Category: Movies


SMT X

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Column by J. Torrey McClain

Around this time last year, my good friend Steve suggested that we check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) at the Silent Movie Theater here in Los Angeles and I had no clue what it was.  I briefly checked the description, saw a positive Metacritic score and thought to myself, “Why the heck not?”  I ended up seeing a fantastic slow-burning film that made the vampire genre fresh.  I also saw one of the best images to portray a character in a long time.

Early in the film, the co-protagonist girl vampire decides to go home with a drug dealer who had previously threatened the other protagonist as well as a local streetwalker.  As he bursts into his lair, he walks by a large fish tank and gives it a smack.  Seconds later he’s doing lines of cocaine on a glass table, a mounted deer head and a mounted antelope head on the wall behind him, before turning on the annoying techno.  He sits on a couch draped with a blanket of what looks like tigers that would jump out under black light.  In the corner there is a hookah.  As the girl vampire explores the rest of the pad, she finds a set of drums just below a large marijuana leaf poster.  I laughed to myself as I immediately realized I had in those brief seconds already characterized this asshole in my mind with no redeeming qualities.  Sure, the actions earlier helped, but that apartment spoke to me clearly and it screamed into my brain “HE IS A DOUCHEBRO.”

douchebro

Those items and that music might not mean the same thing to every person.  Maybe to others they see a seedy drug-dealing criminal.  Some may see a guy that is definitely more current in his musical taste than I (as Clem Snide and The Replacements play as I write.)  Others may see an advocate for marijuana besides business reasons that has been stigmatized due to its frequent use by hippies and non-WASPs.  (I put myself in the advocate camp, by the way, as the criminalization and the imprisonment of many people in jail due to marijuana related offenses seems to be one of the many effects of the inherent racism in our justice system.  But, that’s for another discussion at another time by others much more qualified than I.  Check out Deray McKesson on Twitter to start your journey on that front or some of the great essays in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the soon-to-be author of the Marvel comic Black Panther).  I just know that for my viewpoint, the more the scene unfolded, the more it verified my judgment.

Such is the magic of great set design.  As a background actor, I get to see lots of set design up close.  Items might not show up distinctly on camera, but choices get made in the costume, prop and set departments that impact the feel of a scene.  The care that the professionals take in these aspects of filmed entertainment mesmerizes me more than most things.

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Koba socializing with humans

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

When I think about some of my favorite movies, they contain a sense of the dynamics of a family, whether it is by blood or by situation.  The Incredibles is a fantastic example of a family at the center of the story and how, when forced to confront his own mortality, at his core Mr. Incredible finds that family is the most important thing in his life.  Stalag 17 is about a family in a single room wooden cell in a POW camp and even though they argue and kid and get on each other’s nerves, they will risk their lives for each other.  The Philadelphia Story revolves around a family’s plan for a wedding one weekend on their estate.  Up is built on scrapbook glimpses of a life spent together as a family.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes contains what it means to have family and what a family is as one of its themes.  Humans as a family.  Apes as a family.  The family of Caesar and the family of the lead human Malcolm played by Jason Clarke.  Family by blood and new families after loved ones perish.

It is dealing with the idea of ape families that becomes problematic in my mind.  Scientifically, we know that chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans have familial bonds.  We can see those attachments as we stare at them through windows in zoos as the elders have learned to turn their backs to our prying eyes.  There are blood families and communities as families.  Yet, we don’t really care much about what happens to them because they can’t tell us how separation from their family feels.  We hope they forget if they ever get sent to a new zoo or study facility.  We hope that any new introductions into a community will forget the families left behind in the wild or their previous place of captivity.  It would be different if our apes, the ones that we see, could scream at us like Caesar and tell us that we won’t threaten or separate their family.

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By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Since the wonderful CJ Bunce mentioned Comic-Con last week, I figured I would work in a mention of its “wonder”ful cousin.  Next weekend marks my first time attending WonderCon (March 16-18 at the Anaheim Convention Center).  Last year, I planned to go in San Francisco, but I needed to move out of my apartment fast (never, ever, think that you can get a guitarist and a drummer to stop playing music at 3 am in the apartment below you) and it happened on WonderCon weekend.  So, now that it has moved to Anaheim, in my comparative backyard, I’ve already started to plan everything. I’ve found my train ticket.  I’ve alerted my hiking buddies that I won’t be available.  I’ve told people hosting a party on Saturday that I may be late due to a “wonder”ful engagement.  (I’ll stop that now.)

The next step: figure out which panels to see.  I know one that is easy.  Sunday at 3 pm is the Community panel.  I haven’t been able to catch it at Comic-Con due to long, long, LONG lines.  I missed PaleyFest.  Now, I hope that I get my chance to just sit back and enjoy sixty minutes and a movie-like clip.  (FYI–PaleyFest has a few days left).

Then I found Ruby and Spears and it looked pretty obvious as a must attend.  At first I saw the name and thinking of mash-ups (Have you seen The Charming Man-Video Games one?)  I thought it would be a Wizard of Oz, Game of Thrones mash-up and that would be awesome.  It turned out to be even more so.  This is a panel for Joe Ruby and Ken Spears.  I’m just going to quote most of the panel description so that you can jump up and down in place like I am doing:

“Since the sixties, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears have been the most successful writing, creating, and producing team in Saturday morning television. Among the shows they brought you were ‘Scooby-Doo,’ ‘Wacky Racers,’ ‘Jabberjaw,’ ‘Dynomutt,’ ‘Thundarr The Barbarian,’ ‘Plastic Man,’ and dozens of others.”

Raise your hand if you had Dynomutt or Plastic Man comic books?  I’m sure that if I had them, so did CJ Bunce, because I knew as soon as he mentioned Laff-a-Lympics that we were buying the same titles when we were comparative tykes and probably watching those same Saturday morning cartoons from this panel.

Next comes the “20th Century Fox: Prometheus and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter…in 3D” panel.  You might think I’m going to see this because I’m a movie buff.  Well, that’s a little bit of it.  Mostly though it’s because of Damon Lindelof is the co-screenwriter of Prometheus and I’ve seen how well he did promoting Lost at Comic-Con.  So, I have high hopes for his performance at WonderCon.

Lastly, there’s this brief hint from DC Comics in the description of their panel.  “DC Comics: All Access Special Edition— Don’t miss this panel about the sure-to-be most talked about project of 2012!”  You had me at “DC.”

But, that’s all I have so far. I need help. Do you have any suggestions for any panels that I should add? I know if I can get over to the Marvel one at 4 pm on Saturday (after the DC one) that would be a good one as well.  The J. Michael Straczynski Writing Workshop could be cool – if I can find a late night train after it ends at 7 pm.  But, I know from going to Comic-Con that trying to cram in everything is just an exercise in frustration.  It never works that well.  The beautiful thing, it will be around next year.  These conventions are too big to go anywhere.  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, relax and just take it all in.  Talk to a stranger.  Look at art.  Buy some new comics you’ve never seen before.  It’s all part of the fun.

Still, if you know of anything really cool, please let me know.  Rushing around to something cool is worth a little frustration.

 

Episode VII poster

If you have any doubt Patton Oswalt (Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Starsky & Hutch, The King of Queens, Dollhouse, Community, Caprica, Burn Notice) is a genius, or comedian, or improv performer, good actor, or all-around cool guy, this week should remove that doubt.  borg.com writer Jason McClain is a fan of Parks and Recreation and has championed the series at borg.com here before.  To advertise Oswalt’s guest appearance on the show last night NBC released this completely improvised scene of Oswalt performing a filibuster before the show’s city council.  It illustrates a lot about how this guy’s brain works and that he’s solidly a genre fan like the rest of us.  

Parks and Rec logo

So check out Oswalt’s vision for the next Star Wars movie (a cool Boba Fett opener!), tying in the Marvel Universe (Moon Knight!  Wolverine’s clone daughter X-23!  Hercules!) and some good ideas you could actually see J.J. Abrams taking seriously (um, minus the Chewbacca one, that is), as well as a good recall of tidbits of Star Wars and Marvel trivia. 

The background extras really had their work cut out for them by keeping straight faces, although you can see five young guys in the back that are totally engaged in Oswalt’s story almost ready to crack.

Bravo!

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

As I drive back and forth to visit my parents in Arizona, I use those long solitary times in the car to listen to podcasts. “WNYC’s Radiolab,” “the memory palace,” “Thrilling Adventure Hour,” “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” “Doug Loves Movies” and “The Sports Poscast” all satisfy different moods and help make the drive a chance for laughs, learning and great stories.  On my past visit, I queued up the two-hour plus “Poscast” from 3/14/2012 featuring Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur as I drove across the Mojave Desert.  The first half concentrated on my favorite sport, baseball, and discussions and predictions regarding the upcoming season.  (Go Cardinals).  The second half concerned something that I think all readers of borg.com can get behind – a draft of the characters of Star Wars.  (Star Wars was defined as Episode IV through Episode VI – any other movies never had existed.  That is the correct view).

So, as much as I loved the baseball discussion (go Cardinals, again) this draft excited me.  My one addition to the draft (everyone’s a critic) – I would have drafted Biggs.  The idea of an infinite universe and somehow two friends from Tatooine end up flying X-wings together is better than just running into someone you know on the streets of Chicago or in a café in Paris (though both of those are pretty awesome).  It’s just my idea of magic and what I read into the trilogy, though all of their picks made perfect sense.  I still am up in the air about who would have won – each team had two Jedis, each team had people good with blasters and the last pick, though one was much more powerful, one was a lot more lucky.  As far as favorites go though, I have to side with Schur’s draft.  He had the first pick and of course he took Han Solo and the ensuing discussion got me to thinking.  That moment they cite as the favorite Han moment, that moment that we all want for ourselves, the moment where chills run through me, my hair stands on end and my eyes well up is the Millennium Falcon shooting a TIE Fighter out of space, disrupting Darth Vader’s shot on Luke’s X-wing, and Han exclaiming, “You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home.”

The rogue becomes a hero.  He is in it for more than the money, he has a heart.  He cares enough to love something.  We all want to be that person.  In continuing to think about that, it ran up against my thoughts of Community as I finally got to see a panel for the show at WonderCon the previous Sunday.  Then, I finally had my epiphany on my love of this show and other well crafted ones like Schur’s own Parks and Recreation.

We all love Star Wars.  It’s a great story.  However, the characters are archetypes and therefore, we can vicariously insert ourselves into them and become the hero.  We can “play” Han and Luke and Leia as kids because the simple traits that they have don’t intrude on our true personalities.  We all want to be heroes.  We all want to find that cause to champion.  We will defend ourselves.  We will defend our friends.  We will save the girl or the boy with our own bravery and pluck.

On the other hand, you look at a Jeff Winger or a Leslie Knope and you run into something different and that is specifics.  Winger is a lawyer.  He cheated his way into becoming a lawyer and once he was found out, he had to return to community college to earn his degree.  He knows how to talk himself out of about any situation and can convince about anyone to do anything, but he’s learning that isn’t always a good thing.  He’s trying to coast through college because he doesn’t know how to work hard and study.  His Halloween costumes are just excuses to dress well and show off his good looks.  He once wet himself playing foosball.  He’s an agnostic.  He interferes with others’ relationships.  He stinks at pottery and it can infuriate him.

We know Leslie is a tireless worker in the Parks Department.  We know her mother intimidates her, but that she looks up to her success in city government.  Her mom can be a rival for the affection of a man like Ben Wyatt – and she will stand up to her to fight for him.  She will prepare 72 hours of reading for her best friend Ann Perkins to do in 12 hours for an interview Ann never wanted.  She’ll risk her career for love, but she won’t give up either because she wants it all.  She’ll steal artwork to protect it from censors.

We can’t project ourselves onto these people – they’re too different.  There may be some similarities, but I doubt there is a real Leslie Knope or Jeff Winger or Britta Perry or Ron Swanson or Abed Nadir.  However, because they are so likable, we can project ourselves into Greendale or into Pawnee, Indiana because we want to hang out with them for the 22 minutes every week.  Then I have to shift to first person as my adventures of driving an hour to WonderCon after waking up at 5 am to volunteer at the L.A. Marathon to go and sit in a room for two hours watching the two previous panels just to be sure I can get an early viewing of “Digital Exploration of Interior Design” and see my first Community panel after two years of Comic-Con disappointment due to not getting to the line in time, because my experience is more specific.  (It also deserves more than one, long, rambling sentence).

Following the episode, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chris McKenna, Ken Jeong, Dan Harmon and Steve Basilone assembled at the panel table in front of the huge crowd.  We found out that in the 18-34 demographic Community beat American Idol, which got a huge cheer.  Then Yvette prefaced her comments by saying that “Dan Harmon is broken” and thanked the audience for their support, because through all of the tributes, they can feel that love for the show.  The best line was, “The fact that you guys walked away from your computers and watched us live and got us those numbers, it’s magic.”  Even though I’ve seen this week’s show, I’ll be watching again live, though no one will count it.  If you have a Nielsen box, please do the same.

Some of my other favorite moments of the panel:

While discussing the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” that the moderator attributed to Chris McKenna, he said, “We have a writing staff.  Dan came in and vomited up a bunch of ideas for it and we picked through the vomit.”

Gillian mentioned going to Comic-Con last year and a few people whooped, while Dan jumped in and said, “You guys like comic books?”

Steve describes the episode “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” as “retardedly awesome” and the moderator steps in and asks, “Are there any retardedly awesome people in the audience?”  (As an aside, I love How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Scrooged as my favorite holiday entertainments, but this year, I just watched “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”  It’s easily in the top 3 of Christmas for me now).

The interplay between Yvette and Dan when Yvette started talking about Dan’s skills with rap flow and lyrics and Dan’s humility deflecting it to a voicemail from Chevy Chase that says he won’t live past 57.  Most of it is Dan going in to detail and Yvette repeatedly saying, “Harmon.”

The character of Britta was just a list of stuff that the writers (and Dan) considered as things they found attractive in a woman.  Then a female writer, Hilary Winston then said that she didn’t like Britta and gave Dan the reasons.  Dan then said, “Instead of changing the character, I thought, ok so that’s who Britta is.  She’s the woman that women don’t like.”

Dan again on Britta and other female characters, “What creates a good female character is a guy forgetting that it’s a female character.”  Then Yvette added, “It works for diversity as well.”  Then Yvette and Dan went into another dialogue, as Dan got a little humorously offensive about writing about race and talked about going to RaceCon.

Re-listening to the panel, it didn’t strike me then because I had no clue who it was, but I have to say that Gillian is pretty darn correct in the fact that she can resemble the later-in-life Michael Jackson that she plays in “Contemporary Impressionists.”

Just re-reading this, the differences between a fan of Community or Parks and Recreation and a fan of Star Wars (heck, they’re probably the same people a lot of the times) are not that great.  The characters have more depth in the TV show because they have over 20 hours to develop over three seasons instead of six hours over three movies.  Fans get crazy excited about all three.  I just want to figure out what makes a show like Community so special to me and that makes me spend the past few days watching my DVDs of seasons 1 and 2.  I thought the idea that I wouldn’t play a sitcom out with friends when I was a kid might be that germ of understanding because of the character depth.  Then again, if I were ten again, maybe I would “play” Community.  I get to be Troy.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Both Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters premiered the same day.  Chasing Ghosts premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2007.  The King of Kong premiered at the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, taking place as well in Park City, Utah, but reserved for films with budgets under $1 million and only for first time directors.  Other movies at Sundance included Black Snake Moan, King of California, The Savages, Snow Angels, Eagle vs. Shark, Reprise, Waitress, Once and Rocket Science. The King of Kong, by my personal calculation*, is easily the biggest movie out of Slamdance that year.

Don’t mistake that I’m saying popularity equals quality or the film festival where your movie premieres means a difference in quality.  Still, Sundance, like Toronto and Cannes just seems to mean a higher pedigree, the difference between a regional dog show and the Westminster Kennel Club.

So, why is The King of Kong more popular than Chasing Ghosts?**  I think it is that same reason that made the video gamers of both stories so special: specialization.

I just finished Chasing Ghosts and it is fascinating.  Just like Confessions of a Superhero or Murderball or Grizzly Man or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or Capturing the Friedmans, there’s something about true stories and the voyages in life that people take to get to today that make my eyes and heart open wide.***  Following the story behind the boys and older boys**** in a picture from a Life magazine photo shoot in 1982 on the main drag of Ottumwa, Iowa made me smile many times.

The classic Life Magazine photo from November 1982, taken in downtown Ottumwa, Iowa with the gamers and some Ottumwa High School cheerleaders. Billy Mitchell, featured in King of Kong, is third from right at front with the moustache and his hand on the Centipede game.

But, it’s no King of Kong Chasing Ghosts gave us glimpses of many different video game champions.  Boys that spent up to 60 some hours straight playing video games.*****  We learned about strategies (and saw some cool, modern 3-D images) for Pac Man, Berzerk, Centipede, Frogger and Missile Command.******  Each person had strategies and abilities that made these games easy for them.  Each person had a compelling life story.  The only names I remember though are Steve Sanders and Billy Mitchell and that’s because they were also in The King of Kong.*******

The King of Kong just looked at one game.  The King of Kong just looked at the rivalry for this one high score.  It followed Steve Wiebe as he tried to unseat Mitchell’s high score and what how much that meant for him at that time in his life.  It had a compelling narrative because it focused on one thing, kind of like these video game specialists.

Why do we love specialists?  Why do we put the most elite athletes, the most elite soldiers like Navy Seals, the most elite actors/directors/producers that win Oscars on pedestals, sometimes literally in the case of the Olympics or sports draft coverage?

I’d like to think this is some grand philosophical question, but it’s not.  We all want to be the best at something, so we celebrate those that become the best.  The richest man in the world.  The most beautiful woman in the universe.  The fastest.  The strongest.  The biggest weekend at the box office.  The smartest.  In recent years of baseball analysis and the Baseball Hall of Fame, most researchers (and conversely voters) show that emphasis every year.  The guys like Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell who were pretty good at everything–and therefore each a great player–aren’t nearly as appreciated as those that did one thing well, like hit for average, play defense, steal bases or hit a bucket load of home runs (though because of steroids, that isn’t as smiled upon as before).  Being the best wins, second place will always be a set of steak knives and third prize is you’re fired.

Capitalism expects us to specialize.  We do one thing well, and we trade the money we make from that to other people that do their one thing well.  So, did I like The King of Kong because I’ve been trained to like the specialized over the general?  I’d like to think that isn’t the case.  There’s room in the world for both movies, and I’m glad I saw both.  If you ask me which one I liked better in this case, it’s Kong.

—————————————————-

*Check out the list here. I’ll admit, films with James Cromwell, Tony Hale^, Ali Larter and Gary Busey feel like they should be bigger, emphasis on “feel” and nothing more.

**I’m basing this on the fact that I saw The King of Kong in a movie theater and watched it on TV over Thanksgiving this year.  I finally found Chasing Ghosts on Netflix Instant when a friend recently recommended it to me and it appeared in one of the lists that Netflix tailors to my watching patterns.  Netflix is like my best friend who always can tell what I’m in the mood to watch.  Except that Netflix is a cyborg, bent on taking over the world.

*** A note – in some cases the emotion from my “heart” is sympathy.  Sometimes it is appreciation.  Sometimes it is horror.  Films that generate feelings always rank high in my book, but the documentaries that evoke horror I’m much more likely to never, ever, ever watch again.  Like Capturing the Friedmans.

**** After watching the documentary, it feels weird to use “men” as their noun, even to this day.  Yes, they have kids, wives, girlfriends and jobs, but you look into those eyes as they talk about video games or other aspects of their lives, and the boy inside still takes center stage.

***** I loved the still picture of one video gamer being fed French fries as he played.  If this happened today in New York, he would have been video gaming’s Alex Rodriguez.

****** I have to admit to being a little more curious about the Missile Command guy.  It looks like he made video game themed pornos.  I can see that having major appeal.  I mean, how many guys would love the fantasy of sitting at home, playing video games, when all of the sudden, a knock comes at the door and there are three buxom women who want to pleasure you.  I’ve probably said too much.  Still in the argument of specialization, I want to see a movie about him.

******* Ok, maybe a slight lie.  I think I remember the name Ben Gold.  I also don’t remember the Twin Galaxies owner/ref names that appeared in both films.  It probably helps that I’ve seen The King of Kong twice.  Then again, it’s been almost four months since I watched it compared to about four hours for Chasing Ghosts.

^That’s the Arrested Development and Community  Season 1, episode 19 fan talking.  I’m going to go ahead and assume you know Ali Larter and not give her a footnote.  Why? She’s the most beautiful woman in the world.^^

Ali Larter in Heroes

^^World is defined as a section of my mind circa the first season of Heroes.

To get to borg.com’s first anniversary it actually took us 366 days because of the leap year.  And what a year it has been!

So what do we have to show for 366 daily posts–our attempt to keep you up to date on what is going on in science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment news?

Jason McClain and Elizabeth C. Bunce

We interviewed some great people, like DC Comics artists Freddie Williams and Mikel Janin, writers Sharon Shinn and Jai Nitz, and Star Trek insider Penny Juday.  In our “Sneak preview” series we reviewed the pilots for new TV series ABC’s New Girl and NBC’s Awake before they were broadcast on TV.  We gave you our take on several opening weekend screenings of a big year in movies from Cowboys & Aliens to Green Lantern, from the last Harry Potter film to Daniel Radcliffe’s first big adult role in The Woman in Black,  to the day of Marvel Comics movies that led up to the U.S. premiere of The Avengers We shared the first images released of The Hobbit and Total Recall We reviewed new books and classic sci-fi books in our “Retro reviews,” from Philip K. Dick, Ian Fleming, Michael Crichton, Rex Stout, Ernest Cline, and Richard Stark, and several non-fiction books about the “behind the scenes” of movies.  We covered Comic-Con International, Wondercon, Planet Comicon, Free Comic Book Day and the early release party for Avengers vs. X-Men We reviewed dozens of new comic book series, from Morning Glories to Terry Moore’s Rachel Rising and a whole slew of DC’s New 52 reboot, as well as Marvel Comics’ limited series events.  Along with that we’ve kept tabs on our (and hopefully your) favorite things like Doctor Who, Star Trek, Walking Dead, Peter Jackson, baseball, Community, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Syfy Channel, USA Network, James Bond, Batman and Green Arrow.  We’ve posted lots of original comic art to get an eye on the creative process of the artist, and we loved discussing genre costumes, including the latest news about incredible screen-used prop and costume auctions.  We’ve also taken a closer look at science fiction movies with our “Anatomy of science fiction” series, featuring iconic images, and the evolution of space suits in film.  And to give you ideas for movie watching from the archives, we provided our “favorites” and “best of” series, revealing our recommendations for overlooked TV series, Halloween flicks, favorite fantasy films, best adaptations, favorite characters, and best art of Alex Ross and Frank Cho.  We’ve profiled favorite genre stars like David Warner, John Carpenter and Mark Sheppard.  We’ve reviewed new compact discs from some of our favorite celebrities, Hugh Laurie and Zoey Deschanel, as well as new fantasy video games.  And finally, we’ve talked about borgs from every sci-fi franchise out there, and even how borg technology as cutting edge science affects humans in real life.

Art Schmidt and CJ Bunce

We think we like what you’d like, so we’ve tried to help you get the most out of entertainment by recommending to you the best sci-fi, fantasy and entertainment out there.

A personal thanks to professional writers Elizabeth C. Bunce (fantasy author, intrepid TV reviewer and fangirl), Jason McClain (Hollywood columnist and master of myriad musings) and Art Schmidt (diehard genre fan and fantasy realm connoisseur) for their great contributions and getting us more than 250,000 site visits and hundreds of positive feedback comments in only our first year.

Thanks for reading!  Year 2 begins tomorrow…

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Before midnight Thursday night Firefly fans were already lined up for Ballroom 20 at the San Diego Convention Center.  I say Firefly fans not because I interviewed them all, but because it was well known why most of them were waiting in line, despite the fact that the panels in the same room included the cast of the TV series Community, Korra, Bones, and Arrow.  I would wager I was the only person there in line to see the pilot for the new fall TV series Arrow, among maybe 7,000 people by the time the doors opened, who stood in line for the day of panels in the big hall.  I’m a lifelong Green Arrow fan, and I could hardly profess being the #1 Green Arrow fan around and miss the Arrow panel.  But if you’re a sci-fi fan of one franchise you’re a sci-fi fan of all, and I’d received advance press releases about the Firefly reunion and thought it sounded like a big deal so I was really curious about it.  I also am a fan of Adam Baldwin from his My Bodyguard days through Chuck as well as actor Alan Tudyk.

Because it was my first year with Comic-Con press credentials I flew out anyway with friends (sadly without my spousal unit who stayed behind) and met up with my old friend and borg.com writer Jason McClain.  Everyone turned in early Thursday night by my standards.  The bus stop at Petco Field had changed which led me to walk by the front of the convention center and about 200 uber-fans already camped out and many fast asleep around 12:30 a.m. Friday.  After a few weeks of 100 degree temperatures in the Midwest it occurred to me how nice the cool sea breeze felt.  I like to sleep on a firm mattress–the harder the better.  Hmm… how bad is sleeping on cement anyway?  I initially had no intention of visiting any panels this year but figured I’d just hang out in the exhibit hall for the weekend.  Why not see what this camping out at the Con thing is all about?  I headed to my hotel and on the bus met folks on their way back to the center for the Firefly panel.  Nowhere close to feeling like winding down for the night I took a shower, changed into my Friday clothes, grabbed some extra shirts and headed back on the bus toward downtown at about 1 a.m.

One to two hundred more people were in line and I caught up with the people from St. Louis I met on the bus.  I nestled in with my backpack as a pillow under a palm tree on some nice lawn turf.  Not so bad!  New friends Cody and Sam even offered me their hotel pillows.  The night life was surprisingly peaceful, a true Zen moment.  Back in the line everyone was still bustling but gradually teetering on the edge of sleep.  Conversations about where neighbors in line were from and what they did and what they like.  Who they were, what they were doing, where they were going.  Why they liked The Walking Dead.  Why they didn’t like The Walking Dead.  The low murmur of card playing and conversation lulled by the hour until a kid started running down the line at 3 a.m. shouting “Joss Whedon just stopped by the front of the line!”

No one really believed it, but likewise, if Whedon really was there no one wanted to miss seeing him.  People got up one by one to walk toward the front of the line.  A trusting crowd, people left their things behind–the only time you could get away with this in any city on Earth.  Expecting at best to see Whedon with a series of “handlers,” instead there he was talking one by one with folks in the line.  Soon everyone mobbed around him, and what you’d think would be one-off photos with a few fans, he soon was taking photos with anyone who asked, meanwhile autographing copies of Firefly DVDs and Comic-Con badges for those who had nothing else to get signed.  Sensitive to the sleepers, he said he didn’t think he should wake them up.  I (and others) thought they’d feel pretty lousy later finding out they missed seeing him and we walked ahead waking people up.  He leaned in on several people who awakened with looks of not knowing where they were or who this guy was who was talking to them.  It was quite funny to see.  We were all really caught offguard.

At best when celebrities show up to meet “the people on the street” they shake a few hands, have their publicity moment, the camera lights dim and they jump in their car in drive away.   Like when U.S. Presidents who stop their cavalcade to shake a few hands.  In this case, Whedon did something I’d never seen or heard of before.  He went through the entire line and acknowledged everyone, which took at least a half an hour.  And there was no camera crew there.  In fact I have seen no major press coverage of his visit at all.  I and a crew from a Southern California magazine were probably the only thing close to press around.  The energy was palpable.  Exciting doesn’t come close.  This guy just directed The Avengers, the new top selling movie of all time and the best reviewed superhero flick in decades.  He created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the best vampire franchise ever with a phenomenal fan base in its own right.  But for his past shows he hadn’t done this before.  Firefly, his own concocted western story set in outer space, clearly holds a special place for Whedon.

You can tell from the quiet and nervous crowd laughter that folks were pretty surprised.  Check out this video by one of my 5,000 new friends that I didn’t get to meet, who just happened take footage of me getting a photo taken with Whedon that I stumbled across on YouTube (THANKS, whoever you are!):

And I may look a little presumptious stepping in for a photo but trust me, we all took turns rotating in for a photo or autograph.  That’s what he was there for.  No one asked him typical celebrity questions.  It was all pretty quiet and everyone half asleep.  I did hear someone shout out “How about doing a Wonder Woman movie next time?”

Your own photo with Joss Whedon? Priceless.

The constellations aligned just right for this day, and after Whedon went on to his hotel no one could get back to sleep.  We heard he made this stop to our line on his way back to his hotel after a late ending party.  Not thinking I’d need any technology on this outing I worked with the gang from the SoCal magazine to get photos uploaded and online.  See my 3:30 a.m. photos posted here.  (Thanks for letting me use your laptop, guys!).

My new friends from a SoCal magazine.

And so we waited and talked.  For nine more hours.  And it never got boring.  I didn’t even bring a book to read.  You may have read before about visitors to Comic-Con.  One hundred and fifty thousand like-minded, self-professed geeks and nerds (and all proud of it), you will find no better community anywhere.  Folks watched out for each other.  The convention security staff opened the doors for restroom and water fountain visits.  You can’t imagine a more peaceful assemblage of thousands of people with a common cause–not only having fun for fun’s sake, but believing in being part of something bigger.  I connected with a few great guys from near my hometown in Iowa who sat next to me in the ballroom.  The community aspect came through in what Whedon would talk about during the panel.  “When you’re telling a story, you are trying to connect to people in a particular way.  It’s not just about what you want to say, it’s about inviting them into a world and the way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, have made you part of it, part of the story.  You are living in Firefly.  When I see you guys I don’t think the show is off the air.  I don’t think there’s a show.  I think that’s what the world is like.”

New friend Sam, a high school junior from St. Louis. And that Joss Whedon guy.

Later at the Con I connected with long-time Star Trek chronicler Larry Nemecek (author of books on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the First Contact film) and he thought Firefly’s fan base reminded him of the fan base that kept the original Star Trek series on the air.  And that is all that these fans want–for the series to return–just like those Star Trek fans that ended up being successful back in the 1960s.  Clearly from the series cast, they want the same thing.  If any modern fan base could make it happen I wouldn’t be surprised if it were these guys, many sporting Adam Baldwin/Jayne’s motherly-knitted orange hat, these fans define the fanatic.

Originally billed as a reunion of the whole cast, a few didn’t make it, but it didn’t affect the mood of the crowd.  The panel featured Nathan Fillion (Mal), Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Summer Glau (River), Alan Tudyk (Wash), Sean Maher (Simon), writer Jose Molina, writer/director Tim Minear and creator Joss Whedon.

When Baldwin walked on stage, it was like Elvis or Michael Jackson or the Beatles arrived.  It was a roar like no other and he strode across the stage with a great smile and his arms raised, soaking it all in.  He later pulled out an orange knitted cap, replica to the one he wore on the series as the character Jayne, a hat that he later gave to a girl in the crowd.  Clearly a now-defining prop for Baldwin and Firefly fans, he acknowledged what such a prop could do for an actor.  “This hat is a goldmine.  It’s like a birthday cake in a wasteland,” he said.  He mentioned he auctioned off the real hat for thousands of dollars for a charity, which received applauds from the crowd.

Meeting Whedon earlier in the day made the ballroom event that much more energized.  Many in the crowd said Whedon “was one of us.”  By the end of the panel, nary a dry eye was in the house.  Whatever this Firefly energy and this 10th anniversary reunion was about, no one, including the cast and creator Whedon, wanted this to end.   The first to start getting choked up was series star Nathan Fillion when the cast described why he, the actor, was the right captain for the production.  He said Mal was “the best character I ever played” and “If I can get through this without crying, it’ll look a lot cooler.”  Whedon added “There was never a moment from the time we met when he wasn’t the captain.”

The Q&A was energetic and funny.  A fan asked for each of the panelists to describe their craziest fan story.  Writer/director Tim Minnear responded, “That time we were off the air for 10 years and thousands of fans showed up like it was yesterday.”

“Everything we were doing was for the right reasons, with the right people, that we were making something that was more than the sum of its parts.  That I had the best cast I will ever work with.”  He added in deadpan, “We also had Alan,” referring to actor Alan Tudyk, known for playing hilarious characters like Wat in the movie A Knight’s Tale.

One member of the audience asked if an animated version was possible.  The answer was in the negative but Fillion suggested he’d like to do a radio version and started to make special effects sounds with his hands, and he and Tudyk performed an ad libbed, brilliantly funny scene.

“The 27 people that saw it when it aired loved it,” Whedon said of the series, referring to his fans comprised in large part of people who were much younger when the series first aired and have only seen the series on DVD.

One bit started by actor Simon Maher replayed an old Christopher Walken Saturday Night Live bit, to cheers from the crowd:

Maher:  I think you might have a fever.
Fillion:  The only cure is more Firefly.

Fans who missed the convention would have liked what was probably the best question of the night:  “What if there would have been a Season 2 instead of the movie?”   Whedon answered:  “It would’ve been littler.  Most of the Reavers would’ve been off-screen [dramatizing large actions scenes off-camera with his arms].  I don’t think I would have killed anybody.”  At that point Alan Tudyk’s arms shot up in triumph, causing laughs.  (Tudyk’s character was ultimately killed off in the film).  Whedon continued: “I think we would’ve delved more into the Blue Sun conspiracy, which we had to drop.  And we would’ve learned about Book and about Inara.  For some reason, that’s the question that’s going to make me cry.”

Whedon said he felt bad that the missing actresses from the cast were unable to attend the reunion panel.  Only actress Summer Glau was on the night’s panel, and she seemed to be holding back a lot of emotion.

Comic-Con is over for another year.  I ended up going about 44 hours without sleep.  All worth it.  Time to think about getting tickets for next year.  Costumes to create.  Finding a hotel again.  What panels the show organizers can come up with to top this one.  I think I’ll ask my mom to knit me an orange hat.

To understand why a series like Firefly has such a loyal following, and what fan loyalty is all about, you need only look to Joss Whedon and his visit to a bunch of people on a sidewalk outside a convention center in San Diego in July.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Ok, here I am looking at a list of twenty characters that I have to cut to a quarter of that for this list.  I didn’t even go crazy thinking about everything I’ve watched or read to find that one person that stood out above the rest.  I just really looked at my bookshelf, which should contain most, if not all, of my favorites.  But, is it everything?  Do I have everything I want to own in pop culture circles?  (No! I don’t own Firefly or Stalag 17 or every appearance of the Legion of Substitute Super Heroes!)

That problem aside, at least I had an idea from the beginning to focus the list.  When thinking of my favorite characters, I chose good friends.  I chose characters that support their friends and family, though sometimes it takes a little personal growth to do so.

To help narrow down the list, I made a choice not to include any of the characters from a previous borg.com essay on characters to make it more of a challenge.*

* Side note, the list I made then had three characters not on the list I made now.  I bet I could make this list every day and find five new favorites. Eliminating Sam Gamgee and Hermione Granger though, those were tough blows to a list about supportive friends.

I then eliminated childhood favorite comic book characters since I know I’ll probably mine that idea for future essays just devoted to them.

That eliminated ten names.  I still have to eliminate five more.  Well, one actor played two parts so I’ll eliminate one of his.  Nine.  Picking one character from Doctor Who (or from Buffy, I can’t believe I forgot Buffy) seems unfair, so I have to lop them off.  Eight.  Ditto for Community** and The Simpsons.  Six.  Lastly, I have to get rid of Supes from Kingdom Come because as much as I love the friendship between him, Wonder Woman and Batman, it’s not about any one of them, it’s about how they approach things differently and yet work well together (eventually).

** Though I will say that I have to write a little about eliminated choice Britta Perry.  She’s a hippie, she mispronounces things and she can be a bit awkward (though can’t they all be a bit awkward.)  So, in those small ways, I can see a female me.  The similarities start to fail once you realize that I don’t want to sleep with Jeff Winger.  Now, if there were a Jennifer Winger…

So, without further ado, here are my top five characters*** in no particular order:

*** As of January 2012.  It could change by February and I may put back in some of the eliminated ones.  A good list is just a product of its specific moment in time.

Frank Cross – Scrooged****

Niagara Falls.  Every time I watch Scrooged I always know I’m going to cry at the end.  I can just think of little Calvin Cooley tugging on Frank’s sleeve and I start to get a little misty.  Yes, it probably has everything to do with Bill Murray’s portrayal as he makes every scoundrel he plays lovable.  But, for this role, you get to see his choices that led to being a scoundrel.  It’s not like they are bad choices, just everyday choices that he doesn’t want to admit were wrong.  As a friend, well, he’s not much of one until the end, but I think it was always there as a possibility.  He just didn’t have an outlet for it until the ghosts showed him what was out there for him like Claire, the folks he meets at the shelter, the Cooley family and last, but not least, his own family.  The S.S. Minnow, James, the S.S. Minnow.

**** He was the actor with two characters, though about any of his characters would probably qualify for a part on a list. The one I eliminated was Bob Harris from Lost in Translation as temporary friends we meet when we travel can be very powerful in our memories.  I almost think I should go back and include Bob.  Maybe summer camp and travel friends are a separate list. It would give me a chance to go back and look at Meatballs and Wet Hot American Summer for great characters.  As an additional aside, I also think that credit should be given to Charles Dickens for his original creation of Scrooge that I feel Murray was born to play.

Jaye Tyler – Wonderfalls

Jaye.  Hmmm.  A good friend?  Maybe?  Well definitely, but not intentionally, which I think may be one of the points of the show.  You can do all the things that a good friend should do and still not be a good friend.  On the other hand, if you think you’re crazy and toys, stuffed animals and coins speak to you and you just do things to get them off your back, you can be a good friend by accident.  You stop thinking of yourself and how it works for you and instead you put yourself at risk for embarrassment just long enough to do something good for someone else.  The fact that it’s unintentional, does it mean it is any less good?

The Sundance Kid – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I think Sundance embodies the evolution of friendship.  At the beginning of the movie, Sundance defers to Butch because Butch is the smart one coming up with plans.  By the end, Sundance realizes that he’s the smart one that knows Spanish and Butch is helpless and he wonders why he ever believed anything different. Still, they’re friends and have been for many a year.  You don’t abandon something like that and at the end, as they hide, injured and desperate, Sundance has to have regrets, but I don’t think that their friendship is one of them.  Not going to Australia on the other hand looms large in the pantheon of regrets.

Rorschach – Watchmen

He’s crazy, but there’s one person that mitigates that crazy and that’s Nite Owl and I think that Rorschach knows that.  He’s at his best when he is with Nite Owl and he goes as far as to admit it, in a way.  He talks of the days that they used to patrol together as a team and he misses those days.  If Butch and Sundance would have made it to Australia, I think Butch would be like Rorschach and longing for the time that they were a team.  Without the tempering influence of Sundance, Butch’s plans would be left unsaid, festering into crazy at their unrealized potential to make his world better in his mind.  The friendship for Rorschach and Butch might be gone at that point, but it never really leaves, it just becomes a different form.  You can’t go back to going out night after night and fighting crime, the body and mind is not built like that.  Eventually the friendship matures and you find new ways to enjoy it.

Vladimir – Waiting for Godot

This one is personal.  Yes, the existentialist play is about two friends trying to pass the time and on that level it’s a fantastic look at all the aspects of friendship.  What elevates it to top five status for me is that I can’t think of the play without thinking of my good friend Jason Vivone.  We did an excerpt from it for a duet scene in high school. We saw a touring company version of it performed in Lawrence, Kansas.  We performed the whole thing as adults in Kansas City. It’s about friends and I will always associate it with a good friend.  I’ve known Jason for over thirty years and no matter what, when I talk to him it’s like we’ve seen each other every day over that time.

The reluctant friend, the unintentional friend, the friend who knows your faults and still hangs out with you, old friends that you may not ever be as close to again and the mature friendship that will never go away are all different ways to express friendship.  Believe me, there are many other ways out there as well and the good characters find ways to make that universal feeling we have with our fellow humans feel fresh again.  Like writing about characters and friends with the characters and great friends that contribute to borg.com.  See you next time.

Next up tomorrow–Art Schmidt’s favorite characters.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Dealing with depression from both sides presents an interesting quandary.  As a friend to people that may be suffering from it, you want to be there, you want to support them, but when people are depressed they just aren’t that interesting.  A quote in the opening paragraph of Roger Ebert’s All the Lonely People says it best, “You know what a bore is, Travis. Someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship.”

On the other side, when you are depressed, getting out of bed seems like a chore, let alone leaving the house.  If that’s the way you feel, no wonder when you go out and about and try to socialize and lift your spirits, the only thing you’re thinking about is your couch, since going to sleep in your bed at 5 pm feels wrong no matter what your mental state of mind.  You know you’re a bore, but you don’t care or don’t understand how people don’t see it and you just have to occupy yourself until 10 pm somehow, so you can sleep for ten hours.  You never know, tomorrow might be better.

It doesn’t feel like there is a difference between depression and melancholia, and doing a quick bit of research, considering depression is used in the definition of melancholia, I’d say no difference.  There’s even a combination of the two into melancholic depression.  So would they look the same?  Could you tell the difference between melancholia and depression?  Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia gave me a quick “no” as the answer to that question.

Charles Corbet's depiction of Melancholia (1910)

I’ve never been married, but having been to weddings, probably not too much like the one in Melancholia, but definitely in the ballpark, I understand the urge to go take a long bath.  I understand going for a walk on a golf course.  There’s something nice about going to be alone when no one is around rather than being alone with hundreds of people surrounding you.  It’s why the bed or bath is such a welcome sight.  It’s why you continually look at your watch wondering what the perfect time to excuse yourself without hurting anyone’s feelings is.  If you can hold out for one more song, one more hit from the 80s, one more choreographed dance song, you can leave and walk to your room, drive home or just run, literally and figuratively.

I’m trying to think of another film that captures that feeling so well.  Looking at the profile of major league pitcher Taylor Buchholz and his bout with depression, you see a couple of the same symptoms in the performance of Kirsten Dunst (and the writing behind her acting): extreme irritability and the inability to laugh.  If we saw the back story that led to her wedding, I’m sure we’d also get a glimpse of her faking happiness to such a degree that her future groom truly believed she loved him and wanted to marry him.  Only at the reception did he finally see something different, as she couldn’t fake it any more.  Most everyone encouraged her to do so for various reasons, not least of which, because of all the money being spent by her future brother-in-law (played very well by Kiefer Sutherland.)

As you battle with faking it, with your irritability, your self-criticism and an occasional malaise, forgetting the bed and just sleeping every day and night on the couch seems like the perfect solution because you can go to sleep and wake up with the TV to keep you company.  That could be the result of loneliness, which is a separate thing, as this analysis of the Community episode Advanced Dungeons & Dragons points out, but can feel and look the same.  In fact, author Casey Jones puts it very succinctly, “Depression is anger pointed at yourself.  Loneliness… man, that’s just despair.”  The question becomes, what if your depression causes your loneliness or you’re depressed and angry with yourself because you can’t make or keep friends?  They can feed off of each other and I would say there is probably some high correlation between the two things.

As you can see from the collection of links (and the upcoming ones) I want to see how others deal with these same issues. I want to watch Melancholia even though I know it is going to be heavy.  I want to read Darkness Visible to see about William Styron’s struggle to overcome depression.  I want to read about how Rob Delaney learned to cope with it and come to grips to taking medication to help him.  I want to read about Stanley Jefferson, former major league player and New York City policeman who was on duty in Manhattan during 9/11.  I want to see or read about the ways they learned to cope or how they struggle to find a way to cope, from watching endless amounts of TV, to baths, to drinking or to just finding something to fill up every moment of your time so that you don’t have to think about anything.

Edvard Munch (1891)

Maybe you’re the same way, you like to see these things too as it helps to know that you have company. Maybe there are other people that consider watching every episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent on USA Network replays over a jam-packed month to be a worthwhile pursuit.  Maybe it’s because you see hope in some of the stories and you can feel hope for the stories of others because you pushed through that stage of depression yourself.

On the other hand you may not want to know how some people suffer.  You don’t even want to see hints of it because those views might generate powerful emotions within you that you can’t hide.  You don’t want to think about it in others because it will remind you of what you see in yourself, the fear, the anxiety, the worry.  You might break down and cry in front of someone and generate more anger at yourself for showing weakness like Buchholz.  Then again, you can try like he did to be around people, regular people, happy people so that you can forget all of those things that are wrong with you and you can pretend to be happy and maybe, just maybe, that dream of happiness will come true.  It’s possible.  As much as we think we know about the human mind and body, we still learn more and more every day and maybe a study will show that happiness rubs off.  You can sense it and feel it and happiness of others becomes whole in you. You at last become whole again.

Albrecht Durer's Melancholia (1514)

Still, the opposite of that is not to be around those happy people, cheerfully going about their daily lives because then you see the emptiness in your own.  By being around them it reminds you about how unhappy you are and so then you close yourself off, you seclude yourself because the pain of seeing people is too much.  Sometimes it feels better to feel sad; to know there is something wrong with you and to know it needs to be addressed.  Wallowing in it makes it more visible in your own mirror and may motivate you to do something about it.  You shut yourself off to find this point in yourself and then the loneliness enters your life.  Then a different vein of self-loathing exists for your depression to tap into and a different cycle starts anew.

I slipped into using the second person in this essay pretty easily because I realized that doing so made writing about it easier.  I never know what a different day will bring.  Maybe it’s a day I want to be around people. Maybe it’s a day where I don’t.  Maybe it’s a day where the idea of even taking off my clothes to shower seems like a chore.  Maybe it’s a day where buying new underwear sounds so much easier than sorting clothes, carrying them to the washer, carrying them to the dryer and then putting them away.  Maybe it’s a day when I write 2000 words on a subject and reward myself with video games.  Maybe it’s a day where I just play video games and criticize myself for not writing anything.  Maybe it’s a day I play video games and feel happy because I just have fun. Maybe it’s ten days in a row and the only thing I wrote was emails.  Maybe even emails get tough to write.  Maybe I’ll just watch 12 hours of Psych, Doctor Who or the whole run of Spaced and laugh a little bit, for once.  When I say “you” I mean me, though I do know a few examples of friends that do or have dealt with depression and or loneliness.  I’ve dealt with it a few ways myself.  It’s trying to find the way to deal with it the best.  So, like Kirsten Dunst’s character, maybe I’ll work in baths.  I’ve tried long showers.  They help some.  Every day leads me closer to a solution as I work through ways to overcome my own depression and my solutions are definitely better than a meteor coming to strike the Earth, I’m sure.  Definitely sure on that one.  For with the dawn of a new day, there’s always hope that it will be better.