The End May Not Be Nigh

Community was going to be in a lose-lose situation no matter which way you look at it.

On the one hand, it could try and be the same show we’ve all fallen in love with for the past three year (though, not really – more on that in a bit). If it would try to do that, it would undoubtedly receive flak for trying to ape a stylistic approach that simply cannot be duplicated without Dan Harmon’s unique and twisted mind. The alternative, then, is to try something radically different – at which point it would be criticised for not being “Community”. For the most part, new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port chose to go with the former approach. They have received the appropriate “unreplicate-able” flak, too. Not all of it, though, deserved.

Community fans are a difficult lot, you see. I’m not talking about the casual “catch an episode when its on” crowd, but rather the obsessive, goatee wearing, six-seasons-and-a-movie hashtagging lot. They (or, rather, we) love this show. Probably too much. It doesn’t help that the show is treated as the whipping boy of network sitcoms. In its three seasons it has gone on two undefined hiatuses and been threatened with cancellation after every single. It lost its showrunner and creator in a big, dramatic kerfuffle, and there’s been lots of buzz around the Harmon-Chase feud. The show’s fans love to feel victimized (and just read the headline of any article dealing with the show) by this constant mistreatment. This also leads to a lot of doom-and-gloom attitude towards it. People are all but certain that this season will be the last. This may or may not be true. I’m inclined to believe it will be the last, but I don’t share the sentiments of dark existential dread I’ve read online.

What I’m trying to get at is – the season premiere was good. I laughed. Which, when all is said and done, is the point. Sure, the episode didn’t crack the high echelon of the best Community has to offer (namely – “Remedial Chaos Theory” and “Modern Warfare”). That is not to say that it scraped the bottom of the Greendale barrel. Naturally, with new people taking over, an adjustment period is in order. The majority of the first season wasn’t anything like the show is now. For me, personally, it was only around “Contemporary American Poultry” that everything clicked. That’s only five episodes from the end of the season. There were a few good ones before that episode, but that one showed me just how good the show can get. Unfortunately – the fourth season doesn’t have that much time to get there. We’ve only got 12 more episodes to determine the fate of the show. All the talk of change and senior year and endings in the premiere seem to indicate the folks holding the pens are well aware of this fact. Hey, we already know the last episode is called “Introduction to Finality”. So why bother? Maybe the nay-sayers are right, and the show is doomed.

I say bother. Bother very much. If anything – it means we get 12 more episodes of Community to enjoy (or not, depending on how things shake out). It could very well be that with every episode the show becomes more and more a husk of its former self, throwing out random meta and pop-culture jokes just for the sake of making them. Much more likely, however, is 13 episodes on a varied scale of entertainment value. Some better, some worse – that’s what a TV season is. And to be perfectly honest – Community at its worst (first half of season 1 notwithstanding), is still leaps and bounds better than most of the current crop of sitcoms.

As for the episode at hand – like I mentioned before, I liked it. I do think it tried to cram a bit too much into it, and had it been more focused it could have used its elements to a greater effect. By my count we had Hunger Games, Inception, general 3-camera sitcom tropes, “turn the cast into baby” cartoon (Muppet Babies being the obvious nod) and a college-hijinks movie. That’s a bit much for a 20-minute episode. I feel the element that worked best is the 3-camera sitcom angle. It touched on all the classic tropes of the genre including my personal favorite – the random, unexplained, never-mentioned recast of a main character. The fact that the supposedly always cheery sitcom turned just as dark as the real world (a theme that Scrubs also played on) is just Community doing what it does best – teaching us to accept the darkness. The Hunger Games elements were the ones I feel like could have best been served for an episode dedicated to them. There’s a lot to play with here, and I feel the show could have done a lot more with it. As it stands, it was pretty much background element and it didn’t really land as well as it should have. The tango scene was golden (mostly thanks to Jim Rash), but didn’t really feel earned as it would have been after a whole episode more dedicated to Jeff’s lack of emotional commitment. The Annie-Shirley plot line is the one I believe hurts the episode the most. It mostly covers ground we’ve already covered in two way. First – the college antics plot was done way back in season 1, with Abed & Troy’s “college experience bucket list”. Secondly, Annie has issues letting go and being loose, we know. This didn’t really further anything on that count and the plot didn’t really resolve anywhere. It just sort of ended.

All said and done with, I look forward to this season. Hopefully, with experience and time, the show will hit its groove sooner rather than later. Sure, the harbingers have called for the show’s premature death. They have gazed upon the premiere and pointed their thumbs downwards. But I have faith. Or maybe I just like liking things.

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The Wrong Alice

Through the Looking Glass? Not Quite.

I love it when a movie reviews itself.

Throughout the vast majority of its first three quarters (or possibly even longer), Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland tells you exactly what’s wrong with it. Characters constantly referr to relative unknown Mia Wasikowska as “the wrong Alice”, which is true in more ways than one.

I’ll start right off and get the hyperbole out of the way. Alice in Wonderland is my favorite book; its sequel Through the Looking Glass (which more often than not is bunched together with the original in various film/TV adaptations) is also pretty high up on my list. So, needless to say, my expectations were high. Especially considering the people involved. So when I first heard Burton and crew were not doing a direct adaptation of the novel, but rather a “several years later, Alice returns” sort of story, first pangs of disappointment started creeping through.

Honestly, I don’t get it. It’s been almost 60 years since the Disney Alice, and 11 years since the Hallmark adaptation (the last “loyal” version I can recall). Why are people obsessed with the “Alice returns” storyline? Both Tim Burton’s movie and the recent SyFy channel’s attempt have told this storyline, as well as American McGee’s video game retelling (which is getting a sequel… soonish) and the Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series of novels. While McGee’s re-imagining of the Alice universe is an exception, the other two fall short of the real deal. I can’t say I’m having problems picturing why. Lewis Carroll’s original story was published over 150 years ago, and it is still one of the most beloved children’s novels to have come out. Why constantly try and break it? Why not put the technology and money to use, recreating a faithful Alice for the 21st century?

There is another problem inherent in writing an original story set in the Alice universe. There are the Alice fanatics (such as myself) who will want all sorts of little references and hints that show that while this is a different story, this is still the Alice world we all know and love. There is also the matter of billing the movie as Alice in Wonderland and not Random Girl in a Weird-as-Shit Place. So the director (or author or whoever) is obligated to put in all these winks and nods to the original, most of which are shoe-horned in and feel forced. So in Tim Burton’s latest you have the Dodo or the talking flowers which show up just for the sake of showing up. TweedleDee and TweedleDum are also a walking, talking plot device, meant to inspire “hey cool, it’s TweedleDee and TweedleDum” thoughts, but really, their part could have been done by anyone.

The other thing relating to the original Alice and an original story in the world of Wonderland is the language. Carroll was clever, damned clever. This movie in no way recreates the witty feel of the original. Occasionally you’ll have character spouting off lines from the original, but they lack context and the delivery is lacking. Depp’s recitation of “Jabberwocky” (one of my all time favorite poems) as a creepy, ominous prophecy just doesn’t work. As well as the myriad of other times bits and pieces of the original’s dialogue make it into the film (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bat” and the whole “Queen of Heart’s Tarts” fiasco are special offenders).

So, that is one way in which Tim Burton gets “the wrong Alice”. An original tale, however, can be good (as proven by American McGee’s rendition). However, the entire movie falls apart if your Alice is, well, wrong. Mia Wasikowska is most definitely wrong. Her acting is truly horrible, and I don’t think I spotted a single moment in the movie when she conveyed a single emotion. It’s frustrating, as most of the rest of cast are quite good, in the limited capacity they are offered. Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic as the Queen of Hearts Red Queen (honestly, what’s up with that?), Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter had a couple of great little quirks to it that made the character unique to any other portrayals I’ve seen. Additionally, unlike the latest Burton/Depp/Carter travesty – Sweeny Todd, Depp did something unique to this character. I found his Sweeny Todd to be very much a recycling of Jack Sparrow/Willy Wonka, so I was pleased that he brought something new to the Hatter.

My absolute favorite was Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat, who brought something truly special to the character. The cat is often overlooked in Alice, but it really is the character that ties the book together, and Alice’s guide in Wonderland the first time she visits. It’s nice to see Fry give the cat (for some reason, all the characters were given names, but I don’t think anyone really remembers them) both its wild, crazy, mischievous qualities, as well as its more caring and considerate side. All this with only the use of his voice. I really expected to like Alan Rickman’s caterpillar because, let’s face it, it’s the Metatron, but it really wasn’t all that special. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly good, either. It was a standard “wise sage who throws out cryptic shit that turns out to have been the right answer all along” routine. And by-gods if I have to sit through the “caterpillar turns into a butterfly” schtick again, I’m going to throw something at the screen. It’s getting old people, and it’s no longer clever.

Lastly, I saw the movie in 3D, despite my desire. I tried looking for a non-3D version, but there are only two places in the entire country showing the non-3D variety, and those would have been filled with little kids. I honestly don’t see any reason for this movie to be in 3D, as there was utterly nothing unique or special about it added by the 3D. There is this recent trend to stick 3D to any movie that’s coming out, and I really wish it would stop. Those glasses are uncomfortable (especially considering I already wear glasses) and it makes the ticket price higher. I don’t want to sound like a miser, but I’m on a student-budget, I can only afford to go see a movie when it’s a special movie I’ve been looking forward too, so having the ticket cost nearly twice as much, sure isn’t helping.

So, to sum things up, I was not impressed with this lates Alice in Wonderland. I liked the visual design of the movie, Burton always has that going for him, but I would have rather seen this design used for a real Alice movie, rather than some excuse to put all these characters together.

And it’s because Poe wrote on both, Hatter. Because Poe wrote on both.

Did I Fall Asleep? For a Little While…

Dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, TINK

The irony, I must say, is delicious.

Little did Joss Whedon know that his little catchphrase will become such an apt description for his latest breakaway hit/flaming wreckage of a show. But Dollhouse can be perfectly described using that little snippet of clever dialogue. The show, which aired its final episode last week, had a bumpy, uneven, harrowing ride through the world of broadcast television suffering threats of cancelation, actual cancelation, resurrection and a final cancelation once more.

I first heard of Dollhouse, back when its inception was first announced, as any other Whedonite would. By stalking Whedon with a telephoto lens reading about on a website. We all know the story, two old friends have lunch, catch up, one gets up to take a leak, thinks of a brilliant show starring the other while answering nature’s call. The rest, is history.

This is where Magic happens

The concept, and this is something I still believe, is brilliant. People wiped of their personalities, for whatever reason, are imprinted with fake yet full personalities complete with abilities as custom made to order what-have-yous. The show was set to explore what makes us us, the true meaning of “personality” and “identity” in a way Buffy could only scratch. Does a person who is a different guy (or girl) every week truly have a self? What happens when the different personalities start clashing (as glitches in the system are the bread and butter of sci-fi tech-oriented shows like this one was shaping up to be). What about the morality of imprinting these living dolls? Is it wrong to people? How would this affect the people in charge? The people being imprinted themselves?

This, too, is a TV actor’s dream come true. I am not a TV actor, but I’m sure playing the same part for several years can get tedious and boring – David Tennant left Doctor Who for these reasons, as did countless others before him. This part, however, lets you be someone else every week. You get to shift things around, you get to completely showcase your range. Unless, of course…

Ahem...

… You have the range of a ferret.

Look, I’m not here to bash Eliza Dushku. I’m really not, I like her and Faith was awesome. But the honest truth is, she has no range. She does one thing. She does it well, but she only does one thing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Others have made a career out of doing one thing well. The bottom line is – this part was too big for her. The whole point of the Dolls in the Dollhouse was that you become someone else every week. What we were treating to week in and week out is a “someone else” who’s really an ass-kicking bad girl. Sure it may be an ass-kicking bad girl Lawyer, or School Girl or Scuba Instructor, but the bottom line, it was the same character in a different outfit. We basically got Faith/Tru/That chick from Bring It On again.

What makes this so incredibly frustrating is that each and every other actor on the show was good. Especially the other dolls. Take any one of them and put them in the starring role, and this would have been a show worth tuning into. Each one of these actors has proven themselves on more than one occasion that they are capable of shifting personalities, of doing exactly what it is that the show’s concept dictates. This shows, as the show’s best episode were the ones with minimal to no appearances by Eliza Dushku, and you can clearly see that towards the end it wasn’t really about her anymore.

All in all, Dollhouse was a brilliant concept. We got to see that throughout the show, in snippets in between the more mundane “engagement of the week” episodes. The last several episodes, once the show had already been canceled, showed you exactly what kind of toys Whedon had to play around with, and I, for one, would have loved seeing each of these get its due time and space, rather than the rapid-fire burst we got to see them in. Dollhouse will forever be remembered as just that – a fantastic concept that suffered a horrible execution due to a main actress that simply could not hold the show together. It’s a shame, but live and learn I guess.

So long, Dollhouse. I will say you will be missed, but that’s not really the case, is it. Here’s hoping the remake in 25 years will be better.

Vacationing in Liberty City…

The greatest game ever?

It’s been the most hyped game to ever have been released. It received top scores from pretty much everyone. It broke three Guinness world records! GTA IV could only be described as with one word – phenomenon. So does it live up to the hype? Is Grand Theft Auto IV the best game ever?

I find myself agreeing with the masses, to a degree. GTA IV is, in fact, a great game. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it the best game ever made, but it’s definitely up there with Starcraft and Final Fantasy VII in the best of the best categories.

The most amazing thing about the game is its scope. The game is huge. Liberty City is one of the greatest cities to ever be featured in a GTA game. While it does not cover as much area as San Andreas, the space in Liberty City is much more condensed, and the city lives and breathes. Gone are the same models used over and over, Liberty City has a citizenship that does not make you feel like you’re living in a Cylon city, with hundreds of copies of the same people. Each building, each street corner has its own unique and distinct feel. You eventually begin to familiarize yourself with the area, much like you would in a real city.

Liberty City also has a lot to keep you occupied (while you’re not executing people or going on shotgun rampages). Full length TV shows, hours of radio, even complete Stand-Up comedy shows by Kat Williams and Ricky Gervaise (the stand-up really is funny). You could call a buddy and go drinking, eating, play pool, darts or bowling, you can even catch a cabaret, if that strikes your fancy.

Since I brought it up, one of the coolest new features in GTA IV, and a feature I predict many games will begin to mimic in one way or another, is the cell phone. Pretty much all social interaction is done through the cell phone. You can call your mission contacts, receive text messages from your girlfriend, and call up your buddy to spend a night out on the town. All these are done through your cell. But that’s not all – multiplayer access is also done through the phone, it’s easy and comfortable. You just hit a button, and within seconds you’re racing with a friend through the streets of Liberty City.

But all this would be worth diddly-squat, if it weren’t for engaging characters. And no GTA character is more engaging than Niko Belic. Niko comes off as a genuine person, with thoughts (and deep ones at that) and a personality. He reacts to the things that happen to him with a genuine humanity. The conversations he has with the people around him range for the silly to the profound, but theres always a truthfulness to them. It is Niko who makes GTA IV the stand-out game that is. Never has a character stood out this much in a game of this type, and the bar has been raised in the field of character development. Complimented by terrific voice acting, GTA IV is the most engaging character-game to be found. It rivals Final Fantasy VII in its unique and terrific characters.

In conclusion, GTA IV really is a terrific, terrific game. More companies should pay close to attention to what Rockstar are doing, because this, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make games.

5-Second Reviews

Alright, 5-Second Reviews is something I’d like to try here, I’ll take my entire stack of comics I got this week, and give (very) short, concise reviews. Something that’ll take you about 5 seconds to read through. Onto this week’s batch, Enjoy:

  • New Warriors #5 – Great cartoony art, cast hasn’t been formally introduced, so it’s hard to follow.
  • Runaways #28 – Whedon’s having fun creating cooky characters. Ryan’s art is gorgeous.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer #7 – Vaughn channel’s Whedon very well, Faith kicks ass, and the story is not going where I thought it would.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #24 – The story moves forward (as opposed to last issue) but ends on a note that could prove to be either fantastic or horrible.
  • Marvel Comics Presents #1 – Five stories running the entire gamut – funny, strange, heart-warming and one that’s just boring. Stuart Immonen’s art rocks the casbah!
  • Uncanny X-Men #491 – This entire arc seemed like an awfully long winded way of getting where we are. Bring on Messiah Complex!
  • Punisher War Journal #12 – A great tie-in to a not-so-great event. The series is in dire need of a new artist (luckily, one is coming in the next arc!).
  • Green Lantern #24 – The best book DC currently published. The war reaches earth, and earth’s Green Lantern in a decisive battle against Parallax!
  • New Avengers #35 – Bendis at his best! Despite the (very) misleading cover, a solid read, and one of the best New Avengers issues in a long time.

That’s it for this week. Hope you’re better educated now. Laters.