Saturday, August 8, 2015

Housebound (2014): A Dark and Funny Kiwi Fruit

Left to right: Rima Te Wiata, Ross Harper, Morgana O'Reilly, and Ryan Lampp in  Housebound..

To make up for the trauma of Fantastic Four (2015), tonight we watched Housebound, a quirky, laugh-out-loud-funny, and really creepy horror film from New Zealand, directed by Gerard Johnstone. This was a delightful film with wonderfully developed characters and very human relationships that were well and quickly drawn. Great camerawork, tremendous use of lighting (or the lack of it) with more than a few twists in the very original story. It's streaming on Netflix right now. You should go watch it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Fantastic Four (2015): Just Don't

These people had careers once.
Just back from Fantastic Four, which is (unbelievably) even worse than Fox's 2005 attempt. Not only it it an insult to the source material, it is an insult to the medium of film itself. Bad CG, bad acting, bad editing, appalling storytelling, nonexistent direction, baffling musical score, and writing that was turgid enough to clog an industrial toilet, which is where this film belongs. Do not go see this movie. Do not rent or stream this movie in the future. Instead, slam your foot in your car's door over and over again for 100 minutes while shouting "flame on!" and you will enjoy the same experience for much less money.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello again Readers Mine, and welcome to another installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari!" This is the place where I natter on about the greatness that is Babylon 5, and the various adventures associated with writing a book about the show. We're calling the project Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5, and we're looking at a publication date in the fall of 2017, but we may manage to be ready to go earlier. Our publisher is ECW Press out of Toronto, and this will be our second book with them, following Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad (available wherever fine books are sold, and probably in some other places too!)

First off, I want to give a big Centauri shout out ("VALTOOOOOOO!!!!") to the UK's own John Joshua. You'll remember in my last post about the B5 comics, I mentioned that I have been unable to obtain a copy of the tribute mini-comic Beyond the Rim. Well, the day that post went live, John e-mailed me and offered to send me hi-res scans of his copy, which were in my inbox the next day. That was really, really awesome, and you can bet we'll be thanking him in the book and sending a signed copy across the pond come the day! Thanks very much, John!

Marshall Teague as Nelson Drake in "Infection" (1.04).
Babylon 5 is rightly hailed for bringing the long, or grand arc to television, but not every episode was so directly dedicated to advancing the overarching stories of the series. Straczynski balanced his grand arc with episodes that were far more traditional and episodic, where a problem arises, is dealt with by the protagonists, and at the end of the episode things pretty much reset to the status quo. Babylon 5 even did this differently, however, as the series had a memory, and viewers were often asked to remember events in previous episodes in order to fully understand what was happening at a given point in the show. Even seemingly non-arc episodes.

The formula of grand arc/season arc/and episodic storytelling would be refined a few years later in Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 - 2003), and fans of that show would coin the term "monster-of-the-week episode" to denote an episode that really did nothing to advance the larger season or series arcs, and were almost entirely focused on Buffy and the Scoobies taking down a random threat o' the week. So when I began to sit down and write the episode guides for Dreams Given Form I expected to use the "monster-of-the-week" phrase relatively frequently when dealing with episodes like "TKO" (1.14), "GROPOS" (2.10) "Grey 17 Is Missing" (3.19), etc. I figured these would be relatively short write ups along the lines of "well, a few titbits for the larger story were scattered here and there, but basically this one is a monster-of-the-week" and then move on.

The thing is, it is turning out that I'm wrong. Thus far, in any given episode written by J. Michael Straczynski (an important caveat), information that is either deeply relevant or even fundamental to the larger arcs is included. Take "Infection" (1.04) for example. At first it seems like a placeholder episode, but when you look at it critically with an eye to the entire series, several really important things become clear. Interplanetary Expeditions (IPX) is introduced in this episode. Non-human biomechanical technology is first mentioned (Shadows, anyone?). The fact that Earth is looking for alien tech to turn into weapons is dropped into a conversation, and this is the episode where JMS introduces his recurring themes of ideology, militarism, and fanaticism v. science, faith, and lawful armsbearing. All in this easily overlooked episode about a guy who gets gobbled up by bad CGI and tries to kill everybody for the thinnest of reasons.

Again and again, the intricacy of JMS's plotting and storytelling, the sheer painstaking details of his arc continue to astound me, and I am reminded of why I study television. That's it for this go-round, folks. For all of the latest B5 and pop-culture news that comes across my screen, be sure and follow me on Twitter or Facebook, and check out our bi-weekly column, "The Ten Percent" over at Biff Bam Pop! Until next time...

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello Readers Mine! After yet another hiatus, I have returned! (Seriously, you should follow me on the various medias of sociability if you want daily doses of me. Linkage to the top right of this page.) This week, I thought I'd take a closer look at a sometimes disparaged part of Babylon 5's groundbreaking transmedia storytelling: the Babylon 5 comics!

Babylon 5 numbers 1 - 11, DC Comics, 1994-1995.
As season 2 of Babylon 5 kicked off, so too did the briefly-lived regular Babylon 5 comic book series from DC. Issue 1, "In Darkness Find Me" was written by Straczynski, while issues 2 - 8 and 11 were plotted by JMS with Mark Moretti and Tim DeHaas fleshing things out. Issues 9 and 10 were scripted by David Gerrold, and are considered only semi-canonical, but feature Garibaldi and G'Kar in a race against mechanical death which requires them to sacrifice their clothing a piece at a time, so you don't want to miss 'em.

The comics fill in some important gaps in the larger B5 plot, and also connect with some of the canonical novels. Issues 1 -4 detail Sinclair's adventures on Earth after his recall, and during his first few months as Earth's ambassador to Minbar, with issue 1 taking place between "Crysalis" (1.22) and "Points of Departure" (2.01) and 3-4 between "Revelations" (2.02) and "The Geometry of Shadows" (2.3). The events in this first comic arc also ties into the canonical novel To Dream in the City of Sorrows, by Kathryn M. Drennan, who also wrote the episode "By Any means Necessary" (1.12), and was married to Straczynski from 1983 - 2002.

Issues 5-8 take place before "The Coming of Shadows" (2.09), and provide details about Garibaldi's first meeting with Sinclair and more details about his encounter with the Shadow vessels on Mars as seen in "Messages from Earth" (3.08). Issue 11 "Silent Enemies" even drops a bit of foreshadowing about the horrific past of Talia Winters, the culmination of which is revealed in "Divided Loyalties" (2.19). The details surrounding Garibaldi's first encounter with Shadow vessels is especially interesting as the issues were published between 5 and 8 months before "Messages from Earth" first aired, though the episode may well have been plotted/written/in production at the time JMS plotted the comics. Straczynski's famous long-rage plotting of B5 again allowed him to take advantage of transmedia storytelling in ways that broadened the canon and deepened the story, making the comics canon, rather than the usual licensed-but-unofficial storytelling common in the comic adaptations of SF shows like Battlestar Galactica (the original series) and Star Wars.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales mini-comic.
Besides DC's monthly series, in 1998 JMS also wrote the first issue and plotted the rest (with Peter David completing the scripts) of the three-issue miniseries In Valen's Name, which takes place after "Into the Fire" (4.06) and recounts the final fate of Babylon 4 and fills in some of the history of Valen and the previous Shadow War. Finally, in 2007, a special mini-comic, "Beyond the Rim," was released with the Babylon 5: The Lost Tales DVD when purchased from Best Buy. "Beyond the Rim" is a kind of tribute to Richard Biggs (Dr. Franklin) and Andreas Katsulas (G'kar), and recounts the galaxy-spanning adventures of the two men after the time of Babylon 5 and between G'Kar's return from deep space with Lyta Alexander, but before his final meeting with Londo on Centauri Prime.

On a side note, I was able to get a really great deal on the floppies of both the monthly DC series and In Valen's Name (thanks Atomik Comiks!), but I have as yet been unable to acquire a copy of the Lost Tales mini-comic. So if you have one you might be willing to part with for a reasonable price, let me know!)

The Babylon 5 comics are thus not a side-note, but an integral part of the Babylon 5 universe that allowed JMS to greatly expand his overall narrative, and bring new stories to fans who remain hungry for more tales to this day. Who knows, with talk of a big-screen B5 reboot, and JMS's own award-winning comic writing experience, we may yet be treated to a further expansion of the four-color canon. I certainly hope so. Until then, and until next time -

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tuesdays with Mollari

Everyone has strengths and weakness. One of my weakness is the seeming inability to maintain a regular posting schedule on my own blog. Dale, on the other hand, is the Queen of Blogging, so while "Tuesdays with Mollari" has been missing in hyperspace, "Third Age Thursday" has been going strong over at Unfettered Brilliance. Nonetheless, people can change, so I promise to try and get back into a regular groove over here of a post every other week - but we shall see. In any event, on to Babylon 5!

So right from the start let me just say "YAY! JOHN SHERIDAN IS HERE!!!!!!" While rewatching Season 1 with a close critical eye for our forthcoming book Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 gave me a greater appreciation of Sinclair (and of Michael O'Hare's acting - particularly in the wake of JMS's revelations about his struggle with mental illness), Sheridan is still my main man. I just don't think I would have bought O'Hare as the lead in Seasons 2 through 5 the way I buy Bruce Boxleitner's Captain Sheridan.

Of course, I am also aware that, had O'Hare remained, the story arc of Babylon 5 would have been considerably different. After the often bumpy Season 1, JMS & Co. had begun to know their own strengths and weaknesses and Straczynski wrote to those of the actors and characters brilliantly. He also wisely resisted any temptation to make Sheridan a kind of Sinclair redux. The break is clean. Where Sinclair is primarily a soft-spoken diplomat, Sheridan makes no bones about being a soldier, through his service as a ship's captain on the Rim, far away from Earthdome's advice and interference, has given him wide experience with alien races and a shrewd diplomatic mind in his own right. Where Sinclair usually seemed to manage Babylon 5, Sheridan commands it.

Yet it is always a bit mind-blowing to return to Season 2 and see Sheridan as a newcomer to B5, with his almost boyish delight in fresh oranges, and an oddly innocent sense of wonder about the whole set-up. Which is what makes his arc work, and why JMS is the master of character development. Sheridan, Ivanova, Delenn, Londo, G'Kar, Vir, etc, etc. all change as the series continues they shrink and grow and fail and triumph. None of them are cardboard cutouts - ever.

For my money, Babylon 5 needed the change to Boxleitner and Sheridan. He brings an edge to things that was lacking in Sinclair, and a feeling that things are going to start really happening. He is a soldier coming into a time that needs soldiers, and the leader who can stand the coming fires. Plus, he was one of the toppers on my wedding cake. No, seriously:

When fandoms wed: Capt. John Sheridan and Buffy Summers gracing the top of our wedding cake back in 2010.
So yeah, I may be biased, but bring on the Starkiller!

So besides her blog (linked above), be sure to check out my co-author, K. Dale Koontz on Twitter and Facebook. Me you can find here, on Twitter, and Facebook, along with some other places linked via the buttons on the top right of this page. If you want more of us both, feel free to head on over to Amazon and buy our book, Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, or you can find us every other week over at Biff Bam Pop! with our column "The Ten Percent," and I also publish a semi-regular column over there called "Ensley F. Guffey on War Comics," so check it all out.

Until next time,

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello, Readers Mine! Well, it looks like it's been just a hair over a month since I managed to get a new "Tuesdays with Mollari" up, but now that the holidays and the family medical issues they brought with them are over, I hope to get back to my regular bi-weekly posting schedule.

So with all of the madness the end of 2014 brought with it, things with Dreams Given Form are pretty much where I left them last time. Season 1 has been completely rewatched and annotated, and we're ready to begin the actual writing process. We're also trying to squeeze out a higher word count so we have more than 600 words to devote to each episode/comic/movie/book/story/etc! ECW is pretty good about such things, and if you guys will buy the book, I can pretty much guarantee they'll publish it.

So the new year seems like a good time to look back on season 1 and to look forward to season 2. In fact, since JMS structured Babylon 5 so that each season occurs over one year of narrative time, that works out brilliantly! Thanks, JMS! I mentioned a few posts back that season 1 has never been my favorite, and like many fans I fall into the camp that views seasons 1 and 5 as the weakest of the lot. While rewatching season 1 with a focused critical eye has given me a new appreciation for Michael O'Hare and the season as a whole, I have to say that my basic opinion remains unchanged. Not unexpected really. Babylon 5 was definitely finding its feet during this season, with the actors figuring out their characters, writers and directors finding the right tone, and JMS getting comfortable with his first time as a full-on showrunner.

I was talking about the show and the book with a friend via e-mail the other day, who noted that he thought B5 would either be harder or easier to write about than Breaking Bad, because it was an "uneven" show, whereas BrBa was so incredibly tight and well done from the very first episode. Easier or harder aren't the terms I'd use, however. There is an enormous amount to write about when it comes to Babylon 5 both on-screen and off, it's just different from Breaking Bad. To me, BrBa is the reigning paragon of the current evolution of television drama, but Babylon 5 is one of the places where that evolution actually began. The grand arc, cutting edge SFX, transmedia storytelling, all of this began with B5, yet the show is also a prime example of the way television used to be. Twenty-two episode seasons in a era where VHS and the internet were still emerging technologies and cable networks were a long, long way from original programming. Babylon 5 was pushing the boundaries of what you could do with television when those boundaries were still incredibly rigid, and when good ratings meant 25 million viewers, not 10 million, because the broadcast networks were still the gods of the airwaves,

The choices JMS made with Babylon 5 were categorically insane in the mid-1990s. A five-season story rather than an episodic weekly reboot? Who the hell does that?? Not Star Trek: The Next Generation, certainly. In fact, no one had except for Twin Peaks, and that was only a couple of seasons, and not pre-plotted. Connecting with fans via the internet? What was the point? Who had PCs and the internet, anyway? Relying entirely on CGI instead of models? Yeah, right, like that would work! Not to mention the absurdity of producing a grand space opera in an era dominated by Trek. Yet JMS and Co. did all of this, and more. They even managed to tell one hell of a tale, one that has personally captivated me ever since. Believe me, I was rewatching the series on VHS and DVD for a decade and a half before the opportunity to write a book about it came along. Are there some crap episodes? Yep. Some cheesy effects? Oh yeah. But then again, remember "Beer Bad" from season 4 of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Shows with rough first seasons and a share of episodes that are either "meh" or "ohmygodwhy" are the norm, but that doesn't necessarily stop them from becoming great television, and culturally significant productions.

Babylon 5  is both, so I can cut season 1 and episodes like "TKO" and "Infection" some slack. After all, season 1 also gives us "A Voice in the Wilderness" parts 1 and 2, "Babylon Squared," and "Chrysalis." It also gets all the exposition out of the way, and sets up the grand narrative arc that begins to pick up pace in season 2, when the orange-loving John Sheridan comes to town and things really start to get interesting. Personally, I think the problem and I and others have with season 1 and 5 are structural. Exposition and denouement are rarely the most gripping parts of a story, and that's exactly what season 1 and 5 are. But it is also astounding how important those parts are to the totality of the story, it doesn't quite work without them because they give the narrative its past and even a future beyond the lifetime of the series proper.

So that's it for this week, Readers Mine. I'll be back in two weeks to start talking about season 2, and to continue the journey to Dreams Given Form: the Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5. Until then -

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello again, Readers Mine, and welcome to another "Tuesdays with Mollari," where I regale you with my adventures while writing Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 (forthcoming in fall 2016 from ECW Press). My co-author, K. Dale Koontz, and I have both had some unexpected things on our plates this fall, so we're not as far along as we'd like to be, but I feel confident that our deadline will be met! Rather than regale you with yet another post gushing about Babylon 5, I thought I would dedicate this week's post to some of the nuts and bolts of writing the book.

The main alien cast of Babylon 5. From left to right: Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst), Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlin [voice]), Delenn (Mira Furlan), Lennier (Bill Mumy), and G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas).
So tomorrow I will finish my "annotating rewatch" of season 1, which means that Thursday will begin the actual writing process for that season. Fortunately, this isn't our first time at the rodeo. We learned a lot about writing a companion guide with our first book: Wanna Cook? The Complete Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad (which, by the way, makes the absolutely perfect gift for the Breaking Bad fan in your family or set of friends - and for under twenty bucks!).

Dreams Given Form will include episode guides for each season of Babylon 5 (and for Crusade, Legend of the Rangers, and the other B5 films) which will look at each and every episode individually. There are some tricks here, though. First, we need to stay spoiler-free for those who might be coming to the series for the first time, so while we can point out things that a new viewer might want to look for in the future, we have to do it in a very careful fashion. Second, we can't write an episode summary, because that's illegal when you are doing it for financial gain (which we hopefully are!) So the write up is more of a critical look at what's going on in a given episode, an analysis of the action rather than a retelling.

Then comes the nitty-gritty stuff: a humorous quote or two, a section pointing out some things that the casual viewer might not have immediately noticed, any continuity or plot errors, elements of the episode that fit in with the master story arc, interesting facts about the production of the episode, and an explication of the episode's title if necessary. Occasionally, we will also include a paragraph or two focusing on a certain element of the episode or series that might benefit from some further investigation, like the Earth Alliance rank structure. The goal is to create a write-up that offers something to the existing fan and the new viewer alike.

Here's the trick, though: we have a maximum word count. In other words, our publisher doesn't want us to exceed a certain number of words, total, so the book won't become huge and pricey. That means that we have to do all of the above in a manner that is informative, entertaining, thorough, and brief. Look, if you are reading this blog you are likely already a fan of B5, so you know how easy it is to go on and on about all of the amazing things in and around this show and JMS and the actors, the technology, etc, etc. The realities of the publishing business, however, force us to winnow things down to the essential information (and the stuff that is just entirely too cool to leave out). Remember that we're covering B5, Crusade, The Legend of the Rangers, all of the TV movies, The Lost Tales, the canonical comics, books and short stories - and we hope to include at least a few interviews with cast- and crew-members to boot! That's a lot of stuff, which means that there is simply no possible way that we can fit everything about everything in the book. And that's the hard part for fans like Dale and I, and it's also why we have a really good, really gentle, and completely ruthless editor to help us hack and slash all of the unnecessary stuff out, no matter how cool. So the writing process is always an adventure, always a fight keep things tight while also keeping the soul of the series intact.

It's a lot of work, and it's often frustrating as hell, and twice as annoying. I can't wait to get started! Because no matter what else it may be, this is the opportunity I've been waiting for since 1993 - I get to write about Babylon 5!!! Really, it just doesn't get any better than that! So, until next time -

Hold the Line!