Posted by: jgurner | May 8, 2013

Three sci-fi shows that deserved better

Sci-fi has a troubled history on television.

Usually, and often mercifully, it tends not to last too long. But occasionally, something works and a sci-fi or fantasy show will catch on and find a wide enough audience to be successful (defined as lasting long enough to get off the ground – three or four seasons at least). Not necessarily good, but successful. (I’m looking at you Sliders. I would have said Babble-yawn 5, but , just in case anyone actually reads this, I don’t want hate mail.) The X-Files ruled television during the 90s even though it started off in the Friday night Fox “time slot of death.” It may have gone out with a WTF?, but, for at least the first four or five years, it was a pretty good run. Star Trek managed to rise again on TV in the late 80s through syndication to produce four shows that ran a total of 18 years – six time longer than the original series. Stargate managed three shows before it petered out. But there may still be stories to tell in that universe as well.

But, for every X-Files (9 seasons, 202 episodes), there’s a Firefly (14 episodes), Surface (15 episodes) or Earth 2 (21 episodes). (Surface, solid but not great, seemed to be heading in that direction when it was canned. It got to be about more than Lake Bell in a swim suit, which in itself was pretty entertaining.)

I have recently watched, or am planning to rematch, three shows that I’ve always felt deserved much better than they got. Each lasted only a season, had great stories, actors and writing and did a great job of establishing their world almost from the get-go. There are more than three that deserved better, but I wanted to touch on some that are less obvious than Firefly or Stargate: Universe.

So, here we go…

Space: Above and Beyond – Fox, 1995-96, 23 episodes.

This was a hard sci-fi military series created by Glen Morgan and James Wong, who were both co-producers and writers for The X-Files. It centered around a squad or space Marines, the 58th Wildcards, as humanity battled an alien race known as the Chigs. Based on the spacecraft Saratoga, the 58th fought on land, sea and in space against a seemingly relentless enemy, with each of the six main characters  dealing with their own personal issues and lives.

While it did have its fair share of cliches and a couple of forgettable episodes (the very special Christmas episode comes to mind), it was an otherwise solid series. You have to ignore some of the bad science in the first few episodes, but that’s par for the course in even the best sci-fi. It gave you most of the important pieces of the world in which these Marines lived and fought in the first episode – a world filled not only with enemy aliens, but artificially created humans called Invitros and a rebellious sect of androids called AIs. Two of the main characters were Invitros, including the 58th’s commanding officer and a number of episodes dealt with the prejudice they encountered both in the military and in civilian life. There was a squadron leader haunted by the death of her parents at the hands of the AIs and another member of the squad whose fiancee was a captive of the Chigs after a distant Earth colony was attacked to start the war.

As with The X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond had its fair share of mystery and intrigue as well, though, lasting only one season, most of it never pays off. Most of the episodes were stand alone, connected by the overall arc of the war, so it was a series that you could get into without having seen it from the beginning. The special effects were very high quality – not a lot of reused shots in the battle scenes (Just how many times did the original Battlestar Galactica reuse the same battle scene, often in the same episode?). It’s nice to watch a scene with well done, practical effects and models rather than todays almost too slick CG. The acting was good, solid TV acting and the main actors did a good job of selling you characters with veteran actor James Morrison really owning the role of Col. T.C. McQueen, the commander of the 58th and also an Invitro.

Sadly, the series suffered from the beginning from being in that other Fox TV “time slot of death” – immediately after Sunday afternoon football. Sometimes it started on time, but often through the entire first half of the series, it was delayed, making it all but impossible to view in the pre-Tivo age of time shifting by VCR. Plus, while a dark, militaristic sci-fi show might seem like old hat now, this was pre-9/11 TV. At the time, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was just dipping its toes into darker, more serious stories and characters and the new Battlestar Galactica was years away. The story lines featuring intensely flawed main characters, intense battle scenes, stories of drug addiction and deciding whether the life of artificially created Invitros was worth the same as human life may have spooked some viewers who were just waiting for The Simpson.

I’m just finishing up re-watching the series. It still stands up, for the most part, after 18 years and America’s plunge into seemingly endless war. In fact, some parts of it are even more relevant today than they were when the series first aired. I could easily imagine this series being revived, the war still raging years later and some of the original characters brought back after rising through the echelons (or maybe not having so great a career in the years between). I think in the post Battlestar Galactica (new version) world of TV, it would work well.

The Dresden Files – The Sci-fi Channel (Not Syfy!), 2007-2008, 12 episodes (11 episodes, plus an unaired two-hour pilot which was whittled down to an hour and shown out of sequence..)

Okay. It’s an urban fantasy series, not science fiction. Still, the rules apply.

Based on the series of books by Jim Butcher, it focuses on a private detective in my second adopted home town of Chicago, who just also happens to be a wizard.

At first, I really didn’t have much interest in this series. I had never read the books and I wasn’t a real big fantasy fan, outside of Tolkien. But, in the pre-wrestling and reality TV days of the Sci-fi Channel, I’d give anything a try. Fortunately, and sadly, I did because this short-lived series proved to be greatly entertaining. Fortunate because I really came to enjoy the series and plan on getting to the book series soon. Plus, it really introduced me to the urban fiction genre, which I had paid almost no attention to previously. Unfortunate, because after its short run, I was left wanting more. So much more.

Harry Dresden, the down and out private eye and wizard, is greatly entertaining and Paul Blackthorne plays the role for all it’s worth. The stories are fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, just seriously enough.

It has been a while since I’ve re-watched the series, but it’s up soon on my rotation list and I’m looking forward to it. It was smart and clever. It took some of the best things about you average TV private eye and cop shows and mixed them with the fantastic in a way that complimented each.

The series had strong behind the scenes sci-fi and fantasy creds with Star Trek: TNG and DS9 veterans Hans Beimler and Robert Hewitt Wolfe serving as producer/writers. Plus, TNG and Generations director David Carson behind the camera on a couple of episodes. (Okay, maybe Generations isn’t the best sell for Carson. How about Yesterday’s Enterprise for TNG?)

Ultimately, The Dresden Files got dumped in favor of Eureka, which was a fun, enjoyable show, but not reality worth the trade to me. I think with the success of shows like Once Upon A Time and Grimm, The Dresden Files would be a great candidate for a reboot. I’d love to see Blackthorne reprise the role, but I also think it could be recast and be successful as well. But, like the original series, it would need to be handled with a light touch, humor and focus more on the story than on the fantasy.

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. – Fox (Surprised?), 1993-94, 27 episodes.

Bruce Campbell should be enough to sell this one.

But, you might be saying to yourself, self, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. isn’t really sci-fi or fantasy. It’s kind of a western comedy. Well, self, you’re wrong. While it is true toward the end of the series, it was headed in that direction, it definitely started off sci-fi with alien artifacts, people with fantastic powers and a mid-season twist, which I won’t give away, that is 100 percent sci-fi.

If that doesn’t sell you, think of Brisco as the 90s equivalent of The Wild, Wild West – the original, not the 1979 and 1980 TV movies and definitely not the Will Smith movie that’s just best forgotten about. See. I’ve forgotten already. I could definitely see a crossover with Brisco teaming up with James West and Artemis Gordon to go after Dr. Loveless, who has managed to get his hands on one of the golden orbs.

To give you a little background, Brisco County Jr. is the son of famed lawman Brisco County, who is killed by the Blye gang. Brisco Jr. is hired by a mysterious group to hunt down the gang, aided by former bounty hunter rival Lord Bowler,  trusty assistant Socrates Poole and, of course his horse Comet. Along the way, the find out about an otherworldly golden orb, fragments of which give people incredible powers. Joined occasionally by Prof. Wickwire (played by John Astin. I mean, come on! Bruce Campbell and John Astin together? How can you pass this up?), Brisco and friends find excitement, adventure and really wild things across the turn of the century west.

Though it started to change directions toward the end, and would have drastically changed in season two, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. was a well-writen, smart and clever show with a fantastic cast led by Campbell. Ultimately, it was done in by the fact that westerns really aren’t that popular with people. (And how long has it been since you’ve seen a western make much of a dent on TV?) Plus, the changes in the direction of the show, removing most of the sci-fi elements, probably scared off someof the audience, even though there was still plenty of steam punkishness scattered throughout.

Now twenty years gone, this is one show I don’t think could be brought back. Bruce Campbell might still be game, but Julius Carry, who played Lord Bowler, died in 2008.  Though he wasn’t a regular, John Astin was perfect sprinkled over the series run, but, at 83, I doubt he’s up to the challenge. Plus, seeing how the series was set close to the turn of the century, you’d have to move it forward too much to accommodate the aging of Campbell and Clarence Clemenson (Socrates). And a reboot? Forget it. Who could take Bruce Campbell’s place?

Sadly, this one falls into the”What could have been” file as opposed to the “What could still be” file.
So, those are three that I feel deserved better. There are many more, believe me, but these three are fresh on my mind. They say there’s no use crying over spilled milk (or beer,if you’d rather), but that doesn’t keep you from thinking about what it would be like to have another glass. I guess for now, I’ll watch the final season of Fringe when it arrives (haven’t seen it yet and don’t know how it ends, so, hush!) and just be glad Fox gave it a chance to wrap up so it won’t be on any future lists.

Posted by: jgurner | July 26, 2012

When Is Closure Not Closure At All?

For a while over the past year or so, I had the feeling I needed to confront a section of my past I have been reluctant to confront. It was a fairly large part, almost a quarter of my life so far. Like any part of one’s life, it was fraught with conflicting emotions, complex relationship issues, happiness, sadness, anger and peace. For a number of years, there was an entire decade-plus of my existence I just really didn’t want to deal with because of the complexities of dealing with it.

But, slowly, I began to get the idea that I might be able to at least begin to make peace with this time of my life in some small way. Tackling it as a whole seemed too formidable, but maybe some small act could bring some bit of closure.

In July of 1993 I took a job with The Amory Advertiser, located in Monroe County. I was the news and sports editor for the publication. Newly married, I moved to the community and began my career in the newspaper business in true. Three years later, I moved to the Advertiser’s sister paper, The Aberdeen Examiner. We moved from Amory to Aberdeen, bought a house and would spent just a little over eight years of our lives living and working in and around both towns and the county. When we left, we had lived in Monroe County just one month under 11 years.

Life during that period was trying. The job, over the years, evolved into something I came to loath. It was a decade of severe financial strains, partly self-inflicted by us both and partly due to bad luck. My marriage… Let’s lust say it wasn’t what I thought it would be.

When I left in the summer of 2004, I almost couldn’t believe it. It felt like I was released from captivity. It was like emerging from a long, dark tunnel. September of 2004, when we drove over to Aberdeen to sign the papers that would finalize the sale of our house, was the last time I’d set foot in Monroe County. It’s not that far away: and easy hour and a half drive. But for me, it seemed best to pretend that part of my life took place thousands of miles away in another part of the world.

Yesterday, though, everything changed.

The feeling inside that I needed some kind of closure on that chapter of my life continued to grow until finely I decided I needed to take action. I had mentioned all of this before and Anita had encouraged me to make a return trip if I felt like I needed to. So, finally, I made the decisions it was time and we loaded up and began the journey.

Any time you revisit something from your past you find some things change, some don’t. And in this trip back into a portion of my history – seeing the changes in the newspaper I where I had my first “real” job, seeing the first house I lived in there and the first and so far only house I’ve bought, riding through the streets that were at the time so familiar, I began to realize something. It was nebulous at first, but it began to congeal on the ride home. This wasn’t a trip about the past, it was a trip about the future. And it wasn’t closure I needed. I needed to know it was okay to embrace that part of my existence and to not avoid it.

The world as it was from July 1993 to June 2004 doesn’t exist any more. The job is gone. The newspapers are gone, merged into a single history-less, generic publication. The houses belong to other people. Even the pets from those days, which made life a little more bearable, are gone. And the marriage, it ran its course.

I had started the day hoping by the end of the trip I would have found some small measure of closure, but, as it turns out, I never really needed it. It was an illusion trumped up in my mind. I thought if  I drove the streets once so familiar, walked through the offices where I spent so much time, saw the places I used to live, I would be able to put it all behind me and the demons that have been poking at my subconscious might just stop. But what actually happened is I came to the realization I need to do the opposite. Instead of pushing that time of my life into the recesses of my mental closet, I need to bring it forth and embrace it. And I need to change the way I look at it.

Instead of simply remembering it as a time of strife, I need to remember there were plenty of times of joy. There were plenty of times I was proud to be doing the job I was doing. There were times my marriage was happy and peaceful. There were people I got to know and become friends with. It was a very dark time in my life, but it wasn’t just a dark time, and in my effort to try my best to avoid this sizable portion of my existence, I seem to have lost sight of that.

Where I go from here, I don’t have a clue. I may never set foot over in that area that played such a big part of my life again, but at least now I know it’s okay if I don’t. Maybe this will eventually lead me to reconcile my feelings and thoughts about other parts of my life from those days. Right now, I just don’t know. I do know that instead of being the ending I though it would be, yesterday’s pilgrimage was only the beginning, but I think with that beginning, I’ll be able to rest a little easier now.

Posted by: jgurner | May 9, 2012

Writing about Writing

The last few months, I have returned to my first love – writing.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve always loved to read and always thought it would be cool to be able to tell stories that could be enjoyed by countless people for years to come. That eventually led me to want to become a journalist, also at a very young age. (How many kids do you know who want to play “newspaper reporter?”) It always amazed me how these people could write things, from all over the world, and I would be reading them in the morning papers. (Yes, I was reading the paper before going to elementary school.)

As a kid, I would fill up notebook after notebook with stories, along with the illustrations to go with them. I remember one epic saga, written in the third grade, that filled an entire notebook with the tale of me and several of my friends and our adventures – traveling though time, going to Mars, drilling to the center of the Earth where the dinosaurs lived, etc. As I got a little older and started to read Asimov, Heinlein, Burroughs and, especially Douglas Adams, I knew if I was going to write, I wanted to write science fiction. Not a real surprise to anyone who knew me as a kid, or as an “adult.” By junior high I had a typewrite and I produced plenty of starts to stories, nothing overly original, and nothing that went beyond a few pages before I’d get bored.

Once I reached high school, the French horn and the computer intervened. The French horn had been around since the fifth grade, but it didn’t really get appealing until high school. That’s when music began to slowly push writing to the side as a focus for my attention. I still wrote, but less and less, and that desire to be a writer or a journalist turned into a desire to do something with music. I was pretty sure being a performer wasn’t in the cards, but a band director was a distinct possibility. So that’s where my sights were set.

Then, along came the Texas Instruments 99/4A.

My oldest brother convinced my parents to get me a computer when I was a junior in high school. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked. I still loved the French horn and music, but my sights changed and by the time I enrolled in college, music was out and journalism and writing weren’t even on the radar any more. But, my fling with computers turned out to be a very on-again, off-again affair. By April of my sophomore year, I had cooled on computer as a career and was once again searching for some kind of direction. I had ruled music out. I knew it wouldn’t be a good fit for me as a career. I toyed with business, but again, not even close to being a fit.

Then, on April 8, 1987 – my birthday – I walk out of the computer lab at Ole Miss after an all-nighter early in the unseasonably cold morning and notice a few flakes of snow falling. To this day, I don’t know why, but while watching the flakes fall, bleary-eyed, I decided it was time to go back to that first love – writing. In particular, to journalism. By that afternoon, I had met with the head of the journalism department on campus and, when I came back to school in the fall, my major would officially be journalism. (Actually it was a Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in journalism, since, at the time, Ole Miss didn’t actually offer a journalism degree).

Fast forward 16 years. I wrote a lot, including some fiction – short stories, starts to novels, etc. – but mostly, I was busy playing mild-mannered reporter. Then, I escaped. The trials and tribulations of the newspaper career and its aftermath are stories I’ve told before and stories still yet to be told. But, in 2004, I walked away from writing. This time completely.

Two things pulled me away from that first love. The first was the bitter taste left by my career in the newspaper business. The second was because of Steve Jobs.

In January of 2004, Apple, its resurgence really rolling under Jobs, introduced a piece of software called GarageBand that allowed the user to use their computer as a recording studio. I had played with the rock star delusion for a while in college and loved the thought of being able to record my own music. So, I was hooked.

A new job allowed me to pack up much of my former life and writing, for almost a decade, stayed packed away with so many books and trinkets that were never unpacked and left in some forgotten corner in a storage room somewhere. Music ruled. Especially when I began to share my music with people on-line and their ears didn’t start bleeding after they listened to it. Music gave me an immediate satisfaction I never really got with writing. As a reporter I’d see my words in print each week, but it wasn’t really very satisfying. I wrote stories that were interesting and that I was extremely proud of. I wrote columns that were important, funny, informative. I won awards. Still, the things I was writing weren’t the things I really wanted to write. When I made music, I said the things I wanted to say. The songs incorporated the words and emotions I wanted to convey. And, thanks to that floozie the computer coming back into my life, I could create and share, sometimes in just a very few hours.

And music continued to rule. It helped me through a drastic change in career. It helped me through the few very happy months afterward. It helped me through the long, terrible unhappy months that followed. And it helped me get back on my feet once it was all over. It had secured its place as my big “L” love. My one and only.

Then came the seven-year itch.

Okay, maybe things weren’t all rosy with me and music. Things were a little dull at times. We’d go through the same old routines. “Why do you have to use an A minor chord in EVERYTHING you do?” “Didn’t you already use this line in a another tune?” “*sigh* Can’t you PLEASE use a different setting for your guitar?”

Music and I tried to spice things up.  We brought in toys – an accordion, a theremin, five strong bass, etc. – and they would provide a brief diversion, but the excitement and novelty was short-lived and routine would set back in. We even tried a little role-playing, a not-so-secret secret musical identity. It helped for a while, but still, the spark faded pretty quickly.

Then, out of the blue, while there was a long “dry spell” between music and me, that old flame, my first love, writing, shows up out of nowhere. It was an idea for a story and I decided to just write it down as an outline, as I had done many, many times over the years. It was just going to be a one-time thing. Just until music and I got back into our groove.

But, that one-time thing as it turns out, rekindled my passion. An outline turned into a chapter, then another, then another. Then, it stopped. I ran into that old foe – boredom, apathy, whatever you want to call it. It always seemed there to pounce on any long-term relationship I ever had with writing. Dozens and dozens of outlines and ideas cast aside over the years. Short stories abandoned. Ideas for novels that never got past a page or two. Nothing ever finished.

Music stepped back in. One day – one song. Instant gratification. But there was that itch I knew I needed to scratch.

So, music and I had “The Talk.” It’s not you, it’s me. I just need some space. We’ll always be friends. And I put away the instruments and committed completely to that first love, writing.

It’s been four months now. And in that time, I accomplished something I’ve never accomplished before in my writing – I completed a novel length manuscript. More than anything, it was a test I put myself through just to prove I could do it. As it stands now, it’s 125,218 words long and I’m just through editing the first few chapters. My original goal was just to finish writing the complete story. I did it. Now, my goal is to get it edited to a point where I might actually let someone else read it and critique it.

I’ve realized that even though writing was my first love, this is an entirely new relationship between the two of us. I know what I can do now. I know I can finish something I start. I also know that not everything I start is destined to be finished. You can look on my music hard drive and there is file after file of unfinished songs.

And, as for music, let’s just say the three of us have come to an understanding. It’s kind of an open thing between us all. I mean, sometimes you get an itch only a guitar can scratch…

Will my new relationship with writing last? Will music win my whole heart again? How long can I juggle this artistic three-way? How long can I keep up the thinly veiled sexual metaphors?

I guess you’ll just have to wait for the next chapter.

Posted by: jgurner | June 4, 2011

Review – X-Men: First Class

It still takes some getting used to to think that we now live in a world where comic book movies are serious works, with real, solid scripts, top shelf actors and audience interest beyond 13-year-old boys and 32-year-old men who still live in the basement of their parent’s home. But that’s the world we live in (for the most part) and it’s great. The truly good ones manage to walk that fine line between making the fanboys happy and appealing to a wider audience who have never cracked open a comic book and it seems to be happening more and more these days.

Some have gotten it right more than others. Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Iron Man and the first two X-Men movies come to mind. One of the things that make these films so good is spot-on casting. I mean, could you see anyone besides Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark? Or Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Professor X and Magneto. Like I said, it’s a balancing act to get it right to begin with and even more when you start tinkering by, say, casting younger versions of characters you got exactly right the first time.

That is one of two things X-Men: First Class <i>had</i> to get right.

And it did.

Every bit as much as Stewart and McKellen took the roles of Professor X and Magneto and made them their own, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender make you believe that not only are THEY Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr but, when they grow up, they will be Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as well. Both are great in their roles, but Fassbender really shines. He does what Zachary Quito did with Spock in J.J. Abrams Star Trek – he becomes both the character and the more famous actor who originally played the character. More than that, they captured the chemistry  established by the earlier actors as well.

The second element that had to be right was the story.

X-Men: First Class is not a story about superheroes or super powers. It’s not about how The X-Men came to be. It’s about Charles and Erik, two men who become friends – brothers – but two friends who are ultimately going to be forced into different, conflicted paths because of the events which formed their lives. Sure, they do it while wearing bright yellow spandex, but, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. All the rest is decoration, really, but they do that well as well.

The plot is woven in and around the Cuban Missile Crises, with Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon in another great casting move)  as the big bad, who just happened to be young Erik Lehnsherr’s mentor/tormentor as a young boy in a German concentration camp. It hits hard on the theme of prejudice which has always been a staple of The X-Men and which, ultimately, is what draws the divide between Erik and Charles. While there is plenty of action and great effects, it doesn’t get bogged down in long action sequences or super-powered fights that go on forever and accomplish nothing. The movie has a lot of ground to cover and covers it well. Really the only weak part is the training montage, where Charles and Erik are training the new recruits before they go after Shaw. It gets a little cheesy.

I don’t know enough about the complex, convoluted and conflicting origin of The X-Men to be able to judge it from a comic book stand point. I recognized some of the other characters – Mystique, Beast – but weren’t really familiar with the others. Honestly, from reading my older brothers’ comics, I remember The X-Men being Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast (not blue and hairy), Angel and Iceman. Past that, I’m kind of at a loss. But, really, I don’t guess it matters, with the exception of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), it doesn’t really matter so much to the story.

As much as I liked the first two X-Men movies (I actually enjoyed the third one as well, but it wasn’t even close to the first two. But it was miles better than the 20 minutes or so I saw of the Wolverine movie), I would have to say X-Men: First Class edges out as my favorite of the franchise. It hits on all cylinders – a good story, great performances by McAvoy and Fassbender, and not too excessive on the superhero slug outs. I know there will be more movies in the X-Men franchise coming. Let’s hope they look back to this one in order to get it right.

Posted by: jgurner | May 28, 2011

Review – The Hangover: Part II

Two things right off the cuff:

First – If you didn’t care for the original movie, you won’t like this one because…

Second – If you saw the first movie, then you’ve pretty much seen this one, only, it doesn’t matter, you will still be laughing your ass off all the way through.

Yes, another member of the “Wolf Pack,” as the group is called by Zach Galafen… Galofan… Galifianakis’ character Alan, is getting married. This time it’s mild-mannered dentist Stu – Ed Helms. Naturally his bride to be is from Thailand and of course he’s going to have his two best friends Phil and Doug – Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha – as part of the wedding. Stu’s idea of a bachelor party is brunch at iHop, but Phil has other ideas. But, as the wedding day approaches and the three head to Thailand, with Alan in tow because they feel sorry for him, it looks like it’s just going to be a boring old wedding against the exotic backdrop of the Orient.

I bet you can’t guess what happens next…

Whether you can or can’t it doesn’t matter. Hangover II still works. There’s some new blood, Ang Lee’s son Mason as Teddy, Stu’s 16-year-old future brother-in-law. And more returning characters – Ken Jeong back as Mr. Chow. And, of course Bangkok replaces Vegas. Even though it covers some familiar territory the frenetic nature of the story and the uncomfortableness of the humor keep it fresh. There are some surprises along the way and some of the really, really, wrong humor from the first movie is turned up a notch or two.

This is one of those movies I really can’t wait to see on DVD because I missed  a lot of the lines because the crowd, and me, was laughing so hard.

Todd Phillpis has managed to strike gold twice with the Hangover premise. You know The Hangover: Part III is coming. The question is can he do it again, or will it be as funny as a real hangover…

Posted by: jgurner | May 25, 2011


What do you do when it’s 1 a.m., you”re pretty sure you won’t be getting any sleep soon, and your Interwebs are still out? (Lightning apparently knocked out the series of tubes connecting the Interwebs to my house.)

If you’re me, you download crap to your iPhone. And watch either the Star Wars trilogy or the Family Guy Star Wars trilogy.

On this particular insomniatic night, I found the app where I could access and update my blog. So, this is me blogging from my iPhone.

And this is me finishing this post. Time for The Empire Strikes Back.

Posted by: jgurner | May 24, 2011

The Cheap Bin – The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anita and I pull a lot of movies from the various DVD “cheap bins.” Quite often, they are movies we’ve never even heard of or may have only heard the name. Sometimes we decide to get it because of the cast, or the blurb on the case or we thought we heard something good about the movie. Sometimes I don’t have a clue why we get them. But, since these are often the bulk of the movies we watch, I thought I’d start doing an occasional review. Often, these movies are years, even decades old, but, it’s nice to take a look back at something that might actually be really, really good (or not).

The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag


Starring: Alfre Woodard, Penelope Ann Miller, Eric Thal

Directed By: Allen Moyle; Written By: Grace Cary Bickley

Wal-Mart – $3 (Double DVD with Gross Anatomy)

No one should watch this movie unless: You’ve lived in Oxford, Mississippi and want to see the Square, some of the houses, University Avenue or The Gin (Man, I miss The Gin) in a movie; You actually lived in Oxford when this movie was made and want to relive the memories of major streets being closed down for days at a time, not seeing any of the stars out and about, city hall or The Gin or other buildings and businesses closed while filming was being done; You lived in Oxford and want to freeze frame the movie so you can see people you actually know as extras in crowd scenes; You lived in Oxford and actually got to go to the non-star-studded premier; You live anywhere and like to do things like stick needles under your toe nails, rake your fingernails across chalkboards, roll around in brier patches or chew on razor blades.

This is one of two movies that were filmed in Oxford during the decade or so I was in college. The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag makes Heart of Dixie (the other movie) look like Citizen Kane. Both movies used The Gin the preferred watering hole for much of the college crowd at the time, the City Hall (as a police station and as college newspaper office, respectively) and the Rebel Inn. And in both movies, while being filmed in the heart of Mississippi culture, the home of William Faulkner, the stories were based in other states – Missouri and Alabama.

The basic idea for the movie isn’t necessarily a bad one – a meek, small town woman, ignored and put upon by everyone around her – gets swept up in an uproar over some event totally unconnected to her and becomes an entirely different person – assertive, more worldly, in control of her own life. This movie took the idea and did less with it than would your typical Lifetime movie and, with the exception of Alfre Woodard and Julianne Moore (in a minor role) has pretty much a Lifetime movie level cast.

And I’m not even going to start on the Southern accents. Please, Hollywood, if you need someone who speaks with a Southern accent, get a Southern actor or at least get one from Ireland or Australia. They’re really good at it.

This is not by any means the worst movie I have in my collection, but it’s close.

Posted by: jgurner | May 23, 2011

Dear Interwebs…

…I know you’re just looking out for my best interest, but, I have to tell you, all the things you want me to update, well, it’s just not possible.

I know you really, really want me to upgrade to the newest edition of this web browser or that media player and I’m sure it would be for my own good. But you see Interwebs, the eMac I’m using at work is about 70 years old in dog years and probably much, much older in computer years. It might as well have a hand crank to start it up and run on steam power

But, you see, even though it works great, there’s really only so much it can do, especially when it comes to prowling around on the Wide World or Interwebs. It’s kinda slow and takes a while to get where it’s going, but it’s still getting me there. But, it’s upgraded as far as it will go.

So, if you don’t mind, you can just stop telling me my software is out of date, thankyouverymuch. You’re just making my computer feel really old.

Posted by: jgurner | May 21, 2011

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along…?

It happened while we were standing in the express lane line at a local business. I’ll call it Xal-Nart, but the name really isn’t important.

As we set our few, meager purchases, sinus medicine, flea spray for the dog, garden supplies – again, not really important – on the counter, we were discussing an article Anita had read about people who loved the original trilogy but didn’t like the new Star Wars movies. (I guess Eps. I-III will always be the “new” Star Wars movies. At least until Lucas put out Eps. VII-IX like he promised all those decades ago.)

At the mention of the words “Star” and “Wars,” the boy-child manning the register perked up. “Do you guys like Star Wars?” he asked in a manner that really said “Oh wow! People as old, as ancient and decrepit as these two like something as cool, hip and trendy as Star Wars!”

We acknowledged that we did, indeed, enjoy the Star Wars and a look of joy began to spread across the face of this young, wholesome refugee from a Norman Rockwell jpeg. He began to proclaim his love for this Lucasian manna from Heaven. When he finally took a break to give us our total – $34.97, and, again, that’s totally irrelivant – glowing with the light of a new-found kinship, I endeavoured to continue the conversation.

“Yeah, I love Star Wars, but, I’ve always been more of a Trekkie.” (And, yes, I prefer “Trekkie” to “Trekker” which, in some circles has become the preferred reference. Splitters!)

At that very second, the glowing face of the man-child froze into a mask of unadulterated hatred and hostility. Dark, thunderous clouds began to gather behind him. The lights in Xal-Nart began to dim and shower sparks down upon us from high above. A sudden chilling wind began whipping around us like a dark foreboding of evil which was yet to come.

“Oh,” said the man-child. Images of he tortures and agonies he was perpetrating on me in his mind were reflected in his eyes. A dark, deadly silence followed, followed by a darker and deadlier “I see.”

Knowing that the putrid, scaly claws of this evil thing were hovering above the keys of the register which, if pressed, would add another $3,000 tot our total in unpurchased knitting items, car interior deodorants and feminine hygiene supplies, I sought to once again get the upper hand.

Determined to get the upper hand, I added in a manner dismissing this infant “Yeah, I grew up watching the original Star Trek. The first Star Wars movie didn’t come out until I was 11, so I was pretty raised on Trek.” In one fell swoop, I let the youngling know I was his Master. I was both Obi Wan and Christopher Pike. I gained my power from the Source, while he had suckled the stale and sour milk of Jar Jar Binks and Clone Troopers.

The effect was as if Gandalf drew the mighty Glamdring and held it high above his head in order to slay the Balrog, only to find it had been reduced to a miserable little river troll.

I took the spoils of our shopping trek, which also included a DVD from the $5 bin – again, not important. The deflated man-boy could only utter a shallow, defeated “Next please” in our triumphant wake.

As we left, however, I was troubled.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, this Lucasian Acolyte had suddenly become my enemy. I had heard about this rift between those who worshiped at the altar of the Great Bird of the Galaxy and those who follow the Great Bearded One, but I had never before experienced it.

From the dawn of time, the two tribes were one. Klingon and Stormtrooper would break bread together. The Targ would lay down with the Ewok. It was a glorious time. A time of peace.

But now, for some reason, like East Coast and West Coast rappers, there has been a tear in the fabric which once held us all together. We no longer stand together against the true enemy – jocks – but we aim our phasers and blasters at each other.

I say to you my brothers… and sisters, but we all know it’s mostly brothers… Let any rift between us be healed. What ever grievances we had against one another in the past let the wind-blown sands, whether they be the sands of Tatooine or Ceti Alpha V, wear away this conflict between us.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy and Luke Han and Leia are all strong on their own, but imagine the power they would have together. And not in some kind of alternate universe cross-over kind of way, but  in a metaphoric, but real-life kind of way. Though, it would be cool if there could be some kind of cross-over where they were in the same universe. Even better, it could be caused by an Ancient device that, when brought into contact with the Stargate, ripped open the barrier between all three realities… but I digress.

It is our differences, our diversity – whether we be Federation or Republic, Gungan or Orion, R2 blue or R4 red unit or black/white or white/black – that makes us stronger.

I’m willing to be the first to reach out, Trekkie to Fanboy. Ask yourself – WWYD? What would Yoda do?

Posted by: jgurner | May 21, 2011

Review – Bridesmaids

All things being equal, I would never go see a movie titled “Bridesmaids.” It, at best, would have  been a movie I’d be forced to endure during one of those junk food and beer, chick flick-fueled post boyfriend breakup weekends I used to spend with a friend of mine (you know who you are…)

But, all things aren’t equal that I didn’t get dragged to see. It was a movie I WANTED to see.

On paper, Bridesmaids sounds like your typical chick flick. Annie (Kristen Wiig) is down on her luck. Her bakery went under a couple of years ago. She’s in a dead-end job she doesn’t want. She shares an apartment with a strange brother and sister and her romantic life consists of being a semi-regular booty call for a rich, good looking asshole. Then, her best friend from childhood, Lillian, gets engaged and Annie is the maid of honor. That’s where the fun begins.

Early on what piqued my interest in this movie was its Judd Aptow pedigree. He’s has a string a really great comedies over the past few years and I wondered if he could accomplish that without Seth Rogen. Plus, the first preview looked very promising. However, be warned, the trailers make it out to be a female version of The Hangover, but it’s not.

Bridesmaids is that rare beast. More rare than the love child of a unicorn and a white buffalo. It is an often hilarious, often raunchy film that blends the elements found in movies like The Hangover, Knocked Up and other recent comedies with those of a chick flick and even a little buddy movie sprinkled in.

The best review I’ve read of it so far was “Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.”

Casting helps make the movie as well. Wiig and Rudolph cut their teeth on Saturday Nigh Live and work well together. Also, interesting choices in some of the supporting cast make the movie fun. Namely Chris O’dowd as Rhodes, Annie’s inevitable love interest, and Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson as the strange apartment mates. O’dowd is best know (by me, anyway) from the Brit-com The IT Crowd, wich is so funny I have literally hurt myself from laughing. Lucas has been in a ton of stuff, but my fav is Little Brittan, which is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

The show stealer, however, is Melissa McCarthy. She’s definitely the “one of these things is not like the other” of the group of bridesmaids and she definitely gets the biggest laughs of the entire movie.

Bridesmaids isn’t perfect. The pacing gets off in the middle a bit and it drags from time to time, it also gets a little bit too “sweet” and formulaic for my taste, but the chemistry of the cast, along with a really sharp script make up for it. Definitely a good “date” movie.

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