Category Archives: Entertainment Industry Coverage

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: SANTA BARBARA INTL FILM FESTIVAL [Santa Barbara, California]

The texture of Santa Barbara in terms of its film festival has transitioned over the years. The essence of genre and the programming has transitioned over the years but keying into the awards season fervor always remains the same but finding the right balance of films for the viewer’s taste is key.

Betrayal (Traición) This story of a woman searching for the texture of who her mother is begins very simply and allegorically before it becomes a metaphor for the essence of being. While the set up is structured more in an idea of action-based life vs. death, its eventual thrust unfolds too slowly. While the progression of what creates her life (out of a whorehouse tryst) almost carries a beholden wistfulness to it despite the surroundings, the inherent solution reveres itself in an idealism of the passing of the baton (maybe with an ode to “Queen Of The South”). However the resolution leaves the intentions and ultimately the struggle of power resolutely inert.

Outstanding Performer Of The Year: Rami Malek No performance has garnered as much respectability or indeed as much fervor as Malek’s turn as the legendary Queen frontman this year. Malek’s journey as indicated in his conversation on stage in nearly as frought in overcoming obstacles as Mercury himself. Though he was born and raised in Sherman Oaks, California, Malek himself is Egyptian, not far from Mercury’s Zanzibar in Tanzania. But it is taking that background and fighting against stereotypes that allowed Mercury to transcend in London and Malek thereby in Hollywood. The turning point, according to his conversation, seemingly happened with HBO’s “The Pacific” where at one point, Steven Spielberg was taping his scene audition across from Joseph Mazzello (who beyond playing John Deacon in “Bohemian Rhapsody” also played the grandson of John Hammond in the first “Jurassic Park”). That series led to other roles including “The Master” (which this reviewer totally forgot he was in). He pushed Paul Thomas Anderson in the audition with Joaquin [Phoenix] there saying “I want this”. His remembrance that there was an essence of acceptance from Phoenix he says spurred him on. “Mr. Robot” of course broke him through into the zeitgeist but it was because he says of show runner Sam Esmail’s prescience on the texture of the hacker. “Bohemian Rhapsody” came to him through that perception. He signed on with producer Graham King as soon as he was asked but then realized he had to deliver. He went to London and connected with a very specific movement coach. The one aspect not addressed was the aspect of Malek singing as Freddie which is one of the big questions since no one could really be able to do that. His texture of the man is undeniable although some story elements have been, to many, skewed a little bit to make the story more palpable for mainstream audiences. This seems to have worked as the film has performed admirably despite “the elephant in the room” as the moderator indicated which Malek finally addressed after being asked directly despite the apparent uncomfortability of the subject for him. This point was in regards to the aspect of ousted director Bryan Singer who has come under fire even more so in recent days for sexual harassment allegations despite the fact that it is his name still on the film and not Dexter Fletcher who completed the final two weeks of shooting. Malek finally did address this subject saying that working with Singer was “not pleasant…at all” and that Singer “was fired”.

Fly By Night This film, also part of the Crime Scenes sidebar (of which “Betrayal” is also part), focuses on small time crime on the outskirt of Kuala Lumpur. The tonal shifts in the scenes are both interesting and disjointed at times. The film starts off as a stylish character piece before moving into family drama before settling on an action hybrid/gangster film. While the strategy of the chess game between the police, the small time crooks and the local mafia interweaves nicely, the secondary plots including a jilted mistress seem to wash by the wayside. A particularly brutal end to a key ransom figurehead seems to simply occur and disappear. While the lead character per se: an egotistical young brother seemingly keeps falling down the same path, it is two adjacent characters. The first is that of the loyal combatant who takes a screwdriver into his own hands at one point. He has the most intensity and breathe of character. By comparison, the local head of the mafia is portrayed with such theatricality that it is hard to look away, even when he brutally goes off the rails. The resolution is finite and true to form but nonetheless solves none of the bigger problems of the plot.

Tell It To The Bees Anna Paquin always has the ability to inhabit and contextualize the aspect of the outsider while always inferring compassion in her performances. While Paquin balances this structure, she always at times can seem to be like she is acting per se thereby making it hard to see her disappear into her roles. Holliday Grainger (whom IR talked to for “Bonnie & Clyde” back in 2013) seems incessantly natural by comparison as the wife/woman scorned who falls into the arms of Paquin’s loving doctor. Granted this tome is set in the 1950s so the gist of the narrative focuses around the social and psychological tensions placed on the couple from the outside. Obviously the most biting satire or sense of understanding comes from the 10 year old child of Grainger’s character who is also dealing with an absentee father who is suffering after the war (but does his best to make everyone else miserable at the same time). The metaphor of the bees is keyed to listening and how to survive suffering. Ultimately the movie is a parable and a cautionary tale bathed with a sense of redemption and hope. Even though it tries a bit too hard, when it is carefree, it understands the balance of life is acceptance. Otherwise. it shows that darkness can consume even inside the impetus of family.

By Tim Wassberg

Comedy Texture & Character Evolution: The 2019 NBC Network TCA Winter Press Tour

The texture of the NBC progression within this year’s TCAs swells with the essence of the female focus, both in the texture of comedy and drama but also in the evolution of character.

Abbys [NBC] Led by Natalie Morales, this multi-cam comedy takes places in a watering hole created in said lead characters backyard with the inevitable cast of characters. Morales comments that she grew up watching NBC on Thursday nights.While there will inevitably be comparisons to another bar set series from the network, Morales says this structure is almost like “Cheers Theater In The Park” which is enhances by the fact that most of the cast all has sketch and theater experience. Michael Shur, responsible for creating “Parks & Recreation” and also the recent hit “The Good Place” says the biggest selling point of this show (or any for that matter) is “if it might be interesting”. As with most shows in terms of development, he says they “sort of become self fulfilling prophecies”. The draw for him is that it is set in someone’s backyard. He uses a point of reference that a comedic point could be “the regularity of a woman next door just because it is next door and has 7 glasses of wine before she goes to sleep” and also that “the characters sit in the same seats every day”.

Project Runway [Bravo] A stalwart of the cable landscape lineup, this continuation brings the structure back to Bravo and in doing so transforms it for a new generation. The mix of designer Cristian Miliano and host/model Karlie Koss really gives the show a renewed spirit. Miliano is an actual active designer and a winner of the Runway competition so combining this with the fashion show active Koss gives the show an immediacy like never before. Koss admits that she grew up watching this show and for her “it is surreal to be part of this next chapter”. She continues that a lot has changed in the world since the original show specifically in “as far as how designers have to think about businesses today”. For her, it is important that “we all have voices and can give feedback. Fashion is for anyone”. She says, “I first watched [the show] when I was 11 years old in St. Louis Missouri”. For her, “it is a platform and a way to show stories and a creative process, that talent comes from anywhere and everywhere”. For her, “the journey and experiences I have had…each one of us [here] is in the middle of our own multi-hyphenate careers. You have to be social media savvy. You have to know what you want to say. It is not a matter of just breaking out but also sustaining your career.” Cristian gives his perspective of the fashion business saying “I treat every designer as It reat my design team every day. I really feel I get too passionate.” That said, he continues, “It is amazing to see on this show, [people] create something from nothing. I think that is very beautiful to watch.”

Listing Impossible [CNBC] This CNBC show showcasing a texture of selling multi-million dollar homes and the angles needed to close may seem a little antithetical in the current market but it also displays the texture of ambition and goals. Lead agent and star of the show, Aaron Kirman tries to put it into perspective says “The struggles that the wealthy are up against are in many way not dissimilar [from everyone else]. His intern turned agent Neyshia Go, who is also highlighted on the show, keys into this essence of ambition: “The day she got her license her entreprenuerial spirit kicks in. Go explains it in her own way: “You need understand the buyer and seller but you need to know how to deal with the idea of of who the buyer and the seller is. ‘There is a shoe for every dirty foot’ which is what Aaron says.” Morgan Trent, also an agent on the show, has had a different trajectory having played professional football for a short time for the Cincinnati Bengals. He explains his career choice; “I played football. I played in the NFL. But I didn’t love football. I loved real estate.” He describes through the psychology needed in real estate versus say other businesses: “When we walk away, we know that they [the sellers] are on a losing ship. Usually those sellers wait until a year later [and then they come back]”.

Pearson [USA] This spinoff of “Suits” is a paradox of sorts. Gina Torres, a stalwart of the series, left the law based series to pursue other interests inevitably because the plot flow had begun a different way. Adding to that a little later, good friend and co-star Meghan Markle left to marry Prince Harry of England. But it was changing the structure and the focus in moving Pearson’s story to Chicago and setting it in the political arena. Torres explains: “My mind went to Jessica Pearson, this character whom I thought was in the rear view mirror, she wasn’t about walking the line but moving it. You can call [this development] a happy accident. You can call it a natural evolution. [But] now Jessica is in service to her own life and how that works.” Daniel Arkin, one of the exec producers of “Suits” and now the showrunner of “Pearson”. He speaks on the texture of the show: “When we set out [to do this show], we want to do it different than how we did ‘Suits’. Jessica Pearson is the link but we wanted this show conceptually to be more gritty and raw. Jessica was a chess player in ‘Suits’ but once you become the lead character, the story is not going to go very far if [that character] knows everything. People reject her for a change. Torres concludes the perception: “These are completely different people from ‘Suits’. Jessica doesn’t know who she can trust”.

La Reina Del Sur [Telemundo] This hybrid of a telenovela has become a more straight high production series from Telemundo. While the US has made their version with “Queen Of The South” on USA, Kate Del Castillo was the original bad-ass. She explains: “We never thought it would be the success it would have been. It was shown as a telenovela. But I was exhausted. We had different conditions budget wise and we did our best.”. But in terms of returning to that mindset, she continues: “You forget the character. You forget what is going on. It has been fresh because they have been repeating the series.” Living in Los Angeles, she continually watches for shifts in the entertainment industry: “Things are changing slowly but they are. Every time I read a script there is a better role for Latinos and women Latinos. I have been living in Los Angeles in 18 years. When I first came here I already had a job in ‘American Family’ for PBS.” As to the possibilities in this new incarnation, she teases: “You can expect a lot of action. I am 8 years older and it hurts. But she is more mature. She is a mother. She is mature in that way but she goes for it.”

Busy Tonight [E!] Closing out the day before rushing back to do a new show that evening with Josh Groban, Busy Phillips is full of energy and confidance. She starts off:I have been an entertainer for 20 years but making my life very open on social media opened me up to a whole new type of audience. It felt like a natural progression for me.” In terms of building the show: “What we wanted it to be was a little treat for our viewers at the end of the night. I was sick of watching ‘Friends re-runs’ on the end of the night.” As far as her guests: “People surprise you. David Alan Grier was incredible. Patti LaBelle is one of my favorites. Julia Roberts was always a priority.” Tina Fey, producer extraordinaire, explained her openness to the idea of the show on E: “I really liked Busy. She floated this idea. I think what [this show] is is unique and smart. (she looks at Busy) You are not trying to be Jimmy [Fallon] or Ellen.”

By Tim Wassberg

Material Traction & Genre Progression: The 2019 CBS Network & CBS All Access TCA Winter Press Tour

CBS Networks’ progression of the day indicated the breathe of material but also the specific detail intonated in each of their respective programs. This becomes more apparent even as the network found the balance between purely broadcast and All Access, which is quickly gaining traction as the place to watch new genre series (as the newly announced “Twilight Zone” spearheaded by Jordan Peele attests).

The World’s Best The reality genre, specifically the idea of what this consists of, has considerably changed over the years. Mike Darnell, who produces this new “variety show” on CBS per se has led the way. Currently as President Of Alternative Programming at Warner Brothers Television, he understands the way things work. The idea here was finding acts that had not been seen before that don’t necessarily need to be “found” to guarantee their success. He explains how he approached this show: “Sometimes we say it was expensive and you can see it on the show. [But] CBS stepped up to make it big. The sale of the show was based on a built concept. When I was working at Fox and we did ‘Idol’, a lot of singing shows came along. [With] “The Voice”, [we] took the singing show and added a game show element. Here we have was spinning chairs [but also add] the aspect of the “Will of the World”. This adds a global feel of selling it, making it fresh and new.” Darnell continues: “There are so many singing shows. There has been only one variety show. While ‘America’s Got Talent’ is the best in the world, the format has got to change.” Executive Producer Alison Holloway, who has also worked on “America’s Got Talent”, had to find those acts that were perhaps a little harder to uncover: “I have a small casting team because it is very hands on. The Internet is a great tool for casting. That is where a lot of work is done. But talking to your contacts…seeing what the local papers in China are talking about…[that is how] we want to get something [that] is a little different.” Darnell also explains the changing directive of what alternative programming means: “Alternative covers this wide umbrella of variety. Other genres are fairly well defined. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard in my career that reality is dying. [But] the networks rely on them, especially for same day numbers, which is important for advertising.” Ru Paul Jones, one of the judges on the show, concludes with a perception of the talent: “In our lifetime, we have had a lot of things happen. These [acts we see] are people who have spent their lives perfecting what they do. [As judges] we weren’t prepared for the emotional journey and the expertise.”

Red Line This new dramatic/event series uses the texture of the Red Line which is a force in terms of geography that both connects and separates Chicago’s different sides, both financially and racially as a train system. The two show runners come from independent cinema with their film “A View From Tall” playing the Los Angeles Film Festival. Their play “A Twist Of Water”, which played Off Broadway was actually the inspiration for the show. Caitlin Parrish, one of the show runners, explains their trajectory: “We come from theater but with a cast this sprawling there was something enticing about the longer form. The red line is one of the main lines in the city from the very north to the very south. For as segregated as Chicago is, this touches upon every person in the city. It was our metaphor of choice.” Her co-showrunner Erica Weiss continues: “I think Chicago has a lot to say in the national communication. We did our research to make sure we are giving the fullest picture possible. The socio-politcal element in Chicago is rich and we’re telling stories about characters and their personal choices.” Noah Wyle, who plays Daniel Calder, wanted to try something perhaps more grounded than his recent roles like “The Librarian”: “The emotional reaction I had to the first reading of this script was so intense. It was about leaving a lot of my creature comforts as far as wearing hats and doing it differently on every single level.”

The Neighborhood In the first of quick freshman show highlights, this show moves forward in a structure like a reverse “All In The Family” where it is more based in a white family moving into a black neighborhood. Show runner Jim Reynolds, who has written for such shows as “Samantha Who?” and “The Big Bang Theory” offers his perception: “I don’t think the show is written from a black perspective. I think it is balanced. It is based on my experience of moving into a predominantly African American neighborhood.” Cedric The Entertainer who plays Calvin talks about the show: “Calvin is the patriarch of the neighborhood. This is where the character is rooted, where he is grounded. In a lot of ways, ‘All In The Family’ was set up where that character has the biggest perspective to have the greatest change. [For me] it was trying to get across a point of view. Luckily the way I have discovered Calvin in his hubris and how he discovers who he is is endless. [But] no one wants to see [the two sides] bicker or him being mean. It is about that line.” Tichina Arnold, who also starred on “Martin”, explains the balance: “Racism comes from fear, the fear of unknowing. I think that it is important that this conversation does happen. When two households get together and have conversation, they learn from each other.”

FBI From Dick Wolf, creator of “Law & Order” and the “Chicago” franchise, this look into the Bureau is built to be a launching board for a whole new world of spin-offs. Missy Peregrym, who recently guested on “Hawaii Five O”, takes up the lead as Special Agent Maggie Bell. She explains the balance and challenge in creating a new character in this world: “The first season is really tricky [as far as] developing the dynamics. It is a grind but it is such a win when it works. Z (her co-star Zeeko Zaki) and I have had a lot of conversations as to how that works. We’re not making a judgement about what is happening.” Zaki portrays her partner, Special Agent Omar Odom. “I was surprised at how a lot of pieces that are not FBI are within the family. It is such a bigger thing without egos,” he explains. “They shoot these episodes really big to make them as big and intense as reality. That is the goal of the show. [And we are] doing 22 [episodes]. I am not sure it is normal.” Peregrym also discusses her trajectory in the law enforcement genre as she started with the ABC show “Rookie Blue”: “I was a rookie and I had to go through every mistake and embody it. [With] every single person here I interview [here for my role]…I really want to listen and give them the respect of being a human being no matter what the situation is. I had to really grow up to do this.”

God Friended Me This other new freshman series has a unique perspective in its use of social media but with an intriguing religious balance (which brings to mind the defunct 2018 series “Living Biblically” which was covered at CBS TCAs last year in addition to an exclusive one-on-one with Ian Gomez ). But the texture is always timing within the zeitgeist. Brandon Michael Hall, who previously was the lead on ABC’s “The Mayor”, plays Miles who gets a text from God. His approach to the material is the essence of creating “a deep and honest friendship” within the show. Bryan Wynbrandt, the show runner, who also co-created “Alcatraz” with JJ Abrams explains: “We haven’t put any restrictions on topics. The show is no really about religion but rather humanity [because] religion is just one aspect of being a human being. Nothing is really off limits but we don’t let religion drive the show.”

With CBS All Access, CBS has begun to engage a new audience with originals shows that occupies even a different space than CW and Showtime, thereby ensuring its uniqueness.

The Good Fight This spin-off of “The Good Wife” starring Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart allows the acidic wit to simply wash with delicious aplomb over the audience. Robert & Michelle King, who also created “The Good Wife” as well as the short lived “Brain Dead” starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, looked to find the right tone as they molded the show. Robert explains: “What you try to do is stay as close to the zeitgeist as possible. We are not real fans of shows that preach to the choir.” He continues that in creating story lines “a lot of it is about a satire to the left.” Baranski talks about how her character continues to build: “It is quite serendipitous is that [my character] was emboldened by what happened in history (Trump being elected instead of Clinton).” As a result, she explains, “it is a show with a lot of people dealing with what is going on. [Diane] was always the woman in the room when it happens [but she is] trying to keep her balance in a dystopian world…[which is] inspired for me.

Star Trek: Discovery Heading into its second season, this flagship show for CBS All Access does have to walk the line between new storytelling and the aspect of canon. With Alex Kurtzman taking full helm of showrunning duties this season along with the new cast fodder in Anson Mount as Captain Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock, the texture of how it all fits together still continues as a puzzle. Kurtzman explains: “We see canon as an amazing opportunity. There is amazing grey area where we didn’t know what happened to Spock in his life. [But] we certainly know that in order for ‘Discovery’ to live on, we have to be able to operate outside of canon. The common denominator among the cast is that they are empathetic [But from what you are seeing] these are the proto versions [of these characters]. Mount speaks to taking on a character straight out of canon: “Ethan had a tougher job that I did. Obviously it is an enormous sense of responsibility. I grew up with Kirk as my captain. [But] my favorite character was Data.” Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory Peck has the undeniable pressure of taking on the iconic character of Spock: “It is a huge responsibility [but] I had the faith of people. I spent a lot of time of Nimoy’s performance. [This space in canon” exists] 3 years after the TOS pilot “The Cage”. Finally Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays the lead Michael Burnham, (whom IR has interviewed for both Season 1 and Season 2), knows that the character is still evolving in many ways: “The guilt is going to take a long time [for her] to process and set aside. It is a big part of the overall feeling that needs to happen [for her]. There is a deep desire to rewrite history to make up for these major mistakes. [For Michael], reinstatement into Starfleet is a big step forward. There is a lot of healing on Discovery…[and] a journey towards restoration.”

By Tim Wassberg

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