Saturday, May 14, 2005

I'd rather not know

Rotten Tomatoes | More Serenity Screenings Announced, Sell Out Immediately
"Following the sell-out success of the May 5th pre-screenings, creator Joss Whedon recently announced that advance previews of his movie "Serenity" would appear at twenty theaters in twenty cities, this time on May 26th.

By the next morning, well before the official list of cities was posted, networking fans on the Serenity movie site and elsewhere had diligently located half the listings through trial and error and several of the locations were already sold out. "Serenity" hits theaters wide (which means "normal" people can buy tickets) on September 30th."
I have a feeling that "diligently located half the listings through trial and error" can be translated as "checked Fandango for May 26 listings for the theaters that had hosted the first one", but that doesn't sound quite so investigative. Can I be forgiven for being amused by the idea that some of these "diligent" fans might have mistakenly bought themselves tickets to an advance screening of "Jarhead"?

Perhaps it's just sour grapes that the preview was announced and sold out all while I was sitting in my doctor's office waiting for a blood test.

I realize the film is almost certainly completed by now, since it was originally scheduled for a spring release. These undoubtedly aren't rough cuts being previewed, but essentially the final release version. (I guess it was pushed later to avoid direct competition with, I don't know, isn't there some higher-profile, bigger-budget science-fiction film due to be released this summer? I seem to recall rumors. "Jar Jar Binks II" or something?)

But I have to wonder what audience Universal thinks they're aiming for, with a September 30 release date.

Monday, May 09, 2005

No power in the 'verse

Boston | Starship troup-ers: `Serenity' could replace popular sci-fi franchises
When both the ``Star Wars'' and ``Star Trek'' universes reach their final frontiers this month, where will sci-fi addicts next get their fix of the future?
Perhaps in the dark, gritty `` 'verse'' of ``Serenity'' - director Joss Whedon's big-budget movie production of his failed 2002-2003 TV series ``Firefly.''
That's the prediction of some of the 600 enthusiastic fans who packed a special advance screening of ``Serenity'' in Boston Thursday [May 5]. The movie opens Sept. 30.
...When tickets for advance screenings in 10 cities went on sale in April, they sold out within hours. Fans from as far away as Ohio and California came to the Boston screening...
Meanwhile, in Toledo:
Toledo Blade | Galactic debate takes flight
While all eyes in the coming weeks will be on Episode III: Return of the Sith, the final installment in the series of Star Wars films, some already are looking ahead. What they see is an end of an era for two of the biggest names in science fiction history.

This month will mark the passing of not only the final Star Wars movie, but also the latest Star Trek TV series, Enterprise. It's finale is slated for Friday, with no plans for another series to replace it.

The first Star Wars movie debuted in 1977; Star Trek preceded it as a television series in 1966. Since then, we've all learned about all kinds of things - The Force, Vulcans, Ewoks, warp drives.

But one question has yet to be answered: Which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars?

The Blade assembled a panel of local experts to settle the argument once and for all...
Oh, Lord. Shoot me. Shoot me now.

Friday, May 06, 2005

I was right the first time

When J Michael Straczynski gave Gwen Stacy a hitherto-unrevealed sexual liason with Norman (the original Green Goblin) Osborn, I was disgusted. However, because it was JMS, and because he'd earned the benefit of the doubt with his run on Amazing Spider-Man so far, not to mention the television achievement that is Babylon 5, I gave him to the end of the story arc to justify this outrageous plot turn.

It may have been unfair, given his B5 habit of leaving threads dangling for years before paying them off, to expect that he would resolve this story in a mere hundred or so comic-book pages.

Well, the end of "Sins Past" came and went, and nothing was resolved. The kids disappeared, after a blood transfusion from Peter saved Sarah's life, and a dose of Goblin serum drove Gabriel mad. No twist, no cop-out: We are expected to accept that these really are Gwen's kids by Norman Osborn.

And I resolved that this would be the last new Marvel comic I bought. I meant it when I said it.

Cut to several months later. The storyline was continued in another title, Spectacular Spider-Man, written by hell-no-I'm-not-JMS'-protégé Sara "Samm" Barnes. The four-issue arc, "Sins Remembered", has been collected in trade paperback. So far as I am concerned, it represents Marvel's last chance to get me back. After almost forty years of reading Spider-Man, it's hard to say goodbye.

Hm. Gwen's daughter's name is Sarah. The writer's name is Sara. Hmmmm.

When an unknown (to this genre) writer writes a story about a character who has the same name as herself, a character newly introduced into an existing mythos who gets all the good lines while the nominal star of the series gazes at her admiringly, she runs the risk of said character being thought of as a "Mary-Sue".
She's amazingly intelligent, outrageously beautiful, adored by all around her -- and absolutely detested by most reading her adventures. She's Mary Sue, the most reviled character type in media fan fiction. Basically, she's a character representing the author of the story, an avatar, the writer's projection into an interesting world full of interesting people whom she watches weekly and thinks about daily. Sometimes the projections get processed into interesting characters, themselves. Usually, though, they don't.
This one doesn't, either.

"Sins Remembered" is not a Spider-Man story. It is a year-one tale of the Gallopin' She-Goblin, Agent of Interpol. If you are not raptly fascinated by the character of Sarah Stacy, there is nothing here for you. Although brother Gabe appears, he's little more than a cardboard cutout. His function is purely MacGuffinite: Someone for Sarah to protect, someone to threaten Mary Jane, someone who does what he does because the story requires it, not because he has any discernable motivation.

Spider-Man himself appears in costume barely enough to justify the "Spider-Man" logo at the top of the cover. His function is to be supportive--and to be an utterly inept surrogate parent to the physically-mature, legally ten-year-old Sarah.

And, briefly, to be comic relief in his own book. Boy, this scene torques me. In an attempt to web-swing around Paris, Spidey knocks a gargoyle off a cornice. Because, you know, Paris is just so much older than New York City. Didn't his spider-sense get amped up just last issue? Wouldn't you think that if it isn't good for anything else, it'd warn him if he's about to land on something that isn't strong enough to hold him up?

(There's another issue abandoned: The twins, their appearance and medical condition notwithstanding, are minors. Who's their guardian? Does French law care? Shouldn't Peter care? Should I?)


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Real world vs school

Denver Post | Charters dent public schools
Lobbing incentives and recruiting aggressively, charter schools have lured thousands of students from traditional metro-area schools, sapping tax dollars from district budgets and forcing some principals and board members to consider something new:

How to compete for students.

Charters are promising laptop computers, trips to the East Coast, experiential learning and a fast track to a college degree. Their principals are donning suits and ties and going door-to-door to talk to parents. They are forming partnerships with private developers to build gleaming facilities in new developments where a regular school might have gone, had the charter not gotten there first.

"We know we won't have any kids if we don't do it," said Kay Frunzi, who runs Denver's Wyatt-Edison Charter School.
In any other line of work, that would tell us that there is a demand for Edison's services. Somehow, here, it's being represented as little better than buying students with expensive perks.
...School officials say charters pose a challenge. For example, in Denver each student is worth about $6,500 a year.

Though Denver Public Schools officials do not track where individual students go, traditional school enrollment has declined by about 4,000 students in four years, while charter and contract-school enrollment has gone up by roughly 4,000 students over the same period.

That said, if the 3,800 new students who have enrolled in Denver charter schools since 2001 were sitting in traditional classroom seats, the district could have an additional $24.7 million a year to work with.
Aha. I had a feeling it wasn't about the students themselves.

But does money just vanish? Doesn't it follow the students? If it doesn't--or even if it does--how do the charter schools manage to do all these things that public schools say they can't afford?

[LATER: Wait a minute. Doesn't this imply that those 3,800 additional students don't actually cost the school system any money? Doesn't it admit that the $6,500 each student is "worth" doesn't actually get spent on that student? Isn't there an implied assumption that there's no particular reason that it should be?]
Theresa Peña, a Denver school-board member and a former US West executive, said she understands that charters have found niches in the marketplace and have responded to what parents want.

"We (DPS) haven't caught up with that," she said. "We will need to give our principals more training and capacity to handle this. Some of them have never been in the business environment where they have to compete."
You mean some of them have? How ...unusual.
But in the end, Peña said, a school will survive if it does well academically.

"We've lost customers because our academic achievement isn't there," she said.
What an interesting thing for a school board member to admit to a newspaper.

Here's a parent's comment:
"During the interview process to get in, I kept thinking, 'My God, they want my kid here,"' she said. "They took time in the summer to conduct testing sessions to gauge academically and socially where he is. They took a good look at him."
There's a wild idea. Wonder if it will catch on.