Weekly Roundup is a feature posted every Monday on I Wonder if You Wonder. It gives me a chance to react to the week’s industry news and to provide some quick thoughts about the films and TV shows I’ve been watching. (Plus it’ll give you some idea of the sheer amount of stuff I watch!) Let’s dive right in.
In this week’s Weekly Roundup: A look at the terror that lurks inside the minds of Hollywood movie execs, some TV news, a couple more season finale micro-reviews, and reactions to a couple of recent blockbuster films.
This week’s song to listen to as you read is “Lost and Found” by Katie Herzig, from the season finale of Cougar Town.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation Delayed: An interesting tidbit to start things off this week. Normally I wouldn’t touch G.I. Joe news with a ten-foot pole, but this story tells you a lot about Hollywood works these days. G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which was scheduled to be released in theaters later this month, has had its premiere pushed back to the spring of 2013. The stated reason for the move is so that it can be converted to 3D, but Nikki Finke’s report at Deadline Hollywood speculates that the move is more about expanding Channing Tatum’s role in the picture, since he’s a much bigger star now than he was when the movie was shot and his character was originally supposed to die very early on in the film.
All of this obscures the real reason for the decision, though, and it has to do with the colossal failure of two other recent summer blockbusters: John Carter and Battleship. Together, those movies are going to lose something in the neighborhood of $300-$400 million dollars for their respective studios, and they’ve got Hollywood execs terrified that similar summer movies might go down in flames, too. The thinking with G.I. Joe is that the combination of 3D (and its higher ticket prices) and more Channing Tatum could potentially prevent the film from losing its ass at the box office, and regardless of whether or not you’re a G.I. Joe fan (personally, you couldn’t pay me to watch the thing), this on-the-fly adjustment has to be seen as good news. Battleship and John Carter have shown that consumers aren’t willing to support big-budget suckfests indefinitely, and films like The Avengers and The Dark Knight, two excellent films with strong creative teams behind them, provide a blueprint for what Hollywood should be doing in the future. Let’s all hope that Hollywood studios continue to monitor the situation and finally come to the conclusion that the minute degree of brand recognition offered by movies based on board games and/or children’s toys don’t necessarily make them wise financial investments.
Nurse Jackie Renewed, Gets New Showrunner: In a follow-up to the news from a couple of weeks ago, Showtime and Lionsgate have announced a new Nurse Jackie showrunner to replace the departing Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius: Clyde Phillips, who used to be the showrunner on fellow Showtime staple series Dexter. Going hand-in-hand with this announcement is the news that Nurse Jackie has been renewed for a fifth season. While I generally prefer to see a show’s creator(s) stick with a series, this sounds like a win-win move for all involved, and Nurse Jackie could probably benefit from some fresh creative blood.
Samberg Leaving SNL: Another follow-up item, as SNL cast member Andy Samberg made it official this week that he will be leaving the show. Samberg’s departure was expected, as I wrote about after SNL’s season finale two weeks ago, and the speculation now turns to Jason Sudeikis, who may also be contemplating an exit. It’s not yet clear if Samberg’s departure will mean an end to SNL’s terrific Digital Shorts, but his departure and the departures of the other members of The Lonely Island means that if they do continue they will have to do so with an entirely new creative team.
Scream: The TV Show?: MTV is working on bringing the Scream franchise to the TV screen. The proposed show would be added to the cable network’s stable of scripted drama series, which is an area that is being aggressively pursued by MTV as a complement to its highly-rated reality franchises. Things are still very much in the early phase, as there isn’t even a writer/developer attached to the project yet, and it remains unclear what role (if any) Scream co-creators Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson will play. If the show goes ahead, one has to think that it would mean the end of the Scream film franchise; Scream 4, released last year, got generally good reviews but did horribly at the box office, and that has thrown into question the fate of Scream 5 and Scream 6, which had been planned as the second and third parts of a new Scream trilogy. It will be interesting to see if and how MTV can successfully develop a slasher movie into a weekly series. Slasher movies are one of the more formulaic film sub-genres out there, so one would think that they’d have to do some significant tweaking to make it into a consistently interesting TV show. I’m intrigued by the concept, though.
Spartacus Cancelled: Some late breaking news that was posted on TVLine as I was writing this article. Starz series Spartacus, which recently had to deal with the untimely death of star Andy Whitfield, has been cancelled. Its final season will air in January. This is a surprising move for Starz, as Spartacus is certainly its most popular original series and stands as its best change for decent ratings given the struggles of the critically-acclaimed but lightly-viewed Kelsey Grammar show Boss. The decision appears to have been done with the full agreement of series creator Steven S. DeKnight, however, who told IGN that he wants the show to “end on a high note.”
Kathryn Joosten Passes Away: A final and sad note to pass along, as actress Kathryn Joosten passed away on Saturday at the age of 72. While in recent years she’s been known to viewers as a recurring star on Desperate Housewives, she will probably be best remembered for her role as President Bartlett’s personal secretary Mrs. Landingham in the first two seasons of The West Wing. Joosten’s character played a pivotal role in arguably The West Wing’s best episode, the second season finale “Two Cathedrals,” which would make my list of the 10 best episodes of television in history. That’s the wonder of art, I suppose: It will outlive us all.
Viewings & Reactions:
The Avengers: Sometimes, your friends surprise you. Take one of my buddies from film school, for instance. In terms of our academic interests, we’re almost the polar opposite of one another: I’m interested mostly in the study of Hollywood cinema and popular television, while he’s very much into contemporary realism and minimalism. Imagine my surprise, then, when he described The Avengers in an e-mail as “pretty fucking awesome.” That settled it – I had to see this film before too long.
Let’s be clear right off the bat: Like many other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is a good film, not a great film. It suffers to some extent from the sheer number of characters that it has to service, which makes it impossible for the film to track the journey of a single main character, which is the basic, effective (though formulaic) structure to which most Hollywood movies conform. With that being said, however, the good here greatly outweighs the bad. Joss Whedon, a comic book fan (and sometimes writer) himself, largely focuses the film on the conflict between the future Avengers members, with the group itself essentially standing in for any one single character as the backbone of the film’s story. In spite of its success at the box office (it’s now the 3rd highest-grossing film of all time), this isn’t the kind of film that could ever get nominated for Best Picture – it owes more to CGI ’splode-a-ganzas like Transformers than to more thematically complex films like The Dark Knight – but what it does it does exceptionally well, with the final battle of good-versus-evil dragging on perhaps a bit too long but allowing each of the superhero characters to show their stuff. In the end, The Avengers demonstrates what a contemporary big-budget action film can be like when it’s got solid writing, acting, and directing behind it. I might not describe it as “pretty fucking awesome,” but there are a lot worse ways to spend a couple of hours.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but its quality was definitely a pleasant surprise. The Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible franchise has had its ups-and-downs, but this film stands as the best since the Brian De Palma-directed 1996 original, with action and a spy story reminiscent of the Jason Bourne movies and the two most recent James Bond films (which is about a good a recommendation as I can give it, given that those films and Luc Besson’s superb Taken represent my favorite films in the action/spy genre over the last decade). And while I don’t usually get all gaga over stunts, this film features some truly breathtaking ones, especially those involving Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, by far the tallest building in the world.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
Cougar Town Finale: Cougar Town wrapped up its run on ABC this past week, with the show set to move to TBS for its fourth season in the fall. While I don’t think the quality of the show this year was quite what it has been in previous seasons, Cougar Town remains one of the better ensemble comedies on TV. The finale’s storylines revolve around two relationships: The marriage of Jules (Courtney Cox) and Grayson (Josh Hopkins), and the ‘will they?/won’t they?’ dynamic between Laurie (Busy Phillips) and Travis (Dan Byrd). In a lot of ways, these two relationships are the perfect examples of how the show has grown since its first season. As the title Cougar Town would suggest, the show’s original premise was of a 40-something woman, Jules, on the prowl for younger men. Within about the show’s first 10 episodes, however, it became clear that the show’s cast exhibited the type of chemistry that would render obsolete that one-dimension premise. The marriage of Jules and Grayson, an event that would have been unthinkable in the show’s first season, instead came as the logical result of the evolution of their relationship over two-plus years. The Laurie and Travis relationship is perhaps an even better example of the unexpected chemistry between cast members, as the relative ages of the two characters make their flirtatious overtones at once interesting and uncomfortable. (Phillips plays a character that is older than she really is, while Byrd plays a character that is younger.) The chemistry can’t be denied, though, and after a couple of seasons of skirting around the issue it seems clear that the show intends to go forward with the unlikely coupling (eventually…). I, for one, couldn’t be happier; I don’t ’ship a lot of couples on TV (“shipping” is online slang for someone who supports a romantic relationship between two characters), but I definitely ’ship Travis and Laurie.
Game of Thrones Finale: Wow. That is my only reaction to this past season of Game of Thrones. Last week’s episode, “Blackwater,” was arguably the finest hour of television to grace the small screen this year, and while last night’s season finale was perhaps not quite on that level, it was still an eminently satisfying conclusion to what has been a phenomenal sophomore campaign. The ongoing challenge of a show like this is successfully juggling its dozens of prominent characters, and while things can occasionally get muddled, it’s helped out by the preexisting corpus of info relating to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series that any confused viewer can easily find online. (I’ve consulted “A Wiki of Ice and Fire” on more than one occasion; just be careful about spoilers.) I’m not sure what else to say … but if you’re not already watching Game of Thrones, get to it!
Previewing features and articles I’m working on for I Wonder if You Wonder, some of which will be posted this week, some in weeks ahead, and others that’ll be abandoned due to laziness or frustration. (Hey, at least I’m up front about it.)
- The article on TV auteurism that I’ve been promising. (I’m still working on it, but it’ll arrive soon.)
- More in the “30 Days of Alien”… eventually.