Television: Stranger Things 2

I'm not going to go into detail because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. So I'm going to be pretty general in my statements here.

I've often written about how difficult it is to maintain great quality in sequels, particularly when the first installment was brilliant and somewhat unexpected. When you set the bar that high—and therefore people's expectations as well—it becomes hard to clear it. But Stranger Things 2 does, I think, the best it possibly could to meet the stellar quality of its first season.

That's not to say it's perfect. But you can see they took care not to coast on their good reputation. Real work went into this.

Encapsulated so as not to spoil it for anyone: ST2 returns to Hawkins, and the Upside Down is sort of . . . leaking? The gate sealing it off is weakening. Problems ensue.

I did think it was interesting that, in order to make Steve not appear to be quite so much of a jerk, they simply introduced an ever bigger jerk character. Everything is relative, I suppose. We all exist somewhere on a jerk scale of one kind or another in this world.

There is real tension in this season, too, and some honest-to-goodness horror. Sure, some of it plays like Jurassic Park, but I like JP, so . . .

Did I enjoy it as much as the first season? Not quite. But again, some of that goes back to the first season being a novelty, an unexpected good fortune. I think ST2 is a worthy successor. That's really all we could ask for, or even hope for. It's easy for shows (*cough*Sherlock*cough*) to be pleased with themselves after a brilliant start and just know that people will watch no matter what. It takes commitment to the story, the characters, the actors, and the audience to continue to deliver quality work. For that much, I'm grateful to the Duffer Brothers and their team for putting in the effort.


Weinstein et al

I'm going to make what many will consider a distasteful analogy. But you've heard the saying in airports and at train stations: "See something? Say something."

I've been fortunate, I suppose, never to have brushed up against Weinstein back when I was navigating a young and hopeful career in "the industry." But for those who have worked with him—and especially you men, but in some cases also women—did you ever see anything? Hear anything? Did your spidey senses ever tingle? If so, and you did nothing . . . If you brushed it off . . . Then you are complicit.

Because it is rather like the airport or the train station. If you see something and don't speak up and that plane goes down or that train derails—that's a little bit on you. And your lack of action impacts the people on the plane or train, and all their loved ones. That selfish little piece of you that stayed silent—that helped the terrorists.

Yeah, I said terrorists. Because there is a war of terror against women, and sometimes also against men. Against homosexuals and people of color and just any minority group, really. This is true in the world, and Hollywood is a microcosm of it.

After the Weinstein story broke, more allegations began to spill about others in the industry. I'm going to make another analogy here. Say you have a lush forest. It's been standing for a long time. But then one of the biggest trees has a disease. "We need to take down that tree," the park rangers say. And then they discover the disease has actually spread to a lot of the trees. Now the rangers hesitate. That's a lot of trees to cut down. It won't leave much forest. What will people do for shade? What will animals do for homes? But that disease isn't going to go away. If you leave those trees, the disease will just spread to newer, younger trees.

You've got to cut them down. Better yet, pull them by the roots so they don't regrow. Then replant with hardier stock. It will leave a very young forest, but a healthier one.

For those of you who don't follow, the casting couch mentality in Hollywood needs to be yanked up and tossed out. A new way of thinking and behaving needs to take its place. That's scary, to overhaul an industry that's used to doing things a certain way. The people on top don't want a shift of power. Of course they don't. They're the tall trees that get all the sun. But some of them are diseased and need to go. It's that simple and that difficult at the same time. A lot of hard work ahead, but the forest and the world will be better for it.


Movies: The Princess Bride

At the risk of being incredibly unpopular, I have to say . . . I only kind of like this movie.

The Princess Bride came out when I was 11. I didn't see it then. I've watched it maybe twice in my life, the first time while I was an undergraduate. Maybe it was the hype (everyone always saying how wonderful this movie was), or maybe it was the venue (someone's apartment; I was with a church group), but it just didn't enthrall me. It failed to charm me the way it seems to have charmed so many others. I didn't find it funny or clever or, well, much of anything.

I didn't hate it. I just didn't love it much either.

Later my husband sat me down to watch it again in the belief that I'd somehow just not fully absorbed it properly. But I had the same feeling the second time. He adores The Princess Bride. I . . . don't.

I only bring it up because I'm behind on my podcast listening and just got around to Pop Culture Happy Hour discussing the 30-year anniversary of the film. They gushed as per expectations, in particular over Cary Elwes, whom I've never found attractive, so he really doesn't do anything to boost the movie for me. I find a lot of the famous quotes just plain annoying, but that might be from repetition.

I've never read the book either. Maybe I'd like it more?

Sigh. I think, really, I'm mostly indifferent to The Princess Bride. I couldn't invest in any of the characters, and I didn't feel any chemistry between the leads. I did like the bits with Peter Falk and Fred Savage, if that counts for anything. ::shrug::


Television: The Orville, "Krill"

Aren't krill the thing whales eat? Like, something in the sea? I'm too lazy to go look it up because it's not that important to me, but it's what I think of every time I hear "krill." Even if I did look it up, and even if it isn't true, I'd still think it.

Anyway. This episode. We learn Bortus can eat almost anything, I guess? But the bulk of the story is Ed and Gordon masquerading as Krill so as to learn more about their culture—specifically their holy book—in the hopes of finding common ground and forging peace.

I have some basic, logistical issues. For one, Ed and Gordon spend time talking about how they don't know any Krill names and so don't know what fake names to use while in disguise. Okay, so... They've been briefed on the fact that the Krill are very religious and that their belief system tells them they are better than all other forms of life and therefore it is okay to kill other species and take their planets and resources. They know this much about the Krill but no names? Not even the name of the Krill god (which turns out to be Avis)? Can they read Krill? If so, how did they learn, and if not, how will they read the snaps of the holy book Ed is supposed to take? There just doesn't seem to be a lot of internal logic about the way humans and Krill interact since the Krill are always aggressive. Surely the Union has captured Krill before and learned a few things? I dunno. It's really unclear.

The underlying story of how the Krill's religion is the cause of all the problems is... troublesome. We're given little to no sense of the Krill as having any good qualities, and this seems tied to their beliefs. True, the Krill children seem more open minded, though they are clearly being indoctrinated. But the subtext here is not very, well, sub. It's pretty heavy handed and paints all beliefs with one brush. The idea that in the future humans will not have religion but will still watch Seinfeld is just dumb. I'm not saying it can't happen, but if they want me to believe it, I want more information. How do they explain the Charlie Brown Christmas special if no one is Christian any more? Or have all things that have any religious "taint" been banned, eliminated? Are we supposed to see ourselves [the humans, the Union] as better than the Krill for having risen above religion? If we do that, aren't we just as bad as the Krill in thinking we are superior?

Oh, but we don't go killing people and taking their stuff, you say. Except in this episode they totally do.

But we do it for the good of... Of what? Our own race and allies? Yup. So do the Krill.

But we do it to protect our own. We don't start fights but we end them. Fair enough. But you're asking me to believe the Krill use their religion as the reason they start fights. Or the excuse. Removing their beliefs wouldn't change their behavior, I don't think. They'd find another reason/excuse to take what they want. We see people with money do that all the time, people with better technology—anyone with the upper hand. Religion doesn't have to be the reason. It can be a reason, but it's almost never the only reason.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a treatise. I myself am not religious, though I grew up in a religious household. I know that strong beliefs can cause problems, but not believing isn't the solution. I think it matters what you emphasize, whether it's the "love thy neighbor" and "judge not lest ye be judged" versus "an eye for an eye" or whatever the verse is that says to kill everyone who doesn't believe the same thing as you. Like, if a majority of the Union converted and worshiped Avis, would the Krill still kill people? Is this really about the belief or is it a racial thing?

Whatever. This episode had some truly tense moments, I'll give it that. And it certainly made me think.


Wha to Look for in a Small Publisher (Part 2: Contracts)

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Hey! The next part of my guest post on Dale Cameron Lowry's site is up. This one focuses on what to look for if a small publisher should offer you a contract.


What to Look For in a Small Publisher

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I'm over at Dale Cameron Lowry's blog today with some tips about small publishers (should you be thinking of going that route). Part 2 will be posted on Thursday, so stay tuned!

Television: The Orville, "Pria"

I guess I'm still watching this show, which says something in and of itself, right? I still can't decide if I like it though. I don't think I've ever had a show confuse me this much.

A couple years ago there was a Twitter account dedicated to the fictitious story lines of a Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 8. And I kind of think The Orville is pranking us by using some of those story ideas?

Anyway, this episode features Charlize Theron as the titular Pria, a space miner... traveling alone... and found stranded on a comet? Like, doesn't that already seem weird? Sure, she gives a glib story, but wouldn't it be standard procedure to look people up when they come on board? Like, aren't there passports or ID cards or something? You're going to tell me that in the future we don't need ID any more? Not even a retinal scan? I'm calling B.S.

B plot: Gordon trying to teach Isaac about human humor, resulting in a series of practical jokes.

Meanwhile, Kelly (because that's a name that will come back into fashion in a few hundred years) is suspicious of Pria. And maybe a little jealous that Ed (a timeless classic of a name) is practically jumping into a relationship with her. Ed—who tells Pria he's had a hard time trusting after Kelly's adultery—sure is quick to trust this time around. Damn.

As expected (because there wouldn't be a story if it all went well), Pria is not who she claims to be, and stuff happens and then everyone goes home. Except they are home. So everyone stays where they are, I guess. And there's kind of a tiny crack left open to allow Pria to come back in future episodes, kind of like Vash in ST:TNG.

What is The Orville's mission, anyway? Do they just float around waiting until someone needs them? Are they a cosmic coast guard or something? They always seem to be just hanging out (watching old TV shows, evidently) until someone sends a distress signal. The bridge is not a living room. At the very least, I would think most people would be wearing headphones and watching YouTube videos on their personal displays.

And if I have to hear that "jar of pickles" line one more time... We all hate that uncle who says the same damn thing every time, right? We don't want Ed to be that uncle. FIND A DIFFERENT LINE, ED!

I can't even decide about this show. My husband really enjoys it, so I'll probably keep watching by default. I'm not sure, though, if I'd watch if it were just me. I honestly don't know. Except, I have to say: the other night, I remember thinking, "Feels like an Orville kind of night." So maybe The Orville is filling a void in the TV cosmos that I didn't even realize was there.


Television: Spielberg

Anyone who knows me knows Steven Spielberg has left a great impression on my life. His was the first name I knew in movies. The first movie I can remember seeing in a cinema is Raiders of the Lost Ark (though I spent the film thinking his name was "Petey" and that he was a cowboy because hat). I was only five years old when that movie came out, and there are questions as to whether my parents should have taken me to see it, but whatever. From that moment I was a Steven Spielberg fan.

I didn't know what Spielberg did exactly. But his name was on all the best movies. Whatever he did, I wanted to do it, too. I wanted to make amazing things that people watched.

Spielberg is the reason I have a film degree.

Alas, I haven't made any movies. I've worked on film sets, and I've had one short film made of my stage play, but that's the sum total of my filmography. Still, I can very much appreciate—and envy—Mr. Spielberg's career. I haven't seen all his films, not nearly. Some I will probably never watch. But he's made such a wide variety of movies . . . Kind of like how I write a lot of different genres . . . I can appreciate the desire to keep moving and trying new things and the need to tell new stories, even if deep down they are similar thematically.

So this documentary—which is long at around 2 hours 21 minutes—well, it might as well have been made for me. It's a nice retrospective of Spielberg's career thus far, and besides talking to the man himself and hearing his side, they managed to gather a lot of big names to chime in. I don't think any of it was revelatory. But I think it was interesting and tidy. Well packaged, I'd say.

I guess the one thing is: if you're interested in Spielberg and his work, you probably already know a lot of what Spielberg covers, and if you don't know a lot about him, this documentary may feel a tad dry. Like, my attention wandered a few times. And I'm a devotee. So I don't know what less adoring viewers might think.

In all, I enjoyed it. Nothing exciting, but solid, and a nice perspective on the man and his work.

(Now if he'd just direct The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller...)


Television: The Orville, "If the Stars Should Appear"

So I can't decide if this show means to be as dumb as it is? Like, is it designed to point out how stupid a lot of Star Trek is/was? Or...???

Look, on the surface this is a clever little story about a world inside a spaceship. The ship itself is adrift and the people on board have forgotten they're on a ship at all. So as the ship drifts towards a star, the Orville crew attempts to save it, but the passengers are living some agrarian lifestyle and praying to a strange god (spoiler: their god turns out to be Liam Neeson, so it's understandable) and most of them are suspicious and not wanting the help.

All in all, it's typical Trek-style fare. But there's something lacking here. Maybe it's that I don't care a lick about any of the main characters. Just none of them appeal to me. Maybe it's that there was practically no B plot in this episode. We open with Bortus and Klyden having a tiff that goes nowhere. Local color? We've had our fill of Bortus and Klyden with the last episode, so maybe we should focus on someone else for a change?

I just feel like this episode idea was a good one, but the execution didn't hold up. Very beat-by-beat, and I never felt any real tension. (Again, possibly because I'm not invested in the characters.) I wanted this to be an episode of Babylon 5. I could totally see this playing out in interesting ways if only the characters were more engaging.

And boy, are they pulling on the strings to get cameos and guest stars. Next week it will be Charlize Theron. This feels like stunt casting, and it feels desperate this early in the show's run. I haven't looked at the ratings, though. Have no idea how well The Orville is doing with viewers.

I don't know. I might keep watching? I'm really on the fence. Maybe the characters will get better? I'm seriously conflicted. But at the very least, it's a show I can turn on when I don't want to do any brain work and I've watched all the House Hunters.


Movies: The Sound

It's a dumb name for a psychological thriller/horror movie. But whatever.

Rose McGowan plays Kelly Johansen, a woman whose job is to debunk hauntings. She does this through low frequency sounds, I guess? Also: how does she make any money? Do people pay her to come to their houses and do this? She's evidently written a book, and she keeps a blog or Tumblr or something, so maybe that's where the money comes from? I'm just saying, what's the going rate for someone to come to your house and tell you it's not haunted, there's just an airport nearby?

Kelly is smug and borderline unlikable, which is how we know she's going to have to go through something torturous to wipe that smugness right out of her. She gets a message that leads her to an abandoned subway station in Toronto, and she promises her husband (or is he just a boyfriend?) she'll be back in time for that night's party, which sounds (har, see what I did there?) ridiculous considering she's flying to Toronto. I don't know where they are, exactly, so maybe it's a short flight, but still.

In the cab on the way to the subway station, Kelly gets the obligatory phone call from her mother that hints that something strange and/or terrible happened on that day thirty years before. 🙄  So now we know this is definitely going to be a thing.

The cab driver tells Kelly about how he and his friends once broke into the abandoned station, but we don't get to hear what he saw. As for the abandoned station itself, it's apparently ridiculously easy to break into. There's a door leading from the working station to the closed-off one. No tools required, just walk right on in. Again: 🙄

What we get from here on in is fairly standard pseudo-horror stuff with hallucinations, etc. Christopher Lloyd appears as a ghostly maintenance man. Kelly becomes weirdly sleepy and has numerous dreams/hallucinations. Nothing very scary, however, and it's pretty obvious a lot of what she thinks is happening isn't actually happening. Also, how is she getting cell service and Internet down there?

The core of the "horror" (if it can be called that, since none of it is particularly horrific) is a girl named Emily that apparently has something to do with this 30-year anniversary that Kelly's mom called about. Kelly keeps seeing/dreaming of a little girl in a white dress with a doll, and Kelly has the ratty old doll in her duffel . . . I won't give away the ending, but I will say I wasn't wowed—or surprised, for that matter.

For a low-budget, limited-locations production, this one is produced pretty well, and there are a couple of known names starring in it. That's impressive. I just wish someone had given the script itself a bit of a lift. It's murky and soporific and could have used some stronger twists to keep it interesting.