and Folklore Re-imagined

You can now preorder the anthology I contributed to:

Click for link

No, I'm not sure why they put a hyphen there, either, but whatever. The book comes out on 11/10.


Television: Stranger Things 2

I'm not going to go into detail because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. So I'm going to be pretty general in my statements here.

I've often written about how difficult it is to maintain great quality in sequels, particularly when the first installment was brilliant and somewhat unexpected. When you set the bar that high—and therefore people's expectations as well—it becomes hard to clear it. But Stranger Things 2 does, I think, the best it possibly could to meet the stellar quality of its first season.

That's not to say it's perfect. But you can see they took care not to coast on their good reputation. Real work went into this.

Encapsulated so as not to spoil it for anyone: ST2 returns to Hawkins, and the Upside Down is sort of . . . leaking? The gate sealing it off is weakening. Problems ensue.

I did think it was interesting that, in order to make Steve not appear to be quite so much of a jerk, they simply introduced an ever bigger jerk character. Everything is relative, I suppose. We all exist somewhere on a jerk scale of one kind or another in this world.

There is real tension in this season, too, and some honest-to-goodness horror. Sure, some of it plays like Jurassic Park, but I like JP, so . . .

Did I enjoy it as much as the first season? Not quite. But again, some of that goes back to the first season being a novelty, an unexpected good fortune. I think ST2 is a worthy successor. That's really all we could ask for, or even hope for. It's easy for shows (*cough*Sherlock*cough*) to be pleased with themselves after a brilliant start and just know that people will watch no matter what. It takes commitment to the story, the characters, the actors, and the audience to continue to deliver quality work. For that much, I'm grateful to the Duffer Brothers and their team for putting in the effort.


Weinstein et al

I'm going to make what many will consider a distasteful analogy. But you've heard the saying in airports and at train stations: "See something? Say something."

I've been fortunate, I suppose, never to have brushed up against Weinstein back when I was navigating a young and hopeful career in "the industry." But for those who have worked with him—and especially you men, but in some cases also women—did you ever see anything? Hear anything? Did your spidey senses ever tingle? If so, and you did nothing . . . If you brushed it off . . . Then you are complicit.

Because it is rather like the airport or the train station. If you see something and don't speak up and that plane goes down or that train derails—that's a little bit on you. And your lack of action impacts the people on the plane or train, and all their loved ones. That selfish little piece of you that stayed silent—that helped the terrorists.

Yeah, I said terrorists. Because there is a war of terror against women, and sometimes also against men. Against homosexuals and people of color and just any minority group, really. This is true in the world, and Hollywood is a microcosm of it.

After the Weinstein story broke, more allegations began to spill about others in the industry. I'm going to make another analogy here. Say you have a lush forest. It's been standing for a long time. But then one of the biggest trees has a disease. "We need to take down that tree," the park rangers say. And then they discover the disease has actually spread to a lot of the trees. Now the rangers hesitate. That's a lot of trees to cut down. It won't leave much forest. What will people do for shade? What will animals do for homes? But that disease isn't going to go away. If you leave those trees, the disease will just spread to newer, younger trees.

You've got to cut them down. Better yet, pull them by the roots so they don't regrow. Then replant with hardier stock. It will leave a very young forest, but a healthier one.

For those of you who don't follow, the casting couch mentality in Hollywood needs to be yanked up and tossed out. A new way of thinking and behaving needs to take its place. That's scary, to overhaul an industry that's used to doing things a certain way. The people on top don't want a shift of power. Of course they don't. They're the tall trees that get all the sun. But some of them are diseased and need to go. It's that simple and that difficult at the same time. A lot of hard work ahead, but the forest and the world will be better for it.


Movies: The Princess Bride

At the risk of being incredibly unpopular, I have to say . . . I only kind of like this movie.

The Princess Bride came out when I was 11. I didn't see it then. I've watched it maybe twice in my life, the first time while I was an undergraduate. Maybe it was the hype (everyone always saying how wonderful this movie was), or maybe it was the venue (someone's apartment; I was with a church group), but it just didn't enthrall me. It failed to charm me the way it seems to have charmed so many others. I didn't find it funny or clever or, well, much of anything.

I didn't hate it. I just didn't love it much either.

Later my husband sat me down to watch it again in the belief that I'd somehow just not fully absorbed it properly. But I had the same feeling the second time. He adores The Princess Bride. I . . . don't.

I only bring it up because I'm behind on my podcast listening and just got around to Pop Culture Happy Hour discussing the 30-year anniversary of the film. They gushed as per expectations, in particular over Cary Elwes, whom I've never found attractive, so he really doesn't do anything to boost the movie for me. I find a lot of the famous quotes just plain annoying, but that might be from repetition.

I've never read the book either. Maybe I'd like it more?

Sigh. I think, really, I'm mostly indifferent to The Princess Bride. I couldn't invest in any of the characters, and I didn't feel any chemistry between the leads. I did like the bits with Peter Falk and Fred Savage, if that counts for anything. ::shrug::


Television: The Orville, "Krill"

Aren't krill the thing whales eat? Like, something in the sea? I'm too lazy to go look it up because it's not that important to me, but it's what I think of every time I hear "krill." Even if I did look it up, and even if it isn't true, I'd still think it.

Anyway. This episode. We learn Bortus can eat almost anything, I guess? But the bulk of the story is Ed and Gordon masquerading as Krill so as to learn more about their culture—specifically their holy book—in the hopes of finding common ground and forging peace.

I have some basic, logistical issues. For one, Ed and Gordon spend time talking about how they don't know any Krill names and so don't know what fake names to use while in disguise. Okay, so... They've been briefed on the fact that the Krill are very religious and that their belief system tells them they are better than all other forms of life and therefore it is okay to kill other species and take their planets and resources. They know this much about the Krill but no names? Not even the name of the Krill god (which turns out to be Avis)? Can they read Krill? If so, how did they learn, and if not, how will they read the snaps of the holy book Ed is supposed to take? There just doesn't seem to be a lot of internal logic about the way humans and Krill interact since the Krill are always aggressive. Surely the Union has captured Krill before and learned a few things? I dunno. It's really unclear.

The underlying story of how the Krill's religion is the cause of all the problems is... troublesome. We're given little to no sense of the Krill as having any good qualities, and this seems tied to their beliefs. True, the Krill children seem more open minded, though they are clearly being indoctrinated. But the subtext here is not very, well, sub. It's pretty heavy handed and paints all beliefs with one brush. The idea that in the future humans will not have religion but will still watch Seinfeld is just dumb. I'm not saying it can't happen, but if they want me to believe it, I want more information. How do they explain the Charlie Brown Christmas special if no one is Christian any more? Or have all things that have any religious "taint" been banned, eliminated? Are we supposed to see ourselves [the humans, the Union] as better than the Krill for having risen above religion? If we do that, aren't we just as bad as the Krill in thinking we are superior?

Oh, but we don't go killing people and taking their stuff, you say. Except in this episode they totally do.

But we do it for the good of... Of what? Our own race and allies? Yup. So do the Krill.

But we do it to protect our own. We don't start fights but we end them. Fair enough. But you're asking me to believe the Krill use their religion as the reason they start fights. Or the excuse. Removing their beliefs wouldn't change their behavior, I don't think. They'd find another reason/excuse to take what they want. We see people with money do that all the time, people with better technology—anyone with the upper hand. Religion doesn't have to be the reason. It can be a reason, but it's almost never the only reason.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a treatise. I myself am not religious, though I grew up in a religious household. I know that strong beliefs can cause problems, but not believing isn't the solution. I think it matters what you emphasize, whether it's the "love thy neighbor" and "judge not lest ye be judged" versus "an eye for an eye" or whatever the verse is that says to kill everyone who doesn't believe the same thing as you. Like, if a majority of the Union converted and worshiped Avis, would the Krill still kill people? Is this really about the belief or is it a racial thing?

Whatever. This episode had some truly tense moments, I'll give it that. And it certainly made me think.


Wha to Look for in a Small Publisher (Part 2: Contracts)

Click to enlarge

Hey! The next part of my guest post on Dale Cameron Lowry's site is up. This one focuses on what to look for if a small publisher should offer you a contract.


What to Look For in a Small Publisher

Click to enlarge
I'm over at Dale Cameron Lowry's blog today with some tips about small publishers (should you be thinking of going that route). Part 2 will be posted on Thursday, so stay tuned!

Television: The Orville, "Pria"

I guess I'm still watching this show, which says something in and of itself, right? I still can't decide if I like it though. I don't think I've ever had a show confuse me this much.

A couple years ago there was a Twitter account dedicated to the fictitious story lines of a Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 8. And I kind of think The Orville is pranking us by using some of those story ideas?

Anyway, this episode features Charlize Theron as the titular Pria, a space miner... traveling alone... and found stranded on a comet? Like, doesn't that already seem weird? Sure, she gives a glib story, but wouldn't it be standard procedure to look people up when they come on board? Like, aren't there passports or ID cards or something? You're going to tell me that in the future we don't need ID any more? Not even a retinal scan? I'm calling B.S.

B plot: Gordon trying to teach Isaac about human humor, resulting in a series of practical jokes.

Meanwhile, Kelly (because that's a name that will come back into fashion in a few hundred years) is suspicious of Pria. And maybe a little jealous that Ed (a timeless classic of a name) is practically jumping into a relationship with her. Ed—who tells Pria he's had a hard time trusting after Kelly's adultery—sure is quick to trust this time around. Damn.

As expected (because there wouldn't be a story if it all went well), Pria is not who she claims to be, and stuff happens and then everyone goes home. Except they are home. So everyone stays where they are, I guess. And there's kind of a tiny crack left open to allow Pria to come back in future episodes, kind of like Vash in ST:TNG.

What is The Orville's mission, anyway? Do they just float around waiting until someone needs them? Are they a cosmic coast guard or something? They always seem to be just hanging out (watching old TV shows, evidently) until someone sends a distress signal. The bridge is not a living room. At the very least, I would think most people would be wearing headphones and watching YouTube videos on their personal displays.

And if I have to hear that "jar of pickles" line one more time... We all hate that uncle who says the same damn thing every time, right? We don't want Ed to be that uncle. FIND A DIFFERENT LINE, ED!

I can't even decide about this show. My husband really enjoys it, so I'll probably keep watching by default. I'm not sure, though, if I'd watch if it were just me. I honestly don't know. Except, I have to say: the other night, I remember thinking, "Feels like an Orville kind of night." So maybe The Orville is filling a void in the TV cosmos that I didn't even realize was there.


Television: Spielberg

Anyone who knows me knows Steven Spielberg has left a great impression on my life. His was the first name I knew in movies. The first movie I can remember seeing in a cinema is Raiders of the Lost Ark (though I spent the film thinking his name was "Petey" and that he was a cowboy because hat). I was only five years old when that movie came out, and there are questions as to whether my parents should have taken me to see it, but whatever. From that moment I was a Steven Spielberg fan.

I didn't know what Spielberg did exactly. But his name was on all the best movies. Whatever he did, I wanted to do it, too. I wanted to make amazing things that people watched.

Spielberg is the reason I have a film degree.

Alas, I haven't made any movies. I've worked on film sets, and I've had one short film made of my stage play, but that's the sum total of my filmography. Still, I can very much appreciate—and envy—Mr. Spielberg's career. I haven't seen all his films, not nearly. Some I will probably never watch. But he's made such a wide variety of movies . . . Kind of like how I write a lot of different genres . . . I can appreciate the desire to keep moving and trying new things and the need to tell new stories, even if deep down they are similar thematically.

So this documentary—which is long at around 2 hours 21 minutes—well, it might as well have been made for me. It's a nice retrospective of Spielberg's career thus far, and besides talking to the man himself and hearing his side, they managed to gather a lot of big names to chime in. I don't think any of it was revelatory. But I think it was interesting and tidy. Well packaged, I'd say.

I guess the one thing is: if you're interested in Spielberg and his work, you probably already know a lot of what Spielberg covers, and if you don't know a lot about him, this documentary may feel a tad dry. Like, my attention wandered a few times. And I'm a devotee. So I don't know what less adoring viewers might think.

In all, I enjoyed it. Nothing exciting, but solid, and a nice perspective on the man and his work.

(Now if he'd just direct The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller...)


Television: The Orville, "If the Stars Should Appear"

So I can't decide if this show means to be as dumb as it is? Like, is it designed to point out how stupid a lot of Star Trek is/was? Or...???

Look, on the surface this is a clever little story about a world inside a spaceship. The ship itself is adrift and the people on board have forgotten they're on a ship at all. So as the ship drifts towards a star, the Orville crew attempts to save it, but the passengers are living some agrarian lifestyle and praying to a strange god (spoiler: their god turns out to be Liam Neeson, so it's understandable) and most of them are suspicious and not wanting the help.

All in all, it's typical Trek-style fare. But there's something lacking here. Maybe it's that I don't care a lick about any of the main characters. Just none of them appeal to me. Maybe it's that there was practically no B plot in this episode. We open with Bortus and Klyden having a tiff that goes nowhere. Local color? We've had our fill of Bortus and Klyden with the last episode, so maybe we should focus on someone else for a change?

I just feel like this episode idea was a good one, but the execution didn't hold up. Very beat-by-beat, and I never felt any real tension. (Again, possibly because I'm not invested in the characters.) I wanted this to be an episode of Babylon 5. I could totally see this playing out in interesting ways if only the characters were more engaging.

And boy, are they pulling on the strings to get cameos and guest stars. Next week it will be Charlize Theron. This feels like stunt casting, and it feels desperate this early in the show's run. I haven't looked at the ratings, though. Have no idea how well The Orville is doing with viewers.

I don't know. I might keep watching? I'm really on the fence. Maybe the characters will get better? I'm seriously conflicted. But at the very least, it's a show I can turn on when I don't want to do any brain work and I've watched all the House Hunters.


Movies: The Sound

It's a dumb name for a psychological thriller/horror movie. But whatever.

Rose McGowan plays Kelly Johansen, a woman whose job is to debunk hauntings. She does this through low frequency sounds, I guess? Also: how does she make any money? Do people pay her to come to their houses and do this? She's evidently written a book, and she keeps a blog or Tumblr or something, so maybe that's where the money comes from? I'm just saying, what's the going rate for someone to come to your house and tell you it's not haunted, there's just an airport nearby?

Kelly is smug and borderline unlikable, which is how we know she's going to have to go through something torturous to wipe that smugness right out of her. She gets a message that leads her to an abandoned subway station in Toronto, and she promises her husband (or is he just a boyfriend?) she'll be back in time for that night's party, which sounds (har, see what I did there?) ridiculous considering she's flying to Toronto. I don't know where they are, exactly, so maybe it's a short flight, but still.

In the cab on the way to the subway station, Kelly gets the obligatory phone call from her mother that hints that something strange and/or terrible happened on that day thirty years before. 🙄  So now we know this is definitely going to be a thing.

The cab driver tells Kelly about how he and his friends once broke into the abandoned station, but we don't get to hear what he saw. As for the abandoned station itself, it's apparently ridiculously easy to break into. There's a door leading from the working station to the closed-off one. No tools required, just walk right on in. Again: 🙄

What we get from here on in is fairly standard pseudo-horror stuff with hallucinations, etc. Christopher Lloyd appears as a ghostly maintenance man. Kelly becomes weirdly sleepy and has numerous dreams/hallucinations. Nothing very scary, however, and it's pretty obvious a lot of what she thinks is happening isn't actually happening. Also, how is she getting cell service and Internet down there?

The core of the "horror" (if it can be called that, since none of it is particularly horrific) is a girl named Emily that apparently has something to do with this 30-year anniversary that Kelly's mom called about. Kelly keeps seeing/dreaming of a little girl in a white dress with a doll, and Kelly has the ratty old doll in her duffel . . . I won't give away the ending, but I will say I wasn't wowed—or surprised, for that matter.

For a low-budget, limited-locations production, this one is produced pretty well, and there are a couple of known names starring in it. That's impressive. I just wish someone had given the script itself a bit of a lift. It's murky and soporific and could have used some stronger twists to keep it interesting.


Movies: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Voices By: Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen
Directed By: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Written By: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington (screenplay); 7 other people, except a few are the same people (story)
Warner Bros., 2017
PG; 101 minutes
4.25 stars (out of 5)


So on the LEGO movie spectrum, I liked this one almost as much as The LEGO Movie and quite a bit more than The LEGO Batman Movie.

Dave Franco voices Lloyd Garmadon, son of the world's greatest villain. Lloyd has just turned 16, and he's hated by pretty much everyone simply because his dad is the worst. Of course, Lloyd is secretly one of the Ninjas that defend the city every time Garmadon (Justin Theroux) attacks. It's a sweet gig but Lloyd is naturally conflicted. He longs to have a father-son relationship, but how is that possible when his dad (a) left when he was a baby, and (b) is an evil tyrant?

During a particularly vicious battle between the Ninjas and Garmadon's army, Lloyd takes the nigh unforgivable step of using The Ultimate Weapon. It only makes things worse and hands Garmadon a victory. So Lloyd must go in search of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon to make things right again.

The story is simplistic and predictable, but there's enough humor to keep things going. Jackie Chan is a natural as the voice of Master Wu, who also happens to be Lloyd's uncle and Garmadon's brother. A live-action frame story featuring Chan as the proprietor of a cluttered shop is also very cute, if stereotypical.

I do feel like there could have been more in-depth introductions to the other Ninjas. I've never watched the television show, so maybe that's something I'm already supposed to be familiar with. And I get that this is a kids' movie and character development isn't necessarily a focus. But it just seems to me that they could have done a wee bit more there. (This may be a bi-product of writing by committee.)

But overall, a cute movie, and my kids really enjoyed it, which was kind of the point. The fact that I liked it as much as I did is a bonus.


Books: Online or Flatline by Nick Choat

Full disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book via some review group that I assume the author hired to, er, get reviews for his book. The reason I requested a review copy was that I hoped the book would have some insight for me as a self-published author. I mean, being a self-published author is like running a small business in many ways. However, I can't say this book had much for me.

This book is so short it's almost a thick pamphlet. That said, one could praise it for being concise? I will say I enjoy Choat's conversational tone. The book is inviting. Perhaps Choat realizes some people—and this book really seems geared at older businesspeople—are a little afraid of the online world, at least when it comes to marketing. So he tries with his tone to make it all less scary.

That said, this book is very basic, too. It's for extreme beginners. This book is a toe dip, not a jump-in-and-swim. And some of the information is not exactly true. In particular, Choat goes on for a bit about "Google for Business" which isn't a thing as far as I can tell. He writes:
One platform, Google for Business (formerly G+), stands out from this crowd for the simple reason that Google owns the platform. The original G+ struggled to capture social hearts and minds like Facebook. So Google . . . repositioned G+ to be a tool for small businesses instead of a social tool for the masses. Now they call it Google for Business.
He goes on to say that this "Google for Business" works against business owners who don't have a profile with them. As best I can tell, none of this is true. First off, I think Choat may mean Google My Business, which is an online directory that businesses can post a profile on. However, Google+ (or G+) still exists as a social platform as well. And I've never heard of anyone suffering for not having a Google My Business profile. If your SEO is working, you'll come up in search results regardless.

While Choat discusses at length the things he considers necessary for small business success (a Web site being #1, which, duh), most of his examples are anecdotal. There aren't hard numbers here, or even much data to back up his words. He mentions things he's done for his haircut franchise but doesn't say what his results were. Sure, he did some Facebook ads, but can he tell us how many new customers came in from those? Apparently not. When talking about the need to have your business listed in online directories, he writes: "While I don't have hard data, intuitively I believe that 10-20 percent of your digitally acquired new customers will come through these platforms." Intuitively? Does he have a reason for this intuition, or is it a gut feeling?

On the plus side, Choat is correct is telling small-business owners to beware predators who will milk them. Vet any "service providers" and be sure to figure out how much you can do on your own and for yourself. While a lot of what Choat recommends—and he really is only covering the bare basics here—takes time, much of it shouldn't cost any money. Choat is right to tell readers that they should only hire experts (and make sure they're experts!) as a last resort if/when they can't do something themselves.

He's also on point when telling readers to start with one and then build. Don't try to do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. all at once. Get a Web site set up, then a Facebook page. Let that ride for a while before adding another component. There's nothing more overwhelming than too many social media outlets to manage.

Finally, as an editor I found numerous punctuation problems that distracted me from the text. I also have to marvel at the $12.99 barcode considering the book is only 100 pages long. (Goodreads thinks it's 124, but the copy I received is 104 pages. Maybe I'm missing a few? But my pages are numbered consecutively, so . . .)

In short, this book is a modest stepping stone to a much wider digital world. It's a starting point, but one that beginning online marketers will quickly outgrow. Many readers will soon find themselves in search of broader and more in-depth information. This book is equivalent to water wings; readers may benefit more from a lifejacket.