The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Broadcast VS Cable

I just read this article, and thought I would share it:

Should We Mourn the Death of the Network TV Drama?

I can't say I disagree with this article at all. I'm barely able to find a single drama on broadcast that is worth sitting through, let alone investing an hour a week for a year in. A show I was really looking forward to, "Agents of SHIELD", turned out to be a shining example of everything that is wrong with broadcast television. No brain and no soul. On the other hand, cable has given us "Breaking Bad", "The Sopranos", "Game of Thrones", "Mad Men" and like the article says, this is where writers want to go because they won't get network executives crawling all over them and focus-testing every aspect of the series to hell and back.

George R.R. Martin said: "Characters don't need to be likable, they just have to be interesting. People who are scumbags can engage our sympathy." 

King Joffrey Baratheon is a hateful douchebag who I cannot wait to see die, but you can't say he isn't interesting. Is Skye interesting? Is she likable? Not in the slightest as far as I'm concerned. Are the lead characters of NCIS or any of its clones memorable? I've seen a few episodes, but I couldn't tell you any of their names. But I doubt I will ever forget Tony Soprano or Walter White.

Not that there aren't exceptions to every rule. Showtime famously decreed that Dexter Morgan couldn't die which led to an ending that nobody liked. Meanwhile "Supernatural" is a show on broadcast which does just well enough to keep being renewed while mostly staying out of the eye of the suits and thus the cast and crew are given the freedom to do what they want and have a great time doing it.

I have friends who don't like live action drama and when I asked them why, they said they felt the medium was very limited. I of course soon realized their recent experiences with it were confined to the crap on network, even the shows they somewhat enjoyed were toothless fluff. I've always held the belief that drama needed to not just have teeth, but fangs as well; when it bites, it has to hurt. William Shakespeare understood that, and so do the likes of David Chase, Vince Gilligan, and George R.R. Martin.

It wasn't always like this, once upon a time shows like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", "Babylon 5", "Hill Street Blues", "Homicide" and the like pushed the envelope of what you could do on television, and those shows had teeth. But the market has changed, with the rise of cable and Netflix, I don't think any of those shows would survive on network today; I don't even think they would have been initially pitched to network today. I often wonder what would happen if Joss Whedon sat on "Firefly" for a few years and pitched it to the Sci-Fi Channel or A&E.

All the passion has gone to cable, it is no coincidence that the quality has followed. Broadcast might still be in more homes, but "Agents of SHIELD" is losing viewers by the hundreds-of-thousands every week; how fitting as it is the embodiment of the broadcast drama.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Twelve Years A Slave

I actually watched this about eight days ago, and I wasn't quite sure how to review it. "Twelve Years A Slave" is a terrific movie, but it is also a very hard movie to watch. It's not necessarily watching the lashings, or the beatings because you know they're coming. It's the same thing that made "Schindler's List" so difficult, the very notion that one human being can do this to another. This isn't like watching Loki's army of Chitauri rampage through midtown Manhattan, or Shelob sting and web up Frodo; everything depicted in "Twelve Years A Slave" actually took place. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a free man from Saratoga Springs, NY, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery down in Louisiana, renamed "Platt", and the film adapts his book as he tries to just survive.

I apologize for the brevity of this review, but as I've already said, this is a hard movie to review. All I can say is that it is excellent. Everyone involved turns in great performances, particularly Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. If you get a chance to see it, please go.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Loki's Back!

.... because, let's face it, Tom Hiddleston's Loki is likely the biggest draw and Marvel Studios knows it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I just returned from "Thor: The Dark World" and while it is not a perfect movie by any means, I had a perfectly good time viewing it, in spite of the full bladder I held in throughout most of the flick (I need to learn not to drink that large soft drink an hour before I sit down in the theater). As much as I enjoyed the first "Thor", it was mostly an okay movie saved by by Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. It had a lot of problems with pacing, essential scenes being left on the cutting room floor, Jane Foster and her sidekicks feeling like pointless add-ons just to name a few. Most of that is corrected in this installment, now with "Game of Thrones"' own Alan Taylor at the helm.

For starters, the polished and clean Asgard is gone. Whereas last time the set was so clean, you could eat off every inch of it, this time Asgard felt like a real place where these people lived and worked instead of a sterile sound stage. It was nice seeing more of the city, it all really came to life... and thank god because it made the Viking Funeral sequence more powerful because of it.

Jane Foster... didn't annoy me as much this time. She didn't feel as forced. I know, I'm shocked. I could have done with less of Darcy and her intern, but they did get some laughs out of me. I still would have traded them for more of Sif and the Warriors Three... but it is my understanding that Jaimie Alexander broke her back at one point during filming which is why Sif disappears from the story about halfway through the movie. But they introduced the notion of Sif being jealous of Thor's infatuation with Jane, and I hope they play that up more in the next movie.

Once again Chris Hemsworth owns the role of Thor. I don't think I need to say that he continues to be majestic in the role, because while not everybody has seen the first "Thor", everybody on Midgar has seen "The Avengers". Thor has learned the lessons of the first movie, and is humble and honorable while still appropriately proud.

I don't believe I am mistaken when I say that Tom Hiddleston as Loki is, by this point, as essential to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark (and don't think Marvel doesn't know it now). I first saw the signs at the 2011 New York Comic Con when, during the Avengers movie panel (which I was in the room for), 90% of the questions from the audience were directed at Hiddleston (while Chris Evans, Clark Gregg, Mark Ruffalo, Cobie Smulders), to Loki becoming a sex symbol when "The Avengers" came out (something I never saw coming in my 20+ years reading the character in comics) to his in-character appearance at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con when I swear the thousands of people in that room would have kneeled. His scenes (most of them with Hemsworth) are among the best in the movie, and as usual, you can tell that Hiddleston relishes the role... and he fooled me at a key moment, like any good trickster should.

Rene Russo as Frigga was the surprise for me, I won't say too much, but I appreciated her role here since she is, for all intents and purposes, what set the story into motion.

Unfortunately, Christopher Eccleston as Malekith the Accursed is, without a doubt, the most underdeveloped villain in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I understand it, a lot of his material wound up on the cutting room floor (which also happened to Loki in the first movie... but didn't cripple the character), so Malekith comes off less than a character and more as an obstacle to be overcome. He is the film's weakest link, but not a crippling one because, well, is there anyone in the world who is going to see this movie to see Malekith? I know that "Doctor Who" is huge in the nerd community, and the fact that one of the Doctors was in this movie barely seemed to register with any geek I know. He wasn't horrible, nor was he great. Malekith was.... adequate.

The action was mostly good, but the final battle against Malekith was a bit lackluster. Again, not horrible, but... acceptable. I was more excited by the fleeting glimpses we got at the other realms than Thor defeating Malekith. I thought the assault on Asgard as well as the battles on Svartalfheim were better than the Battle of London.

My overall grade for the movie would have to be a B+. I liked it a lot, I had a great time, and it was great fun. And, quite frankly, I needed to have a great time with the Marvel Cinematic Universe after being let down by the imbecilic "Agents of SHIELD". At the end, we were promised that Thor would return, and I look forward to seeing his next cinematic adventures in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and beyond.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Cute Animal Theater

Can cuteness counteract evil? Twenty years ago, Conan O'Brien decided to find out.

Friday, November 1, 2013

An Update

1. "Shows I Want To Like" will not be an ongoing segment on this blog, after all. I dropped both "Legend of Korra" and "Agents of SHIELD". I just couldn't stand either one of them. I've gone on about my problems with the former ad nauseum. The latter, well aside from Agent May, I hated all the new characters. The writing was barely above amateur, and the acting is laughable... especially from Skye and Ward. Maybe if Coulson was the main character, but he's not... Skye is and she's terrible. Both her and Ward need to be taken out behind the barn and shot. Considering those two characters are getting terrible buzz, alongside the two actors, I wonder if maybe something will be done... Marvel Studios are already planning to "fix" the Mandarin.

2. I think the reason I've been dragging my feet with the Tarantino movies is Jackie Brown is terrible and I'm not looking forward to re-watching it. But I plan to set time aside to do it tomorrow, so I can cross that hurdle and get to Kill Bill, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds, and Django Unchained. I think I'll save Django for late December, one year after it came out and see how it holds up.

3. This is just an FYI to you all. If you recommend a show to me, and I say I'm not interested, insisting on it, and pushing it is more likely to turn me off to it, as opposed to getting me to check it out. Generally speaking, it takes a lot to get me to watch a new TV show, and I am more likely to if the recommendation comes from a handful of people I personally know who are both friends as well as professional contacts... I just don't have time to check out everything. It's not that I don't value your opinions, I wouldn't allow comments if I didn't, I just don't have the time and stick with people I know and trust. Don't take it personally.