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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Pryce’

“TALES FROM THE LOOP” My rating: B+ (Now streaming on Amazon Plus)

Television has had no shortage of sci-fi/fantasy anthologies (going as far back as the original “Twilight Zone” and continuing today with streaming hits like “Black Mirror”), so when you find an example of the genre that feels fresh and invigorating you’ve got to pay attention.

“Tales from the Loop” on Amazon Plus is a surprisingly potent blend of technological pipe dream and essential human longing for connections.  Though it debuted in April, I’d heard almost nothing about it until stumbling across it while web surfing. This one sticks with you.

Inspired by the paintings of Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag, the series’ superb art direction mixes small-town Americana with futuristic (actually retro futuristic) trappings.

The Ohio burg in which the show is set looks utterly normal…except that a field outside town is dominated by three huge concrete silos, the only visible part of The Loop, a massive underground research facility (the circular corridors suggest a particle accelerator) that is the region’s biggest employer.

An old red barn is pierced by a crescent-shaped metal superstructure (it looks a bit like the wrecked spaceship in “Alien”) and some homes are outfitted with tentacle-like ductwork (shades of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”). Moreover, the nearby woods and fields are littered with the fantastic carcasses of decaying machines, Loop experiments that apparently didn’t work out and were left to rust. (As we soon discover, many are still functional, though their original purposes remains a mystery.)

In fact, pinning down just when “Tales from the Loop” takes place is problematical.  The setting is pre-digital…no cell phones or flat screens.  Home phones are of the rotary variety; computers still use floppy discs.  The costumes and set dressings have a timeless quality…if I had to guess I’d say it all happens in the late ’70s, though that’s really not important.

What is important is how the  scripts (by show runner Nathaniel Halpern and Stalenhag) create an all-inclusive world and a sustained mood.  Like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (clearly an inspiration), “…Loop” presents us with numerous characters who move in and out of each other’s stories, taking the lead in one, serving as an extra in others. Each episode examines the interaction of residents with the Loop’s abandoned detritus.

In one instance, teenage boys  (Daniel Zoighadri, Tyler Barnhardt) find a rusting bathysphere-like globe which allows them to inhabit each other’s bodies.  What could go wrong?

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Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins

“THE TWO POPES” My rating: B+

125 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

At its best “The Two Popes” is a monumental acting duel that’ll leave viewers in open-mouthed amazement.

The subjects of Fernando Meirelles’ witty and ultimately heart-tugging drama are the German Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins), who would become Pope Benedict XVI, and the Argentinian Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), our current Pope Francis.

Essentially the tale told by screenwriter Anthony McCarten is one of the passing of power from one pope to the next, and how that exchange heralds a possible new beginning for Roman Catholicism. The details are fictional — the spectacularly wrought conversations McCarten delivers are his own creation — but the overall portrait he paints of these two men and the church they represent feels utterly true.

The film begins in 2005 with a convocation of cardinals to vote on a new pope.  Ratzinger — a dogmatic conservative deeply suspicious of efforts to modernize the Church — actively campaigns for the job.  He views the reform-minded Bergoglio, the favorite of the liberal cardinals, with thinly-veiled contempt.

As the two stand side by side at a sink in a Vatican restroom, Bergoglio absent-mindedly whistles “Dancing Queen.”  Ratzinger asks: “What is that hymn you’re whistling?”  Turns out he’s never heard of Abba.

A small moment, but an illuminating one. Ratzinger is an intellectual, emotionally remote, authoritarian, with little or no interest in popular culture. Even some of the faithful dismiss him as a “Nazi.”

Bergoglio is his polar opposite, a beloved charmer with the common touch, a man whose hobbies include tango dancing and soccer (for an Argentinian they are practically compulsory, he notes).

Ratzinger, of course, becomes the next pope.
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Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce

“THE WIFE” My rating: 

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

By the time “The Wife” delivers its big reveal, it should come as no surprise.  The film has been telegraphing its intentions all along; only the most inattentive viewer will be taken aback.

Happily, plot is one of the least important elements in Bjorn Runge’s film (adapted by Jane Anderson from Meg Wolitzer’s novel). What we’ve got here are some terrific acting and a portrait of a marriage in which both partners have struck a deal with the devil to ensure their continued success.

We first meet novelist Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) and his wife Joan (Glenn Close) in the dead of night. Joe can’t sleep, knowing he’s a finalist for the Nobel Prize in Literature.  Joan finally submits to septuagenarian sex to calm him down.

When in the early a.m. the phone call from Stockholm comes, the two celebrate by jumping up and down on their marriage bed like a couple of preschoolers.

But there are signs that not all is well in the Castleman household.  Joe, we learn, is an inveterate philanderer.  And while their pregnant daughter Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan) seems well-adjusted, their son David (Max Irons) is a slow-boiling cauldron of resentment and hurt, not the least because he is an aspiring writer and desperately wants the approval of his famous father…approval which Joe won’t give.

The scene quickly shifts to Stockholm and the swirl of Nobel Week.  Joe attempts to take all the attention in stride, while Joan looks on. In fact, all this hubbub  — and Joe’s obvious infatuation with the pretty young photographer (Morgane Polanski) assigned to record his visit for posterity — is rubbing Joan the wrong way.

Her mood isn’t improved by Nathanial (Christian Slater, in one of his best performances), a sort of literary leech who wants to write Joe’s authorized biography.  Equal parts charm and smarm, Nathanial spends an afternoon drinking with Joan and suggesting that perhaps she’s the one who should be getting the Nobel. (more…)

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Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens

“THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS” My rating: C

104 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

When it is evoking the spirit of Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” cannot help but worm its way  into a viewer’s heart and mucus centers.

Seriously, for any halfway literate English-speaking person even the mention of Scrooge and the Christmas ghosts sets off mental and emotional detonations. Not only is A Christmas Carol one of the most artful stories ever written, it is credited by historians with triggering Victorian England’s wholehearted embrace of the Yuletide season. (Before the book’s publication, apparently, Christmas was no big deal.)

Adapted from John Stanford’s nonfiction book by Susan Coyne and directed by Bharat Nalluri (a veteran of Brit TV), “The Man Who  Invented Christmas” purports to relate how Charles Dickens came to write the story. Basically it’s Masterpiece Lite.

We first meet the great author (Dan Stevens, minus the facial hair of the older, more familiar  Dickens) in 1842 when he is going through a rough patch.  His last three books have tanked, his household is going through expensive civic improvements, his kids are running amok and the Missus (Morfydd Clark) announces that there’s another on the way.

Then there’s the arrival of Dickens’ father John (Jonathan Pryce), an entertaining/exasperating  bon vivant perennially in debt and congenitally incapable of earning his own living.

Desperate to offer his publishers a new book, Dickens proposes a Christmas story.  The editors are dubious, but Dickens says if necessary he’ll self-finance the volume. All he needs now are characters and a story.

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