Penny Dreadful: The End (Review)

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It was always safe to assume that Penny Dreadful was going to end on one hell of a downer and the series did not disappoint. When the end finally came, after Showtime slapped the last two episodes together for the grand finale, it was a crescendo of depression all around. The characters, the viewers and the storyline all bypassed melancholia completely.

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives looked one step from dead this season; signposting that things were not going to end well for her and they did not.

The last two episodes, “Perpetual Night” and and “The Blessed Dark” both took place back in London.  Chandler, Sir Malcolm and Kataenay all arrive at the docks to find them swarming with rats.  Heading to the mansion they find Vanessa gone and the building full of vampires.

There is a desperate fight and things look pretty bad for the trio until Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks) wielding a pistol and a knife. After the battle, she cauterizes the bite on Sir Malcolm’s neck and introduces herself to Ethan. 

Cat tells the men of the killing fog and the darkness. She also explains that finding Vanessa is high on her list of priorities as well.

Chandler goes to find Victor Frankenstein,  to treat Sir Malcolm, and at the lab, the doctor (Harry Treadawayinteracts with Lily (Billie Piper) and it does not go well. John Clare (Rory Kinnear) enjoys his family while his son is dying. The youngster coughs up great gouts of blood and soon dies.

Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) tells all the prostitutes to leave as Lily is gone. Justine (Jessica Barden) shoves a knife in Dorian’s chest with no effect. The women all leave in a panic except for the tiny prostitute. She refuses to return to the old life of “being on her knees” and Gray breaks her neck. 

Ethan goes to Victor’s flat and a  little boy  vampire tells offers to lead him to the doctor. Malcolm and Catriona do  a little verbal sparring.  Dr. Seward arrives and joins the “Save Vanessa Ives Party.”

Lily reveals the death of her baby and this sad tale prompts Frankenstein to  release the object of his desire.Ethan is lead into a trap. Dracula speaks with Chandler (repeated the “creatures of the night” line) and the lead vampire threatens Ethan with death.

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Victor releases Lily

Dr. Seward takes Malcolm and Cat to question Renfield (Samuel Barnett) and later Seward “regresses” her former secretary to learn where Vanessa is being held. 

Vampires surround Ethan and he battles the ever increasing horde. Morphing into a werewolf Chandler begins killing the things.  Kaetenay arrives and changing into a werewolf also helps his “son”   wreak havoc on the fanged creatures.

In “The Blessed Dark: the Penny Dreadful gang are reunited after Chandler and Kaetenay defeat the vampires. The boy vampire reports to Dracula on the two men’s victory over the vampires he opts to wait on their arrival.

Ethan learns from Kaetenay that the old Apache made him a werewolf and after a short and bitter argument, Chandler accepts his fate and swears to save Vanessa. Seward walks with Renfield in his mind and Lily returns to Dorian to find Justine dead and the prostitutes gone.

Lily learns from Gray that immortality means loneliness  and a lack of passion. She leaves. Victor and Jekyll have words and the Bedlam doctor tells Victor that his father has died and he is now Lord Hyde.

Frankenstein joins forces with Malcolm, Seward and Cat to save Vanessa.

After John Clare’s son dies, he is horrified to learn that his wife wants to have the boy resurrected by Dr. Frankenstein.

Sir Malcolm, Seward, Chandler, Frankenstein, Hartdegen and Kaetenay converge on the slaughter house. Ethan and Kaetenay enter via another entrance and the rest find a room full of rats and eviscerated corpses hanging from the ceiling. The group find Dracula and are surrounded by vampires.

Asking Dracula about his daughter Mina, Sir Malcolm learns she was only a pawn. He tells the rest of the group that they should leave and they refuse. Telling his colleagues that he would proudly die alongside of them, Sir Malcolm starts the  battle.

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Sir Malcolm, Victor, Dr. Seward and Catriona all prepare to fight Dracula

In the sewers, Ethan and Kaetenay fight their way to the main group. The two parties join and they clear the room of vampires.  Dracula begins battling the rescuers. Chandler breaks away and finds Vanessa.  The two talk and she explains that it is too late.

Ethan fulfills the prophecy and saves Vanessa by killing her. Dracula, sensing  Vanessa’s death, flees. The fog departs and the sky clears, the “end of days” has finished. John Clare buries his son in the sea and then goes to visit Vanessa’s grave.

Penny Dreadful delivered a splendid, if ultimately depressing, end to its three season run. A far ranging tale that included so many icons  in the world of classic horror. The British specialize in this type of costumed horror. (Anyone who doubts this should look at old Hammer films as proof of their expertise.)

The final fights were brilliantly choreographed and quickly paced. Short and impressive, these were the highlight of the last show in the season. Ultimately  however it was heart breaking that Vanessa Ives had to die. (Although Eva Green must have been relieved to get out of that corpse-like makeup.)

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Vanessa Ives looking pale as death

Showtime have wrapped up Penny Dreadful with a funereal tone that feels spot on for the story and its characters.  If you have not seen the finale, stop reading this and head over right now to see the end of this fantastic three season run.

 

Wild Horses (2015): Robert Duvall Misses the Mark in Familial Film

Robert Duvall, James Franco, Josh Hartnett in Wild Horses

What does an Oscar winning performer do when he want’s work for his younger wife? He writes and directs a couple of films. Wild Horses is the latest offering from 84 year-old Robert Duvall, the 2015 film is his second work as “auteur.” The first was Assassination Tango  in 2002 and that film also had his wife Luciana Pedraza as a member of the cast. Granted, the two were not yet married, but they were before the end of 2004 bowed out and the couple were living together seven years prior to their tying the knot.  

What does this have to do with Duvall’s somnambulistic modern-day western/mystery? Quite a  lot when one considers that the latest missus Duvall would most likely not have been cast as the female Texas Ranger who has the unenviable task of questioning Duvall’s character about the 15 year-old disappearance of a gay teenager.

Robert Duvall plays Scott Briggs, a wealthy and   irascible old rancher who is on his last legs.  At the beginning of the film he chases his son off the ranch for being gay. Years later, the mother of his son’s boyfriend wants closure on the disappearance of her child. She asks Texas Ranger Samantha Payne (Luciana Duvall nee, Pedraza) to open the cold case and the female ranger is pointed in the direction of Briggs, who was always the major suspect in the boy’s disappearance.

The film has an impressive cast overall. James Franco plays Ben Briggs, the gay teenager all grown up and Josh Hartnett plays his brother K.C. Briggs. True Blood alumnus  Jim Parrack plays Deputy Rogers and  Angie Cepeda is Maria, the Briggs’ brother’s half-sister. 

With all the experience on screen it is amazing that this august effort from Duvall is awkward, dull and lacks any real chemistry between any of the actors. Duvall can be forgiven for falling back on playing the same sort of character that he’s played before, he is after all  helming the  feature.

Essentially his Scott Briggs is another version of the character he played most recently in The Judge and prior to that A Night in Old Mexico.  (Although both roles could be said to be shades of his  retired Texas Ranger in the 1989 television mini-series Lonesome Dove.)  The former film, with Robert Downey Jr was an exercise in frustration and boredom and the latter film was actually quite good, albeit also a tad disappointing.

Wild Horses feels like a low/no budget Indie product with too many actors who are not professional or experienced. Sadly, for whatever reason, Duvall opted to put his wife with performers who sounded like they were reading their lines from cue-cards. While Luciana has a stilted delivery to her dialogue, it could have worked to her advantage were she not put with other’s whose performances were so wooden.

*Sidenote* It did work for a little while. Those who have worked with men and women from law enforcement will recognize that awkward delivery of pronouncement. Perhaps it comes from all that spouting of legalese that does not sound like real language at all but most cops, aka policemen and women, have that very dry delivery. Too much of this, however, just makes the viewer tune out. Had Pedraza/Duvall had more presence and authority it might have worked regardless of her stilted delivery.

Duvall’s character, like the rest of the characters in the film is just not likable.  Perhaps the only two roles  in the entire film that elicit any empathy  are Franco’s gay estranged son and Cepeda’s Maria. One is the “odd man out” and the other the offspring fathered on the other side of the sheets. Neither character gets enough screen time however so what little feelings the audience develop never have a chance to deepen.

Scott Briggs is apparently dying, one assumes from a heart condition and later when he reveals that his time is short, the audience do not really care. Briggs only tries for redemption because he is dying. How much more noble would it have been for his character to release the mother from her agony of not knowing her son’s fate,  without the specter of death forcing him to come clean.

This was a disappointing offering from such a powerhouse performer and Academy Award winner. There does have to be a huge amount of admiration, however, for an octogenarian who has the mettle to not only write and direct a feature length film (his second in 13 years), but to star in it as well.  Unfortunately it just does not work.

While the beautiful backdrop of Utah, where the film was shot, provides some gorgeous scenery to look at, the film just feels forced, false and feeble. This is a sad reflection on an actor who is not only a legend, but an icon as well.  Speaking as a long time Robert Duvall fan, this was bitterly disappointing.

Wild Horses is a 2.5 out of 5 star film. While not as abysmal as that other Lonesome Dove alumni Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman,  Duvall’s latest is one of those films that audiences and fans can wait for. This is a “late night” film, something to watch when courting sleep.

Bunraku (2010)

A little deviation from the world cinema train. Bunraku feels like it should fall under that category. Here’s a link to the trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVabHV…

The Faculty (1998) School Hard

Cover of "The Faculty"
Cover of The Faculty

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez The Faculty is a great picture that pokes fun at the relationships and politics in an average American high school. Even the location of the school is set in a state that is synonymous with average, Ohio.

The cast list for The Faculty is impressive, Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Laura Harris, Clea Duvall, Selma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Piper Laurie, and Jon Stewart. Despite the heavy calibre of actors that Rodriguez worked with, at no time does the film lose its ensemble feel.

Rodriguez’s film has a very tongue-in-cheek feel to it from start to finish. And the film has not only aged well, but, it doesn’t lose anything with repeated viewings. I estimate that I’ve seen this film at least ten to twenty times and still get a kick out of it. Of course that could just be me.

The film opens with the football coach throwing a fit at his practicing football players. He shouts demeaning things at them as they depart the field to hit the showers. The coach (Robert Patrick) then turns the water bench over and stomps on one of the field’s water sprinklers. He kneels down and we see the shadow of someone approaching. “Yeah?” Coach asks snottily, “What.”

The next time we see the coach he is acting much differently. He corners the principal in her office, after asking her for a pencil, he then shoves it through her hand. After he takes it back out, he murmurs, “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Piper Laurie says the same thing when she stabs the principal later with a pair of scissors. As the title suggests whatever is going on at this school, it started with the faculty.

The rest of the film deals with an alien parasite invasion that completely takes over the school staff and is in danger of taking over not only the school, but the entire town. This film is a perfect example of why Rodriguez is such a good director. The story doesn’t lag and the pace is not so fast as to leave you gasping. Everything dovetails together perfectly.

Each character in the film is presented in a way to pull us, the audience, in. We feel an immediate empathy for these school kids who all remind us of kids we went to school with. The same can be said for the teaching staff. This is one film that has that perfect mix between script, actor and director. It is an eternal favourite in our house, in fact we just finished watching it again.

So if you haven’t got anything better to do, pop yourself some corn, open up a Coke or any other drink of your choice and watch it again.  I’ll bet you still enjoy it as much as the first time you watched it, or it you haven’t seen it before…What are you waiting for, go watch it.