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Posts Tagged ‘Joss Whedon’

Hail Hydra

April 10th, 2014 No comments

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. certainly looked like a sure thing. The first televised spin-off of the massive popular Marvel Comics film mega-franchise, centered around fan-favorite supporting character Agent Coulson, co-created by God Emperor of Geeks Joss Whedon and produced by Whedon’s close associates, at the very least it should have been a much beloved mayfly à la Firefly, and perhaps even whatever passes for a hit these days in the 500-channel TV universe.

Instead, it was arguably the biggest disappointment of the fall 2013 TV season, a dull procedural set in the periphery of the so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” but refusing to engage with it in any meaningful way. Even the episode that was intended as a direct follow-up to the theatrical feature Thor: The Dark World amounted to nothing more than Coulson’s team picking up scraps of Asgardian technology. It reminded me of the old Marvel Comics series Damage Control, about the working stiffs who show up after the big superhero fight and clean up the mess. Coulson and his crew of prettily bland agents weren’t even the S.H.I.E.L.D. B-team. At best, they were the C minus-team.

Perversely, the show barely even drew upon S.H.I.E.L.D.’s decades of comics storylines, introducing a brand-new opposing faction named “Centipede” rather than the long-established terrorist organizations A.I.M. and Hydra. And many of the B-list, street level superheroes that would have been realizable on a commercial TV budget (Daredevil, Iron Fist, Power Man) were reserved for a Netflix production deal. The best that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could manage was a D-lister named Deathlok, and it took them most of the season to introduce him.

At last came the release of the Captain America movie sequel The Winter Soldier, which involved S.H.I.E.L.D. in a big way. And it became clear why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had been treading water. This week’s episode was set within the events of The Winter Soldier, and was a huge step up in terms of excitement and relevancy. I’m not certain it will be soon enough to help, however.

(Massive spoilers ahead for both The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Do not cross below the threshold unless you have Level 6 clearance.)

shield

So, it turned out that the franchise had been playing a long game, with S.H.I.E.L.D. fatally compromised by Hydra infiltrators from its inception. I don’t have a deep knowledge of Marvel Comics history, but it did strike me as reminiscent of the mini-series Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D., which posited that S.H.I.E.L.D., A.I.M. and Hydra were all components of an über-organization.

In The Winter Soldier, it served as an excuse for a ’70s-style conspiracy thriller and a rebuke of our modern surveillance society, with Hydra secretly manipulating world events for decades to bring humanity to the point at which they would welcome fascist domination. (It also served up something I would never, ever have expected: Robert Redford hailing Hydra.)

At the moment, it’s unclear how it will affect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. My guess is that Coulson and company will form the backbone of a restructured, lower-profile espionage company, rooting out Hydra sleeper agents in preparation for the next big movie chapter, Avengers: Age of Ultron. At least they may finally have a purpose. Too bad that they lost most of their initial audience by the time viewers were given a reason to care.

 

 

These Five Kids Walk Into A Cabin…

April 15th, 2012 No comments

The Cabin in the Woods, the newly-released movie co-written by producer Joss Whedon and director Drew Goddard, is frustrating in that it both demands and defies discussion. Believe me, I very much want to dissect it, but like Fight Club the first rule of The Cabin in the Woods is that you do not talk about The Cabin in the Woods. The less you know the better.

So if you’re even thinking that you might see it–and if you’re at all a fan of horror films or even the idea of horror films, you should–log off the Internet right now and just go. We’ll catch up later.

(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD)

The Cabin in the Woods, from its generic title to its premise of five young people heading into the dark forest for a weekend of sin, sounds like every scary flick you’ve ever seen. Which is precisely the point.

But if you’ve seen any of its advertising you already know that there’s more going on. That’s not a spoiler. The very first scene features the office drones who are orchestrating the messy deaths of these doomed kids. That’s the what. The why is something else.

If this sounds more like the Scream franchise with its knowing winks at genre conventions, that’s closer to the truth. But not even Ghostface and friends are as “meta” as The Cabin in the Woods. This is a movie that wants to explain why those kids behave so stupidly and why we want to watch them die.

It’s worth saying that this is not all that frightening. Oh, there are jump scares and rushing torrents of blood, but as we start right off knowing that the scenario is artificial, it doesn’t grab you by the throat in the way that even the first Scream did. It’s okay, that’s not the goal.

I don’t want to oversell this as the best horror film ever. (“Apotheosis” is closer to the mark.) The characters are thin by design. The conclusions reached are not that deep. Still, it’s an experience I wholeheartedly recommend, and the sooner the better.

Okay, have you seen it yet? Good, because now I’m going to give away the whole thing. You have been warned.

(TOTAL SPOILERS AHEAD)

While there are plenty of obvious references to famous fright flicks–notably The Evil Dead and HellraiserThe Cabin in the Woods left me thinking of other possible influences. One was an old Doctor Who storyline called “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” in which the characters performed a never-ending cavalcade of deadly acts to appease an audience of evil gods. Here the suggestion is that the show has been going on since our world began, with movies about cannibal zombie rednecks only the latest iteration of our propensity for telling tales about the butchery of the young.

The Cabin in the Woods argues that we have become too inured to this sort of thing, and that perhaps it’s time to wash off the chalkboard and start fresh. Moments after the lead office worker remarks how he’s almost rooting for the spunky “virgin” to win, he’s obliviously popping the champagne in celebration as the monitors in the background show her being relentlessly attacked by a beartrap-wielding zombie giant.

There’s a boardgame called Betrayal at the House on the Hill in which the players enter a spooky mansion and start fiddling with stuff until they set off one of a myriad of random scenarios based on horror tropes. The Cabin in the Woods called to mind what would happen if the staff of Wolfram & Hart* sat down for a game of Betrayal. Sure enough, the halls would soon run red with their own blood.

The last 20 minutes of The Cabin in the Woods, in which literally all hell breaks loose, are monstrously entertaining. I want to go again right away just to get a better look at the vast menagerie of creatures slashing and swallowing the hapless salarymen. While the money shot of the movie might be the Cube-like image of the terrible underground zoo, my favorite moment is when all of those elevator doors open and every nightmare ever emerges.

*The demonic law firm seen in Whedon’s TV series Angel. Goddard contributed a number of scripts for that show.

 

Fanboys And The Fanboys Who Idolize Them

February 27th, 2010 No comments

Writer/director/professional asshole Kevin Smith has been in the news lately. Partially, this is because he has a new film out, but mostly it’s because he used the power of social media and his million and a half Twitter followers to throw a hissy about being deemed too fat to physically fit a single airline seat. There are some things about his account that don’t quite make sense to me, but the one thing about which I’m fairly certain is that the seat is not at fault.

Thinking about Kevin Smith (something I care to avoid whenever feasible) has had me thinking about a peculiar subset of geekdom: the fan-turned-pro. These are the relatively few fanboys and girls who have achieved a measure of creative success in movies and/or TV, and who have themselves inspired devoted followers who declare them the wittiest, most wonderful things ever to exist in the universe of stuff.

In the case of Kevin Smith, my theory is that his entire rise to fame is built upon the scene from his debut film Clerks in which the main characters debate the ethics of blowing up the many independent contractors laboring aboard the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. I suspect that a great many people who would never otherwise have been interested in a cheap indie flick about misogynistic, jerkwad store employees saw it solely because they’d heard about that scene. I know that I did.*

Now, I’m not in a position to review his body of work. The only other Smith film I’ve seen was Chasing Amy, which I thought was okay. Nothing I’ve heard about his later flicks encouraged me to check them out. From my perspective, his chief contribution to culture has been giving other fanboys license to wear black trenchcoats during situations in which trenchcoats are neither necessary nor a good idea.

I believe that, to a large extent, Smith’s following is built upon a foundation of self justification. “If a tubby, repulsive geek like him can make it, then how can I be worthless?”

He’s not the only one to benefit from that flavor of adoration. (Though he is the one least likely to fly on Southwest Airlines.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon certainly qualifies.

Now, please understand that–unlike the anal pustule that is Kevin Smith–I myself have a great deal of fondness for Joss Whedon. My DVD library includes seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel and no seasons of Dollhouse. (But the fact that I watched every last damned episode of the latter suggests that I am willing to follow him into places most others wouldn’t.) All in all, I think he’s a talented writer who happens to work with the sort of subject matter I enjoy.

I have argued with friends and associates who find Whedonites a particularly noxious fandom. I don’t think that they’re any worse than any other group of myopic idolizers. I’ve hung out on enough sci-fi message boards to remember the ferocity of Babylon 5 fans who saw its creator J. Michael Straczynski as the most remarkable TV producer ever. Joss’ fans may be all too willing to blame his failures on others,** but I don’t think that’s unusual.***

I do, however, believe that Whedonites (and I admit to having Whedonite tendencies myself) extend their intense devotion to any actor touched by the Joss. Certainly, I initially tuned into How I Met Your Mother mostly because of Alyson Hannigan.

How else to explain the extreme interest in minor Internet celeb Felicia Day? She played a potential Slayer in the final season of Buffy, and–more significantly–the love interest in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She’s moderately cute, and can kinda sing. She produces and stars in a web series called The Guild, based on her experiences as an online gamer. Basically, she’s Kitty Pryde of the X-Men–a non-threatening, mildly geeky imaginary girlfriend–with the added advantage of being a real person one could actually touch but never will. But, because of the Whedon connection,**** she’s the most beautiful talent triple-threat, and woe to the persons who can’t see it for themselves.

Sometimes, this unnatural attention runs its natural course. These days, one rarely hears about Babylon 5 outside of sentences like, “Hey, remember when Babylon 5 was a thing?” J. Michael Straczynski mostly writes comics these days. Even so, I’m sure that someone out there is breathlessly declaring JMS the bestest thing to hit comics since Stan Lee.

Thankfully, I do not hang out on that message board.

*For my own part, as far back as 1977 I had wondered much the same thing about the original Star Wars. Even at 13, I’d begun to wonder about things like whether everyone aboard the first Death Star deserved to be vaporized. Surely, I thought, there were at least some imprisoned Rebels aboard?

**Dollhouse was ruined by pinheads at Fox, not because it was an unworkable series premise populated by characters who were literally blank slates and fronted by an actress with the chameleon-like ability to play a single personality.

***Can’t wait to read the justifications for Cop Out.

****The gamer thing also helps.

The Worst Idea I’ve Heard All Week

May 26th, 2009 No comments

The rights holders of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are trying to launch a feature film reboot, minus creator Joss Whedon and any of the supporting characters from the Buffy and Angel TV series.

This is going to sound hypocritical, given that I’ve just been talking up the V remake, but I think this is a terrible idea. In my view, there are two huge differences between Buffy and other recently-relaunched properties such as V and Star Trek

First, it’s too soon. V ceased production in 1985. There’s an entire generation that’s likely never even seen it. It’s more complicated with Star Trek: the franchise ground to a halt a mere four years ago with the cancellation of Enterprise, but it’s been 18 years since the final film featuring the entire original cast. 

Buffy went off the air a mere six years ago, and its spin-off Angel followed in 2004. Buffyverse alums (among them Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, Michelle Trachtenberg, Alyson Hannigan and Eliza Dushku) permeate current pop culture. Unlike the original Trek actors, they’re still young. Launching a remake when many fans are still holding out hope for an unlikely but not yet unreasonable renuion of the TV cast is perilous.

Second, the filmmakers have not reckoned with the rabid fervor of the Whedonites. They’re on a first name basis with Joss. And, despite Dollhouse, they haven’t yet suffered the disillusionment that Star Trek and Star Wars fanboys eventually felt with both Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas. Mark my words, reviving Whedon’s baby without his involvement will bring down a swift and merciless wrath. Hell, it’s been a couple of hours since I read the story, so it’s probably already well underway.

All Dolled Up, No Place To Go

March 5th, 2009 No comments

Let’s catch up with some recent televised sci-fi!

Lost: I called it. And I was so intent on skipping through what I thought was still the “previously on” portion of last night’s show that I didn’t realize I had called it until I read this morning’s reviews. I had been saying to Vic that one of the time-hops Our Heroes have been taking through the Island’s past just had to take them to the era in which the freaky, four-toed foot was a freaky, four-toed statue. And that’s exactly what happened in the first minute of Wednesday’s episode. We didn’t get to see its face, which makes me think it must be someone we know, probably the long-lived Richard Alpert given all the Egyptian symbolism and Sawyer’s crack about Alpert’s “eyeliner.”

Battlestar Galactica: Another bit that I called some time ago was that it was significant that the known Cylon model numbers skipped over seven. As we’ve recently learned, there was indeed a Number Seven named Daniel, supposedly dead but probably not. Which brings us to last Friday’s episode, which at least added credence to the theory that Daniel may ultimately be the series’ puppet-master. Furthermore, it suggested that Starbuck, while not a true Cylon, may instead be Daniel’s offspring. But did we have to learn that through a half-hour of piano-playing? Come on, folks, four episodes left!

Terminator – The Sarah Conner Chronicles: I keep meaning to blog about this show, which I’ve been following since it premiered last year. I’m swimming upstream compared to the majority of geekdom in that I hated Terminator 2 and quite enjoyed the third film in the series, which remembered that Sarah Conner’s mission wasn’t to prevent the creation of Skynet, but rather to protect and train her son John to win the coming war with the machines. So, why have I enjoyed this show, which seems hell-bent on erasing the latter film from continuity?

One reason is that Lena Headley’s Sarah Conner is a much more relatable person that the angry, crazy hellion that Linda Hamilton portrayed in T2. While she bears the emotional scars of her life on the run, she’s not bat-shit nuts. 

I also like the way that the idea of a temporal war is being played out, with both sides sending troops into the past to secure objectives in their future present. There’s even an instance in which two time-tripping characters learn that they–despite having shared an intimate relationship during the machine war–are from different future realities. It’s a much better handling of the idea than Star Trek: Enterprise managed during its own temporal conflict storyline.

That’s all cool, but I’ll admit that the story arc has been meandering too much as of late. Shirley Manson, formerly of the rock band Garbage, is playing a liquid-metal Terminator. She’s not much of an actress, but she’s an intriguing presence. And there’s some question as to what her character’s agenda might be. While she seems to be trying to bring about Skynet, it almost seems that she’s trying to birth a kinder, gentler computer. Which would be interesting, except that we’re six episodes from what may well be the series finale, and we haven’t come any closer to finding out what she’s up to. She hasn’t even met our heroes. 

Allegedly, that’s about to change, according to this trailer for the rest of the season.

Dollhouse: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Whedonite. I even bought 17 issues of a crappy Angel comic because it had the imprimatur of a Joss Whedon-approved plotline. So, why did it take me about three weeks to even begin watching the episodes I’d recorded?

Now that I’ve seen the first couple of shows, I think that I know. I agree with Time’s TV critic James Poniewozik that the core concept is deeply flawed. The central character, Echo, is literally a blank slate onto which amalgams of other people’s experiences are overwritten. The idea is that it’s supposed to be a showcase for the dubious acting chops of Eliza Dushku, but it also means that there’s nothing there for the viewer to latch onto.

Why should we care what happens to Echo? Aside from a couple of brief scenes of her previous existence as a woman named Caroline, she has no personality other than the one she’s been given for the current assignment. And how should we feel about a person who would give herself over to a company which will literally take five years of her life and whore her out to anyone with a million bucks in their wallet? (The “whore” thing is not even remotely a metaphor; in the two episodes I’ve seen, she’s been on three assignments that involved her being programmed to be the perfect lover for her client.)

Doubly disappointing is the lack of Whedon’s trademark banter. Perhaps that’s because there are only two likable characters on the series–Echo’s handler and the cop who’s out to expose the Dollhouse–and they’re unlikely to spend much time together. 

It’s not a total train-wreck–there are hints that the concept will open up as Echo begins to remember her past life–but I think that it would play much better as a mini-series than an open-ended weekly. And, given the crappy ratings the thing has been getting, it may get just that chance!

More Horribleness

July 17th, 2008 No comments

Don’t forget: part two of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog debuted today. Neil Patrick Harris (who just received another well-deserved Emmy nomination for playing Barney on How I Met Your Mother) is terrific in this, as Dr. Horrible’s unrequited love for the girl at the laundromat leads him toward a final (fatal?) confrontation with his nemesis Captain Hammer. (“The hammer is my penis.”) I’m really looking forward to the throw-down in act three this Saturday!

Whedon’s World

July 15th, 2008 No comments

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy and Firefly, today unveiled his latest project, an online film called Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Apparently it’s something he conceived during the writers’ strike and did on the cheap. He recruited Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion to play along as arch-villain Dr. Horrible and hero Captain Hammer, respectively. And…it’s a musical. (Nothing wrong with that; Whedon’s musical episode of Buffy was one of that series’ high points.)

Act One went live today, with Act Two debuting Thursday and Act Three on Saturday. (Saturday?) It’s only up through Sunday, though you can buy the whole thing via iTunes.

I thought it was kinda “meh” at first, as Neil spends the first few minutes talking to the camera answering his viewer mail. Once the music begins to kick in, however, the energy picks up. I particularly enjoyed the love song in which Dr. Horrible pines for the girl at the laundromat while threatening to stop the world with his freeze ray.

Catch it before it’s gone. (That is, if you can overcome the site traffic!)