Category Archives: major television series

Reid Ewing’s recent podcast interview ties a lot of themes in psychology and art together

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I found an interesting podcast recorded by Dr. Dave Verhaagen and his Champion of Mental Health award, of actor Reid Ewing.  The article is here, and the podcast, running 40 minutes (worth it to listen to in entirety) here.

Reid was known as the handsome, lanky and goofy character Dylan for some time on Modern Family. He has starred in several comedies, in the horror “Fright Night”, the web sci-fi comedy TV series “The Power Inside”, and has made a number of music videos, like “Traffic Jam”, and an intriguing three-part series of short films “It’s Free” in mockumentary style, but somehow tied up with a company Igigi Studios.

Reid, now 27, got media coverage in November 2015 with his essay in the Huffington Post disclosing a previous issue with body dysmorphia.  He also announced on Twitter, almost as an afterthought, that he is gay, saying “I was never in”, Advocate story.

The podcast is interesting to me for several details.  I’ll leave the reader to listen to Reid explaining his own account of the experience, as well as his situation now as a college student and his circumstances in the film world (toward the end of the interview). If I understood right, his father of the same name is a well-known professor of city planning in Utah.

Also, before moving on with my own perspective, let me note that some of this is not about Reid (or me),  It’s a biological fact it takes until around age 25-28 for the brain to be fully grown.  Chess players reach their biological peak at about age 30.  By the mid 20s, people often wonder how they were taken in and manipulated by others promoting certain ideas (about body image, for example) when they were teenagers.  He even mentions wanting a “conversation with his younger self”, right out of relativity.

Now, I did want to note that as a young man I experienced a kind of dysmorphia, but it was expressed in almost a flip-side manner of what he describes.  While I was sexually attracted to young men who fit a certain cultural stereotype of “masculinity”, I was surprisingly disconnected from awareness of my own personal appearance and of my own body most of the time.  By the time I started paying a lot more attention in later middle age, it was already “too late”, as I had melted away.  Reid’s own report of dysmorphia might seem surprising in light of his MF YouTube video “Imagine Me Naked” (2011), not as well known (also from Modern Family) as his song “In the Moonlight (Do Me)”, which actually works as a music prelude if you play the music alone by ear on a church organ (without the words). The “naked” does have telling lyrics, talking about never having to “fake it.”

His comments bear a certain relevance to the topic of psychological growth, the way it has been discussed at the Ninth Street Center in New York City, now known as a remnant, the Paul Rosenfels Community.  Rosenfels had developed the theory of character specialization or “polarities” (masculine and feminine, power-love, right-truth, objective-subjective, unbalanced-balanced, fun-pleasure, masochism-sadism, guilt-shame, and other axes).  Rosenfels’s analytic writing style follows from Eric Hoffer, and is best known for his 1971 book “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process” (earlier review ).   In 1986, the Center made a black-and-white video “The Paul Rosenfels Video Anthology”, of which it printed a DVD in 1998, about an hour of talk-group footage.

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The Center opened in 1972 and remained so until 1991, between 2nd and 3rd avenues on E 9th Street in the East Village.  (I think Matt Damon and Anderson Cooper live somewhere in the general area and may be familiar with the history of the place.) The space had two basement rooms.  Originally, there were talk groups on Wednesday and Friday nights, and an acting class on Mondays, and potluck suppers on Saturday.  Over time, the talk groups expanded.

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Reid mentions acting as if it were therapeutic, as he can become someone else and leave his own issues with the self and body image.  I have heard other actors (mostly stage) say similar things, especially at the Center in NYC, and later hanging out with IFP-MSP in Minneapolis and later Reel Affirmations in Washington (and even when visiting Mark Parrish [“Jerome’s Razor” and “Mustang Sally”] one time in Boston).  Reid expresses a healthy skepticism of established authority, as to “what truth they are speaking to”.  (Moral “right” is complementary to human “truth” in the Rosenfels polarity system.)

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I’ll mention a couple other things.  Reid is passionate about animals, and adopts dogs, and his twitter feed shows life with dogs and at least one very venturesome cat. Actor Jesse Eisenberg is mentioned in Wikipedia as having a similar interest in rescuing cats.  (Dogs and cats both learn to recognize the unique electromagnetic signature of the heartbeat of their owners, and find it stimulating.)  His Twitter feed has always contained a lot of drawings and mentions of literary subjects, and lately has been communicating a lot of material from Japanese manga, especially Danganronpa, where he adopts the names of some characters.   The podcast, toward the end, mentions the Japanese film ( 2000)  “Battle Royale”, which anticipates “The hunger Games” but that has some unusual storytelling structures (my review   has already attracted unusual volume of hits).

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With Danganronpa, as with other PlayStation games, people make “movies” or “web series” out of games played out with the characters.  I suppose a movie distributor or theater chain could buy a license to offer some of these in game film festivals.  I’m not a gamer myself, simply because there isn’t time in life for everything.


A lead good guy in “The Event”  Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) is a gamer who doesn’t know that he is actually an extraterrestrial alien with powers and who will not age.

I do mean this as a complement (or complment?)  Could Reid host SNL on NBC?  As Dylan?  As Mikan or Reba?  Maybe do a satire on how so many people want everything in life to be “free”?  But the problem is, that sounds like satire that would please conservatives (or maybe pseudo’s like Donald Trump as well as the “little Rubio’s” of the world).  Or maybe libertarians, best of all.  It’s hard to get tickets to SNL if you do the Amtrak Acela routine.  I’d love to get the same hotel room in the Yotel or Iriquois.

(Published Saturday March 19, 2016 at 11:30 PM EDT; some photos come from my just-moved train set, which is supposed to model the rama-like space station for my own screenplay, “DADT Ephiphany”)

“Angel’s Brother” (i)FAQ

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I’m opening a new page to pose some “infrequently asked questions” about the plot and concept of my novel “Angel’s Brother”.

(1)  Is the character Bill Ldzett “you”, and exactly what happens in the physical transformations that he undergoes in the latter chapters of the novel?

Yes (or “yeth”) Bill is based on “me”.  Bill is a pivot point character, someone not self-qualified for angelhood, but almost, a kind of shaman, with a touch of arsenic, both metal and non-metal.  Perhaps his physical transformations are a generalization of trans-genderism.  Bill’s writings guide the fibbies in their understanding of the coming “alien” invasion which has set up shop in a station on Titan (moon of Saturn).

After Sal (who has become an angel but doesn’t quite know it for sure yet) shaves Bill down in a motel room near the Academy (in West Texas), Bill’s body undergoes further spontaneous change.  The “moon-face” is something that could happen from steroids. He looks like a younger man for a while, and enjoys rejuvenation.  He inadvertently steals some sundries from a nearby convenience store, and suddenly finds the sheriff is after him.  Apparently, the appearance didn’t fool the cops.

He is out on bond, and goes to the “immolation” in Wisconsin, where he meets up with (finally) an arranged girl friend. Tovina.  But during the ceremony, he learns to tumble (like learning to swim and “arch his back”, he thinks), and seems to fly over the ceremony, with his “beady, roving eye” (referring to the 50s horror film “The Crawling Eye” — Bill seems obscured by a cloud at times, and although there are no decapitations, other people are affected by the rituals — maybe a taste of “Invasion of the Animal People“, too).

Back at his trial in Texas, he goes bonkers again after conviction, and escapes, winding up in a sanctuary in the Davis Mountains in West Texas before being brought back for the UFO departure from West Virginia (over a scalped mountaintop) at the end.

(2) What causes the EMP effects?

Because the virus that transmits identities embeds a micro black hole, which can evaporate, there are effects on surrounding areas sometimes.  The convenience store has a breakdown when Bill visits it the second time (a factor in the testimony).  Sal reports that newer computers have become unstable and a couple of power glitches have happened at Academy when he visits.  But after the immolation, there is widespread damage to power systems and electronics in western Wisconsin to Minneapolis, and then sporadically town to Texas.  Repairs for people take some weeks.

Then the outages get larger, about the time the first “flight” leaves to take the candidates to Titan,

(3) Doesn’t the novel show the “strong” (young adults able to become angels) escaping while the “weak” perish?  Isn’t this a socially hostile message for a novel?

You could raise that question about the NBC series “Revolution“.  In the world that follows (where the country breaks down into separate republics) some people do well, others don’t, in a new order, that is low-tech, some new leaders emerge.  But I don’t show that here.  In the longer version of the novel, many of the characters join a public trek from high altitudes East, and stop at recovery or aid centers.  I don’t show that in the current version, but do refer to it.

But it’s true that many people infected by the “virus”, which first surfaces in the Colorado high country, deteriorate and perish.  But this is what happens with epidemics.  What’s different is that this virus seems to discriminate on who it likes.

It does seem, though, that the “angels” are losing interest in reproduction, and are more concerned with developing supernatural virue in young adults who already exist.  That is indeed a bias.

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(4) Most of the evidence that attracts the CIA and other intelligence services seems to be obtained by hacking Bill’s unpublished writings (first by Sal, then Randy after he learns how).  Is this supported by any real evidence?

Randy is sent on the trip to meet Sal in Poland (as the book starts), and then go to St. Petersburg, Russia, and then the Finnish border area, both sides, near sites where the former Soviet Union kept unusual nuclear waste.  (This idea has appeared in other films, like The Return (2003)). Randy is given an artifact by a kind of double agent, and the artifact is sent to the US nuclear waste facility. Bill is given the clandestine task of transporting a tiny sample to the Academy in Texas.  That sample seems to confer “powers” to Bill later, and possibly Sal.

There is some concern in some intelligence circles that Putin could become aggressive against Finland.  The only hack on one of my sites in 2002 left jibberish on my file about this area of the world, and it has never been explained.

(5) What would happen to “ordinary people” in the US after the UFO landing and takeoff at the end?

Various areas of the country are put out of function by the loss of electricity, but some areas are OK.  The government had already started evacuating some mountain areas because of the “virus” before the EMP’s hit near the end.  Randy encounters one of these evacuation centers near the Academy briefly in Chapter 26.

In such a world, the US could dissolve (as it does in the NBC “Revolution”) or there might be efforts to resettle people and have others “host” them.  As with Chekhov, people would have to go on living.

People would tend to believe in the “angels” as a source of religious authority, and tend to believe that their lives were no longer in their own hands, much as was the case in ancient times.

 

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(6) What’s the overall strategy for hacking into Bill’s manuscripts and putting together the pieces?

Sal, as an undergraduate, has been hired by the “CIA” to hack them. Later Randy (actually an agent, post-military) learns to hack, partly from Sal, and finds more.  Later a lot of backstories emerge from conversations with Amos, Frankie (head of the Academy), Ali, and the Toby and Shelia (supposedly “parents” of Matt, the one proven ET angel at the time of the novel).

(Published: Friday, May 29, 2015, 4 PM EDT)

(Major update: June 5, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT)

 

“Days of our Lives”: a soap that has explored some daring topics

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When I was working respectable career jobs during the week, I never watched soaps.  But after I came back to Arlington to at the start of September, 2003 and “lived with my Mother” again (when I was already 60 and she was 89, to pass in 2010) I was home during the day a lot more often (except when substitute teaching) and got to know some of the soaps, especially NBC-Corday’s “Days of our Lives” and “Passions“.  In fact, in 2003, “Port Charles” was also on at 12:30 PM, just half-hour episodes, and it went off the air with a woman marrying a vampire who could disguise himself as a tiger.

Mother had watched it often and explained it as a “story of a family”.  In fact, there are four main families: The Horton’s, the DiMera’s, the Black’s and the Brady’s.  Behind the scenes is Stefano DiMera, the Ohio Mafia crime boss (Joseph Mascolo), ruling the world like a shiek.  I say Ohio because places in the middle of the state used to be often mentioned. Salem is the site of the soap, which is actually a small town in eastern Ohio.  Cleveland, Chicago, and Indianapolis often get mentioned.  So does Statesville Prison, but that is in North Carolina! (although I understand there is one in Illinois,, too.)

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In 2004, a lot of the storyline concerned the “Salem Stalker”, Marlena (Deidre Hall), a psychiatrist whom mother said was “off her rocker”.  A favorite couple was Belle and Shawn.  Another was Lucas and Sami Brady.  Sami (Allison Sweeney) , known for her “selfishness”, is one of the show’s ratings-earning characters, but it has been reported that she won’t be on much longer. Suddenly, many of Marlena’s victims were resurrected and placed on a Caribbean island set up as a replica of Salem.  The a plot thread developed about their escape, much of it dealing with Jack Deveraux (Matthew Ashford).  A character named John Black (Drake Hogestyn) works for the “ISI” which sounds like the CIA, NSA and FBI combined, as if the CIA really did have domestic authority (an important concept in fiction, as in my own novel — it would need to if extraterrestrials were to land, for example).  Jack perished and did not return, and his widow Jennifer (Melissa Reeves) has become visible as a business executive and the mother of JJ (Casey Moss), who became a total screw-up in boarding school but has turned around to become a likeable character, threatened by psychopathic ex girlfriend Theresa Donovan (Jen Lilly).

But the most recent adventure for Days (or “DOOL”) was to introduce two charismatic young male gay characters and have them marry.  These are Will (now Guy Wilson) and Sonny (Freddie Smith).   Will has been on the show as a teenager with several actors, and was always keeping Sami in line.  While dating Gabi, he started to reveal that he thought he was gay.  Over a stormy course, he and Sonny, who manages a “mixed” bar in Salem, fall in love and eventually marry.  But this is not before Sonny (then played by Chandler Massey) proves himself a “man” by getting another bad girl Gabi pregnant.  In one sequence, while escaping from a thug, Sonny and Gabi are running through the woods together when Gabi suddenly is ready to have her baby, and Sonny delivers it.  Will and Sonny are now raising the girl as gay dads.  Gabi is in jail for shooting Nick Fallon (Blake Berris).

(Published Tuesday Oct, 28, 2014 at 11:45 PM).

Nick’s story is a tragic one.  He was introduced as a geeky character around 2009 (maybe earlier), but gradually became unhinged and went to jail after kidnapping Melanie.  His storyline never made sense;  Nick was brilliant in a manner not unlike Will’s.  Nick returned in 2012, tried to reform (fighting off his opposition to gay marriage partly because he realized that, of all the characters in the show, probably only Will was as brilliant as he was, and actually playing with a precarious four-parent, three-daddy relationship to raise the daughter), but still got into trouble, when Sami et all tried to drown him after he attacked his wife (Gabi) in the woods.  But he made a surprised return, only to be finally shot.  The scene where he is shot is very well done and rather terrifying.

Will is a gifted writer, and has been hired by a magazine in Salem to write exposes about others in the families, and the storyline has opened a whole ethical issue about writers’ benefiting from exposing people they know — a very important issue in my own “practice”.  There was an earlier series where Will manipulated EJ (British actor James Scott) recently murdered in a hit.

The show has the irritating habit of showing characters having dreams that anticipate action that gets cut off.  Characters have been suddenly written out of the story (like Shawn and Belle, who have never returned).

Cosmetically, the makeup issues for some characters are provocative.  Sonny seems to be unable to keep his chest hair, which disappears and grows back periodically, as with his forearm hair.  A few other characters (JJ) seem to have been depilated occasionally.  Maybe Will and Sonny are supposed to look alike in bed, or maybe Sonny’s appearance changes are the result of love rituals behind the scenes.   Chandler Massey was let out of the role (on contract) to go back and finish college, but one wonders if he was uncomfortable with the intimacy of the part.

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I’ll mention the ABC soap “One Life to Live“, which went off the air with story line merged with “General Hospital” (set in upstate NY).  Around 2005, there was a storyline where a female mystery novelist found her novel being played out in “real life”, relative to the show.  Again, writers can court danger.

Read “Dustin’s thoughts on Days” on Soap Opera Fan here.

 

 

HBO: “Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia” (from UK Channel 4); also “Moscow Is Burning” and “Campaign of Hate”

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Tonight, HBO aired the 49-minute Channel 4 documentary “Hunted: The War Against Gays in Russia” , previously aired on UK Channel 4 (in the “Dispatches” series)  in February 2014 and even available on YouTube for a short while.  I had reviewed the earlier airing on my TV blog here.  HBO’s  main link is here.

The documentary explains how the Russian anti-gay propaganda law has been taken as excusing or even incentivizing anti-gay violence against gay people from vigilante groups.  The film emphasizes the effect of a false “mainstream” belief in Russia that homosexuality equates to pedophilia.

But one married man in St. Petersburg, Tibor, runs an anti-gay organization and says that when you become a father and hold your father, you do everything you can to protect his future.  This sounds like more than the trite idea of pedophilia;  it sounds like he believes that gays would dissuade his own children from giving him as many grandchildren, a belief that Putin supports.

Radio Free Europe has a review of this film here. Gawker has another sensationalistic commentary here.

There is also an ABC Nightline film “Moscow Is Burning” about vigilante attacks against the now-closed Central Station in Moscow.

Reel Affirmations and HRC will show “Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda” Oct. 14, 2014 in Washington DC, link.

Update: Oct. 14.  I attended the showing and the full review is here.

Here are a few videos from the QA

as well as (2)

and (3)

and (4) (kids who grow up in Russian immigrants become criminals)

and (5)

and (6) (how ISIS recruits in Britain — bullied youths)

 

 

(Published Monday, Oct. 6, 2014 at 10:30 PM EDT.)

Note: The source is Britain’s Channel 4, which, though associated with the UK government, is not the same thing as the BBC.

 

NBC “Surface” series, cut short after one season in 2005, resembles “Godzilla” franchise in concept

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The NBC series “Surface”, which aired for only one season, 2005-2006 (with an interruption for the Winter Olympics) presented a curious idea, at least distantly related to that of the Godzilla movies. Some previous unknown sea creatures emerge from the ocean floor, and have been studied by a secret government project. But a teenage boy Miles (Carter Jenkins) discovers one in an accidental surfing encounter, brings home an egg from a pod and winds up raising “Nim” secretly in his parents North Carolina home and bonding to the creature.

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The creatures begin to surface, causing a variety of bizarre catastrophes, finally leading to a tsunami that destroys Puerto Rico and heads for Wilmington, NC (home of a lot of film studios and a big film school).

There are also artefacts suggestive of Noah’s Ark, and of a lost undersea civilization.
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The series was cut short, so it’s hard to tell what the creators really wanted to say with it. But Jenkins was most impressive as the adventurous kid.

Some prescient sci-fi series in the 90s: “Earth 2” and “Seaquest DSV”

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I thought I would go through a couple older sci-fi television series and a few of the associated newer films.

One of these was “Earth 2”, 22 episodes in 1994-1995.  The series supposes an expedition to an Earth-like planet 22 light years away, because Earth has become uninhabitable and most people have to live on space stations.  Also, many children have a bizarre illness and cannot survive, raising the possibility that man could become extinct (as in the 2006 film “Children of Men”).   Apparently this was a private expedition that government wants to control/

On the Earth 2, the colonists find a primitive race of people who live mostly underground called the “Terrarians”.  The government would want to remove them, but they are essential to retaining life on the planet.  This is sort of the reverse of the NBC series “The Event”.

Antonio Sobato, Jr., later popular in the gay community, was a very visible star.

Actually, the stars thought to have earth-like planets within 25 light years of Earth are all red dwarfs, or M-stars, which means that the planets would have to be close to the stars and to be tidally locked, with the sun shining on one side only, and an annular twilight zone where temperatures are mildest.  However, if the planet has an ample atmosphere, wind currents might make the climate for the much of the entire planet relatively uniform. If a planet like this had been colonized by another civilization (the hypothesis of “Prometheseus”) the politics could be interesting indeed.  Will another planet with a civilization comparable to ours have money and a financial system?

A few recent cable films follow up on some of these ideas.  NatGeo produced a 90 minute documentary called “Evacuate Earth” where society has 75 years to build an ark to move 250,000 people to another solar system because a black hole is approaching the solar system.

Alien Planet” from the Discovery Channel imagines an Earth-like planet only 6.5 light years from Earth, with a living ocean, and creatures who more or less resemble humans.

PBS Nova has a documentary “Alien Planets Revealed”, and the BBC has a documentary “Titan: A Place Like Home” about the largest moon of Saturn, with a thick atmosphere and methane lakes.  In 2013 there was a film from Magnolia, “Europa Report” (referring to the moon of Jupiter with a large subterranean ocean), where a crew’s sudden evacuation is enabled by a subterranean creature’s helping them escape.  Actually, several satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, including Titan, may have subterranean water seas.

In 2005, NatGeo aried a one hour “Extraterrestrials”, where it pondered what life would be like on a tidally locked M-star planet.

Most Sunday nights, “Earth 2” was followed on NBC by “seaQuest DSV” (“Deep Submergence Vehicle”), a drama centered on a science submarine in a world, after 2018, where Earth’s resources have been depleted.   The series was notable for having a dolphin character, almost human, living in a tank on board, and for a civilian teenage computer genius Lucas Wolenczak (Jonathan Brandis) living on board.  In the middle 1990s, this might have sounded like an important point because the “intimacy” of people in closed environments like ships and submarines had become a political issue in the debate on gays in the military,

Posted: Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 7 PM EST.

NBC’s “The Event”: in my view, one of the best recent sci-fi series, but you had to watch it all, in sequence

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One of my favorite television series has been NBC’s “The Event”, which ran for 22 episodes from September 2010 to May 2011.

The premise of the show is rather Roswell-like.  It supposes that during WWII, an  extraterrestrial spacecraft crashed in Alaska, and the government held most of the aliens.  But the aliens look almost exactly like humans, even with the same approximate race variations, and those who escaped assimilated into the population, one winding up heading the CIA. The one difference is the Methuselah syndrome, meaning that the aliens age very slowly.

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Another element of the plot is that a president Martinez (Blair Underwood, aka Obama) wants to release them on human rights grounds, and that leads to an assassination plot in the first episode, which the aliens foil with radical technology, taking the people on an aircraft through a portal.

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For me, the lead character was Sean Walker, played by Jason Ritter, a computer games designer who becomes involved when his fiancée disappears in the first episode.  Sean is extremely charismatic and has a “Clark Kent personality”, and has abilities that verge on being powers.  Toward the end of the series the audience begins to believe that Sean is himself an alien, or perhaps was conceived by an alien and normal person.  As Sean realizes he is partially “one of them”, he is faced with a real existential test of his loyalties.  The aliens seem to lack our full moral compass, but Seam does understand it and (like Clark Kent) tries to live by it.  A clue is that about six or seven years in flashbacks have passed, and even Sean notices that he still has the body of an 18 year old. That would be a blessing.

The series varies from other series of this type (like “Smallville”) in that the episodes are much more interconnected;  one must watch every episode to follow the story, which may have cut down on ratings eventually.  And some of the story is told in detailed flashbacks.

Another interesting character was Sofia, played by Laura Innes, and she can become quite chilling.  An interesting fact is that she was originally conceived as a male character.  So making her female required some flexibility among the writers, something I am never willing to do in my own fiction (and this may become a critical discussion point in later posts).

The last few episodes telescope, leading to a denouement where the aliens bring their dying planet close to earth – a kind of “Krypton” or “Earth II” that has been scorched to desert by it’s expanding sun, which is threatening to become a supernova.  If so, it would need to be a at least a few hundred light years away or else the radiation from it (the gamma rays) could eventually destroy life on Earth, too.  Only  “Type I” civilization could master black holes or portals and traverse an entire galaxy.

The NBC link is here.  NBC considered spinning off a sequel series and I’m not sure what became of that, link.

It would have been interesting to wonder what a second season could have brought.

 

 

“Project Greenlight” (Miramax and LivePlanet) sponsored three screenwriting contests a few years ago; my 2004 entry was “Baltimore Is Missing”

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In 2002, while still living in Minneapolis but after my “career-ending” layoff, I took part in a screenwriting contest called “Project Greenlight”.

The contest was sponsored by Miramax Pictures (before the breakoff from The Weinstein Company) and Live Planet, with the help of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris Moore.

There were actually two contests, a writing contest and a director’s contest.  The writer’s contest consisted of a standard-formatted screenplay, which had to be written in either Screenwriter or Final Draft and submitted as a PDF, with a limit of 120 pages (about two hours).  The directors’ assignment was to make an 8-10 minute video that used a particular prop and specific script line.

I entered only to judge the screenplays.  Typically, the system would assign a screenplay randomly (or you could choose from a few titles). To rate the play (and give comments) you had to pass a T-f quiz of seven questions (not missing more than 2), submitted by the author.

The “Greenlighters” became quite a community online, with forum discussion boards on all kinds of topics.  The contest effectively became a social networking site in the days before Myspace and Facebook. There were plans for a Greenlighter’s party to be held in the Hollywood Hills (I considered a weekend flight), and people were going to hitch rides and bring sleeping bags.

The winning script was “The Battle of Shaker Heights”, by Erica Benney, which I do remember seeing on cable.  The film is about high school student in Ohio who takes on a bully by his artistic skills reenacting war scenes.  Shia LaBeouf was in the film.   The first contest had been won by Pete Jones for his script “Stolen Summer”, about a little boy who takes a priest’s advice literally and tries to help someone get into Heaven.  I recall seeing that film in Minneapolis, I think at the Landmark Lagoon.

In February 2004, on a Sunday morning, after I had moved back to northern Virginia to look after my mother, I caught sight of Ben Affleck announcing another Greenlighter contest. This time I decided to enter a script.  You also had to participate as a judge if you entered a script.  This time, it was suggested that the film be suitable for a PG-13 rating if possible. The contest winner was “Feast”, by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, directed by John Gulager, about people trapped in a rural bar when it is attacked by alien monsters.  I would see this at a special screening at the Landmark E Street in Washington.  The film would be followed by a couple of sequels, including “Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds”.  I note that the second film in the unrelated gay “Eating Out” franchise is called “Sloppy Seconds”.

The making of “Feast” became an HBO series on Project Greenlight, in 30-minute episodes, with all kinds of crises in trying to produce the film for under $1 million.

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My entry was a sci-fi script called “Baltimore Is Missing”.   (The word “Missing” refers to a missing value for a variable in programming languages!) The idea for the film had come to me in a dream sometime after 9/11.  The character “Bill” is the protagonist.  In the early scenes, he gets criticized in a DC disco for gawking at only younger men.  On nightcall at work, he gets a call for an abend that may be caused by a forgotten logic bomb in his code; be goes into work to fix it forgetting he is in his pajamas.  He gets fired, but not before wild rumors about a huge solar storm circulate on the Internet, and not before he gets a strange call inviting him to Baltimore where he will undergo some sort of cleansing tribunal.  He boards the Amtrak train, but after it goes into the Harbor Tunnel, it never emerges.  Or if it does emerge, the whole city of Baltimore is missing and there is some sort of alien, arid and cold landscape.  He boards another train and explores this world, finding himself trained to fit in to a world with a simpler lifestyle.   He meets some of the people he admires, and some of them come from flashbacks in earlier periods of his life.  The film, in these flashbacks, recreates his “William and Mary Expulsion”, and in meta-storytelling, even recreates a scene where one of his best friends auditions for  a key part in movie about the expulsion.  In the meantime, he is paired off with a young woman who is to become his wife.  He gradually develops affection, even physical attraction for her, which surprises him.  He gets a view of what life in a homestead cottage on this alien planet in some other universe will look like.  (Is he in the afterlife?)  He undergoes his tribunal, and then is confronted with the fact that he has become a toy in al old nemesis’s model railroad. At the end, he gets a glimpse of Earth under siege from the Sun (maybe black holes can transmit video to other universes through X-rays or gamma radiation).  He settles down to a simple life as a toy with a toy spouse.

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The script mentions some other oddities, like the idea that someday male doctors and male nurses may have to epilate their hands and arms as part of infection control.

The reviews, to put it mildly, were mixed.  One reviewer was confused by the flashbacks and multi-layer plot.  One thought that a scene where he rides in a boxcar (sort of like the train on John Carpenter’s “Ghosts of Mars”) was an inappropriate use of the Holocaust, but I hadn’t even thought of that when I wrote the passage.

As I look at it now, I still think a film like this can work.  But it probably can’t be made for under $1 million.

The treatment document for my screenplay, which in turn links to the PDF script, is here.  I did register this screenplay with WGA-West.

I can remember finding an essay by Matt Damon, then about 30, in the site telling people who want to enter the movie world, “Don’t do it.”

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Update: July 27, 2016

The startup company “Adaptive Studios” seems to have picked up Project Greenlight.  The slogan is “Reimagine everything”.

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“Everwood” was an important WB series about a possible teen piano prodigy, and a doctor who doesn’t need to charge

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The WB (and CWTV) ran several  series that interested me ten years ago, and another one for me to review is “Everwood”, which started in the fall of 2002 and ran for four seasons (ending in the spring of 2006).  Sometimes reruns appear on ABC Family.  The series was created by Greg Berlanti (also, “Jack & Bobby” and “The Tomorrow People”, to be discussed later, with the latter of these dealing with teens with “powers”, and reminds me of NBC’s “Heroes”).

The premise is that a successful NYC neurosurgeon Andy Brown (Treat Williams) loses his wife to a tragic auto accident in an ice storm.  He moves himself and his two kids to the town of Everwood, CO, deep within the Rockies. He sets up a general practice and doesn’t even charge (believe that in these days of Obamacare), which draws the ire of the competing doctor Abbott (Tom Amandes).

Brown has two gifted children, a younger daughter Delia (Vivienne Cardone), and her older brother Ephram (Gregory Smith), who is supposed to be turning about 15 when the series starts.  The family is Jewish but secular, but Ephram has already bad a bar mitzvah. Brown’s moral values are typical for his background, a kind of careful individualism, unsettled when right and wrong are not as clean cut as they should be.

Ephram’s gift is piano, and the potential to become a concert pianist.  Much of the plot of the series revolves around Ephram’s progress toward getting into Julliard.  In one episode, he has “learned” the entire Beethoven Appassionata Sonata overnight. Ephram tends to be moody, but clever, and has a faceted personality.

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When he is about 16, Ephram has a fling with a 20 year old college student named Madison.  He is naïve, and has his first experience, in a scene quite well done.  Madison gets pregnant.  Andy decides to keep her pregnancy a secret from Ephram, a soap-opera-like idea that can set up a final confrontation when Ephram approaches the Julliard audition.

Eprham writes a high school essay called “My Greatest Flaw” which is “my inability to change”.  Does this mean that there is a moral imperative to grow into someone that can support a future bigger than the self?  You hope “that you’ll never have to change again.”


There are several other compelling subplots.  One of these happens in season 1 when Abbott’s son Bright (Chris Pratt, later to appear in “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Moneyball”, “Her”) has an auto accident with another teen, Colin (Mike Erwin) in the car sustaining a head injury.  At first, Colin seems to recover OK, but then Andy discovers that Colin has a hematoma or aneurysm that must be removed or it will eventually rupture. Colin agrees to the surgery.  But he dies at the end of Season 1 when the risky operation fails, and the entire town ostracizes Andy for his playing “Ben Casey”.

There is another subplot where a female doctor patient has HIV acquired from treating a patient in Africa, and tells Delia.  Others find out from Delia, and soon her own practice is destroyed by fearful patients, and her gay ex-husband tries to get custody of her kids. Through complications, Dr. Abbott winds up being threatened with loss of his malpractice insurance.

Later in the series there is an extraverted Dr. Jake Hartman (Scott Wolf), a skiing enthusiast.

The series always started each episode with some music that sounded like the slow movement of a late 19th century piano concerto, but what one?  The music may have come from Eugen d’Albert’s first piano concerto, written at age 18 or so, and inspired by Liszt, and filled with many familiar themes for such an obscure work.  Hollywood knows obscure romantic music well. Maybe the work should be called “The Everwood”.

Toward the end, after Ephram has given up Julliard and has to work playing piano at clubs to support his child, and also gives piano lessons (at 18), he takes on a gay teen pupil, Kyle, (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the famous actor.  Had the series continued, probably Kyle would have become the important character with a professional career.

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In August 2005, I drove (from DC) to a “party” at King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia, where I met Gregory Smith and Chris Pratt.  Smith, now 30, stars in “Rookie Blue” and has directed two episodes, and has also produced a comedy “Wieners” for Screen Gems, and, in a change of style, a documentary about doomsday preppers, “Training for the Apocalypse”.

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Maybe the best outcome for this series would be a sequel movie based on the characters.  What has happened to Ephram, now in his mid 20s?  Has Kyle’s career taken off?  Or did Ephram somehow go to another music conservatory?  Yale would be interesting.  Maybe a movie, maybe a cable or web series.  Warner Brothers no longer has a separate brand for independent film (this would have been a logical release from “Warner Independent Pictures”, a brand that the company should bring back).

There is a newer series on CWTV, “Hart of Dixie” (2011- ), created by Lelia Gerstein.  about another transplanted (to Alabama) doctor (a woman, Zoe Hart, played by Rachel Bilson) that seemed rather underwhelming.

 

“Smallville”: Superman was once a teenager himself; recalling the 10-year television series

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The science-fiction television drama “Smallville” premiered on “TheWB” (eventually to become CWTV) on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2001, about five weeks after 9/11.  The Pilot must have been filmed weeks before, that summer, in British Columbia, but the scene of meteors crashing into the town of Smallville, KS may have seemed terrifying then.

That sequence had been preceded by a brief prologue, introducing the loving couple (John Schneider and Annette O’Toole), the Kents, who would find baby Clark in a corn field and take him home and raise him as their own (a godsend, since Martha couldn’t have children).  In that prologue we saw a boy Lex Luthor made bald for the rest of his life by the meteor exposure – a play on radiation fallout (or dirty bomb) fears?


Fifteen minutes into the Pilot, we’re shown a handsome teenage Clark, played by a youthful enough Tom Welling (then 24), gently arguing with his dad about not being allowed to play football because he could hurt other people.  Tall and strong but lean and lanky, he actually looks more like a future baseball 100-mph fastball pitcher than a lineman or quarterback.  He a freshman at Smallville High, apparently in ninth grade, and his legal records show him to be 14.  He is tall and physically strong for his age, but very socially awkward.  He is morally sensitive.  He wonders if he is special or just different. No one can explain his unusual strength (although that does exist in nature, genetically, in some young men), or ability to heal, or “speed” – ability to teleport himself by altering space-time.  Later, he will develop x-ray vision, which would allow him to scope people, and then heat vision, which could allow him to set things on fire telepathically (like Zak in “Revolution”).  His father, upon questioning, finally tells Clark that he is an alien, and shows him the spaceship in the barn.  It is quite a touching scene.  Clark “speeds off”, upset, after saying “You should have told me.”  Soon, he is somehow “disabled” and hazed in a notorious scarecrow scene (which some people see as an allusion to Matthew Shepherd), with the “S” painted on his smooth chest.

So this is to be the story of how the future Superman came of age, as a teenager.  The series would run for ten years.  But after the first three seasons, it seemed to lose focus and become more episodic.  But the earlier years will filled with suspense.  Season 1 ends with a tornado.  In the middle of Season 2, Clark meets Dr. Virgil Swann, played by Christopher Reeve, now a quadriplegic from his own 1995 horsemanship accident, trying to decipher his origin from hieroglyphics.  As his father Jor El and other forces from his home planet Krypton chase him, Clark faces a crisis at the end of Season 2.  He fears his end is coming, and in one scene the “S” is burned into his chest as a scar (although it seems to be reversible).  At the very end, Clark takes a motorcycle to Metropolis (usually shown by Vancouver, but in this episode the skyline of Kansas City MO was used), having invited Lana to come with him. The seasons ends with dramatic music (I think by Tchaikowsjy) as Clark rides to the city.

Clark usually has a moral compass that would make any parent proud, except when he is exposed to red kryptonite, which unmasks all inhibition and turns his usual kindness into a curious moral nihilism.  He can be brought back by green kryptonite, which can cause him to lose all his powers.  In fact, in another episode, he learns it is better to be “different” and have powers than be like everyone else.  (Like it is better to marry than to burn?)  In season 3, he starts working for the Metropolis Mafia (that is, Kansas City MO or Vancouver BC, interchangeably) and robs some ATM’s (which in more recent years has become a real crime problem), but then gets his moral compass back and returns home.  At the end of Season 3, it seems as though he has to go back “Home” – to the Phantom Zone – for the summer.

I was living in Minneapolis when the series started, and had been laid off at the end of 2001, and was about to start my “second life”.  Somehow, I saw a rerun of the Pilot over Christmas that year, I think while “home” in Arlington visiting mother.  I became intrigued with the series.  I remember seeing the finale of Season 2 the day before a successful job interview, still in Minnesota then.  But I also remember watching it in May 2002 in a motel on a trip to talk about my own book and movie possibilities. Smallville became a fixture.

Logically, Clark should have entered college in Season 5, and that would have been a better track than the episodic plot that followed.  Starting in 2004, Smallville had moved to Wednesday nights, at 8 PM ET, and I typically looked forward to watching it regularly in the middle of the 00 decade anyway, despite a weakening plot.  Instead of college, Clark actually works for a professor Fine for a while, on his way to eventually becoming a journalist.  Lois enters the plot during these years (having found him and “imagined him naked” at the start of Season 4 when he is back from the summer “abroad”).

Other devices from the comics come into the series, such as the Fortress of Solitude.  Other kinds of kryptonite get mentioned, such as black, which gives Lex powers.  There are all kinds of episodes with bizarre experiments, such as trading bodies.  Other interesting characters are offered, such as Oliver Queen (Justin Hartley, after a body shave relative to the soap “Passions”), reporter Jimmy Olson (Aaron Ashmore), whose cognitive abilities as a mere human can match Clark’s, and another teenager who can fly played by Richard Harmon (who would later star in “Judas Kiss”).

TheWB and later CWTV had impressive websites, with video and discussion boards, for the show, which in the early years added to suspenseful speculation as to where the plot would go.

There were some “revelation” scenes toward the end of the series that were a bit homoerotic, but homosexuality as an issue was rarely mentioned.  However, in one episode, when Clark did get to play football (and perhaps catch his own forward pass) he came to the defense of a gay classmate.  The issue probably would have been covered more had the series aired only two or three years later in span. Nevertheless, the parallel between Clark’s being “open” about his extraterrestrial origin (despite appealing human appearance) and openness about sexual orientation would be obvious, and the series ended while the final steps in the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy were being certified.  I think the show made a difference even in that debate.

Technically, the series was always broadcast in HD, and tended to use garish colors, lots of comic-book bright oranges and reds, which must have been achieved by manipulation of film stock.

Some individual episodes have some silly premises, such as when Clark and Lex exchange bodies.  A few show flashbacks, such as when Jor-El visits Smallville in 1961, and a marque for “Splendor in the Grass”, one of my favorite classic films, shows.

Created by Miles Millar and Alfred Gough, the series was produced by Tollin, Robins Productions, which went on to produce the less successful “One Tree Hill“.

I have a detailed writeup on my “doaskdotell site” here.   The Blogger chain can be accessed from this link.

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I went to graduate school at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, getting my M.A. in Mathematics in early 1968, and I always equated Smallville to Lawrence, which really does look like Smallville in the show.

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I ask, does a real teen Clark Kent, who can teleport himself instantly, exist on Earth?  Maybe.  If so, I hope he goes to college.

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