I actually enjoyed that episode of Doctor Who!
A whimsical, fun plot line!
Side characters that I legitimately cared about and had an emotional response to!
(TRICERATOPS OH GOD WHY DID I CRY SO HARD)
Guest actors who I was actually excited (read: ecstatic and thrilled) to watch!
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory all written in-character!
Fantastic acting and line delivery from the entire cast!
There were some issues I had with it, such as how much the “LOOK GUYS WE’RE NOT SEXIST LOOK AT ALL THESE STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS” schtick was shoved down our throats to compensate for, you know, the overwhelmingly sexist overtones of Moffat’s writing. But honestly, I was more happy just to see Amy being kickass in a crisis situation as opposed to, oh, fainting. (Also, short-range teleporters that needed time to recharge suddenly being able to function without the recharge period). Whatever!
Overall, it felt like I was watching Doctor Who again. Which I can’t say for a lot of the previous episodes. I’d say this is primarily because Moffat didn’t write this episode (hi, Chris Chibnall, you can stay forever!), so I’m hesitant to get my hopes up for the rest of the season but only time will tell!
Someone called James Marsters turns fifty this week. If you’ve never heard of him, that’s not surprising. Outside the fandom of TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer he is, in his own words, ‘just another actor’. But if you’re one of the fans, then the idea that Spike is turning fifty might be giving you the maxi-wig.
Getting totally wigged
There are certain words and phrases that a Buffy fan recognizes instantly. There is, to begin with, the professional jargon of Slayerdom. It is the duty and occupation of the Slayer, or Chosen One, to slay, by staking, vampires. The Slayer is trained and assisted in this task by her Watcher, under the aegis of the Watcher’s Council. At times, it may be necessary for her to broaden the scope of her responsibilities and, in addition to dusting vamps, destroy other varieties of Big Bad, such as demons, killer robots, killer robot demons, cheerleaders, etc.
Beyond the purely slay-related, Buffy and her Scooby Gang, like any social group, have their own in-words. The Scoobies’ preferred terms for freak out and the creeps are wig and wiggins; they might argue, for example, that Buffy’s mother totally wigs about her slayage. While they have exceptional coping skills, it’s rare for them to deal with anything; instead – laconically, pithily, punchily – they deal. Slayer Faith has a (frequently sarcastic) signature phrase for fine, good, cool, five-by-five, while all the Scoobies are strongly associated with much. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in fact, it was Buffy, both the film and the TV series, that popularized the use of much with a ‘preceding adjective, infinitive verb, or noun phrase, forming an elliptical comment or question’. (Geek out, much?)
Adjectivage and nouniness
What ‘much’ shows us is that the language of Buffy is not just about special words, but also about special usage.For instance, there’s nothing remarkable about the suffixes -age, -ness, and -y in English. But combine them with unexpected words, or in unexpected forms, and they assume a recognizable Buffyness: a boy in love with Buffy’s friend Willow dreams of Willow kissage; notoriously brooding vampire Angel is described as large and glowery; and there’s a beautifully Buffy bit of word play in Buffy’s suspicious question when she’s suddenly told to work a double shift, ‘Why the double-shiftiness?’Shifting parts of speech is another distinctively Buffy approach to usage. Adjectives casually become nouns when someone asks, ‘What’s with the grim?’, or tells Buffy to stop with the crazy. Buffy is particularly partial to shifting pop cultural proper nouns to verbs and adjectives. She can’t believe, for example, that her Watcher, of all people, tries to Scully her with a sceptical mundane explanation for a supernatural problem, and she describes a dimensional disturbance as making time go all David Lynch.
Compounds such as Net Girl (Willow, who’s good at hacking and research) and Wiccan Girl (also Willow, after she begins studying magic) are the buttery bread of Buffy coinages. An accurate but self-evident observation turns a slayer into Perception Girl. Faith is never Low-Profile Girl, but to make matters worse Willow insists, when it looks like Faith might be involved with Buffy’s boyfriend, that: ‘Faith would totally do that. Faith was built to do that. She’s the Do-That Girl.’ Buffy’s hurt feelings when the Scoobies fail to see that a robot imitation of her isn’t real are aggravated by the fact that the Buffybot acts just like a clingy girlfriendbot that the Gang have already encountered.
Many compounds do more than just identify or describe; they play with morphology and semantics. About to say ‘But’, Buffy’s Watcher has but-face. A bitter Buffy says to Angel, ‘I don’t trust you. You’re a vampire. Oh, I’m sorry. Was that an offensive term? Should I say ‘undead-American’?’ (Perhaps; certainly Angel makes it clear that he prefers not to be called Deadboy.) Wiccan Girl is frustrated by a college witch group that turns out to be nothing but a bunch of wannablessedbes, and some of her magic lends itself spectacularly well to the word-gaminess of compound morphology. In frustration, she says, ‘Damn love spell. I’ve tried every anti-love-spell spell I can find’, but is told: ‘Even if you found the right one, guy would probably just do an anti-anti-love-spell-spell spell.’
Intimations of, like, immortality or something
But what really creates a sense of Buffyness, a Buffylike presence, a certainty of Buffdom, is not the compound coinages and the special words and usages themselves; it’s the contexts in which they’re used. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer can be said to have Romeo and Julietted late-nineties TV, it’s because Buffy, like Shakespeare’s seminal teen angst spectagedy, doesn’t see why what is trivial, simple, adolescent, comic, and genre-based cannot illuminate and interrogate what is important, sophisticated, universal, tragic, or literary.
The show approaches its language in the same disjunctive register it uses for its content. You can see this when Buffy asks, ‘Could you contemplate getting over yourself for a second?’ Or when, speaking of a demon with no mouth, Willow says, ‘I don’t like this whole no-mouth thing. It’s disquieting.’ These kinds of combinations of teenage slang and higher-order, lower-frequency, more adult vocabulary are, I think, definitive of Buffyspeak.
So is the highly literate word play around ‘disquieting’. Willow’s disquiet is understandable, but a no-mouth thing must surely be as quieting as it is disquieting – an idea hinted at in the prefix ‘dis-’, which in one sense (‘negation’) undoes Willow’s quiet, but at the same time in another (‘intensification’) intensifies the demon’s quietness.
Overanalyse, much? Probably. Is a no-mouth demon thing inconsequential? Yes, of course. Is it, with the language surrounding it, nevertheless raising fundamental questions about the assumptions by which we make sense of our world? Well, kind of.
I do realise that I’m totally going schoolmarm here, but I do also think the disquieting no-mouth thing calls into question the idea that ‘quiet’ and ‘unquiet’ are mutually exclusive just because they’re opposites. I think that, insignificant as these two words might be, they’re suggestive of a somewhat disquieting larger problem with how we often think: in mutually exclusive opposites, or binary (much like killer robots).
And I think that Buffy – with its giddy language games and its cultivated diction, as much as its lightweight adolescent backdrop and its steady exploration of what it means to be ethical, to be human, to find meaning in being – perhaps calls into question the idea that slight and substantial, ephemera and art, language and content are mutually exclusive just because we tend to treat them as binary opposites. As Buffy says, “Add it up, it all spells ‘duh’.”Right. I’m just going to sit quietly for a while now and contemplate getting over myself.
This show is awful on so many levels it’s hard to begin. I almost never see a show, particularly children’s show, that I think is so painfully bad and damaging that I think it should be ripped off the air.
iCarly is about a teenaged girl named Carly (Miranda Cosgrove) who lives with her dopey big brother Spencer (Jerry Trainor) in a lavishly furnished loft. Carly and her friends Sam (Jennette McCurdy) and Freddie (Nathan Kress) have an online show that has made them into celebrities. The three of them have a comedy webcast and often create trends, feature real world celebrities, and even invent holidays.
I hate this show. I honestly don’t think I have ever thought a show for children had messages as bad as this. After saying that, I must add I am not one to complain about children being exposed sex and violence or about how “morally bankrupt” shows are. (Family Guy and South Park are two of my favorites!). But this show is mean, judgmental, shallow, marginalizing, stupid, and plain NOT funny. The lead Carly is a stereotypical popular girl obsessed with herself, fame, and boys. These qualities are supposed to be endearing or likable, but they come across as obnoxious and shallow. Spencer is so inept at everything. I find his character confusing, because he seems to replace the role of an inept, stupid parent often included in other popular “tween” shows on Disney or Nick. But I have never seen Spencer act as a parent or do anything guardian-like, even though he is technically Carly’s guardian. Either way, his stupidity is hyperbolized to an eye-rolling degree and he often shouts his lines. Sam is by far the worst character. She is a bully, engages in cruel pranks, and says horrible things to others. What’s worse is that her very noticeable meanness is depicted as hilarious. Her lack of caring or remorse is also depicted as funny and cool. Basically, this show is condoning and almost encouraging bullying and mean behavior. Almost every single episode I have seen involves at least one instance of the stars making fun of, excluding or hurting someone because of their looks, weight, intelligence, popularity or more. This show definitely makes it clear that anyone “different” can and should be verbally (and sometimes physically) torn apart and kept as far away from the “cool” kids as possible. Freddie is actually the only character I find somewhat likable, as he is rather harmless. This probably has to do with the fact he is usually the butt of Sam and Carly’s jokes and ends up humiliated or hurt.
Then of course, there are some sexual innuendos, jokes, or the fact sometimes Sam and Carly are in scantily clad clothes. Now I hate the sexualization of children as much as the next person, but I believe many sexual innuendos fly over kids’ heads. What I find more damaging to kids is not necessarily the exposure to sex, but the damage to their self-image that shows like this imply. There is one episode where a 14 year old Freddie is humiliated and teased because he’s never been kissed. Now what message does that send to kids? That you need to make sure you get kissed around age 11-13 because EVERYONE ELSE is! That does a hell of a lot more damage than a young girl in a bikini—something kids normally see at the beach anyway. The kids on iCarly really live more like college kids rather than kids in middle/high school. It’s common for kids on TV to act older than they are, but they usually still go to school and go home to parents. There is little to no mention of parents in this show, and Carly has absolutely no adult guidance in her life. Even when Freddie’s mom has appeared she is depicted as overbearing, embarrassing, and treats him like a toddler. I have never seen a show that was so devoid of adults, and this further enforces the young viewer’s idea (that most kids have) that they could live perfectly fine without parents because they know everything! Social implications aside, this show sucks. It’s not funny, the jokes are stupid even by kid standards, and they overuse the laugh track so much it sometimes cuts into the actors’ lines. ICarly has no redeeming qualities, and you’re much better off having your kids watch some of the dozens of other dumb (but less damaging) shows out there.
This all started out because I was having a hard time rationalising Loki’s apparent character shift from his assertion that he “never wanted the throne” at the end of Thor, to his repeated proclamations that he “was a king!” in the Avengers. What I’ve actually concluded, after thinking about it, is that it’s consistent with what we know about his character from Thor, and what’s changed is not Loki’s character, butThor’s. It’s also decisive proof that I need a hobby, and that I take this stuff way too seriously. Obviously I have a lot of feelings about Loki.
I’m sure this has probably been discussed to death elsewhere, but here are my two cents, for what they’re worth. I should also point out that this essay comes with a trigger warning for racism, which is a delicate topic at the best of times. I think there are some real-world parallels that can be drawn between the treatment of race within the film, and racism as it exists today, although by doing so I by no means intend to belittle the seriousness or damage that real racism does on a daily basis. I’ve tried to treat the topic respectfully, but if anything does come across as poorly or inappropriately phrased, please let me know.
One of the earliest scenes in Thor shows Odin recounting the history of the war with the Jotun to his sons. He sets up a deliberate contrast between Jotunheim and Asgard – Jotunheim is a world of “cold and darkness”, and Asgard “a beacon of hope, shining out across the stars”. “It was Asgard,” he says, “and its warriors that brought peace to the universe.” It’s largely acknowledged that history is written by the victors, and it’s quite clear that the Aesir were the decisive victors here. Jotunheim looks like it hasn’t recovered at all from the Aesir assault, even though it was more than a millennia ago. From what can be seen of the sets on Jotunheim, the buildings look incomplete – almost echoing the images of bombed churches from France and England in the Second World War. The casting and costuming of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston reflects this motif as well, Loki is dressed in dark colours throughout most of the film, whereas Thor’s Asgardian digs are bright and reflective – they literally shine.
After recounting this history, Odin tells his sons they were both born to be kings. He means this literally – Thor is the firstborn son of the king of Asgard, and Loki the son of the king of Jotunheim. I read this scene as Odin having taken Loki from Jotunheim as his own in a deliberate attempt to raise him with Asgardian ideals and make him loyal to the house of Odin, and then install him on the throne of Jotunheim as a sockpuppet ruler, thus ensuring Jotunheim won’t be a problem anymore. Odin essentially says this: I thought we could unite our kingdoms […] bring about a permanent peace, through you.”
And by raising Loki with Asgardian ideals, I mean making him racist against himself. Loki has been raised to hate the frost giants – this is pretty clear from his reaction to learning that he actually is one. He explicitly says: “I am the monster that parents tell their children about at night” (emphasis mine). We’ve already seen him manipulate three Jotun in a plot to prove a point about Thor, knowing full well that they’d be killed, so he clearly places very little value on their lives. He has been taught to view the Jotun as sub-human (or sub-Asgardian), and now must reconcile that fact with the reality that it now also applies to him. This is internalised racism, and it is, in my opinion, central to everything Loki does from this point onwards.
Internalised racism can be defined as: “the conscious and subconscious incorporation and acceptance of all the negative stereotypes and images from media, folklore, accounts of history, and so forth, that define persons of colour […] as inferior.” Racism, particularly internalised racism, has been linked to increased incidences of violence, particularly among families, depression and anxiety. Expressions of internalised racism separate individuals from their families and sources of support, and perpetuate the oppression of the group, making the group party to their own disempowerment – this, I think, is what Odin was envisioning when he said he wanted to bring about a “permanent peace”. Furthermore, it’s central to the way he treats Loki. Loki picks up on this right away: “that’s why you favoured Thor all these years, because no matter how much you claimed to love me you could never have a frost giant on the throne of Asgard.” He’s precisely right – although it’s not precisely internalised racism for Odin, he’s literally unable to love Loki the way he loves Thor because of the belief that the frost giants are inferior. Ironically, right after this scene we have… a frost giant on the throne of Asgard.
Loki, who in his own estimation has fallen from the lesser-loved son of the most powerful man in all the nine realms, to a self-declared monster, seems to go through this same thought process as an Ex-Slave.
So, what does he do? He sets up an elaborate plot to prove that he supports the Aesir ‘ideals’ that he’s been taught – and he basically takes these ideals and stretches them to the extreme. First he contrives a means of committing patricide – he lures Laufey away from Jotunheim, where he protected by the sheer number of frost giants around him, and then kills him right as he is about to kill Odin. The last thing he says to Laufey, before killing him, is “[your death] came by the son of Odin.” He is legitimising his right to be the son of Odin by both killing his father’s sworn enemy and saving his father’s life (it’s actually a remarkably well executed plan, from a logistical point of view, although morally it leaves a lot to be desired).
Then he sets off to kill his entire race: which, given he’s been raised to believe that killing off a few Jotuns at a time is just fine, one can see how he reaches the conclusion that killing them all off will demonstrate his allegiance to Asgard, his value as one of its people, and his ability to ‘pass’, so to speak, as an Aesir. At this point in the narrative, too, Thor is disgraced (or so Loki believes) in his father’s eyes – and Loki has made arrangements to ensure that Thor won’t step in to steal his thunder when Odin wakes up and he does the big reveal of all the “good work” he’s done while he was asleep. Loki has put himself in the mind of the mob – and has internalised his hatred towards himself to such an extent that he lashes out violently against his family (by sending the destroyer after Thor), and his kin.
As mentioned, Loki is contrasted with Thor in the film. Thor embodies the “beacon of hope” (or, given the costume designing, beacon of space glam), that Odin mentions, versus the much darker, smaller Loki. Loki himself obviously feels he falls short to Thor, and that others perceive him that way. In the Avengers he describes their childhood as living in Thor’s shadow.
His line, “I never wanted the throne; I only ever wanted to be your equal” is interesting given that he now knows his true parentage. He is literally trying to be Thor’s equal – we see him go from the more calculating and cautious one of the two, who makes a point about Thor’s unfitness to rule by provoking him into launching an all-out and ill-conceived attack on Jotunheim – which is exactly what Loki turns around and does during their final confrontation. He is modelling himself after Thor’s behaviour, trying to be the golden son.
Instead of the recognition he’s expecting, both Thor and Odin – the two people who had launched attacks on Jotunheim, who are, in Loki’s eyes, the embodiment of the Asgardian ideals he was raised with – turn around and tell him he’s wrong. Unsurprisingly, this pushes him (literally) over the edge.
Which brings us to the next time we see Thor and Loki together. Here’s what they say to each other:
Thor: I thought you dead.
Loki: Did you mourn?
Thor: We all did. Our father…
Loki: Your father. He did tell you my true parentage, did he not?
Thor: We were raised together. We played together, we fought together. Do you remember none of that?
Loki: I remember a shadow, living in the shade of your greatness. I remember you tossing me into an abyss. I who was and should be king!
Thor: So you take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights? No, the earth is under my protection, Loki.
Loki: And you’re doing a marvellous job with that. The humans slaughter each other in droves, while you idly threat. I mean to rule them. And why should I not?
Thor: You think yourself above them.
Loki: Well, yes.
Thor: Then you miss the truth of ruling, brother. The throne would suit you ill.
This exchange touches on several interesting points. Firstly, Loki’s sarcastic ‘did you mourn?’, I think, is hiding a genuine question. The Aesir don’t mourn the death of Jotun, so there’s no guarantee that they would mourn his death either. After all, in his mind, he was clearly rejected by Odin when he was hanging from the bridge and he seems to hold Thor to blame for it as well - he says Thor threw him into the abyss. Not literally, of course, but by rejecting him, they, in his mind, threw him out of the family. He’d failed to prove himself a son.
Secondly, there’s the assertion that he was and should be king. This, I think, ties into the question of why he’s on Earth at all, and why he cares about ruling it. Thor implies that it’s because Thor has promised to protect it, but I don’t think that’s quite true. I think Loki is still trying to be Thor’s equal here. He flat out tells Thor that he’s doing a terrible job of protecting the Earth – in Loki’s mind, Thor’s sitting around doing nothing while the Earth is tearing itself to pieces slowly. It’s clear from the speeches he gives in the movie – “a world made free from freedom”, and the “is this not your natural state?” speech in Germany, that he considers the enslavement of humanity to be for their own good. They’ve tried to govern themselves, and they’ve been terrible at it. And Loki grew up with stories of the Aesir bringing “peace” to other worlds, by invading and oppressing them. He is actually trying to do the job he thinks Thor should be doing, and, once again, to prove himself an Aesir.
I think there’s a huge amount of dissonance in Loki’s mind between what he was taught growing up – that the frost giants are expendable, that they are sub-human, that their world was made better through their oppression – and the sudden turnaround of Thor. When Thor asks him if he thinks himself above the human race, Loki says “well, yes” like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. And to him, it is, because that’s what they were taught. He doesn’t understand why Thor and Odin seem to have made an abrupt volte-face on the issue, and why his actions aren’t being met with the praise he feels they deserve. When he says he should be king, he’s criticising Thor for not upholding the belief in the inherent nature of Aesir superiority that he holds. It is this internal discord, however, that makes Loki such a complex, and engaging villain.
Merida is the best thing about “Brave,” which, although technically up to Pixar’s standards, is more conventional – more Disneyish – than that studio’s best work. It lacks the intricacy of imagination that made films like “The Incredibles” and “Finding Nemo” so exhilirating. On the other hand, it’s a whole lot better than the “Cars” movies. I’m glad to see the Pixar people have pulled themselves out of that rut.
But above all else, Brave is a film about mothers and daughters, and this is one of its strengths.
The plots of Pixar’s best films possess emotional cores fueled by some of life’s most formative bonds. In Finding Nemo, it’s the relationship between father and son. In The Incredibles, it’s the family. Toy Story 2 is both an ode to the bond between child and toy as well as the affection we, as adults, feel for our own childhoods. (Up knocks out the husband-wife dynamic in the opening montage before throwing in a grandparent-grandchild dynamic as a freebie.) Brave taps into that potentially most explosive of familial bonds—the complicated relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter. Given how the fairy tales most mined by Disney are littered with deceased mothers and homicidal step-mothers, it’s not surprising Pixar had to make up its own fairy tale to find a working mother-daughter tandem. It’s also immensely welcome.
But for all it’s got going for it—gorgeous visuals and exemplary voice work in particular—Brave also has some decidedly atypical (for Pixar) flaws. The story itself feels rushed. Mor’du, ostensibly the film’s main antagonist, appears too fitfully to seem like much more than a convenient action intensifier.
At the same time, there are plenty of laughs, and a rousing climax to the film. And it does get across the idea that women are powerful, as both Merida and Elinor are allowed their heroic moments. Brave has problems sustaining its story for some stretches, as if it runs out of ways to underscore its most basic lessons.
Besides Disney promotions, Brave is preceded by La Luna, a short film that was nominated for a 2011 Oscar for animated short films. (The prize went to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.)
La Luna - 10/10
Brave - 8/10
Like I said, Brave is not that amazing to Pixar standards but for others it would be a homerun.
“Magic Mike,” starring Channing Tatum as a stripper making the most of his assets, brings all the beef you might expect, but has plenty going on upstairs, too. It’s not an overly musky romance, but a window into a much-mocked subculture, more “Saturday Night Fever” than “Dirty Dancing.” It’s one of the year’s best surprises, and so is its frequently underrated star.
Though unmistakably directed by Steven Soderbergh in his subversive-chic style, “Magic Mike” belongs to Tatum, playing an older version of the teenage Tampa stripper he briefly was. (He also co-produced with writer Reid Carolin.) That may be why this film feels so authentic, with details no outsider’s research could provide. Tatum’s Mike, roughly 30, lives the wild life: We first see him waking after a threesome. But unlike young Adam (Alex Pettyfer), the newest recruit to Tampa’s Club Xquisite, Mike is saving his sweaty singles to start his own business.
Much of the freaky fun in “Magic Mike” comes from the blush-worthy dance sequences, choreographed with low-rent panache by Alison Faulk (currently handling Madonna’s 2012 tour) and performed without a shred of embarrassment by Joe Manganiello as the well-endowed Richie, and Kevin Nash as the near-simian Tarzan, among others. Matthew McConaughey, as the club’s leather-harnessed ringmaster, Dallas, delivers a born-for-this performance and nearly steals the show with a spread-legged striptease to KISS’ “Calling Dr. Love.”
But it’s Tatum who carries the film, not just with his sculpted muscles but with a sensitive, almost heartbreaking performance. Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), keeps him at arm’s length, and even his regular booty call, Joanna (Olivia Munn), tells him to shut up and “just look pretty.” Like the porn stars in “Boogie Nights,” Mike doesn’t realize where he ranks until the world reminds him.
This smart, funny, compassionate look at a well-oiled subculture is a worthy heir to “Saturday Night Fever,” and one of the year’s best surprises. 8/10
It’s official. Tsuritama has been added to my top 10 favorite animes of all time.
…and it will be greatly missed. If I went into what made this show so special, I probably would write for hours. I’ll try to summarize as best I can. I was drawn to Tsuritama from the moment it premiered. Maybe it was the bright, surreal art that peaked my interest. Maybe it was the premise of fishing. Or maybe it was a little of both. I wasn’t sure at first how this was going to turn out, but after watching the first episode, I walked away with a strange satisfaction that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. For lack of a better term, it was…happy. It’s hard to explain, but it left me so cheerful after every episode and I could hardly wait for the latest episode the following week! Even when the plot began to thicken, it still left me with that feeling of satisfaction after watching brilliance.
I pulled the synopsis of the show fromhttp://www.animeseason.com/tsuritama/ :
In Enoshima, Yuki is a high school student who’s never been good at making real friends thanks to his abnormally poor communication skills. Haru is the self-styled alien who decides to teach Yuki to fish. Natsuki is an irritable born-and-raised local. Akira is the mysterious Indian who watches them all from a distance. These four meet, fish, and find big adventures on their little island.
That’s it in a nutshell and it’s absolutely fantastic. The major thing I love about Tsuritama is that the characters drive the show. The plot does have an effect on the course of events, but it doesn’t destroy how the characters build and grow while interacting with each other. It draws you in so deep that you feel like you’re a part of these characters. I’m sad that it’s over, but I’ll never forget the pure joy of watching these characters grow.
In fact, I feel like fishing.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Joss Whedon rules. This truth is celebrated across many disparate swaths of the internet, from Buffytown to Fireflyville to Dr. Horribleopolis. As a writer and director, Whedon has mastered the art of twisting and reimagining bits of genre junk that we love—Cowboys! Vampires and witches! Supervillains! Horror movies!—and infusing them with universal themes and fantastic characters. His writing is idiosyncratic and kind, his worldview is guided by warm optimism but grounded in a clear-eyed realism and an acceptance of the tragic curve-balls life can throw. He’s created several of pop culture’s great female characters and will make no bones about telling you why that’s important. Thanks to him, we’ve fallen in love with unlikely heroes and heroic villains, vampire puppets and charming werewolves, librarians and prostitutes, Kaylee Frye and Xander Harris.
And yet for the longest time, it seemed like the dude couldn’t catch a break.
Despite its too-good-to-be-true cast, Firefly was schedule-punked and rearranged by Fox, then shuffled off to an early cancellation. Dr. Horrible never made it beyond cult status, and to this day plenty of people have never watched it (though they really should). Buffy flirted with cancellation multiple times and wound up limping through its final few seasons with a limited budget on a different network. The Buffy comics suffered steadily declining sales after they were released and, it must be said, have fallen into a bit of a vortex of nonsensical self-indulgence. His fabulous Firefly film Serenity was a box-office disappointment.
Time and again it’s seemed like Joss was going to finally get his big chance to hit one out of the park, and time and again it hasn’t worked out. Dollhouse should have been a great show, but it never won an audience. Whedon was long rumored to be taking the helm of the Wonder Woman movie, a franchise that seemed uniquely well-suited to his talents. Yet he parted ways with the project due to creative differences with Silver Pictures and never came back.
People want Joss to do well. Often to a weird degree, if we’re being honest. His cult following is legion, hundreds of thousands of passionate people who get into screaming arguments with their friends who refuse to watch Firefly. “You just don’t understand,” they shout, righteously. At every nerd event I’ve ever attended, 90% of conversations eventually turn to the Whedonverse. It seems there’s always something new to talk about, some new insight to share or favorite line to quote. There has long been a sense of vague indignation among Joss’ fans. Every time one of his projects falls short of mainstream success or has its plug pulled, there’s an outpouring of internet support and outrage. And with good reason—it’s simply hard to look at his oeuvre and not think, “This guy—this guy!—should be cranking out the biggest blockbuster hits in the world.” And yet he’s enjoyed only modest, inconsistant success.
This past weekend, that finally changed. Whedon’s The Avengers just pulled off the highest-grossing opening weekend in film history, shattering Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ standing record by raking in an estimated $200.5 million in domestic returns, putting its estimated global box office gross at nearly $650 million.
$650 million! Dollars! Made by a Joss Whedon movie!
See ya later, Hunger Games. So long, Harry Potter. Rest in peace, Dark Knight and Avatar. Joss Whedon, champion of the library kids and crown knight of the nerds, just become the most successful film director in the world.
It’s about time.
This American Life’s Ira Glass once aptly described writer/director Joss Whedon as “one of those people who, either you have never heard of him at all…or you love him.” To those of you who, in your millions, are about to make the transition from the former cohort to the latter: Welcome.
The probable catalyst for this conversion is, of course, Whedon’s The Avengers. (I should note here that I am technically supposed to refer to the film as Whedon’s Marvel’s The Avengers, but I’m not going to, because that would be ridiculous.
When news first broke that an Avengers movie was in the making, I thought there was no possible way it could work: too many supers, too many awkwardly intersecting storylines, too much everything. When news broke that Whedon would be helming the project, I thought, well, if there’s one person who could conceivably make it work, it was him. I was wrong the first time and right the second. The Avengers is sharp, witty, intense, and at times even touching—easily among the best big-budget entertainments of the last few years.
For those only now becoming acquainted with Mr. Whedon, he is the pop-nerd god responsible for the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse; the feature film Serenity and the wondrous web-short Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Back in the day, he co-wrote the original Toy Story, and more recently he co-wrote and produced the amazing The Cabin in the Woods. Perhaps more to the point, he was the author of a by-all-accounts exceptional stretch of the comic The Astonishing X-Men.
Yet despite this exhausting C.V., The Avengers is Whedon’s first true bite at the apple of mass appeal. It is my humble prediction that the masses are going to stay bitten.
Now it is true that if you don’t like superhero movies, you probably will not like The Avengers, which features all the tropes that inevitably accrue to the genre: the flying and punching and force-beams and silly costumes. But if you are even modestly open to persuasion, Whedon’s effort is right up at the top of the Marvel heap, with the first Spider-and Iron Man and the first two X-Men. Given the degree of difficulty inherent in the undertaking, it’s an accomplishment only modestly short of a miracle.
The Avengers were first assembled by Marvel Comics in Avengers #1, back in September 1963, with the gang deciding to unite following some spirited scrapping between Iron Man and the Hulk. In Whedon’s re-telling, the geometry of discord is considerably more complex: Captain America bickers with Iron Man, who bickers with Thor, who bickers with the Hulk, who bickers with Black Widow. It’s like an episode ofDesperate Housewives with repulsor rays. The only one not to join in the squabbling is Hawkeye (who goes by his street name of Clint Barton), and that’s because he’s genuinely trying to kill them all, having been psychically enthralled by the villainous Loki.
Loki, as you may recall from the movie Thor, is the scheming adoptive brother of that hero and, like him, an extraterrestrial who inspired Norse mythology and retains a decidedly retro—I’m talking helmet-with-curved-horns retro—sense of fashion. As the movie begins, Loki is stealing the Tesseract (a cube of infinite power that you may recall from Captain America: The First Avenger) from S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (whom you may recall from the aforementioned movies as well as two Iron Man’sand a The Incredible Hulk). Loki’s plan is essentially to go all Transformers on the human race, freeing them of the burden of freedom and offering his own rule in its place.
It is to Whedon’s great credit that he manages to corral this herd of competing plotlines into something resembling coherence. The movies leading up to the Avengers were widely divergent in tone and even genre, in particular the antics of Thor and the throwbacks of Captain America. But Whedon turns these inherent tensions to his advantage, making a film that itself spans genres: a superhero flick, yes, but one that also dabbles in alien invasion and Mission Impossible-style superspydom.
Indeed, the fact that the characters hail from such radically different universes ultimately helps imbue them with, well, character: the old-fashioned grit of Captain America, the aloof nobility of Thor, the self-loving charm of billionaire Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man), and the twitchy discomfort of Bruce Banner, ever at risk of inflating into the world’s least jolly green giant. Nor does Whedon skimp on his array of non-super-powered S.H.I.E.L.D. agents: the wounded guile of Natasha Romanoff (sometimes known as Black Widow), the solitary sniperhood of Clint Barton, the cigar- and scene-chewing gruffness of Nick Fury, the quiet decency of Phil Coulson.
The film unfolds largely as a series of collisions between these characters, as a group or in pairs, prodding, testing, taking one another’s measure. Yes, it all ends, as it must, with a massive alien assault upon New York City, and there are the requisite battles and blow-ups along the way. But silly as it may sound, The Avengers is, to a surprising degree, an experiment in social chemistry.
The cast is excellent down the line, and plays well together, even—perhaps especially—when their characters don’t: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson (whose Black Widow is far more interesting than she was in Iron Man 2), Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg. It would seem unfair to single out any of the heroes—okay, fine, Downey is customarily terrific—but I have no such qualms about Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who elevates lithe, Eurotrash sneeriness to an art form. (His eventual comeuppance is one of the most crowd-pleasing onscreen moments in years.)
But ultimately it all comes back to Whedon: his clear vision for each character and how they might be profitably intermingled; his unexpected knack for action choreography; his funny, tender, immaculately constructed script (from a story he co-wrote with Zak Penn). I don’t think I’m giving anything away by revealing that the picture ends with Loki locked up for years. If Marvel has a lick of sense, they’ll do the same with Whedon.
YES another Community talk by: Mickey
Community is at its best when it experiments with wildly inventive formats or plot concepts, making it a trademark of the series through its 65 aired episodes. ‘Virtual Systems Analysis’, hard to believe it, is near the top of that list, as left-field and meta as an episode like ‘Remedial Chaos Theory’ with the Abed-centric plots of an episode like season 2′s ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas, any story that focuses on Abed is bound to be some of the weirdest – and occasionally, darkest episodes of the show.
No matter how comfortable Abed is with his personality, his shortcomings, and his abilities, it can be hard to remember that fast-talking kid from the pilot who was so excited to have someone to talk to, he tells Jeff all about everyone he knows on campus when Jeff asks what his name is. His reality is one that is carefully constructed and difficult to maintain, both for Abed, and the group of friends around him who sometimes still don’t understand the world he operates in (although as Annie shows, she might not get it all, but she’s learned enough about him to keep up).
That self-conscious, socially rejected kid is still inside him, just as the sometimes racist, desperate unaccepted child at the heart of Pierce. Yes, people change, andCommunity‘s third season is about the changes caring about other people bring, but it’s not always a quick change, or one that’s easy to accept. For Abed – and everyone else in the group, really – there’s an inability to truly embrace the changes the Greendale 7 are going through, because they’re not used to being so vulnerable to a group of people.
While a lot of the episode is meta-commentary by Abed and Annie on the rest of the group, through the shared virtual realities of their imagination, it’s really about something they have in common: the need to be in control of their surroundings, playing out what might happen in their lives over and over until they become depressed and disillusioned. As much as Abed knows, and as much as Annie likes to plan things, they can’t control their futures. It’s just impossible to do, and until they accept it, they’re not going to be able to enjoy the lives they are living, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s one of the season’s best scenes, and another example of how well these writers know these characters.
There are a number of impersonations sprinkled throughout the extended dreamatorium session, keeping the rest of the cast from feeling totally dis-involved from the important parts of the episode. It allows for some humorous moments (the manager who doesn’t like Die Hard, Pierce being confused, every Troy phrase Abed impersonated – but it really is just a lot of character re-enforcement, with some Troy/Britta teasers sprinkled in without (though those are necessary, since it’s Annie sending them off to lunch together that is the catalyst for the 3 hours in the dreamatorium). There’s nothing wrong with it, and as long as there is some cross-dressing (or in this case, we could call it dual-dressing?) Dean action involved, it’s always worth some screen time.
But the heart of the episode of course, is about both Annie and Abed. “Virtual Systems Analysis” was a bit lighter on Abed than “Uncontrollable Christmas” was, his tough-to-stomach character moments softened a bit by one of the best Annie story lines the show has ever had. Her self-awareness has grown over the seasons, and it looks like she is really starting to take a more mature approach to her love life (I don’t think she’d be going after Vaughn if they met for the first time this season), and her explanation of her feelings about Jeff were a more layered approach than most sitcoms would bother with (but then again, this is why we love Community).
I wonder what an episode like this is to film – although I assume the cast of Communityis used to showing up every week to film a different kind of comedy. We did get to see Annie and Abed do a lot of funny impersonations of the group, and while it was light on jokes, it swung for the emotional fences (as most of the less joke-intensive Community episodes do).
I can now say it. MY FAVORITE EPISODE!