Our Mensa trip consumed a lot of the time I would normally have been reading or watching movies, so this will be a brief post.
Woody Allen’s SCOOP (2006) is curiously old-fashioned (and not in a good way) — the rom-com plot of Brooklyn journalism student Scarlett Johansson falling for British nobleman Hugh Jackman despite suspicions he’s the Tarot Card Killer could have been done just as easily in the 1940s. With stage magician Woody Allen as Johansson’s sidekick, this also feels like Manhattan Murder Mystery with Johansson in Diane Keating’s role. This never quite overcomes the cliches, and Woody’s looking awfully tired to be doing the same old shticks; Ian McShane plays the ghost who alerts Johansson to the possible scoop while Anthony Head plays a cop. “I have a very high respect for teeth and gums—particularly gums.”
The final season of the BBC’s MERLIN has Arthur as king enduring a full-on challenge from his sister Morgana, who has the secret advantage of having mesmerized Guinevere into betraying her husband. It was fun, though I was bemused that the ending was the Fall of Arthur, when I’d always assumed it would be launching the legend (i.e., Merlin finally reveals his power and takes his seat as Arthur’s adviser). As things stand, this gives Arthur a really brief reign (two seasons) but I’ve certainly seen worse series-ending episodes. “So you’re not an idiot, Merlin—that was another lie!”
THE GREEN DIAMOND by Arthur Morrison is a McGuffin hunt in which an English trader realizes the shipment of Tokay an associate paid him to transport from India to England hides the eponymous priceless gem in one of the bottles, raising the question of whether he can find it before the original thief. Individual episodes are readable, but no more than that, and the story peters out at the climax as if Morrison suddenly realized he’d hit his word count.
CHILDREN OF LLYR: The Second Branch of the Mabinogion by Evangeline Walton came out thirty years after her Island of the Mighty and I think it shows as this is a much better book. Partly that’s because the tragic story — Branwen of Britain falls for king Matholuch of Ireland only to wind up triggering a great war between both islands—is a really strong one, but there’s no question Walton does a great job infusing bad guys such as the craven Matholuch and the ever-vicious Evnissyen with enough humanity to make them believable. The emphasis on matrilineal succession clashing with patriarchal works better here too, as it’s combined with the general rivalry for inheritance that we can all recognize. An outstanding job. Cover by David Johnston, all rights to current holder (and you can find all the Ballantine Fantasy covers here if you’re curious).
BALTIMORE: Cult of the Red King by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Peter Bergting is a so-so installment in the series, splitting Baltimore’s team into two: the hero leads one group to St. Petersburg while the rest visit North Africa to uncover the origin of the monstrous Red King. Not really bad, but didn’t feel like anything I hadn’t seen before.