Game of Thrones

The epic fantasy TV series Game of Thrones has ended after eight seasons.

Somehow I feel very sad because it is finished and I don’t know what will come next — if anything. However, I am NOT disappointed. To me the end seems to be a fitting one. In some aspects, I am not even surprised. People were expecting that an epic series would have an epic ending, but life is rarely like that. It is the perfect “all evil was defeated and they lived unhappily ever after” type of ending. What else were they expecting? Evidently, the millennials who are not used to not have their way will demand a new ending. What a silly thought! That’s almost funny if it wasn’t so stupid…

Now, without giving away any spoilers, we can only ask that — if all surviving heroes appear to be going on new adventures — what will come next? The very end of the series clearly calls for something more and we know that many sequels / prequels could be in the works. I can hardly wait to see what it will be.

In the meantime, HBO will not leave us hanging dry as they have been announcing several new series of interest. I am particularly curious about the Watchmen TV series (in Fall), the third season of Westworld (announced for 2020) and a TV series adaptation of His Dark Materials (based on Philip Pullman’s young adult novel series and due to premiere in late 2019). The visuals I’ve seen for the first on seem a little disappointing, so I am quite apprehensive about it, but the latter looks incredibly promising. We’ll see…

Game of Thrones has given us a good run and we should be grateful for it. Our collective popular culture shall be much richer for it. And, beside the possible pre/sequels, there is still those two final books (A Song of Ice and Fire #6: The Winds of Winter and #7: A Dream of Spring) that will certainly add a lot to the story as told by the TV series. We just have to be a little more patient…

Amusingly, the controversial last episode of the eight season, “The Iron Throne”, had the highest ever audience (nearly 14 millions of viewers in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen, more than the final of The Sopranos) but the lowest critical response (a rating of 4.4 on IMDb down from an overall ratings of 9.4 and a critical / audience rating of 67% / 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, down from an overall average of 90% / 82% !!).

The final season of the series was plagued by controversies. First, many fans were very disappointed with the ending, some (nearly two millions!) even starting a petition demanding a rewrite of the entire last season! On top of that, not only a Starbucks coffee cup could be spotted in episode 8.4 (#71) sitting on the table in front of Daenerys, but also plastic water bottles could be seen at the feet of both Samwell Tarly and Ser Davos Seaworth during the “council of the Seven Kingdoms” in episode 8.6 (#73)! 

Television will never be the same…

stars-3-5

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Il Nome della Rosa

MV5BYTdhYzc0MmMtZDQwNS00ZTdlLTgzZmYtZWIxYzE4Zjk0YzQ4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTY2MzkxMjc@._V1_I stumbled by chance upon this TV series adaptation of the Umberto Eco famous novel (I thought I had read it, but, since I cannot remember anything about it, now I have doubt). I had seen, a long time ago, the movie adaptation with Sean Connery (and I have re-watched it just after seeing the series just for the fun of it!) and I was quite curious to see what it would look like as an eight-episode series (over six hours!)… 

The story is set in 1327. Brother William of Baskerville (an English Franciscan, whose name alludes both to Sherlock Holmes and William of Ockham), followed by the young novice Adso of Melk (the son of a German Lord), reaches an isolated Benedictine abbey in the Alps to participate in a debate between the Franciscan Order and the Avignon papacy about whether the Church should be poor as Christ was—a debate that would determine the very survival of the Franciscan Order. Upon arrival at the abbey the two find themselves caught up in a chain of mysterious deaths. William, a medieval sleuth, must untangle this knot of suspects (any of the multiple factions in the abbey, including a group of Heretics hiding amongst the Benedictines)—before the Dominican papal Inquisitor Bernardo Gui burn anyone at the stake—in order to solve the mystery that seems linked to the fabulous Abbey’s library and a coveted rare book!

The TV series is an Italo-German co-production, created, co-written and directed by Giacomo Battiato, starring John Turturro (William), Rupert Everett (Bernardo), Damian Hardung (Adso), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Remigio), Greta Scarano (Margherita / Anna), Richard Sammel (Malachia), Tchéky Karyo (Pope John XXII), James Cosmo (Jorge) and Michael Emerson (the Abbot). It doesn’t have the star power of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s movie (Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Christian Slater, Michael Lonsdale, Ron Perlman) but still offers many known actors. Strangely, despite being shot in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios, the movie was filmed in English. It aired on RAI in Italy, on BBC in the U.K. and on Sundance TV in the U.S. 

While the movie focuses on the heart of the mystery (the murders and the book), the TV series has ample time to develop around the multiple elements that the movie left out: how William and Adso met, who are the Dulcinian heretics, the Inquisition’s past of William, the particular and what’s at stake in the debate between the papacy and the Franciscan, who is the peasant girl that Adso meets and falls in love with.

Although I liked the movie a lot because of its multiple charms and its great photography, the TV series is a very good production that seems more faithful to the book — and it offers more plot and action. It is a beautiful, very interesting historical drama (I can only dream of all those old books!) which will hopefully soon stream online (possibly on Amazon Prime) so it will be more readily available. I enjoy it and recommend it to all aficionados of medieval history, rare books and mystery novels. stars-3-5

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M.S. Gundam Unicorn (UC)

GundamUnicornLogo

Overview

I have not watch any Japanese animation in a while and I must admit that it feels great. I have never been a big fan of Gundam, but I have always admired the complexity of its plots, particularly its political and philosophical aspects and the variety of its character and mechanical designs. The fact that this is an Original Video Animation (OVA) mini-series — streaming on Netflix — makes it easier to reacquaint myself with the genre and the story. It is also a good way to introduce a novice to the phenomenon. Therefore, as in the good old days of P.A., here is an “Anime Story” (although a little shorter and with links — it’s fun, I should do this more often!).

GundamUnicornPosterMobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (UC) (機動戦士ガンダムUC(ユニコーン) / Kidō Senshi Gandamu Yunikōn) is a sequel to the Mobile Suit Gundam story created by Yoshiyuki Tomino (made famous by its plentiful line of plastic models known as Gunpla). It takes place in the main timeline of the series, known as Universal Century (宇宙世紀 / Uchū Seiki). Earth is colonizing space by putting colonies (big space stations known as “Side”) in stable orbits around the planet (A.K.A. Lagrange Points).

Story

The story begins as the Earth Federation Prime Minister is about to unveil a new era of space exploration as well as a new Federation charter. The current era (A.D.) ends as the Universal Century begins. However, the Laplace space station—where the calendar change ceremony is taking place—is destroyed in a terrorist attack. The young Syam Vist discover a secret in the station wreckage: the Laplace’s Box, which contains a truth so terrible that it must never be revealed as it could destabilize the Federation — it also becomes a source of political power upon which he will build the Vist Foundation.

The story unfolds ninety-five years later, in UC 0096 (sixteen years after the One Year War), as the young orphan Banagher Links is going to school on the Industrial 7 space station. He will encounter a girl named Audrey Burne and get caught up in the struggle to locate and possess the Laplace’s Box…

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Star Trek Discovery

StarTrekDiscoverySeason2First, I must say that Discovery is definitely one of the best Star Trek TV series I have seen in a long time. If we don’t count the animated series and the movies, it is the sixth Star Trek series (after Star Trek The Original Series (1966-69), The Next Generation (1987–94), Deep Space Nine (1993–99), Voyager (1995–2001), and Enterprise (2001–2005)). After The Original, none of these series were really satisfactory (in imagination, plot and action) until Discovery.

For the first time, with Discovery, the main character of a series is NOT the captain of the USS Entreprise. The series focus on Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green [The Walking Dead]) who is the First Officer of the USS Shenzhou in the beginning before becoming Science Specialist on the USS Discovery. Born in 2226, she is a xenoanthropologist raised on Vulcan by her adoptive parents, Vulcan ambassador Sarek (James Frain) and his human wife Amanda (Mia Kirshner). She is therefore Spock‘s foster sister! Her biological parents were killed during a Klingon raid on Doctari Alpha.

The first season, set a decade before the Original series, focuses on the FederationKlingon war. During a rare encounter of the Shenzhou with the Klingons, Burnham uses her knowledge of Klingon and Vulcan strategy to try preventing the war but act against her captain’s orders. She fails and Georgiou is killed in the ensuing battle. Burnham is sentenced to life in prison for mutiny, but during a prison transfer her shuttle is damaged and she is rescued by the USS Discovery, commanded by Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs), where she is given a temporary position of Science Officer. The Discovery uses an experimental spore drive which, after sabotage, brings them to a parallel universe where Captain Georgiou is the Empress of the Terran Empire! After multiple trials and betrayals, the crew succeeds to end the war.

In season two (which is not over yet, as three more episodes remain to air), the captain of the USS Enterprise, Christopher Pike, takes emergency command of the Discovery from interim-captain Saru (Doug Jones) in order to investigate a series of mysterious signals. Spock (Ethan Peck), who appears to have suffered a mental breakdown, has had foreknowledge of those signals, which seem linked to the apparition of a mysterious Red Angel. They must find Spock before Section 31 to try to unravel the mystery…

The latest episode (“If Memory Serves”, 8th episode of the 2nd season and 23rd episode of the series, which aired on March 7th) was particularly impressive. It starts with “Previously on Star Trek” and then shows scenes from the pilot episode of the Original series (“The Cage”, produced in 1964-65 was never aired but later partly used in episodes 11 & 12, “The Menagerie”). In the original pilot, the captain of the Entreprise was not Kirk but Pike and Spock is the only crew-member who remained in the series. In Discovery, Spock brings Burnham to Talos IV so the Talosian can read his mind and show crucial information to Burnham, therefore both healing him and their relationship. That episode was quite something.

It has been relatively well received (with a rating of 7.4 on IMDb, an overall Rotten Tomatoes critic rating of 82% [but an audience score of 48%, are they mad? !!!] and the same 82% for season 2 [this time with an audience score of 29%! Unbelievable !!!]. In my point of view, it is a series that is well worth watching, even if you know nothing of Star Trek. It is simply very good science fiction. And a third season has already been commissioned. stars-3-5

Apparently, more live-action series are planned including one with Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and one with Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) focusing on the activities of Section 31. 

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Victoria S03

VictoriaS03What first interested me into this series was the fact that Jenna Coleman (one of the best Doctor Who companions) had the starring role. But, of course, it was also a very good British historical TV drama, so that was plenty of reasons to follow it. 

In season 3, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are now older (close to their 30s) and have already six children. This time the story is less political (although it covers the machinations of the foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, and the monarchy being threaten by anarchists, the revolutionary wind from France or the Chartists) and is more centred around the family. The couple struggles as they become disenchanted with each other, bringing the various type of emotions that any couple would experienced with time, but having their differences being fanned by the plotting of Victoria’s estranged sister, Feodora. Albert exhaust himself trying to find his own place (with pet projects like being the Chancellor of Cambridge or organizing the Great Exhibition). They try to give the unruly Bertie (the future king Edward VII) a proper education.

When it comes to the personal life of monarchs I am not sure if this story is truly historical — it is probably mostly dramatized — but it is quite interesting. It was well received (rating of 8.2 on IMDb as well as an average tomatometer of 84% for the whole series and an audience score of 81% for Season 3 on Rotten Tomatoes) and is well worth watching. stars-3-5

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True Detective, S03

TrueDetectiveS03“An anthology series in which police investigations unearth the personal and professional secrets of those involved, both within and outside the law”. Created by Nic Pizzolatto, with Mahershala Ali (as Wayne Hays), Stephen Dorff (as Roland West) and Carmen Ejogo (as Amelia Reardon). In the deep America Arkansas in the 1980s, two kids go missing a few weeks after Halloween. The boy is found dead and the girl is never seen again… In 2015, the crew for a crime investigation TV show is interviewing the retired detective who was in charge of this unsolved crime. The storytelling keep switching between the two era (and many years in between) as the detective remembers the details of the investigation — that’s IF he can remember, because he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. In this rummaging of the past, he becomes determined to solve this mystery once and for all.

The first two seasons (set in Louisiana with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and then in California with Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams) were more about the horrors of the crime, the darkness and corruption of the human psyche, wrapped in a mysterious aura. This time, the series seems more down to earth as the detectives are investigating a rather ordinary crime that is made to look like a horrible case of pedophile ring by the simple incompetence of the police work and high level political interference. The interest of the story now lies somewhere else, more into the form and less into the content. This simple case is rendered complex through its maniacal storytelling with constant flashbacks alternating with flash-forwards. It’s as if the script had been shred into pieces and we try to reconstruct the plot strip by strip, in random order. This is purposely and skillfully done to make the viewers deeply feel the confusion in the mind of the main character who suffers from dementia. As annoying a device as it could be, it is VERY effective — mostly because of the dazzling acting performance of Mahershala Ali (Academy Awards winner for Best Supporting Actor in Moonlight in 2016 and in Green Book in 2018).

If solving the crime is the obsession of the mains characters, the story itself is less about the investigation as it is about the conflits between the protagonists: between the two detectives themselves, between the detectives and their higher hierarchy, between the victims’ parents, between Hays and his girlfriend/wife — who are all under tremendous pressure to see the case solved — or even within Hays himself as he struggles to remember. This series might also have a slight supernatural aspect when Hays (haze?) confronts the ghosts of his past (the Viet congs, the conversations with his dead wife) — or is it rather due to the disease? The series exposes the emotional range that the characters go through as they all try to successfully resolve their conflicts — or not. In the end, despite the laboured and twisted storytelling, the mystery will be solved—but the man who once was a ranger in Vietnam slowly gets lost in the jungle of his own mind…

Despite lower Nielsen ratings than the previous two seasons, the series was well received with an overall IMDb rating of 9.0 (for all three seasons) and Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 85% / 83% (compared to 87% / 97% for the first season and 64% / 60% for the second). All in all, for me, it’s an excellent TV series and probably my favourite of the three seasons. stars-4-0

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Mrs Wilson

mrswilsonThis three-part historical drama is set in Britain during and after WW2 (in the ‘50s & ’60s). When her husband dies, in the early sixties, Alison Wilson is already distraught. They lived comfortably in their little cottage. She’s a typist and Alexander is a spy novelists (and retired MI6 officer). They have two sons, Gordon and Nigel, and they were happy. However, as she tries to come around organizing her husband funerals, she receives the visit of a woman, Mrs Gladys Wilson, who claim to be Alec’s widow! Her happy world quickly crumbles as she struggles with one question: was her husband really the man he claimed to be? Was it just a lie? 

She knew Alex/Alec was a spy because they met at the Secret Intelligence Service headquarters where they were both working during the war. She starts her own investigation, questioning Alex’s handler at MI6, some colleagues in the Intelligence Service, Gladys’ son. She becomes obsessed with this quest to discover who the man she thought she knew for twenty-two years really was. The deeper she digs in his past the more secrets she discovers! Through flashbacks, she relives their history together until she understands who he really was. When she comes to term with the truth, she becomes a nun, but she never could tell her sons about their father until after she died—she had written everything down. 

It is a beautiful and compelling story told in the manner of a spy or mystery novel. The most interesting part is that it is a true story — and the cool twist is that Alison Wilson is played by actress Ruth Wilson, he own grand-daughter! Alexander ‘Alec’ Wilson wrote twenty-four novels, mostly inspired by his career in the secret service and his huge imagination. He was a bigamist who had seven children with several wives. Many aspects of his life are still a mystery as, even today, the Foreign Office still consider his files as ‘sensitive’.

Mrs Wilson is a very interesting historical drama, beautifully filmed and cleverly told. I enjoyed it greatly and recommend it warmly. It was well received by the critics (with rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.4 on IMDb). It aired on BBC One in late November / early December and will premieres on PBS Masterpiece Sunday, March 31, 2019, 9/8c (and will subsequently be available on Dvd, iTunes Store and Prime Video). Don’t miss it! stars-3-5

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