Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey
Get ready for more Downton Drama in 2015!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chilling with some tricky TV villains

While the weather outside is frightful(altho not as bad as expected there), I thought it would be fun to enjoy some indoor chills by taking a look at a trio of major TV villains and their influence on the genre.

Granted, each one is set in a very different time and place but there are a few interlocking parts to their natures that connect them together. All three of them have literary based beginnings and their great weapon against the world is being vastly underestimated in their ability to undermine the current status quo. Also, each one gives a special nuance to both the story and heroes that they're set against.

First up in this sinister line-up is Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin on the before-there-was-Batman series Gotham. While the show itself has been seen for the most part as a tale of hits and misses, this bad boy has won the hearts and minds of many viewers with his quietly calculating ways.

Much of the credit for that goes to actor Robin Lord Taylor for his fits like a glove performance, as well as the chemistry between him and Jada Pinkett as Fish Mooney, Cobblepot's former boss and now criminal rival.

However, the writers were smart enough to reinvent this well known member of Batman's Rogues Gallery by not only making him younger but portraying him as a slippery schemer who is working as many angles as he can. That is consistent with most of the comic book versions of the Penguin but here, he's not seen as merely a waddling menace to be laughed off, as some adaptations have showcased him as.

This version of Oswald Cobblepot has an air of former nobility, a once prominent family that has gone to seed  during the progressing generations. His mannerisms remind me of Uriah Heep, one of the great foils of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, a supposedly meek and mild clerk who used ruthless means to try and dominate the weaknesses of his kindly employer.

 Cobblepot's "humble" demeanor is right in line with that character, even down to  having a wickedly doting mother who encourages her boy in his evil ambitions. This Dickensian flair is the perfect topper to the elegantly evil slice of sickly sweet cake that this future Dark Knight nemesis serves up every week:

Next up is Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, the British officer with a taste for sadism against his Scottish foes in the miniseries Outlander. The fact that he closely resembles his future descendant Frank provides much trouble to the heroine Claire's initial resistance to believe in his outright sociopathic nature.

Tobias Menzies deserves full credit for deftly balancing Captain Randall's twisted need to torment Jamie and Claire along side the emotional torment that Frank feels as his wife's mysterious disappearance goes on with little help from the authorities or his friends.  In regards to being faithful to Diana Gabaldon's novels that are the basis for the series, this take on Black Jack is remarkably true to the page.

 This adaptation,however, has given a bit more freedom for both Frank and Jack to move around in, with Black Jack making the most of his time on stage.

His wicked word play with Claire as they verbally fence always makes for  a good scene but it's the lull before the storm moments that make Jack Randall appear all the more dangerous. Even in a simple thing like showing a young soldier how to give a proper shave can you see the real nature of the threat that Black Jack possesses.

How much time Black Jack Randall has left on Outlander I can not say(still working my way through the second book) but one thing is for certain; you can and should not take your eye off him:

Last yet far and away from least is current incarnation of Sherlock Holmes' archenemy Moriarty on Elementary. By changing genders and combining this classic villain with the hero's greatest love Irene Adler, the show has pulled off quite the hat trick here.

Adding to the delightful evil goodness is having Natalie Dormer play Moriarty, as her lively sense of fun and cold blooded charm prove to be perfect opposition for both Holmes and Watson(particularly interesting is the undertone of feminine rivalry between Joan Watson and Jamie Moriarty).

Having Sherlock deal with his greatest enemy not only as an intellectual equal but a former lover as well does up the ante on the stakes. It certainly makes all of their future interactions take on more personal meaning, for one, and for a Sherlock Holmes series, finding something new to work with is crucial to it's success.

 No doubt, some of the Arthur Conan Doyle faithful may frown on this retake for both characters(plenty of them weren't happy with Watson being a woman either) but it just proves how powerful the basic templates of these iconic characters are that such a transition serves to enhance rather than hinder them.

While we haven't seen Moriarty for some time(most likely due to Dormer's busy schedule on Game of Thrones), she is still out there and could return when least expected. When she does, her presence will be very wickedly welcome indeed:

 Small screen villainy isn't as easy as it seems. The opportunity to develop and grow is there,of course, but one wrong step or two can make a formidable foe become either a figure of flimsy threat or a ludicrous comic relief.

When it's done well, such effort should be just as appreciated as any silver screen monster is and this particular trio of TV sized trouble makers is suitably evil enough to match any of their cinematic counterparts nicely(unlike a certain pack of silly boys gone bad from Sunnydale's past):

Monday, January 26, 2015

Running through a readathon or two

This weekend, I took part in National Readathon Day, sponsored by the National Book Foundation in order to raise funds for literacy programs throughout the country.

I signed up with Good Reads and pledged to read for four hours on Saturday,Jan. 24(did a little live tweeting of my progress as well), with a trio of books, one which I managed to finish by Sunday afternoon.

It was good to switch from one book to the other, as buckling down to just read during an allotted time period can be a bit daunting. Not that I wouldn't be reading anyway during that day but making a plan to do so was both fun and rather formal there.

 So, while I made a good start in Larry McMurtry's The Evening Star(finished up Terms of Endearment before the weekend, which means my Road to Rereading project  is moving along smoothly) and advanced forth in The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones, completing The American Heiress was the best benefit to my Currently Reading pile.

Daisy Goodwin's debut novel is pure catnip to Downton Abbey fans like me, as the story follows Cora Cash, a New York socialite in the 1890s whose social climbing mother is bound and determined to have her girl marry into English nobility. While visiting in Britain, Cora happens to literally fall down over Ivo Maltravers, a second son of a Duke thrust into the number one son position by the untimely death of his brother.

Needing to marry money in order to preserve what's left of the family estate, Ivo and Cora do find themselves falling in love with each other and getting married. However, a number of secrets and lies that some hoped would lie dormant wind up rising up to offer Cora a true challenge to her social skills as well as her heart's desire.

Not only is the main story beautifully written, plenty of supporting characters are allowed a solid moment in the spotlight as well. My favorite subplot belongs to Bertha, Cora's maid who makes many emotional sacrifices to her mistress and suffers through heartbreak and an interracial romance with the strength and dignity that many would expect to see from the so-called "upper classes".  If you haven't picked this one up, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so at all haste(the title in England is My Last Duchess, hence this video clip):

Now, with a major winter storm brewing in my area, another readathon is ready to begin and it's about a week long, meaning it should end by the time the last of the snow is swept up from the streets and highways.

A Winter's Respite has been arranged by Seasons of Reading and in addition to the small pile of light and lively novels I have set aside for this challenge, I am adding yet one more. Considering the impending blizzard, what could be more appropriately titled than A Week in Winter?

This is Maeve Binchy's final work, published after her death, and like most of her delightful stories is set in a small town in Ireland. Geraldine "Chicky" Starr returns to her seaside home town of Stoneybridge, after twenty years in New York, to revive an old stately house and turn it into an inn. Chicky manages to recruit her niece Orla and a local young man into helping her as plans to have their first round of guests become more real.

I've already started the book(along with The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet) and it's one of Binchy's typical charmers, just the type of tale to sit back and relax with. I so miss Our Dear Maeve, she was such a lovely lady of letters:

So, being in a reading frenzy at the moment is a very good thing, especially during a snow event that is planting itself at my doorstep, like it or not. In truth, I don't mind it that much as it gives me plenty of opportunity to immerse myself in the pleasures of a good book, along with time to recover from such complete joy that finishing one brings:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fish is about to fry on Gotham, The Flash speeds back and the sister dilemma on Downton Abbey

Quite a bit of business went in Gotham this week, as Jim Gordon managed to bluff his way back onto the police force,thanks to the revenge antics of the Electrocutioner, and is successful in reclaiming his former badge.

However, the biggest plot in motion fell apart, as Fish Mooney made her move on Falcone by "kidnapping" her pawn Liza and giving him the option of leaving town for good with his beloved. Falcone, thanks to a heads-up from Oswald and his own inner instincts, caught onto the set-up and insulted by Fish's use of the memory of his mother to manipulate him, took matters literally in his own hands(goodbye,Liza!).

That whole ploy seemed to be rather weak tea to me; as someone planning to conquer a criminal empire, surely Fish considered a much more hostile takeover there. Leaving former allies turned enemies alive is almost always a bad idea, as her old pal The Penguin is living proof of. That Oswald played a prime part in knocking the blocks out of her sinister structure is quite the salt to the fresh wounds to come to our Miss Mooney, no doubt about it.

However, I do have the feeling that she might be rescued at some point(Alfred does own her a favor,after all, and he is quite the bad ass) from her gruesome fate but not without some serious payback being added to Fish's bill. Just have to wait and see, which shouldn't be too long:

The Flash returned from it's brief winter break this week with not one but two(and possibly a third) villains as Captain Cold recruited a flame bug pal of his to be Heat Wave.

These bad boys made their bid to rule the roost by pulling heists in order to draw Flash out into the open and  kudos must be granted to the casting department for pairing up the former Prison Break stars(Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell) as the bad guys.

The instant chemistry between these wicked warriors makes the threat from their fire and ice weapons all the more believable and menacing. That wasn't the only tough situation for Barry to deal with, as Iris moving in with Eddie proved to be an emotional toll on him and her dad.

Also, the hovering threat of the Reverse Flash came close to sidelining Barry's hero path as Dr. Wells kept pushing his guilt buttons(you are so evil, Wells, can't wait for your true colors to be revealed!) in order to make Barry stick to training for another rematch.

This show is all kinds of good and it just keeps getting better. I would like a little less naivete on Barry's part but that takes time, plus when the real deal behind the Reverse Flash is made known, the pay off will be even sweeter. In the mean time, this bout of double trouble with Captain Cold and Heat Wave was a great way to start things up again:

 My patience with Lady Mary is growing rather thin, as her big dilemma on Downton Abbey this season is pursuing her sex life. I don't begrudge her wanting some sexy time between the sheets but she is dragging other people into her personal business(some rather reluctantly) and that's not cool.

Mind you, she's a widow and should be able to enjoy a romp in the hay now and then,despite the standards of the time period, yet she is sort of leading Tony on about getting married, which is not the right thing to do in any decade.

Her whole "I need to be sure before taking that step" attitude seems to be an excuse to have her cake and eat it, too. Yes, men of that period could and did do the same thing but selfish is selfish, in my opinion and Mary has always been an entitled miss who never stops to think about the effects of her actions upon others. Plus, making Anna hide her birth control at her private home for her is so "oh,please!" there.

Contrast that with Lady Edith's near silent agony as her frequent visits to her love child are making the adopted mother(who doesn't know that Edith is the birth mom) so upset that she had to be banished temporarily from seeing her baby girl Marigold.

What kills me is how blind her family is to Edith's pain. Granted, they have plenty on their plate as it is but even the staff can see how much misery the poor woman is in-why doesn't anyone buy a fricking clue already? *sigh* I know this is the usual way that Crawleys treat Edith but it pains me, nonetheless.

 Mary tends to ignore her sister at best and sneer dismissively at her suffering at the worst yet would be so wrong for these two to have some sort of compare and contrast heart to heart at some point? If there is, I hope that Edith gives her hell and wins the fight, for once:


PENNY DREADFUL: The Showtime series returns this April, with a new set of chills and thrills and I for one intend to drink down every ghoulish drop. I only hope that this new season ups the ante on the terrors presented in their first go-round:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Planning a Winter's Respite of reading

With a new year comes new opportunities to do better and since my Christmas Spirit read-a-thon didn't go very well(never finished the second book in my pile), I seek redemption in next week's Seasons of Reading sponsored event, A Winter's Respite.

Fortunately, this one doesn't require a set number of titles or a particular theme, leaving me plenty of options. My plan is to treat this like a vacay(or mini-break, if you're feeling British) and just read a few select books strictly for fun. I will mark my progress on Twitter and have a midway report here at LRG(and a finale one as well). So, let's look at the novels that I plan to party with:

GETTING ALL HEATED UP: The Nikki Heat mystery series that ties in the literary world created by the TV series Castle are pretty much like the source material; smart, fun and a bit steamy at times.

Having enjoyed Heat Wave, I recently picked up two of the latest books featuring NYPD detective Nikki and her journalist buddy Jameson Rook,Frozen Heat and Deadly Heat.  Both stories involve a plot line regarding the mysterious death of Nikki's mother, a story element that was a solid basis for a couple of seasons of Castle which makes me all the more eager to crack these covers open.

 It's interesting that the Richard Castle titles are getting enough readers(there are also Derek Storm books and graphic novels out as well) to warrant this much shelf space, but why not expand the pulpy pleasures that this show has in abundance? Besides, a world with Richard Castle books to read sounds like a great place to be:

LIZZIE BENNET OVERDRIVE: On my last shopping trip, I snagged a copy of The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, the tie-in tome to the fabulous Pemberley Digital web series.

Written by the creators of the show(Bernie Su and Kate Rorick), this book promises to have a little more insight into the lives of the Bennet family and their growing circle of on and offline acquaintances.

Now, I know that this book received mixed reviews from both critics and fans alike but having a piece of this great Jane Austen themed show to turn pages in is sort of a must(besides, I don't own the official DVD). My expectations are reasonably set here, not to mention perhaps an excuse to watch a few of the videos again to better appreciate the new perspective being offered here? Plus, plenty of questions are sure to asked and answered by reading TSDOLB(too many initials, I think), no doubt about it:

HAVING A FLING WITH MISS FISHER: If I have any time left over, I will try to finish up the newest addition to my Nook library which is Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood.

Cocaine Blues is the first title in the Phryne Fisher mysteries that has become an enchanting TV series(Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries) now available in the US. The leading lady of this series is a too smart for her own good flapper that emigrates to Australia and starts up a sleuthing business.

Our Miss Fisher doesn't just catch killers with her quick wits and pearl handled pistol; she also battles social injustice along the way. Subjects like abortion, women's rights and  prejudice against race and religion crop up in her line of duty. I've heard great things about the Miss Fisher show(even caught an episode on PBS recently) and plan to watch season one via Netflix, yet reading the books as well should be even more of a kick:

 The Winter's Respite read-a-thon begins on January 26th and ends on February 1st, so there is plenty of time to join in if you like. Believe me, I could use a break from the every day right now as another brief family illness has come and gone(my little sister is thankfully on the mend).

 Also, putting aside most of my regular reading for a little while,excerpt for my Year of Rereading and Classic Morning Read, should clear up some of my book piles there. One thing is for certain with this new literary venture-complaining about having "nothing to read" will be entirely moot indeed:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Carrie Snyder gives us a Girl Runner worth keeping up with

In Carrie Snyder's debut novel,Girl Runner, we met Aganetha "Aggie" Smart at the age of 104, who is whiling away the remainder of her life alone in a nursing home. When two young people sign her out for a day trip, claiming to be family, Aggie is aware enough to know that they are not who they seem.

However, she is game for one last adventure and willing to go along for the ride this brother and sister(named Kaley and Max) act are taking her on. It turns out that both of them are interested in Aggie's past glory as an Olympic runner for Canada back in 1928, with hopes that making a film about Aggie will help raise money for Kaley to achieve her own gold medal dreams.

For Aggie, this becomes a time to run through her memories as quickly as she used to run across the fields of her family's farm. Becoming an Olympian was something she sort of stumbled into and for a woman of that time period, such a thing was almost like a fairy tale come true:

Aggie found herself at the age of 16 becoming the center of attention from many outside sources, which made her uncomfortable yet it also gained her some friends who weren't part of her family back home, one best friend in particular.

Due to having her training sponsored by a prominent candy company in Toronto, she meets Glad, the niece of the owner who is also on the team and she instantly takes a shine to Aggie. Their relationship is based on a friendly rivalry, with often times Aggie allowing Glad to take the lead both on and off the track.

As they both achieve mutual success(and even a boyfriend for Aggie), the bonds of friendship between Glad and Aggie are challenged almost harsher than the Olympic trials before them demand:

As Aggie continues her unexpected journey with Kaley and Max, more of her past life blurs into her present day thoughts until she reaches the end of one long road only to discover a brand new path before her.

While the story does have shifts in time, it's not hard to keep track of the narrative flow. Snyder's writing is as swift and fluid as any professional runner's pace, with the swirl of former events converging to make a heartfelt conclusion sing true. The tone of the book is easy to fall into step with and at times, hard to put down.

 One of the engaging aspects of her leading lady Aggie is her intense need and desire to run, not just for athletic purposes but to embrace the freedom that it gives her. Running is a strong emotional release for Aggie, especially during times of either intense joy or extreme stress, and that urge is touchingly human for such an emotionally remote character to possess:

Girl Runner is also a tribute to the value of old age and examining even those painful moments of the past in order to see how far you've come in life.

There are family secrets that slowly emerge over the course of the story(not to mention personal regrets and lost loves) that do more than connect the plot dots, yet are touching tales in and of themselves.

With Carrie Snyder also being a short story writer, I can see how this novel might have began as a series of interconnected tales but as a novel. However, I am happy that this book become the lovely novel that it is.

Girl Runner will be released in early February and I urge all readers to reserve their copies now. This beautiful story of one woman's journey through time and space is one that you'll kick yourself for if you don't book your passage as soon as may be:

Friday, January 16, 2015

All that glitters is not gold at this year's Oscars

The Academy Award nominations for 2015 have been announced and much like John Oliver regarding the World Cup, I'm rather ambivalent yet still interested in the final outcome.

In all fairness, everyone can't be made happy here as there is always a good performance,great film or outstanding achievement that gets overlooked or lost in the award show shuffle. However, there is a huge cinematic injustice that needs to be addressed and in good conscience, I must start with it first:

ROBBED OF OSCAR GLORY:  For Selma to receive only two nominations,Best Picture and Best Original Song, is just wrong,oh so wrong. One of best reviewed movies of the year and this is what it gets?

 And before anyone asks, no, I haven't seen the movie(also haven't seen most of the other Best Picture nominees either) but I damn well know quality material when I see it being presented to me. Plus, the massive amount of critical praise(as well as word of mouth) given rings quite sincere.

The vast majority of Oscar nominees this year can be best described as an endless platter of vanilla cupcakes and while certain ones may be  exceptionally flavorful and worthy of notice, that is no excuse for leaving other substantial cinematic sweets off the table.

 In addition,  I flatly refuse to accept the excuse that "Selma got LBJ wrong" contention as a good reason for this- The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game both had questions raised about their historical/real life authenticity and neither movie suffered for that.

 In addition, American Sniper got major nods in the main categories,despite the fact that the memoir it was based on was the subject of a petty and vindictive lawsuit by former pro wrestler and ex- governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura(who won,sadly, taking money from the widow of a veteran as well as going after the publisher).

While I firmly believe that hideous and vile legal action should have no bearing on the merits of the film adaptation, it's a bit of a puzzler as to why no one has brought this up yet Selma for some reason is being held to a higher standard-don't make me say it, okay? I think we all know all too damn well.

Yes, I will still watch the Oscars but I am shaking my head in disgust. *sigh* Hopefully, audiences will reward Selma with the box office glory that the Academy appears to be reluctant to give it:

IN OTHER NEWS: Meanwhile, surprising snubs were given in the Best Actress category to Amy Adams, who just won a Golden Globe for her work in Big Eyes, and Jennifer Aniston,  who has been receiving a lot of indie cred for Cake recently.

One nominee that was to be expected here is Julianne Moore for Still Alice, where she plays a woman suffering from early onset ALS. Given the quiet radiance of her work over the years,not to mention being a five time Oscar nominee and not yet a winner, Moore's time has come to claim her award.

No doubt Reese Witherspoon won't be pleased about this but this is not your night, dear, as a great one once said in On The Waterfront. Rosemund Pike and Felicity Jones are first timers and I'm not seeing Marion Cotillard taking this one. So, let's be happy for Julianne Moore and wish her well come February 22:

ENJOYING SOME RAZZIE DAZZLE: The gang at the Golden Raspberry Awards really outdid themselves this time, with the likes of Transformers 4, The Legend of Hercules and Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas getting their well deserved knocks here.

Adam Sandler really should send Kirk Cameron a gift basket in thanks for drawing most of the Razzie ire this season away from him. While Sandler and company didn't entirely escape their notice, thanks to the horror that was Blended, Kirk Cameron's egotistic ode to enforced Christmas cheer has earned him six nominations, including one for that ideal pair,himself and his ego(so not kidding about that!).

As much as I love Christmas, Kirk Cameron's annoying insistence that there is only right way to enjoy the Yuletide season is coal in your stocking worthy indeed. Also, this ridiculous propaganda piece is bound to create a new generation of Grinchy Scrooges ready to bah humbug the holiday away:

Oh,well, the Oscar race is now off and running officially, so let's make the best of it, shall we? One saving grace is that Neil Patrick Harris is hosting this year and if anyone was ever meant to take up where the delightful Billy Crystal left off, it is definitely him. At the very least, our popcorn will be warmed by a most charming song and dance or two:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The doings at Downton Abbey, Agent Carter's latest report and Tina & Amy's last laugh at the Golden Globes

Downton Abbey is only two episodes in and already, we're knee deep in drama. Plus, a special guest star(Richard E. Grant) who is flirting with Lady Cora and possibly the family dog(way to be not jealous, your Lordship!).

To start with, Thomas gets over his bitterness about Jimmy leaving to slip a poison pill in Moseley's ear regarding Miss Baxter's criminal past, Lady Mary gets Anna to buy her some birth control for her little love jaunt with Gillingham and Lord Grantham has  a tiff with Carson regarding the local war monument.

 I'm still concerned about Lady Edith and her "godmother" position,unlike her parents who find her interest as another attention seeking whim on her part(those people just work my nerves when it comes to Edith,honestly!), but these other plot points are worth exploring. Even Thomas, with his schemes against Bates, can be simply just as lonely and human as the others after all:

 Meanwhile,Agent Carter is still hunting down Howard Stark's missing weapons and is managing to stay one step ahead of her SSR colleagues.

Unfortunately, one of them met an untimely end due to her need for secrecy(or so she feels) but this mission has more deadly parameters than anyone knows about, except possibly for Stark himself and Jarvis.

Speaking of Jarvis, he and Peggy are getting to know each other very well(no romance, as the gentleman is devoted to his wife and Agent Carter is married to her work at the moment) and make a great team.  I just hope their combined cleverness can save them from trouble coming from all corners here:

The Golden Globes went off without a hitch and congrats are in order for Anna Froggett, Amy Adams, Eddie Redmayne and John Legend with Common(how cool was it that Prince gave them the Best Song award?!).

The big highlight of the night was, of course, the opening riffs from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who completed their third and final gig as hostesses of this event. The ladies were sharp and sassy as always, with some of their more pointed zingers hitting harder than others. In my opinion, they were so right about The Interview and yes, Cosby does deserve being razzed there(he should get much worse but karma will take care of that, I'm sure).

I don't know who will be replacing them but whoever it is, they certainly have quite a pair of shoes to fill(two pair, actually) indeed:


HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER: New episodes will return on January 29, along with the other Shonda Rhimes shows that precede it. Waiting is hard, but this does give me time to enjoy new Elementary episodes, so my withdrawal isn't that harsh: