Thursday, February 14, 2008

Doctor Who: 'Father's Day' (1x08)

The new Doctor Who kicked up its game quite a bit with the fantastic eighth episode “Father’s Day.” I really liked the show from the first episode, but this was the first one that succeeded on every level, raising some interesting philosophical questions and telling a really emotional, powerful story.

To date, the show Who reminds me most of is Buffy. It’s got that same light tone and spunky heroine against the backdrop of crazy sci-fi tales. There’s not many shows where you can be on the verge of apocalypse and it’s not even the season finale, but this is one. And, like the best of Buffy, this one used the genre conceit to get at some really powerful emotions. It’s a story you couldn’t tell outside of a sci-fi setting, and yet, it’s totally grounded in reality, starting with a very basic, relatable premise and playing it in an at first funny, then really sad and touching way.

Time travel always opens up some troubling questions. How can your story have any real stakes when you could just go back in time and undo it should things go badly? I like the idea that the Tardis has a kind of will of its own, the Doctor can’t take them exactly where they want to go, he puts in an approximate date and the Tardis guides them to the place they need to be. This episode also gives us the notion that there is a ‘right’ timestream, that messing with things too much will bring those dragon things out to fix everything up.

I’m not sure how this time philosophy fits with the old episodes of the series, maybe it’s a fanwank, but it works for me. The Doctor is a kind of extratemporal agent working to ensure that the timestream proceeds as it should. He’s there to liberate humanity from their media oppression in the previous episode, and here we see the danger in trying to change things for selfish reasons. Would saving Rose’s dad really make a difference in the overall direction of the universe? I don’t know, apparently. For one, if we’re looking at a 4-D time system, it would mean the Rose we know would never exist.

I’m not exactly sure what the time structure of the series is. Is the Doctor actually changing history, or is he just fulfilling a role, doing what he’d already done at the time, only now he’s perceiving it from a different angle? It hasn’t really been explored yet. I think it makes more sense that way, because having a ton of alternate universes opens too many dangerous storytelling possibilities. It’s possible we’ve got a version of Grant Morrison’s hypertime, where there can be a number of divergent timelines branching off the main ‘time river,’ however the key events that need to happen always proceed as planned.

Ultimately, this doesn’t really matter. What the episode is about is Rose getting the chance to meet her dad. I love the opening voiceover, where she says her dad is the most wonderful man in the world. There’s this total affection for a man she never knew, she’s in love with the idea of her dad, and when we see the young Rose, there’s such sadness knowing that she never got to meet him.

When she does meet him, predictably, he’s not the noble knight she expected, but a flawed man. One of the emotional beats I love most in the episode is Rose’s sadness when she sees her mom berating her dad. It’s hard to go down to reality after existing in a mythic realm, and the reality of her dad doesn’t quite match up to what she imagined.

But, as the episode goes along, she gets to know him and realizes that he does have a lot going for him, and even though he might not be exactly what she imagined, she still loves him. It’s really touching to see her finally get the chance to have a dad after not having one her entire life.

The range of knowledge in the episode is really interesting. Rose tells Pete that he was a great dad, makes up a story about everything he’s done, which he knows is false. She’s breaking inside, unable to tell him that he was dead, but he knows and he takes the pain of telling him off her. He says that’s what dads do, and in the end, he’s willing to sacrifice his life so that the Rose we know can live.

There’s a lot of beats here that could have been cheesy, but the acting is so good, you totally buy their relationship, and I was really moved by Pete’s sacrifice. There’s something about this show that just really hits me on an emotional level. I think it’s the overwhelming totality of it all, the universe itself on the line, all of reality hinging on this single relationship.

I’d argue one of the best things about sci-fi is that it turns character’s problems into earth shaking events. Grant Morrison said that he relates to Superman more than a guy in an everyday drama because to him, his personal problems are as big as Solaris the Tyrant Sun attacking the Earth. Like it or not, we are all the center of our own universes, and our personal crises are as big as a Crisis on Infinite Earths from our own perspective. If I die, the entire universe I live in dies, and if someone close to me dies, a piece of me is lost as well.

This series tells stories on a huge scale, but Rose is such a great anchor character that we are able to relate to them emotionally. In a lot of Morrison’s work, there are moments where the characters are just totally overwhelmed by encountering some other intelligence and they’re reduced to tears. Think King Mob in Dulce in Vol 2.4, or Zatanna in the fourth issue of her series. That’s the place this series hits, I remember in “The End of the World,” Rose is overwhelmed by what’s going on, and that emotion hit me, I was really feeling awed and moved. It happened again here, the show just hits this place I love, a place of wonder and awe.

The episode ends with a reprise of the opening voiceover, only this time we know that Rose means it. It’s not the idea of her dad she loves, it’s the man himself. It’s a really touching, beautiful moment. I loved this episode, and I’m really loving the show. Not every episode hits, I thought the previous episode with Satellite 5 was a bit talky and slow paced, but I really love watching a show that’s as diverse and varied from week to week. I love the big ideas they’re tackling and the relationship between Rose and the Doctor provides a wonderful anchor for everything. The combo of new Doctor and new Battlestar in April is going to make for some incredible science fiction.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Wire: 'Took' (5x07)

‘Took’ is the first episode of the season that really makes the newspaper/serial killer storyline work for me. After McNulty’s initial brainstorm, things have been going on the same level for a while, but everything’s kicked up a notch here, as McNulty’s plan finally works, better than he could have dreamed, and he finds himself lording over the entire homicide department. It’s a pretty packed episode, though even with all that happens, I’m still dreading the fact that we’ve only got three episodes left to wrap everything up.

Let’s kick it off with the increasingly debilitated Omar, who now finds himself limping around the city, barely able to move, but still inflicting terror on Marlo’s people. For the first time in a few years, we see Omar kill someone in this episode, and it’s pretty jarring. During the scene at the stash house, I was wondering, did Omar really do this, did he kill someone? But, the Savino scene at the club confirms it, he’s doing what he has to do to survive, no matter the cost.

There are a couple of reasons why he has to kill. One is the game’s changed, it’s got fiercer and it’s hard to call Marlo a bitch when you’re only wounding his people. It’s a killing world out there, and Omar has to match that level of aggression. And, because he’s so physically run down, he’s got to make a bigger statement. If he was at his old strength, he could be patient, watch them for a long time and use his network to battle Marlo. Now, it’s just one man, he can’t track Marlo, he’s just got to find him and kill him.

It’s hard to watch these scenes for a number of reasons. One, I think we’ve all come to see Omar as a kind of hero, and the cold blooded killing doesn’t mesh with that. It’s also hard to see this legend brought down to the world, hobbling around on a broom-crutch. Watching this episode, it makes a lot more sense why Simon went with such a self consciously over the top escape for Omar. That moment marked the end of Omar the legend, he was beaten in there by Snoop and Chris. Now, he’s just a man, desperate to get at Marlo any way he can. When Omar killed Savino, I said, he’s going to die. He’s lost sight of the code he lived by, and I don’t think anyone can save him now. What is he going to do if he gets his showdown with Marlo?

Omar’s run down state fits as a nice parallel with what Freamon’s become. These two guys used to be the most disciplined characters on the show, willing to wait patiently until the time was right to strike. But, like Omar, Freamon has been pushed too far. He’s given up his code because he feels the system has betrayed him, and now he’s going to do whatever it takes to take down Marlo, even though it’s likely to lead to his own downfall. He’s doing things that are outright wrong, even if it’s in the service of good, how can he justify that?

It’s been interesting to watch just how misguided Freamon’s become this season because it’s a total mismatch with the way we’ve been led to perceive the character over the previous seasons. How does this Lester match with the Lester who told McNulty he needs something in his life beyond police work? Whatever happened to Shardene, his girlfriend from season one? Like Omar, he’s been pushed so far, he’s given up on anything but taking down Marlo, and is suffering from it as a result. When McNulty’s telling you to think about what you’re doing, it’s probably time to reconsider your tactics.

And, even after all they’ve done, it’s still just one or two weeks they need to take down Marlo. That’s the line he’s been giving since the beginning of the season, but to date, Marlo’s just been too smart for him. The phone clock code is going to be tough to break, particularly because he can’t tell people what he’s using the surveillance teams for. I’m not sure why McNulty didn’t try to tie the homeless killer into the killings in the vacants last season, it wouldn’t fly in the police department, but it’d be pretty easy to put it over on the bosses, or at least raise the question that they might be connected, and open the wallet for the Marlo case.

The most interesting thing in this episode was watching McNulty getting everything he wants, and simultaneously realizing what a dangerous position this puts him in. Everyone is out looking for this serial killer, and sooner or later, they’re going to find the homeless guy in the shelter, realize that McNulty put him there, and bring him down. If not that, the longer it goes on, the more likely someone is to break and connect the killer to McNulty. What happens to him then?

I could see McNulty finally benefiting from the system then. It’s in no one’s interest for people to find out about that the serial killer was an inside job, particularly Carcetti. His gubernatorial campaign is finally getting some traction, in spite of the killer, and it’s this homeless crisis that’s helping him. Exposing McNulty would destroy his political credibility. This episode is the most interesting Carcetti stuff in a while.

In general, the episode works because it takes this one incident, the homeless guy being kidnapped, and shows how it affects all the worlds the show depicts. The police scramble to mobilize at the same time as the press, in a crosscutting scene that’s perhaps a bit obvious, but still works, while Carcetti tries to come up with some appeasement for a problem that has no real solution. In a lot of ways, fighting a war against a serial killer is the same as fighting a ‘war on terror,’ you can have all the preventative measures in place that you want, but ultimately you can’t stop just one man from performing an act of violence.

9/11 conspiracy theorists would have a fine time paralleling McNulty’s invented serial killer with Bush using the attacks to get all the money he needs for homeland security. I’d equate it with what Bush did with the war on Iraq, invent a threat to get the justification he needed for invasion, then change the story a couple of years down the line, and hope that people don’t remember what he said. In today’s media environment, the truth doesn’t much matter when there’s a concocted threat out there. The implicit point of the season is the press will jump on the latest extreme threat, the serial killers, the Iraqs, while every day, more and more people die on the streets, and no one cares. Prop Joe gets killed, it’s a couple of paragraphs, kinky serial killer guy kills a homeless man, the city is mobilized.

Simon’s point in the series is that we need to take a hard look at what’s going on at home, and stop worrying about these crazy threats. Think about what the trillion dollars spent in Iraq could have done in our inner cities. Instead, we send people over there, wreck the state, and wind up with our own people messed up like the homeless guy from last week. What baffles me is why Republicans say it’s a worthwhile cause, building democracy in Iraq, helping the people over there, while any attempt to provide domestic aid to our own people is seen as liberal money wasting, nanny state government. You can’t have it both ways. Of course, they’d say the war in Iraq is a vital front in the war on terror. The bigger the lie, the more they believe. At this point, I think it’s hard for people to conceive of just how thoroughly we were lied to and screwed with in the build up to the war on Iraq, they don’t want to see America as that kind of country.

Clearly there are some very vital themes here, unfortunately, the newspaper storyline doesn’t really play them up in the most interesting way. Do any of the scenes at the news office really add to what we could get just by catching a glimpse of the front page of the paper? I can see why they chose to parallel McNulty and Templeton, both of their lies helping out their organization, even as they threaten to bring themselves down, however, the notion of the lying reporter just isn’t that interesting to me. The real issue with journalism is the lack of real investigation, it’s just accepting what authority figures say and not questioning it.

But, even with that, I do think this was the most successful newspaper stuff yet. I’m not emotionally attached to the characters, but the conflicts were clearer and more engaging. However, I have to say that I’m never thrilled to go back to the news room. The reason isn’t so much a knock on the storyline as praise for the rest of the show. It’s like if you went to an amazing restaurant, were having an eight course meal and all of a sudden your meal is interrupted by an eggo waffle. I really like eggo waffles, and I eat them on their own all the time, but if there’s only so many courses I’ve got at this fancy restaurant, I don’t want to waste one on the waffles. That’s the bane of a last season, every moment becomes more vital as we approach the end. I didn’t mind the port storyline in season two because I knew there’d be more time for everyone else later, but it’s sad to think we’ve seen the last of so many great characters, and with time running out, I’m not looking for more Scott Templeton.

So, I fall somewhere between the two extremes of the season. I don’t think the newspaper is pointless, or a failure. I think it’s got some interesting points, and, while not perfectly executed, it’s by no means bad. It’s just that pretty good is going to stand out when you’ve got a show that’s been so consistently excellent before.

Elsewhere, we get some good stuff with Michael. I love the scene where Dukie is looking at the classifieds at the beginning of the episode. For one, there’s the humor of this kid who hasn’t even graduated high school trying to find an actual job. But, what really makes the scene work is the lack of connection to the overall plot. It made me realize what I’ve been missing most from this season is that just hanging out on the corner. Bodie rarely had a major role to play in the plot, but it was through hanging out with him that we found out what things were like on the streets. He was the everyman of the show, and his loss, combined with the faster pace of the season means we don’t get as many great moments like this.

Bunk remains the standout of the season, the only man aware that this entire homeless thing is bullshit, but powerless to say anything about it. He knows that this charade isn’t getting Lester and Jimmy any closer to Marlo, they’re still one or two weeks away, while he’s closing in. Wendell Pierce has always been one of the most entertaining actors on the show, but this season finally gives him a chance to show off his dramatic chops, and he nails these scenes. You can sense the rage in him as he watches the bullshit become more and more powerful in the department.

On top of this, we get the apparent resolution of the Clay Davis storyline. Isiah Whitlock as Davis is the season’s other standout. I love the way he seamlessly shifts between ‘public Clay,’ jovial and confident, and private Clay, scheming and deceitful. The brilliant thing is, even though I’m aware of the deception, I’m practically believing what he’s saying up on the stand. He sells it so well, with the pandering to the jury from his lawyer, regardless of whether he’s guilty, it seems like he earned that innocent verdict. I’m sure if I went back and watched Clay screwing over Stringer in season three, I’d want him guilty, but after watching that trial, I can’t fault the man for walking. It’s the same as the Carcetti speeches last week and in season three’s finale, understanding the lies behind it makes the bravado and rhetoric of these speeches almost more powerful.

I’d like to see how Lester feels about Clay walking. Does he even care at this point? He’s so caught up in this serial killer drama, he seems to have forgotten his real mission. Wasn’t he the guy who said follow the money up and up? Marlo is not the top, he’s not the real problem. I guess Lester gave up after he delivered the ‘head shot’ and O-Bond-a decided not to use it, but I’m still curious what his thoughts are about the verdict. Regardless, Clay walking doesn’t make me optimistic about the way other plotlines will resolve themselves. Clay is in many ways, the show’s master villain. If he got out unharmed, will things be any different for Marlo?

One final story was Bubbles and the reporter. It’s nice to see things looking up for at least one of our characters. I particularly like the way that the only storyline where the homeless killer is not at the center is the one that actually takes place with homeless people. They don’t care about a killer when they’re struggling everyday to survive. Four murders mean nothing when people turn up dead all the time. The real problem for homeless people isn’t the fear of being killed, it’s the fact that they’re homeless!

Well, that was a big week. Things are happening, there’s a ton of momentum and we’re moving into the final stretch. At this point, pretty much anything could happen, there’s no status quo left to protect. Many questions remain unanswered, most notably where the hell are Prez and Colvin? Will we see them again? What about Namond? And that can’t be the last appearance of Cutty, can it? Or Poot too, we’ve got to see him again, right? It’s going to be a lot to wrap up. But, either way, this episode ended on a really sweet note, with Kima finding a moment of happiness with her son, turning the dark world we’ve seen over the course of the series into a children’s book. It’s an uncharacteristically sweet ending, but it felt really right. She’s earned that moment after everything she’s been through.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Filmography

In connection with the previous post about my new film project, here's a trip through the past for those of you who've never seen my films before. I posted some of them before on this blog, but it's never a bad time to big yourself up, right? I'm going in reverse chronological order since, in general, I feel like they get better as they go on.

Universal Traveler:
May 2007
12 Minutes
Starring: Alicia Fuss, Matt Walsh, Abby Bader
Written/Directed by Patrick Meaney


This was my senior thesis film at Wesleyan University. It focuses on Tori, a scientist trying to invent nanobots that will allow people to travel through time. But, things go disastrously awry when she encounters the Anti-Self! It's inspired by Morrison and Jack Kirby, and hopefully captures the pop excitement and big idea wonder of their works. It's my favorite of my own films.

Dream of Life
May 2007
6 Minutes
Starring: Lauren Katz
Written/Directed by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert


A film that chronicles a life reflected in the moment of death. It's another high energy movie, silent, and chaotic in aesthetic. I really like this movie, the quality of images and energy it has, and not just because I made it. Give it a look!

All Goods Things
March 2007
27 Minutes
Starring: Alicia Fuss, Lauren Katz,Tom Macy, Jordan Rennert, Matt Walsh
Written/Directed by Patrick Meaney


This is a very different film from the previous two. It's got no genre elements, the only film I've made with nothing supernatural. It's the portrait of Alex, a cynical, modern girl. This movie was my attempt to deal with the conservative/liberal divide in our society, and explore what makes so many people of my generation so cynical and unable to believe sincerely in stuff. It's the portrait of a "Daily Show liberal," someone who'll gladly mock the establishment, but doesn't really have anything to replace it with. It's a longer, messier film, but it's got a lot of moments I really love. Almost all the dialogue was improvised, and I think that gives the characters more unique voices than in my other movies.

Nepo - "Yer Warpin' Me"
August 2006
4 Minutes
Starring: Mike Nepo, Jordan Rennert
Concept/Directed by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert


This is a music video for Nepo. It's a short, odd tale of a man battling the establishment. This is notable for the use of a 35mm adaptor, which gives the piece a distinct look.

Victoria Rocks - "Champagne Saturday"
July 2006
4 Minutes
Starring: Victoria Levy, Johnny B.
Concept/Direction by Patrick Meaney


I did this video for Victoria Levy, the singer for industrial band Slick Idiot. It features a lot of experimental color correction effects, and further develops the chaotic handheld style I was using heavily at the time. I think it fits the song really well, there's a few shots I wish I could have done better, but it's a strong work.

The Perfect Dose
January 2006
21 Minutes
Starring: Bryan Kaplan, Angela McKain, Kelleigh Miller, Scott Tyler
Written/Directed by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert


Another sci-fi project, this one focuses on a man with an elevated consciousness that plagues him like a virus. This is a movie I have mixed feelings about. It was the first time I worked with "pro" actors, people who weren't just my friends, and I was a bit intimidated. So, some of the stuff in this movie doesn't quite hold together. But, I love the ending, and its abstract stylings informed a lot of what was to come in my next work. The Dose taught me a lot of lessons. I think this review from Youtube sums it up best: "not as enlightening as i had hoped, but in the end it was only a movie. i enjoyed it very much so though! nicely done!"

Key 23
December 2005
5 Minutes
Starring: Abby Bader, Alicia Fuss
Written/Directed by Patrick Meaney


This is a film about an experimental psychotopic drugs. I shot this movie in a day, on 16mm, with no crew but myself. Despite those limitations, it turned out as one of my favorite of my works. I think this is the most precise work I've done, and is the source of the style and motifs that would inform a lot of my recent work. The Alicia/Abby pair returned in Universal Traveler, this was the first of my "femme power" movies, and while I don't like the process of working with film, it does look great.

Do Unto Others
November 2005
3 Minutes
Starring: Alicia Fuss, Corey Davison
Directed/Edited by Patrick Meaney


Another 16mm project, I made this with two other guys from Wesleyan. It's another surreal reflection on life and death. It's a bit violent, but very stylish and I think quite successful. It was here that I met Alicia, who'd go on to appear in a whole bunch of my movies. If anyone's been my muse, she has, nailing it every time out even as I put her through a lot of weird stuff.

Ricky Frost
August 2005
35 Minutes
Starring: Steve Delitta, Lauren Katz, Jordan Rennert, Andrew Meehan
Written/Directed by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert

What happens when a young man finds out he's dying? This movie, that's what! This film is set in the same universe as All Good Things, and it's also a chronicle of ordinary life. I saw this movie shortly after I watched Fallen Angels for the first time, and it's more inspired by Wong Kar-Wai than anything else I've done. That shot above is the first example of the "Wong Kar-Wai shot," which I'd use on a lot of projects. This movie is a bit long, but it's got some really great moments, and I like the story it tells. It's a bit more traditionally narrative based than All Good Things, and depending on your preferences, that will make it either better or worse.

Tabula Rasa
May 2004
35 Minutes
Starring: Steve Deluca, Lauren Katz, Doug Hill
Written by Patrick Meaney, Jordan Rennert and Steve Deluca. Directed by Richard Spinelli


I'd made a few films before this, but this was the first that turned out well. It's an allegorical take on corporate societal influence. I didn't actually direct this one, but I influenced the vision a lot. It's a bit less frenetic than later films, but there's a power to the images that I like. This movie was made with a collective of my friends, many of whom pop up in later movies.

Well, that's it for the journey through my past films. Give them a look and please post any thoughts you've got. It's always great to hear feedback, positive or negative. And, if you dig the films, please pass them on to other people. And, for more info on all this, head over to my filmmaking site, Respect! Films.

The Third Age

As you may or may not be aware, in addition to writing about stuff here, I do my own filmmaking. Right now, I'm working on my biggest film project to date, a webseries called The Third Age. Here's the basic info:

"The old age believed in magic, this age believes in science, but we are on the precipice of a third age, a fusion of everything that's come before." - Jerrod

The Third Age is a webseries about an ensemble of characters caught up in this fusion of magic and science, of people on the frontlines of the war to shape humanity's future. It begins with a ritual, the calling down of a spirit into a man, and from there goes on to chronicle an ever expanding web of lives caught up in a battle between gods.

The series is masterminded by me, Patrick Meaney, and Jordan Rennert. Our goal is to tell a story that uses science fiction as a way to explore the world we live in, and the conflicts that everyone faces. The gods in the story represent eternal forces that change humanity, progress, stasis, imprisonment and freedom. The story isn't so much about the larger conflict as it is about the individual lives affected in its wake.

Each episode of the series will be about five minutes, and a new one will be posted every two weeks. They'll be available as direct downloads, and on Youtube. It will run about a year before wrapping up the story. The project is going to deal with a lot of the same themes as the stuff I'm writing about on here. If you look down the tag list on the side, you'll see many of the inspirations: Grant Morrison, Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, David Lynch, Wong Kar-Wai, though I'll be bringing some of my own energy to it as well. Take a look at the two teasers we've got so far:

Higher Quality Download

Higher Quality Download

If you want to keep up on the progress of the project, throw the Third Age Begins blog into your RSS reader. I'll be posting news updates there, and once the series starts, that'll be the first place to hear about new episodes being posted. And, if you've got your own blog/media outlet and would like a review copy sent to you, just let me know and I'll put you on the list.

And, if you want to delve back into my filmmaking history, head over to, where you can find all my previous works, or flip to the next post for a journey into the past.