Archive for category New Shows

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: ultimately pointing to 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. Photo: BBC

The clash of the Cromwell and Anne is captured from the start in a daymare, in which a feast is laid out. Cromwell 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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TV Review: Anyone Could Have Killed Danny as ‘Gracepoint’ Crawls Along

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

As the town reels from the death of Danny Solano, Detectives Emmett Carver (David Tennant) and Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn) are gathering more information on the case. Secrets are abound and slowly coming out about many of the characters. Why does the wildlife recorder (Nick Nolte) only now recall seeing Danny? Then there’s the housekeeper (Susan Wright) who tends the activity house on the beach: why does she have a skateboard in her RV?

It’s no surprise that the Solanos themselves have a lot of issues. Ellie discovers cocaine from Chloe’s (Madalyn Horcher) room. Beth (Virginia Kull) reveals she is pregnant to the local priest. And Carver and Ellie find out through security camera footage that Mark (Michael Pena) was lying about his whereabouts on the night of the murder. Mark looks to be a suspect for sure, as Ellie finds that the activity house on the beach has been scrubbed clean. Only Mark’s prints are in the building. Or is someone trying to frame him?

Ellie is still frustrated with Carver from his running list of questions (you can’t interrupt him), selfishness, and rude demeanor. There’s still a lot more to uncover about Carver. Why does he get sick in the police station? According to reporter Renee Clemons (Jessica Lucas), Carver dropped the ball on the case of three missing children in Rosemont. Could that fact jeopardize the outcome of the Solano investigation?

Thus far, I would say that Tennant and Gunn only had one moment of chemistry: their discussion about the burrito and moral codes. It’s the only time that I’ve laughed at the show.

“Are there beans in it?” Carver asks.

“Yes, it’s a burrito,” Ellie replies.

One wonders about Ellie’s inexperience and naiveté in trusting the townspeople too much, as Carver points out repeatedly in their exchanges. At least she isn’t pulled in by the claims of the “reluctant psychic,” Sam, who claims to be getting messages from Danny.

As with last week, the pace on “Gracepoint” feels painfully slow. The slow motion sequences feel awkward rather than adding to the gravity of the situation. Rather, the best cinematic trick comes with the POV (point of view) shot of Carver as he stares at the cliff painting in his hotel suite; subsequently, the painted cliffs shift into a shot of the real cliffs. Cinematic touches should add to the plot instead of dragging it down.

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

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TV Review: Different ‘T.R.A.C.K.S.’ and a Stan Lee Cameo on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Agent Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) team took on Cybertek and Ian Quinn (David Conrad) in an undercover mission this week. They divided up into pairs: 1) Coulson and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), 2) Ward (Brett Dalton) and May (Ming-Na Wen), and 3) Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Skye (Chloe Bennet). As one may expect, they are double-crossed by an informant with Italian Intelligence and must resort to a new game plan.

Coulson and Simmons are a winning team with their father and daughter act. As revealed in an earlier episode, Simmons’ improvising skills are abysmal, so she prepares an elaborate story in advance. She attracts attention and sympathy from other passengers as she laments the death of her mother and her “father’s” shameful behavior. Stan Lee makes his highly anticipated and delightful cameo. In another area of the train, Skye and Fitz try each other’s accents with varying success.

The light mood dissipates as Cybertek security agents attack S.H.I.E.L.D., changing the format of the episode to fill viewers in on each character’s (or pair’s) perspective. When did “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” turn into “Vantage Point”? Thankfully, the pace picks up again before the recaps become too tedious. Coulson, Ward, and May are knocked off of the train, while Fitz and Skye leave a stunned Simmons behind to pursue Quinn and Cybertek.

A determined Skye enters the basement of an Italian villa, where she encounters Quinn. Fitz is occupied with the guard outside as he disables the vehicles. Mike Peterson (J. August Richards) also makes his return, receiving a new cybernetic leg to become Deathlok, an addition hinted by Marvel last month. Unfortunately, Quinn shoots Skye before Coulson and the others arrive. Is this the end of Skye? Last week’s episode showed that Coulson believes in taking care of his team. (Viewers may recall the “Mommy and Daddy” quips from Skye much earlier in the series.) Based on the preview for the next episode, Coulson seems determined to find a cure for Skye, who probably will recover from her injuries.

Overall, there was a balanced mix of action, humor, and suspense during last night’s mission. This combination of elements was sorely needed for a program that continues to see declines in viewership numbers. The long breaks between episodes may pose a challenge as well. Viewers must wait until March 3rd to find out Skye’s fate.

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” airs Tuesdays on ABC at 8|7c.

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TV Review: ‘The Blacklist’ Crafts a Horrifying Recipe in ‘The Stewmaker’

Reddington’s (James Spader) next master criminal on “The Blacklist” is a creepy serial killer who is aptly named “The Stewmaker.” It’s worth emphasizing just how creepy and disturbing the Stewmaker/Stanley Cornish (Tom Noonan) is. A veritable master of disguises, this contracted killer drugs his victims and uses the “perfect” recipe of chemicals to kill. His routine also involves taking a photo and preserving a tooth in a jar as a trophy of his conquest. In his own words, he’s transferring energy and “converting” people back to nature.

To backtrack a little, Agent Keen (Megan Boone) is providing a key witness in a bust against Hector Lorca (Clifton Collins Jr.); the witnesses set to testify against the drug lord always disappear, which drops his cases and keeps him a free man. Reddington tells Keen that “something will happen,” because Lorca has reached out to him for a new identity and passage to another country. The witness is indeed kidnapped after one of the jurors is poisoned. Reddington remains unmoved by Keen’s pleas for help as he’s only interested in the big game, until the crime scene clues point to the Stewmaker.

Unfortunately, Lorca’s transfer to a high security prison is interrupted, leaving Agent Keen in the hands of the Stewmaker. It also forces Agent Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and Reddington to work together (for a few minutes) to save Agent Keen. Ressler finds Stanley’s wife and son while Reddington hones in on the dog’s tracking device in the hills of Maryland. Agent Keen is injected by a drug that will induce temporary paralysis but keep her conscious. Luckily for her, Reddington arrives in time to save the day before Keen is subjected to the boiling chemicals.

As in the second episode, Reddington is not above killing his targets. He voices Keen’s thought that maybe the serial killer can change and rehabilitate. However, he promptly disposes of the Stewmaker in the very chemical bath originally intended for Agent Keen. Even though Reddington had the “decency” to position Keen so that she cannot see his actions, the experience still comes off as harrowing for her and for us. “You’re a monster,” she tells him later. “How can you live with that?” Reddington responds, “By saving your life.” Here is yet another instance of Red’s devotion to Keen, a connection the series will undoubtedly continue to tease out for viewers. He gives her Stanley’s binder of victims, but not before he removes the photo of a woman. Who was the woman in the photograph?

Out of the four episodes thus far, three of the targets have died, thereby escaping apprehension by the FBI. Two have died at the very hands of Reddington, which is very telling about his sense of justice. It also begs the question why he bothers involving the FBI, whose initial tactics entail an attempt at making an arrest. What is Reddington’s ultimate goal with his Blacklist?

“The Blacklist” airs Monday evenings at 10|9c on NBC.

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TV Review: ‘Blacklist’ Fizzles with ‘Wujing’

This week on “The Blacklist,” Reddington (James Spader) and Agent Keen (Megan Boone) handle deciphering encrypted messages for Wujing, a dangerous Chinese mastermind. After two episodes of plot twists and fast-paced action, last night seems like a bit of a letdown. We’re only thrown a couple of crumbs in the way of mysterious developments. Firstly, a group of men install some cameras in Keen’s apartment to put her under surveillance. The apparent ringleader is a man with an apple. The second tidbit comes when Keen asks Red why he chose her; he admits it has to do with her father.

Everything else follows a rather predictable and humdrum path. The FBI and CIA have a link to the Chinese systems through Keen, allowing them to see Wujing’s next target at the same time. There is a race by both sides to reach Henry Cho, an architect and private citizen, who passed off building plans for the CIA. Wujing drops off Keen and Red before he is arrested by the FBI. Plots revolving around spies and government secrets like these seem a bit overdone nowadays, particularly in the aftermath of WikiLeaks and Snowden headlines. Hopefully, we will see Reddington return to offering spectacular and unusual targets on his Blacklist.

To be fair, there were memorable moments. Spader always shines as Reddington and he switches from smugness to serious at the drop of a hat within a scene. We also see the extent of Red’s devotion to Keen when he kills the scapegoat Wujing mistakes as the security breach. Red explains he will do anything to keep Agent Keen alive. That brings us back to one of the central questions, whether the Blacklist is Red’s only objective.

“The Blacklist” airs Monday evenings on NBC at 10|9c.

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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Sees Another ‘0-8-4’ and a Cameo

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Last night’s episode brought Agent Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) team to Peru with the 0-8-4 code: to investigate a puzzling artifact and determine whether it’s a threat. What was the last 0-8-4? Thor’s hammer. Yet another reminder for viewers to check out “Thor: The Dark World” on November 8th.

While the agents have been assembled into a team, they have yet to hone in on their teamwork skills. Coulson thinks Skye (Chloe Bennet) will be useful for her hacking skills, but she spent most of the episode feeling out of place. Indeed, her loyalty to S.H.I.E.L.D. is still very much up in the air, given how passionate she was about the Rising Tide in the premiere. Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) is still morose about having a team when he’s used to flying solo. We also find that Agent May (Ming-Na Wen) hates her nickname, “The Calvalry,” and she always ends up in combat situations despite her preference “to drive the bus.” Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) both lack fighting skills and the ability to simplify their scientific terminology for the benefit of everyone else. However, Coulson has a lot of faith in the crew and says, “They only need time.”

The team visits an Incan archaeological site, where they examine a small silver device in a cave. According Fitz and Simmons, the device predates the temple by a millennium. However, they are interrupted by Peruvian forces led by Comandante Camila Reyes (Leonor Varela), who turns out to be a former acquaintance (and flame) of Coulson. A band of rebels breaks up the party, forcing the team to take the unstable device back to the plane. Reyes and her team join the Agents on board as well.

Once on board, we find out the device is a Tesseract fuel cell, which should immediately call to mind HYDRA’s plan for world domination (Captain America). It’s a joy to find all of references from the Marvel Universe. Anyway, the device can be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. That’s when Comandante Reyes and her men spring into action and commandeer the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane.

Unfortunately, the hijacking does not come as a surprise because Reyes is so obviously trying to revisit the past with Coulson. One would think a veteran like him would see through it right away. However, the incident provides an opportunity for the rest of the team to pull together. They blow a hole through the plane, which leaves Coulson hanging on for dear life for a bit.

Undoubtedly, the best part of the episode is the cameo by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is not pleased with the extent of the damage. He is particularly baleful when he says the plane “had a bar … a really nice one.” It seems Fury has a special place in his heart for the plane, much like Coulson’s attachment to his car, Lola. “Agents” should continue bringing in the major film characters because fans will continue to find it exciting. Overall, the episode was not as strong as the premiere, even when you consider Fury’s appearance. Both mind-blowing action and originality are important to keep viewers coming back for more; that’s what has given the Marvel movies so much appeal for audiences.

New episodes of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” air Tuesday evenings on ABC at 8|7c.

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TV Review: ‘The Blacklist’ Continues to Shine in ‘The Freelancer’

Caution: Spoiler alert.

This week, Reddington shows he can still call the shots even though he’s being held at high security facilities. He’s offered his so-called “Blacklist” of heinous criminals but only if the authorities will grant him immunity, a special tracking chip, and a special staff. Unfortunately, his record as an international criminal and informant only infuriates the Attorney General, who wants to press charges against him. Both Red and Agent Elizabeth Keen are given polygraph tests, which he deems to be a “waste of time.”

It remains to be seen how Red knows about upcoming disturbances, but this week he predicted an incident at Decatur. It turns out to be a train derailment that kills 60 people. One of the victims was a councilwoman who had some shady dealings. The perpetrator, Red tells Agent Keen, is known as the “Freelancer,” staging big “accidents” to kill off targets. The clues to solving the case are in Montreal, which means Red and Agent Keen get a fancy dinner in a Canadian restaurant. Red jokes about passing her off as either his girlfriend or daughter. Elizabeth profiles Red at his request and tells him, “You need me and you hate that about yourself because it makes you vulnerable.” However, it’s clear that they are not working as a team because Red always has his own agenda and continues to leave Agent Keen in the dark.

Red says his informant revealed that the next target is Floriana Campo (Isabella Rossellini), who heads a foundation to rescue victims of human trafficking. However, he refuses to lend more assistance because his demands have not been met. Agent Keen speaks with Mrs. Campo and gets her to agree to the FBI’s protection at an upcoming fundraiser. The Attorney General grants some concessions to Red “off the books,” but also sticks in a CIA agent whom Red characterizes as “attractive but treacherous.”

The strange twist is astonishing at the fundraiser, when the Freelancer (masquerading as a waiter) is apprehended and questioned. He was hired by Reddington and he gave Campo a drink laced with barbiturates. Ironically, as Red points out to Agent Keen, Campo is a hypocrite who uses the foundation as a front. Campo runs the Eberhardt Cartel that is responsible for human trafficking as well as for killing her late husband. Since Red hired the Freelancer for this job, it seems that Campo was the actual entry on Red’s blacklist.

We also find that Agent Keen still does not trust Red. She suspects that he planted the gun, money, and fake passports in her house to turn her against her husband, Tom. Red insists that he is not responsible for that, instead putting the focus on what she intends to do next. According to him, Elizabeth can confront Tom, turn him in, or resort to a third option. In the end, she takes the third option, placing the box back under the floorboards and installing a new carpet. Have we seen the last of Tom’s questionable activities?

As always, Red has some great one-liners, throwing in humor even when the others are serious. His jokes about passing Agent Keen as his girlfriend continue to raise central questions: why does he take an interest in her? Did he know her parents? He tells Elizabeth that everything she believes about herself is a lie. When he confronts Campo, he states boldly, “The FBI works for me now.” Reddington just reeks of mystery and nonchalance, which makes another question tempting: is his agenda only about the blacklist?

“The Blacklist” airs Monday evenings on NBC at 10|9c.

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