THE FILM YAP » William Hurt We Never Shut Up About Movies Thu, 20 Nov 2014 23:13:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 TV is Better Than Film Wed, 30 Mar 2011 04:02:37 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Throughout the past decade, there has been a very interesting shift. Television was always seen as a lesser medium, the place to get your start so you may one day be awarded the honor of working in film. When artists realized the opportunities of a weekly long-form narrative, something exciting happened. It started with “The Sopranos” and has evolved to the riveting TV market of today.

To me, television is so good right now that it is more satisfying and experimental than what I see at the cinema. Of course, they are different mediums, so it is difficult to declare one better than another as a blanket statement. From a fanatic of both, I can just speak for myself as to which has been the most rewarding in recent years.

Because of the opportunities in long-term storytelling, there is a greater chance to be emotionally connected to the characters. In two hours, I rarely have time to be that invested with the people on screen. It’s such a short time that every scene seems set just to move the plot forward. In today’s cinema, there isn’t opportunity to let the characters breathe. The films in the late 1960s and the entirety of the 1970s were looser, and there were plenty of moments where the characters are seen doing mundane things or having a more personal moment. This is why films like “Easy Rider” or “Looking For Mr. Goodbar” felt so different than the studio films during the Production Code.

With a TV show, there is plenty of time to see these characters in a variety of challenging environments that test and reveal who they really are. One of the best shows on the air right now is really using this to its advantage.

NBC’s “Community” has a typical sitcom plot where a group of strangers in community college form a study group and become friends. For the past two years, it’s not just been about the gags but recognizing that these people have all come to this place because their lives were broken. Together they can become the best versions of themselves. The show gets a lot of recognition for its gimmicky episodes like its homages to movies like “Goodfellas,” “Apollo 13″ and, more recently, “My Dinner With Andre.” Instead of just focusing on the jokes, all of these episodes remain completely character-based. In some of the best episodes of the season, they even downplayed the humor and focused on the tragedy. When they had their “Dungeons and Dragons” episode, the main focus was to help out a character who is on the verge of committing suicide. With episodes like this, the gang of characters becomes more relatable and three-dimensional.

Movies could do this. Films don’t have to be subjected to a single story, but they often mess up any idea of another story. There is a reason sequels and prequels have the connotations of sucking. Studios are too afraid to change what works, so they just copy and paste the first film but expand the budget. Whenever a movie is good, everybody begs for there to not be a sequel so it’s not spoiled. When there is a great season of a TV show, the audience can’t wait for it to return.

There are plenty of examples of television experiencing a sophomore slump, but a lot of them now have a greater understanding of their world. Recent examples of this are FX’s “Justified,” AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and the aforementioned “Community.” The only characters that have had proper sequels in movies have been the “Toy Story” crew. That has been over 10 years of exposure and three stories that have moved the characters forward while still experimenting with the stories.

It’s important not to tell the same story again. Audiences are becoming accustomed to knowing the tropes and formulas of films. Without knowing the terminology, the average filmgoer can explain the basic three-act structure. There is still room to play with that, as Aaron Sorkin proved with “The Social Network,” so I should never be too dismissive. (Hey, what medium is Sorkin best known for?) The serial nature of television is what I prefer and is what is outstanding right now. Structuring a story within an episode, for a larger story arc for the season, which is in turn a longer story arc for the series, is exciting. When done well, it’s something that can be watched and rewatched like a great novel.

The concept of a series finale is something that is still relatively new to the medium. Typically, shows are just canceled or something is just pulled together when they know their time is up. Shows like “LOST”, “The Wire”, and “The Shield” spent years building up to the endings they wanted. It’s a challenging task because there are so many variables at play, but it can be something really special.

A weekly source of quality is definitely noticed. I can’t wait for “Breaking Bad” to return this summer and for the season finale of “Community”. As for this summer, there is nothing that matches that anticipation. Sure “The Tree of Life” and “Super 8″ look amazing, but I can wait until June or even December for those. (Speaking of, where did J.J. Abrams get his breakthrough again?) Yet, the wait for “Doctor Who’s” premiere on April 23rd feels unbearable.

The talent isn’t only in cinema anymore. TV directors like Jack Bender and Clark Johnson easily rank among the main guys in Hollywood. In fact, they’re starting to be noticed; Bender has been tasked to direct the new Jack Ryan movie. Abrams was hired for “Mission Impossible III” from his impressive TV direction, including the pilot to “LOST” which still feels like one of the best summer movies of the decade. Joss Whedon directed plenty of phenomenal episodes of his shows and has now been given the reins to “The Avengers.”

Major directors even move from film to television. Rian Johnson (“Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom”) directed episodes of “Breaking Bad” and “Terriers” last year. Tim Robbins (“Dead Man Walking,” “Cradle Will Rock”) will direct an episode of “Treme” this season. David Gordon Green (“All the Real Girls,” “Pineapple Express”) has directed plenty of episodes of “Eastbound and Down.” Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Be Kind Rewind”) even did an episode of “Flight of the Conchords.” A lot of directors like to direct pilots of TV shows because they then get a cut of the rest of the season. Spike Lee, Thomas McCarthy, Martin Scorsese, Bryan Singer and Kevin Smith are among them.

It’s not just directors. Some of the best actors working today are now making long-term commitments to television. I can make another paragraph of examples, but let’s just look at one show. These are the actors who have appeared in the great show “Damages” on FX: Dylan Baker, Craig Bierko, Rose Byrne, Keith Carradine, Kevin Corrigan, David Costabile, Ted Danson, Tate Donovan, Glenn Close, John Goodman, Darrell Hammond, Marcia Gay Harden, Judd Hirsch, William Hurt, Zeljko Ivanek, Tom Noonan, Timothy Olyphant, Clarke Peters, Campbell Scott, Martin Short, Lily Tomlin and Mario Van Peebles. So why do these talented actors go to the trenches of television? They actually get to act on this show. Television is a medium where supporting characters actually get good material. It’s no longer a surprise to see Oscar-winning actors/actresses stick with television because this is the opportunity for nuanced performances.

Since television is such a large market with so many channels, there are a lot of options. There are a ton of channels, most of which make original programs. It’s a larger field than movies, since there are only a handful of films that are released each week. There are plenty of bad shows on the air—PLENTY of bad shows—but what’s in the multiplex right now? Last week, the major two options for new releases were “Sucker Punch” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules,” both with low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes.

With television, there is always a show on worth recommending. Months can pass without a film worth high theater prices. Even during the summer, there are shows like “True Blood” and “White Collar” that are lighter material but still worthwhile. TV on DVD is making it possible to watch excellent programming from networks to which you may not subscribe, like HBO or Showtime.

I will always love movies and going to the theater is still a fun experience. It’s full of rich history with amazing trends of artistic expression. There will always be auteurs who are able to do amazing things. Right now, the artists who are able to break the norm and create impressive hours stories are working for television. This is an exciting time.


Need some recommendations? Here are some shows I like that are on the air right now. (RIP “Terriers”)



“Breaking Bad”


“Doctor Who”

“Mad Men”




“30 Rock”


“Boardwalk Empire”


“Eastbound and Down”


“How I Met Your Mother”

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”



“Parks and Recreation”

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand”


“White Collar”



“Burn Notice”


“Cougar Town”

“The Chicago Code”



“True Blood”



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Robin Hood Tue, 21 Sep 2010 04:55:59 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
Here would be my one-word review of “Robin Hood”: Unnecessary.

The fabled bandit of Sherwood Forest has been depicted innumerable times, almost since the dawn of cinema. Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland mix bits and pieces of the various Robin Hood legend for their own pastiche that never convinces us of its essential reason for existing.

Russell Crowe plays Robin Longstride, a humble archer in Richard the Lionheart’s army, recently returned from the Crusades. He impersonates a dead nobleman to make good his escape, and finds himself stuck in the middle of a political battle over the throne.

Marian (Cate Blanchett), who was married to the dead guy, is forced to carry on the charade with this stranger playing her husband, and finds she likes him better than the old one.

The movie grows silly in the middle, and briefly is enjoyable for it. But then the heavy, portentous drama reasserts itself, and we’re treated to dull speeches about nobility residing in the heart of the common man, yada-yada.

This bewildering film is schizophrenic: It couldn’t decide which of the many faces of the Robin Hood mythology to wear, so it tries them all on.

Once again, the trend of underwhelming movies arriving on video with stupendous extras continues.

On DVD, a director’s cut adds 15 minutes to the film’s run time, and 10 deleted scenes add 13 minutes more. A 62-minute making-of documentary touches on all aspects of production, and includes the insight by producer Brian Grazer that they were aiming for “the ‘Gladiator’ version of Robin Hood.”

A digital copy of the film is also included.

On upgrading to Blu-ray, you gain “The Art of Nottingham,” which includes hundreds of still images documenting pre-production, costumes, behind-the-scenes and other goodies.

The centerpiece is a “director’s notebook” that includes pop-up video with commentary by Ridley Scott, which includes an interactive feature that allows you to pause, view other extras, and then resume.

The extras for “Robin Hood” are right on target. Would that more good movies could receive such a splendid video release.

Movie: 3 Yaps
Extras: 4.5 Yaps

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Heroes of the Zeroes: A History of Violence Fri, 14 May 2010 04:01:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“A History of Violence”
Rated R

David Cronenberg’s fearless, intelligent dissections of the capacity for sex and violence are hard to take seriously when partnered with mind-controlling TV programs, people getting freaky in car wrecks or guns made of bones.

Stripped of cartoonish impulses, “A History of Violence” explosively fired into the heart of Cronenberg’s philosophical mind-ticklers about reality and perception.

Viggo Mortensen plays Tom, a small-town restaurant owner who becomes a celebrity after killing two robbers. His sudden visibility brings out scores of threatening, unsavory thugs claiming Tom is actually a former mob kingpin.

“Violence” piles on claustrophobic discomfort of close-quarters confrontations and mounting dread at the madness to come. Perhaps for the first time in a Cronenberg film, the violence really shocks, all the way to a disquieting, believable ending.

Josh Olson’s Oscar-nominated screenplay certainly takes its share of turns, but it favors reactions, emotions and consequences over mere plotting. What Olson achieves feels like a domino effect of intimate destruction.

Impeccable acting runs across the board. Watch Mortensen’s eyes — aw-shucks disbelief one minute, slight shiftiness the next. As Tom’s wife, Maria Bello is a brave actress in a thankfully complex role. Ed Harris is perfect as a cool, collected, physically disfigured psychopath. And, in an Oscar-nominated role, William Hurt arrives in the third act to pose the film’s most integral, intriguing questions.

“Violence” chose silence in its conclusive calculation of bloodlust and demanded discussion as the end credits rolled. This time, that conversation didn’t include the silly parts Cronenberg could’ve left out.

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Robin Hood Thu, 13 May 2010 15:32:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
When I first heard they were making a new Robin Hood movie, I wondered whatever for. After 100 years of cinematic depictions, from Douglas Fairbanks to Errol Flynn to Kevin Costner, from heroic icon to revisionism to parody and back again, what more is there to add?

Later I saw trailers for this big-budget extravaganza starring Russell Crowe, and couldn’t puzzle out its purpose. Based on the grimy world depicted in the preview, I guessed it was aiming for that whole vérité man-behind-the-legend thing.

Now I’ve actually seen the film, and I’m still having a hard time figuring out what the hell it’s about.

Director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland deliver a befuddled fusion of Robin Hood mythology, history lesson and their own, mostly kooky, contributions. It starts out as a weary condemnation of war, briefly flirts with being a rowdy boys’ adventure of looting and wenching (this is actually the most enjoyable part) and then grows bloated with Braveheart-esque self-importance.

“There’s no difference between a knight and any other man, other than what he wears,” Robin intones.

Instead of just “Robin Hood,” you could have called it “Before the Hood,” since it tells the story of how Robin came to be an outlaw, rather than what happened after. No robbing of the rich, and certainly no giving to the poor here.

(I have to add that Robin’s looking a bit long in the tooth to be starting a new career. If I were feeling puckish, I might point out that Crowe is the same age Sean Connery was when he played the pathetic over-the-hill Robin in 1976’s “Robin and Marian.”)

Many other Robin Hood legends are given the boot. Instead of being the son of the poor but noble Baron Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow), our hero is an anonymous archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s army named Robin Longstride. He only impersonates Robert Loxley, Walter’s son, in order to escape to England after deserting from Richard’s crusade.

Marian (Cate Blanchett) is no maid but Robert’s wife, perpetually dour at having been abandoned a week after her marriage, now widowed and faced with a common yeoman usurping her husband’s status.

Prince John (Oscar Isaac) is here, a preening metrosexual wannabe monarch, wearing an aura of luscious black curls and a perpetual pout, conspiring against Richard and flaying the people for their taxes. The Sheriff of Nottingham also shows up, but as merely a bit player. (This is actually a return to roots; over the years the character kept getting inflated into the main heavy.)

The chief evildoer is Godfrey, played by Mark Strong, who apparently has become to big-budget villainy what Sam Worthington is to protagonists: Everybody’s go-to guy. Godfrey is a childhood friend of John’s who’s secretly conspiring with King Philip of France to foment trouble and soften up England for the Gallic invasion.

William Marshall (William Hurt), Richard’s loyal regent, oversees an army of spies and may be playing the sides off each other. John’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Eileen Atkins), appears to be a major player, but then she abruptly disappears about halfway through the movie.

More frayed story threads abound. There’s talk about the barons forcing John to sign a charter, which seems to be a reference to the Magna Carta (which the real King John did endorse in 1215). Walter entices Robin with knowledge about his long-lost father, but then a perplexing flashback throws his tale into higgledy-piggledy.

Oh, and Friar Tuck is raising bees to supply his underground booze trade, Walter asks Robin to impersonate Robert, and there’s some unexplained feral boys running around the forest wearing masks and stealing food and generally acting as if they wandered out of the story of another guy in green tights.

When it comes to needless remakes of legendary heroes, Hollywood never wants to grow up.

2.5 Yaps

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