Diana Vaccarelli Sees CHEF

by Diana Vaccarelli

chefI’m a foodie and love to eat. In spite of that, or maybe because, I had no expectations when I sat down to watch the film CHEF, written and directed by IRON MAN’s Jon Favreau.

Jon Favreau not only wrote and directed this film but also stars as Carl Casper, a highly regarded chef at a prestigious L.A. Restaurant, who quits his job to escape his controlling employer,. Finding himself in Miami, Carl teams up with his ex-wife, an old friend, and his son to open a food truck. As the truck takes to the road, Carl finds himself back at his roots.

As much as this film is about food it is more about family, with food the link between family members. Carl and the others have long been estranged, and toiling on the truck not only returns Carl to his roots, reminding him of why he loved being a chef in the first place, it also brings father and son back together.

The cast of CHEF is stellar. In addition to Favreau, we are treated to John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris, and even Robert Downey Jr.

But it isn’t Jon Favreau’s contacts list that makes this film so enjoyable. It’s the script he has given the actors to work with. Favreau has written a screenplay filled with fully formed characters and witty and fun dialogue as well as with dramatic elements, an amalgam that I found a very pleasant surprise. I enjoyed how the story returned the protagonist to his roots so he could heal and grow, and how Favreau used food and its preparation as the way for Carl and his son to reconnect. This too was a surprise.

All in all, I simply hadn’t expected this kind of storytelling from the man who wrote and directed IRON MAN. It is great to see Favreau return to his independent film roots and be so thoroughly at home – and in control.

If you enjoy feeling a strong tug at your heartstrings, CHEF is for you.

Cassandra Hennessey: #POORBOB

Bob in the WALKING DEAD Comic

Bob in the WALKING DEAD Comic

by Cassandra Hennessey

Uh-oh, you caught me. I’m still among THE WALKING DEAD.

Where I would like to take this moment to eulogize Bob Stookey, currently a one-legged guest of honor at the most bizarre BBQ EVER…

“But wait,” you say. “Bob’s not dead.”

Not. Yet.

Hear me out…

…If there’s anything we’ve learned from AMC’s The Walking Dead is when a character has a moment of levity, an opportunity for redemption and a deep philosophical conversation with Rick Grimes, that character’s days are numbered.

Side note: RIP Hershel.

“But, wait,” you say, “Speaking of Hershel; he survived with one leg!”

That’s true. And he would have probably been teaching Rick all about drying heirloom seeds for the next year’s crops if it wasn’t for that nasty little run-in with the Governor. Boy, did that meeting start on the wrong foot!

I know. Groan now at the bad pun. But know that I had to use it. It was right there. Tempting me.

Anyway, back to Bob. When we first met him way back in the Season Four premiere, Bob was a pathetic, scrawny guy who had been residing at the prison for barely a week. Not too far into the episode, it’s revealed that Bob has a problem with the hooch. It’s so much a problem that it results in the horrific death of others (RIP Zack) when he brings down a crap-storm of walkers through a rain-rotted superstore roof, while knocking over wine shelves. Well, I’ll give him credit; he caused all that calamity actually putting the wine bottle back on the shelf.

Later on, in Season Four, he has another literal struggle with “the bottle”; this time dangling precariously off the roof with it, about to fall into the rapacious grasps of walkers below. After much wrangling (and threatening, on Daryl’s part), Bob finally releases the backpack full of booze.

I understand that shaking an addiction in a post-apocalyptic world with no 12-Step programs available may be tough, but gee whiz…

(I have to admit here, that at one time or another, I suspected Bob of being the one feeding the rats to the walkers at the fence, as well as dissecting the ones found within the prison. I feel I must exonerate him, but here’s my argument for my presumption of his guilt: A) He is a former army medic. Dissection is a scientific, medical procedure. I thought perhaps he was studying little walker rodents, trying to find a cure for “Walkerism”.  Uhm… Walkeritis? Then there’s B) He said the last two groups of survivors he was with perished, leaving him as sole survivor. Though he appeared genuinely traumatized by the ordeal, one has to ponder the odds of a streak of such bad luck as well as the conversely good fortune to suddenly acquire caches of supplies from those two defunct groups to tide him over until the next…)

When it came to Bob and his dubious backstory, I kept waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop”.

I know. Like Britney Spears, Oops, I Did It Again.

You’re with me so far, though, right? I mean, could this guy really be this much of a jinxed loser, roaming between bands of surviving humans until they inevitably were overrun with rampant zombies, only to get out by the few scraggly hairs of his chinny-chin-chin? And how was he doing this drunk? Is alcohol a Zombie repellent? Or was he so stupefied in his wasted state that the walkers mistook him for one of their own, as he stumbled and moaned and drooled?

Just saying. It leaves a lot to the imagination exactly how scrawny little Bob dodged each dilemma before ending up at the prison. I guess we’d have to walk a mile in his shoes…

…I know. That’s the last one. It’s all I’ve got.

There were definite signs in the “Strangers” episode of Season Five that something horrible was about to befall Poor Bob. Let’s assess, shall we?

His Humor. The “Glorious Tan” joke was pretty hysterical. Rule Number One: Don’t crack funnies. They’ll make your character more in-depth, more likeable and more susceptible to being tormented by the writers. (It’s what we do. *Insert maniacal laughter here*)

Kissy-Face. His romance with Sasha? At least he didn’t sing to her (Tyreese knows all too well what happens to someone when you croon like Old Blue Eyes to your love interest—a flambé!)

Introspection. He had a rich and meaningful conversation with Rick Grimes. Certain D-O-O-M.

Let’s tally up the “Had a Prolific Moment with Rick” score:

  • Lori
  • Shane
  • Dale
  • Andrea
  • Jenner (the crazy CDC dude, who revealed the group as infected and blew up the building)
  • T-Dog
  • Hershel
  • The Governor. Yes, even the Governor.

Okay. You get it, right? But by this time, EVERYONE has had at least one in-depth, emotional conversation with Rick; hence there’s a good possibility that anyone at any moment could die a horrific death.

And Bob’s transformation to a man of sobriety with passion in his heart made him the perfect victim for the writers! What a better way to tug at our heart strings than to make his character worthy of our care and concern?

And that’s one of the many secrets to good writing, my friends.

On a serious note, the last scene in the “Strangers” episode which reveals the atrocity Gareth and the “Hunters” had inflicted upon Poor Bob was one of the most chilling, devilishly executed and ingenious moments on Television. I would say for sheer “shock value” it’s on par with the gruesome death of Gustavo “Gus” Fring in Breaking Bad.

But I wonder if the evil-hipster Gareth has bitten off more than he can chew? (Oh, groan all you want! You know you said the same thing!)

Remember when Bob was attacked by the submerged, slimy walker in the flooded Food Bank basement?

There’s some speculation going on around the internet that perhaps Bob was bitten and hid the injury from Sasha and the rest of the group. That perhaps that was why he exited the church after watching Sasha blissfully holding Judith and was weeping. If it wasn’t for the fact that mass consumption of the church’s wine was going on and he abstained from drinking, why did he get so emotional? Sure, Abraham’s speech was good, but it wasn’t THAT moving to reduce a grown man to tears.

I happen to agree with the pundits of the web; that Bob was indeed bitten by the basement walker, in an underwater sneak attack to parallel the opening scene from “Jaws”. That Bob limped from the Food Bank back to the church like nothing had happened. That perhaps he was beginning to feel the onset of the walker virus’ symptoms, right before Gareth ambushed him.

Gareth looks like a “Medium Rare” guy to me. And Bob’s leg that he was gnawing on looked pretty undercooked. I didn’t see any meat thermometers around the grill. I haven’t seen any cannibal cookbooks (amazingly not even on Amazon), but I know that most meats must be 165 degrees in the center to be considered safely cooked. Duh! FOOD SAFETY, people!!

Can you say “The Mother of All Food Poisoning Cases”?

If that is the case, then would the former inhabitants of Terminus dying from consuming “tainted” meat be a more fitting “poetic justice” than the one to which Gareth so sardonically referred?

Wouldn’t that be the ultimate in Karma? Botulism on steroids!

And maybe, just maybe, Bob would be alive long enough to witness his captors’ comeuppance.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Poor Bob lasting too long into Season Five. Perhaps only an episode or two more.

So, in closing, my eulogy:

Here lies Bob Stooky.

Army Medic and a former alcoholic.

A man with a sense of humor,

As well as an undying hope for a brighter future.

A man with a glorious tan, by the way.

Some who didn’t know him personally

Would say that he merely “Tasted Good”,

Whereas we know our Bob was a Man of Good Taste.

Rest In Peace, Bob.


Cassandra Hennessey is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE

Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 7

GrahamNorton_large

THE GRAHAM NORTON SHOW
(or, Anything Goes)
by Cara Winter

If you’ve never seen the UK talk show The Graham Norton Show – shame on you, seriously.   It’s on BBC America here in the states, clips (even whole shows) widely available on YouTube, so it’s not like you even have a decent excuse!  Even if you’re living under a rock, on top of a mountain, or in a shoe, certainly someone you know either has basic cable or the Interwebs.   Jesus.  It’s like you can’t be trusted to do anything!   

The Graham Norton Show is a talk show, yes, and Graham Norton is the host.  He wears a suit, he has celebrity guests and a studio audience, the whole bit.  In that sense, it’s very traditional.  But…the suit is pretty much a smokescreen, cause there are no rules, there is no professionalism, no amicable host prepared to jump in and save the show.   You’re out on a limb.  And best of all, around Norton… no one is safe.

Graham Norton is smart, fun, fabulously gay, and lovable.  He has no band, no #2 to banter with, and he keeps his opening monologues short.  Irreverent and vivacious, (and oft verrrry blue) the whole sensibility of his show is unlike any talk show anywhere, ever.  Norton is a natural in front of an audience, completely at home with celebrities and civilians alike.   The celebrity interview portion is very loose, very friendly, and his guests all come out (‘mm-hmm, come out…’) and sit on his couches together (instead coming on  ‘in order of importance’ – blech).   Then, he plies them with alcohol.  And that’s when Graham gets going.  Once they’ve gotten introductions out of the way, he will ask anything – ANYTHING – that pops into his twisted head.  And if the audience likes one of these little moments he concocts, it’s not unusual for him to hop up and curtsy.  But he also doesn’t need to be the one producing the laugh; often, he’s perfectly content to give a celeb lots of rope, free reign to veer off into some weird, twisted or embarrassing story, quite happy to sit and not say anything.  Unless it’s to turn to the audience and say,  “You’ll notice, I’m not saying anything.”

And while I’m sure there is a script, of sorts… it seems like Norton is rarely married to it.  Instead of the usual canned ‘tell me a short quirky story, then plug your latest movie’, has has real conversations with his guests – and the result is almost always six tons of fun.  And I’m not entirely sure they even have an editing bay, as it seems like pretty much whatever happens in front of the cameras is what goes on the air.  Maybe they were cutting the budget a few years back and decided, ‘Meh, who needs editing”?  …because it all feels a little like anything goes, a little like the Wild West of broadcasting, like maybe, if Cameron Diaz does jello shots and throws up, we’ll just hold her hair back and keep going.

Every major star has made at least one appearance, and they often do and say things you won’t see or hear anywhere else.  Benedict Cumberbatch tells Harrison Ford he used to fantasize about him.  Emma Thompson recounts the time she flashed her Saving Mr. Banks cast mates.  Same episode, Hugh Grant describes a particularly hairy audition…  and Bill Murray figuring out that basically anything goes?  Comedy gold.  It’s as if every guest is infected with Norton’s impish glee, where “naughty” is the expected state of being, never, EVER to be uttered in the same context as “Santa”.  (Unless it’s Bad Santa.)

And everything is double entrendre.  Everything:     Harry.   Sandwich.   Bush.   I’m pretty sure Norton could make Peter Rabbit sound scandalous (I mean, rabbits, come on, that one’s too easy!), and no celebrity can get away from it.  Refreshingly honest, Norton will also make fun of anyone, over anything.  He ribbed Bono – (Bono!  Who makes fun of Bono, to Bono?)  over his ever-present sunglasses.  And even after Bono tells the audience he wears them because he’s developed glaucoma, Norton hands Bono this ridiculous over-sized pair of shades to put on; like, “Hmm, well, that is really awful, Mary…  but I have bit to do.”

If you’re really and truly a Graham Norton virgin… well, I’ve done all I can, at this point.  I’ve given you the tools, the information, and permission to go exploring… now it’s up to you to actually go and get defrocked. You can see The Graham Norton Show on BBC America, Saturdays at 10/9c.


 

Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

JOHN OSTRANDER: DOCTOR MCCRANKYPANTS

peter-capaldi

by John Ostrander

SPOILER ALERT: This week’s topic is Doctor Who. If you don’t watch the show, you probably won’t like the column. Also, if you’re saving this season to binge watch and haven’t seen any of the episodes yet, there may be some spoilers. Fair warning.

We’re several weeks now into the new season of Doctor Whofeaturing the latest incarnation of the Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi. While our own Vinnie Bartilucci has been doing splendid recaps/reviews here on ComicMix, I’d like to look at Capaldi’s Doctor overall and weigh in.

He’s not like the past several incarnations. Capaldi said he wanted his Doctor to be more of an alien and he’s succeeded. This Doctor also has something of an empathy problem and his social skills are rather lacking. David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, was famous for telling people, “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.” Especially when something terrible was going to happen or did happen to them that he couldn’t prevent. I can’t imagine those words even occurring to Capaldi’s incarnation.

However, what distinguishes this Doctor most to me is – he’s cranky. He’s Doctor McCrankypants.

Start with the eyes. Our first glimpse of him showed an almost angry glare and fierce, fierce eyebrows. He scowls more than he smiles. Suffer fools gladly? This Doctor doesn’t suffer them at all. He doesn’t like being hugged and, when his companion insisted, did it very awkwardly. He almost looked as if he was in pain.

He is ruthlessly pragmatic. On “Mummy on the Orient Express,” the mummy appears only to those it is about to kill. They have 66 seconds to live. The Doctor insistently pumps one of the victims before their death for a description and any other information in an effort to learn what they are dealing with. He knows there is no chance of saving the terrified man and doesn’t try.

In the first of the new episodes, the Doctor and his companion, Clara, are fleeing automatons. A door comes down between them with only a porthole in it. “No sense in both of us getting caught,” says the Doctor and runs off, leaving Clara to survive as best she can. You can see her sense of betrayal. The Doctor does return with help and does later rescue Clara but his actions are very atypical of the Doctor.

There can also be amusing side-effects to the Doctor’s crankiness. He offers to take Clara anywhere she wants to meet anyone she wants and she asks to meet Robin Hood whom the Doctor insists never existed. They go anyway and, of course, the first person the Doctor sees is Robin Hood. Refusing to admit he’s wrong, the Doctor insists this is an imposter or a robot or a hologram or something but definitely not Robin Hood. Caught and thrown into a dungeon, the Doctor and Robin have a hysterical bickering session.

In a later episode, the Doctor goes “undercover” as a caretaker at the school where Clara teaches when she is not off traipsing through all of time and space. He pretends to be human and thinks he can get away with it. He is so tone deaf to his social ineptness that it really is very funny.

All of this makes him different from his immediate predecessors. He lacks the puppy dog verbosity of Matt Smith or the emo boyishness of David Tennant or the mannish, blunt charms of Christopher Eccleston. In fact, the only Doctor I can think of who has been as cranky was the first Doctor, William Hartnell. Maybe not even him.

I wonder how the fans who have only joined the show since Eccleston and Tennant will react to Capaldi’s Doctor? He’s older and, well, crankier. Myself – I like him. A lot. In many ways, I relate to him more. As I get older, I get – well – crankier. “Hey, you kids – get away from my TARDIS!”

So – here’s to Doctor McCrankypants. Long may he travel through space and time, alienating friends and enemies alike. Go get em, Doctor.

Cassandra Hennessey: What Makes AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD So Damn Good?

The-Walking-Dead-Season-5

by Cassandra Hennessey

What makes AMC’s The Walking Dead so damn good?

Well, everything. But let me break it down for purposes of explanation.

First and foremost is the writing, of course; and as a writer, I thoroughly appreciate and admire the painstaking attention-to-detail and realism that the writers pour into every script.

Of course there’s the source material—the Robert Kirkman graphic novel—that has showcased its gritty portrayal of a post zombie apocalyptic world for over a decade. This being said, the show “reality” and the comic “reality” actually exist on two entirely different planes; with variations in timelines and characters’ fates, but the main theme—that the survivors themselves are indeed “The Walking Dead”; struggling to maintain a modicum of humanity in the most inhumane of predicaments prevails throughout.

And that is one of the main reasons for both the comic and television show’s success. That those who find themselves immersed in the storylines and characters all ask themselves, “What would I have done in that situation?”

Let’s discuss some of the main elements of the writing.

Character Development: Multi-faceted and ever-challenged in their day-to-day struggles to survive, these characters all do what they think best. Whether it is the noble actions of former Sheriff Rick Grimes or the dastardly destruction of The Governor, each motive for every action is well thought through and executed. With the stakes being set so high for these characters, tension and conflict is a given. How to combat hungry zombies? Where to get food, water and medicine? How to secure safe shelter? The most basic of necessities naturally breeds drama!

Character Arc: We see these characters grow and learn and mature through their travails. Some learn from their adversities; and others succumb to them. Either way, we as viewers are invested in these journeys, no matter how harrowing they may be. Most notable is the character of Carol Pelletier, who went from Season One as a mousy, abused wife to one of the strongest female characters on television today, in my humble opinion.

(Side note: Arguably, The Walking Dead is replete with strong female characters. There are no ankle-twisting, shrinking-and-shrieking damsels in distress clichés. That’s so 1980…)

A, B, and C Story: The “C” story is self-explanatory; it’s survival, plain and simple. The “A” story revolves around a basic premise; searching for something/someone. Procuring something. The “B” involves personal struggle or discovery. However, these writers are so clever, so skilled, that they are continually progressing the plethora of characters through situations that test them, laud them or ultimately doom them. What’s wonderful is that these stories are so intermingled and seamless that the “formula” is well-hidden, even from the most studious of writers. I watch first as an ardent viewer and THEN as a writer.

What of the Walkers themselves? They aren’t used as “jump scares” or “prop pieces” or simply obstacles. There’s a careful and calculated way in which they’re presented. Are they dangerous? Yes. Do they pose an imminent and perpetual threat? Absolutely. But the show admirably strives to produce moments in which to remember the walkers’ former humanity and bestow upon them their dignity.

Another part of the mass appeal of the Walking Dead is the study of how a semblance of civilization can be maintained by the straggling few members of society who have managed to live through the daily deluges of the undead. Nothing demonstrates this more than the early part of Rick Grimes’ struggles (going back to Season One) where he found no matter how he tried to protect the group, no matter what decision he made and how right it seemed at the time, there was some horrible twist in fate that would befall him. By Season Two, Rick and his group sought shelter in a prison, where they could be safely locked IN away from the harsh new world. By the end of Season Three, the Shangri-la behind high barbed wire fences had been lost, and Rick and his group were scattered, without solace or safety. Season Four depicted the strife of separation from the group and the anguish of being cast back out into unsafe environments.

The beginning of Season Five premieres tonight, where again, we find ourselves locked in with Rick and the group in the purported “Heaven-turned-Hell” of Terminus. But this time, they’re locked in a boxcar, not of their own volition, and they are in grave danger. It seems they not only have to worry about being eaten by Walkers, but by living humans as well…

Showrunner Scott Gimple says this upcoming season will be “nuclear”; and I, like so many other fans of the show, cannot wait for this season’s harrowing ride.


Cassandra Hennessey is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE

Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 6

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Stephen Mangan, Matt LeBlanc and Tamsin Greig

EPISODES
(or, how REV. may have dodged a bullet)
by Cara Winter

In doing a wee bit o’ research for my article about the British show REV., I read (here, and here) that creators Tom Hollander and James Wood had been in talks with ABC about turning their BAFTA-award winning show into an American sitcom. The American version would feature a doe-eyed pastor from the woods of Wisconsin, thrust into an inner-city parish in Chicago, yuddah, yudda… but since 2012, I can’t find anything about it in the trades. Googled it;  nada, nuthin’. Not a G-D thing.

So, what’s up with that?!  I suppose it could still be in development hell; lord knows there’s always that possibility. Maybe ABC is having issues with scripts, or casting, or finding it a spot in their lineup. Or maybe the person championing it at ABC now works for The Food Network.

Or maybe, just maybe, showrunner Bob Daily and/or Wood and/or Hollander happened to catch Showtime’s EPISODES… and thought better of the whole endeavor.

If you haven’t seen it yet, Showtimes’s EPISODES is penned by evil geniuses David Crane (FRIENDS) and Jeffrey Klarik (MAD ABOUT YOU).   Sean and Beverly Lincoln (played with razor sharp wit by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) are British writing-team-slash-married couple whose BAFTA-award winning show is brought to America and subsequently ruined.  The rubber-necking begins when, instead of hiring the renowned, elderly gentleman who made the show a hit in the UK, the network wants Matt LeBlanc (who plays himself – or, one would hope, a fun-house mirror version of himself).  As their “baby” is slowly destroyed bit by horrifying bit, Sean and Beverly start to lose it — and by “it” I mean their connection to the show, their connection to each other, and all ties to Sanity itself.

EPISODES is a rare thing in American sitcoms, right now.  It’s smart.   It’s dark.  It’s right on the money.  And it has heart — you actually do feel for LeBlanc, despite his douche-baggery, when he starts to worry that he’s becoming fat, or irrelevant, or that maybe not all the other Friends would attend his funeral.  And watching Sean and Bev attempting to Keep Calm and Carry On around network boss Merc (John Pankow) and his #2, Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is a little like watching a kitten trying to get a plastic 6-pack holder off it’s neck:  you feel for the poor creature, you really do, but it’s also way too hilarious to even consider putting an end to it.

EPISODES has been nominated for Emmys, BAFTAs, and Golden Globes, but has only won once (LeBlanc, for Best Actor).  In light of how brilliant it is… this makes one wonder if the lack of wins is a message from Hollywood.  Maybe the powers that be are a tad bit annoyed about a show where they’re depicted as dysfunctional, warped and twisted.  Or, maybe they’re so dysfunctional, warped and twisted… they don’t actually get the joke?   Think on that, for a nano-second. (Do it. You’ll either start to feel like Kierkegaard, or like you need some tequila.)

In the end, the show is a cautionary tale about the lengths even perfectly smart, sane people will go to for a little recognition, a little fame, a little fortune.  Suddenly “success” becomes the aim, even if it means nuking the most beautiful thing you’ve ever made.  This makes the show a tragedy, at bottom; a really, really funny tragedy.  One worth watching.  Now.  GO.  NOW.

Seriously, now is a great time to catch up EPISODES, as Season 4 starts in January 2015 (which is much, much sooner than you probably realize).  (If you don’t have Showtime… go ahead, you know you want to…)


Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.