Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Under the Sea

The ever-reliable Pixar has released the follow up to 2003's wildly successful Finding Nemo and I'm glad to announce that it's well worth the overpriced popcorn bucket. Finding Dory has Nemo and his daddy Marlin, but focuses the story on Dory, the blue tang fish with a short-term memory problem. (That element, by the way, is played beautifully. Dory isn't quirky; she's disabled by her condition and she's learned a vast array of coping mechanisms that would be excellent conversation-starters with kids.)

It's Pixar (Disney; doesn't the Mouse own everything yet?), so I don't need to tell you that the film is almost unearthly in its beauty. The underwater world gives the artists so much to play with - color, the play of light on plants and sand, wave and water ripples, shafts of sunlight that cut through the top few feet of water, and animals galore. But what's always set Pixar aside for me is not just the beauty of their work; it's the strength of their stories. While Finding Dory isn't Up, which for me continues to be the high-water mark of Pixar's films, it's a solid movie.

Some of that has to do with the vocal talent. In addition to Ellen DeGeneres reprising her role as Dory, you have Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory's long-lost parents, Albert Brooks as the long-suffering Marlin and Idris Elba as a quite rude sea lion. Modern Family is well represented with Ty Burrell playing a echolocation-challenged beluga whale and Ed O'Neill nearly steals the show as an octopus who desperately wants to get to Cleveland. Oh, and Sigourney Weaver as herself. Go - you'll understand.

Finding Dory is one of those rare gems - a kids' movie that looks great and has enough going on to keep the interest of the adults in the crowd as well.

You could do far worse for summer!

But please - no matter how much your children like the movie, don't buy a blue tang as a pet. Or a clownfish, for that matter. Leave Nemo and Dory to the salt water they belong in.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Catching Up!

As many of you know, my secret identity is that of a mild-mannered community college instructor. A full semester load for me is 5 classes in each of the fall and spring semesters, plus two in the abbreviated summer session. That's a lot of teaching, reading, and grading and things get odd around midterm week and finals week. All of that is to explain my recent state of radio silence. I should be more active now that spring is over and summer is ready to launch, but be kind - the Babylon 5 book project has a summer deadline for the complete manuscript to get to our intrepid editor, so the summer is not exactly a time of restful ease.

Not complaining, mind you - just trying to explain How Things Are at the moment.

So let me first catch you up on the Babylon 5 progress. We got a slight extension of Season 4 due to my extreme exam insanity, and that should be in within the next ten days. And wow - do I LOVE Season 4! So much comes full circle. And Susan Ivanova is my spirit animal for this - I think she's been waiting a very long time to say this . . .

On a much quieter note, I recently watched two Academy Award-nominated films that I had missed. (Living in a small town, many don't quite make it here.) Both Carol and Brooklyn are set in the 1950s, but in very different worlds. Carol is taken from The Price of Salt, which is a Patricia Highsmith novel (she of the "Mr. Ripley" series). It deals with a relationship that is wildly out of balance, yet we cheer for things to somehow work out. Amazing performances from Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, with strong support from Sarah Paulson, taking a break from wowing audiences on Tim Minear's American Horror Story. It's a slow-building movie so you must permit it to take its time, but it's certainly worth the ride.

Brooklyn is, quite simply, lovely. Saoirse Ronan is a young Irish girl who leaves home behind to come to America in the 1950s. At that time, Brooklyn was predominantly Irish but it's still an intimidating city for a young country lass. Eilis is all alone, although she has a decent rooming house (all girls, dinner on the table at six, and certainly no shenanigans!) and a job in a fancy department store. As she becomes more comfortable in this world, her wardrobe changes to brighter, more confident colors. She falls in love with a Nice Boy (with a hysterical little brother!), but is torn between her old life and her new one. Truly a wonderful movie and one I'll watch again.

And, of course, there's Captain America: Civil War. So much has been written about this already, and I'm so late to the party that I'll just say this - great popcorn fun. There are some mighty big plot holes in this and I'm still convinced that Tony Stark's genius is not excuse for him behaving like a jackass so much of the time, but the Russo Bros. did a fine job here. It's basically the Avengers movie I wish Age of Ultron had been. So yes, it's more Avengers than Cap, but hey - Hawkeye gets some good lines. Go. Enjoy.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Of Greeks and Space - A (Partial) Third Age Post

Lennier:  It was the year of fire, 
Zack:      The year of destruction, 
G'Kar:    The year we took back what was ours.
Lyta:        It was the year of rebirth, 
Vir:          The year of great sadness, 
Marcus:   The year of pain . . . 
Delenn:    And the year of joy.
Londo:     It was a new age.
Stephen:   It was the end of history.
Susan:      It was the year everything changed.

Quick update on Dreams Given Form - we turned in the draft for Season 3, so we're now deep in Season 4. Ah, Season 4! Cartagia, Lorien, war, betrayal, tenderness, and hope. Ensley and I have said for years (long before we started this project with ECW Press) that JMS follows Freytag's Pyramid throughout B5, with each season roughly correlating to one element of the pyramid (which is really a triangle, but whatever. 19th century Germany). That puts Season 4 in the role of "falling action" following the climatic Season 3. In no way does that mean that Season 4 is a snoozer - quite the opposite. As the result of decisions made in the climax (Z'ha'dum, anyone?) events - quite LARGE events - happen. I love Season 4 for a fierce passion and I'm looking forward to this part of the project. 

In movie news, last weekend I took my parents to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Let me set the stage here a bit. Mom and Dad don't go to movies - it can be a hassle for them, their hearing isn't what once it was, and many movies just aren't made with them in mind. So when I mentioned this one and they both agreed to go - great jumping frog of Calaveras County! Off we went and I asked the manager what sort of captioning devices they have available for the hearing impaired. (Side note - always ask about this if you or someone you are with could benefit from such a thing. Movie theaters are places of public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and they should have something to help their patrons. This manager, in fact, was delighted that someone had asked! Theaters have to spend money to make these things available, but many folks don't even know about them.) Dad got rigged up with this nifty doo-hickey that fit in the cupholder and had a little rectangular screen on a flexible arm that he could adjust to suit his eye level. The screen projected the closed captions for the film and he could easily see the image on the big screen.

As to the movie itself - you know, I can't be fair about this one. I adored the first one (2002, directed by Joel Zwick) and they may well have taken too long to get the second one together. But they re-assembled the key cast (a near miracle, considering how large an ensemble piece it is) and, while some of the jokes may seem a bit forced, I loved seeing this movie with my parents. I loved seeing them see the movie. I loved being able to go out with them to a movie. So yeah - I'm biased on this one.

It's a sweet movie - very Capra-esque in its optimism and zaniness (think about the whimsical family in You Can't Take It with You). Unfortunately, we live in a highly cynical age where that sort of thing is routinely dismissed as corny fluff. Get over it. Let yourself go and have an hour and a half of fun and unplug the sardonic circuits for a bit. 

And take someone who doesn't get out to the movies much. You won't regret it!

Yes, Windex got in on the action! If you've seen the first movie, don't worry - your favorite VERY multi-purpose cleaner is back!

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Return of Third Age Posts!

"The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. It failed. But, in the Year of the Shadow War, it became something greater: our last, best hope... for victory. The year is 2260. The place: Babylon 5." -- Susan Ivanova

Well - THAT break was longer than I ever wanted it to be! "Third Age Thursday" was supposed to be a weekly post about Babylon 5, and particularly about the progress being made on Dreams Given Form, the companion guide to the show I'm co-authoring with Ensley F. Guffey. We tag-teamed on Wanna Cook?, a similar guide to Breaking Bad which was released in 2014 (available at fine booksellers everywhere!) and enjoyed the experience enough to look around for another project that would let us work together and settled on this one. And all was wonderful.

Until . . .

I won't say the Shadows ambushed us, but I had a health scare that put the entire project back a year while I recovered and poor Ensley did his best to soldier on until I could take up my share of the load. But we're both back and in fine fighting form!

In fact, we just turned in the draft manuscript for Season 3. (Wow - I just love that season!) Seasons 1 and 2 have already had their first turn through the Great Machine of Editing, so we're back on schedule. Well, we're back on our new schedule, at any rate. ECW Press (our publisher) has been exceptionally kind to us and we're looking forward to moving forward with this sizable project.

Keep in mind Dreams Given Form isn't limited to the five seasons of Babylon 5. No, sirree! We're covering that, sure, but we're also providing material on the official novels, movies, comics, and other canonical sources. It's a big project and one of our biggest challenges is figuring out how to do the universe of Babylon 5 justice without the book becoming a multi-volume set.

At any rate, today is a rare day off from watching, annotating, drafting, and screaming (that often accompanies the drafting stage for me) but I'm back at it tomorrow and I realized that I hadn't posted about the project in far - FAR - too long.

We're here. We're fans. And we're writing!


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I Saw the Light

The story of Hank Williams Sr. is interesting - he's widely considered one of the most influential American singer-songwriters of the 20th century despite his near-inability to either read or notate music. He had 35 Top 10 singles, and 11 of those reached the Number One position. All this happened in a remarkably short time, as Williams died at the far-too-young age of 29. He had great troubles in his personal life, beset by alcoholism (Roy Acuff once warned Williams of the dangers of his drinking, telling him that he had "a million-dollar talent, boy, but a ten-cent brain"), drug abuse (he self-medicated to deal with the severe, chronic back pain caused by his spina bifida), womanizing, and a host of other issues. His son would grow up to become Hank Williams, Jr. (better known as "Bocephus") and the third of that line is making quite a name for himself as well. Then there's Jett Williams, who was shuffled around like a marked card. Really, add mournful Spanish moss to this family and you've got a textbook definition of Southern Gothic.

All of this should make for a great, compelling movie. Yet it doesn't.

I Saw the Light boasts an amazing performance from Tom Hiddleston, who does his own, quite credible, singing, yet the film itself never manages to soar. Instead, it bumps along in a series of vignettes about increasingly-unlikable people. Audrey, his first wife, is played by Elizabeth Olsen as a spotlight-seeking shrew. Lillie, his mother, is played by the enormously-talented actress Cherry Jones, who never gets to to much beyond be overly protective of her boy.

The film focuses on the last six years of Williams' life, a time in which Williams was prolific, yet spinning madly out of control. His dream is to appear on the Grand Ole Opry ("the show that made country music famous"), yet he lacks the discipline to stay there, preferring to tomcat around and drink until the editing of this film could possibly make sense. I know that's harsh, but the structure of this film keeps any sort of tension or interest from building - scenes start and end without any rhyme or reason and new scenes begin without context. It's as if you're experiencing an alcoholic blackout - things happen and then something else happens, and you're pretty sure something happened in the middle, but damned if you can figure out what it was and no one's telling you.

Hiddleston is truly amazing, but he just can't save this. Rent it if you want to, but there's no shame in passing this one by.

In the meantime, listen to Hank. He's worth it.