Saturday, June 17, 2017

Beyond Whose Line, Part 1: Drew Carey Productions

                The most famous Improvisational comedy show of the last 20 years, the US Version of Whose Line is it Anyway? originally ran from 1998 to 2004 on ABC, with unreleased previously recorded episodes premiering on ABC Family from 2005 to 2007.  The show is enjoying a revival on the CW, with a fifth season on that network (hosted by Aisha Tyler), which premiered on May 29, 2017.  After Whose Line ended, Drew Carey, the host of the show, looked for ways to continue to perform with the cast members.  Here are three shows Drew Carey did with Whose Line cast members.
                While Whose Line was still on the air, Drew Carey did a live Pay-Per-View special in 2001 called Drew Carey’s Improv All-Stars for Showtime Entertainment Television.  The live show, which utilized some of the Whose Line games but also introduced new ones, as well having Drew Carey, Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, Brad Sherwood, Greg Proops, Kathy Kinney, Chip Esten from Whose Line, and new performers Sean Masterson and Julie Larson, with Laura Hall providing music.  From there, Carey and the Improv All-Stars would tour occasionally, the most frequent being after Whose Line ended production in 2003.  In 2005, Drew Carey and the Improv All-Stars went on a 37 city nationwide tour, called the Green Screen Tour.  While Carey and the Improv All-Stars have not toured together for quite a while, smaller groups from the All-Stars have formed their own live shows, which continue to tour today. 
                In the fall of 2004, Drew Carey returned to television with the CW premiere of Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show.  Drew Carey got the idea from a Whose Line game called “Moving People” where two audience members would move the bodies of the performers, and Carey thought it would be funny to see the cast members without the audience members.  Like Improv All-Stars, Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show, featured more than just four players for each show.  The cast included Brad Sherwood, Colin Mochrie, Jeff Davis, Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Jonathan Mangum, Sean Masterson, Julie Larson and Kathy Kinney.  The performers would act in from a green screen and later, animators would be brought in to animate the scenes that the performers would act out.  The show also featured games not originally on the Whose Line show.  Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show premiered on October 7, 2004, before it was removed for poor rating with only five episodes aired, and the show was ultimately cancelled.  Drew Carey then took the remaining seven episodes to Comedy Central, which aired in the fall of 2005, giving a total of twelve episodes of Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show.
                In 2011, Drew Carey tried again to make a Improv Show, this time called Drew Carey’s Impov-A-Ganza.  This show was most like the live tour, with some games featured on Whose Line and some featured on Improv All-Stars and the Green Screen show.  The cast included Ryan Stiles, Jeff Davis, Chip Esten, Colin Mochrie, Jonathan Mangum, Greg Proops, Kathy Kinney, Brad Sherwood, Heather Anne Campbell, Sean Masterson, and Wayne Brady.  It was recorded at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Bob Derkach provided the music.  The show premiered on April 11, 2011 on the Game Show Network and aired weeknights until June 3rd, totaling forty episodes.  Although all forty episodes aired, GSN declined to renew for more episodes, leaving Drew Carey’s Impov-A-Ganza with only one season to its name.
                Drew Carey’s lesser known improv shows may not be as well known as Whose Line is It Anyway?, but still provide as many laughs as the classic show.  Check out these Whose Line-related Drew Carey television productions.Who 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Infernal Affairs and The Departed [Spoilers]

WARNING: This post spoils both Infernal Affairs and the Departed.  You have been warned!
                The Departed’s premise looks on paper to be the craziest of ideas: a mole for a gang infiltrates the police force, while the police force also places a mole inside the gang.  However, in the hands of a master director, Martin Scorsese, and an all-star cast, Leonardo DeCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Martin Sheen, the movie won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The excellent movie The Departed (2006) was, in turn, a remake of a Hong Kong movie, whose English Title is Infernal Affairs (2002).  This post will highlight the differences and similarities between the two movies, in terms of plot and overall message. 
                One of the biggest differences is at the very beginning: In the beginning of the Departed, a young Colin Sullivan (the future mole for a Boston Irish Mob gang) is taken under the wing of crime boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who gives him special attention.  On the other hand, in Infernal Affairs, young Lau Kin-Ming is part of an initiation ceremony where several gang members pledge to become the gang boss Hon Sam’s eyes and ears inside the police force.  In the Departed, he was paid special attention, but in Infernal Affairs, he was one of many.  Another early scene difference: in The Departed, Billy Costigan is recruited, following his graduation by the police academy, by Captain Oliver Queenan (Martin Sheen) to go undercover based on his family background in organized crime, and go to jail for a short time on a fake assault charge.  In Infernal Affairs, no such scene exists, instead, in a montage of scenes in the police academy, Chen Wing-yan, is at first impressed by Superintendant Wong Chi-shing, but then is “kicked out” and goes to a life of petty crime, which attracts the attention of crime boss Hon Sam, and his background is revealed later.  In The Departed, the scene fills in much of the exposition, while in Internal Affairs, the viewers have to fill in the details themselves. 
                In an early scene in both movies, the police find out about an illegal black market trade and both times, the mole inside the police tips them off, so that the crime boss gets away without a charge on his back.  Both times, this tips off the higher ups that there is a mole in the other’s organization.  One major change in Internal Affairs is that the entire gang is brought to the police station and both Hon and Wong allege that they know the other has a mole inside their organization and they will find them.  No such confrontational scene exists in The Departed.  Probably the scene, while tense, was considered too unbelievable to be put in the movie.  Another scene in Internal Affairs but not in The Departed occurs directly after the montage at the Academy: Lau enters and tries to buy audio equipment from Chen, who runs a “hi-fi” store (this sets up Chen’s knowledge with audio equipment).
                One of the biggest differences has to do with the supporting characters: In The Departed, Colin Sullivan (Damon) romances psychiatrist Madolyn Madden, who is assigned to be Billy Costigan's psychiatrist after his release from prison (DeCaprio).  Sullivan eventually moves in with Madolyn.  Madolyn has a confrontational relationship with Billy while his psychiatrist, but after she tells him she no longer wants to be his psychiatrist, she starts meeting Billy in secret, eventually having an affair with him late in the movie.  Later on, Madolyn reveals to Billy that she is pregnant.  In Infernal Affairs, Lau, the mole inside the police force, meets and moves in with his girlfriend Mary, a writer.  Chen, the mole in the gang, on the other hand, meets with a psychiatrist named Dr. Lee Sum-yee and flirts with her, but she has no connections to anyone else in the movie.  Chen also randomly meets ex-girlfriend May midway through the film with her daughter, and May lies about her daughter’s age because he doesn’t want Chen to know the daughter is his.  In both versions, both Madolyn in the Departed and Mary in Infernal Affairs find out their boyfriend is a mole from a recording sent by the mole inside the gang.  In Infernal Affairs, Mary leaves him after finding out.  However, in the Departed, Madolyn attends Billy’s funeral and refuses to speak with Colin.  The twist that Madolyn is romancing both moles in the Departed gives much more drama to both relationships.  However, the interactions in Infernal Affairs are much more realistic and believable, with no connections in their romantic lives.  While it didn’t change the plot very much, a supporting character not in Infernal Affairs is Staff Sergeant Dean Dignam, who is very confrontational and is quick to anger.  He hates Colin Sullivan, the mole in the police force and makes his feelings well-known throughout the movie.  He also gets into a fight with Billy, the mole in the gang, when during a meeting with him and Captain Queenan for information about the gang. 
                The final act of The Departed follows the actions of Infernal Affairs to the letter, from the police chief caught and thrown off a building, to another bust in which this time with the mole inside the police force pulling the strings to the crime boss will fail, to the mole in the gang being brought in, the mole in the gang finding out who the mole in the police force is, the former mole in the gang trying to arrest the mole in the police force, but the former mole is shot by another officer who used to be a mole in the police force.  The mole in the police force shoots the other officer so no one knows his true identity.  There is a funeral for the mole in the gang, giving him full honors. 
However, there are numerous subtle differences during the climax between the two movies, and a big one at the ending.  For example, in The Departed, Colin Sullivan, the mole inside the police force, finds out that the crime boss Frank Costello might be an informant to the FBI.  Costello escapes during the bust gone wrong and is confronted, alone, by Sullivan, and Costello admits he was an FBI informant (which could expose Sullivan’s role in the police force).  Costello aims his gun to shoot Sullivan but Sullivan volleys multiple shots at Costello.  In Infernal Affairs, no type of FBI connection is brought up.  Lau, the mole in the police force, also confronts Hon alone after the bust goes bad, but this time instead of confronting Hon about his secret connections, kills Hon, unarmed, to sever his connection with his old life completely.  At the very end, in The Departed, after getting away scot-free from his crimes, Colin Sullivan enters his apartment and is shot dead by Dignam, who had prepared to get away clean.  The last shot is of a rat crawling along the outside of Colin’s apartment.  However, Infernal Affairs ends at the funeral, where Lau gets away scot-free.  He salutes Chen and wishes he would have taken a different route in life.  The endings in the two movies emphasize different things: In The Departed, there was no way for Colin to miss his comeuppance.  Even though he killed all of the people who would have reported him, in the end, he was done in by another officer who hated him, Dignam.  The rat symbolized Sullivan’s life as a “rat” for the gang, not a true police officer by any measure.  In Infernal Affairs, Lau gets a personal victory, he is seen a respected police officer and gets away with crimes as a informer to the gang and a murderer, but at the expense of his innocence and his soul.  A reference is made to a level in Hell in Buddhism called Avici, where one endures suffering incessantly, without end.  In fact, the literal English translation is “The Unceasing Path,” which refers to Avici.  While Lau lived, he nevertheless was in his own private hell of Avici, dealing with the choices he made to keep his position as respected police officer.
Both movies excel with two aspects: the destruction of the soul of Colin and Lau, the mole inside the police force, and the eventual breakdown and moral clarity of Chen and Billy, the mole in the gang. Both the Departed and Infernal Affairs’ basic plot are the same, but the differences show how each film was tailored each countries’ audience, such as the Hong Kong ending where Lau lives but suffers through his own private hell, or the American ending where Sullivan gets his comeuppance for his actions as a rat no matter how hard he tries to tie up all the loose ends.  The Departed and Infernal Affairs are both excellent movies which depict the costs of living double lives, with different ways and different emphasis on telling their stories.  

Summer 2017 Schedule: Beyond Whose Line Summer!

Just like last year, blogs are back to once a month for the summer.  Also like last summer, there will be a series.  This series will be all the improvisational shows that hosts/cast members/creators have done beyond Whose Line is it Anyway?  The schedule is as follows:

June: Beyond Whose Line, Part 1: Drew Carey Productions
July: Beyond Whose Line, Part 2: Cast Member Productions
August: Beyond Whose Line, Part 3: Dan Patterson/Mark Levinson Productions

Stay tuned tonight for a special double length post highlighting the plot differences between The Departed and the original Hong Kong movie Infernal Affairs!  


Friday, May 19, 2017

Arrival and Rumination on [Spoiler Spoiler]

             WARNING: This blog post spoils the 2016 movie Arrival.  You have been warned!

Actual title: Arrival and Rumination on Time Travel.
                What would you do if you knew the future, both good and bad?  Would you have a choice to change it, or are you set for that future regardless?  That is one of the questions posed by Arrival.  In Arrival, Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, a master linguist who at the start is teaching at a university, is sent to communicate with aliens who have arrived in large round ships that float in the air.  As Louise begins to decode the language, she begins having visions or flashes of her future, mainly of her time with her daughter.  She also figures out that the aliens experience not linearly, but cylindrically, being able to see time both in the present and in the future.  Thus, her understanding of the language enables her to see her to eventually her life in front of her: she will marry Ian Donnelly (a physicist also asked to communicate with the aliens), they will have a daughter together, and then the daughter will die of an incurable disease at an early age.  Louise, knowing both the happiness and tragedy before her, still decides to have her daughter Hannah. 
                Judging by Arrival’s outlook, Louise may have chosen her future, despite the knowledge.  She knows will have her daughter, and her daughter will die.  As she says to Ian after they leave the aliens for the last time, “What would you do if you could see your entire life from start to finish?  Would you change things?”  To which Ian replies, “Maybe I’d say what I felt more often?  I-I don’t know.”  All the major events in Louise would still happen, but the thing that changed would be Louise’s knowledge of it.  Louise is going to live her life with her daughter, knowing she will eventually die.  She knows that Ian will leave her when she tells him she knows about her daughter’s fate.  And she does it anyway, experiencing the life she chose to live, despite the heartache to come. 
                Or does she?  It could be argued that Louise had experienced what TV Tropes calls a “Stable Time Loop.”  In a Stable Time Loop, when a character goes back in time, the past does not change, but rather the character caused the past to happen as it did, which in turn causes said character to decide to go back in time….  For an example of this, Louise calls the Chinese General Shang just as the Shang is about to fire on the alien ship.  Meanwhile, in a vision of the future, General Shang goes to Louise at her book release event and tells her the exact thing (his wife’s dying words) that she said that stopped him from attacking the ships during the attack.  Then back in the present Louise tells Shang that exact thing and it convinces him to stand down.  Now, here in lies the dilemma: Louise could not have known what to say to Shang without Shang telling her.  The only way Shang knew to tell Louise was that she already told him in the past.  Louise in her vision from the future acted in the present, which caused that exact future. 
                The scene with Louise and Shang informs the audience of Louise’s fate: not only will she not avoid her fate with her daughter, but she also caused it to happen, which in turn gives her vision in the present of the happiness and pain to come.  In this way, Louise doesn’t have a choice, she is doomed to her life, regardless of whether she wants to or not.  There is only the unending, circular loop of time.  After all, the aliens perceive time and even write cylindrically, looping around instead of in a straight line.   Arrival may make you think that Louise has a choice, but there is no escaping the Stable Time Loop, and thus no escaping her fate with her husband and her daughter.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Celebrity Web Talk Shows

                Getting a talk show off the ground is no easy feat (look no further than the many celebrities who have tried and failed to start their own talk shows to follow the likes of Ellen Degeneres and Steve Harvey).  However, some celebrities have been able to create their own talk shows on the internet, usually with an interesting concept.   In addition, it’s a way for talk show hosts to continue with the format after their cable or network show ends.  Here are some celebrity talk shows made exclusively for the internet.
                Jerry Seinfeld created one of the most well-known sitcoms of the 1990s, Seinfeld.  In 2012, he created and starred in his own talk show creation, called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  In 2002 he made a DVD extra with him talking with Colin Quinn for the documentary Comedian.  Then he bought a VW Beetle and recorded himself driving it back with his friend Barry Marder.  Seinfeld was inspired by the experiences to create a show where Seinfeld introduces the guest to a vintage car and they both go to a coffee shop or a restaurant and have coffee, and along the way have free-flowing spontaneous conversations.  The show premiered on July 12, 2012, on the website Crackle with the first guest being Larry David (creator of Seinfeld), and the first car being a 1952 Volkswagen Beetle.  Each episode lasts anywhere between 12 to 20 minutes.  Seinfeld has nine seasons of the show, most seasons lasting about six episodes, and a total of 59 episodes have been released so far.  In January 2017, the announcement was made that Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee would be moving to Netflix after the ninth season ended on Crackle.  
                Zach Galifianakis was tapped to host Between Two Ferns on the Funny or Die website.  Between Two Ferns is a deliberate parody of the talk show concept, with the guest sitting on a bare stage between two potted ferns as if the show was on a public access network, with on-screen graphics containing errors on purpose.  Unlike the pleasant aspect of most celebrity talk shows, Zach conducts the interviews with an antagonistic attitude toward the celebrity with harsh or uncomfortable questions.  Galifianakis will also awkwardly interrupt the interview for sponsor plugs.  While there are conflicts reports of how much of the talk show is staged (Zach claims it isn’t), nevertheless the fun of the show is watching how the guests respond to the awkward and insulting Galifianakis.  The show premiered on Funny or Die on January 8, 2008, with guest Michael Cera.  There have been 21 episodes of Between the Ferns on Funny or Die, and one television special that was aired on May 6, 2012, on Comedy Central called Between Two Fern: A Fairytale of New York and featured Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, and Richard Branson. 
                Larry King, one of the most famous talk show hosts ever, signed off of his CNN talk show Larry King Live in 2010.  But not content to rest in retirement, Larry King returned to hosting talk shows with not one but two Web talk shows.  Larry King founded the company Ora TV in 2012 with funding from America Movil, which is a business venture of Carlos Slim, a Mexican billionaire.  Larry King made Larry King Now, which features King interviewing celebrities from all walks of life.  Larry King Now premiered on November 1, 2012, with Seth McFarlane as the first guest.  Larry King Now is also distributed on Hulu and RT America (formerly Russia Today).  Larry King Now already has more than 500 episodes since 2012.  Larry King also hosts a weekly, Thursday night show called Politicking with Larry King, focusing more on political guests and political topics.  Politicking with Larry King premiered on June 13, 2013, and featured Representative Aaron Schock, Democratic Strategist Peter Fenn, POLITICO Deputy Managing Editor Rachel Smolkin, and is also available on Hulu and RT America, and has over 290 episodes since 2013.  While the format of Larry King’s web talk shows is not that different from the format of his television series, nevertheless, at 83 years old, King still shows his passion for interview fascinating people.

                Web Talk Shows enable some unique content, like Jerry Seinfeld’s show or Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns.  It also enables talk show hosts to continue to do what they love, in the case of Larry King.  Check out these celebrity talk shows.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Famous Director's First Theatrical Movies, Part 15

Welcome to the fifteenth edition of Famous Director’s First Theatrical Releases.  Today we are looking at the varied talents of Terry Gilliam, Rob Reiner, and Ava DuVernay.  Let’s check out the first of many movies of these incredible directors.
                Terry Gilliam is known for his bizarre and surreal films, such as his “imagination” through “the ages of man” trilogy, Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and then his “Americana” trilogy, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  He is also well known for trying to make an adaptation of Don Quixote for many years, one version of which was famously canceled after a week of filming.  A member of the comedy team Monty Python, Gilliam had co-starred in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British sketch Television show starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin).  Gilliam had already directed two short films, Storytime, and Miracle of Flight.  Terry Gilliam first theatrical movie turns out to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which he co-directed with Terry Jones.  The movie was thought up between the third and fourth seasons (or series, as they are called in the UK) of Flying Circus.  The Python’s second movie, this was the first to feature completely original material.  Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed on location in Scotland, primarily Doune Castle, Glen Coe, and Stalker Castle.  The movie (with what little plot there is) details King Arthur and his knight’s quest for the Holy Grail, encountering a series of hilarious obstacles.  All of the Python actors played multiple roles in the film, in addition to the main roles of Arthur (Chapman), his squire (Gilliam) and his knights.  The movie was produced for a budget of $400,000 and made $5 million at the time of release (April 3, 1975, in the UK).  Today, the Gilliam and Jones directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail remains one of the most well-known Monty Python productions.
                Rob Reiner’s well known directorial efforts include Stand by Me When Harry Met Sally…, The Princess Bride, and A Few Good Men.  He is also well known as the son Michael “Meathead” on the comedy sitcom All in the Family.  But Reiner’s first theatrical movie is the hard rock/heavy metal mockumentary called This is Spinal Tap, about the fictional band on tour.  Reiner starred in the movie as a fictional version of himself, Marty Di Bergi.  Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer David Kaff played Spinal Tap Band members David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, Derek Smalls, and Viv Savage respectively.  Much of the dialogue between the three main performers and “Di Bergi” was improvised, so all of them were credited as writers for the movie.  This is Spinal Tap follows the band as they go on a disastrous tour, bogged down by low ticket sales, their newest album cover deemed sexist, an ordered prop which was supposed to 18 feet only being 18 inches.  Also included is the famous scene of Tufnel showing Di Bergi that the amps “Go to eleven.”  This is Spinal Tap has had a budget of $2 million and was released March 2, 1984.  While grossing only $4.7 million in the initial release, it became a cult hit, and many musicians credited the mockumentary for being not that different from real life on tour.  This is Spinal Tap remains one of the favorites in Reiner’s diverse lineup.
                Ava DuVernay was announced to be the director of A Wrinkle in Time, due to be released on March 9, 2018, her first big-budget movie ($103 million).  Other notable hits by DuVernay include Middle of Nowhere, Selma and the documentary 13th. Because DuVernay’s first movie is the documentary This is the Life, made in 2008 and her first fictional movie is I Will Follow, made in 2011, and since both could be considered her first film, both will be covered here.  This is the Life was made first intentionally because documentaries typically have a smaller budget than narrative films, and DuVernay could learn film-making though production of the film.  This is the Life follows the alternative hip hop movement in the 1990s at the influential Good Life Café in LA, a health food market which held open mic nights.  The movie premiered on February 9th, 2008 at the Pan-African Film Festival and in the US on March 10, 2009.  DuVernay’s first fictional film, I Will Follow, was shot in 15 days in Topanga Canyon, California.  I Will Follow is about Maye (Sali Richarson-Whitfield), a successful artist who takes a day off to deal with her Aunt’s death, and meets the twelve people in her life (her mother and ex, for example), who help her deal with her loss.  I Will Follow was released September 18, 2010, at the Urbanworld Film Festival and March 11, 2011, in the US.  The African American Film Critics Association awarded the movie Best Screenplay, also written by Ava DuVernay.  DuVernay’s work on both movies showcased her talents as a filmmaker and director.
                Gilliam, Reiner, and DuVernay each enjoyed success with their first movies.  Gilliam’s and Reiner’s first movies have only grown in popularity today, while DuVernay’s emerging talent is showcased in both her documentary and her fictional film.  Check out these first theatrical movies of these talented directors.  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Famous Director’s First Theatrical Movies, Part 14

Welcome to the fourteenth edition of Famous Director’s First Theatrical Movies.  Today we will be looking at the storied careers of Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Brian de Palma.  All of these directors have received critical acclaim for their movies, and some of those movies have gone on to be nominated or win Academy Awards.  Let’s look the first theatrical movies of these famous directors. 
                Spike Jonze’s films include Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are, and Her.  He is also a very successful commercial director and documentary short director, many of them featuring skateboarding.  Before he started directing movies, he also co-founded the short-lived magazine Dirt, aimed at young men.  In the mid-1990s, Charlie Kaufman wrote the Being John Malkovich script.  Francis Ford Coppola read the script and passed it on to his then son-in-law (he was married to Sophia Coppola at the time) Spike Jonze.  Jonze agreed to direct his first feature film in 1997.  Production began on July 20, 1998, and was filmed primarily in Los Angeles.  In Being John Malkovich, an unemployed puppeteer named Craig (John Cusack) doesn’t love his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz).  He gets a job as a file clerk on floor 7 ½ of the Martin-Flemmer building in New York City and is attracted to his co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener), who is not interested. Craig discovers a portal being a desk which puts Craig in the consciousness of John Malkovich for 20 minutes…from there follows the most bizarre love affair ever as Craig, Lotte and Maxine all experience being John Malkovich…who is also a participant with the three characters.  Being John Malkovich was made with a $13 million budget and was released on October 29, 1999.  It made $32.4 million at the Worldwide Box Office.
                Paul Thomas Anderson’s diverse films include Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and The Master.  By the early 1990s, Anderson had directed two short films, the mockumentary The Dirk Digger Story (1988) and Coffee and Cigarettes (1993).  Coffee and Cigarettes was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in their Shorts Program.  Anderson received a feature film deal from Rysher Entertainment and Anderson used the deal to direct his first feature film, which at the time was called Sydney.  In Anderson’s movie, Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is an aging gambler who runs into John (John C. Reilly), who needs money.  Sydney convinces John to teach him how to win money at gambling.  The gambling ploy paid off, and two years later John is still working with Sydney.  But then John meets a cocktail waitress and prostitute named Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow and they fall in love, leading to a dangerous situation for all three main characters.  When Anderson finished Sydney, Rysher Entertainment re-edited and re-titled the movie, now called Hard Eight.  Anderson was furious and submitted his work print to the Cannes Film Festival, where it was accepted in their Un Certain Regard category.  Rysher Entertainment ultimately allowed Anderson to finish his film – if he would front the $20,000 to complete it himself.  Anderson did with the help of several of the cast, and Hard Eight was released February 28, 1997, with a budget of $3 million.  Rysher Entertainment did not promote the film, and it made $222,559 total. 
                Brian de Palma was one of the “New Hollywood” directors that rose to prominence in the 1960s-1980s and among his most famous movies include Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Scarface, The Untouchable and the first Mission: Impossible movie.  In the 1960s, de Palma was enrolled in the theater program at Sarah Lawrence College.  He and his teacher Wilford Leach in 1963 decided to shoot their first feature, called The Wedding Party.  Starring Charles Pfluger as Charlie, a man who is about to be married and has to deal with his friends (one of them played by Robert De Niro), and his family and his bride-to-be (played by Jill Clayburgh) and her family as well on his family’s estate on Shelter Island.  Unfortunately, after the film was shot in 1963, nothing happened to the completed film for several years.  But in 1969, after De Niro was gaining more prominence as an actor, The Wedding Party was released on April 9, highlighting De Niro’s involvement (subsequent re-releases also played up De Niro’s role in the film), despite the fact that De Niro only plays a supporting role.
                All three of these directors were able to get their first movie made through connections.  Jonze made his film through his connection with Coppola, Anderson made his film through his connection with the Sundance Film Festival, and de Palma made his film through his connection with his teacher, Wilford Leach.  What you know as a filmmaker is very, very important, but sometimes it’s who you know as well. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Famous Director's First Theatrical Movies, Part 13

Welcome back to one of the longest-running features of this blog.  For twenty parts, the first theatrical films of many famous directors were explored, showing the emerging talents of some of the most famous filmmakers.  In this post, the first theatrical films of F. Gary Gray, Zach Snyder, and Kathryn Bigelow will be explored. 
                F. Gary Grey is currently riding high on the success of The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the Fast and the Furious franchise, which had the largest worldwide box office debut ever.  Other notable works by Grey include The Italian Job, The Negotiator, Straight Outta Compton, and the Friday series.  Grey’s first movie was actually Friday, released in 1995.  F. Gary Grey was an accomplished music video direct in the early 1990s, having directed videos for Ice Cube, Outkast, Dr. Dre, and Queen Latifah.  Ice Cube had written a film based on his own experiences of “life in the hood,” where he wanted to portray the lighter, more fun side of it, rather than darker side is seen in films like Boyz in the Hood.  Cube asked Grey, who at the time wanted to make his first short film and Grey accepted.  Cube asked Grey because Grey had a similar experience growing up.  The film Friday concerned one day in two friends’ lives, Craig Jones (Cube), who is recently unemployed, and Smoky, the latter of whom must find $200 for a drug dealer by midnight, with slice of life segments sprinkled throughout the day.  Friday was released April 26, 1995, with a budget of $3.5 million.  It was given a 77% score on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed $27.5 million at the box office.  The success of the movie spawned two sequels, Next Friday and Friday After Next, neither of which were directed by F. Gary Grey.
                Zach Snyder’s hyper-stylized movies bring in big money but divide critics.  His most famous films include 300, Watchmen, Man of Steel, and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Snyder had worked on music videos and other short subjects like commercials in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Snyder’s first movie was a remake of George A. Romero’s zombie movie Dawn of the Dead, due to be released in 2004.  Snyder’s most significant deviation from the original was to make the zombies fast and agile as opposed to slow and lumbering, seen in many zombie movies.  The first half of the movie was shot in chronological order in Thornhill, Ontario.  After test audiences complained about the sudden ending of the film, Snyder went to Universal Studio Hollywood to shoot more sequences on a boat and an “island.”  In this version of Dawn of the Dead, a group of people (starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, and Jake Weber) take refuge in a Midwestern Shopping Mall to get away from flesh-eating zombies.  Many fans of the original did object to Snyder’s take on the zombies.  Dawn of the Dead was released on March 19, 2004, with a budget of $26 million.  The movie was given generally positive reviews, with a 75% score on Rotten Tomatoes.  Dawn of the Dead grossed $102.4 million at the worldwide box office. 
                Kathryn Bigelow made a huge splash in 2010 when her movie, The Hurt Locker, won Best Picture at the 82nd Academy Awards.  Other notable works by Bigelow include Zero Dark Thirty, K-19: The Widowmaker, and Point Break.  In 1978, Bigelow had directed a short film titled The Set-Up.  From there, she made her first full-length movie, which had two other titles (US 17 and Breakdown) but is currently under the name The Loveless.  Bigelow used the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Study Center for help in developing the aesthetic of the film.  Production started on September 22nd and lasted 22 days.  Starring William Defoe in his first major role, he plays the leader of a biker gang which causes trouble when they enter a small town.  The Loveless was released in March 1982 in the US and was also seen in Canada, Sweden, and Switzerland.

                Grey and Snyder’s success came after years of hard work in music videos and other projects.  Bigelow’s first film likewise came after her short film was released.  All three utilized their first film as a springboard to bigger and better projects.   

Friday, April 14, 2017

Five Songs Written By Singers for Themselves -- But Found a Home with Someone Else

                While most fans of a particular artist may not realize it, there are many songs popularized by a particular artist, songs which were written by another.  Sometimes an artist may write a song, and while the song is by itself great, it has no place with the rest of the songs in the album.  Or perhaps the artist changes his, or her, or their mind about using the song themselves.  Here are some examples of songs written by other artists.
                In 2001 Avril Lavigne wrote “Breakaway” with Matthew Gerrard and Bridget Benenate.  The song was originally intended to be included on her debut album Let Go.  However, the song was declared unsuitable for her album.  The song was shopped to various artists until Kelly Clarkson agreed to record it as part of the soundtrack for The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.  The song was such a hit that Clarkson included the song on her second album and named it Breakaway in honor of the song.
                In 2007 Ryan Tedder, a prolific singer-songwriter and frontman of One Republic, and Jesse McCartney wrote the song “Bleeding Love” for McCartney’s third album Departure.  However, McCartney’s record label disliked the song, but Tedder still felt that song was “massive.” Tedder saw Leona Lewis on the British show The X Factor and worked with Simon Cowell to arrange for Lewis to record “Bleeding Love,” which became a huge international hit.  McCartney was later able to record his version on the deluxe version of Departure.
                Pink wrote “Whataya Want from Me” for her album Funhouse,” along with Max Martin and Shellback.  However, it didn’t make the cut.  In November 2009, Adam Lambert announced that “Whataya Want from Me,” would be the second single from his debut album For Your Entertainment, which became a top 10 hit in thirteen different countries.  Pink later included the song in the International Edition of her album “Greatest Hits…So Far!!”
                Gloria Estefan wrote “Let’s Get Loud” for herself with Kike Santander…but after reviewing the song, she felt it was too similar to her other material.  She passed the song on to Jennifer Lopez.  Lopez recorded a Spanish version first, called “Vivir Sin Ti” before being convinced to record it in English.  “Let’s Get Loud” was released in 1999 and became a top ten hit in five European Countries and was nominated for best dance recording.
                Today, Chris Brown is a controversial figure, because of his conviction of domestic assault and other run-ins with the law.  However, before all that, back in 2007, Chris Brown was recording a song called “Disturbia” for the re-release of his second album Exclusive.  After finishing the song, he decided to go with the song “Forever” instead.  He passed the song on to Rihanna, who recorded the song as the re-release of her own album Good Girl Gone Bad, called Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded.  “Disturbia” became a number one hit in the US, Belgium and New Zealand, and was a top ten hit in eighteen other countries. 

                While some original artists’ versions of their songs do exist, like Jesse McCartney’s “Bleeding Love” or Pink’s “Whataya Want from Me,” the other three originals may never officially see the light of day.  Sometimes the record label may pass on the original artist’s version, but sometimes the artist themselves can see the potential of another artist singing their words. Check out these five singles written by artists for themselves that became massive hits for other singers.  

Friday, April 7, 2017

After MST3K: Three Shows Done by Original Cast and Crew

                Mystery Science Theater 3000, the most popular show about riffing on bad movies, began in 1988 on local TV station KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It ended after 7 seasons on Comedy Central and 3 seasons on the Sci-Fi Channel.  Of course, MST3K is getting a lot of press right now for being renewed on Netflix after a successful Kickstarter campaign.  But before that, the original cast and writers utilized their talents together for three additional projects outside of the official MST3K franchise. 
                In the mid-2000s, after MST3K was canceled, original cast members Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy formed the comedic group The Film Crew.  At first, the comedic group was seen introducing movies on movie channels like American Movie Classics, Sundance Channel, and Encore.  But then, the group decided to move into providing commentary tracks on B-Movies, and in 2006 produced the 4 initial episodes (to be released on DVD) in association with Rhino Entertainment, who held the rights to MST3K at the time.  The premise was that the three men worked in a basement reviewing bad movies for their insane boss, Bob Rhino.  Unfortunately, Jim Mallon, a producer on the original series who also held the rights the show, thought the new idea was too similar to the original MST3k and threatened to pull the original series, and the DVDs were never released with Rhino.  Fortunately, Shout! Factory agreed to release the DVDs (which were looped for the boss to be Bob “Honcho” instead of “Rhino").  However, due to the delay in between the production of the show (sets destroyed, cast moving on to RiffTrax) and release, the short-lived show will probably never be revived.
                Mike Nelson created RiffTrax in 2006 in collaboration with Legend Films, a company which at the time specialized in restoration and colorization of films.  Nelson came up the idea of making commentaries for movies separately from the movie itself on the website RiffTrax, after realizing that releasing DVDs with the commentary would get him sued.  Of course, that meant that the viewers would have to provide the movie themselves, but that didn’t stop Nelson.  RiffTrax turned out to be a success, and soon Nelson was joined by Corbett and Murphy again many times with a guest performer.  They were also able to release public domain shorts with commentary because there were no legal repercussions.  In 2008, two significant changes happened to RiffTrax.  The first was the introduction of live shows, which continue to this day, where the three men comment on a film live in front of a studio audience.  The second was giving the ability for anyone to make a commentary track, called IRiffs.  After several years of Riffing on B-Movies in live shows like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Reefer Madness and Night of the Living Dead, RiffTrax started the first of several successful Kickstarter campaigns to do more live shows.  RiffTrax continues to release content online, for B-Movie Riffs, Short Riffs and separate commentary for popular movies and continues to do live shows.
                Cinematic Titanic was created by Joel Hodgson in 2007, the original creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and utilized fellow cast members Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl.  Done both as a live show and as DVD releases, Cinematic Titanic shows B-Movies with the actors riffing from silhouettes on either bottom corner of the screen, just like MST3K.  The idea is that some unknown organization is making the actors, playing themselves, watch B-Movies just like in MST3K.  The organization has a powerful military force, which keeps that cast from rebelling.  Cinematic Titanic folded in 2013, due to the fact that each of the cast members lived in different cities.  Twelve physical DVDs were made of B-Movies with Cinematic Titanic and many live shows from 2007 to 2013 some of which were released on DVD.  Following the end of Cinematic Titanic, Hodgson is now working on the new season of MST3K.

                Mystery Science Theater 3000 may be the best and most well known of the “riffing on movies” concept, but the cast members can tweak the format to their own successes.  Check out these post-MST3K projects by MST3K cast members.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beyond Star Trek, Part 2: Gene Roddenberry’s Posthumous TV Shows

               At the time of Roddenberry’s death in 1991, Star Trek: the Next Generation was in full swing and the sixth original series Star Trek movie was nearing completion.  While Roddenberry had other series ideas he was writing/creating, he had no time to pursue them before his death.  Majel Barret-Roddenberry, his widow, began pursuing the ideas and scripts he developed before his death.  In that way, Roddenberry’s legacy lives on beyond Star Trek.  Here are the two major posthumous TV series, which both lasted five seasons.
                Earth: Final Conflict actually started back when Roddenberry was developing TV series in the early 1970s.  The series idea, which at the time was called Battleground: Earth, was about a race of aliens who land on Earth professing peace.  While Twentieth Century Fox expressed interest in a pilot, but Roddenberry was too busy at the time.  Majel started developing the TV series again in the mid-1990s, and Tribune Entertainment agreed to produce the series.  Like Star Trek: the Next Generation, it was released in the first-run syndication as opposed a singular network.  Earth: Final Conflict was about a race of aliens called the Taelons (nicknamed the “Companions” on the show), who share advanced technologies with Earth, which nearly eliminate disease, pollution, and war.  But there are some who think the Taelons have ulterior motives and form a resistance against these “companions.”  In the first season, Kevin Kilner played William Boone, the main character, an open “Companion Protector” but a private resistance agent.  However, due to a contract dispute, Kilner’s character was killed at the end of season one.  In his place, Liam Kincade (Robert Leeshock) became one of the main protagonists, a man who is half human and half an alien race called Kimera, a race that has been in conflict with the Taelons, and one of the major conflicts for the next three seasons was introduced, a war between the Taelons and another alien race call the Jaridians.  In season three, one of the other major protagonists, Renee Palmer (Jayne Heitmeyer) was introduced, as a Companion business liaison in public and a resistance leader in secret.  In the fourth season, Taelons were written out as antagonists and a new alien race, of “energy vampires” called the Atavus were the main antagonists of the final season, season five.  The show had a high cast turnover but nevertheless was able to last five seasons and 110 episodes.  The show lasted from October 6, 1997, to May 20, 2002.
                Andromeda, or Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, was also developed by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry based on Roddenberry’s old ideas.  Unlike the previous series, the production and cast were more stable throughout the run of the show.  In Andromeda, Kevin Sorbo plays Dylan Hunt (yes, the same name as the protagonist from the 1970s pilots), the captain of a ship called the Andromeda Ascendant, with an artificial intelligence called Andromeda, “Ronnie.”  At the beginning of the series, the Andromeda Ascendant was part of the High Guard, the space army of the Commonwealth, which is a conglomeration of several planets living in harmony with each other.  That harmony is disrupted when and a genetically engineered race called the Nietzscheans attack the High Guard without warning as a result of losing their home world.  The Andromeda Ascendant is thrown into a black hole and the crew is frozen in time for 303 years.  Hunt is unfrozen in time by the salvage ship Eureka Maru.  In the end, the Eureka Maru and Hunt join forces to be the new crew of the Andromeda Ascendant.  Hunt’s idea of a Commonwealth gained some supporters, but he also gained many enemies, including the Magog, who were also Hunt’s enemy 300 years in the past and descendants of the Nietzscheans who call themselves Drago-Kazov.  For the first season and half of season two, Robert Hewett Wolfe was head writer and executive producer and initially sought a more serialized storyline about the reforming of the Commonwealth.  However, the producers wanted more of an episodic format and the second half of season two and the seasons onward were much more episodic in nature.  By season three, the Systems Commonwealth is restored but there are still many conflicts for Hunt and his crew to encounter.  The show ended after five seasons and 110 episodes and was broadcast between October 2, 2000, and May 13, 2005. 

                Majel Barret-Roddenberry’s legacy of pursuing her late husband’s non-Star Trek ideas will be remembered, as will Roddenberry’s ideas for those TV shows.  Check out these five season wonders created by Roddenberry and brought to life by Majel Barret-Roddenberry, with the help of some very talent writers, cast, and crew.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

Beyond Star Trek, Part 1: Other Gene Roddenberry Productions

                Gene Roddenberry will always be remembered as the creator of Star Trek.  However, during his lifetime Roddenberry did create another television series, which lasted one season, and a total of four TV movies in the 1970s.  Here are some of the lesser known works of Gene Roddenberry.
                Gene Roddenberry’s first series was actually The Lieutenant, which lasted one season from September 14, 1963, to April 18, 1964.  The series starred Gary Lockwood as Second Lieutenant William Tiberius Rice who after graduating the Naval Academy was assigned to Camp Pendleton.  Robert Vaughn played Captain Raymond Rambridge, Rice’s superior officer.  Being a modern day military drama, Roddenberry didn’t shy away from tough subjects at the time, including the Vietnam War, Communism, and Racism (the episode that dealt with racism never aired during the show’s original run).  The show is notable for having many of the Star Trek actors in guest roles before the Science Fiction series premiered in 1966, including Leonard Nimoy (as a Hollywood Producer), Majel Barrett (as the Hollywood producer’s assistant), Nichelle Nicolas (as a black army officer’s fiancée, in the unaired episode), Walter Koenig (as Sgt. John Delwyn, whose mother is a Communist).  Lockwood later guest starred in the first aired episode of Star Trek as Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell.  Twenty-nine episodes were filmed, and are available on two-volume set on DVD. 
                After Star Trek was canceled in 1969, Roddenberry struggled to find work.  In the early 1970s, before Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Roddenberry created four television movies, each meant as pilots for a Television Series, each of which was not picked up.  In 1973, Roddenberry’s first effort was called Genesis II (which aired on March 23 1973), and starred Alex Cord as Dylan Hunt, a man who is put into suspended animation and wakes up in a post-apocalyptic future (in the year 2133) following “The Great Conflict” (a third world war).  Hunt is revived by a peaceful organization called “PAX” who are trying to escape the clutches of a totalitarian regime called Tyranians.  
             Roddenberry’s next TV project was called The Questor Tapes, which aired on January 23, 1974.  In this movie, Robert Foxworth played Questor, an android robot on a search for his creator and his purpose, and he joins up with Jerry Robinson, who was one of the teams who created Questor.  Roddenberry and the network disagreed so strongly about the content of the series that Roddenberry abandoned the project that TV movie was all that came of the concept.  
              On April 23, 1974, Roddenberry’s third TV movie premiered, called Planet Earth, which starred John Saxon as Dylan Hunt.  In this follow-up to Genesis II, Hunt and a team of people from PAX go on the hunt for a missing doctor and wind up in the Confederacy of Ruth, where women rule society and men are used as slaves.  Hunt learns that women have been drugging the men to make them compliant.  (John Saxon would later be Captain Anthony Vico in Strange New World, which aired in 1975, about a PAX team put in suspended animation because of nuclear war, but that TV movie did not have Roddenberry’s involvement.)  
               Spectre, the final TV movie with Roddenberry’s direct involvement, was about William Sebastian, a criminologist with a belief in the occult, and his partner Dr. Amos “Ham” Hamilton, who refuses to believe in supernatural elements.   They investigate a family who has been plagued by a demon named Asmodeus.  The TV movie aired on May 21, 1977.

                Gene Roddenberry’s lesser known works have not been forgotten.  The Lieutenant has been released on DVD and each of the TV movies as well.  Check out Roddenberry’s television contributions beyond Star Trek.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Examples of TV Show Web Series, Part 3

                Welcome to the third installment of TV Show Web Series.  These short webisodes, released online, were designed to give fans of TV shows a little extra bonus in addition to the regular episode.  Check out these examples of TV Show Web series.
                Doctor Who is about a mysterious alien man named simply “The Doctor” and his adventures in space and time with human Earth companions.  Doctor Who had two eras of webisodes, but both had the basic idea: a short scene which was a “prequel” which tied into the episode that was about to air.  The first era was the era of the Tarisodes, one-minute prequel scenes for each of the Series 2 episodes.  The tardisodes were less popular than expected, so BBC stopped production.  Then in 2011, with no individual title, the prequel series was revived again, this time not for every episode but just selected ones.  There were five prequels for series 6 (in 2011), seven prequels and one actual sequel for series 7 (2011-2013), two for series 9 (2015) and one (so far) for series 10 (2016).  The new prequels vary in length from one to seven minutes. 
                The Walking Dead, based on the comic strip with the same name, is about a group of survivors of a zombie attack.  The Walking Dead had three web series.  The first Web Series, which was called Torn Apart, premiered on October 11, 2011, before the second season premiered.  Torn Apart was about Hannah, a mother with two kids and the owner of a bicycle.  Much of the series is about Hannah trying to find her two children. The series lasted six webisodes, each two to five minutes in length.  In the first episode of the first season, main character Rick Grimes mercy kills Hannah, so the first Web Series was a prequel to the main series.  The second Web Series was called Cold Storage and was released on October 1, 2012, before the season three premiere.  Cold Storage was about Chase, who hides in a storage facility with former employee B.J., who is hiding a dark secret.  The series lasted four webisodes, each four to nine minutes long.  The third and last Web Series was called The Oath and was released on October 1, 2013, before the season 3 premiere.  The Oath is another prequel to the first episode and is about Laura and Karina as they search a zombie-filled camp for a medical station, and is the origin of the “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” painted warning on the cafeteria doors in the hospital in the first episode of the first season.  There were three webisodes, seven to ten minutes each.
        Community was a comedy show about a group of community college students who go on many crazy adventures together, many of them parodies of famous movies.  Community had nine total Web Series, from the first season in 2009 up until the final online season in 2015.  The first Web Series was called The 5 A’s of Greendale, released in 2009: the first six webisodes were done in the form of informational videos telling you how to apply to Greendale, and the last two being fake outtakes with the Dean.  The second webisode series was The Community College Chronicles (2009), which are two webisodes done as Abed’s student films.  The third Web Series, called Spanish Videos (2010), had two regular webisodes about Chang assigning a video project and Star-Burns and Abed working on a space epic, with the third webisode being a fake trailer for the space movie.  Web Series number four was called Study Break (2010), and there were three webisodes about ninety-second study break sessions in between Spanish class.  Web Series number five was called Road to the Emmy’s (2010) and was a three-webisode story about the gang on their way to an Emmy party.  Web Series number six was called Dean Pelton’s Office Hours (2010), which had three webisodes which showed Dean Pelton dealing with student problems.  Web Series seven was called Abed’s Master Key (2012) and was an animated three-webisode series, about Abed becoming Pelton’s assistant and given a master key.  The final three Web Series were technically individual shorts but could be considered a Web Series with one episode.  The first was a teaser for season four of Community, called Community Season Four Premieres…Someday (2012), and was done in the form of Troy and Abed in the Morning.  The second was an animated special called Miracle on Jeff’s Street (2013), is about the gang reuniting to save Jeff’s Christmas.  The third is called Abed and the Dean Share a Moment in a Honda (2015), in which Abed acts as if he is the narrator for a car commercial, which makes Dean uncomfortable. 

                Each of these series utilized the Web Series format to bring additional content to fans of these show.  Much of the web content can still be found online.  Check out these TV Show Web Series. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Examples of TV Show Web Series, Part 2

                Welcome to the second installment of examples of TV shows with Web Series tie-ins.  Some shows, like Scrubs or Monk, only utilized the format once.  However, other shows, like The Office, decided to use the format more than once.  Here are some more examples of TV Show which used Web Series  multiple times throughout their run:
                Smallville was a WB (later CW) show detailing (in the first four seasons) the Clark Kent growing up in Smallville.  The first series was called the Chloe Chronicles, focusing on Chloe’s investigations into the people affected by the meteor shower that hit the town in 1989.  All four webisodes were released in April and May of 2003.  The next series called Chloe Chronicles: Volume 2 (released during the third season, 2003-2004), featured over 7 webisodes, Chloe, investigating Sarah Strossberg, which leads her to Donovan Jameson, who was experimenting on metahumans.  The third Web Series was called Vengeance Chronicles and was released during the 5th season (specifically, in early 2006).  In this storyline, Chloe teams up with the Angel of Vengeance to stop Lex Luthor, who had been conducting his own unethical experiments.  The show had seven webisodes.  During the sixth season (2006-2007), the format changed to a computer animated Web Series called the Oliver Queen Chronicles.  This storyline detailed the early life of Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow before the events where he appears in Smallville, in six webisodes.  The final Web Series was a six-webisode traditionally animated series called Kara and the Chronicles of Krypton released over the seventh season (2007-2008).  The story dealt with Kara’s (or Supergirl’s) life in Krypton before she was sent to Earth. 
                Battlestar Galactica was a 2004 miniseries and 2004-2009 Sci-Fi Network remake of the 1978-1979 original series, which was about the people on board the Battlestar Galactica, one of the few ships to survive the destruction of their entire star colony.  Battlestar Galactica had four total Web Series.  The first Web Series was subtitled The Resistance, a 10-webisode series lasting two to five minutes each.  In The Resistance, the Cylons have occupied New Caprica, where the remnants of Galactica tried to settle.  Led by Saul Tigh, Chief Tyrol and Specialist Cally and others plan to resist the Cylon occupation. The webisodes were filmed together as one episode and broken into 10 parts, giving a continuous storyline. The second Web Series, subtitled Razor Flashbacks, garnered some controversy, in that all of the “webisodes” were actually deleted scenes from the TV movie Razor.  Nevertheless, all seven webisodes were released in October and November of 2007. The third Web Series was subtitled Face of the Enemy and was released in December 2008 and January 2009 in between in the break between the first half and second half of season four.  In this ten-webisode series (lasting 3-6 minutes), Lt. Gaeta is onboard a Raptor when it gets separated from the rest of the fleet during a Cylon attack, and the danger intensifies when the each member of the Raptor crew starts dying one by one.  The last Web Series was actually supposed to be a TV movie pilot following the failure of the prequel spinoff Caprica, but as production continued, the TV movie was broken into 10 webisodes lasting 12 minutes each.  The Web Series was subtitled, Blood and Chome, and was set in between the events of Caprica and Battlestar Galactica.  In this story, William Adama is a young pilot assigned to the Battlestar Galactica for the first time and fills in some of the detail between the two major series.  The webisodes premiered online between November and December 2012 and were released as a TV movie on SyFy on February 13, 2013. 

                Each show used the web video format to tell new stories beyond the storyline in the official TV series, expanding the world of the show.  Check out these Web Series produced for the Smallville and Battlestar Galactica TV shows. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Examples of TV Show Web Series, Part 1

                Before Netflix in 2013 premiered House of Cards (as well as continuing Arrested Development, which made a big splash at the time) and suddenly the future of Internet TV was a huge thing.  Now, full series were being made exclusively for the Internet.  However, before Netflix’s original experiment, the major broadcast and cable networks released mostly web series tie-ins to their TV shows.  Now, mostly forgotten, but for a time, many popular shows had a short online Web series to tie into to the show.  Here are some examples:
                Monk was a 2002-2009 USA Network series about an obsessive-compulsive man who was a consultant for the San Francisco police department, a former police officer who cracked after his wife was killed.  In 2009, during the final season, on their network website, USA Network premiered ten webisodes about Little Monk, who as a boy was called upon as a little detective to find missing items.  The web videos average about 3 minutes in length.
                Scrubs was a medical comedy show starring Zack Braff as J.D., who starts out in season one as an Intern and works his way up in the medical world, along with his friends.  In 2009, in the show’s eighth season, ABC premiered a Web series, called Scrubs: Interns, which followed four new medical interns.  The main character from this series was Sonja or “Sunny,” who recorded the “webisodes” in the form of a video diary, along with the other interns Katie, Denise “Jo” and Howie.  Many of the main characters in the ABC series would appear in one webisode each.  The web videos lasted 3-5 minutes in length.
                Lost was a supernatural show about a group of people who crash landed on a mysterious island where unusual things start happening.  In 2007 and 2008, between the third and fourth season, Lost: Missing Pieces premiered.  Originally, the short webisodes were available to Verizon Wireless users, and then a week later they would be posted on ABC.com.  The videos, which were all original (except for one which was a deleted scene), did not have a single plotline but instead were short scenes provided new character insight.  The web videos lasted one to two minutes in length. 
                The Office, about the Dunder Mifflin office workers, premiered in 2005.  The show had a total of nine different Web series that tied into the show.  The first was a ten-webisode series (premiered in the summer of 2006) called Office: The Accountants, which followed the supporting characters the accountants who must find out how $3000 went missing.  The second, in 2008, was a 4-webisode series called Kevin’s Loan and focuses on Kevin, who needs to pay back gambling debts.  Number 3, lasting 4 webisodes, premiered in winter 2008, was called The Outburst, and follows Oscar’s outburst and the investigation following the incident.  Number 4, a four-episode series in May 2009, was called Blackmail and focused on Oscar blackmailing four different people.  Web series five, 3 webisodes which premiered in October 2009, was called Subtle Sexuality and focused on Kelly and Erin forming the band Subtle Sexuality and making a music video.  Web series six was the Mentor (March 2010), a 4-webisode series about Erin mentoring Angela.  Web series seven gave us 3-webisode series The 3rd Floor (October 2010), about Ryan’s attempt to make a horror film.  Web series eight was a 3-webisode series called The Podcast (January 2011), about Gabe trying to make a podcast.  The 9th and final web series is called the Girl Next Door (May 2011) and focused on Subtle Sexuality making a new music video.  The webisodes were typically 2-3 minutes in length. 
                When web video was first gaining traction, Networks responded by doing short web-exclusive videos online.  TV Show Web series, which became a popular aspect in the mid-2000s and early 2010s, has fallen to the side for most television series today.  Come back next week for more examples of TV show Web series.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

VeggieTales: A Short History

                Quite possibly one of the best Christian children’s video series ever produced, VeggieTales is a computer animated show starring vegetables.  The main characters are straight man Bob the Tomato and silly Larry the Cucumber.  Joining them are the supporting characters: Archibald Asparagus, Junior Asparagus, Dad and Mom Asparagus, Laura Carrot, Mr. Lunt, Jimmy and Jerry Gourd, and more.  These characters live on a kitchen countertop and tell stories, sometimes Biblical, sometimes original or a parody of a popular culture story with a Biblical message.  VeggieTales are silly, entertaining, with great clean humor that children and adult appreciate.  Here is a short history of Big Idea Productions’ most famous video series.
                In 1989, Phil Visher created the production company GRAFx, with the intention of using computer graphics in commercials.  However, he saw the potential of creating a VHS video with vegetables, without arms and legs, which would keep the animation simple and easier to produce.  In early 1993, he founded Big Idea Productions along with Mike Nawrocki and his wife Lisa.  Their first production was called “Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?”  It featured three segments, with a wraparound introduction and conclusion by Bob and Larry.  Many of the features of future videos were established this video.  The first segment was an original story where Junior, after watching a scary show, struggles to fall asleep until Bob and Larry drop in to help Junior.  The middle segment is the very first Silly Songs with Larry, one of the most popular aspects of the VeggieTales videos (in fact, the original idea was to do a different middle segment each time, but fans demanded Silly Songs with Larry after it was not included in the second video, so from the third video on it was a regular feature).   The last segment was the first retelling of a Biblical story, Daniel and the Lion’s Den.  The first three videos (the second and third being called “God Wants Me to Forgive Them!?!” and “Are You My Neighbor?” respectively).  With the fourth video, released in 1995, Bob and Larry introduce one main story, this time “Rack, Shack and Benny” (the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) with the Silly Songs with Larry severing as an Intermission.  Many subsequent videos follow this format, of one main story with a Silly Song intermission. Also, Big Idea started releasing their productions on DVDs when the format took over from VHS.
                In 2002, in addition to producing 13 direct-to-video releases, Big Idea released its first Feature Film, Jonah: A VeggieTales movie.  The movie featured an introductory segment with Junior, Laura, Bob and Dad and their friends heading to a Twippo, concert, but crash their car and are forced to seek shelter in a” seafoo(d)” restaurant.  There, they meet the popular characters The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, who tell the story of Jonah, a Biblical prophet who failed to learn compassion and mercy.  The movie had a budget of $14 million and made $25.6 million at the box office.
                Unfortunately, in 2002 and 2003, Big Idea had financial troubles and was sold to Classic Media.  Phil Visher stepped down as the driving force behind Big Idea and Mike Nawrocki assumed creative control (though Visher still agreed to voice the characters).  If you want to know Phil Visher’s complete account of Big Idea's end as an independent company you can read it in an 11-part blog post here.  However, the good news was that Big Idea’s parent company wanted to make more VeggieTales videos.  In 2004, three VeggieTales videos were released in the same year, up from the one or two in previous years.
In 2008, the supporting characters the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything received their own movie.  In the movie, the do-nothing pirates want to put on a pirate stage show, when they travel back in time to the 17th century and have to be real pirates.  The movie was made for $15 million and grossed $13.2 million at the box office. 
                Big Idea continued to regularly release direct-to-DVD productions up through 2014. On November 26, 2014, Netflix produced 3 direct-to-video productions and premiered VeggieTales in the House, a new animated series starring the characters in a new animation and storytelling style.  As of 2017, 52 episodes have been released over four seasons.  The last regular direct-to-DVD production was released on March 5, 2015, and was called Noah’s Ark.  No Direct to DVD productions have been released in 2016 or have been announced for 2017.  A new Netflix series, called VeggieTales in the City, will premiere on February 24, 2017. 

                While VeggieTales continues in some format on Netflix, the original direct-to-video series has probably met its end.  In all, there were forty-seven original productions and two feature films (there were also many compilation DVDs).  Here’s to the original VeggieTales video series and their incredible characters and warm clean humor.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

In-depth Movie Analysis from Three YouTube Channels

  It’s easy to examine movies as a thing to be criticized, to take each one and try to find something wrong with it.  While there is a place for that, film criticism can also look at films as an art form.  To look at fantastic films and sometimes not-so-fantastic, and take a critical look at the techniques used, showing how the writing/ cinematography/acting/editing can work for the movie (or sometimes against it).  Here are three YouTube that has in-depth movie analysis.  
   The channel Lessons from the Screenplay is from Michael Tucker.  He examines screenplays from well-known movies, both celebrated critical hits and Hollywood blockbusters.  For example, in one of the two-part American Beauty videos, Tucker tells us that one of the strengths of American Beauty is the fact that all of the characters desire the same thing: seeking their true self, instead of each desiring different things, which is a great way “to show the theme of your movie to the audience”.  The next video is about The Dark Knight, and focused on creating the Ultimate Antagonist, who for example is “exceptionally good at attacking the Hero’s greatest weakness.”  The Joker specifically wants Batman to kill him because he knows Batman’s one moral code is that he doesn’t kill people.  Also, the Joker forces Bruce Wayne/Batman to make difficult choices to reveal who or what he cares about when pressured.  In these ways, the Joker is the Ultimate Antagonist for Batman.  Other videos look at how Wes Anderson’s story meets style, examining the anatomy of the obsessed artist by comparing Black Swan to Whiplash, and focusing on how Ex Machina controls information.  The Lessons from the Screenplay series does so well focusing on the completed movie as well as the script itself.  In this way, the series examines how best to use screenplays to tell effective stories.  
    Every Frame a Painting, made by Tony Zhou, primarily examines movie making from more camera techniques and movies as a visual medium.  An early video focuses on the Spielberg Oner, that is long one-shots in movies.  However, unlike long takes from other directors, which are extremely long and call attention to themselves (example: the entering the restaurant scene from Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas).  However, in each of Spielberg’s films, his Oner instead is shorter but instead, delivers enough information in one shot that three or four shots could have done showing are efficiency as director.  Another video (taking inspiration from the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself) is called Vancouver Never Plays Itself, and examines the exact ways filmmakers have used Vancouver to be any city the movie deems it to be and since he is a native of Vancouver, laments that there few films which celebrate the uniqueness of his own city.  Other videos include: how Robin Williams moves in movies, the evolution of the artistry of animator Chuck Jones, and an examination of chairs and their significance for movies and the characters in those movies, and even a video on the distinct camera style of Michael Bay (yes that Transformers director).  No matter what the subject, Zhou approaches each video with a love for the artistry and technique of movies.  
  Chez Lindsay, made by Lindsay Ellis, originally started out as the counterpart to the Nostalgia Critic and was called the Nostalgia Chick.  Based out of New York City, her original Nostalgia Chick reviews had many similarities in the format with the Nostalgia Critic reviews, though obviously with Ellis’ distinct style.  However, towards the end of her run with the Nostalgia Critic’s parent company Channel Awesome, she began to evolve and create different content and ultimately branch out on her own channel, Chez Lindsay.  The first is a fascinating series called Loose Canon, which examines all of the ways one character, thing or event is portrayed in media.  Subjects previously covered include Phantom of the Opera, Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, 9/11, Hilary Clinton, Jack the Ripper and Santa Claus.  Ellis has also released in-depth looks at three movies (Hercules, Joel Schumacher's Phantom of the Opera and Rent), movies which were well made but ultimately failed, and the reasons why they failed, including their history of production.  She also created a fantastic analysis of the Three Act Structure in movies (“And Why They Work”), a look into how Aliens have been portrayed in the movies (similar to her Loose Canon series) and a study of planting and payoff done right with Mad Max: Fury Road used as the example.  Chez Lindsay’s approaches to movie analysis are informative, fascinating and frequently hilarious.  
   Each of these YouTube channels makes their content based primarily on the love of the art form of movies, and each of them is creating content on their own.  They each have Patreon, a site where you can support them monetarily as an artist if you enjoy their content.  Check out each of these wonderful YouTube channels with excellent In-Depth looks at movies as an art form. 

Lessons From a Screenplay: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCErSSa3CaP_GJxmFpdjG9Jw
Every Frame a Painting: https://www.youtube.com/user/everyframeapainting

Friday, February 10, 2017

Unfinished Movie Series Based on Adaptations of Book Series, Part 4

      Welcome to the fourth and final installment of unfinished movie series based on book series.  In this installment, three recent movies were made which were adapted from popular Young Adult series.  Unfortunately, all three series only had one movie to speak of because of the lackluster or poor response to that first movie.  Here are the final three unfinished movie series based on book series.
The rights to City of Ember, the first of the Book of Ember series, were bought in October 2004 by the Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, partners at a production company called Playtone.  Production lasted from summer to fall of 2007.  The movie was directed by Gil Kenan and starred Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, and Bill Murray.  City of Ember was released on October 10, 2008, and received a 53% score on Rotten Tomatoes.  The movie was made with a production budget of $55 million and made only $17 million worldwide ($7 million US).  While the sequel, The People of Sparks, was optioned at the time of release, the performance of the first film makes the sequel extremely unlikely.
  The production of I am Number Four, the first of the Lorien Legacies series, began promisingly.  DreamWorks bid over J.J. Abrams to purchase the rights in June 2009, with Michael Bay (known for movies that make money, regardless of critical response) set to produce and possibly direct. However, Bay decided to direct Transformers: Dark of the Moon, so D. J. Caruso was brought on to direct, with Alex Pettyfer cast as Number Four.  Production started on May 17, 2010, and lasted throughout the summer.  I am Number Four premiered on February 18, 2011, with a budget of $60 million.  The movie received a low 33% score on Rotten Tomatoes.  I am Number Four went on to make $149.9 million at the worldwide box office ($55 million US).  While there were hopes for the movie series to become a franchise, eventually making a movie adaptation of all six books, nevertheless the sequel was shelved following the box office performance of I am Number Four.
Cassandra Clare, the author of the Mortal Instruments series, had trouble initially because film companies wanted her to change the protagonist from female to a male lead, but she refused.  Finally, in a coproduction between German company Constantin Film Produktion GmbH and Canadian company Don Carmody productions and Unique Pictures, production started in 2012 with Harald Zwart directing.  The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was released on August 21, 2013, and had a budget of $60 million.  Rotten Tomatoes gave a very low 12% score.  The movie grossed $90.6 million worldwide ($31 million US).  Initially, in May 2013, it was announced the sequel to City of Bones, City of Ashes, would begin production in September 2013.  After City of Bones was released, however, the movie was initially shelved, and then in 2014, there were rumors of the sequel being announced.  Finally, the German company Constantin announced on October 12, 2014, that Mortal Instruments would return as TV series.  Shadowhunters (also called Shadowhunters: the Mortal Instruments) premiered on January 12, 2016, on the Freeform cable network.  After a 13 episode first season, the show was renewed for a 20 episode second season, which premiered on January 2, 2017.  While the continuation the novels into a TV show will hopefully satisfy fans, this means that the movie series will remain unfinished.  
  All three movie series were started with high hopes for sequels, hoping to adapt all of the stories in the book series.  However, disappointing critical and box office reception only allowed the first of each to be adapted, with the exception of the Mortal Instruments series, which lives on in a TV series instead of a series of movies.   In the end, fans of each of these unfinished film series are left to wonder what might have been.  

Friday, February 3, 2017

Unfinished Movie Series based on Adaptations of Book Series, Part 3

Here is the third installment in the series about unfinished movie adaptations of book series.  In this post, all three were produced with high hopes for a series but failed spectacularly.  All three had a good fan base, but nevertheless, the movie was not critically well received or made good money at the box office.  Let’s check out these movies which failed to start a franchise based on the book series.
In 1981, Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis had the rights to Dune, written by Frank Herbert and the sequels that were written at the time.  David Lynch was approached to direct and he agreed to write screenplay too, despite having never read the Dune novels.  The movie Dune was made for $40 million and was required to be close to two hours long. (it was ultimately 2 hours and 16 minutes).  Dune was released on December 14, 1984, and critical reception was mixed to negative.  Of the reviews that are currently online about Dune, Rotten Tomatoes holds a 57% score.  Dune opened second behind Beverly Hills Cop and ultimately only made $30.9 million in the US, and is considered a box office disappointment.  Plans for the Dune sequels were shelved.  However, there are some fans of the movie which have regulated the movie to cult status, but Dune is still mostly remembered as one of the biggest adaptation failures of all time.  
In 2001, New Line Cinema bought the rights to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and set to make a movie based on the first book, Northern Lights (released as The Golden Compass in the U.S.), with the title The Golden Compass.  After several false starts, Chris Weitz was announced as director: he was asked earlier but dropped out due to the challenges of making such a big scale film; he agreed again after the second director stepped down.  In the end, The Golden Compass was an extremely expensive film, costing $180 million.  The Golden Compass was released on December 5, 2007, in the UK and received a disappointing 43% score on Rotten Tomatoes.  The movie ultimately made $372 million at the worldwide box office ($70 million US), however, New Line had sold the international rights in order fund the movie, which meant New Line did not see much of the $302 million made outside of the US.  Ultimately, the sequels were shelved and never made.
In February 2004, an adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, (however, it should be noted, only Eragon was available when the production started) was announced, with Stefan Fangmeier directing.  Unlike the previous two examples, the pre-production history was rather uncomplicated.  Eragon was made with a $100 million budget and filmed partly in Hungary and Slovakia.  However, when the movie was released on December 16, 2006 (the first sequel, Eldest, was also released that year), it received scathing reviews, getting only 16% score on Rotten Tomatoes.  Eragon ultimately made $249 million worldwide ($75 million US).  No news about the sequels based on subsequent books has ever been released, but if the movie had been a critical and box office success, it would be far more likely that the sequels would be made.
All three of these movies were made with high hopes, but lackluster reception to each of these adaptations sealed the fate of these franchises.  The first two also suffered from a troubled pre-production in which the studio struggled to find a suitable director.  Unfortunately, the sequels to Dune, The Golden Compass and Eragon were never made, leaving the movie series unfinished.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Unfinished Movie Series based on Adaptations of Book Series, Part 2

     Welcome to the second installment of Unfinished Movie Series based on Adaptations of Book Series. Established book series are popular movie franchise starters.  They have established audiences the filmmakers hope people will come to movies to see and make a success.  The Percy Jackson book series, Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events and the Sci-Fi Ender’s series all have those established audiences, but that does not mean it translates into a finished series.
In 2004, 20th Century Fox bought the rights to the first Percy Jackson book, The Lightning Thief, a series of young adult books that mixed modern day teens with Greek Mythology.  Filming began in April 2009, with high hopes by the director about the series.  He specifically mentioned that the cast was chosen so they could star in the sequels.  Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief was released on February 12, 2010, with a budget of $95 million.  Rotten Tomatoes gave the first movie a 49% score.  The movie went on to gross $226.5 million at the worldwide box office ($88 million US).  In October 2011, a sequel was officially approved and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters went into production.  Sea of Monsters was released on August 3, 2013, with a budget of $90 million.   Rotten Tomatoes only gave a score of 41%.  The moved grossed a total of $202.2 million at the worldwide box office ($68 million US).  Since then, there has been no official news about a sequel.  Logan Lerman, the main star of the series expressed in 2015 that he felt he and his co-stars were getting too old for the series.
The adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events started out well enough, when Nickelodeon Movies, a production company under Paramount Pictures bought the rights the book series in May 2000.  While initially series author Daniel Handler was attached to write the script, after eight drafts for the script were written, the producer left over budget problems and the initial director left as well and Handler was let go.  Then a new director, Brad Silberling, and new writer, Robert Gordon, were hired in 2003.  Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events was finally released on December 17, 2004, covering (loosely) the first three books in the series, The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window.   The movie had a budget of $140 million.  Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a 72% score, indicating generally positive reviews.  However, the movie grossed only $209.1 million worldwide ($118.6 million US).   A sequel was never officially put in production, and while Handler mentioned in 2008 and 2009 there were talks about sequels (a stop-motion sequel was briefly considered), the movie series seemed dead.  But in 2014, a new series adaptation was announced for Netflix.  On January 13, 2017, eight episodes, covering The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill, were released, and while Netflix refuses to release official numbers, it received a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes.  The second season has been green-lighted, so there’s hope that the new series will be completed.  
Ender’s Game is the first and most famous novel in a series of Sci-Fi novels about Ender Wiggin.  The book was published in 1985, but, the author, Orson Scott Card was reluctant to give up creative control of the story for a long time.  After several false starts, in 2009 when Gavin Hood was attached to write and direct, Ender’s Game finally got off the ground.  While Card had written six drafts in the early stages of development, it was Hood’s screenplay that was used in production.  Filming began in 2012, and the movie was released on November 1, 2013, with a budget $110-$115 million.  Ender’s Game was given a 60% score on Rotten Tomatoes.  The worldwide gross was $125 million ($61 million US), and given the budget was considered a box office bomb.  While there were talks of a sequel, given the movie’s performance, it seems very unlikely.  
Every studio and author want the financial success of the Harry Potter or the Twilight franchises.  However, translating successful book series into successful film franchises is not as easy as it sounds.  Here are three more unfinished movie series based on book series.