Friday, November 20, 2015

TV Rundown: Nov 8 - 13: Special Edition: "Reign" Arrives at Landmark Episode

Reign delivered a mightily unexpected blow in the season's sixth episode, “In a Clearing”. Following his brush with death last week, a slight reprieve seemed in order for Francis, only for him to lose his life after saving Mary from a kidnapping attempt. Despite his death being a major theme of the season, the historical foresight of knowing it was right around the corner and the pervasive push and pull of his near death experiences, when it actually happened it came as a shock. When Nostradamus revealed his dire prediction at the beginning of the episode, one just assumed he was talking about an event that was still a ways out, not less than a day away (show time) and within the same episode. At least Francis got to go out swinging as a hero and he and Mary got to spend almost the entire hour experiencing happiness before tragedy befell them. Their final moments together were climactic and moving. Still it didn’t seem real, until his funeral and Mary’s soul shattering scream.

“In a Clearing" was a powerful installment of the series that gave its cast the chance to bring their A-game in an episode filled with vast tonality. Adelaide Kane and Toby Regbo ran a gamut of emotion, from Mary and Francis' luminously blissful disposition at the start of the hour to their grief stricken despair by the end. Kane and Regbo's final scenes were rife with an aching poignancy that put the finishing touches on their indelible portrayal of Mary and Francis’ doomed love. Neither actor had held back in the episode’s prior close call but when the actual moment came to say goodbye, there was no mistaking it. 

Then there was Megan Fellows, who worked her way through Catherine’s relief, ramped up concern, short-lived peace and quiet devastation with a terrifically commanding performance and Torrance Coombs’s impressive rendering of Bash’s resolute grief when he delivered the bad news to his stepmother.

All in all, it was a really gripping and sad end to a landmark chapter for “Reign”. The series must now find a way to keep going without its headlining supercouple and one if its most popular characters/actors, an obstacle most shows only have to face when one of its star’s contracts expires, not when a history dictated storyline does so. Fans have known Francis’ death was in the cards ever since the series begun, allowing them time to brace for the impact. Unfortunately for fans who hoped it would turn out otherwise, the groundwork was already laid beforehand and while “Reign” has toyed with its play of history (the portrayal of Francis' death wasn't historically accurate), this was one general fact they had to stay true to.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

TV Rundown: Nov 8 - 13 | Samar Handles "The Blacklist", "Vampire Diaries" Makes One Mother of a Reveal

The Blacklist came on strong with a Samar-centric episode that led to quite a few surprising developments for the tough-as-nails agent. It was great to have the character fleshed out more and it gave her portrayer Mozhan Marno, a chance to really shine. Samar’s backstory had been previously touched on and in “Zal Bin Hasaan (No. 31)” it was significantly shaken up, when her presumed dead brother was revealed to be alive. Although some of the twists were a bit predictable, they were sad to watch unravel nonetheless. Everything Samar believed in and had served as the catalyst for her life’s work was ripped away and she was left spiraling. That might explain her rather surprising hookup with Ressler, who she’d been sharing some flirtatious looks with ever since they started working together on the search for Liz. Even though they’d exchanged a few sultry glances, Samar has appeared to be in a committed relationship with Aram, who neither she nor Ressler even seemed to give a second thought.

Ressler’s behavior made him come off especially bad. First of all, he wasn’t anywhere near the emotional state Samar was in, so it wasn’t a tryst of joint grief. Secondly, he had seen how visibly upset Aram was over Samar’s safety and had even witnessed him cry tears of joy after hearing news of her well being. How could Ressler do what he did to a guy he considers a friend? As for Liz and Red, they continued to elude authorities and neither played a major role in the episode. Red came in with a few clever lines and to aid Samar, while Liz met up with Tom and that was about it.

The promo that followed last week’s episode turned out to have over promised what was an all too brief reunion scene between the estranged spouses. The good news is when Tom told Liz he had what it took to clear her and declared it was a mistake to have left her behind, a full blown reunion seemed more possible than ever. Obviously Liz has to deal with clearing her name and getting off the most wanted list first. As for Tom, his partnership with Harold proved to be very entertaining and the two definitely have great buddy chemistry. The only bothersome issue with the Karakurt storyline was how Karakurt got the upper hand on Tom by grabbing him around the neck in the garage. It's hard to believe a trained gun like Tom would make such a rookie mistake.

Side Notes/Burning Questions: Ressler is now a gnome killer. After an onset of explosive rage following a standoff with Tom, Ressler took all of his frustration out on one of Harold’s innocent lawn gnomes. The guy is out of control. What is the legal status of the Keen marriage? Did anyone else notice the look between Harold’s wife and their neighbor and wonder if they’re having an affair? Is Aram the only one headed for heartbreak? What will be the big cliffhanger that caps the fall portion of the season?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Let's Talk About..."The Last Kingdom"

The Last Kingdom is BBC America’s answer to “Vikings” and “Game of Thrones”, an ambitious action adventure series based on Bernard Cornwell’s extensive tome of novels. The series reached its fifth episode last week and it was a strong installment, fraught with tense showdowns and testy loyalties. The show is zooming through at a steady and progressive pace, whilst maintaining a sense of intense suspense; a sort of dance on knife’s edge. Anything can happen and everything can change within an instant. It’s a motif that costume dramas often bring to bear and a pivotal quality that shakes up the usual safety net that inextricably permeates modern storytelling. For fans used to the constant death shockers that rock “Game of Thrones”, it might not seem as shocking but “The Last Kingdom” has still landed a few jarring departed of its own.

In a year that saw “Vikings” creatively surpass “Thrones”, it comes as no surprise that “The Last Kingdom” faces its toughest competitor in the former. History Channel’s “Vikings” is impeccably acted, directed and written with such a brazen abandon that it makes a show about Vikings look easy, when it couldn’t be any trickier. For all of its strengths “Last Kingdom” doesn’t have Travis Fimmel’s eccentric Ragnar, Katheryn Winnick’s fearless Lagertha or Linus Roache’s diabolical King Ecbert to shake things up. There is a danger and mystique lurking within those characters and the actors' portrayal, which makes that particular series pulsate with an edge “Last Kingdom” has yet to find. 

In contrast “Last Kingdom” is a bit more swashbuckling and comically inclined. Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), the series' central character is more Thor than Ragnar, a young arrogant warrior coming of age and making loads of mistakes in the process. Like Ragnar, Uhtred isn’t a character you can blatantly root for and that’s part of what keeps things interesting. Ragnar was a man when “Vikings” began and Uhtred is basically a big kid. Unlike Ragnar, whose identity as a Viking is as integral a fact of his life as his being human, Uhtred’s is mired in uncertainty. He struggles with his loyalty to his native people (the Saxons) and the ones who took him captive (the Danes) and whom he considers family.

Torn from his original world, it’s next to impossible to reconcile Uhtred’s unconditional love for his “adoptive” father Ragnar (who killed his biological father right in front of his eyes) without chalking it up to a classic case of Stockholm syndrome. It’s the only explanation that keeps Uhtred redeemable and worthy of watching.

After surging onto the scene with a stellar pilot, “Kingdom” lost a bit of steam around its second and third episodes before rallying to a pair of back-to-back knockouts. A good sign for any show is when it improves on an episode-to-episode basis and “The Last Kingdom” has more than managed that feat over the last two weeks. So if you’re looking for a series to tide you over until “Vikings” sets sail again, this is the show to do it.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

TV Rundown: Nov 1 - 6 | "Reign" Fave's Fate Hangs in the Balance, Tom Continues his Mission on "The Blacklist"

Reign returned with “The Price” and made quite a few waves in the process. While the previous episode focused solely on French court, the follow up returned to the third season’s splintered focus between England and France. The result was a pretty even episode which featured Elizabeth considering a new suitor/potential husband, her continued fixation on Sir Robert Dudley and the revelation of a shocking rumor that’d been making the rounds. Back in French court, Mary’s mother beckoned for reinforcements in Scotland to which Francis consented, Catherine began her quest to secure the vote as regent and newlyweds Lola and Narcisse happily honeymooned until a deception threatened to ruin their bliss. All in all, there was a lot of activity.

You’re not alone if you felt like you might’ve missed something when the episode opened with a rather vigorous Francis. After being near death in “Extreme Measures” he’d rebounded between episodes thanks to an off-screen Austrian physician whose regiment of herbal supplements had apparently worked wonders. When it appeared he was on his way to a miraculous recovery, he relapsed and at one point seemed to have died; only to be “saved by the spell” after Bash (at the request of Charles) brought in his ex-girlfriend/possible crazy witch to perform some magic and bring Francis back to life. The good news is that it worked. The bad news is that it obviously won’t last long. “Reign” is making a bold move, lengthening the storyline of Francis’ demise. On one side of the coin, it’s giving a fan favorite more time to remain on the show. On the flip side, it’s risking a major loss of emotional impact when the actual moment, eventually arrives. It may not hit with the same resonance.

As for the supernatural portion of the episode, “Reign” has always been good about giving viewers two explanations for events that could be taken as preternatural and the case of Francis’ “resurrection”, proved to be no exception. While it appeared Francis had died, he might’ve just lapsed into unconsciousness. No one was seen checking for a pulse or confirming his death and when Bash thought Delphine had died trading her life for Francis’, she was quickly revealed to be alive. The timing of Mary’s mother’s death can be chalked up to sheer coincidence. She had already revealed she was dying last season and why would Delphine target her for a death swap? She never even knew the woman. In closing, it makes sense it was all an incident of magical timing and not intervention.

Burning Questions/Side Notes: Mary saying that she’d trade her life for Francis’, went a long way in redeeming her. When Mary and Francis were discussing their children, they mentioned the name of their son would be James. In real life, Mary Queen of Scots would go on to have a son (by Henry Stuart) named James and *historical spoiler alert* he became the King of England following Elizabeth I's death. Narcisse needs to come clean about the rat. The ramifications of his trickery will only escalate out of proportion as more time goes by. Surely, he’s smart enough to realize this. How on earth will Catherine overcome the awful deed, a crucial voter is justly holding against her? Perhaps, she will call on some of Delphine’s “magic”. One dead giveaway that Francis’ time hadn’t come to pass was that Catherine was nowhere near him and it’s hard to believe that will be the case when he actually dies. Elizabeth needs to grow past her tired obsession with the rather unlikable Sir Dudley. Move on already!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

TV Rundown: Oct 25 - 30 | Grading the Premiere of "Wicked City", "Blacklist" Continues Hot Streak

Wicked City took viewers back to the 80s and reminded them that no matter the time period, some people's mode for wearing two faces is a timeless act. There’s good news and bad news when it comes ABC’s provocative new anthology series. The good news is that Ed Westwick makes for a compelling antagonist (as expected) and he is the top reason to tune in. The initial outing was high on atmosphere, capturing an era filled with shoulder pads and great music. The bad news is that Westwick is not as front and center as promos have led potential viewers to believe. Despite his being heavily featured as the lead; Westwick's Kent wasn't as prominent as Jeremy Sisto’s philandering cop character, who dominated the premiere with the storyline of his police investigation and seedy personal life. Though it's possible that was just a temporary dynamic so the pilot could establish his character.

Given the limitations network TV must adhere to, the racy terrain "Wicked City" vigorously tries to accumulate, evaporates with the omnipotent understanding that there is only so far the envelope can be pushed. However its main struggle with being perceived as edgy can be attributed to the timing. Had this show aired in the era it is depicting, it would’ve been scandalous viewing. In 2015, it doesn't pack the same punch. If you’ve seen “The Fall”, it is impossible not to draw comparisons and something that sets the Netflix/BBC series apart in the “hunt for a killer” genre is that it doesn't aim for sheer shock value. It has a grasp on its characters which serves to educate the audience on psychopathy and the tangled web a psychopath weaves, in a way most series tend to gloss over. It properly rides the fine line between education and entertainment. It’s not trying to be a popcorn series and it shows. In its attempt to stand out, “Wicked City” implements the story trope of a cop, who’s morally impure going against a killer with “a code”. It's a plot point "The Fall" toys with as well and to better results.

The biggest miss for the series is the Bonnie and Clyde angle they’ve built into the storyline with Kent’s (Westwick) seduction of Betty (Erika Christensen), a sociopathic single mom and nurse, he reveals his true psycho self to, way too quickly. They say it takes one to know one but he barely gets to know her and we're to believe he already trusts her with information that could end his freedom and his life. The setup for his bold gamble barely scraped the surface of explanation, putting a damper on his decision's credibility.

To build on the aforementioned good news, "Wicked City" is an anthology series so your 10 episode investment will have a finite closure to look forward to and hopefully an interesting ride to go along with it. Most series' pilots are rough around the edges so it's very possible its follow up, will knock em' dead.

The Blacklist’s streak continues! Another dazzling episode centered on Liz and Red pulling double dodging duty as they had to simultaneously outrun the law and a league of assassins who’d come to kill Liz after a hit had been taken out on her via the internet. There were several unexpected twists and turns in “Arioch Cain (No. 50)”, beginning with the suspense inducing opener which flashed viewers to the closing minutes of the episode before jumping back in time to reveal the run up to the ending. Obviously, Liz’s survival was a foregone conclusion so finding out how she managed to endure was where the tension lied and it delivered. Another plus was the identity of the episode's Blacklister, which came as a significant and well played shock.

Elsewhere, Tom continued to dig closer to Karakurt as he switched gears from smooth operator to rough intimidator. The build up to the Tom/Karakurt showdown has been well done and it will be interesting to see how it pays off. The best moment of the episode belonged to Dembe, who rescued Red and Liz from certain death in a jam packed and concise action sequence that was terrifically choreographed and rewind worthy.
Photo Credit: "Wicked City"/Official Twitter Page, "The Blacklist"/Official Twitter Page

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Movie Review | The Intern (2015)

In Nancy Meyer’s “The Intern”, Robert De Niro stars as a 70-year-old retired widow who’s looking for purpose and a fresh direction for his life. He winds up finding that in an unlikely place, when he answers an ad placed by an online apparel company seeking seniors for an internship program. It is there that he meets the high-strung Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway), a self-made businesswoman clawing her way through simultaneous crises in her career and personal life.

It is with its aforementioned female lead that "The Intern" encounters its greatest hurdle. The hard-nosed Jules is not an easy mark for friendship, though nowhere near the level of Meryl Streep’s steely fashion shark in “The Devil Wears Prada”. Jules is still a salty sort though. She is prickly and blunt, so it makes Ben’s instant affection for her, hard to follow. Right out of the gate she is dismissive of him and the entire intern program.

She initially sees it as a drain on her and a waste of time for her youthful staff, never stopping to think of the insulting undertones that come with having a person more than twice the average age of her employees working as an intern. She shows no hesitation in believing these hardworking senior citizens are worthy of being reduced to fetch her dry cleaning and coffee. It is her that is being “put out” in this scenario. The entitlement she exhibits for an overnight success is staggering. Where’s the humility? While she does come to develop an appreciation for Ben, she never sees him as worthy to rise above his “station”. She appoints him her “best friend” but doesn’t see him as anything beyond that. Her superiority comes off in waves.

There’s a reason this movie is called “The Intern” and not “The Mentor”, Ben is never openly acknowledged as being the latter, despite monumental proof to substantiate it. The youth portrayed in this movie are too proud to openly admit they need mature adult guidance. There seems to be an unspoken stigma against owning that fact. As if failing to acknowledge it, somehow makes it any less true. Why should young people expect to be in charge of the knowledge it took a senior, twice their lifetime to achieve? Even suggesting such a thing is arrogant beyond belief. Viewers are more likely to appreciate Ben than anyone in the movie does. Those who are depicted being impressed by him, treat him as a novelty meant for their amusement, seeing him more like a nifty new gizmo than a human being. What’s surprising about this entire movie is that it was written and directed by Nancy Meyers, who's in her mid-60s and should be familiar with the issues facing the older generation. Given that context, it's unclear if the portrayal is meant to be observational of millennial behavior, a hands-off critique or an endorsement of it.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

TV Rundown: Oct 18 - 23 | Francis Makes Plans on "Reign" & Tom Rushes to the Rescue on "The Blacklist"

Reign The best episode of the season so far, also felt like a defining one for the entire series. Focused entirely on French court, the action mainly revolved around Francis' attempts to resolve the issues that will be facing his loved ones when he dies. When Mary failed to negotiate a deal with Conde’s brother King Antoine, she had to call upon her greatest frenemy to get the job done. Catherine found redemption (or as close as she can get to it) by putting her own life on the line to secure her son’s thrown.

The episode gave Mary and Catherine an opportunity to showcase why they’re one of the best female duos on TV. At each other’s throats one minute and then showing each other a begrudging gesture of respect the next, their dynamic keeps viewers on their toes. The final moments saw them reach a truce of sorts as they made peace for the sake of Francis’ final days and the country. Mary realized her faults more in this episode, an improvement over her haughtier attitude last week. Antoine intimating that Conde was hurt as much as Francis in Mary’s ill-advised affair was laughable. The only person Mary owed her allegiance to was her husband and Conde knew that when he tried to break her marriage up. He got what he deserved.

The heavy mood of Francis’ impending death colored “Extreme Measures” without overshadowing it and the result was a somber and poignant episode that brought a lot of genuine emotion. Most of that emotion came with Francis making arrangements for his and Lola’s son, whilst discussing the fatherly figure he wanted for Jean. Francis let her know, Narcisse wasn’t to be a part of the picture and he gave sound reasons for why. Lola’s response was staggeringly mature, as was Narcisse’s who didn’t put up a big fuss when she broke things off between them.

Thankfully, the setback in their relationship was only temporary. The show came up with an inventive way to change Francis’ mind without either Lola or Narcisse throwing a fit to get their way. An organic demonstration of Narcisse’s inner good side was enough to win Francis over and a wedding between the rogue and the lady, quickly followed. It was a happy ending and well handled resolution to a storyline that brewed for the perfect amount of time.

Side Notes/Burning Questions:
Where’s Kenna? Will Bash sacrifice another life to save Francis? Did anyone miss English court? The ending scene of Catherine taking the king’s throne was an electrifying moment that changed the entire momentum of the show, bringing it full circle. One step forward, two steps back for Leith and Claude.