Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 110

Well, Breaking Bad did just fine with last week's Emmy nominations and is in the running for thirteen of the golden girls. In addition to seven nominations in more technical categories (such as sound editing and makeup), Bryan Cranston (who's having an amazing year!), Anna Gunn, and Aaron Paul are all nominated in the acting categories, the show is in the Outstanding Drama category, Moira Walley-Beckett is nominated for Outstanding Writing for the absolutely blow-your-socks-off episode "Ozymandias," and Vince Gilligan his own bad self is nominated for Outstanding Directing for the final episode "Felina."  A special shout-out to Michael Slovis, who is nominated in the Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series category for the episode "Granite State" - Mr. Slovis kindly agreed to be interviewed for Wanna Cook? and we were so pleased with how that interview turned out - it's a gem in the book, seriously.  (That's him checking light levels for the episode "Peekaboo" [2.06] at the top of the post, by the way.)

Ensley mentioned the upcoming book signing over on his blog (you read both of our blogs, right?), so I'll just briefly remind you - we'll be at the Gastonia, NC location of Books-A-Million on Saturday, July 26 beginning at 2 pm (that's a change from the original 5 pm start time, so make a note!) to discuss Breaking Bad, sign copies of Wanna Cook? and generally pontificate and speculate on all things Gilligan-related. The store is located at 3710 East Franklin Blvd. in Gastonia and you can call them at (704) 824-0221 for more information - hope to see you there!

In other exciting news, a group of dedicated BrBa fans decided that Duke City needed its own convention to celebrate Breaking Bad and they're making it happen!  On November 8, the Albuquerque Convention Center will be home to the first annual Breaking Bad Fest and it's looking sweet!  While we won't be able to attend this year, we certainly hope you will if you're nearby.  Check out their site here, buy tickets here, and remember that you can also follow the latest con news on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, July 14, 2014

First Tries & Sequels

 I spent four nights this past week at the 15th Annual Real to Reel International Film Festival, an event that began the same year I moved the Shelby. I always enjoy this festival, which is still to many people a sadly undiscovered gem in my own community. It's like that old saying about a prophet having no worth in his own country - surely a film festival in little ol' Cleveland County can't attract that much talent.

Well, more popcorn for me, I say.

While distribution deals are far more likely to be found at Sundance, Toronto, and some of the larger festivals, several films first shown here have gone on to be picked up for large-scale broadcast and/or distribution. I've seen this festival grow so much - the first year, it was held in a gallery space in the Arts Council and films were sent in on clunky VHS tapes to be projected onto the sort of screen you're used to seeing in classrooms.  Now, screenings are held at the refurbished Joy Performance Center in Kings Mountain. Further, due to the widespread availability of the internet, word about the festival has gotten out and films in digital format are submitted from across the country and (quite often) outside the country. In fact, the best, most creative film I saw this go-round was Mousse, a Swedish entry (yes, there were subtitles) that won for Best Professional Short.

Over the course of four nights for the cost of one Carmike ticket and a small popcorn, I saw feature films, shorts, animated films, and documentaries. Some were produced by students and nonprofessionals, others were professional efforts. There were actors you knew and some probably making their first appearance on camera. There were earnest "feel good" films and dark "human condition" films. Quite frankly, some were deeply flawed, which reminded me of just how much hard work goes into any film. I was also reminded of just how tired I can get from working all day, then going to watch three-plus hours of movies. While the life of a critic is not as strenuous as that of a ditch digger - I was glad to sleep in on Sunday!

Having had a chance to recover, I spent Sunday afternoon at (naturally) the movies. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has just been released and I wanted to see it for this week's edition of Meet Me at the Movies.

To keep this post from getting far too long, I'll try to keep this brief. Dawn is getting incredibly positive reviews from critics and viewers alike and I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that the film belongs to that very exclusive club of sequels that are actually better than the original, when the original was already quite good on its own. (Empire Strikes Back is better than Star Wars, for instance, and wow! is Bride of Frankenstein better than Universal's telling of Frankenstein.) The effects are mind-blowing - and would someone give Andy Serkis an Oscar already? But pretty effects alone (apes on horses!) do not a fine movie make. So what makes Dawn a must see in my book?

The film does a wonderful job of positioning the two societies - humans in decline and apes in ascendance - as parallels with each other. In addition to some striking similarities in architecture in both, leaders seek a peace with the Others, families are formed, children are loved, loss is mourned, and those with a more violent streak see their way as the only one. Communication is the great barrier - more so than even DNA. How can you trust someone you can't understand when so much is at stake? Laws must be harsh in such circumstances and those who are outlaws cannot claim the protection of the law. Understanding can come with a touch as well as a speech. Fear can keep societies in line, but not for long. Knowledge must be handed down and a rough sketch of a window can evoke a long-ago home while becoming a symbol for something much larger.

In short, Dawn is an amazing film that did a great deal to remove the stench of the Film Who Shall Not Be Named from my nostrils. This is one to see on the big screen. I took a monkey with me, but that's completely optional. So far.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 109

Breaking Bad in 2014?
This post is a day early for the 2014 Emmy nominations, which will be announced tomorrow (July 10). One reason Breaking Bad's final season was split into two parts was to guarantee that the show would be eligible for the Emmy Awards for work produced in both the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons.  We'll see if that's a strategy that pays off in wins (surely in nominations!) As the Los Angeles Times points out here, there's an awful lot of superior TV out there right now and it's possible that voters will go for newer shows over Breaking Bad which broadcast its final episode in September of 2013.

Ensley has posted on his blog about our recent signing at Beers Books in Sacramento and we're ironing out the final details of a live interview with the fine folks of CultureSmash who reviewed Wanna Cook? - check back for the final arrangements shortly!

Also, at the end of July, we'll be appearing close to home to talk Breaking Bad and sign copies of Wanna Cook? for the discerning fan.  Look for both of us (and some of the blue!) at the Gastonia location of Books-A-Million on Saturday, July 26 beginning at 5 pm! That's at 3710 E. Franklin Blvd., if you need to find directions.  Wanna Cook? is the perfect companion for AMC's binge-broadcast of all five seasons of Breaking Bad which is scheduled to begin on August 10 and here's your chance to make sure you're ready, whether it'll be your first watch or your tenth re-watch!

Of course, Wanna Cook? remains available for purchase through the usual online suspects:

and here in Shelby, you can get your copy over at Got Books!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

More Than Meets the Eye?

I carried my popcorn bucket to two new films this holiday weekend - Michael Bay's latest installment of the Transformers franchise and Scott Derrickson's exorcism-in-New-York Deliver Us from Evil. Let's start with the one that's going to make bargeloads of money, an outcome that only encourages more of this sort of dreck - Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Disclaimer - nope, I haven't seen any of the other Transformers movies. I wasn't too worried that I wouldn't be able to follow the complex plotline, however. Look, I could snark my way through this, but let me boil it down. The first line of this swollen, bloated spectacle (2 hours, 45 minutes running time) is "Oh, shit" and that is indeed an accurate assessment. I was hoping for a loud, mindless, colorful summer movie - this is simply bad. And as a PG-13 rating for a movie based on kids' toys, children are going to go see this in droves. Let me explain, with just a small example, why I have a problem with that.

"Tessa" (played by the young and nubile Nicola Peltz, who showcases all the usual attributes sought after by actresses in a Michael Bay movie - click here for details!) is 17, the daughter of an overprotective father who comments on her revealing clothing, but never gets her to change into something more practical than tall wedges and shorts so short the pockets are longer than the hem. Tessa is involved with "Shane Dyson" (a character who thereby combines the names of an iconic Western hero and a vacuum cleaner. He is played by Jack Reynor, an actor of legitimate Irish descent who nevertheless has an Irish accent that slips and slides embarrassingly), who is established as being 20. When Dad (Mark Wahlberg) objects, since Tessa is a minor, Shane not only quotes the specific law that okays such a relationship in Texas - he pulls out a laminated card he apparently carries with him for just such an occasion! So how many teen girls does this guy mess around with? Tessa is a lamp, not a human - she exists to run around, get in trouble and need rescuing, and yell, "Dad!" a lot. The men don't really see her as anything else, either. As Shane puts it once, "I'm not here to help you rescue your daughter. You're here to help me rescue my girlfriend." Nice.

Oddly enough, another one of my anger moments triggered by this Kurosawa-length-but-nothing-else-like-that-master-of-film extra-large helping of garbage was the fawning treatment of China. Look, I know perfectly well that the Chinese market is HUGE in Hollywood financing and box office success. China wants 3D and IMAX movies, so that's what we produce. But this - gah! The American government is shown to be shadowy, corrupt, and willing to kill children while the Chinese government is benevolent and capable of dealing with all sorts of threats in an honorable and upright way. Right - tell that to the students who occupied Tiananmen Square.

Michael Bay elaborately doesn't care. He had a $100 million opening weekend, and he'll keep making this crap. Sigh. At least don't go see it.  Even the big "boomy" parts just weren't that good. Skip it.

As far as Deliver Us from Evil goes, it's a solid exorcism picture. It's not groundbreaking - you've seen all of this before - but the director, Scott Derrickson (who likes these sorts of films), has paid attention to the genre. You get some jump-worthy moments, some questions about the nature of evil and violence (and Latin!), and some reminders that some toys you just shouldn't give your kids (chief among them half-working jack-in-the-boxes, rolling plushie animal heads that go "ha ha hoo" and [number one and unchallenged champion] those creepy monkeys with cymbals). The marketing explains that the events of the film are "inspired by" the actual experiences of NYPD cop Ralph Sarchie, but not really. Well, let that one go. Enjoy the dangerous Bronx, where it rains all night, every night and Doors lyrics really DO have a sinister side. Also, the use of the bug carousel at the Bronx Zoo is just masterful. If you like exorcism horror pictures, you'll probably come out of Deliver Us perfectly happy.

You'll be happier than if you wasted three hours of your life in Bay's celebration of the smash cut, I can tell you that much.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Not-Quite-Walter-White-Wednesday Post

Before I get to the Breaking Bad portion of this week's post, I have something to announce.  Ensley and I have been keeping this quiet until the contract was signed, thus making things official and he broke the news last night as soon as the ink was dry, so I didn't want to wait any longer!  We can happily announce that ECW Press, who first brought you the witty and good-looking research-and-writing team of Guffey und Koontz (hey, it's my blog and that's my story), has agreed to publish another book from us!  Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe will be a complete guide to the complex universe created by J. Michael Straczynski - the five seasons and five movies of the original series, Crusade, Legends of the Rangers, Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, the canonical novels, short stories, and comic books will all be discussed, along with a few extra special surprises (we hope!). Dreams Given Form is slated for a fall 2016 publication date, which puts it slap in the middle of Babylon 5's 20th anniversary celebrations. In the next few months, this blog will gradually switch its focus over to the new project (Third Age Thursday??), although Breaking Bad news will still be discussed from time to time.


And Breaking Bad continues to make headlines.  A TiVo study recently found it was the "most binge watched" show (meaning 3 or more episodes in a day), edging out House of Cards and Game of Thrones. When this was discussed on the Today show, Al Roker grumpily spoiled the ending regarding Walter White's fate, thereby sparking a heated discussion on when spoiler alerts cease to be the polite thing to do.  (When it comes to Breaking Bad, I say spoiler alerts are still a good idea, since it is a show that so very many people are just now discovering. On the other hand, when Whedon's version of Much Ado about Nothing came out last year, I felt it was unnecessary to alert "here be spoilers" since the play was 400+ years old!!)

BuzzFeed hopped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon again with an installment called "34 Things You Probably Didn't Know about Breaking Bad."  Interesting stuff on that list and you knew many of them if you had your trusty copy of Wanna Cook? by your side, although one of them (#32) gets debunked in the book as well.

Breaking Bad continues to live on beyond the small screen - Bryan Cranston is writing a memoir for publishing house Scribner about his time on the show and the spin-off Better Call Saul will be airing in 2015.  (It's been pushed back from its original November air date, but the network has shown confidence in the show by ordering 13 episodes to be produced.) Better Call Saul is going to feature a "flexible" timeframe, so we'll have the chance to see Saul Goodman pre-Breaking Bad, during the show's events, and also after the events of "Felina."  I, for one, am looking forward to seeing him as the manager of an Omaha Cinnabon, but maybe I'm alone on that.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Of Slayages and Squirrels

I apologize for missing "Walter White Wednesday" this week, but it was unavoidable. Ensley and I had just returned from the Sixth Biennial Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses and were dealing with jet-lag. I'm pretty sure that if I'd tried to post on Wednesday, the result would have looked like this:

"Welcome to Walueoriep jsdoibfjkl;adk fl;sdkflzzzzzzz."

And really - who wants that?  We did have a successful book signing at Beers Books in Sacramento, due in large part to supportive Slayage attendees who came out to celebrate with us (and maybe to score a little of the blue). The picture at the top of the post is from the signing - look at that enticing bowl of candy!

Many others will post about Slayage - and there will be an official report on the various papers, presentations and roundtables put out by official Whedon Studies Association ("WSA") reporters soon - so I'm taking a different tack here. Rather than attempting to summarize the various papers I was able to hear (I missed a fair number, since three sessions run concurrently and I have yet to master the use of time-traveling technology), let me explain why the WSA matters.

There are any number of professional organizations - groups devoted to particular philosophers, authors, theorists, professions, and so on. The WSA is devoted to the academic study of Joss Whedon, a prospect that has caused more than one media professional to say, "Huh-what?" I'm not here to re-plow that ground - Whedon's work often shows depth and nuance that an academic would eagerly pounce on, and the fact that humor is so tightly interwoven just makes the exploration that much - well, cooler. We're fans of the work (we spend too much time here to hate the stuff, although I went to a fantastic session defending "hated characters" at this latest gathering), which means we quote, and quip, and wear clever T-shirts. But at the core, Slayage is about scholarship. How does Dollhouse tackle themes of consent and privilege? How can theories of leadership and military tactics be applied to The Avengers? How does the law firm of Wolfram & Hart reflect actual legal principles of a "vigorous defense"? Oh, we do go on.

But even that's not the real point of this.

Perhaps you've noticed:  higher education is a mess right now. Questions of student loans, bloated administrative costs, low morale, frozen pay, a dangerously-expanding bubble of adjunct workloads, and the application of so-called "business models" to education dominate the headlines.  In short, it's not a good time to ask for funding to go to a conference devoted to a man best known for creating a show with the silly-sounding title Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no matter how elevated the work and discussion might be. But go we do, often on our own dime. And that matters.

Yes, we make valuable contacts. Publishing contacts, professional contacts, and personal contacts - we make 'em all at Slayage. We present our work - often nervously; these people are smart! - and we refine it as a result of questions and comments we receive. In such ways, scholarship - which ought to matter as much as the football field house - advances, bringing us along with it. We see the world a hair differently. We understand each other a touch better. We aren't so scared of someone who doesn't look exactly like us.

We become better.

 And that's what it's about. Now, the WSA won't work that way for everyone; that's why there are all those other societies. But for me, the WSA provides a unique opportunity to learn. Many teacher-types don't want to do that - they aren't secure enough to admit there are things they don't know about, so they remain tightly in their own box of expertise. Whedonians not only cheerfully admit that they don't know things; they revel in the idea that there's so much more out there to learn and they expect you to share. I've attended sessions in areas that are so far afield from my own areas of expertise that it would make my knees quake to consider going to a presentation in those areas if I didn't have the common thread of Whedon to wrap tightly around me. Seriously - I know very little about musicology or the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and I attended - and enjoyed - sessions centering on both.

The "bottom line" folks would ask - "Well, how are you going to use that in class?"

My answer:  I don't know. Yet. But I know I'm a better instructor for going outside what I already know.

And Slayage is also so much fun! Spending time with intelligent, lively people who are reveling in their passions usually is. Add to that the campus squirrels, who were entirely too tame, and you have the makings of a meme. So we did.  (Tumblr. The. Best.)

Passion.  Maybe Angel said it best:  "Passion is the source of our finest moments; the joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank . . . without passion, we'd be truly dead."

So there's Slayage and during that time, we see each other.  We squeal, and we hug tightly, and we cement that community, knowing that it needs to carry us through another Slay-age (which has been determined to be four days followed by two years). And carry us it does. Think of it this way - since I started attending with the second Slayage in 2006, I've published my first book; gotten involved in fan communities that use Whedon's words as inspiration to raise awareness and cashy money for good causes (I even helped design a T-shirt to help with one I felt especially strongly about); met and married my husband; co-wrote a book with him; and built relationships with people that I may not see all that often, but consider family nevertheless.

I can't put a dollar amount on it, but I know it's worth something better than cash.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Walter White Wednesday 107

Super quick this week - I'm traveling and am out in sunny California getting ready to attend the 6th Biennial Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses, which promises to be a BLAST!  That'll keep me occupied and (mostly) out of trouble through Sunday, but then on Monday afternoon, Ensley and I will be making an appearance at Beers Books to talk Breaking Bad and sign copies of Wanna Cook? so please - if you're in the area or know Breaking Bad fans who are, let them know we'll be over at Beers from 3 to 6 Monday afternoon!

Details can be found here!

We're even bringing the blue, which was surprisingly easy to get through security.  Hmmm.