The 2013 fall season features the premiere of two major spin-offs. The Originals brings the first family of vampires from The Vampire Diaries to New Orleans. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland follows Alice as she battles Jafar (from Aladdin) to rescue her genie quasi-boyfriend. No offense guys, but neither series is ready to spin-off.
All in the Family spawned two major spin-offs, The Jeffersons and Maude. Frasier was a spin-off from Cheers and kept Camille Kelsey Grammer rolling in dollars. But not all series can launch a spin-off or risk losing major characters.
Here are a few major spin-offs that were a little premature:
Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and Rebecca (Claire Holt) were a great in-flux of new blood into The Vampire Diaries. They have great salty lines and offer an evil alternative to the squeaky clean vampires. There also is room for them in the series with Kat Graham and Michael Trevino appearing in less of the show. There was never enough character development for them so a spin-off could does make some sense. However, pairing them with flat model types and constantly relying on flashbacks isn’t as endearing as it is on The Vampire Diaries. Also, Phoebe Tonkin is wasted as a baby incubator when she was the best part of her first American series, The Secret Circle.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
Once Upon a Time is a fluke. The edgy comic book series Fables is much better at bringing fairy tale characters into the “real world.” Using the whitewashed Disney versions of the popular stories makes each episode feels like gross product placement for the Disney house of horrors vault. The saving grace is likable actors like the lovable Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Carlyle, and the deliciously evil Lana Parrilla. However, Wonderland is just a cheap, shameless sequel that only cannibalizes the few possible storylines for later seasons of the original. Naveen Andrews dressed in an elaborate leather costume is laughable. Poor Emma Rigby as The Red Queen seems like a porn star on the wrong set. It’s also a total waste of actors like John Lithgow and rock legend Iggy Pop.
By the last season of Friends, each character feels like an outlandish stereotype. Except of course Jennifer Aniston who was playing A-list actress Jennifer Aniston. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) was so stupid and unaware that he didn’t seem functional enough to drive a Matchbox car, let alone carry a series. The spin-off finds him in Los Angeles with his sister (Drea de Matteo) and working on being an actor. It wasn’t horrible but there wasn’t enough juice in the character to keep the show alive.
Kate Walsh is magic! She added such great energy to Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery-Shepherd. It seemed like a great idea to take her to the sun-soaked beaches of Los Angeles on a hunt for love. The series wasn’t a total fail but it did rob Grey’s Anatomy of one of its greatest characters. It also had trouble finding its sea legs and a format for the show that would work.
Richard Grieco added a lot more edge and man candy to 21 Jump Street. However, it was ill advisedly decided to give him a spin-off. After it tanked, there was an attempt to bring him back to the series but it tanked. Had he stayed on 21 Jump Street he may have been able to take over when Johnny Depp unceremoniously left in the third season.
Charmed Lives/Living Dolls
Successful syndication has proved Who’s the Boss? is a part of television history. Sadly, lightning was not able to strike twice…no matter how hard they tried. Fran Drescher and Donna Dixon were dueling models working with Angela (Judith Light). They were spun-off into an odd couple precursor to 2 Broke Girls. Angela also got a modeling job for Samanta’s friend Charlie (Leah Remini) gets recruited as a model for one of Angela’s contacts she moves in to a house full of models including Halle Berry. Despite this notable casting, neither series lasted very long.
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.