Time can be a double-edged sword. Sure, it heals all wounds, but it also has the nasty habit of dulling the excitement of something that was once new and fresh. It happens to our bodies, and I'm sorry to report, it happens to TV shows. All this to say that while I still really, really like Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, I found myself unable to get as jazzed for the new season as I did for Season 1 and Season 2.

This isn't really the show's fault. It's not like they didn't try to mix things up. In addition to the usual fun of the murder-of-the-week, we got real arc advancement. Hugh is no longer content to follow Inspector Robinson around like a puppy. He and Dot go through more relationship struggles. And the sexual tension between Phyrne and Jack has reached a boiling point. Plus, they throw in a semi-recurring character in the form of Phryne's irrepressible, irresponsible father, who throws all sorts of spanners into the works of her daily life.

Mr. Fisher didn't really work for me, but the rest of the season was pretty great. Dr. Mac has more screentime, which is always welcome. And the cases run the gamut from murder in the competitive world of Italian restaurants to the tennis courts to a clinic for "hysterical" women. There wasn't an out-and-out bad episode in the bunch; I just didn't find myself wildly consuming them like I did in previous seasons.

By all means, check out Season 3 of the show. It's quite good! But still, I have to admit that bastard Father Time has taken a little bit of the shine off this apple.

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries - Season 3: B+

Child-Repellent Delicacies and the Neanderthal Cupcake Hankering

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 21

Ah, November. The month when we really put on our Eatin' Pants and go to town on some truly impressive meals. More than any other month, this is when discussions about food and drink traditions really come to the forefront. And to that end, hows about you take a jaunt over to the Four Courses site and give Episode 21 a listen?

Topics include Farmhaus, the majesty of paprika, a chat about the Thanksgiving customs we enjoy or disdain, and a royal side-eye given to the trend of gluten-free diets. We also welcome guest host Dana McDonough, who is equal parts lovely and intimidating. Enjoy!

Nuclear Family

What I'm Playing: Fallout 4

Back when I mentioned playing Skyrim (which I never did play through to the end), I talked about games that somehow manage to allow too much freedom. An open world sounds like such a boon to the gamer, right? But when the choices of where to go and what to do next are almost limitless, making a decision about what I've acquired enough skill to accomplish becomes maddeningly difficult. The Fallout series carries similar dangers, some of which I addressed in my post about Fallout: New Vegas.

You'll note it's been a couple of years since that post, though, and Fallout 4 has made a lot of updates to gameplay. Once again, the world is vast and scary, though this time around, you're playing in post-apocalyptic Boston, instead of post-apocalyptic Las Vegas. The map is a lot less irritating this time around; there's a lot less wandering in aimless directions trying to get to your destination. The controls are a little more intuitive. The leveling system is a little simpler (the new perk chart is a really fun way of figuring out how to build your stats). By just about every metric, the gaming experience has improved.

But like in Skyrim, I wish the game wouldn't offer quests to players that are too low level to tackle them. Why send me to clear out an auto factory full of enemies if those enemies can kill me in one hit? There's also a new crafting component to this game that is conceptually very cool, but again, needs a bit more of a go-here-do-this structure for dummies like me.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a challenging game from time to time, and Fallout 4 certainly qualifies. I like what I've seen so far, and will definitely keep playing. But goddamn if it doesn't reinforce the idea that I'd be totally useless in a post-nuclear society. I can barely handle the pixelated version.

Shorties #18

The holidays are almost here! Time has become more precious than ever! Let's bang out some Shorties!

#1: Mortdecai: I knew going in that this was one of the worst-reviewed movies of 2015. But I'm always trying to make new friends in the neighborhood, and a recent acquaintance had invited me over for chili and a movie. How could I argue when he picked this out? So, I was boxed into watching a movie I fully expected to suck. And guess what! It did! Mortdecai stars Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ewan McGregor. It's supposed to be a charming romp through the world of art theft, but it's painfully unfunny. Half the movie is Depp's character talking about his mustache in an inexplicably goofy accent. It was a pretty excruciating experience to sit through, but hey. At least the chili was good. (Grade: D+)

#2: Song of the Sea: I was mostly interested in this 2014 animated film because I really liked director Tomm Moore's first film, The Secret of Kells. The animation style of Song of the Sea is just as hauntingly beautiful, if not more so. I just got through saying I don't really watch movies for style over substance, but here we are at another exception. Song of the Sea is about an impetuous young boy who is generally annoyed by his younger sister, but when she starts manifesting strange behavior, the two of them go on a quest to save the spirit world by freeing some mystical fairies. The story is fine, but the visuals are the real reason to watch this movie. It is simply gorgeous. (Grade: B+)

#3: Fables Vol. 3: Storybook Love: I've been continuing with my cautious foray into comic books, but while the Archie series continues to impress, this latest volume of Fables fell flat. Whether we're following Jack as he spars with Death or some random reporter named Tommy Sharp, the stories just couldn't grab me this time around. Not even Bigby and Snow White hunting the fugitive Goldilocks could stop me from yawning through the whole issue. I'm not sure if I'll continue with the Fables series, or just wait until the next episode of the game comes out. (Grade: C)

#4: Hunter x Hunter - Seasons 1 & 2: Speaking of entertainment worlds that I have no experience with, I decided to try out a little anime. A friend recommended this show that's streaming on Netflix, and I agreed to give it a try. What a pleasant surprise! In Season 1 of Hunter x Hunter, we follow a group of new friends who are going through an intense test to become Hunters, the most respected profession in the world. Their motivations vary wildly, but they band together to beat their competitors and make it to the end of the test. Season 2 is post-test, and focuses in on two of the crew, Gon and Killua. They enter a series of arena fights to make money, and befriend a trainer who promises to teach them to harness more mystical powers than just raw strength. For an anime newbie like me, this was a perfect entry into the genre, and I'm looking forward to starting Season 3. (Grade: B)

#5: The Halloween Tree: I know we're past the Halloween season, but I couldn't resist this brief 1972 novel by Ray Bradbury. Eight friends get ready to go trick-or-treating, but realize that the coolest member of their gang, Pipkin, is missing. They catch a brief glimpse of him, but he seems deathly ill. Soon after, they meet the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, who whisks them off on a journey to teach them what Halloween is really all about, giving them hope that they can save Pipkin in the process. It was a lot like those shows purporting to teach kids the real meaning of Christmas, but given that it's Halloween instead, this was a lot more fun. Just reading it gave me the sensation of standing in a windy graveyard, with lengthening shadows all around me. Bradbury was a master of writing atmosphere, and this was a terrific sandbox for him to play in. (Grade: B+)

Lez Be Friends

There are very few directors that I follow for purely stylistic reasons. Wes Anderson is kind of the exception that proves the rule: Plot and characterization are generally more important than style choices. There are a couple of other names that come to mind when it comes to magnetic style, though, and at the top of that list is Todd Haynes. Far From Heaven was a gentle and gorgeous film, so when I heard there was another gentle and gorgeous film from Haynes that stars one of my favorite actresses, I was immediately on board.

Carol hasn't technically been released yet, but I was able to see it a bit early as part of SLIFF (St. Louis International Film Festival). Hooray for movie-addicted friends with free passes! Based on the novel The Price of Salt, Carol is the simple story of a glamorous, unhappily-married woman (Cate Blanchett) and Therese, an aimless shopgirl (Rooney Mara) who forge a timid friendship and wind up falling in love. It's the early '50s, though, so the early part of their relationship is 90% nuance, and their deeper feelings must be kept secret for as long as possible.

Obviously, there are obstacles. There's no way that 1950's society would accept an open romance between these two, but there are more personal problems as well. Carol doesn't love her husband, but unless she plays the good wife, she can't be with the daughter she adores. Therese half-heartedly keeps a boyfriend and a soul-sucking job, though she dreams of developing her artistic bent. These issues, along with their confusion of how to be together without getting exposed, makes for some heartbreaking scenes.

For viewers who insist on a fast-paced plot and exciting setpieces, this movie may not be for you. But for those who enjoy a deep and thoughtful tone piece, this film is right up your alley. There may not be a more magnetic actress working today than Cate Blanchett, and her name is already (deservedly) being bandied about for an Oscar nomination. Her performance is exquisite, but I hope some of the credit for that flows in Haynes' direction, because as is usually the case with his movies, Carol is an immense feast for the eye.

Carol: B+

How Sweet It Is

Allow me to severely, severely, severely paraphrase Tolstoy: There are countless ways to rip apart a television show that sucks, but there's only so much you can write about a show that's consistently good. Unless it inexplicably veers off a cliff, what more can I say about a program so flawless that it earned a rare A+ grade, and that warranted a podcast mini episode devoted entirely to talking about how enjoyable it is?

I speak, of course, of The Great British Baking Show, which just wrapped up its second American season. Everything I loved about the first season is still present. The challenges are still well-designed. The contestants are still fantastic. The judging is still fair. The hosts are still engaging. The food photography is still mouth-watering. I really don't have much to add to the effusive praise I babbled in the linked post above.

If anything doesn't stack up to the first season, it's that the dishes prepared weren't quite as impressive as they were the last time around. I can't hold that too much against the show, though. And if that's the biggest nitpick I can come up with, you know we're dealing with an extraordinarily terrific program. I'm not much of a gospel-spreader when it comes to television, but if you're not watching this show, you're missing out.

The Great British Baking Show - Season 2: A+

What a Shame

Shame is a powerful notion, be it the verb form or the noun form. As I type this, the head of a nearby university is resigning in disgrace over ineffectual leadership. The SXSW festival is hysterically reworking their panels after being shamed for canceling some. I'm not a fan of internet mob culture, but there's no denying it's a big part of modern society. Two books I've just finished - one fiction, and one non-fiction - delve into the murky recesses of shame, and neither of them really finds a concrete answer, but gave me plenty to think about.

The non-fiction was 2015's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. Ronson recounts the stories of several people who have lately found themselves on the wrong end of a group of internet warriors, carrying their proverbial torches and pitchforks. From Jonah Lehrer, who was raked across the coals for plagiarism, to Justine Sacco, who attempted to skewer racist white privilege in a tweet and found herself on the business end of a skewering of her own. These unfortunate souls and many others were destroyed by people attempting to shame them into non-existence, or at least out of their jobs. Ronson takes a curious, almost breezy tone in his book, which seems strange, given the severity of the subject matter. Think about how easily a joke gone awry could haunt you for the rest of your life online. It's like something out of a horror movie.

Some "crimes" are greater than others, and Ronson does do his best to discern between a dumb teenager taking a dumb selfie and outright fraud. Still, the book is mostly carried along on the facts of the cases, and not so much by Ronson's involvement; a simple list of the people and the circumstances that befell them would have had the same effect. Still, it was a helpful read in that it made me take a careful look at not only how I treat people online (I passed that test, having never jumped down anyone's throat) but at my own online content as well (deleting a few tweets and cleaning up some blog posts that could be taken the wrong way).

The other book brimming with shame was Sarai Walker's 2015 novel, Dietland. If I were going to boil this book's premise down into a single phrase, it would be: Feminist Revenge Fantasy. I'm sure a lot of readers are instantly turned off by that, but I was interested to see what a character who was tired of being shamed for her weight would do in retaliation. Dietland is two stories in one: The main story centers around Plum, an overweight woman who has scheduled a drastic surgery so that she can achieve the figure she's always dreamed of. No more shame. No more rude comments from people on the street. No more glares of disgust or contempt. She's led to a house of women who want to dissuade her from her plan, telling her that she's fine just the way she is - it's the world that has the problem, not her.

The second story is of a secret organization terrorizing the misogynists of the world, committing kidnap, murder, and other acts of violence. Plum and her friends have tangential connections to the mysterious Jennifer group, but aren't actively involved...yet. Plum feels nervous, but at the same time elated when she hears of people getting their just deserts for mistreating women. It's certainly understandable that women are reaching a snapping point as far as the shit that society shovels onto them, but in this book, innocents aren't spared either, being considered acceptable losses for the advancement of womankind. I...wasn't a fan of that.

Plum is an interesting protagonist, though her journey to self-acceptance is not terribly realistic. I must also mention that I almost didn't make it past page 17 of this book. Walter abuses so many similes at the outset, I couldn't stop rolling my eyes. The writing settles down after that, though, so I'm glad I pressed forward. Dietland won't change anyone's mind about the shame that women must endure about their bodies; it preaches to the choir. But if you're looking to see a rapist or two get what's coming to him, it's got just what you need.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed: B
Dietland: B-

Mini Movie Review: Spectre

Hey, there! Seen the new Bond flick yet? If not, are you going to? If so, maybe skip this post for now, because SPOILERS AHEAD!

-3:43 PM
We arrive at the Esquire, and I head straight for the concession stand. Not for snacks, but for my Twisting Napkins. I get fidgety during thrillers and need to keep my hands busy.

-3:47 PM
Approximately 1.2 billion previews. The topic of how NFL ignores the problem of concussions is an interesting one, but that trailer is just wretched. If I have to hear Will Smith say "TELL THE TROOOOTH!" in that accent one more time, I'm gonna give myself a concussion.

-3:55 PM
The opening scene takes place at the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. No doubt the movie plays up the intricacy of the costumes and such, but goddamn, it looks fun.

-3:59 PM
Bond, who is apparently concerned with the lives of innocent people, fires into a hotel window to explode a bomb meant for a stadium full of people. This has the result of completely crushing half a city block of Mexico City, so...let's hope nobody but the bad guys were in those two buildings, I guess?

-4:01 PM
Except for the four people on the street directly outside the ruined buildings, nobody seems to care very much about what just happened. On with the parade!

-4:11 PM
Instead of just holding a gun on an enemy helicopter pilot (you know, like they did in Goldeneye), Bond just murders him and sends the helicopter into a tailspin over the crowded festival. Who do we think has less regard for civilian lives: James Bond or Superman?

-4:15 PM
Opening credits. The visuals are amazing. Sam Smith's song is...not.

-4:39 PM
Bond sleeps with Monica Bellucci, who is not only beautiful, but shockingly age-appropriate for him.

-4:59 PM
We're introduce to Dave Bautista, who is to serve as the main henchman, though I don't think it's giving away too much to mention that he doesn't do much henching. I believe his sole kill of the movie is here, as he calmly murders another bad guy who doesn't even attempt to fight back.

-5:01 PM
Oh, and since this convention Bond just wandered into is EvilCon 2015, we also meet Christoph Waltz's main villain. They stretch this out, but let's just put it out there: He's Blofeld. As with all the Bond villains lately, he's smug and fey. I think it's time to bring back some of the hammier villains.

-5:12 PM
Bond confronts one of his old enemies that I haven't bothered to remember from a previous movie. The man has been poisoned, and after giving Bond some info about his daughter to go follow-up on, he commits suicide. This is all caught on tape.

-5:15 PM
We meet the daughter, who is then immediately kidnapped, though I'm not sure why the bad guys don't just kill her. It's not like she has anything they need.

-5:22 PM
"Hi, I'm Q. I'll just go ahead and do my top-secret spywork out here in public. With a stranger sitting two feet away. NOBODY WATCH ME, PLEASE."

-5:27 PM
The United States and China agree to share a single intelligence network. Sure, it's not like those two will ever want to spy on each other.

-5:33 PM
Dave Bautista eats it in an anti-climactic moment after an anti-climactic chase. Thanks for dropping by, I guess.

-5:36 PM
A torture scene where the torture has absolutely zero effect on its victim.

-5:38 PM
One bullet causes an entire building to blow up. I feel like that's a solvable architectural issue, Mr. Blofeld.

-5:49 PM
Blofeld apparently has the time to set up a Midwestern haunted house. Like, who printed out all those pictures of the faces meant to haunt Bond?

-5:52 PM
Bond takes down another aircraft which is flying over another densely-populated city. Please stop trying to kill innocent civilians, 007.

-6:02 PM
Weaselly sub-villain who's been too boring to mention until now dies unspectacularly. Blofeld gets arrested, but survives to evil another day.

All-in-all, this was a pretty disappointing Bond movie. The Day of the Dead sequence was neat, but everything after that was just a shell of what these movies are supposed to be. The bad guys aren't that bad, the good guys aren't that good, the plot is under-baked, and for a movie that's supposed to have dire consequences for the globe's populace, it didn't really involve much beyond the half dozen core cast members. In every interview he's done about this, Daniel Craig has appeared cranky and lackluster about this project. Now I see why.

Spectre: C+

Small Plate #2: The Great British Baking Show

Four Courses Podcast

Our first Small Plate was a game, but this time, we're going for a review. Hey, remember how much I loved the first season of The Great British Baking Show? Well, that love cannot be contained to just the written word, so guest host Tiffany Greenwood (Episode 20) and I take this opportunity to talk about what makes this program so special.

Interested in a television show that will nourish your soul, plays a siren song for your sweet tooth, and gives you a good giggle all at the same time? Go take a listen to the review here. Then go find Season 1 on Netflix and get started! You won't be sorry.

All That Glitters

Even with a busy schedule, I can generally get through my library book in my allotted two weeks. If I'm especially swamped or the book is dense, I may need to renew it once to get myself a few extra days. In the case of Eleanor Catton's epic 2013 novel, The Luminaries, I had to renew it twice. This book clocks in at 848 pages, and when a book stretches on for that long, it had better be worth it.

The Luminaries is set in the coast of New Zealand in 1866. A gold rush has struck the country, and everyone is trying to make his or her fortune in one way or another. Walter Moody arrives one night and inadvertently interrupts a secret meeting of twelve men who are attempting to figure out the mystery of a wealthy prospector who has vanished, an apparently suicidal prostitute with ties to just about everyone in town, and a dead hermit who seems to have drank himself to death, but whose hovel contains untold riches that nobody can trace to the source.

The men weave together a tale for Mr. Moody, who joins their little club to help solve these mysteries. The novel has an astronomical/astrological theme in the background, and the characters' fortunes rise and fall as steadily as the moon changes phase.

Though this wasn't a story that required 848 pages to tell, the story hums along at a pretty good pace. I was never bored, and all of the characters had plenty of time to be fully developed; I could easily envisage the society that the combination of these personalities would produce. By the midway point, I was as interested in learning what was behind the mysterious circumstances as the characters were.

That said, the book is far more interested in exploring the motivations that drive people than how that gold got into the hermit's cabin, and I liked that. Sometimes I want to delve more into character than plot, and Catton does an admirable job at filling in the world she's created. I don't know that this is a book I'd recommend to everyone, and perhaps it was a bit of a slog by the end, but in general, I'd give it a thumbs up. Or I would if my digits weren't so cramped from turning all those pages.

The Luminaries: B

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