I purposely try not to go overboard with the Netflix binge-watching. I was able to stretch out OITNB S3 over a couple weeks, which is pretty good for me. A lot of people didn't like this season as much as the others. I think I know why.
Season 1 was intriguing because the world was developed as were many of the characters. Season 2 dove into more character development and had a true antagonist who was ultimately defeated. Season 3 was a bit different, a bit unconventional, which I think threw some people off.
We did get more backstory development in S3. We didn't get a new antagonist however. Instead, the writers worked on Piper's arc, turning her from a traditional protagonist into more of an anti-hero. I really dug it.
OITNB is actually a rather complex show. Anytime you have twenty-five characters who are rather well-defined and who interact with each other in consistently intriguing ways, you know the writers are putting in some serious time and work.
My guess is that for S4, Piper morphs into the antagonist. Keeping a show with so many actors around for years has to be difficult as their salaries naturally rise. If they do keep it going, they'll probably focus on Piper as she turns into a hardcore criminal, and eventually as she gets out of prison where she'll either arc back to good, or face her eventual demise.
Either way, the quality of Orange is the New Black has been consistently high. It's going to have its seasons that resonate more strongly than others with the majority of viewers. But I hope in the long-run it doesn't focus on a broad base. It's a pretty unique show, and that's why I love it.
The only thing that's as bad as last night's Season 2 premiere of True Detective, is how poorly the Monday-morning QB'ing has been regarding the cause of the epic failure. Media critics often have a general idea of what works and what doesn't, but they're often hideously wrong as to the reasons why.
Five minutes into last night's show, I knew that Season 2 was in serious trouble. I knew with absolute certainty that Cary Fukunaga had not directed this episode. I immediately looked up to see who did: Justin Lin of Fast & Furious fame. As I struggled through countless schlocky CU's & MCU's, the empty performances of stilted dialogue, the stale EXT. shots of Los Angeles freeways, I couldn't stop thinking about how disconnected from it I was.
What went wrong?
The first obvious misfire was not throwing enough money at Fukunaga to retain his directing services for Season 2. Season 1 was beautifully blocked and shot from beginning to end. Who can forget that haunting XLS of the tree sitting in the field that sucked us into the environment? The Season 2 pilot is a nonstop series of far-too-close shots that never allow us enough space to sink into the scene or the setting. It's pure sloppiness. CU's & MCU's are like semi-colons—they should be as rare as Bigfoot. If they're not, not only are they going to be ineffective when you use them, your entire episode is going to look like it belongs on free tv. Last night's episode certainly didn't have the look of original programming on HBO.
Beyond the look, the writing of last night's episode was uncharacteristically awful. Here's the problem: Showrunner Nic Pizzolatto insists on writing every episode. This is unconventional in television. A showrunner might write an episode or two, but typically most episodes are given to other writers and then changes are suggested by the writing team and the final polish is done by the showrunner. Eight hours of programming is a lot for one person to write, especially once under the gun of a television shooting schedule. Like Fargo, True Detective is capped at eight episodes a year to keep quality high. But it may be too much to place on one writer's plate.
Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, & Vince Vaughn are all very good actors, but they don't have much to play with here. The performances come across as incredibly flat. Perhaps they are miscast, but I place most of the blame on the writing and the direction.
At no point during this episode did I truly feel immersed in Los Angeles (and that's where I live!). At no point did I connect with the characters or feel like they were something beyond actors on a stage. In fact, I had a hard time following the story because the direction was so bad, it annoyed me to the point of being distracting.
I hope to hell that the mandatory budget cuts forced on the Time Warner divisions didn't have anything to do with this debacle.
Will Season 2 of True Detective get any better? Well, it's hard to imagine it getting any worse. But if the upcoming episodes are as bad as last night's, I don't see many people watching the entire season. It might be time for the mercy rule, and to end his thing after two seasons.
God, I hope F/X doesn't make the same mistake with Fargo as HBO did here. We're too used to amazing television to watch anything but top quality stuff now.
I don't remember feeling this disappointed in anything I've watched on TV. My expectations were off the charts. That may be part of the problem, but it's certainly not an excuse. Other programs (Breaking Bad, The Wire, etc.) came into Season 2 with ridiculously high expectations and managed to knock it out of the park. The expectations for True Detective are now in the sewer. We'll see if that helps any as we fight to sit through the rest of this season.
Over the last few years, Warner Bros. has made some horrible decisions in regards to what projects to greenlight. The current iteration of Mad Max scored well with critics (including a 98% on RottenTomatoes). I've heard nothing but good word-of-mouth regarding it, and yet it's been a relative disappointment at the box office. I went and saw it this afternoon, I think I know why.
Fury Road is an excellent film. It's a smart script, especially for something that's so narrative-light. The acting is all-around excellent. The action sequences are among the best we've ever seen (and thankfully light on CG). The style is stunning. So why didn't it take in massive audiences? Jurassic Park (whatever number they're up to) broke records this last week. It isn't scoring as well with critics or with audiences, and yet it pulled in terrific numbers. What gives?
Fury Road has some minor issues. The action sequences are so complex, sometimes you get lost as to what is going on. The believability factor is something that's problematic for me, but not for your average movie-goer. The film has some of the worst day-for-night that we've seen since the 1950's. But all this is minor.
This pains me to say this, but I'm trying to be objective here. There is something about certain stars, whether they are Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Tom Cruise, or Brad Pitt, that goes above and beyond their acting skill. I call it A-list Shine.
The Shine is something that is hard to quantify. It's something that allows the actor to connect with broad audiences in a way that is superior to the vast majority of other actors. When it comes to A-list success, having the Shine is more important than having acting ability. You don't need me to state examples because you already know who they are.
I love Tom Hardy. He's a terrific actor. We all loved him in Inception and The Dark Knight. The problem with Hardy is the same problem with Michael Fassbender. Terrific skill, little Shine.
Chris Pratt has a great deal of A-list Shine. If he would have been in Fury Road, and if Tom Hardy had been in Jurassic Whatever (which did benefit from the PG-13 rating), the box office numbers would have been very different. I'm glad that Hardy was chosen for the Fury Road lead. Since I'm no longer a WB employee, the box office success or failure of films has nothing to do with my yearly bonus, so I just want films to work for me.
But there's a reason why some actors get paid $20M/picture and some get $3M. It's all about the Shine. I believe that, unfortunately, it's something you're born with and can never gain if you don't have it. If Fury Road had Mel Gibson Shine, it would have pulled in another $200M worldwide, at least.
(Mad Max: Fury Road gets a 9 out of 10 from me, and that's hard to get).
I don't think there's a central hub for fiction writers in the world like there was in the 1920's when artistic people flocked to Paris. In modern day America, Brooklyn is probably the largest fiction-writing enclave as it's close to the big Manhattan publishers and on a cheaper side of the river.
Los Angeles has always been the world center for screenwriters. Places like Hollywood, Burbank, and the West Side, have coffee shops that are loaded with people working on their scripts. I feel that in recent years, however, Los Angeles has attracted more people who want to be novelists.
A big part of this is that people who want to be screenwriters get frustrated with the process of selling scripts, or their writing skills naturally shift more towards that of a novelist . Part of it though is that LA is a creative hub, and one that has better weather than NYC.
There are downfalls of being a novelist in LA. It's expensive, and much of your time is going to be squandered while you sit on freeways, packed in with thousands of other Los Angelenos.
The benefits though are clear: Los Angeles is so vast culture-wise, you get to witness the entire world condensed into one city. Beyond that, you get to watch as all these cultures come to LA and start molding into one. It's a fascinating sight to see and is the ultimate writer's paradise.
I'm afraid that in ten years it's going to be all but impossible for struggling artists of all types to survive in Los Angeles. It's about as unaffordable a place to live as you can get. What I would love to see though, is a growing community of novelists. Hopefully, the more successful ones stay here. And maybe through some miracle, struggling writers can continue to come.
One last huge benefit of being a writer in Los Angeles is that creativity is embraced here. You don't have to worry about being judged harshly because you love to write. Walk into many coffee shops and they're packed with people working on their scripts (and to a lesser degree novels). If you can put up with the excessive talk about the movie industry (which I love as well), you eventually find novelists talking about their latest projects. My hope is that at some point, novel talk gains more ground on screenplay talk. I think that's already happening.
I just finished watching Netflix's Daredevil, and I have to say, it was really damn good. The series did many things extremely well. First off, the casting was fantastic. Second, they spent the time to adequately develop Fisk, the antagonist. Third, the DP (Matthew J. Loyd) and the directors did a beautiful job with the blocking/lighting/compositional aesthetics. The fight scenes are awesome. Even boring conversation scenes are done well, sometimes even crossing the stageline effectively and with purpose.
Netflix has been expanding their original programming, perhaps too quickly. Their best stuff, however, is amazing. House of Cards is one of the absolute best series you will ever see. Orange is the New Black is terrific. Even some of the offbeat stuff, like Lilyhammer, is done well.
Where Netflix really shines though is in its enormous library of movies, tv shows from other networks, and documentaries. Netflix streaming is currently only $8.99/month for new subscribers, and you can get 1 Blue-ray at a time for about an additional $10. So we're talking about $20/month or a bit more if you want more screens and more discs.
My point is that Netflix is an incredible value. I often hear people complaining about the price of Netflix or say that it's the first thing they're going to get rid of if they're low on funds. Some of these same people pay $150/month on cable, for a gazillion channels that have not a lot on them worth watching.
For a person like me who likes top quality dramas and obscure foreign films, there is no place like Netflix. But even for people with more average tastes, I don't know how you go wrong with the service. You can watch anything from cartoons to '80's shows to Breaking Bad.
There is no better deal in our world today than Netflix. Please, people, stop complaining about the price. You can't make $100M tv shows and movies for free. We live in an outstanding time where there's too much good narrative content to watch. Be happy, sit back, and watch your Netflix (and make sure House of Cards and Daredevil are on top of your list).
I've spent the last couple of days in Las Vegas where I came to visit family who was in town. I haven't been to Vegas in 15 years, so it's definitely been a sight to see.
I'm not a gambler. Having taken statistics, I don't think I'll ever become one. The longer you play, the more certain you are to come out on the losing end. Everybody loses in the long run—every single person. I'm also not clubber, so there's no real reason for me to be in Vegas, except for one fact—I'm a writer.
When you walk through the newer mega-casinos, you see thousands of ordinary people walking past super high-end shops: Tiffany's, Harry Winston, Gucci, etc. There's rarely anyone in the shops except for salespeople who inch around, adjusting the displays, or who simply stand still, watching the crowds meander by. It's like they're animals in a zoo cage.
You then walk to the enormous casino floors, where thousands more (many in shorts and t-shirts) sit within the expanse of machines with fancy lights, hoping they'll be the first person in history to come out ahead, even though the billion-dollar buildings around them were built on the expectation that there will never be any true winners.
This brings me to my point. Vegas might make a fine setting for heist stories or drunken jock tales, but this isn't what's of particular interest to me. What makes Las Vegas so fascinating is the juxtapositions you see everywhere you turn.
There's one word that comes to mind while seeing all the grandeur that's been built up on the Vegas Strip the last few decades: faux. Nothing comes across as authentic. It's a gargantuan, pretty trap, designed to take massive amounts of money (hours worked) away from everyone from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. It does so exceptionally well. This is a setting that's ripe for a deep character-driven narrative, one where the protagonist's arc ends in his realization of what Vegas really is. That protagonist may or may not be a gambler. Maybe it's someone who runs a casino. Maybe it's a smaller player. The appeal comes from the inherent contrast between the gamblers and their setting, and the arcing of this protagonist.
This would be hard to do in movie form as it would not show the city in the brightest light. A novel might be the most practical narrative form, but would lack the spectacular imagery that bombards the eye here. And I'm sure it's been done, but I don't know if it's been done well, at least not recently. These are the thoughts that have been popping through my mind as I've been strolling around this massive playground.
So while almost everyone comes to Las Vegas with hopes of having fun and hitting it big, the writer comes here and analyzes all the fish hitting the bait. It would almost be impossible not to. This setting is just too fascinating to not think about its narrative potential.
Jon David Rosten, author of
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