Television: Elementary, "Enough Nemesis to Go Around"

Thanks to clunky exposition in dialogue, we now know that Holmes left New York some eight months ago with only notes to Watson and others rather than actual, you know, goodbyes.

So Watson has been taking cases on her own, including trying to pin down Elana Marsh, head of some cartel. Elana has been careful, but Watson manages to ferret out the cartel's bookkeeper. This bookkeeper agrees to testify against Elana, but in a locked-room sort of mystery, she and her police escort are killed in a hotel elevator on their way to trial. The elevator never stopped, so . . . How? And who?

Meanwhile, it becomes clear that Watson might now also be in danger as Elana seeks revenge.

A tip arrives regarding an assassin, and Watson recognizes the pseudonym used to sign it; upon a visit to the brownstone, she discovers Holmes. He's back from London and done with MI6. "Creative differences," he says.

Hmm. Feels a little like the writers realized they had no way to really do the MI6 thing so backed out of it. Kind of a shame because it might have been a lot of fun. Holmes as a stateside agent, even . . .

Holmes also has a new protegée: Kitty. (Aww, that's my nickname. Seriously, Siri calls me "Miss Kitty." Also, my Siri is a British dude.) Too bad she's hugely unlikable, at least in the little we've seen of her. But of course, we're not supposed to really like her, are we? We're supposed to be on Watson's side here. The entire episode is shown from Watson's POV, pretty much forcing us to be on her side.

So the setup now is: both Watson and Holmes + Kitty are available to aid the NYPD in investigations. And the unspoken question is ostensibly: "Is the city big enough for both?" Well, and the title answers: "Enough Nemesis to Go Around."

But I find the show lacks a lot of its snap when set up this way. Watson and Holmes are best together, and in this episode there's very little of Holmes at all. I wasn't wowed.

Gina Gershon was good, though. I'll give them that. And I have a feeling we may not have seen the last of Elana and/or her crew.

Oh, what, you want to know how the elevator thing worked? Magnet. Big fucking magnet, to be precise. One ton Tesla magnet. Instead of shooting bullets, one embeds them in the elevator wall then pulls the bullets through people with a massive magnet. Pretty clever, eh?

So the story was okay. And I know the situation with Holmes and Watson (and Kitty) is meant to give new tensions and such, but . . . It didn't really achieve that for me. In fact, if anything, the episode lost something rather than gaining anything.

Maybe this is Elementary's answer to the way, in Doyle's stories, Watson eventually marries and goes off to live elsewhere. (Here Watson has a boyfriend and her own apartment.) I found that disappointing in the stories, too; I have a preference for Holmes and Watson together because I find that dynamic just so much more interesting. People living together creates so many opportunities for things to happen and tensions to arise. Sure, separation also causes tension, but by its nature, separation has little friction.

Hmm. Then was London the "Great Hiatus"? I hope not. I hope they do something much better for that (assuming they do it at all).

Television: Gracepoint 1.5

Suspicious grows around Jack (but be honest, you're all just calling him "Nick Nolte" right?), with hints that he might be a pedophile and news that a similar murder took place years before in an area near which Jack was living at the time. When Jack also "finds" Danny's missing cell phone . . .

Susan Wright (aka "Trailer Lady") also has a hidden past that includes a different name than the one she lives under now. When the editor of Gracepoint's newspaper tries to talk to her, Wright threatens her.

And for the record: Paul Coates is the worst reverend ever. Just not at all inspiring. I miss Rory. (Which is to say, I miss Arthur Darvill, who played the reverend in Broadchurch.) He was way better.

Pete is still a dope.

And the Solanos decide to talk to the press, thus throwing a wrench in the investigation as now more press and paparazzi are coming to town and complicating things.

And Carver (a) has dinner with the Millers, revealing he doesn't totally suck as a person, and (b) ends up in the hospital after some cardiac event. But checks himself out of the hospital with only Gemma Fisher the wiser. Well, and the hospital staff, one supposes. Makes you wonder about the police in Gracepoint, though, if they can't even detect their boss is, like, ill . . .


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

Hydra agents dress as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and attack a U.N. meeting. So, you know, that sucks.

Worse, these Hydra agents have some kind of crazy new weapon. It's like a throwing star that embeds itself in its victim then digs in and turns them to ash. There's something really Buffy about it.

There's also something really Buffy about Hunter and Bobbi's relationship. I don't know why, but it gave me Buffy flashbacks. The fighting while also working together thing, I guess.

With the world turning against S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson sends far-flung agents into hiding in safe houses, even as he has May, Hunter, and Bobbi try and track the technology.

Also, apparently Ward's older brother is a senator. In fact, he's spearheading the anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. sentiment in the aftermath of the U.N. attack. So Coulson pays him a visit while Skye goes to hit up Ward for more information about his brother. What's done pretty well here is the way viewers (and Coulson, and Skye, and S.H.I.E.L.D. in general) have no idea who to believe. Probably neither Ward is trustworthy. In fact, I had to wonder whether they honestly hate each other or are actually in cahoots.

After Coulson's visit, Senator Ward goes before the cameras to announce his brother is a member of Hydra and a traitor to his country, and that S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually just trying to protect people. And [Prisoner] Ward tries again to soften Skye, but thank God she's not stupid enough to fall for it. She milks him and then he's sent to his brother's/the government's custody. Except . . . Of course he slips out of his handcuffs and attacks the men transporting him. Sigh. This again. We'd been doing so well, but I don't find another Ward-on-the-loose plot line very compelling.

Oh, and Whitehall and his mercenaries hit up the safe house in Brussels and there's a big fight or whatever. That happened. May, Hunter, and Bobbi aren't fast enough to save the agents housed there, but they do manage to capture some of the bad guys.

The show has been solid the past few episodes. I'm just hoping the Ward thing doesn't start bogging stuff down. I get really annoyed when shows go through the same scenarios again and again; it's why I gave up on Revolution way back when. So unless they can find a new angle . . .


Television: Scorpion, "True Colors"

An art forgery plot. But having the Shadout Mapes Linda Hunt there goes a long way toward enlivening things.

There was also the whole, "Now we all talk to the federal psychiatrist" thing. You know, so they can be cleared for duty. Sigh.

I feel like they're hitting the Walter-as-infallible-leader thing a bit hard. Every episode has some focus on Walter and his lack of emotion or empathy, and then how much his team trusts him and needs him, and I'm starting to feel beat over the head by it.

The episode itself was pretty rote. A painting at a museum is a fake. Go find the real one. But when the mission falls apart, the team is remanded to a psychiatrist to see if they are actually fit for their jobs. So we get the mission intercut with the psych evaluations. Would have been more interesting, perhaps, if it had been the old debriefing plot where you get everyone's versions of what happened. That always tells the viewer something interesting about the characters: what they focus on, for example, what they notice. But whatever.

Scorpion just got picked up for a full season. Let's see if they can ease up on hitting the Walter button quite so hard. I know he's the central character, but this is really an ensemble, or it should be. There's plenty of room here for expansion.

Television: Gotham, "Spirit of the Goat"

I don't like goats.

There's a long story behind that, but we'll skip it.

Goats do like me for some reason.

Anyway, this episode of Gotham had a woman with my name being killed by a guy channeling "the Spirit of the Goat," so it started with a strike against it.

But I have to say, on the whole Gotham is improving. And not just because Jim Gordon is trying to clean it up. It was nice to see Bullock in a flashback and find he wasn't so different from Gordon, a lot less jaded than now at any rate. And the stuff with Nigma and Kringle was some of the best they've had yet. Also: no mob stuff this episode! I will actually take goats over mob plots.

As I mentioned the plot revolved around a killer who believed he was "the Spirit of the Goat." Thing is, the same kind of murders had occurred a decade ago, and Bullock and his then-partner Dix caught the guy. So why is it happening again? And how does the copycat know details about the M.O. that were suppressed in the file?

I foresaw the answer well before the reveal, but it was still a good story.

Meanwhile, a witness is found who is able to identify Gordon as the murderer of Oswald Cobblepot. So as Gordon and Bullock wrap up their investigation, Gordon gets arrested. And then Bullock does, too, as an accessory. (Apparently the witness saw him, too.) Lucky for Gordon, the Penguin turns up at the police station and proves there was no murder. Unlucky for Gordon, this means the mob will want to kill him, unless Bullock beats them to it.

Carol Kane does a great job as Mrs. Cobblepot. Actually, the entire show is well cast. I'll give them that. Now, if we could just unclog the show and open the lines to the more interesting characters and stories . . . I mean, they took the long way around on the Penguin thing, and Nigma/Riddler is clearly going to be a slow burn, too. But so much of the show feels like a slog. Not this episode, mind. This one was much better. But I know we're going to be back to the mob stuff, and that just drags it all down. Gotham has such potential. But first it must be freed of the sludge.


Movies: The Book of Life

Voices By: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum
Directed By: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Written By: Jorge R. Gutierrez & Douglas Langdale
Reel FX, 2014
PG; 95 minutes
3.5 stars (out of 5)


Definitely a different look and feel to this movie than most other children's animated features these days. And I love that The Book of Life introduces my kids to a different culture. The story, too, was pretty cute: La Muerte and Xibalba make a wager on which of two young boys would grow up to marry their friend Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana). La Muerte chooses Manolo Sanchez (Diego Luna) while Xibalba selects Joaquin (Channing Tatum).

The stylized animation of having the characters look like wooden puppets is quite visually interesting. I have a thing about noses, though, so some of the character designs did not appeal to me. That's a personal bias, of course. On the whole, the use of color and such was well done.

I did find some of the reworked pop songs a bit distracting, though. They just pulled me right out of the story. Sure, I like the songs, and I wouldn't say no to the soundtrack, but as used in the movie they called too much attention to themselves.

And then there was the voice acting. I know it's not a science and is largely subjective. But while the supporting cast was great (Ron Perlman, Cheech Marin, Ice Cube, Plácido Domingo all spring to mind), I definitely had a sense the main three were . . . I don't know. It wasn't quite there for me. Channing Tatum just sounded like himself, so that I kept picturing Channing Tatum with a mustache, and it wasn't a pretty mental image. There was such monotony in the dialogue with him. I wonder if he literally phoned it in.

But again, that's all subjective. The film itself is cute and different, and my kids came out of it mostly happy, though they also said it was "a little weird." My daughter had trouble figuring out who she was supposed to be cheering for and who was the bad guy. But Día de los Muertos is not so different from our All Saints in New Orleans, so it's nice to have a place to start from when talking to them about things like that.

The Book of Life also sort of made me wish for a children's version of the Eurydice and Orpheus tale. Though I suppose that would need a happier ending. But hey, if The Little Mermaid can have a happily ever after . . .


Television: Doctor Who, "In the Forest of the Night"

Well, you don't give an episode a title like that and then not have a tiger show up, now do you?

Alas, the "burning bright" came from a solar flare.

We also had a bit of Red Riding Hood and the wolf (or wolves).

But really, if you look at the plot from start to finish, the Doctor made zero impact. You could argue at the outside that he facilitated getting the message out not to cut down or burn the trees, but . . . That's not much. And that makes the very large assumption that (a) defoliating the trees would have made them burn [which I guess is derived from the idea that without the leaves the trees' ability to control the oxygen would be corrupted], and (b) that the humans would be able to work fast enough on the trees that it would have caused the solar flare to actually harm the planet—and that seems pretty unlikely given the size of the job and the inefficiency of government workforces.

Sum total, then, is that the Doctor was pretty bloody useless this go-round. Oh, he helped figure out what was wrong with Maeve. But even if he hadn't? Same result.

Thing is, it was a nice idea. London covered over by trees is a fun place to play. Too bad the rest of the plot was so dull. In fact, at one point I was reminded of The Happening. You know, the M Night Shyamalan movie in which nothing does actually happen?

If you're wondering about the actual plot, well, that's about it: One morning everyone in the world wakes up to find everything overgrown with trees. And so while the world's cities and governments are trying to figure out what to do about that, there's also a coming solar flare that may destroy the world. And there's a little girl who just happens to go to Coal Hill who is somehow tuned into the trees, or rather, she's tuned into the beings that made the trees grow. Isn't that a handy coincidence? Not some little French girl, or even some girl up in Yorkshire. Nope. A girl right there on a school trip to London.

Then, as the government works to burn paths through the trees, they discover the trees don't burn. The Doctor deduces an amount of intelligence in the trees, and that they are using their carbon dioxide to snuff the fires. But it turns out the trees aren't the threat. It's the coming solar flare that everyone needs to worry about.

At this point any reasonably thoughtful viewer should be putting two and two together. Solar flare? Oh, but the trees don't burn.

Still, doesn't make for very exciting television. There's nothing to do but wait out the flare. Ho hum.

So, yeah, one good idea [the overgrown London thing] with not much to prop it up or sustain it or make it more interesting. This episode could have been so much better and so much more fun. It felt like a wasted opportunity.

Books: Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson

This is what? The fourth Crowther and Westerman novel? Though, due to a large cast of characters, there is less of Crowther and Westerman in it.

Harriet's sister Rachel has finally married long-time love and lawyer Daniel Clode, but their honeymoon abroad goes wrong when Daniel is accused of and imprisoned for murder. So Crowther, Harriet, Graves, and Michaels set out for Maulberg to take up Daniel's case.

In a parallel plot line (there are usually two in these books that meet near the climax), the brilliant young Jacob Pegel hits upon university student Florian zu Frenzel and pumps him for information about a secret society.

Robertson has touched on spiritualism in previous novels. Before it was Tarot, here it is alchemy. The difference is one of low and high culture; in this story, Crowther and crew find themselves at court and surrounded by aristocrats, some of whom are dabbling in dark arts.

Circle of Shadows is certainly another solid entry in this series, and the return of Manzerotti is well crafted. He and Pegel could easily have their own novels. The only drawback to this particular book is that Crowther is something of a fringe character here; Harriet carries the brunt of the work, along with Manzerotti and a number of secondary cast members. Perhaps it was felt that the last novel was too much about Crowther, so it was time to tip things the other way. I'm only hoping the next book is a bit more balanced.


Television: Constantine, "Non Est Asylum"

So, for the few who might not know: Constantine is derived from the comic book Hellblazer. There was the Keanu Reeves movie back in 2005, but based on the pilot TV episode, I'd say this comes closer to the comic than the movie did.

John Constantine is . . . Well, in the show he calls himself an exorcist, but really he's just a guy who manages to get caught up in getting rid of other people's demons while constantly having to fight his own. His friend Jasper, who had a gift for seeing "truly," meaning he could see the souls still wandering the earthly plane, has died but his daughter Liv apparently carries the same gene . . . Constantine goes to save her from a demon intent on . . . Killing her, I guess? Dragging her into Hell? I don't know, something bad anyway.

Constantine is aided by looooong-time friend Chas, and he's pestered by an angel named Manny who wants Constantine to fight for "their" side, whoever "they" are.

Rather like Sleepy Hollow, the setup is along the lines of an approaching apocalypse. I'm guessing each week will feature yet another demon to be put down, though whether there is an overarching mythology remains to be seen. There is the through-line of Constantine trying to retrieve the soul of 9-year-old Astra.

The pilot entertained me enough that I'll continue to watch for now. Liv departed at the end of the episode, and apparently Zed (from the comics, a former lover of Constantine's) will take up the token female role.

For more on Constantine's comics book origins, go here.

Television: Gotham, "Viper"

Let me just start by pointing out that if you want to be stealthy, jumping onto a car isn't really the way to go. Yeah, sure, cats do it. But teenage girls are not cats, even when they pretend they are. Jumping on a car is not an effective strategy. Hiding behind the car would be better.

This episode revolved around a new street drug, the titular Viper, that gave people super strength and a major milk craving before turning their bones to dust and killing them. In a roundabout way we discover one of the Wayne Corp. subsidiaries was producing the drug as a possible combat booster. But the guy who worked on the drug felt guilty about it and decided to go vigilante and bring Viper to the attention of the wider world. His tactic was to give it to homeless people and buskers. Hmm. Because killing people when you feel bad about making a product that kills people makes complete sense, right? This guy sucks at whistleblowing.

Tangentially, young Master Bruce began taking an interest in the way Wayne Corp. does business.

And there was some stuff with the Penguin, and also with Fish Mooney training her new protegée.

I'll say it again: I have trouble giving this show my complete attention. It has some good stuff, but it also has a lot of slow and boring stuff (like the Penguin, which I know will pay off in the long run, but right now it's really dragging, and in the meantime I'm waiting for Nigma to become Riddler), and it has a lot of excruciatingly bad stuff, too (like the whole Fish Mooney subplot; Jada is great, but the story is awful).

Best moment of the night: "What is altruism?!" Seriously, Gordon and Bullock just need to be in a whole other show.

Television: Gracepoint 1.4

The plot(s) thicken(s).

The phone number found in Danny's sweatshirt belongs to Lars Pierson, which is apparently the backpacker seen with Danny a day or so before he was murdered. Pierson is a veteran with a history of psychosis. Beth says she's seen him before; he came to the visitors center where she works and saw a photo of her kids while he was there.

Meanwhile, we knew Chloe got the cocaine from Dean, and now the police know that, too. Carver nearly has a heart attack when he and Miller chase Dean down. Then comes the tracing of the thread back to Dean having picked Danny up one afternoon when he saw Danny standing by the side of the road a good distance from home. This was the same day Dean went to get the cocaine from a dealer friend. And Dean says Danny swiped a crossword puzzle book and a pen from a gas station. Video cameras at the station confirm this.

Okay, but where did the $500 come from?

Turns out Susan Wright (the lady in the trailer) lied about having called Mark Solano to work in the rental hut. And then she hits up Vince and tries to make him come to dinner, going so far as to buy a live chicken to kill and cook. But of course Vince, who makes it clear he wants nothing to do with Susan, doesn't show. There was something pretty pathetic about that scene, in which Susan gives Vince's dinner to her dog.

Speaking of dinner, the best scene of the night: Miller asking Carver to come have dinner at her place. The look on Carver's face is priceless, as if he's never heard of such a thing: Going to someone's house to eat? And, like, be social? Miller clearly isn't too keen on it, either, but she perseveres. We'll get to enjoy what happens there next week, I suppose.

The episode ends with a Viking funeral burning boat.


Television: Selfie, "Nugget of Wisdom"

We've discovered this show works much better as an ensemble than it does when focusing too much on Eliza. She is, in fact, the weakest part of the show.

In this episode, Henry makes Eliza promise to do something selfless over the weekend, and she in turn makes Henry promise to do something fun. For her end of the bargain, Eliza helps Charmonique get ready for her high school reunion . . . And is then also forced to babysit Charmonique's son Kevin when the sitter gets sick. Charmonique is hoping to reconnect with a high school sweetheart, but he turns out to have become a priest.

Meanwhile, Henry is heartbroken over the announcement the company plans to discontinue making the children's vitamin that was his first ever rebranding project. He struggles not to work on the problem over the weekend and eventually ends up over at Charmonique's, helping Eliza with Kevin. Then Henry and Eliza luck into a new marketing strategy for the vitamins. Hey, for Henry work is fun. That's how he enjoys his weekend!

The show is getting better incrementally. Episodes that spread the attention over a few additional characters are the best. Good use of the boss guy; not too much of him because a little goes a long way. We got Larry last week (and Joan), and this week it was Charmonique's turn. Maybe we'll get Charlie before long. Or more of the book club girls.

The difficulty lies in Eliza. The thesis of the show is that she needs to change, and that Henry will help her evolve. But for the series to go on for any amount of time, Eliza cannot change, or at least can only do so incredibly slowly. And she's kind of insufferable as she is. Which is why she, like the boss, is better in smaller doses or tempered by having Henry there to offset her. Charmonique also does a fair job of balancing Eliza out.

I don't love Selfie, and if I were to run out of time for television, I could probably drop it without much remorse. But for now it can stay on my schedule and we'll see how things progress.

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "A Hen in the Wolfhouse"

Basically, Hydra becomes aware of there being a mole (Simmons).

Meanwhile, Raina is stuck between Skye's father and Whitehall. Whitehall has threatened to kill her within 48 hours if she doesn't bring him the obelisk; Skye's father refuses to part with it and wants Raina to bring him Skye. So Raina tries to blackmail Coulson by threatening to leak to Hydra that Simmons is the mole unless Coulson allows her to take Skye. Coulson calls Raina's bluff, and Hydra's head of security goes for Simmons . . . Only to reveal she also works for Coulson. Oh, and that she's Hunter's evil ex-wife.

Short answer: Simmons (& Hunter's ex, whose name is Bobbi) return safely to the S.H.I.E.L.D. fold.

The show has become fun again, but the cast of characters is starting to balloon past what is truly sustainable. I'm wondering at what point a massive battle will end up taking out a few of them. Sure, they'll stick around for a while so that we get to know and love them. But just when we start to get used to them and care about them, Whedon will likely come in with a scythe and cut them back.

There is more about Coulson's strange affliction, too, these strange carvings he makes that Garrett also used to do before losing his mind. The question is why Skye hasn't also started doing this stuff, and the hypothetical answer is that whatever alien DNA she has (or whatever) keeps it from happening. But she seems able to identify the writing as some kind of map. Gee, why now? Why is she only just now understanding it? After seeing so much of it . . . What made the difference? What switched on in her brain to make her go, "Oh, I get it!"

Just sayin'.

The episode ends with Raina working for Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. while Skye's father goes to make a deal with Hydra—bringing Whitehall the obelisk. This is, of course, meant to be a BAD SIGN. We'll see what happens . . .


Television: Scorpion, "Plutonium Is Forever"

This episode gives us our Moriarty character—or, in MacGyver parlance, our Murdoc.

Meet Mark Collins, former Scorpion member, and the guy with the next-highest IQ after Walter. Mark and Walter are really bad for one another because there is no one to check and balance them; they egg one another on with their ever expanding minds . . . Or something like that.

Think of it this way: If Holmes and Moriarty hung out and got high together, if they worked out amazing plots and plans and in the meantime forgot to do things like eat because they got so wrapped up in their ideas? Yeah, that.

See, geniuses don't need the drugs. They just feed off grand thoughts. But instead of giving them the munchies, it makes them forget the world and basic hygiene.

This is all basically backstory for this episode, in which Mark Collins gets Walter's attention by getting caught wandering around a restricted nuclear reactor and then, when taken into custody, demanding to see Walter.

Collins is into listening to "chatter;" that is, he hacks into radio signals and listens to cell phone conversations, truckers on CB, and also to whatever the guys at the nuclear power plant happen to say to one another. By keeping a log, Collins figures out the plant is pushing toward meltdown. He ropes in Walter, and Walter brings in the team.

But of course the team knows how bad Collins is for Walter. No one wants to work with him.

Throughout the episode it's also pretty clear Collins has an ulterior motive for having called Walter in. Collins doesn't have much interest in whether or not the reactor melts down; he just wants to have a good time and prove he's as good or better than those other kids Walter plays with.

Long story short, Walter is caught between the guilt he feels at having kicked Collins out (and, actually, having the guy committed to an asylum for a couple years) and wanting to do the right thing for himself and the team. Collins is kind of like a drug for Walter. A habit he wants to quit.

In the end, Collins is headed back to jail, but he promises he'll be getting out. And then . . . ? Maybe he'll set himself up as Walter's rival, a true Moriarty.

A couple things about Scorpion in general: (a) I know Walter is technically the central character, but I'm hoping we'll get some episodes centered on others. Because there's only so many times we can do the "he doesn't feel" thing and then force Walter to, well, feel or act on feelings or whatever. (b) Writers, please stop writing lines for Toby that are, in legal parlance, "leading." Things like, "You wouldn't have thought it was possible, but it is," and "Else the team might melt down!" are really sloppy ways of leading the viewers to the exact thought you want them to have. Don't do that. If you've done your job well, the audience will be right there with you without you having to ping them between the eyes with whatever it is you want them to be thinking. And no, Toby being a psychologist is not a valid excuse.

By the way, MacGyver stopped a leaking reactor with a chocolate bar. I remember that distinctly. Doesn't matter how smart Walter and his group is; they can't beat Mac for ingenuity.


Movies: Gone Girl

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris
Directed By: David Fincher
Written By: Gillian Flynn
20th Century Fox, 2014
R; 149 mins
4 stars (out of 5)


Let me start by saying I really hated the novel.

But . . . I really like David Fincher movies.

So I had mixed feelings about going to see Gone Girl. I thought maybe I'd just wait until it was on Netflix or whatever. Except Fincher movies really do deserve to be seen on the big screen.

And I liked the movie for what it was. Well crafted. Beautifully shot.

I didn't like the book because there was no one to like in the book. Neither Nick nor Amy is likable; in fact, they're almost intolerable. Sure, you could argue that Margo is sympathetic, but she's not enough to carry an entire novel about two really terrible people.

Now, it's been more than two years since I read the book. But seeing the movie, I do feel like they tried to make Nick more agreeable, probably out of necessity since every movie needs some kind of hero, someone for the viewer to cheer on. I sort of hate the movie for that, though, which is why I deducted a star. Nick doesn't deserve to be made the victim here; he and Amy are both awful, which is why they deserve each other. Yes, I really do believe that, even though [SPOILERS FOLLOW] she's a psychopathic murderer. To make viewers feel sorry for Nick is sort of cowardly filmmaking in my mind.

But maybe we're not supposed to feel sorry for Nick. Maybe it's the, "He made his bed and now he's lying in it" thing. He's stuck in a town where everyone knows he cheated on his wife (hell, the world knows it), and she comes up looking like a rose. No other woman is going to come near him now. He didn't go to prison, but yeah, he kind of did.

Mostly I feel sorry for any baby they have. And for the cat. I'm really hoping the cat was able to escape that toxic environment.

Anyway, my peculiar and particular beefs aside, it was a good movie. I don't really know if I liked it more than the book; it might be more accurate to say I liked it differently from the book. Fincher was certainly the right choice for capturing the tone, and Pike in particular does a phenomenal job as a calculating psychopath who has most of the world fooled. I do wish they'd cranked up Neil Patrick Harris' character a bit, though. And as I've mentioned, they could (possibly should) have made Nick less compassionate.

In short, a solid film. Those who loved the novel should be satisfied, and those who didn't read it should find the movie entertaining anyway. I fall somewhere in the middle and still found Gone Girl to be worth my while.

Television: Doctor Who, "Flatline"

Or, "When Graffiti Goes Bad."

Taking the whole "bigger on the inside" schtick to an extreme, this episode features a shrinking TARDIS (on the outside) with the Doctor stuck inside. Which leaves Clara to act as the Doctor in the, ahem, larger world.

In search of a why, Clara comes across some community service workers who are painting over graffiti. One of the workers is young Rigsy, a graffiti artist himself. Clara learns that people have been disappearing from locked rooms, and through a drawn-out process she and Rigsy discover that the lost people have actually been . . . flattened.

These 2D aliens basically suck people into walls and floors and leave behind "artwork" that is actually biology, like an extreme close-up of skin cells or the willowy branches of the nervous system. I know they say the human body is beautiful, but really?

The aliens seem to be learning about the 3D world by absorbing people. They begin forming zombie-like 3D versions of themselves, popping up out of the ground and such. Now Clara, Rigsy, and the other community service guys are in danger. Meanwhile, the TARDIS continues to shrink and lose power thanks to whatever the aliens have done to it.

Honestly, at this point I wasn't all that interested. There was a lot of running around in tunnels, and then Clara has Rigsy paint a false door that tricks the aliens and restores power to the TARDIS or something. The Doctor now on the scene, he makes short work of what he names "The Boneless."

Again, really? Because all anyone is going to think when they hear that is, "What, like buffalo wings? Chicken fingers?" It's just dumb.

Unless, you know, they're planning ahead for a restaurant tie-in?

Other key things about the episode:

  1. The opening scene is a classic example of, if the man on the phone would have just spit out the information instead of hemming and hawing, it would have saved everyone a certain amount of trouble.
  2. In this episode the Doctor becomes aware that Clara has lied about Danny being okay with her continuing to travel with him.
  3. The final scene shows Missy watching everything that has happened, and in particular focusing on Clara, who Missy claims to have "chosen."
It was an okay episode. A clever idea, but it got boring there in the middle. It was an interesting choice, however, to have the least likable character survive. A nice change, I think, showing that things don't always turn out "fair." They also continue to beat us over the head with the question of whether the Doctor is "good." I'd say he's sort of chaotic good anyway, meaning he's willing to do bad things—murder, avenge—if he thinks it's for the greater good or upholds his personal belief system. But whatever.


Movies: A Million Ways to Die in the West

I honestly had very few expectations for this movie. It received mediocre reviews (at best) and bombed at the box office, and it looked like a stellar example of everything funny being loaded into the trailer.

It's because I had such low expectations that I was able to enjoy A Million Ways to Die in the West.

Truly, it's pretty much exactly what it seems: Seth MacFarlane doing his thing. Just don't look away or close your eyes, else you'll picture Brian from Family Guy as the main character.

I'll admit, bathroom humor isn't really my thing, so I can do without the sex and fart and poop jokes. But I feel that way about all of MacFarlane's work; there's always some of it I don't enjoy. And yet there's enough that I do enjoy that it can sometimes be worth putting up with the rest. AMWTDITW (Jesus, really?) falls squarely in the same category.

The story is of a sheep farmer named Albert (MacFarlane), hating his life in Big Stump, Arizona, circa 1882. Mostly he hates that his girlfriend has just dumped him in favor of the local Moustachery owner (Neil Patrick Harris doing what he does best). But then lovely Anna (Charlize Theron) comes to town . . . Too bad she's married to the meanest gunslinger alive (Liam Neeson).

You can probably fill in the blanks. Giovanni Ribisi is Albert's best friend, and he's dating local whore-with-a-heart-of-gold Sarah Silverman. And so on and so forth.

I'm not really giving the plot credit. I was actually pleasantly surprised the movie had a plot, much less one that actually hangs together rather well. I think I expected a bunch of gags and set pieces without much to connect them, but no, this had a steady, if rote, story.

What I really think is that it should have been a stage musical. In fact, it's too bad it didn't fare better at the box office, because I think AMWTDITW (seriously? couldn't come up with anything shorter?) would better suit the stage than the screen.

In short, I enjoyed it for what it is. Which is more than I expected to do. AMWTDITW is cute and delivers more or less exactly what it promises.

Movies: Edge of Tomorrow

I don't play video games, but I've watched my kids play them often enough to know how it goes: You die and get thrown back to a "save point." And that's pretty much this movie.

Tom Cruise is Major Cage, and he's also a major coward. Aliens have taken over a large chunk of Europe, and there is an ongoing war to defeat them. But when the United Defense Force tries to send Cage to the front lines, he attempts to defect. Only to get arrested and sent to the front anyway.

Turns out the aliens have advance knowledge of the coming attack. Cage dies and finds himself thrown back to that "save point." After this happens a few times, he gets the attention of Rita (Emily Blunt), known as "The Angel of Verdun." She helped turn the tide of the war, or so it seems.

Except, as things unspool (and re-spool), we find out Rita had the same thing happen to her as Cage is having happen now: she relived that day again and again until she "got it right." And even then, Rita is convinced the aliens allowed the humans to win.

At this point we get the mumbo jumbo about how killing an Alpha alien and getting its blood on you gives you a kind of power to reset the day and start again if you die. And how it also links you to the Omega, the central "brain" of the aliens to which they're all telepathically connected. If Cage, who was killed by an Alpha, can use his power to figure out where the Omega is located, they have a chance to go kill it and end the war for good. In the meantime, living the day over and over (and being the only one with the ability to remember, kind of like that awesome episode of Stargate: SG-1), gives Cage the chance to train and become combat ready. Just like how, in a video game, if you do it enough times you can anticipate the moves, act and react appropriately, and get further along.

Really, there's a class of movie that forces a person to just say, "Yeah, okay, whatever. I'll just go with it." And Edge of Tomorrow is one of those. It sets up an internal logic of sorts, and one pretty much just has to take it on a certain amount of faith (without looking too hard) that it makes sense. So long as the movie adheres to its own rules, okay, fine.

So I was with it up until the end. It seems the drive for a "happy ending" forced them to step outside their own logic. Or maybe I just didn't connect the dots. See [spoiler alert], Cage does finally kill the Omega. Rita is killed during the same mission. But after Cage kills the Omega, an Alpha lashes out and . . . Cage is able to reset time again? So he wakes up at a different save point earlier even than before.

And yet the war is already won? Because the Omega has been killed. Except it hasn't already been killed, has it? If this is the past?

I guess one could argue that Cage got the power from the Alpha after the Omega's death, so . . . Well, but didn't the Alpha's power originate with the Omega anyway? If the Omega is dead, there should be no "Kronos power," or whatever you want to call it.

I dunno. The whole point of this ending is clearly to allow Cage and Rita to have their lives back and probably some kind of relationship. But I have trouble respecting the decision to circumvent the movie's own internal rules just for that. (Please, if I'm missing something, enlighten me in the comments.)

All in all, an entertaining movie that was more or less exactly as expected.


Television: Gracepoint 1.3

What did we learn? That Mark Solano is not someone to admire. He has a temper, may have sometimes hit Danny, and is cheating on his pregnant wife. Okay, he doesn't know Beth is pregnant, but that doesn't excuse his behavior.

Still . . . I can't really like the interplay between Carver and Miller. It's simply done so much better in Broadchurch, whereas here the writers (Chibnall, I guess) seem to be trying to make it more contentious. Maybe he figures that better suits American sensibilities. To have Carver be a hard-nosed asshole and Miller be angry about the job thing and sort of hate him . . . And again with Carver's medical issues being pushed in our faces. I guess they figure Americans don't quite get subtlety. In any case, I much prefer the grudging admiration Hardy and Miller have in Broadchurch and the way the unease slowly melted. There's just much better chemistry there, and possibly better writing as well.

Honestly, though, aside from all the Mark Solano information, we got very little in terms of data to put toward solving the crime. Blood on Mark's boat (that he says came from Danny catching a fishing hook in his foot). And the fact that he probably hadn't done any plumbing work at the cabin? So why is his print at the crime scene? Or, really (because so far as I recall there was no sign of a break-in), who had the keys to the cabin the night Danny died?


Two Lies and a Truth: Play to Win!

If you head over to PepperWords, you'll find guest author Jessica Bell giving away a copy of her e-book White Lady. All you have to do is comment on the post with your guess as to which of the statements is true. Easy, right? Take a STAB at it!


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

It's always fun when Mom and Dad are out.

This episode had Coulson and May on a mission to retrieve a miraculous painting that just happened to have "alien writing" on the back. Writing very like the weird stuff Coulson has been inscribing on walls. They infiltrate a party in the house where the painting is supposedly being stored, only to have to run interference when Talbot turns up too. But then they discover Talbot already has the painting . . . And he's willing to make a deal with Coulson to allow Coulson to look at it if Coulson will help them translate the writing.

Big change of heart?

Well, no. [spoilers] Talbot isn't Talbot. It's Bakshi in some über Hallowe'en mask. So when May goes to "Talbot's" hotel room to make sure he's playing on the level, she finds Bakshi and the converted Agent 33. Outnumbered, she's knocked out and Agent 33 takes on May's identity. This gets her onto the Bus, which she then sabotages. Then she takes Coulson back to the hotel to meet "Talbot."

But of course her behavior gives her away; Coulson knows May really well, right?

We get the obligatory fight between May and Not May. We get Fitz having to utilize Hunter (hey, look, I know his name now!) to save the Bus. We get Fitz trying to fit in with "the guys," which was awkward and sweet . . . In fact, the best bits of the episode were with the "kiddos" on the Bus as they talked about exes and such.

And we get Coulson making May promise to shoot him in the head if he goes the way of Garrett. She had a plan of sending him off to the Australian outback, but he'd rather just die. (I think that came out wrong . . . No offense, Australia!)

So after a couple weak episodes, it seems the season is hitting its stride. We're back to what Tiggers do best: interplay, banter, things that are a good balance of sweet and funny. Plot is plot is plot, but give us characters we love and we'll follow them anywhere.

Television: Selfie, "With a Little Yelp from My Friends"


Though I can't entirely forgive the cliché of having someone walk up behind a person who is saying mean things about them.

And I do wonder how many apps and Web sites they plan to go through before the social media thing gets really tired.

But the show is doing a good job of promoting some of the secondary characters. Larry, Charlie, Charmonique, and the boss . . . Even Joan to a point, though there's something of the caricature about her. Yet they did hint at greater depth for her, too. (I guess anyone can look deep next to Eliza.)

I felt like this episode was the tipping point for me. It was going to determine whether I kept watching, and so "Yelp" means Selfie has earned another week on my DVR.


Television: Scorpion, "Shorthanded"

The more I see of Scorpion, the more it reminds me of late-80s and early-90s television. And yeah, it worries me a bit. Because this probably means I'm getting old. Like, now I watch two shows on CBS?! WTF?!

In "Shorthanded," the team heads to Vegas for a private job helping a casino (run by Corbin Bernsen, which again just proves how old I am, since I recognized him right away) figure out why it was losing money. Walter, as taskmaster, attempts to keep everyone from having fun, at least until the job is done. Which takes almost no time at all.

Really, this is The A-Team meets MacGyver. Scorpion = the Phoenix Foundation. But instead of one cool guy (and his sometimes sidekick Jack), we get MacGyver himself split into four different people.

I never watched The A-Team, but hell yeah was I a MacGyver fan. "Mac" was one of the nicknames my classmates gave me. They'd even give me duct tape on my birthday. (Now I'm starting to wonder if maybe they didn't actually like me . . .)

Anyway, things go south when the casino is robbed right after Scorpion puts in a new security system. Walter ends up in jail, and the rest of the team scrambles to solve the mystery of who actually did rob the casino. A pretty basic plot, but the writers are good about putting in some nice touches. Even barring the ridiculous coincidence of Walter ending up in the same cell as the card dealer he got fired (for having small hands and therefore dealing too slowly), it was nice to see Walter able to redeem himself a bit there.

Still, are there any female writers on this show? Because Happy and Paige need some punching up in their dialogue. Yeesh.

I don't know what it says about me that I enjoy this show. Maybe it's just a nostalgia thing. Maybe the episodic plots will wear thin before long. But for now I'll keep watching. After Gotham, Scorpion is much lighter fare.

Television: Gotham, "Arkham"

I found this the most interesting episode so far. Yes, the Mob stuff was still taking up a big chunk of it, but as the Penguin charts his path, I do find that aspect a tad more tolerable.

The plot itself centered around a coming vote on what to do with the Arkham area of the city, including the closed mental institution. Gang wars were escalating as various factions had money riding on the outcome. And of course the beloved, deceased Waynes had also had plans for Arkham, and for making Gotham a better place, etc.

As city councilmen are being murdered, Gordon and Bullock are on the case. Meanwhile, Barbara is getting frustrated with Gordon's refusal to answer her question: "Who is Oswald Cobblepot?"

Actually, what I want to know is why Gordon doesn't just answer the question. This is one of those points at which I think the writers are just trying to create more tension, but they don't have a good enough reason for it. What's stopping Gordon from saying, "That guy who stopped by earlier."? There. Barbara would then know that Gordon hadn't killed him, so she wouldn't have to worry about that rumor any more. Sure, she might blab that Cobblepot is still alive (she saw him, after all), and that might cause other problems, but . . . Gordon could also have said, "A criminal," or any number of other things. He could have made something up if he didn't want to tell the truth. So I do find it very irritating of the writers to put this sort of false obstacle up. There are many better ways to deal with it, or to create tension between Gordon and Barbara if that was the goal.

But whatever. Barbara is annoying anyway. Maybe Gordon is better off without her.

I think, on the whole, they started in the wrong place. We probably didn't need so much of them building up the story. A lot of this could have been compressed; the way it's been stretched out is why it keeps losing my interest. Maybe if more begins to happen, and happen faster, I might stick with it. Otherwise, Gotham may end up on my chopping block. I just don't know yet.


Adverse Possession and "A.B.C."

I crossed a black cat's path this morning. Hope I brought him good luck.

It being Monday the 13th, I didn't think the day would amount to much. But! First of all, my short story "A.B.C."—which was published by Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine way back in 2004—has been recorded by voice actor Noelle Messier. You can hear it here.

Second, I've seen a final cut of Adverse Possession. And Rolling Circle is sending it off to the San Francisco Independent Film Festival. Finger, toes, everything crossed it gets accepted and we'll get to see it on the big screen! I will share the film as soon as I am able, but for now it must remain under wraps to keep it from being disqualified.

It's very exciting as a writer to see and hear your words coming to life! I am so grateful to everyone who has made it happen, and all my friends and supporters who have cheered me on.


Books: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

One of the best books I've read this year.

It's a haunted house story told via a collection of diary entries, dream journal entries, transcribed notes and audio recordings, security camera footage, and video recordings. Think of it as a kind of Paranormal Activity in writing. Only the main characters aren't completely stupid, so aside from thinking they should probably change bedrooms, you don't get exasperated with them. Well, though A. (we're never given his full name) can be a bit pompous.

Without giving anything away, I can tell you A. and his mute friend Niamh leave the UK to take possession of a [very old] house in Virginia. It is supposedly haunted, and what's more the man who lived there before jumped to his death from the same window his own father had also committed suicide from. Both had died at the age of fifty.

And so A. and Niamh move in and weird things begin to happen. Meanwhile, as they begin going through papers and such, they piece together a puzzle. Several puzzles, actually. Cyphers and such.

All of this is set in 1995, with many references to The X-Files.

I can't do the book justice, and I don't want to give anything away. I can only say I do highly recommend it.

Television: Gotham, "The Balloonman"

I still can't decide how I feel about this show. Do I like it? Not entirely. It's definitely not as good as I hoped it would be, but then again, I'm not sure exactly what I was hoping for. I mean, the title denotes that the show is about Gotham, which we all know is a city with a lot of troubles and a seedy underworld that fertilizes the problems. So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised the show is about the mob and corrupt cops and all that jazz.

But I'm not really one for Mob stories. So Gotham isn't really my cup of tea.

Still, the chemistry between Gordon and Bullock is good. I only wish they had more interesting things to do; their stories so far are not particularly exciting. In this episode they were after a guy who was attaching weather balloons to notorious con men, pedophile priests, corrupt cops . . . The show does a good job of showing Bullock's lackadaisical attitude toward these things versus Gordon's bright, shiny honor—it isn't until a fellow cop gets targeted that Bullock becomes interested in finding the guy; until then, Bullock's take was that the vigilante was doing the city a favor. Gordon, meanwhile, maintained that a vigilante is just another kind of criminal. A crime is a crime, no matter one's motivation.

Other stuff happened: Alfred and Bruce (I like Alfred and wouldn't mind more of him, but there's only so much one can do with that situation, I guess); Barbara and her ex-girlfriend, who is one of the investigators who has just heard that Gordon killed Cobblepot (aka Penguin) and runs to tell Barbara about it; Selina Kyle proving she saw the Waynes murdered by sending Gordon into a sewer to retrieve the wallet she pick-pocketed.

I keep hoping Gotham will get better, more interesting, so I keep half-watching . . . But if I'm being realistic, it will probably continue to focus largely on Mob maneuverings and such. Not my thing at all. We'll possibly see the rise of the Penguin, but we're not going to see Batman any time soon, I don't think. Sigh. While I do enjoy Gordon and Bullock, their banter and such, without better stories to engage them, I don't know how much longer I'll be watching.

Television: Doctor Who, "Mummy on the Orient Express"

The Doctor takes Clara on a "last hurrah" trip on the Orient Express, a 1920's themed train that travels through space. But passengers are dying (of course): each one sees a mummy shuffling toward them 66 seconds before they die.

There is a myth of a Foreteller, a creature only someone about to die can see, though the lights apparently flicker right before the mummy appears to its victim.

Things go a bit off the rails, so to speak, when it turns out the train is really a laboratory and most of the passengers are scientists and doctors of various kinds. "Gus," which is basically a bit like HAL, insists they figure out what is going on with this Foreteller.

Clara spends most of the episode locked in a cargo car with a crazy woman named Maisie whose grandmother was killed by the mummy, while the Doctor heads the team of scientists in the laboratory. They discover that most of the victims are suffering from some medical condition: panic attacks, synthetic lungs, etc. The mummy targets the weakest person and works his way through the passengers that way.

And of course the 66 seconds is important. Why 66? An oddly specific number. They figure out that it is 66 seconds because it takes that long to pull the victim "out of phase," which is why only the victim can see the mummy. The victim is pulled out of phase (whatever that means) and then the mummy drains them of their energy at the cellular level, resulting in fatal cardiac arrest as a side effect.

When it is determined that the next likely victim is Maisie, Gus unlocks the door to the cargo hold they're stuck in and allows them to join the Doctor and the others so that the team can gather more data by watching Maisie die. But of course the Doctor plans to save Maisie; he takes some of her memories, and more or less takes on her mental instability so as to make the mummy believe he is Maisie. Then the Doctor makes a huge leap in logic—there's a flag, you see—and figures out the mummy is a modified ancient soldier. So as his 66 seconds winds down, the Doctor tells the mummy, "We surrender!"

It works. The mummy salutes and dissolved into a pile of ash, leaving behind only the bit of malfunctioning ancient technology that was prompting him to assassinate people. Gus congratulates them and begins evacuating the oxygen from the train, thus suffocating the remaining passengers. But the Doctor rewires the mummy's tech into a short-range teleporter, gets everyone aboard the TARDIS and saves them. Alas, Gus blows up the train before the Doctor can hack in to determine who was really behind it all. (Missy, one supposes?)

With everyone delivered safely to the nearest civilized planet, the Doctor is ready to take Clara home. She takes a call from Danny, who expects this to be her last trip with the Doctor. But after hanging up, Clara lies and tells the Doctor that Danny has changed his mind, he's fine with her continuing to travel, and so long as she gets home safe and on time, she wants to keep going.

On the whole, a pretty standard episode that sets up the coming confrontation with a "big threat" (that is, whoever or whatever is behind Gus) as well as complications for Clara as she tries to maintain her relationship with Danny and her travels with the Doctor. As the saying goes, something's got to give. It might be more compelling if we didn't already know Clara is slated to vacate the job of companion soon. It's not a matter of if she goes so much as how. And then, of course, the question becomes: Who's next?

Television: Selfie, "Un-Tag My Heart"

Yeah, I don't know about this show. I wanted to watch another episode to see if it would at least make me laugh, and I did—once. It was the Sugar Ray thing that did it.

Really, though, I think this is made for younger viewers than me. I, like Henry, am Generation X. And yet I do know how to use Facebook and have a good time. So maybe I take a bit of offense in the portrayal of Henry. And maybe that makes me a fuddy-duddy. But it just seems to me that whoever is writing this show is promoting Eliza and making more fun of Henry, while honestly Eliza's behavior is the epitome of a lot of what is wrong with the self-absorbed younger generations. Yet despite the premise that Henry is going to reform her, they seem to be going with Eliza needing less help than Henry. She'll reform him.

That's fine, to a point. But there needs to be more balance between the two.

Also, Eliza's voice over is awful.

Anyway, I might give it one more episode, but thus far I'm underwhelmed. Selfie has potential, but they're pushing it in all the wrong directions.

Television: Gracepoint 1.2

What did we learn? Well, that Danny was probably killed in the little rental cabin. Though the place was scrubbed clean, there was a bit of blood that matched Danny's type, and a fingerprint that matched . . . (wait for it) . . . Danny's father Mark.

We also know Mark lied about being out on a job the night Danny was murdered.

And Danny had some interesting files on his computer, journal entries that said things like, "I think I know what he's doing."

Oh, and there was $500 taped under Danny's bed. Meanwhile, Chloe's room turned up a small baggie of cocaine, though that evidently was her boyfriend's.

Jack (Nick Nolte) weighed in with something he "remembered" about seeing Danny talk to someone . . .

And some crazy would-be psychic tries to tell Carver and Miller that Danny told him he was in a boat shortly before he died. He also gives Carver a cryptic message about a pendant, saying, "She says she forgives you." We all know Carver ended up in Gracepoint after some debacle elsewhere, so I guess this is supposed to be a clue about his past. (Actually, having seen Broadchurch, I know it's a clue about his past.)

The reporter from San Francisco is using the local reporter boy to get inside information on the people and the town, telling him if he helps her she might be able to help him land a bigger, better gig.

Oh, and Beth tells Reverend Paul she's pregnant. And that Mark doesn't know.

As in Broadchurch, things progress at a nice clip here. A lot of information. But it holds less tension for me, and I can't figure out if that's because I've seen Broadchurch already, or if the changes for American television just don't land right. Shorter, choppier scenes, for instance. And having Carver come off even harsher. Plus, playing up his medical issues sooner and more obviously.

I knew going in I wouldn't like it as much as Broadchurch. I don't think it was possible for me to, not when it's the same story again. But I still want to watch it because I do want to see where the changes are. It's sort of an interesting experiment in a way. So while the question was never whether I'd like Gracepoint as much, it remains to be seen how much I will enjoy it . . . Right now, I can't really say. I'm just hoping Gracepoint does something interesting to separate itself from its source material so that those of us who've seen Broadchurch have something to look forward to.


Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Making Friends and Influencing People"

Finally, the second season begins to show signs of possibly being good.

We learn that Simmons is working undercover for Hydra. And that Hydra is "acquiring" gifted people (like Creel), and has added Donnie Gill to their wish list.

In case you don't remember, Donnie Gill was the kid from last season who Fitz and Simmons saved while giving a lecture at the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy. And then the whole weather machine fiasco, and then Donnie turned into something from X-Men, namely a guy who can freeze stuff by touching it.

When Hydra realizes Simmons has a prior connection with Donnie, they send her in to try and win him . . . back, as it turns out. And when that doesn't work, they trigger his programming.

Turns out Hydra has been brainwashing the gifted people who resist joining them. (Look back to Dollhouse for more of Whedon doing this, and doing it a bit better, really, maybe just because here it was so obvious but in Dollhouse there was a better reveal.)

Meanwhile, Fitz discovers the Ward they've been keeping in the basement. Ha. Ward. Fitz nearly kills Ward by depriving him of oxygen, just as Ward had done when he dumped Fitz and Simmons in a container in the ocean. That lack of oxygen to his brain is what has caused Fitz so many problems, namely his difficulty thinking of words. But I guess it's a good think Fitz spares Ward because it gives Ward a chance to tell Skye that her father is alive and looking for her, and that he (Ward) will take Skye to him if given the chance. Hmm. Sounds like he's hoping to motivate Skye to free him. I'll be more than a little annoyed if she falls for it.

I found the first two episodes of this season dull, but this one held most of my attention, which is a move in the right direction.

Television: Scorpion, "A Cyclone"

This show isn't perfect, but then few are. Like, Happy is clearly a pseudo-MacGyver, but does she really need to narrate what she's doing as if she's lecturing a science class? It would be one thing if people were asking, "So, wait, what are you doing?" and she answered by explaining. But then again, it would get pretty stupid if people were constantly asking Happy what she's doing. Maybe, just maybe, the writers should have faith in the audience and not feel the need to explain all the time?

Or maybe Happy could at least make it sound more like she's thinking aloud than lecturing.

And while I'm picking nits here, Cabe's dialogue is pretty wooden. I don't know if that's done to make him sound older, more crotchety, or just not as smart as the geniuses, but it only comes off as badly written.

And, yeah, the plotting and characterization is all pretty formulaic.

But on the whole I still really like this show. There's something about it that does harken back to older shows like The A-Team and MacGyver and such. The way the group splinters off then comes back together, and how utterly daft they looked when trying to "be cool" and not alert the suspect . . . Something about it is old-school television, and I sort of like that.

As for the internal conspiracy thing, and the political wrangling, well, ::shrug:: I'm sure the writers are meaning to build an arc while maintaining the episodic nature of the show, at least for a while—in order to draw in viewers, one can't build a mythology too quickly or it confuses the newcomers. (But I have to say, that intro? Awful. It's gotta go.) For the time being, the attempts at government conspiracy and tension aren't very interesting. Is the season aiming to end with Scorpion saving the president? And if so, will Jack Bauer be there, too?

By the way, I find it difficult to believe the guys didn't know Paige was standing right there when they were talking about her. Coming from a similar background, I can say at least one of those three is sensitive enough to his surroundings to know there's someone there. One, maybe two, might be so focused on the discussion to have tuned it out, but all three? (And really, when in public, there is almost no tuning out. It's all input.)

I realize the more I go on the more it sounds like I don't like the show. But as I've said, I do. I think it's kind of cute. It has the right number of characters so that no one is on screen long enough to get too annoying. For instance, Toby is fun, but if we got much more of him he'd just be obnoxious. It's a careful balance. And yet there's not so many characters that I can't keep track of them all, which is the problem I'm starting to have with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

So far, for me, Scorpion is a win.

Peter Submission Stats and Other Odds & Ends

I'm now in the querying cycle for The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller. I've sent out 40 total queries thus far. Of those, I've received 6 requests for pages, either partial or the full manuscript. (If you really want to get down into it, 4 requests for partials and 2 for the full.) Of those requests, 3 came back as passes. I've also had 4 passes on the query itself. But I still have 1 partial and the 2 fulls out and being considered. And there are 30 queries still hanging out there in space.

In percentages:

17.5% of the responses have been rejections
7.5% are currently reading and considering the manuscript
75% have yet to respond

As for other things, like television, I do hope to catch up soon via this blog. I have a DVR full of goodies from this past week waiting to be watched and reviewed. But if you're wondering about American Horror Story, I won't be watching it this season. Excepting that one episode of The X-Files, I don't do circuses or freak shows. Just . . . no.


Thanks, Neil

Too bad when women say it, we're just being bitchy. It takes a man saying it for anyone to listen.

(I'll give Neil the benefit of the doubt in assuming he wasn't merely trying to get out of hugging anyone.)


Movies: Harmontown

This is (or was) exactly as much as I knew about Dan Harmon going into watching this documentary: Community.

I love that show, so . . .

Anyway, Harmontown is a very entertaining documentary that follows Dan Harmon on a podcasting tour while also reviewing some of the highs and lows in his professional career. And it was a pretty revealing portrait. Harmon is funny but can also be cutting. As a writer, he uses words both well and to great effect (for good or ill). And like many writers, he also uses words as his shield. He puts himself out there and relishes the accolades and gets bitter when they are not forthcoming. Because writing is a very personal thing—and being on stage even more so—so criticism feels brutal.

I think the most painful moment (to me, as a writer) came when Harmon was taking a call from CBS with notes on his script. Ouch. Reminded me why I've decided to focus more on my prose.

More than anything, Harmontown introduced me to someone not so different from myself, a man with talent whose mouth can get him into trouble . . . I'll take Dan Harmon as a lesson and try to be mindful as I continue to build my career.

Definitely worth watching, particularly if you're a writer, but I think pretty much anyone would be entertained.

Television: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Heavy Is the Head"

I'm rapidly starting not to care, which is a bad sign for this show.

The only thing I'm finding remotely compelling is Fitz.

Well, and the appearance of Kyle MacLachlan, who apparently is Skye's father?

The rest of it? ::shrug:

I can't even really tell you what happened on this episode because my attention kept wandering. Uh . . . They got the cloaking thing to work . . . And that one mercenary guy whose name I should probably know did some stuff (he's the Skye of this season, the one we're not supposed to be sure we can trust, and I do at least like him but wish he wasn't so much like so many other characters we've seen before) . . . Fitz and some other guy started working together, and it seems like this is a good thing for Fitz; he needs a "translator" and this guy (whose name I should also know, I'm sure) seems to be right for the job . . . And Coulson was snarky to Talbot. Again. . . . And Raina something something Kyle MacLachlan.

That about sums it up, I think?


Television: Doctor Who, "Kill the Moon"

This one felt like some kind of pseudo-abortion argument. Not that it took sides; even the Doctor ducked out of the debate and was like, "Let's leave it to the women!"

If you're wondering what the actual plot was, well, the moon—yes, Earth's moon—turns out to be a really big egg. And it's hatching. And the question is whether to destroy it before that happens, thereby killing whatever unknown creature is about to be born, or . . . Not.

They went the extra mile of stupid by explaining the fact that there is still a moon in the future because [spoilers!] the hatchling lays another egg as it flies off into space. So . . . Does that mean another space creature will need to come fertilize that egg? Or will it be a dormant egg?

Whatever. It honestly wasn't all that great an episode. For one thing, this need to start in medias res is getting really old. It's become so common that it holds no power. There is no tension in it.

And then bringing the schoolgirl? Meh. Plus, they're really working to make the Doctor a bit too much like Sherlock. Saying things that hurt, without realizing his bluntness is painful to others . . . Once again, one could have lifted some of his dialogue and stuffed it into Sherlock's mouth and it would have read the same. Clara = John, trying to keep the Doctor "human(e)."

The start of the episode had the makings of a horror film. But in a very generic "people in space are in danger" kind of way. And then things just went off the rails with the whole egg thing, and the Doctor disappearing and saying to Clara, Courtney (that's the schoolgirl), and some other NASA woman, "You decide!" So that at the end of the episode Clara is furious with him for not helping them decide. And the Doctor argues that he was respecting their intelligence (read: rights?) . . . This was actually the only strong part of the episode because the argument is a fair one. The Doctor thought he was being respectful by staying out of it, and Clara is angry because for once she/they really needed his input. It ends with her telling him to go away and never come back.

Seems unlikely.


Tarot of Delphi

I have a new favorite Tarot deck.

Let me elaborate a bit by saying that I buy many decks because I think they're pretty or otherwise intriguing. But it's rare that I find one that really speaks to me from the get-go. Most of my decks I have to tussle with a bit before we come to understand one another. (And a few, we never do manage to speak the same language.)

With only one deck prior to this one have I had that kind of immediate connection: my Harmonious Tarot deck. I keep that one by my bed and use it every morning for my personal readings. But now I can add the Tarot of Delphi as its companion.

This deck was a Kickstarter baby. And the moment I saw it, I felt that marvelous zing! As if Eros had just shot me straight through. I couldn't wait to get my hands on this beautiful deck:

Yes, it uses classical paintings! *swoon*

It comes packaged in a sturdy, lovely box with a nice booklet that explains the theme of each painting and its corresponding meaning/influence for readings. So while it may help to know what you're looking at when you read the cards—that is, it might help to have some ideas about the paintings and what they're depicting—it's not required. The booklet will fill you in.

There are two different Empress cards, too, so you can pick whichever one speaks most to you, or even use both as they have slightly different connotations. Ah, the challenges of choosing from all the beautiful art! I feel J.D. Hildegard Hinkel's pain. But she's done a fantastic job, and the deck is gorgeous. The cards are a nice weight and size. Glossy, so a little slick, if that makes a difference to you. And the minor arcana feature icons as well as their titles (see the photo for examples of the Wands and Swords).

Some differences from the standard decks: The court cards here are the Devotee, the Artisan, the Hero, and the Enchantress. The traditional Wheel of Fortune is the Threads of Fate in this deck (see the photo), the Hanged Man has become The One Torn Asunder, the Devil is now The Siren, the Tower is The Shipwreck, and the World is The Garden.

As for reading, well, as I said, I had an immediate connection to the cards when I first saw them online, and that didn't fail me once I had them in hand. My first two readings with them were spot on. But of course you may feel differently, and your mileage may vary. I, for one, can't wait to do more with them! I absolutely love this deck!

Television: Gracepoint 1.1

I'll admit I had mixed feelings about seeing Broadchurch—which I still consider some of the best television in recent years, along with the first season of True Detective—being transplanted to the U.S. in the form of Gracepoint. On one hand, I knew Gracepoint could not possibly be as good, if only because it wouldn't be the first time I'd heard the story. Yes, yes, say all you like that this will be different, but Broadchurch is near perfect, so changing it wouldn't make it better. Then again, on the other hand, more David Tennant? Hooray!

As a "native plant," Broadchurch is simply beautiful . . . When replanted in foreign soil it suffers from a bit of shock. I had read that the first two episodes of Gracepoint would be pretty much exactly the same as the first two of Broadchurch, and that after that there would be differences. Well, okay. But somehow Gracepoint failed to capture all the tonal qualities that make Broadchurch amazing. (And I don't just mean Tennant's accent.)

For one thing, Ellie's character here is a bit more whiney, less strong. I don't feel the grudging admiration building between her and Carver as I did with her and Hardy in Broadchurch. Maybe that will come later, but there was definitely more chemistry between the characters in Broadchurch earlier on.

I'm not loving the guy playing Danny's dad either. Sorry. Nice diversity, but he seems far less nuanced to me than the Broadchurch version.

Of course, one could scream at me, "But take Gracepoint on its own merits! Don't compare!" How can one help comparing? For once this is apples to apples in television.

Okay, let's just look at Gracepoint on its own. There's something a bit flat and perfunctory about it. Maybe that's intentional, to show the way police gather facts and must navigate high emotions while remaining objective themselves. But the whole, "Did you get a chance to think about that raise?" thing is so in-your-face. There's so little subtlety to it, which takes away from what could be, should be atmospheric.

And that opening shot with all the residents made me think of Twin Peaks. But Gracepoint shouldn't be going for that, I don't think.

And . . . I love David Tennant. I really do. But here he seems to be doing his best David Duchovny impression. Plus, he seemed bored. Maybe because he's done it before?

As for the accent . . . I know a lot of people were poking fun at it. Tennant seemed to have a few techniques. There was the throaty thing he would do, at which point he could pass as American. There was the flat sort of speech people were saying sounded like Steve Buscemi. And then, every now and then, particularly when he had to speak rapidly, that hint of burr would sneak out. I thought it was kind of cute.

I don't know. I'm going to watch Gracepoint in any case; the question is really how much I'm going to enjoy it. I am curious about the fact it is ten episodes long rather than eight like Broadchurch. And I've been promised a different ending, so . . . Kind of like the movie version of Clue? But probably a lot less funny.


Television: Selfie, "Pilot"

My Fair Lady is one of my all-time favorite musicals. Maybe it's because it was the first professional production I ever saw (with Richard Chamberlain as Henry Higgins), or maybe it's because I love the 1964 film so much, but for whatever reason . . . Anyway, my strong feelings made me nervous about watching Selfie, which is a re-telling of MFL for the modern . . .

Not adult, exactly, I don't think. I feel like Selfie is for younger viewers than me, even if the characters are ostensibly adults. John Cho as Henry is actually a solid bit of casting, and he does seem like a grown-up. And yet he's represented as something of a fuddy-duddy. As if to be smart and articulate, and to have [high] standards in this day and age, is a bad thing.

The flip side of this is Karen Gillan (yes, from Doctor Who) as Eliza. If "kids these days" are self-centered and narcissistic, Eliza here takes that to the extreme. But again, instead of this being an entirely bad thing, the writers see fit to try and make Eliza sympathetic by having her narrate her origins as an outcast back in grade school.

When Eliza becomes the butt of the joke again, this time in a viral video posted by coworkers and airplane passengers, she hits up marketing guru Henry to help her "re-brand" herself.

If the show was supposed to be funny, well, it wasn't. I didn't laugh once. And yet, it wasn't 100% awful either. The oil-and-water element of Henry and Eliza not mixing is definitely there; my question is whether they'll ever have any chemistry together, since they absolutely don't now. If there's supposed to be an element of Henry helping Eliza improve, and yet she also somehow makes him more "human" (and note Henry doesn't get some backstory to help us understand his behavior and world view, so the writers have failed to humanize him at all so far) . . . I can't see these two actors combining in a way that suits. But maybe the show will surprise me. I do love to be surprised.

So I'm not sold on Selfie, but I'm not completely discounting it either. Yet.