April 9, 2013
Hollis Henry is a former rock star who has agreed to work for one Hubertus Bigend, founder of a company called Blue Ant, and Milgrim is a recovered drug addict Bigend comes to own in return for his expensive rehabilitation. What's most interesting is that Bigend, the big boss man of our two heroes, is neither protagonist nor antagonist; he's someone to be very wary of. Hollis's reluctance to work with him is the first foreboding warning that her employer, who seems jovial and even caring at times, is actually something of a danger. Milgrim's loyalty to Bigend is not out of fear, but he is afraid to tell Bigend when he veers away from orders, largely because it is the first time since joining the payroll that he has thought for himself. That's kind of worrisome.
It doesn't come to much, however. Zero History may have received a lot of critical acclaim for its masterful authorship, but many fans agree that the plot falls flat. Take our fears about Bigend, for example. In the end, it isn't hard for Hollis to keep him in check; a simple deal suffices to keep him from harming any of the characters we care about before the actual threat of what he might do is even revealed. The main story suffers from a similar lack of stakes, and lack of consequence. One review I read on Amazon had a long-time fan who read both Pattern Recognition and Spook Country put down the book two thirds of the way in, and I know exactly the feeling. There just comes a point when there are only so many pages left and you can tell whether the end will be climactic, or completely unsatisfying. Gibson's latest novel failed to come up with a story the readers would care about, and an ending that would at any point have them on the edges of their seats.
No one can touch Gibson's writing, and it's got to be damn hard to keep at it after peaking with Neuromancer in 1984, but Zero History is only worth reading if you're jonesing for his masterful wordsmithing and you're already bored to tears with the rest of his work. It may be the best story about denim ever written (maybe), but from William Gibson we've come to expect something a little more consequential. Then again, maybe that says a lot about us as readers. We're always looking for something big, and we're not easily sated.
April 3, 2013
The most pirated and anticipated, ratings record breaking premiere got off to a steady start. Did some good old catching up with all our old friends, a minute or two north of the wall, a little check-in with the surviving Baratheon "licking his wounds" back in Dragonstone, and a peak at the carnage the Starks come across at Harrenhal while they bide their time, have a few pints before they get around to taking King's Landing.
I know this is the time for rising action, but start killing each other already! Two seasons and Joffrey's head is still on his body. What's with that? At least Stannis gave it a shot; what are those Starks doing? Dany has an excuse. Her dragons are too small to kill even the puniest of kings, and she doesn't have much of an army. Yet.
Thanks to the books we can just read ahead to the action, but Valar Dohaeris did start a few things off. The great ethical dilemma of Daenerys' completely dehumanized slave army, Jon Snow climbing up the wildlong ranks from prisoner to... not prisoner, and Sansa's opportunity for escape, and in fact, even wanting to escape King's Landing, or outwardly admitting that she does, is a new and very welcome development. I haven't figured out why I feel fiercely protective over this arguably very weak, sad character, but just think how much room there is for development when you're a complete crybaby and a coward. If she kills Joffrey one day it'll be the best thing a woman has done since the Witch King (okay not really), but she'll have to both beat Arya to it, and humble herself enough to her sister to ask for fencing lessons.
It's difficult to tell to what extent Stannis is still in the game, particularly when he's burning his own soldiers and generals at the stake, and he's not looking too hot. It would be a shame to lose another contender for the throne; the more the merrier. The more to take it from the damn Lannisters.
A few notable characters didn't appear in this first episode. Where's Arya? Last we saw her she had escaped Harrenhal, and good timing based on what Robb and Lady Stark found there. Hopefully she's near enough for a reunion but probably not. There are also the little stark boys, Bran and Rickon, whom Maester Luwin urged to flee north to the fricking wall in the season finale. Yeah, wish them luck. Osha and a couple direwolves should be able to protect them from the army of white walker things we got a glimpse of up north. Okay, those are on the other side of the wall, but we've seen what kinds of things can happen to children in this show, and at this point, nothing would surprise me.
Don't forget about Jaime Lannister, either. We should expect an update on where he is very soon.
Last season ended with Margaery Tyrell asking King Joffrey to marry her, which made me angry even though the new arrangement saves Sansa having to marry him. Still, what a strumpet. I guess I was most concerned over Sansa's safety if Joffrey is done with her, but that doesn't seem to concern anyone. I guess Cersei has forgotten about the Stark in their midst. Still, if there's one thing that makes me tear my hair out, it's when I don't like a character from the start, and the storyteller flips them on their ass to redeem them. Margaery Tyrell works with the poor in the city and isn't afraid to get shit on her boots in the process. How honourable. I'm running out of villainous characters to dislike.
March 19, 2013
Trippy as it would be for Dorothy to turn up, her house having landed on a lady with real nice heals, and be asked, "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?" I think Oscar Diggs gets it even worse. Imagine waking up in a land that's named after you; yeah this place is called Oz. I don't know what can be worse for your ego than having the world be named after you.
There's also the fact that Oscar Diggs, the tricksy magician, is expected to be able to kill the Wicked Witch who's been tormenting his land, because there's one of those nifty prophecies. Queue James Franco's face, looking like it always does: that of a smug, stoned sonofabitch. Goofy, incapable, thinks he's charming enough to blow off the Oscars like it's no big deal. The freaking Oscars. That's about all you'll get from his character, and probably from Franco's acting for the rest of his career unless someone gives him a sock in the head hard enough to get through his thick skull.
Luckily we have three beautiful witches to feast our eyes on through the entire production.
Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz play the witches of Oz, and play with Oz's heart, and are probably the biggest reason Oz the Great and Powerful has grossed $283 million worldwide, other than happy meal toy promotion.
Of course, you've already decided to go see the movie for Mila, so now the question becomes, will you like it?
Or better yet: How will you make sure you will like it?
Repeat the following mantra to yourself. It's Disney. It's Disney. It's Disney. Remember this is a kids flick, and therefore, Franco's sidekicks are going to be annoying, there will be inappropriately light-hearted one-liners to keep the kindergarteners from tearing up (too much), and there will be a storybook ending. The best way to remember what you're getting into would be to watch not only (Warner Brothers') The Wizard of Oz, but also a couple of Disney films. Maybe some of the less good ones, like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, cuz let's be honest, this is no Aladdin. Just remember how to laugh when you're supposed to and have try to have a good time.
Step 2: Think about Oz
I wouldn't recommend marathoning The Wizard of Oz, then Oz the Great and Powerful, because this contemporary prequel just has none of that level of mastery. But of course, you need to be ready to catch those magical references. There won't be any ruby slippers but there will be the odd reverberating line that will make you think of the classic, which is basically all Oz the Great and Powerful is good for. Okay, the story isn't terrible. But everyone going to see it is clearly just trying to recapture some of what you're supposed to get over the rainbow.
Step 3: Go to the matinée
The goofy jokes really need a laugh-track to be any fun for adults, or what I will call The Finding Neverland effect.
25 Seats for Orphans:
I couldn't get a clip of how infectious the children laughing was but I'm sure you will remember, and you will remember to go see Oz The Great and Powerful with as many rugrats in the audience as you can manage.
Alternatively, you can go to a late show and brown bag it.
BONUS: Try to forget how much you don't like James Franco's face.
The longer it's been since you've watched Freaks and Geeks or Pineapple Express, the better. Don't watch the interview of him on Colbert slouching disrespectfully in his seat because movie stars don't have to sit up straight; don't check out Rise of the Planet of the Apes (for various reasons); and whatever you do, don't watch him slowly and torturously strangle the 2011 Academy Awards, leaving Anne Hathaway dancing and giving mouth-to-mouth at the same time. Just try to forget.
Not that reading this post just helped you with that.
If you remember the 1939 classic, you can't possibly forget all of those heavy handed insinuations that the whole thing is a dream. I mean, come on, she even wakes up in her bed at the end. But the cowardly lion, the scarecrow and the tin man are all farmhands in the employ of Aunty Em, and the Wicked Witch of the West looks a lot like mean old Miss Gulch, the psycho who wants to kill her dog.
Oz The Great and Powerful has a few hints as well, but I don't think Disney managed as seamless a dream quest as Warner Bros. did. Sure, it was a different story and timeline to work with, so of course Oscar can't wake up just yet, but I only uncovered a few hints that the writers were still playing with dreams at all.
The first and most obvious is named Annie. Look familiar?
If not, good. I didn't spoil anything for you. Carry on with your movie watching.
The next has to do with Oscar Digg's failure as a magician; the fact that he's a con man who can't actually do magic. Now, normally you wouldn't hold that against a guy, but when he's on stage pretending he can levitate lady volunteers and making fireworks and explosions, he tells his audience to believe, and that's just what they do. To the point where a little girl in a wheelchair believes that he can fix her legs, and she's crying, and he's completely failing to do the adult thing in the situation, which is to either tell her the truth or come up with a really, really good lie. Yup, that's the adult thing to do. But watch closely, and you will see in true Freudian style that his subconscious will deal with the disappointment of not being able to help the little girl to walk.
And that's pretty much all I got. So please flood my comment board with your genius observations; I have need of you.
I haven't given Oz The Great and Powerful a stellar review, and that's because it's not exactly a stellar film. It could be the fault of L. Frank Baum's original story, but I felt that Oscar's great accomplishments were taken away from by the final conflict and how ridiculously that was resolved. Yay Glinda! Now why didn't you just do that in the first place. Oh wait, that's just how Glinda rolls, if you remember in The Wizard of Oz her whole "You've always had the power to go back to Kansas" thing.
But what I did find to be stellar was the entire intro. I might be alone, and Dorothy wouldn't agree with me until the end of her little dream quest, but I didn't want to leave Kansas at all. The Professor's circus had more magic for me than a digitally remastered fantasy land. I hope you'll find the same. Or maybe you will enjoy contemporary Emerald City and the yellow brick road more than I did.
March 14, 2013
It's 1964, and television Western writer Gene Roddenberry has just been rejected by NBC executives for the pilot to his new interstellar science fiction project: Star Trek. That pilot was entitled The Cage, and it was turned down on the basis that it was "too intelligent."
Damn right it was too intelligent. Not in a hard sci-fi, technological, hyper space and time travel understanding kind of way, but Star Trek was, and always has been, a show that could hack away at some of the touchiest social issues of the period for the simple reason that it's not so touchy if it takes place on another planet with a race of aliens rather than humans. Who cares if aliens live in a society of hierarchical oppression? Oh wait, that's a reflection of Western culture? Shit.
The Cage introduces the USS Enterprise and it's crew: starring Mr. Spock, Captain Pike, Number One, and Yeoman Colt. If you're wondering who three out of four are, it's not because you're new to the series; the relaunched pilot, The Man Trap, reinvented the crew of the Enterprise. I only mention it because I'm about to blasphemy myself as a non-trekky when I say that Captain Pike had that perfect period acting, and character-wise, the perfect street-smarts and attitude, and here it is: I wish he had made it on to Season 1. Shatner just doesn't really do it for me. I don't get it. I guess he'll have to grow on me. I like Pike better.
"Why, oh why didn't I take the blue pill."
The purpose of his mind-trap is to get him to agree to be the partner of Vina, a human woman who was greatly disfigured in a space ship crash. As you can see, the aliens who took her in can deceive Pike's mind to make him think she is beautiful, when really she's a scarred, oldish, crone.
Oh, and the doctor (who is, I'm informed, not Dr. McCoy) reminds me of the doctor on Battlestar:
"Sometimes a man'll tell his bartender things he'll never tell his doctor."
The Cage is kind of awkward, I'll be honest. The aliens helping Vina, the Talosians (or whatever), try to manipulate Pike by capturing Number One and Yoeman Colt as well and offering either of them to be his, erm, partners, in the hopes that he will choose Vina over his female co-workers. Talk about office romance. While the show, I've heard, champions feminism, I suppose the question The Cage asks is how to deal with women entering command with concern for professionalism and sexuality. It's just so awkward because the Talosians can read the women's minds and they tell Pike that both of his co-workers have feelings for him, or would consider a sexual relationship - I mean how do you show up to the office the next day?
Well, they didn't - neither character appears in the actual pilot, The Man Trap, an episode that I felt carried some of the themes of this story, including a female who, like Vina, can change her appearance. However, unlike the Sherlock pilots, this new pilot was completely rethought, reworked from start to finish. The story that is most like The Cage is called The Menagerie, a two-parter spanning episodes 11 and 12, and in fact, The Menagerie features much of the footage from The Cage.
Needless to say, I would have liked a series that included The Cage and some of its characters.
Star Trek had a rocky history in terms of production and reception. The original pilot was rejected and it's lucky NBC bought the series and filmed a completely new one. The series was almost cancelled after Season 1, it never did well in ratings, it was moved to the Friday night death slot in Season 2 and the shows cancellation in Season 3 was hardly unforeseen - which hopefully means the original series ended on a well-written note, with a storybook ending. I'll let you know when I get there.
March 8, 2013
Translating a myth like that of detective Sherlock Holmes into modern life is a very dangerous task.
If you're going to take the most beloved of crime fiction stories and translate it to a contemporary setting, you had better do a damn good job of it. Everyone knows that you should never mess with a classic, and Sherlock Holmes has come to be a great literary figure period, not just the greatest of formula detective fiction.
Casting Martin Freeman (as Doctor Watson) and Benedict Cumberbatch (as Holmes) was probably the first step to success. The second probably had to be the re-shooting of the entire pilot with better cinematography, a faster pace, and yet the length of a short movie.
The pilot you will encounter on Netflix is entitled A Study in Pink, a nod to the first Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet. It's 90 minutes of a good old fashioned Conan Doyle-esque mystery, except that Sherlock sends tactical texts and hacks e-mail accounts to draw out the serial murderer.
Another change, beyond the drastic diference in length, is that the premiere, broadcast in 2010, manages to actually establish a longer term plot line by having a vague hinting toward a certain Moriarty. Of all the shows I'm examining, Sherlock might be the last I expected to resist that episodicness I was complaining about earlier.
If he wasn't smarter than the audience, the show wouldn't be worth watching.
The dialogue does go a little fast so you might want to have a cuppa before watching and prepare yourself to keep up. Or maybe it's just the British accent (but it seems like they talk really fast).
Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, both writers for Doctor Who.
If you have watched Sherlock already, what did you think of all that texting? And the way the information was displayed for us? Was it all too heavy-handed, or is it the right direction for modern storytelling?
And if this review has not convinced you yet to sit down for 90 minutes of A Study in Pink, consider the banter.
Watson: Why didn't I think of that.
Sherlock: Because you're an idiot. No no no, don't be like that. Practically everyone is.
And that most everyone the show throws at us assumes the flatmates are a couple. Good time to be alive and watching television!