Sic transit Vir

I admit the headline is probably not that original and hopelessly overused in the context of Babylon 5 just as most of you might already have heard of Stephen Furst‘s passing, but aside from mere practical issues this time it really took me a bit of time to come to grips with that news and forge a few words of remembrance.

Sadly, this even hits a few chords with my own life, since one of my own grandpas died at 63, too, after years of suffering from heavy diabetes, renal issues and multiple heart seizures. Of course there’s always a certain inevitability to it and Furst was known for his struggle with diabetes from a young age even when B5 was still filming, but him being one of the younger members of the regular cast he had such a great presence and influence which makes this even harder. He was so integral to some episodes, whole storylines would have collapsed without him.

First off, for all intents and purposes he was Londo‘s better half in every way. His assistant, his servant, his confidant, his conscience and yes, ultimately his best friend. The chemistry between the two was really at times like a married couple and his comedic talent played out well in these situations. The other big part was the fine art of mediating. He somehow was constantly busy smoothing over rough spots and dents others made or sorting out some ruckus. In the end he was almost as powerful as Londo without ever realizing his potential. He was just too modest, subtle and kind for that.

It’s really strange – the more you think about it, the more depressing it gets. I almost feel like when Andreas Katsulas passed on, another of those great, kind-hearted guys that made Babylon 5 such a wonderful series. *sigh*

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Dear Evan Tony

The Tonys have been downright boring this year. Naturally, since I’m not privy to accessing the live stream of the awards ceremony (nor would I probably care to watch it in the middle of the night at 3 AM around here) it took me a bit to scrape together bits and pieces and watch video snippets (as much as I can, *booh* to CBS for geo-blocking), but I don’t feel I missed much. As much as I love Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, he didn’t shine too much here and his presentations and performances seemed rather “rehearsed”. Indeed he’s neither Neil Patrick Harris nor Hugh Jackmann.

Adding to the boring factor was of course the utter predictability of the proceedings. I raved about Dear Evan Hansen when I got the original cast recording, so therefore I wasn’t too disappointed for them sweeping pretty much any award worth noting in the musicals, but still, it made for a dull evening. That said, it wouldn’t have hurt to allow for some variation and hand Come from Away a Tonty, as the lovely Jenn Collela likes to love-mock it, other than for directing and I’m sure War Paint would have been more than deserving, too, though I have yet to give it a full listen. At least the performance during the show looked promising.

Of course there’s only so many of those little statues to go around, but it seems odd how in some years they are flooding one show with awards and other years barely seem to be able to make up their minds to hand out any awards at all when there aren’t any new shows generating enough buzz…

The Man with the Golden Martini

You know, one of the reasons I even began to get interested in the James Bond movie franchise was Gladys Knight‘s ingenious Licence to Kill theme song. As a child of the former Eastern block we didn’t have much opportunity to get to hear and see any of that, but I vividly remember that we were on a family holiday near Berlin and of course for propagandistic reasons all those Western TV and radio stations were beaming their program with strong antennas into the territory of what was then known as the German Democratic Republic. We were more than happy to oblige and exploited this generously, watching stuff until late at night and having the radio run with those songs all the time. Lucky for us, it didn’t take too long for things to change with the reunification and big turnover, so bit by bit we got to see all those Bond movies, after all.

The ones with Roger Moore have always been a bit of a guilty pleasure in their slightly campy approach to the subject and really hamming things up. Amazingly enough this worked perfectly at the time – they served every cliché, but never took themselves too seriously. A lot of that is indeed owed to Mr. Moore himself and hard as I might try, it’s difficult of anyone else who could have played this British gentleman so tongue-in-cheek without turning it into a complete caricature. While at the advanced age of 93 89 you probably should expect the grim reaper to knock on your door everyday, it’s still sad news that he has now passed away. If I wasn’t a total “no alcohol” person, I’d probably toast to him with a Martini. May he rest in peace!

Eurovision Happiness

I love(d) Eurovision this year! It was funny, well-presented and even the worst acts had a certain quality despite dropping out. That includes the semifinals, which for the first time I actually managed to watch in their entirety on the day (and then again on YouTube).

That being the case, I had a gut feeling early on that the race would be between Salvador Sobral and that Bulgarian Justin Bieber (who surprisingly enough has one hell of a voice for his 17 years of age). I also liked several other songs a lot, including that Romanian yodel thingy, the Dutch “Dreamgirls” or Belarus‘ folk-pop song, but in the end I’m just as glad that Portugal won. It was really the best. It’s so evocative of those old movie songs from the 1940s to the 1960s. You know, “Moon River” and all that.

On the other hand I thought from the start that Italy, called the frontrunner by many beforehand was totally overrated. I’m also getting a bit tired of the “handsome hunk sings techno-pop” scheme employed by countries like Sweden, Norway or Cyprus. I don’t understand what they are hoping to achieve with that, since in the end they are only doing shitty run-off-the-mill stuff that isn’t even a tiny bit funny or quirky in the Eurovision sense. The whole point is to not take the whole competition too seriously, after all.

Of course politics loomed over everything with that fallout over the Russian singer, but they managed to push that aside and present a show that despite being full of Ukrainian traditions and their own celebrities managed to be balanced enough to appeal to everyone. That kind of lightness and levity is just nice to see.

What else? Not much. Of course Germany only came in at the bottom of the list only barely before Spain (which had a really terrible song and presentation), but that’s really nothing new. I’m not saying that the song was actually bad, but it just doesn’t fit the mold and didn’t generate any emotional response. More than anything else that’s what Eurovision is about – you have to get people enthused to a level they are willing to make that call, send their text message or hit the button in the app to vote for you.

Booze Finale

Writers’/ producers’ vanity can be a terrible thing and even more so on a series that you really want to like so badly. That’s exactly what happened to Boardwalk Empire. After having finished the cut short fifth season I’m more than ever convinced that the actual product crushed under everyone’s ambition.

I totally do get what they were trying to do on an idealistic level, yet it seems they never managed to infuse it with the necessary energy to pull through and obviously such a grand story arc could easily have required like 15 full seasons to do it justice (the initial two-year gap between each season’s story timelines clearly wasn’t totally unintentional) and at the end they simply ran out. I could of course repeat what I said for series one through four here as well – this feels all too much like being forced to watch all three parts of The Godfather, Goodfellas and other genre classics over and over again in an endless loop and at some point you eventually become so depressed and worn out that you just beg to be shot by one of the mobsters to be relieved of this pain.

Naturally all this is compounded by this season being totally cobbled together to “tie up the knots” as they say. You see it everywhere that they barely managed to pry the funds from HBO‘s management let alone have any room left to do something really extraordinary. Lots of static shots on restricted locations to not have to deal with too much set dressing and set extensions. And even though a lot of characters reappear one last time, you see the actors “phoning it in” just as well. It’s like they were called in for only one or two days to shoot their lines and then be done. I would even dare to theorise that in quite a few scenes the actors weren’t mutually present to interact  with each other and only the different shots/ takes edited together to retain the illusion.

All of this is even sadder when you think how things could have turned out. Ironically I even rather like the idea with those flashbacks to the young Nucky (though I feel sorry for the twenty-something one having to wear those awful fake crooked Steve Buscemi teeth). It could have been something had they decided to introduce these elements earlier and stick with that sort of narrative structure for other protagonists as well (imagine seeing what drove Capone to be the way he was and all the others), but as it is, it’s just too obvious that they only used it as a means to plug (plot) holes or gaps. It’s also once again painful to see how people get “plugged” (shot and so on) because nobody had a better idea how to end their storylines.

Overall I have very mixed and conflicted feelings not only about season five but Boardwalk Empire as a whole. I appreciate the intentions, the production values, individual episodes or specific aspects of individual story strands, but ultimately it never really makes sense as a complete story. Too many things seem irrational and most importantly there aren’t many relatable characters that keep you interested. It’s like everyone goes out of their way to not like them and do really dumb and bad things. Of course I’m going to watch it again and may be then I’ll like things better, but for now this has been two months with some rather disappointing evenings popping in those DVDs…

Booze Failin’

Did you notice? It’s been three weeks now since I finished season three of Boardwalk Empire and only yesterday I managed to put a lid on season four. How’d that happen? Aside from me getting caught up un other things and then not feeling like it, this time I also found myself way too often consciously putting off watching episodes for another day or two. So instead of being a binge watch this ended up being more of a drizzle watch. The reasons for this are manifold.

First, I think the series totally lost it in this season. It’s always been a complicated narrative with many threads, but this time around stuff simply gets too convoluted and confusing. I’ll never understand the American system where even great series are produced on an “as needed” basis and each week’s script is written as they go, but it shows here. I’m no longer surprised that it was faltering with dwindling viewer numbers and ultimately collapsed in on itself. It’s like they thought “Let’s make it even grander.” with every new season, but all they did is lose focus.

It’s telling that in some episodes you barely get to see Nucky because everything happens elsewhere and involves other people and most of those are either just throwaway characters that get “clipped” at the earliest convenience (if you get my meaning) or unsympathetic dickheads like Narcisse. In doing so the series also managed to finally squeeze out every bit of humour and optimism, which makes for a very dreary experience. Isn’t it weird that you get more of a smile out of van Alden/ Mueller‘s dark turn than something else?

I know this is going to sound racist, but generally I also didn’t care much for the “colored” storyline. Seeing and hearing those negroes mumble in their slang is just extremely frustrating and as it is this particular strand of the story doesn’t do much to progress events. It’s like watching an episode of The Wire where at the end you’re wondering what actually happened and if you didn’t miss some secret keyword that explains the story.

With regards to concrete storylines only Richard‘s tragic ending sticks out. I so would have wished he’d live happily ever after and contrary to what they claim in the special features, that would have just as perfect an ending like letting him die. You know the whole family together on his sister’s farm, a fade and then he’s simply out of the story. Gillian getting her due is not unwelcome, though in a way it’s tragic how she gets played. Still, bitch deserves a spanking. ;-)

The rest is, as already hinted, barely of any consequence and doesn’t really tie in with the greater story arc, which makes you wonder why they even bothered. It feels all so made up just to fill the time, be that Will‘s murderous accident, Knox/ Tolliver‘s scheme unraveling and getting him killed or even the Onyx Club. So from where I’m sitting there isn’t really much motivation going into the hastily thrown together fifth season, as it will no doubt end up being a similarly frustrating exercise…

 

It’s NAB, it’s AE, it’s ridiculous

By now I guess we should have gotten used to it, but regardless of my declared half-retreat from all this stuff it still pains me every time Adobe keep churning out these unmotivated updates for After Effects. Predictably the latest one is coinciding with NAB like every year and well, it’s just the same mess. Pretty much every “new” feature revolves around making the program “the best fix-it plug-in for Premiere Pro“, which many people cynically have been saying for years, and now that assessment seems more true than ever. The Essential Graphics panel really comes across as another title generator and it’s not even particularly stylish. ironically it just looks like what we expression people had wanted for years – a simple UI to concatenate our expression controls and perhaps store its settings reliably without resorting to flaky pseudo-effect hacks, but as far as I’m concerned it comes now for all the wrong reasons and looks ugly. Same for the marker colors. Adobe just has no taste. I’m also not particularly fond of the continued trend of “You have no skills with the camera and your footage looks like shit, but we’ll save your bacon.” tools. Mushing up your footage with the Warp Stabilizer in the first place and then throw another effect on top to fix the blur? Holy crap! Back in the better days my boss would have given me scathing looks for even trying (though of course we used other atrocious hacks all the time to fix “drunk camera” issues *lol*). Oh my… Well, again a “move on, nothing to see here” release, sadly.

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