Movies: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Voices By: Jackie Chan, Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen
Directed By: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Written By: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington (screenplay); 7 other people, except a few are the same people (story)
Warner Bros., 2017
PG; 101 minutes
4.25 stars (out of 5)


So on the LEGO movie spectrum, I liked this one almost as much as The LEGO Movie and quite a bit more than The LEGO Batman Movie.

Dave Franco voices Lloyd Garmadon, son of the world's greatest villain. Lloyd has just turned 16, and he's hated by pretty much everyone simply because his dad is the worst. Of course, Lloyd is secretly one of the Ninjas that defend the city every time Garmadon (Justin Theroux) attacks. It's a sweet gig but Lloyd is naturally conflicted. He longs to have a father-son relationship, but how is that possible when his dad (a) left when he was a baby, and (b) is an evil tyrant?

During a particularly vicious battle between the Ninjas and Garmadon's army, Lloyd takes the nigh unforgivable step of using The Ultimate Weapon. It only makes things worse and hands Garmadon a victory. So Lloyd must go in search of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon to make things right again.

The story is simplistic and predictable, but there's enough humor to keep things going. Jackie Chan is a natural as the voice of Master Wu, who also happens to be Lloyd's uncle and Garmadon's brother. A live-action frame story featuring Chan as the proprietor of a cluttered shop is also very cute, if stereotypical.

I do feel like there could have been more in-depth introductions to the other Ninjas. I've never watched the television show, so maybe that's something I'm already supposed to be familiar with. And I get that this is a kids' movie and character development isn't necessarily a focus. But it just seems to me that they could have done a wee bit more there. (This may be a bi-product of writing by committee.)

But overall, a cute movie, and my kids really enjoyed it, which was kind of the point. The fact that I liked it as much as I did is a bonus.


Books: Online or Flatline by Nick Choat

Full disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book via some review group that I assume the author hired to, er, get reviews for his book. The reason I requested a review copy was that I hoped the book would have some insight for me as a self-published author. I mean, being a self-published author is like running a small business in many ways. However, I can't say this book had much for me.

This book is so short it's almost a thick pamphlet. That said, one could praise it for being concise? I will say I enjoy Choat's conversational tone. The book is inviting. Perhaps Choat realizes some people—and this book really seems geared at older businesspeople—are a little afraid of the online world, at least when it comes to marketing. So he tries with his tone to make it all less scary.

That said, this book is very basic, too. It's for extreme beginners. This book is a toe dip, not a jump-in-and-swim. And some of the information is not exactly true. In particular, Choat goes on for a bit about "Google for Business" which isn't a thing as far as I can tell. He writes:
One platform, Google for Business (formerly G+), stands out from this crowd for the simple reason that Google owns the platform. The original G+ struggled to capture social hearts and minds like Facebook. So Google . . . repositioned G+ to be a tool for small businesses instead of a social tool for the masses. Now they call it Google for Business.
He goes on to say that this "Google for Business" works against business owners who don't have a profile with them. As best I can tell, none of this is true. First off, I think Choat may mean Google My Business, which is an online directory that businesses can post a profile on. However, Google+ (or G+) still exists as a social platform as well. And I've never heard of anyone suffering for not having a Google My Business profile. If your SEO is working, you'll come up in search results regardless.

While Choat discusses at length the things he considers necessary for small business success (a Web site being #1, which, duh), most of his examples are anecdotal. There aren't hard numbers here, or even much data to back up his words. He mentions things he's done for his haircut franchise but doesn't say what his results were. Sure, he did some Facebook ads, but can he tell us how many new customers came in from those? Apparently not. When talking about the need to have your business listed in online directories, he writes: "While I don't have hard data, intuitively I believe that 10-20 percent of your digitally acquired new customers will come through these platforms." Intuitively? Does he have a reason for this intuition, or is it a gut feeling?

On the plus side, Choat is correct is telling small-business owners to beware predators who will milk them. Vet any "service providers" and be sure to figure out how much you can do on your own and for yourself. While a lot of what Choat recommends—and he really is only covering the bare basics here—takes time, much of it shouldn't cost any money. Choat is right to tell readers that they should only hire experts (and make sure they're experts!) as a last resort if/when they can't do something themselves.

He's also on point when telling readers to start with one and then build. Don't try to do Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. all at once. Get a Web site set up, then a Facebook page. Let that ride for a while before adding another component. There's nothing more overwhelming than too many social media outlets to manage.

Finally, as an editor I found numerous punctuation problems that distracted me from the text. I also have to marvel at the $12.99 barcode considering the book is only 100 pages long. (Goodreads thinks it's 124, but the copy I received is 104 pages. Maybe I'm missing a few? But my pages are numbered consecutively, so . . .)

In short, this book is a modest stepping stone to a much wider digital world. It's a starting point, but one that beginning online marketers will quickly outgrow. Many readers will soon find themselves in search of broader and more in-depth information. This book is equivalent to water wings; readers may benefit more from a lifejacket.


Movies: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Starring: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore . . . Elton John?
Directed By: Matthew Vaughn
Written By: Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn (screenplay) from the comic book by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons
20th Century Fox, 2017
R; 141 minutes
3.75 stars (out of 5)


First question: Was there a fire sale on John Denver music for use in film or something? Or is it just that films with any connection to Channing Tatum are required to use John Denver songs now? Because between this one and Logan Lucky, I've heard more John Denver in the past few weeks than I have since that episode of The Muppet Show from when I was a kid. You know the one.

If that weren't weird enough, Elton John is in this movie and you still hear more John Denver than anything else.

Okay, okay, whatever. Let's get to the nuts and bolts.

A disgruntled Kingsman reject attempts to hijack Eggsy's  very sophisticated cab one night, and while Eggsy manages to fend the baddies off, they still get the info they need to incite the rest of the plot. Namely, they discover locations of all Kingsman agents and properties and destroy them all. Only Eggsy and Merlin survive.

There is a Doomsday Protocol for this kind of thing, and that leads our heroes to Kentucky, where they team up with the Statesman operation—a U.S. cousin to the British Kingsman, natch. But while the Kingsman cover is a tailor shop, the Statesman agency makes whiskey.

Julianne Moore plays Poppy, a psycho drug dealer who craves recognition for her work as the most successful "pharmaceutical CEO" in the world. Alas, she's forced to live in the jungles of Cambodia in an HQ that looks more like she runs Johnny Rocket's. She explains this by saying she grew up amid 50's nostalgia and still loves it. Which is why she's also kidnapped Elton John for her personal entertainment.

Questions you didn't even know you wanted answered:

(1) Do they give an explanation for Colin Firth's survival? A: Yes, and while it feels like a bit of a reach, it is in keeping with the world that has been built.

(2) Is Channing Tatum in this movie? A: For about five minutes. Despite what the trailers have led you to believe, we mostly spend time with Pedro Pascal (you know him from Game of Thrones, but in this film he looks like he's going for gold in a Burt Reynolds lookalike contest).

(3) Is it as violent as the first movie? A: Hmm. There are a couple not lovely moments with a meat grinder, but other than that, it's not terrible.

I enjoyed this film, though not nearly as much as the first. Apparently Eggsy is still in a relationship with the princess who let him "do butt stuff" (and her English has improved) . . . I feel like there is a lot of talent that didn't get fully explored in this movie, and I think the overall problem of drug users being in imminent danger of dying if Poppy doesn't distribute the antidote was weak. As in, not very compelling. And then the denouement felt too easy, and Agent Whiskey's motivation was not established early on, and Galahad Sr.'s mental issues get dropped halfway through, etc. Like, just a lot of minor problems that built up to be a distraction for me from my overall pleasure in the film.

And then at the end (minor spoilers), I have to assume some time has passed? Impeachment doesn't happen that quickly (as we all know), and I don't think a wedding can be slapped together so fast either. So I can only assume there's a leap in time there somewhere.

That said, the action sequences are well done as ever. Halle Berry does a fine job with a limited role. Too bad there wasn't more Jeff Bridges, but I'd say that even about movies in which Jeff Bridges is the star, so . . .

tl;dr: I had fun. But not as much fun as I expected to have.


Books: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I heard about this book a while back. (It was published in 2013.) Because I'm contrary by nature, I almost never read books people tell me I "must" read. At least not right away. It's why I didn't read the first Harry Potter book until 2001 or so. And why I didn't read this one until I found it cheap at Half-Price Books.

Fangirl is a pretty simple story. Cath is starting college, and her twin sister Wren (get it? Cath-Wren? Cathrine?) doesn't want to be her roommate. They've shared a room their whole lives and now Cath feels adrift in an unfamiliar world. So she clings to her fan fiction—stories she writes about her favorite literary hero (a magician named Simon Snow, very like Harry Potter). Cath writes slash about Simon and a vampire character named Baz, and apparently is a very popular fanfic author online. Which explains why Cath keeps retreating to that world rather than face her daily life of classes, boys, and a snarky roommate.

Since I was also a well-received fanfic author when I went to college, I really sympathized with Cath in a lot of ways. (Of course, I'm old enough that back then fanfic had to be submitted to zines; you couldn't just post it online and have people flock to you.) But I found a lot of her problems to be superficial, and I also found her a little too naive to believe.

Cases in point (spoilers, sweeties):

  • She didn't see that the guy in her fiction writing class was using her. And then she let him use her.
  • She apparently didn't understand that you can't turn fan fiction in as your writing assignment?
  • As a shut-in (or nearly), she still manages to captivate a cute, too-perfect boy who hangs around her dorm room in the hopes that she'll notice him. Um... No. Boys don't just turn up at your door. If you want a relationship, you have to work for it.
  • Family drama: an alcoholic twin, a dad with mental illness issues, a deadbeat mom who tries to re-insert herself in their lives . . . And yet these all felt somewhat glossed over.
  • A writing teacher who see the spark in her and pursues her because she just knows Cath is destined to be a great writer. Gag me. Cath, who isn't even trying, somehow wins a major writing prize. Again, no. I worked for our college lit mag, and I've worked in publishing, and... Just no. (Especially based on the writing samples in the novel.)

Things I did like:

  • The interstitial bits of actual Simon Snow text versus Cath's fan fiction. (Of course, there is no "actual" Simon Snow text since Simon Snow books aren't a real thing, but it was a cute idea. Maybe too cute? Too gimmicky? I still enjoyed it.)
  • The snarky roommate.
  • The dad.
  • The boyfriend, even though he was too perfect to be believed and they never fought? 😁 (I feel like that one could also go against this book.)

Seriously, though, a lot of the plot lines were so suddenly sewn up without being satisfying. And some felt left open. I guess the mom just disappeared down whatever hole she'd crawled out of. So... Okay.

All this makes it sounds like a dud of a book, but I still gave it four stars on Goodreads. Because I did enjoy it overall. Since the conflicts were superficial and/or not plunged into with any depth (alcoholism and mental illness are heavy stuff, but not here!), Fangirl is a fast read. So it's got that going for it. If you want a book you can skate through relatively easily, this one will do.


Books: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

I'll admit the cover art drew me in. And then the blurb on the dust jacket flap. Then I read the first two chapters and thought that my 11-year-old son would love the book, too. So I started over and read it aloud to him.

It's not YA, exactly. I didn't find it shelved in YA at the bookstore I was at, and there are some things that maybe parents wouldn't want their kids to read (swears, hints at rape). But I found it fine for my son who is an advanced reader and with whom I can have very open conversations. (He did still cringe at the couple of kissy parts.)

I think it's interesting, too, that I liked Kell but found Lila to be a bit cliché while my son really liked Lila.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me give you a synopsis first.

Kell is a rare kind of magician known as Antari. In fact, there are apparently only two: him and Holland. Meanwhile, there are four Londons: Grey, Red, White, and Black. Only Antari can travel between the Londons and their worlds.

Kell lives in Red London and is property of the royal family there, though they treat him almost as an adopted son. Holland, meanwhile, is owned by the sadistic rulers of White London. Grey London is the London we know; it's almost devoid of magic. At the point of time in this book, George III is king.

Lila is a thief in Grey London, trying to save to buy a ship because she wants to be a pirate. Alas, her adventure comes from another direction when she pickpockets Kell and ends up entangled in his troubles. They make a good team, and yet I couldn't help feeling she was somewhat one note. There are hints that she's more than meets the *ahem* eye, so maybe her character deepens in later books. (This is first in a trilogy.)

I also found the final battle to be a tad weak after all the build up to it.

Still, overall I really liked this book. I'm a tiny bit in love with Kell, and since I can't remember the last time a writer made me fall in love with a character, that's worth something to me. I look forward to the next book.

Television: Star Trek: Discovery, "The Vulcan Hello"

I've only watched the first hour because that's the part that actually aired on, you know, an actual television station. Sorry, but I'm really sick of being asked to subscribe to twenty different streaming services for a show here, a show there. If CBS offered me more interesting stuff, maybe I'd consider it. But for one show? Even if it is a Trek show? ::smh:: No, I'm not paying a premium to watch one goddamn TV show.

That said, the first hour of this show is pretty good. Not sure why everyone needs to work in half light, and it's pretty talky—also has the sin of putting exposition in dialogue, particularly in the scene where we meet Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green), which had me asking aloud, "Wouldn't they have had this briefing before going to the planet?" But whatever.

Michael Burnham (apparently in the future Michael becomes a girl's name) is first officer on Captain Georgiou's ship. Michael was also raised by Vulcans after her parents were killed by Klingons. In fact, she was raised by Sarek, so it's totally weird that Spock has never mentioned her, like, ever. In this case, too, Sarek is played by James Frain's nose. (Sorry, I'm so very sorry, but I just can't not say it whenever I see James Frain. It's just so obviously James Frain that I can't even think of him as Sarek. It's problematic for me.)

Anyway, there hasn't been any interaction between the Federation and the Klingons for 100 years or something, but then there they are: Klingons. And Michael goes to Sarek for advice because Klingons don't bother Vulcans, so she wants to know what Vulcans do to keep Klingons away. Some kind of repellant? Citronella candles?

Turns out Vulcans always fire first. That somehow earned the Klingons' respect and now they leave Vulcans alone.

Alas, Michael is unable to convince her captain that they need to fire on the Klingons. So she assaults her commanding officer instead, which I'm pretty sure is worthy of court martial. Alas, the hour ended and I'm not paying for the subscription, so . . .  ::shrug:: Bummed I didn't even get to see Jason Isaacs, though.


Television: Anime

I used to watch anime a lot, but it's been a while. Like, 10-15 years. But I started to miss it, and so I re-watched some Shoujo Kakumei Utena and even the first episode of Fushigi Yuugi and began to wonder what else might be out there. Because while I still adore Cardcaptor Sakura, I'm not yet at the point in my life where I just want to relive the good times. I don't want to watch the same shows over again any more than I want to read the same books over and over.

So we got Crunchyroll and began exploring. Sampled a few things we didn't really get into, like Restaurant to Another World, and something about a kid who constantly is forced to choose between two very bad options, and another show in which the students all went to some school to be mages. But we've found some stuff we really like, too.

Aho-Girl is just a ridiculous slice of life show about an idiot girl and the literal boy next door who can't stand her. It's absurd but perfect after a long, stressful day. And the episodes are only about 12 minutes long.

Fastest Finger First is a show about quiz bowl. In fact, in seems designed to teach viewers the very techniques of quiz bowling (we learn as the new quiz bowl members do). I don't know how I feel about that, exactly, but I mostly enjoy the show.

But I think my new favorite is Classroom of the Elite. It's about a government school in which the classes (A, B, C and D) are pitted against one another in an attempt to earn the most points. There's definitely some weird stuff going on, so the show is totally intriguing.

Do you watch anime? If so, do you have recommendations? If not for anime, then manga?


Television: The Orville, "About a Girl"

So. Bortus (who, let's be honest, is really just a discount Worf) and his mate Klyden have . . . hatched? . . . a baby girl. Thing is, in their culture being female is considered a disability. Women are weaker and inferior intellectually (or so they believe). So Bortus and Klyden want to give their baby a sex-change operation. Which is apparently a thing where they're from. But of course everyone on the ship loses their shit when they hear of this.

Eventually, watching Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer gives Bortus fresh insight. All at once he believes their baby should remain a girl! Seriously, though—I thought in that scene Bortus was playing John and Gordon. Like, that he was pretending to go along with their "plan" to reform his way of thinking. Turns out I gave every single one of these characters too much credit. Or the show's writers. Or, really, everyone involved in any way.

Whatever. The result is litigation between Bortus and Klyden. The Orville goes to their home world for a tribunal to hear both sides. [spoilers follow] I guess the lesson is: You can't win them all? Or maybe that some societies (like patriarchal ones, perhaps) aren't going to be swayed by facts and logic? There is no changing some people's minds, no matter how much information you deal them. And some people and cultures will blindly cling to tradition rather than open their eyes.

Meanwhile, despite his defeat, Bortus still loves Klyden and loves their now son. So I guess they're just going to pretend it never happened. [end spoilers]

I have to wonder, though, why being female on the Orville would be a disability. Like, I understand the decision if they lived on their home world, where females are discriminated against. To be clear: I understand the decision, I'm not saying I agree with it. But that discrimination is not likely to happen aboard the Orville, or in any of the situations in which this child is likely to find herself (now himself) amid the Union or whatever. So this is really a matter of cultural preference. Bortus' culture values males, and somehow their baby is more valuable to them if it is male. They claim that, no, they are only trying to make their child's life better, but . . . Their child wasn't going to have a terrible life as a female. And may even have a more difficult life as a male than s/he would have otherwise. Just sayin'.

Now let's look at this episode in context of the three we've thus far seen. Was it better than the first two? Yes. But that was a very low bar. Will I watch more? I might try another one to see if they continue to make progress, but at the same time, I have so many other shows on my viewing list that I'm not 100% sure I'll stick with this one.


Television: The Orville, "Command Performance"

I figured out part of what bothers me about this show (at least thus far, given it's all of two episodes into its run). The characters are constructed as very plug-and-play. They don't have depth. The whole thing is plot driven, and since the plots are formulaic and cliché, there's really very little to engage me as a viewer.

For one thing, they have already done the Ed-and-Kelly thing to death in less than two hours of show. Like, we get it. And we're already sick of it. STFU. Because you've made us care exactly not at all about you as people or your relationship past or present.

Oh, and look: the cute little prodigy of a security officer struggles when put in command? Bah. Don't care about her or her problems either.

The show is going to have to work a hell of a lot harder to form a connection between the audience and the characters. Instead, it wants us to just take things at face value. "This is a really smart, strong girl." Uh... Okay.... So? You can tell me that, and even show me that, but it won't make me care.

This guy sits on his egg and it hatches and—gasp!—it's a female baby, something that shouldn't exist! Don't care, don't care, don't care. You've barely introduced me to the character, you haven't shown me his relationship with his S.O., and you expect me to give a damn about their baby? Nope.

I usually try to give shows three episodes. I'm not sure I can choke down another one of these however. It's just so stale and has nothing new or interesting to say. Nor is it saying anything we've already heard in a new or interesting way. It feels like empty calories. I've got better things to do and better shows to watch.


Center Stage

Hey! I'm here to toot my own horn a little and direct you to the author spotlight on SF Benson's site, where yours truly is being featured. 😀  I hope you'll pop over and read about my weirdest stories, the ones hardest to write, and which of my characters reflect me. Leave questions and comments here or there!


Television: The Magicians, "Unauthorized Magic"

Okay, I know I'm really late to this particular party, but several people have suggested I try this show, so I decided to, uh, try this show. I watched the first episode last night, and . . . I don't know.

The Magicians is about a socially awkward grad student named Quentin who basically gets admitted to the American university equivalent of Hogwarts, I guess? Brakebills. ::shrug:: There is the requisite nerdy girl who, for all her primness, apparently can't find dresses that go past mid-thigh, and she has something against leggings to cover the rest of her. She's also unnecessarily unkind, though I'm sure we'll learn all kinds of things to make her more sympathetic. In this episode we discover her brother Charlie died and no one will tell her what happened to him, so she tries to contact him but it ends badly. Namely, it ends with some guy partially made of giant moths stepping through a mirror. We know he's bad because, well, moths, but also he messes up clocks, freezes everyone (though they're cognizant of being frozen, so it's not really like stopping time), and pulls the dean's eyes out.

Meanwhile, Quentin's overachiever friend from the normal world Julia was rejected from Brakebills and it's messed her up. She's not used to being rejected because she's good at everything and therefore always accepted. It turns out Julia does have a modicum of magical talent, and so a rival group swoops in and admits her into its ranks. It doesn't take much foresight to guess Julia and Quentin are being set up as rivals and/or potential enemies.

I don't know. There's something very pedantic about the whole thing. My understanding is that The Magicians is based on a book (or books), but that it's fairly different from the source material, too? I might need to look into that. As it stands, I don't find Quentin an endearing or compelling central character. And his hair annoys me. It's hard to watch a show with a lead character I don't want to look at, one that is so whiny and irritating.

That said, as you know, I try to give everything at least three episodes. I don't know *when* I'll circle back to this one, but Netflix will at least remind me I watched it. Once upon a time.


Movies: Baby Driver

As a rule, I generally really enjoy Edgar Wright movies. This one is no exception.

Ansel Elgort plays the titular Baby, whose job is to drive a getaway car for Doc (Kevin Spacey). Baby is evidently in Doc's debt and digging his way out via this gig. But of course one is never really "out." So just as Baby is getting his life straight and trying to have a steady girlfriend, he gets pulled back in for one more big job. That goes all to hell. Yes, it's cliché. But still an engaging story. Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx pull nice turns as badass baddies.

Wright has, in my opinion, a wonderful style. For me, watching his films is a treat. His tracking shots, the way he frames things—just very visually interesting and entertaining. But he's not perfect at everything. He's weak when it comes to love stories. I didn't love the one in this film, particularly the early banter between Baby and Deborah in the diner. Wright also tends to have very long third acts that sometimes go on longer than absolutely necessary. I found that, despite all the action going on, my interest began to waver.


I understand why the film ends the way it does, with Baby going to prison rather than he and Deborah taking off. I think Wright wanted the definitive, "happy" ending that showed Baby and Deborah free and clear instead of on the run for the rest of their lives. I get that, but I found it not terribly satisfying. I don't know why.


These are minor gripes. On the whole, Baby Driver is highly entertaining, and all the actors do an awesome job. Another winner from Mr. Wright in my book.


Television: The Orville, "Old Wounds"

Okay, so . . . I'm a fan of Star Trek. Have been since I was a kid. Loved the original movies, made my parents rent the VHS tapes of the original series so I could watch that too. (Remember when not everything was streaming?) The Next Generation was my favorite. My first fan conventions were Trek conventions, which I went to with friends and, on one occasion, with my journalism teacher. So, you know, that's my pedigree. I'm a Trekker or Trekkie or whatever we call ourselves nowadays.

As for The Orville, well, I have seriously mixed feelings.

Seth MacFarlane stars as Ed Mercer. The year is 2417, and apparently over the course of 400 years we've really upped our technology and met a massive number of alien species. Okay, fine, I wouldn't poke at Star Trek for this, so I won't flag The Orville for it either. But I think maybe I no longer have the optimism that I used to, the belief that the human race was "going places." (Besides straight to hell.)

The opening scene is just so standard and cliché that I could hardly stand it. Mercer comes back to his quarters to find his wife in bed with a blue alien. Ugh.

Fast forward a year and he's being offered command of the titular Orville. And—wait for it, cuz you'll be astounded—the ex is his XO. (No, not Kiss Hug. It means "Executive Officer.")

So much of the exposition is in dialogue it's tragic. And the story is so rote it's, well, double tragic. And Mercer's best friend Gordon Mallory, whom he hires as a helmsman, is pretty unlikeable. When he's introduced, he's not too terrible; he comes off as a bit nerdy in a Simon Pegg way. But when he "drives drunk" in the next scene, he gets frat-boy obnoxious and my enjoyment of the show spiraled downward like the stupid shuttle. Exhibiting drinking and driving as "cool" is not a great move.

Part of my problem with the show, too, is that it doesn't quite seem to know what it wants to be. A parody? Straight comedy? Or an actual sci-fi show? There are elements of all these things, and I'm not saying these things can't work together, but as presented they don't appear to be stirred into the same soup. That's a weird metaphor, but I don't know how else to explain it. Sci-fi soup with chunks of comedy? Could be tasty but, as far as this episode goes, the blend isn't quite right.

The Orville is a throwback kind of show, which as far as I can tell is the intention. I'm just not sure how many people will make the time for it, or appreciate where it's coming from, particularly in the current television landscape. We have amazing shows, stuff that is better than movies (as the summer box office shows). In comparison, The Orville might come across as that dented can of off-brand beans at the bottom of the grocery shelf. If the price is right and you're desperate enough, you might buy it?

That said, I'll give it another couple episodes to see if it finds its footing. Many shows start out rough, particularly the sci-fi ones. There's something promising in The Orville, I'm just not sure what yet. Or whether it will live up to that promise.


Movies: Kong: Skull Island

Even the title sounds more like a video game . . .

Look, I'm not really into this kind of movie, but I'll watch Tom Hiddleston in just about anything. (I say "just about" because I did try to watch High-Rise and, ugh, no.) But this movie, well, it was pretty much what one would expect, which means it bored me.

Let's start with an overview. The Monarch company (repped by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) wants to go to this island that no one goes to because it has a perpetual storm raging around it. Ships and planes get lost out there. But whatever, they talk some senator into funding them and giving them military support. So Samuel L. Jackson and his band of home-bound Vietnam vets get detoured into this gig, and Tom Hiddleston gets hired as a tracker, which apparently is just a living compass, meaning he's supposed to keep people from getting lost? And Brie Larson is there as an "anti-war" photographer, which begs the question why a military operation would hire her? But we all know she's really just there to be the Fay Wray.

You'll notice I'm using the actors' names instead of characters, and that's because this is the kind of movie where there are so many characters that one can't be arsed. It's the kind of movie where, as you watch, you say, "Oh, Samuel L. Jackson is about to..." and "John Goodman is about to bite it." You don't bother with character names. Because you're not into these characters at all. The movie tries—I'll give it that. It tries very hard to make you care about these people. But you just don't.

And Tom, much as I love him, walks around with a pretty vacant expression most of the time. He's probably reminding himself how much money he's making for this, that it will all be worth it in the end, no matter how bad the movie ends up being.

It's not a bad movie. Let me be clear. It's just not great, either.

I take issue with Samuel L. Jackson's role as a caricature with little depth. I take issue with the clunky dialogue. I feel like John C. Reilly's scenes came from some other movie entirely, but okay. ::shrug:: He's, like, the best thing in the movie, so I kinda wanted the John C. Reilly movie instead of all the rest, but whatever.

What's very nice is that this movie is 1 hour and 58 minutes long. It's not some epic length. That felt refreshing. Though I guess it's pretty sad when you count the fact that the movie ends earlier than expected as a bonus.


Documentary: David Lynch: The Art Life

Love him or hate him, David Lynch is certainly an interesting guy.

A little background so you know where I'm coming from: when I was a pre-teen, I remember liking the movie Dune. (Yes, I said "liked.") My best friend's mom showed it to her daughter and me. The long version. It enthralled me. I bought a poster and hung it in my room. I read the books (well, the first three). But I didn't know who David Lynch was.

Twin Peaks aired my freshman year of high school. I really enjoyed it, too . . . Or the first season, anyway. It's been a long time, but I have the sense that I wasn't as enthusiastic about the second season. At that point I had a scrapbook and would cut out articles about my favorite stars and shows and tape them in. So of course I began seeing the name David Lynch in the Twin Peaks articles. But I never connected him to Dune, never had much curiosity about anything else he might have done.

Then I went to film school.

Enough said, except to add that aside from Dune and Twin Peaks, I can't say I'm much of a fan of Lynch's work. Not my thing. In fact, this third season of Twin Peaks—I walked away from it. It tried my patience too much. I'll probably still watch the finale on Sunday though.

So. This documentary. I actually really enjoyed it. It's very watchable. It's really just Lynch doing art and telling stories that go from his childhood through his grant at AFI to make Eraserhead. It focuses on his art, so there's no delving into his personal life, just sort of a glossing, but there are lots of photos and home videos incorporated.

DL:TAL is really just Lynch talking, and he speaks in a deceptively simple and matter-of-fact way. It's as though all his internal complexities come out in his work, but it's not clear whether that's because he saves them for the work or he literally can't articulate them any other way. A couple of things he says and stories he tells . . . You kind of go, "Oh, well that explains a few things."

I believe art should stand on its own in the absence of its creator. That's the point of art. You shouldn't have to know things about the writer, painter, etc. in order to appreciate the work. BUT. Watching this documentary added depth for me to some of Lynch's work.

At one point Lynch says that, when he was starting out as an artist, he knew his work was crap. But that he had to keep painting and keep painting to find his style or whatever. And as an author, I totally get that. We all start out crap. You have to prime the pump and get all the dirty water out before the good stuff comes up.

Anyway, whether you like Lynch or not . . . If you're even just a little curious about him . . . This is a good one. They don't talk to anyone but Lynch, so it is a bit one-sided, but at the same time, hearing solely from him gives perspective on his work.


Podcasts: James Bonding part deux

Because apparently today is my day to blog about podcasts.

I've written about James Bonding before, and then it went away for a while and I was sad and sort of shiftless, but now it's back! So go find it on Earwolf or whatever. (I can't be arsed with branding. One day it might matter where my podcasts come from, but today is not that day.)

So why am I mentioning it again, you ask? Well, I just listened to the episode where Matt and Matt and Paul Scheer detail their ideas for a James Bond theme park. And I had some thoughts about that.

  1. The first hotel has got to be called HQ. It's somewhat basic, but that's just the starter hotel. It's the Disneyland Hotel for Bond, nothing fancy, just somewhat themed—the padded leather doors in the M Suite or whatever. Then you can branch out to the upscale hotels like Casino Royale.
  2. When you arrive at the park, you're given a dossier. It's like a daily itinerary or one of those passport type things where you have to get something stamped, you have to get photos of something or find someone.
  3. You are not Bond. You are an agent of some other number, possibly tasked with aiding Bond or finding him.
  4. There is a park-specific villain. Yes, the other villains will also be showcased, but the theme park has its very own story and unique villain. We can't lean on Blofeld for everything.
  5. There are multiple ways to enter the park based on (a) which hotel you're staying in and (b) where in the park you want to go first.
  6. Yes to areas themed by environment. There are too many movies to do a separate area for each, so we'll have to Epcot the place and divide it by location. Bond is a world-hopper, after all.
  7. 007 Land? 007 World?

I think I need to be on this podcast. I think I need Matt & Matt to help me flesh out my next Peter Stoller novel, or really a Jules Maier novel, since he's my Bond character.

Follow James Bonding on Twitter: @JamesBondingPOD

ETA: We just re-watched Skyfall, which is probably my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond movies (with Casino Royale a close second), and we decided Silva must get his henchmen from calls to Spectre. They have some kind of service, right? "Yes, I need half a dozen men dressed as Met police, oh and a helicopter..."

Podcasts: No Extra Words

Complete with minor demon disguised as cat.
Hey! So I'm on a podcast today, giving a virtual tour of Little London (my home office). Curious minds should click here.