About Laurence Barber

Pop culture obsessed for as long as he can remember, Laurence Barber is a freelance writer, a film and television critic, an Arts graduate from the University of Queensland, a one-time comedian, and an all-the-time Twitter maven.

2016 Oscar nominations predictions

Just for fun, why not?

Best Picture

  1. Spotlight
  2. The Big Short
  3. The Martian
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road
  5. The Revenant
  6. Carol
  7. Bridge of Spies
  8. Room
  9. Straight Outta Compton
  10. Brooklyn

My assumption is that this, of all years, should be the first to hit 10 nominations given the massive spread of films on offer. But if it caps out at 9 – I’d be surprised if it were lower – Brooklyn is the most likely to miss out.

Best Actress

  1. Brie Larson (Room)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Carol)
  3. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
  4. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
  5. Jennifer Lawrence (Joy)

Fundamentally, the most important award. #Justice4BlytheDanner

Best Actor

  1. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
  2. Matt Damon (The Martian)
  3. Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)
  4. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo fuck yourself)
  5. Michael B. Jordan (Creed)

I mean honestly this category is a fucking mess this year

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Rooney Mara (Carol)
  2. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)
  3. Helen Mirren (Trumbo fuck yourself)
  4. Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
  5. Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria)

Bye, The Danish Girl, hi KStew.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
  2. Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
  3. Michael Shannon (99 Homes)
  4. Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)
  5. Christian Bale (The Big Short)

Ruffalo could spoil. I feel like Elba would be the most likely to drop in that instance.

Best Director

  1. George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  2. Todd Haynes (Carol)
  3. Adam McKay (The Big Short)
  4. Alejandro G. Inarritu (The Revenant)
  5. Ridley Scott (The Martian)

It’s insane that people think Inarritu’s direction of The Revenant is anything but deficient, but here we are. Glad Ridley’s getting his compensatory nomination for The Counselor though. Tipping that McCarthy drops here in favour of the auteurs.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Spotlight
  2. Ex Machina
  3. Inside Out
  4. Bridge of Spies
  5. The Hateful Eight

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Big Short
  2. Steve Jobs
  3. Room
  4. Carol
  5. The Martian

Best Cinematography

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. Carol
  4. Sicario
  5. Bridge of Spies

This is actually such a fucking good line-up, reminiscent of the wonderful year where both Inside Llewyn Davis and The Grandmaster  were nominated alongside Deakins and Lubezki (shame about that sickly faux-B&W of Nebraska).

Best Costume Design

  1. Carol
  2. Cinderella
  3. Brooklyn
  4. Mad Max: Fury Road
  5. Crimson Peak

Best Production Design

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. Carol
  3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  4. Bridge of Spies
  5. Crimson Peak

Best Editing

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Big Short
  3. The Revenant
  4. The Martian
  5. Bridge of Spies

I feel like Spotlight is only present in most predictions for this category because it’s the Best Picture frontrunner and stats lean so heavily towards pairing Editing noms/wins with BP winners. But I just don’t see it happening.

Best Makeup

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
  2. The Revenant
  3. The 100 Year Old Man…

Best Score

  1. Inside Out
  2. The Hateful Eight
  3. Carol
  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  5. Bridge of Spies

Really wish Fury Road could get nominated here but I doubt it’ll happen in the face of more traditional scores.

The rest are unremarkable. The one fun thing I’m tipping is Ex Machina for Visual Effects, but we’ll see. And I’m praying for an Amy snub because that is a bad documentary.

Into the Woods (2014)

INTO THE WOODS

Y’know, if you’re going to PG-13ify something like this, at least crank up the camp and let the seriousness slide away a little bit. By the second half it’s shot almost entirely in the titular woods (played with aplomb by Helena Bonham Carter) and everything is muted green, greys and browns. It’s remarkably painful to watch at times, so bland is the camerawork. Like, you’re given four fairy tales to spin into gold and the sole moment of visual intrigue you can provide is a brief Alice in Wonderland homage?

James Corden is startlingly bland as the Baker, an uncharismatic borderline non-entity in a film that feels obsessed with him when he’s about as interesting as the dough he kneads. A narrator here should convey wonderment and grandeur but he sounds like he’s introducing a new brand of water cracker. He’s propped up a hell of a lot by a great Emily Blunt performance, but my god, imagine if she weren’t there to make him look better.

Meryl’s pretty good too, though her Witch’s emotional beats fall kind of flat courtesy of inept pacing that saps even the better songs of some of their impact. Otherwise the cast is pretty uniformly good (though I’d happily have offered up Huttlestone to the giant, and Johnny Depp needs to take a decade off), with Chris Pine proving a stand-out playing a pretty unique and fun fusion of poncey and douchey. Special mention to Christine Baranski and Lucy Punch for making the most of distressingly small roles.

Into the Woods‘ crumbliness suggests that Marshall doesn’t know what the musical means as a movie. He’s made this with little concern for how it reflects on a broader cinematic canon of fairy tale adaptations; in a way, it almost feels as though he doesn’t quite understand the deconstructionist bent of Sondheim’s book. It looks pretty ugly – we get it, sunlight filtering through trees, augh – particularly the giant stuff which is almost inexcusably lazy. I understand the impulse to refrain from covering well-trod territory like Cinderella’s ball or Jack’s sky-high excursions, but it ultimately makes the film feel less than whole and even more staccato.

Truthfully, there’s not enough here to sustain the running time and it becomes almost numbing in the final act, such that the already fairly anticlimactic ending fails to feel pointedly so. It’s all the more frustrating to watch because it so obviously could have been great and ravishing and fun and silly and dark in equal measure. I think Into the Woods sums itself up nicely when, during “Agony!”, Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen’s grandstanding stops just short of them tearing their shirts off in a waterfall. A great adaptation of this would’ve done more than just pop a couple of buttons.

★★☆

Drop Dead Gorgeous: 15 years on, cinema’s forgotten American Teen Princess

Anyone who has experienced the explosion of the social web will, for better or for worse, be familiar with the commodification of quotability. The shared references of a generation—if I’m going to arbitrarily designate a period, I’d say that of the last 20 years—have become fuel and fodder alike on Facebook and Twitter and, resultantly, on the sites created seeking to capitalise on what is now lovingly described as “shareable content”. In-jokes are now “shareable content”.

The most prominent example of this is, for the purposes of this discussion, Mean Girls. Tina Fey’s little comedy that could become an enduring phenomenon turned 10 this year, sparking a flurry of articles from Vulture to Buzzfeed to Jezebel, all desperate for a piece of the pageview pie.

Mean Girls, of course, has its detractors—ubiquity will do that to a film. And there’s certainly an argument to be made that it has only reached the status is has thanks to the churning waterwheel of nostalgia that drives pop culture content on the internet. The reality of Mean Girls for me was that it was something bizarrely unifying in my teenage years. A well-placed “She doesn’t even go here!” in high school set everyone off (substitute teachers will be ruing that line of dialogue for decades), be it me—the snarky gay kid in the corner—or the rugby-playing jocks who laughed the loudest. I once playfully (and definitely not sadly flirtatiously, shut up, no you) told one of them that they were like the Regina George of our school and he thanked me like it was the highest compliment. As lovers of film, we all know the waves of joy that come when you find people who are as effusive about something as you are. Mean Girls has become that, but on a massive scale.

It’s not entirely clear why Mean Girls hit the stratosphere beyond surfacing in the right place at the right time. When it came out in 2004 in the last weekend of April and made nearly $25 million, it was a pleasant surprise to many. Here’s a delightful time capsule of box office fortunes from Box Office Mojo in the form of a report detailing what a surprise it was that it usurped Jennifer Garner vehicle 13 Going on 30, a movie which apparently cost $37 million to make.

(My favourite part of that article, regarding the audience’s positive response in Paramount’s research: “even those outside the target demographic, such as men in their 30’s, were over 80%.” Over 80%! All of them gay, probably.)

So okay, Mean Girls did pretty well grossing $86 million domestically, but to contrast, that $110 million when adjusted for inflation doesn’t exactly compare to Bridesmaids or even The Heat. But fast forward a couple of years to MySpace’s heyday and you couldn’t breathe for Mean Girls quote status updates, often appended with “feeling  funny”.

The film has become part of a broader strain of great comedies about, and ostensibly for, teenage girls, from Heathers to Clueless to Bring It On to Easy A. And yet there’s one that remains, improbably, on the outside of this conversation.

“I know what some of your big city, no bra-wearin’, hairy-legged women libbers might say…”

If Drop Dead Gorgeous  were anywhere near the level of Mean Girls we’d know; it’s now the 15th anniversary of the former’s release, but so far only one true (and excellent) appreciation has been written. When you Google “Mean Girls buzzfeed”, there’s a page and a half of results. For Drop Dead Gorgeous, there are three, all by the lovely Louis Peitzman, who also authored the above anniversary piece.

Opening to a first weekend of $4 million, it went on to gross about $10 million—just a little less than Zelig, just a little more than Husbands and Wives did in their days. By this point the ‘90s had seen something of a golden age of the mockumentary, beginning with Bob Roberts and ending with A Mighty Wind (though there’s a fair gap between Best in Show and that film).

While director Michael Patrick Jann didn’t have the cache of any of those films, he did score a hell of a cast. Jann, a performer, writer and director on comedy series The State, hasn’t directed a feature film since, instead chipping away on comedies like Community and Happy Endings, as well as a metric shitton of passed over pilots. Its writer, Lona Williams, was an assistant to Al Jean and Mike Reiss on the early years of The Simpsons and to Bruce Helford on Roseanne. She has since written additional dialogue for Shark Tale, the upcoming Scouts vs. Zombies is the uncredited writer on 2001’s Sugar & Spice. This shit just isn’t right. That said, it appears as though Williams has a script in production to star Leslie Mann called Les Madres, which is being rewritten by South Park/Team America veteran Pam Brady, who is pretty great in her own right. I have very high hopes.

It’s a goddamn shame because Drop Dead Gorgeous has vision to spare. It might be fair to say that the film is too sketch-y given where he got his start. But the film is too deft and too nuanced for such a dismissal. Beyond its relatively standard mockumentary format it both embraces and critiques Middle America, creating a tapestry of lives glimpsed in the streets and buildings of Mount Rose, Minnesota, while also functioning as a surprisingly smart rejoinder to corporate influence on teen body image. It is, in many ways, an unsung precursor to Parks & Recreation, which adores and mocks its Pawnee, Indiana setting in equal measure.

For those who perhaps aren’t familiar, Drop Dead Gorgeous’ opens with sepia footage of passive landscape and corn fields, followed by an admission of its format.

“1995 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the nation’s oldest beauty contest…The Sarah Rose Cosmetics®©™ American Teen Princess Pageant. A documentary film crew was sent to a small town in Minnesota to commemorate this occasion.”

The pageant is presided over by Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley), a former winner herself and Mount Rose’s preeminent Good Christian Bitch. This is the year her daughter, Rebecca Ann (Denise Richards), competes in the pageant. But she has stiff competition from Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst), a trailer park-raised go-getter who idolises Diane Sawyer and does make-up on cadavers at the local funeral home. She loves her mother, Annette (Ellen Barkin), who cuts hair in her trailer for the likes of best friend Loretta (Allison Janney). Loretta is the greatest, FYI.

The town has a population of about 5000, so contestants are pretty few and far between. They are:

  • Leslie Miller (Amy Adams), the extremely peppy, slightly airy, very horny cheerleader.
  • Lisa Swenson (Brittany Murphy, RIP), the dweeby girl who took a trip to New York to see her gay brother and has started talking with a kind of Lorna Morello on Orange is the New Black NYC accent
  • Tess Weinhaus (Shannon Nelson), a spacy girl who loves dogs and was hit on the head by a metal bolt and got attacked by her dog (they remade her belly with skin from her butt)
  • Molly Howard (Tara Redepenning), a white girl adopted by Japanese parents to help them “acclimate to American”
  • Michelle Johnson (Laurie A. Sinclair), a drama student seeking to use the pageant as a launching pad to an acting career
  • Janelle Betz (Sarah Stewart), an earnest girl with deaf parents who dreams of spreading sign language around the world
  • Tammy Curry (Brooke Elise Bushman), the varsity soccer captain who is signing up for the scholarship opportunities it can provide

Amidst these introductions we are treated to a couple of pieces of stock footage: Adam West’s promotional video for the pageant, and a commercial from actress and former pageant winner Connie Rudrud (Kristen Rudrud), who likes Saint Paul Pork Co. products so much…she works there now! There’s also poor Iona Hildebrandt (Claudia Wilkens), the 1945 Winner who, at the height of WWII, had to turn her tiara in for scrap.

A trend emerges in these 15 minutes or so of set-up: almost every character we meet is a woman. We even get to see the welcome sign on the highway to Mount Rose advertising the fact that it’s the home of the oldest living Lutheran, Freda Hegstrom. As the film wears on, the male characters are consistently marginalised and demonised. Williams and Jann are very clearly setting up the ideas they want to convey, and immediately get to reinforcing them.

Right after we meet Tammy Curry, we see her drive over a ridge on a thresher followed by a massive explosion. Thus the Drop Dead of the title is introduced; there’s murder on this pageant stage, but it’s not really the plot that counts. Most viewers can likely figure out where it’s headed early on, but narrative isn’t really the point here. Jann uses the strictures of the mockumentary in a much more Maysles-esque way, as though the crew is observing the lives of a community as out-of-step with modern society as the Beales of Grey Gardens. At Janelle’s house, she offers them bars and we see the cameraman and sound guy take some.  It’s this contrast of the kindly superficial and the sinister that Drop Dead Gorgeous revels in. [If you’d rather not read spoilers, best to stop here, but the plot isn’t really the point in my opinion.]

This isn’t to say that the film thinks the residents of Mount Rose are evil, but it becomes apparent that they’re subject to the same kind of small town hierarchy that can be found on Parks. Connie Rudrud won the pageant and ended up working at a pork products factory; for most of these girls, their dreams are aspirational and are pinned on the idea that they can escape Mount Rose. They won’t say it out loud, but they want out. They don’t want to be the next spokespeople for St. Paul Pork Co.

This goes, too, for the likes of Annette and Loretta, who stick out from the prim and proper pageant committee, particularly Iris (the wonderful Mindy Sterling), whose subordination at the hands of Gladys becomes painstakingly clear. Those around Gladys, whose catalogue-housewife façade steadily disintegrates as we see her daughter bear out her buried traits, are dominated by her. Her home is a pristine mid-‘90s mansion, built courtesy of her husband Lester (Sam McMurray), who runs a furniture store where he tells customers not to “Jew him” out on his merchandise and sexually assaults his clearly beaten down secretary, Jean (played by Lona Williams herself), a judge on the pageant who never speaks.

The other judges are both men; Harold (Michael McShane) is selected, and he brings along his intellectually disabled brother Hank (Will Sasso) with whom he runs the hardware store. Hank is consistently referred to by the contestants and townspeople as “retard” and “’tard”, their way of absolving themselves of any responsibility or concern for him. In a particularly depressing post-film insight, we find out that Harold died of Lyme disease and see Hank, trapped in a community either unequipped or unwilling to support him, in front of the hardware store gone to ruin.

The other is the hilariously named John Dough (Matt Malloy), who embodies the objectification that pageants propagate. His routine gawping at the mere presence of teenage girls—always “young girls”, always qualified—plays into the film’s greater criticism of pageants and the beauty industry’s systemic undermining of teenage girls’ confidence. In the Adam West video, we’re told that Sarah Rose “knows you’re ready for the ultimate in teen glamour”, advertising the prospect of making it “all the way to Lincoln, Alabama”. This competition’s corporate sponsor doesn’t care about the girls at all; it only wants to make sure they buy their products.

The pageant’s reigning winner, Mary Johanson (Alexandra Holden), is a clearly prototypical Regina George figure. Amber visits her in hospital where she is being treated for anorexia, another symbol of pageantry’s ill effects. Becky Ann barges in while Amber is doing her hair as she does every week, bearing chocolates as a gift. With a crucifix around her neck, her barging in on good deeds is an incredibly cynical way of pointing out the hypocrisy of the rich, religious right-wing. Instead of displaying genuine compassion, it’s all for show as she acts surprised the crew is there filming and purrs, “And me without a stitch of make-up on.”

Becky is quite hilariously a neat allegorical figure for the state of today’s Republican. She’s the Vice President of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club, whose motto is, “To strengthen spirituality within ourselves and our community.” They’re God-given rights, after all. As Becky says, “Jesus loves winners.” 6 rounds to the head.

“There are 8000 sequins and 1500 beads on the skirt alone. My mum had Mrs. Lopez make it; she’s one of my father’s many Mexican workers. He lifts them from the poverty they know in Mexico, mhm!”

These small town communities which depend on a source of wealth to survive can end up revolving around people like the Leemans. As Loretta says, “When they take a shit it’s front page news.” Drop Dead Gorgeous  reacts against this by showing the gentility in the everyday. Barkin, Dunst and Janney give such terrific, lived-in performances that the bond between them is just the right amount of warmth to balance out the causticness of the film’s satire. When Annette and Amber’s trailer blows up, she stuffs Amber’s tap shoes in her panties to save them for the competition. She self-sacrifices so her daughter can get the career she wants and do better than she did with Amber’s absentee father.

This sisterhood extends to Loretta—she may not be the “most smartest”, but she’s lived a life and is a significant maternal figure for Amber. Amber, though, is remarkably well-adjusted, and she deals with the tragedies that befall those in the Leemans’ path with the stony resolve of someone who works in a funeral home (see the sign below—such gorgeous attention to detail in this film).

When the night of the pageant comes, it turns into an exorcism of demons for the contestants. Amber’s tap costume goes missing, so Lisa lets Amber use hers as it has already been approved per pageant rules. This is one of those Brittany Murphy performances that I watch and marvel at; she had such presence and vitality onscreen that I’ve been known to cry when she hands off her costume to Amber, only to be rebuked by her father that her brother Peter would never have done that, prompting this immortal line reading:

Drop Dead Gorgeous shows as having 45% on RottenTomatoes, which seems utterly insane to me. I can only argue that it was either ahead of its time or just not in the right place. It’s such a marriage of Heathers’ pitch-black acidity, the wonderfully peppy subversion of both Clueless and Bring it On, and the fondness for Marge Gunderson-esque Minnesotan small-towners. There’s so much in it that feels ancestral to so much of the great comedies that have then followed in the past 15 years that it’s rather alarming that it’s so criminally underseen.

Some of the reviews were brutal, too. Lisa Schwarzbaum called it “a graceless mockumentary”, despite its savvy, fourth wall-breaking construction. Ebert gave it two stars, citing “subtle miscalculations of production and performance” which, with the film’s steady cult classic canonisation, feeds the idea that its comedic tone is better suited to the Arrested Development and The Office era than the one that came before it. The Hollywood Reporter called it “a mockumentary of numbingly unfunny proportions”, which is practically an endorsement in itself.

So why was it so maligned, and why has it not been reclaimed? I suspect that, given the backgrounds of its writer and director, it was just too weird. Mean Girls and many of the other films I’ve cited here had a lot of things going for them; well-known directors or writers whose style required little adjustment, less loaded premises, and a sort of willingness to have the film play to all the seats in the house (as smart as Mean Girls is, it does still have Lindsay Lohan flailing her legs after falling into a bin).

These critiques were later made more palatable in the likes of Bring It On and Stick It (another highly underrated and underseen gem in the former’s mould), which were about characters overcoming a societal desire for young girls to compete against each other, and against themselves, to succeed. A moment like the physical fitness number—a dance choreographed by Chloris Klinghagen (the wonderful Mary Gillis)—which has the contestants using freshly-painted ladders as props is the kind of thing that would be hailed as genius on a sitcom today. Such a simple joke just gets funnier and funnier as they get more and more paint on them.

On the other hand, the cracks do start to show in the final act. The attack on the Sarah Rose Cosmetics building still feels too broad given the slyness of the rest of the film, and Williams definitely could have done a better job of exploring Gladys’ motivations. It’s clear that she’s desperate for her lost youth, but this narcissism only goes some way towards feeling realistic (even in a film with a somewhat heightened reality). But her crafting of Becky into the idealised, gun-totin’ and Jesus-lovin’ conservative teenager is all the more hilarious in light of Sarah Palin’s intrusion into our collective consciousness.

One last important point is the fact that Ebert says that, because of its inclusion of vomit and the like, that it qualifies “to open in this Summer of Raunch”, showing how sluggishly the film industry has adapted to increasingly high profile female-led comedies and the freedom they feel to move across the spectrum of comedy. Drop Dead Gorgeous is a parade of genius character actresses finding generous helpings of humanity and camp in amongst food poisoning jokes and suppressed horniness among women of a certain age. Remember when Bridesmaids came out and people were shocked that it might show women having diarrhoea? Yeah, it’s been 15 years and we haven’t made any progress on that front (up to and including Tammy, apparently).

Perhaps I’m advocating for the embrace of a film that’s designed to remain more of a cult canon candidate, but a classic’s a classic and shouldn’t be cordoned off for specific audiences. At the same time, is it worth pushing it from in-joke to “shareable content”? Is it still simply pitched too far from the centre? It seems silly to think so, especially in an online environment with so much space for critique of the very same issues Williams and Jann had in mind when making Drop Dead Gorgeous all those years ago. But the person who deserves to win doesn’t always quite get there.

Revisiting 12 Years a Slave and what it means to ‘connect’

Chiwetel Ejiofor. Man oh man.

Trying to parse why I – and so many people, it seems – feel or felt left at arm’s length by this film. So many people say they admire it more than anything, that for all the world they can appreciate its beauty but it just doesn’t connect.

And I begin to realise that, well, that’s kind of the point. The first time I saw this it seemed as though the aloofness of McQueen’s approach the material was a bug, but really it’s a feature. There’s an extent to which I think we all want to watch a film like this and come away with a greater sense of understanding, a better comprehension of exactly how a story like this comes to be made truth. Every time McQueen severs the audience’s connection, or prolongs a scene to the point of it snapping like a string on a violin, it’s a deliberate affront. We – and I use the royal we with specificity and in self-reference to my exceeding whiteness – can’t comprehend this.

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True Detective Is Not a Special Snowflake

I don’t think True Detective is the best show on TV as The Atlantic‘s Christopher Orr does. For a start, it’s only halfway through its season and like most shows it has its share of flaws — the endless cavalcade of impermeable Matthew McMonologues, for a start, which are well-acted and poetic but a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, or precious little. As a device, it’s already repetitive. I’d point to shows like Hannibal and Rectify which can do that kind of thing better in terms of presenting a cohesive whole with seamlessly integrated visual and dialogic poetics. Also, as others have pointed out, its being mired so heavily in its hyper-masculine male point-of-view leading to almost total marginalisation of female characters is a worrisome drawback (I’m already getting my hopes WAY up for Pizzolatto to stock the show with character actresses in its next iteration instead), if only because favouring that point-of-view is still indulging it. Similar arguments were made about The Wolf of Wall Street, but I think that does it a bit better.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the show, which I still think is good, perhaps very good, and on a technical level it’s phenomenal (Adam Arkapaw is a bit of a genius; you should check out the films he’s shot, including Lore and Snowtown, a.k.a The Snowtown Murders).

BUT: can the people writing about this show quit it with the “finally a director gets to direct!” nonsense? It’s belittling to all the phenomenal work done by for-hire TV directors like Lesli Linka Glatter, Michelle McLaren, Jennifer Getzinger, Michael Apted, Michael Rymer, and John Dahl, to name but a few. Just because they’re working within a ‘house style’ doesn’t diminish their abilities. Just because Cary Joji Fukunaga directs every episode here doesn’t make him necessarily a better director, or this show necessarily better than others as a result. It’s a silly critical fallacy. There are any number of TV episodes directed just as well, and better, than any in True Detective. Is an impressive, flashy tracking shot really all it takes to get people to froth this much? I mean, if this is the only show that you wish you could watch in a cinema, as Orr states, I’d politely suggest that you both a) don’t watch enough TV, and b) are far too slobberingly playing the “cinema and television are at war” card, a dichotomy which is really not so concrete or definable. Beyond that, I’m very much unconvinced that that setpiece would have been less tense and immersive with a handful of edits tying it together, or even a ton of edits. Homeland has found plenty of ways to be hugely tense without tracking shots, as has The Americans. And generally speaking, their tense setpieces play into the show’s wider narrative in a far less frustratingly oblique manner.

Anyway, nowhere does the author suggest how exactly any of this is leading to a new form of storytelling in any way. I don’t see how this series is telling a story in any more cohesive and unified a way as any other dramas with great first seasons, and how is certainly not argued here. It’s still a story about two men investigating a serial killer and facing their own demons in the process. It’s really not all that fresh; Twin Peaks, anyone?

And beyond that, it’s not like this is the first show to be written entirely by one writer (the inestimable Adam Reed writes every episode of Archer, for example, and miniseries are regularly directed by just one person, such as Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce; to a lesser extent, every episode of Mad Men passes through Matthew Weiner’s hands before it goes into production). For all I know I’ll be eating my words come the end of this first season, but as it stands, can y’all just cool your jets a bit? Also, we really should consider the idea that maybe the best show on TV isn’t a portentous, crime-ridden drama. It’s not that people shouldn’t be saying True Detective is brilliant, it’s just that the way it’s being said is focusing on the wrong things.

[this post has been repurposed from the comment I left beneath the piece this is a vague response to]

Review: Captain Phillips (some spoilers)

I guess I could see why this would be as highly praised as it is. It’s crafted in all the right ways, and ending with an utter gut-punch, thereby closing on your strongest scene, is a clever way to beef up reactions to your film. That said, I wish it cut to black on Hanks instead of that stock-standard aerial zoom-out of the ship which stopped it from being a basically perfect ending.

But if it ended with its best, then it started with its utter worst. Poor Catherine Keener. Is that seriously all you can do with one of the basically only two female characters? That car ride to the airport was phenomenally stilted; by the looks of it I’d say it was butchered in the editing room but left in because cutting Catherine Keener entirely might have been even worse. But that’s what they should’ve done, for the film’s sake. [Side note: this and the previous paragraph are what prevented it from being a 3.5.]

The good: it’s definitely a good thriller. The first half is wildly tense and propulsive. Unfortunately, the second half sags a but under the weight of repetition. Captain Phillips does/says something -> shouting -> threatening -> navy holds them up -> repeat. And during all of this, the score BLASTED to remind the audience that SUSPENSEFUL STUFF IS HAPPENING BECAUSE SUSPENSE. This also made it occasionally difficult to understand the English of the African actors because their enunciation was flattened. I kept wishing for it to become Zero Dark Thirty and trust the audience to feel the burden of silence and the ocean that, in different ways, tortured the main characters.

Further to that: Phillips himself was a bit vanilla, in spite of Hanks’ work. He comes across as a bit of a taskmaster but this isn’t much explored; if the stories that have appeared are reliable, it may have made a much more complex film if Phillips’ characterisation tested our sympathy for him even a tiny bit. The Muse character was much more interesting, and quite mesmerising as played by Barkhad Abdi, who I’d love to see get some recognition for his performance.

But complexity was not the rule of the day. It briefly glosses over first world capitalism’s desolation of the Somali fishing industry as the fundamental cause of the rise of piracy (which was at least more than you could say for A Hijacking which was more concerned with showing the corporate brutality that leads to it, rather than its actual effects), all this in spite of the fact that – while I was more thrilled by much of the rest of the film – I was never more interested than in the scenes in Muse’s village. That was fascinating stuff rarely portrayed on screen that was both tense and intellectually stimulating.

But it’s well-directed – I’ve never seen a Paul Greengrass film before other than bits and pieces of a couple of Bournes, but he seems to know his way around this sort of thing – and it builds tension admirably when it’s not trying to conjure it out of nothing. There was some fine cinematography in there too; the parachuting silhouettes against the grey night sky actually took my breath away, and the use of light and shadow was quite nice all round.

As a whole, though, it’s only the final scene that transcends and it really threw the emptiness of the rest of it into sharp relief. It was content to tell the story and leave it at that, so I’m content to like it well enough and leave it at that.

[Stray observation: it took me about an hour, but I finally realised that the 2IC, Shane, was played by Michael Chernus who is Taylor Schilling’s brother in Orange is the New Black. And it took me until right now to realise that one of the crew was Hank Jennings from Twin Peaks.]

Dream Emmy Nominees 2013

The Emmys are so frustratingly stagnant that prognosticating them has become worrisomely simple, although if ever there were a year where the nominations could be upset this would be it. Here are my desired nominees for all the major categories which are hopefully less of a pipe dream than they seem (desired winner is bolded):

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Breaking Bad
  • Mad Men
  • The Americans
  • Hannibal
  • Rectify
  • Orphan Black

It’s a bit difficult to leave out Game of Thrones, which continued to be excellent, but as a season I felt it had too much padding (Theon, much of Tyrion, early Sam material) to quite elevate it to the coiled coldness of The Americans, the elegiac beauty of Rectify, the horrifying wonder of Hannibal, or the kinetic tautness of Orphan Black, the latter two of which had such high degrees of difficulty inherent in their premises.

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Louie
  • Parks and Recreation
  • 30 Rock
  • Enlightened
  • Archer
  • Bunheads

I don’t believe Bunheads is actually on the Emmy ballot, but that’s only due to ABC Family’s negligence, because it deserves to be nominated, though I’d probably switch it out for Happy Endings or Arrested Development if I had to. Otherwise, Enlightened was the crowning achievement of the year in televisual drama or comedy given that it executed pretty much the best of both worlds. 30 Rock drifted into the ether with one of its best seasons and Parks, Archer, and Louie delivered more of their now-routine brilliance.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
  • Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
  • Claire Danes (Homeland)
  • Keri Russell (The Americans)
  • Kerry Washington (Scandal)
  • Emmy Rossum (Shameless)

I must admit, I only regularly watch the shows of the first four women in this category, but I’ve seen some of what Washington and Rossum do and respect it greatly. But Maslany is the only logical choice here (in any other year, Moss or Russell would take it in a walk), her bravura performance is funny, moving, and bewilderingly complex, at one point playing a character who is playing a character who is playing a character and actually making that feel real.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Aden Young (Rectify)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Hugh Dancy (Hannibal)
  • Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
  • Damian Lewis (Homeland)

Much as I love Cranston, I love an underdog more, which is why I have to go for Aden Young, whose quiet, measured performance is pretty much perfect. As are most of the performances here, perhaps with the exception of Lewis, who unravelled somewhat as his show did after its stellar first five episodes. Poor Jon Hamm, though.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Sutton Foster (Bunheads)
  • Krysten Ritter (Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23)
  • Ashley Rickards (Awkward.)
  • Laura Dern (Enlightened)

Dern is Dern, and she essentially won this category with the first episode of Enlightened’s second season. It’s arguable whether the show should be in this category (it shouldn’t), but it is, so there you go. Possibly controversial inclusions are Ritter and Rickards, who delivered very different but equally fearless female performances, one playing the world’s best-dressed sociopath for laughs, and the other nailing teenage romantic self-sabotage.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Louis CK (Louie)
  • Jason Bateman (Arrested Development)
  • Jake Johnson (New Girl)
  • Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It)

This is unquestionably the single weakest category possibly in the entire Emmys, which is a good thing. Dudes have had their day. Baldwin, dickish though he may be, still rules the roost here; Jack Donaghy is a pantheon character on a pantheon show and he was no less brilliant in 30 Rock’s final season. My inclusion of Johnson is begrudging since I thought New Girl’s second season was often mediocre, but his pretty good performance elevated it where it needed to be. Capaldi I’m including simply because I’d like to see him nominated despite not having watched the show for a while (which I must remedy).

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

  • Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad)
  • Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)
  • Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
  • Adelaide Clemens (Rectify)
  • Abigail Spencer (Rectify)
  • Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men)

Gunn has long been Breaking Bad’s secret weapon, and many are tipping that this will be the year she finally gets the recognition she deserves. So many asshole dudes on the internet hate Skyler for no reason, but Gunn’s performance is undeniably fantastic. Clemens is a close second for what may be the most sensitive portrayal of a religious person on TV, and Hendricks should have won last year for ‘The Other Woman’. Headey is direly under-appreciated for her work, too, in the face of a showier performance from Emilia Clarke (whom I almost included). As much as I love Dame Maggie, fuck her for ruining this category for far better performances on far better shows.

Oustanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones)
  • Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal)
  • Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
  • Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) (tie)
  • Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)
  • Jonathon Banks (Breaking Bad) (tie)

Another stacked category, with Banks occupying Giancarlo Esposito’s slot of ‘Should Win But Won’t Because Emmys’. Kartheiser got more to do than ever this season on Mad Men, and was terrific every step. Coster-Waldau was the easy stand-out on Thrones, but will probably sit idly by while Peter Dinklage gets nominated for doing practically nothing. Patinkin anchored Homeland’s weak back-half, and Mikkelsen was as brilliant as he always is on Hannibal. Honourable mentions to Noah Emmerich, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Rahm, and Corey Stoll.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
  • Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development)
  • Carly Chaikin (Suburgatory)
  • Casey Wilson (Happy Endings)
  • Lucy Punch (Ben and Kate)
  • Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation)

This category is an insane bounty of riches, but I’d like to give honourable mentions to all the supporting Bunheads especially Julia Goldani-Telles and Bailey Buntain the Blonde Bunhead, as she is known. Also Eliza Coupe and Elisha Cuthbert and June Diane Raphael and Allie Grant and Ana Gasteyer and Jessica Walter and Julie White (who was one of the most rounded lesbian characters ever on TV) and Lake Bell and Anna Chlumsky and etc. etc. etc. forever. But Jane Krakowski NEEDS to win. NEEDS. Jenna sits alongside Jack in being timelessly funny and simply nominating her has never been enough. But watch Modern Family shit all over my dreams come Emmy night.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Damon Wayans Jr. (Happy Endings)
  • Will Arnett (Arrested Development)
  • Mike White (Enlightened)
  • Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation)
  • Adam Pally (Happy Endings)
  • Luke Wilson (Enlightened)

So many others I could include e.g Nick Offerman, David Cross, Jeffrey Tambor, Jack McBrayer, Charlie Day, Rob Huebel and maybe others. But they’ll all get passed over for the Modern Family bland armada and probably Bill Hader (fine) and maybe Max Greenfield (who deserved it last year but not this year).

And some assorted categories and who should win:

Guest Actress in a Comedy – Parker Posey (Louie). Unquestionably. Only Maria Bamford comes close for Arrested Development.

Guest Actor in a Comedy – Will Forte (30 Rock)

Guest Actress in a Drama – either Marin Ireland (Homeland) or Margo Martindale (The Americans) or Gillian Anderson (Hannibal)

Guest Actor in a Drama – Derek Luke (The Americans)

Outstanding Animated Series – Bob’s Burgers

Outstanding Variety Series – The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Outstanding Reality Competition Series – Rupaul’s Drag Race

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries/Movie – Lily Rabe (American Horror Story: Asylum)