Monthly Archives: December 2012

TDP – Week 2 Report

HALFWAY POINT.

And how am I doing? Not great. I did some major twitching earlier this week. Last night I had a sudden impulse to rewatch Dr. Horrible so strong that I was halfway to the computer before I remembered I wasn’t allowed to. And I was SAD.

I don’t know that this week was any harder (or easier) than last week. Certainly I did fewer things just to fill the time that would otherwise have been spent watching TV. I did more not-seeing-plays things that involved going places and being out of the house, though, so that’s maybe good. On the other hand, a lot of that was running errands and Christmas shopping, which are not my favorite things.

But I have:

– Started reading Speaker for the Dead

– Reorganized my entire iTunes library

– Updated software for my phone, my iTunes, and my computer

– Sort of watched part of A White Christmas without sound (I was at a party. It was on in the background.)

– Tried to learn how to fold an origami dragon (it is SO DIFFICULT)

The good news is, since I’ve made it this far I will probably make it the rest of the way. The bad news is, I have a three day weekend ahead of me and not quite enough things to do to fill all that time.

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TDP – Week 1 Report

I MADE IT AN ENTIRE WEEK WITHOUT TELEVISION, GUYS. And I’m only suffering a little.

It has not been a fun week. This is not an easy thing I’ve decided to do. But, I’m doing it. I’m also hoping that this will get easier as the month goes on. I was really close to breaking the other day. I didn’t, though. Still no TV. What have I done instead? One (and a half) books, four plays, two albums, including:

1. Ender’s Game. I read it for the first time this week. And, like every other book I have ever finally read after years of people telling me I ought to, I feel dumb for not having read it before now. Although I don’t know that I would have appreciated it as fully when I was younger. Plus, now I can get all excited about the movie!

2. Pippin. This accounts for one of the plays AND one of the albums. It is my new favorite musical. The production I saw was amazing. My life is better as a result and I’m now completely obsessed.

3. The Heist. I’ve spent more time than I should probably admit listening to this album over the past week. I think I’m mutating into a Seattle hipster. But it is REALLY good.

4. The Amber Spyglass. This is the half book. I’m listening to the Philip-Pullman-with-full-cast audiobook, which is absolutely amazing. Audiobooks are, I think, going to be my great compromise for The December Project. Because while I can do much of the multi-tasking I do when I watch TV – dishes, cooking, painting my fingernails – my brain has to engage a little bit more. Plus, words! Lots of awesome literary words to help improve my brain.

We’re on to week two now. Hopefully it will be a little easier. Although I don’t have four plays to go see. So the weekend nights might ultimately be tougher.

SHOWDOWN: The Dark Knight Rises vs. Skyfall

Inspired by my own feelings on what are arguably the biggest movies of the past year and related debates I have now had with a variety of people, I bring you an admittedly ambitious Big Screen Brain twist on the Showdown category. I considered making this a three-way contest including The Avengers, but decided I was inviting more than enough nerd-rage as is. Besides, I saw The Avengers three times. It wouldn’t be fair to compare with movies I’ve seen only once each. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) PS – I figured out that you can add polls to blog posts, looky!

THE SHOWDOWN: TRILOGY-CONCLUDING BLOCKBUSTERS DESIGNED TO COMPLETELY BLOW YOUR MIND (AND ALSO POSSIBLY WIN SOME OSCARS)

MOVIES: Christopher Nolan‘s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and Sam MendesSKYFALL

POINTS OF COMPARISON: THE EXHAUSTED AGING PROTAGONIST, THE VILLAIN, EFFECTIVENESS AS A TRILOGY-ENDER

The Exhausted Aging Protagonist:

Both these trilogies are, essentially, new looks at the origins of long-established franchise characters. When they started their respective journeys as Batman and James Bond, both Christian Bale and Daniel Craig had considerably fewer wrinkles and scars than they did by the time part-three rolled around. The trick for these films is a balance between admitting that change and maintaining action-movie awesome.

The Dark Knight Rises: When the film begins, Batman (Christian Bale) is letting Gotham move on without him. He is not only tired and showing age, but broken. The suit back comes back on only in the face of absolute desperation – for himself and for his beloved city – , and the results aren’t pretty. Bruce Wayne in his weakened state is clearly no match for the berserker-force of Bane (Tom Hardy), and even Catwoman manages to run a few circles around him. Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard) ran the biggest circle of all, landing him out of commission in a far-away prison for an awfully long portion of the movie. Of course Batman has his victory and saves the day, that’s never a question. But the manner of the victory reveals the true struggle: saving Gotham is only part of the plan, sharing equal footing with saving the soul of Bruce Wayne. The story ends with retirement, halfway across the world with a really hot girlfriend and not a superhero-appropriate care in the world. We are left with only the vaguest hint that there just might be somebody to take up the cape sometime down the line.

Skyfall: The story begins in franchise-typical fashion, with an epic chase sequence that ends with James Bond (Daniel Craig) being shot. And not just grazed. Shot in the chest, over a waterfall, missing-presumed-dead. He embraces his opportunity as a dead man to become a layabout on a Mediterranean beach who gets his kicks by playing what is unquestionably the Worst Drinking Game Ever. Until MI6 gets blown to bits and he returns to protect his country, his boss, and his job. And he does so, injured, tired, and gadgetless. The final showdown is just James Bond, a head start, some guns, and the will to survive. Which he does, of course, in spectacularly primal fashion. There is no hint that this is the end of Bond – as an audience we know that this is Daniel Craig’s goodbye and that the next time we see James Bond his face will be new. But the final note on Bond, both character and franchise, is absolute certainty that he will live on in a new age, that though his methods and thinking are old school, he can adapt and the world will not outpace him. (For more on James Bond in Skyfall, I suggest Paul Constant’s review-sum-character-analysis.)

Winner: I’m giving this one to Skyfall. If you look at the overall goals and mental states of the two characters over the course of these films, the difference is clear. Bruce Wayne intends to die, either a false death in victory or a true death in victory or defeat. James Bond intends to win, death be damned. And he does.

The Villain:

The Dark Knight Rises: The obvious disadvantage to this film is that no matter who the villain was, they were going to be following in the footsteps of Heath Ledger‘s Joker and, well, you know. That said, the combination of Bane and Talia al Ghul is a formidable one. Especially since you don’t even know they’re in cahoots until the eleventh hour. That is, their relationship isn’t revealed until then, but easily half of the film is spent hinting violently. As a result, the “big reveal” isn’t so much that as an “oh god, FINALLY we can move on and get back to the story.” Part of the immense power of the Joker was his total anonymity beyond the twisted persona.Bane has that power for most of The Dark Knight Rises, but once his back story is filled in, the secret to defeating him becomes equally clear, and all that remains is a rather less-than-suspenseful wait. By contrast, Talia al Ghul starts the film as a completely different and apparently innocuous character. Then her insanity grows exponentially over the final hour and transforms her into an unpredictable and dangerously desperate adversary. Both these villains, together and separately, present Batman with opposition powerful enough to put his final victory until at least some temporary doubt. What they do lack, however, is the sort of unnerving personal connection to Bruce Wayne that made the Joker and Raz al Ghul both great foils and formidable opponents.

Skyfall: Let me begin by getting the obvious out of the way: Javier Bardem KILLED IT. As in, if-I-hadn’t-known-it-was-him-I-would-never-have-known-it-was-him levels of killed it. Silva is, for all intents and purposes, the only villain in the film. He is enough of a threat on his own that there is no need for a second, direct combative adversary – the henchmen are just there to add volume. All other antagonists (M-to-be Ralph Fiennes and cabinet member Helen McCrory) are non-villainous, and couldn’t hold a candle to Silva even if they wanted to. Once he is introduced, even extra-sexy French-Asian Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe becomes completely uninteresting. His persona is made of a powerful duality: an unspecified but supposedly complicated backstory and a brutally simple but specific mission. Silva’s power as a villain comes from his similarity to Bond, and even more from the lingering question of whether he or Bond is the dark side. His face says everything. For all that the chic, queeny, bleach-blond exterior fits, there is no question that the sinking, blackened, cyanide face is the true one. Ultimately he loses, because he is the villain, but he does fundamental damage and that is what really counts.

Winner: Silva. No question. If he were pitted up against the Joker I don’t know who would win, but in this case it’s no contest.

Effectiveness as a Trilogy Ender

The Dark Knight Rises: There is no question that this film is the conclusion of an arc. Batman Begins followed very closely the heroes-journey process that led to the realization of Batman. The Dark Knight provided climax that can only be described as truly epic. And now in The Dark Knight Rises themes and storylines are wrapped up more-or-less neatly in a conclusion both loud and quiet. There are hints that the story of Gotham and Batman continues on. But the sense of finality is absolute, and the result is widely satisfying. (It was not my favorite ending, and I could definitely have done without that cafe scene at the end, but then again I only like endings where everybody dies and nobody is happy, so.)

Skyfall: The tricky thing is that this film does not truly belong to a trilogy, but to an extensive franchise. It feels like a trilogy because there are three films, and they fundamentally changed the way that many people look at James Bond. (Well, Casino Royale and Skyfall did. Quantum of Solace mostly just confused everyone.) Daniel Craig is his own Bond, a separate character from all the previous generations, and as a result of Casino Royale‘s mission to revivify the franchise, he has an individualized storyline underlying all the action. Skyfall completes his personal arc, and it completes Judi Dench’s longer arc as M. But, the primary function of the film is not to conclude, but to complete a new beginning. Very literally, Skyfall acknowledges that James Bond as he has been is out-of-date and thus reinvents the franchise. Q and Moneypenny, missing elements from the two previous Daniel Craig Bond films, have been reborn and Skyfall ends not with a sense of finality, but an enthusiasm for continuing on.

Winner: The Dark Knight Rises has this one in the bag. Christopher Nolan has created a third, powerful film that completes his story and his vision, and good as it is, Skyfall just can’t touch that.

Final Tally: Skyfall – 2, The Dark Knight Rises – 1

I knew as soon as I stepped out of the theatre after The Dark Knight Rises that it wasn’t going to be my favorite film of the year, nevermind one of my favorite films ever like The Dark Knight was. Skyfall was a total surprise to me. Of course it was going to be a fantastic action film, of course Daniel Craig was going to go out with a bang. But the artistry of the film-making and the unexpected elegance of the story made it truly excellent. It has its faults, but it might be my favorite film of the year. And yes, that includes two Joss Whedon movies. Whoda thunk.

The December Project

A year of hiatus… Several months of procrastinating… Another month of real thought and deliberation… And…

I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaack. Well, almost. Consider this the pre-re-launch. I’m taking the month to get my brain back in the blogging groove. So it’s less a grand return than a gradual re-entry. And conveniently timed to begin after many midseason finales and end before most midseason returns. AND, just to make things more complicated, I’ve decided I can’t just simply resume where I left off. I have to make it a thing.

So, I present to you what is possibly the most unorthodox approach to TV blogging possible: I quit TV for the month of December. Really.

And I did it as a strategic part of my return to TV blogging.

Let me explain the rationale behind this. It begins with a reiteration of the rationale behind the title of this blog. In so many words: TV melts your brain. Whether this is scientifically proven and true or not is irrelevant. I believe it is, at least to a certain extent. But I have always decided that because I treat television more like brain fodder than background noise, it is less true for me personally. I have always believed that what I watch and why I watch it and how I think about it lend me a certain amount of resistance to the more brain-cell-mushing aspects of the medium. Thus the blog. Except that I stopped writing the blog.

I stopped writing the blog because I simply ran out of time. Other things were going on. Things in the real world. And I didn’t just stop blogging, I stopped watching regularly too. Even shows like Glee and Castle, shows I’ve watched faithfully on a weekly basis (more or less) since the very beginning have been relegated to marathon-style catch-ups every month or two. There are a lot of factors involved, directly or not, with this shift in the way I consume television. They range from changes in Hulu’s (my main viewing resource) legal contracts with the major networks to my own work schedule. The fact is, I do not watch television the way I used to. I can not. And that’s fine. Except that I want to write the blog. And the blog is about the television.

The result is a dilemma: How do I write the blog, which was so closely tied to timely, weekly viewing, without doing said timely, weekly viewing?

The answer is a change in the way I do the blog.

I’ve spent much of the past month thinking about the work that I have done on Melted Brain, about the strengths and the weaknesses. I’ve hounded reader-friends for input. And I’ve forced myself to face the very simple but very terrifying question: What do you WANT it to be? The short answer: A new approach.

Well, a mix of old and new approach. I’m keeping the elements that are (more or less) unique to Melted Brain – Oh THAT Guy, Hindsight, et cetera. I’m keeping Big Screen Brain. I’m dropping the weekly schedule. I will be changing the visual format. I will be trying some new post categories (along the lines of Showdown and those mentioned above). And, my primary focus, I will be refining my writing to clear it of some of the flaws I allowed to spiral out of control toward the end there. Which brings me back to my month-long hiatus in watching television.

The purpose of The December Project is two-fold: revive my blog, refine my thinking. Now, let’s be frank. It’s been a long-ass time since I’ve written a blog post, and I can feel it in my brain. Writing is a skill, and I am out of practice. This very post has involved at least three start-and-stops. Words don’t flow directly from my brain to my fingers and off to the Internet as easily as I remember. So I am giving myself a month to readjust. To use an obvious but effective metaphor, The December Project gets me back in the pool without taking a dive. I’m using the stairs in the shallow end and giving myself time to adjust to the temperature. But not because I’m a wimp (I am in real, cold pools, but not here). Because I want to do well, and I know I can’t just yet. So, I’m limiting my exposure to new material, essentially forcing myself to do solidly thinking on what I already have to work with.  Emphasis on the thought- and writing-process. Emphasis on practice before I jump all the way back in. This month on Melted Brain, the focus is not the television, but the blog itself.

So, HOW do I maintain a television blog for a month without watching any television? I submit to you the following conditions and goals for The December Project:

1. Condition: No TV episodes. Not new, not old, not on the internet, not on DVD. Zero. For the rest of the month. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that I have watched ONE episode this month, two days ago: the first season finale of The Good Wife because I just couldn’t help myself. BUT, I will not watch the last two episodes of Smallville until January – more on that later.)

2. Condition: No YouTube. Because once you get on that mind-numbing train of hopping from video to video, it never stops. And also the temptation to blur the lines into web series episodes.

3. Condition: Movies, but not by myself. The intent here is to remove myself from the lonely, passive, half-dazed way that I have been watching television the past few months. A way that invites brain-melting outright. Watching movies with people leads to dialogue, which leads to thinking, which is good for blogging. (In the spirit of full-disclosure: I can do a month without TV, but I can’t do Christmas without watching A White Christmas at least once. That’s just how it is, and I’d rather allow myself than forbid and subsequently fail.)

4. Goal: Weekly updates on the progress of The December Project. What I’ve watched, if anything. Struggles I may or may not have without TV to occupy my time. Books I have read – that’s a thing I’m doing, reading books. I started my life as a bookworm, so I’m going back to my roots. Also, books are better for the word-skills, which badly need work.

5. Goal: Two other posts per week. Just to get myself back into the habit of regularly blogging.

6. Goal: Renovate. It is a new age for Melted Brain. It’s time for a new visual format. This is likely to be a trial-and-error process, so I’m giving myself the month.

And that’s it! That’s the plan. That’s The December Project. Bring the blog back to life. And do it without watching TV. Piece of cake.

Or, it’ll be a complete disaster. I guess we’ll see.