Wolf Hall

It’s an old story — Henry and Anne — told from a new perspective, that of Thomas Cromwell, the advisor who finally figured out how to end Henry’s marriage.  This 6-hour miniseries is based on Hilary Mantel’s well-regarded books.  I have some quibbles with some of the portrayals — Thomas More is little more than a caricature — but the character of Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son admired by Henry but detested by almost everyone else, seems exactly right.

Cromwell is played by Mark Rylance, considered the premier Shakespearean actor of his generation.  (He was seen in NY last year as Olivia in the all-male RSC version of 12th Night — the BBC actually delayed production of this series for a year to accommodate Rylance’s schedule).  He is in nearly every scene, and dominates the screen even when he says little.  It’s not every stage actor who can make the transition to the small screen, which is based more on facial expressions than voice.  But Rylance is magnificent.

Up-and-coming English actress Claire Foy presents a delightfully petulant Anne.  And Damien Lewis, last scene hanging from a crane in Showtime’s Homeland, is wonderful as Henry.  It may be the first time that the red-haired Henry is played by an actual redhead.

The rest of the cast is made up of the first-rate stage actors that the British usually call on for productions like this — they have a deep bench.  GOT watchers will see a lot of familiar faces.

Production values are high. Many scenes are shot in English country houses of the period.  I also liked the decision to light the production in a way that approximates the period — natural sunlight or candle-punctuated blackness.

This is a talky production — more realpolitik than heaving boobs.  (If you want those, watch Outlander.)  And if you aren’t intimately familiar with Tudor history (i.e., the name Mark Smeaton means nothing to you), you might have some trouble keeping everybody straight, particularly in the first couple of episodes. But stick with it — this is a production whose virtues build slowly.

Currently showing on PBS and available on PBS streaming.

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Interstellar

I really wanted to like this movie.  But I can see why it didn’t find an audience.  It moves too slowly for action movie fans, and is too spacey for the space movie fans — a bad combination.

When you’re doing a sci/fi movie, you have two choices —  you can speculate about stuff that doesn’t exist yet, based on plausible science, or just go with the mitochlorians.  This movie tries to do both.  The set up — in a not-so-distant future world devastated by climate change, a small group of heroic scientists struggle to put together an interstellar mission, to discover a new world for human beings — is eminently plausible.  The resolution is — not.

This isn’t a terrible movie.  Matthew McConaughey is pretty good as Cooper, the guy who points his ship into the unknown knowing that, for all practical purposes, he is likely never to be seen again.  There are lots of wonderful actors doing great things in small parts — any movie with Michael Caine in it is worth watching.  The multi-functional robot, TARS, is a brilliant creation — R2D2 with a wicked sense of humor (“commencing self-destruct sequence”).  The movie is full of “Easter Egg” references to classic sci/fi films (“That’s no wave.”)  Even Cooper’s name may be a play on DB Cooper — it’s that kind of movie.  And the special effects are fantastic, even on the small screen.

I’m glad I saw the movie.  But don’t expect too much.

Family viewing note:  Family relationships, and the nature of sacrifice and loss, are at the heart of this film, and inform some of the better scenes.

Gone Girl

A guy down on his luck is forced to move from NYC to Missouri with his high-maintenance wife.  The wife disappears, and before you can say good riddance, the guy is arrested for murder.

This isn’t a great movie, maybe not even a good one.  It doesn’t have a “message,” or even a point.    But it is certainly entertaining, despite its extended running time.  The screenplay, an adaptation by Gillian Flynn of her own novel, is crisply done — you won’t have time to notice the glaring plot holes until well after the movie is over.

Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike do a great job providing some credibility to totally non-believable characters.  The supporting cast is pretty good too.

So relax and enjoy it.  Just remember to turn your brain off first.

Family viewing note:  This movie has a well-deserved R rating for one scene of horrific violence.  And there are a number of offhand S&M references that you may or may not want to explain to your 12-year old.