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!

What Makes a Story Science Fiction?

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.

What’s a Fen?

I’m currently attending my first Sci-Fi convention—FenCon IX in Dallas, Texas. When I first heard about it last June, I got pretty excited. I had to go. I’ve loved science fiction my whole life. But what’s a Fen?

As the plural of man is men, the plural of fan is… wait for it… fen. And when you have a hotel filled with fen, the result is sheer fun.

I find myself surrounded by writers, artists, musicians, editors, publishers, astronauts (Dr. Stanley Love), and men in kilts. Kilts? Yep. One gentleman’s kilt is even sewn of green camouflage. Nearly everybody has a tee shirt with their favorite space hero, video game, or movie splashed across the front. Others wear top-hat fascinators or Jayne Cobb knit caps.

For my first day I learned about writing conflict, remembered Ray Bradbury, listened to panels about cover art, the future of comics, and the magic of Firefly, and saw a sneak preview of the new trailer of The Hobbit. There was even a musical number called “Red Shirt Riot.”

Today I will be listening to Dr. Love speak about the future of space exploration, as well as attending a panel about Sherlock Holmes, and one about The Hobbit.

Sunday holds a Phineas and Ferb panel as well as a Monty Python’s Flying Circus discussion. It’s a wide variety of programs that fall into the science fiction genre.

Every little piece creates this beautiful mosaic that forms a little piece of American (and human) history. The stories fit together, overlap, and overlay to construct a cool fan base—a fen pool, if you will.

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

This Versus That

My whole family loves movies, and one of my sons’ favorite games is “Versus.” They compare movie and TV characters all the time, weighing strengths and weaknesses of each role, as well as the actors’ physical attributes. Whenever they make comparisons, they always offer their reasoning behind their decisions. It’s a wonderful exercise in critical thinking.

The game has been around forever, I suppose. When I was a kid, the big debate was Superman versus Mighty Mouse. I guess these days, most people don’t even know who Mighty Mouse is. I tend to come down on the side of Superman, if for no other reason that he’s not just a cartoon, thus he could beat more villains. (There just aren’t as many cartoon villains as there used to be.)

The other question that I grew up with was Ginger versus Mary Ann, from Gilligan’s Island. That one is mostly for guys, but a wise woman can tell a great deal about a man from his answer to that quiz.

Sunday at lunch, we all got into the debates. It began with James Bond versus Jason Bourne. Of course, we had to stipulate which Bond actor would face Bourne, and my boys settled on Daniel Craig. Because they felt it was still too close to call, they had to settle on a neutral location, as well as what they would be wearing and have on their person.

They argued that because Bond is a gadget guy and Bourne can make a weapon out of just about anything, they would have to fight naked. (I suggested swim trunks, but they were pretty sure that Bourne could use them for a weapon anyway.) They also decided that since almost any location could have a tactical advantage for one over the other, the challengers should be skydiving at the time of their combat.

My youngest son then suggested that the debate was moot, because if they were skydiving naked, they would both die when they hit the ground. True, but I have a feeling that somehow or another, Bond might have a back-up plane (piloted by a Bond girl) that he could swoop into after the fight—assuming he survived. Bourne is the loner type, which does have that disadvantage. It was fun to watch their reasoning play out.

Their match-ups continued. They paired Jackie Chan and Liam Neeson. They pitted Fiona Glenanne (Burn Notice) against Ziva David (NCIS). They matched The Avengers’ Black Widow with Alien’s Ellen Ripley. They put real thought into their game. They batted about names of characters like Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), John Casey (Chuck), Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly), MacGyver, Indiana Jones, and others.

These kinds of games show me that they are paying attention to the shows that they watch. They understand character development. It also shows how wonderfully these actors embody the roles that they play.

If you ever want to start a fun game with your family, “Versus” is terrific for understanding the way your kids think and perceive others. It will give you insight into their likes and preferences. It’s a good conversation starter.

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.