What's shaking with all of you? Things have been busy here, between work and family and friends and actually starting to write that fic that I've been planning out for over a year, the last in my Elastic Heart (Sherlock BBC) series. I've got about 3600 words right now, and will write some more after I finish this post. (I also signed up for holmes_big_bang and hope to post not this story but a more BBC-canon story for that challenge.) Here's some of the stuff I've been up to/wanting to post about:
Food: Is it just me, or has produce this summer been exceptionally good? I had the best nectarines of my life a few weeks ago - big and juicy and relentlessly sweet. I ate four standing over the sink and giggling madly to myself. And today, I ate a spoonful of this maple peanut butter while waiting for my real meal to cook: I made roasted brussels sprouts (olive oil, sea salt, Malabar pepper) and roasted corn (sliced off the cob, put into a dry cast-iron skillet, poured (reddish and crispy and incredibly sweet) into a bowl with a little soy butter on top). It was fantastic. Plus I have some gjetost in my fridge for later in the week, which I am looking forward to.
Weight: I do need to lose weight, but I hate to exercise. At one point, I was very good about it - I did the same difficult pilates routine for a solid year but I never got that endorphin high and it made no difference to my weight, which was severely discouraging. I did just go through some tests for life insurance, and the person who took my vitals said "whatever you're doing, keep doing it" in response to my blood pressure (110/80) and resting heartrate (62). So it's more for aesthetic reasons than health reasons. But blech. Exercise.
TV: I've been having a bit of a marathoning festival lately. I rewatched season one of Veronica Mars, which remains one of the best drama seasons I've ever seen, in large part because it feels as carefully worked out and yet surprising as a great novel. These are real characters. I've also been rewatching the first season of Rome, mostly because Lucius Vorenus remains one of my favorite characters ever. Glory be, Kevin McKidd playing a man of principle whom it isn't very easy to like. And I burned through the first two seasons of The Good Wife and am just waiting for my season 3 DVDs to show up. I forgot how intricately involved the show can be - like Veronica Mars and Arrested Development and The Simpsons (the glory years), there's a sense of someone at the helm who knows precisely which characters are needed for the stories to make sense and to have maximum emotional impact. And it's done so gracefully: something will happen that means Diane is the only lawyer available for a particular case, and then six episodes later, Diane will again have to argue in front of the same judge, and bring what she learned from the previous episode to bear. It's just a master-class in storytelling. I only wish that the DVD cover art weren't so formulaic; as much as I'm invested in Alicia and Will being together (in large part because Will is played by Josh Charles), I'm even more invested in knowing that Alicia is happy with what she's making of her life.
I think The Good Wife and Community are the only returning shows that are on my must-see list. I want Community to still amaze me, week after week, though I'm trying to temper my expectations in light of the Dan Harmon firing. I did give the leaked pilot for Elementary a try, and while I have issues with a lot of the show's take on the Holmes&Watson relationship, I did like what I saw. That makes no sense - let me say that while the relationship on the screen does not meet my criteria for a successful H/W adaptation, it does interest me. So far, the show ranks about the same as the RDJ movies, in that I enjoy the main relationship while wishing the characters had been given different names because they just don't ring true as Holmes and Watson for me. Lucy Liu is very good, as is Jonny Lee Miller, on whom I've long had a crush; I was thisclose to believing that all of the lingering shots of his profile were taunting me, as I've spoken before of wanting to bite that adorable nose of his.
Movies: I saw a lot of movies on the planes to and from Europe. Sherlock Holmes 2 was more interesting than I'd hoped, but I have to say that I'm really over the whole "insert scene just so it can be put in the trailer and spark wild speculation" thing. I'm also not clear on the need for such extended slow motion. Though I thought the stakes were nicely upped and this mystery made more sense than the first movie's. Jared Harris made a formidable Moriarty, though Stephen Fry and RDJ had zero fraternal chemistry.
The Hunger Games surprised me by taking out most of the scenes that resonated most strongly for me in the book, and also by being a movie that someone who hadn't read the book would be thoroughly baffled by. Katniss in the movie seemed inconvenienced by the Games rather than someone whose whole life and society molded her into a competitor. One of the things I liked best about the books was the sense I got of Katniss as a thinking protagonist, and the movie stripped that away. I also thought the movie tipped the scales in Gale's favor pretty heavily, while the first two books were fairly even-handed with respect to him and Peeta.
Young Adult surprised me in ways both good and bad. The good was that there were reasons for some of her actions, and the movie very strongly implied that not everything was there on the screen - she had a life that couldn't be contained within the span of two hours. The bad was that the epiphany she gets at the end couldn't have been more misguided, and that there's no explanation for how she became a writer.
The Five-Year Engagement was another mixed bag for me. I think the idea is solid, but the execution really didn't pan out for me, in part because there was such intense focus on the main couple that other characters were sidelined and ended up functioning as cautionary tales or dei ex machina, neither of which is really satisfying. Alison Brie was adorable in it, though.
And I finally watched the Matt Damon Bourne trilogy, thinking I might get to the theater to see Jeremy Renner strut his stuff. I completely enjoyed the first movie, but was a little bored by the second and third, in part because they seemed like retreads. I hadn't seen Franka Potente in anything before, and really liked her character. I also thought Matt Damon did a terrific and convincing job. I still might go see the fourth movie, if only to compare the energy Renner brings to the role.
North Country I honestly don't know how Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, and Sean Bean could have been any more perfect in this movie. It's totally gripping and has a very realistic sense of upset in it - just as she gets one part of her life under control, something else goes awry, and I wanted her to triumph so badly. I really recommend it.
Books: I've been reading a lot (as usual) recently, though I only got through one book on my trip to Europe, John Le Carre's The Constant Gardener. It blows the movie out of the water - it's sprawling and haunting and enraging all at once. It's also exactly the right book to bring along for long flights.
I also finally read The Road after hearing so many people praise it. I thought it was beautifully written and deeply moving, though I wish that some of the author's affectations (such as the scattershot use of apostrophes) had been edited out, as they kept jolting me out of the story. I haven't seen the movie, but I will say that I'm disappointed that there is a movie, because this is so very much a triumph in its original medium; what is the point of making a film of this slender, inward story?
I also read Broken Harbor, the fourth in Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad Series. Though the second book is still my favorite, this is the first in the series that I didn't love. The protagonist didn't feel as well developed as French's other narrators, and his background felt more like a sob story than anything necessary for the story. The only part where the writing really sang was the last thirty pages or so, when the solution to the mystery is offered. Other than that, nothing about the book seemed remarkable except maybe for how much I hated a few of these characters.
Which brings me to Case Histories, notable for how much I loved Jackson Brodie and the ways in which he fights for the people he wants to protect, even when he knows it's futile. The TV series is a very different beast, in that the relationships and even the solutions to the mysteries are different from the books, but there's that same sense of the weary warrior in Jason Isaacs' portrayal. I'd definitely recommend the first (Case Histories) and third (When Will There Be Good News?) books of the series (both novels and episodes) especially.
You didn't think I was going to skip over theater in this post, did you? I've only seen a few shows recently, but they've all been worth talking about. First up, after Henry V at the Globe (9.5/10), I saw Dogfight. The story is simple - three soldiers on the eve of shipping out to war in Vietnam are having one last party, and they've decided to award money to the man who shows up with the ugliest girl as his date. The show is a musical, but the music made very little impression. The same, unfortunately, was true of the male leads, all of whom were competent but gave off the impression of being total blank slates. The two main girls - one who goes to the party without knowing its purpose, and one who's hired for the occasion and intends to split the prize money with her "date" - were the real standouts here. They both made their characters vivid and realistic. Kudos to them, and also to director Joe Mantello (who played the lead in The Normal Heart) for being very beautiful when I bumped into him during intermission. 5.5/10
I took a friend to see National Pastime, about which I knew nothing, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The premise is that in 1930s Iowa, there's a small radio station about to go under until a crazy scheme is hatched: the station will broadcast baseball games of a fictional baseball team that never loses. There are love triangles and premarital sex and some of the most fun songs in a musical. Plus, the cast was totally game and very talented. It was also a treat to see the heavyset girl be the one at the heart of the love triangle, with both of her male suitors clearly enamored of her and calling her beautiful. There were some nice twists here, even in the music - at one point, a male character begins a love song and a female character tries to cut him off before he can make their affair into an emotional matter, but it's fine, because he's really singing a love song to money. Very cute and very well done. 8.5/10
I took a different friend to see Bullet for Adolf, co-written by Woody Harrelson. It's kind of a mess of a play though there are some incredibly funny moments. There's a very long first scene that should have been cut entirely, as it just irritated me and did nothing that the rest of the play didn't also do. Once again, the casting was about half-right: the men were fine (even though two of them were possibly the most annoying characters I've seen on stage) but the women were excellent, particularly Marsha Stephanie Blake, who I also loved in Hurt Village. There were some pretty flimsy excuses to get the characters together, and very little justification for keeping them all part of each other's lives, but there were some nice sparks in their interactions. 6/10
I went by myself to see another musical, The Last Smoker in America, which was very funny. Again, the women (Farah Alvin and Natalie Venetia Belcon) were the standouts, though the men were very good as well. It's a little broad and the cast had a lot of fun hamming things up, and what saves it from utter cheesiness is memorable music, some interesting twists, and a willingness to be both deadpan and gleefully insane. This was one of the most fun shows I've seen recently. 8/10
I went down to DC to visit my dad for Labor Day, and had a wonderful time (including shopping at the best used bookstore I've ever had the privilege of setting foot in) - less than $40 got me 30 pounds of books, all in pristine condition, nearly all hardcovers, including my complete Shakespeare). I'd also coaxed my dad into going to a show with me. I originally had my eye on a production of Little Shop of Horrors, one of my top-five shows of all time, but tickets were on the pricey side and I didn't think he'd get much of a kick out of a show that loony. I found out about the current Shakespeare Free For All offering, which was All's Well That Ends Well. I entered the lottery for free tickets for Saturday night and lost; when I entered for Sunday night, I won. So we went, and my dad, who has never voluntarily read a book in his life, sat next to me as he watched his first Shakespeare play. It's not a play I know particularly well, so there were some surprises for me too, but the real treat was seeing him respond. He might go see Dream, which is coming to the theater soon. 7.5/10
Watching the women's final of the US Open reminded me I was going to say something about my boy Rafael Nadal - about my disappointment in not seeing him carry Spain's flag in the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics and not seeing him at this US Open - but I'll keep it to this: get well soon, Rafa. The sport needs you.
And can you believe it's time to start thinking about Yuletide again? Here's my list of fandoms to nominate (in no particular order), which I still need to whittle down to three:
The Unusuals (Schraeger and Walsh definitely; either Banks and Delahoy to round out the set or Beaumont and the chief)
Walking and Talking
Sports Night (Dan, Dana, Isaac)
Suits (Harvey but not Mike)
The Tin Princess - Philip Pullman
To the Ends of the Earth
The Good Wife
Touching Evil (US)
What's on your list?
And lastly - it was Martin Freeman's birthday yesterday, and it's almost autumn - my favorite season, not least because of my birthday. Two reasons to celebrate!