Show Stoppers

Joy to the world! No, this is not a Christmas post. I’m happy because a cult classic show is being resurrected after twenty some-odd years. It was recently announced that David Lynch’s “masterpiece” Twin Peaks will be coming back for another season in 2015. While I haven’t seen a single episode I am happy for those fans who were devoted to the ill-fated gem that was cancelled right at a critical apex in the story arc. No spoiler here, I just know that what turned out to be the last episode of the series was certainly not designed to be that way. Lynch and his crew definitely had future plans that resulted in one of the most frustrating cliffhangers known in TV history.

And that’s what got me thinking. I HATE when shows get cancelled on a cliffhanger.  I can’t relate to Twin Peaks per se, but there was a show I absolutely adored on BBC called Coppers. It was set in post-Civil War era New York and showcased the lives of Irish immigrants. I probably didn’t really sell it in that description, but trust me, it was a great show. By all accounts, it should’ve stayed on the air. It had great ratings and a huge fan base, but BBC pulled the plug on it unexpectedly. Why? Money. It always comes down to money. The show got too expensive to maintain so they cancelled it and decided to run with Orphan Black instead. I guess I sort of understand. TV is a business like any other and networks need to pull in profits. But still, Coppers ended on this truly amazing cliffhanger and now I’m left with this sinking feeling in my stomach because I know that I’ll never, ever find out what happened. It will forever be an unresolved issue and that’s pretty awful.

In a perfect world television station bigwigs should go to a show’s producers/creators/brainchild and say, “Hey, we’re going to give you the ax, but you get [insert number] more episodes to wrap everything up before you’re off the air.” Wouldn’t that be great if shows always had the chance to tie up the loose ends as they take their final bow? Again, that’s a perfect world and unfortunately we don’t live in one.

Canning a show out of the blue is sort of like firing someone in an office. They have 30 minutes to put their stuff in a box and get escorted out by security. Quick, precise, and sleek so no one else around is too heavily affected. It’s not like they have the rest of the day to go around cubicle to cubicle shaking hands and wishing everyone well, so I know I shouldn’t expect TV shows to be given so much slack.

Still…it would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Heroes for Humanity

I love my superheroes. Batman, Superman, X-Men (past, current, and future classes), Deadpool (okay, well maybe he’s more of an anti-hero), and pretty much the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. I geek out over these characters on a regular basis and take my appreciation of them pretty seriously. Which is why when I stumbled across the article “Superheroes Don’t Exist to Solve Problems, They Exist to Punch Bad Guys” (link here…although I am slightly against sending more internet traffic to this guy’s site) I felt like it was a personal attack on what I look at in my life as positive allegories on ways in which we should all strive to make the world better (did I mention I was a geek?).

The superheroes of popular film have little in common with the heroes of the real world.” This, shockingly enough, is the very first line of the article. Already I get a sense that the author has trouble understanding the definition of fiction as well as entertainment; how both of those mediums can be combined to mirror our reality without being bound by the same rules.

He continues by writing, “The archetypal superhero is a hands-on vigilante clad in form-fitting Lycra. Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and The Flash all assert their heroism by busting small-time street criminals and delivering violent sermons on the importance of law and order.”

I really am at a loss for where to begin because I am getting a sense that this person doesn’t actually read any comics or even do as little work as to sit through any of the various two-hour movies out there before writing his article.

One viewing of the last Captain America movie The Winter Soldier would dispel his assertion. Yes, Captain America runs around with a shield and has a star on his chest, but his goal is not to put thugs in the hospital. He’s been disillusioned by his own government (one that up until now he has held in high regard) and is seeking a way to ensure that the privacy of the public is protected lest the country slip into a culture of distrust from illegal phone taps and email tampering. Sound familiar at all? On his quest to make sure millions of lives are saved from an international security agency cloaking their ascension to monarchy by weeding out the weaker links, Captain A runs into some resistance and has to take them out. Heaven forbid he has to get into a few fights. It’s more than clear he’s not some brute looking to get his jollies off by punching some noses. If there’s one thing Captain America stands for, it’s the “people” of the world.  He’s out to make a difference and to see that good wins over evil whether evil happens to be a man with a red skull for a face or his own national government.

Then there’s this: “Batman’s stated goal is to rid Gotham City of crime, but he rarely undertakes the actions that can tackle the causes rather than the effects of criminality. Bruce Wayne could use his lofty social standing to lobby for more education funding, tighter gun control, and a social safety net that would prevent young people from resorting to a life of crime. His wealth could be used to support drug clinics and foster prisoner rehabilitation programs to reduce recidivism. Instead, he puts on a black mask and a husky voice and goes to pound hapless street thugs in the night.”

First off, Bruce Wayne does use his lofty social standing to lobby for positive community initiatives (it’s a big thing in the comics actually). Sorry the comics don’t focus solely on that, but we’re looking for flights of fantasy and 22 pages about a new rec center breaking ground isn’t as thrilling as a car chase with The Penguin. It’s not that Bruce Wayne doesn’t do anything for the community; it’s just not the main focus because it’d make for quite a boring comic.

Stark Industries consistently works towards harnessing clean and renewable energy sources among other things. Superman/Clark Kent works at a damn newspaper so the public won’t be left in the dark on what their leaders are doing. Pretty much every superhero out there has a back story that is rich in these types of offerings, whether it’s a protective type of job (such as military), or a teacher helping young people, or a scientist who strives to help mankind or a philanthropist who strives to help everyone.

I could keep railing on and on trying to disprove every point the author made in his poorly researched attempt at trolling the “superhero fad” but this blog would end up being a book with how many examples exist out there.

The point is there’s more to every superhero than their power. It’s their conscience that drives them, not their ability to crush their enemy. In the end they do exactly what we do…they try to make a difference in the world around them using all of the tools at their disposal. Labeling them simply “pugilists” is a vast, vast underestimation. And it certainly does the writers of the stories a grave injustice.

How to Survive a Haunted House — Revisited

So in time for Halloween, I thought I would re-run an entry from January 26, 2014 that hopefully will save everyone a lot of heartache should they ever find themselves living with a less than friendly spirit.  You’re welcome. 

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Everybody already knows, and I am not ashamed to admit, that I love horror movies. Always have and always will.  The only other film genre that has a chance at being my #1 is this new (and much appreciated) wave of comic book inspired extravaganzas that have been inundating the screens for the past decade or so.  While I have a deep passion for horror movies it’s been quite a while since I’ve been truly creeped out by one. Outside of the original The Exorcist I honestly can’t recall a film that has sent that delicious chill up my spine, made my heart race, or gotten the hairs on my arms to stand on end.

Instead of true thrills and chills, it seems like the horror movies nowadays depend solely on what I call the “surprise factor” to scare their audiences.  As in, something suddenly jumps into or out of the scene or a door slams or a piece of furniture falls over with a loud bang. To me that’s a cheap scare. I much prefer the slow creepy build-up and truly “scary” maneuvers of the masters of horror.

I’m not complaining because I still do find the latest movies entertaining in their own right, just never truly hitting the mark as far as making me have to sleep with the lights on.  What does tend to happen though is that instead of getting goose bumps I end up shaking my head at the rampant stupidity that many of the main characters always seem to exhibit. Paranormal Activity is a perfect example of moronicness (yes, I’m aware that is not a real word) gone awry.

(Side note: I do understand that the creators of these movies have to put the characters in certain situations to make the action move forward and sometimes not acting like an idiot would be boring, but please allow me to remain on my soapbox a little bit longer.)

So, Paranormal Activity. Decent movie, a little dated I know, but I liked it – I just don’t get the logic behind it. If you think ghosts are hunkered down in your spot, why the hell would you go around the house trying to piss them off? It makes no sense. I can barely get a mouse to leave my kitchen. What chance does someone have of driving away a spirit from another dimension? Most people are terrified at the idea of living in a haunted house (a big reason why these movies are so successful, it’s a universal feeling), but think about it; as long as you just did your normal stuff, make breakfast, tidy up, mow the lawn, you’d probably be alright. Think of the ghost as a roommate. You might not like him or her, but suck it up.

I fully understand the natural instinct to guard your space. If I moved into a new place and found out it was haunted, I probably wouldn’t just shrug my shoulders and tell myself that these things just sort of happen sometimes.  I’d freak out some.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d have a ball.  But in a freaked out sort of way.  It’s totally justifiable to have a meltdown upon learning the news you’ve been duped into a haunted abode…at least for a little while.  Sure, you could take the righteous indignation attitude, as you would with any intruder, and stomp around with a baseball bat, yelling insults at Mr. or Mrs. Ghost to get them to show themselves.  Although seriously….WHY would you want them to show themselves!? I mean think about it!  That never ends well.  So just know that if and when this happens, chances are the ghost is going to be slightly upset at such disrespect and retaliation is to be expected.  In fact, what other reaction would you really expect to achieve?

I don’t have much face-to-face experience with an angry ghost but I can only assume whatever it has in mind to do, it’s going to be something I’m clearly and gloriously unprepared to handle. Which is what I want the characters in these movies to consider when they’re throwing their “show yourself” tantrums. It might be better just to let the ghost win right off the bat.  Let them have the house.  But if you do decide to stick around and share the place with Casper or say….a demon from Hell, just don’t take any tips from the Paranormal Activity’s resident genius Micah. The rule is simple: Don’t piss off the ghost. If you do, well, have fun in in the afterlife.

Spoiler Alerts

I’ll try to keep this post as spoiler free as possible, but it’s going to be tricky because that’s pretty much all I want to talk about. What exactly? TV show finales (and t.v. shows in general).

(If you don’t want the endings to How I Met Your Mother and Dexter ruined you should stop reading the post now. Fair warning.)

Is it just me or do the finales of some of the best shows, shows with nice, solid track records of quality writing tend to be duds? It sure seems that way to me. One could easily reply that perhaps my standards are too high and no ending these producers come up with could ever somehow make up for the terrible knowledge that I will no longer be whisked away to the fictional world to visit for a brief time with my fictional friends.

Well, I think that’s bullshit. They’ve just been sucking, plain and simple.

Take How I Met Your Mother as a prime example of one way not to do it. Terrible, terrible, terrible ending. Did I mention it was terrible? Oh, and I wasn’t the only one booing the screen when the credits rolled. Apparently a lot of devout viewers were less than thrilled, especially over the divorce of Barney and Robin. The fact that Barney had spent an entire season learning he could love another person apparently meant nothing.  After the backlash, the writers shrugged their shoulders and said hey, sometimes in real life people break up, there aren’t always happy endings in “real life.” Maybe the womanizer Barney wasn’t able to commit because deep down, that’s just who he was …a womanizer. Blah blah blah.

Well, no duh, Einstein. We’re all well aware that couples break up all the freakin’ time. We know there aren’t always happy endings in “real life” because we live it. I think I speak for us all when I say, we’re hit in the face every day with the realization that sometimes life sucks. It’s an inescapable truth. I mean, hell we can open up our respective windows and watch it all day long all around us, if not have it going on in our own homes.

Do you really think we want the suckiness of life to play out on our favorite shows!? The very shows we watch to escape said suckiness of life?  No. We want the happy endings damn it! At least I do. I want to temporarily forget the unsavory parts of life and get away from the suckiness for just a little while. That’s the whole point of escaping to a fictional world. From the outpouring of HIMYM fans, obviously I’m not the only one. And these producers seemed shocked that people were disappointed in the writing of their finale. Hmmm.

And what about Dexter? Yeah, sure he was a serial killer, but come on…he performed a civic duty that should’ve won awards. His fans loved him. Underneath it all, he was a good guy. I know that’s twisted, but it was true. He was never caught doing any of his serial killer-y things and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief each time. He spent 8 seasons evolving from a person who could not feel emotions into a man who wanted a family (and indeed had one within his grasp). The writers led Dexter’s followers on a roller coaster ride of thrills and through it all, Dexter remained true to his “code,” until finally it seemed as though Dexter would finally have everything he had ever dreamed of – life as a lumberjack. Yep. According to Dexter writers, that’s apparently what passes as an acceptable ending for a historically top-notch show. Shhhh.  Don’t even get me started. Okay…breathe…

Entertainment is supposed to allow us to step into a fantasy world where, depending on what you watch, things can be better than in real life. The womanizer can be reformed. The marriage can last. The killer will be caught (or not, as in the case with Dexter). The child will be rescued. The mother doesn’t die. The earth won’t blow up (although I still feel sorry for Marvin the Martian’s lack of an Earth-shattering kaboom).

TV is like a multi-purpose drug. We figure out what kind of high (or low) we want and adjust our dosage accordingly. If we want to be excited there are crime dramas and political espionage series. If we want to swoon a little, love stories are sure to be found. If we want to be goofy, comedy cures. It’s a sliding scale. I don’t want to speak for you, but I personally know that I am not interested in watching a version of my life on the small screen that simply mirrors the crappiness I just ran indoors to get away from.

When are writers going to get this? I should make my own series to show them how it’s done. In mine, the couple we’re all rooting for stays together. The “good guy” serial killer gets his family. Everyone lives happily ever after. Thank you for at least making sure Ross and Rachel happened. If that didn’t work out I would’ve been pissed.

Bad Guys?

Marvel Studios has been getting it right lately. I don’t know if you’re following this expanding and intricate universe they’ve been creating in phases over the years (including Iron Man 1/2/3, Captain America 1 & 2, Thor 1 &2, Avengers, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) but the quality and care that has gone into the franchise has been great — not just for other superhero movies to take note of and try to emulate so we, as an audience, get better crafted stories, but they’re at such a high-caliber that even non-superhero movies could possibly learn a thing or two as well.

For instance, the creation of a believable villain. I’ve said in the past that I fawn over the villains that have a twisted view of reality that was a slow evolution of injustices and misfortunes that accumulated over the course of their life. I hate the villains that just do evil because they want to be bad. That makes no sense. I don’t believe anyone wakes up thinking “Gosh, I would love to be a horrible person and do things that are terrible to others.” Maybe there are some people like that, but in movies I just can’t buy into it. It’s infinitely better when the backstory of the villain is laid out so you can see how they got to the murderous path they set upon.

The Thor films have done it exceptionally well with Loki. While I obviously don’t condone anything he does in that movie (cough, cough),  I can understand why he might think what he’s doing is right. That’s the important ingredient: the empathy. Marvel Studios has done it again with the latest Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier.

Sidenote: If you have not seen the movie yet, stop reading. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

The “bad guy” that Cap, Black Widow, and their team has to take down seems amazingly sinister in the beginning. Just a brutal force with no stop button on the terror he wreaks. No small talk, no petting a white cat as he demands money from the UN via Skype from his secret lair, no MWAHAHAHA laughing, no grandstanding. He just destroys things, silently and quickly. Pretty standard badass stuff. And also pretty forgettable. But as the movie unfolds and his backstory is slowly revealed, the character gets depth and intrigue and you start to see how he got to be this unstoppable storm of homicidal rage. He was given a chance to be empathized with as we saw how his tormentors brainwashed away his humanity and turned him into a dehumanized zombie. It was just awful to watch (in a good way). I felt so bad for him. Yes, the villain. I felt so bad for what he had to go through. And once again I find myself on the side of the “bad guy.”

That’s the type of villain I think movies (or stories in general) should always aspire to. A story that can be viewed from all sides, rather than just the lens of the hero, makes a much more compelling plot and really engages me as a fan. Bravo, Marvel! Your ability to make the villain “not so bad” has been getting stronger as time goes on. It’s getting harder and harder to really hate the villain anymore since they’re not all born with black hearts. They’ve just had some horrible experiences that really messed up their heads and I’m glad the movie studio is taking the time to put that much thought into the “bad guys” now.

captain america