Saturday, August 19, 2006

JLA: One Million

One Million is a big DCU crossover that was overseen by Morrison. Reading this as a linear story is a bit weird because the story branches through various books being published by DC at the time, and major parts of the action were not actually written by Morrison. However, he's clearly dictating the themes and style of this crossover and it succeeds in being one of the best of his JLA stories, going ridiculously over the top with its pop heroics.

If I have one issue with this crossover, it's that it features another alternate version of the JLA. I suppose the whole point of the JLA is that they're so good that the only challenge they could have is fighting themselves. And at least in this case they're not fighting themselves, they're just hanging out together. However, it's still not a fresh idea by any means.

That said, I do love the way that Morrison sketches an entire history of the DC Universe for the next 833 centuries, creating a credible timeline for each of the superhero dynasties. Morrison's great innovation in his JLA run is choosing to take advantage of each characters' archetypal status. Superman isn't so much a man as an idea, and the fact that this dynasty grows up in the future makes a lot of sense.

Superman Returns got a lot of flack for turning Superman into a Christ figure, but it's not a stretch for the character. This book basically lays out a world where Superman is a messiah who inspires many followers who eagerly await his return. Solaris, a being of fire, could be read as the devil, trying to lead Supes' followers away from a belief in light and good, towards a belief in fire and evil. However, Superman's story continues to inspire people and when he does return he's able to form a sort of heaven on Earth. And, like Jesus, he has the dual fact of being both God and man. So, part of his heaven is having Lois back. I also like the way that Superman of the present is surprised that he survives so long, he's not yet aware of the potential he has.

My approach to Morrison's JLA run has been to avoid seeking narrative cohesion and conflict, or character growth, the way you would in most stories. You know that every story will end with the JLA winning and everything being pretty much the same. So, in approaching the stories, you have to learn to appreciate the insanity of the ideas that Morrison puts forth. It's about getting caught up in the absurdity of the story and learning to live by their logic. From a narrative point of view, Green Lantern's ring is awful, because it can solve pretty much any problem. The ring's only limit is the human imagination, and as written by Morrison, you're not going to see a lot of limits on that.

So, if you want to write a situation where our heroes are in peril, it becomes tough. So what you have to do is create situations that challenge the hero and surprise the audience by showing the character thinking outside the box. At the end of the arc, Green Lantern causes Solaris to go Supernova then contains the explosion inside a box created by the ring. This is an inventive use of the power, and because the act has such massive scope, just watching it happen is enjoyable.

That said, Morrison does get some character development in. Over the course of the series, we've seen Green Lantern become more confident and here he even surprises himself by saving the world. It's done in a subtle way, but works. I also like Huntress' questioning of why Batman would put her on the team. She's the most relatable voice on the team, approaching things from the perspective of an ordinary person. The one character I don't like is Plastic Man, his cheesy jokes and pop culture referencing dialogue feel out of place in this epic piece.

The trade includes some of the individual crossover issues, and most of them are actually quite good. I read the first trade of Starman a while back and didn't really like it, but this issue works really well. You get Ted Knight's initial feelings of happiness, that the identity he started lives on into the 853rd century, then his gradual sadness at realizing that this Starman has completely lost sight of the principles he fought for. This issue was actually good enough to make me want to do a reread of that trade and reevaluate the series.

The other cool issue was the Superman dynasty issue. The art in this issue is really poor, but the story it tells is quite interesting. It's a bit of a show, don't tell piece, but it pays off nicely in the final issue of the crossover.

Morrison's own crossover issue, JLA 1,000,000 has a lot of cool things, reading like a computer giving you a Silver Age style narration. It's quite effective in conveying a lot of information in a small amount of space. This would seem to be an ideal way to do digital comics, where you could click on a character and get an infobox telling you who they are and what's going on. I particularly like the intro: "Hello I'm JLA 1,000,000," another example of Morrison acknowledging the reader in the comic. So, on one level it's a distancing device, but at the same time it makes it feel more real. By putting in so many factoids, it gives you the sense that this is really happening and we're just viewers along for the ride. That's one of the things that this whole crossover pulls off really well, Morrison makes it believable that not only does one whole universe of superheroes exist, but that this really is what happens for the next 833,000 years. You could never say something's implausible in a Morrison JLA story, because he's built a universe where anything's possible. Admittedly a lot of that is due more to the accumulation of thousands of DCU stories than his specific writing, but he does play a role.

This is Morrison doing some of his best JLA. There's a ton of crazy concepts and a great resolution to the basic problem, with the switching of objects through time. To pull off a story of this magnitude is quite remarkable, and even though there's a few issues along the way, the quality of the story overwhelms those issues.

Fall TV Season

Summer's been zipping by, which is a bit sad. I'm not looking forward to cold weather and being away from New York. But, it does mean an increase in quality art, both at the cinema and with the new season of TV. This year, I'll be watching more shows than ever before, largely because I watched so much stuff on DVD. After watching a bunch of early seasons on DVD, I'm now ready to watch the new stuff live. Here's the show by show preview of what I'll be watching.

Gilmore Girls

I watched the first five seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD last year and then caught season six on TV as it aired. If you were reading the blog then, you probably recall the many posts about the series. A lot of people had issues with the dark direction of that season, but I thought it was fantastic, resulting in the show's second best season, behind five. I respect the fact that they took the show in such a challenging direction, forcing the show's main character to confront her lingering issues in the same way that Buffy had to in her show's sixth season. This season will be different because it's the first without show auteurs Amy and Dan Palladino. Will this result in a major tonal change? I'd imagine so, regardless of how good it is, the show is a bit tainted from the fact that it's no longer fulfilling the creator's original vision. It's like fanfic, just with the real cast. However, I'm still psyched to see where things go and I think last season's finale leaves plenty of issues for the new team to deal with.

Battlestar Galactica

I had a lot of issues with season two, but it closed out with the series' best episode (Downloaded)
and a season finale that leaves the show in a great place for the next season. I feel like they had pretty much exhausted the premise by the end of year two, so the jump forward in time is the perfect way to reinvigorate the series. Now, Alias is a show that did the exact same thing, and that was pretty much a freefall in quality after the time jump. However, that's largely because they had lost the show's best character, Irina. Here, the time jump allows for the show's best characters, the cylons, to be better integrated into the general narrative. I don't care about the military stuff, so I'm hoping that we get more focus on Batlar, Six and Sharon. The season three trailer looks fantastic, hopefully the show will live up to it.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

I loved the first few seasons of The West Wing, particularly 'Two Cathedrals,' the season two finale, still one of the best TV episodes ever. The "Brothers in Arms" part at the end is just unbelievable. Anyway, Sorkin may have some repetitive tendencies, but the premise of this show is great and the cast even better. Sorkin's one of those TV auteurs who's been good enough that anything he writes is worth checking out.

Veronica Mars

As I mentioned earlier, I'll be grabbing season two on Tuesday, so I'll be caught up for the new season. The Gilmore Girls/Veronica Mars back to back two hours is going to be quite a night of TV. I'm hoping the show gets a boost from the timeslot and CW, since its previous ratings were ridiculously bad. Because the show is based around standalones, it might play better week to week than in DVD viewing.


Weeds is a show that's actually already started. I watched the first season, expecting a lot because it starred one of my favorite actresses, Mary Louise Parker. It was a bit too sitcommy at first, but grew on me and I was liking the show by the end of the season. It's an entertaining half hour with a fantastic cast and some nice moments of actual drama.


I really liked the first season of Nip/Tuck, but the past two have had diminishing returns as they try to up the level of ridiculous outrageousness, losing sight of any sort of character reality. However, they always bring out something to make it worth watching. This season is supposedly a 'return to the core concepts,' which usually means the beginning of the end. We shall see. I might not make it to the end of the season with this show.


This is the wild card show. I don't know much about the people who created it, but the premise, basically superheroes start cropping up in the real world is something I'm always interested in. Unbreakable is one of my favorite movies, and if this has a similar approach to the subject matter, it could be great. The premise more specifically reminds me of the comic series Rising Stars, which was great. So, this could be a new favorite, or it could be bad, but I'll give it a couple of episodes regardless.

So, seven shows. That's good because I'm running out of series to go through on DVD. Some of these shows will end in the Fall, but in 2007 I've got the new season of 24 and the final season of The Sopranos coming in to replace them. Of all this stuff, I'm looking forward to The Sopranos the most. The most recent season went off in a really odd direction and I'm curious to see if Chase was just saving the big payoffs for the ending chunk, or if he's really just going to let things glide towards an unconcluisve ending.

Weekend Update

New York Film Festival

The lineup for the New York Film Festival got released a couple of days ago, and it's quite impressive. There's some Cannes favorites, like Pan's Labyrinth and The Host, but the real highlight for me is David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE. I became a Lynch fan back in 2002 and since then I've seen everything he's done. So, I'm really looking forward to a new David Lynch feature. I'm hoping they do at least one weekend screening, but even if it's only a week night, I'll make the trek down from Wesleyan to see it. It's supposedly a very unconventional film, so it could be a while before we see a regular theatrical release, making it all the more imperative that I see it at the festival. I'm hoping that I'll also be able to see Marie Antoinette there, Sofia Coppola's one of those directors who really understands how to make a compelling film, not just tell a good story. Even though Marie Antoinette got some harsh reviews, the critiques all made it sound like I'd like the film even more. A film that isn't worried about narrative and instead spends a lot of time in music sequences is great. Who cares that you don't see her head getting cut off, traditional biopics invariably suck.

Respect! Films Update

I've spent the past week cutting Out of This World, the film I did with the LMC-TV summer film workshop. This year's bunch of kids was not good, but the film turned out pretty well. We've definitely got a formula with these workshop films, but it's fun to be able to just focus on trying to make something entertaining and not worry about larger thematic significance. That film will be online next Monday, so check out, and you can download it. We're debuting that one Monday, and on the same day I'll be debuting the trailer for my new film, All Good Things. That'll be up on the site as well, give it a look. The other project going forward now is the Nepo video, which is still in editing.

Film Surplus

I bought the Manderlay DVD a few days ago, but I haven't gotten a chance to watch it yet. That's in the docket along with the R2 version of Gregg Araki's Nowhere, which I just got in the mail yesterday. I've got to clear some time to watch those, I feel like a bad cinephile letting them sit unwatched. Oh well, I'll get to them soon.

End of Carnivale

I finished watching Carnivale yesterday. I'm going to do a review of the last couple of episodes, touching on the series as a whole, soon. I wouldn't call it a great series, but it had a lot of really good stuff and I feel like it might have really improved in later seasons. It was funny to watch the Museum of TV and Radio panel discussion they had on the DVD, where Daniel Knauf says something like "A lot of people are wary about getting into a major TV series because you wouldn't want to be at page 450 of a 900 page novel and have some clown in a suit grab the book and throw it away." Alas, that's exactly what happened.

Veronica Mars

So, with Carnivale over, I'll be moving on to the second season of Veronica Mars, which is out on DVD this Tuesday. I really enjoyed the first season, even though I don't think the show comes close to the rarefied level of something like Buffy or Six Feet Under. Still, not many shows do. The major issue is that I'm a huge fan of watching massively unfolding character arcs, so the show could reach Buffy level in later seasons, but it's still in the early stages. After one season of Six Feet Under, I really liked it, but it wasn't until the end of the third season that I saw the show as a masterpiece. Then, as everything came together in the final season, my love of the show went way up. So, hopefully Veronica will take a similar path. However, I don't think the show has as far reaching an emotional agenda as SFU.

Upcoming Dates of Notes

8/22 - Veronica Mars Season 2 on DVD
8/25 - Idlewild Released
8/29 - Arrested Development Season 3 on DVD
8/29 - Michel Gondry @ Apple Store
8/31 - North @ Trash Bar
9/22 - Science of Sleep Releated
9/24 - The Flaming Lips at Hammerstein
10/20 - Marie Antoinette Released
10/25 - Seven Soldiers #1 Released
11/22 - The Fountain Released

Friday, August 18, 2006

Peeping Tom and Gnarls Barkley @ Summerstage

Mike Patton's long been one of my favorite musicians, but I've never seen him live. So, when I saw he was opening for Gnarls Barkley, the concert became a must. Mike's work on Lovage is one of the best vocal performances of all time and his various rock bands have all done stuff ranging from good to great. Peeping Tom is a less severe project than his work on Fantomas or Bungle, incorporating a lot of hip hop influences into his usual repetoire.

When I first heard the album, I liked it, but felt it was a bit of Patton on autopilot. I think some of his Fantomas work is unneccesarily noisy and abstract, but I respect his attempts to push the envelope. His best work other than Lovage is Mr. Bungle's California, an album that cycles through nearly every genre, ranging from Beach Boys style harmonic rock to Sinatra style lounge singing to heavy screaming. Because Patton cycles through so many genres, I can take the heaviness of his work more than I can with a lot of bands. If you're going to do heavy vocals, you need contrast, otherwise it's just noise. Look at 'Five Seconds' off the Peeping Tom album, the screaming "One one thousand" part works because of the way it breaks into the smoothness of the verses.

So, I was excited to see Patton live. I think he was great, but at this show he ran into a number of issues. On a basic level, it's difficult to be the opening band, you're an obstacle in the way of the audience seeing what they really wanted to see. I was looking forward to both bands this time, but most of the time I just want the opening band to wrap things up. Patton seemed to be frustrated with the lack of audience response, I'd imagine he's used to it at this point, having opened for Gnarls for a while, but it's still got to be frustrating to be giving a performance and not getting much back from the audience. There were a few people into it, but generally speaking, this didn't seem to be the audience for Patton's stuff.

The other issue was the sound mix. When they first came out, there was way too much bass, you could barely hear the vocals. However, once this got resolved, they put on a great show. Patton was really charismatic and it was amazing to hear him go from really heavy stuff to smooth singing in moments. The personal highlight for me was when they played Lovage's "Anger Management," augmented wonderfully by a violin. The other highlights were "Five Seconds," "We're Not Alone," and the closing song "Sucker," which saw some really great interplay between Patton and his backup singer.

I thought they were great and I feel like if I had seen them yesterday, as headliners at the Warsaw, it would have been a truly great concert experience. As it was, I enjoyed the show, but didn't get that rush of being part of a crowd that's really into a show. So, if they come around again doing a headlining tour, I'll definitely see them again.

I'm a bit confused as to why Patton would choose to do these opening shows. Next month, they're opening for The Who, an audience that will probably be even less receptive than the crowd here. I suppose the goal is to get the music out to a larger audience, but very rarely do I see an opening act that's good enough to compel me to check out their music. Unless a band has an instantly notable sound, like a Polyphonic Spree, you're not going to be sold on them just through the live show, particularly if the crowd isn't into it. I'd rather see Patton headline a place like Irving than do a show like this. The one cool thing that could come out of it would be a Patton/Danger Mouse collaboration. Maybe it's because he replaced him on Gorillaz, but I've always sensed an implicit rivalry between Automator and Danger Mouse, and Patton's definitely on the Automator side. But, he does enough projects that he could fit both in if need be.

Anyway, even though I think Peeping Tom's a better album, Gnarls Barkley was a better live experience. They came out in school uniforms as "The School of Rock," starting with a cover of "Another Brick in the Wall II." Live, Gnarls as a whole, and Cee-Lo in particular, has so much enthusiasm that you can't help but get caught up in it. The crowd was really into them and gave him huge reactions to all his jokes and banter, of which there was quite a bit.

With a 12 piece band, the album's songs were turned a bit more rock and the slow ones in particular had some really nice, heavy jams. "St. Elsewhere" was a highlight, as was "Just a Thought." I kept thinking that "Storm Coming" was the second part of another song, so I was waiting for it for a while, and it didn't disappoint when it finally turned up.

Cee-Lo did a lot of talking to audience and his stories were pretty entertaining. This is a guy who's been on the fringe for a long time, and you could tell that he was still sort of in awe of performing for such big crowds. This was the conclusion of their first tour and he closed things by saying that they just received their Platinum plaques. I think it's great that an album by two really talented people wound up becoming so successful.

I liked the way they darkened the lights at the end of every song, it added a lot to the drama of the performance. Ultimately, this is a show, and even though their presentation is somewhat gimmicky, it's fun and if it helps engage the crowd, then they should keep doing it.

This was a great performance, they preserved the feel of the album, but expanded it into a more expansive, more jammy sound that worked really well. They took a pretty good album and made a great live show.