Fantasy and mystery TV, summer 2011

Mysterious wallpaper

I hope that those of you in the U.S. had a good Independence Day weekend. Among other things, Janice and I attended the holiday and 300th anniversary celebrations in Needham, Massachusetts, including the fireworks display, parade, and fair. Fortunately, we managed to avoid the thundershowers that had been forecast.

Just over a week ago, Janice and I caught up on some recorded videos, including Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Macbeth, and some animation (which I’ll review later). Each was good in its own way.

Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Nicholas Cage and Alfred Molina, is loosely based on the classic animated short in Fantasia. While not quite as gonzo as National Treasure or as franchise-igniting as Pirates of the Caribbean, this movie is decent young-adult fantasy entertainment in the style of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, with a dash of modern wizards Harry Potter and Harry Dresden.

Jay Baruchel is appropriately nerdy as a physicist who stumbles into a long duel between Cage and Molina’s spellcasters. They are former students of Merlin alienated over the affections of a third student, played by the attractive Monica Bellucci. Star Trek: First Contact‘s Borg queen, Alice Krige, is Morgana le Fay, and Teresa Palmer, who was almost Talia al-Ghul in George Miller’s aborted Justice League: Mortal, plays Beruchel’s love interest.

The plot and script are predictable, but some of the visual effects are clever, and Cage gets to be his droll self as seen in other genre flicks such as Ghost Rider. I’d give Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which is rated PG for violence, a B-, two out of five stars, or a 7 out of 10. It’s fine as a rental or to catch on cable television as we did.

A bit more highbrow was the three-hour production of Macbeth, or “the Scottish play,” starring Star Trek: the Next Generation and X-Men‘s Patrick Stewart as the ambitious murderer and king. This adaptation, whose modern setting resembles Russia in the 1920s and 1930s, first ran on stage before being filmed for the PBS.

Kate Fleetwood plays an equally ruthless (and guilt-ridden) Lady Macbeth, who is younger than the onetime military officer but a good match for him to the bloody end. The soliloquies are muted but no less effective, and the script closely follows Shakespeare’s. I thought the weird sisters were nicely disturbing, in an alternative music plus Doctor Who sort of way, although their enunciation was a bit muddled.

I’d give this version of Macbeth an A-, 8.5 out of 10, or four out of five stars. There was a brief interview with Stewart after the broadcast of the play, giving some insights into the directorial and acting choices for this interpretation. I can easily imagine it being required viewing in high schools.

Janice and I have also been enjoying PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery, including the latest adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories. The Belgian detective is still faithfully depicted by David Suchet, and the latest batch of episodes has refrained from making too many changes to the original mysteries. We’re also looking forward to more Miss Marple, Inspector Lewis, and newcomer Aurelio Zen.

Elsewhere on the dial, I’m glad for the summer returns of the buddy crime solvers on USA’s White Collar, TNT’s bluesy Memphis Beat, and the capers of TNT’s Leverage. I just learned that Hu$tle, a British show about do-gooder grifters, had four more seasons/series than what I had seen on U.S. TV.

Going back to fantasy, I’m disappointed that Starz canceled Camelot, which suffered in comparison with the more popular Spartacus and HBO’s Game of Thrones. I liked Camelot more than the recent takes on Robin Hood or the later Merlin series. We’ll see whether the planned shows about Vikings and pirates are any good and continue the latest revival of swashbuckling bodice-rippers on TV (such as Showtime’s Borgias).