So a Priest, a Deacon, a Catholic School girl & an Angel Walk into a Dark Alley…

So I’ve been trying to get back to this blog and I’ve started watching a handful of web series only to decide they weren’t worth reviewing. Yes, some things are THAT bad.
But I finally have a show I want to write about and it’s simply divine (yeah I hate myself a little right now).

Blood. Religion. Thick Font. This series ain't playing.


Head’s up – no way can I avoid spoilers on this puppy. You’ve been warned.

Divine is the name of an earthbound angel who’s superheroing it up against demons that prey on regular humans. Simple concept and I’ve seen it a variety of times before. The strength of this show is in the execution, from plot structure to acting to camera work.

The producers of the show have stated they want it to be watchable in any order. I have to admit they’ve done a pretty good job of that. You can jump in on any episode and move on to any other. We’ve seen non linear narratives a lot, from Pulp Fiction to Memento to Last Year at Marienbad (gotcha with that one, didn’t I?). But integrating the concept into a web series format is bringing it to a new level, as the audience can choose the order of the nonlinearness (I know that’s not a word). It wouldn’t work for every concept, but here it’s definitely part of the selling point.

So there’s these two men of the cloth working at a mission where our avenging angel sweeps the floor and sleeps in a spare room. The young priest, Father Christopher, is there due to a crisis of conscience (involving the death of someone he wanted to help) and a relocating from his superiors. He showed up in a cab driven by a sort of symbolic Christ figure only to discover he has to help out in healing rituals for Divine, who comes in from a beating. Also there used to be another priest (played by Misha Collins of Supernatural) but something really bad happened to him. Oh, and a catholic school girl, demon baby, a Minotaur & what appears to be Cardinal Richelieu carrying a falcon. Because: Reasons I’d know if I read more of the bible (I doubt that).

Everything clear now? Good. That’s as clear as it gets. I’m not knocking the mystery. I’m into it, they got me hooked and I hope next season is coming. Although, judging by their indiegogo campaign, it might be a while until they have the funding they want. While the kickstarter campaign for the first season was way successful, the second season’s indiegogo didn’t turn out so well.

Canada based Maple Blood Productions packages this up with stunts, effects, solid camera work and sleek editing. It’s made by pros who know what they’re doing. And the effects, while okay by motion pictures standards, stand up against any of my Sy Fy channel guilty pleasures (Lost Girl is my favorite, by the way). In fact, the effects on Divine are much better than many television  shows I’ve seen.

The pacing of the show could be more streamlined and compacted. The fight sequences are great but not so awesome as to be so long, proportionate to the episodes. There’s a similar problem with heavy dialogue scenes. I find myself sitting through an extra minute or two of dialogue after I got the point. This is also due to the fact that the dialogue is written extremely on the nose. At times it’s over-obvious. I find it odd they trust a smart audience to follow the show’s structure but not in the writing of the lines. However, maybe that’s appropriate for the audience that would be seeking this sort of show out. As I mentioned, it recalls some of the better Sy Fy series I’ve enjoyed and the writing on that stuff is certainly groan-worthy. I imagine it’s to keep the ADD preteen boys in the loop, or they’ll miss something.

The biggest mystery for me is Asian Catholic Schoolgirl Cosplayer (her name is Jin, actually). There’s at least a hint to everyone else’s past or motivations. I have no idea how she fits in, other than eye candy and sarcasm. Hopefully season two will solve that mystery first, cause she’s not doing much for me at the moment. In fact, she has the weakest delivery of anyone in Divine. I can’t tell if she’s sarcastic, genuine, or just reading lines off a cue card.

A sort of off – topic pet peeve. Blood on the face. This happens in a lot of horror and action films I’ve seen. In Ep 4 Deacon Jim and Father Christopher have just performed a ritual over a bloody Divine, during which they got a lot of blood on them. Ok, blood happens. But why aren’t they wiping their faces off through their entire conversation in the Holy Locker Room? This drives me crazy, it’s one of those filmmaking conventions that pull me out of the story cause all I can think is “I don’t know a damn person who wouldn’t be wiping the blood off their face and out of their mouth the first chance they got.” I get that it’s thought of as symbolic, but 9 times out of 10 it looks contrived and silly to me. Had the same problem with Bite Me that I wrote about in my first review. I just didn’t bring it up at the time.

In the end, I really enjoyed this show. It’s not perfect, and judging by the behind the scenes clips (check em out. wire stunts! bull head make up!) the creators are really dedicated and good at what they do. I also want to mention that the score is tight and well tuned into the pacing of the show.

I’d recommend it. Highly. Hell, watch it in any order. It’s better than alot of whatever’s on your TIVO. I’d say go buy a t-shirt and give them some support, but their online shop doesn’t seem to be working. I know this cause I was going to toss them $20 or so clams for a t-shirt. Well, let’s hope we see more angel on demon violence sometime soon.

(Fun fact: I just looked up the correct spelling of t-shirt. Allegedly, there isn’t one.)

Favorite Parts

Ep 02 • Demon Momma beats the crap out of street gang. I was rooting for her in the fight with Divine.

Ep 03 • Foul mouthed cabby driving the priest. Even the heavy handed JC visual reference at the end doesn’t ruin it for me. In fact, if Christ came back as a foul mouthed Eastern European cabby, I’d love to see the reaction of the Religious Right.

Ep 05 • Dude transforms into Minotaur. Solid effects with a Lou Ferrigno shirt ripping shot.

Least Favorite

Ep 03 • Expository phone conversation Father Christopher has with his mother. Too long, too on the nose, and a phone call nestled in a flashback? Sloppy storytelling. He could have flashed back to the actual event he’s telling her about. This was just to do shots of him cutting up fish (hey! can we get a few more metaphors in here?!).

Ep 05 • Chemistry between Divine and Jin. I want some buddy/buddy chemistry between them. His reactions to her bland delivery seem forced.

Ep  06 • Fine episode, but not a good way to end a season, in my opinion. Feels like rising action, rather than a cliff hanger or ending on some high energy.

It’s time for LINKS…

Some relevant stuff.

Divine Website

Divine Youtube Channel

A short review of the first episode from back in Sept.
And less relevant stuff…

Comic Book Recommendation (since that’s what I’ve been doing anyway, might as well give it a name).

Rex Mundi. Written by Arvid Nelson. Fantastic, epic, alternate history graphic novel. Best way to describe the plot and setting is a non-sucky version of the Da Vinci Code set in a 1930s France where magic exists and the Church is still a huge political power.

Some Web Series PLUGS
Follow Up to Last Post

After my review of Hollywood Girl and the follow up discussion with Courtney Zito in the comments section of this blog, I watched the latest episode. She’s definitely trying to focus the show and improve it.  S2•Ep2 is here.

More Canadian Action

You like teh action? You should be watching CLUTCH. I would review it, but I can’t. I consider the creators friends of mine and am working on a future project with them. So obviously, there’s a bias in anything I’d say. So I’m just plugging it. Go watch their show! It’s worth your time.
That’s it for now, folks. Hopefully someone reads this and comes back for more. Even more hopefully I will get back here sooner next time.

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One woman’s journey falling over stuff in LA

In attempt to varietize (is that a word?) the web series I watch, this week I’ll turn my attention from the zombies that ate hollywood alive to the people that hollywood eats alive. We’re going to take a look at Hollywood Girl. Created by and starring Courtney Zito, this series follows the misadventures of Zito’s alter ego, Quinn Monroe, as she tries to make it big in Hollywood. Or at the very least, stop being the cliche that she is (as she admits herself – waitress by day and actress by night).

A Little Aside About Format

Before I get into reviewing the actual show, I’d like to take a moment or three to discuss formating of web series. By that I mean, how do we intro a show? Do we recap previous episodes? How long is too long for a title sequence? Should advertizing go at the head of the show? Etc and etc. It’s clear that producers are still figuring out the best way to do these things for web series. Hollywood Girl suffers from the lack of standards and some bad decisions. Over half the episodes frustrated me as a critical viewer due to the length of time I sat through intro material. There was often a commercial, “promotional consideration brought to you by”, list of the music featured in the episode, and a “previously on Hollywood Girl” recap.

For Episode 2 & 3, the actual story didn’t start until 2 minutes in. Then, after about 30 seconds of a teaser start, there’s title sequence. After the red light turned to green, I almost immediately hit a speedbump. To be fair, Hollywood Girl seems to have realized how detrimental these time sucks can be as the latest two episodes don’t overdo it.

Web series producers! Heed me! We can define our own way to do this shizznit! Stop wasting your audience’s time.

• Commercials. Maybe put your cousin’s mattress store commercial at a half way point, or at an act break. If you’re going the youtube route, the site is going to put a commercial up front anyway.

• Title sequences. Obviously length varies, but you have to be economical between what’s interesting, informative and just way too long.

• Promotional Consideration, Music by, donated locations, and all other supporters that deserve recognition can be kept to the credits, links in your about, ads on your site & those nifty youtube onscreen links.

• Credit rolls are out, kids. Make credit cards, keep them up for a second or second and a half and move on. It’s the internet, we’ll pause if we want to read them in detail.

• Previously On. Don’t do it. There’s a really good chance I’m not watching the most recent episode first and if by chance that’s what I’m doing, if I like it, I’ll go back and watch the other stuff. It’s right there on the internet in front of me.

This stuff adds up when you’re dealing in fractions of a second and it can make a more compacted experience for your audience and possibly reduce the file size of your upload.

Hey, wasn’t I going to review something? Oh yeah…

So… Hollywood Girl….

This is clearly a pet project made out of love and desire to create. I can dig it. This takes alot of work and commitment. But I don’t think it ultimately comes together very well.

First off, there’s a huge storytelling problem in that we’re often told about things we don’t see. She’s a waitress by day (so much potential for gags there) and only once do we see her at her job (which is a flashback in the vlog bonus content, not in an episode). She has a love interest from season one, we’re supposed to accept their chemistry and that they like each other – but there’s not enough development towards it. She goes to an audition in the beginning of season 2 and we don’t see it happen! There’s even a gag in S2:1 where her friend does a terrible job painting Quinn’s toe nails AND WE DON’T SEE IT! Sure the cat responds to it, but we’re robbed of the punchline. We’re getting all the befores and afters. This screams amateur and “doing the best we can with what we got.” Which I can accept, but if you can’t force this story into the best you can do, you should create a story that caters to the best you can do with what you got. I say this to my production students all the time.

Quinn narrates her own story, sometimes commenting as narrator, sometimes commenting as voice in her own head. Yeah, it’s a bit Sex & The City, but Carrie Bradshaw she’s not. I don’t subscribe to the theory that narration is terrible storytelling. I do feel that voice over should add to the information we see or be giving us additional laughs. For the most part, Quinn’s voice over is information that is so obvious, it’s a needless convention here. How about using it to bring us more of the funny?

My real issue is the writing. It’s the underlying problem with the narration, the fact that I can see all the jokes coming from a mile away and that there’s nothing really at stake for Quinn. We’re told she needs to make it as an actress, but she’s not really “struggling.” She’s bumbling and not in a unique enough way to have the bumbling hold the show together. I know she’s going to drop her cell phone in the sink way before she does it.

The camera work is decent and the editing is solid. I have to mention that the cube transition isn’t really making it look professional, but I’ll forgive it as I think it’s charming in its amateurness. It reflects Quinn’s bumbling state. In fact the show would benefit from playing fast and loose a little more as an expression of her clumsiness.

Zito has great expression and plays her character well, but she’s too generic. If she was half as funny to me as the show wants her to be, Zito would get to show more acting chops that I suspect are there. Again, more of a scripting issue.

S2:1 is by far the best episode and if all of season 1 was condensed down to 3 episodes leading into this one, it’d be a much stronger show. Season 2 also brings up more significant issues. Quinn feels she’s not getting cast due to her body shape. I, for one, would be much more interested in satire of women’s representation in media and a girl’s struggle against that. It has substance, it could pull in some controversy and it might have some real tension. As someone who prefers realistic looking women over media ideals, I’d applaud the show for taking on the topic. It’s more interesting than seeing her fawn and fall over random pretty boys.  But they have to lose the weird streaky vision thing. It looks generic and canned. It serves no purpose when she stares at the “skinny bitches”. It’d be funnier if she looked at them and fantasized about them stuffing their faces with her “grandmother’s lasagna” with or without the streak effect.

I have suggestions. Wanna hear? Sure you eff-ing do. There are bonus vlogs outside of the episodes that include flashbacks and one little fantasy sequence (in fact, it was of Quinn and her friends stuffing food in some dude’s mouth. This could be a thing! Weird food/body issue/fantasy comedy! Or maybe not. I’m just spitballing here).

Get those vlogs into the episodes, she can segway scenes, give context to her voice overs and would allow the format to be a little looser, as we can get jump cuts and play with the editing. Next, make the show more absurd. When her friend does a push up and then lifts her legs, it’s a great gag representing how Quinn can’t compete with people’s crazy standards around her. More of that! The show lacks a unique spark but has potential.

My honest recommendation is that it’s worth a watch, but don’t start from the beginning, start at the first episode of season 2 (no new episodes have posted as of this writing) and see where it goes from there, and if you do like the episode you might feel compelled to go back and check out the rest.

My favorite parts:

Zito’s willingness to look clumsy on camera. She should embrace it and push it further. Liz Lemon is funny cause Tina Fey isn’t averse to looking downright stupid on camera.

S1 Ep 6 • Quinn meets with famous movie star “Pascha Maneer” after accidentally knocking her over at a red carpet event. The voice over and acting come together and make funny happen.

Least favorite parts:

Love interest in Season One is devoid of personality. I believe he was cast for his eyelashes.

We don’t see half the moments of interest.

The narration is too obvious, it should assume a smarter audience.

And now for some links!

Relevant stuff…

The Hollywood Girl youtube channel.

The Hollywood Girl website.

Courtney Zito’s website.

Lady-centric things I dig that aren’t really relevant…

The New York Four & The New York Five by Brian Wood. Great ensemble cast, slice of life graphic novels about a group of young ladies living in New York. This should be a tv series.

Local by Brian Wood. Covering 20 years of a girl’s life as she travels around the country. Each issue represents one day within one year.

Yeah so I like comic books. At least I kept it to realism and didn’t go all superpowers and cosmic shit. I’m plugging Brian Wood, so I should also plug his website. He’s quite good, that Mister Wood.

I have to admit I don’t care much for the HBO show Girls, but I do dig Lena Dunham and what she has to say about online videos, body image and other things sort of related to this blog post.

I’ll be back before too long with another review. Thanks for reading. I do accept comments, but at least for now I’ll approve or disapprove them. Not that I don’t want to hear contrary opinions, in fact, I would love to hear if you disagree with me and would likely add the comment. But I’d like to avoid the usual fowl mouthed tactless adolescent comments that somehow crop up all over the internet.

Wasting your brain cells on video games will help save us all.

My first web series review! Thanks for coming. There will be spoilers. As I said last week, I’m staying in my comfort zone for the first write up. Zombies! Hey if you can’t be comfortable with the undead, then who can you get comfy with?

I could describe Bite Me, but I think the IMDB entry sums it up nicely.

“Three die-hard gamers find themselves in the middle of the zombie apocalypse and realize they have to use their gaming chops to survive, rescue their friends, and ultimately save the world. ”

Bite Me is produced by Epid Level Entertainment & Machinima (apparently with some help from Lionsgate), and distributed by Machinima & Fear Net. At least that’s what I can glean from the bumpers at the head of the program. The final episode of season 2 was released earlier this month, on May 10, bringing the total episodes up to 15. Overall, I genuinely enjoyed the series. I play some video games, I dig zombies. I wouldn’t describe myself as a fanatic for either, but the show definitely caters to my tastes. That being said, it’s not perfect, and there are some flaws that got to this viewer.

Let’s talk about the good stuff. The show is very well shot, lit, and edited. Season 2, in particular, has great cinematography, and I’m not just saying that cause I know someone who worked on the camera crew (good job, Stephen and the rest of the crew!). The camera work and lighting definitely set this show apart from other web series I’ve seen. The lighting, shadows, camera moves, etc are all well planned and executed.

I am a sucker for spacial montage (split screen and the like) and for motion graphics so I enjoy the pacing and style added to the show through some creative editing and graphics choices. Some are obvious (using a freeze frame with video game like stats to introduce characters), while others are a bit more ingenius (motion comics sequence to catch us up on what happened between seasons and what is possibly the best approach to showing an IM chat on screen that I’ve ever come across). Personally I’m just a sucker for this kind of stuff.

We follow our heroes, Greg, Jeff, and Mike as they deal with a suprise zombie outbreak and discover their years as hardcore gamers has prepared them to deal with such a catastrophe. Gamers, meet your destiny. All your hours of shit talking in co op while slurping down Four Loko will pay off, so keep training.

Color coded! Very video gamey (or Power Rangery – although for a guy my age it’ll always be Voltrony).

The actors do a good job. Consistent, motivated and I don’t get bored of them. And I mean that for all the actors beyond our three leads. But I do have some issues with the writing and directing. For one thing, our main characters are played realistically (although their repetitive bickering can get tiresome if you watch too many episodes in one sitting) while much of the side characters are written as absurd stereotypes and overacted. In season 1 we’re introduced to Devin, a very “Jersey Shore”-ish douchebag who dies between seasons and is replaced by party bro equivalent Derrick. Both characters are written so over the top for me, it pulls me out of the show. It feels like a high school geek getting back at the popular kid by writing the worst version of him possible. And sure, the audience of this show would likely be that geek who’d enjoy seeing those popular Ed Hardy wearing jag offs get taken down a notch, but for me, it didn’t work. It also became glaringly apparent when examining other characters in their over-acted absurdity that this approach is not confined to those characters. General Joseph McRuby (the villain who emerges during season 2) could work if he wasn’t so clumsily written and over-acted. He comes off as a simplified verson of a character that I’ve seen many times over. While I wanted a bumbling overly pompous yet diabolical mix of Carroll O’Connor in Kelly’s Heroes crossed with a criminal mastermind, what I saw delivered was a one dimensional uninspired and unbelievable caricature. At least Ricco Ross redeems the dialogue by chewing up the scenery while he chomps on that cigar. I genuinely laughed when he made a “fuckin promise” to his son to treat him to a chocolate milk before running off to kill our heroes. I do want to mention that Derrick’s character eventually integrates into the group as mechanic and rescuer, giving him more substance and purpose. But these two and other similarly treated characters had me rolling my eyes for over half the series. I personally think the dialogue would have worked better if played realistically and let the humor happen, rather than pushing it through over playing for laughs.

The two main girls in the show, Shawna (Dani Lennon) and Lauren (Risdon Roberts), aren’t much more than eye candy in the first season (along with cougar neighbor Marcy). I was willing to accept this as par for the course, assuming the target audience is gaming males that rarely see the sun, let alone a female that isn’t delivered to them through wifi. One way to keep them watching is to treat them to a little gratuitous girl parts.

Season 2 brings more substance to the girls’ characters and, thankfully, a departure from indulging in shots like the one above.

The show carves out its own little universe by containing the zombie outbreak to Los Angeles. In fact, the country cuts off LA to contain the epidemic, making it more of a disaster piece than an apocalypse piece. Our trio set themselves up in a Ghost Busters – like situation, taking emergency calls with Shawna as dispatcher (really would have loved a little Janine reference as she answered a call… maybe in season 3), which puts them at odds with the local military force. Why exactly they’re at odds with the military eludes me. The General’s motivation is to weaponize the zombies for combat, but that never struck me as a determiner for why he wants to kill our boys. But it’s what happens and that’s the trip we’re taking. It’s a good trip, I’m happy I bought a ticket, but I do have one big complaint to put on the comment card….

There’s not many zombies!!!!! For a handful of episodes of season 2 we aren’t treated to seeing the actual zombie killing missions the team goes on. We see them leaving and arriving. Consequently, there’s a serious zombie deficiency during some of the second season. Sure the Walking Dead backed off on zombie killing for a portion of season 2 in exchange for character development and it worked for me, but this ain’t the Walking Dead. In fact, the lack of zombie killing footage is emphasized by constant references to their missions and new breeds of zombies, such as sprinters and jumpers (or maybe it was leapers). I have to say I think this is bad filmmaking. First off – show, don’t tell. Second off – don’t tell me and then not show.

None of the flaws I found sunk the show for me. I like it and I’d recommend it if  you’re into zombies, sci-fi, gamers or a fun time in short bursts. I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole thing at once. I think it works better in 1, 2, or 3 episode bites (see what I did there? eh? eh?).

My Favorite Parts

S1 Ep 2 • Meeting a Zombie through Craigslist (you know there’s some weirdos on there! be safe, kids!)

S1 Ep 4 • Killing the Cougar Zombie w/Flare Gun

S2 Ep 8 • Interrogation Montage

S2 Ep 10 • The Aforementioned “Fuckin Promise”

S2 Ep 10 • Some Evil Dead ishness when a hand ‘goes bad’ and a big ass mutant zombie that had a very Sam Raimi looking style to it.

Least Favorite Parts

Lack of zombies during Season 2’s missions.

AND NOW FOR SOME LINKS!

Relevant Crap

I watched Bite Me through a Machinima app on my ipad, but you can catch it here on their youtubes.

Season 2 Trailer on Fear.net.

Machinima.com

Zombie crap I enjoyed, but not quite relevant

Cracked.com Zombie lists – here’s one. here’s another.

I shouldn’t have to recommend The Walking Dead (tv show OR comic), so I’ll throw a lesser known, decent zombie comic your way, Raise the Dead by Dynamite Entertainment. At least look up the covers. I like the Norman Rockwell & Hitchcock zombie adaptations.

The CDC zombie preparedness posting.

Lost Zombies social media site.

Dude in Miami might be patient zero. Stay up North, my friends.

That’s it for this post. I’ll be back within the next week or two with another review of another web series. I haven’t picked it yet, but I’m looking to make this blog a variety of show styles, so it won’t likely involve the undead or chopping off heads.

Giving myself a reason to blog

A couple years ago I produced a web series titled Stage Fright as a joint production between NBC Washington & American University (that’s where I work). Recently it was screened at the LAWEBFEST. While at this fest I discovered just how many people are creating web series in a lot of different ways. There’s a ton of different distribution routes, funding schemes ( I call them schemes, cause any funding needs a crazy plan by an evil genius to be successful ), and endless possibilities ( particularly if you’re not in it to make a buck. And who is? If you wanted to make a buck you wouldn’t be working on a web series, in fact, you’d probably have gone to school for something else and right now be facing charges for a ponzy scheme).

I started researching Web series for both my job and for my own interests. But I’m lazy. I’m being erratic and inconsistent in my researching and I have a list of at least 100 shows I want to check out. That’s not even counting what’s coming out now, tomorrow, next week, etc. Sooooooooooo imma blog about em! Web series reviews! That’s right internet, what you need is one more guy shoveling his opinion all at your face.

For the summer (spring semester 2012 is over, may it rot in hell, worst semester ever) I plan to post a review about a web series every one to two weeks.

I’ve got some context and guidelines…
The series must have at least one complete season, but I don’t care when it was produced. The whole point to a web series is it exists to be new to someone in perpetuity. So if it’s new to me then it works for my blog.
Don’t care if it’s shot by some joker in his backyard with his iPhone or if it was funded by Lionsgate and stars someone famous ( u know, like antonio sabato jr). I’m not going to compare big production value vs DIY filmmaking. I think all are valid if the creators apply their skills and resources wisely.
I promise myself to vary where I find the series as much as possible and stretch out of my comfort zone in regards to genres and content.

So come back next week when I kick off this entirely self serving project with my first review of Bite Me. It’s zombies vs gamers, folks! Yeah, I’ll stretch out of my comfort zone, but not right away.