Wednesday, April 20, 2011

AMC's THE KILLING Redefines Cop Show Genre

I recently screened the first two episodes of AMC's new original series, THE KILLING.  Basically, this series is originally Danish (does that make AMC's version an "original series?") but regardless, the show has been expertly adapted for American television's favorite genre: the cop show.

While at first it seems to fit the cop show procedural formula (two cop partners of opposite style find a body and proceed to follow the clues), it sets it's self apart.  Yes, the two leads Mireille Enos playing Sarah Linden and Joel Kinnaman playing Stephen Holder are cop partners, and yes they are opposites.  Linden is a by-the-book sorta cop and Holder is more unconventional (read: controversial).  At one point, Holder offers pot to some teens to get them to talk (we find out later it's not really pot, but still...).  And while this is a convention (read: cliche) common to all cop TV series, this show does it differently.  The two play off one another casually, with minor power struggles, it's not over-bearing or in your face.  In fact, it's pretty realistic.

This whole let's-make-TV-realistic thing continues when we see the family of the young girl who has been recently murdered.  The scenes where the grief takes over them and we see some truly raw emotion is difficult to watch, it's that good.

The other way the show manages to redefine the cop show is the fact that for the thirteen episodes of the series, they will only follow this one murder and each episode is one day after the death.  So this makes the series feel more like novel or a detective story then a cop TV procedural. This is serialized drama (where the story continues every episode and doesn't wrap up at the end of one episode, like say House or Law & Order) which makes this cop show completely different to any other cop show on TV.

I saw the first two episodes and then later found that AMC is allowing the first four episodes to be viewed online for free until May.  When I heard this I immediately watched them - and was hooked.

And while this show is reminiscent of TWIN PEAKS, the network has chosen to embrace this comparison to arguably the greatest show that never found a large fanbase.  So, AMC has chosen to lean-into the comparison by spinning-off TWIN PEAKS's tagline for THE KILLING.  And so that is how the very blunt but very enthralling tagline emerged: WHO KILLED ROSIE LARSEN?

Watch a trailer of THE KILLING here:
Then, when you're hooked, watch the first few episodes (UNTIL MAY!) here:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Alvin Ailey: American Dance Theatre

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre returned to Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for ten performances of their mixed repertoire.  Founded by Alvin Ailey in 1958, this ballet company has grown into one of the largest American dance companies and the most lauded of African-American dance companies.  It is estimated that since it's conception, the company has reached 23 million audience members in 48 states and 71 countries.  Needless to say, this company is the most-toured dance company from the United States, and they represent us well.

With Artistic Director Judith Jamison, the company has soared.  And Friday April 15th's performance was no different as they presented "Program B" which included: "Memoria (1979)," "Three Black Kings (1976)," "Cry (1971)," and "Revelations (1960)."  Of these pieces, the ones that stood out the most to me were "Three Black Kings (1976)" and "Revelations (1960)."

"Three Black Kings (1976)" contains three movements about three kings that have affected the black race. The first movement is dedicated to King Balthazar (the black king present at the nativity), followed by King Solomon, and Martin Luther King.  The music comes from Duke Ellington's final work and so continues the African-American spirit in the piece.

"Revelations (1960)" is Ailey's most well-known and most lauded piece.  In fact, the word masterpiece is not overstating the power and emotions that this mini-ballet contains.  There are three sections, and each contains three movements.  Some stand out pieces are "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" from the first section, "Pilgrim of Sorrow," "Wade In The Water" from the second section, "Take Me To The Water," and "I Wanna Be Ready," also from the second section.

My personal favorite piece is "I Wanna Be Ready" as it is a solo for a man in pure white clothing.  The anguish that he feels is so visceral that we see it not in just his emotion, but through the choreography.  And all it is, is just him alone in the middle of the stage, in a pool of light.  Brilliant.  (See link below to see a video).

These pieces in particular were especially riveting.  Since "Revelations (1960)" uses all Gospel music, the pieces already feel quintessentially African-American.  And then, with the progression of the movements, we see the story of the African-American play out.  Ailey's movements are considered modern dance, but they have a unique way of not only embodying the spirit of the piece, but of a people and of a culture.

Revelations is also celebrating an anniversary.  It was first created in 1960 and (as of 2010) is celebrating it's 50th year.  So, to commemorate this, there was a presentation of a five minute film about the conception of the masterpiece, with Ailey himself (prior to his death in 1989) discussing his inspirations, his muse, and his past.

Considered a "Cultural Ambassador to the World," The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre Company will continue to inspire and perpetuate a new appreciation of this completely American art form and company.

Check out CBS's story on their 50th Anniversary here:

Check out my favorite piece from "Revelations (1960)," "I Wanna Be Ready" here:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Documentary: Exporting Raymond

"Even if you've never seen the TV show, 
this is the funniest movie of the year."
-David Young (

"And the best part's all real."
-Pete Hammond (Box Office Magazine)

EXPORTING RAYMOND is a documentary directed by and starring Philip Rosenthal (creator of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND).  The film chronicles Rosenthal's experience going to Russia and adapting EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND into a Russian sitcom, complete with Russian actors and adjusted plot lines and speeches to fit in with the Russian culture.

This documentary is hilarious as it is not so much about the sitcom, but about the culture clash and culture shock that Rosenthal experiences.  With an extreme amount of deadpan humor, Rosenthal finds that show business is the same in every country - run by the suits.  We see him struggling to explain American concepts to Russians and vice versa.  At the end of the film, we learn that this newly-adapted Russian sitcom is the most popular and longest running series in the country's history.

However, that success comes after a lot of trials.  Apparently, Russia does not understand the "everyman" quality that Ray Ramono's sitcom illustrates.  You see, Russia's previous best-sitcom was an adapted version of THE NANNY.  This show of course uses broad humor and a lot of slapstick schtick.  But with EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, the humor is more based in the reality of average people, about the little things in life.  Evidently Russia was not familiar with this prior to Rosenthal's appearance in the country.  There are many hilarious scenes where Rosenthal is trying to explain why his Emmy winning show is so funny and why it is accessible (and why it can travel across borders).

Now, of course EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND is not my favorite (or even within the realm of shows I watch), but this film was enjoyable regardless.  This film is NOT about EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND.  It is about transferring a quintessentially American idea overseas, and the chaos that ensues. Its about understanding other cultures and other entertainment mediums and audiences.  This film is about culture and the entertainment industry, not about a has-been sitcom.

You should see EXPORTING RAYMOND if...

-You like Russia
-You like deadpan humor and culture clash
-You like entertainment industry issues and current events
-You like Britney Spears (there is a killer Britney scene about her "artistry")
-You like vodka (there's a lot of it)

Check out the trailer here:

Find it on amazon here:
Exporting Raymond

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rent/Buy This Weekend: Beatles Docu-Drama: Nowhere Boy

"Why couldn't God make me Elvis!?!"
"Cause he was saving you for John Lennon!"

NOWHERE BOY is a 2009 British Indie film about John Lennon's adolescence.  Mostly about the women in his life, we see John torn between his Aunt Mimi (who raised him) and his mother, Julia, (who abandon him, but reappears in his early teens).  The film chronicles these early experiences that shaped one of the most captivating and talented icons in popular culture.

With some amazing performances by Aaron Johnson (as John Lennon), Kristin Scott Thomas (as Aunt Mimi), Anne-Marie Duff (as Julia) and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (as Paul McCartney, best known as the cute kid from LOVE ACTUALLY), this film is a must watch.  However, I must warn that the film is NOT about The Beatles, but about the young man who starts arguably the greatest band in history.

The film explains John's upbringing and the influences these women have had on his life.  And then, starts the music.  We find that Aunt Mimi bought John Lennon his first guitar and allowed his first band (The Quarrymen) to practice at her home.  And then, we see the moment John Lennon meets Paul McCartney and the start of the complicated friendship of arguably 20th century's finest musical pairing: Lennon/McCartney.  And just as soon as we meet George Harrison, the film reels us back in for a quiet finish.  This film is not so much about how The Beatles got their start, but how John Lennon got his start.

The friendship between John and Paul is seen in this film and depicted fairly.  We see Paul's admiration for the older, wiser and brasher John, but we see John's insecurities with Paul's abilities and leadership skills.  The two have heartwarming moments just as they have arguments, making it likely accurate.

The film is lauded as being "A Terrific Film!  Insightful and Moving!" by Entertainment Weekly.  They also add that "Aaron Johnson as John Lennon is a Revelation."

Nominated for four BAFTA awards (the UK's Oscars, that is) and winner for British Independent Film Award 2009 for Best Supporting Actress Anne-Marie Duff, the film is soulful and filled with wit.

Seeing where "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" grew inspiration is a treat.  Not to mention, for any major Beatle fan out there, there are so many hidden gems of references to watch and re-watch for.

NOWHERE BOY is (as the subtitle claims) "the untold story of John Lennon and the creation of The Beatles," but beyond all that, this film is the only docu-drama about Lennon and The Beatles worth any salt.  Beatle fan or not, this is a must-see.

You Should See NOWHERE BOY if:
-You like/love/obsess over The Beatles
-You recognize the significance of The Beatles and John Lennon
-You enjoy character pieces with some truly fine acting
-You wanna see "Penny Lane"

Check out the trailer here:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Beatles and MTV

With the Beatlemania, now a global phenomenon, The Beatles were exhausted and yet were constantly being asked to appear on television programs all across the globe.  They simply couldn’t be everywhere.  And then there is the added issue of the music.  As the band progressed, so did the technology used to create the music.  Soon, The Beatles were using tape loops, over-dubbing, and other in-studio effects.  And while this helped progress the sound and the music, it made it difficult to tour and perform live.  And so, as George Harrison explains, out of “convenience we decided we are just not gonna go in to the TV studios to promote our records so much.  It was too much of a hassle, what we’ll do is just go and make our own little films and we’ll put them out” (qtd. in Anthology DVD).  

And so began the period when The Beatles created promotional films of their singles.  As Neil Aspinall (The Beatles’s road manager turned executive) explains, “so to accommodate those people [at the televisions shows around the world] we decided to make promo films…and sent that to the TV stations around the world and that would fulfill that obligation” (qtd. in Anthology DVD).  For instance, the singles “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” (also later “Hello Goodbye”) were sent via promotional films to The Ed Sullivan Show with an introduction of the four Beatles apologizing for not being in attendance (Anthology DVD).  

These films were the start of something new for the music industry: music videos.  The Beatles would sometimes be seen playing their instruments and singing their songs as though performing on a stage.  However, many of the promotional films were much more artistic, with the band not singing or playing, but embodying an abstract story related to the song.  The idea of taking abstract images and combining them with music was new.  As George Harrison describes the intention, “[we thought] we’ll send these things out to promote the record.  And obviously these days now everybody does that, its just part of your promotion for a single.  So I suppose in a way we invented MTV” (qtd. in Anthology DVD).  And while that last statement may be grandiose, The Beatles certainly invented (and were the first to use these techniques on a large scale) the basic building blocks of what would become the music video which led to MTV and to how the music industry functions today. 

Check out the promo for "Day Tripper" here:
Check out the promo for "Paperback Writer"here:
Check out the promo for "Hello Goodbye" here:

-The Beatles Anthology, Dir. Kevin Godley 
-Blaney, John.  John Lennon: In His Life.
-Davies, Hunter. The Beatles.
-Miles, Barry.  Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Beatles: All You Need Is Love (...and a TV).

             A landmark moment for The Beatles and television was BBC and a program called Our World in 1967 “The BBC had come up with the idea of using the newly installed relays to connect the national television networks of countries all around the world” (Miles 354).  This major technological feat meant that all around the world, people would tune in to see humanity from across the globe.  Twenty-six countries participated and were connected to the sattelite coverage and each country chose a representative to embody the country and their people.  “As the BBC put it, ‘for the first time ever, linking five continents and bringing man face to face with mankind, in places as far apart as Canberra and Cape Kennedy, Moscow and Montreal, Samarkand and Soderfors, Takamatsu and Tunis’” (qtd. in Miles 354).  Britain chose The Beatles.  “Rather than play one of their existing hits, or something off Sgt. Pepper [the album they were currently working on], they composed a new single specially for the programme" (Miles 354).  Wanting to create a song that would resonate with many cultures (and many who did not speak English), the idea was to make the chorus simple so as to be able to follow it.  “In June, The Beatles performed Lennon’s ‘All You Need Is Love’ …to an audience of 400 million people”  (Blaney 59).  Paul explains the song:
“All You Need Is Love” was John’s song.  I threw in a few ideas, as did other members of the group, but it was largely ad libs like singing “She Loves You” or “Green Sleeves” or silly little things at the end and we made those up on the spot. Knowing that millions of the viewers would not understand English, John kept the chorus as simple as possible.  It was the philosophy of Sgt. Pepper and the era reduced to five words…The chorus “All You Need Is Love” is simple, but the verse is quite complex…[with an] anthemic chorus…(Miles 354).

         The technological feat of reproducing The Beatles’s tracks for a live performance was complicated as many of their more recent music required mixing in a studio, and would be hard to reproduce live.  “It took five days of recording and mixing to get the song right but Paul’s bass, John’s vocal, George’s solo and Ringo’s drums, as well as the orchestra, were all broadcast live during the event” (Miles 354).  And since this television event was to represent England and the various artistic contributions the country has made, The Beatles chose to include a chorus of various British icons.  “The Beatles invited Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Mick [Jagger] and Marianne [Faithfull] and dozens of other friends to the session, which was staged as a party in Studio One at Abbey Road” (Miles 354).  Here is a moment when The Beatles were served by television by playing for a global audience.  The evidence of this is clear: “the single was released two weeks later and became a hit all around the world.” (Miles 354).  And then television was served because this was the first major all-world broadcast, a moment in television history where a broadcast of this size, magnitude and logistics were realized successfully.  

Check out this clip of the band on the worldwide event:

-The Beatles Anthology, Dir. Kevin Godley 
-Blaney, John.  John Lennon: In His Life.
-Davies, Hunter. The Beatles.
-Miles, Barry.  Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beatles: Ed Sullivan Show

The most important television show The Beatles ever played on was of course, The Ed Sullivan Show.  But, Ed Sullivan needed to be convinced that a British band that had mediocre record sales with “She Loves You” was worth hiring on for a major televison show.  Of course, this was prior to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” hitting the number one spot in America.  “Brian [The Beatles’s manager]…got an appointment with Ed Sullivan, whose TV show is the biggest of its kind...[Sullivan’s] talent scouts had passed on…The Beatles’s success in Britain.  After a lot of discussion, Ed Sullivan agreed to book the Beatles for two of his shows” (Davies 237).  
But for the biggest band in Britain, just booking the show was not enough.  The smart and savvy Brian Epstein (The Beatles’s manager) never allowed the band to be anything but the headliner.  “Brian insisted that they should get top billing on both shows…[Sullivan] agreed in the end, but his producer later [said] that Sullivan had said it was ridiculous to give a British group top billing when a British group had never made it big in the States before”  (Davies 237).  But the States had never met The Beatles before.  
And soon enough the buzz of the British invasion hit mainstreet America.  “Five million ‘The Beatles Are Coming’ posters were plastered throughout the States” (Davies 239).  With all this hype (including a countdown in “Beatle Time”), the group’s reputation preceded them.  And so, “Ed Sullivan couldn’t cope with the demand for tickets – 50,000 applied for 728 seats.” (Davies 239-40).  And with this mania came merchandise and profit.  “It was estimated that in 1964, 50 million dollars worth of Beatle goods was sold in the States.” (Davies 243).  With all of this demand to be in the presence of The Beatles, of course came the screaming fans of full-blown American Beatlemania.  “On February 7, 1964, The Beatles were greeted at Kennedy Airport, New York, by hundreds...Beatlemania was now a global phenomenon.” (Blaney 58).
With this newfound American mania, the band took The Ed Sullivan Show stage and then took on the world  “before a television audience of 73,000,000 people” (Miles 209).  And while rock ‘n roll had appeared on television before, though not nearly as saturated as the country was for The Bealtes’s performance, it was Ed Sullivan’s stamp of approval that really solidified rock ‘n roll’s place on television.  Ed Sullivan was a upstanding citizen and a presenter of good taste through the very prevalence of his television variety show.  The country was so captivated by The Beatles appearing on his show, that it wasn’t so much a show, as an event.  In fact, “in New York, during the show, not one hubcap from a car was stolen.  Throughout America, so it was reported, not one major crime was committed by a teenager” (Davies 241).  This tidbit may seem trivial and perhaps circumstantial, but it illustrates how effective The Beatles were in enchanting an audience and how monumental this appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show really was.  In an interview for The Beatles Anthology documentary film, George Harrison claims, it was the “least reported crime [period], even the criminals had a rest when we were on! ” (Anthology).  
But besides this, the show legitimized not only The Beatles as a band, but rock ‘n roll as an art form worthy of time on mainstream television.  This illustrated by Ed Sullivan’s introduction of The Beatles on his show and his comments about them as individuals.  Ed Sullivan states in archival footage from The Ed Sullivan Show:
Thank you very, very much, thank you!  Well its very nice to be here…and now this has happened again, last Sunday on our show in New York, The Beatles played to the greatest TV audience that’s ever been assembled in the history of American TV.  Now tonight …again The Beatles face a record busting audience ladies and gentlemen, here are four of the nicest youngsters we’ve ever had on our stage…THE BEATLES! (Anthology).
And again, Ed Sullivan reiterates the upstanding qualities that these young men possess,  “these youngsters from Liverpool, England, and their conduct over here, not only as fine professional singers but as a group of fine youngsters, well they leave an imprint with everyone over here who’s met ‘em” (Anthology).  
            Clearly, this unabashed endorsement of The Beatles went a long way in helping The Beatles gain a following.  But also, Ed Sullivan’s support of The Beatles implies that he is saying to the over-40 set in America that rock ‘n roll is really not all that bad, look at these youngsters with their clean suits and clean lyrics!  This proclamation and the show itself propelled The Beatles as bonafide rockstars and allowed them to saturate the USA with their records and their charm.  And then, The Beatles paved the way for more rock ‘n roll groups to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show like The Rolling Stones and The Who.  The relationship between television and The Beatles proved to be beneficial for all involved.  

Check out this video of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show!

-The Beatles Anthology, Dir. Kevin Godley
-Blaney, John.  John Lennon: In His Life.
-Davies, Hunter. The Beatles.
-Miles, Barry.  Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beatles: 1965 TV Special

In 1965, there was a television special devoted to the songwriters of The Beatles.  The special was entitled, The Music of Lennon & McCartney.  The unique aspect of this television event was that it was centered on the music, not the band.  For instance, The Beatles (mostly John Lennon and Paul McCartney) would introduce other bands and singers who would then play their music. “Granada Television had proposed a big-budget fifty-minute television special called The Music of Lennon and McCartney, featuring Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer, Cilla Black and other top stars famous for singing their songs, with the Beatles themselves introducing the acts” (Miles 222).  
This was unusual in that this was the first time that The Beatles (or any rock ‘n roll group) were seen as musical composers worthy of a special, rather than pure entertainment; they were seen as artists.  This was also unusal because in a way, The Beatles were promoting other artists.  They self-lessly chose to only sing, “‘Day Tripper” and ‘We Can Work It Out’” (Miles 222).  And while Lennon/McCartney received royalties based off of any records sold by these artists covering their songs, the special was not so much about The Beatles as it was about two composers.  
Marianne Faithfull, a young singer at the time befriend Paul McCartney and then sang “Yesterday” on this special.  In Paul McCartney’s authorized biography by Barry Miles she says, “Paul really helped me by putting me on the thing that the Beatles did with Granada.  It was really great, because he started [the song] off” (Miles 223).  It was as if Paul McCartney was endorsing not only her version of his hit song, but also her as an artist.  “Paul began the solo alone, sitting on a stool, strumming his guitar and singing, then after a half-minute the song faded into Marianne’s version, complete with choir and orchestra” (Miles 223).  But this is not the end of Paul’s generosity.  “Marianne was eight months pregnant…and in those days it would have been considered shocking to see a pregnant woman on television, particularly an entertainer.  In what was probably a historic first, Paul insisted that she be allowed to go on the programme – though the cameras filmed only her head and shoulders or angled views from above” (Miles 223).  It was his star power that allowed her that opportunity.  In fact, Marianne’s version of “Yesterday” “charted at number 36” (Miles 223).  

This television special helped The Beatles become seen in a new light, as artists and composers worthy of recognition and respect above and beyond just a rock ‘n roll group.  This program made them artists in the eyes of the public, and not just another band.  

Check out this video from the special which includes Peter Sellers (a favorite comedian of the fab four) performing "A Hard Day's Night" as a monologue, and then The Beatles perform "We Can Work It Out."

McCartney, Paul. Interview by Barry Miles. Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now.
By Barry Miles. New York: A Holt Paperback: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rent/Buy This Weekend: TANGLED

Get TANGLED up in this delightful animated film!  Based on the well-known fairy tale Rapunzel, this spin on the classic is imaginative, beautiful, and hilarious.  Voiced by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi (from NBC's CHUCK), the film's characters are well defined and well executed.  And while the songs are not the film's best attributes, the story more than makes up for it.

Best of all, the main character (yep, you guessed it, Rapunzel), is not the typical-classic Disney Princess.  Unlike Belle, Cinderella, and Aurora, Rapunzel is not a damsel in distress.  She leaves her tower on her own two feet and manages to use a frying pan to fend off bad guys all by herself.  In fact, there are many times when Rapunzel manages to save Flynn Rider (this young buck, Robin Hood-esque character pays homage to the most famous Robin Hood of all time, Errol Flyn is voiced by Levi).  For once (with perhaps the exception of Mulan, though she was dressed as a man at the time...) a princess in a Disney movie is well rounded: smart, funny, and can save herself and those around her.

The other notable difference between this film and other Disney princess films is that unlike the more recent attempts (the highly, highly anticipated THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG) TANGLED is actually depicted like the more classic Disney films.  TANGLED looks like an older animated film, and not in a negative way.  With the emphasis on light and 2-D techniques, the film has a classic look that will not go out of style anytime soon.  For instance, the lantern scene in the film is some of the most beautiful animation I have ever seen.  And while it was released in both 2-D and 3-D versions, the animation staff has made it clear they like the 2-D version better as it is brighter and more beautiful than the 3-D version.   But no matter which dimension you prefer, TANGLED has the classic fairy tale look that made Disney so famous in the first place.

You should see it if...
-You like Disney, fairy tales, and princesses.
-You enjoy beautiful, classic animation.
-You believe the Academy (it was nominated for Best Original Song).
-You like long hair.

Check out the trailer here:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

MAD MEN: An Update On The Critical Darling's Future

So after numerous back-and-forth negotiations, AMC, Lionsgate, and Creator/Exec. Producer Matthew Weiner have come to a conclusion for contract negotiations for MAD MEN just this past week.  Thankfully, after some hardball on Weiner's part, the AMC critically acclaimed darling of a show has been scheduled in for a total of seven seasons (provided the numbers remain the same, of course).  But the biggest concern in the talks were the salaries and the number of series regulars cast members.  Weiner fought hard to retain the large cast and their higher salaries as the series enters it's fifth season, even willing to take a lower pay himself.  Though these arduous talks were long and tedious, some entering the wee-hours, the decision has been made, and the show is saved.  However, all this power-talk means time has been wasted while making deals.  This means that there is to be a long hiatus between season four (which concluded in the fall) and season five (which won't begin until 2012).

So, hoping to keep MAD MEN fresh and relevant (and maybe help the hype of the much-anticipated season five), Lionsgate TV and Netflix have cut a syndication deal.  Basically, Netflix now owns the exclusive rights to non-internet MAD MEN content.  By non-internet, I mean subscriber based, which is of course is what Netflix does best.  This means that starting July 27th, 2011 any Netflix subscriber can watch season one thru four thru instant streaming.  This is a huge deal and the numbers are coming in around $1 million per episode paid to Lionsgate TV.  And to make a sweet deal even sweeter, Netflix has secured the rights to the remaining seasons (five thru seven) for the next five years.  So until 2016, all MAD MEN episodes can be available via Netflix.  The only hitch (though this is not surprising) is that the seasons yet to come will only be available on Netflix after the season has concluded.

This is a major deal for both sides.  For Lionsgate TV, it gets to place MAD MEN (a coveted drama, yes, but an obscure one that may have trouble finding syndication deals in traditional routes and markets) in a syndicated arena while still maintaing TV syndication rights, just in case.  And then for Netflix, MAD MEN adds a lot to its sometimes disappointing content for instant streaming.  Sure, there's DOCTOR WHO and some other notable television shows, but really, the content is subpar.  With MAD MEN, Netflix gains some prestige in the eyes of TV and film execs since the show is so revered and thus may help to gain further content of the same quality.  All in all, MAD MEN is here to stay, and thank God cause there is finally something good to watch on TV (and Netflix).

Check out the trailer for an earlier season here:

And check this out, a little parody of MAD MEN.  Check out MAD MEN IN 60 SECONDS:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

THE KING'S SPEECH Writer: "It's Brokeback Mountain at the Palace."

The oldest winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, David Seidler, fresh off his Oscar win for THE KING'S SPEECH, sat down in the George Lucas building at the University of Southern California for a Q&A.  His jovial spirit and quick wit made the evening immensely enjoyable.  He let us in on a few great secrets of the success of the Best Picture film.

First, he explained how the scene when Bertie (Colin Firth) is antagonized while reading by his father (Michael Gambon).  This was actually a scene that Seidler did not write ("though I take credit for it" he claims with a smile).  Apparently this was something that Gambon and Firth improvised during a rehearsal that then made its way into the film.  Seidler claims that when you have some truly fine actors, you must listen to their questions because it will make you a better writer, and then you take credit for it.

With this humor and wry wit, he explains that the crux of the story lies between the two lead actors, newly-minted Academy Award Winner Colin Firth as the stammering would-be King and his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).  Seidler claims "It's Brokeback Mountain at the palace."  With this laughter, he continues explaining how the power struggle between these characters can almost be a parent-child relationship.  And while they navigate their friendship, high stakes surround them.  High stakes, like you know, World War II.

Seidler continues on saying how surprised he is by all the fuss over him after his Oscar win.  He claims that the distributor wasn't planning on flying him out to LA for the premier of the film, but now he's done 15 interviews per day.  With his own life so closely dovetailing that of Bertie (the stammering part, not the royalty part), he finds himself bare in these interviews.  And while he has enjoyed this success, he claims he is elated to be a "late bloomer" as he called himself in his acceptance speech (poking fun at the fact that he was the eldest winner for the category).  And yet, he realizes that if this occurred when he was a younger man, he could see how it would go to his head.  So, with that, he left for a one month vacation in New Zealand after his win.

And while he carries both UK and USA passports, apparently when he first approached the Queen Mum (and a character in the film played by the illustrious Helena Bonham Carter, finally playing a role that's not creepy) she was less than thrilled.  In fact the Queen Mum requested the film not be completed in her lifetime as the events were still too painful.  And so, Seidler wrote the project off because he was no young man when he asked her this in the 1980s.  So, when the project finally was written and was completed, Seidler claims he wrote his "last will and testament" to the world.  And with that, the evening concluded with him claiming "this was my dream project."

If you haven't seen THE KING'S SPEECH, (what planet do you live on?) see it if...

-You enjoy historical events
-You like rooting for the underdog
-You want to see some serious Brit-Wit
-You like a good bro-mance

Check out the trailer here:

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Showtime's New Tudors: The Borgias.

Last evening I had the privilege to screen the first two episodes of Showtime's THE BORGIAS.  This period piece about The Borgias family (basically the inspiration for THE GODFATHER'S Corleon family).  As we see the evil and manipulative Cardinal Borgias rise to the role of the papacy, we see that the world of the Church is not as clean as it appears.

With some truly fine acting by lead Jeremy Irons and his clan (Francois Arnaud, David Oakes, and Holliday Grainger) the series soars like it's predecessor, THE TUDORS.  Clearly Showtime is attempting to rein in the same demographic from the other successful period piece.  After THE TUDORS concluded, this was the next major historical piece for the cable network.  And while the writer and executive producers are new to Showtime, the directors for subsequent episodes are all in the Showtime family and fresh off their successful run with THE TUDORS.  And with that "all in the family" vibe, comes a docu-drama all about the family.

The story begins with a pope on his death bed (foreshadowing how the series will end, perhaps?) and the two would-be popes are chomping at the bit.  With some clever manipulation (which is historically accurate) Cardinal Borgia places bribes in cooked meats for the other Cardinals to insure that his votes will come in as planned.  And soon, he rises to the top creating some enemies (one of which is murdered by the new pope's son's lackey) and some confidants.  The air in the Vatican is tense as we see the Cardinals falling in line to insure their own safety, regardless of what this will do to the Church.  And for those who fear this may be too pope-y for you, don't worry, cause apparently even the pope and his underlings (bishops and cardinals) had sex.  And quite a bit, apparently.

And just like THE TUDORS, Showtime presents historical accuracy right down to the costumes and the sets.  While it was filmed in Budapest on a backlot of a studio, the effect is seamless.  And while some may complain that the Showtime "look" is too flashy, at least there is thought put in to it.  Each scene and every action sequence has been modified to give a cohesive look and feel to the show.  And while each scene may be to "pretty" to be realistic, it serves well as historical narrative and particularly well as entertainment.

See this if you...
-Watch Showtime
-Like historical fiction
-Enjoy watching controversial moments of the Church's history

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

FACEBOOK To Offer Movie Streaming.

So, epic social networking site Facebook has joined the content streaming bandwagon.  Just like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other Video-On-Demand (VOD) sites Facebook has decided to offer movies via their fan pages for their consumers.  This means that companies like Netflix and Red Box will have some difficulties retaining their audiences (Netflix's stock has decreased 6% due to this news).

Facebook has decided to start slowly.  They have begun with Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT as a guinea pig, selling the full film content for three Facebook credits (about $3.00).  This means that after the transaction has occurred, within about 48 hours you will have access to the content.  Facebook (and WB execs) think that if you create a habit of visiting Facebook anyways (like 600 million people do), why not have streaming content available to 1) keep you on Facebook longer, and 2) to gain more profit from what you already do (watch movies and visit Facebook).

If the results are deemed successful, then the content streaming abilities will be rolled out to other Warner Bros. films, and then since Hollywood works best on peer pressure, others are sure to follow.  But the real question is if consumers will really want to watch films on Facebook.  I think the jury is still out on that one, but my guess is that it will become wildly popular, further distancing Facebook from it's original purpose, connecting friends.

So, what do you think?  Do you like that Facebook is offering streamed content online?  Or is it too far out of Facebook's realm?