Posts Tagged ‘television’

Full disclosure: The 1968 O’Toole/Hepburn version of “The Lion in Winter” is one of my all-time favorite films.

Last night my wife and I screened the 2003 remake, starring Patrick Stewart and Glenn Close as part of a fine ensemble cast. This movie is a very fine production in every way, and to be honest, it is even better than the 1968 version in several ways, but for my money, it still falls a little short of its predecessor.

This version was made-for-TV, and that hurts it right off the bat. The 4:3 ratio is jarring these days, when everything comes across to us widescreen. When such high quality color and filming gets crammed into the restrictive ratio, it’s just confining. You know what you’re missing here.

The 2003 version has an outstanding supporting cast and this is one area in which it surpasses the 1968 version. The three sons and the princess-pawn Alais are far away superior performances, and I truly wish I could pick them up and CGI them into the older movie. Richard is less whiny, Geoffrey is more cunning, John is more believably dunderheaded, and Alais is much less innocent.

Unfortunately, while the Stewart/Close pair at the top of the bill are excellent, they do not meet the gold standard set by O’Toole/Hepburn. Stewart can rage as well as O’Toole, but he lacks chemistry with Close, and while Close was stunning in her own tirades, she just lacked the ease with which Hepburn switched from tumult to tease, from vengeful to loving, layering each emotion one atop the other like a pastry, whereas Close merely shifted gears.

This newer version was filmed at Spiš Castle in Slovakia, and though neither you nor I can probably tell the difference between a 12th century castle and one from the 15th, this one just seemed too “new.” The walls were too clean, and the wooden doors were so fresh and yellow you could practically smell the sap. The dogs were too clean, the lighting too bright, and while most of the costuming was grand and suitable to the Christmas in a stone castle setting, someone decided to put Alais in a slinky polyester velvet sheath with a Viginia-Mayo-esque zipper line up the back. I mean, the gal looked great in blue, but come on!

Thus, I must say that the 2003 version ranks second to the one from 1968. It is good, especially for a television production, but comes up lacking in comparison. Worth watching? Definitely. After all, it had stiff competition.


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And speaking of the Apocalypse, what is it with zombies, anyway?

We all know that the Apocalypse begins with zombies, (You all did know that, didn’t you? I mean, Rev. 11:11 is pretty clear on the subject; if Revelation can be clear on anything, that is) so I understand why the faithful are always alert to the sudden appearance of the shambling undead. I mean, they’re sort of an End of Days Early Warning System (EDAWS). See a zombie? Better pack your spiritual bags. (more…)

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Obey the Kitty!Once again, it’s time for one of America’s favorite biennial sports: Dog-pile on NBC for their coverage/lack of coverage of the Olympiad.

This year, I’m not participating.

Usually—and especially since our cable provider dumped the CBC/CBUT feed from Canada and we became even more dependent on NBC’s coverage—I’m a big participant in this sport.  What would you expect from someone who’s favorite sports are fencing, curling, and equestrian? These sports never get full coverage on American TV; often an entire fencing tournament will be reduced to a one-minute recap during primetime—I mean, fencing fast but it’s not that fast. Curling has been getting a better shake in recent Olympiads, but only if the Americans have a fighting chance.


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I’ve just seen what is possibly the most ridiculous premise for a television show, ever.

It has long been a fact of life in my house that, if we like a show, it gets canceled. If a show is sharp and well-written, it will probably get the mid-season axe (Yes, shows like “Firefly,” and yes, I am a Browncoat, but let’s not even go there.)

Well-written shows are thin on the ground these days. Ironically, broadcast television and the major networks—once the movers and shakers of primetime—are sinking to new and totally unimpressive lows, scything back scripted shows like Death himself, while pumping the pabulum of competition and so-called “reality” shows into our living rooms like cut-rate meth. Basic cable is the new frontier, and it’s doing some great work, but examples are few and far between.

As a consumer of television fare, I’m a tough market, but I am willing to suspend my disbelief—a lot—if you give me a good plot, some good writing, and some good acting to carry me along. Shows like “Awake” and “Journeyman” (both defunct) came with the sort of setup that required a healthy suspension of disbelief, but they both paid great dividends in the writing and the intricate plots. The writers for these shows put some serious effort into building a basis for the shows, and as incredible and hard-to-believe as the premises were, they had a logic that was integral to the worlds they inhabited. They made sense, and you didn’t have to dump a trainload of fundamental truths in order to go along with them.

Every story, every novel, no matter how bizarre the setting, must have an internal logic. If it doesn’t make sense, we won’t buy it. You can have wizards and dragons and disc-shaped planets and time travel, you can break every rule of physics and change the course of history, but if you don’t explain it or worse, if you can’t explain it, your reader/viewer will be lost to you. If you don’t respect the reader enough to craft a believable plot, you just don’t respect the reader.

This weekend, while watching the Olympics, it was impossible to avoid the ad blitz for the new NBC show, “Revolution.” The JJ Abrams nametag was intriguing, as was Jon Favreau’s direction for the pilot, and post-apocalyptic setting (thankfully sans zombies) looked okay. But what was the premise? That suddenly all the electricity stopped working? No, seriously, what’s the premise?

I did a search to find out exactly what I was missing. I found that the show was set fifteen years after

…an unknown phenomenon permanently disabled all advanced technology on the planet, ranging from computers and electronics to car engines and jet turbines and batteries.

Oh my.

So, NBC has postulated a phenomenon that was somehow smart enough to know what it was going to disable (Batteries? Really?) I don’t know about you, but an old car engine isn’t “advanced technology.” The internal combustion engine is, essentially, just like, fire, you know? And not only is it smart enough to know what it’s going to disable, it’s completely undetectable, and the entire world is unable to figure out what it is or where it came from or how it did it. This big thing happens, and that’s it. Nothing else happens afterward; no alien invasion, no nano-technological Brownian machines ravage the world, no super-criminal demands a ransom. Nothing. So, this “lights out” moment is totally natural, totally unknown, and totally arbitrary.

But, it’ll probably be a hit because it’s got pretty people swinging swords.


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Kurt R.A. GiambastianiGrey is the new black.

Moral ambiguity. It’s everywhere you look in popular culture. Television, movies, politics, books. We have taken away all the black hats and white hats; now everyone wears a grey hat. To an extent, this can be a good thing, but more and more I see it simply as a way to be “edgy” or “raw.”

I’ll use two examples, one of which worked for me and one for which the jury is still out.

As an example of the latter: We’ve been bingeing on “Breaking Bad” this past week (having a summer cold leaves us energy for little else). Through Seasons One and Two, we watched the moral decline of Walt (the main character) until, by the finale of Season Two, he commits a sin so egregious, so callous and cold, that I wasn’t sure I cared to continue on to Season Three. The writers were able to take me along on Walt’s descent into criminality, and I was interested only insofar as (a) I understood it, and (b) could empathize with it. However, when the writers finished Season Two, Walt was no longer any one I cared about; his acts, his behavior, and his internal justification had become muddy, lost, or obscured. In short, I no longer understood him, and, once a character goes over into Crazy Land, I don’t care what happens to him.

To their credit, the writers of “Breaking Bad” had provided enough to carry me forward. They may have lost me with their main character, but I was willing to push onward just to see what happened to the secondary roles. As I write, we are in the middle of Season Three and I’m not sure if they can turn it around, as now it seems that everyone is in a downward spiral.

On the flipside, I give you the re-dux of “Battlestar Galactica.” The level of moral ambiguity in this show was very high, uncomfortably so at times. We saw characters change, both in reaction to events and in response to their own ambitions. “Good guys” became murderers, “bad guys” became heroic, and some characters were just so facile that you couldn’t pin down their moral direction for more than a scene at a time.

Regardless of a character’s relative morality/amorality, though, I always understood the reasons for action or change. I was always cognizant of why a character did something that was immoral/amoral. Whether or not I agreed with the reasoning, I could comprehend why the character thought it was a logical move.

And there is the difference. In “BSG,” the characters acted in agreement with their own internal logic, whereas in “Breaking Bad” the writers are either hiding or obscuring that internal logic, or it doesn’t seem to exist at all. When a character acts against his or her own moral code, we need to understand why. Otherwise the acts (usually violent) seem gratuitous, and it seems that the writers put it in just to add an “edge” to the episode.

Now please, don’t misunderstand me; I’m not some bluestocking crying out for a reincarnation of the Hays Office to ensure the “bad guys” always pay for their crimes and “good” always triumphs in the end. I am not advocating anything like it. What I am advocating is making the motivations of characters comprehensible, and not putting in morally ambiguous actions for their own sake.

It is my theory that for the most part, in their own mind, no one ever commits a crime. Crimes are always justified, internally. Phrases such as “victimless crime,” “He needed killing,” and “He deserved it” all point to the internal logic and moral calculation that has preceded the act.  In my own writing, I work very hard to make every character’s thought processes logical and relatively clear. You may not like my bad guys, you may not agree with their chosen course of action, but you understand them. Violence and immorality are facts of life; we cannot ignore them. But neither should we add them in just to titillate or make our writing “edgy.”

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