Posts Tagged TV Review

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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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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Season 2 of ‘Broadchurch’ Makes DVD Release: Is it Worth a Go?

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

In case you missed the news, the second season of “Broadchurch” is now available on DVD. Is it worth adding to your collection of UK television shows? Season one set the bar rather high in terms of viewer expectations. The success of the program spawned the American version, “Gracepoint,” with David Tennant in the lead role again: a venture that sank miserably to a dead last on the nights that episodes aired. Everyone hoped that at least season 2 of “Broadchurch” would set things right. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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.

Mark Rylance is always a standout performer, but Damian Lewis (“Homeland”) also came out strong last weekend as King Henry VIII: wrestling with impatience for a male heir and a burgeoning interest in Jane Seymour (Kate Phillips). The latter plot development derails Cromwell’s hopes of securing a union with Jane, which was nicely captured in the shot in the castle as the King’s “right hand man” watches her from the door. She’s bathed momentarily in the light from the window, yet the distance between the two marks the ever constant isolation of Cromwell the social climber.

Cromwell’s isolation and disruption of courtly hierarchy are themes that are hit upon constantly in “Wolf Hall,” even explicitly at times. He remarks on one occasion, “How many men can say, ‘My only friend is the King of England?'” Not many and yet it’s not a position to be envied, as he muses. The extra layer in such few words there is fantastic.

Queen Anne (Claire Foy) is frustrated in trying to get pregnant, resulting in the bizarre death of a dog. That ledge is awfully high off the floor for a dog just to jump by itself. Another strange and arguably exaggerated moment is the near death of the king at the jousting. Cromwell hits Henry in the chest as a sort of CPR, one might suppose. Jane Seymour’s family seems eager to gain favor with the king and push Anne out of her position. Cromwell is going to have to choose a side, but he gets shaken after the king shouts at him. The whole mix of these scenes made for an uneven episode that wasn’t as strong as the previous installments, yet still offers some of the intrigue and lovely artistic touches that comprise such a great program.

Sometimes it feels as though “Wolf Hall” is channeling a bit of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and the vengeance goal. Jonathan Pryce here as Cardinal Wolsey is like the dead King Hamlet, as Cromwell seemed to regard him as a father figure. Wolsey returns with a warning: “The trouble is, Thomas, the king wants a new wife; fix him one. I didn’t and now I’m dead.” These brief moments are extraordinary in their quietness, much in the same way as the Jane Seymour window shots. Wolsey’s words bring a nice symmetry with the beginning of the “Wolf Hall” series, as Cromwell’s fate teeters on an uncertain path. There may have been a remark early in the series about getting on the wrong side of Anne Boleyn. In the end, it’s the king who is the most dangerous figure. Make your move Cromwell, before it’s too late.

It seems almost effortless the way Peter Kosminsky directs “Wolf Hall” to pull you into Cromwell’s world and his point of view. There’s his use of the Steadicam as figures walk along and then the over-the-shoulder shots beside Cromwell during encounters with difficult characters. The edginess and discomfort from these shots work in tandem to the frames of Cromwell’s face and his reaction to what others say. Mark Rylance does brilliant work with the straight stare back, an expression that one might mistake as utterly neutral, but in the eyes reveals a man who is trying to read the situation. Every time, it almost leaves you waiting with bated breath, wondering what Cromwell will say next.

This series is adapted from Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” the first two books in her Cromwell trilogy. Mantel has yet to release the final book, but one hopes there will be a sequel to this television show soon afterwards. Of course, it’s not a complete production without the virtuosity of both director Peter Kosminsky and actor Mark Rylance.

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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.

Red charges Liz with finding Leonard Caul (Ned Van Zandt), who can help with the Fulcrum. Dembe asks Liz to go to an apartment and find a metal case and a key. With Reddington out for most of the episode, Mr. Kaplan and Liz step in to fill that space. Susan Blommaert is quite brilliant as Mr. Kaplan and like Red, she is “prepared for all contingencies.” Additionally, her devotion to Red is clear despite her generally cool and calculating disposition. Megan Boone can sometimes be a hit or miss when the focus is on her. This week, however, she delivered a strong performance as Liz, making the tough, split second decisions sorely needed to protect Red after their secret locations are blown and a surgeon dies. She has to resort to assistance not from one ex this time, but two exes: predictably from Tom Keen (Ryan Eggold) and bitter surgeon, Nick (Piter Marek). Liz was proposed to by a doctor before?!

Red’s lodgings are pretty interesting, with respect to his taste in art and furnishings. As an art history major, I couldn’t help but notice Pieter de Hooch’s “Woman Hands Over Money to her Servant.” It looks like there is a child on the far right of the Dutch domestic scene. The other important image in the room is a photo of a woman with a child. There’s a bit of sun glare but a perturbed Liz certainly recognizes the individuals and snaps a photo of it.

Liz Keen (Megan Boone) looks for a special key. Credit: NBC

Liz Keen (Megan Boone) looks for a special key. Note my blue arrows. Credit: NBC

Leonard Caul was a former government operative; how surprising, yet another secret task force! He arrives soon after with a gun on Liz. Thankfully, Caul is an ally of Reddington, there to reveal the contents of the Fulcrum: information all about the dirty work of the Kabal, the organization headed by the Director, and perhaps others. If it’s as big as everyone hints, is it another blacklist? They head back to Red’s location, only to find another deadly team ready to strike. However, it’s a very strong moment for Liz, when she asks Caul to drive her to Langley to interrupt one of the Director’s (David Strathairn) meetings with the President’s staff no less. The Director, like many others, has underestimated Liz Keen. Her big stunt forces him to call off the attack on Red just in time.

While the Director may has lost this round, he and the Kabal will likely hit back in full force next week. For starters, Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) appears to have lost an ally: soon-to-be Attorney General Tom Connolly (Reed Birney) has been tapped for the empty seat at the Kabal. Connolly’s move is rather predictable here; he’s always come off as an opportunist rather than a true friend for Harold. It may pose some problems for the team, but Harold is better off without Connolly in the end.

Aside from taking on the Kabal, Liz will probably continue her search for answers. Tom has offered to help, but things never seem straight forward with both Tom Keen and Raymond Reddington in the picture.

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Season 2 of Showtime’s ‘Penny Dreadful’ Streams on Youtube Early

Caution: This post contains spoilers on the second season premiere of “Penny Dreadful.”

If you haven’t watched “Penny Dreadful” yet, now would be the perfect time to tune in and catch up. The series focuses on the supernatural talents of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), as she works with others to combat threats in Victorian London. It has a level of action and intrigue that “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman” or “LXG” should have striven for in its 2003 theatrical release.

Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) is at it again on

Dr. Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) is at it again on “Penny Dreadful.” Screenshot from Youtube

The Showtime premiere of the second season is available for viewing on Youtube in advance of its scheduled release on the regular channel. The latest installment is quick to draw the battle lines, pitting Vanessa and the team against the machinations of Madame Kali and her Nightcomers (or witches). Ethan (Josh Harnett), originally intent on leaving London, decides to stay and protect Vanessa, after she is attacked by three Nightcomers. Madame Kali (Helen McCrory) is quite creepy and interesting all at once as a main baddie, in everything from her bladed ring to her literal blood baths. Also, Ethan’s trail of destruction has attracted the attention of Inspector Rusk (Douglas Hodge) at the Mariner Inn, which is sure to arise as a problem later in the season.

Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s Creature (Rory Kinnear) is determined to have a bride, a project that the scientist is working on. Sadly, the role will be fulfilled by Brona Croft (Billie Piper), who suffered from consumption and also died at Frankenstein’s (Harry Treadaway) hand. Was anyone else disturbed by Frankenstein’s attraction to her submerged body? The Creature succeeds in obtaining a job at the nearby Waxworks gallery from Mr. Putney (David Haig). However, he may face marital woes soon, as he appears to be falling for Putney’s blind daughter.

Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) has an ugly discussion with his wife at Mina’s grave, but returns to London soon after. We know from Madame Kali’s plans that he is a major target to draw out Vanessa. However, I wonder if the evil lady has underestimated him as much as she and her witches have misjudged Vanessa. Generally, it’s a terrible idea to assume that it’s easy to take down the old man.

It’s a rather good idea for Showtime to attract viewers ahead of its regularly scheduled premiere. “Penny Dreadful” is a strong series that will undoubtedly bring in new fans. One hopes that the rest of the season will also carry the same pacing and excellent plot development. The other free show available on Youtube today is “HAPPYish,” the new comedy-drama starring Steve Coogan. I will admit that I found “Penny Dreadful” to be much better, since “HAPPYish” fails to deliver (quite painfully) in the laughter department.

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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.

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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