I really like candles. I like to have them burning while I'm writing. But I'm very particular about my candles. They cannot smell like food. None of this "spice cookie" or vanilla or whatever. I detest anything that smells like something I might want to eat without it being something I can, in fact, eat. (So this rule also goes for body lotions.)

The best candles I ever had were a gift from someone on a film set. (Long story short, it didn't occur to me until long after the fact that maybe the guy who gave them to me might, you know, like me or something? Marcel, wherever you are: thank you.) These candles were "fresh cut grass" scent made by a company called Chubbies. Do they exist any more? Could I possibly find more of these candles?

The old standbys are, of course, Yankee Candles. I do love their "blue hydrangea." But I'm trying to branch out a bit and discover a few other brands instead of going back to the same things again and again.

At Michael's today I found a brand called Ashland but I didn't like the way any of them smelled. The one I'm trying out now is Nature's Wick in "tranquil waters" scent. It smells great without being too cloying and it seems to burn pretty evenly, but it makes a funny noise. Yes, that's right. It crackles and buzzes, I suppose because of the wooden wick. I haven't decided yet how I feel about that.

I've discovered that most of the scents I enjoy come in white or light blue for whatever reason. Sometimes beige. I like deep, rich colors, but the scents for which those colors are typically featured aren't my cup of tea, so to speak. Cranberry? Uh, no. And I generally steer clear of anything that will make my office smell like a Christmas Tree store. But I am getting a little tired of all the blue and white, despite how serene it makes things. Hmm.

Someone once gave me a Yankee Candle that was some kind of thunderstorm scent? It was quite nice, actually, and a darker color than the ones I usually gravitate toward. Maybe I could find more like that.

Anyone out there have suggestions for candles?


Television: Revolution, "Sex and Drugs"

Okay, so take, I dunno, some old Miami Vice, throw in a bit of MacGyver maybe, and also that biblical parable where the angel stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, and you've pretty much got this episode of Revolution summed up.

Way back in that "Soul Train" episode (and could we maybe look for some episode titles that are not clichés?), Nora got stabbed in the gut. So "Sex and Drugs" begins with Miles and the gang in search of help for their friend, which leads them to Drexel, one of Miles' numerous "old friends" who is now the equivalent of a plantation owner, except his crop is poppies for heroin. Here's where the Miami Vice comes in. Heroin is legal under the new regime, but Drexel lives like the typical [80s] drug lord: surrounded by girls and gunmen.

In return for helping Nora, Drexel demands that Charlie—yes, Charlie—go to a neighbor's house and kill the clan leader. (Taffy was a Welshman . . . Or, really, an Irishman in this case.) I can't really blame Drexel for wanting Charlie gone; I've been wanting that since the show began. In any case, if Charlie doesn't take the "mission," Drexel will kill Miles and Nora and Aaron, so off she goes.

Still, as it becomes clear that even if Charlie is successful in killing Drexel's interfering neighbor she's never going to make it out alive, Aaron and Miles go all MacGyver in coming up with ways to break out of the drughouse. Well, really Aaron helps Miles break out so Miles can go get Charlie (Miles is the angel who will stay Charlie's hand before the knife can fall), while Aaron is left to then attempt to implement a plan that will get him and Nora set free.

In the midst of all this comes flashbacks of Aaron's past: the night of the blackout, two months after the blackout, and eight months after the blackout. If any of it was meant to be compelling, it failed. I think I've just become too jaded to the attempts at emotional manipulation.

We also briefly get to relive a bunch of Charlie's flashbacks, from the time her mother left, to her father's death, and Maggie's death, and Danny on the train. All stuff we'd seen and lived through before, and all designed primarily to remind us how irritating Charlie is. Seriously, her character needs major transformation, or at least far less screen time, else I'm going to have to drop this show because it's bad for my blood pressure. Charlie is that annoying.

Miles is the best thing going here, and Bass. That dynamic is way more interesting than Charlie's whining or Aaron's pining. Revolution needs to begin playing to its strengths instead of crippling itself with these milksop characters taking up so much of the airplay. Maybe they're trying to drag it out as long as possible, but there's a fine line between long enough and too long. If you're having to stuff the gaps with these dirty rags of uninteresting flashbacks, it's time to shore up the dam.

Previews of next week promise some answers about the blackout. Let's hope the show delivers. I'm giving it until the holiday break, but if Charlie is still bugging me then, I'm shutting down the power to this one.

Movie Review: Man on a Ledge

Starring: Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell
Directed By: Asger Leth
Written By: Pablo F. Fenjves
Summit, 2012
PG-13; 102 min
2 stars (out of 5)


Hey! It turns out Ed Harris is still alive! Except he's starting to look a bit like the skeletal version of Professor Waxflatter in Elizabeth's horrific hallucination in Young Sherlock Holmes. (Yes, I realize that's an oddly specific comparison.)

Fact is, I typically enjoy heist movies. What, you didn't know Man on a Ledge is a heist movie? You thought it was just about Sam Worthington standing on a ledge for about 90 minutes? Well, it is that, but the reason he's standing on the ledge (and I'm not giving away anything the trailer didn't) is to distract people from the theft his brother and his brother's girlfriend are enacting in a building across the street. It's kind of a cool setup, but the end result was unfortunately lackluster.

For one, I like my heists to be a bit more fun than this. Think Ocean's 11, right? Or even Sneakers? Yet here the banter between Joey and Angie (that would be the brother and girlfriend) is not remotely amusing. And Sam Worthington is too busy standing on a ledge to be good for many yucks.

Barring humor, a heist film should have some tension. Ideally, it will have humor and tension, but at least one of these is necessary to make it even partly satisfactory. Alas, Man on a Ledge is not tense at all. In fact, it just sort of drags. I'm not sure if maybe they were trying to make the whole thing seem real time, but 24 it wasn't. At 102 minutes, Man on a Ledge isn't a particularly long film, and yet it feels way too long nonetheless. Always a bad sign.

The core story of corrupt cops and the shunned female officer (Banks) is so rote the writer and actors don't bother to explore it, meaning the characters are only as dimensional as the paper they'd originally been written on. Harris, as the villain, spends his little bit of screen time snarling—just to make sure you know he's really bad. Although one look at his forehead would probably have convinced us. Meanwhile, all the turncoat cops tip their hands early on, making them easy to pick out, so that the viewer is simply waiting for the inevitable. Which is, of course, bad cops versus good cops and a showdown with Ed Harris on a rooftop. After all, you can't call it Man on a Ledge and not have someone go over.

My advice: go find something clever to watch. The "twists" in Man on a Ledge don't even count as such; any educated viewer can see each of them coming as clearly as looking out an open window.

. . . Hey, is that Sam Worthington?


Television: American Horror Story: Asylum

I'll say up front that I can't stomach gore. However, I am a big fan of psychological thrillers. And I enjoy ghosts, haunted houses, and the like. American Horror Story seems to tread a fine line that runs through the nexus of all these. I had tried the first season but found it less than compelling, giving up after just two or three episodes. But when I heard that the new season would be completely different, I decided to try again.

So far, I've mostly enjoyed the second season of AHS. I think the 60s New England setting gives it a kind of Stephen King feel, and I do love Uncle Stevie (I can read gore, just can't bear to watch it on a screen). The frame story of the honeymooning couple is kind of weird, not sure if it's going anywhere or what, but the meat of the story is the 1964 serial murders committed by one Bloody Face. They believe they've caught the killer and locked him in the asylum known as Briarcliff (run by the Catholic church), but it wouldn't make much of a season if that were true, now would it?

Meanwhile, we've got James Cromwell as Dr. Arden doing some kind of Victor Frankenstein experiments with the mental patients. We've got Sarah Paulson (who, incidentally, shares the same birthday as me, though I'm a bit younger) as the snooping reporter who lands herself in the asylum after crossing Sister Jude (Jessica Lange). We've got Kit Walker (Evan Peters), whose only real crime seems to have been that he married a black woman and was promptly abducted by aliens—but now he's been pinned as Bloody Face. And Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) . . . Who the hell knows what's going on with her. She may very well be Bloody Face for all we know.

With all this setup, AHS is like a freight train moving under its own weight and momentum. Which is a good thing. It keeps the story going, keeps things interesting. And AHS also has a win on use of flashbacks, with a technique far better than anything Revolution is doing. Maybe it's the editing. This show is visually edited all to hell, but it works. The overall tone is consistent without being monotonous.

While there's still more gore than I'd personally like, I'll keep watching. Even though I know this train is bound for glory headed for a wreck, I'm along for the ride.


Movies: Dark Shadows

Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Bella Heathcote
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay); John August & Seth Grahame-Smith (story), based on the television series by Dan Curtis
Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures
PG-13; 113 min
3 stars (out of 5)


I am not personally familiar with the 60s phenom that was Dark Shadows, though my mother assures me it was well worth rushing home from school to watch it. I did very much enjoy the short-lived 90s reboot that featured Ben Cross as Barnabas Collins; I even have the Innovation comic book tie-ins.

For those unversed in the story, it is that of the aforementioned Barnabas, 1700s-magnate-turned-vampire reawakened in the 1960s (or, for this film, 70s). The original television series was a daytime soap filled with witches and curses and star-crossed lovers. The 90s remake did not fare well, probably because they attempted to air it at primetime (perhaps they believed the success of Twin Peaks opened the door for that kind of thing; alas, they were wrong). In any case, the original version had a solid cult following, with Burton and Depp counting themselves among their number, hence the idea to make a movie.

Unfortunately, they seemed to be unclear whether to go for camp—which the 60s series unwittingly became due to low production values—or horror, and so the film Dark Shadows is a strange and ungelled mash of both. It has definitely funny moments, some intentional and some not, and the final scene calls on any number of horror tropes, though it never actually becomes frightening in any way. Meanwhile, with so many characters and so little time, there is a quantity of wasted talent and unexplored plotlines littering the stage here.

Even so, I enjoyed Dark Shadows more than I expected to, which is why I give it a solid three stars. I went in with not very high hopes, which is, I suppose, the key to truly enjoying a movie: not giving yourself room to be disappointed. Dark Shadows did not do well in cinemas this past summer thanks to a crowded market and middling reviews, plus fans of the 60s serial were disappointed and even irked by a movie that seemed to be making fun of something dear to their nostalgic hearts. But I don't think that was Burton's or Depp's intent. Best I can gather, they meant to (a) play up what they especially loved about the show to begin with, and (b) introduce it to a whole new generation. It didn't work, sadly, and I can't say I'd go so far as to recommend this movie. But I wouldn't warn anyone away from it, either. It is what it is, which is to say it's nothing special—just an odd duck outside of its time, rather like Barnabas Collins. Look at the movie as you might look at him, with a sense of: Huh. Isn't that weird? And then walk away shaking your head.


Television: Elementary, "Rat Race"

Best episode yet. Which may not be saying all that much since there have only been four, but it's always good to see a show going uphill rather than down.

For one, I like the pacing of the slowly evolving relationship between Holmes and Watson, a sort of grudging admiration on each side, yet still laced with the awkwardness of their situation (i.e., that she is babysitting him at the behest of his father). They each take their jobs very seriously, though the goals are different. Nicely, Watson's dedication to her work dovetails into not only following Holmes around but seeing to it that he's happily occupied, since that is the best way to prevent any relapses. It's going to hurt at some point, I think, when Holmes attempts to make it clear he doesn't need her (but of course he does). And what will happen when the six weeks are up?

Meanwhile, in this episode it was also nice to see how Holmes's arrogance trumped his better senses in that he allowed himself to be caught and nearly killed. Holmes being conceited is a given in pretty much any incarnation, but it's good to also note he doesn't always get away with behaving in such a way without consequences.

And wasn't the hair bit interesting? Holmes points out that Watson puts her hair up when she wants to look her best. However, she didn't put it up until going back to the apartment. On all her dates, her hair was down. It was up again, though, later in the episode—and this was again while she was home with Holmes. Still, I don't think it's a matter of romance here so much as a desire to impress. Maybe an undercurrent of competition. After all, Holmes is a walking challenge: I'm smart, show me you're smart, too. Otherwise you're a waste of time and beneath notice. If Watson does have any kind of feeling for Holmes outside the concern she's being paid to exhibit, it's still deeply subconscious on her part. Holmes is likely to offend and outrage her if and when he claims she has any affection for him beyond the motherly or merely friendly.

I was also glad to see they didn't let Gregson play the dummy. I would have found it difficult to believe the captain didn't do a background check on Holmes, no matter how badly NYPD needed the detective's help. Just because Holmes is on a long leash doesn't mean he isn't being walked. It makes for a more interesting show than letting one character jump all over the furniture while everyone just stands and watches. With everyone bringing something to the table, the dynamic is far better. I'd like to see them punch up Gregson's character even more in coming episodes. And continue to progress Holmes's and Watson's relationship, which may seem incredibly slow, but feels all the more real for that. And if the show hopes to air for any length of time, these things necessarily must be drawn out. For now it makes sense that neither Holmes nor Watson would want to get too terribly attached given they each expect to be free of one another shortly. Can't wait to see how that plays out.


Television: Sherlock Holmes Shows

So. Sherlock and Elementary. It's amusing how the media has tried so hard to turn these shows into a fight. Meanwhile the stars of each have gone out of their way--almost to an absurd degree--to praise one another. This is in large part because they've worked together and maintaining connections in the industry is always important. But truthfully, the two programs have very little in common aside from the protagonists' names. I don't even think they're the same genre. Well, both are dramas, but one is flat out drama (sometimes bordering on melodrama) and the other is that subset known as a procedural. Just completely different feels to those. And while both Sherlock Holmes are in ways recognizable as the character established so long ago by Doyle, they are not at all alike to one another. The Watsons even less so.

I had a friend say Elementary was shite, but (at risk of sounding much like Cumberbatch and JLM), I think each show is solid and good at its own thing, establishing its own brand. Sure, if you go into Elementary expecting Sherlock, you're going to come away dissatisfied and vice versa. It is a peeve of mine how fans go rabid and refuse to be open to new things.

Only marginally related: I do have two questions for Benedict Cumberbatch; send him my way, would you?


An Indie Filmmaker Answers My Question

A couple days ago I e-mailed one of the producers I'd met briefly at AFF (I won't name him so he doesn't get bombarded, but he's an indie producer with a lot of experience). To be honest, I didn't expect any kind of answer; I've gotten used to being ignored, to having my queries disappear into a void. (Another producer informed me if he sees "query" in the subject line of an e-mail, he deletes it without ever opening it. Good to know.)

Anyway, this filmmaker did answer me, which is very kind of him because I know he's incredibly busy as most people in the industry tend to be. I had asked him the question I couldn't seem to get an answer to while at AFF: I've got this short script with this great feedback, so now what?

The producer laid it out for me thusly, saying I basically had three options, none of them perfect (but then what in this world is):

If you're looking for work as a writer, I think the simplest answer is to learn from the work and write something else...like another short or a feature. You might also want to try and share it with writing agents as a sample. It can be tough getting responses from agents though, so this may not work. I operate by the idea that the more persistent you are, the better. I still haven't gotten a paying film career together, but I keep making movies (9 features now, I think), and most times, we seem to get a bit more notice than the time before...It's a long slow build though, which is what I think that whole "Sundance is dead" was getting at. Very, very few people make one thing and get noticed - it's about continuing to work and work and work and cumulatively building something. It's not lucrative along the way, and it's a constant struggle.

If you want to make the short, I'd recommend signing up for a production class and making it yourself, which would be its own learning experience. Things never really turn out how you imagined when you shoot them, but the act of doing it makes you a stronger writer and filmmaker.

There's a chance you might be able to find someone else interested in making it, but then only if you pay for it. Most working filmmakers have a list of things they want to do, and if they're established, the only reasons they seem to make shorts are to test out ideas in a direction they're thinking about heading on a feature or to make a sample that can later be turned into one. Shorts just don't have much potential beyond festival screenings, and for many established filmmakers, fests are not that meaningful.

It's really kind of awesome that he was willing to answer me, and with such nice detail about the various avenues. I'm currently trying to decide how badly I want to pursue this. I'm inclined to shelve it at the moment and finish the couple prose projects I have going, namely the "St. Peter" sequel and my novel The K-Pro. After all, I can do that at home with little expense. Making a movie requires a gearing up, like a wind up before the pitch; it's a huge expenditure of time, energy, and yes, money. I'm not sure I'm there yet, and I figure if there's even a little doubt in my mind, that's probably not the best start.

Still, if anyone wants a well-reviewed short screenplay to take on as a film project . . . *wink*

Cross posted to PepperWords.


Television: Elementary, "Child Predator"

Nothing like a blunt title to let viewers know exactly what the episode is about (even when it's a play on words). Although one has to wonder if this means there will be no other episodes about child predators. Or maybe the next one with a child predator will have a title like "Another Child Predator" or simply "Child Predator 2." ("Child Predator Too?")

In this particular "Child Predator" episode, the writers hit the marks of Sherlock Holmes's insomnia and lack of appetite, traits typical to Holmes in all his incarnations and adaptations, as Doyle often made much of the detective's strange habits. The take on Watson's tendency to talk too much is also a common one, though less rooted in Doyle's stories.

As for the stories being told by the writers of the show—stories unrelated to Doyle's originals—they have a ripped-from-old-headlines feel eminently suitable for CBS's usual, greying demographic, those who primarily enjoy police procedurals with very regular plot points and pacing. Therefore the writing is solid but far from dynamic.

I enjoy JLM's twitchy nature, though it occurs to me it must be an exhausting method of acting. Liu as Watson has a pleasing stillness that counterbalances this. Yes, even when she's doing calisthenics. Perhaps it's an inner quietude, just as Holmes's restlessness originates at his core and radiates outward.

JLM also plays Holmes as strangely earnest, a quality not as often punched up in other versions of the character. Yet this is not a complete departure from Doyle, either, since the original Holmes was not only brilliant but equally eager to perform; he liked to show off. And while Holmes's arrogant streak is a favorite of writers and actors, what Holmes also had was a deep desire to see justice done, and even, at times, an earnestness in that drive. Maybe not to the extent of Elementary, but it's interesting to see those levels brought up when they are so often damped down.

Elementary is thus far a good program but not a great one. I'm waiting for it to hinge less on the plot and begin to develop more character.


Austin Film Festival: Day 4 (Panel)

I only had time to attend one morning panel on the fourth and final conference day (the festival itself continues through the week with screenings, but the conference has ended). The panel I attended was on "Independent Production: Crowdfunding Your Indie Project." Again, I'm not really sure if I will go this route, but I like to have the information so I can get a sense of all the options out there.

A quick explanation of "crowdfunding": sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow filmmakers, musicians, inventors, whoever, to plead their cases to the general population. In other words, you can go on one of these sites and beg for money for your project. A little bit here and there begins to add up. The idea is that if everyone gives just a little, as opposed to having a big investor, the creative artist can realize his or her dream without the interference that big money tends to bring. Or, really, if you can't get the big money, get a lot of little money.

The panel was moderated by Evan Fitzmaurice and featured Jeremy Cloe, Lisa Rudin, and Victoria Westcott. Mostly these three spoke about their own experiences raising money via Kickstarter, as each has done so successfully. For example, Cloe stated he had already made a short film, which he posted on Kickstarter to give backers an idea of what the feature he was planning might look like. (I probably should have asked what a writer can hope to post to get people to give, since it sounds like Kickstarter requires a video of some kind, and my sitting and talking about the project wouldn't be terribly interesting.)

Of course, having a social media presence is key to a successful crowdfunding campaign. One can't start with just three Facebook friends and hope to get $10k. Well, you can, but you shouldn't be surprised when you don't raise the funds. (By the way, stats show that while the average goal is about $4500, campaigns are more successful when they ask for $10-20k.) It was suggested by one of the panelists that you make a contact list of pretty much everyone you know and start there. Roll it out to friends, family, online acquaintances, and try to get the word to spread. Another interesting statistic that came up: it takes an average of seven times of reading/hearing about something before a person is likely to act. That means seven times of seeing your e-mail or Tweet or FB posting before they might actually go look at your Kickstarter page and give some money.

Thirty days seems to be the right amount of time for a campaign. Rudin said if you start strong, that's a good sign. From the sound of things, a strong start and finish are the key; in the middle, don't panic if there's a little bit of a plateau. Of course, if you don't get that strong start . . . Maybe panic then.

Swag is a good way to get backers. Promising little perks at various donation levels. But it's also important to be honest and clear when dealing with donors: they will not make their money back, they will not get a return on their "investment." At best, it's a tax write-off. Meanwhile, promise those who give $75 a copy of the DVD, and give really major backers an acknowledgement in the credits, a ticket to the premiere, whatever. Just also remind them to be patient since making a movie takes time as well as money. If you can guess as to when these goodies will be available, that's great, but also be clear that schedules are subject to change.

Now Kickstarter recently came under fire when it was noticed that some less-than-worthy types were using it to raise money and then never deliver the project. (This happened to me when I bought into an of-the-month club on Etsy, so I can understand that frustration.) Kickstarter is working to crack down on this, which is why it requires so much from the artists hoping to raise funds: the video, the plan, a promise that if you get the money, you will make the project. There are legal ramifications and SEC issues swirling, but I won't go into those. Sufficient to say that if you use Kickstarter or its brethren, you must have a solid project and present yourself as utterly trustworthy because you will be fighting a certain amount of skepticism. This is why the social network is so important, since having people to vouch for you goes a long way.

Meanwhile, don't under- or over-report things. If you show up too much in a person's Facebook feed, they'll probably hide you. Only send updates—whether via e-mail, Tweets, or FB—when there is interesting or important news. Some people may want more, but don't put it in their faces. Instead, keep up a production blog that lets them go deeper if they so desire. This will also put your backers at ease that the project is real and is happening; you haven't taken their money and run.

That sums up what I took away from this particular panel. A lot of good information. It may seem like common sense, but it's always nice to hear from people who've been there and done that.

Austin Film Festival: Day 3 (Screening, Murder by Decree)

Sorry I'm a little behind, but the hotel's wi-fi went out and then I spent a day traveling, so . . .

On the evening of the 20th, Chris Carter hosted a screening of Murder by Decree, which is a Sherlock Holmes movie from 1979 starring Christopher Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as his faithful Watson. Carter said he'd been asked to choose a film that had been influential in his work, and watching Murder by Decree, it was easy to see a lot of The X-Files in it (I'm less sure of Millenium, which I only watched sporadically).

Chris Carter introducing Murder by Decree at AFF.

Notable elements that connect Murder by Decree to The X-Files include the use of a wild-haired psychic (in Murder by Decree it was Donald Sutherland in an excess of eye makeup, in the last X-Files movie it was Billy Connolly) and the thread of government conspiracy that end in Holmes taking the Prime Minister (John Gielgud) to task. One could easily picture Mulder in a similar situation; in fact, I'm sure he has been in a similar situation any number of times.

As for the film itself, Murder by Decree is quite good, if clearly a product of its time. The music cues are pretty terrible, actually, and the misty-eyed look Holmes gets when thinking of poor Annie Crook does the Doyle character a disservice, but these are minor flaws. There is a nice dose of humor—the pea scene in particular—and solid affection between Holmes and Watson; chemistry is required for any two actors in those roles, and Plummer and Mason have it here. Mason as Watson is not quite a buffoon as in some Sherlock Holmes films; he stands somewhere in between the bumbling Watson of earlier stylings and the more assured Watson so popular today—in fact, I think it would make an interesting thesis to study the trajectory of Watsons over the decades, but that is something else entirely.

The story in Murder by Decree touches on Jack the Ripper and the then fad theory of a government cover-up involving the royal family. This theory is no longer timely but still makes a good story, and it's easy to see how Carter lifted that idea and laid it over the U.S. government and the FBI. What does the hero do when he realizes the very people he works for and with are the bad guys? What power does he have to change the situation? It makes for a good tale, the kind that is timeless.


Austin Film Festival: Day 3 (Awards Luncheon)

Well, if you weren't there, you didn't miss much as far as the food went. That's generally true of these kinds of things; any time a kitchen has to mass produce large quantities of food, the results tend to be questionable.

Held at the Austin Club, the Awards Luncheon handed out several "typewriters" (that's the shape of the award, which Frank Darabont found very cool) to filmmakers and writers under various banners. Maybe Noah Buschel is right about the whole "just go buy a camera" thing, considering he won Best Narrative Feature for Sparrows Dance. There were a lot of other winners, but I didn't have a pen to mark them on my program, and anyway, I'm still a little bitter that St. Peter in Chains couldn't find a home at AFF (there is no short film screenwriting category, so I tried it as an hour-long pilot, but it isn't really, so no surprise it didn't advance). ::shrug:: The AFF site will surely list all the winners.

Other honorees were Chris Carter (writer and producer of The X-Files among other things) for Outstanding Television Writer, who had his award presented to him by Robert Patrick; Eric Roth (Munich, Forrest Gump) for Distinguished Screenwriter, award presented by Dan Petrie, Jr.; and Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) for Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking, award presented by Jeffrey DeMunn. Weirdly enough, I was also really excited to be in the same room as Drew Struzan, whose artwork is fucking awesome.

Well, and Chris Carter. My first spec script (which was my final project as an undergrad) was an X-Files script. But it was a two-parter, and my advisor told me, though it was very good, it would never work as something to send out because it was two parts. I wouldn't write another script for over a decade, having gone into publishing instead. Though when I interned for a producer at FOX, I did look Carter up in the directory and called his office a couple times, only to hang up when someone answered.

Eric Roth mumbled his acceptance, and still made tears come to my eyes. I probably only caught half of what he said; if I'd heard more, I might have been openly weeping. [AFF later posted Roth's speech.]

And Frank Darabont is just such a buoyant character. As I said, he was mightily pleased with the "typewriter." Also, he sounds almost exactly like Alan Alda when he speaks.

Now I must find caffeine because the lunch only offered water and tea . . . There may have been coffee at some point, but I hate coffee. I'm on break until tonight's screening of Murder By Decree. Chris Carter is hosting it AND it has Sherlock Holmes? How could I hope to resist?

Austin Film Festival: Day 3 (Morning Panel)

I'm just going to take a minute to write about the panel I attended this morning, which was "Independent Production: Getting Started." I have a little bit of curiosity about the subject because, since St. Peter in Chains is really not feature material, I'm wondering if I'm going to have to make the movie myself (despite the fab feedback it got from the reader—and I'm pleased to note the script has a shot at being table read at Sundance next year, though I won't know for sure until January). But it's a short, so it's really festival fare, assuming I can ever get anyone interested in making it.

The panel was made up of Jeff Nichols, Amy Talkington, Jason Wehling, and Noah Buschel. From what I could gather, most of the decisions you make about doing an independent film have to do with how much creative control you want or need. And budget. They're related, in that if you start taking a bunch of money from someone (a producer, an investor), they're going to expect to have some say. So you have to be honest and upfront about what you plan to do—and about the fact that no one is going to make any money from the project. Indie films are largely a labor of love.

Noah Buschel was keen on the idea of going out and buying or renting a camera and just making the damn movie. Others said it might be better to get a producer on board, or at least formulate a plan. It was likened to building a house: you have an idea, and you get a blueprint, and then you realize it will cost too much to build it exactly the way you want it, so you start figuring out where you can cut back.

I recall the TV-movie producer I spoke to a while back saying if you can attach talent to the work, someone will be more likely to make it. But, he noted, it can be just as difficult, if not more so, to reach that talent. Still, at this panel it was mentioned that talking to casting directors—or their assistants—can be a way to do that.

As for money, Jeff Nichols went through all the ways he finagled cash from family members, and then all the ways he told his friends/crew he couldn't pay them. Kickstarter was mentioned, and grants, but the key is to have a plan, something to show people that makes the project seem real and serious, at least if you want money from "official" channels.

The panel didn't go deep into the legalities, but contracts, entertainment attorneys, and forming LLCs for each project were touched on.

Okay, time to get ready for this luncheon. See you there, AFFers.


Austin Film Festival: Day 2 (Panels)

This morning I got up early and went down to attend a panel I'd pre-registered for titled "The Hart Chart." Screenwriter James V. Hart (Dracula, Contact) has a unique way of charting the "heartbeat" of films by tracking the characters' ups and downs. It was actually pretty neat. I've taken my share of screenwriting courses, and to be honest I don't know that good writing can really be taught so much as absorbed, but this was at least far better than the typical three-act structure stuff instructors like to lob at screenwriting students. While Hart typically devotes an entire day to deconstructing Dracula for his chart, this morning we only had an hour and a half and were taking apart The Dark Knight Rises. (I haven't seen the movie yet, but now I know what happens and what to look for.)

Hart and [the far right side of] his chart.

After that, I had signed up for a Roundtable event titled "Breaking Into the Business." This was the place I'd most hoped to get the information I'm seeking, and while informative in some ways, it ultimately failed to get me where I want to be.

For the roundtable, there were, well, several round tables in the room with a few people seated at each. Panelists then circulated; each table was visited by three (like ghosts in A Christmas Carol—and they did it all in just over an hour, so take that, Christmas Past!) The visitors to my table were Lee Shipman, Will Staples, and Bryan Brucks. Shipman said the best path was to enter contests. Staples said you should get a job fetching coffee and work your way up. And Brucks . . . He said a lot of stuff, really, and was the closest thing to helpful short of agreeing to read something and/or sign me. (He invited me to a "Finding Representation" panel that he was going to be on, but it was for semifinalists in the AFF writing competition, and I couldn't find him to ask him to get them to let me in. You owe me a drink, Brucks!)

Honestly, Brucks said that you have to write what a manager or producer can sell, which is kind of common sense. Thing is, the stuff that wins competitions isn't always the stuff studios want because it's not what audiences pay to see. Like, comps love historical dramas or whatever. But how many historical dramas open in cinemas each year? I mean, really? He also said in some ways television is easier if only because it has a more regular path, but . . . I don't know. He asked what I wanted to do, and I said, "Television." Because I had always wanted to be a television writer. I like exploring characters at length the way TV shows allow. But at the same time, I'm not 100% convinced I'd be up for the whole writers' room life. There's something nice about writing a movie and then being done. I'll have to think about it.

Finally, I was also pre-registered for "Revisions with Terry Rossio." (He's known for writing Shrek and working on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, among many other things.) Rossio's panel was very much like a writing class or lecture, and he also said one can't teach writing, though one can learn to write. I do feel like learning writing is an organic thing; it's not something you can break into steps. Well, you can and people have done, but the end result when writing this way tends to be stilted and, yes, formulaic.

What Rossio said that was pretty cool was: no matter how satisfied you are with something you've written, remain open to the idea that it can be made better. This seems like a small thing, but writers tend to get defensive about their "babies." Being open to [constructive] criticism is important. Of course, knowing when to tell someone to STFU is also good. ::shrug::

Rossio also promoted the idea of using developmental art as a pitching tool. It can be a mock trailer or comic book, but it needn't be so elaborate; the idea is to give them something visual to help communicate the idea of the story and get them excited about it. Writers are word people, after all, and studio folk think in pictures.

He then did some rewriting on a couple scenes submitted by conference attendees. He didn't get around to mine, though he said he'd do all of them eventually and e-mail them back. Well, I know it'll be a while before that happens, but I look forward to his notes.

I had the fun of being recognized by a couple different people today, too, which was sort of novel. Could my star be on the rise?

(Or maybe I'm just obnoxious enough that word is getting around. Hrm.)


Austin Film Festival: Day 1 (Panels)

Today the Austin Film Festival (AFF) began, with a shortened schedule of a handful of panels. First there were the opening remarks. Then, for lazy people like me who remained in the ballroom of Austin's Driskill Hotel, there came "A Conversation with Marti Noxon."

Barry Josephson & Marti Noxon

At this panel, Barry Josephson led Ms Noxon through a series of questions about her experiences as a screenwriter. It was as informative as any of these things ever are, which is to say only a little, because life experiences are unique. Many people can have things in common, true, and may have very similar stories to tell, but everyone experiences things differently because we are none of us exactly alike.

For example, Noxon said she fell into screenwriting by accident of the fact that she didn't have the money to direct a movie as her final college project at UC Santa Cruz. So her final project was a script by default. Later, she got "discovered" by Rick Rosenthal while waitressing (she saw him reading a script and asked him if it was any good, thus striking up a conversation).

Well, I "fell" into screenwriting in a similar way in that I needed to do something for my final project at UT (getting my degree in Radio-Television-Film) and for me, too, writing a script was the easiest thing. Alas, I have yet to be "discovered." But I'm hoping the good feedback from the Sundance reader on my  short film script will eventually pay off in some way. So I can say I have similar experiences to Noxon—even down to sharing her love of Spielberg—but am I going to be able to "break in" the same way?

One can tell with these panelists that they're willing to share their autobiographies but hesitant to encourage people to think doing what they did will work. So it's difficult to trust one is getting much out of the whole thing except an oddball collection of stories of how different people worked their ways into the industry. Inspiration perhaps?

The next panel I went to was "Breaking Onto the Scene" which had Evan Dougherty (Snow White and the Huntsman), John Swetnam, and Max Landis (Chronicle); they were later joined by Olivia Milch. It was more of the same, really, which is probably what I get for attending something called "Breaking Onto the Scene." After all, these people can only offer what they themselves have experienced, and perhaps a few insights into how the industry works—though they end up contradicting each other because each sees and feels differently about various things.

Taylor Cumbie (AFF panel moderator), Evan Dougherty,
John Swetnam, and Max Landis

In the end, I suppose the most reasonable hope of making attendance at such a festival count is in meeting people and networking. I'm not any big partygoer but I'll do my best to assert myself a bit. At the moment there is a lull in things, and I will be going out with friends, but I'll try to put in an appearance at the WGA gathering much later tonight.

More reports to come.


Television: Revolution, "Soul Train"

The formula here is set, and very much to the Lost template: use flashbacks for big reveals, at least one per episode, sometimes more. And have a character in current time also reveal something now and then. Like the fact there are twelve of these little power pendants for example.

I liked Lost and I like Revolution, but the reveals are no longer so revealing because we've come to expect them. Like dogs who sit and wait for their treats. Now I'm waiting for the show to up its game. Because really, after last night, we're back where we started: the militia has Danny and Charlie, Miles, and the gang must catch up to them and get him back.

An argument could be made, I suppose, for saying that it will only become more difficult now that Danny is in full custody at Militia HQ. It's an old trick: have your hero(s) do the same thing but make it harder than before. What I'm getting at is, thus far the show is solid but not especially inspired. I'm looking for the next big impact moment. The first was in the pilot, when we found out Miles had been militia. Then there have been a string of "falsies" like Maggie dying or whatever, stuff that's supposed to evoke some kind of feeling, but doesn't really. I'm particularly interested, though, in the history between Bass and Miles (and Ben and Rachel by extension), and I'm starting to suspect there really might be something going on with Aaron (Google Guy has a name!) . . . Or maybe they just haven't got around to his flashbacks yet. A lot of people to manage, after all; Even Lost took a while to get to everyone.

Some shows do progress more slowly than others, but it has to be done right and done well. Babylon 5 is the prime example for that. Even the least of the episodes saw advancement of the overall plot and/or character development. Right now the characters of Revolution are static, and we only get the sense they've developed by looking at their pasts. It might be time for the writers to consider letting these people move forward in more ways than one.


Places: Texas

I'm pretty familiar with parts of Texas, having lived in the Austin area for a good portion of my life and then outside of Dallas as well. I won't, however, say I "know" Texas because it is a very large state and I have not seen nearly all of it.

What I like most about Texas is the food. There is a lot of it, and a lot of different kinds, and most of it is good. That is to say, even the places that aren't the best are usually pretty decent, and often a lot better than stuff you'd find most anywhere else. There's Mexican, Tex-Mex, barbecue, "country" (i.e., chicken-fried steak and gravy), chili, steakhouses . . . And a large amount of Asian food, Caribbean, and so forth. And certainly seafood, though it's best to take your chances with that near the gulf rather than inland.

I am back in Texas for two reasons: to move the remainder of my belongings from Houston to San Francisco, and to attend the Austin Film Festival. This means my posting here and on PepperWords will be erratic (though I've scheduled some posts for PW that you won't want to miss). Once I'm home and have caught up on things like Revolution and Elementary, I promise I won't fail to post something here for you. And if I have time and opportunity, I'll also try to put a little AFF patter in the mix.

See you on the other side.


Books: L'il Gal Al and the Zombies of Amarillo by Christine Rains

Old West zombies. This free Smashwords story—it's not really long enough to be a book—is a nice idea but could use some refinement in execution. The core of the story is solid enough: Alma Sweeney makes money by protecting travelers from bandits through open expanses of the plains and prairies. She's a tough cookie, which is Rains's specialty. However, one wishes for a little more backstory here, and a little more showing instead of telling. Also, with the use of dialects, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish speakers; they all start to sound the same.

Meanwhile, having successfully brought a group of clients to Amarillo (Texas? Not clear, since Kansas is mentioned at one point), Alma's strict sense of reality is tested when she is confronted with zombies, both animal and human, that have been terrorizing the populace. Being a gutsy girl, she doesn't hesitate to take on the challenge. Here again, though, the story could have been made longer before rushing through to the conclusion and final reveal.

I wanted the yellow to mean something. I wanted the seamstress to play more of a role. All in all "L'il Gal Al" is a pretty good tale, but I guess I just wanted more of it. If you're curious to read it yourself, it's free in a variety of formats via Smashwords.


Television: Modern Family + Current Viewing Schedule

I have to say, all through last season I was on the fence about Modern Family. I had really enjoyed it previously, but then it lost some of its mojo. It wasn't making me laugh any more. But the two episodes that aired this week (which I only just caught up with via DVR) upped the game to the old levels. So it will stay on my roster for the time being.

So far, my season looks something like this:

Monday: Revolution
Tuesday: -
Wednesday: Modern Family
Thursday: The Office, 30 Rock, Elementary
Friday: -
Saturday: -
Sunday: -

Well, except I've been dabbling in Upstairs, Downstairs on Sunday nights. I also watch House Hunters as filler when I'm bored.

I had been watching Grimm for a while but lost track of it during the cross-country move. Didn't love it quite enough to invest the time in catching up.

I'm sticking out The Office because this is its final season. I started not really caring last season, and I find Andy Bernard truly obnoxious. But I do love seeing Catherine Tate on TV again.

30 Rock had begun to flag as well but has gone hilariously off the rails (on purpose) for its final episodes.

And I'm waiting for Smash to return. It's the show that I feel like I shouldn't enjoy as much as I do. (Is that the very definition of a "guilty pleasure"?)

What shows do you watch? Which are you close to dropping or which have you dropped already? And what are you eagerly awaiting?


Music: "Overjoyed" by Matchbox Twenty

My iPod has thrust this one forward a few times over the past couple days, and it's been growing on me. I have to say, I didn't much like it when I first heard it—or saw it, rather, since the first time I heard the song was when the band was promoting that little video for it, the one that was really just half a video played backward and then forward. I didn't like it. The video or the song, it's difficult to tell now because they were so entwined in my mind. I just walked away from the the whole experience with "Do. Not. Want."

And then I didn't hear the song again until a couple days ago because I listen to my iPod more than my satellite radio, and my iPod is on shuffle, and it sort of decides what I need to hear and when. It's actually remarkably good at this. I'm worried my iPhone and/or Siri is sentient in there . . . But I digress. The past two or three days, "Overjoyed" has been a favorite of my iPod, and without the stupid video, I find it to be a pretty good song. Is that weird?

Science has shown that we think in words and pictures. This is why we like charts and graphs and maps of the weather and such. When watching a video, our brains work to combine what we're hearing with what we're seeing. If there is some kind of dissonance, our minds either work to understand or reject it all. Which of these options our brains opt for depends largely on how important the outcome is to our survival, or whether we're motivated by anticipated rewards. "If I understand this chart, I will know how to do my work better, which means more money and a promotion." Since a Matchbox Twenty video had zero bearing on my existence, my brain rejected it and the song because, for me (and these things, as in "the arts," are very subjective) there was an internal discord. I understood the video, of course, but found it unpleasant for some reason. I'm sure it would take a psychologist to figure out why, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, later, in the absence of the visuals, when I was able to simply listen to the song—its music and lyrics—I enjoyed it. Go figure.

I'm sure this has worked in reverse, too. Some people hate a song until they see a cool video. Or love a song until they see a really awful video. Brains are funny places, and yet we all must live inside them to some extent. We are ever building them out, like some Winchester Mansion. Except some people don't, I guess. Some people's minds remain closed. I like to think I'm not one of these, and since I've found I can change my mind about a song, well, at least that's something. A tiny window thrown open. Fresh air let in.

Right Now I'm Reading . . .

The White Forest by Adam McOmber. It was sent to me as a review copy, and I do try to get around to those once in a while. I like this novel, which is set in Victorian London and features a narrator who has a strange "talent" for hearing the voices of inanimate objects. The central story is a mystery about the disappearance of the narrator's friend, who was involved in a cult-like organization. Overall the novel is pretty good but very dense; I can only read it in bite-sized chunks, which is why it is taking me so long. Well, that and I'm busy with other things as well.

One thing about The White Forest is that it skips around in time a bit, with the narrator remembering things and such. In many cases this is used to build tension around the core mystery, but sometimes the gimmick draws too much attention to itself. I still like the book, though. Really, really dislike the narrator's friend Maddy (not the one who is missing but another "friend" who isn't much of one at all, at least not thus far; maybe it's just I knew too many people like her back in the day).

Since I haven't yet finished the book, I can't say whether I'd recommend it, but so far I'd tell my friends who like supernatural mysteries that it's a good read.

And next on my stack is The Heart Broke In by James Meek, which I read a review of somewhere and found myself intrigued. I don't even remember now what it's about, but I do recall thinking while I read the review that it maybe reminded me of Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked, which is one of my favorite books. We'll see how it goes. I'll have it with me on my Kindle as I travel next week.


Television: Revolution, "The Plague Dogs"

More Charlie flashbacks. Turns out she was just as annoying as a pre-teen as she is as a teenager. Also Maggie flashbacks, which seems strange given what happens later in the episode (spoiler alert!).

When I take a step back and look at Revolution as a whole, I have to admit it's flawed. The characters are more like positions than actual players, by which I mean you almost see the show as one of those locker room graphs. This is the hazard of plotting too much, of trying to prove you have a story and a mythology and are going somewhere with all this. Everyone plays a part, steadfast and direct, and in shorthand so that character development does not factor. That is the point of stereotypes, after all—to give the brain a shortcut so you can get on with things.

So while I like Revolution, I wish the characters would be a little more fleshed out. More three-dimensional. Lost did this well with both the flashbacks and the incidents on the island. Revolution appears to be attempting something similar but it's not quite working.

Okay, on to the spoiler. It seems strange to me to devote so many flashbacks to Maggie only to have her die. I suppose seeing her Skyping with her kids the night of the blackout, when paired with previous talks of the pictures on her phone, and then piling on her futile attempts to get back to England was all meant to build sympathy so that her death became more sad to an audience that hardly knew her. Or maybe it was just misdirection. Maybe we were supposed to think, "Well, with this much backstory, she's safe." But really, there wasn't room on the team for two strong women and a teenaged girl. Nora won out because she had more dramatic heft (that is, a history with Miles). Maggie had to go.

Interesting juxtaposition of The Wizard of Oz and tornado weather. Good use of the "no place like home" bit in Maggie's death scene. The writers of the show clearly have a love of literature. I just hope they don't start laying the metaphors on too thickly. Then the show becomes a kind of university lecture in disguise.

I'll continue to watch. I'm hungry for more Miles and Bass stuff, which continues to be the most interesting part of the show. And I'm still waiting for Google guy (seriously, does he have a name? I can't remember it) to have some flashbacks, too. We've heard a lot of his story from his own mouth but . . . I'm starting to wonder if any of it is true. Flashbacks as confirmation?


Who Am I?

It occurred to me some of my readers might like to know just who it is who writes this stuff. Well, you could go to my main site and read the FAQs. But if you're too lazy, here's the short form.

I'm M.

Just M.

Like James Bond's boss (only much younger than Dame Judi Dench).

Mmm, like a pause in thought or the taste of something delicious.

Em, like a dash. Or Dorothy's auntie.

Sometimes I look like this:

But not always.

I write. Stories (some have been published) and plays (some have been produced). I read. Other people's stories and plays. I watch television and movies and then write about those too. I've worked on film sets. I do these things for the love of doing them. I'm lucky enough to be able to do them.

I'm M. Mmm. Hmm.

Television: Upstairs, Downstairs

I started watching this by accident. (And I do mean the current one, not the show from the 1970s.) I switched the Apple TV back over to the cable box last Sunday evening, and Upstairs, Downstairs was starting. Next thing I knew, I was completely drawn in.

Now, I've only ever watched three episodes of Downton Abbey. I did that out of a sense of duty, and because so many of my friends love that program. It's the kind of thing I would normally really like. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind at the time, or wasn't able to concentrate, and I should give it another shot. But whatever the reason, I was entirely able to get into Upstairs, Downstairs in a way I so far haven't been able to for Downton Abbey.

Last night I remembered Upstairs, Downstairs was airing and made a point to watch. It hadn't been a fluke; I liked it just as much this time, though the episodes had not been in sequence. (Apparently I'd seen the premiere episode and last night's was the first of Series 2 . . . But I read online that I had only missed two episodes since the first series only had three.) As opposed to being a full-on retread, this Upstairs, Downstairs is a kind of continuation from the 70s serial that was so popular. As things stand, Britain is now on the brink of World War II. Still, as they say, the more things change . . .

In any case, I can recommend it as very engaging and with just the right amount of humor. From what I understand it's no big hit or anything, but I consider it a solid show, perfect for a Sunday evening.


Movies: Moonrise Kingdom

Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel
Directed By: Wes Anderson
Written By: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Indian Paintbrush, Focus Pictures
PG-13; 94 min
4.5 stars (out of 5)


In an attempt to wash the bad taste of The Master out of my mouth, I turned to another Anderson—one with a history of making me happy when it comes to filmgoing. And Moonrise Kingdom was up to the task. Not that it would have been difficult to do better than The Master, but the tone is pitch perfect here, placing Moonrise Kingdom squarely near the top of my favorite Wes Anderson films. I don't quite like it as much as The Royal Tenenbaums but I did enjoy it at least as much as The Life Aquatic and far more than The Darjeeling Limited. (I have yet to see Rushmore or Bottle Rocket; lax of me, I know.)

Okay, so now I've been up front about being a Wes Anderson fan. I even liked that credit card commercial from way back when. ("Are those my birds? I need those.") So to be fair, I was primed to like this movie. It was cute, colorful, and quirky—all the things one expects from Wes Anderson. It told a deceptively simple story in the kind of perfectly visual way only film can provide. I knocked off .25 of a star for predictability, and another .25 for the monotony of line delivery (by which I mean every actor spoke in the same flat tone), but really the art direction here is lovely, from the sets to the care taken with the book covers and costumes.

I think another reason I loved Moonrise Kingdom is it reminded me of one of my own favorite books from when I was a kid, a summer camp story titled August, Die She Must by Barbara Corcoran. There is a haunting tone to the movie that echos the tone of that book, at least for me. Something about passing a point of no return in one's childhood perhaps.

For those who don't know, Moonrise Kingdom is about two pre-teens who, in 1965, contrive to run away together. Except they live on an island, so there's only so far they can really go. Meanwhile, a hurricane is coming . . . As I said, deceptively simple, but the themes are far-reaching, from the sense of entrapment to that of the inevitable. And unlike The Master, one could happily deconstruct this film in any number of ways. Or just enjoy it whole. (As for The Master, who'd want to think about that movie so much or waste any more time on it than one already had by viewing it?)

So thank you, Wes Anderson, for saving my movie-going weekend.

Movies: The Master

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Directed By: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written By: Paul Thomas Anderson
The Weinstein Company
R; 137 min
1 star (out of 5)


It would have been zero stars except there were moments I was able to make fun of the film and make myself laugh. These moments proved to the be only entertainment value in the entire movie.

But wait: let me start by asking whether Joaquin Phoenix had a stroke I never heard about? That's probably insensitive of me, but I really want to know. Maybe they just injected him with a bunch of Botox. It hardly matters.

The setup: Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a Navy officer who comes home from war and goes from job to job, suffering from episodes of angry violence tempered with drinking binges. When he stows away on The Master's (Hoffman) borrowed boat, Freddie is taken in—in more ways than one. The Master is head of The Cause, a Scientology-like movement in which people are "processed" (as opposed to "audited") to regress through past lives and free themselves from their invisible burdens. After any number of failures, Freddie finally has a breakthrough. And then he breaks away from The Master.

It isn't that I didn't understand the movie. Critics will say those that don't like The Master must not understand it, but I have a media and cultural studies degree in Radio-Television-Film, and I fucking well understood this movie. I could deconstruct it fifty ways from Tuesday, but no amount of taking it apart, looking at its themes, and poking it for metaphors could make me like it.

Here's what there is to understand: Freddie gets brought into The Cause. He comes out a better person. (He really does; this is proven by his calm interaction with his lost sweetheart's mother.) When he gets called back to The Master's side, like that dog in the old RCA ads, they try to tell him he's still sick and needs to get better. But at this point it's clear he's surpassed them. They're still sick. Freddie is better. And then Freddie goes on to use The Master's methods as a pick-up line. It all gets reduced to a lay.

Whatever. The Master was mostly trudging, except when unintentionally funny. Anderson showed his usual obsessive interest in anger and violence and a juvenile, ogling interest in sex and farting. The acting was good (given the material they had to work with) but the directing and/or cinematography was lazy. And I was subjected to way more of Philip Seymour Hoffman's singing than I ever wanted or needed to be. Also a lot of ugly naked people. Mostly women. I suppose Anderson is not brave enough to show me a hot naked guy for a change.

Look, I loved Magnolia, and I'm one of the only people on the planet who seemed to like Punch-Drunk Love. There Will Be Blood was okay, too, though I didn't like it as much as a lot of people. But The Master is just . . . Not good. It's total Oscar fodder; I'm guessing we'll see it get some nominations, but I never want to see it again. Ever. I go to movies to enjoy myself, after all, and to be entertained. If there's something edifying in the experience, that's fine. But when you're trying to hit me over the head with your supposedly deep and meaningful thoughts and ideas, and then fail to entertain or engage me at all besides, well you have earned an epic fail.


Television: Elementary, "While You Were Sleeping"

Better than the pilot, despite the clichéd episode title.

Even though I felt the show telegraphed a lot of the plot twists, what I like about Elementary as opposed to Sherlock is that the stories are original instead of updates of Doyle's. That's not to say Sherlock doesn't do a brilliant job with their take, but for those who know Doyle, it does mean we're not left in much suspense about what will happen. With Elementary, the stories are all new. What they do need is to be a little less predictable. Tricky when writing a procedural, I'll admit, but we'll see where things go.

I also enjoy Jonny Lee Miller's version of Holmes in which he's upped the impulsive aspect of the character. His twitchiness befits not only a recovering addict but Holmes in whole, who was known to be restless except when on cocaine (not an option for this Holmes . . . yet . . .). In particular, in last night's episode when he set the violin on fire, my initial thought was !!! But when I thought it over, yes, Doyle's Holmes might have done the same when in a fit of pique.

Also, I at first thought it was strange that Holmes and Watson kept calling each other by their surnames, but after consideration this also seems right; they are not yet really friends and each has an interest in keeping some distance for personal reasons. (Though if I recall rightly, Watson did call him Sherlock at some point last night? When calling to get his attention? Or was that someone else?)

All told the episode was solid and left me looking forward to the next one. Alas, we must wait two weeks. And I'll be at the Austin Film Festival when the next episode airs, so I'll be playing catch-up. Why is it, no matter if it's books, television, or film, Sherlock Holmes is always leaving us waiting and wanting more?


Movies: Who Wants to Make Mine?

I have a short film script based on my novella "St. Peter in Chains." My big wish is to see it produced. The novella itself has gotten decent reviews, and today I received some really encouraging feedback on the script itself. I'm willing to make changes as necessary. So if anyone out there is looking to invest in the kind of film that would probably do well at festivals, the kind of thing actors love to sink their teeth into . . . Drop me a note. Or look for me at the Austin Film Festival in a couple weeks.


Television: Revolution, "No Quarter"

Much better than last week's episode, in part because Charlie's earnestness was kept to a minimum and the flashbacks were about Miles and "Bass" (Monroe). Their story is so much more interesting than anything Charlie or her parents could offer . . . Though there's a chance Charlie's dad has something going on that we've yet to see.

It's true that Miles appears to be a kind of Standee version of the good-at-heart type who made some bad choices. Even his belt, which he wears like Han Solo or Robin Hood, gives off this devil-may-care (but I really do care, deep down) vibe. Still, Billy Burke brings all he has to the role, making it palatable and playable. In particular, I enjoyed his Stephen King references. Clearly Miles is a reader . . . of at least one author/genre.

Charlie really is the low point of the show. I can't decide if it's the way she's written (so zealous about family and doing the right thing; she has no depth or dimension aside from the fabricated need to protect and help, especially her brother, but really all of mankind), or if she's badly acted, or both. Someone needs to tone her down or scale her back or give her some real personality, because as it stands she's a kind of an annoying terrier nipping at her uncle Miles's heels. Maybe there will be a learning curve for her. Maybe this adventure is her country mouse learning about the real world. But right now it's just bleh.

Nice to see Danny do something for himself there, though. So far he's been mostly milquetoast, but he upped his game slightly last night.

Google guy and Maggie are doing their own thing, but though the time devoted to them was short, it was used well.

And who else enjoyed seeing Jacob from Lost back on the small screen? The potential triumvirate of him, Miles, and Monroe—their past and rise to power—has my attention more than anything else on the show.

So far, so good. I'll continue to watch despite Charlie. For now.


Books: You Are Not So Smart

In the chapter on Dunbar's Number, McRaney posits (based on scientific evidence, natch) that people can only maintain true relationships with about 150 people at any given time in their lives—which explains perfectly why I have only 149 Facebook friends.

David McRaney
Gotham Books, 2011
320 pages

You Are Not So Smart is really a collection of essays about the way we trick ourselves psychologically into believing things that are not true. Everyone does it. No one is exempt. We are all delusional, and the more you argue you aren't, the more you probably are.

It's a defense mechanism. It's evolutionary throwback. It's your brain creating shortcuts so you don't have to expend unnecessary time and energy on less important things. Whatever the reason(s), here McRaney is serving up the truth and citing the experiments to prove it.

A lot of this book was already known and familiar to me because I took a fair amount of psychology in college, and because I continue to be interested enough to read regular articles on scientific findings. (And to read books like You Are Not So Smart, which is evidently based on a blog, though the site appears to go un-updated for long periods of time.) I already knew about how you falsify your own memories, and about the bystander effect, and confirmation bias. I'm even able to point out times when I've been subject to any of these. (After all, once a person has it in their heads that a certain television writer and producer hates women, s/he's going to find many signs and symptoms of his misogyny in his work, is s/he not? I'm winking at you, Steven Moffat.)

Still, knowing what I know doesn't reduce the pleasure in reading about it. Maybe that's another kind of confirmation bias; reading what I already know allows me to feel as smart as, or maybe even smarter than, the author. I don't know. It becomes a rabbit hole of introspection if you think about it too long or too hard.

The truth is, McRaney's book is engaging and well written. It explains each bias and fallacy in a clear way, with good examples. One might be tempted to navel gaze after the fact, however. So be careful when consuming all this information.