Thursday, December 31, 2020

Nick and Nora Go Out on a High Note in Song of the Thin Man

You know this movie might be different when Asta wasn't called out in the opening credits. Turns out, it was a return to form.

The film opens on the S.S. Fortune at a charity gala where a big band orchestra with a singer in entertaining the crowd. A couple of former hoods gives some running commentary, especially about the dames, and we get our introduction to Nick and Nora Charles in 1947. Nick gets the first line: "Boys, boys, in polite society, we don't say, Yoo-hoo. We say Yoo-whom."

And we're back!

I think it's safe to say that if you were to be shown stills of William Powell and Myrna Loy in these six Thin Man films, you'd be able to identify the film just by the hairstyle. Nick now wears his hair combed to the side with way less hair product. Nora's style is much more simple, similar to how she wore it in the fifth Thin Man movie, The Thin Man Goes Home (1945). But it's understandable. Not only are we in post-war America, but Powell is 56 and Loy 42. They are middle aged now and the times have changed.

It doesn't take long before we see some shady dealings. Band leader Tommy Drake is irritated with David Thayer, the charity sponsor, for low wages. Drake's got a new gig: he's going on tour where he can make more dough. The only problem is he owes gangster Al Amboy $12,000. When Amboy hears about Drake's plans, he demands the money right then.

Phil Brant, the owner of the gambling boat, is in love with Janet Thayer. They're ready to elope the next day considering her father, the sponsor of the event, doesn't like him. That's all well and good until they became the prime suspects in a murder investigation. Tommy Drake sneaks into Brant's office to break open the safe and abscond with the money. He is shot dead.  

The next morning, we get our first glimpse of the domestic life of Nick and Nora and Nick Jr., played by Dean Stockwell. As a Generation X guy, I know him best from the TV show Quantum Leap and his roles in movies like The Player and Air Force One. Their New York apartment is just as swanky as you'd expect, but what's quite fun is seeing Nick and Nora now as parents.

What is also quite obvious is the witty dialogue is back after a one-movie hiatus. James O'Hanlon and Harry Crane are both credited with additional dialogue so I suspect director Edward Buzzell brought them in to spice up the old repartee. It shows and it's very welcome.

Nick starts sleuthing (without Nora!) and sneaks onto the gambling ship. He finds a piece of sheet music with a receipt from Amboy for the full amount. Our detective also meets clarinetist Clinker Krause who unknowingly has the sheet music in his clarinet case. Back to the dialogue, Clinker talks jive about the then-current jazz styles in such a way that befuddles the Depression-era Nick and Nora (who has now joined Nick). It's a funny ongoing bit, especially considering Nick and Nora probably frequented jazz joints in the 1920s.

Unfortunately, Clinker burns the sheet music so Nick has to solve the case without a crucial piece of evidence.

When Nick realizes a clue and decides to visit Janet Thayer at 4:00 am, a sleepy Nora says that, "We're in this together" and finally(!) Nick doesn't ditch her. Too bad it took until the last movie for this to happen. In fact, she even takes initiative and circles back to a rest home where our insane clarinetist, Buddy, is holed up. He confesses to killing Drake and even tries to shoot Nora.

One of the aspects of these Thin Man movies is that Nick and Nora rarely are threatened or in danger. However, with this last entry, there’s a sequence where young Nick Jr. is missing while the parents are away. All joking ceases as Nick and Nora worry until he is found and Nick learns the real reason.

If wouldn’t be a Thin Man movie without the final reveal, and this time, it’s back on the S.S. Fortune. It’s great seeing Nick and Nora comment on each of the suspects as they arrive and are seated. Again, Nora shines by noting something her husband missed: the necklace worn by the moll of Amboy matches the earrings of the lady with booking agent Mitchell Talbin. Nick then reckons the necklace was worth $12,000, the exact amount owed.

Teamwork. Man, if we had more of this earlier in the franchise. Frankly, it’s what I expected from the get-go. It’s how I remember the TV show Hart to Hart being and it’s certainly how Castle was in its run. Probably Remington Steele and Moonlighting, too, except those latter three all started with the romantic leads at odds with each other.

The final confrontation is rather violent for this series, another outcome from World War II.

“Now, Nick Charles is going to retire,” Nick says. “From detective work?” Nora retorts. “No, to bed.”

Final Thoughts

I can’t help but suspect everyone involved knew going in this was likely going to be the final Thin Man film. Being the only one that didn’t make a profit probably sealed the deal. 

Song of the Thin Man is the final Thin Man film and final film for which the pair starred together with equal billing. Loy evidently makes an uncredited appearance in Powell’s 1947 film The Senator was Indiscreet, making it their actual final film. I’ve been wanting to see this entire franchise for quite a long time and I’m glad to have finally done so. I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them, but if I’m being honest, the fifth film, The Thin Man Goes Home, was the weakest one for me. It seemed to have forgotten what made these films special, something the sixth film rectified.

Seeing each of these movies first thing every morning has been a treat, and I’m not shy to say I’d have enjoyed more if there had been more. The way Dean Stockwell portrayed Nick Jr. makes me wonder why no-one has every done a story with Nick Jr. as the detective. The stories almost write themselves.

And I’m curious why there hasn’t been another Thin Man movie made since. Johnny Depp was going to have a modern remake, but that project was cancelled. David Niven and Maggie Smith play Dick and Dora Charleston in the 1976 movie Murder by Death and that’ll be next on my list. I’ve mentioned Castle, Remington Steele, Moonlighting, and Hart to Hart as shows that have taken inspiration from Nick and Nora. Castle is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, but I’m going to go and find some Hart to Hart episodes somewhere. The recipe of a husband-and-wife detective team is too delicious to pass up. I do wish the Nora we saw in Song of the Thin Man had arrived sooner.

I enjoyed these films so much that I’m going to seek out and find the other films Powell and Loy starred in together. But only after watching the documentaries that were packaged with the DVD box set. I’ll review them next year.

Nick and Nora Charles. William Powell and Myrna Loy. Boy, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore, do they?


Nick: Who are they?
Nora: Just the people who invited us.

Nick: If this rampage of respectability persists, we're going to have to get you a bulletproof girdle.

Nora [commenting on Nick's swell attire]: You look just a page out of Esquire.
Nick Jr.: Not the page I saw.

Nick's neighbor [after hearing a gunshot]: Was anybody hurt?
Nick [commenting on the shattered bottle of scotch]: Yes, an old friend of mine went to pieces.

Nick Jr.[at 4 am] : How about a story.
Nick: Not tonight.
Nick Jr.: But your stories always put me to sleep.

Nick: Sometimes I amaze even myself. [And the Star Wars fan in me just then wondered if George Lucas was a fan of the Thin Man films and picked up this line for Han Solo.]

Nick [in the lead-up to the finale]: If this party gets rough, duck under the table.
Nora: I’m ready to do that now, although not the way I like.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The War Changes Nick and Nora in The Thin Man Goes Home

I guess the desire to uncover the backstory of fictional heroes isn't new.

Two things instantly jump out in the first three minutes of The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), the fifth Thin Man movie. One is Myrna Loy's clothes. In the previous four films, Nora is always dressed to the nines, but those pictures were all pre-war. Now that America is neck deep in World War II (this film was released in January 1945, the first movie in the franchise not to be released in the holiday season since The Thin Man), it seems Nora's attire reflects the mood of the nation. The train station in the opening scene also shows a few sailors and I'd be hard pressed to say if I saw any soldiers in the earlier films. 

Oh, and William Powell literally pratfalls, twice. Is that a harbinger of things to come or is he drunk? Well, he's not drunk. The husband and wife are on the way to visit his parents and they don't like drinking. Nick's trying to get on the wagon--at least for this trip--another tip of the hat to wartime life: alcohol rationing. "A couple of weeks on this program and I'll be a new man," Nick says. "I rather liked the old one," Nora replies forlornly.

We meet Nick's mother and father, a doctor in Sycamore Springs. Nora and her mother-in-law talk about the difficulty between father and son and they pine for a chance to have Nick demonstrate just how good a detective he really is. 

In one sequence, Nick is dressed in his old clothes and, for the first time in five movies, Nick looks like a wrinkled slob. 

A half hour into the movie, we finally get some criminality. A guy and a gal are after a painting by a local artist, the latest of which Nora buys for Nick. That very night, a young man shows up at the Charles house. No sooner does Nick open the door than the man is shot dead. Peter Burton. On the surface, Nick's not involved, but he's got a nose for these things. He slips out of the house and beats the cops to Burton's hotel room. After switching the room numbers, he slips in, but not before we see a shadowed figure inside the room. By silhouette alone, it appears to be the town oddball, Mary. She promptly knocks Nick out. 

There's a short monologue Nora gives to Asta in which she mimics Nick. After five films, it's pretty fun to see.

As Nick starts to ask around, some of the locals start to threaten Dr. Charles's dreams of a hospital in town. Nora suspects an old friend of Nick's as the culprit and follows him around town. Irritatingly, Nick still has the habit of ditching Nora. The detective asked Brogan to lead Nora on a wild goose chase. In the previous two films, Nora seemed like she was becoming more of a sleuth. In this sequence, she reverted back to being a comic sub-plot. She was approached by a man named Drake to buy the painting for $500, something that helps Nick with the case.

Still, she accompanies him on a few trails and to a couple scenes of crimes, more so than in previous films. 

As is the pattern, Nick gathers all the characters into a room, this time Dr. Charles's laboratory. In yet another bit of meta commentary, Nora explains to her father-in-law how these things work, with the killer always cracking under pressure. For the first time, however, Nora admits she knows the bad guy so finally, she's in on Nick's sleuthing. Her running commentary to her father-in-law is kind of funny. I can't help but wonder if Loy asked for these changes. 

The reveal was actually pretty good, especially considering the suspects were either friends of Dr. Charles or Nick himself. And, yeah, old man Charles is proud of his son so all's well. 

Of the five Thin Man films to date, this one is the most staid. That's probably because of the setting but it also might be the era. This film was released just after America's fourth Christmas at war. There was likely a weariness in the audience and the filmmakers, but I'm going a bit farther than that. 

Generally speaking, the Golden Age of Detective Fiction was between the world wars. After the second, crime and mystery fiction changed from the gentlemanly puzzle stories to the hard-edged tales to which veterans could relate. While the war isn't over yet with the fifth Thin Man film, you get the sense that World War II has changed the franchise. What was once a set of characters and situations designed to take Depression-era viewers away from everyday concerns almost feels frivolous in the middle of a world war. Sure, viewers in 1944 on the home front needed things to take their minds off the horrendous cost of defeating fascism, but there's a little bit of just going through the motions with The Thin Man Goes Home. 

Nick and Nora certainly rattle off one-liners like in every other film, but the energy is not as high as the first four, especially the first two. Again, the on-screen chemistry between Powell and Loy is apparent (this is their 12th of 14 total films they made together) and even the trailer plays up this aspect. It is also the first Thin Man film not to be directed by W. S. Van Dyke, a director known as "One Take Woody" for his swift work ethic. 

The Thin Man Goes Home isn't a bad film by any stretch. The final reveal when we learn what's going on is quite good and germane to the war. But this one just feels different. Now, I'm very interested to see the last Thin Man film, Song of the Thin Man (1947) and see what the post-war world does to detective fiction's First Couple.


Nick: What happened?

Nora: It was the table you fixed. It fainted again.

Nick's Dad: Is it always like this?

Nora: Always.

Nick's Dad: You have my deepest sympathies.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Shadow of the Thin Man Softens Up Nick and Nora

Released the day after Thanksgiving 1941, Shadow of the Thin Man is the fourth film in the six-film series. The film opens on domestic bliss. Nick, young Nick Jr., and Asta are walking in the park. The fairy tale he tells his boy is the racing betting odds. After Nora starts shaking a cocktail, Nick hurries home, showing more drinking in the first ten minutes of this movie than in all of Another Thin Man. Cut to a dining room scene a little bit later in the movie and Nicky convinces his dad to drink a glass of milk versus the cocktail in his hand. "You wanted to be a father," Nora says before Nick downs the milk. In what must have been an unscripted scene, Myrna Loy all but cracks up as William Powell attempts to down the drink. We even get a bit of true laughter. 

A trip to track reintroduces us to Lt. Abrams, last seen in the second Thin Man film, After the Thin Man. It seems a jockey has been killed after throwing a race the previous day. Soon, Nick talks with Paul Clarke (future first James Bond actor Barry Nelson) and Major Sculley about a gambling syndicate in the area. The dead jockey was their first real witness and he was bumped off to keep from talking. 

Nick and Nora show up at a wrestling match and we get a little sub-plot with a reporter, Whitey, trying to extort the moll. Later on, we see Whitey meeting with Link Stephens, who appears to be the leader of the syndicate. Donna Reed plays Link's secretary who's also in league (and engaged) with Clarke who takes her keys back to Link's office. Sure enough, he finds the evidence but Whitey catches him red handed. A fight ensues, Clarke gets knocked over the head while Whitey gets shot dead. The law thinks Clarke's their man, but no so Nick.

Nick heads back to the racetrack showers and finds the gun. He and the lieutenant know that the same gun killed both the jocket and Whitey but they tell the reporters a different story. Meanwhile, Nora uses her whiles to get some info from Maguire and passes it off to Nick while he's on a merry-go-round. 

Various clues and scenes lead us to the inevitable final gathering of all the suspects, cops, Nick, Nora, and Asta. As usual, Nick has a bunch of pieces to the puzzle, but doesn't quite know how they add up. That is, until he makes this observation: "If you let somebody talk long enough, they'll spill they beans. And they have." At which point the camera cuts to each of the suspects. Until the culprit pulls Nick's gun and threatens to shoot our detective.

At which point Nora does something completely unexpected: she jumps in front of the culprit to protect Nick. Yes, really. I've been noticing Nora's gradual involvement in these cases increase, but this was rather unexpected. Nice to see.

What is also pretty fun to see is Nora's hats. She wears a few in this picture, most of which hang half off her head. She walks as if she's balancing her posture to make sure the hats don't topple. 

If the third Thin Man film showed a more mature Nick and Nora, this one tries to up the ante a little. There's a funny bit at a wrestling match where Nora, anxious in watching the bout, puts Nick in a head clamp. Powell and Loy seem to be having fun as always, but it's really a treat to watch Loy when Nora isn't speaking. 

The mystery is a twisty-turny one and you'd need a scorecard to follow all the clues. But when Nick outs the real killer, the final clue is pretty darn obvious. 

It is fascinating to see the transformation of these central characters over four films so far and from 1934 to late 1941. The edginess of the first two has smoothed out into the palatable yet still enjoyable latter two. I think the broad appeal of the Thin Man movies to a general audience (likely including kids) is responsible for the breezy nature of this film. The sex appeal between the two leads is also softened. Where in the first two, there was definite marital/sexual chemistry, by 1941, it, too, is smoothed over. Here's a short quote that'll give you an idea of what I mean.

Nick: I tell you what, you go home, cold cream that lovely face, slip into an exciting negligee...

Nora: Yes.

Nick: And I'll see you at breakfast.

Nick drinks more on screen but Nora doesn't, even though it's hinted at. Powell's hair is likely dyed at this point because it is very dark. It was also fun to see Nick Jr. old enough to recite lines back and forth with Powell and Loy. He fits right in with the Charles family. 

This is the last Thin Man film before the Pearl Harbor attack only a few weeks after Shadow of the Thin Man drops in theaters. I am very curious to see what the war experience does to this franchise.


Nora [to her maid]: He's [Nicky] becoming more like his father every day.

Stella: He sure is. Yesterday I saw him with a corkscrew.

Lt. Abrams: That jockey that threw the race yesterday was shot.

Nora: My, they are stict on this track.

Stevens: You're going to see some great wrestling tonight.

Nick: How do you know? Were you at the rehearsal.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Another Thin Man Sobers Up Nick and Gives Nora Something To Do

Unlike the second film, the mystery in Another Thin Man (1939) is set in motion within the first five minutes. As soon as Nick and Nora arrive in New York City, Colonel MacFay, the old gent who minds Nora's inheritance (and was partners with Nora's father), calls them and insists they come on out to his estate on Long Island. On the drive up with the new nanny they picked up in New York, Nick sees a body, but when the limo stops, the body's gone. 

When our heroes finally get to the estate, they find the old colonel in a fit. He thinks Phil Church--a former business partner who went to jail for ten years after a business deal went awry--is out to kill him. He's got a bunch of guards welding shotguns. His daughter, Lois, and her fiancee, Dudley, are there, along with the chauffeur, MacFay's secretary, Freddie, and his housekeeper, Isabella. We viewers are about to get the lowdown over dinner when Nora finally gets a little victory: she pickpockets the colonel's keys and slips them to Nick. "I haven't been married to you for nothing." After two movies with next to no sleuthing, it's great to see Nora involved in the action.

After Lois's dog is killed and the swimming pool house is burned, we learn from Dudley that the beef Phil has with the colonel is simple: their business deal meant Phil did a few illegal things that would reap Colonel MacFay all the profits without knowing too many of the details, but if things went south, Phil would be left holding the bag. 

Nick walks over to Phil Church's house--under surveillance by the cops--and stays long enough to get threatened by him and his gal, Smitty, and his Asian servant, Dum-Dum. When the trio gets to New York, we learn Smitty's married to a guy in jail but Phil's wanting to take things to the next step. 

Cut back to the MacFay mansion and little Nicky wakes his parents and Lois joins them. No sooner are they talking than the power goes out and a gunshot is heard in the dark. The colonel is dead. His room is all destroyed. The nanny escapes amid all the commotion. The Assistant DA and the local cops show up and actually start to suspect Nick. In a bit of meta-commentary, a pair of cops question Nora, talking about all the times Nick shows up, there's a pretty girl and a murder ensues. They specifically reference the earlier Thin Man movies. Dudley is shot dead and everyone suspects Phil Church is the villain.

Nick, Nora, and everyone else all escape back to The Big Apple where the housekeeper lets slip that she's Lois's mother! Pretty darn convenient now that Lois is set to inherit $5 million. Clues lead Nick--who has ditched Nora yet again--to the West Indies Club where viewers in 1939 are treated to a music-and-dance number befitting the Cuban rage at the time. Turns out, Nora is already there. She's to hold $14.75 in her handkerchief and the guy who knows where Dum-Dum is will meet her. Again, Nora finally has something to do and it's nice. 

We also get the return of police lieutenant Guild from The Thin Man

In a funny little scene, a bunch of former criminals all show up, babies in their arms, for a "boithday" party for little Nicky. One of the goons is none other than Shemp Howard in a pre-Three Stooges role.

Not to give away the ending, suffice it to say we have a scene with all the characters in the same room and Nick walking them and the audience through all the clues. This solution was quite special given the steps involved with the initial killing of Colonel MacFay. It makes sense considering original author Dashiell Hammett wrote the story. 

The Core of the Series

But the heart of these movies is the relationship between Nick and Nora. While this movie doesn't have as many scenes with them filled with the witty banter, there's a genuine warmth between William Powell and Myrna Loy. I can't remember if, in the first Thin Man movie, they mentioned how long Nick and Nora had been married, but now that they are parents, there's a mellowing out. But the love between is still fresh and full. Nick and Nora each have scenes where only via their facials expressions, you can tell they love each other. It's really nice to see that. Heck you can see that in the movie poster.

Of course, those kinds of scenes are not without humor. When Nick meets up with Nora, she asks him how he knew she was there. "I saw a great group of men standing around a table," he begins as Loy smiles. "I knew there was only one woman in the world who could attract men like that - a woman with a lot of money." And Loy's smile drops.

Nick drinks way less in this one and Nora doesn't sip anything at all. That's probably a result of movie standards maturing in the five years since the first film and the studios not wanting to highlight all the drinking. There's less physical comedy here, too. The end result makes this a fun picture, heavy on the mystery and sleuthing.

I'm liking this series quite a bit despite my modern sensibilities being jarred. It's fascinating to see a husband-and-wife sleuthing team, especially in this era. You can see how everything from Hart to Hart to Castle took inspiration from Nick and Nora.


Nora: It wasn't his fault, [Mr. Charles] smells like a dog. 

Nick [upon seeing Nora at the West Indies Club]: How long have you been leading a double life?

Nora: Just since I've been married.

Nora: I got rid of all those reporters.

Nick: What did you tell them?

Nora: I told them we were out of scotch.

Nick: What a gruesome thought!

Sunday, December 27, 2020

After the Thin Man is Another Fun Romp with a Better Mystery

It took the movie studios two years to make the sequel to The Thin Man, but I only had to wait a day.

Released on Christmas Day 1936, After the Thin Man picks up right where the first film ended: with Nick and Nora Charles on the train home to San Francisco. I always get a kick out of reporters, newsboys, and random folks on the street who say hey to Nick like he's a celebrity. Can you imagine any of the other fictional detectives being like that?

The filmmakers knew what make The Thin Man special--the relationship between Nick and Nora with Asta thrown in--so they made the sequel film nearly two hours, quite a bit longer than the first film's run time of 91 minutes. It gave William Powell and Myrna Loy ample extra scenes that don't really forward the plot, but serve as little cocktails of joy with their onscreen chemistry. They just kind of flit through the story (and life?) taking everything as it comes. Like when they arrive at their house on New Year's Eve and discover a giant "surprise" party with the house full of people. I love how they're so calm with what they find. They just start dancing and make their way into the kitchen where Nora takes a call from her cousin, Selma, and the real plot starts.

It seems Selma's husband, Robert, has gone missing. The "old battle ax" Aunt Katherine asks Nick to look into it so that the family name is kept out of the papers. Jimmy Stewart plays David, Selma's former suitor, and he arrives and then is sent away. He tells Nick that Robert called him with a proposition: pay Robert $25,000 and he'd (Robert) would leave Selma to David. 

In one of the funnier casting choices, Aunt Katherine's butler is a barely walking old geezer named Henry. When Nick deposits his overcoat in Henry's arms, the butler nearly falls over. Throw in a "walk this way" moment where Nick mimics Henry's odd gait, and you've got more physical gags in the first twenty minutes of this film than all of the first. 

Nick and Nora head out to the LiChi Club where much of the main plot is revealed. Robert's there and he's got eyes for the star performer, Polly. She's in cahoots with the club owner, Dancer, and their goal is to steal the $25,000. Meanwhile, Polly's brother, Phil, knows about the scheme and wants in on it. 

David pays off Robert but Phil sees it. David jets home to pick up some clothes. Selma's there and, after he leaves, grabs a gun and chases after him. Polly's also there, in the fog. Dancer's driving to the house. A shot rings out and Robert falls dead. Selma arrives, gun in hand, staring down at her dead husband. David arrives, tells her to go home and act like she knows nothing. He later see David toss the gun into a river. 

What I find fascinating is that the murder occurs fifty minutes into the movie. In a modern movie, the killing would happen in Act I or maybe even the prologue and we'd get the relationship stuff via the investigation. In a film like this, we get all the backstory first, enabling us to get to know the characters before the shooting. I probably wouldn't want every story done this way, but it's a nice change of pace.

Another thing I noticed is during the scene in Dancer's office. Nick's there, some cops, Polly, Dancer, and Dancer's lawyer. Nick is "just talking" but he's planting seeds and asking questions of the bad guys. It's almost like he's a pseudo Greek chorus, observing the events versus participating in them. Additionally, when Dancer cuts the lights and a fight ensues, Nick doesn't even bother joining in. He just gets under the desk while everyone else scurries around. In this way, he's almost like Bret Maverick from the TV show.

After a rock with a note tied to it is hurled through the Charles's window in the wee small hours of the morning, there's yet another sequence with Asta as the main star. Considering he is actually part of the billed cast, I'm guessing his agent worked out the details.

With my modern sensibilities, I'll admit it's rather irritating when Nick locks Nora in a closet so that she can't come with him to visit Phil in a seedy hotel. I know it's of the era, but it's still pretty lousy. 

But Nick's visit to the hotel reveals a secret, and it leads him to realize he has most of the pieces in place. But he needs to fill in those last blanks. To do that, he gets the police detective to round up all the characters and, in a repeat from the first film (probably all of them), he gives a monologue where he uncovers the culprit. While this scene isn't quite as entertaining as the dinner party version in The Thin Man, it's great to see Nick finally spots the one clue that reveals the killer. 

As a writer, I appreciate the murder/mystery aspect of After the Thin Man better than the first. It's definitely one in which all the clues are present to the audience, allowing them to piece it together before or at the same time as Nick. But I so love the dialogue between Nick and Nora. I liked the longer movie and love seeing these two actors do their thing.

So, I have seen the first two Thin Man movies before. Starting tomorrow with Another Thin Man, I'm heading into uncharted territory.


Nora: Oh you wouldn't know them. They're respectable.

Nick [to the police detective after Nick and Nora slept through the day]: Want some breakfast?

Cop: No, I just had dinner.

Nick: Come on, let's get something to eat. I'm thirsty.

Nora: Aunt Katherine wants to speak to you.

Nick: What have I done now?

Nora: Do you know why Robert wasn't here tonight?

Nick: Sure, because he's smart

Nora: I'm not fooling, darling, he's disappeared.

Nick: That's swell. Now if we could just get Aunt Katherine to disappear...

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Thin Man is a Darn Fine Film (and a Christmas Movie, Too)

If Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then so is 1934's The Thin Man.

As a Christmas gift, the family gave me the complete Thin Man movies on DVD. I've seen the first two more than once, but now, this week, I'll be watching one a day until New Year's Day. Why now? Well, the first movie takes place around Christmas, thus my opening statement. The second takes place around New Year's Day. See what I mean?

Anyway, most of us know about The Thin Man, the 1934 movie based on Dashiell Hammett's last novel of the same name. The novel was published in January 1934 and the film was released on 25 May of the same year. Got to appreciate the efficiency of everything back in the Depression. The film's stars are William Powell and Myrna Loy who play Nick and Nora Charles. The pair are in New York for a visit before they return to California and their real life. Nick, a former detective, now runs the railroad company his father-in-law used to operate. He's retired from the detective business, but circumstances drag him back into a case.

Old man Clyde Wynant has disappeared. His daughter Dorothy asks Nick for his help, but the former detective keeps demurring. He doesn't want any part of the business and prefers to let the cops handle the dirty work. Nora wants to see her husband as he was in his earlier life. The cops partially suspect Nick had something to do with everything but then want his help, too. The rest of the Wynant family--ex-wife Mimi who only wants his money; son Gilbert, a rather bookish type with dark, round plastic glasses who thinks he can solve the case via things he learned in books; Julia, Clyde's secretary and the reason there is an ex-wife but who also helps control the finances--each try to get a piece of Nick. 

But he's having none of it. All he wants to do is drink, be with his wife, walk his dog, Asta, and drink some more. If you know anything about the Nick and Nora film series, is the abundant amount of alcohol consumed and the witty banter between husband and wife. Nick is first introduced at a high-class gin joint, shaking the martini shaker to the time of the music. Already drunk, he then consumes the martini before hearing a commotion outside. Asta is dragging Nora into the bar. Her arms full of presents, we first see her via a pratfall. An interesting way to introduce the heroine, but right in line with the vibe of the film.

Let's be honest: we watch The Thin Man for the relationship and chemistry between Nick and Nora. Their continually throwing one-liners at each other, more than a few of which are double entendres. I haven't heard it, but I bet the radio play was just just as fun, and might have even expanded some of their scenes. Powell is a verbal gymnast with his dialogue and delivery. Fun, too, is his facial expressions, not the least of which is his perfectly trimmed mustache. It's almost like a character on its own. Loy, while appearing in some lovely attire, plays Nora as one who actually wants to get into the mix of things. Her voice often takes on a sarcastic quality, almost like a wink and a nod to the audience. 

It's fun to see how Nora practically begs Nick to take the case, but then worries about him when things get hot. I know it's a 1934 film, but it would have been fun to see Nora do a little sleuthing. Maybe she does in the later films. 

Asta, too, is a great addition. Often, director W. S. Van Dyke will do that thing where you speed up the film to show animals doing something funny, like when some shooting starts, Asta rushes under a chair or behind something. It's easy to see why Asta became the important third wheel on the Nick and Nora train.

As much fun as it is to watch Nick and Nora, there is still a mystery involved. Like any good traditional mystery during the Golden Age of detective stories between the world wars, the clues are all there. It's a decent enough mystery, one that zeroed in on the only realistic bad guy. 

I especially appreciated how Nick got all the cast of characters together at a dining table and gives The Talk. It's one of the hallmarks of stories like this, and Powell is perfect at it. I enjoyed how he'd get to a certain point, say a character's name, have that character protest their innocence, only to have Nick ask about the meal. 

Everything wraps up nice and neat, with Nick and Nora on a train barreling west to California, their detective sojourn in New York complete. A thread that runs throughout the film is the obvious love and affection Nick and Nora have for each other. Even when Nora accidentally catches Nick hugging Dorothy Wynant, she knows her husband. Sure, they sleep in different twin beds in the hotel room, but in the final scene, Nick puts Asta on the top bunk before settling in the bottom bunk with Nora. And Asta lays down and covers his eyes.

The Thin Man is a blast of a film. I'm already looking forward to tomorrow to watching the second film, After the Thin Man, which picks up almost exactly where this one ends. 

Christmas Movie?

To me, there is a difference between a movie about Christmas and a movie that takes place at Christmas. Home Alone, The Santa Clause, the various Grinch movies, etc. all are about Christmas. They couldn't take place at any other time of the year. 

Movies that take place at Christmas are usually about something else but use the trapping of Christmas for humorous effect or a plot device. Die Hard, for me, falls into this second category. So does Batman Returns. Crucially, however, these movies could be set during other times of the year or different holidays. Imagine Die Hard at Thanksgiving. Batman Returns during the Fourth of July. Or The Thin Man around St. Patrick's Day.

Still, many folks consider Die Hard a Christmas movie. If it is, then so is The Thin Man.

Funny Quotes:

Nora: [hungover after catching up to Nick's six martinis] What hit me?

Nick: The last martini.

Nora [when a cop is searching the dresser where her clothes are]: Say, what's that man doing in my drawers?

Reporter [at a Christmas party hosted by Nick and Nora with lots of drinking]: Say listen, is he working on a case?

Nora: Yes, he is.

Reporter: What case?

Nora: A case of scotch. Pitch in and help him.

Nora: They say you were shot in the tabloids.

Nick: They never got near my tabloids.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

An Advent Calendar of Stories

As of today, we have only twenty days until Christmas. Shopping will definitely look different this year. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been ordering many if not most gifts online. Some of the mad rush as we count down the days until the 25th will shift.

In our entryway, we have an Advent calendar. Ours is a homemade one where each day, we get to place an ornament on the tree. There are a myriad of other Advent calendars: Legos, chocolate, wine, you name it.

One of the most unique focuses on stories. Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have, for the second year in a row, created an Advent calendar type project. Truth is, it started on Thanksgiving day and extends to New Year’s Day, but all that means is extra stories. Rusch and Smith curated lots of stories, sifting out the best ones.

After you sign up via Kickstarter at the level of your choice, you’ll get an email every day. In the email, Rusch writes an introduction and then gives you a BookFunnel link. From there, you can download the story onto the device of your choice. I use my Kobo reader and it works seamlessly.

So, if you are in the mood to get a story a day this Christmas season, head on over to the webpage and sign up. It’ll make each day of this month fly by.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Before We Die: Season 2 Review

One of the standard guiding principles for second seasons of TV shows is the same but bigger. That principle is alive and well in season two of Sweden’s Before We Die.

After finishing season one last week, the wife and I decided to forge ahead with the second season without taking a break. At only eight episodes (to the first season’s ten), it wasn’t difficult to watch the entire season by Thanksgiving night.

Season two picks up six months after season one ends. Hanna (Marie Richardson) has taken down the Mimica crime family a few notches—they went from running a fancy restaurant to a pizzeria—but she still doesn’t know the identity of the police officer who works directly for the Mimicas. To ferret out the leak, Hanna’s boss assigns her to the Organized Crime division. There, she and her partner, Bjorn (Magnus Krepper) stumble upon a group of corrupt cops dubbed The Circle. These folks are pretty darn bad, killing and stealing at will, all with a diffuse organization not easy to discover and even harder to bring down.

All of this would be difficult enough, but throw in the return of Christian, Hanna’s son, from his exile at the end of season one, and you get another complication. That is, until Bjorn and Hanna decide to let Christian try and infiltrate the Circle. He didn’t come back with Blanka, the daughter of the Mimicas, and he doesn’t want to talk about what happened down in Costa Rica.

Now, I’ll admit that as soon as the plot became another infiltration by Christian into a dangerous group, I was a little irritated. We had already seen this kind of thing in the first season. And some of the scenes between Christian and Hanna, Bjorn, and the police captain were just as irritating. “We should bring him in, get him out,” they’d say. “No, I’m really close,” Christian would counter. And then he’d go back. But the ingredients in this story were just different enough that I quickly moved past my difficulties and just went with the flow. It didn’t help that in the Twitter posts from last week (about season one) a user commented that the second season wasn’t as good as the first. True, but it was different enough to stand on its own.

You see, Christian infiltrates the Circle really, really well. Lena (Maria Sundbom) takes a shine to the young man and things get hot. Yet he has to keep this aspect of things secret from his mom and the other cops, so you end up having the young man (Adam Pålsson) alone playing all sides. Palsson does a good job here, especially considering the other things the character is fighting.

Second seasons always bring in new characters and one of the best is Laura (Shada-Helin Sulhav) as one of the Mimica’s foot soldiers. Laura is cold, calculating, imaginative, and resourceful in her quest to do what’s asked of her. My wife and I both hated the character…which just meant it was an excellent one. Laura’s primary goal is to befriend Blanka, who has returned to Stockholm and is looking for Christian.

If there is a plot point that was irritating—and I mean Kim Bauer in “24” getting caught by that mountain lion irritating—it’s Blanka befriending Laura. It’s smack-your-head stupid, but hey, whatever.

What really holds Before We Die together are the relationships and the push/pull each have against the larger story. It’s fun to see just how far each one is willing to go to achieve a goal. 

There's another couple of scenes in which the characters speak English. Having spent so long reading the sub-titles, it was a fun surprise to realize "Oh, I understand that." Which brings up an interesting question: why English? Is English always the default second language for most of the rest of the world?

Oh, and do yourself a favor: don’t look this season up on IMDB or whatever. Just leave yourself open to the show as it unfolds out over eight hours. We did that and the surprises—almost always in the last thirty seconds of each episode—will be that much better.

Season two of Before We Die doesn’t quite reach the level of the first season, but, taken together as one long 18-hour story, it’s still highly recommended. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Before We Die: Season 1 Review

If you need something else to be thankful for this month, let it be that services like Amazon make available foreign TV series as good as Before We Die (Innan Dor) from Sweden.

Released in 2017 and aired on PBS prior to landing on Amazon, Before We Die centers on Hanna (Marie Richardson), a police office with a jurisdiction in financial crimes. She's a straight arrow, so much that she sent her own son to jail for dealing drugs. I think you can imagine how much of a wall this act puts between mother and son.

Flash forward two years and Hanna has a lover, a fellow cop, Sven, he of Organized Crime. As the show opens, Sven is investigating a motorcycle club in Stockholm. This club is at odds with another group, a Croatian family who has a restaurant in the city. As you can imagine, the Mimica family is not all what they seem.

Neither is Sven. He's actually carrying on a secret investigation into the Mimica family, and he's got an infiltrator by the name of Inez. They communicate via old-fashioned cell phones. Things go bad for Hanna when Sven disappears.

The first few episodes deal with Hanna and her team searching for Sven. Later, she'll become more involved in his investigation, digging deeper into what he's uncovered and how it all fits together.

There is a lot to love about this show, but it all centers on Hanna. I'm not familiar with Marie Richardson but holy cow did she ground the show. As a middle-aged guy, I really enjoyed the lead character in my age bracket. It was a joy to watch her grapple with what she discovers, including the true identity of Inez. Okay, minor spoiler here, but you can probably kinda guess it (and it is revealed in the last seconds of episode 1). Inez is her son, Christian. He's working with Sven having garnered a job as a dishwasher for the Mimica family. Their tumultuous relationship plays out over the entire ten-episode run of season 1 in splendid fashion.

Christian is the only actor I recognized. He is played by Adam Pålsson. Americans will know him for the titular character in Netflix's Young Wallander. He does a fantastic job as the ex-con who is taken in by the family and given more and more responsibilities in their criminal activities. Christian makes some interesting choices, and Pålsson sells the blow back very well.

One of the fellow cops Hanna brings in is Bjorn, played by Magnus Krepper. He's a tough, rough, no-BS kind of cop. The one who'll bend the rules if it leans toward justice, or at least as he sees justice. Krepper shows Bjorn as intense yet the veteran cop is about to be a new dad.

Any good crime drama is nothing without a compelling villain, and Alexej Manvelov, as Davor Mimica, is wonderfully restrained yet terrifyingly deadly. He, too, has a secret that he keeps from his family, including his sister, Blanka (Sandra Redlaff). She's engaged to non-family member Stefan but she also has eyes for Christian, so there's some jealousy going on.

I'll admit that some of the themes and ideas and plot points you've seen before. I know I have. There were a few story beats I guessed, but there's one, late in the series, I didn't. It's one of those revelations that, like The Sixth Sense, will make you want to re-watch the show from the beginning.

But those story beats do not diminish this excellent show. My wife (who selected it) and I thoroughly enjoyed the series and are eagerly anticipating diving into season 2 this weekend.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Book Review: The Way We All Became The Brady Bunch by Kimberly Potts

Perhaps the most surprising turn of events sparked by the Covid pandemic and the subsequent order to work from home was my rediscovery of The Brady Bunch.

I'm an avid watcher of MeTV, especially the westerns on Saturday and the science fiction shows later that night. More often than not, the cable box remains on that channel into Sunday morning. Earlier this year after I watched my church's broadcast on YouTube, I reverted back to broadcast TV and caught the opening of what the channel calls The Brady Brunch: a two-hour block on Sunday mornings of episodes of the Brady Bunch. Back in the spring, MeTV was running the series in order and it was the episode when the family flew out to Cincinnati and had an adventure at the King's Island theme park.

I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this episode and I watched that group of four. Then I did it again the next Sunday. And the next. After reaching the end of the run, MeTV started doing themes: all Marcia, all Bobby, etc.

My interest in the show piqued, it was serendipity when podcaster Ken Mills interviewed Kimberly Potts on his POP podcast. Turned out Potts was there to talk about her new book: The Way We All Became the Brady Bunch: How the Canceled Sitcom Became the Beloved Pop Culture Icon We Are Still Talking About Today. (Yes, it's a long title.)

Perfect! I got the book on my Kindle and, in between two digital covers, had nearly all my Brady Bunch questions answered.

Of all places to start, Potts began the book with The X-Files. The penultimate episode recreated the famous interior of the Brady house. That a science fiction show in 2002 would choose to craft a story around a cancelled family sitcom is one proof of how endearing the Brady Bunch remains.

The book is chronological, starting with the seed of an idea in the mind of creator Sherwood Schwartz and going all the way up to 2019 when the Brady kids--now, middle aged--participated in the HGTV renovation of the actual Brady house and literally everything in between. A few facts that fascinated me.

Schwartz conceived of the idea in 1966, but the network wasn't ready for a show with a mixed family. It wasn't until the 1968 film Yours, Mine and Ours starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda premiered that ABC gave the show a shot.

I didn't really know how bad Robert Reed was on set about the scripts and how Schwartz was running the show. While the actor never feuded in front of the child actors, he was a pain, so much so that he boycotted the fifth season finale...which turned out to be the series finale. That the episode dealt with Greg's high school graduation is a pretty crappy hill on which to die. Still, Reed returned for every single reunion show for the rest of his life. Yet, through it all, he loved his six TV kids, even taking them on a vacation and giving them all small home movie cameras, the footage of which became a TV special.

Speaking of specials, Potts discusses all the various spin-offs and specials along the way, including a forgotten-by-me thing called The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. Yes, it really happened, and there's proof on YouTube. I kept a list and I plan on seeking out as many as I can. Did you know Reed and Florence Henderson guest-starred on the Love Boat in character? I have got to find that one.

I enjoyed Potts's description of the sheer volume of tributes throughout the years, from sitcom to dramatic show, that paid tribute to The Brady Bunch. Much like Star Trek, The Brady Bunch never truly went away. It just morphing and changing with the times.

And it’s the simple love for this show, the loving parents, the six kids, and Alice (!) that had propelled this show into the 21st Century. Kimberly Potts’s book is essential reading if you want to learn all there is to know about this sitcom.

Why has it endured? It all comes down to Sherwood Schwartz’s vision for the show, a lesson we all can learn:

The Brady Bunch was going to be another example of what he believed was one of the most important ideas in life: that any group of people, no matter how different, no matter how little they might seem to have in common, could learn to live together. He wanted the show to be groundbreaking and modern, to reflect this new and significant sociological change with he prevalence of blended families, and it did. He couldn’t have planned for the decades-long impact his slice of Americana would have on television and every other avenue of pop culture, but it did indeed achieve that, too.

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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Do You Save Excised Text?

When it comes to deleting text from you work in progress, do you up and delete it or do you save it?

I’m revising the existing chapters of my current work in progress before I hit that mark where I’ll be crafting brand-new words. As of yesterday’s writing session, I realized that a chapter/scene I had written really isn’t necessary. Actually, I’ve already excised two scenes because I think they’ll slow the pace. I can get the same information across with a tweak to an earlier chapter.

So what to do with the now deleted text?

I am using Scrivener for this particular book. If you’ve never used this program, it’s a little like Windows Explorer (or Finder for Mac folks) with each scene/chapter its own unique folder. There is also a ‘research’ folder at the bottom of the file structure. Typically this is used to house whatever research a writer needs to craft the book.

I have a folder I call “Excised text” and I’m pretty sure you can guess what that is. It is the folder into which I place all the content I will not be using.

Sure, I could—and do—simply delete it from the main sections of the book, but I also want to keep a record of it. In my comp book, I note that I’ve removed certain scenes. On my notecards, I’ll note that I’ve remove the scene from the main flow—but I keep the card in its original spot. I guess that’s the historian part of me. I want the record to show that on such and such a day, I removed a scene. It’ll also act as a road map if, when I’m finished, I go back and reconsider if the excised text/chapter really does belong. I’ve got all that text at the ready.

It’s a pattern I’ve always adhered to, going back as far as my grad school days.

How about you? Do you merely delete text/scenes you don’t need, or do you save it…just in case? I’m a process guy and I’d love to know how other writers treat text they don’t want to use.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

NaNoWriMo 2020 - Remember Two Things

Well, here we are again. It’s November and tomorrow kicks off National Novel Writing Month. It’s a fun exercise in which you write a 50,000-word novel in the 30 days of the month. That averages out to 1,667 words a day for thirty days.

You may think that it too daunting a challenge. I’m here to tell you it is not.

I know. I’ve done NaNoWriMo in November multiple times. I’ve also done it in a January, a February, a March, and various other times.

It is entirely doable, but take two key lessons I’ve learned in writing a novel in a month.

Stay Flexible

If there’s one thing you must keep in mind as you write your story this month is to stay flexible. Writing a novel is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Each day, however, can feel like a sprint, and I treat them that way. The sprint is the 1,667 words. But here’s a huge weight you can lift off your shoulders.

Don’t get too bogged down in the daily weeds. Maintain the overall goal: 50,000. Some days, you’ll blow past the 1,667 mark. Others you may fall short. You can make it up. Don’t lose sight of the end goal: a completed story. In the end, it won’t matter if you didn’t reach your daily goal for a third of the days and exceeded it on the rest. All that matters is a 50,000-word completed novel.

Have Fun

In every NaNoWriMo novel I’ve written, there is a wonderful urgency to get the words down. That’s good. But you are also the first reader of the book you are writing. Entertain yourself! Have fun.

My writing times are always in the early mornings before the day job starts. Now that I’m working from home because of the pandemic, I have some extra time (because I don’t have a commute). I rise at 5:00 am for these writing sessions. Yeah, that’s sleeping in because I used to wake at 4:30.

The family is asleep and I am by myself with my characters and story. I open the laptop and start the daily writing. And I am gone out of this world and into the world of my story.

And I’m grinning at times. My heart races at other times. Heck, I’ve even teared up writing certain scenes. The thing is, I’m wholly invested in the tale.

It is one of the best feelings out there.

So have fun, stay flexible, and enjoy NaNoWriMo 2020.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Freedom to Change: The Haunting of Bly Manor

Two years ago, Mike Flanagan delivered The Haunting of Hill House, a horror show with a great emotional center I never saw coming. Now, in 2020, we get a spiritual sequel in Bly Manor, and Flanagan has pulled off a wonderful feat: daring to be different.

Unlike Hill House, I kind of predicted Bly Manor would have a nice emotional core. In that, I wasn’t disappointed. It was exactly that and more. But where Hill House was a horror show—complete with mystery and jump scares—Bly Manor dares to be less a horror show but more like an eerie tale of menace.

Loosely based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw—a book I’ve never read—Bly Manor is narrated in the present day by Carla Gugino to a small group of people. She tells the story of Danielle Clayton, a young woman who, in 1987, takes a job as the live-in nanny/teacher for a pair of children—Miles and Flora—at Bly Manor, tucked away in the English countryside. Rounding out the small group is the housekeeper (Hannah), the chef (Owen), and the gardener (Jamie).

Oh, and the ghosts.

That’s not a spoiler. It’s what you’d expect from a story taking place in a giant manor house. But who the ghosts are and why they’re there, that’s the mystery.

I’ll admit I haven’t watched Hill House since it debut in 2018 so I cannot remember all the intricacies. But I do remember some of the jump scares and genuinely terrifying moments. I expected that here as well.

Flanagan, however, had a different idea. Instead of manufacturing simple scares just to make viewers jump, he crafted a well-told story over nine episodes (one less than Hill House). The story’s leaner and swifter, pulling you along nicely.

We get a good dose of flashbacks and present-day action doled out in just big enough scoops to make the mystery tantalizing. My wife had recently see a filmed version of The Turn of the Screw so she knew a few plot points going in, but I didn’t. All I did was let the story wash over me.

The actors were stellar. A few of them—Henry Thomas, Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and Kate Siegel—also starred in Hill House. It was good to see them again. But the newcomers were just as good. Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, who plays Miles, can turn from innocent child into something else on a dime. That was unnerving. Another standout T'Nia Miller who played Hannah the housekeeper. There was always something buried just underneath her skin, and Miller was outstanding at her portrayal, especially episode five. And the scenes where she and Rahul Kohli (who played Owen the chef) interacted were very good.

It was probably around episode three or four that I realized Flanagan was doing something different with this new show. It wasn’t as scary. True, there was a palpable sense of foreboding, but not scary. Initially, I wanted the scares, but then I was content to watch the show he made. The longer the show went on and I finally noted what Flanagan had done, the more impressed by it I was.

Sure, Bly Manor could easily have just been Hill House 2 with even more jump scares and more lurid stuff, but that’s not what he did. He told a different kind of story, and I’m really glad he did. It let us viewers know that for however long he creates stories like this, they won’t just be cookie-cutter shows. They will be distinct stories with a similar, but unique style.

And it makes me even more excited to see what he comes up with next.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Proactively Trimming a Book's Fat

I think it's common knowledge that a good rule of thumb for reviewing your own work is to read it aloud. I do it all the time. I find easy-to-miss grammar snafus, but I find this method especially good with dialogue. I'll always read the dialogue (with voices!) to hear how it sounds. If I find my mouth adding words or saying the prose differently, I change it on the page.

Side note: if you have a computer that has the capability of reading text to you, that's also a good way to go. Just be sure you have a computer that'll sound more or less normal.

The reason I bring it up this week is that I completed my index card outline for my next major novel on Thursday morning. It's around 100 scenes or so--some smaller than others. It was kind of an exciting thing to be writing that last index card right as my alarm to signal it was time for me stop working on my new book and get ready for my workday.

Later on Thursday, I cornered--er, asked nicely--the wife if she'd be game to listen to me go through each notecard and tell her the story. She agreed, but initially didn't know what I was asking of her. She much prefers to read the drafts after I've finished them. She's a voracious reader, knows what works and what doesn't, and I rely on her all the time to course correct a story.

All I needed her to do is take the tale on a test drive. Did it make sense? Did the scenes flow nicely. Was there a huge plot gap in the middle of my story? Did she even like it?

We sat at the kitchen table. Initially, I laid out the first forty scenes or so, but swiftly realized it was much better with just the stack right in front of us. I talked over each scene, one by one, taking her through the story.

There's a look she gets when she glazes over and I stopped when I saw that. What was the problem? It was the sub-plots. They seemed extraneous. I reminded her they were sub-plots, but I adjusted on the fly and just kept to the main POV character--since it is her story.

The entire process was incredibly enlightening. I got to tell the story to someone else, serving as a way to get it out of my own head. I took notes along the way, mostly with nips and tucks my wife suggested.

But I came away with the idea that some of the sub-plots likely bogged down the story.

Look, I've written books like this before and I've written books without an outline at all. Each method has its merits and I stand behind both of them. But for this book in particular, I needed to verify that the story structure was solid. It was. Side benefit: I might actually have fewer scenes to write since I'll be proactively cutting some fat.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Recursion by Blake Crouch: A Time Travel Book with Heart and Thrills


(Imagine my surprise yesterday when I finished this review and went to post it on DoSomeDamage...only to discover my fellow author, Beau Johnson, also reviewed it. No, you are not suffering from False Memory Syndrome. Perhaps that is yet another key indicator of how good this book is.)

How often do you read a book in which the last sentence is the perfect end to the story?

Well, I finished one this week, and the last line was awesome.

Recursion by Blake Crouch is a thriller with a huge scoop of science fiction, specifically time travel. It was the most recent selection for my SF book club although I wasn't the chooser. We generally keep our selections within the genre--I actually picked the Sherlock Holmes book The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz--but occasionally we get books like this one. But this is one that really leans into the thriller aspects and it kept me engrossed all the way through.

As the story opens, New York police detective Barry Sutton has lived eleven years without his teenaged daughter who was killed in a hit-and-run accident. He's meeting his now ex-wife to commemorate their daughters birth. There have been a lot of things called False Memory Syndrome, a condition where folks remember whole other lives. 

In the reality of the story, these are alternate timelines.

Soon, Barry meets Helena, a scientist with a mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Her goal is to invent a tool that can help map her mom's memories before they are all gone. What another character realizes is that this machine can be used to travel back in time to a specific, vivid memory. And, when a time traveler arrives at the point in time where the traveler actually left, all the other timeline's memories cascade on them...and everyone else.

And there's a race...against time. 

I really enjoyed it. Loved it, actually. As recent as this past weekend, I hadn't even started it. I started listening while doing chores...then started finding new chores to do so I could keep listening. The Houston Texans helped by sucking so I stopped watching and started listening to this book. The premise drew me in pretty quickly and just kept me going.

The alternating narrators really worked in the audio. Enjoyed both of them. 

Really liked the moments when a certain timeline caught up with a character. When I was explaining this to the wife, what came to mind (but not during the reading) was the end of the movie Frequency back in 2000. Also had lots of echoes to Replay by Ken Grimwood.

Go no further if you don't want the spoiler, so if you don't, I thoroughly enjoyed Recursion and would highly recommend it.

SPOILERS for the end

Lastly, it is very rare that a last line of a book is this awesome, but this one is. Again, this is where listening to an audio version really brought it home. I was standing in line at the DPS on Tuesday. Outside, morning sun, looking at all the other folks doing what I'm doing. Crouch is talking from Barry's POV and building it up to talk to Helena. This is after he's killed the bad to prevent the whole thing from even starting. And he has realized that life has pain and that, as humans, we just have to deal with it. 

And then the last line! "And he says...."  I barked out a "HA!" as the credits rolled, grinning big time. Loved it! Crouch let the reader finish the story, creating our own, unique timelines.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Butterfly Moments

How do you know when something you’ve written or planned out is good?

That’s my question for the weekend, folks. Thanks!

Okay, I’m kidding, but it’s an honest question, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For me, it has something to do with the butterflies in my stomach and the racing pulse.

This week, as I’ve been planning out my next book, I’m still doing the notecard method I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. My routine is up at 5:30 to write/prepare/think for an hour before I have to prep for the day job. In that time, with no music, TV, or anything other than my cup of coffee (in my awesome Halloween mug!), I visualize the story unfolding. 

With a schedule like this, I have already spent the last day idly mulling various aspects of the story. I’ll write them down in my comp book and then get started writing the notecards, one at a time. Oh, I’ll spread out a dozen or so to remind myself where I am in the story. 

There were a couple of days this week when, as I’m seeing the movie in my head, I can actually feel the butterflies in my stomach flying around. I start writing faster (and sloppier), trying to get down all the details. 

In other moments, I can literally feel my pulse pounding in my wrist and arms as I’m writing. I realized it’s not just the coffee, but the story that’s making me excited.

Will others find those scenes exciting? I hope so. It does depend on me writing compelling prose to suck in other readers, but I’m comforted knowing that if folks like the stuff I like and *I’m* digging these scenes, there’s a good chance others will, too.

Time will tell. 

But I love those butterfly moments.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Glitch TV Show - An Unexpected Delight

“Just watch the first episode and let me know what you think.”

That was the request my wife made about Glitch, a TV show out of Australia now streaming all three seasons on Netflix. What was it about? Dead people crawling out of their graves.


The show has a solid cast of characters, but the anchor is James (Patrick Brammall), a local policeman in the fictional town of Yoorana in southern Australia. He is called to a local cemetery in the middle of the night for a rather unusual reason: people have crawled out of their graves, in perfect health, but with no memories of their past lives. James enlists the aid of a town doctor (Genevieve O'Reilly) who conducts tests on The Risen. The stinger? One of them is James's wife, Kate (Emma Booth). We know her backstory a bit: she died of cancer and now James has married Kate's BFF, Sarah (Emily Barclay) who is now pregnant. 

The other formerly dead folks include Paddy Fitzgerald (Ned Dennehy), a man who died almost two centuries ago, Charlie (Sean Keenan), a World War I veteran with a statue modeled after himself, Kirstie (Hannah Monson), a young woman with a tragic past, Maria (Daniela Farinacci), an Italian wife who died in a car crash with her child, and Carlo, a man who early on sets the rules for The Risen: as he passes a certain point over a bridge, he disintegrates.

The Science? 

One of the best things about Glitch is it never loses focus on what really matters: the characters. What would it be like to have died of breast cancer and return healthy (and with breasts)? What would it be like to be the victim of a murder and come back, barely remembering who your assailant was? What would it be like to be a gay man in a world in which that was not only a crime but something to keep hidden. 

The creators of Glitch, Tony Ayres and Louise Fox, know that the foundation of a good show is characters we care about, and the wife and I instantly were drawn into the complicated life of James. Here is a married man with a pregnant wife about to give birth who not only has to figure out why and how dead people have come back to life but one of them is his dead wife whom he stil loves. Patrick Brammall excels in his role as James, often showing his emotion only by facial expressions. The anguish is clear on his expressions and his actions. Even when he makes choices we don't agree with, we felt for him. 

But my wife and I also felt for the other characters, some more than others. Another standout is Chris (John Leary), James's fellow policeman and the single character who remains unaltered by the science of the show. Leary shows Chris coming to terms with what his eyes show him (Kate alive? Other dead people alive?) and the sometime duplicitous actions by James. As the show went on, he became the one character I sincerely wanted to survive. Leary's performance, like Brammall's, are all in his actions, some you expect, and others you don't see coming. Chris has to live with the choices he makes. I shan't tell you, one way or another, what is his fate. You'll have to watch to find out.

By having multiple generations of people awakened, you get to see how, say, Paddy, deals with the 21st Century (he of the 19th). Ditto Charles, the veteran of the Great War. Kirstie and Kate have less of a learning curve, but their backstories still prove compelling.

Back to the science (or magic?) of how these people returned to life, the show does give an explanation, and it is enough of one to pass muster. But there's not a lot of focus paid on it. All attention is given to the characters, the ones who have come back and the ones who, somehow, are also "altered" and who seem to be out to kill the Risen.  

Who are they and why are they trying to kill The Risen? The show keeps their origins vague for the most part--better to propel the mystery of the show--but some characters change during the course of the 18-episode, 3-season show. 

The Ending

I've read a few articles about the show and fans were notified that season 3 was going to be it for the show. But, the showrunners promised, while the show was cancelled, a satisfying conclusion was to be delivered.

And they delivered. In spades. And tears. 

Not to give away the ending, but the wife and I were simultaneously satisfied and wiping away tears. It was an excellent ending, well earned, and wholly predictable when you look back on it. But even if you guessed how the show needed to end, it doesn't take away from the emotion of the moment. 

Any show that brings tears to my eyes is a good show. That Glitch, a show with a very unusual beginning, did so, makes it a wonderful 18 hours of television, and one of the best things we've seen on TV in 2020.

Highly recommended

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Humble Index Card

Like many a wordsmith, I've tried multiple ways to get a story out of my head and onto paper. I've outlined, planned, and written stories without and outline. I've even tried the index card method, but it has been a long time since I employed this method.

But I'm trying it again with my current book.

What is the Index Card Method?

The way I do it, one index card equals one scene. It's not necessarily a chapter a scene, but I know that some scenes will be long enough to be a chapter. I've read a few books in recent years that have something like 125 chapters and I know that every scene is a chapter. I'm not a huge fan of short-as-a-page chapters. I prefer to group them together into larger chapters. You?

Anyway, the beauty of index cards is the ability to see the story laid out on your table or on a corkboard. You can lay them out any way you, but I've done mine this way just about every time I use this method. The scene number is in the upper left. The upper right is the setting, while the middle top line is the POV character. In this case, Keene is my main character. 

In the body of the card, I list the action. I am using a blue ballpoint pen for the first time in forever. Not sure why, but I started that way and I'm running with it. Every time a character appears on stage for the first time, I use all caps and underline the names. You can see that listed here with a pair of HPD detectives. 

For this card in particular, in pencil, I wrote a question to myself. It's a guide for my thinking about the story and whether or not this scene is actually needed. If it's not, I can discard and not bother writing it.

With the "NEED" comment, that's also a note to myself. When I get around to writing this chapter in a few days, I'll need to work in that little comment. 

The "EXPAND" comment refers to the 1.0 version of this book that's already written. I'll likely not simply rewrite/retype this chapter when I get to it, but I'll revise what's already written in my 1.0 manuscript. This note, in red ink, serves as a reminder to expand on something that's already in the text. 

Every morning, after I've poured my coffee, I'll lay out the existing cards and move forward. I'm up to scene 27 so I don't necessarily have to lay out the first dozen scenes or so, but I lay out the last dozen. I'll follow my thought process and then start writing new scenes. I have a comp book in which I write additional notes, mainly about structure and overall thinking. Together, I have an ongoing mindmap-type thing that I can re-read along the way. Also, when this book is done, I can re-visit all my thought processes, especially if they veer away from the index cards.

Yeah, it can happen.

Do you use index cards? If so, how.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Cherishing a New Bruce Springsteen Song

 A couple things occurred to me on Thursday when I heard the new Bruce Springsteen song, "Letter to You," from his forthcoming album of the same name.

The most obvious one was that there was a brand-new Bruce Springsteen song! Just a day after the rumor started, the official press release drops as does the first single. It is always a great day when there's a new Springsteen tune, especially in 2020 (a damn good year for music). It struck me, however, that this one was slightly different. 

Not only was it a record with the E Street Band, but it was by an artist who had already reached the age of seventy. The Boss is seventy? Seriously? And then the video shows the entire band recording the songs for the album. It was like seeing old friends gathered again, smiling, laughing, working, creating, all in its black-and-white glory. 

The song's lyrics are mature and nuanced, deep with emotion. Hearing them, reading them as they played across the screen, I'll admit to a bit of emotion. Not nearly as much as last year's "Hello Sunshine" debut, but it was there. Why? Well, the meaning of the lyrics, of course, but also the echo of a question I hated to admit at the time: how many more days will we have that feature a new Springsteen song? 

He's seventy and the rest of the band ain't getting any younger. Unless Springsteen releases an album and unequivocably announces it is the last one, chances are we'll never know which day was the last to hear a brand-new Springsteen song. We'll be able to look back and note it, but not on that actual day.

I swept those thoughts away from the front of mind, but confess to thinking them and just relished the song.

Know what else made it special? The person I was with when I heard it.

I wake early every morning to work on my fiction writing, so I had already been alerted that the new song dropped. I had read the press release, seen the album cover, and read the tracklisting (which means little ahead of hearing the actual album). I was ready to hear the song. Last year, with "Hello Sunshine," I had listened to it about five times before my son got out of bed.

But on Thursday, I waited. My son, a college freshman, likes a few Springsteen albums and I know he'd want to hear the song before he drove to school. Well, *I* wanted him to hear it before school, so I made sure he did. Perhaps, on an unconscious level, the thoughts about The Boss not getting any younger played a role. I can't say, but I wanted to share the experience.

And it was all the more special.

It also made me think of all the other musicians, authors, and actors who I've grown up with. Some have already passed on but most of my favorites are still with us. Made me cherish them and their work all the more.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Recognizing Progress in Your Own Writing

Should I or shouldn't I re-read a completed manuscript before picking it back up again to work on it?

I debated with myself for longer than you'd expect, but let me give you a little backstory.

I wrote and completed the 1.0 draft a few years ago. I particularly enjoy the premise and the characters in this mystery/thriller. I remembered how the story started and the very end, but not a lot in the middle. I had vague memories but nothing crystal clear. Maybe it wasn't that good?

So a year or so ago, I attempted to write the story again *from scratch*. That is, do not read the old manuscript, but just rewrite the story. I changed some of the focus of the story, but ultimately shelved the 2.0 version in favor of books I've already published.

But I really like the tale. I decided it would be my Fall 2020 writing project. And that should I or shouldn't I question kept swirling in my head. On the one hand, were I to pick up the 2.0 version and just keep going, I might leave some cool stuff out that I didn't remember. Yeah, I know that if I don't remember something, it must not be memorable, but I don't subscribe to that idea. There are plenty of things about which I can remember my personal reaction but not quite the details. The end of Redshirts by John Scalzi is one.

I finally came down on the side of re-reading the 1.0 version. This was over 500 manuscript pages and, as of yesterday, I have about 100 pages left. Two things struck me.

One, there were indeed some cool scenes and moments in the book. I found myself actively reading and enjoying the story anew. I'm still time constrained in the mornings before work, and just about every day, I cursed the alarm that signaled it was time to get ready for the day job. I was into it and glad I decided to re-read the 1.0.

I read it with my yellow legal pad next to me, outlining the story as I read it. I noted POV, settings, character names, and general flow. All of this was in blue ink.

It was the red inked notes that told me just how far I've come as a writer.

These red notes are ones where I'd say "Need more description" in a scene where I'd introduce a character, but then give either a cursory physical description or none at all. I know, right? Other times I'd write "Need new option" when the 2020 me, reading the story, could see the next step a mile away. 

The biggest thing I noticed was how easy the characters had it. In more than one spot, I'd have a challenge and the next thing I knew, they had solved it. Really? I mean, if I'm irritated that they had it so easy, you know other readers will fire off a 2-star review.

I'll finish my re-read of the 1.0 version this weekend. I'll follow through with a re-read of the 2.0 version (about 75 pages) and do the same outlining. Then, with my improved storytelling skills, I'll craft the 3.0 version.

Have you re-read old material and realized you've improved your skills?

Monday, August 31, 2020

Bill and Ted Face the Music, Grow Old, and Teach Us a Most Excellent Lesson

It’s the little things in this movie that really stood out to me. Oh, and the big, goofy grin plastered on my face nearly the entire time.


I’ll admit something here I’ve mentioned elsewhere: I didn’t go to see Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure because I knew what it was and wanted to see it. I went because the trailer for the 1989 Batman movie was playing before it. So basically, I bought a ticket for a trailer and got a movie as a bonus.

And what a movie it was. History major that I was (and am), I loved Excellent Adventure and saw it multiple times in the theater. And no, not just because the Batman trailer was attached. I enjoyed the film for what it was: an overly enthusiastic, charming adventure movie about a couple of Gen X high schoolers to which I could relate, even if I lived in the suburbs of Houston and they San Dimas, California.

The snippets of dialogue became engrained in my head and the culture. I mean, how many of us in the past thirty-one years have not thought about something being strangely afoot when we pass a Circle K? How many of us can recite Bill and Ted’s basic mantra: Be Excellent To Each Other. And Party On, Dudes!

Bogus Journey was different, but still good. I like the first one more largely because I could see myself in that story, but Bogus Journey had some marvelous sequences, most of which feature William Sadler as Death.

But that was it. For the past twenty-nine years, Bill and Ted 3 lived its own bogus journey in development hell. I didn’t think it would ever get made. Part of me didn’t think we needed it. Seriously, did we want to see Bill and Ted…old? Was there even a story there?

Face the Music: The Set Up

Turns out, there was.

The writing duo of Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon—the same folks who wrote the first two movies—proved there was a story worth telling. And a story worth viewing by all of us, especially the members of Generation X.

When we finally meet Bill and Ted in the third movie, they are fiftyish. Long gone are the heady days immediately following Bogus Journey when they saved the world and toured as Wyld Stallyns, complete with Death as the, um, killer bass player. Now, the lovable duo are ensconced in the suburbs, living next door to each other, married to the literal princesses from Bogus Journey, each with a twenty-five-year-old daughter. Bill’s daughter (played by Samara Weaving, kin to Hugo Weaving from The Matrix fame) is Thea and Ted’s daughter (played to a T by Brigette Lundy-Paine) is Billie. You see what they did there? Bill’s daughter is…Ted and Ted’s daughter is…Bill. [Cue air guitar]

The one thing they’ve not done is write The Song that will unite the world. [As an aside, I kinda thought that was how Bogus Journey ended, but what they hey.] In fact, they’ve sputtered into middle age, complete with marital problems. The two wives just want their respective husbands to recognize how co-dependent Bill and Ted are for each other and to channel some of that energy into their respective marriages. The daughters are just like their dads, complete with an intricate knowledge of music.

Which is when the future intervenes. The Great Leader sends Kelly, daughter of George Carlin’s Rufus, back in time to give Bill and Ted their mission: write The Song in 77 minutes or all of space and time will be destroyed. Taking a cue from their earlier adventures, the pair decide to travel into their own futures to meet their older selves and get the song that way.

In the meantime, the future wives have traveled back in time to get their younger selves to leave Bill and Ted.

And also in the meantime, Billie and Thea meet Kelly and the daughters take her time machine back in time to form a most excellent band for their dads. [Cue air guitar]

Face the Music Actually Says a Lot

While I’ll admit it took a few minutes for me to get into seeing Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as old versions of their iconic characters, once the time traveling stuff started, it was all fun from there. Meeting their future selves didn’t necessarily pan out like they’d thought it would. Future Bill and Ted are bitter at losing their wives and their daughters and not having written the song. They blame Present Bill and Ted and actively try and thwart them. Thus, Bill and Ted become the villains…to Bill and Ted.

Hey, it worked for me. Why? Simple: what if your younger self could see how your life turned out?

Think about it. When you’re in high school, your head is full of dreams for your future. Whatever you want to be when you grow up, your dreams put you in the best possible version. You’re a doctor? Then you cure cancer. You’re a teacher? Then you educate the next president. You’re a baseball player? You hit the game winning home run to win the World Series. And if you’re a musician? Then you write the song that can unite the world.

I think few of us would even want to travel back in time and tell our younger selves how we turned out. You had the dream of being a musician? Well, now you have an office job in a cube (or at home, in 2020’s reality) and your guitar sits dusty in the corner of the room. You wanted to be a baseball player? Well, the injury you sustained in college killed that dream and you had to adjust.

Because adjusting is what we all do. We figure things out as we go along, rarely sticking to the dream path we envisioned. Some do, yes, and more power to them. But for many of us, how we envisioned the future may not necessarily be how we’re actually living in it.

Gen X Grows Old

Another obvious aspect of the film is the age of Bill and Ted. Reeves and Winter look great, but they still look middle aged, especially after having watched Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey to prep for Face the Music. You can’t hide age.

Name your reunion movie in which beloved TV characters from your favorite show come together. Gunsmoke. The Andy Griffith Show. The Brady Bunch. Perry Mason. The Rockford Files. The Wild Wild West. Gilligan’s Island. Whatever. The original TV shows are burned into our consciousness, especially us Gen Xers who, as latch key kids, grew up watching reruns. Ron Howard is forever Opie (or Richie Cunningham) in our minds, the small youth walking and whistling with Andy. Bob Denver will always be twenty-nine or so, the lovable goof from the island.

But seeing these same actors play the same characters years or decades older is odd. (The Brady kids kind of get a pass because they had multiple spinoffs and we got to see them age up almost in real time. And I’m not talking about reunion specials when the actors gather to discuss their shows.) There’s something you have to get used to. Exactly the same with Bill and Ted (and William Sadler as Death).

They got old.

But so did we.

Many of us may not have access to our high school yearbooks anymore (I still have mine) but we have access to the movies of our high school (or early college) years. Up until 2020, Reeves and Winter, were forever frozen in 1989 or 1991. Reeves not so much because we saw him age up in his movies, but as Bill and Ted, they are like fossils, preserved in amber.

But so is everything about growing up Gen X. Think about this: to the best of my knowledge, Bill and Ted are the only 80s icons we revisit in middle age. The Breakfast Club are still in high school. So are the kids from Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ridgemont High, St. Elmo’s Fire, the Goonies, and, of course, Ferris Bueller. They are forever young, forever looking to their futures and their dreams.

With Bill and Ted, however, we get to see them how we are now. Older, shaken from our younger dreams, and heading into the realm of being a senior citizen.

The Real Message of Face the Music: It’s Never Too Late

All of this talk about dashed dreams may seem like a downer—especially in 2020—but there’s an underlying ray of light in this movie: It’s Never Too Late.

One of the small things I really appreciated is the moment with Ted and his father. Played again by Hal Landon Jr., Captain Logan never got over his desire to set his son’s path in life straighter. In the first two films, military school was the answer. And in this one, he explodes to his son and Bill about their wasted lives. Because Gen X was basically labeled as the slacker generation, and we have dozens of films to reinforce the point.

But Captain Logan gets himself drug into the larger plot and he finally realizes that the thing Bill and Ted have talked about for thirty years was real. It all was. The father comes to realize his son really did make a difference to the world, and he apologizes for his misunderstanding. Here’s the father, nearing retirement age, figuring out it’s never too late to apologize.

Late in the film, Present Bill and Ted visit their elderly selves, the villains of most of the film. There, Middle-Aged Bill and Ted get to have a heart-to-heart with Elderly Bill and Ted and clear the air. Both versions of Bill and Ted realize it’s never too late to come to terms and appreciate all the choices they’ve made—and we’ve made—with our lives. We are the accumulation of every single decision we’ve made, the good ones, the bad ones, the cherished ones, and the anguished ones. I live with few regrets, but there are always the little things I wish I could go back and tweak. But all of that vanished the day my son was born. It was that day I realized each and every decision I made led up to that day, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Another small thing is with Bill and Ted’s marriages. For their entire adult lives, they’ve been blinded by their mutual affection for each other. Boy, to have a friend like that, huh? But during the movie and after meeting their future selves, they realize it’s never too late to reinvest in their marriages with their wives.

Then there’s the big little thing, the one the whole movie hinges on: Bill and Ted realize it’s never too late to pass the torch onto the next generation. Slight spoilers here, but ones you could pretty much see coming.

Their daughters go on their own most excellent adventure, drafting the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, and Mozart form the band to play The Song. But the fathers don’t have the song. They don’t even know it.

But they realize, even as the seconds are counting down to annihilation, that it’s never too late to help your children do great things, especially if that thing is to save space and time. The parents facilitate all that’s necessary to enable their daughters to do what they could not: unite the world through a song.


Yeah, this piece edged into heady territory, especially for a movie that’s often laugh out loud funny. But it has a lot of heart and emotion in this film. And I think it can speak to multiple generations. For my son, a college freshman, it’s a fun movie with lots of in jokes and over-the-top shots. I’m thinking Jesus walking on water next to George Washington as he crosses the Delaware River. Or how the two actresses playing the daughters nail their respective impressions of their fathers yet still make the characters unique.

But for us middle-aged Gen Xers, there’s an entirely different movie playing in front of our eyes. It’s a movie about our lives that we never expected, never saw coming, but is so important to many of us. We are getting older. Heck, we *are* old. We’ve become our parents and, with that perspective, we can reevaluate how our parents raised us. For me, I’ve long known my parents were most excellent role models and if I could follow their examples, I’d do well. But only after I became a parent did even more things come into view about my own childhood. Most of us have these realizations some time or other, and now Bill and Ted do, too.

It’s remarkable that a film about two genuinely lovable dudes who possess a genuine affection for each other and the world could deliver such a profound message to the world in 2020. I’m sure the screenwriters could never have dreamed the finished film would land the way it did: in few theaters and on demand (how we watched it) in the middle of a pandemic and an election year with racial strife and fellow Americans yelling at each other. If ever we needed Wyld Stallyns to sing their song, it’s 2020.

But we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with a genuinely funny and heartfelt movie, and also the realization that it’s never too late to look at our fellow humans on this planet and preach and act in the way Bill and Ted told us to do over thirty years ago: Be Excellent to Each Other.