Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Let's Talk About...Whether Pleasing Fans is a Priority

From "GH" to "Batfleck", who's listening to the fans?
“You can’t please everyone” is an old adage that rings with unquestionable truth. In the entertainment arena it is an edict that seemingly absolves creative powers from the responsibility of pleasing fans. There will always be unpopular decisions that send out reactionary shockwaves and there is no keener an example of this, than the vocal fans of Daytime soaps. With the constant threat of cancellation looming overhead there should be more pressure than ever to please.

There are only 4 soaps left and in that microcosm you can see a host of issues that extend far past Daytime. As a new day dawns and social media becomes an ever present reality for promoting TV, movies and music, it also creates a chance for the captains of the creative ship to change course amidst an ill-received storyline. 

The response to utilizing social media to make on-screen changes, has been muddled. The positive argument seems to be “who better than the passionate fans who spend their time tweeting, facebooking or writing posts on message boards, to bring awareness to a storyline lemon?” Then there’s the counter argument “those are a small but vocal percentage of fans and they cannot be used to gauge the overall reception to storylines.”

Keeping this in mind, let’s head over to “Days”. NBC’s sole surviving soap is hitting a transitional period. Series stars Alison Sweeney and James Scott who play fan favorites Sami and EJ, respectively, are leaving the show. As “EJami” they are one of the show’s most popular pairings and fans have rallied for them to be together for 7 years. Given the announcement of their impending exit, fans justifiably expected a happily-ever-after for their favorite couple. Well…that doesn’t seem likely at this point. In a highly controversial storyline, EJ cheated on Sami with college student, Abby Deveraux, setting both Sami and the fans ablaze.

Why in the closing chapter of the duo’s run would the show want to destroy them? Why weren’t the fans heard? It’s a puzzling quagmire that offers no logical answers. Over on “General Hospital” Robin Scorpio has gone from the show’s moral center to a deadbeat mom whose willingly ran out on her family to save a sociopath. The writers had to write off the character due to her portrayer, Kimberly McCullough, leaving the show. Was it necessary to damage the character of Robin, in the process though? No. Meanwhile, “The Bold and the Beautiful” remains transfixed on the dull Liam/Hope/Wyatt triangle, which has hopefully met its end.

With soaps there is always hope that things will turn around. GH's awful Carly/Franco pairing is finally reaching its end. The fans were listened to and GH can respond to them fairly quickly, as there is about a month's lead time between filming and the airdate. While DAYS takes 4 and half months. As the soap genre's fate hangs in the balance, it's imperative to remember that sticking it out, will oftentimes prove rewarding. Continued...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Taylor Swift's Live Steam: Everything You Need to Know

Donning a white crop top and matching skirt, Taylor Swift announced her new album ‘1989’ complete with a retro Polaroid picture serving as the cover art. It will be released October 27th and fans can anticipate a deluxe edition. The deluxe will incorporate original audio recordings of select songs, taking listeners through the evolution of her creative process. Hard copy CDs will include a pack of 13 Polaroid pictures in an envelope. CD packages will contain various and differing collections of snaps.

‘1989’ which she called her “favorite” album she’s made so far, will be her first official pop album. No country, straight up pop sugar. The album’s debut single, “Shake It Off” is indicative of her move towards that sound. It’s also a shot across the bow at her critics. The lyrics acknowledge the stones cast by the media in the last two years. She’s heard them and she’s moving forward. It is something like this that separates Swift from a lot of artists, who remain impervious to any criticism, choosing instead (at least publicly) to turn a blind eye to it.

Mark Ramanek directed the music video for “Shake It Off” which includes performances by professional dancers from an assortment of genres and a group of handpicked fans. In the video Swift, who is known to dance her heart out during awards shows, exhibits her quirky dance stylings amidst a flurry of pros.

Swift, ever the media mogul, hosted the live stream without any interviewer serving as a liaison between her and the fans. She went head to heart with her audience, no barriers. She’s just your everyday pop star sitting on the couch, hanging out with her many admirers. She also brought her online fans in on the action as she integrated Instagram, Facebook and Twitter into the announcement by fielding questions from fans on social media. In another bid to get closer to her fans she announced the Swift-Stakes which will give away 1,000 tickets and 500 meet and greet passes.

Swift said her desire was to create an album she hoped fans would enjoy and it showed in her genuine exhuberance at seeing people’s reaction to it. As an artist known for being the accessible girl next door and a mega international celebrity, she has found that unprecedented balance. ‘1989’ titled for her birth year, officially sets Swift on a course away from the lights of Nashville, a move she had already begun with ‘Red’. At the end of her albums, she’s still chatting about average day life and she indicated ‘1989’ will be no exception. She’s risen to the top as a relatable force in music who is everything but ordinary and come October, fans will be listening.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

TV Rundown: August 10 - 15 | "PLL", "True Blood" & more!

Pretty Little Liars: Emily finally came to her senses about Ali in “A Dark Ali”. After ranting about Emily’s undeterred faith in Ali for weeks, she deserves some kudos for finally seeing the light and acknowledging her mistake. As the Liars join forces to fight the foe within, things are about to get exciting. A major highlight of the episode belonged to Hanna and Mona’s interaction. As interesting as all of the other dynamics on the show are, Hanna and Mona’s frenemy-ship is one of the most compelling of the series and this week proved why.

Teen Wolf: How many times was it mentioned that Scott is an alpha? In “Time of Death”, Scott was repeatedly reminded of his status during his nightmarish semi-purgatory. At this juncture in the series, Scott has not exactly been convincing as a leader in any capacity and for various reasons. Saying it ad nauseam will not make it any more believable.

True Blood: Well that ended quickly. As Jason’s vengeful ex-girlfriend storyline was ramping up, it was rapidly wrapped up in a surprising climax. Elsewhere, Sookie refused to take life saving direction for the billionth time. Are viewers really supposed to feel bad for her, when her arrogance and brash decisions lead to her loved ones being killed? She deserves to be chewed out and instead the audience is forced to endure her sniveling whines, as other characters attempt to rectify her self-worth. 

Under the Dome: The mysterious egg that makes “the stars fall” created a magical flurry of pink sparkles in “Going Home”. This week the mystical egg echoed the behavior of Ghostwriter, the titular character from the 90’s TV series; another silent entity that led people to the answers that had escaped them. Hmmm…

Tyrant: As Barry struck a deal to overthrow Jamal, tensions ran high and things in his picture perfect marriage with Dr. Molly started to see a downturn. The freshman series has found its footing as it weaves together interpersonal family drama and geopolitical intrigue. Adam Reynor’s performance as the conflicted Barry/Bassam continues to impress with every ensuing episode, conveying the cunning savvy of a man torn between his own ambition and what is right and wrong. More after the jump...

Best New Movie Bets: August 15th | "The Giver", "The Trip to Italy" & more!

Best New Bet: The Giver: Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel for children gets the film treatment in this adaptation directed by Philip Noyce (who helmed the exceptional 1989 thriller “Dead Calm” among others). “The Giver” centers on a radical society in which there are no emotional variances (peaks and valleys), in an attempt to quell human tensions for a manufactured utopia. When young Jonas (newcomer Brenton Thwaites) becomes the “receiver of knowledge” he is mentored by The Giver (Jeff Bridges) which leads to a possible societal shake up.

There have been a few changes made to the original novel, such as the lead character Jonas being aged from 11 to the more cinematically opportune 16. “The Giver” is anchored by veteran talents, the stupendous Jeff Bridges and Oscar titan Meryl Streep, who takes on a sinister role as the film’s villain. “True Blood” star Alexander Skarsgard is also in the mix along with music superstar Taylor Swift, in a hopefully more fleshed out role than her part in “Valentine’s Day”. For readers who’ve longed to see the book come to life, it’s been a considerable waiting period and meeting loyal fans’ expectations could prove challenging. For non-readers it’s a chance to take in yet another movie revolving around teenagers battling a dystopian (or in this case “utopian”) society.

Also Opening:
“The Expendables 3” Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham are back with the latest installment in the “Expendables” franchise and they’ve brought another bevy of 80’s and 90’s action stars with them; including Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas and Harrison Ford. While some viewers might be worn out by the premise, it has yet to get boring, personally. A chance to see a multitude of these nostalgic stars in one movie and in some cases, squaring off for the first time, still elicits excitement. 

"Let's Be Cops" stars FOX's "New Girl" co-stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. as a pair of buddies who decide to fake being cops after being in costume for a sorority party gets them mistaken for the real thing. Buddy movies can often give way to some hilarious hi-jinks and it's directed by Luke Greenfield who brought audiences the raunchy 2004 comedy "The Girl Next Door" so it sounds promising. More movies after the jump...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Movie Review: And So It Goes (2014)

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton shine in their first joint venture as co-stars. Directed with a deft hand by Rob Reiner, he keeps the heartfelt moments tenderly genuine, while maintaining a comedic bite. “And So It Goes” tells the tale of the curmudgeonly Oren (Douglas) who is emotionally isolated and an annoyance to most of those around him. On the opposite side of the spectrum is the perky and quirky Leah (Keaton), who is friendly and welcoming to everyone. When Oren’s granddaughter (an impressive Sterling Jerins) is dropped off by his estranged son, Leah steps in to help and the two find themselves drawn together.

What makes “And So It Goes” work so well is that it makes sense. It is logical that Oren has become the bitter man he is and it is equally believable that the eternally optimistic Leah would make a dent around his fortified heart. Keaton and Douglas play off each other brilliantly with a zealous zing, Douglas’ steady energy complimenting Keaton’s exuberant chaos. It’s an on-screen match that one could only wish, would’ve happened sooner.

There’s a quality in this film that is simply feel-good. It walks an exhilarating path down the nostalgic road when movies were made to lift one’s spirits. Similar to Douglas’ recent “Last Vegas” and Keaton’s “The Big Wedding”, it tackles a series of situational struggles that are based around a family dynamic. While the aforementioned “Last Vegas” used a soundtrack that attempted to play hip with a composition of Top 40, “And So It Goes” stays true to the era of its character’s youth. Pleasantly accenting the on-screen happenings are The Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man” and a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”.

There’s character development, a strong message about reconciliation and meaty roles for its Hollywood veterans. Mark Andrus's script never talks down to its audience or makes superfluous jokes at the older generation’s expense. "And So It Goes" is a refreshingly breezy detour spent with two of Hollywood’s greatest stars, which is a fine way to spend an hour and a half. Rating: 7.2/10

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams (1951-2014)

As long as I can remember Robin Williams was a part of the cinematic universe. He was a consistent presence who entertained audiences by bringing laughter to one of his countless comedies or surprising in a dramatic turn. Whether he was a car salesman trying to make a deadline (“Cadillac Man”), a man trying to survive a devastating tragedy (“The Fisher King), a genie (“Aladdin”), a rapidly aging kid (“Jack”), a patient psychologist (“Good Will Hunting”), a determined professor (“Flubber”), a suspicious author ("Insomnia") or a devoted father (“RV”), he always brought a down to earth sensibility to it all.

When thinking back on his illustrious career there are a few movies that really stand out. He is one of the rare comedic actors who could completely shed the skin of his comedy background. When watching his Oscar nominated performance in “The Fisher King”, it’s hard to even fathom the comedian lurking beneath the veneer of Parry; a distraught homeless man whose friendship with a jaded shock-jock (Jeff Bridges) might hold the key to healing his shattered existence. It’s a performance where Williams (like he commonly did) wore his heart on his sleeve, vividly portraying the emotional highs and lows of Parry’s fragile mind.

Then there was his show stopping performance in “One Hour Photo”, a slow burn thriller that featured Williams as a kindly photo developer who becomes fixated on an idyllic family. It was a performance that displayed his ability to stay far away from funny. It was also an incredible movie that dealt with various subjects, chief among them voyeurism. It was a quiet, psychological drama that wrapped up several emotive textures and proved Williams’ knack for choosing worthy projects. 

“The Final Cut” a memorable film about people’s lives being recorded from birth and then edited together for a farewell video was a particularly thought provoking piece. Some think that if we had video proof, the truth would be a lot easier to know and “The Final Cut” offered the chilling notion that nothing was safe from editing. It was a film that without his presence, I might have otherwise skipped and thanks to him, I didn’t. As “The Final Cut” demonstrated, we will always have what the camera captured and what it obtained of William’s storied career was something magnificent.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

TV Rundown: August 3-8: Tyrant, The Leftovers & more!

Tyrant: Barry made his boldest grab for power yet, as it becomes increasingly clear that he might be the titular “tyrant” to which the title refers. At first unassuming, Barry continues to descend into a moral void with every passing episode. He has known the depths of Jamal’s madness since the third episode and his lack of action has been disturbing. Jamal’s latest act of violence towards the end of this week’s episode, while predictable, made for a head-scratcher. There was no motive whatsoever. New to the mix was Molly’s sister, a flighty home-wrecker looking to “find herself” at an opulent palace. It’s a character reminiscent of Tammy’s sister on “Friday Night Lights” who came to live with them at casa de Coach.

Teen Wolf: The outbreak of a supernatural virus caused the school to be consumed by an illness. An interesting exception was Lydia’s mom. Could it have something to do with Lydia’s status as a Banshee? Maybe she inherited it from her mom? 

Pretty Little Liars: Hannah might finally be turning things around, thanks to Spencer intervening in a much-needed conversation with Caleb. Spencer wisely laid out her bullet points and with compassion, gave him the wake-up call he desperately needed. Elsewhere in Rosewood, Jenna was at the brunt of the Liar’s anger. After 5 seasons it is still hard to understand why the Liar’s feel no compassion for Jenna, who they played a hand in blinding for life. Ali outright caused her to go blind and yet the Liar’s (except Hanna) adore her and blame Jenna for trying to get even. Why shouldn’t she be upset?

The Leftovers: I finally tried to watch the pilot for HBO's buzzy drama and stopped at the 20 minute mark. Bleakness at its bleakest, before the first 20 minutes were up, a dog was brutally killed without any provocation and the perpetrator was allowed to roam free. None of the characters conveyed the slightest inkling of likability and the depressing aura that radiated from the series was crippling. Arduous shots of pedestrian activity became so tortuous to behold, that it felt like punishment for daring to tune in. Personally, it wasn’t a creative universe that was worth continuing to spend time in. It’s saying something when not even the great Brad Leland of “Friday Night Lights” could stoke the fires of interest. More after the jump...