What You Missed in 2014 Part 2: Television

netflix
netflix

If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can find it located here.

Please email Stephen all of your movie, TV, and random entertainment questions: stephenthescoop@hotmail.com.


In a diametric opposite to my feelings on big-budget movies taking choices away from moviegoers, the landscape of TV is moving in an exciting new direction. The days of network television driving the business were already over, but in a surprising turn of events, it may turn out that premium cable channels are very close to taking it on the chin, as well. Before our very eyes, Netflix has changed the way we consume entertainment, but for some reason, it hasn’t gotten the acclaim for the magnitude of what they have accomplished.

tomsguide.com
tomsguide.com

Years ago, Netflix had a much newer catalog of streaming movies, which included an exclusive deal with Starz, but that quickly went away when Starz realized how much money and viewership it was losing by not providing this service themselves. An Internet company was providing a product that was far better and cheaper than a premium service. Think about the impact of that for a minute…go ahead, I’ll wait… Netflix made a fortune with a completely unique business model of sending DVDs through the mail to patrons, but the company hasn’t rested on that model. They quickly branched into providing streaming content separate from DVDs which, as it turns out, was a stroke of pure genius. Technology has caught up to them now, and it is as easy to stream a movie or TV show  through your gaming system or Smart TV as it is to watch something on a traditional broadcast.

Not only is it just as easy to stream as watch something live, but the product available is also dramatically better than anything network TV has provided in years. What executives of networks are failing to see is that Netflix isn’t just a small competitor; it’s dominating the market. You may be thinking, HBO and HBOGo have better quality shows and a bigger fanbase than Netflix, so how exactly is Netflix dominating the market?” The answer: Netflix sees their market as worldwide, not strictly U.S.-based like HBO. Being an Internet-based company means that after paying licensing fees, Netflix can provide content to the world, which is something other outlets are struggling with.

HBO is so lacking that in order to make money in markets outside of the U.S., they are dependent on Netflix. I was very shocked to learn on a recent trip to Canada that the majority of Netflix’s streaming content for the country is comprised of HBO products. HBO garners a smaller fee for other countries, and in turn, Netflix can provide users outside of the States with their product and HBO’s product, which is a win/win for certain. Granted, they are showing HBO‘s original programming and movies, but viewers watching in other countries only see that they are getting their entertainment from once source: Netflix.

To top off its global domination, Netflix has begun providing award-winning original content that rivals other networks. Capping a successful 2013 by announcing a deal with Disney and Marvel for original shows, they moved into 2014 preparing a true television takeover. They acquired a late night talk show that already had a fanbase with Chelsea Handler, so now they all they need is news and weather programming to be a fully-formed network monopoly. When technology is patterning itself after your business model, and binge-watching has replaced appointment television, you know you are doing something right. Which is why the lack of attention shocks me so much, not the lack of awareness, but the true appreciation for what a pioneer this company has become right before our eyes.


The Best in Television That You Might Have Missed in 2014

Fox Searchlight
Gotham: Fox Searchlight

The one bright spot from network television this year was the surprising new show from FOX, Gotham. There were so many ways that this show could have gone wrong or been cancelled in the first few episodes, but much to my delight, it did not. There wasn’t going to be a harsher critic of this show than me. I am a HUGE Bats fan, and I was very hesitant to watch this show for fear of it being bad. My fear was that this show would have everything I loved about Batman in it, with the one glaring exception of Batman.

That wasn’t a deal-breaker for me necessarily, because several origin stories about Bruce Wayne ascending to the cowl have been good over the years, but it was enough to give me pause. I waited until I had 4 episodes banked on my DVR before starting the show because I needed to immerse myself in it to be able to make an informed decision, and I’m so glad that I did.

The show isn’t a living timeline from the comics, but liberties have to be taken to build stories that we haven’t seen as an audience with Bruce being so young. What that amounts to is a fresh take on the life and times of the characters we love so much now, and it shines a light on supporting characters, making them the stars of this incarnation.

Gotham: Fox Searchlight
Gotham: Fox Searchlight

Bruce has been prominent so far, and will continue to be, but even in the Wayne household, the more interesting character has been Sean Pertwee’s portrayal of a tougher Alfred Pennyworth as young Bruce’s caretaker. Personally, to see a version of Alfred that has rarely been seen is a very nice change. Alfred was a retired member of the British SAS, and it has long been hinted at that he was a major force in teaching Master Wayne to stand up for himself, but to see this ass-kicking incarnation of Alfred is exciting.

Many other super villains have been seen (if you know what to look for), but all of them have been in a fledgling state on the rise to the beloved/hated characters we are accustomed to. From Edward Nygma (The Riddler) to Selina Kyle (Catwoman), all are at different ages and stages of their criminal careers and it’s enjoyable to see them on the rise or transformation to the current cannon.

Gotham: Fox Searchlight
Gotham: Fox Searchlight

The runaway star of the show so far has been Robin Lord Taylor’s version of Oswald Cobblepot. It’s an aesthetic version of Penguin that is new, but it is the only one I want to see now. The way that Taylor has played him as evil, but at times insecure, is very refreshing. He just wants to be liked, but also respected and feared, and will make sure that he gets that respect one way or another, even if it means risking his life in the process. It’s a brilliant portrayal.

As for the show itself, it has been picked up for the entire first season (22 episodes total), and is currently in mid-season break.  You have time to watch the first 10 episodes on demand and be ready for when it comes back after the break. One of the great things about this show is that it is finding a much larger audience during the break on digital platforms, which is promising, and the best news is that it isn’t geared strictly for the readers of the comics. The show could still take a turn in a bad direction if not handled carefully, but I am holding out hope that it continues on to the point we see Bruce in the cape and cowl, and we will have a new and darker version of a weekly Batman show on network TV for the first time since 1966.

On a personal note, I would like to thank you all for reading this year, and I hope that you will continue to do so in 2015. I wish you all the happiest of  holidays and a great New Year. I will see you all again right here in 2015… Same Bat time… Same Bat channel.


Stephen Balding is the Entertainment Badass for The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenB_41.

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What You Missed in 2014 Part 1: Movies

food republic
food republic

Please email Stephen all of your movie, TV, and random entertainment questions: stephenthescoop@hotmail.com.


Now that the credits are getting ready to roll on 2014, it’s time to take a look back on the year that was. What was the movie of the year? Is the best new show on television the same thing as the best show on television? What movie did you miss along the way? We may even answer a few mailbag questions, so buckle up and let’s take a trip through the year that was. We are going to start this 2-part series by covering the year movies, and a couple that you might have missed.

Note: Part 2 will cover TV and Internet, which will run next Friday

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tumblr

My big takeaway of the year is that big budget movies are dominating the landscape more now than at any other point in history. So making more money at the box office has to mean the movies are better, right?  Absolutely not. In fact, there is a vast difference in the quality of movies this year as opposed to even this time a year ago. How much of a stretch would it be to say that the majority of Best Picture nominees from 2013 would easily walk away with the award they were released this year? American Hustle or Wolf of Wall Street would be runaway favorites over The Imitation Game or Selma, which I feel will receive the most buzz heading into awards season and Oscar nominations.

This shift away from smaller, more intimate Indie movies has never been more present than it was during these previous 12 months.

Fox Studios
Fox Studios

So much so, that even during the typically slower movie months like February (The LEGO Movie) and April (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) were deemed by studios as prime new territory for their big budget circus to set up shop this year. Heck, even later months like December that are known as Oscar preview season still have high budget movies being released with The Hobbit 3: Did You See the Size of That Effing Talking Dragon. These are the months that, in the past, the public wanted to head out to a movie with a date and see something that will stick with them longer than a talking ape on horseback will.

The lack of quality storytelling sticks out so much that the first movie on the list of highest grossing movies of the year that even has a chance for an Oscar nomination doesn’t show up until #15 with Interstellar. Even then, the chances of Interstellar at #15 or Gone Girl at #16 getting nominated for one of the big acting awards is slim to none. The only real chance for a nomination rests with Rosamund Pike for her performance as Batman’s nightmare of a wife in Gone Girl.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m a movie snob and only watch foreign movies with subtitles whilst sipping fine teas; that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

I’m also not saying that I didn’t enjoy any of the bigger movies released this year, they are always fun (Bring on Smaug!!), but after a year of Godzilla, a sub par Spiderman, and another Apes movie, I really want to see something smaller with a good story. The best thing about movies for me is that the vast entertainment of Captain America can coexist with a small budget, yet excellent movie, like Chef, and I can choose as an audience member what I am in the mood for.

Personally I will remember 2014 as the year my personal hatred for Michael Bay was forever cemented with the 4-hour Transformers: Marky Mark is a Shredded Texas Scientist with a Boston Accent and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Michael Bay Ruins Your Childhood in 2 Hours. There was just a huge lack of movies that told stories with words and emotions that could move you. Even a low-budget movie like Snowpiercer, which I guess is technically Indie, is an action movie at its core. Granted it is an awesome and weird action movie that is endlessly intriguing, but still action just the same.


While we are here, let’s answer a question from reader Kenneth in Houston, Texas.

What are your thoughts on Transformers: Age of Extinction?

I’m glad you asked, Kenneth. Here is my entire review:

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

165 min – Director: Michael Bay

Dear Michael Bay,

Fuck you.

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Duplass Brothers Productions
Duplass Brothers Productions

As for other low-budget movies, I had very high expectations for The Skeleton Twins, but even it failed to deliver on what could have been an excellent movie. Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen The Skeleton Twins yet, it is not a documentary on Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. I enjoyed it, as I enjoy anything with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, but it missed the mark when it was so close to delivering on what could have been a much better movie. Disappointing to say the least, but enough about the Hollywood shift, let’s talk about a couple of movies that you probably missed which are really worth your time.

When I sat down this month and started thinking about what my favorite movie of the year was, I was genuinely shocked that it turned out to be a documentary. I’m not surprised that I liked a documentary, I don’t want to give you that impression; I was shocked that it was my favorite thing that I saw in an entire year. Let me preface this by saying I don’t believe it was the best movie of the entire year, simply that it was my favorite.

For instance, 12 Years a Slave was the best movie of 2013, and I thought it was excellent, but my favorite movie of 2013 was The Way, Way Back. From the script, to the casting, to the charm factory that is Sam Rockwell, it gave me more enjoyment than anything else from the entire year. Different categories all together in as much as 12 Years is excellent, but nobody is watching it for enjoyment and if you do then please immediately stop reading this column.

CNN films
CNN films

My favorite movie of 2014 is Life Itself, the Roger Ebert documentary released this year by Steve James. I’m a sucker for a good documentary because, when done right, it sheds light on a subject in such a way that the audience can make an emotional connection with it. Director Steve James does exactly this, and does it perfectly. Everyone has a familiarity with Roger Ebert, but the scope of his life was dramatically different from what even I expected.

I had followed Roger Ebert since the 1980s with Siskel and Ebert at the Movies, through his courageous admittance that he was fighting cancer which took away his ability to speak, to his last chapter of communicating with his audience through social media and his website. Even knowing all of that information, there was so much more depth to the man, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting or prepared for. Life Itself is funny, emotional, sad, and absolutely worth the watch. I highly recommend taking the time to find this movie the first chance you get.


Let’s answer a question from the mailbag that I get more than anything else.

What suggestions do you have for a movie that I can watch at home now that I might have missed at the theater? Something that is off the wall and fun?

-Brooke, Fort Worth, Texas

This is the question that I most often get, and one that I love to answer since there is a movie from this year that nobody saw, but everyone should. The other movie that flew under the radar in 2014 was the weird and wildly entertaining Kevin Smith project, Tusk. I understand why it went largely unnoticed, but the reasons I’m hearing from others for why they didn’t want to see it are because of the comparison with Human Centipede. Those two movies are not even a little bit similar, which is why I was confused as to why I’ve heard the comparison several times. I wonder if nobody had known the premise of the movie beforehand if it would have made more than the meager $1.8 million that it made in its entire box office run?

Smodcast Pictures
Smodcast Pictures

I think the marketing of the movie had at least something to do with its box office performance, but to be fair, the movie is so low-budget that it wouldn’t make sense to double the budget on promotion. With that being said though, If you had the choice, would you go see a “horror” movie starring Justin Long, Michael Parks, and Johnny Depp, trusting them to be entertaining, or go see Tusk when you think you know the premise, didn’t know Johnny Depp was in it, and were worried that they were going to have their B-holes sewn together?

Like him or not, Kevin Smith has had more of a career transition than Madonna ever thought about. He came out at a time when Richard Linklater and Quentin Tarantino were changing the way we watched and thought about movies, and Clerks seemed to fit that mold. Smith himself, however, has always blazed (pun intended) his own trail when it comes to delivering entertainment to the masses, and this movie is no exception.

What I enjoyed the most about Tusk was it went in directions that I didn’t see coming, even though going in I had a good idea of what the movie was going to be. Like any other Smith movie, there is humor in it, both intentional and unintentional, and he has never been one to take himself too seriously. The climactic scene is predictably intense, but I also laughed harder at it that I have at any other Kevin Smith movie I’ve ever seen. It was pure genius and pure messed up joy in the perfect combination.

While Tusk didn’t find the box office success it wanted, this movie is going to find a huge cult following once it’s released on Blu-ray later this month. It’s currently available for download, but I’m holding out for the Blu-ray with some extras, and hopefully a peek behind the scenes of how this movie was put together.

Watch this movie, but go in knowing that you shouldn’t take this as a true horror film, but also not a true comedy either. In fact, stop trying to put it into a category all together; it’s simply a really entertaining movie with an excellent cast and the strangest ending that anyone has ever dared to put on film. This movie is going to be around for a long, long, long time as a true cult classic.


Stephen Balding is an Entertainment Badass for The Scoop. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenB_41.