Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

Epic …

March 4, 2014

So, soon I’ll finally get my hands on the so-called “Epic” series of Battlestar Galactica … the original series (not 1980). When I first started shifting over to watching DVDs almost all of the time, I was disappointed that all of the versions of the original series were out of stock, and remained that way for a long period of time. However, I read that an important anniversary was coming up, and figured that they’d re-release it at that time … and, sure enough, they did. So I ordered it.

Interestingly, at about the same time — it actually started last year — DVDs are being released covering off the old Yu-gi-oh! anime/cartoon series (the dub), and I’ve been picking those up when I come across them. I still actually quite like it, mostly because the duels — even if not accurate to the card game itself — build well and dramatically. I finished off the latest one — Battle City — this weekend so that I could free up my schedule to watch Battlestar Galactica when I get it.

The Lost Mary Jane: Spider-man Casting and Looks in Movies

December 30, 2013

So, P.Z. Myers has finally noticed a controversy over a potential casting of Mary Jane in the next Spider-man movie, which from what I’m reading there has been dropped because they aren’t going to put Mary Jane in that movie. Anyway, Myers is going gung-ho over comic book fans being “sexist scum” (his words from the title) because many of them are saying that the actress tapped to play Mary Jane — Shailene Woodley — isn’t sexy enough for the role. (BTW, isn’t it a bit problematic that he refers to her as the “actor” in his post).

Anyway, hearing about this for the first time (I don’t tend to keep up with movies and didn’t like the first movie of that incarnation all that much), and looking at the images of the actress, I have to say that … I agree with those fans. As summarized in screechymonkey’s comment, Mary Jane Watson, as a character, has always been portrayed as sexy and fiery in terms of looks, at least in the mainline comic series (Ultimate has done that differently). I was worried that Kristen Dunst wouldn’t be “hot” enough to play Mary Jane in the Sam Raimi trilogy, and was pleasantly surprised when, in my opinion, she was. Woodley is definitely attractive, but she’s very pretty and very “cute”. She isn’t “hot” in the sense of being sexy, so her looks naturally bias her towards cute characters, girl-next-door characters, and more particularly “every person” characters. She’s best suited for roles, then, in my opinion, where you really have to believe that you could meet her on the street, that women could think that overall she could be them and men think that they might see her on the street.

Now, I have little doubt that Woodley can pull off sexy if she tried really hard. But even looking at the red carpet photos, her natural look is pretty rather than sexy, and that likely would always bleed through. But Mary Jane, in the main universe, was someone who’s natural look was sexy, where even dressed down the sexiness was still there. Mary Jane, dressed down, was still sexy. Woodley, dressed up, would still be cute. So Woodley’s looks, naturally, work against that sort of character.

Which, then, reveals the fear of fans, because with that contrast the fear is that either they’ll try to force Woodley into that type of role/image and fail at it, hurting our suspension of disbelief — ie everyone will wonder at her being treated as being so incredibly sexy when what we see on the screen isn’t — or that they’ll change the character into a girl next door rather than what she was. And comic book fans don’t like it when you fundamentally change the characters they love, which isn’t necessarily unreasonable. I know it annoys me when a reboot or reimagining of a series changes the things I liked about the series or characters in the name of “modernizing” it, and it can seem like a betrayal to fans if you finally make a movie about one of their beloved characters … and turn the character into something that is that character in name only.

The same sort of considerations occurred in casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the upcoming Man of Steel 2. There was a lot of criticism over how slight she was, and that she didn’t look the part. And I can see the complaints. Wonder Woman is not the sort of character who fights by avoiding getting hit, but by standing in the front line as a “tank” and getting hit, taking hits for other heroes, and essentially winning fights by hitting them harder than they hit her. Thus, she really has to have a presence that says that she can take a hit and a lot of them without really flinching, and has to do that even when you compare her physically to Superman and Batman. If Batman looks more able to take a hit than Wonder Woman is, you’ve done bad casting. So either you introduce a contradiction between what the character looks like and what they do and how they act and are treated on screen, or else you change how the character acts to make how they look match the character. Neither are good.

So, then, in general discussion over how an actor or actress looks are indeed important in considering the casting of a character, and so unlike as is asserted in the comments it shouldn’t just be about acting ability. There’s a lovely discussion about the Wonder Woman controversy and casting based on physicality here, which makes this excellent point:

We should campaign for realistically written, believable and compelling female characters played by actresses who can suitably represent them in every aspect of who the character is, not just one or the other. With so many actresses out there, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice acting skill for physical credibility, or vice versa.

So acting ability doesn’t trump the argument unless you argue that you can’t find a more muscular, taller, and more physically imposing actress who is also an equally skilled actress. If you indeed can, then it’s quite right to criticize the casting of someone who doesn’t look the part into the part. I’m quite sure that we could find an actress who fits a sexy Mary Jane better than Woodley does, if that’s what they’re going for.

Another problem with the casting, BTW, is that Mary Jane is the love of Peter’s life, and she’d be going up against Emma Stone directly, where you could see both of them in the same movie. Emma Stone is just far more attractive than Woodley is, in pretty much all ways. Not only is Stone sexier than Woodley is, she’s also prettier/cuter than Woodley is. The risk with this Gwen Stacey/Mary Jane Watson competition which canonically ends with Gwen Stacey’s death is that we want this to end with Mary Jane being considered the love of Peter’s life, and not just the woman he settled for because Gwen died. If we compare these two actresses in term of looks, Mary Jane loses. And considering that the first movie gave Gwen a very ideal personality for Peter, it’ll be hard to make Mary Jane the better woman for Peter without derailing at least one of the three characters. In the comics, this worked better because there was a lot of time between Gwen’s death and Mary Jane’s introduction, and they could string the relationship out more, and Peter had the chance to date other women as well, which pushes Gwen into the background. The movie series is not going to have that time. Making it feel like the main canonical woman of Peter’s dreams is his second choice is not a good thing, as I’ve briefly mentioned before.

Now, recall at the beginning of the post I said that I find Woodley attractive. But a lot of the comments about her are saying that she’s ugly. Why are people saying that, which I consider to be uncalled for? I have two theories:

1) It’s standard Internet overstatement rhetoric: instead of saying that a movie was mediocre you say it sucked, instead of saying that an actress is average you say she’s ugly, and so on and so forth.

2) Tying back to something I’ve talked about before, they are conflating their personal standard of attractiveness with an overall or objective view of attractiveness. I can certainly see why some people wouldn’t find Woodley’s looks appealing to them. If they prefer that sexier look and attitude, then she’s going to leave them cold. I happen to like prettier looks, and so at the very least won’t find her unappealing. Objectively, she’s not ugly and is attractive, but objectively she’s also not the top of the list either. So the people who will find her incredibly attractive are those that happen to like the sort of look that she naturally has, and if you don’t like that look you may not find her attractive at all. And so the comments about ugly, under this, seem to express more that they don’t find her attractive, and think she should be.

Now, in discussing how well she’d fit the role I think calling her ugly is going way too far, and that the comments should focus more on how she doesn’t have the right sort of attractiveness for the role. But I consider those comment more a sign of the mean-spiritedness of the Internet rather than a sign of sexism. Judging her by her looks when her looks wouldn’t be relevant would be a sign of sexism … but her looks are relevant to the roll, and so that part isn’t sexist. So the meanness is, to me, just general meanness and not sexist in and of itself, and the part that would actually be sexist isn’t because looks can indeed and should be relevant to casting decisions.

Prime Directive Analysis: Dear Doctor and Observer Effect

December 25, 2013

Long time readers of this blog shouldn’t be surprised by my revealing that I really like the stuff that Chuck Sonnenberg is doing over at sfdebris. While some of the shows he does don’t appeal to me, I particularly like the Star Trek reviews … even though, sometimes, I don’t agree with all of his interpretations.

He’s talked a lot about the Prime Directive, and even did a full video analyzing it. And while I don’t think that everything he says about it is wrong, I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding in his analysis that means that he’s treating it unfairly … or, rather, that he ends up treating the characters who support it unfairly based on that misunderstanding. In thinking about this in my spare time — my brain doesn’t like to shut off, sometimes even when I’m trying to sleep, which as you might imagine would be really, really annoying — I ended up coming up with ideas for a four post series starting from Chuck’s analysis and videos to describe how I think the Prime Directive should be viewed.

This, then, is that series. The first post, this one, will look at “Dear Doctor” and “Observer Effect”, which Chuck tends to compare, and will argue that they aren’t that comparable and that neither really do reflect a proper Prime Directive example. The second will up the geek quotient by looking at “Pen Pals” and using AD&D morality to better reflect the arguments that are going on there. The third will look at “First Contact” (the episode) and discuss why warp capability is such an important and not at all arbitrary dividing line. Finally, all of this will come together to examine “Time and Again” and ask if being saved from death really is better than any other possible unknown alternative.

And now, the disclaimers. First, as Chuck says, this is just my opinion. It’s an evidenced and argued opinion, and since I do philosophy I do think that there’s a right answer and that this is the right one. But this isn’t something given from on high or proven by strictly deductive logic. There’s a lot of interpretation going on, and other people will have different interpretations. While I don’t want to fall back on “You can have whatever opinion you want” because I do think there are better and worse and more right and less right interpretations, what I want to highlight is that all of this is debatable, which means that if you think I’m getting something wrong that’s something we can debate, respectfully. We may never be able to convince the other, but we should at least debate it like reasonable people. Second, Voyageur and Enterprise are the two series that I don’t own and have never watched, and so all of my understanding of the plot and details of episodes from those series come from Chuck’s videos themselves. Thus, I might be getting things wrong, or leaving things out that are important. Finally, any discussion of Chuck’s views are my assimilated impressions across all the videos and the analysis itself, but I might be misinterpreting him, filtering his views through other views I’ve come across, or just plain forgetting things he’s said that would change the interpretation. I implore you, then, to watch any relevant videos yourselves, not just because they are very entertaining, but also to ensure that your take on them is the same as mine.

And with all of that out of the way, my analysis of “Dear Doctor” and “Observer Effect”.

The basic plot of “Dear Doctor” is this: a race called the Valkanians arrive at Enterprise in a pre-warp ship, and plead for its help. It turns out that there’s some kind of disease on their planet that’s killing them, and they believe that in a short amount of time it will wipe all of them out. The Enterprise heads to the planet, only to discover that there is another race on that planet called the Menk who are mentally behind the Valkanians and who are immune to the disease. The Valkanians and the Menk live together in harmony, even though the Valkanians tend to treat them in a way that leaves them dependent on the Valkanians. Ultimately, Phlox finds a cure, but notes that the problem seems to be genetic and that the Valkanians are a genetic dead end and that, more importantly, their continued existence is getting in the way of the evolution of the Menk. He insists that the right thing to do is to not help the Valkanians. Archer resists at first, but at the end of the episode declares that they didn’t come out here to play God and so that he won’t give them the cure, although he won’t stop them from finding someone else to give them the cure either.

Chuck interprets this as Archer taking on the big Prime Directive principle: we shouldn’t save this society from death because we don’t know what impact it will have. This is despite it being made clear in the beginning — at least from the Memory Alpha summary — that the risk of cultural contamination is pretty low. Chuck points out that what they have — as even Phlox admits — is a remarkably harmonious society where the two groups get along quite well, even when the dominant group is sick and the subordinate group isn’t, which might normally spawn violence and suspicion against the subordinate group. So he sees no reason to not help the Valkanians, and that justifying it on the basis that you don’t know what the consequences will be just ends up justifying not helping anyone ever. No one holds that, and so it’s not an excuse here either.

I want to analyze this from Archer’s perspective, which lets me ignore any potential problems with the interpretation of evolution. From Archer’s perspective, the person who really should know what the case is here is telling him that he has a choice: let the Valkanians die out or doom the Menk to this sort of mental development forever. He can question it — and does in the episode — but at the end of the day any real denial of the facts as Phlox presents them to him would be him putting is own personal emotional feeling over the cold, hard, scientific facts as presenting by a scientific expert in the field. Thus, Archer couldn’t reasonably use any doubts he has over the facts to make his decision, even if Phlox ultimately is wrong about it. So whether Phlox is right or wrong isn’t relevant to Archer making his decision. And what I will argue is that Archer is not choosing to do nothing based on not knowing what might happen if he interferes, but is instead making his choice based on knowing full well what the consequences will be, but being unable and unwilling to decide which set should come into existence.

To Archer, the situation is this: if he gives the Valkanians the cure, the Menk will never advance beyond their current mental development, but if he doesn’t, the Valkanians will almost certainly die. If you think that it is better for the Menk to live as they do than it is for an entire species to die off, the choice will be easy for you: save the Valkanians. After all, the Menk don’t have that bad a life; they aren’t really oppressed, get whatever they need, and aren’t being abused or slaughtered by the Valkanians. But recall that the Federation has a philosophy of self-improvement and self-development, and that this is considered to be the highest goal in life for them. It is not unreasonable, then, for people from the Federation to think that self-development is as important if not more important than life itself, and that it might be better to die than to be stuck at the level of the Menk. Let’s put side whether you think this reasonable or not, and just examine it as something that someone could reasonably believe. So, if that’s the case, we can see that Archer would see both sides as at least being arguably unacceptable and arguably equally unacceptable. Given the choice, Archer would see either condition or consequence as being unacceptable, and now he’s forced into a situation where he has to choose one or the other. To him, then, either choice has a nasty moral consequence, one that he doesn’t want to live with.

So … he chooses not to choose. Essentially, his “We didn’t come here to play God” line is that he didn’t come out there to make these sorts of decisions for other cultures, to determine their fates. That’s not his job; that’s their job. But because of the state the Menk are in, they themselves couldn’t choose to say “We’ll give up self-development to let the Valkanians live”, and the Valkanians can’t make that decision for the Menk because the Valkanians have a strong interest in choosing the negative option for the Menk. So, to paraphrase Jeffrey Sinclair, Archer has to be the advocate for the Menk because no one else can. He could choose what might seem like the most moral option — give up development to save the lives of the Valkanians — but if he does that he is choosing that life for them even if they wouldn’t choose it for themselves. And he’s not comfortable doing that. But he’s also not comfortable outright choosing the Menk over the Valkanians. So he decides to not choose, and let nature or fate take its course. It’s not his place to decide what life — or lack of it — these groups will have.

Now, what he forgets is what is commonly forgotten: choosing not to choose is still a choice. He effectively chooses the Menk over the Valkanians because that’s what will happen if nature takes its course, and he knows that. So if you can criticize him for anything, it’s cowardice: he’s not willing to actually make the choice based on his principles, but is instead allowing nature to decide for him, even if that decision is not the decision he would make based on his own principles. But the counter is that his doing so is indeed playing God, is his determining what course this society will take and what life these people will have — Menk and Valkanian — and that’s not something he has the moral authority to do. Even if he effectively chooses one over the other by not choosing, he simply doesn’t have the moral authority to make the choice. Thus, he is making his non-choice in full knowledge and consideration of the consequences, and it is the consequences themselves that force his non-choice. Thus, he isn’t doing it because he doesn’t know what the consequences will be, but because he does and can’t choose between them, which means that it doesn’t tie as directly to the Prime Directive. At best, it’s the “Don’t interfere in purely internal matters” part, but even that is shaky.

Chuck compares Archer’s decision in “Dear Doctor” to the actions of the Organians in “Observer Effect”, but I don’t think them the same at all. To summarize “Observer Effect”, Hoshi and Trip managed to pick up an illness on an away mission on some kind of trash planet, and there are two Organians observing them as the disease progresses by hopping in and out of the bodies of various crewmembers. They debate whether they should interfere, and one constantly espouses the idea that they shouldn’t interfere because they don’t know what the consequences will be, which is a direct link to the normal interpretation of the Prime Directive. Eventually, Archer debates with them over it, makes what seems to be a direct reference to his having had to make similar tough decisions in “Dear Doctor” — when his decision was, really, not to choose — and derides them over being heartless and wrong at least in part because they could have stopped the disease before they were infected at all. Eventually, the Organians bring Trip and Hoshi back to life and the disease on the planet is eliminated as any kind of threat.

Chuck uses this to argue that when Archer or members of his crew are likely to die, then he sees interference as a good thing, but when others are likely to die then it isn’t. That may be a valid interpretation of Archer, but it doesn’t follow from “Dear Doctor”, because “Dear Doctor” is, again, a case where interference had known negative consequences, or at least consequences that Archer could reasonably think negative. In “Observer Effect”, that’s not the case. At best, the Organians were simply arguing that some nebulous bad thing might happen if they interfered, but they didn’t have any specific consequence in mind. Archer did. Thus, Archer’s decision not to interfere is certainly more justifiable than that of the Organians, because he was forced to make a choice between two bad outcomes, while the Organians only had a vague “We shouldn’t interfere” idea to appeal to.

But note that I think that even the Organians aren’t a good representation of the Prime Directive here. They constantly compare the reactions of the humans to those of other species, and the first few times through the videos I never got that they weren’t comparing the reactions of the humans to those of the other species in similar circumstances, but were comparing the reactions in the exact same circumstances. Meaning, other species landing on this very planet and contracting this very disease. Which always kills at least some people on the ship and might kill all of them. And the Organians couldn’t be bothered to even put up a warning or actually just eliminate the source of the disease, which would have had no impact on any culture or society or had any real consequences whatsoever. Surely no one thinks that if the Federation came across a disease on a planet that they could then cure that they wouldn’t even put up a warning buoy. In fact, they’d be far more likely to simply eliminate it from the planet if they could do so without causing known harm. So why don’t the Organians do this? Well, they come across as treating the people like lab rats, caring more about seeing how they react and worrying about losing this wonderful research opportunity than about them as sentient beings at all. In general, those in the Federation do care about those that will die, and invoke the “We don’t know the consequences” as an argument in order to reveal their feelings that the interference might make things worse. At worst, then, the Federation may take the Prime Directive too dogmatically, but they don’t use it to justify ongoing research projects. The Organians, on the other had, seem to.

We will get into whether the Prime Directive, by TNG time, has turned into a simple dogmatic principle in later posts, but to summarize this one the Prime Directive doesn’t apply to “Dear Doctor” because the consequences are known and it’s a completely different moral principle that’s at work here, while the Organians in “Observer Effect” are closer to it but still violate its intentions, seemingly willingly.

Agents of SHIELD …

October 23, 2013

So, I’ve been watching “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on Tuesdays, mostly because I’m a huge Marvel fan and did really like “The Avengers” and, surprisingly, the “Thor” movie (I’m still a bit lukewarm to the “Iron Man” movies). Unfortunately, so far I’ve seen 4 out of the 5 episodes — I caught this week’s episode, but missed last week’s — and have been disappointed. I joked that, similar to Battlestar Galactica and Farscape, if it wasn’t for Ming-Na Wen … and that’s actually because not only do I like the actress, I actually really like the character and wish she had a more prominent role, especially since the main focus characters seem to be Wade and Skye, and I don’t find either of them interesting.

I’m going to talk about the series and especially the latest episode in more detail, which will contain spoilers, and so for the first time ever I’m going to try to introduce a fold! Let’s see how that works …

(more…)

Smallville: They Should Have Kept Gina.

August 23, 2013

I’m watching Smallville again, and am again right at the end of Season 7 and the beginning of Season 8, and the end of Season 7 reminded just how much better it would have been if they had never introduced Tess Mercer to replace Lex Luthor, but instead had simply not killed off Gina at the end of Season 7. Everything that they had in Tess Mercer they had in her: she was only his assistant, and so all of the plot lines about her not being considered qualified to run Luthorcorp were valid, she had been involved with Lex in some of his dirtiest dealings and so was certainly trusted by him, she had the undercurrent of being in love with Lex, she was demonstrated to be absolutely ruthless and so was already established as being a threat, her background was vague enough that if they really, really, really had to do the link to Green Arrow — and I personally think that was a really bad idea — they could have done it, and since we had already been exposed to her it would have made for an easier transition from the old main villain to the new one. Add to that that Gina’s death was for the most part absolutely pointless and utterly unnecessary to most of the plot, and that even with that scene they could have inserted some kind of last minute save that could have also resulted in her losing her memory of who the Traveller was, and it smacks of lost potential.

And one thing that strikes me about Season 7 is that there was a lot of lost potential in it, sacrificed in an attempt, it seems, to make things seem more serious and to promote Lex becoming more villainous. The death of Julian is a prime example of that, as is the death of Patricia Swann, as is the death of Gina. None of them were necessary and all of them squander what could have been good plotlines. Having Julian as a naive intermediary between Lionel and Lex would have been a nice development, and even though the ending harkened back to Lex handling a similar situation differently (when Lex was the naive one to trust his brother, kinda), it wasted a long set-up with Julian and his relationship with Lois. Maybe he wasn’t really panning out to the audience at the time — he was kinda annoying to me as well — but because of the set-up the ending just seems to make it worse: focus on a character, interweave him, and then ditch him unceremoniously with a slightly out-of-character move from Lex, who had always tended to be focused on more subtle means first before rsorting to outright violence … just like Lionel. The same thing applies to the death of Patricia Swann. She was an interesting character who could have brought so much more to the table than merely being the person who delivered the plot MacGuffin and died. I was heartened by the hints that she was going to get involved in the story and disappointed with her, again, unceremonious death.

Not only did they waste good characters, the latter two really hurt Lex as a villain, turning him into more of a thug than a Mastermind/Chessmaster, someone who’s first answer is to kill opponents rather than co-opt them into doing his will. And the one that he does co-opt is Jimmy Olsen, who’s not much of a threat. Seeing Lex manipulate major players would establish his credibility as a thinking villain, especially since against Clark Kent/Superman brute force isn’t going to be all that effective. So, Lex’s methods in Season 7 tend to be crude, direct, and brutal, far more so than his methods in previous seasons and making him out to be a far inferior Chessmaster when compared to Lionel … who, don’t get me wrong, was indeed more than willing to kill as well, but was more subtle and had more pinache about it, and also seemed to be almost disappointed when he had to resort to those sorts of crude methods. Lex seems to jump to them first, which is disappointing, especially since Lex Luthor was an incredibly good villain in the previous seasons.

To return to the original topic, Gina could have provided a more brutal villain by combining her ruthlessness, her anger and the fact that she was just not the sort of Chessmaster that the Luthers were, without derailing a character to do so, or introducing a new character that no one knew or cared about to try to fill a void that was already going to be difficult to fill. That she wasn’t the villain Lex was not only would be understandable and expected, but could have worked into her story arc. Keeping Patricia Swann around would have allowed her to step into Tess’ more heroic role and allowed us to keep Gina as a more pure villain, and then Seasons 8 and onward could have set up a subplot of villainy where the main, head-to-head battles could have been between Swann and Gina, an intellectual and ruthless “catfight” to replace the Lex/Clark or Lex/Lionel showdowns, while still heavily involving Clark, Chloe and the others because all of the fighting is, in fact, over Clark, and the story that he presents. I think having two strong, capable women doing the at least public competing would make for a nice change, and those two characters — and actresses — could have pulled it off well.

And then we wouldn’t have had to have lines like Tess insisting that the desk was Lex’s be establishing lines, as opposed to being simple reflections of character traits that we already knew about. If Gina had been in that scene (from the Season 8 premiere), you could have seen the conflict in her from the right context: Gina wanting the power and control, but not wanting to supplant Lex and desperately wanting him to be alive. With Tess, we aren’t sure what that means, because the line is supposed to help us learn about the character. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would have been so much better if we hadn’t had to learn about that character at all.

I Watched Dark Shadows Until They Played Dead …

May 20, 2013

So, after starting it at the end of January, I finally finished “Dark Shadows” … the complete original soap opera. I enjoyed it. There were some clunky storylines — I have to admit that I never liked the Pheonix storyline, that they did at least twice — but over all it’s a simple and reasonably enjoyable soap opera, perfect to watch while doing other things. The storylines were relatively simple, summarized well, and the characters were generally interesting. You can see not only where they got their inspiration from, but how they inspired others: the werewolf angle is similar to what you saw later in Buffy, and even the tormented vampire as a curse can been seen as an inspiration for Angel.

However, the show relied far too heavily on possession as a major plot point. Any plot point that is overused is problematic since instead of adding drama the audience starts to say “Again?!?”. I was feeling that way with a lot of their possession plots. And with the supposedly unpopular “Leviathan” story arc, the arc seemed to hint that Barnabas was possessed, and then that he wasn’t, but then didn’t really build up any kind of good motivation for him joining willingly, and this carried on throughout most of it: a need to have the people controlled by the Leviathans, and yet able to resist and act “normally” whenever they needed to. No wonder it was a bit unpopular, especially considering that it ran for a fair amount of time.

The biggest problem with the series for me, though, was David. It was clear that they were aiming for “Creepy Child” but instead got “Annoying Child”. The reason for this was that, in general, David was a complete jerk, taking after his father, it seems. But that works against the “Creepy Child” archetype. The Creepy Child is supposed to be incomprehensible, or at least capable of acting completely and totally out of character in a way that can be somewhat menacing. We’re supposed to wonder if they’re an innocent being influenced, or really evil, or something in between. But with David, we knew that he, say, locked Vicki in that room because he was mad at her and wanted to hurt her, and we knew that he was lying when he said he didn’t do it or didn’t know why he did it, because the series set it up that way. Thus, David came across as more of a sociopath/psychopath than as someone we were supposed to relate to, which made it very hard to relate to him when we needed to. Add to it that the actor playing him wasn’t a particularly good actor, and the character was just incredibly annoying … and yet played a very large role in a number of storylines.

Overall, though, it was a good series and it’s something that I will watch again. Just not this year [grin].

Movies March 6 …

March 7, 2013

So, finally, after taking a few weeks off I again wandered down the block to the video store and rented a couple of movies: “Date Night” and “Silent Hill: Revelation”.

Let’s start with “Date Night”. I had seen the ads for this movie a long time ago, and thought that it might be an interesting movie to watch when it came out on DVD. I’ve found Tina Fey entertaining in the past — although that was mostly from “Mean Girls”, watched when I had a free movie on VOD from signing up for cable — and while I didn’t find Steve Carrell all that entertaining in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” — or, in fact, the movie itself all that entertaining — he seemed mostly harmless to me, and so it seemed like it might be a good bet. And then, of course, I completely and totally forgot all about it … until yesterday.

Now, as seems to be the norm for me these days, I didn’t find the movie all that funny. Sure, it was aimed as being one of those “normal couple falls into madcap adventures” sorts of comedies, but for the most part the madcap adventures were pretty much the norm. Other movies, it seemed to me, had done similar things about as well. The most madcap of the madcap adventures was the car chase scene … and it was fairly standard, or at least it seemed that way to me. About the funniest part of the movie was a conversation between James Franco and Mila Kunis who played a rather shady couple who were arguing in the standard stereotypical old married couple fashion subbing in the shady terms, which was rather neat. But humour-wise, it really wasn’t that funny, at least to me.

That conversation I just mentioned, though, is one of the reasons I really enjoyed the movie, because to me the best part of the movie is the development of the Fosters, the everyday, average married couple going through a normal routine — that includes a regular date night — who start to wonder if, as the movie says, that they’re just really good roommates, and how things change as they go through this madcap adventure, finally ending with them realizing that, yes, they really do want each other. And the movie does a really good job at presenting them fairly even-handedly, with both of them having their faults and having their strengths. For the most part, we can easily see that these are two really nice people who treat each other well and care about each other, and that their complaints about each other are both somewhat valid and yet also not really serious. For example, it would have been easy to portray the husband as being the typical “avoid work and let the wife do it” type of husband, except that he really does show that he tries to help and she stops him because it’s easier for her, which he brings up when she talks about him not doing things, and she has to accept it. If there’s any inequity in this at all, it’s that he’s really so much nicer than she is: he goes to a book club full of women because she wants him to, and he actually reads the entire book when she doesn’t. He does it because it’s important to her. There’s no real scene like that for her in the movie, as far as I can tell, nothing that she does just because it’s important to him. Maybe the writers thought that if they didn’t make him so exceptionally nice — if a bit bumbling — that you’d get people thinking that maybe she is better off without him, and that would ruin the entire movie.

At the end of it all, you are supposed to feel that these people are a nice and evenly matched couple, and happy that they are together and stay together, and don’t really break apart throughout the entire movie. And, in my view, it succeeded, making it an entertaining watch.

Turning to “Silent Hill: Revelation”, I rented this movie because I have many of the games — although I haven’t finished one yet — and watched the first movie and liked it. “Revelation” would probably be better named “Silent Hill: Exposition”, because unlike other horror movies or even most survival horror games the creepy and somewhat gory horror and monster scenes are basically in there to satisfy your need for scares before moving you along to the next piece of plot exposition. The scenes are always short and always come after a bit of exposition telling you more about Silent Hill and what has happened. Most horror movies and games use exposition to explain just enough to you to get you to the next scary scene, and so have short scenes of exposition that lead you to a new monster, but that’s entirely reversed here. The monster scenes in general don’t even have a lot to do with the exposition you had, and so really do seem like “We probably should put some horror and gore in here just to keep the idea, you know, that this is a horror movie”. Which hurts it a bit, I think, because from what I’ve played and read, Silent Hill works better as psychological horror than as a gore fest, and while the gore isn’t all that heavy, there’s enough to distract from the psychological aspects, which aren’t played up much.

That being said, I think it really does try to capture and express the lore far better than the first movie did, which it can do because it does so much exposition. It’s at least roughly based on Silent Hill 3 — skipping over Silent Hill 2, but not in a way that invalidates it — and provides a bridge between what happened in Silent Hill to get us to this point. It also lays out a lot more of the lore, and also introduces the idea of there being multiple Silent Hills, and so allowing for it to include Silent Hill 2, The Room, and Shattered Memories at some point. It even makes a link to Homecoming right at the end, which even I smiled at despite only knowing about that game from a commentary by Shamus Young. Lorewise, it’s interesting, and personally I prefer the exposition to the monster fighting. And the final battle is, to me, brilliant in concept if a bit shaky in execution. For someone versed in the Silent Hill mythos, I think this should be a much more satisfying movie than Silent Hill, and in that way I like it better. So, also a very entertaining movie.

I can’t say that I’ll buy either of these movies, but I certainly enjoyed watching them, and stayed awake through all of them, which is rare for me.

Movies Feb 6

February 7, 2013

So, after taking a week off last week due to weather and to watch “Dark Shadows”, this week I again wandered down the block to rent movies. Now, one of the reasons I rented “The Apparition” last time was because the next big movie on my list for new releases was “Captain America” … and I was worried about being disappointed. I watched the original set of Spider-man movies and liked them, watched the original X-Men trilogy and liked them, rented Thor and liked it, and bought The Avengers and liked it. On the other hand, I found the Iron Man movies to be watchable but disappointing and was disappointed in the Fantastic Four movies, not to mention the one Hulk movie I watched as well as Daredevil or Elektra, and Captain America was a movie that they could do wrong in some many ways. I also hadn’t been thrilled by what I had read in the reviews. But with nothing else being appealing, I had to break down and rent Captain America, and paired that with Transformers 3, despite my being disappointed by them as well.

I fell asleep during both of them, but again that doesn’t really say whether the movies were good or not.

So, to start my commentary, let me just note that Transformers 3 is a longer movie than Captain America, despite the fact that as the third in the series it has less backstory to fill in and has, in fact, less plot. The plot of that movie simply can’t stretch long enough to cover that much time, and so it seems to get filled in by unfunny attempts at humour and mindless, pointless action scenes. Again, Captain America had more plot and didn’t skimp on the action scenes, and yet was about a half hour shorter.

The second problem with Transformers 3 was that it focused far too much on the humans and on humans fighting against Transformers and less — to little — on the interactions between the Transformers themselves. Now, it can be argued that the whole series has a focus on humans more than on the Transformers and that that is a good and interesting thing to do, but it’s a very risky move when the really unique and interesting thing about the movie is the Transformers. I mean, there’s a reason it’s called “Transformers” and not “Spike Witwicky and the Humans”. If you are going to take the focus away from the thing that makes your story different, you had better have a really good story to replace that with.

And that’s the third problem: the human-focused stories aren’t interesting. The closest thing we have to a plot/character arc is Spike’s, starting from a recent college graduate who has somehow been dropped from the work the Transformers are doing and who is struggling to get a job and following him through his life until he gets back into the main fight again at the end. The problem with it is that it is mostly incredible, and incredible to the point that even the lampshading of it only draws attention to the flaws as opposed to being a wink at the camera. Why, since he knew everything about the Transformers and was still associating with one, didn’t the government just hire him into the project? Considering the budget it had, he’d have been a rounding error, and they were already paying for his college. Did they really want him to be working for someone else, or selling out what he knew to the highest bidder to make money? And from that, it looks like the difficulty finding a job was just something tossed in to cause problems and laughs, and not as something that would lead him to some kind of character revelation. And because it isn’t that sort of thing, the character revelation at the end doesn’t have its thrust; sure, he overcomes a seeming lack of confidence, but to even get to where he was required that, and there isn’t enough of a gap between himself and Carly to make that reunion carry the emotional weight. It’s just unsatisfying and it’s the big character development in the movie … even though Optimus turns killer with little fan fare.

Here’s how I would have done it differently: instead of having Spike be cut off from the Transformers by the agency, have Spike walk away. Have him decide that what he really wants is a normal life and not to get involved in all of this business that has almost gotten him and his girlfriend killed a number of times. Have a grateful government accept that and offer to pay for his college to help him get a normal life. Hint that Michaela left him because in his attempt to return to a normal life he lost the qualities that made him interesting. Have Carly meet him while he was in that normal life, and perhaps be unaware or only vaguely aware of the past, and aiming far more at a normal life. Then have him get that ordinary job not out of real frustration, but out of an acceptance that that was what life was like. Then have him get involved with that VP again, and see the major issue and have to go to the Autobots again. And then when he meets the head woman have her animosity not be that he isn’t qualified, but that he walked away and now wants back in. Have Carly get involved again and get kidnapped and held hostage, but then Spike’s strong desire to rescue her would be motivated by the real fact that he had gotten her sucked into that world that he was trying to get away from, and an underlying fear that she will blame him for ruining her normal life, just as he feels he did to Michaela. This would lead to an understandable fear, even as he rescues her, that she will walk away as well. In the middle of the battle, it all comes together and he discovers who he really is … and he isn’t someone suited for a normal life. He’s a hero, not a messenger (and he could be taunted with being a messenger a couple of times previously without it causing issues). Then, the ending is of him becoming a hero again … and of Carly finding that it actually completes who he is, and liking it. Thus, them getting together having a strong emotional meaning.

But, they didn’t.

As for Captain America, all I can say is that it was actually a pretty good movie. It could have gone off the rails, but it handled even the bits that seemed shaky — Captain America being sent out to drum up sales of War Bonds, for example — in a reasonable and believeable fashion. Cap is a believeable character, and they prove to the audience why he was chosen to be Captain America with a couple of great scenes where he demonstrates his intelligence and heart, which are the things the Super Soldier serum wouldn’t give him. His way of speaking is a bit Boy Scout but again a believeable one. Overall, it was an entertaining movie.

Of the two, I would definitely add Captain America to my collection of movies, but will only add Transformers 3 if I see it cheap to be a completist (I own the first two because I, well, got them cheap at a used DVD store.)

(No) Movies Jan 30 …

January 30, 2013

So, this week I’ll be skipping what I was hoping to be a regular weekly “Rent a couple of movies in the evening” event. Part of this is because the weather has been a little odd this week, ranging from snow to freezing rain to rain, which has shuffled by schedule a bit. Part of this is because work is a bit busy and I’m looking at putting in more hours to get ahead of problems I’m having.

But a big part of it is that I broke down and bought the rather massive complete series of “Dark Shadows”, as I hinted at doing here. I mulled it over for quite a while because the complete series involves a significant investment of money and, even more importantly, time. To get through the entire series would take me about 5 months at my best possible watching speed … and you have to remember that I don’t watch a lot of TV outside of DVDs. So that’s a lot. If I don’t like it, it’s a lot of money to spend for something I’ll never watch, even if it’s worth the price if I even get through it once, but the length of it encourages me to either try to blast through it or leaves me watching the same thing for months. Both can lead to burn-out, although as a soap opera stopping and continuing later is always an option.

So far, I’m through about 30 episodes, and I like it. The series starts without Barnabbas Collins, and so has the time to develop the other characters. Carolyn and Roger, for example, are actually developed in the series where they basically just existed in the movie, and the relationship between Carolyn and Victoria is interesting and believable. You also get a number of secondary characters that will play roles later that actually get talked about. And all of them have plotlines around them that are interesting. Returning to Carolyn’s, her plot was far more interesting that … whatever happened in the movie, even though the idea that she wanted a white knight to carry her away might not have played well to today’s audiences, as a young woman would be expected to leave on her own instead of waiting for her husband. Then again, the movie was set in the 70s, where it would have been more believable, and if they wanted to avoid such anachronisms it would have been better to have simply moved it to today.

Victoria Winters, again, is far more developed. She was essentially the lead character in the first year or so — the first 200 episodes! — and so her character is well-developed and involved in a lot of things. And she is an interesting character, and I like the actress. I also liked the actress in the movie, but she wasn’t around enough for me to really pay attention to her. Ultimately, in watching the movie it always seemed like they were horribly underusing the characters, and in watching the TV show that was clearly the case. Even Elizabeth Collins Stoddard played by Michelle Pfeifer was underused, and she’s one of the actors that clearly outperforms her counterpart in the original TV series; she does a far better job reflecting the character, even though the actress in the TV series did a good job.

This is not to say that the TV series was perfect. The acting can be uneven, and is often incredibly melodramatic. But it actually all seems to fit in fairly well. So far, then, I’m enjoying it … and am not even at the part where everyone says the series got good. I should get to that point in … about a month.

Movies January 23 …

January 24, 2013

So, last night I braved the cold to wander down to the end of my block and rent movies again. This time, it was horror night, as I rented “The Apparition” and “The Collector”. Now, I’m not actually a really big fan of horror movies. I like ghost stories, and don’t tend to like movies that are mostly gore fests. Which means that I probably should have skipped “The Collector”, which seems to be something of a “Saw” knock-off … or, at least, how I’d imagine that to be since I skipped those movies. Anyway, the sorts of horror that I have liked are “The Ring”, “Rose Red” (the TV miniseries by Stephen King”), “Silent Hill”, “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (but not for the horror parts), “The Blair Witch Project”, and “Paranormal Activity” (which “The Apparition” appears to be trying to emulate), and a few others. So as you can see, for me the story behind the supernatural events is as important if not more so than the actual plot itself. In these two movies, my problems are going to be with the story behind the story and with the story, and as such are going to contain massive, massive spoilers. You have been warned.

I picked these two up because “The Apparition” did sound like an attempt at being similar to the first “Paranormal Activity” (which is the only one I’ve seen, oddly enough, and whose alternate ending is one of the few horror movie endings that really, really, really creeped me out; it’s too bad they couldn’t use it because of the sequel) and “The Collector” sounded like it might have a bit more of a plot, by introducing the ex-con/handyman there to rob the family who has to then try to save them. Unfortunately, neither of them could pull it off very well, and they both failed for two really big reasons:

1) They both ended with the evil winning.
2) They both didn’t explain the story behind the story at all.

Now, ending with evil ending or it being ambiguous is not unheard of. Out of the movies I list above, in fact, only “Rose Red” can really be said to not have the supernatural win and not be stopped by the heroes (it’s not really relevant in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”). And yet, I do like them. So what’s the problem here? Well, first, I think I’m getting a little tired of it. Sure, it’s nice as a subversion every once and a while, but it seems that far too many of these movies are aiming at that subversion. I’d really like to start seeing more when after many trials the heroes come out on top, even if there are only a few survivors after all of that. Then again, perhaps being not particularly a fan of horror I miss more movies where that does happen, and just got unlucky having two of them on the same night.

But the other reason I disliked it here, I think, is because of the second point. Neither movie really explains the backstory of their villains properly, so I don’t really know what’s behind all of this. In “The Apparition”, you get the exposition about it trying to get into the world and perhaps lead an invasion, and about its methods … but not really anything about what it wants beyond that. And since that story hints at it deceiving your perceptions, we aren’t even sure how much of what she say was real before she basically gives in and it, well, wraps its hands around her at the very end. I don’t know if this is bad in general or just bad for her, or what will happen to her, or what it wants from her, or if it wants something in particular from her (since it seemed focused on her), and why it seems to have just grabbed other people without wearing them down but tried to wear her down, or if that quick grab leads into a wearing down or … well, anything really. In “The Collector”, there’s talk about the villain collecting people, and only killing the people the villain doesn’t like … but that seems to be almost everyone, since the villain can only keep one person at a time in that box. Does the villain store more people somewhere else? And why if the villain wants to collect people does it create so many painful death traps? We really get nothing on the villain’s backstory, and in “The Collector” we also leave a ton of plot threads open, such as what happens to the thief’s family, the little girl, and so on.

It’s okay to try to keep a villain mysterious … but if you do that, what you really shouldn’t do is drop in a lot of exposition telling us interesting hints about the stuff you’re trying to keep mysterious. Both movies do this, and they suffer for it. I want to know the answers to the questions they open up, and if I think of contradictions I want them to either be resolved and shown not to be or, at least, to be shown as being false. In “The Ring”, for example, almost all of it is tracing through her backstory to come to a conclusion about how to stop her … that turns out to be absolutely, positively false. That’s interesting, even if it invalidates a lot of what went on before. None of that happens here. Oh, sure, there are a few red herrings here and there, and both have cases where you think the horror is ended and it isn’t, but for the most part there just isn’t enough underneath the plot to really make me care about the false leads. Instead of things feeling like my whole view of the movie has been turned upside down by the twists, I feel more like I was only going along with the first plot segment because I might as well, since it’s pretty much just what people were saying, but then when it changes my thought falls back to “Well, okay, sure, this can work, too.” Or, worse, that I just don’t really care. By the end of “The Collector” I was just wishing for them to get away already so that the movie could end; in “The Apparition” I was just following along by rote and not really thinking about what was happening. Neither of these are good for a horror movie.

I will say that “The Collector” does a sterling job with “Chekhov’s Gun”, though.

For the most part, for me both movies fall into the trap of caring too much about generating suspense and not enough about making all of that really, really scary. There are some lovely cat-and-mouse scenes in “The Collector”, but without a really firm hold on what’s at stake they can’t carry the fear themselves and the death traps eventually just seem contrived. In “The Apparition”, there’s some very good potential but the inconsistencies in the plot make it so that, again, I don’t really know what is at stake, and so all my emotion has to be carried by my caring for the protagonists, and mostly the female lead … who isn’t developed enough for me to care that much about.

I really feel like these movies are a bit like “The Sphinx” from “Mystery Men”: all you can really say about them is that they’re mysterious (“terribly mysterious”). But that’s not enough for horror, and not getting a resolution to the mystery makes them bad mysteries as well. I’m sure that some people will really enjoy them, but these end up being the first movies in this renting spree that I probably should not have rented; there were a number of candidates that would have been far more enjoyable, even if I was just after some decent horror.

And it makes me wonder if I’m just picking from the weak end of the movie pool, or if this is saying something about my standards for entertainment.


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