Television: Sleepy Hollow, "For the Triumph of Evil"

How many dream sequences can a show really be expected to have? I just fear this—the dreams and visions—is going to get very old very fast on this show.

People with white eyes (and emptied eyes) are also pretty cliché.

After Abbie has a dream of Crane with the white eyes and someone (-thing) with sand spilling from his (its) eyes, a Dr. Vega from the institution where Abbie's sister Jenny is held is found on the ledge of a building . . . with white eyes that, after she jumps, turn to sand.

(Jenny is Patient #49. Quick, someone theorize on the significance of this number!)

Jenny refuses to speak to Abbie but agrees to speak to Crane.

We get the backstory of the fight between Abbie and Jenny, stemming from when they were young and Abbie refused to admit having seen anything strange in the woods when Jenny reported it. We get briefly introduced to Abbie's ex-boyfriend Morales. And we learn the guy with the eyes of sand is, oddly enough, called the Sandman. "He's coming for you next," says the affected Mr. Gillespie to Abbie. "Next time you fall asleep, you're dead." (Then he kills himself.)

Oh, and Crane tries [a generic, production-approved version of] Red Bull. Has he tried soda yet?

So far, three episodes in, Sleepy Hollow has been relatively rote in its monster-of-the-week structure. Headless Horseman, resurrected witch, Sandman. The show gives the appearance of building a mythology, but really all we're seeing are . . . "monsters from the pit"?

This particular monster, Sandman, necessitates help from the native Mohawks. Crane is astounded—and peeved—that so few of the tribe remain. They find one. A car salesman. Since the Sandman targets people who "turn a blind eye" on others who need help, the salesman is prompted to aid Abbie lest Sandman come for him next for having refused her.

The episode devolves into a pseudo-Neil Gaiman thingy where Abbie and Crane drink a special tea that allows them to enter what amounts to The Dreaming, the Mohawk tribesman having told them they must face Sandman on his own territory. Of course this Sandman is pale and skinny but bald as opposed to having the crazy hair Gaiman's Morpheus is famous for. But hey! Blank black eyes! (Except when sand is falling out of them.)

Anyway, in the old "truth shall set you free" way of things, by telling the truth in the dream, Abbie is able to defeat the Sandman. Somehow it's a letdown. It's almost too easy.

Still: "No more scorpions. Ever."

And Abbie and Crane get an X-Files type basement room to work in.

And Jenny has escaped the institution.

So while the monster angles have been less than thrilling, the character interactions continue to be entertaining. With Jenny in the mix, and a little more of Captain Irving (I hope), there's still enough to keep me interested, even when the A plot is weak. So I'll keep watching. For now.


SWCW 13: Recap

So the Screenwriters World Conference West has just wrapped here in L.A. It's been a good time; I met a lot of interesting people, I learned a few things and heard (again) many things that writers need to hear but, because we are solitary creatures, often do not hear nearly enough. We hear it and think, Duh. I know that. But knowing and being reminded are not the same thing.

I've also had more soda and candy bars than are good for me.

I arrived Friday afternoon. I'd say "just in time for traffic" but every time is "just in time for traffic" in L.A. Still, Friday afternoons can be worse than most. So I missed the keynote but was able to jump in with Pilar Alessandra's Pitch talk, wherein she gave us templates to help work out our pitches. Very helpful, though when I moved on to Danny Manus' talk on Loglines & Queries, I of course got some contradictory information. One has to remember that every studio, every production company, every agent and manager is different and has a different idea about how best to do things. Going to conferences like this one only underscores how subjective it all is.

This is NOT an excuse, however, for writers to say, "Oh, they didn't like my script because they didn't understand it" or whatever. If you're getting the same response everywhere, if it's all "no," then go back to your script and figure out where the problem(s) is (are). If you're lucky enough to get feedback (or have enough money to pay for a consultant to give you feedback, which can be invaluable), see if what they say makes sense. Sometimes it's crap advice, and it really is just that a person didn't like the script. But sometimes—and this is especially true if you're hearing the same thing from a lot of different places—there's still more work to be done before anyone can really hope to sell the script. And when you send that baby out there into the world, you do really want it to be as good as you feel you can get it. It won't be perfect, but it needs to be (as they say in the medical world) "viable."

[slightly blurry] snap of one of Manus' visual aids

I ended my first night with a panel on Tips & Tricks of the Trade. It was moderated by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman and featured Robbie Fox, Doug Richardson, and Tom Schulman. (Yes, that Tom Schulman, the one who wrote Dead Poet's Society.) Honestly, this panel was a lot of remembrances and anecdotes, but it was fun. Fox stated that short films are the way in these days, that writers should make shorts and get them out there because studio and production people would rather watch something than read a script.

A lot of what we heard over the weekend is the emphasis on the business being a relationship biz. This goes to the whole "who you know" aspect, but it also goes beyond. Because first people have to get to know you. So you want to stand out . . . And yet not be weird and creepy . . . Being confident is good, but being cocky is not . . . You want to be someone other people want to work with.

More that we learned: That studios are making fewer and fewer movies, meaning there's less work for writers. Studios don't want original content because they aren't "building from the ground up" any more. They want to grab properties that already have fans (comic books, popular novels, etc.). This is in large part because 2/3 of ticket sales are now overseas, and the audiences over there (especially China) eat up the epic blockbusters.

And by the way, did you know the studios keep databases and exchange info regarding scripts and writers circulating through town? Speaking of being creepy . . .

On Saturday morning I attended the panel on getting an agent or manager. If you're wondering what the difference is (at least in California), an agent can solicit work and negotiate on his/her client's behalf and a manager cannot. Managers more guide, counsel, promote the writer's career. They can help the writer prioritize projects, tell them whether an idea is salable. Managers usually work in conjunction with agents.

This panel also said that specs for existing shows are a dying animal; nowadays writers need two original television pilot specs instead. (Well, but again I got contradicting info from one of the managers in the pitching session, so . . .)

Here's what's true: There is a constant need for fresh, original material in the television writing market. But the agents and managers are also (again!) looking for personalities that are not high maintenance, people who are reasonable and flexible, who are professional.

I pitched on Saturday to six managers and production companies. One passed. Four asked for contact info and/or business cards. One requested a script. I don't know if that's successful? It's a start, I guess. And it was good experience anyway.

This morning I started with the Getting Past the Reader panel that featured Brian McDonald, Kathie Fong Yoneda, Richard Botto (of Stage 32, which is a site that's done me solid this past year or so), and Karl Iglesias. This one was also moderated by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman.

When asked what they look for when reading a script, some sample responses included:
  • Roughly 50/50 ratio of dialogue to description (when simply flipping through the pages)
  • Dialogue that "plays" rather than big blocks of speech
  • Proper formatting and no typos
  • That the script isn't too long
  • Writing that is visual and meant for the screen
  • Action
  • Characters with emotional connection to the audience
They of course told us we should read [successful] scripts to see how it's done (but try to keep in mind many scripts online are shooting scripts, which are written differently). They pointed out that it's confusing to have characters with names that are too similar. They pointed out how important it is to pull the reader through the script by having a great story, never giving the reader a reason to stop and think too hard.

(After this panel I had the chance to chat with Mr. McDonald, who was very encouraging as I bemoaned my struggles with a current screenwriting project.)

At the Breaking Into Hollywood panel (Lee Jessup, Michael Tabb, Chris Soth, Barri Evins, moderated by Adam Finer) much the same kinds of things were said. There is no magic formula; every writer's journey is different. But here are some things they said to do:
  1. Constantly be generating content
  2. Expose that content (i.e., get feedback)
  3. Network
Do it all simultaneously. Be doing it all the time. Don't write, then stop and take time off from writing to network. Keep all those balls in the air.

Remember that, until you have a huge hit movie, you're always breaking in. You're only as good as your last script. Build relationships and think about what you can give rather than what you can get. And know who you are—create a writing identity, a personal brand—because that's what you're really selling.

(Also, shop at Trader Joe's.)

The closing keynote was with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. You may know them as the guys who have written Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor: The Dark World. But they came a long way before getting to do those kinds of cool scripts. It was fun to listen to their story and think about where I am on the curve of my own writing journey. (Sort of entering the "talking dog movies" part of my professional arc.)

Which reminds me. I have a couple rewrites to do and an outline to finish . . . And a dinner date with an old friend, too . . .


Television: Elementary, "Step Nine"

The season two premiere takes Holmes and Watson to London in search of a crazed and AWOL Lestrade. It also introduces Rhys Ifans as Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother.

I have nitpicky issues with some of the episode, but on the whole I actually found it pretty entertaining and a solid start for the season. Let's the get the nitpicky stuff out of the way first, though.

  1. In my [quite extensive] experience of the place, Highgate doesn't look anything like that. (No, not even the cleared up bits toward the back.)
  2. Why hadn't they slept in 20 hours? Why didn't Watson sleep on the plane?
  3. Even if the acetone wouldn't have melted the nail, couldn't Pendry have still hidden the nail in the bottle of fake milk? I mean, how hard was Scotland Yard really looking? They clearly didn't open the milk bottle and take a whiff of the contents or anything. The nail would have settled to the bottom of the jar and been masked by the opaque liquid (I would think).
  4. Seems to be popular to set Mycroft and Sherlock at odds with one another these days. I'd actually kind of like to see them get along in the old-school Holmes kind of way. I mean, they were never close, but their rivalry (if you could even call it that) was always good-natured. And they worked off one another, more together than against. I realize sibling rivalry makes for better drama, but . . .
  5. And this last point is really just kind of a "huh" on my part. I'm not a surgeon, so maybe Watson saw and understood something I didn't, but when I see a cook with graft scars on his wrist, I mostly just think he suffered a really terrible burn. Still, I do like that they added this layer to things—Mycroft's illness, that is. And I like that they found someone with enough facial similarities to Miller that, seeing them sitting side by side on a bench, I can believe they might be related.
  6. I'm not sure how I feel about the treatment of Lestrade, however. I enjoyed the character, but part of me thinks the whole "addicted to the limelight" thing is a bit of a stretch. It's not that I can't believe it could happen, but something about the way it was introduced and then treated made it feel pitted and uneven. Jury's still out on that one.

All right, but all these things aside, I did find the episode engaging. I liked the introduction of a couple new and interesting characters, and the 3D printer story was kind of fun and different. If this episode sets the tone for the season as a whole, I think it could be better than the first. An improvement. My big hope is they'll come up with some truly inventive stories rather than the rote procedural plots we had been seeing. We'll have to see how things go on once they're back in New York, I suppose.


Movies: Escape from the Megas?

I certainly hope Jeremy Zimmer is right. I write smaller pictures. I write character-driven fare that I hope will appeal to actors tired of having to work against CGI and green screens. I'd like to think there's a market out there for what I write. Someone, somewhere must be tired of superheroes and big budget epics . . . Right?

They say this is one of the reasons TV is so big right now—people who don't want flash and bang are getting fed by the more intricate stories told weekly (or, if it's available in intravenous, streaming form, sometimes told in huge, bingeing mouthfuls). Of course, as I've mentioned in previous posts, television's format allows for longer, deeper studies of character and more careful crafting of plot and overarching story. Or it can, anyway, in the right hands. Which is why people like Fincher and Soderbergh and Michael Douglas are winning Emmys now instead of Oscars.

The world is made up of a lot of different tastes. But lately Hollywood has been serving up mostly one thing. They've done this because they can charge a lot for it, and a lot of people will eat it up. But some of those diners are getting tired of the same old fare, and some diners never liked it in the first place. Time to lay out some additional offerings, don't you think?

Well, I'd like to see it happen that way anyway. So again, I hope Zimmer is right, and that studios might consider taking on a few smaller projects. Side dishes, if nothing else.

Television: Broadchurch, Episode 1.8

In the first series (season) finale, Alec Hardy's determination pays off as he figures out who murdered Danny Latimer.

Okay, well, the murderer does turn himself in and confess. But Hardy had already worked it out before then!

It turns out my theory was correct, and that the murderer was someone we'd met briefly and only seen from time to time. Still, I feel Broadchurch gave me a good run despite my having figured it out a few episodes back. (Last week, when people kept saying they thought they'd seen Nigel—that clinched it for me because in early episodes I'd remarked the resemblance between Nigel and another character, the one who turned out to be the murderer.) Even though they fell to that old formula that I've discussed so many times before, that sort of slight of hand in which someone is introduced then promptly disappears, here it didn't seem to matter. The viewer experience is so immersive that one often forgets to step back and think more broadly; we're too engaged and too drawn in. And that's wonderful. It's been ages since a show has done that to me.

So often shows, and especially procedurals, are too interested in putting on a song and dance and making themselves appear clever, and I don't know about other people, but I naturally resist that. It forces me back, at which point I can see right through whatever the writers and directors and actors are trying to put over on me. Broadchurch, however, had me leaning in rather than backing away. So kudos to them.

I do wonder what they'll have on tap for the next series. There is yet so much to explore in this little town. I'm already looking forward to another visit.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Pilot"

Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson comes to the fore in the television take-off of the hit film franchise. Alas, we do not have Iron Man and the like, but the characters introduced for the small screen are engaging in their own right.

S.H.I.E.L.D. picks up after "The Battle of New York" (as the end of Avengers has come to be called—and btw, didn't I say Fury was a liar and Coulson wasn't dead? Apparently you require Level 7 clearance to know that, though). The goal: to assemble a group of agents for a mobile unit tasked with investigating strange events (and people) across the globe. It's, you know, a really hi-tech Scooby Gang.

In the pilot Michael Peterson is an unemployed factory worker who happens to have super strength. Like, super strength. And S.H.I.E.L.D. is interested in that. Or him, rather. As well as a hacker named Skye who promotes a group called "The Rising Tide." Which is to say, Skye tries to warn Michael about S.H.I.E.L.D. coming after him, only to get snatched by the organization herself.

Turns out Michael's powers come from something called "Centipede." A device attached to his arm. But when Michael calls the doctor running the trials for the device in the hopes of finding a way to monetize it, the anonymous doctor merely reminds him of the NDA. Frustration (and desperation) sends Michael back to the factory that laid him off where, after being denied his old job, he assaults the foreman. When Coulson shows Skye the news footage, she agrees to help S.H.I.E.L.D. help Michael.

Turns out Michael doesn't respond very well to help, at least not at first. But I'll leave that for those who want to watch the show.

The show also comes with all the spot-on dialogue that one expects from Whedon (be it Joss or Jed). Just the right amount of smart and funny. And interesting enough, and moving quickly enough, to hold my interest. I didn't even get up for a snack. It's early in the new season, but so far S.H.I.E.L.D. is my favorite new show.

Television: Sleepy Hollow, "Blood Moon"

Okay, so I did watch this. Kind of. To be honest, it wasn't really holding my full attention. But here's what I managed to glean:

Dunn (that Sheriff's Department member played by John Cho, for anyone slow to pick up on names) is brought back to life by those evil spirits or whatever to act as a kind of Renfield (and if you don't know who that is, go watch or read Dracula) in that he is forced to aid and abet the corpse of a dead witch. Not a good witch like Katrina, but a bad witch trying to get her body back. In order to do this, the bad witch must kill (burn? I missed whether it was that specific) the blood kin of the people who had burned her [for being a witch] way back when. And she has to do it all by the time of the Blood Moon. (That's one of the names given to a full moon in October.)

Meanwhile, Abbie and Ichabod (whom everyone just calls "Crane" because "Ichabod" sounds silly when you have to yell it across any distance, and what do you use for a nickname? "Icky?" "Bod?") are, you know, still trying to figure s*** out. Katrina comes to Crane in a dream and warns him about the bad witch . . . Kind of. Like, she gives him clues and says this bad person "is one of us" which takes Crane a while to figure out she meant "witch." C'mon, Katrina. Spit it out. If you have to be brief, also be clear, all right?

And then, you know, Abbie (and maybe they mostly call her by her last name too? Mills?) and Crane (who just refers to Abbie as "Lieutenant") figure out when people start dying what's going on and that they have to stop the witch from being reborn or whatever. Not all that involving, actually. Which is why my attention wandered.

The writers here seem to be better at the little things, like having Crane get worked up about sales tax and inserting a cute montage of him working out how to do things like use a hairdryer. The fish-out-of-water angle could get old really quickly, and it's been done a million times in a million different ways, but so far the Sleepy Hollow people have managed to keep it fun and not too cliché.

More tiring are the appearances by Katrina. There doesn't seem to be much love or chemistry between her and Crane for whatever reason, and I find myself groaning whenever she appears.

On the flip side, Abbie now has had a "visit" from the dead Sheriff Corbin, her mentor and a man who clearly knew more about what was really going on. And that meeting was far more interesting than those between Crane and Katrina. With Abbie and Corbin, one honestly feels they have a connection, a genuine affection for one another. But I have to wonder: Does everyone get a spirit guide of some kind?

Actually, Katrina is evidently in some kind of limbo or purgatory. Maybe Corbin is too? And Dunn? There are still many questions to be answered, of course, and the overall mythology remains somewhat entertaining. I only hope next week's plot is equally interesting.

An aside: Crane was in Room 222. Does the number have meaning? Should we start playing that game yet? Revelation 2:22 or Revelation 22:2? Any takers?

Candles: Random Options from Target

I was at Target today for things like paper plates and razor blades, and decided to treat myself to their [very limited] candle aisle. I don't often find anything worthy there, but with the change of seasons, it seems the stock has turned over, and I brought home a couple new choices.

Right now I'm burning one of those Nature's Wick candles, the kind with a wooden wick. It makes a sort of crackling noise as it burns. If you like the cozy sound of a fire, you might like this kind of candle. But if you want silence, don't bother. It took some getting used to for me, though now it's only so much white noise while I work.

The scent is Tranquil Waters, and I like it very much. It's strong enough to fill my office without giving me an immediate headache.

Another candle I picked up was yet another Yankee Candle, this one branded "Home Classics." I don't know what that means exactly, but I like the shape of the jar, which is a kind of straight-sided cylinder; there's something very clean about the look. The scent is Coastal Breeze. I really liked it in the store, but giving it a whiff now, there's something weirdly smoky about it. We'll see what happens when I light it, I suppose.

Both the above candles are blue, with Tranquil Waters being a deep color and Coastal Breeze being a icy pale blue-grey. I do seem to gravitate toward the blue candles for whatever reason. Still, being mindful that I should stretch myself, I picked up a third and final offering, a yellow-orange soy candle called Sun Kissed. The scent does, indeed, put me in mind of a sunny day, and the color is cheerful. The company is not prominently marked, but looking at the bottom of the box, it seems to be made by Illume. I haven't had much luck with soy candles in that I've found their scents don't often hold, but maybe this one will change my mind. In any case, the color is a nice complement to my range of blues, and the one green candle I currently have.


Television: The Blacklist, "Pilot"

I love James Spader because he can be over the top and get away with it. He can make it work. He'll make it sound suave, even when the words are clunky.

Still, he can't save everything. And being directed to kneel on the Justice Department Seal in the opening scene . . . That's over the top. More than that, it's overkill.

Exposition here is also a bit heavy handed. Having FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen profile herself? Um . . . Geez, they gave her the name keen for Christ's sake.

But hey! Walid! (If you don't know what I mean, you clearly didn't watch 24.)

What's the story? Well, Spader plays Raymond "Red" Reddington, a career criminal who surrenders to the FBI, though his motives are questionable. He tips the Bureau off to Zumani, another criminal that the FBI had thought to be dead. Red says he wants Zumani too, hence his coming in. But Red will only talk to Elizabeth Keen, a profiler who is just starting out—in fact, it's her first day.


Motivation is always one of the most interesting things about character.

The other interesting thing is how characters react in stressful situations. So when Lizzie comes home and finds her husband bloodied and tied up, held hostage by Zumani . . . What does she do? (Hint: since the episode is only half over, the answer is not "catch Zumani.") Although she does punch a hole in Red's neck with a pen.

There is some confusing back-and-forth between Red and Zumani, who evidently are friends after all. Motivations become cloudier rather than clearer. And Zumani ends up with the tracking chip the FBI implanted in Red, then ends up falling off a building (with the push of a bullet).

It isn't difficult to imagine James Spader as a criminal mastermind. His hypnotic way of speaking alone can make one believe it. There's something serpent-like about him. (Or spider-like? A kind of Moriarty? He does appear to have quite a network of under-criminals to tap.) And The Blacklist capitalizes on that quality.

At the end of the pilot, Red reels the FBI in with the promise of delivering more big criminals from his "Blacklist." And Spader reels in viewers. The Blacklist is filled with tantalizing tidbits. Hints. But it remains to be seen if anything can be made of them. I walked away with mixed feelings—the desire to know more, and the fear that the show won't be able to deliver on its promise.


Movies: World War Z

I don't watch gory, mindless horror flicks. Which means I'm largely uninitiated in the zombie/vampire/werewolf genre of movie. Still, I've been known to make exceptions. Things with just a touch of horror, a suggestion of the horrific . . . Also, I've seen a lot of Brad Pitt movies. Some of those have been kind of horrible in another kind of way.

Anyway, I decided I'd give World War Z a try. Haven't read the book, though as I understand it, that's more of a collection of stories about this epidemic from various places and points of view, while the film version took one character (Gerry, a UN worker played by Pitt) and extended him into other plotlines from the book. The result is somewhat choppy as the script was forced to create a through line wherein Gerry is sent in search of a way to create some kind of vaccine or antidote or whatever for this terrible virus that's turning people into rabid corpses.

The globe-hopping tale see-saws between moments of what I presume are akin to many horror movies (people being chased, attacked, bitten by zombies; bloody battles against the undead; lots of gross makeup) and a kind of medical drama as Gerry hunts for a cure. There is cursory deductive reasoning involved, I suppose, but nothing very riveting or clever.

At the end of the day, I found myself only mildly interested in what was going on onscreen. Part of that is surely because I don't stomach the icky stuff so well, but just as much of my disinterest was based in the lack of pacing. With the big, scary zombie moments intercut with long, dramatic ones, World War Z is uneven. And even the triumphant moment failed to make my heart swell. (Note I was watching the unrated DVD cut, not the theatrical version.)

I did have to wonder, though, how difficult it was for some of those actors to play zombies. That's some hard work right there. Very physical roles. I'm thinking in particular of those who had more screen time and longer interactions than the hordes who zipped by and were hardly seen.

By the end of World War Z, I was simply relieved. Not that they'd made inroads in defeating the plague, but that the movie was over. And not because of the gross parts—they weren't so bad—but because I found the film exhausting. In an overlong car ride, are-we-done-yet? kind of way.


Television: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, "Pilot"

I almost didn't watch this. But I was bored and the stuff I'm waiting to premiere isn't airing until next week. Plus, my viewing schedule has become very drama heavy, so I was thinking maybe I should try to find something funny . . .

The first, oh, minute of Brooklyn Nine-Nine did not impress me. But when Samberg picked up the stuffed bear and started making it talk . . . I'll admit it. I laughed. And that made me stick out the remainder of the episode.

The show itself is a half-hour, single-camera sitcom centered on Samberg's police detective character Jake Peralta and his partner Amy Santiago. Added to this mix is Andre Braugher as newly minted Captain Ray Holt, and Terry Crews as Sergeant Terry Jeffords. And then sprinkled around these are a larger ensemble cast that viewers will surely get to know better as episodes unspool. (Check FOX's official site for deets.)

Samberg, though central and the chief marketing ploy in attempts to advertise the program, is not the best thing about the show. I enjoyed Braugher and Jeffords more, and also feel Stephanie Beatriz as Rosa Diaz has real potential.

The pilot did a fine if rote job of setting up characters, their personalities and tensions, plastering these over a relatively toothless murder investigation. But I laughed more than once, and since that's the ultimate goal of a sitcom, I count it as a win. By which I mean I'll probably watch more. I don't necessarily feel compelled to watch weekly—this isn't appointment television—but it's the kind of thing I'd easily use to plug holes in my viewing, or something I'd queue up if I were bored and didn't feel like watching anything weighty. I'm at least glad I gave it a try.


Television: Broadchurch, Episode 1.7

Last week I began to formulate a theory about who might be the Broadchurch murderer. And this week seems to have supported my hypothesis.

I'm not going to out-and-out say it, but let's just put it this way: The people who get glossed over the most are often the ones who turn out to be the evildoers.

This is true in most procedurals. I've mentioned it often enough when doing write-ups of Elementary, how the person you meet briefly and then are prompted to forget as a slew of other information is tossed at you is usually the one that gets circled back to at the dénouement. And that the assumption of innocence is just as often an indicator that someone is, in fact, guilty. (Look at Irene/Moriarty.)

We'll know next week if Broadchurch has put this formula to use. I have to say, even if they have resorted to formula, they've done a fine job with it. Maybe it's because they were able to draw it out over eight hours. In an hour-long episode of a show—one in which the viewer expects the mystery to be resolved within the roughly 54 minutes of air time—it's difficult to put enough distance between that character we meet and then immediately drop and the big reveal of them having been the criminal. But extend that a few hours . . . And put a week between each of those hours besides . . . And it becomes much, much easier to make people forget that one person. The one who has a few brief scenes and is so much wallpaper.

Anyway. Enough of that. The only other thing I'd like to say is to commend Mr. Tennant on his fine acting. He does so many subtle things with his posture, and the way he clinches his jaw, moves his hands, etc. The whole show is well acted, really, and the characters very well drawn. They are human, three-dimensional. You start out liking them, then as you get to know them and their flaws, you find it harder to like them and yet they remain compelling. It's not so different from real life. It's easy to like people you hardly know. But anyone you know really well . . . You may like them, but there will be things about them you don't like as well. You can't avoid it. Because no one is perfect. Only people you know in the most superficial way can be people you thoroughly like. And isn't that funny? Wouldn't that suggest you should never get to know anyone very well?

Ah, but if you lived like that, you'd be a pretty lonely person.

And there's something satisfying in knowing another person well, and in being known well, too.

So this has turned into a philosophy lecture, which is my signal to cut loose. Next week's Broadchurch will reveal Danny's killer. Am I right in thinking it's someone we haven't spent much time with? And the big question still remains: Why? I'm looking forward to answers.

P.S. If you're wondering what actually happened in this episode, it was this: Susan told Ellie she saw Nigel lay Danny's body on the beach. So they hauled in Nigel and found out he was actually poaching pheasants. And it turns out Nigel is Susan's son, taken away from her by Social Services after her husband was convicted of molesting their daughters and killing the older one. @.@

Oh, and despite Tom's attempts to destroy his computer, they were able to pull information off of it, namely e-mails in which he quarreled with Danny.


Television: Sleepy Hollow

I keep a skull (not real, a Hamlet prop) in my office. But from here on out, he should maybe make trips to the television room on Monday nights to watch Sleepy Hollow. Cuz let's be real: skulls are underrepresented in media, but Sleepy Hollow is now giving them the attention they deserve.

Don't call him "Yorick." His name is Benny.
Seriously, though, it's difficult to decide how seriously to take this update on Washington Irving's famous tale. Parts Grimm, Once Upon a Time, and Highlander (hello, flashbacks and beheadings) . . . It's patently designed for today's epic fantasy audience. But the story has been warped to the point that it is almost nonsensical.

Let's see if I can get it straight: Ichabod Crane was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. He was instructed by General Washington to look for a man with a brand on his hand—the brand looks like "a bow" as per the people in the program, but mostly looks a bit like the sign for Sagittarius, and so as a member of that sign I'm a tad offended. Anyway, when shooting said offender failed to kill him, Crane cut off the man's head . . . But not before the man used his broad axe to slice a good hunk of Crane's chest open.

Crane is taken to triage where his wife Katrina worked as a nurse. But really, she was a witch, a member of a secret coven dedicated to stopping the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse . . . Whatever. The end result is that Crane wakes up in modern day Sleepy Hollow, having been roused from his long sleep by the resurgence of the Headless Horseman. (Their blood had mingled on the battlefield, thus tying them together for eternity.)

Cue any number of cliché fish-out-of-water moments: Crane amazed by power windows and locks in cars, and by cars in general, and Starbucks . . . Still, what could be taken to the nth degree is handled fairly well here. There was minimal eye rolling on my part.

The modern-day setup is something like: police officer Abbie Mills is all set to go off to Quantico in a few days. (This is evidently a variation of someone being ready to retire, like Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon. In this case retirement doesn't work as an excuse because Abbie is too young.) But on a call to a local farm, Abbie and the sheriff encounter the Headless Horseman. (Didn't Highlander also do the Horseman thing? Yeah, they did.) He cuts off the sheriff's head. And then Crane is picked up as a suspect cuz he's so fucking weird and obviously a loony, right?

Crane is remanded for psychological evaluation and treatment, seeing as he obviously has delusions about being from Revolutionary times. But Mills feels like Crane might be their best chance at figuring out what is going on. And then she also goes through the dead sheriff's files and finds more about these covens and the Four Horsemen, a string of cases that seem related to them . . . Including the case of her and her sister, who themselves had experienced something strange when they were younger.

Meanwhile, Crane is led by a hawk (Katrina's familiar?) to her grave, where he sees she was burned for being a witch. A dream of her (vision?) informs him that she is not buried there, but the Headless Horseman's skull is. Crane and Abbie go to dig it up, but the Horseman comes calling. Still, they manage to keep their heads and his.

Abbie of course must now decide she will not go to Quantico after all. She will stay in Sleepy Hollow. Because she is part of something bigger—she and Crane are the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11 (just for comparison, the title of one of those Highlander episodes: "Revelation 6:8"). The show is now set up for monster-of-the-week plotlines paired with continuation of established mythology.

Sleepy Hollow is plagued by bad CGI (the horse's glowing eyes just one example) and sometimes clunky dialogue. And it is in many ways an obvious cobbling of so many current trends and influences. The mythology is already convoluted, and it's only just getting started. But despite all these flaws, I still found the pilot mildly entertaining. And Tom Mison is not bad to look at for an hour. I'll watch again next week to see if they can pull it off.

. . . And maybe my skull will watch and weigh in with some thoughts of his own.


Movies: The Descendants

I read this book back when it first came out, picked it up on the New Releases shelf at the library after having recognized the title as one that many critics were lauding. And I remember liking the book, though I do not recall all the details of the story. Still, based on my recollection, the film adheres pretty well to the novel.

The Descendants is the story of Matt King (George Clooney), a lawyer in Oahu whose wife Elizabeth is in a coma after a boating accident. Matt has always been too busy for his family, and now he finds himself saddled with sole care of his daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scotty (utterly adorable and somewhat underutilized Amara Miller). Meanwhile, Matt is also in the midst of a complicated legal arrangement in that he and his cousins must sell a large parcel of land and are trying to determine which developer's bid to accept.

As if all that weren't enough, Matt discovers Elizabeth has been having an affair.

I know from experience it is difficult to take a thoughtful story and turn it into a movie. Something like The Descendants features many conversations and not a lot of action, aside from (in this case) having George Clooney run around a lot. Still, it is a good film, and a touching one. And wardrobe did a fine job of making sure there were lots of Hawai'ian shirts to enjoy.

Still, I had to wonder if Patricia Hastie (as Elizabeth) is one of those actresses hired on crime shows to play corpses. How does one stay so still while people act around them? (I once had to play Polonius in Hamlet, and when I was killed and fell out from behind the curtain, it was the most difficult acting moment of my life to just lie there and then also remain dead weight when Hamlet pulled me off stage.)

Also, nice turn by Nick Krause as Sid, the comic relief. (And yes, I have to say that because he is from Georgetown, Texas, where I was raised.)

There isn't much to say about The Descendants. Maybe it's meant to make people think about the different ways people deal with grief. And whether one kind of grief trumps another. Is the death of a spouse worse than discovering they've had an affair? Maybe those are two kinds of deaths. If so, what happens when they coincide? Does one fail to matter in the light of the other?

It's interesting, maybe, what does and doesn't matter when faced with such a situation. What you say, and to whom . . . And the things you keep to yourself . . . Private versus public sorrow . . .

These are all things that occurred to me while watching. But I was probably putting a little too much thought into it. Problem was, I needed to think about something because the film itself didn't quite require all my attention. So on the one hand, it might be good that the film made me think. But on the other hand, I'm not sure a movie that allows your attention to wander so far is actually all that good. ::shrug::

Some movies are designed to be conversation pieces, made to bring up topics for you to think and talk about. I'm not sure that was the point of The Descendants. But that's where I landed. Because otherwise, as nice a film as it is, it would have been boring.


Television: Broadchurch, Episode 1.6

First off, congrats to Broadchurch on winning the TV Choice Award. It certainly deserves the recognition.

Tonight's episode saw a number of interesting moments. For one, Tom lashes out and tells Chloe that he wasn't Danny's best friend, that he in fact hated Danny and is glad Danny is dead. Wow.

Truthfully, Tom was central to many developments over the course of the show. He asked Reverend Paul whether information that has been deleted from a computer is gone forever, and when Paul told him there were recovery programs that could restore the information, Tom was later found trying to destroy a notebook computer. (Why he chose to do this outside where people—like Reverend Paul—might easily encounter him is yet another unanswered question in what has become a long line.)

Also, Tom went for a walk on the beach where he encountered Susan Wright and her dog once more. And when Susan asked Tom if he wanted to visit her mobile home and feed the dog treats, he agreed. I'll give him partial credit for showing some hesitation, but he still fails for going with a woman he hardly knows. And then Susan gave Tom Danny's skateboard. (She did this after finding out Tom's mother was on the murder investigatory team, so one has to wonder what she was thinking.) Tom promptly took the skateboard home, quite pleased with his prize, which led to a police visit to Susan's caravan . . . But she wasn't there.

Instead, she was at the newspaper office. Because Maggie had left a note on Susan's door. Seems she'd done some digging (or rather, had friends who knew where to dig) and found fertile soil in Susan's past. From the newspaper office, Susan was taken into custody. Alas, she refused to say anything because her dog was missing.

See, the dog had been left tied up outside the newspaper office. But Nigel saw him there and took him. Appeared to shoot him (with a crossbow?) . . . But in clips for next week we saw the dog alive and well, so that's all right at least. I was prepared to be very upset.

In other bits and pieces:

  • Alec left a really sad voicemail on his daughter's phone.
  • Beth met with the mother whose daughter was murdered at Sandbrook.
  • Chloe's boyfriend Dean built her a "happy room" so she could go somewhere to be happy without feeling guilty about it.
  • Mark took Beth and Chloe to the arcade—this was actually quite touching, as it showed a family redefining itself after losing one of its members.
  • Oh, and Alec suffered a heart attack (or something very like) at the end of the episode while he and Ellie were in pursuit of someone.

Only two more episodes! How ever will they wrap this up?! Also . . . What will they do next season? I mean, Broadchurch only has so many residents. You can't start killing them all off. Will it be a tourist who gets it next time? Or will they move away from murder altogether? Curious to find out . . .

An aside: About Danny's mobile phone—it's missing, but seems to me they could at least have checked with the phone company about (a) its location and/or (b) what numbers Danny had dialed (or had dialed him) and/or any texts sent or received? Did they do that? Did I miss it?

The Writing Life: Ups and Downs

. . . Sometimes all in the same day.

In fact, I've noticed that news comes in batches. You hope it's all good. Sometimes it's all bad. And then there are days like today, wherein I woke up to bad news but have now received some good news to balance things out a bit.

Bad news first, as they say: 20 August failed to make the Top 100 of Table Read My Screenplay. Didn't even make the list of Honorable Mentions. This was the contest St. Peter in Chains won last year, so I had what I thought were reasonable expectations of at least making the first round of cuts. But again, screenwriting is subjective. All art is, really. And though on the whole 20 August has received very positive feedback, there have been one or two people/places that have not liked it. Can't please everyone.

But then! The good news: 20 August made the short list for the Silent River Film Festival River Scroll Award! So that's exciting. Instead of one of 100, I'm one of 12. That's not so bad. And on a day when I really needed a pick-me-up, this is a nice one.


Books: The Sensory Child Gets Organized by Carolyn Dalgliesh

Like many bright kids, my son has difficulty organizing himself. His brain is going a mile a minute and in one hundred different directions, so sometimes even the simplest things fall through the cracks. The psychologist who tested him told us that many such kids find easy things difficult because they are more interested in and focused on complex thoughts and ideas. For example, when she asked him easy questions, my son's mind would wander, and he'd often be unable to answer. It was only when the questions were sufficiently challenging to keep him interested that he became engaged—and answered all of them correctly.

Carolyn Dalgliesh's book is for parents of kids who are similarly bright, or who for whatever reasons have trouble navigating the everyday tasks so many of us take for granted. Some kids are distracted, some require routine, some have anxiety issues . . . Whatever the case, The Sensory Child Gets Organized helps parents set their kids up for success rather than failure.

The book begins with the necessary explanations and terminology: "What is a sensory child and how do you know if you have one?" and "How to figure out how your child learns best." Then the book moves into looking at ways to help your child get organized at home and how to help him or her negotiate the world at large.

I'll give you an example of how this book helped me with my son. He's bright, as I've mentioned, and therefore easily distracted. So whenever I give him verbal instructions, he almost immediately forgets them. This is because the instructions are almost too simple, and his brain immediately wanders off to think about other things. (Is there anything more frustrating than telling your child to go put his shoes on, only to have him wander back in a minute later without shoes, but wanting to know something about isotopes? This is a regular occurrence in our home.) So what I've learned is: My son is not a audial learner. He needs something visual to reference. Per Dalgliesh's suggestion, we've developed a printed, color-coded schedule. Now my son knows where to be and when, right down to the ten minutes before school when he should be gathering his homework and putting on his shoes. And so far it's working much better than my yelling at him four times every morning!

Every child is different, of course, and their needs will be different as well. But Dalgliesh has any number of ideas and recommendations that parents might pick and choose from, thus putting together a workable solution for their children. For instance, next I might try breaking down chores into charts with pictures. Though many of us do things like put laundry away without giving it much thought, some kids (like mine) benefit from more discreet instructions such as those Dalgliesh gives on pages 133 and 135.

The goal is to position sensory kids for success rather than failure, and to make everyone's lives a little less frustrating. It's not one-size-fits-all (and doesn't pretend to be), but there are enough options on offer in The Sensory Child Gets Organized that it's a good place to start putting together a plan of action.


Books: Howards End (Part V)

I finally finished!

And it wasn't that the book was a slog or anything; I've just been very busy. (I've got Richard Marx's "I Get No Sleep" stuck in my head these days . . .)

Howards End has a plot in it somewhere—there's a story, if you can read through all the embedded ideals and philosophies, and get past the thick descriptions of England itself. Forster does a lovely job with all these things, of course, but when you get down to the actual story, it's very thin. It doesn't have to be; Forster could have expanded it. But that doesn't seem to have been his aim.

What do we learn from Forster in Howards End? That who owns a house has less to do with the deed and more to do with attachment, I suppose. Emotional connection. Some people are attached to things, to property, because they are materialistic, and it makes them feel good about themselves to own houses and cars and whatever else. Somehow this makes them feel secure. It gives them a definite place in the social hierarchy and becomes how they define themselves. But the emotional connection in these instances is one supported by fear—fear of not having, of going without. These people are like squirrels storing up nuts against a cold winter.

Then there are people who form attachments to things for other, more ephemeral reasons. A place "speaks" to them. And this emotional connection develops out of love and understanding. There is a commune, an unspoken dialogue between the person and the place (or the tree, or whatever other thing the person has become attached to). Yes, even if it is a house or country to which you have no family connection, you may fall in love with it as with another person and know you are meant to be together.

There are other themes in the book, ones I've written about in previous posts. The practical people in the world being at odds with the idealists. And yet one cannot do without the other, not really. If the world were all idealists, we'd have a great many thoughts but difficulty putting them to any practice. And if it were all practical types, we'd never make any progress because we'd all be devoted to just doing what we've always done, the way we've always done it. The best sorts of people are able to do both to some extent, I guess. Or the best couples are the ones who balance one another out. But one cannot go through life unchanged, either. Margaret's marriage necessarily changes the way she sees and does things, at least a bit. And Helen is also changed, affected by Margaret's marriage and also by her own pregnancy, which forces her to be more practical than she had been.

As for Howards End itself, I'm glad to be able to say they do eventually go there, and so finally a swath of the book takes place in the titular location. But still, it's mostly an ideal in the form of a place. So are all the locations in the book, I think. And maybe that's true in the world. Maybe places—houses—are ideals made flesh. I'm pretty sure I've seen or read things about the "rhetoric of architecture" or whatever. Houses might be the skins of families and the people who live in them the organs functioning within. Or something like that.

I did enjoy the book, though I'll choose something lighter for my next read. Because while I don't mind being made to think—I like that, actually—Forster laid it all on rather thickly. Reading Howards End was a bit like eating something heavy and dense. So now I'll go in search of something sweet and fluffy . . .


Books: Koontz & King

I was thinking today—or really, the thought crossed my brain somewhat at random—that I should re-read The Dead Zone. And that got me thinking about Stephen King books in general, and which were my favorites. And that got me thinking about Dean [R.] Koontz, too, because of course I started with those.

When I was a kid, my dad and I would sit out on the deck with a telescope, and he would tell me stories. These were the stories from the books he was reading, and so this was how I first heard of Frodo and The Ring, and of Smaug, and even of Sherlock Holmes. And then, when I was in fourth or fifth grade, my dad gave me a copy of Koontz's Lightning. And I loved it. Went on to read Watchers, and Twilight Eyes, and The Bad Place, among others.

Having developed a taste for the extraordinary, I got it in my head to thieve some of Dad's Stephen King. Now, like me, my dad has Asperger's. But we have two different ways of managing our bookshelves. He goes by last name and then by title, as one would in a library. I separate my books into genre/topic, then go by last name, then by publication date (but separate my hard cover books from my paperbacks, else the shelf just looks messy).

This is beside the point except to say that I tried to hide the fact that I'd slipped IT off the shelf by shoving another book into the blank space. But of course Dad noticed right away. "Just don't tell your mother," was all he said to me.

And so IT became the first Stephen King book I ever read, and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart. I did really enjoy it. But there are a number of King books that I like more. Salem's Lot I've read many times over, and also The Dead Zone. Those are two of my favorites. I also really liked Bag of Bones and Duma Key, to name a couple more recent titles. I never did read Carrie, couldn't get into Christine, but The Dark Half was great, and I liked Needful Things, which I'll always remember as having seen me through a long flight to Alaska. And Misery, of course, is a classic.

I went into writing this thinking I'd be making some kind of list of my favorite Stephen King books, but I'm not sure I could rank them. There are so many I haven't read, and so many I tried to read but couldn't get through—to say all his books are wonderful would be to tell a big lie; someone so prolific can't bat a thousand. I'll always be beholden to Insomnia for introducing me to Stephen Dobyns; as for the rest, I couldn't finish it, what with the Great Gazoo or whatever it was floating around.

I read Pet Sematary, and I read The Shining. Never got around to Firestarter. Dad told me the story of Cujo during one of those dark night chats on the deck. And of course I've read any number of Stephen King stories in all those anthologies . . . The cover to Skeleton Crew, the one with the cymbal-clanging monkey toy, always bothered me far more than all the eyes on the hand on the Night Shift cover.

I was chatting with a friend not so long ago, and Stephen King's Castle Rock came up, and I guess it is in Needful Things that this happens, this moment that we both recalled so clearly though it's been years since either of us read it: Alan catching the glass. We even said it at the same time, my friend and I, and it is a testament to Mr. King's writing that this sticks out. I've often found that his stories rooted mostly in the real world—stuff like The Dead Zone and Bag of Bones—resonate most with me. The idea of the extraordinary injected into the ordinary . . . That is powerful.

Because everyone wants to experience something amazing in life. At least, we all think we do. Because we all assume that something amazing = something good. But King shows us that the extraordinary is not always welcome. That "amazing" can just as easily be "horrific." King reminds us that the original roots to "wonderful" and "awesome" are not always meant in a pleasant way.

It is a lesson worth learning. Particular through the pleasures of King's well-crafted prose.


Movies: Now You See Me

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Prestige, which I saw before ever reading the book (which is also fantastic). And I really liked The Illusionist, too. I like movies about magicians, really, and I like heist movies (think Ocean's Eleven, 2001). And so maybe I was primed to like this one as well.

I was actually prepared to dislike it, just based on the few reviews of it I'd read back when it came to cinemas in May. I was thinking it would be corny, was waiting for the plot to fall apart. Surprisingly, however, it holds together fairly well. I didn't spot the big twist until Morgan Freeman made the phone call to Mark Ruffalo. And even then, I was wondering if I was right. I was, but it didn't make the movie any less fun to watch.

The trick (har) in a movie like Now You See Me is to put in enough subtleties that the viewer is forced to question everything. Make all possible theories seem plausible for as long as you can. This keeps the viewer guessing and engaged.

The other trick is to minimize Jesse Eisenberg because he is obnoxious to watch for any length of time. I mean, totally perfect for the role, but it's a good thing he wasn't taking up most of the screen time.

The movie itself is about four magicians brought together to complete three amazing acts, the first in Vegas, the second in New Orleans, and finally NYC. If you've seen the trailer, you know the act in Vegas involves a bank robbery. This sets the FBI on the trail of these "Four Horsemen" magicians. Hilarity ensues.

Well, no, the movie isn't all that funny, though Woody Harrelson does a nice job as comic relief. But Now You See Me moves fast enough that one doesn't have time to mourn a lack of comedy. While the heists may not be quite as clever as Ocean's Eleven, there's still a lot of fun to be had in watching them and picking them apart. And in anticipating the answer at the end of the film.

In short, Now You See Me was better than I expected given the weakish reviews I'd read. And I guess it did all right at the box office despite the critics because a sequel is in the works. I have mixed feelings about that, I must say. Some things are better left alone, and it's difficult to make a second such movie as smart and clever as its sire; the audience at that point becomes wise to your ways, but if the writers learn some new tricks . . .

Books: Howards End (Part IV)

I am very nearly finished with this book now, having just entered Chapter 33. Margaret is now married to Henry Wilcox, though the security and stability she was seeking in the match is somewhat elusive.

Let's look at it this way: Margaret agreed to marry Henry at a time in which she was also looking for a permanent residence because the house she and her siblings had lived in was to be demolished. In marrying Henry, Margaret had the expectation of a permanent home (or maybe more than one) as part of the deal. However, Henry refuses to live at Howards End, and he sells the other house Margaret likes (Oniton), and they end up in a house in London that neither of them seems to see as a "forever" kind of residence, so . . .

Anyway, it gets mentioned in passing that they decide to build a house. Is that a metaphor for marriage? Building something new rather than inhabiting something old?

Well, then the metaphor surely extends to the fact that Margaret's old furniture ends up in storage at Howards End. Here is the young bride already forfeiting what is hers in favor of what is Henry's, and supposedly what will become "theirs" at some point.

And Margaret must necessarily change as well. If Helen is idealism and Henry is practicality, Margaret, who started more on the side of Helen, now shuttles between the two, working to find a balance that will serve not only her needs but the needs of those around her. She now filters her high ideals through Henry's practical, rational sieve. In some ways this is obvious manipulation—Margaret has not changed the way she thinks so much as the way she behaves because she instinctively knows how to "handle" Henry. And this is not a mean thing; she actively works to preserve what she sees as Henry's fragile personality. For all his bombast, he has definite chinks in his armor.

Helen, of course, sees Margaret's marriage to Henry as a defection. And to add to that, poor Mr. Bast is dragged into things when he loses his job after having followed advice from Helen and Margaret—advice they received from Henry and duly passed on, thinking they were doing Mr. Bast some good. Helen is determined that Henry should make things right because he is directly (in her view) responsible for Mr. Bast's situation. Alas, Mrs. Bast comes along for this encounter and it is discovered that she was, some ten years before, Henry's mistress.

It might all be very soap operatic except somehow Forster prevents that from happening. He is too busy talking about England and ideals to suds up the story much. While Margaret and Helen are drawn with much detail, the other characters are such a sketch that it is difficult to get inside them. Margaret and Helen might as well live in a world of ghosts, the way they walk dreamily through things happening around them.

And as for the titular location, well, as I've said I've just started Chapter 33, and Margaret is just now returning to check on her things that have been stored there. So I guess we'll see . . .


Television: Broadchurch, Episode 1.5

AKA: "The Lynching of Jack Marshall"

Did I ruin it for you there? Sorry. But this episode was practically a PSA for the need not to believe everything you see and read in the press. To get all the facts, to think for oneself, and to behave in a rational way.

Last week we saw the case against Jack Marshall building as it was uncovered he had a prior conviction for sexual relations with a minor. And of course conclusions were handily leaped to, though even then I wondered that no one was using a gendered pronoun in relation to said prior, and this week it was revealed that, yes, Jack had slept with a 15-year-old girl. Whom he later married and had a son with, but both were killed in a car accident. At which point Jack packed up his old life and started fresh in Broadchurch.

These facts were too little too late for the mob mentality that had reached a crescendo in the town. Led by Mark Latimer's plumbing partner Nigel, who is rather eager to pin Danny's murder on Jack, the people of Broadchurch began foaming at the mouth and demanding Jack's blood.

He wasn't lynched, btw. They drowned him. But that's beside the point.

Oh, and meanwhile, Nigel also tried to pay Susan off with 500 quid (about $780). For what? We don't know. She wouldn't take it, said they needed to "work it out together." She also got creepily cozy with Ellie's son Tom at the arcade, when Tom made friends with Susan's dog. She told him he could come by any time to see the dog, maybe take him for a walk. Is that weird? I feel like that's weird.

Awkward times were being had by our lead detectives. Ellie was asked out by Brian, who is a SOCO (that's a "Scenes of Crime Officer" for those who don't speak UK Police), even though he knows she's married—she just needed to emphasize she was happily married. And Alec made a tentative pass at Becca and was flatly refused. Ouch. Oh, and they also figured out the burning boat belonged to Ellie's brother-in-law, though he's been gone a couple months and anyone might have taken it; access to said boat was not guarded.

Another question raised: The phone that Jack had found in Danny's delivery bag? It doesn't match the smartphone Ellie often saw Danny using.

And we're still wondering about that money found in Danny's room . . . And why Susan has Danny's skateboard . . .

How will they bring this all to a close in a mere three episodes? That, my friends, is what we're eager to find out.


Movies: The World's End

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Directed By: Edgar Wright
Written By: Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright
Lionsgate, 2012
R; 109 min
2.25 stars (out of 5)


Take Shaun of the Dead, marry it to Hot Fuzz, and Doctor Who the whole thing up a bit, and you might get something like The World's End. Maybe. Only, with all that, I feel like The World's End should have been better.

It should have been funnier, at least. I didn't much laugh. All the jokes came across as forced, as if every actor was all too aware of the beats for each line. It made the whole thing seem very inorganic and unnatural.

And maybe that was the point, since the story is about people being taken over by not-robots. Or rather, replaced by these simulations of their selves, mechanical things that break ridiculously easily but also regenerate. Like I said, pretty much a Doctor Who kind of plot, or any old-school sci-fi. Not a bad thing when done well, but it wasn't so different from the zombies in Shaun of the Dead, either. Didn't they hide in a pub, and fight in a pub, in that movie too? And there was some of that in Hot Fuzz—the fighting in the pub, and having to go up against a whole town. Conformity is clearly an ongoing theme in this loose trilogy of films. Here, the insidious nature of being "assimilated" not through a hostile takeover á la the Borg, but through gentle "merger" . . . Maybe there is a capitalist undertone here as well, a story that mounts against big business in favor of the little, independent endeavors.

Friendship is another theme in these movies, and I think this is perhaps where World's End didn't work for me. Despite the long exposition at the start of the movie (or maybe because of it), I didn't quite feel the bond these men were supposed to have with one another. Pegg plays Gary, one-time leader of this band of misfits, that guy in school who always believed he was cooler than he really was. Now pushing 40, Gary is one of those sad cases whose best years were the ones in school; he spends his time [in rehab] reliving those golden years of his youth. He is the poster child for arrested development.

All of Gary's friends have grown up and moved on, but Gary gets the bright idea of getting them all to go back to their home town for a pub crawl. (Yes, yes, there's this whole story of how they'd tried it once before and failed to finish, but this plot point fell flat even though it was also supposed to be driving the movie.) From the start I was wondering why any of these guys agreed to Gary's plan. Because they feel sorry for him? They seem to hate him a bit, and with reason; he's utterly obnoxious. Not someone you'd bring over for dinner and let meet the wife and kids.

But off they all go . . . And again, the stuff that is clearly supposed to be funny isn't, mostly because it's so obviously supposed to be funny. Truthfully, a lot of the film was boring. And then there was a love triangle that fell apart and lacked any tension. And Martin Freeman playing the same character he always plays (reluctant adventurer, timid voice of reason, severe straight man). And fight scenes cut in such a way they seemed to be hiding an inadequacy of some sort. (But then again, that's how all Edgar Wright's fight scenes look. Still, it worked in Scott Pilgrim. Not so much here.)

The film did pick up a bit once we met the Cybermen simulations, which end up being called "Blanks" when no one in our band of heroes can agree on a term for them. And yet the very fact they continue with the pub crawl, and their extremely flimsy reasoning for doing so, made most of the rest of the film wobbly. I don't demand a huge amount of logic from this kind of movie, but some things one just can't quite get past.

The end, too, was exceedingly weak.

Still, when pulled apart, World's End does at least shine yet another light on the quest for adulthood and the hollow promises therein. What does it mean to be a "grown-up"? Maybe, in a way, it means being replaced by some robotic version of oneself, one with limited memories of happier days. How many people go through the motions in life?

But Gary's life isn't any better. He's stuck in his past and unable to make progress. So the quest must be for a happy medium. Maybe Gary's need to finish the pub crawl is about reaching some threshold so that he can finally break free and move forward. (Except the end of the film negates that take. So maybe Gary is just a lost cause.)

I don't know. I went in wanting to like this movie and wanting to laugh, and I walked out not really having done either. Shame, because Hot Fuzz is one of my all-time favorites. (And Shaun of the Dead is all right, though not one of my all-time favorites.) I guess World's End at least proves you can never really recapture old glory.