Movies: Ghostbusters (2016)

This was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be, though not nearly as bad as people seemed to make it out to be. That is, it was the same kind of funny as the original (and with more or less the same plot). The jokes flew thick, and some landed and some didn't, but none were left hanging long enough to matter either way. No dead air, as it were.

There were some missed opportunities, I think. Jokes that never went anywhere. Like the dog thing, or the fact that Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) had no lenses in his glasses. Shouldn't he have been stumbling around slightly blind or something? I also found his suddenly wanting to join the Ghostbusters somewhat odd since there had been zero setup for that. He'd shown exactly no interest in them or what they did, then he wanted to join the team?

I also felt the big, final fight was a tad too long, but that's become common in today's action films.

A lot of cameos, of course.

In all, not terrible. It entertained me in exactly the way I expected, which is pretty much the most one can ask for from a movie. (It's only bonus if a movie goes above and beyond what is expected.) If you like the kind of humor in things like 21 Jump Street, this one is similar. I think it suffered from the weight of its source material and probably was never going to get a fair shake on its own merit, which is a shame.


I have honest concerns about the direction of our country. To the point that I'm having nightmares about it. Even as a kid during the Cold War, I didn't have nightmares. Now maybe that's because I was too young to truly understand all that was going on, but still . . .

There appears to be a definite design here. Attempts to discredit and squash the experts (scientists), and now also to silence any unflattering press so that we only hear one "approved" message. This is a slide toward fascism, and we cannot allow our democracy to fall to it.

I'm not sure what can be done besides being vigilant. It's tiring, to be sure, but we must speak out when we see the wrongs. It worries me that our elected officials are not stepping up to do their jobs. Just goes to show how corrupt many of them are—and the rest are cowards. Mid-term elections feel very far away, and I worry the system will continue to be rigged so that the wrong people remain in power.

What can we do but fight? Resist? Speak out? Hector our congresspeople? What happens when the system fails its people and is hijacked by rich and powerful maniacs? I'm afraid we're finding out.


Television: Elementary, "Rekt in Real Life"

My kids all watch these YouTube videos of other people playing video games while keeping up a running commentary. That's, like, a thing apparently. And someone who writes for Elementary probably has kids like mine, because they decided to do a story about these famous YouTube video gamers.

(Seriously, my two youngest were playing Mario Kart and "commentating" as though they were YouTubers. They're seven and eight.)

Anyway, Elementary's latest MO has been to see how far from the original incident they can possibly get as far as plot goes. So while this episode began as YouTube-gamer-is-murdered, it went on to be about human trafficking, seal hunting, and global warming. Not necessarily in that order. But maybe. I don't really remember. Once we got away from the murder, I began to lose interest. The suspect-turned-victim was someone we never really met, so it was difficult to feel anything for him or care what happened.

I'd like to see an episode where you really are made to sympathize with someone only to discover they're horrific.

Speaking of horrific, there was more Shinwell plot this episode, too. Look, I want to like Shinwell as a character, but he's kind of one-note and his side plots are just so much padding. They don't contribute meaningfully to the show as a whole. In this case, his estranged daughter contacts him as a last resort because a gang boy won't leave her alone. After Shinwell clears that up, the daughter tells him she only came to him because she had no other choice and that she doesn't want him to be part of her life. That's pretty awful, actually, and so I do feel bad for Shinwell and want to slap his daughter. Using people is not okay. But that isn't enough to make me want to sit through anymore Shinwell storylines. Because ugh.

So there's been a lot of starting out interesting and then going off the rails in recent episodes. Maybe for once they should start with something small and go big? (They probably have done, but clearly not enough to make it memorable for me.)


Books: The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

I've been evangelizing for this series since I first read Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot). But after Foxglove Summer and now The Hanging Tree, I find my enthusiasm waning. And that breaks my heart.

It could be that it's been just long enough since I read the earlier books that, when this book references characters and events, I struggle to recall what happened when and who so-and-so is. The whole thing has become unwieldy; I almost need a cast of characters or a timeline or something. (That probably exists online somewhere...)

Can I even describe the plot here? It's kind of a mess. Starts with someone overdosing at a party, and Tyburn's daughter Olivia is implicated. But then things veer off in a variety of directions, with American magicians thrown in. And of course more with Lesley and the Faceless Man which, though progress is made, I'm sort of sick of this particular plot. The "we almost caught them!" thing is getting really, really old.

In any case, this one felt disjointed, what with the hinky plot going from one thing to the next like a pinball. And I noticed the typos became more frequent as I went along, which makes me wonder whether there was deadline pressure and they cut a copyediting/proofreading pass toward the end. (Having worked in publishing, I've known it to happen. And Foxglove Summer similarly felt rushed at the end.)


I still think this should be a television series. And I'll continue to read the books, at least for now. Maybe these are just a slump. Though I also acknowledge how much harder it is to hold something together the larger it becomes. The Peter Grant series is starting to be behemoth. Lots of characters, lots of rules for how the magical world works . . . Might be time to contract it a bit and get back to the really good stuff.

Movies: Nocturnal Animals


And I realize it's meant to be, yes, but there you have it.

Parts of it are truly difficult to watch. Again, it's good sometimes to engage with art that disturbs you, but I wish I'd been warned.

Haven't read the books, so I can't comment on the adaptation itself.

It's a beautiful movie cinematically and has a brilliant score.

There's not much more I can say for it. I'd never watch it again, and I have no desire to read the book now either. ::shrug::

I guess on the whole this movie turned me off.


Movies: Money Monster

I don't think this movie was as bad as the ratings suggested. I actually kind of enjoyed it. Sure, it's basically 90 minutes of watching George Clooney charm his way out of a bad situation, but there's entertainment value in that.

For those of you who are thinking I've never even heard of this movie, let me summarize. George Clooney plays Lee, who is more or less that guy on television who screams about stocks and investments. You know the one? [Looked it up: Jim Cramer.] Anyway, a disgruntled viewer who lost his life savings manages to waltz into the studio one day, pulls a gun on Lee, and forces him into a vest with a bomb in it. So then we get Lee trying to talk the guy down.

At the same time, there's a pseudo mystery plot about the particular stock the guy lost money on. A company called Ibis. Lee and his TV crew end up helping the bad guy by solving the big question of how and why all that money was lost. (You know Clooney wouldn't have agreed to do the movie if he couldn't be a hero in the end.)

I imagine this got greenlit not only because they attached A-list talent (Clooney, Julia Roberts), but because they were able to pitch it as limited locations which saves a certain amount of money. Then again, there are some major street scenes that might've cost a pretty penny.

Long story short, I was entertained. Maybe because it had such weak ratings, I had low expectations and so wasn't disappointed. If you ever want a movie with Clooney at his Clooniest, this one will serve.


Television: Stuff I Stopped Watching

Okay, so I really thought Timeless was cute and all, but then my DVR got full and I realized I just didn't care enough about the show to keep it. Like, I was never going to get back around to catching up with it.

Same thing with Scream Queens. The first season was so much fun, but after a couple episodes of the second season, I realized I was sort of tired of it. I wish they had all new characters instead of extending the story of the first season's characters. I felt done with them.

Was enjoying Designated Survivor but . . . somehow lost track of it as well.

With so much content out there, I'm simply having to get more and more selective about what I watch. I can't just kinda-sorta like a show. I have to really like it to want to make the time.

Also, I'm finding I'd rather watch more mindless stuff than anything that requires so much work on my part. I'm tired at the end of the day. My brain is mush. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Tiny House Hunters are undemanding. Even 24: Legacy is just so much fluff.

Then again, I'm loving Legion so far, so not all my shows have to be easy on the mind. I'm willing to put the effort in for well-written stuff that fully engages me.

So what have I been watching? Um . . .

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (streaming on Netflix)
Elementary (CBS)
Legion (FX)
24: Legacy (FOX)
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

And when they're on:

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Tiny House Hunters (HGTV)
Documentary Now! (IFC)

Looking forward to:

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Fargo (FX)

And I'll be watching Game of Thrones when it's back, too.

What do you watch? What have you given up on? Is there anything I'm missing that I should absolutely try?

Books: Dangerous Secrets by Caroline Warfield

So this was a somewhat nice change from the typical Regency romance. For one thing, it's set primarily in Rome. A dissolute baron-turned-army-major is holed up there, too ashamed to return home to England. And then an Englishwoman finds him and hires him as her translator to help her navigate through the Italian culture as she tries to gain custody of her niece.

There are a lot of politics in this book, so if you don't like that kind of thing, this may not be the book for you. I, for one, appreciated the depth of research. However, I didn't 100% enjoy the plot. It just felt at times a wee bit repetitive. The niece (who at first I couldn't tell how old she must be? but then figured out she's five) disappears a couple of times, which of course causes drama. The hero keeps thinking about how he should come clean and be honest about his past. He also refers to the heroine as a "wren" for the first part of the book, but then that is rather abruptly dropped. The villains are somewhat thinly painted, too. I actually most enjoyed seeing the hero interact with his friends, but that comes very late in the book and is brief.

The romance here is . . . okay. I wasn't feeling flames or anything, but Regency is often sweet. Thing is [spoiler], these characters do get married, and there are sex scenes. But I just didn't feel the chemistry the way I wanted to.

Nor did I get as much resolution as I might have liked. Some things get tied up off the page and explained later, and some things are left implied.

Still, I have to admire Warfield for writing something other than the usual vapid Regency tale. This is much more layered and nuanced than that. And what do I know? This book won a RONE award, after all.

I'd certainly check out more by Warfield.


Television: 24: Legacy, "1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m."

This picture taken while I was watching pretty much sums up my feelings about the whole thing:

I'm the one on the right.

Don't judge; I've been crazy ill, and it's a wonder I was able to sit up at all and/or eat. It may even be that I'm so medicated none of what I was seeing made sense, but I suspect even without medication I'd have been lost. Like . . . Why exactly didn't a station full of cops jump Carter right away?

No, no, don't waste your time trying to explain it to me.

So far I'm just not 100% enthralled here. Everything seems so repressed and contained, and that's not what I want from 24. What I want is Jack Bauer (or similar) going, "Fuck it, I'll just shoot everybody and be done with it." And then all hell breaks loose and it's totally entertaining.

This is not totally entertaining.

Will it get there? I dunno. If it doesn't happen soon, I might tune out before I can find out.

Now I'm off to take more medicine.


Television: Legion, "Chapter 1"

David Haller has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and institutionalized. He seems fairly well adjusted to that. Until the day Syd Barrett arrives as another mental patient. She doesn't like to be touched but agrees to be David's girlfriend anyway. Then, on the day she's meant to be released, David impulsively kisses her . . . and everything goes to hell.

I won't go into the play-by-play; you can use a Wikipedia recap for that, or better yet, watch it yourself. I will say—coming from someone who is so done with Marvel this and DC that and superhero s*** in general—I really, REALLY liked Legion.

Okay, yeah, unreliable narrators are so done to death now, but in this case you don't feel like it's David trying to put something over on you. He really doesn't know who or what is real or not. You navigate the show inside his own confusion. And it is confusing at times (lots of times), but intriguing too.

Likewise, it's paced well, and stylistically it looks amazing.

The one drawback: the music drew too much attention to itself for my taste. Was distracting at times, and felt very Stranger Things. Like, I literally wondered if the composer had been told to make the music sound like Stranger Things. (Also: waffles.) I will tip my hat to the soundtrack used here, but when the original score is this invasive, something is wrong. Still, that's a minor beef.

I'm entering this with little to no knowledge of the universe upon which Legion teeters, so comics fans may have a different take. But coming in cold, I just was really engaged. Noah Hawley has made another good one.


"You write really well!"

I just have to laugh. Like, so many people who know me, or have known me for a while, and then discover I'm an author . . . So they ask politely about my books, and I give them a card so they can find my Web site. And later they come back, all surprised: "You write really well!"

Um, yeah. That's what I do.

I mean, I appreciate the encouragement, and I know that not everyone will love my writing. But I just can't help laughing at how surprised people seem to be. It would be like me going to their office and checking out their work and saying, "Wow! You do this job really well!"

"Well, yeah," they might say, "that's why I have the job."

I guess it comes with the explosion of independent authors. Now anyone can call themselves a writer. No application necessary.

Still, I find it amusing that people seem to think I've been hiding this side of me, this "talent" or whatever. I really haven't. It's just not something that's easy to show off like, say, juggling. Being good at writing is a quiet sort of thing.

Even my own parents said to me, "You know, this is a book I would have read anyway, even if you hadn't written it!"

I love the people in my life. And I don't mean that in a sarcastic way; I truly do love them. They make me smile, and they make all the work worth it.


Television: 24: Legacy, "12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m."

24 is back . . . without Bauer. But that's okay! We'll still have fun. Maybe.

So U.S. Army Sergeant Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins) is in a witness protection program after taking part in a big raid against terrorist leader Bin Khalid. And now some of Khalid's men are tracking down the raiders. They're searching for a "lockbox" [that Al Gore didn't have?]. Turns out some guy named Ben has it; he took it during the raid because he felt he was "owed" for his work. But this lockbox has more than money and passports in it. A quick look—that Ben never took, apparently—shows a false bottom that hides a flash drive full of information about terrorists and sleeper cells, etc.

Now Ben wants to sell the information to the government—or to Khalid's men. Cuz, you know, he's "owed."

There's some other stuff going on, of course. Like, it wouldn't be 24 without random teen drama, and since Jack Bauer's daughter isn't there to supply it, we're having to make do with some foreign high school student and her teacher, and the fact that another student has seen some texts that have clued him in to the fact that this girl is a terrorist. He doesn't know about the teacher, though. That's going to come as a surprise.

Meanwhile, Carter has dropped his wife? girlfriend? off with his thug brother because there's no one else to protect her while he (Carter) tries to help CTU with the Khalid thing.

Also Eowyn is married to Jimmy Smits. And he's running for office and she's supposed to be handing over the reins of CTU to someone but she can't let go. Especially not now with this Khalid problem because she's one of only a couple people who has inside knowledge of what went down. So she's trying to contain things, but we all know how that goes. (BANG. It goes BANG.)

So, yeah, this is an okay start. The situations are somewhat interesting, but so far I'm not seeing the spark of action hero personality that I so enjoyed in Jack Bauer. Like, I'm already missing the kick-assedness of JB. So let's hope they step things up a bit and quickly.


Movies: Arrival

Well, that was interesting.

I mean, I didn't hate it or anything. But after all the hype . . . I don't know what I expected, really. I haven't read the story it was based on. I like language stuff. I thought the aliens were interesting. But I found Amy Adams singularly uninteresting. And maybe that was intentional. Maybe she's supposed to be this just completely normal person. Except she's not really normal, is she? We're supposed to think she's exceptional because the government comes and gets her when they need someone to learn an alien language. So . . . She's brilliant but in a boring kind of way???

Seriously, I don't know. I wasn't blown away by this. I did find it intriguing. Visually, it's quite lovely. I can see why they chose Villeneuve for the Dune remake. But I also see—contrary to so many—why Adams didn't make the Oscar list. It's a perfectly good performance, but there's no energy in it. This whole movie—there's no energy in any of it. It's muted in every possible way. And that's fine; it works for the story they're telling. But it's not the kind of performance that gets Oscar attention.

Still, Arrival received what? Eight nods? And they're all earned. It's a thoughtful movie and a nice change from all the loud spectacles. But don't watch it if you're at all sleepy because it will lull you.

As for the twist, I saw it coming pretty early. And at the end, they draw it out quite a bit as though to hit you over the head with it. "Do you get it?!" the movie seems to be asking. Shouting, in a way. Uh, yeah, we get it. You can wrap up whenever you're ready.

In short, I liked it. Wasn't wowed, but ::shrug:: It posed an interesting scenario, very different from the usual take on aliens. Just for that, it's worth seeing.

Television: Powerless, "Wayne or Lose"

Um . . . okay. I really like the idea behind this show. It's about people living in Charm City (part of the DC Universe) and dealing with the day-to-day realities of having superheroes constantly fighting all around them. The main characters work for Wayne Enterprises, in particular in the R&D or something like that. Their job is to create cool gadgets and gear for WE to manufacture and sell.

All well and good, but . . . The execution was a little too . . . twee? saccharine? In short, it didn't work for me.

This first episode has the kind of plot line that feels old-fashioned in this day and age: new girl (Vanessa Hudgens) starts her first day at work, and her job is to supervise this motley crew of geeks. Same day, Bruce Wayne calls and says he's shutting them all down because they're obsolete and haven't come up with anything good in a long time. But of course the new girl whips her team into shape and they invent something amazing on the spot and everyone's jobs are saved.

I liked Danny Pudi in Community, and he's kind of doing the same thing here, so . . . I guess that's okay? And I can't help but enjoy Alan Tudyk as Van Wayne, Bruce's cousin who runs the Charm City office but aspires to be relocated to Gotham. But collectively, this is such a strange amalgam. It's like they weren't sure how over-the-top, cartoony to get. The result is, it's too cartoony to take seriously but not cartoony enough to be actually funny.

I don't know. I wonder whether Powerless will find its footing as the characters develop? I remember I didn't love Community or Parks and Rec the first time I watched them but those shows grew on me. Might this one, too? As the characters become more clearly defined and the writers get into the groove? I'll give it another one or two episodes.


Television: Elementary, "Over a Barrel"

Okay, so this was a pretty interesting entrance point: a man named Jack Burnelle keeps trying to get Holmes and Watson to investigate his son's assault that resulted in his son being in a coma and dying. But despite repeated requests, Holmes and Watson were always too busy to take his case. With the statue of limitations running out, Burnelle gets desperate. He takes a diner full of people hostage and demands Holmes solve his son's assault-turned-murder before midnight. Watson remains at the diner as collateral/increased motivation.

So Holmes and Bell dive in. Of course the whole thing goes back to gangs. This show is really into gangs lately, which for me is just another take on Mafia/organized crime; in short, I don't find it very interesting. At least not usually. But (many plot turns later) this gang happens to be smuggling maple syrup. Now that's pretty entertaining.

Meanwhile, Watson's attempts to forge a connection with Burnelle are textbook and not terribly engaging. At no point do we really believe she or the hostages are in much danger. Even the one hostage Burnelle is truly angry with—a police detective who Burnelle feels did nothing to solve his son's case—doesn't bring much emotional impact to the story. I feel like there could have been more here, but maybe it was all edited out for time?

Still, overall this was one of the better episodes.

Brynnde: Chapter 1

So my new book comes out in exactly one week. But if you're too excited to wait that long, you can at least read the first chapter, which is posted here. And then be sure to pre-order so you get the best price!


Brynnde up for cover recognition

So you may have heard my latest book Brynnde is about to be released (Feb 9). And now it's getting a little cover love, too! I can't take the credit; Lila Mijailovic designed the cover, and I think she did a fabulous job. I hope you do, too, and would like to reward her with a vote on the Books & Benches cover contest.

(And while you're at it, go ahead a pre-order the ebook for just 99 cents. Goes up to $2.99 at release.)