TVWriter™ Critic-At-Large: Diana Vaccarelli

Diana Vacc

I’m Diana Vaccarelli, AKA Diana Vacc. I have been an ardent fan of television and film for as long as I can remember. (Oh, PEEWEE’S PLAYHOUSE, where hast thou gone?)

I study TV and film production in college and love it all, especially when it’s done by people operating at the top of their form.

Diana Vaccarelli Sees QUANTICO

priyanka_cquantico

by Diana Vaccarelli

QUANTICO is a show full of conspiracies. It also is a new series with lots of buzz. What made me look forward to the show the most was the conspiracy angle. I love shows with twists and turns that shock the audience.

The first episode begins with a terrorist attack even more horrifying than 9/11. We focus on Alex (Priyanka Chopra), as she awakens in a pile of rubble that once was New York’s Grand Central Station. As she picks herself up off the ground, the show flashes back to her attending the FBI academy in a class of new recruits.

The story then quickly flashes forward to the scene of the attack where Alex is helped into a building and starts being questioned. She is being treated as a prime suspect in the crime and realizes that it’s time to get out of Dodge.

From that point on, the whole show unfolds in a series of flashbacks and flash forwards as Alex escapes and tries to clear herself by finding the real culprit, only to realize that the only way this could have gone down as it did is if one of her classmates has framed her.

While I do enjoy flashbacks and playing with timelines, QUANTICO doesn’t work for me the way, say, OUTLANDER does. Writer Joshua Safran goes way too far for me, making the story much more confusing than intriguing. I would have liked to see QUANTICO start with the attack and Alex’s arrest and then flash back to the academy, with the storyline staying there for most of the episode before returning to Alex’s investigation.

That said, Priyanka Chopra does indeed shine as the lead. She brings a combination of toughness and vulnerability to the role. I love to see kickass chicks, and Alex is one of the best kickers anywhere.

QUANTICO airs every Sunday night on ABC after another new show, BLOOD AND OIL, which isn’t doing much for me one way or another. Sorry, ABC.

Diana Vaccarelli sees BANSHEE

BANSHEE

by Diana Vaccarelli

A coworker and I were discussing television and what shows we love to watch. He highly recommended Banshee on Cinemax. After hearing his enthusiasm and love for the show I decided to sit down and watch a few episodes one afternoon.

The series centers on an ex-­convict and master thief who as he assumes the identity of the new Sheriff of Banshee, Pennsylvania. Calling himself by the sheriff’s name, Lucas Hood, the protagonist continues his criminal activities while bringing his own brand of justice to the small Amish town.

The pilot starts with a man leaving prison. He searches for his lost love, Anna, and finds her  hiding in Banshee, PA, married and with two children. Feeling angry and hurt, he goes to the nearby roadhouse for a drink – well, lots more than one drink – and meets the newly hired Sheriff, Lucas Hood – who hasn’t yet checked in and not only isn’t known by anyone in town but hasn’t ever been seen by anyone.

Before not very long, a group of thugs enter the bar and demand money from the owner. The new sheriff fights them, and our lead tries his best to help, but the sheriff is murdered. In the heat of the moment, our protagonist decides to assume the identity of the deceased, and from that moment on, he is the one and only Sheriff Lucas Hood.

“Lucas Hood” is portrayed with high energy and intense anger by Anthony Starr. Starr’s performance is simply brilliant and has kept me engaged episode after episode. Watching him perform this role, I have felt solidly connected with the character and no matter what’s going on I find myself rooting for him to succeed against all odds.

Now that we’ve talked about our hero, let’s talk about the continuing villain of the series, Kai Proctor, who has everyone in Banshee tightly under his thumb. Ulrich Thomsen portrays Proctor with a kind of grace and elegance not often seen in a baddie. He shows us the character has positive feelings as well as negative ones and is especially impressive when he comes to the aid of a group of Amish people who are being harassed.

TVWriter™’s Beloved Leader, Larry Brody, has talked to me about his problems with Banshee. Particularly problematic for him is the idea of a “mail order sheriff. Not only does that aspect of the series not bother me, I actively like it because what we end up with is a show where not even the viewer knows the true name of our hero. This is a new take for a television series, which already brings it up several notches.

I also like the gritty camerawork and realistic violence. They remind me of old Scorsese films like Mean Streets and Goodfellas. This aspect, combined with the unique hero, brings us 180 degrees away from the typical, Law and Order style police procedural.

If you’re looking for something fresh and often fascinating, I highly recommend Banshee. Lucas Hood is truly a Robin Hood for our times.

Diana Vaccarelli Sees 50 SHADES OF GREY

50-shades-of-grey-blindfold

50 SHADES OF GREY IGNORES ALL THE GREY AREAS
by Diana Vaccarelli

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a fan of the Fifty Shades of Grey Novels written by E.L James. So when Hollywood announced that it was adapting these novels into film I was excited. I was intrigued to see how the story would translate to the big screen.

The story follows Anastasia Steele as she meets and begins a relationship with the mysterious Billionaire Christian Grey.  They first meet when Anna interviews him for an upcoming issue of her college magazine. After this encounter Christian becomes intrigued with her and pursues a less than conventional relationship.

This film has its surprising moments.  The biggest one is when she is introduced to the world of BDSM. This is a shock to the naive Anna.  Christian then hands her a contract about this relationship and the expectations.  Anna doesn’t sign right away and wants to do research. She does the necessary research and they have an affair of an epic nature.

I have to quote the late but still lamented Siskel and Ebert on this one. “I give the film one thumb up.”  There are things I liked and things that made me go, “Really, come on!”

Let’s start with what I enjoyed:

The music.  Legendary composer Danny Elfman scored the film. Elfman uses music to get into the heart of the characters, much like he did in Edward Scissorhands.  I mainly loved Elle Gouldings’ theme song “Love me like you do.” This song truly brings you to the story.

The cinema photography was equally great.  I like how each shot was lit differently.  In my opinion, the lighting displays how the characters feel. One scene in particular is when Anna and Christian are discussing the terms of the agreement the room has a red tint to it which means to me that their hearts are filling with desire for one another.

The performances. Joining the cast at the last minute was Jamie Dornan, who does a great job portraying Christian Grey. He gives Christian mystery, with a hint of sensitivity as well. Dornan presents the character’s emotions. As Christian, he is a man filled with contradictions, presenting them visually and believably – not an easy task.

Now for the brutal stuff. What I didn’t like:

In two words: Dakota Johnson. Anna is the emotional center for both the character of Christian and the story, and she just doesn’t deliver. Nothing about her rings true. Every time Johnson speaks she sounds like she’s reading a cue card. She even screws up the pivotal scene at the end, letting it lie flat because of her flat performance.

Seven words this time: Director Sam Taylor Johnson and writer Kelly Marcel. They just don’t do the material justice. The books are about more than sex. When I read the books I saw a relationship building through sex, one that changed both of the people involved, with Christian opening up and Anna becoming stronger. Here in the film all that is lost. This director and her writer do the story and its viewers a huge disservice by ignoring the relationship as they do.

Hopefully this will be changing, as neither Sam Taylor Johnson nor Kelly Marcel will be around for the next two installments.  Interestingly to me, E.L. James’ husband, Niall Leonard, is writing the next screenplay. Far from the house husband the relationship may suggest, Leonard is a highly respected TV and film writer in the U.K. known for his work on AIR FORCE ONE IS DOWN, WIRE IN THE BLOOD, BALLYKISSANGEL, and many other series. I believe that if anyone can flesh out the gray areas, he’s the one.

 

Diana Vaccarelli Sees OUTLANDER

outlander_ooh

OUTLANDER Returns with a Smash
by Diana Vaccarelli

At the end of last season, this excellent show left viewers with a cliffhanger that made us want more, more more. Because there would be no more, at least for awhile, I decided I had to pick up the first book in the series because I was dying to know what happens. I finished just in time for this season’s premier episode.

OUTLANDER takes a dark turn as our heroine Claire Fraser is held captive by the sadistic Black Jack Randall. To our relief Claire is saved by her husband Jamie. YAY! Just love when things end happy.  Well you’re wrong things take even a more dramatic turn. In a controversial scene when Jamie beats Claire with a belt to her bum for disobeying him.  Afterwards their marriage isn’t in a very good place. Throughout, Jamie makes it up to Claire and they reunite in what I have to say is the hottest scene ever.

I have been in love with this show from the beginning, and it still doesn’t disappoint.  From the costumes, locations, writing, cinematography, directing, and the acting. Everything just flows into place from Diana Gabaldon’s novels. It comes vividly to life. Kudos to Executive Producer Ronald Moore who said from the beginning it’s Diana’s world (wink at the same name) “and we’re just bringing it to life.”

Speaking of bringing the novel to life let’s just talk about Caitriona Balfe who portrays Claire.  She loses herself totally in this badass female, with the result that you simply have to view her as a person and not a character. Beneficiary of a wonderful gift from the acting gods, Balfe brings strength and sensitivity to a woman who is out of her own time yet manages to rise to the occasion and get through the turmoil.

And watch out, Leonardo DiCaprio! I have a new celebrity crush, and his name is Sam Heughan. Heughan portrays our hero Jamie. Jamie is a man of deep faith and trust, which Heughan brings out with sheer perfection. Watching his eyes, you can see the struggle Jamie is having in his new marriage and new responsibilities in life. An Emmy, or at the very least a Golden Globe nomination, is in order.

Let’s not forget about my favorite character in the entire show: Black Jack Randall, the villain of the piece. He is played brilliantly by Tobias Menzies. The darkness of this character would make any other actor run in terror. But Tobias doesn’t shy away from anything. He gets down deep into Black Jack’s heart, and watching him work is a gift.

The writing of the show is utterly brilliant. Moore and his staff have great source material to draw from, and they more than do it justice. I would love to be a fly on the wall and hear the discussions on what they’re going to keep, change, and not add. Yes, I’m very glad the writers have stuck so closely to Gabaldon’s work. Let’s all give them a major high five.

Do I sound a little overboard with my enthusiasm? I told you I love this show. So much, in fact, that I’m urging everyone reading this to tune in for the rest of the series. Watch on demand. Buy and watch the DVDs when they come out. Binge watch.

JUST WATCH!

Diana Vaccarelli Sees GALAVANT

galavantkingdickby Diana Vaccarelli

“Once Upon a Time, there was a knight named Galavant who loved the beautiful maiden Madalena….”

With these simple words, the ABC mini series musical GALAVANT opens, sweeping us into – well, I was going to say “Into the Woods,” but instead I’m ging with “into a kingdom of musical delight.” The show follows Galavant in his quest for revenge against the evil King Richard, who stole Madalena from him.

This show has it all singing, dancing, humor, betrayal, and, most importantly, love. The show’s creator-writer Dan Fogelman and composers Alan Menken and Christopher Lennertz have given us a series that reminds me of the great old Monty Python and Mel Brooks films.

The classic scene of the Black Knight refusing to give up no matter how many limbs he loses in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL wouldn’t be out of place in GALAVANT. Neither would just abouit any scene from Brooks’ ROBIN HOOD, MEN IN TIGHTS. All contain the same kind of sarcastic, outrageous humor, which I for one appreciate greatly. For better or for worse, this is my kind of funny.

Joshua Sasse plays the ruggedly handsome Galavant with such charm and ease that I’ve already made him my Prince Charming. Timothy Omundson plays the ruthless King Richard as a petulant child who is always asking his second in command, Gareth, what he should do, which makes him not only funny and dangerous but also genuinely pathetic.

And these two aren’t even my favorite characters. My Number One is Madalena, a feisty and materialistic Queen so over the top evil that’s it’s impossible not to laugh. Mallory Jansen plays this role perfectly. And, yes, Your Majesty, you definitely steal every scene you are in.

If you’ve watched GALAVANT you know what I’m talking about, If you haven’t, I highly suggest you get to programming your DVR. You won’t want to miss another episode.

Happy viewing.

Diana Vaccarelli Sees GONE GIRL

Gone-Girl-Ben-Affleck-Rosamund-Pikeby Diana Vaccarelli

Looks like I should start reading more books, as the film industry is making more and more films based on literature, contemporary and old. GONE GIRL, written by Gillian Flynn, is one of those films.

Like the book (or so every single bit of publicity about this project has told me), the film follows a man named Nick Dunne after the disappearance of his wife and shows us the media circus that develops once he is a suspect. Ben Affleck tackles the role of the charming husband with something to hide. As a fan of Affleck’s writing and directing but not so much his acting, I’m surprised to say that this role suited him perfectly. He portrays Nick with charisma and an interesting, edgy attitude that I didn’t expect.

Rosamund Pike takes on the difficult role of Amy Dunne, Nick’s rich wife. The part has many layers that Pike peels back and exposes with perfection. She definitely proves herself not only as a star but as Oscar-winning material.

I have to say, though, that my favorite character in the movie is Tanner Bolt, Nick’s Attorney, played by Tyler Perry. Perry portrays a Johnnie Cochranesque, media savvy attorney brilliantly, and his casting is a stroke of pure genius by the filmmakers.

Gillian Flynn, author of the novel, scribes the screenplay, and her work here surprised the hell out of me. Walking into the theater with my brain crammed with all the P.R. about the film, I thought I had the whole film down. I was pleasantly surprised by how wrong I was. The twists and turns often are so unexpected as to be shocking, as least to me. Ms. Flynn has earned the highest praise I can give. And GONE GIRL is her first screenplay-writing outing. Think what she’ll do next time now that she has this one under her belt!

Director David Fincher deserves a lot of credit for bringing this dark tale to what feels like more than just movie life. One of the cleverest things he has done is use rocker Trent Renznor for the music. Reznor’s sound enhances the characterizations, bringing us closer to the people on the screen (and I say “people” because that’s what they became to me, not just “characters” or “actors).

With this film Fincher brings the audience back to the days of Hitchcock and the classic mysterious women of film noir, such as Janet Leigh in PSYCHO.

GONE GIRL will keep you guessing at every turn. In the words of the late, great, and highly beloved Siskel and Ebert, I give this great film a fantastic “two thumbs up.” And I think you will too.