Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "Out Of Gas"

I'm back from my trip and catching up on the nerd initiative to rewatch the brilliant-but-cancelled Firefly, to mark the show's ten-year anniversary. This week: "Out of Gas." Original air date: October 25, 2002.

There are quite a few lessons I learned in film school that have stuck with me. One of them is a quote attributed to Jean-Luc Godard: "A story must have a clear beginning, middle, and end... but not necessarily in that order." That's what "Out of Gas" is all about - using nonlinear storytelling to pack an emotional punch.

I wasn't ready to watch this episode again. I remembered that it was brilliant episode, and that I loved the way it used flashbacks, but I also remembered that it was a lot to handle. Unfortunately, due to my (oft-delayed) Firefly rewatch mission, I had no choice.
The very first thing you see and hear in this episode is nothing. The ship is still, empty, quiet. I've said before that this show is so clever, so dialogue-heavy that the silent moments always come as a shock. The first sign of life? Mal, barely alive, hitting the ground. In the ten years that have passed, Nathan Fillion has aged a little bit, and somehow he looks especially young in this particular shot. Too young to die, and yet I know that that's a serious possibility.

Over the course of these 40-some-odd minutes, we see how the show's characters joined the crew, and almost get an idea of what made them bond together. We see how they came on the ship, how they leave it, and how they almost could have died without an escape plan. We see that Mal is a real captain, through and through, and how his responsibility to his ship outweighs everything else that's important to him. There's some vintage Firefly levity in there, but it's mostly just Tim Minear making us feel our feelings.

This episode was intended to air much later in the series' run - when we're even more attached to the characters and the ship, but in a way, Fox made a really ambitious decision by messing with the intended air date of this particular episode. Putting your characters in mortal danger and exposing their backstories when viewers are only five episodes in? That's big. And it happened two whole years before ABC aired Lost, whose third episode ("Walkabout") threw its viewers right into the kind of intense storytelling that would make the show famous. And, like "Walkabout," it's the kind of episode that never loses its impact. (Sidebar: Jack Shephard vs. Mal Reynolds. Discuss.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think there's something in my eye.

Friday, November 23, 2012

How to be a decent person while also shopping during the holidays

I used to have nightmares about this
Christmas is just over a month away, and Festivus is exactly a month away, which means that the holiday season is upon us and no matter what you're celebrating, you're probably going to have to do some shopping between now and then. Personally, I cringe at the thought of holiday shopping. The lines are long, the stores are crowded, everyone's stressed, and it's exhausting. I didn't hate it until I was in school and worked at a video store, where basically everyone on Earth would stop in and buy holiday gifts. I saw the worst in people who are probably much smarter than they appeared to be. Here's some advice on how not to be an idiot when you're out shopping.

1. It might be too late to tell you this now, but: Start shopping early. Store employees will have more time to answer to you, the stores are less crowded than they are right before Christmas, and you might find what you're looking for more easily.

2. Shop when the stores are quieter, if you're able to. If you don't have a Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 work schedule, you can probably manage this. Weekend afternoons are usually busy, so shop in the mornings. Some malls and stores are overloaded with high school students on Friday afternoons. New books, movies, music, and videogames are released on Tuesdays, so avoid stores that sell them unless you're going to buy that day's new release.

3. Try not to walk into a store right before it closes. If you do, be as polite and efficient as you can. People have this terrible habit of walking into stores ten minutes before closing time on December 23rd or 24th and wandering around aimlessly as if they've got nothing but time.

4. Waiting in line to pay for something can be annoying, I know. But remember that the other customers are going through exactly the same thing as you are. Don't waste time once you get to the cash. Have your purchases ready to hand off to the cashier for scanning, have your wallet securely in your hand, and keep your shopping bags within reach. And don't complain.

5. Watch your kids. If you can't, then leave them at home.

6. Watch your stuff. Make sure your purse doesn't knock anything over. Throw out your empty coffee cups and gum wrappers (and gum) instead of leaving them just anywhere. Try not to spill whatever drink you're holding. Some people used to be embarrassed to ask me to throw out their empty drink cups; I would thank them for being polite enough to ask instead of just leaving them all over the place.

7. If you pick something up then decide that you're not going to buy it, leave it someplace sensible, like a service counter or the dressing rooms, or give it back to a salesperson. They'll be able to put it away in its right place, so that if someone is looking for it, they'll be able to find it.

8. Don't be afraid to politely ask for help. That's why stores have salespeople - they're here to help, as long as they know that you need help. But they're not superheroes. If you're trying to get someone's attention but they're busy on the phone or with another customer, just wait your turn.

9. Be nice to salespeople. They work long hours, and then they have to go out and do their own holiday shopping. (And if they're students, they have to study for finals during their breaks and after they leave work.) Don't complain to them about how stressed you are and don't make a scene, because that'll just make things worse. If you're overwhelmed by all the shopping, take a break, sit down, maybe buy a cup of coffee, and remember that someone who works in a store doesn't have the luxury of stopping whenever they want. Remember to say hi, excuse me, please, and thank you. Most importantly, don't yell at them.

10. Be as specific as you can about the gift you're looking for. "I'm looking for something for my mom" is helpful, but still pretty vague. "I'm looking for something for my mom. She's 85 and she loves Chuck Norris" will get you exactly the gift you're looking for. (And it did! True story.) Tell the salesperson everything you already have in mind: your budget, how old the person is that you're shopping for, what they like, what they don't like, what size they wear, etc.

11. Ask about the store's return and exchange policy. If you forget, it's probably printed on your receipt. Which you have to keep, but you knew that, right? Keep your receipts. For the love of Sandy Claws, KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS.

12. Don't return anything on Boxing Day.

13. Do not make any comments about Christmas music or whatever music is playing in the store.

14. Some stores wrap your gifts for you. Some don't. Get over it.

15. Smile. You're buying gifts for people you love, to show them how much you love them. Don't forget that.

16. If you're upset that what you're looking for is sold out, or if you think it's too expensive, you have two options: You can politely speak to a manager to see if there's anything that can be done (usually, there isn't, but you never know.) Or you can shop elsewhere. Not an option: making a scene.

17. If you're not sure of exactly what to buy someone, there's nothing wrong with giving them cash or a gift card.

18. Don't be offended or intimidated by security guards or theft prevention measures unless you're trying to steal something. If you happen to see something suspicious, please tell a security guard or a store employee. Shoplifting attempts happen often, maybe more often during the holidays than the rest of the year.

19. If you can't stand the thought of a crowded mall, you have alternatives, like online shopping, small local stores, and craft fairs.

20. When it's all done, celebrate. High-five a stranger, buy yourself something, have a cocktail or break out into a song-and-dance routine... Whatever suits your fancy.

That's it. Twenty simple lessons, and if 20 is still too big a number for you, just remember this: You're smart. Don't act stupid.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The clutches of evil?

I don't know why, but somehow, it's a big deal to people that Mike Fisher held his wife's purse at some pseudo-awards ceremony yesterday.

Am I too idealistic, or perhaps too grounded, to understand why this is a big deal? He has no hockey to play, so he actually has time to spend with the woman he married, who happens to be just as successful as he is (if not more.) Maybe the fact that he was her arm candy was the first strike? Is it hard for sports fans to see athletes treated like Rita Wilson? A woman didn't want her purse to fall on the floor, so she handed it to her husband. This is not weird, people. 

I don't understand why men think purses are so weird and girly and foreign, when they see them EVERY DAY. They're not portals to Narnia. They're just bags.

There have been a few times when men in my life (not even guys that I was dating! Just friends or relatives or guys from work! You know who you are) scored the Purse Hat Trick: 
  • commenting on how big my purse was, 
  • needing to put something in my purse because they couldn't put it in their pockets, 
  • asking for gum/a pen/hand cream, which obviously is the kind of stuff that I keep in my purse.
Hypocritical, much?
Anyway, the whole incident is quite reminiscent of this weak-sauce commercial:
The makers of this stuff would probably be shocked to know that guys like the ones in this commercial aren't the only people who drink whisky. Heck, I drink whisky. So does Carrie Underwood. I don't think either of us drinks this specific brand, but that's okay, since their target audience seems to be middle-class, lily-livered white guys who don't have any friends. 

Let's break down everything that's wrong with this commercial: 
1- It promotes the "women be shoppin'" stereotype. Even though, you know, the couple is an a shopping mall, where people go to shop, unless this dude thinks that a food court A&W is a really romantic place to have lunch. 
2- The woman says "There's that dress I love," which implies that she knows what she's going to look at and isn't about to start an impulse shopping rampage and walk out of there with a pile of bags like she's a character from Clueless. 
3- She lets her boyfriend wait outside the store so that he doesn't have to follow her around like a lost puppy, bored and confused by all of this clothing made for bodies that aren't shaped like his. If he wants to, he can go to another store. Or he can pull out his phone and play a game or call a friend or look at pictures of steaks, or whatever it is that manly men do. (As a girl and an owner of purses, I obviously have no idea what this is. Maybe an app that plays Wisers commercials whenever a man feels emasculated? Pocket-sized strippers? Help me out here, guys.) 
4- Despite the fact that women be shoppin', she asks him to hold her purse while she is in the store. Guys, do you know what girls keep in their purses? Their wallets. We do not have deep back pockets on our jeans, so we keep our money in our purses. If this girl leaves her purse with her boyfriend, she's not bringing any money into the store. Thus, she cannot spend any money while she's in there. She probably isn't going to spend much time in there anyway.
5- By now, most people in modern society know that a man holding a purse is probably holding it for a woman. And they do not care.
6- Yes, the girlfriend's purse is pink and has a flower on it (because it had to be a really girly purse, to drive the point home) but it is not on fire. It is not made out of live poisonous snakes. Boyfriend will not die if he holds it for ten seconds.
7- He came prepared with a bag to hold the purse in? And the commercial refers to him as an "uncompromising gentleman." Uh, no, narrator, the expression you're looking for is "man-child." This dude is a rejected supporting character from a Tim Allen sitcom. An uncompromising gentleman would politely tell his girlfriend that he is uncomfortable holding her purse and he feels emasculated when he does. But something tells me that the dude in this commercial thinks that "emasculated" is an awful big word.

I might not be the kind of girl who needs her boyfriend to hold her purse all the time, and I have a very good reason for it: I keep lots of stuff in there, and he probably wouldn't want to carry around that much extra weight. Mike Fisher probably wouldn't care if this hadn't happened on TV, where all his manly friends and fans can see him (holding a purse that he can hide against his suit or INSIDE HIS HAND because it was a damn tiny clutch.) so let's all just move on and not be scared of bags, okay?

Stick-tap to fellow Habs bloggers Mike Obrand and Andrew Berkshire for inspiring this post, and for not being the kind of guys who are terrified of purses.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "Jaynestown"

"We gotta go to the crappy town where I'm a hero!"

I'm back from my trip and catching up on the nerd initiative to rewatch the brilliant-but-cancelled Firefly, to mark the show's ten-year anniversary. This episode: "Jaynestown." Original air date: October 18, 2002.

So, this episode was written by Ben Edlund, who went on to write and produce for Supernatural. He wrote an episode called "Hollywood Babylon," which was so deliciously Whedonesque that I should have known it was written by someone who's worked with the man himself.
There are so many things I love about "Jaynestown." Edlund involves every character in this episode in one way or another. Except for maybe Zoe. I could have used more Zoe. (And maybe more Wash.)
This may be a Jayne-centric episode but I want to write about River and Shepherd Book first. Their subplot may not have seemed that it important, but it was fun, well-written, and moving. I absolutely love the scene where River is fixing the Shepherd's Bible because it's "broken." In just one sentence, Edlund exhibits both the mania and the incredible brainpower that makes River so interesting, and then leads it into this exchange:

  • Book: River, you don't fix the Bible.
  • River: It's broken. It doesn't make sense.
  • Book: It's not about making sense. It's about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It's about faith. You don't fix faith, River. It fixes you.
And that, kids, (WARNING: possible church-y sounding stuff ahead, deal with it) is one of the most honest statements about faith I have ever seen in the media. I don't really see a lot of mainstream shows and movies that take the time for a scene like this one, that speaks so loudly about the role that faith can have in a person's life, or the way that it can be viewed by others, without rolling its eyes and dismissing everyone as an extremist or a freak of some kind. But the way that Shepherd Book feels about faith? That's how I feel, in the exact words that I would have used to say it, if I had just known to find them. It doesn't happen often that you find a phrase that expresses your exact feelings, and I kind of can't believe that I did. (Interesting bit of knowledge for you: this year is the Year of Faith in the Catholic Church.)

Oh, this post is starting to run long, isn't it? Okay. I'll skip right to the Jayne stuff. After all, this was one of the episodes I chose to watch shortly before my Adam Baldwin encounter at Montreal Comic-con.

The A-plot of this episode was brilliant. Smart, poignant, endlessly quotable. It starts out a little rough, when we see just how difficult things are in Canton, a mud-farming community that's rich in mud but otherwise dirt poor. But as soon as we find out that there's a statue in Canton of folk hero, Jayne Cobb, things get awfully interesting. And they only get better as Jayne receives (quite literally) a hero's welcome. And then when they sing a song about him. Here's the song, performed by Adam Baldwin himself even though he told us at Montreal Comic-con that he'd promised Joss Whedon he wouldn't wear the Jayne hat OR sing the song:

My research hasn't yielded a definite answer about who wrote the song. It may have been Ben Edlund, but like a lot of nerds I suspect it was written by Joss himself. (By the way, according to Whedonverse legend, Joss Whedon had never written music before he sat down to write the musical episode of Buffy. That's talent.)
This episode was a great showcase for everything I love about Jayne: the hard-drinking, the egotism, the womanizing... But then again, basically every episode is a great showcase for Jayne. His reaction upon finding out that he's a local hero is priceless. First he's embarrassed (a sign of the remorse that we don't yet know about), then he soaks up all his fame and the alcohol that comes with it, then he realizes that he might be in trouble when the people of Canton expect him to continue being heroic, and then the whole mess that happens when the illusion is shattered and everyone finds out he isn't a hero after all. And somehow, even Jayne is disappointed in himself.

“You think there’s someone just gonna drop money on ya? Money they could use? Well, there ain’t people like that. There’s just people like me.”

Another episode, another brilliant plot twist. I love you, Firefly.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The NHL lockout, as explained by that girl on the bus who talks really loud on her phone

Okay, so right now hockey is acting like a really crappy boyfriend, you know? Like, he's still your boyfriend but like, you cook him dinner and he spends half the time texting other girls. Like, what even is that, right? Or like he takes you out to eat and offers to pay, but then he complains it was expensive. Like, you offered to buy me a sandwich at Subway. If you can't afford Subway, then why are you buying pitchers for your friends every weekend? 
And he thinks you guys should cool things down just for a couple of weeks, because he can't afford to treat you right, but he's going to his friend's bachelor party in Vegas. I know, Vegas, right? And like you know you should dump him, but you don't? And like the NBA is right there, and it would totally be a better boyfriend, but it's just not the same. 
...No, trust me, if you actually watched basketball you would love it. No, I'm totally serious! Shut up. And whatever, it wouldn't be as annoying as the NHL, who has a lockout like every two minutes. 

So, like, these CBA talks keep happening, and nothing is getting done. Because they only talk for like five minutes at a time, probably. It's like when you call your boyfriend and he doesn't pick up, so you text him to ask what time we're leaving for Tim's party tonight, and what does he want from the SAQ. And then it takes him fifteen minutes to answer and all he writes back is "k." ...I know! It really is! I mean, seriously, "k"? That's it? I know!

So like eventually you get fed up. I mean, I'm done putting up with him. I'm better than this. Like, I deserve to have a guy or a sport treat me like I'm Kate Hudson in some shitty movie that has like a hundred stupid love stories in it. ...Oh my God, really? It was good? When did you go see it? ...I know, but then I hated it because Bradley Cooper was such a jerk in it, remember?

Right. Hockey. Yeah, so now apparently talks are actually picking up, which is like when you're thinking about giving up on this useless boyfriend and then he realizes he still wants you around to buy him stuff, so he's all like "Baby, how come you didn't call me today? You know you're my world" and you're like, okay whatever, buddy... But then you think that maybe you should take him back, like, I don't know anymore...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

You Can Mo Your Own Way

(Sorry about the pun. But I had to.)

So, it's the most wonderful time of the year, if you love mustaches. I happen to love Movember, because mustaches entertain me, and because I like seeing people show their dedication to a good cause.

Which is why it disappointed me that so many of the men I work with didn't want to join our office Movember team. (Luckily, all of the guys in my department stepped up. Every other department has a lot to answer for - looking at you, Tech Ops!)

Here are the top two excuses I heard from mustache dodgers:

"I can't/don't want to grow a mustache." I'd venture that three-quarters of guys who say they can't grow a mustache haven't even given it a good try. They're just lazy, or too vain to run the risk of actually having a crappy Sidney Crosby mustache. Hey, guys? It's November. You're growing a mustache. Movember has been popular (especially in Canada) for a few years now. By this point, most people will know why those errant hairs are on your face. It's not like you'll be the only guy who looks creepy for no reason. Quit being such a whiner.
As for the guys who don't want to grow a mustache? See above. People will know that you're growing a mustache for a good cause. They won't just think that you're Chandler Bing, trying to be Tom Selleck.
Movember supports really important initiatives, namely men's health awareness, prostate cancer, and mental health. So, not wanting to spend four little weeks growing a mustache for a really good cause? That's pretty weak. My co-worker Mike doesn't grow a mustache for 11 months out of the year, but has grown one every Movember for as long as I've known him. His first child was born in November two years ago, and he couldn't be prouder of the photograph where he's rocking his Movember mustache while holding his newborn daughter. Carey Price doesn't like growing a mustache (despite the fact that a well-groomed 'stache makes him look like an old-timey movie star), but he does it in November. He did it last year and the year before with his teammates, which was great publicity for the cause, and he's doing it again this year, even though he's not on TV every three days and constantly talking to the press. He believes in the cause more than he hates having hair on his upper lip. Because he is a man. (So, if you're wondering why ladies love Carey more than they love you, there's your explanation.)

"My significant other doesn't want me to grow a mustache." I'm going to break this excuse down into two scenarios: Either you're lying, or your lady (or man, although in my experience the complaints have come from ladies) is awful.
If you're lying: Well, at least you probably will never be diagnosed with testicular cancer, because clearly you need to grow a pair. You're even worse than the whiny guys who tell me they don't want to grow mustaches, because you can't even take responsibility for your own cowardice. Don't blame the lady in your life for something you don't want to do.

If you're a significant other who doesn't want her man to participate: Seriously? You don't want the man in your life to participate in a fundraiser for men's health? Do you hate him? Do you not want him to participate in something that could potentially save lives? Maybe I don't understand your dislike of mustaches because I can't relate to it. Almost all of the men on my dad's side of the family have rocked 'staches. Seriously. One of my uncles had such an awesome handlebar mustache - it curled on the ends and everything - that people used to stop him on the street to compliment him on it. Maybe that's why I love mustaches: because I love my family. So, maybe you should do the same. Put the man before the mustache. If the man in your life thought about spending a month growing a mo and raising money for charity, you should maybe consider putting aside your hatred of mustaches. I'm not usually one to give unsolicited relationship advice, but this seems like something you should compromise on. It's for men's health. So many people, male and female, have raised money to cure women's cancers. Men wear ribbons and take part in 5k runs and whatnot out of love for their wives, mothers, sisters, or friends. Why wouldn't you want your man to do Movember? Think about the men in your life that you care about - your dad, your godfather, your cousins, the bartender who remembers what you like to drink, your favourite NHL player, or the guy who buys Timbits for everyone at work - and realize that you should support this cause for their sake.

If for some reason you're not growing a mustache, or telling the man in your life that he shouldn't, I hope to God that you have a legitimate reason for it. I also hope you'll consider supporting the cause by making a donation, helping out at a fundraiser or encouraging people you care about to see a doctor regularly and make healthy choices.

Otherwise, I guess you like cancer more than you like mustaches.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Firefly Rewatch 2012: "Our Mrs. Reynolds"

I'm back from my trip and catching up on the nerd initiative (post-vacation) to rewatch the brilliant-but-cancelled Firefly, to mark the show's ten-year anniversary. This week: "Our Mrs. Reynolds." Original air date: October 4, 2002.

One thing I've been doing as I rewatch Firefly is observing how much has changed in the ten years since these episodes aired. One change that you can't help but notice in "Our Mrs. Reynolds" is, well, Mrs. Reynolds. In 2002, almost no one knew who this pretty red-haired girl was:
In 2012, well, come on. Christina Hendricks, am I right, everyone?

Even before Mad Men was a twinkle in Matt Weiner's eye, Christina Hendricks proved she knew how to hold it down. She owns this episode as a young woman who is offered as a wife to Captain Mal - except he was so drunk during the ceremony that he doesn't remember marrying her, and this poor naive girl is terrified that she has displeased him somehow. She's the anti-Zoe: she relinquishes all control to her husband and wants only to make him happy. Then she starts seducing everyone and drugging them, and it turns out that our Mrs. Reynolds isn't what she seems to be. And I just sit there and watch as Firefly throws me another plot twist. 

I think my favourite part of this episode was the moment when "Saffron" (using quotes since that's not her real name and we don't know what to call her) meekly reveals to Mal that she's his wife, and Mal (for the first time in the series so far) can't think of anything, witty or otherwise, to say. He is rendered completely speechless from the shock. It's just a brilliantly scripted bit in a show that I normally love for its dialogue.

What is it about this show that just gets to me? You know, other than the dialogue, the characters, the plotting, and the fact that there will probably never be another show like it? I still can't put my finger on it, but I'll keep catching up until I find out.