The Chemist

Stephanie Meyer writes long books. The Chemist is a nice cosy 530 pages long. Plenty of time to get attached to three main characters and a handful of supporting players.

We open up with our hero talking about how much she loves the Bourne novels…except they aren’t very realistic. And thus we enbark on a Jason Bourne novel starring a woman instead of a man.

I liked The Chemist except for one thing. Our hero tortures and occasionally murders people. Nothing wrong with that…she maintains she’s a good person and like Arnold in True Lies…she only tortured bad people.

It’s well known that torture, or enhanced interrogation, doesn’t work.  But in the world of The Chemist, it does work. In fact, she was one step away from the perfect truth serum that would have made her high tech torture techniques unneeded.

The bulk of the very long story is getting to know people. Much like a Bourne book, our hero is hiding from The Government that wants to kill her. She is soon joined by a Bourne clone who is master of weapons and hand to hand combat. We also have a Watson who doesn’t know anything and has to be constantly told why our hero is doing this or that.

I enjoyed The Chemist. When the action finally rolls around, it’s good and exciting. I laughed and cried.

The ending was pretty good, but not exactly shocking. The little epilogue was fun.

The Chemist was a good read.

Posted in book review

The Founder

Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a failure in his fifties who still has dreams of hitting it big. We open up with Ray giving a sales pitch for a shake machine. We then watch as everyone he pitches slams the door in his face. Then he hears about a small hamburger stand that ordered six of the shake machines. This leads him to McDonald’s, a small, but very well run restaurant in California.

Ray is amazed by the crowds and the speed of food delivery. The McDonald brothers take Ray on a tour and show him exactly how they run their business. Ray can see that there is something here. Something real. Something he can use to become the wealthy man he has always dreamed of becoming.

The Founder tells the story of how Ray Kroc stole the McDonald brothers business and their name. At the same time, without Ray Kroc, McDonald’s wouldn’t be what it is today…a restaurant with about 37,000 locations and billions in revenue. The Founder focuses on the beginning of the story, how Ray and the McDonalds saw business and how Ray was not a very nice guy.

One fun scene near the start of the story sees the more pragmatic of the McDonald brothers complain about the fries being too crispy and how they should go back to their former process for cooking potatoes. Both Ray and his brother tell him the fries are perfect as they are.

Ray is a right bastard in his private life as well. If there is a hell, Ray surely has a prime location.

Nick Offerman plays Dick McDonald and John Carroll Lynch plays Mac McDonald. They are both perfect, spending most of their time looking baffled at what Ray does to them. The sets and the props are perfect. It’s an amazing story. Everyone appears to know that Ray ripped off Dick and Mac, but no one seems to care.

The Founder was a very good movie.

Posted in movie review

Back of the House

Scott Haas hangs around chef Tony Maws restuarant Craigie on Main and watches the great chef and his team work. Tony is a chef and an asshole-of course, that’s a bit redundant. Anyone who has watched Hell’s Kitchen is familiar with the foul mouthed antics of Gordon Rasmey and one of my personal heroes for lo these many years has been Anthony Bourdian. Neither man seems to suffer fools easily. So Tony is the self centered, I’m Right, You’re Wrong demi-god of his tiny little world. There are times when Scott shows one of the revolving cast of line cooks question something Tony has said, and even on something that is simple common sense, such as when a chef says he didn’t add salt because the dish calls for anchovies to be added later, Tony tells him to add salt. When the chef repeats his opinion that the anchovies are pretty salty, Tony repeats several times to add salt to the dish. Scott always backs up Tony in his writing of these incidents. Tony, in short, can do no wrong.

Which is the overarching backbone of Back of the House. Tony, and Tony alone, knows what a dish is supposed to taste like and he can’t trust any of the people who work for him to get anything right. He is constantly tasting and correcting and tasting again. I’m not surprised that people leave his employ on a regular basis, some to peruse careers in other industries than food service. What’s surprising is that none of them cleaned Tony like a fish before they threw their apron on the floor and walked out.

But then, that’s kind of the whole point of Back of the House. Yeah Tony’s an asshole, but god damn can he cook. The life of a genius is not something anyone else can understand. So it is an odd and interesting book. Scott worships the ground that Tony walks on, but he has no qualms about showing him as just this side of madness, and occasionally crossing over to the other side. Maybe Scott is blind to his blatant hero worship or maybe that was just the result of watching the chef work for a year and half.

This was a fun book that talked about a lot of food stuff outside of my wheelhouse. Even things I was familiar with, such as mashed potatoes, were prepare in a way unlike any mashed potatoes I have ever had. The Craigie on Main Burger is one of the things that put the restaurant on the map, so naturally, Chef Tony hates the burger and does everything he can to make it impossible for the average customer to eat one. He prefers serving his Tasting Menus, where he personally picks out what foods to serve. Here you’ll find things like House-Made Phytoplankton Garganelli Pasta and Sashimi of Maine Hiramasa. Sure I can’t get that burger?

Back of the House was well worth reading.

Posted in book review

Colony

In 1992 there was a silly little movie called The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag. It was a bit of fluff about a librarian that gets into trouble. Somewhere near the end there is a scene of the bad guy having dinner with a man and his wife. He offers the wife a bit of food on the end of a knife. She take the food into her mouth nervously-and then the bad guy scrapes the blade across her teeth and slices through her cheek. This was one of the most shocking bits of violence I have ever seen in a film, not because it was up there with Bonnie and Clyde or Robocop or Gladiatorr, but because it was so unexpected and out of place.

Colony is a basic bit of mindless sci fi dreck. The Earth has been taken over by mysterious alien forces and the world has been turned into an occupied zone where humans have been forced to play along or die. There is a Resistance that goes about the usual resistance business of killing collaborators and sabotaging whatever they can sabotage. Our story focuses on one man and his family trapped in a bit of former Los Angeles.

In Colony Season 2 Episode 3:Sublimation, there is a shocking bit of business near the end. Colony is a violent show, but it is violent in usually meaningless ways. Billions are dead, so what? Random people who work for the Aliens are killed in every episode. Yawn. Occasional Resistance fighters die here and there. Shrug. To the last, these are deaths that mean nothing. Deaths of faceless, nameless people.

Then we get to Sublimation. In the grand tradition of Game of Thrones, the writers of Colony introduced a new character, Devon, and gave her some backstory, made her a friend of our hero, made her a key player in his escape from his problems-and then they murdered her. Wow. Not only do they kill her, but they drench our hero and his son in her blood. This was just as shocking as that scene with the mobster and the knife. Here was a death of someone we cared about, someone we thought was going to be around for at least the rest of this season. To see her liquefied by an alien drone was a hell of lot more shocking than the deaths of two no names in similar fashion moments earlier.

For the most part, this is still par for the course in Colony. Our hero did commit murder last episode after all. It’s a show about the death of humanity. There has never been even a glimmer of hope that our heroes will win this battle. The Aliens are too advanced, too powerful, too omnipresent to ever be beaten by humans armed with well, nothing. The bulk of the story-lines deal with petty human problems. It’s never been made clear why the Aliens need any humans at all.

I still like Colony, but I’m not a fan of the total downer direction of the story. Not that it was ever exactly happy, but it’s downright grim now.

Posted in sci fi, tv review

La La Land

I grew up watching Musicals. Singing in The Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and My Fair Lady were regular viewing fare. There were plenty of bad musicals as well. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Little Prince didn’t quite measure up for me. The last Musical that I really loved with Julia Andrew’s Victor/Victoria, and it was more of a modern twist on the musical, since all of it’s songs were preformed on a stange, as opposed to everyone just breaking into song for no reason.

La La Land opens with a song and dance number on one of L.A. infamous freeways during a traffic jam. It’s not an esspecially great song and the dancing is not exactly inspired, but it does tell us where this picture is going. An old fashioned Musical with over the top acting and a love story at it’s heart.

La La Land is chock full of cliches, but that’s not a bad thing. A movie that wants to remind us of the good old days needs a fair share of tired old plot devices like Boy Meets Girl, Rags to Riches, and You Can’t Always Get What You Want. In the end it all worked, even though I would have gone ahead and written the happy ending.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are fun to watch, but they are not exactly Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. Of course, no one is these days. There was a fun bit in the middle of the film where John Legend tells Ryan that it’s people like him who are killing Jazz, because he can’t give up his love of the greats of the past. It’s easy enough to see that this is a new musical that is not meant to be a classic MGM Musical, but something a little bit different.

I liked La La Land a lot. The music was good, if a bit repetative by the time the credits roll. The singing was not great, but it was good enough. The dancing was often pretty bad and only served to remind me of the great scenes that clearly inspired many of the numbers. Still, it was a good effort.

La La Land is well worth watching.

Posted in movie review

Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck has won all kinds of awards for playing the role of Lee Chandler. This was the main reason I decided to watch Manchester by the Sea. As is often the case when I go into a movie expecting to see something great, I was a bit disappointed.

Our hero, such as he is, is lonely loser who has a crappy job as a maintenance man. He lives in the tiny basement apartment that comes with job and has no patience for the people who bitch and moan about life as he tries to repair whatever needs to be fixed. In his spare time he gets drunk and picks fights in bars. Then he gets word that his brother is in the hospital. Now he has to go back to a city he hates for a couple of weeks to deal with his brother’s death. And he has to deal with his horny teenage nephew.

And then a lot of nothing happens. We see flashbacks of a time when something bad happened. We see flashbacks to a time when something fun happened. We see a lot of people muddling through life. We watch as the nephew fumbles around as he tries to have sex with a couple of girls. There are a lot of pretty pictures of water and quaint New England neighborhoods.  I could see that Lee was a moody and often sad fellow, but nothing about his story of self destruction especially touched me.

A couple of minor goals were reached, there was much rejoicing, and life went on about its merry way.

I saw an interview with Jack Lemmon once where he talked about acting. He was working with Billy Wilder. Wilder kept making him do a scene over and over again, asking Jack to take it down a little bit more each time. Jack said:You don’t want me to act at all. Wilder said:Yes, please, don’t act at all. And this, I guess, is what all the critics see as they watch Manchester by the Sea. An actor who is so good he isn’t acting at all.

 

Posted in movie review

Rogue One

Many Bothans died to bring us this information.

Many years ago, when computers were first used in films, someone predicted that one day there would be digital Marilyn Monroes and digital James Deans. But what, he asked, if the CGI actors couldn’t act?

We find out the answer in Rogue One, where several characters from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi make cameo appearances. The most jarring of these was a stiff and emotionless Peter Cushing composite playing Grand Moff Tarkin. It was very good, but still not perfect. Of course, it is only a matter of time til things like this are perfect. The big question is, what then?

For me the biggest problem with Rogue One was the same problem I had with the prequels, how the hell did the Empire ever come into being? Over and over again Empirical Forces are dispatched with ease by a handful of Rebels.

While I liked seeing Darth Vader again, I found his appearance here very strange. It appears that Darth Vader has moved to the planet where Obi-Wan lopped off his arms and legs. Wouldn’t this be like Napoleon moving to Waterloo? And are we to believe he’s been floating in a healing tank for twenty years?

Then there was the annoying bit about HOPE. Hope was mentioned countless times, no doubt in reference to the re-titled first Star Wars. A film I will always call Star Wars.

It was also a bit odd that they used the same bit of business in firing the Death Star and then went so far as to reuse the same footage each time the gun was used, just like in Star Wars.

Ok, so what did I like? Lots of stuff. The effects were, for the most part, damned amazing. The acting was good, if a little over the top in spots. The story was forced and twisted, but the ending was still satisfying. The many, many people who died to bring the Rebels that information were mostly likable and I’m not sure they ALL needed to die.

Rogue One was a fun movie and well worth seeing.

Posted in movie review, sci fi

Annual Dallas Cowboys Rant

“A little too much time on the clock,” Rodgers said of the 35 seconds Dallas left him.

So, what’s worse? A team of complete losers that goes 4-12 and has no chance at all of returning to the Glory Days when the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl on a regular basis? Or a team of posers that go 13-3 only to crash and burn like every other Dallas Cowboys team of the past twenty years or so?

The local sports media are still high from the past season. The loss to the Green Bay Packers viewed as a mere speed bump on the road to the next Great Dallas Football Dynasty. The New Triplets, Dak, Zeke, and Dez, had a great day in their losing effort. Oh, just imagine the future!

Ten years ago Tony Romo took over as Quarterback. We all loved him. He was great. He had a few rough patches, but he was a stats monster. All he needed was a couple of more years, and he would have his own set of Super Bowl rings and his own spot in the Hall of Fame. Only, it didn’t work out that way. Turns out being a hero in the Regular Season doesn’t mean he would win Playoff games.

Of course, no one is comparing Dak to Tony, they’re comparing him to Aikman. Troy had a couple of rough years before he started collecting Super Bowl rings.

So what happened? A couple of odd Penalties. The usual poor decisions and clock management we have come to expect from Head Coach Jason Garrett. A Defense that has never been that good, just good enough. And of course, they played a good team that beat them. Most of the local sports mavens spoke of Arron Rodgers in terms like Living Legend, Football God, Greatest Quarterback to ever play the game, and so on. They didn’t lose, in other words, they were beat by an unstoppable titan. Only, he and his team did lose this year, six times.

One of Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones favorite things to do is point to the team that wins the Super Bowl and say, see? We beat them. That could have been us there. Well, yeah, it could have, but it hasn’t been in twenty years.

I blame the Dallas Cowboys failures on Jerry Jones and his odd ideas about football and his odd ideas about who he needs to be loyal too and who he needs to toss out the nearest window. This was a good season and there is the possibility that the team will be improved with a good draft and a couple of good trades. But I’ll be honest, Dak and Zeke are the first two really great additions to the Dallas Cowboys in a very long time. I don’t trust Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett to do the right things again.

I don’t see this as the start of another team like the one Jimmy Johnson put together. I see it as a continuation of the teams that Jerry Jones has hobbled together every since he fired Jimmy.

Posted in dallas cowboys

Travelers

Kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Terminator. We start off by watching someone die as a clock counts down their death. They fall down and die, only to come back to life as the clock starts counting up again.

As in the brillant and far too short lived Brain Dead, the aliens who take over the bodies continue to pretend they are the bodies they are wearing. Our Cell is made up of five Travelers from the future who, like Kyle Reese, want to save the future. They have cool future tech and of course know things like which horse will win and what numbers are going to come up in the lottery.

Mixed in with the need to change the future is the usual drama that comes from being alive and having to deal with friends and family. One has an abusive husband. One is a drug addict. One has a body with a severly damaged brain. And so on and so forth. The present is a shock to our heroes, all of the things we take for granted are gone, such as milk.

Then our heroes have to fight off other factions from the future. Other Cells of Travelers with different missions. They also spend a good deal of time meeting newly arrived Travelers. The show ends with a fun twist.

One odd thing for me is how they choose the people they hijack in the past. They know when someone is going to die down to the second. They wait until a few seconds before that death and take over the body. Uh, why? In one episode our heroes save a few hundred lives, why are there not a few hundred Travelers waiting to hop into those bodies? If they can hop into any body they choose, why take over after a person has died, or seconds away from dying? And why then pretend to be the person.

Travelers was a fun show and I liked it. A bit of sex, a bit of violence, and a lot of things blowing up. The stories are pretty good as well.

Posted in tv review

The O.A.

Spoilers

In eight episodes we follow the adventures of a woman who may or may not be crazy. Who may or may not have been held captive for seven years. May or may not have died countless times.

It has something to do with a bit of really bad Air Bending or maybe some Tai Chi performed by people who never really saw it performed properly.

The show opens up with a woman jumping off a bridge. When asked why, she says she was trying to get back to her friends. We never find out how she survived this jump or how she thought this was going to help. We later see that our heroine had died many times by drowning and then returns to life. This is an odd bit of business as well. She dies from drowning, but there is never any explanation as to how she comes back to life. When we do see her come back to life after drowning, all it takes for her to begin breathing again is for the water to drain away. Not sure drowning works that way. At least in Flatliners, they had to use a defibrillator.

But then, this is par of the course. The whole show is based on bait and switch. The old shell game and making you think one thing is happening, when maybe something else is happening. The last episode plays the untrustworthy narrator card.

There’s a long standing tradition in speculative fiction of leading the reader/viewer down the garden path and paving that path with plenty of red herrings. There was a very good episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy wakes up in a madhouse and is told, yeah, vampire slayer, right. This was a popular trick on The Twilight Zone as well and at least one or two episodes of Star Trek. And yes, I am Keyser Söze.

The problem with a show that leaves most of the work of imagining the story up to the viewer is that throwing a twist at the end ruins our expectations of where that story is going. We expect Dorthy to get back to Kansas. If the Wicked Witch kills her and takes over OZ, we would rightly feel a bit cheated.

When we get to the end of The O.A. and our group of misfits don’t achieve their impossible goal, or at least don’t achieve the impossible goal we thought they were going to achieve, it seems kind of wrong. But then, they need to leave something to do in the second season.

Posted in tv review