Archive | January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty’s Awesome Ensemble Cast

You’d think the ensemble cast for Argo could not be challenged, but that would be a mistake. At every location, meeting, and level of government, Zero Dark Thirty is populated by familiar faces. And interestingly, many (not all) of these actors are prominently known for their television roles.

Jessica Chastain: She’s amazing. And while she is starring in basically every film that comes out these days, some people (like me!) might remember her role as Veronica Mars’s disappeared pregnant neighbor in the season one episode “The Girl Next Door.”

Jason Clarke: I associated Jason Clarke with his starring role on the defunct show, The Chicago Code. I championed that show until the bitter end, so I hope Jason Clarke at least gets a big film career as a consolation prize. Bonus!: I remember where I saw him most recently: in Texas Killing Fields being hunted by…Jessica Chastain.

Kyle Chandler: He really wins this year because he is also in Argo. Of course, his prominent television role is Friday Night Lights (I know, I know, I need to watch) but I can’t help but constantly think of his stint on Grey’s Anatomy. Remember how that one time there was a bomb and Kyle Chandler needed to diffuse it?

Jennifer Ehle: I honestly can’t look at her without thinking about her role opposite Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice.

Harold Perrineau: Lost. Oz. Sons of Anarchy. The Unusuals. (And Wedding Band? Sorry, Wedding Band fans — it’s a goner.)

Mark Strong: You might know him from every film ever, but his role in Kick-Ass sticks out to me.

Jessica Collins: One of those, “don’t I know her from something?” The answer must be I know her from Rubicon. Yet another show I watched to the bitter end. It really just served to prove that AMC can and will ax shows.

Fredric Lehne: You may know him from every television show ever: American Horror Story: Asylum, Lost, Supernatural, etc. Seriously, he is the epitome of the character actor.

Mark Duplass: How can you not love him?? He’s making his mark on TV (The League, The Mindy Project) and in film (Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister’s Sister).

James Gandolfini: Tony Soprano himself!

Stephen Dillane: You may also know him from everything in the world but these days I tend to shout out (mentally) “Stannis!” whenever I see him. So, Game of Thrones but also Hunted, John Adams, etc.

John Barrowman: a.k.a. Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, as well as his recent gig on CW’s Arrow. Singer, actor, host and all-around constant personality…in Zero Dark Thirty. Randomly great.

Joel Edgerton: Discussion of all other roles must be preempted because I just discovered (remembered/had a flashback to) the fact he is “young” Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels. I instantly seized upon a mental image of the trading card I have (yes, I collected Star Wars cards but I was waaay more into my Lord of the Rings collection…) and knew this to be true. And then my mind exploded. I guess I should quit wondering where this Joel Edgerton guy came from if he has actually been on the fringes all these years.

Chris Pratt: Parks and Recreation! But before Parks and Rec, my thought would have been Everwood! Wow, that really takes me back…

Taylor Kinney: This guy pops up on The Vampire Diaries, then starts dating Lady GaGa, and now has a starring role in Chicago Fire. So I imagine he made some kind of deal with the devil.

Christopher Stanley: Honorable mention since whenever I see him I can only think of Mad Men; “Henry Francis.”

Mark Valley: Human Target, Fringe, Boston Legal, and Body of Proof apparently, etc. All I can think about for some reason when I see him is that he was married to Anna Torv. But not any longer…

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Amy and Tina Host an Eventful 70th Globes

First, an Oscars analysis in light of Thursday’s nominations: The Golden Globes seem to indicate that Argo still has an edge over Lincoln but that Daniel Day-Lewis and Jessica Chastain are still frontrunners in the acting category.  In the Comedy/Musical category, the competition was solely between Silver Linings Playbook and Les Misérables. Anne Hathaway is closer to a lock for Best Supporting Actress, but I think the momentum for the film itself and for Hugh Jackman, ends here. The real battle seems to be developing between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence…and I think Daniel Day-Lewis and Bradley Cooper.

This picture of Ben and Casey Affleck is just TOO CUTE.

Ben Affleck may win every directing nomination he’s received, and rightly so, which makes the Oscar snob all the more confusing. I get Oscar snubs are a necessary component of the process, and that this was a great year, but this is a head-scratcher. Nevertheless, he deserves the accolades. Go Ben! And Argo!

Love him. Mental note: what role has inspired this newly buzzed look?

Not quite sure who was favored for Supporting Actor (perhaps Alan Arkin or Tommy Lee Jones?) but I adore Christoph Waltz, so *I* favored him. Then again, he has to contend with Robert De Niro for the Oscar, and that’s a tough race. Great performances in both. If Christoph Waltz was a surprise, Quentin Tarantino for Best Screenplay was shocking. I also think he was most deserving; I mean this is an original screenplay in a mixed category of both original and adapted. Weird category that makes much more sense separated, like at the Oscars.

Jodie Foster

Glad that pan over the audience showed I wasn’t the only one crying as her speech kept hitting different emotional beats (here’s the transcript). I was just so unprepared! Most of these achievement awards are, lets be honest, super boring. From the way she addressed her ailing mother and hints about “retirement”…it was like breaking the wall that glittery award shows put up. We like to see stars schmoozing with other stars and seeing them as “real” people. But it’s all so fake. Leave it to a notoriously private actor to shatter those expectations. We don’t know Jodie, but because of her celebrity…we do. And this swan song of sorts is affecting because of that familiarity. Fascinating, moving stuff.

The Competition for Most Distinguished Introduction to a Film

Bill Clinton for Lincoln, Jeremy Renner for Zero Dark Thirty, Christian Bale for Silver Linings Playbook, Catherine Zeta-Jones for Les Misérables, Tony Mendez and John Goodman for Argo, Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained…

Women on Television

Claire Danes: “very proud to be working in this medium, in this moment, in this company”

Lena Dunham: “This award is for every woman who felt like there wasn’t a space for her” and Girls “made me feel so much less alone in the world”

Random Moments

I don’t actively dislike Robert Pattinson, (he is Cedric Diggory after all) but I never give him much thought. However, I have to admit that this little GIF showing how momentarily shy and awkward he appeared to be meeting Quentin Tarantino has endeared him to me a bit:

SKYFALL and Adele win—she high-fives Daniel Craig (such delight!) and pisses off Taylor Swift

The Usual Favorites

How awesome is Jessica Chastain, seriously? So sincere. On the E! Red Carpet she stopped to tell Naomi Watts how great she is in The Impossible and how much she loved it (before being shooed away by Ryan Seacrest).

Can someone PLEASE mass publish the fact that Jennifer Lawrence was quoting The First Wives Club when she said “What does this say…I beat Meryl!” I love her more and more every time she speaks. I know how it feels to diffuse awkwardness with a movie quote only to have it sort of fall flat when no one realizes it’s a quote…

Benedict Cumberbatch (his second time at the Globes) lost to Kevin Costner. Kevin Costner winning also led to the most boring speech of the night. And Ben looked sad! Oh well…

So, ties were optional this year Ewan? What is this nonsense?

Ewan McGregor not-so-shockingly did not win for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but did get to have a chat with George Clooney (that I spied) and plenty of others, probably. I just wish he was there to support The Impossible.

Eddie Redmayne looked quite dapper, of course.

The Vocabulary of TV Criticism

Whenever you embed yourself into a new environment, inevitably you start to pick up on new phrases, slang, and new definitions for old words. Studying International Relations and Conflict Resolution introduced me to a bevy vocabulary that I needed to assimilate into my own in order to talk the talk. Talking about television is a bit easier; as America’s true favorite pastime, most of us have enough experience to engage in the conversation. But when you start to look at TV a little more critically and analytically, you get immersed in a new set of terms. Being a novice, I am slowly accumulating this new language, both official and newly coined. Here are but a few of the terms I often see swirling around (and some I’ve used myself):

Agency: This term is likely to come up in a variety of disciplines but in the television world it usually refers to a character’s agency. Can a character think and act themselves, like a real person? Or does it seem like they are simply going through the motions of what the plot requires? Characters can be complex or a series of stereotypes. One of the most frustrating things that can happen on a show is when a character obviously performs an action that goes against their established personality. For instance, I’d argue that Lane Pryce’s arc in the last season of Mad Men displayed him performing a number of actions that went against his personality just to get him to a predetermined point by the end of the season.

Anvils dropping/clanging/etc: Typically when a show writer uses a character’s dialogue to sharply underline the story’s significance and/lesson. This indicates the story was not strong enough to portray this itself and that the writers felt a need to handhold the audience. However, when they under-estimate this, the result is a metaphorical thud as these character pronouncements make their way to your ears.

Bottle episode: An episode carried out entirely on pre-existing sets to cut down on costs and increase the availability of funds for future episodes requiring a bigger budget (like sweeps week or finales). For instance, a Community episode where the action takes place solely in the study room (like when Annie loses her pen in “Cooperative Calligraphy” ). Or, the episode I often think of as the quintessential bottle episode, Breaking Bad’s “Fly,” where the action takes place in the lab. I would argue that Breaking Bad is one of the most success shows to take the idea of bottle episode and turns it into an opportunity to tell some of its best storytelling.

Chekhov’s [insert object here]: The gold standard of tropes, Chekhov’s gun states that a loaded gun introduced in the first act will be fired in the last act. While I completely understand where this is coming from (events happening from an object the audience had no idea existed is problematic), some shows don’t have the finesse to pull it off without being super obvious at the same time. But, again, Breaking Bad takes Chekhov’s ricin and leaves the audience constantly on edge as the poisonous stuff is moved in and out of sight for seasons at a time.

Course correct: The potential ability for a show to steer away from storylines that aren’t working and get back on track with a narrative that works.

MacGuffin: A plot device that uses an object (usually important to a main character) as the impetus for the entire narrative. The importance of this device to the character prompts the events of the show or the episode, but is irrelevant by the conclusion. To use the same example, Annie’s pen in “Cooperative Calligraphy” is a MacGuffin.

Multi-cam vs. single cam: Multi-cam shows are typically those also sporting a laugh track, like The Big Bang Theory and Friends. They are cheaper to make, thus the heavy reliance on them even as the whole laugh track sitcom seems increasingly outdated. A single cam is more expensive and usually involves the incorporation of many more sets than a multi-cam.

Phoning it in: Criticizing an actor or personality for disengaging their talent and merely performing the minimum of what is required, nothing more.

Puppet strings/pulling strings: Perhaps one of my biggest complaints, the puppet strings criticism usually comes into play when you can see the plot moving in ways to get from Point A to designated Point B. The developments do not ring true for the situation and its as if the showrunner leaps down from on high and rearranges the scene to shift the direction. Seeing the puppet strings is like seeing the man behind the curtain, it ruins our suspension of disbelief and sucks us back into reality.

Speechifying: Typically the opportunity for a character to command attention and ascend their pedestal while they dole out their views and their accumulated wisdom on other characters. Often, but not always, this is an opportunity for a showrunner to directly address their audience with their own views. The Newsroom is the ideal format for continuous speechifying from Aaron Sorkin via Jeff Daniels.

Spinning wheels: The tendency for forward plot momentum to halt in favor of just hanging out with characters, performing insignificant actions to the overall plot. This happens a lot in a 22-episode season, and with well-established characters it doesn’t really matter. Seeing them perform even the most mundane of actions should be entertaining. But if it is clear that we are just running in place to let the clock run out, then there is a problem.

Talking heads: The interview portions of “mockumentary” style shows like Modern Family, The Office, and Parks and Recreation. The success of shows utilizing this method are partially based on how well they can balance the action with the talking heads in each episode.

Telegraphing: When a show’s plot continuously underlines where it is going and what you, as the viewer, are expected to think about the action. Telegraphing ruins the impact of the story being told. A bit of foreshadowing can be effective, but telegraphing removes the guesswork and the subtlety. And I don’t want to watch a show where I can determine the ending in the first five minutes.