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Really Deadline?

Empire

Deadline has stooped to Alessandra Stanley-an lows with a horrible new piece by Nellie Andreeva implying that the increase in diverse casting for Pilot Season is possibly a bad thing because A) It means that actors of color will steal opportunities away from White actors out of “tokenism” and B) Too much diversity might be too much too soon (Over 70 years of TV can’t be ‘soon’ though).

Problem is that is most people STILL have a superficial understanding of diversity casting and what it means. Most (predominantly White) decision-makers see it as a business model rather than a way to view a wider range of stories and perspectives.

I still feel that a big way to bring the change on-camera is by diversifying voices BEHIND it. More writers, producers, directors, execs of color will make stronger decisions, and those decisions will stick. After The Cosby Show, rip-off sitcoms about Black families were tested for about three TV seasons after which the motif was abandoned because it wasn’t working. What DID work was A Different World, which told a different story despite being a Cosby spinoff. And back in 2002 when Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Oscars in the same year, there was a brief increase in roles for Black actors, but cast mostly in those two not-so-positive molds.

The fact that this season’s breakout hits include Empire, Fresh Off The Boat, and Jane The Virgin as well as other shows with diverse casts speaks volumes about what people want to see as opposed to what Andreeva and some others think they want to see. Next fall will see television being the most diverse it has ever been, and Deadline should know that by writing this, they are causing potential damage and regression.

The article’s ‘These People’ POV has drawn the social media ire and rightfully so:

These tweets sum up a LOT of what I, and I’m sure a lot of others feel. And here’s the nonsensical article that’s been inducing some serious cringe:
http://deadline.com/2015/03/tv-pilots-ethnic-casting-trend-backlash-1201386511/

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Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

mockingjay

(there’s a bonus part at the end)

The closing chapter of The Hunger Games has been opened.

If you’re still asking why the last book was (unnecessarily) split into two films, you’re a naive spirit who knows nothing of the world (hint: $$$$). But the cash grab comes at a cost, Part 1 feels more like a teaser, a build-up of events that will crescendo in Part 2. That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s own climax, but you wouldn’t be blamed for feeling just a little bit shortchanged. Remember Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1? It’s a similar feeling. However, Suzanne Collins’ books aren’t nearly as lengthy so there’s no beating around the bush, hence this film ends at a reasonable time.

Danny Strong’s screenplay with a rewrite from Peter Craig (who also adapted The Town to the big screen)indicates two strong screenwriters knowing how to tie things up neatly. What’s missing though is the omnipresent tension Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt created in Catching Fire. But then again, Catching Fire began and ended within one film.

The unusual nightmare sequence is a fitting start, and things get into action soon after. We’re soon introduced to the familiar faces who survived the events of the Quarter Quell and are now taking refuge in the underground District 13. Then there’s the grand addition of Julianne Moore as Alma Coin, the district’s president.

Moore knows how to play strong and resilient without overdoing the angry or passive-aggressive. She’s a character at peace with herself while at war with the Capitol which makes for a great performance. Equally enthralling is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in a turn so animated, you forget the actor has been dead for almost a year, until the end credits remind you with a dedication. Mahershala Ali is also introduced as Boggs, the head of security at District 13 and Katniss’ immediate new ally, blending in seamlessly with a dignified presence. But major props go to Elizabeth Banks as a de-glammed Effie, who might have been stripped off of her wigs and costumes but not her snark.

I’ve always felt that the entire book and film series can be summed up as an allegory on various sociopolitical issues. The main analysis of this part is definitely media manipulation. The 13th District use Katniss as their charismatic mascot, their titular Mockingjay. They begin creating video clips with the help of a professional film crew led by Cressida Bonas (a Skrillex-haired Natalie Dormer). They film guerrilla-style snippets to rile up their supporters. On the other hand, the Capitol broadcasts talk show-like one-on-one’s between a hostage Peeta and Caesar Flickerman who does his best using emotionally manipulative language. The film nails this look at two different parties connecting to their core audience with the appropriate platforms and images.

The sound design throughout is a work of beauty. The crashes, bangs, and thuds never shoot out yet still hit you hard.The emphasis is not the volume of the sound, but it’s impact. The foley work is realistic and never sounds looped in during post-production, a problem that plagues many blockbusters today. James Newton Howard’s score too is the right amount of subtle, never highjacking a moment (*cough* Interstellar *cough*)

This subtlety thankfully carries over into the action sequences. Believe it or not, no in your face destruction or bevvy of screen-hogging explosions, even when air raids destroy structures or when a dam explodes in a bomb attack. The Michael Bay’s of the industry need to take cues from Francis Lawrence. Speaking of which, mea culpa time. I was quick to judge Lionsgate’s hiring of Lawrence when Gary Ross departed. Owing to his previous work, the one thing I never thought he would add was subtlety, yet he’s done a commendable job on two and soon three films.

The two lynchpins that hold the conflict are heroine Katniss and big bad Coriolanus Snow. Color me biased, but I find Jennifer Lawrence to be a primary reason why Katniss Everdeen is so iconic. She’s equal parts strength and vulnerability, letting her rage take over when needed and breaking down when her loved ones are at risk. She’s a person, not an archetype. It really helps that Lawrence personable enough to add dimension to her character. Donald Sutherland is a masterclass happening before you. Like the seasoned veteran that he is, he gives Snow – a ruthless tyrant who wears white roses on his lapel to cover the blood stench in his mouth caused by poison sores- a soft-spoken cadence and an almost paternal disposition. The only thing scarier than an angry dangerous man is an unusually calm dangerous man.

Bonus- HERE is the best part:

If you read the book, you know about when Pollux requests Katniss to sing which Cressida & the crew record. Suzanne Collins wrote the poetic hymn The Hanging Tree into the book to be this song. Katniss describes it as a song her father taught her, but people could no longer sing because it was deemed anti-Capitol. Well fans, the song made it to the movie! The Lumineers gave it a melody and James Newton Howard added a score. I personally love the song because it reminds me of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Joan Baez’s The Tress They Do Grow High, rosy melodies coded with macabre subtext. Jennifer Lawrence can definitely hold a note, her husky vocals add a new depth. In the context of when it appears in the film, it’s goosebumps-inducing and becomes the unofficial anthem of protest for all the districts. Listen here:

Marvel and DC Both Parade Their Female Superheroes. But Which One Will Hire A Female Director First?

MARVEL VS DC

Marvel vs DC is fast becoming the Apple vs Android of the entertainment industry. You know what that means, it’s not consumer interest at heart, but the need to outdo the other using consumers as pawns. Sounds like a world domination plan straight out of a comic book, huh?

Marvel just broke the internet twice in less than a week. First when they released a first look at Avengers: Age of Ultron, and then yesterday when they publicly announced Phase 3, which is their slate of upcoming films going all the way till 2019. As predicted, the list includes some sequels and threequels, but what really grabbed attention were the new franchises, including Black Panther and Captain Marvel, their first Black and female superheroes to get their own movies.

Marvel Phase 3

Coolbeans! Looks like Marvel is getting on with the times, BUT WAIT A MINUTE.

Just two weeks ago, DC announced THEIR upcoming slate which includes, well, their first Black and female superheroes to get their own movies: Cyborg and Wonder Woman. Moreover, the film version of The Flash will be played by openly gay actor Ezra Miller (meanwhile the TV series version has the out Wentworth Miller playing Captain Cold and Andy Mientus will soon play Pied Piper, a rare openly gay villain).

Congratulations, finally some diverse representation, but is this really a move to be progressive or yet another ridiculous arms race?

What about diversity behind the camera? To be fair, Ang Lee and Tim Story did do Marvel projects but neither one’s attempt was well received. Now both conglomerates are ready to showcase female heroes front-and-center but neither has ever hired a female director, and that’s a problem. It came close once, remember the Patty Jenkins snafu?. DC apparently wants a woman to helm Wonder Woman and Jenkins’ name is being circled again. Not for the Emmy-nominee’s talent but for the obvious reason that it would be a slap on Marvel’s face.

Why not have a female action hero’s story be told through a female perspective? That’s not to say men wouldn’t do a good job but previous examples don’t show much hope. No matter what, the male gaze does tend to get in the way. Remember how the camera kept lingering on Gamora’s butt in Guardians of the Galaxy? Remember THAT kiss in Elektra? Remember Halle Berry’s dominatrix costume in Catwoman and wondering how she doesn’t get cut and bruised all over? Remember Lara Croft: Tomb Raider at all? They’re not just badasses, they’re SEXY badasses, appeasing the depraved young male crowd is still paramount. Compare that with Rachel Talalay’s Tank Girl. Say what you want about it, but it did have empowering overtones ahead of its time.

Good thing Joss Whedon is a proud feminist or Black Widow would not have even made it to the Avengers universe (Where is HER standalone movie by the way?). Even Whedon’s co-created offshoot series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D features a team where the female members strongly hold their own alongside the men. The dude knows how to make strong women without referencing their sexuality at all and kudos to him, but the other guys just aren’t like him for some reason.

And it’s not just the female-centric action flicks, why can’t women direct any of the other heroes either? A majority of the films on both slates still don’t have directors, it wouldn’t hurt to consider female names. Catherine Hardwicke, Karyn Kusama, Lesli Linka Glatter, or Susanna White would all make suitable candidates who can work well with action and bring their own unique flair.

Unexpected hires have been successful for Marvel. Kenneth Branagh for Thor, Joe & Anthony Russo for Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Shane Black for Iron Man 3 were all left field choices that paid off. Hiring a woman is not nearly as big of a gamble, so why not?

TV: The New Shows So Far Part 2

Survivor’s Remorse: LeBron James ventured into producing television and surprisingly delivered with a show that’s just as impressive if his name is removed (it shouldn’t be removed though!). Mike O’Malley wrote some of Shameless‘ most applauded episodes and he knows how to be a deft showrunner here, carrying over his skill with dark humor. The Entourage comparisons are inevitable, this too centers on a rising star and his support system, albeit in pro basketball. But something is different, this one is lacks the ironic shallowness of Entourage, replacing it smartly with emotions. On the looks of it, things will get even better as the season progresses, and who knows, perhaps LeBron could Mark Wahlberg his way into some behind-the-scenes success too.

Happyland: MTV’s scripted programming shot up miles in quality once Mina Lefevre of ABC Family came on board. Finding Carter and Faking It are both home runs, this one isn’t quite there, yet. It’s definitely interesting, the premise is original, albeit on the network being tentpoled by the steamy Teen Wolf, it might struggle to fit in. But I really hope it does, a talented young cast of actors mostly known from youth-oriented shows is doing a decent job and a seemingly happy setup carries a twisted unknown incest storyline at the center (the lead couple are half-siblings and don’t know it). The humor is surprisingly not bland, but it’s still not as clever as it has the potential to be. Again, it’s different in a good way, let’s hope it does well.

Kingdom: This is just too good. It’s set in the gritty world of MMA fighting, yet at the core it’s a touching tale of a broken family. The handheld camerawork and Venice, CA scenery are unique compliments to each other. There’s definitely a hint of Friday Night Lights in the realism, a dash of Sons Of Anarchy in the interactions, and a heavy dose of both in the inner turmoil of all the characters. The casting is a stroke of genius, whoever recommended Nick Jonas for a part nobody could have seen him in a few years ago deserves a raise. The breakout star however could be Jonathan Tucker who plays Jonas’ down-on-his-luck brother. The pilot succeeds in setting up just about enough to keep the audience coming back. Bonus points for an amazing soundtrack that includes Deer Tick’s Dylan-esque 20 Miles!

The Flash: Marvel might rule the roost with motion pictures but looks like DC Comics is marking their territory on television. This character comes to us spun off from Arrow (though there was a short-lived televised version in the early 90’s) but the smartest thing Greg Berlanti/Andrew Kriesberg/Geoff Johns did here is that they made this new show very unlike the older one, or any of today’s flawed hero types for that matter. Despite getting his powers accidentally, Barry aka The Flash actually enjoys having them. There’s no brooding or pent-up anger, but lot’s of positivity and confidence. There are definitely traces of a Tobey Maguire-era Spiderman, a clumsy science wiz into his female best friend, but minus that annoying gee-whiz stare. Grant Gustin is one impressive leading man with screen presence for days. He’s all but guaranteed to carry this show to success. The icing on the cake are Tom Cavanaugh and Jess L. Martin in deliciously meaty parts. This will join Arrow up there in popularity.

Jane The Virgin: If you missed Ugly Betty on your small screens, this dramedy is for you. Adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela, it still manifests that signature melodrama, but with a nudge and a wink. There’s also cheeky voiceover by Anthony Mendez. The main premise is farfetched, how often do you go in for a pap-smear and get inseminated instead? That too with the sperm belonging to the married guy you had a crush on. On top of that, imagine you had taken a vow to remain a virgin until marriage. Oh, and that guy had cancer and that sperm was his last chance to become a father. You can either drown in the shock and horror or you can deem it some form of divine intervention. Okay, enough with the negative, once you do move past that, it’s not all that bad. The authentic Miami flavor is fun but punctuated too strongly with Reggaeton/Pop Latino thumping in the background. Speaking of Ugly Betty, Gina Rodriguez possesses that same charm that made us all fall in love with America Ferrera, and she alone is worth tuning in for.

The Affair: This one had me at ‘Fiona Apple did the opening theme song’, and what a lovely unconventional theme song it is! The show’s name sounds like it’s giving too much way, yes it is about an affair between two married people, but creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi (In Treatment) add brilliant complexities to it,complete with character development and dialog that is top-notch. It doesn’t play out as a scandalous soap about philandering in the dark, but rather an analysis of how marriage and fidelity might impact different people. After numerous thankless turns post-The Wire, Dominic West finally gets a role worth his salt where he holds his own against Joshua Jackson and his on-screen wife, the incomparable Maura Tierney. Equally enthralling is Ruth Wilson as the other half of the titular indiscretion. Shades of Mike Nichols’ Closer are evident, but not overpowering, this show has its own caustic tone that shines through.

Cristela: In a world of genre-bending hybrids, this show is a mulit-cam setup. The premise is classic ‘Stand-up comic transitioning to tv’. But despite what could be seen as pitfalls, this show works! Cristela Alonzo has a gift, her writing pokes harmless fun at her culture but never tries for an offensive cheap laugh (except for her boss who is SUPPOSED to be kinda racist). In fact, a huge part of the story is how this young woman embraces her two cultures, a Mexican heritage and American upbringing, despite struggling to fit into either one at times. Alonzo’s performance is a rarity for stand-ups, she’s immediately at home without a mic in her hand. Facial distortions added to line delivery can get downright irritating after a while, think of characters in any sitcom that was on for years. But the way Cristela does it is sweet and endearing a la Mindy Cohn in The Facts of Life. The situations and humor have that old-timey charm that worked so well for Melissa & Joey and Hot In Cleveland. And it’s funny, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, with a talented supporting cast to boot. It’s the underdog of the pilot season for sure, but the type that could sneak its way to the top.

TV: The New Shows So Far.

A whole bunch of new tv shows are upon us. Perennially in the need for new entertainment, I’ve been viewing various pilots, seeing how they are, what they could work on, or whether or not they would succeed. Here’s the verdict so far (only what I have seen):

Red Band Society: Great premise but way too mawkish. Although the kids are all great,  Leo, has lush, thick eyebrows while undergoing chemotherapy. How? Clearly, research needs to be done there. Post TFIOS, sick children is sort of becoming a tearjerker way of pandering, but such subject matter needs to be dealt with carefully. Octavia Spencer is brilliant but both she and Dave Annable need more material, they sort of get relegated to B-storyline status amid all the teen drama. It needs a few quick fixes,but definitely worth coming back for more episodes.

The Mysteries Of Laura: I’m all for a different tone, but this show doesn’t pull it off. In fact, it seems confused about what tone it wants to project, is it a quirky comedy or a dark one? Relies too heavily on Debra Messing and her “Woman in a Rom Com” antics. Actually, a lot of this show seems like a rom com, complete with that career woman balancing love, children, and work while being pined for by rom com-ready guys.

Madam Secretary: Finally, Tea Leoni front and center in something! You want it to go The Good Wife route, charged with intrigue and drama. Leoni definitely has the chops to pull it off. However, it gets too dry at moments, some scenes linger for too long without a build-up. Overall, it’s pretty good, just needs to not get too stagnant. Barbara Hall is a brilliant writer so I’m sure she’ll figure a way out of it.

Scorpion: A procedural for the tech generation, that’s clearly how they pitched this one. But it doesn’t work. The characters are too cardboard cutout, at times trying too hard with the “Look, I’m a hacker” vibe. Elyes Gabel is a commanding lead though, to the point that you feel he deserves better, and so does poor Katharine McPhee.

Gotham: WOW! This could’ve been so misguided, so boring, so cluttered. It’s none of that. Bruno Heller & Co. have done a great job with the pace and the dark tone that never comes across as trying to ape Christopher Nolan’s film franchise. The performances are spectacular, Ben McKenzie is at a career best, Robin Lord Taylor and David Mazouz are stars in the making, and Jada Pinkett-Smith is simply a force of nature, stealing every scene she’s in. Danny Cannon’s highly experienced in the action/adventure. He directed some of Nikita’s best episodes and he definitely doesn’t disappoint here either. A possible breakout hit.

How To Get Away With Murder: This one’s the surefire breakout hit. It has the easy position of boasting the Shondaland label and having THE Viola Davis as a lead, but luckily, it never rests on those laurels. Davis is very much a showstealer with her presence and performance, but the rest of the younger cast is equally endearing and each one holds their own excellently. The plot, oh the plot, you’re hooked from the get-go. Like previous Shondaland hits Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, this show combines overarching season-long plot with a case-of-the-week on the side. Creator Peter Nowalk is an experienced member of Shonda Rhimes’ writing staff, so it’s no surprise he used this device perfectly when making his own show. The pilot’s director Michael Offer needs to be the next in-demand name for future pilot seasons because he seems to have a gift.

NCIS: New Orleans: Was another one really necessary? This brings nothing great to the table. Yes there’s New Orleans imagery, and Scott Bakula, and an underused CCH Pounder, but nothing else.

Black-ish: I wasn’t sure if this would be something a post-racial audience wants to see. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It has a very clever take on institutionalized racism and how cultural appropriation changes from generation to generation. It handles its subject matter in a way that’s never heavy-handed. It does fall prey to one tired sitcom trope though: The obnoxious man-child husband and his nagging high-strung wife. That’s not to say that Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross don’t do a great job because they do.

Selfie: That name alone is cringeworthy. So is the Pygmalion-inspired premise. This could easily be dismissed for being another instance of an older man telling a younger woman how to live her life but there’s more. You know those annoying articles about Millennials, the ones that are all “Look at these young people” as if we’re a weird alien species that’s too self-absorbed and doesn’t play by their rules? This is the comedy version of that. Everything is soooooooo exaggerated in a “This is what kids are doing nowadays” manner. Do any of us Millennials with a functioning brain (the vast majority) not realize that our thousands of Instagram followers are not the same as our few close friends? It breaks my heart because of how much I love both John Cho and Karen Gillan, but this does nothing for them.

Manhattan Love Story: At least 10 years too late to the small screen. Every cliche character trope from the countless romantic comedies about young singles living where else but in Manhattan, is rolled into one show. The gender differences don’t seem humorous here, they just seem pigeonholing and at times even offensive. Women are always too emotional, men are always too horny.The two worlds don’t understand each other. Let’s have another piece of entertainment indoctrinate the same set of stereotypes in our minds yet again. Who thought this was a good idea? Did they come via time machine from 1989? (The year Harry met Sally).

A to Z: Read the above. Swap the internal monologues with whirlwind sexual encounters. This one does feature voiceover from the flawless Katey Sagal, but the novelty ends there.

Marry Me: Read the above yet again, because that couple is now in their mid-late 30’s and is trying to get married, how else but one mishap at a time.

Stalker: When Kevin Williamson tried crime procedurals with The Following, it was a huge letdown (but still worth watching from time to time for a Kevin Bacon dose). He redeems himself with Stalker! Very well executed, and Liz Friedlander is beyond underrated as a director. It refreshingly captures the West Coast setting far better than most shows, and stars my future wife Maggie Q and my dude crush Dylan McDermott as co-leads with chemistry so good, it’s Fillion/Katic intense!

Bad Judge: Much like “Laura” above, this show seems confused about its tone. It’s actually a disappointment for the most part. You really really want it to be good but it just isn’t. There are some redeeming points, the story arc with Kate Walsh and the kid is quite touching, but then it feels out of place with where the rest of the show is going. Hopefully the writers can pull together the structure in time.

More new shows will be reviewed as they air.

Music: Lorde’s “Yellow Flicker Beat”

lordeflickerbeatmain

It’s been promoted for weeks now, and it’s finally here. Lorde’s new song “Yellow Flicker Beat” is from the OST of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Although, a very LOTR-style cover art might mislead some.

The first two Hunger Games films were accompanied by killer soundtracks (curated by alt-rock/folksy T.Bone Burnett and indie-rock/pop Alex Patsavas respectively) so I’m expecting the same level of excellence with this one, but we don’t get to hear the whole set till November.

Well, the song itself is very Lorde. Her voice is loomy and filled with her preternatural wisdom. The chorus is something that takes some time catch on, but you know that with enough listens you too will hum along. She does have a knack for catchy basslines, as heard in “Royals”, “Team”, and “Tennis Court’. This one is no exception: