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.