Non-stop action

We watched the second season of Derek this weekend. Only six episodes, which we divided over two nights. Sad to see Dougie go in the first episode, but apparently the actor was terribly uncomfortable acting with other people, which explains why so many of his scenes in the first series were “diary” scenes, where he was talking to the imaginary documentary filmmakers.

The show doesn’t break a lot of new ground in the second season, but the stuff about the old folks keeping track of Hannah’s efforts to get pregnant are pretty hilarious, and Kev has his usual mix of godawful sexist / sexual obsession and occasional bursts of humanity. A nice arc with Derek and his dad, and it was good to see Hannah confront the new guy at the end and maybe get through a little. It’s a very sentimental show with a good heart. Tugs at the heartstrings.

We saw Non-Stop, too, the thriller featuring Liam Neeson that will probably never be available as an inflight film. It was decent and effective (except for the little bit of fortuitous levitation at the end). It’s sort of an Agatha Christie whodunit, too. Everyone is a potential suspect, including Neeson’s extremely and credibly flawed character. I was sure it was this person and then sure it was that person, and then someone else. Free-flowing suspicion. The actual resolution was, perhaps, a little less rewarding than many of my suspicions, but still, we enjoyed it.

Down to one more episode of Orphan Black. I don’t think I could explain to anyone else everything that has happened this season, that’s how convoluted it is. It was good to see Allison’s husband grow a pair and step up, especially after she out-jackhammered him in the basement. Still enjoying it, have no idea how it’s going to wrap up and basically I’m just along for the ride.

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In the First

I published a couple of reviews last weekend, one for a book I enjoyed, and one for a book that I struggled to finish. I leave it to you to deduce which was which: One Kick by Chelsea Cain or Robogenesis by Daniel H. Wilson. I’m currently reading Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner, which features a former cop who has a very strange affliction due to a contrecoup injury.

Both of the movies we watched last weekend were based on true stories. First we saw The Monuments Men, starring Clooney and Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and Lord Grantham Hugh Bonneville. A solid, reliable film starring solid, reliable actors. There were some interesting moments but no overall real suspense as the story played out much as one would expect. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily. A good story, well told. Then we saw 12 Years a Slave, which is not light viewing by any measure. You have to wonder what effect playing vicious, evil characters like that has on a person’s psyche after a while. It was interesting to learn that some freemen were sent back into slavery, even though they had documentation that they were free: they simply couldn’t gain access to it once trapped. Tough to watch.

I had already seen the first season of Derek, Ricky Gervais’ surprisingly touching and soulful series about a man whose mantra is “be nice.” He works in a nursing home and is much beloved. There are only seven episodes that run 25 minutes each, so you can tear through the whole thing in an evening, if you want. Watched it again with my wife last night as a prelude to the second season. For a while, I thought that the story would have been much better without Kev, the gross, sexually obsessed character, but I now realize that without him the story might have been schmaltzy and saccharin. He keeps the pendulum from swinging to far in that direction. And then there’s Doug, the hapless, existential everyman who’s been the caretaker / Mr. Fix-it for a decade. He’s the voice of cold, absolute reason. Also the guy who doesn’t take anyone’s crap and sends people running once they’ve worn out their welcome. And, finally, Hannah, the long-suffering and obsessively caring manager who is really the story’s heart. Gervais’ characters in other series tend to be boorish, but not here. Definitely worth seeing, and I’m looking forward to the second season.

For a moment in one of the final scenes of the new series Murder in the First, I thought I was having a flashback to the 90s. The guy standing next to Steven Weber resembled Tim Daly and they were dressed like pilots. Not that Steven Weber’s character ever dressed like a pilot (see picture) on Wings. This new show is reminiscent of The Killing. One case will occupy the entire summer season, and it’s as much about the private lives of the two cops as the case. The woman detective is a divorced single mother struggling to make ends meet and by the end of the first episode her partner is a widower. The initial murder has connections to an asshole version of Steve Jobs, and then there’s another death that is also apparently connected. The early reviews said that the series finds its stride in the second episode. We’ll see. It’s not bad so far—just nothing new.

I thought briefly that Orphan Black might just have jumped the shark with last week’s episode. Yet another clone? But this one is a lot different from the others (in fact, they are all remarkably different from each other) and gives Maslany yet another chance to shine. The story has more twists than a strand of DNA, but it’s never dull.

I finished the third season of Death in Paradise, which has been renewed for a fourth. It’s a whimsical cozy detective show set on a fictional Caribbean island. There’s a new DI this season, a bit of a bumbler, and the stories are very much inspired by Agatha Christie, with arcane clues and motives, and a summing up at the end in front of the suspects, but it’s fun. Sometimes I figure out at least half of the truth ahead of the big reveal but often I’m in the dark until the end.

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Your words, another voice

There’s a particular pleasure in revisiting a story that you haven’t read in a while. A couple of weekends ago, I read “Sturm und Drang” from A Dark and Deadly Valley to my wife. I’m not sure that I’ve read the story since it was published in 2007. It was almost like reading another person’s work and I have to say that I was very pleased with the tale. Alas, the anthology didn’t get very wide distribution.

I was approached by the good folks at The Wicked Library to see if I would give them a story to be read on their weekly podcast. I perused my archives and decided that “Knock ‘em Dead” would be a good fit. It was first published in When the Night Comes Down from Dark Arts Press along with three other of my stories (the closest thing I’ve done to a collection yet). The story was inspired by a story I heard another author tell about someone having a heart attack at or before their reading. It’s a writer’s story, told from the point of view of a debut novelist who is suddenly thrust into the limelight and sees a chance to scale the ladder of success quickly. I think it’s a funny story, one that Jeff Strand might get a kick out of. Again, I haven’t revisited the story in a while, so it was with great pleasure that I listened to Nelson W. Pyles’ terrific narration. You can see something of its vintage with references to PDAs and Larry King, but Nelson’s rendering of Larry King’s voice was one of my favorite parts, so I’m glad I didn’t update it. I hope people will give it a listen: I think it’s a pretty kick-ass story. Or, as the promo copy at the site says, “quite possibly the most actually wicked story [sent] to the Wicked Library.”

There was definitely a Doctor Who sub-theme working on the second episode of the third season of Death in Paradise. One of the guest stars was Doc #5, Peter Davison, who plays the beleaguered screenwriter for a zombie movie being filmed on the island, and the lead actress in the zombie flick was played by Michelle Ryan, aka Lady Christina.

Motive is an underappreciated (in my opinion) crime series. It’s filmed in Vancouver with mostly Canadian actors, including Kristin Lehman from The Killing, and its conceit is that the killer and the victim are revealed before the opening credits, though not in Columbo fashion. A big part of the joy in the show is finding out how these oft-times seemingly unrelated characters come together and what causes one to murder the other. The show usually plays against expectations. The guy just released from prison isn’t the killer, he’s the victim, or the cute little thang is the killer. Also, I really enjoy the relationship between Lehman’s character and her partner, played by Louis Ferreira, who was Declan on Breaking Bad. They have a comfortable familiarity that shines through in underplayed moments and little bits of seemingly impromptu dialog. There’s one episode in the second season that appeals to two aspects of my daily life: crime writing and chemistry.

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As time goes by

Another year older, another year wiser, mayhaps.

I received my copy of CD #71 yesterday, the one that contains my feature review of Mr. Mercedes. On the same day as the book was published, no less. Good timing, or what?

I had an interesting email the other day from an international television station that wants to interview me for a project they’re doing. Logistics and details still to be worked out, but it could be cool if it all comes together.

Stay tuned to The Wicked Library—one of my stories will be narrated by Nelson W. Pyles in the coming days.

On Friday night we saw Mud, another entry in our unintentional Matthew McConaughey film festival. Good film, which didn’t go in any of the directions I expected. One of the kids was played by the actor who went on to be Kendell Crowe on Justified. An unexpected small but crucial role by Reese Witherspoon, plus performances by Sam Shepherd and Sarah Paulson.

Then on Sunday we saw Thérèse, starring Audrey Tautou. She was so endearing in Amelie, and I always want to like her, but she’s never really been as good as in that film. This one was a dire piece about a bourgeois woman “trapped” in an arranged marriage who reacts to her boredom by doing something drastic. It’s hard to feel sorry for any of the characters, really, and Tautou’s is so downbeat all the time that we were fed up with her by the end. Plus the trailer was arranged to engender sympathy for her situation by presenting events that happened after her drastic act as if they happened from the moment she got married, which made her seem more sympathetic than she was.

Thanks to modern technology, I can now get advance review copies on my iPad, which means I don’t have to deal with useless ARCs after I’m done. The only problem is, digital ARCs come with an expiration date in most cases, so now I find myself reading books in the order in which they will expire so I don’t lose them! I just finished One Kick by Chelsea Cain, her first step away from her series. The book gets off to a brilliant start in a deliberately ambiguous scene. It’s a fast read, but it tells a good story well. A beach read, perhaps, but I liked it. Next up is Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner.

Only two episodes of Fargo left. This week was like the calm before the storm, with an interesting bit of time dilation thrown in. Lester (Martin Freeman) has gained a new sense of self confidence and seems to be thriving. Characters get married, babies are born, but Malvo, that evil imp, is still out there, and a reckoning has to be on the horizon.

Happy to see Longmire again. A lot of the first episode was shot with handheld cameras, which gave it a claustrophobic and urgent feel. Last season ended with a series of cliffhangers, and it looks like resolving them will be much of the business of season 3.

Some of my favorite scenes in Orphan Black are when one clone has to pretend to be another. This week we were treated to Sarah being forced to be Allison. Then there was the most awesome face plant ever. “I may have drugged his tea,” Felix says. Topped off with a shocking final moment. I figured the character was toast, but never saw him going out that way.

Is Motive the only TV show filmed in Vancouver that’s actually set in Vancouver? There are some very nice aerial shots of the city, now that they’ve decided to be less coy about the setting.

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Where did May go?

For the past few years, we’ve been flirting with drought. Sometimes we’ve been in full-on, high-risk drought conditions, with the local lakes (aka holding ditches) at levels so low that the boats are stuck in mud. Other times we get just enough rain to keep us happy, albeit briefly.

Earlier this week we had two days of torrential rain that, almost literally overnight, took us from “back in serious drought again” to “pretty much caught up to the average rainfall for the year.” Houston has recorded nearly 10″ of rain in May, double the monthly average, and we’re only a tad off for the year. There are hints we might get more heavy rain over the next two days. There was some localized flooding, mostly on low-lying roads and freeway feeders, but no one is complaining. The wildlife is euphoric. You should hear the birds singing. And the frogs. And the mosquitoes…

Today is the official publication day for Joe Mynhardt’s anthology, Tales from the Lake Vol. 1, which contains my story “The Lady of Lost Lake.” The headline author is Graham Masterton, but you’ll probably recognize some other names in the table of contents. It’s available in paperback (Amazon), Kindle, and various other ebook formats from Smashwords. It’s also up at CreateSpace. I did a short interview about my story, which you can read here. The one review to mention my story so far had this to say, “Essentially a lady in the lake story with real no essence but strangely I was riveted to this story and its telling.” I’ll take that.

Although it will also appear in the next issue of Cemetery Dance magazine, we decided to put up my review of Mr. Mercedes at News from the Dead Zone. Check it out!

We’re in that funky limbo time when there’s not much new to watch on TV. Mad Men finished up with an interesting twist, as Don pulls himself from in front of the speeding train with a last-minute gambit. And who couldn’t love the song-and-dance routine that accompanied the departure of one of the original characters? At least he got to see a man on the moon. Fargo continues to be interesting. I loved the way they decided to film the mass shooting at the Fargo office. All exterior tracking as we follow but cannot see Malvo work from room to room and floor to floor. The occasional flash of light from gunfire, but only at the end do we see actual people. Those poor FBI guys.

I’m also still digging Orphan Black, though the show occasionally comes very close to choking on its own twisted plot. It still surprises me how I can look at all these clones as if they were being played by different actresses. Maslany is simply amazing. We watched the original BBC version of House of Cards. Unfortunately the two follow-up series aren’t on Netflix, so I had to order the DVD. The incident at the end of the final installment of the first series perfectly reflects what happened in the first episode of Season 2 of the Spacey remake, but I’d forgotten about it. It has been, after all, a quarter of a century, more or less. It’s a toss-up who breaks the fourth wall better, Spacey or Ian Richardson. They are both so sly.

I’m starting to catch up on the third season of Death in Paradise, a cute cozy-esque murder mystery series set on a fictional Caribbean island. It’s a “fish out of water” story in that the Inspector is British, sent to this outpost because no one much likes his stick-in-the-mud, always-by-the-book ways. Over the course of the first two series, he adjusts to life in the tropics, as much as he can. This makes what happens in the first episode of the third season such a shock. I’m not sure the series can recover from it, but we’ll see. I’m also keeping up with Motive, the Canadian police drama in which the killer and the victim are revealed before the opening credits and you then get to see the police work out what happened and why. It’s pretty good. Not as glossy as CSI, and a little too in love with clever camera transitions, but I like the gruff characters.

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The Doctors Who

I posted a review The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six, edited by Ellen Datlow, over the weekend. An excellent anthology, and I was especially fond of the final story, a “sequel” to The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

One of my favorite experiences as a writer was getting to write an authorized Doctor Who short story for a BBC Big Finish anthology edited by Steven Saville. We had to pitch our stories before being selected, and then our tales went through a rigorous editing process to make sure they fit into the known chronology. Mine featured the Fifth Doctor and Peri Brown. An earlier anthology also featured that pairing, so I was asked to inject a paragraph that made reference to that adventure to place mine in the timeline properly. We don’t often get to play in our favorite sandboxes like that, so it was a thrill to be part of the project.

I chose Davison’s version because he was “my Doctor.” The one I remember best from the classic series. I watched his entire tenure before writing my story. In recent years, I’ve also seen him in Law & Order: UK, The Last Detective and Campion. I especially liked his turn as “Dangerous” Davies, the least dangerous copper in his division. He had this sort of hang-dog persona that was appealing. So, when I found out Davison would be at Compicpalooza in Houston last weekend, I was set to go. Because my daughter had other plans on Saturday, we waited until Monday to attend, which was probably a good decision because by then the crowds had thinned out considerably.

Davison wasn’t the only Doctor there. Also in attendance were numbers 6 through 8: Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy (also from The Hobbit), and Paul McGann (also from Luther). Rounding out the Doctor Who experience was John Barrowman, who played Captain Jack Harkness. I took along my copy of Doctor Who: Destination Prague and had the various Doctors sign stories in which their characters appeared. I also had my photo taken with Davison (see above). Then we went home and watched The Five Doctors Reboot. I think it was my third time seeing it, and it’s every bit as charming as the first time.

Over the holiday weekend, we also watched all eight episodes of True Detective, my wife for the first time and me for the second. It stands up well to repeat viewing and binge watching. We started the original BBC House of Cards from 1990 starring Ian Richardson, he of the Grey Poupon commercials. I remember watching the series when it first aired, but that was a long, long time ago. I also finished up the current season of DCI Banks. The final episode was based on the only novel in the series I’ve read, although it was changed a lot for the two-part teleplay.

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The renegade who had it made

It appears that everyone was on their best behavior last week, because when I showed up for jury duty this morning we were told that there would be no trial this week. Didn’t even get to set foot inside the courtroom. Thank you for your service. Sucks for the poor sods who decided not to show up, as she was taking down names. The DPS was fairly close to the courthouse, so I decided, since I was in town anyway, to get my driver’s license renewed. I know there are lots of horror stories about DPS experiences, but mine couldn’t have been better. In and out in 10-15 minutes. I didn’t even have time to fill out the application form completely before my number was called.

We watched the four episodes of The Bletchley Circle this weekend. It airs on PBS and deals with a group of women who were codebreakers during WWII but who, in the aftermath, are not allowed to talk about what they did (which saved many lives), and must return to the banal life offered to women in the 1950s. In the first series, they banded together to track down a serial killer. In the second series, there are two stories, one having to do with sarin gas testing on British soldiers and the other about smuggling rings that carried on after the black market established during the war was no longer necessary.

Last night we went to see Don Felder (of the Eagles), Foreigner and Styx at the outdoor concert pavilion near the house. It opened 25 years ago and in those heady early days it seemed I was attending shows 2-3 times a week. Over the years, we  have gone less, but I really wanted to see Styx, so I persuaded my wife to go. She was afraid the groups would be “past their prime,” but that was not the case at all.

Felder opened at 7 pm with a set list made up mostly of Eagles songs he co-wrote, along with a recent solo track and the theme song from Heavy Metal. They brought out the obligatory double-neck guitar for “Hotel California,” and Styx’s Tommy Shaw joined him on stage for that song. He was in good voice.

Then out came Foreigner, part of the soundtrack of my high school years, and they put on a rocking good show, even though there’s only one original band member (Mick Jones) on the tour. They were energetic and the songs were loud and invigorating. Then on came Styx, which features two of the five original band members, Shaw and James “JY” Young. Dennis De Young’s vocals are done by Lawrence Gowan, a Scottish Canadian who was a big hit up north in the 80s with songs like “Criminal Mind” and “Strange Animal.” He opened for Styx a few times in the late 90s and Shaw liked what he heard, inviting him to join the band permanently. He wrote a couple of songs for their fine album Cyclorama, and he looks like he’s having the time of his life, strutting, playing keyboards (once with his back to the instrument), jumping, climbing and singing his heart out.

This was the first time I’ve seen either band in concert (I saw Felder twenty years ago on the Hell Freezes Over tour), and I’m glad we went. It was a blast from the past, but it was also fun to listen to and sing along with all these familiar songs.

I wasn’t displeased with the outcome of The Amazing Race. Rachel said she didn’t want to finish second, and that wish was granted. I wouldn’t have objected if the country singers won, either, but in the end it was a satisfactory outcome.

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Gojira angry

Confession time: I have never seen a Godzilla movie before. I know, there must be some membership card that I’ll have to hand back in now that I’ve said that. We only had one TV station when I was growing up and I can’t remember there ever being a Godzilla movie on. If there was, it may have been too late at night for me to have seen it. I’ve been aware of Godzilla, of course, but until last night, I’d never seen him in action, other than in clips.

Went to the seven o’clock show with Danel Olson, the editor of the Exotic Gothic anthologies and a couple of the Studies in the Horror Film books, including the one about The Shining that will contain a contribution from me. We live only a few miles apart but never met until the WHC in Austin a few years ago.

The theater wasn’t packed, but we’d picked the smaller of the two cinemas in our community and opted against the 3D version. We arrived ten minutes before showtime and got decent seats. The trailers were a sequence of about five in a row that seemed to revel in being cagey about what the films were really about. Disjointed, nonlinear, and about as helpful as the previews for an episode of Mad Men. These were followed by one comedy (22 Jump Street) that you couldn’t induce me to watch with anything known to mankind, and the one preview that actually piqued my interest: A Most Wanted Man, based on the Le Carré  novel, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright.

Then came the main feature. I was surprised by the marquee names who weren’t in the film as long as I’d expected, and had no idea at all who the actor was who played Ford. I was intrigued when Ken Watanabe called the monster Gojira, but in that kind of Japanese accent that made it sound so much like Godzilla that it finally clicked in my head how one had transformed into the other. The director chose to hint at more than he showed, especially in the first hour. There were reactions to and repercussions of the monsters, but not much screen time for the biggest marquee star. The bad guys got more exposure until late in the game. There was some human drama, but a lot of coincidence, too, like how Ford ended up everywhere the bad guys did. A lot of people killed, but so long as they weren’t “our guys” it was okay. That’s the sort of stuff you’d expect from this kind of film, though. The money shot came at the end as Godzilla emerges from the deeps to restore the balance of nature.

It’s all very Lovecraftian, in a sense. These huge monsters are like Elder Gods, with little care for or interest in humankind, unless the humans in question are trying to poke them in the eye with a sharp stick. Buildings and trees and bridges are all the same to them. Obstacles in the battle, or weapons. For the most part, the humans were really surplus to requirements. They had to deal with the bombs, but they were the ones who decided to put the bombs in play in the first place. If they’d done nothing, the outcome would have been more or less the same. All good fun, though. Godzilla reminded me of The Incredible Hulk when he flexed his arms.

I posted two book reviews this week: The Son by Jo Nesbø and The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. Two very different books, but I enjoyed them both.

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Giger counter

I first encountered H.R. Giger when I was in university. As my musical world and tastes broadened, I stumbled upon Emerson, Lake and Palmer, probably at a used record store called Days of Wine and Vinyl. As I worked my way through their discography, I naturally ended up at Brain Salad Surgery, which featured his artwork on the cover. That same year, of course, Alien took the movie-going world by storm, with its simultaneously horrifying and hilarious shot of a creature bursting out of John Hurt’s chest after an ill-advised visit to a planet designed by Giger. I didn’t know much about him, alas, or I might have gone to his museum during the years I lived in Zurich. An opportunity missed.

I’m about halfway through The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon. Alas, my digitial ARC is fixing to expire, so I might have to buy a copy of the book to finish it, which has never happened to me before. It’s an interesting concept: an Apple-like company is taking over the English language, and there’s a word flu causing a kind of aphasia among users of an iPhone-like gadget called the Meme that responds to your emotions. The next generation forms a chemical / neurological bond with you in a creepy, Invasion of the Body Snatchers sense.

Issue 71 of Cemetery Dance magazine is shipping this month. It’s an all-fiction issue, so there won’t be a News from the Dead Zone column in it, but I do have the feature book review, which is King’s forthcoming Mr. Mercedes.

We had a free preview of Showtime last weekend, so I recorded Penny Dreadful and watched it last night. It was okay. Lavish in look. Timothy Dalton is chewing up the scenery. Has moments. Not enough to make me want to see any more of it, though. And after only three hours, my finger is creeping toward the delete button on 24. How quickly it descends into melodrama. I was bummed to discover that Castle decided to end the season with a cliffhanger. I liked the way the universe was conspiring to wreck their wedding day and, ultimately, it did. I loved Don Draper’s reaction to the threesome with his wife and her friend on Mad Men. He wasn’t all “goody, let’s do this.” He was more like WTF? A little bit of Van Gogh action going on, too. What a weird show.

And then there was the season finale of The Blacklist, which answered some questions, raised some others and maybe answered the big one: Who is Liz’s father? Though he has denied it, Red still remains the prime candidate, especially in light of those burn scars on his back. For a while I thought they were going to go housecleaning or, rather, cast cleaning. First, Meera goes down and then Howard looked like he was out for the count, too. The pseudo-Berlin takes one to the head and Tom takes a few to the gut, but is he dead? There was no body. Maybe Red disappeared it to save the awkward questions that would raise for Liz, although that leaves her marital status up in the air. Sort of like Kate’s on Castle.

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Everything expires

Today’s Google Doodle commemorates the 104th birthday of Dorothy Hodgkin, the only British woman to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. She was an X-ray crystallographer (that’s also my field of expertise) who solved the structures of a number of biologically important molecules, including Vitamin B12, cholesterol, insulin, and penicillin. Her structure of Vitamin B12 confirmed the presence of a cobalt-carbon bond, which was at the time a fairly unique feature.

I encountered Dr. Hodgkin twice during my doctoral years. First, I spent two months at the crystallography lab in Oxford, which was her home base. Though she was mostly retired by that time, she was known to haunt the lab on occasion and, on one memorable day, was said to have been “fixing” one of the pieces of scientific equipment with a hammer. A couple of years later, she was awarded an honourary doctorate from my alma mater, and my PhD advisor was her sponsor and host. She was in her mid-70s and traveled in a wheel chair when any distance or difficulty was involved, but she was still sharp. One afternoon during her visit, my adviser put me in his office alone with her and told me to regale her with my thesis research. It was a warm day, August most likely, and the room was small and warm. After a few minutes, it seemed to me that she had nodded off. So, my question was: do I stop and wait for her to come around again or plow ahead? I chose the latter, never quite sure if she heard anything I was saying. Later, my adviser reported that she had told him I was “a sharp lad,” so I guess she heard something.

April may be the cruelest month, but May 2014, it seems, is the year that everything expires for me: my car registration, my vehicle inspection, my driver’s license and my passport. Also, I received on Friday my first ever jury duty summons to which I can legally attend. I got one not long after I moved to Texas, but as a non-citizen I couldn’t go. I’m sort of looking forward to it, although my wife assures me that as soon as they hear I have a PhD I’ll probably be dismissed.

We had a movie marathon on Saturday. First we saw Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Brolin is a prison escapee who insinuates himself into the house and life of Winslet and her 12-year-old son over the holiday weekend. He’s in prison for murder (the backstory behind that is eventually revealed), and he’s moderately threatening, but only when necessary, and the three people bond in unexpected ways. It’s beautifully filmed, perhaps a tad schmaltzy, but we enjoyed it.

Next, we watched August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, hell, just about everyone in Hollywood. It’s number one redeeming feature is the fact that it has a male character named Beverly, although he isn’t in the film long. His disappearance brings this uber-dysfunctional family back together and by the end of the extended visit, just about everyone is in a far worse situation than when they arrived. This is Tennessee Williams country relocated to Oklahoma, with Streep off her head because she’s taking just about every -pam and -one in the pharmacy book. She’s shrill, mean, confrontational and sometimes just bug-shit crazy. She has three daughters (played by actresses named Julia, Julianne and Juliette—that must have driven the director bonkers), one who is currently separated, one who is dating someone ill-advised (even more ill-advised by the end of the film) and one who is engaged to a creep. Her sister is played by Margo Martindale, and her brother-in-law by Chris Cooper. Granddaughter Abigail Breslin is in full-on rebellion mode. You have to admire the acting, but any sane person would have checked out of that madhouse during the first meal, when things started getting particularly shouty for the first time. Anyone who stayed after that deserved what she got. A little bit exhausting to watch.

Finally, we saw Dallas Buyer’s Club, starring the gauntest of gaunt Matthew McConaughey as a not very likable grifter who is infected by HIV during heterosexual sex with a junkie. His bigotry and homophobia (and that of all of his friends) is the touchpoint for the film: he can’t stand having a disease where being gay is the initial assumption. Jennifer Garner plays a doctor involved in AZT trials, but McConaughey can’t get on the program, so he starts out by stealing AZT, even though he has his doubts about the drugs efficacy. He goes to Mexico and starts bringing back unapproved drugs. He can’t sell them, so he sets up a “club” to the members of which he gives the drugs for a $400/month fee. This puts him at odds with the FDA, the DEA, the IRS and the pharmaceutical company trying to make big bucks off AZT. His unlikely colleague is a transvestite who goes by “Rayon” played by Jared Leto. It wouldn’t have been half the story if McConaughey’s character had been a nice guy from the git-go. Seeing him struggle with accepting the nature of most of his customers and eventually sort of kind of coming around is the film’s core. The best of the three.

We also caught up on The Americans, a show that really benefits from binge watching. Can’t wait to see what happens in the final two episodes. I watched the first episode of Resurrection, which seems like a remake of the French series The Returned, but isn’t. Quite good.

I was really impressed by the shooting skills of some of the people on The Amazing Race. That challenge would have been the death of me, I think (or, perhaps, of anyone standing nearby). It would have been nice to see the country singers come in first for a change—they really earned it and would have done so if not for a random wrong turn (directions have never been their strong suit). Still, should be an interesting rush to the finish line.

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