Monday, June 5, 2017

"Wonder Woman" movie review

Love trumps war. That is the gist of the phenomenal movie that is “Wonder Woman”. And it makes total sense for the ultimate female badass superhero and proto-feminist to be as considerate, nurturing, and loving as she is strong.

The film did plenty of things right – first and foremost is putting Patty Jenkins behind the camera. As a fan of “The Killing” (and if you know that show, you’d know, too), Ms. Jenkins does well when it comes to atmosphere/mood and character studies. And the fact that the film is an origin story makes this the ultimate character study and makes Ms. Jenkins perfect for it. That she was able to execute the film’s fight scenes with heart as well as tension is just the cherry on top. There was no “male gaze” to distract audiences from Diana Prince’s story. And her vision for Themyscira, its Amazon warriors, and its ultimate “god-killing” weapon was something out of every woman’s fever dream. I applaud her for sticking the landing.

Another thing they got right was the casting. Everything has been said about Gal Gadot. What a star. To say she’s the perfect embodiment of Diana Prince is highest praise, one that I share. (Apologies to Lynda Carter, whom I also adore!) I need to give Zack Snyder props for this decision as he was then casting for BvsS. He was not wrong. Ms. Gadot had the right mix of strength and sweetness and vulnerability. She radiates idealism and optimism – a true north superhero modeled after Christopher Reeve’s Superman (still the benchmark, in my opinion). To watch her innocently check herself out wearing glasses in the department store mirror was so subtle and yet that powerfully understated beauty was still not lost on Steve Trevor, nor the audience.

Speaking of Steve Trevor, the producers certainly struck a goldmine in Chris Pine. I need to pause here for a confession: I love Chris Pine. Out of the all the Chrises, he’s the only one I would put at the top of my list (though he’d be neck-and-neck with Evans). Chris Pine is kind of like a Renaissance guy: he can do drama, comedy, action movies, and he can SING. He can be the baddie or the hero. He’s got really nice eyes - though admittedly, that’s all secondary from the fact that this guy has got talent AND brains (he’s a UC Berkeley alum). He’s loved by women, men, and geeks everywhere.

Now that I got that out of the way, I need to talk about the chemistry that he has with Ms. Gadot. THESE. TWO. HAVE. CHEMISTRY. TO. BURN. And oh, does it sizzle and burn, with terrifically comic back-and-forths. And it’s not just about romantic chemistry. They are allies, first and foremost, in their mission to stop the war. Diana may always be one step ahead of him, but Steve is right there on her heels, with a rifle (and a really horrendous German accent). For all of Diana’s “men are weak when it comes to pleasure”, she certainly has done a 180 after having been in Steve’s company for a while.

Because, and this is also where Ms. Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg got it right, Steve is pretty awesome himself. His character is amazingly fleshed out – and it’s not even his origin story! For once, out of all the superhero films made in this century, the love interest and sidekick is believable in his motivations, is sufficiently empathetic to root for, and is hella funny and charming beyond measure. His monologue towards the end is infused with righteous desperation, and makes you BELIEVE. And Diana did believe, even if, for one moment, I had an incredulous look on my face when I realized what was happening at the end. And Chris Pine sold it. From the moment Steve’s father’s watch makes another appearance, he SOLD IT.

And Ms. Gadot, with her wonderful breathy accent, luminously poised and regal in her indignation and POWER, vanquishes the enemy. She is revealed as the weapon all along, a compelling force of nature and authority.

All the supporting players are fantastic. It’s pretty obvious Ms. Jenkins had enough love for everybody. Trevor’s three-man support group was both diverse and interesting (with enough pathos and hilarity to match Steve and Diana’s witticisms). They each had something to teach Diana about humanity (from Native American genocide, to frustrated ambitions, and the nightmares of war). To be playing third fiddle and yet still have as much impact on the hero this way is something else. Sky-high kudos indeed for Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Heinberg and for the actors themselves (loved seeing Ewan Bremner here – hello, Spud!).

The actual introduction of Diana into battle – also called the “No Man’s Land” sequence – is downright revelatory and inspiring. The fact that some scenes had played themselves repeatedly on movie trailers and Youtube does not diminish its impact on the big screen at all. To see the scene as a whole is mesmerizing, and nearly made me want to jump up and applaud. Oh does it build up so, with the men on her heels (again). When Trevor says “no man is allowed to cross” over to the trenches, that doesn’t stop Diana. And she truly doesn’t stop, as she moves on to liberate the village on the other side, flushing out the enemy, and finally subduing them with one swift leap to a crumbling church steeple. (The latter with a little help from Trevor’s memory from his short time on Themyscira.) Ms. Gadot’s action scenes in this setpiece were truly amazing. Behind-the-scenes footage show her being led shot-for-shot by stunt director/coordinator, Damon Caro, another guy who deserves a ton of applause. He gives Ms. Gadot her angles, the leverage, and warrior swoop she needs to overpower all these Germans.
The animation at the beginning that tells the story of Zeus and the gods, and the birth of the Amazons, was glorious as well. Ms. Jenkins and cinematographer, Matthew Jensen, made good on their promise to deliver what looks to be a John Singer Sargent painting – infusing the rest of the film (particularly the London/Belgium half) with the same look. For all the pomp and hype surrounding this film, there’s so much about it that makes it stand on its own as a DCEU entrant. Snyder and Company would do well to follow those things that make “Wonder Woman” unique, compelling, and successful. (JLA will be a tough second act, for sure.) I can’t wait to see what Ms. Jenkins does with the sequel. (Geoff Johns better not screw this up!)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was so overwhelmed by the iconic imagery and female badassery being played out on screen. So overwhelmed, that yes, I cried. Themyscira was the ideal stuff – loved seeing Robin Wright lead a horseback charge on the beach, and the resulting balletic Amazonian fighting style. And the “No Man’s Land” sequence was all sorts of amazing. And, finally, that last closeup shot of Capt. Trevor – a mix of emotions on his face, with relief being the last one, was… something else. No spoilers here. Just a lot of love for this film. (All I’ll say is Chris Pine’s contract was for 3 films, and he’s appeared in 2 of them already.)

No other superhero has defeated villainy or war with love before. It took a woman to do that, of course.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Film Review: "Whiplash"

Rare is that film with a definitive soundtrack in its most literal sense. The music on “Whiplash” tracks the film’s cinematic highs and lows, and it is key to manipulating the audience’s pulse, towards that applause at the end once the film’s greatness descends upon their consciousness. The movie ended on such an extremely high, WTF note that you can’t help but lay back on your seat and breathe out “that was so gooood”. And that’s exactly what it was. Kudos to wunderkid Damien Chazelle for writing and directing such a smart, wildly engaging movie that was at times slightly unnerving.

The movie opens on Andrew, played superbly by Miles Teller, practicing on his drum kit. When in walks music professor, Fletcher. The venerable character actor, JK Simmons plays the borderline-“abusive” (perspective shifts in this movie, so will mine) professor with a fearless intensity. They begin a strange back-and-forth akin to a mating ritual of sorts – if you like your significant other to be rude, profane, and incredibly overbearing. The film progresses into an eventual unraveling by both men, and that progression is both riveting and alarming. Both actors throw themselves into their roles, with Teller literally attacking a drum kit, and Simmons displaying an acting masterclass in both severity and subtlety. Teller’s Andrew literally transforms from shy, unsure freshman jazz drummer into an obstinate and entitled prick of a teenager. Both characters are unlikeable yet unassailable – both traits that the audience (myself definitely included) has somehow latched on to in the face of a gripping script, and thus turned them into a duo worth rooting for.

Despite the director’s admission that some aspects of the film have been “heightened” for drama, the well-grounded screenplay coupled with the fervent commitment displayed by the actors to their roles have given the film an air of credibility. Of course music artistes are fierce and competitive and eventual loners in a universe where success is measured by acclaim and perfection. And of course music teachers, like any other reputable coach or mentor, can dish out tough love on par with a drill sergeant. The belief that genius can somehow be earned is something that resonates with the Joe/Jane Everyman who is sitting in the theater and watching this movie.

The film's peak takes place in Carnegie Hall for a JVC concert. Fletcher intentionally mindfucks Andrew to the point of the latter crashing and burning in front of the eyes of a high-profile and discerning audience. And then, after walking offstage into the arms of his beleaguered father (played with both a tender and stern hand by Paul Reiser), Andrew returns to his stool and proceeds to play “Caravan” – that piece that launched his obsession for that elusive double-time swing and launched the dysfunctional relationship he currently shares with Fletcher. Then there’s this wonderful moment where he is a student no longer, and instead morphs into a bandleader as his father watches wide-eyed from the wings and Fletcher’s rage simmers underneath the stage lights. He tells the bass player “I’ll cue you in”. And he does. And the rest of the band follows suit, avoiding disgrace and saving face. And Andrew most beautifully mouths “Fuck you” to his former mentor.

Or was he?

For another beautiful scene takes place, as Fletcher recognizes that there is a MOMENT happening and he is quick to take advantage of it. “Sadist-enablers” is what I call both of them. They are both perfect and wrong for each other. The dysfunction is off the charts between these two, even though I understand their complex and acute need for each other to survive and thrive in the unrelenting professional world of jazz music. Discovering that Fletcher has finally found his Charlie Parker is as terrifying as it is mind-blowing.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Next Stop? Everywhere! (Happy 50th Birthday to the Doctor Who-verse - Aliens, Companions, Robots, Villains, All!)

I just finished playing the Google Doodle celebrating Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary. It took me a while to get all letters, but I made it to the end. It was the latest in the long line of DW teasers celebrating this Saturday’s anniversary special. It will feature Doctors Ten and Eleven, my favorite Doctors of the series.

But I suppose “favorite” is too weird a word to use, especially in a serial that spans 50 years. For every Doctor, there will be a dud episode, a weird plot arc, an iffy companion, a ridiculous villain, and a backstory factoid that won’t seem to fit the canon. If you play the part long enough, the law of averages will win out, and you will have some series’ peaks as well as some crazy troughs. (That was certainly true of the Tenth Doctor.) But what matters in the whole history of my admittedly short DW fandom is that I started the journey. And thankfully, that journey is still ongoing.

My first Doctor is also the youngest – Matt Smith. That seems weird to say on paper, but I do have HUGE affection for Matt’s Doctor in that his series’ debut was the very first DW episode that I watched in full. Never mind that I was stuck on a treadmill debating what to watch on the little TV screen in front of me. I clicked on the BBCA channel in time to see little Amy Pond see a blue police box crash into her garden and I’ve been hooked ever since. Very soon, I was rooting for Number Eleven as much as I was rooting for his companions’ relationship to survive the trials of being sucked into the time vortex. Amy and Rory were my favorite Doctor Who companions. Not Rose or the Doctor. Or Martha and the Doctor. Or whoever else. It was Amy and Rory. Arthur Darvill, in particular, was an inspired and lovely piece of casting. As the Doctor described him in “The Wedding of River Song”, “The loyal soldier, waiting to be noticed. Always the pattern. Why is that?” It was such a sweet summary of Rory’s character through the seasons. Though Amy waited for her Raggedy Man, Rory waited for his girl, his Amy. And he fought for her amidst the wars of the universe. It was quite fitting that their final episode has them transported back in time where they lived their years together. And fans were treated to our beloved Rory character getting closure through a storyboarded webisode where their son meets his grandfather for the first time and explains why he’d have to keep watering the plants from now on.

The fact that his companions were sometimes larger-than-life compared to the Doctor possibly necessitated a change. Whereupon Clara came in. it was quite a clunky character device, in that she was supposedly in the Doctor’s timestream and therefore a part of all his reincarnations. We will see what the 50th anniversary episode has for us.

My first brush with Doctor Who fandom, meanwhile, happened much, much earlier. I was a fan of the series “Heroes” and in one episode, Christopher Eccleston guest-starred. At that moment, the Internet LIT UP like crazy. The Doctor is in this episode! The Doctor! Doctor Who! At the time, I was like, aptly enough, “Doctor who…?” I tried to look him up and it turns out he played the Doctor the year before. I was like, “okay great” but didn’t go beyond that. I thought, well, he’s no longer the Doctor now.

Then a year or so later, when I was reading through casting news for the new Harry Potter Goblet of Fire movie, news of David Tennant being cast as Barty Crouch Jr. spread like wildfire and also took the Internet by storm. I was like, “who IS this guy??” Upon seeing the movie, I thought to myself, “he only has like, 5 minutes of screentime – what the heck was the fuss all about??” I read up on him, going backwards, and again, Doctor Who cropped up. This is nuts, I thought. And it wasn’t until I was transfixed on that small TV screen on the treadmill that day that I finally figured out what the fuss was all about.

Since I didn’t have a DVR or subscribed to Hulu or Netflix, it wasn’t easy to watch the series backwards. Sometimes BBCA would randomly air a Tenth Doctor episode, but that was rare. And even rarer was a Eccleston episode. At some point, I’d have a pretty good sample of Ten episodes (there were a lot; he played the role for 5 years!) to figure out that he did a phenomenal job with the character. He’d had something like 4 major companions (Rose, Martha, Jack, Donna), and the recurring companions like Jackie and Mickey and Wilf. My top two DW episodes are all Tennant’s: “Blink”, “Waters of Mars”. Third goes to Eccles’ two-parter “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”. Funniest episode had been “Partners In Crime” and possibly most of the Doctor/Donna season. I LOVE Catherine Tate. Next to Rory, Donna was my other favorite companion. I love that she was “just a mate” of the Doctor’s. None of that romantic nonsense. And then third goes to Capt. Jack Harkness. That Capt. Jack love eventually translated to me binge-watching the first three seasons of “Torchwood” – it was great! (Jack-Ianto forever! Also, *sniff*…)

If it weren’t for 2013 being the anniversary year of Doctor Who, I would never have watched any episode of the older Doctors. But the BBC did show at least one memorable episode from each Doctor’s time, and it was fun watching old-timey sets and costumes (Tom Baker’s scarf!) back then, along with the older versions of the TARDIS, the Cybermen, and other monsters of the week. It was fun watching the original Master duke it out with the Doctor for the first time. And the Daleks never changed, save for a pop of color in the current version. The Daleks are still the enemy. Some newer “monsters” came along, and at the top of any Doctor Who list of terrifying monsters, especially my list, were the Weeping Angels. “Blink” was the first time they appeared on the series and I was rightfully frightened out of my mind. I was thankful that it aired in the daytime, because I otherwise would have jumped out of my skin at the climactic scene. Though Tennant did not feature largely in this episode, Carey Mulligan did a fantastic job as Sally Sparrow, as did the first-time lady director. The episode was both outstanding and a standout in that it didn’t have the same look and feel as the rest of the Tenth Doctor Who episodes at the time. And the story structure was different, too. Combine these along with a superb heroine, a mostly absent Doctor, and a truly terrifying monster of the week, and I will say that “Blink” is the best and my favorite DW episode of all.

As a fan of Matt Smith, I love that he is a huge goof and makes the Doctor funny and approachable and relatable. I think the fact that he was very young, had humor, and had companions that were his age helped cater to a younger demographic and most likely brought an increased audience to DW (myself included). And also the fact that he wasn’t afraid to be KissyDoctor helped as well (a character trait born from Paul McGann – the underappreciated Eighth Doctor and one whom I still love to bits).

But I think Tennant, and to some degree, Eccleston, showed the best characterization of the Doctor. Not just with humor and empathy, but with a great deal of enigma and tragedy as well. “The Waters of Mars” was a particularly telling story that emphasized the “Lord” in Time-Lord. Tennant’s Doctor showed us that, while he can take a pratfall or two, he is ultimately a powerful being that can do away with any compunction whatsoever if he feels like it. It’s a recurring theme that was planted in Nine, and underlined in Ten’s legacy. That, despite being an advocate of peaceful resolution and the fact that he does not utilize any weaponry, he could erase universes and alien races, bring down governments, and manipulate individuals and events that could change history. And indeed, he has done all those things. When he brought about a character’s suicide towards the end of “Waters of Mars”, the tragedy that plays out on the Doctor’s face was very telling and yet you knew this was just all in a day’s work for him. In “The Stolen Earth”, when Davros chided him for fashioning his companions into weapons, you felt the weight and guilt of that statement on him. It was one of the risks associated with being the Doctor. Sure you can travel and create extraordinary experiences. But to have lived so long and alone amidst great darkness and evil was bound to affect your psyche and, eventually, the people you associate with.

I had assumed that Doctor Who will have an endgame at some point. People are talking about a finite number of regenerations, and yet the franchise continues to amass and amaze. The Twelfth Doctor was also a genius casting choice (Peter Capaldi, who will need to keep his tongue in check and play/talk nice for now) and whom I will need to enjoy the ride for as long as he is able. I don’t know if they are going to end the series, nor how. I think the “how” is a good question. Will the Doctor finally find peace? Happiness? Love? Well, we all know he’s married to River Song, and has a granddaughter Susan. So there goes “love”. And I don’t think “peace” will ever be achieved as long as inter-planetary turmoil continues to be an issue. So, “happiness” maybe? It’s odd to think that a franchise with such a devoted fan base is predicated on a character that is lonely and sometimes, angry. I’m not sure how this will all end. For now, I will enjoy the journey. Bring on Number Twelve, please.

But first, let’s see how three Doctors are going to save London again this Saturday.


Monday, November 18, 2013

An Open Letter to the National Theater Live, and to Everyone Involved in the Production of “Frankenstein”

In the intro to "Frankenstein", we were encouraged to react via Twitter. However, allow me my moment of foolishness, to wear my heart on my sleeve. I need more than 140 characters to capture what I truly felt upon watching "Frankenstein" that night. I hope this reaches the right people over at the NTL. Because God knows their impact is stronger than they realize.

Last week, I traveled more than an hour’s worth of subway rides to see the National Theater Live’s re-broadcast of “Frankenstein”. I had been looking forward to this for months, and I was prepared to brave the cold Evanston chill on a Wednesday night just to see the two Sherlocks duke it out on stage.

I have heard of this production a year after it ended its stage run, so you could say I was very “late to the party”. I’m not even sure how I have come to hear about the play. I must have been reading a Benedict Cumberbatch Wikipedia entry one day and seen it on there. Or I must have been checking out the National Theater website and simply started clicking on links here and there and stumbled upon the 50th anniversary re-broadcast. However I discovered it, I instantly regretted not knowing about it early enough, and I vowed to see it. Even if I had to travel all the way up to a north Chicago suburb to see it.

So yes, I was excited. I have been a fan of Jonny Lee Miller ever since “Eli Stone”, of Benedict since he broke out as “Sherlock”, and Danny Boyle since, well, everything (but primarily “Trainspotting”). To discover that the stars aligned to see these three creative forces commit to “Frankenstein” was nothing short of a miracle, I could imagine. It was no surprise that the whole original run was sold out, and the leads’ performances were acknowledged and recognized by critics and peers as extraordinary. I’m not sure if the decision to have them switch between Victor and The Creature was a novel one, but it certainly worked with only actors of their caliber. The production I saw had Jonny Lee Miller take on The Creature and Benedict as Victor. As a biased observer, I can say that The Creature’s confusion, loneliness, and desire to be loved resonated with me very much. I confess to not having read the original source material, so I was rooting for him all the way to the end (and cursing Frankenstein for neglecting him in the first place). I admit to being heartbroken when The Creature killed Elizabeth, only because I honestly thought he could be redeemed. It was a fantastic play, and the way Jonny portrayed The Creature, in my mind, was spectacular. With humor and pathos combined. I felt rather tortured with the way the production toyed with my feelings – sad one moment, overjoyed the next, then heartbroken after that. But I relished it because it proved that the production was compelling and memorable enough for me.

The production itself, primarily the set design, seemed to take on a steampunk aesthetic. Quite apropos, given the sci-fi and morality themes within the material. And the way Underworld rendered the lighting and score only served to reinforce the aesthetic some more. Much was also said about The Creature being given a point of view, which gave the production its moral (or amoral, depending on how you look at it) center. “Frankenstein” certainly set out to be different from other versions of the tale. Sometimes it tried too hard, and you can tell when it did. But the end result was something creatively definitive and memorable.

I should add, however, that I saw it with a heavy heart. As excited as I was to see it, I had mixed emotions going into the theater that night.

I am currently into the last two months of my stay here in the US. My work visa is expiring, and I am trying to lap up and savor as many experiences as I could, especially those that I could not experience at home. You see, growing up in a Third World country meant that cultural pursuits were expensive, if not accessible. Though I was privileged to be educated in a top-ranked institution, the curriculum was directed more towards local culture and history. I had a dearth of knowledge about what you'd call the Western "classics" – like Shakespeare, and Emerson, and Whitman. I tried to read them, and about them, in my own spare time, but I was only limited to what I can get my hands on(e.g., buy in a bookstore) and what I can understand. It was perhaps the reason why I was grateful to Hollywood for “visualizing” the literature for me (I must have consumed more versions of “Romeo and Juliet” that I can remember, and seen more Bronte-inspired rom-coms than I care to admit). And why “Deads Poets Society” resonated so much with me.

In my 8 years living in the US, I have always been enamored of how the arts and culture are perceived and supported here. When the time comes for me to pick up my bags and leave, I will truly miss how accessible the arts are here. The fact that I can watch an innovative take on “Frankenstein” more than two years after it was staged, just boggles my mind. And the fact that I saw it in a Stateside theater is just as astounding. Whoever thought of the idea to broadcast UK theater – be it from the National Theater, or the Royal Shakespeare Company – is a genius. Never mind the income that it generates. Think of the cultural effect it will have on the many, many people who can now access this kind of cultural phenomena when they initially couldn't. I myself am inspired so much that it makes my heart burst – and only because I do not know where to begin with my story.

I had only been in the US for a year, studying for a graduate degree, when I decided to spend the scholarship stipend money I’ve been saving up on a ticket to see “The History Boys” on Broadway. I do not know why I decided on that particular play. I only glanced over the synopsis on the website. But I saw it and had the most wonderful time. It was my very first time to see a Broadway play, and I got to see Richard Griffiths onstage, as well as the original UK cast. I got to hear Posner sing “Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered”. And I got to see some of the main cast before they became popular. The material was reminiscent of “Dead Poets Society”, and I remember walking out of the theater after the matinee, not minding the pouring rain, and thinking to myself, “I’m going to write them a letter.” And I did. I thanked them for giving me such a lovely first-time experience. And Nicholas Hytner wrote me back. I still have that letter.

With the National Theater Live program, the National Theater itself does not need to rely on Broadway versions of its productions to reach out to audiences beyond the UK. And I know that this program has entertained many others like me, and inspired many others like me. My only misfortune is that I can no longer access this program once I return home. And while the needs of a developing country are different, and possibly more dire, I cannot imagine how showing a Shakespeare play can hurt. But like I said, going home means taking on a different set of priorities. And I quietly weep at the possibility that I will no longer have access to National Theater Live productions.

“Frankenstein” will be my last NTL production before I leave for home. I wish I could stay here longer to see “Coriolanus” and “War Horse”, but I’m afraid I will have to miss them. The UK-bred productions are a wonderful export. Broadway is great, sure. But there’s a certain history, quality, aesthetic, and novelty that the UK stage brings to the world of theater. And so it bears repeating: I hope you folks are aware of the cultural effect you have on people who otherwise can’t see a play in the UK. I can’t thank you enough for entertaining me through the years, and for putting me in a cultural space that believes anything is possible. I will have to do away with you for a while. But be assured that it gives me a goal to strive for. Maybe save up for a trip to London and see something live for the first time?

That would truly be mind-blowing.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The X-files on their 20th Anniversary

Today is September 10, 2013 and the 20th anniversary of The X-files. I’m writing this is in the middle of a busy work afternoon because I feel like I should write some sort of paean to the series that kick-started my habit of “appointment viewing” as well as my devotion to all the things good about the small screen.

The show didn’t make its way to the Philippines until months later, if I recall correctly. The honest truth is I didn’t know how I stumbled upon this show. I most likely heard about it from reading the Entertainment section of the newspaper. (It certainly wasn’t promoted very well around these parts, that’s for sure.) Cable TV and the Internet were still in its infancy, and quite possibly the most hi-tech gadget of the period was a brick-sized mobile phone. I was certain I was still in high school when the show premiered in the Philippines, but it was during my early college years when it reached the height of my fandom. All I remember was hearing about it, being very intrigued, and parked in front of an old TV set in our kitchen on the night it premiered. It was aired on a Friday night over a government channel with a muddy reception. So when I tuned, it was half white snow half black and white, with sporadic TV crackle amidst the dialogue. But there was no mistaking the fact that I was watching the most popular sci-fi drama in the US at the time. As a typical teenager, I would normally gravitate towards the good-looking male leads in the TV shows I watched. But for some reason, on The X-files, I fell in love with Scully’s character. And in turn, because I was a teenager, I wanted her to fall in love with Mulder’s character.

Borderline obsessive character shipping aside, I tuned in every episode for the crazy plotline of the week. It could be the ongoing saga of government conspiracies, or the monster-of-the-week episodes, or whatever weird supernatural phenomena they decided to tackle. For a series that boxed itself in a genre, the content at their disposal was ENDLESS. And regardless of how disparate it may seem, they all felt organic to the show. The fact that the exposition was tied down at the very beginning (Mulder as the irrational one who believed his sister was abducted by aliens and believed in government shadow conspiracies teamed up with Scully as the rational doctor whose sole job was to find the science underneath all the crazy and rein her partner in) helped to structure the series and gave it a tonal foundation that is unmatched today. The fact that the two leads’ personalities and backstories were very different helped give the stories a yin-yang quality. Compared to today’s standards, you’d be hard-pressed to find a show that had a similar distinct tonal center, and one that only needed very few characters to achieve it. (The closest I could think of was “Breaking Bad” and I like to think that Vince Gilligan got a lot of help from his experience on “The X-files”.)

Another way that the show distinguished itself was through its production values. Even though I squinted through the poor reception in our kitchen for half of the episodes I saw in my lifetime, I could make out the production design and the cinematography that gave the show such a wonderful atmospheric quality. Though it was mostly set in Vancouver (for the first half anyway), the production team deserved a ton of praise for working off a limited geography and giving the show a feel that was both metropolitan, small-towny, and alien all at the same time. Looking at the sheer scope and breadth of the series’ technological achievements, it was no wonder that so many of its well-known and well-praised alumni were folks who worked behind the scenes – writers, producers, directors, designers, all. Again, it is hard to find another current TV show whose behind-the-camera talent were just as revered and adored as the ones in front of it. The fact that fans of the show were also fans of the show’s crew meant that “The X-files” as a whole was its own universe.

The show ran for nine seasons, and I admit I tuned out by the time Scully left the series. The channel they showed it on likewise gave it up as well and I remember being unable to watch the series finale until a long while later, somewhere on the Interweb. But for the first few years of the show, I was obsessed with it. I was the only one in my family who was, and they knew better than to try to watch another TV show while I was watching. There was one time when a friend called while the show was on. She was my best friend, so I took the call in the living room, out of eyesight of the TV set. The conversation went on for about an hour, and I completely missed the episode that night. However, while I was on the phone, I could also hear some faint shrieking and gasping that was coming from the kitchen. I knew the TV was on, but for all I knew, my older sisters had hijacked it and changed the channel to something else. Imagine my surprise when I finished my phone call and returned to kitchen to see my two sisters excitedly gabbing about “The X-files” episode they had just seen. It was the much-celebrated “Tooms” episode, and they had been frightened and fascinated at the same time. I was silently cursing myself for missing out on the sequel to one of my favorite monster-of-the-week episodes, but I was happy that my sisters finally understood my obsession for the show. Or they did at the time. They never did watch the show again with me. Oh well.

Apart from the two “Bile-man” episodes, there were a number that I recall being hugely entertained by. I particularly loved those episodes that played up the duality of its characters, with extra humor. I remember loving “Small Potatoes”, “Arcadia”, “Jersey Devil”, “Ice” – a lot of early episodes, for sure. I didn’t think the Philippine broadcast aired the episodes in order, and I didn’t understand the “hiatus” concept yet, so I became a little antsy when they kept re-airing previous episodes (though I didn’t complain). But I loved seeing Mulder and Scully try to explain the phenomena they were investigating, and usually the explanations were a little ridiculous or out-there. But you had two actors who could sell anything, including mounds of sexual tension. I thoroughly enjoyed watching them play off each other.

The show was also notable for featuring some of the most iconic lineups of supporting players – who didn’t have to have names! Apart from fan favorites Skinner and The Lone Gunmen, you had the Cigarette Smoking Man, Alex Krycek (Mulder’s “Murdoc”, as I called him). The rogues’ gallery of villains on this show is fantastic, with most of them as likable and anticipated as they come. I remember lighting up whenever Krycek would show up, and yet, true to his villainy status, I cheered a bit when he was killed by Skinner.

My love for the show after the first season had me devouring all and any news I could get my hands on. That Rolling Stone cover that launched a thousand sighs? I begged a friend of mine from the States to buy an issue for me, and I still have it, in my childhood bedroom back home, covered in plastic. Reports about Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy leading to a storyline twist had me anticipating the “Duane Barry/Ascension” episodes like a kid on candy. They did not disappoint, although the next Scully-less episode made me miss her terribly. At the time, I didn’t realize why I was so invested in her character. I must have thought she was expendable, especially after reading reports where the Fox executives didn’t even approve of her casting at the start. And that certainly, the X-files was a Mulder thing, and that if Scully got taken off the show, it would still go on.

But there’s the irony. She WASN’T expendable. In fact, the show hinged on the chemistry and professionalism of these two actors. And the reality was Duchovny left the show first, and it still went on. It was only when Anderson also left that the show took a bit of a dive. Looking back on my Scully love, I must have gravitated towards the fact that she was an intelligent, confident, and FUNNY woman. She was the lead on a TV show that was not afraid to write strong female characters. She held her own against an admittedly charismatic co-star, and racked even more awards and recognition than he did. Hers was the only character who developed progressively over the course of the series – from skeptic to believer. Ok, maybe not a full-fledged believer. But she was able to rationalize Mulder’s beliefs in a way that only he can accept. She took the X-files to a place that is beyond tolerance, and fought for truth that is out there just as valiantly as Mulder did.

I still see re-runs of “The X-files” on TV, and I try to stop and watch each time when I can. The series’ timelessness is absolute. The fashion is pretty generic “FBI agent in a suit” (although Scully would probably disagree that her power suits date her in early 90s Hillary mold). In a world dependent on technology and social media, we still believe in an X-files world where the characters don’t rely on Google so much, or where they don’t automatically reach for their mobile each time the other is in trouble. We don’t miss the technology that is out there in here. The banter remains funny and current. And the story’s conspiracy mythology is still alive and kicking in the real world. I firmly believe that “The X-files” will still be a hit if it debuted today.

Twenty years later, the show is no longer running but its legs still do. Vince Gilligan is in the midst of his extended goodbye letter to “Breaking Bad” fans and it is epic. James Wong writes for the multi-acclaimed “American Horror Story” series (which I still refuse to watch because I don’t want to have nightmares). Gansa and Gordon continue to produce “Homeland” and deliver great results (I only have the awards to go by as I don’t have Showtime and thus don’t watch it). I still see David Nutter’s name in the credits, most recently on “Game of Thrones”. John Shiban has tested the BBC audience with his involvement with “Torchwood”. And Rob Bowman, God bless him, directs my guilty pleasure show, “Castle”. And the list goes on and on. We know that both David and Gillian are enjoying their small screen successes, though Gillian’s post-X-files career is mostly set in the UK.

And while their fans have grown up, they are multiplying by sharing their love of the show to their kids, or simply to others. When I was watching the show, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it because I didn’t think anyone my age watched it. Turns out I was wrong. As soon as news about the show’s 20th anniversary started appearing, some of my friends’ FB updates started lighting up. And I was certain most of the online chatter did, as well. Their anniversary was gloriously celebrated in the house that Star Trek/Star Wars built along the shores of San Diego. So apropos that they ended up communing with the hard core fans in Comic Con. And if you’ve never been a Scully fan before, well you’ll love her for saying this: "I've never done them before and I'm doing them for a year -- it's the 20th anniversary of when the series started -- and I thought, 'Just for a year, if it fits into my schedule, I'll show up and meet the fans." Oh Anderson, you are just AWESOME. Now that I'm older, I'm no longer dying to see physical manifestations of Mulder and Scully's love for each other. However, that exchange at the Comic Con panel was a HOOT. I have no doubt in my mind that Mulder and Scully should have slept with each other ages ago. But I love that David and Gillian continue to have fun with their characters even twenty years later. It never gets old. Kudos to Chris Carter for conceiving this whole universe, for sticking to his guns on hiring Gillian, and on stubbornly refusing to defuse the sexual tension until many seasons later. And doing it off-camera, too.

When the 1998 movie came out, I entered a local newspaper contest that awarded premiere tickets to the winner who wrote the best essay in answer to “Why I love “The X-files””. I won the contest and I took my sister to see it. I no longer remember what I wrote to “why I love “The X-files””. All I know is I still love it and feel it. The fans thank you, Gillian and David. And Chris. And everyone who was connected to the show. And everyone who connected to the show. It may have been twenty years but it’s hasn’t gotten old at all. And we know the truth is still out there somewhere.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Prognosis is good. Whew.

I thought I'd lead with the positive thought that Kevin Ware is going to be ok. And I also wanted to show a photograph of Ware putting everything in perspective for his teammates. Even though I think that was the shock talking.

Anyway, I wanted to let the universe know that this was a lovely exception to live broadcasting. Everyone acted appropriately. The Louisville players acted appropriately (distraught and, later on, determined to win the game - which they did). One player, in particular, acted really courageously. Luke Hancock, who was on the bench at the time of the injury, immediately ran over to his fallen teammate to console him. While medical personnel were trained to automatically rush to someone's aid, Luke felt no compunction about going to Ware while everyone else tried to look the other way.

Coach Pitino acted appropriately. He put on a brave face, tried to help his player. In the end, he let a few tears fall. He even reacted appropriately when press asked the question of whether or not this was the worst feeling he had ever felt. He mentioned losing a child a few years back - that was worse. Again, perspective.

The Duke bench acted appropriately. You could feel the worry on their faces. Thornton's reaction was particularly memorable. You even felt Coach K's paternal instinct as he kept an eye on the other bench. But they kept on their side of the court. They clapped in encouragement when Kevin was finally wheeled off the court.

The Louisville cheerleaders acted appropriately. Typically known to give in to fits of OTT-ness, the ladies were surprisingly restrained and drama-free. And never forgot to do their job. They continued to yell support and encouragement at the fallen player.

CBS and the rest of the broadcast team acted appropriately. They kept the replays to a minimum, and simply let the gravity of the scene do the talking. They kept focus on the other players, the worried crowd. They temporarily ceased to discuss strategy. And, as USAToday wrote, the segue back to the game was in good taste.

Medics, doctors, and hospital staff definitely acted appropriately. And gave Kevin Ware a good prognosis.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Kiss

The teasers did advertise it as the "kiss heard around the world". Well, the fact that the sound crew did little for that scene but just keep still and quiet meant that this was an important development. "New Girl" has always been one of my must-see TV shows, and the chemistry between Jess and Nick has always been palpable ever since the Thanksgiving episode in season one.

I wasn't really sure if I like the idea of letting them kiss this early in the show. But I'm interested to see how this all pans out. I know there will be consequences, and that should make for plenty of comedy.

I wonder how many takes that scene took? And whether Nick going for another one was planned? I'd like to think of Jake as being in the moment and kissed Zooey again. It certainly sold the scene for me. That was HOT.

Clearly Nick and Jess are the endgame here. But I can't help but feel might bad for Sam and his inner dork. I really really like him, and think he's way cool and well suited for this band of crazies. If there was a way to have Sam and Jess break up but still give Sam a reason to hang around, that would be ideal. I mean, Cece does it when she's no longer with Schmidt, so weirder things have happened. (This always happens to me; as soon as I get invested in someone's TV love interest, they break up. See: Josh from "The Mindy Project".)

Anyway, glad "New Girl" is keeping things moving at least. And good for them for dominating last night's ratings.

Also? Winston finally gets a girl. About damn time!