Gentleman Jack

GentlemanJack-posterThis is another fascinating TV series that I am compelled to introduce to my readership. HBO has finally realized what PBS knew for a long time: well produced costume drama British TV series can be very popular in America too! They are now starting to co-produced Brit TV series in order to bring them over this side of the Atlantic, but their choice of titles is more edgy or controversial than what PBS is doing. And I am very grateful for that.

Gentleman Jack tells the story of Anne Lister, a landowner and industrialist from Halifax, West Yorkshire. She is known for being the first well-documented “modern lesbian”, as she left coded diaries chronicling in details her daily life, including her romantic relationships and the workings of her Shibden Hall estate and business. Set in 1832, the series mostly tells about her venture in coal mining and her relationship with Ann Walker. It started mainly for the challenge of the conquest and partly for financial interest, but she quickly becomes quite fond of the wealthy heiress. First, I was shocked by how she was planning to win her affection, but I quickly realized that if a man would have been doing the same thing it would have appeared totally normal! 

The acting is excellent (Lister is played by Suranne Jones and Walker by Sophie Rundle) and the story (created by Sally Wainwright) is well written and quite funny. The series is interesting not only because it displays the beautiful English countryside and makes us discover the eccentricity, boldness and modernity of Anne Lister, but above all because it opens a window on the way of life of the English country folks and small nobility at a time when everything is about the change. 

Gentleman Jack is an excellent historical drama that deserves your attention. It was well received by the critics (with ratings of 8.0 on IMDb and of 87% / 93% on Rotten Tomatoes). The first eight-episode season just ended, but it is still streaming on HBO. A second season has already been announced. I can’t wait to hear again the ending credits’ catchy tune by O’Hooley & Tidow!stars-4-0

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Chernobyl

Chernobyl_2019_MiniseriesI really must bring this TV mini-series to your attention. Chernobyl is a superb five-part historical TV drama co-produced by HBO and Sky UK. It is about the events that led to and the aftermath of the nuclear reactor disaster that occurred in north Ukraine on April 26th 1986. The story focuses mostly on the scientist Valery Legasov (played by Jared Harris) who is sent to the site of the disaster, along with the Council of Ministers’ deputy chairman Boris Shcherbina (played by Stellan Skarsgård), to assess the damage and oversee the cleanup effort. Legasov also ask his colleague Ulana Khomyuk to investigate the cause of the reactor explosion. 

The storytelling is surprisingly accurate (although a few facts were tweeked for dramatization purpose). It tells a dark, somber story but, on top of that, the ambiance of the show itself (the sets that look like you were really in the 80s soviet era, the solemn music, the slow pace of the show) create a dark, oppressive (almost horrific) feeling that is quite depressive. However, that’s what makes the show so spot on. 

The accuracy is such that even the selected actors looks like the part (although they are — and speak — mostly British English, but the acting is so good that you don’t really care). The only character that didn’t historically exist was Ulana Khomyuk (played by Emily Watson) which was created as a composite character representing all the scientists that worked along Valery Legasov. They even shot in Ukraine and Lithuania to get the soviet vibe of the location. The last episode concludes with a “where are they now”-style epilogue that explains what happened after and shows real footage of the characters and events (on a backdrop of gloomy Russian chorus). It is really chilling!

It is an incredible miniseries, very well crafted, visually stunning in how everything look so drab and grey, quite compelling and that rings so true. It shows the extent of the human stupidity and the deep flaws of the USSR society and political system. However, the message is also extremely pertinent for today as it poses the question “What is the cost of lies?” (in an obvious reference to the Trump White House)… A must see.

I am not the only one who greatly appreciated this series as it was very well received by the critics (ratings of 9.6 on IMDb and of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes). To learn more about this series you can check the accompanying podcast where screenwriter Craig Mazin discuss the production (available on Youtube, Spotify or Apple) and the series is still available for streaming on HBO.stars-4-5

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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 one 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…

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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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