I Love You for Your Body (of Work), Mr. Whedon


I went into my opening night screening of The Avengers convinced that I was going to love it. And it wasn’t just because I let the hype and positive reviews raise my expectations. My mind was made a long time ago, when it was announced that geek demigod Joss Whedon had been hired as writer/director. (Though, I did harbour conspiratorial concerns that somehow the project was going to get taken away from him, or that the studio and other stakeholders would interfere with his vision and ruin everything. See: Dollhouse.)

After all, who else could direct an ensemble of scrappy, squabbling (anti-)heroes with such finesse, or combine well-paced tensity and humour that really respects its characters and their relationships without sacrificing badass action sequences? Few others, if any. Plus, he knows his comic books. And now that I’ve seen it, I am in awe of his accomplishment, not because the movie is perfect–it’s not–but because it was a difficult movie to make (in bridging preceding and succeeding movies, and in handling multiple protagonists and storylines) and, somehow, it works.

Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Joss Whedon (writer/director), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Captain America) on set.

And it works despite its flaws. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Loki’s Big Evil Plan is a little easy, especially when you compare it to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, where villains have nuanced motives beyond “I want to rule the world. Send in the space army!” I enjoy Tom Hiddleston’s creepy turn as Loki, and it’s not that he lacks a good backstory, it’s just that his scheming clearly functions merely to force the Avengers Initiative into action. Of course, it’s happening so fast and the reaction from S.H.I.E.L.D. is so entertaining, you hardly notice.

Secondly, sprinkling attention among the ensemble makes it difficult for Captain America, the unequivocal leader of The Avengers, to really rise to the level of protagonist, though that would have been a risky move, what with Steve Rogers not being even half as interesting as RDJ’s Tony Stark. (There are a few reasons for that, which I discuss in this podcast I co-host! GO FIGURE.) In the end, trying to balance all the different characters leaves little room for any individual character arcs (exception: Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who was handled magnificently). But what you have to remember is, this isn’t the story of any one character; the character is the group, and in that way, it works.

(I like to think that if The Avengers were a TV series, or if it becomes a trilogy, Joss would have the space to give each character the arc he/she deserves, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.)

But back to my obsessive adoration of Joss Whedon. If you know me, you know that I’ve been a fan of his since Buffy premiered in October 1997 when I was a mere 12 years old, and that I’ve followed his projects ever since. I even went to see him at San Diego Comic-Con in 2009. (And almost met him! It’s a very sad story full of woe and regret; ask me about it sometime.) You could say I’ve grown loyal over the years, though hopefully not to this extent

Me too, Gabe. Me too.

All that being said, I don’t want to be accused of a particular kind of loyalty, the kind that inspires eye-rolling pop culture commentators to accuse fanboys/girls of being unconditionally allegiant to the point where they’re incapable of being objective and will start campaigns to save a show before it even airs. No, I like to think my kind of loyalty is of a different brand.

I don’t think Joss Whedon is infallible. I just love the things he makes, and it’s a very pure love. I look forward to his projects, and generally feel great affection for them despite their flaws (the ones that stand out to the critic in me), because when I watch or read something where he’s had a controlling creative influence–that hasn’t been messed up by meddling forces–there’s something purely JW in them, something that I would say is an extension of his personality. The witty dialogue, the way he manages relationships between characters, his balancing of drama and humour: when he gets it right, it appeals to something in my personality.

On that note, this combination of elements is something I try to achieve in my own writing because it’s the kind of chemistry, a perfect storm of wonder and beauty, that makes people fall in love with a story and its characters. Joss Whedon fans are as fervent as they are because they don’t just love shows like Buffy and Firefly, they fall in love with them. (Whoa. Too much? Are you tearing up?)

When The Cabin in the Woods came out a couple of weeks ago, I had a similar reaction. You could tell how much fun Joss and Drew Goddard (co-writer, director and Whedonverse alum) had making that movie. And if you love horror movies and monsters the way they do, and the way I do, you’re going to love this movie. Not because it’s flawless, but because it speaks to something in you. You’re kindred spirits! We’re kindred spirits!

This is also how I feel about a lot of books, like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, and TV shows like Lost, which I’ve written about before. Yeah, it fumbled a lot and didn’t live up to everything that it could have been. But I love that series and I love Whedon’s ouevre* for being whimsical, for being mysterious, for having fun with the genre, and for creating character ensembles that I care about. I love them not because they’re the best things being made from a critical standpoint, but because they speak to something in me. I love them for everything that they try to be and for everything that they very often are.

It’s the same way, I suppose, that you’d love a person.

And now, I leave you with this letter from Mr. Whedon himself, which was the impetus for this post. Enjoy.

*Does that sound dirty? I think it sounds kind of dirty.

Win a copy of ‘Inside Joss’ Dollhouse’!

Entertainment, Writing

Joss Whedon doesn’t have the best luck with television shows (or with Fox *shakes fist*), but he does have an amazing track record with fans. Even though Dollhouse only lasted two seasons, there was enough leftover fanatic fervour to inspire an anthology of fan-written essays.

Smart Pop Books gave fans (like me!) a chance to submit essays on the series as part of a contest and then published the result in Inside Joss’ Dollhouse.

Enticed by the thought of Whedonverse alum and prolific TV writer Jane Espenson reading and editing my work, I wrote an essay titled “Goliath is People! How Dollhouse Took Distrust to a Whole New Level” and – huzzah! – it got chosen.

The book is available to buy here, but if you’d like to win a copy, just answer this question and email it to me (zalina @ zalinaalvi.com) by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 10, then I’ll randomly choose a winner from the pool:

What is the name of the (evil) corporation that turns people into dolls in Dollhouse? AND what play does the name come from? (There’s actually a whole essay on the subject of the company’s name in the book!)

Please include your full name and mailing address. Oh, and partial answers will NOT be accepted.

Thanks, and good luck!

Comic-Con: Day 2


TV Day!… with JOSS WHEDON!

I started off yesterday much the same as the day before – in a long line. This time, though, my aim was to get as close as possible to Joss Whedon, who was doing the Dollhouse panel in the afternoon. Before that was a bunch of other T.V. panels, about half of which were for shows I don’t watch… but now I might! Oh, and while I was behind about 200 Twilighters yesterday in Hall H, today I was in the middle of the SECOND ROW, baby!

Stargate Universe: I think this show suffers from the same lame name as Battlestar Galactica. And, of course, BSG is one of the best shows EVER. So maybe I shouldn’t be too quick to judge. Everyone else in the room seemed to think highly of the first two Stargate series. In any case, the whole cast of the new SGU were there, and for the sake of time (I have to go line up soon!), I won’t list them all here. But the show does look interesting! Kind of ripping off BSG, but whatever…

Caprica/BSG: The Plan: Oh man, Edward James Olmos is awesome. He’s so cool he’s like the Latino Jack Nicholson. He directed BSG: The Plan, which looks just as good as any other BSG episode and everyone should watch it (watch BSG first, if you haven’t) when it comes out on Oct. 27. I have more mixed feelings about the new show Caprica (set 50 years before BSG), although I should know better than to doubt Ronald D. Moore and David Eick (BSG creators). Also, Jane Espenson is a head writer (or the head writer), and she’s awesome! I loved seeing so much Buffy alum in other shows. Speaking of which…

Bones: David Boreanaz was not at the Bones panel ’cause his stupid wife was about to give birth at any moment. In any case, the Scully to his Mulder was there, as well as the show’s creator, who is Canadian. Still not convinced to watch Bones (a.k.a X-Files 2).

The Big Bang Theory: Maybe it had something to do with it being a sitcom, but this panel was hilarious. I don’t even watch the show, but all the actors are really funny in person. They showed a long reel of their geekier moments from the show, which of course, the crowd loved. Someone asked Jim Parsons (Sheldon) to put some of his DNA on a napkin (he dabbed his forehead and nose a bit), to which he obliged, even though we’re asked not to make personal requests during Q&As. I may watch this show.

24: This panel was exciting ’cause a bunch of people defied the rules and rushed to the stage to snap pictures, mainly of Katee Sackhoff (of BSG fame) and Freddie Prinze Jr. (of SMG fame), who are joining the show as an engaged couple. Also, Slumdog and Bollywood’s Anil Kapoor will be in the next season as the president of Iran (he’s playing very diverse), so I guess he’s enjoying the American spotlight. Another Buffy alum, David Fury, was on the panel as a writer. Yay!

Dollhouse: This is more personal. When the lights went on onstage, and Joss Whedon walked out smiling all big and basking in the applause and cheering, it was a highlight of my geeky life. I’m very proud of myself for getting so close to him without becoming a stalker, btw. He seemed so happy to be there, and joked a lot ’cause he’s funny and awesome. Then he showed the ‘lost’ episode of Dollhouse called Epitaph One, which is set 10 years in the future and stars Felicia Day. Oh, on that note, I saw the cast of The Guild in the exhibition hall on preview night signing autographs at their booth. If I were creepier, I was so close I could have stroked Felicia Day’s cheek… but I’m not…

I unfortunately didn’t get to ask Joss a question due to the logistical issues of being so close to the front, but it was worth sitting so close to him during the entire panel. I have about a thousand pictures to show you all when I get back, or just when I have time to upload them to FB. Hopefully I will get chosen in the raffle for the Dr. Horrible signing later today (yeah, it’s a stupid raffle).

Oh, and two other cast members showed up along with Eliza Dushku: Sierra and Topher. Good times all around. Too bad Tahmoh Penikett didn’t show up, even though I’m pretty sure he was here for something else last night. But back to Joss. I feel as though I hit my geek peak when he came out, and now I’m afraid it’ll all be downhill from here, but I will persevere.

I know this wasn’t very detailed and there are no links, and some things I should have explained further, but I’m tired and will fix this all when I get home. I also don’t like this keyboard.



Are you aware of the difference between nerds and geeks? Nerds are members of chess clubs and have test tubes in their rooms. They are characterized by their general studiousness and intellectual (usually science and math) prowess. Geeks, on the other hand, play D&D and watch X-Files… and go to comic book conventions.

They are often mistaken for each other because they are both usually anti-social (outside their own cliques) and are prone to general social awkwardness. And, of course, someone can be both. I know this, because Tyler knows this. They also quote movies at random. To be fair, these are exaggerated stereotypes. These days, everyone has a little geek in them and even nerds can be cool.

To learn more, you can read an article on this exact subject that we ran in Excalibur a few years ago (please note that I made the graphic). I even wrote an article on the essence of fandom that ran beside it. 

Ah, fandom. It’s one of my favourite topics. When you get so obsessed with a T.V. show that you watch the entire first season in a single night. Or when you spend hours reading message boards (those old things?) and blogs to find out about that movie or book or next episode. It’s even when you’re at the movies and after watching the final post-credit clip of Iron Man, someone in the theatre yells “to the blogs!” That was Buffy for me. And Veronica Mars. And Harry Potter. And many, many others. 

It also means going to conventions sometimes. I’ve been to FanExpo in Toronto a few times, mostly in high school. It was a thrill to walk alongside other geeks and see so many people indulging in their fandoms. It’s like Halloween but mostly for adults and you can meet people you watch on T.V.! 

Sadly, it started to lose its thrill as time went on. I think it started when I met Mercedes McNab, who was late to her booth and less than enthused about signing an autograph. Honestly, meeting those people isn’t always particularly exciting. That, and the fact that some of my infatuations eventually wore off. I just really don’t need a limited edition Buffy statue at this point in my life. 

But before these geek pride parades completely lose their luster, I’m going to the Mecca of all fan conventions: Comic-Con. I’ve wanted to go for years, starting back when I really wanted to meet Joss Whedon and he would only ever attend Comic-Con. I almost went last year, but I ended up interning in Hawaii, which was okay I guess… So about two months after last year’s convention, I registered for Comic-Con 2009. I booked a hostel. I bought my plane tickets. And then… I waited. Now, it’s only a week and a half away! *high five*

I blog about it now because the schedule went live this weekend. I can’t begin to express how exciting it was. Kind of like finding money in pants you never wear while also discovering they’ve brought back your favourite flavour of ice cream… and it’s on sale! 

I was surprised to see how many panels were for T.V. shows; I was expecting a lot more on the movie side. What happened to Prince of Persia? And The Last Airbender? (See more here.) But, I must say, it’s a very exciting time for television. I’ve been trying to learn myself in some key shows before the convention. Dollhouse? Check. The Guild? Check. Dexter? Next on my list. I don’t want to miss a panel or, worse, go and not understand what’s going on because I’m not caught up.

I was also surprised by how many panels were for wannabe comic artists. I know it’s a comic book convention (or started out as just a comic book convention), but my past experiences have all been with FanExpo, which was much heavier on the “popular arts” side of things. I was also interested to see that they don’t really make any distinctions in genre the way FanExpo does (horror, sci-fi, anime etc.).  

Some highlights I’m looking forward to are the panel (and 3D clip) for James Cameron’s Avatar, seeing Tim Burton at the Disney 3D panel for Alice in Wonderland, the panel for Dollhouse with Joss Whedon, of course, (although it isn’t the best content he’s ever produced, it’s okay and I expect it to get better), the panel for True Blood, the one for Caprica and BSG, and some of the night-time programming, like the screening of the musical episode of Buffy, and, of course, the masquerade, which sounds very entertaining. 

Unfortunately, much of what I want to see is very mainstream and bound to involve very, very long lines. Well, I had no misconceptions about that. It will give me plenty of time to ‘people watch,’ which, if you’ve ever been to one of these things, is one of the best parts. It should be a very exciting experience overall. That being said, I will have to do my best to avoid the Twilighters who are bound to congregate. I’m also going to have to miss things because of conflicting scheduling. The worst of it is that I can’t go to the panel for the sequel to Boondock Saints. *sigh* Such is life, I suppose. Oh, and as much as I want to see Kristen Bell, it looks like she’s only going to be at the panel for Astro Boy and I’m not going to that.

Well, ups and downs aside, I’m psyched. In preparation, I’ve been reading as much as I can from bloggers, mainly, as well as Twitterers and some news sources. Right now, it’s mainly announcements on who’s attending and lots of guides and tips from regular attendees. One of the more interesting tips I came across was this: Don’t go Tijuana while you’re there (which is just a trolley ride away). Lots of people suggested I see a little of San Diego, visit the beach, go to the zoo during the con, but, unfortunately, people scare easy when it comes to Mexican border towns. One even commented, “Your desire to see Santo or Mistico (Mexican wrestlers) may be great, but it’s not worth getting killed or kidnapped.” While I understand the need for caution, I honestly don’t see the harm in taking a day trip. Let’s not ostracize Tijuana any more than it has, please.

Wow, I’ve written almost 1,000 words on Comic-Con already. But, wait, there’s more! Be prepared for blog posts during the convention, which is July 22-26, unless I’m too tired to post. Which I probably will be… from all the fun ‘n all.