Friday, August 25, 2006

Weekend Update

Kanye Show

I'm looking to pick up tickets for the just announced Kanye West show at the Nokia Theater. I love Kanye's stuff, most rap albums can't sustain the seemingly obligatory 75 minute running time, but both Kanye albums are great listening experiences through and through. Admittedly, rap doesn't translate as well live as rock music, but I'd still like to see him, if the price is right. Plus, Pharrel is there as well, I love his work on N.E.R.D, though I've yet to check out his generally panned solo album.

Veronica Mars

I've started watching Veronica Mars: Season Two on DVD, through the first six episodes. It's a good show, I really enjoy watching it, but I don't think it has the depth of a really great show, like Buffy to which it's frequently compared. That said, the second season is stronger than the first because there's more character continuity. The first season had much more focus on the standalone mystery of the week, while here the standalone mysteries are generally incidental, a way of commenting on the main plot. I'll definitely be watching when the show starts its third season in October.

New Films

The trailer for my new film, All Good Things, is now up online. Head over to the official Respect! Films site to download it, or just watch the Youtube below. I've got one more day of shooting on that film, probably Monday, then I'll be editing it for a release at some point in September. I've also got to get the new workshop film online, that'll be up at some point this week.

Upcoming Events of Note
8/29 - Arrested Development Season 3 on DVD
8/29 - Michel Gondry @ Apple Store
8/29 - Kanye West @ Nokia Theater
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
11/22 - The Fountain Released

Thursday, August 24, 2006


My film watching pattern is usually to find a director I like then watch all the films he's done. It started with Tim Burton and I've since gone through a whole bunch of other directors. One of my current people is Gregg Araki. Mysterious Skin was good enough to make me want to see everything else he'd done and that's led me to Nowhere.

Nowhere is clearly stylistically indebted to Araki's previous feature, The Doom Generation. TDG took place in a stylized cartoon universe where characters spoke in an odd, unnatural style and everything was overplayed to a severe degree. Nowhere is set in the same basic universe, but an even more schizophrenic over the top world than The Doom Generation. And, unlike The Doom Generation's narrow focus on three character, Nowhere wanders through a whole bunch of plots, using a similar structure to American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused.

Because this is such a short film, only 78 minutes, and there's so many characters, what you take away from it is more the style, both in terms of production design and also editing. Everything is pushed to extremes, the lighting casts the characters in bold, primary colors and particularly towards the end bares very little resemblance to what we know as reality. I think this is a fantastic choice, the whole point of the film is to push real life tendencies to the extreme and using the set design to parallel character feelings takes advantage of what only film can do. I've never seen another film, besides The Doom Generation, that looks like this, and that's a big compliment.

The opening sequence is actually the high point of the film, as rapid editing shows Dark's masturbation fantasy. I love the transitions between different scenes, showing the different elements of the character's sexuality, and the conflict presented here is what will drive him throughout the film. It's a really dynamic opening for the film, perfectly scored by Araki's choice of music.

The early moments of this film remind me a lot of Totally F***ed Up, the first film in the Teen Apocalypse Trilogy. The videotape diary is the most obvious example, but also the way the characters interact. Outside of the moments of stylization, the jealousy and sense of abandon are right out of TFU. The major change is that TFU takes place in a world that's essentially our reality, while this film takes place in a totally exaggerated world. Outside of Mel and Dark, pretty much everyone is a caricature, right down to their names, like Christina Applegate's Dingbat, whose kitten sweater and braces are the most obvious stereotype of a geeky girl.

The b characters, particularly the celebrity cameos like Rose McGowan and Heather Graham all feel completely unreal. Heather Graham's Lilith has no character traits whatsoever outside of the fact that she likes to have sex. But in this film, that's fine, Araki's goal isn't to promote an emotional reaction, it's more about immersing you in his stylistic world. So, we don't really care what happens to Lilith, no more than we do about Elvis and Alyssa, but it's still enjoyable to watch them because of the way Araki constructs a scene.

In this respect, the film is very different from The Doom Generation. There, we had the heavy surface stylization, but there was also a lot of thematic exploration and emotion. The ending of The Doom Generation, when the characters have a threesome, is a strong emotional payoff for what we've been through. Then, the intrusion of the neo-nazis is a really disturbing moment, both because of Araki's strobe heavy presentation and because we care about these characters and don't want to see them hurt.

Here, that emotional connection is lost, so we only watch for the style and presentation of events. That's fine because most of the film is pretty light and consequence free, however, it causes problems in the moments of real emotional violence. In such a cartoony film, it's disturbing to see a realistic rape scene. It just feels out of character with the rest of the film. The tomato soup beatdown at the end is still disturbing, but fits into the world better. And, I love the way he can get away with a ridiculous amount of blood by throwing the tomato soup into the scene. For the viewer, there's no difference between the two.

Sometime between watching The Doom Generation and this, I actually saw a picture of Gregg Araki, and there's quite a resemblance between him and James Duval, which would lead me to assume there's a good bit of autobiography behind Dark here. Dark is the only character who's really developed, and to some extent, I think his very real issue of being torn between the sexually free world he lives in and the more traditional relationship part of him wants is perfect fodder for a serious film. However, here the moments that are actually emotional wind up feeling a bit out of place.

The biggest issue with this is in the final scene with Montgomery. On one hand, I love the absurdity of Montgomery returning from an alien abduction, and the idea of an alien just wandering the town in general. However, the scene slows everything down and feels like it's from another movie. It might have worked if this was a movie based in reality that was just paced really quickly, but we have no basis for processing real emotion so it winds up feeling off. I do like the end when Montgomery turns into a bug and flies away, it's a really nice, bizarre note to close the film on.

Nowhere was a really fun film to watch, but it lacks the thematic depth of The Doom Generation, or Araki's later Mysterious Skin. It's primarily of interest as a style piece, and there it works wonderfully. Araki always picks perfect music to accompany his images, and this film works as his Fallen Angels, pushing everything to an extreme before a retreat to something a bit more conservative. I'm interested to see where he goes next, Smiley Face sounds like a rather mainstream teen comedy, but I'm sure he'll bring something crazy to it.

The one really lingering question from Nowhere for me is how was this made? This is a really odd film, yet Araki managed to get tons of stars to appear. I'm really glad that he got the freedom to do this kind of film with such a high profile cast, but it perplexes me how it happened. I don't see this film getting a wide release or appealing to a mainstream audience. But at least a really personal, unique film can still be made in America.

JLA: Executive Action (#24-26)

This JLA arc introduces the Ultramarines, and this seemingly unimportant story will have wide ranging consequences for the future of GM's corner of the DC Universe. Just thinking about the arc of these characters in mindblowing. They start out here as Authority style superheroes, then eventually get used as living weapons then injected in the micro-universe Qwewq. From there, they battle a virus of evil that was injected in the universe, which grows into Neh-Buh-Loh billions of years into the future. There, they succeed in making Neh-Buh-Loh spare Misty, and eventually return to the present and help Frankenstein defeat Neh-Buh-Loh. That's a journey.

I'm assuming that Morrison didn't have these wide ranging plans in place when he wrote these issues. When he went to do Seven Soldiers, he probably looked through his JLA run, saw some cool concepts and decided to bring them into his new series. In the case of the Ultramarines, it's certainly left open for them to return, and they may even return later in this JLA run. But, I would not have been expecting to see the infant universe of Qwewq again.

Anyway, this arc itself isn't particularly noteworthy. It's a lot more grounded and conventional than the outre, mindblowing journey of something like One Million. I find it impressive how Morrison turns the Shaggy Man into a major threat, while simultaneously noting the goofiness of the character. I prefer Morrison's approach to Silver Age concepts like this to Alan Moore's. Moore would do a pastische of the character, a la the untold tales of Supreme, creating something that feels like a 60s comic. What Morrison does it make a comic that gives the same emotional reaction to present readers that those 60s comics did to 60s readers.

The character introductions here are great, all using the superhero's logo to announce their presence. Superman's is particularly cool with its depiction of what time looks like to Clark. We also get some more time with the New Gods. I read the TPB of Kirby's New Gods to study up for a reread of Seven Soldiers, but I'm really glad I did because it's critical to a lot of Morrison's JLA. Metron is a perfect character for Morrison to work with and I'm glad that he got a chance to write for him.

The main story has some issues, namely the fact that the US would choose to try to build their own superhero army and alienate the JLA. In the DCU it should be apparent that the JLA is the ultimate force and you can't build someone to match them. I suppose the point of the arc is that this General is so egotistical he thinks that he's the one who can defeat the JLA, but then we end up with a story just like Prometheus or the Keymaker where we see someone who's found "the perfect solution" to defeat the JLA, a solution that we inevitably know will not work.

I do like the way that Morrison splits the team, by making the ordinary, less powered characters fight the General it builds up narrative tension. Huntress is the most expendable member of the team, so it's smart to put her in danger. So, over with the main team we see a lot of creative uses of powers to battle the Ultramarines. I like the Flash turning the water guy into steam and particularly Superman using his gravitas to stand down an entire battalion of military troops. He commands such respect in the DCU, and that scene pretty much sums it up with the soldier who says "I can't shoot fucking Superman."

However, the more entertaining piece is with Batman and Huntress battling Eiling. This is a really well done fight, with a lot more bruises and nastiness than the typical JLA battle. I love the dynamic Morrison has created between those two characters, with Huntress constantly wondering why she's on the team and Batman as the sage who seemingly knows everything, but won't tell her the answers.

The finale of the storyline sets up another division between an Authority style super team and the traditional JLA. Superman is all about trying to help ordinary people realize their potential while the Ultramarines are more about protecting their own, hence the creation of Superbia. It's good territory to go to because it works on both a meta level and in the story, however I think it was fresher back then than it is today. I do love the final page through, where Hourman appears and says "I expected to arrive in the midst of Earth's war with the fifth dimension." Only in Morrison's JLA.

Related Posts
JLA: Prometheus Unbound (#16-17) (8/6/2006)
JLA: Return of the Conqueror (#22-23) (8/10/2006)
JLA: One Million (8/19/2006)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Top 25 TV Characters

This one's been going around. They're in alphabetical order by character name. Look out for spoilers for the characters' fate.

Adriana La Cerva (The Sopranos) - She was the one character on the show who was able to remain uncorrupted by organized crime, right up to her exit. That was a huge turning point for the show and it's been missing something ever since.

Angel (Buffy/Angel) - On Buffy he was one of the best villains the show ever had, but other than that rather uninteresting. However, the longer his own show went on, the more complex he got, culminating in a finale where he makes a series of incredible sacrifices to try and save the world. It's heartbreaking stuff. And this occurs in the same season in which he turns into a puppet. That's range.

Anya (Buffy) - She started out as a fantastic comedy character, drawing attention to the absurdities of human behavior. However, that naivete was wrenching in "The Body," and her ultimate choice to fight in Buffy's final battle is full of such mixed feelings. Is she embracing her human side, or has she been so messed up by recent events she doesn't care if she dies? Regardless, the final shot of Xander looking for her dead body is the most haunting moment of the series finale. Plus, her solo episode, 'Selfless' perfectly encompasses the way that Buffy can mix really broad comedy with heartbreaking tragedy.

Brenda Chenowith (Six Feet Under) - One of my favorite moments in the series, when Brenda yells at Nate not throw his engagement ring at her because "it's so cliche, I'll fucking barf" encompasses everything great and flawed about her character. This is someone who's so worried about not being normal and boring she's trying to preserve her originality rather than engage in the emotion of that moment. Her growth in the final season was astonishing and I love the way things ended up for her. Rachel Griffiths' work here is one of the all time great performances.

Christopher Moltisanti (The Sopranos) - Christopher is an endlessly frustrating character, someone who has dreams outside of the mob world, but can never quite make it. It's painful to watch him continutally fail, never more so than in the series' best episode, 'D-Girl,' in which he comes so close to getting out, but winds up retreating back into the family at the end.

Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks) - From his very first scene, Cooper is a fully formed personality, totally unique. I love his blend of rationality and mysticism, never better realized than in the early episodes, where his quest to save Tibet and throwing of rocks at bottles provides great entertainment. His mad run through the black lodge is another character highlight, pushing the best TV episode ever forward on the back of his personal tragedy.

David Brent (The Office) - He's absolutely hilarious throughout the series, but what makes Brent special is the few moments of humanity, his crying when he's fired and his sadness throughout the Christmas special. The "Fuck off" to Chris Finch is such a satisfying moment of character growth.

Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop) - When she joins the crew, they start to become a family and it's that uneasy family connection that makes for most of the emotionally powerful moments in the show. My three favorite Faye moments are the older her watching her younger self cheering for her on video and realizing that her life is nothing like what she expected. Then, the heartbreaking moment where she runs to find her childhood home and finds nothing but an empty lot, and finally, her tearful request to Spike not to go after Vicious, one of the saddest moments in all of TV.

Gob Bluth (Arrested Development) - The funniest character on a show stocked with hilarious characters. His ridiculous level of sleziness, the "Final Countdown" dance, Franklin. Some bizarre and great comedy.

Jack Bauer (24) - The Jack Bauer Power Hour is called that for a reason. At first it seemed implausible that Jack could do so much, but it's become a conceit of the show and now you just accept that this guy can do anything. I love the way that an entire military division could fail, but you send in Bauer and you get the job done. There's such an underlying sadness to the character, as he is forced to sacrifice all personal connection to get his job done. The last hour of the show has to end with Jack's death.

Jet Black (Cowboy Bebop) - The gruff on the surface, but big hearted father figure to the Bebop crew, the thing I love about Jet is the way that he never says how much he cares about them, but we know that he'd do anything for his friends. His two best moments are when he rescues Faye in "Jupiter Jazz," and his quiet request to Spike not to go after Vicious. He loves them so much, but he can't save Spike.

Lindsay Weir (Freaks and Geeks) - She's someone who's looking for a higher purpose for life, but finds nothing in her suburban environment to match her lofty ambitions. I love her search for personal identity as she moves uneasily between social worlds.

Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls) - Another woman in search of her place, though this one's a lot older. Lorelai is one of the funniest characters on TV, but it's her tragic side that appeals to me. She desperately wants something more from life, but feels like she'll never be able to find it. I loved her sad journey through the sixth season, particularly the painfully awkward speech at Lane's wedding. But, it's not all bad, her enthusiasm and quirks are always entertaining, she's someone you'd want to hang out with.

Fox Mulder (The X-Files) - His total devotion to finding the truth was the fuel behind the entire series, but what made Mulder so endearing was his quick wit and ability to move from deeply serious stuff to really goofy quipping. The character took on a life of his own and made the series what it was. Just look at the post Mulder episodes to see how crucial he was.

Nate Fisher (Six Feet Under) - Nate is someone who always wanted more, he was looking for a higher purpose in life, a more fulfilling relationship, a more meaningful existence. This quest is what propelled him forward, but it's also what doomed all his relationships. Nate's story is a tragedy, but you can still respect him because he never settled. The other Fishers may have been built for ordinary life, but that existence was toxic to Nate. He was the soul of the show and my favorite TV character of all time.

Nick Andopolis (Freaks and Geeks) - Yet another character in search of something more than his everyday life, Nick was undermined by his lack of initiative and work ethic. His work in the final episode is brilliant, the character still clinging to the hope of a relationship with Lindsay throws himself into an apocalyptic disco dancing contest. I don't see good things in his future.

Dana Scully (The X-Files) - I don't think it was either Mulder or Scully who was crucial to The X-Files, it was the combo. They had such perfect chemistry, it could enliven even the stupidest monster of the week episode. However, when they did get the emotional mythology stuff, Scully went to many intense emotional places, always remaining relatable. She went through so much awful stuff, but remained strong through it all. Their relationship was the show by the end, and it was great.

Sharon Valeri (Battlestar Galactica) - The ultimate questioning of purpose, Sharon had to deal with the revelation that she wasn't actually human, while simultaneously another Sharon was dealing with the fact that she was a cylon, but could have human feelings. I love the line between artifical and human life and this character is like a TV version of Roy Batty. Her appearances kept the middle chunk of season two watchable.

Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel) - Here's a character who totally owned every scene he's in. It's no coincidence that the show started to get good when he first appeared, and Angel had its best season during the time he was on. Spike was such a charismatic character that he made everyone he interacted with more interesting. Buffy was the most interesting during his season six trysts with Spike and Angel was at his best when the two of them worked together. I love the way Spike tries to project this really cool image, but is a sappy romantic at heart. He's full of endless complexities and there's no character who's more interesting to watch.

Spike (Cowboy Bebop - Another complex Spike, he's the cool image of Bebop, totally above emotion and feeling. At first this is his attraction, but as time goes by, we see that it's his greatest flaw. The end of Cowboy Bebop, and Spike's role in it, is totally frustrating, but it's the only way he could have went out. Rarely do you see such a tragic character depicted on TV, someone who just can't move beyond his past.

The Smoking Man (The X-Files) - Whenever I saw William B. Davis in the opening credits, I knew that we were in for a good episode. Davis owned every scene he was in, and is the ultimate representative of conspiracy in fiction. As time went on, he became more complex, and his tragic nature was never better expressed than in 'Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,' or particularly in 'En Ami,' where we saw a man whose whole life has been squandered consigning himself to death. He's a very compex antagonist and despite Carter's best efforts, the character never lost his cool.

Tim Canterbury (The Office) - The ultimate everyman, he hates his job, but can't get it together to move beyond it. His facial expressions are priceless, look at Hat FM, or any scene with him and Gareth. His quiet "She said no by the way" in the second season finale is one of the saddest moments in the show, and his joy when Dawn returns is the best moment in the whole series. It's difficult to make a really ordinary character and not make him boring, but they pull it off with Tim.

Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) - The most complex TV character of all time? Maybe, he's certainly one of the most interesting. Tony is at a slight remove from the mob world, aware of his moral transgressions, but endlessly justifying them, blaming them on his mother or claiming that every white collar businessman is doing the same thing. He's a distinctly early 21st century guy, caught between alpha male tradition and the need to be more sensitive today. He's never been more interesting than post coma when his new moral code forces him to break out of traditional patterns.

Wesley Wyndham Price (Angel) - Wesley's journey is what makes the character so interesting. He starts out as a hopelessly inept guy not suited for the real world and ends up a hardened warrior so emotionally numb he has to die. And, that journey is totally organic, there's no one moment of change, it just happens as time passes and then you look back and realize how far he's gone.

Willow Rosenberg (Buffy) - Much the same, Willow has a huge evolution over the course of the series and is almost always more interesting than Buffy herself. I love Willow and Oz and I love Willow and Tara. Hannigan can do comedy and drama with equal skill and I hope that she does some serious work soon and doesn't just get typecast in a sitcom nitch.