selenak: (Kima Greggs by Monanotlisa)
Not really reviews, just short remarks on shows Netflix put up I don't have the time and/or motivation to write proper reviews for:

Sherlock, Season 4: good lord. I can see where the conspiracy theorists who think Moffat & Gatiss wanted an end but because the show continued to be a hit for the BBC couldn't just quit, so self-sabotaged are coming from. That was one big mess, displaying their worst tendencies as writers. Mind you, it's also the kind of mess that made me look for fanfic, despite not being in the fandom, which I haven't done for Sherlock before. But messed up families are almost always a surefire button for me. Oh, and since Lestrade's statement in the very last episode very consciously points to his statement in A Study in Pink, and thus it does feel like an ending, here's the irony: back in s1, my major (not the only) problem with the show was that Sherlock himself was far too dislikeable, as if M & G had taken a look at Holmes avatar Dr. Gregory House and concluded he was way too mild-mannered, and that consequently I couldn't root for the central Holmes & Watson relationship. By the end of s4, one of my major problems (leaving aside the messy writing for the season, especially the finale) is the reverse: the show's Sherlock Holmes has grown on me (and I mostly buy his in-story growth arc), but I can't stand this particular John Watson anymore. This never happened to me with an incarnation of Watson, but there it is. Which still leaves me unable to root for what's supposed to be the central relationship.

Meanwhile, the Holmes clan, or, what happens if two writers think "wouldn't it be cool if we went Gothic!" in a manner what would make the Brontes and Daphne du Maurier weep, and not with joy: Spoilers ensue )

Wynona Earp, season 1: this, otoh, was a delight. Perhaps the inheritor of the mixture of earnestness and camp 90s fantasy shows like Xena excelled at? Anyway, Wynona, descendant of Wyatt, enters the tale with backstory trauma (and how!) and present day chip-on-shoulders attitude, would be a good (or bad, depending on your pov) drinking buddy for Jessica Jones and has a delightful geeky younger sister named Waverly who also has a canon f/f romance going on with a female cop in their hometown named Purgatory. This means 99% of the fanfic is about Waverly and said cop, btw, much as most Orphan Black fanfic is about Cosima/Delphine and most of Torchwood used to be Jack/Ianto. Now I don't begrudge anyone their canon slash juggernaut pairings, but while Waverly and Nicole are charming, I'll admit that my own main relationship interest lies with Wynona and the show's version of Doc Holiday (who is still around because it's a fantasy show and shortly before expiring from tuberculosis as history has it, he made the proverbial deal with the devil). Without being a Western expert: I've seen a few, and any version of Doc has yet to fail holding my interest. (My first was Kirk Douglas, btw - Wyatt: Burt Lancaster -, because Dad was a fan of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and scorned the black and white My Darling Clementine. Val Kilmer came much later, kids. Though yes, he's probably the best screen Doc. I also have a fondness for the Doc Holiday who guest stars in Walter Sattherwaite's novel "Wilde West", where a young Oscar Wilde keeps running into him during his lecture tour through the American West. Anyway, the Doc Holiday in Wynona Earp has kept his thing for Earps through the 120 plus years since last he saw one, and his moral ambiguity, which considering our heroine is a) currently trying to be lawfully good, having been unceremoniusly drafted as deputy to the show's lawman for all things supernatural, Dolls, and b) really has issues by the dozens, makes for a fiery relationship.

The show's special effects (mostly for the revenants, aka the demonic cowboys Wynona alone can dispatch because she's The Chosen One the current heir-of-Wyatt-Earp (who got cursed back in Ye Olde Days) are not so special, and unfortunately it shares that tendency of all too many media where when the heroes rough someone up, it always brings the correct results, and it often is unabashedly cheesy, but nonetheless, it charmes me the way Supernatural s1 (the only one I saw) did not. Give me the Earp sisters over the Winchester brothers any day. And their supporting cast. P.S. Waverly and Nicole aren't the only gay (or bi, in Waverly's case) people in Purgatory, either. The sole revenants in s1 who are not out to kill and menace but are presented as capable of good are an m/m couple.
selenak: (Abigail Brand by Handyhunter)
Reader, I marathoned it. It being shorter than any previous Marvel Netflix series, this didn’t take that long. (No filler episodes.) Above cut judgment: overall plot meh, worth watching for the character interaction, with my particular highlights being Jessica & Matt, Luke & Jessica, Luke & Danny (I haven’t watched Iron Fist, nor do I intend to watch it now, but the scenes with Luke were the occasions when Danny shook off blandness and became an entertaining character), and all four spending an entire episode stuck in a Chinese Restaurant. Also Matt & Spoilery character, Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver’s character) & Madame Gao, Alexandra & Spoilery character.

heavy spoilers beneath the cut )
selenak: (Max by Misbegotten)
Since the other Borgias left me in the mood for over the top historical melodrama, and since it was available, I marathoned the second season of Versailles. (My first season review is here.) Aka, the show with the general accuracy of The Tudors (which is to say more than than the all around anachronistic crack like Reign, but generally not that much, though the occasional clever use of historical fact actually happens), produced by Canal just as Borgia, with the main selling point to internet fandom that there’s canon m/m prominently featured, courtesy of Louis XIV.’s brother Philippe d’Orleans, aka Monsieur, played by the increasingly gorgeous Alexander Vlahos. The second season tackles the affair of the poisons, one of the most notorious events in the reign of Louis XIV., but just as it did in the first season with just about any historic event fictionalizes the hell out of it, including, mystifyingly, changing the name of the main supplier of the poisons in question. Instead of La Voisin (first name Catherine), we have “Madame Agathe”. (Otoh the black mass celebrating renegade priest gets to stay Father Etienne Guibourg, which means the first time he is introduced in a seemingly benign undercover identity, the more historically versed parts of the audience know who he is and what he’s infamous for.) In terms of historical characters, we also get introduced to the delightful Liselotte von der Pfalz, the Princess Palatinate, and may I say that I was hugely relieved the Versailles version is great, because the original is one of my favourite figures of the era, due to all those vivid letters she penned for the folks back home, and as Versailles’ first season unfortunately reduced Monsieur’s first wife Henriette to a very passive, agenda-less character, which the original definitely was not, I was a bit afraid something similar might happen to Liselotte, the second Madame. But no. She’s blunt, no-nonsense, determined to make the best of a bad situation, as all versions of Liselotte should be. (Mind you, this show still obeys the Hollywood rule of plain and beauty, so when Monsieur’s lover, the Chevalier de Lorraine, ridicules Liselotte’s fashion and looks, it’s not clear what he’s on about since the actress is pretty – whereas historical Liselotte cheerfully admitted to her plainness in youth and weathered stoutness in age, comparing her looks as a middleaged woman to a roasted pig – and so is her wardrobe.)

On to more spoilery musings beneath the cut. )
selenak: (Borgias by Andrivete)
Aka the European-produced series which debuted exactly in the same year as Neil Jordan’s The Borgias did, and got three seasons as well. I had seen the pilot back in the day and hadn’t liked it much, but as Amazon Prime put it up, I thought, why not. Also back in the day: at least two articles proclaiming Borgia (with each of the seasons having subtitles “Faith and Fear” (s1), “Rules of Love, Rules of War” (s2) and “Triumph and Oblivion” (s3)) being the superior show with more “historicity”, which put my back up, since I happen to be fond of The Borgias (well, fond of the first two seasons and two or three s3 episodes). That was another reason why I delayed watching Borgia beyond the pilot until this year.

Having now accomplished this, here are a few impressions: Borgia on the one hand does use a lot more actual events from the historical characters’ lives than The Borgias did (including such very Renaissance trivia as Lucrezia’s later father-in-law, Duke Hercole d’Este of Ferrara, collecting nuns with stigmata, I kid you not) , but on the other hand is no slouch when it comes to breathtaking dramatic license. (Cesare Borgia did many gruesome things, but I don’t think ordering pants made of the skin of his enemies was one of them. Also, I really doubt that a bunch of 15th century cardinals would have conspired to replace the Pope with his daughter, no matter how impressive a job she did when the Pope made her regent while he was indisposed. Michelangelo creating the David in Rome instead of Florence is almost harmless as an invention by comparison. And then there’s the drug addiction plot complete with cold turkey conclusion…) The first season suffers from several instances of telling over showing when it came to some important relationships. However, this was mostly remedied in subsequent seasons. And it was really interesting to see both the differences and similarities in the storytelling choices based on the same basic material. Not to mention that the series Borgia actually includes the decline of the family fortunes; Rodrigo dies mid s3, and the rest is Cesare’s falling apart until the series finale ending with his historic death and some other spoilery (not for history) stuff.

One of the biggest differences is the overall emotional arc for the Borgia family. In The Borgias, we start with the featured members more or less affectionately close to each other (even the Cesare-Juan relationship isn’t yet worse than mild fraternal rivalry), and end with them having outwitted and outplayed all their enemies, but lost each other in the process, or have their former closeness turned dysfunctional. In Borgia, otoh, we start with the Borgias dysfunctional and estranged (this Rodrigo hasn’t yet admitted to his children that they are his children but still employs the “niece and nephews” excuse even in private), it gets worse except in one regard from there until Juan’s death at the end of the first season… and then it gets better. From mid s2 onwards, there are family reconciliations all around, and for the rest of the show, the strong affection the Borgias have for each other are often their saving graces, so to speak. When near the end of the show Lucrezia’s third husband, Alfonso d’Este, ruefully observes to his wife that the D’Estes are worse than the Borgias and that she can show them how to be better (as in, a family), he’s not kidding.

A lot more spoilery ramblings and comparisons ensue )
selenak: (Kate Hepburn by Misbegotten)
Having watched „American Crime: The People vs O.J. Simpson“ some months ago, I moved on to this year’s Ryan Murphy endeavour, „Feud: Bette and Joan”, several episodes of which were scripted by Tim Minear, aka he who was largely responsible for most of Darla’s episodes at Angel, for which I’ll eternally appreciate him. Now I had actually read the book this particular miniseries draws much of its material from, “Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud”, and among other things, it was interesting to see how Murphy and his team shaped the same raw material into a different type of story. The book is very gossipy, but in a way that doesn’t favour either woman about the other, and does point out when there are several conflicting accounts. Narratively, though, it feels like a collection of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford anecdotes, without overall themes or specific conclusions. The miniseries, otoh, goes for the the Sunset Boulevard (btw: there’s a great little reference to it during an escalating Davis/Crawford argument) approach of witty, biting and ultimately tragic Hollywood on Hollywood; if Bette Davis comes across as the more “likeable” of the two women, it’s ultimately Joan Crawford whose tragedy it is, and who has the most clear cut narrative arc, from her decision to find a project for herself and Bette Davis in the series opener to her death in the finale.

You mean all this time, we could have been friends? )
selenak: (Bayeux)
As if rl politics weren't infuriating and depressing enough, Netflix goes and cancels Sense 8. Boo. I might have critiqued various s2 elements recently, but that didn't mean I didn't enjoy the show overall, and I definitely want more of it.

On to shows still ongoing, with past seasons I marathoned in recent weeks.

I, Zombie, season 2: was good and did not have Veronica Mars's s2 problems. They even found an in-story reason for Blaine to be still around, and Max Rager as the season's main villain made for suspense and a satisfying finale. On to more spoilery developments. )

The Last Kingdom, season 2: covering two of Cornwell's novels in one season, I hear, which explains the sometimes breathless pace, but it worked for me. More spoilery musings ensue. ) I really hope we'll get another season of what has become an excellent ensemble show. That Netflix is the one to decide this now has me worried...
selenak: (Catherine Weaver by Miss Mandy)
I had an extremely busy last few days, of which pictures will follow in due time. (Attended a conference in Switzerland, am en route back to place of residence, which is a looong trip.) But even when busy, I did have the chance to check out the news now and then. Seems the Orange Menace was even more obnoxious close up than he was in what we saw on the news, because Angela Merkel is a) a confirmed Atlanticist, and b) extremely cautious in her public statements. I mean, this is the woman who if anything got critiqued through the years for not showing emotion and spontanity, who had to put up with the likes of Putin trying to spook her with a dog (she was bitten as a child, which he knew), Dubya going for an unwanted shoulder squeeze, Berlusconi being... Berlusconi, and of course supposed ally and adorer of autocrats Horst Seehofer lecturing her on stage in public for fifteen minutes on how she sucked a little more than a year ago. And she never flinched. She's no stranger to boorish and/or game playing male polticians, is what I'm saying, and she never comments. Well, commented. (It took her eons to say something about the NSA/her phone being bugged in the Obama days, too, and when she finally did, not least because the nation was seething, she left it to her press secretary.) So for her to publically state what she did, see here, is in Merkel terms downright letting her hair down.

Meanwhile, in fannish news. During the last few weeks, I watched both the second season of Sense 8 and the second season of I Zombie. (Am looking forward to the second season of The Last Kingdom, which was just put up today.) On to the S8 review.

Sense8: continues to be a wild mix of good and bad. As now all the regulars know each other, it could focus on them providing support and being found family in their interactions, as opposed to having the "getting to know you" stage first. And that was delightful. So were almost everyone's interactions with their non-Sensate friends/loved ones, several of whom got showcased as well and given more background. Team Nomi and Team Lito were my favourites here, between the spoilery things ), and other spoilery things ). Also liked Sun's plot and the new characters we meet in it, though am vaguely amused that the directors never seem to miss an opportunity to show her in her underwear. Yes, your sister is the Terminator, boo-hiss villain.

On the other hand: Kala's subplot started with a season 1 problem I had, to wit, that her spoilery degree of relation ) still makes zero sense to me in terms of rl Indian politics. Sorry, as long as a Hindu fundamentalist party like the BJP is in power, no rich industrialist who hopes to make it in politics would as much as admit to an atheistic thought. And "anti idolitary law"? This sounds about as likely as, say, the governor of a Bible Belt state in the US pushing for a law that would ask any pregnant woman to be told about the joys of abortion. Which is to say: it sounds like a crazy right wing fantasy designed to make the dominant power into the persecuted minority, and I don't know what JMS and the Wachowskis are thinking. Thankfully, this particular bit of weirdness stops being mentioned after episode 4 or so. My other problem with Kala's plot line is that whenever an element that's new and would seem to demand a reaction changing things shows up, it seems to be counteracted. Spoilery example given. )

Kala was still doing better than Wolfgang this season, though. He had hands down the worst plot line. His interactions with Felix, hands down some of the most enjoyable aspects of Wolfgang's story last season, were kept to a minimum, the new characters felt like rejects from a cheap gangster movie (and sadly not one starring Lito), and if I never have to watch again a supposed femme fatale named Lila, it'll be too soon. I mean, I loved Lilah Morgan on Angel. But the Lila on Dexter later was extremely annoying instead of smart and alluring, and this one now just follows suit. The one point during Wolfgang's plot line where I perked up because my inner X-Men fan couldn't help it was, of course, when something spoilery happened ). Even the interactions Wolfgang has with his cluster, other than Kala, were kept to a minimum, when virtually every Wolfgang & character other than Kala from the cluster combination would have interested me more.

Capheus' storyline I'm a bit divided about, because I'm so rl burned on the universal adoration of the "honest, honest outsider person who never was in politics is the ideal solution for a troubled country" and lines like "we're not looking for a politician, we're looking for a leader" make me flinch for just that reason. Otoh I liked the reporter, AND the argument that if you eternally bitch about politicians yet refuse to get into politics yourself, you're part of the problem resonated with me.

Will and Riley: had a bit of a role reversal this season, as due to last season's ending Riley was the one getting to do the active stuff while Will was the damsel. (Though not entirely. And btw, the two pay offs for his cat and mouse games with Whisper were great.) Unexpected Sylvester McCoy was fun to watch, and I hope for more of him next season. Otherwise, I was okay with their story without being either wildly enthusiastic or irritated by it.

Angelika: though dead, turns from a plot device into a character this season as we learn more and more about her. Jonas, meanwhile, stays a plot device, albeit a good looking one.

Lastly: Nitpicking of the travelling type ).

All complaints not withstanding, though, I do enjoy the show, its unabashed emotionalness and commitment to diversity in all forms, and its ensemble spirit. And I look forward to season 3!
selenak: (Porthos by Chatona)
I had stopped watching early on due to fatigue with what looked like yet another run of the "evil councillor whom the King listens to versus Musketeers" plot, but [personal profile] londonkds convinced me there was more to the last season than this, and as Netflix put the third season up in my region, I have now watched the remainder. All in all, I'm good (and in one case amused) with where everyone in this particular incarnation of the tale ended up, and it definitely made for a better ending than the second season would have.

Read more... )
selenak: (Arthur by Voi)
Watched this on Netflix, because Zombies seemed like a good alterntive to news featuring the horror clown. (TM our tabloids. For once, I like a phrase they coined.) Also because I heard good things from this effort by Rob Thomas, he who produced Veronica Mars.

So, my impressions: there are some VM parallels - our heroine transformed, in backstory revealed in pilot, from popular member of (her) society with bright future ahead into misfit due to traumatic event. Her new existence at the periphery/the underbelly gives her a new perspective and a snarky attitude. She's broken up with her earlier love but he's not gone from her life completely, and in the course of the pilot, she bonds with new allies. And of course, there's the case of the week format with an ongoing narrative arc underneath. Only where Veronica Mars went for noir tropes and structures, IZombie uses that of a procedural.

This being said, iZombie stands on its own legs, so to speak. It quickly establishes its core ensemble of characters, and uses the zombie Macguffin in an inventive way to justify the "solves murder of the week" format - turns out consuming someone's brain gives you some of the deceased person's memories and personality traits, until you move on to the next brain. Liv taking a job at the morgue to have access to the brains of the deceased solves her personal nourishment problem, but the show makes the obvious next question - what about zombies who don't have that possibility to get at brains from already dead people? - trigger for the long term arc and etablishing of our seasonal antagonist, Blaine, played by David Anders enjoying himself as an amoral villain with great capitalist gifts - creating a market takes on a new meaning with him. Getting a bit more spoilery about that. )

(Speaking of actors I know from other shows, there's also Bradley James, aka Arthur from Merlin, as Lowell Tracey, British guitarist/singer and temporary alternate love interest of our heroine. I'm usually touchy re: the treatment alternate love interests get when it's obvious from the start they're not meant to be end game but a temporary distraction for our central character, but "who will Liv choose?" Is actually not a question the show asks (at least in season 1 it doesn't), and I thought it played fair by Lowell, making him into a character, not just a plot device. Also Bradley James is pretty charming as Not!Arthur.)

Liv, our heroine, who gets jolted out of her post-zombiefication malaise in the pilot when she realises she can use this dreadful thing that happened to her in constructive ways that give her hope, makes for an endearing central character, though I have to say I didn't really buy the plot's justification for her withholding crucial information from her former fiance after a certain point. That the show itself lampshaded this by letting Ravi, Liv's boss at the morgue and bff throughout, raise all the good arguments why she should share, didn't help. Like I said, I didn't really buy her counter argument, though to its credit, her emotional state in that particular scene WAS believable.

Ravi (her boss at the morgue) and Clive (the cop whom she becomes a crime-solving duo with) are both poc, and develop a delightful raport with Liv, which hits my soft spot for male & female friendship. Yes, they're male, if you're keeping score, and if there's a nitpick, then it's that Liv's sole female friend, her roommate Peyton, in the first season at least doesn't get nearly as much presence and personality as either. But of course that could change in later seasons; as a district attorney, the show can use her more in the crimes of the week than it did here.

Major, Liv's ex whom she broke up solely due to zombiefication pre pilot, is almost too good to be true (sense of humor, social worker who cares passionately, hunk) but gets put through the wringer in the course of the season as he tries to find out what happened to some of the kids he attempted to help. What eventually happens is another case of "well, I saw that coming, but the denouement afterwards elevates it to "well played, show, well played".

In conclusion: witty dialogue, morbid humor (obviously), yet also treats its dead as people not canon fodder. Excellent distraction, if you're in need. The first season had 13 episodes.
selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
As has been pointed out to me after I posted my recent book review, the tv series Versailles is now available, and thus I could finish marathoning it (all ten episodes) just before leaving for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair.

So, as historical series go: on a scale from cheerfully ahistorical teen soap a la Reign to show beloved by critics, historians and viewers alike a la John Adams, Versailles is... Somewhere on a level with The Tudors (though it has more authentic looking costumes). Which is to say: mixes the occasional clever historical detail/interpretation with lots more blatantly invented stuff and historical nonsense, firm emphasis on the soap opera and the sex, but no such howlers as worshipping pagans and religiously tolerant Mary Stuart in Reign. The original characters don't carry cheerfully anachronistic names, either.

Spoilery musings follow )
selenak: (Omar by Monanotlisa)
I liked, but didn't love it. (Though I dearly wish I could have done, for the obvious reason.) Partly for tangible reasons - which I'll get to in the spoilery section of the review -, and partly for reasons that are all about it emotional resonance, which has nothing to do with objective criteria. Of the Marvel tv shows, Jessica Jones and Agent Carter, different as they are from each other, grab me on a deeply personal level, Daredevil and Luke Cage do not. (And I still haven't gotten around to Agents of SHIELD.)

What's great about Luke Cage: definitely the Marvel show with the best sense of place, says the non-American tourist who's been to Harlem all but two times. Even with that qualification, though: for all that Daredevil has both Matt and Wilson Fisk go on and on about "my city" re: Hell's Kitchen, I never got a sense from the show of what Hell's Kitchen is like as opposed to other sections of tv and movie New York. In Luke Cage, Harlem is definitely a character, and main locations such as Pop's Barber shop or Cottonmouth's night club aren't ornamental but crucial to the plot, and part of several people's characterisation.

Also, this is a good ensemble show; it builds up its characters, gives them important relationships with each other, not solely with the hero. And not to delay stating the obvious any longer, all but two or so of the minor supporting characters are black, and so, articles about the show tell me, are the writers, which is still unusual enough to be noted in the publicity for the show, apparantly. There is no attempt to pander to the audience by inserting one of those supposed audience surrogate white characters into the narrative, and the show is the better for it.

And one more general observation: it's an unabashedly geeky show, with Luke as well as several other characters often depicted reading and discussing novels as well as movies. (Even in the last scene of the season finale.) I love that about it.

With all those virtues, what's keeping me from loving the show?

Well, there's... )

None of this means, btw, that Mike Colter isn't appealing in the central role - he makes Luke quietly charismatic with a sense of humor, and I'd take him over Matt Murdoch any day. And did I mention he's into debating favourite books and movies?

So all in all, flaws not withstanding, it was a show I enjoyed watching. But not one that leaves me with the urge to rewatch, if I had the time, or with the need for more.
selenak: (Ray and Shaz by Kathyh)
Starring Cecilia Bartoli as Maria; I saw it on Thursday and with one important caveat loved it. If you've read/heard about the production, you'll probably be familiar with the central gimmick; the critic of the Süddeutsche Zeitung suspected it's the result of the director anticipating cruel remarks re: the age difference between Cecilia Bartoli and the rest of the youthful cast, and preventing it by using that very age difference: the production is Maria, decades after Tony's death, remembering the events of her youth.

This I knew in advance, but what I hadn't known was that there's also a young Maria on stage, which works out surprisingly well. Young Maria does all the speaking and interacting, and the fact that older Maria (I can't write "old" Maria, because La Bartoli is a youthful looking 50 something) can't touch any of the characters (until the very end) contributes to the poignancy, though she sometimes acts as a mirror/contrast to her younger self in movements. Young Maria wears the traditional white dress until the last scene, older Maria the black dress from the last scene throughout. This concepts also changes the context/subtext of several songs: "I feel pretty", for example, is now older Maria looking back with amusement and a mixture of joy and longing to her young self, and "Tonight", in addition to being young Tony and Maria being passionately in love, is also older Maria with Cecilia Bartoli's mature mezzo soprano voice longing for what she's lost. The arrangement for "Somewhere" in this production isn't a duet between Tony and Maria, it's older Maria, having just relived the deaths of her brother and Riff and knowing what's to come for Tony, grieving and protesting fate. And so forth.

Unfortunately, where this is all working towards is my one big nitpick/caveat/complaint/what have you, the very end of the production: Which is spoilery even if you're familiar with West Side Story. )

Other thoughts: the production was firmly set in the late 50s (as indicated by the boys' hair cuts and girls' dresses), with no attempt to update, but the blatant racism shown towards the Puerto Ricans and all the "who asked you to come here?" had very present day resonance for the audience; you could tell. Which is why I regret the production uses the original arrangement for "America" (i.e. Anita and her friends), not the revised arrangement and lyrics from the movie version (all the Sharks), because I heretically happen to consider the later one better, especially in the current day situation, see also this old entry as to the reasons, complete with quotes. Otoh the production swayed me a bit on my other movie-caused perference, i.e. the switch of places between "Cool" and "Gee, Officer Kruppke". In its original place, as in this production, "Cool" contributes to working up the tension among the Jets that's about to become lethal none too much later.

About that, though: seeing how skillfully Tony shames/manipulates the Jets and Sharks earlier into a one on one fist fight instead of the big rumble, it's frustrating to see him go about stopping the fight incredibly clumsily and with apparantly no plan beyond "I'll just say stop". Here, good old Shakespeare made the relevant plot point more plausible (i.e. Tybalt challenges Romeo, Romeo, newly wed to Juliet, has no intention of accepting, Mercutio is angry on his behalf and starts to fight Tybalt instead, Romeo tries to stop it, Mercutio's death happens, etc. On the other hand, I agreed, once again, with Arthur Laurents' boast that he bettered Shakespeare on the final tragic twist; Romeo simply not getting Friar Laurents' letter because the plague hits Mantua is an accident, the Jets assaulting Anita, thereby causing her not to deliver Maria's message to Tony, is directly related to the hatred and feuding that's been going on through the play. And that assault scene remains shoking and yet one of those instances where I consider it dramatically necessary and justified to have been written. (BTW, it's always interesting to see what the individual productions do with Anybodys during that scene. Most I've seen let her back off - but not intervene - when she realises where this is going; this one, taking its cue from the fact she's taunting Anita verbally early on, lets her be one of the pack assaulting Anita, the ultimate consequence of her desire to be one of the boys, and then caught up the shame when Doc puts an end to it.)

Bernstein's music remains glorious no matter how often I listen to it, and it occured to me that the lyrics for "Officer Kruppke" with their wordplay and sarcasm are classic Sondheim already. I wish these two would have collaborated more often. Then again, who's to say that more masterpieces would have resulted - maybe the uniqueness of the situation contributed to it.

In conclusion: despite my objection to the ending, a great experience in the theatre. Definitely worth a trip to Salzburg for.
selenak: (River Song by Famira)
Aka Big Finish using the fact they finally got license for the New Who characters, big time. This audio series consists of four episodes, about an hour long, each written by a different writer and with an overreaching story arc, though each adventure is more or less self contained as well. Continuity-wise, this seems to be post-Demon's Run, pre-Library (obviously) in River's time line. It also was conceived and produced before The Husbands of River Song was broadcast, I'd wager, because this River on her own while still capable of ruthlessness has a much stronger commitment to ethics than the one from the most recent Christmas Special.

Overall impression: enjoyable, Alex Kingston is great, of course, the guest voice actors are good, and so far it navigates around the inherent prequel problem of us knowing River's ending and the way she can't come face to face with any pre-Ten Doctor in a memorable way pretty well. When I heard that the Eighth Doctor guest stars in one of the episodes, I assumed he'll get yet another case of amnesia (because this keeps happening to Eight), but no, the writer of the episode in question solves the continuity problem another way. Go him! The season also, like Doctor Who itself, uses the opportunity to try different types of tropes.

Individual episodes:

The Boundless Sea, written by Jenny T. Colgan: allows River to start out depressed and shaken, instead of being the unflappable-no-matter-the-trauma guest star she usually is on DW. This not being season 6 of Buffy, she gets over it in the course of the episode's adventure, which is essentially a classical Universal horror story with walking mummies in Egypt (if you've read my Penny Dreadful reviews, you know this part satisfied an urge), complete with clueless (OR ARE THEY?) archaelogists and civil servants. The episode's "monster" is more like a tragic antagonist and also an obvious reflection/counterpart of River herself (originally entombed for the sake of her husband), though I'm not sure I buy what the script seems to be getting at. Introduces Alexander "Mordred from Merlin" Vlahos' character Bertie Potts.

I went to a marvellous party, written by Justin Richards: introduces the season's true antagonists, the self-styled "Rulers", who are the classic type of rich privileged callous bastards you love to boo-hiss at. Also a Christie-homage paying murder mystery and a con story. Alexander Siddig's character is a bit of a let down in that he's not around for long and doesn't interact with River much, but River solving the mystery while also tricking the "Rulers" and screwing them over was very satisfying to listen to.

Signs by James Goss: co-starring Samuel West, and essentially Gaslight in space. Very creepy for what is clear to the audience though not River (for plot reasons) from the start. Also inadvertendly supplying an additional explanation as to why River has trouble realising Twelve is the Doctor in The Husbands of River Song. West is good in a role that's spoilery, sweetie ). Not one to re-listen to, I don't think, though not because it's not good.

The Rulers of the Universe, written by Matt Fitton: in which the various plot threads from previous episodes come together, there's a showdown with two antagonists at once, both the "Rulers" and the ones introduced in "Signs", and River manages to work with the Eighth Doctor to save the day without actually meeting him, and yet they interact, sort of. (It's great team work, btw.) Both how River foils the Rulers and how the Doctor foils Those Other Guys are classic for the characters, and it's a good conclusion to this audio-season.

Wishes for season 2: has Big Finish the rights for Amy and Rory, too? Because I really truly want an episode long interaction between River and her parents post-reveal.
selenak: (Ace up my sleeve by Kathyh)
Big Finish has started doing dramatizations of the Doctor Who New Adventures novels that were published in the 1990s. Both audios I aquired in Britain feature the Seventh Doctor, but admittedly that was a minor reason for picking these two instead of others; I picked "All Consuming Fire" because it co-stars Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, and I picked "Damaged Goods" because the young Doctor Who fan turned writer responsible for the original novel was one Russell T. Davies.


Damaged Goods: [personal profile] londonkds told me that RTD hadn't wanted the novel to be republished once New Who hit the screens, which would have been an option, because he considered it too violent and dark for the kids. Having listened to the audio, which, googling a description of the novel tells me, Big Finish did brighten up a bit: no kidding. Even the Big Finish death score is still high, but that's actually the least of it (after all, both Old and New Who have the occasional episode where a lot of people die, if usually off screen - there was that time the Master wiped out a quarter of the galaxy back in Five's day, for example). It's the psychological and emotional darkness in one of the major plot threads.

Damaged Goods foreshadows a lot of later RTD, and not just because there's an estate family, last name Tyler, involved, joining Vince Tyler from Queer as Folk, Rose Tyler from DW and Johnny Tyler from The Second Coming. (I swear, if our Rusty ever writes a story set in the Stone Age, you can bet there will be a Neanderthal by the name of Ty-Ler.) The Doctor sends the TARDIS away early in the story because Reasons, and the action takes place entirely in late 80s Britain in a working class council estate. It's ensemble-tastic, and one of the major guest characters, David, is gay and after the male Companion, Chris. (The Companions, Chris and Roz, were from the New Adventures, I take it, not RTD original creations, but this is there debut in Big Finish; they're played by RTD veterans, Travis Oliver and Yasmin Bannerman.) Chris' subplot allows for a very RTD subversion of a certain cliché; at first, when Chris seems to ignore David's various code-spoken hints about "one of us", "a friend of Dorothy" etc., it seems like the conventional joke of a straight character not getting that a gay one is making a pass, but then, when David says "you really have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?", Chris impatiently retorts "yeah, I get that you're hitting on me, what I don't get is why you don't just ask instead of all this code talk" (because Chris isn't from the 1980s but from the future, where categories aren't relevant - hello, Jack). This, google tells me, in the novel leads to actual sex; Big Finish toned it down from a blow job to just snogging for the audio version (no blow job in Big Finish?), but either way, leave it to RTD to let the "Companion and guest character flirt" trope result in m/m for once.

(Otherwise, David is luckier than his novel counter part; spoilery fate comparisons ensue ))

The middle-aged mother figure is divided between the good one (working class Winnie Tyler) and the bad one (upper class Eva Jericho), though just how much Eva's actions are the result from her going bonkers for plot reasons and how much is character is up to debate. Because of a dialogue between Eva and her husband that reminded me a bit of the COBRA scene from Torchwood: Children of Earth where Denise Riley suggests statistics to deal with a certain selection (it's that type of class cruelty verbalized), I'm going with "character, with worst traits amplified due to plot" myself. Anyway, the Mrs. Jericho subplot is the one I was referring to when saying I get why this one isn't for children. (Otoh Eva in the audio has a moment of redemption she doesn't have in the novel, according to google.)

Other than Eva and the British class system, the antagonist/threat/menace of Damaged Goods is an ancient Gallifreyan weapon reminding us that the Time Lords had a spectacularly nasty imagination when it comes to creating these things. Spoilery plot detail discussed that connects this with New Who and Old Who alike ) There's also the dastardly scientist conducting experiments who shows up not just in RTD written stories, granted, but, this being an RTD story, turns out to be working for - well, that differs from the novel (which tied him to an ongoing New Adventures subplot) and the audio (which instead has him working for another Rusty creation, give you three guesses which one.) And various drug dealers, drugs being one of the plot threats mingling the late 80s estate setting with the sci fi. (The drug in the audio is called "Smile"; in the novel, it's plain old cocaine. The function is the same, plot wise.)

Doctor and Companions characterisation: this is a post-Ace, melancholic Seven, though he does indulge in a magic trick in order to get one of the kids to trust him. Roz is a classic no-nonsense sensible and compassionate RTD female; Chris comes across as a bit more reckless and less sensible, but he also does the emotional bonding with locals (and not just because David hits on him). Neither of them looks like they are in danger of making the Doctor the center of their universe. That Roz is black while Chris is white is mentioned two times, but otherwise doesn't impact the plot.

Pace: after establishing "The Quadrant", the estate in which most of the action takes place, it's pretty rapid, but with enough room for character and comedy scenes (the cultural misunderstanding between David and Jack, the somewhat tense situation between Winnie Tyler and her daughter Bev) and the pitch black dysfunctional marriage scene where Eva Jericho crosses the moral horizon and which RTD later cribbed for his Second Coming. (I checked; it seems to be identical in the original novel and the audio, not changed via adaption.)

In conclusion: worth listening to, even if it leaves you reeling, because the story does make you care about its characters.

All Consuming Fire: original novel by Andy Lane, also a later veteran, and in fact at least in the audio adaption a bit more heavy on the Sherlock Holmes side than on the Doctor Who side of crossover-dom. The first half is narrated entirely by Watson, Bernice Summerfield (the original space archaelogist with ties to the Doctor long before River Song was a blink in Stephen Moffat's eye) doesn't show up until the second half of the story, and Ace, minus two very brief cameos, not until the last 15 minutes. Before that point, it's Holmes and Watson on the case, occasionally running into a mysterious stranger defying the Sherlock Scan because Holmes can't tell anything about his origins other than the mud on his shoes not being from earth.

Within this premise, the story is, as I said, great fun. The Doctor is suitably enigmatic and twinkly for the occasion, Watson has the good taste of flirting with Bennie even if he's a bit taken aback by her forwardness, and Holmes is somewhat irritated by the Doctor but far too logical and pragmatic not to take help when it comes in useful. In a postmodern twist on Doyle's imperialist tropes, the dastardly Indian cult involved is actually a dastardly British Empire cult (and while Holmes and Watson are faithful subjects, they definitely don't agree with murder, hence aren't deterred from pursuing). And there are cats! What the Doctor does re: the cats at the end is one of my favourite things about the story.

Now I could nitpick that I seem to recall Sherlock Holmes was said to be a fictional character in the Whoverse as early as the Second Doctor's era, but who cares? Not this listener. Highly enjoyable.
selenak: (Scarlett by Olde_fashioned)
More obscure British 1970s bio miniseries tv not produced by the BBC. Or not so obscure, since this one won its leading lady a BAFTA, but it was certainly new to me.

Reasons for watching: was scripted by Julian Mitchell (who due to "Another Country" and "Vincent and Theo" has a lot of good will on my part), stars a lot of classy actors in supporting parts (Jeremy Brett, THE Sherlock Holmes, as one of Jennie's lovers, Count Kinsky - really his name; Sian Philips, the Empress Livia herself, as Stella Patrick Campbell, the actress who makes off with Jennie's second husband; Patrick "The Second Doctor" Throughton as Benjamin Disraeli), and of course I was curious about a 70s take on the enterprising Jennie, the anti-Henry James heroine in that she was an American girl in Europe marrying into the aristocracy more often than not winning at sex and politics alike. Also, of course, she produced Winston Churchill who adored her ("'She shone for me like the evening star").

It's a seven parts miniseries covering Jennie's life from her meeting Randolph, younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, till her death. Jennie is played by Lee Remick, and remarkably for a female leading lady, she's actually allowed to age on screen, albeit only in the last two episodes, and the aging make-up, compared to ther 70s efforts, isn't bad, either. (Seriously: I'm still annoyed by the much more recent Queen of the Desert about Gertrude Bell, a film with which many things are wrong, and that Nicole Kidman, playing a woman travelling outdoors for years, looks the same - young - age for decades is but one.) The scripts are witty and Wildean, weaving the actual aphorisms (Jennie about husband No.3: "I have a past, he has a future, we should be fine") in effortlessly. Remarkakbly for a female main character who is the mother of a famous historical figure, Jennie, not unlikely for a woman in her class and age, isn't depicted as overflowing with motherhood during the childhood of her two sons but leaves much of the actual raising to servants and boarding schools, getting truly involved only once the boys are old enough to have challenging conversations with ("hm, Winnie, you're going to be interesting after all"), and that isn't something the narrative condems her for or presents as a disaster.

Mitchell, Google tells me, had access to the Churchills papers for this, including the Jennie-Randolph correspondence, but his depiction of Randolph dying of syphilis is nonetheless now outdated, the internet also tells me which says Randolph probably died of a brain tumor. Be that as it may, the Jennie-Randolph marriage of course takes up a great part of the first half of the show, with Jennie depicted as a "political wife" who thoroughly enjoys throwing herself into campaigning and who very much shares Randolph's ambitions to make it to the top, not just because she loves him (though she does), but because she wants to get to No.10 herself, and it's one of her life's frustrations she never does (and doesn't live long enough to see Winston there, either, she dies in 1921). The falling apart of the marriage is mostly blamed on the syphilis, with Jennie going from flirtation to actual affair with Count Kinsky only after Randolph has revealed it to her (which btw is a fantastic scene). (Jennie's non-Kinsky affairs are discreetly referenced in dialogue, leaving it open which are flirts and which are more, except those which end up in marriage. The only man other than Kinsky whom we see Jennie with and whom she doesn't end up marrying is the Prince of Wales, and there again the scene is ambigous enough to leave it open whether it's a friendship with benefits or not - they're having breakfast together - fully dressed - and chatting about her current younger lover whom she intends to marry, which he advises her against.)

The most enduring relatonship Jennie has with another woman is with her sister Leonie, which is a fun sibling relationship consisting equally of bickering and support; the family dynamics in general are fun with a touch of the dysfunctional that never gets really dark, with Jennie's two grown up sons, Winston and Jack, being less than thrilled about husband No.2, George, who is exactly as old as Winston (not least because Winston is afraid this will harm his election chances and cause public ridicule) but basically leaving it at eye rolling over George who is depicted as something of a brainless boytoy without malice. (Winston hides in his treehouse from having to interact with him at one point when George wants to go on a drive together, I kid you not. Bear in mind both men are in their late 20s. The treehouse keeps getting used.) They're also a family great at verbal sparring and general wit but Mitchell never lets them get truly hurtful against each other, except for Randolph when he's already deranged by syphilis. Oh, and there is this gem in the last episode in a post WWI party:

Supporting Character A: Everyone keeps saying "Freud says" or "according to Freud" - who IS Freud, do you know?
Supporting Character B: The chap who claims all men are really in love with their mothers.
Camera: pans to Winston, watching Jennie dance enchantedly
Supporting Character A: How ridiculous.

I see what you did there, Julian Mitchell. Seriously though, while both of Jennie's daughters-in-law are depicted as amiable ladies with whom she gets on much better than she did with her own mother-in-law, she's presented as THE woman in both her sons' lives, not just in the sense of being their confidant but also their political support.

Which brings me to one of the few frustrations I had with the show: the utter lack of actual political context. By which I mean: when Jennie is campaigning for Randolph or Randolph is making speeches in the House, there is no information given as to what the opposition thinks. When Winston changes parties from Tory to Liberal pre WWI, we find this out via a highly entertaining Winston and George passive aggressive taking pot shots at each other scene, which is all very well (and as I said highly entertaining) but gives absolutely no information as to why Winston did this, or what Jennie (a life long Tory) thinks of it. When Jennie is indignant about Winston losing his war time Lord of the Admiralty post and rails against PM Asquith's treachery and how Winston is made a scapegoat, it would have helped to get some information about just why Asquith had to sack Winston and why Churchill's performance in WWI was considered such a royal screw up, but no, we don't get any of this. The entire miniseries is so tunnel vision Tory-as-tied-to-Churchills pov that it's almost a miracle that during the Boer war, we get the closest thing it ever does to voicing what other people think. The scene: Jennie wants to organize a demonstration of US support for the British war effort. A friend, played by Zoe Wannamaker, points out that um, a lot of Americans are actually pro-Boer in this war, and "well, Jennie, I don't agree with what Britain is doing, either". Then Jennie who is excellent at winning people over does her Jennie thing and tells her friend that surely, supporting Jennie's effort to send a medical ship to the war which would also accept Boer patients is something her friend CAN do, the friend agrees, end of scene. Any information as to why "a lot of Americans" weren't Team Britain in the Boer war? Not given. The Boer war is important in this show because war correspondant Winston gets captured and escapes, not because, say, the concentration camp is invented, or patriotic hysteria prefigures the WWI climate; none of this is as much as hinted at.

(The contrast to the equally 70s miniseries about David Lloyd George I watched last year is especially starting in this regard, though of course Lloyd George taking an unpopular stand against the Boer war and nearly getting lynched as a result was a big event in his career so there had to be some depiction of context.)

All in all: entertaining, witty, also a feast for the eyes (Jennie being one of the heralded beauties of the age, Lee Remick gets to wear a lot of gorgeous dresses), but amazingly uncritical about the British Empire and its attitudes from the future author of Another Country.
selenak: (Bardolatry by Cheesygirl)
Another result from my London trip: this miniseries from 1978, the existence of which had been unknown to me before. It stars a young Tim Curry as Shakespeare, a young Ian McShane as Christopher Marlowe, and was written by John Mortimer of Rumpole of the Bailey fame.

Structure wise, it consists of six episodes covering the ca. 16 years Shakespeare spent in London, each episode putting one of the works in central focus. (Mostly plays, but episode 3 picks the Sonnets for plot obvious reasons.) As far as attempts to tackle the Bard in screen fiction are concerned, this works far better than the Rupert Graves starring movie I came back with last year. Not least because the Lord Chamberlain's Men players actually get to do more than cameos and are real characters - especially Jack Rice, who in this version plays most of the Shakespearean heroines (and btw, the staging of the Elizabethan theatre scenes does this without attempt at camp when he's playing them, as opposed to the brief excerpt from the A Midsummer Night's Dream mechanicals scene, which goes for the traditional broad comedy) -, and because the characterisation keeps the balance between sympathetic and flawed for Shakespeare himself. Which is to say: he's likeable and he's a lousy husband and father, which the series is aware of, not either/or, and there's no attempt made to blame Anne for either. (Anne and the kids don't show up before episode 4, but when they do, it's clear whose fault the situation is.)

Given the 1978 production date and the fact the miniseries does inevitably go the "the Fair Youth and the Dark Lady were real people" route, I was curious how they handle the sexuality question. Turns out that while we don't get as much as an m/m kiss, the Will/Southhampton relationship (the miniseries goes with Southhampton as Mr. W.H.) is unambigiously romantic. In fact, he solely beds the Dark Lady because he's jealous that Will's spending time with her, while Will partly goes into that affair because he wants something not-Hal (Henry Wriothsley, Earl of Southhampton, goes by the "Hal" moniker here, and draw your Shakespearean conclusions) in his life. The narrative isn't very interested in the Dark Lady per se - here, she's a fictional character named Mary Fleminge, wife of a Judge - and she's far less on screen than Hal who shows up in episode 2 and remains in the series till the end. He's one of the more interesting Mr. W.H.'s, not just drop dead gorgeous to look at (actor: Nicholas Clay), which is a requirement given all the sonnet praise, but charming enough to make it clear why Will sticks around for more than patronage and aesthetics; reckless; also completely privileged and incapabable of seeing other povs, until the disaster of the Essex rebellion and his stint in the Tower give him a wake up call, at which point he belatedly grows up, but into self serving courtier ridding himself of his scandalous past. He doesn't exactly tell Will "I know thee not" when the later commits the faux pas of calling him "Hal" at court (in Will's defense, this is the first time they've seen each other since Southampton was released from the Tower), but he does pretend not to know him.

Curry, whom I've mostly seen in over the top roles, plays Will as mostly a low-key keen observer with something of a wild streak that Marlowe and Southampton bring out, a good friend and colleague to the players but also with a streak of selfishness re: anyone from Stratford. He adores his son but only as long as the kid doesn't make uncomfortable demands, and has zilch interest in his daughters. (This being a 70s series, you could of course argue whether or not this is intentional male chauvinism as a flaw, but given that we get a scene where Will makes up a story (a Midsummer Night's Dream, btw, which makes me wonder, since this predates Sandman, whether Neil Gaiman watched this) for Hamnet and then cut to Judith asking Anne whether her father will ever invent a story for her the way he does for her twin, I'm going with "intentional". (Seriously, though, there are a lot of echoes/foreshadowings/what not to the Sandman "Dream" story if you've read it - Hamnet is welcomed by the players in costume as Titania and Oberon and Jack Rice-as-Titania tells him he'll stay in their realm, for example.)

Except for Marlowe, no other writer shows up (so much for you, Johnson, Beaumont and Fletcher), and Marlowe is only in the first episode (which is very much about him and called "Dead Shephard"), but young Ian McShane has predictable fun in the part; the series' interpretation of Marlowe is that he craved real life danger and excitement, not just the written variety, thus volunteered for spying, but made no bones of the fact he had equal distate for both Protestants and Catholics, which ended up getting him distrusted and killed. The "those who do not love boys or tobacco" quote is used, and the two scenes where Marlowe first gets young Will to write Henry VI, Part I for him since he's too bored by the premise ("baronnial bullies waring with each other, none better than the others") and later beta-reads/edits in his Marlowian way (where he gets Will to come up with a personal nightmare scenario to spice up the play, and Will's personal nightmare is, of course, a father killing a son) in their McShane/Curry combination are golden.

Other memorable scenes: the sequence where Jack Rice blackmails the other players into letting him play Lady Anne in Richard III, pulls off a good performance and then later tells Richard Burbage not to stand in a way that makes it impossible for the groundlings to see Rice-as-Anne's face; Will and Hal smouldering at each other; Anne making verbal mincemeat out of Will when he tries to pull the "at least I send money!" defense; Essex and Southampton persuading the players to stage Richard II (that entire episode works like a tense political thriller) in order to promote Essex' rebellion, and then the actual staging (Bolingbroke's player none too subtly costumed in a way that echoes Essex); Elizabeth I. in the fallout orders Shakespeare to play Falstaff scenes for her, and there is a lot of cross cutting from the Queen's face to Will's (that episode parallels Elizabeth/Essex with Will/Hal in that both Elizabeth and Will know the object of their affection is really not worth it but care, and in that scene there's the added layer that Will doesn't know yet whether the players are truly off the hook re: rebellion participation, plus he's worried that Southampton will follow Essex to the block, while the playwright in him is also fascinated by Elizabeth having ordered a man she loves to die, and how she deals with that - he's observing her all the tie); and the already mentioned scene where newly reformed and in King James' favour Hal snubs Will (who is at court because the Lord Chamberlain's men have just become the King's Men).

Faults: the series has so little interest in the Dark Lady/Mary Fleming that we open the relevant episode in medias res, i.e. she already knows Will, and her decision to have sex with Southampton basically happens between two eye blinks with no more motivation than "he's there, I might as well". And while Jack Rice is a fascinating character in the first half of the miniseries, he's reduced to minor supporting player in the second, which may not be a fault given what else is going on, but it irks me because I liked the character so much. Also, I'm still waiting for the Shakespeare bio tv or movie that uses Ben Jonson (and by use, I don't mean him just being name dropped but being his colorful self), and while we're at it, uses Will's younger brother Edmund who was a player, too, for a while.

In conclusion: worth watching, if you can get your hands on it. Oh, for youngsters: this being a 70s series, it also has a 70s pace.
selenak: (Scarlett by Olde_fashioned)
Some of the loot from my recent London trip:

Effie Gray, which I mostly wanted to watch because Emma Thompson wrote the script. She also plays a supporting role, but given her script for Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility was superb, I was looking forward to this other effort in the writing department. It's a cinematic take on a notoriously bad Victorian marriage, that between our title character, played by Dakota Fanning and John Ruskin, played by Emma Thompsons rl significant other, Greg Wise, in a far cry from his Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility. Between ridiculed as a a pretentious fob in Mr. Turner and depicted as an occasionally pitiable and otherwise tyrannical creep here, Ruskin had a bad cinematic 2014, all the since what he was actually famous and beloved for - and the Ruskin-influenced people included artists as diverse as Tolstoy, Wilde and Shaw - is hard to get across in a movie that's not really about him: philosophy and art criticism are hard to dramatize, which means that when Ruskin's suffocatingly overprotective parents keep harping on his genius, an audience not versed in Victoriana is bound to wonder "genius in what?"

No matter. Effie, who, me being a German, inevitably reminded me of fictional Effie Briest, the heroine of Fontane's novel of the same name, marries Ruskin at age 16, has one of the weirdest documented wedding nights when the sight of her naked body ends any attempt at sexual relations before they really start (biographers' speculation as to what exactly put Ruskin off go from the sight of Effie's pubic hair - on the assumption that Ruskin's only familiarity with the female body before this event would have been via paintings, which tend to avoid said hair -, to speculating she was menunstruating to suspecting body odour, finds herself as an ornament in the Ruskin household without anything to do or any companionship to engage in, starts to develop depression and physical ailments and finally, after falling for painter John Millais, gets some legal advice and sues for divorce based on non-consummation and impotence (which is why we know about the wedding night), which is granted, to the scandal of the age. Thompson in her script puts the emphasis on Effie's disintegrating marriage to Ruskin and final escape, not on the romance with Millais (down to the ending, which isn't Effie rushing in Millais' arms but Effie in her getaway chaise at liberty at last -, and on the suffocating, life less atmosphere in the Ruskin household. All of which is depicted sensitively, but also at length, and hard to bear before Effie finally has had enough, good as the actors are. Reminds me of Henry James' novel Portrait of a Lady in that way. Not one that I'll rewatch.

Dickensian: a witty Dickens/Dickens crossover show in 20 episodes, each episode only half an hour long. Basically glorious Dickens prequel fanfiction, with characters from various of his novels resettled to live all in roughly the same London area and crossing paths. This sometimes works perfectly and sometimes feels very forced, as such a premise is wont to do. The actors are clearly having a ball. The main plot threads holding the whole thing together: the "Who killed Jakob Marley?" murder mystery, with Inspector Bucket on the case, Miss Havisham (here given the first name of Amelia) taking on her father's heritage and being schemed against by her brother Arthur and dastardly future Great Expectations villain Compeyson, and the Barbary sisters, Frances and Honoria, whose tortured relationship with each other makes for one of the most compelling subplots. I thought Frances looked familiar in the pilot but not until the credits rolled on did I realise that she was played by Lucy Saxon herself, Alexandra Moen. Then there's the subplot involving Fagin, Nancy and Bill Sikes, which works, and the comic relief one of the Bumbles, which really doesn't (their scenes are easily the most obvious filler element of the show, but then, Dickens wrote lots of filler scenes due to the monthly installment format), not to mention cameo appearances from other worthies.

Like I said, there's some filler stuff, but I marathoned it these last days because it never ceased to hold my interest, and it certainly makes me want to check out Bleak House, the novel Honoria and Frances are from, which is a Dickens novel I haven't read yet. Plus I salute headwriter Tony Jordan and the actors for coming up with a take on Fagin which solves the eternal dilemma that otoh the Dickens original, an unambiguous villain, is hard to render because of the various antisemetic tropes used, but otoh the Oliver! musical version of Fagin as a lovable rogue is white washing and prettifying all the exploitation of children that Dickens was in a genuine rage about and misses the point of the character. Dickensian's Fagin is a hardcore villain and truly exploitative, but he does have some non-exploitative emotions, and is also clever and not be messed with. And the scene where he and pre-Reformation Scrooge encounter each other is a true delight.
selenak: (Richard III. by Vexana_Sky)
I almost didn't make it to the Almeida on Friday night, which, given that the chance to watch Ralph Fiennes and Vanessa Redgrave in Richard III was one of the reasons why I picked this particular week when my APs gave me a week in London for Christmas, would have been a not so fun irony. The London Underground played one of its tricks, with the Northern Line temporarily breaking down. But thanks to a taxi driver who had a hysterical foreigner in the form of yours truly at hand, I did make it in time. It was an excellent production, with one caveat, and reminded me how much The Hollow Crown version cut. (For example: that terse monologue about Hastings getting framed post-execution which makes it very contemporary indeed.) Contemporary costumes, except for the final battle scenes, for which everyone was in armor and had swords.

The play opened and ended at the car park in Leicester where they found historical Richard III's remains, which I took as an attempt to tie in the revived interest, because otherwise of course the production was firmly Shakespeare, not history, and not just the usual habit of casting middle aged actors as the York brothers but also the women in very different ages to their historical counterparts helps seeing the play as its own 'verse. Fiennes' Richard does the usual "clever mastermind loses it as soon as he actually has power trajectory - come to think of it, I guess the only ursurper whom Shakeskpeare allows to remain subtle instead of ham fisted is Claudius in Hamlet -, with an undercurrent of "both power hunger and misanthropy are the result of being loathed from birth", and he does it well. I've seen a complaint that he doesn't seduce the audience by being charming, complete with trajectory that Fiennes isn't able to. Having recently watched his Monsieur Gustave, I beg to differ: he can be charming, if the role calls for it. His version of Shakespeare's Richard doesn't; he's very compelling, though, more like a clever cobra taking out lots of hapless bunnies before realising he's stuck with lots of dead bodies and no idea what do actually do with them.

I hadn't been sure whether Vanessa Redgrave was playing Queen Margaret or the Duchess of York when [personal profile] londonkds asked me about it; turns out she was Margaret, far less mad than clear-sighted here, though Margaret carrying a baby doll around (which she in her second scene bequeathed to Elizabeth Woodville) was presumably a signal that she's not all there after all. Seriously, though, what I loved about the performance was that this Margaret was both tragic and and vengeful without being over the top about it. There was a stillness in Redgrave when she watched her enemies fall, a slight smile, that reminded even an audience that didn't listen to the textual reminder of her killing of Rutland and York that Margaret is no nice woman wronged, but an aged monster rendered powerless herself. The way she and Richard keep an eye on each other through Margaret's first scene also comes across as two predators knowing each other by instinct, or maybe it's also the star quality both actors have.

Redgrave aside, this was another production making it very clear that Tudor's appearance at the end not withstanding, Richard's true opponents in this play are the women. Hastings - who kept checking his twitter feed - was a bombastic, with non-malignant fool, Clarence naively blind, and Buckingham the not-so-faithful Lieutenant type considering himself somehow excempt from Richard's malignity out of sheer ego. Meanwhile, Joanna Vanderham was a very young (no idea how old the actress is, but she looked at least twenty, if not thirty years younger than Fiennes as Richard) but firm Lady Anne who only just starts to come around at the end of the wooing scene but mostly acts as she does because she doesn't want to become a killer, Susan Engel is the other matriarch, Cecily Nevill, Duchess of York (age wise looks a match with Redgrave, so that bit of internal verse-sense is kept) and her palpable loathing of her son remains, despite all that Richard does, as disturbing as ever. (The production closes with her reappearing on stage, standing at his grave in Leicester and enigmatically staring in it.) Aislin McGuckin was a great Elizabeth Woodville, but alas, her scenes include my one caveat/complaint about this production, though it's no fault of hers or Fiennes' but of the director's decision.

The Richard & Elizabeth scene pre battle of Bosworth goes the traditional way of him by now incapable of swaying his target and her not buying a word of - and then he proceeds to rape her. Now, the way the rape is played makes it clear it's not about hidden sexual attraction but about power and humiliation, and yet another example of Richard resorting to tyrannical power exertion because he can't get what he wants by his wits anymore. It's also in tandem with this Richard projecting his mother issues by misogyny. But still: the rest of the second half of the play makes that point already. And I'm just so tired of rape (the one thing not even Holinshed, More and Shakespeare thought to accuse Richard of, btw) being the default act to signal that a villain is really truly bad. So could have done without that.

Still on a Shakespeare note: the British Library currently has a "Shakespere in Ten Acts" exhibition which I visited with [personal profile] londonkds. Truly full of treasures, starting not just with the expected First Folio but copies of the Robert Greene book containing the "Johannes Factotum" crack about Shakespeare, and the 1602 collection of anecdotes - in hand writing, not in print, which was fascinating to me, since I've rarely seen handwritten bound books in the post Gutenberg era - that contains the "William the Conqueror arrived before Richard III" story about Shakespeare, Burbage and the female fan. There is a rough chronology of the exhibition, but also various of the plays as a central focus in different eras. In the mid 19th century, we get Othello and Ira Aldridge's entire career getting a wall to himself, which I can't help but suspect and hope was influenced by interest in Ira Aldridge being revived through the Adrian Lester starring play I watched the last time I was here. Seeing the posters both British and European was fascinating - and telling, what with the American born Ira billed as "a native of Senegal" in the early English ones. And speaking of black actors playing Othello, I had of course known that Paul Robeson had done so, but not that Laurence Olivier refused to join a Robeson supporting campaign in order to get him to play the role in Britain because, as Olivier openly declared, he wanted to have a go at Othello himself.

There are costumes and stage props of more recent productions, as the 1960s Peter Brook directed Midsummer Night's Dream, and interviews with surviving actors; I was amused to find a recording of the puppet play version of the early German version of Hamlet (hails from ye late 17th and early 19th century days when the Bard was more popular in our part of the world than at home, before Garrick helped him to a comeback). All in all, truly a satisfying anniversary exhibition to visit.
selenak: (Illyria by Kathyh)
Meeting friends is always one of the pleasures of being in London; yesterday I visited the "Sunken Treasures of Egypt" exposition at the British Museum with [personal profile] kathyh and self were amazed at various wooden statues made of Sycamore tree surviving the millennia. (They, btw, looked more Greek than Egyptian and depicted Serapis. This led us to a sidetrack to the Serapeion in Tivoli and Hadrian versus Alexander in who immortalized his grief over his dead boyfriend more efficiently. K and self agreed it was Hadrian but that Alexander would have if he could have; he died too soon after Hephaistos.)

In the evening, after a quick chat with [personal profile] kangeiko, I saw the Kenneth Branagh directed Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick. This one stars Derek Jacobi as Mercutio, Meera Syal at the Nurse and his two leads from the live action Cinderella, Lily James and Richard Madden, as the lovers, only Richard Madden was down and out and thus I saw the understudy, Freddie Fox. Not being a Jon Snow fan, I didn't mind. Mostly I was curious how Derek Jacobi as Mercutio would work, given, well, the age difference between him and the rest of the cast, and was looking foward to Meera Syal.

Now I wasn't surprised Branagh cast Jacobi per se; he's worked with him so often and clearly loves the man, in the introduction printed in the program he credits DJ with inspiring him to act as a teenager, and he's cast Jacobi as Mercutio once already, in the radio production of Romeo and Juliet he directed back in the 90s (that one had Samantha Bond as Juliet if I recall correctly). I strongly suspect the wish of letting Jacobi do the Queen Mab speech on stage might have also featured into the choice. But of course casting a man Jacobi's age in this particular role alters the dynamics; his Mercutio is basically everybody's fabulous gay uncle, with him and Romeo more resembling a non emotionally violent light side Falstaff and Hal than the bffs (with and without strong homoerotic overtones) the same age they usually end up as. Where the casting almost hits a logical snag but is pulled off by the strongness of acting is Mercutio's duel with Tybalt. Because Fabulous Gay Uncle Mercutio should be wiser than and way past minding that Romeo doesn't challenge Tybalt back, or getting into a duel at all.

The way the production pulls it off: by being in the middle between the two interpretations of the Mercutio versus Tybalt duel I've seen; usually it's either that the duel isn't at first meant to be serious and both are still posturing until Romeo tries to intervene, or that they go at it violently straight away. Here, Mercutio revealing that his walking stick on which he sauntered and danced through the play so far has a hidden blade comes as a shock to everyone, including Tybalt, but it's also clear at this point Mercutio doesn't intend a duel, he just wants to humiliate Tybalt with this shock after Tybalt, in M's pov, has scored one off Romeo due to Romeo not answering the challenge. Mercutio then turns to Romeo as if to say "see, that's how it's done", and that's when Tybalt also draws, which again causes shock in the rest of both gangs. They then start to actually fence a bit, but still stylized; there's the danger of blood letting, and you can see why Romeo is worried and tries to separate them, yet at the same time, arguably both Tybalt and Mercutio are still more posturing than meaning it. Mercutio getting lethally hit is a complete accident due to Romeo's well intentioned separation attempt, not a deliberately meant deadly thrust on Tybalt's part, putting the guilt of it completely on Romeo. Mercutio actually follows stage directions and woundedly walks off stage, which I don't think I've seen before - all the productions, both stage and film, that I've encountered let him die on stage instead of Romeo having to wait for Benvolio's report to freak out and go after Tybalt.

Speaking of Tybalt, the production gives him and Juliet some interaction at the Montague ball, letting them goof around and hug, and he introduces her to the crowd, which I thought was a neat touch, though it also included something that annoyed me throughout - the characters sometimes get random lines in Italian. This presumably is meant to fit with everything being supposedly set in 1950s Italy, fashion wise, and taking its aesthetic cue from La Dolce Vita, but instead only helps making the characters feel like movie Italians, and not in a good way. The programm tells me that the 1950s Italy look is meant to evoke glamor on the surface but deep dysfunction underneath, with fascism but barely over and not talked about, but on stage, there's no sense of that, just of random "ciao, bella" type of interjections.

The one point where it really gets disturbingly dysfunctional is, not surprisingly, the Juliet versus her father scene late in the play, where Papa Capulet not just freaks out at his daughter and manhandles her, which I've seen before, but even slaps his wife and the Nurse around, and that feels like a brief excursion into a 'verse where the bonhommie old Capulet has shown before covers the brutal authoritarian, even fascist, underneath. But that's the only point where I felt what the program claimed was the reason for the setting actually was on stage.

In general, this was a fast paced, enjoyable production - Meera Syal wasn't just an earthy but highly attractive Nurse who wasn't too bothered by the young crowd & Mercutio's comments, and Lily James delivered the gallops pace speech in a way that made it clear even to the last row that this was Juliet looking forward to having sex and was a hormonal young teenager in general, with the big shift when the Nurse switches to Team Paris and Juliet realises she's alone and no longer confides in her coming across clear. Freddie Fox was a seasonably good Romeo, which is why I thought it was a shame his scene with the Apothocary was cut - to me, that scene says a lot about Romeo. I did miss some intensity in his relationship with Mercutio - the production does the by now usual thing where Mercutio gets carried away into his own rethoric in the last third of the Queen Mab speech, and Romeo has to talk him down again, but because of the age difference, this came across as a protegé calms suddenly fragile parental figure thing.

In conclusion: not a must, I've seen better, I've seen worse, but I enjoyed seeing this one.
selenak: (Frobisher by Letmypidgeonsgo)
London for a week always means theatre time for me. My main treat will happen on Friday, but in the meantime, here are two I already managed to see.

Hobson's Choice: one of those British comedy classics which for some reason I never managed to catch before, including the David Lean film version starring Charles Laughton. This one has Martin Shaw (of The Professionals fame in his younger days) as the title character, but turns out one of those plays where the title character isn't the main character - that would be, without a question, Maggie, ably played by Naomi Frederick. As a pay, it also strikes me as a bit of a late 19th century middle and working class Lear from the daughters' pov, and done as a comedy. Which is to say: at the start of the pla, shoe shop owner Hobson is a petty tyrant to his three daughters, getting drunk in the pub and indulging in grandiose speeches while they do all the (unpaid) work both in the household and in the shop, above all the oldest, Maggie. Through the play, Maggie not only plots her and her sisters' escape but the complete overthrow of her father, establishes a rival business that soon takes away the trade, and by the end takes over the orginal shop while her father (having nearly drunk himself to death without her) concedes utter defeat and has to give complete power to her. If you think about it, there are any number of points where this could have gone into very dark territory, but the production never does - there is never any sense that Hobson's early insults and ongoing humiliations of his daughters have impaired, let alone destroyed their sense of self worth, and Maggie's triumph at the end comes without cruelty, just very matter-of-factly, and the narrative makes it clear she's saving her father's life while she's at it. Plus Maggie is such a force of nature throughout that one in the play is a match for her; that she enlists shy underpaid bootmaker Will for marriage (you could also say: bullies - he really doesn't want to marry her at the start) is one of those things that would look terribly with reversed genders, but again, the play not only goes for the comedy of shy trembling man versus strong no nonsense woman, but also makes it clear Will benefits from Maggie taking over his life; instead of an underpaid exploited worker, he ends up boss of two shops and with a much stronger sense of self worth, standing up for himself.

Everyone involved had great comic timing, and it's easy to see why this play keeps getting revived. It's also something that, like G.B. Shaw's plays, was written as a contemporary story and is now a costume play because you can't update it when its plot and problems are very much that of a specific setting, so late Victorian/early Edwardian costumes (not too grand, we're in Manchester shops, not in Ascot) are used. All in all, I felt greatly entertained, but don't have the urge to watch it again.

1984: adaption of George Orwell's novel by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. Adapting a novel (any novel) for the theatre always is tricky, let alone this one, but team Icke and Macmillan for my money did a superb job of it. One key angle for their angle is the appendix Orwell wrote about Newspeak, which implies that the Party fell after all - since it analyzes from a future perspective that's not totalitarian -, another the question of what makes reality and how to maintain a sense of past and present if you're completely taken over. And thus, you have structures within structures - Winston is remembering, or tries to, the events leading up to his arrest and torture even while he's being tortured and his past is being rewritten (O'Brien's "where do you think you are, Winston?" Question keeps returning through the play?), but at the same time, people from a post - Big Brother world are discussing his diary as a text (fictional? Historical?), and yet that reality, too, with the end of the play is called into question.

Orwell's depiction of a totalitarian state remains as disturbing as ever. (Being German, I didn't read it in school as part of the curriculum, I read it while still at school as part of my spare time reading, and was freaked out in a "wow" way.) And absolutely not dated, au contraire, sad to say. The "hate" rallies and the blaming of Goldstein as a traitor figure for all the misery could be Turkey (and Gülen as Goldstein) now, but you don't have to go East, going West will do, too (see "Lock her up!" Chants at the recent RNC or rallies last autumn in Germany where effigies of Angela Merkel were hanged). The constant recreation of reality to fit the Party's current position, the way blatant lies are accepted no matter or ridiculous they are, and then reversed into new lies again: yes, hello, Brexit campain and aftermath, we don't even have to go to Russia for this.

One element that as a teenager didn't resonate for me the way it does now: when O'Brien, pretending to be a resistance member, gets Winston and Julia to volunteer for any number of criminal acts which sound as if they're taken from the current news but really are in the novel: kill themselves and kill any number of innocent people for the cause, throw acid in a child's face. The recording of this agreement is what O'Brien later uses to demonstrate to Winston that he can't claim moral superiority, and when I read that as a teenager, it didn't seem as effective as later things O'Brien did to me because after all Winston and Julia did none of those things, and it was all a trick. But here, on stage, in an age where people do kill lots of innocents (and themselves) for what they perceive to be a world saving cause against an evil state, it was a devastating moment.

Still not as bad as what followed, though. The way they handle the problem of torture on stage: every time it happens, the white clad goons close in on Winston so the audience can't see him, and when they go back to their position, he's got bloody finger tips, or bleeds out of the mouth etc. And then the rats. Which you don't see at all, but the imagination works overtime at this point and Winston's panicked scream that finally breaks him inwardly as well as outwardly is so harrowing because you couldn't bear it anymore as an audience member as well, even in the tv age of torture torture all the time.

If I have one complaint, than that one of the most disturbing elements of the novel, the strange, perverse intimacy between inquisitor and victim that is there between O'Brien and Winston does not come across. The film version starring Richard Burton (in his last screen role) as O'Brien and John Hurt as Winston Smith managed that, but here between Angus Wright as O'Brien and Andrew Gower as Winston it's not there, and earlier it's also not clear why Winston trusts O'Brien enough to approach him in the first place. Angus Wright is just too obviously chilling a bureaucrat from the start.

The audience isn't left off the hook at any point. One of the most effective uses of modern day technology is that when Winston and Julia are in the room they believe to be without surveillance, cherishing this little bit of privacy, they're not on stage but the audience sees them on screen, being in the position of the surveilling Big Brother in the post Orwell sense themselves. And while the appendix-inspired frame of treating Winston's diary as a historical text (or a historical fiction), complete with debate of mobile phone using contemporaries, could offer some emotional relief (the Party does fall after all, Winston wrote his plea to the future for us), it's called into question again by the end (did the Party fall, or did it just find a different method of controlling and shaping reality?), and the very end isn't the appendix inspired frame but, as in the novel, Winston's last moment of complete emotional capitulation.

I hadn't been sure the dramatic form would be able to get the power of Orwell's fiction across, but did it ever. No intermission, either, it just builds and builds and builds; the emotional effect isn't "now I've seen an adaption of a dystopian classic" but "through a mirror - into the hear and now - darkly".


selenak: (Default)

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