Monday, June 29, 2015

TV Rundown: June 23 | The "Pretty Little Liars" Dig for the Truth About Charles

In “Don’t Look Now”, the name of the game was unlocking the mystery of Charles. After last week’s episode ended with Ali and Jason demanding answers from their father, they finally got them. Among the girls other exploits was Hanna alienating Caleb, Spencer jonesing for drugs, Emily helping Sara and Aria opening up about her kidnapping for the first time, thanks to the catharsis of photography. The girls’ pressuring Hanna to keep Caleb out of the loop was one of the hour's more poorly designed plot points. He knows all about A and has provided more help for them in regards to A, than anyone else. He is a tech wizard and proven loyalist. The danger excuse is wearing thin. Especially given Caleb has aptly survived all of A’s threats in the past. Plus, he and Hanna have already rehashed this issue over and over again with her backing down, every time. They’re better as a team than working alone. It just seems like another ploy to keep the girls’ isolated from their respective paramours. Currently all of the Liars' relationships seem to be in limbo.

Now onto Ali’s bizarre devastation over learning that the mentally ill brother she never knew existed was exiled to Radley and supposedly died. Even when she learned that he had attempted to kill her as a baby, she remained obstinately sad about it all and harshly judgemental of her parents and the measures they took to protect her and Jason from their disturbed brother. It’s understandable that she was shaken, a little taken aback; however her deep streak of horror was surprising and strange. Did she miss the part where Charles tried to murder her? He was/is not on the short list for sibling of the year. Perhaps she’s just relating, though it seems to go a bit deeper. Ali appears to be losing all of her edge lately; trading in spiky barbs for wallowing (in this case misplaced) empathy.

The biggest question looming after the episode ended wasn’t whether or not Charles is actually dead (he is mostly likely alive), it was the status of Mona. We haven’t gotten a single update on how she’s doing. There are a myriad of questions surrounding her status. How is she coping? Has she gotten her hair back to normal? How are things with her mom? Is she ever coming back to school? Mona’s story should be running front and center. She’d been locked up a lot longer than the Liars and her mental state when they arrived was far more fragmented, than theirs were when they left. Instead Sara, a complete stranger, is getting more screen time exploring her life post-release than one of the original and most vital characters of the series and it doesn’t sit well or make much sense, unless Sara is the key to a much larger mystery. Maybe she’s working with Charles? Why haven’t the girls learned to stop opening themselves up to complete strangers, by the way? Emily’s letting this girl share her room without as much as a psych exam.

Why on earth did Hanna stop digging because Jason had declared the headstone’s roots were too deep to have not been planted long ago? So what? A headstone is not the equivalent of confirming there is a dead body in a coffin. Not to mention, a headstone can be planted without anything lying beneath it. Hanna is usually not one to back down over an observation that is so trivial and fails to resolve anything. The good news out of this entire storyline is that it is giving Jason, an always interesting and under-explored character, a chance to be more involved in the action. Why he has yet to indulge in any sort of romantic entanglement with Aria or Hanna is confusing. Whatever happened to his flirtation with Aria, anyway? They completely dropped that story like a hot potato for another forced reunion with Ezra.

Side Notes / Burning Questions: For the second week in a row, the girls’ boyfriends have made more sense than they have. Even Ezra is acting with greater rationale than Spencer. Why is no one demanding to meet Sara’s mom? It seems entirely suspicious that Mrs. Fields wouldn’t demand a meeting with this supposedly cruel woman and where has the media been in all of this? It’s hard to believe they’d be passing up on a story as sensational as a group of girls being kidnapped and rescued.

Photo Credit: Pretty Little Liars/Official Twitter Page

Sunday, June 28, 2015

TV Rundown: June 21 | The Second Season of "True Detective" Begins - Let the Investigation Commence...

HBO’s anthology series kicked off its second season and got off to a relatively good start. Having widened its scope from the more intimate pairing of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s detective duo in the first season, it’s lost a bit of its synergy. Trading in more characters for a thinner plot could prove a challenging move. Series often fall victim to the sophomore slump because they believe bigger is better when it comes to following up on the original installment. Despite it being formula that usually doesn’t work out well, it seems to be being implemented here.

In the opener, viewers were introduced to Colin Farrell’s haunted, heavy drinking detective, Rachel McAdams’ angsty officer who’s still sifting through the damage of being a cult leader’s daughter, Vince Vaughn’s criminal figure attempting to broker a high stakes deal and Taylor Kitsch’s suspended and suicidal Highway Patrolman. All in all, it’s a very serious quad of characters. 

Initial comparisons to the first season are impossible not to make. Especially until the identity of season two can step further away from the long shadow cast by its predecessor. This season is decidedly heavier, comparatively lacking a comedic balance. It has retained a crucial sense of systematic foreboding. There is an electric stimulation that the change to the city provides. The trade off is losing the first season’s level of intimacy. So far the element missing the most is the repartee and philosophical musings that supercharged charged the first season, a key ingredient to its success.

Already turning in a mesmeric performance is Farrell, here plundering the depths of a depressed alcoholic with loads of troubled heart. McAdams’ Ani is so surly and aggressive; it’s hard to really engage with her yet. McAdams does deserve credit for showing off her range. Her trademark smile is nowhere in sight and it is missed. Vaughn’s Frank is believable and his knack for smooth talking monologues will undoubtedly come in handy, down the road. Meanwhile, Kitsch solemnly conveys the mysteriously pained Paul, who is already showing signs of Rust Cohle’s death wish persona. Unlike McAdams; Kitsch is sticking closer to his wheelhouse. It's a welcomed move that keeps his presence from distracting as much as McAdam's irregularly frigid turn is doing. All things considered, the new season of “True Detective” gave this viewer enough of a hook to keep watching and anticipate where it’s all going.

Side Notes / Burning Questions: Setting up each character separately had its moments and kept one guessing as to how they would all intersect. For a minute, it was starting to feel like “Game of Thrones” with its level of character partitions. The mega serious Ani might need to take a chill pill. Her constantly frothing anger is setting things off on the wrong foot. Where the first season seemed focused on two guys seeking justice whilst reconciling their personal issues, the latter tumult seems to be taking center stage this time around. It's a move in story that will be interesting to watch play out.

Photo Credit: HBO

TV Rundown: June 21 | Sir Malcolm Faces his Deamons on "Penny Dreadful"

With Ethan and Vanessa absent for an entire episode, "Penny Dreadful" shifted its focus to Sir Malcolm and the problematic situation of his enchantment. Thankfully, he was able to shake it off and share a chilling showdown with his crazy, presumably-ex paramour. Timothy Dalton’s performance was commanding, effectively oscillating between fear, inner torment and finally, defiance. The strong writing gave him a chance to truly shine in a role that he’s recently been getting a greater opportunity to flesh out. Why Sir M decided to confront Madame Kali on his own, without any back up, was hard to decipher. However their face off was well worth the wait and ended with a beyond creepy cliffhanger.

The hour’s most shocking development came when Lily launched into an arduous diatribe that revealed her current state of mind with lurid clarity. The recipient of her rant was The Creature, who’d come by to let her know that she was “his” and she quickly set him straight on that belief. Following her train of thought required a lot of mental whiplash and quite frankly, a few giant leaps. For instance, where is all of her hatred for men coming from? She was spewing a vein with her outspoken detest of them and there is nothing that’s happened in her life to explain her newfound fervent disdain of them. The major question swirling amidst her tirade was why she had manifested any of these feelings to begin with. 

All of the men she’s known as Lily have only treated her with kindness. The same applies to her past life as Brona, where she was shown a great deal of affection by Ethan. The audience was never privy to any particular cruelty that she endured, though there were hints she might not have always been treated so well before the show started. Still, the source of her rampage was difficult to ascertain. Not to mention her frenetic ramblings about rejecting The Creature’s affection, only to have her turn around and start coming onto him, saying they were made for each other. It was all dizzyingly confusing. To her credit, Billie Piper gave the scene its heft with a dazzling execution of Lily’s extensive monologue; turning in an overall vivid performance.

Another shocker came towards the end of the episode as Angelique unmasked Dorian’s portrait and with it, the decrepit reality of who he truly is. Even though Angelique seemed ready to accept him warts and all, Dorian made a lethal move that served as a grave turn of events. It’s the first time Gray’s true nature has been completely unveiled and it’s a grim one. 

Side Notes / Burning Questions: Did anyone else catch the mention of a hell hound? Ethan certainly meets that description. It was nice to finally get some clarity as to the significance of the breadcrumb of relics' account of the fallen angels’ rebellion. When it first came about as a plot point, it was drastically unclear why the series was spending so much time rehashing a well-known story. Now we know the answer. According to their mythos there’s more to it. Victor’s heart has been broken for the first time and it’s hard not to feel sorry for the guy. What does Lily have in store for him? Lyle is quickly becoming one of the best characters on the show.

Photo Credit: Penny Dreadful/Official Twitter Page

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Spotlight On: The 'Blindfold' Project

Marie Naffah is a busy woman. The London based, singer-songwriter was the winner of MTV’s 2014 Unsigned Artist award and is currently at work on her debut EP, which is expected to be released sometime later this year. On top of that, 22-year-old Naffah has found time to joined forces with the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) for a musical project entitled ‘Blindfold’, a “documentary-style” video for her song of the same name. Written by Naffah herself; ‘Blindfold’ was inspired by her grandmother’s life living with blindness and poignantly expresses her sentiments by helping listeners see through the eyes of her experiences.

The genesis for what would ultimately become the ‘Blindfold’ project, all started with Naffah’s performance of “Blindfold” for senior BBC broadcast journalist Tony Shearman, who is blind. Affected by her performance, Naffah was invited to be a guest on Insight Radio (the official radio station of the RNIB). It was during that broadcast, she caught the ear of blind drummer Steve Plowman. Also impressed by what he heard, he reached out to her and the two would eventually team up with five additional blind and partially sighted musicians to collaborate on the ‘Blindfold’ project; a 12-minute documentary/music video hybrid featuring the song. In the video, the seven artists lend their various talents to a collective performance of the song.

In the press release for the project, they explained their goal: “to emphasise the importance of music in the lives of visually-impaired people and to show how, contrary to public opinion, a disability such as blindness does not automatically prevent a person from being able to perform music.”

The documentary side of the project was made by filmmaker Constance Meath-Baker. While the Blindfold band is comprised of the following seven artists:

Marie Naffah – vocalist and songwriter
Steve Plowman – drummer
Antonio de Lillis – guitarist
Ricky James – vocalist
Rob Ellard – guitarist
Kevin Satizabal – piano
Ashley Cox – drummer

When commenting on the purpose of ‘Blindfold’ and raising awareness for the visually impaired; Naffah says:
“It is important to reiterate that this project was not for profit. The purpose of it, aside from to enjoy meeting these amazing musicians and hearing their stories, was to raise awareness for the various forms of blindness, and to highlight the amazing attitudes and talents of the people who live with them. I wanted to show to people how suffering from blindness does not automatically remove the ability to be creative and successful. The societal assumption is often a condescending one, when in fact these musicians are some of the most talented that I have ever worked with. It was important to bring this sentiment into the public domain – so the greater population can begin to understand that by patronising and feeling awkward towards visually-impaired people it only further reinforces a feeling they might have of ‘being different’.”

You can watch ‘Blindfold’ on YouTube by clicking here

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

TV Rundown: June 15 - 18 | "Tyrant" Returns, "Pretty Little Liars" Investigates and "Beauty & the Beast" Delivers its Best Episode

Tyrant | FX’s sensational drama returned for its sophomore season and showed every evidence of thriving on the creative inroads made in its debut season. Picking up a relatively short time after the finale, Barry’s fate hung in the balance as Jamal had to decide whether to execute his brother for his failed coup attempt, leave him in prison or set him free. A languishing Barry wasn’t all that remorseful for his actions so Jamal was left to craft a clever solution to his conundrum, a resolution that could prove to be a severe miscalculation in mercy, down the line. 

Already tying the narrative of the two seasons together is the underlying theme of what seems to always undermine each brother’s pursuit for total power, they constantly underestimate each other. Jamal is craftier, more diabolical and harder to pin down, predictability wise, than Barry gives him credit for. Meanwhile, Jamal underestimates Barry’s ruthlessness, lack of battle of fatigue and cunning use of other’s compassion and view of him as a healer. They are each other’s equals, just with differing strengths. The rivalry between them has loads of rich complexity, endowing the series with serious narrative legs.

There were quite a few stellar scenes in this episode as well, superbly acted by its cast. Ashraf Barhom and Maron Atias perfectly captured the conflicted pathos of Jamal and Leila’s conflicted emotions surrounding the predicament of Barry’s fate and after the decision was meted out, they portrayed with searing profundity the aftermath of living with it. Providing a contrast to their moody energy was the series other power couple, Molly and Barry, who shared a touching “goodbye”. Jennifer Finnigan and Adam Rayner each brought it, in a highly charged, emotional crescendo that didn’t overstate its affecting resonance; instead settling for a subdued power that spoke volumes. One thing is clear from its opener, “Tyrant” is back and it’s firing on all cylinders.

Pretty Little Liars | “Songs of Experience” revolved around the Liars’ continued investigation into identifying Charles and dealing with the fallout from the mind games they were subjugated to in their captivity. It was incredibly pleasant to see the resource of professional counseling in the narrative. This should’ve been the first things the girls were enrolled in when they were rescued, whether they felt a compulsion to comply or not. The parenting on the show is never heavy handed, in fact it’s a little too hands off and it’s about time the parents realized their current operating procedures aren’t working sufficiently.

Also at play was Ali’s so-called redemption, as the question of if she could truly change her ways, drove a wedge between Spencer and Toby. The chief aspect that hampers this entire premise and Spencer’s seeming acceptance of it is that Ali has displayed little repentance for her past behavior. She communicates it verbally and does absolutely nothing with her actions to back it up. Remember when she first returned from the dead and claimed she had changed? Shortly thereafter she was slapping Mona and making duplicitous allegations that attempted to destroy the former’s reputation. She has only laid down her mask when she is in an exchange with Mona (who we have yet to get an update on). The only thing that should make Spencer a believer or any of the other girls (particularly Emily) is if Mona were to be convinced. One crucial thing to also note is that Ali is coming off of a prison term for an act, she was falsely accused of. Hence she is coming from a place of indignation, not from a place of being justly humbled. That’s not exactly a recipe for a better version of Ali. It’s a recipe for a vengeful one.

Side Note: Props to the writers for the direction taken with Toby. How he’s been written over the past two seasons has dramatically elevated his cerebral standing on the show. Next to Caleb, he’s the most level-headed and sensical paramour on the series. Meanwhile, Spencer’s logic has been drastically paling in comparison. Speaking of the Spencer, has she even bothered to apologize for kiss-cheating on Toby with that hipster from last season? The one she vandalized property with and then tried to make Toby out to be the bad guy because he did his job and enforced the law on a eager criminal. Maybe the reason Spencer is so willing to see the best in Ali is because they’re both missing the remorse chip.

Burning Questions: Does Jason finally believe that his imaginary friend wasn’t so imaginary, after all? Anyone else feel bad for Andrew, the latest victim of the Liars’ false accusation, when he busted Aria’s chops for naming him? When will the girls ever learn to investigate further before jumping to conclusions?

Beauty & the Beast | Coming off of last week’s iffy premiere, BATB did something entirely unexpected; delivered their best episode to date. There was overall plot progression, credible romantic drama and most importantly some much needed levity. “Primal Fear” was actually pretty funny and not in a way that overdid it. Vincent especially benefitted from the lighter tone, as he managed to leave behind his entirely gruff persona for the hour. His interaction with Heather was awkwardly amusing and his ensuing spat with Catherine played with a more natural rapport than ever before.

While the Cat/Vincent relationship improved on a creative level, Tess and JT continued to steadily build on their witty romance. Theirs is a breakout relationship for the show, a welcomed reprieve from Catherine and Vincent’s plot mandated romance. It seems natural and entertainingly generated; the eccentric professor and the hard-nosed detective make for a quirky, even match. The interaction between JT and Tess' brothers was golden. Hopefully it's not the last we've seen of them.

Side Notes / Burning Questions: Poor Heather was shopping for a wedding dress last week and dumped the next. Will we ever meet her now ex-fiancé? Introducing the plot point of her of being engaged only to have it end so abruptly makes one curious to know if it will have any significance down the line. If Tess became the police captain it would ruin her and Cat's whole dynamic as partners.

Photo Credit: Tyrant/Official Twitter Page, Pretty Little Liars/Official Twitter Page, Beauty and the Beast/Official Twitter Page

Monday, June 22, 2015

TV Rundown: June 14 | Let's Talk About the Game Changing "Game of Thrones" Finale

In the words of the great Jesse Katsopolis: “have mercy!” or at least a little. “Game of Thrones” went full blown valar morghulis in its fifth season finale so it might actually be a shorter list to detail who survived the closing hour, as opposed to naming those who perished. Out of the six deaths, four weren’t exactly heartbreakers. The second fatality in particular experienced an all too merciful end (if it was indeed their end); given their reign of terror. In the game of thrones, seldom is justice anything close to what it should be. The last death of the episode proved to be the most shocking and controversial; simply because it doesn’t seem plausible. 

Despite the series’ penchant for jaw dropping deaths and its infamous “no one is safe” mentality; it’s next to impossible to believe the show is actually parting with this character. Adding to the doubt they're actually gone is the lack of follow up. Panning away from a dying individual as their eyes glaze over; isn’t wholly indicative of their death. If anything it feels like a giant cliffhanger; similar to how we left Theon and Sansa. That’s not to say GOT hasn’t gone for the jugular before and brought clarity to deaths that in the books were left open to a bit of interpretation (i.e. Ned Stark). As fans debate whether the death will remain permanent, only time will tell. The show has a lot to lose either way. If the deceased rises again, they will have gone back on their anything goes sense of danger. While if [Spoiler Alert] remains among the departed; a lot of seeds previously sown for something seemingly epic to occur down the line will have amounted to nothing. It’s a double edged sword.

Not so grey was the punishment heaped upon Cersei, easily one of the series top villains. After suffering a stark imprisonment, she was ready to make a deal with the High Sparrow. Never one to break completely, she remained steadfast in her denials of her more major sins and despite confessing to the lighter charges, she was given a very harsh punishment. Sentenced to walk completely naked from her prison to the castle at King’s Landing, her disposition began with her chin raised high, only to see her spirit diminish with every painstaking step. If there was one point to take away from it all, it was that vengeance is hardly ever fulfilling and there was nothing satisfying about watching Cersei suffer her harrowing ordeal. After hoping to see the wicked Lannister get her comeuppance for everything she’s caused over the course of the last five seasons, when she finally got it; it felt excessively hallow. There was no victory to be had in her suffering. Actress Lena Heady’s performance was her best to date, as she gently let the mask of the ever confident and constantly composed former queen slip to reveal something entirely shocking about Cersei Lannister, she's still human.

Side Notes / Burning Questions: Is [Spoiler Alert] really dead? What will become of Sansa and Theon? Will Davos ever learn the truth about Shireen? Never underestimate the blood thirst of Olly. Are Sam, Gilly and baby Sam the first ever recipients of a happy ending or is it too good to be true? The only thing better than Tyrion taking a leadership position in Meereen was his reunion with pal Varys. How awkward will Jorah and Daario’s search for Dany get next season? At least they know they have something in common, they can talk about…or not. Hell hath no fury, so what will Cersei be planning to get even with her abusers? In light of the season finale one thing is certain; “Thrones” has left fans with a lot to ponder over the next year.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

TV Rundown: June 14 | Vanessa and Ethan Seek Refuge on "Penny Dreadful" & Find Something Extra

In “Little Scorpion” Vanessa and Ethan headed back to the home of the Cut-Wife to hide from the unrelenting evil that’s been stalking Miss Ives in London. It all seemed like the set-up to a dream episode; Vanessa and Ethan bonding as the hint of romance swirled amidst a deepening relationship and understanding of one another. Unfortunately the hour did more to drive a wedge between them, than draw the pair closer together, at least in the short term. The themes of the evening included revenge and argued whether it was possible to obtain it, without losing your soul. Despite the philosophical showdown that ensued between them; Vanessa acted to seize vengeance in spite of Ethan’s warning, severely damaging their burgeoning romance.

There was something missing in this episode, perhaps due to the high expectations set beforehand. Nevertheless there were a few aching plot misses. Chiefly, one would’ve expected Ethan to confide his being a werewolf to Miss Ives. There is no need for secrecy about this matter. She is well-aware of the supernatural and she has previously sensed he is mystical. Then there was the missed moment of Ethan exerting his wolf powers as an alpha upon Hawkes’ hounds. Why would Ethan bother shooting Hawkes when he could’ve presumably turned the dogs against Hawkes, himself? Nonetheless, with the hour concentrating on its finest characters, it was a strong one. Eva Green and Josh Hartnett continue to do incredible work in their respective roles and their chemistry truly came into full force in this episode, sizzling up a storm and the furious fruition of Vanessa and Ethan's mounting passion proved to be worth the wait. 

Back in London, Lily’s date with Dorian (what happened to him and Angelique?) ended with the two partings ways and Lily getting in touch with her past life, before taking a deadly detour. To Frankenstein’s credit he let his creation go, following the old adage of “if you love someone, let it go…” Even if Lily reconsiders and realizes she wants Frankenstein, she won’t return to him as the innocent woman he bid farewell too, as of the episode's ending she’s long gone.
  • Side Notes / Burning Questions: “Little Scorpion” greatly benefited from the lack of The Creature's presence. Why do both of Frankenstein’s creatures have a propensity to kill? Why isn’t Vanessa more curious as to whether Sir Malcolm is her biological father? Will we ever see Ethan’s father?