Looking Ahead to San Diego Comic-Con: Thursday Edition

Comic-Con will be in full swing come Thursday, July 9. If you were fortunate to snag a badge to the biggest convention in San Diego, which panels should you attend? Let’s run through a few must-sees:

“Hand of God”

In this Amazon series, Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Hellboy”) plays a corrupt judge who may be “in the midst of a religious epiphany” after a family tragedy. It’s now a question of whether he’ll continue along the same course or try to do the right thing. It’s a full panel with Perlman, Ben Watkins (“Burn Notice”), Garret Dilahunt (“Justified”), Andre Royo (“Happyish”), Alona Tal (“Supernatural”), Julian Morris (“Pretty Little Liars”), Emayatzy Corinealdi (“Criminal Minds”), and Elizabeth McLaughlin (“Betrayal”). From the trailer, could it potentially fill the void left by the cancellation of Kelsey Grammar’s “Boss” a while ago?

“The Player” Sneak Peek and Q&A

This new NBC drama premieres in the fall. It’s no surprise that the high stakes chase after criminals feels somewhat like “The Blacklist,” because the same executive producers are on the project. Philip Winchester plays successful security tester and agent Alex Kane, whose life is turned upside down by the death of his wife. His adversary and quasi new employer is the enigmatic and smooth Mr. Johnson, portrayed by Wesley Snipes. Catch this sneak peek and the ensuing discussion!

“Doctor Who” Q&A The stars of “Doctor Who” are coming to Comic-Con! It’ll be Peter Capaldi’s first appearance at SDCC this summer. He’ll be there along with Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, and Steven Moffat. Missy is due back for Season 9, but I wouldn’t expect Steven Moffat to be forthcoming with spoilers. Will Peter Capaldi share any surprising facts and possibly outdo last year’s reveal about how he turned down a “Doctor Who” audition years ago?

“Sherlock”

Later on Thursday afternoon, Steven Moffat will address another segment of the BBC America fan base: the “Sherlock” fans! Will there be any more light shed upon the Victorian special? Also joining him are executive producer Sue Vertue and Rupert Graves, who plays DI Greg Lestrade.

While there’s a plethora of things to do at San Diego Comic-Con, you’ll miss out if you don’t put these panels as a priority. For a complete list of Thursday’s programming, visit the SDCC website. Check back soon and we’ll run through Friday’s program schedule.

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Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ Are Not Equals After All

Photo of Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren

Things aren’t over between Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) and the Gentleman (Marc Warren). Photo: Matt Squire/BBC America

Lady Pole (Alice Englert) is quite alive after Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) resurrected her last week, but she’s not enjoying her new life. After some initial excitement about dancing, she’s shut inside her own house because Sir Walter (Samuel West) and everyone else believe her to be mad. In actuality, she spends her nights dancing in the fairy world with the Gentleman. Stephen Black (Ariyon Bakare), a servant, is also under the same enchantment. It’s not clear yet how the Gentleman intends to make Stephen a king. Neither one is able to tell anyone the truth, but hopefully Norrell or Strange can figure out Lady Pole’s nonsense (which may eventually shift into solvable riddles).

Mr. Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Mr. Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer) are intent on setting up a magic school, but they come across Jonathan (Bertie Carvel) and Arabella Strange (Charlotte Riley) in an old and overgrown house. They encourage Jonathan to learn magic from Norrell. It’s a joy to watch Norrell laugh and smile upon meeting Jonathan, especially when he’s excited about the younger fellow’s spell at the mirror. It’s a subtle trick that no one else can see, pointing to kinship that only magicians feel with one another. Marsan’s almost child-like glee is not overdone either.

Friends or Enemies?

The budding relationship is thrown on the rocks right away when Jonathan wants to read Norrell’s books. Yes, the books Norrell has in numerous shelves. His tall step ladder is quite amusing and befitting of the importance he bestows upon his beloved treasures. We also find that the two magicians couldn’t be more different, as Jonathan draws heavily from instinct. His huge display with the sand horses rights a ship trapped by Norrell’s invisible barriers: spectacles are certainly key in magic. Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) and Lascelles (John Heffernan) are also jealous of the newcomer, prompting Norrell to outbid Arabella on magic books that Jonathan really wanted. An all-out duel over books when Jonathan returns? I wouldn’t put it past Norrell to put forth the challenge.

The Gentleman Rules the Evening … and More?

The fairy world is striking, yet we’re not fully introduced to it until nearly two-thirds of the way through the episode. Rather, at the beginning, the frame focuses on point-of-view and close-up shots of Stephen. The heavy breathing, creaking noises, and blurring through the lens all combine to further conjure this sense that we’re being pulled to that chamber with him. The house bells take on an added intensity when we hear them and see the unease of Stephen and Lady Pole in those angled overhead shots. It coalesces into the haunting frenzy in the fairy ballroom with the fairies: the nights that comprise “half” of Lady Pole’s life. Toby Haynes, known for his directing on “Sherlock,” delivers top quality in these scenes.

Marc Warren is fantastic when he appears in a scene, rooting you to the spot with his ever constant gaze. The echoing and sometimes raspy quality of his voice also does much to make him sinister. His silence is ominous as well, such as the exchange of glares between Norrell and the Gentleman at the auction. Taken together with his costume (the Peter Pan shirt is gone for now), Warren’s performance here is much more enjoyable than his time as Rochefort on “The Musketeers.”

What’s up for next week? Here’s a teaser quote from the episode preview: “A magician is not an easy thing to kill.” What could the Gentleman be planning? Is Arabella next on his invitation list for dancing?

“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” airs on Saturday evenings at 10|9c on BBC America.

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William Gillette’s Restored ‘Sherlock Holmes’ From 1916 is Quite a Cinematic Gem

“Sherlock Holmes” (1916) Closes Out “Mostly Lost 4″ in Culpeper, Va. Photo: Pat Cuadros

If you’re in withdrawal over “Sherlock,” you’re probably looking forward to the upcoming wide release of “Mr. Holmes,” the film adaptation of Mitch Cullen’s “A Slight Trick of the Mind.” Believe me when I say that I share your anticipation and curiosity about how an older Holmes will hit the big screen, particularly under the hand of the masterful Sir Ian McKellen. However, “Mr. Holmes” is not the only film about the Great Detective that has been circulating through the film festival avenues this year.

“Sherlock Holmes,” the 1916 silent feature from celebrated American actor William Gillette, was thought to be forever lost until it was found at Cinémathèque Française last October. It was painstakingly restored in a joint effort by a team including Robert Byrne, president of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, his colleagues there, and historians at Cinémathèque Française. “Sherlock Holmes” made its East Coast premiere on Saturday night at “Mostly Lost 4,” a series of workshops and screenings on silent films. The series is presented by the Library of Congress, which handles initiatives on film preservation.

Restoration

The version of “Sherlock Holmes” that comes to us today is not the original English one, but rather from reels sent to France in 1919 after World War I. Byrne delivered opening remarks at the State Theater in Culpeper, Va., to a packed house and detailed the level of disrepair on those negatives. Here’s his video comparing original footage to the new digital frames after the restoration process:

Even if you didn’t grow up watching classic film marathons (I did), you’ll be astonished by the high quality results of this restoration. The restored film even has the tints applied: orange for interior scenes and blue for outdoor and nighttime shots. The Stebney gas chamber sequence still comes across as very dark, but it’s amazing that the heavily damaged segment was able to be saved. I think the darker areas in that scene actually heightened the suspense.

William Gillette in 1918. Photo: Library of Congress

William Gillette in 1918. Photo: Library of Congress

Sorry, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss: The French Were First

We only have the original French titles and intertitles, which were themselves poor translations of the 1916 release by Essanay Films. Byrne and his associates were faced with the challenge of making new title cards, using the extant French ones. The film is based off of Gillette’s 1899 play, which meant that the team could utilize that text as a resource to preserve the tone that the actor and playwright had intended. The play is certainly worth a read, too.

Interestingly enough, Holmes is referred to as “Sherlock” by other characters in the 1919 French translation, thereby beating “Sherlock” co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss by nearly 100 years. Jokes aside for the moment, I think many Sherlockians will breathe a sigh of relief over Byrne’s ultimate decision to use “Holmes” instead of “Sherlock.” 1916 is a bit early to hit “Sherlock” mode, though you’ll find Gillette’s creation to be just as fresh and clever. I should mention that Moffat and Gatiss appear in the opening credits of the film, as contributors to the restoration project.

How Does Gillette’s Detective Fare?

“You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously replied when Gillette asked for permission to take liberties with the detective. Thankfully, Gillette does not resort to a Reichenbach Falls moment in both the 1899 play and the 1916 film. “Sherlock Holmes” draws some plot points from a few of the short stories, pulling a substantial amount from “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Holmes (Gillette) tries to retrieve compromising letters from Alice Faulkner (the delightful Marjorie Kay), whose deceased sister had a connection to a prince. The Larabees (Mario Majeroni and Grace Reals) are after the letters, too. They request assistance from the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty (Ernest Maupain).

Gillette was 63 years old when he portrayed Holmes in his first and only film role. As seen above, he was still in remarkable form as Holmes (who is supposed to be in his 40s). It must have been amazing to watch the great man himself onstage.

Advertisement for the Sherlock Holmes Play, Starring William Gillette. Photo: Library of Congress

Ad for the Sherlock Holmes Play, Starring William Gillette.   Photo: Library of Congress

Gillette commands the attention of the viewer with a powerful performance, sliding into the various mannerisms of Holmes with ease. He looks intently at his surroundings to exhibit Holmes’ keen methods of deduction, appears listless at times, and warmly carries on a conversation with Dr. Watson (Edward Fielding). Yet, none of these instances would strike viewers as overdone or cliche. Sherlockians may groan at one particular aspect: Gillette threw in a love interest for Holmes. Debates aside about Holmes’ love life or lack thereof, it works out fine (though perhaps comically to some).

The film is quite brilliant with its mix of both verbal and physical sparring. Gillette and director Arthur Berthelet really knew how to handle the pace of the two hour feature, moving effortlessly from serious to comedic moments within scenes. They even find a few ways to incorporate fire. The dialogue is handled wonderfully as well, further capturing both the witty and harder sides of Holmes that made the Canon so enjoyable to read.

Here are a couple of teasers:

– “I have a weakness for dawdling, the better to observe.”

– “Watson, would you kindly pull down the blind? I don’t care to be shot through the window.”

2015 is shaping up to be another great year for the legendary detective. If you don’t get an opportunity to catch a screening at a theater, “Sherlock Holmes” will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray in October (a year after the discovery of the lost film reels). That’s a purchase that is worth every penny.

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Magic Meets the Napoleonic Wars in ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’

“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” Susanna Clarke’s historical fantasy, premieres tonight on BBC America. However, you may have noticed that the first episode, “The Friends of English Magic,” has been up on the BBC America site since earlier in the week. The series takes a look at the Napoleonic Wars, but not in the traditional vein of a historical drama. We often look back at history and ask how things might have been if we had that additional piece of technology earlier. But what about magic? Don’t mistake “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” for a Napoleonic Harry Potter. Instead, it already foreshadows the dark side of magic and to quote from a popular drama, “All magic comes with a price.” (Extra points if you know the reference.)

Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren in the television adaptation of "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell." Photo: Matt Squire/BBC America

Eddie Marsan and Marc Warren in the television adaptation of “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” Photo: Matt Squire/BBC America

The first episode opens with a frustrated Mr. Segundus (Edward Hogg), a young man who attempts simple spells and wants to know why magic is no longer done in England. His curiosity is shared only by one member of a magician’s society in York, a Mr. Honeyfoot (Brian Pettfer from the upcoming “The Legend of Barney Thomson”). Segundus is annoyed that the books he places on hold at the local bookshop are being purchased by a Mr. Norrell. The setup is reminiscent of 18th and 19th century fiction, whereby a secondary character’s curiosity is the device used to hook readers in (or viewers in this case). Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Hoos in Media’ Make Their Mark in Charlottesville

Left to right: Professor Hector Amaya, Jenna Dagenhart, and Blake Sirach - Photo: Pat Cuadros

Left to right: Professor Hector Amaya, Jenna Dagenhart, and Blake Sirach discuss the growing impact of media in Charlottesville and at large under the helm of UVa alumni. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Reunions Weekend was in full swing recently as hundreds of alumni descended upon UVa Grounds to reconnect with classmates. It was also a wonderful opportunity to learn about changes that have occurred in the city of Charlottesville, home to Mr. Jefferson’s University. How do local Wahoos continue to serve the community as well as national and international clients at large?

Professor Hector Amaya, chair of the Department of Media Studies at UVa, endeavored to address that very question at the “Hoos in Media” seminar on Saturday morning. He brought on Jenna Dagenhart of NBC29 and Blake Sirach of WillowTree Apps to explore their expertise in media. Dagenhart debunked the “misconception that broadcasting is dead,” pointing to gains through technology, social media, and continuing collaboration across stations. Technology has also been instrumental in the building of cutting edge mobile apps, utilizing information from Sirach’s research and meetings as VP of User Experience at WillowTree.

Broadcasting Considerations

Media vehicles are fairly recognizable with their large and obtrusive satellite dishes on top, but you may be surprised to find that there’s an alternative. As Dagenhart shared, there’s a TVU, a backpack sized device that’s so practical for broadcasting from locations that are difficult to access or assignments on short notice. “National journalism is still healthy,” she insisted. “The biggest challenges are in print.” Reporters can communicate not only with other stations but within as newer web teams focus on getting stories out across multiple platforms: TV, social media, and the website.

Dagenhart’s experiences are also illuminating given her activity in recent stories that broke nationally, such as the now-discredited Rolling Stone article. She recounted her steps to interview people on this highly charged topic in the days that followed, all the while staying mindful of challenges in verbal economy, accuracy on short notice, and concerns about neutrality. “You have to think about what your job is,” Dagenhart reiterated. “Get people’s perspectives out there and let that tell the story.”

Homegrown Apps for a Dynamic (and International) Client Base

Sirach has been with WillowTree Apps since its humble beginnings in Downtown Charlottesville several years ago. Since then, the award-winning company has expanded its staff from four to ninety and operates a satellite office in New York. Sirach listed off some large clients (UVa, Johnson & Johnson, AOL), but more importantly, he was equally excited about the WillowTree staff makeup. “We try to hire a lot of UVa students,” Blake told the audience in the full classroom, as he highlighted efforts to recruit from other schools in the Commonwealth.

Do companies enjoy utilizing the services of WillowTree as opposed to a firm from the app producing centers in Austin, San Francisco, New York, and other cities? Unsurprisingly as Blake points out, “They like working with Charlottesville,” attributing the longer retention of staff as an element that attracts companies. There’s some additional travel required because this industry thrives on face-to-face meetings; but it’s a reality that Blake readily accepts as a trade-off for living in one of the top cities in the country.

A number of alumni left this area following graduation through the years, but Dagenhart and Sirach have shown through their contributions that one doesn’t have to venture far from Charlottesville to execute amazing projects with a widespread reach.

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‘Once Upon a Time’ Actresses Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey, and Victoria Smurfit Are More About Fun Than Darkness

Caution: Spoilers about the fourth season of “Once Upon a Time.”

Awesome Con brought Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey, and Victoria Smurfit to Washington, D.C. this past weekend. The three actresses wreaked quite a bit of havoc in Storybrooke and Fairy Tale Land in the latest season of “Once Upon a Time” as Maleficent, Ursula, and Cruella de Vil. Yet you’re more likely to count these three women among the most amiable professionals in the entertainment industry. So how is it that they are able to play dark roles with such talent?

Laughs Abound as Count Gore De Vol Interviews Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey and Victoria Smurfit at Awesome Con. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Laughs Abound as Count Gore De Vol Interviews Kristin Bauer, Merrin Dungey and Victoria Smurfit at Awesome Con. Photo: Pat Cuadros

“It’s a freeing experience,” Victoria Smurfit chimes in, leaning toward one of the two microphones at the table. She sports long blond hair, a much different look than that of the number one enemy of dogs and dog lovers everywhere, Cruella de Vil. Read the rest of this entry »

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Awesome Con Recap: Alex Kingston Teases Potential Return to ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Arrow’

Alex Kingston's Q&A takes top spot on my list of best panels at Awesome Con. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Alex Kingston’s Q&A takes top spot on my list of best panels at Awesome Con. Photo: Pat Cuadros

(6/2/15 Update: Sharper Photo from Robbie Hott)

There’s nothing more alarming than a schedule change when you’re already at a convention. “Doctor Who” fans know the feeling all too well, as Awesome Con had recently cancelled the Friday evening “Pond Family Reunion.” Imagine my consternation when a good friend caught up to me at the beginning of what I believed to be the Arthur Darvill line.

“Darvill is at 2:30,” he told me.

“What?” I said.

“They switched Alex Kingston and Arthur Darvill’s time slots on the app. Both are still ‘Doctor Who’ panels, he added.”

Alex Kingston shares non-spoilers, hair advice, and great stories. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Alex Kingston shares non-spoilers, hair advice, and great stories. Photo: Pat Cuadros

That was good news indeed, unless for some reason, you don’t particularly like either one of the actors. Kingston was already famous in the 1990s for her portrayal of Dr. Elizabeth Corday in the hit drama series, “ER.” More recently, she’s played River Song on “Doctor Who” and Dinah Lance in “Arrow.” The panel was aptly moderated by Count Gore de Vol, who referred to the celebrated actress creatively as the “more important doctor:” a reference to her character’s archaeology degree. Save for a couple of questions from the Count, the entire hour was dedicated to inquiries from the audience, complete with fezzes and bow ties. Read the rest of this entry »

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