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)


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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)


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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.

6.06.2018

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.

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)


_______________________________________________________

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.

4.27.2018

Ask an Author

If you've ever wanted to watch/hear me ramble about writing, here's your chance:


4.26.2018

Wee Gloat

Look, I'm not some big-time author, so when something amazing happens, I like to celebrate because it's not an everyday occurrence for me. In this particular case, my novel Brynnde got a writeup in PW Select:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge


Now go eat some cake to help me make merry!

4.11.2018

Ethereal Visions Tarot

It took me almost two years to get this deck. I paid for it in November 2016 and received it today. Which means I'm primed to like it. Why? Because humans are wired to not want to believe that we've wasted our time or money on something. The longer the time and/or the higher the cost, the more we want to love whatever it is that took so long or cost so much.

What I'm saying is, I'm probably biased.

Here's the story in a nutshell: this deck was a Kickstarter, and there were printing issues, and it just kept getting pushed back again and again. Many people asked for and received refunds, but I stuck it out. Because I love Art Deco, and I'd really loved the early sketches I'd seen of this deck.

Now that I'm finally holding it in my hands, I do still love it. Take a look:

Click for larger view.

The photo doesn't really do it justice. I believe it was all the gilding that caused printing problems.

The cards are large and sturdy, but not so stiff as to be difficult to shuffle. The artwork is indeed lovely, though I think I would have liked slightly more saturation in the colors. Some of the cards (see the Eight of Wands above) are fairly traditional in design, others not as much, though all evince the spirit of the most well-known decks. You'll see, too, that there are a couple non-standard cards depicted: The Well and The Artist. Think: Muse and Visionary and you've pretty well got those figured out.

There is a gentleness to this deck that makes it soothing to use. It's a bit coy, though, and so may take a while to get to know. It's flirty. But also sedate. If you don't have patience for that, if you want a deck that speaks more directly or unequivocally, this one isn't it.

So, yes, I like it. And I hope it likes me. But it's going to take time to build a relationship with it. Some decks I feel like I've known forever even if I've only just picked them up. This one, not so much. We're feeling each other out. I hope we can find a connection, particularly after waiting so long to meet.

4.09.2018

Indie Beginning Podcast

Hey! So I'm featured on the Indie Beginning podcast today where I talk about Brynnde, and Regency romance, and writing in various genres. Hope you'll give it a listen!

4.08.2018

Movies: The Post

It's interesting to watch something like Ready Player One and then The Post. On the surface they are tonally very different. But both adhere to traditional filmmaking structure, and both are, at the core, stories of fighting the big bads who appear to hold all the power. They're both about using whatever kind of power you may have to defeat those who would strangle democracy.

I tried, while watching, to decide whether I'd know that the same director made both films. But all I could say is that I'd probably guess Spielberg made both films. If it were any other director, I might not have cottoned on. But Spielberg has a definite style (or definite styles, depending on the type of movie—I know a Spielberg popcorn film when I see one, and I know a Spielberg drama when I see one, too).

As for The Post, well, I can't say I was engrossed. I think it must be difficult to make people reading papers and trying to decide whether to publish them very interesting to watch. The end result being I didn't pay as much attention as I should have. In fact, I had a glorious moment of stupidity at the end when I asked, "Wait. Why is The Washington Post in New York?" My husband just stared at me. "You weren't really watching, were you?" he asked finally. Busted.

I think Meryl Streep's character of Kay Graham is meant to be the dramatic focus of the film—the protagonist, the sympathetic character. She has inherited The Post by what most of the people around her seem to consider a terrible accident, and so she has a bunch of men advising her and making her doubt herself. We're used to seeing Streep play a dynamo, and there's probably a reason for that; her as wishy-washy and subdued does not make for very exciting viewing. Spoilers: she eventually makes the big decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, despite all the advice not to, and despite knowing it means going to trial and possibly losing and going to jail. But the stakes here just don't feel very high, and by the time Graham grows a backbone, we've already lost interest.

There are a lot of characters here, too, a lot to keep track of. The surfeit of familiar faces is somewhat distracting. And it seems that no one character received enough time to really become established and interesting.

That said, The Post is timely in its reminder that the free press is key to democracy. In fact, it hits viewers over the head with this point repeatedly. And ends with the door open for viewers to go watch All the President's Men after. The message seeming to be that any administration that tries to squash the flow of information is usually trying to hide something much bigger and much worse. I can't say I necessarily disagree, and there's something cathartic about having all this encapsulated in a movie. Too bad the movie isn't more entertaining as a whole. We all know I love Spielberg, but this wasn't one of my favorites.

4.07.2018

Books: F You Very Much by Danny Wallace

(subtitle: Understanding the Culture of Rudeness—and What We Can Do About It)

I am, I realize, what some call “a stickler.” Maybe it’s the way I was raised. I don’t know. But I suffer from a sensitivity to rudeness, and I’ve noticed an increase in said rudeness as well. So when I saw this book on the library shelf, I had to read it.

Author Danny Wallace is best known for his humor, and his writing style here imbues the topic with comedy so that the book itself is a very quick and pleasant read. But don’t let that lead you to believe the book is inconsequential. Wallace speaks with experts and even funded his own poll in order to get a better grip on the subject.

Are we getting ruder? It seems so. Why? Possibly the rise of self-centered narcissism. When we only think of ourselves, we have no reason to be polite to others because others don’t matter.

I consider the rude teens in my neighborhood who ride loud motorbikes up and down the street, even though there is a space designated for riding within, well, riding distance. I think about the kids who think it’s fun for some reason to ring our doorbell and run away—literally, their entire idea of entertainment being to annoy people. And when we tried to confront them about their behavior, a parent assaulted my husband and I received threatening emails. Because these parents don’t want to discipline their kids, but they don’t want anyone else to do it either.

This is a big part of the problem, I think.

When I was a child, any adult in the neighborhood was free to reprimand us. You had respect for them.

But this post is meant to be about the book. Sufficient to say I identify with the subject matter and found the book very interesting. For instance, consider Dunbar’s number, which says there is a limit to the number of social relationships we can have. In terms of rudeness, we tend not to be rude to our in-crowd. Anyone else, however, may be fair game because (again) they do not matter to us. Particularly if they are someone we’re not likely to see again—a server at a restaurant we don’t frequent, for example, or someone on the other end of a tech support phone line. We see no social drawbacks to being rude to such people; there are no lasting consequences for misbehaving where they are concerned. If we were to act in such a way with people we do see regularly, there certainly would be backlash. Our social standing would be affected.

I’ll give another example from personal experience. I walk my kids to school, and many other kids bike to school. There is a bike lane. However, one boy persistently rides on the pavement. I’ve talked to him about it many times, but he refuses to use the bike lane, saying “My parents never taught me that.” (The parents again! And before you say that the bike lane may be too dangerous, this boy is 10, and ever other biker uses the lane without trouble. I would also argue that, if one thinks the bike lane is too dangerous, one should not be biking to school.) Even after a bike rules and safety program at the school, this boy refuses to use the bike lane. And I’ve seen him nearly get hit a number of times because he also does not stop to look before biking across the street.

And then one day I did see him get hit.

Lucky for him and the driver both that it was not serious. The boy was fine; the bike was not. I spoke to the driver and got his information. I walked the boy to school, carrying his bike and talking to him the whole way. I took him to the school office and was witness to the police report.

But do you know what? My feelings about that boy have changed. He still rides on the pavement, but now he’ll say, “Excuse me,” if he comes up behind us while we're walking. And I’ll greet him by name and ask him how he’s doing. My ire at him being on the pavement has dissipated. He’s become part of my social circle. I give him allowances I wouldn’t give others, people I don’t know.

Isn’t that interesting? That we can have different sets of rules for different people? We hold people to different standards based on how much authority we perceive them to have or whether or not we know them well.

It’s that kind of thing that makes F You Very Much a thought-provoking read. One I highly recommend to anyone worried about the direction our world is going, at least in terms of civility.

4.02.2018

Movies: Ready Player One

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Zak Penn & Ernest Cline (screenplay), from the novel by Ernest Cline
Warner Bros., 2018
PG-13; 140 minutes
5.0 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

Yeah, I gave it five stars.

Let me be clear: I didn't even finish the book. It bored me. It clearly wasn't written for the likes of me. Despite having grown up in the 80s and being passingly familiar with gaming culture . . . While I could appreciate the references made in the book, I couldn't like the main character. And since the entire story is told from that character's POV, I bailed.

Ready Player One is also told from this character's POV, and yes, there's even (*groan*) voice over. But they've managed to make him likable. And the story more interesting.

It's not just for fanboys any more.

Quick summary: Wade Watts lives in a near future Cleveland (2045). Most people in this future spend their time plugged in to the VR world known as the Oasis. When the creator of the Oasis (Rylance, doing a version of Garth from Wayne's World?) dies, he leaves behind a contest: find three keys and win the easter egg that will give you control of the Oasis.

At first Wade wants to win just for the sake of the money. He's poor, he's downtrodden and misunderstood, etc. But after meeting Artemis in the Oasis, he has a bigger purpose: stop big business IOI from winning and ruining the Oasis—and by extension, the world—forever.

It's a white-boy nerd savior fantasy if ever there was one, and that's been seen as problematic in this day and age. I get that, and I even agree with it to a point. Remember that I felt excluded when reading the book. But I had faith in my longtime love of Mr. Spielberg, and that faith proved sound. The changes made from the book to the movie tell a very different story, at least as much as I can tell from only having read half the book.

Some of the changes are a simple matter of visual interest. Watching someone watch WarGames over and over would not be entertaining. So the contests have been upped, and I'll admit to pumping a fist and hissing, "Yes!" when Wade (or, per his avatar name, Parzival) figured out the first one. A marked difference from the book: I felt like I could cheer for this guy.

Beyond those surface changes was the sense that this was not just Wade's story. Though told from his POV,  the movie had a more classic Spielberg feel of a group of misfits coming together to beat the big bad. Wade may be Chief Misfit, but there's never a hint that he could have done it alone. He's not a sole savior; he gets saved by others plenty of times. And that's a very important difference.

In short, you don't have to be a fanboy to enjoy this movie. You don't even have to be a gamer (I'm not). It might help if you're of a particular generation that's primed to enjoy the nostalgia factor. And it definitely helps if you love classic Spielberg. Because by the end of Ready Player One, that's what I was left thinking: "This is the Spielberg of my childhood, the one I love." There's nostalgia for you.

(P.S. The PG-13 rating is key; my 8- and 9-year-olds struggled with the scene set in The Shining. Consider yourselves warned.)

3.25.2018

Movies: Pitch Perfect 3

This movie was just . . . bad. Clunky writing seemed to be the primary problem. A lot of exposition in dialogue. A lot of ham-fisted bits (like the flashes of the Bellas' various work lives). And just a lot of half-baked plot lines that they somehow figured would be fine to wrap up via small clips as the credits rolled.

It really felt as though the writers were struggling to (a) come up with any kind of story, and (b) fit everyone in so that no one felt as though they'd been sidelined or overshadowed. But the overall result was a mishmash. It's almost as though the movie didn't know whether to take itself seriously or parody itself. So it tried to do a bit of both and none of it worked.

Even when it hung a lampshade on things ("Is there a competition? There's always a competition."), pointing out its own formula did not make the movie any better, nor did it excuse the lack of originality.

Is there a competition? you ask. Well, of course. Of sorts. Thanks to one Bella's military dad (and don't ask me to tell you which one because there are too damn many, and we all really only know Becca and Fat Amy, right?), they get invited to perform for the troops overseas. Like the USO. Except there's also some plot about how a well-known DJ/musician is going to choose someone to tour with him from these USO acts? And we're introduced to a couple other bands only to have them disappear almost immediately. Well, or become incidental as this movie sees shiny things and chases one random plot bunny after another. Until we ultimately end up with Fat Amy and her estranged dad (John Lithgow with a bad accent) and a pseudo-James Bond thing. Also, a non-romance between Becca and the DJ's righthand man.

Oh, and John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are back as faux documentarians, following the Bellas around for no apparent reason? Except that it was decided they couldn't do another Pitch Perfect movie without shoehorning them in somehow.

It's just such a bad, boring movie. Like, not even so bad it's good. It's not funny. It's not cohesive. It's just a waste of time.

3.19.2018

Books: Help Choose a Cover for Faebourne!

Here is a link to the poll in which you can vote for your favorite cover design!

Faebourne is my latest Regency romance novel. (The last one was Brynnde. Remember this cover?)


Which cover would look great next to Brynnde on a shelf? Which book might you pick up for a closer look if you saw it at the library or bookstore? Let me know by voting and/or commenting!

3.17.2018

Custom Shampoo: Function of Beauty & Prose

All right, everybody, here's where I admit to falling for Facebook ads.

The truth is, I have difficult hair. Some of it is my own fault because I color my hair. Some of the problem is just nature. I have fine hair, but a lot of it, and ever since having kids it's become wavy to the point of almost curly. And I also have to fight dandruff.

If you know anything about (a) having colored hair and (b) being prone to dandruff, you know that the hair products that help get rid of dandruff are the very same ones that strip the color from you hair.

Sigh.

I've long been searching for shampoos that would meet somewhere in the middle. I'll say that using cleansing conditioners has so far been my best solution: Matrix Biolage, Wen, etc. But every week or so I still feel the need for a full shampooing.

The first custom product I saw an ad for and decided to try was Function of Beauty. I can't remember what I paid for the shampoo + conditioner, but it didn't feel unreasonable at the time. (However, I did just receive an email telling me they're raising their prices, so . . .) On the FoB site, I answered questions, chose colors and scents, and was even able to decide what would be printed on the bottles. Fun! And I must say I did really, really like the product I received. My hair felt great and smelled amazing. BUT. The product bled my hair color pretty badly.

So once I'd finished those bottles, I was debating whether to go ahead and order more when I saw the Prose ad. Well, why not see if this other custom product could do the job, right? Like FoB, Prose had me answer a bunch of questions about my hair, but also about my life and where I live. Interesting. In addition to the shampoo and conditioner, they created a hair "mask" as well, a product to use prior to shampooing. All three products cost me $80+, so pretty pricey. And I've only used it once, so it's still hard to tell what the overall, sustained effect will be. But I will say there were fewer customization choices on my part. I think I was allowed to choose from about four scents and that was it.

Upon initial use, after Prose my hair is not as soft and smooth as it was after using Function of Beauty. And the scent is okay but I don't like it as much as FoB either. However, I saw less of my hair color disappearing. That may, however, be because I'm due for a dye job.

Function of Beauty was better for my scalp. Prose was less harsh on my color.

Prose is way more involved with a lot of steps to the process. It came with instructions but also a nice folder that showed me the ingredients that had been used to make my products. I really appreciate that.

I'm withholding a final decision until I've used Prose a bit more, but for the moment I'm leaning toward Function of Beauty in the future. I may post an update here after a few more weeks of using Prose to let you know for sure.

And now, because I'm gullible, I'm thinking of trying some of that Wander Beauty foundation . . .

3.16.2018

Movies: The Circle

I can't offer a full critique because we turned this one off halfway through. It just wasn't interesting. It's a wonder they got such good actors to agree to it in the first place.

This extremely generic “thriller” is about a young woman named Mae (Emma Watson) who goes to work for The Circle, which is kind of like Google/Apple or something? Basically, it's a tech firm that has linked everyone's online profiles and social media into one big ball of . . . Online Identity, I guess. You can be completely monitored, from your emails and search history to the health bracelet you wear to all the tiny (surely illegal) cameras placed pretty much everywhere. (I mean, seriously. What if someone decided to stick one of those in a changing room or bathroom or locker room? You know it would happen.)

Politicians rally to squash The Circle, but the company in turn challenges those politicians to become "transparent" and thereby wholly accountable.

Meanwhile, The Circle also helps Mae's parents as her father suffers from MS.

The whole movie is a completely unsubtle commentary on the illusion of privacy in a technological world. With the help of Finn Ty (John Boyega), creator of some of the core tech The Circle employs, Mae eventually exposes the not-so-transparent actions of her very employers. Then goes on to happily lead a life of being watched and tracked, firm in the faith that this is a good thing. I only know this part from skimming the Wikipedia summary, which assured me that I didn't really miss much.

It's a shame, really, because it seems like this movie probably had a solid script at one point that got turned to mush via rewrites or too many notes or something. Like, it's meant to be a thriller but lacks any real tension or thrills. (The only semi-tense moment I witnessed was when the social duo came to set up Mae's account—how cultish and creepy was that?) Maybe the book was better? One can only hope so, and that everything good about the book was lost in translation.

3.12.2018

Bossy? Or "A Leader"?

The other day, while at a social function, I said something offhand about my daughter being bossy. An older woman stepped up and informed me that, "We don't call girls 'bossy' any more. They have 'leadership potential.'"

Uh-huh.

Look, I know my daughter. And she's bossy. No one wants a bossy leader. No one wants to work with or under a know-it-all. If you have the right answer to something, there are good ways to let that be known. And then there are not good ways. Bossy ways.

And lest anyone think I'm harsh on my daughter, let me be clear: I don't hesitate to call my sons out when they're being bossy too. My goal is to have my kids treat other people well. Yes, even when those other people are "doing things wrong" or are simply doing things that are frustrating. That's what good leaders do. They correct others in a way that is not hurtful. You can support someone and correct them at the same time.

It's true that sometimes the others don't or won't listen. This is because my kids have no actual authority over their friends. Nor should they. That's the teacher's job, the parents' jobs. And while I won't encourage my kids to be tattletales (unless there is imminent danger to themselves or others), I also won't encourage them to tell their peers what to do. That's bossy. (Group work notwithstanding. Because group work sucks. If you want to show "leadership potential," group work is probably your primary opportunity.)

Bossy isn't leadership. Not good leadership, anyway. Bossy is bullying potential more like. So don't slap a new label on it and pretend it's a good thing.

In the meantime, I'll keep working with my kids on better ways to affect change when things aren't going the way they'd like.

3.10.2018

Movies: I, Tonya

The whole Nancy Kerrigan thing happened during my senior year of high school. My parents and I weren't sports people, and we didn't watch the Olympics. "The incident," as this movie calls it, was barely on my radar. I only knew enough to get the jokes.

And I wonder how many other viewers of this movie are like me: knowing just enough to get the jokes.

Or maybe many went in knowing even less about Tonya Harding.

I, Tonya is a faux documentary based on real interviews with Tonya Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. I think the information embedded in the movie is interesting, and I think the movie is largely engaging. It's visually interesting (which may be why it got an Oscar nod for editing). The acting is quite good as well, and certainly Janney has earned all her accolades, though she drops out of the film for a large stretch.

That said, some of the choices distracted me. Breaking the fourth wall, for instance. Clever, perhaps, but it draws too much attention to itself because of the inconsistent use. The soundtrack also felt disruptive. I know some of the music was true to Harding's skating routines, but again, the choices seemed designed to pull attention from whatever else was happening on screen.

And I couldn't decide how to feel about the abuse. It was presented so matter-of-factly, and yet I suppose we're also supposed to question whether it actually happened since we're getting multiple POVs? The resulting confusion about the abuse means it isn't given the weight it maybe should carry; it almost feels like a punchline (no pun intended).

All this said, the film on the whole is quite good. A very visceral moment came when young Tonya stood crying outside her father's car as he left her mother. That's something that will stay with me.

Felt a little long for two hours, but still very entertaining. Worth viewing.

3.03.2018

Movies: The Disaster Artist

Okay, I've never seen The Room. I've seen clips, but never the entire thing. I've tried to watch it, but can never find it on streaming, and I'm not really the cult-screening-at-midnight type.

I have no idea how true the events in The Disaster Artist are, how many are perhaps a trick of the author's perception/memory, and how many have been blurred to make the story cohesive and/or entertaining. But boy is it entertaining. A bit cringe-y, but my understanding is The Room is also a cringe fest, so . . .

For the maybe two people who don't know, The Disaster Artist is based on a book written by Greg Sestero (with the help of Tom Bissell) that details Greg's friendship with Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is the writer, director, producer, and star of The Room, and Greg acted opposite Wiseau in that film. In fact, Greg moved from San Francisco to L.A. with Wiseau and roomed with him for a while as they both tried to make it in Hollywood. When that failed, they decided to make their own movie. The Room was the result.

I'll admit, I never realized The Room had a full crew. I'd always assumed there was just one guy with a camera and a light or something. But no, apparently it was professionally filmed, all funded by Wiseau. I knew the guy had money, but didn't think he'd spent that much to make the film everyone says is the best worst movie ever made (or something like that).

There's more than a little bit of a hint that Wiseau had a crush on Greg and took it personally when Greg got a girlfriend and moved out of their shared apartment. Again, I have to wonder how much of that is Greg's perception and how much might be punched up just for the sake of drama. Or maybe it's all true.

The Disaster Artist is entertaining enough to make me want to both read the book and watch The Room. If I can find it anywhere. But even if you know nothing about The Room or Wiseau, it's a worthwhile distraction.

2.25.2018

M Reads High Fantasy pt. 2

Okay, okay, okay . . . More about this book I'm reading:

So that guy who went to kill that king? He did. But only after jumping on walls and ceilings and stuff. Sort of like Spider-Man?

And that was just the prologue! The book finally started some five years later, and there's a war. The general or whatever, he's really popular with his men because they never lose. Except this time, of course, they do. And the general becomes a slave.

Oh, but then there's this Tinkerbell kind of fairy thing that is annoying the general/slave guy. That's where I'm at now. He thinks he's going crazy because the fairy creatures in this world aren't supposed to be intelligent, but this one is talking to him. So that's fun.

I don't know if I'm supposed to like any of these people. So far, I don't really. I'm waiting for personalities to happen. But I'm only 40 or so pages in, and there are 1200+ pages, so . . . Yow. Hope it doesn't take that long for characters to get interesting.

Anyone want to take a guess as to what book I'm reading? 😉

Meanwhile, I'm seeking beta readers for my latest book. It's YA contemporary, an update of Shakespeare's Hamlet with a full-on snarky [female] MC. Let me know if you're interested!

2.23.2018

M Reads High Fantasy

My friends insisted I need to read this book. I'm not going to name the book, but points to you if you can figure it out from the following description. I'm, like, not even 20 pages in, I don't think. And I haven't gotten to, you know, the story yet because there is a Prelude and a Prologue. WTF kind of book needs two head starts?

You have to understand, I like fantasy in concept but tend not to read epic or high fantasy novels because they require so much damn work and all feel more or less the same to me. There are a bunch of names and different races or kinds of creatures. Something or someone is evil and a band of oddballs usually have to go on a quest to stop the evil. This is my entire understanding of fantasy, even though I did enjoy Greg Keyes' Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series and got partway through Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. I think maybe I prefer fantasy rooted in more contemporary things, like Aaronovitch's Peter Grant books.

Okay, so this book. It starts with . . . a guy? He's not human, though, I don't think. Apparently he has to keep fighting a battle over and over again for eternity, and sometimes he wins and sometimes not? Not just him but, like, nine others like him. Between the battles he goes to be tortured in a hell-like place. But then after this one battle, he and some king guy decide they're not going to do this any more. And the guy feels kind of guilty about that, but he really doesn't want to go back to being tortured, so they all just leave.

Oh, and there are swords. But they leave the swords, too.

THEN. Fast forward some 4500 years, and there's an assassin at a feast. He's going to kill a king. He has to wear all white because the people who hired him say it's only fair that the victim see him coming.

That's as far as I've gotten. I'm in the Prologue, waiting for the murder part. BUT. The assassin did pass through some hall or something that had statues of the guys from the Prelude? He called them Heralds, but for some reason one of the Heralds doesn't have a statue. I'm guessing this is a cultural thing since they've already made a big deal about the differences in the cultures here. That's another thing about high fantasy—the world building is incredible (when done well), but it's quite a burden on the reader when the info is being shoveled at you. These people have black skin and dark eyes, these ones are white with light eyes . . . I'm never going to keep all the names straight either. It's really overwhelming.

That said, I'll keep reading. My friends are so into this, I just have to see what it's about. Perhaps I'll update you as I go along.

2.22.2018

Books: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This is a cute book. The narrator has a strong and engaging voice and is charming if not always likable.

The story in a nutshell: It is the 1700s. Henry "Monty" Montague—known rake and heir to an earldom—and his best friend Percy Newton are off on their Grand Tour. Monty's younger sister Felicity is along for the ride as they're meant to drop her at finishing school in Marseilles. Of course, everything goes awry when Monty steals a little something from the Duke of Bourbon during a visit to Versailles.

The novel attacks a number of issues, including race relations (Percy is part black), and health (Percy also has epilepsy), and abuse (Monty's father beats him), as well as homosexuality (Monty has a huge crush on Percy). It also glances over gender issues as Felicity protests having to go to finishing school because she'd rather become a surgeon.

Overall, it was a swift read up until the last 20-25% of the book. At that point, I felt the book had begun to suffer from a surfeit of plot. Things just kept happening, and I was beginning to be exhausted, not in a good way. But I plowed through (sometimes tempted to skim) to see how it would end.

Still, the book is largely a fine marriage of character and plot. If you like Lestat, you'll probably like Monty's narration. Many nice descriptions, though they sometimes get rather thick.

The main characters being teenagers, it's listed as YA, but if you're thinking of this for your teen, be sure they're ready for some of the heftier issues.

2.19.2018

Movies: Peter Rabbit

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Sam Neill, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
Voices by: James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Daisy Ridley
Directed by: Will Gluck
Written by: Rob Lieber & Will Gluck, based on characters created by Beatrix Potter
Columbia/Sony, 2018
PG; 95 minutes
4.0 stars (out of 5)


_______________________________________________________

Yes, yes, I know: This is a travesty of a movie for so many reasons. Beatrix Potter would have hated this version of her characters. There's the fact that someone's food allergy is used against them. I should have boycotted it.

Whatever.

In truth, despite the flaws, I was entertained. More than I expected to be. So in my book that translates to four stars.

This movie is mostly sight gags and pranks punctuated by pop music. As long as you know that going in, you're golden.

Thomas MacGregor (Gleeson) is a manager at Harrods in London. He's just been passed up for a promotion when he learns his great-uncle (that he didn't even know existed) has died, leaving him the owner of a little country house and, yes, an extensive vegetable garden.

Bea [subtle choice there, guys] (Byrne) is a would-be artist living the in cottage next to the MacGregor house. Her paintings are terrible, but her drawings of the local rabbits are really very good.

Bea and Thomas hit it off, but the one thing they don't agree on is the wildlife. Bea loves the bunnies, and Thomas . . . doesn't.

From there things take a fairly predictable path. Think Home Alone but with wildlife instead of robbers, kind of? (I don't really know because I've never actually seen Home Alone, but the physical comedy aspect is similar.)

While I think we're certainly meant to cheer for Peter and the rabbits and laugh at Thomas, I think there's a fair amount of understanding that neither side is entirely right in this fight. Gleeson's ability to pull faces, and his apparent aptitude for physicality, serves well here. [I so want him to play Dixon in 20 August.]

Anyway, it was a fun movie. My kids really enjoyed it, too, though my 12-year-old son cringed at the cutesy, lovey bits. Which is as it should be.

Peter Rabbit is a movie that knows it's nothing but fluff and doesn't pretend to be anything more than what it is. Maybe it isn't true to Potter's original character, and yeah the allergy thing is questionable, but overall I enjoyed it. More than I thought I would. That's the key, you know: keep your expectations low and you'll never be disappointed.

SFWC 2018

If you're wondering why I disappeared so abruptly, I just spent the weekend at the San Francisco Writers Conference, and now I am brain dead. Luckily I took notes so I don't have to remember every little piece of information I learned. And lucky for you, I'm sharing those notes over on PepperWords. A little at a time because, as I said, brain dead. But head over there and keep checking for the latest.

2.12.2018

Books: A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

As much as I adored A Darker Shade of Magic . . . This book didn't do it for me.

This is, of course, subjective. But here are the things I didn't like:

  • So much focus on Lila. I know lots of people love her, but she's a bit Mary Sue for me.
  • Repetitive words and phrases. If Lila has a smile "like a knife" or "sharp smile" one more time . . . Seriously, stop. Find other words and ways to describe things.
  • Kell wasn't the character I fell in love with in the first book. I understand that characters change and grow, but he wasn't very likable in this. He's moving in the wrong direction.
  • The "Magic Olympics" (or whatever they called it, but that's pretty much what it was). I don't like stories about contests, so this did not interest me at all. Long passages describing battles? I skimmed. Actually, I didn't even skim, I just skipped to the end to see who'd won.

As I mentioned, all subjective. I know many people love this book. But it took me forever to finish because I just couldn't get into it.

2.11.2018

Books: Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Uhm . . . No.

I love me some historical fiction, and I love queens and such, but there are some expectations that come with those elements. For one, historical fiction usually has a sort of elevated writing style. This . . . did not. In fact, this was written like bad young adult fiction. The sentences are simple, the POVs hop around, and we're told instead of shown. In particular, the characters are flat. Bad guys are bad, and no one is well rounded, not even Victoria or Albert or Lord Melbourne, the three sides of the poorly constructed love triangle this book puts forth as the central "conflict," such as it is.

That's another problem with this book. There is no tension and no real conflict. I think we're supposed to feel worried that Conroy and the Duke of Cumberland will succeed in ruling over Victoria or setting her aside in some way, but that plot line comes and goes with nary a ruffle. And then maybe we're supposed to feel tension over Victoria + Melbourne versus Victoria + Albert, but since we all know how that ends, how can we really worry over it?

The "romance" between Victoria and Albert, too, is tiresome. They seemingly can't stand each other, yet we're told over and over again that they've fallen in love. What? It makes no sense, and there is zero chemistry on the page. The whole thing seems far more forcibly arranged by Leopold than a true romance between two people who, history shows, really did love one another.

Are we supposed to like Albert? It's impossible to in this incarnation. He's serious and borderline cruel at points. We're given the sad story of his mother leaving when he was young as though that might soften him, but again, we just don't feel it. This book is so much tell and so little actual feeling.

Overall, this book suffers from a lack of backbone. There is no strong through line, no development arc, and the characters are static rather than dynamic. I was disappointed.

1.28.2018

Television: Mindhunter 1.1

I didn't like it.

It was boring.

There's this FBI agent named Holden Ford, and he's young and uptight but trying to find new methods for profiling murderers and stuff.

It's, like, 1977 or something.

I dunno. Nothing much actually happened. Holden got a girlfriend named Debbie and she's obnoxious. He went back to school and is supposed to be recruiting people for the FBI, but no one wants to be a Fed because it's 1977 and everything is anti-establishment.

Mostly I felt like I was being shown this character—Holden—and . . . shown him some more . . . and some more . . . And I want to shout, "Okay! I get it! Now is there a story here or what?"

But there wasn't really. At least not in this episode.

Eventually Holden gets picked up by a senior agent named Bill Tench who invites him along to lecture law enforcement in various cities and towns. They're asked to help with the murder of a woman and her young son, but Holden says they can't.

So . . . yeah. Nothing happens. Holden actively chooses not to do anything. Because he can't wrap his brain around the psychology of someone who would kill a woman and her son.

Um . . .

Like, do your job maybe?

I don't know. I usually like character-driven stuff, but this was all character and no drive.

1.27.2018

Television: ACS: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, "Manhunt"

Ugh. I can't even with this show.

They have yet to give me anything that makes me care about what happens to anyone involved.

Going backwards a bit from the day of the actual shooting, we see Cunanan arrive in Miami Beach and befriend an HIV-positive gay guy named Ronnie who . . . I guess is homeless kind of? I can't even tell, or maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention because I. DIDN'T. CARE.

I do wonder how much of this is documented and how much of it is conjecture/coloring in.

The FBI continues to fumble. Cunanan hits up a rich old guy and gives him an American Horror Story-like thrill. Versace and his sister have a semi-competitive fashion show.

Yawn.

I honestly don't know if I'll be able to stick out this season. It's dragging, and this is only the second episode. But I do try to give everything at least three chances, so we'll see how next week goes.

1.24.2018

Index: Ongoing Star Wars Story ("Documents" posts)

In order to make things simpler for readers, I'm going to index this story so that you can bookmark this post and check for new "documents" (chapters) as we go.

For those of you just arriving, my 9-year-old daughter asked me to write a Star Wars story with her. My 12-year-old son has had some input too. We're having a lot of fun with it, and we hope you enjoy reading it as well.

I'll add links as new parts get posted.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11

"Documents" pt. 11

Part 10 is here.
__________

Easier said than done given the thick metal. The Resistance had not been on Edowan long enough to automate everything, and many doors were manual, this one included. As Finn struggled with the heavy bolt, he wondered how many people it had required to close the thing in the first place.

“Never mind,” said Rey. “I’ll just—”

Finn stepped back, watched as Rey tilted her head slightly as though listening to something on the other side of the door. He listened, too, but heard nothing.

The silence felt ominous. Finn tensed, ready to spring if Ren should try anything. Not so alone now, am I? he thought and wished Ren could hear him… Then immediately hoped that wasn’t true.

Seemingly satisfied with whatever she did or didn’t hear, Rey made a motion with her hand and the massive bolt slid smoothly—though not soundlessly—aside.

“Damn,” said Finn.

Rey smiled. “I’m starting to really enjoy it, actually,” she admitted. “I feel like I’m getting the knack for it.”

“Yeah, well don’t get cocky,” Finn warned. “Because he—” he nodded at the door, “has more than a ‘knack’.”

Rey swallowed and her expression became serious. “I know.” She took a deep breath, and this time her smile was strained. “You’ll be here?”

“Right here,” promised Finn. “The whole time.”

Rey nodded and with another motion of her hand pulled the impossibly heavy door open. Finn only caught a glimpse of Kylo Ren seated on his thin mat before the door swung shut again.

***

Rey stopped just inside the door and stared down at their captive. He stared back unflinchingly and unmoving. She could feel the Force emanating from him, however, pushing against her like myriad unseen hands as though to force her off balance, knock her backward.

“Why are you here?” Rey asked.

For the first time, he blinked. Still, he didn’t speak, only shifted a little where he sat.

“Does the First Order know we’re here?” Rey asked. When he only continued to stare, she said, “They want to kill you. The Resistance. So you’ve got to give me something, Ben, or—”

“My mother is dead, isn’t she?”

His words stopped Rey short. She folded herself to sit across from him, only just resisted taking his hands in her own. “Yes,” she said gently. “Is that why you’re here?”

“I knew,” he said. “I felt it.”

Of course he had. But Rey reminded herself that he’d killed his own father, too. So how much had his mother really meant to him?

Another thought occurred to her. “Is that how you found us?”

Ben—she couldn’t think of him any other way, or maybe she didn’t want to—looked confused.

“When you felt…” Rey said, “could you tell where it was coming from?”

He huffed slightly, as though annoyed by her ignorance. “It’s not that specific,” he said. “The Force doesn’t work like a tracker. If it did...”

“You would have found us much sooner,” Rey finished, understanding her mistake. “Then how did you find us?”

He didn’t answer.

“Are they coming? For us? For you?”

Nothing.

Rey stood up again. “You must be hungry. I’ll see to it you get something to eat.”

As she went to the door, he said, “You know I can break out of here if I want to.”

She turned to look at him. “So why don’t you want to?”

He stared, and for a moment Rey felt as though she were being drawn forward, like she might tip and fall right on her face. She forced herself to break eye contact. “Okay then. I guess that’s…”

She opened the door and escaped, feeling his eyes burning into her back. Ben might have been the one in the cell, but Rey felt like somehow she was the hostage.

1.23.2018

Television: American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, "The Man Who Would Be Vogue"

Okay, so my first question is: Why should I care?

This season's pilot episode begins with the contrast between Versace's opulent lifestyle and his murderer (Andrew Cunanan) sitting on a beach and then beginning to wander around Miami Beach. We know—well, people who know anything about this story—how this will end. Then again, if you look at the season's title you know how it will end. But since I'm given next to nothing about Versace's character, nor am I given much of anything about Cunanan . . . I just don't care.

Yes, yes, I know we're going to go back and find all that out. But the assassination has zero impact here because I don't care about either the victim or the murderer.

So then we rewind and it turns out Cunanan is, you know, fucked up in the head. Okay . . . So what sets him apart from so many other murderers then? He's a pathological liar. So are a lot of killers. He charms his way into people's lives. So do a lot of killers. There is a very cringe-y scene in which he pesters Versace at a bar in San Francisco because he either doesn't pick up on social cues or chooses to ignore them. But really, he's just unlikable. Which is maybe the point, I don't know. But I don't want to watch a show about a guy I don't like.

Let's look at Versace then. Well, I mean, he's dead, so . . . Aside from the morning routine before his murder, we see him only in a few flashbacks where Cunanan is worming his way into Versace's circle. There's not much to go on. Sure, we're sorry he's murdered in a nothing-like-that-should-happen-to-anybody way, but not in a personal, what-a-loss way. We don't know this guy, except that he was a well-known fashion designer. Doesn't make him a sympathetic character, though.

Meanwhile, Versace's sister Donatella sweeps in to take over the company and basically sideline Versace's long-term partner Antonio. So she's a bitch, and we can't like her, either.

The FBI agents screw up everything. Can't like them.

Who the hell are we supposed to root for in this?

Maybe I'm not the right audience for this. Maybe I don't worship enough at the altar of fashion or something. There's a sort of reverence around Versace here that I just don't buy into. Maybe I need to in order to care about the story being told.

I'll keep watching. As they fill in the backstory, maybe I'll find reasons to invest in some of the characters. But so far I'm not wowed.

1.22.2018

"Documents" pt. 10

Part 9 is here.
__________

“He can be turned,” Rey insisted. “For all we know, that’s the reason he’s here.”

“For all we know,” Captain Markwell said, “he’s here to destroy us.”

“If the First Order knows we’re here,” Commander D’Acy put in, “we need to evacuate before they return in force.”

A collective groan went up from the assembly.

“Go where?” someone asked. “We’ve been all over the galaxy already!”

More grumbles and murmurs circulated through the room.

“Even if he is here for… some other reason,” said Rey, “He’s a valuable prisoner. He has information, influence—”

“And powers we can’t contain,” inserted Poe. “As it is, the cell he’s in probably won’t hold him for long once he wakes up.”

“Just let me talk to him,” Rey said, and when skeptical looks flew through the group, she added, “I’ve defeated him before. And I’m much more skilled now.”

“You can’t bring a weapon in there,” Poe told her. “If he—”

Rey cut him off. “I won’t need a weapon.”

Another round of glances, these ones startled and uncertain. Then D’Acy said, “All right. If only for his mother’s sake.” The people around her nodded solemnly as D’Acy told Rey, “See if you can determine why he’s here and what he knows. But if—” She stopped, either unwilling or unable to put the possibility into words. “Well, he won’t be given another chance to cooperate.”

“Let’s hope he does,” Poe sighed under his breath.

***

Tap, tap, tap.

Finn look left then right down the long corridor.

Tap, tap, tap.

Slowly, Finn turned to look at the door.

“I know you’re out there.” Kylo Ren’s voice had an oddly muffled yet hollow sound from behind the thick metal and wall of rock. “Alone.”

Finn lifted his comm. “Uh, guys…”

“You will open this door.”

Finn cocked an eyebrow at said door. “No I won’t.” Into his comm, he hissed, “Guys! He’s awake!”

Motion at the far end of the corridor drew Finn’s attention. Rey was coming, and by the looks of her, she had a definite purpose. As she neared, Finn said, “He’s—”

“I know,” Rey said. “Open the door.”