Virginia Film Festival: ‘Last Days in the Desert’

‘Last Days in the Desert’ is a unique exploration of Jesus’s human side in way that is contemplative, creative, and respectful.

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Ewan McGregor in 'Last Days in the Desert'
Ewan McGregor in ‘Last Days in the Desert.’ Photo Courtesy of the Virginia Film Festival

It seems difficult to create a fresh perspective on Jesus, given all of the films and television specials that have been released over the years. However, director and writer Rodrigo García was able to do just that in his latest film, Last Days in the Desert. He focuses on a few days at the very end of the forty-day period that Jesus (Ewan McGregor) spent in the desert, fasting and praying before starting his active ministry.

García and producer Julie Lynn were both interviewed recently at the Virginia Film Festival by Harry Chotiner, a professor at New York University. The director, appearing on a large screen through video chat, summed up his film as a story about men “finding destiny under powerful fathers.”

One startling aspect of the film is a significant casting decision: Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and Lucifer. “Lucifer uses human ways to destabilize Jesus,” García said. “He’s the least politically correct character.” Save for a couple additions of jewelry and his evil smirks, Lucifer looks the same as Jesus. His abilities in shape-shifting and mimicry are both entertaining and creepy at once.

Continue reading “Virginia Film Festival: ‘Last Days in the Desert’”

Virginia Film Festival: ‘Mercy Street’

The ‘Mercy Street’ cast shared tidbits about preparing for their roles and wardrobe misadventures.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Tara Summers
Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Tara Summers. Photo: Pat Cuadros

PBS drama Mercy Street received a warm welcome on Friday at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, Va. Students, medical professionals, and Civil War history enthusiasts flocked to the University of Virginia’s Culbreth Theater for an advance screening. The first episode, “The New Nurse,” introduces Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Emma Green (Hannah James), two volunteer nurses tending to the wounded at the Mansion House Hotel in Alexandria. Mary is a staunch abolitionist and widow, while Emma is a young Southern Belle. Both Union and Confederate soldiers arrive at this makeshift hospital for treatment, highlighting the regional differences and prejudices in 1862 about society and nationhood.

The series was filmed in Richmond and Petersburg, cities located over an hour away from Charlottesville. The local connections don’t stop there, particularly because the story is based on real people from history. After the war, Emma Green relocated to Woodberry Forest School in Madison County, only minutes from where actress Hannah James grew up. Members of the Green family were present at the event and greeted the cast later in the evening. Continue reading “Virginia Film Festival: ‘Mercy Street’”

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

In the end, it’s the king who is the most dangerous figure. Make your move Cromwell, before it’s too late.

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

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

Review: ‘HAPPYish’ Premiere is More of a Tragedy than Comedy

“HAPPYish” offers a couple of promising moments, but it emits a sense of arrogance and anger that is more likely to chase away rather than draw in viewers before Thom has a chance to engage in a real and game changing revolt.

Steve Coogan plays the role of Thom Payne in
What’s the key to happiness? Steve Coogan plays the role of Thom Payne in “HAPPYish” in a new series. Photo: Showtime

Caution: This review contains spoilers on the first episode of “HAPPYish.”

There seems to be a fascination with covering the world of advertising and new marketing. Sure, there’s the social media obsession, but it’s more or less overkill to situate an entire television series in that world. 2013 brought us “The Crazy Ones,” which at least started well on CBS. Then last year, ABC brought “Black-ish,” which some may argue, adds the element of being African American to the mix; however, I find it often disintegrates to low humor and gimmicks. The most recent (and hardly improved) endeavor comes from Showtime in Shalom Auslander’s “HAPPYish.” Continue reading “Review: ‘HAPPYish’ Premiere is More of a Tragedy than Comedy”

‘Fortitude’ Season One Finale is Hardly a Buzzworthy Finish

Caution: This post contains spoilers. “Fortitude” is for mature audiences only.

After such a gain of momentum throughout the first season, “Fortitude” descends into quite a lackluster series of events in its finale. Continue reading “‘Fortitude’ Season One Finale is Hardly a Buzzworthy Finish”

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
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. Continue reading “TV Review: Polar Bear Gives Answers in ‘Fortitude’”