War & Peace is the BBC adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy’s novel of the same name. The miniseries consisting of 6 episodes follow the lives of Pierre Bezukhov, Andrei Bolkonskiy, Natasha Rostova and others in the turmoil of the Napoleon wars with regards to Russia’s part in the events. It all starts in 1805, when Russia first joins the alliance of european states and marches its army in support of Austria causing a patriotic surge in the ranks of establishment. Many young people, including Andrei Bolkonskiy and Boris Rostov, enlist and then participate in the first battles, including that of Austerlitz. Pierre Bezukhov becomes the only heir to the vast estate of his father – much to his own surprise, because he was count’s illegitimate son and didn’t expect anything. Subsequent whirl of events is rather rich and follows more or less the narrative lines of the novel; it includes such storyturns as Pierre’s marriage going to shambles; him joining freemasons; Bolkonskiy meeting Natasha Rostova and falling in love with her; Natasha’s surge of incenity related to the figure of Anatol Kuragin, a dark and infamous person; Napoleon’s invasion on the russian soil in 1812, the battle of Borodino, and following capture of Moscow; a lot of deaths arising both from the military action and from the collateral stuff; financial difficulties of the Rostov family; and a lot of love affairs.
There are some truly strong components to this particular adaptation, namely: the cast is rather brilliant, and all the acting is quite amazing, too, plus the dancing and social banquets in general are very nicely done, and the depiction of warfare is not half bad.
But, unfortunately, that’s not enough for this film to be a good one. The authenticity of the narrative is highly questionable. Although the creators follow the novel quite rigorously in that respect, it is obvious – for me anyway – that they severely lack broader knowledge of the country, the culture and the history, which results in the absence of that elusive essence that can be captured only after long and intensive presence in the corresponding environment. Even though Davies and Harper treat the literary source with respect and caution, their efforts are still alien, and there’s probably nothing that could have been done about it. On the surface this sad situation manifests itself through exaggerations (mostly of cultural pattern) and pathetic attempts to use russian language – which is especially painful to hear when they try to sing or use shortened russian names.
But worse than problems with authenticity is that it would seem like the whole content of the Tolstoy’s novel is reduced to romantic connections and love sufferings, interspersed with occasional military action. Now, I’m not a big specialist on War and Peace, I’m not even a fan of the work, but I do remember that there was more to it than this melodramatic bullshit. (And it does degrade to the level of melodrama from time to time – mostly due to the lack of development space and corresponding hiccups with emotions evolving at the correct pace.) But all the philosophy and whatever else there is is cut away to make room for what makes the hearts of housewives beat faster. And not even wonderful acting can save the day – at least not for this series to be considered a work of art it can’t.
So, notwithstanding all the great things in this adaptation, all in all it’s not very good. Alas.
Likvidatsiya is miniseries fight with crime in Odessa immediately after WWII. The story commences when Georgy Zhukov, ‘Marshall of the victory’, got out of Stalin’s favour and was appointed the head of the Odessa military district. Upon arrival he comes up with a series of ideas on how to liquidate crime in the city once and for all. On the other hand, David Gotsman, deputy police chief in charge of anti-banditry division, works hard for the very same purpose, but is confined by the law, which Zhukov doesn’t care very much for. Besides, before the Marshall was assigned there was a delicate balance in Odessa’s seamy side of life, which was disrupted by all the new activity, sometimes with rather dare consequences. But one thing Gotsman and those acting on Zhukov’s behalf agreed on was the necessity to clamp down and eradicate one very different gang, whose leader, known under the name of Academic, entrenched himself (as would become known later) on the highest ranks of the law enforcement. Gotsman enters the struggle by investigating several seemingly unconnected crimes, all of which involved murders, and soon he was head over ears in that business, also losing one of his closest friends, an ex-thief Fima, who was helping with the investigation and came too close to knowing the true identity of Academic. But, while all that was going on, life continued its normal course as well: Gotsman fell in love, started looking after his health, and also adopted a homeless boy whom he fancied for quick wit and general acumen; his unit got appended an investigator from the military attorney department, Vitaliy Krechetov, who proved to be invaluable to the cause; and so on and so forth. The opposite side of things, i.e. the gang’s, is also demonstrated – with the suspense being relieved gradually from episode to episode.
Okay, first of all: this miniseries is really one of the finest accomplishments of the Russian TV scene ever. Second of all: it’s far from perfect.
However, all the reservations about the show that I have does not change the fact that it’s an outstanding work of cinema. All because it has a number of qualities, some of which tramp everything, specifically – the reconstruction of the everyday life of Odessa in the 1940s; abundance of totally amazing characters, most of whom are unique and curious, even if they only have a couple of lines; vivacious dialogs and speech in general – Odessa is famous for the way its dwellers talk, and this is turned to a great advantage by the show’s writers (and actors, of course); the construction of the story is all in all very solid, conflict and suspense are used quite frequently, and every time – on point, which sums up to a captivating action with cut-ins of decent drama.
Now, as for the drawbacks, here they are, from least to most crucial. Technical quality of the execution leaves much to be desired. Ursuliak and his producers did not skimp on the important stuff, such as the cast, but they did so with the props, make-up, and, worst of all, the camera, which was not very photosensitive – because of that the image looks rather cheap, and even attempts to hide it behind the black-and-white were not successful. The music was pretty good – catchy, but not too annoying; still, to my taste, they used it a bit too often.
(from this point beware of possible spoilers) The way a side story with Academic’s girlfriend was solved is kinda pathetic. I mean, it provided a number of possibilities, each better than the other, and yet they chose the one that closes on itself without influencing any other storyline, and also is quite clumsy. Why go to town if you don’t plan to dance? Beats me.
The character of Academic seemed to me a little weird. He’s extremely smart and gifted all round, but then he decides to go all in without proper assurance of success – as if the deceit of Gotsman and Co could really work on him, especially given all his presentiments; say what you will, but it doesn’t sit right with me. Also, his motivation is really vague, but this one is related to a more significant reservation below.
(here comes the real spoiler) So in the end it turns out that Academic’s gang is a part of a secret organization of some insurgents who are fighting the soviet authority because they hate it more than anything else. And here 2 big questions emerge. #1. In reality there were indeed guerrillas who were hiding in the woods in western Ukraine until about mid 1950s – and they really did hate the soviet (and with a very good reason, I might add), but that was only half of their motivation, the negative one. They also had positive angle, which was about building an independent, national state. Yet, the movie bashfully withholds this terrible information – why? There is not a single peep about it there, moreover – none of the insurgents actually speak Ukrainian, not even among themselves. What we have here are abstract rebels, with practically no ties to reality. #2. For some bizarre reason, all the rebels in the film are also bandits, – and I mean not just one-time offenders or those who commited a faux pas or something, but real hardcore criminals, career criminals – almost as if the writers thought it was the same thing. There are people who consider the show ukrainophobic because of all this, but I don’t think so. There is no such phobia there, there is merely a crime against the veracity of life, – admittedly, not too significant by itself, but still a serious one.
So, yeah – there is stuff that makes Liquidation deeply imperfect, but it still is a great show, truly fascinating as an attempt on historical fiction (especially when compared to the rest of Russian TV produce), and a wonderful entertainment.
Forth season of Black Mirror, the most interesting miniseries anthology with futuristic angel, consists of 6 episode, each comprising a different story (except for the last one, which comprises 3 stories).
USS Callister is a story about Robert Daly, a brilliant software engineer who created a virtual reality game called Infinity. But even though he’s the main reason for the company’s success, no one at the office actually respects him, probably because he gives out this vibe of personality weakness. As a means to compensate for constant humiliation, he runs a secluded mode of Infinity at his home, that he made to resemble his favourite TV show, after which the episode is called (and which is basically Star Trek). In this game, where he spends most of his free time, he acts as a captain of the spaceship, and the members of his team are versions of his co-workers recreated from DNA samples he managed to collect from remains of saliva on a coffee cup and such. As the creator of the universe he has absolute power over everything and everybody in it, and he uses that power to humiliate and torture. But everything changes when a new addition to the team arrives – a girl called Nanette, who just recently joined the software development team.
There 2 main components to this story: one can be formulated as a question – “what do the toys do when you stop looking at them?”, and the other exercises a notion of an asshole god, an omnipotent entity that enjoys the suffering of others. These 2 are masterfully merged together, completed with deep characters, each with a consistent and interesting story behind him, and seasoned with lots of ingenious and curious ideas about virtual reality and the development of technology in general. The resulting mix is pretty much perfect.
Arkangel is a story about a parental control type of neural implant that has been installed in a baby’s brain with the best of intentions – as it usually goes. With time, however, the power got abused, which led to pretty bad consequences, albeit disastrous only on the level of parent-child personal relationship.
This is a smaller story, meaning it’s not as amplitudinous as most of the others. But it’s just as meaningful, internally consistent and smart. And also very plausible, at least in terms of impact a particular technology can have on relationships between people, which is, really, what’s it all about.
Crocodile is probably the most cruel story of the season. It’s about a hit-and-run accident, which was successfully covered, but when one of the parties to the deal got too jiggered with remorse, the other took the path that led her to most terrible decisions. In parallel to this development, an insurance agent conducts an investigation of a minor accident using the device called recaller, which can read people’s memories and represent them on a video screen.
This one is, of course, about technological advance, but although a crucial detail to the plot, the recaller device is merely that – a detail. What it’s really about is the impossibility to stop once you started doing vicious things; and also about the fact that the crime itself is often not as bad as the cover-up.
Hang the DJ is the prettiest story of the season; it’s a contemplation on the idea of how the dating algorithms should actually work in order to be effective. The plot is constructed in such a way that retelling it would only destroy the desired effect, so I’m not gonna do that. But I can say that you should definitely watch it, – among other thing because it’s one of the few examples of a kind Black Mirror story.
Metalhead is an action story about 3 people in some kind of post-apocalyptic world who came to a distant warehouse to retrieve some particular object. Unfortunately for them, it turned out to be guarded by the dog, a specially designed robot-protector. Two of the three perished rather quickly, but the 3 member of the expedition managed to almost get away.
If not for this story the season would’ve been perfect. Sadly, this here is a foul apple, as it contains weird plot solutions and is downright ridiculous. Most of the questionable solutions have to do with the dog: it’s easy to get how it pursued the tracking device previously injected into the body of the trespasser, but how on earth did it switch to tracking the blood stains afterwards? especially old ones; and how did it manage to re-equip itself with the knife? Both these things require a much more complex behavioural algorithms than those we were led to anticipate judging from the initial circumstances and their development. And, of course, the final twist. I felt like a complete fool when I saw it, my final impression was – “are you fucking kidding me?!”, which is probably not very good for any story. Charlie Brooker wrote this one as well as the others, and I just can’t understand how he managed not to see the bullshit.
Black Museum is a small anthology within anthology. It consists of 3 stories joined on a stem of the infamous Black Museum, which exhibited items related to some notorious crimes. A young girl, who is just passing by and has a couple of hours to spare, visits the museum that is no longer as popular as it used to be, and Rolo Hayens, the proprietor of the establishment, tells her several of the stories. First is about a medical doctor who underwent an experimental procedure and got a neural implant that allowed him to feel what his patients were feeling. At first he used this power to save lives, and not without success, but then something happened and he became addicted to feeling of pain. The 2nd story was about a woman who got hit by a car and went into coma; after several years passed, her husband was made an offer to implant her personality, which was still very much alive, into his brain – a sort of like passenger identity. It worked fine for some time, but then backfired. Third story was about a convict condemned to death, who made a deal to create a virtual copy of his personality for the purposes of entertainment – so that his family would have a source of income after he’s gone. As it often happens, he neglected to notice some fine print in the contract, which eventually led him to eternal suffering.
Season’s finale turned out a really well conceived and neatly constructed story. Ultimately, it’s about the dangers and difficulties of messing with personality; and also about the sweetness of revenge.
All in all the season was – like I said – almost perfect. If not for the episode #5, reason for which existence is a mystery to me, there’s would’ve been nothing to complain about whatsoever. Alas, it’s there. But the other episodes are really fine – interesting, smart, ingenious, – everything you’d except from Black Mirror and more.
11.22.63 is the screen adaptation of the Stephen King’s novel of the same name. It tells about this guy, who found a doorway to the past, specifically, to one particular day in 1960, and so he goes back there with a purpose of preventing John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Using information available to him thanks to all the researchers who devoted their time to the matter, he tries to figure out if CIA, or FBI, or anybody else, was involved, while living a life of an English language school teacher at the same time. He prevents several gruesome crimes along the way, funds his investigation by making bets on the various sport events he knows how would pan out, finds a companion in arms named Bill, and also finds the love of his life, a beautiful blond named Sadie. All of it only to find out eventually that what we think is best for the humanity might not be that good after all.
So, there are several problems with this story, which can be divided into 2 main groups. First one is about time travelling, and it’s kind of expected, because it is extremely hard to develop a story within this concept that would be consistent through-out. Here the rules of the game are not exactly clear – the guy goes in, changes something, then he goes out, and the world is re-set, or maybe not, depending on the scale of the change. The past resists to being altered, but the change is still possible somehow. There are some weird ghosts that can be witnessed not only by the traveller, but also by the people helping him. There’s a strange loop-guy, who has something to do with this whole mess, but it’s unclear what exactly. All in all, it does work, but there are holes, and pretty evident ones, too.
Problems belonging to the 2nd group are less forgivable as they relate to the quality of the story itself. First of all, it would seem like the plot was inspired, at least partially, by the authors’ nostalgic feelings about the 1960s, where “even the food tastes better”, and that seems silly. The hero sometimes does real stupid things, some of which can be justified by the novelty of the situation he found himself in (like making bets too large), and some not (like throwing away the phone). Author’s arbitrariness plays a significant part in driving the story forward – more often than it would be suitable things happen simply because otherwise the plot would go the wrong direction (like Bill seeing the ghost of his sister at the Walker’s stake-out, or Jake’s sudden hunch during the plastic surgery, or the way he dragged the girl along when rushing to Oswald’s lair). The way Jake was let go in the finale seems extremely weird to me. But the worst thing is probably complete absence of emotional response to Bill’s jump, which was 100% Jake’s fault.
Each of these little things are not very significant on their own, but they pile on top of each other, they accumulate, and their sum does hurt the overall result. However, there are a lot of great things about the series as well. Pretty much all the characters are quite powerful, especially the psychopaths, Bill, the principal, miss Mimi, and some others; at that, the main heroes are very good too. The depiction of the era seems rather authentic to me, even with all that nostalgic bullshit. References to the movies and song yet to be created are funny and appropriate. Development of Bill’s storyline is logical and really strong. And, of course, the outcome of all the effort is disenchanting and devastating because of its vividness and general consistency.
So, even though the show is far from being flawless, it’s quite great nonetheless. It’s a good action movie executed on a most amazing professional level and leading to anticipated, but still rather deep conclusions.
The Night Manager is a mini-series adaptation of the John Le Carre novel of the same name. Jonathan Pine, who works as a night hotel manager in Cairo, happens to get involved with a woman named Sophie, who was a lover to Freddie Hamid (offspring of a wealthy Egyptian family), who in his turn was a liaison between his family’s business and one Richard Winslow Roper, a weapons dealer of international scale. Sophie gets killed, which scars Jonathan for life; he relocates to Europe and tries to forget all about it, but chance throws him back into the game when the Roper’s clique settles into a Swiss hotel he was working in at the moment. With the help from British special service MI6 he goes deep undercover in order to get closer to Roper and bring down his operation.
The book was written back in the 1990s, and the show’s author adapted it to reflect current times. I don’t know anything about the literary source, but the story in the series looks very consistent and logical, including (especially) the ties to actual historical events. The overall development of the intrigue is also coherent and without any gaps; characters’ motivation is believable enough; and the dialogs are pretty good. The acting is really great – Hollander was quite amazing; I liked Coleman’s work a lot; of course, Laurie was good, as well as Hiddleston.
However, I didn’t like two things. First, (and this is inherent to the show), the main hero is sort of a James Bond, -ish: extremely good-looking, fit, charming, knows right from wrong, capable of action, etc.; he attracts beautiful women, and is attracted to them himself, but never looses his head over romance. This combination seems a little artificial to me, – the guy’s just too perfect. The second thing is the complete absence of humor, which makes the narrative dry and not too easily digestible. It’s not that big of a deal, but the movie would’ve been better with a touch of irony.
All in all, this is a captivating action film, very nicely done on almost all levels. In fact, the network management like the result so much, they ordered a 2nd season of show, which never happens to miniseries. I’m not sure, though, this is such a good idea, but, as usual, I hope to be wrong about this.
Darknet is an anthology horror series. It comprises a multitude of stories, big and small, all united through the keynote of a website called Darknet, which is specifically dedicated to scary real-life communications, with CCTV videos of real murders, and something like a forum, where a killer can leave a message asking for advice on how to get rid of the body and actually get a response. The show resembles V/H/S movies a lot, only updated to reflect the internet era.
There is no direct relation between the episodes in terms of the stories; each of them is created by a different director, with different characters, etc. The website does work as a stem on which the stories are strung, but it’s not until the ending of the 6th episode when the common plot strarts to appear. Considering that there is no continuation, and probably won’t be, it’s a bummer.
Episodes’ quality level varies as much as their stories. The only perfect one is the first, done by Vincenzo Natali, all the others are flawed in one way or another: sometimes a piece would be based on an assumption too far-fetched to be taken seriously, sometimes the rythm would be wrong, and sometimes the acting would be not good enough. Episode #6 (done by Rodrigo Gudiño) is better than the others, and also contains an interesting cliffhanger, but it’s still not as great as Natali’s work.
All in all, there is a lot of really frightening stuff here, so as a horror this series works quite well. I hope there would be some sort of closure, even if only a short film – just to wrap things up. But even with the final path leading nowhere, it’s worth checking out; and better do it when the night is at its darkest. Works better that way.
Childhood’s End is a 3-part miniseries about an alien invasion and consequent collaps of the humanity. Main storyline follows a man chosen by the visitors to be their agent on Earth – through his mediation all the significant problems like lack of drinking water, famine, war conflicts, crime, life-threatening medical conditions, etc. were succesfully solved, which brought the humanity into a sort of heaven on Earth. But then the aliens, who never showed themselves physically at first, turned out to look exactly like a devil looks in christian mythology (and some other cultures), and then they confessed to be working for some weird embodyment of god, who is into business of nurturing population of chosen planets in order to select species with certain qualities – every newborn children becomes a part of the batch, and at some point the ability to have children vanishes altogether. Then everybody dies.
I’m only retelling the story, because the series is shit, not worth watching at all. The concept (which, by the way, belongs to Arthur C. Clark) is actually quite good: one alien nation becomes subjugated by another, stronger one, and is forced to do certain work for their masters (because they proved to be good in doing it already), and that work is – destroying sapience species before they reach the ability to travel through space, and also – doing it quietly, without any weapons; and then this situation gets donned on Earth in its relatively current state. Pretty clever, but unfortunately, this execution, by Matthey Graham, is really, really bad. On 2 levels at the same time, and the most important ones at that, – the writing and the direction. (The acting is actually quite fine.)
The story is messy, very badly structured, with uneven time gaps, which guarantees the lack of rhythm; the dialogs are sometimes quite stupid; some techniques are manifestly manipulative, including those meant to influence viewer’s emotional state with stories about dying children or bad ecology, or whatever. A lot of the solutions are questionable, for example, why would anybody loose faith over the proof of aliens? why the hero never even for a second questions overlords’ good intentions? in hindsight it seems pretty stupid. Why does overlords look like a caricature on a devil? I suppose, the idea is that they showed themselves to people before, and this is how the image of the devil got established in our culture, blah-blah, probably for a reason; but that was surely a long time ago, and our means of safekeeping information were pretty bad most of the time, so when it comes to ancient sources we know there always can be errors and artifacts that appeared due to typos, adornings, political propaganda, etc., which means that the image of the devil we know and love today must be pretty different from the earlier accounts, i.e. the version that reached us gotta look a little bit like reality, but not quite. Besides, I’m not buying at all that a species with a body looking like that could have grown to become the dominating race. And that’s one of the miniseries problems right there: its authors do not bother with details, or even mere plausibility of their ideas, they do not think them through, ever. And this kind of superficiality is really dislike.
And don’t even get me started about religion. It’s disastrous. First of all – there is some. And second of all, it’s so unevenly distributed (most of it in episode 2), and so confused, messy, unclear – it simply looks pathetic. Every such scene has a facepalm quality in it, which was completely realized during my watching.
You know, it was hard – to sit through this talentless, feeble, flagitious spectacle. Before, when I was thinking about the amount of money wasted on something as awful as this, simply because somebody very much wanted to present to the world their own version of the “total comofort will totally ruin us, guys” idea™, I sometimes got really frustrated. Now I think there are movies so good out there, their existense completely justifies and maybe even balances this little piece of injustice.
17 mgnoveniy vesny is the most famous soviet movie about spies of all times. It is the screen adaptation of Yulian Semyonov’s series of novels – a part of it, naturally, – following an officer of soviet intelligence Isaev who acts deeply undercover as SS-Standartenführer Max Otto von Stierlitz right in the heart of the nazi regime. It’s February of 1945, the nazi state apparatus lives out its last few months, and Stierlitz gets an assignment from the soviet headquarters to find out about a separate peace treaty negotiations supposedly being conducted by some high-ranking member of Hitler’s government.
I have mixed feelings about this series. On the upside: the development of the espionage intrigue is pretty well constructed and thought through; the music (and sound in general) is really great; and every single actor’s performance is totally amazing.
But the downside is heavier: a lot of dialogs are superfluous (although well written); some details of the story are completely ridiculous (like the fact that Isaev has a wife, or that Cat decided to have a baby in the midst of the war), while others are ignored on purpose (for example: how did Cat got into the manhole when it was extremely hard for her to get out of it?); the newsreel is nice, but there’s too much of it; carefully reading every single word that appears on the screen seems curious only for a couple of episodes; but worst of all – the reconstruction of the reality utterly sucks. I was unable to believe for a second that German military and officials would behave like that in 1945, that they would walk like that, and think like that, and talk like they do here, – it’s a glamorized version of reality. Now, to be fair, the ideology contaminates this story to a lesser degree than I expected, but that achievement is well compensated by the weakness and untenability of the created world. This is especially evident from the depiction of interrogations and torture: these scenes were so pathetic and unconvincing I almost cried a couple of times. But, of course, the dialogs, the system of relationships, the atmosphere, – all these components invest their share into trying to pass a plastic mould of the reality for reality itself.
The show is not exactly good because the director wasn’t really skilled on the one hand, and the writer didn’t really know what he writes about on the other. But it turns out that these 2 things are not as important as one might think – or, at least, not when you’re trying to create something in the state suppressing free creativity (with lack of entertainment as a result). This show formed its own stratum of soviet culture, it gave birth to countless jokes, anecdotes, imitations, continuations, and so on; Stierlitz became an inhabitant of the collective unconcious (within soviet group of nations) long time ago and continues to live there today, – the significance of Lioznova’s work is hard to overestimate. Which brings to the front an interesting question of correspondence between the quality and the impact, but that’s too large of a subject for UnnecessarilyBrief.
I thought I’d be regretting watching this, but I’m not. There are really a lot of good things here to enjoy; and the fact that the show is deeply imperfect only makes it more interesting for me.
The Write Environment is a series of interviews with several well-known writers and TV show-runners, where they share details about their respective paths, industry insights, but mostly trivia connected to their most famous works. I only found these 6, although according to wiki, there are more of them.
Because of the format, the original order of episodes does not matter at all. This is how I watched them:
Famous for: Lost
According to Lindelof, what makes a good writer is the ability to translate ideas into stories. Storytelling and scripwriting are the same thing. Writing can be taught. First comes the story (which is also the most important thing), and then a character, one that can create the deepest conflict. Script is always written from the outline; at that, outlines for Lost were very detailed – 25-30 pages sometimes, while an episode on the average is 55-60 pages. It is extremely important to leave “outs”, and not restrict oneself to choices already made. Never say never. “You always have to start with an archetype.” He compares writing for a TV show to ever-boiling stew, with new ingredients being added from time to time, and if some of them do not improve the overall taste, they won’t be added again. New characters are necessary. Comic strips are harder to write than TV scripts. Deadlines on TV are very real. He believes writing block appear where there’s a fear of writing shitty. He fights them by forcing through. He has an impostor syndrome in a light form. His advice: do not write for somebody, always write for youself, for you know your work better than anybody.
Famous for: Entourage
Doug Elling procrastinates a lot. Story goes first, but really it’s the combination of story and character. External pressure is important: during 4 years on the show he wrote more than during 18 previous years of free-riding. 4-5 pages a day is a good pace. What makes a good writer is the unique voice. Practice is mostly important, it’s the only way to get better. It is important to figure out the story before writing an actual script. At that, he never operates from a master plan (“uber plan”); more than once he finished the story before the season was over, and had to come up with something else in addition. Entourage is a dramedy. There is no outline. Re-writes on the set are quite common. David Schwimmer is one of his best friends. Producing is easier than writing. One season of Entourage is about 400-500 pages. Some of the stories of which Entourage consists happened to Ellin himself, others were told to him by other industry players. He specializes in dialogs writing. Story is the key.
Famous for: Everybody Loves Raymond
First there is an idea, and then it’s a lot of thinking, which to Rosenathal equals to worrying. He procrastinates a lot, and only starts writing under the pressure of realization that it has to be done. Half a page a day is quite normal. Stories get born from incidents. The rule of 3 is “setup – setup – punchline”, and not that there should be 3 jokes on every page. Story is always #1 concern. Doing comedy as tragedy might be a good idea. “Disposable entertainment.” Warmedy (“like a large bath of warm crap”). Aspiration to be likable is the death of everyting. You want to be relatable instead. Comedy is written specifically for a particular actor. He decided to end the show out of fear to run out of fresh ideas. Food for the crew is extremely important. Basic structure is: 1) premise (“why is it interesting?”); 2) Act break (culmination, “we’re getting married!”); 3) conclusion (“was it worth it?”).
Famous for: Taxi, Cheers, The Simpsons
Golden boy; was a child prodigy. Family Guy is a rip-off, although he heard Seth McFarlane is a nice guy. South Park is absolutely amazing and hilarious. He’s not really a writer as most of the story construction happens in the room full of people in a collaborative process. He can procrastinate for a long time, and then write everyting in a day or two. Treehous of Horror was his idea, and he had to stand up for it. Story is the #1 thing, and you also need to love the characters. George Carlin is wonderful. The funniest people in the world are: Jerry Belson, Norm McDonald, Glen Charles, Drew Carrey. Never sacrifice character for a joke, it’s not worth it.
Famous for: Heroes
Good storytelling ability comes from being observant and having something to say. Kring is the only of these 6 who went to film school (and even then he wasn’t majoring in writing). He always writes from the outline. As it usually goes, a treatment gets more and more detailed with time, and eventually turns into a script. His pace is 6-7 pages a day, an episode is done in a week. When working in a team, it is very important to be able to mimic somebody else’s writing style. Sometimes characters come first, sometimes it’s the concept. He prefers not to have master plan for Heroes, to leave as much possibilities open as possible. Cross-pollination between the writers team and the audience is a curious thing. He has a light form of impostor syndrome. It is important not to be too attached to one’s ideas or characters. One of the best way to go for a beginning writer is to be a writer’s assistant. For the show to really happen and succeed, first an idea should come to the right mind at the right time, then the casting should be perfect, and then the audience should fall in love with the result.
Famous for: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doll House, Firefly, Serenity, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Whedon is 3GTV, third-generation of TV writers. He loves to have room for pacing. He writes up to 10 pages a day. He’s the ultimate geek (or, at least, was). His influences include: Monty Python, Masterpiece Theater. His father wrote for Golden Girls, The Electric Company. He always writes genre, because there are rules and structure. He loves to mix different genres, because gets bored otherwise. He doesn’t like “reset” kidn TV, and favoures serialized kind. 85 pages for an [episode] is not a lot. Movies is the “answer”, while TV is the “question”. You will be a writer only if you have an intrinsic need to write.
Generally speaking, these interviews are not so important as to how much you can learn from them about the profession, but can go a long way when it comes to encouragement of the beginning writers. Learning that successful and recognized authors suffer from the same fears as you do, that they procrastinate and stress out, but manage to overcome all of those things, can really make a difference, and this is the best thing about this series. And, of course, bits of information about industry’s behind the scenes scattered here and there, scarce as they are, help elaborate three-dimensional image of the American culture. All in all, it was pretty interesting – for me, anyway; I doubt that somebody not interested in becoming a writer would want to sit through 6 hours of basically just talking.
P.S.: I kept the files, and I’m willing to share, so if anybody’s interested, just contact me.
Dnevnik ubiytsi is a drama miniseries with notes of period drama, amateurish crime investigation and mysticism. It has 2 primary storylines, one of which is set in modern times (2002), and the other one – during Russian Revolution and subsequent Civil War. The cornerstone of the whole thing is a diary written by a man who happened to survive an execution at the hand of bolsheviks and paid a dear price for it, which made him believe in fate and destiny – for a long time he thought of himself as some sort of a hand of god. Almost a century later his notes are found by some students historians, one of whom took it way too seriously.
I usually don’t trust Russian television, because it’s whole system is the legacy of the Soviet Union and therefore is irreparably corrupt and incapable of producing anything good – there were exceptions, yes, but too few to make any difference. In this case, though, I thought – it’s Serebrennikov, it oughtta be good. Serebrennikov is a relatively famous and relatively young Russian director who started his career in theater (and still does most of his work there), but also made some movements in cinema – and they were pretty great (theater too). This show, however, is so beyond shit, it’s would’ve been extremely embarassing for me to even recall it if I were him.
Of course, many of its problems come from the lack of sufficient funding: the lighting is very bad, as well as the sound (music too, but that’s mostly on the director), and period details (clothing, scenery, stage props) are at absolute minimum, but the writing and the direction are still the main sources of the show’s cheesiness.
The story is seemingly consistent, but really is awfully chaotic and muddy. There are mystical allusions all over, and the idea of destiny runs through the narrative for the greater part of the show, but while the writers seemed to believe in it themselves, the ending sort of refutes it – or does it? It’s all so unclear; I think, the best word to describe the conceptual essense of the series would be unintelligibility. Romantic line is also indistinct. I don’t think, they even knew what they wanted to tell the world in the first place. Psychological development of characters is nearly inexistent, and even when there is some, it’s ungrounded and implausible. It is also pretty clear, that scripts were not unified properly, because there are disprepancies in the latter episodes to the solutions made in the first ones (like, how comrade Roza managed to live for 100 years if she had tuberculosis, for example, or why would the bolsheviks let the hero go if he didn’t actually kill those people). These are all indicators of a sloppy job – like nobody cared, like nobody even tried to create a decent product.
Directorial mistakes are even less forgivable. First of all, there was more han 1 case of miscasting (Galina Kashkovskaya as Polina’s friend is the worst one), and many, many cases of simple bad acting. Constant repetitions of the same phrases from the diary are very irritating. There’s too much music, and it’s not so good. Tragedy is often substituted with hysterics. At least 2 large scenes are wildly delirious (thus provoking a WTF reaction), like the one when they meet Peter, brother of the deceased, but actually it’s the whole thing that produces an impression of ravings – there’s just too much bullshit to enumerate it all.
The fact that this show once again proved my point about Russian TV did not make me happy, unfortunately, but rather very angry, and disappointed too. Of course, 15 years is a lot of time, and Serebrennikov did evolve since it was made, but television didn’t, and that makes me even sadder.
All in all, I do not recommend watching this, – its low quality is just too upsetting.
Olive Kitteridge is a story about a bitter and unpleasant yet wholehearted woman and her journey through life. It is based on the novel of the same name written by Elizabeth Strout.
This is one of those cases when everything is so good, it’s actually hard to find any words to describe it. This miniseries is absolutely perfect, from beginning to end, in all possible respects. The acting of McDormand, Jenkins, Murrey and others is brilliant; the writing is impecable; the direction is flawless; special effects are beautiful and sufficient. The show received a great number of awards, including all the main Emmies, and it’s all well-merited.
The narrative is slow, melancholic at times, so that at first it feels sort of sturdy, tough, but as the story unfolds it becomes so powerful, it’s hard to tear oneself away from what’s going on on the screen. Scenes with the kid who almost used a shotgun, the assault in the hospital, the encounter with Jack – all these and others provide extremely powerful viewing experience, sometimes unexpectedly so.
This is a genuine piece of cinematic art, and also the best Cholodenko work I’ve seen so far.
In its 3d season Black Mirror expanded twice the size of any of the previous seasons (the initial expansion was planned even larger than that but was rethought later), and it underwent certain changes as a result of that. Nothing very significant so far, but it’s the tendency that counts.
First off, the essence of the show is not purely dark futurism anymore, it’s more like general science fiction, because many of the stories do not take place in the possible future, but rather in the alternative present (including the 1st episode). Also, one of the stories received a happy ending, which is not typical for the show at all.
Second, – although, I’m not entirely sure here, it’s just a tingling sensation of sorts, – there might have been weak points in 2 of the episodes: in the episode with the troll face in the end, the teenager watching that kind of porn seems like a stretch, or at least it doesn’t agree very much with my understanding of adolescence and American society. Of course, it doesn’t mean it’s false or anything, but some discomfort is definitely in place. Then again, the story wouldn’t have worked if the incentive was just a teenage embarrassment. My second complaint is about the final episode, the one with the artificial bees. It’s pretty obvious how those bees operate when being hijacked, and it’s clear that all they can do is find a hole and dig into it, so naturally one would at least think of protecting not the whole person, but just the body holes – the ears, the nostrills and the mouth, – and yet no one thought of that. Seems a little implausible, all I’m saying.
Having said all that, I should mention that the overall quality of the story, as well as of everything that comprises the narrative, is just as high as it was before. The acting, the direction, the dialogs, the characters, the sound, the music, the special effects – all these things and more are insanely powerful. There are not technical drawbacks whatsoever; watching the show is pure pleasuse, same as it always has been. Even with the aforementioned tendency (which is not carved in stone, by the way), the show demonstrates outstanding vital capacity, – an object of envy for any possible competitor.
Angels in America is a miniseries which story is set in the mid 1980s and follows several people in New York during a very weird and powerful period in their lives; it has a lot to do with early years of AIDS terror. First thing to know is that in 2 respects the film is perfect: the direction and the acting. Mike Nichols by 2003 is heavily experienced, sophisticated filmmaker, he absolutely knows what he’s doing, and can totally balance certain pathos of the narrative with pinpoint injections of humor now and again. His work is lively and energetic; there are a lot of interesting solutions all over the place. The cast is exceptionally strong, and they’re doing very nice jobs, all of them: from Kirk, Shenkman, Wilson and Parker, who are central characters, to Thompson, Writgh, Pacino and Streep, who are more like secondaries, – partially that’s director’s contribution, too, because he was the one to choose them in the first place. The story provides all of them with complex challenges, and they deliver 100%, they totally and completely comply with what they claim to be capable of.
However, not everything is so great. There’s a 3d thing, no less important, – the writing. And here’s where we encounter a problem. The conception goes that in the early 1900s god abandoned the world created by him, angels and humanity both, and has never been seen since. During that time the humanity suffered through all the devastating adventures of the XX century, and angels in their turn grew to be worried about where people are headed with all the technological progress and all. So, in order to prevent the disaster, they decided to send a prophet, which is where the actual story begins, because for some reason they chose a guy dying of AIDS with no hope of recovery. (by the way, this does mean that he is not god’s messenger, but only heaven’s messenger, right?)
I kinda like the idea, the way powers are arranged, but the angels, the heaven, the whole afterlife, supernatural thing is very badly thought-through. For one thing, would the angels really be so stupid as to assume that the progress can be stopped, and with the aid of a prophet at that? There are a lot of curious, funny details, like the flaming ladder, and the wings, and the blabbering, – really, lots of them, – but they are just furnishings, their totality don’t constitute an integral phenomenon, probably because the angel-heaven concept is so ridiculous and impossible that even Tony Kushner doesn’t really believe it.
Human level stories I liked: the one about the guy who is not strong enough is the best, but I loved the one roughly based on Emanuel Hirsch Bloch, too, and Mary-Louise Parker is just my all-time favourite. Maybe the way how everything suddenly resumed its normal course (well, almost everything) – that seemed a little strained to me, – only slightly, though. But the angels, they almost suck – and if not for Emma Thompson, who was amazing with wings, they could’ve drowned the whole series. Another thing: the dialogs are too well written. It’s high literature right there, and though I highly appreciate how smart and refined it all sounds, I can’t help but think that people don’t actually talk like that.
So, to summarize, Angels in America is a good show, and only several quite avoidable drawbacks separate it from being great. Alas, it’s far from perfect.
In season 2 of the anthology series Charlie Brooker continues to picture frightening possiblities waiting for humanity just round the corner. His stories are not always scary, but always disturbing – all because they present not very distant extrapolation of our world’s current line of development, and therefore seem extremely real.
Be Right Back is about one of the ways of weak AI development, kinda the same that led to the rise of strong AI in Caprica, only here the transition did not happen. Which is interesting, really, because makes you think what can actually trigger such transition. But Brooker decided not to touch upon that – for the time being, at least. He was more concerned with human emotional reaction to the re-incarnation, and that was reproduces brilliantly.
White Bear is about cruel & unusual punishment turned into entertainment. It causes the viewer to collide with insoluble dilemma: on the one hand, the punishment was totally merited and very precisely measured in order to fit the crime; but on the other – the whole attraction is built around the vindictiveness of human character, which is not a nice trait, so what does it say about the participants? I have no idea.
The Waldo Moment, was the least interesting novella for me, because it deals with politics and the worst kind of humor there can be, but I realize how extremely subjective that is. This story might be more important than the other 2 as it demonstrantes another highly important issue of our times: we have the widest possibilities now for self-development and independent thinking formation, and at the same time, we have more ways to distract minds from important things then ever. In the clash of these oppositely directed tendencies (uncovered in this film with straightforwadness and severity) the importance of strong will and consciousness rises to a whole new level.
White Christmas, the christmas special, is an anthology in itself: it consists of 3 small stories united with a horizontal one – like 3 branches of a plant are united via the stem. Although, each of them can be percieved on its own, their conbination forms quite an integral and consistent picture. There were strikingly interesting technology ideas, the most vivid being the real-life ban-hammer and means of creating a copy of personality, as well as using such copies for different purposes. Here arises the hardest moral issue of all: is a copy equal to the original, considering that there is no difference subjectively? is cruelty allowed towards a copy? would empath work in such a case? Difficult questions without a possibility of definitive answers.
Just like in season 1, everything is implemented on the highest level: the acting, the direction, the photography, all the technical aspects are pretty much perfect, or, at least, I didn’t notice anything faulty there.
The next season was ordered by Netflix, and will consist of 12 episodes, which is a little disquieting, because usually quantity increases at the expense of quality. Hopefully, Brooker would have enough mojo to beat this probability, but nothing is certain.
Killing Time is a Australian miniseries based on real events (but literary licensed). It provides some interesting insights into the specifics of the region as well as concrete events and personalities. The overall structure, acting, etc. – all can be roughly put into story well told formula.
What it ultimately boils down to is a yet another story of a person who failed to estimate adequately his ability to preserve control over addiction, because he based his judgement solely on his success as a professional, while completely missing on all the accompanying negative signs; and as a result, not only ruined his own life, but heavily impacted life of those around him. There’s hardly anything more to it; the story provides a genuinely concerned view on the subject, but does not offer anything more, nor adds anything new, other than regional peculiarities.
An absolutely brilliant tiny miniseries. Very professionally done: screenplay, acting, direction, – not a single flaw anywhere. Great songs and wonderful singing. Especially I love act III, in which an adorable parody reaches new level and acquires some serious traits – the transfomation of dr. Horrible is shown with great precision and power. Highly recommended for viewing multiple times.
This is much better than the original movie, although wouldn’t have been possible without it. The writers sometimes walk along the edge of good taste, but they do not get carried away to the land of weird. This miniseries is less parody and more situantional comedy; the writing in general seems wiser and less sloppy, which also makes it funnier.
There are a lot of wonderful, familiar faces, some of whom were in the movie, and some weren’t, but all of whom did wonderful jobs. Notwithstanding the time passed, there was no disrepancy between claimed age of the characters and their appearances. All the storylines were quite perfectly tapped in to the state they supposed to be as of the time the movie begins (the series is a sort of prequel).
On the whole, this is funny and enjoyable show that can be appreciated without any knowledge of the film (and its story), but makes a better impression if watched after it.
Every time when the film declares a genius (or an exceptionally gifted person) as its primary character there is a danger of disrepancy between such claim and its implementation, – in other words, more often than not a claimed talent is far from being good enough to correspond to that pretension. And it makes me all the more happy to admit that this show is not the case at all. Every character, including all the primary ones, are exactly what the writers have put into them. When the dancing should be perfect, it really is, and even that hardly perceptible difference between aging prima and rising star is sustained 100%, even though both are pretty great. And if consider the fact that they not only danced wonderfully, but also acted without any drawbacks, the level of implementation becomes mind-boggling.
As for the story, I had some concerns about the relationship between Clair and her brother: this is because at first she was presented as a pure victim, and he – as a pervert and a rapist; so when it turned out that the picture is a bit more complicated, there was certain resistance. After giving it some thought, I decided that there is nothing unrealistic about such complexity, – even more so: it’s life integral atribute; in reality things might be even more tangled than that (however, usually they are not as interesting). Everything else is perfect: a brilliant director, tyrant and incapable of trust; rough, severe ambience within the group; a beautiful girl with terrible desease; Romeo, a holy fool, and his weird ways; Russian criminals (very believable, unlike that bullshit in Banshee) and their teenage sex slaves; strip dancing, etc.
The show is an absolutely fascinating performance, all throughout. I enjoyed it big time.
This is a documentary telling about lives of true siberians, the ones that live in unison with nature and don’t care much for the fruits of modern civilization. To tell the truth, I was expecting the film to be way more meditative than it really was; instead I got extremely substantial and very dense story full of interesting and quite useful information. Of course, there are no manuals here per se, but even simply demonstrating various kinds of devices, traps and snares would definetely give a smart mind a way to understand and implement them in case of need.
Most of the people who got into the shot and shared those pieces of wisdom they have were quite cinematic and produces nice impression. Nobody was trying to bullshit anybody, and even it they did, it wasn’t in the movie. This full version is composed of 4 episodes, each dedicated to a season of the year, – probably just a reminder that the ties with nature are exceptionally important here; and it’s true – people are really dependant on the nature cycles. That comminity that was in the center of the narrative has also some dependancy on the civilization, but I think in case of some world-scale disaster they stand a better chance of survival than anybody else on the planet.
The implementation is great: the voiceover text is pretty smart and nicely worded, the reader’s voice doesn’t hinder undestanding in any way, also there camera work is amazing, especially shooting from the aeroplane and underwater.
It also should be mentioned that there is a shorter version of this film re-edited by Werner Herzog, who cut out about 2 hours out of 3.5, – I haven’t seen it, but I really have no idea how the length can be reduced that much without hurting the structure and/or missing something important.
All in all I highly recommend this miniseries – if Russian cinema is good for anything, it should be documentaries, no doubt.
An interesting story, and smartly divided into episodes at that. Very hard, even brutal, difficult to watch at certain places. And cruel – as the life is.
But I’m not sure if it would’ve been as great without Tom Hardy. I mean, I have no complaints about the actors – they were just wonderful, but Hardy totally took it to the next level. He created a character whom you’re bound to hate – an unbelivable low-life creature, so slick and ugly, you just can’t help wondering why would nobody spare this world from this thing. Such work requires a lot of skill, so I can say for sure: Hardy truly is a master of transformation, and he helps this miniseries a great deal. The story would stay the same, of course, no matter who’s acting, but different actor for this part won’t be able to make it as bright and memorable as Hardy did.
Each episode includes a lot of events, so the internal density is quite high. All in all, the show is totally worth the time.
Democracy is extremely adaptable, and that’s why it will eventually win. Situation that made this project possible, – a reporter accompanying a battle unit thoughout the whole campaign with no restrictions or cencorship whatsoever, – is competely impossible for authoritarian systems, like the russian one, for example. Irresistible urge for keeping mistakes a secret leads to not correcting them, not learning from them, which in its turn leads to the system decay. Maybe, the time will come someday when the vicious circle of bad systems being reborn into no better ones will be broken. But for this to become true people would have to become much smarter than they are now. Which might be plain impossible.
Anyway. Generation Kill is approximately 8 hours of high-quality feature with actual participants of the original story in the cast (not much of them, though), as well as such great actors as Alexander Skarsgård, Lee Tergesen (he was barely present for the most of it, but he’s character is the observer after all), Billy Lush, Owain Yeoman and many others. All in all, people’s behaviour and the way of being in general is very authentic, – just like every aspect of this film, to tell the truth.
It is about the war, and it shows the war perfectly, – both things that are common for all the wars in human history, and those that are characteristic of the modern warfare in particular. I read once that today’s war is way more dangerous for the civilians than for the military, and here I observed the confirmation of this thought: almost nobody from among alien americans was killed, quite few were injured, while the population of Iraq had been decreasing by hundreds every single day. Notwithstanding the technical development (and the army usually craves for new technology), a lot of things still depend on the human discretion, and this won’t probably change until the AI is in our lives. Nepotism can happen even in the best army in the world, and it’s rarely a good thing. Psychopaths are not that common for the military, but killing people influences everybody, no matter what the circumstances are. And so on. This film contains plenty of senses.
The general style feels a lot like The Wire, which can be easily explained, as both projects share creator and headwirter – David Simon.
Generation Kill is one of the best portrayals of the ugliness of war. Because of this it’s kinda hard to watch. But watching stuff like this is necessary. War should never be romanticized. This is a pill for that.
The Corner is obviously the forerunner of The Wire, another show also created by David Simon few years later. Both shows share the inherent element – the street, which is a marker by which Simon’s work can be distinguished almost undoubtedly. However, the Corner is inferior in some important respects. First of all, it lacks investigative note; second, the story is too heavily concentrated, there are almost no space between different pieces, and that makes the time stretch terribly – ten minutes would seem like half an hour. Finally, the story brackets, – pieces at the beginning and end of each episode, when the director would interview one character or another, – those were weird. Some – because they were basically really good theater, and not real life; others – because of the obvious director’s aspiration to come up with a very certain answer, very certain conclusion, i.e. he was leading the subject, and always to an extremely trivial idea about drugs destroying people’s lives. That didactisism was completely unnecessary. But the quality of drama is as just as good as that of the Wire. So it’s still pretty interesting to follow.
I have disrepant impressions about this season. On the one hand, it’s full to the top with brilliant stories, ideas and solutions, and the quality of development and storytelling is mindblowing. On the other… the second part is an absolutely terrifying picture of complete disintegration, when the point (as illusive as it was) vanishes and takes along the meaning of life and every other important matter assosiated with it. Starting with the intermission (the webisodes), which by the way is essential for understanding of the story (unlike Razor Flashbacks, for example), it is the way down to the very bottom of darkness that doesn’t have a bottom, and it’s really hard to take easy what’s going on. So much death, so much suffering, and all in vain. If it wasn’t for amazing writing (and acting too), the show would’ve been too depressing to watch.
Relative happy-end doesn’t make the bitterness go away, as it clearly projects the idea that the story is bound to repeat itself: the efforts to break the vicious circle were outstanding, but the message might have come too late. Besides, nobody’s listening. Not the people that matter anyway.
I was somewhat disappointed by the fact that no expalation was offered for the Kara Thrace’s mystery other than the god’s plan. But the device in general (deus ex machina) is appropriate here, because the plot is way too complex to solve it without one; also it’s too deeply rooted to rid the story of it without destroying it as a whole.
Battlestar Galactica is a prominent phenomenon of science fiction and cinema both. I believe, Babylon 5 is a great show, but this one excels it big time. Only the time will show the depth of its cultural impact, but even now I can say, it will be huge.
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At times this thing is genious, – no more, no less. Like episode 9, for example, the one with all the boxing, – it’s not so much a work of science fiction already, but rather that of tragedy, and the standard reached here by the writers is totally stunning. The beginning is not much worse, that cluster of episodes that ends with the Exodus, is filled to the top with unexpected and fresh situations, characters, actions, consequences. And, of course, season’s finale, which is as powerful as it can get, – thanks to both primary storylines that remained by that time: internal relations (Baltar’s trial) and search for Earth (completely insane ending).
Obviously, most of the time Ronald D. Moore’s writers know what they’re doing. Sometimes, very rarely, they do allow blunders, but this season is almost free of them (especially in comparison with the 2nd one), at least, I can think of just one thing I don’t really buy: Athena, in order to retrieve Hera, had to kill herself (with the hands of Helo) so that she can get to the baseship; so how would Hera recognize her against other #6s considering that Athena came to her in a brand new body and not the body that actually nurtured the girl; and while we’re at it: isn’t it weird that the biggest miracle in cylon history (they are not capable of bearing children, as we know) is killed and pushed away just like that, and no one even thinks about it? I think, it’s a Moore’s oversight. Of course, it’s just a tiny little thing and doesn’t influence much the final result.
The Resistance webisodes throw some light on the events of the 3d season (some details might be incomprehensible without them), but on the whole they can be quite easily omitted.
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