Movies: Ocean's Eight

I just . . . didn't care. About any of these characters. None of them charmed me* or made me want to cheer them on. And there was a noted lack of witty banter, which is usually the backbone of these kinds of films.

Between this and the all-female Ghostbusters, I feel like scripts are really giving female-driven movies the short end of the stick. Instead of playing to strengths, they just try to take male characters and plug women into them. The result is a mismatch, something that comes off as vaguely discordant.

I worked with Sandy Bullock, and she can be so funny and charming. This movie just didn't do her justice. Nor did it do much for any of the other wonderfully talented women involved.

For anyone who might not know, this girly version of the heist franchise centers on Bullock as Debbie Ocean, Danny's (you remember him as George Clooney) sister. Apparently the entire family are unrepentant criminals. Make a family reunion movie, guys. It'd probably be way more entertaining than this was.

Anyway, Ocean gets out of prison and immediately puts together a big job—stealing a famous necklace during a Met Gala. Because we all know women like jewelry, I guess.

The writers tried to shoehorn in some revenge-on-the-lover-who-put-her-away story, but though hinted at early on, it wasn't brought forward until much later, which gave the whole thing the feeling of, "Oh, we need something to thicken this plot soup." By then, we didn't care and it was too late to get us to start.

The short answer is, the movie took itself too seriously. Even in the moments I think it was trying to be lighthearted. There needed to be greater ease between the characters, a more relaxed atmosphere over all. Instead, everyone was stiff. Dour. It wasn't fun to watch, and these movie need to be fun. That's the point of them.

And we need to care. About the characters, and about whether or not they succeed. That's where tension comes from, and here there just was none. The whole thing was flat and uninteresting. Meh.

* I did kind of like Helena Bonham Carter's character?


My YouTube

So, I started putting videos on YouTube. Nothing major, and it was not really planned as a "channel." Thing was, when I uploaded my videos to Facebook, the audio sync kept getting messed up. So I started shelving my videos on YouTube instead.

There are only four there atm. But it's where I'll be putting all my videos from now on, so if you want to keep up with me talking about books and writing subscribe here. Or just look up M Pepper on YouTube. You'll get a lot of Dr Pepper ad videos, I think, but I'm in there somewhere.

I'm not very techie. I don't have cool graphics or edits or whatever. Maybe I'll learn more of that as I go along. In the meantime, ICYMI, here is my most recent video:

Minchiate Etruria

I was meant to have these cards, and here's how I know:

When I ordered them, I didn't realize they were limited edition and numbered. So I was surprised when I opened the box and found this:

All my life, the numbers 1, 8, and 0 have continually turned up in myriad ways and combinations: addresses, phone numbers, dates, and even the style number on my wedding dress (I'd picked the dress before seeing the style number and was floored). Later in life I learned that 18 is a significant number in Judaism, meaning in an alpha-numeric shorthand "life." In short, this number and variations thereof have followed me my entire life. So when I opened the Minchiate box and saw this, I took it as a sign.

I first heard of the Minchiate when I picked up a book called The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin. She described a deck that, instead of the usual 78 cards, had 97. I looked it up and it just so happened Llewellyn and Lo Scarabeo were recreating a Minchiate deck. Out of curiosity, I ordered it.

What makes the difference between these cards and a standard tarot deck? Well, there are 41 Major Arcana cards in the Minchiate. The usual suspects are there (excepting the High Priestess), though reordered somewhat. Then there are four Virtues, four Elements, and the twelve Zodiac.

Ace of Pentacles, Sagittarius, Water cards from the Minchiate

How does one read these additional cards? No idea. The booklet that comes with the deck is thin and offers no information on how to use the cards. I'll be doing some online research soon, but I also think this might be a case where I study the cards for a bit and get a feel for what each wants to tell me.

The pip cards in this deck are plain, rather like the Marseilles tarot decks. They offer no extra visual input, so for those who like to read their pips by the artwork (like the woman in the walled garden on the 9 of Pentacles, say), this deck won't work for you. That said, the artwork, such as it is, is quite lovely and detailed. If you're a collector—which I am; I don't use many of the decks I own, but I keep them because I love the art—you might enjoy adding this one to your shelf. Or wherever you keep your cards.


The Dream Cages #16

"It's not intentional," Adam said, more to himself than to Matthew. It didn't take much to convince himself Ronan hadn't realized what he was doing, what Cabeswater was doing. After all, Ronan had come after them and had seemed as confused as they'd been.

Ronan... Adam hoped wherever Ronan had woken up, he hadn't been too bloodied. It occurred to him Ronan might try to return. They needed to get out before Ronan got back in, else the cycle might be endless. It was already vicious.

Adam extended his hand to help Matthew to his feet. Then he regarded the dragon. Some ten to twelve feet tall, but not as impeccably designed as most of Ronan's dream creatures. Because, of course, this wasn't one of Ronan's.

This one was his.

Or, rather, it had come from the spaces he frequented when he scried. Adam didn't make those things, they simply existed in the black. Spirits or demons or... He didn't know. He sometimes caught glimpses in the candlelight, but he'd never seen one so exposed.

Yet it wasn't totally bare to scrutiny. The leathery skin that was the color of dried blood, the bat-like wings, the claws, the beakish maw, the yellow eyes—Adam could discern these features, but they were were somewhat obscured, as though the creature kept a cloud of dark smoke around it that prevented it from being seen clearly. The dragon was not a fully formed idea.

"I think it can only take us one at a time," Adam said.

Matthew shrugged. "It's all right. I'm not going."

It took a moment for the words to penetrate. Even still, Adam couldn't trust what he thought he'd heard. "What?"

"I'm fine here," Matthew insisted. "I like it."

"If I don't get you home, Ronan..." Will never forgive me. Will come back here and get himself killed.

But Matthew only shrugged again. "He can visit, can't he? He was just here."

"He thinks you're dead."

"Then me staying should be a relief," Matthew reasoned. "I mean, at least I'm here."


"Look," Matthew said, and though his signature smile remained fixed, something other than his usual sparkle showed behind his blue eyes. "I'm not smart like Declan and Ronan. I never really expected to be or do much of anything in life. And the truth is, I don't really have to. I'm not saying I just want to live off the money Dad left, but..." His gaze drifted toward the cows. "I'm not really fit for anything else."

Adam swallowed the lump in his throat. It wasn't his place to tell Matthew that his flaws were not his fault. That they came from a three-year-old's inability to shape the intricacies of humanity. When Ronan had dreamt Matthew, he hadn't been looking for "smart." He'd been looking for happiness. And Matthew was that, made flesh.

Yet there was no such thing as pure happiness. Because happy didn't exist without sad as a contrast.

Could a dream be self-aware?

But even as Adam wondered, the moment passed, and Matthew returned to his uncomplicated, smiling self. "I'll stay," he said again. "You go tell Ronan that I'm all right."

It was, Adam decided, an argument for another time. And Matthew was in less immediate peril than he was anyway. Dream bodies slept. They didn't die.

"Okay," Adam said. He turned to the dragon. "Lead the way."


Movies: Destination Wedding

I can't . . . Like, I can't even . . .


I love Keanu and it's been great seeing Winona have a kind of renaissance thanks to Stranger Things. They work fairly well off one another here, but the material is a bit clunky at times.

In this film, Winona plays Lindsay and Keanu plays Frank, who find themselves thrown together at the titular destination wedding in Paso Robles. (I actually enjoy Paso Robles, so . . .) Lindsay is the ex-fiancée of the groom, and Frank is the groom's half brother (? if I understood correctly?). The "fun" starts when they meet at the airport while waiting for the same tiny plane. They argue then predictably get stuck sitting beside one another.

Things go on from there, also in expected fashion. The entire movie is Lindsay and Frank having a series of conversations in various locations during the wedding weekend. There are some genuinely funny moments, but on the whole the story is thin and every event foreseeable. Except maybe the mountain lion.

The tone is reminiscent of Woody Allen. Not sure if that's intentional, though I don't know how it couldn't be. From the stylized title treatments to the music to the very absurdness and cynicism of the discussions between Lindsay and Frank, the whole thing smacks of trademark Allen. Yet if you like that sort of thing, I don't think you'd find this a fulfilling substitute. This is the lo-cal version.

Part of me wondered as I watched whether it was maybe originally planned as a stage play? Only Keanu's and Winona's characters have any lines; everyone else are mere extras. The result is something that feels like a classic two-hander.

Bottom line is, I can't decide if I liked this movie. It's cute, but maybe tries too hard? And fails to be very original. Yet somehow, despite these flaws, I still kind of enjoyed it. Even as my rational side insisted I shouldn't. So I don't know. It's definitely not for everyone, but I wouldn't necessarily warn people away either. Your mileage in traveling to this wedding may vary. Probably depends on where you're starting from.


The Dream Cages #15

When Ronan disappeared—woke up, Adam supposed—the creature did not cease to attack. Only, as it turned out, it hadn't been attacking at all. Well, it had been attacking Ronan. Which was par for the course in Ronan's dreams; horrifying creatures assaulted him quite regularly while he slept. But the... "dragon," for lack of a better word... did not seem intent on hurting Adam. It only wanted to take him somewhere, and its method for that was to dig in its claws and drag him.

The more Adam fought its grasp, the tighter the talons became, until finally Adam yelled up at it, "Okay, I get it! I'll come with. But you're hurting me."

He could almost feel it thinking as it carried him another yard. But in the end, it relented and released him. Adam landed unceremoniously on his ass in the dirt and the dragon landed just behind him. Not with a thud or the shuddering of the earth, but silently. The only reason Adam knew it was there was because its shadow fell over him.

Adam sat looking at the farmhouse in the distance. He turned to look at the cows in the pasture. "Matthew?" he asked.

The dragon let out a low growl but then lifted off again and glided with remarkable grace to circle over the cows. The cows didn't appear bothered. Maybe dream creatures had some kind of understanding? When a dream thing meets a dream thing coming through the rye...

Am I a dream thing?

No, he wasn't. He was only a consciousness caught in a dream. Ronan's dream. Ronan's recreated Cabeswater. He thought about what Ronan had said, about creating a dream Barns to fit over the real one. Two planes meshed into one. If it worked, could the sleeping creatures be awakened? Could the Barns become an extension of Cabeswater?

Ronan had said he didn't want to make a bigger cage, but maybe he'd become that desperate. Or maybe this was a stop-gap solution until he could fix the underlying problem.

But why am I here?

Screaming brought Adam's attention back to the immediate moment. The dragon was returning, this time with Matthew in its clutches. Matthew kicked and shouted things Ronan would not have liked hearing his innocent, sweet little brother say. The dragon ignored him and dropped him beside Adam. Matthew looked at Adam, wide-eyed, then scrambled to his feet to run, but Adam said, "Don't."

Matthew sat back down. He made more of a thud than the dragon had.

"It doesn't want to hurt us. It wants to take us somewhere."

"Back to its nest to feed us to its young or something," said Matthew.

"I don't think so. Do the numbers six and twenty mean anything to you?"

Matthew's brow wrinkled but a moment later he jolted where he sat as though physically struck with a thought. "Sure, it's Ronan's favorite verse."

"Verse?" Adam asked. "Like a poem?"

Matthew laughed. "Nah. I found a book of poems by Shelley under his bed once, though." He laughed again. "He was so pissed."

"The verse, though?" Adam prompted.

"Matthew 6:20. Something like, 'Store up your treasures in heaven, where moths nor rust corrupts, and where thieves do not break in and steal.'"

Adam thought about this a moment. "Shit," he said. He looked at Matthew—a little dirty, but none the worse for wear. No wounds where the dragon had grabbed him, no blood. He looked at his own shoulders. Same. "Shit," he said again.

He stood up and turned to the dragon, which waited patiently for them to figure things out. "You're trying to take us back," he said.

"Back where?" Matthew asked.

"To the waking world," Adam told him. "We've been... imported here. Not on purpose, but still, we can't stay. We have to get back to our bodies. If we're gone too long, they'll die."

"I feel fine," Matthew said. "I feel like me. If my body dies, then can't I just stay here?"

"If your body dies, so does your consciousness." Well, mine does, anyway. But Adam could hardly tell Matthew his brother had dreamt him. "That's what's here now. If your body dies, and your consciousness dies, there won't be anything else to stay here."

"So how did our consciousness end up here? We're having the same dream?"

"Not exactly. We're part of someone else's dream. Ronan wants to keep us safe, and in some backward way, this is how Cabeswater is granting his wish." When Matthew still looked confused, Adam said, "We're Ronan's treasure."