Saturday, July 30, 2016

Just Fell Into The Ocean At The End Of The Lane Again

I don't think I wrote about this book here (too lazy to go look), so here goes. 

It's been a couple years since I read it last. It had been long enough that I could only remember the big moments, but as soon as I jumped into a scene the memories came flooding back, not unlike our hero sitting in front of the pond. I was looking for clues this time, some sort of tell that would give me the definitive answer about it all and clear up the vagueness of the ending, but I didn't find any, probably because that's not the point of the book.

Sure, it can be read as straight magical realism, in which if you don't ask for too many explanations about the world into which you've been dropped, you can enjoy it for what it is: a tale of a scared little boy on the edge of a magical world and how his interactions with it shaped his life. But the problem I have with that interpretation is that the story doesn't offer anything beyond that in way of trying to explain itself. Even as an adult, he doesn't offer much perspective on his childhood memories. Which for me is sorta the point of it all. 

He's telling a story. 

I came away thinking that it doesn't matter if those things actually happened to him, and they probably didn't. Those stories were simply ways for him to gain perspective on his childhood traumas, a coping mechanism from a precocious mind. 

The point of it all is that there is healing in the storytelling, that's why we do it, sing songs and watch movies. It's why we create art, isn't it?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Victoria - A One Take Post

II probably should have rehearsed this in big chunks like they did. 

For a one take movie, Victoria is a stellar work of logistical mastery that deserves a watch by anyone who appreciates the craft of film making. What they've accomplished here is so insane when you think about it, weaving a camera through a half dozen public locations, with a hundred extras and maybe a dozen significant speaking roles, all while hitting story beats on time. It's ridiculously impressive, but that doesn't necessarily make it a great story. 

Two things stuck out for me, the first being Victoria's motivations. She makes a journey from carefree to slightly irresponsible to completely reckless way too fast for it to be a believable progression within the context of the film. I would have liked to have seen more thought put into her backstory so the person she becomes at the end of the film doesn't feel so incongruous with who she was at the beginning. 

My second issue was the editing, or lack there of. It needed to be tightened up at points, fleshed out at others, and while I can respect holding to an original vision, that vision needs to hold up against other films in the genre, and this is a mediocre heist film. 

Final rating:
Liked it, wished I loved it. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

That Walking Dead Finale

There's a lot of frustration out there over that cliffhanger ending. I don't know if it was the right choice for the story, but the amount of hate feels a touch ridiculous, especially coming from people that are still going to be tuning in to next season's premier to find out what happened. 

I respect the creators for making a hard narrative choice and sticking to their guns though. By not showing the death, the episode escaped the trap of framing the story of Negan's introduction around the loss of one character or another, and left it open to propel Rick's story, specifically the breaking of his arrogance. Regardless of who met the other end of the bat, Rick is going to be changed by this event, and he's going to drive his people forward while carrying this burden. 

So who died? Well, I think the biggest clue is in the opening shot, one that is repeated throughout the episode until the end when it is revealed to be the place where four of our characters (Daryl, Michonne, Rosita, and Glenn) were being held. There's no narrative reason to include this shot unless it's establishing a through line for one of the four, to show you how they spent their "Last Day On Earth" (waiting for execution), so it's probably one of the four, but which one? 

Well, the shot is squared up on the doors to their cage in the back of a pickup truck, giving a perspective held by the final person to exit the vehicle, Glenn, but that's also probably the only place where they could fit a camera, so it's certainly not conclusive. However, when you look at the fact that the creators have already primed the audience twice this season about Glenn's death, even going so far as to let the audience think he was dead for an entire episode, he starts to seem like a more and more likely choice. Is there any other evidence?

Well, digging into the comics, despite the fact that the show loves to turn the original plot points on end, it's impossible to not point out that this is the exact spot where Glenn dies. By earning their turn-it-on-end points with Denise getting Abraham's death in the comic, they've actually set themselves up to play out an expected comic arc. But wait, that would only make sense if they were setting up Maggie for her post-Glenn story arcs...which they absolutely have been doing since they stepped foot in Alexandria. 

Frankly, I would be surprised if it wasn't Glenn. Rosita's death wouldn't be big enough, and neither Daryl or Michonne's would feel earned. Even on the chance that it was one of the others, few would have any lasting impact. If they really want Negan's introduction to have the impact it deserves, it really has to be Glenn. 



Sunday, December 20, 2015

An Expanded Universe Fan In A Non-Canon World

I left the theater frustrated. The Force Awakens didn't fill me with any of the joy that the first trailer did, it didn't connect me to my childhood, despite trying its best to recreate the journey in perfect subtlety. Sure, it was a solid movie, but as a Star Wars fan, it wasn't what I wanted. Of course, Disney wasn't making the movie for me, as they made abundantly clear when they dumped the expanded universe continuity out the window. But I've grown up since I first saw the movies, and over the years these characters have grown with me, we've already tread this ground. 

To be fair, the expanded universe was often a mess that suffered from the same reliance on familiarity that made The Force Awakens feel weak. Too many adventures threw the core characters into desperate, galaxy-threatening situations that didn't really threaten anything because the heroes always won the day. But when it broke that mold, when they told stories where the characters actually suffered loss and were forced to grow, that was when they tapped in to the real potential of the Star Wars universe. 

Sure, it would have been nice to see expanded universe characters like Mara Jade, Jacen, and Jaina, but the real missing piece of the puzzle was the fact that the characters we got, specifically the original cast, weren't transformed by the journey between episodes 6 and 7. Luke is entirely sidelined, Han and Chewie have stagnated, and Leia gets a title change and is relegated to a role that could have been played by an extra. I wanted to see Luke the leader, Leia the Jedi, and Han the father. I wanted to see this family of characters that came together in the original trilogy grow, not regress. That was the true legacy of the expanded universe, the requirement of progress for the characters, necessitated by the need to continually write new and interesting stories. By taking that growth away and not replacing it with anything the characters feel flat and full of wasted potential. 

As for the film itself, there was a lot of good. The spirit of it felt right, it was an adventure again as opposed to a cartoonish political drama. The practical effects also served brilliantly to ground the universe in an increasingly digital world. And the new cast of heroes is brilliant. I just don't know if it was enough to make me love it like I want to. 

Will I see it again? 

Sure. 

Will I cringe when Han says Ben instead of Jacen? 

Every time. 





Monday, July 14, 2014

The Second Season Of Hemolock Grove Isn't An Unwatchable Train Wreck

I got exactly four episodes into season one before I turned the show off in disgust. I only finished it out six months later when I'd exhausted all other tolerable forms of entertainment on Netflix. It was still barely watchable, like those movies produced by high schoolers with scripts that only get made out of the sheer novelty that they were written by high schoolers.

Netflix doesn't have ratings per se, but they were apparently satisfied with the numbers enough to order another season. Within the traditional television paradigm, a show so critically panned would be swept under the rug, but apparently Netflix thought they could do better, which is how we get season two, and to everyone's surprise, it isn't horrible.

Gone is the pretentious atmosphere for its own sake, the annoyingly ambiguous dialogue, the lack of understandable character motivations, crazy Famke Jansen, and screen time wasted on characters that add nothing to the story. It's still not perfect, but it is certainly deserving of the streaming media award for the most improved non-television show that you still watch on your TV, which should really be a thing.

I'm only six episodes in (it's hard to binge watch a horror show with kids running around), but I'm no longer banging my head into a wall. That's something, right?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Firefly Should Have Lasted Seven Seasons

Had we gotten seven seasons, the show would be four years in the grave by now. The comics have done a fair job expanding on the stories that were never told, even if they never quite capture the performances (or even the likenesses), and the latest, Leaves On The Wind, continues in that vein.

I like to look at the comics in terms of television seasons. Season one would have ended with the first Serenity comic series, Those Left Behind, which saw the crew dispatch the blue-handed villains. Season two is the entire plot of the movie Serenity. The operative coming on board as the new big bad for the season with his line "Where are you hiding, little girl," as the perfect ending for episode 1. Lilith, where they pull the bank heist that gets interrupted by reavers would have sit nicely into episode 4 or 5 (just past the filler episodes as we moved into heavier plot). Sihnon, Haven, Miranda, and Mr Universe would have all gotten their own episodes, first to introduce them, and then to circle back to later in the season. Book's, back story would have also fit nicely alongside his death sequence too. The budget wouldn't have allowed for such an insane space battle in the end, and maybe Wash wouldn't have died (or Book, for that matter), but the core of the ending would have still worked on the small screen.

Which brings us to the latest comic series, or as I'm choosing to look at it, the beginning of season 3. First, the series feels like a fresh start as it breaks new ground, even while circling back to some familiar faces. The pacing is off, as it is with most of the Serenity comics, which shoehorn in way too much content, but considering that they put these stories out so infrequently, it's a problem I'm willing to forgive.

Mal is now the folk hero inspiring revolution, which plays so well against his run and hide personality. He's a reluctant leader who would rather not, he just doesn't trust anyone else with the job. His full fledged relationship with Inara seems like a natural progression too, even if she once again doesn't get much to do except nag Mal about the way he approaches problems. I want her to be more than just someone for Mal to  spar with.

Baby Washburne is kinda boring, as most babies that are not your own can be. Needing to rescue Zoe from a prison planet is a fun idea, even if the way they went about it was silly. This is where a TV show dedicating more time and resources could have probably come up with something more believable than a prison on a desert planet that doesn't need walls.

I could have done without Jubal Early. His inclusion seemed like fan service and didn't add any additional perspective on the characters. Objects In Space has always been the pinnacle of the show for me, and each sequence tells us so much about the characters either through River's eyes or Jubal's analysis of them, that to have him just repeat the same steps was something of an annoyance. Which is interestingly how the crew treated him. The Operative, on the other hand, was a welcome return, because his presence drove the plot forward. Had they more time, I think we could have gotten a lot more out of the tension of that decision and how it resonated with the crew.

Lastly, River returns to the academy. Seeing River face off against Iris was strangely familiar to me because I had come up with the idea years ago (if only I had written it down). It only made sense that there would be others like her, and even if she was the most naturally gifted, others who had completed the process would certainly give her a run for her money. If there was ever a place to tell more stories, this is it, but...

...the series ends as abruptly as the TV show, teasing plot points that maybe one day we'll get to see fleshed out.

Or maybe we won't.

The characters deserve more than these short comic book runs, which get so lost in plot that they forget the thing that made them great in the first place. The people. I think Joss should take a page out of Kirkman's book and slow it down for the long haul. He should write longer stories that cover less ground and are driven by dialogue, not this one cool idea he had for the show once that he can hire someone else to write for him.

Knights Of Sidonia

Didn't really care for this anime. I like that it debuted on Netflix and I could watch it all at once, but I found my interest drifting pretty quickly, which isn't a good sign for a show that should be binge watched. It's basically Macross via Battlestar Galactica (2004), but without any interesting characters. The world building is nice, dealing with human evolution/engineering and resource management in an isolated system, but the story seems more in love with those aspects of the story than anything else. Even the animation seems to pay more attention to the backgrounds than the characters emotions and facial expressions, which left me rather uninterested by the end.

For something better try Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

This Is The Music

I love when I'm wandering around YouTube and I stumble across a video like this--two of my favorite singers that I've never heard together who, of course, sound amazing.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Is Vader A Cyborg?

The question jumped out at me on Twitter the other day, and like any good Star Wars fan I took the bait and started wading through the comments. The expected "he's more machine than man" quote from Ben Kenobi surfaced numerous times, but there was also an overwhelming sense of "No," as if the answer was obvious.

Within the broader definition of a mechanically-enhanced organic being, yes he most certainly is, but he's as much a cyborg as Luke is a farmer, Han is a criminal, and Leia is a holocaust survivor. None of these traits are the leading definition of the characters, as you might expect in a less fleshed out genre outing, and they all become less important as the characters develop.

Vader is Vader first. He's introduced as a villain in a helmet, powerful, dominating, mysterious and unknown, making him something to be feared. It's that mystery that makes the reveals in Empire Strikes Back more interesting as we catch a glimpse of the scars underneath the helmet, or when he tells Luke that he's sorry about not paying child support. It's not until the end of Return Of The Jedi when Luke sees Vader's mechanical hand that the audience is reminded that Vader's hand isn't his own (even though Ben told Luke at the very beginning). Vader's death isn't even defined by his character type and whether or not his life support systems were failing, but by his act of self sacrifice and redemption. It's what he does, not who he is that matters.

As with most aspects of Star Wars, it's not about the literal definitions of things, but about how Lucas adopted mythological themes and translated them into a modern medium like film. Is vader a Cyborg? Yes, but does it matter?.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Of Midiclorians And Lindelofs

I've been pondering a Lost rewatch for a while. My investment during its run proved frustrating, growing with each ridiculous new plot they unrolled for the given season. It was a show that never resolved to the note I wanted it to, always ending in dissonance rather than seeking its root. I found the ending emotionally satisfying, if only for the improbable yet problematic (improblematic?) reunions they shoe-horned in at the end, but the polar bear in the room was left to whither and die, a husk of its former self with a fading placard that read: Why?

Going back for a moment to a time before George Lucas ruined Star Wars, there was a period when young creative minds reveled in the mystery and simplicity of the Force. Imaginations running wild as they acted out an archetypal hero's quest with good and evil making their case. Light and dark. Two sides of the same coin. Yoda/Vader. I could be like Luke, it told me, I just had to figure out how. Then I could use the force and call my light saber, freeing myself from the Wampa's ice cave. But then came midiclorians and I found out why I couldn't move the TV remote into my hand from my frozen prison on the couch. George told me I wasn't good enough.

Midiclorians turned something spiritual into something quantifiable. They turned Jedi into mutants rather than monks. What was once aspirational became incidental, which in turn created a barrier between the audience and their spiritual connection to the universe of  Star Wars.

So what does this have to do with Lost? Good and evil, duality, choice, destiny, these were all core elements of the show, but the show itself was not a fantasy allegory like Star Wars, it was grounded in the real world. With one hand in mystery and one hand in reality, it constantly teased connections that ended up not mattering and posing questions that didn't need to be asked. By the end, those two dissonant and in-congruent notes, mystery vs. reality, needed the resolution of a root note for the chord to make sense. Lost needed midiclorians.

Every question in the show craved an answer, a story that revealed  why things were happening, not one that simply told us that they were. Midiclorians, or I suppose they should be called Lindelofs, could have woven together the disparate elements of the show, connecting them like a unified theory. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mean that everything happening on the island should have been explained by microscopic organisms living within their cells, but then again why not? At least it would have been something, because not answering the questions just made people want to punch Damon Lindelof in the face.




Friday, April 11, 2014

Agents Of SHIELD - Turn, Turn, Turn

The great experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally played its big card this week with a direct line right through the plot of its rather bland TV show Agents of SHIELD. I gave up on the show pretty early, mostly because it wasn't delivering the type of viewing experience I was looking for. After a half dozen episodes there still didn't seem to be anything more going on than the monster of the week and a handful of teasers about everyone's mysterious back stories. I got behind in viewing, then caught up a couple of times on demand, but the show never elevated itself beyond background noise, mostly because it never did anything daring.

Now we know why ... HYDRA.

Halfway through the season I flat out said that there needed to be a larger villain, like HYDRA. All the minor plots and gimmicks just weren't enough to hold the show up, which was starving for meaty content. Whedon always wraps things up in a nice bow, so I knew there was something coming, but now that we're here I don't care anymore. You can't just circle around in a holding pattern waiting for the big event to happen, your audience will catch on and jump ship, which if you look at the ratings clearly happened.

The biggest problem is that they had a great model going prior to this with the Phase 1 films. Each independently added to the greater story, teasing and cross-pollinating as necessary, but at the end of the day they were independent and could be enjoyed on their own. Agents of SHIELD as a whole should have been approached this way, telling the complete story of Coulson's return in a shorter 13 episode season that offered resolution and teased the upcoming Thor and Cap films. Season 2 would have then dealt with the aftermath of Winter Soldier.

This isn't rocket science, so I think the creatives behind the show can see this, I just hope the people with the money learn something from the experience.








Thursday, October 3, 2013

Agents Of Shield - 0-8-4

This show is growing on me, which is something. This episode didn't impress as much as the first and felt way more clunky, but I get what they were going for.  Like The Train Job episode of Firefly this episode shows who everyone is and what everybody does. It's essentially a second pilot (expect at least four more of these before the show really gets going) and helps set up this team dynamic that they are going for. It's not complicated story telling, and at times not interesting, but it holds up repeat viewing. I'll keep watching, if only for the names attached to it, but I hope it improves.