Friday, June 30, 2006

My Emmy Nominations

Back in March, I did a post with all my Oscar nominations,and now it's time to do the same for the Emmys. The actual nominations are out next week, but here's what I think they should be. Now, I'm a bit handicapped because I can only put down people who are on shows that I actually watch, but there's a pretty solid mix of shows. In some cases, I chose to combine comedy and drama, just because I don't watch that many shows and I wanted to put people down who actually have done good work. And, rather than doing seperate writing and directing catergories, I combined them into a Best Episode catergory. And one final note, the eligibility period was June 1, 2005 to May 31, 2006, which means that a couple of shows that are now gone are making the return here. On to the awards...

Supporting Actor (Comedy):
Will Arnette - 'Gob' on Arrested Development
Michael Cera - 'George Michael' on Arrested Development
David Cross - 'Tobias' on Arrested Development
Kevin Dillon - 'Johnny Drama' on Entourage
David Sutcliffe - 'Christopher' on Gilmore Girls

Arrested clearly had a lot of fantastic performances, but the most consistently funny one on the show is Michael Cera as George Michael. His bizarre relationship with Maebe in the final few episodes of the series gave him some of his best material and he managed to get huge laughs by underplaying the material.

Supporting Actress (Comedy):
Kelly Bishop - 'Emily' on Gilmore Girls
Alexis Bledel - 'Rory' on Gilmore Girls
Portia De Rossi - 'Lindsay' on Arrested Development
Alia Shawkat - 'Maebe' on Arrested Development
Jessica Walter - 'Lucille' on Arrested Development

Two of the people in this category are basically playing the same character, Kelly Bishop and Jessica Walter, the only difference is that one lives in a relatively real world and the other lives in a crazy cartoon world. However, I think the best performance here is by Portia de Rossi who went to such weird places in the final few episodes of the series.

Supporting Actor (Drama):
James Callis - 'Gaius Baltar' on Battlestar Galactica
Michael Imperioli - 'Christopher' on The Sopranos
Chris Messina - 'Ted' on Six Feet Under
Tony Sirico - 'Paulie' on The Sopranos
Jeremy Sisto - 'Billy' on Six Feet Under

This is a category with a ton of worthy people, you could easily get five from the cast of The Sopranos alone. However, the winner here is Michael Imperioli, who always remained emotionally intense even when the show started to drift towards the end of the season. His lingering issues about Adrianna's death and the direction of his life provided some of the season's best material.

Supporting Actress (Drama):
Tricia Helfer - 'Six' on Battlestar Galactica
Tina Holmes - 'Maggie' on Six Feet Under
Grace Park - 'Sharon' on Battlestar Galactica
Katie Sackhoff - 'Kara' on Battlestar Galactica
Grace Zabriskie - 'Lois' on Big Love

Another catergory with a surplus of great performances, however the best is Grace Park, who had to create two seperate, but very similar characters and pulled it off entirely. She provided the best moments in the weak run during the second half of the season and her work at the end of the year, particularly in Downloaded was fantastic. She's one of those people who makes every scene they're in great.

James Gandolfini - 'Tony' on The Sopranos
Michael C. Hall - 'David' on Six Feet Under
Peter Krause - 'Nate' on Six Feet Under
Julian McMahon - 'Christian' on Nip/Tuck
Kiefer Sutherland - 'Jack Bauer' on 24

For me, Peter Krause is Nate, I don't watch him and say "That's a great performance," I just see it as someone who exists and is living his life. While the Oscars usually reward stuff like Ray or Capote, where you're always aware of watching a 'great performance,' I think the best acting is like Krause's, where there is no apparent line between the character and the person. His angst during the early part of the season leads to the absolutely brutal breakup with Brenda on his death bed. He went through a lot this season, and I would consider Krause's work as Nate over the course of the series the greatest television performance of all time.

Lauren Ambrose - 'Claire' on Six Feet Under
Kristen Bell - 'Veronica' on Veronica Mars
Edie Falco - 'Carmela' on The Sopranos
Lauren Graham - 'Lorelai' on Gilmore Girls
Rachel Griffiths - 'Brenda' on Six Feet Under

This is the best bunch of performances of any of the acting categories, and if you compare it to the best actress nominations at the Oscars, it's pretty clear that women are getting much more to do on TV. Falco and Graham did some of their best work this year, but no one can top Rachel Griffiths, and her work as Brenda. Take everything I said about Krause above and repeat it, because she does the same level of brilliant work. The thought of her going through this extended story about miscarriages and possible genetic disease while actually pregnant is crazy, but she takes it and does some of her best work. The one scene that stands out for me is the dream where she and Billy are about to have sex, it's such a creepy scene, but she handles it perfectly. Brilliant work.

Episode (Comedy):
Arrested Development – ‘Development Arrested’
Entourage – ‘I Love You Too’
Gilmore Girls – ‘I Get a Sidekick Out of You’
Gilmore Girls – ‘Partings’
Gilmore Girls – ‘The New and Improved Lorelai’

Obviously, Gilmore Girls had a lot of great stuff, but the best comedy episode of the season was the insanity of Development Arrested, which saw the series spin further into craziness then it had gone before. They knew they were cancelled, so Hurwitz and co. took this as the opportunity to break down all the taboos and go to a very odd place. It's very satisfying as a series finale, with the biggest highlight being the return of Anyong. It was a great way to go out.

Episode (Drama):
Battlestar Galactica – ‘Downloaded’
Six Feet Under – ‘Ecotone’
Six Feet Under – ‘Everyone’s Waiting’
The Sopranos – ‘Join the Club’
The Sopranos – Mr. and Mrs. Sacrimoni Request…’

The final five minutes of the series were its best, but the best episode of Six Feet Under's final season, and the best episode of the year, was Ecotone, one of the most intense and brutal episodes of any series. This went to a lot of the same territory as Buffy's The Body, but with its glimpse into a parallel universe and dream ending, it goes to a uniquely Six Feet Under place. Nate breaking up wtih Brenda and the dream were both highlights, but it was that final white screen that left me totally overwhelmed. Nate had quite a journey, and this was an incredible way to go out.

Series (Comedy):
Arrested Development
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Gilmore Girls

It's odd to give the best comedy award to Gilmore Girls, because this season went to a very dark place and stayed there, culminating in an all falls apart finale, but the show's in the comedy category, so content be damned, it shall win. This season saw the best work from Lauren Graham, taking Lorelai in a darker direction, first with the strain between Rory and Lorelai, then with the strain between Lorelai and Luke. This is a great example of a show staying fresh by exploring new territory, and even if the show loses something wtih the Palladinos, at least they went out on a high note.

Series (Drama):
Battlestar Galactica
Big Love
Six Feet Under
The Sopranos

For the final five minutes alone, Six Feet Under deserves this award. No show provided has ever provided as satisfying a conclusion as the jump into the future. But, the entire season took those kind of creative risks, Nate and Brenda's arc, Claire's time in the office, the chaos 'Static' and the sadness of 'Ecotone.' All fantastic stuff. When this was airing, Sunday night became the highlight of my week. It was the second strongest season of the show's run and a perfect conclusion for one of the greatest series of all time.

Total (Wins)
Six Feet Under - 10 (4)
Arrested Development - 8 (3)
Gilmore Girls - 7 (1)
The Sopranos - 7 (1)
Battlestar Galactica - 6 (1)
Entourage - 3
24 - 2
Big Love - 2
Nip/Tuck - 1
Veronica Mars - 1
Weeds - 1
Curb Your Enthusiasm - 1

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My 2004 Oscar Nominations (1/26/2005)
My 2005 Oscar Nominations (1/31/2006)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Superman Returns

I don't know what it says about your film when the best thing about it is the font in the opening credits. The font is very 70s, but in a really cool way and I loved the way it zoomed right into the camera. You just don't see that pop a font used in most of today's films. And, I believe the only reason it was in this one was because it's the font that was used in 1979's Superman.

My big issue with this movie is that it doesn't function as a standalone film. Now, I don't know that it'd be a good idea to do yet another take on the Superman origin story, but, having seen the Donner film roughly ten years ago, I definitely felt like I was missing something here. There's not much character development here, the film just drops you into the world that was created in the Donner films and moves from there. Now, we get all the basics, but emotionally, there's no particular reason to care about any of these people.

The primary issue with any Superman story is that he's an invulnerable superhuman. This is a guy who can lift a whole crystal island into space, there's no way that anyone can hurt him, other than with kryptonite, so there's very little tension for most of the film. Because Superman can't be hurt, you have to build tension in a way other than the threat of physical violence to the protagonist. They attempt to do this through his relationship with Lois Lane, but I had no real emotional stake in whether they got together.

Another major issue is Lex Luthor, who's definitely the most fun character in the film, but also feels totally disconnected from Superman. His evil plan is so ridiculous, and the way it resolves is not particularly involving. He's just sort of defeated and then the movie ends. Luthor and Superman only have one brief scene together, again, Singer seems to be relying on our foreknowledge of their relationship rather than what's actually present in this film.

If this film is meant to be a sequel to the two Donner films, that's cool, but it's been 25 years, and those films weren't exactly great to begin with. The film reminds me a lot of King Kong in that the director lets his childhood love for a film get in the way of making something that's fresh and accessible to new audiences. Singer may dig the Donner films, but do we need to what a 2.5 hour homage to that love. If 25 years have passed, your film needs to stand on its own a bit better than this one did.

Superman is a writer's worst nightmare, because his powers remove the tension from nearly every narrative situation. The attempts to build tension, such as the piano scene and the drowning scene, felt totally stock, and my awareness of the attempt to build tension removed any tension from the scene.

So, when building a Superman movie, you've got two options. One is to focus more on the villains, sort of like Batman Returns. That was a film about how people defined themselves in opposition to Batman, and in that one film, we got three fully developed characters who are infinitely more complex and entertaining to watch than anything in this movie.

Alternatively, you can explore Superman as a God among men. It's absurd that this guy would even bother to have a secret identity, let alone work a full time job in a newspaper when he could be out saving people. The various Superman knockoffs, such as Miracleman or Supreme, are infinitely more exciting than the man himself because they are more open to commentary on what it's like to be a god. That's the difference between Superman and a Batman or Spiderman, this is not an ordinary guy, it's someone way beyond human, so don't try to tell stories about how Superman is just a regular joe with the same problems as you or I. This film was clearly inspired by the Spiderman relationship dynamic, but it lacked the emotional pull of that film, where we got to see a person who's a man first and a hero second. Here, we see someone who can do anything, and doesn't seem to really care whether he winds up with Lois.

Of course, my reading of this film is colored by Morrison's work in Seven Soldiers. Seven Soldiers is all about the gritty underbelly of a superhero world, and it's a lot more exciting to examine that than to watch this film. I was expecting the film to feel too long, but it didn't, it actually felt like there was barely anything in it. We were at the conclusion before the story seemed to really get going.

There are a few great moments, such as Superman in the stadium, taking in the cheers, and Superman up in the sun, but other than that, it was the font that was the real highlight. Plus, you just sort of have to accept it, but it seemed totally ridiculous that no one would realize that Clark and Superman returned at the same time, then look at a picture of the two of them and piece together that it's the same guy. They jokingly nod to it, but it was just so ridiculous it distracted from the film.

I feel like blockbusters lately have been shorn of all their edge, focus grouped to carefully appeal to all sectors of the market and provide inoffensive fun that doesn't make you think too hard. I feel like the only artistically notable summer blockbuster of recent years is Revenge of the Sith, a film that has such scope, both narrative and visual, it really does feel like watching a galaxy tear itself apart. This film strives for the visual and emotional majesty that Sith reached, but doesn't even come close.

But, I suppose this is a film that's primarily about letting people relive their love of the Donner movies. So, if I was a child of the 70s, instead of of the 80s, perhaps I'd be loving it. All I know is if there's one superhero series that had two good films then went horribly awry and deserves a real third movie, it's Tim Burton's Batman films. It's absurd to make a sequel to a 25 year old alright movie, when a series that just 15 years ago provided the definitive film take on its character is totally ignored.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #4 and Wrap Up

So, it's on to the second to last issue of the Seven Soldiers project, the totally insane Frankenstein #4. I've always felt that the real fun of action sequences isn't in the scene itself, it's in the buildup, the moments where you know something's going to go down, but you're not quite sure what yet. This is issue is that buildup for Seven Soldiers #1, finally bringing us to direct conflict with the Sheeda.

The opening page of the issue has more of the fantastic pulpy narration that Morrison's employed throughout the series. The character is just so badass in this issue, starting with his battle with Neh-Buh-Loh. After appearing in most of the minis, Frank finally puts him down. I haven't read the JLA: Classified issue that serves as a prelude for Seven Soldiers but it appears that a death virus was injected into Neh-Buh-Loh, and this weakness is what causes him to spare Misty, a choice that may bring about the Sheeda's destruction. I love Neh-Buh-Loh's conflict here, it brings a lot of stuff we've seen together. Plus, Frankenstein downloading info from the internet is great.

Jumping locations, we pick up with Frankenstein targetting the Sheeda in Miracle Mile. I like the fact that they return here for the final confrontation, it gives nice symmetry to the minis, and leads me to believe that the characters from SS0 will play a role in the resolution in SS1.

The jump to One Billion Years Later is such a crazy moment. There's so much insane pop over the top stuff in this issue, a particular highlight is the caption: "All in a day's work...for Frankenstein!" You can practically hear an over the top narrator going crazy on that line.

What this issue confirms is that the Sheeda come from the future, and have been jumping back in time to raze human societies at various points in human history, trying to use the destruction of our culture as a way to re-energize their own. In the apple speech, Gloriana brings things back to the parent/child metaphor. She claims that what the Sheeda are just doing what humans have always done, they had to in order to survive for so long.

The apple scene is another fairy tale tie in, Gloriana is the wicked stepmother archetype, quite literally for Frankenstein, who is actually Melmoth's son. She offers Frankenstein power, but he's someone who's so utterly committed to his work that nothing could sway him. Each of the characters has a moment where they can choose to abandon their quest, or to keep doing good, and this is it for Frankenstein. The exploding ships on the next page provide a definitive answer, Frankenstein is not going to be swayed by Gloriana.

The end of the issue has such ridiculous momentum, everything's going crazy, building up to the final confrontation between Frankenstein and the Queen. I was hoping this issue wouldn't end, but alas, it did and we go into Seven Soldiers #1 with Gloriana about to go into the undying waters. Will she make it or will Frankenstein stop her?

There's a ton of stuff still to resolve in Seven Soldiers #1. The issue's been bumped up to 48 pages, but I'm assuming that a lot of plot threads will remain unresolved. Everyone except for Frankenstein is in New York, so I'm guessing that Gloriana will escape to New York, Frank will follow her and meet up with everyone else there. I know Grant has said that the seven soldiers would never meet, but I'm not sure if that applied only to the minis, or to issue 1 as well. I'm assuming that Bulleteer needs to meet up with someone to turn back to the hero's path. Though, it's possible she'll run into the Whip. The two are similar character types and having Shelly return would give the project a nice symmetry.

The overall story is actually pretty close to its end, so the major issue will be giving each character an appropriate sendoff. I think it's a great testament to Grant's writing that I would love to read an ongoing series for nearly all the characters, in particular I would love Grant to do more with Zatanna and Misty.

This project had a lot of Grant's classic themes, extradimensional beings, meta commentary on the nature of fiction and characters moving into dimensions of higher consciousness, it also brought in some major new themes with the exploration of sexuality and growing up. There's good growth and bad growth, the characters who find their own way are able to grow up well, but the characters who have adulthood or sexuality forced upon them all wind up messed up. This is what happens to the Newsboy Army, to Sally Sonic and even to Alix, who is ultimately unable to adjust to the life that Lance forced on her.

I loved this project so much because of the way it uses a variety of generic approaches to comment on the same themes. Most of the minis wouldn't quite hang together as a standalone read, but by reading them as part of the overall project, you get a better understanding of the thematic development. I think DC acknowledged that the project is not seven miniseries, it's one overall story in the way they traded it, intercutting the issues in publication order. It really is one big story.

And, just to wrap things up for now, here's my ranking of the minis and some final thoughts on each.

1. Zatanna - This was one of the best things Grant ever wrote, the first issue was full of inventive visual imagery and did a great job of introducing our heroine's dilemma, and by the time we reach the brilliant issue four, I had a complete picture of Zatanna and Misty's relationship. The last issue was the best issue in the entire project because it was mindblowing on a conceptual level and deeply affecting emotionally. Zatanna's reunion with her father is the strongest emotional moment in the entire project.

2. Manhattan Guardian - The first three issues were pretty good, but this high ranking is primarily due to the final issue, which creates an entire world and a vivid cast of characters then destroys it, all in 22 pages. Jake's arc is well done, and that last issue does provide some nice closure for him, despite barely featuring him.

3. Bulleteer - This one returns to the territory Morrison explored in one of his best projects, Flex Mentallo, but spins those concepts through the themes of Seven Soldiers. Issue 3 is the best, but the whole mini excels at depicting this world of b-list superheroes struggling to make it big.

4. Shining Knight - The art in this mini was an aesthetic wonder, and it has some of the most interesting stuff on the Sheeda themselves. Gloriana's emergence in issue 3 is fantastic, though I also love Justin claiming the role of hero in issue 2.

5. Frankenstein - This was another great mini, going so far over the top with its pulpy captions you can't help but enjoy it. The whole mini gives us fantastic action sequences and I love Frankenstein's parental conflict with Melmoth. That fit wonderfully into the thematics of the project as a whole.

6. Klarion the Witch Boy - Issue 2 was great, but this one never clicked for me. The art was great, but the main character was rather annoying. If one of the soldiers has to go, I would vote for Klarion.

7. Mister Miracle - This one might get bumped up on a reread, but on the first read, it felt too disconnected from the project as a whole and was tough to follow, making it difficult to emotionally relate to the character. Still, the last issue redeemed a lot of the issues and I think it could improve greatly on a reread.

And now, it's time to wait for Seven Soldiers #1 and the conclusion of this thing.

The Complete Seven Soldiers Post Index

Seven Soldiers #0

Shining Knight #1-2, Manhattan Guardian #1, Zatanna #1, Klarion #1

Manhattan Guardian #2-3, Zatanna #2, Shining Knight #3, Klarion #2-3

Shining Knight #4, Zatanna #3

Manhattan Guardian #4

Klarion #4, Mister Miracle #1, Bulleteer #1

Zatanna #4

Frankenstein #1, Mister Miracle #2, Bulleteer #2

Frankenstein #2, Mister Miracle #3 and Bulleteer #3

Frankenstein #3, Mister Miracle #4 and Bulleteer #4

Frankenstein #4 and Wrap Up

Seven Soldiers: The Flaws that Make Perfection

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle

Seven Soldiers #1

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #3, Mister Miracle #4, Bulleteer #4

I'm now all caught up on the issues that have been released so far, and it's looking like a nasty wait until issue #1 turns up. I'm hoping it'll be out by September. I'm sure the art by J.H. Williams will be worth the wait, he's going to have quite the task, to wrap up all seven stories in a satisfactory way. There's a ton of stuff to cover, and everyone seems to have different favorite characters that they want to see followed up on.

But, on to the issues themselves. Frankenstein #3 continues the character's journey through a crazy pulp horror world. I love the narration in this mini, going incredibly over the top, I love this bit: "Swirling fog. Bizarre inhuman cries. A mystery for Frankenstein!" Great stuff, I would love to see an ongoing series following Frankenstein's bizarre adventures, but I've also said that about nearly every other mini so far.

This storyline seems to be a twisted version of We3, with its cute bunnies and birds infected by a demon water. The story itself is similar to the cruise ship story from The Filth and Manhattan Guardian #3, all show how one corrupting element from the outside can destroy a closed community. This issue has a very X-Files vibe, as the government organization turns up and razes the town.

But the real fun of the issue is seeing Frankenstein confronted with the modern world, in the form of his lost mate, The Bride. I love the way she's designed, the four arms is a great touch and the two of them make a great couple in the brilliant "And Frankenstein deals death!" page.

With her appearance, we're back to the conflict between old and new. Frankenstein's ways have become outdated, but he is unable to update. It's a lot of fun watching Frankenstein kill the mutant cows, but the issue only has tangential relevance to the piece as a whole. The most significant thing is the fact that Frankenstein clings to his very strict view of good and evil, he can't fit in with S.H.A.D.E who are totally cynical, willing to do whatever has to be done to get the job done. Frankenstein's is an older style of heroism, and it's unclear whether there's a place for it in the modern world.

Mister Miracle #4 is a perplexing issue for me. I really need to do a reread of this mini because I didn't get a lot of what's going on in it. One of my big issues is the way that it's totally unrelated from the rest of the piece in terms of story, there are some thematic connections, but unlike the other books, we could have easily done without Mister Miracle.

The way I read it, the entire miniseries took place while Shilo was in the black hole, he's confronted with the anti-life equation as an inoculation, a test, and is then thrown out of the black hole ready to free the New Gods. So, the stuff we saw last issue was just one manifestation of this anti-life equation, confronting Shilo with the loss of his individuality, through the imposter Mister Miracle, and the loss of everyone he loves, to the plastification process.

Here, he confronts another trauma, the death of his brother Aaron, which he feels responsible for. You could read the entire miniseries as a chronicle of Shilo's fears and insecurities, all of which stem from the death of his brother. That's why we haven't heard about it before, because it took a while to dig through the surface concerns and find his deepest traumas.

As the issue proceeds, Shilo moves through a variety of parallel universes, confronted with all his fears. I did really enjoy the issue as I was reading it, it's only trying to piece things together that becomes difficult. This is an issue that you really need to break down and analyze before you can enjoy it.

Shilo's confrontation with Oracle brings back the motif of the spear not thrown, which ties back to Alix's decision not to be the seventh soldier at Miracle Mesa. I like the way Shilo's work as an escape artist is tied into him fleeing from his responsibilities. Death becomes the ultimate escpae, and he could choose to give in rather than be thrown through this endless series of increasingly degraded parallel existences. So, Shilo ends up confronting the fundamental force of restriction, a brilliant classic Morrison idea. By liberating restriction itself, he's able to overcome the anti-life equation and pass the test that Metron gave him. Shilo returns to the world, and the last page implies that Shilo has come to terms with his brother's death. So, much like the end of Zatanna, Shilo overcomes the psychological issues that were holding him back and emerges ready to battle the Sheeda.

I'm not sure if the New Gods stuff will be present in Seven Soldiers #1, I'd assume not, but we'll probably get some hint of the Sheeda as a manifestation of Dark Side. I'm going to give this mini another read, now that I know the basic structure, it should be easier to follow, and it'll be easier to enjoy outside of the expectations of forwarding the overall Seven Soldiers story.

On to the conclusion of Bulleteer, my favorite of the second run of minis. I mentioned before that this mini is structured a lot like Manhattan Guardian, and this issue is another notable example of that, as we follow the secret sex history of a supporting character, in this case Sally Sonic. I don't think this issue is quite as strong as Manhattan Guardian #4, which stands as my second favorite issue in the entire project, but it's a great conclusion to the themes and narrative of this mini.

I think the critical thing in reading this issue is the way that Sally's story functions as a what if for Alix, this is the person that Alix could have become if she'd allowed Lance to enact his will on her.

However, the first few pages are all about naive Golden Age superheroics, fragments of life from an age that's gone. In the DCU, the past really was this magical place where you can fly around with your teddy bear sidekick. I like the way that parallels peoples' idealized versions of the past in our world. People ignore the darkness of the era when constructing our view of the 1950s nuclear family. It's tough watching Sally lose everyone she loves and then be unable to grow up. She's got the same dilemma as Li'l Hollywood and Baby Brain, an inability to grow beyond her childlike appearance. In the series, adulthood is generally seen as corrupting and dangerous, as in Klarion #3, but perpetual childhood is not an answer either. There's two kinds of growing up, one is to have adulthood forced upon you, as happened to the Newsboy Army with the time tailor, the other is a more gradual growth and claiming of adult responsibility. That's what Klarion and Justin's arcs are about, bringing them to the point where they make the conscious choice to grow up and fight evil. Sally is never given the opportunity to grow up, and that is what makes her go along with her own exploitation.

The major issue I have with this issue is that Sally doesn't actually look that young. She's got massive breasts, in her post whistle form, I don't think anyone's mistaking her for a child. I can understand that DC might be uneasy with having someone who really does look like a child engaged in these porn films, but the disconnect between image and narrative ends up hurting the issue.

Sally is someone who's extremely jealous of what she can't have, namely a normal life, someone to grow old with. So, she lashes out at stable relationships and destroys them, a behavior pattern detailed by Thumbelina last issue.

It's in her relationship with Dennis that we see how Alix and Sally have the same basic issues. Dennis is someone who wants to exploit Sally to forward his own ends. In this book, being a superhero is tied up in all kinds of sexual issues, which makes Dennis' claim that he's happy to meet "Someone who believes in goodness and decency and honor" deeply ironic, particularly when two panels later he's telling her "Let's fight crime, Luv. Together." This is another spin on the sexual "team-up" that Lucian proposes in issue 3. Unlike Alix, Sally goes along with Dennis and allows him to mold her into a pornographic parody of the hero that she once was.

The scene with Dennis telling Sally he can't fight crime because they don't have enough money is another great moment where superheroing is brought down to Earth. In a lot of ways, Seven Soldiers is the first significant statement on what it would really be like to be a superhero since Watchmen. Watchmen had some of this street level, insignificant hero stuff, but it was mostly about Batman or Superman analogues. Here, we see what it's like for the c-list hero, people who aren't even able to be heroes because they need to work the "secret identity job.

I love the idea of "evil serum," it's another spin on the anti-life equation or the guilt monster, a reduction of all that's bad in the universe to one substance. The panel where Sally is smoking the cigarette and we see her through a cloud of smoke is fantastic. The cigarette in holder is such a classic evil prop and the art has lost its Golden Age clarity and become a moodier, more real style. Paquette's shifting styles throughout the mini are very impresssive, and other than the issues with Sally Sonic, he's done a fantastic job.

Sally Sonic is who Alix would have become if she'd gone along with what Lance wanted her to do, and when she defeats Sally, she finally resolves the anger she had over her husband's infidelity. The woman he loved was pathetic and damaged, unlike Alix who is still whole.

The end of the mini was pretty shocking. Due to the Sheeda invasion and the hurricance glimpsed in Guardian #4, the hospital is unable to send an ambulance for Sally. But, before she can move Sally, Alix meets Greg, and at long last is given the opportunity to claim the role as the seventh soldier that she abandoned long ago. I'm unsure the significance of Alix being a descendant of Earth's first superhero, but one function is clearly to emphasize Alix's importance in the overall plan. When she didn't go to Miracle Mesa, all involved died and the Sheeda gained a foothold on Earth. And now that she refuses to fight once again, things are not looking good for humanity.

Alix rejects Greg's offer to fight, saying that she doesn't "want anything more to do with this twisted, horrible world." This mini was all about the dark underbelly of the superhero world, the twisted sexuality and darkness of those on the superhero fringe. Alix tried to help people, but the superheroes she encountered were more concerned with having sex and promoting themselves. Any sense of actually helping people was lost, and Alix is not going to be caught up in this dark world anymore. It's a logical move, but it's clearly going to cause problems in Seven Soldiers #1. Presumably that will be about how she comes to terms with her issues and rediscovers the possibilities of heroism.

Greg reminds me of Frankenstein, both are old testament style heroes who are able to return from the dead. They are heroes who are needed in the world, and do what they have to do, but don't necessarily get enjoyment from it. It is their duty. In that sense, they are the total opposite of Alix, who is emotionally engaged in her heroism and is able to make the conscious choice to not go ahead with it. Greg has been brought back from the dead and "saddled with the job" of recruiting her, presumably by the seven unknown men. I'm guessing there's something to the issue of the choice to be a hero versus the duty of being a hero. Alix cannot be forced into the role of hero, it's a choice she has to make. I'm guessing that her innate goodness will eventually allow her to overcome her issues with the superhero world and embrace the role of do gooder. I would love to see her meet up with the Guardian while she's going through Manhattan in issue 1. The two are clearly parallel characters, people who had the role of hero forced onto them, at great personal expense. It's in the final moment of choosing whether to embrace that role that they differ.

I'll cover Frankenstein #4 in my next post, and also do a runthrough the whole series to date, picking out themes and concepts that recur and also do a bit of speculation on what will occur in issue 1.

Related Posts
Seven Soldiers: The Complete Post Index (6/28/2006)

Monday, June 26, 2006

Freaks and Geeks: 'Pilot'

In the past couple of years, I've become all about the TV drama, watching many series all the way through and following a bunch that are still going. But, five or six years ago I wasn't as big into serial television. Around 1999, I got into The X-Files and a couple of other dramas, one was The West Wing and the other was Freaks and Geeks. I really enjoyed the show, but it was sadly cancelled after only a season. I've seen most of the episodes through the various reruns, but I've never actually watched the whole series through. So, with some free time on my hands, I decided to grab the season box set and watch the show through.

When I was first watching Freaks and Geeks, I was the age of the characters and engaged in my own journey through high school. But, three years out of high school, the series holds up very well, this is basically a TV version of Dazed and Confused, with the same very incisive writing full of real details that both poke fun at and celebrate the lives that their characters are leading.

This show looks totally different from anything else that's been on television and it's astounding that a show that creates such an insular world got the opportunity to do even one season on broadcast television. The opening shot quickly establishes the world of the series, bypassing a stereotypical TV high school couple to discover our characters sitting underneath some bleachers.

The show is notable for how perfectly crafted its dialogue is. There's so many quotable lines in here, but it's the unspoken awkwardness that makes the show so unique. I love the scene where Daniel introduces Lindsay to the freaks. Ken's lines there are spot on with what real high schoolers would say, and from the distanced perspective of a viewer of the show, it's easy to laugh at the moment that Lindsay finds herself in. Witness the exchange.

Ken: You're that girl who got an A.

Lindsay: Yeah, what're you gonna' do?

Ken: I don't know, what are you going to do?"

Classic. The pilot is notable for the way it throws you into this world without any of the usual pilot devices, like the new kid in school or something like that as a way to explain the world. To some extent, Lindsay is our guide inot the world of the freaks, but there's no obvious exposition. It's clear that something's changed in her, but it's not played as a cheap hook for the audience. The episode does give us the basic catalyst for what happened to her her grandmother's death, but it becomes more about the journey than any sort of solution to her dilemma.

For Lindsay, the whole series is about the fact that she no longer fits easily into any part of the high school society. She finds people like Millie's belief in an ordered universe false in light of what she's experienced. However, she can't fully commit to the nihlist view of the freaks. In this episode, she's all about trying to find a way to do good and constantly being put down by the world. However, in the end, she's able to take off her new persona, the jacket, and just dance and sail away.

If this was a standalone piece, one could read her taking off the jacket as Lindsay re-embracing her old identity, but considering it's an ongoing series, finding peace is not as easy as that. And that's a fine example of the superior storytelling possibilities in television. This pilot is a nice three act narrative, but the happy resolution we find here could feel a bit contrived if it was the end of the story. However, knowing that the series will continue means that it's not so easy for our characters to find peace.

The series' dual structure is one of its most interesting elements, the different views of these outsider groups. The geeks are just suffering through high school, clinging to that old cliche that in a few years you'll be these guys' boss, while the freaks are living the easiest years of their life, aware that the future holds unexciting jobs and a place where being a rebel doesn't get you anywhere.

As a high school student myself, I walked the line between the two groups, I've seen Star Wars more than 27 times, but I had that similar heavy apathy that Lindsay has. I've always found the freaks' storylines more interesting, normally Sam and his crew are used for comic relief, and when he does get into a romantic relationship wtih Cindy down the line, it's one of the few moments in the series that doesn't feel real. I find the extistential quest that Lindsay goes on a lot more interesting than Sam's firm belief in the system.

The scene I do love in this episode with the geeks is the conference with Harris, their sage. The other highlight is Sam's expression as the fast part of 'Come Sail Away' starts and his chance for a slow dance is lost. The series' soundtrack on the whole is fantatic, particularly the liberal doses of Styx. Another fun bonus is seeing Ben Foster a.k.a Six Feet Under's Russell. He looks very young here, though I'm sure part of that is the hairstyle he's got as Eli.

I think this is one of the best pilots of any series, a lot of shows, even good ones, take some time to find their voice, but this is one that was great right from the beginning. For me, the real core of the series is Lindsay and Linda Cardinelli is great, as the character struggles to find something to believe in.

I'll probably be doing more blogging on the series as I do the rewatch, so stay tuned.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #2, Mister Miracle #3, Bulleteer #3

After trips to a bunch of comic stores I've finally got all the issues for the next chunk of Seven Soldiers. This second batch of books generally isn't quite up to the level of the masterful first batch, but, like with the first round, they're all becoming more interesting as the story progresses, and I'm becoming increasingly wary of waiting for the still unscheduled Seven Soldiers #1.

But, on to the issues themselves. Frankenstein appears to be taking the idea of each miniseries as a collection of four standalone stories a bit further than most of the other series. All the characters we saw last issue are absent other than the man himself who is now on Mars. The transition is a bit jarring, but it's something you just have to accept if you're going to enjoy the issue. The whole series takes place in a universe where weird stuff like this happens, in the DC Universe it's quite possible to take a jaunt over to Mars ande be back in time for the next issue.

Throughout the series, there have been some books that have a lot of crossover, like Zatanna and Shining Knight, and with this issue, it becomes clear that this issue is the brother series of Klarion, with this issue picking up a bunch of plot points left over from the destruction at the end of Klarion #4. The highlight of the issue is Melmoth's return and the way his appearance here unites a lot of disparate strands of the project. He's alienated from his wife, Gloriana, and the end of the issue leaves him as a wild card in the whole project. He's definitely of questionable morality, but he also seems to hold out the best hope of defeating the Sheeda.

Frankenstein is someone who's not ready to work with moral ammbiguity. He's on a mission to destroy Melmoth and will stop at nothing to do so, ignroing the fact that Melmoth could be an ally. Of course, we're not sure how Frankenstein feels about saving humanity, he's a character who's more about destroying evil than saving good. He might be happy to just let humanity destroy itself entirely. The fact that Frankenstein is in a sense Melmoth's son ties him into the conflict between children and the adult world that's been a consistent theme in the series. Frankenstein is the ultimate teenage rebel, someone who's always trying to show up his parent. Until he defeats Melmoth, he won't be able to grow up and move beyond this adolescent quest for vengeance. He too rejects the prospect of sexuality when he abandons the potential 'Girl Frankenstein' in issue 1.

As the issue ends, Melmoth is ground into shit, but you've got to assume he'll be back. He's too big a player in the overall story to be killed so simply, and the blood of the eternal cauldron still runs through his veins. The idea of immortality has been a consistent theme, it ties into the whole never grow up theme, with permanent youth being seen as both an ideal and a curse. More on that in Bulleteer #3. But for now, we're done with the Mars adventure and I'm assuming we'll see something entirely different next issue. Of the three new series, Frankenstein easily has the best and most appropriate art. It's wonderfully nasty and I love Mahnke's design of the reborn Melmoth.

So far, Mister Miracle has been my least favorite of all seven series. This issue is an improvement, but the series suffers from both its near total disconnection from the rest of the project and its difficulty to follow due to my lack of familiarity with the New Gods mythos. This issue gives you a better sense of the main character, and throws out a whole bunch of crazy concepts, but still doesn't quite come together.

The basic conflict here is between Shilo and the anti-life equation. The anti-life equation represents everything negative about society, and it manifests in the plastic people who now walk the streets. This anti-life equation consumes everything he loves, but he stubbornly maintains his individuality. The issue features some further exploration of illicit superhero sexuality, the plastic woman wielding the whip has a strong similarity to the three prostitutes that Shilo encounters in issue one.

Shilo's breakdown with the anti-life equation recalls Justin's encounter with the guilt monster in Shining Knight #2, though things go worse for him. I love the moment where he buys the Depends, that's hitting bottom. Though, it looks like he'll be able to bounce back next issue. On the whole, there's a lot of good stuff here, but it doesn't quite gel. I'ts more like someone else trying to write a Morrison comic than the man himself's writing. I think the series could have been more entertaining, if not actually better, if there was more connection with the overall mythos. There's some nice cameos by Klarion and Jake here, but other than that there's been no connection to the overall story. We'll see what happens in issue 4, there's got to be some kind of tie in.

Bulleteer is easily the best title of the second run, picking up on a lot of themes from Flex Mentallo, and continuing the plot threads of Seven Soldiers #0, which still stands as one of the most impressive issues out of this project. What that issue did was explore the world of the DCU from the perspective of low level superheroes. There's a lot of meta commentary on the comics industry itself, as well as an exploration of the nature of heroism. After its first issue, Bulleteer has backed off the exploration of Alix as an extremely sexualized heroine and is focusing more on Alix's introduction into the larger world of superheroics.

The revelation of I, Spyder is one of two fantastic "Holy shit" moments in the issue. Ever since his reappearance in Shining Knight I've been wondering what's up with him and it's great to see him back.

The relation between Stellamaris and her son is another example of parental conflict, the theme that is present in pretty much every aspect of the series. The continued focus on this issue would indicate that Misty could play a major role in defeating her mother, Gloriana. In Zatanna, Klarion and now Frankenstein, each character is haunted in some way by their parents, and, for Klarion and Zatanna, the series ends with our hero coming to terms with parental expectation and being set free to pursue his/her own agenda. I'm hoping Misty has a big role in the finale, but Klarion and Frank, as her half brothers, could be equally important in overthrowing their own tyrannical parental regime.

We don't know anything about Alix's parents, but the generational conflict is present in her discussion with the original Bulletgirl. In Klarion, the close mindedness of the older generation was a critical theme and we see that here, with Susan, a very close minded traditional person, telling Alix she looks like a hooker and is trading on the name that she worked hard to make good. So, once again, we see Alix being judged solely by her appearance not by her legitimate desire to do good.

Alix's miniseries is reminiscent of Manhattan Guardian in the sense that she's someone who's forced into being a superhero and goes along as an observer rather than participator in the world. She hasn't yet acheived that moment where she loses her self consciousness and transcends the line between "crazy fetish person" and superhero. If the series stays true to form, next issue will see her confront Sally and claim the mantle of hero for herself.

This issue picks up concepts from the first issue about the sexualization of female superheroes, their world's version of the madonna/whore dichotomy summed up in the title of the panel: "Sweethearts and Supervixens." The whole convention is clearly modeled on actual comic book conventions, with b-list heroes subbing in for b-list celebrities. In this kind of world, you'd clearly have a fan culture built around superheroes, and having been to a couple of cons, this issue perfectly captures the awkward desperation of b-list celebrities simultaneously happy to be adored and ashamed that they're not doing better.

This panel features the first modern day appearance of Li'l Hollywood, last seen in Manhattan Guardian #4. I love the fact that Li'l refers to Vincenzo as "Vinnie." Like her fellow members of the Newsboy Army, Li'l is trapped in a permanent youth, though she seems to have consciously chosen to do so, as her relationship with Lucian makes clear, she's trying to maintain her youth even as she is actually getting older and older. She is less overtly messed up than her fellow Newsboy members, but she does have a lot of issues. I love the page where she and her friends are talking about Jackie, it's the combination of mundane conversation and the ridiculous costumes everyone's wearing.

Thumbelina is a character right out of the superhero orgy in Flex Mentallo, someone who's using the superhero image without any actual belief in heroism. She's just using her powers for monetary gain, quite literally prostitutiing herself. She offers Alix this path, but Alix is still unwilling to function as just a sexual object. She wants to help people.

This dichotomy is brought up again in the next scene where Lucian propositions her with a "team-up" that's actually a sexual relationship. For people like Lucian, hoping to make it big as superheroes, there is no line between work and personal life. However, in the end, Alix turns his sexual attraction to her into an opportunity to build a heroic partnership that could end up helping people. That's what the whole series has been about, Alix is constantly perceived as a sexual object, but she refuses to conform to that image, she takes people's expectations and turns them around by being a hero.

Now, the other holy shit moment in the issue is the return of Greg. I love this moment, it confirms his role as the Clint Eastwood archetype in the series, and promises the continuation of drama from issue 0. Will we see the return of The Whip? Who knows, perhaps Seven Soldiers #1 will see a meeting between the original team and our soldiers from the minis. This new development has me very intrigued, and it's a great testament to Morrison's writing in SS0 that so many issue later, those characters still have me wanting more.

The final pages of the issue seem to throw Alix into yet another classic female superhero situation, the catfight. If the series continues along its thematic path, Alix will triumph over this woman who defines herself solely by her sexuality by continuing her commitment to heroism despite any personal issues she's got. Alix has taken the 'hooker' image that her husband gave her and is turning it into a legitimate heroic image.

So, four issues left to go, reviews will be up as I read them. Things are definitely picking up now, and hopefully the issue 4s will bring more of the threads together in preparation for the series' conclusion.

Related Posts
Seven Soldiers: The Complete Post Index (6/28/2006)

Film Authorship Musings

Over the past month or so, I've been working editing an indie movie, a film that is notable for the fact that it's not particularly good, and this experience showed me a lot about why so many movies can end up so utterly lackluster. It's not necessarily a lack of talent, it's more a lack of vision. In the case of this film, and the vast majority of Hollywood films, the project lacks a singular vision. Someone wrote the script, someone else directed the movie, but the guy who's supervising me is the film's producer.

I came into the project when there was a pretty developed rough cut already down, pretty much all the footage was in place and it was my job to trim it down, I ended up cutting fifteen minutes of fat from the film, hopefully making it a lot more watchable. There might be a good film in the footage, but I wasn't given the autonomy to remake the film, and that's pretty much what needs to be done. As I was going through, I discovered one scene that wasn't in the cut, a crazy sequence involving a smoke machine, masks and a mass resistance dance. It was easily the best looking footage in the movie, the only thing that felt unique and exciting. So, I cut it together and put it in the movie. It's a one minute sequence and it was fantastic, but I was told to cut it down by a third or half. This is after I synch it to music, meaning that a lot of the scene's impact is lost in the re-edit.

So, I plead with him saying that it's the most exciting scene in the film, it's thematically critical and that it's just one minute so give me this. But, he tells me, "that's your opinion and this is my film, so cut it." I did it and it turned out alright, but the point was clearly made, I was not an aristic collaborator on this film, I was there to push buttons. And, after that I stopped caring about making the film better, this guy would make decisions I didn't agree with, but I couldn't bother fighting them, especially because for every tough decision his plan is just to show it to an audience and see what they think.

So, I could easily see how the editor of a Hollywood movie could stop caring when he's continually getting hassled by an executive to make the movie easier to follow or more conventional. At a certain point, it stops being artistic and just becomes a job.

This is why I'm such a firm believer in auteur filmmaking. What a film needs to be great is a singular vision, someone who's making a film not for money, but because it needs to be made and he'll do anything to make that fiction into a reality.

If you want to fight out why Hollywood movies are so bad, it doesn't take much more than to just look at the reason they're made, to make money. Does anyone have a desperate need to make 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift'? No, it's more like someone's agent told them it'd be a good idea to make a big franchise movie, and the studio decided that 2 Fast 2 Furious had made some money, so why not do another one? This is where the test audience mentality comes from, if your sole goal in making a film is to sell it to audiences, it's very difficult to make a great film. The reason is great art can't be made by commitee, and for every good film that manages to slip through the system, there's countless bad ones.

When I'm doing my own work, I sometimes think about how something will play with an audience, but generally I'm more interested in how it plays for me. I'll think about the moments in films that I love, and try to replicate the feeling that they create. Maybe people will respond to it, maybe they won't, that's impossible to predict, and trying to create a film that will please the audience at the expense of your own tastes is a path to ruin.

Obviously some people go too far and create films that are unwatchable for anyone but them, but generally speaking, all great films can be traced to one persons' vision, at a moment where they got a brief moment of artistic freedom.

Earlier today, I watched the film Funky Forest at the Asian Film Festival. This is a movie that's totally unlike anything I've seen in America. The closest thing I can compare it to is 'Head,' the Monkees' film. Funky Forest is a stream of consciousness journey through a series of increasingly bizarre viginettes that blends elements of sci-fi, musical, romance and comedy to create a film that really defies description.

Watching the movie, it's clear that this is a director who knows what he wants. The film's 2.5 hours, and you could easily cut an hour, but the film's long running time immerses you in this guy's world. This is a film that doesn't care about focus groups or appealing the audience, it is what it is and you can take it or leave it on those terms. I don't think it's always successful, but taken cumulatively it's a wonderfully bizarre experience and something totally unlike anything else I've ever seen. It's one of the most exciting films I've seen all year because the film just plunges into bizarre ridiculousness and takes you along with it.

The film was actually made by a three director team, and I don't think that contradicts the auteur theory. What you need is not necessarily a single person, just a singular vision, and this film clearly has that. Once you have that singular vision, it's a lot easy to collaborate. If you know what you want, it's a lot easier to see if a collaborator's suggestions fit the vision, rather than trying to rely on a test audience to find out what works and what doesn't.

For me, narrative clarity is always less important than emotional clarity and visual impact. You can ask a test audience to describe what they were confused about, but you can't really figure out what had an emotional impact on them. That's the greatest enigma of filmmaking, and that's why I ultimately choose to make a film that I love, so that if nothing else, at least I know one person enjoyed it. But when you've got $150 million invested in a film, making a good film isn't good enough, and that's the major problem. I'd have no clue how to market Funky Forest, but I do know that if people got to see it, they'd probably enjoy it. And that's the big problem for Hollywood, it's more important to get people in the door than have them liking the film on the way out.

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