Crimson Peak beautiful, predictable, fun

Oftentimes, one’s enjoyment of a film is based on their expectations. If you are expecting greatness, it is hard to reach that mark. If you are expecting slop, even a bit of pleasure can elevate your enjoyment of an otherwise dull film. So it is that Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak will either leave you hot or cold depending on your view going into it.

At times, the film feels strictly like an homage to Gothic romanticism and that it is not meant to be taken seriously. If everything is tongue in cheek and you enter the theater expecting an appreciation of the genre, you are liable to have a good time. If you are looking for an original film that adds something new to horror and generally frightens you, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Our protagonist is Edith (Mia Wasikowska). Edith’s mother dies when she is young, but returns to her as a ghost one night, telling her to beware of Crimson Peak. An aspiring author as she grows up, she meets a young, British businessman, Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), looking for financial backing from her father, and she falls for him. After her father’s mysterious death, Edith goes with Thomas to England with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). But the spirits of the mansion do not sleep well and soon begin calling to Edith. That’s when she learns what it is nicknamed: Crimson Peak, for the red clay that the factory underneath it produces.

First off, it is important to commend del Toro and his cinematographer, Dan Laustsen for their beautiful film. Every frame looks like a painting, the colors vibrant and the hues of every shot warm and deep. It really transports you into the world of the story.

Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak
Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak

del Toro’s love of his macabre subject is also evident. The romanticism, the attention to detail, the layering of moodiness and the time given to set up the story show his dedication and appreciation. It is something that draws fans of his work back time and again; he loves what he does and it shows on the screen.

The problem with the film lies in its story. With such high profile talent behind the camera and in front of it (all the actors work very well in their roles), it is a shame that the narrative is rather trite and predictable. Part of that may simply be the joke of the film, that the plot does not really matter and should be treated lightly, but the lack of original narrative, compounded by the fact that it is easy to guess the plot points before they happen, dampens the enjoyment. A script that contained more narrative originality with unpredictable plot points and revelations and more mystery, with the already impressive cast and gorgeous cinematography, would have made Crimson Peak a real winner, but it must settle for just being entertaining.

Yet having said that, the story serves its purpose if only just. The film is fun and engaging, not really a horror film (there are few scares) but more of a romance. The connection between Thomas and Edith and their journey is sweet in that macabre sense and, dare I say, a tad moving at the film’s conclusion. It is a fitting film for a genre that has been so neglected recently, and it may not particularly have an audience, but for those who appreciate dark romanticism, it is worth a viewing.

Many will be confused as to what Crimson Peak actually is: a misplaced horror movie that doesn’t quite deliver or an inside joke that plays on the plot conventions and bursts with admiration for the genre? It is hard to discern the answer and it may entirely depend on the person, but at least it generates some thinking for the viewer, something most modern horror movies refuse to do.

Predicting the NHL Standings

A lot of reporters will be coming out with predictions of the final NHL standings. They will often write things with such confidence. This team will succeed. This one will fail. None of them will be exactly right.

There are always surprise teams for good (Calgary and Ottawa last season) and bad (San Jose and Boston) reasons. A division winner from the season before may struggle to make the playoffs (Pittsburgh). A lottery team may rise to the occasion (Winnipeg). A team that won the Stanley Cup can miss the dance altogether (LA). Teams are so evenly matched nowadays that predicting who will rise and fall is increasingly difficult. Injuries, momentum, team issues and simple bad luck can make or break a season. Even advanced stats are no harbinger of success (Calgary made the playoffs last season with terrible possession numbers while LA with the best did not).

So they are all educated guesses. And they should be. What fun would an NHL season be if there weren’t a few surprises along the way (as long as the good luck goes with your favorite team). So here are my predictions per division for the upcoming season:

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning
  1. Tampa Bay Lightning*
    • The defending Eastern Conference champions should be well motivated to return to the Stanley Cup final. Depending on the contract status of Steven Stamkos, the team is stocked at all areas. With Stamkos, Valterri Filppula, Alex Killorn, the Triplets line of Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin, goals shouldn’t be a problem. The defense is anchored by stud Victor Hedman and goaltender Ben Bishop is one of the best. You can pencil them in, barring a major meltdown, for the playoffs right now.
  2. Detroit Red Wings*
    • Mike Babcock has left for big bucks in Toronto. That may actually be a good thing when all is said and done. After ten years, it may have been time for a new voice behind the bench, and Jeff Blashill has an impressive resume. With Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall still leading the way and youngsters Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Teemu Pulkinnen upcoming, the dropoff for the Wings will still be a long time away.
  3. Florida Panthers*
    • This is my surprise pick. The team has struggled for years now and for that, they have built up a formidable prospect system. Perhaps this is the season it all comes together. With young stars like Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Erik Gudbranson complemented by veterans Brian Campbell, Roberto Luongo and Jaromir Jagr, this has all the makings of a dangerous team, one that nearly made the playoffs last season. Or they can be their usual non-intimidating self again.
  4. Montreal Canadiens*
    • A team that struggles to score can’t always rely on an all-world goaltender to bail them out again and again. For the Canadiens, it worked last season, but Carey Price may be bound to regress. He can still carry this team to the playoffs, but he will not be as dominant as last season.
  5. Boston Bruins
    • The Bruins suffered from cap mismanagement and spent the summer getting worse which, for a non-playoff team, is not good. Gone are Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith, in are Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. They still have supreme forward Patrice Bergeron, pest Brad Marchand, Vezina winner  Tuuka Rask, Norris winner Zdeno Chara and center David Krejci, so the team has the tools to make the playoffs, but an injury to any of them or another down year productively sends the entire team in a tailspin.
  6. Ottawa Senators
    • One of the NHL’s darling teams as they went on a torrid run down the stretch to make the playoffs under goaltender Andrew ‘Hamburglar’ Hammond, the team is bound to take a step back this season. They still have Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson and a forward core that includes Bobby Ryan, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris and Mike Hoffman plus Hammond and Craig Andersson in goal, so they could be competitive, but my money is on other teams in their division.
  7. Buffalo Sabres
    • Are they better? Yes. Are they that much better? No. New faces Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Cody Franson, Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner and coach Dan Bylsma will certainly help the franchise achieve some form of respectability, but it will still be years before the Sabres are able to contend.
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs
    • New coach Mike Babcock promised there’d be pain. Boy, will there ever be. After trading away sniper Phil Kessel, the team is sorely lacking in all areas of the ice. The Leafs are starting from the ground up, and right now, they’re below sea level.

Metropolitan Division

Washington Capitals
Washington Capitals
  1. Washington Capitals*
    • A team that already had Alex Ovechkin, Nik Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Brayden Holtby adds T. J. Oshie and Justin Williams. With another year behind Barry Trotz, the Caps are primed to make a run if they can.
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins*
    • The addition of Phil Kessel makes the Penguin’s offense one of the best in the league. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang driving the bus and another strong season from Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins could make some noise if their defense holds up and they have luck with injuries.
  3. New York Rangers*
    • There’s a lot of wear and tear on the Rangers after consecutive deep playoff runs. This group still has Henrik Lundqvist, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Marc Staal, but fatigue and expectations will hamper them during the regular season. If they make it to the big dance, they can always do damage.
  4. Columbus Blue Jackets*
    • The Blue Jackets were decimated by injuries last season and barring that, look to be a playoff team. With Jack Johnson, Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray, Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell joined by newcomer Brandon Saad and Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes, the team is formidable.
  5. Philadelphia Flyers
    • Claude Giroux, Jakub Vorachek, Steve Mason and Wayne Simmonds are all still good hockey players, but until the Flyers muster up a stronger defense, making the playoffs will prove difficult. Maybe they bounce back and string a run together, but I’m not sure.
  6. New York Islanders
    • I just got a feeling about the Islanders. You can’t really explain gut feelings and most are considering them a shoo-in for a playoff spot and a team with John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Johnny Boychuk, Jaroslav Halak and Travis Hamonic should make the playofss. But some good teams have to be on the outside, and I’m picking the Islanders to fall back.
  7. New Jersey Devils
    • Another team that needs to start at the bottom in order to build relevance again, the Devils are sorely devoid of high-talent prospects. Patrick Elias, Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson and goaltender Cory Schneider can only handle so much of the load and depth and youth need to be built over the next few years.
  8. Carolina Hurricanes
    • The team situation is muddled with owner Peter Karmanos trying to sell off a portion of ownership while still maintaining control. Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner continue to be the source of trade rumors and the rest of the roster is not much to write home about. Perhaps Jordan Staal, Eddie Lack, Elias Lindholm and Justin Faulk have career years, but Carolina seems to be a team in search of the draft lottery.

Central Division

St. Louis Blues
St. Louis Blues
  1. St. Louis Blues*
    • The Blues dominate the regular season, but come up empty in the playoffs. That’s what they’ve always done, that’s what they’ll do again. With a lineup that still includes David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brian Elliot, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouwmeester and Paul Stastny, the Blues are deep, dangerous and dominant when on their game. Then the postseason comes around.
  2. Nashville Predators*
    • The Predators are one of the best defensive teams in the league with Pekka Rinne in goal and Shea Weber, Seth Jones and Roman Josi on defense. But can they score? Mike Ribeiro had a career year last year and will need to do so again. Filip Forsberg and James Neal are also dangerous, but the Predators will only go as far as Rinne and Weber and their defensive acumen take them.
  3. Minnesota Wild*
    • The Wild survived after a horrendous start to their season on the back of castoff goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Expectations will be sky high for him this season, and it will be a tough test to determine if he is more than just a flash in the pan. With a forward corps of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville and a defense anchored by Ryan Suter, the time for a championship is now in Minnesota.
  4. Dallas Stars*
    • The additions of Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya to a lineup that already includes Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn, star center Tyler Seguin and playmaker Jason Spezza makes the club an early favorite. Whether the defense and goaltending holds up is the question. GM Jim Nill has radically altered the roster he inherited and now it stands a chance of finally flexing its muscles.
  5. Chicago Blackhawks*
    • The mighty will fall. With the gutting of the roster (Patrick Sharp, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya and Brandon Saad all gone) and the distraction of the Patrick Kane rape case, the Blackhawks will struggle to string together wins. They may still be one of the best put together teams in the league with Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford and Marian Hossa, but the amount of hockey they’ve played over the past three years and Kane’s situation will leave them scrambling to make the playoffs. I think they’ll make it, but it won’t be pretty.
  6. Winnipeg Jets
    • A surprise playoff berth last season may not be a harbinger of things to come. Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec had an outstanding year, but that is more than likely an anomaly rather than the new norm. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler and Tyler Myers give the Jets good players, but they play in the league’s toughest division and someone is doomed to fall back.
  7. Colorado Avalanche
    • Once the cream of the crop two years ago, the Avalanche fell behind the ball early last season and never recovered. They’ve done little to address their deficiencies on defense (the Francois Beauchemin signing is terrible) and are just hoping on continued improvement from young stars Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon and another career year from goaltender Semyon Varlamov. That isn’t likely to happen and head coach Patrick Roy will be left blowing his gasket.

Pacific Division

Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim Ducks
  1. Anaheim Ducks*
    • The team came within one win of a trip to the Stanley Cup finals and will be one of the favorites to get there this season. With Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Carl Hagelin up front, Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm on defense and the one-two punch of Frederik Anderson and Anton Khudobin in goal, the Ducks window to win is now.
  2. Los Angeles Kings*
    • After facing the indignity of missing the playoffs one year after winning the Stanley Cup, expect the Kings to be well-rested and prepared to make amends. A lineup that still includes Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick won’t be so easy to quell again.
  3. San Jose Sharks*
    • Another team that missed the playoffs last season and will be looking for retribution, the Sharks added veterans Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Martin Jones to a roster that still includes Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns. After the internal turmoil of last season and in a weaker division, the Sharks are primed to make it back into the playoffs.
  4. Calgary Flames
    • The Flames surprised many with their determination and strength against advanced analytics. They won’t creep up on anybody this season, but a roster that still boasts Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano and T. J. Brodie, plus newly acquired potential star defenseman Dougie Hamilton has the potential to do some damage. The playoffs may not happen this year, but the Flames are heading in the right direction.
  5. Vancouver Canucks
    • The Canucks went sideways over the summer, losing some okay players and adding some okay players. With the Sedin twins getting older, the window for the Canucks to make any sort of noise may have already closed. Still, the lineup has been through the rigors of the NHL playoffs before so there’s always the chance they surprise some people.
  6. Edmonton Oilers
    • The Oilers made great strides during the off-season, adding new GM Peter Chiarelli, new coach Todd McClellan and next phenom Connor McDavid. They have all the parts necessary to rebuild the organization after years of futility. I just think it’s going to take another year or two before everything comes together for them.
  7. Phoenix Coyotes
    • The Coyotes are in complete rebuild mode. They have some intriguing prospects in Dylan Strome, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair and a goaltender in Mike Smith who, if he regains his form, can carry a team for several wins. But the teams lacks stars, depth and experience. The pieces are there for a turnaround, but there will be pain first.

Who do I see coming out on top? After completing my own bracket based on the above predictions, I predict a Final Four of Tampa Bay, Washington, Anaheim and St. Louis with the Capitals and Ducks making it to the Final. I have the Capitals winning in 7.

Will that come to pass? Maybe. Probably not. It’s all up in the air right now. That’s the joy of wondering about a season that hasn’t happened yet.

Does that seem familiar?: Watching Modern Television

There are some things that are universal: birth, death, love, hate, taxes. There is our first drink, our first sexual experience, weddings, funerals. So when TV writers look into the stream of life for inspiration, there are just some things that are natural to include in their work. And then there is laziness.

So many shows nowadays resort to cliche and convenient tropes to generate plot points. Some of them are so common they hardly surprise anyone anymore, but writers and studios continue to push them forward out of convenience and fear of being different. And looking at these plot points, it is easy to see a hegemony of social norms pushed upon viewers.

Note: This will be focusing on more current TV series as plenty has been written about TV pre-1990.

The Couple Conundrum

  • Guilty Parties: Friends, The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, Cheers, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, That 70s Show, Glee, The Good Wife, Bones, Castle, The X-Files, Private Practice, Firefly, Frasier, Boy Meets World…
Leonard and Penny from The Big Bang Theory
Leonard and Penny from The Big Bang Theory

It is the ultimate question of chick flicks, soaps, domestic dramas and a myriad of other genres: will they get together? The two central characters (Ross and Rachel, Diane and Sam, Luke and Lorelai, Donna and Josh) who may have had an off-again, on-again relationship have sputtered for years and face one ultimate test to see if they will “last forever.”

The problem with the couple conundrum is that viewers just get so fed up with the characters. The couple throw imaginary barriers between them (“we’re not right for each other”, “we were never meant to be together”, “I don’t want to screw up our friendship”). They deny themselves happiness for trivial reasons. They ruin things just as they are about to get together. At the end, the viewer is simply annoyed with them for being so idiotic, and they really doubt that any two people with such baggage could ever hope to have a lasting relationship.

In addition to that, the viewer knows pretty much from the pilot episode that the two characters are “meant” to be together. They usually hook up around halfway through the length of the series after an excruciating series of teases and flirtations, they break up, they have a mini-reconciliation before breaking up again and then they face a “moment of truth” in the series finale.

Ross and Rachel from Friends
Ross and Rachel from Friends

This is also accentuated with a “B” couple, another set of people who go through the same motions though they usually figure it out before the protagonists and often serve as inspiration for them (Chandler and Monica, Frasier and Lylith, Wolowitz and Bernadette, Fez and Jackie).

And pushed along with this coupling notion is a predominant Hollywood interpretation of traditional heterosexual monogamy and destiny. The idea that there is one perfect person out there for everyone (no matter how crazy that notion actually is) is continuously shoved down our throats. It also seems that to be a successful couple, you must be white, straight, good-looking, and eventually career successful (none of the couples at the end of any of their shows is unemployed or at lower standing than when they started off).

It is the most overused, overdone, mind-numbing and predictable television trope of all-time, simply meant to build sexual tension in order to keep you watching.

The Baby

  • Guilty parties: Friends, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, One Tree Hill, Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Angel, Cheers, Once Upon a Time, Scrubs, Dexter, Frasier…
Jay, a pregnant Gloria and Manny from Modern Family
Jay, a pregnant Gloria and Manny from Modern Family

I’m pretty sure there’s a sticky note taped up on the walls of TV writers everywhere that reads, “When in doubt, throw a baby in the script.”

It has become almost laughable how many babies are used for plot points in shows nowadays.

Typically, the baby is used to show how a couple are maturing (usually it’s the B couple from the Couple Conundrum). The characters have to show responsibility and are given an arc. Which works once. Not fifteen times.

Friends is the guiltiest party by having, not one, not two, not three, but four children birthed by their leading ladies, plus another two adopted children, plus storylines involving trying to get pregnant, having a pregnant sister and lesbians being pregnant.

Friends is also guilty of the “twins” syndrome. Twins are not that common in the modern world, but that hasn’t stopped characters from Friends, The West Wing, and Gilmore Girls from having them.

A pregnant Lane from Gilmore Girls
A pregnant Lane from Gilmore Girls

And through all of this baby love plot device is a lot of actual baby love. The idea is always thrust out that children are this essential form of happiness. You can not be a successful person unless you have offspring. It’s amazing how this notion is still perpetuated even though more and more young adults are deciding to postpone or even not have children.

But the baby love continues. And whenever a team of writers needs to show their character “maturing” there is inevitably going to be baby popping up next season.

Talking One’s Thoughts

  • Guilty parties: Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, House, Grey’s Anatomy, House of Cards, Dexter, Once Upon a Time, Glee, The Good Wife, Bones, Brothers and Sisters, Private Practice, Six Feet Under…

House-of-Cards1

It’s time for a heart to heart. And in TV, heart to hearts are prevalent, awkward and incredibly personal.

Voiceover is usually sloppy writing and that has gotten around. So now, instead of having characters tell the audience what they’re thinking over voiceover, they tell another character (usually a best friend or a partner) their innermost fears and desires.

It’s amazing how open so many characters are nowadays with their emotions. They will tell this special person everything about how their parents abused them and that’s why they have commitment issues or how they secretly fell in love with their sister’s husband or how their experience in Afghanistan has made them emotionally distant. These conversations usually take place at the end of episodes and serve as a sort of theme for the previous hour.

Annalise Keating from How to Get Away With Murder
Annalise Keating from How to Get Away With Murder

In line with this also is the belief that honesty above all else is the ultimate boon. We must be honest with each other even if it hurts because secrets are evil and will destroy us. Not that that isn’t necessarily true, but that also implies that each and every one of us has a similar conscience when that just isn’t the case.

Shonda Rhimes shows are especially guilty of this, and it leads to great overtheatrics. Everyone is attuned to their psychology and to psychology in general, and the outer monologue therapy session has worn out its welcome. There are other ways to write it out and the outer monologue is just a convenience.

The Bromance and the Girlfriends

  • Guilty parties: Friends, One Tree Hill, House, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Private Practice, Bones, Frasier, Scrubs, Entourage, Seinfeld…
Bros from Entourage
Bros from Entourage

If you don’t have a significant other or an active love life, that’s okay; you can have a best friend you can relate everything to. They can live with you, they can be from childhood, you can be totally opposite, it doesn’t matter. The best friend is there for you in thick and thin.

While best friends certainly do exist, in television, it’s amazing how close they actually become to each other. The only thing they lack is physical intimacy and even that is up for debate in some cases.

Christopher Turk and J. D. Dorian from Scrubs
Christopher Turk and J. D. Dorian from Scrubs

The best friend is really just there for the previous bullet point: voicing a character’s thoughts out loud. They are a sounding board more often than not, someone for the protagonist to complain to about their love life usually. And hey, if your love life is going down the tubes, at least you have a bro or a girlfriend to put it all in perspective for you. That is their only real purpose.

Sex and Murder Rule

  • Guilty parties: Friends, One Tree Hill, The Big Bang Theory, House of Cards, Bones, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Wife, That 70s Show, Glee, Once Upon a Time, Game of Thrones, 24, House, Sleepy Hollow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Battlestar Galactica, Seinfeld…
Glee
Glee

The things that people gravitate towards more than anything else are sex and violence. And with that, TV writers have come to the conclusion that they are a big deal and should be treated as such.

But it has gotten a little out of control. Who knew that sex carries so many complications in the TV world? There is the possibility of love, children, abortion, pregnancy deficiencies, marital problems, prostitution, unrequited love, requited love, love with and without attachments, a farewell sendoff, crossing the first threshold, power dominance, infidelity, marriage relations, swinging, friendship rekindling, revenge, romance, backstabbing, drunken mistakes, just another night on the town, hiding from stress, conquest, breaking your solemn rule, passionate lust, alibi-making and attention-getting just to name a few. Normal people seldom have sexual lives so complicated or messy, but in TV, it is apparently all that anyone does and it can mean so many things.

Is there another way to show some of these things without simply stating or showing sexual intercourse? Assuredly, but it grabs viewer’s attention and is an easy out for the writer.

In the case of violence, it is similarly a big deal, but it is almost always negative. Those who commit violence are evil more often than not and when heroes do it, it weighs on them. It again ties back to that very similar conscience we all have.

For TV, murder is a step over a line. When a character does something that violent, they are tainted, almost to the point where they can’t come back. They often become addicted to it and lose their moral grounds in other ways (fidelity, financials, drugs). It is the ultimate crime that leads to the end of everything. One need only to graze through the mystery section to see that murder is the primary crime needing to be solved. It’s irreversibility intrigues us.

Huck in Scandal
Huck in Scandal

And TV has gotten the idea that everyone who commits murder is tainted at the core, needs to be saved or is evil. It is never an accident. It is never a tragedy. The course of action from murder is almost always the same: those who feel guilty about it (even if the person they killed was dangerous or had it coming) recover from its moral depravity and those who don’t become villains. Murderers are therefore good if they repent (Jack Bauer, Angel, Jake Ballard) and evil if they don’t (Frank Underwood, Mr. Gold, Cersei Lannister).

It’s not that sex and violence are not big deals, but their inflation in TV has led to their overprominence in culture. Television logic states that sex is extremely complicated and can mean dozens of different things and can be wrong if done for the wrong reasons and that violence and murder are always wrong unless the character repents. If that sounds like church for you, it’s because that methodology is still deeply ingrained in storytelling today.

Downton Abbey
Downton Abbey

Doubtless there are many other tropes that continue to percolate among TV today that are sloppy, easy for the writer and imbued with out-of-date societal norms. And this is not to say that the shows listed above are by any means bad, just that there are instances where the writers took a cheap way out. For viewers searching for something a little fresher and in line with the times, look at things like Orange is the New Black, The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Downton Abbey, Transparent, Mad Men, shows that aren’t afraid to play around with the standard formula, shows that don’t try to impose a specific doctrine of morality, shows with storylines that don’t look at things so black and white and whose protagonists are as much a mystery to themselves as they are to us.

Walter White from Breaking Bad
Walter White from Breaking Bad

We are in a golden age of television, but writers and producers need to stop closing themselves off from more than one idea and one standard of storytelling. There are so many different points of view and different ways of telling stories that we should never have to deal with another forced bromance or over-dramatized exposition. The world is far more complicated than that.

Could it have been saved?- The Hobbit Trilogy

Peter Jackson’s sequel trilogy to his now-classic The Lord of the Rings had so many problems: it was too long, unfocused, relied too heavily on CGI, had random subplots that did not add to the story. It is quite hard to fathom just how wrong things went. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, which you could lay at the feet of George Lucas being out of the filmmaking business for so long, Peter Jackson is still a filmmaker at the top of his game. He has a deep love of Tolkien and accomplished a monumental feat with the previous trilogy that few thought possible just a few years ago. So, what exactly did go wrong?

We’ll never know for sure. Hubris, studio involvement and too much attachment to the original may have contributed. But could it have been saved?

Gandalf
Gandalf

Let’s start off by acknowledging that The Hobbit trilogy are not bad films. They are simply misguided. The filmmakers were so enamored with what they had achieved with The Lord of the Rings that they did not want to stray too far away from that formula. The problem is that The Lord of the Rings is about a band of individuals with one hope to save the world. The Hobbit is about a troop trying to slay a dragon and reclaim their home. It is far more fantasy than the real-world parallel that The Lord of the Rings has with modern day wars and conflicts. It is the adolescent to the adult novel. So tying it in to the first trilogy is inherently problematic because you suddenly have scenes with trolls trying to make dwarves into chili and characters riding down lakes in barrels in a world where people are brutally decapitated and mass genocide is taking place. It just doesn’t mix.

This is one instance where a new director with a new vision may have really improved the dynamics. For awhile, Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct the films. His unique approach to storytelling may have really added a contrasting design that still fit in with the universe. Instead, Jackson stuck to the tone that was successful for him in the past, but inappropriate for the current story.

Then comes the problem of Bilbo Baggins. In the novel, he is often just carting around with the dwarfs, seldomly driving the plot. That is a major problem in a motion picture. The protagonist needs to initiate the action. He needs to be actively involved with the outcome of the film. He is the vessel we feel emotions through (so something better happen to him), and he is our view into the world. Martin Freeman is an excellent Bilbo, but he is very underutilized. The best moments of the trilogy are when he has his confrontation with Gollum or saves the dwarfs with the barrels or meets Smaug. We relate to the story through him through these circumstances. We feel his apprehension, his relief and his desire. When the film pivots away from that interaction with him, we are left emotionally distant. More time is focused on Thorin and Gandalf, but their journeys are less defined and less empathetic. Bilbo is our vessel and for far too much of the story, he is unavailable to us.

Bilbo
Bilbo

Thorin and Gandalf’s narratives should have been told through Bilbo. Thorin can be unsure of Bilbo in the beginning, come to regard him as a friend, break away from him as Bilbo realizes his dissent into madness only to have Bilbo save him from his sickness and regain his trust. With Gandalf, there should have been some tension. He recruits him to join the adventure, Bilbo resents him for it when things get dangerous, Gandalf convinces him of the necessity of living one’s life and not lounging around at home all day, they get separated, get back together and on. Some of this happens in the film, but it is separated by hours of subplots and universe-building so its effects are nullified.

In short, Bilbo needs to be in just about every scene. We should see all the events through his eyes. He should build up relationships with each of the dwarves (some he trusts, some he doesn’t) and all of the characters. And through it all, he learns about the need to fight for one’s home and help his friends. The films greatly struggles with why Bilbo should even care about the dwarf’s plight since he has no personal stake in the outcome. Only through a strong emotional arc about living adventure and helping your friends can we understand why Bilbo acts the way he does. In the trilogy, we are given just about nothing.

Bilbo’s journey is muted primarily because of a strange insistence on the part of the filmmakers to overcrowd the film with secondary characters. It almost seems as if they were afraid to focus on a singular protagonist and needed to built up a supporting entourage of storylines similar to The Lord of the Rings, but those storylines diverged on one single goal: helping Frodo destroy the ring to save the world. Now there are storylines about Legolas and his relationship with his father, a romance between a she-elf and a dwarf, Gandalf discovering Sauron is still alive and Azog trying to murder Thorin. None of these exactly go together, and they clutter up the films. The overarching goal, just like the first trilogy, should be simple: Find the gold and defeat the dragon to reclaim their home. Anything outside of that endgame should be left out of the film.

An unnecessary subplot
An unnecessary subplot

This necessitates another drastic change to the story: abandon the idea of a trilogy. The subplots add extra weight to the films which can easily be cut down to two or even just one movie. Multiple films could have been used if there had been natural ending notes, but there are not. In The Lord of the Rings, the first film ends with the fellowship breaking. The second ends with a climactic battle and the gaining of the appropriate courage to finish the journey. There are no such breaks in the much shorter Hobbit source material. A single film would really focus on Bilbo and his plight, his relationship with Thorin and Gandalf and the overall lesson about friendship and adventure. This is what fans deserved.

The rest of the issues hurting the value of The Hobbit trilogy are trite in comparison. Fans can complain about the overuse of CGI or the portrayal of characters, but those points are moot if the final product had been great. The Hobbit is simply too long, too convoluted and too distracted with itself to be a worthy followup to The Lord of the Rings. A different approach was needed. Fans are just left wanting.

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Wes Craven was a master of horror

Director Wes Craven, master of the horror genre, passed away yesterday at the age of 76 from brain cancer. His memorable film credits include A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Scream (1996) and The Last House on the Left (1972).

Horror often is regarded as a B-picture genre in Hollywood, something that industry hacks specialize in, a class of film below the work of a true filmmaker. Yet if that is true, how come so many horror films disappear into obscurity while audiences still vividly remember classics such as Craven’s work. Everyone knows Freddy Krueger, a monster of Craven’s creation, a being that goes into the dreams of people and murders them. Everyone recognizes Ghostface, who terrorizes a town through phone calls and bloody hackings.

It is not a hard trick to scare an audience, but it is difficult to scare them in a way that is never forgotten. Craven’s work is exemplary for that ability. He was able to get under an audience’s skin through memorable scares and vivid antagonists.

Modern horror films so seldom present something so unmistakable, so distinctive. It is why people still continue to love Freddy Krueger and Ghostface. They are not only terrifying, but visually dynamic, fun even, in their mercilessness and creativity.

Craven will be missed for his ability to create such interesting characters and for the mark he left on the horror genre. There will never be another like him.

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Predicting the Red Wings roster

New head coach Jeff Blashill
New head coach Jeff Blashill

With training camp set to start the middle of September, speculation on who will actually make the Wings roster is ramping up. There are stars guaranteed spots, veterans who want to prove they still have what it takes and youngsters itching to earn their way onto the team. Throw in injuries, contract disputes, cap management and a new head coach and you have a recipe for intrigue.

Looking at the team in its current makeup, let’s examine who will, may and won’t make the opening night squad.

Injuries:

  • Pavel Datsyuk: The 37-year-old star center had ankle surgery in the offseason and looks to play potentially either late October or early November. It is highly doubtful he will start the season.
  • Johan Franzen: After suffering another concussion in the middle of the last season, Franzen’s career may be over. GM Ken Holland recently reported that he plans on having a healthy “mule” report for the start of training camp, but it is entirely up in the air as of now.

With neither Datsyuk nor Franzen likely to start the season, that opens up two forward spots for competition during camp.

Contracts:

  • The only forward regularly practicing now with the team without a contract is Dan Cleary. A utility forward for the Wings for the past ten seasons, Cleary was often a healthy scratch last season, but insists he wants to continue playing. If there was a verbal agreement between the Wings and Cleary for him to stay on the team, he may sign a two-way contract that allows him to start with the AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins. He is unlikely to make the opening night roster.

Guaranteed spots:

There are always injuries during training camp (players are battling hard for roster spots), so one player’s injury means another one’s opportunity, but sparing injuries, there are several forwards pretty much guaranteed a spot come opening night.

  • Henrik Zetterberg- C, LW
  • Gustav Nyquist- RW
  • Justin Abdelkader- LW
  • Tomas Tatar- LW
  • Riley Sheahan- C
  • Brad Richards- C
  • Darren Helm- C, LW
  • Luke Glendening- C
  • Tomas Jurco- RW
  • Drew Miller- LW
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg

That’s ten guaranteed spots, leaving just three (two when Datsyuk returns and just one if Franzen is able to come back).

Barring further injuries and a star-turning training camp from another prospect, the list of young players competing for the last roster spots are:

  • Teemu Pulkinnen
  • Mitch Callahan
  • Landon Ferraro
  • Anthony Mantha
  • Tomas Nosek
  • Andreas Athanasiou
  • Dylan Larkin

Larkin is seen as one of the cornerstone players of future Wings teams, but he is just 19 and may need some seasoning yet. Rest assured though, if Holland and head coach Jeff Blashill think he is ready for the grind of being an NHL player, they will seriously consider adding him to the team.

Top prospect Dylan Larkin
Top prospect Dylan Larkin

Mantha, also a top prospect, had a disappointing season, his first in the majors, with the Griffins last year, but if he can maximize on his potential and with a good camp, he could push for that spot.

Ferraro earned a spot in the last week of the regular season last season and played well in the playoffs as a grinding type forward. That experience may give him the inside track to make the team full-time.

Pulkinnen has become a big-time scorer in the AHL and spent a few games with the Wings last season. Out of minor league options, he has to make the club to avoid being put on waivers, a risk the Wings are unlikely to make, giving him a very strong case to make the team rather than lose him for nothing.

DETROIT, MI - MARCH 14:   Teemu Pulkkinen #56 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena on March 14, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Teemu Pulkinnen

Nosek, Athanasiou and Callahan all have yet to really establish themselves as ready for the NHL, and without a high-end training camp are likely to start the season in the minor leagues.

The common thinking is that Pulkinnen and Ferraro will be the final two roster spots to open the season with perhaps Callahan the spare (they want Larkin and Mantha playing on the ice rather than sitting in the press box). In terms of line combinations, Blashill will have final say, but they make look something like below:

Richards

Pulkinnen – Abdelkader

Zetterberg

Helm – Nyquist

Sheahan

Jurco – Tatar

Glendening

Miller – Ferraro

And when Datsyuk and if Franzen return, the line combinations get a bit more beefed up:

Datsyuk

Zetterberg – Abdelkader

Richards

Helm – Nyquist

Sheahan

Franzen – Tatar

Glendening

Miller – Jurco

Again, this is all barring injuries, trades and career-defining training camp performances.

On defense, the roster spots are a bit clearer.

Guaranteed spots are:

  • Niklas Kronwall
  • Jonathan Ericsson
  • Brendan Smith
  • Kyle Quincey
  • Mike Green
  • Danny DeKeyser
Nik Kronwall
Nik Kronwall

With the top six locked up, all that’s left is the seventh and possibly eighth roster spot. Jakub Kindl, scratched so often by former head coach Mike Babcock, is considered expendable, but with a good camp, and with his puck moving skills, he could earn that spot.

The other options are prospects:

  • Xavier Ouellet
  • Alexey Marchenko
  • Ryan Sproul
  • Joe Hicketts
  • Robbie Russo
  • Nick Jensen

Of the six, Marchenko stands the best chance of making the team with his steady presence and right handed shot. Ideally, Marchenko or Ouellet, who both spent some time with the Wings last year, will have a great camp and force Blashill to make some tough decisions.

Alexey Marchenko
Alexey Marchenko

The Wings will want to audition as many of their prospects as they can this year in the NHL with so many of their veterans with ending contracts. They need to know who they can rely on, who needs more seasoning and who they should cut ties with. The next wave of Red Wings is coming very soon, and this is a make-or-break year for many of the organization’s assets.

And finally in goal, the Wings have more stability than they have in years. Many were willing to cast off Jimmy Howard after he lost the starting job to youngster Petr Mrazek in last year’s playoffs, but Howard is still in his prime as a goaltender and was an all-star before a knee injury in January. He should be back to 100% (barring injury) and eager to reclaim his job.

And Mrazek, with his first taste of the big show, will similarly be eager to prove himself as Detroit’s new number one. That competition between two legitimate top-tier goalies should really help the Wings throughout the season. Ideally, Howard will take back his crease, starting 55 games, while Mrazek gets the experience he needs, about 30 games worth, and learns how much work goes into a full season and being an everyday pro. Then come playoff time, the best man gets the job.

Petr Mrazek
Petr Mrazek

Mrazek is the goalie of the future, but Howard needs to be the goalie of the present. Both need to push the other and create a great tandem.

Looking over the Wings’ roster, there is plenty of reason for optimism. They have good depth, veteran leadership, a stronger defense with the addition of free agent signing Mike Green, youngsters fighting to get into the lineup, a strong goaltending duo and a new voice behind the bench. Is it a Stanley Cup-worthy team? Time will tell. With the offseason shredding of the Cup-winning Blackhawks’ roster (not to mention star player Patrick Kane’s deserved legal trouble), the downgrade of Boston and Los Angeles, the aging Rangers and the choking Ducks, the NHL is as wide open as ever.

The Wings, with good fortune with injuries and opponents, could very well make a deep playoff run. Most prognosticators will pick a combination of Chicago, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Minnesota for the championship, but it just as easily could be Nashville, Montreal, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Dallas, or yes, Detroit. The Wings probably should have won their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in last season’s playoffs, a team that went all the way to the final. The team that the Lightning lost to in those finals was a team that the Wings held a 3-1 games advantage on two years ago before losing in seven. They’re not that far off. They just need a bit of the killer instinct of seasons past. With Blashill, another year of development for youngsters Tatar and Nyquist and Sheahan and Zetterberg and Datsyuk looking to end their careers on a high note, maybe this is a championship squad.

A ‘fantastic’ failure

I did not see Fox’s recently opened Fantastic Four this weekend. More than likely, you did not either. That’s all right. Most everyone didn’t. As soon as the first reviews started coming in late last week, signs pointed towards a disaster. Not only were they negative, they were downright cruel. Peter Travers of The Rolling Stones said, “The latest reboot of the Fantastic Four – the cinematic equivalent of malware – is worse than worthless. It not only scrapes the bottom of the barrel; it knocks out the floor and sucks audiences into a black hole of soul-crushing, coma-inducing dullness.” A.O. Scott of the The New York Times similarly reported, “Ms. Mara disappears. Her character also has the power to make other things vanish. I would say she should have exercised it on this movie, but in a week or two that should take care of itself.”

What went wrong? How could Marvel Comic’s original flagship superhero team flounder so poorly again cinematically (the 1994 and 2005 films are similarly awful)? It is the classic story of Hollywood greed and incompetence.

20th Century Fox was about to lose the rights to the Fantastic Four franchise unless they released another film, and, rather than lose them for nothing back to Marvel, they rushed into production on a stopgap film. Suffice it to say, a rushed production for purely financial reasons is never a strong way to create a good movie.

There was hope in the beginning though. Director Josh Trank was hired, he of the indie hit Chronicle (2012). Up and coming actors such as Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell were cast in the lead roles. With that talent brought together, a hit seemed assured. The first trailer promised a darker tone and teen angst. This was a new version of the beloved superhero team, one that seemed to take them seriously. And then the rumors about the shoot started to creep up online.

The Hollywood Reporter reported that Trank was aloof on set, often isolated. It was rumored that he was in over his head, often unsure of his decisions and unable to answer questions to cast and crew. It was even rumored that things got so bad that producers Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker were forced to step in and finish the film, with reshoots as recently as just three months ago. Trank had been rumored to be a frontrunner for one of the upcoming Star Wars films. He has since been removed from consideration.

As the first awful reviews started coming in, Trank took to Twitter, posting that, “A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.” The tweet has since been removed.

Josh Trank tweet
Josh Trank tweet

Whether Trank was in over his head or the studio interfered too much, it doesn’t really matter. The final product is apparently a Frankenstein-esque bore.

Early estimates for the weekend indicate that the film made $26.2 million for the weekend, a pathetic showing compared to the $191.2 million that Avengers: Age of Ultron opened to or the $57.2 million that Ant-Man earned. Even audiences who saw the movie gave it a measley C- cinemascore (for comparison, Pixels, a widely panned Adam Sandler film, received a B from audiences). It is highly unlikely, even with the international box office, that Fantastic Four will earn any profit, and a planned sequel and mashup film with the X-Men will almost surely never happen.

Hopefully, Fox will come to their senses the next go around and just let the Fantastic Four movie rights lapse back to Marvel. After their third failed attempt to jumpstart a  ‘Fantastic’ franchise, Marvel fans deserve better.

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