19 July 2008

dr. horrible's sing-along blog (act III)

Could this have been Joss doing Return of the Jedi the way it was meant to be done?

Let's take a moment to consider parallels: Act I & New Hope, Act II & Empire. Dramatic dark shift in tone? Check. Resoundingly compelling wrinkles added to the principal characters at the end? Check. Simultaneous broadening and narrowing of focus? Check and check.

I've read my fair share of literature/fan articles regarding Star Wars over the course of my life, and while this is not the first place I came across information regarding the way ROTJ could've gone, it has the dual distinction of being 1) the first real source I came across while blindly stumbling through Google and 2) actually, a pretty neat little article ("little?"), and actually worth the time it takes to read, if you're a fanatic (like me!). What's important are the ways in which the movie that made its way to the silver screen differed from initial ideas, which were lighter on that special, trademarked brand of George Lucas magic.

First and foremost, Harrison Ford wanted out. He didn't want to do a third movie, so he pushed hard for Han to die in the carbonite. Obviously, he didn't get his way, which left us open for such heartwarming moments as, "I think my eyes are getting better. Before, I could only see a big dark blur, and now I see a big light blur," and the protect-and-grope maneuver he pulls off just after Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia gets shot by the stormtroopers. Star Wars sans Han Solo almost happened...

Secondly (and I'm pretty sure this is an idea with its roots in the Kurosawa movies that served as so much inspiration for the George Lucas money-printing machine), the explicit restatement of the hero as an entity forced to separate from society. Obi-Wan and Yoda were both good examples of this, but they both existed (in the original trilogy) as examples for Luke to follow/live up to, not as the sort of warrior monk that Luke became by ROTJ. The way I heard it, an idea was pitched that Luke, after departing the now-destroyed Death Star II, was so adversely affected by his crusade to save the galaxy that he could no longer be a part of the world he fought so dearly to protect, and as a result, had to disappear, just like Alan Ladd in Shane, or the ronin in Seven Samurai (other real film critics have so dissected the relationship between American westerns and Japanese samurai movies so thoroughly that I really have no cause to do so myself). Again, that's not remotely close to what happened.

The reason I bring all of this up in my reaction to the third act of Dr. Horrible is that, while ROTJ feels almost compromised, as though an honest, more natural progression was supplanted by something easier to sell, and easier for an audience to stomach (this probably marked the turning point from Lucas the "artist" to Lucas the businessman - in case that point hasn't gotten driven home enough yet, here you go), Act III of Dr. Horrible allows none of its characters, nor its story, to take the easy way out (well, maybe Captain Hammer, but that's just because he's a superhero in the truest sense of the word - he's an adolescent boy living out his power fantasy as an adult male). As Billy/Dr. Horrible/Neil Patrick Harris/Doogie Howser falls further and further away from the light, we're with him every terrible, horrible step of the way.

Since this is a Joss Whedon production, it's worth taking a moment or two to consider Penny, and how she might function more like a device than any other female character in his work that I can recall. Penny doesn't really have much of an arc (she starts off nice and sweet, and ends up nice, and sweet, and dead), but I don't think she's necessarily supposed to. What she is supposed to do - what she does well - is serve as a point of idealization for Dr. Horrible/Billy, and as a point of contention between the Doc and Captain Hammer. Her development is limited, her scope is limited, but then again... this whole endavour was barely as long as an hour-long episode of a television show. It's frankly incredible that they packed as much into this project as they did.

Hearing Penny mumble, "Captain Hammer will save us," as she lay on the ground, pierced by the shards of Dr. Horrible's weapon, the life leaking out of her body, was nearly as affecting as the moment Fillion's Malcolm Reynolds told Simon Tam that the ever-lovable Kaylee Fry had expired on his operating table (the moment at which I knew Firefly could do anything that came to its mind and I would follow it to the ends of the earth) - I nearly felt as devestated as the character onscreen.

Fillion, as always, does a remarkable job. Lacking the strongest singing voice in history, he manages to sell his "Everyone's a Hero" number quite effectively, getting away with it through gumption, perservance and sheer charisma (really, the way he pulls all of his parts off). And no one plays pain better than Nathan Fillion (see "Out of Gas" and Serenity for more information).

Now is as good a time as any, I suppose, to go into the broadening of the series' focus in the last act. With the introduction of people on the streeet, everyday citizens whose lives are affected directly by the actions of these heroes and villains, the scope of the show becomes much bigger. No longer do our characters operate in a vacuum - the Captain has discovered a new avenue of superheroism, one that involves picking people up at least as much as it does knocking them down, and we finally see the ramifications of the cartoonish supervillainy (as Waylon Smithers might've called it) that Dr. Horrible wants so dearly to practice. There is now a world that responds to the actions of our characters, one that will shun them both by the end (expect, perhaps, for the Captain Hammer fan club, which could give Joss fodder for seasons worth of television all by themselves).

Clearly, Dr. Horrible had put Penny on some kind of pedestal. Would he have given up his life of crime for her, and maybe even taken up the banner of gradual, unassuming social change that she waved so passionately? We'll never know that, but what we do discover is that she was the last little magnetic speck tugging at his moral compass. When she expired, she took along with her that last little nagging sense of right and wrong that lived in the back of his mind. Much like Captan Hammer, at the end, Dr. Horrible is a broken man, an empty man that has nothing but his "work" left to sustain him.

The design of his costume at the end is fantastic, by the way. Serious kudos to the person who came up with that.

To bring this back around, at the end of the series, our hero (the villain) removes himself from society. He knows he's dangerous to be around; nothing makes that more clear than his inadvertent party to Penny's death. The best he can do is associate with those that are equally dangerous, if not more so. Hence, the Evil League of Evil.

A pretty successful experiment, all things considered. I hope they've managed to generate some revenue with the new distribution model, but I'm not so sure it's a harbinger of things to come. If I'd put out Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, no one would've paid for it. I'm not Joss Whedon, I didn't create fucking Firefly, Angel, Buffy. Just like Trent with his self-distributed music, Joss has a dedicated audience already. They can make the initial purchases, they can spread the word. A less-beloved, less-well-known creator would be unable to make the same splashes.

But, still, it was awesome.

all right, that's it. the decision has been made (or, my reactions to Batman Continues).

So, I've been going through one of those "did I really make the right decision" things (kind of a weird thing to do at 24, I think) regarding the direction I'm hoping to take in my life; that is to say, a guy writing a movie probably makes less of a directly positive impact on the world than a guy, say, working on a congressional campaign, or a guy working as a public defender, or even a guy cleaning trash up off the street. At least they probably don't have any delusions about what they're actually accomplishing.

I suppose some of this has to do with my plan to apply to graduate school here in a few months; when the MFA isn't really all that fascinating to me, when I'm less than fascinated at the prospect of having homework for another two years, and when I really don't care about taking the GRE, the compulsion to do so just to further this weird little dream of mine about writing movies and television shows begins to wane. Given the number of people that have had success without going to school and digging themselves another $80K in the hole... If I'm going to do that, why not just go to law school and come out with the ability to a) help somebody and b) eventually be able to pay down that debt?

I suppose this is kind of a struggle between art and commerce, but it's really more a struggle between fantasy and reality. Should I try to make a difference in this world, or should I try to use these imagined worlds in which I spend so much of my time to try and make some sort of sideways contribution in my own fashion?

Well, after seeing The Dark Knight, the fight has finally ended, with the fantastic winning out over the real.

I will actually get to a reaction to Nolan's opus in a second, but I'm going to preface by talking (again) for a moment about The West Wing, for it's the program that gets me thinking about (and rethinking) my goals. Sam, Josh, CJ, Toby... none of them decided to write television. They educated themselves on the things that were happening in the world, formed opinions about them, and then went out to try to make the world a better place. They put themselves on the line; they did things that actually mattered. That's what's been my problem with my plan for years now.

However, and it's kind of embarassing to admit this now, I've never bothered to consider the actual implications of my thinking. It's a show that made me think this way, not an actual elected representative that I've met, that inspired me, that I find a good, compelling human being whose example is worth following (I never met Paul Wellstone, but I imagine he would have been just such a person. Who knows where I'd be now had that happened?). The show made me want to go and do great things, so who's to say I can't try to create a show (or a movie) that could have a similar impact on somebody else? That's the undeniable power of art.

With that, it's time to get back to the topic at hand: The Dark Knight. Almost.

This has been a good year for comic book movies, because all of the big three have been, at their worst, pretty decent movies (TDK > Iron Man > The Incredible Hulk > Ang Lee's Hulk > Batman & Robin > nothing that I can think of). Iron Man is probably the best superhero origin movie, if not ever, than at least since this revival of superhero movies kicked off, and Hulk was at least fun, in a Silver Age Marvel comics sort of way.

I certainly understand the complaints that have cropped up since the banner year for "mature" graphic fiction that was 1986. If Watchmen, DKR and Year One had not been so successful, the misguidedly dark, brooding Spider-Man would never have come into being (as would've been the case for dozens of other characters whose creators mistook "dark" for "intelligent"). The roots of the comic are as children's entertainment, and we try to avoid subjecting our children to darkness and violence and depravity (they'll see plenty of that when they grow up, you know), and that needs to be respected. However, the audience for the comic book is getting older, not younger, and that statistic needs to be paid some mind.

The point of this is that the principal characters in Iron Man and The Dark Knight, while similar (trust fund babies that, as a result of serious trauma in their lives, dedicate themselves, and their fortunes, to battling criminals), are decidedly different. Tony Stark is not exactly a brooding terrorist of a hero; he acts in a decidedly public way (particularly when he, you know, reveals his secret identity to the world), and may well decide to work within the established system of laws and rules when he joins S.H.I.E.L.D.'s "Avengers initiative" (assuming the Avengers in the movies retain any semblance of similarity to the Avengers of the comics). Bruce, though, works in the shadows, divorcing his one public persona from his other in broad, sweeping strokes, and while he's happy to hand lawbreakers over to the appropriate authorities once he's finished with them, what he does before that depositing is designed specifically to strike fear into the "superstitious, cowardly lot" that plagues his city. That's another thing: where Batman is concerned with Gotham, first and foremost, to the exclusion of everything, Iron Man engages in what can only be described as global policing (a casualty of fronting a business that sells weapons worldwide, I imagine).

Finally, to The Dark Knight. All the respect to Wall-E in the world, but I have a new favorite movie this summer, and it's very easy to articulate why: while Pixar's film started off mind-boggingly good, it turned into a fairly standard Pixar movie by the end (that is to say, it got weaker - relatively - as it went along), The Dark Knight just got better (especially if you're generous enough to include Batman Begins as a starting-off point). Triumphant on every level (even, especially, the geeky ones).

The beginning features one of the best bank heists put on film since Michael Mann's masterpiece Heat, and a twist on said heist that instantly propels the movie beyond the middling heights that used to be the best we could expect from comic book movies into the stratosphere of great films.

Spectacle, while certainly a part of TDK, is not what carries the movie. Like Nolan's other conceptually phenomenal films (Memento, The Prestige), the weight is on the story, and the performance. While the movie is chalk full of actors working at the top of their game, the two you would expect to stand out best do: Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart.

Enough people have written about Heath as a person, and as an actor, in the past few months that adding my voice to the chorus wouldn't accomplish much. I'll just say that his performance reminds me of nothing so much as Daniel Day-Lewis' as Daniel Plainview in last year's There Will Be Blood. The incontrovertible power, the passion, the madness that both men convey as their respective characters is so absolute that I couldn't help but laugh almost contstantly at them, lest I be drawn down into the same pits of despair and dementia in which they are so clearly at home (the Joker in a nurse's dress, for instance). Heath has such a total command of every little movement that he makes on camera that I can completely believe the people I heard saying, as they walked past me exiting the theater, that they couldn't even tell the Joker was Heath Ledger. I don't think I'm letting his egregiously untimely passing affect my perception of his performance; I was blown away by his laugh over a year ago when I heard it for the first time. The total commitment to the part is almost without peer, or, at least, peerless this year. To address the question of whether or not it's worthy of cinema's [debatably] highest honor... I don't know. I know it's better than Johnny doing his Keith Richards impersonation, but I also don't know what the competition is going to look like at the end of the year. I hope he at least gets considered.

There was not a doubt in my mind, from the very beginning, that Aaron Eckhart was perfectly cast as Harvey/Two-Face. Anyone that's seen Thank You For Smoking knows what I'm talking about (it was his Harvey Dent audition tape, same as Shoot 'Em Up was Giamatti's audition for the role of Oswald Cobblepot). He's charismatic, forthright, determined... everything that Harvey pre-acid bath (and what a way to switch things up; I'm inclined now to place TDK's version of Two-Face's origin at the top of the pantheon of Two-Face origins, surpassing even that from Batman: The Animated Series - because this time it's a tragedy at least partly of his own making - his headlong rush into the explosion that consumes Rachel was not forced upon him by anyone else) is supposed to be. The Two-Face makeup job is stellar; it may well be among the best makeup jobs I've ever seen in a mainstream, we're-still-trying-to-attract-a-broad-audience sort of movie. If it weren't for Heath's career-defining performance as the Joker, Eckhart would take home the prize for acting in TDK - his ability to control his voice, and his face (god, that eye!) and his body should guarantee his career will continue to boost itself into the stratosphere (assuming he's not pidgeonholed as Harvey/Two-Face for the rest of his life). Harvey's not the total mystery that the Joker is (the whirlwind of chaos that he's been called in the past) - we see both his rise, and his fall, on the screen. That just makes Aaron's concentration of all the rage and hatred Harvey's gone through, his embodiment of it onscreen, all the more impressive - we have expectations for our fallen white knight, and Eckhart meets or exceeds (exceeds, really) all of them.

I didn't have too many qualms with Katie Holmes in Begins - she's not the world's strongest actor, but we know what she's capable of onscreen, so if you don't know what you're getting with her by now, it's no one's fault but your own, casting director person - but it's safe to say that Maggie Gyllenhaal is extraordinary. It's what I expected, but it's nice to be proven right. She can go toe to toe with any of the best performers working today (and did here, between Bale, Eckhart, Ledger, Oldman, and Michael Cane - her luster wasn't diminished one little bit standing next to those stars), and if it turns out that she was passed over for Begins for Katie, I can completely understand not appreciating Mrs. Cruise as Rachel Dawes. Regardless, Batman finally had his pre-Selina Kyle female lead in Maggie's Rachel, and she did absolutely everything she could with it. From slinking up next to Harvey post-trial, to embracing Alfred for what would turn out to be the last time after writing the letter she knew would break Bruce's heart, to hitting the Joker hard enough to rattle his teeth around, to her gruesome final scene, the easiest thing to say about Rachel was that she never lost her spine, that she stayed true to herself until the movie's end, but, like I said, that's easy. What I really want to say about her is that she wasn't ever weak. She never gave the terrorist clown the satisfaction of giving in. She fought, even when it was painfully clear she was going to lose. Bruce would've been proud; I was.

The returning players all built upon their phenomenal showings from the last entry. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine bring serious weight to the proceedings, the sort of moral authority that only men of their caliber can (Alfred keeping Bruce focused on what's really important in his Bruce Wayne life, and Lucius doing the same for him in his Batman life), while Gary Oldman's Jim Gordon continues his lightning-fast rise up the ranks of both the police department and my heart (when they made me think... God. I was so scared for Bruce, because if there was a hierarchy of people that keep him going, Alfred would probably be #1, and Gordon would be right on his heels. Like Wizard wrote a couple of years ago, if Bruce hadn't put on the mask, he'd probably be serving under Jim at the GCPD). Oldman plays a man driven by a need to see justice done so well that I can barely remember his turns as villains in Air Force One and The Professional.

As if that isn't enough, we've got Christian Bale, one of the greatest of this generation of actors. He buries his character under layer upon layer of artifice (as he perfected in the last movie) that only get stripped away when he, and his city, are faced with terrible, almost insurmountable threats, be it the Joker or the uncovering of Harvey's psychoses. He's self-sacrificing nearly to a fault; even when he goes to Rachel and reminds her of her promise to be with him once he gives up Batman, you can see in his eyes (and hers) that they both know he's merely going through the motions, doing and saying what he should do more than what he wants to do (I think by this point he's almost forgotten how to want to be with her, even though that desire is still foremost in his mind). He's improved upon the Bat-voice (though no one will ever be able to top TAS' Kevin Conroy), and his entrances do an even better job of sucking all the heat of a room.

I've never seen a director use settings for chase scenes as thematic elements across multiple movies, but Nolan's done it with the tunnel chases in BB and TDK. Scenes of desperation, both. I'm almost ravenous at the prospect of how he can up the ante in the third one.

This may be the first time in a long time that a movie's trailer actually misdirected me, not as to the quality of the movie, but to the plot. From the leaking gasoline that looked to be the acid that traditionally scars one side of Harvey's face, to the destruction of the Bat-signal that appeared to be a result of the Joker's terror plot, I thought I knew more about the movie going in than I actually did. I'm going to reserve this sentence for praising the people who cut the trailer together: well done!

I've raved a lot about the performances, and said precious little about the plot. No more; the advantage to writing something that no one else reads is that I don't have to worry about spoliers. I love the fact that the Joker's personal history may well be as much of a mystery to him as it is to his fellow characters; how he got the way he is doesn't matter as much as the fact that he is. The destruction of the Tumbler was ridiculously disheartening; the motorcycle doesn't really make up for it. I loved the tank. The Bat-vigilantes, patrolling the streets in black hockey pads, homemade Batman masks, and carrying AK-47s, were a great touch on the "ripple effects" that Batman caused by disturbing the peace ("He shows us that we don't have to be afraid," or something like that - not the impact that he wanted to have, but he's not Codename V). The explosives hidden in the boats, and the sadistic offer the Joker makes to their passengers - I'm kind of saddened that the civillians didn't blow up the boat holding the prisoners right after the prisoners junked their trigger, but I guess Nolan's not the bleakest filmmaker in the world.

I guess we're all fascinated with terrorists, and have been for years now (6.5, at least, in this country), so it makes sense that an American superhero has now faced down two legions of evil fucking terrorists in two separate movies, but I'd be a little more in favor of a more conventional villanous plan in the next movie. You know, the seeking of absolute power, or something, rather than the generation of overall chaos (even though that's a perfect counterpoint to the order that Batman seeks to impose over the city).

I don't know how I feel about how explicitly the movie explains the Joker's relationship to Batman, or Batman's relationship to Harvey, or Batman's relationship to the city. I liked it better when you had to read beneath the surface even a little to figure that all out. That was reminiscent, much though I hate to say it, of Sam Rami, but if I can forgive Batman betraying everything important about himself at the end of Begins, I can forgive a few minutes of telling interjected throughout more than two hours of showing.

I wonder how well Bruce'll continue on, now that he's allowed himself to become the villain - at least in the eyes of the citizens of Gotham - and has lost two of his closest allies in Lucius and Rachel. He's got Alfred, as he always does, and Gordon in secret (I'm curious as to how they're going to address that, too), but that's basically it. Nolan keeps taking things away from him at movie's end, and he's regrouped pretty well this time.

I want to know what happens next.

[Oh, the decision here is that I'm throwing my efforts behind art and imagination. It compels me more, and I think I can do more good there. No law school for Phil, in other words.]

17 July 2008

holy shit

[See the headline]

Dawn of the Dead was an all right movie; it was smart in that it didn't try to recapture the brilliance of the Romero original, but was instead one of the best post-28 Days Later zombie movies (didn't hurt that it had a pretty wicked sense of humor, either). I think 300 was a spirited experiment that failed pretty miserably because it didn't have the soul that Dawn had. Too much CGI, too little spirit. Plus, I think the ending is terrible. There's a difference between adapting a piece of work to the screen and slapping that piece of work onscreen without any regard for the differences between the printed page and film.

I was so jazzed for Greengrass' adaptation of Watchmen; I heard the script was a brilliant distillation of that extraordinarily dense comic (which I still contend is one of the best works of literature produced in the modern age). I never got a chance to read it, but I imagine it's floating out there in the ether somewhere. Maybe I'll get to it one of these days.

It seems like Zack has his head on straight with Watchmen, though. He's certainly not a filmmaker without enthusiasm for his medium. I love how he's putting Tales of the Black Freighter out as a direct-to-DVD release around the time the movie proper comes out, both for people who revere the comic a bit too much (like me) or people interested in perusing the mythology of the original work a little more after they see the movie.

I know what's going on in every frame of the trailer; I hope Zack learned his lesson from 300 and didn't just cherry-pick scenes from Watchmen and slap them up on the screen. I wonder what it'd be like to watch it having never come across the comic book before, and experiencing it only as a movie for the first time. Would you care? Would you be excited? Or would it just look like another CGI-heavy comic book movie?

There are a few concerns, though, and the same ones that've marred his previous movies. First and foremost, too much goddamn slow motion. 300 killed slow-mo for something like a generation of filmmakers. He needs to learn to let things play at normal speed. Second, why is Rorshach doing a Wolverine vocal impersonation? Can't he sound weird and intimidating instead of just grizzled? Third, why the hell are they using a song from the Batman & Robin soundtrack (I guess technically it's from the "The End is the Beginning is the End" single the Pumpkins released, but that track, and its mirror - creatively titled "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning" - are on the soundtrack, and the single has that godawful B&R logo on the cover)? They get points for using a Pumpkins song, but lose many more fot its association for the popping of the superhero movie bubble. Also, I fear that the CGI is going to date it terribly. Will watching Watchmen in three years be like watching Spider-Man at home and getting pissed off because the digital effects are so shitty? Just because I'm excited, doesn't mean I can't worry.

UPDATE: Just showed the trailer to my roommate, who hasn't made it past the third chapter in the book no matter how many times he's tried. True to my fear, he didn't care at all. It looked cool (because it does), but he doesn't know anything about Dr. Manhattan, or Silk Spectre, or Ozymandias, or even Rorshach. Maybe this'll inspire him to pick the book up again, but I doubt it'll do that for everyone that sees the trailer. Did Zack make another movie that only fans of the original will dig? We'll see in about a year, I guess.

dr. horrible's sing-along blog (act II)

I'm trying to be more on top of my reaction this time (more "timely," if you will), so here goes.

"You look horribly familiar."

Act twos are almost always better than act ones: you know the characters, so you don't have to spend time setting them up; the bad stuff (which is always the best stuff, plot-wise) can rain down and set them up for either grand triumph or heart-wrenching failure; the ante has to be successfully upped, because, otherwise, it's just a retread of act one. Empire Strikes Back, Godfather II - when the second act is carefully considered, it's the best.

Act II of Dr. Horrible manages to bear that out pretty nicely. It doesn't have to spend as much time in the video blog box as the first act did, which allows for more meaningful action (and comedy) to take place. We're also accustomed to the weird little world in which it's taking place (laundromat, the doc's lair/apartment), so again, we're comfortable. Comfort allows for the raising of the stakes, which, by the end, it's done quite well.

The opening song is probably the best thing that these 26 minutes of show has done thus far: a perfect fusion of cinematography, performance and song. The look on Dr. Horrible's face in the first instant of the episode is absolutely heartrendingly hysterical, and the split-screen shot where Dr. Horrible slams his hands against one wall, and Penny presses herself against another, is pure cinematic gold. It doesn't hurt that the song is fantastic.

I still can't say enough good things about Nathan Fillion, not only as Captain Hammer, but as a performer. He swaggers better than anyone on the planet except, perhaps, for Patrick Warburton. He's very typical of Joss actors in that you can tell he's a smart performer; when he's on camera, he's always thinking. He never really got a good opportunity to physically intimidate Sean Maher (Simon Tam on Firefly - Neil's closest physical analogue in Dr. Horrible), so seeing him repeatedly wrap his hands and forearm around our hero's neck and use every ounce of muscle at his command to cut off his adversary's air supply is a pretty sick thing to enjoy, but enjoy it I do.

Felicia Day really got a chance to stretch in this episode; free from having to be set up as the spunky damsel in distress (but not really), she's able to portray a smart woman who's come to her conclusions about life through adversity, and who's set modest, achievable, worthwhile goals for herself (in obvious contrast to Dr. Horrible, who's still planning to take over the world and give Australia to his lady love). She's a more full character in this iteration, which only works to deepen my affection.

Neil, of course, continues to play his gawky, socially awkward super villain perfectly. He humanizes the ridiculous Dr. Horrible so well that you can't help but feel for the guy; while Captain Hammer lives every skinny nerd's fantasy, truth be told, if that righteous geek rage was unable to find an appropriate outlet (D&D, making music, masturbation), Dr. Horrible is probably closer to the truth (painfully lonely, self-righteous, but motivated).

I still really like how disinterested he is in traditional villany (that is to say, murder). Even when Bad Horse's telephone call (the return of the singing cowboys!) tells him that assassination is the only way for him to enter the Evil League of Evil, he has issues with it. Death is not what interests him, but social change, apparently, through bizarre acts of terrorism. Of course, what motivates our mild-mannered supervillain to carry out his appointed act of assassination? A woman (by the way, Fillion's delivery of the line, "These are not the Hammer," may well rank among the most perfect things I've seen on any screen this year).

That's probably what's so interesting about Penny and Dr. Horrible, that they both want the same thing, but chose vastly different ways of going about accomplishing it. I wonder if he knew about her volunteer work as he was watching her from across the laundromat; I wonder if he's ever going to think about how similar they really are. By the same token, will it ever hit the Captain that his piece of arm candy is a more mellow version of his arch-nemesis?

The closing musical number is a perfect example of my point about upping the ante: bigger, better, badder, and more cartoony (Dr. Horrible's Godzilla fantasy is fantastic precisely because it comes out of nowhere) than the "Man's Got To Do" sequence from Act I, it cuts off at just the right time and leaves me on the edge of my desk chair, somewhat dejected that I have to wait two whole days for the conclusion, with only The Dark Knight to tide me over (boy, is life ever hard).

It's a wholly different take on the motivations of cartoony terrorists than the one provided by V For Vendetta; more The Tick than Budda's Wagon. It's a great ride that I don't want to end so soon.

16 July 2008

dr. horrible's sing-along blog (act I)

While I haven't followed this all that closely, I've still been excited for it. Joss Whedon, master of multimedia storytelling + Neil Patrick Harris + Nathan Fillion + singing has got to = something better than awesome.

The first episode went live yesterday, I think. I got sidetracked by other things, plus I don't know if I'm a big enough fan to really be able to jump on the website on day #1 and experience the extraordinary entertainment that was sure to be in store for me.

First and foremost, the singing (and the acting. I won't be able to separate the two). Everyone that's followed the career of the once and future Doogie Howser (because we all know it'll come back some day) knows that he's got himself some knockout pipes; if he wasn't so funny, he could probably carve out a pretty good vocal performance career for himself. As Dr. Horrible, he's the hero of the piece, so it makes sense that he's got the powerful voice, which he does, in spades. Nathan Fillion, I don't know if he's had any vocal training, but, as always, he gets the job done through physical presence, charisma, and just as much self-aware comedic stylings as our man Neil. His voice isn't the strongest in history, but seeing as how I can barely fill a room with my vocal cords, I really can't criticize. He's always perfect in his parts, anyway. Felicia Day (she was in Buffy, what a shock - thanks, iMDb) doesn't quite have the presence of her male co-stars, but you can certainly tell that she's game for the wackiness. Her singing is mixed down a bit with the duet/tri-et (??) part - at least that's what it felt like to me - but she's got a nice soft voice that'll counterpoint Neil and Nathan well, I think.

Based on act #1, I think I can safely say we're in for a fantastic little treat of a web series. I do think the initial video blog portion of the episode went on a tad too long, but once it broke itself out of the static box of the webcam, it started to go places. Efficiently shot, the cinematic style of the show looks, like it usually does when Joss is directing (with some notable stylistic exceptions - I think he's gotten to be such a better director as time's gone on), to emphasize the performance of the actors much more than whatever sort of tricks they think to pull off with the camera.

The musical numbers themselves are quite nicely orchestrated; I was drawn to the three singing cowboys that pop out of nowhere as Dr. Horrible is reading his letter from the Evil League of Evil (the organization he's fighting to get accepted to, and has been trying to for... years, maybe), for it stretched the reality of the show a little more than I'd been first expecting, and I'm always a sucker for refracting reality through some sort of weird prism.

That's not to say that the moments Penny and the doc have are less than noteworthy. Just after she's convinced him to sign the petition for the homeless shelter's expansion plans, right after she's stood close as he signs, she looks up at him and tries to share a little commiserating moment, as two lonely people who see each other while they're doing laundry. He's trying to steal a courier van loaded with a rare substance that's essential to his work, and he keeps getting distracted. Anyway, she looks up at him, and he's staring at his iPhone (which, presumably, he's hacked to work on concert with the mystery device he's placed atop the aforementioned van). This moment that he's wished for months to share with her has finally arrived, and he's not even looking. The expression on her face as she turns away is positively heartbreaking; it's a great bit of acting and direction.

Captain Hammer (the good doctor's arch nemesis, naturally) showed up at just the right time, and in the best possible place to derail, maybe forever, his long-lusted-after relationship with the woman he watches at the laundromat.

I imagine I'm not alone in empathizing with the guy who's forced to choose his work over the woman he's attracted to, because of some sort of outside interference (see - strapping, confident, attractive men like Nathan Fillion), but I'm going to point out that I empathize with him anyway. Neil uses his slight build (particularly in juxtaposition with Fillion) to its fullest advantage here.

It might be worth addressing Horrible's motivations before closing, how he's apparently interested in upending the system(s) that have chipped away at our humanity (how his bank robberies are not about gaining wealth for himself, but taking it away from those who possess it and, presumably, idolize it). In true Victor Von Doom fashion, he thinks that the only person capable of saving the world from itself is him (he says so, in point of fact), but he seems almost like a performance artist sort of evildoer, rather than someone who's interested in causing mass amounts of property damage or loss of life to prove his point.

They're pretty broadly drawn characters at the moment, but the actors do plenty with what's given to them. I'm excited to see where it goes once Dr. Horrible gets his mystery compound back to his lair to plug into his freeze gun.

if there's one thing I hate more than false hope...

In the words of Doctor Henry Jones, Sr., "Look what you did."

After years of failing miserably to satisfy even the most basic tenet of classification as a vertebrate lifeform (i.e. - backbone), Congress finally stood up for itself and its employers (that'd be us). Maybe they finally figured out that it's in their best interests to stand up to a president whose performance in his job is seen as less than satisfactory by Americans (not to mention the world) in historic numbers. Maybe they figured that it's time they stood by the document that created the country whose people they've been able to exploit and leech off of for so long (Senator Feingold, Representatives Wexler and Degette, I'm not including you in this company). Or, maybe they just felt bad for old Ted Kennedy.

I really don't care, because for one brief, shining moment, America had a legislative branch of government that cared about her, and while this doesn't really make up for the presentation Congress gave the president last week over wiretapping and telecom immunity, this is still... something. Not The West Wing brought to life, but a step in the right direction. And while it depresses me that a baby step can bring a light to my face for a full hour, I'm willing to take it. For now.

Paul Krugman wrote about what this actually means with far more depth, and far less knee-jerk emotion, than I did. Check it out.