TV Review: Polar Bear Gives Answers in “Fortitude”

Caution: This review contains major spoilers on the eighth episode of “Fortitude.”

DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci) peers in a window in "Fortitude." Photo: Sky/Tiger Aspect Productions

DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci) peers in a window in “Fortitude.” Photo: Sky/Tiger Aspect Productions

If you haven’t watched the new Arctic thriller “Fortitude,” you are missing an amazing and riveting series. Unfortunately, it’s not a program that airs on cable television in the United States, but rather through the millennial-targeted distributor Pivot TV or through streaming afterwards on the Xfinity service. UK viewers can watch on Sky Atlantic. I’d mentioned “Fortitude” before its premiere in an earlier post and it’s a relief that the series delivers the quality that the previews appeared to promise. It traces a series of murder investigations by outsider DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci) in the town of Fortitude, which hasn’t been hit by any murders before. As we might expect, the supposedly quaint but freezing locale is rife with secrets.

This week, the scientific research of Vincent (Luke Treadaway) and Natalie (Sienna Guillory) continues to grow as a convincing and alarming explanation behind the odd behavior of both Shirley (Jessice Gunning) and Liam (Darwin Brokenbro) in the attacks (and murder for the latter) on Dr. Allerdyce (Phoebe Nichols) and Professor Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston). Read the rest of this entry »

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TV Review: Lackluster “Blacklist” with “The Major”

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Reddington Goes After the Major - Photo Credit: NBC

Reddington Goes After the Major – Photo Credit: NBC

Despite the mounting troubles for Agent Liz Keen (Megan Boone), last night’s episode of “The Blacklist” was rather disappointing. It seems nearly every television show throws away an entire installment in dedicating an hour to flashbacks to earlier episodes. We have yet to encounter the deus ex machina of “It was just a dream.” Liz’s secret (holding Tom Keen as prisoner) is catching up to her, as Judge Denner (John Finn) interviews her in his chamber about Reddington and later her involvement in the death of the DC Habormaster. She digs a deeper hole for herself with further lies, that she killed Tom months before the incident. Ballistic evidence emerges as well to poke holes in her testimony.

I’ve always found extended recaps to be tiresome. This one was particularly trying, as we don’t really uncover anything new on her end. We hear more about how she lost her “perfect life.” Denner is also boring, as it’s already well-established in the beginning that he is a staunch advocate of government transparency. Most of his interview sequence could have been posted on the NBC site as a webisode instead of aired on television. The most compelling aspect of “The Blacklist” has always been Raymond Reddington (James Spader), whose charisma and dangerous side do much to keep viewers both amused and on the edge of their seats all at once.

One would hope that things will get more exciting next week, as Reddington’s activities yesterday set him in a good position to get to Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold). Tom, the one man who can get Lizzie out of her bind, is busy in Germany trying to infiltrate a group focused on the weapons market. Last night we also discovered a little more about Tom, whose real name is Jacob. He was found by the “Major,” a man who cultivates young delinquents into agent-material available to do dirty work for high-paying clients. Tom was originally contracted to Reddington by the Major (Lance Henriksen), who changed gears when Berlin offered double the money. As we know full well, Red always collects from those who cross him.

Moving forward this season, two main threads are being unraveled here. The first is the story of Tom Keen and what sort of threat he still poses to Red, as his name seems to be next on the Blacklist. It’s interesting that Red hasn’t already killed Tom, given his possessive streak with Liz Keen. The other item of business is whether Denner is worth our concern, or is a threat that will be dealt with swiftly by Red’s blackmail or tactics of making “mutual arrangements.”

“The Blacklist” airs Thursday evenings on NBC at 9|8c.

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TV Review: “The Musketeers” Encounter “The Prodigal Father” as Intrigue Builds

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Howard Charles as Porthos - BBC, Photo: Dusan Martinek

Howard Charles as Porthos – (C) BBC Photo: Dusan Martinek

Since the first episode of the second season, “The Musketeers” has dropped hints about Porthos’ father. Finally, in “The Prodigal Father,” we get to meet the reclusive and mysterious Marquis de Belgard. It’s a chance for both Liam Cunningham and Howard Charles to shine in their portrayals as reunited father and son. However, as Captain Treville (Hugo Speer) points out, it’s not so simple as that. Years ago, Treville left young Porthos and his mother in the Court of Miracles, hardly a nice place to be cast out.

Porthos also meets his half-sister, Eleanor (Emma Hamilton), and her husband Levesque (Steven Cree) whose mistreatment of servants catches the eye of the other Musketeers. As one can imagine, it’s hardly a happy family reunion except for the Marquis, who is pleased that Porthos is more skilled at fighting than Levesque. However, Porthos is conflicted about his whole life, wondering if his status in the Musketeers can be attributed to Treville’s guilt rather than his own skill. Ultimately, Porthos’ abandonment can be traced back to the machinations of Belgard after all, stitching up the temporary rift with Treville, who can be considered better father material anyway. My only criticism is that the fake picture of Porthos’ mother was way too easy to figure out as just that, given the fellow’s reaction of confusion and surprise to his father’s “gift.”

Meanwhile, Constance (Tamla Kari) stubbornly prefers mourning Bonaciex’s death rather than rushing straight into the arms of D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino). In the end, she comes to her senses and things finally seem to be going well for them. Also, Rochefort (Marc Warren) is continuing to gain influence over King Louis (Ryan Gage), who is in fear for his safety. The distressed monarch signs papers which give Rochefort full control of the household and perhaps other affairs of state. (Always read the fine print before you sign.) Nonetheless, Rochefort’s devices are of no secret to Milady and to some extent, the Musketeers. Even Queen Anne’s (Alexandra Dowling) good esteem of him crumbles when he attacks her in her chamber. Luckily, Constance’s return comes just in time to save the queen from immediate harm but not from accusations of treason concerning her Majesty’s connection to Aramis (Santiago Cabrera).

Certainly, Rochefort is quite creepy but I’m not entirely convinced that he’s shaped up to be a great villain this season. Don’t get me wrong, Warren has been very good with his performances of the material he’s been given. Throwing a new villain into the mix supposedly gave the production team an opportunity to try new things, it’s been said. Take for example, the new adventures of the king, giving Ryan Gage more to do than merely fuss and be a childish ruler, which have been welcome avenues to add another dimension to his character. However, it seems that most of the time, Rochefort pops up in pursuit of the queen or to play court to the king. Rather, I would attribute the “darker” and more action-intense plots to the change in time slot. Greater flexibility in the plots could still have been managed even with Cardinal Richelieu in control of the king’s guards.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode, which looks to be centered on Aramis and Queen Anne. Will Rochefort succeed in his plans?

New episodes of “The Musketeers” airs Saturday evenings on BBC America at 9|8c.

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Final Weekend to See Idil Sukan’s Fantastic “This Comedian” Exhibit in London

Last month, I visited London for the first time with Tony, my older brother. It was a whirlwind of a week with excursions to the museums to see many works of art that I’d studied as an art history major at the University of Virginia. Call to mind any number of famous works housed in London in graphite, paint, ceramic, or marble and it’s likely we marveled at them.

Embassy Tea Gallery on Union Street, London - Photo: Pat Cuadros

Embassy Tea Gallery on Union Street, London – Photo: Pat Cuadros

Notice that my enumeration above leaves out photography. To be honest, I generally dislike exhibitions centered around photography, avoiding them on the museum circuit. It’s probably because photos, while artfully rendered, often seem too gimmicky and hollow. Where’s that sense of a captured moment in time, quirkiness, and charm when you gaze upon a subject?

Original Photo by Idil Sukan

Found this raccoon during my visit to “This Comedian.” All original credits to Idil Sukan and DrawHQ.

Fortunately, I’d left a day on my itinerary marked as a “Free Day,” which turned out to be one of the best days of the trip. A last minute glance through Twitter and some sites on London events brought “This Comedian” to my attention. The opening day coincided with my final day in London and it wasn’t terribly far from Westminster, already in my mind for the morning. Tucked away out in Southwark, the Embassy Tea Gallery is an interesting choice of venue for the photographic display of selections from Idil Sukan’s portfolio of works over the past ten years. Her debut retrospective exhibition, which opened on February 19th, is really quite impressive from her prolific body of work.

I was pretty intrigued as soon as I stepped into the basement level and encountered the photos of entertainers and often self-identifying comedians: Celia Imrie, Patrick Stewart, John Hurt, the Muppets and even Peter Capaldi. Sukan seems to devote special attention in how she chooses to frame her shots, which lends a burst of liveliness and energy already simmering within the steady gaze of her subjects. Even the occasional critter (non-Muppet) demands your rapt attention, such as the raccoon. Hannah Dormor has a great review of this exhibit, quickly honing in on Idil’s pictorial exploration and engagement with identity and going beyond “gender norms” in representation: likening the other Peter Capaldi piece to an “Herbal Essences ad” as one example.

Some of these were taken backstage at awards ceremonies and I would surmise these demand a quick and keen eye within such a short span of time. After all, these entertainers are being pulled in other directions for parties, press interviews, and so on during those evenings. Rather than feeling contrived and artificial, a sense of the actor’s personality, playfulness, and even gravitas are still allowed to shine through all at once. Because these elements come through in Idil’s unique style, the photos invite you to be an active viewer. You’d never mistake any of these as merely creative promo or head shots for an actor. After going through an exhibition such as this one, you’re likely to recognize an Idil Sukan photograph in the future without needing to read a caption.

So thank you, Idil Sukan, for changing my perspective about photography.

If you don’t have a chance to make it to Southwark by tomorrow, be sure to take a look at Idil’s extensive catalog of works, with limited edition and small collectable prints available for sale at http://shop.drawhq.com/. For updates about her work via social media, check out @idilsukan.

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“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” to Conclude West End Run on Saturday

Savoy Theatre entrance, London. Photo: Pat Cuadros

Savoy Theatre entrance, London. Photo: Pat Cuadros

If you’re currently in London, there are only two days left for the run of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at London’s West End. I highly recommend that you try to see this wonderful and riveting inaugural production from Jerry Mitchell Productions. The hilarious musical stars Robert Lindsay (“My Family,” “Me and My Girl”) as Lawrence Jameson and Alex Gaumond (“Legally Blond”) as Freddy Benson, two con artists out to swindle riches from unsuspecting women in the French Riviera. Also in the cast are Katherine Kingsley (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), Bonnie Langford (“Chicago”), and Ben Fox (“The Commitments”). Lizzy Connolly make a stellar debut West End performance as Jolene Oakes (“WAG the Musical”).

Many of you are probably familiar with the film of the same name, which starred Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The plot here generally follows a similar track. Lawrence is seasoned in the game, but he takes on American Freddy Benson as a pupil. The pair sets up a wager to see who can obtain $50,000 from Christine Colgate (Katherine Kingsley), “the American soap queen.” The loser has to leave town. A high stakes competition ensues, but not without its share of complications and antics on both sides.

Fans of the film version may feel a little put out that there isn’t a rendition of the memorable “Putting on the Ritz” sequence, but long before the end of the musical, it’s not even a nagging thought at the back of your mind. The energetic musical numbers do much to enliven things and keep the audience either constantly chuckling or roaring with laughter. Particularly strong songs include Lindsay’s “Give Them What They Want” (with a fun series of hat changes), Gaumond’s “Great Big Stuff,” and Connolly’s “Oklahoma” with Lindsay. An incredibly successful West End production would not be complete without stunning and glitzy sets that glide across and off stage as seamlessly as the actors, movements that enable the momentum of a scene to carry through to the next.

Robert Lindsay is known for a number of television roles, perhaps none more so than “My Family” as dentist Ben Harper. But he’s had RADA training and a lot of theatrical roles, including a Broadway run in “Me and My Girl.” It’s great to see him taking on the theatre again, because his onstage presence is quite arresting in the way that he shifts from comedic to serious moments and through various accents. He handles the choreography with the flair and style of a Fred Astaire. One gets the sense that he’s relishing the lines as Lawrence when he repeats the cliffhanger moment at the opening of Act II or when he compliments himself. It never comes off as over-the-top, but rather he endears himself to audience members, including those of you who find yourself way at the back of the house. What a treat it is for anyone to see this three time Olivier, Tony, and BAFTA award winner in action.

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You’ve made it to the Stage Door at the Savoy. Photo: Pat Cuadros

While you’re at the Savoy Theatre, make it a point to wait by the stage door on Savoy Way (off of Carting Lane) for a chance to say hello to the cast and maybe even get an autograph. If you miss the opportunity to check out this musical by its closing on March 7th, don’t panic just yet. There will be a bit of a break until May 2015, when the show commences a UK tour.

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Battle Lines are Drawn in Season 2 Premiere of “Broadchurch”

Olivia Colman and David Tennant reprise their roles in season 2 of "Broadchurch." Credit: ITV.

Olivia Colman and David Tennant reprise their roles in season 2 of “Broadchurch.” Credit: ITV.

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

“Broadchurch” made a stunning return last night for season 2. Skipping forward, the series picks up a few months after the murder of Danny Latimer. Everyone expects Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle) to plead guilty and then receive his sentence. However, he stuns the entire courtroom, including his legal representative, by pleading not guilty. Joe doesn’t want to go to prison, but he also seems intent on dragging down all of Broadchurch by exposing the town’s secrets through the trial. The lead-in to the courtroom scene was shot brilliantly, alternating between Ellie’s hurried approach and the slower pace of townspeople and officials into court, befitting the gravity of the upcoming moments.

The new plea throws the healing town into confusion, anger and dismay again; it manifests with the greatest intensity in Beth Latimer’s (Jodie Whittaker) outbursts toward Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman). Meanwhile, other battle lines are being drawn as legal teams are forming for the trial and an old case rears its ugly head. The former pits reclusive lawyer Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling) as the prosecutor against her old student and defender for Joe Miller, Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean-Baptiste).

The latter pending showdown concerns the Sandbrook case from DI Alec Hardy’s past. Lee Ashworth (James D’Arcy), the suspect, was tried and then able to get away because vital evidence was lost. Perhaps just as surprising as Joe’s plea change is the revelation that Alec has been hiding Claire Ripley (Eve Myles), Lee’s wife, in Broadchurch all this time. He took the Broadchurch job just so he’d have an opportunity to protect Claire. Claire’s fears that Lee has come back turn out to be true, as Lee shows up on a hillside during the exhumation of Danny’s body from the church graveyard.

Other surprises are thrown into the mix here, which could make for a very loaded and potentially confusing season. Mark and Beth are still distant (not a surprise), but what’s disturbing is Mark’s secret video game sessions with Tom Miller. It was hinted that Mark may have hit Danny in anger, a fact that wouldn’t bode well for Tom. Becca Fisher (Simone McAullay) is dating Rev. Coates (Arthur Darville). Tom lives with his aunt Lucy (Tanya Franks) and cousin Olly (Jonathan Bailey), refusing to stay with let alone see his mother.

The standout performance is Olivia Colman as Ellie, who has been undergoing therapy for her guilt and anger from not knowing the truth about her husband. She runs through such a roller coaster of emotions and thoughts (fantasizing about killing Joe in the kitchen) without being overly melodramatic. She’s often exasperated, which plays well against Tennant’s straight demeanor as he lets her vent. “Am I going to be annoyed by this?” Ellie asks Alec on their way to Claire’s house. It’s amusing to see Alec trying to be on Ellie’s side in this installment, when the two of them clashed so much during the first season. Yet he fails often in his fleeting moments of being considerate, such as when it’s clear that he has no idea about the name of Ellie’s younger son (Freddie). The chemistry between the two characters is undoubtedly one of the aspects that makes “Broadchurch” so enjoyable to watch.

Reviews for the second season are mixed and starting negatively, but for now I’m siding with the more positive critiques. The “everyone has a secret” element is under scrutiny, but it was a theme that was very much part of the first season. One can’t expect the same tone to carry over to a new season when the town dynamics are set to change. And why the astonishment over the number of new arrivals in the town? Perhaps the timing stretches belief a little, but given the high level of attention on the town, outsiders are bound to trek in.

March looks to be a great month for David Tennant on this side of the pond in more ways than one. Firstly, there was the premiere of the second season of “Broadchurch” last night. Last week, ITV confirmed that the drama has been commissioned for a third season, with Tennant and Colman reprising their roles. Finally, the former “Doctor Who” star isn’t just coming to our shores via cable and digital channels. Fans have an opportunity to attend his Q&A panel at next weekend’s Wizard World convention in Raleigh, NC. It’s sure to be a treat for anyone heading out there!

New episodes of “Broadchurch” air Wednesday evenings on BBC America.

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TV Review: Reddington and “Luther Braxton” Battle for the Fulcrum in “The Blacklist” Midseason Premiere

Liz Keen Looks for Red in Midseason Premiere of "The Blacklist." Photo belongs to NBC.com.

Liz Keen Looks for Red during the Midseason Premiere of “The Blacklist.” Photo belongs to NBC.com.

“The Blacklist” returned last night after the Super Bowl, bringing an installment that is arguably one of the best this season. Reddington has been nabbed by military forces and gets transported to Blacksite, a prison where spies are tortured for intelligence. It’s not exactly a warm welcome. Unfortunately, Luther Braxton (a very convincing Ron Perlman) is about to break out, a warning that the warden ignores.

Agents Keen (Megan Boone), Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff), and Samar Navabi (Mozhan Marnò) rush in via a chopper for a rescue attempt that quickly goes sour for the latter two. Liz teams up with Red, who has assembled a team of sketchy allies to help them reach the server room. Red already knows that Braxton wants the Fulcrum, finally explained in greater detail as the file to bring down the government (juicy blackmail material). Reddington needs to maintain the appearance that he has it in order to stay alive. However, other DC agents and baddies (David Strathairn and Janel Moloney) have worked out that Red doesn’t have the Fulcrum, ordering a airstrike to blow up the Blacksite. Strathairn is quite chilling as the Director and seems to be setting himself to be the new Fitch in town (Alan Alda).

For the moment, Braxton is closer threat to Red and the others, killing hostages ruthlessly to get a code from Cooper for access to the Blacksite’s servers. Red’s counterattack is to disable the servers by overloading the pressure in the boiler room. Perlman’s coldness, brutality, and straight talk work in tandem to give him a strong presence here, yet it’s not overdone at all and serves to present Braxton as quite the threat to Red and Liz. There’s also an underlying brawn versus brains juxtaposition at first, as Braxton turns out to be an old adversary. However, we know Reddington to be extremely dangerous and violent when he’s provoked, particularly when there’s the possibility that any harm will come to Agent Keen.

Not only was a strong cast in play for the evening, but the episode brought great focus to the things that make “The Blacklist” a compelling and addictive show. James Spader shines again as Reddington, switching effortlessly between the two extremes that viewers may be so familiar with but of which never come across as old. First, there’s charming Red as he tells yet another bizarre tale (the vase thief) to entertain Lizzy while his temporary henchmen examine the boiler. But Red also reminds us that he’s still a monster, as he delves into the metaphor of the cave fish that have become blind and hideous in the dark. It’s fully revealed when he comes swinging with the big gun to save Liz, who is almost certainly the ray of light shining in his dark cave, to continue with the imagery.

It’s rather astonishing how much “The Blacklist” teases out in hints. Braxton is more than just brawn; he’s made a careful study of Reddington and recognizes at the end how important Liz is. According to Red, she is the key to getting the Fulcrum. But from Braxton’s words, “She was there,” referring perhaps to the incident of the fire, we may get closer to the answers when “The Blacklist” airs a new episode this Thursday. Oh, and what a cliffhanger that was with the airstrike looming! Overall, “Luther Braxton” brought an intriguing chapter for viewers new and old to enjoy, setting up a few good points for followup in the second part and other ensuing installments.

“The Blacklist” airs on Thursday evenings at 9|8c on NBC.

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