Christopher Guest is finally (and delightfully) back behind the camera with Family Tree, a new half-hour single-camera comedy on HBO co-created with Jim Piddock. The production is a bit of a departure for Guest, who’s made his name in film (A Mighty Wind, This is Spinal Tap, Best In Show) rather than in television, but if the first episode, ‘The Box,’ was any indicator, this will indeed be Guest at his best, showcasing his ability to move seamlessly across a variety of media and to work well with a variety of actors, even those who aren’t part of his usual ensemble. Continue reading
It’s 1923 in Atlantic City, and no holds are barred on Boardwalk Empire, where the stakes just went up. ‘Resolution’ makes a curious title for an episode that seems to be based less in resolutions than revolutions which push the characters on dramatic journeys; the era of nice guys, or at least gangsters with hearts of gold, is definitely, definitively over on the hit HBO series, which came out of the gate with a bang after the explosive season two finale.
The pilot of The Newsroom on HBO was an artistic, factual, and an ideological failure, and critics are not responding favourably. Particularly young critics in new media, the very content management and distribution method executive producer Aaron Sorkin notably left out of this attempt at an indictment not just of modern journalism in the United States, but of the nation’s residents. This episode felt at times like a long rumination on Sorkin’s loss of relevance, paired with bitter raging against the dying of the light (cheer up, Aaron, the sun will rise again!).
Watching HBO’s Girls felt like standing around at a party with a bunch of people trading insider jokes I don’t get; at the same time that I was being welcomed as part of the club, it was obvious that I was not one of them. Girls is definitely for someone, but I didn’t get the impression that this someone was me. The question is: who is Girls for?
HBO’s True Blood, a vampire and lust-filled adaptation of the Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, has been captivating summer audiences for three seasons now with Alan Ball at the helm. With Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) as a petite blonde love interest followed by a swarm of swains, each season roughly follows the storyline of one of the books and you never know which supernatural creature is going to pop up next, or who’s going to be doing it with whom. The show’s a big enough hit to merit tie-in covers in the mass paperback racks, but does it have staying power?
True Blood’s lacklustre season four premiere opened on Sunday night on what appeared to be a cheesy porno set (sorry, ‘Fairyland’), then switched to a low-budget fantasy (or perhaps just the Los Angeles desert), and dropped us back in Bon Temps one year and a number of faded storylines later. Alan Ball’s hit HBO series is back for another season, and this viewer was left unimpressed; my views were perhaps best encapsulated in the episode’s Dead Parrot Scene (yes, it had a Dead Parrot Scene) where one of the witches, upon discovering that she’s been dragged into necromancy, says ‘…uh.’
Summer used to be the most dire season in television, between the re-runs of television’s most insipid offerings and the series of increasingly depressing and dire reality shows. Both are very much in force on the schedule this summer, from Are You Fitter Than A Senior? on Discovery to the endlessly circling NCIS re-runs on CBS. Fortunately, there are some alternatives on US television we can turn to on lazy summer nights when the bugs are out in force and you want to digest your barbecued goodness in peace.
HBO’s True Blood starts up again on 26 June with its fourth season. The third season was a bit of a sloppy mess, but I’m still sticking it out because I have a soft spot for Alan Ball, and the Sookie Stackhouse novels are delicious fun. If the television series continues roughly following the books this season, viewers have some excitement ahead of them, including a whole lot of naked Eric Northman. What’s not to love about convenient memory loss plots, witches, and finding out more about fairies than you ever wanted to know?
While some of the narratives in True Blood are poorly handled, sometimes frustratingly so in the case of racial issues, and some viewers are clearly turned off by the pornographic violence, this is a series that is very true to form for Alan Ball and HBO, in many ways. It’s sexy, it’s complicated, it’s fun, and it’s not afraid to get viewers a little dirty. And it illustrates a marked difference between cable and network television in the United States, not just in the ‘you can’t show that on TV!’ way, but in the sense that True Blood dares to get complex, and for all the violence, it’s beautifully staged, lit, and costumed, a common trait on Ball’s shows.
James Marsh is a humble low-key guy who often explores over-the-top boisterous characters. He’s also equal parts affable and driven, and a filmmaker whose work I’ve been raving about ever since Man On Wire rocked my world at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008. Since then I’ve chatted with James about that documentary – that would go on to take the Oscar in 2009 – and more recently about his last foray into fiction filmmaking Red Riding: 1980, the second in a stellar three-part trilogy based on David Peace’s novels set during Britain’s seedy “Yorkshire Ripper” days.
So when I saw that the director would be at this year’s Miami International Film Festival to support his Sundance award-winning doc Project Nim, which delves into the infamous experiment in the 70s that set out to teach a human-raised chimpanzee to communicate using sign language, I decided to pick his quick-witted brain once again. Sitting in the glorious sunshine outside the fest’s headquarters at the Royal Palm Hotel in South Beach we chatted about everything from Big Brother to Bresson to Herzog to uncovering Original Sin.
HBO has pushed the envelope ever since it started airing programming. Many have embraced innovative shows such as “Six Feet Under,” “OZ,” “The Sopranos,” “Big Love” and “True Blood.” HBO’s latest offering, “Hung,” has many people whispering and wondering, as it explores the life of a divorced father turned male escort. Mirroring the real life experience of many sex workers, Ray Drecker, played by Thomas Jane, decides to sell his body after his world and his finances come tumbling down.
Ray finds himself living in a tent after his family home is destroyed in a fire. In a moment of desperation, he attends a business seminar where he is encouraged to think about what special talent or specific skill set he could offer the world. In what is presented as a revelation, though hardly surprising to any female viewer, Ray decides that his big penis is his one true gift. Wow, imagine the originality that it must take just to think about a penis — living in a world that is decidedly patriarchal and filled with phallic images.
In what is probably the show’s only creative twist, Ray forms a relationship with a woman who ultimately functions as his pimp for a percentage of his earnings. Gender dynamics do not often result in a woman exploiting a man’s sexuality and/or body for financial gain. Madams are not new to pop culture, but when they do appear in our discourse, it is often while in the role of pimping out young, conventionally attractive women to men of class privilege. Tanya, played by Jane Adams, not only seeks to profit from Ray’s large member, she also acts as his wise sage, demystifying womanhood for him.