Flotsam & Jetsam
I watched three major SF-related shows this weekend, and I was hoping to get a blog post out of at least one of them, but instead I find myself with very little to say. So, I'm going to smoosh all three reactions into a single catch-all post, and hope that there's something more substantial for me to write about in the pipeline. (That said, I'm anticipating a bit of quiet around these parts during April.)
- Battlestar Galactica, "He That Believeth in Me" - That was surprisingly enjoyable. The first act plays to the show's greatest strength--cool and intense space battles--and wraps up in one hell of an interesting way which makes one of my favorite characters even more interesting, and might even get me over my dubiousness about the identities of the Cylons revealed in "Crossroads." The rest of the episode is also strong, as the show finally starts paying attention to an issue that should have started cropping up in discussions and conversations in the second season premiere--the question of what it means to be a Cylon, not physically or biologically (though some answers on that front might be nice), but emotionally and morally. I liked that this issue was being considered from both sides of the divide and from several perspectives, and that discussions of it called back earlier entries in the conversation such as Boomer's attempts to hold onto to her identity and Baltar's Cylon detector. In general, the characters feel more grounded, more like real, semi-rational people rather than the shouty, angsty messes they were last season--in fact, there's almost a sense that season 3 and its histrionics have been swept away, and that season 4 is picking up from season 2 and maybe moving in a direction that might make the show watchable again. Here's hoping.
- Southland Tales - oh, hell no. I've been very, very dubious about this film, not just because of its by-now infamous brutal reception at Cannes and the two-year delay in its release, but ever since I watched the Donnie Darko director's cut, and discovered that instead of reinstating some great character scenes, which would have fleshed out Donnie's family and Drew Barrimore's character (why doesn't anyone else get Barrimore to play bitchy and sarcastic? She's so great at it) Kelly tried to make his film comprehensible, and to foreground the dodgy SFnal plot device driving it. As if anyone fell in love with Donnie Darko for its plot. That same crucial failure of priorities is what drives Southland Tales into the ground, which is not to say that Kelly strove to make an easily understood movie. Quite the opposite--I doubt I've seen a messier, bittier, more non-linear and nonsensical film in my life.
To even begin to understand the events of Southland Tales, I'd have to read the graphic novel prequel, trawl through the interactive website, and wait for the six-part mini-series version, of which the film is only the truncated latter half. For some reason, Richard Kelly thinks I'd be interested in doing this--in slowly puzzling out the details of his imaginary future--though he's given me no reason to do so. No interesting or appealing characters or relationships, no clever dialogue, no funny or touching set pieces. At its very best, Southland Tales is beautiful--several sequences towards its end recall the camera's dreamy dance around the characters during "Head Over Heels" or the powerful kinetic quality of the "Notorious" dance in Donnie Darko (it's pretty clear that what Richard Kelly really wants is to direct a musical--there's even a dream sequence in Southland Tales in which Justin Timberlake's characters lip-syncs to The Killers' "All These Things I've Done" while a bevy of chorus girls flit and flounce around him)--but this is hardly enough to sustain the film through 2.5 tedious and ultimately frustrating hours.
- Doctor Who, "Partners in Crime" - Pleasant, though not much more than that. Plot-wise, there's not much there there, but this is Doctor Who, and surely by now we've learned that unless Stephen Moffat or Paul Cornell's names are on the title page the plot will be something we've seen twelve times before, and an unbaked, unengaging thing at that. What's worth talking about in this episode is Donna, and here I see reason to be optimistic. The impression the episode gives off is that the writers have gotten as tired of the show's romantic subtext (and just plain text) as we have, and Donna is literally introduced as a character whose relationship with the Doctor is not in any way romantic. It remains to be seen whether the show will stick to its guns in this respect (and whether it will resurrect the romantic plotlines with either Martha or Rose--the latter, at least, seems almost certain), but I do like the dynamic that's developed between the Doctor and Donna. I like her acknowledgment that it's one thing to say that you're going to cast off mediocrity and live in an adventure, and quite another thing to make that adventure happen on your own--most especially because that adventurousness is something that Donna needs from the Doctor (as you may recall, my first inkling that something wasn't right about Martha was my realization that she had no need the Doctor could answer, and sure enough, that need soon appeared in the form of an unrequited love) but that is different than what Rose needed from him. I'm still waiting to see what Donna brings to the equation, other than companionship for the Doctor, but at least I have an understanding of the foundation of the relationship. This could turn out alright.