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

IT'S COMING!!!

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

Updates!

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!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Swan Song - For Now!

I've done about 250 episodes of Meet Me at the Movies for C19 TV, dating all the way back to 2012 and the time has come to hang up my popcorn bucket - at least for the time being. See, each show represents quite a time commitment. We try to cover two movies per show, so figure two movies at about two hours each. Then add in about an hour per blog post, then another hour spent filming and that's six hours per week, generally on the weekends. That's a lot of time that Meet Me at the Movies requires and that's time that I'm not spending on other things that are valuable and important to me.

So I'm leaving you all in the incredibly capable hands of Noel T. Manning II who has a vast knowledge of movies, both from artistic and a commercial perspectives. I look forward to actually watching the show (remember, it's available on streaming!) and getting recommendations!

You can access the current show here!

See you on the Catbus!
 For my very last show as a regular co-host of Meet Me at the Movies, I planted my feet like a mule and steadfastly refused to go see Michael Bay's latest BoomCrashBang Ode to Smash Cuts (the best review so far is found here!) and instead saw the limited screening of Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro. Please check out the ongoing Studio Ghibli Fest for monthly screenings through November. You won't regret seeing these masterpieces of animation on the big screen! The audience alone is worth it - it's always lovely to see something you enjoy surrounded by other people who also enjoy it.

In the meantime, Ensley and I will be ramping up our social media presence for the upcoming publication of A Dream Given Form, the ultimate guide to Babylon 5 that will be published in mid-September. Check back here for updates - we plan on having quite a shindig in our hometown of Shelby, NC for our book launch!





Monday, June 19, 2017

Victory Lap!

Back in 2006, Pixar released Cars, a rather sweet tale of the up-and-coming hotshot getting schooled by a gruff old master and together, the two of them reach the apex of their sport. It also turned out to be race fan Paul Newman's last film and I truly enjoyed the chemistry between Owen Wilson as the full of himself Lightning McQueen and Paul Newman as the Fabulous Hudson Hawk.

Now Cars 3the third installment of the franchise is out and I'm pleased to report that it's well worth going to see. Newman's voice is still there in a couple of flashbacks and new characters are added. Interestingly, the film also has a bit of a "girl power" thread as Margo Martindale voices an old-time racing great named "Louise Nash," Kerry Washington is a numbers-crunching statistician named "Natalie Certain" and Cristela Alonzo shines as the trainer-racer named "Cruz Ramirez." Yes, the old standbys are here, including Larry the Cable Guy's Tow Mater, but the real story is about Lightning finding worth in himself even if he isn't the fastest car on the track anymore. One of the most poignant lines comes from Lightning's competitor Cal Weathers (who is voiced by Kyle Petty) who comments on his retirement by answering McQueen's question about how to know when it's time to quit, "The youngsters will let you know."

And that's the heart of the story - as a new generation of high-tech, computerized machines takes over the tracks from the "race 'em on Sunday, sell 'em on Monday" actual STOCK stock racing cars, is there room for the old ways? Suddenly, McQueen isn't the hotshot - instead he's the "elder statesman" and he doesn't like it one bit. Now he knows all too well how "Hud" felt. (Confession - referring to Newman's old-school character as "Hud" and McQueen as "Hud's boy" just made me happy. It's a lovely, subtle tribute.)

Nathan Fillion voices the future of sponsorship and branding and brings his own brand of smarmy capitalism to a film that (let's face it) will be heavy of the toys, clothing, and geegaws of the upcoming holiday season.

But best of all are the NASCAR cameos and little history lessons tucked in Cars 3. While NASCAR is usually viewed as a white redneck sport (with enough brand loyalty to make sponsors salivate), there's always been a little more diversity than you might expect. And that's one of the lessons of Cars 3 as well - if you can do the work, where you come from doesn't really matter much.

May we all learn that one.

Plus - be sure you get there in time to see "Lou," the short that plays before the main feature!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

DC (Finally) Gets It Right!

I've waited a little while to write about DC's latest release, Wonder Woman. I think I simply needed time to process my reactions to this film. So much was riding on Diana Prince's Amazonian shoulders - and not just for the DC movie franchise. Films led by female comic characters have not done well at the box office - see Catwoman and Elektra for evidence of my point. However, the suits tended to think that the problem was with the fact that the lead character was a woman, as opposed to looking at the problems caused by weak scripts, sloppy direction, and indifferent marketing.

Wonder Woman might change all that, for the film is certainly is a game-changer. Director Patty Jenkins, who is best known for her 2003 debut feature, Monster, had much to prove here and the critical as well as commercial love for her film should go a long way towards dispelling the long-outmoded idea that "boys won't go see a movie with a girl lead character, so we don't want to make them." Currently, the film is sitting pretty at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the box office take is estimated to be well in excess of $200 million.

There is simply so much to love about this movie - Gal Gadot is perfectly cast as Diana, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor reminds me of why I enjoyed Hell or High Water so much, and the supporting cast is amazing. Special shout-outs go to Lucy Davis as Steve's grounded assistant Etta, and Robin Wright as Diana's warrior aunt Anitope made me punch the air in delight.

All that said, I wouldn't take very small ones to this. Wonder Woman moves the origin story from WW2 to WW1 and there are a few graphic scenes of battlefield violence. (Not Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge violent, but still - I'd keep the under 10 set outside.) The film carries a rating of PG-13 for the scenes of violence, which don't seem especially "comic-booky," so use caution with the young fry.

The film is taking the Internet by storm, including some fantastic reactions on Twitter.  Patty Jenkins shared a note sent to her by her producer showing the reactions of a kindergarten class (again, I think that's too young for this film, but that's me) and some of the audience reactions are just heartwarming (#17 is my favorite of this list). Alamo Drafthouse (a private business, by the way) in Austin, TX decided to have a women-only screening, which was generally well-received. And, it being Austin, when one man decided his feelings were hurt by this, the mayor responded with wit and humor. And Texts from Superheroes had more fun with this idea than should probably be allowed.

Diana is a warrior who wants to serve the cause of peace. May we all remember that no, it's not about what we deserve; it's about holding fast to our ideals. And perhaps about making swords fashion accessories at society soirees.

Will this save the upcoming Justice League movie? Only time will tell.


Monday, May 29, 2017

The Watery Depths

The 2017 summer blockbuster season is officially underway. While this can be cause for rejoicing (I truly enjoyed Guardians 2 and pleasepleaseplease let Wonder Woman be a strong picture!), it can also be a time for scratching your head and saying, "How'd that get greenlit again?"

The sheer expense of making a big summer movie accounts for Hollywood's rampant timidity - why try something new when you've got a built-in audience for a new installment of an established franchise? (Sigh. Yes, Michael Bay, I'm looking at you.) As the global market has become more important to box office receipts - especially China, which limits how many films it will import and wants them all in 3D - Hollywood has increasingly wooed those markets. In the case of Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (let's just call it Pirates), the Mouse took it a step further, premiering the film at the Shanghai Disney resort. Not that I minded that; premiere wherever you want. But it shows that even the Mouse is not immune to that sweet, sweet foreign movie money.

If you like the Pirates movies, you'll like this one. If, like me, you're a little meh on the whole thing, you'll find a great deal to criticize in this one. For me, it was especially annoying that so much of the film's event took place at night. You see, night on the ocean is dark. Darkdarkdark. And the results are murky and difficult to figure out. Add to that the dimming that often comes with 3D and the result is muddy.

As to the plot, it makes little to no sense, but no matter. There are sight gags a-plenty. You get Johnny Depp staggering and mumbling and trying to find something new in a character he first played 14 years ago. You get Orlando Bloom and a wordless Keira Knightley for the original fans, and you get Pirates: The Next Generation with Brenton Thwaites playing the grown son of Bloom's Will Turner and relative newcomer Kaya Scodelerio as a spunky girl astronomer with a mysterious past. There's redemption by the boatload and an after-credits scene that strongly hints that Disney believe the tides have not yet turned on this lucrative franchise.

Rental.

Now, I don't think many of us were clamoring for a Baywatch revival, but we've got one, anyway. While this is being savaged by critics (and make no mistake, it IS bad), I think people are being overly harsh. Baywatch knows it's a parody of a television show that was already a punch line, and there's a certain charm in setting the bar so low. I went into this one just hoping to not claw my eyes out and I actually found myself sincerely laughing a few times. The film doesn't take itself seriously, the plot is tissue-thin, and completely implausible. Well, Animal House wasn't a documentary and it still makes me howl. The "R" rating is for language (honestly, I think the "F bomb" is used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, and possibly a gerund throughout the film) rather than for nudity and the nudity you have is exclusively male. (I know, right?) Yep, even in the shower room. And the morgue, but let's not go there.

It's a big, dumb, stupid summer movie, but it's almost saved by Dwayne Johnson, who has saved many a lousy movie. And yes, David Hasselhoff (who also has a cameo in Guardians 2 - and is on the soundtrack!) as well as Pamela Anderson appear. Just like Keira Knightley in Pirates, Anderson's cameo is wordless. I'm beginning to sense a disturbing trend with that.

Rental.

Now go pick up your copy of Beyond Casablanca or its sequel and open to a random page. Go see that instead of either of these.



Friday, May 12, 2017

Change Is in the Air!

I was eagerly awaiting Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and was not disappointed. While I understand that some people would prefer more frantic antics, I truly enjoyed the focus on the various formations of what constitutes a "family." I think the film does a great job going a bit beyond the usual WhamBangWow! of a Marvel superhero movie while not succumbing to the dark gritty brooding that is all too often the efforts from the DC offices.

And yes, Baby Groot is adorable, but Drax probably steals the show. Then again - Kurt Russell in full Farrah Fawcett hair, quoting Looking Glass's "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" is hard to beat.

It's a fun, fun popcorn flick that had me tear up there at the end - Michael Rooker, man. Ignore him at your peril - and be sure to stay ALL THE WAY THROUGH the credits!

So there are some changes in the air. For five years now, I've served as a co-host of C19TV's Meet Me at the Movies and it's been quite a wild ride. We've done well over 200 shows and it's time for me to step away, at least for a bit. I'm not sure when my last show will be - I've agreed to stay on until a suitable replacement is found and I'll miss doing the show. It's fun to share my opinions with the wider world and I'm still startled when someone comes up to me on the street to talk movies with me from seeing the show. But it's just time. Watching two movies critically a week on top of my responsibilities at work and my involvement in the community takes a good chunk of time to produce quality work and honestly, I just want to grow tomatoes this summer.

Oh, and there's a movie in that . . .


Also, Ensley and I will be gearing up toward the end of the summer for the (hopefully triumphant) release of A Dream Given Form, which we're incredibly proud of. Drop us a line - our publisher is working with us on book signings and convention appearances and we'd love to see you!





Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Truth Is Cool!

It's no secret that I likes me a good documentary from time to time. There are amazing true stories being told through film and there's certainly an art to pacing and cutting a film to build tension when the basic bones of the story are known to viewers. Documentaries do this and also, of course, bring unknown stories to a much wider audience.

I recently saw the 2016 documentary The Eagle Huntress and I urge you to seek out this film, which is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as being available for streaming on Amazon. Huntress is the story of a young Kazakh girl named Aisholpan who is determined to follow in her father's footsteps and become a champion eagle hunter, a sport traditionally reserved for males. Keep in mind that in her culture, "eagle hunting" doesn't refer to stalking and killing eagles, but rather using female golden eagles to hunt other animals. Think falconry, but instead of a lithe peregrine (maybe 3 pounds and a wingspan of 42 inches), adult golden eagles weigh about 15 pounds and have a wingspan approaching seven feet. This is a tremendous bird, with supremely sharp talons the size of a man's hand. As is common among raptors, the females are larger than the males, and females are exclusively used among eagle hunters. Furthermore, the birds are captured from the wild, a hazardous endeavor, considering the terrain, the fact that eaglets must be captured in the incredibly short window when they are old enough to survive away from the nest, but not yet able to fly, and the mother eagle's understandable reluctance to let humans ransack her nest.

Oh, and did I mention that eagle hunting is done while riding a sturdy steppe pony, often in weather conditions that put the "dead" in "dead of winter"?

Yes - this is not a sport for the weekend warrior.

Eagle hunting is a prestige sport among the people inhabiting the Altai Mountains in the harsh and rocky land where China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Russia meet. Involving massive amounts of patience, strength (you try holding your arm steady while a grown golden eagle uses it as a perch), and discipline, to be a champion eagle hunter is to be a man among men in this society that once unleashed Genghis Khan on the world. There were some elders who actively disapproved of a girl encroaching on this near-sacred territory and Huntress shows not just Aisholpan's determination, but that of her parents as well.

There was some grumbling that the movie involved staged scenes (like that's never been used in a documentary before! See this link), but director Otto Bell has resolutely denied those accusations. A few scenes seem to involve a Go Pro being worn by Aisholpan (and once by an eagle!), but Bell is adamant that the scenes unfolded as they unfolded.

As a protagonist, Aisholpan is completely delightful. Her parents clearly exemplify the universal ideal of wanting your children to achieve their potential, while also worrying that they might be moving too fast for the world in which they live. The film contains any number of thrillingly-beautiful shots and there is a definite story of triumph being told here. And yes, that's Daisy Ridley of the new Star Wars serving as both a producer and the narrator.

Go see it - you'll cheer.










Monday, April 10, 2017

Why Movies Matter

Somehow, a month has gone by without me posting. In that time, I've seen some movies I enjoyed quite a bit, some that got me looking at other films, and a couple that were eminently forgettable. But I don't want to talk about any of those right now. Instead, I want to talk about my "go-to" movies. You've got - at least I imagine you have - your own set of "go-tos." These are the movies that you go back to time and time again. They might be wonderful, classic films (I'm partial to Casablanca), but they're just as likely to be films that just make you belly-laugh (Blazing Saddles is one of those for me), or make you feel like you're a kid again when things were simpler and good was just destined to triumph (the original Star Wars trilogy for me). They might even include a movie that's objectively terrible, but somehow works for you (Teenagers from Outer Space with the MST3K commentary, for instance. "It's a multi-channel mixer. It SAYS so!").

These movies matter. Oh, sure, some of them are significant for historical, political, or artistic reasons, but movies matter for reasons other than that. Modern life is quite often absurd and I know I have days (weeks) in which it seems that not only am I not in control of things, I'm pretty sure there's no one at the switch. On those days, seeing Jake and Elwood hatch a hare-brained scheme to save the orphanage can help me remember that people can think of others before themselves. (And that Illinois Nazis are the worst.)



On other days, it just seems that everyone - including myself - is a walking phony and that hypocrites occupy the seats of power. On those days, I enjoy seeing Inigo Montoya take on the six-fingered man and being reminded that true love is the greatest thing in the world, next to a nice mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.



Sometimes we need reluctant heroes whose clam is being damaged, sometimes we need unearthly blue Divas, and sometimes we need brave men who speak treason fluently - it's all there in the movies.



And those who bring these dreams and visions to life - truly, they are wizards and magicians. How fortunate we are to travel with them, if only for a little while.




Saturday, March 4, 2017

Late Winter Jackpot!




Often, February signals the "bottom of the barrel" in the movie world - too late for worthy-of-Oscar-contention (and no, I'm not writing about the live-television mess that might have been the end of PriceWaterhouseCoopers love affair with those Oscar envelopes), but too early for the biff-bam-pop! (sorry, not you guys!) of blockbuster season.

However, this year has been different. Perhaps the universe is trying to atone for the massive, horrible pop culture losses that 2016 brought - although this year has already seen the sudden and unexpected passing of Bill Paxton, who should always be remembered for this charming oddity. A number of well-received, strongly-crafted films have already come out this year, along with, it must be said, a number of "huh?" ones, but them's the breaks, kid.

This is a pleasant change from A Dog's Purpose, a late January release that I didn't blog about, since it was very much "meh." That film, honestly, is cute and heartstring-tugging, but in a way that feels very carefully orchestrated and - truth be told - a bit manipulative.

I'd seen John Wick: Chapter 2 which, while suffering from "mid-trilogy-itis" was still great fun, with strong action sequences, some amazing shots (the Italy catacombs scene! Yikes - women may be at the periphery of this film, but I can respect the movie for not reducing them to mere body parts), and some dry humor. Oh, Keanu, it's good to see you again.

But nothing prepared me for the sheer brilliance and freshness that is Jordan Peele's Get Out. Prior to this, Peele was best-known as one-half of the sometimes-scathing-comedy duo Key & Peele. For a lesser man, that would have been enough, as K&P was one of the sharpest comedy teams ever. Full stop. (Don't take my word on that. Read this. Or this. Or maybe this!) But no - Peele has much more to say and Get Out is his first stop.

Oh, and what a stop it is. I was reminded (just a little) of Blazing Saddles, the Mel Brooks classic that uses comedy to skewer racism. Peele doesn't go that way - racism is certainly front and center here, but Peele, influenced by classics of the horror-thriller genre such as Stepford Wives, Night of the Living Dead, and Rosemary's Baby (by way of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), leaves behind comedy to come at this topic straight on and the results are electric.

No, this isn't a run-of-the-mill horror movie - and thank goodness! No possessed dolls, no creepy children, no monsters slashing just to show the filmmaker's creativity in disassembling the human body. Instead, we get -- but no. I can't tell you that part. This is a film you really need to go see. On the big screen, with as many friends as you can round up. For THIS is the type of film we need to be supporting - in the best tradition of horror movies, it's both original and thought-provoking. It's not a drab rehash of cliches; instead, Get Out acknowledges those tropes and then proceeds to turns them inside out. Think about this when you go see the film -

And then be very, very glad that Peele has at least four more "social thriller" movies up his sleeve.

For more about Get Out, be sure to tune into C19TV's Meet Me at the Movies - available as a streaming show!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sundance!

Thanks to the generosity and persistence of two friends, who shall be known here as Circuit and Llama, FryDaddy and I spent ten days out in the winter wilds of Utah at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, which is held at a dozen-plus locations over a 40-mile stretch of the Beehive State.

Now, this was heady stuff for us. While we know the general outlines of the rules of civilized behavior, we were uncertain how to act when encountering real live movie stars, especially when nearly running one down in the parking lot of a Whole Foods while he scrambled into the back of his chauffeur-driven, dark-window-tinted Suburban whilst holding a cup of (no doubt fair trade) coffee. (Aside - sorry about that, Woody Harrelson!)

In addition to seeing half a dozen films that will probably never come around here (The Yellow Birds might just be an exception), we rested, played, and ate like high-altitude aristocracy, thanks to the aforementioned Circuit and Llama. (Specifically, we were here.) It was our birthday (no, I'm not using the "royal we," FryDaddy and I actually share the same birthday. Chew on that, if you will.) and we had a feast fit for Christmas (literally!), as well as made-from-scratch chocolate cake. There was snow tubing at a former Olympic site (apparently, it is still considered gauche to equate my tubing experience with being an Olympic athlete, although it was a winter activity in the same site. Snobs.), fire eaters at the Ice Castles, and herds of mule deer twenty feet from the kitchen door. There were also moose and elk, although not that close.

But - the films. Well, even at a premier festival like Sundance, some are good and some are baffling. We saw two films - Marjorie Prime and Last Men in Aleppo - that were award-winners. We saw one that was just a misfire, despite an excellent cast (The Discovery). We saw documentaries that introduce the audience to people whose stories need to be told (Dolores) and we missed several that we would have enjoyed seeing, particularly Walking Out

Many of these films will be popping up here and there - The Discovery, for instance, will show up on Netflix in March. Being there in the midst of all of the excitement and wheeling-dealing (remember, many of these films are looking for their fairy godmother distributor) was an experience not to be missed.

Over the years, Sundance has been both a showcase for fresh new talent, as well as a spotlight for established talents going in new directions. Careers have been launched here, including Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone, 2010) and directors like the Coen Brothers (Blood Simple, 1985), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, 1992) and Christopher Nolan (Memento, 2001). It's also where Heathers (1989) and The Usual Suspects (1995) first found traction. It's exciting to think of being there at the beginning of Something Big and Sundance delivers on that promise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Conventional Wisdom Gets It Wrong

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

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

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

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

Then came Tyler Perry.

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

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

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

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



Sunday, January 8, 2017

Snow Day Update!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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