Cinema Toast

What Makes a Story Science Fiction?

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After spending a weekend at FenCon IX in Dallas, I discovered a whole new world of science fiction. I’ve always been a sci-fi fan. I grew up with Star Trek and Star Wars. I just always thought of science fiction as any story set in space. I had no idea.

I found myself surrounded by men in kilts paying homage to Highlander. There were super heroes and swashbucklers everywhere. It seems even Sherlock Holmes himself was a sci-fi guru. Muppets—yeah, there were pigs in space. Phineas and Ferb? If a satellite crashes to Earth, Candace is in charge—conditionally. And don’t get me started on Perry the Platypus and his gadgets. Where is he, anyway?

We discussed Ray Bradbury. We chatted about fairy tales. We spoke of Tolkien and Lewis. We talked about Wonder Woman, Superman, the Hulk and Iron Man.We shared the love of Malcolm Reynolds as well as The Doctor.

We watched movies about Mars, a trailer for The Hobbit, and The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. Even Monty Python held a place of honor.

There were fairies, furries, foxes, and fans of every color, literally. One woman in a Starfleet uniform was painted Kelly green from head to toe. Another young lady wore a purple princess dress and My Little Pony ears, tail, and unicorn horn. Anime and Steampunk both made bold statements at the convention. It was fantastic, in every sense of the word.ked at science fiction with new eyes. I walked through the artists’ gallery in wonder. There were bronze sculptures, jewelry, large-scale paintings and small-scale pen and inks. My husband won a watercolor painting of Robby the Robot, which will soon reside in our game room next to our collection of movie posters. My son won a painting of a Cthulhu character inspired by Lovecraft. I’m not a huge fan of tentacles, but the painting is lovely.

Every element of the convention opened my mind to the definition and possibilities of science fiction. I’m looking at nearly every movie I’ve ever watched through a new filter. I’m thinking about all of the stories I’ve read with a new appreciation.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.

Cinema Toast

Can We Be Silly for Just a Moment?

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This morning I’m having a difficult time being serious. Last night our family watched Ladyhawke from 1985, starring Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer. Now when this film came out, nobody considered it a comedy—at all. It’s a tragic love story, a fable perhaps, about a couple cursed by an evil bishop. It’s set in medieval France, and features sweeping vistas and castles and monasteries in ruins.

Why did I giggle nearly all the way through the movie?

I watched it with my husband (we were married the same year this film was released), my two sons, and my older son’s fiancé. The “kids” had never seen the movie, but they love Broderick from Ferris Bueller and Pfeiffer from Stardust.

Sam (son #1) says something like this: “This is one of those eighties movies that’s set in the dark ages but the music is still done with electric guitars.” Sean (son #2) leaned against my shoulder and he and I whispered silly comments throughout the show. He’s seventeen years old, and I really love that he still leans on my shoulder.

We appreciated that though the names were very French—Etienne, Isabeau, and Phillipe—the accents were all over the place. The boys especially liked that in the end credits, under “Titles and Visual Effects,” there was only a list of three people. Though IMDb.com credits a total of twenty-two people in that category, it’s still certainly a far cry from the hundreds of technicians listed in today’s movies. It’s especially remarkable when you consider that this is a film in which two of the main characters transform from humans to animals multiple times in the story.

This movie isn’t silly. We made it silly, with our “enlightened sophistication” and goofy mood, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. The point is that sometimes, despite the way things actually are, we need silliness. It’s good for us. Laughter is healthy exercise. Smiling keeps us young.

My family has a nice collection of silly movies and TV series. We enjoy the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, and especially the Bing, Bob and Dorothy ensembles. These are the masters of the classic madcap comedies. The one-liners and physicality of their shtick keep us giggling.

The same goes for Monty Python productions. They introduced the “Ministry of Silly Walks.” They understand and embrace the ridiculous. In the same way, Mel Brooks has assembled casts of comic geniuses for films like Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, The Producers, and Spaceballs. Every one of these movies showcases the recommended daily allowance of stupid.

Larry Blamire’s casts of characters pay homage to the best of the B Movies, and provide us with memorable lines that embroider even the most serious situations with smiles. “Ranger Brad, I’m a scientist, I don’t believe in anything.”

Saturday Night Live (SNL), SCTV (Second City), MADtv, and In Living Color have also graduated celebrated idiots like Steve Martin, Martin Short, Rick Moranis, Gene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Chevy Chase, Eddie Murphy, Jane Curtain, Gilda Radner, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Jim Carey, Michael McDonald, the Wayans and many others.

This morning I asked Sean about his favorite silly movies, and I must say that my husband and I have raised our boys well. His favorites—in his own words—are “all of the Larry Blamire movies, The Three Amigos, and Princess Bride.” Good boy.

Comedy helps us deal with situations. It diffuses tension. It provides common ground with others. Highbrow comedy tests us, dark comedy reveals us, but slapstick comedy just allows us to be, and to enjoy it. Hooray for hilarity!

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema. Thanks for reading.