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Archive for May, 2015

Since I got Internet service at home, I’ve been completely addicted to streaming video. Being able to get movies and TV shows and plays on demand is just like having the contents of the library’s video collection right in my own home. I have been disappointed, however, by the various streaming video services I have tried.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and others advertise themselves as not just a replacement for, but a better service than cable. Consumers are urged to “cut the cord” and replace their cable package with fee-based streaming video. The idea looks good at first and I highly recommend that anyone considering signing up take advantage of the free trial period many of these services offer. Unfortunately, my experience of these services was that the movies and shows I wanted to watch were not available. Again and again I would search (mainly Netflix and Amazon Prime) only to find myself renting the show from Amazon Instant Video instead. In the end I cancelled my trial subscription and simply rented (or purchased) the episode or movie I wanted to see from Amazon Instant Video.  In brief, streaming video services seem to be replicating cable TV: lots of things available, but very little that you actually want to watch.

The best part about streaming video is being able to get things like theater productions from the UK’s Digital Theatre On-line that simply aren’t available on DVD. The worst part about streaming video is the bizarre pricing structure. Some movies, for example, have both a rental and a purchase price. Other films, even though they’ve been out for a while, are still available only to buy.

 

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Henry V DVD

The Globe Theater’s production of Henry V with Jamie Parker in the title role.

After the triumph of Henry IV, Part One and Two with Jamie Parker as Prince Hal and Roger Allam as Falstaff, I was looking forward to seeing what the same production company did with Henry V, the third play in the Prince Hal trilogy. Unfortunately, I found the end result disappointing. Perhaps its that nothing can really equal the energy of the first play which alternates between serious character interludes and comic action. Maybe its because Henry V is a war story and as such is composed of a lot of stylized battle sequences which make the play seem very choppy. Although Parker turns in an excellent performance as Henry V and there is a delightful comic sequence with Princess Katherine’s nurse, the overall play lacked oomph.

Twelfth Night DVD

This production of Twelfth Night is an original practices production which means that men and boys play the women and girls’ roles as they did in Shakespeare’s time.  Mark Rylance has the title role as Olivia while Stephen Fry plays her steward, Malvolio.

Although Rylance turns in an excellent performance as Olivia, I was puzzled by how awkward and stiff he seemed in costume. I’m not sure if this was an acting choice or not. Between the dress and the ruff, the costume seemed clunky and hard to work in. Paul Chahidi, by contrast, turns in a very natural performance as Maria, Olivia’s maid servant.

Paul Chahidi as Maria in the Shakespeare’s Globe production of TWELFTH NIGHT.  The production, performed in repertory with RICHARD III, will open November 10 at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street).  Previews begin October 15. © Simon Annand

Paul Chahidi as Maria in the Shakespeare’s Globe production of TWELFTH NIGHT. The production, performed in repertory with RICHARD III, will open November 10 at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street). Previews begin October 15.
© Simon Annand

Stephen Fry as Malvolio, Paul Chahidi as Maria, Mark Rylance as Olivia in the Shakespeare’s Globe production of TWELFTH NIGHT, directed by Tim Carroll, and playing at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street). © Joan Marcus

Stephen Fry as Malvolio, Paul Chahidi as Maria, Mark Rylance as Olivia in the Shakespeare’s Globe production of TWELFTH NIGHT, directed by Tim Carroll, and playing at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street).
© Joan Marcus.

Stephen Fry was, of course, wonderful and both affecting and funny as Malvolio, imbuing the character with a great deal of dignity. Overall, however, the play seemed mannered and without the life and warmth of some other productions that I’ve seen. I’m not sure if this was a side effect of having an all male cast or whether that was just how this particular production turned out.

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Damian Lewis King Henry Wolf Hall

Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII in Masterpiece Theater’s TV series, Wolf Hall.

Just when you think it can’t get any better, Wolf Hall kicks you in your emotional midsection with its powerful season finale. The series, which begins with the fall of Cardinal Wolsey over Henry’s divorce from Queen Katherine, ends with the fall of Anne Boelyn. Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance), who had been one of Anne’s allies and who has shared her Reformist sentiments, now finds himself pulled between his king and his queen as Henry looks to get rid of Anne so he can marry Jane Seymour. Unlike other political fixers who either seem blind to the consequences of their actions or who justify the consequences to themselves, Cromwell is refreshingly blunt and honest about what he’s doing. The expression in Cromwell’s eyes as Henry hugs him in the closing sequence is one that I won’t be able to forget. It’s the expression of a man who has sold out all his principles and now finds himself, to use a Chinese metaphor, alive in the bitter sea.

In the books and in the TV series (to a lesser extent), much is made of the fact that Tom Cromwell is from an abusive home. It occurred to me watching the show that Henry could be considered to be the ultimate abusive father. The penalty for not catering to Henry’s whims, after all, is death, imprisonment, or exile. The constant threat of violence underlies the refined atmosphere of the court.

If you haven’t been watching Wolf Hall, you definitely want to pick up the series on DVD or via instant video. I hope that Masterpiece Theater’s continues Cromwell’s story and I look forward to the next series.

 

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