Body in the Bathtub

Or, How My Favorite Stories Have Ruined My Life

I recently took a trip to Dallas for a team training event. One afternoon our team was meeting in our hotel room for a quick chat, when it was discovered that our bathroom ceiling was leaking—a lot. We called down to the front desk and reported the situation, and the manager assured us that they were moving us to the room next door right away.

tub

As my roommates and I began to gather our things, I quietly mentioned to one of the other women that I hoped someone was going to check on the guests upstairs. I told her that as a suspense writer, my brain immediately jumped to the possibility of a body in the bathtub above us. My friend agreed—her husband is a police officer, and she knew exactly what I meant.

Unfortunately, the very young hotel steward that arrived to move us next door overheard our concerns, and started to panic about the suggestion. My roommate volunteered to accompany her on the upstairs visit, and it was discovered that the guest above had over-filled his tub and the pipe at the over-flow drain had a crack in it. Everyone was fine. No dead body. That was last month.

This week I was watching an episode of one of my favorite TV shows, and as the story began to resolve, I kept my hands clutched together and held my breath. You see, they had solved the decades-cold crime, caught the bad guy they’d been chasing for several seasons, and all that was left was for the leads to kiss. So I waited for the sniper to strike, or the tables to turn, or the other shoe to drop, or whatever was about to happen to ruin everything.

My darling husband just looked at me and shook his head. “You can’t even enjoy this happy ending, because NCIS and all those other shows you watch have conditioned you to expect something bad at the end.”

He’s right. I never expect happy endings anymore.After all, how can the story go on if there is nobody in peril. My favorite books are Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Francine Rivers, Pamela Fagan Hutchins, and Terry Blackstock. My favorite TV shows are NCIS, Castle, Person of Interest, and the like. My favorite movie is Charade. I like cliff-hangers. I like twists and turns. I love the thing you don’t see coming.

I saw a quote the other day: The suspense is terrible; I hope it lasts.

Yes. This is my life’s motto now. It’s wonderful for a story, but terrible for day-to-day digestion.

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

Looking Back, Looking Forward

As 2014 approaches, I like to look ahead and make a few plans for my life. I have a few projects on the back-burner that I intend to get rolling soon. I’m excited for the possibilities.

I also love the opportunity that the new year affords me to reflect on the months and years I leave behind. I take the time to look beyond my own life and into the past to see what lessons history might hold. I think this is why I love classic movies as I do. I enjoy imagining what my parents and grandparents might have thought when they watched the films for the first time.

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One of my favorites for New Year’s Eve watching is After the Thin Man, originally released Christmas Day in 1936. It stars the brilliant William Powell and Myrna Loy, reprising their roles as Nick and Nora Charles, detective and socialite. It also features Jimmy Stewart in one of his early roles.

It’s a basic whodunit, set at New Year’s Eve, with lots of murders and a big reveal at the end. It’s also a lovely comedy filled with endearing one-liners and an adorable romance to boot. The chemistry between Powell and Loy is priceless. Their antics (shooting balloons in their penthouse apartment with a pistol) are just plain fun to watch.

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If you’ve never seen a Thin Man movie—there are 5 of them– I recommend watching them. The Thin Man, the first in the series, is based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett (who also wrote The Maltese Falcon).

These films set the standard for “His & Hers” detective stories, with witty banter and playful exchanges over smoking guns and bullet-riddled corpses. Nick and Nora paved the way for Hart to Hart, Moonlighting, Remington Steele, and even Castle. These are some of my favorite shows. I love the dynamics of investigations from both the man’s and woman’s point of view.

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Watch After the Thin Man and let me know what you think! And may you be blessed with a joyful and prosperous new year!

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

Grant Me the Serenity…

Are you a Firefly or Serenity lover? I am!

Yes, I admit I was a little late to the party. I didn’t see the original series on FOX until after it was cancelled. I did see the movie in the theatre, and I was addicted. Once hooked, I spent a Saturday watching every episode—including the ones that never aired on TV.

Firefly is one of those shows that catches your attention right from the beginning. It’s a futuristic space Western and a full-fledged Joss Whedon spectacle in every way. It’s humorous, fraught with sadness and suspense, and violent at times, with a healthy dose of sensitivity for balance.

Every character is loveable and loathsome—real, in other words. Nathan Fillion (now on Castle) is Mal Reynolds, captain of the Serenity. Alan Tudyk (now on Suburgatory) is the pilot, Wash. Gina Torres (now on Suits) plays Zoe, the first mate, as well as Wash’s wife. Adam Baldwin (from Chuck) plays Jayne Cobb, resident mercenary. Jewel Staite (The L,A, Complex) plays adorable Kaylee, the ship’s mechanic.

The rest of the cast is rounded out with Serenity’s passengers: Morena Baccarin (Homeland) as a “companion,” Ron Glass (from Barney Miller) as a priest, Sean Maher (from Make It or Break It) as a doctor, and Summer Glau (most recently on Alphas) as the doctor’s younger sister who seems to be a victim of Manchurian Candidate-type brainwashing.

To say this series was well-done or ahead of its time is understating the facts. Why was it cancelled then? There’s way too much to tell here in my little blog. Suffice it to say that it’s worth watching. To help you out, I’m adding a link to the special Blu-ray deal available today on Amazon. Watch the series and you’ll soon find yourself swearing in Chinese and replacing “cool” with “Shiny!”

And if that’s not enough, I’m including a link to a book about Joss Whedon written by my sweet friend, Candace Havens! Grab a copy of it as well!

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

Chemistry 101

What is chemistry, and why is it important to a movie or TV show?

Chemistry is that mysterious thing that happens when the characters of a film interact like a fine Swiss timepiece. It isn’t necessarily the sexual tension between the leading man and woman in the story. Chemistry can (and should) happen between any characters.

It’s that magic moment when an onscreen relationship develops beyond the words that the actors speak. It’s the spark in their eyes. It’s the subtle timing that turns into a rhythm.

Chemistry may show through a romantic moment or a violent fistfight. It usually involves witty banter, but it may be accomplished in gesture and expression. Even a poorly written script gains credibility when the actors have chemistry.

Some say that either chemistry is there or it’s not, that it can’t be manufactured. I’m not sure I believe that, though I have seen several films in which there was absolutely no connection between the actors at all. If chemistry can be written into a book, which I have experienced many times, then I believe it can be affected between the players.

It lies within the actors to find the good and the bad of the characters they play, and then bring out hints of hidden traits for the audience to glimpse. When two or more characters have empathy for each other, even if it is just a suggestion of understanding, the audience connects with them and becomes a part of the story.

Ensemble television shows rely on chemistry to keep them on the air. A cast without it is quickly cast off. M*A*S*H* is a wonderful example of cast-wide chemistry. I remember spending many evenings laughing through episodes right up to the point when I would crumble into sobs. When Trapper John and Colonel Blake left the 4077th, I found myself inconsolable.

The most popular shows on TV today have amazing ensembles with chemistry oozing from every one-liner.

The cast of NCIS works together with the timing of a classic concerto. The audience knows that any gruesome morgue scenes will be tempered with a lesson from Ducky, an inappropriate comment from DiNozzo, or a well-placed Gibbs slap.

Castle features an ensemble of characters that love and hate each other with playful abandon and serious consequences. Even when Rick and Beckett are at odds, the audience pulls for them to work together—this is a key ingredient for a successful show. But the chemistry on Castle works beyond their relationship. Rick’s interactions with his mother and daughter are true to life and sincere. Beckett’s relationships with her peers and superior officers are deep and realistic as well. When guest stars make appearances, the cast incorporates them seamlessly into their magic. Last night Adam Baldwin, Nathan Fillion’s former Firefly costar, played Detective Slaughter. The instant chemistry created by these pals had me laughing out loud.

Chemistry makes a story real. It gives the audience cause to care. It offers something for which to cheer and to hiss, and the truly talented can stir the good and bad together at the same time.

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