A Space Race with China: LFM Reviews Control @ The New York Television Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition
By Joe Bendel. When we think of space, we think of lofty ideals, passed on down to us from JFK and Star Trek. However, an oppressive belligerent power will act the same up there as they do down here. Indeed, China’s saber-rattling off the coast of Taiwan will bedevil an American manned space mission in Josh Bernard & Bracey Smith’s Control, which screens as part of the 2012 New York Television Festival’s Independent Pilot Competition (IPC).
The NYTVF is the only meaningful festival of its kind showcasing independent talent looking to break into episodic television, in the same way scores of film festivals act as launching pads for indie films in search of theatrical distribution. There are real development deals to be won at this year’s festival. The dollar figures may not be much by studio standards, but they would constitute a significant step up compared to the budgets of many competing pilots. In the drama category, Smith & Bernard’s Control may well be the pilot to beat, which is not all that surprising, considering their Pioneer One (see here and here) won the drama competition two years ago.
The American and Chinese navies are engaged in a war of nerves in the South China Sea. Simultaneously, an American spacecraft is racing to beat their Chinese rivals to a resource-rich asteroid. Long in development, the American mission continued, even when China precipitously laid claim to the asteroid, in open defiance of international law. Apparently a quasi-private enterprise conducted with official government sanction, the mission obviously just became a whole lot more complicated.
The flight director isn’t helping much, either. Not only did he call the president a feckless ditherer on national television (but in more colorful terms), he is also carrying on a not so secret affair with the chief medical officer, who happens to be married to the flight captain.
Of all the genre-related pilots screening in the Drama 1 programming block, Control is by far the one that leaves audiences most eager to see more. Shrewdly, Bernard & Smith end on a monster cliffhanger that cannot possibly be as bad as it seems. Though the flight director resents the U.S. military’s secret involvement in the mission, he might be happy to have them around when it is all said and done. Based on the pilot, Control has the potential to become a cool submarine-warfare in space story, much like the classic Romulan episodes on the original Trek.
The tone of Control is sort of like a cross between Apollo 13 and Ben Bova’s geopolitical sci-fi thriller novels. To their credit, Smith & Bernard do not appear to have many naïve notions with respects to the current (and presumably near future) Chinese Communist regime. It also looks reasonably realistic, thanks to the control room full of computers bought on the cheap due to a tech firm’s bankruptcy (finally, the stimulus plan delivers).
Perhaps most importantly, despite all the intrigue and political infighting, it looks like it will still tap into the warm fuzzy feelings many viewers get when they think about the Space Program, particularly in its Apollo-era heyday. Showing loads of potential, Control is definitely worth seeing when it screens again this Friday (10/26) as part of the 2012 NYTVF’s IPC Drama 1 program at the Tribeca Cinemas.
Posted on October 23rd, 2012 at 10:42am.
By Jason Apuzzo. I mentioned Showtime’s new Homeland series in our first Terror Watch update; Showtime recently made the entire first episode of the series available free on-line and I’ve embedded it above.
Having watched the episode, what I can tell you is that the series appears to be a somewhat clunky updating of The Manchurian Candidate for the era of the War on Terror, with some extraneous melodrama mixed in. Frankly, given the comments the producers have been making about the series of late (see here and here), I was expecting a somewhat more politically aggressive, stridently left-of-center show. There are certainly hints that the show may head in that direction in the future, but so far what we’re getting here instead is something more ambiguous and interesting (whether it’s entertaining is another matter). And, much to my pleasant surprise, the villains of the piece are actually Al Qaeda! Fancy that. I wasn’t sure Showtime had it in them.
Homeland follows the return of an American soldier back to the United States after the soldier’s 8-year captivity at the hands of Al Qaeda. Quirky, non-conformist CIA case officer Claire Danes has reason to believe the soldier may actually have been brainwashed by Al Qaeda for mysterious ends, although the producers of Homeland have hinted that the plotline will involve the soldier’s eventual run for political office. (My suggestion? He should run for Governor of California. We’d never know the difference.) The theme of the show is quite obviously ‘paranoia’ – i.e., when or whether it’s justified in the post-9/11 era. Thus far the answer from this series – one episode in – is a resounding ‘yes.’
Whether I’ll actually follow this series, of course, is another matter. Homeland thus far looks a little dry and conventional, and Claire Danes (who spends a lot of the first episode popping anti-psychotic pills) doesn’t really excite me very much, although it’s good to see V’s alien queen Morena Baccarin back in a new series.
What made John Frankenheimer’s original Manchurian Candidate work, of course, was its razor wit, sophistication with respect to its depiction of the Cold War, extraordinary photography from Lionel Lindon – and some extravagant, signature performances from Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey and Khigh Dhiegh. It can safely be assumed we won’t be getting anything like that in Homeland, but you may want to give the show a whirl if you have a free hour and wouldn’t otherwise prefer The Playboy Club. Also: feel free to catch this interview conducted by The Wall Street Journal with Claire Danes, whose character in Homeland is apparently based on a real-life CIA officer she was able to meet at Langley.
Posted on September 29th, 2011 at 1:13pm.
By Jason Apuzzo. Last summer we posted about a then-forthcoming web series called The Mercury Men. The Mercury Men (see the trailer above) is a retro-, 1940s-style adventure serial about a lowly government office drone, who finds himself trapped when deadly alien visitors from the planet Mercury seize his office building and use it as a staging ground for a nefarious plot. Aided by a daring aerospace engineer from a mysterious organization known as “The League,” the office drone must stop the invaders and their doomsday device, the Gravity Engine.
The Mercury Men received a fair amount of buzz last year, including an appearance in Sci Fi Magazine (right next to a feature about Libertas Contributor Steve Greaves) and at Comic-Con. I lost track of The Mercury Men, though, until Libertas commenter Vince (to whom I tip my hat) notified me that the series had finally been completed and picked up by The SyFy Channel as a web program. The series is currently 7 episodes in (at about 7 minutes per episode), with 3 more to go – and all episodes will be available on-line at the Syfy Channel website by the end of this week.
Since we’ve been talking a lot here lately about both superheroes and alien invasion sci-fi, this seemed like a good moment to remind everyone about this series.
It’s important to keep an eye on the indie/low-budget world, not just because there’s a lot of creativity in that arena – but because tomorrow’s big-time directors are regularly emerging from these humble projects. For example, Joe Cornish, whose debut feature Attack the Block we just reviewed last week, is already getting buzz as the possible next director for the Die Hard series. And Gareth Edwards, director of the low-budget indie sci-fi film Monsters (see our review here), has already been tapped to direct the Godzilla reboot.
As I mentioned previously, I love the creativity of what director Chris Preksta did with The Mercury Men to evoke the atmosphere of the old adventure serials, so many of which were based around a charismatic American hero (Superman, Batman, The Green Hornet, Captain America, etc.) fighting some sort of fascist invader. It’s also quite remarkable how far low-budget VFX have come in terms of their ability to fill out the otherwise constricted universe of indie filmmaking; it’s a classic case of technology freeing up storytellers’ imaginations. Beyond that, though, I like the pizzaz the filmmakers brought to this simple project, and its old-fashioned humanistic spirit – exemplified by the great speech given by ‘Dr. Tomorrow’ in the “Men of Tomorrow” episode. And of course it’s also interesting, once again, to see the ‘invasion of America’ theme recurring, which we’re seeing everywhere these days.
So once again, best wishes to the team behind The Mercury Men, and I hope LFM readers take time to check out this fun little series.
Posted on August 2nd, 2011 at 5:45pm.
By Jason Apuzzo. A special hat-tip goes today to my LFM colleague Joe Bendel for covering an interesting new web series called Pioneer One that just appeared on Vimeo and YouTube, and is also showing right now at the New York Television Festival. Pioneer One is essentially a crowd-funded webseries that went from concept to finished pilot in three months, on a budget of about $6000.
The premise of Pioneer One is this: a mysterious object falls from the sky, spreading radiation over North America. Fearing terrorism, Homeland Security Agents are dispatched to investigate and contain the damage. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that what they find there involves elements of sci-fi, contemporary anxieties associated with terrorism, and the political history of the Cold War. And while the politics of the series seem a bit murky, based on what I’ve seen thus far it’s safe to say that the series’ creators take a dim view of Soviet communism.
You can read Joe Bendel’s full review of the Pioneer One pilot episode here, and I’ve embedded that full, 30+ minute episode below. If you just have time to watch the series’ brief trailer, you can catch that here.
All summer long here at Libertas we were covering a variety of subjects – sci-fi alien invasions (see here), a return of Cold War/anti-communist themes (Salt, Mao’s Last Dancer, Farewell, etc.), and crowd-funded indie sci-fi projects (Iron Sky, The 3rd Letter, Mercury Men) – all of which categories, interestingly, Pioneer One fits into.
Having watched the full pilot episode, my feeling is that the team behind Pioneer One has a great premise they’re working from – one that only becomes clear by the end of the episode. Writer Josh Bernhard and director Bracey Smith are doing a very nice job, cleverly providing a sense of scale and suspense to the story, even if the pacing of this first episode is perhaps a bit relaxed. I hope this series takes off (it already has, to a great extent – the pilot has been downloaded and streamed over 2 million times) because if it goes where I think it’s going … it should be a great deal of fun. Bravo to the whole team behind Pioneer One.
[UPDATE: Congratulations to the team of Pioneer One for winning the "Best Drama Pilot" award at the New York Television Festival.]
Posted on September 21, 2010 at 4:34pm.
PLEASE NOTE: Living with the Infidels Episode 5, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” features adult language and situations. If that might offend you, please don’t watch the webisode. Otherwise, enjoy.
By Jason Apuzzo. Here is Episode 5, the final installment of Living with the Infidels. We hope you’ve enjoyed the series. This episode may be the best. It is genuinely hilarious – in large measure because it’s dominated by the terror cell’s raging narcissist, Psycho Ali, who delivers the funniest riff on a terror video I’ve ever seen – Four Lions included. Watch him as he struggles to find his ‘actor’s moment.’ Enjoy!
Posted on September 16th, 2010 at 10:15am.
PLEASE NOTE: Living with the Infidels Episode 4, “The Box,” features strong sexual innuendo. If that might offend you, please don’t watch the webisode. Otherwise, enjoy.
Here is Episode 4 of Living with the Infidels. We hope you enjoy the series. You might say that the series is moving toward its climax.
Posted on September 16th, 2010 at 12:20pm.
PLEASE NOTE: “Living With the Infidels” Episode I features raw language, salty situations and a shot of a nude male terrorist rear end that is intended for comic effect. If that would potentially offend you, don’t watch the webisode. Otherwise, we hope you enjoy it …
[Editor's Note: I've been having an interesting debate with reader 'Matthew' about Four Lions in the comments section of this recent post on the film, and so in honor of Four Lions getting U.S. distribution - and Kalifornistan opening the forthcoming Free Thinking Film Festival on November 12th, we've decided to re-post this piece below from May 24th, 2010 about a great new web series called Living with the Infidels. We'll be showing you episodes of Living with the Infidels all week.]
By Govindini Murty. Continuing our theme of cinematic critiques of radical Islam, I wanted to let you know today about a funny, charming, and very brave British web series titled “Living With the Infidels.” “Living With the Infidels” is directed by Aasaf Ainapore, co-written and co-produced by Aasaf Ainapore and Kira-Anne Pelican, and stars Naveed Choudhry, Annie Cooper, K.M. Darwish, Abhin Galeya, Ernest Ignatius, and San Shella.
“Living With the Infidel” follows the bumbling efforts of a group of hapless Islamic terrorists in England as they attempt to carry out a terror strike in the heart of … Yorkshire, only to be distracted by the local buxom blonde and her nubile brunette best friend. The web series is silly, subversive and very amusing in the low-key British way. I particularly like the opening credit sequence with the animated terrorists, and I enjoyed the goofy, wistful charm of the two young men who play the main characters of Rezza and Abdul.
However, my favorite character has to be Psycho Ali, a deranged terrorist whose obsession with the radical cause is only matched by his hysterical narcissism. Wait for the final episode when Psycho Ali gives a tour de force performance as a frustrated actor trying to make a terrorist video, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. All the actors and actresses do a great job, and it’s interesting to see how on a modest budget – and in the limited confines of a web series – the filmmakers are able to tell a story that is just as entertaining as bigger-budgeted feature films like Four Lions and The Infidel.
“Living With the Infidel” (not to be confused with the feature film The Infidel that Jason has reviewed) is one of those web series that gave us hope when we first saw it that we would indeed have enough great film and video content to feature here on Libertas. As you know, our focus here at LFM is on positively promoting pro-freedom films and videos from America and around the world, and not just complaining about how left-wing Hollywood is. It’s very important that the good work that is being done out there by filmmakers should be recognized if we want more pro-freedom, pro-democracy films to be made.
As I noted in my posts on the new films Four Lions and The Infidel (see here and here), these films and web videos signal a heartening process of self-questioning over radical Islam within the Muslim community – and “Living With the Infidels” is yet another example of this. I once again have to ask the question – why can’t Hollywood with its billions of dollars and enormous studio apparatus make anything like this? What are they so afraid of? Telling the truth?
We’ve posted Episode 1 of “Living With the Infidels” above, with more episodes to follow …
Posted on September 13th, 2010 at 12:09pm. [This piece was originally posted on May 24th, 2010.]
By Jason Apuzzo. A few weeks ago we posted about NBC’s new series The Event, which seems to feature a variety of narrative elements with political overtones. Specifically, we analyzed the extended trailer for the series (above), and picked out these prominent elements from it:
• Heroic, charismatic young black President.
• CIA conspiracy involving illegal detainees.
• A secret detention facility in Alaska
• Some sort of 9/11-type event (i.e., world-changing, clash-of-civilizations-type encounter)
• A 9/11-type suicide attack with a plane targeting the President
Since that time, there’s been a considerable amount of on-line speculation on the series. Much of this has to do with the fact that NBC showed the pilot episode of The Event at Comic-Con. See reviews of the pilot episode here, and a review of the pilot screenplay here.
The most interesting thing that’s been ’spoiled’ about the series is that The Event may be another of the many sci fi invasion projects we’ve been posting about here all summer. New York Magazine recently let the cat out of the bag on this one (see here and here). The key element tipping everybody off to the sci-fi component of the series seems to be that the airplane seen hurtling, kamikaze-style toward the President at the end of the trailer above (and at the end of the pilot episode) apparently vanishes into thin air, ostensibly as a result of some advanced/alien sci-fi-type technology. This mid-air vanishing of the plane, however, is not the series’ ‘event’ itself according to the show’s producer, but merely indicative of things to come. For more details, you can find out a lot about the show at a new site called The Event Log.
We’ve been talking all summer here at Libertas about how science fiction projects are currently becoming the ‘accepted’ medium by which filmmakers in both Hollywood and the indie world are dealing with our current wars, and domestic political anxieties. Indeed, I had what I considered to be a very interesting exchange recently on this subject with my friend Patrick Goldstein over at the LA Times. It appears that The Event may be continuing this overall trend of ‘politicized’ sci-fi.
One of the really interesting bits of speculation on the new series concerns the nature of the ‘detainees’ in the series’ Alaska detention center – the same center that our heroic young President fights the CIA in order to open. [I'm trying to image where NBC got that plotline ... but I just can't think of any real world examples. ] Much of the speculation centers around whether the detainees are either: human visitors from the future, aliens, or human visitors from the future who’ve had contact with aliens.
The leader of this group of detainees is a sober-looking, middle-aged woman named ‘Sophia Macguire’ (played by actress Laura Innes; she’s in the trailer above). Here’s a little insight, from someone who’s written a few screenplays: whenever you have a sober-looking, middle-aged female character named ‘Sophia’ (a name meaning ‘wisdom’) you can rest assured that this character will be used within the storyline to impart some choice nugget of wisdom to the main hero – in this case the President. It’s usually a sure thing in these types of stories.
So expect The Event to present a scenario for its viewers in which the ‘wisest’ character in the show, who knows the most, is a detainee at a secret CIA facility. Well! Isn’t that an interesting plotline in our post-Guantanamo world?
We don’t know many details about this Sophia Macguire character other than what’s in the trailer, but below is a very interesting transcript of a fake, ‘top secret’ document on The Event that some NBC employees (dressed as Secret Service Agents) were handing out at Comic-Con. This is apparently to be considered the ‘official’ backstory for The Event [emphasis below mine]:
TOP SECRET UMBRA
Date: July 21, 2007
To: Agent Simon Lee
From: Blake Sterling, Director
Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Department of State
The facility at Mount Inostranka remains a top priority to our national security. Recent events surrounding the facility must be remedied immediately.
Handle the first with extreme urgency. A breach of protocol has resulted in the escape of …….. The Agency must seek and extract the escapee to trade for information. The Mission allows for acceptable collateral damage.
Ever since 1944, ……. them, The Agency has maintained complete secrecy surrounding the detainees and the facility;….survivors that were apprehended, one demonstrated to be their leader and is……….. Sophia Macguire can not be allowed to communicate with anyone from outside the facility and must be monitored at all times. She must be questioned about the disappearance of……
Even though we have suspected substantial differences…..the source……have we been able to pinpoint to believe the detainees are…..leads the Agency……but we need further information. For this cause,…….
Valid information is still required to confirm……must not allow any further information to be leaked.
Execute orders immediately. A team led by General Whitman will be joining you in Alaska tomorrow.
No action is to be taken in updating the President. This information is on a need-to-know basis and the President should not be briefed on the existence of the facility. This must remain a matter for the intelligence services, which have been managing this without interference for decades. And as you know, we have our reasons.
These recent developments are all unquestionably related to increased activity among the detainees. The Agency needs you to address this, immediately.
By authority of: Blake Sterling
Signature: B. Sterling
Note that this Sophia character “can not be allowed to communicate with anyone from outside the facility” and “must be questioned about the disappearance of” something/someone. In other words: she knows a lot.
My guess here? Looking beyond the series pilot, my sense is that Sophia Macguire and her fellow detainees, who have apparently been in captivity in Alaska since 1944, are some sort of human time travelers who’ve had alien contact. [I assume they're human because if they were aliens they presumably wouldn't let themselves be captive for 60+ years!] As a result of this contact, they have insight into advanced technologies that allow them to do things or comprehend things like … planes vanishing, and perhaps the extending of lifespans.
So what we have here, ultimately, is the following: the mythologizing of people in a CIA detention facility, who might actually be ‘wiser’ than we are, and who are possessed of esoteric insights we cannot fathom – i.e., how planes vaporize in thin air, so to speak. And the heroic Obama stand-in is there on the spot to free them.
What a charming gift NBC’s giving us, just on the heels of the 9/11 anniversary. Thanks, NBC, but I think I’ll be watching V instead.
Posted on September 12th, 2010 at 2:10pm.
By Jason Apuzzo. I’m curious as to what people think of this preview (above) for NBC’s forthcoming series, The Event. Here are the main elements I’m getting from this trailer:
• Heroic, charismatic young black President.
• CIA conspiracy involving illegal detainees.
• A secret detention facility in Alaska?
• Some sort of 9/11-type event.
I believe this is what is referred to as ‘on the nose’-style filmmaking. And we apparently now have the Obama Administration’s own version of The West Wing.
Somehow you knew this was coming, didn’t you?
[Special thanks to LFM's Patricia Ducey for tipping me off about this.]
[Special thanks to Hot Air for linking to this post.]
Posted on August 24, 2010 at 2:20pm.
By Jason Apuzzo. We reported recently here at Libertas about how the CW’s reboot of the Nikita franchise will be making the CIA the villains of the piece. So far as we’re aware, we’re the only site currently making a fuss over this.
Variety (registration required) is now reporting today that the show is currently turning heads for a different reason – namely, the raciness of it’s advertising.
At Libertas, of course, we dive right in to such controversies.
As I mentioned in my earlier post about this show, what alerted me to this show to begin with was a gigantic, eye-popping billboard of star Maggie Q slapped up against a building here in LA. The poster was the already quite racy one of her in a red dress (see here). Now, apparently, the people at CW are trying to get huge billboards of Maggie Q in leather and tattoos (see left) into major markets like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – and even here in LA not everybody’s going along with it.
Let me begin by stating the obvious: it would be spectacularly hypocritical of me to complain about the sexiness of this show’s advertising, given our regular featuring of pin-ups here at Libertas. On the contrary: we love this sort of thing, as it speaks to the sort of freedoms we enjoy here in the West that are routinely frowned upon in totalitarian societies (both of the Islamo-fascist and communist variety) elsewhere in the world.
Plus, the girls look cute – which should be reason enough.
With that said, even I think that putting up 50ft. billboards of Ms. Q in leather and tattoos in public places like malls, where families and children may gather, is probably a bit much. And for safety reasons, I don’t think it’s too good of an idea to put these billboards near freeways. The one of her in the red dress (see here) is more than enough to get the point across.
What bothers me more is that this new show apparently goes The Full Stallone in taking a nasty swipe at the CIA. Why aren’t people more bothered by this? Let me put it this way: why are we so prudish about the sex component to this series, yet so completely untroubled by what the show is depicting in terms of our own government?
Attacking our intelligence services is such a terrible idea at this point in time, as those services struggle under the combined weight of low morale, rampant anti-Americanism overseas and budget cutbacks. And here’s another problem: shows like this do, eventually, get syndicated in foreign markets … and what kind of effect do you think they have, particularly among those already inclined toward hating America? [Foreign distribution rights to Nikita have already been sold to the UK and Australia.]
Much as with The Expendables, I really wanted to like this show. It had the potential of being a kind of sexed-up version of 24 – or a weekly Salt, if you will – and in fact that’s what the show should have been. Instead, they had to make America’s intelligence services into the enemy, into ruthless murderers bent on assassination. What a shame.
The only silver lining here, I suppose, is that the CW is giving us a better-looking show this fall called Hellcats. The show is apparently based on the book, Cheer: Inside the Secret World of College Cheerleaders. I’ve put the trailer for the show below. This cheeky comedy-drama’s premise is described this way:
Hellcats revolves around Marti, a pre-law college student from the wrong side of the tracks. When budget cutbacks and her mother’s constant carelessness cause her to lose her scholarship, she joins the Hellcats, the college’s competitive cheerleading team.
Perfect! A series about a young gal forced into a life of cheerleading due to tragic circumstances. [Is Roger Corman running this network?] Between the new terrorist-fighting Hawaii Five-O and this, I think we’re set now.
Posted on August 19th, 2010 at 11:33am.
By Jason Apuzzo. Yesterday we posted about a forthcoming web series called Red Storm that looks exciting. Today we wanted to introduce LFM readers to another forthcoming web series that’s gotten a fair bit of pre-release hype, called The Mercury Men.
The Mercury Men is a 1940s-style adventure serial about a lowly government office drone who finds himself trapped, when deadly alien visitors from the planet Mercury seize his office building and use it as a staging ground for a nefarious plot. Aided by a daring aerospace engineer from a mysterious organization known as “The League,” the office drone must stop the invaders and their doomsday device, the Gravity Engine.
The Mercury Men was recently featured in Sci Fi Magazine (right next to another feature about Libertas Contributor Steve Greaves), and just today the Mercury Man blog announced that director Chris Preksta and star Curt Wootton will be at the forthcoming San Diego Comic Con speaking on a sci-fi panel on Saturday, July 24th at 4:15 PM. They’ll also be screening a few minutes of footage from the series.