Television: The Following, "Chapter Two"

A nice job was done setting up the question of whether the boy Joey might be in danger; are Carroll's little fans a threat to the boy? While one would assume they would revere the son of their idol, it largely depends on Carroll's instructions. And then one of the kidnappers admits to hating kids and wanting to snap the kid's neck besides. So kudos to the writers for providing tension.

More tension, too, from leaving the audience wondering about Parker's loyalties.

Less amazing was the continued probing of Hardy's history with Carroll's ex-wife (Claire). This part of the show's arcing plot remains rote and uninspired. I won't say there's no chemistry—there's definitely something, but there's no (for lack of a better way to explain it, and going with the kitchen theme) seasoning? (Also Claire looks a little too much like Kim Raver from 24.)

Carroll's transparent maneuverings in gaining followers, too, lacks subtlety. Any kid who went through grade school recognizes that tone of voice he uses as the one you run away from. But I guess if you're going to join a "kill club" (and really that's what this is), you aren't looking to run away from the guy trying to lure you into a car with promises of candy and puppies or whatever.

Minor points: Do those guys have really bad peripheral vision? And did no one smell that body in the wall? And is every episode going to end with one of these little chit-chats between Hardy and Carroll? Because that's going to get tiresome very quickly, being force fed Joseph Campbell and/or basic plotting structure. I know they're going for the Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling thing, but it really needs to be used sparingly in order to remain effective. There's some basic plotting for you.


A friend of mine from high school is dying of cancer. She's leaving behind three young boys. I can only imagine (and as a writer, I have a very vivid imagination) what she must be going through, and her family, and it has served to remind me:

No matter how frustrated I get with my work, or my world, I am really a truly blessed or lucky or however you like to think of it. Because I'm healthy, my family is healthy . . . My struggles are not life and death, not a question of where my next meal is coming from or whether I'll wake up in the morning.

If you're equally lucky or blessed, I would like you to consider donating to Kristin's cause. There can be nothing worse than knowing you're leaving your children short one parent, one caretaker—and boys, as we all know, need their mothers. A boy's mother is the one who teaches him how to treat a lady. But if we can't give Kristin her health and her boys their mother, we can at the very least, give Kristin and her family some peace of mind in knowing her children will be taken care of. The money goes into the boys' 529 accounts for their college funds. I know if it were me (and I have three kids of my own), I would be thinking of them and their futures so much more than worrying about myself.

And remember to say a thank you to God or the Universe every day you wake up healthy and without want.

[Re] Introduction

Cross posted from PepperWords.

This is in response to a blogfest going on today:

I'm M. I used to live on the East Coast [of the US] but now I live on the West Coast and travel semi-regularly to London besides. I hope one day to have a flat in London that I can live in half the year and rent out the other half.

I'm originally from the South. I don't like cold or snow. I do love to swim and travel.

I'm a Sherlock Holmes aficionado and write bestselling Holmes stories but also write other things, including a series of novellas about a gay British spy. I've had plays produced and one of my screenplays won a contest and got a professional table read at Sundance a few days ago.

On top of all this, I also write reviews of television, movies, books, and music here [note: this refers to the site you are currently reading] and have started a site for flash fiction here (feel free to submit something).

Just for fun I sometimes carry Sherlock dolls. They have their own blog from which to complain of my treatment of them.

My children honestly believe I can turn into a big, white, fire-breathing dragon. It's probably wrong and will mess them up for life, but I allow them to continue believing this because it works to my benefit in getting them to behave.

I'd say I'm crazy, but I feel I'm too aware of my neuroses to be truly insane. That is to say, in order to be really crazy, you can't know you're crazy. Right?

And if you want to know what I look like (for some reason I get a number of e-mails asking about this), click on the Gallery tab at the top of the page [note: this refers to the PepperWords site]. (Hair color subject to change without advance notice.)
My hair has been brown, red, blonde, pink, purple, and is currently a mix of auburn streaked with blonde and blue and purple. I like to keep people guessing.


Television: AHS: Asylum & The Office

No, the two shows aren't linked, except perhaps by a thread of horror. I just didn't want to do two separate posts.

AHS: Asylum wrapped up last week in a sort of Stephen King-ish epilogue kind of way. The whole Kit-and-the-aliens storyline was especially reminiscent of King, but that just may be in the way it was filmed: Kit in the wheelchair, the bright flash, and he's gone. It looked like any number of made-for-TV movies based on King's work. And while the whole alien thing was never truly explained, Kit's story (and Jude's, for that matter) wrapped up in a way meant to leave the audience feeling warm and happy about their endings.

All this was framed in Lana's being interviewed for a Kennedy honor. Her walls plastered with pictures of herself, she's as self-absorbed as ever, though she spills the secret that her baby did not die in childbirth. Meanwhile Johnny (Dylan McDermott) is hovering in the background, having killed a member of the camera crew to gain entry. After the interview finishes and the crew leaves, Johnny remains behind to confront his mother. She ends up shooting him in the head; like father, like son.

Thus the finale of AHS: Asylum gave the distinct impression of doing the best they could under the circumstances, as if a little more than halfway through the season someone said, "Holy shit, we need to figure out how to end all this!" But they only had about two or three episodes left to do it in, so . . . Yeah. It was all right. Very tame compared to the rest of the show.

And speaking of horror: I thought The Office was supposed to be a comedy. But besides the fact I haven't laughed in a while, the stuff with Jim and Pam is getting awfully heavy. (Nice touch with the camera crew, though. Apparently camera crews are IN as the telly gimmick of the week.) And the show's attempts to pair Dwight with, well, anyone other than Jim have fallen flat. He wasn't funny with Clark, and he wasn't funny with Darryl. Andy went from being funny to being an asshole, so it's been nice to have him gone, though I think the next episode is about him coming back . . . Nellie is the one person I enjoy consistently, along with the occasional remark by Creed . . . And I think the Erin-and-Pete story is sweet (but not funny). By the way, who else thinks Toby is the Scranton Strangler? I'm starting to fear for Nellie's safety on that score. In any case, the way things are going, it will be a relief of sorts to see The Office close for business at the end of the season.


"St. Peter in Chains" Table Read at Sundance

. . . took place this morning. All to the good, and I hope to have an audio file of the table read soon. Now if we can just get it turned into an actual film . . . But I have at least found a couple producers looking for solid material for short films. It's not a huge market, but young producers and filmmakers do get interested because shorts can sometimes (often) cost less to make and are good for festivals. A good place to start and/or a nice indie/arthouse entry, sometimes even for established actors and producers. St. Peter becomes all the more attractive for having won at least one contest and been featured at Sundance. Let's get it onto a screen, shall we?

Indie directors/producers, film students and the like, this is my call to you: make my movie!


There's a reason why common things are not as valuable as rare ones. Something that can be bought or found or seen anywhere creates very little demand.

The same is true of actors, directors, and the like.

A good actor that is seen in one film a year, or maybe even only every couple years, who makes himself scarce, is a treasure. (Note that I qualified this by saying s/he is a good actor.) One who is in four films a year and then also on television? Groan. Such a person appears desperate for attention, and viewers quickly become indifferent to, if not outright sick of him or her. Oh, there might always be hardcore fans, but on the whole the world at large becomes blind to the everyday actor who is constantly in its face.

It's rather like a child at a family reunion who gets up to put on some kind of show—often unbidden—and then refuses to yield the makeshift stage for Cousin Paulina. You know what happens, right? The family watches for a few minutes then goes back to whatever they were doing to begin with, chatting and whatnot, until they disappear one by one, going in for dinner, and the child's spirits diminish as the audience shrinks.

If you are in the industry, you do not want to saturate the market. You don't want to sprint. You want to run a marathon. You want to be in it for the long haul. You don't want people to be sick of you, of hearing your name or seeing your picture in tabloids, before they even see your actual movie or television show. They'll develop a hatred of you even before they see any of your work, will walk in with a preconceived notion that will not be to your benefit. So pace yourself. Else you'll be a flash in the pan.

It's harder now than ever, with so many magazines and everyone on Twitter. But remember: the more you say and the more you're seen, the cheaper you become. Don't overwater the lawn; give them just enough to grow on and not a drop more.


Lightning in a Bottle

It's very difficult to break into the media business (film, television, music, publishing) because the industry is so averse to risk. And somehow "new" and "risky" have become equated.

I suppose there's something to be said for the tried and true, but there's just as much to be said against the old and tired. Studies have shown that open systems are more successful than closed ones, that drawing from the same pool of talent is akin to drawing from the same DNA—that is, it's incestuous and inbred and eventually leads to serious problems.

I look at all the excitement around J.J. Abrams and Star Wars and can only think: Is this really a good idea? Never mind that people tend to remember his hits and forget his misses, of which there have been just as many. I mean, I like J.J. but . . . when you keep dipping into the same well, it will eventually run dry. It seems to me just as risky to hope it won't dry up on your turn at the trough as to dig a new well.

Of course a big part of it is the work involved in the digging. So much easier to pull from what's already been dug. And the important thing is to keep things moving, preferably as quickly as possible. Who has time to dig a well?

But it's the "lightning in a bottle" metaphor I used when titling this post. Because that's another reason bizzers keep going back to the same writers and directors and actors and singers: they've had a hit, maybe several. (And again, it's easy to only see and remember the ups; people only start looking at the downs on someone when they've hit a slump.) They've caught lightning in a bottle. So the idea becomes: Let's have them do it again.

So if you have a hitter who bats .5 and someone who's yet to have a chance at bat . . . (Sorry, I'm just full of metaphors today.) At what point do you give that rookie a shot? In this industry, maybe never, so long as you've got a lineup of .5ers. Never mind if the rookie could do better. You go with ol' reliable.

But really, if you want to catch lightning more than once? You're gonna need a new bottle.


Television: The Following, "Pilot"

Kevin Bacon is the new Kiefer Sutherland and The Following is the new 24, a potential hit much needed by slumping FOX.

In The Following, Bacon plays ex-FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who single-handedly put away serial killer Joe Carroll (played by James Purefoy). Alas, as the pilot episode begins, Carroll is escaping from prison thanks in large part to aid by a guard converted to his "cause" such as it is. Carroll had been a Romantic Literature professor with a particular love of Edgar Allan Poe; when his first and only novel failed to gain acclaim, he sought another way of creating art: killing young women and cutting out their eyes.

Despite all the chatter of The Following being graphic, regular viewers of cable television shows such as American Horror Story will find little to look away from here. In fact, The Following is rated TV-14 rather than M. Perhaps it's graphic for network television, but . . .

On the whole, the fast pacing makes The Following eminently watchable because it sustains the viewer's interest. Some of what took place in the pilot was telegraphed a little too loudly and/or was too obvious for my tastes, but clearly someone believed much needed to be spelled out for the audience, and so a lot of dialogue was designed to explain Hardy's past, his injury and subsequent dismissal from the FBI, his relationship to Carroll's ex-wife, etc. Beyond dialogue, some of the actions were also transparent; even in the first scene, as Carroll is dressed as a guard and hailed from behind by another guard, he makes a noncommittal grunt that gives away that he is not the man the guard thinks he is. It is an old trick and the show does not benefit for having stooped to using it.

Then there is the issue of Hardy being brought in by the FBI as a "consultant" because he knows Carroll so well. While watching the show, one does begin to wonder whether the real FBI isn't being served an injustice in this portrayal—does it really take this supposedly brilliant agent that long to link the bloody scrawl "NEVERMORE" to Poe's "The Raven"? And if he's the smart one, what does it say for the rest of them?

The injection of literature is facile and superficial; all discussions of Poe in the pilot episode are textbook and at a juvenile level. It's a wonder Carroll was teaching at a university. Must've been an intro class, or even one of those the incoming freshmen have to take for remediation.

My final beef is with the ending of the episode, which was so self-aware in setting up Hardy as the hero, even as Carroll is telling him how they're writing a television show book together. "Every good story needs a love interest," Carroll says, and we have that too, what with the failed relationship between Hardy and Carroll's ex. It's as if the last of the show was made to showcase, Look! We have a story here! A good one! Keep reading watching!

Okay, but here's the thing: all those issues aside, The Following IS a compelling story with an interesting plot and enough characters to keep things moving. In that much, the pilot did its job by setting up the situation and laying out the people like a deck of cards to be dealt as needed by the writers and creators. We know the protagonist (Hardy) and antagonist (Carroll), but there are still many cards left in the hand. Let's learn more about Weston, Mitchell, and the others. (As an aside, why such plain names?) Let's see where this goes. Regardless of the nuisances I've listed above, I'm in. I'm following.

Details for the Table Read of "St. Peter in Chains" at Sundance

For those attending the Sundance Film Festival, and who may be tired of actually watching all those movies, a little something different: a table read of my short screenplay St. Peter in Chains. It's being run by Álvaro Rodríguez and will take place at 10:00 a.m. at the Waldorf Hotel. Hope you will consider stopping by!

If you can't be there but don't want to miss out, you can request the script via the "Contact M" button at the top of the page. Or pick up the novella, which is free on Amazon through tomorrow.


Books: Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words by Andrew Morton

I'm not really writing a review yet (if ever) because I'm only about halfway done with this book. I picked it up because, after reading a couple about Elizabeth II (one non-fiction and one fiction), I decided to read some related material. I know plenty about people like Anne Boylen and Eleanor of Aquitaine but little about the modern monarchy. And Diana has left such a legacy . . . I had to wonder at the reaction to her divorcing Charles and then, later, to her death. I mean, by many accounts (though not all) she was a lovely person, very sweet natured and wanting to help—a typical Cancer, if you're into astrology, which she was a bit, I think—but I'll never quite understand how people who only know of a person through the media can have such wrenching reactions to things that these celebrities do or that happen to them. And Diana was a celebrity. The royal family are all celebrities, since by definition they are people who are "celebrated" in one way or another.

That said, I'll make a confession. Diana had about 15 years on me, so I was really young at the time of her wedding to Charles. I was what? Five years old? But it was old enough to understand there was a real live princess in a big wedding dress, that this Diana woman was living the dream of every little girl by getting to marry the prince. I had some tattered old copy of People, the commemorative edition or whatever, with all the pictures in it. My best friend and I would play "princesses" and I was Diana and she was Sarah [Ferguson, not technically a princess, but we made due with what was known and available to us]. And a little over a year later, when my World Book Encyclopedia sent its annual year book, I was so excited when there was a picture of Diana, Charles, and little baby William. I would go and look at it often.

This is to show I was not immune to the fervor. It waned, though, as real life waxed. By the time the divorce happened, I was hardly paying attention any more. And not having been inside the situation, I can only read the testimonies of various parties and try to extrapolate something that may or may not be the truth. It's interesting, like a psychological puzzle, working out the biases and whatnot.

And then the death, which was a shock. I was interning on my first film set that summer, so I was a bit out of the loop on the real world. I remember coming back from some long day and my roommates gathered in front of the television, watching the news. But of course by then Diana was no longer my childhood ideal of a princess . . . And yet, I did sense a bit of my innocence slipping away at the realization she was also no longer in the world. But while I thought it was sad, certainly, especially given the circumstances of her death, I was still amazed at the outpouring of emotion from so many people, as if they'd personally lost a loved one.

None of this speaks to Morton's book, though, does it. Well, so far it's very interesting. But of course I have to remember it is also one-sided. I never saw the interviews with her, but I've enjoyed reading the transcripts of her tape recordings; they certainly give a clear sense of her personality, and I feel I can very much hear her voice in my head. Then I get into the part fleshed out by Morton, who used the tape recordings to construct the story of Diana's life, and that helps give a fuller sense of her side of things if nothing else. Well, hers and whomever else was willing to speak on her behalf.

The picture is one of a conflicted nature: someone with a strong streak, a definite sense of destiny, and yet she lacked a lot of self-confidence, as if perhaps she was not convinced she was capable of taking on the burden of that fate. She was naturally a nurturing soul, but she needed someone to sustain her in turn, and it seemed she lacked that. Or maybe it's just that there might never be enough, despite friends and sisters trying.

Diana clearly had misgivings about marrying Charles, but also felt (again) destined . . . And yet she also was certain it wouldn't be forever, that she would never be Queen, that she would have another relationship after her first marriage (really she thought she might remarry, but sadly she never got that opportunity).

Anyway, I'm still reading the book, though I suppose I could say I know how it ends . . . But it's an interesting portrait. And after this, to be fair, I should probably find something from the other camp, though I don't think there's much out there. No one from that side tends to broadcast. One has to cut and paste various anecdotes and then stand back and, like one of those big pictures made from a mosaic of tiny thumbnails, try and see the story as a whole. But the number of thumbnails is limited, so the picture remains incomplete. People keep coloring in, trying to make it look a certain way, but that defeats the purpose of getting down to the truth. Though I guess it makes for a good story.


Television: 1600 Penn

I tried to watch this. I watched 1.5 episodes. It had some funny moments. The son—he's funny. Clearly from the Jonah Hill/Zach Galifianakis school of acting or whatever. And Marshall, the press secretary—he was good, too. But they weren't enough to keep me watching.

Because, see, the plots were facile, and the fact they expect me to care about these people without even properly introducing me to them? It doesn't work that way. There's in media res, and then there's why the fuck should I care? It's a fine line, and today's short attention spans do pretty much require things to happen right away. But you have to pick exactly the right moment in which to begin. Do I care that the first daughter is pregnant? No. I don't know her and her plight does not interest me. And this . . . What is she? Stepmother? ::shrug::

I think there are more kids, too, but there are so many people in the show no one gets any amount of screen time to let us get to know them. Did the one girl have a crush on another girl? That might have been kinda cool, something worth exploring, but it was tossed off at the end of the episode and left lying there, so whatever.

This might be one of those shows that, once it gets its legs under it, actually goes somewhere. There have been times when I've tried a show, dropped it after a few episodes, then been told I have to watch it. At which point I procrastinate (because I am contrary by nature) and then eventually give in (because I'm also afraid of missing out on something cool). And then one of two things happens: the show really is cool and becomes part of my regular viewing schedule (and, if it's very good, I even go back and make up what I've missed) OR the show actually sucks and I am reminded that what most people watch (or read or listen to) and enjoy is a lowest-common-denominator pile of crap with very little to recommend it.

That sounds prissy. I don't mean to sound prissy. It's just how I feel. So, okay, maybe I'm prissy. But my time is valuable, and I can't afford to waste it on bad* television (or books or movies or music). That's all. That's not unreasonable, is it?

So. For now I have suspended viewing of 1600 Penn. But if I hear later that it's worth another try, I remain flexible.

*And let's be clear, when I say "bad" I mean things I personally do not enjoy and in which I cannot find any value. These things are subjective. But no one wants to spend time on things they dislike.

Books: "1302: The Alpha" by Christine Rains

I don't know if it's the subject matter or what, but I liked this one more than "1301." I think "The Alpha" is stronger in part because Rains delves in a bit more—into the characters' backgrounds (though I might've liked to hear more about James' experience in being bitten by a werewolf) and, really, into the characters themselves. While once again the villain is bad for no clear reason other than one needs an antagonist, at least there's somewhat more depth to his story than Vetis of "The Marquis."

In short form, "The Alpha" is the story of Stefanie, a werewolf who was meant to lead her pack but was bested and abused by the evil Wyatt until she finally escaped to Carmine (where all the 13th Floor stories are set). Now she's an artist—and I might've liked more details about that, too, but it hardly signifies—living on the 13th floor and spending time hiding from her pack . . . Why? Not clear, though she seems fairly certain they'll be looking for her. Which, of course, they are, and they find her, and therein lies the story.

I say "not clear," but really it seems the impetus to find Stefanie lies in Wyatt, the aforementioned villain, who refuses to let her go. Since [were]wolves are largely territorial, this left me to wonder that he and his pack would wander so far in search of Stefanie (thereby leaving their home territory undefended), but maybe that's meant to be a testament to his unyielding nature. Or maybe Stefanie is the territory, and Wyatt refuses to cede her.

James, meanwhile, is a lone werewolf also (coincidentally) living in Carmine. He saves Stefanie from the first attack by her pack. And here I have to wonder some more: while it's explained that James is able to mask his scent, surely he's been able to smell Stefanie all over town? But then maybe that's why he was in the woods that night, too.

I like James as a character, mostly because I have a soft spot for the geeky type. (Think Ben Whishaw in Skyfall and you've got me.) And while I still think a lot of the characters in "1302" are tropes, the story here is interesting enough to buoy them.

There was some nice dovetailing with "The Marquis," too, so that readers of both can see how the puzzle is beginning to take shape. On the whole, the premise for The 13th Floor series is a good one, and I'm waiting to see how the remaining stories play out.


Three Songs: A Writing Exercise

Cross posted from PepperWords.

I was riding BART yesterday, something I don't normally do, but I'd rather do that than drive into the city, and I was off to see Eddie Izzard. (Sherlock wrote about the night, if you're curious. Or you can find my notes here.) Anyway, I passed the time listening to my iPod. I find music very inspiring, but I don't get to listen to it as often as I would like. Sometimes a carful of children just keeps one from being able to focus on what's on the radio. And even when driving alone, paying attention to the road can mean having to neglect the music.

I used to have a rocking chair—a Bentwood—in my room that I would sit in late at night while listening to music, therefore completely devoting my time and attention to the beats and lyrics. Alas, that chair is long gone and I seldom have the time for simply sitting around anyway.

So as I was listening to my iPod, I was really enjoying being able to focus on the songs. Of course most of them I already knew very well, old favorites, but it seemed like it had been a long time since I'd felt them and allowed them to fill my heart and mind. My iPod is always on shuffle because I like to be surprised, so as it cycled through songs, I began to connect the sentiments into one big story. Here are three songs that got played. Tell me what story they make up:
  1. "Sugar, We're Going Down" by Fall Out Boy
  2. "Hands Are Tied" by Gin Blossoms
  3. "Santa Monica" by Everclear
There were lots of others, of course, but these three together seemed to tell a story. Boy wants girl (or boy, if you prefer); boy gets girl . . . but ends up in obsessive relationship in which she holds the power; boy seeks freedom, or at the very least a change in circumstances. Kind of a mini opera or something. At least, that's how I heard it.

It's kind of a fun exercise. Try it sometime. See how many random songs you can string into a story. If nothing else, it's a good writing prompt.


Eddie Izzard: Work in Progress at the Brava Theater

What you can't see in that picture are his awesome nails and his lovely heeled boots (very similar to a pair I own).

Now I've seen Eddie live twice before this night: once for his Sexie tour and once for Stripped. Both of those were very good, but I think what he did for this WIP was the funniest I'd seen him. I'm not going to give away any of his jokes, but let's just say that while the name of his coming tour is Force Majeure, it could easily be subtitled "Eddie Explains the Universe." Covering topics such as atheism, human sacrifice, squirrels on a photo shoot, and the equestrian sport of dressage (not at the same time, mind), Eddie brought his trademark marriage of encyclopaedic knowledge + common sense = "funny when you look at it like that."

Do wonder why he has it in for Steve, though. (Steve, on the other hand, knows why.)

Also, does Bacchus have horns? I thought that was Pan. I mean, I took a lot of Classical History in college (was my minor), but . . . I could be remembering wrong. And though I'm sitting here typing this on a computer, I'm too lazy to open another tab and look it up.

Now I'm curious to see how the final product turns out, though sadly I don't see the US on his current list of tour dates. May have to wait for the DVD.

In short, if you like Eddie's previous work, I see no reason why you wouldn't like this just as much. In some ways it's more of the same, but really there are a lot of interesting topics in the world, and each of Eddie's shows is just him covering more ground (or sometimes the same ground from another direction). It's a one-sided conversation to be sure—or maybe more of a lecture—but always a fascinating one. And always funny, too.

Victory Lap

Stage 32 did a little write-up about the Table Read My Screenplay contest. Look! That's me in that picture (wearing my famous "M" necklace).

I have to give some credit to Stage 32, though, because if not for them I wouldn't have known about TRMS in the first place. Sometimes I start to think all these social networks are just so much useless shouting into various voids, no one listening, but then something good comes of it now and again, so . . .

St. Peter in Chains will get its table read at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, January 25, at the Waldorf Astoria. Looking forward to, er, hearing it.


Television: Elementary, "M."

I suppose this episode title is designed to serve me right for giving them a difficult time about their titles.*

In truth, the title is meant to reference (without expressly naming) that old Holmes nemesis Moriarty. M's appearance invigorates Holmes, even as he cuts Watson loose with the excuse that, with her imminent departure, he needs to get used to working alone again. In an echo of BBC's Sherlock, Watson gets in some quality time with her therapist who points out that, while Watson professes to enjoy what she's doing "now," her "now" is about to end. Food for thought.

Watson goes on to admit to Holmes that she'll miss working with him but makes good on an exit before he can formulate any kind of response. Meanwhile, M breaks into the brownstone and leaves a note.

Holmes launches his own attempt to track M, who is ostensibly responsible for the death of Irene Adler; when Watson demands to know why Holmes isn't working with the police, he admits his goal is to catch, torture, and kill his adversary. Well, it's nice to see Holmes motivated anyway. But does this count as a relapse in Watson's book?

This episode sees a turning point in the series—a point in which things become more interesting as stakes are raised.

Holmes tells the story of his seven-month love affair with Irene Adler that ended when, as Holmes helped Scotland Yard narrow in, M killed her.

Watson and Holmes now at odds, Holmes goes in search of M while Watson runs to Gregson to get help in finding Holmes before he can go through with his revenge fantasy. Holmes gets there first, takes M off to torture him, only to discover that "M" is Sebastian Moran (ah!) who works for Moriarty. What now remains in question: who is Moriarty, where is Moriarty, and was he the one to really kill Irene? (As it turns out, Moran was incarcerated at the time of her death.)

Concluding that Moriarty has sold him out, Moran spins a story to screen Holmes, even after Holmes stabs him in the gut (evidently out of sheer frustration). Holmes finally admits to Watson that he will also miss working with her, prompting her to call his father and ask for an extension. He declines. But Watson lies to Holmes (surely he knows she's lying?) and tells him his father has agreed to let her stay on.

The episode ends with Holmes decluttering his wall and pinning a single notecard on it for him to concentrate on, with exactly one word written upon it: Moriarty.

I'll admit the idea immediately crossed my mind that the only reason to go with just the initial was to mislead the viewer. And upon seeing this "M" I was fairly certain it was unlikely to be Moriarty, at least in the traditional sense; Doyle's Moriarty—and therefore the template for all others—is a spindly professor who has others do his dirty work. But I didn't jump directly to Moran (from Doyle's "The Empty House," though now I see that an empty house also figured greatly here—nice touch).

I also thought, however briefly, that this unseen Moriarty might somehow be connected to Holmes' shadowy father. Or maybe yet another M, not yet introduced: Mycroft? Why else sell out your best assassin?

Good of the writers, too, to avoid making Watson a damsel in distress. I like that she's a strong character but still sympathetic.

Easily the best episode thus far and it gives the series a nice new direction and some new threads to follow through the crime-of-the-week format.

*No, I'm not actually that egocentric as to believe they were naming it for me.

Oscar Noms

nomnomnomnom . . . Doesn't taste quite right . . .

I guess the biggest fuss has been about Affleck and Bigelow being left out of the directing nominations. I'll admit it was a bit of a surprise. I have no particular love for Bigelow (I find her overrated and self-righteous) but I still expected to see her nominated. I had hoped Affleck might be, but was less surprised by this particular snub.

Was sorry to see Looper didn't get a screenplay nod—sorry, but not surprised. Tight, tight field in writing this year. Was also sorry to see Moonrise Kingdom didn't get any attention for its wonderful art direction. That, to me, seems like one of the grossest injustices of all.

And though we all know I hated The Master, I do think Joaquin Phoenix did a really good job in it, so it's fair to see him nominated. I don't know that I'd have gone so far to give the other actors nods, though. Supporting Actor itself is going to be one of the most challenging fields to predict this year; those are some powerful roles and wonderful actors.

I haven't see Life of Pi but I had a feeling it would get a lot of nominations, and it did, only one shy of Lincoln, which is the leader in noms this year. And yet I have zero desire to see either film. Well, the Oscars aren't about what people want to see, are they? I always have the feeling these awards are about what people think I should see, but that's not really it either. When done right (and we can all admit they aren't always done right) the Academy Awards are about movies done well. You can have great acting in a terrible movie, beautiful art direction in something otherwise mundane, music that moves you in a movie that in every other instance wouldn't, and so on. Certainly the editing in something like Argo is done in such a superb way as to build the tension to enormous degree. It's tricky because a movie is presented as a whole package; disassembling it requires patience, attention, and knowledge. There is an art, then, in and of itself in taking these elements apart and find the places where a film goes above and beyond—where it achieves greatness.

And, unfortunately, not every movie that does something well, nor every actor who excels in a role, can be individually acknowledged for it. This is the art of nominations and awards. Years from now we may say, "What was the Academy thinking?" Because the things that stand up to time are not always obvious in the moment. (Would anyone really say now that Shakespeare in Love—wonderful film that it is—is more deserving than Saving Private Ryan? An obvious example but a real and true one for all that.)

We'll see who steps on whose toes come February 24th.


Television: The Midseason

After the holiday hiatus, many shows will be returning, some just from the holiday break and some from much longer vacations. Here's what's currently on (and off) my list, including some that could fall either way.

House Hunters & HH International—I'd say this was a guilty pleasure, but I don't feel guilty about it so much as kind of sheepish. But on nights when I don't want to have to think too hard, this is a good one to turn on and eat a dish of ice cream in front of.

Revolution—I haven't decided if I'll bother picking up with this series when it returns in March. The longer it's gone, the less I care.

Smash—It's ridiculous how happy I am about this show returning. Yeah, yeah, whine all you want about the crappy wardrobe and stupid subplots involving peanut allergies, but this one keeps me glued even when it's utterly dumb.

Modern Family—I'm still watching, though it seems less and less funny, like maybe they're trying too hard to live up to their own hype. Every now and then there's a truly hilarious episode, but those are becoming fewer and farther between.

American Horror Story—This one is actually almost done for the season. I swear to God, if the aliens perform some Deus Ex Machina shit I will be royally pissed.

30 Rock—It's making its final season worthwhile by opening up all the stops and getting back to what really made it good to begin with. And now, because it's ending, 30 Rock is able to do things with the characters it couldn't do if it needed to continue to sustain them over a longer time. (After all, comedy is about stasis until the final chapter brings a change: weddings and such.)

The Office—This has floundered since Steve Carrell's departure; Ed Helms has not carried the weight well at all. Some of the best episodes this season have been in Helms' absence. And let's all admit it: we don't care about Jim's new job or whatever. Like 30 Rock, The Office is sailing toward its conclusion, and changes are being foreshadowed, but with a lot less funny. I'm really only still watching to see it end, but it's kind of like watching someone die.

Elementary—I just . . . Ugh. This show has such potential. It's a little bit aggravating to watch because it's so uneven. It's like a cake with bubbles in it. The leads are great, the regular supporting cast is solid, but the plots are weak, and it's just not quite there yet. I keep hoping it will be, which is why I'm still watching. I'll give them the rest of the season and then see.

Game of Thrones—I don't really give this show my full attention while watching, but I do enjoy it in a peripheral kind of way.

Doctor Who—I dunno. I'm kind of done with Matt Smith. Blasphemy, I'm sure, but he seems to have exhausted his repertoire. I'm not convinced this 50th anniversary is going to be such a big thing, no matter how much they're trying to make it seem that way. But maybe they'll surprise me. I like surprises . . .

As for things on the horizon: I'm looking forward to giving The Following a try. Sounds like a creeptastic premise and I like Kevin Bacon, so . . . Plus, FOX is in desperate need of a little love. Right now I'm not watching anything on their network. Time to throw them a bone. Here's hoping the show is as good as it sounds.


Books: Mrs Queen Takes the Train

William Kuhn
Harper, 2012
384 pages

A cute story in which Queen Elizabeth II has trouble with her computer, does yoga, and wanders out of Buckingham Palace in a fit of the doldrums, leaving various other characters to pair off and go in search of her. While it's a fun concept, something deep inside me feels it does a disservice to The Queen in presuming to know her thoughts and feelings. Yes, it's fiction, but . . . I'm not 100% okay with it.

Getting past that, the tale itself is written in a simple style that lends itself to a quick read. Something about it suggests it's meant to be a television movie or something; even the book jacket likens it to Downton Abbey in its dealings with "above stairs" and "below stairs" characters. Hmm.

On the whole we have: William, who is (I forget the correct term, so my apologies) a kind of Palace butler; and Luke, an equerry; and Lady Anne; and Mrs. McDonald, who manages The Queen's wardrobe; and Rebecca, who looks after horses in the Mews; and finally Rajiv, who sells cheese at an upscale shop but really wants to be a poet. Pairing off into three groups of two, they set out after Her Majesty, who—taking a cue from "My Favorite Things"—has gone off on an impromptu trip to Scotland to visit Britannia with the idea it might make her feel better to see her beloved yacht (now a tourist attraction in Leith).

In every instance these alliances between staff are uneasy at best, and Kuhn has a habit of telling what people are thinking rather than showing them acting on those thoughts. In any case, might have been a relief to see two people get along more at some point, just for contrast.

Long story short, via a series of coincidences (or Providence, if you prefer), this motley Scooby Gang manages to find clues and track The Queen's movements. Meanwhile Her Highness is hanging out with blind people, homeless people, and the like—getting in touch with her populace.

This attempt to humanize The Queen is sweet but also incredibly obvious in its execution. Kuhn has exaggerated Elizabeth II's sheltered lifestyle and, in some instances it seems, reduced her to a near simpleton. I mean, I like to think Queen Elizabeth II knows what a crosswalk is, you know? Even if in real life she doesn't, I like to think she does. That's the key, really.

But. All that said, this was an entertaining read, and despite the problems I've mentioned, which may be mine more than the author's, I would certainly recommend it. Maybe for a cross-country trip by train?


Movies: Hackers

Friends were amazed I had missed this movie when it came out in 1995. But really, besides the fact that I was in film school and getting spoon fed so many films that I hardly went out to see anything current at the time, Hackers wasn't the kind of movie I would have liked anyway. I remember liking Stargate in '94, and of course Interview with the Vampire (also '94), but in 1995 I didn't go see any of the big movies. I didn't see things like Se7en and Die Hard with a Vengeance until much, much later, and I've still never seen Apollo 13. The only reason I even saw GoldenEye was my dad took me over Thanksgiving break. But teens and computers? It was something I was already living with and therefore didn't need to see a movie about.

Still, when Hackers recently aired on one of the movie channels during the holiday break, I decided to give it a try. It's a ridiculous movie, but I'm having trouble discerning if that's because it's so out of date, or if it was just as dumb in 1995 as it is in 2013. In truth, I found the wardrobe the most distracting thing. I'm not into trends, prefer "classic" styles, but I'm still pretty sure no one dressed like that. No one I knew, anyway, but maybe I just knew all the wrong people—or the right ones, depending on how you look at it. Or maybe they only dressed like that in New York, which is quite possible; New York tends to do its own thing regardless of the rest of the world. If that's the case, then in 1995 New York was really ugly.

The plot of the movie itself was a tad convoluted, but I also wasn't paying 100% attention because I had my laptop in front of me. Apparently the main character Dade (the screenwriter was from Miami) did some terrible hackerish thing with a computer when he was really young and—like Sleeping Beauty and the spindle—was sworn to keep away from computers until he reached the age of 18. Because of course he wouldn't be able to do anything bad then. Or he'd be so grateful to be allowed to play computer games that he would never, ever risk his electronic freedom by doing anything bad ever again. The end.

No, of course not. Skipping ahead (and therefore neatly sidestepping the question of how a kid manages to avoid all contact with computers in the age of ever-growing technology, and also whether he actually did do as he was told), we find Dade (played by Jonny Lee Miller trying to look a bit like Sting from what I could tell) reaching his majority and moving to New York with his mother all at the same time. He navigates the difficulties of starting at a new school and falls in with a group of—title check!—hackers. Apparently despite not being allowed access to any computers, Dade has made it a point to read up on them and keep abreast of all developments so that he's able to jump right in and start hacking without even being rusty.

The story devolves from there into something about an evil Fisher Stevens (hacker name: Plague) doing underhanded hack work for some corporation in an attempt to extort millions of dollars as a quick payday. He tries to frame Dade & Co. for the bad stuff he's doing, but of course those wily teens call together an army of hackers from all corners of the earth to thwart Plague and send him down. In a "clever" twist on old-versus-young, Plague rides a skateboard while Dade and the other teenagers Rollerblade their way through the film. (No, it's not really clever. That's why I used quote marks.) Funniest moment: Plague skateboarding alongside a limousine to snatch a floppy disk from Dade's hand.

Yeah, remember floppy disks? I still have a bunch and no way to pull the data off them at the moment . . . Maybe I should call Dade for that?

I guess Hackers is considered some kind of classic in certain circles, but I didn't find it all that interesting, even from a film history or nostalgic point of view. Maybe as a marker in cultural history? With technology changing and advancing so rapidly, movies like Hackers fall into a very specific moment in time. As such, they remain kinds of monoliths to mark our progress. But really, this is an artifact I don't feel the need to ever revisit.


"St. Peter in Chains" to Have Table Read at Sundance

Very excited to be able to announce that my short screenplay, adapted from my novella, won the Grand Prize in the Shorts category for Table Read My Screenplay and will have a table read with professional actors later this month at the Sundance Film Festival. The read is tentatively scheduled for January 25. Alas, I will be unable to attend, but they'll be sending me an audio file so I can at least hear what it sounds like! I'm so honored but also a bit nervous. I think any writer is like that about dialogue: What if it doesn't sound aloud the way it does in my head? But one has to kick the birdie out of the nest at some point. Here's hoping it flies.


Firm Handshakes & Plain Speaking

Cross posted from PepperWords.

I've found that people are often surprised by my handshake. I don't squeeze or anything, but I was taught by my father that a handshake should be firm. What's the use of one otherwise?

I'm no feminist. I like men to open doors for me and pull out my chair and stand when I stand. (I do get weirded out when they kiss my hand, but then again, I have issues with personal space. Handshakes are good. No one's lips have to touch me, and we can keep plenty of distance between bodies.) So my handshake is not about me trying to prove anything, which is, I think, what some people feel when faced with a woman who has a strong grip. No, for me it's more about representing myself as myself: honest and capable and such. I've shaken with people whose hands are limp and damp as fishes, and it hardly inspires confidence. It just makes you want to wipe the touch of them off. I'd rather not be the person you're sorry you came into contact with. So I try for a solid handshake.

The plain speaking thing is about honesty, too, and even more so about clarity. I can do "polite conversation." I was brought up in extremely polite society. It's hard work for me, though, to filter. But see it from my point of view, that of someone with Asperger's: Someone has said something to you that you dislike. Maybe it's meant to be affectionate and funny—they've saddled you with a nickname, they've made a joke about something you did, they've laughingly suggested you were second-best for the job when you've been very proud of the fact you were first pick (Benedict)—and you are supposed to laugh it off and never say that it bothered you. Instead you circumlocute and dance around as the conversation moves on. Later this person is going to walk away and never remember they said anything that might have been upsetting to you. Indeed, in his or her mind it was harmless and not worth the space of memory. But you will remember it for a long time, maybe forever. This person has placed a burden on you, and you are supposed to carry it willingly.

If you were to say anything, if you were to go so far as to assert yourself in the matter . . . Well, you might as well take a lump of fossilized dinosaur feces from your coat and thump it onto the table. People then have the option of either looking at it, mouths agape as they try to think of something to say, or pretending not to see it. Just as with the words should you speak up: they will either stare at you, not knowing how to answer, or they will pretend not to have heard. Because to speak your mind and admit a hurt feeling is a faux pas. It somehow shows poor sportsmanship. You're actually supposed to go on getting your feelings hurt and privately nursing your wounds all life long. This doesn't make sense to me. Does not compute.

I realize that sometimes by saying what I mean I've inadvertently bruised an ego. But I usually don't know that at the time; it has to come back to me by some other source, or sometimes someone's reaction makes sense in hindsight, should I take the time to think about it. (In fairness, I'm equally oblivious to flirts and never know when someone is attracted to me unless they all but say it, else by the time they make a move I'm sinking my teeth in because I've mistaken it for a physical attack on my person. You laugh, but it's happened. Really.) Still, I would much rather the person just say, "Please stop. That isn't funny," or whatever. This may seem like a childish thing to say to someone: "Stop it!" But there's a freedom of speech children have that we lose as adults. Instead we go through life being sad and angry about things because we've prevented ourselves from being allowed to let it out and thus move on.

I guess I mean to say that I don't mean to be malicious, and so to those I've unintentionally barbed, I am sorry. And I also mean to beg pardon for the times my direct form of communication has left people speechless because there's been no fallback response for, "I don't like that." Well, there's an apology, I guess, but it's also impolite to corner someone into apologizing to you. They're so tricky, all these rules. And I like to err on the side of being sure I'm understood. Hence, I speak plainly.

I once had a relatively famous someone say to me: "M, you know what I like about you? I always know where I stand. I may not always like where I stand, or what you have to say, but at least I know where I can get an honest opinion."

Yes, and also a firm handshake.

By the way, if you ever do want to "turn on my filter" or switch me to "polite mode," thereby assuring I will "go easy" on you or those around you, all you need do is give me a signal. As I've said, I can do it, but someone needs to tell me when I'm supposed to. It's just too much work to do it all the time. A girl's gotta let her hair down and all that.


Television: Elementary, "Dirty Laundry"

No, seriously guys, we've got to do better with these titles.

Also, I hate whatever color pants Holmes was wearing in that opening scene. What color is that? Not orange enough for rust. Too dark for rose. More like the color your red pen starts to make when it's running out of ink. Just ugly.

Fashion aside, Holmes and Watson are counting down the last ten days of their enforced [non-sexual] cohabitation. As a last hurrah they investigate a homicide in which a woman named Terry has been stuffed into an industrial washing machine at the basement of the hotel of which she was manager. (Husband of the victim is played by That Guy. Victim's guy friend is Dr. Matt from American Gothic.)

If you haven't seen the episode yet, be aware that spoilers follow.

But it's the way the daughter is acting that sends up a red flag in my mind. (And later, I discover, for good reason. Tip your hand much, writers/directors?)

The plot devolves into something about Terry running a prostitute ring in her hotel. For free. So she can secretly film them. To access information from international bigwigs because she is really a spy. And we're only halfway through the episode.

Sometimes I worry the writers feel like the more stuff they toss in and the faster they pace things the better or cooler the show will appear. But their feints are so obvious, none of it is surprising. It's really so much more fun to just watch Holmes and Watson do their Odd Couple thing. This episode doesn't have quite enough of that; the dirty dishes and garbage are not really a great foundation for the action and dialogue between them.

The writers have tried to make the daughter sympathetic but my devious mind immediately goes to the idea the girl is using Watson for information about the investigation. That she is somehow core to the operation. (She cops to having killed her mother.) Look at the way she stops to think, quickly, before answering Watson's questions. (Leading questions, Watson, very bad.) You can practically see that the girl is deciding how much Watson probably already knows, how much her father is likely to have spilled while in custody. The fact that the dad wanted the daughter protected in writing suggests there may be more to the story.

And here is where Holmes and Watson show how well they work together, as Watson peruses the evidence, persistent in finding a better and more rewarding answer after Holmes has walked away from the case, considering it closed. Marry Watson's x-ray of Terry's hand to Holmes' flash of inspiration at the sight of the fountain pen mentioned at the beginning of the show (you knew it had to come back), and a new angle emerges.

The daughter remains in the clear. Might've been more interesting if she had been more deeply involved, but whatever. We finish up with Holmes suggesting to Watson they lie to his father to get him to keep funding their exploits, only to have Watson tell him she's taken another job. "I'm usually good with deductions," says Holmes. Is he familiar with the psychological notion of projection? He keeps saying Watson wants to stay, but could it be the other way around? Truthfully, it's sweet, but also a tad unfortunate that the writers have made Holmes so transparent here. Holmes should never be easy to see through.

This episode seems to want to capitalize on the popularity of shows like Homeland or the buzz (assuming there is any?) of the forthcoming The Americans. Spies are vogue again. (I'll take mine with a side of Daniel Craig, though.) Here the result is cramped and not fully realized. The writers of Elementary have good ideas from time to time, and good moments in their writing, but they do need to do something about their pacing, and they need better poker faces if they're going to write a show that surprises and delights.

Actors: Jeff Bridges

I love him.

Here is someone who makes it look easy. He naturally inhabits every role, so that his characters always seem like real people. Even when they live inside video games. Amazing.

There's nothing more painful and awkward than watching someone try too hard. In acting especially, trying too hard is the ultimate failure. Unless your character is someone over-the-top, as an actor you should never seem so.

This isn't to say acting isn't hard work. It is. Some roles are harder than others, and sometimes the hardest ones are the ones that look easy.

So kudos to Mr. Bridges. Who for some will always be The Dude, but for me will ever first and foremost be Prince Lir. Come on, sing it with me: "I've had time to write a book about . . ."

Okay, maybe not all of it was easy. But it's all been fun to watch. Thanks again, Mr. Bridges, for the years of entertainment.


Bond at 50: Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace

So after watching the Timothy Dalton films, and the Pierce Brosnan ones, we come to Daniel Craig, who has become my favorite incarnation of Bond. What I enjoy about these films is the gritty reality (yes, I know that sounds silly when talking about a super spy who uses crazy gadgets, but it's all relative). By resetting the franchise back to the start, the Craig-as-Bond films allow us to view a progression. At first, he's not actually very good at what he does. This is not the suave and debonair James Bond who knows how he likes his martini. He's rough-edged and cockier than he has reason to be. This makes him much more interesting as a character, and Craig inhabits the role well.

Too, Craig and Dench (as M) have real chemistry. It was smart of the writers/creators to see it and give Bond and M strong interactions that capitalize on that.

All I can really say is how much I look forward to whatever Bond movie comes next. Meanwhile, I'll be resetting the clock and going back to watch the Sean Connery films.

Oh, but can I just point out, in specific regards to the box set, it's kind of lame that Quantum of Solace doesn't have the same disc menu? I mean, I know why they didn't bother, but if you're going to make something this nice, go all out instead of stopping just short.


Movies: Looper

Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt
Directed By: Rian Johnson
Written By: Rian Johnson
Endgame Entertainment, 2012
R; 119 min
4.5 stars (out of 5)


In a twist on that old philosophical question that wine-soaked intellectuals ask one another at parties—you know, "If you could go back in time, would you kill Hitler?"—we have Looper, the story of how Joe in 2044 must defeat his future self (who has come back in time) before his future self can kill a little boy who grows up to be a really bad man.

If you look at it another way, it's also a creepy-kid horror story through a sci-fi filter.

Either way, it works.

As younger Joe, Gordon-Levitt does a remarkable job channeling Bruce Willis, who plays the older version. The mannerisms and facial expressions are spot on. It's almost a shame the two get so little screen time together, but of course the movie would be awfully short if they did.

The plot itself is twisty and at least somewhat engaging, though if you think about it much you can easily figure out the likely outcome. For a while I felt it could have gone one of two ways, but before long it was clear where the solution lay. Still, it was a good story and well acted. There were some places where the film dragged, and the love scene between Joe and Sara came somewhat out of left field—one of those things where someone said they clearly needed to establish some kind of relationship, or they needed some sex/romance or something—but on the whole a very solid offering. Gordon-Levitt has been showing strong acting chops since Inception, or even (500) Days of Summer, and Looper is another one for him to be proud of.

Willis, meanwhile, does his thing, and Jeff Daniels does a passable job as a would-be Jeff Bridges. (Actually, I've been enjoying Daniels lately, what with his turn in The Newsroom. But in Looper he really looks like they wanted Bridges and had to go with another Jeff.)

I'm thinking there's an outside chance for this one to get an original screenplay nomination. It certainly has the "original" bit in its favor. And hey! I have another one to add to my list of people who have the same birthday (different year, though; he's older): writer/director Rian Johnson. Welcome to my party, Rian. Give yourself a pat on the back from me.