Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Valley (BBC/Netflix 2015-16)

Stars:  Sarah Lancashire, Kevin Doyle, James Norton

Happy Valley is anything but happy, even though it won the BAFTA Award for Best Drama Series on television. 

Traumatic occurrences sending people into nervous breakdowns. Dysfunctional families. Suicide. A child the product of rape. Morbid crimes not for the queasy at heart. Psychopaths that send chills down your spine. Intense story lines. Complex characters. Episodes that drive you to drink at the end. Well, perhaps we shouldn’t drink because a few of the characters are recovering alcoholics. 

What can I say about this BBC Netflix gripping, intense show? It has given me another case of post-traumatic television disorder after binge watching Season 2. Good gracious! The things that Mr. Moseley and the handsome Pierre from War & Peace do will drive you insane.

First off, let me preface this review by saying, “huh?” If you cannot understand the thick British brogue of the cast, then make sure you put sub-titles on. Otherwise, your ears will be straining to understand what the hell they are talking about and you'll resort to lip reading. There are a few of those more properly bred Brits who are definitely a more literate in their speech and easily understood.  It's the local folk up north that will give you a challenge luv.

Secondly, be prepared for an underlying crude story line of a few crazy people. 

Thirdly, your wonderful Mr. Moseley (Kevin Doyle) from Downton Abbey will do a splendid job of turning into someone you’d never recognize. You might want to put aside the picture of the mild-manner footman, because this character goes off the deep end. 

And finally, don’t expect to see handsome Pierre with his brooding puppy-dog eyes in Season 2 of Happy Valley played by James Norton. He does one heck of a job turning himself into someone who will literally send chills down your spine playing the role of Tommy Lee Royce, the psychopath. Powerful performance, to say the least.

So what is this story all about? Well, the main character, of course, is Yorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood, played by Sarah Lancashire (who by the way taught drama at Salford University at one time - go Salford!) She portrays a troubled and intense character who sweeps you into her emotional turmoil that includes not only her job but her personal life.

I don’t know what it is about British shows but their depth, quality and intensity go far beyond the Hollywood-bred crime shows on prime-time television in the United States. Frankly, I think it’s because of the passion of emotions from each character, their struggles, heart-wrenching decisions, and triumphant outcomes that so easily sweep viewers along with them. 

So pop the corn, order a pizza, grab your soda, and sit down to binge watch six hours of Season 2. Be forewarned that the last parting scene at the end of this season will leave you with a very haunting “what-if” that will be hard to shake. My mouth is still wide open.  Troubling to say the least.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Last Detective (Acorn TV 2003-2007)

Stars: Peter Davison, Sean Hughes, Rob Spendlove

Better late than never, right?  Well, as I'm digging through my Acorn TV subscription on Amazon, I came across The Last Detective.  It is another good British crime show, only this one has a kindhearted detective centered in the middle of the mystery.

Detective "Dangerous" Davies is the poor sod that no one likes.  He's ridiculed at work, jokes are played upon him by coworkers, and his boss isn't much support.  Since he's not in the top-ten as far as popularity, he always gets the crap cases no one else wants.  

The guy may be boring to some, but he has a good analytical mind and always solves the case.  He's determined, kind, and treats people with respect, regardless of the fact the man gets no respect in return from his ex-wife or coworkers. He is the poster boy for "turning the other cheek" whenever he is wronged by others.

He has two rather odd partners in life -- his dog that he gets visitation with and a deadbeat friend, played by Sean Hughes, who is always changing jobs.  He's an odd duck that can spout off surprising trivia but comes as across as a loser with a big "L" on his forehead. Nevertheless, he is the only one who listens to what Dangerous has to say and is a true friend indeed.  

I have just finished the first season and found it entertaining.  Frankly, I like the lead Peter Davison.  He's perfect for the part with kind eyes and a calming tone to his voice -- not bad looking either when he smiles.   

The stories are based on a series of novels written by Leslie Thomas.  Apparently, this is the second television series, with the first airing in 1981 with Bernard Cribbins.

Another good one to check out!  I have three more seasons to finish but am sure they will be entertaining.

Suffragette (Movie 2015)

Stars: Carey Mulligan, Helena Carter, and Meryl Streep 

Well, it really doesn't star Meryl Streep. It's more of a cameo appearance not even totally five minutes. 

The women who fought for our rights do need our thanks. However, like any other social change, some fought for change while others enjoyed status quo and their position in the scheme of things. 

Enter Carey Mulligan, who plays Maud Watt.  She is a laundress, poor, married, and has one young son.  She's been working since she was twelve in terrible conditions, scraping by to make a life.  For the most part, she's accepted her lot in life.  Appears to be happy in her marriage and a fulfilled mother.

Then she recognizes someone at work, who is part of a demonstration, and throws a stone through a store window shouting, "Votes for women!"  Appalled, frightened, and not quite sure what to think of it, she eventually becomes part of the movement.  She attends a rally to check out the cause but is not a suffragette filled with the heated emotion to bring upon change. 

When she is arrested and thrown into prison for her participation, things drastically change.  Her husband turns against her and locks her out of the home because she is an embarrassment and cannot be controlled by a good whack, like other wives. Eventually, unable to care for their son, he adopts the child out to another family.  Maud loses everything -- home, marriage, and child -- which merely fuels her desire to fight the good fight more radically.

The movie focuses on more than women demanding the vote. It paints a picture of the struggles that women, in general, went through to become more than wives and mothers in a male-dominated society. 

I've recently been reading historical news clippings from Salford, U.K. (my ancestry research), and came across an interesting article when women finally got the vote in 1918. It was reported that women were among the first voters in every polling district to show up the first time they could vote, eager to exercise their freedom. However, one woman interviewed by a reporter stated afterward, “Is that all it is?” Apparently, after the years of suffering to get there, when it finally happened, all the hype didn't meet the expectations of some ladies.  I'm sure that's not the case with all who fought for the right to have a voice.  Frankly, I think it was a bit of a sarcastic twist on behalf of the reporter.

As far as the movie goes, it's historically interesting. If you hate male domination and the thought that women need to be put in their place, this movie may not be for you. Violence is used against demonstrators as if they deserved every blow. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Crown for Christmas (Hallmark Movie 2015)

Stars: Danica McKellar, Rupert Penry-Jones, Ellie Botterill

Yes, I know, Christmas is over, and my review is a month late.  Frankly, I don't have the Hallmark Channel, but I discovered a link to the movie on the Facebook fan page for Rupert Penry-Jones.  I thought I would check it out.

Sigh. It's okay, but I felt like it was a rehashed plot from a few movies, and very much like A Princess for Christmas from 2011.  Not much originality, frankly, which I found disappointing, even though this is supposed to be, "A Hallmark Channel Original Movie." 

Here are the similarities:
  • Meet desperate, poor young woman who cannot pay her bills.  Instead of being an aunt of two that she supports, she's the sister of two living together with money problems.
  • Opportunity arrives to work as a governess for a King of some fictional kingdom.  He's a widower with an unruly daughter.  She takes the job because she's been fired and needs the money.
  • Gets spirited off to kingdom and castle, finding herself out of her element.  Girl from Brooklyn attempts to acclimate to the King's household.  The same friendly butler, the same grumpy housekeeper.
  • King is already promised to some snooty aristocratic woman that he's really not that into but is supposed to marry.
  • Heroine brings a freshness to the stuffy realm, winning over the staff, the daughter, and eventually the King.
  • Snooty aristocratic girlfriend attempts to discredit her competition.
  • Heroine invited to attend the Christmas ball, has no dress, and is given one by a cook on the staff. 
  • Has romantic dance with the King.
  • After she leaves to return home, the King runs after her pledging his love after one week and they live happily ever after.
Somebody give me originality!  I gave it three just because of the joy of watching Rupert Penry-Jones on screen.  He was a doll in a dull remake of a conglomeration of other stories rolled into a new one.

You can watch it for free, at least as of the date of this posting, on DailyMotion:

Oh, and belated Merry Christmas to you all!


New Worlds (Acorn TV Mini Series 2014)

Stars: Pip Carter, Phil Cheadle,Jamie Dornan

It's not often that I give such a low score on a British-made television show.  Unfortunately, this mini series incited me to push that fast-forward button to get to the end.  I picked this one up on my Acorn TV subscription on Amazon, looking for a good historical series.  For me is just didn't float my boat between England and the Americas. Somewhere in the middle of the story it sank.

It's an historical look into the times after the death of Cromwell and the return of Charles II to the throne of England.  Enter the struggle between the monarchists who want to wipe out the leftover republicans wishing England's was free from those kings and queens - tyrants as they are.

In the middle of that battle, board the ship to America, and if you make it, take a peek into the English colonists trying to build a new world among the native Americans - savages as they are to the newcomers.  If that doesn't make you dizzy, throw in there the lingering Christian love between Protestants and Catholics, who still say their way is the only way - especially the controlling and merciless pilgrims warning to obey or hell awaits.

The story mainly revolves around four main individuals, but it flips back and forth between England and America at a dizzy pace.  Even though their lives and struggles are intertwined, I cannot help but think this series would have been better served if it had focused on each aspect separately.  What the title implies is "new worlds," but in England they are returning to the old world of monarchy as a form of government and focusing on those who won't give up the dream of their yearn for freedom. 

The other side of the pond lies the pilgrims, seeking to build a new world. They struggle with killing Indians, taking their land, while still dealing with Charles II who rules the colonies where they live in Massachusetts.

There is graphic violence, multiple hangings, heads rolling, and the usual gore. The characterization of love between the characters is rather flat, frankly. The acting a bit dull.  Some scenes drag. And in general, my interest waned in the third installment to the extent I just fast forwarded to get through it.

Perhaps other will find it interesting and just the opposite.  If it floats your boat, you'll make it from England to the Americas. But for me, it just didn't do the trick.  Even Jamie Dornan, our Christian Grey, was too filthy-looking to turn me on.  And one of my favorite actors, Jeremy Northam, who played the King didn't move me either, even though he did portray that snooty King on the throne look rather well.

Best to rent and not buy.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Place to Call Home (Australian TV 2013 - Present)


Stars: Marta Dusseldorp

To my downfall, I ordered Acorn Television subscription service on Amazon. I’m a junkie and this is a HUGE fix for me to jump into a world of the best of British, Australian, and New Zealand television on the planet. The Aussies are proving to be just as good as the Brits when it comes to television, and A Place to Call Home is a great example.

I recently devoured Season 1, 2, and 3. Season 3 only has three episodes posted on Acorn, but I’ve hit their Facebook page for further updates since the show is continuing to air.

Nevertheless, enter post-World War 2 in Australia, where people who have suffered its ravages have recovered as best they could. It’s the early 1950’s and life is relatively simple in a small town. The nearby big town is Sydney and is referred to as “the city.”

Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp) is the focal point of the story line. She is a nurse returned home to see her mother and aunt. However, Sarah’s mother hates her for converting to Judaism to marry a Parisian Jewish man that she fell in loved with during pre-WW2. They lived in Paris, and when the Germans invaded, their lives turned into a virtual hell. Sarah, believing that her husband was killed during the war, attempts to rebuild her life in Australia. She is haunted, however, by her own suffering having been prisoner in Ravensbruck.

The other central point of the story is the Bligh family, who are the rich land and sheep owners of their district. They live in the big house, and the family is literally run by the matriarch mother, Elizabeth Bligh, a widow. Her son George, and grandchildren live at the estate. Elizabeth has one goal in life and that is to protect the family name whatever the cost. When an impending scandal threatens everything, she vainly attempts to fix everything and ends up alienating everyone.

The series is a multi-plot line of individual lives. The themes of class structure, homosexuality, anti-Semitism, and other issues are at the forefront. The major pain in the neck is Elizabeth Bligh. When you are about to slap the woman in the face, she finally finds an ounce of redemption. Then the writers bring in even a bigger pain in the neck, Regina, who you will absolutely loathe.

It’s another good series to get sucked into. I suppose you could call it the Dynasty-type series from down under. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Broadchurch (ITV 2013 - Present)

Stars: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker

Broadchurch. It created new emotional illness in my life. It’s PTSD – Post Television Series Disorder. It’s akin to PTSD. I’ve watched both seasons of Broadchurch and came away with PTSD from a television series. Good gracious. What an emotional roller coaster consisting of sixteen episodes.

Of course, the Brits are best for good drama. Just admit it. Broadchurch, on the other hand, is so filled with drama it’s absolutely draining. It’s not to say that the show is bad. If it were, I wouldn’t give it five kernels. What I’m trying to say, is that it’s intense, heart wrenching, filled with plot twists, and keeps you literally on the edge of your seat waiting for the freaking truth to come out!!  It takes so long in the last few episodes of season two, that you are drained when the verdict is in and the other murder is solved. Well, almost, because I read that next year they will start filming season three with a new storyline.

It’s about a murder of an eleven-year-old boy in a coastal town. Initially, the event causes a media frenzy. As a viewer, you will be dragged into intense emotions of everyone involved in the case from the detective, the accused, the victim’s parents, the accused’s wife and children, and just about everybody you can imagine. The crime is emotional. The effects are far reaching. The characterization of those involved is deep.  There are no cardboard characters here, but flesh and blood who love and hate like all humans.

If the crime isn’t enough to rip your heart out, the detective, played by David Tennant, is haunted by another unsolved murder of two young girls that follow his career. As if his plate isn’t full enough trying to solve the current murder, his past will give him no rest either.

The culmination of these two sets of crime in the last few episodes is so intense that when it’s all over, you really feel traumatized yourself. At least, I did. Once again, the British have it when it comes to decent crime drama.

Only complaint, those thick British accents, especially from David Tennant may be a bit hard to pick up. After a while, though, you get use to his brogue.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Brooklyn (Movie 2015)

 Stars:  Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, and Domhnall Gleeson

This past weekend I went and saw Brooklyn, which is a story of a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey, in the 1950's who leaves her sister and mother and travels to New York.  Encouraged by her sister to look for better opportunities, she embarks on an adventure across the pond as a young and innocent young woman on the road to maturity.

As she settles into her new job as a store and parish church, she meets a young man who likes Irish girls.  He, on the other hand, is Italian and a plumber.  They fall in love in an endearing sort of way, but are threatened to be pulled apart when Eilis' sister suddenly passes away and she must return home.  Afraid that she won't return, her boyfriend Tony convinces her to marry him in a civil ceremony before leaving.

Once Eilis returns to Ireland, she is pressured on every side by her mother and friends to remain. Her heartstrings are tugged upon as she realizes that she has missed Ireland and begins to struggle with returning to the states after developing feelings for another fellow.  However, no one knows that she is secretly wed, until she confesses it to her mother after experiencing a harsh reminder of what life is like in her little town.

The movie is highly rated at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and with a 92% approval from the audience.  Why am I not crazy about it?  I can't put my finger upon it, frankly.  The movie was a bit boring and slow to me in spots and for some reason didn't tug upon my heartstrings as it apparently has done to others.  I just didn't find the movie one of those memorable ones that will stick with me for some time to come.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

River (BBC/Netflix Original 2015)

Stars: Stellan Skarsgard, Nicola Walker, Lesley Manville

Binge watching is no doubt bad for your health.  Sitting for hours in front of the television.  Snacking on ice cream, popcorn, tea, toast, and whatever else you pop up and run to the fridge for between episodes.  However, when you're sucked into a program, waiting for the next episode is just too damn hard.

Be forewarned this could happen to you if you tune in and watch River now streaming on Netflix.  You may end up on your derriere for hours watching this show in order to find out the secret behind the death of Detective Sergeant Jackie "Stevie" Stevenson, played by Nicola Walker (who you probably know better from Last Tango in Halifax).

Stellan Skarsgard, an excellent actor who I've seen in other roles, plays Stevie's partner, DI John River.  He witnesses his partner getting shot in the head in the middle of the street and spends the remainder of the show attempting to unravel the reason why.  However, River is a troubled man with a strange psychological problem.  He is haunted by manifestations of people who have died in previous investigations. If that isn't bad enough, he is mentally tortured by his dark, characteristic inner self (played by Eddie Marsan), which nearly pushes him to the brink of insanity.

River, however, is a brilliant detective.  Stevie's death drives him to find her killer at any cost, while her manifestation accompanies him during the entire process.  The story, well-written, with in-depth characters and twists and turns throughout, carries its audience on a tale with a surprising end.  He is fortunate enough that his work-place psychologist, who is helping him through his grief, passes him in his evaluation to continue his investigation.  All the while, she knows he sees manifestations of dead people.  

Side plots include River's boss, played by Lesley Manville, who you will instantly recognize from North & South as Margaret Hale's mother. Her performance here is quite different as a driven woman in the police force, whose portrayal is top notch.

The show is well worth the watch at a healthy pace or binge watching.  As you know, I love British crime series, and this one goes to the top of my list.  Excellent story.  Stellar acting.  Engrossing story.  Well done, BBC.