Thursday, September 26, 2013

Agent Coulson Is Back And He Can Never Know...

In case you didn't know, the pilot of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired this week. You can catch it on Hulu whenever you want.
As anyone who reads this blog at all regularly knows, I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon. Every time he puts something out, I gobble it up... well with the one exception of his Much Ado About Nothing (but as a vacation movie after his greatest financial success, that gets a pass).
So imagine how excited I was when he and Marvel decided to move forward with an Avengers/Iron Man 3 television sequel. The answer is very very excited... and a little bit afraid... but mostly excited.

Well the first hour certainly didn't disappoint. Joss threw a myriad of potential serial plot points at us which only gets me more amped up for the rest of the series.
I love that Clark Gregg came back for this and has been such a great sport with Marvel since... well since the first Iron Man back in 2008.
Can you believe it's only been five years?

And I know you're wondering (without me giving too much away for the three people in the world who didn't see the Avengers), "didn't something happen to him in that big blockbuster movie last year?" Well I'm glad you asked. Yes. Something did happen to Agent Coulson. Something dubious. And man is it a shocker that he's back and well, straight off a boat from Tahiti... Well that's one of those mysteries that gets me so excited for what's next.

If you've ever watched Buffy or Angel (Joss' earlier shows) you'd know just how important his characters are to him... well he kills them off every chance that he gets. But there's usually some reason, some really good reason that we just won't understand until a season or two or three later. But this time he managed to do his dirtiest deed before the tv show even came out. And now we're getting the aftermath. And I'm just tickled anticipating the day when that episode airs that actually tells us what S.H.I.E.L.D. is up to with this guy (Agent Coulson if that wasn't clear).

That being said, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (I hate writing out that title) isn't perfect, but it's a good start. My greatest regret of the entire episode comes at the end, when the team faces off with the would-be villain. Something bad could happen here, but the budget won't allow it... actually the budget really falls off in this scene that's supposed to take place in (I think they said it was supposed to be) Union Station. And then the team takes action and the way they deal with things leaves a lot to be desired. Not because the idea is bad... it's more, they don't really take any time to explain what's happened. They leap forward and pass over the fact that there is a bullet firmly lodged in someone's head... then go on to say that he's fine and back with his kid in some hospital and everything's all happy-go-lucky? What? Maybe I missed something. But it felt off to me. Like they didn't have enough time to wrap up, but wanted to close that monster of the week story before the actual series started...

So to sum up, A lot of good and just a little bad. But definitely worth a watch. Especially if you want some more live action Marvel television fun with Joss Whedon and friends.

Love Short Term 12

I'm a little late to the punch on this one, but A couple days ago I saw small film called Short Term 12.
Brie Larson has seriously grown on me since Scott Pilgrim, and John Gallagher Jr is just awesome in The Newsroom. But while this movie wouldn't be the same without either of them, it would likely still be a good movie. There's something in the writer's perspective that just got me.

Destin Cretton has only a few short films to his credit, but he hit one out of the park in his first feature attempt. There are two key moments that I remember most strongly and they will likely affect the way I view writing for the next few of months leading up to the Oscars.

One excellent rap sequence.
And one truly interesting and insightful children's story.
What's so powerful in these scenes is Destin's surprising dedication to creating a completely believable character and somehow making sure we understand exactly where that character comes from. And he does this with two drastically different people in two completely different ways.

It's not that this is a most difficult feat, or that we never see this happen in movies... rather I think it is the way Destin maturely managed the timing, purpose, and executions of both of these scenes to make the audience genuinely come together and sort of just understand exactly what at heart this movie was about. I suppose I'm just glad I went out of my way to see Short Term 12.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Is Ricky Gervais Really A Comedian?

I just finished watching the 7 episode first season of Ricky Gervais' new Netflix series Derek.
And it's not really a comedy. It's a character study with... political implications and a genuine message. In fact, I could make an argument that everything I've seen of his is actually the same.

The Office doesn't make me bust up laughing. It shows a bunch of somewhat regular people trying to make their workspace something more than tedious and dull. But at the same time, the economy and the changing times seem to be against this small group of people... representative of a much vaster piece of the population. There is a genuine message here.

Extras is far closer to a comedy than anything else he's done. He plays around with people's celebrity status giving them ridiculous personalities, but almost always allowing for a silver lining. However, his own character lacks the ability to enjoy simply being a celebrity for status' sake. When the Christmas special finally rolls around, his character learns what it is he's really supposed to care about and for the first time (it would seem) in his life, he fights for more than just his own social clout. Once again, there is a genuine message.

In The Invention of Lying, Gervais made a comedy out of a horrible world that we're taught from kindergarten to respect. "Don't lie. It is unbecoming and wrong." Parents and teachers say. However, once and a while basic human kindness directs us to lie. It is such an important message. Not all bad is bad and not all good is good. Once again, genuine.

So it was odd to me, coming into Derek after having read someone's facebook status implying that they could not stop laughing throughout this series. That has just never been my experience with his work. Well I don't know what show that person on the social network was watching, because this one was rather blunt. I'd say more direct to its message than any of the others. No, it's not really a comedy. It's a character study with political implications. Derek only wishes to be nice to everybody. And he expects the same treatment. He works in an old folks home because everybody deserves a little bit of kindness. And the political motivations of the show clearly state that these are people and they should not be treated like sheep, albeit with a couple silly moments here and there. For the most part, the show never does anything you wouldn't expect to see in real life.
If you'll recall, a few years back, Ricky Gervais hosted The Golden Globes. His hosting mostly consisted of blunt and often mean spirited critiques of celebrities. This is certainly a form of humor, though a surprising one considering how he deals with his own shows. I think, when he cameoed on Louis for a couple of episodes, that was the closest I ever saw him come to actually trying to be funny.

So I guess what I'm wondering is should Ricky Gervais really be labelled a comedian?

Standing Up (Or Rather Sitting Down) For The Emmys

On Sunday night, I admit I had no intention of watching the Emmys. I was sitting on the couch of one of my best friend's apartments when his fiancee said, totally out of the blue, "Oh the Emmys are on tonight." We were, of course, watching football and had not even considered missing out on the night game. But as we looked at the schedule and saw the looming prospect of Pittsburg on the docket, everyone quickly had a change of heart. After all, who really wants to watch the Steelers get blown out a third week in a row?
Well I do a little bit, but that's besides the point. So we flipped over to the awards.

Generally speaking, I have found it difficult to get myself into the Emmys. I always used to wonder who had time to watch all of those series. I was always an Oscar guy, because most movies are one-offs and take up far less time in your life. So of course a person could feasibly see everything in a season... if it was made available (looking at you foreign film category).
But as NPH stepped onto the stage and the process of opening letters started up, a strange thing happened. I found myself actually enjoying that process. Not only did I like what I was seeing on stage, but I was actually able to follow along with a criminally high perspective. I had seen almost every single nominee... because the shows I enjoyed this last year are the same shows they wanted to honor. How about that! I could truly make an informed opinion on who I enjoyed between cast members of Breaking Bad, The Newsroom, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and (to a lesser degree) Downton Abbey.

And the few shows I couldn't give perspective on were only merely by choice. I simply did not have a desire to explore those reality series. Or a few of the sitcoms. But it certainly wasn't out of a lack of opportunity or time.

What I think is happening is, we're seeing a shift in the inner mechanics of the industry. Suddenly shows are more accessible than ever thanks to Hulu and Netflix and the HBO Go's of the world. And the shows themselves are getting shorter. 7, 8, 9 to 13 episodes per season. It's not really that difficult to find the time for that anymore. Back when it was the norm to have 23 to 26 episodes in a season... well I could make a case that it was legitimately impossible to catch everything. But now I genuinely want to see what's next. I see shows coming together with a set game plan. "Okay," they seem to say at every writers meeting, "here's the ending. How can we get there?" Sure it's only broad strokes, but these days if I here a show only had three seasons... I get truly excited. Because I can watch it all before turning 50... I'm 25 by the way. And they probably figured out how to wrap it up quite well because they didn't have enough time to force extracurricular subplots that lead nowhere.
It was that grand hope I had for LOST that ultimately didn't get delivered. Shows with endings in mind as enticing as their pilots.

But I digress. NPH is an excellent host. The Emmys made fast work of the clock and got everybody in and out without drolling on about god knows what (I'm looking at you Grammys). It got me in and out in time for the second to last episode of Breaking Bad. And for that I am grateful.

You know, I think I'll be watching the Emmys a bit more often.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

One Way Or Another... You're Coming With Me

Damn those words are so frightening when Peter Weller says them!
For those of you who haven't heard, there's a RoboCop reboot coming out. It stars a pretty epic cast in an extremely misguided attempt to try and make up for the fact that it is totally unnecessary. But then, when you get a scene like this

in the original, how can you ever hope to achieve what they did back in the 80s?

Look, in reality I'm not opposed to rebooting this. I love the original. There's nothing a new one can do to take that away from me. And the funny thing about the idea of rebooting is, there's always hope that they'll get something right we never thought we'd get to see since technology is always allowing for new things. But still, RoboCop is one of those films that set a bar no one's ever been able to reach... particularly not the sequels. What actually worries me is how pisspoor a job they've seemed to have done with all of the material at their fingertips.

From the look of it, the problems stem from the screenplay up. The cast is very interesting, but for a completely different movie.

Elementally, what they've done is take the compelling RoboCop concept and... turned it on its head. But why? If Murphy doesn't go through that insane sequence at the beginning

RoboCop (1987) - Clip "Officer Murphy Dies" [VO... by conscience-tranquille
how are we as an audience supposed to feel his pain? And how are we going to feel his triumph in the end if he already remembered everything the whole time?

The thing about the first RoboCop that always interested me the most was watching Murphy slowly regain his humanity. Based on that trailer, it's looking to me like that whole concept has just been thrown right out the window. And don't get me started on the inclusion of his family... but then I guess I just haven't seen this movie yet. I guess, my best course of action will be to completely forget how much I love the original until the lights come back on at which point I'm pretty sure I know what I'll be doing back at home for the next 102 minutes to get that icky reboot taste out of my mouth.
That icky reboot taste is about to get... well I'll let you revisit the original if you don't recall.