Thursday, February 14, 2013

Leverage Season One

I imagine I'm like a lot of people, in that I first discovered Leverage when it was in repeats on Ion instead of during it's original runs on TNT. Which is a shame, and says something, I think, about how much TNT must have advertised it. So it's a bit of a shame that I'm only getting into the show now that it's been cancelled after five seasons, but I think it's still worth looking at so that people can check out the DVDs.

Which I think is a very good idea, because Leverage is a very good show. I had been watching episodes here and there when they were in repeats, but finally we sat down to start renting the discs in order and watching the show the right way. While it's actually not that hard to catch up and know what's going on in any given episode, the show does benefit from being watched properly.

Which is kind of refreshing actually, American television seems to have gotten itself into this binary where either a show is like a simple sitcom where nothing changes too much and there's no overall continuity between one episode and the next OR it's a Lost-style puzzle where if you miss one episode you've missed out on so much important story that you have no idea what's going on. I miss the in between stuff, and Leverage is perfect for that particular problem of mine.

If you haven't caught the rerunning marathons, the story is basically that a former good guy and insurance investigator has teamed up with a band of professional thieves. He leads them on complicated con jobs and heists, not for money for themselves, but to help people who have no other course of action. His rationalization is he picks up where the law leaves off. How well that rationalization works for him and those around him becomes a pretty good plot point during season one.

Now the one big problem with season one is that the order of the episodes is a mess. I've not seen something this messed up outside of cartoons in a long time. It aired in one order, it was shot in another, it was put on the dvds in a third configuration, and it was intended to be a completely different way. At least that's the best I can glean from Wikipedia, because it becomes glaringly obvious that the episodes on the DVD aren't in the proper order. Character development seems to bounce all over the place, and the relationship between Nate and Sophie especially suffers. In the end, I think the reason I'm not buying into their relationship and their chemistry even as I watch season two is because season one was so messed up on the DVDs. I believed it more when I was watching whatever random episode was on in syndication.

Every episode of the show follows a pretty specific formula, but instead of becoming boring and predictable, this makes the show more fun. You can see some of the plot twists coming, once you know how the story usually goes, but you still enjoy the ride. The con always goes bad, but in a way that the team expected and that was always part of their plan from the beginning, which you find out about in flashbacks at the end when Nate explains to the mark exactly how they got to them.

The first episode, The Nigerian Job, is a great pilot for the series. It sets up the characters, it gives Nate his motivation, it shows you all of their special skills in memorable ways, and it sets up the formula as well. It also sets up something else that's great about Leverage, the talent of the guest stars. It's hard to run a series where every episode has to rely on the talent of the guest stars, and I've seen some really fail on that front, but Leverage doesn't.

Now, one thing you have to do to love this show is let go of a need for realism because there are a few things where you're just going to be too confused to let it go otherwise. Especially The Mile High Job, where the team foils an evil plot while they're all on a plane. Almost nothing about that episode really holds up to much scrutiny (especially the fight in the plane's bathroom, they try to make it look small but yeah right). But you let it go because Hardison is so hilarious that it's okay.

Which is really what the show is about, the characters on the team. To be honest, I find the main protagonist the least interesting of the bunch. His backstory is compelling but the "my fatal flaw is being so depressed I've become an alcoholic" bit doesn't really do anything for me. Parker, Hardison, and Elliot are the stars of the show and their antagonistic friendships and complicated personalities shine from the very beginning. Parker is an especially well done character, because they've managed to take somebody with some large and obvious problems and managed to not just play it for laughs or melodrama, but for a realistic mix of both that fits the tone of the show and still takes her seriously while making you like her.

They play a bit in the first season with an overall bad guy in Nate's former co-worker, Jim Sterling, and he's interesting enough (and played by the always enjoyable Mark Sheppard) but he doesn't really become too strong a plot thread which I'm thankful for. We needed more time to see the team enjoying themselves and getting good at what they do before they're ready for a real nemesis.

The first season obviously ended in a way that shows that the creators weren't sure if they would get picked up for another season, and it's actually pretty touching and a good place to end, if it had to be that way. But I'm glad there's more, because there's too many fun cons for them to pull and too many annoying untouchable bad guys for them too take down.

If you liked the A-Team at all, then you absolutely need to watch Leverage. If you have even a slight interest in heists and complicated con jobs, then it's also your kind of show. But if you just also enjoy shows with good, complicated characters then you really should give it a try. There's five seasons now, so time to get started.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

You can't see it, so why is it important?

For no good reason lately, there's been a rash of people grumping again about how many spaces are "proper" to put after a period.

You can't see it, but everything I type for this blog has two spaces after every period, and it's going to stay that way. You know why?

Because it doesn't actually matter.

Listen, I get the arguments that we should start teaching that it's proper to only put one space. Because the idea of putting two spaces was due to an outdated technology (specifically, typewriters, which is where a lot of our randomness comes from, including how our keys are laid out, or so I've heard). Okay, we change with the times, that's cool. Kids today already pretty much know how to type from birth, so I can't imagine we have typing classes anymore, but sure, let's teach them that you put one space.

After all, with the code for most webpages, it doesn't actually even recognize the second space half the time. Or at least that was the way of it back in the day when I did HTML coding by hand.

Because you see, I'm also very old school when it comes to how long I've been doing this stuff, and that's why I think we need to lay off of people about this whole thing. No, teachers in communications classes shouldn't be teaching two spaces.

But we also shouldn't act like it's incorrect either. At the moment, because we're in a transition, BOTH are correct. It's like fish or fishes. It's not wrong, people who put two spaces aren't evil, and getting angry about it or even cranky is actually really dumb. Save your energy for something important, like defending the Oxford Comma.

I used to type about 60 WPM when I was in middle school, and it was through a sort of slapped together hunt and peck style coupled with so many years experience that I just knew where the keys were. But I looked at the keyboard, and despite being fast by the standards of the day, it wasn't as great as it could be. Then I took a typing class because it got rid of a requirement for school, and the teacher forced me to learn to "touch type" or whatever the kids today are calling it. Proper typing technique, fingers in the right places, not looking at the keyboard, all that fun stuff. She actually put stickers on my keyboard so that I couldn't see the letters anymore.

I learned to type not just faster, but twice as fast. I can get to 120 WPM without even trying that hard these days, and actually at the moment my typing speed is one of the things I can use to earn money. It's a marketable skill, the fact that I can type so quickly. And I do it because I don't actually think about it. It's all muscle memory and mostly unconscious. I don't think out "now I need to type B, here's the B, now I need to type E, here's the E." I just think the word and then it's there on the screen because I've practiced so much that this is the way it is. My typing speed is a necessary part of my life, and again, it makes me money.

Part of that typing speed is that I don't think when I put a period at the end of a sentence. I just hit the space bar twice and move on because I'm not actually thinking about anything that my hands are doing, it's a weird disconnect when you think about it, but there it is.

So if you're going to sit there and be snotty and sneer at somebody for putting two spaces at after a period when I do that because I'm actually REALLY GOOD at what I do, then you just come across looking like a jerk. Just shut up and ignore how many spaces are there unless there's 3 or 50 or something, and move on with your life. The teenagers will put what they want to put, and in twenty years we'll be doing something else entirely. They're already changing communication entirely, just let them do it and be the old fogy who does what they want anyway.

So let's get back to arguing about the Oxford Comma. Because I will defend that one to my last breath.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Queen of Versailles

It's been two years now, but when I was in the beginning stages of the documentary I've been working on, I was trying to explain the way it worked to somebody I was pitching the idea to.

I told them that basically when you go to make a documentary, you go in with an idea of what you want it to be about. You make outlines, you probably write a script. You have this idea of what the story is going to be. And then that all gets thrown completely out the window by the story of what actually happens.

There probably few more perfect examples of this than Queen of Versailles, where director Lauren Greenfield started out making a movie about a couple building the largest private home in America. Then the recession happened.

Greenfield did the best thing she could have done - she kept filming. As real estate mogul David Siegel's financial empire quickly dwindles, Greenfield's camera stays in the house. When they put their unfinished dream home up for sale, Greenfield asks difficult questions and gets realistic and heartfelt answers. There were moments that I began to think might have been staged, but at the same time I don't think that Jackie Siegel was the type of person to go along with staging. When she goes to the Hertz counter to rent a car instead of a limo for the first time, she asks what their driver's name is going to be. The guy at the counter is genuinely confused and doesn't understand what she could possibly mean. A lesser film by a lesser director would have set up things like that, but Greenfield doesn't need to. She just had the good sense to be there and keep the camera rolling.

There are things about Queen of Versailles that are very hard to watch, but not because it's poorly made. It's well structured, and shows a lot of skill from Greenfield and her editor, Victor Livingston. The story becomes this distillation of a typical American story, from rags to riches to rags again. David Siegel has probably never been poor before, but he shows very clearly that he didn't get to be rich by being stupid about money. Though the film doesn't shy away from showing exactly how he got to be rich, which borders on dishonesty in selling time shares to people who probably can't afford them. Part of how his business comes crashing down is that suddenly these couples they've been selling to who couldn't afford the properties in the first place find themselves unable to pay their bills, which leaves Siegel in the same situation.

But the real star of the story is the queen herself, Jackie Siegel. She's oddly likable even as she continues to be so completely clueless about money that you wonder how she's survived so far. Even after they've lost all their money, she continues to overspend and insist on buying extravagant things, getting plastic surgery procedures, buying herself $2,000 worth of caviar for Christmas, and refusing to sell off items that could help them pay for everything. She stands in her living room talking to her son, wearing an expensive fur coat, and he asks the time. She makes a joke about being unable to afford a watch.

The story becomes a strange cautionary tale, without actually being degrading or making fun of the Siegel's it gives a perfect example of some of the worst excesses of American culture. Jackie says that if she knew she wouldn't be able to have as many nannies as she wanted, she wouldn't have had so many kids because they're too much work. On the brink of bankruptcy, David gets upset that Jackie didn't hire a bartender or a server for a Christmas party. Jackie rides around the neighborhood in the back of her limo, discussing the number of foreclosures in her neighborhood with her driver. After they have to let go of most of their household staff, the family quickly finds themselves unable to care for their own home, which Greenfield illustrates with a few too many close-ups of dog feces and a really tragic shot of a dead pet lizard.

It's a movie that at the same time angered me and made me feel sympathetic. The children in the house really do seem just victims of their circumstances, and like they have better heads on their shoulders than the adults. So it's upsetting when Jackie points out that she's had to tell her kids to prepare to go to college and earn their own way and David admits in a separate interview that he hasn't' saved any money for their college tuition and they'll have to go straight to work. Even David's son from a previous marriage, who works for him, points out that except for one year of living with his dad when he was in high school, he hardly got anything from him and was poor most of his life. These people wanted to build a palace, the largest single family home in the country, and neither of them has ever had their own children's interests at heart.

That's probably the biggest tragedy of them all, and the film does a great job at capturing it, even when that wasn't what they set out to do.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Castle: Season Three

Read my other reviews from Castle!
-Season One
-Season Two
-Heat Wave

Castle very quickly climbed to the top of my list of favorite shows. But even as I was watching season two, and seeing how much the show could make me laugh right before making me cry, my friends warned me about season three. No warning they could have given would have really been enough. There are a few episodes that really aren't up to snuff, but for the most part it's just a very long, very good ride.

When I left off talking about season two, I said that I didn't like the way the show handled the "we must separate them for a little while" plot line. I still don't like the way that season ended, but I do like the way season three picked up that thread and ran with it. Especially because it gave us not just Beckett's reaction to Castle forgetting to call, but also the rest of the team. The show always makes sure to give Esposito, Ryan, and Montgomery plenty of time to flesh out the story, and I love them for it.

Season three also makes sure to give Stana Katic enough to work with so that we can see what a phenomenal actress she is. Her performance in "Under the Gun" is nothing short of amazing. Somebody start giving her some awards already. Nathan Fillion gets to have fun too, and of course his interactions with Alexis and Martha are always wonderful. But this season really belongs to Beckett.

I could have done without the episode "Close Encounters of the Murderous Kind" really, even though it was funny it just didn't feel like it was keeping the pace the rest of the season was setting. I was pleasantly surprised though to see how the show handled Beckett and Castle's alternate romances. Despite Castle being obviously a bit jealous of the new guy in Beckett's life, he handles it in a really mature way, and it was really nice to see after how much I disliked the Demming storyline.

I also have to say, the first half of the episode "Nikki Heat" where we meat the actress playing a character based on Beckett started out kind of embarrassing and hard to watch, but quickly became one of my favorites. I'm a sucker for behind-the-scenes type stuff and the jokes in this one were pretty spot on. The same goes for "One Life To Lose," which had a crazed fan character that I'm pretty sure I've bet at some point in my life.

I did like parts of the episode "To Love and Die in L.A." for the same reasons, but the fact that it was almost entirely built on the old trope of "I'm not really investigating this thing you told me not to do and now I'm working against law enforcement even though we have the same goals because nobody can just communicate" really killed it for me. It was good, but it wasn't great.

But the writing really shines with "The Final Nail," an episode where Beckett and Castle have opposing opinions about a murder suspect, who happens to be one of Castle's old friends. When I was watching it, I was convinced there was no good way for the episode to end, because they had set up the conflict far too well. If the man was guilty and Beckett is right, then Castle's faith and humor take a hit, making him less like the character we love. If Castle is right and the man is innocent, Beckett's instincts and dedication to policework and doing her job at all costs is seen in a bad light. Neither is good, because it was each character's best qualities that were making them disagree. The fact that the writers managed to resolve the conflict without knocking down either one, and still make it heartfelt and upsetting is a testament to how good they are.

The thing is, this all leads up to the season finale, "Knockout" which does not let up and does not let you go. Even when you think the episode has destroyed your emotions enough for one hour of television, there's more. The character development, the plot development, everything about it is astonishingly good. If I had watched this when it aired and had to wait through an actual hiatus for it to start up again, I would have wanted to throttle the writers.

And I mean that as a compliment.

Being Elmo

I really, really wish I had watched this movie ages ago when it first came out. But I didn't, so oh well. I put it off even further because I was convinced that recent events would color my opinion, but I actually don't think that was what happened.

Let's pretend I managed to write this review a year ago. I would have opened by saying that I really admire Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo on Sesame Street. I would have pointed out that while I never really warmed to Elmo, I never really hated him either. He was a well done character, I just prefer Oscar or Grover, because that's what I grew up with. I also would have said that I saw Kevin Clash once, at a book festival, and watched the way he and Elmo interacted with the kids that came for him to sign copies of his then-new book, My Life as a Furry Red Monster. There was something great about it, the way the kids reacted, the way he talked to them.

I probably would have mentioned how I thought that Kevin Clash was a great example of the sheer amount of inspiration there was in Jim Henson, and how great a mentor and creator Henson was. Clash has always talked with great respect about Henson, and that made me respect him, no matter what I thought of Elmo.

Then, of course, Clash recently turned out to be a little less respectable than everybody thought (no matter how the court cases shake out, what truths he's admitted to are still disconcerting). Which makes me sad, and I thought would make me view Being Elmo in an unfair light.

But the thing is, Being Elmo is a good documentary, but I wouldn't say it's a great one. To me a great documentary is one that reveals things you never knew, or where it could be about a person no one has heard of but still be fascinating. A great documentary could take your neighbor and make them fascinating. Being Elmo was handed it's topic on a silver platter, and it did well, of course. Technically, there's nothing to complain about. It's an interesting film and I'm glad I watched it.

Maybe I just know too much about Sesame Street and Elmo. Maybe I know too much about Henson from being a lifelong fan. Maybe it's because I have at least skimmed Clash's book. But the only revelation in the film is the very brief discussion of his relationship with his ex-wife and his daughter, which the film touches on quickly and runs away from like they were afraid of saying something unkind about their subject.

Which is another aspect I didn't think worked with the film, because everything in it was glowing adoration of Clash, it came across like he had produced the film himself. Everything was just so nice that the film became so very even that it stopped being emotional very quickly. You don't get excited when he gets to start working in New York because everything was already so good, you weren't worried that it wouldn't turn out great. Where were the trials? Where were the struggles? Well, apparently still to come, but that's not the point.

I suppose that is the one thing that colored my viewing of the film, because now we know that Clash's life is not, and probably never has been, perfect. So having this very pleasing portrait of him isn't just a little bit boring like it would be if I didn't know, but it feels more like a lie.

So in the end, the film is interesting, especially if you don't know too much about Sesame Street or Henson so that the information would be a little more new and fresh to you. If you want to learn more about Clash, perhaps this will give you a different viewpoint. If you just like biographies and learning about different people's lives, it does a fairly good job of that.

But if you're looking for something in depth, hard hitting, or with a good bit of conflict, this isn't a good place to go.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Photographer's responsibilities to their subjects

Ages ago, I was a newspaper reporter and a photographer. Basically, pretty much any given day for just under a year there was a picture I took on the front page of our local paper. Which means I took an awful lot of pictures.

So this recent article by NPR caught my eye - What It Feels Like To Be Photographed In A Moment of Grief.

The article is well done, so I suggest reading it first because this will be entirely in response to that. Anyway, the point of it is that a woman was grieving at a religious statue in Newtown, Connectictut after the Sandy Hook shooting and a photographer took her picture. The picture was then sold and licensed to several news services, and published pretty much worldwide. All without the woman being contacted or talked to in any way.

Understandably the woman, Aline Marie, was upset about this. But to my surprise, she reacted very reasonably, saying that she didn't want to photo taken down, and she wasn't offended. But she did want people to understand her perspective on the situation and that she felt that somebody should have asked her permission.

The comments that come withe the article range across the board, but several said that photographers should "always" ask permission BEFORE taking a picture. Most agreed that photographers should speak to the subjects of their photos at some point. Though no one I saw really takes in the most important fact of the photo to me - which is that the "private" moment of grief is already heavily observed by cameras int he background, both photo and video. Which is part of what makes it a powerful statement, in my eyes.

Okay, so here's the way I see this. First - asking permission before taking a photograph isn't a good idea. While I never really took controversial pictures for the paper, my favorites are almost always candid ones where the subject doesn't realize I'm there. People act differently the moment that a camera is involved. Even if you tell them, "pretend I'm not here," "do what you were doing," "just act natural." Nothing will get you as good a picture as that candid moment before they realize you're there. I will never say that photographers should speak to their subjects before the picture.

However I will point out again that in this picture, Marie is already being observed on all sides and was likely aware of it. Which, again, is partially why it's a powerful image about this moment in our history. It can be a note about many different aspects of the moment. So again, I don't feel the photographer should have spoken to her before he took the picture.

But then we get to the question of after. Listen, when I was a photographer I was the world's WORST about talking to people after I'd taken the picture, even when they saw me. It was a benefit that my local paper was relatively well known and my picture was in it once a week so people probably knew me (and if they didn't know me from that, more than one of my subjects turned out to be people who knew my family, it was a small town). But on at least one occasion I had a man come into the newspaper office yelling and screaming because he was in a picture I took at the local fair that we had published in the paper. He threatened to sue, got belligerent, and generally made me want to hide. My desk was easily visible from the front desk of the paper, so I was in full view the entire time, though he thankfully didn't connect my name with me sitting there.

The editor came out and took care of the situation with a simple fact that most people don't realize: if you are in public or visible from a public area then any photographer is allowed to take a picture of you and use it. Especially newspaper photographers, they do not need your permission, they do not need your name, they can use it "to sell papers" and so on. This is a matter of legality, and most photographers know the ins and outs of it pretty well. I'm not as well versed in it anymore, but back then I was well aware of exactly what I could and could not do.

So, legally, this photographer is well within his rights. The AFP is within their rights to publish and sell the photo. And I, for one, don't want to see this changed. But was it moral or ethical? Is it moral to take a picture of somebody grieving? Or to be taking pictures at all at a time like this?

The photographer should have spoken to the subject. He should have gotten her name, found out if she knew anyone at the school, and shown her the picture (digital cameras give us that power) so that she could see first hand that his picture was respectful. He didn't because he was embarrassed and because he didn't want to intrude, and those are very valid feelings. I felt them constantly when I was at the paper, and in an instant like this those would only be heightened. Even passing her his business card would have been nice. Ethically, he could have done better. But in a situation like this, I can't give him an awful lot of fault for it.

But as for taking the picture itself? I believe we need to take pictures at times like these. We have to, because in ten years, twenty years, thirty years, this is what we'll have. Photography is how we record our history and we are a better people for it. These photos are able to capture more than words can, because they not only show you the emotion on the part of the subjects but they create an emotion in the viewer. We must take these pictures.

So lastly, I want to make a point about how people in these situations treat the photographers. I remember once I was sent to take pictures of a particularly bad car accident on the interstate, because that kind of thing is front page news in a small town. There were miles of people slowing down to stare as they drove past, and there were victims being airlifted out by helicopter from the scene of the accident. I went to a nearby service road, which was also backed up with onlookers and even people pulled open to stare and watch. But the second I took out my camera, I started getting heckled, honked at, insulted, and even flipped off.

Those people maybe didn't realize I was with the press, but even if they did I bet they would have thought it was disgusting. Though I don't see how it's any more or less disgusting than slowing down to gawk, especially considering I made sure to stay on the service road and no one working the accident was even aware of my presence. Maybe they didn't realize that we had a policy at my paper to never publish a picture of a victim, and so when I came back with my images I went through and deleted the ones where you could see even an arm or a leg that wasn't covered. We published a picture of the stretcher being loaded onto the helicopter where the patient was blocked from view by emergency personnel, even though I had better shots, because it was the most respectful one.

Did they send me on that assignment out of respect? No, they did it because pictures of wrecks sell papers and they wanted to sell more papers. But was there a way for us to do it properly and did we do that? Yes. So what should those onlookers have done when they saw me with my camera? First of all, nothing, there was no reason for them to say anything. But if they absolutely must speak, they should have simply said, "excuse me, do you really need to take pictures" or "I'm sorry, but why are you photographing this?" And I would have replied, "I'm with the newspaper, we'll do our best to be respectful of the victims. I would be happy to give you my editor's information if you'd like to speak with him more about it." We all could have moved on with our lives and maybe contemplated sensationalist journalism over our dinners that night instead of being insulted on the side of the road.

Christmas TV Movies Special: A Christmas Wedding Date

So a few weeks ago I reviewed one Christmas Movie we randomly ended up watching, Christmas Twister. Then a bunch of stuff happened and now just in time for Valentine's Day, I'll review another Christmas movie! Hey, at least it's a romance!

Anyway, on Christmas Eve my family and I once again got sucked into an Ion TV Original movie - A Christmas Wedding Date.

I wish I had as many fun observations of this one as I did for Christmas Twister, but sadly while the entire genre of "hilariously bad disaster movies" amuses me, the genre of "mediocre romantic comedies" isn't really entirely my thing.

See, I love comedies. I love romance. But somehow when you stick them both together I want to smack somebody. Probably because the premise of almost all of these movies is either a-rooted in a fantasy of what romance really is that is so unbelievable I'd rather watch a movie about massive tornadoes or b-designed around a hilarious misunderstanding that wouldn't be a problem if people got around to actually speaking for more than two seconds.

Listen, one of the first things I learned about screenwriting in grad school is that people rarely say what they mean. Okay, that's cool, that's probably pretty true. Except that the central conflict of this entire movie is that the main character left her hometown and her true love boyfriend to live a lonely career-woman life in the big city because she heard a rumor that he...did something with this girl she didn't like. I never figured out if he was supposed to have slept with the other girl, kissed her, or just was in the same room with her and that wasn't cool.

But anyway, this girl seriously gets up, ships out to another place, changes all her plans, and changes her entire life because she heard a rumor. If I recall correctly, she didn't actually see anything happen so there wasn't even a misunderstanding on that level. Maybe I should have said "spoiler alert" since you're probably not supposed to know that it was a misunderstanding until he explains that it never happened in the third act, but come on, was there any doubt, ever? Seriously? Then you've never seen a romantic comedy. When you base your entire story on something so weak and contrived, and something that could be cleared up any second by the protagonist just saying "I didn't appreciate you sleeping with/kissing/making eyes at that other girl" then your movie is shaky to begin with.

The hilarious thing though is that I haven't actually told you the gimmick. See, this is a "Groundhog's Day" story, only with Christmas! And a wedding! Every science fiction show since Groundhog's Day has had an episode with the premise so you're probably used to it: protagonist has to repeat the same day until they figure out why they have to repeat it, and fix the cycle in order to magically be freed to live a better life. If you're curious, Stargate SG-1 did it best in "Window of Oppurtunity".

You've got every single trope possible for this kind of story. The character first blows off everything and acts irresponsibly, says all the things she's always wanted to say, is rude, etc. Then she decides to learn new things since she has a ridiculous amount of time to spare, and when she advances quickly (in the eyes of the characters not aware of the loop) she can impress everybody with her newly honed skills. She even is a bit weird and familiar with people who don't actually remember her, which is just awkward every time she does it.

This is, of course, all because of a guardian angel played by George Wendt who sadly never eats any beans. He wants her to figure out what's important in life (don't they always) and it turns out it's slowing down, and finding twu wuv. Sorry, it's finally admitting to the boy that you thought he smooched some other chick and him going "wait, what?"

Really, I try to come up with something nice to say about anything I review here but I'm kind of stumped. It's a story that's so done that you really have to either be uniquely interesting or be playing in an established universe for me to care. The acting is so-so, the romance is pretty blah. The script feels ridiculously rushed, and honestly I can't really recommend it even for "bad movie" value.

But I can say you should watch that episode of Stargate SG-1, it's hilarious. Probably funnier if you already know the show though, you'll get more of the jokes that way. "Maybe he read your report?"

Book Review: Yesterday's News by Kajsa Ingemarsson

I actually got this book randomly because it popped up on the Nook blog and yes I know I'm linking to the Kindle version. Maybe you didn't realize, but I link to these products through an Amazon Associates link so that maybe one day somebody will click on one and buy something and then I'll get a little bit of money to help me run this little blog. As far as I know, B&N doesn't do something like that, so even though I have a Nook, I link to Amazon. Besides, I actually get Kindle books too, I just read them on my computer.

Anyway, my point was that this wasn't a book I sought out for any particular reason, it just kind of landed on my radar unexpectedly. The review said it was one of the most popular books in Sweden, and it was on sale for only $1.99 so I figured why not?

First off, I'm starting to think that books should come with warnings the way that fanfiction does. I thought I would read a happy, fun, happy ending-filled "chick lit" book (yes I hate the term chick lit as much as you do but what else am I going to call it?) and instead, well...I got kind of that and then got completely blindsided by an intensely tragic part in the middle that hit me on the wrong kind of day. But at least the tragedy in the middle is well written and more or less has a bearing on the overall plot, so that's something.

But in the end, I wasn't particularly pleased with Yesterday's News. It wasn't a terrible book by any stretch of the imagination, but there was so much that just wasn't all that great either. The central plot is that Agnes, who is the head waitress at a posh restaurant and good at her job, gets fired when she refuses to submit to the sexual harassment of her lecherous boss. When she calls her rock musician boyfriend to complain about it, he dumps her for another musician, all in the same day.

Eventually, Agnes gets a chance to help a friend open a new restaurant and she pins all her hopes and dreams on it's possible success. Mixed up in there is also the possibility of a review by the leading restaurant critic, and also a new neighbor that she doesn't particularly get along with because he's too boring, or something, I couldn't ever figure out what her real problem with him was.

Listen, I think we can all get from the beginning to the end of this story without a lot of trouble. We all know exactly where it's going to end up and the plot twist isn't even remotely surprising. What is surprising is the route the book takes to get there, which was a bit meandering, stopped off in a slightly preachy section with a subplot, and took a detour right through the "apologizing for the abusive ex while you're getting back together with him because he's totally changed" village.

And that was my problem with the story overall. If you plotted Agnes' growth and character development based on strength/empowerment and weakness/being manipulated then it'd be all over the map. It's not an arc or an orchestrated roller coaster ride, it's an uneven bouncy ball on cobblestone. And then, at the end of the story rather than resolving the questions that the author has set up, especially those about Agnes and her ability to not only survive by herself but also to stand up to being abused and manipulated, the author just...stops.

Listen, the book is absolutely worth the $1.99 I paid for it. And if you like this kind of story (I was reminded of No Reservations, the movie with Catherine Zeta Jones, on a lot of different levels, and that's a compliment) then it's probably well worth the money for the regular priced ebook as well, and the few hours of your time it takes to read it. I'm not saying it's a terrible book, I just really think that if they adapt it to a movie there's going to be a lot of scene rearranging and a few characters are going to get dumped so that the structure works better and we can be a little more forgiving when the main character reverses direction entirely 2/3 of the way through the book before getting back on the right track in the last ten pages.