IR TV Review: AMAZING STORIES – EPISODE 1 (“The Cellar”) [AppleTV+]

The re-emergence of a nostalgic and well defined brand is always very tricky. Very few reboots or sequels in any way, shape or form can pull it off. The only one that comes to mind in recent memory is “Blade Runner 2049” which tends to get better with each subsequent viewing. The newest addition to this pantheon (dependent if it can sustain) is the Apple TV+ restarting or restoration of the brand of “Amazing Stories”. With Steven Spielberg involved and some former X-Files exec producers, it could have gone many different ways depending how they launched. The first episode is a simple story but updated for modern times but it understands exactly what “Amazing Stories” is about: awe, heart and dreams. Though it takes a couple minutes to get going, once it grabs hold, it is phenomenal. It feels like the 80s series but with everything we have today. It is hard to describe at times but even the opening credits set to the same original music just thrills. “Twilight Zone” on CBS All Access tried but it didn’t catch on. Maybe it will soon. But something was missing from that iteration. That is not the case. At least for this first episode.

This first episode, entitled “The Cellar” is both heartbreaking and yet a genre piece. A love story yet an adventure. It doesn’t need to explain everything and yet it shows the viewer everything they need to see and know. “Modern Love” did this to a point with Amazon but it came and went with certain episodes. With this kind of beautiful and lingering piece out of the box, here’s hoping “Amazing Stories” in its new form knows how to maintain. This reviewer doesn’t want to give any of the story away lest it be ruined but everything seems to work effortlessly. Casting of the episode is exactly right at the beginning even if you don’t know it. The scenes, especially in a certain club or sorts, is perfectly balanced. It is not overdone with effects or camera tricks. It is simple story with flourishes at certain points but, in no way, overdone. And at an hour long, this reviewer was worried the story would drag. It did not. “The Cellar” points to the basis of the story but it revolves in a different circle. For a return to form, this new “Amazing Stories” is just what is needed.

A

By Tim Wassberg

IR In The Trenches: The Adventures of Tintin [Paramount]

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Diametric Intensity & Percolating Ideas: The 2011 Fox TCA Summer Press Tour – Feature

The cauldron of Fox brews with a diametric intensity of different possibilities which makes its line-up both surprising and engaging in its spectrum. With the fervor over “Idol” and “X-Factor”, sometimes the essence of some of the great dramatic shows (like “Fringe”) go unnoticed but the ideas are always percolating.

With the hopes of a network behind it, “Terra Nova”, the dino mythology tale backed by exec producer Steven Spielberg, journeys into fall with budget scrutiny but also the temptations of what the storytelling will venture towards in lieu of the many possible routes.

Brannon Braga, the “Star Trek” mastermind from the late 80s, brought in to oversee the implementation of this show, has had to transcend the different writers rooms and blogger criticism on what is an all-in large TV canvas protect. The key always with science fiction series, specifically ones using time travel, is the idea of “The Butterfly Effect” which he assures is addressed specifically in hour one of the series. Another concern is delivery of the episodes because of the effects rendering which Braga again speaks as being taken care of through forms of new software that needed to be created for the show.

Rene Echvarria, known for his exec duties on “Castle”, “Dark Angel” and “The 4400”, knows how to deal with deadlines. He relates that “a lot of visual effects houses said it couldn’t be done for the time and money”. He says 5 years ago they couldn’t have done this but “there is a pipeline that has been created” which includes “a specialized team for rendering”. The reality, he says, involved a learning curve but “they get better all the time”. In order to make the schedule cut-offs, they have to start production, if they get the go ahead, in the early spring, because their pipeline involves an extra six weeks of production more than most shows. A fact though Rene remains very proud of is that the “slashers” represent the latest thinking of what dinosaurs looked like.

Jason O’Mara, formerly of “Life On Mars” who plays Jim Shannon, the head of a brood heading to the Terra Nova colony 85 million years ago, jokes that “I call my family saying that I got a new show about a cop who travels through time, and they were like ‘We’ve seen that one'”. In terms of character comparison with his former and current show, O’Mara says that Sam Tyler on “Mars” was lost while his character here wants to get his family to Terra Nova without question. The challenges of Jim in “Terra Nova” are external versus Tyler whose problems were internal. The notion is that in creating a feeling so far from home in Australia where they shoot the series, they are trying to create an adventure, so much so “we already feel like displaced pioneer families”.

From around the bend, the intensity of “X Factor” rears its head. Simon Cowell emerges and will not be undone especially in his choice of both judges including Paula Abdul and Nicole Schlesinger of “The Pussycat Dolls”.

Cowell relates that “for me, it takes a certain breed to survive in this business” but in terms of his new show he thinks “we generally have a good working capacity” but “it feels completely different” from “Idol”. The reasoning in his mind for bringing the show Stateside is that “every one deserves a third chance” which is “why we have no age limit” which gives any person a shot. The challenge becomes that he believes the TV audience has become too savvy. For him it has to be “what you see is what you get” whether it be “the good, the bad or the ugly”.

Revolving back around to comedy, “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” visualizes a generation of young feeling mothers coming about face with their age as they are trying to maintain their own sense of being.

Coming off her successful run on “My Name Is Earl”, Jamie Pressly says she remembers “when I was that 14-year-old girl…and it runs the gamut”. She agrees that, at that age, “we all think we know everything” adding that “I had my own ideas and was outside the box”. Her thought is that “every kid’s different and every parent’s different”. Her reminiscence begins on the thought that “I was treated like dirt by the mean girls” when she was growing up in North Carolina. Most of her friends, she relates, were boys hence she was “a tomboy”. In terms of her return to television, she explains “if I am going to come back to TV, it has to be as far away from the Joy character on ‘Earl'” as possible. The problem when she was going up for other gigs, most people “for some reason, instead of me doing a great job [they actually] thought I was Joy”. Fox President Kevin Reilly actually put “Earl” on the air so he was open to the idea of her expanding. She was surprised “how easy it is to get pigeonholed in that role”. She says she and Wilmer Valderrama, who co-starred as Fez on “That 70s Show”, talk about it because people think he is the same as his character. This made her very scared that “I wasn’t going to be able to get another show for a long time”.

Katie Finneran, who plays Nikki, Jamie’s mother-partner-in-crime, says that in her last TV role [“Damages”] “I had a gun in my hand shooting serial killers”. She admits that she was always the designated driver but that she would get a Whitman Chocolate Sampler and eat. This she attributes to growing up in Miami and “hanging with the Cuban kids”.

The mainline of all decisions comes through the man on top of the chain which Kevin Reilly has served at Fox Television for the past couple years. The key in the position is both in fostering creative talent but also making the tough financial decisions that make or break a show.

With both “X Factor” and “Glee” causing high visibility creative shuffling, Reilly speaks that “I can’t even know the exact chronology of how everything went down”. “Glee” from his perspective is “a complete management undertaking” because “personalities always have difficulties”. He never said they wouldn’t do it again. The challenge is the only time “when I get worried as a programmer is when people say, ‘I am starting to get bored'”. He reiterates that, with “Glee”, they are focusing on their core characters and there will be a graduation at the end of the season. However, from his perspective, for the present time “the spin-off will stay in the wind” but says “we we are going to revisit that”.

In terms of “Terra Nova”, he says the results will be “sampled” but classifies it as “a unique property” that is “not usual for Fox”. They do have “real estate on our schedule that we can use to see it”. He says that he has seen 5 hours of the show so far and that “it raises expectations” in “what it brings to Fox”.

On a wider note, he says that “baseball has become manageable” but that “it is trickier with X-Factor” adding that “we are not going to do repeats”. He admits that TV currently is “a hard environment” because “we are increasingly in a less linear universe” where the broadcast networks “have to demand [the consumer’s] attention”.

Using the structured examples of “Terra Nova” and “I Hate My Teenage Daughter”, Fox shows along with the intuit notions of “X Factor” and “Glee” that the continual progression requires a balance of both franchise shows and essential risk taking potential.

Playing The Field: The HBO Winter 2010 TCA Press Tour – Feature

Using their presumption for accurate and relevant perceptions while still highlighting the genre crossing that always begets an audience, HBO, with the growing intensity of “True Blood”, is playing through into the game balancing both films and new outlays of series and miniseries allowing for the ability to truly play the field.

“Temple Grandin”, which follows the life of a mentally challenged woman whose autistic tendencies gave her the edge to become one of the most successful businesswomen in her arena of ranching, comes on the perception of director Mick Jackson, best known for his 90s tomes “L.A. Story” and “The Bodyguard”.

Jackson says that the script interested him from the get-go though, from the title, he thought it was something based in religion. When he looked closer he saw that it was indeed “not the subject of everyday life”. Claire Danes, who took on the role of this woman who was constantly at her shoulder, says that “autism” as a condition “manifests itself differently” in every person “as it does through Temple”. She said that the performance had to be broken down into two major chapters of life and took much time and practice. The risk, she says is always of getting it wrong or underplaying it. Danes said that she felt protected in her approach but knew she had to be very specific which she usually achieved through music on her headphones.

Temple herself found the entire experience surreal at times. She described it as “like going into a weird time machine” where she would ask Clare “do you think that is you?”. She describes autism as “a big spectrum” in that the more and more you learn, the less you act “autistic”. In terms of what allowed her to make her way in the beginning when no one wanted to talk to her, she said she just whipped our her schematics on how to make the machines that now are essential to her business proudly admitting that the drawings in the movie are hers.

Next, “Treme” from the creators of “The Wire” is a motley vision of the residents of New Orleans, mere months after Katrina told from a dramatic point of view as a narrative series.

David Simon, who previous exec credits also include “Generation Kill” and “Homicide”, says “Treme” is about New Orleans but they are using the music as a hook and something to be valued. In terms of the marketing which shows the funeral procession, he admits that there is an undercurrent of darkness. What makes Orleans great in one sense, can make it problematic in others, hence the irony of making a funeral resounding and fun. The aspect of shooting of course begets insurance issues for sure in The Big Easy especially during incumbent hurricane season. What interested him in terms of behavior was that, in terms of the aftermath and consequences, the vestiges of crime started in 2006 but got worse by 2007. The question becomes what the lack of response did or how it perpetrated itself.

Wendell Pierce, who is one of the series leads as Baptiste, a local musician looking to make his way, says that, as a New Orleanian, he was very concerned about the authenticity of the series. The area is very unique and the more specific you are, the more universal it becomes. He knew that David and co-creator Eric Overmeyer had the ability to find the specificity of the culture. The possibility was of making a cathartic moment with life imitating art. He says that someone from “The Wire” told him excitedly that they get to go back to shoot there but Pierce admits that New Orleans still “hasn’t gotten it back together” and that “it is like pulling teeth to get back on your feet”.

Eric Overmeyer follows up these thoughts saying that when they first started talking about doing this series, alot of shows were being shot in New Orleans but never got it right. For example, they initially thought about not introducing John Goodman’s character until the second episode but said they needed someone who could comment in a bigger sense on the political situation that was being explored. This is why they integrated that character immediately. Goodman was a natural choice because he lives in Orleans.

In terms of the naming of show, Overmeyer defines that “Treme” is a neighborhood near the French Quarter where, he says, American music and culture were born. He makes clear that the show is not about that neighborhood but more about the spirit of the town stating that they “figured people would catch up with the title sooner or later”. He sees the New Orleans that they are showing as “the same city but not” because “you can see the scars from the storm” yet “it it is still standing”.

Coming back to the film arena, “You Don’t Know Jack” tells the story of Dr. Jack Kevorkian with only the kind of intensity that Al Pacino can bring to a role.

When asked about moving into this area of cable, Al, in signature style, says “It’s television. It’s HBO” monikering the line. He does state though that television has been doing a lot more in a short period of time. In terms of his character, he says that the film’s title is apt because this is a man who is more than meets the eye which is part of his appeal. Pacino says that not alot of people can say that they know Kevorkian, He himself did not meet Jack when doing the role. He said that there are some characters you do that with. He mentions “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon”. If there are possibilities to meet, it can make for great fodder. Other times not.

Susan Sarandon, who plays Janet Good, a social worker who helped advocate for Dr. Kevorkian in his assisted suicides, says that moving into the HBO arena for this role made sense because “their demographic is different” adding that sometimes “feature work gets watered down”. What truly drew her is that she found the character” mesmerizing”.

Following on the trail blazing between the two worlds of series and films is Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ epic miniseries “The Pacific” which, beyond one of the bigger productions of its kind, has a distinct challenge in distilling the essence of a combat theater so huge that many people were unaware of in its vastness.

Hanks approaches the thought of the mini-series first saying that “the main difference is our source material” calling it “almost a piece of scholarship”. He calls Eugene Sledge’s “Helmet For My Pillow” “about as great a memoir that has ever been published” perceiving it more as a “prose poem”. He calls the difference between “The Pacific” and “Band Of Brothers” as distinctive as the two theaters of war themselves. He sees The Pacific War like the ones we have been involved with since. The idea in “The Pacific” was to “take human beings through hell”. He says that there were some people (probably at the development level) who thought “that this context would be a waste of time”. He agrees that “it doesn’t bend to a graceful narrative”. When talking about World War II, the emphasis is that the war in Europe liberated Paris. The Pacific conflict does not fall into the same structure, in his mind, making the story much more individiualized and not as essential in the actual location they were stationed. Hanks doesn’t see World War II as a “finite open-and-close story” but “more as an aspect as the human condition” where “fate and serendipity” come into play. He comments that “there are great moments of face and great moments of despair”. What he finds key is taking these stories of these young men and figuring it out. He distinctifies that if you look at The Pacific as a museum piece, the difference between what 17-year-olds did then versus what they do today is mind boggling. The best they, as the lead creatives, can do is “show the vastness of the horizon reflected in the eyes of these characters”. He says that the nomenclature of “hero” can be branded about easily or as a catch-all phrase but anyone who said “I do” to service is a “hero”

Spielberg’s view works in congruence. He says that he had a sense when they were making “Saving Private Ryan” of some of the aspects of what these soldiers experience. Much of this was informed by the photographs these men saved. He wanted to find “the 24-frame equivalent of the reality without being elegant”. He also points to the fact that “The Pacific” has a very different look than “Band Of Brothers” which had a desaturated tinge to it. “The Pacific” is what he calls “a blue sky war”. What he and Hanks wanted to most to capture “in essence” was “what happens to the human soul through these engagements”. The way the soldiers in the Pacific Theater fought was in a very different way than the European Theater fought the Axis Forces. The view of “when evil and nature conspire against the individual” creates a different intersection of emotional claustrophobia. As a person who has never been in a war, Spielberg’s perception is that from his perspective “you don’t look at a war as a geopolitical endeavor…you look at it more in small pods”.

Ashton Holmes, who plays Private Sydney Phillips, summarizes the vision from the ground up saying that in terms of the character he was playing “the marine corp was all about discipline”. He pontificates that these men “were trained and trained and trained” so that by that perception “everyone would do their job to the best of their ability” and “be ready”.