Thursday, 29 September 2011

Spoilers

Well duh! Have you not read the title? Possible spoilers, depending on how you look at it: House, Basic Instinct, Big Bang Theory, Hell Boy (the comic book), Harry Potter

Bye bye Martha.
I wrote on twitter, after watching the Last Temptation episode of House, that I am going to miss Martha M Masters (Amber Tymblin) , who was one of my favourite female characters on the show. A virtual accusing finger immediately rose at me and cried “spoilers!” at me. This, I have to admit, came as quite a surprise to me; not only did Amber Tamblyn, the lovely actress who played Martha, has given interviews, before joining the show, in which she says she is covering for Olivia Wilde who was pursuing a film career, but also her character Martha was written as a temporary replacement for Olivia Wilde character Thirteen, who mysteriously disappeared earlier in the series. Mentioning that Martha was leaving seemed as spoileristic to me as telling someone that the Titanic sank right before they are about to watch the film. Considering that the Last Temptation episode opens with the information that it is Martha’s last day, what would have been a spoiler, I think, would be if I said how she left, or more accurately why she didn’t stay. 

This wasn’t the last, and probably not the first, time I have been, arguably falsely accused of spoiling. Therefore I have decided to publicly mull over the issue of spoilers and ponder their nature.  

I remember my first ever spoiler; I didn’t even realise it was a spoiler at the time. I was about to watch Basic Instinct and a guy, who for some obscure political reason thought people shouldn’t watch that film, called out just as I went to the cinema “Catherine did it!” He himself hasn’t seen the film and had no idea who Catherine was and what was it she had done. Yet he knew that shouting that at people going to watch the film would spoil it for them.  Considering I knew nothing about the film before I went in, and could argue that I wasn’t entirely convinced that Catherine did indeed do it, when I came out of the film, I am not sure how effective that spoiler really was. I suppose by the time he finished shouting "It is probable that Catherine did it. However, the ending is open to interpretation" most people would have gone in or would have lost interest. "Catherine did it" may have been more efficient for protest, but frankly I think it didn't quite capture the point, and therefore failed to spoil, for me at least. 

The effort that went into that specific kind of spoiler, personally delivered, by a man who cared enough not only to research and find the right kind of thing to shout in order for it to be a spoiler, but spend a day, probably more, at the cinema, making a point of spoiling the film for individuals, I must admit, impressed me.  can't help noticing how difficult it once was to spoil something.

There is a great scene in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory in which Stuart (Kevin Sussman) , the owner of a comic book shop, gives Sheldon (Jim Parsons) the new issue of Hell Boy and tells him it’s mind blowing. Sheldon is outraged and cries “spoiler alert!” when Stuart tries to defend himself saying he didn’t spoil anything Sheldon replies: “You said it was mind blowing so my mind is going to it pre-blown and once a mind is pre- blown it cannot be re-blown.”

Pre-blown mind

Like Stuart I tend to get very enthusiastic about my TV and film and I would often nag and harass my friends to watch it, trying to lure them with similar promises of blowing of the mind or taking of the breath. Though I may talk a lot of a certain show, I can be accused of excessive teasing, but usually not spoiling. A friend who agreed to watch season 7 of House after my endless pleas, admitted to me she was surprised by how very little I actually gave away. True, the over enthusiasm and nagging may not be welcome either, but I can’t help it.

So what is the difference then? When does over enthusiasm become a spoiler and what really is a spoiler?

I should probably say that I personally have no particular relationship to spoilers. I won’t go out of my way to look for them, but I doubt that I would feel robbed of any joy should I be spoiled. If ever I am asked the question of whether I want to be spoiled, my answer will probably change according to what the spoiling is regarding. The surprise or shock value of some stories, is not a lasting effect and though it’s a bonus, it is not, in my opinion, what make a story great. In fact I am likely to go back to a story  I particularly loved or was moved by, and often my love an appreciation would grow with every time I return to it.Spoilers have become such a sensitive issue it is hard to decide what one should or shouldn't say. Is Sheldon right? Does saying Hell Boy is mind blowing count as spoiler? 

What about speculations and theories about things to come? When I was reading the Harry Potter books series, almost from the first book, I had no doubt in my mind that Snape wasn’t really evil. In fact I was so sure of it that I got angry when other characters in the book, particularly Harry, could not see that. Moreover, when I finished reading the sixth book, I knew in my heart, without reading the seventh book, that Snape killed Dumbledore at his own request. The Nathalie and I had a very strong theory of how those books were going to end. Sadly not all we speculated has happened, and to this day The Nathalie and I must believe there was a different ending that J.K Rowling, for one reason or another, decided to changed. Nevertheless we were right about Snape and Dumbledore. So, does being right in our predictions mean we were spoiled? Or is it just that we were, at least for 6 books, in tune with Rowling and felt connected to the book in such a way we were able to understand this line of reasoning and conclude how it will continue?

I can tell you that I felt incredible joy at discovering I was right about Snape. It was a great pay off to my faith in him throughout all the books. When my other prediction and speculation didn’t come through I felt greatly disappointed and betrayed, but that’s another story. 

I never doubted you!

What about trailers? Some trailers give away the entire film. Some that might not give away crucial elements of the film may inform you of twists. Arguably, whatever you put in a trailer gives away a part of the film, and therefore could be considered spoilers. 

Watching trailers used to be an important part of going to watch a film at the cinema. Trailers were magic and I got excited not knowing what trailers were going to be shown, and I loved not knowing what they were. The online availability of trailers often means that I have already seen them before going to the cinema and therefore have been unimpressed with most of them. Online trailers have spoiled trailers for me; and so I stopped watching them online and reclaimed the trailer magic. 

In the end the only person who can determine for sure what is or isn’t a spoiler is the person who experienced what it is that may or may not be spoiled. Only after watching can you know what a spoiler might be. Unless you research the issue like that bizarre Basic Instinct protester, but then you’re kinda asking for it.

So next time you wiggle your virtual finger at me accusing me of spoiling things, just remember if I watched it and you haven’t, it is more likely I would know better than you what would be a spoiler.I guess you'll have to trust me.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Miracle is Over

This is a review of Torchwood- Miracle Day and as such it is full of spoilers. However since I find this series quite shambolic, this warning isn't very sincere. 

“Why? Why? Oh why? Russell T Davis, I ask you, why?” Is my official respond to the Torchwood- Miracle Day.

I generally love RTD. We don’t always see eye to eye, but he got my attention with Queer as Folk, and it is because of him that I am now a fully fledged Doctor Who fan. 

True the first series of Torchwood was quite a disappointment, and for a while I thought it was all over for us, but as I recently discovered most of it wasn’t RTD. Then came the second series of Torchwood and my faith was restored, and nothing like deep depression and misery such as in Torchwood- Children of Earthe to secure RTD's place as one of my favourite TV makers today.

It wasn’t always easy to love RTD with some ridiculous Doctor Who Christmas specials and I didn't agree with some of his female lead choices (I never really liked Rose, Martha could have been but didn’t, and don’t even get me started on Gwen) but I was able to put our differences aside when he created Dona, one of my favourite Doctor's companion, or when he created such wonderful Doctor Who episodes like Midnight, Utopia, The Sound of Drums Turn Left and more. When Paul Cornell, who wrote one of my favourite double episode story of Doctor Who: Human Nature and Family of Blood, confessed in SFX panel that the powerful monologue of the brother, at the end of Family of Blood was written by RTD, all was forgiven.

I think what pains me most about Torchwood- Miracle Day is the sense of abandonment. His name is on the credits but Russell T Davis has left that building long before I got there. I waited all by myself in the lobby of that building for him to arrive, but he never did, and he didn't even call to explain. I would have preferred it if he left Torchwood after Children of Earth and handed it to someone else.Then CoE would have been his legacy rather than this mess.


There you are! I've been waiting here for 10 episodes!

I don’t tend to get too involved in the behind-the-scene-politics of television. I try to focus on a creators work on the screen rather than their career choices and struggles. Great TV should push all the skulduggery (oh, shiny new word. I like it) aside and laugh with contempt at all the gossip and turn them irrelevant, because all that matter is how wonderful TV can be despite or sometimes because of everything around it.Since Miracle Day didn’t feel to me like the RTD I have come to love, I had to find out what on earth or on Gallifray happened there. I asked, on The Terrible Zodin Facebook group If RTD is going to do another Torchwood series after this one and I was told he doesn't really want to continue, but American television wants him to continue and the situation was stalemate. 

Stalemate is what Torchwood- Miracle Day has become. I don't think RTD's heart was in it, I got the feeling he wanted to move on to a different project, which sounds quite good by the way. Fair enough perhaps it is time for RTD to let go of Torchwood, I just wish he would have done it sooner. Miracle Day should never have happened. 

The fact that the only surviving member of Torchwood other than Captain Jack is one of my arch nemesis’ Gwen Cooper, a crime to TV women everywhere, was a bad omen. However I was encouraged by the promise of new exciting characters, new locations and a shiny exciting name for the series, after all the last time Torchwood named a series we got Children of Earth. Most of the new character were thin and uninteresting at the best of times. I didn't care about them, I forgot them the minute they died and sometimes I wished they would die sooner.

To my great surprise I found out that UK was showing the episodes a week after it was aired in the US. However RTD promised there will be differences. “Differences?” I wondered “This could be brilliant” thoughts of double meanings and multiple interpretation possibilities ran through my head. It was all a lie and I was furious! Like a good excitable fan I watched every episode twice. I didn’t want to believe that Russell would lie to me like that. Surely there is going to be a dramatic difference in one of those weeks, which will shine a new light on this whole palaver. With every week my fury grew. I felt so betrayed, so used as the differences were the result of politics and technicalities rather than any kind of creative choice; it seems the creator of Queer as Folk, one of the first series' to show gay sex scenes, deems the British public too gentle hearted to watch Captain Jack having gay sex.  
I didn’t hate Miracle day right from the start. The main concept of the premise was potentially brilliant: one day suddenly the world becomes immortal and Captain Jack mortal; what a great idea! Even if it takes liberty regarding Jack being a fixed point in time and space and therefore shouldn't be affected. Keeping the whole thing a mystery till the end could have been thrilling and suspenseful if I hadn't stopped caring. 

With this kind of premise I was sure I will learn something new and dramatic about the mysterious Captain Jack, another side to the already complex and interesting character will be revealed. Imagine my disappointment when not only have I learned nothing about Jack, everything I did learn in this series made my beloved Captain so superficial and almost boring. 


After centuries of immortality suddenly Jack is mortal. This is huge, it must mean something, Jack's life would never be the same. How does he react to that? Clubbing and having a one night stand. Seriously?! The man who lived for centuries, who may or may not become The Face of Bow and who is a fixed point in time and space, and this is what mortality reduced him to? His life didn't  change nor his behaviour and no light was shed into his character. This, in my opinion is the biggest worst miss of Miracle Day. All it came down to in the end is a simple case of blood for blood, without it having any noticeable impact on Captain Jack. 

Similarly Jack's sexuality has been infuriatingly simplified and reduced to the banal. In Doctor Who Jack was established as an omnisexual. I wrote about the innovation of the idea behind his sexuality on issue 9 of TTZ. In previous Torchwood series' it was also insinuated that not only his sexual preferences are unique, but also the way he is "doing it" is not like anything we have ever seen or heard of before. 

There has been quite a bit of stir and discussion about THAT gay sex scene that was cut for the gentle souls of the UK, it is interesting that making love with Angelo wasn't prevented from corrupting the Brits, it's just one night stands they need protecting from . As much as I love man on man action with my science fiction, I was very disappointed that no room was left for imagination with regards to Jack's sexuality, and it seems that from omnisexual he turned into mostly gay. In the stroke of one scene the concept of Jack's sexuality turned from innovative and subversive to conventional. Shame. 

Moreover I didn't understand what was the point of Angelo and his and Jack's love story. On its own that episode was my favourite and it could have been developed into its own plot line if it came a lot sooner, or was a different series. However as a part of the whole series and at the point it came, it seemed like the whole Angelo and Jack love story was only there to explain how the families got hold of Jack's blood. Though it was a lovely episode, in the context it just didn't work and looked like pushing a gay agenda more than the story.


Another great disappointment was Oswald Danes, and he showed such promise. There was so much build up around his character right from the start; a pervert psycho rapist and killer sentenced to death and "saved" by the miracle at the last minute. It was an unusual role for Bill Pullman and he played it disturbingly well. For a large chunk of the series there was so much focus on his character, combined with Pullman acting his heart out, it is no wonder I believed he had some connection to the miracle, or at least that he was in some way special. Alas he turned out to be neither. Like Angelo, I am not sure what exactly was his point at the end of it all. Great talent has gone to waste. 



While In Children of Earth the absence of the Doctor was used in a tragic and bleak way to expose humanity's ugliness, in Miracle Day the endless and constant mentions and references to the Doctor just made me disappointed that he didn't show up at any point and released us all from the misery of the miracle and the misery of the show. 


Finally I must address the issue of Gwen; yes I have hated Gwen from day one, but she really outdid herself this time. While previously I had Toshiko, Owen and Ianto (ho Ianto I miss you so much) to distract me from her, here I had the incompetent and whiney Esther, or the shouty and unpleasant Rex. Why they tried to replicate Tosh's unrequited love for Owen with Esther and Rex is beyond me, and of course it didn't work. 

In Miracle Day we get to meet Gwen's parents again. Her dad dying at the same time as the miracle happened, was what I consider to be a cheap device to make it all personal for Gwen. As if the choice of killing her already dying father could in anyway be even close to choice Jack made of killing his grandson. Nevertheless, somehow, and I am still not clear how exactly, Gwen manages throughout the whole series to make it all about her. It's as if I am being forced to care about her. What happened was that I resented her more than ever before. Could she be full of herself any more? 


Both in Children of Earth and in Miracle Day Gwen got to do a concluding speech, always very dramatic and deep, towards a cam- corder, or the air. I don't know why she gets to do those end-of-the-world-speeches, I suppose she is meant to be the sensitive one (excuse me while I go and throw up for a minute). I may be a cold hearted bitch, but I couldn't care less about Gwen's father dying. I hardly knew the guy, I think Gwen herself only just met him recently. If it was Reese that was dying the impact would have been a lot stronger and more interesting. Since I care about Reese a lot more than I do Gwen at least we will have saving his life as a common interest between us. 

While her speech at the end of Children of Earth points to the dark side of humanity, her end speech on Miracle Day is all about her and how she is killing her father and SHE is the one bringing death back to the world. Ummm... Excuse me Gwen, please get off your high horse and let me point out that you not only have done no such thing, but you have been quite useless through the series and quite frankly I think things would have gone a lot quicker or at least about the same without you. Just because she volunteer to shoot Jack, something she does out of a combination of friendship and revenge I guess, doesn't make her the "bringer of death". Jack and Rex are the ones who bring death back, they are the ones who sacrificed everything. Gwen was...well... just there. 


It really saddens me to say that Torchwood- Miracle Day and Russell T Davis have been my biggest disappointment on television this year. All the things I love about RTD's writing: strong emotional plots that tears you apart, suspense, strong moral questions and bleak look of the world have dissolved into this messy and over- stretched Miracle Day. Those of you who know me and/or read my blog know the television shows are like good friends to me, and Miracle Day made me feel abandoned by RTD. It will be very hard for me not to hold it against him. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Second Encounter With Close Encounters

Writing about Super 8 , more than watching it, made me want to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the second time (heheh).  

Close Encounters was one of those films that passed me by in my childhood and I never really had a strong urge to watch it as time passed. I always loved Spielberg, but somehow Close Encounters never really felt like one of his films I  HAD to see; until I actually HAD to see it, for research purposes. Had I known Francois Truffaut was in it I probably would have watched it a sooner.

The first time I watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind I wasn’t that impressed with it. I loved the visual side of it. However, I tend to feel that when all my focus is on the cinematography, extraordinary as it may be, it probably means nothing else left an impression and that it covers up for other flaws. For its problems, Super 8 still manages to have something that echoed Close Encounters to me in a more positive way than I remembered.

The main problem with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. for me, is Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss). He is probably one of the worst main characters in a film. Both times I watched the film I wished that it would have been Claude Lacombe’s (Francois Truffaut) film, or even Barry Guiler’s (Cary Guffey), the cutest child in a film EVER! 



Right from the start Roy Neary is quite intolerable, not that I can blame him, his wife and kids are also quite dreadful. He is childish, but not in the cute way that Pete Sandich (also Richard Dreyfuss) from Always is, but in a spoiled brat kind of way. He doesn’t seem to care about or love his wife and kids that much, even before he starts obsessing over aliens. I couldn’t see why I should take any interest in his obsession; Roy was too selfish to take any interest in mine. I may be old school, but as much as I love good looking films, if I lose interest in the lead character or characters usually I would lose my interest in the film, good looking or not. 

I underlined usually because something different, rare and very cinematic happened when I watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the second time. I still didn’t particularly care, perhaps even less this time, about Roy and I was still quite disappointed by his character’s non development, but suddenly the film as a whole revealed itself as a beautiful art work with captivating sights and sounds, which made Roy’s unbearable character redundant[1].

In Close Encounters of the Third Kind people have encounters (of a third kind I guess) with some aliens. In the Spielberg spirit it is all full of love, understanding and acceptance. The aliens are not here to destroy us, and shockingly the human race does not want to experiment on the aliens. All both sides want to do is say hello to each other and communicate. And so communication, more accurately language, have become the most interesting aspect of the film and eventually upstaged dreary Roy.

Language appears in the films in many forms. Right from the start Lacombe needs an interpreter from French to English and then from Spanish to English to French. More languages follow as the film goes on to explore sighting of the aliens in India.

But, the most important language is, of course, the language used by the aliens. Made out of five notes in the positive and uplifting major scale, reassures us of the aliens' good intention, because even aliens understand that using a major scale means “We come in peace”. The music is not the only aspect of this language, it is visual as well. Lacombe connects the series of notes with hand signs used to teach music to deaf children.
 
This concept of language reaches its climax in the breathtaking final scene, in which the aliens and humans are having a beautiful conversation through music and lights. This is of course a very  amorous metaphor to the language of films.

The cinematic language has another, more subtle manifestation in the film, and in my opinion even more wonderful than that scene. It is the truly unique cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond, who makes light in to magic.

The cinematography of Close Encounters is actually quite simple, but it tells a lot of the story with nothing but lights, before any special effects kick in. 

Similarly to Jaws, in which the shark is not shown, but rather insinuated to for the better part of the film, so the aliens in Close Encounters can't be seen until the end of the film. However, their presence is dramatic all through the film and epitomized through lights for the most part of the film.

The first time Roy encounters the aliens, when he is in his car is all done by the movement of light from behind him to above him. Barry's abduction is also told to the viewers through different lights and light changes. It excites me just how much is being told through simple light changes. It is quite simply what a film does; tells a story using the language of lights and sound.

And so, Roy Neary becomes this big person sitting in front of you at the cinema, partially blocking the screen. You can see there is a beautiful film up on the scree, but you need to stretch your neck to look beyond that person obstructing your view, and you can find that magical thing called cinema. 

Bye Roy, don't let the spaceship door hit you on the way to space






[1] Potentially Avatar could have created a similar feeling but failed. I shall write another post about that.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Within The Hour

The nature of the show is not the kind that generate spoilers. Nevertheless I have marked the one paragraph that some may consider a spoiler clearly.The rest of the post have more thematic spoilers than anything else.

I try to avoid the news almost as much as I try to avoid reality, but unlike reality that comes and goes, news tends to follow me everywhere. Every now and then comes a drama about making news that captivates me, usually more than any piece of news ever does. It is in those dramas that television suddenly comes to life. 
The timing The Hour was quite fascinating. While avoiding the news I could still hear the echoes of the aftermath of the hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch. Phone hacking of the 50s seems, somehow, a lot more James Bond like. It might have to do with the espionage and political tension of those days. Present day phone hacking feels more like Big Brother, the next generation. 

Makes a Wire fan proud.
My main interest in The Hour, I admit, was Dominic West. I simply had to confirm to myself that he is indeed British, and that there is more to him than detective McNulty from The Wire, in which not only he talks with an American, Baltimore accent, but also does a very bad impersonation of a British accent. On top of that the trailer looked, and I mean visually, very much like my cup of coke (since I don’t really drink tea).

Dominic West turned out to be just the cherry on top of this most delicious selection of the truly brilliant actors. In my opinion the best on television today. The three lead characters Bel Rowley (Romala Garai) Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) and Hector Madden (Dominic West) are magnetic and kept me glued to the screen like only few actors can these days, and it didn't stop there. Isacc (Josh McGuire) Lix (Anna Chancellor) Clarence (Anton Lesser) McCain (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and even Marnie (Oona Chaplin) all gave fantastic performances, which made their characters stand out more than any side characters on a television show I have recently watched. 

What did I tell you? Brilliant acting!

The Hour was promoted and often referred to as the British version of Mad Men. Though I am a great fan of Mad Men I must protest. Apart from excessive smoking in the forbidden areas of our days, I see very little in common between the shows. Mad Men uses its characters and scenery to paint a picture of an era. The Hour on the other hand uses the era to paint a different picture of news making. While the hero of Mad Men is the 60s[1], the hero of The Hour is The Hour, the news show within the show. 


The Hour tells the behind the scene of a new BBC current affair program in 1956, called, yes you guessed it, The Hour. With the helping of romance, espionage and political tension, Abi Morgan’s greatest achievement in the creation of this show, is how news making itself becomes as emotional as the romance in the drama, as thrilling as the espionage and as gripping as the political tension. In six, one hour, episodes The Hour has portrayed and developed the show within the show as if it was one of the characters, if not the main character.

The Hour, the show within the show, represents beginnings of many things. Bel Rowley, for example, is one of the first female producers of a news show. More than any other type of television news has been predominantly ruled by men on and off camera. Disparate to Lix, the foreign affairs journalist who wears the trousers in more ways than one, Bel is emotional, even vulnerable, but not fragile and despite or perhaps because of those qualities she is very good at her job.

Other than having to prove herself as a woman in a men’s world Bel has to deal with the constant monitoring and interference of the government in what news she can present and how. This is of course the main problem of a news program in a channel that is virtually owned by the government. The entrance of political satire was not only sensitive politically, but also a new thing for a serious news program with very little sense of humour.

But perhaps the most exciting development of The Hour is the evolution of news presenting. Hector’s character is the type of news reader that represents a certain approach towards news presenting. It has been pointed out to me that Dominic West is far too  handsome and young looking in comparison with the older, father figure type of news presenter of the time. Though he may not be exactly what the 50s news presenters looked like, I think West has managed to portray the type very well. Though young Hector Madden looks authoritative and reassuring and most notably quite stiff. Hector is not a journalist and has very little interest in the news. What he is interested in most is his own career and so would be easy to manipulate.  But Hector, like all other characters, is not simply the poster boy of the news, and as the series progress so does his character develops.

I'll show you! News poster boy indeed.
 
Spoiler Alert:
The most exciting and brilliant development, however, is the change from the first major interview in the second episode, in which Hector interviews Mr. Hafiz, one of the leading supporters of the Egyptian president Naser, to the last interview lord Elms. Hector is very nervous before his interview of Mr. Hafiz. He is learning his lines much like an actor. Freddie, the investigative journalist guides him through it. For the last interview Hector clears the stage for Freddie, the journalist who was born to interview. This is the core move of the series, the dramatic change from an interviewer reading questions to one asking them. Like Hector, who knew Mr. Hafiz from a young age, so did Freddie grow up with Lord Elms, but differently to Hector, Freddie uses this to make the interview extraordinary.
End of spoiler

The Hour finished last week in the UK and started in the US. It has been announced that a second series has been commissioned.  I have always been quite emotional about my television programs, they are like dear friends to me. The Hour has introduced me to The Hour the only news program I ever cared about. 

I love you guys




[1] I intend to write a post about Mad Men closer to its return, in which I will elaborate on that.