Thursday, November 20, 2014

Third Age Thursday 10

"It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night."   - Jeffrey Sinclair

Welcome back to Third Age Thursday ("TAT"), an ongoing feature here at Unfettered Brilliance! Along with Ensley, who's posting the wonderfully-named "Tuesdays with Mollari" over on his blog, these posts are written to keep you up to date on the writing and publication of Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5Please feel free to comment, re-post, tweet, plus-one, pin, and use all sorts of other ways to pass along the news that a comprehensive Babylon 5 book is in the works with publication ETA sometime in 2016. And remember that you can always search through these posts to find all the "Third Age" posts by using the search feature on the right. Just use "Babylon 5" or "Third Age" as your search term.

Unfortunately, I've been put in quarantine for this week. I had thought that, since the dock workers' strike had been resolved (that Sinclair is a slippery eel sometimes and I have to admit that, while I don't know Neeoma Connally personally, she seems tough but fair), I'd be able to nose around, maybe even sneak around the Green Sector and give you some insider information on a few of the ambassadors and their staff, but Dr. Franklin is insisting on keeping me in one of the medlabs. He assures me it's nothing like drafa (and that's a good thing!) but he wants to keep an eye on me.

So no new post this week.  Instead, enjoy this short example of Mr. Garibaldi's work as a motivational speaker.


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Monday, November 17, 2014

Old School

This weekend, Ensley and I kept a date we'd had for a long time and went to Durham to attend the NC ComicCon. It was Ensley's first "big" con and I had great fun playing sidekick. Along with the cosplay and acres of merchandise which ranged from back issues to steampunk-inspired clothing and one-of-a-kind collectibles, you get a chance to mix with dozens of fandoms, all of whom are as into their as you are into yours. Cons are a great time, provided they're well run. More and more of them have official harassment policies, a necessary addition as more females attend in costume and a small fraction of fanboys think a costume is a license to touch.

At NC ComicCon, the con included a film festival and our tickets entitled us to two showings. After looking at the program for panels, signing times and other events, we decided to see Hayao Miyazaki's first film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Brad Bird's first film The Iron Giant (1999). Both films are different in style, yet similar in theme and really - these are both really worth seeking out.

Nausicaa is from the early period of Miyazaki career. We saw the original version, in Japanese with English subtitles. The film was heavily re-written for American release (as Warriors of the Wind) and Miyazaki demanded that any later licensor foe his films be contractually bound to do no edits to the film aside from a straight translation and language dubbing.  The Mouse bought the rights to all Miyazaki films from Nausicaa onward and has honored that agreement. Just to make sure the idea got across, Miyazaki sent a samarai sword to the executive at Disney with a two word note that simply read: "No cuts."

Nausicaa contains many themes that will be seen throughout Miyazaki's works - flight, war on a massive scale impacting ordinary people, the actions of one brave person turning the tide, and supernatural/magical elements affecting daily life. ("Nausicaa" is also the name of a character in Homer's The Odyssey - she's an example of unrequited love and without her assistance, Odysseus may well have wandered even longer than he did.) It's a lovely, magical, otherworldly movie about life, climate change, and finding harmony within a changing world. Go see it.



The Iron Giant should have been as big as Bird's The Incredibles a few years later, but Warner Bros. didn't know what to do with it and didn't seem to care that much, so the movie came and went, but slowly developed a cult following, not least of all for its voice talent, which includes Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., and Vin Diesel. It's a lovely movie, all about a time that really never was in the deep, snowy woods of Maine where a lonely boy could hide a new and highly improbable friend. Best line? Easy - "I am not a gun." It's a move that will choke you up a bit and make you dig out your old favorite toys, the ones that used to give you such comfort on the days when you were very small, the world was very large, and no one seemed to tell you much. There will probably never be a sequel to this movie, although jibber-jabber raises hopes from time to time. Maybe that's so - but go see this one. Seek it out if necessary - it's worth the effort.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Third Age Thursday 9

"It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night."   - Jeffrey Sinclair

Welcome back to Third Age Thursday ("TAT"), an ongoing feature here at Unfettered Brilliance! Along with Ensley, who's posting the wonderfully-named "Tuesdays with Mollari" over on his blog, (he's is a little behind as he took some time to help me deal with those tests Dr. Franklin insisted on me having - check the previous TAT here), these posts are written to keep you up to date on the writing and publication of Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5Please feel free to comment, re-post, tweet, plus-one, pin, and use all sorts of other ways to pass along the news that a comprehensive Babylon 5 book is in the works with publication ETA sometime in 2016. And remember that you can always search through these posts to find all the "Third Age" posts by using the search feature on the right. Just use "Babylon 5" or "Third Age" as your search term.

Babylon 5 is such a rich, deep, complex text to explore that sometimes it's hard to know where to start these posts - should I discuss an episode, a particular character, the nature of telepathy, maybe the relationship between a couple of characters . . . which way to go?

Well, today, I want to talk about an odd episode that happens late in the run of Babylon 5. The only one to be written by someone other than JMS so late in the run of Babylon 5, "Day of the Dead" (5.08) sees characters visited by dead people from their past. For years, JMS had asked/hounded/stalked Neil Gaiman to write an episode of the show, but the scheduling never quite worked out.

That JMS is a fan of Gaiman is evidenced by 
  1. His persistence in getting Gaiman onboard and 
  2. JMS' introduction of a race of methane breathers that wear a mask on their heads to breathe. 
    1. The race is called the "Gaim." 
    2. That mask looks a whole lot like the one worn by Dream in Gaiman's Sandman series.
   
JMS's "Gaim"
Gaiman's "Dream" w/Helm
                                
Case rested on that point.

The episode itself is interesting as we see crew members face the dead, who (let's face it) nearly always carry guilt for the living, intentional or not. Season 5 gets a lot of flack - often from viewers who wanted things to end of the wham-boom-crack! of Season 4, but life goes on, and that's a lesson Season 5 of Babylon 5 teaches us.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Things in the Dark

Two new movies came across my bow this week - the action/adventure revenge flick John Wick and the Chris Nolan science-fiction epic Interstellar. What to see, what to see . . .

Seriously - wouldn't you kill for this dog?
 First - John Wick is surprisingly good. It's a film that knows what it is, makes no pretensions beyond that, and works within its parameters quite well. It's cliched (seriously, everything - everything - hinges on a cute beagle puppy named "Daisy" that was a gift to John Wick from his wife after her tragic death), but somehow it manages to make that work, possibly because the movie embraces the silliness of it. First time co-directors David Leith (who is best known for exceptional stunt work on movies such as V for Vendetta, 300, and the upcoming Jupiter Ascending) and Chad Stahelski (who has an equally deep resume on stunt work, including Whedon's Serenity) know what makes an action movie look good and there's nary a shaky hand-held shot in sight. (Thank you!) Keanu Reeves may have limited range as an actor, but here he's in his element (full disclosure - I like Keanu Reeves. There is story after story about him being a genuinely decent, nice guy (click here!) and I think that get shoved aside all too often. Besides, he was half of Bill & Ted, and that counts for something with me.)

John Wick is a revenge picture - Wick is a very talented hit man who got out of the game and lived a quiet, very comfortable life with his wife, who dies not from some other assassin's bullet, but from something as mundane as disease. She knew she was dying and arranged for a puppy to be delivered to her grieving husband after her death so he could have something to love and to help him heal. So far so good, until some piddling kid with a Russian mobster for a father tries to carjack Wick's ride and winds up staging a home invasion where the puppy - well, it's not graphic (wives and girlfriends usually get it worse in these sorts of pictures), but Wick is back in the game. The movie puts together a dark world that has rules, including hotels and clubs that cater to the dark underworld of hired killers and let me just say - awesome customer service! Not for children, but a solid action movie that understands how to film a gunfight so the audience actually knows what's going on in the frame. Tremendous, but highly violent, fun - and Ian McShane!

Interstellar, on the other hand, is less fun. I'm not going to quibble with the science - it's a feature film, not a documentary, and I allow a lot of leeway there, understanding that directors like Nolan are far more concerned with making it look good than making it strictly accurate.

But.

Bad design - way too much surface area
to get hit by debris, but hey! looks cool.
I know I'm going to be in the minority on this one - people love Nolan's movies, which I have often found to be disjointed, hinge on befuddling relationships, and rely far too much on bulk deliveries from the Plot Convenience Warehouse.* That said, Interstellar will be a wonderful movie to snark you way through and, at just under three hours, you'll have plenty of time to be clever. The core problem here is that Nolan is confusing intricacy of plot with depth. A tangled necklace chain can take some patient work to untangle, but then you have it sorted out in front of you. The plot to Interstellar is not worth nearly as much work, although I am gratified to know that there will apparently be no shortage of mascara in space. I could go on and on about the problems I have with this film (and there are many), but let me just hit on four.

1. We need some explanation as to how the "blight" destroying the crops has been able to leapfrog species.  And really - was it necessary to pick on okra?
2. Nolan's use of Ken Burns' Dust Bowl footage is an interesting use of misdirection to get us thinking that the folks being interviewed there are looking back and discussing the timeframe of the movie, not the 1920s and 1930s. You know, the Dust Bowl - the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history that really happened.
3. McConaughey's Cooper hasn't been a test pilot for at least a dozen years, yet he finds NORAD and within three days or so, he's in a spaceship.
4. Thank heavens Cooper didn't prefer a digital watch.

Scientists are weighing in on the hard science of Interstellar - click here  for that view and Vulture has compiled a list of "things in Interstellar that don't make sense" that's a fun read (click here!) if you want to get that point of view.

There's good in this film, too - particularly Mackenzie Foy, who plays the young Murph, Cooper's daughter who is left behind as he goes off to save the world.

I know that many, many people are loving this movie and finding profound questions in it regarding time, space, and love. I'm just not one of them. I've often said that science fiction is the genre that is perhaps best suited to asking those big questions - but no, Interstellar is not a film that does that, preferring to skim the surface, muddy the waters, and direct the audience in how to feel when. Plus, I think it owes an apology to the estate of Dylan Thomas for the heavy overuse of "Do Not Go Gentle." Last bit of snark - could someone PLEASE tell Hans Zimmer that the soundtrack doesn't always have to go to eleven? It makes the dialogue hard to hear, although now that I think about it . . . nevermind.



*I allow that Memento and The Prestige are exceptions to this - both are strong Nolan films that I enjoyed, even as I had to work to unravel the plots.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Third Age Thursday 8

 "It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night."   - Jeffrey Sinclair

Welcome back to Third Age Thursday, an ongoing feature here at Unfettered Brilliance! Along with Ensley, who's posting the wonderfully-named "Tuesdays with Mollari" over on his blog, these posts are written to keep you up to date on the writing and publication of Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5Please feel free to comment, re-post, tweet, plus-one, pin, and use all sorts of other ways to pass along the news that a comprehensive Babylon 5 book is in the works with publication ETA sometime in 2016. And remember that you can always search through these posts to find all the "Third Age" posts by using the search feature on the right. Just use "Babylon 5" or "Third Age" as your search term.

Unfortunately, this post has to be a short one. Dr. Franklin wasn't too pleased with my latest scans - to tell you the truth, I'd been putting them off so I could nose around Downbelow - there's a lot going on there that "they" don't want you to know about - but it seems I got a little too close to - well, I'm not ready to say just yet. Let's just say Franklin wants to keep a close eye on me for a few days. I keep telling him it's not necessary, but he says that if I cooperate, he knows where he just might be able to get his hands on some real, honest-to-God coffee, so I'm stuck here for a few days.

Won't keep me from making notes, though. There are things about this place that people need to know about!