Posts Tagged ‘analysis’

I’ve wanted to do this series for a very long time. I first had the idea when I watched Homeland, and realized that the biggest competitor HBO has is Showtime. Granted, HBO holds a level of esteem that practically no other network can hope to match, but I wanted to compare all the “best” TV shows of each network with each other and then decide which is more superior. I was really surprised by some of the choices I ended up making, and I really grew to appreciate both networks greatly when I started this. Without further ado – I’ll save some for later – here’s Round One of HBO vs. Showtime.

ImageEntourage vs. Episodes

They’re both about show business, they both have actors that play a fictionalized version of themselves, and they’re both incredibly funny. So, naturally, I matched them against each other.

Entourage is about a rising superstar of an actor, Vincent Chase, as he brings his best friends along for the ride.

Episodes is about two British writers and their disastrous attempt to remake their beloved TV series in Hollywood.

Entourage has received dozens of award nominations over the course of eight seasons, garnering a Golden Globe for Jeremy Piven. Episodes has also garnered plenty of award nominations, and even got Matt LeBlanc a well deserved Golden Globe. I’m going to start by ‘reviewing’ Entourage since it concluded in late 2011, whereas Episodes is still ongoing.

 Entourage Analysis

Image

I’ve been hearing about Entourage since I was a kid. It was the show I wasn’t allowed to see, the show that I saw mentioned time and time again on the Simpsons or Family Guy, and the show that seemed to be as popular among men as Sex and the City was for women. So, when I first watched the first episode, I was a bit disappointed.

It was a solid Pilot, but considering all the hype I’d heard about since I was a child, it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. The Pilot dealt with Vince releasing his newest movie, and his best friend Eric ( “The Pizza Boy”, as he is mocked constantly by the awesome Jeremy Piven who plays Vince’s agent ) trying to decide if he should stay and ride his best friend’s coattails.

I thought that the show faced the biggest problem head on. Reading a summary of Entourage, it sounds pretty sad for Eric, Turtle, and Vince’s older brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase. They’re just a bunch of guys riding on Vince’s coattails. There seemed to be not much room for development beyond that, and honestly, a less mature show wouldn’t attempt to do any of that.

I’ve read a lot of reviews saying that the show is every bit as immature as its characters, and it knows that. It’s why the storyline of the Pilot is so significant because the show itself was straining against the preconceived notions of people, and at the end of the episode, Eric decides to continue riding on his friend’s coattails, and maybe help Vince out along the way. Eric ends up running a managing firm by the end, Johnny discovers that he has a future in acting outside of live action television, and even Turtle achieves something. Ari Gold, the raging agent, ends up happy with the wife that disapproved of his dedication to his clients after eight seasons.

Image

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold. Definitely one of my favorite performances in a Tv show.

I think we’ve grown to overlook these types of shows with the rise of the antiheroes. The show is not very philosophical, and I don’t think it tries to be. It simply wants to leave its characters having grown as people, and maybe leave you smiling too. I sure smiled at the finale.

The show also has at least one guest star each episode, and more often than not, the guest star plays himself/herself. My favorite has to be the episode where Bono and Matt Damon pressure Vince into donating more to charity. It was one of the high points of Entourage, showing great self awareness and also showing that these celebrities have sense of humors as well.

Now, it did have its problems. For pretty much every fan of Entourage, the huge blemish on its reputation was the seventh season. When I first watched Entourage, I loved the fact that it didn’t immediately show all actors as these coke addicted divas. Only some of them were. And Vince became one of those coke addicted divas in the seventh season when he struck up a relationship with real life pornographic star, Sasha Grey.

The season was admirable in showing the “dark side” of fame, but regardless of dark side or not, it just wasn’t done well. I respect the idea, but I do not love the execution. (I did enjoy Eminem decking Vince, though). It also highlighted the overall problem with the show.

I remember reading somewhere that people watched Entourage to see the glamorous lifestyle these beautiful, talented people lead. (Most likely true.) But, the seventh season simply pissed people off. Vince wasted all the things that people coveted. I certainly wanted to have a big mansion like him, and he threw it all away. There is a certain point when you realize that these people are shallow, but they have redeeming qualities. But there is also a certain point where the superficialness can just make you grimace in disdain.

The show did get back on track with the eighth season, and at the end of the day, I love this show. I can still recall some famous actor pointedly mocking themselves, or an incredible director making a surprising appearance. (Scorsese, man! Bring in Spielberg and Fincher, and I would have been content.)

 Episodes

Image

Now that I’ve finished talking about Entourage, the discussion about Episodes can begin. I already gave a brief summary of the show, but I want to describe the opening scene of the Pilot first. It features Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig from Black Books) leaving her co-writer and husband Sean Lincoln (the great Stephen Mangan) because she’s convinced he slept with some woman we haven’t seen yet. She pulls out of the driveway while Sean is urgently trying to tell her that she’s driving on the wrong side of the road, and she misinterprets it as his way of telling her she’s wrong. (To be fair, it could have been better clarified.)

It cuts to Matt LeBlanc (literally Matt LeBlanc playing himself. He’s from a little show called Friends. Mayhaps you’ve have heard of it?) driving while talking to someone about his new restaurant, and the scene ends with the impact of Matt and Beverly Lincoln. Then it rewinds to when Sean and Beverly were happy and critically acclaimed in England.

The beginning proudly states the sheer ambition of the show, and the hilarity to come. It featured great acting, great comedy ( Stephen Magnan’s frantic movements are a highlight), and just great writing.

The show is primarily written by David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik. David Crane is known for being one of the creators of the incredibly funny and successful sitcom, Friends. (Starring Matt LeBlanc as a clueless actor.) It would’ve been enough if this show were hilarious (which it is), but it knows drama. There’s a scene in season 3 where Sean and Bev are laughing wholeheartedly about something (don’t want to spoil it too much, so I’ll make it ambiguous), and watch as their laughter becomes strained and awkward, the way they – and the viewer – slowly realize the ramifications of the episode’s events.

Image

Episodes knows how to do proper drama, and that’s not something you’d expect from a comedy. I’m not saying they can’t be dramatic, but the difference between Episodes and the other black comedies is that it still puts a smile on my face. I watched an episode of Girls, and while I can appreciate the satire and the drama, it’s neither funny enough nor dramatic enough for me to watch avidly.

Whenever there’s a new episode of Episodes, I can’t wait to watch it. It doesn’t tout famous guest stars like Entourage, but what it lacks in star power, it more than makes up for in witty writing, great dramatic moments, and amazing acting. The fictionalized Matt LeBlanc is selfish, destructive, mysoginistic, and yet charming, generous, and kind.

Like Tony Soprano, it makes the viewer question why they like Matt LeBlanc, and it’s because he’s a lot more human than he first seems.

While Entourage certainly had moments like that, I never felt engrossed in it as much as I am when watching Episodes. (Episodes is my favorite comedy.)

Both shows have flaws, and both shows have high moments. Entourage has proven that it can end a show satisfactorily, but with only three seasons, Episodes has as many comedic moments and as much (if not more) dramatic weight than Entourage. The first round goes to Showtime.

photo

Advertisements

Let me explain the new series I just started, Classic Thursdays. I write a review of a classic movie every other week of the month. I review movies given the status of classics by more than a few individuals, and write whether or not I think they deserve their classic status. There will be some spoilers, but I’ll be sure to write a warning before a massive one. So, for the first post in the new series, I decided to take on a relatively new classic called No Country for Old Men.

Roger Ebert

That was taken from the late Roger Ebert’s ten best films of 2007. And if he called it a perfect movie, I think No Country for Old Men counts as a classic in the sense that it received almost universal critical acclaim. In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to what it all means. There’s also a notable film critic that chose No Country for Old Men as the #1 movie of the decade, and MSN chose it as best film of the decade as well.

So, hopefully, that explains why I’ve chosen it as the first movie for Classic Thursdays. I remember a good friend of mine recommended it to me a year ago, and told me that it was his favorite movie. So, I watched the first eighteen minutes, and wasn’t impressed.

At the time, I really wasn’t in the mood for something so serious, so I decided to watch it another time. Then I watched it maybe a few months ago, and I gained perspective on the movie. It is a good movie, but I don’t consider it a classic. Let me explain.

In the first thirty minutes, you’d think that the main character is Llewelyn Moss (portrayed by Josh Brolin). But, the real main character is Anton Chigurh (portrayed by Javier Bardem). He is also the antagonist. Josh Brolin plays a hunter that stumbles upon the aftermath of a bloody shootout between two different drug cartels, and finds a suitcase of money. He takes it and hides it at his home. It isn’t long, of course, before the cartel finds out that it was him who took the money because he visits the scene of the crime again just as they arrive.

It’s at this point that you realize that his character isn’t very bright. I mean. Let’s face it. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. But, he does know how to fight back and run. I can give him that. Eventually, the drug cartel sends Anton Chigurh (don’t worry if you can’t pronounce his name. No one else in the movie can, either) and a game of cat and mouse ensues.

I’m reminded of an exchange between two characters on the sitcom, That 70’s Show.

Michael Kelso: “Let the game of cat and mouse begin!” 

Fez: “What happens to the cat if the mouse is retarded?”

And at times, you can get frustrated with Josh Brolin’s character. I discovered a good way to stop being frustrated with him, though. I came to terms with the fact that Javier Bardem’s character is the main character. So, I simply started rooting for Anton Chigurh. I know, horrible of me. But, I enjoyed the movie immensely once I started to think of Anton as the protagonist.

Warning. There will be spoilers from this point on. Look away now.

Looked away? All right. Now I’m going to do my best to “analyze” this movie. Though I’m horrible at proper analysis..

no-country-for-old-men-6542

A lot of people have complained about the last thirty minutes of this movie. Why? Well, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) gets killed by the OTHER cartel offscreen. Yup. Anton Chigurh kills Llewelyn’s wife, and lives to kill another day. It ends with Tommy Lee Jones’ delivering a staggeringly awesome performance as he tells his wife about his dream. Now, in an attempt to give you a fresh analysis, I didn’t read the entire Wikipedia page on it. I’m going to give you my take on it, and if it lines up with the take of all the other people.. well, good for me. If not, well, good for them, I guess?

Anyways. Llewelyn Moss reminds me a lot of sheep. And I’m reminded of the idea that humans are really smarter sheep. I think the reason why a lot of people have complained about Josh Brolin’s character is because it feels so familiar. He’s a normal guy, right? And it makes people wonder how they would act if they were in his situation.

And what truly makes people dislike his character is simply because there is a chance that they would panic just like him. Anton Chigurh, in that sense, is more like a wolf. This feels really cliche, I know, but this is what I felt when I watched this movie. Anton Chigurh is an unstoppable force, and everyone knows it. Josh Brolin, however, is not the immovable object.

I think the Old Men are the immovable object. (Going off the wayside a bit there, Jian.)

Well, I was thinking about the paradox about the unstoppable force and immovable object, right. And while I’m not the best informed on this theory (hardly), I do think that the character of Anton Chigurh fits as the unstoppable force. And I think that the pedestal that the Old Men (basically, our ancestors) reflects a lot of what people think nowadays. They will always look back to the past, and romanticize it. For the majority, it’s part of our nature. Every generation thinks that the world is going to end with them.

Anton Chigurh’s job is to mock them for hero worshipping the past so much. Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes look to the past, and think, “Well, everything was good back then. No psychos like we have today.”

And I’d be completely wrong! One of todays biggest misconceptions among the populous is that crime has gone up. In reality, crime has gone down by 25% since the 1950’s. Crimes went largely unreported back then because we didn’t have the technology to really do anything about a lot of crime.

Now, if someone sneezes and wipes the snot on a handbag at a store, the police know about it. The media, in part, helps feed this idea. The media wasn’t as well-informed in the 1950’s, and crime reporters didn’t hear that much about crime. (In fact, L.A. Confidential represents the end of the era where the police didn’t tell the media about practically every crime.)

I’m part of a good generation. Sure, we have our own little problems (don’t get me started about our celebrities), but it’s not as bad as the Middle Ages, is it?

BELL
Okay. Two of ’em. Both had my father. It’s peculiar. I’m older now’n he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he’s the younger man.

I think it was that particular line which gave away the fact that this was a satire of modern culture. Or, at least, that’s how I view it.

Now, I could be wrong and I could be misinterpreting the movie. But that’s the point, I think, of this movie. To make up your own opinions on it. I remember a scene from Life of Pi where Pi’s father tells him that animals have no souls. What you see in their eyes is your own thoughts and emotions reflected back at you.

I think that’s what movies are, really. And this is what was reflected back at me when I watched it.

So, is this a classic? I don’t think it’s earned that, yet. Is this a great movie? It is. I enjoyed this movie immensely, and I like the fact that I had to think about a lot of its themes. I hope you’ve enjoyed the first post of my new series. Comment if you have any thoughts to add, or if you completely disagree with me on every level. I would love to hear what you guys think.

~Jian

Image

I recently started reading Under the Dome, and I’m maybe four hundred pages into it. Out of all the Stephen King books I’ve read, Under the Dome has to be the best so far. It is grand in scale, and I love the characters. So, the moment I found out there was a Tv show, I was giddy with excitement.

I’m going to spend the rest of this review telling you all whether or not it lives up to Under the Dome, or if it’s a good show in general. Like I said before, I have not finished the book. I’m still in the process of reading it, but I just really wanted to review this Tv show. So, please excuse me if I don’t know all the characters, or I can’t tell you all the differences. I’m not a very attentive reader, so there’s your warning.

I will mention this right now. This isn’t an ultra-faithful adaptation of Under the Dome. This is obvious within the first six minutes. (I took notes while watching it.) But you can skip the next nine paragraphs if you don’t want to hear about the comparisons I made with the book and the show. Afterwards, all I’ll discuss is whether or not the show is good. So, feel free to skip to 10 paragraphs from now.

They changed the characters a lot, and I think that they took an interesting change with the characters. For one, Dale Barbara’s/Barbie’s character (portrayed by Mike Vogel) is rather different from the book. In fact, most of the characters are different from the book. Rusty Everett, the physician and husband of one of Chester’s Mill deputies, is a fireman in here. And Chief Duke Perkins actually called him a meathead.

Considering the fact that he was my second favorite character in the book – next to Barbie – I was really surprised by this choice. But knowing Brian K. Vaughan (who’s written for Lost, one of my favorite shows, and also wrote a TON of amazing comic books that I love) was handling this, I had faith it was for a good reason.

I think the changes they’ve done with the antagonists, however, was really for the best. Okay, we all know Big Jim and Junior Rennie were the bad guys. So, I’m not spoiling anything. But, in the book, practically everyone knew they were the antagonists. And they were made out to be amazing fakers and that’s what made them dangerous. I didn’t get the impression of that in the book. Maybe this is because I got to see what they were actually thinking, but this wasn’t aided by the fact that 90% of all of the characters saw Big Jim and Junior for what they were.

In the Tv series, on the other hand, I was very impressed with the way they’ve handled their characters. I could see why people thought they weren’t a threat, and why Big Jim would be a successful car dealer. Big Jim is portrayed by the talented Dean Morris, and I think they casted him perfectly. Dean Morris ( from Breaking Bad ) is one of those actors that can be charming and deadly all at once. I think he should get a lot more lead roles, since he’s one of the few actors I think can hold his own next to Bryan Cranston. (Which is saying something.)

Perhaps the two biggest changes in character, though, is the change in Barbie’s and Angie’s character. Let me explain. Barbie, in the book, is a drifter who became a short order cook at a local diner in Chester’s Mill. He’s former military, highly trained, but when the girlfriend of one of the town’s infamous jerks tries to make a move on him… things start to go by the wayside of things. The friends of said jerk (including Junior Rennie) ambush Barbie as he’s closing the diner, and he manages to kick their ass despite the unfair advantage.

Junior cries to his Dad about it, and his Dad makes life miserable for Barbie. So, the book starts with Dale about to leave Chester’s Mill. His plan goes awry when the Dome drops into place, and a plane crashes into it. And he was so close to leaving the miserable town!

In the Tv series, Dale is… well, he’s not so innocent. The Pilot episode begins with Dale burying a dead body, and we see him yelling into a phone, worried about Chief Perkins catching him. That’s as different as it could possibly be, if you ask me.

The other change is the fact that Angie McAlister is not killed in the first few minutes. In the book, Angie’s killed by Junior Rennie pretty quickly. It appears like she’ll be a main character here, and I thought it was an interesting change. It’s not a bad one, but at the same time, I’m wondering if this is the show’s way of showing the viewers from the get go that it’s definitely not the same as the book.

And I think it’s a good way of doing that. Her character certainly seems more interesting than in the book, and I guess now people have an attractive young woman to look forward to seeing.

Okay. Now I’ll write about the actual show. I’ll try to keep the comparisons to the book out, but no promises. I like it when people adapt books into movies or Tv shows. I know they fail often, but the thing is, they make it a lot faster paced.

And Under the Dome is no exception. Within the first eight minutes, the Dome drops, and most of the main cast knows about it by the twenty-four minute mark. I thought this was a smart decision, and the tension feels truly real here. Since this isn’t an ultra-faithful adaption, I had no idea what could happen.

Another nice touch made by the show is making everyone completely silent from the other side of the Dome. I thought this really ramped up tension, and made everything feel surreal. I mean, you can see people on the other side mouthing words, but you don’t actually hear it. It’s a very creepy feeling, and it only enhances the claustrophobic feeling of being a bug in a jar. (Which is essentially what they are.)

The characterization in this show is honestly quite something. In the first episode, I know these characters. I’ve read the first 400 pages of the book, but you should believe me when I say that most of these characters have been put through the ringer and changed almost completely. And I think they improved some of them. I especially liked the fact that they combined the role of First Selectman Andy Sanders and Chief Duke Perkins. Only readers of the book will understand this. But, it feels a lot more… tight?

I think the director of the first episode, Niels Arden Oplev, knows what he is doing. Everything is perfectly timed, and everything is clear. Precise. And unlike a lot of the modern directors, he doesn’t rely on expository dialogue too much. Tv shows and movies are a visual medium, and it honestly makes me cringe when the director and writers feel that they need to dumb it down for the audience.

I thought that this is a fine example of that, and it was definitely something to smile about. The final ten minutes, to be exact, was absolutely perfect. You’ll see if you watch it. I loved the ending.

Let me talk about the acting now. The two standout actors has to be Dean Morris, Jeff Fahey, and Alexander Koch. I already talked a little bit about Dean Morris, so let me talk about the other two. You may recognize Jeff Fahey as Frank Lapidus from Lost. I have to say, his portrayal of Duke Perkins is pitch perfect. Duke Perkins in the book was very interesting, but there’s subtlety and layers to Jeff Fahey’s acting that I thought was really great. Alexander Koch plays Junior Rennie, one of the two aforementioned antagonists from the book. (Mind you, Brian K. Vaughan could still throw us a curveball and make one of the teenagers the villain. He could pull it off, too.)

I think that Alexander Koch’s portrayal of Junior Rennie is awesome. As with the character of Big Jim, I think they changed his character for the better here. He’s a really bad guy. Disgusting, even. However, the thing that makes most people disgusting… is the fact that they could put on a facade and fool you. It’s what makes serial killers terrifying. They could be the guy/gal organizing the charity, he could be the guy/gal that serves you your food. You just never know.

And that’s what I like about this character now. I hated this character in the book. Absolutely hated him. But here.. Well, I still don’t like him. But the fact that it made me think twice is really something. The episode starts out with him confessing his life to a girl he’s held a torch for since he was in the 3rd Grade. And he’s dismissed immediately.

I’m not condoning his violent nature or anything like that. But I thought that this made his character a little more… realistic. I don’t think people are inherently evil. I just believe that there are “triggers” for every person, and for certain people, that trigger can be exactly the same as Junior Rennie’s trigger. And let me tell you. It gets pulled all right.

So, I think that portraying this character would be difficult for pretty much any character, and Alexander Koch pulls it off swimmingly. It’s fantastic to watch, and I look forward to future episodes to see how he takes the role to the next level.

So, let’s see the list.

1. Story: Interesting.

2. Characterization: Intriguing.

3. Acting: Top notch.

That’s the main check list I use when I watch anything. There are a few laughs in here, but I’m going to flat out tell you right now that this isn’t a comedy. Maybe a very dark, DARK comedy. But it’s important to know that this is a straight up drama. I came in expecting a drama, and that’s exactly what I got back.

Now, it looks like it’s only going to be a miniseries. After seeing this, I was kinda disappointed. It’s difficult to pack a thousand page novel into thirteen episodes, after all, and I’m afraid it might end up being rushed. There’s fast paced and there’s tripping over yourself and falling down the stairs. I really hope this show doesn’t trip over their shoelaces on this one.

So. This is definitely a show worth watching. It’s important that you know it’s rather different from the book, but really. It’s still quite good. That’s the point. Considering the show selection for summer ( I.E. Keeping Up with the Kardashians ), this is the Holy Grail of television shows right now. (Mostly because I’m not up to date with Mad Men. Catching up, though!)

I’m giving this show an 8.5/10. It’s a spectacular show. Not without its flaws, and I was really annoyed at certain changes from the book, but it is still worth watching. It was easy to forget about the annoyances and just enjoy the show. And that’s what shows are for, aren’t they?

So, if you have some spare time, Under the Dome could be the new show to watch during your summer vacation.

~Jian