‘Good Omens’ Is Its Own Good Omen For The Future Of Television, Streaming Programming

Courtesy: BBC Studios

Salvation comes in strange and unexpected fashions.  Author Neil Gaiman spoke those words in one of the bonus features included in the recently released home release of Amazon Studios and BBC’s Good Omens.  It is also the central theme of the mini-series, adapted from the novel of the same name, which was co-written by Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett.  The mini-series created quite a stir among audiences when it made its streaming debut through Amazon in May.  Some loved it while others alleged it promoted something other than Christian beliefs and values.  Those who claimed it promoted anti-Christian beliefs clearly did not watch the six-hour mini-series.  Had those naysayers watched the program, they would have seen that if anything, it in fact presents some very positive messages, some of which are actually very pro-Christian.  Those noted messages incorporated into the story, go a long way toward making the program well worth watching. They will be discussed a little later.  The story at the center of the program forms the program’s foundation.  The noted bonus content that is featured with the program’s home release adds to the set’s presentation slightly.  The cast’s on-camera work also adds a certain element of enjoyment to the program.  When it is considered alongside the program’s primary content and messages, the whole of those elements makes Good Omens a presentation that is one of this year’s top new box sets for grown-ups.

Amazon Studios and BBC’s recent small-screen adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchatt’s novel Good Omens is one of the most surprisingly enjoyable television offerings to come along so far this year.  While perhaps not necessarily memorable long timer, it is still quite the enjoyable program to watch at least once.  That is due in part to the program’s primary content – its story and related messages.  The story in question follows the angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley as the duo partners to prevent Armageddon from happening.  The angel and his fallen angel friend are not the only ones trying to stop an 11 year-old antichrist.  Anathema Device (Adrai Arjona – True Detective, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Life of the Party) also wants to stop the antichrist.  Not to give away too much for those who have yet to watch the series, but it isn’t the group that stops Armageddon from happening, but rather a much more unexpected group.  That group will be left for the noted audiences to discover for themselves.  Getting back on topic, the idea of the good guys and bad guys teaming up to stop the ultimate evil is anything but new in the literary, cinematic and television realm.  It is an oft-used trope that spans the entertainment spectrum.  Even with that in mind, the way in which the topic was approached in this case is still original, giving audiences reason enough to watch the program.

The story itself gives audiences reason to watch, clearly.  Looking deeper within the story, it actually boasts its own share of interesting content to add to its presentation.  Right from the start of the story, Adam and Eve are dark-skinned rather than white.  It is good to see someone buck the trend of white-washing everything, instead opting for something more realistic.  At another point, Aziraphale tells Crowley that the flood was actually localized, rather than global.  It is a subtle statement, but one that is certain to create its own share of discussion since it, in its own way, argues that we should not take the bible verbatim.  On another level, Adam’s admonishment of both sides that they want to have their war just to see who is better, at the cost of mankind, is sure to generate even more discussion among viewers.  These and other plot elements tied into the story make the story in whole well worth the watch.  They are just a portion of what makes it so intriguing.  The messages that are tied into the story add their own interest to the mini-series’ presentation.

One of the most notable of the series’ messages is raised through Crowley’s personal growth.  Crowley is a fallen angel, but over time, he realizes that he is not as evil as he would like to think he is.  He, like Aziraphale, starts to think more for himself, rather than just giving in blindly to “the infallible plan.”  He proves that even those who are bad likely are actually good deep down.  This certainly doesn’t sound like something evil.  Rather, it is the exact opposite, proving again that the mini-series’ naysayers clearly did not watch the program.  It is just one of the key messages incorporated into the six-hour run of Good Omens.  The program presents plenty of other positive messages that audiences will appreciate.

One of the other notable messages incorporated into the whole of Good Omens is that of looking past our differences and accepting others.  Crowley and Aziraphale are polar opposites.  Crowley is a demon and Aziraphale is an angel.  On a deeper level though, both figures are still angels.  One of the duo is just a fallen angel, so in reality the two are still more alike than they are unalike.  The pair realizes this over the eons and learns to look past the differences, in turn becoming longtime friends.

Yet another key message incorporated into Good Omens is that we are the masters of our own fates.  Adam might have been prophesied to have been the catalyst for Armageddon, but he ends up making his own choice, leading to the story’s unexpected ending.  Whether this message (like the others noted) was intended is anyone’s guess.  That is because nowhere in any of the bonus commentary is this discussed.  This will be addressed a little later.  Either way, the message is there.  Just because someone says that we are this or we are that does not mean we have to abide by what they say.  We make our own choices about our lives.  It is up to us what we do in our lives. Between this message, that of thinking for ourselves rather than blindly following, and that of overlooking cultural differences, the messages that are incorporated into the story of Good Omens, the obvious allegorical nature of the novel (and its TV adaptation) makes for more than enough reason to watch this mini-series.  When the messages noted here are considered with the show’s overall story and its plot elements, the whole of that content makes even clearer why this program is worth the watch.  They are just a part of what makes the set worth viewing.  The bonus content featured with the set adds its own touch to the mini-series’ presentation.

The bonus content spread across Good Omens’ two discs is worth noting because of the background that it adds to the show’s presentation.  The feature-length commentary featured with each of the show’s six episodes features discussions on topics, such as the program’s set and costume design, its adaptation from its literary source material and its symbolism.  Viewers learn through the commentary in the show’s fourth episode, that star Michael Sheen was very particular about his character’s attire and that the wings on the delivery man’s uniform were related not just to angels, but to a certain mythological figure.  There is also a discussion in Episode Four’s commentary about the use of Adam’s friends as their own “four horsemen.”  Of course even without that note, it was obvious in watching the episode that they were representative of the horsemen in their own  right.

In the commentary for Episode Three, viewers learn that the half-hour opening segment used for the episode was not actually included in Gaiman and Pratchett’s novel.  Speaking of sequences, viewers learn from Gaiman himself that the mini-series’ very opening sequence, which features Frances McDormand as the voice of God, was a direct transfer from the novel, but almost ended up in a different portion of the episode than where it ended up.  Late in the mini-series’ final episode, there is mention of a possible second season, but Gaiman never does confirm if a second season was even in the planning.  Considering that there were protests by some groups against this program, those protests apparently did not succeed, taking Gaiman’s statements into consideration.  It sounds like odds are there was little to no chance of a second season for the show.

The feature-length audio commentaries featured with each of the show’s episodes add their own share of engagement and entertainment for viewers, as noted here.  The items discussed here are but a portion of the content featured in the commentaries.  Each commentary included in this mini-series features far more than what is shown here, but for all that they offer, none of the commentaries features discussion on theology or anything related to it.  The closest that any discussion comes is in the first episode’s commentary in which a brief comment is made about Adam and Eve being dark-skinned.  Other than that, there is barely any talk by anyone involved, about the show’s religious roots.  It would have been nice to have received some discussion on that item.  It doesn’t make the commentaries unwatchable, but does detract from their enjoyment.  Of course, considering the messages and plot elements tied in to the story, viewers are sure to create their own discussions anyway.  To that end, the lack of any talks on theology doesn’t detract from the program too much.

The commentaries featured with each of Good Omens’ add their own touch to the whole of the mini-series’ presentation, and are just a portion of the key bonus content featured with the show’s home release.  The “Page To Screen” bonus, which is essentially just a “making of” featurette features interviews with Sheen and co-star David Tenant, along with appearances by Jon Hamm and others.  Audiences learn from Hamm that he worked to make Gabriel unlikeable, just for comedy’s sake. He jokes about making Gabriel that workplace boss figure that everyone hates.  He does an outstanding job of his performance, too.  Tenant and Sheen offer their own insights into working on the program.  Each actor’s commentary on that aspect adds its own share of appreciation for the show.  When it is considered along with Hamm’s discussions and those of the show’s other cast members, the whole of everything here makes this yet another key addition to Good Omens’ presentation.  All of that bonus content, considered with the show’s story, plot elements and messages, makes the program in whole that much more entertaining and engaging for everyone.  They make Good Omens in whole one of the year’s most surprising new shows and most surprisingly entertaining.

BBC and Amazon Studios’ Good Omens is a presentation that viewers looking for an alternative to everything on broadcast television will appreciate.  That is due in part to its story, which is original in a variety of ways.  The plot elements and messages that are tied into the story add even more engagement and entertainment for viewers.  The bonus content adds its own touch to the mini-series in its home release.  That is despite a clear lack of any talks on theology, that could and would have added even more to the whole of the show’s home release.  Even with that in mind, the whole of the items discussed here makes Good Omens its own good omen for the future of television.  More information on this and other titles from BBC is available online at:

 

 

 

Website: http://www.bbcstudios.com

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Twitter: http://twitter.com/BBCStudios

 

 

 

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Promised Land A Deep But Largely Forgettable Film

Courtesy:  Focus Features/Universal Studios

Courtesy: Focus Features/Universal Studios

Matt Damon’s new starring vehicle, Promised Land is not one of the best of 2013’s crop of new movies.  It is however, worth at least one watch.  It’s a relatively simple movie, despite what so many critics and audiences have apparently thought of it.  It is not as deep as those individuals would have people believe.  The crux of Promised Land has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of fracking.  The real issue at hand in this seemingly socially conscious story is that of corruption within the world’s major energy companies and businesses in general.  It just so happens that the issue of fracking is used as the backdrop for that plot.  And at the heart of it all is Matt Damon’s character of Steve Butler who thinks all along, that he is doing something good, until a twist late in the story leaves him questioning everything that he has known.  Of course, add in a minor romance subplot for Steve, and audiences get the end result that is this interesting but not entirely memorable story.

The major hurdle that Promised Land faced when it originally debuted in theaters in early 2013 was figuring out a way to take the tried and true plot centered on business corruption from being stale and boring.  Stories centered on corruption within the business world are nothing new.  See Michael Douglas’ Wall Street franchise or Leonardo DiCaprio’s upcoming movie, The Wolf of Wall Street.  Since this plot is nothing new to Hollywood’s brass, it should be said that at least the execution of the story line is original even if the plot isn’t.  So the movie as a whole does have that much going for it.  For its attempts to be at least somewhat original, Damon and his co-writers deserve some credit.  The real problem with the whole movie was the timing of its release.

Promised Land had trouble performing at top notch levels in theaters.  There is no denying this.  Its performance issues were not just because of its subject matter, but also because of the timing of its release.  America is currently in an economic and political climate that necessitates movies as means to escape even more than ever.  So being faced with a story that deals with issues that have been all over the news, viewers obviously turned largely away from it.  Had the nation’s economic and political situations been different when this was released, movie-goers’ reaction might have been different.  From that angle, it can be said that perhaps this is a positive.  It’s a positive in that it serves as an example of what not to do in planning the release date for a movie.  So it has that going for it, too.      

For the issues surrounding Promised Land, it isn’t entirely without its merits.  Lead actor Matt Damon was at least mildly convincing as the socially blind Steve Butler.  In its own way, his portrayal of Steve is realistic.  Just look at the way that supporters of one political party or another blindly support their side every day on every major issue.  Look at the way that PR professionals cover up the wrongs of their companies.  In many cases, those professionals actually believe the words that they spew out.  This isn’t always the case.  But it does happen.  So Steve’s reaction in figuring out that he has been little more than a pawn in Global’s bigger plot makes him a more sympathetic character for audiences.  He becomes someone to whom audiences can relate and for whom they can cheer.  It’s at least one reason for viewers to take in this story at least once.

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Forget The Franchises, Go See Moonrise Kingdom

Courtesy: American Empirical Pictures/Indian Paintbrush/Focus Features

Moonrise Kingdom is one of the most peculiar yet deepest and most heartfelt movies of 2012.  It is a niche film, meaning it isn’t for everyone.  But it is still a story worth seeing.  Moonrise Kingdom is for all essential purposes, a coming of age story.  The short and simple is that Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are surrounded by dysfunction, and through simple correspondence, they run off together.  In the process, they learn about themselves and each other.

The coming of age story has been done and then some throughout Hollywood’s history.  But this story has completely set itself apart from all the other movies in that sub-genre.  Somehow, it managed to combine themes of love and overcoming adversity in a way that doesn’t bog down the story.  Both Suzy and Sam want love.  One has parents who don’t give her the love that she needs. The other is an orphan, so all he needs is love.  Top it all off by presenting each in a setting that’s rife with dysfunction, and it makes both Suzy and Sam very sympathetic characters.  That being the case, it makes the pair’s idealistic puppy love forgiveable.  For that matter, it actually makes the pair’s “relationship” more believeable and heartwarming, albeit a little bit seemingly dysfunctional in itself.

The story behind Moonrise Kingdom is deep and heartfelt in the long run.  It’s only one part of what makes this one of the year’s most underrated movies.  The cinematography really added to the film’s enjoyment.  There was something about the shooting style in this movie that made it stand out among the masses.  One example of that shooting style comes as Sam and Suzy are attempting to cross a stream.  The shot for this scene is somewhat grainy and imperfect.  Yet that imperfection makes it a wonderful shot.  It helps the surrounding scenery really stand out.  It’s just one of so many that any student of the film art will appreciate throughout the story.

Acting and cinematography are big parts of what make a movie great.  But another part of what makes a movie great is a soundtrack.  Far too often, movies just toss in a bunch of songs here and there that are in reality little more than background noise.  But in the case of Moonrise Kingdom, the story’s soundtrack is a whole part of the movie in itself.  In listening to the soundtrack alone, one doesn’t really catch the impact that the music has on the movie.  But in watching the movie with the soundtrack, it adds so much emotion from one scene to the next.  That even includes the addition of some classic Hank Williams, Sr. songs.  Composer Benjamin Britten’s “Heroic Weather-Conditions Of the Universe” suite is beautiful in itself.  And added to the story, it makes the scenes in which it is used that much more powerful. 

So much work went into making Moonrise Kingdom.  And it shows from every angle.  The story of what brought Sam and Suzy together makes their relationship at least somewhat understandable.  That story itself has so many layers.  Somehow, they manage to interweave without getting to be too much for the story.  The movie’s scenery, cinematography and soundtrack add layers all their own to what is already an interesting story.  Do they combine to make Moonrise Kingdom one of 2012’s best?  That’s debatable.  However, one thing can be said of Moonrise Kingdom.  And that is that at a time when movie studios are churning out nothing but prequels, sequels, and reboots, this movie has turned out to be one of the year’s most original and heartwarming (and slightly twisted) works.  Whether or not it’s among the year’s best is in the eye of the beholder.  But it is a breath of fresh air in a sea of franchises from studios that are too scared to take a chance on something original.

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Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack shines on its own

Courtesy: ABKCO

Classical and country are two wholly separate styles of music.  So the thought of combining the two polar opposites on one compilation is enough to make any listener do a double take.  It goes without saying that by all logic, it’s a major risk.  While the combination of the pair on the soundtrack to the new indie flick, “Moonrise Kingdom” was a risk, the end result was a sucess.

Being an indie-flick, not every person across the country will get to see the movie.  But everyone can check out the soundtrack.  It combines some of the best of Hank Williams, Sr. with equally impressive classical works from the likes of Camille Satin-Seans and Franz Schubert.  And composer Alexandre Desplat has his own works throughout the compilation, too.  His seven part ‘The Heroic Weather-Conditions of The Universe’ opus tells its very own story.  Though it’s likely tied in to the plot of a big storm coming while the parents of the young lovers search for them.  Listeners don’t even have to have seen the movie to appreciate the entire work, even in its separated form.

‘The Heroic Weather-Conditions of The Universe’ opens with the soft, mysterious movement, ‘A Veiled Mist.’  The name alone hints at images of the unknown. From there, the musical story builds more and more until it finally culminates in the ending gentility of the final movement, ‘After The Rain.’  This movement conjures images of the violent storm from the movie finally making its way through and then everything finally being calm once it has passed.  It’s a wonderful manner in which to tell a story. The final movement brings Desplat’s story full circle.  And just as the soundtrack opened with a young person introducing audiences to the different parts of the orchestra, so does it close.  It all combines to give audiences a total sense of fulfillment after taking the musical journey.

Not everybody who listens to this soundtrack might be a fan of classical music.  That’s fine.  It also offers some great classic country from the legend himself, Hank Williams, Sr.  The soundtrack includes his hits, ‘Kaw-Liga’, ‘Long Gone Lonesome Blues’, and ‘Ramblin Man.’  And for those who have perhaps never been exposed to Williams’ work, this trio of songs is a great first introduction to one of country music’s greatest voices.

Moonsrise Kingdom is out in theaters nationwide.  It may not be in every theater in every city across the country.  But its soundtrack is available now.  Whether one is a fan of classical or classic country, both sides have something enjoyable to which they can listen.  It may even serve to introduce a whole new generation of listeners to two great musical styles without even having to take them to see the associated movie.  Keeping that in mind, the Moonrise Kingdom soundtrack is worth at least a single listen.

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