Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Are We Gonna Do Now?

That's the question posed to Buffy as she stands by the deep smoking crater than once was Sunnydale - home of vampire nests galore, a library unsurpassed in the California school district system in terms of mystical knowledge, along with a conveniently-located UC campus, a deepwater port, and - oh yeah, Dracula's castle.  Quite a town, that Sunnydale.

Yes, the year-long Great Buffy Rewatch has come to an end, as all good things must.  On Tuesday (hereinafter to be known as "Buffy night"), Nikki Stafford's final post about the finale episode, "Chosen," went up and today is devoted to musings from fans and academics alike regarding what the show has meant to them.  Posts are going up on the hour until 10 pm tonight, so this link will get you to the general "Great Buffy Rewatch" tag.    This one will take you to the "Buffy Book Club," which features Nikki holding forth on some of the academic books written by some of the contributors to the Rewatch.  It's good stuff and shows the breadth and the depth of scholarship that has gone in to the show featuring the little blonde cheerleader who fights the forces of Darkness.  I know, it sounds silly.  It's not, and you know that if you've been following the Rewatch even a little.

So what's next?  Well, the film class is still on hiatus for a week or two as I get things ready behind the scenes to teach the class in an online format, which means I have time and space to talk about other films.  Yesterday, I went to see Tintin, which I can highly recommend.  But, I first have to be the curmudgeon yelling at kids cutting across the yard.

3D is a gimmick.  When it's bad, it's Catwomen of the Moon bad. (Yes, I've seen it in 3D.  Don't ask - it was a dark period in my life.)  And when it's good (and in Tintin, it's very good), it calls attention to itself and pulls me out of the movie to remark, "Gee, that was good 3D!"  Look - Tintin is excellent.  The animation is gorgeous, the plot is that of a fast paced adventure yarn - heck, it's the best Indiana Jones movie Steven Spielberg has done in years!!  (And maybe one day, Andy Serkis will get to have his body, voice, and face on the big screen simultaneously!  I joke, but only a little.)  In other words, go, but save yourself the cost of the Roy Orbison-style 3D glasses.

Oh - and the previews!  Seriously - I'm ready for this 3D wave to crash and retreat to the sea.  Re-releasing Titanic in 3D?  Folks, the ship still sinks.  See for yourself in April.  And George Lucas needs to be tied up until he comes to his senses - he's known for re-releasing his Star Wars movies every time some new technology comes out to tweak his characterization (Han still shot first, Lucas!  Accept it.  We all have.) or squeeze a few more bucks out of that part of his fan base who doesn't yet shake their heads in exasperation of what once was.  At any rate, look for The Phantom Menace to be re-released in 3D in February.  Jar Jar Binks will improve not a whit in 3D.

It's all about the stories, not the gingerbreading.

And the popcorn.

Happy New Year to all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Sometimes it seems that's how we all end up, doesn't it?  Alone.  In the Great Buffy Rewatch (which only has one week to go - and you really don't want to miss "Chosen"), Buffy is having a lot of "alone time" and most of it is not by her choice.  It's funny, in a non-funny way, how much "not choosing" goes into being the "Chosen One."  Of course, that's a theme Whedon returns to again and again.  Cynthea Masson is in charge of this next-to-last week of posting and she manages the difficult feat of bringing it all full circle.  Scholar/fan, Slayer/Potential,  blogger/commentator - there's something here for everyone.

Over at the film class, things have wrapped up.  I had good papers on Surrogates (in fact, I was gratified at the comments on the use of color - something students said more than once they'd never consciously noticed before this class!), but even those were turned in alone.  This was the only film that I strongly encouraged the students to watch on their own and, while it works, I miss the communal viewing experience.  That's going to be the "new normal" for next semester, when I'll teach the class again, but that version will be online.  Oh, don't worry, I'll keep posting here about what that's like, but I'm expecting a number of things to be different, due to the technology and the "alone watching."

I posted the following link for my film class in their last class announcement.  While we all have holiday classics that we enjoy watching (maybe you're a Rankin-Bass Claymation fan or maybe for you the holidays aren't complete until you've seen one version or another of A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life), you may never have seen Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  Thanks to Hulu, you can see it here for free!  But be warned - this movie is so bone-deep awful that you probably want to hide all sharp objects and loaded firearms before you begin watching.  And don't watch it alone - you'll need a friend to turn to and say, "Are we really watching this?  Wouldn't it be less painful to just drink straight from a car radiator?"

Speaking of alone - Christmas is just around the corner and it's not a good time to be alone.  Yet many, many people are.  Keep them in your thoughts and help out the individuals and groups who try mightily to bring holiday cheer to the lost and lonely among us.  Christmas miracles aren't that hard to come by, but God needs hands and feet on this earth, and as St. Theresa famously said, yours are the ones He's got.  Go get used!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Heating Up and Winding Down

In the film class, students are working on their final papers.  Since those are due Friday, I'll discuss the exam film, Surrogates, next week once the exam papers are in and graded.

Which means more time and space for a few other items!  It's hard to believe, but there are only two more postings to go in the year-long Great Buffy Rewatch.  This week, two posters - David Lavery and Lorna Jowett - take on a few episodes that are rocketing toward a finale to remember.  (OK, so it's only sort of a finale, since Buffy's narrative is continued in comic book form, but we didn't know that was going to happen when Season 7 aired, so . . . )  Really, it's a superb posting this week.  Of course, I say anything that involves the Trio and a Technicolor field of flowers and a ditty strummed on lyres is worth your time (see top of post, as if you missed that!).  But there's also heartbreak here.  And more than one unreliable narrator.  And some harsh, harsh truth.  And a vicious ex-preacher makes his appearance in Sunnydale.

You don't want to miss it.

On the other hand, you might want to miss X-Men: First Class, which I watched with FryDaddy last night as a end-of-semester brain candy flick.  OK, I get that it was a success at the box office and garnered mostly positive reviews.  But I trust my own judgment and I thought this was simply a hot mess.  First and foremost, it totally screws around with the origin stories, which I could easily forgive and/or overlook but people will assume that this is canon and boy howdy! are they in for a shock.  (Also, never use a character's name for a different character.  "Angel" is Warren Worthington, who has his own issues [it's actually more of a subscription], but being a mutant go-go dancer isn't one of them.)  But far worse to me was the "wink-wink" Swinging 60s setting.  It's one thing to make a homage to earlier times and films, but if you're not careful, you can easily wind up with an inadvertent spoof.  First Class is trying to channel the smooth cool of early James Bond, but it comes off as too knowing and derivative - more Mike Myers than Sean Connery.  For me, this film just didn't work, aside from providing ample snarking opportunities.  (For an example, see any scene with the woefully miscast January Jones as Emma Frost.  However, in the interest of fairness, I must point out that the all-too-brief scene of Wolverine rejecting the offer to join the band is so very worth it.)

Lastly - still looking for holiday gifts?  Go here for an ever-evolving list of Whedon literary products being hawked by their authors/editors.  Many thanks to Ensley Guffey for shamelessly ripping off John Scalzi's excellent idea!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Exclusion & Outsiders

It's funny - this is a season characterized by "goodwill towards men," you know, a time of "let's be a little nicer; times are tough and we're all in this together."  Only at both the film class and the Great Buffy Rewatch, the messages are a little - well, let's say mixed.

We saw the final class film last week.  I selected District 9 to contrast with the previous week's Planet of the Apes to provide a platform for discussing fear, power, and things turned topsy-turvy.  In District 9, humans are back to being top dog (unlike in Planet), but we're not exactly benevolent overlords.  The aliens look especially alien and we never learned to share all that well.  Also, the South Africa setting brings up many ways to discuss separatism and not only the simplistic binary of "humans good, aliens bad."  Watch for the comments about Nigerians.  And just to reinforce one of my main themes, science fiction is a fantastic genre for its willingness to take on these "big themes" such as exclusion, who decides where to draw the line of "insider" or "Other," and what happens on the borders of those circles (a theme explored imaginatively in District 9).  Always watch those liminal spaces.

Students are working on their final exam paper right now - those are due by this Friday.  They're digging into the film Surrogates for this one and I've already told them that they must limit their comments regarding Bruce Willis's hairpiece to no more than a single paragraph.  Seriously, there's some good stuff in that film.  While it's certainly not a classic in the mold of Metropolis or some of the other films on the syllabus, sometimes you are more willing to explore a middling-good film far more than you are to take on a classic - there's more room to maneuver.

Also, over at the Rewatch - wow!  The conclusion of the final season (and the end of this year-long Rewatch) is looming and (at least for the moment) life in Slayerville is a mess.  Elizabeth Rambo - she of Buffy Goes Dark, the book-length examination of Seasons 6 & 7 - is at the helm of this week's trio of episodes.  Nothing will ever be the same as it once was, but that's always true for everyone, everywhere.  And we find out where Spike picked up that leather duster he's so fond of.  Let's just say Spike doesn't shop at Goodwill.  We're only (gulp!) three weeks from concluding this project and there's a lot of (very bloody) ground yet to cover.

Join us, won't you, Gentle Reader?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Changes and a Triumph of Felt!

I'm going to be making a few changes here over the holidays - already you'll notice that, over on the right, I've added a "Follow Me on Twitter" button.  Yes, I'm there, too and I'd love to have you tag along on that journey.    I'm going to be adding a "Now Playing" link as well that will link to whatever movie or TV series I think is worth spotlighting at that particular time.  Sometimes it'll be a new release, sometimes it'll be an older gem that I've just discovered (or maybe re-discovered) . . . anyway, it'll always be something that I think is well worth your time.  Check back for it a little later, but I have to say, I bet the first one will be . . .

The new Muppets movie.


And I'm not alone in giving this one high praise - Rotten Tomatoes gives it a nigh-unprecedented 97% favorable rating (which is a percentage point higher than the artsy-gonna-sweep-the-Oscars flick The Artist). Mind you, critical reviews, whether from trained "they pay me to do this" critics or "I'm here for the popcorn" consumers, should never be viewed as the end all-be all of criticism, but when a veritable slew of critics and consumers share the similar opinions, it's worth looking at.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I'm a fan of the felt from Way Back.  In fact, I'm probably exactly who some of the lovingly-composed shots are aimed at - I grew up with these guys.  I learned to count with the Count on Sesame Street (and how to share - mostly.  I have my Oscar the Grouch days, as do we all).  But I was at the age that, when I "grew up" too much for Sesame Street (bye, Grover!) there was a theatre full of felt creations waiting to entertain me.

Oh, my.

How much I learned there!  I learned that shows look great from the front of house, but are often full-on chaos backstage.  I learned about backstage (and yes, went on to be a theatre major.  Funny).  I learned that heckling from the gallery is an art form, but artists persist in the face of criticism nevertheless.  I learned about sketch comedy and sarcasm and sly subversion.  I also learned about gentleness and tolerance and family.  And drumming.

There is a very nicely done critical book on the Muppets - Kermit Culture, you can buy it here - and I am fortunate to know the editors.  You don't have to take it with you to the theatre, but really - in the midst of dreck about sparkly vampires and Adam Sandler in drag still not being funny, go see this movie.  You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want a Kermit the Frog watch.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Power & Fear

Whoops!  Time snuck up on me – the end of the semester will do that, as well as another project that I can't quite talk about just yet, but hope to soon! – and I’ve missed an entry here.  Let’s get back on track.

In the film class, students have presented their individual projects.  Themes ranged from “life in a post-apocalyptic world” to “bodily transformations” with others to boot.  Interesting, well-researched work was presented and students seemed to actually have a good time showing what they’d learned about how their theme was presented and developed in science fiction.  (Great movie clips, too!)

Then this week, we started our final theme – POWER!  Who has it, how did they get it, and what lengths will they go to in order to keep it are a few of the angles the class will examine by looking at our final two films.  This week was the classic Planet of the Apes which I find to be a very good starting point for this discussion, in part because humans are no longer at the top of the food chain.  We’re not used to being the subjugated ones, so this film forces viewers to look at issues of racism and environmental degradation from another viewpoint.  (And, c'mon - it just goes with my profile pic!)

Next week, we’ll compare it to a film in which humans are on top, but maybe shouldn’t be there.  District 9 takes a different look at racial superiority and, quite frankly, humans don’t come out all that well.  It also is a nice point to begin wrapping up the class, since it includes so much that we’ve discussed – the documentary feel of the film, a foreign point of view, technical aspects in the creation of the “Prawns,” color, and setting are all important elements of the film.

Meanwhile, things have not been quiet over at the Rewatch.  I missed posting on last week’s write-up, which is a shame.  Let me make up for it here.  Crissy Calhoun took on three episodes that can be viewed as the turning point for the final season of Buffy – the Big Bad is revealed and seriously – “Conversations with Dead People” is just a killer of an episode.  Read about it here. Power and fear are becoming very big issues in Sunnydale. 

Then this week, Jennifer Stuller heads up the recap as Season 7 continues to heat up.  Buffy has always been set apart from others by her identity as the Slayer and suddenly, she’s beset by a house full of Potentials.  Read about it here.

OK – I’m back on track!  Season 7 is going to get better and better (and tearier and tearier) and District 9 is going to (hopefully) both pull everything in the class together and blow expectations apart.  All in one week!  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Double Dose!

This week, the film class viewed Joss Whedon's Serenity to set up a contrast to last week's viewing of Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop.  There are (of course) sound pedagogical reasons for the film to be included on the syllabus, but I'll admit that it's no hardship for me to sit through this one.  I've seen Serenity literally dozens of times and there are still moments that make me snort with half-concealed laughter, catch my breath at the beauty of the composition, and - yes - make me proud of what humans can accomplish.  (River's determined "My turn" is one of those moments, incidentally.)  I'll have to see what the students thought in their longer responses this week and in the final paper, but the viewing seems to have been a success; not only in "gee, I liked that one" but also in terms of "hmm, this science fiction stuff can have some heft to it."  One of the best moments for any teacher, regardless of the age and skill level of the students, has to be those all-too-rare flashes when you actually see it coming together for the pupil.

Yay, team!

Meanwhile, over at the Rewatch, Season Seven continues.  Nikki Stafford Her Own Bad Self is the poster this week and she gives some great backstory on the season itself, as well as discussing the three episodes up for analysis this week.  I had forgotten how heartbreaking "Help" (7.4) was.

Up next week - the film students present their individual projects (topics range from robots to time travel to life in a post-apocalyptic world - then I think a little Firefly might be in order.  (Or maybe, being the week before Thanksgiving, "Pangs" should be on the menu.  Hmmm.)

Also - Slayage 5 proposals are due by December 1.  I must finish that, along with making the corrections to the next draft of my contribution for The Joss Whedon Reader, in which I examine Whedon's Dollhouse in light of the cinematic theory of the male gaze and the myth of Echo and Narcissus.  Fear not - it's easier to read than it may first appear!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Are You Living in the Real World?

Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop would sign off each episode with a tagline in the lower right corner of the blackened screen at the end of the session credits.  The most usual one was "See You Space Cowboy," but there were others.  At the end of the movie, the tagline is a question - "Are You Living in the Real World?"  A deceptively simple question - Bebop is a show that explores Big Questions such as honor, family, responsibility, identity, and, yes, reality.  Do the shimmering golden butterflies mean that this world is the real one and that Beauty exists and matters or do they signify that the brain of the viewer has been compromised, that this world is merely a dream, and an awful one at that?

It's no secret that I like Bebop.  I think it's complex, richly nuanced and the vocal talents are spot-on.  (It also makes smoking look cool, but there it is.)  I'm using Bebop in the class to set up a discussion of space opera vs. space Western by having the students examine both Bebop and (next week) Serenity.  Common themes are woven throughout both but there are significant differences and departures as well, including the pacing.  Japanese films tend to be slower paced and to take more time to build than most American films - we like quick cuts and action, action, action!  (As an experiment, imagine Michael Bay being handed the script for Kurosawa's Ran, along with a budget of a hundred million dollars.  Now go put your head between your knees and breathe deeply - it never happened.  It'll all be okay.)

Over at the Rewatch, we've begun Season Seven.  Buffy discovers that Spike has a soul - the scene at the end of "Beneath You" is simply heartbreaking.  It was then and it remains so now.  Elizabeth Rambo explains it all - Buffy is a rich text, and it's well worth paying attention to what's being said by whom.  It's all connected.  Really.

Next week -  A double dose of Whedon as the film class takes on Serenity and the Rewatch continues with Season Seven.  See you in the real world, Space Cowboy!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is Anything On TV?

This was a question I used to ask when the choices at my childhood home were very limited.  We didn't have cable while I was growing up and there were only the "Big Three" networks.  (I know, it sounds like I spent my childhood drawing pictures of a mastodon hunt on the walls of a cave.  I didn't.  The earth was still cooling and was too hot for organized hunting trips.)  Nowadays, there are many more choices.  More networks on "regular" broadcast television, plus "netlets" like the CW, plus basic and premium cable, plus DVR technology, as well as watching-on-demand streaming technology.  But there's still that basic question -

Is anything on?

Well, yes.

Over at the Rewatch, Season Six of Buffy ends with Buffy digging her way out of a grave - her second that season.  But the world she emerges into is one that has both radically changed and one she wants to actually live in.  An excellent write up to conclude what is often a dark and unfairly derided season.

The film class took a break from watching feature-length films to look at what television can do.  I wanted to mix things up, so I included a stand alone from a classic show ("The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" from Twilight Zone), an example of "what if we broadcast through the Internet instead of waiting for a green light from the suits?" (Whedon's Dr. Horrible which also sparks good discussions on role expectations and the use of sound, which is the focus for next week) and an episode from a longer narrative arc ("Ballad of Fallen Angels" from Cowboy Bebop).  This is a hard week to winnow down the viewing - in its infancy, television was viewed as stage and film's not-quite-up-to-snuff little brother, but I'd argue (along with others, such as New York Magazine's Emily Nussbaum) that certainly isn't the case nowadays.

Wait, you say.  There's a lot of trash out there.  Indeed.  And there always has been, whether the "out there" is TV facing your sofa or the widescreen at the local multiplex.  Here's a simple plan to work around that - if it's trash, either don't watch it, or watch it KNOWING that it's trash.  (I, myself, have occasionally gotten sucked into so-called "reality" TV featuring supremely starved and toned women who wear flip-flops that retail for more than my good china.  A little bad can be good for you - just don't think it's real.)

And look for the good.  I'm finally doing an organized watch of Straczynski's Babylon 5 which looks quite promising (despite the late 80s synth pop that will apparently come back in the future, along with shoulder pads) as it asks the Big Questions - "Who are you?"  "What do you want?"  Important questions to ask, and to answer, as you go along in life.

I'm also impressed with Ringer (although I'm behind in my watching of it) which I'm finding to be a fun show with some unexpected twists.  But the one I'm really hopeful for is Grimm.  The pilot episode sets up what seems to be a solid framework - there's at least one strong female character (who hopefully will pull through and be an ongoing force; fairy tales have too many passive women), some great comic relief, and a pervasive tone of darkness that really ought to be in fairy tales, which originally were (after all) cautionary tales for adults, not bedtime stories for sleepy children.

We'll see, but until then, don't leave the path!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Side Trip!

Different focus this week, as Whedon has been a busy little bee.  It's been a big week.

First up, have you seen the first trailer for The Avengers?  Have you seen the fan-made shot-by-shot spoof of it?  Labor of love, I'm telling you.  (And thanks to Nikki Stafford for sending this our way)

The all-official trailer

Fans with too much time on their hands, but with some lovely dialogue:  "Gentlemen - and that one hot chick over there."

Time will tell if the film is anything other than a summer popcorn flick with pretty explosions, but to hear Whedon dialogue being said by Robert Downey, Jr. gives me hope.  And a happy.

Then this hit the world a couple of days ago - seems that when Whedon reached a break on Avengers, he gathered a few friends to put on a show in the barn.  The difference is that these are vertigo-inducingly talented friends, he's got a big barn, and the source material is the frothy comedy Much Ado about Nothing. 

Over at the Rewatch, Season Six hits a couple of episodes that sharply divided fans.  Is anything we've been watching for nearly six years real?  And "Seeing Red" - oh, my.  I'm telling you, when things go bad on this show, they REALLY go bad.  Let Alyson Buckman and Cynthea Masson explain it to you.

In class, we also were dealing with the question of "What is real?" with Alex Proyas' Dark City.  How can you run out of time if you can control it?  Who are you if your memories are switched around like so many
paper plates?  And how does film noir mix with science fiction?

As I said, big week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Who Are You?

Reel One:  In the film class, we continued our exploration of the ways aliens are depicted in film.  Remember that last week was Ridley Scott's Alien, in which the alien is big, scary, ravenous, and pretty much only seen in bits and pieces until the very end.  (It's brilliant to let the audience's imagination fill in the blanks - we always manage to scare ourselves better than anything we actually SEE!)  This week was an overlooked gem of a film called Impostor.  In this film, we've been at war with the Centauris for years now and we're not doing so well.  We never actually see the enemy, for he has discovered a way to infiltrate our society.  Walt Kelly's Pogo was right - the enemy is us.  (Actually, the Pogo line is far sadder, for that enemy is us without an alien walking around in the skin.)  At its heart, Impostor asks one of the biggest of questions - something that good science fiction does very, very well.  Just what does it mean to be human?  Impostor is based on a Philip K. Dick story, and Dick was nigh-obsessed with the idea of memory and its role in making us, well, us.  Good discussion on this one and I look forward to my students proving to me that they are, in fact, human.

Reel Two:  Over at the Rewatch, we deal with some different sorts of identity crises as Willow tries to put away magic, Riley returns from the jungle all growed up, and Xander calls off his wedding with nearly perfect bad timing.  Have you ever seen that car pile-up of a show Bridezilla?  Imagine the situation with an ex-demon.  Who are you?  How do you know?  Who do you want to be?  How do you get there?

I've heard it said that Babylon 5 (a show I'm beginning to watch in the next few weeks in an organized way instead of my up-to-now scattershot approach) boils existence down to two questions:  Who are you?  What do you want?  We change, so the answers change.  And it's always wise to know the answers to those two questions.

Coming Soon:  Hold on to your hats, viewers!  The film class takes on the magnificent neo-noir that is Proyas' Dark City and the Rewatch tackles insanity, reality, and sexual assault.  (You were warned that Season Six got dark!  But how else can you see the coming of the light?)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jazz and Thoughts

Among the many highlights on this conference trip was meeting Jim the Tour Guide.  Not only did he give us information on history, architecture, and ghosts, he also pointed out any number of restaurants (including Irene's, home of that fabulous creme brulee I told you about.  That's not a dessert as much as it's something to note to include in confession!).  It's always nice to get out of the hotel, even if it's a very nice hotel* and see more of the host city.

In this way, we wound up at The Court of the Two Sisters for a jazz brunch.  There actually were two sisters (and currently the place is run by two brothers, although there's no longer a connection to the original family).  The Camors sisters were born just around the the outbreak of the Civil War and survived that, built a notions business to cater to women of style who wanted Parisian laces and perfumes, then operated this "hidden courtyard" restaurant.  You walk off the street and through the foyer/bar area into the buffet area (landing strips have been shorter) and through that into the walled courtyard.  FryDaddy and I were seated under a wisteria-draped wrought-iron arbor at a table with a great view of both the jazz trio and the wishing well.  A well-fed cat genteelly begged for any dropped shrimp.  The waitstaff was dignified, dressed to the nines, and friendly.  You know those all-too-elusive moments of "yeah, this is exactly where I want to be" that occur sometimes?  Get thee to the Court on a warm October morning before the tour buses descend and you just may have one of those epiphanies.  Better souvenir than cheap plastic beads, but be sure to pick up some of those, too.  FryDaddy thinks the coffee is better here than at the Cafe du Monde; I'm think it was the tranquility and jazz. Either way, if you're in New Orleans, put this one at the tippy-top of your list.

Now it wasn't all beignets and chicory.  I had my paper to deliver, as did FryDaddy (his was on Saturday) and there were both entire panels and individual papers we wanted to hear and people we wanted to talk with.  I won't go into overmuch with the details, but I've added a number of movies to my queue based on papers I heard, I'm thinking about how writers have moved from having detectives who are "exceptionally smart" (the original Sherlock) to having them be flawed and somehow disabled (Bones' Brennan, who can't react appropriately in society without help - a trait that is apparently NOT found in the books!).  Although I'm not sure I want to read Chuck Palahniuk's Snuff, the paper was extraordinary.  My paper was well received to the point that I am planning on expanding the section on direct linkages between Bebop and Firefly for next year's Slayage conference in Vancouver.  FryDaddy's paper was a hit - he has a wry delivery style and, face it, the man knows his topic.  I caught up on work being done in fan studies and the use of hard-core statistics to categorize instances of whatever it is you study in filmed texts.  Quite strong arguments were made that we're in the midst of a continuing "Golden Age" of Quality TV and yes, I came home with half a dozen new books and journals.

And zydeco rules!

Some much still - post-Katrina tours just seem well, unseemly.  We saw a wedding party heading into a Voodoo Garden - who knows?  The wrought-iron balconies are covered in lush window boxes and Bourbon Street on a Sunday morning is just sad.  The Saints beat the Panthers and I had a good enough time in N'Awlins that I was generous about it.  Go. To. New. Orleans.

*True fact.  My hotel bill listed a charge for the hotel restaurant.  Since we never ate there or had room service, I called about the charge - the cab was waiting to take us to the airport, so it slipped by me.  Those who know me will chuckle when I tell you that the restaurant told me the charge was for "looks like a couple pitchers of Bloody Marys."  In which case I know that's not mine, Drake!  There were very nice about removing the charge, by the way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let's See the City!

So on our very first night in town, FryDaddy and I wander the streets of the French Quarter, simultaneously taking in the local sights and sounds while trying to find a place to eat.  We'd already laid in supplies for the room fridge and attacked I mean "gently examined" the cheese plate in the lobby (yes, it was the kind of hotel that has a wine and cheese reception in the lobby on Wednesdays).  During our walkabout, we were entranced by an energetic Cuban man hawking for a hole-in-the-wall called "Country Flame" on Iberville that offers Spanish, Mexican, and Cuban food for rock-bottom prices - an academic's dream!  We weren't the only ones who thought so - we ran into three of our "conference buddies" and chatted briefly (like many of us, they wanted to fine-tune their presentations before giving them "live" during the conference).  Back at the hotel, FryDaddy settled in to the room and I took an exploratory turn around the pool - no one was there, so I had a lovely quiet moment sitting in the gathering dusk and listening to street jazz while looking at the garish neon beckoning me to come back to the tawdrier sections of the Quarter.

Thursday was the first day of the actual conference - let me tell you now that you won't be hearing much about specific panels and papers (a little bit, sure).  I decided to do this as more of a travel review/journal, but don't worry - comments on the conference and the people are woven in.  I must say, there were some oddities this time - individual papers were often quite good, but the panels lacked an overall through-line, which made for some challenging scheduling.  "Well, I want to see Paper A here, but Paper B in this panel at the same time looks interesting, and Paper C here seems good . . ." so there was a certain amount of discreet ducking and slipping in to panels late.  It's a good problem at a conference like this one - popular culture/American culture is such a broad field (c'mon, there are panels on film, teaching Shakespeare, Cajun culture, and the use of technology in the classroom all at the same time!) that you can't see everything you'd like to see.  Therefore, you use the list of e-mails at the back of the program a lot to connect with those you missed.

Since the first panel wasn't until mid-morning, we struck out for some early sightseeing.  FryDaddy and I had decided that we'd rather spend our time in the Quarter and amble a bit rather than doing a rushed tour of a larger area.  We need to go back, definitely!  We walked down to the world-famous Cafe du Monde for beignets and chicory-laced coffee.  Now a beignet is not a pastry to be taken lightly.  A French cousin to the doughnut, a proper beignet is a square of fried dough that is smothered in powdered sugar.  As our tour guide Jim would tell us later, "There's no neat way to eat a beignet.  You're going to look like you had breakfast with Charlie Sheen."  He's right!  The sweetness of the sugar cuts the slight bitterness of the chicory (I had mine as cafe au lait, so the bitterness was already cut.)  The Cafe is one of those "you just have to go" places - it's crowded and noisy and I wonder what it's like at 3 a.m. (it's open 24 hours a day) but I didn't find out.

We explored Jackson Square to work off the sugar.  Tow mounted cops were taking pictures of themselves in front of the statue of Andrew Jackson ("The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved" on the plinth was added after the 1864 Battle of New Orleans).  By the way, it's the first statue to portray a hero astride a rearing horse.  Beyond the statue is the St. Louis Cathedral, which has been designated as a "minor basilica" (the major ones are in Rome).  The interior of the cathedral was somber, as the late Archbishop (who had been a paratrooper in WW2, thus earning the nickname of the "Jumping Padre") was laying in state.  I'm all for taking unobtrusive photos in stunning churches, but I personally found walking up the nave to snap a pic of the Archbishop in his open casket tacky beyond the telling of it.  But maybe that's just me.

Deciding that we needed assistance to cover the Quarter, we hired Jim and Crawdad (that's Crawdad at the top of the post) from the line of mule-drawn carriages.  We paid extra, but we had Jim (who bore a disturbing resemblance to Sam Elliott) and Crawdad to ourselves, which turned out to be a wise choice.  Jim was an excellent, excellent tour guide.  Among the things we learned:

  • New Orleans was originally a city built of wood.  Two major fires changed that.  Only three buildings in the Quarter are now built of wood - most everything else is "brick and beam," a style that provides more stability in high winds and also doesn't burn easily.
  • "Romeo & Juliet" spikes - think huge barbed wire wrapped around balcony supports to discourage visitors to teenage daughters.  You might go up a Romeo, but you're coming down a Juliet!
  • The country's first apartment buildings (still rented, going rate about $2800 a month) are at the edge of Jackson Square.
  • Those beautiful wrought iron balconies and fripperies were added much, much later.  New Orleans is an old city and it began as a port city.  The iron came later, say around 1830 or so.
  • Celebs have discovered the Quarter - Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their brood have a house there, Sandra Bullock is having one gutted, and Nic Cage owned (but did not live in) the Quarter's most haunted house, which was the scene of gruesome human experiments done on slaves.  The horrors were discovered when a kitchen slave who was literally chained to the stove set herself on fire to summon the fire brigade during a dinner party.
  • New Orleans had slavery, but due to the French/Spanish ownership, the "peculiar institution" was different.  (By the way, France owned New Orleans for six weeks in 1803 before they sold it to the USA as part of the Louisiana Purchase!)  Slaves had the weekend off and were permitted to gather and sell their own goods (baked goods, leatherwork, etc.) and keep the money.  Many slaves bought their freedom in this way.  Slaves had legal standing to sue for mistreatment and, if they won their case, they were freed and a fine was paid to them by the master.  It was also customary for a slave to be freed after a long period of service (very long, like 20 - 25 years).
  • Then there were the "Quadroon Balls."  Prepare to be grossed out.  These mockery of debutante balls were held so that young free women of color could meet wealthy planters in search of mistresses.  Girls were trained from childhood for these parties.  If a pretty young thing caught the eye of a rich man, negotiations began between the man and the girl's mother.  (Pimp your daughter!)  These were binding contracts that covered housing, allowance, the raising of the children, etc.  While not legal marriages, these were common-law arrangements that gave the young "quadroon" a degree of autonomy and power, despite it being based on sexual attraction.  Desperate times, desperate measures.  The fact that it was considered genteel and legitimate just makes me shudder.

This is so long already . . . let me just add the first souvenirs we bought were high-end pet snacks for the critters, I had quite possibly the best creme brulee EVER that night at Irene's (our "big" night out) and street bands are everywhere!

Next:  Conference report and more from our attempts to eat our way across the Quarter!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Digression That Isn't

I know, I know.  You want more dirt on my Big Easy trip and fear not - it's coming.  There's much to discuss there - post-Katrina tours, voodoo shops, mule carriage rides, learning about "Romeo & Juliet" spikes, the accepted horror of the "Quadroon Balls," and more besides!

But at the moment, a few other items bear mentioning.  So please - enjoy this tonight and more on the fine city of New Orleans tomorrow.  Let's go to the tape.  Or DVD.  Or DVR.

First, the film class reconvened today after Fall Break.  We started our next unit of focus with Ridley Scott's Alien.  Although 30+ years old, this is a film that holds up nicely.  Scott melds science fiction with horror and also creates a scary, scary place by focusing our attention on what we don't see.  Space is very, very large and air ducts are very, very small and fear comes in both sizes.  Raw capitalism is alive and well beyond the frontiers.  Technology can save us or set us up for the kill.  And the magnificently human Ellen Ripley saves the day (and the cat!) instead of the more traditional male captain.

Second, the Rewatch continues to rocket through Season Six.  Our fair moderator, Nikki Stafford, is still enjoying the charms of the Big Easy, but Stacey May Fowles, the poster this week, has things well in hand.  "Dead Things" is a difficult episode to watch and her analysis explains that there are some darned good reasons for that. As Angel reminded Faith way back when, sometimes it's supposed to hurt and this is an episode that stings.  And sings.

Last, did you see - I mean DID YOU SEE - the finale of Season 4 of Breaking Bad Sunday night?  Holy.  Cow.  (Don't worry - the link is to a spoiler-free promo.)  They need to make some extra Emmys for Best Supporting Actor.  I'm not sure where the next season will go, but FryDaddy has a theory that I think is just delicious.  I'll keep it under wraps for now, but if he's right, then the final season of Breaking Bad will blow the top off the television set.

Next:  Back to N'Awlins.  Having eaten the Godiva chocolates that we treated ourselves to during the layover in Memphis, it's time to find a beignet, explore a cathedral, and tour the Quarter.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Good intentions, meet Road to Hell.  Turns out that we got to the airport with everything we'd need for a several-day-long sojourn in the Big Easy except for the laptop!  This actually turned out to be a blessing - not having it meant we didn't spend time hunched over the keyboard and instead spent more time visiting with friends, eating really, REALLY good food and exploring the French Quarter.  So that's my sort-of apology for not posting during the trip itself.  Let me just give you a taste tonight and I'll start more detailed postings once I dig out my notes (yes, I take notes when I travel).

First off - and being a Piedmont Airlines girl until the very day it merged into the cargo-carrying-mindset behemoth that is USAirways - go Delta!  On the leg from Charlotte to Memphis, we had a FANTASTIC captain who reminded us all to "take a look at that safety brochure, won't you?  Many people don't want to, but really - a picture's worth a thousand words."  He also reminded us that we ought to pay attention because "when a gentleman's speaking to you, the polite thing to do is to pay attention."  Add to that a crewmember who offered me peanuts, pretzels, or cookies and then gave me all three when I asked if I absolutely HAD to chose and perhaps you begin to see the appeal.

Next, the fine and venerable city of New Orleans is a treasure of the highest order.  I thought I knew a thing or two about Southern hospitality (and I do), but this city is just made for tourists.  Maps remind you that "if it's illegal when you're from, it's probably illegal in New Orleans, too" but they want you to have a really good time.  More on this during my discussion of the French Quarter.

The hotel was the JW Marriott on Canal Street, which is a boundary of the French Quarter (or "Vieux Carre"), the oldest part of the city.  (By the way, the Quarter is laid out in a grid, but it's not quite as north/south as the map indicates - the bend of the Mississippi isn't that linear.)  The hotel was one of those luxury hotels that makes you feel as if you're truly on a vacation.   A most excellent tour guide disguised as a bellman whisked our bags upstairs, showed us the view of the Quarter, and pointed out a few of the bigger sites, including making sure we knew where Bourbon Street was (hint - turn right at the Foot Locker).  Two thick, lush robes hung in the closet for us and yes, we could even hear jazz music coming up from the streets.  Streetcars ran up and down Canal Street and downright quaint mule-drawn wagons took tourists around to map out their visit.

We might not have had the laptop, but we were there!

NEXT:  Beignets, Crawfish the mule, and a little history . . .

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Off to the Big Easy!

There's only one reel this week - my college is on fall break, so my film class has the week off to digest What We've Done So Far before we dive into the depiction of aliens in science fiction and the ways in which their changes reflect our changes.

I'm off to New Orleans tomorrow for the regional PCA/ACA conference, where I'm due to present on Cowboy Bebop's potential influences on Whedon's Firefly.  It's only a short presentation, so I (as usual) wind up scratching the surface and asking more questions that perhaps actually get answered.  Here's hoping it goes well - tune in later this week for an update following Friday's presentation.

Of course, it's not just about me - this is a large conference and there's also a "conference within a conference" centering on some little show called Lost or Misplaced or something like that.  There will be much to see and hear and speculate upon, as there always is at a conference with such wide-ranging topics.  (FryDaddy is scheduled to present on Saturday about Samuel Colt in real life, myth and on Supernatural, which promises to be a show-stopper.)

I plan to post often - maybe even once a day, but that may be a goal too lofty.  Check in and see, won't you?

Also, over at the continuing Rewatch, that's me who's in the hot seat this week.  I cover three "Willowcentric" episodes from Season Six and my interpretation is met with some resistance amongst part of the fan base.  However, I stand by my assessment - Willow's an addict and she hits some form of bottom by the end of this week's trio of episodes.  Read the post and the comments and see what you think!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Change It Up!

Reel One: In film class, we're headed into the break and the students just turned in their first compare/contrast paper, so they needed a break.  We watched the thinly-plotted-but-heavy-on-color-drenched-symbolism-and- slapstick-humor Luc Besson flick, The Fifth Element.  There's much to love in this film, including Chris Tucker's Ruby Rhod, Bruce Willis' dry wit, Jean-Paul Gaultier's futuristic costumes, and Milla Jovovich's "Divine Language" as the Perfect Supreme Being with a Multipass.  And Gary Oldman's Zorg, who seems to be the comic "Ming the Merciless" version of this character Oldman played in The Professional three years earlier for Besson.  Science fiction is often a very "white" genre and tends to the creepy rather than the comic, so Fifth Element can be a fun way to explore other ways of approaching the genre.

Reel Two: Over at the Rewatch, we have our second "change it up" of the week.  In Fifth Element, the Diva's aria is a key scene - that's her at the top of the post.  Over at the Rewatch, music is the very heart of the episode this week, so it's a good pairing.  Up this week for discussion and analysis is the musical episode, Season Six's "Once More with Feeling" and our Faithful Guide Nikki Stafford took this one to new heights.  While Janet Halfyard provides the academic touch in discussing the use of music in Buffy as a whole, using "OMWF" as the springboard, a veritable dissertation of scholars literally "chime in" on this episode, singing the songs, mangling the lyrics, even doing a dance or two.  Silliness prevails - what is with that cup, Matthew Pateman? - but it also successfully gets across the depth of the love these fine folk have for this show.  (Seriously - I'm the one in the fuzzy pink bathrobe, something I would've sworn would never appear on the Internet.  Ahhh, never say never, my friends!)

Coming Soon:  Next week, my class is on fall break and I'm attending the PCA-South conference in New Orleans.  The Bebop paper is drafted, although it needs a couple of hours' worth of attention to fine-tune a few points and then get cut down to presentation size.  I'm hopeful that I'm managed to pull together the various threads of manga, anime, feng shui, science fiction, and the blending of genres, both cinematically and musically.  There's a lot in that there 20 minutes, so I'll probably need to slash and burn something to allow sufficient time for the rest.  Tomorrow is a "controlled burn" sort of day, so everything should be in good shape by the time FryDaddy and I get on the flight next Wednesday.  Oh, and I'm the writer of the Rewatch next week as Willow spirals down, and down, and down . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Shakespeare in Space?

Reel One:  The film class made the leap to color this week.  For our last "early classic," we took in Wilcox's Forbidden Planet, a film with one of the most misleading and pulp-lurid posters of the 1950s.  I must admit to really enjoying watching my students watch this one.  It's certainly a 1950s view of the future with a flying saucer just chock-full of slide-rule instrumentation (then again, science fiction commonly has views of the future that are dictated by the time in which the film was made - you don't seem atomic-ray altered monsters until after WW2 had shown us the destruction that slamming atoms together could create).  It also has Robby the Robot, a mechanical man who can create ten tons of lead alloy or run up a (very short) dress with the skill of a pageant designer with an atomic BeDazzler.  Toss in a good dose of Shakespeare's The Tempest and you've got a movie that can hold up over the years.  Even a nice dollop of Freud - I've asked my students to consider what their own "monsters from the Id" might be like - that should be educational!

Reel Two:  Over at the Rewatch, the dark tone of the first three episodes of the sometimes schizoid Season 6 gives way to some frothy comedic fun.  (It won't last - seriously, Season Six goes darker than dark, which makes the comedy both a little jarring and quite, quite welcome when you get it.)  Buffy has to pay bills, Dawn goes on a Halloween date and - oh, kitten poker!  There's something ESPN should sink its broadcasting teeth into!

Coming Soon: I may not see much sunlight this weekend, but at the end of it, I hope I can report that my paper for the New Orleans conference is drafted.  Next week, over at the Rewatch, a dissertation of scholars takes on "Once More with Feeling" and explores why Buffy wants something to sing about.  The film class is slated to discover that broad comedy and science fiction can indeed mix by exploring the wildly colorful splendor that is Luc Besson's The Fifth Element.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Let the Dead Be Dead

The woman named Tomorrow
sits with a hairpin in her teeth
and takes her time
and does her hair the way she wants it
and fastens at last the last braid and coil
and puts the hairpin where it belongs
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
What of it? Let the dead be dead.  (Carl Sandberg)

Reel One: In the film class, we explored the "mad scientist" trope with one of those rare sequels that comes off better than the original - James Whale's The Bride of Frankenstein.  Drs. Frankenstein and Pretorius just can't let the dead be dead.  Science is used to re-animate a bride for the monster, without bothering to consult the young woman on whether or not she'd like to come back from wherever she's been.  (She also could use a hairpin or two.) About 70 years later, Buffy's friends will make the same choice, albeit for arguably less-selfish reasons, but with equally dire consequences.  

Reel Two: Over at the Rewatch, we've entered the dark country of Season 6.  Buffy's dead.  For real.  There's even a headstone. Haunted by the idea that their friend sacrificed herself and was sent to some sort of hell dimension, Actions Are Taken and Buffy is brought back from the afterlife.  This will have major, major consequences as this journey is supposed to only have a one-way ticket.  Still, it's hard to let the dead be dead.  It's a shocking, violent  start to the UPN years and when you consider that Season 6 began broadcasting about a month after 9/11, it seems a shade darker.  Elizabeth Rambo, who co-edited a book on these final two seasons, writes this week's post and it's good stuff!  Check it out.

Project Countdown:  I have a blog post to finish on part of Season 6 of Buffy.  It's my solo contribution for the Great Buffy Rewatch of 2011 that I've been posting links to all year.  It won't go up for several weeks, but we're all asked to get ours in early.  I've done my rewatch and have my notes, but still have to turn those into a post.  Then my attention needs to get focused on my presentation for the conference in New Orleans in early October.  More on that as it gets closer - the research is nearly done and I'm getting excited about the drafting part, as well as the prospect of seeing old friends, including Nikki Stafford of the Rewatch (she's a keynote speaker at the Lost conference that's being held as part of the larger conference) and a host of those who have written for the Rewatch this year.

Coming Soon:  The Charlotte area Browncoats are holding their annual "Can't Stop the Serenity" shindig this Sunday.  Free admission, plenty of food and auction items with all the funds going to support several good causes.  C'mon - watching Serenity on the big screen while surrounded by like-minded folk?  You know you want it!  Details can be found here.  And the film class dives into deep space and Freud with Forbidden Planet.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Head, Hands, Heart?

Reel One:  The film class got to its first full-length (and beyond!) movie this week with Fritz Lang's Metropolis. I firmly believe that a science fiction class needs to include this one - it's the granddaddy of most science fiction tropes and there's just so much going on there. I'm looking forward to hearing the extended commentary from my first-time viewers.  Silent films can be a real challenge - you have to keep up with the intertitle cards, the acting style tends to be way over the top, and there's the whole notion of "no words," but once you can get past that and allow yourself to be sucked into the story, there's quite a payoff.  Stirring music, whiz-bang effects, sensuality, a decadent society content to batten like ticks off the backs of slave workers, the eventual revolt of those workers, religion vs. technology, women as not-quite-fully-realized characters -- Metropolis has it all!  Metropolis also contains a snazzy epigraph at the beginning that Madonna shamelessly ripped off for "Express Yourself."  Watch and you can't miss it in either work.

Reel Two: Over at the Rewatch, Season Five wraps up.  Glory figures out the secret of the Key and Dawn'll have to bleed for it.  Or will the blood of another Summers do?  Saviors sacrifice and we learn this week that death is Buffy's gift.  And the counter isn't accepting returns.  It's a stunning trio of episodes that lead inevitably to a climax that still makes me tear up a bit.  (Watch Spike.  That's the secret.)  And Giles, as we already know, is not a mild-mannered librarian.  Read Nikki's comments on that part - great stuff!

Coming Soon:  Next week, the Rewatch enters the divided territory of Season Six.  Buffy has died, so has another Slayer been called?  Or did that line end with her earlier death back in Season One?  Either way, who's going to protect Sunnydale from vampires?  Who's going to raise Dawn?  And how much more loss can one group of friends take before someone snaps?  In the film class, we leave Rotwang and his Evil Hand behind in 1920s Germany and explore the "mad scientist" trope further with the American classic Bride of Frankenstein.  For my money, one of those rare films where the sequel surpasses the original.

Also:  I have a stack of books on my desk to "research gut" for my upcoming presentation in October.  It was very nice to take last weekend off and decompress from a variety of writing deadlines (including start of semester madness), but it's back in the saddle this weekend.  What?  You don't know how to "gut" a book?  Let David Lavery teach you!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Angles, Shots and Set Ups

Reel One: In class this week, we had the "vocabulary lecture" - not my favorite of lessons, but you have to know the language if you plan to speak clearly. In the case of film studies, that means knowing the difference between a two-shot and an extreme close-up. We had some fun going over the different angles by having a volunteer sit quietly as the subject while other students demonstrated how to set up the angle of the shot (we did the best we could with "bird's eye"!). We then watched a few clips to see what we had talked about in action - Vertigo, The Third Man, and North by Northwest (above) all gave us food for thought. Now we're ready to see everything in action - dissection is just ahead, but now we have the tools to peel back the surface and look underneath.

Reel Two: Over at the Rewatch, Buffy and the Scoobies have to deal with the loss of Joyce. Last week focused on the immediate aftermath - this week looks at the days afterward. Buffy stays busy, Dawn feels ignored, everyone mourns in their own ways. (Angel even comes briefly back from L.A.) And Willow begins to do some things that are the result of terrible, terrible ideas. The fact that they come from a place of love and concern changes that not a whit. Cameras aren't the only thing being "set up" right now - seeds are being sown that will bear fruit (some of it poisonous) further down the road. (OK - here's your challenge for this post. Just how many metaphors did I mash in that last sentence?)

Coming Soon: It's time for Metropolis! Buckle up - class struggle, the depiction of women as Madonna/whore, technology as a benevolent force or an endless maw that must be fed, a dystopian society - it's all in there. And without dialogue.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Heartbreak and Beginnings

Reel One: Over at the Rewatch, we're only covering a single episode this week. That's not Standard Operating Procedure, but the episode in question is "The Body" and it deserves to be seen and discussed as a solo. For my money, it's just an amazing hour of television. One of the truly remarkable things about this episode (and the remarkable things about this episode are legion) is how realistically it deals with the real-world issue of loss. Many people hear the name Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, based on the title alone, dismiss the show as teenage fluff. That's a shame, for at its absolute best, Buffy is amazing, outstanding, and in this case, gut-wrenching. I'm especially proud of this Rewatch week as my husband and I teamed up to write part of the post. Read and tell me what you thought of our approach.

Reel Two: The film class had its first meeting yesterday; an occasion that was marked by an (fortunately mild) earthquake. Seriously - I just hope we're not working our way through the plagues this semester. It takes more than a seismic event to stop my film class, so we just carried on. Aside from that, it was a pretty standard first day; nothing really - wait for it - earth-shaking. (Yuk, yuk.) The class is small, which should make for interesting discussions with plenty of time for everyone to chime in. We collected ideas on what exactly is science fiction, discussed rules&regs, went over a list of terms which ranged from "Han Solo" to "montage," with a few clips to illustrate. The students contributed and it looks like it's shaping up to be a good class!

[Full disclosure about the quake - I didn't even feel anything. Very strange - the students on the left hand side of the class felt it; those of us on the right hand side didn't. The class is also on the ground floor, which probably had something to do with it. We'd moved to a different classroom once I realized that the original room didn't have window blinds - not good for an afternoon film class!]

Coming Soon: So what happens next for the Scoobies? Everything has changed, yet life keeps spinning forward. Buffy and her friends must attempt to re-set their lives following this loss and the transitions will be hard. In class, we'll work with the core terms from the first chapter and see if we can't wrestle the terms to the ground and pin them there. There's a bit of early film history to cover and then we're off to the movies!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Back to School!

Sorry that I missed a week - it's been a busy time, what with getting ready for the fall semester and having some badly-needed (and quite uncomfortable) sinus work done. While I've been dealing with syllabi, Blackboard links, and saline irrigation, things have been a-brewin' at the rewatch. Let's check in, shall we?

I'm two weeks behind there - shouldn't happen again. What that means is that you have two posts to catch up on for Buffy's Season Five and things are popping! First, Bryan Curry tells us about Riley's departure and the Big Reveal about Glory. Click here for that post. Then, in this week's post, two talented writers take on Dawn being the Key (knowledge that is most definitely not welcome!), ask us some questions about what it means to be human and show us what cruelties uncaring Fate can bring. Click here for that post.

Next week, the Rewatch takes on a flat-out masterpiece in an episode titled "The Body." That's all I'll say for now, other than to tell you that it's a heartbreaker, for it's not about death as much as it's about loss, which can be much, much worse. Next week, I'll resume the "Reel One/Reel Two" format as we get back to what's happening in the film class.

See you at the concession stand!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Body Language

Reel One: Over at the Rewatch, things are heating up as Spike can't decide if he loves Buffy, wants to viciously murder Buffy, or (quite possibly) both. Joyce is sick and Buffy discovers that there are some things that Slayer strength just can't fix. This week's commentary is in the extremely capable hands of Rhonda Wilcox and is well worth a thoughtful read. She focuses on the nonverbal aspects of the episodes being discussed and she'll give you a few things to think about. Pour a cup of coffee and pull up a chair, won't you?

Reel Two: I'm (slowly) getting the syllabus together for the fall film class. I want to switch out a few films from last semester - I'm sticking with the same focus this semester, then I'll probably switch. The hard part is knowing that you only have a limited number of weeks and so much to choose from! Alas. It'll get done, but I'll still fret that something wonderful was left off. Part of my own body language these days is the protruding and bitten lip as I consider what stays and what just has to go.

Coming Soon! A project that I've had on the back burner is finally moving to the forefront. For those of you who are local, expect to see a new show on TV19 after Labor Day devoted to movies. While it will include reviews and comments about new releases, we accept that there are so many other outlets for that sort of information, so we're planning to use about half the time to discuss movies that have some sort of link to the new releases - as an example, we might talk about Cowboys & Aliens (warning: the link contains sound) for the first segment, then have a round robin of favorite Harrison Ford flicks after the break. That sort of thing. I'm looking forward to it and I hope to see you in the lobby!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Directions

Reel One: Over at the Rewatch, we're in Season Five now. I agree with Nikki, who's organizing this whole shindig - Season 5 is about using what you learned in Season 4 and moving ahead, often in unexpected directions. Be sure to read Nikki's intro and then settle in to enjoy Tanya Cochran's analysis of three early Season 5 episodes that really will set up large chunks of this season. A big question that gets raised in one of these episodes circles back to a theme that's been raised before in Buffy; namely, who's your family? It's a complicated question and I enjoy the answer Whedon comes up with.

Reel Two: The draft program has been released for the regional Popular Culture/American Culture in the South, which will be held in October. For the first time, a student of mine will be presenting - we're on the same Friday afternoon panel. My student will be presenting on Pushing Daisies; I'll be yammering on about possible links between Cowboy Bebop and Firefly. My Other Half will be presenting on Saturday. It also appears (it's a draft program; things change) that any number of friends will be gathering as well, including Nikki of the Rewatch, who is the keynote speaker for the Lost mini-conference-within-a-conference that will be going on at the same time. You can find out more about the conference here. Just think about it - beignets, jazz, abandoned refrigerators, voodoo, and Mardi Gras - all of these are are possible topics. New Orleans may never be the same!

COMING SOON! More on the conference, especially as I begin to put the presentation together. And it's time for us to contribute to the Rewatch - more on that soon!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Life Brings Changes

I was going to make this all about the Rewatch and then realized that I should include a bit more, due to Recent Events. First, though, let's check in with the Great Buffy Rewatch of 2011.

I missed a week here, due to being away last week and boy! was it a doozy! Matthew Pateman dissected the Season 4 coda "Restless" (which he had given the book-length treatment here), which is an episode that deserves rewatching, even after the rewatch. "Restless" is structured around the nighttime dreams of Our Heroes and is quite revealing. And funny. And full of cheddary goodness.

Then this week, we begin the amazing journey that is Season 5. This season will knock your socks off and (being a Whedon creation) will break your heart more than a little along the way. Your guides for the first trio of Season 5 episodes (that really WILL have you going, "Huh-what?" more than once) are Stacey Abbott and Cynthea Masson, who have written for the Rewatch previously. You can trust them. Now go read.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . I had a day yesterday that was just surreal. It was just too much for a single 24 hour period. (Yeah, yeah, one day at a time, but sometimes, several days gang up on you all at once and you just have to get through it peacefully. Ice cream helps, as does ripping off the pedometer and warning it sternly to quit glaring at you.) Long story short - some great things happened yesterday, which I can't talk about just yet, but rest assured they involve good news for people I truly care about.


It's not that I believe that for every good, there has to be an equal bad. I don't believe that, as I don't believe that the universe is somehow conspiring and lurking to "get me." Sometimes lights turn red for everybody. Cosmic (and traffic) law.


I have a friend who has just retired after 35+ years of teaching for the fine people of North Carolina. She was in fact part of the committee that hired me lo those years ago. She started at the community college back when it was held together with baling twine, spit, and maybe a little duct tape. Flimsy walls were put up in the morning and you had an office of sorts by afternoon; no need to involve the building code people. She also got paid a pittance since she was female and surely her husband took care of the finances. (This complete injustice was rectified when our current president came on board back in the early 1990s, but by then she'd been at the job for more than 15 years at a fraction of the pay she should have received.) She worked hard, cared about her students, and always put herself last on the list. She worked so her husband could finish his doctorate, she worked to support the kids, she worked through her own breast cancer treatment, she worked to pay for her husband's very expensive long-term care when he was hit with early onset Alzheimers. She finally went back to school to complete her own doctorate (paid for out of her own pocket, since the degree isn't required to teach at the community college without so much as a course release), defending the dissertation just in time to retire this May.

Now it was time. She had Big Plans. She was going to travel (had a trip to the Holy Land lined up that she was thrilled about), she was going to go to conferences (she went the Slayage 2 with me years back and loved it - I've got the pictures to prove it), she was going to finally "read for fun" . . . Big Plans.

God laughed.

I visited her in the hospital yesterday. She has suffered at least two strokes since late May, leaving her tired and with some impaired language skills. Imagine the special horror that holds for someone who teaches other people how to communicate. Far from defending tricksy points of the theories applied to her dissertation, she's struggling to color a picture of socks in a preschool coloring book.

Oh, and it gets worse. When the doctors did a scan, they discovered that cancer has latched on to her liver, her lungs, and her abdomen. Treatment is uncertain at best. I'll know more later this week, but things look very grim for this good woman.

I learned some things today and the lessons were in Technicolor. Don't put things off. Times are tight and sometimes it seems that work is what matters most. It's not. It's important, sure, and I want to do a good job for my students, my school, and yes, myself. But I'm not at all sure that putting off what you really want to do to grade a few more papers or teach an overload class for a few extra bucks is quite as important as it once seemed. Cliched as it may sound, it really is later than we think.

So please - at one point today and every day hereafter, just stop what you're doing and think for a moment - Do I want to be doing this? Does this really matter? If the answer to both is "no," do this. If at all possible (and trust me, it's possible), stop and walk away from it. Go outside and stroll for ten minutes, even if it's blazingly hot or bitingly cold. Pet a kitten. Surprise the ones you love with ice cream. Daydream about winning the lottery. Fire up your Harley and find a curvy road. Whatever works for you, but take time every day to nourish your own soul. No one's going to do it for you and you don't want to wait for some dream vacation to "cram lost years into five or six days," as a wise man once sang.

That son-of-a-bitch Death has a timetable that is absolutely non-negotiable, inexorable, and unknown to us all. And he's waiting in the wings for all of us.