In a 2 lb bag

yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags fullWhen my buddy Brian was sick he used to say that he felt like 10 lbs of crap in a 5 lb bag.

Apropos of that, we watched Seven Pounds with Will Smith last night. The movie suffers from a number of flaws. First of all, it fell into the trap of non-linear storytelling that is now de rigeur in “important” movies. Except it showed its hand far too soon, so any astute moviegoer could figure out the crux of what was happening, if not the actual substance, which meant that the non-linear way certain things played out was just annoying. True, we don’t find out how Will Smith’s character happens to end up carrying an IRS badge after a career in the aerospace industry until near the end, but that’s just a little surprise, not an earth shattering one. From my perspective, the biggest flaw surrounded Smith’s character’s selection process. Okay, so we buy into the notion that he has a rare blood type, so he can cherry pick candidates. However, if he’s out to restore balance in the world after his momentary lapse of judgment caused an accident, why is he so dead-set on picking “good” recipients? Other than his wife, the victims were essentially random so it would make sense that his balancing act would also be random. Otherwise we’re left to assume that he has some way of divining who deserves his gift, and he’s not someone whose life has been a glowing exemplar. He’s ordinary, but now he’s playing god. That irked me more than anything. He’s always fun to watch, and I don’t regret seeing the film, but I think it was a failure. (Oh, and I guess the lethal toxin in his system didn’t harm any of his major organs, either…)

We also watched The Answer Man, starring Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham. This was a cute film about a guy (Daniels) who twenty years earlier published a book wherein he claimed to have a direct channel to god. The book seems to have been sort of a dialog between Arlen and god (the exact contents of the book are never really described) and it was inspirational to a generation. It formed an entire cottage industry of other books about his book–there’s even a Me and God cookbook. It was like the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of its time. Now, Arlen is a cranky, bitter old man who is hiding from the fans who want more answers to their very personal questions. He meets up with Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls), a chiropractor who tends to his nagging back problem (a plot convenience). He’s been on a quest for answers himself, reading every self-help book in existence, but if the line to god was ever open, it’s out of service now. Also in the story is a recovering alcoholic whose indy bookstore is on the ropes–Arlen is trying to offload his collection of useless spiritual guidance books and the owner has no money to pay for them so they work out a deal–he’ll take the books if Arlen agrees to answer some existential questions. It’s all fairly obvious and unsurprising, but cute. The biggest plot hole that I saw was that Arlen’s agent (Nora Dunn) also happens to live in Philadelphia. Come on–what literary agent worth her salt lived in Philly 20 years ago and, after discovering the biggest sensation of the time (150 weeks on the bestseller list) is still in Philly?

Topping off the weekend’s viewing: Torchwood, Children of the Earth, the five-part miniseries that comprises the entirety of the current season. An alien species known only as the 4-5-6 came to Scotland in 1965 and offered a cure for an upcoming plague in exchange for 12 children. The reason they wanted the children isn’t known but it seemed like a good trade at the time–12 unwanted orphans for the lives of millions who might otherwise have died. Now the 4-5-6 are back and they want more. A lot more. Torchwood was involved peripherally in that original exchange and the British government, who has never admitted either the contact or the outcome to the rest of the world, is desperate to expunge it from their records, so that means Captain Jack is persona non grata in this current escapade–in the extreme.

Exploiting children as potential victims has always struck me as easy game, but they do a decent job here. The opening moments call to mind Midwich Cuckoos, but the similarity ends there. The children become the conduit of communication in the early stages of the story, halting around the world simultaneously to utter the latest ominous warning. Why? Because the aliens can. It’s a show of power. The situation is sufficiently dire that acceding to the 4-5-6′s demands seems like the only solution. How do you fight an enemy that isn’t really even present other than an ambassador who is in a storage tank full of noxious atmosphere that occasionally expels gobs of green gunk (for reasons never explained). In a sense, the series (each of the five parts takes place on a different day) is a paean to the civil service and middle management. The people who do the dirty work. The main bureauocrat is a tragic figure, to say the least, pressed into service above and beyond his pay scale. I was certain that Dekker, the guy with the early 4-5-6 recordings, was going to turn out to be more involved–a nice bit of misdirection. The story also reveals a lot more about Jack’s family, as well as Ianto’s, than we’ve ever seen before, which was quite nice. Torchwood has never shied away from doing significant harm to its heroes, and never more was that the case here. How many times can Jack die in a five day period, for example. But that’s not the worst of it–Jack has to pay for his actions 44 years earlier, and yet he’s called to make greater sacrifices than ever before. If Torchwood isn’t picked up for a fourth season, the ending here could be the swan song, but I’d love to see Gwen and Rhys (he was such a prat in the first episodes and he’s turned into a really great guy) and the others return.

I finished reading Rhodi Hawk’s debut novel A Twisted Ladder yesterday and started on Charlie Huston’s debut, Caught Stealing. I’ll have a review of the former forthcoming, and the latter is good study material while working on first person narrative and voice. It’s a classic story of an innocent guy who is dragged into a battle between two factions over some unknown property (a dingus, they would have called it in The Maltese Falcon). The first thing he loses is a kidney, and it only gets worse from there. Fast paced, brutal, and a heckuva ride.

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