Sunday, October 1, 2023

Lines for Sherlock and Watson

(Interior, evening.)

SHERLOCK: Watson ...

WATSON: Yes, Holmes?

SHERLOCK: There's something I've been meaning to tell you about myself.

WATSON: Indeed, Holmes?

SHERLOCK: (Sighing) It's just that we've been close associates for so many years, and I'm ashamed to say, I never had the nerve to bring it up.

WATSON: What is it, Holmes?

SHERLOCK: Attend to me, Watson.

WATSON: I'm all ears, Holmes.

SHERLOCK: It's just that ... my name is pronounced "Homes," with a silent L.

(long silence)

SHERLOCK: Well? Watson?

WATSON: You think you know a man ...

Monday, September 25, 2023


I wanted to see this movie as soon as I saw a trailer for it, and I decided to see it on Sunday because that's when the local movie house has a matinee. I'm not sure whether the word "ironically" applies, but funnily enough, it happened to be Yom Kippur, or a couple hours short of it (it started at sunset; the matinee was at 4 p.m.) and, don'tchaknow, the movie portrays Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir's handling of the Yom Kippur War, about this time 50 years ago.

Helen Mirren has the lead role, expertly portraying a grandma who led her country through a crisis regarding its very survival, who remained outwardly calm (mostly) while imploding inwardly under the pressure. Another remarkable thing about the lady, as this movie portrays her, is that she took the heat for bad decisions other people made behind her back, in order to protect her nation's interests such as a secret eavesdropping system and the ability to manipulate Henry Kissinger into sending vital material support.

I don't know from the other members of the cast except Liev Schreiber, who inhabits Kissinger. I do know some of the other characters in the movie by name, such as Moshe Dayan and Ariel Sharon, but it looks like a lot of the cast is Israeli and that's all right with me. I was also interested by the fact that the camera-facing characters all speak English while the radio chatter and news footage is all in Hebrew, subtitled, a compromise between reality and the fact that this movie was made for American audiences. Another intriguing thing is the movie's use of historic footage, including the originals as themselves – from Nixon, Carter and Sadat, who are otherwise not portrayed in the movie, to Kissinger and Meir themselves. It's neat to see that the movie isn't abashed by the differences in looks between the real Golda and the actress playing her.

I must make haste to deliver the Three Scenes That Made It For Me, and get outta here. (1) The phone call during which Golda scares the daylights out of Kissinger. Frail as she was at times – the movie also graphically depicts the toll the war took on her nerves, not to mention her lungs – she was one tough lady. (2) "Arik" Sharon stealing a slice of cake before he leaves Golda's house. (3) The beginning of the closing credits, in which (music nerd that I am) I recognized a string arrangement of Dido's Lament, from Henry Purcell's baroque-era opera, Dido and Aeneas. The original words to that melody are very appropriate given the movie's ending: "When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs create no trouble in thy breast. Remember me, but ah! forget my fate!"

One bonus observation about this movie: Apparently, the key to bringing the historical era of 1973 to life on film is to have someone lighting a cigarette in practically every shot. This movie makes it a major visual and audible theme, yet somehow without glamorizing it. Golda lights countless cigarettes during this movie; the sound of her lighter striking fire, the plumes of smoke, cigarettes in various stages of being smoked, ashtrays overflowing with crushed butts, are all but constantly in the frame or the soundtrack thereof. Once, Golda actually uses an ashtray to gavel a meeting to order. The cost of all this smoking also comes into the tale, figuring in it right up to the last scene.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Big Game

Big Game
by Stuart Gibbs
Recommended Ages: 11+

Teddy Fitzroy has somehow not gotten kicked out of FunJungle yet, despite his previous investigations uncovering skullduggery afoot at the Texas zoo/theme park where his parents work. He's been menaced by poisonous snakes, sharks and some dangeours crooks, to say nothing of a security guard who is just looking for a reason to bust him. Then one day, he goes home from school and finds out his house is missing.

OK, that isn't the mystery he has to solve in this book. It's just a minor irritation for a family that includes an ape biologist mom and a wildlife photographer dad. It turns out, having to relocate their trailer is the least of the family's challenges when mom suffers a leg injury, and said security guard is sure Teddy is responsible for a series of break-ins, and someone with a high-powered rifle is taking shots at a pregnant rhino.

The zoo's owner, zillionaire J.J. McCracken, actually blackmails Teddy into investigating the rhino case behind his parents' backs, which is a nice change from being warned to keep his nose out of things. But chasing the would-be rhino poacher makes Teddy uncomfortably aware of how critically endangered the animals are, thanks to a black market in rhino horns driven by demand for an unscientific folk remedy. And then there's the discomfort of being caught between his school's head cheerleader, who likes him, and J.J. McCracken's daughter Summer, whom he likes, and who are both caught up in the investigation with him.

Before it's over, the kids will encounter a shadowy gunperson and various species of more or less dangerous animals. And as always, everything will depend on whether Teddy can spot the crucial detail on time.

This is the third of eight FunJungle books, following Belly Up and Poached and followed directly by Panda-monium. Besides this series, Stuart Gibbs has also written some 25 other books for young readers, featuring brilliant but relatable kids having thrilling but hilarious adventures.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Space Case

Space Case
by Stuart Gibbs
Recommended Ages: 11+

The year is sometime after 2040, and among the 20-or-so residents of mankind's first non-terrestrial colony – Moon Base Alpha – are Dashiell Gibson, age 12, his little sister Violet, and their scientist parents. As Dash narrates it, living on the moon was sold as a spectacular adventure, but actually it's pretty lame. The inflatable furniture makes farting noises when you sit on it. The toilets suck, literally – especially when they don't. The dehydrated, rehydrated food is 50 shades of lousy. And there isn't much for an active, Hawaii surfer kid to do, when the only other kid his age always has his head inside a virtual reality game and the next nearest, potential playmates are mostly bullies. But Dash's discontent takes on a new dimension when he sort-of, kind-of witnesses mankind's first murder on the moon.

It isn't so much that he saw the crime happen. But Dash is the first person to guess that Dr. Holtz may have been murdered, when he turns up dead outside the base's main airlock after taking a solo lunar walk in the early hours of the morning. Something about it doesn't jive for Dash, who had only a few hours earlier overheard Dr. Holtz excitedly discussing a new discovery that he was about to announce to everybody. But the base commander has strictly forbidden Dash to discuss or investigate his theory, insisting that Holtz's demise was a tragic accident.

Nevertheless, investigate he does, encouraged by a couple of new arrivals on board the base's supply rocket. One of them is a girl his age who shows signs of making the rest of Dash's time on the moon much more fun. Another is a technician who is just as interested as Dash in finding answers – but secretly. Meanwhile, someone has sent Dash a mysterious warning to drop it, or else. With evidence drawing them closer to the identity of the killer, Dash and friends can hardly stop now – especially with the next rocket back to earth potentially carrying a killer to freedom. Or worse, leaving him or her on the base for at least another month.

This is the first of three Moon Base Alpha books for kids. Stuart Gibbs, who happens to have children named Dashiell and Violet, is also the author of the fun, kid-friendly FunJungle, Last Musketeer, Spy School, Charlie Thorne and Once Upon a Tim series. Further titles in this trilogy are Spaced Out and Waste of Space. It's a fun adventure, with an attitude and sense of humor that will appeal to young readers, as well as some thrills, scares, intertwining character conflicts and a mind-blowing secret revealed at the very end. I look forward to following this series further.

Monday, September 18, 2023


This week's Sunday matinee for me wasn't in quite an empty theater; at least three or four other people enjoyed it with me, and I do say "enjoyed" without fear of contradiction. The movie is directed by Marc Turtletaub, whose previous directing credits are amazingly sparse compared to the number of movies on which he is credited as a producer. It stars Ben Kingsley as an aging resident of a small Pennsylvania city who is starting to get a bit forgetful. He stands up at the city council meeting every week to make the same comments. He occasionally does bizarre things, like leaving the newspaper in the freezer or a can of green beans in his medicine cabinet. He gets impatient when his daughter hints that his mind might be slipping and maybe he should go into assisted living. And then, just to bring her concern onto the front burner, he starts talking about a spaceship crashing in his backyard and an alien (not the illegal kind) crashing on his couch.

Two older ladies are in on the secret, played by Jane Curtin and Harriet Sansom Harris. They don't agree on what to call the alien; one dubs him Gary, the other Jules. The little blue fellow, who somehow doesn't look naked despite not wearing any clothing (until the ladies fit him with some tacky T-shirts), has expressive eyes and repeatedly draws kitty cats, but otherwise doesn't communicate much. But while he (or she, or whatever) tries to repair his spacecraft, the Men in Black are getting closer to discovering where the UFO went down.

Despite an itty bitty incident involving somebody's head exploding, it's mostly a gentle, low-tension movie that, I increasingly felt as I watched it, is more about aging and the onset of dementia than E.T. What little you learn about Jules (or Gary) is ambiguous and/or completely daft, like what he needs to restore power to his ship (my lips are sealed) and to what degree he understands what Milton and his lady friends are saying to him. They open up to him, though, and pour our their hearts in a touching way. He ends up making Milton an offer to which the old guy's response suddenly becomes the heart of the movie, what it's all about.

It's a funny enough movie that I heard myself bark with laughter several times. It's a gentle, tender movie that moved my emotions. It's a thinking movie that will leave you feeling and pondering things related to getting old and forgetful. It's a low-key movie whose taste lingers on the palate. And it's a movie whose final scene could stir conversation and debate – like, what does it mean?

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) Sandy (Harris) pours out her soul to Jules, getting choked up about how she's been cut out of her daughter's life. (2) Joyce (Curtin) sings a song for Gary (as she calls him), taking a trip down memory lane to her big-city days in Pittsburgh, while he telepathically intervenes in a crisis Sandy is having at home. It's the deepest this movie descends into horror – and afterward, the way Jules glances back over his shoulder at the elder trio when they agree to be on his side since he's on theirs, is the strongest evidence throughout the movie that he understands when they talk to him. (3) How the three elder humans realize they've landed on earth after a brief ride in Jules's ship.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Hill

This past Sunday, I was the sole audience member of a matinee showing of this movie, which I've wanted to see since the first time I watched a trailer for it. It's a sports movie, which (if you've been following this blog for any length of time) you probably know means it made me cry. It's just something I've known about myself since way back in Field of Dreams. It's also, supposedly, based on the true story of a certain Ricky Hill, who overcame a degenerative spinal condition to play minor league baseball for about the latter half of the 1970s, despite also having a bad ankle injury only weeks before MLB tryouts, to say nothing of a preacher father who was anything but supportive of his baseball dreams.

The movie features Colin Ford (We Bought a Zoo, Canadian TV's Daybreak) in a role that, I feel, should do for his career what October Sky did for Jake Gyllenhaal all those years ago. What those roles have in common, for example, is how nicely each showcases its young star's soulful gaze. Their all but hopeless hope goes right to your heart, and if big-time casting directors don't take notice, they must not be going to the movies much.

Also in it are Dennis Quaid as the Bible-thumping but not altogether unsympathetic dad (he makes a heroic attempt to steal the show toward the end, when he confesses his arrogance to the members of his small, salt-of-the-earth congregation); Bonnie Bedelia (Die Hard, etc.) as the grandma who don't take no nonsense from her son-in-law, and who gets an emotional death scene; Joelle Carter (Justified) as the minister's mostly loyal and longsuffering wife (just wait till she tells him off!), a dry-aged Scott Glenn as an MLB scout, country singer Randy Houser as a supporter of young Ricky's aspirations, singer Siena Bjornerud as Ricky's love interest, and the actual Ricky Hill in a small role.

Three Scenes That Made It For Me: (1) James Hill (the dad) takes Ricky's older brother, Robert, out back to give him a whuppin', then has a crisis of conscience and sends the kid back inside. The kid is so shocked, he almost insists on being whupped. (2) James's tearful confession to the members of his flock who are missing Ricky's big game (you know, the one where he for both teams and gets a hit in 11 straight at-bats), explaining why he has proudly never seen his son play baseball and why he now realizes he was wrong. (3) Naturally, Ricky's big tryout, when he basically bullies Glenn's MLB scout into letting him bat in the exhibition game and then refuses to cave when he's basically told he should just give up and go home. It was actually the practice scene where Ricky hits 16 home runs in a row (dropping the balls right next to Glenn in the adjoining stadium) where my emotions really peaked.

Man, that kid had guts. The real kid, mind you. A postscript to the movie gives you the good, mediocre and sad news, in order: the boy got the girl (James married them at home plate); he was drafted into the Montreal Expos farm system (so, not quite major league); and after his spine went out, he never played baseball again (but he does coach Little League and work as a golf instructor). So, his dreams only came true up to a certain point. But he's still kicking, and that makes the viewer's feelings so much more interesting as he walks out of this movie.

Tears of Pearl

Tears of Pearl
by Tasha Alexander
Recommended Ages: 13+

Lady Emily has just become Mrs. Colin Hargreaves, and for their honeymoon, they've traveled to Constantinople. Mysterious stuff starts happening before they even arrive, however. First a gentleman on their train barely survives an overdose of sleep medicine. Then, during a night at the opera in the Sultan's private theater, a concubine is strangled to death in a nearby courtyard and proves to be the aforementioned gentleman's daughter, kidnapped when she was a child. The old gent, who works at the British Embassy, is showing signs of slipping mentally, and his estranged son seems to be up to some kind of mischief, and as far as Emily can find out – I mean, obviously, she's going to investigate, right? – the young woman's murder is tied up in harem intrigue, and meanwhile another concubine imposes on Lady Emily's social conscience in an appeal for help to escape from the seraglio.

Working alongside her intelligence-agent husband, Emily penetrates the strange and exotic world of eunuchs and concubines. She bathes in the hammam. She stumbles socially in an unimaginably remote culture where women are all at once captives and yet more free than their English counterparts, slaves and yet powerful, and where jealousies, illicit affairs and treasonous plots fester despite the walls having countless eyes and ears. The scenery and architecture are gorgeous, the food is incredible, the clothing and jewelry are exquisite, and the leading concubines move with grace, all while an undercurrent of brutal savagery flows not too deep below the surface.

Meanwhile, as Emily struggles to piece clues together, she is hampered by her own frailties and fears – fear for her friend Ivy back home, whose pregnancy has a matter of grave concern; fear that she herself may be with child, a thing she has dreaded since childhood when she heard the screams of an aunt dying in childbirth. And it certainly doesn't help that a high-ranking concubine, known for her gift of prophecy, has given Emily a dire omen of her future.

As Emily moves from one palace and harem to another, in and out of favor with the Sultan, learning something new with each visit, the circuit of luxurious settings grows increasingly, and paradoxically, claustrophobic. An oppressive sense of doom lowers over her like a storm cloud, doing justice to this book's designation as "a novel of suspense." Her rare (for a Westerner) peek into the unique, inner circles of the declining Ottoman Empire reveals both fabulous opulence and morbid rottenness. And when the solution clicks – you'll definitely feel it – Emily's genius, daring, foolishness and vulnerability combine to put her in breathtaking danger.

This is the fourth Lady Emily mystery. Coming next is Dangerous to Know, with subsequent titles including (but not limited to) Behind the Shattered Glass, Uneasy Lies the Crown and a soon-to-be-released 17th novel, A Cold Highland Wind.