Movies: Mr. Holmes

Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker
Directed By: Bill Condon
Written By: Jeffrey Hatcher (Screenplay), from the novel by Mitch Cullin, based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Miramax/BBC Films, 2015
PG; 104 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


I had to see this one, didn't I? Of course I did, though I hadn't realized it was based on a book. Unfortunately, this isn't one of those circumstances in which I now feel the need to go read the book, possibly because the film did a very nice job of its own so that I don't have any urge to revisit it all in prose.

On the flip side, this movie did instill in me the fear that Sir Ian McKellen might die soon. Please, please tell me it's only that he's such a very good actor.

The story is simple enough and neatly nested. An aging Holmes (McKellen) has retired to Sussex and keeps bees. He is tended by a housekeeper named Mrs. Munro (Linney) and her son Roger (Parker). At the start of the film, Holmes has just returned from a trip to Japan in which he has sought out the prickly ash plant in the hopes it will help him with his failing memory. Holmes is trying particularly to remember his final case, the one that drove him to retirement. He knows he must have failed, and badly, to have been so driven off his work. The memories come in flashes, thus the nesting of past into present.

It's a subtle movie and beautifully done. Mrs. Munro finds Holmes difficult to live with and care for, to the point she is ready to move on to a new situation, but her son Roger has a growing attachment to Holmes. And Holmes, too, becomes attached to Roger in his way; we see Holmes is his best self when with Roger. It is so understated, yet also unmistakable, this bond between the two.

I will say the score to the film was at times a bit much. There was nothing bad about the music except that at times I found it distracting.

And I would be remiss if I did not say YAY! to seeing Nicholas Rowe as Holmes again, if only briefly and in the form of a bad matinee. He was my first crush, after all.

Anyone hoping for Watson will be disappointed; we learn he has passed away, and even in flashback we never see his face.

All in all, it was a sweet, lovely, and solid film, nicely constructed and beautifully made.


Adverse Possession

So in 2011, as I was getting back into writing, one of my friends suggested I try a short stage play. The result was "Warm Bodies," which premiered in February 2012 as part Valley Rep's (now Exit 7) play contest. "Warm Bodies" then went on to be featured in Source Festival's theatre program that June. And was then picked up by a production company in San Diego and made into a short film they retitled Adverse Possession (because Warm Bodies was already taken).

I say "a production company" because it seems their name is in flux at the moment.

But in any case, they've given me permission to share the final result, which you can see here.

The film has been submitted to a couple festivals; we're waiting to hear if it gets in anywhere. I wasn't involved at all in the production itself (most screenwriters aren't, I don't believe). I did get periodic updates, which I very much appreciated.

The big difference, I think, between having your play staged and having it made into a movie—and if you read this site with any regularity, you may have heard me say this before—is that plays are fluid. They change from production to production, and sometimes from one night to the next in the same production. But once it's committed to film, it's static. I don't have a preference, mind. I just find it an interesting distinction.

In any case, I'm very grateful for the beginner's luck that landed me all these marvelous opportunities. I hope to continue to be lucky! I do have another script optioned, and two more in the oven. Plus that book of mine coming out in January. So I guess I can't complain. (Well, okay, but I've yet to get another play staged. Humph. Still, I prefer to count my blessings.)


New York Lenormand & Burning Serpent Oracle

I recently participated in an Indiegogo campaign for new Lenormand cards by Robert M. Place. I've long enjoyed his Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery and was excited to have more decks by him. In this case, I got the Lenormand deck and the Burning Serpent Oracle.

I own a number of Lenormand decks now but none as traditional looking at this one. But even this one is a bit different because I chose the deck (there were options) that included Tarot correspondences instead of the playing cards normally featured on a Lenormand deck.

So instead of the Ace of Clubs, you see the Ring card above has the Ace of Wands on it. I find this adds an interesting new layer to my readings. (Your mileage may vary, depending on how well you know Tarot; if you have to run and look up each Tarot card, having them present on your Lenormand deck may only make things more complicated.)

I like the size of these cards, too; they're a little larger than my others. But beware the sharp corners!

And be sure you either already know Lenormand or have a handy reference book because this deck did not come with a manual.

The Burning Serpent Oracle, however, came with both a small reference pamphlet and a larger book that gives more details about each card. This oracle is more or less a Lenormand deck with some tweaks. For example, instead of a Child card, this deck has The Boy and The Girl. It also comes with two Man cards and two Woman cards so that one can either read for same-sex partners or can assign various identities to cards—one might be a partner and the other might stand for "any other man," or one might be someone you know and the other stand for someone you don't know, or something like that.

Sample 3-card reading from Burning Serpent

The Burning Serpent also has two additional cards: Osiris and Isis. According to the companion book, these represent the higher self of man and woman. Additional meanings for Osiris include possible danger from an unexpected source, while Isis may stand for achieving something thought impossible. When you think about their myths, this makes sense.

It's a lovely deck and I'm very much enjoying it. Both the New York Lenormand and the Burning Serpent Oracle are wonderful additions to my growing collection.


Movies: Pixels

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad
Directed By: Chris Columbus
Written By: Tim Herlihy, Timothy Dowling (Screenplay); Tim Herlihy (Story); Patrick Jean (Short)
Happy Madison/1492, 2015
PG-13; 105 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


My 5-year-old son has wanted to see this movie since the first time he saw a preview for it. He's talked of almost nothing else. And he loved it.

Which tells you something about the film. It's an uncomplicated bit of nostalgic fluff that lacks depth. Sure, my kids don't have any context for 80's video games, but it hardly mattered. If anything, Pixels made them curious about old arcade games. Now they want to visit a local arcade museum and try playing the cabinet games for themselves. A far cry from iPad and Wii stuff.

There's plenty in the movie that raises questions if anyone happens to think too hard about it. For one, under what circumstances would the people of the United States elect someone like Kevin James president? And why didn't they evacuate New York City when they knew what was coming? Why does Lady Lisa look human when the rest of the video game invaders appear "pixelated" (they're really voxels, but I guess that just didn't have the same ring to it)? And why do all the characters appear to have graduated from—as Cinema Sins would call it—the Prometheus school of running away from things?

Yeah, these issues were obvious enough to distract me from the movie. Or, really, the movie didn't have enough meat on its bones to keep me occupied, so my mind went in desperate search of sustenance. But it was stretched from an earlier short film, so one can't expect a feast when the ingredients were so few.

Pixels begins in 1982, where a younger version of Sandler's character Sam Brenner comes in second to a younger version of Dinklage's Eddie at a video gaming contest. Then flash ahead to modern day and Sam is one of those nerd technicians who install TVs and computers for places like Best Buy. Meanwhile, by some bizarre twist of fate, his best friend Cooper (James) is president. Of, like, the United States. And terrible at it.

Then the aliens arrive. Having intercepted a space capsule sent out in 1982 and misinterpreted the contents, they apparently believe humans wage war via video gaming contests (the capsule included video footage of Sam and Eddie battling it out at the contest). Assuming humans are therefore bloodthirsty, the aliens—who are never given a name—decide to go on the offense and challenge the world by creating giant versions of the 80's games. If they win three, they will destroy Earth. If we win three, they will leave us in peace.

It is, of course, utterly ridiculous. Clearly these aliens have technology that is far beyond ours and could annihilate us without ever bothering with the video game thing. But we get almost no real look at this alien culture except through a "trophy" Q-Bert that is sent when Sam and friends win Pac-Man. We're told [spoiler alert, in case you can't already see the obvious end to this film] that President Cooper brokers a peace treaty with the aliens, but . . . ::shrug:: We never see them in their actual form or anything.

Every beat in Pixels is obvious, every plot point telegraphed. There are no surprises here. The dialogue is campy, sometimes even stilted. And yet. There is something earnest in Sandler's performance that is almost endearing. And any movie that so pleases my kids I just can't think of as all that bad. So I give it a solid 2.5 out of 5.

DFW Writers Convention

I just spent the weekend in Dallas at DFW Con. So many good things. You can read about it over on PepperWords. I'll be adding more to that site, too.


Lost in Translation

Someone asked me the other day what I think of the differences between originals and remakes when the originals are from one country and the remakes are from another. So I've been trying to sort of think that over, but really, even with my degree, my exposure to these things is limited. Like, I watched neither the original nor the Americanized version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I always sort of meant to see the Daniel Craig one, but . . . ::shrug::

I suppose I'm more familiar with the television remakes. Like Broadchurch versus Gracepoint. Which were almost exactly the same story but re-imagined for a different sensibility. The problem for me being that I grew up watching British television so I preferred Broadchurch, and anyway, I don't think it translated all that well. I have to wonder whether Chris Chibnall's idea of what is "American" and the actuality were maybe a little too far apart. Or, for all I know FOX insisted on stuff that didn't work. Either way, Gracepoint fell flat and was cancelled while Broadchurch continues on.

Some might say Elementary is an American answer to Sherlock, but they're not at all the same show aside from being set in modern day and sharing source material. I don't think you can compare them 1:1.

America imports a lot of game shows and reality shows, but I don't watch those things. I did enjoy American Idol once upon a time and long ago, but I lost interest somewhere. We had that Weakest Link thing, too, for a bit. But the difference in contestants is pretty telling, don't you think? Americans are so quick to blame anything or anyone but themselves for their mistakes and failures. The worst thing in the world to them is to be sorry or admit a fault. It's just a completely different mindset.

Ah, well, but I'm in no mood for psychology at the moment, much as I love it.

I think about things like the manga I used to read, too . . . I used to have to special order it from a Japanese bookstore, and then when I moved to Boston I was able to go to the bookstore myself. And I would painstakingly translate the manga, or else sometimes I was able to find translations online. But now a lot of it is available in English. Just the other day I found Tokyo Babylon in an English omnibus format. It's weird, though, because I feel like it loses something in translation. There's something (for me anyway) about seeing the kanji there . . . The way they do the lettering for English doesn't look right somehow. I'm not sure I can explain it; the Anglicized manga use standard comic-book style lettering, I guess, but I feel like it should be different, though I'm not sure how.

Translating is more than taking words from one thing and recasting them into another language. There's a whole other level of vocabulary involved, a cultural one. So it takes more than just a translator—that is, someone who speaks two languages; it requires someone who understands the differences between two cultures. A filmmaker who wants to take content from one place and present it to another needs to be able to negotiate the cultural distance between the two.

If you were to, say, translate this blog post through Google or whatever . . . How much of it would make sense in another language? I don't write very formally, and my guess is English is especially difficult to translate because it's so wonky. You could use something like Smartling or whatever, I guess. I dunno. Maybe I'm alienating a big part of my readership because not everyone speaks English. Then again, we English speakers are told most everyone does speak English these days. Is that true? And is "speaking English" the same as really comprehending it?

Geez, I've gone off again.

Sometimes I wonder what will happen if/when my books are translated into other languages. I'll have no way of telling whether my story remains intact! (Well, with the French I will, but everything else is up for grabs.) I guess I should just be excited that the books get translated at all because: wider audience!

Is that how the film and TV people feel when they hear their stuff is getting shipped abroad? Or do they worry over it like anxious parents, afraid others will think their babies are ugly?

I'm not sure I've answered the question the person asked me. What do I think of transplanted shows and movies (and books)? Like anything, when it's done well, it's great. When it's done poorly, it sucks. When you move a plant, you have to be sure of the right soil. You have to prepare the ground, so to speak. I think it's the same for films and TV shows and books. You need the right gardeners to make sure the work blooms.


Television: Shows I'm Currently Watching

Television seasons are so weird now. Shows start and stop at various times so that schedules are staggered. And then there's all the stuff you can stream whenever you want besides. (I recently finished Parks and Rec that way.)

I find it handy to periodically stop and make a list of shows I'm currently involved with. That is: only shows I'm actively watching at this point in time. Like, I watch Elementary and will continue to watch it, but it's not in season. So it won't be on this list.

Shows that are currently airing that I watch include:

  1. Proof
  2. Mr. Robot
  3. Wayward Pines
  4. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
  5. True Detective
  6. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Clearly I need more comedy in my life. If anyone has suggestions on that front, I'd love to hear them. I do think comedy is harder to do well than drama. Plus, I find most sitcoms get stale quickly. Though I generally enjoy workplace shows like The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec. And then there was also Community. Basically shows in which the ties are not familial.

What I don't watch is reality television. Ugh. No.

Anyone else digging into these summer shows? Or are you just waiting for your fall favorites to come back?

Stitch Fix

I like clothes, and sometimes I even enjoy shopping for them. But while I know what I like, I don't always take a broader view. And sometimes I don't know where to look for things, if that makes any sense. In short: clothes rut. Where everything kind of looks the same because I keep going to the same places again and again.

But then I found Stitch Fix and decided to give it a try. It involved answering a very thorough questionnaire about my lifestyle and habits and clothing preferences. But when my first box of clothes came, having been selected by a stylist assigned to me, I was quite impressed. And that's saying something since I'm very picky about my clothes.

Truth is, Ashley (the stylist) found some real winners, plus she selected stuff I would never have tried on in the store but in the comfort of my home found to be very flattering. In other words, she broke me out of my rut. And I've had multiple compliments on the Stitch Fix outfits.

The other nice thing is that you schedule a shipment for whenever you want one and can put in notes about what you might specifically be looking for. I asked for my next batch to come in early September, in advance of a trip to London later in the month. You keep what you like and send the rest back in a pre-labeled Tyvek baggie. Of course, I kept everything from my first shipment, so . . . And that's the other nice thing: I was given a discount for keeping it all. So even though there was one item I wasn't sure about, it made more sense to keep it than send it back, especially since I loved everything else. (And I've since grown to love that item as well.)

It's not for everyone, but I'd recommend Stitch Fix for friends who, like me, need to diversify their wardrobes. Also people who are just tired of the same old stores. Or maybe even for people who'd rather not go out and shop. I can't promise everyone will hit the jackpot like I did, but it's worth dropping in your quarter and giving it a spin.

Why Sherlock Holmes?

I answer that question in a guest post on Christine Rains' blog. Go check it out!


Books: 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do by Amy Morin

This is one of those common sense books. You know, where you read it and it doesn't tell you anything you wouldn't already know if you just thought about it for a moment. But Morin has thought about it for you, and organized the information into neat checklists and examples, so that's nice.

Here's the list:

  1. They don't waste time feeling sorry for themselves
  2. They don't give away their power
  3. They don't shy away from change
  4. They don't focus on things they can't control
  5. They don't worry about pleasing everyone
  6. They don't fear taking calculated risks
  7. They don't dwell on the past
  8. They don't make the same mistakes over and over
  9. They don't resent other people's success
  10. They don't give up after the first failure
  11. They don't fear alone time
  12. They don't feel the world owes them anything
  13. They don't expect immediate results

For details on these, read the book. But I will call out one thing that struck me. There's a chapter on not giving away your power, but then in the chapter on not focusing on what you can't control there is a header that reads: "Giving Up Control Will Make You Stronger." And yes, I see the difference, but for a second it does feel a bit like conflicting information.

In truth, mentally strong people have enough faith in themselves and their personal power to give up trying to control things they can't. They know how to let go. (Really strong ones even know how to delegate the things they could do themselves because they have learned to pick their battles and prioritize.)

I'll admit, it makes one cringe a bit to read the checklists and realize something like "expecting immediate results" is an issue for you. (Yeah, okay, I'm impatient!) But for people ready and willing to look at themselves in the mirror and admit their flaws, this is a handy book. And it's kind of nice when you can look at a chapter and know that's definitely one area where you're all good. Too, by figuring out how many boxes you tick on any of the lists, you can get a sense of how much or how little a problem affects you. I "scored" relatively low on a number of these, but higher on two or three, so I know to focus my efforts there.

As I said, it's all pretty common sense, but what Morin offers is suggestions of how to rectify these problems should they be ones you struggle with. Along with identifying your problem areas, each chapter offers bullet points on ways to change yourself for the better. Think of it as a book that allows you to self-diagnose and, to an extent, also provides a cure.

**Of course a book should never stand in for professional help if and when needed.**

The reason I picked up this book was because I needed to figure out why I kept losing my motivation and feeling defeated. 13 Things helped me zero in on a couple areas and gave me new ways to think about things so that I don't feel like a failure. Well . . . Okay, change doesn't happen overnight. It takes work to change the way you think and feel. Like building a muscle. Right now I have to actively remind myself to turn my thoughts around, but eventually it will become habit (I hope). And I have this book to thank for giving me those tools.



In advance of "The Monumental Horror" being released on Tuesday, "The Mystery of the Last Line" is free on Amazon today through Wednesday the 15th. Be sure to pre-order "The Monumental Horror" while you're at it!


Books: Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

I wouldn't even have known about this book except I turned the TV on one night, and it's perpetually set to PBS, and Ed Catmull was doing an interview/author talk thing. I was immediately pulled in, so then I knew I wanted to read the book. Which is, I suppose, the whole point of the author book talk thing. Call me a sucker.

Still, I enjoyed reading Catmull's insights. For those who don't recognize the name, Ed Catmull is President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. It says so right on the cover of the book. But Catmull has been in this for the long haul, way back before Pixar was Pixar. And Creativity, Inc. charts the workflow of Pixar and later Disney.

This is key: Creativity, Inc. is not a history of Pixar. It's not full of juicy tidbits. Well, it is, but not as many as some readers might be looking for. This book is about building, managing, maintaining a creative workforce. Unearthing the hidden problems and solving them. Engaging the employees so they feel they have a stake in what's being done and so are willing to go all in. Setting up processes that don't box people in and therefore block creative thought.

As a writer, a lot of what Catmull discusses hit home for me. I don't work in an office, but my job is a creative one. And I have my own version of what Catmull calls the Braintrust: my writing critique group. Whenever one of us is stuck on a project, it's time to meet and hash and toss ideas. And also as Catmull points out, we have to remember to focus on the problem and the project, not make it personal. Which, because we have genuine affection for one another, we do.

Genuine affection. Can you imagine working in a place where you have genuine affection among employees? Where people love their work? From the outside, Pixar seems like a fantasy. (I know people who work there, and I'll admit to being a wee bit jealous!) But Catmull is quick to point out it isn't perfect. They have their problems and weaknesses. He talks about the need for people to be candid, which can be difficult. Constructive criticism is required in creative work, but sometimes people don't want to hear the bad news, and just as often people are leery of being the messenger.

Really, Creativity, Inc. is a new kind of management book. In the back is a section called "Starting Points" which more or less boils the rest of the book down into choice thoughts. It's kind of a shame because having that section may encourage people to only read those points and never mind the rest—a Cliffs Notes if you will. But I believe there is value in the text itself, in the anecdotes and examples Catmull gives of problems Pixar (and later Disney) has faced and how they solved them. Mistakes they made, too, which is important to note as well: Creativity is messy and never perfect. Mistakes will be made. Instead of playing the blame game, best to focus on fixing what you can and doing better next time. Mistakes are a learning process, a growing pain.

I've often said the three hardest words to say are not "I love you" but "I don't know." For some reason we see that as weakness or failure. So I really like that Catmull points out how important it is to know what you don't know. Basically, to know when to say, "I don't know" and then follow it with, "but I'll find out" or "I'll learn." The minute a person thinks he (or she) knows everything, he becomes closed. And closed people are boring, and often difficult to work with. They get stubborn and set in their ways. Catmull discusses the "beginner's mind" idea of approaching things with an open mind and a willingness to learn, or re-think what has already been learned.

Likewise, I would hope managers or would-be corporate leaders would read this book with an open mind and a willingness to think about ways to implement some of the suggestions.


Yankee Candle Update

A while back, I bought some new Yankee candles. And while many of them smelled nice in the jar, several have been disappointments when burned in my home office.

For example, Starry Sky is a really nice scent. But even the large jar candle isn't strong enough to fill my relatively small office (even with the door closed). Quiet Sky has a similar issue but does put forth a slightly stronger scent. Hearth smells pretty nice, too, but after prolonged burning simply smells smokey. Which, yeah, is kind of the point, but in short this one isn't so nice when left to accumulate. Lesson: the grey candles have issues.

I was so excited when they had Hydrangea again. Sure, it's not called "Blue Hydrangea" any more, but what difference could that make? A lot, it turns out. Hydrangea smells candy-like rather than floral.

Scents I can recommend include Blue Island Sky and Exotic Bloom.

I've also begun burning tea lights and find I enjoy them quite a lot. While Dune Grass is a bit light on fragrance, most of these provide prolonged scent and burn and all look really pretty in the beveled glass lantern I bought for them. Sandalwood, Frankincense, Spring Days, Honeysuckle . . . I even found some Blue Hydrangea! (Still doesn't smell quite like I remember, though.) One of my favorites is Evening Air.

Black Coconut remains a regular choice for my kitchen, too, as it does a great job of covering cooking smells.

Of course, I can't guarantee you'll be able to find all these scents anyway; the Yankee store nearest me—the only one in miles—is an outlet store that gets all the discontinued scents. So check your local store, outlet, or the online site for availability.


Movies: Jurassic World

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson
Directed By: Colin Trevorrow
Written By: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolloy (screenplay); Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (story); predicated on work by Michael Crichton
Universal, 2015
PG-13; 124 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


Yeah, okay, it's kinda dumb, but not any more dumb than Jurassic Park was 20-something years ago, and it was entertaining and delivered on its promise of being entertaining, so I give it five stars.

In the interest of full disclosure, though, let me state that I am biased. I loved Jurassic Park when it came out; it holds the record for the movie I've seen most times in the cinema during original release. (This was back when movies stayed in the cinema for a lot longer than they do now.) I was that supremely uncool kid who had Jurassic Park t-shirts and hats and buttons and posters and toys. I had a Jurassic Park pillow and blanket and a stuffed velociraptor named Alan. (My youngest son now claims Alan as his own.) I even wrote a really terrible poem to amuse my best friend. In short, you know, I'm sort of biased.

Thing is, I didn't enjoy The Lost World at all and never even bothered with that third movie, so my love for Jurassic Park does have its limits.

But it's pretty clear the goal of Jurassic World is to bring back all the things people loved about Jurassic Park. The story is quite similar, and the film hangs plenty of lampshades, calling out all the things we remember from the first film. So we sit and we watch, and we're plenty aware it's all a bit ridiculous, but we're having fun anyway.

Jurassic World rolls the characters of Ian Malcolm, Alan Grant, and Muldoon into one Owen (Pratt), an ex-military guy hired to work with the velociraptors. He's trained them to respond to his commands and acts as their Alpha. The raptors are named Blue (the Beta), Charlie, Delta, and Echo. (Why Blue instead of Bravo? ::shrug::) Owen understands the dinosaurs and thinks of them not as "assets" (as the park workers call them) but as living creatures that are wild and unpredictable no matter how much training you may give them. And Owen also thinks about the impact of things—animals raised in captivity, what happens if or when they get loose, etc. He warns to no avail.

Meanwhile, Claire (Howard) manages the park. I guess. She's mostly on about the marketing and the bottom line and the need to create bigger and better dinosaurs to keep people coming back. I'm no fan of Bryce Dallas Howard, and we're not meant to like Claire, either, but whatever.

Claire's two nephews have come to visit (here we have the family-members-in-danger, just as Hammond's grandchildren were). And the kids in this movie are just as annoying as they were in Jurassic Park. I don't think the writers know any actual kids; I think they're just going with what they see on Disney or Nick Jr. Zach is a surly teen interested in girls and who makes bad decisions in general, and his little brother Gray is our resident dino expert. Of course Claire is too busy to actually spend any time with these kids, which means they're in the wrong place at the wrong time when the big baddie gets out.

That big bad is Indominus Rex, a genetically created new attraction. Part T-rex, part cuttlefish, part frog, and . . . well, other stuff, this is Claire's big plan to bring more people into the park. But once again the lesson is: Don't mess with nature. It will bite your f***ing head off.

You can probably map where the movie goes from there without me telling you anything more. It's pretty standard, but no less entertaining for all that. Pratt and Howard have zero chemistry, but Neill and Dern hadn't any either, and that's not why any of us are here anyway.

There were numerous problems with the park itself (aside from the dinosaurs getting out, that is). Like, why don't the rides automatically return to base when there's an emergency? Those kids shouldn't have been able to just keep going. And the ride operators should have had a bullhorn—better yet, there should have been a recorded announcement, rather than his having to shout to be heard. Little things like checking the riders' belts before sending them out? Actually, a ride like the gyro should not have gone out without a guide to keep the park patrons from doing anything they shouldn't. I don't know if the people who wrote the movie don't understand theme parks, or if this was meant to underscore how poorly managed the park was. But it seems to me if you have someone like Claire running things . . . Unless the point is she's all about numbers and marketing but can't legitimately run things in a safe way. In which case, why is she the love interest instead of someone who deserves to get eaten?

Despite the flaws (and maybe because they're easy to make fun of), I still enjoyed the movie. Part of the joy, for me, was being able to share this movie with my kids. My oldest son is nine, and to him Jurassic Park is "old." He said as much to me a few weeks ago. But then I was able to take him and his siblings to this one, and have them be wowed. It's wonderful to watch them be as enthusiastic about Jurassic World as I was about Jurassic Park back in the day. And now suddenly I'm cool because I have a bunch of old Jurassic Park stuff still lying around. And because I "raptor." Sure, I'm a nerd. But sometimes being a nerd pays off.


Concerts: Plain White T's and Rob Thomas at Mountain Winery (Saratoga, CA)

This time I wore the stripes.

Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California is one of my favorite venues. You drive up a twisty path and arrive high above everything around you, with breathtaking views. But more than that, it's like being on another planet. And though it's a large enough arena, it feels very intimate.

The Plain White T's opened, none of them wearing plain white t's at all, which I find to be false advertising. Would it be too precious if they did wear them? I don't know. I'm not sure about the politics around naming a band after an item of clothing.

Not a white tee among them.
I'll go ahead and admit I don't own any of their albums, though I've enjoyed some of their songs on the radio. Some but not all. In fact, that "Hey There Delilah" song, which is probably still their best known, is one that really irritates me. But I knew there would be no escaping it, and indeed they closed the set with it. I, for one, prefer the more upbeat. "1, 2, 3, 4" is a good one, and "Should've Gone to Bed." In truth, they put on a good show and were working hard for it, too; it's tough to be the opening band. You're almost never the one people came to see, and a lot of seats are usually still empty when you start. Tom Higgenson called people down to dance in front of the stage, hoping to get some energy going, and that helped.

Rob, meantime, put on as good a show as he ever does. This tour has been fraught with acute allergy attacks and—affecting last night's show—band member emergencies that prevented them from playing anything but the single "Trust You" from the forthcoming new album (which Rob says is due to drop in August). That was disappointing, as I was looking forward to the new stuff, but Rob still put on a robust show. He's a fine entertainer, and a large part of that is he genuinely enjoys it but also doesn't take it for granted. It's clear he's grateful for his fans and the opportunity to do what he loves, and it's equally clear there's love and respect between him and his band. That makes him a pleasure to watch and be with for a couple hours.

(I gotta give up for Rob's drummer, too, in particular; Abe kills it.)

Not a lot of change-ups in this show. What I mean is, most things came out sounding more or less like the album versions, only live, and though Rob touched on some Elvis (doing a bit of "That's All Right" coming out of "Getting Late," like usual) and some Steve Miller (skimming "The Joker") he didn't do any one full cover song. He played "Rest Stop" and "3 A.M." and from there stuck to his solo album catalogue. Well, and he played "Smooth" of course. No piano for Rob this show, either.

Still and all, it was a solid outing, and everyone left satisfied, filled up on a great experience.

I've seen Rob perform (solo and with Matchbox Twenty) more times than any other artist, and I've seldom if ever been disappointed. But this particular show—and I think the venue plays a big part here—had particularly good energy. Thanks, as ever, Rob, for another wonderful night.