Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

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I ACCEPT Your Contract!

June 10, 2009

This has been an epic month and a half in nerdery.  Let me see if I can cover the main points.  I am on the last case of Apollo Justice and I’m still on the Floating Continent in FF6…mostly because it fills me with unbridled rage and I don’t have enough health potions to move on and I don’t want to have to do it all again by going on the airship and then coming back later.  It’s a bit of a quandary.  Other than that, work stuff has kept me busy lately, Conor and I are PAing for a certain reality TV show that involves singing other people’s songs.  In addition, Buffy is finally no longer on hiatus, I just read the most recent Tales of the Vampires one-off written by Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, and Vasilis Lolos and a 5 issue arc by Jane Espenson is supposed to be coming out soon I believe.

In addition, our merry band of miscreants has been watching an anime series called “Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion“.  It’s 50ish episodes total divided into 2 seasons and COMPLETELY worth your time.  I just finished it last night and I feel great about how it ended.  The characters are interesting and consistent, the artwork is decent and though CLAMP did the original character designs they aren’t horrible, and finally and most importantly the writing is really intriguing and subtle.  At times it can be extremely over the top, but I found that my feelings regarding many of the main characters vacillated between extreme hatred and overwhelming sympathy.

I recently started playing through Mass Effect, and it’s still too early for me to make a statement on how I feel about the game, but I must admit that the character models are GREAT and I enjoy the conversation tree system a lot.  The gameplay is taking a lot of getting used to, I’m not very apt at squad based combat but I’m sure I’ll figure it out.  I tend to be a lone, stealthy person and right now Shepherd is bumbling about.

That’s enough rambling, expect something more coherent soon.  Also, I would be remiss not to recommend Endless Frontier: Super Robot Taisen OG Saga for the DS.  Conor, Terry, and the rest of our merry band have been playing the hell out of it.  Personally, I want to pick up Broken Sword but right now I’m reading a book by Herman Hesse named Narziss and Goldmund and before that I reread Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Amanda Seamus

Lelouch promo pic

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Season One of Dollhouse: Did I Fall Asleep?

June 1, 2009

Season One of Dollhouse: Did I Fall Asleep?

-Jess d’Arbonne


EDITOR’S WARNING:  There be SPOILERS in these here WATERS!

It’s no Buffy or Firefly, and it definitely isn’t Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse is something entirely different. Like, really different, right down to the legions of different characters actress Eliza Dushku plays from week to week. It’s also a different kind of show: a sci-fi series masquerading as a primetime thriller.

Despite a dubious start while the show’s creators found their bearings, I found Dollhouse intoxicating from the start. It quickly picked up speed, racing ahead through the plot twists at speeds other shows never even consider for fear of crashing. I soon found myself stationed religiously in front of the tube on Friday nights, more concentrated than a can of orange juice, just waiting for the next secret to be revealed.

Now that it has officially been renewed for a second season (and with good reason), it’s time to wrap our brains around the first season of this unique new show… if we can.

At its core, Dollhouse is about identity. What makes a person who they are? How easy is it to erase that identity and replace it with another? The Dollhouse in the title is a very underground, very illegal organization offering a bizarre, titillating, and morally ambiguous service. The Dolls—or Actives, as they are called—are blank slates, people whose memories have been wiped, allowing them to be imprinted with any personality, any identity the client desires. The Dolls can be anyone and do anything during their limited Engagements with their filthy rich clientele. Want the perfect date to impress your friends at that class reunion? Need a blind person to spy on the religious cult living in your backyard? Looking for a chef to make you the perfect three-cheese omelet you’ve been hankering for all week? The Dollhouse has you covered. Dushku (Angel, Tru Calling) stars as Echo, a Doll whose habit of going off-mission and thinking outside the box gets her into trouble as often as it advances the juicy—sometimes creepy—plot.

Since the principle Dolls Echo, Victor (Enver Gjokaj), and Sierra (Dichen Lachman) have drastically different identities from week to week, each episode is bound to surprise. In a 12-episode season, the show has more shocking twists than a water slide. Assume nothing, and especially don’t think you know who anyone really is.

The routine of Doll mind-wiping is creepy and enthralling. At the end of each Engagement, the Doll very calmly goes back to their handler, “ready for their treatment.” Not a word is spoken about how their current personality is about to come to an abrupt end. After they’re wiped they say with ritual seriousness, “Did I fall asleep?” The Dolls exist in a childlike state between Engagements, perfectly innocent and clueless. Creepy? Exceedingly so. Want to see more? Yes please.

We enter the Dollhouse this season a short time after a mysterious accident, in which a “composite incident” caused a Doll to go rogue, wreaking general mayhem and murder in the Dollhouse before escaping. Alpha remains the mysterious antagonist for the entire season, popping up once every few episodes like a bad rash to muck things up for the Dollhouse according to his own nefarious plans. Defending the Dollhouse against this menace are Adelle Dewitt (Olivia Williams), a cross between the commander-in-chief and the madam, Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) the quirky genius behind the Dollhouse’s technology, and Echo’s handler, protector, and all-around father figure Boyd Langdon (Harry Lennix).

The Dollhouse is faced with another threat in the form of Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett of Battlestar Galactica), a determined FBI agent hot on their trail. Obsessed with finding Caroline, the girl Echo used to be, Ballard believes the Dollhouse to be no better than a slave trade, dealing in murder of the mind, if not the body. Yes, he’s a bit dramatic, but you’ve got to admire the guy’s pluck and tenacity. Our first earth-shattering plot twist comes when it is revealed that both Ballard’s mob contact and his girlfriend Mellie (Miracle Laurie) are Dolls, placed in his life to lead him on a wild goose chase and keep tabs on him.

But the Dollhouse has bigger worries than FBI agents and rogue Dolls. From within the plush confines of the Dollhouse, a threat is growing. Some of the Dolls are becoming self-aware in their childlike state, forming friendships and crushes. Despite Topher’s best efforts at wiping their minds, Victor falls in love with Sierra, and Echo shows an amazing ability to adapt, learn, and remember. While initially seen as a problem, Echo’s growing self-awareness helps to protect the Dollhouse when it is revealed that there is a spy in their midst. Echo not only requests to be imprinted, but snoops out the spy (head of security Laurence Dominic, played by Reed Diamond) and takes him down herself. “I’m not broken,” she declares while pummeling said spy, and we are left to wonder: Is that the imprint talking, or Echo herself?

Things come to a head when Ballard finds the Dollhouse and breaks in, unwittingly helping Alpha in his dastardly plans. And who plays the enemy rogue Doll? None other than Whedon veteran Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Arrested Development), pretending to be the paranoid designer of the Dollhouse before revealing his true identity as the scalpel-wielding evil mastermind. The two-part season finale becomes a race to save a life—Caroline’s life, Echo’s old life, the person she used to be and the soul she can never be separated from… it’s all very existential. Old enemies become allies, secrets are revealed, and the delicate existence of the Dollhouse is thrown into peril! Intrigue and excitement abound!

At the end of the day, Echo saves everyone with a little help from the unlikely team of Boyd and Ballard, and we get season two, so everybody wins.

Visually, Dollhouse is jaw-droppingly beautiful. No expense was spared in constructing the set of the luxurious, feng-shui Dollhouse, and it shows. But besides the décor, the actors provide a delectable menu of eye candy. Seriously, there are an unusual number of uniquely beautiful people in this phenomenal cast. It’s almost unnatural. Whedon’s strength lies in his ensemble casts (just watch Buffy and Serenity), and despite the range of characters each actor plays, together they form a dynamic, fascinating troupe. The Dolls show extraordinary range, playing characters with not only different personalities and life stories, but vastly different nationalities, abilities, and ages. Dushku makes a surprisingly good 50-year-old society woman, and Gjokaj is breathtaking when imprinted with Dominic’s personality: an actor playing a character playing another actor playing a character. How’s that for complex?

Even the non-Doll characters give multi-layered performances. But it’s the relationships between these characters that truly drew me into the show. There’s the father-daughter relationship of trust, pride, and protection between Echo and her handler Boyd, touching for its sincerity and heart-breaking when they are separated. The budding romance of Ballard and Mellie is adorable in the crush stage, and deeply disturbing when he realizes she’s a Doll sent to spy on him. And in a truly gratifying twist, ice queen DeWitt only shows her true vulnerability to Victor’s Roger imprint, whom she engages for a secret rendezvous on her day off.

Getting renewed for a second season was never a sure thing. From day one, there was talk of Dollhouse getting cancelled. For fans of Whedon, the feeling of dread and anticipated disappointment was all too familiar, after his cult series Firefly was cancelled with only 11 of the 14 episodes aired. News of a season two in the works means fans of Dollhouse can breathe a sigh of relief, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Season one moved unusually fast for a plot of only 12 aired episodes. This might have been a sign of the show’s creators preparing for the possibility of cancellation, trying to bring closure to the show after a single season. Since so much was revealed in the first 12 episodes, we have to wonder: What’s left to tell in the Dollhouse’s story?

News of season two is still relatively recent, so there’s a lot of speculation as to what we have to look forward to. Season one left us with a few unanswered questions: Who inside the Dollhouse has been feeding Ballard information? What will happen to Victor as a Doll now that his face is scarred? Will Doctor Saunders stay with the Dollhouse now that her past has been revealed? Have we seen the last of Alpha?

Season one of Dollhouse feels like a roller coaster ride. It starts of slow and unsure of itself, then quickly picks up speed and hurtles its viewers through hairpin turns. By the end you feel breathless and a little frazzled, trying to understand what just happened in front of your eyes. The opening credits is dreamlike and creepy for its watery images and the theme song that sounds more like a lullaby. Though the repeated shots of Echo make it seem like the All Dushku All the Time Show, anyone who sticks with it past the opening will realize that Dollhouse is not just about one woman and her strange quest for identity, but about the cast as a whole, flaws and complex relationships included.

If you’re looking for a healthy dose of ass-kicking and sexual tension, Dollhouse has your prescription. If you like complex interpersonal struggles, thrilling heroics and savory intrigue, come to the Dollhouse. If you’re looking for the guy or gal of your dreams, give the Dollhouse a call. If you want to know how what happens next…wait for season two.

WORDS: 1,615

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Hiatus, Shmiatus

May 16, 2009

Shmiatus kind of looks like a real word… Anyway, so we fell off the face of the Earth because life stuff happened, college graduation, etc.  However, expect updates of the things we’ve been playing/doing geek-wise real soon.

Terry has a review of Code Geas: Lalouche of the Rebellion that’s definitely worth reading in the meantime: CHECK IT.  Anyway, thanks for listening CHIL-DREN, this is THREE DOG, WOOOOO!

…and you’re reading Not So Random Encounters.

Amanda

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The Pokemon Entree

March 14, 2009

We all know that we “gotta catch them all”, but when we take a break from the capturing and forcing those adorable creatures to fight each other (which for whatever reason seems to be the basis of the social economy of this world) we have to stop and think of something. In this land of hundreds of different Pokemon, which are the unlucky few that are used for food?

Now before anyone goes “that’s sick!” or “you’re thinking way too much about this.!” Come on now anyone who has played/watched Pokemon has thought about it. You do not see “normal” animals in any areas and  in a place where even some of the plants are sentient, figuring out what to eat I would imagine is a tough decision.  Clearly some are more “suited” for consumption over others.  You definitely  would pick the Tauros over the Geodude to eat, but there is still a line of what do you think is meant for  food?

They do acknowledge that Pokemon are used for food, If you read the pokedex entrees about Lapris and Tauros it mentions how they are endangered because they have been hunted. I also have a video clip from the cartoon that touches on the eating of Pokemon.

Clearly Prof. Oak has no qualms with eating the Pokemon despite the fact that it’s a living creature and also, what exactly is Brock’s Bacon Double Cheeseburger going to be made out of?!

Lastly I have a list I compiled of what Pokemon I think they use for food.

Squirtle?
Pidgey (Pigeon?)
Oddish (Vegetable or meat?)
Psyduck
Machop (Rock or Meat?)
BellSprout (Vegitarian or Murder?)
Tentacool (Sushi?)
Slowpoke
Farfetch’d (Premerie Food)
Doduo
Shelder
Krabby
Exeggcute
Lickitung
Golddeen
Tauros
Magikarp
Lapras (hunted to near extinction)
Dratini
Chinchou
Togepi (veal omlette)
Qwilfish
Swinub
Remoraid
Mantine
Stantler
Milktank
Treecko
Torchic
Carvanha
Barboach
Corphish
Feebas
Relicanth
Starly
Buneary
Chatot
So I ask what you guys think? How do you think they deal with the Pokemon food situation? What pokemon do you think they eat the most?

Do vegetarians have a huge moral problem with eating Bellsprouts and Oddishs?

Gotta Eat Them All!

Conor

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Dollhouse: An Early Review

March 11, 2009

I just finished watching the first four episodes of Joss Whedon’s new show, Dollhouse. It’s about the very secretive, illegal Dollhouse. The Dolls (or Actives) are young people who have volunteered to have their memories wiped so they can be imprinted with entirely new personalities for limited Engagements serving their filthy rich clientele. A Doll can be anything you want him or her to be. Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, a trouble-prone Doll. Without giving too much away, here’s what I thought:

The Pros:

– The set is gorgeous. They spared no expense building the Dollhouse, and it shows.

– The relationship between Echo and her handler, Boyd, is everything you could want and expect from Whedon character interaction. Boyd, a clever and capable ex-cop is extremely protective of Echo, and in return Echo trusts him implicitly. It’s a big brother / little sister relationship that is beautifully acted.

– The routine of Doll mind-wiping is creepy and enthralling. At the end of each Engagement, the Doll very calmly goes back to their handler, “ready for their treatment.” Not a word is spoken about how their current personality is about to come to an abrupt end. After they are wiped they say with ritual seriousness, “Did I fall asleep?” The Dolls exist in a childlike state between Engagements, perfectly innocent and clueless. Creepy.

– Eliza Dushku and Dichen Lachman (Sierra) make nice eye candy.

– Tahmoh Penikett (BSG, Smallville). I could watch this man file his income taxes and love it. He plays an FBI agent on the trail of the Dollhouse, despite the disbelief of his peers.

– A rogue Doll with murderous intent is our antagonist… or is he?

The Cons:

– The opening credits and theme song, in a word, suck. It’s a montage of Eliza Dushku doing alternately sexy and innocent things behind a blue diffuse filter to the tune of a juvenile pop song, the lyrics of which are (and I quote) “Na na na naaaa.” It takes itself too seriously, and it’s far too Dushku-centric.

– In their childlike state, the Dolls wander around their Dollhouse in yoga clothes, showering, smiling vapidly, working out, and not much else. Once you get over the initial spookiness, you just get bored and try willing them to freak out or trip down the stairs.

– The clients and Engagements so far have been almost too clever. It’s as if the writers are saying, “What weird thing can we make them do that isn’t being a high-priced prostitute?” Also, we have yet to see any of the male Dolls in action (with the notable exception of Victor, who so far has only had one repeated Engagement).

– Whedon’s strength lies in an ensemble cast. Buffy, Firefly, Serenity, Angel (by season 3) all had fantastic ensemble casts with complex relationships and humorous interaction. The very fact that the Dolls don’t have the same personality from episode to episode means that they can’t have that ensemble dynamic Whedon does so well. The few close relationships (Boyd and Echo, Agent Ballard and his neighbor) stand out because we’re starved for that kind of interaction. You can only build so much pathos for characters who are basically “talking cucumbers.”

– A rogue Doll with murderous intent is our antagonist… or is he?

The Verdict:

If you go in expecting greatness, you will be disappointed. In the lineup of sci-fi shows it is average, but it has its moments. There were times when I was genuinely entertained, and when I genuinely cared about the characters. I’m willing to give it a few more episodes while the plot gears up.

~Jess d’Arbonne

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Defending the Space Western: Firefly as Slipstream Art

March 9, 2009

Defending the Space Western:

Firefly as Slipstream Art

MAL: We’re still flying.

SIMON: That’s not much.

MAL: It’s enough.

Serenity, Part 2

When Joss Whedon’s short-lived series Firefly premiered in 2002, The Boston Globe called it “…a mess-a wonderful, imaginative mess brimming with possibility. About a dysfunctional family of space cowboys…” It may be hard to believe (for anyone who doesn’t know Whedon’s track record) that a “mess” like Firefly could explode into a dedicated fan following and inspire a major motion picture, but it has. Mixing genres and defying stereotypes was part of the mission statement of the show, and this unorthodox approach to science fiction has secured Firefly a place in the canon of slipstream art.

What is slipstream art? Basically, it’s the opposite of mainstream. It goes against the grain, challenges accepted norms, and experiments with artistic techniques. In a nutshell, slipstream art is Firefly. Since the first aired episode, anyone could recognize that there was something different about this show-and it wasn’t just that spaceships and horses were both common forms of transportation, or that every thief, whore, and homesteader spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese. Maybe it was because the characters were big damn heroes, or maybe it was because they were just too pretty to die.

The Space Western

Set in 2517, the series follows the crew of the small Firefly-class spaceship Serenity as they struggle to make a living in a solar system ruled by the bureaucratic and oppressive Alliance government. The crew, led by war veteran Captain Malcolm Reynolds, smuggles stolen goods, harbors known fugitives, evades psychotic space barbarians and officers of the law, performs Robin Hood-like acts of charity, and engages in Western-style gun fights, all before breakfast. Essentially, they’re a bunch of underdogs: They don’t always win, and they get kicked when they’re down. But at the end of the day they’re still flying, and that’s enough.

Here’s the catch: It’s a Space Western. What makes Firefly unique is that it mixes major thematic genres to create a setting that’s familiar, yet completely unlike anything we’ve seen before. The two seemingly unrelated genres (science fiction and western, as well as comedy and drama) joined together make up the overarching design of the show. Whedon explains, “…what it set out to be was a mixture of genres, a Stagecoach kind of drama with a lot of people trying to figure out their lives in a bleak and pioneer environment.” In the opening credits there’s a shot of Serenity flying over a corral of unshod horses, an image which epitomizes the show. Holograms and space travel appear side by side with lever-action shotguns and horse-drawn wagons.

In this universe, revolvers are worn low on the hip, concealed by a leather range coat; ballrooms are dominated by floating holographic chandeliers; herds of cattle are transported in the cargo holds of spaceships; and every frontier whorehouse worth its government-sanctioned Companions is covered in solar panels. This seamless mixture of genres in the show’s design and writing replaces the epic space battles, bizarre planets, and “bumpy-faced” aliens of conventional sci-fi. Firefly is a departure from the pristine, formulaic glamour of mainstream sci-fi like Star Trek. Whedon intentionally separated his creation from classic science fiction. “It was all designed to give you that feeling of ‘this is just something that’s happening and you’re there in the thick of it’, as opposed to science fiction which says, ‘Stand back, for this is a forbidden planet!‘”

And it worked. Born-again fans of sci-fi were intrigued by the show’s revamping of old stereotypes, while viewers who never considered watching a sci-fi series felt like they were watching real people with real problems… kind of like the viewers themselves. As with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon proved again that a show can have elements of the unreal and still be realistic.

The Melting Pot

Firefly wasn’t just about mixing genres. The show’s creators took inspiration from multiple cultures to create a unique aesthetic for their fictional future. The most obvious influences are Chinese and American culture, but there are also elements of Indian, Russian, Israeli, Japanese, and British cultures included. This mixture shines through in the dialog, costumes, and music. While the main characters speak in accents from the American West, there is a surprising amount of Mandarin Chinese thrown into the dialog. Dong ma?

The costumes were inspired by multiple cultures and eras, namely the American Civil War and Samurai Japan. In “Jaynestown,” Inara wears a delicate Japanese kimono-style dress while Mal wears knee-high boots, suspenders, and striped pants reminiscent of a Union cavalry officer’s uniform. The costumes of the Alliance soldiers and officials were designed to resemble Nazi uniforms, while the range coats, gun belts, and hats of the pioneer characters made them look like cowboys. In large crowd scenes there are Orthodox Jews walking next to turbaned Sikhs, and belly dancers entertaining cowboys and men who can only be described as Boba Fett lookalikes. The cultural menagerie represented by the costumes shows the foreseeable melting pot of the future: Cultures and traditions not only survive, but are borrowed from and adapted to a community.

The musical score was just as culturally varied as the costumes. Composer Greg Edmonson was inspired by traditional Chinese, Eastern European, classic orchestral, and the Appalachian folk music. Bluegrass guitar and Asian-influenced violin solos became standards of the Firefly soundtrack. The mixing of cultures was a departure from the science fiction stereotype, in which whole planets homogenize into one uniformed and groomed, almost ludicrously Western culture, represented by the overbearing yet benevolent Federation/Union/Alliance/Planetary Dominion. In Firefly the people are as visually diverse as their opinions, and the Alliance is not the good guys.

That Cheese Aspect

Because the concept of Firefly was so different from canon science fiction, Whedon didn’t want it to look as polished and refined as a normal sci-fi show. Thus was born the Cheese Aspect: a way of filming that would match the Space Western, multicultural, rough-and-tumble setting. Everything was handheld. There were purposeful lens flares, zooms, out-of-focus shots, whip pans, anything that would add to the show’s “down and dirty”, documentary-style cinematography. Tim Minear said, “Zooms are actually considered kind of cheesy, and that ‘cheese aspect’ really added to the show.” They used old camera lenses that tended to flare, lit scenes environmentally-anything to give each episode an organic texture. Rarely in mainstream television (especially sci-fi), have we seen camera operators purposely wobbling the camera, catching a lens flare, or miss-framing a shot.

But it didn’t end at the live-action scenes. The special effects in Firefly were developed to embrace the Cheese Aspect. Computer-generated shots contained re-focuses and deliberately shaky camerawork. It was as if the CG artists were trying to make mistakes. There were shots designed to look like the camera was mounted on the side of a vibrating ship’s engine, or like the camera operator was late in catching the action on a CG ship. The creative, messy cinematography matched the rustic, challenging environment in which the characters lived.

Action taking place in outer space looked bleak and dark, and lacked sound effects. This realism contrasted with classic science fiction, in which gaudy spaceships blast through the stars with loud sound effects and grandiose music. The Cheese Aspect was used to create something which was stylistically unorthodox, but which matched the tone of the series. But the real testament to Firefly‘s creative cinematography is that it was adopted by other innovative shows: the Sci Fi Channel’s award-winning series Battlestar Galactica makes use of the documentary-style Cheese Aspect throughout the show, giving the space battles that bleak, realistic look first pioneered in Firefly.

The Space Western is a mixture of genres, cultures, and themes, with cinematography as inventive as its plot. Despite trials and cancellation, Serenity is still flying because of the show’s slipstream techniques, and that might not be much, but it’s enough.

Interested in learning more about Firefly behind-the-scenes? Check out Firefly: The Official Visual Companion, or the “Here’s How It Was: The Making of Firefly” documentary. And of course, find out what happens after the TV series with the film Serenity and the Serenity graphic novels.

~Jess d’Arbonne