Film News: Tom Holland Discusses the 30th Anniversary of ‘Fright Night’

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the theatrical release of Fright Night (1985). The iconic horror film tells the story of high school student Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), who is convinced his neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire. It was screened on Saturday evening during the second annual Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival. Held at the Muvico Theater in Rosemont, Illinois, the festival runs in conjunction with Wizard World Comic Con. Read the rest of this entry »

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Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ – Series Finale

Events continue at a quick pace in the final chapter of BBC series Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) returns from Venice with Strange’s message and Lady Pole’s (Alice Englert) finger. Lascelles (John Heffernan) kills him, set against any potential alliance between Strange (Bertie Carvel) and Norrell (Eddie Marsan). His deception is detected by Childermass’ cards.

Norrell and Childermass

Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan) and Childermass (Enzo Cilenti), Photo: JSMN Ltd. / Matt Squire

Childermass (Enzo Cilenti) departs for the sanatorium of Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer) to reach Lady Pole, who is under a sleeping enchantment. It’s an amazing sight when Strange’s black tower relocates from Italy and descends upon Mr. Norrell’s estate in England. Strange creates a labyrinth and conjures up fire to frighten Norrell in the library. Norrell fights back feebly with rain, inadvertently breaking the tension in the chamber.

Strange requests Norrell’s help in summoning the Raven King (Niall Greig Fulton) to help them kill the Gentleman and rescue Arabella (Charlotte Riley). There’s a heartfelt moment when Norrell reveals “the most beautiful book of magic [he’s] ever read:” Jonathan’s book on the history of magic. It’s a neat role reversal as Strange becomes the teacher and reassures Norrell that it’s all right to be afraid. Meanwhile, Childermass, Segundus, and Honeyfoot are busy attempting to reattach Lady Pole’s finger to wake her, a move that Childermass determines to be a mistake. The Gentleman (Marc Warren) follows and attacks everyone, trying to induce Stephen (Ariyon Bakare) to kill Sir Walter (Samuel West).

Oddly enough, the Raven King has been mentioned ad nauseum since the beginning of the series, yet he only appears for a couple of minutes. He teleports to Vinculus’ (Paul Kaye) location, where he revives dead man. Childermass is also on the scene, astonished to find that the text on Vinculus’ body is new. Norrell and Strange try to summon the Raven King back with the promise of all of English magic held in the former’s books. They refer to him as “the nameless slave,” which is also Stephen’s name. “We channeled all of English magic into a butler?!” Norrell exclaims with dismay, after Stephen emerges from the flurry of ravens. Henry bursts in and shoots Stephen in the chest, drawing the ire of the Gentleman.

Gentleman (Marc Warren)

Will the Gentleman (Marc Warren) succeed? Photo: JSMN Ltd. / Matt Squire

The hurried chain of developments here works to the detriment of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It interferes with good production decisions like strong casting and reasonably well done special effects. Norrell’s giddiness at traveling to this magical world is a standout moment for Eddie Marsan, as are his declarations on “the virtue of a good, English rain.” Strange reunites briefly with Belle, pushing her through a mirror to the safety of Flora’s (Lucinda Dryzek) rooms in Venice.

The final confrontation in the fairy kingdom receives less attention, taking away the importance of Stephen’s triumph. Restored to health by his new magic, he rises and kills the Gentleman, his longtime tormentor. Even so, Ariyon Bakare and Marc Warren have continually delivered on their scenes together as they capture that balance of fascination, curiosity, fear, and intense dislike from both sides.

In keeping with the dark tone of the series, there’s no happy ending. Friends at last, Strange and Norrell remain trapped in the black tower, ascending into the sky to some unknown realm. Belle gets Jonathan to promise that he’ll try to come back to her, leaving circumstances very open-ended for a sequel. Underused characters such as Childermass and Vinculus (who carries a new book) may be promising in a spin-off of their own, too. Whatever the case, it’s clear that matters are far from resolved in this alternate world of Napoleonic England.

This article was originally posted to Blogcritics.org as “TV Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ – Series Finale.”

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Review: ‘Blunt Talk’ – “I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself”

Starz Network released the first two episodes of Blunt Talk ahead of the show’s premiere date of Saturday, August 22nd. The comedy stars Patrick Stewart as Walter Blunt, a hapless and utterly self-centered host of a right-wing news program. Critics may laud this show as new ground for Stewart, but it’s by no means his debut into raunchy and borderline over-the-top scenarios.

Walter Blunt (Patrick Stewart) and his Therapist (Richard Lewis)

Dr. Weiss (Richard Lewis) Treats Walter Blunt (Patrick Stewart)

At the helm of Blunt Talk are creator/director Jonathan Ames and executive producer Seth MacFarlane. MacFarlane enlisted Stewart on several occasions for Family Guy, Ted, and Ted 2, showcasing the veteran actor’s flair for perfect comedic delivery. Blunt Talk thus is more than just an extension of these moments, resulting in smart and playful episodes littered with references to Stewart’s prolific career. Be on the lookout for gems such as Brent Spiner’s brief appearance at the jazz bar as Phil the pianist.

The jazzy vibes in the background, the décor, and even Walter’s formal British speech do much to present the man as an anachronism during the opening scene of “I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself.” Following celebrity stereotypes, Walter indulges in alcohol and he has a penchant for marijuana laced chocolate. His valet Harry (Adrian Scarborough) cautions him to take such “time release vitamins” only in moderation.

It’s a delightful recipe for disaster when he shyly picks up a transsexual prostitute, from whom he requests not too much more than a cuddle. Still on a high, he fights with police while quoting “Hamlet” as TMZ-like reporters record the arrest. The almost bromance between Walter and Harry is somewhat heartwarming, nearly making the former an endearing sort of fellow despite his vanity.

In the aftermath, Walter despairs that UBS Network may cancel his already faltering show. He resorts to bribery, trading his precious Jaguar for one more broadcast. He must also participate in sessions with Dr. Weiss (Richard Lewis), a Freudian therapist that prescribes crack. So far, the standout on Walter’s production team is longtime producer Rosalie (Jacki Weaver), who comforts him with a “spoon” or a lie down in the office as he voices his insecurities.

He unwisely takes proffered prescription medication from Jim (Timm Sharp) and suffers Ambien blackouts as he prerecords questions and exaggerated facial expressions for his interview about the arrest. Yes, that’s Walter Blunt in an exclusive with Walter Blunt himself: hilariously following up each pitiful answer with an unrelenting “why” in the intense exchange. Ultimately, the stress and the drugs lead him to collapse on live television during his ensuing soliloquy, bringing the opening chapter to a startling if not completely surprising conclusion.

Blunt Talk has the potential to be a great series for Starz and Patrick Stewart, doing a pretty decent job at establishing Walter’s plight and injecting scenes with a lot of humor. Lines like “I’m no lion in the winter” and “I’m a bald eagle” are handled with such a practiced ease by Stewart. One hopes he can continue in this mode as circumstances further unravel for his tragic character, who tries so hard to be relevant against giants like Anderson Cooper and Bill O’Reilly. Stewart’s performance lends itself well to both the gravitas of a Shakespearean tragedy and the absurdity of Don Quixote’s misadventures, adding another fantastic project to his long resume.

This post was originally published on Blogcritics.org as “TV Review: ‘Blunt Talk’ – ‘I Seem to Be Running Out of Dreams for Myself.”

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Interview: Hollis Brown Reflects on New Album ‘3 Shots’ and a New Tour

Rising rock and roll band Hollis Brown stopped recently for a concert at the Southern Café & Music Hall in Charlottesville, VA. The ambitious rock quintet is promoting their latest album, 3 Shots, boasting a variety of tunes with a mix of rock and country influences. Standout tracks include the titular track of “3 Shots,” “Cathedral,” and even the eulogistic “John Wayne.”

Hollis Brown Group Photo

Photo: Hollis Brown / Bloom Effect.

Cementing its current line-up in 2014, Hollis Brown consists of vocalist/guitarist Mike Montali, guitarist Jonathan Bonilla, bass player/vocalist Dillon DeVito, drummer Andrew Zehnal, and pianist/vocalist Adam Bock. It’s noteworthy that these gentlemen hail from different parts of the United States (New York, Ohio, and Missouri), yet they succeed in exuding a confidence and swagger that is usually characteristic of veteran bands. That positive energy is further bolstered by the seamless merging of vocals and strong guitar work when they perform onstage. Read the rest of this entry »

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TV Review: Madness Reigns on ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ in “The Black Tower”

Marc Warren and Bertie Carvel

The Gentleman (Marc Warren) watches Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) at work. Photo: JSMN Ltd, Matt Squire / BBC America.

Following “The Black Tower,” there’s only one more episode of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a BBC series that depicts a Napoleonic Europe beset by magic. The penultimate installment is a jarring descent into madness. Norrell (Eddie Marsan), the older magician, is frustrated that he can’t locate Strange (Bertie Carvel), his former apprentice. He reluctantly pulls Drawlight (Vincent Franklin) out of jail to handle the search.

Strange is hiding in Venice, trying to “catch” madness, a mental state that enables one to see fairies. He meets the lovely Flora (Lucinda Dryzek), from whom he learns about an old lady that lives with cats and eats dead rodents. Yes, she’s mad. I would have preferred a less stomach-turning method for demonstrating his obsession with getting Arabella (Charlotte Riley) back. Strange succeeds and meets the Gentleman, a fairy king (Marc Warren) with a penchant for deals. His happiness fades upon realizing that Belle is alive, turning quickly to rage when he discovers the Gentleman’s involvement with Lady Pole’s (Alice Englert) resurrection.

Both Bertie Carvel and Marc Warren deserve praise for the way they play the long overdue confrontation in Strange’s rooms and the fairy kingdom of Lost-Hope. When they cast aside their measured politeness, the visible tension in their stances and faces almost makes you believe that invisible waves of magic are radiating from them. The Gentleman’s antagonism drips through his conversation with the Pole family’s butler, Stephen (Ariyon Bakare). It’s beautifully shot with strong light and shadow as the fairy king stands behind Stephen, who tries to dine with the oblivious Segundus (Edward Hogg) and Honeyfoot (Brian Pettifer).

“The Black Tower” is certainly the most entertaining and exhilarating chapter thus far. Developing plot threads are starting to converge, tied to the prophecy of the Raven King, another longtime adversary of the Gentleman. That story, as told by the street magician Vinculus (Paul Kaye), has hinted at disaster for Norrell and Strange.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell also addresses with maximum damage the question of John Segundus, an aspiring (but not practicing) magician: “Why is there no more magic done in England?” Strange and Norrell predict correctly that a revival of magic would bring about factions. It threatens to leave devastation in its wake, as shown by the Gentleman’s conjuring of a pillar of darkness around Strange.

Norrell is convinced that Strange’s “mad magic” can only lead to “catastrophe.” He’s equally at fault for employing the very dark magic that he regarded as disreputable in the first place. In addition, he succeeded at stirring the ire of Strange, culminating in a threat that the younger magician sends through the mirrors as a horde of ravens. Fluttering and pecking sounds create an eerie atmosphere before the ravens break Norrell’s mirrors, heightened by Eddie Marsan’s looks of perplexity and horror. Will the rift between Norrell and Strange continue or will they put aside their differences to take down the Gentleman together? Catch the finale on BBC America July 25 at 10 p.m. ET.

Article first published as ‘TV Review: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ – “The Black Tower”‘ on Blogcritics.org.

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FOX Releases “Rise of the Villains” Teasers for ‘Gotham’ Season 2

FOX ran promos for the upcoming second season of the hit series “Gotham,” which returns to television on September 21. “The Cave” is a promo focusing on young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) and his butler Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee) as they venture down to what will become the Batcave. It’s pretty straightforward and doesn’t offer much in the way of extra details. There’s likely to be a lot of anticipation about Bruce’s development into the Dark Knight, given his introduction to Lucius Fox (Chris Chalk) in the previous season.

The second commercial is entitled “Hungry,” drawing attention to the antagonism between Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and Commissioner Loeb (Peter Scolari). Jim looks pensive and serious as he deals with Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) and later gazes into a mirror. Perhaps the new season will explore a sort of falling away from his principles as a new struggle for power ensues? If that’s the case, I see a bigger role for his partner Bullock (Donal Logue) in steering him back to a better path.

It’s nice to see that Penguin is at the center of events in Gotham City. With things going his way, how will the criminal world of Gotham change? There’s a brief glimpse of the Joker (Cameron Monaghan), who has long held a reputation in other versions of Batman as a wild card. We can probably be sure of one thing: “Rise of the Villains” is a secondary title that doesn’t bode well for the good citizens of Gotham.

Tune into FOX on Monday, September 21st, to find out what happens next.

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Robert Carlyle’s Directorial Debut, ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson,’ Opens July 24 in the UK

Photo of Thomson Road Sign

Where will Barney appear next? Photos: Pat Cuadros

How fortunate if you’re living in the UK right now, because cinemas nationwide will release “The Legend of Barney Thomson” tomorrow. Robert Carlyle (“Once Upon a Time,” “Trainspotting”) stars in the titular role as the hapless Scottish barber, who is thrust into the world of serial killing. The black comedy recently had its world premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, of which Carlyle is an Honorary Patron. He also makes his first leap into film directing with this project, though he’s no stranger to working behind-the-scenes in theater and television.

Other talented actors round out the cast of “Barney Thomson.” Interestingly enough, Emma Thompson secured the role of Cemolina, Barney’s mother of questionable sanity. However, she’s only a couple of years older than Carlyle. Leave it to her magnificent skill as an actress and the power of makeup to tie her portrayal together wonderfully. Ray Winstone is Inspector Holdall, a somewhat reluctant detective on the case, lamenting that being in the police force didn’t turn out as flashy as television trumped it up to be.

“The Legend of Barney Thomson” is a film adaptation of Douglas Lindsay’s The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, first out of a series of 7 books. Lindsay is effective at getting readers into the heads of his Glaswegian characters. Barney Thomson, of course, is the primarily focus of this psychological study of sorts, with no shortage of dark and funny thoughts that usually didn’t go past his own imagination.

Will Robert Carlyle’s version be successful at capturing that energy and comedic brilliance? One also wonders if Carlyle will continue on with the other books, should his first venture generate a sizable revenue at the box office. There’s still no indication as to whether the film will hit other markets, but the film festival season is still underway, leaving more time for distribution companies to promote it.

I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of Barney. If you’re in the UK, be sure to check out “The Legend of Barney Thomson” in the coming days.

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