Monday, February 20, 2017
Written by David Slack and Matt Nix, this series adapts the article ultimately to make Torres out as a hero. According to Torres, the solution to crime is to empower or further embolden the police, which allows this series to fit snugly in the TV landscape, a landscape that sees police-work as the greatest and most exciting career. At this point, television is super-saturated with cop shows, so yet another that simply follows the standard police procedural is boring. It needs some kind of hook. Dexter had a hook that made it standout.
This series has a hook too, but, unlike with Dexter, the hook here isn't character-based. The hook here is basically a gimmick. Sometimes, a gimmick can work like Gotham on FOX. That series is a cop show but set in the world of the Batman comic books. Yet, that gimmick works in part because it does tell character-based stories and lets those stories drive the whole thing. The hook here doesn't seem to do that or at least it doesn't do it well.
Justin Kirk (Angels in America and Weeds) stars as Gideon Reeves, an arrogant billionaire who is very much like Tony Stark from Iron Man (2008) and Kirk is doing a kind of Robert Downey, Jr. impression. When he's involved in a deadly robbery of a convenience store, he decides to lobby the city council with $100 million in order to take control of the police precinct in the 13th district.
He's basically running that police precinct. He gives the officers on the street new technology. They get better bullet-proof vests and advanced tasers. They also get supped-up cars. Gideon also utilizes drones that he pilots from precinct headquarters. The kingpin of Gideon's influence is a social media app that he pushes for everyone in the 13th district and throughout the whole city to download to their phones.
This app is supposed to allow for the police to be aware of crimes faster and have more details about those crimes. So far, the show has not dug into the issues surrounding an app like this. The show has simply fast-forwarded past any issues and now has the app as this widespread thing that everyone uses. Gideon sits in the control room and watches as text, GPS, pictures and even video, presumably from people's phones, pour into his computers and gets displayed on a huge wall monitor.
While that might seem like a clever thing, in reality, numerous other cop shows have leaned on similar technology. If you've seen NBC's Blindspot, then nothing in this series should look or feel all that groundbreaking. Supposedly, Gideon has this algorithm as well, but again even that isn't as clever as this series perhaps thinks it is.
As the second episode shows, this series has a formula. A crime occurs. The app helps track the bad guy and then a couple of the officers chase. A drone or something is used as well. This formula is repeated. Tracking and chasing, tracking and chasing, tracking and chasing! This is repeated over and over. By the second episode, I was already tired of it.
A huge disconnect is the app itself. The way it's depicted in the first two episodes, the app has a limited function that's never acknowledged. The app is in Chicago, so if a crime happens, the odds are high that someone will be nearby to report it. So far, the crimes depicted have happened in the daytime and in public places. The app would seem to be ineffectual at night and in private places. How does the app help with drug trafficking for example or other drug-related crimes? What about sexual assaults or domestic crimes?
Natalie Martinez (CSI: NY and Under the Dome) co-stars as Theresa Murphy, one of the officers in his precinct. She's constantly working with Gideon and makes the argument for traditional police-work. Occasionally, she's impressed with his technology but the series seems geared to convert her to his way of thinking rather than the other way round. Yet, the struggle over whether to use Gideon's technology isn't the real struggle.
If a wealthy man like Gideon has a problem with crime, empowering police only attacks the symptoms and not the cause. Crime doesn't come out of nowhere or is just some natural state. There are causes of crime like poverty, lack of education and lack of job opportunities. Instead of dumping cash into the police force, he should be improving schools, hiring teachers, offering scholarships and rebuilding poor neighborhoods by offering incentives for businesses and housing.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 9PM on FOX.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Leon Cheo was born in Singapore in June 1985. His ethnicity is Chinese. He received his Bachelor's degree at Chapman University in Orange County, California. He returned to southeast Asia where he attended other schools and academies before he moved back to Los Angeles two years ago. He now mainly works on commercials and PSA's, and short films.
In 2014, before he left, Action for AIDS Singapore, or AFA, approached Cheo about doing this web series. AFA wanted a series of videos that could go along with its online campaign targeted at the LGBT community to promote a sex positive and supportive dialogue about dating and HIV prevention, as well as other health issues. AFA wanted the videos to be educational and entertaining.
In June of that year, he was briefed on the web series. By December, Cheo had come up with a synopsis. He wrote six episodes, inspired by his own experiences and based on research. Each episode would only be about eight minutes in length. He began filming in March 2015. A casting call was put out online before then. Twenty to thirty actors came in. Cheo said he ended up using most, if not all of those actors in his series. The four main guys were the main focus of his discussion.
Irfan Kasban plays Ridzwan, the love interest of Joel. Kasban is a friend of Cheo and the role of Ridzwan was written specifically for Kasban who is Malay and a theatre-maker who writes, directs and designs stage-plays. Cheo said it's difficult to find a Malay person to play a gay role due to Malays being Muslim. Kasban was Cheo's first choice, and thankfully he agreed.
Hemant Ashoka plays Rai. Ashoka is Indian. He's the youngest of the four, barely 21. Cheo said he met Ashoka in a bar and loved the look in his eyes and sense of innocence as well.
|Hemant Ashoka in "People Like Us'|
Steven Lim plays Isaac. Lim is Chinese too and is not only the eldest of the four actors at age 41. He's also the most-experienced and most well-known actor. He's best recognized for his role in Cut Sleeve Boys (2007). Yet, Lim mainly does his own photography now. He's based out of Thailand. Cheo sent him the script and luckily Lim said yes.
|Steven Lim in 'People Like Us'|
Yes, two of the four main guys are Chinese, and in Singapore, Chinese people are the majority, but Cheo wanted there to be representation of Singapore's minorities. Malay and Indian people are the minorities, and it was important to have those characters in order to show the discrimination that minorities face, particularly in dating.
Talking about inclusion of Asian minorities led to a discussion of Asian representation in American movies and TV shows. Asian representation on television over the past couple of years has been fairly decent. There have been Netflix's Master of None and ABC's Fresh Off the Boat, shows that center on Asian characters. There has also been at least one Asian actor on almost every, hit, TV show from The Big Bang Theory to The Walking Dead.
However, American movies have not been so decent. American movies have been guilty of white-washing or taking Asian characters and hiring white actors to play those roles. When asked about it, Cheo said he wants more inclusivity, but he understands the business part that often leads to these decisions. Budgets for Hollywood movies can range in the hundreds of millions, so there's way more risk to them. There are exceptions. This year, two Oscar-nominated films did right by Asians. Garth Davis' Lion and Martin Scorsese's Silence.
Asian films with gay characters have also risen up. Cheo said he's friends with the directors of two such films from last year, Spa Night by Andrew Ahn and Front Cover by Ray Yeung. The onus isn't only on minorities to make movies about themselves, but the onus is on all of us to support those independent films. Hopefully, supporting such films and their filmmakers will lead to Asian directors getting more power and money like Ang Lee, M. Night Shyamalan, James Wan, Justin Lin or Park Chan-wook. Empowering Asian people behind the cameras can therefore empower Asians in front of the cameras.
Cheo said filmed his series in six days, which is about an episode a day. He had a couple of days of rehearsal. He had a great First Assistant Director. He didn't rush through it or had many problems. Things went smoothly while doing principal photography, which is surprising given that Cheo shot all on location in actual bars, restaurants and bathhouses in Singapore, even exteriors on the actual streets and markets. Cheo said he wanted to archive these real locations in and around Singapore's gay community. He even steals a shot on a bus and does so romantically.
Cheo noted English subtitles are burned onto the episodes, despite all the dialogue being in English. Even though English is the dominant language used in education and business in Singapore, Cheo said most people speak what he called "Singlish," which is an Asian-accented English. Singapore is a melting pot of languages. Most people there are bilingual, but he said Singlish can be difficult for non-Americans to comprehend.
Right now, the series is playing on Here TV and at festivals. He's watching The Americans and Penny Dreadful. Of all the Oscar-nominated films, he's only seen La La Land and Arrival. He's not a fan of the former but he is a huge fan of the latter and its director Denis Villenueve. He's working on a debut feature script, as well as a short film on immigration and identity.
For more on Leon Cheo, go to https://leoncheo.com/.
Follow Leon Cheo on Twitter.
To read my review of People Like Us, click here.
To learn more about the series, go to http://www.gayhealth.sg/plu/.
You can also like the series' Facebook page.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
The way this movie begins, one might think it could go the way of The Vanishing (1993) or possibly Gone Girl (2014). Aaron Paul stars as David Lorrain, a graphic designer in Los Angeles who wakes up one day and discovers that his girlfriend has disappeared without a trace and he spends the rest of the film trying to figure out what happened to her. Along the way, he learns things about her that he's shocked by. The whole thing becomes a test of his faith in her and his feelings about the strength of their relationship. It becomes a test of how far he'll go for love.
Written and directed by Zack Whedon, his feature debut focuses a lot on the hunt that David has to find his girlfriend. He gets caught up in a lot of intrigue and danger. As such, it feels very much like an Alfred Hitchcock film. It has echoes of Vertigo (1958) and North By Northwest (1959). It is not as great as those two classics, but it feels akin to those noirs. Aaron Paul could perhaps be the love child of James Stewart and Cary Grant from those two films and he's effective on that level.
Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors and Peaky Blinders) co-stars as Claire Collins, the aforementioned girlfriend who goes missing. The film reveals who she is through flashbacks. She has a job as a photographer. She doesn't realize she lives in the same building as David. She meets him in what might be the cutest meet-cute to be written in a while. She's beautiful and fun, precise in certain things, sloppy about other things.
Chris Chalk (The Newsroom and Gotham) plays Buck Cameron, a friend of Claire who visits after Claire disappears and offers insight into who she is. Rounding out the cast are Garret Dillahunt (Raising Hope and The Mindy Project), Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse and Agent Carter) and Zachary Knighton (Happy Endings and Parenthood) who all play men from Claire's past who provide information on who she was or what happened to her. There's also a brief appearance by Terry Chen who plays the detective helping to investigate Claire's disappearance.
Because the film ultimately deals with the identity of this woman and her relationship vis-à-vis a man, as well as false perceptions, the best comparison is Gone Girl. Whedon's film is less dark and demented. It's thrilling for sure, but slightly more fun than David Fincher's 2014 movie.
Another comparison is to another recent independent film, and that's Complete Unknown (2016). That film was a quieter, New York City drama about a man who had the woman he loved disappear but who now discovers this new identity she has. Because Zack Whedon is brother to Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, this movie has the new identity be one rife with danger and action, if not supernatural power.
That being said, Whedon keeps things surprising. The whole piece is constantly on edge and who knows how it will end. Whedon isn't like Hitchcock in that Whedon doesn't flesh out the crazy plot that one realizes is existing. Whedon has that crazy plot in the background and only hints at it. That can be frustrating but it can also maintain focus on what he sees is more important and that's the relationship between David and Claire.
Rated R for language and some violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.
Renée Zellweger (Bridget Jones's Diary and Chicago) co-stars as Loretta Lassiter, the wife of a wealthy, Louisiana lawyer who finds herself verbally and physically abused. Yet, she hasn't left her hurtful husband. When her son is put on trial for patricide, the murder of said husband, she becomes very protective yet exhibits what might be considered odd behavior. Zellweger is good as this New Orleans woman with heirs and privilege but with definite demons and fears.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Concussion and Beyond the Lights) also co-stars as Janelle Brady, the up-and-coming lawyer who joins the case to assist Richard. She has a lot to learn about trial law and how to handle a murder case and the people surrounding it. What's crucial is her being able to ferret out liars and how to react to them.
Watching her gain her footing as a trial lawyer is a good, little journey for her. Watching her uncover details about the case that were hidden is also interesting. It's simply not enough to distinguish this movie from the pack of other films and TV shows in the same vein. The recent HBO series The Night Of had a similar, little journey for a young, female lawyer, played by Amara Karan, that was more compelling.
What probably made that HBO series more compelling is that it was more about building character and deeper nuances with how people are in certain situations. This movie is more about plot, and moving from plot-point to next plot-point. The characters here are chess pieces, or more like checker pieces being slid across a game board.
Reeves isn't asked to do much. Nor is he given much. It's certainly not as fleshed out a character as Gere's character in Primal Fear. This is perhaps purposeful. It's meant to leave a limited impression of David, so that the movie can shock us at the end, which is fine. It makes for a fairly decent legal back-and-forth.
Rated R for language and some violence, including a sexual assault.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 33 mins.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Even though it wasn't as crazy or melodramatic, the closest comparison for In the Moment would be Melrose Place. O'Brien's story and tone were a lot more serious and put the issues around unprotected sex and drug use right in the forefront. This series, written and directed by Leon Cheo, has the issues around safe sex more on the periphery. It frees this series to be a bit lighter, a bit more romantic. Cheo's structure is also a bit more finite, whereas O'Brien's series felt more free-flowing, or at least more long range.
Yet, oddly enough, Cheo's series feels bigger in scope. O'Brien doesn't really make that great use of West Hollywood, as opposed to Cheo who does make great use of Singapore in terms of a filming space and utilizing actual locations outside and throughout Singapore. It's even apparent in the first minute of Cheo's first episode. We're thrust into four different places, each with its own color and lighting scheme, setting up what is the vibrancy of Singapore.
Another comparison to draw could be to Queer As Folk. This series could be a slight version of that Showtime series, yet set in southeast Asia. However, the fact that this is a predominantly Asian cast isn't much of a consideration here.
Its setting of Singapore makes for a beautiful, visual landscape but it doesn't factor into the plot or narrative here such that it is. The reality that it takes place in Singapore is almost incidental. Singapore does have a weird standing where legally gay men have no rights, yet the city-state does have a very active, gay community. Cheo, therefore, makes the choice not to be political here. He decides that being gay isn't a problem for these guys.
Recent films involving Asian characters like Front Cover (2016) or Spa Night (2016) do make being gay a problem and those films are set in present-day USA. Either Cheo is incredibly bold and forward-thinking, as he should be, or life for gay men in Singapore is not much different than life in San Francisco, or Pittsburgh as was the location for Queer As Folk, and the only concern for those looking for love and commitment is if there is anything more than the string of random hook-ups with hot guys.
Rounding out the cast are Hemant Ashoka who plays Rai, a 20-year-old army recruit who is constantly on Grindr looking for Mr. Right until he meets 45-year-old banker Isaac, played by Steven Lim. Rai and Isaac's time is less a story-line with a resolution, as it is simply a realization. Yet, it was honest and a little sobering what happens between them.
|Steven Lim in 'People Like Us'|
Not Rated but contains coarse language and scenes of intense sexuality.
Running Time: 8 mins / 6 episodes.
|Hemant Ashoka in 'People Like Us'|
Amazon Prime with a Here TV subscription.
Here TV Premium on YouTube.
What made the movie powerful and interesting is how the whole thing danced on a razor's edge of increasing boundary pushing and moral conflict. This TV series unfortunately has sapped all the edge and moral conflict out of the story and characters. As such, it's just not exciting and quite frankly boring.
In a sense, the best adaptation of this movie came six months after the theatrical release of that 2001 film, and it was FX's The Shield, which premiered in March 2002. That FX series was and continues to be the best expression of corrupt cops that has perhaps ever been put on any screen, big or small.
That series pushed boundaries and had high moral conflict. It was completely unafraid to be really gritty and dirty. It was authentic in that sense. This series is in a way clean and slick. It less wants to be real as it wants to be clever. It doesn't help that there's already a corrupt cop series on TV that's a pretty good successor to The Shield, and that's NBC's Shades of Blue.
The best that can be said of this series is that it settles as yet another standard cop show. There are tons of cop shows. They're really a dime-a-dozen. This one is no better or worse than those dozens of police procedurals. It's no better or worse than the myriad of CSI knock-offs or even the more brazen Chicago PD.
Justin Cornwell stars as Kyle Craig, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department who is the son of a celebrated cop who is now deceased. He's promoted to detective and is assigned to partner with a detective who the deputy chief thinks will become the next Alonzo Harris. He's assigned to assist but also observe and report.
Bill Paxton (Big Love and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) stars as Frank Rourke, the aforementioned detective who is thought to become the next Alonzo. It's a slight lack of conviction that Frank is a white guy because examining police politics in a post-Black Lives Matter world would have been more compelling if both cops in the lead here were African-American and it would have made this series that much more unique. The truth is Frank isn't a potential Alonzo Harris, but that has little to do with the color of his skin.
For example, in the first episode, writer Will Beall (Castle) attempts to tackle the Black Lives Matter issue of cops shooting an unarmed man. The problem is this show doesn't have the courage of its convictions. The person who gets shot isn't a black person or any minority. The person shot is a white guy who is a known murderer and possible terrorist. There is no question or moral quandary worthy of pause for more than two seconds. It's easy and rather lame.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Thursdays at 10PM on CBS.
Monday, February 13, 2017
Fox Searchlight released the film in theaters in October. It didn't do well in the box office. Some speculate its poor performance was due to the subject matter itself. Some say it was due to the controversy around the man behind it.
The movie was nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing First-Time Feature. It was also nominated for six NAACP Image Awards. It lost the DGA Award and all six Image Awards, which were just held on February 11, 2017. A month prior, the movie was released on video, DVD and Blu-ray.
Given that the movie is about Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831 and given that February is Black History Month, it's a perfect opportunity to talk about the film removed of a lot of external forces. The movie does the basics of telling Nat Turner's story. It raises one, interesting issue, but it doesn't do much with that issue but let it dissipate in the wind. In fact, writer-director Nate Parker becomes guilty of the thing he's condemning. He perhaps doesn't realize it because it's layered and nuanced, but Parker would rather hit broad points, only caring that the big picture of slavery is the enemy and anything that fought against it is heroic no matter how bloody their hands.
Nate Parker (Beyond the Lights and The Great Debaters) stars as Nat Turner, an African-American born into slavery in 1800. It's discovered at age 9 he can read. It's never explained how he can read. The wife of Benjamin Turner later gives him reading lessons, but she only does so because she realizes Nat already can read. That's never really explained, and it's only hinted that maybe his parents had a hand in it, but who knows?
By his mid-to-late twenties, he works as a preacher because the only book he's allowed to read is the Bible. He gives sermons to the slaves of his plantation. He spends most of his time picking cotton out in the fields, but things seem to be going smoothly. As such, other plantation owners want Nat to preach to slaves on their farms to help keep them in line. Yet, it's never made clear how that works or how Nat's sermons help. It seems like he's only there for the day and leaves. How is that enough to keep people in line?
Eventually, the horrors of slavery catch up to Nat and he realizes that he's basically being used to perpetuate slavery and promote it. He's been using the Bible to justify slavery. He figures that the Bible can also be used to justify abolition and the freedom of black people from bondage. He acknowledges the Bible is a book of contradictions or contradicting interpretations. Logically, one would think he would become an atheist but he doesn't.
He plans a rebellion, specifically to kill white people. He uses his faith or things learned from the Bible to justify his actions. Now, slavery ended 34 years after Nat Turner's rebellion because the country went to war and tons of people were killed, yet there is still a difference between two armies battling fiercely and hacking a man and a woman while they're asleep in their bed, which is what Nat and his fellow slaves did.
There is a moment when Nat vomits after murdering a man in his bed, but later his mother says she's proud of him. Arguably, Parker wants to celebrate Nat Turner much in the same way Edward Zwick celebrated the men in Glory (1989). Yet, the way Parker frames it makes the whole thing hypocritical. Even though the tone was vastly different, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (2012) doesn't have his character be a giant hypocrite.
Nat becomes against the Bible being used to justify the horror of slavery. Yet, he turns right around and uses the Bible himself to justify another horror, the slaughter of white people. Parker simply wants to portray Nat Turner as a hero who fought against slavery. This is underlined by depicting Nat as basically turning himself in once his rebellion fails and wants to stop the deaths of blacks who are killed as a terror until Nat is captured. In reality, Nat remained in hiding until he was accidentally found. Yet, having Nat turn himself in puts more of a halo over his head, which Parker feels desperate to do.
Both women are the subjects of rape. Cherry is brutally and randomly attacked. Esther is basically prostituted to horny white men. Both incidents are typical forms of sexism and patriarchy in films and TV.
If one has seen the series Underground on WGN, there is a similar incident where a slave is prostituted. On the TV series, instead of a female slave, it's a male slave who's prostituted. It was unexpected to say the least and quite frankly more clever than what happens here. Parker isn't really clever in his film.
Also, the only character who gets any significant depth or nuance, possibly outside of Nat Turner, is Samuel Turner, played by Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger). It's weird when the most significant character in a slave narrative isn't the slave but instead the white slave-owner.
Rated R for disturbing violent content and some brief nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.