8.16.2018

The Dream Cages #12

"I just landed on my ass in a cow pasture," Ronan declared. "What the fuck do you do when you scry, man?"

Ronan knew he was being loud. He knew his anger was irrational. But anger was always first in line when he expressed himself. When he was sad, it came out as anger. When he was scared, it came out as anger. When he was relieved—and Jesus Mary was he relieved—it came out as anger.

Lucky for him Adam had learned to read the shades of his anger. The relief Ronan felt reflected back at him in Adam's expression.

"You want some grilled cheese?" Matthew asked from his station at the stove.

"Fuck no. What are you even doing here?"

Matthew shrugged, ever unperturbed. Ronan had forgotten to give him anger when he'd dreamed him. He'd kept it all for himself.

"And why is there death metal playing in the barn?" Ronan went on.

"I thought the cows would like some music," said Matthew. "And that's the only thing that boombox plays." He brought a plate of grilled cheese to the farmhouse table. "Soup coming right up."

"Don't bother," Ronan told him. He folded himself into a chair and grabbed a sandwich. Adam took a seat more slowly and showed no interest in the food.

"We need to get out of here," Adam said.

"You think I don't know that?"

"This isn't really the Barns."

"You think I don't know that?"

"What's it doing here? In Cabeswater?"

Ronan sighed and used his full mouth as an excuse to stall. But he couldn't chew forever. "I thought if maybe I fit this one over the real one... If I brought the dream world and the real world together..." He sighed again. He couldn't explain it. But it made perfect sense in his head.

Adam seemed to understand anyway. "Even if it worked," he said, and he had that careful tone Ronan hated because it was the tone that meant bad news was coming, "it wouldn't really achieve your goal of making them truly alive and independent. Would it?"

The final question was fake, Ronan knew. Because Adam already knew the answer to it. Ronan threw his back against the back of the chair, just to expend the energy his irritation gave him. "No. But it might work as a temporary measure until I can figure something else out."

Adam's mouth worked in a way that suggested he wanted to say something but was stopping himself. Fine. Good. Ronan didn't want to hear all the reasons it was a bad idea or wouldn't work.

Matthew set cups of tomato soup in front of each of them, spoons sticking out like garnish, then sat down and began to eat as placidly as the cows. Ronan watched him with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. "Why are you here?" he asked again.

"I don't know," said Matthew. "I figured I was dreaming. Am I?"

Ronan's brow furrowed, and he turned to Adam. "Why were you scrying? And what the hell is that place?"

Adam shook his head, not as negation but to indicate the questions caught him off guard. "I wasn't. And what place?"

"I tried to go where you go when you scry. Wait, you weren't? Then how are you here?"

"Jesus," said Adam. "And no, I was just reading a textbook. Then everything went... wrong. What do the numbers six and twenty mean to you?"

"Six two oh," said Ronan. "That's what the whatever in the scrying space said."

"It spoke to you?"

"Doesn't it to you?"

Matthew's gaze darted between them as he followed the conversation. "This dream is really kinda boring," he said. "But I like seeing you guys and being home." He got up and set his cup and spoon in the sink.

"Wash it out," Ronan told him, but Matthew was already pushing the screen door open.

"I cooked. You clean." He went out.

Ronan watched him go then turned back to Adam. "You're in the hospital." Adam jolted where he sat, and Ronan went on, "I got a call. You made me your emergency contact?"

Adam only stared.

"Gansey and Blue and Henry... Gansey's managing the doctors. I came in to find you. We thought you'd been scrying and got lost or something."

"My body is still...?"

"The doctor said you had no brain activity or whatever. But the rest of you is working."

Air rushed out of Adam. "Where are you?"

"In the hospital room."

Adam nodded thoughtfully. "I'm sorry," he finally said. "I don't know why Cabeswater snatched me. And I don't know how to get back."

Ronan looked over his shoulder out the screen door. He could see the green of the fields, smell the grass and livestock. "This isn't Cabeswater, not in the way we know it," he said, as much to remind himself as to inform. "This is the dream version of it. At some point it bleeds into the real world, but..." He turned back to Adam. "If you imagine them in layers, this one above the physical world..."

"Like you were saying, about slipping this one over the real thing."

Ronan loved that Adam understood him so quickly.

"So how do we line them up?" Adam asked.

"I don't know, I—"

And then, carried on the fresh, sweet air, came the sound of Matthew screaming.

8.13.2018

The Dream Cages #11

Ronan was not there.

Matthew was.

Adam paused in the doorway of the barn and watched as Matthew opened a stall and coaxed a black and white cow out with nothing more than an encouraging wave of his hand and his brilliant smile. Matthew was something of a cuckoo in the Lynch nest; he had his mother's golden hair, and his smile was softer than his brothers'. But Adam had seen the same smile on Ronan, rarely, and usually when Ronan thought no one was looking. Matthew was Ronan's gooey center made flesh, as though Ronan, when dreaming him, had wanted to put his vulnerability elsewhere so that he could safeguard it and not carry it with him. It hadn't worked; Ronan still had plenty of soft spots if one knew where to prod. Adam suspected he was one of those spots, a bruise waiting to manifest on Ronan's heart.

Don't break him, Adam.

But high school sweethearts seldom lasted forever. Especially when one left home and one adamantly refused to.

Later. Every time Adam started to board this train of thought—and he found himself at the station more often than he liked—he decided to wait for the next one. There were always other things that took priority: like school work, or being stuck in Cabeswater.

The cow followed willingly as Matthew turned and walked to the back of the barn where another door stood open. Adam saw the boombox set on a hay bale nearby. The cow's ear flicked as it passed the music (if it could be called music), and Matthew stepped aside to allow the cow to pass out into the pasture beyond. "Atta girl," he told the cow. "Go play." Then he turned to look down the row of stalls. "Who's next?"

Matthew spotted Adam then, their eyes meeting, though Matthew didn't immediately register any recognition. For a split second Adam thought maybe his body wasn't physical after all, that Matthew couldn't see him. But then Matthew said, "Hey."

"Hey," Adam echoed. He stepped inside the barn and eyed the cows, all of which he recognized. But now they were awake. "Where's Ronan?"

Matthew shrugged. "No idea. Haven't seen him."

"What are you doing here?"

"Cows," said Matthew.

"Yeah, but..." Adam frowned. "You know this isn't actually the Barns, right?"

Matthew shrugged. "It is, though. I mean, it's here and I'm here, so it's real to me."

"But you... Your body, your physical self... Where are you really?"

"As far as I know, I'm here. Home is where the consciousness is, I guess. Want to help me get these ladies out into the pasture?"

Adam didn't want to; he wanted to go look for Ronan. But he felt bad saying no, so he did his best to help. It took more cajoling from him than Matthew. The cows clearly had misgivings when they saw Adam and were slow to move. Only when they saw their fellows going out did they follow.

"Lunchtime," Matthew said cheerfully as the last brown cow swished through the back door, and Adam wasn't sure whether he meant for them or the bovines. "Come on," and Matthew said it to Adam the same way he had to the cows. "Let's wash up and eat."

"Aren't you worried?" Adam asked as they trailed toward the house.

"About what?"

"Yourself. How you got here. How to get back to your body and your life."

"Nah," said Matthew. He pulled open the screen door and held it for Adam.

"Well, are you worried about Ronan?"

The door snapped shut behind Matthew like a trap, and for the first time the youngest Lynch appeared something less than happy. Not concerned, exactly, but maybe doubtful. "Should I be?"

"I don't know! Where is he?"

Matthew shook his head. The doubt began to morph into fear.

Adam knew Ronan would never forgive him if he made Matthew cry. So he said, "I'm sure he's fine." After all, he's not stuck here like us. But that would be saying too much.

Matthew's expression cleared and he walked past Adam to the kitchen sink. "I'll make us grilled cheese and soup," he pronounced, then paused and looked over his shoulder. "Is that okay?"

"That's fine," said Adam. It's fine. This is all just fine.

The screen door creaked open again, and Adam turned to see Ronan standing there, countenance thunderous.

"What the fuck is going on?"

8.11.2018

The Dream Cages #10

Adam was tired. He didn't know how souls worked, exactly, but apparently they could wear themselves out. The body he inhabited didn't physically exist in the real world, but it was physical enough in this place to operate accordingly, and he'd been walking for what felt like, as Ronan would call it, for-fucking-ever.

And all he saw were trees. The cottage had been the one difference. Adam imagined a road sign stuck outside the clearing: LAST EXIT FOR MILES.

He wondered if, as he thought it, it had come into existence. Not that he was going back to find out.

Cabeswater, though, was often slow to react to thoughts and wishes. You usually had to concentrate, focus, ask outright. Every now and then, however, it picked up something from the subconscious and pulled it forward into view. Adam still didn't completely comprehend what made the difference. It was one of the reasons he'd chosen to take psychology; he wanted to understand how people worked, how he worked, and maybe by extension places like Cabeswater.

Though at the moment, Cabeswater didn't seem to be working at all. It had provided the path as requested, but he felt like he was getting literally nowhere. Yet Adam kept walking because he couldn't think of a better option. Or any other option, for that matter.

How much time had passed? Had he missed his Latin quiz? How long before someone came looking for him and found his body? Adam had been made an RA—he was reliable like that—and one of the perks was a single room to yourself, so he couldn't count on a roommate tripping over him. But Ronan would notice when he didn't call, though that would be almost an entire day...

What if my body is already beyond saving?

He'd know, though, wouldn't he? He'd be able to tell?

He trudged on, and finally the trees began to thin, the line of them pulling back from the trail, which now looked more like an actual road. When had that happened? It didn't matter; it was a change, it was something. Adam pushed his legs to move a little faster.

Then a couple things happened at once: music and numbers.

He felt the music before he heard it, something that had become commonplace for him since losing the hearing in his left ear. The thudding vibrations ran through him like tiny waves. He couldn't tell where it came from, but based on the beat it was one of Ronan's loud and angry electronica songs. A good sign.

At about the same time as he noticed the music, Adam started seeing the numbers on the trees. Faint at first but clearer as he continued down the road. They were scratched into the bark, on the last few trees deeply enough to cause sap to weep from the wounds. Sixes on some trees and the number 20 on others.

Adam's mind immediately flew to tarot. Six was the Lovers. Twenty was Judgement. Together they meant... what? A clear choice, perhaps. Coming to an understanding about something. The revival of a relationship. He needed more information to know for sure, and he didn't have his cards so asking Cabeswater directly was impossible.

The road began to climb, and suddenly Adam knew exactly where he was.

But I'm not really here.

His soul had not been transported hundreds of miles. He was not walking in the physical world. He kept telling himself this like a litany, else he'd forget because it looked so real. It even smelled right—the scent of the grass and the trees and the cows.

The gray, plasticky sky overhead broke into something weathermen would call "partly cloudy." The still air began to move in a cooling, comfortable breeze. From somewhere overhead a raven cried out.

Adam crested the rise in the road and took a deep breath of the brisk air. The music was louder now and clearly originated from the open door of one of the many barns that dotted the yawn of grass. Islands of flowering clover nodded sleepily in the scudding light as the sun played peek-a-boo behind the clouds. Definitely spring here.

Home.

But not really, and not only because this was Cabeswater and not the Barns. The Barns was Ronan's home, not his, even if he used it like one. Ronan would disagree, which was why Adam never said it aloud. But he still longed for things that were his.

Something borrowed, something...

His gaze snagged on something not right. His subconscious caught it before his conscious did, so it took him a minute to understand why he was staring, fixed, at the house. His eyes didn't want to let it go. His mind insisted he look, see, discern. It was like one of those games in kiddie magazines: What's Wrong with This Picture?

The numbers again. On the house this time in big, tarnished metal figures. 620.

Adam didn't think the Barns had a street address, but even if it did, he knew that wasn't it. Those numbers didn't belong on the house.

Somehow, it came as a relief. Proof that he wasn't truly at the Barns, that this wasn't real. A touchstone, like a pinch when you were dreaming.

He started down toward the open barn and the pounding music. Ronan would be there. All would be well.

8.10.2018

The Dream Cages #9

Dark. Not like a dark room. In a dark room you can sense the potential for light. This space had none. Light didn't dare tread here, it couldn't survive it.

Kind of like your head, I guess.

Ronan couldn't see anything, not even his own hands when held in front of his nose. The best he could do was be aware of his body, feel it when he moved.

No sound, either.

Nothing.

This is what being dead must be like.

Oh, God, is Adam dead?

How long have I been here?

Though his arms moved freely, his feet felt rooted. For all he knew, this place was filled with people like him who were unable to see or move.

"Adam?"

The word hissed back at him from all directions.

Which means there are walls, something for sound to bounce off of.

Close walls, too, given the speed and trajectory of the echo.

Take that, Adam, I did learn something at school.

Wait, am I in a box?

Ronan reached his hands out slowly, experimentally, half afraid something might take a bite out of one of his arms. His right hand brushed smooth, solid wall. His left only hung in the air. He took a tiny step sideways, then another. There, the other wall. He reached up but couldn't find the ceiling and didn't want to jump to try. He reached forward and found only air, turned around and touched the wall behind him.

His pulse jumped as claustrophobia set in. More than Ronan hated yellow, he hated feeling confined. He tried to take deep breaths, but the space felt airless. His panic threatened to launch into hyperdrive.

You're never going to find him. He's gone for good this time. You promised you wouldn't let him disappear, and now...

Ronan turned back around to face the way he'd originally been standing. At least, he thought he was facing that way. He hoped so. He reached forward again. Nothing. A small step. More nothing. Step after minuscule step, like a toddler learning to walk. Every now and then he tried the side walls. Still there.

It's a hallway?

He worried that he might run into someone else. After a while, he hoped that he would.

An interminable time later, he stopped. This was literally getting him nowhere. "Fuck you," he told the blank black around him. Fuck you, it whispered back.

Was this really where Adam came when he scried? But Adam supposedly saw stuff, didn't he? Whatever abilities Adam had, Ronan clearly didn't share them.

He needed a different perspective, but he didn't know how to get one. Wake up and try again?

Dreams and scrying occupied the same space; he was sure of this. They used the same energy source at the very least. They were the non-space of the mind. Except Cabeswater had become a physical place, and this...

Did this place want to become real, too?

"You can't be real," Ronan said. "There's nothing here. Nothing means nothing. You can't exist if you're just an absence."

Black holes exist.

Had he thought that or had the space around him spoken?

"I'm leaving," he said. He folded his legs under him so that he was crosslegged on the floor and scooched to lean back against one of the walls. He hated to imagine the expressions on Gansey's and Blue's faces when he woke up. This whole pointless excursion had wasted precious time.

You wanted to come here. You wanted to see for yourself.

"There's nothing to see."

You can't see.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Silence.

"Fuck you," Ronan said again, but this time the words didn't slide back to him. Ronan stood up and walked toward what should have been the opposite wall, but he never found it. He tried several inches to the left, the right, but his fingers only found empty air.

If Cabeswater is a construct of my mind... This is Adam's?

He comes here, the space answered. He comes here to see.

"We're talking in circles," said Ronan. If 'talking' was even the right word for it. "Is he here now?"

... No.

"You couldn't have told me that sooner?"

You didn't ask.

Ronan balled his fists but in the interest of time let the argument go. "Then where is he?"

Six two oh.

"Six two... Is that supposed to mean something to me? Are they coordinates or what?"

Six two oh. Goodbye.

"What does that—?"

But then a hole opened beneath Ronan's feet and he fell.

The Dream Cages #8

It was right and wrong at the same time. The trees looked familiar... ish... but the path was not one he'd seen before. He supposed Cabeswater had created it when he'd asked for a way to Ronan.

Spring and fall had clashed here. There were unfurling leaves on the branches above him but freshly fallen ones on the ground, a confetti of brown and red. No yellow. Ronan didn't like yellow.

The sky refused to be defined. Not blue, no sun, but also not cloudy. Just white-gray that made Adam think of science fiction—everything on those shows was this non-color. Space-station gray he decided.

Maybe Ronan had not finished the sky, or maybe he was in a bad mood. Maybe this was Cabeswater in energy-saving mode, waiting for input.

Where are you taking me?

Nothing but trees and the trail. Was this all there was?

But then a familiar clearing came into view: a cottage with rosebushes around it. "Mrs. Lynch?"

Had Ronan recreated his mother?

Adam approached slowly. No question of season here; the roses were massive and came in every color, probable and improbable. The grass formed a lush carpet, and a sudden sun shone through the trees to gift everything with a green-yellow cast. The air was warmer, too, more humid. It looked and felt like a fairy tale.

The door to the cottage was closed, however, and the structure bore a hollow, uninhabited atmosphere. Adam felt the need to tiptoe as though in a graveyard. Not that he had to tiptoe in graveyards, either, but he always did.

It took a stupid amount of time to get to the door that way, and when he tried the door, it wouldn't budge. He tried to peer in through the windows, but though there were no curtains or blinds, all he could see was the shadow and shape of his own reflection. Mirrored glass? It didn't look it, but it acted like it.

Dream stuff.

With a sigh, Adam concluded he was alone after all. If one could ever really be alone in Cabeswater. He hadn't realized how much he wanted to see another person until the likelihood of it had vanished.

Back to the path then. Maybe Ronan would be there... somewhere...

8.08.2018

The Dream Cages #7

“You don't scry,” said Blue.

“But I dream,” Ronan said, adding because Adam had once said it to him and it sounded good, “with intention.”

Blue made a face that suggested she didn't think it sounded that impressive. “So you're just going to what? Lie down on the floor and fall asleep?”

“Let me understand this,” Gansey put in, and Ronan realized that if their gang were a car Gansey was not so much the engine—the assumption Ronan had always made, that Gansey was the one running things—as the brakes. Ronan knew he needed brakes, at least some of the time. This was not that time.

“Let me understand this,” Gansey said again. “When you dream, you go to Cabeswater, don't you? And when Adam scries, he goes...” He frowned and turned to Blue. She shrugged.

“I don't scry either,” she said. “But from everything I've heard, it's dark. And weird.” She cocked an eye at Ronan. “Not so different from your head, I guess.”

“We don't have time for this,” Ronan said, not rising to the bait. Why were they stalling?

“There's a chair,” Henry said quietly. They all turned toward him, and he pointed at a sagging vinyl chair that had been shoved into the corner of the room. “So you don't have to lie on the floor. Though I dunno, man, the floor might be more comfortable.”

“If you go to Cabeswater, how is that helpful?” Gansey pressed. “Then we've lost two of you.”

You haven't lost anything, Ronan thought, but he couldn't say it, didn't want to, because saying it would be to admit things had changed. Priorities had shifted. Allegiances... They would always be friends, brothers even, but they wouldn't ever be as close as they used to be. Ronan knew this was normal, but he didn't have to like it.

Aloud he said, “I won't be lost. I'll just be asleep. Not out of my body like...”

Every head swiveled in Adam's direction.

“Just... take care of the paperwork,” Ronan told Gansey. “I'll be right back.” He said the last part with more bravado than he actually felt, and he was fairly certain Gansey knew it. But Gansey only nodded and looked again at the stack of papers he still held.

“There are some tests we can request, stuff just to keep the doctors busy while we...”

Keep you busy, too, thought Ronan. He wondered, fleetingly, if it had been a mistake to call them. But no, he couldn't have done this alone. Or maybe he could have, but he didn't want to.

He flung himself into the chair. Henry had been right, the floor probably would have been more comfortable. Less lumpy. But Ronan had cultivated the ability to sleep anywhere, anytime. He threw his head back into one corner of the chair and his legs over the opposite arm, and almost immediately the world began to turn gray around the edges.

Hang on, Adam, I'm coming.

The Dream Cages #6

Note: I had been away for a couple weeks, so this scene somewhat overlaps with the previous.


This Cabeswater was both familiar and foreign. Adam recognized it well enough to know he was in Cabeswater, though not all the pieces were in place yet. He stood in a construction zone of sorts, a living dream, and in the way of dreams, the things he could identify were not quite true—that rock formation used to be taller, that tree had too skinny a trunk, the crooked wooden swing that had hung there was missing.

Was he truly back in Henrietta? Could he walk out of Cabeswater and find himself in solid, unchanging environs? Adam didn’t think so. He’d been at school, studying, hundreds of miles from Henrietta. Cabeswater had snatched him, not physically but mentally or spiritually or… something. The body he wore now was not physical.

How long could he stay separated from his physical body without it giving up on him?

If Ronan had created this place, there had to be a way to contact him, let him know he needed help. The question was where would Ronan be? The clearing Adam stood in looked mostly finished, but maybe there was some area Ronan was focused on building or refining. That assumed Ronan did anything in a methodical way, but Adam had no other options. He didn’t know which direction to start in, how large this Cabeswater was, anything.

He closed his eyes against a rising wave of anxiety. What if I’m already dead? He shook his head, deciding he could tackle that problem if and when it arose. And if he was dead and this was the afterlife, well, there were worse outcomes when faced with eternity.

Ronan, Adam thought and then immediately pushed the that thought away, too. He didn’t want Cabeswater to fabricate a clone of Ronan in an attempt to appease him. Show me, he thought. Show me where he is, or where he goes when he’s here.

Adam opened his eyes and saw the path bending ahead of him through the trees. It looked as though it had always been there. It begged the question, “How could you have missed it?” Yet hanging beside the seemingly well-worn track was a splintering wooden swing that definitely hadn’t been in evidence minutes before.

He hesitated. The appearance of the path might be anl answer to prayer, but the swing felt ominous.

“What do you want?” he asked the trees. “What do you need? Why am I here?”

The trees rustled and whispered but Adam could not distinguish any distinct words. Did this Cabeswater speak some other language? God, did it speak that weird dream language from the puzzle box? If so, he was screwed.

No time. No time to stand around and ask questions while his body slowly died in a dorm room somewhere.

He began his trek through the strange new Cabeswater.

The Dream Cages #5

Things slipped sideways. The words of his psychology textbook blurred, and for a moment Adam thought he had literally toppled over. Am I that tired? he wondered. Wouldn’t be the first time.

But then the book wasn’t there. The room wasn’t there. Everything went black.

Some time later—Adam wasn’t sure how long—he became aware of discomfort. His right shoulder rested against something hard, his head hurt. His entire right side was damp for some reason. His eyes felt glued shut, but he forced them open.

Green-yellow light. Adam squinted. A Bambi-like deer stepped into view and put its nose to Adam’s forehead, snuffling his hair.

“What the…?” Adam struggled to sit up and the deer backed away, turned, darted off into a stand of trees. The dampness had been the dewy fallen leaves, now stuck to Adam’s arm and the side of his face. He sighed and picked them off then craned to get a better view of his surroundings. Trees, tall and thin as sentinels, crowded around the patch of leaf-strewn dirt where he sat.

Cabeswater.

Ronan had been recreating it, but Adam couldn’t understand how he’d ended up there. He hadn’t scried.

“Persephone?” he wondered aloud. Maybe she still existed there, somehow. Maybe she’d dragged him there because she needed him to do something. Usually she came to Adam in his dreams, but maybe she hadn’t been able to wait for him to fall asleep. Maybe it was an emergency.

The forest remained stolid and silent.

“Ronan?” Was he here, working? Had he somehow called Adam in?

Nothing.

“Goddamn it.” Adam got up, his limbs protesting; he felt banged and bruised, like he’d fallen from no little height. He looked up at the swaying treetops, as though to find the entrance. He didn’t know how he’d gotten there… which meant he didn’t know how to get back out, either.

How long had he been there? How long did he have before his body decided he wasn’t coming back?

The Dream Cages #4

“I don’t get it,” Henry said for about the thousandth time. Ronan would have beat Henry’s head against one of the hospital room’s walls long before now if Gansey hadn’t kept angling himself between them. Every now and then Gansey said, “Henry, maybe you should…” But he never finished the sentence, so Henry never “…” and therefore continued to irritate Ronan to distraction.

And he couldn’t afford distraction right now. The longer Adam stayed out of his body, the more likely he would die. Ronan couldn’t figure out how Adam had stayed alive this long as it was.

Though, to hear the doctors tell it, Adam was already dead in all but the most basic sense.

Gansey flipped through a handful of papers, documents the hospital had given to Ronan that Ronan had not bothered to look at. “He has a DNR,” Gansey murmured. He shook his head and went to the next page, scanned it, looked up at Ronan. “How is it that you’re his power of attorney?”

“The fuck do I know?” Ronan asked. It felt good to swear and be angry, even if it didn’t help the situation. It helped him.

“I mean, you’re eighteen,” Gansey reasoned. “Still, do they not know Adam’s parents are still alive? I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. Parrish would contest this.”

“Who’s going to tell them?” Ronan challenged.

Gansey froze. He met Ronan’s gaze then exchanged a glance with Blue through which they somehow communicated complex information. Watching it made Ronan want to wrap his fingers around someone’s throat though he didn’t know why. Ronan Lynch didn’t speak the language of envy, didn’t know how to name it when he felt it.

“No one, I suppose,” said Gansey. “He’s emancipated, after all.”

“And probably doesn’t trust his parents to have his best interests at heart,” Blue put in. “They wouldn’t, you know, have all the information.”

Everyone turned to look at the figure in the bed, the shell of Adam.

“And we do?” Henry asked. “‘Cuz I don’t feel like I know very much.”

Gansey ran a thumb over his bottom lip, and Ronan resisted the urge to slap his hand down. The familiar gesture only irritated him. It meant Gansey was thinking, and they didn’t have time for Gansey to think; they needed to act.

“Who found him?” Gansey asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what was he doing before he collapsed?”

“How the hell should I know?”

“If he was scrying…” Blue said.

“Why would he?” Ronan asked. “He knows better than to do it alone.”

Even as the words left Ronan’s lips, a cold dart shot through him like an arrow. What if Adam hadn’t been alone at the time? If he’d been with someone… scrying with someone… what did that mean?

“I have to go after him,” Ronan decided.

“What?” Blue cried. “How?”

“Dreams and scrying occupy the same space,” said Ronan. “If anyone can go find Adam, it’s me.”

The Dream Cages #3

Ronan woke abruptly with “Adam!” echoing through his head, which was not unusual. What was unusual was the strange light by the side of the bed. He lifted his head just enough to see his cell screen aglow. Chainsaw stood over it, sinisterly lit from underneath, head cocked as though to read whatever message might be coming through.

He nudged her back and picked up the phone, not because he planned to answer, but because he was already awake so he might as well look. The number was not Adam’s (he used the dorm’s landline because he still refused to let Ronan give him a cell), but it was the same area code. Maybe Adam calling from a different phone?

A notification popped up to tell him he had a new voicemail.

A brief debate: hatred of phones vs. it-might-be-Adam. Of course Adam won. Ronan touched the voicemail icon and listened. He missed the man’s name, heard “emergency contact,” heard “found unresponsive,” and had to listen to the hated message a second time to catch the name of the hospital. Then he threw a handful of random clothing items found on his bedroom floor into the back of the BMW and drove. He stopped once for gas, at which point it occurred to Ronan to call Gansey.

“Ronan?” He heard Blue’s incredulous voice in the background. “On a phone? What's the occasion?”

Gansey listened and said, “We’re heading for the nearest airport now. We’ll be on the next flight.”

Ronan hung up and continued driving, arriving 90 minutes earlier than the GPS thought possible. He wished Gansey had gotten there first, though, because he was having a very difficult time remaining calm and polite in the face of blank stares from behind various desks. Gansey would have known what to say, how to say it in a way that got him heard, got results. The only thing that kept Ronan from smashing things with his fists and swearing up a storm was the notion such behavior would get him kicked out or arrested. Normally not a concern, but not helpful to Adam. So instead he made fists that he didn’t use and took deep breaths to keep his voice steady. He didn’t smile, though. He couldn’t make himself go that far.

Finally, someone understood. Even still, she eyed Ronan dubiously. “You’re the next of kin?”

Was he? What had Adam put on his forms? Ronan had no idea. “I’m his emergency contact.”

She asked to see his ID. He showed her. She tutted some more but otherwise didn’t protest. “The doctor will want to speak to you,” she said. “Just have a seat.”

Ronan couldn’t sit. He’d been sitting for hours while driving. Now, without a speeding car to transmute his anxiety, he couldn’t remain still. He leaned against a wall of the waiting room, arms folded, and glowered in a way that prevented anyone from taking magazines from the table beside him.

A woman in a white coat called Ronan’s name, yanking him from his brooding fog. From her expression, he knew it wasn’t good. She led him through swinging doors and into the bowels of the hospital.

“He’s got no neural activity,” she said without preamble. Ronan leveled a deadpan stare at her. “No brain waves,” she said, in order to clarify. “It’s like someone shut off the lights inside him. All his vitals are good, but…” She grimaced and looked at Ronan in a way he suspected was meant to be sympathetic. “You’re going to have to make some hard decisions here.”

She pushed open a door, and there Adam was, adrift in a sea of hospital sheets and blankets, a herd of monitors blinking lazily around him.

It only took a split second for Ronan to sense that Adam wasn’t in there. Not in his body.

Adam was gone.

The Dream Cages #2

Without Adam beside him, Ronan’s dreams went horribly wrong. Sometimes in all the old ways, which ended with him bloody and scarred. But more often in new ways, which ended with Adam dead or dying, or Adam hateful and leaving.

Days at the Barns felt long. Drowsy. Ronan avoided sleeping, which only made the days longer. He wasn’t alone, but Chainsaw and Opal had their own odd habits, and he didn’t want them hovering anyway. He tinkered with ideas for waking the cows, he tried to imagine a perfected Cabeswater, he glanced at the photos Gansey texted, pictures of him and Blue and Henry in sunny places that opposed Ronan’s mood.

The only calls he answered came from Adam. They came almost nightly, on a wave of relief at hearing Adam’s voice and knowing the dreams weren’t real. Adam wasn’t lying injured somewhere. Adam still loved him.

Not that they said it. But Adam’s tone told Ronan what he needed to know and somehow both satisfied his cravings and left him hungrier than before.

Adam sensed this. One night he said, mournfully, “Sometimes I think I’ll never be enough for you.”

To which Ronan replied, “You’re the only thing I can never get enough of.”

A long silence followed as Adam puzzled out the logic. “That’s the same thing,” he finally deduced.

“It’s not.”

“It is. What happens when there’s none of me left?”

“That will never happen,” Ronan told him. “I will never let that happen.”

Adam accepted this without comment; he knew Ronan never lied.

Alas, Ronan did sometimes make promises he couldn’t keep.

The Dream Cages #1

With Adam beside him, Ronan’s dreams became tame, even sweet. Though he also had less use for dreams; he was happy to stay awake and watch Adam’s face fall slack with sleep. Ronan wanted to capture every moment because he knew they would not last. Soon enough Adam would leave, leaving nothing but dreams.

Ronan was tired of dreams.

He wanted something real and solid, something he could be sure of. Something he could touch and hold without worrying whether it could survive the harshness of reality.

Adam was real, and he was a survivor. They were both orphans of sorts, but they had each other. And Opal. She loved Adam because Ronan loved Adam, and somehow he’d put that love in her when he’d dreamed her. Back when he’d been trying to hide it from himself.

They had Gansey, except he was gone. And they had Blue, except she was off with Gansey. Ronan didn’t count Henry because Henry had been mostly Gansey’s friend and not really theirs. Anyway, Henry was also off with Gansey and Blue.

Ronan didn’t care where they were. It was enough they existed, real, in the world. As long as they came back.

As long as Adam came back.

The Dream Cages (Intro)

Okay, so I have a Tumblr that I pretty much never use. Except recently I started a kind of fanfic on it, written in very short bursts. And it didn't have a title, so it's sort of all over the place and hard to follow. Which meant I needed to a. give it a cohesive title, and b. put it somewhere people could actually read it.

So here we are. It was a tossup between this site and my actual author site, but I decided on this one. For no particular reason except that I haven't been posting here much so this will give me something to post. Here. More. I guess?

This is a Raven Cycle fanfic that focuses on Ronan and Adam. It's set after the books. Look for "The Dream Cages" in post titles in order to find all the pieces (they'll be numbered). I'll be bringing over what's been posted on Tumblr so far and then we'll go from there.

8.05.2018

Movies: Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

Voices by: Scott Menville, Tara Strong, Greg Cipes, Khary Payton, Hynden Walch, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Michael Bolton
Directed by: Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
Written by: Michael Jelenic & Aaron Horvath from characters created by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Arnold Drake, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, William Moulton Marston
Warner Bros., 2018
PG; 84 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


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Every time we travel as a family, it seems like at some point we turn on a hotel television and Teen Titans Go! is on. We do it as a way to entertain the kids while we (the adults) try to relax for a few minutes before whatever next big thing, but we always get sucked in and end up watching too. And it's so . . . dumb. But it never fails to make me laugh.

If you're thinking a Teen Titans Go! movie is more or less an extended episode, you're not entirely wrong. You're not entirely right, though, either. I think the humor is more sustainable in smaller bites, but there is plenty here to amuse. The general plot is: Robin really wants a superhero movie to be made about him. So the Teen Titans try to make that happen. They're told that a superhero has to have an arch-nemesis, and they find one in the form of Slade. It goes from there in predictable fashion, with a few songs thrown in.

As I mentioned, there are a number of funny moments. However, the relentless focus on Robin (who, for me, is the least interesting of the characters), and the need to push some jokes into your face rather than let them play in the background (yes, I know, typical of the show), lessened the joy. Not by a ton, but by enough to notice the debit.

Still, I found myself laughing in spite of myself. Which is really all this movie is required to do: entertain and make people laugh. In which case it does a fairly solid job of it.

8.01.2018

IWSG Reminder

I know some of you stumble over here after clicking on a comment I may have left on an IWSG post. But I don't post my IWSG here. It's over on PepperWords. So please do hop over there for a look, and thanks for stopping by!

Q: What's the difference between the two sites?

A: This one is for reviews and the other is my author site.

Q: Why not have it all on one site?

A: I'd love to, but I don't have the time and energy to merge them. One day I may bring two blogs into one, but today is not that day.

7.17.2018

Books: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

I'm so sad now because I know anything I try to read next will pale in comparison to this series. It's been a long time since I've felt so impacted by a book, much less a series of them. And while I still think the first book is the best in the series, it's easy to speculate that might simply be because the shock of being introduced to such wonderful characters becomes something one takes for granted the more one reads about said characters.

Still, this is my second favorite book in the series. [SPOILERS] This is because of Adam and Ronan. I adore them as a couple.

At the same time, the introduction of ever more characters who then seem to do very little was . . . I dunno. Not well planned. Between the previous book and this one, there are so many characters that had to have their stories tied up, so many that were hanging around except for one or two key scenes, that the whole thing felt cluttered. And the plot just breezed by. I still don't fully understand what Cabeswater did to revive Gansey. I mean, I think I do, but we don't see how this effects Gansey's life or changes him (and it must have, right?). We don't even find out what explanation he manages to give his family for missing the big fundraiser.

And I know these are things that the author probably felt would constitute over-explaining, but . . . I dunno. It's possible my lack of satisfaction comes from not having more. It's possible—likely, even—that I'm just being greedy.

My copy of the book included the short story "Opal," and I wasn't sure at first that I wanted to read it. Greediness won out, and I did enjoy the window on Ronan and Adam. Like Opal, I'm a voyeur, I guess. But again, that story gave the sense of there being more (the strange woman going through Ronan's computer and notebook?). Some unresolved plot lines hang in the air here.

Overall, however, I just adore this book and this series, and I'm incredibly sad now that I've read them all. On the other hand, I'm now reading them aloud to my kids, and it has been fun reliving the stories and characters and seeing my kids (and husband, who listens in) fall in love with them too.

7.15.2018

Books: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

This one felt a little jumbled, tbh. Like there were a lot of good ideas but the author didn't have time to fully flesh things out. So the book went from plot point to plot point very quickly and didn't delve into characters as much as past books. Or was selective about which characters it examined, almost like playing favorites.

I read this one in three days, so you know it was good. But I still walked away a tad unsatisfied. I wanted more. I'm hoping the last book will give me that something more.

At the same time, this book gave me more in ways I didn't like, namely in a character that is introduced that is irritating and seemingly has no purpose. (I won't spoil things by naming who this is, but those who've read the book are welcome to guess in the comments.)

This all sounds very critical, but I think it's the old problem of having written an amazing first book in a series and then trying to sustain that level of awesomeness. It's difficult, if not nigh impossible, to do. So BLLB is a really good book, better than many others out there. But compared to its own predecessors, it feels a bit rushed and isn't (imho) quite as stellar. Still loved it, just not as much.

7.14.2018

Movies: The Endless

I honestly can't decide what I think of this movie.

Mostly I liked it?

Partly I'm not 100% sure what was going on.

Well, no, I think I know what was going on . . .

This is an indie sci-fi/horror film that claims to be "Lovecraftian," which I guess it is. I don't really enjoy Lovecraft, so I wasn't sure I wanted to see this movie. But the trailer intrigued me, and reviews said it was really good, so I decided to give it a go.

Two brothers named Justin and Aaron (because the writers/directors are Justin and Aaron and they also play the main characters, so why learn a whole new name, I guess) grew up in a weird kind of cult. Some ten years before, however, Justin took Aaron away from said cult. When they receive a video message in the mail from the cult, Aaron begs Justin to just go back for a quick visit. He doesn't remember much, you see, and he wants to go . . . I dunno. See if he can remember more? See what's going on with this group?

Justin insists the group is sort of like Heaven's Gate—namely, preparing for mass suicide. But he finally relents and agrees to drive out to "The Camp."

Incidentally, the cult brews and sells beer as their way of financing its members' livelihoods.

Uh . . . So then Aaron starts to feel welcomed and at home in this cult while Justin continues to feel on edge. And there are three moons, and it turns out that people can't leave certain "loops," which are circular areas of physical land (which makes me wonder how they sell their beer if they can't leave The Camp, or how Justin and Aaron managed to leave the cult in the first place). So after a series of strange events and weird characters, the movie becomes about Justin and Aaron needing to get out of there before the third moon is full and they're stuck there forever.

Oh, and there's a big, unseen monster that kills everyone at the end of each loop. Or something.

The Endless is well paced so as not to drag at any point. It's just weird enough to be engaging, and there are some truly tense moments. Also, I appreciate that they didn't make it very gory. At the same time, however, I'm not sure I actually enjoyed it. But I don't know why I have that feeling. I can't put my finger on what causes that slight disconnect.

Still, overall I would recommend it. Because I think most people would enjoy it (if they like this kind of thing), and I suspect whatever impediment stands between me and The Endless is personal and not something from which others would suffer.

7.13.2018

I get asked fairly regularly, "What have you written?" At which point my mind usually goes blank. It would be easier, I suspect, if I wrote in one genre. Then I could say, "I write [insert genre here]," and be done with it. However, I write a lot of different kinds of books. So every now and then it helps me to make a visual.

Click to enlarge

As of now, these are the books I've written. I also have stories featured in other anthologies and magazines, but if I can barely keep track of my own works, I don't know how I could hope to keep track of anything additional. You can find all these (and some of the others not pictured here) on Amazon. And you can see my full bibliography (which includes plays and screenplays) on my site.

7.11.2018

I started out really enjoying Sherlock. But every successive series/season got worse and worse. This is a Moffat thing. As pointed out here, he's good at short, contained things and terrible at anything that requires long-term plotting and planning.




To be fair, I don't think people watch Sherlock for the mysteries. People like the characters. Still, it would be so much better if the characters had better stories to act out in.

7.09.2018

Books: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

This is the second in the Raven Cycle series. I liked it, but not as much as I did The Raven Boys. I'm not sure why, though I could make educated guesses. For one, I do really enjoy the character of Ronan, but I think he's the type who is more interesting in smaller doses. After a while, he gets a little monotonous. I mean, he's still cool, but he doesn't have a lot of character development. At least not in this book.

Adam has a somewhat interesting arc here, but I wanted a little more. It still felt like skimming the surface with him while we delved a bit with Ronan.

Kavinsky is an asshole with exactly one joke that he tells over and over. We get it; Ronan is [probably] gay. ::shrug:: Being beat over the head with it is not very entertaining.

And we all saw where the Gansey/Blue thing was headed. So no surprises there.

Then the whole hit man subplot . . . Sigh.

Also, this book had places that I could see needed more editing. The first one did too, but this one more so. Which makes me feel like these books were rushed into production.

All that aside, these books—the ones I've read, anyway—are still some of the best I've read in a while. It took me longer to get into TDT, but once I was about 40% in, I couldn't put it down. (For reference, I was hooked on TRB from the start.) Every series has stronger and weaker books, and so long as you don't lose your readers by being hugely inconsistent, you're good. And these books are pretty consistent. That is to say, even "weak" ones are strong relative to a lot of the market. So I'll certainly continue with the series, and I'd definitely recommend them.

Television: Elementary, "Nobody Lives Forever"

Except, you know, Highlander. THE Highlander, I guess. But there were two of those: Connor and Duncan. MacLeod. And then a bunch of other—you know what? Never mind.

(My college nickname was Methos, btw.)

This episode sees the return of Alfredo, Sherlock's former sponsor. He wants Sherlock to help him rob a guy who owes him money for work he did on cars. Alfredo needs this money to help his ne'er-do-well brother. Sherlock doesn't like this brother and therefore refuses. Until he's repeatedly confronted by people telling him that this is really about how he feels about Mycroft, and that Sherlock preaches forgiveness but doesn't exhibit it, etc. Let's just say there's a certain amount of emotional pummeling that occurs to make Sherlock reconsider. He tries to write Alfredo a check (and lies, saying he robbed the guy himself), but Alfredo is still grumpy, so Sherlock gives the money to Alfredo's brother directly. And then sends someone to find Mycroft.

If you recall, Mycroft went underground in South America or something after being pursued by mobsters(?) . . . I don't remember, and it probably doesn't much matter. Sherlock is mostly irritated because that particular mobster network has been made null and void, yet Mycroft never came home. In a fit of "fine then, I don't care about you either," Sherlock refused for a long time to reach out. Until now. Only to discover Mycroft is dead. (Guess Rhys Ifans was busy.)

None of the above is the core of the episode, btw. It's the B plot. The A plot is something about a dead biologist that had been working on what amounts to a cure for death. Once again, the capitalist did it. Basically, there is a $5 million prize awarded to anyone who can make progress toward immortality, and this biologist was getting close. But the son of the guy awarding the money doesn't want anyone to have the money cuz, hey, that's his inheritance. So . . . yeah. That's pretty much the whole thing. You can see why I gave more space to the B plot.

Still, they didn't seem to give much time to Mycroft's passing. It comes out of the blue at the very end of the episode. With Dracula Daddy Holmes returning in the next episode, maybe they will deal more with it then and there. I haven't watched that one yet, so don't tell me!

Television: Elementary, "Sand Trap"

Uh . . . IIRC, this is the one about the woman who worked on plans for a boat that would clean the ocean or something? Her body is found in a cement block at a construction site. Turns out she actually discovered that sand trawling in the river was destabilizing a major bridge, so some people from the city (I think? I don't even remember) killed her to keep her from blabbing. Cuz they'd rather make money and have lots of people die than, you know, not have lots of people die?

What's the end game there, I have to wonder. If the bridge falls, surely these guys will eventually be discovered anyway? And lose all their money and go to prison? I don't really know, it's just a thought.

When watching Elementary you can usually put your money on the capitalists as the culprits, though.

Meanwhile, Joan hosts a pregnant college student who is planning to put her baby up for adoption. Joan frets that her unusual circumstances will make her an unappealing option for potential parent. But the pregnant lady instead finds Joan inspiring and decides to keep her baby. Joan still loses, but in a flattering way?

Maybe they should start by just, I dunno, babysitting or something. That could make for a really fun episode, actually. I'd like to see a little more humor injected into things.

Television: Elementary, "Sober Companions"

I've been watching, I just haven't had time to write anything up. That's what happens when you're on a deadline for a novel release.

Now, of course, with many weeks between viewing and writing, everything has become very foggy. I guess the point to this episode is/was to create a "true" Moriarty. Which is what they spent the first few episodes of the season building up to. And it works, to a point. Michael is suitably creepy, though I still think it would have been better for viewers not to know before Sherlock did that Michael was a murderer. The writers tried to amend the problem a bit by not drawing out Sherlock's lack of observation—after a brief interview with Michael, Sherlock is suddenly certain Michael is a serial killer. Uh, no s***, Sherlock? Took you long enough.

The episode felt like a capping stone: Sherlock's PCS is more or less gone, and we've discovered that Michael is a baddie. Joan's interest in adoption is something that swims in and out of episodes . . . It's like, when they can't think of a B plot, they shove that in, or Bell's love life, or Gregson's daughter. The show can't decide how much to delve. (Hint: not that much; we don't care enough about these characters for that. Maybe work on getting us to care more? The answer there is not to suddenly give them girlfriends and children, btw. It's to build more rapport between them and the MCs.)

By the end of the episode, Michael is at large in the world, though he promises to be back. I'm sure he will be.

6.25.2018

Away.

I'll be gone for the next week. You can still keep up with me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram though.

6.23.2018

Movies: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones
Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Written by: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow—very loosely based on work by Michael Crichton
Universal, 2018
PG-13; 128 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

I didn't read any reviews before going to see this movie, but I did know in an abstract way that the critics didn't like it and that it had a low score on Rotten Tomatoes. Which may be why I actually enjoyed this movie as much as I did. I had low-to-moderate expectations and yet JW:FK entertained me plenty. It might not hold up to scrutiny, but I don't much care about that.

If you've seen the trailers, you get the gist: a volcano on Isla Nublar is on the brink of erupting, and either the dinos go with it or they need to be captured and transported elsewhere. That turns out to be only a fairly brief part of the story, however. [Don't read the rest of this paragraph if you don't want spoilers. The remainder of the post is safe.] There is, of course, a greedy person involved who plans to auction said dinosaurs to the highest bidders and start a new genetic lab, etc. And there's a precocious girl named Maisie, etc. etc. So the story becomes: save the dinos from the island, then save them from the greedy men, and also save yourselves from the engineered indoraptor (indomitus rex + raptor) . . .

The movie wants to case all this in philosophy about whether it's better to let some things die. The good of the few vs. the good of the many. And also: how do you put the genie back in the bottle. But there's so much action going on that the film can't sustain that line of inquiry. This isn't a philosophy class. It's a summer blockbuster. We've come to see dinosaurs eat bad guys, so get on with it.

Still, there are moments of pathos. Two, to be exact. I have yet to decide how I feel about them. Are they overwrought? Perhaps. Would I take them out? I don't know.

JW:FK borrows liberally from earlier movies in the franchise, from plot to visual elements. It feels cobbled together in a way, but that didn't bother me. It might other people though as on the whole the film feels a little like it lacks originality. My oldest son said this one feels like a horror movie, and there are definitely some horror elements. I suppose that's Bayona's doing.

And whoever wrote this movie really hates ladders.

The final result is something that skews a little Planet of the Apes? Which isn't a franchise I enjoy, so I'm not sure I'm down for that. But since my bar is apparently lower than most people's . . . I mean, I laughed and clapped every time a dinosaur ate someone, so, you know . . . I'm definitely buying into the bread and circus thing, I guess. It's all I really want from these movies, and this one delivered.

6.17.2018

Movies: Incredibles 2

Voices By: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner
Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Disney/Pixar, 2018
PG; 118 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

A lot of people are loving this movie, and I agree it's pretty cute. But I wasn't as wowed as I expected to be.

I2 picks up right where the first movie left off 14 years ago. The Underminer is attacking, the Parr family must work together (along with Frozone) to neutralize the threat. It doesn't go quite to plan, and superheroes are again slapped with the blame for massive destruction despite their best efforts and intentions.

Then in steps siblings Winston and Evelyn Deavor. (It wasn't lost on me that both first names end in a sound to almost make it "endeavor"? Which feels kind of pointless, but whatever. Ha! "Whatever, Deavor.") Anyway, these two run a huge telecomm company, and they want to find a way to make superheroes legal again. Cue nostalgic back story about how their dad had loved supers and not long after superheroes were made illegal, their dad was killed in a break-in. (I also noticed the dad in the flashbacks looked a wee bit like Ed Catmull? Might've been my imagination though.)

The Deavors choose Helen/Elastigirl as the new face of superhero-dom. Which leaves Robert/Mr. Incredible home with the kids. Hilarity ensues, except not really. At least, not for me. Plenty of people around me laughed, but I was only kind of amused.

My chief problem was the way the film leaned so heavily on Jack-Jack. Sure, he's a cute gag (and in some cases a deus ex machina), but I find it funnier in smaller doses like in the first movie. Meanwhile, Violet and Dash had nearly nothing to do.

Also, the "twist" wasn't one. It was heavily telegraphed, so maybe it wasn't meant to be a surprise. I don't know.

All that said, let's talk about the subtext. One of the arguments in the movie is that people do less when superheroes are around because they expect those heroes to save them. It's a message that feels relevant right now. We all mutter about the problems in society, but we don't act because we expect others will do that for us. Which is a bit backward for a film in which we're supposed to be rooting for the supers, but maybe the flip side is that THOSE WITH POWER SHOULD USE IT TO THE BENEFIT OF SOCIETY. Rather than, say, selling it to the highest bidder? Just a thought.

On the whole, I enjoyed it. Just not as much as I thought I would. But that probably would have been asking too much. The first Incredibles movie was such an unexpected delight, so different from pretty much anything else out there. Now superhero movies are a dime a dozen, and the 14-year hiatus gives us time to build [potentially unrealistic] expectations.

I2 is a good movie. It's making a ton of money, too. Not that box office has ever been a very good indicator of quality. But I can recommend this one as a fun and entertaining diversion, even if it doesn't reach the higher heights.

6.15.2018

Movies: Set It Up

The one word that kept coming to mind while watching this Netflix original movie was: "perfunctory." But that mostly applies to the writing. The casting is actually brilliant, which is what saves this from being drivel.

The story is fairly basic: two overworked executive assistants conspire to set up their bosses in the hopes that, if distracted by a relationship, said bosses will not work them quite so hard. I guess? Maybe the logic is that, if only the bosses had someone or something to go home to, they wouldn't work all hours and demand that their assistants keep the same insane hours.

Everything that happens is fairly rote, every beat pretty standardly measured. But the leads—played by Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell—are cute and charming enough to be engaging, and while I don't 100% love seeing Taye Diggs as a jerkwad, he does the jerkiness with a light enough touch and just enough humor to make it perfect for a rom-com tempo. Lucy Liu does her thing, too, and as well as ever.

Still, it's not perfect. There were chances for cleverness that were missed. The gay best friend/roommate is given the absolute worst "joke" lines. He and other secondary characters were underdeveloped by a lot. Which isn't unusual for romantic comedy, but that doesn't make it okay either.

Overall, not terrible. It reminded me a bit of that movie Morning Glory (2010) in tone and style if not substance. So if you like that kind of thing, check this one out as a not terribly taxing bit of fluff entertainment.

6.11.2018

I'm going to get a little bit real here for a second because things are scary here in the U.S. right now. And we're sort of asleep at the wheel and/or distracted by various things, which is what "they" want.

"They" are the current president + his henchmen (for lack of a better word). Not his supporters outside the inner circle, though; I honestly think those poor people are just duped.

I grew up in a very "red" state surrounded by Republicans. I moved away from that, but most of my family are still Republicans. Most of my friends, however, are Democrats. Take that however you like.

Here's what I see happening, though:

Casting aspersions on journalists and news outlets. They do this because they don't want people to know the truth. So they trot out their own version of the truth—"alternative facts," which is PR rebranding for "lies." The goal is to keep us uninformed, under-informed, or wrongly informed. They want to control what we know because that's how we come to conclusions, how we make decisions, how we decide when and where and how to act.

Attacking on several fronts. The environment. Women's rights. Immigration. Education. The goal is to keep us busy so that we can't focus our opposing strength. Hey, this is an old military strategy, right? You can't fight a war on multiple fronts. Meanwhile, while we're distracted by the outrage of the day, they're doing any number of things behind our backs.

Throttling our information. Net neutrality anyone? Why does it matter? Because now the government will apply pressure to Internet and cable providers to push through the channels and websites they agree with and want us to see while making it more difficult to see and hear from opposing views. They'll swear it's legal, it's just capitalism, but it's actually a limit to free speech.

Cutting ties with our democratic allies. The trade war, pulling out from the Paris Accord and G7—the president and his cohorts have made it very clear they have zero regard for our fellow democratic countries. Meanwhile, he gets cozy with dictators. Why? Because that's what he wants: to be a dictator. And he wants to isolate us so that we have nowhere to turn while he takes over.

Nepotism. He wants a dynasty, plain and simple. So he's put his children in places of power.

Invalidating elections and hobbling our ability to vote. We're already fairly certain the 2016 election was fraudulent. Now the Supreme Court has ruled that states can strike voters from the registers. His plan is to continue getting the results he wants, any way he has to. And he's taking lessons from other dubious leaders who do the same. Why do so many GOP politicians continue to support him? Because he's promised them they won't lose their jobs come election time. And they believe him.

We've got a relatively narrow window here to make sure our country remains a democracy. We must act. Definitely we've got to ensure our voting systems are secure and the results valid. And then we need to send a message with those votes—that we refuse to become some third-world shithole dictatorship just because this man and his friends want to pillage and get rich.

World, the majority of Americans do not want him, but he's curtailing our attempts to end his would-be regime. We welcome [diplomatic] efforts on our behalf. After all, HE can't fight a war on multiple fronts either.

6.10.2018

Television: Elementary, "Give Me the Finger"

This was kind of a fun, twisty episode. Though, seriously, what's with all the arson on the show lately? Every f'ing building ends up on fire.

A former Yakuza agent is found dead in his burning [OMG, WTF you guys?] apartment. And his finger is missing because that's a Yakuza thing. But he had a prosthetic finger that was actually a (har!) thumb drive, and that seems to be the reason he was killed.

The mystery weaves through the Yakuza syndicate and on to the military because the dead guy had been testing some IT systems for them or something. I won't give away the ending, which wasn't surprising but still kind of clever.

Meanwhile, Gregson's daughter Hannah comes to visit her dad and admit she's an alcoholic. He's shaken up by the confession and turns to Joan because she used to be a sober companion. Feeling left out, Sherlock nags Joan until she tells him what's up.

Then Michael stalks Hannah and murders her roommate. Which is where we'll pick up next time, I guess.

Best moment: random cat wandering through the background while filming a street scene. Get that cat an agent! Or at least some tuna from craft services. (I used to always get Goldfish from craft services, but that's not quite the same thing.)

6.09.2018

Movies: Game Night

This was a really fun movie.

The story centers around Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams respectively) and their group of friends that get together weekly for game night. When Max's brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) comes to town, he plans a special game night that goes terribly, hilariously awry.

I really enjoyed the mixture of comedy and tension, and the whole thing is so well cast. I wish they made more movies like this one, which is somewhere between Clue and Scream.

There is a subplot involving Max and Annie discussing their plans to have children that, in my view, didn't contribute much to the story, but it wasn't too obnoxious. It just felt a wee bit forced that they kept tying Max's reluctance to his feelings of inferiority when compared to his brother.

But overall, this was just a fun movie with many twists and turns to keep it entertaining. I definitely recommend it.

6.04.2018

Books: Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood by Abby McDonald

I picked this up for a couple reasons. 1. I like Jane Austen. 2. As someone who recently finished a YA contemporary version of Hamlet, I thought this might be an interesting comp.

Of course, an agent recently told me that my manuscript is "too on the nose." Somehow this isn't? Oh, but this author is a screenwriter and has connections, plus she made her characters bi-racial (though apart from a passing reference in the story and the book cover, you wouldn't know the difference), so . . .

I'm promise I'm not bitter. (Except maybe I am, a little. At least I'm self-aware and can admit it.)

Look, this is a cute book. It took me a while to get into it, and I actually set it down for a few months, but I'm glad I came back to finish it.

Still, it is very on the nose. Sure, a few things have been changed to update the story, but it hews pretty darn close to the original. Which, if you like Sense and Sensibility, and you don't mind reading [Hollywood-centric] YA, give this a shot.

The ending felt a bit rushed, but overall it's a decent beach read.

6.02.2018

Television: Elementary, "Bits and Pieces"

This episode was interesting because it started in the middle of things. Joan and Marcus are questioning a potential suspect in a murder, and then Joan comes home to discover Sherlock has brought home a severed head. In a bag. And he can't remember where he got it.

Alrighty then.

Working on the theory that the head probably has something to do with the case, they begin trying to figure out where it came from and why Sherlock has it. And by "they" I mean Joan and Marcus because Sherlock goes to tell Gregson about his PCS and is sidelined until he gets clearance from the precinct doctor. Gregson is understandably all kinds of unhappy about being left in the dark regarding Sherlock's diagnosis, and it isn't until the end of the episode that—extremely reluctantly—Gregson allows Sherlock to work provisionally based on the doctor's recommendation. Sherlock must check in with both his personal doctor and the precinct doctor weekly else he's benched for good.

Michael makes a return this week, popping up to try and talk Sherlock into going to meetings and asking about that woman who is missing. I have to say, I think they made a huge misstep in showing Michael burying the body. This story line would be way more compelling if we didn't know what we know. I mean, we'd get the sense that Michael is not quite right, but . . . That would be the fun part. Trying to figure it out. As it stands, we're just waiting for Sherlock to catch up to us.

As for adoption, no sign of Joan meeting with attorneys.

The main case comes down to two suspicious murders/arsons and how and why those might be related. We get into bird flu and go from there. It's a pretty good little story, and I think this is probably one of my favorite episodes so far this season, maybe even the one I'd rank at the top of the current standings.

And with that, I'm all caught up! Can't promise I'll stay on top of all these, but I'll try.

Television: Elementary, "Our Time Is Up"

So a therapist is found brutally murdered in her office, and it turns out that she used to be Joan's therapist. ::shrug::

Sherlock steals an external hard drive from the crime scene. I think this is meant to indicate his PCS is effecting his decision making? I mean, we've always known he was reckless, but this time it seems above and beyond the usual. If it had been something that would only have potentially hurt him, I'd let it slide; we know how little regard Sherlock has for his person. But something that could damage the case—indeed, make the evidence inadmissible—seems outside his typical orb of neglect.

This time, instead of trying to convince Joan to read a letter from her dad, Sherlock urges Joan to read her dead therapist's files on her. Eventually Joan succumbs and learns that the therapist thought Joan would make a good mother. For whatever reason, this rattles Joan. "She never told me that," Joan says when telling Lin about this revelation. And really, it's one woman's opinion, and not one that she ever meant Joan to know. Joan is good at a lot of things, so it's not a stretch to think she might be a good mother, too. The question is: Does she want to be?

We get a semi-answer in the form of a computer screen on which Joan has been searching for adoption attorneys. Oh, and she sets up some appointments with them, too.

Meanwhile, the murder case meanders through the fact that the landlord had bugged the therapist's office, and the therapist she shared the office with has been heard to fight with her. There is one somewhat funny moment (used in the promo) in which one of the therapist's clients jumps off a balcony. Don't worry, he lives. And turns out to be a key to the mystery, which I won't bother to give away. But I do wish they'd have a few more of the lighthearted moments in this show.

A solid episode but not mind blowing.

5.29.2018

Television: Elementary, "Pushing Buttons"

So in this episode, a man gets shot during a Revolutionary War re-enactment. The guy was rich and a lot of people hated him because he screwed people over when they franchised his gym (IIRC). He even had a bodyguard, for all the good that did him on the field. Then his house burns down later that night.

There is a daughter who is a suspect because of course she inherits the money, but she's joined a commune and professes not to want her dad's money; she plans to donate it all. And there's no reason for her to burn down the house.

The episode cruises along to become about the dark and dangerous world of collectors and their willingness to go to any lengths to get their hands on old stuff—or get rid of said old stuff in order to make their old stuff that much more rare and valuable.

Meanwhile, Sherlock keeps hanging out with that creepy Michael dude. For someone who usually reads other people fairly well, he really hasn't clued in on Michael being an utter creep. Are we supposed to blame the head injury?

Michael is clearly intent on testing his wits against Sherlock's because he asks Sherlock to take up the case of finding the woman we saw him burying in the first episode of the season. This will, I suppose, be a through line for the season.

I had a slight irritation with this episode because the solution to the central whodunnit felt unfair—it came down to information the viewer didn't entirely have access to. That's not clever writing, it's cheating. There's a difference.

In all, though, not a bad episode. The season feels very tame thus far despite the attempts to infuse drama: Sherlock's head out of whack, Joan's dad, this Michael guy . . . So far none of it has added up to anything particularly intense. Hopefully it's just a slow build and things get increasingly . . . something. Sort of like a river rapids ride, yeah. You float along and then WHAM! right into a wave. That's what we're waiting for: to get drenched.

Television: Elementary, "Once You've Ruled Out God"

Okay, so yes, I have been keeping up with this show. I just haven't been keeping up with this blog as much because I'm staring down a publishing deadline and it's the last two weeks of school for my kids, which adds up to insanity on all fronts.

I had to look this episode up on IMDb because it was really pretty forgettable. Basically, a guy is killed by being struck by lightning, except the lightning is horizontal, which rules out natural lightning. So then the story threads through the fact that the guy's wife was convinced he was having an affair, though that was a bit of projection since she was the one having the affair. Anyway, it turned out the guy was working on a project that could account for the "lightning gun" or whatever, and then there was a whole thing about missing plutonium and white supremacists and dirty bombs, and this episode just jumped through a slew of hoops without my being able to attach any interest before we were on to the next thing. I guess it was fast paced, which is good? 👐

B plot was about how Joan's biological father had died and left her a letter that she was reluctant to open. Meanwhile, her half-sister Lin feels weirdly forgotten by her father because she didn't get a letter. Sherlock pesters Joan to read the letter, and she finally does, and she's able to show Lin that their father didn't forget her because the letter—written on one of his good days—tells Joan all about Lin.

Despite this being a fairly emotional subplot, the entire episode really did feel forgettable to me. I'd actually entirely forgotten it until I looked up the titles of the ones I've seen but hadn't written up yet. I was like, "Oh, yeah, that one." Didn't leave much of an impression.

5.27.2018

Movies: A Futile and Stupid Gesture

I always like to give a little history of my relationship to the material when I write these reviews/recaps because I think it's only fair I show my biases. In this case, I have both anecdotal and direct history with National Lampoon, specifically with their Radio Hour.

A few years before I was born, my parents lived out in the middle of nowhere. (We lived there a few years after I was born, too.) In order to hear National Lampoon Radio Hour, they had to take their radio out on the porch and fiddle with the antenna until they could—just barely—get the signal. I grew up hearing, "That's not funny, that's sick," and not really understanding where it came from.

Years later, as a pre-teen, I was in a Hastings with my parents. That was a books-and-records store, one of my favorite places to go. Dad found a box set of the Radio Hour and bought it so I could finally share the humor. We listened, and at the point someone said, "There's a lobster loose!" I said, "That sounds like Bill Murray." (I was an SNL fan.) Dad was pleased. "That is Bill Murray!" he told me.

Thus many National Lampoon bits became part of my regular dialect. I could recite the entire "A man walks into a nightclub with a beautiful girl on his arm..." bit. I still sometimes sing, "Give Ireland back to the Irish." I love Flash Bazbo. A lot of it is hugely irreverent, but that's part of the fun—you're laughing almost because you know you shouldn't.

Okay, so there's the history, and here's this movie, which focuses on the short life of one of National Lampoon's creators Doug Kenney. I think you probably have to have a love of and interest in the material to enjoy the movie, but it's impressive the talent they got, too: Domhnall Gleeson plays Doug's fellow founder Henry Beard and nails the American accent by way of sounding (and, thanks to the wig, looking a little like) Jesse Eisenberg. Martin Mull plays the narrator, an older Doug if Doug had lived that long. And there is a list of other known faces (and voices) as well, all shining in their own small parts, as this movie is clustered with personalities and so none are given too much time.

I do wonder how Chevy Chase feels about his old co-star Joel McHale playing him, though?

Will Forte plays Doug, and of course I have no idea whether he's at all like the actual guy. If he is, I'd say Doug was a difficult personality. Not in the way of being in-your-face difficult; if anything, he was self-deprecating a lot of the time. But not easy to work with thanks to a lack of discipline, and not easy to live with because of an obsessive streak as well as being prone to addiction. His refusal to face problems lent to his downward spiral. It's a damn shame, really. That's what this movie drives home.

If you were to ask, "Is it a good movie?" I don't know what I'd say. It's a curious kind of movie, and I think I enjoyed it? But I'm not entirely sure. I would like to read the book it's based on. I suppose any time a movie makes me want to engage the source material, that's a good thing. I really don't know if it's a "good" movie, but it will stay with me for a long time.

5.26.2018

Movies: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
Directed by: Ron Howard (mostly)
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan from characters created by George Lucas
Lucasfilm/Disney, 2018
PG-13; 135 minutes
3.5 stars (out of 5)


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I wasn't enthusiastic about this going in. I've never once when watching any Star Wars movie (and I watched them often in my youth, especially Empire) looked at Han Solo and said to myself, "I'd like to know his story." Because honestly, I think a character like his is fine with an undefined past. More fun that way. Someone who wanders in and out of a scene, hot-footed. You don't know where he came from or where he's going, but he's great to have around when he is around.

Also, the trailers had not inspired confidence. Alden Ehrenreich as a young Harrison Ford didn't scan. And nothing of what I saw him saying or doing felt right either.

So I went in with a list of detriments already tallied against the movie. Probably not fair, but I want to be honest.

The first part of the film confirmed my fears. Ehrenreich is too earnest to be the Han Solo we all know and love. Not that Ford's Solo didn't have an earnest streak from time to time, but that was never his foremost characteristic. Here, it is. And it doesn't work.

I know, I know—the point is to show how Solo went from earnest to jaded, right? Yeah, well they failed on that front, too. By the end of the film he still comes off as more sincere than cynical.

That said, I didn't dislike the movie as much as I expected to. Yes, the first part is a trudge, but once Woody Harrelson shows up, the story picks up steam. The supporting cast does most of the heavy lifting in this movie; they're far more interesting than the titular Solo. In particular, Paul Bettany as villain Dryden Vos is classic. But Phoebe Waller-Bridge voicing the droid L3 and Jon Favreau likewise voicing Rio are also great.

The story itself is heist upon heist and double-cross upon double-cross. Nothing you wouldn't expect when dealing with Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, really. And none of the twists surprised me. If anything, things that were clearly meant to "land" fell flat. Though there are a lot of easter eggs in this film. A lot.

End result is a so-so movie, at least for me. The first part nearly tanked it, but it got better by degrees as it went on. I guess that's all anyone can hope for: to end up better than where and how you started.

5.25.2018

Movies: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Full disclosure: I seem to be one of the only people on the planet who did not think The Squid and the Whale was a work of genius. I didn't care for it at all. And I haven't seen anything else Baumbach has directed, so . . . I didn't go in with very high expectations. Except I had seen a YouTube video by Nerdwriter1 that made me want to see this movie. So I finally watched it.

And I liked it.

Didn't love it.

Part of this is just the fact that I had trouble relating to the story, which is sort of The Royal Tenenbaums but less quirky and funny, I guess? Like, here is a creative and artistic family: patriarch Harold (Dustin Hoffman); adult children Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Danny (Adam Sandler), and Matthew (Ben Stiller); and drunkard fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson). Except instead of pursuing their artistic talents and leanings, these kids are . . . not all right, anyway. Jean works for Xerox, Danny is unemployed and moving back home as he goes through a divorce, and Matthew is the only one whose made anything of himself—by moving across the country to L.A. and mostly avoiding the rest of his family. Harold is himself an artist who was also a professor at Bard, a self-centered child of a man who can only talk about himself or others in relation to himself. He tries and fails to use his name as a calling card and suffers to see a contemporary artist (Judd Hirsch) vault to recognition.

Like The Royal Tenenbaums, there is then a health crisis to bring the family together and force them to iron out their wrinkles.

As an only child of parents who are still married, I struggled to engage with the sibling and step-parent issues. Jean and Danny feel their father abandoned them when he left their mother for Matthew's mom. They also feel as though most of the burden of dealing with their dad falls to them since Matthew chooses to be far away. All valid, I suppose.

The movie starts out slow, too, with Danny struggling to find a parking space. It wasn't until we switched away from Danny to Matthew that I felt the movie got interesting. Stiller and Hoffman have a great dynamic and chemistry that just isn't there between Sandler and Hoffman. Maybe the flat feeling between the latter is intentional, but if so, it's a bad way to begin a movie.

I also have no sense of father-son relationships, which are showcased here far more than father-daughter ones. My husband, however, says this movie nails the way a father can treat two sons completely differently, as he's experienced with his dad and brother. For him, the movie struck a chord and felt very familiar.

The acting here is really good overall. The layers of dialogue (as showcased in that Nerdwriter1 video) are very well done. I definitely prefer the quirk and humor of Tenenbaums, but this one is still pretty good. I don't mean to damn with faint praise, it's just how I feel.

5.22.2018

TV Movie: Fahrenheit 451

It's been a really long time since I read the book. Like, almost 30 years. I remember liking it, and I remember the main character's name is Montag, and that's about it.

Still, I'm fairly certain this version has been updated to showcase a more likely future dystopia than one created by Bradbury in 1953. Bradbury didn't foresee emojis, ya know?

As for the movie itself—taken on its own merits since, like I said, I don't really remember the book—it was kind of slow. I think Michael B. Jordan did an amazing job, as did Michael Shannon. They were stellar. But the story sort of dragged along at the beginning. It took its time establishing the characters and the world, and then it glossed a bit over Montag's (Jordan) starting to spend time with Clarisse (Sophia Boutella) before rushing the ending. The final ~20 minutes were [finally!] intense, but everything before that was mostly tonal and not terribly engrossing.

Still, Shannon's Beatty was perhaps the best character, the most nuanced. I'd like to hear his story. And the suicide book burner? That was a nice turn.

Also, I liked the bird.

Plus, the whole thing isn't very long, which is refreshing in these days of 2.5-hour movies and books stretched to be unnecessary trilogies. That I could watch it on a weeknight without going past my bedtime gives it an advantage.

I'm sure many people loved it. I thought it was just okay, that the story should have been emphasized differently, but that's just me. They did some interesting things with the material, so I'm not sorry I took the time to watch it, but I couldn't in good faith recommend it to anyone either.

5.02.2018

Television: Elementary, "An Infinite Capacity for Taking Pains"

Oh, look, this show is back. Good thing they gave me that recap because I didn't remember much of anything. I watched the recap thinking, Did I somehow miss the last few episodes of the last season? But then it started to come back to me. Slowly.

If you, like me, don't remember: last season Holmes had begun to hallucinate from time to time. So he went off to be scanned and tested and all those fun things. So this season begins with his receiving the results of those tests. All negative. As Arnold would say, "It's not a tumor."

Then what is it? Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). From all the times Holmes has been hit over the head, or fallen and hit his head, or whatever. Per Google, it's a "mild form of traumatic brain injury." Symptoms can include headaches, ears ringing, light and noise sensitivity, memory loss, inability to concentrate, dizziness . . . Just all kinds of things, really. So I guess this season we'll get to watch Holmes struggle to get better while Watson endeavors to use her dusty doc skills to help him.

Sometimes this show just feels too, for lack of a better word, direct. It lays things out very plainly. Maybe because most of the viewers are older and might otherwise get confused? I'm serious; I don't know. But this emotional arc is very clearly marked. They verbalized it exactly in this episode, in which Holmes says (paraphrasing): The only thing that keeps me sober is my work, and this PCS is hindering my work, therefore I am concerned I will not be able to stay sober. There's the season's through line in a nutshell.

Additionally, we meet Michael, another recovering addict, who introduces himself to Holmes at a meeting. Words Holmes said 4+ years ago have motivated Michael to stay sober, and he offers to help Holmes in return. But before you say, "How sweet," let's make it clear that Michael is a murderer. So the season it surely going to head in the direction of Holmes having to bring Michael to justice.

All the above, meanwhile, is merely background. No, there's an actual episodic story here, too. A rich socialite (one of those people famous solely for being rich) had a sex tape leaked online with a former boyfriend. She and her husband hire Holmes and Watson to find said ex because he's disappeared. Of course, the ex is dead and the husband did it. I mean, if you're going to hire the guy who played Ward on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we all know he's the bad guy. I think it would have been way more interesting if he hadn't been. But as it stood, we saw it coming the moment he showed up on screen.

Still and all, it wasn't a terrible episode. A fair return, I'd say. Hopefully they'll get more creative and inventive as things go on.

IWSG Reminder



If you've wandered here due to a comment or post for Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG), then please note my IWSG posts go on my author site. One day I'll merge all this stuff . . . But today is not that day.

4.28.2018

Movies: Avengers: Infinity War

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, and just a whole bunch of people, I mean really, was this necessary?
Directed by: Anthony & Joe Russo
Written by: Like, 12 Guys and Not a Single Woman, So F*** Off
Marvel, 2018
PG-13; 149 minutes
2.0 stars (out of 5)


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THE SPOILER-FREE PART

People are going to like this movie, so I know I'm swimming upstream. And it's not because I want to be "different" or "contrary." I just really didn't enjoy it.

I mean, there were a couple moments I enjoyed, and a couple times I actually laughed, but overall this felt like it was trying way too hard.

And then I heard—as we were driving to the cinema—that there's going to be another one, so this isn't even, you know, the entire story. It's just a really long movie that gets you, what? Halfway there?

Sigh.

I'm no longer impressed by all the spectacle. And I've read fan fiction that's better and more engaging than this script.

The story, which we've sort of known for a while now, is that Thanos is trying to collect the six Infinity Stones and put them in his gauntlet. His goal is to save the universe by eliminating half the population in it. Similar to culling seals or whatever, I guess, the idea being that we don't have enough resources and therefore must cut down the burdens on those resources.

The one thing I can say for the movie is that Thanos is actually an interesting villain. He has depth and feeling, so that's a nice change.

The attempts to play up emotions in the protagonists, however, fell flat. These characters no longer have personalities.

SPOILERS BELOW, SWEETIES

Yes, there are deaths. We lose people who I call JIEs: "just important enough" (without being the headliners). Anyway, there's a Time Stone, so we know that eventually all these people are coming back. That's the problem with Marvel movies; there never really are any stakes.

A villain who basically has all the power actually makes things less interesting, too. I said above that Thanos is an interesting villain, and he is interesting—as a character. But his having all this power makes every fight feel feeble and unnecessary. Oh, he can change reality? Well, then, if reality can change at whim, then there is no longer any such thing as reality, is there? Whee! Nothing matters anymore!

Such stupid decisions, too. Why try to pull the gauntlet off Thanos? Why not just destroy the Stones, or take them, or cut Thanos' arm off or something? (Do not give me a lecture about how the Stones can't be removed, or the gauntlet is impervious, or anything like that. At the very least, Thanos' arm is certainly not indestructible.)

Meanwhile, I think they were trying to have Dr. Strange and Tony Stark out-ego one another, but it just didn't scan. Why didn't Strange use the Time Stone to, I dunno, stop time or something? Do another infinite loop until they won the fight? Like, anything useful?

On the plus side, Thor kept calling Rocket a rabbit, and that was amusing. For a while. But the writers leaned into what they thought was an emotional core to this movie—namely the relationships between characters—and therefore went light on the levity, which I found sorely lacking, and somewhat forced in the places it did occur. The funny is what makes Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok some of the best movies in the series. And while this one is certainly tackling a more sober story line, they could have used more laughs, if only to break up the monotony.

That said, two dramatic moments gave me chills: Cap stepping out of the shadows in Scotland, and Thor arriving in Wakanda.

Bottom line: I was underwhelmed. Not that it matters what I think; this movie will make its money and people will be in line for the next one, too. Those same people who overeat at buffets because they insist on getting their money's worth and figure it's worth the bellyache.