Tag Archives: Movie

Sharknado 2 at TCA: Legitimating the Sharknado

Sharknado2In the past few weeks, I’ve been highly skeptical regarding Sharknado 2: The Second One.

In truth, I have no strong emotional investment in Sharknado 2. I watched the first Sharknado a good week or so after it first aired, and so I missed the social media fever and ended up finding the film itself…dull. Sharknado is not a particularly engaging film—even by B-Movie (or C-Movie or whatever we’re calling it) standards—when it is removed from the context of the Twitter commentary generated around it. And yet you wouldn’t know that given how Syfy has fully committed to Sharknado as an ongoing franchise, diving into licensing opportunities and treating this as a huge cultural phenomenon based entirely on social media fever despite a fundamental lack of evidence anyone other than people on Twitter care about Sharknado (which didn’t make it a failure, but does keep it from being a definitive mainstream hit).

It’s specifically reminded me of the release of Snakes on a Plane: the online fan base that emerged around the film convinced New Line to add new footage and push the film for an R rating, but then the film was a huge box office disappointment, and even failed to generate any significant cult following on DVD. It was a cult film in reverse: rather than struggling to find an audience then building a community of people unearthing a forgotten gem, the cult audience latched onto the film quickly but built a set of expectations that the film couldn’t live up to, and that killed that cult audience potential before it could develop into a long-term commodity. I’ve been convinced for weeks that all of the money Syfy is spending to push Sharknado as something more than a slightly more resonant movie-of-the-week has the risk of throwing good money after a bad movie that won’t sustain this level of franchise-building.

And yet when I arrived poolside at the Beverly Hilton hotel for Syfy’s Sharknado 2 screening event as part of NBC Universal’s TCA presentation, I began to feel somewhat differently. The notion of Syfy bringing one of its monster movies to a press tour was absurd before Sharknado, and yet it felt perfectly natural for the critics to be gathering together to laugh their way through Ian Ziering and Tara Reid’s latest encounter with shark-related weather events. Themed as a drive-in theater, complete with popcorn and car-themed couches and drive-in-style speakers, it was not just “Sharknado at Press Tour”: it was Sharknado as a marquee event, one that brings the channel the very legitimacy this type of movie kept them from achieving in the past.

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Hope Springs Intermittently: Stories of the 2011 Emmy Nominations

Stories of the 2011 Emmy Nominations

July 14th, 2011

My favorite thing about Emmy nomination morning is the sense of hope.

It lingers in the air before the 5:35am PT announcement – last night, as both coasts drifted off to sleep, people on Twitter were posting lists of contenders that they were crossing their fingers for, still believing that shows like Fringe or Community had a shot of breaking into their respective categories. This is not a slight on either show, or on their fans who choose to believe. As always, some part of me wishes that I didn’t know enough about the Emmy nomination process to logic away any chance of sentimental favorites garnering a nomination.

My least favorite thing about Emmy nomination morning is the moment the bubble bursts. When the nominations are actually announced, it’s this constant rollercoaster: one nominees brings excitement while another brings disappointment. The bubble hasn’t burst yet, at that point, as there are often enough shifts in momentum that no one emotion wins out, leaving us struggling to figure out just how we feel.

The moment it bursts is when you open the PDF and see all the nominations laid out before you, and when the math starts adding up. Twitter has quickened this process: you don’t need to wait until critics and reporters break down the nominations, as everyone is tweeting the sobering details by the time 8:45am rolls around. Excitement in one area turns to disappointment in another, with one favorite’s surprise nomination becoming deflated when you realize that other favorites were entirely shut out.

As always, I was one of those people sorting through the list of nominations, and the bubble did burst at a certain point. It was the point when I remembered that surprise nominees are often unlikely to be surprise winners, and that for every category with a surprising amount of freshness there’s another that reeks of complacency and laziness. These are not new narratives, of course, but they’re narratives that overpower any sense of hope that could possibly remain after a morning of sobering reality, and that temper any enthusiasm that might nonetheless remain.

Although we cannot say that there is no enthusiasm to be found. While there are no real dominant narratives at this year’s Emmys, I do want to focus on a number of stories that I consider important based on the nominations, some of which involve excitement and others which involve that defeatist Emmy spirit we cynics hold so dear. One deals with how a network fights to remain relevant after giving up its Emmy bait, while another deals with the failings of an oft-derided set of categories. The others, meanwhile, look at the difference between being nominated and being competitive, as well as why it might be that an entire set of categories can’t help but feel like a disappointment.

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Review: Doctor Who: Waters of Mars (December 19th, Space/BBC America)

Doctor Who? My question exactly.

This is not to suggest I don’t know the basic premise of Doctor Who: he’s an omniscient figure who travels through time/space solving exotic problems with the help of assistants (wait, I think it’s companions). However, I’m fairly certain there’s a deeper mythology here than “he’s mortal enemies with those ugly robot dudes that I think are called Daleks,” which means that going into Doctor Who: Waters of Mars (which according to the press kit is the second of the four final “movies” that David Tennant is doing before running off to star in an NBC pilot) my knowledge of this universe is a cribbed together collection of tidbits gleamed from pop cultural exposure and a couple of random episode viewings during the Eccleston period.

But, as was the case earlier this year when Russell T. Davies created an enormously compelling, stand alone piece of entertainment with Torchwood: Children of Earth, Doctor Who: Waters of Mars (which airs tomorrow night, December 19th, at 9pm ET on SPACE in Canada and on BBC America in the U.S.) is capable of engaging just about any audience. While it doesn’t have Children of Earth’s real world commentary on government corruption or anything so complicated, it tells a tightly driven story that at its core speaks to the inherent dilemma of being a man who is capable of changing time but only to a certain extent, and the plight of humans out to save the planet but finding themselves at the precipice of placing that planet in even further danger.

The result is a very compelling piece of television in its own right, but one that feels like a turning point for this character as he David Tennant prepares to say goodbye to what is very clearly a career-making role.

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Review: Battlestar Galactica – “The Plan”

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“The Plan”

October 27th, 2009

There has been an odd lack of excitement surrounding “The Plan,” which isn’t exactly surprising. On the one hand, the show’s finale proved somewhat divisive, which could have turned some fans away from revisiting the series. On the other, there is more long term interest in a project like Caprica which could run for multiple seasons than a one-off movie, which might have fans focusing more on its impending premiere. However, I really shouldn’t fit into either of these camps, as I’ve yet to get truly excited about Caprica (although I am certainly intrigued) and I quite loved the finale. And yet, nonetheless, the DVD release of The Plan (in stores today, October 27th) snuck up on me in a way I had not anticipated, and its release seems to lack the fanfare one would expect for what will be our last time spent with this universe (or this time period in this universe).

Perhaps it is best that one goes into this one with low expectations, however. As someone who loves this show, having written an undergraduate thesis about it and spending four hours writing about the series finale into the middle of the night with no regard for my personal health, the purpose of this film should excite me. Promising to explain the Cylon plan to destroy humanity, and to detail how the individual Cylon models came to play their roles in the first two seasons of the series, one feels as if there is some really compelling material to be had here, the kind of stuff that would have me wishing I could go back and rewrite my chapter on the Cylon/Human binary all over again.

And yet, “The Plan” is a qualified failure, raising some intriguing issues but in an indulgent fashion that in its relentless need to fill in the gaps of where this is happening relative to the show’s narrative proves more distracting than informative, more confusing than enlightening. I feel as if there is an intriguing narrative waiting to be found somewhere in this mess of a two-hour television movie, but that narrative is lost when it is so clearly segmented to fit into the series’ existing structure. While we’re busy playing the game of “spot which footage was from the show and which was shot new for the movie,” there’s something interesting going on here that’s just not coming through as clearly as it needed to.

In individual moments, this feels like Battlestar Galactica – as a whole, it feels like a DVD extra where you can click a button and see what the Cylons are busy plotting at that particular time, something which would be more interesting if they hadn’t tried to turn it into a motion picture event.

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Community – “Introduction to Film”

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“Introduction to Film”

October 1st, 2009

I feel a little bit awkward writing a review of “Introduction to Film,” as if I should be out impulsively making out with someone or climbing a tree or telling 10 people I love them. The week’s class, considered a bird course and a chance at an easy grade, is all about “carpe diem,” with a professor straight out of Dead Poet’s Society and the kind of class that seems like the ideal fit for this cast of characters in that it is in fact that most awkward fit imaginable.

It’s an episode that, like the class in question, lulls us into a false sense of awareness, making us believe the episode is about one thing when in fact it’s about something else entirely. It does it in a really subtle way, like a sneeze that just keeps threatening to arrive but doesn’t, as the show demonstrates a mastery over the sneeze that one did not expect.

All in all, it’s a simultaneously funny and kind of heartbreaking episode that continues to show some really great tones to the show’s brand of humour.

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Cultural Alert: Ronald D. Moore’s Virtuality airs tonight at 8/7c on FOX

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“It is not a f***ing movie.” – Michael Taylor, co-creator of Virtuality

This quote, coming from an interview with former Battlestar Galactica writer Michael Taylor by Dan Fienberg over at HitFix, is probably confusing considering that FOX is promoting Virtuality, from the mind of Ronald D. Moore and with a pilot directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights), as a one-time event. Or, at least they’re scheduling it as one. Or, at least they were scheduling it as one.

Now, I legitimately don’t know what to think. Conceived as a pilot for this past development season, the project fell on deaf ears with FOX executives who asked for extensive editing and didn’t order the show to series. However, as an expensive sci-fi pilot, the network wants to recoup its money, so a two-hour television event was scheduled…for Saturday, July 4th. Even we Canadians know that people don’t watch television on a national holiday in the middle of summer, so it seemed like the project was being tossed onto the pile.

And then, something strange happened: FOX moved the airdate to tonight, June 26th. And then they scheduled numerous conference calls so that press could talk to the show’s producers. And they even organized a premiere for the project, going against nearly every logical process one would expect from a summer burn-off.

There are two basic possibilities here. The first is that FOX knows the cultural cache of Ronald D. Moore in the world of science fiction, and figured that it could better recoup sales through potential advertising and DVD revenue if it worked the hype machine ahead of time, knowing that fans of Battlestar and science fiction in general would do much of the work for them. This seems the more likely option, considering that FOX already has a low-rated prestige science fiction show on its 2009-2010 lineup (Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse).

However, the way they’re promoting the broadcast theoretically leaves the door open for them to take the show to series down the road, a possibility that FOX has left open for reasons that I can’t quite understand. Perhaps it is just so that people will tune in even though it may seem like a dead end, or a waste of their time, buoyed by the faint hope FOX is providing. Or, perhaps FOX is actually willing to give the show a shot if the ratings surprise them.

Regardless, I have unfortunately not been able to screen Virtuality ahead of time, and have been trying to stay spoiler free in order to approach it with a fresh perspective. However, here’s the “official” synopsis so you have some sense of what the show’s about:

As the crew of the Phaeton approaches the go/no-go point of their epic 10-year journey through outer space, the fate of Earth rests in their hands. The pressure is intense, and the best bet for helping the crew members maintain their sanity is the cutting-edge virtual reality technology installed on the ship. It’s the perfect stress-reliever until a glitch in the system unleashes a virus onto the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, every step of the journey and every minute of the crew members’ lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth.

I’ll be back either late tonight or tomorrow afternoon with my own thoughts, but in the meantime you can check out Alan Sepinwall, Dan Fienberg and Maureen Ryan’s thoughts on the film…I mean, pilot. Or whatever it bloody well is.

Virtuality, as mentioned, airs at 8/7c on FOX.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Recount (HBO)

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Made for Television Movie

Airdate: May 25th, 2008

While many of the selections in the 2008 TV Time Capsule deserve Emmy attention in their future, this is one selection that has already made its way to Emmy glory. I watched Recount over the summer, and much like Generation Kill it follows a highly political event in America’s history, taking us behind the scenes of the 2000 Federal Recount which decided whether George Bush or Al Gore would become President of the United States.

As with Generation Kill, we know the ending already: this doesn’t, however, make the film any less powerful. With great turns from Kevin Spacey, Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban, Denis Leary, and especially Laura Dern as Catherine Harris, the film manages to elide the candidates themselves while maintaining all of the momentum of those final moments. By focusing on the minutia, the lawyers and the campaign staff and the people who handled the various recounts, the film revels in not the result of the film (the cancellation of the recount and the victory of George W. Bush) but how that result was felt by the people who fought on both sides.

The film shouldn’t have been the success it was: written by Danny Strong, best known for his stints on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls as an actor and not a writer, and directed by Jay Roach, best known for his directorial work with Mike Myers, it didn’t feel like it had the kind of prestige you often see from these HBO “Special Events.” But its quality, and its eventual Emmy win, are a testament to the work of both men, rising to the challenge; you could tell this was an intensely personal project for all involved, a fact which took a potentially clichéd piece of political opportunism in the buildup to the ’08 election and turned it into a darn great television movie.

Like Generation Kill, the film poses questions about what might have been, but there is more distance here: yes, Bush’s presidency has played a largely detrimental role over these eight years, but as we head towards his final days as President there is an end in sight. The film never feels like propaganda, but Recount is nonetheless the kind of sort of statement that democracy needs: it presents people committed to the process in a way that nearly changed history, and if that inspired anyone to the polls in November then the film deserves its place in the Time Capsule that much more.

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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