Monthly Archives: October 2013

Redshirt Bonanza

Here are some Youtube clips of things that have recently been uploaded by Redshirt Films recently that I was at least tangentially involved in:

The new series trailer for I Am Tim, and the first (I think) to incorporate footage from the upcoming third season of the web series. That’s the one I co-plotted and wrote with Jamie and James (or Helsing Prime and Timothy II as I like to call them), so I’m at least partially responsible for some part of the nonsense that’s going on here.

BEHIND THE SCENES TRIVIA: All right, one shot is from an episode I wrote. And I think they ad-libbed that scene. Shut up.

Nights at the Round Table is back! Already?

Yes, already. The last episode is still warm and yet here you have your very own Hallowe’en special to be bemused and confounded (and quite possibly entertained) by.

BEHIND THE SCENES GOSSIP: In a rare reversal of form, Redshirt head honcho Jamie has given me far too much credit for this episode, giving him and myself equal credit for shooting the thing alongside my sometime role as sound recordist.

Full disclosure: Jamie’s in the episode and couldn’t very well film himself, so I framed, focused and recorded his takes while also getting his dialogue on mic and trying not to fuck up both at the same time.

Yeah, I’m a real Renaissance man.

I Am Tim Episode 2.11 –  “The Internal Review.” Clearly, Jamie and James’ recent visit to MCM Expo in London has helped the series as the views of this episode are currently eclipsing those of the previous instalment by about 1,000. Which is pleasant.

BEHIND THE SCENES BULLSHIT: I can’t exactly remember what I did on this episode, but I know I was definitely there. I think I’d just gotten Vine so I was probably faffinf around with that and making irritating alternate dialogue suggestions. Y’know, the important stuff.

Also, this episode was originally called simply “Internal Review” and I kind of prefer it without the definite article. Also the full stops, but that’s a train that ain’t getting derailed and it’s probably just me, frankly.

OH, AND ONE MORE THING:

The one episode of I Am Tim season 2 that I co-wrote, the oft-vaunted and much-troubled Dawn of the Reds, is being released into the wild this week. Tomorrow, if I’m not mistaken.

It’s all kinds of crazy gory fun, so you owe it to yourself to watch it when it drops and tell me that I didn’t drop the ball (even if I did because why would you want to hurt me like that?). Kay?

What are you still looking at me for? Go watch!

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: ‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’

Written by Brent Fletcher | Directed by Jesse Bochco | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

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This week’s episode sees a welcome and significant progression in the season’s main arc, a superpowered plot more in keeping with the MCU and a couple of decent steps forward in some characters’ development. ‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’ may not have as interesting a story as last week’s ‘Eye-Spy’, but there’s enough juicy teases, new characters and concepts introduced to more than make up for its failings. And there are a few.

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Noah

So there was this short film shown at the Toronto Film Festival a lot of sites were buzzing about in late September that I only clocked the other day because I’m terrible at keeping up with film news and who looks out for short film buzz from major festivals anyhow?

Anyway, it’s called Noah and it’s a 17-minute long student movie (written & directed by Walter Woodman & Patrick Cederberg) about internet relationships, and in spite of everything I just said, it’s actually pretty compelling. It takes an interesting conceit – showing everything from the perspective of the protagonist’s Mac screen – and does a pretty effective job of replicating young people’s attention-disordered experience of using the internet while also managing to tell a coherent, if flawed, story.

Check it out here if you’re interested (but two signposts: there are Spanish subtitles because none of the original embeds I found worked any more; and Chatroulette features in the second half, so be ready for dick):

There you have it. What did you think?

I thought it was, at times, a scarily accurate reflection of modern social interactions and felt just as uncomfortable being a voyeur to Noah’s online activities as I was kind of fascinated. I’ve never hacked another Facebook account before but I can certainly relate to the kind of social paranoia that’s produced by only seeing manufactured snapshots of other people’s lives. That’s mostly why I left the other day, in fact.

The characters felt real enough, even if their actions and dialogue weren’t immediately relatable (Noah’s chat friend Kanye’s trollish patois especially made me want to hurt things), and the filmmakers do a fine job of building a sense of escalating dread until the central Pandora’s Box of a revelation which evokes a kind of cold betrayal, the likes of which are reserved for discoveries made in shoeboxes full of love letters or, indeed, private message threads.

I didn’t enjoy the last half as much as the first as it seemed to absolve Noah of his mistakes and suggest that he wouldn’t need to look outside of his computer for companionship or even his next relationship. Also, the resolution of the plot thread involving Dylan was lazy and seemed entirely tacked-on to facilitate…I’m not sure what; sympathy for Noah that he made a dumb mistake?

/Film quoted filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg as suggesting Noah could be “this generation’s John Hughes movie”, which I find very hard to swallow. Sure, there are the awkward, uncertain interactions between teenagers and a believable world for the young characters to inhabit, but the final conversation and resolution felt so much more insincere and frankly pretty cringeworthy than anything JH ever did (Maid in Manhattan aside).

Hughes’ films had their leads change into better, wiser people and make startling realisations about who they were and what they wanted, but no-one actually changes or acknowledges their own behaviour in Noah, which might actually be why it’s such an interesting (and slightly frightening) piece of work.

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Captain Phillips

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I just got back from seeing Captain Phillips. I can still feel the tension in my chest. It was gripping, smart and, at times, absolutely terrifying, which is to be expected from director Paul Greengrass at his best.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: ‘Eye-Spy’

Written by Jeffrey Bell | Directed by Roxann Dawson | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

Agents

This is the stuff I’ve been waiting for: the batshit-crazy superspy technology and straight-laced insanity that was promised at the end of the pilot with Lola, Coulson’s flying car, taking off into the camera and causing mass fanboy hysteria/incredulous guffaws (depends on who you ask) the world over. Sure, we had a radioactive explodeybox in ’0-8-4′ and gravity-warping shenanigans in ‘The Asset’, but neither of those were implemented in particularly exciting ways or had the op-art, Jim Steranko escapism feel of exploding eyeballs and cool-as-fuck eye patches.

In the cold open 50 masked men with handcuff briefcases making their way through the centre of Stockholm, only to have three of their number relieved of their luggage – and the hands holding them – by a mysterious, possibly psychic assassin that Coulson reveals he was responsible for training. Gasp!

The plot breaks fairly neatly into two halves after this point: the first sees the team tracking said assassin, Akela, down to sunny Belarus (which Fitz/Simmons get into a thoroughly unbelievable nerd-off about, just in case you forgot they like science) where they hack into her implanted eye-camera (cue a thousand groans at the episode title’s true meaning) and discover she’s getting orders from an unknown source; in the second half, after learning that Akela’s implant has a kill switch that will detonate if she tries to escape or deviate from her masters’ plan, the team switch her feed to a pair of glasses worn by Ward so that he can carry out her next mission while Coulson interrogates her about her handlers and Fitz/Simmons come up with a way to remove the device from her skull without resulting in grey matter on the laboratory ceiling.

The series is still finding its feet, but the crazy stuff in ‘Eye-Spy’ more than makes up for a few teething problems, from Fitz & Simmons performing ludicrous eye surgery on a conscious (but fearless) Akela to the horrifying idea of having your every waking moment monitored and controlled through your own body, not to mention a neat twist on the ‘rogue agent’ trope.

The mission Ward embarks on in Akela’s stead feels ripped straight from the N64 Goldeneye game, albeit without hip watch lasers or exploding barrels. Indeed, Ward – being the most conventional of all the leads – could easily be a gamer surrogate, being controlled by Skye in cement-grey environments and given arbitrary objectives (“SEDUCE HIM” was really something of a wasted joke). As a result nothing in the sequence feels quite like it matters and the peril toward the end doesn’t sink in because we’re less interested in Ward meeting his objectives than Akela’s face not exploding.

…that said, I would kind of like to know what those funky symbols that even S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t translate were all about.

The videogame parallels surface again any time we see things from Akela’s perspective, especially when she uses her x-ray vision, although when she raises her gun during her fight with Agent May there’s a whiff of uncanny valley about the angle of her arm. Though it could just be me and all the CoD fans out there who feel this way.

Melinda May doesn’t do a single interesting thing all episode, instead being relegated to speaking aloud plot points (“It’s her eye. The camera’s her eye”) and watching a computer track down Akela’s handler. She  barely even leaves the plane except for . It’s troubling for an ensemble drama when it can’t find anything for a character to do as it suggests not a great deal of thought has gone into their being around. Hell, Xander always had something to do on Buffy and he was consistently the least capable character (an argument could be made for Dawn, but that’s really forum fodder) – something’s definitely rotten in Denmark when the most capable member of her team is benched so often, especially after signing back on for ass-kicking duty in the last episode.

Coulson’s relationships with his mentees, both former (Akela, who he feels he failed) and current (Skye, who he’s trying not to), form the emotional backbone of the episode which works pretty effectively in fleshing out A.C.’s backstory, deepening his connection with Skye and adding more conspiratorial fuel to the fire of his mysterious resurrection when Akela asks some disconcerting questions about what happened to him.

[The end of the episode – plotwise – also throws up a nice red herring in the form of the Englishman and offers a stark counterpoint to Coulson’s belief that, because he himself was saved, everyone can be.]

The scenes with Skye in the back seat of the team’s car (no, not like that – she just misses her van) are especially effective as they give the two most compelling and complex leads more screen time together and they make inventive use of the deceptively small set, something that was done exquisitely on Firefly.

The central conceit of the show makes it seem easy to compare the Agents to the crew of Serenity, but the crucial difference is that Firefly was about a makeshift family trying to hold itself (and its ship) together, whereas AoS is about someone trying to make a family out of spare parts – and while Coulson is certainly a father figure to much of the cast, Skye’s assertion that May is their mother feels incredibly forced when the fact that she spends all her time in the cockpit is made a point of. That’s not a perfect analogy, but it establishes the point that it doesn’t feel like there’s as much connective tissue between Coulson’s team as Mal’s crew just yet, and sometimes those gaps feel pretty damn wide.

[Originally posted at Nerdly]

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Review: Numbercruncher #4

Written by Si Spurrier | Art by PJ Holden | Colours by Jordie Bellaire | Published by Titan Comics

Numbercruncher_4_NewWEB

Often when you read a comic with a skyscraper-high concept the conclusion doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the rest of the book, mainly because the creators were so excited about the ideas they’d chucked at the wall that they neglected to make sure all of them stuck. The bulk of the series might be chock full of excitement, inventiveness and thrills, but if that last chapter doesn’t pay off in an appropriately satisfying manner it can really sour a reader’s experience.

Thankfully, the creators of Numbercruncher know how to stick a bloody good landing.

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Reasons to be Blearful

It’s been a little quiet here the past couple of days largely because

a) other things required my attention, and

b) I’ve been trying to solve the medical conundrums that are my inconsistent deafness and impending death.

Okay, that might sound a little dramatic, but you try coughing your lungs up every other day for three months and see how optimistic you are about your chances. It’s not really that bad, but I have been feeling more and more run down as the days go on, which makes it harder to keep up with the things that require effort (like this blog) , and there doesn’t seem to be a concrete reason why. I’ve had my ears syringed twice this week – a procedure not unlike brush-scrubbing your forearms for so long and so hard that you start scraping the skin off, except with your eardrum – and came out of the session with the reasonably certain knowledge that a bunch of wax  wasn’t the problem in the first place.

Yeah, I know nobody likes a blog where someone just complains about their shit – especially when I don’t even have things especially bad – but I figure a (possibly) entertaining explanation of my recent silence is better than said silence.

But I could be wrong.

If you want an example of someone who’s way worse off than me, and a beautiful response to their problems, then you should check out this post from comics writer Matt Fraction’s blog in which he replies to a question from a fan contemplating suicide, incorporating his own experiences with it and depression in general. It’s pretty moving, inspiring and will likely make you cry if you value human life, and the section on “reasons to live” was especially potent.

So, um, yeah. Sorry about the emo post. I’ll try and make the next one bright and sparkly, and possibly incorporate unicorns and rainbows of some variety.

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In Defence of the Reboot #2 – Surprise!

[Originally posted at Nerdly]

A couple of weeks ago, Marvel sent out a preview for Wolverine and the X-Men #37, which showed a variant cover and interior pages that showed a strangely dressed Quentin Quire. It didn’t take much (or any) detective work to figure out that the Phoenix Force was making its return to the Marvel U (well, it has been a while), and some fans were more than a little incensed that they’d had what would likely be a major plot point revealed for them in a less than elegant manner. Before you say anything about simply not reading the story to avoid spoilers, let me add that the Phoenix connection was made explicit in the very title of CBR’s (and other sites’) articles, making it difficult for anyone reading Marvel’s current ‘Battle of the Atom’ storyline to experience events as they unfolded.

More recently, the upcoming death of Superboy and return of Stephanie Brown were also announced – not teased – at NYCC this past weekend, which begs the question: do DC & Marvel have so little faith in the talents of their creators that they’d much rather toss out any potential spontaneity or surprise in their storytelling than trust a writer and artist to do a good job?

I know it’s been like this for about as long as I’ve been reading comics, but it can’t stay like this. Movies aren’t this bad. Sure, there are plot-spoiling trailers that completely remove the necessity for a first act in summer blockbusters but at least they don’t go, “Psst! Batman dies in this one. But he doesn’t really”. TV doesn’t do this. In fact, when an extra-special character made a return or suddenly passed away

I suppose this might have something to do with the delayed gratification inherent in comics, being published on a monthly basis by-and-large. You can watch a six-part story on TV in a month and a half, but the same number of installments in a comic takes at least half a year (if the artist doesn’t get sick) to be completed. I guess maybe fans want a reassurance with an extended storyline like ‘Battle of the Atom’ that BIG THINGS are going to happen and they should keep throwing their money at it, but that seems more like an attitude projected onto readers by condescending marketeers who’ve long forgotten than comic book fans are humans too, with free will and nuanced tastes and quite possibly a disdain for corporate horse-flogging (well, despite what the sales figures say).

This problem is a macro version of one faced when actually reading a comic, a problem mentioned in passing by countless writers on “breaking into the industry” panels at conventions: the only chance you have to surprise an audience is the page turn. Once you’ve flipped from the right to the left you’ve, in the words of a fictionalised Patrick Stewart, “seen it all”. The jig’s up, you know how the fight ends or who gets resurrected or made to put the kettle on.

Again, you don’t get that experience in any other medium: you can’t see the next ten seconds of footage when watching a movie, ditto for a song’s runtime; the closest parallel would be prose fiction, but it’s very difficult to accidentally spoil the next page of a novel unless you’re focusing really hard on getting distracted.

So we know all that, and yet we read on. We do it because, presumably, we think the story’s good enough to warrant our continued attention, even if we’re rarely ever going to be surprised. But that’s hardly a certainty, especially when you’ve got event books with four or five different teams working on them. It’s starting to seem more like the spoilers are just beacons in the murk of uncertainty, markers to indicate more or less what you’re going to get (in an incredibly cack-handed, lowest-common-denominator way) if you commit yourself to this story for the next three months.

But those moments are rarely, if ever, the reason I read comics. Because they’re not stories – they’re just fireworks. They might be pretty and loud and exciting at the moment they happen, but they’re incredibly fleeting and never as memorable as you’d hope.

And the fireworks don’t even give you a chance to jump in fright or surprise…because they showed you a picture of the goddamn Catherine Wheels three months ago.

[Source: Comic Book Resources]
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Paging Doctor Sellout

So I went and got a Facebook page. Isn’t that special?

Go ahead and like it if you’re in the mood. I’ll mostly be reposting things from here but it’d be nice if it ended up being a place where I can engage a bit more with readers rather than the one-way conversation we’ve got going on here, and shorter subjects might seem more appropriate for social media. Who knows?

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Under-Over-Analysing

From the L.A. Times, on Breaking Bad‘s final episode:

The question is whether you bought for an instant that Walter “deserved” that ending. “Deserved” is a funny word, because it reads the viewer’s expectations into the work of art, when it’s much more important to try and suss out just what Vince Gilligan and his writers were up to, then determine how well they stuck to their guns.

The words are theirs, the emphasis mine. It boils down to this: we’re being told that, rather than allowing an audience to have an opinion and/or feelings on character, theme and story, it’s better for them to simply attempt to reverse-engineer the intentions of the creator of said elements.

It’s a sentiment so dumb as to make me really bloody angry.

This is a common thread that comes across in a lot of entertainment writing: paying attention not to your own feelings about something but to the analysis that comes from multiple viewings of a show or movie and comparing your notes with those of a thousand other viewers through reviews, blogs and essays.

Now look, I’m not saying that I’m against over-analysis of TV & movies; that’s demonstrably untrue. All I’m saying is that it’s kind of fucked-up that our first instinct when having just watched something is to neglect how the story made us feel and what it said to us…which is really the point of stories, no?

I don’t have to figure out what kind of story I was being told because I WAS JUST TOLD IT. And I don’t need to “suss out” what the storytellers were trying to accomplish because I’M FEELING IT RIGHT NOW. How dare anyone tell you that your feelings don’t matter. And could there be a more pointless quest than to figure out if someone meant to do something the way they did if you got a kick out of it anyway?

The primary purpose of entertainers is to entertain. If they do more than that? Super. I sincerely believe the team behind Breaking Bad accomplished more than just a kick-ass TV show and I enjoy plumbing the depths of critical analysis as much as anyone, but at least give me a minute to reflect on what I’ve just seen and wash the tear stains out of my hoodie, would you?

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