Sunday, April 29, 2012

Once Upon a Time - The Stranger


Do NOT read this post until you watch the latest episode of OuaT!!!


I'm serious. Don't. Go away now.

Why are you still here? 

Okay...moving on...

Welp. We finally got to see Emma as a baby again. And wow, is she the most adorable baby ever or what? Her eyes and the little air kisses she blows... How on earth did she grow up into such a dense adult? 

Don't get me wrong. I've always liked Emma. But. Oy. She is seriously getting on my nerves with her refusal to believe. I mean I see how her history and everything plays into this but... it's taking way too long. AND then we got that awful ending where she KIDNAPPED HENRY.

No. Uh uh. Seriously, this is a messed up family. David cheats on his wife. Mary Margaret flees prison. Emma kidnaps a kid. Her kid, but still one to whom she has no legal right and kidnapping is sure not going to look well on a court record and how, Emma, just how do you think you're going to get away with this???

On the other hand, it was utterly brilliant to finally learn the truth about August. Kudos to those who first pioneered the Pinocchio theory, because they were spot on the money. Geppetto is a little cuckoo though because how can you seriously think a seven-year-old would be better for a baby than the baby's loving mother? SERIOUSLY. 

Wow, it sounds like I'm terribly angry with this episode, but I'm not. I actually loved it and I thought it had some really great moments. Let's think about baby Emma again, shall we? 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thoughts about Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I finished season 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer last night and I'm still trying to process all of my thoughts. With X-Men and Doctor Who I dealt with my intense feelings by writing fanfic and rping and generally geeking out with friends. But Buffy, somehow, got in somewhere deeper into my heart and head and I can't just talk flippantly about it. I don't want, for an instance, to be accused of fangirling over the show or any characters because its so much more than that for me, and I'm still not sure why.

Buffy is, of course, one of the Essential Geek Shows. For years I didn't watch it because I was freaked out by the magic and the demons and all that stuff and despite the horror of geek friends, I continued to hold off on it for a long time. Then I got into Harry Potter and X-Men and just plain grew old enough to deal with the frightening elements and...well...

My friend Randi Jo gets a lot of credit for getting me into Buffy. Many of my other friends praised the show, but Randi Jo was the one who constantly quoted it, who sat me down and convinced me to watch two episodes of season 4, and bought me the first two seasons of Angel. She also encouraged me, when I tried to start out with season 1 of Buffy (and found it less than interesting at my particular point in life) to not give up and skip ahead to season 4. Furthermore she knew what character I was going to love the most and bribed me by saying he got major screen time in the later seasons. Oh how right she was!

(SPOILER WARNING - from here on out there will be spoilers from Buffy, seasons 1-8).

But let's back up. My very first interaction with Buffy was actually not the TV show at all. When I first seriously got into comics, I got into the habit of carefully scouring the library shelves for any that I had not yet read. A volume of Buffy Season 8 was there and (thanks to RJ's constant mentions) decided to pick it up and read it. It was the story arc in which Xander goes to get Dracula to help them out, and was so darn funny that although I wasn't ready to watch the show yet, I'd had my eyes opened to why I needed to give it a chance... someday.

Last fall I finally started watching it seriously, and this spring I finished it. While season 4 had ups and downs, I was hooked from the moment season 5 started. Tara, Dawn and Spike became majorly important characters both to the show and me, and their effect on Buffy and Willow really connected with me.

I know many fans found Dawn irritating, but I have a little sister, and I found Dawn and Buffy's relationship to be incredibly realistic. It forced Buffy to really grow up and become, not just a slayer, but a woman. For the first time I found myself admiring her. And Dawn is brilliant because after season 5 she really is an ordinary, non-powered, non-chosen girl, yet she deals with it and works through being 'not special' and is still determined to help in any way she can.

I've lived all my life on the conservative side of the religious spectrum, a place where you really don't talk about LBGT relationships, at least not at the dinner table with your parents. Part of growing up has been learning how to engage with LBGT portrayals in the media, for which I owe much thanks to my friends in the queer community who have been very patient with my struggles with how I stand on these issues. Willow and Tara at first unnerved me because I wasn't ready to watch a lesbian relationship on-screen. But by the time I got to Once More With Feeling (arguably my favorite or second favorite episode ever), I was fully able to appreciate Tara's love ballad. Tara's selfless love for Willow, her attempts to curtail Willow's magic, and her growing struggle with her own self-esteem make for a very powerful storyline. I also really appreciate her motherly relationship with Dawn. Her death is perhaps one of the saddest moments of the show (the later half, at least, I know Angel fans might say otherwise about seasons 1-3) and is truly heartwrenching.

And then there was Buffy's relationship with Spike and I know some people hate Spike but he's honestly my favorite character on the show, and not because (or just because) he's attractive. When he was evil, I loved his sense of humor long before he became anything like a romantic hero - in fact I first saw him in Angel and spent most of the episode laughing at his shenanigans. I have so much admiration for Whedon and his production team for taking a truly evil character (and Spike WAS evil), and writing out a painfully realistic redemption plotline. I believe fundamentally that everyone has a chance at redemption (it's an integral belief of the Christian faith), but I also believe that redeeming oneself is a really hard task. It's not really something that a film has the time to do justice, especially with a character who started as low as Spike did. I mean, how do you take a character that attempted rape and turn them into a hero without seeming to glorify it? You do it realistically, because people can commit terrible sins like murder and rape and still repent and go on to be truly good people (look, for example, at the slaver John Newton who became one of the foremost Christian writers of his time).

There's so much I could write about Spike and his relationship and effect on Buffy and maybe sometime I will, but I don't want it to take over this post. I'm going to conclude this section by saying that the single most powerful image of the show for me was from the end of season 7, when Spike holds Buffy in his arms all night at her request and they both agreed it was the best night of their life. So much about television today is creating relationships based on sexual attraction. While that was the basis of their relationship in season 6, season 7 was all about forming a deeper, more selfless relationship based on what love truly is - caring more for the other person than for oneself, even if it means to stop fighting for them.

While we're talking about relationships, I want to also bring up Xander and Anya, because I utterly adore these two people. I want Xander to be my big brother, or my best friend, because he's so wonderful and remains fully a person despite the natural inclination to declare him a sidekick. His geek moments are priceless, his quoting of Shakespeare fantastic, but his shining moment is when he saves the world with his words - absolutely perfect.

But he's not flawless, as we really see in his relationship with Anya. When he left her at the alter it really hurt, because I do think they could have made it work, but I also understand why it wasn't right for him. But I hurt for Anya because I love her. I love her bluntness. And it's funny because quite late in the show we find out that her abnormal reactions and lack of boundaries is not because she was once a vengeance demon - it's how she always does. Which means she most likely has Aspergers. Normally it ticks me off when writers use any sort of psychological condition for humor, but I love Anya. I love how she's bold, how she's unashamed of her difficulties, how she loves Xander, how black and white she sees the earth. And I love how she goes "I don't understand, why don't we just say things plainly?" Whedon is a master at giving characters quirks and even psychological disorders without in any way reducing them to mere comedic effect or objects of pity. Anya is a person, and she doesn't want or need to change herself.

And how do you even begin to write about this show in one post? I want to talk about how they wrote Joyce's death (which was so poignant and true), or the phenomenal episode where they staged an actual musical even though almost none of them including Joss had worked with musicals before, or we could talk about Faith, or Giles, or Robin Wood, or Buffy's coming back to life, or the whole thing with the initiative, or the creepiness of the First or Gloria, or the effect of magic on Willow, or Buffy training the potentials (and an ADORABLE Felicia Day), or how terrifying Nathan Fillion is as a villain, or the fact that Buffy makes mistakes and then she learns and grows from them and that's why we love her because she tries so hard to do the right thing.

And can you see why this post has been so hard for me to write? I normally don't delve so deeply into my feelings when writing blog posts. I mean, it's a scary thing because now I'm going to post this and it's going to be read by lots of you who I don't even know.

But it's worth it, because it's worth celebrating the deep things that make us think and feel - whether life or stories and after all that's what this blog is all about. The effect of story on our lives.

I'm so glad I watched Buffy. I'm also so glad that I waited until I was mature enough to truly appreciate every depth and nuance of it. And I'm glad that it didn't disappoint me and that I now understand why it's an Essential Geek Show.

(EDIT: every time I read this post I'm finding something new to edit, so be patient if a sentence is off - I'll be fixing it)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What is the most awesome thing you ever got at a Thrift Store?

I love Thrift Stores.

Okay, let's forget that they smell. Let's forget that the electronics are worthless, half the clothes really worn and a quarter of them truly terrifying, and the fact that the shoes either don't fit or don't match.

Really, let's forget all of that.

Because where else can you find a truly fantastic skirt for $3 that anywhere else would cost you ten times that much (at least)?

Where else can you find DVDs for $2?

Where else can you find books for $.15?

Or Teacups for $.99?

Well, okay, garage sales and clearance and discount stores... maybe...

But really. Thrift stores can be great fun. And much cheaper than going shopping at Target or the Mall.

Plus, you know, they have everything. And it's all interesting. And you can laugh at the really hideous stuff and maybe wear strong lotion so you don't notice the smell.

Oh and always, ALWAYS bring a friend. Because everything is an adventure when someone you love shares it with you.

So. What was the most awesome (or 5 most awesome) thing(s) you ever got at a Thrift Store?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pride and Prejudice Fans - Lizzie Bennet's diary!

What if Pride and Prejudice was a video blog run by a young woman who loved to find the humor and irony in everything?

Well it would probably look something like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which has just uploaded it's fifth video.

For a webseries that takes place in just one room, I have to say the production quality is fantastic. The integration of modern life into this classic proves just why it's a classic - it really is timeless! And the actresses they have are so far perfectly cast - Lizzie is hilarious!

But beyond that, the people working on the production are just plain really nice people. When I wrote to them and asked if they would consider captioning the videos, they almost immediately got to work on the project and now have four of the five videos captioned.

If they get enough viewers they'll be able to film more than the eight episodes they have currently. So please take the time to check out the series and their websites and if you like it - pass the word on!

Facebook Page
Tumblr Blog

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Martha Jones - and then what happened?

Remember that secret writing project I gave you all a sneak peek at? Well it's typed up, edited (thank you Bowman!) and posted on DeviantArt. Those of you who figured out it was Doctor Who related get gold stars - it is the story I've long wanted to tell of how I envision Martha readjusting to ordinary life and beginning a friendship with Mickey Smith after saving the world a second time in Journey's End.

You can read it here:

Not only is it my first attempt at short fiction in many years (I'm a novelist) it is also my very first time writing in the present tense. I didn't choose the tense, that's just how the story presented itself to me and I'm quite happy with how it worked out.

I hand-wrote the entire first draft, much of which was written in doctor offices. This forced me to choose my words carefully and make every letter count. Not only is this vital for short fiction, but it also is good for learning what to weed out in longer projects and makes for tighter writing altogether. I'm looking forwards to applying the new discipline to my current novels!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Writing Prompt Time!

Find two bowls.

Write the names of your favorite people - fictional or otherwise - onto scraps of paper and dump them into the first bowl.

Write random questions like "what was your last holiday like?" or "what is your political position?" onto other scraps of paper and dump them into the other bowl.

Close your eyes and draw one slip of paper from each bowl. This is your writing prompt. Set yourself a timer and go write!

Want a demonstration of how fun this can be? Check out the prompts my friend Randi Jo and I did back at our writing retreat last December. They were all written in about five minutes and have not been edited.

Scarlet O'Hara - Would you rather have love or power?

"Well love of course! I've never wanted anything more than a happily ever after with my darling Ashley. I'd do anything in the world to make that happen. It's awful aggravating that Ashley just doesn't see this. He's head over heels  in love with Melanie - or thinks he is. Now if he'd just listen to me properly he'd realize that Mellie could never make him truly happy the way I could. Because deep down, Ashley really loves me, I know this.

"Oh why are people so pig-headed stubborn? Like that Rhett Butler. He just doesn't know when to leave me alone! Keeps causing scandals and thinks he can run my life better than I can. As if! Some days I think I can run everybody's lives better than they can."

Randi Jo's
Kaylee (Firefly) - What is your dream vacation?

"I'd kinda like to wake up one morn' and find that my best fellow Simon had surprised me - had gone and whisked me off in my sleep - and when I opened my eyes I'd see sunshine fallin' on our pillow - and we'd be in a real bed with sheets and there'd be a basket of complimentary fruit from the guesthouse people. And I'd walk out the bedroom door into a garden... and I'd sit right down on a bench and eat and eat. Simon would pick me a nice-smellin' flower and we'd sit together just brownin' in the sun and leaves from the trees would fall into my lap, and I'd fall asleep again, just covered in perfume and light... and Simon of course."

River Song (Doctor Who) - What was the hardest thing you ever had to do?

"There's not even a question about it. My wedding. I knew - knew where it was going. What he was going to ask me to do. Did he really thing I would seal his doom with a kiss?

"Of course not. Back then I was young and impetuous and he always knew better than me. I didn't believe it of course. If I had, it wouldn't have been so heartbreakingly difficult..."

"Now he's younger and I'm older and I sometimes wonder if something harder is coming."

Randi Jo's
Robin Hood - What are three authors you find inspirational?

"Books are hard to come by when you're an outlaw. You'd think I could just steal some from the rich caravans I 'frequent.' But strangely, pompous old scoundrels swimming in farthings they squeezed from the poor rarely seem to own books either. However when I was a young fool and inclined towards romance, I spent my days wandering the fields and reading Le' Morte de Arthur. Silly fantasy or inspiring heroics, I don't know which. Marian is reading over my shoulder right now - and she says romance is the most important thing in the world and if I don't think so too, I'm going to lose her company (at night) for an indefinite spell.

"Sooooo. Yess. Knights and ladies. Chivalry. Romance. The most important thing in the world. I was wrong to doubt."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is there enough violence in "The Hunger Games" film?

I must admit, I was surprised the first time I heard people complaining about this. True the film is not as graphic as the book, but I felt it got across the same point without being gratuitous. Also, as you already know, I felt the film was perfect and had no interest in nitpicking.

However, considering how central violence is to this story, I think it's a really valid issue to consider. I wrote up a post on the subject over on the FTN forum, and I'm now going to expand a bit here.

First of all, I want to point out that the first book does dwell more on the culture of the games rather than the horrors - these become MUCH more of a central theme in the later books. Yes, the killing is abhorrent, but equally and not as obviously abhorrent is the Capitol's attitude towards the games as entertainment. I think our 21st century brains are really quite good at filling in the blanks of the film's discreet shooting of the killings. Kids are killing each other, the concept alone is enough to strike horror in us. However the way the Capitol watches, bets on and controls the games requires more explanation to make clear - but once made clear, we realize that this, perhaps, is the truest horror of the story. Violence has always been a part of sinful humanity. But making violence into entertainment is, in my humble opinion, the worse sin, and one that western culture has really not seen since the days of the Roman arena.

Then there is another important point. If they'd gotten an R-rating, they wouldn't be able to market it towards teens and if you can't adapt a YA book for young adults then you're not going to make the movie. It really comes down to a simple financial equation and I'd rather we get a slightly watered down first film, then no film at all. Furthermore, if you make the first film too dark, it becomes much harder to market sequels. Look at all of the famous trilogies we know - Star Wars, LOTR, POTC, Spiderman - the stories all get progressively darker. If the first film were as dark as the third in these series, it's unlikely that they would have reached quite the level of popularity that they did.

 But I do sincerely hope they push more of the darkness in the second and third films, and I think they will. Mockingjay is going to be divided into two films, which allows them to keep more of the darker acts in without eating up their PG-13 quota.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reflections on a Bowl of Oatmeal (or "Help! I'm turning into a Grown-up!")

When I was a kid I thought oatmeal was disgusting. Thick and gooey and bland and usually cold by the time I reached the kitchen. Give me a bagel any day!

Then I grew up and one day I went out to breakfast with my grandparents and noticed how really spectacular my grandpa's oatmeal looked. I asked for a bite and... a new obsession was born.

Turns out the secret is cream, just the right balance of brown sugar and cinnamon, and making it really, REALLY hot and continuing to add liquid as the oats soak it up. Once you hit the right scientific formula... heaven!

Oh come on, don't look at me like that! Breakfast is important! And oatmeal is cheap and gluten-free and really easy on the stomach (if you happen to have my stomach which is one of the pickiest ever invented).

So yes, I love properly made oatmeal now. The scary thing is that I'm sort of craving buttered kale right now... help! I'm turning into a grown-up!

Monday, April 16, 2012

SyFy's Eureka premieres its final season tonight!

Will you be tuning in at 9/8c to embark on our last adventure with the citizens of bizarre science town, Eureka?

Four seasons ago, Jack Carter and his daughter Zoe got stranded in a weird little town full of the world's most brilliant scientists. Before they quite knew what was happening, Jack was signed up as sheriff - and only non-brainiac in a place where every day featured science experiments gone wrong and the imminent end of the world.

Last season a time travel adventure rebooted continuity and only five characters remember the old timeline. Now Eureka is host to the launch of the first manned mission to the planet Titan - the blast off of which we saw in the last episode.

Although SyFy is canceling the show, they did commission an extra episode to wrap up storylines and leave viewers (hopefully) satisfied. Will it work? Time will tell. Meanwhile tune in tonight - and if you're behind, catch up on Hulu Plus!

Friday, April 13, 2012

First look at my latest writing project

This is a short story fanfic I've been meaning to write for a very long time. I actually hand-wrote the first draft (which I finished today!) because my headaches kept me from being on the computer for extended periods of time.

Anyhow, have fun guessing what the subject is, and I'll let you know when I get it typed up, edited and online.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is 'SMASH' worth watching?

I've been torn about writing about SMASH. On the one hand, I love it. On the other hand, it's an adult show and I don't want to be responsible for interesting younger viewers in a show that is really not intended for their eyes.

Still, at this point in the season, I love it enough that I really want to let my readers know about it, so that those of you who are in the target audience can know my feelings about it, and maybe check out something that you might really love. Or on the other hand maybe you're a younger reader who is intrigued by it, but want to know what the content is really like. Well, whatever your demographic, read on!

SMASH chronicles the evolution of a musical, from its first conception to its Broadway premiere. It features the life of Marilyn Monroe as the piece that ties the cast together and how she inspires and speaks to a vastly diverse crowd of people.

Tom and Julia are a writing team who have successfully worked together for the past ten years. Played by Debra Messing and Christian Borle, they show us both a devoted friendship and the complicated creative process of song and scriptwriting.

Ivy and Karen are young actresses who are hoping to make their big break. Ivy (Megan Hilty) has been working on Broadway for the past decade, Karen (Katharine McPhee) is a starry-eyed newcomer from Iowa. Both are called back for the pivotal role of Marilyn.

Derek and Eileen are the director and producer respectively and face the challenges of starting off a new show. Derek is abrasive but somehow still intriguing (and played fantastically by Jack Davenport). Eileen (Anjelica Huston) gives us a look into the under appreciated but absolutely essential world of producing and let me tell you, they play out all the challenges of that job in faithful detail. They have to take an unfinished script and a $200,000 workshop and turn it into a full length $7M Broadway musical - no easy task by any standards.

Are they the most memorable characters you'll ever see on television? Perhaps not. But they're far more realistic than many casts we see these days, and furthermore they're true to the world of theater. But most importantly of all... they can sing. And can they ever sing!

Unlike Glee which focuses mostly on remixing covers of popular songs, nearly half of the music on SMASH is original. And even when the lyrics are (ahem) more adult than I want on my iTunes, I am still floored by the talent that is happening here. Seriously, if you love musicals and you want new songs, this is the place to go. Not only do you get the music, but you also get to watch the fantastic dance numbers which are masterfully performed. "Let me be your Star" won't leave your head, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" with have you sighing at the cuteness, and "King of Hollywood" will have you rolling in laughter, while "On Lexington and 52nd Street" will break your heart.

But let's be honest. It's an adult show and it doesn't take place in a fairy world, it takes place in the gritty harsh reality of theater. Which means language, sex, backstabbing, and more gay characters than most shows. It also is absolutely vital because theater is so much more than lights and song and dance. Everyone who has ever gone into an audition knows the panic, the heartbreak, the desperate search to get a role - any role - and just be on stage. The performance business is grueling and SMASH doesn't sugarcoat it.

SMASH is a celebration of musical theater, and an exposition. It's Glee grown-up, but it's not Glee for grown-ups because it is definitely its own show on its own ground.

And there's a future coming for it. It's been renewed for a second season, features Bernadette Peters and Uma Thurman as guest stars, and supposedly will feature a staging of the entire musical for the season one finale.

So is 'SMASH' worth watching? My answer is yes, with caveats. If you can stand the objectionable content (which I can), I think it is a really enjoyable and intriguing show for anyone who loves theater.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Hunger Games (Film Review)

It's been one year since I sat on an airplane, utterly transfixed by Susanna Collins "Mockingjay." I'd read the entire "Hunger Games" in just a matter of days and was floored by the thoughts, ideas and feelings spawned from the series. I knew here was something powerful and worth sharing, which I promptly did in my review here on the blog.

Not long later Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss Everdeen, and fans debated whether the blonde beauty could really pull off the brunette huntress. I'd already been impressed by her range and grew further confident in the casting when I watched her performance in "Winter's Bone" (for which she received an Oscar nomination). I was equally happy with the following decisions made by the production crew and absolutely delighted with the trailer.

However. I have too much experience with the film industry to expect a perfect film based on positive pre-film information. Too many times I've seen amazing trailers hype up terrible movies, and vice versa.

Still... "The Hunger Games" had an awfully lot going for it. In addition to Lawrence's casting, the credits included author Susanna Collins as a screenwriter. Most authors are actually rather terrible at adapting for the screen, as screenwriting is a very different craft than novel writing. However Collins has a background in television and her writing style shows this. So going into the film, I was cautiously optimistic.

Let's get the negative out of the way first. The film made the decision to rely heavily on handheld cameras. While I think this method will be less upsetting on a smaller screen, for me it resulted in terrible nausea and the next day I ended up with a migraine that landed me in the ER. Yikes! Other friends have told me that they also found the jerkiness distracting and difficult, but this is not universal. Still, if motion sickness is an issue for you, be warned.

And that's it. The only negative apart from one costuming eye-raise. Seriously. I found all of the casting perfect, the design pitch perfect, and the script...

Oh the script. Friends, do you have any idea how hard it is to adapt a first person narrative into a third person film? Especially something like "The Hunger Games" where nearly all of the vital information is relayed via Katniss's thoughts. The film cleverly utilized the character of Seneca (beautifully executed and I adore his beard), and the announcers to convay the information without detracting from the story. In fact, it solidifies the horror of what we're watching - that this isn't some survival story, it's a culture that watches mass killings of children for entertainment.

Furthermore, I felt the film did a wonderful job of keeping in all of the memorable and important scenes from the book, and removing the superfluous ones. Not once did I go "but where is that?" or "why did they leave that in?" Sure there are bits from the book that are dear that didn't make it in, but I'm okay with, say, the stylists staying mainly on the pages of the book and off the screen. More important imho are scenes like the interviews (which were pitch perfect) and Rue's death, which was one of the most moving pieces of cinema I think we've seen this year.

Katniss was brilliant, Haymitch and Ellie hilarious, Cinna adorable, and Peeta fantastic. I know many people who just don't like Josh Hutcherson, but he looked and acted exactly as I envisioned Peeta from the book.

All in all, "The Hunger Games" is one of the best book-to-film adaptations I have ever seen and I am eagerly awaiting rewatching it and enjoying the sequels.

For those concerned about content, the film does a good job of keeping actual violence and gore away from viewers eyes and minimizes the kissing, so that the film is actually more appropriate for younger viewers than the book.

Monday, April 9, 2012