Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Conventional Wisdom Gets It Wrong

In many ways, Hollywood is a small town made up of oddly cautious people - at least the few who run studios. Movies are freakishly expensive to make and the public's taste is unpredictable, which explains why 2017 looks like the Year of Sequels and Reboots. Conventional wisdom says to stick with what you know - yeah, maybe the movie itself will stink like three-day-old fish, but it'll make money and really - isn't that better than art?

But a few tricky flicks manage to sneak under the velvet rope reserved for the art house pictures and make it into the mainstream. These are films that need to be supported to further encourage those who hold the purse strings to make more of these gems, so please - seek them out. Tell the theater manager how much you enjoyed them. Ask for more to be booked at your local theater.

Actresses with the real "hidden figures"
The first of these isn't really a "small film," but it's worth talking about in this post for another reason. Hidden Figures is doing gangbusters at the box office, taking in more last weekend than Rogue One, which is simply lovely when you think about it - a thoughtful movie about math made more than the latest from the Star Wars franchise.

The film is solidly-crafted with a number of very, very strong performances - all three female leads (Taraji P. Henson, Janelle MonĂ¡e, and Octavia Spencer), are each fully capable of carrying the entire film. The story itself is amazing and there is no reason why these women have been overlooked for so long. The sad fact that the film took so long to be made has to do with a subtle form of racism - movies are expensive. Will whites go see a "black movie"? For years, it was impossible to get financing for films that featured non-white actors in lead roles. Too risky, they said.

Then came Tyler Perry.

There's much more I can say about Hidden Figures, but I'll close with this. Seeing the everyday, casual racism make me grind my teeth. There aren't any true villains in this film; no one is using racial slurs or threatening violence. But the grime of a dozen little things every day, including not having access to all the books in the public library, would be enough to make many strong women give up.  To then see how these educated, dignified women dealt with a society that so devalued them -- well, this is a film that'll make you want to cheer and will also make you ask why on Earth haven't we gone back to the moon, especially since we have the trained brains to take us there.

The other film I want to encourage you to seek out is La La Land. Director Damien Chazelle loves jazz; in fact, he trained as a jazz drummer (he also co-wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane, but that's another story). His first big film dealt with jazz (a little film you might remember called Whiplash that went from the Sundance Film Festival to 5 Academy Award nominations) and that music plays a large part in La La Land as well. Basically, it's a musical love story and also a valentine to "old Hollywood." What happens when those two crazy kids (played with vulnerability and heartbreak by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling) finally find each other and their career dreams begin to come true? When it happens, it's good to have tap shoes.

Look - it's astonishing. Drenched in color, filmed in CinemaScope, and unashamedly retro, this film has heart to spare. The film is worth the ticket price for the opening sequence, which looks like a six-minute oner. It's actually three two-minute shots, and that's incredible enough. Something this unusual, this original NEEDS to be supported. Please seek it out.

Last thing - I'm shortly off to Utah to attend several screenings at the Sundance Film Festival. I hope to report on the amazing things I saw when I get back at the end of February. Plus, we'll hopefully have some Babylon 5 news by then as well!



Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snow Day Update!

We're SO CLOSE now!!
 Here we are, at the beginning of a Brand New Year, and yet - due to two events that slammed into each other - this post won't be about new films.

There was a convergence of copyediting tasks for Dreams Given Form, the holidays, and then a snowstorm that actually produced about half a foot of snow in my little Southern town that reacts to such events by stripping the bread shelves bare. (Seriously. There is also a milk shortage throughout the county.) So let me update you --

First, let's discuss Dreams Given Form, which covers all 5 seasons of Babylon 5, along with the movies, the spin-off Crusade, the canonical novels, comics, and hard-to-obtain short stories (we really wanted to get the rights to re-print those, but the copyright holder was - shall we say - disinterested in our ideas there). Just to remind you, we're working with ECW Press out of Toronto and they've been fabulous. The entire draft (which is lengthy - we cut where we could, but we're covering WAY more material than has ever been covered in a single printed guide) has been submitted, edited, and now (drumroll!) has been copyedited! We turned that in yesterday with tremendous rejoicing and accompanying exhaustion. This means we're on the home stretch - hopefully, we'll have a cover design to share with you soon, as well as a projected publication date. Please commence cheering - I know we did!

Second, due to the copyediting, we haven't been getting out to catch as many movies for Meet Me at the Movies as we normally would. We hope to remedy that shortly, but the aforementioned snowstorm put a definite crimp in our weekend plans. But look for write-ups on a number of new movies soon as well as our next show of C19TV (or streaming - you can watch us that way too! Just click here to watch us from anywhere in the world!). That next show will focus on the films we're excited about that are being released in 2017 - there are quite a few!

In other news, I'm staving off cabin fever with a stack of classics that I'm watching from home. (This was a snowstorm, as opposed the the "icy mix" mess that brings down power lines, a distinction for which I'm very, very grateful!) Among the films I've watched are:

  • Manon of the Spring - the sequel to Jean de Florette. It's so worth watching - and really WATCH the movie; don't just put it on and go about your day.
  • Hysteria - the incredible, and mostly true, story of a Victorian doctor who specialized in the treatement of "hysteria" in upper-class women through (ahem) manual manipulation. Really, it's amazing. And very, very funny in parts. Ignoring the concerns of half the population is a very bad idea for society.
  • The Bad Seed - 1950s classic adapted from the successful stage play. The "nature or nurture" debate regarding criminals gets a creepy, scary treatment as an angelic-seeming little girl is revealed to be - just wrong.

Several others are slated for today and if the roads continue to be troublesome, I brought home James Clavell's Shogun, which ought to last me until the thaw.

One of the dozen-plus venues for Sundance!
And last thing - we're taking Meet Me at the Movies on the road! That's right - due to the incredible generosity of a couple of very, very dear friends who are in our chosen family, we'll be viewing a few films at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival, which has served as the first showing of any number of films that went on to be ones you know, such as Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, The Usual Suspects, The Blair Witch Project, Winter's Bone and last year's Nat Turner biography The Birth of a Nation. These, of course, are simply a few. To put it simply, Sundance is a big deal and we're thrilled to get to see a bit of it.

Whew! Reading all that, it's been busier than I thought!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Last Thoughts for 2016

What a year it's been! There seem to have been more losses in the film world (not to mention the "real world") than are either usual or warranted. For Babylon 5 fans, the loss of Jerry Doyle hit especially hard, and the fact that he and Garibaldi had so many similarities is a cause for great sadness.

I know that I have not been a faithful correspondent this year and I vow to do better in 2017. This year was just cram-packed with things that took me away from this blog, which is - in the final analysis - a labor of love, rather than a paying gig. And bills (like pipers) must be paid. That being said, Rogue One and Moana - I loved you both and you deserved full write-ups.

However, 2016 also brought the delayed-by-cancer completion of Dreams Given Form. Ensley and I are in the copy-editing phase, having sent off the publication catalog blurb. We still have work to do, but we are firmly in the final stages and Dreams Given Form will be given form in 2017! And really - I cannot say enough good things about ECW's support for this project. There are some publishing houses who would've reacted to my diagnosis by saying, "That's awful! So you can't make the contract deadline. Hmm - well, you get better and we're passing on the book." ECW never wavered in their support and I hope the book sells truckloads to reward them for their loyalty. (Do what you can on that, won't you?)

In the final week of 2016, I hope to see both Fences and Hidden Figures. And how great was it to come out of a store after making a candy cane run to have someone holler at me from a parked car, "Fences. Yeah, Fences. Worth seeing?" When I said I hadn't seen it yet - Meet Me at the Movies doesn't get advance screenings - he cheerfully asked, "Okay, then. What about Rogue One?"

Movies bring people together. So please - watch us on TV19! New episodes every Friday and you can watch us anywhere in the world through streaming! Just go to clevelandcc.edu and select CTV19 at the top of your screen. That'll take you to all the fabulous TV19 shows that stream - we're the first one on the left!

And Merry Christmas to you all! May 2017 be wondrous to all of us!


Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Stunner of a Film

In the last several weeks, I've seen a number of films, but haven't gotten around to writing them up. Well, that'll happen sometimes. Suffice it to say that most of what I've seen (from Dr. Strange to Edge of Seventeen) has been okay, but nothing that totally made me glad I'd seen it on the big screen. Other critics have mooned over these while I just -- didn't. Maybe it's end-of-semester doldrums; I don't know.

But there was an exception. Hacksaw Ridge. If you are old enough (do NOT take children to this - it's a "hard R" for graphic war violence, on the Saving Private Ryan opening scene level), go see this, then immediately put it on your "must buy" list.

Heaven knows, I've got my problems with Mel Gibson (one movie I've recently seen and loved was Peter Weir's Gallipoli, which stars a shockingly young Gibson), both in his on and off screen efforts. Let's limit this to onscreen - the man likes violence and has a penchant for lovingly filming horrific violence being done to his characters (Braveheart, I'm looking at you. You, too, Passion of the Christ). What lets him do this is the fact that he knows how to tell a story effectively and in Hacksaw Ridge, he's in top form.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the slightly fictionalized story of Desmond Doss (played so very well by Andrew Garfield), a Seventh-Day Adventist who enlisted during WW2 to become a medic. Due to his faith, he refused to so much as touch a gun, which made basic training very, very difficult. During the lengthy hellscape that was the Battle of Okinawa, Doss showed his courage time and time again as he rescued dozens of wounded men from certain death. In fact, some of his story is left out because the actual facts seem too incredible to believe - I encourage you to click here for the details comparing the movie to "real life." For his efforts, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, which they do not give out for perfect attendance.

In short, Doss held tight to his belief that it was both wrong to kill and imperative that he serve his country during wartime. How to balance those two competing beliefs makes for a compelling story.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Odds and Ends

So sorry! After finishing the draft, I took a little time off from the blog, then there were edits and other work-related tasks, then the house was overtaken by the Dread Specter of Minor Illness. Not content with hosting that jackass, I managed to catch poison ivy while hiking on a gorgeous late October day, then scratched it to a state of infection. Party at my place - I've got steroids and  antibiotics! Woo-hoo!

Rather than detail everything I've watched in the last month, let me just hit a few highlights. There will be more to add to this, since I'm confined to the house for a few days with this low-grade plague which means "movie time" for me.

When they announced a remake of The Magnificent Seven, I wasn't so sure and I was right to be skeptical. Look, it's a decent enough little Western, but geez. Do yourself a real favor and get your hands on Kurosawa's 1954 masterwork Seven Samurai (Toshiro Mifune is a knockout) and watch that. Then get the original Magnificent Seven (Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, among many, many others) from 1960 and watch that. Now don't bother with the remake.

The key to the two source films is how they view the peasant/farmers. The age of the samurai/ gunslinger is passing, but those who work the earth will continue and endure. They might not get the glory, but they win. That core is missing from the remake, which is all action/adventure (and plot holes you could stampede cattle through), but really - there's no heart there. (Which is a shame when you have Ethan Hawke playing a dandy with the unforgettable Cajun name of "Goodnight Robicheaux.") Also, it sometimes shocks me how much more progressive Kurosawa could be with female characters sixty years ago.

Speaking of classics, I indulged in the Bette Davis melodrama Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte which is a must-see for lovers of Southern Gothic. Crumbling mansion, eccentric-to-the-point-of-crazy rich recluse, Spanish moss, grisly murder - AND Olivia de Havilland! We just don't make 'em like this anymore.

For Halloween, I finally saw What We Do in the Shadows, a 2014 New Zealand movie that can best be described as Interview with the Vampire meets The Real World. If you're in the mood for a vampire movie that is far more canny and fun than it has any right to be, this one's for you. Watch the trailer below for a taste.

OK - I should be getting back to a far more regular schedule - thanks for the break!