Television: Elementary, "Pushing Buttons"

So in this episode, a man gets shot during a Revolutionary War re-enactment. The guy was rich and a lot of people hated him because he screwed people over when they franchised his gym (IIRC). He even had a bodyguard, for all the good that did him on the field. Then his house burns down later that night.

There is a daughter who is a suspect because of course she inherits the money, but she's joined a commune and professes not to want her dad's money; she plans to donate it all. And there's no reason for her to burn down the house.

The episode cruises along to become about the dark and dangerous world of collectors and their willingness to go to any lengths to get their hands on old stuff—or get rid of said old stuff in order to make their old stuff that much more rare and valuable.

Meanwhile, Sherlock keeps hanging out with that creepy Michael dude. For someone who usually reads other people fairly well, he really hasn't clued in on Michael being an utter creep. Are we supposed to blame the head injury?

Michael is clearly intent on testing his wits against Sherlock's because he asks Sherlock to take up the case of finding the woman we saw him burying in the first episode of the season. This will, I suppose, be a through line for the season.

I had a slight irritation with this episode because the solution to the central whodunnit felt unfair—it came down to information the viewer didn't entirely have access to. That's not clever writing, it's cheating. There's a difference.

In all, though, not a bad episode. The season feels very tame thus far despite the attempts to infuse drama: Sherlock's head out of whack, Joan's dad, this Michael guy . . . So far none of it has added up to anything particularly intense. Hopefully it's just a slow build and things get increasingly . . . something. Sort of like a river rapids ride, yeah. You float along and then WHAM! right into a wave. That's what we're waiting for: to get drenched.

Television: Elementary, "Once You've Ruled Out God"

Okay, so yes, I have been keeping up with this show. I just haven't been keeping up with this blog as much because I'm staring down a publishing deadline and it's the last two weeks of school for my kids, which adds up to insanity on all fronts.

I had to look this episode up on IMDb because it was really pretty forgettable. Basically, a guy is killed by being struck by lightning, except the lightning is horizontal, which rules out natural lightning. So then the story threads through the fact that the guy's wife was convinced he was having an affair, though that was a bit of projection since she was the one having the affair. Anyway, it turned out the guy was working on a project that could account for the "lightning gun" or whatever, and then there was a whole thing about missing plutonium and white supremacists and dirty bombs, and this episode just jumped through a slew of hoops without my being able to attach any interest before we were on to the next thing. I guess it was fast paced, which is good? 👐

B plot was about how Joan's biological father had died and left her a letter that she was reluctant to open. Meanwhile, her half-sister Lin feels weirdly forgotten by her father because she didn't get a letter. Sherlock pesters Joan to read the letter, and she finally does, and she's able to show Lin that their father didn't forget her because the letter—written on one of his good days—tells Joan all about Lin.

Despite this being a fairly emotional subplot, the entire episode really did feel forgettable to me. I'd actually entirely forgotten it until I looked up the titles of the ones I've seen but hadn't written up yet. I was like, "Oh, yeah, that one." Didn't leave much of an impression.


Movies: A Futile and Stupid Gesture

I always like to give a little history of my relationship to the material when I write these reviews/recaps because I think it's only fair I show my biases. In this case, I have both anecdotal and direct history with National Lampoon, specifically with their Radio Hour.

A few years before I was born, my parents lived out in the middle of nowhere. (We lived there a few years after I was born, too.) In order to hear National Lampoon Radio Hour, they had to take their radio out on the porch and fiddle with the antenna until they could—just barely—get the signal. I grew up hearing, "That's not funny, that's sick," and not really understanding where it came from.

Years later, as a pre-teen, I was in a Hastings with my parents. That was a books-and-records store, one of my favorite places to go. Dad found a box set of the Radio Hour and bought it so I could finally share the humor. We listened, and at the point someone said, "There's a lobster loose!" I said, "That sounds like Bill Murray." (I was an SNL fan.) Dad was pleased. "That is Bill Murray!" he told me.

Thus many National Lampoon bits became part of my regular dialect. I could recite the entire "A man walks into a nightclub with a beautiful girl on his arm..." bit. I still sometimes sing, "Give Ireland back to the Irish." I love Flash Bazbo. A lot of it is hugely irreverent, but that's part of the fun—you're laughing almost because you know you shouldn't.

Okay, so there's the history, and here's this movie, which focuses on the short life of one of National Lampoon's creators Doug Kenney. I think you probably have to have a love of and interest in the material to enjoy the movie, but it's impressive the talent they got, too: Domhnall Gleeson plays Doug's fellow founder Henry Beard and nails the American accent by way of sounding (and, thanks to the wig, looking a little like) Jesse Eisenberg. Martin Mull plays the narrator, an older Doug if Doug had lived that long. And there is a list of other known faces (and voices) as well, all shining in their own small parts, as this movie is clustered with personalities and so none are given too much time.

I do wonder how Chevy Chase feels about his old co-star Joel McHale playing him, though?

Will Forte plays Doug, and of course I have no idea whether he's at all like the actual guy. If he is, I'd say Doug was a difficult personality. Not in the way of being in-your-face difficult; if anything, he was self-deprecating a lot of the time. But not easy to work with thanks to a lack of discipline, and not easy to live with because of an obsessive streak as well as being prone to addiction. His refusal to face problems lent to his downward spiral. It's a damn shame, really. That's what this movie drives home.

If you were to ask, "Is it a good movie?" I don't know what I'd say. It's a curious kind of movie, and I think I enjoyed it? But I'm not entirely sure. I would like to read the book it's based on. I suppose any time a movie makes me want to engage the source material, that's a good thing. I really don't know if it's a "good" movie, but it will stay with me for a long time.


Movies: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
Directed by: Ron Howard (mostly)
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan from characters created by George Lucas
Lucasfilm/Disney, 2018
PG-13; 135 minutes
3.5 stars (out of 5)


I wasn't enthusiastic about this going in. I've never once when watching any Star Wars movie (and I watched them often in my youth, especially Empire) looked at Han Solo and said to myself, "I'd like to know his story." Because honestly, I think a character like his is fine with an undefined past. More fun that way. Someone who wanders in and out of a scene, hot-footed. You don't know where he came from or where he's going, but he's great to have around when he is around.

Also, the trailers had not inspired confidence. Alden Ehrenreich as a young Harrison Ford didn't scan. And nothing of what I saw him saying or doing felt right either.

So I went in with a list of detriments already tallied against the movie. Probably not fair, but I want to be honest.

The first part of the film confirmed my fears. Ehrenreich is too earnest to be the Han Solo we all know and love. Not that Ford's Solo didn't have an earnest streak from time to time, but that was never his foremost characteristic. Here, it is. And it doesn't work.

I know, I know—the point is to show how Solo went from earnest to jaded, right? Yeah, well they failed on that front, too. By the end of the film he still comes off as more sincere than cynical.

That said, I didn't dislike the movie as much as I expected to. Yes, the first part is a trudge, but once Woody Harrelson shows up, the story picks up steam. The supporting cast does most of the heavy lifting in this movie; they're far more interesting than the titular Solo. In particular, Paul Bettany as villain Dryden Vos is classic. But Phoebe Waller-Bridge voicing the droid L3 and Jon Favreau likewise voicing Rio are also great.

The story itself is heist upon heist and double-cross upon double-cross. Nothing you wouldn't expect when dealing with Han Solo and Lando Calrissian, really. And none of the twists surprised me. If anything, things that were clearly meant to "land" fell flat. Though there are a lot of easter eggs in this film. A lot.

End result is a so-so movie, at least for me. The first part nearly tanked it, but it got better by degrees as it went on. I guess that's all anyone can hope for: to end up better than where and how you started.


Movies: The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Full disclosure: I seem to be one of the only people on the planet who did not think The Squid and the Whale was a work of genius. I didn't care for it at all. And I haven't seen anything else Baumbach has directed, so . . . I didn't go in with very high expectations. Except I had seen a YouTube video by Nerdwriter1 that made me want to see this movie. So I finally watched it.

And I liked it.

Didn't love it.

Part of this is just the fact that I had trouble relating to the story, which is sort of The Royal Tenenbaums but less quirky and funny, I guess? Like, here is a creative and artistic family: patriarch Harold (Dustin Hoffman); adult children Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), Danny (Adam Sandler), and Matthew (Ben Stiller); and drunkard fourth wife Maureen (Emma Thompson). Except instead of pursuing their artistic talents and leanings, these kids are . . . not all right, anyway. Jean works for Xerox, Danny is unemployed and moving back home as he goes through a divorce, and Matthew is the only one whose made anything of himself—by moving across the country to L.A. and mostly avoiding the rest of his family. Harold is himself an artist who was also a professor at Bard, a self-centered child of a man who can only talk about himself or others in relation to himself. He tries and fails to use his name as a calling card and suffers to see a contemporary artist (Judd Hirsch) vault to recognition.

Like The Royal Tenenbaums, there is then a health crisis to bring the family together and force them to iron out their wrinkles.

As an only child of parents who are still married, I struggled to engage with the sibling and step-parent issues. Jean and Danny feel their father abandoned them when he left their mother for Matthew's mom. They also feel as though most of the burden of dealing with their dad falls to them since Matthew chooses to be far away. All valid, I suppose.

The movie starts out slow, too, with Danny struggling to find a parking space. It wasn't until we switched away from Danny to Matthew that I felt the movie got interesting. Stiller and Hoffman have a great dynamic and chemistry that just isn't there between Sandler and Hoffman. Maybe the flat feeling between the latter is intentional, but if so, it's a bad way to begin a movie.

I also have no sense of father-son relationships, which are showcased here far more than father-daughter ones. My husband, however, says this movie nails the way a father can treat two sons completely differently, as he's experienced with his dad and brother. For him, the movie struck a chord and felt very familiar.

The acting here is really good overall. The layers of dialogue (as showcased in that Nerdwriter1 video) are very well done. I definitely prefer the quirk and humor of Tenenbaums, but this one is still pretty good. I don't mean to damn with faint praise, it's just how I feel.


TV Movie: Fahrenheit 451

It's been a really long time since I read the book. Like, almost 30 years. I remember liking it, and I remember the main character's name is Montag, and that's about it.

Still, I'm fairly certain this version has been updated to showcase a more likely future dystopia than one created by Bradbury in 1953. Bradbury didn't foresee emojis, ya know?

As for the movie itself—taken on its own merits since, like I said, I don't really remember the book—it was kind of slow. I think Michael B. Jordan did an amazing job, as did Michael Shannon. They were stellar. But the story sort of dragged along at the beginning. It took its time establishing the characters and the world, and then it glossed a bit over Montag's (Jordan) starting to spend time with Clarisse (Sophia Boutella) before rushing the ending. The final ~20 minutes were [finally!] intense, but everything before that was mostly tonal and not terribly engrossing.

Still, Shannon's Beatty was perhaps the best character, the most nuanced. I'd like to hear his story. And the suicide book burner? That was a nice turn.

Also, I liked the bird.

Plus, the whole thing isn't very long, which is refreshing in these days of 2.5-hour movies and books stretched to be unnecessary trilogies. That I could watch it on a weeknight without going past my bedtime gives it an advantage.

I'm sure many people loved it. I thought it was just okay, that the story should have been emphasized differently, but that's just me. They did some interesting things with the material, so I'm not sorry I took the time to watch it, but I couldn't in good faith recommend it to anyone either.


Television: Elementary, "An Infinite Capacity for Taking Pains"

Oh, look, this show is back. Good thing they gave me that recap because I didn't remember much of anything. I watched the recap thinking, Did I somehow miss the last few episodes of the last season? But then it started to come back to me. Slowly.

If you, like me, don't remember: last season Holmes had begun to hallucinate from time to time. So he went off to be scanned and tested and all those fun things. So this season begins with his receiving the results of those tests. All negative. As Arnold would say, "It's not a tumor."

Then what is it? Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). From all the times Holmes has been hit over the head, or fallen and hit his head, or whatever. Per Google, it's a "mild form of traumatic brain injury." Symptoms can include headaches, ears ringing, light and noise sensitivity, memory loss, inability to concentrate, dizziness . . . Just all kinds of things, really. So I guess this season we'll get to watch Holmes struggle to get better while Watson endeavors to use her dusty doc skills to help him.

Sometimes this show just feels too, for lack of a better word, direct. It lays things out very plainly. Maybe because most of the viewers are older and might otherwise get confused? I'm serious; I don't know. But this emotional arc is very clearly marked. They verbalized it exactly in this episode, in which Holmes says (paraphrasing): The only thing that keeps me sober is my work, and this PCS is hindering my work, therefore I am concerned I will not be able to stay sober. There's the season's through line in a nutshell.

Additionally, we meet Michael, another recovering addict, who introduces himself to Holmes at a meeting. Words Holmes said 4+ years ago have motivated Michael to stay sober, and he offers to help Holmes in return. But before you say, "How sweet," let's make it clear that Michael is a murderer. So the season it surely going to head in the direction of Holmes having to bring Michael to justice.

All the above, meanwhile, is merely background. No, there's an actual episodic story here, too. A rich socialite (one of those people famous solely for being rich) had a sex tape leaked online with a former boyfriend. She and her husband hire Holmes and Watson to find said ex because he's disappeared. Of course, the ex is dead and the husband did it. I mean, if you're going to hire the guy who played Ward on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we all know he's the bad guy. I think it would have been way more interesting if he hadn't been. But as it stood, we saw it coming the moment he showed up on screen.

Still and all, it wasn't a terrible episode. A fair return, I'd say. Hopefully they'll get more creative and inventive as things go on.

IWSG Reminder

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