Season Four Finale of ‘Once Upon a Time’ Unveils a New Savior, Dark One, and Quests

Caution: This review contains spoilers on the season 4 finale.

Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Regina (Lana Parrilla) Face Rumple the Ogre Slayer (Robert Carlyle). Photo: ABC

Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Regina (Lana Parrilla) Face Rumple the Ogre Slayer (Robert Carlyle). Photo: ABC

“Once Upon a Time” delivered a spectacular finale last night with “Operation Mongoose.” It wasn’t a perfect chapter, but it featured plenty of action, character development, and chilling twists to satisfy fans across the board. It’s arguably one of the best episodes in a while, holding true to Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis’ motif of subverting fairy tales. They add the extra layer of mirroring many elements from previous seasons all at once. Using an alternate universe as a plot device is a very risky venture that turns out to be a successful gamble here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cromwell is the ‘Master of Phantoms’ in a Rousing ‘Wolf Hall’ Finale

This review contains major spoilers. Proceed with caution!

“Wolf Hall” finally drew to a close on PBS this weekend with “Master of Phantoms.” It’s 1536 and Thomas Cromwell is set on freeing Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) from Anne Boleyn, bringing a set of rousing portrayals by Mark Rylance and Claire Foy. I’ve taken issue before with Claire Foy’s scenes; but in this installment, she was very compelling as the now spurned queen. Momentum has been building in previous episodes to this point, all focused ultimately on Cromwell’s mission to seek vengeance against Cardinal Wolsey’s (Jonathan Pryce) enemies.

Mark Rylance makes a strong finish as Thomas Cromwell. Photo: BBC

Mark Rylance makes a strong finish as Thomas Cromwell. Please, give us more Cromwell. Photo: BBC

The clash of the Cromwell and Anne is captured from the start as the former has a daymare, in which a feast is laid out. He looks on wide-eyed as Anne’s body is pulled across the table towards him. It’s quite disturbing yet artfully done, as Anne’s gaze finally hits our own directly through the frame. The dark tone continues on, as Cromwell comes back to himself and the luncheon at his home. Director Peter Kosminsky enjoys bringing viewers in and out of Cromwell’s head, throwing a seemingly mundane moment (e.g. a dinner, looking out of a window) into something absolutely bizarre, hilarious, or horrifying all at once. It’s an upheaval of the mind that mirrors the unpredictability of the circumstances in which Cromwell finds himself. Read the rest of this entry »

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Season 2 of ‘Broadchurch’ Makes DVD Release: Is it Worth a Go?

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

In case you missed the news, the second season of “Broadchurch” is now available on DVD. Is it worth adding to your collection of UK television shows? Season one set the bar rather high in terms of viewer expectations. The success of the program spawned the American version, “Gracepoint,” with David Tennant in the lead role again: a venture that sank miserably to a dead last on the nights that episodes aired. Everyone hoped that at least season 2 of “Broadchurch” would set things right. Read the rest of this entry »

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“Walking Dead” Star Emily Kinney Exhibits Whimsy and Flair on her “This is War” Tour

Her upcoming album is entitled “This is War,” but Emily Kinney radiates a lovely aura of excitement and geniality in her constant smiles. The actress and singer, most known for her role as Beth Greene on “The Walking Dead,” performed this past weekend on her guitar at Jammin Java in Vienna, Va. It wouldn’t have been a complete night without a couple of tunes from the hit AMC show. She even brought her glockenspiel, to the delight of the crowd.

Emily Kinney sings at a sold out concert at Jammin Java. Photo: Tony Cuadros

Emily Kinney sings at a sold out concert at Jammin Java. Photo: Tony Cuadros

Emily’s tunes run through the gambit of tones in a folk-pop style: from lighthearted and whimsical all the way to sad and haunting. They share a frankness about life that doesn’t fail to draw you in; that is, if you haven’t already been won over by her personality and spirit!

Emily Kinney plays the delightful glockenspiel. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Emily Kinney plays the glockenspiel. Photo: Pat Cuadros

“Expired Lover” fits well in the first category with playful and creative lines on describing a wish to break up, such as “You’re a top back shelf, out of date, too late, expired lover.” Moving on is long overdue. Or take “Married” as another example of pure whimsy on the topic of eloping: tired of the party? “Let’s get married tonight” and don’t worry, the parents will get the news the next day! “Dad Says” fits the bill on mournful songs with an exploration of having to give up your dreams. The messages echoes through a packed and silent music hall powerfully as Emily delivers it a capella.

She’s honed in on the little nuances of relationships, hooking up, and the dreams of young people hoping to score big (“Rockstar”). All the lyrics really seem to draw on her own musings and experiences, which is perhaps one reason the Vienna audience was very welcoming with their applause and cheers. Emily had no shortage of anecdotes to tell as she prepared to launch into each successive track during the evening.

What’s Next?

Emily Kinney prepares her acoustic guitar for another song. Photo: Tony Cuadros

Emily Kinney prepares her acoustic guitar for another song. Photo: Tony Cuadros

As I mentioned earlier, the talented singer-songwriter has a debut album coming out, from which she already released the titular single, “This is War.” The new track still carries the same freshness as her older music, which may come as a relief to longtime fans. Speaking of fans, Emily treats them quite well, inviting everyone to snap their fingers and sing along at certain parts. “You’re part of my band now!” she exclaims.

She probably could have sold out at a much larger venue, but it’s clear that she relishes the experience of the intimate concert. She stayed after the show to greet a long line of attendees, signing autographs and posing for photos for each group. You’d do well to keep an eye out for Emily Kinney, because she’ll continue to make an impact in the entertainment world, whether it’s music, film, or television.

Emily Kinney’s “This is War” tour kicked off on May 1st in Pittsburgh and concludes at the end of June in Los Angeles. For more information and updates, check out her website and follow her Twitter feed.

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Cromwell’s Situation Appears Uncertain in “Wolf Hall” with Looming “Crows”

Caution: This post contains spoilers from the fifth episode of “Wolf Hall.”

Damian Lewis as Henry VIII. Photograph: Giles Keyte/BBC/Company Productions Ltd

Damian Lewis as Henry VIII. Photograph: Giles Keyte/BBC/Company Productions Ltd

This coming Sunday, Masterpiece on PBS will air the final chapter of “Wolf Hall.” Take the opportunity to catch up before the big finale. The fifth installment of “Wolf Hall” from last weekend is aptly named “Crows” with a marked change in Thomas Cromwell’s (Mark Rylance) circumstances. He’s always had a few adversaries to contend with but this time they are gaining ground. It’s the first time in a while that the Machiavellian administrator is scrambling on a defensive position, rather than calling the shots.

Mark Rylance is always a standout performer, but Damian Lewis (“Homeland”) also┬ácame out strong last weekend as King Henry VIII: wrestling with impatience for a male heir and a burgeoning interest in Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips). The latter plot development derails Cromwell’s hopes of securing a union with Jane, which was nicely captured in the shot in the castle as the King’s “right hand man” watches her from the door. She’s bathed momentarily in the light from the window, yet the distance between the two marks the ever constant isolation of Cromwell the social climber.

Cromwell’s isolation and disruption of courtly hierarchy are themes that are hit upon constantly in “Wolf Hall,” even explicitly at times. He remarks on one occasion, “How many men can say, ‘My only friend is the King of England?'” Not many and yet it’s not a position to be envied, as he muses. The extra layer in such few words there is fantastic.

Queen Anne (Claire Foy) is frustrated in trying to get pregnant, resulting in the bizarre death of a dog. That ledge is awfully high off the floor for a dog just to jump by itself. Another strange and arguably exaggerated moment is the near death of the king at the jousting. Cromwell hits Henry in the chest as a sort of CPR, one might suppose. Jane Seymour’s family seems eager to gain favor with the king and push Anne out of her position. Cromwell is going to have to choose a side, but he gets shaken after the king shouts at him. The whole mix of these scenes made for an uneven episode that wasn’t as strong as the previous installments, yet still offers some of the intrigue and lovely artistic touches that comprise such a great program.

Sometimes it feels as though “Wolf Hall” is channeling a bit of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and the vengeance goal. Jonathan Pryce here as Cardinal Wolsey is like the dead King Hamlet, as Cromwell seemed to regard him as a father figure. Wolsey returns with a warning: “The trouble is, Thomas, the king wants a new wife; fix him one. I didn’t and now I’m dead.” These brief moments are extraordinary in their quietness, much in the same way as the Jane Seymour window shots. Wolsey’s words bring a nice symmetry with the beginning of the “Wolf Hall” series, as Cromwell’s fate teeters on an uncertain path. There may have been a remark early in the series about getting on the wrong side of Anne Boleyn. In the end, it’s the king who is the most dangerous figure. Make your move Cromwell, before it’s too late.

It seems almost effortless the way Peter Kosminsky directs “Wolf Hall” to pull you into Cromwell’s world and his point of view. There’s his use of the Steadicam as figures walk along and then the over-the-shoulder shots beside Cromwell during encounters with difficult characters. The edginess and discomfort from these shots work in tandem to the frames of Cromwell’s face and his reaction to what others say. Mark Rylance does brilliant work with the straight stare back, an expression that one might mistake as utterly neutral, but in the eyes reveals a man who is trying to read the situation. Every time, it almost leaves you waiting with bated breath, wondering what Cromwell will say next.

This series is adapted from Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” the first two books in her Cromwell trilogy. Mantel has yet to release the final book, but one hopes there will be a sequel to this television show soon afterwards. Of course, it’s not a complete production without the virtuosity of both director Peter Kosminsky and actor Mark Rylance.

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Neil Gaiman Discusses his Writing, ‘Doctor Who,’ and More in DC

Neil Gaiman stopped in Washington, D.C., this past weekend at DAR Constitution Hall. When he stepped up to the podium and said a quiet “Hello,” I was rather struck by his soft-spoken demeanor. Yet the author from the U.K. has quite an arresting and endearing stage presence: captivating the audience as he filled the ensuing ninety minutes with jokes, poignant personal anecdotes, and a small selection of excerpts from his books. I wager that you’ll be utterly mesmerized within the first five minutes of one of Neil Gaiman’s speaking engagements.

Neil Gaiman at DAR Constitution Hall. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Neil Gaiman answers questions from the crowd at DAR Constitution Hall. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Let’s run through some highlights from this fascinating Q&A:

Writing

It’s very easy to like Neil Gaiman because he answers questions with such a refreshing spirit of frankness that is punctuated with a wonderful sense of humor. Does he prefer working on novels or comics? “What I prefer,” Gaiman teases out with his English drawl, “is doing whatever the hell I want to.” Aside from generating a lot of cheers and laughs, the remark speaks to an honesty and confidence that’s backed by the award-winning writer’s own personal experiences. He recounted his early days as a journalist, interviewing best-selling authors that were stuck in a particular genre, when they’d really like to try other areas. It’s a trap that he’s always sought to avoid, which is one reason why his popular novel “American Gods” is set in the States instead of in London.

Gaiman read out a small part of “Good Omens,” the novel he co-authored with the late Terry Pratchett largely through long telephone conversations. He also read the “October Tale” and the “Adventure Story” from his own short story collections. There’s certainly something to be said of being present when a novelist reads his own work aloud. That evening came complete with the inflections of the voice, furrowed brow, and dramatic pauses to conjure up a genie, a delivery man, and other characters with ease.

Gaiman doesn’t believe in writer’s block, as if relegating it to the realm of excuses. It’s easier to win sympathy when you say that you have writer’s block, as opposed to just being “stuck.” You can backtrack and fix your writing if you’re stuck, he explains, because the project is still in your control. When he gets stuck, he moves to another project until he’s ready to return to a previous one.

Television Projects

“American Gods” is being pitched to the Starz Network. Gaiman informed the crowd that “Sandman” is owned by Warner Brothers, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Dark Knight Rises”) has been working on it.

Neil Gaiman flips through the question cards. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Neil Gaiman flips through the question cards at the podium. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Writing episodes for “Doctor Who” is not the same as writing a novel. As a way of demonstrating, he voiced the assessment of a production crew member: “It’s very good, but … we only have 100 hours of CGI. Your script has [more like] 700 hours of CGI!” Regrettably, some of the brilliant content gets cut.

Of Superheroes and Superpowers

One of the funniest questions was the following: “Batman or Superman boxers?” Gaiman is rather clever with wordplay and he responded instead that he’d put his “money on Batman if it’s Batman [versus] a pair of Superman boxers.”

When asked about superpowers, Gaiman said he would “love to make time stretchy.” It would be very useful for a writer because you could hold onto those spurts of inspiration. What would be better than being able to “lean against a Tuesday” and have “another three hours?” he posed, holding his hand up as if resting the tips of his long, thin fingers on an imaginary wall.

Adventures

The audience rolled with laughter upon hearing the tale of how Gaiman’s wife, Amanda Palmer, removed her clothes in one of the rooms of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; I believe it was for a sketching session (but it was hard to hear what he said). It resulted in some museum workers covering the security cameras with cups so as not to distract the security guards who watch the feed. Radio personality Ira Glass, as the story was told, had simply asked what the author had done that morning. “You don’t have adventures?!” an incredulous Glass exclaimed over the phone.

“I don’t,” insists Gaiman. “My wife has adventures. Sometimes I get swept up in her wake!”

I would count that as a real adventure. While it’s a pity that “An Evening with Neil Gaiman” lasts no more than ninety minutes, it turns out to be quite the evening! You shouldn’t expect less from this master storyteller, whose range of fans encompasses people of all ages.

For more information about Neil Gaiman, I highly recommend that you visit his website and his Twitter feed.

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Review: Mr. Kaplan Returns on ‘The Blacklist’ While Liz Looks for ‘Leonard Caul’

Liz Keen handles big decisions while Reddington fights for his life. Photo: NBC

Liz Keen (Megan Boone) handles big decisions while Reddington (James Spader) fights for his life. Photo: NBC

Caution: This review contains spoilers on “The Blacklist.”

The typically unscathed Raymond Reddington (James Spader) took a bullet to the chest in last week’s cliffhanger of “The Blacklist.” His death would mean the end of the show, but with the news of a third season, that outcome seemed unlikely. there was still plenty of suspense to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Agent Keen’s call for help is interrupted by Dembe (Hisham Tawfiq), who gets her to dial *77. Their rescuer is none other than Mr. Kaplan, who is usually dispensed by Red to take away the dead bodies. In this case, she is at hand to gather the medical team at an empty warehouse. There’s also a sequence with a creepy fellow who has been keeping surveillance on Reddington, Liz, and Tom.

Red charges Liz with finding Leonard Caul (Ned Van Zandt), who can help with the Fulcrum. Dembe asks Liz to go to an apartment and find a metal case and a key. With Reddington out for most of the episode, Mr. Kaplan and Liz step in to fill that space. Susan Blommaert is quite brilliant as Mr. Kaplan and like Red, she is “prepared for all contingencies.” Additionally, her devotion to Red is clear despite her generally cool and calculating disposition. Megan Boone can sometimes be a hit or miss when the focus is on her. This week, however, she delivered a strong performance as Liz, making the tough, split second decisions sorely needed to protect Red after their secret locations are blown and a surgeon dies. She has to resort to assistance not from one ex this time, but two exes: predictably from Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) and bitter surgeon, Nick (Piter Marek). Liz was proposed to by a doctor before?!

Red’s lodgings are pretty interesting, with respect to his taste in art and furnishings. As an art history major, I couldn’t help but notice Pieter de Hooch’s “Woman Hands Over Money to her Servant.” It looks like there is a child on the far right of the Dutch domestic scene. The other important image in the room is a photo of a woman with a child. There’s a bit of sun glare but a perturbed Liz certainly recognizes the individuals and snaps a photo of it.

Liz Keen (Megan Boone) looks for a special key. Credit: NBC

Liz Keen (Megan Boone) looks for a special key. Note my blue arrows. Credit: NBC

Leonard Caul was a former government operative; how surprising, yet another secret task force! He arrives soon after with a gun on Liz. Thankfully, Caul is an ally of Reddington, there to reveal the contents of the Fulcrum: information all about the dirty work of the Kabal, the organization headed by the Director, and perhaps others. If it’s as big as everyone hints, is it another blacklist? They head back to Red’s location, only to find another deadly team ready to strike. However, it’s a very strong moment for Liz, when she asks Caul to drive her to Langley to interrupt one of the Director’s (David Strathairn) meetings with the President’s staff no less. The Director, like many others, has underestimated Liz Keen. Her big stunt forces him to call off the attack on Red just in time.

While the Director may has lost this round, he and the Kabal will likely hit back in full force next week. For starters, Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) appears to have lost an ally: soon-to-be Attorney General Tom Connolly (Reed Birney) has been tapped for the empty seat at the Kabal. Connolly’s move is rather predictable here; he’s always come off as an opportunist rather than a true friend for Harold. It may pose some problems for the team, but Harold is better off without Connolly in the end.

Aside from taking on the Kabal, Liz will probably continue her search for answers. Tom has offered to help, but things never seem straight forward with both Tom Keen and Raymond Reddington in the picture.

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