The opening moments of “Masquerade,” Revenge’s last episode before going on a monthlong hiatus that will rob it of whatever uptick of viewers it's achieved the past couple weeks hearkened back to the very best thing about Season 2: The Gift of Revenge. You know what I’m talking about. Victoria’s fancy schmancy party invitations, wrapped in boxes with red ribbon, was the kind of thing that would have fit in perfectly with ABC’s holiday season experiment of using the show’s actors to promote products from their sponsors. It was the most DVR-proof form of advertising we’ve seen yet…and aired at a time we still thought Revenge might get back on track. Yeah, so much for that.
It’s a shame, really, because Victoria’s Halloween masquerade party should have been as icily creepy, as full of malice and suspense, as the orgy masquerade in Eyes Wide Shut. But, as with everything on this show lately, it was inert. Even with a six-week jump through time to kickstart Revenge’s sagging plotting.
“Masquerade” opened with Nolan going full John Nash on us. You know what I mean: writing equations on the glass panels of his office window. Six weeks had passed since he last saw Padma getting spirited into the back of a van in the clutches of Trask. Six weeks also since Daniel broke things off with Emily after receiving bullets in the mail, along with a picture of the two of them. And most (or least) importantly, it had been six weeks since Emily had first discovered that Victoria had given birth to a secret son when she was 16. Why she thinks this revelation will do more damage to her than her complicity in terrorism or the many other crimes she’s been involved in is hard to fathom. It’s really not any more shocking than finding out that Charlotte was David Clarke’s child, not Conrad’s. So Emily decided to send back an RSVP in response to Victoria’s masquerade party invitation with the postmark Oct. 21, 1973 and the signature, “From Your Loving Son.” Victoria seemed genuinely unsettled by that, for reasons that would be made only slightly more clear later on in the episode.
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Victoria was also unsettled by how Emily tried to invite herself to the masquerade ball. “It may be Halloween, but some ghosts are better left outside,” she told Emily about why she hadn’t sent her an invitation. That’s one of the better bitch-isms we’ve gotten from her in quite awhile. So Emily sent her 11 black roses with a card indicating that her son would be wearing the 12th, to spook her even more.
And the only reason Emily didn’t get an invite from Daniel was because he’d broken off their renewed relationship after getting those bullets in the mail that were seemingly meant for the two of them. Guess who sent those? Victoria, of course. When Daniel confronted Trask about the treat, Trask replied, “We don’t threaten in two dimensions, we act in three.” Daniel knew immediately it had to have been his mother who sent those slugs. Guess who just got a re-invite to the masquerade ball!
Jack had helped Conrad close in on his opponent in the governor’s race by 4%. If Joe the Plumber himself had given John McCain that much of a bounce, 2008 might have played out differently. But as much of an electoral whiz as Jack had revealed himself to be, he was still plotting Conrad’s inevitable downfall. First up, he’d sabotage his town hall debate. And by town hall debate, we mean a highly-controlled press conference at the Stowaway. It was the only thing that could shake Conrad’s Clinton-esque cool. I also loved that snarky campaign adviser who said, “And once you’ve tapped your inner Clinton you tap nothing more, am I right, Miss Davenport?”
When the Stowaway campaign event happened, an ordinary joe who had been pre-screened to ask a question, went off script, saying he was “a friend of Amanda Porter’s” and was wondering what Conrad had done to call for an investigation into the jury tampering of David Clarke’s trial. Conrad was flummoxed but immediately pivoted and said that he wanted to reopen the case and call for a posthumous presidential pardon of Clarke if necessary. Not exactly what the Republican candidate’s base wanted to hear.
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It was time for the masquerade ball to begin. As you could imagine, each character’s carnivalesque mask corresponded to their personality. Nolan’s was like the mask worn by Jim Carrey’s Riddler in Batman Forever—because he’s witty! Ashley had a cat mask. Conrad’s was as florid and decadent as he is. Emily’s dress matched her feathery mask to give a white swan look. And of course Victoria was sporting the black swan look. She had already invited another girl there to lure Daniel, and was more than dismayed to see that her son had invited Emily behind her back. Conrad made it clear to Ashley that she was one cat who didn’t have nine lives—and he’d be jettisoning her as soon as he won the governorship. He did not appreciate that she let that town hall participant ask that David Clarke question, spawning frantic phone calls to his doners to let him know that David Clarke won’t be a first-term priority. Daniel meanwhile handed those two bullets back to Victoria and said she’d have one for each of her two faces. So clever!
The real action, though, was taking place away from the party. Aidan had lured Trask into a trap and forced the Initiative goon at gunpoint to lead him to where they were holding Padma. They got to the warehouse where she was being held, and Padma was there laying on a table, stiff as a board. Considering how stiff Dilshad Vadseria’s acting always is, I didn’t really detect much unusual about this at first. Except that it turns out, she was really dead. The Initiative had killed her and her father that morning. Aidan was too late, once again. So he snapped Trask’s neck in payback. He showed up to the party and gave Nolan the bad news. His beloved was gone, to his grief and our rejoicing.
Nolan totally flipped out and had a full-on meltdown in the middle of the fete. Wearing a mask made it all the more surreal. He said Padma’s death was on him, but also on Emily. That makes him, by our count, the third man to say just that to Emily, after Aidan and Jack. Little did he know that Victoria was having a meltdown of her own, thinking that any dark-haired fortysomething guy there might be her son. She collapsed.
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Conrad interpreted her collapse to mean, rightly, that she had not terminated her pregnancy after all, but that this other son could pop up Whac-a-Mole style at any time. She denied it, but ended up meeting with a nun to whom she had obviously given up her son for adoption decades ago. The nun said her son was alive and well and had even come to visit her looking for his birth mother years ago. She protected her identity and told the guy nothing. Victoria seemed pleased, then left. Then Emily showed up and told the sister that she was pregnant and had nowhere else to go and needed help. Look who just decided to con a nun to find out dirt on Victoria.
Do any of you have an idea where this is going? And is anyone actually said that Padma died?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: ABC/ Colleen Hayes]
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.