In The Delta

In The Delta
In The Delta

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The New Golden Age of Television

Before I begin - just a word about this week's cover picture - it has nothing to do with movies or TV but it is one of my favorite places in The Delta - Al the Wop's.  Picture yourself on a barstool, enjoying a cold one before walking back to your boat for the night.

In the fifties, there was concern that movies would die out thanks to the widespread influence of television.  To keep people coming to theatres, movie makers introduced 3D (not even close to what you see today), Cinemascope, even Smell-O-Vision.  That last one was a short lived idiotic idea, if ever there was one.

Today, movies are bigger, but not better than ever.

3D is back and yes, it is incredible.  Even the glasses are new and improved - not those little cardboard multi colored ones that kept slipping off your nose.

IMAX is phenomenal for some films - Nature movies (not really my thing - the first time an animal dies,  I am out of there) and concert films like The Stones Shine A Light (I know, it was a long time ago but it still stands out for me).

This week we saw Everest in IMAX 3D.  This kind of film plays well on the giant IMAX screen.  But the preview for The Jungle Book makes far better use of 3D.

But, for me, Everest is the exception.  We are inundated with a plethora (I knew I'd find a use for that word) of films that attempt to astound us with visuals while giving storylines and characters short shrift.  They look so interchangeable that it is difficult to tell them apart.  But apparently, someone is going to see them, because they keep making them.

There are still small, independent films rich in character and story telling.  But they play well on a small screen.  I'm guessing a lot of people just decide to stay home and watch those on TV.  After all, we now have giant flat screens, surround sound, even 3D TV.  And it is awesome.

In bygone days, television was the place where actors went when they couldn't get decent parts in movies.  It was a kind of kiss of death to appear on television.  Not so, nowadays.

A listers are working in television - something that seems to have always been the case in England, if all of those great British series in my Netflix queue are any indication.

Speaking of Netflix, this is the go to place for a wide variety of movies, including independent and foreign films, as well as series that other networks have given up on - such as Longmire and The Killing.

We are Showtime subscribers and love it.  (Less so, HBO, which is why we are willing to wait until HBO series go to Netflix although Banshee on Cinemax could almost convince me to subscribe).

As far as Showtime is concerned, the best of the best - Ray Donovan - outstanding writing, acting (Jon Voigt - why no Emmy or Golden Globe?), outstanding everything - but not one mention at The Emmys?

Less enthralling - particularly in a weak second season is Masters of Sex.

But then there is Homeland - still taut powered by the performances of Claire Danes, Rupert Friend and Mandy Patinkin.

The Affair returns soon - can't wait to find out what happens next.

Starz Magic City, if you can find it, had two  of the best seasons on TV and then disappeared.

Let's hope the same thing doesn't happen to Black Sails - I know Pirates - who would have thought?

Netflix' own series such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have been a refreshing addition to the world of home entertainment as has Bloodline - looking forward to the second season but SPOILER ALERT hoping Ben Mendelsohn will at least be back in flashbacks.

We still can't get with the networks - they don't seem to trust their viewers enough to give us a continuing storyline.  Fox' short lived Gang Related is one reason we gave up.  Give us a show we love and cancel it - leaving dozens of plot points dangling.  Maybe Netflix will pick it up.

Even Basic Cable is at the top of its game - FX gave us Sons of Anarachy, The Americans,  Justified, Fargo and The Bridge.

AMC gave us Hell on Wheels, Breaking Bad, Fargo and Better Call Saul which started slow but we shall see.

Is it any wonder I can't get my housework done?

Friday, September 11, 2015

A New Month - A New Image and Some Thoughts Unrelated to Writing

The beautiful image that tops the blog this week is a photograph taken by Michael Pieretti.  Michael gave me permission to use this image as a book cover but I never got around to it.  Perhaps for the next Delta Mystery.

Michael was a true artist.  He lived on Sutter Island and loved The Delta.  His photographs are among the most beautiful I've ever seen and truly bring the area to life.  I was fortunate to meet him on my last trip there.

I am sad to say that Michael Pieretti passed away on March 13, 2013.  However it is still possible to view his work online and I recommend that you search for it if you would like to see the places that are the setting for The Delta Mysteries.

As noted above, this week's post is not related to writing.  Or perhaps, in some way, it is.  Because I have a few thoughts on the current state of movies and that certainly involves writing.

In the past three weeks, my husband and I have seen three movies - all at Laemmle Theatres - the home of independent and foreign films in an age devoted almost exclusively to less than thrilling action thrillers, 3D and tired remakes of movies that weren't that good the first time around.

The first was Phoenix - a German film directed by Christian Petzold starring the incomparable Nina Hoss (if you don't see foreign films, you may have seen her in Homeland) as a concentration camp survivor searching for her husband, who may have betrayed her to the Nazis,  in post war Berlin.

The second was Meru - a documentary about three men who attempt to climb Meru - a mountain less high than Everest but one that has never been successfully scaled.  When one sets out to climb Meru, one does it without Sherpas - dragging one's own gear and pitting oneself against nature at its most dangerous.  I have never understood climbers but then I am a confirmed coward - especially where heights are concerned.  This movie came as close as anything could to making me understand why they do it.

The third was a film we almost passed on based on the description - a middle aged woman (the always wonderful Patricia Clarkson) whose husband has left her, takes driving lessons and learns to control her own life while teaching her driving instructor, a Sikh, played by Ben Kingsley,  how to adjust to an arranged marriage.  I know - sounds boring, right?  Thank goodness, Laemmle will show you the trailer on line.  Once we saw it, we wanted to see the movie.  And we were not disappointed.  It is a film filled with rich performances and genuine emotions.

It is no accident that these are the only three movies we've seen at the theatre all summer.  Well, that's not entirely true - we did see Woody Allen's newest An Irrational Man - good cast - Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and Parkey Posey.  Not only did it lack suspense and humor, I found the dialogue forced and artificial and the acting amateurish - embarrassingly so - given the caliber of the acting talent.
It was like watching a movie made by someone trying to imitate Woody Allen at the top of his game.  Based on this, I'd say it's time he retired.  But then I remember Match Point, one of his best.  And Midnight In Paris - which suffered somewhat from that artificial dialogue but was saved by its sheer inventiveness.

The problem with movies these days is not that some of our best directors seem mired in the past, but that audiences apparently crave:

 A bottomless pit of bad remakes of movies that were bad to begin with

Movies in which Tom Cruise dangles from a helicopter

Movies in which cars hurtle through mid air and buildings explode

Or the world is facing an apocalypse due to an invasion of zombies (Hasn't anyone figured out that you don't even have to be able to run to escape from them?  You just have to walk fast.)

And for this, they expect us to pay $10 for a bargain matinee and $11.50 for popcorn and a drink. When I see a family lined up at the concession stand, I have to believe our economy must be a lot stronger than I've been led to believe.

My last thought on this subject is this - someone is remaking Point Break.  Now a lot of people think that was a bad movie.  On this one, I disagree.  This is one of Kathryn Bigelow's best.  It meets the Joan Klengler test for an entertaining movie - if you're channel surfing and you come across a movie, and you start watching, even if it's been cut for TV and is interrupted by commercials and you own it, but you still watch it - it's a good movie.  It's a classic, albeit a cult classic.  Don't remake it.  Watch the original.

Next time - the rich golden age of Television.  Thank you Netflix.