Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: Houdini

History Channel Mini-Series Houdini Isn't as Good as Star Adrien Brody
Boston Globe

Alas, Houdini, a new two-part miniseries on History (9pm), is not exceptional. It’s a boilerplate biopic that fails to deliver any sense of intimacy with Harry Houdini, as it skips among Houdini’s major life events with an abundance of clunky expositional dialogue and a painfully heavy-handed voice-over.

Adrien Brody gives a committed performance as the famous magician who died at 52 in 1926. He’s particularly dynamic in the scenes that reproduce Houdini’s acts, playing the expert showman and self-promoter with his wife, Bess (Kristen Connolly), as his stage partner.

Keep reading.

Preview: The X Factor UK

Simon Cowell is Back at the Judges' Table on U.S. Television

The thrill of television's singing competitions died out a season or two ago with a combination of factors killing off what had been the unparalleled, shared joy of watching America's unsung singers rise to fame - and judge Simon Cowell slamming down those who shouldn't sing several pegs on Fox's yup-it's-still-on American Idol.

Simon himself may've done the TV genre the most harm. His The X Factor on Fox opened the floodgates for American Idol knockoffs that simultaneously siphoned off Idol's viewers and created a joyless commodity you could find on TV on any network at any time of year. Worse, The X Factor started creatively strong and got worse and worse as Simon or Fox or someone desperately tried to make it more popular than it was.

Kids, the televised singing competition is dead. Rising Star, anyone? Anyone? Right.

Preview: Breathless

Sexy Doctors in 1960s London

TV may have lush, stylish period pieces like AMC's Mad Men and, going further back in time, PBS's Downton Abbey. But do any of them have Jack Davenport starring as a doctor in 1960s London, just as the sexual revolution is taking off? PBS's three-part Breathless (episode 2, 9pm) does. The drama also gives TV something it's in desperately short supply of: sudsy soap operas.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Preview: Doctor Who

Beware the Dalek Fleet on the New Doctor Who

Presciently, the brilliant team behind BBC America's love-it-or-love-it Doctor Who (9pm) - if you don't love it, you already clicked away - perhaps sensing Whovian unrest about the new doctor, Peter Capaldi, have loaded the second episode of the new season with a whole fleet of oft-retuning and reliably, deliciously evil daleks.

The fearsome, robot-like creatures kill everything that's not a dalek. Their evil nature gets Doctor Who wondering who he himself is: evil or good. Which is fairly typical of a casting change for the lead actor.

The previous Doctor, Matt Smith, had a personality that evolved and changed over the years. His evolution gives Doctor Who fans hope that Peter will claim his own Doctor personality and maybe, just maybe will in time be as loved as his predecessors.

Friday, August 29, 2014

5Qs on Friday: Mira Sorvino

A Scary Mystery is Swirling Around Mira Sorvino

About a quarter of the way into last week's season premiere of BBC America's wonderfully dark Intruders (Saturday, 10pm), John Simm's Jack Whelan says to his wife, Mira Sorvino's Amy Whelan, "You have not been yourself." To put it mildly.

On the show, from X-Files' Glen Morgan and based on the novel "The Intruders" by Michael Marshall Smith, Mira's character is a mysterious woman whose odd behavior and sudden disappearance are as dark and spooky as the show itself. Men dressed in black suits stealthily bump around suburban neighborhoods, unlocking doors and thrusting people into exorcism-type convulsions, when they're not killing them.

Mira spoke with TVFirstLook about Intruders, her strange character Amy and being part of TV's Golden Age of dramas.

TVFirstLook: Glen Morgan is a legend in creepy TV. What's it like to work with him?

Review: Party Down

Bingeworthy: The Great Comedy Party Down is a Whos-Who of Today's TV Stars

One of the best TV comedies that most TV viewers have never heard of is Starz' great and influential Party Down, which ignited or re-ignited the careers of Glee's Jane Lynch, Masters of Sex's Lizzy Caplan, Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott, Marry Me's Ken Marino, Veronica Mars' Ryan Hansen, Silicon Valley's Martin Starr and Will & Grace's Megan Mullally.

If you ever wanted to get an inside look at fame just before it happens, Party Down is it.

Preview: Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

Cinematographer Dyanna Taylor Celebrates Photographer Dorothea Lange

American Masters — Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning (PBS, 9pm) explores the life, passions and uncompromising vision of the influential photographer, whose enduring images document five turbulent decades of American history, including the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II Japanese internment camps. Peabody- and five-time Emmy award-winning cinematographer Dyanna Taylor — the granddaughter of Lange and writer/social scientist Paul Schuster Taylor — directs and narrates this intimate American Masters documentary. Keep reading.

Review: No Cameras Allowed

James Marcus Haney's Rock Concert Crashing is Thrilling
New York Times

No Cameras Allowed (MTV, 10pm) - James Marcus Haney is an appealing narrator, evincing humility and moxie. There are subplots (tensions with parents over graduation; neglect of his girlfriend and a disabled buddy) that dovetail into a crisis (an injury in Pamplona, Spain) and a pat ending almost too MTV-friendly. But No Cameras Allowed brims with enthusiasm, vividly conveying rock ’n’ roll’s hectic, bleary and exhilarating moments. Keep reading.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: Rejoice with Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot

Beautiful Exploration of Jewish Music
New York Daily News

Beyond the wonderful music, Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot share a great story on this moving edition of PBS’ Great Performances (9pm).

While Perlman lives in New York and Helfgot is based at Manhattan’s Park East Synagogue, Perlman admits the first time he saw the cantor was on a trip to Israel, where Helfgot happened to be on tour performing.

Once he had seen the performance, Perlman says, he went backstage and told Helfgot they had to do something together.

So they did, and it’s as satisfying as everyone would expect.

Keep reading.

Preview: Project Runway

Project Runway Designers Rock Alternative Wedding Dresses

Sure, one season of Project Runway and its offshoots blends into another. But that's OK as season 13 is proving with fast-paced episodes, talented designers and lovable real-life characters spiced up with a dash of not so nice (this season, that's Indian spice). Tonight at 9pm, Runway's contestants shake up the traditional wedding dress with an alternative edge fit for a rocker (think black).