Darkest Hour stands apart from more routine historical dramas.
A review of season two of FX's "Fargo."
The best television programs of 2014.
Picks for the best of the 2013-14 television season, in the form of a Dream Emmy ballot.
Clever, fun, twisted, and wildly entertaining in the way that fans of not just "Fargo" but all of the Coens’ work hoped it would be.
"Back to Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes."—"Sherlock," Episode 3.1, "The Empty Hearse" From Rockford to House, television producers have made a fortune building programs around confident, engaging leading men. If comedy is about ensemble, drama is so often defined by its leading characters. When people think of their favorite shows, it's typically the names of the male lead—Tony Soprano, Walter White, Dexter Morgan—that come to mind before the title of the show itself. Of course, it helps when they're one and the same; look no further than the most interesting character on TV this month when "Sherlock" returns to PBS this Sunday, January 19, 2014 as a part of the "Masterpiece Mystery" series. With a slightly more sentimental tone, more reliance on visuals than the first two seasons, and a real lack of a villain until the third and final chapter, the 2014 episodes of "Sherlock" may throw some fans for a loop. However, what works about "Sherlock" has not been lost. The writing is still incredibly crisp, so smart, and never boring, and the deeper focus on relatable emotion, particularly in the definition of the relationship between Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman), could even bring in new fans to this international phenomenon. Stop worrying; "Sherlock" is still great. The final chapter of season two of "Sherlock," "The Reichenbach Fall," ended with the death of Sherlock Holmes. Watson saw Holmes throw himself from a rooftop and saw the bloodied body of his friend and partner on the pavement. And then, in a classic cliffhanger that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have loved, Watson gave a speech at Holmes' tombstone as the detective watched from a distance. For two years (episode 2.3 originally played in January of 2012 in the U.K.), the rabid fan base of this show has devoted an amazing amount of time and energy to trying to figure how Holmes faked his death. I would, of course, never spoil it here, but I can tell you that Executive Producer/Writer Mark Gatiss has crafted a beauty of a resolution in "The Empty Hearse," working very loosely from the Doyle story "The Adventure of Empty House." Gatiss and the team behind "Sherlock" have a blast in "The Empty Hearse" playing with audience expectations and hopes for what would happen this season. They present several possibilities of what might have happened that fateful day, almost as if they've read the fan theories posted online in the 24 months since Holmes' death and brought them to life. What might throw audiences is that so much of "The Empty Hearse" is built around the return of Holmes that the mystery plotting leaves a little to be desired. Holmes is brought back in because of a terrorist threat but it feels like an afterthought to the character drama for most of the episode. Surprisingly, there's even less straightforward mystery in "The Sign of Three," the second episode, which almost plays more like a comedy than anything else. However, that's part of the brilliance of "Sherlock" and why it has created such a loyal following—the defiance of genre expectations. I can't say much about the plot of "Three" due to what could be considered spoilers at the very core of the plot description but it takes such a subtle, seamless shift in tone from comedy to mystery that you can barely tell it's happening. You're just engrossed in it without even knowing it. The greatest mystery shows stay one step ahead of you, leading the way but never quite allowing you to see around the corner. It's so difficult to tell where an episode of "Sherlock" is going next but the confidence of the filmmaking is so strong that we take the journey. It helps to have two actors as ridiculously talented as Cumberbatch and Freeman, who are really allowed to explore the emotional core of the relationship between their characters this season in new ways. This is a more vulnerable Holmes and Cumberbatch clearly relishes getting deeper into the character. He's a self-described "high-functioning sociopath" and yet he's starting to learn how much he needs Watson and vice versa. Cumberbatch is the star but Freeman deserves praise, especially for the delicate work he does late in the first episode. You may even have tears in your eyes. Any tears brought upon by FOX's "The Following," returning the same night, will be over the waste of talent on display. Kevin Bacon, a talent that was so underrated for so many years in films like "JFK" and "Murder in the First," is just woefully underutilized here as FBI Agent Ryan Hardy, a man on the edge. Aren't they all? Hardy is an expert on serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who was blown up in a boathouse at the end of season one (yes, they actually went there), but, of course, he wasn't. (Not a spoiler, there's no show without him and he's in that publicity still above. His death was less believable than Sherlock's.) To start season two, Hardy still thinks something suspicious happened that night and still grieves the loss of his ex-wife Claire (Natalie Zea) at the hands of a Carroll supporter. While the madman may be out of the spotlight, his followers are not, and season two opens with a group of maniacs wearing Carroll masks who begin stabbing people in a subway train while shouting "Resurrection!" As with so many elements of "The Following" the moment lacks the inherent tension it should have, coming off as unbelievable and manipulative. The first season of "The Following" frustrated me but I went with a lot of it because I assumed that Bacon and writer/creator Kevin Williamson ("Scream") were going somewhere interesting. I've given up on that assumption. None of this show feels or sounds real. Not one beat. Not the plotting or the characters. In so many ways, it's the anti-"Sherlock." During Sunday night's premiere of "The Following," following the NFC Championship Game, you can expect to see roughly 14 commercials for Thursday night's FOX dramedy, "Rake," a remake of the Australian television series starring Greg Kinnear as a gambling, drinking, whoring attorney who can get his clients off but can't solve the problems in his own life. Of course, FOX is hoping that Keegan Deane becomes as popular as Dr. House in the anti-hero pantheon of the network. Despite Kinnear's best efforts, I'd say that's unlikely to happen in episode one. The first episode of "Rake" simply doesn't make enough of an impact, feeling like it's either trying to hard ("Look at how OUTRAGEOUS he is!") or not trying hard enough in terms of character (the clichés pile up to a David E. Kelley degree—quirky client, opposing attorney he knows, etc.) If the show does work or connect, it will be due to what Kinnear brings to it. He's charming enough and funny enough to make it work. If only the writing can rise to his abilities. A hero, anti- or otherwise, is nothing without the writing to back him up. We may remember the names like Tony Soprano and Walter White but we never would do so without the men like David Chase and Vince Gilligan who give them something interesting to say.
Edgar Wright, the director of "The World's End," talks about the dangers of nostalgia, his work on "Ant Man" and the amazing references some people think they see in his films.
Jana Monji reports on the Comic-Con panel for the new movie "The World's End," from the team behind "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz."
Marie writes: There was a time when Animation was done by slaves with a brush in one hand and a beer in the other. Gary Larson's "Tales From the Far Side" (1994) was such a project. I should know; I worked on it. Produced by Marv Newland at his Vancouver studio "International Rocketship", it first aired as a CBS Halloween special (Larson threw a party for the crew at the Pan Pacific Hotel where we watched the film on a big screen) and was later entered into the 1995 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. It spawned a sequel "Tales From the Far Side II" (1997) - I worked on that too. Here it is, below.
Marie writes: Welcome to "Good Books", an online bookseller based in New Zealand. Every time you buy a book through them, 100% of the retail profit goes directly to fund projects in partnership with Oxfam; projects which provide clean water, sanitation, develop sustainable agriculture and create access to education for communities in need. To increase awareness of Good Books' efforts to raise money for Oxfam, String Theory (New Zeland based agency) teamed up with collaborative design production comany "Buck" to create the first of three videos in a digital campaign called Good Books Great Writers. Behold the award winning animated Good Books Metamorphosis.
Marie writes: The unseen forces have spoken! The universe has filled a void obviously needing to be filled: there is now a font made entirely of cats. Called Neko Font (Japanese for "cat font") it's a web app that transforms text into a font comprised of cat pictures. All you need to do is write something in the text box, press "enter" on your keyboard and Neko Font instantly transforms the letters into kitties! Thanks go to intrepid club member Sandy Kahn for alerting the Ebert Club to this important advancement in typography. To learn more, read the article "There is now a font made entirely of cats" and to test it out yourself, go here: Neko Font. Meanwhile, behold what mankind can achieve when it has nothing better to do....
Marie writes: For those unaware, it seems our intrepid leader, the Grand Poobah, has been struck by some dirty rotten luck..."This will be boring. I'll make it short. I have a slight and nearly invisible hairline fracture involving my left femur. I didn't fall. I didn't break it. It just sort of...happened to itself." - Roger
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Marie writes: Behold a living jewel; a dragonfly covered in dew as seen through the macro-lens of French photographer David Chambon. And who has shot a stunning series of photos featuring insects covered in tiny water droplets. To view others in addition to these, visit here.
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Marie writes: It's no secret that most Corporations are evil - or at the very least, suck big time. And while I have no actual proof, I'm fairly certain there is a special level of Dante's Hell reserved just for them. (Map of Dante's Hell.)That being the case, when my younger brother Paul wrote me about a cool project sponsored by Volkswagen, I was understandably wary and ready to denounce it sight-unseen as self-serving Corporate shyte. As luck would have it however, I was blessed at birth with curiosity and which got the better of me and why I took a look. For what I found was nothing less than extraordinary....
Marie writes: At long last, after two years of mediocre weather compounded by bad timing, the planets managed to align themselves again in my favor and I was finally able to return to Pender Island and where my tale begins....
Marie writes: behold the power of words, the pen mightier than the sword.
This is a free edited sample of the Christmas Newsletter.
For Roger's invitation to the Club, go here.
From the Grand Poobah and Mrs. Poobah:
Seasons Greetings Everyone!
From the Poobah: Chaz and Roger Ebert wish you Peace in the New Year!
Marie writes: the following moment of happiness is brought to you by the glorious Tilda Swinton, who recently sent the Grand Poobah a photo of herself taken on her farm in Scotland, holding a batch of English Springer puppies!
"I realize that most of the turning points in my career were brought about by others. My life has largely happened to me without any conscious plan. I was an indifferent student except at subjects that interested me, and those I followed beyond the classroom, stealing time from others I should have been studying. I was no good at math beyond algebra. I flunked French four times in college. I had no patience for memorization, but I could easily remember words I responded to. In college a chart of my grades resembled a mountain range. My first real newspaper job came when my best friend's father hired me to cover high school sports for the local daily. In college a friend told me I must join him in publishing an alternative weekly and then left it in my hands. That led to the Daily Illini, and that in turn led to the Chicago Sun-Times, where I have worked ever since 1966. I became the movie critic six months later through no premeditation, when the job was offered to me out of a clear blue sky."Visit "I was born inside the movie of my life" to read the opening pages from Roger's forthcoming memoir to be published September 13, 2011.
"I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out." - from LIFE ITSELF
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Marie writes: Some of you may have noticed that I have a soft spot for surfing videos. It's not the sport itself - though I do admire it - so much as the camerawork it inspires, and because I have a translucency fetish; I take great pleasure in seeing light pass through something else. There's an ethereal and other-worldly quality to it which elevates my soul; sunlight pouring through a humble jar of orange marmalade enough to make me think I'm looking at God; smile.And so needless to say, when Club member Lynn McKenzie submitted a link to Paul McCartney's stunning new music video called "Blue Sway" - I was utterly captivated. (click image to enlarge.)
Marie writes: There's a glorified duck pond at the center of the complex where I live. And since moving in, my apartment has been an object of enduring fascination for Canadian geese - who arrive each Spring like a squadron of jet fighters returning from a mission in France, to run a sweeping aerial recon my little garden aka: playhouse for birds... (click to enlarge)
This is a special free sample of the Newsletter members receive weekly. It contains content gathered from several past issues and reflects the diversity of what you'll find inside the Ebert Club. For Roger's invitation to the Club, go HERE.
"There is a stubbornness about me that can never bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises with every attempt to intimidate me." - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
From the Big Kahuna: Yes, this is the front of the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, where Ebertfest is held every year. The old marquee was showing its age, and will be replaced by the time Ebertfest 2011 is held on April 27-30. Update: I read in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette that the new marquee is still in design, but park officials expect it to be a better complement to the theater's Italian Renaissance-style architecture and resemble the 1921 original marquee. When concepts are finalized, they will go before the park board for approval.
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