They say it's the golden era of TV – what with dramas like Mad Men and Homeland on the air (not to mention the recently dearly departed Breaking Bad), it's hard to argue with fact. But even with stiff competition from more recent critical darlings, Slings and Arrows (off the air for almost ten years now) is still one of the best TV shows I've ever seen.
Helmed by unstable artistic director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross), ghost (yes, ghost) Oliver Wells (Stephen Ouimette), and resident diva Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), the performances on this show are superb. Oh, and series writers Mark McKinney and Susan Coyne are equally blessed in acting gifts as they are in writing gifts (lucky bastards). You'll also want to look out for pre-fame Rachel McAdams taking her turn as Ophelia, Sarah Polley figuratively killin' it as Cordelia, and William Hutt literally killin' it as Lear.
Full of theater archetypes that you know and love/hate – the "ingénue" who chooses to play Ophelia as if she's stoned, the constantly harangued stage manager, and Darren Nichols, who perfectly embodies every pretentious douchebag director you ever saw (down to the ratty scarves and tinted, black-framed glasses) – Slings and Arrows is (probably literally) a laugh a minute.
And that's not even taking into account the way it deftly adapts some of Shakespeare's most loved plays: season one tackles Hamlet (cheer up, you melancholy Dane!), season two takes on the Scottish play, and the final season does King Lear (and no Lear is complete without a heroin-shooting lead actor, right?). The original tagline for the show was, "The real show is backstage," and it lives up that statement. The drama of the actors and production team mirrors, transforms – and dare I say, elevates? – Shakespeare's magic.
This show has an inherent beauty (not to mention a wonderful sense of humor) that everyone will be able to respond to. So queue up that Netflix Instant Watch!
There have been more rumors about Star Wars Episode VII than Jabba the Hutt has rolls of fat. But the fact is we still know next to nothing about J.J. Abrams' film. So to scratch our itch to see something — anything! — about the new movie we asked four of the most prominent Star Wars fans in all of Star Wars fandom to share how they'd like to see Episode VII open: James Floyd (@jamesjawa) of ClubJade.Net (@clubjade); Eric Geller (@ericgeller) of TheForce.Net (@TheForceNet) and Hollywood.com's Get Thee to the Geek Google Hangout series; William Devereux (@masterdevwi), Stephen Rice, & Tom Christopher of the We Talk Clones podcast (@WeTalkClones); and Tricia Barr (@fangirlcantina) of FanGirlBlog.com. We then got illustrator Terry Mack to render these suggested openings as four storyboard panels. Click on each of the photos to get a close-up, hi-res look at each of the images and check out what the fans had to say!
JAMES FLOYD Writer, ClubJade.Net & BigShinyRobot.com
After the scrolling text fades into the distance of the inky starfield, the camera pans down across the star-filled blackness of space to reveal an arc covering the bottom of the screen, a view of the top part of a large yellowish planet, shown in the day, lit from an offscreen sun.
The world has no pronounced surface features, though some patches are slightly darker than others, as if there was weather over the world. Other parts seem to shine, but overall, it's not quite in focus.
We hear a familiar cheerful beep-whistle, and the camera pulls back to reveal that the 'planet' is the back of Threepio's head as the droid floats in space. He slowly rotates around to face the camera, and as the camera continues to zoom out, Artoo and some debris also appear floating in space beside him. Both droids are intact, but are covered in patches of grime, dust and soot, explaining the 'weather' patterns on Threepio's less-than-shiny body.
Threepio, not liking weightlessness: "No, Artoo, THIS was not a good idea."
ERIC GELLERCo-host of The ForceCast, Social Media Director for TheForce.Net
We see the massive reconstructed chamber of the Galactic Senate on Coruscant. It is filled mostly with senators and their aides, but Luke Skywalker sits in one of the Senate's floating pods with several Jedi Knights from his academy.
A Senate official calls for silence in the room and announces the arrival of the Supreme Chancellor. Luke eyes the center of the chamber, where the Chancellor's platform will rise into position, looking anxious.
We cut to a lavishly decorated hallway under the Senate chamber and see a set of legs from the knees down as someone strides briskly across the carpeted floor. This person is followed by two armored guards. We see the trio from the back as they reach the end of the hallway and an open doorway that leads onto a platform.
The guards remain in the hallway as the third person (whose face we still have not seen) strides through the doorway and onto the platform. We then cut to a close-up of an electronic sign on the wall next to the doorway that reads "SENATE IN SESSION." As the platform begins to rise into the Senate chamber above, the sign illuminates.
We then see an overhead shot of the Supreme Chancellor's platform as it rises into place, with Leia Organa standing on it, looking determined and in control.
The scene ends with a medium shot of Supreme Chancellor Leia Organa standing on the raised platform in the center of the Senate chamber. She says, "Members of the Senate, I come before you to discuss a grave matter that threatens the stability of our fledgling new Republic."
WILLIAM DEVEREUX, STEPHEN RICE, & TOM CHRISTOPHERHosts, We Talk Clones
Panel 1: Binary suns rise over a jungle planet (Ossus). A lone Jedi boot enters the panel.
Panel 2: Three-quarter shot over the left shoulder of Ben Skywalker (Luke’s son) looking at the sunrise.
Panel 3: The camera zooms out and Luke Skywalker enters screen right. He places his hand on Ben’s shoulder.
Panel 4: Cut to a shot looking at Luke and Ben, with the morning sunrise shining on their faces. It’s the dawn of a new era. A Jedi Academy is visible in the background, with dozens of Jedi apprentices and younglings training in the courtyard (practicing with lightsabers, using the Force to lift objects, etc.) just out of earshot.
This scene is the passing of the torch – literally for Luke and Ben and symbolically for the viewers. It echoes the famous Binary Sunset scene in A New Hope while providing a launching-off point for the new trilogy, complete with a rebuilt and thriving Jedi Order.
TRICIA BARRAdministrator, FanGirlBlog.com
1. Han and Chewie in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. An overhead panel sprays out sparks while laser fire rips outside the front cockpit viewport. Han shouts, “Put your oxygen mask on, you big furball!” Chewie howls a protest. Han responds, “This old girl still has a few tricks left in her.”
2. A newer-model X-wing fighter swoops across the panel, firing on and blowing up the enemy starfighter tailing the Falcon. “Millennium Falcon, this trade lane is no longer safe. We'll escort you from here.”
3. The Falcon now parked in a hangar next to several of the X-wings. Han and Chewie walking away from the ship. Han says, “We need to find that hotshot who saved our tails and say thanks.” Chewie, arm raised, points across the hangar and growls something.
4. A female X-wing pilot hops down the ladder from the starfighter's cockpit, with Han and Chewie waiting for her at bottom. She pulls off her helmet and says, “All in a day’s work, Dad.”
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WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Disney takes another whack at “Witch Mountain” having found success more than three decades ago with Escape to Witch Mountain and its sequel. Now the story has been contemporized and Bourne-ified to create what is essentially a nonstop breathless race across long winding roads and two worlds competing for superiority. As in the original two children with extraordinary powers seek to save Earth and their own planet from evil forces. They waste no time jumping into a hapless Las Vegas taxi driver’s cab ordering him to put the pedal to the metal. It soon becomes clear the secret to their quest lies somewhere in Witch Mountain a place where top-secret government activity has been going on for years. With their own alien military leaders in favor of a violent takeover and the U.S. leaders ready for confrontation these two teens Sara and Seth plus their cabbie Jack Bruno race against time to find a better solution for both of their worlds.
WHO’S IN IT?
Fast becoming Disney’s go-to guy Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as The Rock) follows up his hit football comedy The Game Plan with another family-oriented tale in which he again gets upstaged by kids. His Jack Bruno proves the perfect foil this time as he gets to be funny cynical commanding and heroic all in the course of about 97 minutes. As events careen out of his control Johnson grows increasingly exasperated and that’s part of the fun. As Sara a smart extraterrestrial teen Anna-Sophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) is ideally cast bringing a nice believability to the role without falling into stereotypes. Seth is well played but with one-note earnestness by Alexander Ludwig who still comes off a little too robotic at times. As an astrophysicist who gets caught up in the trio’s predicament Carla Gugino is a delight. Lead among the antagonists is Irish actor Ciaran Hinds who is properly mean and heartless when it comes to aliens of any stripe. Director Garry Marshall has an amusing cameo as a self-styled UFO expert and there are brief but welcome appearances by the all-grown-up Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann who played the ‘70s incarnation of the alien kids in the earlier films. Richards’ face-to-face meeting with Robb is especially sweet.
The filmmakers wisely keep the retro tone of the book and earlier films while using state-of-the-art visual effects and movie magic. A lot of sci-fi movies have come along since Escape to Witch Mountain premiered in 1975 – see Star Wars Close Encounters and E.T. And while Witch Mountain circa 2009 won’t do anything to make us forget those classics it’s good fun -- like welcoming back an old friend.
There’s no complexity in sight and the story isn’t given a lot of time to breathe. We barely get to know Jack Bruno before the kids have hijacked his cab and the whirlwind begins. A little more exposition and plot development would have been welcomed for those with an attention span beyond two minutes.
There are lots of first-rate action set pieces including a collision with a train and a chase through a Vegas casino but the climactic spaceship battle can’t be topped. Kids are going to eat this sequence up.
After showing Jack her alien prowess for the first time by making various items in his cab float in mid-air Sara says “you humans don’t move objects because you don’t develop your full brain capacity”. Bruno replies “No I don’t do it because it’s kind of creepy.”
Based on the award-winning book by Bernhard Schlink The Reader is an extraordinary provocative and controversial story set in post-World War II Germany. It starts when 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) becomes ill with scarlet fever and is helped home by sympathetic woman named Hanna (Kate Winslet). After his recovery he returns to thank her and is drawn into a clandestine affair with this intriguing woman more than twice his age. Their relationship grows stronger especially when he starts reading to her. But then she suddenly disappears leaving a devastated Michael who now must move on with his life. Little does he know that eight years later while he is in law school he would see Hanna again -- as one of the defendants in a court case against Nazi war criminals. Shocked at revelations about her secret past he also discovers something that will change both their lives forever. Granted Kate Winslet is one of the finest young screen actresses but her range in The Reader will astonish you. It’s an extremely tricky part that could easily lose the audience’s sympathy if done incorrectly but Winslet handles it with aplomb. She runs through the whole gamut of emotions -- aging from her 30s to 60s -- all at once sexy mysterious conflicted contrite as well as many other colors. As Michael newcomer Kross is devastatingly good the most impressive acting discovery in a long time. Although he plays 15 he was 17 at the start of filming and production had to shut down until he turned 18 for the graphic sex scenes. As the story flashes forward Ralph Fiennes takes over the role as the older Michael and does so with a touching sincerity. Lena Olin also has a strong cameo as a Holocaust survivor with definite opinions of Hanna. Although this is only acclaimed stage director Stephen Daldry’s third film he once again shows a mastery of the medium far beyond his limited cinematic resume. Like The Hours and his debut film Billy Elliot he has crafted another film to savor. The Reader isn’t necessarily the most comfortable film to watch but Daldry guides the subject matter with a delicate and steady hand giving us a complex and touching love story between the most unlikely couple. It also delves into how one generation of Germans can come to terms with the horrors of another. Daldry’s directorial restraint and power perfectly serves David Hare’s impressive screenplay and delivers a memorable movie-going experience.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.