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The Trainwreck Live Action Star Wars TV Series

About the only good thing that you can say about the live action Star TV series is that with the House of George selling out the House of Mouse, this thing will probably never see the light of day.

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What do most people think of when they think of Star Wars? Spaceships and guys with laser swords slashing at each other. Even George Lucas figured out that you couldn’t really get rid of those things and still expect anyone to show up in theaters. He made them hard to come by and drowned them in a load of other crap, but he didn’t get rid of them.

Sources say the live-action series centers on the story of rival families struggling over the control of the seedy underside of the Star Wars universe and the people who live within the subterranean level and air shafts of the metropolis planet Coruscant (the Empire’s urban-sprawl-covered home planet). A bounty hunter may be the main character.

That has some potential if you’re making a syndicated low budget series that’s trying to be the DS9 of Star Wars. Maybe.

But this was a $5 million per episode series that Lucasfilm wanted to retain ownership to and that they ordered 50 scripts for without an actual deal.

The best part is that they ordered some of those scripts from Ron Moore. So we not only have a SciFi Noir crime drama without Jedis or spaceships, but we also have the most overhyped TV SF writer, after Joss Whedon, who trashed Battlestar Galactica, on board to do it.

The Avengers movie review

The Avengers is big. Like the Transformers movies and Avatar it’s there to impress you with its size so you don’t think too much about its quality. When it comes to quality, The Avengers’ secret weapon is its writer and director, Joss Whedon. But Whedon does nothing for the plot of The Avengers which isn’t just cliches, but cliched cliches.

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If you’ve never seen a movie before then you might have no idea that when Loki lets himself get captured it’s all a setup for a rescue attack that will free him and seriously damage SHIELD’s carrier. And if you’ve never seen a movie before then you might not be able to guess that the Hulk will show up at the moment when he’s needed most.

Joss Whedon’s real contribution are the punchlines and snide remarks that everyone makes to each other in between the punches and explosions. The remarks, some of them clever, make The Avengers seem a little smarter than it is, but the movie isn’t smart, it’s just knowing which makes it Transformers with better dialogue. Chuckle at some of Tony Stark’s lines, delivered with perfect timing by Robert Downey Jr and you can almost overlook the horrifyingly long drawn out plot that feels even longer because you know what’s going to happen 5 minutes from now… and you still have to wait for the movie to get there on its own.

The Avengers is still fun and while Joss Whedon as director brings absolutely no visual style to the table, the movie could just as easily have been directed by anyone, he keeps an enormously long movie moving along pretty swiftly because there’s always something happening to hold your attention, either explosions, fights or smart remarks, and even if you don’t care about it two minutes later and can’t even remember what it was, you’re having fun or at least not being too bored at almost any given moment in the movie.

There may never be a Buffy movie, but The Avengers is the next best thing. Its cast talks and squabbles like the grown up Scooby Gang shooting lines at each other, getting into pointless fights, going off to pout and then teaming up to fight against a villain who talks just like them, but happens to be evil.

Joss Whedon had been doing these stories for almost ten years and it’s no wonder that he can do it smoothly enough in The Avengers where the Scooby Gang of Marvel superheroes is a good fit because getting into pointless fights with each and going off to sulk before becoming friends again is the Marvel dynamic and the teenage dynamic too.

But what made Buffy and Angel stand out is that they were more than just smart remarks, they were also full of smart plots and surprise twists. The shows tried to make what happened next into a surprise by going where you didn’t think they were going to go. Firefly didn’t last long, but it seemed to have that same quality too. And it’s a quality that The Avengers could have used, because no amount of witty lines can make a movie this predictable not be as stupid as it is.

The Avengers is fun in its own way. If you want to kill more hours than any other movie in theaters and don’t want anything except an amusement park ride of special effects, it’s the movie for you. Like so many blockbusters now, The Avengers is a giant live-action cartoon with human beings poking their heads out among the CG. But even though it brings together the cast from Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk, it doesn’t have any of the weight and depth of those movies.

The brief scenes between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are one of the few moments in The Avengers that remind you that these characters can be more than just action figures in a really big cartoon.

Dollhouse Drags Along

“And Whedon said that even if the show dies after the first 13 episode order of season two, the writers won’t feel like they held back any awesomeness. But that’s as long as they get to 13 episodes”

That’s Jed Whedon by the way, not Joss Whedon. Jed Whedon is the writer of such exciting Dollhouse episodes as “Hey, Let’s Get Stuck in a Bank Vault”, “Hey, Let’s Go on American Idol” and “Hey Let’s Have Echo Join a Cult So We Can Do Some Cutting Edge Storytelling From 1994”. And what with him and Joss Whedon’s wife writing episodes have only made the show stronger and better, as shows usually get stronger and better when people related to the showrunner write episodes, I think we’re all waiting with bated breath to see Dollhouse fulfill the same promises it made last year and then failed to fulfill. But I’m sure this year will be way better. I’m sure we won’t spend 13 episodes building up to Alan Tudyk playing a generic psycho or having Agent Kickboxing inexplicably decide to join the Dollhouse. Totally not. Just let Dollhouse make it to another 13 episodes and we’ll see groundbreaking storytelling that only a devoted Joss Whedon fanboy or fangirl could love. Like 99.99 percent of America, I’m not actually watching Dollhouse anymore, but my advice is that since Seth MacFarlane is about the only reason Dollhouse was renewed and Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles was canceled, maybe they can just let him write all the episodes from now on.

Dollhouse Returns Empty Handed

Yup, the one Joss Whedon show that FOX and whoever should have canceled, but didn’t, Dollhouse is back. Dollhouse’s season finale pulled in a 2.8. Dollhouse’s season premiere pulled in a 2.7. How low those numbers will go by the time that Dollhouse burns through its 13 episode order, and Kevin Reilly has to choose between not wasting more money or pleasing Eliza Dushku’s boyfriend, is anyone’s guess. Dollhouse’s 18/34 demos haven’t dropped any, but they’re still as good or bad as Smallville or Brothers. Considering what FOX is spending to get a 1.0 demo, you’d think that FOX was so desperate it was the CW.

Kevin Reilly stupidly made the choice to cancel Terminator the Sarah Connor Chronicles, which managed to pull in a 3.8 for both its season opener and season finale. By contrast Dollhouse had dropped from 4.7 to 2.8 in only 13 episodes. If that match keeps up, FOX may be stuck with negative viewers, 13 episodes in. And considering the not particularly promising stuff that Epitaph One suggested we have to look forward to, that might actually happen.

It’s hard to know who exactly to blame for this mess. Kevin Reilly deserves his share for killing a great SciFi TV series for a very bad one. Joss Whedon’s obsessive fanboys and fangirls who reflexively praise anything the man does, regarding of quality or content, and if you think I’m being mean or exaggerating, remember that there was a Save Dollhouse campaign going, before a single Dollhouse episode had even aired. That’s like running a Four More Years campaign for a candidate who wasn’t even elected yet. There’s Eliza Dushku making her final bid for relevance, before she has to buckle down and play someone’s wacky best friend on a sitcom. And finally there’s Joss Whedon whose output has actually gotten worse over the years, and who really doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing with Dollhouse. Maybe if he had exercised some quality control back during the Buffy and Angel days, or when making Serenity or Dollhouse, he wouldn’t need a die hard fanbase to promote him, his work would actually be a popular, and not in a viral webseries kind of way.

Dollhouse 1×11 Briar Rose review

So for this episode of Dollhouse’s guiding paradigm, we’ve got 1 princess (or maybe 2 if we count November) and 2 princes, one of whom is an FBI agent and the other is a serial killer doll with a composite memory and the personality and looks of a stoner. The message is that the princess should save herself, the appropriate manfeminist message you would expect from a Joss Whedon series, but the upshot is that Alpha restores or gives Caroline some kind of memory, and then leads her out of there. Alan Tudyk played his part well enough that even though I had seen spoilers that said he was Alpha, I assumed that Tudyk had been brought in to play another part entirely, until he reverted to Alpha form. That isn’t to say that Dollhouse 1×11 Briar Rose makes much sense. It doesn’t. Paul Ballard’s plan makes less than no sense. He’s out to grab and rescue Echo, even though she’s still mindwiped, leaving him with a mindless doll. Unless he’s been programmed with a compulsion, this really makes no sense. Alpha’s plan doesn’t make a ton of sense either. Why bother going through a complicated charade and enlisting an environmental specialist to go down into the Dollhouse with Agent Ballard, when he could just as easily have done it all himself. But who ever claimed Dollhouse ever made sense in the first place?

Why Dollhouse Does Nothing For Me

Dollhouse. Even the name alone is almost certain to discourage viewers. But that’s not the real problem. Whether it was Buffy, Angel or Firefly, Joss Whedon built his career on heroic narratives. Dollhouse is anything but a heroic narrative. It’s not even anti-heroic, it’s just depressing social commentary and post Episode 5, the occasional bit of clever writing dumped on TV. There’s nothing wrong with a bleak universe. Dark Angel gave us a post-crash America that seems quite prophetic today, in which the government is corrupt and abusive, and crime is everywhere. But it worked because it had characters trying to change that, whose struggles we could identify with. By contrast Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse has nothing but blank victims and human perpetrators in stock for us. Even after Dollhouse jettisoned the “Echo takes on a new identity and goes all Pretender” stories that FOX wanted, what’s left is a clever, somewhat interesting, but mostly depressing and pointless series. Dollhouse owes a lot more to media studies and social commentary, than it does to good storytelling. And that makes it borderline unwatchable. The Dolls are blank victims, and their former human selves range from obnoxious, Echo, Victor, to pitiable, Sierra. It’s the staff at the Dollhouse who get the personality and the interesting stories, but who really wants to spend week after week watching the equivalent of Nazi concentration camp guards and personnel struggling with their jobs?

Dollhouse Sucks, a Case Study in Bad Concepts

It’s not that hard to make a TV show. Oh the details are hard, but in the big picture you want to nail a few things down. For one thing you want a main character audiences can identify with. Not a blank drone whose memory card gets pulled at the end of the day, leaving you to follow the storylines of the various corporate gnomes who hang around the place. Dollhouse is a poor fusion of cheesy girl power scifi dramas like Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels run through a blender that somehow distills all of Joss Whedon’s unique worldview and dialogue into mush, and leaves us with episodes in which a talentless Eliza Dusku playing herself goes on adventures such as playing hostage negotiator or teaching an American Idol wannabe how important it is to live your life. Some people are comparing Dollhouse to Dark Angel, but even at its worst, Cameron framed Dark Angel in a plausible alternative SciFi world, with a character who had her own personality and real challenges to face. Why Joss Whedon thought that people would watch a series about a drone who gets her memory card pulled at the end of the day, just so he can comment on society’s view of women, is beyond me. But Dollhouse is a case study in bad concepts, fitted with only two sympathetic characters, and a main character who can’t be identified with because she doesn’t really exist. That is not how you make a TV show.

Dollhouse Really Really Dead Now

dollhouseWhat does stopped production plus Friday night timeslot equal? You got it, cancellation. While ratings expectations on FOX for Friday night these days have to be pretty low, and the budget for Dollhouse can’t be as bad as for something like Firefly, I don’t imagine that this is anything but the kiss of death for the series before it even aired. Yes FOX is advertising it a bit, with an emphasis on Joss Whedon, but by now just about everyone knows it’s dead.

I called it along mainly because I didn’t see how Joss Whedon or anyone could really do much with a concept that has a zombified protagonist and the early footage showcasing something that looked like a bland mix of Alias and Dark Angel only made it worse. Even at this late stage I have no idea why I should care about the story, and while the trailer for Dollhouse sets out some nice philosophical questions about memory and soul, I see no convincing reason that it will give me much of a story to go with them.

What I do see is a fairly generic cast besides Dushku, whom I’m not exactly a fan of, who is playing a character who gets reprogrammed each time out of the box. Again the key question is why should I care. This series seems to have been an impulse production and a big mistake all around, the stopped production and the constant script problems are only symptoms of the larger problem, which is that neither Joss Whedon nor anyone involved have a clue where this is going or what it’s meant to really be about. Well now Dollhouse has the Friday night time slot of death. Goodbye Dollhouse.

Trouble in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse

dollhouseBetween the pilot episode being kicked back a spot to make way for a new more pilotier pilot and Joss Whedon being unusually accommodating about the whole thing and now a two week production shutdown, Dollhouse’s future is looking none too bright. Though to the Cult of Whedon, Joss Whedon can still do no wrong, the history stacks the numbers against him. We’ve seen the Dollhouse promos and they don’t look too promising. Buffy and Firefly both had exciting premises that jumped out at you, Dollhouse by contrast seems like a watered down version of Alias, La Femme Nikita and Dark Angel that looks almost as exciting as Tru Calling.

Now add on the FOX factor and you’ve got serious trouble brewing for Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. FOX likes to order SciFi shows and then cancel them. One by one FOX has done this to SF series after SF series over the years. To FOX’s credit the shows do get ordered, they just don’t survive. Joss Whedon’s last FOX series Firefly couldn’t even run a single season on FOX. Dollhouse may do no better. For starters Dollhouse has a whole bunch of strikes against it. First is its name, not exactly the sort of calling card to bring in the target demographic, a problem also shared by Firefly.

While Joss Whedon gained success with Buffy, the one word names for shows, names that are a bit misleading and silly, only worked once, and it worked because Buffy was the title character. Firefly’s name alone probably lost the series no shortage of viewers that never even bothered tuning in. Dollhouse will have the same problem, only in spades. Ask the average TV viewer what he expects from a show called Dollhouse and it certainly isn’t a series about mindwarped women who kick ass. And while maybe we shouldn’t be talking down to the TV audience, working with them to promote your show isn’t a bad idea either.

I said from the start that Dollhouse looked like an impossible series to pull off, too high concept to really make for good TV viewing. The teaser for the series made it look bland and it’s obvious that the series is suffering from serious script problems.

The Blackburne Covenant

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Once upon a time crucial struggle was fought between the Acolytes of the Greenway and the Barons of the Blackburne Covenant who sought to forge a technological civilization out of iron. In the collision between Greenway and Iron, the crucial role was played by Talinada, who possessed the power of the Greenway, giving her control over plants and the forces of nature. However Talinada decided for an unstated reason that the time was not yet right for the triumph of the Greenway and after killing a number of the Knights of the Covenant, she surrendered and was brutally tortured before being executed.

Many centuries later Richard Kaine is living among the squalor of the technological civilization forced by the Covenant and working in a cubicle at a publishing company. He finally writes a novel titled Wintersong and places it in the company’s slush pile and allows Marissa at the publishing company to read it. The book is published and becomes an instant DaVinci Code style success that creates a cult following of people who believe the book is really true. Like the DaVinci Code, Wintersong focuses on the collision between a pagan matriarchal belief system with a more conventional feudal religious and civic system ending in triumph for European civilization while the pagans retreat secretively underground.

The book’s incredible popularity follows Richard wherever he goes. He goes on Oprah and travels the world doing book tours and drinking heavily. He isn’t getting any writing done but he is having visions of the world ‘greening’ and buildings becoming replaced by organic and plant forms. And after an encounter with an assailant with a taser whose shirt contains the Blackburne Covenant emblem, Richard begins to believe that he did not write the book, but that it really did happen. And then the killings begin.

First the head of the publishing company which put out the book is murdered and then Marissa herself is killed. The publishing company is taken over, Richard’s bar is blown up and Richard himself is pushed to the edge and forced to discover and use his powers. The powers of the Greenway.

In The Blackburne Covenant, Fabian Nicieza has crafted what might be called an organic version of The Matrix. Richard Kaine is the reincarnation of Talinada’s spirit who has to fulfill her purpose and proclaim the truth to mankind and show that there is a better way. The Blackburne Covenant briefly gives us the impression that governments and industries are all pawns of the complex but fails to give much in the way of detail. The Greenway Acolytes themselves, a secret commune operating out of Maine, had tried to use John Lennon and Timothy Leary to be their messiahs, but failed with both of them.

Artist Stefanno Raffaele boldly lays out the world of The Blackburne Covenant in neat strokes and fluid shapes that occasionally suggests more classic comic books while shifting to a gritter noisy look for the sections involving flashbacks of Talinada. The shifting organic world of green and red explodes around Richard as projections of unbounded fluid energy and the intertwining forms often suggest the comic book art of the 70’s. The Matrix analogies continue as Richard’s ability to see the world in an ‘organic’ way parallels the way Neo can see the code beneath the surface of the Matrix. On learning to harness his powers, Richard even stops bullets several times in the air and hurls them back– Neo style. And his trinity is literal with the female ghosts of two of the Greenway Acolytes accompanying him on his journey.

The material is at times adult with degrees of nudity shown, but never entirely explicit. The level of violence is insignificant except when displaying the torture and murders of Talidana and Marissa– the latter of which is particularly disturbing. The Blackburne Covenant has an interesting premise but lacks particularly interesting characters. Richard Kaine is essentially a cliched successful writer who manages to nail every cliche along the way and is so self-destructive that he’s generally irritating. Marissa barely sticks around for a single issue. Talidana is a vision who occasionally pops up, sometimes in the spirit and sometimes in written form. Few characters in the story stick around for very long and a central villain is even more lacking.

The Blackburne Covenant is portrayed as an all powerful organization but yet appears to be singularly ineffective. Multiple failed attempts at bringing down Richard are written off as merely tests. At one point Fabian Nicieza seems to be aiming for Joss Whedon style dialogue by the Covenant’s members (and The Blackburne Covenant even appears to explicitly reference Joss Whedon by name early on in the first issue) who deliver lines like “Unleash the Swords of the Covenant– I always wanted to say that”. But the results are uneven and watered down.

There appears to be too much material for Fabian Nicieza to really fit into four issues. Each introduction to each issue fills us in on material we would have often otherwise never known. The problem grows worse with the final two issues which are entirely unfocused and in which Kaine seems as adrift as Nicieza himself for what to do next. The ending is somewhat clever, suggesting Lenin’s infamous line about the capitalists selling us the rope to hang them with– but it caps off a rather aimless collection of action scenes that go nowhere.

The Blackburne Covenant has been adapted for filming and it isn’t entirely surprising– not because it’s so cinematic but because it so resembles the Matrix. However as a story it needed less symbolism and more substance. A 100 Bullets style exploration of the Blackburne Covenant itself would have added a good deal of depth to the story. Meanwhile the endless scenes from the novel with Talinada only remind you of how poor the novel is, rather than serving as a font for deeper mythology. There is potential here– which like the Greenway remains beneath the surface.

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