Thursday, December 30, 2010

Finding Balance in 'The King's Speech'

The plot of The King's Speech is hardly surprising. If you study (or remember) history prior to WWII, you'll undoubtedly know of the royalty portrayed on screen. With a title like The King's Speech, the climactic moments aren't really all that much of a climax.

The performances meet the high expectations set for award winners and nominees. Colin Firth brilliantly creates a character in a role with very little physicality--beyond facial expression and a few scenes detailing the "mechanics" of solving the King's speech problem. Clearly, this isn't a holiday action film. Instead, the close-ups emphasize every element of the Prince's, later King's, ability to speak; the film's focus is the journey to allow this man a voice in his own life as much as in history.

What stands out beyond the expected, however, is the teeter-totter shifting of balance between Firth's Bertie/King George VI and everyone else. Many scenes cut between head shots of two characters, one on either side of the screen, with the intercut images providing a strange sense of balance. Most often this visual balance occurs in revelatory scenes between Bertie and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Throughout the majority of the film, Firth is filmed to one side of the screen, creating a sense of being off balance, especially when the other side is "empty"--devoid of background image or another person. Only when he truly feels "kingly" does this balance change--and the King dominates the center of the screen.

At times, the camera follows Firth, such as when the King makes that long walk toward the mic, bringing the audience along in his wake. A fisheye lens captures the new King's viewpoint as he stands before an appraising crowd. The contrast between foggy London and dark, emerging figures presents interesting shades of gray and creates stark visuals. When you see the film (or see it again), pay attention to lighting and camera movement.

The camera angles, strategic lighting, and contrasts between classes, the lead characters, and light-dark effects are far more interesting than the expected story development, although Helena Bonham Carter shines as Elizabeth, later known as the Queen Mother. Again, the film's emphasis on her character hinges on line delivery and facial expression. A sly smile, quirk of an eyebrow, and witty comment all provide depth to what could have been a simple "stand by your man" role.

I went to this film to see outstanding performances, and I wasn't disappointed. The way the camera told the story, however, gave me something unexpectedly memorable.

All in the (Extended) Family

It's no secret that I like certain performers and tend to write about them. My mama taught me well that if I can't say something nice, not to say anything at all. Although that adage shouldn't apply to journalistic ethics, it can be applied to those topics I choose to research or review for entertainment. (If you've read my books, you know that I'm much more critical there than in blogs.) I've amended mama's adage so that it means if I can write something positive, I will. So--yes, I'm blog-biased--but here's a good example why.

During the current run of Aladdin, John Barrowman fell ill with flu and couldn't make some performances. His understudy, 18-year-old Greg Barrowman, stepped into Aladdin's pointy shoes and found himself in the spotlight. Perhaps this panto is really a non-gender-specific Cinderella story--or, as Broadway musicals and movies have shown through the decades, the understudy who gets the chance to star makes good and goes on to a fantastic career. Perhaps that will be the story of Greg Barrowman, a young singer encouraged to study his craft and polish his talent at the Glasgow Academy of Theatre Arts. As the Glasgow Evening Times points out, the understudy and the star are cousins.

Hmmm. Nepotism, you might be thinking. True, lots of talented young singers might wish their Cousin John had as much clout in the entertainment industry, but Greg has just been given a rare opportunity--now he has to make the most of it. (As well, if John didn't have the flu, this story about the older cousin mentoring the younger wouldn't have made the media.)

What strikes me most about today's article isn't that the understudy is related to the star, but that the star took an interest in a young talent and encouraged him to get to the point where he could be an understudy. And that, to me, is the moral of this story.

We often meet or know someone who is talented but may lack the encouragement to work toward a goal. I see it with some of my students, who shine in one area but don't know what to do with their skill or talent or how to network.

I once was one of those students who, in grad school, was given the opportunity to write a chapter in a textbook and was introduced to professional writers. I then was given the opportunity to co-author a book long before I wrote my own texts or branched into other areas of writing. I was too shy to interview someone until I was coached through the process a few times. I developed the confidence to introduce myself only because I once stood beside someone who showed me how to say hello politely and professionally.

My mama also taught me to be thankful for the opportunities I was given, but then to make sure I remembered how other people helped me when it was my turn to reach out a helping hand.

Now it's my time to mentor someone else--a student, a family member, a talented stranger. Whether I encourage with applause or a friendly comment after a performance, suggest a possible place to publish or write a positive review, or mention a name to someone looking for "fresh blood" to hire, it's my time to help the next generation to move forward.

We all can do that, even if we don't have high-level professional contacts. We can recognize that spark within a child and nurture that child's interest and potential. It's important that our families--biological or extended--are encouraged to try something new or potentially life changing.

I expect teachers or career counselors, for example, to mentor. I'm encouraged when those much more famous (and with higher socioeconomic status) do so. Would Greg Barrowman have his picture in the Glasgow Evening Times if he weren't standing next to his cousin? Maybe not yet. Would he be guest starring in a highly publicized panto playing in a huge venue? Probably not yet.

Looks like your mama brought you up right, too, John.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas is for the Kids

Stocking stuffers are a big deal in our household. On Christmas morning, the stockings get our full attention, long before that first cuppa. This year they overflowed onto the carpet, and even Elvis' doggie stocking was fully loaded. Mine contained a Star Trek combo pack of Gorn and Kirk, as well as plenty of chocolate. My sister-in-law's stocking had the ominous lumpiness of a coal-filled warning, but Santa rewarded her with four bags of her favorite, Rollos--opened so that each was a "lump" of chocolaty goodness. (I hear she was very good this past year.) Santa left a Star Trek film book for my brother among the bobbles and baubles. Those gifts set the theme for the "grownup" presents opened after breakfast.

Let's see--Among us were Frodo and Gandalf plushies, Rudolph with blinking red nose, Star Wars calendar (to remind someone of work deadlines; theoretically, we are of age), Gorn bobblehead, Star Trek book (with gift card for more SF books), a Kirk tree ornament, and a Doctor Who novel. We're looking for Boba Fett headgear on sale today (got to put those gift cards to good use).

My niece was wowed by daywear for work, slinkier outfits for evenings (and New Year's), perfume, and jewelry. See the pattern?

The afternoon morphed into evening with a marathon of retro TV and the occasional MST oldie (a highlight: Joel's skewering of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, that "classic" featuring a very young Pia Zadora). Of course, when we were kids the first time, we didn't get giggly while sipping 18-year-old whisky.

Maybe we've skipped that dreaded "middle" stage and landed gleefully into second childhood. Like a hobbit's second breakfast, this later opportunity helps us fill up the corners by reliving past glories, albeit with much glitzier tech, and savoring new treats. If this holiday weekend is for children, I'm very happy to be one of the kids.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Room at the Inn

For Christmas this year, my brother, sister-in-law, and niece made reservations well in advance so that we could share a holiday dinner at the Worthington Inn. That is our present, and I'm glad we opened it early! Maybe this historic inn is simply a good place for foodies to gather any time of the year, but it combined all the elements I'd stage for a film of a perfect family Christmas dinner.

The setting was ideal as we approached the Inn: snow on the ground (but not the pavement or roads), twinkling lights in windows, crispy air--and a dash into the warmth of the Inn. Then up the marble staircase, through a maze of serving rooms, to a corner table in the front dining hall, right next to a candle-bedecked fireplace. On cue, the server brought us wine and starters, leading to the best of Midwestern winter fare.

My non-meat-loving tastebuds (and I know fish is meat, which is why I'm now pescetarian instead of vegetarian) thrilled to butternut squash soup dressed as elegantly as we were. Salmon with farro, winter veggies, warm bread--and the warmth of Glenmorangie to send me back out to the snow.

I seldom take the time to "dine" anymore. I microwave or drive through. I seldom take the time for dinner that lasts all evening, allowing me to savor good conversation as much as fine wine. I far too often gather with friends and colleagues instead of making the trek to visit family (and despite our frequent email and mobile chats, that's just not the same). Last night was a Christmas feast in every sense.

I couldn't have cast our roles more perfectly. Smiling across the candles, we shared memories of holidays past as well as the trivia of everyday normalcy. We had time to really listen to each other and to catch up on everything that gets lost across the miles. Last night I made a mental movie that I'll replay for years to come.

I've learned to enjoy the moment, not morbidly, but diligently, to hold onto the special scenes that I realize won't ever come again--at least not exactly in the same way. Three years ago, after a lovely family Christmas, my mother died unexpectedly on our trip home. I never got to say goodbye.

This year I say as many cheery hellos as possible. Every moment together is a gift. Last night was special, and I'll forever be grateful there was room at the Inn.

Here's wishing you warmth and the wealth of family, friends, good food and drink, and a special place to remember this season.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Moods on a Rainy Saturday



This morning I walked out of the growing queue at the post office, impatient even before the door opened. It's a rainy Saturday in Ormond Beach, and I rather like the gray--not because I'm depressed or introspective Quiet. Settled. Content even. About as mentally removed from Christmas shoppers and grandparents anxious about mailing presents up north as I can possibly be.

So I placed my package (which would eventually be mailed in time to arrive in Indiana before Christmas) in the trunk and pulled my camera out of my bag. For months I've dutifully worked at home or traveled far from it, but I've missed walking along the muddy flats along the Tomoka River or riding under the canopy of water oaks. I felt the need to take in the bigger picture before I could focus on the details.

Although the tide was low, the egrets hunted the shallows close to the road. They're still wary, though, as well they should be. They don't live in a protected zone for nothing.




When I share photographs, I often hear the comment that I capture a world without people. Probably that says a lot about me. I often like the singular, of a subject, such as this egret in flight, or a moment that revealed something about the world from a different perspective. This shot is far from perfect, but I like its spontaneity.



Whether I photograph a single bird or a solitary stalk of swamp grass, I often like quiet isolation, the serenity in the alone. If I choose one shot that resonates with my mood this morning, it's this one.




Before long, the raindrops multiplied, and I headed back to the car. Refreshed. Cleansed. Contemplative.




Even a brief reacquaintance with the river clarifies my thoughts--and purpose, the salty tang of memory in the heavy air, tasty on my tongue. I don't write or photograph it as clearly as I should, but this tiny section of river and its often-unseen inhabitants continue to introduce me to a world I need to visit more often. Mystery might be revealed in murky details, and the ordinary gain beauty through illusion.


Friday, December 17, 2010

End-of-Year Thank Yous

Throughout the year my family and friends help me out in ways big and small, from the indignant reply on my behalf to a hug just because. They send me links to weird eBay listings or photos from our old hometown. They listen to my prattling about my latest SF obsession and don’t roll their eyes too often. They’re there for me when I need them, but they also give me enough space to be myself (which, I admit, sometimes requires a lot of space). I remember to thank them. After all, they’re my family and friends.

But I also need to thank several people who made my 2010 special by doing something unexpected and kind, going out of their way to make a connection with or for me. I don’t even know everyone’s name, but I remember your words or your face or your deed. In case I didn’t say it at the time, thank you for

Sending me homemade cookies and fudge (which I’ve been enjoying with my morning coffee)

Telling me you liked something I wrote

Sharing my words with others—with a post, an email, a friendly note

Sending me a YouTube link that made me laugh (and snort that morning coffee)

Inviting me to a room party! With pizza!

Smiling and coming over for a hug when you entered a crowded room

Shaking my hand on the last day of class

Opening the door when my arms were full

Guiding me to the best Welsh cakes ever

Stopping to fix my flat on a busy highway

Giving me your last throat lossenge

Meeting me for a lunch that turned into an all-day city tour

Squeezing my shoulder on a bad day

Pointing out a rainbow I didn’t see because I was looking down

Giving me a stamp when I was one short


Thank you. It may have been a small, inconsequential moment or act for you, but it meant a lot to me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Of Carols and Pantos Past

I’m of an age when I’ve begun reminiscing more often and more loudly, especially at Christmas. Fortunately, my students seldom hear my “remember whens,” and my niece only rolls her eyes and makes a snarky comment now and again. That doesn’t keep me from flipping through my mental scrapbook this holiday season, especially when I read reviews about panto or Christmas plays.

Today I came across two reviews of Aladdin, the megaproduction—in 3D!—playing the SECC auditorium. One is highly positive (The Herald review), one not so much (The List review). Surprisingly, both reviewers paint an accurate picture of panto at its most enjoyable, if not its finest.

One reviewer praises the fun quotient—kids squealing, parents laughing, everyone getting in on the absurdity. Another faults lackluster special effects and a crashed computer—certainly nothing to look forward to—and concludes with reserved praise for the “valiantly adlibbing” star who, nonetheless, probably wished that the CGI Genie could grant a do-over.

Even without the fact that in this production Aladdin is played by effervescent John Barrowman, so the crowd undoubtedly has a great time—or that, if someone has to adlib during a live show, the audience and producers are lucky to have Barrowman on stage—imperfection is at least half the fun of panto. Granted, as an American, my experience with this traditional holiday entertainment is rather limited, but even with that acknowledged limitation, I wish I could see Aladdin—or any one of a number of other pantos currently playing in the U.K. and Canada.

I look forward to the “what if” factor of live entertainment. Who knows what might happen during any show? I might see the performance of a lifetime, or technology might fail and lead to some glorious improv. Sure, a 3D Genie might be fun, but isn’t it just as thrilling when a glitch forces the show to take a different turn? (Performers and producers may fervently hope) this misfire may only happen once, but the resulting uniqueness of that performance can make it most memorable (or even more entertaining) because it’s spontaneous.

In the ‘90s, I took some family and friends to Toronto for two live performances that, by critics’ standards, probably suffered the “crapness” factor discussed in today’s panto review, but that’s not what I remember about them. At that time Camilla Scott starred in Due South, one of my favorite TV series, so I suggested we see her in the holiday panto, Jack and the Beanstalk. The show was OK, but I remember it because we laughed aloud and reverted to being children for a few hours. We interacted with each other and the performers—something not normally encouraged within the confines of a magnificently venerable theatre. Panto brought out the kid in us in a perfectly acceptable way, and it would have been Scrooge-ish to point out Giant flaws.

Panto is one of the last bastions of public silliness and absurd storytelling that is more fun than it should logically be. It allows performers to be most outrageous and audiences to get in on the act. It's communal role playing at its most liberating, if not most dignified. I miss it—perhaps because I often have trouble letting go and laughing out loud. Panto, like the celebration of Christmas, can be magical and memorable for reasons far beyond production values.

My other memory from that trip is a frozen tableau of what Christmas used to be, and it helped me to understand my mother’s memories of Depression-era holidays. Mom and I attended a performance of the Huron Carole. (If you’re not familiar with it, for many years actor/singer Tom Jackson brought together Canadian artists for a national musical tour, with all proceeds going to charity.) As the event grew bigger and more popular each year, the venue improved. However, when we first saw it, the performance was held in an old building away from the glitzy theatre district. On that winter evening, the heat failed, and the balcony was cold enough for us to wear coats and gloves all evening. Fortunately, our hands warmed from applauding hours of song, jokes—as with panto, focused on local celebrities or politicians, and finally, the Huron Carole.

Even better, on the street, during a delay while someone worked on the theatre's furnace, we joined the Salvation Army in singing carols. The band and choir began, but before long, the waiting audience sang along, always loudly, sometimes on key. Standing on a snowy street corner in Toronto, singing carols with dozens of strangers—that’s a memory to keep.

The local food bank was the recipient of that evening’s proceeds, and everyone was encouraged not just to donate cash, but to bring canned food. Building a tin mountain and tossing coins in the kettle reminded my mother of Christmases long ago and far away. Technically, this wasn’t a perfect evening. Temps were cold outside and in, the concert was delayed, and the venue wasn’t posh, but it was one of our best mother-daughter outings ever.

I’ve often said that my happiest moments have been either in a theatre or a bookshop, so it’s fitting that some of my favorite memories of public Christmas celebrations involve theatres and the joy of live performance. Sure, it’s fantastic when everything works as it should and the quality of the production merits the price of a ticket, but sometimes it’s even more special when the heat goes out, the Giant misses his mark, or the Genie decides to stay home.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Best/Worst Songs of Christmas

Earlier this month my brother shared his picks for the best “worst” Christmas songs ever. He and a friend were making their list and checking it far more than was probably healthy. As often happens when my brother and I chat, something from our conversation sticks in my mind, kind of like a splinter that gets worried but not removed. I entirely blame my brother for my misspent morning tracking down several favorites from my secular Christmas list—ghosts of Christmas past, if you will. These tunes have haunted me for a few days, so I decided to track them down and share.

If you like films, you’ve probably had memorable encounters with Love Actually, About a Boy, and Melvin and Howard. If you like television or have a thing for Mounties, you probably have spent an evening or two being charmed by Paul Gross’ Constable Benton Fraser (Due South). What you may not recall quite so easily are the highly entertaining holiday songs associated with these films or performers.

In 1980, Melvin and Howard hypothesized the later life of Howard Hughes, with some standout performances by Paul Le Mat, Jason Robards, and Mary Steenburgen, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress. The film is worth a second look, especially if you weren’t around for a first look 30 years ago, but for those purely seeking holiday cheer, YouTube comes to the rescue:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS7s6YkVKEI


“Santa’s Souped Up Sleigh” somehow was overlooked by Oscar, but not by YouTube fans of Paul Le Mat, who, as Melvin, manages to get Jason Robard’s Howard to sing along. The rendition may not be award worthy, but the lyrics are well worth the three minutes of your life required to play the scene from YouTube.

Similar in theme but with a bit more critical acclaim is About a Boy’s “Santa’s Super Sleigh,” featuring lyrics such as

Look who's coming 'round the bend,
It's Santa and his reindeer friends,
And they've got the right of way,
It's Santa's super sleigh!

About a Boy (2002) is a fantastic film that is alternately tragic and heartwarming, poignant and funny, as the lives of these misfit characters unfold and reconnect. Watch it on a snowy afternoon with your friends, and if that happens during the holidays, join in for the chorus.

Hugh Grant winningly illustrates our universal love/horror relationship with many popular holiday songs. Like eggnog going slightly round the bend or fruit cake that won’t die (or be eaten even by less-than-picky squirrels foraging in winter), these songs combine the best of loving intentions with the most memorable of misguided results.

In the mid- to late ‘90s I spent a lot of time in Toronto, some of it watching Due South be filmed on city streets or attending RCW 139 fan conventions. As a long-time Paul Gross fan, I had to smile when I came across my special edition DVD of “Santa Drives a Pickup.” Fortunately, YouTube again comes through with a music video to share. If your idea of singing Mounties extends only to Nelson Eddy (thanks for the reminder, Celine Dion’s twins), Paul Gross and David Keeley easily supplant that image with a holiday rendition that quickly may become your favorite seasonal music video. It’s once again become mine:

http://il.youtube.com/watch?v=bduIJ88vMW4

Last, but certainly not least, in volume or quality, is Bill Nighy-as-Billy-Mack’s “Christmas Is All Around” from 2003’s Love Actually, now officially my favorite holiday film. It’s a Wonderful Life became a family tradition, thanks to my brother and sister-in-law, and The Snowman thrilled us on Christmas mornings when my niece was much younger, but Love Actually is my feel-good film when I need a smile or fear “love” actually fails to live up to its hype. I adore Bill Nighy on general principle, and “Christmas Is All Around” is part of my annual playlist. This soundtrack is easy to find, but if you want a quick reminder between trips to the mall, listen to



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meU4cxhdjJI

without video or watch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g7Q_bq07GVs


The roots of family holiday traditions run deeply through our memories, and they can help culturally define us. Without minimizing the serious religious undercurrent to our highly secular celebrations, I still find that my kitschy Christmas traditions are the ones I bring out for a good laugh. They are a memento of happy Christmases, reminders of the songs, laughter, and general weirdness that binds families and friends.

So this morning when I started searching for the sounds of Christmas past, I also dusted off more than the old DVD collection. I remember first seeing Love Actually in a theatre with my mom, then loudly shower-singing “All I Want for Christmas” every morning of the holiday I thought I’d found true love, and, a season or two later, bopping with Billy Mack during a solitary Christmas drive. I recall dragging my family and friends to snowy Toronto to see the Huron Carole more than once and, during one trip, bumping into Paul Gross and finding out I wasn’t the only fangirl in my circle. I think about discovering a grownup interest in film shared between siblings just becoming adults, and the mutually anticipated holiday film seasons that followed.

Maybe these songs and their links to films or TV series remind me that, whether I’m sending best wishes by phone or helping to stuff stockings before the fire on December 24, Christmas is about family. They may be our birth families or the ones we create; they may be shiny and excitingly new or the fondly conjured spirits of Christmases past. ‘Tis the season to remember that laughter and love live forever.

So will these songs, or others like them—a hearty ho ho ho for our Christmas present, and that may be one of the best gifts of all.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tuesday's Treasures, ERAU Campus


On Tuesday, September 14, I'll show some stills and talk about my (highly favorable--and that is an objective opinion) impressions of the making of independent film, Casimir Effect. If you've seen the teaser on YouTube this week, you're probably intrigued. I won't spoil the film, but I will share my impressions of the mammoth undertaking that is film making. If you've ever wondered what it's like to see a scene in progress, long before it reaches the cinema, you might want to stop by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, Instructional Center 104, from 12:45 to 2:00 next Tuesday.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It’s About Time: Casimir Effect’s New Teaser

A couple of weekends ago Blue TARDIS in Orlando held a Torchwood night, featuring the new comic, my new book with Captain Jack on the cover, and some of our favorite Torchwood episodes. Of course, I thought it would also be a good time to inflate my ego a bit more (yes, it’s possible) and share some stills from independent time-travel paradox film, Casimir Effect. I had visited the set in Cardiff and immediately fell in love with the whole process of making a movie. Well, watching immensely creative, talented artists work very hard making one.

Anyone who’s ever loved a TV series even peripherally involving time travel will be intrigued by the film’s premise. So Who better to be a receptive audience on a Saturday night? Casimir Effect blends science, science fiction, passion, time travel, and impending doom. What's not to love? It’s time to let more people see Casimir Effect.

Last Saturday, back at the Coal Exchange (one of the film's locations), Gabriel Strange did just that. He and Lydia Wood, whose story came to life back in March, shared some footage overlaid with a snippet of Blue Gillespie’s soundtrack. Although the Sex, Wales and Anarchy crowd got first dibs, the teaser is now on YouTube. The minute-long trailer invites us to follow a mysterious figure into an abandoned building. Then . . . running, slapping, pacing. Anger, fear, desperation, determination. Even a few longing looks. Before all goes dark. Time’s up—for us. But is it up for those characters we’ve so briefly seen on screen?

Casimir Effect’s teaser intrigues me, and I have an idea of what’s going on in those all-too-brief scenes. The soundtrack matches the mood perfectly. The trailer lacks dialogue—but what is left unspoken creates a powerful impression. It’s cryptic—but I think it works, if posts on YouTube, Facebook, and even fanfiction sites are any measure.

But time is running out for Casimir Effect. The teaser is only up this week on YouTube.

Casimir Effect--Scenes from the Film

As I’ve written this, the teaser has received its 1,141st hit on YouTube. Go make it 1,142.

Post-production is obviously in progress, but the film needs additional support. I’m a believer in the importance of independent film, and this one could make it into those vaunted film festivals we always read about but seldom, if ever, know someone whose film makes it in. If you like what you see, maybe you’ll next visit the film’s web site to donate a little bit.

Next Tuesday, September 14, I’ll be talking about (but not spoiling!) Casimir Effect as one of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Tuesday’s Treasures. If you’re on or near campus at 12:45, come explore the Casimir Effect. IC 104.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Great Kitten Rescue 2010!

Strange how a most unsettling, but ultimately miraculous, event could take place on a mundane Friday afternoon. My friend Mike and I were chatting on our way to lunch on this, our last day of relative freedom before we take our teaching responsibilities much more seriously. I’d just pulled onto busy Clyde Morris Boulevard when we both noticed the kitten at the side of the road. Inches away from traffic. And it was Tiny. Gray. Cute. Confused.

I slowed but, fortunately for the SUV behind me, my rear bumper, and the kitten, I didn’t slam on my brakes. Instead I felt immediately guilty for leaving the kitten to cross against the light and, as soon as we could find a place to U-turn, headed back.

We double-parked, flashed the hazard lights, and trooped up to the kitten, now flattening itself into the grass a few yards off the road. I stepped between the kitten and the road to provide a barrier (and a reason for the kitten to run away from the road if it needed to escape), while Mike quietly approached from the cross-street side.

Obviously, “here, kitty, kitty,” spoken in a slightly worried tone trying to masquerade as “come hither,” spooks potentially traffic-bound animals. The kitten scooted around me and bounded into the road.

There is a reason why I don’t have pets or children.

Horrified, uncertain, and unbelievably thankful that the women driving the three nearest cars stopped immediately, the kitten and I debated what to do. I opted for the “here, kitty, kitty” approach that had been working so well, while the kitten scampered in front of the first car’s rear tire. And promptly launched itself into the wheel well.

By now two lanes of horrified drivers were blocking the intersection, and I hated to suggest that maybe the car-with-kitten might have to move. Calling to the cat, cautiously approaching the car, and trying to spot the cat without actually crawling under the car weren’t doing much but creating a massive traffic jam.

“Try honking your horn,” one motorist suggested, and the now-parked car dutifully beeped. The cat could care less. It was safe from all the people now hovering around the vehicle, including that first weird woman who’d been so concerned about it leaving its retrospectively nice safe place on the berm.

Suddenly—just like in one of those hero series—a young woman sprinted past me to get to the kitten. She dared go where no one had gone before—under the car in the middle of Clyde Morris. She coaxed the kitten into her hands, pulled it to safety, and got traffic—and bystanders’ hearts—started again.

Rachael the Cat Rescuer offered to have the kitten checked out to make sure it was only frightened from its NDE. The kitten seemed immensely glad to be in Rachael’s capable hands.

My curiosity almost killed the kitten, but, thanks to a hero who leaped into action (and traffic), as well as drivers who cared enough to stop their day and their vehicle for one little gray cat, this story has a happy ending. I may not have faith in my ability as Kitten Whisperer, but Rachael and a line of patiently stopped drivers renewed my faith in people.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Tale of Two Garage Sales

Two memorabilia sales involving two of my favorite TV shows took place this weekend. Each left a distinctly different impression, although I wasn’t present at either and didn’t take home any bargains. Both sales reinforce the notion that what is one person’s clutter is another’s treasure. What separates these sales from most others is the nature of their international Internet coverage.

Lost’s “garage sale,” better known as LOST the Official Auction, began yesterday. As a long-time Lost fan, I was curious how the sale would turn out. As a fan also counting coins to save toward another holiday (to the U.K., once the lovely holiday to Canada is paid for), I decided to sit out the auction. Good thing I did—I quickly would have been outbid on everything that caught my eye in the extensive, six-season catalog. (I listed some of my favorite items in my PopMatters blog on Friday, and I likely will follow up with another post-auction blog once the bidding dust clears.)

Lot 91—one of Charlie’s Season One costumes—brought in $3500, and "Charlie" wasn’t even wearing it at the time. With items fetching multiple thousands of dollars, the auction undoubtedly is a success story for the sellers. Anyone with the cash to bring home one of the many items on the block yesterday alone should be happy not only to have snagged a piece of Lost but to have won against some extremely determined bidders, both online and in person. If not shelling out $3500 or more to own part of Charlie’s past makes me a lesser Lost fan, I guess I’ll have to live with it. I’ll just use that cash to fly to Hawaii to make some beach memories of my own.

I followed the auction online for almost six hours before I gave up—it was still going strong, even if my eyes had glazed over at that point. The initial adrenaline rush of the auction's pace finally gave way to sadness. The sale of “personal effects” reminded me that this character is long gone. And that saddened me.

I only learned about the second sale this morning as I read entertainment news online. This sale took place with very little fanfare, apparently, beyond its neighborhood, where signs proclaimed Torchwood's John Barrowman was holding a garage sale. This morning’s online Welsh newspapers—and soon, undoubtedly, more entertainment media—offer multiple slideshows of the “everything must go” sale.

Although each story tries to reassure U.K. residents that they won’t be losing their national treasure to the U.S. come January, like many who read the story, I think the disclaimer sounds a wee bit suspicious. Sale items ranged from couches to a car, clothes to TV memorabilia, dishes to a stove—I wonder if the sale signs touted Everything including the Kitchen Sink! Somehow this type of sale (and, in last week's OK, an article allowing readers to check out the house) sounds like the estate agent will be making an announcement before long.

But back to what’s important—TV memorabilia. According to Wales Online, Barrowman sold Torchwood scripts, among other memorabilia. (If I’d known, I might have made a quick trip to Wales—or asked a friend or two to go shopping for me! Hmm. Definitely need to think about my budgeting priorities, don’t I? I’m noting a few inconsistencies in my own approach to garage-sale buying. Perhaps that's the point, though; Barrowman's fanbase wasn't encouraged to storm Sully.) For a mere £1 more, Barrowman signed an item. Just think how much one of his signed Torchwood scripts would’ve raised on eBay—especially given the feeding frenzy I just witnessed during the Lost auction.

The Lost auction made me feel sad at the ending of a series—once and for all. Barrowman’s garage sale left me with a different impression. Yes, I’m saddened that Torchwood won’t be completely filmed in Cardiff next year—it’s one of my favorite cities, and I loved the original concept for Torchwood. Yes, I question how much longer, with U.S. filming on the horizon, Barrowman will be so accessible to his fans, whether in the U.K. or U.S. Some connections, such as saying hello to stage-door fans after a West End production or holiday panto, just won't be possible when Torchwood is being filmed in L.A. Nevertheless, Barrowman’s sale just sounded so un-Hollywood that I couldn’t help but think it was a great way for the neighbors to spend a Saturday.

Sure, it might involve ego to think that plenty of people might turn up to buy one’s clothes and household items (whether from an island TV show or an SF actor) simply because of one’s celebrity. But it also indicates a distinct lack of ego to place homemade signs around the neighborhood, keep the event low-key until it’s over, and donate money to a children’s charity. Barrowman's garage sale could’ve been over the top and as highly promoted as the Lost auction. (OK, so there are probably lots more Lost fans than Torchwood fans internationally, but Google the actor's name to see just how many articles have appeared in the past month alone.) Instead, it did generate post-sale media attention (which, I suppose, could be ego inflating), but it didn’t generate the kind of fan interest that could cause problems for residents or inflate prices out of the average neighbor’s price range. It sounds like the kind of neighborhood garage sale I’d browse in hopes of finding that one-of-a-kind collectible I’d take home to treasure, not because I spent a fortune on it but because it meant more personally than what I paid for it.

My niece, who will someday inherit my collection of personalized autographs and action figures, assures me that she will enjoy the profits from eBay. (I’ve learned that not all my family members are as sentimental over the same TV shows or films that intrigue me.) For all that she might envision a Lost auction-type sale, I rather hope that a Barrowman-style garage sale sends my once-prized possessions off to good homes.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Return of QL?

Oh, boy. Quantum Leap may be coming back.

Even with the misspelling (Becket) on the series’ final screen leading fans to hope the words were false, Dr. Sam Beckett unfortunately “never returned home.”Thus, it seems he can’t be in the proposed new QL movie. Even more unfortunately, Scott Bakula told a Comic-con crowd that his leaping days are over.

I’ve loved Sam Beckett—the TV time traveler one—for 21 years. My wish for more QL has finally come of age. In an era of dark SF TV heroes (and Heroes’ parodies), having a lead character “make right what once went wrong” is inherently appealing. It’s not na├»ve, simplistic, or unrealistic to want to believe in a hero who wants to improve people’s lives—and often fight for (and win) human rights and dignity in the process. Perhaps that’s what I’ve missed most since QL’s demise, and whether a younger “Sam” leaps into action or older, more experienced, always-sexy Sam fits into the story in some way, society needs a Quantum Leap these days. This time I hope the movie is made and honors the original.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Torchwood: Whose Story is it in this brave New World?

Whose story is it anyway? In recent high-profile TV series, that question may not have an obvious answer. Sometimes the hero or protagonist isn’t always known until the TV story has been completed.

That’s especially true of series with a large ensemble cast. Although Jack Shephard long was a (sometimes questionable) hero and (always) lead character in the ever-changing cast of Lost, it took until the last moments of the last episode before I felt confident that the Lost story was, indeed, Jack’s story.

Of course, many other characters, including dear Hurley and my beloved Charlie, saw their story lines—before and after death—take unexpected and series-changing turns before that big post-death reunion scene. But, ultimately, Lost was Jack’s story. It began with his eyes opening on the island, and his on-island, corporeal life ended with a final glimpse of another plane carrying true love Kate and half-sister Claire to the rest of their lives. Even after death, everyone gathered because of Jack and entered the next phase of their existence only when he was once again among the formerly lost. The circular structure began with Jack opening his eyes and ended with their final closing, with the added bonus of an afterlife denouement.

Maybe I’ve grown accustomed to seeing “Jack” as the one around whom a story or series revolves: Jack Shephard, Jack Bauer, Jack Harkness.

Although I’m again traveling without benefit of online access (and relying on others to post my blogs for me), I can’t seem to get away from Torchwood. Tonight’s catfish dinner at Shoney’s came with a side of hardcopy USA Today. I must be so attuned to Torchwood that my fingers automatically flipped to the TV section, which included a brief mention of Captain Jack and John Barrowman in T4, now subtitled The New World. As I’ve mentioned before, in my personal blog and at PopMatters, silly me (and I write this not as facetiously as I might have a few months ago) thinks of Captain Jack and Torchwood synonymously. Where you have one, you should have the other.

Yet, in this New World, is Torchwood Jack’s story? Several fans (including—thank you, comment posters!—one who felt I was correct in writing about Torchwood comic #1 that Captain Jack = Torchwood) have wondered about the teaser art for T4: The New World picturing Gwen standing front and center, with Jack in the background. Gwen looks toward the camera; Jack looks off to the right (a rather forward-looking perspective). One of the most common promo photos of CoE presented, from left to right, Ianto looking down, Jack (centered in the photo) looking straight at the camera, and Gwen looking to the observer’s right (that future-forward POV again), although print posters and DVD and CD covers favored a photo of the trio with Gwen front and center, flanked by Jack and Ianto.

[OK—here comes the blatant promo for my hot-off-the-press/also available as e-book Tarnished Heroes, Charming Villains, and Modern Monsters, from McFarland and able to be ordered there as well as at Amazon—and sold at the Orlando book signing on the 28th: I analyze the CoE poster, Torchwood in general, and Ianto, Jack, and Gwen specifically in the book, which also has Captain Jack on the cover. See?]




But back to the New World and speculation about Gwen’s and Jack’s roles. According to RTD’s and Julie Gardner’s latest interview (see the AfterElton article for a full account), two years after CoE, Torchwood is legend, and at least one CIA agent is interested in learning more about them during yet another global crisis. Gardner calls T4 a “reboot,” but Airlock Alpha reports that T1-3 canon will be preserved, and RTD thinks of the 10-hour story arc as one of Torchwood’s later adventures, a complete story in itself. If ratings warrant another miniseries, Torchwood will continue.

But who will be its leader? And who will be perceived as the series’ lead? Is it Gwen (Eve Myles)—the sole Earthbound Hub survivor? Is it Jack (John Barrowman), who somehow finds a reason, two years after his dramatic exit, to return to Earth in presumably linear time? Or will it be a new character, such as a (former) CIA operative, who continues the Torchwood tradition of a succession of team members and new leaders with an extremely high turnover rate?

Presuming that Torchwood may be Jack’s story may be inaccurate. Torchwood existed before Jack came along, even if he was a part of it for a very long time. In Torchwood history, Jack wasn’t even Three’s leader for all that long (less than a decade). Is the series really the story of Torchwood, the one-time institution turned legend and rebooted into reality in 2011?

On the one hand, the first Gwen-prominent promo poster for T4: TNW isn’t all that surprising. After all, she’s the one left behind on Earth to represent whatever remains of Torchwood. Jack needs to come back before he can join the story—so standing in the background seems a logical place for the man who abandoned Earth and everything Torchwood. On the other hand, the promo art makes me question whose story TNW will be. Indeed, if titles are prophetic, TNW may provide more than new cast members, new locations, and a new miniseries format.

Still, RTD made a point of noting that Jack, John, and everyone’s favorite RAF coat are a lot of fun. As the AfterElton article quoted him, RTD commented "I love a joke. And it's — you look at the iconography of the series. You have the poster outside, which is — it's John Barrowman as Captain Jack standing in a World War II coat. There's a size and a sense of fun to that. You've got a bisexual hero being played by an openly gay man in a modern-day thriller set — that's got to have fun, doesn't it?”


I’d rather that this comment hadn’t turned up in the “humour” section of the interview (I admit I’m fan-biased instead of journalistically objective here), but I agree with Ianto (in T2’s “KK, BB”) that Torchwood (and Torchwood) “is a lot more fun with him.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that, just like Lost and 24, Torchwood is really Jack’s story.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Torchwood's New Writers' Room

Interesting Torchwood news to break up a lazy Friday afternoon. Among the list of writers developing at least one script for the 10-episode Season Four is one of my favorite scriptwriters--Jane Espenson.

Whether you're a Torchwood fan who loves or loathes Russell T. Davies, you might be impressed with the other inhabitants of this year's writers' room. Among them are John Shiban, Doris Egan, and John Fay. If you're not familiar with these names, think of a few of the many series for which they've written at least one episode: Battlestar Galactica, Caprica, House, Supernatural, Buffy, and Torchwood.

I'll get back to Torchwood writer John Fay in just a moment.

One of the reasons I'm so impressed with Jane Espenson (beyond the fact that she was a great interview for the BSG book David Lavery, Hilary Robson, and I wrote a few years back, and I was so pleased she agreed to our request) is that she writes fantastic character-driven episodes. She also pays attention to detail. Although she still may be best known for her Buffy episodes, she wrote some of my favorite BSG episodes before moving on to Caprica (which is another reason why I wanted to include that series in my most recent book about SF TV heroes and villains).

In my research for the latter book, I came across an interesting quote from Espenson, who was discussing her love of Torchwood and the way that it compared with Caprica: "The way they own Jack's sexuality is very admirable and very much like what we're trying to do. The people around him have to be comfortable with it because he's comfortable with it. It's fantastic. Love Torchwood. Love it, love it, love it." That Espenson is part of Caprica, with its open and accepting take on same-sex marriage, bodes well for Captain Jack. It's a much more positive indicator than the "Starz' Spartacus" connection that his character may not fundamentally change.

It's also an indication that the dark nature of Torchwood will continue, as supported by Davies' recent comments about the story arc of Season Four being as dark as Children of Earth's. Espenson is a fan of darkness, as shown in Buffy and BSG, among others. However, her definition of drama is closer to mine. Bodies may indeed fall, but there's a good story reason for death and destruction.

Which brings me back to John Fay. When Torchwood Series One and Two or Janto fans realize he was a writer of Day Four, they may not be so happy with today's news. Fay's only Torchwood episodes are, indeed, two of CoE's five days. However, he also is the only current U.K. resident listed on the writers' room roster. With fan concerns that Season Four will be too Americanized, Fay's inclusion is especially important because he adds another British presence to the writers' room.

What struck me most from the list made public today is the combined strength of the writers' credits. I've liked much of these writers' previous work, and they create a highly experienced team. They seem to know their way around SF, especially dramatic, controversial plots and have helped flesh out some of the best SF characters on recent TV. I'm hopeful that they'll make the return of Captain Jack plausible, and while he may remain a very dark character, also might become even more layered and memorable, not merely more angst-ridden.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Emmy 2010: Forward Thinking with a Fond Look Back

Not a lot of surprises in many categories this morning with the Emmy announcements, but yet I see a hopeful trend for anyone who’s ever been Other (and I’m not just referring to Lost’s Juliet). The Gleeks and Geeks got their due, too (although I’m sad that David Tennant’s Hamlet wasn’t recognized--too over the top for the Academy?). Still, Glee and Modern Family did extremely well for new series, and Lost received enough attention to satisfy my six-season love affair. Everyone nominated should be congratulated, of course, but here are the nods that had me smiling the widest.

(So) Long Lost Loves

If only Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn wouldn’t have to continue to face off now that they’re away from the island. Just give them each an Emmy and be done with it. I couldn’t choose between them, and I’m afraid voters won’t be able to, either—resulting in neither taking home a well-deserved award for this season’s weirdest buddy TV.

In “The End,” it was all about Jack. He began and ended our story, and Matthew Fox ended what may be his stint of network TV acting with a nomination. As a leader who was sometimes difficult to follow but nevertheless redeemed my faith in network TV, Jack should be an award-winning role.

Director Jack Bender and composer Michael Giacchino also received nominations, but theirs shouldn’t be buried in the “also” category or relegated to those awards given while people head to the kitchen. Their stellar work enhanced my enjoyment of Lost to the point where I’ll never look at another TV series the same way. Their work taught me the importance of how the story is told, where the camera takes me—and when, and which emotions are being plucked like Lost’s harp.

Perhaps I’m not with the majority of Lost fans, but I loved “The End.” I cried—and I’m not a crier (and I didn’t shed tears over those Lost six years because the story didn’t end as I anticipated). Thank you, Darlton—and congrats on a well-deserved Emmy nomination for having the last word.

Lost did well in many categories, from the technical to the biggie—Outstanding Drama. How fitting that a series relying on details and diversity ended up receiving nominations for direction, editing, sound, music, writing, and acting—and I’m probably leaving out a few categories. Well done.


All the Others

It’s cool to like musicals. To keep using a word like “cool.” To buck stereotypes. To get mainstream recognition in a positive way. And maybe to get a few more viewers to pay attention to characters and actors who haven’t been in the spotlight quite so much, but should be.

I’m pleased that Modern Family received so many nominations, even if it and Glee will also face off in several categories. I’m especially happy that Jesse Tyler Ferguson was nominated. I adore Mitchell, even as I want to see him unwind a bit more next season.

Neil Patrick Harris got (only?) two.

What would an awards show be without a nomination for Ian McKellen?

Maybe Emmy will be singing a new tune after Glee gets more recognition for its first season. The odds are good, with so many nominations: Leah Michelle (lead actress), Matthew Morrison (lead actor), Chris Colfer (supporting actress—unfortunately in a category along with Neil Patrick Harris and Jesse Tyler Ferguson), Jane Lynch (supporting actress), and plenty of noms for writers, designers, directors, creators, and guests (an especially big Yay for Kristin Chenoweth). The series also has been nominated as Outstanding Comedy.

Some people may grouse that these nominations are for comedy, a lighter category than Drama with a capital D. I disagree, in light of memorable poignant moments, many by Colfer. Glee is making Main Street grudgingly agree that it’s OK to be who we are (and now “Single Ladies” is stuck in my head for the rest of the day, thank you very much).


Awards shows come and go, and today’s trend is tomorrow’s quaint flashback. Still, maybe this September’s statues will recognize the stature of those who, like Lost, Modern Family, and Glee, pave the way in so many diverse directions for the storytellers of seasons to come.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer Reading 2011: More Barrowman Books

The Barrowman sibs are at it again. According to today's announcement from book publisher, Buster Books (an imprint of Michael O’Mara), the first of a hoped-for series of children’s books will be published next summer. Embedded in the announcement is notice of an upcoming Torchwood tie-in penned (probably more accurately Skyped and word processed) by, you guessed it, the Barrowmans.

I’ve been waiting for this announcement for more than a year, ever since I asked John Barrowman at Torchsong about any future writing projects the duo might have in the works. At that time (and apparently to his sister’s surprise), he described the series of children’s books they planned to write, as well as a possible Torchwood novel that might, as Carole later hinted, include a love interest (or two) for Captain Jack.

The timing of today’s announcement makes the most of recent announcements about Torchwood’s new season as a Starz/BBC/BBC Worldwide collaboration and the Barrowmans’ Q&A session with follow-up book signing yesterday in London. Generating excitement about future projects—as well as expanding the family entertainment franchise—is certainly one of John Barrowman’s strengths. Carole Barrowman’s ardent Facebook following and fan-friendly presence at conventions and signings bring even more prospective readers to the forthcoming books, so much so that the sibs are likely to continue their collaborative writing success long after a single project (even one as notorious as Torchwood) eventually ends.

As an English professor, I take special pride that “one of us” is gaining international attention for writing. Too many well-qualified fiction writers don’t get the opportunity to reach a widespread audience, especially amid the wildly fluctuating fortunes of today’s publishing industry. I also suspect that, if Carole Barrowman weren’t such a talented writer, her brother’s multidirectional career might not include so many books. For those of us who would perish without writing, even if it means limited or no publication, Carole’s success is invigorating and refreshing (not to mention well deserved). You go, girl!

As a Torchwood fan, I’m intrigued by the notion of John Barrowman directing Captain Jack’s fate. He’s mentioned that he’s an actor who follows what the script demands of his character (even if he might personally question it, as a “Children of Earth” Torchwood magazine interview heavily implied). During Torchsong last year, he suggested he’d like to see more of Captain Jack’s backstory, even within his time at Torchwood. Here’s the actor’s chance to tell us how he sees this character and what he would do if given the chance to tell a story. Although to a certain extent that happened with the comic “Selkie,” a novel gives a lot more time and space for character development. I suspect that the children’s novels will be published first and take precedence, but I hope that the publisher knows there’s a waiting adult audience for the Barrowmans’ Torchwood tie-in, too.

Congratulations to the Barrowmans. Even if I’m just a kid at heart, I know what’s on my summer reading list for 2011.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Captain Jack Gets a Tan

While surfing several news sites this morning in the name of "research" for a couple of new projects, I happened upon two interesting tidbits about Torchwood's upcoming season. Both indicate that the new production will be based much more in the U.S. than anywhere else, whether LA is one of several international locations or simply dressed as global destinations.

EW's Ausiello reported on the 16th that "the show will shoot a chunk of the season in Los Angeles. Captain Jack's going Hollywood!"

John Barrowman reportedly told a U.K. magazine that "...I'm now going to do Torchwood in the States. I'll have to spend six months there."

Six months does indeed sound like a "chunk," given that the new season has 10 episodes. The series seems to be an LA-based production, although I, and undoubtedly lots of other fans, still hope that Cardiff makes at least a guest appearance. One of the reasons I loved Torchwood was its Welshness. I feel worse, however, that the lovely and talented crew in Cardiff have one less series to provide them work, even as I envy the U.S. crew who now will get their shot at the series.

I'm also going to miss the coat, but I don't want Captain Jack to die of sunstroke, even if he'll come back. Good thing he can tan to his heart's content without worrying about permanent skin damage. I wonder if he'll have tan lines.

So the recent news is gradually filling in the blanks of the initial announcement, but it is sure to disappoint long-time fans who want Torchwood Made in Wales.

My next assumption is that filming will start post-panto early in 2011 and the series have a June premiere. Perhaps, while Captain Jack's alter-ego is in the U.S., he'll schedule a concert date or two--or a fan convention somewhere midcountry where his fans can hear him sing.

Just a thought. If I find anything else Torchworthy, I'll be sure to post it here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Return of 'Torchwood': The Good, The Bad, and the Snuggly

Torchwood is returning. Captain Jack will be back. My TV-loving heart swells with happiness at the announcement, but I also have lots of questions now that I've read maybe 15 of the more than 100 articles crowding cyberspace with the news. In short, here's my "oh, joy!--hey, wait a minute" response to what's been reported thus far. [My responses to articles published later this evening are in brackets.]

The Good

Torchwood will be back with 10 new episodes to be broadcast in the U.S. and U.K. in summer 2011.

Jack and Gwen will be "appearing" in the new series. (Also see Q1 in The Bad.)

Starz set its most recent broadcast standards for nudity, sex, and violence with Spartacus. I take it that a little naked hide and seek won't be out of bounds, and Jack's lovely derriere won't need to be filmed in long shot or require anything to be pixilated.

A stable of writers with 10 episodes to develop suggests more stand-alone stories instead of one massive event, a la "Children of Earth."

[The Hollywood Reporter and Variety interviews/quotations indicate that one massive story will be the focus of the 10 episodes. Nevertheless, as Lost fans know, you can have an overarching story while still having individually themed episodes. Even with a singular main story, 10 hours provides ample time for character development and those little "quiet moments" that make Torchwood--or any good series--worth watching.]

BBC Wales is listed as one of the partners (BBC Worldwide and Starz being the other two). Even if the "global" stories and reported "filming in the U.S. and around the world" (according to The Guardian) indicate that Torchwood won't be exclusively a Welsh series, the continuing presence of Eve Myles and BBC Wales indicates that Cardiff may be at least a potential filming location.

[The latest U.S. reports, again from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, clearly state that the story will mostly take place in the U.S. Here's the part I'd love to have explained ad nauseum--let's just call me a stickler for detail--"A lot of this story takes place in the U.S. as well with several characters that are in the U.S. intelligence forces and end up teaming up with Gwen and Captain Jack to deal with the situation at hand." (Starz chief, Chris Albrecht, in The Hollywood Reporter). Will the story mostly revolve around those U.S. intelligence forces--presumably the new roles to be cast--with sporadic appearances by Jack and Gwen from Cardiff? Will Jack be a liaison with those special forces--presumably to have a bigger role in the U.S.-based series--while Gwen stays at home with Torchwood and the baby? In a post-CoE world, having Jack be absent from Cardiff most of the time would make sense, or at least as much sense as his feeling comfortable returning to Earth after that moving farewell speech.]

A U.S.-U.K. partnership can be an innovative collaboration that keeps our favorite SF series on the air without the creation of separate (but unlikely to be equal) series. (Have I mentioned that I'm nervous about a U.S. Being Human?)

[Still thinking that Torchwood back on BBC One (not Two or Three) is a good thing.]

Dark drama that surpasses Cardiff's Rift as the major source of conflict or action opens Torchwood to a multitude of adult stories that can allow characters to grow. Captain Jack traveled millenia of years and miles to get to Cardiff. I won't be upset if his road trips are expanded beyond London.

[Whatever you think of CoE, Torchwood really did need to be expanded beyond "alien/monster of the week" or "aliens come to Earth for sex" stories. I agree with RTD on that. Presumably writers can create compelling new stories that expand or create depth to lead characters' roles without killing off 60% of the regular cast.]

A few days ago Amazon listed two new Torchwood audio stories (new radio dramas?) with a 2011 release date, backed up almost a year from the original date. Possibly these stories will provide "filler" before the new TV episodes begin, much as the radio dramas leading up to CoE did in 2009. (Also see Q8 in The Bad.)

Did I mention that Torchwood is returning in a year?


The Bad

Let my fan paranoia come out to play for a few minutes. I withhold judgment until after the first episode is broadcast next summer, but I have a few questions which might not yet be able to be answered (pending casting and script development). I don't know that anything will be "Bad," but these are my concerns.

1. I worry about the word "appearing" that so far has been listed in lots of articles. Does that mean "starring"--or is it more along the lines of "getting the new series started and then disappearing for several episodes"?

[In light of more recent articles this evening, I'm not too sure how much we'll be seeing of Eve Myles. At least it seems like John Barrowman will have a potentially larger role in the new episodes--which, RTD insisted in The Hollywood Reporter--is not a reboot or a new version. So...it's not a Battlestar Galactica (or, shudder, a Bionic Woman) or a Caprica, but is it more of a CSI: Miami? After all, RTD's also quoted as saying "We're just moving countries." Still confused. Sorry.]

2. Where will Torchwood be based--in the U.S. or U.K.?

[U.S.]

Is Torchwood still a Welsh series with a broader story base (and more money) to allow those international destinations?

[Maybe Cardiff can be one of the many international locations? Still holding on to that BBC Wales-as-partner concept.]

3. Just how many new cast members are we talking?

[Two regulars and some recurring supporting roles.]

Granted, after the last team's slaughter, Torchwood needs to do some serious recruitment, but I still hope that Captain Jack gets lots of air time. Convince me that I can get my Barrowman fix, Starz.

[Still waiting to be convinced.]

4. How much Earth time has elapsed since "Children of Earth"? A returning Torchwood might need to be set in a different time frame. (After all, filming of the latest season ended in late 2008, and it would seem that a summer 2011 target date indicates an early 2011 start date. I'm not suggesting that anyone is looking any older, but none of us is any younger, either.)

5. Starz brings more cash to the BBC table, but will it Americanize a British TV series or allow the returning creators to carry on as before?

[Perhaps the answer is "both."]

6. Are we saying goodbye to Torchwood's link, however peripheral in the Age of Moffat, to Doctor Who?

7. Do international filming locales indicate more than one new Hub, or in a post-CoE world, will Torchwood's higher profile simply allow its team to get involved in global events?

[Again, possibly both--or at least one major new "hub" of operations with all those American intelligence agents.]

8. Will the new audio stories involve only those actors who survived CoE? I'm selfish. I want more Ianto, and Gareth David-Lloyd has a fantastic radio/audio book voice.

The Snuggly

Sex doesn't seem to be a problem for Starz. Let's see how omnisexual Jack can really be.

[Still seems to be an emphasis in all the newer articles. "Adult" and "omnisexual" come up a lot. Unless other new characters are also omnisexual--always a possibility--it sounds like the good Captain won't have to say bi bye.]

I loved the relationships among Torchwood's original team. Here's hoping that a core group of characters we can care about are given the chance to develop friendships and romances. I vote for character development in addition to (not in lieu of) global plots with higher stakes. The people who createth and initially giveth also proved they can quite happily taketh away. I'm still hoping for snuggly and characters I'd like to snuggle with.


All in all, I'll have to say Good is winning

[but I'm still curious how much we'll see of Jack and Gwen, in or out of Cardiff].

I'm still a Torchwood fan,* and once I expand my cable to include Starz, I'll be watching in summer 2011. I just hope someone spoils us a little more about the direction the series will take. [Silly me. That didn't take long. But I still want more.] Like the Hub, I was gutted by CoE, but I'm glad Captain Jack's and Torchwood's story doesn't end there.







(*I was and always will be a Janto lover, too. I don't think those categories have to be mutually exclusive. I'm all for bringing the dead back to life, and SF can be a wonderfully mysterious place full of possibilities. After all, until an hour ago, I thought Torchwood was all but buried. My fondness for Jack doesn't exclude that for Janto or Ianto. I'm going to tune in for that first episode and go from there.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

In the Wake of LOST

Several months ago, at the beginning of ABC’s fall season, I truly liked what I saw of FlashForward. Even the title promised that the new series learned something from old favorite LOST’s flashes forward, backward, and sideways. The pilot episode intrigued me, and if the lead character was more protagonist than true hero, I could live with that. An Oceanic airline advert even popped up on screen, and I started comparing kangaroos with polar bears.

Unfortunately, I should’ve been equating Oceanic 815’s crash to the new series; it would’ve been a more apt predictor of FlashForward’s fate. Today came the announcement that FlashForward is dead. I wonder what the actors in that pilot episode saw in their flashforwards six months ago.

One of the highlights of FlashForward has been Dominic Monaghan’s Simon, a decidedly uncuddly character, unlike the actor’s previously high-profile roles. Simon is calculating, cold brilliance. If ratings-conscious networks and producers learn anything from FlashForward, may it be that Dominic Monaghan is an actor to watch.

FlashForward dived into TV’s murky waters at a time when ABC began seriously fishing for a successor to LOST, whose May 23 “The End”-ing follows FlashForward’s funeral by a few days. LOST’s finale is a wake for the no-longer-flashing-anywhere series but also a celebration of its transcendence into another elevated dimension of television. It now becomes one of those great, often-lamented series that changed TV.

With the loss of LOST and FlashForward, ABC steps back from the ledge that is original science fiction programming. It still has V, a far better remake of a 1980s miniseries, but that’s not a risk-taking series like LOST (such as inserting a mythology episode with only a handful of hours left) or an innovative story, again like LOST or its struggling wannabe FlashForward. Fans often joke that the dead can come back to life because anything is possible in science fiction. I don’t want to see LOST zombies or clones clogging the networks, but I truly hope that thought-provoking, character-driven, action-laced SF can rise from the dead on network TV.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Finding a New Home for Torchwood's Captain Jack

Is Fox’s loss ultimately viewers’ gain? Within the past 24 hours, BBC Worldwide announced that plans for 13 episodes of Torchwood on Fox have been scrapped. According to the press release, other networks may still pick up the series for production in the U.S.

So, Torchwood fans, should we rejoice that the Big Bad Americanized TW may be dead? Fans feared that the Fox version would strip Captain Jack of, well, stripping, or having sex, or making sexual innuendo inappropriate for conservative audiences. Is it good news that this network now won’t get their claws into our beloved Captain Jack? Or should we mourn the loss of a series that’s made the news as much for its controversy as its intriguing characters?

As a cynic reading the news this morning, I believe the U.S. version is deader than Ianto. Although a new (or re-imagined) series technically can be pitched, piloted, and produced at any time of the year, the reality is that U.S. mainstream networks still tend to follow the old mindset of a spring pilot season leading to autumn premieres, with January as a backup plan against fall misfires. That’s not a good mindset for a U.S. Torchwood series looking for a new home in 2010. By the time another network can pick up the series, the momentum created by “Children of Earth” will be even longer gone.

Of course, maybe this latest announcement will quickly lead to a follow-up by another network that has already agreed to produce the series—or would be willing to do so. Perhaps. But was Fox really BBC Worldwide’s first choice if there was a queue?

Fans who still want the series to go on, even with a new cast, worry that BBC Wales has teased forthcoming plans for Torchwood but then left the series off its roster of big-name programming planned for continuing production in Cardiff. Let’s face it—if BBC really loved Torchwood as much as we do, they likely would have commissioned more episodes sooner after last summer’s miniseries. Budget issues, Russell T Davies’ cross-planet move, and probably many other factors we’ll never know compound the conundrum about when or if Torchwood should return.

As a long-time Torchwood fan, yes, I would love to see the series return, but I want at least 50 percent of the original cast. (Considering that only two original characters survive, that shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.) I want to see Cardiff, even if it masquerades as London sometimes. I want to see Captain Jack in action, every way imaginable, and if writers want to broaden my imagination, that’s OK with me.

Sadly, I doubt if a new Torchwood will provide all that on screen in the next year. I haven’t given up hope yet for a series, but I’m becoming more cynical (realistic?) that it may not happen.

Torchwood is still an interesting premise for a series, but I hope it doesn’t take nearly 30 years to re-imagine it in a viable on-screen format (think BSG). If it doesn’t go to series, here’s hoping that others will rescue Captain Jack and convince him to revisit Earth by 2011. As fanfiction and conventions have shown, there’s an international Torchwood fandom waiting for new stories—in print or on screen. Perhaps someone will realize that and creatively find an answer to the question of what to do with Torchwood.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Caprica: "Know Thy Enemy"

Showing was more important than telling in tonight's Caprica episode. Three very different sets of images pique my interest:

The Opening Credit Sequence

I love the opening to Caprica. I feel like I’m entering a holoworld or a video game. The images represent humans, but they only act out predetermined iconic actions; the characters are all avatars in my virtual TV world. Even the pace is set for a short attention span appropriate to a gaming environment, and the timing of each character’s iconic actions hits important musical beats. I see Caprica through the eyes of a Cylon/avatar/teen—the perfect perspective for a skewed view of modern society.

Symbolism

Knives are such an important image in Caprica, again evidenced tonight. Slicing vegetables, slicing people—both done with clinical, rapid efficiency. The people who wield these knives may be surprising—such as Daniel Graystone, who methodically, if emotionally, hacks to death a zuchini. I like the imagery, but I hope knives become as symbolic as Lost’s keys or bunnies. Let's see them recur even more often than Daniel's nightmares.

Nicely symbolic ending to this episode, too, provided through close-ups of glasses. After the toast, Vergis’ flute is full, but Graystone’s is empty. How foreshadowy.

Barnabas’ True Introduction

First seen as a shadow, Barnabas becomes the figurative and literal darkness against the light (represented by Sister Clarice, bathed in candle glow, in the next scene). He wraps barbed wire around his arm, clearly a man with a bloody self-image—wow, talk about the perfect way to introduce James Marsters’ latest character. Short scene, but powerful imagery. Soft flesh wrapped in barbed wire; soft speech erupting into harsh commands--Barnabas is the epitome of explosive devotion. I’m intrigued. He’s much more vibrant and menacing than the name-dropping in past episodes suggested.


“Know Thy Enemy” indeed. Every confrontation between two characters illustrates future enemies. I'll return to this episode at the end of the season to see just how many later betrayals and plot twists began with the images revealed tonight.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stereotyping "Caprica"

Muttering as she hacks up fresh meat. Cackling over the bones of jacks players past. Vowing to take vengeance into her own gnarling hands.

Until Friday night's episode of Caprica, I hadn't really thought of Willy Adama's grandma as a stereotypical crone. In a series supposedly careful about stereotyping gays and "Mafiosos," especially gay Mafia hit men, Grandma is a bit of a surprise.

She becomes the latest in a line of grasping witches (more early Into the Woods or Disney apple bearer than Witches of Eastwick) or curse-wielding gypsies. A part of me acknowledges that even Betty White doesn't always play sweet and kind older ladies any more, and stereotyping all grannies as benevolent blue-haired cookie bakers isn't any better than turning them into cleaver-wielding assassins. Still, there was something a bit over the top with the transformation from a quietly exasperated, behind-the-scenes, traditional Tauron matriarch into a bloody butcher.

This mutation was hardly subtle, unlike the casual references about domestic bliss interspersed into Sam's dialogue. I rather like his character, despite his night job. Perhaps it's because he knows exactly who he is. He kills for a living. He's good at his job. He's a professional much more so than his "respectable" brother Joseph. If his passion for his partner is as tightly focused as his passion for his vocation, I can see why Larry is a happy guy. The most recent allusion to Sam's partner--"Larry doesn't like me to come home bloody"--helps establish Sam's relationship and self-acceptance as the norm.

What's intrigued me about Caprica so far is its probably inadvertent insights into how and why Willy Adama becomes the complex, volatile, occasionally self-abusively maudlin, and thoroughly commanding presence of adult Bill Adama. Seeing how Grandma and Sam guide his adolescence explains a lot. I'm glad to have the familial backstory, even if I have to chuckle at how Lee would've been eaten alive by his relatives.

With all the hype leading to James Marsters' March debut, SyFy and even the series' creators seem to want audiences just to hang in there a few weeks longer for the exposition to settle and the action to begin. I like the backstory and character development to date. I just want to avoid the supersized helping of cackling crone so I can feast on the more subtle development of Sam.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Academy Nominations and the Future of Film

This morning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their nominees. News media followed the announcements particularly closely because the field for Best Picture was broadened from five to ten.

By doubling the number of nominees, film critics noted on every major network, the Academy encouraged the recognition of blockbuster films as possible Best Picture nominees. Popular choices, not just art house films that no one (but people like me) go to see, would make the list. On E! Ben Lyons considered the “traditional five” in his pre-announcement speculation. I don’t think he meant to imply a two-tiered system, with five “traditionally classy” films that would’ve received a nom anyway and five “popular” films now being included, but many moviegoers likely anticipated the Top Ten might break down that way.

When the noms were announced, I didn’t see these predictions fulfilled. Where was a groundbreaking choice like Star Trek? Avatar probably filled that slot, in part because its reception has been huge week after week at the box office, in part because its technology has been heralded as the future of film making. Up probably wouldn’t have made the list if the nominations had been kept to five, the same for The Blind Side (although Sandra Bullock would’ve scored a Best Actress nod anyway). For all the hype about the “surprises” coming in the expanded Best Picture list, I didn’t feel terribly surprised.

The expanded list included a few "popular" choices and a blockbuster, so I guess the Top Ten fulfilled expectations. It gave a thumbs up to films that wouldn't have otherwise made the cut and likely will bring in more Oscar night viewers who have seen at least Avatar or The Blind Side. Maybe that's all it's supposed to do.

But then, I guess I’ve been pondering the future of film (and television, given that LOST’s final premiere arrives tonight). In the next few months I’ll be blogging those ponderings regarding specific aspects of film making, but I’ll finish my immediate ramble here. I guess I was hoping that more films with a history like District 9 would be encouraged.

Many of my friends didn’t like District 9, but I liked it if found it sometimes difficult to watch. It’s a blend of entertainment with a “serious art” theme. What pleases me this morning is that a project that started as a documentary-style 6-minute film a few years ago gained momentum and eventually got the backing it needed to become a full-length feature on big screens. Now it's been recognized by the Academy. That’s the story I want to follow, because I think it provides hope for so many little films and as-yet-unrecognized film makers to get their stories out to the public.

The web is a good place for short films to start. Perhaps that’s why I’m just as fascinated with Girl Number 9, told in five-minute segments over five days online, as with Avatar. Big budget, big studio, big technology = success seems to be the prevailing model. Not all films in the Academy’s Top Ten followed that formula, but enough still do that they dictate the number and types of films financed each year.

Story, however, should be key to what is made. Is a story worth telling on film? online? (And I'm not talking YouTube home movies.) I may be just as entertained by the expectation of the next day’s online 5-minute serialized scenes as an hour 35 of technical wizardry or celebrity star turn on a big screen.

Storytelling is an art, as well as a commercial venture. The stories that stick with us don’t have to cost a lot to make, but they need to be well told, well acted. I don’t know the budget for some of these online features recently capturing my attention, but the web seems to offer more creative freedom for serious film makers with seriously low budgets. They may even get the attention of audiences and potential backers. Even if the online version isn't expanded for wider screens and longer run time, it's still worth making if it tells a great story in an innovative way. Maybe someday in the not-too-distant future I’ll be looking to other media for more of the stories that appeal to me.

It’s not that I’ve been unhappy with recent films. Of those receiving the “big” nominations for acting, writing, directing, and best picture, my favorites are A Single Man (with an incredible performance by Colin Firth), Up in the Air (but that’s probably because I relate to George Clooney’s character), An Education, and Up. I haven’t seen all the nominated films or performances yet, so my list likely will expand by Oscar night.

I simply don’t want to ascribe to the notion that Academy-recognized films are all that’s entertaining, or even the best of film. I know that my taste isn’t the same as the rest of the movie-going public, but it’s for that very reason that I hope short films, new film makers, and less expensive productions will get more of a chance to tell their stories, even in tough economic times. Not all short or low-budget movies are festival darlings or “art house” features—which make both the films and venues sound pretentious. I don’t see why either Art or Commerce needs to be the exclusive winner. Art and entertainment aren’t mutually exclusive, and the internet, rather than the Academy, may be the place for film makers to prove it.

So this morning I’m pleased for the nominees, especially those for whom I root. I’m happy for the New Zealand connection with Avatar, even as I hope that this technological marvel isn’t the only future for film. I’m glad that District 9, for all that I liked Alive in Joburg better, received recognition. But I’m not surprised by the Top Ten, and I hope to see a little more variety in the selections next year. In the meantime, I’ll head to the cinema on the weekend, but I’ll look even closer online for the next not-so-big thing.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Caprica Commentary--Spoilers for "Rebirth"

Caprica isn't as surprising as I'd hoped it would be, but "Rebirth" provided a few intriguing character twists. Four reasons why I'll be back--

1. Amanda Graystone

I don't identify with her or particularly like her at this stage of the story, but I adore the way she can twist the plot. Who knew the grieving mom could "out" her daughter at a memorial for bombing victims? And what a way to finally grab Daniel's attention!


2. More minutiae--links among the two BSGs and Caprica

Anybody else notice that Daniel plays the original Battlestar Galactica theme on the piano? In his lab at his remote lair (how very Dr. Frankenstein), Daniel welcomes Zoe/Cylon home with a few bars of the original series' opening. That theme also survived from the 1970s to the 2000s in a few episodes illustrating Galactica's history. Nice tie-in, guys.

3. Shifting perspectives of Zoe/Cylon

Similar to the way the audience saw Baltar's "imaginary friend," Head Six, Zoe appears as her teenaged self when we see her, yet everyone else sees her as a Cylon. That visual shift provides some of the best moments in "Rebirth," such as when Zoe holds out a hand to best friend Lacy and the two embrace. Seeing the BFFs hug is normal, whereas Lacy clinging to a tall, gleaming robot is a bit disturbing. So is watching a drill approach "human" Zoe's face when a lab tech plans to work on the Cylon body. The visual shift helps us to mentally shift from foe to friend and makes me want to protect Zoe, which brings me to ...

4. Sympathetic Cylons

Since 1978, Battlestar Galactica slowly has been changing fans' view of Cylons, first portrayed as pure monster out to purge the galaxy of humans. The recent BSG helped us view our prejudices toward Cylons and gradually accept at least some of them as "human" characters we could understand. After only the pilot movie and one Caprica episode, I'm already sympathetic toward Zoe/Cylon. Should the audience become sympathetic with characters who, in less than a century of the BSG/Caprica timeline, destroy humanity? Should we root for the Cylons? Or should we feel that humanity has/had it coming?

So far that's Caprica's only controversial aspect and the most interesting reason to follow the saga again next week.