Immigration stories tend to be cyclical but they show the undeniable structure of human spirit. The one great thing fantasy does, whether it be in “Game Of Thrones” or “Lord Of The Rings”, is that examines the notion of human behavior in its many shapes and forms. “Carnival Row”, the new Amazon series, is nothing if not a more tame version of “From Hell”. It wants to hit a wide audience and yet have something for everyone. In its two lead stars, Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne there is an interesting structure at play both because of their previous roles but also how their real lives distinctly push the plot in a certain way. It is well constructed in that way since the essence of their love and strife as the characters parallels the journey in a way that is genuine. Delevingne’s choices have been good for the most part (even with “Valerian”) but a bit below the radar. Bloom with his “Rings” and “Pirates” cred (even though he often gets some grief of being the second guy in the franchises he has been in) still challenges himself. His character here is the lead but is understated which belies the heart with which he plays it. It is an interesting irony seems this inspector character wears so much on his sleeve and yet betrays nothing. This character of Philo is a man fueled by secrets but it is interesting to see who he shares it with.
Like films set in the Old West, there is a certain lawlessness that is burrowed in this world with a degree of civility. This imbalance is what makes the plot work as it is the viciousness that lies underneath (without giving too much of the plot away) that fuels the fire. The progression is also about subversion. One of the most dynamic subplots examines the history and consolidation of power in a very specific way. While these are mostly secondary players these ideas are being examined through, their intention plays very much in tandem with the overall plot. Another aspect structures in the elements of class with an unlikely pairing but one that speaks of bridges and not denying those who fall in love. David Gyasi, who has picked to be part of some very interesting films, most specifically “Interstellar” and “Annihilation” is superb and understated here, again making a perception both on history but also on tolerance in a way.
All of this of course is in play from the main relationship structure between Philo and Vignette, Delevingne’s characters. Without giving too much away, the aspect of truth and consequence plays heavily in their journey. While both actors are trying admirably, the chemistry is seemingly not there for the most part. Delevingne is not a natural actress but she is getting undeniably better. Bloom’s chemistry actually with another actress is more palpable which might slightly be a function of the plot but also of the actual structure of what the story is. The similar aspect can be said of Delevingne and a former flame within the story as well. It is an interesting dichotomy that gives the story and its player indeterminate layers. Of course, the aspect of “Carnival Row” moves within the nature of the underworld or the power that moves beneath it.
The idea of family and what that connotates figures heavily into the proceedings. That power is incumbent throughout most of the season with The Chancellor played by Jared Harris and his wife subtly and then overtly moving and pushing buttons. The nature of their power is driven by love and perhaps fate. All of these characters are seemingly on a path of their own choosing which is nonetheless orchestrated by someone else. The show does well is not overdoing its technical elements making it functional enough without overdoing the CG elements. It in many ways mirrors “Warrior” on Cinema. Though that show is set in late 1800s San Francisco, it parallels the aspects of the downtrodden who in many ways don’t have a say within their own destiny until they actualldo. “Carnival Row” again shows Amazon’s continued predilection for interesting stories without going too far left field which sometimes other streamers do in an effective way to create interest. The most important angle is to tell the best story while not losing track of the actual story being told.
By Tim Wassberg
The texture of “Another Life” as a series revels in a structure of both existentialism but also a progression of what life or the essence of what it means to an individual person really is. Katee Sackhoff, in the most dynamic and essential character she has played since Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica” is a commander who is brought in to lead a mission with a crew who undeniably is stacked against her. The dynamic and the subsequent ideal of perhaps a one way trip is personified in the intentions and perceptions of the crew. The one aspect that truly comes through, whether by design or organically, is the diversity of the characters and the personal interrelations. Some seem forced while others seem very fluid in the very sense of the word. The most interesting of the secondary cast is Blu Hunt as August and Jessica Camacho as Michelle simply because of their dynamic opposite personalities which shows the extremes of what space travel can do because of psychological resilience or as a coping mechanism.
The motivation of the first season (as seen in full but not revealing spoilers) involves finding the source of an alien probe which has made it’s way to Earth. Sackhoff as Captain Niko goes on the voyage as a modulation of protecting her daughter while her husband stays on Earth as a analyst trying to decode what the alien is about. The backdrop is perhaps similar to “Annihilation” which is vastly superior in terms of its texture and philosophy but more esoteric in terms of its character development. Reflexivity and what we think of ourselves play a big part as well as the hierarchy of command but also the curiosity of exploring the unknown.
The interesting structure that some episodes take on is the aspects of say a “Star Trek” episode with angles of the unknown (with a slightly darker tinge) while others can have the dread of say “Alien” or “Event Horizon” with differing levels of success.
Returning to the character work, the writers are not afraid of showing the different facets of human fallibility but also sexuality and insecurity. Some of these interactions and relationships work organically while others require a little more angling in the narrative to work. The most interesting by far but also the one that reflects Niko’s psychology even more is her interaction with William, the onboard AI who controls the ship. Like a variation of The Doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager” melding with that of Bishop in “Aliens” the context of what dictates emotions or the simulation of emotions comes to bare along with elements of the unconscious. This culminates in certain ways as the season progresses.
Back on Earth, the different paradigms reflect in the people on earth reacting to certain stimuli of the alien presence. Selma Blair as a would-be social media maven seems a little too specifically geared to the modern sensibility but her delivery especially in context of what can be perceived actually works in the long run while Tyler Hoechlin as Niko’s left behind husband reacts in understandable ways. The Earthbound story is not as engaging as the one taking place on the ship but, by extension, the stakes seem much higher up in space.
The special effects are effectively done with a certain veracity (much like the recent “Lost In Space”) and take into account some of the ideas that “Interstellar” played into with but sans the elite grandeur vying for the more practical. The design inside Niko’s ship balances between the claustrophobic but the technical much like a blend between The Nostromo in “Alien” and The Sulaco in “Aliens”. There is a dank humid element to the technology inside the ship like a submarine but with the idea that pressure or the lack of it lurks just beyond the walls.
“Another Life” is an interesting perspective into the sci-fi genre with a character worthy of Katee Sackhoff whose career choices will always be compared to her groundbreaking Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica”. The assemblage of the crew and their dynamic plus a hidden foe which will not be named in various forms keeps the tension in play while exploring different ideas of psychology, sociology and space travel.
By Tim Wassberg
The texture of a series like “Jett” really keys into understanding what it is but the implicit necessity of what can be done within its confines. Writer/Director Sebastian Gutierrez and his wife/actress Carla Gugino have a real sense of the way to make noir idealism with sexuality and emotional overtones without becoming melodramatic. They have done this in many of their low budget films like “Elektra Luxx” and “Women In Trouble” but were always limited by the budgets or the eyes of the independent film crowd.
In making “Jett” with Cinemax (which has delivered another interesting tale right after “Warrior”), this series takes that European sensibility that Gutierrez has created (watch his most recent film: “Elizabeth Harvest” which played SxSW in 2017), but gives it an effective almost low end DePalma make over without losing the abstract elements in part that have become a stalwart of these collaborations. Gugino famously starred in “Snake Eyes” with Nicolas Cage for DePalma nearly 20 years ago so seeing her transformation from there to this is undeniably satisfying. Though there are moments of plot driven exposition, the idea and dynamics flow along at a decent pace while still letting some of the scenes breathe.
The plot without getting into too many details follows Jett played by Gugino whose real name is Daisy who is a master thief both helping and providing intel for Charlie, a debonair gangster played with aplomb by the dynamic Giancarlo Esposito. Many different characters interplay but what is interesting is no matter how damaged they are, or how cold Jett might be, there is always a sense of what might be called malignant hope…a hope that gnaws in the plot and the characters even though you know it is bad to believe in it. Whether it is Elena Anaya (who Almodovar discovered) as the rock Maria to Gaite Jansen as the lost Phoenix to Michael Aranov as the intrepid Jackie, there is so much to rip them apart and yet certain travails keep them going and connected. The violence is motivated but also malignant in its wantonness.
Gutierrez is specific with his colors and textures as he has always been but what this medium allows him to do (as he wrote and directed all 9 episodes) is a consistency of vision but also to focus on small character moments which are made specific by the titles of all the episodes. One of the more dynamic because it doesn’t focus as much on the main characters is called “Rosalie” where Bennie, one of Esposito’s hitmen, gets into a different situation than he bargained for with one of the affected victims of a hit. It is both a diatribe on human behavior but also ironically funny and introspective in many ways. The inherent essence also behind “Jett” is that it doesn’t feel it necessary to put an air of true finality on certain relationships and yet it defines them…it gives the perceptions of the characters but lets the viewer decide on their own what they think of them.
“Jett” is by no means an excellent series but it is quite good. It is self indulgent at times. But it is also undeniably poetic and vicious, tender and dark, beautiful and messy. Gugino glides through the scenes like a crow stalking its prey but also understanding that without the surrounding messy ends around her, she would not exist. Her losses are visceral but they are also necessary. Jett is an image but also a reality in terms of the character build. And for that reason because Gugino and Guitterez can approach this material in this medium with a sense of instinct, style, fun and gravitas, it allows that kind of tone that maybe might have been difficult to give a wide breathe in an independent movie the kind of texture it needs in a cabler series like “Jett”.
By Tim Wassberg
Very few Hollywood writers have had the kind of interaction with both comics lore and top tier filmmakers in honing the craft. David Goyer is one of the elite few. He worked on The Dark Knight Christopher Nolan Trilogy but also on Man Of Steel & Batman Versus Superman. On top of that, he is actively working on “Fantastic Voyage” for Jim Cameron as well as being in the writers room for the new Terminator trilogy as soon as the right reverted back to the legendary director. His TV work is also very accomplished. Most recently he created “Constantine for NBC and “DaVinci’s Demons” for Starz. Next might be the most high stakes challeng”e for him via TV: “Krypton” on SyFy which follows the exploits of Seg-El, Superman’s grandfather. After completely a panel for “Krypton” at the NBC TCA Winter Press Day, Goyer spoke with The Inside Reel about texture, family and responsibility within his new series.
Can you talk about integrating Adam Strange as a sort of perceptor point for “Krypton” as a series?
David Goyer: Jeff [Goyer] and I always have a soft spot for him. As Jeff said, he’s a guy who ping-pongs around the world. I think he’s got an interesting backstory in and of himself, so maybe there was a possibility for an interesting spin-off or something like that. And we just thought we needed an audience proxy for the show. We needed somebody to represent people that aren’t comic book fans, that maybe don’t know anything about the Superman mythology. It seemed like a good match, and as Jeff alluded to, in terms of some of the other comic book arcs– there’s just some interesting things that we can do with him, particularly looking forward to season two and season three.
Can you talk about casting Seg-El and what compelled you about Cameron Cuffe as the character?
DG: It’s funny because I saw his early audition in the UK, and I called Jeff and I said, “I think he’s the guy. Check him out.” I don’t know. He’s calm and he’s heroic. He’s instantly likable as a person when I met him. I was joking about the talk, but that was a very real talk that we had in London. I said [to him], “You’re going to be under a tremendous amount of pressure, and it doesn’t mean you have to be a choir boy, but it does mean that you are an ambassador on a different plane than most comic book worlds.” And he got it. And he’s a genuine fan. He genuinely wanted to be there, which is also really important, because when you cast someone like that, you are thinking about, “Okay, this has to go hopefully for eight, nine years, and [we’re] at the beginning of it.” But he’s going to be front and center, doing all this press, meeting all these people in real life, and he will be an ambassador for us as a show. So he’s a great actor and he’s mature for his age, or it just doesn’t happen.
Now how did the whole idea, when casting, how far along were you in the writing process, and how did that sort of inset to the psychology of Seg-El as a character?
DG: I mean we were — if we hadn’t cast Cam, we would’ve had to push filming. We were right up against start. We’d already seen over 500 people and we cast sort of everyone but him.
And all 10 episodes of Season One were written at this point?
DG: No. Not all 10 were written. We’d written the first three. So we were literally talking about pushing production because we hadn’t found him, the guy. We’d already cast Georgina, who plays Lyta Zod, and the only reason she’s not out here, too, is because they’re both in so many scenes– we’re still filming — It was impossible to get them both here at the same time.
Did you ever worry, I mean chemistry-wise, that you hired the most important guy last? What if he doesn’t match up?
DG: Well, that’s why we had a screen test with Georgina. I mean, because they have to work together, because there’s a Romeo-and-Juliet aspect to the show, which I shouldn’t talk about. And so their relationship is the central relationship in the show.
This must be an intense production…
DG: It’s definitely intense. In terms of Warner Horizon, it’s by far the biggest budget — or Syfy. In terms of science fiction, it is the biggest budget show we’ve ever been on.
Could you talk about the family aspect? The whole thing with Zods. You can’t give too much away, but can you talk about the intersection of that?
DG: It’s a big, big aspect of the show, and the show is — it is as much about the House of Zod as it is about the House of El, and so family lineage, and what families stand for, and the family name, is an enormous part of the show.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of comedy is making the balance between heart and sarcasm, reality and fantasy a texture of perception. The different structures and ideas within NBC’s new series point to interesting and conscious form of diversification both in stories and in casting while still playing to its strengths. During the main NBC presentations at TCA Winter Press Tour, the rhythm of the ideas rings true.
Good Girls This crime comedy about 3 women pulling a heist for each of their own personal reasons speaks to the different kinds of chemistry and dynamics between the characters. Creator Jenna Bans explains “It definitely leans into the fun and chemistry of these 3 women. These character need to say what they are doing is for good so they will be able to cross the line. They are definitely breaking rules and laws.” Christina Hendricks, known for her role on “Mad Men”, plays Beth. She explains: “We have carved out our own little space. That blend of desperation and comedy. The tone is tricky and we play every moment as real. Sometimes they are over the top, hysterical and bizarre. [When these characters] experience crazy things, you can be funny. I feel like Beth in this situation is making decisions to protect her family. But unlike Joan [in “Mad Men”], she enjoys it. Beth is selfish. She likes adrenaline. She likes power.” Mae Whitman who plays Christina’s younger sister Annie also explains: “In every episode there comes up an element of moral justification. The fun thing is to see how far into that we go. Is what they are doing right or wrong and who is getting hurt in the process. To me one thing is that Jenna creates a whole world without it being preachy. I felt like I knew the people.” Bans also comments on the style of performance needed: “I am a hug fan of improv in these shows. The best are when [these girls] are shooting the shit.” Retta, best known from “Parks & Recreation, plays Beth’s best friend Ruby, speaks about what interested her: “It is rare I read a pilot and I cry and I get into it.” Hendricks had her own reservations: “I was worried about being on network. It was so edgy and dark. We have many discussions. I said you have to promise you won’t back down from this and it was going to be what it was going to be. I could also feel myself [as a person] in the role.” Whitman’s approach was slightly different: “I feel like I am always the weird girl. One thing I loved about this show is that it is 3 interesting people in the leads and they happen to be bad ass women. And so much of the comedy of it comes from the absurdity of it.” Bans concludes her perception of the show itself: “This show becomes about these characters balancing their personal lives. They are trying to keep going with life as normal…but they are in a buttload of trouble.”
Rise By comparison, the musical/drama examines the texture of a drama department within the high school and the struggles therein. Jason Katim, exec producer who also worked on “Friday Night Lights”, explains: “Having a show like “This Is Us” has cleared the path. Shows that are very character driven, are the shows that appeal to me as a viewer but also those I like to tell. [But] I also wanted it to be a show where you were amazed to see the singing but that you connected into the singers with what was going on in their lives so it would weigh on another level.” Damon J. Gillespie, who plays Robbie Thorne, one of the students who is between the two worlds of football and the theater program in the show, talks about his approach to the role: “I kind of changed my lifestyle. My uncle is a personal trainer so I wanted to get physically fit. However when you are a dancer you already do those things. That aspect felt at home but relearning how to do a blocking rehearsal.” Katim continues about how to balance the perceptions of the different areas within the school in terms of the story but also the challenges of telling certain aspects (like which musical that could be performed): “I really felt that I needed to make it my own story. In terms of the football angle, what I love about the show is that as much it is about high school theater, it is about the football team. I like the idea of striking a balance. When I took on the show, they happened to be doing “Spring Awakening” at Pacific Palisades High School. I talked to the director afterwards and she told me about the challenges like the school wanting to censure certain parts.” Gillespie continues on the parallels in his education but also the differences in showing theater on stage versus shooting it for television: “In theater, you have 2 ½ half hours to get to the aspect of the story while with TV you are doing it sporadically. So it becomes…what makes me cry…what makes me happy. It was very layered. My cousin went to public high school. It was the normal every day high school student. For me at an arts school, it was completely opposite. There was only 40 in my graduating class. So I only know the arts school but it shaped who I am and how I think.”
A.P. Bio This show from Mike O’Brien who wrote for “Saturday Night” would seem to come from a more sardonic point of view especially with its casting of Glenn Howerton (known for “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” as a Harvard philosophy professor turned interim science teacher. Howerton talks about the challenges with having a successful show but also creating a new character: “I did officially leave “Sunny”. The hard thing about people seeing you in the same thing is that they have a hard time seeing you in about everything else. I think there is some real heart [this character which is] key. I don’t think he is as hardened as Dennis [his character in “Philadelphia”. I am compartmentalizing. There is a little more tenderness to this guy although he doesn’t want people to realize it. [But] I am always looking for some sort of truth. This is about a man who is a grieving but doesn’t believe that he is grieving. I like to think that he is a guy who has big feelings who has to play it like he just doesn’t care. Because it stop serving you to feel things so openly. That’s funny right?” O’Brien speaks to the design of the character to match Howerton: “I was very excited about the idea of having a fun silly playful show that has an extremely intelligent lead. Not that it hasn’t been done before. I have many character [integrated] in the size and shape that Jack does. You friends that abandoned you when you were stalling out.” To the idea of philosophy as a construct within the character, Howerton continues: “You can use a philosophy to justify almost any behavior…if I am ever called out on it. What I love is that Mike wrote a character that is intellectually smart but emotionally immature.”
Super Bowl LII The greatest show on earth at times always can have the essence of Al Michael’s voice. Like John Madden, his calls have become synonymous with the NFL. Michaels reflects on the many years he has called the fields his home: “I have always said the NFL is the greatest unscripted show out there. I think back to the first one we did where James Harrison ran back the interception 100 yards [in Super Bowl XLIII]. In a way the Super Bowl is the easiest game to do. [You] just let the game break. I am a production junkie too. We all work hand and glove. [But] at the end of the day, I am a fan like anyone else. I like to watch games myself.” However, he explains the difference when he is with friends and family watching a game: “If you go to a party, there is always a guy who thinks he knows more than you do.” He also speaks of some of the more challenging games he has called: “There was a Skycam game when we had the fog in New England. And, at that point, we couldn’t see the field from our upper field camera. We had to watch from the point of view of the quarterback. It really gives you a different perspective but you couldn’t do the whole game that way. However, that night in Foxboro was cool.”
The Voice In this upcoming season, Kelly Clarkson, famously known as the main breakout from the original “American Idol” show, adds her perception moving to the reverse side as a judge. Clarkson speaks on the irony and competition in this new role: “It is definitely awesome to fight the three other coaches. I still feel like the same kid that entered this industry. [But] I can’t hide excitement. My favorite part [so far is] to be a coach. I hate to be a judge. I feel shitty afterwards. When I started singing I started by singing opera music. But, at the core, people like talent over aesthetics.” She continues about her interaction with the other judges, obviously all music stars in their own right: “It is hilarious how much we grovel. They constantly remind me they all won.” But she then explains her own rise to stardom: “I don’t fit the pop star image that people have had in their mind. [But] it is a different world now. Success is rated differently with streaming. What happened in my life was incredible. People dream for that moment and not everybody gets to achieve it.”
By Tim Wassberg