Category Archives: Television

MHz Choice

Last year while searching the DVD shelf at my library, I came across the Montalbano series from Sicily. I checked out the first set of discs more out of curiosity than enthusiasm. The opening scenes were just okay, but about 20 minutes in, I knew I was hooked. Here’s a guy (played by the brilliant Luca Zingaretti) who looks tough, but really he’s a big softie. I’ve now watched all 30 TV movies, plus all the spinoff Young Montalbano episodes as well.

Montalbano

Young Montalbano

The two Montalbano series are distributed by MHz, and two months ago I subscribed to their streaming service. The first month is free, and there is usually a coupon for half off the second month. I’ve been enjoying the shows from all over Europe. I’m especially drawn to the Scandinavian ones. The subtitles are excellent, although I wouldn’t mind them being lower down on the screen.

I really enjoyed the Danish series Unit One with Mads Mikkelsen. Filmed from 2000 to 2004, this show has aged very well. Only the phones look dated. A police procedural about a homicide unit that travels to different parts of Denmark to help on cases, it’s refreshing how most of the crimes and violence happen off-screen. The later episodes are a bit more graphic. Unit One strikes a good balance between investigations and the personal lives of the detectives.

Unit One

I wish there was more of Anno 1790, a Swedish series about a military surgeon who uses his medical skills to solve criminal cases in Stockholm. With dangerous Enlightenment ideas of liberty and equality threatening the social order, and an attraction to the young wife of the police chief, surgeon Dåådh has a lot on his plate. With only 10 episodes, this one doesn’t require a big commitment.

Anno 1790

Borgen isn’t showing right now on the streaming service, but it’s mentioned in the description for 1864. I found Borgen at my library, and it’s also distributed by MHz. I’m halfway through the first season of three. Featuring Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones), it’s about a woman who becomes the first female prime minister of Denmark. The charismatic Asbæk plays her PR specialist/spin doctor. It’s a fascinating look at modern politics and the media. It helps to be familiar with a parliamentary government, which is different enough from the American model to require some google searches.

Borgen

Other series I’ve been enjoying are Annika Bengtzon: Crime Reporter, the Arne Dahl mysteries, Crime Scene Cleaner, Cain, and Antigone 34. There’s a lot more to explore, and I just need to find the time!

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Zachary Quinto at the Castro Theatre

Last night I went to San Francisco’s Castro Theatre to see Zachary Quinto “in conversation.” It was part of the California Independent Film Festival.

I was one of the first arrive in the non–VIP line outside the theatre. Once inside, I got a seat in the fourth row. A young Chinese woman sat next to me, and she could barely contain her excitement. Her enthusiasm was contagious. I told her I’d only seen Zachary Quinto in the Star Trek movies and Snowden. She’d seen more of his work, but neither of us watched Heroes.

Quinto was interviewed by Derek Zemrak and another fellow whose name I missed. They sat in comfy chairs on one side of the Castro Theatre’s shallow stage. When Quinto first sat down, his chair reclined back la-Z-boy style, which got a laugh. The rest of the hour-long interview he was thoughtful and serious, but he seemed very much at ease.

Quinto discussed his television and movie roles, particularly Heroes, American Horror Story, and So Notorious. He loves doing theatre, and he talked about his roles in Angels in America and The Glass Menagerie. When the conversation turned to Star Trek, he described his audition process and his relationships with the other cast members and Leonard Nimoy. He also shared his reasons for coming out and the LGBT+ organizations he works with, especially the Trevor Project and the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Then the discussion moved into some of the projects he’s involved with as a producer.

I met Tab Hunter a couple of years ago with his partner Alan Glaser at a screening of the documentary Tab Hunter: Confidential. It was interesting to find out that Quinto is working with Hunter and Glaser on a movie about Tab’s relationship with Anthony Perkins. It’s still in the early writing stages.

Quinto answered some questions from the audience, and then Zemrak presented him with the festival’s Maverick Award. We applauded and the interview was done. I waited with Leah, my new enthusiastic friend, in the foyer afterwards. Quinto signed a few autographs and posed for some photos. I took a photo of Leah and Quinto, then we went outside for a quick photo of him with his award. We watched him get into an SUV and drive away. I said goodbye to Leah with the promise of keeping her informed about other fun events in the city.

Now I need to finally watch Heroes!

Leah & Zachary Quinto

Derek Zemrak & Zachary Quinto with Maverick Award

 

(I would have taken more videos, but I forgot to charge my camera battery!)

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Ed Sheeran at 16

Most of my life, I haven’t really enjoyed mainstream music. Maybe the odd song, or a band/artist years after they stopped being popular, but rarely anybody on the charts. That’s why it always surprises me when I do like someone popular.

I really like Ed Sheeran’s mellower acoustic music. He’s pretty hard to escape these days, but I’d somehow managed it. Then he showed up on Game of Thrones, and on my Britannia High DVD behind-the-scenes documentary. But really, it was the end credits song for The Fault in Our Stars that got me listening.

Britannia High (2008) was a UK television series about a performing arts school for teens. It only lasted nine episodes before being cancelled due to poor reviews and low ratings. I bought the DVDs from the UK because I’m a fan of Matthew James Thomas (Jez in the series). Hundreds of young performers auditioned for the show in 2007, including 16 year-old Ed Sheeran. I made a YouTube video of his moments from the behind-the-scenes documentary. I’m still learning to use Shotcut, so it’s a bit rough.

Note: there are other clips from Sheeran’s audition on YouTube already, but this is clearer and has more footage than I’ve seen there.

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A Robert Fuller Banner

I’m still a member of Robert Fuller’s official fan group, even though I’m busy with other interests these days. A recent contest to create a new banner for the Fandom Facebook page presented a fun challenge. I got to use some newly-learned Photoshop tools, and I teamed up with my friend Jan. She provided some photos and some lively debate. We submitted several banners, none of which were chosen. That’s okay, because I get to share the best one here. A big thank you to my friend Pam for allowing me to use her recent photo of Fuller.

The biggest challenge was finding the best color photos with the different heads at just the right angle, and I wasn’t completely successful. At least one important role is not represented—I didn’t realize before that Fuller never once takes his hat off in Return of the Magnificent Seven, and the brim is almost always cut off at the top. The ears in the center photos of the banner were also a problem, and the end result is not as satisfying as I’d hoped.

Today is Robert Fuller’s 84th birthday, and he’s still going strong! Wishing him a happy birthday, with many more to come.

(l to r) Wagon Train, Emergency, Wagon Train again, Incident at Phantom Hill, Laramie, The Hard Ride, and Fuller now

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Matthew James Thomas

A gallery of screen captures from TV shows and films with British actor Matthew James Thomas. They didn’t really fit in the Pippin post that came before. Comments are appreciated!

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Life Lessons from Pippin

How to separate the drama nerds from the fantasy geeks: mention Pippin. A drama nerd will start singing Corner of the Sky.

Pippin is a Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote Godspell. It’s about a young prince’s search for something meaningful to do with his life. Pippin was the son of Charlemagne, but the musical is not a faithful historical narrative. Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the original 1972 Broadway production, which starred John Rubinstein (Pippin) and Ben Vereen (Leading Player). Pippin’s grandmother Berthe was played by Irene Ryan, best known as Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. I grew up believing the story that she died onstage during a performance of her song No Time At All. Not true, but it still makes a good “what a way to go!” story.

As a teen in the late 1970s, I was a little bit obsessed with Pippin. I knew the music and lyrics from the cast album long before I saw it onstage. A friend took me to a student production at UC Irvine in 1982, with the musical re-imagined as a futuristic space opera with loads of silver lamé. Then, in 1985, I worked with John Rubinstein at the La Jolla Playhouse (described here) which got me listening to the Pippin original cast album all over again. William Katt and Ben Vereen appeared in a filmed stage version in the early 80s, which I saw on videotape many years later.

Fast forward to 2013, and Pippin is back on Broadway. I watched the Tony Awards that year, so I was aware of the production and saw the musical number performed during the ceremony. I was also vaguely aware when the touring version came to San Francisco in fall 2014, but my budget was tight and my mind was on other things. Mostly I was busy pouting because I had to stay home while friends were at a festival in Utah.

Last summer, I finally listened to the Pippin Broadway revival cast album. My first impression was that Matthew James Thomas has a pretty voice, but it’s very different from John Rubinstein’s. I went to YouTube to see if there were any Pippin videos. And here we go, down the rabbit hole again!

I’ve now watched everything I can find with Matthew James Thomas, going back to The Bill in 1999. I was sad that he deleted his twitter account before I had the chance to follow him. I purchased his UK series Britannia High on DVD, watching it once through before my region-free DVD player packed up and died (boo). Then I actually cried when I found out that the San Francisco Pippin tour brought both Matthew James Thomas AND John Rubinstein to my doorstep, and I missed them. Thomas had given his last performance on Broadway, but he came back and filled in for the touring Pippin when that actor was put on vocal rest. John Rubinstein toured with the show as Charlemagne. Even if the tickets were beyond my budget, I could have gone to the stage door to meet the cast and see Rubinstein again. Heartbreak!

The biggest lesson learned from Pippin? Pay attention to what’s happening around me. Instead of wishing to be somewhere else, make the most of what’s right here. San Francisco isn’t perfect, and it’s way too expensive, but a lot of events are free or cheap.

(click to see better version)

Happily, Matthew James Thomas is now back on twitter. He was cast in a pilot called Shelter for NBC, but it wasn’t ordered to series. I wish him the best, look forward to seeing him onscreen again, and hope he comes back to San Francisco. (John Rubinstein, too!)

If I could have one MJT wish granted, since I can’t travel back in time to 2014, it would be to hear his Fenwick solo from the musical Diner.

Matthew James Thomas (Fenwick) in Diner. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media

Photo sources:

San Francisco Pippin tour: Review: A masterful ‘Pippin’ showcases Paulus’ bold vision

http://www.delawaretheatre.org/diner (Fenwick photo)

Screen captures made from YouTube videos, particularly from the official Broadway Pippin channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/pippinmusical/videos

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Stage Door (8): Charles Dance, Conleth Hill, & Game of Thrones

Another in series of stage door encounters with interesting actors.

I just finished binge-watching all six seasons of Game of Thrones. A couple of years ago I tried to watch it, but I only got through two episodes before deciding it was too brutal. I’m tougher now. With so many actors I like, and all that gorgeous Ireland scenery, I wish I’d joined the party sooner.

Over the years I couldn’t avoid plot spoilers, but there were still plenty of shocks and surprises. At this point, there’s not much I can say about Game of Thrones that hasn’t been said already. I love the characters I’m supposed to love (Arya, Tyrion, Brienne, Davos, etc), hate the ones everybody hates (Joffrey, Ramsey), wonder why baby Sam grows slower than any other child in Westeros, and wish I’d counted how many times Casterly Rock is mentioned.

Years ago, I saw two of the Game of Thrones cast members perform in plays in London, and I met them at the stage door with my camera.

In early 2001, I saw Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister in GofT) in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The other cast members were Paul Rudd, Paul Nicholls, and Jessica Lange. My seat was right up close to the stage, which normally is too close but was just right for this one. Lange didn’t come out to meet anybody afterward, but the three men did. This was before gathering at the stage door after a show was popular in the West End, so there were only a few of us waiting. This was also before digital cameras, so I didn’t realize that my photo of Rudd caught him with his eyes shut.  He was very friendly, and Charles Dance was very gracious.

 

Soon after, I went with two friends to see Stones in His Pockets with Conleth Hill (Varys in GofT) and Sean Campion. We laughed so hard, our ribs ached by the end. It was fantastic, with just the two men playing multiple roles, including women. We were the only ones waiting afterward. While we were waiting, Stefanie Powers came out the stage door. She must have been in the audience. I recognized her immediately, but I didn’t want to bother her. Hill and Campion came out together, and they were friendly and fun. I don’t usually pose for photos (I prefer taking them), but my friends grabbed the camera and I got sandwiched between two fantastic actors. Lucky me!

With Conleth Hill & Sean Campion

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