Friday, March 28, 2014

The Grimm Reaper has been busy on Television (Spoilers Included)

Over the past two weeks major characters on three television series were killed off, Will Gardner
played by Josh Charles, Dan Bucatinsky who plays James Novak, and while I do not watch The Walking Dead anymore (too slow moving), I heard there were a couple deaths on those shows too. What's with all the murder?

Television shows are finally learning the way heightened situations, like killing off a main character can both enrage fans, but create an opportunity to bring fans together, gather viral word of mouth, and just enhance and enrich the direction of a television story.  Will Gardner is a great example of every single one of those elements.  Josh Charles contract was set to expire at the end of last season, but Michelle and Robert King, the creative minds behind the show, convinced him to stay, providing him with the opportunity to act, and direct two episodes of the show.  When Charles had extended his contract for this year, I figured they would send Will off, he would make a disgraced decision, and be forced out of his firm, I never thought Will's ultimate ending was death. While fans of Will and Alicia (Julianna Margulies) were left reeling, the King's always have an endgame in mind, and the endgame for them has been solely about Alicia, what a novel idea to have an endgame about a woman.  Yet the death of Will Gardner took literally everyone by surprise.

3 weeks ago Shonda Rhimes left everyone wondering who was Jake Ballard (Scott Folley) going to shoot?  Many people had theories, and there was no easy guess, but James has missed out on the bullet a couple of times; he final could no longer escape his own journalistic curiosity.  Bucatinsky won an Emmy for his role in Scandal, but as Guest Actor in Drama Series.  Dan has never been listed as regular cast member; he was always listed as a guest.  While the Shondaverse has never been afraid to kill off main characters (George O'Malley, Lexie Grey, Chris Lowell) James' death was an inevitable and heart wrenching conclusion.

Even in the last couple of months there have been some other shocking deaths: Zoe Barnes from House of Cards, Brian Griffin from Family Guy (he is alive again), Nicholas Brody from Homeland, Joss Carter from Person of Interest, Tara Kowles Teller from Sons of Anarchy.  That's seven major deaths in the last four or five months, we have not even hit May sweeps, and the season of Game of Thrones, and Mad Men have not aired.  I have never seen a bloodier year, it may have started with the bloodiest wedding.

Game of Thrones was not the beginning of of the "can you believe they killed..." but it certainly upped the ante unlike any other show.  If you the books from George R.R. Martin you knew what was coming, but when I sat down to watch season one, and connected with the Starks, there was no way I thought they would kill Ned Stark (Sean Bean); he was the biggest star on the show (at the time), and essentially the lead character.  Well they did!  Two seasons later his wife and their son joined him in "Holy Crap" death book.  Again if you read the books you knew, but Game of Thrones has made a realistic journey seem so powerful, showing the reality of the situation.

Death is a powerful emotional force, it even made Dexter emotional when Rita was shockingly killed, this was possibly the beginning of the modern, killing off a main character can give fans a big surprise and add to the story.  Be careful what you wish for, this was the tipping point for Dexter.  The show was never the same, many fans will say the show should have ended after this season.  I say they should re-tooled season 5 and made it the last.

Death on television can be an emotional thing for fans, you get attached to a character, and sometime with no warning, boom gone.  Beyond Dexter most shows have handled post-death story writing fantastically, there are ways to enrich characters, to tell different stories, to change things up.  I think death is a part of television dramas more today, to both keep the realistic factor, while signaling a sign of a more intense reality.  The King's from The Good Wife said they wanted to highlight a quick death, where there were no goodbyes, because sometimes people are taken from us without warning.  In this time of gun violence, and other dark realities television dramas are reflecting societal norms.  I admire the work of these shows stepping up and telling these stories.  Television has stepped up their game, on many levels, and I can't help, but feel that the Grimm Reaper is not done with some television characters from this TV season.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Primetime Emmy Predictions (March)

Credit: HBONow that the traditional award season is over I am jonesing, to predict or analyze some awards.  Might as well take my shot at the Emmy Awards.  Part of predicting these in March is hard because important contenders like Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and the new HBO series, Silicon Valley have not aired.  Part of predicting these now will be fun because there have been major category announcements in the last two weeks.

The first major shake-up was Netflix deciding to place Orange is the New Black in the Comedy categories.  While this may get them more nominations, possibly, the show is a drama with humorous elements.  I think this could backfire on them next year when the show takes on a much more serious tone.  Creator Jenji Kohan has stated the show gets even darker in season two.

The most minor, and biggest cheat goes to Shameless on Showtime, another drama with comedic elements.  Shameless has been campaigned as Drama the last three years, but this year its being changed to a comedy.  This may score Williams H. Macy a nomination in Lead Actor, or could confuse voters and have them wind up in nothing.  After all Joan Cusack has been nominated in Drama Guest Actress several times.

The biggest jaw dropping change is that True Detective will not cheat the system like American Horror Story, and will compete in the Drama Series category.  This could be more stupid than smart.  Detective would have been guaranteed more wins in the Movie/Mini categories, or this could be HBO making a play for getting back at AMC for dominating all these years.

Who will the nominees be now?  Here are my early thoughts:

Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS/BBC)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Homeland (Showtime)
House of Cards (Netflix)
True Detective (HBO)

At the moment I have Mad Men out of the running, and the only reason is that the show has not aired.  Mad is only airing 7 episodes, and after a weak season last year, and two years in a row of being shut out of any wins I am skeptical.  Thrones has not aired, but there is more buzz on that show, hence its inclusion.  The other two nominees I am considering dropping are Downton Abbey, and Homeland.  I think like Dexter, Homeland gets one more nomination, unless the show turns around drastically.  Abbey had its most 'ho-hum' season beyond the rape of Anna, which seemed pointless in the grand scheme.  Watch out for The Good Wife here.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston-Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels-The Newsroom
John Hamm-Mad Men 
Woody Harrelson-True Detective
Matthew McConaughey-True Detective*
Kevin Spacey-House of Cards

I would like to see Michael Sheen from Masters of Sex in this group, but I have a feeling this performance is too quiet for Emmy voters, and does not ham it up enough.  Also never underestimate the power of James Spader from The Blacklist, but the 6 men above seem like sure things.  The one nominee I am least sure about is Daniels, but there are speeches a plenty, and he is last year's winner, so I do not think he will miss out.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Clare Danes-Homeland
Vera Farmiga-Bate's Motel
Julianna Margulies-The Good Wife
Elisabeth Moss-Mad Men 
Robin Wright-House of Cards
Kerry Washington-Scandal

This looks pretty solid, Margulies will return, and all is right with the world.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Jim Carter-Downton Abbey
Josh Charles-The Good Wife
Peter Dinklage-Game of Thrones
Dean Norris-Breaking Bad
Aaron Paul-Breaking Bad
Jeffrey Wright-Boardwalk Empire

There are two men on the cusp for me Jon Voight for Ray Donovan, and Mandy Patinkin for Homeland, but this is a competitive race.  If there was ever a nominee that should return from Downton this year its Jim Carter; he was the best part of the season.  Watch out for Jeff Perry from Scandal too.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Christine Baranski-The Good Wife
Emilia Clarke-Game of Thrones
Anna Gunn-Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks-Mad Men 
Michelle Monaghan-True Detective 
Maggie Smith-Downton Abbey

Tough category to pick, there are few women that actually stand out in this group, but it will most likely be almost exactly the same as last year.

Outstanding Comedy Series 
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Louie (F/X)
Modern Family (ABC)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Veep (HBO)

NBC has not missed out on a nomination in this category in 21 years, this may be the year, their only true contender is Parks and Recreation, which only gotten one nomination in this category, can it come back? You better work NBC.  Sadly comedy is a man's world, and Girls is the odd woman out, I have this odd hunch.  Without seeing Veep or Silicon Valley yet I still think they will best Girls.  I also have Orange is the New Black off the list, I think category confusion will hurt this show in the series race.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series 
Don Cheadle-House of Lies 
Johnny Galecki-The Big Bang Theory 
Louis C.K.-Louie 
Jim Parsons-The Big Bang Theory
Andy Samberg-Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Robin Williams-The Crazy Ones 

Galecki returns! Williams has gotten no love yet, surprisingly, and if the show is cancelled, he may miss out.  Samberg is the new blood, but he has gotten tons of Emmy love for writing his songs for SNL; he has one Emmy, and six nominations already.  Watch out for an actor from Silicon Valley.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series 
Julia Louis-Dreyfus-Veep
Lena Dunham-Girls 
Edie Falco-Nurse Jackie
Melissa McCarthy-Mike and Molly
Amy Poehler-Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling-Orange is the New Black

Mindy Kailing should be here, but they will play it safe, and kind of a weak category, weaker than it has been in years.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher-Brooklyn Nine-Nine 
Ty Burrell-Modern Family
Adam Driver-Girls 
Jesse Tyler Ferguson-Modern Family
Tony Hale-Veep 
Ed O'Neil-Modern Family

Modern Family has been great this year, but I think they will start slow down on the nominees I think Ferguson is weak 6th place for me, watch out for a spoiler.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series 
Julie Bowen-Modern Family
Mayim Bialik-The Big Bang Theory
Allison Janney-Mom
Margo Martindale-We're the Millers 
Sofia Vergara-Modern Family  
Merritt Wever-Nurse Jackie

Janney and Martindale are big names these days, watch out for these ladies, they are dynamite.  I would like to see Wever gone, but her speech will keep her around for another year, although they could bump her like Jon Cryer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a Place I want to Visit over and over again!

The Grand Budapest Hotel (4 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore
Screenplay by: Wes Anderson
Story By: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness 
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, and introducing Tony Revolori 

There is a fantastical nature to the films of director/writer Wes Anderson.  In each of his incarnations you are transported to world, which feels like a blend a blend of reality, but often its his sharp wit, and characters  which take you away from everyday life.  Rushmore, and Bottle Rocket were his most realistic.  Enter The Royal Tenenbaums, which begins his exploration of the dysfunctional family, and the continued exploration of a jaded adulthood.  The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited, take to exploring but there is tie to family as well.  Family, innocence, and aging often impact his work.   While Budapest has these elements there is an evolution to Anderson's work here, an added sophistication to his story telling.

Budapest centers on a story teller, telling the story of a story he hear, sounds familiar to Anderson's style already.  The character named Author, yes Author (Tom Wilkinson) starts off this tale as you are transported back to the 1960s and now are faced with Young Writer, yes his name is Young Writer (Jude Law) who is introduced to Mr. Moustafa (Abraham).  Moustafa and Young Author,  have dinner one evening, and Mr. Moustafa begins to tell the story about how he came to be the owner of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Mr. Moustafa or at a younger age Zero got a job as a job as a young Lobby Boy in the Hotel, the known as Zero (Revolori).  Before Zero could attain the job, he of course had the pass inspection with the concierge Mr. Gustave (Fiennes).  The two soon become fast friends.  When Madam D. a frequent guest at the Hotel passes away, M. Gustave and Zero head to pay their respects where M. Gustave find out he was bequeathed Madame D's most valuable painting.  What ensues is a journey of dedication, friendship, hilarity, and growing up.

In true form Budapest has the typical quirk, and humor like all of his other films, but at the end of the film there is a larger sense of understanding the more serious nature of life.  Even if you look at the characters titles in the credits you see they escape their names as young adults, and become more formal.  Even Young Writer becomes Author.  Does Anderson feel as though he is on the precipice of this evolution.  As I sat through the the film there was a definitive evolution in his work, the traditional humor was there, but I felt as though the journey took these characters to a different level, making their journey complete.  Anderson has always been able to capture the human spirit, but there is something incredibly personal about the nature of this film, and it makes you feel things I have not often felt in his films.

Part of the credit to the strength of this film go to Ralph Fiennes, and Tony Revolori.  The two are dynamic together, and make this experience a fun a journey into mystery, and escapism, adding to the fun nature of the film.  Fiennes is an under appreciated actor, still shocked he only has two Oscar nominations.  This performance is one of his strongest, it begets his talents as a comedienne; he is not just Amon Goeth or Lord Voldemort, while he can be scary, he is one funny guy.  This performance has depth, and is one that deserves to honored, and studied as to how create a strong layered performance.

Anderson succeeds best when he has an ensemble who get his vision, visuals and all.  Fiennes has never been a part of this world, but he fit in perfectly.  The rest of the ensemble blend together this story perfectly from mainstays Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, and now Tilda Swinton.  Adding a few more to his cast of characters Anderson carved out an interesting story, which not explores the evolution of person but the works of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and the perception of European aristocracy in the 1930s from the the films of Ernst Lubitsch. 

The stories of Zweig and films from Lubitsch show the loss of innocence with German advancement in the time of the Nazis.  In 1932 you see the visually stunning Grand Budapest, while in the 60s you see this gloomy neon hotel, which loses all personality, disconnecting the occupants who stay there, Young Writer even says the guests often go to this place, avoid eye contact, and use this as place to hide out.  As usual the visuals of this sets in an Anderson film are some sumptuous making the experience even better.  The visuals are so great you believe the hotel to be a real place, but its a miniature constructed in an abandoned department store.  While many take for granted the visuals of Anderson's story there is missing the way every piece of the Production Design team, set things in motion, and then were framed by cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman.  

In a world lost the Grand Budapest Hotels of their time were lost to a change in the guard, and Anderson's visuals along with his great story telling ability make you want to be able to visit the pristine setting.  The film sets you a journey through time, of a time forgotten with wonderful character studies, this is Anderson's best Direction; he has not only added more to his film canon, but created an extraordinary experience.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Somebody Stop Michael Bay!

In 1963 the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock released a quiet, but haunting film about bird, yes it was called The Birds.  The suspense ridden film terrified audiences because of the simple nature of the premise, and the dark path a simple creature in nature took toward humanity.  The original film centers around Melanie Daniels, played by Tippi Hedron who is traveling in Northern California, and attacked by these vicious creatures.  The film is based on the 1952 short story by Daphne du Maurier, Hitch as he was known, as used Daphne du Maurier's work and adapted the book Rebecca into a film.  Many people will say its time for an update, but the work of Alfred Hitchcock is timeless, look at when Gus Van Sant tried to remake Pyscho.  Now imagine the production/direction of over-exploder, and visual effects extraordinaire Michael Bay, because that's what may happen.

Michael Bay is in talks to produce a re-make of The Birds with Naomi Watts in the lead role, most other details are non-existent, but this is that point when the intervention needs to happen, and someone says put down the bottle, or maybe time to think before you trounce the legacy of a film.

It's hard to believe that it was almost 20 years ago when Michael Bay began his directing career with the film Bad Boys (1995).  Bad Boys reminds me of a seen in the cancelled television series from Logo Noah's Arc. The two men are watching this inane cop duo have things explode around them as the walk in slow motion away from everything.  Bad Boys was a slow start for the director, it only made 65 million, but eventually did well in a VHS, cable world, and was the launching point for Bay's next film.

One year later explosions were becoming part of the box office game (even more), and Bay's The Rock (1996) took the concept of escaping from Alcatraz and it took it to an explosive next level.  Like all director's many films which are part of their early career are usually the best, and this is honestly true for Bay, Bad Boys is fun, The Rock is enjoyable because of Cage and Connery, these were fun 90s roller coaster rides.

The Bay blasted off into some people's hearts with the asteroid epic Armageddon (1998).  Armageddon was the second highest grossing film of the year making 201 million domestic, which was phenomenal, the average ticket price was under 5 dollars back then.  Armageddon was the beginning of the end, force feeding a story that did not matter, placing a cheesy love ballad, sounds like the beginning of the era of his I am going to try and be James Cameron type films.

Bay is seen as "the devil" by many, his directorial style is often offensive and too loud with quick cuts that never let you absorb any of the story.  Bay is quoted as saying the following "There are tons of people who hate me. They hate my movies and whatnot. But you know, hey, my films have made a lot of money around the world. 2-something billion dollars, that's a lot of tickets. They said that I wrecked cinema. They said that my, uh...cutting style. They say I cut too fast. And yet now you see it in movies everywhere. Do I take pride in people knowing my style? I think it's nice people know a director has a style. And you can reinvent yourself too."

I have two responses just because a director has a "style" which is cited does not mean its good, and just because a film makes money does not mean its good either.  He has contributed even further to the style over substance aspect of movies.

Bay tried to be like James Cameron, again,  tackling an interesting real life historical event, and use a love story as a back drop, the end result was trash, oh sorry, Pearl Harbor (2001).   The sad part is there was more time between his films, which means Bay put effort into this crap.  On his television show Rober Ebert destroyed the director/producer saying "Does he actually think we didn't research every nook and cranny of how armor-piercing bombs fell? He's watched too many movies. He thinks they all fall flat - armor-piercing bombs fall straight down, that's the way it was designed! But HE's on the air pontificating and giving the wrong information. That's insulting!"

Audiences fell for this film, it made 198 million dollars domestic.  I almost thought we had Bay on the ropes as a director with his film The Island (2005) it only made 35 million domestic, and cost tons of money.  Enter two eras of Bay, the nostalgia based franchise films, Bay has directed all of the Transformers films, and the reboot of the horror genre, Bay as producer.

Let's tackle the first, Bay has directed all three Transformers films, and is directing the fourth, which is set be released this year.  Worldwide all three of these films have made about 2.6 billion dollars, just at the box office.  Those are huge numbers, while the franchise is weakening on the domestic side, this franchise has only grown at the international box office. The Transformers films are the kind of over cut generic film making style Bay is known for, and Mark Wahlberg will not be able to change or add anything to this fourth film.

To bring things full circle, Bay is known for remaking films within the horror/thriller genre The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Amnityville Horror (2005), Friday the 13th (2009) to name a few.  Bay was also attached as a producer on the God awful The Purge (2013).  Bay will most likely be a producer on the film, not the director like with these other horror film remakes, but does this need to happen?  Does Hitchcock need a reboot?  A&E has put their own spin on Psycho with Bate's Motel, and while the ratings have proven strong, and this is a fresh look at the material, I am often confounded at the lack of originality in the the minds of people working in Hollywood.

Let's add the part that Bay's films are extremely misogynistic.  In the piece "Dark Side of Michael Bay" the author writes "Michael Bay thinks women are for sex; women are the sexy version of ‘people’ (read: men).  Michael bay only has two ‘real’ female characters in his movie because they make a comment about sex (and really isn't that the only thing they’re good for?).  The rest of his characters are male because those are the ‘normal people’ who can be protagonists and accomplish things (who would want to put those things in the hands of a woman? – which is of course where the ‘caricatured mockery of female leadership’ comes in.)"  This quote centers around the Transformers films.

There was also talk of Megan Fox being difficult, but at the end of the day the bro-fest of Bay films stuck up for the director.  Fox left the Transformers franchise after the second film, but in a world where the men stick up for the king of films for 16 year old boys are you surprised Fox was demonized?  In the the blog The Feminist Guide to Hollywood, the author writes a piece entitled "The Sexist Beatdown of Megan Fox."   The article cites the following "Bay has a history of demeaning his leading ladies, including "Pearl Harbor" star Kate Beckinsale; an individual close to the actress recalled that the director "wasn't very nice" to her on the set, either.Apparently, Fox wasn't the only "Transformers" cast member affected by Bay's rude behavior. TheWrap also learned that "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" star Isabel Lucas chose not to join her co-stars on a publicity tour for the film because she didn't get along with the director, who was described as being "too powerful" and "not well-liked" by the female talent community."

Not only does Bay blow up everything in site, but his representation of women is abhorrent.  I get that "women are not his audience" and that "these films are what 16 year old boys like" but at the end of the day Bay is shaping the mind of young individuals who think women should be a sexualized version of Megan Fox, sex objects for the soldier hero, or even Shia Lebouf.  Bay may have his own understanding of his style, and he may cast Naomi Watts in the reboot of his new film, but it's time for him to hit pause, and realize that his films impact the way others are made, and that the gaze of his characters, especially women, is one without depth.  While Bay still makes tons of money, his films are taking this industry in a dangerous direction, and should not be given The Birds to handle.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street Lead the MTV Movie Award Nominations

I have to say right around this show turned into the Twilight awards, the MTV Movie Awards disappeared from my television, but if you look at the list of nominees this show has gained some solid credibility.  These could actually be fun awards to watch this year.
See the full list of nominees below:
12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug 
(Warner Bros. Pictures)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 
The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
•    Amy Adams – American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
•    Jennifer Aniston – We’re the Millers (New Line Cinema)
•    Sandra Bullock – Gravity (Warner Bros. Pictures)
•    Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)
•    Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
•    Bradley Cooper – American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
•    Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
•    Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
•    Josh Hutcherson – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)
•    Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features)
•    Liam James – The Way Way Back (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
•    Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station (The Weinstein Company)
•    Will Poulter – We’re the Millers (New Line Cinema)
•    Margot Robbie – The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
•    Miles Teller – The Spectacular Now (A24 Films)
•    Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams – American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
•    Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Scarlett Johansson – Don Jon (Relativity Media)
•    James Franco, Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens – Spring Breakers (A24 Films)
•    Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller – The Spectacular Now (A24 Films)
•    Emma Roberts, Jennifer Aniston and Will Poulter – We’re the Millers (New Line Cinema)
•    Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount Pictures) – Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, DavidKoechner and Steve Carell vs. James Marsden vs. Sacha Baron Cohen vs. Kanye West vs. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler vs. Jim Carrey and Marion Cotillard vs. Will Smith vs. Liam Neeson and John C. Reilly vs. Greg Kinnear
•    Identity Thief (Universal Pictures) – Jason Bateman vs. Melissa McCarthy
•    The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros. Pictures) – Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly vs. Orcs
•    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) – Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and SamClaflin vs. Mutant Monkeys
•    This is the End (Columbia Pictures) – Jonah Hill vs. James Franco and Seth Rogen
•    Kevin Hart – Ride Along (Universal Pictures)
•    Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
•    Johnny Knoxville – Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Paramount Pictures)
•    Melissa McCarthy – The Heat (20th Century Fox)
•    Jason Sudeikis – We’re the Millers (New Line Cinema)
•    Rose Byrne – Insidious: Chapter 2 (FilmDistrict)
•    Jessica Chastain – Mama (Universal Pictures)
•    Vera Farmiga – The Conjuring (New Line Cinema)
•    Ethan Hawke – The Purge (Universal Pictures)
•    Brad Pitt – World War Z (Paramount Pictures)
•    Amy Adams and Christian Bale – American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
•    Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features)
•    Vin Diesel and Paul Walker – Fast & Furious 6 (Universal Pictures)
•    Ice Cube and Kevin Hart – Ride Along (Universal Pictures)
•    Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
•    Jennifer Aniston – We’re the Millers (New Line Cinema)
•    Sam Claflin – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)
•    Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
•    Zac Efron – That Awkward Moment (Focus Features)
•    Chris Hemsworth – Thor: The Dark World (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
•    Steve Carell, Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues(Paramount Pictures)
The Channel 4 News Team's afternoon is no longer a delight as their speeding van filled with bowling balls, scorpions and hot oil takes a tumble on the highway.
•    Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll – Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Paramount Pictures)
Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll manage to strike fear into a room full of unsuspecting beauty pageant-loving parents thanks to a bump n' grind dance routine to a Warrant classic.
•    Cameron Diaz – The Counselor (20th Century Fox)
Having sex in a car is pretty much a rite of passage, but having sex with a car? Cameron Diaz's Malkinagets down and dirty with a bright yellow Ferrari to show the world how it's done.
•    Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
Leonardo DiCaprio's iconic portrayal of excessive Wall Street player Jordan Belfort takes a turn for the insane when he takes his Lamborghini for a spin.
•    Danny McBride and Channing Tatum – This is the End (Columbia Pictures)
Danny McBride shows an apocalyptic world, and uncomfortable theater-goers everywhere, that there's no better pet than a scantily-clad Channing Tatum.
•    Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips (Columbia Pictures)
•    Benedict Cumberbatch – Star Trek into Darkness (Paramount Pictures)
•    Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
•    Mila Kunis  – Oz The Great and Powerful (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
•    Donald Sutherland – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)
•    Christian Bale – American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
•    Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate)
•    Orlando Bloom – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros. Pictures)
•    Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features)
•    Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club (Focus Features)
•    Backstreet Boys, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen and Craig Robinson – This is the End (Columbia Pictures)
Spoiler alert! Backstreet Boys reunite in heaven to perform "Everybody" with signature boy band moves and flair for this unforgettable apocalyptic ending.
•    Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
Lawrence cleans and dances her frustrations away as she mouths the words to 70s classic "Live and Let Die."
•    Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount Pictures)
During his wedding reception, DiCaprio's fraudulent Jordan Belfort pops and locks it to Bo Diddley’s"Pretty Thing."
•    Melissa McCarthy – Identity Thief (Universal Pictures)
To ease the tension of stealing Sandy's identity, McCarthy's Diana shows her musical range as she attempts to sing along with the car radio -- and even hits that high note in "Barracuda."
•    Will Poulter – We’re the Millers (New Line Cinema)
With eyes wide shut, Poulter's Kenny Rossmore throws it back to the 90s with a hilarious rendition of TLC's "Waterfalls."
•    Robert De Niro – American Hustle (Columbia Pictures)
•    Amy Poehler and Tina Fey – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount Pictures)
•    Kanye West – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount Pictures)
•    Joan Rivers – Iron Man 3 (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
•    Rihanna – This is the End (Columbia Pictures)
•    Henry Cavill as Clark Kent – Man of Steel (Warner Bros. Pictures)
•    Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man – Iron Man 3 (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
•    Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros. Pictures)
•    Chris Hemsworth as Thor – Thor: The Dark World (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
•    Channing Tatum as John Cale – White House Down (Columbia Pictures)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What Happened to "Must-See TV"... as Paula Cole would say Where Have all the Great Comedies Gone?

So I am going to preface this saying, I will sound like a crank, a person nostalgic for something which may not be possible anymore, but go with me on this journey.  Around this time, but in January, 43 years ago All in the Family was a mid-season show, and while I was not alive at the time I do know that at this time in history mid-season shows got far less of a push then they do today.  All in the Family is regarded as one of the best television programs of all time, there was not only a message, but it was funny.

While All in the Family was probably both the most popular with audiences, and well liked by the Emmy Awards, there were numerous other comedies in the 70s which also had messages, and pushed boundaries. The Mary Tyler Moore show was one of the first shows about a single girl making it on her own.  Maude was a brash no nonsense feminist, and liberal, who at one point in time got the show's early history got an abortion, the show aired two months before Roe vs. Wade.

In the 70s comedy had a lot of boundaries to push, but comedy has not always been about the issues. Cheers was about a bunch of people sitting around in a bar.  Seinfeld was about, well nothing.  Friends was about friendships, and their misadventures.  Frasier was about a radio broadcaster, his family, and his search for love.  The Cosby Show, which happened to be about a black family, just dealt with typical family matters, not to be confused with Family Matters.

That's not to say that The Cosby Show did not push boundaries or mean anything because it did to the landscape of television.  Cosby was the first show to represent African Americans as doctors, and lawyers, who had success.  Television comedies were still hilarious, but meaningful in the 80s, 90s, and even into the early 00s.  Murphy Brown took Maude a step further, Brown owned her words, and shared them as a broadcaster; she also became a single parent.  The Golden Girls challenged the American norms that life ends after 50.  Designing Women showed four strong independent women running a business, while mixing in message about domestic violence.  Will & Grace was the first sitcom to focus on a central gay male character, and there representation of the supporting characters was one of the first shining glimmer of the understanding of being queer with Jack and Karen.  While many of these shows were not at the top of their game all the time, their legacy is greatness, after 2005 how many "great" comedies or sitcoms have existed?I began to think about this with the end of The Office last year.

The Office had all the elements of Cheers, but instead of a bar, this centered around a an awkward group of misfits working at a paper company.  Was Michael Scott's off putting humor the flaw?  Why didn't people tune into this show people have tuned to other popular sitcoms over the years?  Is it the format, it's different, and that does throw people off.  The Office started before binge watching, and the culture of watching things online.  Sure people were watching things online, and Netflix existed, but these avenues were not as large as they are today.  Part of the problem is probably NBC who has lost their mojo, but NBC does not have the patent on "must see TV."  That title for sitcoms belongs to CBS these days.

CBS sitcoms are the highest rated, and their two dominant shows between 2005 to the present have been Two and a Half Men, and The Big Bang Theory.  Will these two shows be seen as "great?"  I do have a feeling that Big Bang will have a much stronger legacy, and if you take out the laugh track, there would probably be crickets in your living room on Thursday nights.  The show is not bad, it adds to a spectrum of characters created in the television landscape, embracing the nerd culture, but how do you equate that let's say a Murphy Brown, Roseanne, or Frasier.  You can't.  Simply put some of these CBS sitcoms are fun to watch, but their investment in Chuck Lorre's hollow humor is missing the point to what makes television funny.  Mike & Molly, another Chuck Lorre show is a prime example, like Two and a Half Men these shows try to be sinister and darker like The Office, but their sarcasm falls flat, and makes an even bigger joke of their shows.

Back to NBC, while The Office got them mild awards attention and the best ratings, 30 Rock was their savior, and the greatest show they have created in the modern era of comedy.  Rock was saved by critics, and fans, who saw this show about the behind the scenes of an SNL-like shows as something important. Alec Baldwin was the modern day Archie Bunker, like with All in the Family, you had the read through the performance to realize the flaws in the man, like his mother issues.  Meanwhile Tina Fey was the modern day That Girl or Mary Tyler Moore, trying to make it her youth obsessed industry, trying to stand by her beliefs, and have it all.  Fey knows good television, and whether she intentionally mean this message or not her show, was the epitome of greatness in the 2000s.  Even with a slight rating problem, the show stayed on the air for seven years.

ABC has not been part of the conversation much, namely because they fail to give their comedies a chance. They do not nurture their sitcoms they are rather quick with a trigger finger, and have cancelled most things recently (see Happy Endings).  Modern Family is the most recent example of television that will be seen as great, and it is.  The show has some social messaging, it portrays the evolution of the family, the humor is sharp, and unlike many television shows centered around families, it does lot get caught up or lose steam because of children who grow up.  Modern Family is the best example of one of the the last "great" shows.  While the quality has lowered of the last few years, this show, still is one of the best.  Even through a weaker third and fourth season this season this most recent season has only improved.  Modern Family is that show right, now but what about the other comedies, does the cheese stand alone?

Let's look at some of the recent shows that are trying to attain that "great" or classic factor.  If you look at the nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series at the Emmy Awards, you can gather a good image of what the industry finds great at the time.  Let's start with 2006, the first year The Office debuted at the Emmy Awards, and the first year for Two and a Half Men.

2006 Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy Nominees
Arrested Development 
Curb Your Enthusiasm 
The Office 
Two and a Half Men

Many of you have probably been screaming, Arrested Development, Arrested Development, how could you not mention that as a great show.  Arrested Development became a classic, but while the show was on the air it got poor ratings.  Development like The Office, and 30 Rock were save by critics, and the Emmy Awards.  Development won Outstanding Comedy Series in its first year, which helped keep it on the air for three years.  Development led to the continued growth of shows like The Office, 30 Rock, and eventually Parks and Recreation and Community.  Arrested Development not only fits as a classic, but its resurrection on Netflix proves the power of the show.

Curb Your Enthusiasm is an interesting example on this list, for me its hilarious must-see television, it comes from the creator of Seinfeld Larry David, and fits within that pattern of that style of comedy.  Enthusiasm is a niche HBO show, with niche humor, like many cable, and pay cable nominees, or shows not nominated, for example Louie, Girls, Entourage, Weeds, Nurse Jackie, and Veep.  All of these shows have been nominated for this category, but at they "great," are they classics in the way we judge them in the pantheon of television history?  You may find one or two of these shows on those "top" lists at some point now or eventually at some point in history, but are they classics, do they advance the genre?  Do they they fit within the pantheon of Cheers, All in the Family, Frasier, The Cosby Show, and many more?

When I put together my list of shows that should nominated, and critics do the same, there are fewer and fewer comedies to choose from to make a top five or top six list, and even of those five or six they do not always seem to impact the the genre and the evolution of comedic television.  With larger numbers of options to watch on television there has become a fractured system in the type of humor seen.  30 Rock, Arrested Development, and Modern Family seem to be three examples people could get behind as modern classics, you could probably add The Office too.  Yet only one of these is still currently on the air, does anything on today besides maybe Parks and Recreation, or I guess I will count The Big Bang Theory resemble, or reach the level of classic "must-see" television.  Television has done such a great job with drama, and there is a rise on blended series mixing the drama, and comedy, which started with Ally McBeal.  

Yes I have ignored the blended shows throughout this piece, but let's go back to the ones mentioned above, Weeds, Nurse Jackie, and Girls.  I think you have to look at these three shows differently based on their age concept, whether they advance the genre.  Weeds is the senior member of this crew, and told the dark tale of a suburban mother turned drug dealer.  Weeds got lost in the shuffle as its quality dragged in the end years, but if you look at the basic product, it's funny, and it pushes comedy with a modern sensibility.  Things are so bad for this woman that she has to sell drugs in order to maintain her lifestyle.  This has the makings of a classic, I would argue the latter seasons ruin that more than any show like Dexter, but to me Weeds is classic television.  Nurse Jackie is in the middle, and while the Emmy Awards love this show, which is far more drama than comedy, always has been.  Showtime started rubber stamping these female lead shows, like United States of Tara, and The Big C, which I applaud, but none of them scream classic comedy, maybe Tara because the split personality thing was funny.  Girls is too new, too fresh to tell, if you asked me season one I would have said yes, season two no, and now with season three maybe.  I think Lena Dunham is a strong voice of her generation, and if she continues to bring fresh comedy to the table she can help advance the genre.

The main question is how do television comedies evolve?  How do you challenge networks, and now internet providers to bring people more laughter rather than tears?  How to does evolution of the type of comedy like more blended series with drama and comedy like Weeds find its place as a classic? I do not know that solved or further created a problem with my thesis, but I think these are interesting question.  At the end of the day comedic television has stagnated, there have been a couple shows here and there that have pushed the medium forward, and allow artists/creators to share their truly creative visions with people.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

March Movies to See and to Skip

After another dull month besides The LEGO Movie or if you needed to catch up on any of the nominated Oscar films, which many left the theatres too quickly there was not much to see.  Can March break the winter dry spell, there is a chance audiences will be at least excited about more of the films released this month.

March 7th 

300: Rise of an Empire

The first 300 was 8 years ago, and the introduction of Gerard Butler, who's career has waned since.  The first was a great technical achievement, but Zack Snyder is one of my least favorite directors, and his films are too flashy with little substance.  Snyder is not back, and neither is Butler, could this help the film?  I think many will show up and be entertained, I will be skipping it.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

This was one of of my favorite cartoons during Rocky and Bullwinkle, and I feel as though this will be a film that will not need to bank on nostalgia to be successful rather it will be a solid entertaining experience for the whole family.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (NY/LA)

This is the most anticapted film of the month for me.  Wes Anderson is one of my favorite writer/directors.  The reviews from Berlin have been fantastic, and the people who do not like it are one of the Village Voice's resident cranky critics Stephanie Zacharek, and the New York Post's often too conservative Kyle Smith, so I am bound to love it!

Pick of the Month: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Pick of the Week: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

March 14th 

Need for Speed

I am sad that this is Aaron Paul's first non-Breaking Bad role, something that looks like a Fast and the Furious knock off.  This film based on a video game has forced franchise film written all over it.

Veronica Mars

One of the best low rated television series of all time!  Can Bell's star power help catapult this film to success after its Kickstarter campaign?  I have not seen much actual advertising for the film, so they better bank on good word of mouth.

Must Skip of the Week: Need for Speed

March 21st 

Muppets Most Wanted

Almost my most anticipated film of the month, the Muppets were my favorite growing up, and the reboot of this franchise has been great.  They know their audience, and it looks to continue the quality of their last film.


Many studios have tried to enter the young adult to book movie franchise, and there have been success stories like Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games, there has also been Beautiful Creatures, and The Mortal Instruments.  Shailene Woodley is popular, but I think this one falls somewhere in the middle.

Nymphomaniac Volume One

Von Trier is an interesting film maker, he's a love it or hate it kinda guy.  His last film Melancholia was loved by many critics, I personally hated it, but I have loved his other films Dancer in the Dark and Dogville.  I think the trailer looks fascinating, I will watch (see below).

Must See of the Week: Muppets Most Wanted (yeah I am biased)

March 28th 


I admire Darren Aronofsky, he did Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler; he also did The Fountain.  I have a feeling Noah is more like the latter, its gamble on all levels, and the previews just do not sell this film well.  If anything is helpful, the religious crowds showed up for Son of God, they may show up for this too.


I honestly do not have words, Schwarzenegger is still making these action movies at his age, which is impressive, but isn't time to retire?  

Must Skip of the Month: Sabotage