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
Balancing from the CBS and CBS All Access TCA Day, Showtime, CW and, by extension, POP all possess a degree of creative landscape on the cultural plain. Each has its own texture with a sense of identity, yet never stepping too far out of line thereby alienating viewers. Among all networks, it is this texture of focus that undeniably balances the shows
Black Monday [Showtime] Returning to the network that made “House Of Lies”, Don Cheadle takes on the 80s with aplomb with an undeniable texture of Wall Street from the other side. Cheadle explains: “Moe would probably be Marty’s unhinged id. He doesn’t have a governor’s switch in the same way [as that character]. [With this show] it is trying to make a magic trick work on top of a roller coaster. It is the clothes and the hair and the excess of the 80s. [And] Moe has no ballast. There is no family that is tethering him. He is more a live wire in that way. It is constantly finding ‘him’ and seeing who ‘he’ is.” Jordan Cahan, one of the showrunners who also worked on the Christian Slater FOX show “Breaking In” explains: “This show has a secret code…words that we find abhorrent now. So we had to be very careful who we allowed to say those words. The tricky thing for us…just because it is cable…do we go to a certain place?” Cheadle continues reminiscing about what 1987 was like for him: “There were more yeses than there were nos. [In] 1987 I had just got out of school. I was living in North Hollywood. I was running around trying to get work. [A group of us] we would bum rush these auditions together. I never really started think I was good. It took many years until I believed that I could calm down [with that pursuit].” In translating that energy into the times that Moe lives in: “One of the things that we were cognizant about was having this sort of rag tag group of traders who are the Bad News Bears…the misfits.”
City On A Hill [Showtime] This throwback element to 1990s Boston involving a corrupt but determined FBI agent, Jackie, played with grizzle by Kevin Bacon, harks back to his previous work like “Mystic River” and “Sleepers”. Bacon discusses the connection: “I wasn’t really comparing the two. But with ‘City On A Hill’, it immediately had Jackie’s voice…that is the one I heard. It is just this world of 90s cops and robbers. [For me] there was nothing on television that quite felt like this.” In terms of wanting to commit to this show after doing “The Following” at Fox: “When you go into this situation with time involved…it is interesting here because the characters [are going] home. They are outside of [their] world. [In the pilot] we have a scene where the D.A. Ward (played by Aldis Hodge) and I are sitting in a window. Usually when the weather is that bad, you call it. [And when] your face gets that cold, you start to slur your words. Unfortunately the mustache (laughing) doesn’t keep it warm. That was the last scene of the pilot so I wasn’t sure if I needed the mustache [anymore].” (smiling) But in terms of what Bacon wants in terms of a challenge: “I want something new to explore. With ‘The Following”, it was all about that internalized type of character who has secrets. Jackie [by comparison] just doesn’t shut up. It is this kind of verbosity he has,”
Desus & Mero [Showtime] This new late night show optimizing the podcast and VICE phenom of Desus Nice & The Kid Mero just keys into its own sort of energy which can only be experienced live on the show, considering how quickly the panel progressed. Desus relays that he and Mero “actually met in high school in summer school…because they had air conditioning.” Mero explain the possibilities of how they approach what they do: “No one is really going on Twitter and reading policy [on politics]. We want to show people in their natural element. The vernacular we bring to it pushes with hip hop. This is authentic. It is not factory made.”
Jane The Virgin [CW] The trajectory of this show has allowed Gina Rodriguez to transform while still maintaining a grounded nature within the story. Speaking for the final season, just days before her new movie “Miss Bala” opens, the mood is somber as the show’s production is coming to an end. Jennie Snyder Urman, the show runner and writer, speaks to the show’s evolution: “We would work really hard each year on a different part of the love triangle. A writer once told me that a telenovela is a pornography of emotion. We go through all the feels in the last season unfortunately. [But] we have shown that we will go to unexpected places.” Rodriguez balances this thought saying: “I have been blessed enough to do work in the space that Jennie has created. [And] I have been able to see where I can use my creativity. There is so much I have learned on ‘Jane’.” Urban does tease the next iteration of Jane with a new play on the story: “The spin off is a conceit since it is novels that Jane will write in the future.”
In The Dark Using the essence of the blind to propel a story is an exercise in identity, especially when the teen in question is rebellious. Like certain CW shows before, this drama/comedy approaches the subject with humor but it needed to be based in fact. Lori Bernson, who consulted on “In The Dark” actually walked onto the stage with her guide dog to practically show the perceptions that the dogs have which is key to the story. Bernson lost her sight at a young age but defers on the difference of being born blind: “The difference is losing your mannerisms after you lose vision. It is so conditioned in you to do those things. Often times you don’t have as much contact. People say that I am looking right at them. The greatest thing though is when somebody moves and they don’t tell me. The difference of not seeing ever is that you don’t know anything different.” Perry Mattfield, who stars as the blind Murphy, explains that “Murphy’s blindness is not the only aspect I deferred from Murphy. Obviously I did realize how much responsibility there was for this role. I went to Lori’s house and I was watching her to do her thing. When she is watching TV, she will still look down to the remote first.”
Roswell, New Mexico [CW] This reboot examines the textures of the lost nights and alien interactions for a whole new generation. The key is mixing up the performances but also the story archs in a meaningful way. Jeanine Mason, who won Season 5 of “So You Think You Can Dance” takes on the role of Liz Ortecho. She explains her approach: “I am a performer. We all are. I grew up admiring the showman. [But] existing as a Latin X lead on a network television show is a rarity. That is what I love about being in 2018…tbe able to play woman who is ignited….who is a fighter” Julie Prec, who serves as one of the show runners talks about filming the show in the desert near Santa Fe: “The elements in general are so unpredictable. We sometimes can’t get the lights higher than 10 feet because of the wind.”
Flack [Pop] This new series from the cable label that brought viewers “Schitt’s Creek” examines the publicity side of the business. Anna Paquin plays Robyn who runs a PR crisis management firm who has trouble maintaining sanity in her personal life. Paquin explains: “Was it complicated? The only major rewrites happen around location.” But in a more production based tone as she developed this with her husband Stephen Moyer as well: “Speaking for myself, we are not really looking for a specific genre or medium but [instead what] connects and is smart. The big lesson is that you really need to believe in what you are doing because you will be doing it for a really long time.” Moyer jumps in on finding the right material: “[When it was] first brought it to us, it was set in England. You read so much stuff and the [good ones] are rare.” In terms of her acting which also includes Sophie Okonedo, Paquin explains her work: “I use the word ‘coven’ a lot. I mean that in the best possible way. [For me] there was a sisterhood [on set] that was inclusive and protective.”
By Tim Wassberg