Film Review: Different Type of Fire in “Mockingjay Part 1″

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

“Mockingjay Part 1″ is a different film than “Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire.” The chatter is divided about the decision to split the final book in Suzanne Collins’ popular series about Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the “face of the revolution” against President Snow and his Capitol supporters. Undoubtedly, Lionsgate is probably copying the examples of other popular teen series such as “Harry Potter” and “Twilight.” In this case, going with two parts created a film that revolves more around political intrigue and darker tones. However, it also results in a very slow pace at times, almost bringing the feeling of “too little, too late” in the progression.

The film opens with Katniss at District 13, angry about the plan to extract her from the games. Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson) was left behind, resulting in his capture and subsequent torture at the Capitol. After viewing the destruction at her home district, Katniss agrees to make some propaganda videos to convince people to join the rebellion. Unfortunately, Peeta shows up on Capitol TV as a tool of propaganda, which pits the two friends against each other over the airwaves. Gale steps up his role in the revolution, helping with the film project and the Tribute rescue mission. When Peeta is finally rescued, they discover that he’s been hijacked and has an uncontrollable urge to kill Katniss. There’s little else to say about the plot, save that it brings Katniss and the revolutionaries closer to the final uprisings against the Capitol. More focus is applied to the feelings that many of the characters have about the revolution, particularly fear, anger, and some hope. Indeed, there’s much to convey that these are dark times.

Donald Sutherland definitely comes off as creepy in “Mockingjay Part 1.” Usually, President Snow appears stern and annoyed in the film, but at the very end, he sports a very sickening grin as he taunts Katniss. The crawl to the finish line is also bolstered by the inclusion of other actors who are strong on their performances: Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and even a little bit of Woody Harrelson. Not to say that Jennifer Lawrence didn’t act well because she does a good job at carrying the film along, particularly on Katniss’ frustration with her situation and her separation from Peeta. Lawrence can also add another accomplishment to her record, as her eerie track “The Hanging Tree” broke into the UK top 40 at the 29th position.

It’s just interesting that the events of “Part 1″ comprise little more than the first quarter of the novel. What happened to the days of “Lord of the Rings”? The series in question spanned three movies, just like the books, and then offered a treasure trove of extra footage that brought the three installments to a whopping 12 hours and delighted many fans.

“Mockingjay Part 1″ may be in the lead so far, but coming into the box office arena tomorrow is “Imitation Game,” which has already generated so much praise at the film festivals. It’ll be fun to see how the box office results turn out, given the popularity of Benedict Cumberbatch, who seems to be everywhere at the moment.

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TV Review: Doctor and Missy Clash in “Death in Heaven”

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

“Death in Heaven,” the series 8 finale of “Doctor Who,” pitted the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) against his nemesis and one-time friend from Gallifrey, the Master (Michelle Gomez). While the big reveal wasn’t so surprising (as it was speculated early on Twitter and the like), the chemistry between Capaldi and Gomez was quite seamless. You may have finished the episode with the sense that Gomez is the Master just as much as Capaldi is the Doctor. Michelle Gomez was an excellent casting choice for the role of Missy (the Master’s new name) by Steven Moffat.

Anyway, now we know that a Time Lord can change gender upon regenerating. The episode also toys with the idea of a female Doctor in two ways: 1) Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) attempt to escape the Cybermen by pretending to be the Doctor and 2) centering the opening sequence on Coleman rather than Capaldi. All the women seem to be scrambling for control in this chapter, as UNIT springs into action with the signal from Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) after she offers to take a photo of Missy and the Doctor. Close at hand is the Chief Scientific Officer, Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) who is at first amused to meet the new Cybermen, throwing a remnant of their predecessors at their feet to intimidate them.

After the Cybermen escape, the Doctor and Missy are tranquilized and moved to UNIT quarters, then to a plane. The Doctor is astonished to find that the directives set in motion by Kate have made him President of the World. “Vote for an idiot,” he quips just before the revelation. It was only a matter of time before Missy escaped her shackles and unleashed chaos. Meanwhile, there’s the threat that the Cybermen will rise out of the graveyards. It’s a hilarious and eerie moment when Missy sings Toni Basil’s “Hey Mickey,” complete with lyrics deliciously adapted with her own name. Unfortunately, we lose Osgood here, but evidently bow ties are not in at the moment.

Leave it to Missy to utterly confound the Doctor when she reveals that she gave his phone number to Clara during “The Bells of St. John.” There’s yet another gem for viewers as Missy mimics Clara (“Doctor, help me.”) while the Doctor runs for his phone. It’s a dangerous mix to have a control freak like Clara in control “of the man who shouldn’t be controlled” because it’s a weakness Missy was able to exploit.

“Am I a good man?”

What’s the point of Missy’s machinations? She wants to give the army of Cybermen to the Doctor. “I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back,” she says. That brings me to idea of friendship in “Doctor Who.”  Clara hurts Danny the Cyberman when she refers to the Doctor as her best friend. Though not always the best from his end, the Doctor can be an extremely devoted friend, as evidenced by his remarks to Clara in “Dark Water” – “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” The line is worth mentioning again, as Moffat also thought it was a very telling moment. The same devotion is evident when the Time Lord steps between Clara and Missy twice, each time with the intent of protecting Clara. On the second occasion, he insists on being the one to kill Missy.

During “Into the Dalek,” the Doctor asks Clara, “Am I a good man?” Such a loaded question on one level, which needs only a simplistic and light answer. The Doctor laughs as he declares, “I am an idiot with a box and a screwdriver!” That’s a fact we’ve known for a while but perhaps it marks the aspect of the Time Lord that we love best: a playful, self-deprecating honesty. For all his faults, the Doctor does try to help out. Whether it’s truly to help out or to satisfy his curiosity (something Danny despises) is beside the point, as one can’t see the Master/Missy ever lending aid in a selfless manner.

There’s the opposite of a powerful friendship, which is the case of a meaningful friendship that is irrevocably lost. That’s likely how one would characterize the dynamic between the Doctor and Missy, a complex history that Capaldi and Gomez effectively capture with their facial expressions and eyes. It’s in the dialogue as well, when the Doctor tells Danny, “I had a friend once. We ran together when I was little. And I thought we were the same. But when we grew up, we weren’t. Now, she’s trying to tear the world apart, and I can’t run fast enough to hold it together.” What an interesting carryover of the word “run” by Moffat! One could also call to mind the part at which the plane rips apart and Kate falls out (Missy’s doing). “Why’d you do that? You didn’t have to do that!!” the Doctor shouts at Missy in dismay. The building frustration comes to a head for the Doctor when he realizes that Missy’s coordinates for Gallifrey are fake.

The Verdict

I intentionally didn’t touch on one of the weaker parts of the episode: Cyberman Danny’s sacrifice serves both as a way to get the maths teacher out of the “Doctor Who” storyline and resolve the Doctor-Missy conflict (for now). Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) has always been an unconvincing character in season 8. Sure, it helps to have someone around to oppose the Doctor, but he comes off as annoying in those encounters. It’s not the same sense you get with antagonists like Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke) or Rory Williams (Arthur Darvil). Their jealousy and cooperative moments with the Doctor felt more natural and organic, qualities that never arose with Danny. Even the conversation following Danny’s heroics with Skovox Blitzer seems forced from Anderson’s end. There wasn’t much development either on the character of Seb (Chris Addison), who comes after Missy in the hierarchy of the Promised Land.

Overall, “Death in Heaven” is a strong way to close out season 8 of “Doctor Who.” The writing was more on par with higher quality installments of the series (series as its American meaning, not in the English sense). It would have been nice to devote more screen time to the Doctor and Missy because the scenes are really electrified with both characters present. There’s Michelle Gomez’s glee at being ahead of the Doctor, balanced out by Peter Capaldi’s exasperation and exhaustion as everything seems to fall apart for him. As I’ve said before, Capaldi is truly a virtuoso at sliding among a wide range of emotions in a given episode. Additionally, “Death in Heaven” plays out at times like a fast-pace spy flick with the airplane sequences and afterwards when the Doctor dives for his TARDIS. If you haven’t already seen it, you should check out the “Doctor Who Extra” for a behind-the-scenes look of this episode.

Waiting for Season 9

There are a few things to consider before we get to season 9 next year. We’re only a few weeks out from “Last Christmas,” the upcoming Christmas special (no, not the George Michael tune). Clara showed up in the promos for and there’s a lot to unravel there. Will Clara leave the show for good and leave a vacancy for a new companion? Peter Capaldi has signed on for more, which is a great piece of news. One wonders what other changes will be coming down the pipeline for “Doctor Who,” as we’ve already seen Capaldi’s influence on the show: the classically modern outfit and getting rid of the straightforward “boyfriend” moments with Clara.

As we wait for season 9, are there other characters who will be brought back? Missy? River Song? At the very least, one hopes that the writing quality will improve, which would be more likely if writers such as Neil Gaiman return, as has been hinted. In the meantime, one can look forward to the upcoming release of the DVD set for season 8. If you haven’t already, you can check out “The Thick of It” on Hulu. It’s pretty heavy on the swearing, as a word of caution, but it’s another chance to see Peter Capaldi and to be able to spot the Malcolm Tucker references in “Doctor Who.”

Coming next month, some U.S. theaters will be screening “Inside the Mind of Leonardo 3D,” with Capaldi in the role of famed artist Leonardo da Vinci. Stay tuned to this blog for my upcoming review of what appears to be a fascinating documentary from Julian Jones.

“Doctor Who” airs Saturdays at 9|8c on BBC America.

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Film Review: “Penguins of Madagascar” is Fun, But Hardly Innovative

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

It seems to be a week full of fowl creatures gastronomically (for the carnivores) and cinematically. The birds in question are the turkey, mockingjay, and penguin. (“Birdman” could be applied to the second category, too.) It’s expected that “Mockingjay Part 1″ will score the top spot at the box office once again, facing little competition from “Penguins of Madagascar.” The latter film was just released by DreamWorks Animation as a spin-off from the “Madagascar” series.

The story begins by showing Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon), and Private (Christopher Knights) in the early days when they first met. Right from their start as a group, these hilarious penguins wanted to be different and embrace the adventurous side of life. Adults will probably be amused by the animated cameo by Werner Herzog, working on documentary about penguins. There’s a joke in there about authenticity and keeping things interesting as the crew pushes our little heroes off a cliff, sending them on their journey to the world of zoos and circuses.

Sometime after escaping the circus, the penguins are celebrating Private’s 10th birthday. Private isn’t too excited about the birthday schedule, comprised of breaking into a secure government building, until they reach a fantastic snack machine with cheese puffs. Unfortunately, they’re captured by Dave (John Malkovich), a devious octopus bent on revenge for being long outshone by the cuteness of penguins. They escape Dave’s submarine with other octopi pursuing them through the Venice in an amusing chase sequence. Coming to the rescue is a super spy team, North Wind, led by the wolf whom Skipper refers to as Agent Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The penguins deal with two major problems. Firstly, Private always feels left out when it comes to getting big tasks; Skipper sees him as the youngest and the cutest in the group and little else. The other difficulty concerns Dave’s plot for vengeance: to use a green Medusa Serum to turn all cute penguins into monsters, so people will no longer get wrapped up in their cuteness factor. The film certainly makes good use of 3D effects and throws in clever moments and plenty of gags. Many of you may enjoy a few of John Malkovich’s lines with the celebrity names as he barks orders to the octopi. Perhaps the best one was “Kevin, bake on! We’re still going to need that victory cake.”

Benedict Cumberbatch is a strong addition to the cast, but he and Malkovich can do little to save “Penguins” from its glaring faults. It falls short of the bar set by other animated flicks because the plot is basically a recycled version of “Despicable Me 2.” By then, the super spy element had been already overused. Dave is like a rip-off of Gru when he disguises himself as a human mad scientist. As much as penguins are one of my favorite animals, they can’t compete with the flare and energy of the minions. Finally, the transformation from cute critter to monster was a dilemma in “Despicable Me 2,” except it occurred via injection instead of with a massive ray gun.

Still, the film is a vast improvement over the rest of the “Madagascar” franchise, as the penguins were always the most amusing characters in the series. If you feel a little disappointed by the time the end credits roll, don’t despair because you can find lovely penguin videos to watch online, such as the “Penguin Highway in Antarctica.” Looks like Skipper and the others could have had a great time with these other little guys.

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New “Sherlock” Photo Shows Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman Seizing Their Victorian Side

Caution: This news piece contains speculation and spoilers about “Sherlock.”

As Benedict Cumberbatch fans reel from the news of his recent engagement, there are more promising developments coming out about the “Sherlock” special. This promotional photo was released just hours ago today, showing Cumberbatch with a top hat and formal clothing that seems reminiscent of the attire sported by the late Jeremy Brett. Likewise, Martin Freeman’s bowler hat and brown suit call to mind Edward Hardwicke and David Burke from the same Granada TV series.

Today's tweet from the BBC. All rights belong to the BBC.

Today’s tweet from the BBC, first revealed by producer Sue Vertue. All rights and credit belong to the BBC.

Another tweet teased fans about the upcoming special with a photo of the cover page, which has evidently gone to a read through already. It’s set to begin filming in January 2015. CNET’s Bonnie Burton speculates that the period clothes indicate either time-travel or a costume party. As a third option, I think the production team could also be having fun with the fans, after a moment of “Say, what would they look like in the Victorian getup?” Though the popular series about the detective and doctor takes place in the present-day, it splendidly weaves together elements from many Conan Doyle stories at once.

What’s with the pointing by Sherlock there? Perhaps the gesture reminds you of the dramatic poses that would easily suit a Basil Rathbone or Peter Cushing promotional photo. Additionally, the “Sherlock” team could be taking a page out of another successful venture from Steven Moffat: yes, I’m referring to “Doctor Who.” Whatever the case, fans can look forward to seeing more of the devious Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), according to Mark Gatiss. As the filming commences in 2015, it’ll be exciting to see the other tidbits that will hit the Twitter feed about our favorite residents of 221B Baker Street.

“Sherlock” airs on PBS and “BBC America” in the U.S.


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TV Review: Alfred Goes Dark Knight in “Gotham” Mid-Season Finale

Caution: This review contains spoilers on the mid-season finale.

The precarious case against Dick Lovecraft (Al Sapienza) crumbles in the mid-season finale of “Gotham,” sending a mad scramble across the city by several of the characters. It also shows another side of Alfred Pennyworth, giving Sean Pertwee (“Elementary” and “The Musketeers”) an opportunity to shine. An ex-Marine, he has to put his fighting prowess to use if he wants to save Bruce (David Mazouz) from a group of assassins that are targeting Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). We’ve seen the butler’s protective and dark nature in slivers throughout this series, everything from his raspy and sarcastic threats to his straight-bladed knife. Alfred is rather like a spring as he’s always poised to strike despite that cool, polished, and sleek exterior.

The episode opens with the attack on Wayne Manor by a few assassins, whose female ringleader gives everyone a hard time. Alfred orders the kids to run, with Selina leading Bruce into Gotham to hide. He takes a bullet to the arm but he makes such an impressive effort to stop the gang with his sword stick fighting and fisticuffs. Bullock (Donal Logue) is very upset to find that Jim continued with the Wayne investigation. What’s really interesting here is that Jim and Bullock go separate ways in the case: Jim and Harvey Dent to track Lovecraft, while Bullock and Alfred take on the search for Selina and Bruce. Briefly, it was Dent whispered a little too much. Jim uncovers that Lovecraft is also a target but he’s overpowered by the assassins, a misstep that leads to Lovecraft’s death and Jim’s subsequent transfer (a demotion) to the position of security guard at Arkham Asylum.

Detective Bullock doesn’t seem to happy about letting Alfred come along, (as a “partner” as Pennyworth insists) but he quickly realizes that he’s underestimated the ex-Marine. The detective is practically relegated to the role of “good cop,” as his usual tactics of intimidation and force are brushed aside by the ever serious Alfred. Alfred uses bribery ($200 without blinking) on a street kid and brute force against Butch (Drew Powell); yet he’s neither a policeman nor a mobster, sides of Gotham displayed so often to us. He proves to be quite effective in maneuvering both worlds when he feels like it, unsettling and charming people to get what he needs for his mission. It’s a characteristic that makes him remarkably and startlingly similar to Batman! He’s even able to appeal to the likes of Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith). One wonders what kind of favor Fish may ask of Alfred later on, because we know she always comes to collect.

Second to Alfred’s heroics is Bruce’s encounter with the harsh reality of Gotham’s dark, seamy side. The boy wants to get back to Alfred, but he also wants to make sure Selina will be all right. At first, Bruce doesn’t seem convinced that Selina is a genuinely nice person, that she is selfish, marking another area of discovery in their growing friendship. At the same time, Selina doesn’t take Bruce seriously and rushes off, thinking that he won’t dare to leap rooftops in his inexperience. It’s a fantastic leaping sequence for the future Dark Knight. Their progression rarely feels forced and develops almost as naturally as Bruce’s relationship with Alfred.

The reunion between Alfred and Bruce is an emotionally charged scene, pulling from everything that has happened since the first episode. Alfred has dealt with a lot so far this season: losing his employee, caring for Bruce, and now nearly losing the boy. One might imagine that the butler probably feels guilty and quite lonely. To top it off, Bruce is regularly preoccupied with himself as he devotes his energies to the finding the truth about the murder of his parents. It’s put up a barrier that blocks many of Alfred’s attempts to connect with him. Recall in “Spirit of the Goat,” when Bruce says, “Besides, why would the goat take me? There’s no one to take me from.”

Once he’s off in the city, Bruce backtracks on this reasoning. You probably want to shake your head at Bruce and Alfred as the two momentarily revert to their polite and carefully scripted language while they approach each other. Fortunately, Alfred breaks through that curtain when he remarks, “If you die, who employs butlers anymore?” Finally, we get a heartfelt embrace between the two. Back at the manor, the study feels more relaxed as they talk about Selina, bringing a little of the familiar rapport that generally characterizes the relationship between Alfred and Bruce. As much as “Gotham” is about the rise of Jim Gordon, one other major thread is the rise of Bruce Wayne, who (in spite of his independent spirit) was greatly influenced by Alfred.

What’s Next in January?

What’s coming up after the mid-season break? We’ll get to see Jim Gordon at his new gig, Arkham Asylum, where it seems anything can happen. This evening, Falcone was upset about the money getting blown up at the armory, so his increased tariffs will no doubt be hitting a sore spot among his “family” members. Don’t forget Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) lurking around in Machiavellian fashion, poised to expose Liza (Makenzie Leigh) and bring Fish to ruin. From these tidbits alone, it promises to be a fast-paced trek to the season finale when we pick up again on January 5th. Let’s hope that we’ll be able to get another glimpse of Alfred in action.

“Gotham” airs on Monday evenings at 8|7c on FOX.

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TV Review: “Harvey Dent” Brings “Gotham” Closer to War

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

We’ve known for a while that there’s a war brewing in “Gotham,” which introduced some new players into the mix. The first is Harvey Dent (Nicholas D’Agosto), who makes use of a two-headed coin in his bets with juvenile delinquents, offering them second chances. He’s also assisting Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) in moving the Wayne murder case along. There’s a new baddie as well, Dick Lovecraft (a reference to author H.P. Lovecraft, one might say); the millionaire (Al Sapienza) may have been behind the Wayne murders, as he had a feud with Thomas Wayne.

As with previous chapters, “Gotham” suffers at times from actors who tend to overdo their scenes. It happens a bit with D’Agosto as Dent. It’s far better when there are more nuances and subtleties in the performances, as with someone as seasoned as Sean Pertwee (Alfred) or even the electrifying Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin). This chapter fairly well balanced, as it didn’t try to take on too many characters and too many plot points at once.

Meanwhile, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and Jim investigate the breakout of Ian Hargrove (Leslie Odom, Jr.), a bomb maker who was taken Fish Mooney’s crew (Jada Pinkett Smith). It’s a rather straightforward procedural segment with the expected purpose: Fish is targeting Falcone’s (John Doman) financial assets at the Gotham Armory as her revenge for Nikolai’s death. The very short exchanges between Fish and Penguin are so superb, especially with this new layer of Penguin having more power at his disposal.

Jim is distracted and in low spirits (he always looks serious though) because Barbara (Erin Richards) is gone. I’d speculated in an earlier post that Barbara would probably be the one to bail on the relationship. Interestingly enough, she appears to have gone back to Montoya. It’s sort of annoying as it just seems like a tactic to score some more points.

Perhaps the most enjoyable thread in this installment is Selina Kyle’s (Camren Bicondova) arrival at Wayne Manor. Alfred thinks that Jim’s idea is not good, as it might hurt Bruce (David Mazouz). It’s always great to see the Bruce and Alfred moments because of the interplay of Alfred’s protective instincts with his duty to follow Bruce’s wishes. Alfred generally is portrayed with a warm and at times sarcastic politeness in other versions of Batman, so it’s a relief to see a spin on things with the butler’s gruffness and underlying dangerous side.

Here Bruce wrestles with two problems: learning how to act around another kid and the stark reality that his weird training exercises won’t cut it in the rough streets of Gotham. Selina has also been a loner among children her age, so just as equally a learning experience for her. Ultimately, Selina and Bruce are able to connect in the innocent play of a food fight, a ruckus that Alfred can’t bring himself to interrupt. For now, Selina gets to reside at Wayne Manor.

That brings us to the mid-season finale, which appears to promise more fast-paced developments. In “Lovecraft,” Batkid and Catkid (sorry, I couldn’t resist) are on the run from the bad guys. Of course, that means we’ll probably get to see more of why Alfred is the perfect bodyguard for Bruce. Tune in tomorrow to find out!

“Gotham” airs Monday evenings at 8|7c on FOX.

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TV Review: “Gracepoint” is “Broadchurch” Again, Too Late with Sparks?

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

I have yet to see the “Broadchurch” series, but last week really felt like a breath of fresh air as “Gracepoint” ventured off the beaten path with an original storyline. Tom Miller (Jack Irvine) went missing on the way to school, pulling the community together as a search party went out. The police (led by Ellie) and community team (led by Mark Solano) came across the boy’s bike in the woods nearing the property of Lars Pierson (Brendan Fletcher), a person of interest in the Danny Solano case.

This week, the story resumed with the search parties. Ellie (Anna Gunn) insists on staying out, but Emmett (David Tennant) calls her “Ellie” and tells her to go home. It’s yet another glimmer of progress in the working relationship of the two, which Emmett breaks later by telling her not to call him “Emmett.” Soon after Ellie departs, Paul Coates (Kevin Rankin) finds Tom. Paul comes off as especially creepy, singing hymns as he waves his flashlight about.

Tom reveals to his parents and Emmett that he wanted to find Lars Pierson and hopefully end the case so that he could have his mom back. The hero story doesn’t seem to tie everything together, as viewers know that Tom deleted a lot of data from Danny on his phone and computer; later, Paul finds him smashing the laptop.

The focus of the investigation takes two tracks, as Emmett and Ellie can no longer hold Lars the backpacker. It seems unlikely that the culprit is Lars. Mark (Michael Peña) draws Emmett’s attention to some facts about Paul: finding both Tom’s bike and then Tom, looking for opportunities to be on the news, and being in love with Beth Solano (Virginia Kull). Also, Paul was seen at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The ensuing interviews tease out more of the tension between Emmett and Paul, who believes Emmett brings only “suspicion” and damage when the community needs comfort from the church.

There’s finally a bit of life injected into the Solano household as they attempt to return to normal activities like work and school. Beth enlists of the help of reporter Renee Clemons (Jessica Lucas) to get a meeting with a mother from the Rosemont fiasco, to see how she can move past Danny’s death. She’s quite horrified to find that this mother has still not recovered, spending the days watching television, drinking, and taking sleeping pills. The POV shots of Beth as she watches the woman leave dejectedly are powerful in showing what her future could easily be. It’s a good wake up call that launches her into action, to help her family find a way to start moving in a positive direction.

Mark and Chloe (Madalyn Horcher) have also been having a difficult first day back at their routine. The Solanos end up at the bowling alley, with the symbolic moment of breaking Danny’s record score. It’s also the first time Beth positively entertains the option of keeping the new baby. It’s a nice spark in this installment, when the performances of these actors have generally been flat. However, I’m surprised the production team used 5-pin bowling, a strictly Canadian form of the sport, when this series is supposed to take place in a coastal town in California. (Yes, the series is filmed in Vancouver.) It probably left a lot of viewers scratching their heads or even detracted from the family moment.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two persons of interest this week. The second is Susan Wright (Jacki Weaver), the scary lady from the trailer park who threatened Kathy Eaton (Alisen Down), the editor of Gracepoint Journal. Susan pays a visit to Tom’s house, giving him Danny’s skateboard (which we saw in her closet in episode one). She refuses to say anything to detectives until she gets her dog back.

Ellie and Emmett go to back to the cabin, as someone is trespassing at the crime scene. It’s amazing that they don’t take an extra officer or two to help with the arrest. The rainy and windy weather mimics the same conditions that befell Emmett during his dream earlier in the episode. It’s not a surprise that Emmett collapses while they’re in pursuit of the hooded figure. Is this collapse the one to do him in, as he suspects? Probably not, but it could lead to restrictions of his activity on the case.

The eighth episode seems to have been a mixed bag. It offered a compelling performance by Virginia Kull as Beth. David Tennant and Anna Gunn continue to build on their chemistry (which had an inkling with the burrito conversation weeks ago). The two are good choices to be the leads, but the production needs to better utilize them. We’ve known them to be strong actors in their previous roles (“Doctor Who” and “Breaking Bad,” respectively).

Earlier this year, FOX said that “Gracepoint” will take a different route than “Broadchurch.” Producers have emphasized that they didn’t “need to change something that was perfect.” However, as critics have noted, the carryover has been far from perfect. The final outcome of the case is strongly hinted to be another character as well. Making original material for “Gracepoint” really shows how great the program could be, so it’s shame they didn’t bring more into the first episodes. These tactics may ultimately be the undoing of the series, which regularly loses in its time slot to ABC’s hit “Scandal.” It’s such a far cry from the the popularity carried by ITV’s “Broadchurch,” which just released new promos in anticipation of the January 2015 premiere of its second season.

“Gracepoint” airs Thursday evenings at 9|8c on FOX.

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