Thursday, April 15, 2010

C2E2: Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods Panel

This weekend, I'm making the leap from comicon attendee to comicon panelist, when my Respect Films colleagues and I do a panel/preview of our upcoming Grant Morrison documentary at Chicago's C2E2 Comicon. The panel will be taking place on Saturday from 1:45 to 2:45 in Room E271A.

We're going to be screening about 15 minutes of material from the film, the first time any material will be publicly screened. You'll get to see a lot of interesting visual stuff from Grant's archives, and hear from many of the big collaborators over the years. We'll also be announcing and screening the trailer for a new project at the end of the panel, so you won't want to miss that!

I'll also be signing copies of my Invisibles book, Our Sentence is Up, if you want to grab a copy of that. Matt Fraction recently called it "Indispensable. Belongs on your Morrison shelf right after THE INVISIBLE KINGDOM and right before JLA." You must heed that advice!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lost - 'Everybody Loves Hugo' (6x12)

Tonight's Lost does a good job of keeping up the momentum and intrigue of last week's great Desmond episode, even as it raises some potentially troubling issues, both going forward and in retrospect about the direction of the season as a whole. But, the Desmond/Locke stuff alone was fantastic, and I'm eager to see where everything winds up going.

Let me start with what worked best about this episode, and that's Desmond's role as cross temporal angel of destiny, most notably the extended discussion with Smoke Locke that was full of subtle manuvering and gamesmanship as each one seemed to be testing what exactly the other knew. Smoke Locke seems fairly certain that Desmond is aware of his true nature, but Desmond seems unphased, as if it's all part of his plan. What exactly did Desmond and Widmore agree on doing last week? It's unclear, but Desmond seems to be a wild element, something Smoke Locke hadn't considered, hence his attempt to dispatch him into the electromagnetic hole.

Desmond's stuff in the alternate universe is, outside of last week, the first example of those sequences really working to enhance and inform the narrative. Desmond has a clear goal, and we're witnessing his action, which moves the plot forward, through the emotional arc of another character. It's an efficient way of doing things, and by the end of the episode, it's clear that the focus of the episode was not so much Hurley's reunion with Libby as it was a step of Desmond's mission being completed, hence the episode ending scene in which Desmond runs over Locke.

Why did he do this? It could be an attempt to mimic Locke's on island injuries and make him walk again. Or, it could simply be an attempt to put Locke through the same kind of near death trauma that made him and Charlie see into the alternate universe. Why do it in such a haphazard and dangerous way? Perhaps there's still a link between alternate universe Locke and his on island counterpart, so Desmond lets himself get pushed down the well knowing that he can get back at Smoke Locke from the alternate universe. Either way, it's an intriguing and dynamic scene that does a great job of building momentum going into the next episode.

The Hurley alt-verse story worked much better than previous ones because we actually had an idea of the stakes and purpose of what was going on. It was great to see Pierre Chang again, though I'd have preferred an hour of him recounting what happened to his life between the detonation of the bomb and the present, in either the alternate or present universe, but it's not my show! That said, did we ever find out if Chang is still alive in the present? Miles seems to have not known his dad, but we never saw him get killed in the Dharma massacre? I guess it remains an enigma.

But, the core of the story worked on an emotional level, and made sense as a demonstration of the principles first presented in last week's Desmond story. For the first time, it felt like we had two forward moving stories, not a digression taking time away from the main narrative. And, I think the character beats generally worked.

That said, I did have a couple of issues with the episode. The smaller one is the way that action on island is presented. I've already talked about the problematic fact that most of the characters have spent the entire season sitting around not doing much, and in most cases, waiting for some vague supernatural figure to tell them what to do. As Locke says, there's a difference between doing nothing and waiting, but when most of the characters are literally sitting there with no character arc or long term emotional issues, then that's doing nothing.

In the case of this episode, Michael fills the role of Jacob, telling Hurley what he needs to know to move the plot forward, but also taking away real character agency. I suppose the idea is that Hurley overcomes his own fears about begin a leader and takes control of things, but so much narrative information is conveyed by this omnipotent presence that it makes the story a bit boring. This is particularly frustrating since there's some cool potential stories to be had from a group scouting to find where Locke is, rather than just being told by a ghost.

Ilana getting blown up by dynamite was a surprising moment, but didn't do much for me emotionally, and the characters' lack of reaction to it reinforces that. I will say that it's nice to trim the cast down a bit, and I also like the decision to fork off some characters and have them do different things. Ben in particular has been totally wasted this season, and hopefully sending him, Richard and Miles off on this mission will give all those characters something interesting to do. Ben was such a brilliant character in seasons three and four, and it's a shame that he's being so ill served by this season.

My bigger issue with the episode is the reinforcement of this idea that everyone has to find their soul mate to get back in touch with life in the real world. The problem with this is that romantic relationships have never been a centerpiece of the show, and though Hurley and Libby had a couple of sweet moments, there's nothing in the show to suggest that they're soul mates. That idea works for Penny and Desmond because we're so invested in their relationship, but to assume that Hurley is Libby's soul mate just because they had some good banter once is a bit over the top. I understand the concept in universe that the island brings people together who need to be together, but from a storytelling point of view, it's giving a bit too much credit to a minor development from four seasons ago.

Love as the great universal connector just doesn't seem to fit with the themes of the series we've seen to date. Apart from Desmond, nobody in the show has really been defined by their relationships, and it seems odd to swerve now and make those so central to the endgame of the series, particularly when it doesn't seem that tied to the good/evil Jacob mythology in the main universe. The idea of the Man in Black creating a world without love is a great one, but I think that the notion of 'love' needs to be a bit more general than the romantic one presented here.

On that note, the developments in this episode only reinforce my complaints about the narrative structure and content of the alt-verse material in the early days of season six, right up through 'The Package.' I'd argue that you could take 'The Package' out of the series and lose virtually nothing. That's just not good storytelling, every episode should have something important to say, and develop the characters in some way. 'The Package' isn't an episode that laid groundwork to make the Desmond episode work, it was just sort of there and then 'Happily Ever After' came out and took us in a totally different direction. But, the alt-verse segment there, and indeed most of the previous alt-verse segments, don't particularly mesh well or gain added resonance by the revelations about love in this episode. In fact, they only serve to confuse what seems to now be a fairly clear message.

Maybe some other major twist will come along to put everything in perspective, but it seems increasingly unlikely, and to me, it feels like the creators just wanted to kill time and throw in some cameos before bringing us to the point where they could reveal the truth about the alt-verse.

So, even though this episode featured some riveting scenes, most of which involved Desmond, it also raises some concerns for the continued development of the series. I guess we'll have to wait and see how everything sorts out down the line, but I can say that the teaser for next week was fantastic, and has me very excited to see how it all develops.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Beast Below" (5x02)

'The Beast Below' is a pretty solid episode of Doctor Who, but one that does raise some questions about what the show will be like under Moffat, and whether or not he'll ever match up to the heights of the Davies era. It's definitely too early to tell, but this episode definitely raises some warning signs about the future.

The biggest difficulty with this season so far versus the Davies era is the general shift in story format. The Davies era was a kind of hyperoperatic melodrama with personal soap opera style stories writ large against a backdrop of cosmic craziness. Moffat's stories, both in the Davies era, and in the first two episodes of this series, feel much more like fairy tales. There's always children present, and a focus on making ordinary things around us come alive with fear. The almost obsessive presence of child characters is the one that jumps out to me most, as the Mandy character in this episode had no point to the overall narrative.

I really enjoyed all of Moffat's episodes under Davies, but I never loved them in the way that a lot of people did. In fact, my favorite episode he's done is the Silence in the Library two parter, which was his most poorly received. That episode was absolutely amazing, but I've seen a lot more of 'Blink' or 'The Girl in the Fireplace' in the first two episodes of his solo run.

That's not to say that these episodes have been bad, it's more that it raises concerns for the future about how wide and varied the show could be. Davies definitely had certain themes and setups he returned to all the time, but I loved those themes and responded to them emotionally, and nothing in these episodes has gotten to me as much as even a small moment from a weak Davies episode, like Donna and her grandfather looking up at the stars, as she waits for the Doctor in 'Partners in Crime.'

Davies had this messianic view of the Doctor that was a bit much at times, but Moffat's version of the Doctor is still in formation, or at least a bit unclear at this point. In this episode, he's angry at humans, then ready to kill the space whale to save them. He's definitely more of an enigma than Tennant, and seemingly more prone to mood swings, but I don't feel like I totally understand him yet.

On this episode specifically, certain elements felt like Moffat by numbers, but some of it worked very well. The opening bit with Amy hanging outside the Tardis was great, and in general, her character is working well and doesn't feel like a retread of the emotional beats from Rose or Martha's time in the Tardis. The general sense of adventure was strong too, the show is always fun and exciting in a way that few other things out there are.

I also may be being a bit unfair since Davies seasons often started off pretty weak, and what lingers in my mind is the high points, not the clunker episodes. So, I'm eager to see how things keep developing, but this episode didn't wow me.