Mr. Selfridge Goes Out On A High Note In Its Final Season

Courtesy:  PBS/PBS Distribution/itv

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Distribution/itv

The end is finally here for Harry Selfridge.  What started a little more than three years ago on Britain’s itv finally wrapped earlier this year.  And this Tuesday, May 17th, the final season of the historically-based period drama will be available on DVD and Blu-ray.  For those that haven’t yet seen this season, hopefully those viewers have already seen the series’ previous three seasons.  That is the only way in which viewers will have any understanding of and appreciation for this season’s story.  Speaking of the story, the work put in to establish the story—that of the series’ writers—is the central element of this season’s presentation.  That will be discussed shortly.  The work of the series’ cast is just as important to the season’s presentation as the writers’ contributions.  The collective work of those behind the cameras—the costume and set crew, editors, etc.—is just as important to note in the show’s presentation this season as that of the show’s writers and cast.  It rounds out the season’s most important elements and brings everything together in full.  Altogether, all three elements send this standout series out on just as much of a high note as that on which Mr. Selfridge went out (not to give away too much).

The fourth and final season of Mr. Selfridge is one of the series’ finest hours if not its finest.  It sends off the show on just as much of a high note as that on which Mr. Selfridge himself went out.  That is due in part to the work of the series’ writers.  On the surface, the writers have once again expertly woven together so many storylines from one episode to the next for the ensemble cast.  The connection between each storyline is so finely tuned that there is not even a need for a program in order to follow each one.  They are that well balanced.  Looking deeper at those storylines, each story is just as certain to keep viewers as entertained as the other beginning with the story of Harry Selfridge’s fall from grace so to speak.  What’s really interesting in this story is that Harry is such a sympathetic character here.  Yes, he continues his playboy lifestyle, spending money, wooing women, and more.  But that downward spiral happens as a result of having lost his mother not too long after having lost his wife.  When one loses so much over such a short period of time, it is easy to see how said person would fall so fast.  The speed at which he falls, and the work put in by star Jeremy Piven to help illustrate that fall, leaves viewers wanting things to turn around for Harry so badly.  In other words, their combined work ensures audience engagement from the season’s premiere to its finale.  It is just one example of the strength of the series’ writing this season.  The laughs and loss that are experienced over the course of this season’s ten episodes can also be cited in explaining the strength of the show’s writing this season.

Harry’s downward spiral this season is a powerful and engaging storyline that will most certainly keep viewers engaged from Episode One to Episode Ten.  It is just one of the many storylines that make this season so entertaining and engaging. There are plenty of laughs and even some painful losses presented throughout this season.  The store suffers a terrible loss late in the season as one of its own passes away somewhat unexpectedly.  The emphasis is on somewhat as it ties in to a diagnosis that had given character more time.  It’s an interesting twist to the story to say the least.  On a related note, another key character from the past returns, leading to a wedding.  There is also a whodunit element that helps move the series on to its finale and even yet another conflict for Harry with Lord Loxley out of the picture.  This time it’s with an unscrupulous newspaper man who is set on destroying Harry’s empire.  There’s also a birth and a divorce for good measure.  It sounds like a lot.  And it is, too.  But again, the manner in which the series’ writers balance each of the storylines will keep viewers engaged from one episode to the next, like a good book that one can’t stop reading.  All things considered here the writing proves in the end to be a hugely important part of Season Four’s presentation.  It is not the season’s only important element, though.  The cast’s work in interpreting the scripts is just as important to note as that of the show’s writers.

The writing behind Mr. Selfridge in its fourth season is immeasurably important to its overall presentation.  That is the case especially considering just how many storylines have once again been incorporated into the season’s overall story and their balance.  There is so much power in each storyline due to the season’s mix of joy and sadness within each one.  While the writing behind this season proves to be of the utmost importance to its presentation it is hardly the season’s only important element.  The cast’s work in interpreting each episode’s script is just as important as the stories that were crafted for the cast.  It has already been noted that star Jeremy Piven is just as on point here as in the series’ previous seasons.  His emotional display upon Harry’s discovery of his mother’s death hits all the right notes.  This sort of scene is nothing new in the realm of TV dramas.  It goes way back to television’s golden age.  Keeping this in mind, it would have been so easy for him to over emote and really ham it up.  But he didn’t go that route.  Rather he managed to keep Harry’s reaction controlled just enough to make the moment (and Harry’s pain) believable.  His eventual emotional breakdown following her death is just as believable.

On another note, the growing friendship between Mr. Grove’s daughter Meryl (Lottie Tolhurst) and seamstress Tilly Brockless (Mimi Ndiweni) is another example of the power and importance of the cast’s work.  It’s interesting to see how the pair’s friendship grows despite the difference in skin color.  On the surface their friendship serves to illustrate the growing progressive nature of the world in that era.  The changes experienced by African-Americans weren’t limited to just America, obviously.  They were evident in other parts of the world, too.  On a deeper level, the pair’s friendship served to show changes in both women.  On another level it serves to show both women’s personal development.  They grew both personally and together thanks to their friendship.  And the manner in which both women handled their roles was just as impressive as those of their cast mates.  Considering how new both women were to being in the limelight that is saying quite a bit.  If that isn’t enough of an example of the importance of the cast’s work, Vincent Riotta’s take on Harry’s gambling agent (I.E. bookie) is just as impressive despite being just a temporary cast member.

Riotta’s work as D’Ancona conjures thoughts of Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone from the famed Godfather franchise.  While he may not be on camera anywhere near as much as Brando was so many decades ago he is just as solid in his role.  That is because of the attitude and self-confidence that he brings to D’Ancona.  Even as D’Ancona sits in his car, silently giving orders to destroy the windows at Selfridge’s, there is something about the subtlety of his simple action that makes him a great gangster-style figure.  It’s just one more way in which the cast’s acting proves important to Season Four’s overall presentation.  Emma Hamilton and Zoe Richards are just as fun to watch as the gold-digging Dolly Sisters.  They make audiences love to hate them as they bring the selfish, money-grubbing pair to life.  There are plenty of other examples that could be cited here.  Those examples, alongside the ones more directly noted here, serve to show in whole why the acting presented in Season Four is just as important to the series this time out as the writing.  Both elements are equally important to Season Four.  However they are still not this season’s only important elements.  The work of the show’s crew is just as important to note as its cast and its writers.

The work of Mr. Selfridge’s writers and cast in the show’s fourth season is undeniably important to the show’s presentation.  Both elements work in tandem to make Season Four’s overall quite impressive in its own right.  As important as both elements prove to be in the long run, they are not the season’s only important elements.  The work of the show’s crew is just as important as its cast and writers.  The transitions between scenes, and even from the opening credits to each episode’s opening scene are a credit to the work of the show’s editors.  In the same vein the camera and audio crew is to be applauded just as much for their work.  The different angles and shots presented by the camera crew play their own part in illustrating each scene’s emotion.  This applies not just to the wider shots but to the closer shots that require a certain amount of emoting from the cast and even from general exteriors and interiors.  In the same vein, those responsible for handling the show’s audio elements deserve just as much credit for their work.  Between what this critic has come to term as “whisper scenes”—which are exactly what they sound like—the blowouts, the moodier moments, and points in between, the audio engineers captured the emotion of each scene just as well as the camera crew.  They caught the emotion in each actor’s voice just as well as the camera crew did in the cast’s faces.  On another level, the balance of those moments with the show’s musical audio adds even more depth to the show’s presentation.  Believe it or not there are still shows out there today whose audio engineers don’t know how to balance said shows’ music with the cast’s lines from one scene to the mix.  The end result is a presentation in each case that is anything but easy on the ears at either end of the volume.  Luckily that wasn’t the case here.  That being the case the work of all involved joins together to make Season Four just as aesthetically pleasing for audiences as the writing and acting does in ever y other avenue.  All things considered, each of the elements noted here is important in its own right to the presentation of Mr. Selfridge: Season Four.  In total they send this season out on just as much of a high note as that on which harry himself went out.

The fourth and final season of Mr. Selfridge is quite the sendoff for the series.  Thanks to the work of the show’s writers, its cast, and even its crew, the series goes out on just as much of a high note as that on which Harry himself went out.  The writing is so powerful as it presents Harry at his lowest point, struggling to regain some normalcy to his life and business.  In the same vein, the show’s other interweaving storylines prove their own share of interest all while maintaining their separation from one another.  The cast’s work in interpreting each episode’s script plays just as much of an important part in proving this.  From the leads to the lesser appearing characters, all involved present their own impressive performances.  The show’s crew is just as deserving of credit and applause for their work as the cast and writers.  That is because they work together to fully capture the emotion of each scene and heighten it in all of the right ways and moments.  Each element plays its own important part in the whole of the Season Four.  Even the bonus material included in Season Four’s new home release plays its own part.  That’s a story for another time.  All things considered, this final installment of episodes from Mr. Selfridge sends the series off on just as much of a high note as the on which Harry himself went out.  together with the series’ previous seasons, it shows one last time exactly why it is one of the best dramas on television in recent years and why PBS remains today the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television.  It will be available this Tuesday, May 17th in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store both on DVD and Blu-ray at http://www.shoppbs.org/family/index.jsp?categoryId=20384186&sr=1&origkw=Mr.%20Selfridge.  More information on this and other PBS Masterpiece programs is available online now at:

 

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Stand Up Guys Is A Stand Out Story

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate’s new star-driven drama Stand Up Guys was soundly panned by critics and viewers alike when it premiered in theaters early this year.  It was panned, citing poor writing, bad acting, and equally poor pacing.  It is quite obvious that in noting these slights, the individuals in question that made these comments couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  More than likely, these same individuals went into the movie with overblown expectations of it being just another generic gangster flick with lots of gunfights, drugs, and sex.  This critic is guilty of that, too.  But unlike those other critics, this critic was pleasantly surprised at how much Stand Up Guys stands out.

Stand Up Guys is not just another gangster flick flooded with drugs, sex, gunfights and foul language.  The reality of this story is that it is less a gangster flick and more a story about friendship that just happens to be centered on two geriatric gangsters played by veteran actors Christopher Walken (Catch Me if You Can, Batman Returns) and Al Pacino (The Godfather I – III, Dog Day Afternoon, Any Given Sunday) that are reunited when the latter is released from jail.  Val (Pacino) just wants to get his life on the right track after having been in prison for so many years, yet he is haunted by the ghost of a past crime, which leads his friend Doc (Walken) to face the issue of what is the right thing to do himself.  Throughout everything, the story does end up with a happy ending and even a big shootout to satiate all the viewers that had been chomping at the bit for a shootout scene throughout the story’s ninety-five minute run time.  Heck, there’s even a Steve McQueen style car chase thrown in about halfway through the movie for good measure.  So those wanting some action out of the movie do get that.

Given the opportunity, audiences will see just how much Stand Up Guys has to offer.  It can be said though that for all of its positives, the story does struggle at least slightly as a result of its pacing.  There is no denying this.  While the movie’s run time is just over an hour and a half, the pacing may in fact leave some viewers checking their watches and/or clocks sporadically throughout the story.  Luckily though, it makes up for the pacing with a story that will keep viewers engaged despite the pacing.  Audiences will want to see if Walken’s Doc can keep himself from making a bad choice and maintaining his friendship with Val.  Again, those themes of friendship and loyalty help to make this movie stand out.  They help to prove once again that while it isn’t another gangster flick, it is much more than that.  It is a drama that will entertain those whose minds are open enough and willing to see it for its true value.

The story behind Stand Up Guys is one that given the chance will entertain and engage audiences whose minds are open enough.  Without the right actors though, the story would not work.  Luckily this pair of veterans showed through its combined experience that even a script for a story such as this can work and that old dogs can in fact learn new tricks.  Despite the pacing issues, the two were able to work together and interpret each scene in a way that elicits the intended emotions from viewers, thus making the movie’s pacing more forgivable.  In turn, it makes the movie as a whole that much more watchable more than once.  In fact, this is a movie that given the chance will grow on viewers increasingly with each watch.  And this is definitely a good thing.  It is a surprising story that in the end proves to be a dark horse candidate to make this critic’s list of the year’s best new movies.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from the Lionsgate store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/search_results.asp?Search=Stand%20Up%20Guys.

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Citizen Gangster Is One of The Year’s Best Indie Releases

Courtesy: IFC Films/MPI Media Group

Citizen Gangster is one of the best indie releases of 2012, hands down.  Some critics obviously have had their say.  But in an era when so many crime dramas are riddled with too much overt violence and sexuality, this piece strikes just enough of a balance to maintain its grip on the audience through the course of its almost two hour run.  One can’t help but feel some sympathy for lead character Edwin Boyd (Scott Speedman) as he faces his own inner trials after deciding to take on a life of crime just to be able to support his family.  The world is in a state of economic uncertainty right now.  And while this movie by no means intends to reiterate that, seeing Boyd’s struggles after returning from WWII makes him at least somewhat relatable. 

Speedman is spot on in the role of Boyd.  Rather than trying to be some sort of over the top type of gangster a la James Cagney, Speedman’s quiet inner battles show him to be a flawed, imperfect character.  It makes him that much more human.  Some would say that he is the only real light of this movie.  But one has to remember that an actor alone can only do so much.  Thanks to the work of writer/director Nathan Morlano, Speedman has given a brilliant performance.  And the story itself is emotionally powerful and gripping.  As disturbing as some moments may be, audiences won’t want to look away.  Nor will they want to look away from the wonderful cinematography, either.  That too adds its own extra element of enjoyment.

As impressive as this indie flick is, it should be noted that it is unrated.  But there is enough violence and foul language to qualify it at least for an “R” rating.  That being noted, viewer discretion is advised for those with younger children.  Speaking of that language and violence, it is nowhere at the level of say Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990) or Francis Ford Coppela’s Godfather trilogy.  It has enough of a balance even there, that any fan of the gangster genre will likely find this to be enjoyable, given the opportunity.  It’s even better than 2009’s big screen fiasco, Public Enemies, which paled in comparison to the book on which it was based.

Citizen Gangster likely won’t be seen by the number of people who have seen the Godfather Trilogy, or Goodfellas, or even Public Enemies.  But one thing can be said of it.  It is one of the year’s most underrated–and probably most underappreciated–movies in the crime drama/thriller category.  It is also without a doubt, one of the best in the indie field this year.

Citizen Gangster will be available Tuesday in stores and online.  It can be ordered online at http://www.ifcfilms.com/dvd-digital-download

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