My screenwriting competition results season was short lived this year. I took a huge chance by entering my three dramas in the Nicholl alone, and didn’t get the results I hoped for. All three received one positive read.

Fin.

It’s hard to take, of course. Especially after they’ve all done well in other competitions. Even the one that has been a Moondance Finalist twice and Semi-Finalist once, plus top 25% of the Page Awards (and made the top 10% of the Nicholl itself before I really even knew what I was doing) only garnered the one positive read in this year’s Nicholl. I’m thrown, but not so hard that I won’t bounce back once I get over the disappointment.

I console myself with the knowledge that I tightened and polished the two that got nowhere in their first Nicholl attempts so that they both got a positive read in such a prestigious competition. I also know that subjectivity rules all things creative, when it comes to opinions and reactions. That doesn’t really make things any less difficult right now, but it does seriously mean that another year could bring entirely different results. I also figure my three still rose above other entries that number in the thousands. In no way is that failure, though the egotistic ego brain niche has trouble holding onto that thought for very long at a time.

I don’t know yet what my next move will be, but it might be a good idea to spread things around more. Then again….

And so it goes.

Usually when I write about something I’ve watched because of someone connected, I put that in the post’s title. This time the TV series ended up having so much merit of its own that I’m as much about the whole series as who is in it.

As I’ve covered before, the stunningly talented Vanessa Redgrave is my favorite actress and I watch as much of her work as I can. Sometimes when I’m super busy, her projects escape my notice. That almost happened with Black Box. Fortunately, I saw a promo while watching ABC and set my DVR to record it.

To he honest I was a bit put off by the promo. It didn’t make clear what the show was about, and made it seem like a wild, sexed up story about some vague doctor. Or something. With a weird, unfathomable title. (This is the promo I wish I’d seen) Other than knowing I was going to keep watching it simply because Vanessa Redgrave is in it, I didn’t see much to encourage me, since it didn’t veer far from the promo hype early on. Except for one thing. It explained in the first episode that neuroscientists call the human brain the Black Box, because so little is still known about it. There it was at last. The hook that kept me from fast forwarding through everything except Vanessa Redgrave’s all too brief parts.

Viewers are overall a great deal more intelligent than many people in charge of feeding us our constant stream of entertainment seem aware of. Over the course of the 13 episodes of Black Box, I became a devoted fan. I had let episodes back up on my DVR, because I dreaded watching it after that promo and just one episode. When I finally started in earnest, I watched episode after episode to the tune of nine in a row.

What a deep, rich, intelligent, and fascinating series it turned out to be. As I came to understand what the bipolar main character was dealing with, I became sympathetic. Her life was fraught with problems most of us don’t even realize exist in the world around us. How lucky we are!

In addition to the more personal stories of the characters, viewers were treated to watching the amazing duet of neuroscience and neurosurgery. I’ve always liked medical dramas, but even greats like Chicago Hope and House didn’t fascinate me to the same extent as Black Box. Though I’ve long held a strong layman’s interest in all things medical, the cases Black Box paraded across my screen were unlike anything I’d ever heard of. I love no entertainment more than something that teaches me on a regular basis, in a way that’s enjoyable and memorable, as well as entertaining in the traditional sense.  Black Box has managed all of that.

And more, since watching Vanessa Redgrave is always such a pleasure in its own right. I’m doubly glad she was in Black Box, because otherwise I wouldn’t have given a chance to such a gem of a TV series.

This entry from Thoreau’s diary resonates. I think it resonates with any creative person who struggles to value his own work of any type, within the constraints of what success is popularly considered to be. To be able to look at his huge library of unsold copies of a single self-published volume of one of his works and see mainly the fruit of his labors is an admirable accomplishment in itself. That he seems entirely sincere is another. He was proud to have written. Pleased. Satisfied. And eager to write more, for the pleasure of having written. A man to admire and try to emulate in our age of shifting publishing models, deep frustrations, and even deeper, if transient, joys. Though technology changes constantly, it seems the writing life remains largely the same. The lesson I take to heart from Thoreau is to live to write, wring every bit of joy possible from that, and be very grateful for the wonderfulness whenever it comes along as part of it.

Occasionally the question comes up about any books I would like to see adapted for the screen. My immediate response needs no contemplation at all. Caleb Carr’s The Alienist is one of my favorite novels ever. The characters, Doctor Laszlo Kreizler in particular, leapt off the page to occupy a place in my mind that they simply will not leave. Not that I want them to. The cases, yes. I’m quite happy to have any of those deathly details slip away to never be recalled again. The Alienist and the other Kreizler novel, The Angel of Darkness, delve deeply into the psychology of Victorian serial killers…darkly, gruesomely, and almost too realistically. A writer of Carr’s caliber is capable of drumming real fear and loathing into a reader. His talent is what makes the characters thrum with life and the readers shiver with dread. If only he were as prolific as Anne Perry. Since he isn’t, I’m just glad to have read the two and hope for a third someday.

I was recently trawling Goodwill shelves and stumbled across a cool looking cover. Then I noticed the author’s name and grabbed it. It was The Italian Secretary, a new Sherlock Holmes novel by Caleb Carr. Of course I bought it, thinking it would have to be cool to read Carr’s take on another Victorian detective, the most famous of them all no less, and see how he handled Holmes’ Victorian London and Scotland compared to Doctor Kreizler’s New York. And it was.

The Italian Secretary centers on mysterious deaths at Holyroodhouse, the scene of the violent murder of David Rizzio, a close associate of Mary, Queen of Scots. Holmes and Watson are brought in on the case by Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, and much adventure, deduction, and danger ensue. Historical information about Holyroodhouse, Queens Mary (of Scots, not the current Majesty’s grandmother) and Victoria is woven into the fictional tale deftly and fascinatingly.

There is a heavy element of the supernatural here, with much pondering of the nature of such things. I am not at all fond of that topic normally, but I like Carr’s writing so much that I forged ahead anyway. It was spooky at times, without being crawl under the couch scary. As much a study in why and why not as how. The only real complaint I have is that Carr referred to Holmes’ brother as Mycroft Holmes too often for my taste, after having long established his name and their relationship and often also referring to him as simply Mycroft. I can see that it can be tricky, with two heavily used characters being brothers and one often referred to as simply Holmes, in pop culture as well as this book. So it’s a minor thing that might not even bother other readers.

I really enjoyed The Italian Secretary. Probably mostly because I like Carr so much, since I’ve never read much Conan Doyle. I did enjoy the PBS series, starring Jeremy Brett, and I’ve just started watching Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch…love that. Regardless of whether a person is an avid reader of Conan Doyle, the path Sherlock Holmes cuts through the eras since he was first created is wide and unavoidable. Even if that were not the case, Carr does an excellent job of bringing these characters to life for himself and anyone interested in a fascinating look at history, detective work, Victoriana, and storytelling.

The Afterword was a little thrill for fans of The Alienist. Its author, Jon Lellenberg, does a very cool piece of speculation. What if Sherlock Holmes and Laszlo Kreizler met? Would they be able to work together? How would Watson fit in? Or Kreizler’s reporter counterpart John Schuyler Moore? I haven’t a clue, but I would love to find out. Hopefully, someday the possibilities will tempt Caleb Carr to take us on a unique and thrilling literary ride, with Holmes and Kreizler working a case together. The result might not be elementary, but that would be half the fun of watching the potential unravel.

I first watched The Way We Were so long ago that I don’t even remember when that was. Many, many movies watched may at times become the cinematic version of the Big Gulp. Slurped down, enjoyed thoroughly, and on to the nachos. No disrespect is meant. It’s hard to disrespect something you love as much as a true movie lover loves them. It’s just that sheer volume causes fuzzy details and things misremembered.

So it was with my The Way We Were experiences. I know I watched it. I’m sure I loved it. I’m just not quite sure why.

I thought I remembered soaring, slightly tragic romance, sprinkled with humor, and a beautifully, brutally wistful ending where Barbra and Redford pass each other on a city street, she gazes longingly at his gorgeous retreating figure, and…cue…Meeemories…..

What the heck movie did I see?

Maybe in some screenwriting corner of my mind…misty, watercolor screenplays…. Um, yeah. I think my brain must have presented me with a sort of memory of the movie as I would imagine it. Either that or I’m mixing it up with something else. Whatever happened, The Way We Were was not the movie I thought I remembered.

I watched it again recently, in a state of…what the–? It’s a good movie. Streisand is brilliant and everything she touches shines with that brilliance. Redford is a legend, and rightly so. The story is very well done, displaying that couple’s joys and heartbreak with a painful real life feel. They’re both flawed. They can be equally difficult in different ways. His vulnerabilities as a writer ring true, as do her passionate beliefs. That they can’t be together forever is a throbbing thorn that aches throughout. As I said, good movie.

So why was I disappointed the second time around? Because I missed the movie I thought The Way We Were was. That made the second viewing one of the strangest, most bittersweet movie experiences I’ve ever had. It was like trying to recapture a lovely dream in the bright light of the waking world. But dreams are elusive, of course. And so are misremembered movies that haunt the corners of my mind.

The Way We Were–1973 Trailer

This storyabout an elephant held captive and treated horribly for 50 years is heartbreaking. It’s also one of the most uplifting stories I’ve ever read by the time it’s over. Not only was he rescued, he also gets to explore a life of freedom in a safe place where he may still enjoy his freedom for at least another decade. Why am I so incredibly moved by this story, when there are so many others that are similar?

Because this elephant wept when he was rescued.

Read it for yourself and let it make your day a little brighter. It’s so worth learning the horrors this elephant has been through, because you also get to follow him back into the light. We speak of the endurance and exquisite nature of the human spirit. We know elephants love and mourn…and now that they cry the tears born of deep emotion. If this example is any indication, the incredible elephant spirit carries a remarkable endurance and exquisite nature of its own.

Gru is adorable. Just to get that out of the way. He might have sent a Minion or few after anyone who said that at the start of the first one, but by the time those girls got through melting him down to a puddle of not at all gruesome goo, he would have copped to it. Maybe with flamethrower in hand, but still….

Animated movies get more sophisticated all the time, in storytelling as well as technology. Dispicable Me is a stunning example of this. I was first attracted to the Minions (No! Not that way!) from the previews, but when I saw the movie I thought the whole thing was charming. Guru’s character growth. The cuteness of his slightly dorky girls, and the way the reason he got them morphed into an extremely nontraditional family, complete with a snappy dialoguey loving granny, Doctor Nefario and apparently unlimited Minions. The technology was way cool, in an off beat kind of way. A really sweet and fun movie.

Only partway through seeing Despicable Me 2 on Blu Ray, I decided I liked it even better. Gru, the loving father seguing into awkward romantic hero. The girls, with their old fashioned names and modern day problems and adventures.  Doctor Nefario going through his own shifting character arc. And many, many minions taking on more identifying personality traits…and sometimes being turned purple. Purple is always a big plus with me. What’s not to love?

While this one is a little too heavy on the bathroom humor to gain a sophistication cred in the general sense, it is sophisticated in another way. While a wonderful regular animated movie, it also plays as an action movie in many of the same ways a live action one does. Awesome gadgets, escalating danger, plucky heroine, high stakes, and…cupcakes. Okay, so more typical action movies don’t have cupcakes, but I wouldn’t put it past Bruce Willis to deploy a cupcake grenade, if one was handy. Especially in a RED movie. Despicable Me 2 really did have a strong action movie feel. And that made me love it all the more.

Only one problem. I had finally stopped saying “Okey dokey.”, complete with that distinctive Gru accent. Now I’m doing it again. Ah, well. I’m sure I’ll shed it just in time for Despicable Me 3.

Oh. And I want Guru’s car!

And Lucy’s.

Despicable Me 2 — Official Trailer #2

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