Movies: Don't Think Twice

Don't Think Twice is an indie film about a group of improv actors called The Commune. Their venue is being sold out to Urban Outfitters, and they're struggling collectively over a number of issues. When one of them gets picked up by the equivalent of Saturday Night Live (here called Weekend Live, but not fooling anybody), things further unravel.

While this is an ensemble, some characters definitely get more attention than others. In particular, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) are the resident couple in the group, and they are both invited to audition for Weekend Live. Jack gets the job, and Sam . . . Well, she doesn't go to the audition. Because she's not into doing things alone. To her, the best thing in life is improv with The Commune. The underlying theme here is: What is success? What if what you want is not what everyone thinks you should want? It's similar to what I explore in 20 August, though at the quarter-life crisis rather than mid-life.

Meanwhile, Mike Birbiglia (who also wrote and directed this) is featured as Miles, a guy who feels like he's constantly on the verge of making it only to see everyone else move up without him. He's finally told, "You've never been inches away. You don't have it." Harsh. But this allows him to accept what he does have and turn his attention toward other fulfilling things. Would you rather be told flat out that you're never going to get any further in your aspirations? Would you at least see this as a way of no longer wasting your time and energy? I do feel like hollow encouragement can be far worse than honesty. I've seen it in writing workshops; no one wants to crush anyone else, and that's fair—I wouldn't want to either. But what is the way to tell someone they're barking up the wrong tree?

As someone who has lived in a house full of actors and then also been a writer, I found Don't Think Twice thought-provoking on the levels mentioned above. It's overall a movie about finding your place and maximizing it, rather than trying to fit in somewhere you don't belong. That's important for anyone to consider, even if they aren't "creatives." The ultimate goal in life is learning what to hold on to and what to let go.


Crabtree & Evelyn

When I was six or seven years old—definitely not more than eight—one of my mother's friends (she had a lot of strange friends) came back from a trip and brought me a little square box inside which was a shell-shaped soap. It was the kind of thing that came from a hotel, or at least that is what I assumed at the time. But I found it endearing and enchanting, and it smelled amazing. Almost too good to use, but certainly too good not to use.

Years later, as a preteen, my friend Emily and I were at the mall and we went into a store called Crabtree & Evelyn. It was filled with soaps and lotions, and somehow to us it felt like the height of elegance and luxury. And then I saw it: the shell-shaped soap of my childhood! Only much larger. I learned the name of the soap was "jojoba," and I absolutely had to have it. I used my bit of allowance to buy a bar, and after that I only ever wanted soap and lotion from Crabtree & Evelyn.

Until . . . By the time I was in high school Bath and Body Works had become the gold standard for soaps and lotions. And B&BW were in almost every mall, unlike C&E, which was harder to find. I abandoned C&E and forgot about it, later only occasionally buying their products if I happened to stumble across a store.

I realize that now I can buy these things online. But for soaps and lotions, I like to be on site, smelling the product. While jojoba remains one of my favorites, I also am easily bored and don't like to have the same thing all the time. And I like to have options.

Before long, I became tired of B&BW too. Disenchanted with it. In our local mall, we have LUSH, and so I frequently buy my soaps there. And I discovered Molton Brown and often use their lotions and body washes.

BUT. The other day—my birthday, in fact—I came across a Crabtree & Evelyn. Hadn't seen or been in one for years. So I had to go. And they had so many great soaps! Some I remembered from before, some were new to me, but I had such a wonderful time picking them out. And when I came home and used one, oh! I'd forgotten that, besides the fragrance, C&E soaps are so soft and moisturizing. Heavenly.

All this is to say, I'm so glad I rediscovered C&E. I'm particularly enjoying my Summer Hill soap at the moment, but can also recommend Nantucket Briar, La Source, and of course Jojoba. I used to use their Lily of the Valley a lot, too. (I'm really curious about Somerset Meadow, but they had no tester at the store and I only found it as part of a set, at least at that store.) As someone who dislikes soaps and lotions that smell like food, I'm happy C&E has an abundance of floral scents. And for the gentlemen, Moroccan Myrrh and Sandalwood are fine options as well. (Though I use them myself, too, because I love those scents!)

Do you have favorite soaps and lotions? Favorite scents? Let me hear about them!


Television: Elementary, "It Serves You Right to Suffer"

This one is all about Shinwell. But at least it isn't about Watson trying to convince Shinwell of anything.

A gang member is murdered and Shinwell is a suspect. His prints are on the gun—or will be once the prints are run. But as it turns out Shinwell is actually an FBI informant? Except the agent he reports to isn't authorized to run informants so he refuses to help Shinwell because that would get himself in trouble?

Um, yeah, okay. Whatever.

Long story short (spoiler follows), the FBI agent and a couple cronies were the one to kill the gang member who, as it turned out, was also an informant and was putting said FBI agent at risk. But when Watson confronts the agent, he chooses to blow his own brains out rather than admit to everything. Which leaves Shinwell still in the lurch as the gun goes to be processed.

But Holmes does Shinwell a solid by pulling a few strings that allow him to get access to the gun and wipe the prints from it. So, you know, nice tidy finish there.

Can we be done with Shinwell now? And done with Watson trying to help stray criminals or whatever it is she's doing? Because it's totally not interesting and detracts from the show. She's interesting when trying to help Holmes. But Holmes helping people (Alfredo) and Watson helping other people (Shinwell) = not interesting, just annoying. The focus really needs to be on Holmes and Watson, their bond and them working together. That's the core strength here.


Movies: Florence Foster Jenkins

Um . . . This was cute, I guess?

For those of you who only know about the big movies, this one is an Oscar bait flick starring Meryl Streep as the titular Florence Foster Jenkins, best known for being a terrible singer in the 1940s. In particular, the film focuses on Jenkins' desire to give concerts and sing at Carnegie Hall. After being moved to tears by seeing a young opera singer there, Jenkins—who evidently had more money than talent—hires a voice coach and pianist and begins to practice in earnest. And she is earnest. And easily taken advantage of by said voice coach.

It falls to Jenkins' life partner St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) to do things like make sure the concert audience will only be kind and hide any bad reviews from the fragile Jenkins. It turns out that Jenkins is ill with syphilis, which she contracted from her first husband. So not only her ego is fragile, but her body too. She does not have a physical relationship with Bayfield, but they are devoted to one another. Except that he also has a girlfriend on the side. Facebook status: It's Complicated.

This film carefully treads a line between comedy and drama, and while it does so nicely, the end result is flat. I found it less than engaging. It wasn't funny enough, but also failed to pull my heartstrings so to speak. Grant does a marvelous job here, and Simon Helberg as the pianist is likewise really good. But on the whole, the movie did nothing for me.

I did wonder at some of the biographical changes that were made. For instance, Jenkins suffered her heart attack five days after the Carnegie Hall concert, not the day after, as suggested by the film. She died a month later. Also, though the movie shows Kathleen leaving St. Clair, in reality they married after Jenkins died. The end notes of the film made no mention of that. I suppose it's all in the service of story, but if you're going to do a biopic of sorts . . . ::shrug::

tl;dr: Meh. Needed to be funnier.


Movies: Rogue One

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk
Directed By: Gareth Edwards
Written By: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (screenplay), John Knoll and Gary Whitta (story), based on characters created by George Lucas
LucasFilm, 2016
PG-13; 134 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


It's not Force Awakens, and Disney (now owner of LucasFilm) insists it's not meant to be, but...

This is a story taken from a single line in Star Wars, you know, the one about how many people died to get the plans of the Death Star? So, taking that into consideration, it's no wonder a movie based on a line of dialogue is a bit flimsy.

(skip to next header if you'd rather not know)

Galen Erso helped design the Death Star but then "retired" or something as a farmer because he no longer wanted to be part of the Empire's big plans. So when he's recalled to complete the job, he sends his daughter Jyn into hiding and she ends up raised by Saw Gerrera, who in turn becomes an extremist against the Empire. Jyn wants nothing to do with that life, but of course gets dragged into the Rebel's efforts because of her ties to the Death Star.

There are some problems. Like the fact that Galen sends a message to Saw but the message is mostly aimed at Jyn even though Galen acknowledges in the message that he doesn't know if Jyn is alive, nor does he assume she is with Saw. Like, what? Why send Saw a message and then talk to Jyn the whole time?

Then there are things like the semi-reanimation of Peter Cushing so that Governor Tarkin can live again. Yes, I know they also used Guy Henry, but there are still some issues that become increasingly obvious the longer he's on screen. It's like they were so proud of themselves for this technology—and it's very good, no question—that they wanted to parade it a bit. Problem being that the more it's paraded the less wonderful it appears. The skin over the cheeks in particular did not move correctly, and once I'd seen that I couldn't stop seeing it.

The story then devolves into an overlong bad-day-in-IT in which servers and networks and communications break down and need to be put back online or something. Yes, I'm oversimplifying. But the movie really did not need to be as long as it was.


I will say that I really liked a lot of these characters. Donnie Yen did a nice, gentle job with a role that could have leaned toward corny. Alan Tudyk is, as ever, one of the best things about the film. (And hey, I've worked with Forest Whitaker, which puts me two degrees from the Star Wars universe now! Woohoo!) I guess I just wish there had been a bit of a stronger story for all these great characters and actors. It's not a terrible movie, and I didn't go in with any big expectations, yet I still walked away a wee bit underwhelmed.

ETA: Upon second viewing, I did like it a bit more. However, I still find the last part of the movie too long. And I realized part of my problem with the reanimation of Tarkin is the way he turns his head and the way his eyes move . . . There are just a combination of elements that make him a little too animatronic.


Movies: Jason Bourne

Oh my God, you guys. This movie was so f***ing boring. I tuned out pretty early on, glancing up now and then, and still knew exactly what was going on because nothing much happened. Even the action scenes weren't that fun.

Part of the trouble may be that all these movies now look and sound alike, and there's just nothing new under the sun. Here's a car chase, here's a crowd scene, here's someone hanging off the side of a building . . . *yawn*

But part of the trouble also had to do with the very flimsy plot. Bourne suddenly cares about whether and how his father was involved in Treadstone? Whaaaa? That's fine, but none of us care, nor does this movie make us care. We hardly care about Bourne any more, much less his dad.

Like, they didn't try to make Bourne sympathetic at all. We're just supposed to care about him because we saw those other movies or read some books? Nope. We don't. Sorry, but you do actually have to put some character development in your movies, even when they're part of a series.

Then there was some side plot about using a big tech company to mine data for the government. You know, the CIA was going to buy all the data off them, I guess? I mean, it wasn't a very well-developed plot, so . . . Whatever.

Other things that distracted and bothered me: Tommy Lee Jones' lips—were they, like, really chapped or something?—and Alicia Vikander struggling to mask her natural accent.

So yeah, this movie is NOT worth wasting your time. It's SO BORING. Go do something fun instead, like making a big stack of toast or clipping your toenails. Seriously, those would be way more entertaining.


The Wild Unknown Tarot

I'd been eying this deck for a while, but I also felt for the longest time that it was not meant for me. I actually sent it to a friend for whom it did feel right. But then I just kept coming back to it.

It wasn't until I'd more or less given up tarot that I suddenly felt like it might be okay for me to own this deck. So I used my birthday/holiday money and bought it.

And I love it.

It comes nicely boxed, though I'll say that I had a dickens of a time getting the paper sleeve off the box. Yow. But the packaging under the sleeve is just lovely, very sturdy, good quality.

The guidebook is likewise very nice. Each card has its own two-page spread with the card on the left and the write-up on the right. The book also contains a few spreads to try if you're a beginner.

I feel very intuitively connected to these cards, which is pretty amazing for me because I struggle with intuition, at least when reading for myself. I can read for others quite easily, so the test of a deck (for me) is whether it makes sense when I'm talking to myself. This one answers me clearly. It resonates with me.

It's a very calm deck. Soothing. Deep, like a still pond. Use it in quiet surroundings and really listen. The Wild Unknown Tarot is meant for serious readings, nothing quick or on the fly. This is a deck that demands commitment. If you give it that, I think it will give back one hundred fold.


Television: Elementary, "Bang Bang Shoot Chute"

Look! I caught up! (But only because there was no episode this past Sunday.) Guess I also watched them out of order? Whatever. It doesn't seem to make a difference.

There comes a time in every long-running show's life when the characters become static. They're established and don't change much if at all. The relationships between them are likewise set. At that point, a show becomes all about story, and the stories get increasingly . . . convoluted, bizarre, whatever. Each episode becomes a series of narrative hoops to be jumped through. I remember this happening with Bones, and it's now happening with Elementary too.

This doesn't mean a show is no longer good, only that it has changed. Whether a viewer sticks with it depends on whether they're okay with that change. I'm a character person. That's always going to interest me more than the story of the week. So yeah, I did eventually drop Bones (the baby in the manger was my breaking point), and if I weren't relatively sure Elementary was on its way out anyway, I'd probably blow it off, too. But that's just me. (As it is, I'll stick out the season.)

In this particular episode, um . . . A guy and his friend go base jumping off a skyscraper and the guy gets shot twice on the way down. Besides that, his chute was sabotaged. So even if he hadn't been shot, he'd have died. Which leaves one really simple question: What kind of f***ing idiot doesn't check his equipment before jumping?

Narrative hoops in this plot include the pregnant wife, the other dead friend who used to jump with the victim (and whose family may or may not blame the victim for the dead friend's death), connections with the military, connections with terrorists . . . You see the way things are going. Increasingly unlikely scenarios presented as twists and turns in the story until we eventually complete the circle by coming back to the pregnant wife, her father, and a secret girlfriend whose brother felt the guy was dishonoring his family.

Oh, and then there was also Shinwell stuff. He gets caught talking to an old friend who is/was a member of his gang from before he went to prison—a parole violation. Watson talks to both Shinwell and the friend and is told by Shinwell to buzz off. It's pretty clear that the friend has made some kind of threat and Shinwell is trying to protect Watson by pushing her away. But the amount we don't care is staggering. We're talking negative numbers here.

The Watson-Shinwell story line is maybe meant to sub for actual character development, but no characters are developing. Everyone is just doing what they do, and it's not even interesting. Characters are really only interesting when they do something unusual, or are put in situations that force them to act differently. Which is what I mean about stagnation in these shows. The main characters just do what they do, and watching them do it can sometimes be interesting, but . . . It's like watching a person put together a puzzle. It's more fun to help, and barring that, it's more fun to watch a brilliant person flounder than do their job well. More awkward, please!


Books: Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

I'm not going to say very much about this. I will start by saying I tried a few times to read House of Silk and could never get into it. So at least I finished this one?

This is a Sherlock Holmes book without Sherlock Holmes in it. So, you know, be aware of that. It approximates a Sherlock Holmes adventure but uses two other characters as the would-be Holmes and Watson.

It's an okay book. I saw pretty early on what the twist was going to be, and ended up skimming the rehash at the end that basically retold the story from a new perspective. (Trying not to give anything away here.) Just pay attention and you'll get it. Start with the cover. I mean, seriously.

I give Moriarty 3.5 stars overall. It's fairly short and a quick read. Really violent, though, so if that bothers you beware. And in the end, despite the twist and supposed cleverness of it all, I found the book just a tad unsatisfying. I can't put my finger on it, but . . . ::shrug:: It's all subjective. A book can be technically well written and fabulous, but if it does not fulfill the reader emotionally . . . Well, I guess it depends on why we read in the first place. For a good story? But also for something unsubstantial that has no name? A feeling we're left with when it's over?

I'm getting philosophical. Long story short, this is a solid book that is slightly better than average and a nice addition to my Holmes library. Probably wouldn't read it again but not sorry I did.


Television: Elementary, "How the Sausage Is Made"

We've come to the point where the show is just kind of silly at times. This episode starts with someone having died, and then it's discovered that the guy had eaten another person . . . Or at least part of one that had been in the sausage or hot dog or whatever he'd eaten. Turns out the victim of this cannibalism is a guy working for a company trying to create meat in a lab. So, you know, it's meat—like, it's grown from animal cells and the properties are all the same—but no animals are harmed in the process, so the animal activists can feel okay about eating it. Not a bad idea, really, and probably worth a fortune. Hence the murder.

It goes on from there. Interesting side discussion about whether such meat would be parve (kosher to eat with dairy since it's not exactly from a dead animal). I was less impressed with Holmes' insistence on using the term "shmeat."

Side plot was about Holmes lying to Watson about going to sobriety meetings. Turns out he's bored with them because all those other junkies are so stupid. Cuz, you know, only brilliant people have any legitimate reason to turn to drugs. Or . . . Maybe you're not so brilliant if you turn to drugs? There's a lost opportunity here for Holmes to come up against another brilliant person who does drugs out of mental boredom (or to slow down his/her mind). As it stands in this episode, Watson calls Holmes out on being a condescending prick, so that was good.

And again, no Shinwell. Also good.

Thing is, I have no problem with Shinwell as a character. But as a plot point he drags so much of the show down. And makes Watson somewhat monotonous. She's fallen into being this droning noise of . . . I don't even know what, but it isn't working for her character or the show as a whole.

Elementary started out strong with good character development, but it has plateaued. The arcs are now clichéd and forced, and we've lost facets of personality in all the polishing. Ah well. All good things.


"Tea Time" on Red River Radio

Mark your calendars! On December 12, I'll be part of the "Tea Time" crowd on Red River Radio! Come listen to me and my fellow authors yak about writing. Well, probably about writing. Maybe also about other things. We're an easily distracted lot.

Link to the show is here. Starts at 1:00 pm PST, 4:00 pm EST. Hope you'll tune in!


Book Reviews: Uncaged Books

So I'm not reviewing a book here, I'm pointing you to a book reviews outlet that just happens to be featuring me this month. You can read the magazine free online here. They didn't get quite all the details about Manifesting Destiny correct (it's Dracona, not dragona), but they still rated it 4.5 stars, so I call that a win. And there's a little interview with me in there, too. Enjoy!


Television: Elementary, "Ill Tidings"

So... People die from snake venom being put in some foie gras at a restaurant, and it turns out these people are big in the Internet security world, but then the whole thing turns out to be about someone trying to steal priceless art from Wall Street? I think?

Also, we see Holmes' girlfriend again only to have him break up with her (because she's not as awesome as the criminal mastermind who once held—and broke—his heart). It's as though the writers suddenly remembered they'd given Holmes a girlfriend and said to each other, "We'd better do something with that..." Then looked for a quick way to end that plot point.

Speaking of girlfriends, Holmes pokes Bell in the ribs over his attraction to an assistant district attorney.

On the plus side, no Shinwell in this episode.

I think maybe I'm past being invested in this show. I'll see it through, but only because I'm pretty sure this will be the last season anyway.


Television: The Crown, "Assassins" and "Gloriana"

"Assassins": Winston Churchill hates a painting some guy did of him so much he burns it and resigns as Prime Minister.

Also, Phillip is actually jealous of some guy named "Porchey." Just because the guy runs Elizabeth's stables and shares her love of horses. (If he didn't, he wouldn't be running the stables, one supposes.) I guess there's this idea that, once upon a time, Liz and Porchey were expected to make a match of things. Prince Porchey does have a ring to it... But anyway, if Phillip is that upset about his wife spending time at the stables, maybe he should stay home instead of haring off to party every night.

"Gloriana": Princess Margaret finally turns 25, but just as she's ready to announce her engagement to Peter Townsend, the Cabinet tells Liz that they won't agree to the match. And somehow they have that power. It's that old church hangup about divorced people getting married. And so Liz frets over a childhood promise to put family before all things versus her need to be The Crown, which includes being Defender of the Faith. A call to Uncle Jerk David helps her decide, and now Margaret will never forgive her. (Cuz, you know, Elizabeth told her she can't marry Townsend.)

Meanwhile, Phillip is encouraged to go to Melbourne and open the Olympics there. Alone. Cuz he needs something to do. Really, this royal family is big on sending their problems away, by which I mean people who are problems. Townsend, Phillip... Wish I could tell my family members to go cut a ribbon halfway across the world when I'm fed up with them.

And that's how the season ends. The last episode was a tad overwrought, leaning just a little into soap opera drama, but in all it's a fine show. Looking forward to more whenever that happens to be.


Here is Where I Rail Against My iPhone 7's Headphones

[Profanity Warning]

Fuck you, Apple.

Fuck you for making the iPhone 7 just different enough that I had to buy a new case.

And fuck your podcast app that adds a bunch of crap to my playlist and then doesn't give me a way to delete them or clear the list so that I have to fast forward through every goddamn one.

Fuck your music app, too, because no matter how many times I try to delete shit from my playlist, it keeps crawling back. I ONLY WANT THE SONGS I WANT, NOT RANDOM SHIT.

But most of all, fuck your new headphones that are hard, uncomfortable plastic and don't fit in my ears.

Did it ever occur to you "brilliant" fucking idiots that there is a reason most GOOD headphones come with a variety of interchangeable buds? Different shapes and sizes? Could it possibly be that we're not all fucking clones and our ears aren't all the same? And maybe, just maybe, we want our headphones to be comfortable?

And don't you dare try to tell me to use your goddamn adapter. The one that worked for about a week before my iPhone quit recognizing it, probably because you want us to use your crap technology instead of, like, headphones that work and are comfortable and all that.

And if you try to tell me I can buy other Apple headphones in other sizes—I don't know, I haven't looked—I'm going to tell you to go fuck yourself. Because I spent enough on the goddamn phone that it should come with everything I need without me having to spend more money. Did I mention I already had to buy a new case, you fuckity fucks?

I've had an iPod since they first came out, I've had an iPhone since they came out, too, but this—this is the final straw. I'm actually about to go have a gander at the Google phone because when you no longer add to my life experiences—when you, in fact, are detracting from my life by making it impossible for me to listen to music or podcasts on my daily walks—that's where I draw the line. I'll put up with a lot, but not this. No crap piece of technology is worth this aggravation. The fact that my phone can make me this angry is not healthy. So I will go find a phone that works the way I want it to work and has headphones I can actually fucking use.

So long, fuckers.


Television: The Crown, "Gelignite," "Scientia Potentia Est," and "Pride & Joy"

Episodes 6, 7, and 8 respectively.

In "Gelignite," we deal with the fact that Princess Margaret's romance with Peter Townsend (not that Peter Townsend) has become public knowledge/scandal depending on your point of view. The fact that Townsend is divorced is an issue because the church doesn't acknowledge remarriage if both parties are still living. The loophole: Once Margaret reaches the age of 25, she can marry without Elizabeth's permission. This also allows Elizabeth to save face because she does not have to make an unpopular decision in order to please her sister. Of course, she then goes on to upset Margaret anyway by sending Townsend to Brussels so things can cool off for a bit while Margaret literally waits to grow up.

We then move on to "Scientia Potentia Est" (it means "knowledge is power"). Elizabeth is feeling the lack of her overall education. Oh, she had a tutor as a kid and all that, but she mostly learned, uh... Decorum? And probably a lot of history and all about how Parliament works or whatever. But because there was so much focus on those things, her general curriculum suffered. So she decides to employ a new tutor to help her with things like science so that she can understand things like atomic bombs. Not a bad idea, really. Meanwhile, Churchill is practically in a sitcom as he tries to hide his illness from Elizabeth as well as that of the Foreign Secretary. Of course they get caught and dressed down for it. That's how sitcoms work. Oh, and Elizabeth really wants Martin to come be her new Personal Secretary but she's told that Martin is only a junior and she has to promote the senior to the job. Because even though she's The Queen, she's not allowed to do end runs around the proper form and order of things. Hierarchy, you know. The system—and monarchy—relies on it.

Remember way back when Liz and Phil were doing that big tour because her dad was too ill to do it? But then he died and so she had to go home and be Queen? Yeah, so in "Pride & Joy" it's decided she and Phillip should go finish that tour. They're going to be gone for three months, meaning the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret will be filling in back home. Except the Queen Mother up and leaves for Scotland and Margaret acts more like a wannabe movie star than royalty by drawing a lot of attention to herself. Liz wrestles with a certain amount of envy at how loved Margaret seems to be by the public. She also knows that the monarchy is not meant to be the spectacle Margaret is making of it, and she tells Margaret as much upon returning home. Margaret accuses Elizabeth of being too perfect. Meanwhile, the episode title is explained in that their father used to call Elizabeth his pride and Margaret his joy. Though to hear Margaret tell it, he used "but" instead of "and." Because Margaret firmly believes she was daddy's favorite and is mean enough to fling that in her sister's face.

So that's that for those three episodes. Only two more this season. It continues to be fun, though I'm waiting for Phillip to get in trouble with that club he keeps hanging out with. Nothing worse than a bunch of bored, wealthy men.


Television: Elementary, "To Catch a Predator Predator"

This Shinwell story line has got to stop. It's bogging everything down. Also, why all the ties, Watson? I've been distracted all season by her bizarre wardrobe.

Okay, but other than that, this was a fairly interesting episode. Not difficult to figure out—I managed to stay a step ahead on most things—but still pretty entertaining. A man is shot and killed at a motel, and at first it appears he may be someone who preys on underage girls, but then it's made clear he was actually the one attacking predators. So logically it's a matter of attempting to discern which of those he's attacked was the one to kill him. But of course it's never that simple or straight forward. The resolution, I would argue, was a bit of a cheat since the viewer did not have all the information necessary to come to that conclusion. Still, I saw it coming because it's usually one of those characters you only meet for a minute or two early on. At least (potential spoiler here) it wasn't some capitalist fat cat or CEO this time? That made for a nice change.

I think it's cute that they had to explain catfishing because a large swath of their audience is older and doesn't know what that means.

All told, a fair episode. If only we could punt this Shinwell stuff. Geez.


Movies: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol
Directed By: David Yates
Written By: J.K. Rowling
Warner Bros., 2016
PG-13; 133 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


In this effort to capture the Harry Potter audience, Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, who HP readers know as the author of the textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (roll credits). Newt has come to New York to . . . something. Collect more creatures? Release a few back into their native habitats? Does it matter? What does happen is that the creatures he illegally smuggles into the U.S. get loose and wreak havoc that coincides with other problems in the American magical community. This makes Scamander a convenient scapegoat.

Astute filmgoers will not be surprised by any of the "twists" in this tale; they'll see them coming quite plainly. And not all the FX are up to snuff. However, that aside, this is still a fairly likable film. While it's difficult to warm up to Scamander, with Redmayne playing up the awkward and mostly refusing to make eye contact, the supporting characters are charming. A subplot about a movement called New Salem that wants to rid the country of witches and wizards is pretty dark but also more interesting than what amounts to a game of Pokémon as Scamander attempts to collect his creatures and stuff them back into his suitcase. Gotta catch 'em all!

Despite its flaws, which include faults in logic from time to time and at least one major continuity problem, Fantastic Beasts is on the whole a fun movie. I can't say the IMAX experience added much to it, but then again we also were only watching in 2D, so maybe 3D would have made it cooler. Still and all, I can recommend it as a good time.

Movies: Self/less

Generic and boring would-be thriller without the thrills. It probably looked good on paper, but in reality the story isn't all that compelling and the filmmakers don't do anything to make you care about the characters.

Ben Kingsley plays, for all of about 15 minutes, a dying real estate magnate whose digs looks suspiciously Trump-like. He hires an underground company called Phoenix (not the one MacGyver worked for) to transfer his consciousness into a new body (Ryan Reynolds). He's told that the bodies are lab-created, but of course it turns out they're actually "used." I think the movie should have been called Refurbished.

After becoming Ryan Reynolds, he's also given a new identity and forced to take meds that suppress the memories of the body's previous occupant. When he misses a dose, he begins to get flashes and feels driven to hunt down the woman and little girl he sees. Lucky for him, a quick Google image search shows him exactly where to go.

And of course he's pursued by Phoenix, etc. etc. But I wasn't interested enough in this guy's back story, nor did they make things tense and taut enough to hold my attention. While the idea of swapping bodies seems like a great premise, the rest of the film fails to honor the promise of that being an entertaining starting point. Self/less is dull, dull, dull. It stumbles from scene to scene disjointedly and without the strength to pull the viewers' interest along with it.


Politics in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Whether you write these genres or just love to read them, what role does politics play in science fiction and fantasy worlds? I participated in an online panel to discuss just that. Who does it well? Who does it less than well? (The Star Wars prequels, anyone?) Is it always necessary to have politics in a sci-fi or fantasy book? Find out what I and other SFF writers have to say about it, and feel free to let me know your thoughts on it, too.


Television: The Crown, "Act of God" and "Smoke and Mirrors"

I continue to make my way through this series. In the episode "Act of God" we come close to horror story territory as a dense fog cloaks London, posing a health hazard that leaves many ill and dead. It turns out Churchill knew of the possibility of such an occurrence, had been urged to limit coal consumption because the pollutants are the major contributing factor to the fog, but dismissed it and now... The fog has come... dun-dun-DUN.

Seriously, though, keep in mind this really did happen in 1952, and Churchill nearly lost his position over it. But he's a cunning old thing. When his assistant is hit by a bus that didn't see her because, you know, fog, Churchill goes to the hospital morgue to identify her then uses that to make a public appearance that boosts his popular appeal. Just as Elizabeth is about to give him a good kick in the pants, too, because he won't let Phillip take flying lessons. (Spoiler for those who haven't been around in the last 70+ years: Phillip is allowed to fly in the end.)

"Smoke and Mirrors" then moves on to Elizabeth's coronation. Against tradition and all advice, Liz puts Phil in charge of arranging it, and he brings in TV crews. That's kind of the sum total of the episode except that Uncle David, who had been king for less than a year and never got a coronation, continues to bitch about things. I do understand his frustration, sure—his family is fairly nasty about the whole abdication and his marrying that Wallis woman. It's a wonder their relationship lasted given that, in the end, it seems neither of them were very happy. A lifetime of not getting what you really want will do that to you, I suppose.

Oh, and Queen Mary dies.

As for the coronation, there's a bit of tension between Elizabeth and Phillip when he doesn't want to have to kneel to her during the ceremony but she insists. She tries to explain to Phillip that she is his wife but also the Queen. It's complicated, but once again the show does a fine job of relaying that tension to the viewers. We feel it.

So that leaves us at the halfway mark for this season. So far so good.

Theatre: Murder on the Nile by Aquila Theatre

I went in thinking this would be a staged version of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile, which is one of my favorite of her books. Well, I was kind of right.

This take on the story is framed by the idea of it being a BBC radio play during the Blitz in London. Because of the air raids, only some of the radio cast manages to make it into the studio, leaving them to scramble to perform all the parts. You'll see from the photo that there are chairs with hats and characters' names attached to each. The three Aquila Theatre Company actors deftly and wittily swapped hats as they put on the show. The result was highly entertaining.

If you've read the book, you'll recognize many of the characters, though some names have been changed. You'll also notice the absence of one Monsieur Hercule Poirot. Many of Poirot's lines from the book, and indeed the onus of solving the murder mystery, have been given to the character of Uncle Ambrose instead. Though I was disappointed not to see Poirot, I found this version quite likable anyway. I think removing the weight of such a well-known character allowed this to be a balanced production in which the keen skills of the three actors were equally highlighted. (Note: Christie removed Poirot from the play when she adapted the book for stage.)

Additionally, the story is punctuated by fun musical numbers.

I brought my 10-year-old son and he also really enjoyed it and had no trouble following the plot. While not suitable for truly young audiences, savvy pre-teens could easily find much to like in this comedy/mystery. Mine came home and asked to borrow some of my books.

On the whole, a very enjoyable evening.


Random Stats

So a couple years ago I posted the random statistics on which posts on this site had the most all-time hits. Now that it's been a while, I thought I'd check in again to see if anything has changed.

  1. My review of R.I.P.D. - Continues to be the most-read post. WHY???
  2. My coverage of the Summerland concert.
  3. My meandering thoughts on the movie Wreckers. - Moving up in the ranks, possibly because there's very little written about it so it comes up in online searches? I have no idea; I've never actually searched for it online.
  4. Matchbox Twenty's album art for North. - Such a throwaway post, not sure why it remains so popular.
  5. Tarot Mucha
  6. Book Review of The Last Queen.
  7. Matchbox Twenty's "Smooth" T.V. - Just a link to an online spoof, but whatever.
  8. The Enchanted Lenormand Oracle
  9. New York Lenormand & Burning Serpent Oracle
  10. Recap of Elementary's season one finale.

Definitely some shifting around. Five of the top ten are the same as two years ago, though in different orders (excepting R.I.P.D. continuing to rule the chart). I appear to be getting more traffic for my reviews of tarot and oracle cards now, however. (And yeah, if you have a deck you want reviewed, feel free to send it to me and I'll play with it and post my thoughts.)

Traffic is consistent at about 200 to 500 unique hits a day, up and down. I notice a slump mid-week each week and the weekends are slower, too, most likely because all of you have lives.

I guess the lesson here is: more Matchbox Twenty and more tarot? Maybe a pop/rock tarot deck would be the sweet spot. Someone should make one.

Movies: Sing Street

John Carney has made a career of basically finding a frame story to give him reasons to string would-be music videos together. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. He's good at it, and I've liked two of the three movies I've seen. It's just very noticeable. By the time I got to Sing Street, as cute as the plot is, I had come to realize it was more about the music than the characters.

Feel free to argue. The story of Sing Street is that in 1980s Dublin, 15-year-old Conor wants to impress a girl he sees sitting on a stoop. She tells him she's a model, and he randomly asks if she wants to star in his band's video. Which means he needs to start a band and shoot a video. Then comes the crash course in learning to write songs, etc., and a series of music video shoots.

Sure, there's a bit more to it. The would-be romance between Conor and Raphina, the stresses of a family falling apart, the school bully—or bullies, if you count the administration as one. But none of it feels all that important. They're there because there needs to be mortar to fill the gaps between the bricks that are the musical numbers. Mortar is important to a wall, yes, but the bricks make the wall. You dig?

Again, it's not necessarily a bad thing. I actually really enjoyed the movie, and it's a toss up between this one and Begin Again for me. I like them about equally. (I tried to watch Once, though, and couldn't get through it. Sorry. Know it was an award-winning whatever but not for me.) Bottom line is, John Carney movies are this one thing. When you're in the mood for that one thing, you watch one. Or maybe you skip the movie and just buy the soundtrack.


Books: The Trespasser by Tana French

I always know I'm going to get a good one when I pick up a Tana French book, and this one is no exception.

In this particular volume, we get the story from Antoinette Conway's perspective. She also featured in The Secret Place, though that novel focused on things from her would-be partner Steve Moran's point of view. (Spoiler: he did become her partner and so is a big part of The Trespasser as well.)

Conway is the only woman on the Murder Squad, and she has a big martyr complex to go with the job, certain that, barring partner Steve, everyone else on the squad is out to get her. Sure enough, when she and Steve pull a big murder—a nice change from domestic violence and bar fights—Conway is convinced other detectives are trying to screw up her investigation. And . . . She may just be right.

I won't say more; wouldn't want to give anything away. Sufficient to say it's another great installment in the series, and I'd be happy to watch a television series about Conway and Steve. (Note she thinks of Steve by his first name, everyone else by their surnames. They're so close it's adorable.) I'm sure the next book will pan off these two and pick up Roche or Fleas or any number of the secondary characters introduced here. In some ways it's a little heartbreaking to have to give up characters we've come to really love in the course of a novel. On the other hand, the constant overturning of protagonists keeps things fresh.

In short, another solid one by French. Looking forward, as ever, to more.

Like Tana French? Try my novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller, only 99 cents on Amazon this weekend!

Once More With Feeling

It really hurts me to think these kitties could end up on the street. So I'm begging—yes, that's right, begging—for you to help. If you can't donate, at least spread the word. PLEASE.

Help these kitties!

And if you'd like to get something for your troubles, I've even made this lotus t-shirt. The proceeds go toward helping these kitties, and you get a nice, super soft, meditative shirt. When people ask what the lotus stands for, you can tell them the truth or just make up something. Wouldn't that be fun? It's a simple enough shirt, nothing special, but email me your receipt and I'll send you a signed copy of Manifesting Destiny or The K-Pro if you like. THAT'S how serious I am about helping these kitties. It's breaking my heart to think they might get evicted. So help if you can!


Television: The Crown, "Windsor"

All right, so Elizabeth is now queen, though she hasn't been officially crowned yet. Churchill seeks to put off her coronation for a year, partly because he feels doing so will stall his party's attempts to unseat him.

Elizabeth—really, Phillip, though Elizabeth ostensibly supports and agrees with him—has two items on her checklist: (1) keeping her married name of Mountbatten, and (2) living at Clarence House rather than Buckingham Palace. She doesn't mind going to Buckingham to do the work, but the family would rather live at Clarence House, which Phillip has recently spent a pretty penny to renovate.

She's told "no" to both.

And she caves. Without much of a fight.

Once supposes she was young and easily led at that point, too uncertain to put her foot down, but it just seems so random that she didn't press harder on either point. Phillip is, of course, unhappy. His manhood is at stake, to a degree (and keeping in mind the time period)—his wife outranks him, and she won't even take his [adopted] name. Nor will she let him live in the house he redecorated. One can feel sorry for him under the circumstances, at least a little.

Meanwhile, Princess Margaret continues her affaire de coeur with Townsend. His wife has left him, and she urges him to get a divorce so he can remarry. But we all know what the royal family thinks of divorcés; it's made very clear in the circumstances of David, Duke of Windsor, who was briefly king before having to abdicate in order to marry a divorced American (Wallis Simpson). The bad blood lingers as David comes home for the funeral, his wife left behind in New York because she is not welcome. David's goals are to keep, if not increase, the allowance his brother Bertie (aka George VI) had given him, and to ideally have his wife given a proper royal title. The first may be possible, but the second, uh, no. It is Elizabeth who extends an olive branch to David, saying she would value his advice in the absence of her father. Meanwhile, the rest of the family blames David for Bertie's death, the logic being that if David had remained king, Bertie would not have had to be and would not have died from, er . . . stress? I don't think being king gave him cancer, but whatever.

Of course, it is Uncle Jerk who tells Elizabeth to keep the name Windsor—hardly an unbiased opinion, since he's the Duke of Windsor—and to move into Buckingham. Such is the deal Jerk made with Churchill, to push Elizabeth in the direction the Council wanted. "Good Job, Uncle Jerk!"

The Crown continues to be enchanting. It's a string of small moments, nicely matched, like pearls. This is the strand of a life . . .

One last thing, however. Can I just say that every f***ing credit sequence for everything ever now looks and sounds exactly the same? I'm really, really sick of it. The sequence for The Crown looks the same as the sequence for The Night Manager which in turn looks like Westworld and the sequence for any number of other things I've seen recently. Ugh. Stop it. Get an original idea, guys. Come on.


Black Armband

Honestly, I'm devastated and horrified by the events of last night and early this morning. I don't know what else to say. Americans have long had a worldwide reputation for being loud, mean, and obnoxious, and now we'll have the president to "prove" it. I really would move overseas if I could.

And mostly I fear that the haters, the bigots, the xenophobes, homophobes, misogynists, abusers of any and all kinds will take this as license to do the things they've always wanted to do.

"He has limited power." Yes, but the Republicans will also control Congress, and if they jump on this crazy train, we're all stuck on the ride.

"It's only four years." Oh, but what a difficult four years it may be.

My heart is breaking.


Television: The Crown, "Hyde Park Corner"

As predicted, some sobbing when no one is around, but Elizabeth, er, [wo]mans up relatively quickly.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. See, Elizabeth and Phillip are off in Africa because her father George VI is too ill to travel and so cannot tour the Commonwealth as planned. But while Liz and Phil (can I call them that?) watch elephants and hippos, George passes away. Then there is much tension over getting the news to Elizabeth before she can hear it broadcast on the radio somewhere. Lucky for England she was off in the bush or whatever! :thumbs up:

Other things happening include the Conservative Party attempting to unseat Churchill (who is their own man, but they're unhappy because he's fixated on foreign countries rather than helping his own), and Princess Margaret carrying on a flirt with Captain Peter Townsend, equerry to King George and a married man. *gasp!*

Again, if you know any of the history, you know how all this ends, but it's fun to watch anyway.

And oh, hey, look! Nicholas Rowe! Bonus points there in my book.

I'm actually quite impressed with Matt Smith who continues to do a very good job of walking the line as Phillip. His frustration is palpable, yet so is his real love for Elizabeth. He also gets the bluntness—sometimes bordering on seeming stupidity—just right. It's a nicely nuanced performance, so good on him.

I really am enjoying the series. Very well done.


Books: The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller

On sale as part of the Virtual Book Fair on Facebook. Although the fair kicks off next week, you can already pick Peter up for 99 cents on Amazon.


Television: The Crown, "Wolferton Splash"

This 10-part series about the life of Elizabeth II begins with her fiancé renouncing his titles in Greece and Denmark, taking the name Mountbatten and being properly naturalized as a British citizen so that he can marry Elizabeth. From there, the focus in this first episode rests largely on the ill health of Elizabeth's father King George VI.

Doctor Who's Matt Smith plays young Philip and does a fair job showing him champing the bit, being restive after his career in the Royal Navy. He's not keen to do a bunch of junkets, and father-in-law George (a puffy-looking Jared Harris) must sit him down and give him a talking to. John Lithgow as Winston Churchill is, unfortunately, just a bit too John Lithgow to be believable; while watching one is too aware it's John Lithgow to ever feel he could be Churchill. But that's the standout; the remainder of the cast is quite on point, and the production values are lavish.

Still and all, not a whole lot happens in this first installment. Aside from the wedding and some faux home movie footage, we're really only given the ominous sense of George's imminent death. Those of us who know our history know how and when it will happen (and the rest of you can go look it up if you like), so this we really only have a "dramatic re-enactment" to look forward to—that's the extent of the tension, waiting for the news and to see lots of crying or, being they're British, a lot of not crying until they're alone in a room somewhere. Then we'll be treated to a Coronation, and won't that be fun?

Yes, I'm making light, but in truth I look forward to watching more. The Crown is so well made that I can forgive its somewhat slow pace and heretofore lack of depth. It will get there, I'm sure. It's easing out of the dock like a steamliner, but soon enough we'll hit open water and there will be smooth sailing.

Movies: Side Effects

This is one of those movies that probably read well as a script but in execution—yea verily, even in the capable hands of Steven Soderbergh—ends up being soporific and monotonous. Also, the "twist" was utterly predictable.

Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a young woman suffering acute depression and whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison for insider trading. Already this movie is boring. When Emily runs her car at a wall but survives, she starts seeing a therapist (Jude Law) and taking a hot new antidepressant. Unfortunately, the side effects (roll credits) include cooking while sleepwalking, the ultimate result being [SPOILERS, SWEETIES] she stabs her husband to death during one of these sleepwalking episodes. Because she mistook him for a tomato or something, I guess.

Yawn. This movie is meant to be tense, I think, but it just isn't. Even as Jude Law goes all Watson and begins to unravel the truth, it's just . . . I was never made to care that much about any of the characters. Maybe it's just hard to make someone depressed very interesting, but I disliked Emily more than sympathized with her. I did feel bad for Law's therapist, who suffers a lot of blowback from having his patient become a murderer while under his care, but then he sort of goes off the deep end himself and makes himself a bit unlikable, even though we as viewers are aware he's in the right. There needed to be some kind of shift in the way the movie was filmed—a slight POV change—to make it palatable. Instead it's a lot of washed-out, moody filters. It made me sleepy.

I'll watch Jude Law in just about anything, but this wasn't one of the better ones. Side Effects is one of those that makes you wonder whether the cast knew as the filming went along that it wasn't going to be equal to the sum of its parts. Or were they all really believing in that script and director only to be disappointed in the outcome? Maybe Soderbergh himself was disappointed, too, as it became his last feature film (as director; he still produces) and he announced an intention to stick to television shortly thereafter.


Television: Elementary, "Henny Penny the Sky Is Falling"

So this one was about a quantitative analyst who was murdered after publishing a paper about how scientists should better measure asteroids by taking into account what they're made of. Um . . . Yeah, okay. I actually get that. Oh, and Richard Thomas was there for all of two scenes, so that was cool. (I'm not old enough to remember him from The Waltons, but I do remember him from IT.)

The investigation goes down the usual lines. There's the fact the guy was having an affair with his boss' wife, but that doesn't really get off the ground. By the way, I think it's weird the boss had a picture of his wife with her friends in his office. My husband wouldn't keep a picture of me and a bunch of my friends in his office; he'd choose a shot of just me, or us together, or the family. If he had a picture of my friends, I'd wonder which one he was sleeping with.

Okay, but anyway, then we go into who stood to lose or gain when the paper was published. Yada, yada, yada. Nothing very exciting or surprising, but I still liked the episode. That they pulled in some canon regarding Holmes' lack of astronomical knowledge was a nice touch.

B plot was that Gregson was working to get Holmes and Watson included in a commendation the squad was set to receive. Watson was all for it, but Holmes—perverse as ever—was not. This again goes along with Holmes refusing a knighthood in the Doyle stories, I suppose. In this case, he tells Watson a commendation is worthless, the work is all that matters. Then he goes on to say that, based on his experience at Scotland Yard, accolades cause friction. He gets all the credit and attention, and the force becomes jaded. A little of his arrogance showing through there, but that's the point of the character and something the writers have blunted a bit recently (probably in a drive to make him more likable). Good to have it acknowledged again. Boils down to: "I'm really good at what I do, but then people hate me for it." Watson has an appropriate boo-hoo on you response and reminds him that the point is to share the recognition as a team.

A modestly entertaining if safe episode. This is looking more and more like a final season for Elementary, though the series low this past week may be in part due to Hallowe'en festivities taking the place of viewing.


Books: Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen by Alison Weir

Not quite as richly written as Innocent Traitor or Captive Queen (two of my favorites by Weir). There is something perfunctory about this take on Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's long-suffering first wife. It reads mostly like expanded bullet points on a timeline.

Maybe this is due to the fact that there is a lot of ground to cover. As it is, The True Queen (first in a series) clocks in at 602 pages, beginning with Katherine's—neé Catalina—arrival in England. She married Henry's older brother Arthur, suffered widowhood shortly thereafter, languished in England while her future was determined, and finally married Henry VIII. The back end of the book becomes the long wait for the Pope to declare whether her marriage to Henry was, in fact, real and true. Alas, waiting around for news does not make for an exciting story, and Katherine's repetitive attestations that she is the true queen, though surely true to her character, eventually become something of a bore.

Weir always does a lovely job researching her books, but sometimes it feels easy to spot the places where she wanted to incorporate a particular letter or some known bit of jewelry. She leans toward detailing clothing in particular.

In truth, there is simply a lot of information here. One would expect no less given the subject matter, but some joy in reading, and in the story, is lost in the myriad of names and machinations. By the end, I felt a bit like I was reading a list of chess moves during some old game that had once been played. Yes, I can picture how the game played out, but there's not much fun in reading it. Still, I'll try the Anne Boleyn book when it comes out. It could be that Katherine—devout and steady—is just a little less interesting than those who followed. I feel bad for her because she does seem to have been ill used, and now she goes down in history as also pale in comparison to her contemporaries.

Television: The Great Indoors, "Pilot"

If you watched Community you'll recognize Joel McHale's character here as just more of Jeff Winger. He's jaded and being forced to face the fact that he's not as young as he used to be. Sure, instead of a high-powered (faux) lawyer, he's now a known "adventurist" who does field work for a magazine. But as the magazine ends its print run and moves to online-only content, it also calls Jeff Jack in to helm an office job. In this equation the magazine office = Community's college, and there is yet another band of misfits that Jeff Jack will at first ridicule but then slowly become fond of.

Millennials probably won't like it, at least not the first episode, in which Jack broadly lambasts them (as do the show's writers). It's low-hanging fruit and nothing we haven't heard before: trophies for everyone! If you're not on Twitter and Instagram, you might as well not exist! You're such a dinosaur if you don't keep up with every new digital trend!

Jack takes it upon himself to try and teach this motley crew that there is life beyond their smartphones. Only in the moments when he passionately describes living with bears on Kodiak island does the character become warm enough to like. Meanwhile, none of the rest of this group is particularly likable (yet), though Stephen Fry does a fine job as the magazine's founder/owner/CEO. Having him wander through a scene is always a delight.

The jokes aren't very funny and the characters are alternately flat and/or too over-the-top to connect with, but I recall feeling similarly about the first couple episodes of Community, and I ended up being glad I stuck it out. I'm hoping The Great Indoors will similarly find its footing. I'll stick it out for another week or two.


Television: Elementary, "Render, and Then Seize Her"

I suppose I'm naturally primed to enjoy anything that features Steve Winwood as a major clue. (Did anyone else think it was "Pie of Love" as a kid?)

Uh... Let's see. A woman is kidnapped. She and her husband run a post-production company that is bleeding money, and the husband is on the brink of divorcing her. And there's a prenup. So of course all signs point to the husband (who also refuses to share key info with the police because he says he's following the kidnapper's orders so he can get his wife back), which means the husband didn't do it.

It's pretty clear that, when dealing with video people, and video of the parking lot where the kidnapping occurred is key to the case, that the video will be unreliable. And—to continue in that line of logic—it means it was an inside job. Because you'd need someone who could manipulate the video and also had access to it. Right?

Whatever. You can take it from there, I'm sure. Meanwhile, Plot B was about how Gregson's girlfriend Paige (Virginia Madsen, now also seen on Designated Survivor) wanted to hire Holmes on the DL to look into stuff going on at her doctor's office. You may or may not remember that she has MS. Anyway, Holmes clears that up fairly easily but then realizes Paige is going broke due to the expense of her treatment and lack of insurance coverage. Or maybe she has insurance but it's not very good? I dunno, I wasn't listening that closely. Anyway, Holmes promotes marriage to Gregson as the answer to this particular problem. At which point there is a ridiculous amount of people saying, "You?! Suggesting marriage?!" which seemed really over the top. I know Holmes has expressed contempt for the institution of marriage in the past, but not as vehemently (to my recollection) as everyone acted like he did. I mean, if it were that Holmes said every time they dealt with a married couple, "This is why marriage is ridiculous," then I'd get it. But he doesn't. So chill, people. Geez.

All in all, it was a cute episode, nicely balanced between the two plots, and fairly engaging overall despite the somewhat predictable crime/resolution.


Television: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, "Horizons"

I working to bring more lightness into my viewing diet, and this one fits right in with that goal. Engaging, funny—it's not fluff, but it's not serious either. Fans of Douglas Adams can embrace DGHDA without reservation.

Elijah Wood plays the hapless Todd whose life is falling apart. His landlord is a car-bashing maniac, he becomes a suspect when a bizarre murder occurs in the hotel where he works, and then he loses his job altogether. Todd has the additional burden of trying to help his sister Amanda through a rare disease that runs in their family but he's managed to overcome. (Or says he has.)

Enter the titular Dirk Gently who decides all signs point to Todd becoming his assistant, a complication in life Todd feels he doesn't need.

I won't go step by step through this pilot, but let's say there is plenty of fun havoc to be had. A myriad of intriguing side plots. Not a dull moment as they say. Sure, Elijah Wood always seems to play this character—the guy (or hobbit) thrown into extreme circumstances and just trying to cope and go on with his life, but he's good at that and makes for a fine straight man to Samuel Barnett's antic Gently.

Bonus: kittens and Corgis.

DGHDA is the kind of fun Doctor Who used to be. I now have something to look forward to on Saturday nights again.


Off Topic

I'm going to ask you for a favor. I have a soft spot for children and animals, and while I know I can't help them all, I do my best, especially when things hit close to home. In this case, it's a screenwriting friend who is in danger of losing her home-based cat sanctuary due to some new laws in her town. There are no other shelters in the area for these cats, and they are on the brink of being booted just in time for winter. Every little bit helps, and if you don't want to give something for nothing you can buy this t-shirt. It comes in three colors and has a simple lotus design. (I'm fond of lotuses; they make me feel at peace.) I designed the shirt via Bonfire, and sure it took no special artistry, but hell, send me your shirt and I'll sign it and send it back to you at my own cost. Just help if you can! Proceeds go to help these kitties, or you can click on the link at the bottom of the t-shirt page and donate directly. PLEASE help the kitties!


Television: Westworld, "The Original" & "Chestnut"

Remember the Yul Brynner movie? Me neither, but that probably doesn't matter much.

I realize I'm behind on this show. I find that, whenever I'm thinking about watching it, I don't really want to. What does that say about me and/or Westworld? That we're not made for each other, I suppose.

I went through my Michael Crichton phase in middle and high school. Very fun, easy reads. And what I like about his work is what I also like about Westworld—the philosophy, the story. The characters are only so-so, but the acting is very good, and the production values are amazing. So why am I not compelled—dare I say I'm "reluctant"—to watch it?

The sex and violence. And before you call me a prude, it's not that I'm made uncomfortable by it, it's that I find it wildly gratuitous and unnecessary to what otherwise is a really interesting story. To me the sex and violence in this show is lowest common denominator programming. It's the bread and circuses of television. And television is spectacle, after all, so maybe deep down I really need to be reading a book rather than watching a TV show.

For the five people out there who don't know what this show is about, I'll give you the short version. The titular Westworld is a sort of theme park in which guests (who pay a lot to go there) get to go live a Wild West adventure. These guests can slake their desires for sex and violence (!) without consequence because all the "hosts" in the park are programmed entities that can be raped, killed, whatever, and then refurbished.

While I can really enjoy the idea of such an immersive experience, I also have to wonder at the kinds of people this park draws. Sadists. Psychopaths. And that does seem to be the underlying suggestion. When one also considers that these guests must have a lot of money, we're led to conclude that rich people are fucked up.

But that's assuming you put that much thought into the show. You could watch Westworld on the level of just watching, or you can watch it and really think about it. Your choice. I'm a thinker.

I also have to wonder why Michael Crichton hated amusement parks so much. Did he have a bad experience at Disneyland as a kid or something?

In Jurassic Park we have John Hammond. In Westworld it's Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). In JP we discover Dr. Wu might have designs beyond his station; in Westworld it's Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright). Note that this is only what I've gleaned from the first two episodes. Namely, there are a lot of politics involved in creating and maintaining a sophisticated amusement park.

I have an idea that Ed Harris' Man in Black is actually one of the hosts, and that when he says he's "not going back" he means cold storage or whatever. But I'm probably getting ahead of myself. After all, that wouldn't explain why he's unable to be harmed by other hosts. In any case, don't spoil it for me. I'll manage to wade through the episodes eventually. Or maybe I should just find copies of the scripts. As lovely as this show is, its attempts to shock and titillate me are actually big turn-offs.


Movies: The Conjuring 2

Just in time for Hallowe'en!

I enjoyed this one more than the first (and I didn't think the first one was bad, so . . .)

Not to say there weren't issues. Some very basic things, like why not get rid of the chair that seemed to be central to the ghost's activity? And, why didn't Ed give the girl that crucifix right from the start?

If you're wondering what I'm talking about, The Conjuring 2 covers what was known as the Enfield Poltergeist which terrorized a family in Enfield, England. In particular, 11-year-old Janet was the main target. As ever, things start strange and get stranger, yet no one seems to think it's worth mentioning or doing anything about it until the furniture starts moving. By then, however, it's too late. Janet finds herself repeatedly possessed by what claims to be the spirit of Bill Wilkins.

Meanwhile, Ed and Lorraine Warren have just come off the famous Amityville case, and Lorraine wants to take some time off. She's been shaken by a vision of Ed's death and also some kind of demonic nun. (Here is where another issue pops up: why hang the painting of the demon nun in your office?) But when they hear of this family in England that needs their help, despite Lorraine's misgivings, they go.

[potential spoilers follow]

I think this is supposed to build some kind of tension in the sense that we're supposed to worry Lorraine's vision of Ed's death will be realized. But I never felt worried for Ed at all. Being that Ed and Lorraine are real people, I kept thinking, I'm pretty sure that's not how he died. Not that I know how he died; I've never looked it up. But it's the kind of thing where I'm pretty sure I'd have heard that story if that's how it had happened, if that makes any sense.

If you look up the realities of the Enfield case, you'll see that Janet, once grown, admitted to making some of it up, along with her older sister. Many investigators believe it was entirely made up. The movie addresses this slightly by having Janet caught on camera throwing stuff around in order to make it appear that the spirit had done it. However, it also excuses this by having Janet tell her siblings that the spirit threatened to kill them all if she didn't make the investigators leave (and her being caught faking it caused them to pack it in). One also has to wonder whether, while possessed, a person might not wreak destruction in any case?

The ending was, to my mind, a bit weak after all the build-up. The first half of the movie is simply watching the spirit ramp up its offense against this family, and then the Warrens come on the scene, and there is a kind of wire crossing between Bill Wilkins and Demon Nun, and things devolve from there. Are we supposed to believe the demonic nun lured the Warrens there? Seems excessive. Also, why did the demon tell Lorraine its name? Surely it knew that information would give Lorraine power over it? Then again, why does any demon do any of the things it does?

Sidebar: A Bit of Fun

While watching, my husband and I kept thinking the Simon McBurney character reminded us of Moss on The IT Crowd. We couldn't stop laughing over it, and now we really wish they'd do some kind of Hallowe'en special. Jen could be the skeptic played by Franka Potente? Can that be made to happen?


Movies: Café Society

I'll start by stating the obvious. Woody Allen's movies are really just ways for him to reaffirm either what he thinks about the world or what he wishes were true. By which I mean, he likes to believe women make bad choices and then pine for what they could have had while men leave their wives and get the young girl and live happily ever after. (Or some variation on this, but it generally boils down to the same.)

In this particular version of the story, we have young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg doing his best imitation of Allen) leaving New York to go try and make a life in L.A. with the help of his uncle Phil (Steve Carell). Phil is a powerful Hollywood agent, and in no time Bobby is rubbing shoulders with the stars. But he's more interested in young Vonnie (Kristen Stewart, who always seems not to know what to do with her mouth), who also works for his uncle. Unfortunately for Bobby, Vonnie has a boyfriend—namely, Phil. He's married and much older but they're having an affair.

When Phil breaks things off, Bobby moves quickly to take up room in Vonnie's heart. (He has no idea her boyfriend was Phil, btw.) But when Phil finally leaves his wife, Vonnie chooses him over Bobby, and Bobby returns to New York. He ends up quite successful in running a nightclub, marries a model-worthy woman, has a baby, and is largely none the worse for wear. Even when Phil and Vonnie come for a visit, Bobby gets to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak. He sees that Vonnie is a little miserable, he gets to spend time with her, even kiss her, but also hold on to his perfect little life. Meanwhile, the women get the short end of everything. Phil's wife gets tossed aside, Vonnie gets the sadness of longing for someone else, and Bobby's wife gets cheated on. Men are assholes in Woody Allen movies, but somehow it's all excused while women are left to pick up the pieces.

This is nothing new, but Café Society was very obvious about it. It also made plain the ideal that New York is better than L.A. In this movie the L.A. people are loud and superficial. They name drop, and every interaction with them is like oil on water. Nothing feels real or true. New York is grittier but also seen to be more satisfying. Bobby glides through his nightclub, true, but his interactions with the patrons feel more rooted than those in L.A.

It's an okay movie. Somewhat Gatsby-esque in themes. But I found myself distracted by all these glaring aspects; it was as if I had to squint to see past them and watch the movie. I realize these things have been present in Woody Allen movies for forever, so maybe it's just that my tolerance for them is depleted. Either way, Café Society left me grimacing.


Television: Timeless, "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln"

Lucy boarders dangerously on "helpless." I get that she's sort of overwhelmed to be time traveling; who wouldn't be? But I need her to have a bit more backbone.

In this episode—surprise!—Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus travel to the time and place of Lincoln's assassination. The show doesn't seem to want to delve too deeply into the racial politics of any given time, I've noticed. It touches on them, of course, as it must. But "touch" is the operative word here. Maybe we'll get deeper stuff as the show becomes more established, or maybe the writers and creators are determined to keep things light. Tough to tell.

Meanwhile, Lucy is again confronted by Flynn, who continues to drop obscure hints about Rittenhouse or whatever. Jesus, why not just tell her outright? It's clear we're leading up to Connor Mason being the true villain, right? Instead of dancing around it, maybe they should just up the stakes.

I'm still enjoying the show. But I can see all these pitfalls, these places where it may begin to fall apart, and I'm really hoping it doesn't.

As for this particular episode, the lingering question continues to be whether they should attempt to change history or not. Their being there necessarily changes history in some ways anyway, but it's kind of like Star Trek's Prime Directive in that they are supposed to not interfere any more than they have to in order to catch Flynn. I don't have much to say about the plot here in particular except that it was sweet to have Lincoln's son ask Lucy on a date of sorts. I honestly felt chemistry there and was led to wonder what would happen if someone were to fall in love in another time and then have to leave. Potential for lots of drama there.


Television: Elementary, "Worth Several Cities"

Holmes is abducted by a street gang and pressed into finding out who killed one of their smugglers. In return, they promise to find out who sold bad heroin to one of Holmes' friends. Then the whole thing spins off into a story about an ancient Chinese artifact, and once Ron Rifkin turns up, you know he's the bad guy because, hey, Ron Rifkin.

In truth, I had a hard time staying interested.

Also, Watson continues to help Shinwell, the guy we met last week. She finds him a place to live and then tracks down his daughter, though as it turns out he does that on his own, too. I realize this story line is meant to be part of Watson's character development/arc but, oh my God, is it dull. There was Alfredo for Holmes, now there's this guy for Watson . . . Why can't we get some fun characters for a change?

Ratings continue to slump, and if the show keeps on with its dirge-like pacing, they'll only slide further. Elementary is starting to feel too heavy, and you know what heavy things do—they sink.

"You're No Fun Anymore"


Television: Timeless, "Pilot"

This show was every bit as cute as I hoped it would be, which makes me super happy.

In a nutshell: history professor Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer) is tapped to accompany a scientist and a soldier on time travel missions as they attempt to foil the plans of and apprehend Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic). Flynn stole one of the time machines, and in the first episode he goes to mess with the Hindenburg disaster.

Time travel is hot right now. Never mind Doctor Who, which has sauntered vaguely downward in recent years—there's tons of other options now. Bookstores are rife with time travel and portals, both for adults and teens. My worry, then, was that Timeless was just jumping on the bandwagon. And maybe it is, but they've succeeded in making Lucy an engaging protagonist, and I'm eager to see how the supporting cast develops as well.

Of course, time travel is always open to a lot of people poking holes in this or that theory. If Timeless took itself more seriously, I think it would invite that kind of scrutiny. But because it's fairly light in tone, it's easy to just enjoy for what it is. There are shows that prompt debate, argument even, but (at least based on the pilot) this isn't one of them. And after so many shows that cause fan theories, etc., I'm kind of glad this one is what it is. Television has become too exhausting in trying to keep up with all those discussions. It's nice to have a show that's just a show.

[Now I've done it. The mythology will begin to build and this one will be just as bad as the rest. Sigh. When did TV become an interactive sport?]

In short, I'm looking forward to more of this.


Movies: Snowden

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Rhys Ifans, Zachary Quinto
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone, from the books by Luke Harding and Anatoly Kucherena
Endgame Entertainment, 2016
R; 134 minutes
3.75 stars (out of 5)


I know I should probably be more outraged than I am about the NSA culling private emails, phone calls, etc., but it's never fazed me. Still, I was glad to get a bigger sense of what was going on and how Snowden came to do what he did. Of course, with a movie like this, I kept asking myself what had been regrouped, so to speak, to make it easier to follow. What had been changed for dramatic effect. It can be difficult, after all, to make a bunch of computer stuff compelling for two hours.

They did a nice job of weaving Snowden's personal life into his career. I think this is largely done to make him sympathetic and personable. Otherwise Snowden would just be a weirdo. But while Shailene Woodley worked her tail off in this, I didn't feel the chemistry I needed to feel in order to buy in to the relationship. Maybe I'm supposed to read this as there being a barrier there put up by Snowden's secretive work, but it just came off as flat.

Still, that didn't mar the movie. There was a fun time of saying, "What's Nicolas Cage doing here?" and "What's Tom Wilkinson doing here?" because I didn't read anything about the film before going to see it. And then I had a great, "Look! Nicholas Rowe!" moment, which made me stupid happy and probably biased me for the rest of the film.

It's a good film. Nothing special in my book, but solid. Not the action-packed kinds of stuff audiences are used to these days, but . . . It gives a concise account of what happened, which I suppose is the point.


Movies: Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made

I was obsessed with Indiana Jones as a kid. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first movie I can remember seeing in the cinema (my parents insist it was Bambi at a drive-in, but I don't remember that at all). I was five when Raiders came out, and I mistaken thought his name was Petey instead of Indy, and I thought he was a cowboy because he wore a hat. But that didn't dent my fascination. Later, after having gotten my facts straight, I would talk my best friend into playing Indiana Jones frequently, though we often had to fold in Star Wars to keep her happy. Han and Indy were distant cousins or something. It was terrific.

All this is to say, a fan film version of Raiders is the kind of thing we would have done if we'd had a camera. (We did make fan films of other kinds when we were older, but that's another story.) So I thought I'd be all over this documentary about two kids who did just that—made a shot-for-shot fan film of Raiders, all except the airplane scene. And so a big part of this documentary is about them attempting to complete the project so many years later.

And yet . . . It didn't hold my interest.

Despite my love for Raiders, I wasn't invested in seeing these guys finish it out. And the lack of organization in the documentary made it difficult to follow. There were hints of fallings out, hard times, but it was told so haphazardly I could only glean the story as one who skims scum off a pond. The one real bit of drama, and they don't plunge into it. I was left thinking, "Wait, what?"

I think I was meant to focus on the possibility the airplane scene wouldn't get made. Behind schedule, out of money, bad weather, blah blah blah. But since they hadn't really made me care . . . I didn't.

Good on them for getting attention for their crazy childhood fixation, I guess. But this documentary needed a stronger thru line. As it stands, it was putting me to sleep.


Television: Elementary, "Folie a Deux"

The fifth season kicks off with Watson still living in the brownstone, so I guess she decided not to stay in Moreland's safe house or whatever it was. Am I even remembering right? It probably doesn't matter. Safe to say we start with a kind of "reset" in which normal, such as it is for these characters, has been re-established.

Plot? Oh, something about a bomber. Holmes and Watson zero in on the culprit fairly quickly, and from there it's a matter of proving it. A lot of blind alleys, but of course Holmes ends up being right in the end. No, I don't consider that a spoiler. I think it would have been more interesting if he hadn't been though.

The "real" story in this episode—the emotional underpinning anyway—is about how Watson may or may not (a) be getting bored with being a detective, and/or (b) miss helping people the way she did as a doctor or sober companion. Holmes naturally points out that they help people, too, by finding the bad guys and putting them away, but there is, of course, a distinction. It's one thing to actively help people and witness them getting better. It's another to avenge those who have been victimized. Group A has the sense of being there in the nick of time. Group B is more like cleaning up the mess when it's too late to really save anyone.

Watson isn't getting bored, but she does miss being Group A rather than Group B. Lucky for her, this episode introduces someone she once performed surgery on—a man who recently got out of jail and is looking to get back on his feet. Through Holmes' persuasion, Watson goes to help the guy in Group A fashion. Similar to being a sober companion, maybe she can keep ex-criminals from backsliding?

In truth, it wasn't an episode that wowed me, and I hope the season doesn't attempt to string out this Watson angst. The character arc is natural enough, but somewhat somnolent. Angsty Watson is less entertaining than angsty Holmes, not because of the angst but because of the way the other character responds. Holmes isn't a natural nurturer; Watson is. Maybe if we saw Holmes being more uncomfortable in the role of nurturer when Watson needs that, it would be more interesting. As it is, it just kind of happens with no real tension. However, when Watson is called upon to nurture Holmes in some way, Holmes' spiky nature does add tension and often comic relief. It hearkens back to the initial conceit of the series, in which Watson was a somewhat unwelcome addition to Holmes' life. That conceit worked and still does when tapped.

Alas, ratings for Elementary are slumping. The Sunday night time slot isn't great, and there are times the show seems to have run out of ideas, if not for crimes of the week then for the characters themselves. It could also be that we're seeing the downward arc of the recent spike in Sherlock Holmes' popularity in general; these things come and go in cycles, after all. Like a Ferris wheel—try to enjoy the way down as much as the way up, and please wait until the ride comes to a complete stop before disembarking.


Television: Narrowing It Down

So I can strike two shows off my viewing list. (You may remember in my previous post I was agonizing over everything I wanted to watch.) I tried Crisis in Six Scenes, which is that Woody Allen thing on Amazon. Boring. Not funny. Didn't even finish the first episode. I was like, "What am I supposed to be getting from this? Cuz I'm getting exactly nothing." Well, okay, one less thing to watch.

And then I switched over to the second episode of Luke Cage. But I really can't get into that show either. The politics of the urban underworld just don't interest me in the least. So, much as I like the character of Luke Cage, this story isn't for me. Another thing I can cross off.

This is progress!


Television: I Can't Even

I am so behind on television, you guys. Like, so behind. This is what happens when you get a life, I guess.

I have this list of shows that I either want to start watching or else started watching and want to continue but haven't had the chance.

  1. Timeless — it's on the DVR, looks super cute
  2. MacGyver — also on the DVR, and I think I'm, like, three episodes behind now
  3. Designated Survivor — watched the pilot, want to keep watching
  4. Luke Cage — also watched the first episode, wasn't blown away but I do want to see where it goes
  5. Elementary — premiered a couple weeks ago and is sitting on my DVR
  6. Documentary Now! — we do manage to watch this usually; there's only one on the DVR at the moment
  7. Scream Queens — loved the first season, watched the first episode of the second season and haven't gotten any further than that
  8. AHS: My Roanoke Nightmare — sounds like my kind of thing, hoping to get around to it
  9. Westworld — looks cool, plan to watch it . . . someday . . .
  10. Luther — I keep being told to watch this and I really, really want to because I love Idris Elba, but I just don't know when
  11. Poldark — another one I keep being urged to try, but the hubby isn't keen and we only have one telly

This doesn't even cover the fact that we also watch Supergirl and The Flash with the kids. At some point we'll loop back and grab Arrow, too, I suppose. Geez.

The shows we keep up with in real time are Brooklyn Nine-Nine and This Week Tonight with John Oliver. I won't go to bed on Sunday without seeing Johnny first. He makes my week and is the only television I consider "appointment television" any more. As for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it just airs at a time that's convenient. By Sunday evening we're ready to relax prior to the week starting, and we usually want light rather than heavy (Game of Thrones excepted given that we do John Oliver after). I also will often manage to catch up with any House Hunters at some point during the week when I'm looking for something mindless and undemanding. These days, busy as I've been, I often do want something unchallenging to watch.

How about you? What do you watch? Is there something I should add to my growing list? Something on the list I shouldn't bother with? Tell me about it in the comments!



So while I'm away at InD'Scribe this weekend, you can pick up a couple of my Sherlock Holmes stories FREE and my spy novel The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller for just 99 cents! What are you waiting for? Click here!



You will be able to see me—in person—this coming weekend. I'll be on panels talking about villains and character-themed stories. I'll be dressed up in a Regency gown at the Dreamweaver's Ball. I'll be decked out red-carpet style for the RONE Awards. And I'll have an author table in the signing room. This doesn't happen often, so if you have a chance to come down, please do!

If you're very, very lucky you'll get to meet these guys too:

They're semi-retired but will be traveling with me. Should be fun!


Television: Designated Survivor, "Pilot"

Yeah, so I'm a week behind on this one. But I enjoyed it for what it was: squarely network political drama.

Let's all take a moment to appreciate the utter ridiculousness of the fundamental plot. Kiefer Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, a low-level (Housing and Urban Development, I think it was?) Cabinet member who gets tossed into a safe room during, I dunno, the State of the Union or something. He's the titular "designated survivor" in case anything should happen to the rest of the Cabinet and Congress and whatnot. And of course something does happen, leaving Kirkman as acting President.

It's all played very straight, but if you think about it too much you'll see it's pretty silly.

Still, Kiefer does a great job as a very un-Jack Bauer character thrown into a Jack Bauer situation.

I do wonder if there is/was something going on between him and that Rhodes chick, though.

Kal Penn is on hand as a speech writer who has no faith in Kirkman's abilities. And of course there is a shady, warmongering general plotting to get rid of Kirkman because clearly Kirkman has no ability to lead (based on the whole hour or so he's been in charge and his refusal to bomb everybody).

I feel like there would surely be an emergency election or something, right? But I don't know enough about how our system works to be sure, and Designated Survivor is banking on most people not knowing much either. It's one of those shows that does just enough to skirt believability. Maybe the whole election thing will come up later. When you're in scramble mode after a major attack, who has time to run for president?

Overall, I found the show amusing and entertaining, which is all I really wanted from it to begin with. I'll keep watching.