Books: The World Ends at Five

My anthology of stories is free on Amazon Kindle for a couple days. It's titled The World Ends at Five and Other Stories, and you can get it here (for US) or here (for UK). It's available in other regions as well, though the stories are all in English.

These are some of my earliest works. The stories are, I think, mostly what one would call magical realism. They lean toward the surreal and fantastic without being classic, high fantasy. Get it while it's hot free!



I'm flying out early tomorrow morning—too early, car is coming at 4:00 a.m.—which means today I am packing and going off to have my hair done. (I like to keep people guessing what color it will be next.)

I will try to do some updating while I'm away, but since it's unlikely I'll be spending much time in front of a TV, nor do I travel to London to sit in cinemas . . . Though I have done, on special occasions . . . Anyway, it's more likely Sherlock will have things to say about our outings. Be sure to check in with him and/or follow his Twitter, since he'll be keeping people informed of our whereabouts. (I've had people recognize me while out taking pictures with Sherl; they've even come and asked to have their pictures taken with him, which is kind of awful since it only inflates his ego.)

Oh, and on Thursday the 27th, I'll have a guest post up on A Faraway View. So please be sure to go and check that out as well.


Movies: Dredd

I really like Karl Urban. But I would have liked this movie more if I could've seen the rest of his face.

I know that goes against the character. Though I've never read it, I'm reliably informed Dredd does a good job staying true to the tone of the comic book series on which it is based. I've also been told it's much better than the Stallone film (which I never saw, but replacing Rob Schneider with Olivia Thirlby for sidekick probably goes a long way toward making this one better than the other).

For the uninitiated, Dredd is the story of a post-apocalyptic dystopian society (here set definitively in America, though I'm led to believe the comic is less particular). Justice is maintained as best as possible by Judges, which are like cops only more empowered to, like, execute people on the spot. Urban plays the titular Judge Dredd, Thirlby a psychic rookie named Anderson out for a day of fun evaluation to see if she's fit for duty as a Judge. But things go south when they respond to a triple homicide and arrest the underling of a drug lord known as Ma-Ma (played by Game of Throne's Lena Headey, doing a very similar kind of thing here in being nasty and ruthless). Ma-Ma doesn't want her guy interrogated because then he'll spill her secrets. So she locks down the highrise they're in and sets her people out to hunt down Dredd and Anderson.

What follows is the expected shootouts and violence. Nothing that really requires anyone's full attention  because there's nothing much to miss. While visually gritty in a way that brings to mind Bladerunner (though Bladerunner was slicker looking, more oily in a way), the plot is pretty basic and doesn't require much brain power. Though it's nice that Anderson is not just some squeamish girly who relies on Dredd to protect and save her.

One thing I didn't much like was the guttural way Urban used of speaking throughout the movie. Again, I know that probably has more to do with interpretation of the character of Dredd, but it was too Christian Bale's Batman for my taste. Maybe he was trying to cover his accent?

All told, a so-so film that I wouldn't necessarily recommend but wouldn't warn anyone off from either. If there was meant to be a social commentary of some kind, it fell through the cracks created by all the shooting. But if one is looking for solid mindless entertainment, Dredd suits admirably.


Television: NBC's Fall Premiere Dates

Variety has now posted NBC's fall preems. The network is giving James Spader's The Blacklist a head start on September 23, placing it after The Voice (a time slot that worked well for Smash in its first season and also produced a strong lead-in for Revolution last year). Note that moving Smash in its sophomore year did it no favors, and one has to wonder what transplanting Revolution to Wednesdays at 8:00 will do to it. For those planning to stick with the pseudo-apocalyptic tale, Revolution will bow its second season on September 25.

Michael J. Fox's new comedy will premiere on September 26 in a two-up; that is, NBC will air back-to-back episodes. This will put it against CBS's The Crazy Ones, if only for the first week.

And those looking for the really dark Friday night fare will have to wait a bit longer. Grimm and Dracula are being held for the Hallowe'en-friendly date of October 25.


Our Lady of the Feathers?

Cross posted from PepperWords.

This is an odd thing, I realize, but I have to wonder . . . Does anyone have any thoughts about queens or goddesses associated with birds and/or feathers?

I'm trying to identify a picture: a pale woman with red-brown hair dressed in peacock feathers and a helm of white feathers reminiscent of an eagle (complete with golden beak). She appears to be a kind of warrior queen-goddess as she is also holding a long spear. I can't post the image here, else I would.

I know that Hera/Juno is associated with peacocks, so perhaps it is her. I've also considered Rhiannon; isn't she associated with birds?

A mere exercise, a curiosity. But if you have any ideas about it, I'd be interested to hear them.


The Steven Spielberg Channel

Variety has this article out about Steven Spielberg making television "on his own terms." Well, he can afford to, right? At least the article doesn't pretend otherwise, stating that Spielberg uses money from his successes to finance his Amblin TV projects.

Now, I love Steven Spielberg. I've known since the time I was six or seven what a director was, a producer, a screenwriter . . . I was interested enough not only in films themselves, but in how they work, to learn all these things. And TV too. In some ways TV was better because it was stories you loved continuing every week. (Except back when there was still such a thing as summer reruns; then you had to wait, and it felt like forever.) So I knew who Spielberg was because I loved the Indiana Jones movies and Young Sherlock Holmes was, of course, my personal favorite. And I was going to be like Mr. Spielberg. I was going to make movies. Now, somewhere in there my desire to direct got trumped by my love for writing (and a knack for character and dialogue), but . . . ::shrug::

At the time, of course, no one bothered to explain to me how difficult it is to break into the industry, and how much of a boys' game it can be besides. This was the 80s, and we were all being told we could be anything, do anything.

Well, I know Mr. Spielberg had to claw his way in and up as much as anyone, so I guess I can't hold it against him that he now has money and the wherewithal to play around with it. But maybe he'd like to give some of us a fighting chance? Hey, Mr. Spielberg, why not read my spec like you did Diablo Cody's? It's received solid feedback elsewhere, so it's not even like I'm asking for you to look at something unvetted. Call it a fair trade for me supporting Smash throughout its run.

Books: Series

I avoid getting involved with series of books. As a rule, sereis take up too much reading time and therefore make reading feel monotonous. People are always trying to convince me to try this or that series, and I've tested a few, but most I don't get past one or two books. There's just too many of them, and if you start in too late it takes too much effort to catch up.

If a series promises to be relatively short, I'm more apt to give it a try. Or if the books themselves are not too long. Ideally they come out regularly, like one a year. That's just the right amount of time between books in a series.

Now of course I read Harry Potter. And the Anne Rice vampire books. All the Hercule Poirot novels, too. That was all back in the day. I read Diana Wynne Jones's Chronicles of Chrestomanci as well, which were very good (there's only the four, and they're different enough not to feel all alike).

People suggested Jim Butcher, and I tried both Dresden and the Codex Alera, but never made it past the first books of each. With Dresden there were just too many, and with Alera . . . Eh.

I read the first couple Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, too. I liked them all right, I guess, but feel no driving need to read more of them. (Though since Hamlet is my favorite Shakespearean play, I should probably at least give Something Rotten a try.)

What I really liked by Fforde was Shades of Grey, and I'm waiting . . . and waiting . . . for more of that series. But I think he's planning to do a prequel before he gets around to a sequel. Ugh.

I started reading that whole Game of Thrones bit but didn't make it past the prologue. I'll try it again later, perhaps.

I did like Greg Keyes' Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series, though it started stronger than it ended. I tried the Age of Unreason series but didn't even finish the first book. It wasn't bad or anything, just not what I was in the mood for at the time.

There are currently only two series I actively search out and read now. The first is Imogen Robertson's Crowther and Westerman books. There are four, but I've only just started the third, Island of Bones. I really like these characters and Robertson's writing style, but the books can be heavy, so I space them.

The other series I read is, of course, Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant novels. And this series is the one I most love. I eagerly await each installment and devour it in a handful of days (or mere hours if the kids stay out of my way). The next one isn't due out in the States until next year, though I think I'll be able to grab a copy while in London. I shall pencil in a bookstore visit on my schedule. I find this particular series worth my time and commitment. Which do you?


Television: CBS's Fall Premiere Dates

If you're already counting the days until the Fall TV season returns, CBS has at least given you a definite target by having announced their premiere dates. The only show I currently watch on CBS (as those who follow along should know) is Elementary, which starts its second season on September 26th at 10:00 p.m. Also starting that date is the new Robin Williams/Sarah Michelle Gellar comedy The Crazy Ones. The casting has me curious, though I'm not 100% convinced of the show's viability.

Those of you anticipating Lost's Josh Holloway's return to your living rooms will have to wait until February 24th; CBS has his Intelligence slotted for mid-season.


Movies: The Bourne Legacy

This movie bored me.

I mean, really, it starts with this long bit in Alaska . . . And never mind that I hate snow, but there just wasn't any action happening. I was literally falling asleep, had to turn on the lights to keep myself awake.

And then when we finally got to the meat of the movie, well, the core of the plot boils down to some guy trying to get his drug fix. That's not terribly exciting. That's not a hero I can really get behind, someone who saves the pretty doctor because he's hoping she can hook him up with some chemicals. Of course, then she goes one better and basically rids him of his drug dependency and ushers him through the fastest withdrawal on the planet.

Meanwhile, people are trying to kill them, of course. Because the Treadstone program was being terminated, and all its "outcomes" and support staff (read: doctors) were due to be eliminated. There was this ridiculously long motorcycle chase at the end of the movie that had zero tension and felt interminable. And then the dénouement fell utterly flat.

It didn't help that Rachel Weisz and Jeremy Renner have zero chemistry. I think by the end of the movie I was supposed to believe there was a relationship blossoming in front of my eyes, but there was just no way to find that credible. Renner is far too lackluster; he brings very little personality to the screen. And Weisz is the kind of actress who can't pull it on her own; she needs something or someone to bounce off of (like Brendan Fraser in The Mummy).

In short, I spent most of this movie preoccupied with my iPhone because there wasn't enough going on to keep my eyes riveted to the screen. But on the plus side, I'll fall asleep easily tonight; The Bourne Legacy gave me a head start on snoozing.

Father's Day

My dad is reading my book (The K-Pro).

You have to understand, my father and I are very close. Our whole family is, really, what with me being an only child; we're a nice, tight little unit. But Dad and I have a special bond. I'm a Daddy's Girl.

So I'm both really excited and really nervous to think he's reading something I wrote.

Anyone who writes or acts or somehow produces a final product . . . And who has family and friends they very much value . . . They will understand this butterfly of feeling in knowing someone close to them is reading (watching, viewing in some way) one's work.

The good news is that Dad's early impressions are favorable. (And my dad is not someone who will gloss to spare a person's feelings. Hmm. Sounds familiar . . . Maybe I should point out he, like me, has Asperger's.) He's read two chapters, is on the third, and says he's definitely pulled in, curious to figure out what is going on. Apparently he'd been reading, but they had tickets to see Star Trek, and he found himself not wanting to put the book down and go to the movie. They did go, of course. But now he's eager to continue reading.

So it seems for this Father's Day, my dad has given me a gift greater than anything I could have given him! (But I did give him stuff. DVDs. Of Fawlty Towers and Mulberry. 'Cuz he likes those shows and needs stuff to watch over the summer.)


Movies: Silver Linings Playbook

You know that whole class of movies about dance competitions? Despite all the dramatic window dressing, Silver Linings Playbook is one of those. Except instead of delinquent high schoolers or people trying to overcome some kind of physical handicap, the dancers in this movie have mental and emotional problems. But any way you slice it, dancing = therapy in this genre of film.

The movie stars Bradley Cooper (who will always be, first and foremost in my mind at least, Will from Alias) as Pat, who after serving eight months in a mental institution is allowed to go home and live with his parents so long as he takes his meds, attends regular therapy sessions, and obeys a restraining order meant to keep him away from his wife Nikki. Why? Because his mental breakdown stems from finding Nikki in the shower with another man—a man Pat then proceeded to beat nearly to death. I have difficulty faulting Pat for this, and even greater difficulty faulting him for his homicidal reaction to Stevie Wonder's "Ma Cherie Amour," though our reasons for hating the song differ.

Anyway, Pat is out and focused on a single goal: winning Nikki back.

From there we go into Pat meeting Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), someone as screwed up and crazy as he is . . . Well, long story short, they end up in a dance competition and fall in love Hollywood style. Pretty cliché.

I also had a teeny problem with how obvious it was that Tiffany was lying to Pat about a particular plot point, but perhaps this was designed to illuminate Pat's delusional nature more than trying to fool the viewer. I certainly hope so because they sucked at trying to make me believe [this device].

All that said, Silver Linings Playbook is a good movie. I enjoyed it. I'd give it a solid four stars, maybe even 4.25. I have to take away some partial points for first using an exchange and then a bet as the major turning points, and also for the Hollywood ending. But on the whole a very satisfying piece of entertainment.


Books: The Phantoms of Dixie by Hans Holzer

I love a good ghost story, and I'm originally from the South, so when I read about this old out-of-print book I decided I had to give it a try. I found a copy in good condition courtesy of Alibris and ordered it, and I have to say, I do love the smell of old books (this one being a retired library copy). As for the book itself, well . . .

In Phantoms of Dixie, Holzer covers ghost stories from 11 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas x2, Virginia). I put the "x2" next to Texas because it actually gets two chapters. Each of the rest of the states only gets one, and in some there is only one or two stories for that state, which is a bit of a let down. All of North Carolina's chapter is taken up with the Maco Light and is in large part more about the huge media coverage Holzer and his wife received when they went to investigate it, right down to the newspaper clippings. I mean, you know there have to be more stories than that . . . somewhere . . .

In truth, it's a slim volume and the tales contained within are not terribly indepth. More than haunted houses and such, Holzer talks about specific people who have encountered psychic and paranormal phenomena in various locations. The book itself was originally published in 1972, and Holzer eventually went on to have something like 100 titles to his name (most famously he investigated Amityville), so one supposes that if he were putting out so many books, they couldn't any of them be particularly long or involved. But the end result is a kind of gloss, almost a weak index that makes me want to go find other books about these places, or maybe even look up some of the people (are any of them still alive?) . . . It's the kind of book that sends you scurrying to the Internet for more information.

Still, Phantoms is a good book for those who might be curious but also a little bit wary. Nothing in this book is particularly fright inducing, so one can read it with both interest and ease. In all it's good for toe-dipping but fails to make much of a splash.


A Note About the Site Template

Sometimes, when this site loads, it does some weird default version that doesn't carry all the styles. If you're looking at a monochrome grey version of this page right now with no cool font for the post titles, that's what has happened to you. In order to get the correct style for this site, you will need to go click on "spooklights" in the site banner. The site should then reload with the correct styles. Note that it will still have charcoal and grey, but the post titles will be in a funky font and the date banners will be red.

It's no big deal if you choose to read this site in the default template. (Dunno what's up with Blogger, btw, since this has been an issue for months now.) You're not missing any particular "cool" feature. But if design says something about its creator . . . Or something about "intent". . . Actually, I don't know anything about design theory. ::shrug::


Theatre/Screenwriting: From Play to Movie

A couple years ago a friend of mine who helps run a community theatre down in Texas suggested I try writing a play. I had at that point finished a pretty large prose series and was sort of floating as far as writing projects went, so I thought, Why not? I'd done some acting, had helped out around theatres, so I was familiar with the form and knew what a small stage could likely manage to pull off. And I'd had a scene kicking around in my head for a while that I thought might be a good starting point.

The result was my short play "Warm Bodies." Surprisingly (or maybe it was beginner's luck), this play went on to be featured in the annual Lab Works in Connecticut and then as part of the Source Festival in Washington D.C. It also got picked up for publication in an anthology . . . Though no one has seen this book (yet).

I'm delighted now to be able to say that "Warm Bodies" has also been chosen to become a short film. Of course, since there's already a movie called Warm Bodies, I'm guessing they'll change the title. It feels weird releasing my work into someone else's hands . . . Stranger, that is, giving it to a film director rather than a theatre director. Maybe because of the permanence of film as a medium. After all, when someone puts on a play, it's an interpretation of the written work. It can change from production to production, or even from night to night in the same production. But when they make it into a movie . . . It becomes the interpretation, at least unless or until someone else remakes it.

But after talking to the producer and director, I'm relatively confident that they "get" the script and will do right by it. And I'm damn curious to see how it all turns out.


The LEGO Factor

Today I am building Big Ben out of LEGOs. As someone with Asperger's, I like LEGOs because they satisfy that junction in my brain where precision meets creativity. I have the option to either follow a set of directions toward a predetermined end, or I can riff on those instructions, or discard them entirely.

I think Sherlock Holmes would have liked LEGOs. Or any kind of building toy or tool. The ability to model things . . .

It's difficult to explain, but if you take the computer analogy (Holmes talking about his brain as his hard drive), imagine that there are many processes and programs running at once. A LEGO kit—a puzzle works as well—brings one specific process to the fore; it prioritizes. There's something calming about that. No longer is there an equal clamor in the brain, everything demanding attention. Meanwhile, other things continue to run in background. And so it's very common for me, while focusing on something as simple as finding and matching pieces, to come to a realization, have an epiphany, solve a problem that has nothing to do with whether the clock tower is tall enough yet. It's because some other program has finished running while I was busy, and now it chimes to let me know it's done, and suddenly I have the ending to the story or the answer to the question.

The way the blocks go together mimics the way my brain builds information. Drawing two, three, four hundred pieces together into a form that makes sense.

Of course, Big Ben is what you construct when you have what Holmes would call a 346-piece problem. If and when I get really stuck:


Television: Arrested Development, Season 4

Finally finished watching the 15 episodes that comprise the fourth season of Arrested Development last night. They were okay. Not great. But they had their moments.

Now before you accuse me of not being a "true" fan or a big enough fan or whatever, let me be clear about my past history with AD. I caught onto the show near the end of its actual television run so many years ago and had to catch up via Netflix. But at the time I thought it was easily the funniest, most cleverly written comedy on TV. So I am a fan.

Where Season 4 fails is in the fact that the interactions between family members are far more limited than they had been in previous seasons. And a lot of AD's funny is derived from the way the core characters, the Bluth family, play off one another. Here there was less of that. A lot less. The season was peppered with new characters instead, and those were kind of fine, but just not as good for laughs.

There were some standout guest stars: Ben Stiller as Tony Wonder, Tommy Tune as Argyle Austero, Mary Lynn Rajskub as Heartfire. But even so, not the "laughing so hard I missed something and need to rewind" kind of funny I'm used to AD delivering.

The plots, too . . . While as absurd as ever, they were not as light and fun in tone. Michael (Jason Bateman), once the solid core of the family and the show, became distinctly unlikable as he horned in on his son's college dorm room and vied with him for a woman's affection. Gob (Will Arnett) was great playing against Stiller's Wonder, but I deduct points for the fact they felt the need to resort to gay jokes. We get enough of those with Tobias. George/Oscar swapping places, building a wall between the US and Mexico, Lucille's incarceration . . . Meh.

The more the stories spun themselves out, the more sense they made, and—proportionately—the less funny they seemed. Once the ostrich in the room is explained, it's no longer a fun oddity. (Though I can certainly applaud the careful construction of the storylines.)

One overarching story involved Michael working as a producer at Imagine Entertainment, his job being to get signed releases from his family members in order to make a movie about the Bluths. But as he hunts each down, trading favors for John Hancocks, typical family backstabbing results in Michael tearing up each contract and telling his parents and siblings they are "out of the movie." Perhaps this will be the excuse for not making an Arrested Development movie? Any excuse will do, really; Season 4 has proven one can't really recapture the magic, and I don't think I want to see them try.


The Strangeness of Site Stats

I just have to pause for a moment and reflect upon the sometimes seemingly illogical peaks and valleys of post popularity. I periodically check my site statistics, seeing where people come from and such, but every now and then I find myself asking, WTF happened there?

Like today, suddenly everyone wants to read about Big Red Soda. Why? My Big Red post was the second most-read today, even though it's over two months old.

And then The Decoy Bride has a spot on the all-time most-read posts. What's that about? How is it that that movie gets so many hits for this site?

Some things make sense: my Elementary and Revolution (and, once upon a time, Smash) posts have always been good for site traffic. Okay, sure. But why do the Parade's End posts come up at least once a week?

Though it's my concert reviews and Matchbox Twenty coverage that gets me the most hits (looking at the lifetime of the site).

I like to look at where people are visiting from, too, and while there are the usual places—the U.S. and the UK and I'm apparently quite popular in Russia and Germany—every now and then I get a bunch of hits from somewhere different. France was active today. Are they the ones wondering about Big Red? A couple weeks ago there were lots of hits from New Zealand. ::shrug:: (Actually, I've noticed NZ comes in spates and figured out that particular pattern. But it's still interesting.)

It's also fun to see what people search for in finding the site. Most are pretty mundane, like titles of shows and episodes, but "Revolution TV stupid" is one that made me laugh. Also, "Jonny Lee Miller hairy arms."

Finally, I'm always curious when I see how many people click on my contact info. It's the imaginative writer in me, but I picture these people hovering, trying to decide whether to take that step and send me an e-mail. I do get a few, which is nice. Some may even be from New Zealand. Though I never thought to ask.

Books: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

If Douglas Coupland had written The DaVinci Code . . . Well, let's just say this book inhabits that intersection of literature.

Without giving too much away, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is the story of Clay, a graphics designer who has fallen victim to the economic downturn and so takes up post as nightly clerk of the mysterious titular store. Never mind that books are "old technology;" in this store there is a private lending library of coded books open only to special members . . . And of course it wouldn't be much of a book itself if Penumbra's didn't send Clay down that rabbit hole, readers in tow.

It's Clay's tone as narrator that brings to mind Coupland; he's extremely accessible and likable, a reasonable young man surrounded by, if not unreasonable, then definitely unusual people and circumstances. But like the hero of his favorite childhood fantasy novel, Clay rises to the challenge. He infiltrates several cults (one of them being Google) and forges strange alliances (easy to do when you're accessible and likable).

Sloan juxtaposes a lot of old and new, past and future: printed books versus e-readers is the handiest example. And he contrasts the various points of view on the matter, too: those entrenched in the old ways of doing things, customs and traditions, against people so forward-thinking they can't even see the present. The bottom line seems to be the nature of immortality, if there is such a thing. I'd say that anyone with a relationship to books (writers, readers) has an understanding of what it means to live forever, but there is always the question of whether the books themselves will last . . . Even Hitler knew the power of the printed word enough to use it to his purpose and feared it enough to burn what contradicted his will, but if and when everything becomes a byte instead of a book . . . It will be simultaneously much easier to simply delete something and much harder to be certain you've scrubbed away every existing copy (bytes of data are like cockroaches, seriously). I'd say we at least still require libraries for backup, just in case technology fails us. And we require technology for backup, just in case we come against another Hitler. There's space—and need—for both in the world.

But that's something else again. Though if anything, my digression points to the ways Penumbra's can bring up interesting points for discussion. Can the model-maker from ILM and the computer graphics programmer work together in harmony? Or will it always be a fight over who does what better and who is more skilled, more necessary than the other? (Really, though, in the book they get along fine.)

I'd recommend this book, a fast and quirky read with a wide potential audience. Even YA, or maybe that "New Adult" demographic, could enjoy this. Although people over a certain age might find their eyes glazing over when all the Google spew and talk of the singularity happens. As someone who falls into that little gap of having had a childhood unshadowed by constant computing but an adulthood wherein the constant access to info has become both burden and convenience, I like to think my ability to straddle both sides of the story allows me to get the most out of it. (For one, while I do use my computer and smartphone as much as anyone, I am relatively sure I could live without them if the need were to arise. Because I've done it before, so I know how.)

Finally, Penumbra's poses the question of cultishness. I suppose any time two or more people get together and formulate a set of rules by which they plan to live and work . . . Or maybe even the unspoken agreement of large swaths of society . . . Well, but I think what makes a cult a cult is the singular devotion and enthusiasm of its adherents. Not every book club is a cult, but some . . . Some people take their books very seriously. Read Penumbra's and you'll see what I mean.


Television: Revolution, "The Dark Tower"

We're not even pretending any more—Revolution wants to be a Stephen King novel. Or maybe the writers just wish they were Stephen King. But it's like Stephen King by committee, which doesn't work very well.

Or maybe it's Stephen King by way of Michael Crichton, what with the malfunctioning nanites. They are everywhere, replicating out of control, and if Rachel shuts them down . . . It could end everyone and everything. But it hardly matters, since the Tower Cult won't let her get to Level 12 to do it.

Meanwhile, Monroe and Miles continue to fight, get washed down a pipe, and then fight some more once they're washed up. But when Monroe identifies himself to one of his Militia, the soldier takes a shot at him and runs off; apparently Neville's coup is taking effect.

As for the secret of Aaron's being in Warren's journal; The Tower's operating system is based on code he'd written while a student at MIT.

Rachel appeals to Grace to help her get to Level 12 and "flip the switch." When Grace declines, Rachel chloroforms her to get her access card. Seriously, there is evidently no shortage of chloroform in this dystopia. People have more access to it than they do to clean water.

In flashbacks we get the beginnings of Monroe's descent into paranoid madness, starting with vengeance against a Rebel who bombed a restaurant where Monroe and Miles were eating, doing (mostly superficial) damage to Miles, which Monroe took personally as this man "messing with [his] family." So Monroe has not only the Rebel but his wife and kids killed as well. It was all for Miles, apparently: "Everything I've ever done was for you!" Monroe tells him in the here and now. (This would be so much better—read: creepier but also more intense—if Monroe had a real crush on Miles.)

Back in The Tower, Aaron, Nora, Charlie and Rachel are working to figure out how to get past the crazies guarding Level 12. And in the Militia camp, Monroe is brought back to answer to Neville, who is now in charge. Somewhere in the background I'm sure I saw a painted "Under New Management" banner hanging over some of the tents.

But Neville, opting to lead via inspiration rather than tyranny, is planning to at least give semblance of some kind of trial for Monroe. But first: Hey! Someone's blown the front doors off The Tower! So of course Neville has to go check that out.

And while that's going on, Miles will come and rescue Monroe because, after all is said and done, they're still besties. He cuts Monroe loose and tells him to run, giving his old friend a head start as he shouts to let the Militia know Monroe is escaping. So into the night lopes Bas Monroe.

In the ensuing battle to get to Level 12, Nora is injured, and there is a small quarrel between Rachel and Charlie over whether to save Nora or proceed to Level 12. Charlie loses, meaning she is left with a bleeding Nora while Rachel and Aaron head down to flip the switch. When a Militia member finds Charlie and Nora, Miles is back just in time to save them. And Nora discovers that, though she thought Miles's heart was with Rachel, he chooses her. Well, he chooses to carry her. To the infirmary. But Nora dies along the way.

And Neville, upon arrival at The Tower, runs into Grace. "Don't I know you?" he asks. Taking Grace along for the ride, Neville and his men come upon Rachel and Aaron and Neville tells them to come with him and "forget about the power," but Miles and Charlie provide enough distraction that they're all able to escape and get into Level 12.

Execute Command?

And around the world, somehow the infrastructure has remained enough intact that lights and power return with little to no difficulties. Lights flicker on, ceiling fans start their lazy circles . . . And Monroe finds himself caught in an open field during a lightning storm.

Oh, but Randall Flynn is down in Level 12 too. And now that he has power, he can open up the missile silos and launch at Atlanta and Philly in a grand plan to wipe out the would-be despots and re-unite the States.

And then he shoots himself in the head.

And we see a shadowy figure, installed in the "United States Colony" in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba . . . His aide tries the lights and finds them working. "Randall Flynn did it. It's time to go home, Mr. President."

So apparently there is still some kind of United States and some form of presidency that has been sustaining itself over the past 15+ years?

Well, okay.

Next season Revolution moves to Wednesdays at 8:00.


Movies: Star Trek Into Darkness

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Peter Weller, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed By: J.J. Abrams
Written By: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof from the series created by Gene Roddenberry
Paramount, 2013
PG-13; 132 min
3.75 stars (out of 5)


When I was a kid, the man across the street (I think his name was Fred, but it may have been Frank . . . Definitely an "F" name though) had converted part of his house into a salon, and famous people would come to him to get their hair done. Larry Hagman would come (he was nice) and Peter Weller would come . . . And Mr. Weller was, even then, one scary m—f—. So I spent most of Star Trek Into Darkness (and let me just add that I really, really hate that they've dropped the colon because no movie should have a sentence fragment for a title) reliving a kind of childhood terror in the face of Weller's Admiral Marcus.

I should preface the rest of this by saying that Wrath of Khan was one of my favorite films as a kid (along with Search for Spock), so I find it ill advised to attempt to remake a story that, in my mind, was already pretty damn close to perfect. In Wrath of Khan, Montalbán played what was, to my forming mind, a truly frightening villain. I could not find this to be true of the newer model. He's supposed to be brilliant to the point of insane, and angry to the point of homicidal (never minding the genocidal bit), this superhuman creature . . . And I can see why Cumberbatch got the job, and why his fans like him as Khan (well, and they'd like him as anything, wouldn't they?)—it's an upscaled take on Sherlock, right down to the clipped dialogue and cold demeanor. Very different from the heat Montalbán brought to the role. And with Cumberbatch the wrath fell short, or at least paled in comparison to the venom Weller brought as Marcus. (And remember that this is all subjective, as all reviews are, and that my connection to this material and the actors here very likely colors my opinions.)

As for the rest, Pine and Quinto put in solid performances as ever, and I wish there had been more of Karl Urban; Bones has always been my favorite classic Trek character, and Urban does a passable drawl that I find charming. Simon Pegg as Scotty, too, is always fun.

The story itself came across as very plotted, by which I mean one could count the beats, see everything that was coming—it was transparent and offered nothing by way of surprise or any real tension. It was mainly a series of set pieces (though a shout out to the Livermore Lab, right up the road from me, always happy to see you on the big screen).  Places where it seemed they were trying to be clever didn't merit the pats on the back and high fives that they were surely seeking. In fact, in what I see as a truly sad development: When I was a kid and a new Star Trek movie came out, we would go, and the first time the Enterprise would appear on screen would always be greeted with applause from the crowd. But not here, not this time. There was nothing inspired in this movie. It was, in truth, pretty generic and could easily be rewritten to be any other science-fiction space film.

Okay, so entertainment value on the whole was okay. Entertainment value as a Star Trek film was slightly lower than average (this one only made me want to go watch Wrath of Khan again, or maybe the 2009 reboot which held so much promise to which this installment didn't quite live up). And if you're looking any more closely, well . . .

Talk about telegraphing your intentions: Khan's blood from start to finish. Geez. It saves the girl, it revives the tribble, so of course if we have a dead Kirk . . . And the whole "Spock doesn't really care" debate, so yes, we're going to have to address that by having Spock act totally out of character and go into a fist fight with the baddie. A fight that, by all accounts, assuming Khan really is all that, Spock shouldn't have been standing for more than a few seconds. Though I almost wish they'd done more with the mind meld because seeing that disorient Khan—they should have punched that up because it could have been a great moment.

And then, too, the "nods" to the original with the "clever" switches (oh, Kirk is in the radiated chamber this time?), and the almost word-for-word lifting of old dialogue . . . Again, it felt like the writers thought they were being smarter than they really were. I can see, from a character arc perspective, why they chose Kirk to "grow" by coming to understand the need for him to sacrifice himself for his crew, but it was all so hit-you-over-the-head that it failed to hold meaning.

And if Khan is so smart, why didn't he see the torpedo trick coming? Or is this one of those things where we're supposed to say, "Ah, but when you start to believe you're infallible you make big mistakes!" Well, they do say most accidents happen closest to home because you get sloppy when in your comfort zone (familiar territory). So did Khan get sloppy here, thinking he was so close to his goal? It was just unbelievably stupid as a plot point.

Also: U.S.S. Vengeance? Really? You couldn't have come up with something, anything with a bit more finesse? Yes, now I'm nitpicking. But between this and the large blocks of exposition in the dialogue (let's have Khan spill exactly who he is, what has happened, and give us the specs on the new ship) . . . Sigh. Call her the Nike, or even just the Victory. Even Retribution sounds cooler.

And as a denizen of the San Francisco area, I have to ask: Why do people always want to break our stuff? (And again, did they think they were being clever not using the Golden Gate cliché and aiming for Alcatraz instead?)

Okay, but enough of the bad. There was plenty of good. They did the funny moments very well: the scene in Pike's office; the one on the shuttle with Uhura, Spock, and Kirk; the bits with Scotty. And Weller was really good. In my mind he was the scariest of the villains on offer.

The movie didn't beat one over the head with this particular point, which makes it more interesting to examine: that of the moral grey area. Khan is bad, his genocidal agenda is unquestionably evil, but every villain believes he's doing the right thing. It's a world (galactic?) view, isn't it? Khan wants his crew back and is willing to go to any lengths to get them. No different than Kirk in that respect. Marcus believes he's doing the right thing in preparing for the coming war with the Klingons, so much so that he's willing to go to extremes to get the advantage. If it costs him a few men on the Enterprise, well, his goal is to save the world, so . . . The good of the many, right? Here is the meat of the story, if one can get past the thick slices of breading that encase it.

There will almost certainly be a third Star Trek movie. Though this one has underperformed a bit, it's done well enough. And they've set up the idea of this war with the Klingons, which should prove for fruitful storytelling. But I hope they'll do better with the characters in the next go-round, too, because it's the interaction and the camaraderie that Star Trek fans truly value.

ETA: Oh, his name was Fred.

Movies: The Great Gatsby

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan
Directed By: Baz Luhrmann
Written By: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce from the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Warner Bros., 2013
PG-13; 142 min
3.5 stars (out of 5)


I like my men soaking wet and hopelessly in love.

I remember, as so many students do, reading The Great Gatsby and really liking it. (Well, mostly I remember having to write a really long paper about it, and I got an A, so that may have made me like the book a bit more.)

Truthfully, though, when I pictured Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in my mind, oh so many years ago, I'd say Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio are pretty fine fits for the roles. Physically speaking. And because they are friends in real life, it was easy to believe in their friendship on screen as well.

Still, Luhrmann's take on Fitzgerald's novel—while much, much better than many previous attempts (because I remember having to watch that one with Bruce Dern in it those years ago, too, while seated at my desk)—is not perfect. It begins with a very affected narration on the part of Nick (Maguire) that, while it can be partially excused given that Nick is a would-be novelist, draws a bit too much attention to itself in those opening moments of the film. Later, as the story unspools and Nick becomes that writer he longs to be, it's easier to swallow the colorful flourishes and overwrought tone of much of what Nick says, but in those first few minutes . . .

The affectations continue throughout the movie, and one is left to wonder (perhaps we're meant to wonder) how much of what we're seeing and experiencing is only through Nick's bizarre filter. He's a writer, after all, prone to fill in blanks and add color to what otherwise may be a much more mundane story. Is Jay Gatsby the big liar, or is Nick?

But that's another discussion for a different day. Luhrmann is, I think, the ideal director for such a story as Gatsby. Both he and the titular character use spectacle as a substitute for substance. And the viewers are Nick: perpetual observers along for the ride.

I won't bother to say much about the plot; you either had to read this book in your school days or you didn't, you either liked it or you didn't, you either know it or you don't. For those of you looking for the cheater's version, and if Wikipedia is still too complex for you: Jay likes Daisy. Daisy is married to Tom. Nick is Jay's neighbor and Daisy's cousin. So Jay uses a friendship with Nick to facilitate a love affair with Daisy. There's lots more, stuff about Tom and his mistress Myrtle, and big parties, and people getting hit with cars, but Jay's love for Daisy is the core of the story. Though it takes a fair amount of time in this movie to get to that part.

Points for creative ways of getting Fitzgerald's prose into the actual narration, and the original book cover image onto a billboard. Points, too, for making me want Jay to win, making him sympathetic in that way. Yes, even when he's so obsessive that he insists Daisy tell Tom she never loved him. His optimism, which is truly sad (once we know the kind of woman Daisy really is) . . . And his vulnerability at the tea at Nick's house . . . These were done quite well.

But there is much of the movie that is almost inadvertently funny. Too many shooting stars. No, really, there were enough of them that I felt I should have been keeping count. And so much mugging. A fair portion of it is borderline ridiculous, and maybe that's the point, maybe we're seeing it as Nick does, in hindsight, how ridiculous it all was . . . But while the spectacle was fun to watch, the anachronistic use of hip hop music a jazzy-Bazzy twist (of the kind we've come to expect of him) . . . I don't think it's the kind of movie I'd ever need to see more than once. Which is why it gets 3.5 stars.


Television: Matt Smith Leaving Doctor Who

I know a lot of people are sad to hear that the current Doctor, played by Matt Smith, will be leaving at Christmas. And then, too, there are some who rejoice in the news. I wouldn't go so far as that myself, though there's a kind of relief in me. I feel like Smith started out promising and then sort of flatlined, was unable to give The Doctor the depth and/or character growth required to keep him interesting. It's pretty bad when the sidekicks overshadow the hero. And a lot of that is the writing and production, but some of that is the acting, too. There are many moving parts to a television show. There are actors all vying for juicy morsels of dialogue and camera time, and there are writers and directors and producers all trying to play (a) to the audience's interests, and (b) to the actors' strengths (and cover their weaknesses). It's hard work from every side.

What Smith has shown during his tenure as the 11th Doctor is that he's very good at playing capricious and manic and distracted and disorganized. What he hasn't pulled off quite so well has been anything with gravitas or, really, those lusciously dark sides of The Doctor: anger, resentment, a vengeful streak. Even his sorrow sometimes came off as shallow. And The Doctor as a character needs depth, requires so very many layers—900+ years of them. He is, perhaps, a kind of Hamlet: anxious and despairing and angry and grief-stricken, but also very sharp and smart, with a Horatio at his side and a world of potential evils surrounding him . . . Not Shakespearean, no, but he could come close, under the right set of hands.

Anyway, I wish Smith all the best and hope he finds roles that suit and/or allow him to stretch his abilities in a way that shows him to advantage.

And now people are wondering, of course, who will be lucky #12. John Hurt? I hope not. That's terrible of me, isn't it, and it's for such a superficial reason, too, because I'm sure Mr. Hurt would do wonderfully well in this kind of role; he's such a fine actor. I'm just hoping for somebody younger (Mr. Hurt has more than a decade on my father, which of course means to me that he must be positively ancient) and better looking. I mean, if I'm going to watch every week, I can at least hope there's someone worth staring at!

Screenwriting: More Great Feedback for 20 August

So, a little background. 20 August was first a stage play that I wrote in 2011 (during Hurricane Irene, actually). I had a young Ewan McGregor in mind when writing the voice of the main character Dixon. The play made the short list for a festival in the UK but the staging requirements prevented it from happening.

Then, after St. Peter in Chains won the shorts category for Table Read My Screenplay, other of my work came under inspection by interested producers, and many singled out 20 August as something they'd like to turn into a movie. So I busted out a screenplay version. It's slightly too short (78 pages), but I'm working on that. Anyway, indie films can often get away with being a little shorter.

Most of the feedback on the script has been pretty good. It's not some universally loved script, but more people have liked it than not. And today I got a big boost when the Creative World Awards gave it a score of 8.38/Consider and the following feedback:

The author has done a good job of creating a cast of characters whose interactions seem believable and organic . . . The author has presented an original concept unlike many other products on the market at the moment . . . The skills of the author are clear and the efforts of this creative mind should be continually encouraged. Good job!

Well, if you're going to keep encouraging me, I'm going to keep writing. Speaking of which, I have a deadline . . .

Books: The K-Pro Free on Amazon (Kindle Version)

If you haven't picked it up yet, my contemporary fantasy novel The K-Pro is free on Amazon today through June 3rd. (Kindle version only.) It's a quick read and the perfect light weight for summer. So go grab it now!

What do you mean you want to know what it's about first? It's a free book, for God's sake, what difference can it make?

Oh, all right. ::grumble, grumble::

It's about Andra, who can make wishes and dreams come true, and up-and-coming actor David, for whom Andra seems to be more of a nightmare. And it takes place on a film set peopled with colorful personalities and there are some Greek and Roman gods and goddesses for good measure.

Fun, right?

So go pick it up. You know, while it's free.