Episodes!

“Episodes” season 1 and 2 – a short review.

“At the risk of sounding a bit melodramatic, I think you’ve broken my heart.”

After running out of Downton Abbey episodes, it was time to go on the hunt, once again, for a new TV show to enjoy.

BBC’s “Upstairs Downstairs” disappointed, none of the characters were of particular intrest, and the storyline is muddled and doesn’t warrant an investment of time. Then again, perhaps I was just too tired of the costume drama thing, because “Borgias” also failed to stir my interest.

So, I decided to go for something contemporary, and so I turned to a British American co-production: “Episodes”. This comedy drama was created by David Crane, of “Friends”fame and Jeffry Klarik, who collaborated with Crane on “Friends” precursor “Dream on”.

The story deals with a British couple, who are lured to Hollywood to remake their hit British sitcom. As soon as they land, their creation slowly slips from their grasp. The network casts Matt LeBlanc as the star of the show…..much to the chagrin of our Brits. Soon it’s not just their TV show that’s slipping from their grasp…

The show is fresh, has a strong central concept and a varied cast of interesting characters. Matt LeBlanc plays a fictionalised version of himself and he is on top form. The casting of the other characters is right on target, and it seems as though everybody thouroughly enjoys making this show.

But the genius of the show is in the writing. David Crane and his writing team succeed in an almost perfect balance of character and plot. They adhere strictly the rule that comedy is suffering; giving te characters no mercy but plenty of love. Every solution precipitates new complications….

By Hollywood standards, LeBlanc is the star of the show, if only because he is the biggest name involved. This is, however, untrue. The show is definitely about the British couple, played brilliantly by Tamsin Greig (“Black Books”) and Stephen Mangan (“Dirk Gently”).

From the off, we believe they are a couple in love, and talented writers being tortured by the powers that be. It is their story that kept me coming back for more, breathlessly. The humor is persistent and clever, rather than laugh out loud funny – although a great fight scene in the final episode of season 1 had me on the floor laughing….

Fortunately, Episodes was picked up by Showtime, rather than one of the major networks. This entails that the strond story isn’t diluted down to 22 episodes per season, in fact the first two season total 16 episodes. Funnily enough, even though the whole atmosphere just breathes Los Angeles, most of the shooting was done in the UK.

Check it out if you can: a wholehearted recommendation: Episodes

From Homeland, via True Blood to Downton

Still shaking from withdrawal after living through Homeland seasons one and two I went on the prowl for some new dope. Downton Abbey has long looked like a likely contender, but I was still waiting for series one to arrive in the mail. The next season of Mad Men is just too long a wait and the missus won’t get into Breaking Bad. Which leaves us with: the much hyped “True Blood”. I decided to give episode 1 a fair shake.

Yes, dear friends, a show about vampires, set in current day Louisiana. Somehow this would seem like a logical place for the critters to live (unlive?). I have to admit I’m not big on the whole vampire thing, having tried to watch “Twilight” (for strictly professional reasons) twice….and not succeeding.

On the left here’s Twilight star Robert Pattinson or vampire Edward as his friends know him, looking moody, conflicted, and let’s face it: sleepy….I do envy his hair, though not the way he wears it.

 

 

But I do have somewhat fond memories of “Interview with a Vampire” and am an avid admirer of Coppola’s “Dracula” (remember 1992? Boy am I getting old).

Okay, so there I am, biting my way through episode one, season one, with the charming Anna Paquin to keep me company. So far, things are at their mediocre best. Until the unavoidable sleepy eyed, pale, perpetually sleepy (and I assume handsome) vampire dude, love interest shows up. Oh great, it’s a Robert Pattinson lookalike – mayhaps even sleepier. And he’s played by a Brit too, how authentic!

Anna falls for the chap like a sack of concrete. And then he’s put in danger by a couple of buffoons too stupid to tie their own bootlaces. It’s convenient, because Anna gets to save him. This is onstensibly the inciting incident for the whole show, which is now in its sixth season.

Now, why am I annoyed? Well, to be honest: I just can’t take the whole “look at me being pale, weak, touchy feely, dangerous or not, confused, befuddled, strong, weak, look I’ve got pointy teeth” thing.

Here’s vampire Bill, on the left, he’s really tired, you know, ’cause he’s like really old and conflicted over his identity, you know. It’s like really difficult to be different and stuff, you know….it sucks to be a vamp.

Give me a real badass old school Dracula over all these teen angst metaphore creatures any day. This is what the show’s makers are asking me to invest in, to get involved with?

No, So there it is, no True Blood for me.

There, that was it for me, True Blood is shelved for the foreseeable future at least. Which brings me comfortably back to Downton Abbey. By now I have thoroughly enjoyed episode one, good performances all-round, juicy plotting. In short: we have an winner.

At least till Homeland season 3 and Mad Men 6…….

The Story of Film by Mark Cousins – review

“Hollywood films are not classical” Mark Cousins

“The Story of Film” is an epic 15 hour “journey” through the history of film. Creator Mark Cousins takes us by the hand and shows us hundreds of excerpts of classic films from the Lumiere brothers to Baz Luhrmann. His droning monologue is sometimes grating but at the same time knowledgeable and truly involved. I can’t possibly do this epic effort justice in a short review so I will just highlight my personal pros and cons of this remarkable achievement.

Pros

Mark Cousins must be applauded for even daring to undertake this venture. In 15 one hour episodes we are taken through the entire evolution of cinema as a mass medium artform. Cousins is staunch in his stance that film is, and in fact always has been, a global medium. He makes his point convincingly by including movies from every corner of the world from start to finish in the series. As such The Story of Film is an invaluable introduction to world cinema. It’s absolutely glorious in this sense.

Mark comes across a knowledgeable, passionate in fact, about film. He is unabashed in proclaiming his own set of “The best scene ever…” “The best director ever…” etc. Whilst some form of qualification is always welcome for the sake of clarity, it is also risky. This is something I will return to in Cons.

For anyone who seriously loves film, The Story of Film will be worth your while. You will finally see (parts of) the works of great masters whose films you had never really gotten round to watching (Ozu, Dreyer, Pasolini, the list goes on and on), so that you too can pretend to have seen every classic film ever made.

To sum up the pros: I really enjoyed The Story of Film, however to me, it does have its downsides.

Cons

Mark Cousins is a man on a mission. He wants to debunk the myth that film = Hollywood. And, rightly so. However, for me, he overshoots his mark. His recurring snide remarks at the expense of Hollywood film making undermine his efforts to achieve just recognition for world cinema. Why should one have to be bad for the other to be good?

An example can be seen in the quote that starts this review. His disdain for 30’s and 40’s Hollywood film making is clear: Cousins loathes the romantic vein of American films of the era. Thus, “Casablanca” is debunked as a classic, it is according to the master, a mere romantic bauble. However, when the very same romantic elements are used in e.g. 1970’s India they lead to classic masterpieces….this cognitive dissonance is just plain annoying.

Then there is Cousins’ obsession with form above content. According to Cousins cinema should be considered a purely visual medium. In 15 hours of film there is rarely a single comment praising well crafted character, plot, or story in film. The Story of Film is most definitely not about one thing: Story. This is rather silly and in a way, sad.

Nearly all of the excerpts Cousins chooses to show us concern compositional innovations and/or visual trickery. These are indeed crucial to the innovation of film, but cannot be considered the only measure by which to determine whether a film is great or even classical. The development of story and character is a crucial part in the history of film. Obviously Mark Cousins would beg to differ.

Finally, it annoyed me again and again that Cousins is a self proclaimed adjudicator of what is great and what is not. He often proclaims certain films, directors, scenes, shots etc to be the greatest ever. In most cases he is not professing an opinion, but god’s own truth. Mark Cousin, at least in his own opinion, is the god of film.

 

Newsroom – Aaron Sorkin

“I’m on a mission to civilize” Will McAvoy news anchor

Just a short word after seeing four episodes of HBO’s Newsroom. I know I’m playing catch up rather heavily, seeing as Stateside season two is already over, but I can’t help myself.

So what’s all the fuss about?

“Newsroom” is an HBO drama series wherein TV news anchor Will McAvoy, an emotionally damaged man, refinds, perhaps even redefines himself through the catharsis of caring about the news again. Will is portrayed rather brilliantly by Jeff Daniels, now very far removed from his “Dumb & Dumber” days.

Episode 1 starts with Will pressing the verbal self destruct button in a rant about the bankruptcy of the USA at a college get together. The general verbosity of the show is thus preshadowed. Creator Aaron Sorkin, for those who didn’t know this, loves speeches and dialogue in general. It’s not subtle but he does have a real knack for it.

The show follows actual news events and reconstructs the atmosphere of a newsroom very well, something I can attest to having worked in a newsroom, albeit one glued together with chewing gum, love and ambition rather than advertising millions.

The Bad

This is a show with a strong romantic streak, full of references to an idealized golden era of broadcast journalism. These references are more often than not contained in longwinded speeches in which it is often unclear who the character is actually lecturing. It is at these moment that I feel the show loses momentum, brilliant as the monologues may be. As a budding screenwriter one is often taught to let dialogue come from within the characters rather than using them as mouthpieces of the writer’s opinion. Dare I even say: Aaron Sorkin take note? That would be brash….

However, so far, to me, this is the show’s only major flaw, and although significant, it is not a fatal one.

The Good

This is one daring show, as it is unashamedly intellectual. For those who have not followed current affairs, or the general political debate of the last – say – five years in the USA, the show will make little sense and be incredibly hard to follow. Wow, an actual TV series aimed at the upper percentile of viewers. The very storyline of the show mirrors that aim. The fictional news broadcasters set out to no longer pander to ratings but to restore the news to what it once was: bringing genuine information to the public. Or in the words of Will: “I am on a mission to civilize”.

As mentioned above the newsroom atmosphere is executed well, and that is in no part down to the strong ensemble cast.  Special mention goes out to veteran Sam Waterston, who does a great job as TV exec Charlie Skinner, the embodiment of “better days of television” who oversees the resurrection of Will McAvoy and with him, real news.

What has really hooked me though, is the way each and every character has believable goals and ambitions and the fact that the human interactions are the true motor of the show, hiding mere plot elements very well. It is a show about people and I guess that’s what I really like.

But before this short review turns into an outright outpour of superlatives, let me say that after that opening rant in episode 1 it took me until the latter half of episode four to really get on board with this show. But now I’m on, I’m loathe to leave.

So, bring on the news!

 

 

Cornwall Film Festival chooses Pinto

The Cornwall Film Festival chose The Pinto Edition to feature in their “Films without borders” short film competition. CFF 8 through 11th november: http://cornwallfilmfestival.com/

And, as it turns out The Pinto Edition has been doing quite a bit of road tripping. It was shown at the Cinema Bioscoop festival in Lissabon, Portugal earlier this month. And, at various small festivals and gatherings in and around Berlin, as part of the 48 hour film project promotions over there. Finally it was selected by the Dutch filmfestival in Utrecht for their online competition.

Victor didn’t sit still and collected memento’s and slapped them on the back of the camper van.

 

Writing all night 48 hour film project Amsterdam

Okey, so Elwin and I thought up a great short for 48 hour film project. I wrote the script – 5 glorious pages. Doesn’t sound like much but believe me, normally a good day is one or two pages.

Then, just about midnight we decided that the whole thing wasn’t producable in one day.  What followed was a mutual brain freeze and frankly a major panic attack which lasted for about an hour.

Then lightning struck and now we’re wrapping up our second effort as the clock approaches 3 am. Just 41 hours to go.