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!