The Day of the Doctor Who Anniversary Fete

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I love the whimsy of Doctor Who. And the hijinks. And the gravitas and the wonder and the possibility. What imagination! What joy!

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I also happen to enjoy thematic party food, so when I invited some friends over to watch the 50th Anniversary Special tonight, I decided to have some fun:

Bowtie pasta in Dalek takeaway boxes:

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TARDISale (gingerale with blue food colouring):

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Jelly babies! (hooray for the candy shop near my apartment that sells British sweets):

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Cakes with ball bearings and Weeping Angel grilled cheese sandwiches (thanks to my WarpZone cookie cutter):

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And, Geronimo! (Also featuring the Sherlock and Watson cookies my friend brought over.)

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Now that the party is over and the special has been watched, I can’t wait to read about all the shout-outs to previous generations of Doctors I missed in the episode. I also really want to give John Hurt a hug, but I don’t know if that’s plausible.

(I’ve been using the word “fete” a lot lately because I’m reading Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. Please accept my apologies. These things just seep in, you know?)

Stop trying to make me freak out, TEDTalks

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There is a lot of valid advice in this video about not wasting your 20’s. Clinical psychologist Meg Jay, who specializes in twentysomethings, says the decade is a ‘developmental sweet spot’ when you should be taking advantage of opportunities to invest in yourself through work, education and fruitful relationships, so when you hit your 30’s you’re ready for that big career move or settling down with a partner.

That being said, the video is a bit alarmist, especially if you’re nearing the end of your 20’s or past it. With so many people experiencing quarter-life crises and worrying about lagging behind other people/society’s standards in terms of personal and professional development, the common reaction to this video is probably: Oh no, I think I’ve wasted my 20’s.

Just to mitigate the inevitable panic of anyone over the age of, say, 27 or so: It may feel like we’ve wasted our 20’s now, but we probably haven’t. Whatever experiences and work you’ve accumulated since turning 20 may seem aimless or unproductive now, but it’s all investment in yourself. Which is Jay’s point.

“I’m not discounting twentysomething exploration here,” she says. “I’m discounting exploration that’s not supposed to count. Which, by the way, isn’t exploration. That’s procrastination.”

So before you (or I) jump to the conclusion that we’ve wasted our 20’s because that’s what our sad inner voices are telling us, let’s consider the possibility that we’ve done exactly what she’s advising in this talk. Then we can pass along this sage advice to a new twentysomething as someone who’s been there and done that, and not as a cautionary tale.

I Love You for Your Body (of Work), Mr. Whedon

Entertainment

I went into my opening night screening of The Avengers convinced that I was going to love it. And it wasn’t just because I let the hype and positive reviews raise my expectations. My mind was made a long time ago, when it was announced that geek demigod Joss Whedon had been hired as writer/director. (Though, I did harbour conspiratorial concerns that somehow the project was going to get taken away from him, or that the studio and other stakeholders would interfere with his vision and ruin everything. See: Dollhouse.)

After all, who else could direct an ensemble of scrappy, squabbling (anti-)heroes with such finesse, or combine well-paced tensity and humour that really respects its characters and their relationships without sacrificing badass action sequences? Few others, if any. Plus, he knows his comic books. And now that I’ve seen it, I am in awe of his accomplishment, not because the movie is perfect–it’s not–but because it was a difficult movie to make (in bridging preceding and succeeding movies, and in handling multiple protagonists and storylines) and, somehow, it works.

Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Joss Whedon (writer/director), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Captain America) on set.

And it works despite its flaws. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Loki’s Big Evil Plan is a little easy, especially when you compare it to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, where villains have nuanced motives beyond “I want to rule the world. Send in the space army!” I enjoy Tom Hiddleston’s creepy turn as Loki, and it’s not that he lacks a good backstory, it’s just that his scheming clearly functions merely to force the Avengers Initiative into action. Of course, it’s happening so fast and the reaction from S.H.I.E.L.D. is so entertaining, you hardly notice.

Secondly, sprinkling attention among the ensemble makes it difficult for Captain America, the unequivocal leader of The Avengers, to really rise to the level of protagonist, though that would have been a risky move, what with Steve Rogers not being even half as interesting as RDJ’s Tony Stark. (There are a few reasons for that, which I discuss in this podcast I co-host! GO FIGURE.) In the end, trying to balance all the different characters leaves little room for any individual character arcs (exception: Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who was handled magnificently). But what you have to remember is, this isn’t the story of any one character; the character is the group, and in that way, it works.

(I like to think that if The Avengers were a TV series, or if it becomes a trilogy, Joss would have the space to give each character the arc he/she deserves, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.)

But back to my obsessive adoration of Joss Whedon. If you know me, you know that I’ve been a fan of his since Buffy premiered in October 1997 when I was a mere 12 years old, and that I’ve followed his projects ever since. I even went to see him at San Diego Comic-Con in 2009. (And almost met him! It’s a very sad story full of woe and regret; ask me about it sometime.) You could say I’ve grown loyal over the years, though hopefully not to this extent

Me too, Gabe. Me too.

All that being said, I don’t want to be accused of a particular kind of loyalty, the kind that inspires eye-rolling pop culture commentators to accuse fanboys/girls of being unconditionally allegiant to the point where they’re incapable of being objective and will start campaigns to save a show before it even airs. No, I like to think my kind of loyalty is of a different brand.

I don’t think Joss Whedon is infallible. I just love the things he makes, and it’s a very pure love. I look forward to his projects, and generally feel great affection for them despite their flaws (the ones that stand out to the critic in me), because when I watch or read something where he’s had a controlling creative influence–that hasn’t been messed up by meddling forces–there’s something purely JW in them, something that I would say is an extension of his personality. The witty dialogue, the way he manages relationships between characters, his balancing of drama and humour: when he gets it right, it appeals to something in my personality.

On that note, this combination of elements is something I try to achieve in my own writing because it’s the kind of chemistry, a perfect storm of wonder and beauty, that makes people fall in love with a story and its characters. Joss Whedon fans are as fervent as they are because they don’t just love shows like Buffy and Firefly, they fall in love with them. (Whoa. Too much? Are you tearing up?)

When The Cabin in the Woods came out a couple of weeks ago, I had a similar reaction. You could tell how much fun Joss and Drew Goddard (co-writer, director and Whedonverse alum) had making that movie. And if you love horror movies and monsters the way they do, and the way I do, you’re going to love this movie. Not because it’s flawless, but because it speaks to something in you. You’re kindred spirits! We’re kindred spirits!

This is also how I feel about a lot of books, like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, and TV shows like Lost, which I’ve written about before. Yeah, it fumbled a lot and didn’t live up to everything that it could have been. But I love that series and I love Whedon’s ouevre* for being whimsical, for being mysterious, for having fun with the genre, and for creating character ensembles that I care about. I love them not because they’re the best things being made from a critical standpoint, but because they speak to something in me. I love them for everything that they try to be and for everything that they very often are.

It’s the same way, I suppose, that you’d love a person.

And now, I leave you with this letter from Mr. Whedon himself, which was the impetus for this post. Enjoy.

*Does that sound dirty? I think it sounds kind of dirty.

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope

Entertainment

Hey! They released the trailer for Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con documentary, which I saw at TIFF a while back, so here’s the trailer plus my very offhand review below. (And then let’s all go see it again when it comes out, m’kay?)

I saw Morgun Spurlock’s Comic-Con documentary at TIFF this week [actually this past September], exhaustingly but aptly titled Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, and it was fantastic. It didn’t really approach the subject as an attempt to document the history, overall cultural influence of the con, its role in San Diego, controversies or anything like that – though there were elements of these things – instead, it was more of a love letter from convention goers to the con itself.

By following a handful of fans who attended as part of their dreams to become comic book artists or costume designers, as well as a comic book retailer and a whole slew of famous, regular con-goers like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (!), it told the story of what the convention means to real fans/geeks/lovers-of-things.

A lot of people have been talking about how it’s a charming look at the kind of people who love things intensely, especially the kinds of fans who are moved to emulation as artists. I definitely agree, and I’d have to say it accurately and wonderfully reflected my feelings and experiences as a fan. Even if you don’t consider yourself a part of “that world,” go see it. It’ll explain a lot about why conventions mean something to those who go, and what that whole culture means to them (us).

Ira Glass Says It All

Writing

I know Ira Glass’s (This American Life) interview on storytelling and the creative process has been circulated plenty already, but this little bit of kinetic typography from filmmaker David Shiyang Liu–detailing the part about the gap between your taste and your creative output–is kind of amazing, and worth sharing. (Link to the actual interview here.)

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

An Oscar-worthy Menu: 2012

Entertainment

Oscar parties without thematic food are lame. But thinking up a whole menu can be difficult (especially if you haven’t seen the movies), so here are a few suggestions for inspiration. [If you actually make any of these, please send me photos. Thank you.] I also did this last year, for the sake of reference.

Hors d’oeuvres

Spam musubi (it’s really popular in Hawaii, I swear) [The Descendants]
(Mini) hot dogs (sorry for all the animal flesh so far) [Moneyball]
Baguettes and cheese (preferably cut into whimsical shapes) [Hugo]

Cocktails

Mint Juleps (or one of these other drinks popular in the 1920s, just don’t actually make it in a bathtub) [Midnight in Paris]

Main Attractions

Brazilian BBQ (cooked WELL) [Bridesmaids]
HDLT sandwiches (horse, (komodo) dragon, lettuce and tomato… no? okay, yeah, no.) [War Horse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo]
Broccoli (maybe this recipe, whatever; no one will get it anyway) [The Tree of Life]

Dessert

Black-and-white cookies (hand them out silently and while tap dancing) [The Artist]
Fortune cookies (make your own, with your own fortunes!) [Kung Fu Panda 2]
Chocolate pie (for the love of god, don’t put shit in it; it’s on the record that I said ‘don’t’) [The Help]
Serve with tea and cigarettes [Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy]

Then say you prepared everything while crying and being melodramatic. [Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close]

From the Minds and Hearts of TV Writer Guys

Entertainment, Writing

At the risk of turning this blog into little more than the place where I post stuff so I can reference them later, here is an interesting blog post from Leverage co-showrunner John Rogers on writing for TV shows and the spectrum series fall along between “shows about emotions” and “shows about systems.”

On the subject of TV writing/showrunning, I would also recommend this episode of the Making It podcast, hosted by Riki Lindhome, that features man-after-my-heart Joss Whedon.

Besides finding this stuff interesting as a fan of serialized TV, I also find it really motivating. Hell, it’s enough to make me want to actually write something, as opposed to writing about writing FOR ONCE. (And, for the sake of disclosure, I like reading/listening to stuff like this because I believe this kind of discourse can apply, in limited ways, to other forms of writing, including novels. It’s all about story and characters, after all.)

The Non-Movie Movie

Entertainment

Some movies don’t have to be movies, in the ole “character development-story arc-solid acting/directing-having any kind of artistic merit” kind of way. And here’s why.

Maybe some movies are like amusement park rides, and that’s okay. After all, would it be so bad to enjoy a multi-million-dollar, hour-and-a-half piece of entertainment without judging it on its storytelling merits? … No! It wouldn’t! Try it, you’ll see!

Normally, we’d classify these kinds of movies as “fluff”, “bubblegum,” or “a popcorn movie”. Or, as I usually say, a “guilty pleasure.” It’s not a new idea, this tolerance of popcorn variety fluff. But what I’m talking about is beyond that. I want to stop thinking of them as movies all together, and instead consider them as rides in movie form.

Examples:

  • The Paranormal Activity series: Yes, they will be making another one in 2012. Yes, this is okay with me. Yes, I will see it opening weekend. No, I probably won’t care that it lacks story, good acting or that it’s a re-packaging of the same old thrills. That’s exactly what I want.
  • The Fast and the Furious series: If you listen to our podcast–and of course you do–you’ll recall that we discussed guilty pleasure movies once, and I chose this series as the cream of the crop. Except that I don’t really feel guilty, because it’s basically porn, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Dance movies: You know, like, Save the Last Dance, Step Up and even Bring It On, to a degree. They are a vehicle for delivering awesome-cool dance moves with a loose story to hold it together, and I love them for that. Again, akin to porn.
  • On that note–porn: See, no one expects porn to live up to the standards we hold other movies to. It’s crossed that line. We know what we want to see when we sit down to watch a bit of pornography. No pretence. No delusions. Just a beautiful meeting of expectations and delivery.

A counter argument: Okay, fluff can be really, really bad. And in these cases, you have to wonder what people are thinking when their functioning, human adult brains  seem to find a source of amusement in them. “This is actually an interesting plot!” “Those inane jokes about penises are pretty funny!” “I can’t believe the crazy adventures that hockey-playing monkey gets himself into!” And in these cases, especially when you see them raking in huge box office numbers while The Hurt Locker barely breaks even, yeah, that sucks, and you have to wonder what went wrong down the evolutionary conga line. But, I suppose ideally, fluff could co-exist alongside the good ones, the movies that are actually good movie-movies. And, of course, god bless the ones that seem to please nearly everyone.

Perhaps the key difference between a movie that’s just a fun ride and a plain old bad movie is how hard they try and fail to be a good movie. Example: Cowboys & Aliens was a bad movie because it was  trying to be a good movie. It thought it was interesting, when it wasn’t. It thought the characters were worth rooting for, when they weren’t. As for The Fast and the Furious? It knows it’s a fluffy action movie with hot people and fast cars. We’re all on the same page, which is essential.

I think, at times like this, of my mother, who has  very little interest in seeing anything that isn’t fluff. (She recently told me about this HILARIOUS movie called Tower Heist. She also really enjoys Two and a Half Men, as so many mothers, for some reason, do.) And I just can’t  fault her for that. After a hard day’s work and a lifetime of raising children who didn’t grow up to be doctors like she asked, I think it makes sense that she’d want to escape to a land of easy jokes and slapstick humour when she buys a movie ticket. Why not? If she can enjoy them, she should. [<– I would make this a pull quote, if I used pull quotes.]

So, let’s not just tolerate them with a shrug, and a flippant, “oh, it’s just fluff.” Let’s celebrate these movies for what they are! Joy rides! Vehicles of amusement! Various forms of porn, depending on what you’re into! And then we can go see a Fellini retrospective and feel good again. Because good movies are still good movies, even if we allow ourselves to make room for the pornography/amusement park variety. Just find a little room in your heart, and you will be justly rewarded.

Props to the Dialogue

Entertainment, Writing

I love this bit of dialogue from Boardwalk Empire (episode: “Broadway Limited“) for its brevity and how Nucky controls the scene. (This post is more for me than you. You’re welcome.)

NUCKY
How is he still alive after three days out in the cold?

ELI
He’s fat.

NUCKY
What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?

ELI
He’s insulated. I dunno. How the fuck should I know? The cold, and the buckshot–I’m no doctor.

NUCKY
Really?

JIMMY
I thought we killed them all.

NUCKY
‘Thought.’ Fuckin’ Aristotle. [To Eli] So, what are they doin’ to him?

ELI
What difference does it make? Guy’s got a hole in his stomach big as a grapefruit. He thaws out a little–he’s a goner.

NUCKY
Now you’re a doctor.

ELI
What are you mad at me for?

NUCKY
I’m late. Let nature take its course, help it along if you can. And you better hope he dies real soon.