In Industry, Television on April 26, 2014 at 9:08 am
by Matt Smith
This week saw a pretty exciting announcement from HBO and Amazon about a new licensing deal struck between the two companies. Amazon Prime has been granted exclusive streaming rights to HBO content, though there are a few major caveats, particularly that the deal is limited to HBO’s older content, with new series only becoming available after three years have passed since a season’s airing. Additionally, as has been pointed out, the press release carried precious few details about the financial aspect of the deal, and also the fact that the real payoff comes when HBOGo becomes available via Amazon’s set-top box Fire! some time later, again reinforcing the likelihood that HBO will reap the bigger benefit from potential subscribers here.
Predictably, the news caused the internet to go into a complete meltdown, reiterating a lot of what we’ve been hearing for the past decade (and longer, if we are talking about the death of “TV,” whatever that is). Netflix is in danger! TV is dying! Cable will eventually be overrun by streaming content and the internet! These broadcast doomsday prophecies may not pan out exactly as those shouting that “Winter is coming!” into the heavens might think, however.
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In Uncategorized on April 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm
by Matt Smith
I didn’t see Neil Jordan’s vampire flick until very late in the year, but I’m very glad I did. The visuals are lush, the performances grand, and the tone tender yet still chilling. The film centers on the mother-daughter vamps Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), who stole their immortality from an all-male society centuries ago. The story unfolds in a piece-meal, somewhat labyrinthine fashion, with fragments of information periodically filling in the backstory of our protagonists. Refreshingly, Byzantium doesn’t feel like a retread of either the current vamp vogue or that now-classic other Neil Jordan-directed film Interview with the Vampire. Instead, the film takes a decidedly feminist slant, examining and interrogating the struggles of Clara and Eleanor against the patriarchal hierarchies inherent in the genre, and inverting the power relationships typical of the romanticism at play in stories about vampirism. Ronan is a knockout as Eleanor, delivering her second great performance of the year (the other being in the little-seen young adult apocalypse flick How I Live Now), proving that she is one of the most exciting actresses of her age group, and providing a counter to the equally-talented Emma Watson’s roles as she has attempted to shirk the Harry Potter behemoth from her back. Here Ronan continues her trek into strong female lead territory, with her standard softness which belies a visceral nature of violence lurking just underneath the surface. She’s an impassioned and compassionate character, but vicious when she needs to be. Byzantium is a gorgeous film that begs to be seen, and it was neglected by viewers upon its release. Now would be a good time for everyone to discover this gem. It’s the best thing I saw in 2013.
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In Film, Reviews on March 3, 2014 at 12:12 am
By Eric Plaag
As promised, just in time for the Oscars, I offer you below my selections for the best films of 2013 that I have been able to see so far. I say that with a bit of disappointment, for two reasons: 1) Finding a way to see independent and foreign films in Boone, NC (my place of residence), and even some big budget pics, is a bit of a challenge, so some highly regarded films like Frances Ha, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Leviathan, and even The Wolf of Wall Street (which I am fighting hard to reserve judgment on, in spite of my spidey sense) simply have not shown up on my radar yet, and 2) as a general rule—in direct contradiction to what I have heard from so many other reviewers—I found 2013’s crop of films to be astonishingly weak.
On this latter point, let me offer some examples of the highly touted films (many of them Oscar-nominated) that left me wondering whether people still know that good filmmaking and storytelling, regardless of genre or subject matter, require looking beyond oneself as creator and connecting with something larger and more resonant. I went into David O. Russell’s American Hustle expecting a smart thriller and instead found a derivative 1970s caper film whose over-the-top dialogue and tone closely resembled the infamous off-screen bickering among Russell and the actors in I Heart Huckabees, so much so that I’m convinced Christian Bale based his entire Irving Rosenfeld character on Russell’s Huckabees rant at Lily Tomlin. (Upon further investigation, in fact, Russell actually looks like Bale’s version of Rosenfeld.) This kind of self-obsession and navel gazing showed up in other films, too, such as Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, a film I waited for nearly two hours to embrace eagerly but couldn’t because Malick wouldn’t move off his obsessive, often nonsensical nostalgia for a suburban Texas that is rapidly transmogrifying and allow what was an otherwise fascinating meditation on the essence of romantic love to sing, as he did so effortlessly with life, family, and loss in The Tree of Life. Rather than serving as a compelling backdrop and intoxicating miasma, as they did in Tree, Malick’s Texas digressions in Wonder were often the rhetorical equivalent of Malick pausing in the midst of a grand and poignant monologue on a lost lover, then spoiling the climax to ask his audience if he’s ever told them about the tree house he had in his backyard as a child.
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