Movies: The Rewrite

A film from 2014 masquerading as something from around 1999. A cute story that has potential collapses under its own lack of direction and any real conflict.

Hugh Grant plays Keith Michaels, a once-hot screenwriter whose star has faded. Desperate for work, he agrees to teach a course at a university in Binghamton, NY. Almost immediately he falls into bed with a cute student, catches the ire of the resident uptight, tenured professor (Allison Janney), and finds himself dogged by a persistent would-be screenwriter (Marisa Tomei). Chris Elliott and J.K. Simmons round out the pretty stellar cast—too bad the movie didn't do much with them.

Despite so much being thrown at its main character, The Rewrite fails to provide conflict or tension of any kind, almost as though it can't bear to be too mean to bumbling-but-well-meaning Grant. It also can't muster any kind of through line. Instead of a stretched, taut rubber band, this movie is more like a rubber band ball, everything mushed together. Situations are set up and then dropped or let down in a anticlimactic way.

1. Professor Weldon (Janney) takes a dislike to Michaels at his first staff mixer when he admits not liking Jane Austen then proceeds to also bad mouth the idea of kick-ass women in films. But while this does come into play a little bit later, Weldon is mostly absent from the film, a potential point of conflict left unused.

2. Michaels starts a relationship with one of his students. Obviously a no-no. But when they break it off, the student does not go in for the kill, and [spoiler alert] Michaels is able to talk himself out of trouble.

3. The supposed building relationship between Michaels and Tomei's character is practically non-existent. They chat, they chat, they fall in love? I think? Zero build up, zero chemistry.

4. There's some kind of story about Michaels trying to reconnect with his estranged son, but that is marginalized to the point one wonders why even have it in the movie at all?

We're supposed to feel bad for Michaels because he's being aged out of Hollywood. They want "fresh voices." But we're not given time to sympathize because he immediately begins doing stuff to get himself in trouble.

I also had a problem with the subtle misogyny in this movie. It's insidious but there. Janney's uptight spinster character; the way Michaels gets away with boinking a student; the ongoing jokes about J.K. Simmons' character having a wife and four daughters; and—most tellingly—the fact that one of the only male students in Michaels' class has a brilliant script that gets snapped up immediately. Because the girls are only meant to be pretty, of course, and none of them can actually write.

It's a shame, really, that this movie isn't better. Because it could have been. Loads. It's the kind of movie I usually enjoy, but this one was just off enough that I didn't. Go watch Music and Lyrics (for your Hugh Grant fix) or Wonder Boys (for a story about a washed-up writer) instead.


Audiobook: Sherlock Holmes Stories

Hey ho! If you've been putting off reading my Sherlock Holmes stories because you wanted someone else to read them to you, your time has come. They are now available on audiobook, read by the amazing Jared Ashe who does a lovely job of giving voice to Watson. I do hope you'll go have a listen.


Television: Elementary, "Hurt Me, Hurt You"

Whew. It wasn't Sherlock who had a sister but some gang guy. Instead, Sherlock just has a mental manifestation of someone who looks like his mother?

Still not very original, but better than I feared. I mean, someone clearly watched some Mr. Robot and said, "We can do that!"


And the gang war thing . . . So the bad guy from last week kidnapped and murdered the sister of a rival gang's leader in order to spark an all-out war. This gave him the opportunity to divest himself of his unwanted gang because he waltzed into the police station and, in return for immunity, gave up all his gang members. Except he said that someone else killed the girl. Too bad evidence circled back to him, nulling his immunity.

Meanwhile, Sherlock is slowly cracking up. He puts items into boxes then tries to remember what's in the boxes. And this woman he keeps "meeting" is just a figment of his imagination. So while he "blames" her for texting people, he's really the one texting people? From a phone number he doesn't even remember having? Or something?

I dunno. Whatever. He ends up setting fire to the townhouse, or at the very least wrecking the place. Not clear if the fire was also in his head . . . Damage didn't look like fire damage to me . . . But then he went for an MRI cuz there's maybe something wrong in there.

I've been for MRIs. They're loud.

Going for one on Friday, in fact. Not for my head or liver for once. But that's beside the point.

Season ends with questions about Sherlock's health (mental, physical, emotional). Show could get interesting again if we go back to Sherlock + Joan dealing with more personal matters rather than crime-of-the-week. But it doesn't return until next spring, so . . . Gives them time to do it right.

But seriously, why do magnets have to make so much noise?


Television: Twin Peaks, Parts 1 & 2

This show isn't made for me.

I kind of hoped it would be, but I knew it was a long shot.

You see, aside from a couple of key exceptions, I don't actually enjoy David Lynch's work. Those exceptions are the original Twin Peaks network series and Dune. Yes, really.

My theory is that I only like Lynch when he's being constricted or restrained in some way. Network television has a lot of rules. Dune was based on a book. But now that the Twin Peaks revival is on Showtime and no one is putting reins on Mr. Lynch . . . We get stuff I don't care for.

And that's me. Lots of people will surely love this. But I was falling asleep. It was slow, soporific, and IMHO pretty self-indulgent. As bizarre and disjointed as one would expect, but—for me, at least—not nearly as interesting.

I won't even try to recap it, it's such a scramble. Other sites have surely done that job anyway.

So yeah. Not for me. But if you like Lynch, you'll probably enjoy this too.


Television: Elementary, "Scrambled"

Oh, Jesus, are we doing the Sherlock's sister thing here, too? Groan.

The bulk of this episode deals with Shinwell's murder and taking down the gang he had infiltrated. It was the story of two brothers being in charge of SPK, one very visibly and one as the power behind the throne. There was stuff about secret messages/instructions sent via Twitter or whatever. But then as Holmes, Watson and the police began to close the net, the social media account is deactivated and one brother—the showy one—ends up snorting bleach instead of cocaine. He survives but will be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Though the other brother is Suspect #1, there is no proof... yet. Meanwhile, the vacancy in leadership is set to create friction in the gang community.

Fine, fine, whatever. In truth, Watson's lecture to one gang member smacked of 80's MacGyver, and the whole story line feels somewhat dated. Or maybe it's very on point for people living in major cities. I honestly don't know, and that probably makes me a bad, uninformed American. I just know that when I was young (in the 80s), there were lots of lectures about gangs and drugs. Then, as I got older, there weren't. So when I see a story about gangs and drugs, I just think: 80s.

Plus, gangs rank right up there with the mob/organized crime on my list of things that don't interest me. Yes, I am the one person with a film degree who doesn't appreciate The Godfather.

Anyway, B Plot = Holmes having random meetings with some woman who keeps turning up. He tells her about a case, and she jumps ahead and interferes. I mention the "sister" thing because the previews for next week's season finale hinted at something along those lines. And I groan because Sherlock did such a abysmal job of it that I couldn't even be bothered to untangle everything wrong with it, and yet here we are again with the same idea. Really? Two different shows going to the same well? No one had something better and more original than this? No one?

I suppose I should at least congratulate Elementary on pulling out the nod for a sixth season. Or half season, anyway, as it's set to return next spring. Here's hoping they use this opportunity to right the ship. If you're going to sail into the sunset, do it properly at least.

Like Sherlock Holmes? My three original stories, written in the style of Doyle, are now available in one collection. Read it for free via Kindle Unlimited. Audiobook coming soon!


Television: Great News

If you like Tina Fey's brand of comedy (and I do), Great News is more of that. Some of the lines are so Fey, you can imagine her saying them. As it is, Briga Heelan nails the delivery. (Note that Fey did not write any of the scripts, but she is an executive producer.)

What's the show about? Briga Heelan plays Katie, a segment producer on the afternoon news magazine show The Breakdown. Echoes of 30 Rock abound, though the personalities here are slightly less eccentric. Just as neurotic, though. And yes, there is a difference.

The entire cast does a fine job, but John Michael Higgins as news personality Chuck Pierce is the one who makes me laugh out loud. Nicole Richie holds her own against him as they form a mismatched pair of old-school anchorman versus millennial ADHD energy.

Katie's mother Carol (Andrea Martin) comes to intern on the show. (Don't ask, just watch.) Somehow she ends up being the only one who can manage Chuck and therefore becomes indispensable. While PCHH gushed over Martin, I can't say she's my favorite character. This is only after three episodes, however; maybe she gains depth over time. For now she's one joke: helicopter mom annoying her daughter in the workplace. It has its moments but isn't consistently funny. Though it comes in myriad flavors—Mom tries to hook Katie up with coworkers, Mom tries to keep Katie safe during a potentially dangerous assignment—it's all really much of the same: Mom meddling.

Still, if the show should branch away from Carol and Katie a little, I can anticipate devouring the episodes in short order. There is a lot of fun to be had if we can stop focusing on the one gag.


Where Am I Today?

Over at A Writer's Life answering questions about, er, my writing life. And giving people a chance to win that $15 gift card.


Movies: She's Funny That Way

If you like Woody Allen and/or screwball comedies, this movie should be right up your alley.

A theatre director named Arnold (Owen Wilson) gets his kicks by giving call girls big payoffs so they can start new lives. When one of those call girls named Isabella (Imogen Poots) turns up to audition for a play, Arnold's life begins to fall apart. For one thing, Arnold's wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) is also in the play, so the risk is high she will discover what Arnold has been up to. Meanwhile, Isabella has an obsessed stalker who has hired a private eye to follow her. The story is rounded out by a terrible therapist (Jennifer Aniston), her boyfriend who is the playwright (Will Forte), and the sassy star of the play (Rhys Ifans).

There's a bit of a frame story in that Isabella is talking to a journalist, and one is led to wonder how much of the story she tells is true and how much is romanticized.

The cast is stellar, and the movie is legitimately cute and funny in a sweet way. The whole thing feels a bit like a stage play itself, or like it could be. Even Richard Lewis and Cybill Shepherd turn up as Isabella's parents. (Hey, I loved both Anything But Love and Moonlighting back in the day.)

In any case, I'm glad to have stumbled across this little gem. Really enjoyed it.


Television: Elementary, "Moving Targets"

Yes, I'm catching up. Though I guess we're never going to see "High Heat." The week it was supposed to air, our affiliate instead re-ran "Render, and Then Seize Her." The Steve Winwood gave it away immediately.

Anyway. This episode is about the murder of a reality show contestant. She had been wearing a body camera as part of the show—instead of a crew, they use captured footage. Apparently the contestants "kill" each other with paintball guns. But someone used a real gun on this woman (and took the body camera to hide the evidence).

The number one suspect is another of the contestants, of course, specifically one who turns out to have been a war criminal in Africa. But he's turned over a new leaf and been pardoned, more or less, under a treaty. Then there's the fact the victim, who was in law enforcement, was possibly on the take. Except that in reality she was investigating something much deeper.

This is the point at which I wonder why no one is looking at the people who created the show. And sure enough, it all loops back. But I did find it a fairly entertaining story line. Much better than the Shinwell stuff going on.

Yes, there was more Shinwell.

Watson receives a message from him saying they need to meet. Knowing that Holmes and Shinwell are on the outs, Watson attempts to hide this from Holmes, but of course he immediately deduces what's going on. Here is where I tuned out, so I can only give the gist of the B plot: Shinwell has Watson go talk to someone who'd been investigating a murder; Watson is able to supply information/evidence that solves the case? Something like that? And then Shinwell manages to be promoted inside the gang, so he prepares to move out of his apartment. Except Watson then finds him dead in said apartment. Which means, I guess, that the gang figured out Shinwell was an informant. Or not. Who knows? Who cares?

Alas, it does mean the next episode will deal with the fallout. Shinwell may be gone, but his plot arc lives on to slowly strangle the life out of this show.

Speaking of which, we're still waiting to hear if Elementary will be renewed. It's sitting atop the bubble . . . The real question is whether CBS has anything else on hand? If not, it may well leave Elementary where it is while it works to develop new material. Not that many shows would be clamoring for the 10:00 p.m. Sunday time slot anyway. But a place on the schedule is a place on the schedule. "As soon a spot opens up on the map, we're next!"


Television: Elementary, "Fly Into a Rage, Make a Bad Landing"

So Chantal is hospitalized after an attack, and all indications are her ex-husband Roy is the culprit, right down to the urine sprayed all over the bed. Roy reasonably points out that, having been a cop, he knows better than to do something like that [throw his DNA all over a crime scene]. But his history of violence is working against him.

As it turns out, however, the attack has roots in Roy's work as a private investigator. Maybe. When Roy ends up dead via what is meant to look like a suicide, Holmes and Watson drill down. The discovery of a safety deposit box filled with cash leads them to believe Roy was being paid off by someone. Someone who was tired of paying.

After more digging, it turns out Roy's partner killed him after setting Roy up to take the fall for Chantal's attack didn't work.

A fairly straight forward story, though I haven't seen enough of Marcus and Chantal to feel any strong feeling about their relationship, or to even feel very sympathetic toward him specifically. The revelation that he grew up in an abusive household felt pat, too, rather than empathetic. Which is a shame because I do like Marcus Bell as a character. There's just a disconnect in the way they inject his backstory (and the same is true of Gregson as well)—I still don't feel like he's a fully fleshed character. More like the writers sometimes say, "Oh! We should do something with him." And they do for an episode or two and then go back to whatever.

Character development has been rather thin all around this season. Holmes and Watson appear to be in a kind of holding pattern. This is what comes of five years with someone, I guess. Instead of working with the existing characters, the show attempted to introduce new ones like Shinwell. But that's not what viewers want, not what (and who) we tune in to see. Elementary has devolved into an somewhat outr&eactue; procedural that lacks the charm that once set it apart, which is to say its unique take on old characters.


Books: The Reluctant Wife by Caroline Warfield

So I've only read one other book by Caroline Warfield, but I can say this one was pretty similar to that so . . . There's something to be said for consistency, I guess. But when I say "similar," this is what I mean:

  1. Both books I've read by her feature a young widow whose first husband was a loser, making the female MC reluctant to trust a man or ever marry again.
  2. Both books feature a soldier living far from England and often under harsh circumstances, by which I mean poverty or ignominy or some combination thereof.
  3. Both books feature a child or children in need of guardians and care. "Custody" seems to be a running theme.

I will say, I enjoyed this book more than Dangerous Secrets. I found the main characters more engaging in this novel, and the attraction more believable. But I do have to wonder at the MMC's lack of sorrow when his mistress—mother of his two daughters—dies. Like, the book starts with a fuss about the funeral and what to do with the girls, and I'm like, "If he's had this mistress long enough to have two daughters with her, he must know he has children? Like, he knew there were times his mistress was pregnant, right? So why is he suddenly confused by all this?" And if it had been presented that he was overcome with grief, I might have bought it. But instead he's just harried. He doesn't want to be bothered with the fact he has daughters, and he doesn't seem too distressed by the fact this woman he spent years with has died. And I'm supposed to like this guy?

To Warfield's credit, we do come to like Fred, but I continue to be troubled by that jumping off point.

A handful of punctuation and formatting errors also distracted me. But overall, this was a quick and enjoyable read.


Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista
Directed By: James Gunn
Written By: James Gunn (screenplay)
Marvel Studios, 2017
PG-13; 136 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as the first film, but nearly. There is a lot of humor, as usual, though most of the funny stuff goes to Drax this time. I can't remember the last time I laughed that much at a movie. Visually, this is an eye-catching film, too. And it has the soundtrack you expect as well.

But I was also really aware of stuff in this movie in a way that I wasn't last time. And I don't know if that's a good thing.

The "family" theme—I felt hit over the head with that, with how often they felt the need to even say the word "family." I kept thinking, Yeah, we get it. Same with Quill insisting that he and Gamora have an "unspoken thing." You don't have to keep saying it; we're smart enough to read facial expressions.

Chris Pratt is also only ever Chris Pratt, and the more movies he makes the more obvious that becomes. I wish someone would give him a role that's at least a little bit different. (Then again, if he is terrible at anything but this one thing he does, maybe that's a bad idea. Maybe we just need new types of characters in movies, or else Chris Pratt is going to be in ALL THE THINGS.) Don't get me wrong, I love what he does. It just no longer feels very fresh.

That said, some of the lightness of the first movie is gone from this one thanks to heavy character moments. They've stacked a lot of pathos on top of the humor here. I'm not sure how well it works; I'm still processing some of that, I think. I did feel like we were getting a lot of sobby backstories, though. A lot of exposition via one character feeling the need to tell another character some stuff.

Okay, so what's the actual movie about? Um . . . Quill's father Ego (Kurt Russell, perfectly cast) turns up to take Quill "home" to the planet he created, or maybe actually is, or something. Ego is a "Celestial," which means he's kind of a god. He can manipulate matter, and he wants to teach his son to do the same. I won't give away anything more than that.

Meanwhile, Gamora's sister Nebula continues to pursue her.

And a race called the Sovereign are after the Guardians because Rocket stole some batteries from them. The Sovereign are consistently good for laughs throughout the movie; they are self-important and "fight" remotely by manning ships via what approximates a video game interface. If you're familiar with arcade culture, you'll find it amusing.

Yondu is there, too, facing a mutiny as his men think he's gone too soft.

The script was written to be quoted, pithy with many one-liners. And the movie does what it's meant to do, which is entertain. I'd certainly go see it again, as it's very watchable. The points above are mere nits I'm picking, because any time I find myself noticing something while watching a film, I have to wonder why I'm noticing. What's pulling me out of being totally immersed? But these are small things, and though they distracted me, they did not sink the film for me. And the addition of Pom Klementieff as Mantis is fabulous. She makes a great foil for Drax.*

Meanwhile, my kids think it's the best movie ever made, so . . .

*It's been pointed out that Mantis' role emphasizes the stereotype of subservient Asian women. I hadn't really thought about it; I was too busy enjoying her role. But I can see the problems with it, and also with her being even "stupider" than Drax. The dumb female is another stereotype we could do without. It left me to wonder whether Klementieff cringed at some of the lines she was given?


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Television: Elementary, "The Art of Sleights and Deception"

A magician dies performing a bullet catch . . . with his mouth. Turns out the bullet was poisoned. We get the usual meandering parade of potential suspects. Whole thing boils down to an old how-to magic book and some Nazi paraphernalia. Watch the episode to see how they get there; despite liking magic and magicians and shows about magic and magicians, I half tuned out pretty early on. Something about Elementary has been kind of dull lately.

Meanwhile, Plot B was about Bell being brought up on charges that he pulled his gun on someone at a red light. Since we all know this is not at all Bell's style, and because the "previously on" went to pains to remind us of Bell's girlfriend and ex, we already know where this is going. The ex was in the force, was able to get a friend to lie about Bell, and had enough inside knowledge to know the make of Bell's gun to lend credence to the accusation. Things do look dark for Bell for a while, but naturally he comes out ahead . . . Except when he finds his girlfriend left for dead (or maybe just dead, but I feel like I saw something that made me believe she wasn't? previews? I can't even remember because this show falls right out of my head after I watch it now. It's just not interesting enough to stick).

Yeah, so . . . That. Happened.

Apparently I'm not the only one losing interest as ratings have slipped over the past couple weeks. While there has been no official verdict from CBS about the future of the show, assuming the network has enough fun new stuff for next season, it seems likely this is the last we'll see of Elementary. But I could be wrong! I'd love to see them have a chance to perk it up again. At the same time, I hate watching something saunter vaguely downward. I can't promise, if there were another season, that I could stick with the show if it kept on in this vein.