Good Feminism: The Closer

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Brenda and Sharon Raydor
The most fascinating aspect of feminism on The Closer is that Brenda, the lead, doesn't perceive herself in those terms but the writers do (and are aware of the dichotomy).

Brenda sees everyone from murderers to herself in terms of individuality. In Season 6, she informs Captain Raydor that the feminist movements has given her the right to make her own choices--she doesn't have to pursue the highest position to prove something to other women; she can follow her own inclinations.

Although she bows to Captain Raydor's arguments to run for Chief of Police, she retains her individual remove, ultimately scuppering her chances at the job by a justified (but politically problematic) shooting. "You should have let me take the shot," a frustrated Flynn tells her. Brenda shrugs. She either forgot about the political ramifications (focusing only on the case) or deliberately acted against them. Either way, she did what she wanted. 

Ultimately, politics don't interest Brenda. To Captain Taylor in Season 1, she states:
Captain Taylor, I suppose I should apologize to you for not having been born in Los Angeles, but, having seen your work up close now for several months, I can honestly say that, try as I might, I can't think of *any* fair and reasonable system on Earth where I wouldn't outrank you. There, I hope that clears everything up. Well, excuse me, I mean, uh, I have to go. Thank you very much. Thank you.
Brenda doesn't care that Taylor is black or that she is a woman. She would outrank him on the merits, pure and simple.

On the other hand, the writers underscore Brenda's ability to solve cases and get confessions as a feminine trait. Like the women in Susan Glaspell's "A Jury of Her Peers," Brenda notices "trifles" (to borrow the original title from Glaspell) because she is a woman. Her femininity and experience of womanhood keep her  open to clues and information that men would dismiss or simply not notice.

She would make Miss Marple proud!

Brenda et al.
In fact, The Closer is a suitable heir to the Golden Age mysteries of Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. The good feminism (to which Sayers would have laid claim quicker than Christie) of both writers is the sheer, unrepentant individuality of the female protagonist. Both Sayers and Christie, however different in personality, supported the right of women to live life on their terms as women, not in bondage to a system, whether that system is patriarchy OR political feminism.

In a similar fashion, Brenda might use her feminine wiles to flirt with Pope and bamboozle male authority figures, but she does it because she can, not because Women (capital letter) are supposed to. Or not.

Short is Sexy

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For reasons that I don't fully understand (I confess to being nonplussed by most appearance-based criticisms), short men are supposedly less attractive than tall men.

Balderdash!

Here are some (comparatively) short men (i.e. not the supposedly preferable 6') who are sweet, sexy, and smoldering:

Seamus Deaver: With Seamus Deaver, height is completely relative. At 6-1/2" with the strapping build of an oil-rig worker, Nathan Fillion tends to make everyone on Castle's set look short.

Not only is Seamus Deaver a gifted actor and a handsome man, like Martin Freeman (next), he has mobile features that alter his appearance every few seconds. Even a change in hairstyle can alter his persona. It is very cool to watch.

The incomparable Martin Freeman (5'6"). I can't say enough good things!! I never get tired of watching him.

The ever so sexy (and charming) Michael Emerson (at 5'8") with his wife Carrie Preston (5'4"). Aren't they adorable?!

Interestingly enough, in Person of Interest, Michael Emerson's character is the more romantic of the two male leads. He often plays Cyrano to Reese's Christian. He is also more likely to try to save a marriage while Reese is content to give guns to both spouses and let them figure things out for themselves. 

David Suchet (5'7") with the kindest eyes in the entire world. He was Poirot for over two decades and did the part proud. Suchet captured Poirot's Monk-like finickiness as well as his fundamental toughness. His eyes are extraordinarily expressive and can get quite flinty when Poirot is displeased.

As for Monk, the warm adorable Tony Shalhoub is 5'10" while the sexiest man in the world, Ted Levine, is 5'11". (And yes, I am absolutely serious about that last statement. Levine comes very close to embodying the attributes of sexiness and adorableness; however, that award goes to the last actor on this list.)

For short and bald (another common criticism), there is the smoldering Luca Zingaretti (approximately 5'9" -5'10" if compared against Cesare Bocci), playing Montalbano. Like with the last actor on the list, I also really like Montalbano's coat.

Another striking and commanding bald man, Patrick Stewart is also 5'10".

And the best of the best, the gorgeous Peter Falk at 5'6". Doesn't he just make you go weak at the knees?

(Thus endeth my post with its abundance of superlative adverbs, but this post deserved them!)

























Michael Rooker: Hard to Classify

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In the episode "Disturbed," Season 5 of Numb3rs, Colby and Liz Warner have the following exchange:
Colby: Hey,what's that movie with Al Pacino-- he's a cop, and he ends up sleeping with Ellen Barkin, and then it turns out that her ex-husband was the killer?
Liz: Sea of Love.
Colby: No,that wasn't it.
Liz: Yeah, it is. Seen it, like, five times.
Colby: You a big Pacino fan?
Liz: No. Michael Rooker fan. He was Henry in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
Colby: Oh, yeah, that guy. That guy's always the killer.
Liz: No, he's not. You ever seen The Replacement Killers? He was the cop.
This exchange is apparently a reference to Michael Rooker appearing in Numb3rs' unaired pilot as Don Eppes' partner. At the time that I watched this episode, however, I had no idea who he was. Then, I saw him in Psych.

And then in Chuck.

And finally, I figured out that Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy was Michael Rooker:

So now I'm a fan too.

M is for More

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Eikon Bible Art
Mann, Thomas. Thomas Mann wrote Joseph and His Brothers and Joseph in Egypt, both of which I attempted to read when I was younger. I am a huge fan of the story of Joseph from the Old Testament in all its formats. I was introduced to the story as art when one of my brothers brought home a recording of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. This was back in the 70s, so I couldn't say which version it was. I don't think it was the original (performed in a boys' school), but it was pretty close. I was . . . enamored, is the only appropriate word. I memorized all the songs and sang them (probably tonelessly--these days I only sing in the shower or car) constantly as I wandered about the house. I have since experienced several live versions of the musical (including an excellent local stage company's production) plus multiple movie versions, musical and otherwise.  I quite like the New Media Bible/Genesis Project version, which is unfortunately, difficult to get these days.

One of the best stories ever told!

Medeiros, Theresa is a romance writer whose books I occasionally read. Her romances fall directly between character-based and world-based--all about the romantic leads (which I prefer) or all about the world in which they live, including their co-workers, pets, family friends, cousins, and neighbors, etc. etc. etc. (which I don't much care for), so choosing a book is something of a gamble.

I quite like the Patrick Stewart version of Moby Dick--
that's Ted Levine in the middle! 
Melville, Herman. I have read some of Moby Dick! I gave up around the middle. However, I admire the book and use the chapter "The Whiteness of the Whale" in my folklore class (after which, I say, "Aren't you glad I don't make you read the whole thing?")

Meyer, Stephanie. I read a chapter of the first Twilight book. Bella bored me, so I gave up. Having said that, I have nothing against Meyer or the series. I love to see writers make money!

Michaels, Barbara is the alter-ego for Barbara Mertz who also writes as Elizabeth Peters! I have read books under all "MPM" pseudonyms. The Barbara Michaels'  books are suspense/romance. I quite like them. I quite like Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series as well, but I haven't kept up with it (there are only so many unending series that I can keep up with--right now, my focus is Cherryh's Foreigner series--I recently finished Book 15).

Miller, Arthur. He is a great playwright. And The Crucible makes a great point. It isn't historically accurate, which happens to bug me. Still, it deserves its accolades

Mitchell, Margaret. I read Gone With the Wind in 10th or 11th grade. It was one of my first introductions to literary snobbery.

I wafted between two or three "cliques" in high school. One group of friends read Judy Blume stuff, including teen romance paperbacks. The other group read stuff like On Walden Pond. When I brought out my 1000-page tome of Gone with the Wind, the Walden Pond group responded with raised  brows and pursed mouths (seriously--there is nothing so solemn and prudish and miserable as a bunch of literary snobs). I read the book anyway.

In general, I was largely saved from literary snobbery in high school and college by utter bemusement: Why would I limit my reading material based on what others read? I truly didn't understand why anybody would do such a self-destructive thing.

More M's to follow!

All Good Actors are Hams

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In the Supernatural second season episode "Tall Tales," the two brothers investigate a college campus. Unable to explain the resident phenomenon (or their own bickering), they call on their father's friend for help. Each brother takes turns explaining what has happened. Suffering from cabin fever and spiritual malaise, they exaggerate each other's faults. In Sam's version, Dean is portrayed as a boorish oaf. In Dean's version, Sam is portrayed as a prissy, overemotional "pansy."

This is reasonably funny and reasonably true-to-life since the faults the brothers pick on are the kinds of things that brothers might in fact pick on (and reflect both brothers' personalities).

What makes it hilarious is that the actors don't flinch at hamming up their character's faults.

With utter unself-consciousness, Jensen Ackles (as the oaf) stuffs twenty or more nuts into his mouth while Jared Padalecki (as the overly emotional empathizer) hugs a bewildered student for being a "trooper" and "too precious for this world." Of course the whole thing devolves into a fight over the equivalent of car keys (it's a money clip).

The jokes go beyond the actors and the "insider" momentum of Season 2. One doesn't have to know who the characters are (though it helps) to enjoy their physical comedy. For reasons best explored by humor researchers, watching a man overstuff his mouth and then try to talk makes a person laugh. (Really: I haven't laughed this hard since Buffy.)

At this point (I've just starting watching Supernatural), I decided that I not only enjoy the well-plotted (and deceptively simple) episodes:  I like the actors as well.

Every good actor should be willing to ham it up. It can't be easy since, as the gentlemanly Leonard Nimoy points out, actors must be willing to protect their characters. But hey, even Spock giggled at the whales (of course, knowing when to be serious and when to giggle is an art in itself; Tom Hanks never seems to make mistakes here--he always picks the best film to showcase his talents--but many actors do).

When it is time for ham, it is time for ham. Shakespeare understood this. In her murder mysteries, Josephine Tey argues that actors should never allow their personal lives to spill over into the performance; it makes the audience uncomfortable. Of course, Tey hadn't seen reality television. But her point is valid. A self-conscious actor stops living in the moment and starts watching him or herself, which shatters the suspension of disbelief; the story--and the audience--flounder. Robert Downey, Jr. may always act Robert Downey, Jr. but he is acting. He is being Sherlock or Tony for the sake of being Sherlock or Tony. 

To put it another way, he is having fun! In a discussion of The Desolation of Smaug, Benedict Cumberbatch ruminates on the freedom of motion capture. It might not seem like acting yet the play-like, unself-conscious nature of the exercise can make it more like a true "act" than presenting oneself to the cameras. (Instead, the cameras come to the actor.)

I acted in high school (and a little in college: my English Department put on some plays), and I utilize some of that experience as a teacher, drawing on energy to present a topic for its own sake without thinking about myself. However, I could never quite reach that point of complete submersion (which is why I considered playwriting over playacting).

The best actors make it about the part. Being able to ham it up is the test.

Jane Eyre Revisited: Here I Go Again!

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Inspired by Joe, I am rewatching Jane Eyre films, starting with Jane Eyre (1944), starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. I provide my latest review followed by my earlier one (I will be writing the 2014/2015 reviews before rereading the 2005 ones--after all, my opinions might change!) 

December 2014

Joan Fontaine is more an Austen heroine than a Bronte one. She took on Jane Eyre at the age of 27 and exhibits all the confident maturity of, well, a 27-year-old woman. (She would make an excellent Elinor!) She comes off as didactic and well-meaning rather than smitten and raw.

This is more problematic than it sounds. Fontaine's Eyre lacks mischievousness--in a later version, when commanded by Rochester to entertain him at the piano, Jane plays an overly performed tune, knowing it will irritate Rochester (similar to playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" or singing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" for an American Idol audition). Later film Janes--and for that matter book Jane--enjoy deliberately poking the bear.

1944 Jane, however, is more into "taming" the beast than provoking him. She endures Rochester's bullying not only passively but sympathetically ("oh, the poor man"). Consequently, she becomes a pitiable figure rather than an intrinsically tough one. Instead of studying Rochester objectively with eyes hooded, she seems to look past him to what he represents (husband material). Book Rochester would HATE that. 

On multiple occasions, the movie informs its audience that Jane loves and admires Rochester; unfortunately, without the repartee--the arguing!--of other versions (and the book), that "fact" must be taken entirely on faith. Are they truly good friends? Eh . . . 

Peggy Ann Garner
Actually, 1944 is a better version than my criticism implies. Orson Welles clearly comprehended his character (even if Fontaine didn't "get" hers) and delivers Rochester's best lines with deep-throated eloquence. I love his clothes. I like his dog!


The movie is beautifully filmed and impressively fast-paced. An adaptation of Jane Eyre takes anywhere from 2 to 4+ hours. 96 minutes--without the loss of anything of great importance--is impressive. (The one flaw, as mentioned above, is that the audience doesn't get to see Jane and Rochester's relationship grow.)

Amanda Root
As for casting Jane Eyre, the child Jane Eyre, played by Peggy Ann Garner, is exactly right. For black & white, Margaret Sullavan (if the film had been made 10 years earlier) would have made a fantastic Jane. (More recently, Amanda Root even at 32--when she did Persuasion--could have captured the essence of Jane.)

June 2005

The Orson Welles' version (1944) is naturally definitive, mostly because Orson Welles is Rochester. My biggest problem with this version is Joan Fontaine. She looks so thoroughly like the nice-girl-next-door, I never fully believe in her character's persona: a somewhat eccentric, 18-year-old whose passionate otherworldiness will attract Rochester despite his good intentions. While Orson Welles is growling and beetling his brows and running about in gorgeous (and well-fitted) dressing gowns, I keep expecting Joan Fontaine to say, "Oh, and when did you want your washing done, honey?"

[I still mostly agree with my 2005 review although I think that Welles sells his role through sheer genius rather than in being exactly "right". He succeeds because (1) he uses his dialog to provide depth to the Jane-Rochester relationship; (2) oh my, that voice!] 

Evil Computers: But They Don't Act That Way In Real Life

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McClane and a lighter: how low-tech!
Eugene recently reflected on the overuse of the "mainframe plot" (networked computers about to take over the world). As part of my Christmas traditions, I recently rewatched Die Hard, the original, and was impressed all over again by how a non-computer plot can keep an audience on the edge of its seats.

This year, I managed to see Die Hard on the big screen for the first time (part of a cult classic series in a nearby movie theater). The theater was about 2/3rds full, which is impressive for a non-new release! The audience audibly gasped when McClane limped into the bathroom, his feet full of glass shards--even though we'd all seen the movie more than once and one guy even knew the name of the novel on which the movie was based (there was a trivia game beforehand).

In other words, it is McClane's physical and mental endurance plus Alan Rickman's urbane villainy that holds the movie together, not some amorphous, omniscient big bad.

Low-tech tension.
And I must say that Alan Rickman holds up impressively well. Bruce Willis does, of course, but that's because Bruce Willis has been acting John McClane for years. Unfortunately, villains from older movies often come across as hokey as the dialog references to VHS (that got people chuckling). Yet Alan Rickman is still as scary and suave and deadpan now as then.

While contemplating the impressiveness of Die Hard's non-computer plot and Eugene's post about the lack of plausible motivations (what could the computers possibly want?), I decided that part of the problem with "mainframe plots" is the "nothing ever ever glitches" syndrome.

For example, in response to Eugene's post, Dan comments on Live Free or Die Hard: "There is a state of emergency in DC and yet a large semi-truck housing the bad guys' command center is driving around unmolested (and again are not the roads congested?)." I view Live Free or Die Hard as pure fun fantasy (that plane!), but I think Dan has pinpointed a big problem with the mechanics of "mainframe plots."

It's a problem that also occurs in murder mysteries. In Dial M for Murder, the character, Mark Halliday, a mystery writer, restates the problem in writing terms:
Margot Mary Wendice: Do you really believe in the perfect murder?
Mark Halliday: Mmm, yes, absolutely. On paper, that is. And I think I could, uh, plan one better than most people; but I doubt if I could carry it out.
Tony Wendice: Oh? Why not?
Mark Halliday: Well, because in stories things usually turn out the way the author wants them to; and in real life they don't... always.
Tony Wendice: Hmm.
Mark Halliday: No, I'm afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I'd make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me.
I complain in my comment to Eugene's post about Bones, Season 8. In general, I think that season's episodes are well-written. However, I dislike Pelant, the season's villain (who luckily only shows up for 3 or 4 episodes) since he is "one of those 'bad for the sake of being bad' villains," more interested in getting attention than in his own self-interest. I consider this boring.

He is also a computer mastermind who uses the computer to do everything. I consider this implausible.

I don't mind when Root and Finch do fantastic things with computers in Person of Interest because the show is built on the premise that The Machine is (1) possible; (2) partially sentient. Of course the people who created and understand it would be masterminds!

I also don't mind because within the structure of the show (I finished Season 2, haven't yet started Season 3), the machine and its creator are still fallible.

What amazes me with Pelant is that he uses the computer to move people around, get people out of jail, get people moved into different facilities, get evidence planted, blah, blah, blah and nothing ever goes wrong with his plans.

Superman can type really fast; that doesn't mean that the computer can handle his speed. There's a great line in Stargate SG-1 where super-speed Carter
complains, "I’m writing a book on wormhole physics but this damn computer isn’t fast enough. When the buffers are full I have to wait for it to catch up!" In the video, she complains that she is stuck on a glacier with "Macgyver," and even he can't rescue them!

Pelant's masterminding also doesn't take into account that people do not always do what the computer says

Believe me--I can't tell you the number of times my students have failed a quiz, print or on-line, because they did not read the instructions.

At one point, Pelant creates a second identity for himself--voila, he is now an Egyptian citizen, and that government comes to get him out of U.S. jail.

But governments are slow. And bureaucrats play games. And higher-ups like to throw their weight around. Isn't it far more likely that the request to release Pelant would end up in a crazy, swampish quagmire of red tape as convoluted as this metaphor? Isn't it more likely that Bureaucrat 1 would decide to trade favors with Bureaucrat 2, and Pelant would languish in some extradition hole for months on end?

In the NCIS episode "Broken Bird," the Afghani ambassador feels compelled to take seriously the accusation against Ducky for war crimes. While sitting in the Afghani embassy, Ziva quietly points out to Gibbs that the man is in a difficult position. He doesn't want to be responsible for creating tension between the United States and Afghanistan, but he can't ignore the issue. He is waiting to make the call home, which gives Gibbs time to play a "I'll give you information for a favor" game with Trent.

All this is far, far, far more likely than that Cause A will automatically lead to Effect B.

"Did you know?" Finch to The Machine. He didn't check!
I haven't even addressed the following in detail: computers break; many computers--especially those in government (healthcare.gov, anyone?)--are slow, unwieldy, and stupidly programmed; nothing is instantaneous, not even Amazon's sales or PayPal (there is a process): stuff has to be downloaded; someone has to look at the stuff; someone has to print it out or forward it to the correct authorities. In addition, information on-line can be corrupted by viruses or the computer crashing; it can be hacked, which means the information is often double-checked against eyewitnesses and/or written information; information on-line can also be wrong because it was wrongly entered in the first place. AND, ultimately, people have to turn the machine on, i.e. check it, to get the information at all.

All the stuff that drives us responsible, everyday citizens crazy when dealing with, say, healthcare.gov is all the stuff that keeps even Finch grounded (and Finch's occasional inability to see the human side of a problem is part of his personality, charm, and inner conflict).

I'll take the clever but fallible villain/hero any day over the computer masterminds who never, never mess up.

Bring back Han Gruber!

Chicago in the Movies (and One Television Show)

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Possibly the best proposal scene of all romantic comedies!
A surprising number of my favorite films take place in Chicago:

I recently rewatched While You Were Sleeping. It utilizes the same core concept as The Proposal, another Sandra Bullock film, which I watched for the first time on DVD this fall. The Proposal is a cute film; however, While You Were Sleeping is better, and I figured--after watching The Proposal--that I might as well go back to the source.

The similarity: in both cases, Sandra Bullock's character pretends to be engaged to a man whose family takes her into their hearts. The man, or his brother, subsequently realizes that she is the best thing that ever happened to him and proposes.

Sweet, cute, and with Bullock in the heroine's role, surprisingly believable (by romance movie standards). Bill Pullman is 10 years older than Bullock and Reynolds is 12 years younger but Bullock pulls off the role of vulnerable ingenue in both cases while the heroes convince us that they are utterly smitten (personally, I prefer Pullman, simply because I think Pullman as a romantic hero was totally underused in his youth).

Besides, with While You Were Sleeping, you get all those great Chicago landscapes and references!

The same is true in The Lakehouse, one of Keanu Reeves best romantic movies (in general, Reeves should stick to action). It helps that he is paired with his Speed partner, Bullock! The Lakehouse is a sweet romantic comedy, reminiscent in tone more of You've Got Mail than Sleepless in Seattle (I  greatly prefer the former to the latter).

Gerard and team members
The Fugitive is one of my favorite action films (not as great as Die Hard, of course, but pretty far up there). It was my introduction to Tommy Lee Jones, who steals the movie, not to mention to the city of Chicago! Although The Lakehouse uses the imagery of Chicago to bring the romantic leads together, any beautiful city would have done. The Fugitive relies on Chicago to supply the clues and solve the mystery:
Marshal Henry: I may be crazy but that train sounds like an el.
Cosmo Renfro: St Louis doesn't have an elevated train. Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard: How do you know it's an elevated train?
Marshal Stevens: I think he's right. I lived under an el for 20 years.
Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard: Then you can explain the difference in the sound of an elevated train as opposed to a train that's running along the ground. You must have ears like a eagle: play that back; I wanna hear the sound of an elevated train.
And for a Chicago-based television show, check out Due South. I own all seasons of Due South and adore them all (I also wish more 90's shows were as readily available). Paul Gross plays the Mountie straight man, Benton Fraser. David Marciano excels as his first partner, and Callum Keith Rennie shines as his second partner:
Fraser: I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father and, for reasons which don't need exploring at this juncture, I have remained, attached as liaison to the Canadian consulate. [Later, Fraser adds the line, "A story that takes exactly 2 hours to tell," referring to the pilot.]
Delightful show--with the perfect setting!

If I had to live away from the ocean, Chicago would be my go-to choice--even with all that snow!

Great Adorable Grumpy Old Gals

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To go with my post on great adorable grumpy old guys, here's a complementary list:

1. Selma (from Night Court)

Selma, played by Selma Diamond, is the straight-woman to Richard Moll's sweet-natured Bull, the other bailiff on Night Court. She is the essence of grumpy and acerbic as she delivers pithy quips in her raspy voice. Unfortunately, Selma Diamond died after Season 2. Moll would go through another side-kick before settling in with Marsha Warfield. All three female bailiffs would qualify for 'grumpy.' (Florence Halop, the second female bailiff, made some great guest appearances on Barney Miller.)

2. K Callan (from a number of things other than Lois & Clark)

In Lois & Clark, K Callan, as Clark's mom, is a sweetheart.

However, she has guest-starred in many, many mysteries as the grumpy neighbor, the murderous grandmother and even the criminal mastermind! Check her out going up against Patrick Jane!

3. Kathryn Joosten

With a similar acting background to K Callan, Kathryn Joost (one of the incarnations of god in Joan of Arcadia) was totally hilarious as a grump. She was especially good at barking orders in full-blown exasperation  (see The Closer).

4. Sophia (from The Golden Girls)

Sophia, played by Estelle Getty, is a tiny adorable package of grumpy one-liners. The Golden Girls, despite some dated jokes, is a remarkably relevant show. As I and my parents age, I find it downright comforting.

Despite her real age (at the time) Getty captured the walk, tone, and attitudes of an independent 80-year-old. I especially enjoy Sophia's "picture it: Sicily 1922" anecdotes, which always involve her meeting famous people from history.

5. Martha Rogers (from Castle)

Like Dick Van Dyke on the previous list, Susan Sullivan as Martha Rogers isn't so much grumpy as a straight-shooter. She can play grumpy! Most of the time, however, she breathes fresh-air and style into the aging process.

She was much grumpier, and just as funny, opposite (grumpy) Mitchell Ryan in Dharma & Greg.


Adorable Grouchy Character Actor: Kurtwood Smith

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I just finished watching Hitchcock for the second time. It is a respectable movie; Helen Mirren naturally conquers the film as Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife.

Some of my favorite scenes, however, focus on Hollywood's censor, played by the talented Kurtwood Smith.

I adore Kurtwood Smith. He plays the dad, "Red" Forman in That 70's Show. That 70's Show is one of those sitcoms that I'll stop and watch if I see it in passing yet I never rent. My favorite episodes--the ones I stop for--are all "Red"-focused, and one of my favorite lines occurs when an exasperated "Red" barks, "Why is it, everywhere we go, all these kids come along?!"

Of course, Kurtwood Smith has done much more than play Eric Forman's father. His resume includes a deranged FBI agent (X-Files) and a slightly deranged but good-hearted ex-cop (Psych). He also delivers a tour de force as the complexly disturbed captain in my favorite Star Trek: Voyager two-parter: "Year of Hell." His character is a villain, yet a comprehensible one. His crew's loyalty is believable, and his desperate attempts to literally rewrite the past make for an excellent time travel problem.

Kurtwood Smith plays disturbed, kindly, captious, and, of course, grouchy! He is the type of actor who, while not disappearing into his part a la Gary Oldman, never draws attention away from the lines or plot. He does what is necessary, whether that entails a bravura performance, a subtle one, or a walk-on part: I imagine directors find this a great relief.

For his performance as "Red" alone, I must add Kurtwood Smith to my "Great Adorable Grumpy Old Guys" list.


Bon Jovi Inspired

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I am currently working on Book 3 of my fantasy trilogy, the Roesia Chronicles; since this is the first time I've written a trilogy, I assigned a song from Bon Jovi's album Have a Nice Day to each novella to help me keep the themes of each distinct.

Bon Jovi was hugely popular when I was a teen. I wasn't much of a fan (if I remember correctly, I was listening to A-Ha , Elvis Costello, and Billy Joel while listening to my siblings play Pink Floyd, Queen, Neil Diamond plus Bruce Springsteen and to my friends play The Pogues and Duran Duran).

In the middle of all this, Bon Jovi produced the song "Wanted Dead or Alive" which led, circuitously, to him creating the soundtrack for Young Guns II and making a cameo appearance in the movie. THAT led to Bon Jovi doing an interview on the radio, which I heard. Bon Jovi was so adorably, well, dorky (I admire dorkiness) and self-effacing during the interview, I decided I liked him.

Approximately 15 years later, I saw him on American Idol looking adorably bemused ("Why am I doing this?") and decided I still liked him.

Every now and again, I listen to his music.

From Have a Nice Day, I assigned "I Want to Be Loved" to Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation:
So who I am now?
Who do you want me to be be?
I can forgive you but I won't re-live you
I ain't the same scared kid I used to be
I'm gonna live, I'm gonna survive
I don't want the world to pass me by
I'm gonna dream, I ain't gonna die
Thinking my life was just a lie
I wanna be loved
I wanna be loved
I assigned "Welcome to Wherever You Are" to Richard: The Ethics of Affection:
You're caught between just who you are and who you want to be
If you feel alone and lost and need a friend
Remember every new beginning is some beginning's end
Welcome to where you are
This is your life; you made it this far
Welcome, you got to believe
That right here, right now
You're exactly where you're supposed to be
Welcome to wherever you are.
To put it in Buckaroo Banzai's terms: No matter where you go, there you are.

And I assigned the signature song "Have a Nice Day" to Lord Simon: The Hauntings of Hannah:
Take a look around you; nothing's what it seems
We're living in the broken home of hopes and dreams
Let me be the first to shake a helping hand
Anybody brave enough to take a stand
I've knocked on every door on every dead-end street
Looking for forgiveness and what's left to believe
When the world gets in my face, I say

Have a nice day

The Complications of Wickham in Death Comes to Pemberley

3 comments
The excellent Matthew Rhys as Darcy
reacting to Wickham's trial.
I recently watched P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley. All of my comments refer to the script since I have not read the novel.

The script is fairly standard Austen lite fare--I say that fondly since I have myself produced Austen lite fare! The romance in the household centers on Georgiana, but Elizabeth and Darcy suffer through a marriage crisis that doesn't differ substantially from their pre-engagement crisis. Whether or not a rehash of previous fears and misunderstandings is likely to occur 6 years into a marriage, I'll leave to the therapists.

I found the miniseries (3 episodes equaling a total of 3 hours) engaging although the mystery itself was kind of blah.

What I liked best was the treatment of Wickham.

He's the same guy as in the original. That guy: the one who meanders through life doing whatever he wants and then being shocked, shocked! when he runs out of money and gets threatened by creditors. He has all the moral comprehension of a weasel. Though maybe that's unfair to weasels.

Death Comes to Pemberley captures this aspect of Wickham perfectly. Although I greatly admire Longbourn, I think the Wickham of Jo Baker's imagination is too vile. Wickham isn't evil. He's just the "natural man" in a waistcoat.

At the beginning of Death, when Wickham is accused of murder, Darcy's knee-jerk, automatic reaction is, "But Wickham isn't violent." Darcy knows Wickham. He knows him better than any of the Bennetts. If one needs expert advice regarding Wickham's character, Darcy is--whether he likes it or not--the best person to provide that advice. 

In fact, Death illustrates a fundamental point that I feel is often missed, especially in lite fare: Wickham was and always will be Darcy's problem. Elizabeth blames herself for involving Darcy with Wickham. But Elizabeth didn't grow up with Wickham. Darcy did.

Darcy is often painted wholly heroically: the knight in shining armor who rides to the rescue and conquers the dragon (Wickham) out of disinterested magnanimity.

In truth, as an early nineteenth century landlord, Darcy has always been responsible for Wickham. He doesn't want to be. He tries desperately to break with Wickham completely. But the guy is never going to go away--and wouldn't have even if he'd married someone other than Lydia.

Matthew Goode as Wickham reacting to Darcy.
Another interesting aspect of Wickham that appears in Death is his comment to Darcy about why he keeps returning to Pemberley's grounds. Darcy accuses him of skulking about. Throughout their conversation, Wickham has behaved per usual--blithely shrugging off his circumstances, talking ironically about his wife--but at Darcy's accusation, he abruptly turns and snaps, "It's the only place I was ever happy."

I found this believable. Utterly lacking in introspection, Wickham has no idea how to recreate the life he had when he was young. All he knows is that once upon a time, he wasn't in trouble with (1) Darcy; (2) the army; (3) creditors; (4) his extended family, etc. etc. etc. The only person who doesn't give him grief is Lydia (who is portrayed quite well in Death), and she's a tad flighty (however, she is still more loyal and less critical than anyone else in his life, so he tolerates her, which I also found believable).

There will probably always be a part of Wickham that wishes he could get back to the life he had as a kid, when all he had to do was run around a huge estate with another kid.

Of course, Wickham probably hightailed it to London as soon as he hit late adolescence ("Pemberley is  SOO boring!"), but there's no reason those two realities--I couldn't wait to get away. I can't wait to get back.--can't exist at the same time in the same person.

People are complicated, even someone as apparently shallow as Wickham.

Kate Tries to Navigate HealthCare.Gov: Updated November 17, 2014

6 comments
November 17, 2014
The Maine Community College System is not going to provide a healthcare package to its adjuncts. This is not a huge surprise, but it does mean that I had to go back down that rabbit-hole. 
I re-enrolled, which was far, far easier than the last time. This time, the website works! (It still has problems. For instance, once you are in your profile, you cannot return to the main screen without hitting the back arrow. I hate websites like this.)
I discovered what I feared in February. Because I am a contract worker, and my income fluctuates from year to year, if I make the same or more income this year as last, my tax credits  will not be enough to cover my health insurance. The least expensive (and useless) health insurance is the same amount as my monthly car payments. My tax credits would cover half--and that is NOT a guarantee since those proposed tax credits are based on last year's tax returns, not this year's. (I made more money this year per credit hour, but I lost two classes, so I think my income will come out the same.)
Open enrollment has been extended to February 15, 2015. Hopefully by then, I will have my W-2s and can see if I get a different result. However, if I decide not to get insurance (because it is useless and I can't afford it), unless I remove my account from the Marketplace, I may be enrolled without my permission (a pop-up in healthcare.gov warned me of this possibility).
I refuse to let the Federal Government force me to spend money I don't have. I have not charged anything to a credit card in over 2+ years. How dare the Feds try to reteach me bad habits!!
Consequently, I may end up taking the "hit" in 2015 on my taxes (I will be punished approximately $300 worth). In general, I would be better off taking the "open enrollment" option since it cuts my insurance costs. Yet full price or half price . . . either way, in 2015, I won't have the money. At least if I wait (until after I pay off my car), I will know where the money is coming from!
The really disgusting thing is that insurance companies in Maine won't offer catastrophic insurance as a separate, non-Federally funded package since the Federal Marketplace has decided that anyone who is over 30 and not indigent doesn't qualify. (I have a call into Anthem to confirm this.)
February 22, 2014
I'm starting to do my taxes, and this is what I have discovered so far . . . I think.

First, the Health Insurance Tax Credit is not automatically folded into the 1040 form--even TaxAct, which is a fairly reliable program, required that I find and fill out an extra form: Form 8885. However, since I didn't purchase any Health Insurance in 2013, the form is irrelevant. This leads me to believe--and please correct me if I'm wrong--that if I do purchase insurance through the Marketplace to avoid the March deadline, I will have to pay for it out-of-pocket before getting reimbursed in 2015. Since my entire problem with health insurance stems from my inability to pay for health insurance right now, this doesn't help.

Update: According to the IRS, I can have Marketplace tax credit paid directly to the insurance company--this would be 2014 tax credit on the return I would file in 2015; consequently, I wouldn't be able to see how purchasing health insurance might affect my refund/income until 2015 (after the deadline). Also, in order for me to get this tax credit, my 2014 income would have to remain absolutely stable--if it varied at all, I could be surprised with a very big bill in 2015. 

This is called "awful budgeting" and "lack of transparency" when places like Enron do it, and when places like Enron do it, people get very, very upset. So why is it okay when our government does it?
Call me naive, but I honestly thought that TaxAct would present the following questions as part of the regular Federal form: "Do you have health insurance?" "Did you purchase it through the Marketplace?" "Will you purchase health insurance through the Marketplace in 2014?"
In sum, I find it bizarre that ObamaCare receives so little notice on the current tax forms although such disingenuousness is part and parcel of Washington's approach to the issue (it isn't a tax! it's a . . . .). If this insurance is so important, shouldn't I at least get some credit/recognition for getting health insurance before the deadline? And if I don't, why should I bother? I realize that these tax forms reference 2013 income, but it IS being filed in 2014, and the deadline for getting health insurance is March 2014, not December 2014. So I'm going to be penalized in 2015 for something that I didn't have for 9 months of 2014 and wasn't required to have for 3. Am I the only one who thinks this is all kind of odd?

My penalty for not purchasing health insurance, according to TaxAct, will be $200.

My employer is required to decide whether or not to give me health insurance by 2015. Since all I need is catastrophic health insurance (which is all the Marketplace can offer me in any case), I rather wish my employer would at least present us contract workers with that option (perhaps at a group cut rate). However, I'm not holding my breath.
(The adjuncts' union HAS forced the college to agree that adjunct hours won't be deliberately cut to avoid this issue; I'm not a fan of unions in general, but I have to give ours credit for this one. The college's pretense that it had "suddenly" discovered a need to limit adjuncts' hours per semester for reasons completely unrelated to health insurance was hard for even a sanguine Libertarian like me to take. I doubt the college system can afford health insurance for all adjuncts, but a reduction in hours would destroy my ability to be an adjunct at all--ironically, when one considers Obama's supposed love for education and educators. Besides, I rather dislike bureaucrats haphazardly inventing rules to try to avoid the consequences of their own behavior. If current academic powers-that-be don't like using adjuncts, then change the system! I wouldn't like such a decision, but I would respect it.
But of course, rehauling the system would negatively impact the powers-that-be. Ain't politics wonderful.) 
February 14, 2014
Towards the end of December, I finally got access to my eligibility results.

I am not eligible for Medicaid, which I knew before I applied. I occupy a not atypical position in American society: I'm not poor enough to get breaks but not wealthy enough not to care. For example, I make too much money in the Fall and Spring to be eligible for a break on my student loans--but not quite enough money to make it easy to pay such loans (however, going any lower would mean not paying the interest, so it actually isn't worth getting a break anyway).

In general, I save up for eye care and wait for things like semi-free clinics ($10 for flu shots!) which serves me well.

And will continue to serve me. As far as I could tell in December, if I get the cheapest (and most useless plan: see below), my health tax credits will pay for it all: $162/month.

I have decided to wait until I do my 2014 taxes (which I always do before the due date). I don't know if signing up for healthcare now will reduce my 2014 rebate or not (these days, I almost always get a rebate). Depending on what TaxAct tells me, I'll make my decision then.

By the way, to enroll in a healthcare plan, be prepared to fill out a trillion more documents: yup, just logging in is just the start! I tried going on today to finish the forms (my opinion about dental care, whether I smoke, blah, blah, blah) and . . .

It isn't working.
Consistently may be the hobgoblin of little minds but there's something almost comforting about the consistent ineffectiveness of large bureaucracies. 
December 12, 2013
My application has been submitted! I have eligibility results!

I can't view them because the screen isn't working. But I have them!!
*Sigh.*
When I consider what Amazon is doing right now with the Christmas rush--and the fact that everything I have ordered has been shipped on-time, even ahead of schedule . . .

Let's just say, I can't speak to capitalism's ethics (at least, I won't right now), but efficiency-wise, when it comes to Big Government:

The trains don't run on time.
December 5, 2013
I have been checking on my application here and there over the past month +. It is still in progress. (I can finally access the website using Firefox rather than IE.)

The website currently declares, "Enroll by Dec. 23 for coverage starting as soon as Jan. 1."

So I went to log-in.

It didn't work.

I don't mean my info was wrong. I mean, the website just kicked me back to the same log-in page (several times).

Do the people who designed the website believe what is posted ON the website? 

I have my doubts. 
October 22, 2013
I knew it! Very good article from Yahoo about the Marketplace's problems: http://news.yahoo.com/builders-obamas-health-website-saw-red-flags-070429400.html
October 17, 2013

Over the past week, the Marketplace has been down more than it has been up.

My application is still in progress.

October 8, 2013
The system has been down (or at least has admitted to being down) for 24 hours now. The current message: We're currently making system improvements. Please try again after 10:00 AM Eastern. 
I'm afraid the fire sale of Live Free or Die Hard is looking less and less of a possibility. Why do people assume that the answer to a big inefficient problem is big inefficient government? And where's Harold Finch when you need him?
I was able to get on around 11:00 a.m.; my application is still being processed. I'm not sure if this is because the system was down or if several days is typical. If each application must be individually reviewed . . . I may not know if I have coverage until March 2014! (Except that I'm supposed to have the option of signing up for whatever they offer me on January 1, 2014.)
For the sake of clarification, the cheapest insurance currently available would cost me about the same as a car payment: $240 or so a month (I would save $70 because I don't smoke). This sounds great except it comes with a $5,000 deductible. I don't pay anything even close to this amount on my doctors' appointments per year, so basically . . . my life wouldn't change. (Now, if I HAD $5,000 a year extra . . .) Even the best plan in Maine--$373/month--comes with a $650 deductible; believe it or not, I don't spend even that much per year on medical bills. In fact, if the government just GAVE me $500, I would be able to see my eye doctor, my dentist, and maybe even get a check-up! 
Catastrophic Care--which is all I really need (in case of a $50,000 trip to the hospital)--would cost me only $40/month less with a $6,000 deductible.*
To sum up, whatever I do, I will mostly be paying to keep the government off my back. Granted, this is what I did all those years when I had health insurance through my workplace (I am currently a contract worker; my employers have until 2015 to decide whether or not their contract workers qualify for healthcare.) Though that health insurance actually paid for visits to a primary care physician. And of course, all I saw back then was $30 coming out of each pay-check. Ah, the difference immediacy makes . . . !
At this point, I have no idea what the Marketplace will offer me. I have a sneaking suspicion that it won't cover anything I actually use, so I'll . . . be paying to keep the government off my back. But right now, this is a wait and see game.
*I can appreciate that without health insurance, somebody--possibly me for the rest of my life--would have to pay that $50,000 hospital bill; however, I dislike politicians trumpeting how great it is that everyone has health care--come on, what does that REALLY mean?
October 7, 2013
The system fails to recognize my password. It then fails to "find" the website. Good thing I have until March 2014! (That's about how long this will take.)
October 4, 2013
I got on about 10:30 a.m. and was able to begin the application. I was stopped by not having all the necessary information (to provide accurate information, you do need tax forms, paychecks, etc.). I have not been able to get on again since. (It is now 4:10 p.m.)
As I mentioned before, the site is quite user friendly--though there are still bugs--just not accessible. There is something downright unsettling about the government being inefficient, tedious, and long-queued even online.
What--do bureaucrats take an oath or something? Do nothing in a timely fashion!
My personal theory: politicians are highly unrealistic. They said to each other, "Well, even though we've been going on and on about all the uninsured people in America, most people get insurance from their jobs, and they won't try to apply for a cheaper option because they will realize how important it is for poor people to get insurance, so they will get insurance the ordinary way, and besides, they have until March to get this done, and you know how people put off doing their taxes, and the IRS never has these problems."
In other words, politicians forget the basic rule of self-interest and free lunch. If there's a free lunch, people will want it.
8:00 p.m., using Internet Explorer, I successfully applied (I did have to start the process over). The system went kerplunk before it could offer me eligibility options.
Interestingly enough, between this morning and this afternoon, instead of having to enter my income employer by employer, the system was able to deduce my income from my 2012 Federal Tax submission. Well, duh! I mean, why ask me about my 2012 taxes in the first place if the system couldn't make the comparison all on its own?
Live Chat is now up and running. 
Back on! At this point, the program can't decide if I have eligibility results, if my application is still in progress, or if I should be forced to start all over again with the application process. Presumably, the bugs on this part of the process will be ironed out in a couple of days.
October 2, 2013
At 7:00 a.m., my log-in was successful. I was taken to an empty User Profile page (empty as in a big, blank, white screen). 
8:00 a.m., the site is now under maintenance.  
10:00 a.m., still under maintenance. U.S. Citizens broke the Machine!  
So much for the Matrix.   
At 12 p.m., I gained access to my account. I then tried to verify my identity--which failed. At 1:00 p.m. I was able to enter my phone number after numerous tries--identity now verified. (Maybe.)
7:00 p.m.: User profile not working.
9:28 p.m.: The friendly "Please stay on this page" notice has now been up for over 2 hours. This notice usually gives way within a few minutes to the log-in page. Methinks the machine 'tis truly broken. Luddites throughout the world rejoice! (But doesn't it kind of disprove every evil-government-conspiracy movie ever?)
Live Chat is still down.
Trying to access the account: 
Unfortunately, the site wouldn't recognize my log-in name or password. I requested a "reminder," and it still hasn't arrived (it never arrived).

Out of curiosity, at 11:00, I called the Help line. My estimated wait time was less than 5 minutes. While waiting, I had to listen to blurbs about the Affordable Healthcare Act.

My call was answered! The obviously working-from-a-script answerer used my phone number to connect me to an address. She then started to give me a spiel about where I could find more information on the website.

"Woah," I said. "I don't need this. I just need to know why I can't log in even though I've created an account."

"I'm required to give you this information," she said.

I guess the script then allowed her to stop trying to give me information and just talk to me.

"There's a lot of people on the website right now," she said.

"Is that why I can't log in?" I said. "Because the little note on the bottom of the page says it's because my information isn't valid. But is the real reason because of the number of people on the site?"

"Yes," she said. "Again, I apologize--"

"It's not your fault," I said. "I just wanted to know if that was the reason."

She would have sounded relieved if she hadn't sounded so tired.

"Yes," she said and then her voice lifted ever so hopefully: "You could try tomorrow!"

I suppose that's why they hired her: the eternal optimist. 
I'll say this: The interface is much more user friendly than, say, FAFSA or anything associated with the IRS.

But then FAFSA actually works.

And, okay, I have to say this: if a for-profit business went live on the Internet with these bugs, it would lose all its customers within a few hours. There's nothing like a captive audience! (Did the creators or the bureaucrats funding the creators think the traffic wouldn't be as heavy as it is today?)

The sign-up process:
I realize that trying to access Healthcare.gov on Day 1 is pretty silly, but I figured, hey, why not?!
Around 3:00 p.m., I went onto the site using Firefox. I started the sign-up process, but the security questions part of the sign-up process was blank.

I pulled up Internet Explorer and restarted the sign-up process. A page appeared telling me  that I would be transferred to the sign-up page once things got less busy (this is the electronic equivalent of waiting for your number to be called at the DMV--in a room with a linoleum floor and Formica chairs.)

The process didn't work on Internet Explorer either (even after I updated to IE 8).

I returned to using Firefox (which I prefer). This time, I hit "Live Chat" and ended up back in a waiting room.

I requested Live Chat at 3:23. At 4:32, I received this message: "Please be patient while we're helping other people." At 8 p.m., Live Chat shut down completely: "Sorry, Health Insurance Marketplace Live Chat isn't available right now. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later, or call our Customer Service Center at 1-800-318-2596. We look forward to helping you."

9:30 p.m. The website changed slightly, becoming a little less DMV, a little more Walt Disney: "We have a lot of visitors on the site right now, and we don't want you to lose your place in line. Please stay on this page."

10:10 p.m. After two failed attempts where Marketplace couldn't recognize my answers to their (very limited) questions, I now have an account!

The Beautiful Idealism of Columbo

0 comments
"Lieutenant Columbo is still working this case,"
the captain tells the bad guy.
"Stop harassing me!" the bad guy tells mild-mannered Columbo. "If you don't, I'll tell your superiors."

Columbo looks abashed and apologizes. A few hours later, he is back on the guy's doorstep with "one more thing" to ask.

"I thought you were told to stop bothering me!" the bad guy exclaims to which Columbo responds, "Oh, no,  they never took me off the case."

Columbo is the par exemple of individualism within a bureaucracy: he works by himself (most of the time). He has free rein: he uses his day however he likes; questions whom he likes; and follows the leads he chooses. And behind it all, in the background, never entirely present but never entirely absent is an entire complex of bureaucrats who never, never let Columbo down.

Granted, they occasionally harass him about passing his firearms qualifications or about his car. Every now and again, they make him attend "official" briefings. The rest of the time, he is left alone. Nobody breathes done his neck. Nobody forces him to jump through hoops. And nobody ever, ever abandons him in the middle of a case.

Columbo even takes down a police commissioner--
and nobody even flinches.
So it's not realistic. But it is a great break from the thousands (trillions) of cop shows and movies where the independent maverick is at constant odds with the "big machine." Since the audience is expected to always side with the independent maverick, this means overlooking the thousands (trillions) of times that the maverick cop breaks protocol. Isn't he or she fired yet?

Not to mention those seemingly endless story arcs where politics rule the day. Will the boss take the heat for the maverick cop's decision? Will the maverick cop give up his insider's identity? Will the powers-that-be lose face?

Bosses can be jerks. And political grandstanding is part of the working world. And episodes like this have their place.

The problem is that engaging with politics and bureaucracies doesn't involve quite as much unending drama as such episodes imply. As P.J. O'Rourke points out in A Parliament of Whores, being a member of a democracy--during the actual running of that democracy--is like being a cell in a plant. Likewise, facing down the big, bad machine is never as fascinating as us-against-the-establishment movies try to get viewers to believe. In the long run, paperwork is just paperwork: a great way to bring down Capone--not all that exciting in the day to day.  (Trials are never as exciting as television paints them either although all sidebars have their place and the loose, boring reality of original Law & Order is far preferable to the entirely unlikely overly dramatic "reality" of later Law & Order.)

The beautiful idealism of Columbo is that all the who-told-you-you-could-do-that stuff is all irrelevant anyway.

Are bosses as entirely hands-off and understanding (or tolerant) as Columbo's in real life?
Everyone else is there for the kidnapping.
Columbo is there for the murder.

No.

Don't we wish they would be?

Yes.

The school of "realistic literature" claims that literature should reflect "life as it is"--and then produces angsty narratives that blow "reality" far out of proportion.

I'd rather have story that doesn't pretend to be anything but story. And gives me a hopeful vision of human interaction. Columbo supplies a respectable standard for any organization--or individual. Viva l'homme in the trenchcoat!

Much Ado About . . . What?!

1 comments
Clark Gregg as sincere father
and straight man--one of
the better aspects of the movie.
I finally got around to watching Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing.

Considering its origins (its writer, producer, director), it is bizarrely--bizarrely--humorless.

Clark Gregg does a fine job. Amy Acker is a natural. The first (but not last) mistake comes in casting Alexis Denisof as Benedick when he should have been cast as Don John or the Prince. (Denisof does "Mr. Dangerous" exceedingly well.)

When I first heard that Nathan Fillion was in the movie, I assumed he would play Benedick. After all, Castle could easily be sub-titled, "The Continuing Adventures of Benedick and Beatrice" with no great stretch of the imagination.

More on Fillion later--suffice it to say for now that he exhibits the perfect blend of wit and exuberance that has, in my experience at least, been the hallmark of great Benedicks, such as Branagh and Damian Lewis.

Damian Lewis and his Beatrice, Sarah Parish, cracking up
at their own wedding!
Alexis Denisof, an actor of no mean skill, plays (and was, as far as I can tell, instructed to play) Benedick as angry and morose. His quips in the opening scenes don't come across as funny; they come across as peevish. The quick repartee is lost in angsty self-indulgence.

Maybe it's a Mafia thing.

Although I quite like Whedon's film noir Mafia look, it is all wrong for Much Ado About Nothing. Only guileless people with innocent souls would fall for Don John's guff. Much Ado About Nothing is about happy people doing dumb things when an unhappy guy tries to take revenge. It is NOT about unhappy, dumb people becoming even more unhappy and dumb when an unhappy guy tries to take revenge. (It would be interesting to watch Whedon's Much Ado with the sound off; if I didn't know I was watching a great Shakespearean comedy, would I think I was watching Hamlet? Or King Lear?)

The only scenes in the movie where I laughed out loud were Nathan Fillion's. As far as I can tell (and it is hard to tell), Whedon was aiming for a kind of film noir comedy with a Double Indemnity double entendre flavor. Maybe it's all that Castle work but Nathan Fillion is the only one who actually pulls it off. He delivers Dogberry's pompous political police lines straight-faced with just a hint of something off-kilter. Tom Lenk offers excellent back-up.

Actually, I think Nathan Fillion is quite simply a very fine actor.

In any case, there's a reason Branagh--not Whedon--did Thor. Leave Shakespeare to the people who speak it as plainly as they discuss laundry. All the cleverness in the world can't make up for a lack of natural dialog--as Whedon well knows.

New Novella! Lord Simon: The Hauntings of Hannah

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The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins
Introducing the 3rd Roesia Novel!

Starting today, American Halloween 2014, I will begin publishing sections from the third Roesia novel, Lord Simon: The Inquests of an Absent Houseguest.
Meet Lord Simon, the ubiquitous magician of Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation and Richard & The Ethics of Affection. He may seem to haunt the St. Clair family. In fact, his troubles and concerns are far more self-interested. Years before encountering the St. Clairs, Simon bespelled a woman into the walls of his house. Driven to free her, Simon bargains with smugglers, anatomists, priests, and power-brokers. As his reputation blackens and his house crumbles, his obsession to save a woman long considered dead may even drive him mad.
The Introduction is now available on my fiction page.

The first two Roesia books can be read sequentially or separately:

Book 1 of the Roesia Series: Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation.

Books 2 of the Roesia Series: Richard & The Ethics of Affection.

The Significant Other's Other: Bones, Season 6

2 comments
Usually, I dislike the use of the "other" (man or woman) to disrupt a TV couple's growing relationship. It seems so contrived and often doesn't shed a good light on the couple since their constant switcheroos make them appear shallow.

Booth's girlfriend Hannah in Season 6, however, is done right.

This is my third time through the season after a hiatus of several years. (I'm behind on the show by three seasons; I recently started over.) The use of Hannah is so skillfully done, I have to hand out kudos to the writers. KUDOS, WRITERS!

To recap, Booth is terribly hurt by Brennan's rejection in Season 5. Although they have remained friends, he is desperate to move on with his life. He begins dating a woman whom he (wrongly) determines to be totally unlike Brennan (he makes a comment to this effect early in the season). In reality, he is dating a more socially adept, extroverted form of Brennan.

Booth definitely has a "type."

Regarding the Booth-Hannah relationship, the writers make several intelligent moves:

1. Brennan and Hannah become friends. 

Brennan and Booth are partners, and their partnership is important to both of them; Booth has no desire to sabotage his prior relationship in favor of his new one. He is touchingly relieved with Brennan and Hannah adjust to the new dynamic. His relationships are about affirmation, not destruction a la Emily in Friends. Hannah is NOT that type of "other"--the awful new wife/girlfriend who insists that her husband sever all connections with his past.

Bones is about real adults, not overgrown adolescents.

2. Brennan gets to see how a relationship with Booth could work. 

End, "The Sum of the Parts in the Whole"
Brennan is (understandably) terrified of a committed relationship. She rejects Booth in Season 5 out of fear that she will hurt him through her inability to make their relationship work.

By watching Hannah with Booth, she is able to see the day-to-day reality (which she probably over-imagined in her head). She can even see how her knowledge of Booth would aid her in such a relationship--especially since she uses that knowledge to aid Hannah on several occasions.

3. Booth doesn't drop Hannah when Brennan tells him of her feelings. 

This is so remarkably insightful, I applaud every time I see the scene.

It takes place in the episode "The Doctor in the Photo" (guest starring the equally remarkable Enrico Colantoni). It is quite painful to watch since Brennan breaks down when Booth gently tells her, "I'm with Hannah now." It also clarifies that Booth is in fact a really good guy.

Sure, on the romance side of things, we would all love him to say, "Oh, yes, Brennan, I love you too!"

Enrico Colantoni isn't relevant to
this post: I just like him!
But what kind of guy would that make him? He has vocally and physically (Hannah has moved in) committed himself to Hannah. He loves her. He is not the kind of guy to be swayed by the emotion of the moment. His refusal to walk away from Hannah reassures viewers that in the future, he won't walk away from Brennan.

4. Booth is truly hurt when Hannah refuses his proposal. 

I have my own theory about that proposal--for one thing, it is out
of character. I don't mean the writers messed up; I mean, Booth acts out of character within the established parameters of the show (he does a characteristic thing out of a character). For a patient and insightful man, it is out of character for him to jump the gun.

There are some subtle clues that by this point in the season, Booth has realized that he still has feelings for Brennan (even before she confesses her own). He isn't going to act on them, but he has them. There are also several clues that he is as enamored with her as he was before.

Which doesn't mean he doesn't love Hannah, especially since he is not a man to back out of his commitments.

Yet he pushes Hannah on the subject of marriage too fast, too far. And she says, "No."

At some level, it seems that Booth wants something to happen now--either a firm commitment in one direction or freedom in the other.

In other words, Hannah IS the rebound girlfriend.

Which doesn't mean Booth isn't legitimately unhappy. Oftentimes on television, the male lead, when dumped, becomes a comical figure. Booth, however, is allowed to be hurt and to show his hurt. He is near tears when he discusses the breakup with Brennan.

"What is it with women who don't want what I'm offering here?" he asks her, and this isn't mere male petulance or vanity. Booth's question is a valid one. He is stable. He makes a good income. He is trustworthy. He is handsome (if that matters). He likes kids. Why is marriage such a terrible option?

Bones is ultimately a rather conservative show, in the best possible way. It debates the accepted mores of orthodox society (what most people at the "center" seem to more or less accept) without either cynicism or defensiveness. Marriage and family are normal, acceptable things to care about.

So let our characters care.