Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Archive for the category “Television”

Revisiting Alan Wake

Alan WakeAlan Wake took more than five years to develop but the end result is one of the greatest video games of all time. The game’s story follows bestselling thriller novelist Alan Wake as he tries to uncover the mystery behind his wife’s disappearance during their vacation in the fictional town of Bright Falls, Washington. While searching for his wife, Alice, he experiences events from the plot in his latest novel, which he can’t remember writing.

This compelling narrative is told through a series of eight episodes, two of which – “The Signal” and “The Writer” – are additional downloadable content. All eight episodes kept my rapt attention from start to finish, and when facing the game’s frightening enemies, known as “The Taken,” I was stricken with chills.

Alan Wake’s character development is exceptional. As the game progressed I found myself more attached to the main characters and emotionally invested in their well being. Another “character” worth noting is the town of Bright Falls. This fictional locale came to life in a way no setting has before in a video game since the original Silent Hill. The transformation of the town from light to dark was impressive, and its foreboding presence was amplified by the fact that I was in control of Alan Wake.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Alan Wake’s score by Petri Alanko is simply gorgeous. It’s one of the most beautifully haunting pieces of orchestral music I’ve ever heard. It perfectly embodies the game’s mystical nature and Alan Wake’s dreamlike state. Even if you don’t play the game, you should give the score a listen.

While books, movies and television shows are wonderful mediums for telling stories, video games can be superior. Not only do they combine the best elements of the aforementioned art forms, but they put the person inside the story and make him or her play a key role in how it unfolds and, sometimes, how it ends. Having that level of agency within a game as spectacular as Alan Wake can only yield one result: complete satisfaction.

Below are three videos. The first is the game’s trailer, and the last two are about the making of Alan Wake.

 

 

 

Movie Review – Phil Spector

Phil SpectorEarlier this year, HBO released an original film called Phil Spector about the legendary music mogul’s first trial for the alleged murder of Lana Clarkson. The movie focused on the relationship between Spector and his attorney at the time, Linda Kenney Baden. While Bette Midler was supposed to play the attorney, she couldn’t continue after three days of filming because she was ill. This role was assumed by Helen Mirren, who did a wonderful job. But Al Pacino as Phil Spector stole the show. His impassioned portrayal of this enigmatic virtuoso was spellbinding. Whenever he was on the screen, I was transfixed, especially when he delivered a stirring speech towards the end of the film. I highly recommend this movie; it’s an engrossing inside-look at the tumultuous world of a music icon that shouldn’t be missed.

Synopsis

Written and directed by David Mamet, Phil Spector is his exploration of the client-attorney relationship between legendary music producer Phil Spector (Al Pacino) and defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden (Helen Mirren), who represented Spector during his first trial for murder. Mamet serves as executive producer with Barry Levinson. The cast also includes Rebecca Pidgeon, Jeffrey Tambor and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Arrested Development Season 4 – The Final Countdown

Arrested DevelopmentThis Sunday, after being off the air for seven years, Arrested Development returns for a fourth season exclusively on Netflix. The 15 episodes total 8.5 hours of what’s sure to be comedic gold. To get you pumped for the new season, below you’ll find a trailer for Season 4 and a video compiling 200 of the best quotes from the show’s first three seasons. Enjoy!

A Conversation With Michael Des Barres – Part 1

Michael Des Barres 2I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of my favorite musicians and actors, Michael Des Barres. Many of you may know him for his role as the sinister Murdoc on the TV show MacGyver. Others may know him from his tenure as lead singer of Silverhead, Detective and The Power Station. While music is Des Barres’ main priority, he still makes time for acting, including his recent role in the wonderful film California Solo.

Below is part one of the interview. Stay tuned for parts two and three. And at the end of each part I’m including live clips from Michael Des Barres’ concert in New York City on March 7, 2013 at the Bowery Electric. I was in attendance, and it was an awesome show. Enjoy!

Hello, Michael. You recently announced your new radio show, Roots and Branches. How did this come about?

I had a relationship with David Lynch because I had done Mulholland Drive with him when it was a TV show. And what happened was he cast me to play the bad guy in the pilot for a TV show for ABC but ABC passed on it because it was incomprehensibly Lynchian, ya know? (laughs) So, a couple years go by and he invites me to the premiere and I realize I’ve been absolutely cut out of it and replaced by these two chicks fucking. And I thought, oh man, this is very exciting, but where the hell’s my footage? (laughs) So, we’ve had a relationship for a while. 

But he’s got this amazing TM (transcendental meditation) movement going, and he just created this network, Transcend Radio, and he’s contacted people and asked them to produce some content for that and it ended up my door. And I came up with a show called Roots and Branches, which is essentially about influences, where lots of musicians got their influences and passed it on to the next generation, and the next generation. I deal mainly in American blues music and also the edginess of  Manhattan rock and roll, heroin rock and roll, I call it – the psychosis of rock and roll. So I do various genres. I play a song and then I play a song that was obviously influenced by that song or artist, hence the title Roots and Branches, because it’s very important for me. And I do it in the vein of Stevie Van Zandt, who flies the flag of the lineage of rock and roll, the history of rock and roll, soul, pop, and rockabilly, and all of the wonderful music that is, in a sense, threatened by extinction today because of the advent of technology.

If you can see relationships between artists, you can go deep into it and that’s what I want to create: A sort of atmosphere of research, ya know? You start at Zeppelin, then you back to the blues and where that came from. You listen to Jack White and then who influenced him, and equally groundbreaking musicians that inspired them. And it becomes this enormous organism, and hopefully an enormous orgasm (laughs). 

I recently read Rod Stewart’s autobiography, and in it he talks about how his music as well as other artists’ music, including The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, was influenced by the blues. What was it like during this time period?

I was in the clubs at the time you’re describing with Mitch Mitchell saying to me, “Why don’t you come see me play with this black bloke?” And I did, and it was Jimi Hendrix. I was there in London at the birth of the skinny rock and roll dudes being inspired by the blues. It was a phenomenal hybrid, which I’ll explore deeply in my show. It’s why working working class English boys and girls would turn to the oppressed black slave music that came out of oppression – out of Chicago and the Delta. Why would that be? I think it’s because it’s almost the same today: You get out of the ghetto by being a rapper or a sports figure. It’s the same man, you know?

Yeah, Jeff Beck was heavy. But there were a lot of people that were plugging in and turning up because rock and roll was blues real loud, essentially. And if Chuck Berry hadn’t existed, there wouldn’t be a Mick Jagger or Keith Richards. I mean imagine a world without Chuck Berry in it. What a horrible thought. (laughs). But they were smart enough to marry that with the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and the style of Oscar Wilde. It was this pop-hybrid of Muddy Waters, Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron with a slide guitar. It was this incredible cocktail of stuff.

Your modern music seems to harken back to that classic three-chord rock and roll. 

Yes, because what happens is, as an artist in the beginning it’s all about passion. Then you learn how to do it and you learn the chords that are complicated, and to keep yourself interested you start experimenting. And you lose sight of why you did it in the first place. Rock and roll is a synonym for having sex. It’s not a synonym for meditation. So you’ve gotta roll with it. And, for me, I went on all sorts of tangents because I was thinking too much. But when I got back to it three years ago, when I was in Texas recovering from an accident, I broke a lot of bones, I had time to reflect on what I really wanted to do, so I started to write. I couldn’t write with my right arm because it was smashed, so I wrote with my left hand these social media updates and people started to respond. So I took those ideas and put them to simple chords, blues-based music and I wrote “My Baby Saved My Ass,” (laughs) which sounds funny and cute but it’s true. It’s a redemptive song about the redemption of love transcending a drug addict’s downward spiral. 

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Stephen King once stated that, “The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time.” Like King, you’ve overcome drugs and alcohol. Do you agree that these substances don’t enhance an artist’s creative work?

He and I are the only ones that have said that. I mean, I’ve been saying that for 30 years. The myth of the self-destructive genius is bullshit. And I can give you one and only one example: Jim Morrison did not write the “Great American Novel” … and he could have. And it’s as simple as that. Genius is divine; it’s a talent you’re given by the universe. It’s like being born beautiful and you fuck yourself up.

I always think of Chet Baker and his beautiful face and how ravaged it was at the end of his life when he fell out of a hotel room window and smashed his skull because of heroin. So, I’m with Stephen King. It is a myth, and I’m 100% more creative with clarity than I am in a fog. I might think I’m a genius, but I’m not.

What made you stop using drugs?

I looked in the mirror and I looked like a monster. And I’m way too narcissistic and vain to look like that. I can honestly say vanity got me through it (laughs). I felt like a fool, and there’s nothing worse for me than feeling foolish. And being a slave to something? Good lord! I can’t be owned by a bag of white powder…unless it’s foundation. It’s absurd; it’s childlike. Unfortunately many of our greatest artists capitulated to it and died, and that’s a shame.

To answer your question, I’m not being glib when I say I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. It was absolute vanity. But once I got into that spiritual groove, I woke up from the trance of drugs. And I wrote “Obsession” within the first few weeks of being sober. Everybody around me was saying “I’m obsessed with this” and “I’m obsessed with that.” Is it an obsession? Yes. So I thought, OK, and I wrote that song, which was a worldwide hit because people could relate to the thing. 

Trailer – Louis CK’s New HBO Special

Below is a very funny trailer promoting Louis CK’s new HBO comedy special in April, which was filmed during Louis CK’s current tour.

It’s All In The Details

I’m in the process of writing my first novel, and it’s a time-consuming endeavor because I work two jobs and I’m in graduate school. However, now that I have a new Google Chromebook, I’m starting to make some headway. Having just written a new chapter, I came to a realization about what makes a book memorable to readers – details.

Many of the most effective modern authors (e.g., Ken Follett, Lee Child, etc.) write stories that resonate with readers because they pay close attention to the details. By this I mean they take great care in making sure their stories are infused with a considerable amount of specificity. Whether it’s describing the color and texture of a piece of clothing or slowly unveiling a gripping backstory for one of the lead characters, these authors understand the value in creating a three-dimensional world that readers can practically smell, taste and touch.

With this in mind, I’m making sure my novel contains a considerable amount of detail. I want readers leave my book feeling like they have a true understanding of my characters, their motivations and where they come from. That said, I realize that it’s equally important to make sure the plot doesn’t play second fiddle to the details.

When reading a book or watching a movie or TV show, what do you enjoy most about the story? Do you find the details help flesh out the characters and the situations they face, or do you think they get in the way?

What Authors Can Learn From Pro Wrestlers

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I’ve been a fan of pro wrestling since I was a child. When executed effectively, this amalgam of theater and athleticism can suspend my disbelief and take me on a thrilling adventure – similar to other art forms. Unfortunately, pro wrestling doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. There are many uneducated people who approach wrestling fans and say asinine things such as, “You know it’s fake, right?” What these Neanderthals fail to realize is that wrestling fans are fully aware of the fact that it’s an intricately planned form of entertainment; so are television shows, movies and novels, but you don’t see these same myopic buffoons accosting fans of True Blood or Lord of the Rings saying, “You know vampires and hobbits aren’t real, right?”

Rather than dismissing it because you don’t understand it, I challenge those of you unfamiliar with pro wrestling to watch the match below. It’s arguably the greatest match in the history of pro wrestling. It features Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 25. What makes it special is it tells a story from start to finish. From the opening video package to the match itself, there is a great deal to be learned from these two grizzled veterans. Like any skillful storyteller, they set a great pace, insert several calamities and end with a thrilling, and satisfying, conclusion.

Yes, there are plenty of terrible wrestling matches, the same way there are a multitude of dreadful television shows, films and novels. But the great ones are a spectacle to behold and, as writers, we can learn from them. We can learn that it’s important to know your audience and give them what they want, while at the same time keeping things unpredictable and fun. None of us want to produce something that is forgettable; we want to be known for drawing in our readers, having them fully invested in our characters and anxiously turning pages. Wrestling is the same. Companies like WWE seek to create compelling characters, insert them in precarious situations and let the drama unfold.

For authors, there is much to be learned from pro wrestling. Give the match below a shot and you’ll see what I mean. There are stories being told all around us; some are good, and some are bad. But if we aren’t open to experiencing all of the different mediums through which they are told (e.g., TV, movies, plays, books, music, pro wrestling, video games, etc.), then, as storytellers, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. There is a great deal to be learned, but only if we expand our horizons.

John Lithgow: 3rd Rock From The Sun

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John Lithgow is one of my favorite actors, and I’m currently enjoying listening to the audiobook version of his autobiography, Drama: An Actor’s Education. Whether he was playing a serious Shakespearian role or a hilarious goof, Lithgow’s versatility as an actor garnered him numerous awards and fans over the years.

Below are two videos: One is a fan-made compilation of some of Lithgow’s best work on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and the other is an interview about the aforementioned autobiography.

When I Met William Shatner & Scott Bakula

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Earlier in the year I attended my first Philadelphia Comic Con. Once I heard that all five Star Trek captains, including William Shatner and Scott Bakula, were going to be there, I knew I had to go. I grew up watching Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett on Quantum Leap and loved William Shatner as Denny Crane on Boston Legal.

As evidenced by the image above, I jumped at the opportunity to get a photo with these two legendary thespians, and it turned out great. After having our photo taken, Scott Bakula turned to me, shook my hand and thanked me. This caught me off guard because I was about to thank him. He was as nice as could be, and Shatner was his usual charming self. Once the hard copy of the photo was printed, Bakula and Shatner autographed it for me.

Meeting a celebrity is an unpredictable experience. You never know if the person you’re going to meet will live up to your expectations or let you down. Thankfully, I left this event with greater respect for these two men.

Have you ever met a celebrity? If so, who did you meet and how did it go?

The Golden Girls: Dorothy’s Cupcakes

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The Golden Girls is my all-time favorite sitcom, and the following segment showcases why it was such a brilliant show. Enjoy!

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