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Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Rising Action as Climax

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterIn his “review” of Star Wars: The Force Awakens—it’s really more of a commentary piece if we’re playing semantics—Salon’s Andrew O’Heir makes what I would say is a fair point regarding the film:

“You can choose to understand “The Force Awakens” as an embrace of the mythological tradition, in which the same stories recur over and over with minor variations. Or you can see it as the ultimate retreat into formula: “Let’s just make the same damn movie they loved so much the first time!” There are moments when it feels like both of those things, profound and cynical, deeply satisfying and oddly empty.”

O’Heir’s instinct to work against his initial either-or binary here is telling, and reflects a lot of what I reacted to within The Force Awakens. There is a larger narrative ongoing about this film being “safe,” and about duplicating and/or rebooting the existing films—primarily A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. I think this argument makes a lot of sense when considering an overview of the film’s plot, but I think we need to fully acknowledge the tension with which this process takes place. O’Heir’s argument about the mythological tradition absolutely echoes in The Force Awakens, but the questions of how those stories will recur, and who they belong to, are more important to my experience of this film than the level to which they do or do not vary from the previous narratives.

[Warning: Pretty extensive spoilers for The Force Awakens, so proceed at your own peril.] Continue reading

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Fall TV & the Fireworks Factory: Quantico and Heroes Reborn‘s Misleading “Next Week on” Promos

Quantico

After this past Sunday’s episode of ABC’s fall drama Quantico—recently picked up for an additional six episodes—ABC did what a network always does: they showed a quick preview of the next week’s episode, just as they had done the previous two weeks.

And yet there are two particular scenes in this trailer that stood out to me. In one scene, we see the characters of Alex and Ryan in the midst of a steamy encounter; in another, we see what appears to be Shelby and Caleb in a similar sexual rendezvous.

These scenes did not stand out because they are unexpected or atypical: as an ABC drama, there is an expectation of a certain degree of steaminess, and we saw a similar scene between Alex and Ryan in the show’s pilot. The reason they stood out is that I’d seen them before; in fact, I’d seen them every week he show had aired, because they were part of every preview ABC had produced up to that point.

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The Limits of Limitations: The Projection List’s TV Problem

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Debuting today, The Projection List is presented as a resource tool: on one site, users can find theatrical, OnDemand, and Retail release dates for what looks generally to be the vast majority of motion pictures. This information is available elsewhere, but often scattered, meaning significant work is necessary to track those dates effectively. Many who write about or follow film are celebrating the site as the resource it strives to be.

However, the site’s choice to include television has created a point of trouble for me, personally. The idea of including television makes sense: many who follow film also follow television, and the retail section logically follows both film and television releases. Television and film share both cultural mindspace and retail shelf space, and so the presence of television is itself logical.

The trouble, however, comes in how the site has chosen to frame its engagement with television. This engagement is limited: in the site’s “About” page under the “Disclaimers” section, it is explained that

“The Projection List is not a network television guide. Not only are cable mini-series and short-run series traditionally more cinematic in nature, they are also much easier to track. Most cable season orders (the number of episodes ordered for any given season) are announced in-full, in advance of each season, whereas the vast majority of network series usually aren’t given a final season order until later in the season (if they aren’t outright cancelled in the middle of a season), thus making the tracking of network shows somewhat more challenging. For a more comprehensive network television guide, see TV.com.”

The fact that the site isn’t willing to function as a comprehensive television guide is not in and of itself problematic: TV.com is joined by other sites like The Futon Critic, which work as quick-glance resources for what’s new on a given night. To take on that task would be incredibly challenging, and so limiting your selection is logical and understandable.

The problem comes, however, in the first part of that paragraph, where the choice to focus on cable series is justified by noting that “cable mini-series and short-run series [are] traditionally more cinematic in nature.” This is further reinforced by the TV list itself, which is currently prefaced with the following: “NOTABLE CINEMATIC SHORT-RUN SCRIPTED SERIES AND MINI-SERIES. NO NETWORK SERIES.”

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Starz’s The Chair: A Compelling Documentary, A Broken Competition

The Chair Key ArtWhen Starz made two episodes of documentary series The Chair (debuts September 6 at 10/9c) available to critics, I was unaware the series existed. After watching the two episodes, I was aware the show existed, but I still didn’t necessarily understand how it worked.

The Chair, as a television series on Starz, is a documentary about two filmmakers—YouTube personality Shane Dawson and independent filmmaker Anna Martemucci—who are each making a movie in Pittsburgh based on the same initial script. It’s an experiment both in terms of understanding the way a script changes depending on the creative forces bringing it to life on screen, as well as considering the specific contrasts in filmmakers who emerge in wildly different creative environments.

However, in addition to being a documentary, The Chair is also a competition, which is the element that was dramatically unclear in watching the series. Although a $250,000 prize is on the line, there were no specific details on how this prize would be awarded. There was the insinuation it would involve some form of audience voting, but the lack of clear details meant I had a wide range of questions about the series’ structure for Starz’s Summer Press Tour session about the project.

I’ll likely talk more about the series itself as we get closer to its September premiere, but the answers to some of those questions are more pertinent in the leadup to the premiere and the promotional campaign around The Chair. At the core of my question, in truth, is not only how this is going to function as a competition series, but also why it is going to function as a competition series. The answers to both questions were vague, but they speak to a project that shares a rather strange relationship to its stars, its network, and to the communities it seeks to draw interest from.

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Series Premiere: Under The Dome – “Pilot”

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I haven’t read Under The Dome. I actually don’t think I’ve read anything by Stephen King outside of some scattered short stories (and I might even be making that up). And so I don’t really have much to say on CBS’ Under The Dome as an adaptation, and will gladly let my A.V. Club colleagues Zack and Scott handle that.

There’s more to say about Under The Dome as the most high-profile broadcast scripted summer series in recent memory, although I think Joe Adalain at Vulture has written the definitive piece on just what Under The Dome represents to CBS. It’s there where I’d make one correction to Scott and Zack’s great review: Scott suggests that CBS is counting on the show to be a success, but as Joe reports they’ve already done their counting through a combination of tax incentives, streaming rights, and international distribution rights. While I am sure CBS wants the show to be a success (they’ve got their eye on The Walking Dead-style hype with this one), the show has the kind of security we would normally associate with a basic cable series: even if the ratings are a disappointment, CBS has room to be patient and let the series grow.

Under The Dome‘s pilot is not patient, although that’s sort of the point. Matt Zoller Seitz’s review of the pilot notes that there’s a very traditional small town yarn at the heart of the series, and he’s absolutely right. However, while you could imagine a scenario where we’re introduced to the screwed-up small town for an hour before the dome is dropped on them, Brian K. Vaughan’s script wastes no time. The show promised dome, and by golly it’s going to give its audience a dome sooner rather than later.

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Mad Men – “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”

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“Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”

September 20th, 2009

If I had to suggest a single challenge in writing about Mad Men each week, it’s often where precisely to begin. Mad Men is a show defined by density, of layers of new and pre-existing storylines entwined around a theme central enough to be apparent but vague enough to be open to enormous amounts of interpretation. So when I sit down to add my thoughts to the chorus, illustrious and diverse as it is, my biggest challenge is finding the right angle at which to approach the material at hand.

But this week, “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency” is so defined (perhaps justly, perhaps unjustly) by a single scene that not starting with it seems nigh impossible.

I’ve seen this episode be tweeted about on numerous occasion as being fantastic (which it was), but more interestingly as proof that things actually do happen on this slow-paced show. However, the episode on numerous occasions indicates that the world (if anything) is moving too quickly, and that the central drama facing its characters is that when the show’s pace is disrupted by something tragic or sudden the common response is like a turtle hiding in its shell rather than a bird spreading its wings.

Of course, how this is read entirely depends on where you sit on the Mad Men spectrum; and, as someone who firmly believes the show’s slow pace is ideal for the stories being told regarding that constant tension between these characters and the world revolving around them, I’d say that the handling of a shocking moment in the midst of this contemplative show demonstrates yet again just how good this two-time Emmy-winning show really is.

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Cultural Reflections on Comic Con 2008

While I’m genuinely addicted to Twitter most of the time, being away over the weekend and thus mostly away from my Twitter account was a good thing. Many of the people I follow, most of which I’ve met through some great times at the /Filmcast, were lucky enough to be out in San Diego, California for the biggest event in geekdom: Comic Con. My jealousy knows no bounds, as it sounds like an extremely exciting event that covers the gamut of entertainment.

Once mostly a haven for comic book adaptations and the like, the convention has taken on new life as pretty much “Any show that has fans on the internet or any kind of fantastical elements” when it comes to television presence. So this includes a show like The Big Bang Theory, which embraces its geek sensibilities on a regular basis, and a show like Prison Break that is really just there treating it as a fan convention in general terms. I won’t attempt to make an argument for the exclusion of such shows, though, because for the most part the convention has taken on a life of its own…and that life has brought a lot of new TV news to our attention.

Heroes

NBC’s highest rated drama series came to Comic Con with a devoted fan base to satisfy and a lot to prove to critical people like me who thought the second season was almost completely garbage. Perhaps realizing this task, they decided to placate both crowds and actually show the entire Season Three premiere. Now, some have commented that a show like Lost didn’t do anything similar (I’ll get to them in a minute), but Heroes has the added bonus of having started filming Season Three extremely early after NBC cut the second season short, so they’re in a unique position.

While I’m not reading the detailed recaps like Adam Quigley’s over at /Film or Dave3’s over at GeeksofDoom to avoid spoilers, there’s been positive word of mouth that this is, at least, better than last season’s entry (And perhaps better than the show’s pilot, which was kind of weak). I remain skeptical of Kring as a showrunner, though, and what I read of Adam’s review tends to indicate that the annoying dialogue and the tendency to delve into pointless subplots have not disappeared even as the quality elsewhere ramps up. Still, it’s a smart move to please both fans and critics alike, and once the pilot hits in September I’ll judge for myself whether they’ve got the quality to back it up.

Lost

While the lack of real Season Five footage (It doesn’t premiere for another 7 months, realistically) is certainly a bit of a downer, what Lost brings to the table is its usual blend of intrigue and mystery. While they weren’t there with new footage, they did have a new Orientation style video that seems a bit different. Although the YouTube link below is off a screen, it still seems to be higher quality than what we’ve used to. After the jump, I’ll go into some discussion on why this video has a LOT of ramifications (And is infinitely more interesting than an episode of Heroes).

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