Television: Lost versus Time Travel

Starring: Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Terry O'Quinn, Michael Emerson, Elizabeth Mitchell, Josh Holloway
ABC, Wednesdays at 9:00


Time travel is often the bane of televisual storytelling. It almost never works. This is because of all the paradoxes created when dealing with time travel. The only show I can say consistently and logically dealt with time travel would be Quantum Leap.

Now, the trouble with Lost and time travel is this: we never know how much they're not telling us. Will some of the problems be explained eventually? Is Faraday lying about how time travel works, or . . . ? We won't know until the final episode airs, really, how much they plan to tell us.

But already there are questions. At the end of last season Ben (Michael Emerson) "moved" the island by turning a "frozen donkey wheel." The island moved not in space, but in time. Unfortunately--at least, I suppose it's unfortunate--it keeps moving, sort of like a stone skipping over water, except it's not going in just one direction. So maybe it's more like a combination lock, forward and back again, not finding the correct set of numbers on which to settle.

Okay, that's well and good, but the people? The people on the island are moving in time, too . . . Or, some of them are and some aren't? Here is where it gets confusing. One could say, "Well, the people who are dead and/or who have already left the island are not affected the same way." Mmm hmm. So at one point in time, the now time-traveling islanders discover the hatch is still closed and Desmond is still inside. Faraday points out that Desmond "doesn't know them yet." Right, except Juliet is standing right next to Sawyer, and she knows him, even though at that point in time she should by all rights be across the island and not know him at all. And Jack should now also be back on the island, along with Kate et al. IF Desmond is, too. Right?

Of course, Faraday does speak to Desmond once the others have left, and he tells Desmond that he (Desmond) is "special." So either that will come into play in all this time travel stuff OR the logic simply doesn't hold.

Still, no one can be in two places at once. That's the primary paradox of time travel, the one Quantum Leap solved by having Sam leap into other people. And anyway, Faraday (assuming he wasn't lying) says that no one can change anything when traveling in time. In which case, one shouldn't actually be able to interact with others when traveling. In fact, one should simply be put back where they were at any given moment. For example, if the island should skip to when Oceanic 815 crashes, then none of the current survivors should be on the island when it happens (because they're on the plane, right?), and yet Sawyer and the others have been there for all these moments in which, really, they should have been somewhere else--polar bear cages, what-have-you.

I'm curious to see where the writers and creators take this. They've been a mostly savvy lot, so it's my hope that they have this planned and will reveal all in, er, time.


Book Review: Just After Sunset

Stephen King
Scribner, 2008
367 pages


First things first, a disclaimer. Or, really, full disclosure (as they say in the legal profession, don't they?). My love for Stephen King's work began when I was very young--too young to read his books. I was about eight years old, and my father always had battered SK paperbacks in the house. And no, I didn't sneak them--not then, anyway--but on Saturday nights I was allowed to stay up late, and my dad and I would sit on the porch, sometimes with the telescope out, and we'd just talk. And Dad would tell me the stories he read in his books. It was how I first heard The Lord of the Rings--courtesy of Dad's Condensed Tales--and how I heard pretty much every early Stephen King novel. Even though I'd pick up Dean Koontz's Lightning in fifth grade, I didn't touch "the hard stuff" until later, when I would eventually sneak Dad's copy of IT into my school locker. Of course, Dad kept his books in alpha order, and so even though I'd plugged the hole in the bookshelf, he noticed. "Just don't tell your mother," was all he said.

Ever since, I've devoured almost all that King has written. Some I've read more than once, and some I've just never bothered with. But I try to keep up.

Just After Sunset is a collection of short stories. King notes in his Introduction that he'd gotten away from short story writing for a while, but that after editing a Best of annual anthology, it all sort of came back to him. And indeed it did; every story in the book is very, er, Kingsian. Is that the adjective? Which is to say, for the most part they are entertaining, but in some places they are predictable because they are exactly what we've come to expect from "Uncle Stevie." Not necessarily a bad thing--after all, it's like going to your favorite restaurant and ordering your usual meal and getting, well, exactly what you expect. Maybe you've been craving that, and so it hits the spot. Similarly, when you get a hankering for some Stephen King, Just After Sunset fits the bill in bite-sized pieces.

As with any collection of stories, some are better than others. I particularly enjoyed "Stationary Bike" (though I might've used a different title, maybe "The Road to Herkimer" although that's rather pedantic in its own way, I suppose). I like that it didn't really turn out to be a horror story, though--again--the ending was kind of pat. And hey, what happened to the paintings? I also liked "The Things They Left Behind," which is sort of a hopeful story.

Meanwhile, "Willa" isn't a bad idea, but it does go on a little longer than necessary. Not to give too much away, but there's a whole part in the middle which turns out to be almost pointless, except maybe to give King a way to coach the protagonist into seeing/remembering certain things so that the reader can see and know them, too. "The Gingerbread Girl" is also really long, but here King uses a certain amount of drawn-out horror and suspense to push the tale along. Starts slow, gets better, like a roller coaster that clicks up the hill only to let loose for the rest of the ride.

"N." is King's contribution (in this collection, anyway, as there are others elsewhere in his oeuvre) to the Chthonic genre, very Lovecraftian, or rather, King points to Machen's "The Great God Pan" as the source for this particular tale. My only discontent with this one is the final "transcription" of an e-mail that I feel was overkill. I'd rather have had the sundae without that particular cherry on top.

Some of the tales are almost throw aways: "Harvey's Dream," "Graduation Afternoon," "The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates."

There's something very old school about these stories, again possibly because they are Kingsian, and he writes in a particular style, an old school writing class kind of style. Still, they are a marked departure from his more recent novels, which aren't always as "traditional" in form. Or maybe it's just the condensed nature of a short story that brings out that old school flavor. But if you don't have time for Duma Key (and I heartily suggest you make time for it, but if not), then Just After Sunset could reliably tide you over.


Movie Review: Hamlet 2

Starring: Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, David Arquette, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Shue
Directed By: Andrew Fleming
Written By: Pam Brady & Andrew Fleming
Focus Features, 2008
R; 92 minutes
2 stars (out of 5)


As we were watching this, my husband said to me, "This is one of the most bizarre movies I've ever seen." That's really something, coming from someone who watches bizarre movies on a regular basis and counts Tank Girl as a favorite. As for Hamlet 2, we agreed that, even being told that the film is about a high school drama teacher (played by Coogan) who is a failed actor and so turns to writing and directing Hamlet 2 for his students . . . We wouldn't have expected what we ended up watching.

The story is mostly about Coogan's character Dana Marschz, aforementioned high school drama teacher. It's about not only his attempts to succeed at putting on a well-received play--Marschz spends a lot of time picking the brain of the student who writes bad reviews of his class' plays for the school paper--but about his unhappy wife (played by Keener and that includes a plot "twist" I saw from the first), his inability to get her pregnant, and mostly his terrible childhood, which is reflected in the play he ultimately writes: Hamlet 2.

The additional devices include Marschz being saddled with a bunch of uninterested Latino students who are only there because other electives have been cut due to budget problems, and Marschz attempting to save the drama program via his magnum opus--which of course gets shut down when the principal discovers it is "offensive." Which is to say, there is foul language, a song about "Sexy Jesus," and another about being molested as a child.

Hamlet 2 the movie--as opposed to the play within the movie--goes down the usual path of (a) Marschz falling off the AA wagon; (b) the students saving the play; (c) the show going on to great success. There's nothing new under the sun here, aside from the scenes of the play itself, and I have to admit that "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" is a catchy number. If there had been more of the play and less of the rest, I'd have enjoyed the movie far more. As it stands, I couldn't ever really feel sympathy for Coogan's Marschz; he annoyed me more than anything. The students were mostly likable, but because there were so many, no one got more than a surface scratch of characterization. Plot devices were rote and cliche. I've given Hamlet 2 two stars, though I could go as low as 1.5 and still feel okay about it. ~ZM


Book Review: The Bitch in the House

Cathi Hanauer, Ed.
William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2002
275 pages
hardcover (library)


This book is a collection of essays in which, as the book's subtitle puts it, "26 women tell the truth about sex, solitude, work, motherhood, and marriage." I don't know about whether these essays tell THE truth, but they do tell SOME truths.

In the way of essay collections, some of these "spoke" to me and some didn't. I could identify with some--sympathize via personal experience, for example--and not with others. Still, I wanted to read this book and be able to revel in my womanhood, but that just wasn't possible. There's nothing in the tone that is cheerleader-like in quality; it's a mostly introspective group of personal experiences. Reading The Bitch in the House was sort of like going to a flea market; some of the stuff you find might be interesting, even tempting, but a lot of it is just someone else's junk.

Maybe I'm just not old enough or experienced enough to see all the gemstones of knowledge embedded in this book. I'll admit that's possible. And even still, a couple of things did grab me. I could identify with "Crossing the Line in the Sand" because I know I have a volatile temper myself, and I do work hard not to take it out on my children. Still, there's that scary notion that one day I'll find myself roaring like a monster and terrify them, and if that does ever happen--and I've come close--will they lose all trust in me? I don't want my kids to be thinking, Which Mommy is it today? Good Mommy or Bad Mommy? And while I had little interest in most of "Erotics 102," one thing in that essay did stand out for me; almost in a throw-away line, the author mentions her "sovereignty." She does so in the context of having the right to buy a sweater she likes, one her husband attempts to force her to return because of the expense. As someone who has a difficult time feeling like I have the right to do much on my own authority (after all, I don't make any money, and I often feel I'm here in my own house on sufferance), this situation caught my attention. I don't know what I'll do with this notion of "sovereignty," but I like it, and it'll swim around in my brain for a while, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, the only essay I had a particular dislike for was "My Marriage. My Affairs." Not because of the open marriage thing. That's not my style, but I don't really care what people choose to do in their own relationships. My problem was with the tone of the piece, in which the author (writing under a pseudonym) seems to come across as feeling as if she's simply more enlightened than most of the world. As if we'd all have open relationships, if we were just evolved enough to follow her lead. Sorry, "Helen Pine," but I'll continue grubbing around in the dirt like an underdeveloped, low-life animal and stick with my monogamous marriage.

As for the rest, most of it is passable. I think any woman who might pick up this book is likely to find something to relate to. Men who attempt it will either (a) find it surprising and illuminating, or (b) run for the hills never to be seen again. Depends on how well they can stomach plain speaking and, in some cases, vitriol from their women folk.


Television: American Idol, Season 8

Yes, I'm watching this useless bit of clap-trap television. I have every year, despite my promises to myself that I won't. I always think, I'll just watch the train wreck auditions. But then I end up staying for the entire season. (The exception was the season that featured Jordan Sparks. I so couldn't stand her that I quit watching mid-season.)

Season 8 started yesterday evening with a visit to Arizona. Although AI has been somewhat revamped for this year, including the addition of a new judge, the first episode was decidedly lackluster. Even the few disputes were uninteresting. My husband theorized that everyone (that is, the judges) was on his and her best behavior as they got used to the new dynamic of working with another person, an untested chemistry. If so, let's hope it passes quickly so that they can get on with being entertaining. After all, at this stage it's as much about the judges being worth watching as it is about the potential finalists.

Paula does seem to have stepped up her game slightly, now that she has another woman to play off of. Newbie judge Kara DioGuardi has a fair amount of spunk and appears to be working out well; she has a nice blend of firmness and compassion, and yet she doesn't put up with the obviously ridiculous or the entitlement attitude that some hopefuls bring in with them like a cloud of overwhelming perfume. I was prepared to be unhappy with the tinkering of the show's dynamic, but I found I couldn't help liking DioGuardi.

Tonight, as I continue to watch, they're in Kansas City, and right off the bat there is a tad more cattiness from the male judges as they've told the first contestant--a girl who claimed to have a strong and emotional voice that surprises those around her--that she sounds like a cat that has been thrown off the Empire State Building. And so the second night is thus already off to a more entertaining start than the first. Let's hope it continues on this way, or else this is likely to become the season I manage escape velocity from the gravitational pull of this time-sucking black hole of a show.


Television: 24: Day 7

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Cherry Jones, James Morrison, Anne Wersching, Jeffrey Nordling, Carlos Bernard, Janeane Garofalo
FOX, Mondays at 9:00


So I spent a lot of the four hours of this trying to figure out where I'd seen the guy who plays FBI techie Sean Hillinger. Who is that guy? I kept asking myself. This is one of the downfalls of being a television and movie person; faces can be so familiar. I've seen him with longer hair. Same sarcasm, but more of an anti-establishment vibe. I finally gave up and checked IMDB, and as it turns out, the actor is Rhys Coiro, who was a semi-regular on another show I enjoy, HBO's Entourage. Mystery solved.

I then went on to be excited about the appearance of Peter Wingfield, who I also used to love in (yes, I'll admit it) Highlander: The Series. After all, my college nickname was Methos.

But what can I say about the show itself? I can say it started off far better than Day 6 did. I can say it's better than November's Redemption, which had been designed to set up this season's plotline. I can also say I saw just about everything coming. That's what seven seasons of a show can do to you; everything that was new is now old. Of course Tony was undercover! Of course Bill and Chloe and Tony have gone underground! And where are Morris and the baby, anyway? Perhaps they'll turn up just in time to be in mortal peril.

There are some refreshing elements. The new location (Washington D.C. instead of L.A.), the cute FBI agent—she's certainly no Jack Bauer, but the world probably wouldn't survive more than one of him, and I like that she has a wee bit of spunk.

I have to say, though, you'd think by now these terrorists would know NOT to give the U.S. government as much as 24 hours to do anything, since that's pretty much EXACTLY how long Jack needs to find you and bring you down.

Speaking of Jack, after seven seasons, I have to say I find his intense, one-note acting level somewhat exhausting. I think it's good that they've shored him up with a more interesting cast around him. It's getting less and less easy to care much about Jack—after all, we know he'll make it out alive, it's just a matter of how—but we can grow to like and care about the others, and one is not always as sure of all their fates.

As a final note, I'd like to remind everyone that Dave Barry live blogs 24 each week, which adds a humorous note to the proceedings. Read along or follow up with it afterwards.


Television: Grey's Anatomy

Starring: Ellen Pompeo, Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl, Patrick Dempsey, T.R. Knight
ABC, Thursdays at 9:00


My husband has asked me a number of times, "Why do you still watch this show?" And the answer is: I don't know. Patrick Dempsey? He's compelling (to look at, anyway), but not compelling enough, really, to be the sole reason to sit through an hour of increasingly ridiculous dreck. (Mind you, just to be fair, my husband does remain in the room, though he's at the computer.)

Actually, my husband starting watching Grey's long before I did; in the first season, I would leave the room after Alias and go read while the hubby stayed to tune in to Seattle Grace's drama. Somewhere near the end of that season, though, I managed to get sucked in, and I have been ever sense. Even as I sit and think, You've got to be kidding me. This is stupid! Even as I continue to groan over Meredith's continual attempts at self-evaluation that lead to borderline paranoia, as I roll my eyes at Izzie Stevens' unyielding optimism and now semi-insanity (and Heigl's overacting), as I sigh in exasperation when faced with the partner-trading antics of the characters--as if the writers were looking for the most far-fetched matches possible when forming liaisons--I continue to watch this show, my biggest Thursday night debate being: popcorn or ice cream?

Over the seasons, the show's balance of power has gone from interesting characters faced with (a) equally interesting medical/ethical situations, and (b) a handful of personal problems to an expanding cast of characters jostling for screen time and thus bloating their frayed personal worlds into disproportionate dramas--oh, and there are some hospital patients, too. Look at T.R. Knight's character of George O'Malley. A likable character all around, and George started out as the underdog who had a crush on the (arguable) lead character of Meredith Grey. But then the story arcs got sloppy and dumb: he slept with Meredith, became disillusioned, fell in love and married Callie on a whim, cheated on Callie with Izzie, divorced . . . Somewhere in there he failed his exam and had to be an intern again, and then Lexie got a crush on him (until she started seeing Dr. Sloan) . . . No wonder Knight has plans to leave the show. His character has done just about everything he can do. He's exhausted his options, and of late, the character of George O'Malley has been just so much window dressing while others take center stage.

So why do I keep watching? I ask myself this, too, and wonder what it will take for me to stop. It's almost the same principle that causes a person to crane for a look when one sees a wrecked car on the side of the highway: How bad is it? These days, pretty bad. Which may be part of what makes it entertaining.


Book Review: Interred with Their Bones

Jennifer Lee Carrell
Plume, 2007
405 pages
trade paperback


In a nutshell, Interred with Their Bones is basically The Da Vinci Code for Shakespeare aficionados--and mostly better written than Dan Brown.

I received this book as a Christmas gift. My husband was looking for something that wasn't on my wish list, something I wouldn't expect to receive, and he felt like this one would be my kind of thing, seeing as how I teach Shakespeare each summer to middle-grade students--and actually get them to love and understand it. (I also was a member of a Shakespeare acting troupe in college.)

Okay, so I'm no major Shakespeare scholar. I know more than the average person but not nearly as much as the big academics. Still, I found this to be a quick and fun read, although I sometimes had to gloss over the places where I didn't 100% follow the leaps in the characters' logic. What I mean is, there were points at which I took what they concluded on faith.

The story itself is a rollicking adventure of the search for Shakespeare's lost play Cardenio. The protagonist is Kate Stanley, a Shakespeare scholar-turned-theatre director. Very much like Langdon in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, Stanley is thrust into the dangerous mystery simply by dent of the fact that she has the knowledge needed to see the quest through. (She even has ties to Harvard. Maybe she knows Langdon?) The plot twines from London to Cambridge (Harvard, in fact) to Utah to New Mexico to Washington D.C. to Spain, and then back again to some of those places.

Of course, the question at the foundation of the novel is not where this Cardenio manuscript is, but, "Who can Kate trust?" Carrell attempts a couple twists towards the last quarter of the book, but as a veteran reader of mysteries, I must admit I wasn't in the least surprised by the who-done-it aspect. The fun was more in the journey than in the end result.

Carrell has another Kate Stanley book in the works, slated to appear on bookstore shelves this year, and I'll almost certainly pick it up from the library. Which should at least tell you that I find this one a worthy read, despite some flaws.


Movie Review: Hancock

Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by: Vincent Ngo & Vince Gilligan
Columbia Pictures, 2008
PG-13; 92 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


This movie has the distinction of being the first movie I've seen this year. Too bad that's about the only thing distinctive about it.

Without giving too much away, let's just say Hancock attempts a plot twist that turns the third act in a completely different direction. It's almost as if someone tried to sew together two movies, meaning the final outcome was not entirely successful. As my husband put it after we'd viewed it, "I think I would have liked a plain Will-Smith-as-a-superhero movie way better."

Instead, Hancock attempts to be very dramatic about its character. He's got "issues." Well, don't all superheros? One problem is that the viewer doesn't discover some key information about Hancock's past until far into the movie. He doesn't age? Whaaa? Look, either this matters enough to make it clear from the start, or it doesn't matter at all. But in order to do their little twist, the writers stuck this in like shoving a loose page in a neatly stacked ream. Is this supposed to make me suddenly understand Hancock better? I would've liked to been able to do that much sooner--if you wanted me to, if it was important for me to as a viewer.

The end result is that nothing in Hancock gets as fully explored as it should have or could have. His confrontations with bad guys is perfunctory, as are the villains themselves; not one of the baddies sparks any real interest, they are clearly nothing more than cogs in the plot, even in the big "showdown." At best, they offer comic relief, when really, that might better have been left to Will Smith himself.

The best that can be said is that Hancock does leave things in a better state than it found them, which is to say that there is potential for a sequel that might actually be entertaining.



I used to write for Blogcritics. Then I got busy with life and kids and career. Now I find myself unemployed (though with more kids than before), and I have time again, sort of, to read and watch DVDs, so here I am.

I have a BS from UT Austin in Radio-Television-Film. While there I focused on critical and cultural media studies. Also on screenwriting. And I've worked on movie sets. Then I went and got an MA in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College. And worked in the publishing industry for over seven years. So I do know at least a little about the things of which I write. Which isn't to say that I'm the last word on these things. The great thing about books and movies is that some people love some of 'em, and some people hate some of 'em, and they usually make for good conversation at parties. So you can agree with what I write here. Or not.

So what, then, is a "spooklight"? It's another word for will-o-the-wisp, a ghost light, a sort of phantom. It's something real and not real at the same time--the light is real enough, but it can still lead a person astray. I'm not trying to lead anyone astray here, but I find the idea sort of works with the ether that is criticism and opinion. A book or a movie is a real thing. What people say and feel about it is something more intangible, despite the concrete form of words.

Welcome, then. By following the spooklights, we may venture into interesting territory.