Monday, November 30, 2015

Sometimes Doctor Who has a plot so complex that I'm not sure I quite understand what's going on.

This post contains plot spoilers for "Heaven Sent," episode 11 of this season's Doctor Who.

I'm not sure what to think of this season's Doctor Who. First off, I'm actually not positive that I understand it either, but maybe that's the point? Last week we bid farewell to Clara Oswald, who (in being very much like the Doctor), had become reckless. Her death was uncomfortable, but I think the character of Clara had run its course so maybe this way was the best way to go forward? However, the result of Clara's death was the doctor being ensnared by Ashildr into his own confession dial, which (as it turns out) is a revolving castle where he's stalked by a monster that epitomizes his greatest fear.

The episode Heaven Sent (episode 11 of the 35th series of Doctor Who) was brilliant in its creepiness. There was the slow plodding monster that always caught up to the Doctor (82 minutes was as much of a lead as he could get on the thing if he ran from one side of the castle to the other). In order to open up new corridors, he needed to confess to the monster something deeply personal, which then caused everything to move as it does in Hogwarts.

Eventually, he'd find himself at room 12 which had some kind of wall harder than diamond and many feet thick (covering the way out which consequently led to Gallifrey--the doctor's home world which he kind of/sort of destroyed). He could hammer at it with his fists and make a small chip here and there like a bird pecking at a diamond. Then his greatest fear would catch him and...dying...the doctor would crawl back to a room where he would fry his own brain with an electrical charge to force a version of himself stuck in the hard drive of a computer to be born so he could start over again (have you guys ever seen the movie "The Prestige"? It's like that). After several billion years of doing this and repeatedly chipping at the wall, he finally breaks through to find Gallifrey. At least, that's what I got from it.

The episode was as creepy as Doctor Who gets too. It effectively used lighting and the loneliness of being trapped in this shifting prison (not to mention the buzzing flies which heralded the approach of the monster) to convey fear. And when the mystery of thousands of skulls buried beneath the water was solved (they all belong to the Doctor and his billions of reincarnations) the true horror of this place set in. Basically, the Doctor was trapped in his own hell and just like the journey the narrator takes in Dante's Inferno, he had to pass through the portal in the ninth layer before he could begin the ascent to some kind of redemption.

Anyway, the great reveal at the end of the episode is another confession from the Doctor: that he's the Hybrid, and I've got to confess I'm not really sure what that all means in the lexicon of Doctor Who. Any readers care to explain it to me? I'd be interested to know. This series continuously pushes the envelope of what I think I understand.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and I'll see you next Monday.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving. It's my second favorite holiday so I'm really looking forward to it (my first is the Fourth of July because you can't beat summertime, lemonade, fireworks, and BBQ). I'll see you next Monday.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Is Alan Moore a genius or a crackpot that can write? You be the judge.

This is where I stand with regards to Alan Moore: I think he's brilliant. But whether or not you think the guy that wrote perhaps the most famous Batman story ever is a genius or just plain insane, if you're a writer perhaps you might want to listen to what he has to say. Recently at an anti-library closure protest Alan Moore said that aspiring writers should self-publish. Surprised?

Here's a quote: "Publishing today is a complete mess. I know brilliant authors who can't get their books published," Moore says. Then he goes on to explain that many publishing houses are afraid to take risks on fiction (a thing a bunch of you out there know all too well. Moore goes on to pass this advice: "Publish yourself and don't rely upon other people."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why is the lack of information about something so damned addicting?

Today's blog post comes out of a realization that I may be one of the sheep that gets sucked into hype. It's an admission that's been a long time coming, but we are legion (this army of sheep), and because of our over curious natures we must poke and prod at things until we find out the truth. It's honestly why I keep coming back to things, and I'd just like to know why my brain (and many others) is wired this way. You want examples?

In the new Star Wars: Force Awakens trailer we now know that Maz Kanata is 1000 years old and she's voiced by Lupita Nyongo. The lack of knowledge about this character has led many to speculate it's a "new Yoda" which may be why she's so old. A new Yoda?! Are you f'ing kidding me? That would be so cool IF IT'S TRUE. Also, what's up with Kylo Ren's saber? Supposedly, the quillions are there to "vent" energy from the light saber because it's unstable. But why is it unstable? Will J.J. even answer this question or just tease us along like a stripper in a glitter shop?

In the leaked information about Alien: Covenant (the sequel to Prometheus) Ridley Scott let drop that another earth ship finds a planet in a dark corner of space and David the android is living on it. What about Shaw? She was the only survivor from the Engineer planet in the first Prometheus film. Knowing that Shaw is nowhere around leaves me unsettled.

In the Flash television show, I think the identity of Zoom is going to end up being Barry Allen's dad. But of course, I don't know because they've been keeping it hidden all season (thus far). So there's this huge question as to why Barry's dad would be messing with Barry (even if it's an Earth 2 dad).

In the Walking Dead I want to know what happened to Glenn. Period. And they're deliberately leaving us in the dark with respect to this to make us feel every ounce of Maggie's pain. Was the voice on the radio at the end of the last episode Glenn? It sure sounded like him, but not knowing is driving me crazy.

In Game of Thrones, is Jon Snow alive or dead? Will Melisandre resurrect him? Who knows. And it's all the waiting for answers that sucks.

Anyway, if any of you out there are psychologists, I'd sure like to know why the lack of information about something is so damned addicting. And why are some of you (Grumpy Bulldog) able to just be uninterested in everything equally.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Into the Badlands on AMC hit most of my Quentin Tarantino fanboy buttons with its incredibly gorgeous fights

So AMC premiered their new series "Into the Badlands" last night right after their weekly dose of "The Walking Dead." I gotta say that it hit most of my Quentin Tarantino fanboy buttons. The credits were wonderfully done in full comic book story board mode with silhouettes and samurai swords. The filmography was beautiful with the over-saturation of color doing its part to make me feel like this is a fantasy world where the rules are different.

I liked the very Steampunk-esque vibe I got from the show too. It seemed to play well with the absence of guns, the prevalence of martial arts, and the setting that was part poppy field and part Louisiana bayou. The characters that we met are named: 1) The Widow, 2) Jade 3) Lydia 4) M.K. 5) Veil, and 6) Sunny. Those are all the ones that I could remember. Sunny is a complete badass that channels Jet Li and Jackie Chan in every scene and M.K. is the mysterious boy with strange berserking powers that only emerge if he tastes his own blood. The mythology of the world is set in the distant post-apocalyptic future where (apparently) opium is highly valued, Barons (white people) are warlords with armies of ninjas, and where people in "The Badlands" hear rumors of a better life in the great ether that lies beyond the known world. These are all themes that go into every post-apocalyptic story. After all, you can't have an apocalypse without hope.

And "Into the Badlands" I think has plenty of hope going for it. Sunny is going to be a father, so there's urgency for him to want to seek out the truth behind those rumors of a distant land where people aren't killed for having children. M.K. adds fuel to the fire of Sunny's imagination by verifying that he came from that place...only he doesn't know how to get back. Of course, right? That'd be too easy. And the other Barons are circling Sunny's Baron, which is bad because I think if Sunny's Baron dies it's kind of like a medieval Japanese society, and he'll be expected to die with his lord.

All in all though, I was amazed by the big fight sequences. It's exciting that there's a martial arts drama with no skimping and the action is as good as in any movie. I guess I'm just going to hold on and enjoy the rumble. So did any of you catch "Into the Badlands" last night?

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Victorian age Sherlock with Cumberbatch at the helm is exactly what the doctor ordered

As much as I like modern day Sherlock Holmes, I gotta say that the BBC doing a Sherlock series with Cumberbatch and in a Victorian setting meets every single one of my requirements for what is good. I like the Victorian setting. It's good for storytelling. Do you agree? Bravo BBC, Bravo.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Is shared universe franchise television the answer to a flooded market?

In case you didn't know about this, the C.E.O. of FX television (John Landgraf) said in August (before the TV Critics Association) that there's a bubble in the television industry. He said that there are too many scripted television shows, which leaves audiences and content creators in a bad position. When asked about why he thinks there's a bubble he said, "I can tell you that I went from someone who could keep track of every absolutely not being able to keep track of every show." In the same address, Mr. Landgraf also indicated that it is now difficult for people to find great TV.

At first, I think it would be easy to say that there's a lot of similarity with what Mr. Landgraf is saying about the state of television and what was said by institutionalized businessmen at the top of the traditional publishing pyramid just a few short years ago. I remember reading articles about how the plethora of books put out by self-published authors was just a tsunami of crap. As the metaphor went, the tsunami would just pull everyone under so that no one could make any money any more. There would be no "incentive" for anyone to write books; the truly good ones (which naturally only the traditional publishers are capable of finding) would never see print because they'd all be out of business. Basically, it would be a literary apocalypse.

Circling back to television, I know it takes a lot of money to produce a show. Daredevil on Netflix cost $3-4 million per episode, and I think The Flash on the CW costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $1-2 million (which I attribute mostly to the reusing of locations between their franchises). With that out on the table, it is easier for me to look at what Mr. Landgraf is saying from a "business" perspective and admit that he's probably not entirely wrong. Shows absolutely have to attract enough viewers or they can't support advertising which pays for all of the programming. This is partly why (when I watch things on DVR) I rarely fast forward through commercials. I must support the industry that pays for all the eye candy that I watch every day, right?

I suppose what I'm saying is that scripted television simply can't be done without a skilled team of people all working toward a common goal. Books on the other hand can be done by one person who acts as publisher, author, cover artist, editor, etc. And that's probably why I don't really worry about the book industry. After all, writers produce material because they have to and not because they're paid to do it. I don't think this is true for scripted television shows.

However, I'm not in the business of producing television programming like Mr. Landgraf is, so I don't know the numbers. From a consumer point of view though, I have no problem picking out the shows that I watch. Sure, it requires dedication and reading of blogs like io9 that have teams of writers assigned to following different shows during a week BUT I CAN DO IT :). Because of io9, I'm currently blazing my way through Person of Interest on Netflix (and have been finding it thoroughly enjoyable). I've also consumed How To Get Away With Murder (based on reviews...and yes it really was frickin' amazing). These are incredible shows that I didn't watch live because I was watching something else. So maybe who Mr. Landgraf was talking about isn't me. He's talking about the casual middle class consumer that subscribes to basic television and waits to watch shows that can be shared as a couple. You know, people with kids enrolled in sports and only a few hours a week where there's time to relax...this as opposed to people like me burning through television series like someone that has no life and is screaming, "I need my next FIX! GIMME GIMME GIMME" which is honestly how I feel when an episode of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones ends.

So let's assume that Mr. Landgraf is right and I'm wrong. Let's assume that there can be a "bubble" in television and that at some point there just won't be enough viewers to support all of the shows and as a result a lot of our favorite shows will just go extinct. Remember Firefly? Kind of like that only on a mass scale, and that's just simply recognizing that "Firefly" seems to have some kind of absurd life with people who follow science fiction when in my opinion it was simply "above average." But this blog post isn't about how everyone seems to have jumped on the "Firefly" bandwagon making it seem like the show was somehow this spectacular brilliant phenomenon when it really wasn't even as well written as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, or Breaking Bad. So if we assume that there's a bubble, then the next question is, "What is the solution?"

I think this very thing is behind why we're seeing so much shared universe franchise television being made. The CW has a shared universe Justice League of America thing going on, we just recently learned that Bones (on Fox) and Sleepy Hollow (also on Fox) share a same universe, and then there's the whole "Chicago Trilogy" (which is very successful) on NBC: Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, and Chicago P.D. We have yet to see if Supergirl will join the CW's Justice League franchise or if it exists on its own in a separate universe (which is what we must assume). Personally, I think shared universes are awesome because I like the characters I love to be interconnected through plots and stories. Just look at the Marvel movies. Who here doesn't think that the way Disney brought together the Avengers was simply spectacular. Would it have been as cool if we didn't have the separate films of Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America? I'm going to say, "No."

So in a way, a flooded market or "bubble" (if you will) is forcing television to up its game. Maybe that's what Mr. Landraf is actually complaining about when he talks about "bubbles." He's complaining that it's harder to make television that people will watch now. A big corporation complaining that they have to work harder to satisfy consumers? I think that's something I can get on board with and enjoy. What do you think? Is there a bubble in television? Is it hard for you to find a television program to watch? 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Here's Not Here felt artsy and comforting and psychologically wonderful compared to last week's episode of The Walking Dead

There are spoilers in this episode analysis :). You have been warned.

Last night, The Walking Dead treated us to a special 90-minute episode that was all about Morgan. At first, I was irritated that it looked like there would be nothing on the developments of last week. But once I settled into the episode called "Here's Not Here," the actor John Carroll Lynch (who played Eastman) gave an astounding performance as the cheesemaker that gave Morgan a reason to live.

Reflecting on the episode now that it's over, I realize that this was a really strong story. I loved the way Gimple decided to explore who Morgan is and why he seems to think now (of all times) that all life is precious. And then there's the quote from Eastman when he tells Morgan (as he's dying) that he "could stay" in the cabin but he hopes that Morgan doesn't. Life is about people, and he encourages Morgan to seek out others so that he won't be alone.

It's too bad really that "the Wolf" Morgan was relating his tale to in the jail there in Alexandria couldn't get the message. Despite how touching the tale of Morgan's redemption was, the surviving prisoner of the wolf invasion promised to continue to kill just like the psychopath that Eastman starved to death in his cabin.

Also I love the subtle answers we all got in this episode. There was the chocolate candies that we saw last year when Morgan laid them on the altar at the church just outside Terminus. Well now we know where he got them from. There was the answer as to why Eastman had a jail in his cabin. We were shown how Morgan learned aikido and how to use a staff so effectively. I just hope Morgan eventually finds a way to "pay it forward" so to speak and finally find peace.