Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Under the Dome 2.09: "The Red Door"

Am I crazy, or was that maybe the best episode of the series to date?  Could be both.  The demons are telling me it's both.  They're also telling me to "kill," which I take to mean they want me to do a good job with this review.  Chill out, demons, I can't make you no promises about that.
  
  
 
  
What an odd series Under the Dome is.  I'm about halfway convinced that the whole thing is a Truman Show-style experiment designed to gauge my reactions on a week-to-week basis in an attempt to figure out what the range of my potential reactions is.  Might be they're testing you, too; but if I found out they had engineered this whole thing only to fuck with my head, I'd be merely a little surprised.
  
That's exaggeration, of course, but the unexaggerated fact is that I'm not sure I've ever watched a series that has gotten this sort of roller-coaster of shifting reactions out of me.  By all rights, I should have given up on the series after about two episodes.  Instead, I was determined to stick with it as long as it aired, no matter what.  That's the King-phile in me coming out, of course; and also, I suppose, the amateur blogger.  I mean, I've given up on King-based shows before (never did make it all the way through The Dead Zone), so it isn't purely brand loyalty.  That's part of it, but not the entirety of it.
  
The rest might simply come down to the nagging suspicion that the series was capable of better, and therefore might theoretically DO better eventually, if only I stuck it out long enough.
  
This week?  By damn, this week's episode is strong enough that it almost feels like the entire production has been rejuvenated.  The acting is suddenly better; the editing seems crisper; the score by W.G. Walden (which has actually been quite good all season) has more heft to it; there's less of the "CBS cheese" that faithful commenter Chris C. has (quite rightly) complained about.  We're not talking about an episode of True Detective all of a sudden, where everything clicks to an almost super-artistic degree.  But we ARE talking about a series that all of a sudden seem to be showing signs that it might have another gear to shift into.  Let's admit it: hadn't we all given up thinking that such a thing was even possible?  I admit that I had, even when I was hoping I was wrong.
  
And yet, here I am, making surprised-face and blogging about it.  
  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Under the Dome 2.08: "Awakening"

I would say this week's episode was a fairly decent one.  Much of it revolves around Barbie meeting a guy who works for Aktaion Energy, and who also, on the side, runs the HoundsOfDiana.com site that is evidently dedicated to counteracting disinformation about the dome.
  
Do we care about this?
  
In fact, do we care about any of this outside-the-dome business?
  
For me, the answer, increasingly, is yes.  Under the Dome hasn't turned into The Wire, exactly; hell, it hasn't even turned into a Dexter-quality show yet.  But there does somehow seem to have been a sense of energy and mystery imparted during these last couple of episodes that are, at the very least, making it a more interesting series than was once the case.  
  
Hopefully, that means we've seen the last of dumbo "Chester's Mill experiences __________ catastrophe this week and gets saved in ten minutes flat by __________" plots.
  
The question is, can the show build a mythology that is compelling enough to justify straying this far from the novel?  That remains to be seen.  There are five episodes remaining in this second season, and given how fast things tends to move on Under the Dome (in terms of bouncing from one plot element to the next), I'd say that we'll get enough story between now and the season finale to have a solid gauge on the answer to that question.
  
There is at the very least some attempt at depth being made.  Barbie's father works for a company called Aktaion Energy, and this appears to be a reference to the Greek myth of Actaeon, who saw Artemis bathing and was put to death by the goddess for his frank awe at her naked beauty.  He was turned into a stag, and was torn to pieces by his own hounds.
  
  
  
  
We've been seeing references to HoundsOfDiana.com for several weeks now, and it is obviously turning into a major plot element.  "Diana," of course, is the Roman equivalent of Artemis.  It is unclear what significance the mythological references might have, but there is at least a chance of something interesting happening in the course of all this.  This feels like Stephen King at work, to me.  I'm not sure yet if it's King bringing his A-game or not; hell, I'd settle for his C-game.  But it feels like King's hand guiding things, and if that proves to be the case, I'm curious to see what destination he has in mind.
  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #49

Tonight, we'll be covering a bunch of comics that I'd intended to cover in #48.  However, that post was overstuffed, so I decided to split it in two.  And now you've got an origin story for how #49 came to be.  Aren't you glad?
  
We begin with two feet firmly planted in Alan Moore-ville, and since this month brings us a brand-new comic from the Master himself, what better place to begin than that?
  
  
  
  
Specifically, Moore's new story for this month is a ten-page short titled "Grandeur & Monstrosity," which appears in the above-pictured anthology book God Is Dead: The Book of Acts -- Alpha.
  
I'm not familiar with God Is Dead, but evidently its conceit is that it takes place in a world where all the gods humans have ever worshiped have come back, and are all walking the Earth at once.  Sounds pretty rad, but the reviews I've seen indicate that that is perhaps not the case.  Granted, I have not researched the matter fully.  I've not read the series, and I've got no particular plans to do so; time constraints and all that jazz.
  
Alan Moore came close to changing my mind about that, but just when I was on the verge of doing so I reminded myself that he's not writing the series.  All he did was write this hilarious and oddly touching ten-pager, and while I'd definitely read a comic like that every month, I see no evidence that God Is Dead actually IS such a comic.
 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bryant Has Issues #48

The big item on the agenda for today is IDW's recent release of Walter Simonson's Lawnmower Man: Artist's Edition Portfolio, which will set you back about $60 and is almost guaranteed to thwart any and all attempts to stand it up straight on a bookshelf.  If you've got a shelf that can accommodate this thing, then you may be one of those giants from Game of Thrones.
  
What we're talking about here is a hardcover binder which holds frameable individual pages.  The binder is about 18.5" tall and 13.25" wide, and the pages themselves are 18" X 13".  So, needless to say, this sucker is huge.
 
 
 
  
I've got some size-comparison photos I'll share with you in a bit, but before we get to that, let's take a look at the history of this comic.
  
Its first appearance was in the December 1981 issue of Bizarre Adventures, which was a magazine-sized anthology series published by Marvel.  Here's the cover:
  
  
  
  
That's a terrific cover, and if you like the art, then I've got good news about the rest of the adaptation (which runs 21 pages), and I've got bad news about it.  Which do you want first?
  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Under the Dome 2.07: "Going Home"

Having watched tonight's episode, I find that I don't know how I feel about it.  Which is partially a lie: I do know how I feel about it.  I feel numerous things about it all at once, and some of them are flat-out contradictory.  I like this show, and I loathe it; I am invested in this show, and I feel virtually no attachment to it.  Reconcile those things, if you can.  I can't.
  
So, in an attempt to do so, I'm going to rewatch it, take a few screencaps, and try to work it all out as I type.  We'll see how it goes.
  
  
  
  
Barbie wakes with a start from a dream of Sam falling into the darkness in the cave.  Julia has been reading Pauline's journal, and can't sleep.
 
  
  
  
The next morning, Julia and Barbie tell Junior, Joe, Norrie, and Melanie about Sam's death, and about Barbie's discovery that it was Sam who killed Angie and not Lyle. Junior doesn't take it well, and more or less accuses Barbie of lying to cover up the fact that he murdered Sam.
  

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Under the Dome 2.06: "In the Dark"

Well, for the second consecutive week, I find myself in the position of having to spend the latter half of my off day not as I wish to do -- blogging (probably very snarkily) about Under the Dome -- but going to friggin' work.  Which means I have precisely half an hour to write a review of this week's episode.  And given that I kept falling asleep during it (probably thanks to me begin up entirely too late putting the finishing touches on my Golden Years review), I'm not sure how effective a job I'm going to be able to do.  But hey, this blog is a time-capsule for me as much as it is anything else, so it'll just have to be what it'll be, I guess.
  
It was an okay episode.  Not one of the better episodes of the season, but neither did it manage to make me roll my eyes more than about once or twice.  Two times that I can think of: Big Jim lurching back toward villainy AGAIN by telling Barbie that people shouldn't be allowed to vote; and the big Joe/Norrie breakup scene.  But even those threads ended up being relatively inoffensive.
  
The episode revolved around four primary plotlines: (1) Barbie and Sam exploring the recently-discovered tunnels which run beneath the school; (2) Big Jim trying to construct a windmill to alleviate some sort of dust storm (the explanation for which must have happened during one of my micro-naps); (3) Julia and Rebecca trying to unblock a bunch of rocks that collapses in the tunnel thanks to an explosion, seemingly rigged by Lyle; and (4) the Four Hands trying to retrieve the egg from the lake.
  
Of those, I guess the Barbie/Sam plotline was the most intriguing, mainly because it actually gave Mike Vogel a chance to act a little bit.  That's a semi-rarity on this series.  Hell, even Eddie Cahill got a chance to do something other than stare blankly into space.  We found out -- assuming we can believe what we saw (which I think we can) -- that Sam (A) did indeed kill Angie; (B) plans to kill the other Hands; and (C) is indeed doing so because he believes it will bring the dome down.  However, he's obviously conflicted about it.  Actually, scratch that; he's not conflicted at all, he's downright remorseful over what he's having to do, to the extent that he plans to kill himself once the deed is totally done.  That turns Sam into a much more interesting character than he has ever even approached being before.
  
One other semi-notable occurrence: John Elvis make his first appearance of the season as Benny the skate-kid.  He looks as if he's been on the reverse of the Atkins diet, and I'm not sure how Benny picked up all those extra pounds in just a few weeks of story time, but I think we might have our explanation for the food-shortage problem of a few episodes ago.

Half-hour's up, y'all!  See you next week, hopefully in a less-abbreviated fashion.

Monday, August 4, 2014

After A While, They Always Stop: A Review of "Golden Years"

I've got a treat for you today, folks, assuming your idea of a treat involves reading 25,000+ words on the subject of Golden Years.  If it doesn't, you're out of luck.  Go buy yourself an ice-cream cone, and have one for me while you're at it.  My apologies for the tease.

Everyone else, strap in, because this one will take a while.

Before we proceed, I've got to mention the format we'll be taking.  Typically with my reviews, I just sort of do whatever feels right.  Sometimes that takes the form of proceeding along the lines of theme and subject; other times, I just sort of yammer for a while and then slap a title on things.  What I don't tend to do is plot summary.

The reason for that is simple: I assume you've read the book (or seen the movie), and have no particular need of a summary.  It makes more sense to me to discuss the ramifications of the events rather than the events themselves.

With this piece, though, I had some difficulty deciding whether to limit my review to the DVD version (which at one point was the only commercially-available edit of the series), or whether I ought to also discuss the original, uncut television episodes.  (I'd already done so once, here, but felt there might be room to expand and revise that approach.)  Those have evidently become available via Netflix in the past few years, so they are relevant again whereas before they were not.  However, those versions themselves are seemingly somewhat compromised: the final episode has been edited to incorporate the tacked-on "ending" that was included on the VHS and DVD releases.  Or at least, that's my understanding; I'm not currently a Netflix subscriber, so I cannot verify that.

So, what version to tackle?

In contemplating the issue, a solution presented itself: do a "side-by-side" plot summary, and find a way to offset the scenes that were cut out for the feature edit.  That way, anyone who is interested enough in Golden Years to care about the differences between the television and home-video versions will have a fairly comprehensive resource at their disposal.  From there, the piece developed under its own powers, and when I say "developed," what I mean is that it turned into what amounts to a running prose "commentary track" written by yours truly.  Lots of snark, lots of profanity; this should surprise nobody who has ever read my blog.  I'm pretty hard on the show when I think it deserves it (which is often), but I'm quick to praise it when I think it deserves praise.

There are tons of screencaps, too, so what you've got here is a very lengthy plot summary with multiple visual aids, accompanied by observations from yours truly.  It's a very different piece than what I normally do around here, but the results may be one of the lengthier articles ever written on the subject of Golden Years, so I guess there's that.

Without further ado, let's just dive right into it. [A word about formatting: scenes omitted from the "feature" cut are set aside in brackets, like so.  That ought to be sufficient to help us remember which  scenes are in the feature edit and which are not.

I can't help but point out that my old VHS version begins with the CBS lead-in.  The premiere two-parter was actually aired as a "CBS Tuesday Movie."  Check it out:


If anyone knows who wrote the cool music that accompanied this, let me know. It sounds like, but is not, John Williams.
  
Modern networks would rather do just about anything than air thirty seconds' worth of stuff like this.  I can't honestly say that I blame them.  Still, I kinda miss garbage like this, personally.]
  
We begin with the opening credits, set to the David Bowie song "Golden Years." 
 

 


[The television version does not include the opening-credits sequence; it begins with an abbreviated version of the Bowie song, but then launches straight into the first scene.]