Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Of Popcorn and Paragraphs

Right now, I'm a little over halfway through my super-fast summer film class. Personally, I would prefer a slower-paced class spread out over the 10-week summer session that met in person and used a textbook, but we work with what we have.

I am often asked, "Film class? You mean, like movies? And you can get (pause to sneer) college credit for that?" The snark is thick.

Sigh. It's hard to be civil sometimes.

Yes, college credit. Yes, you watch movies. And you also write about them, Jack! By that, I don't mean the fanboy screeds that occasionally drive actors off Twitter, nor am I satisfied with plot summaries from I expect - even in this turbo-paced class - students to pick up a few basics of actual criticism. In fact, it's closer to the truth to think of my Intro to Film class as a literature class, only using celluloid instead of paper. (OK, OK, everything's actually digitized these days, The point remains.)

Students learn how to write an actual compare/contrast essay - which is harder than many students think it is. All too often, on the first assignment (which isn't worth that many points for this very reason) students basically structure their essay as "This happened in Film A. This happened in Film B" and then end it, sincerely thinking that they've created a compare/contrast.

It both is and isn't their fault. Writing is hard to teach and harder still to grade and nigh impossible to grade fast, so it isn't a skill covered on most standardized tests and in this world of high-stakes testing that has about one-third of high schoolers on some form of anxiety, mood stabilizing, and/or depression medication, if it ain't tested, we don't have time to teach it. Let the colleges worry about that!

I don't blame the high schools, either. Everyone is trying to do the best they can, but the inmates are running the educational asylums right now.

I haven't tried this pairing yet, but one day . . . 
At any rate, I deal with a LOT of students who are quite bright, but don't trust their own thoughts and ideas. They've been taught for years how to take a standardized test, but essay writing befuddles them and asking them to stake out their own opinions and support them is practically a foreign language (something else we wait years too long to begin teaching, but I digress). Movies are a less intimidating "in" to formalized writing for many of these students and most of them pick up the knack very quickly once they begin to trust that their ideas aren't going to be shot down as "wrong."

They also are exposed to different genres of film that they may not have ever experienced. They learn about the Bechdel Test, they have a chance to prove to me that they can pass the Turing Test (see, these are the kinds of "tests" I prefer to standard "bubble sheet" thingamabobs), and they learn to search for criticism as opposed to quick reviews.

Yes, I think it's a valid class. You ought to take it one day.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Good to Be Back!

Harmony on the Set!

Following the publication of Dreams Given Form in the fall, I just had to back off of this blog for a while. It was an amazing year at my day job, as I worked on a major restructuring of my Public Speaking class - with help from generous colleagues, I took the leap and went from "flipping" the classroom to "gaming" the classroom. I've had to make adjustments on the fly, of course (any revamp requires flexibility to find the proper balance), but the initial results are heartening. I was goaded into agreeing to participate in a sprint triathlon at the beginning of June (so I've got about two weeks of training time left) and that's taken a considerable amount of time and energy.

I won't even try to catch up on movies and TV that I've immersed myself in over the last eight months. But I will say that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is well worth your time, I found myself wondering if The Good Place will become a supplement to philosophy and ethics classes, Black Panther justly took the world by storm, and I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the current season of The Americans yet. (Honestly, that show is beginning to seem prescient.)

Also on my list - Legion and The Handmaid's Tale

I'm also preparing for the upcoming Whedon conference - this is the 8th Slayage and pulls attendees from across the country as well as from Europe and beyond. The last one was held in 2016 in London, and I missed it (due to the aforementioned Dreams Given Form). This one is at the University of North Alabama in Florence, AL. I'm excited to attend. My presentation is more of a roundtable this time with several other scholars with diverse points of view. We'll be arguing over the revelation that Whedon gaslit us and the impact it has when a creator turns out to have feet of clay, if not outright mud. (Then again, after some of the thoroughly icky revelations of the #MeToo movement, Whedon seems like a garden-variety jerk, rather than a predatory monster.) Plenty of creators aren't particularly enlightened human beings - how does it affect the relationship with the art? It's going to be an interesting session.

But I've been missing this blog. So I'm back! My summer film class begins on Monday and I'm sure I'll include some material here about their films, along with other bits that catch my fancy.

And - if you've never seen Babylon 5, it's coming to Amazon Prime in June. Buy a copy of Dreams Given Form to pair with your watch (or rewatch - seriously, B5 is crazy-relevant these days!) and see what the fuss is about!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

It's Here!!

I am SO PROUD of this! A Dream Given Form was officially published yesterday and copies that were pre-ordered should be showing up in mailboxes over the next couple of days. As I said in my last post, this was a project that was delayed for a while, but people never gave up hope on it.

Not only is our baby seeing the light of day, the Kindle edition is currently the #1 new release in the category of Television Guides & Reviews.

Turns out that faith really does manage!

A Dream Given Form is available everywhere fine books are sold.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Finally! A Dream Given Form, the new book by Ensley F. Guffey and me, will be published in three weeks! This book has been a long time coming, since it was delayed by my Unfortunate Brush with Not-Quite Cancer at the end of 2014. Surgery and post-surgical treatment involving non-gamma rays made this a lengthy delay, but ECW Press never wavered in their commitment to the project. Nor, should I add, did Ensley who is my husband, on top of being a dedicated and talented writer. Really - he is.

Then, just as we thought we had Dream through it's really-no-kidding final check, the planets aligned and we were able to arrange an interview with Peter Jurasik, who brought the magnificently-flawed character of Londo Mollari to life. (Seriously, the manuscript was three days away from going to the printer.) We scrambled to make the interview happen, and wow! readers will be rewarded for that, I think. Jurasik was so generous and kind and funny with his recollections and he's very serious about his craft. The interview is an amazing addition to a book that we already thought was pretty darned nifty.

Publication is scheduled for September 19, but we'll have the official book launch here in our hometown of Shelby, NC in two weeks. On Saturday, September 9, Ensley and I will sign copies at Hip-O-Kat Retro & Vintage.* There will be food, beverages, and treats. Hopefully some other uptown merchants will be in on the action! Final details are being ironed out in the next few days, but I wanted to go ahead and mention this now, in order to help you make plans to enjoy uptown Shelby that day and come on by to talk Babylon 5 with us!

*Can't make it, but want a signed copy? Never fear! Simply contact us through the comments here on the blog and we'll make payment and shipping arrangements!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Since last we spoke, I've seen a number of films that have been all over the map. Let me just give you some capsule reviews to serve as catch-up.

First, on our way out West for vacation (dry heat is hot, yes, but it's not 90% humidity like it is at home!), I watched Florence Foster Jenkins and was surprised by how charming I found it to be. It could have been a simple one-trick pony - after all, the basic plotline is rich woman loves music, wants to sing, is just awful, but those around her shield her from this knowledge.

As Florence, Meryl Streep is wonderful. Her performance is not an over-the-top caricature, which would have been easy to do. Instead, Streep pulls in and lets us see this ageing socialite as a real person with real concerns. Jenkins' singing may have been treated as a joke, but her much-younger husband (played by Hugh Grant with rare restraint) has deep affection for her that transcends money (although they have an "arrangement," the need for which is described in heartbreaking detail) and her pianist (Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg) comes to value the underlying warmth that emanates from this woman. While not a movie for the ages, it's a solid film and one with a simple underpinning of compassion and heart - you could do far worse.

Case in point - Spider-Man: Homecoming. I've had trouble putting my finger on it, but this movie left me just unsatisfied. It's far from bad, Tom Holland is solid, and there are some nice twists and turns in here (especially regarding Peter Parker's schoolmates), yet it never quite added up to WOW! for me. Yeah, yeah - Tony Stark. Yeah, yeah - a non-cadaverous Aunt May. Yeah, yeah - Michael Keaton as a much more interesting birdman than I thought he was in that other movie. It just never was quite enough for me. Still - I prefer Holland to Andrew Garfield's turn as the Web-Slinger. (Then again, after his turn in Hacksaw Ridge, all is forgiven, Andy!) I say it's a rental, but others may well disagree, and that's okay.

Then - zoinks! as Shaggy might say. FryDaddy and I had a rare opportunity to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shown outside on a clear Utah night as part of the Sundance Institute's summer programming series. Think picnic on the grounds and you're there. I'd never seen Butch on the big screen and I was entranced enough to ignore my (very) cold feet. Butch is just a fantastic film and the obvious chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford is glorious to watch. Also, we both won small prizes for our knowledge of Butch trivia, and yay! for prizes. Seriously, scout around your own area - outside summer movies are quite a thing and they are worth seeking out!

Last one - on the flight home, I finally watched Arrival, which turns out to be one of the most thought-provoking science fiction films I've seen in the last few years. How do we manage first contact with an alien species when neither side knows the language of the other? There's some GREAT stuff in here about the tricks and traps that are built into language and the high degree of skill required to truly understand a language, as opposed to just understanding the surface of it, like "milk," "ball," or "war." It's a film that isn't afraid to take its time to build, which I loved. Others may find it too slow, but I say that if you like your science fiction to make you think, Arrival is for you.

Then, just yesterday, I saw War for the Planet of the Apes, which seems to close the gap between the new movies (which began with Rise in 2011 and continued with Dawn in 2014) and the original franchise. I think there could be one more film to actually close that gap and shift the audience's sympathies back to the humans from the apes, but it ends at a darned good place. Woody Harrelson has been watching Apocalypse Now and would someone just please give Andy Serkis all the awards right now? Again, thought-provoking science fiction and it plugs a major hole in the storyline - namely, why can't the humans in the 1968 version speak? Yes, the effects are incredible, but without Serkis to sell it - I just don't think it would matter.

Whew! That's enough! Several movies are still to be released this summer that I'm VERY excited about - check back to see if Valerian by the eccentric genius Luc Besson is worth your popcorn money and, on another front, let's see about Dunkirk!