The Half Of It

Density Hourglasses

“Gravity is matter’s response to loneliness.”

The Half Of It, new on Netflix, is a delightful Rom-Com with a twist. Written and directed by Alice Wu, it stars Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) as a shy and lonely, straight-A high school senior, who is isolated in backwater Squahamish, WA. Living down by the railroad tracks, with her widowed signalman father, has earned her the derisive nickname Ellie Choo-Choo. Treated as a foreigner in the only place she has even known leads to her mercenary practice of penning their essays for cash, “Ten dollars for three pages.” “If you don’t get an A, then you don’t pay.” 

She is only a minor character, Ellie’s English teacher Mrs. Geselschap (Becky Ann Baker), but she steals every scene that she is in, as in this bit of dialogue, where she discloses to Ellie that she knows all about her paper writing business.

Mrs. Geselschap: Six different takes on Plato. Impressive.
Ellie Chu: Just the one.
Mrs. Geselschap: That’s what I tell the bartender.
Ellie Chu: How come you never turn me in?
Mrs. Geselschap: And have to read the actual essays they’d write?

She sees a spark in Ellie and tries to convince her to attend Grinnell College in the fall, where she too had graduated. Ellie will have none of it, explaining her intentions to remain in Squahamish, attend a local second rate institution and care for her father. This leads to an exchange between the two about the merits of Grinnell, Hell-quahamish and what constitues success in life that cuminates with Geselschap telling Ellie, “Everyone fears God in this town. But do you know who God fears? The Teachers’ Union.”

Enter Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer), a school jock who asks for Ellie’s help in writing a love letter to fellow classmate Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire). What evolves is a real Cyrano de Bergerac love triangle. Initially, she rejects his request, “Get a thesaurus. Use spell-check. Good luck, Romeo.” Eventually though they team up to win Aster’s heart. What begins with written letters, soon moves on to texting, allowing Ellie to in real time save Paul and Aster’s first and very nearly last date, “In love, one always starts by deceiving oneself, it ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.”

No love triangle can remain stable for long and this one eventually has its Jerry Springer moment that lays a hilarious Easter egg of sorts, but not before its two initial bonds are joined by others. Aster and Ellie share a conversation and a jump cut sequence where they collaborate on a graffiti wall mural. Aster tells Ellie that, “The difference between a good painting and a great painting is typically five strokes. And those strokes are usually the boldest strokes in the painting.” To which Ellie eventually responds with, “Love is being willing to ruin your good painting for the chance at a great one.” High school is a time in life that is full of great opportunity and to paraphrase Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks, great opportunity gives birth to great moments. This film is full of great moments and I hope you soon have the opportunity to enjoy it too. 

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew

Mysteries, secrets and clues were part and parcel of the young adult book series, Nancy Drew. First published in 1930, it was produced as the female counterpart to the already established Hardy Boys. The pictured first ~thirty volumes of this series are most likely reprints that were produced in the sixties. A total of 175 Nancy Drew books were written. Later volumes, printed in the eighties featured pairings of Nancy Drew with the Hardy Boys. I’m surprised that it took them so long to find the opposite sex, as great as detectives that they all were. We found this particular collection gracing the shelves of the eclectic Stewarts Point store.

I’ve never read any Nancy Drew, but I did read a few of the Hardy Boys books. Anne read Nancy Drew. Speaking from ignorance then, I imagine that the two mystery series were similar in many ways. They shared the same publisher, were produced by a series of authors (Carolyn Keene is a pseudonym) and were created contemporaneously, with the Hardy Boys beginning only three years before Nancy Drew started. Both series have evolved over time, with earlier volumes being rewritten and new books continually added. The books have also branched out into movies and TV. The latest incarnation of the Nancy Drew franchise is scheduled to stream next month on the CW. Here is a link to its trailer. The girl has come a long way since 1930. 

The Longest Road

Dan in NYC is working for a video production company that is making a series of infomercials for the History Channel. This series is about historic US-20 and is called Stories from the Longest Road. The first episode that he worked on was Kehl’s Maple Syrup, which is located in upstate New York, somewhere between Buffalo and Rochester.  This series will include vignettes from coast-to-coast, along the road’s length. I’ve included the YouTube version of this video above. An ad may play before Dan’s ad plays, which is powered by RAM Trucks.

Travel Time

Pink Pine Buds

Pink Pine Buds

2016 was a year that many people wish came with an undo list and as we begin the New Year, those same people wish that they could somehow retreat to a happier time and place. Perhaps these feelings formant desires to fix past mistakes. As if only we could go back and change one little thing, then maybe things would be different now, maybe even better. But what if that happier time and place was here and now? Such a situation forms the premise for the Netflix science fiction TV series, Travelers (Trailer).

The past is history,
the future a mystery,
but today is a gift.
That is why it is called the present.

Time travel is such a well-worn troupe that by now it is hard to mine anything more of value from it. It is then a testament to this Canadian born show that it does so well with it. Hundreds of years in the future, after a sequence of catastrophes, humanity finds itself on the doorstep of extinction, when time travel is discovered. Teams of numbered travelers from the future project their consciousness back in time and into the bodies of host victims moments before the time of their recorded deaths. These travelers assume the identities of their hosts and then working as a team take on missions to change the future.

Creator Brad Wright’s Travelers revolves around one particular team of five that is led by a FBI agent (Eric McCormack) and comprise an intellectually disabled woman (MacKenzie Porter), an abused single mom (Nesta Cooper), a high school senior (Jared Abrahamson) and a heroin addict (Reilly Dolman), an eclectic group of people to be sure. Short on special effects for a Sci-Fi drama, this show makes the most out of the everyday difficulties that these foreigners find, while trying to fit into their newfound lives and our then modern times.

While they come from a dystopian future, where even a high school cafeteria’s cream corn tastes like a rare delicacy, the overall tone of the show is rather upbeat. The mantra that is voiced over in the trailer speaks to these character’s rather healthy sense of altruism. The team abides by a set of protocols that are reminiscent to Star Trek’s prime directive and the show is laced with humor. As in the casting-against-type of a school bus load of Reverend Jim Jones like octogenarians, whose bodies are repurposed as fire support for our team, at least while they’re not having to run off to the bathroom to pee again.

Travelers is not great TV, but it is enjoyable TV. It doesn’t make great demands upon its audience. What serious issues that are dealt with in this show are handled rather lightly. The action is not too rough and the tension is never too great. Think of it as comfort television that is pleasant to watch and escape with for a while to a happier place and time. What’s past is past and the future is unknown. So, on these cold winter nights enjoy this little present for now.

The Expanse

JPL's Ceres Travel Poster

JPL’s Ceres Travel Poster

The Syfy TV network has renewed the series, “The Expanse” for a second season. This show is a space opera, set 200 years in the future, in the 23rd-century. Mars has been colonized and is its own political entity, separate from Earth and none too friendly with it anymore. The asteroid belt is the next frontier and also a no man’s land. The belters are a discontented lot, living in tin cans will do that. Their current gripe is an unexplained scarcity of water. The dwarf planet Ceres is the capital of the belt, where a downtrodden gumshoe is looking for a girl, read by inference Deckard of “Blade Runner” fame. What he is really looking for though is the show’s McGuffin, who happens to be a missing girl. The series is a bit derivative, but still ably performed and I love the genre and enjoyed watching the three episodes that were available on YouTube. There are flecks of originality in the show, like Mormon missionaries on Ceres and a Martian interrogator who uses drugs to enhance his ability, not to read minds, but faces. And there are themes greater than just the genre, like terrorism, climate change and the current wrestling between the US and China. I had watched the show several weeks ago, but when I came across the latest batch of space tourism posters from NASA’s JPL, I knew that I had to write about it. The line on the poster, “last chance for water…” is just serendipity.