This recap contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the episode ‘Better Angels. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the episode yet.)
Early on in ‘Better Angels,’ it looked like the untimely death of Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) had instilled in The Walking Dead survivors a sense of kinship that had been overshadowed by the constant internal squabbling, which plagued them more relentlessly than a group of walkers. With Lori apologizing to Shane and Hershel inviting his guests to share the house with the family, it seemed like there was an organized effort to not let the group’s proverbial moral center be buried with Dale.
Rick’s eulogy for Dale is inter-cut with scenes of Shane (Jon Bernthal), Andrea (Laurie Holden), T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) all working out their various feelings and frustrations on a group of walkers that had managed to find their way onto the relatively zombie-less grounds of Hershel’s farm.
Afterward, with the group together, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) shares his plan for he and Daryl to ditch Randall (Michael Zegen) about an hour away from the farm. Shane and Rick have another terse conversation regarding the decision to let Randall live, but after the talk the two had at the end of ‘18 Miles Out,’ Rick feels confident that Shane is more or less onboard with whatever decision he makes.
Later, Carl (Chandler Riggs) visits Shane to unburden himself of both Daryl’s handgun and his feelings of responsibility for Dale’s death. Partially reassured, Carl leaves the handgun with Shane, expressing a desire to never touch a gun again in his life.
Making a bizarre 180-degree turn from her Lady Macbeth-like urging of Rick to kill his partner, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), inadvertently antagonizes Shane with a short speech that was likely meant to sound like a thank you, but instead more closely resembles a goodbye. She leaves Shane heartbroken and on the verge of a psychotic break.
Before Rick and Daryl head out with Randall, Shane stops by to discuss what Carl had been up to and to deliver the stolen handgun, urging Rick to speak with his son about his actions. The whole thing once more devolves into Rick and Shane arguing over who gets to tell the other what to do, and proves that the relationship between the two men is without a doubt fractured beyond repair.
Rick does heed Shane’s advice, though, and has a surprisingly frank conversation with his son that begins with an apology for Carl’s childhood being ostensibly lost, but ends with the demand that the boy stow his childish behavior, because the world is just waiting to claim the lives of everyone he knows and loves. Rick concludes the talk by giving the boy Daryl’s stolen handgun once more, and urges Carl to keep his wits about him and to use the gun to protect himself and the others should the need arise.
Meanwhile, Shane pays Randall a visit and while he works through some pretty severe mental issues, comes to see the bloody evidence that the young man was trying to slip his cuffs. This apparently spurs Shane’s imagination, so he takes the prisoner into the woods and frees him under the pretense of wanting to join the group Randall is traveling with. We learn the group is much closer than previously thought and is as prone to violence and atrocity as the survivors had already feared.
But Shane has no intention of traveling any further than behind a tree to snap Randall’s neck. You have to admire Shane’s willingness to sell the lie that Randall accosted him by smashing his face into a tree trunk to break his own nose. Bloodied and dazed, Shane returns to the farm to find everyone already aware of Randall’s disappearing act, and he works quickly to mobilize a small team of Rick, Daryl, Glenn (Steven Yuen) and himself to track down the escapee in the day’s fading light.
The search continues well after dark, which leads to Daryl and Glenn stumbling upon a zombified Randall. After a brief scuffle, Glenn bludgeons Randall, and the two notice that although his neck is broken there are no clear signs of zombie infection – leading the two to question how that could possibly be.
Elsewhere, despite the inevitability and unfortunate spoiling of it, the confrontation between Rick and Shane still proves to be pretty tense – mainly because Glen Mazzara and Co. managed to have the situation play out slightly different than many had expected.
After holstering his weapon, Rick turns to face his would-be murderer and attempts to appeal to Shane’s sense of right and wrong, and assures him that whatever he had planned, nothing undoable has yet transpired. Despite the assertions that he is more fit to be husband and father to Lori and Carl, Shane seems willing to listen as Rick calmly closes the gap between them and gestures to hand over his sidearm. As Shane reaches for the gun, Rick plunges a knife into Shane’s chest, lamenting how Shane forced him to take this action.
Sitting next to his partner’s corpse, Rick is confronted by Carl, who brandishes the handgun his father had given him earlier – and for a split second the audience is left to think that Rick truly has the worst family in the history of television. All that is put aside, however, as Carl fires a single shot over his father’s shoulder, putting a zombified Shane down once more; at long last ending Shane’s emotionally taxing and harrowing journey with the Grimes clan.
‘Better Angels’ ends with the promise of more trouble ahead, as a large cluster of walkers make their way over a hill toward Hershel’s farm.
Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.
After a breakout performance in Sean Durkin’s 2011 drama film, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister to the infamous Olsen twins) is set to try her hand at the horror genre in Silent House. Olsen’s performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene earned her several “Best Actress” nominations – leading many film fans to question whether Silent House would impede Olsen’s rising star, or prove that even in a horror-thriller project the young actress can deliver a compelling performance.
Of course, Silent House isn’t just a basic slasher-horror film where brainless co-eds run up a flight of stars instead of out the front door. Directed by cinematography team Chris Kentis and Laura Lau, who cut their teeth on the 2003 survival-horror film, Open Water (about a pair of scuba divers who are inadvertently left alone miles from shore in shark-infested waters), Silent House offers 88 minutes of “based on true events” story presented as a single, uninterrupted take.
Does the pairing of Olsen with the “high-concept” premise make for a gripping and unique theater experience?
Ultimately, the performances in Silent House - as well as the unique filmmaking presentation – elevate the movie above normal horror-thriller cliches; however, the film definitely has a few shortcomings that, despite the larger successes, undermine the overall effectiveness of the experience.
Taking cues from the 2010 Uruguayan film, The Silent House, Kentis and Lau’s Silent House story is pretty basic – which makes sense for a movie with only a few characters and an especially limited scale. We follow leading-lady Sarah (Olsen) through a tense, and at times horrifying, ordeal: Sarah, along with her father, John (Adam Trese), and Uncle, Peter (Eric Sheffer Stevens), is in the process of fixing up the family’s dilapidated vacation home, in an effort to make the property more attractive when they attempt to sell it. Sarah begins to hear mysterious noises in the upstairs portion of the house, and when she and her dad attempt to investigate the sounds, it quickly becomes clear that they are not alone – nor are they safe. Whether or not the alleged “true event” inspiration of the film ever actually occurred remains unsubstantiated (and was a point of contention among fans of the 2010 Uruguayan film); however, “based on true events” or not, the fundamental storyline works well enough within the confines of the 88 minute timeframe.
Despite that simple set up, Silent House is a meticulously crafted film. Not only is the house isolated, every window is boarded up (to prevent local kids from breaking the glass) and all the doors are dead-bolted (to keep out squatters) – creating an atmosphere of dark isolation that works to the film’s advantage again and again. Sarah (as well as John and Peter) rely on handheld propane as well as LED lamps – which, coupled with the “uninterrupted take” presentation, will definitely keep audience members squinting into the darkness, along with the film’s main characters.
Silent House features a number of lengthy takes and, unsurprisingly, Olsen is up to the task – delivering a successful and engrossing performance. Admittedly, the role isn’t going to earn her too many accolades, but considering most of her onscreen time is spent reacting to sounds in the dark, her performance definitely brings added layers (and believability) to a role that might have otherwise been portrayed by a less convincing actress.
The “real time” presentation brings events to life in a compelling way, but at the same time, undermines any opportunity for audiences to gain insight into Sarah – beyond basic demeanor and rapport with Peter and John. Even as the darker mystery of the house unfolds, there’s very little chance for audiences to “get to know” any of the main characters – which is somewhat of a missed opportunity, especially given Olsen’s onscreen presence. Some moviegoers will no doubt defend the barebones portrayal of the characters, arguing that they are merely vehicles for the audience to become immersed in the creepy situation; however, given that they have a history with the “Silent House,” the choice ultimately detracts from the effectiveness of the film’s finale.
Regardless, the “hook” of 88 minutes of “uninterrupted” footage will definitely provide moviegoers with a unique theater experience, as the format ratchets up the tension in certain scenes and successfully captures the sense of claustrophobia that Sarah is experiencing throughout. With “found-footage” movies starting to wear thin (just look at Apollo 18 and The Devil Inside for proof), it’s hard to ignore the possibility that “real time” horror films could be the next go-to move for Hollywood executives. The prospects are certainly intriguing (until the concept is used up) - at least based on how the idea is employed in Silent House. While a few of the “transition” moments aren’t as fluid as others, the overall effect is pretty compelling.
That said, some moviegoers may be somewhat underwhelmed by Sarah’s over-arching “ordeal” – as Silent House is much more grounded than other horror-thrillers. There are a number of jump scares and truly creepy moments, but in this case, the real horror is in the uncertainty of each and every moment – which, for some viewers, might result in the opinions that there’s not a lot actually happening. Fright fans looking for on-the-nose Paranormal Activity-like visual set-pieces could walk away underwhelmed, as the film’s climatic ”reveals” will, for some viewers, be somewhat of an unearned cop out (or, worse yet, overly obvious). However, that doesn’t mean that the film fails to present plenty of tense, albeit grounded, moments.
Moviegoers looking for a unique horror-thriller experience, who find the “real time” premise intriguing, are likely to enjoy Silent House in spite of its flaws – since the film manages to succeed in a number of its lofty ambitions. Unfortunately, the fundamental structure of the movie prevents the experience from doing anything more than immersing an audience in the moment to moment situation – leaving the characters and over-arching storyline struggling to gain traction or lay a workable foundation for the film’s finale.
Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.
Disney’s sci-fi/fantasy epic John Carter opens in theaters this weekend. Based on the science-fiction series by Edgar Rice Burroughs that influenced multiple genres and enduring properties such as Superman, Star Wars and, ultimately, even Avatar, John Carter follows the story of a an embittered Civil War veteran who makes an unlikely journey to Barsoom (Mars) where the lovely and fierce Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) and the warrior Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe) seek to enlist him to fight in a brutal planetary conflict.
We had the chance to sit down with the film’s star Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, the upcoming Battleship) at the John Carter junket in gorgeous Comfort, AZ to talk about the fight training, and the physical and emotional marathon that was John Carter, as well as potential sequels.
Screen Rant: One of the elements that stands out in the film is the stunt work. There are some really fun moments that revolve around the conceit that you are less bound by the gravitational pull on Mars. Can you talk about some of the physical training you had to do for the film?
Taylor Kitsch: “A lot of sword training. I had a guy come into Austin while I was finishing the fourth season of ‘Friday Night Lights.’ Then it was just a diet regimen of an incredibly boring diet for eleven months. Four months before and seven during shooting. And then wire training. The whole shebang. And then, of course, the standard gym workouts to get to that certain aesthetic. It was more of a marathon, and that’s why it was so tough. To do it for that long takes a lot out of you. And plus, shooting six day weeks, and being in arguably every scene of the film, it took a lot to sustain it. That was the toughest part.”
SR: When Edgar Rice Burroughs initially published A Princess of Mars (the first in the Barsoom series) in 1917 it was fifty years after the American Civil War. Enough time for it to be somewhat fresh in the memory but also with enough distance to be more objective. Putting his character, John Carter, in the middle of the a civil war on Mars gave him the freedom to make parallels to what had happened here in the United States and to make a comment about war in general. With the movie coming out nearly a hundred years later, what do you feel like it’s linking to in our contemporary world?
TK: “I think he was just so ahead of his time. And how applicable those books are now is uncanny. From racism to religion, it’s kinda scary that they’re still very prevalent now, those issues. And then of course war with all the revolutions going on, and us being engaged with 50 of them. I think it’s incredible. I think he was truly ahead of his time.”
SR: One of the things that I thought was interesting about your character’s journey was that you begin by refusing to fight. You refuse to be a party to the goals of an army after what you suffered in the Civil War. But then, through the course of your time on Mars, you end up feeling as though a person should take a stand, even if it means you’re going to war.
TK: “I guess it was taking a stand, but, I mean, I think it was more for the love of his life. I think it was more for her and finding that purpose again. [In the Civil War] he paid the ultimate price for trying to do the right thing and leaving, going to war, to protect his family. By doing that, he lost them. And he carried that guilt with him. Hence, not wanting to reengage. And then, of course, a woman (Princess Dejah Thoris) comes into his life and turns that light back on, which I think only a woman could have done to him at that point.”
SR: You have a couple of intensely emotional scenes in flashbacks to the family John Carter lost in the Civil War. Can you talk about what it was like to shoot those?
TK: “I go back to it being such a marathon. That was one of the toughest days I’ve ever had as an actor. If I’m working on ‘Friday Night Lights,’ or even Kev Carter (in ‘The Bang Bang Club’) who was a suicidal drug addicted photo journalist, I go to rehearsal and I do two takes and I’m done for the day. You can do it in forty minutes, if that. And with Carter, it was like we got to do this whole flashback in one day, so for twelve hours you’re in that state of mind. So that was something that was really tough. And then just the importance of it. If those things don’t float, if they don’t work in the movie, the movie is just another movie, you know? And that’s everything to me. I wanted to latch in and take you guys through that. More than anything, the most important thing for me was to do those scenes justice.”
SR: You’ve spoken about wanting to do a variety of characters, films and genres. Are you contractually obligated to do sequels for ‘John Carter’ and ‘Battleship?’
TK: “I am. I’ve signed on for three for both.”
SR: And are they talking to you about that already?
TK: “I won’t listen to it. I hear things. You get so worked up about it. Only because I care so much, and I’d love to do it again with (Andrew) Stanton, the director of ‘John Carter,’ and Pete (Berg) the director of ‘Battleship.’ I haven’t heard much about ‘Battleship’ yet. I hear a lot about ‘John Carter’ in a good way, so we’ll see. It was just an amazing set. And we’re a family. We truly are. And it’s a rare thing in this business to have one mate from a job, let alone create a family within it. So yeah. I’d love to.”
Roth Cornet blogs at Screen Rant.
Lionsgate recently released a clip from the film, focusing on the meeting of protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) with Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), the stylist who designs her outfits for the titular Hunger Games.
While most of the citizens of the Capitol of Panem – the world of The Hunger Games – are contented with the Games’ existence, Cinna is considerably less contented, which is part of the reason why he sympathizes so much with Katniss. In the clip below, Cinna discusses his unconventional plans for designing Katniss’ uniform. (SPOILER ALERT!) They involve fire.
Check out the clip:
If there’s one thing that feels a bit clunky about the clip above, it’s the constant infodump for the sole benefit of the audience. In the book, everything that Cinna says about sponsors and “coal miners’ outfits” and how they usually dress the tributes is the sort of thing Katniss would already know. Hence, it’s referenced almost exclusively in her internal monologue, as it should be.
Here, the dialogue is the vehicle for the exposition, which is a problem that YA fantasy/sci-fi adaptations – the early Harry Potters, for example – have run into before.
Hopefully, it’s less of a problem after most of the world-building of the film has been established early on. The trailers have, in this writer’s humble opinion, been fairly excellent so far, so let’s cross our fingers that that’s an indication of the overall quality of the film.
What say you, Hunger Games fans? Does the featured clip excite you? Get your Hunger Games blood going? Let us know in the comments.
The Hunger Games hits theaters March 23rd, 2012.
Ben Moore blogs at Screen Rant.
The prehistoric adventures of the Shannon family in Terra Nova have come to a end on Fox, as the network has announced that they will not be renewing the series for a second season. Fortunately, Terra Nova may still continue on another network.
Simply confirming Terra Nova’s nonrenewal late Monday evening, no statement about its cancelation had been released by the network.
Bad news guys, Terra Nova has been cancelled by Fox.
While Terra Nova may have been canceled by Fox, 20th Century TV (the studio that produces the series) is still attempting to bring Terra Nova season 2 to air on another television network, though no negotiations have been announced yet.
Returning to Twitter, O’Mara confirmed the plans to continue Terra Nova on another network.
Bad news guys. #TerraNova has been cancelled by @FoxBroadcasting – we’re gonna try and get another network to do it. Stand by : (
Premiering in September 2011, Terra Nova was considered a television experiment by the network. With high upfront costs stemming for lofty visual concepts, Terra Nova attempted to bring the beauty of theatrical visual effects to television audiences. With a pilot that reportedly cost $14 million, Terra Nova premiered to 9.2 million viewers. Unfortunately, by the time the first season of Terra Nova came to a close, only 7.2 million viewers tuned in.
And while Terra Nova may have lost its way (and its viewers) along the way, Fox’s president of entertainment Kevin Reily revealed that Terra Nova is actually considered a success for everyone involved, with both the network and studio making money on the project.
Though Terra Nova was a fiscally successful project, it’s unlikely that the series will find a new home on another network – at least on a network that could support the $4 million per episode cost.
Even if the series were able to continue on a new network – which would likely be on cable – the cost of the budget would be cut significantly, thus removing the series’ ability to ever reach those lofty visual goals that it originally had set for itself.
So while Terra Nova could continue on another network, perhaps its best to leave the Shannon family in the land of the lost.
Anthony Ocasio blogs at Screen Rant.
Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins is following in the foot$teps of fellow Young Adult authors J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and Stephenie Meyer (Twilight) by turning her series of novels into a blockbuster movie franchise – one that is already setting records for advanced ticket sales. However, the eager early ticket buyers were most likely those who were already fans of The Hunger Games novels; the movie’s appeal to the general public will rest entirely on the quality of the film that director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) has put together.
Of all the many opinions on The Hunger Games movie that will be forthcoming in the next few weeks, there is almost certainly one opinion that matters more than the rest: that of Suzanne Collins herself. Well, the author has now seen the finished version of her story onscreen; read on to hear her thoughts.
This is what Collins posted on her Facebook Page regarding The Hunger Games movie:
I’ve just had the opportunity to see the finished film of The Hunger Games. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I feel like the book and the film are individual yet complementary pieces that enhance one another. The film opens up the world beyond Katniss’ point of view, allowing the audience access to the happenings of places… like the Hunger Games control room and President Snow’s rose garden, thereby adding a new dimension to the story.
Director Gary Ross has created an adaptation that is faithful in both narrative and theme, but he’s also brought a rich and powerful vision of Panem, its brutality and excesses, to the film as well. His world building’s fantastic, whether it be the Seam or the Capitol. It’s amazing to see things that are suggested in the book fully developed and so brilliantly realized through the artistry of the designers.
And, my God, the actors. The cast, led by the extraordinary Jennifer Lawrence, is absolutely wonderful across the board. It’s such a pleasure to see how they’ve embodied the characters and brought them to life.
So I’d like to sincerely thank all the many people who devoted their time and talents to the film, especially producers Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik, and the excellent teams at Color Force, Larger Than Life, and Lionsgate.
I hope you enjoy the film!
Now, first reaction might be to say that Collins would praise the film no matter what, given the stake she has in its success. But really, that’s kind of a cynical (and specious) stance to take. Plenty of authors past and present (and future) have seen their work translated from page to screen, and have been very vocal about the fact that little or much was lost in that translation. Then there are writers on the level of eccentric comic book icon Alan Moore, who has such disdain for movie adaptations that he severs all ties from any film based on his work (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), going so far as to prohibit the filmmakers from using his name anywhere in the film credits or promotional materials.
I say all that to say: Collins doesn’t have to play it false. So if she is saying that she liked the film, the cast, and how Gary Ross (an Oscar-nominated director, mind you) and his team have widened the scope of the book (which is told exclusively from Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) point of view) and brought the world of Panem to life in gorgeous detail….well, there’s no reason to doubt that she had that genuine reaction to the film.
But again, whether or not those who aren’t already attached to these characters and story will walk away with such shining praise remains to be seen.
Kofi Outlaw blogs at Screen Rant.
(This recap features MAJOR SPOILERS for the episode ‘Judge, Jury, Executioner.’ Stop Reading If you have not yet seen the episode.)
After the well-paced zombie killing antics of last week’s ‘18 Miles Out,’ The Walking Dead returns to where it is more comfortable, by focusing on the internal squabbles of the survivors – but this time the argument centers on the worth of a man’s life. While everyone else seems to think executing Randall (Michael Zegen) is in the group’s best interest, Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) does his best to dissuade whomever he can in ‘Judge, Jury, Executioner.’
Randall’s future looks pretty bleak from the onset, as the group’s resident ear collector (Daryl) puts his apparent apathy to good use by torturing the young man for information regarding the group he was traveling with. Daryl (Norman Reedus) knocks Randall around for a bit, but when he’s not getting the right kind of answers, puts his knife in Randall’s gnarly leg wound from ‘Triggerfinger.’ The cringe inducing technique is enough to get Randall to spill the beans on what kind of group he’s been with, and the details are less than encouraging (The Governor, perhaps?).
Supported by the information that Randall’s companions are both heavily armed and prone to violence toward women, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) finds it difficult to see another solution besides killing him. Naturally, having championed (read: forced) Andrea (Laurie Holden) into choosing life at the end of last season, the sentence of death does not sit well with Dale.
‘Judge, Jury, Executioner’ takes a David Milch (Luck) approach to storytelling, in that it begins in the morning and plays out until the end of a single day. Most of that day is spent with Dale visiting various members of the group, and begging them to take his side with regards to the execution of Randall. He first visits Andrea, and manages enough of an appeal that the former civil rights lawyer agrees to stand watch, lest anyone (read: Shane) get the idea to remove Randall ahead of schedule.
Next, Dale meets with Daryl and Hershel, but to little avail. Hershel seems wracked with self-doubt after the barn incident and is driven mainly by a need to protect his daughters, so Hershel places his faith in Rick. On the other hand, seeing as how Daryl happily bloodied his knuckles with Randall’s face, it’s a wonder Dale even bothered talking with him. The discussion does raise the notion that the group is broken, and once more brings up the fact that everyone seemingly knew Shane (Jon Bernthal) killed Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince), but no one – especially Rick – was bothered by it enough to do anything about it.
While Dale is making his rounds, Carl (Chandler Riggs) decides now is his moment to lose it, and start acting like a complete tool. He began the day by sneaking into the barn to have a brief chat with the captive, and then has some choice words for Carol (Melissa Suzane McBride) about her spiritual beliefs regarding her daughter Sophia.
Following his father’s reprimanding, Carl skulks around Daryl’s fly-ridden hang out and manages to come up with a handgun from Daryl’s belongings. Spurred on by his newly inflated sense of self-esteem, Carl goes exploring and stumbles upon a walker that’s gotten himself stuck in the mud near a small creek. After realizing the walker is immobile, Carl proceeds to antagonize it, getting dangerously close while brandishing the handgun. Inevitably, the walker breaks free enough to lunge at the boy, causing Carl to lose the handgun and make a run for safety.
As the sun sets on the day, Dale makes his final appeal to the group as a whole, where even his frequent ally Glenn (Steven Yuen), can’t seem to muster the justification to keep Randall from his death sentence. And with that, it appears Randall will be executed in the barn – but Rick’s hand is swayed by Carl’s arrival and encouragement of his father to pull the trigger. Rick relents, and Randall is once more remanded to custody.
Dale, sickened by what has transpired, walks out into a field in search of solace, but instead stumbles upon one of Hershel’s cows that has been eviscerated and is slowly dying. Poor Dale has only a fraction of a second before he is tackled by the ginger-bearded-walker Carl was provoking earlier. Despite the group’s best efforts to reach him, Dale is ripped open by the walker just mere seconds before Daryl can dispatch it.
The group gathers around the dying man, with Carl making the connection between Dale’s condition and his irresponsibility earlier in the day. Although Rick steps up to handle the unpleasantness, it is Daryl, who after quietly saying goodbye, puts the gun to Dale’s head and pulls the trigger.
Although much of the suspense for the rest of season 2 was lessened by a website faux pas earlier in the week, this episode will certainly have many fans talking about Dale’s gruesome exit from the show.
Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.
The topic of loss can be something of a hard sell to audiences. In addition to the different feelings loss and mourning may evoke in all of us, it has the tendency to bog the viewer down with an ever-present cue to the frame of mind they should be in. Some dramas have handled the concept very well – albeit in small doses – while others ride the lowest common denominator all the way to ratings glory. The key, it seems, is to utilize the concept of death and loss, and from it build a convincing story that holds some value beyond reminding us of the eventuality we all face. Thankfully, NBC’s newest drama, Awake, manages such a feat.
By now you likely know the concept: Los Angeles police detective Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) wakes from a horrific car wreck to find himself split between two realities – one where his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) survived, and one where his son Rex (Dylan Minnette) lived. As he alternates back and forth between the two planes, he must face the notion that although both of his loved ones still exist on a part-time basis for him, Britten’s wife and son are left in a world where the other no longer lives. Awake is, at once, heart-wrenching and compelling, and it is easily one of the best dramas on television, right now.
The project comes from screenwriter Kyle Killen, whose last two projects, FOX’s Lone Star and The Beaver, garnered him a hefty dose of critical acclaim, even though neither project managed to find a large audience. Notably, when it comes to Awake, certain thematic elements regarding duality and the idea of separate, but connected lives led by the series’ protagonist, are shared with the con man of Killen’s Lone Star. So, if nothing else, its clear that Killen is interested in revisiting themes that he obviously didn’t get to explore the first time around.
Right off the bat, though, Awake feels like a completely different animal – one that is more mature and interested in examining itself through thought-provoking ideas, which it is capable of since it is not constrained by the burden of perpetuating a con. Instead, Awake has the realm of the unknown to play in, and it does so by leaving many questions unanswered, yet still manages to tell a thoughtful and complete story in the series’ pilot.
For Britten, his seemingly fractured world is the only way in which the life he had prior to the accident can still exist, and he sees it as a better alternative to the permanent loss his wife and child must endure. This reluctance to see his two realities as either a dream or coping mechanism brought about by a combination of grief and guilt vexes his two therapists, Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong) and Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones).
And this is where the series cleverly utilizes its concept in an original fashion. While Britten accepts his situation by going on with his life(s), working with his partners, Det. Isaiah Freeman (Steve Harris) or Det. Efram Vega (Wilmer Valderama), and coming home to either his wife or his child, neither of his therapists can accept this. Lee and Evans both implore Britten to reject the other’s hypothesis, and accept them as the true reality. But their patient is not convinced that one or the other is necessarily false – he is of the mind that the two are real, and his moving between them makes him whole.
The intriguing thing is that Britten does not need any convincing, and maybe it’s everyone else who can’t handle the thought that they may not exist. Each therapist is adamant in providing irrefutable proof that the other reality does not and cannot be real, but the evidence they provide is really just to confirm their reality is not a construct of Det. Britten’s troubled mind.
Naturally, the episode (and perhaps the series, too) is rife with symbolism that serves to inform which reality Britten is in, but also hints at larger questions. There is the significance of the colors red and green, representing Hannah and Rex, respectively, and those specific colors pop up in each reality with enough frequency to suggest something is amiss. Additionally, there is the sense that an ambiguous force is subtly dictating events.
Several times throughout the pilot, Isaacs refers to “they,” which is obviously his superiors, but like the colors it is mentioned enough to suggest another element. They, who are they? There is a feeling of persons unknown who are pulling the strings and dictating, with subtle gestures, the events in Britten’ life. They = his superiors, but perhaps they = something more. They want to know if Britten is fit for duty, and they are peppering Det. Vega with questions about Britten’s capacity to do his job.
There is also the question of the accident, and Britten’s elevated blood alcohol level. Is Britten responsible for his son/wife’s death? He cannot remember the events that led to the accident, so that mystery is yet to be solved, but like Det. Freeman said, solved and fixed are not the same thing. This could prove simply to be a byproduct of the intrigue surrounding the nature of the program, so it will be interesting to see if it manifests in later episodes.
In regards to the pilot, which was directed by David Slade (30 Days of Night, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), Awake is beautifully realized in both performance and style. Utilizing his cinematographer from Days and Hard Candy, Jo Willems (who coincidentally also shot the pilot for FOX’s Touch), Slade manages to craft two separate, but equally believable realities. Given that many key scenes consist of only dialogue between Isaacs and either B.D. Wong or Cherry Jones, Slade still manages to pull an entertaining and swift moving hour of television from Killen’s remarkable script.
The most intriguing aspect of Awake, however, is the cast. Killen and executive producer Howard Gordon (Homeland, 24) have assembled a group of actors committed to portraying interesting characters, not caricatures, like so many other programs. Isaacs is unquestionably persuasive as Britten, which, given the diversity of his past film credits, really shows off a natural ability to embody a myriad of roles and make them all feel at once familiar yet original.
High marks as well to Laura Allen and Dylan Minnette, who are primarily tasked with being signifiers of grief, but still manage to make Hannah and Rex into actual people. Allen in particular, takes the notion of coping mechanisms and, instead of making them a point of direct conflict, guides them into potential worry down the line. Redecorating, enrolling in school, moving, getting pregnant…Hannah is moving a mile a minute, and her trajectory is going to put her at odds with Britten’s need to maintain his duality. Yet through it all, Allen convincingly portrays Hannah with a sense of sorrow and intense desire to move on.
In the end, the viewer comes to want the existence of two realities to be as real as Britten does. The moment when the two realities cross over actually comes off as an interesting way to engage the viewer in the procedural aspect of Britten’s job, but also forces Britten to make more of his situation than simply coping with the loss of his loved ones. Again, it is the hint of something more, driving the purpose of this duality that comes to light in the articles of importance as they relate to each case Britten is investigating.
One of the best things about Awake is the way it expertly avoids many of the clichés that are so often attached to dramas of this nature. Those grieving aren’t prone to violent outburst or flights of recklessness that have become stock Hollywood examples of dealing with a loss. Instead, most of the characters, and especially Britten, choose to internalize the grief and cope by listening to what is said to them, and choosing to respond with contemplation, as opposed to a flat out counter. It is key that Britten listens to his therapists, even though he may disagree, otherwise the interplay between them, which is arguably the cornerstone of this story, will not work. Thankfully, Awake handles that interaction skillfully – specifically when Dr. Evans tells Britten to communicate to Dr. Lee that the whole situation is not as simple as he makes it sound. And that’s just it: Awake is not as simple as it may sound, and that is the beauty of this incredibly gripping show.
Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.
Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, would have been 108-years-old this Friday, March 2nd and in celebration of the event, Universal Pictures is unveiling their latest contribution to the Seussian canon of adaptations: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.
The film boasts an impressive voice cast that includes Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Ed Helms, Betty White and of course, The Lorax himself, Danny DeVito. DeVito was present at a roundtable press event for the film earlier this month and spoke a bit about what drew him to the project, his work translating the film into four languages and the crotchety creature that is The Lorax.
We presented our very Geisel visit to the edit bay of The Lorax as well as our interview with producer Christopher Meledandri back in January. Now let us see what the protector of the trees has to say about this modernized version of a classic tale. And in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, remind ourselves of some of the magic and wisdom of The Lorax.
“It all started back. Such a long, long time back. Way back in the days when the grass was still green, and the pond was still wet, and the clouds were still clean, and the song of the Swomee swans rang out in space. One morning I came to this glorious place.” – The Oncel-er, ‘The Lorax’
The Lorax, the film, is the story of a man (the Once-ler, voiced by Ed Helms) in need of redemption and a boy (Ted, voiced by Zac Efron) seeking to understand the world around him and to win the heart of a girl (Audrey, voiced by Taylor Swift). At its heart, there is a message about respecting our resources and being honest and realistic about their limits – for all of our sakes.
“The wonderful thing about ‘The Lorax’ is that it offers that message to folks,” DeVito said of the film.
“It isn’t like beating them over the head. I found that to be really well done, well mounted and well exhibited. Because the only thing, really, that the Once-ler did wrong besides get greedy with the thneeds (the product the Once-ler is seeking to sell in the tale) was that he didn’t provide for the earth in any other way. And that’s a message that we can take away. It’s not that we can’t be inventive, or think of things to sell, or make or manufacture, but the idea is that if we are going to take the goods from the earth, the supplies and the materials, then we should think about the sustainability of it, the replenishing of it.”
The Lorax: “Sir, you’re crazy. You’re crazy with greed. There’s no one on earth who will buy that fool thneed!”
The Once-ler:” The birth of an industry, you poor, stupid guy! You telling me what the public will buy?” — ‘The Lorax’
“Greed,” DeVito mused about one of the films central themes.
“We operate most of the time based on greed and fear. And that’s the thing, somebody will scare the hell out of us and we’ll follow them anywhere. I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan and he does a monologue in the middle of one of his songs where he talks about blindly following our leaders. And its true, we all have to be aware, and get involved, and be calling people on stuff because we can’t just say that just because he has the shiny hat and the badge he knows everything.”
DeVito clearly feels passionately about this project, so much so that he was willing to devote several weeks to working with language coaches to personally translate his role in The Lorax into Spanish, Italian, German and Russian so that the spirit of the character would come through no matter which version of the film the viewer experienced it in.
“I set out to speak to the kids in the audience as well as their parents,” DeVito said of his interpretation of the character.
“But I also wanted my fans who know me from other kinds of movies, or other TV shows, like say, ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,’ to think this is like Frank Reynolds doing the Lorax. I felt we captured that idea really well. There’s a cantankerous quality (to the character) that I see in myself. The stuff that I found surprising was that the sweetness kind of worked out too. I felt like the Lorax had a sweetness about him. “
As to the film’s conservationist core, DeVito says he thinks about what he can do towards that end, “all the time.” He drives a 100% electric car (which he makes a rather convincing pitch for), uses 7th generation toilet paper and only cloth napkins at home among other green measures he and his family have taken. “The idea is that it’s a little bit more work, but it pays off in the environment in the end,” DeVito said. “It’s like Dr. Seuss said: unless someone like you…meaning everybody out there, meaning all of us, meaning me…”
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” –‘The Lorax.’
Roth Cornet blogs at Screen Rant.
Believe it or not, just over two months are now left in the countdown to the release of Marvel’s The Avengers. The comic book movie studio has been especially busy cranking up the buzz surrounding its estimated $300 million superhero juggernaut over the last week, to help heighten anticipation for today’s unveiling of a second official trailer.
The new Avengers trailer is now online and unlike previous trailers, it basically dives head-first into the plot of the film. While a good deal of the mystery surrounding Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his powerful alien army remains in place, the stakes have now been made clear and the stage is set for Earth’s most powerful superheroes to unite in its defense.
Overall, there’s a lot to admire in this new Avengers footage as far as sheer action spectacle and the scale of everything is concerned. Between sequences of Hulk rescuing a downed Iron Man and vast alien vessels laying ruin to metropolitan landscapes (among other noteworthy moments) it looks like Marvel’s money has been well spent. More so, this is the first trailer to suggest that The Avengers may truly be worth the price of admission for either a 3D and/or IMAX screening, based on some of the more elaborate shots and action sequences teased here.
Rather than divulge the secrets of Loki’s forces just yet, this new Avengers trailer instead highlights the clashing of personalities and difficult team dynamic between the various members of the Avengers Initiative. Chalk up another early point for writer/director Joss Whedon, as he appears to have recognized that the conflicts between the various superheroes who make up The Avengers are (in many respects) just as important as the exterior ones they’re working against.
As for all those brief scenes where the Avengers are (literally) at each other’s throats? Well, don’t forget Tom Hiddleston’s promise that Loki will be up to more mind games in The Avengers. Should be fun to see how that plays out, to say the least…
Without further ado, we present the epic second official trailer for The Avengers:
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.