Movies: The Rewrite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Audiobook: Sherlock Holmes Stories

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


Television: Elementary, "Hurt Me, Hurt You"

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Twin Peaks, Parts 1 & 2

This show isn't made for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Elementary, "Scrambled"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Great News

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

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

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

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

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


Where Am I Today?

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


Movies: She's Funny That Way

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Elementary, "Moving Targets"

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

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

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

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

Yes, there was more Shinwell.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Books: The Reluctant Wife by Caroline Warfield

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

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

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

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

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


Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Don't Forget!

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

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

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

Yeah, so . . . That. Happened.

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


Books: The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Fargo, "The Law of Vacant Places"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Television: Doctor Who, "The Pilot"

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

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

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

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

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


Books: The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Feud: Bette and Joan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


One More Time

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Movies: La La Land

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

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

Now here's what I didn't like:

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

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


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

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

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

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


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Television: Broadchurch 3.8

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

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

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

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

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

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


Brynnde Begins Her Blog Tour

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


Television: Broadchurch 3.7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Broadchurch 3.6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Four Kinds of Incense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Books: Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

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

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

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

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

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

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Television: Elementary, "Dead Man's Tale"

It's about pirates. Kind of.

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

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

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

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

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


Movies: Doctor Strange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Television: Broadchurch 3.4 & 3.5

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

Just a theory.

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Legion

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

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

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

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


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Television: Elementary, "The Ballad of Lady Frances"


Lady Frances is a guitar.

An expensive, vintage guitar.

That gets stolen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Movies: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Television: Broadchurch 3.3

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

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

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

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

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

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


Movies: Passengers

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

Turns out, it's a crap movie.

For a lot of reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Elementary, "Fidelity"

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

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

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


Television: Feud, "Pilot"

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

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

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

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

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

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


Favorite Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Broadchurch 3.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dun dun DUN.

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


Television: Elementary, "Wrong Side of the Road"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Broadchurch 3.1

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Movies: Ghostbusters (2016)

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

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

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

A lot of cameos, of course.

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


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

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

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

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


Television: Elementary, "Rekt in Real Life"

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

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

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

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

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

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


Books: The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

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

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

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

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


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

Movies: Nocturnal Animals


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

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

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

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

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

I guess on the whole this movie turned me off.


Movies: Money Monster

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

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

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

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

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


Television: Stuff I Stopped Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what have I been watching? Um . . .

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

And when they're on:

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

Looking forward to:

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Fargo (FX)

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

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

Books: Dangerous Secrets by Caroline Warfield

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

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

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

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

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

I'd certainly check out more by Warfield.