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Six Wives with Lucy Worsley (2016)
Fair, if Rushed, Look at Henry's Wives
Divorced. Beheaded. Died. Divorced. Beheaded. Survived.
Lucy Worsley goes where many historians have gone before -- but in a unique way, by stepping back in time to illustrate scenes from Tudor life. She spends a decent chunk of the three episodes with Katharine of Aragon, revealing her as the "warrior queen" devoted to her husband's spiritual welfare, dispelling the myth of her as an angry, bitter old woman and instead showing the fire and zeal of a true fighter, who gave Henry 'what for' over seven years.
Her Anne Boleyn is a fair portrait of an intelligent, ambitious woman in over her head, whose flirtations give rise to scandal and set her up for removal.
She defends Jane Seymour as no doormat, but instead an intelligent, clever woman intending to play one in order to survive.
Anne of Cleves is depicted as the one woman who outsmarted all the others, who held out for better things, and died better off by far than any of the others.
Katherine Howard arguably receives the greatest re-imagining, with Worsley raising questions about her affair with Culpepper being the result of blackmail over her previous sexual activities -- and she boldly attacks the presuppositions about Katherine as a "slut" by staring into the camera and asserting that nowadays, we'd call her an abused child.
Katherine Parr is portrayed as the most "intellectually curious" of Henry's wives, with much emphasis placed on her evangelism, her writing of the first book in England published by a woman, and her cleverness in managing to escape an arrest warrant.
It's arguably brief. It glosses over much in each woman's life. You'd need longer than three episodes to explore the first two queens' humanitarian work, or Katherine Howard's compassion to those in need (including poor imprisoned Margaret Pole), but for a brief introductory biography that escapes common clichés and biases, and treats each wife fairly with no hints of favoritism, it's an excellent three hours.
My Favorite Movie This Year
This film has taken a beating in the press for daring to "remake" the 1959 award-winning classic; but it's a solid piece of entertainment, and arguably, has far more powerful spiritual themes than any of its predecessors. The cast is terrific, the script never lags, the romance is believable, and the sense of realism in Jerusalem is wonderful. It explores the political upheaval of the region at the time, using the zealot conflicts as a cornerstone for the event that lands Judah in trouble with Rome.
While I do have a few minor nitpicks with the production's historical accuracy (it's a bit shocking to see so many beards among the Romans), the costuming and set design is magnificent. The chariot race isn't the only pulse-pounding moment but it does boast spectacular action scenes (and some gritty carnage). The camera is used to give a sense of claustrophobia inside the ship. The score neither overwhelms nor detracts from the experience.
I wanted a bit more duality in the Roman characters than the script allowed; most of them are simply villains. The audience is left to assume Messala's emotions and motivations, and he doesn't seem to have as much emotional conflict as one would expect, in condemning his former family to death. It is confusing toward the start, as it establishes the zealots, but resolves all its major plot arcs.
Sentimentality may make people consider passing this up, but if they can put aside comparisons and see it as a new take on the novel, rather than a remake, they'll find it a thought-provoking and powerful film.
Not Bad, Could Be Better
I'm a Roman/Judean history nut, so when this came out, I had to see it. Three hours later, I have mixed thoughts.
The Good: the plot! It has its shaky moments but overall, this is a decent script. Barabbas comes across as a cynical, self-serving man who undergoes a change of heart and finds redemption. Pilate's wife, Claudia, also has a decent role, far bigger than any other depiction of her ever madealthough I can't say the end of her story made me happy! Wandering in and out of different biblical events was also fun.
The Strange: can someone explain to me why Pilate has a beard? It wasn't fashionable for Romans at the time. He's also much too short to be a believable governor, considering Barabbas is about a foot taller. Why does Ester one minute tell Barabbas fornication is a sin against God, then turns around awhile later after following Jesus around and fornicates with him? Also, even though thirty years have passed by the end (which the film doesn't tell us, and most people ignorant of the time period wouldn't know), no one gets any older except Peter why is that? The Bad: the acting! I'm not sure if it was foreigners struggling to speak in English rather than Italian that turned in such a crop of mediocre and sometimes downright painful performances, or that they just have no talent, but almost no one in this production is memorable. Zane is better than most but still hams it up a bit; I also wonder why Hristo Shopov is wasted in a minor role. He's played Pilate twice before (in Mel Gibson's film, and in a foreign follow-up), so it's strange they wouldn't let him do it again, particularly given that he has five times the presence and "governor-ness" than "this" Pilate. Also, something is "off" in this Jesus, but I'm not sure what; it's slightly creepy in places.
The Result: is a decent film hampered by its low production values; if you can overlook that, it's enjoyable, moving, and quite often surprising in where it leads.
The Making of a Lady (2012)
I admit, my first go-through I wasn't convinced. The plot seemed to rush forward with so much momentum that there wasn't a great deal of character development, and I found the characters themselves utterly obtuse. But, a second watch-through convinced me of what an enjoyable piece of Victorian drama this is -- beginning out with the makings of an unexpected love story (the love comes after marriage, in this case) and turning into a thriller. It won't win any awards but the costuming is gorgeous, the cast is surprisingly good (in spite of any romantic spark between the leads), and it's something I'll watch more than once. Try it, you may be surprised how enjoyable it is.
Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012)
Inaccurate But Enjoyable
"Titanic: Blood & Steel" proves there are still ways to approach material that has been revisited on the big and small screens in new and appealing ways. From the laying of the hull to her departure from Belfast, this is the story of the workers, businessmen, and common Irishmen impacted through the construction process of the most famous ship in history.
It's strengths are its historical figures, such as the open-minded Lord Pirrie (Derek Jacobi at his finest) and the perfectionist, driven Thomas Andrews, who is depicted as I have always imagined him to be, soft-spoken and heroic. Its weaknesses lie in its lack of understanding for the social and sexual aspects of the period, as well as its (for me) rather unlikable leading man.
When it comes to historical accuracy, it relies more on fiction than fact to tell its story but somehow this never seems too troubling. The politics of the era are explored: the struggle to unionize Ireland, the rivalries between Catholic and Protestant fractions, even a foray into the beginnings of the Irish Republican Army. The expense of the miniseries shows not only in the terrific cast but the incredible detail on the ships, their construction, the shipyards, and the lavish interiors.
Some might complain about the ambiguous ending, but I like it, since it allows the audience to make their own conclusions about the fate of the main characters. The series held my attention and gave me twelve hours spent in the company of Lord Pirrie and Thomas Andrews -- as an amateur "RMS Titanic" historian, for that, I'm grateful.
SGU Stargate Universe (2009)
Fist off, yes, I am a SG-1 and SGA fan. That's a given. But I did enter into this series with an open mind. I also stuck it out for fifteen episodes before pulling the plug and finding something else to watch on Friday nights.
There a lot of issues with this show, but first and foremost is its failure to have likable characters. The strength of the original series, and its subsequent spin-off, is that the individuals involved were quirky but also human, and absolutely likable. Over each season, we came to know a little more about them and found yet more reasons to like them as people -- for me, at the end of SG-1, it was like bidding farewell to a small but important circle of friends, with whom I had laughed and cried for many years. Ultimately, they were all heroes, willing to risk their lives for one another and total strangers.
SGU is not like that. With the exception of one or two characters, all of them are self-centered and certainly not heroic. It's more about their needs and wants than what is best for the group. I did not like a single one of them.
I have heard this series compared to "Battlestar Galactica," which is not a fair comparison: BGA is the superior series because it had heroes. Starbuck, Roslin, Adama, Apollo, and all the others might have royally messed up once in awhile, but ultimately they did put others first. They were likable. They were truly human characters.
I entered this show not expecting much. Turns out, I should have expected even less.
don't listen to the naysayers
Most of the complaints people have about this show are from embittered Buffy fans. I love both of those shows, but the truth is that "Moonlight" is more my style, kind of like how the 1979 version of Dracula soothes my romantic senses much more than the version from the mid nineties. If you like more "realism" in your vampire stories, you will love "Moonlight." The main protagonist is Mick St. John, a vampire who was turned by his bride on their wedding night in the mid 1900's. Due to a change of heart and to the disappointment of his mentor Josef (one of the series' best characters), he turns to crime-solving. Unlike Angel, the demons he deals with are human rather than razor-clawed blue monsters. In the background is Beth, a reporter who remembers Mick from her childhood, when he saved her from the evil clutches of an old flame (in more ways than one).
Every girl I know adores this show. I mentioned it once in passing and now all my friends are eagerly tuning in on Friday nights to watch what happens. We like the more natural pace of the programming, the lack of wrinkled prosthetics whenever the vampires pull their angry faces, the cute chemistry between the leads. True, some of the series' success comes from the novels by Stephanie Meyers about a "calm" breed of vampire, but hey, if those terrifying fangirls manage to keep "Moonlight" on air for a season (and if the tremendous ratings have anything to say about it, it'll be here awhile), I can deal with it.
The plots are not too predictable and the show likes to pull the rug out from under us with bringing on revelations much sooner than other series have in the past. But the honest truth is, for a vampire fan like me, this has given me a whole new excitement for autumn programming. Long live Moonlight!
The Tudors (2007)
a stunner of a bodice ripper
Having finished the first season and rewatched it a half dozen times as I wait impatiently for Showtime to unveil the second season of "The Tudors," I have to admit that this show has intrigued me in the history surrounding Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives better than any before it. The producers say it's "80% accurate," and that's an apt description, but what impressed me so much was that within that 80% are some little-known and often overlooked moments that make for great drama. Like the fact that the little wrestling match between Henry of England and Charles of France actually did take place, or that the only time Queen Katharine lost her cool in all that she was forced to endure was over the succession, and subsequent threat to her daughter's rights to the throne. Even certain of the dialogue is ripped right from the pages of history.
True, things are pushed out of order so as to move the story along at a more rapid pace, and the worst bastardization of history comes in the form of the preposterous mingling of Henry's sisters Margaret and Mary into one individual (oddly enough, they don't even bother to push through the fact that one marriage lasted eighteen years and produced several children, which would have given them a lead-in for producing a later series built on this one about the heirs to the throne), but the reality is that this is solid film-making. The production value is exquisite, the original score is absolutely gorgeous, and then there are the performances.
It is a downright shame that Maria Doyle Kennedy and Sam Neil were given no mentions in the Emmy nominations, because while the rest of the cast is outstanding, they really deserve critical acclaim. Kennedy's Katharine of Aragon is perhaps the most authentic and sympathetic depiction ever to reach the silver screen, large or small, and the audience has responded to her with overwhelmingly positive emotions. I know that she broke my heart more than once, as much as made me want to stand up and cheer, particularly in the eighth episode. Neil is not quite as unlikable as Wolsey could be, but in the second half of the first season hits his stride and is absolutely phenomenal in the finale.
The one thing that rather disenchanted me was the amount of pointless sex and skin revealed on the part of random ladies of the court. Henry certainly had his flings but they were not as often as depicted, and to be perfectly honest, one is left wondering what he sees in these naked trollops when he has a far more beautiful and enchanting wife lingering in the background. (It also doesn't give the audience much empathy for Henry, who seems incapable of "making love." Even his eventual tryst with Anne Boleyn has more primal boredom to it than wooing.) I know it was a low ploy by Showtime, cashing in on the "sex sells" shallowness of our culture, but the story is much more profoundly lingering without it.
The Practice (1997)
good drama, imperfect lawyering
I'm a fan of courtroom dramas, and "The Practice" is better than most. It's a nice little series about a dozen lawyers both in the prosecutor's office and on the other side of the table, but it's primary focus lies with the defense. The characters all either are immediately likable or grow on you with time (there are exceptions, as I'm not partial to several of them) but most of the legal wranglings reveal the inexperience of the writers. Watch any given episode and see emotion argued rather than the law. It's not the fault of the cast so much as the writers, who clearly have no experience in the legal field. There are no citing of cases, no legal arguments, merely proposals and motions based on the emotional involvement of the characters.
It wouldn't hold up in court, but makes for exciting viewing. It's a good show, but compared to "Law & Order," isn't as impacting with its legal strategies.
not up to standard
I am not one to slight Dick Wolf's projects. I have the utmost respect for him as a producer and writer, and I absolutely love the flagship, "Law & Order." I was also fond of "Trial by Jury," and watch "Criminal Intent," and "Special Victims Unit" on a regular basis. I had high hopes for "Conviction," but was ultimately disappointed. The characters feel shallow and clichéd. We have the playboy, the workaholic, the ambitious ADA who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, and... everyone else.
The best character in the series is Nick Potter, but he is rather overshadowed by the irritating personal lives of his coworkers. Steele is sleeping with Jessica when he's not trying to get inside Alexandra Cabot's pants. Brian loves Christina, but that doesn't stop him from chasing every skirt in sight. There are courtroom cases, but none of them are particularly original (with the exception of the boy bashing his brother's head in, and the female attorney who gives Steele hell) and most consist of bland rape cases.
The best episode was the two-part season finale in which everything came to a head, we saw the characters be heroic (or jerks, based on who you're rooting for), and the show went out in a final blaze of glory. It's not that I disliked it so much as it failed to live up to potential, attempting to tell so many different stories each week that the viewer became lost at some point along the way. The finale showed promise, but by then, it was too late.
From a long-time fan of the original, "Conviction" lacked... well, conviction. One cannot help thinking that Jack McCoy could sit down each and every one of these young prosecutors and teach them a thing or two about the law.