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‘Dallas’ reboot in fine form

Continuation of classic series deftly balances old and new

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I finally caught the “Dallas” reboot (Wednesdays at 9 on TNT) last night on DVR — busy week — and though thoroughly prepped for disappointment, was delighted to find a tightly paced, deftly edited take on one of my all-time favorite shows that struck a perfect balance between edgy/hip/new and familiar/nostalgic/endearing.

Which is saying a hell of a lot — classic franchise reboots are notoriously hard to pull off. They always sound good on paper but when a show takes on a life of its own and becomes a cultural touchstone, as the ’78-’91 classic installment did, it’s practically impossible to catch lightening in a bottle twice. Who knows if it will last, but this week’s two-hour pilot did everything it needed to do to relaunch the series in a gripping, promising way. It’s light years better than “J.R. Returns” (1996) and “War of the Ewings” (1998), the two TV movies that continued the storyline and thankfully removed the bitter aftertaste left by the show’s bizarre 1991 finale (“Conundrum”) in which Joel Gray appeared in an “It’s a Wonderful Life” takeoff that ended with a shoddily ill-conceived cliffhanger with supernatural overtones.

The cast of 'Dallas.' (Photo courtesy TNT)

So it’s thrilling to see the old warhorse, which struggled mightily in both quality and ratings its last few seasons, doing well — 6.9 million viewers tuned in to this week’s launch making it the most-watched scripted cable series so far this year and outranking anything the regular networks had in its time slot.

Twin heartthrobs Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe play Ewing offspring John Ross (J.R. and Sue Ellen’s son) and Christopher (Bobby and Pam’s son) all grown up. One can’t help but wonder, of course, what became of Ormi Katz and Joshua Harris, the two actors who played the characters for years as kids on the original show, but their absence is quickly forgotten as Henderson and Metcalfe are so easy on the eyes and good actors too.

John Ross wants to drill for oil on Southfork Ranch against the wishes of Miss Ellie’s will. Christopher is pursuing an alternative energy venture that has had devastating consequences in Asia. He’s about to get married at the ranch to Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo). His old flame Elena (Jordana Brewster) is now dating John Ross. It’s a clever premise reviving a theme from the original series — early in the show, one of JR.’s deals left the family in a precarious spot financially and Miss Ellie had reluctantly agreed to let them drill on the ranch, something she’d never wanted to do. At the 11th hour, they didn’t have to.

The older generation is still kicking, though barely in some cases. Bobby (Patrick Duffy) is battling a cancer diagnosis (he’s married now to a third wife, Ann, played by Brenda Strong) and J.R. is in a nursing home suffering from depression. Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) is also in the cast. Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) will be in future episodes. Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly) and Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) are sadly reduced to cameos. Let’s hope if the show is a hit, they’re invited back and fleshed out. Tilton, especially, is a fan favorite from years ago. I never had Lucy’s hair but I did appreciate her taste in men — from gay Kit Mainwaring to her hunky doctor husband Mitch (Leigh McCloskey).

“Dallas” 2012 works for several key reasons — one, it’s been long enough now since the original show ended, that it feels fun, not tired, to revisit these characters. Nobody can say how long has to pass for such things to make sense, but pop culture very much unofficially dictates there has to be significant time — decades — before such ideas can float. “J.R. Returns” and “War of the Ewings,” while fun to watch, felt like everyone was beating a dead horse, and few horses were more dead than “Dallas” in its last couple regular seasons when most of the original cast had either long defected or were reduced to glorified cameos or mentions. The reboot, however, manages to revive the long-dormant excitement the show lacked in its final years by casting charismatic young actors in the key roles — Henderson and Brewster especially stand out — but having enough of the original cast around to keep it all grounded in authenticity. Using the original Texas-based exteriors, where several reunions have taken place over the years, is as key as the presence of Hagman, Duffy and Gray.

Principal, sixth from left, joined the cast for a 2004 non-dramatized reunion.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, Victoria Principal (whose Pam was the original series’ central character in its early years) is a no show. She hasn’t fully shunned the show that made her famous — she showed up for a classic Vanity Fair photo shoot in the mid-’90s and for the 2004 “Return to Southfork” reunion (which featured cast members in a non-scripted format appearing as themselves), but has eschewed any thoughts of reviving her role. She told Ultimate Dallas (ultimatedallas.com, the amazingly thorough fan site) a few years ago the notion seemed rather absurd this many years later. Even so, she was never as chummy with the rest of the cast (Hagman, Duffy and Gray are close friends in real life and gathered regularly even before the show relaunched).

If Principal seems only vaguely interested — Duffy told TV Guide last week they talked by phone recently and she wished him the best on the new show — she’s still more involved than the late Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie) was in her final years. Not only did she sit out the last season (having left once before but come back), she was a no-show for both the TV movies, the Vanity Fair photo shoot and the 2004 reunion (she may have been ill for the latter — she died of cancer in 2005). She wasn’t, however, entirely reclusive in her later years — she did memorable commentary for a “Vertigo” restoration (she played Midge in the ’58 Hitchcock classic) in ’96. It’s a shame. She and Howard Keel (whose Clayton Farlow was a staple for 10 seasons), now both dead, would have been great additions to the Vanity Fair gathering. People always remember Jock (the late Jim Davis), but Clayton was on the show far longer.

The key to the new show’s success will be the degree to which it manages to maintain this delicate balancing act of old and new. Focus too much on J.R., Sue Ellen and Bobby and it looks like a Motown revival tour. But conversely, if the younger cast gets all the air time, there’s no anchor to the past. The scenes in which the two generations interacted were the best on Wednesday’s premiere — Hagman, who at age 80 has lost none of the lip-smaking relish he brought to what should have been an Emmy-winning role, plays especially well with Henderson, whose John Ross is presented as a manipulative chip off the old block.

A short scene by the Southfork pool with Henderson and Gray was the debut’s best. As Sue Ellen offered her son her support in the never-ending battle over the land (a recurring theme in the original series), Gray’s delivery crackled with tension. She looks amazing. Her icy glares shoot the same daggers they did all those years on the original series.

There were a few shoddy elements — the soundstages that are supposed to be the Southfork interiors lack both the floorplan and dimensions of those of the old show (which themselves did not match the interiors or layout of the real Southfork ranch where the exteriors have always been filmed) — but where it really counts, the new “Dallas” works. Even the opening credits, featuring a savvy twist on the original montage and a deliciously effective re-orchestration of the show’s majestic theme music, work.

It’s off to as solid a start as could possibly be expected.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jeffrey S. Nelson

    June 17, 2012 at 6:36 am

    I’m glad the new show is bringing back familiar characters. I hope they recruit veteran actor Morgan Woodward to reprise his role as Punk Anderson. He’s still alive and kicking at age 87.

  2. Angela Channing

    June 17, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Thank you for such a well-written review and the extra insight on Victoria Principal’s character. It’s funny you mentioned the interior sound stages (which I understand are outside of Dallas), I don’t remember seeing the staircase in the entry hall, nor did I see the portrait of Jock (which I understand is being replaced by Jock and Miss Ellie). I know, we should not hold them up to Mad Men details. :-)

  3. rickindc

    June 17, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    It started-out slow but it turned-out to be one hell of a ride after that, everything old is new again!

  4. RCS

    June 19, 2012 at 7:17 am

    One can only hope that this show will take off and that some of the old characters will come back on from time to time. Not to add too gloomy of a note to this, but there is one actor who should not be forgotten. Bisexual actor Dack Rambo played Jack Ewing, cousin to Bobby and JR, on the original “Dallas” for 51 episodes for the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. He would later bravely come out as being both bisexual and HIV-positive. AIDS would take his life in 1994.

  5. Kev

    June 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    The season premier was good, but episode 3 was even better! Keep this up and it will be a great opening season with hopefully many more to come. It’s great having a favorite t.v. show again to look forward to one night a week!

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a&e features

The ultimate guide to queer gift giving 2021

These handpicked presents will leave recipients jumping for joy

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Stumped over what gifts to give your family, friends, and neighbors this year? Check this list then check it twice, because while you’ve been naughty, they’ve been nice.

YuJet Surfer Electric Jetboard

If ocean-based watersports scare the bejesus out of you – because sharks! – the YuJet Surfer Electronic Jetboard offers a compromise to satisfy your thrill seeking, all limbs intact. With a top speed of 24 mph, range of 16 miles, and a 40-minute ride time, users can sit or stand on the battery-powered, remote-operated board that quietly glides across lakes, rivers, canals, and other bodies of water devoid of man-eating monsters. $10,000,  YuJetUSA.com

Mind-Pop Casserole Pans

Perfect for campground cooking or gourmet meals made at home, Darling Spring’s ultra-pretty Mind-Pop enamel casserole pans by Kapka add a Pollock-splashed joie de vivre to the meal-making experience, which seamlessly moves from stovetop to serving table without dirtying another dish. $45,  DarlingSpring.com

Oclean Water Flosser

Traditional floss isn’t exactly a budget buster, but the Oclean W10 Water Flosser is a sleek, no-waste and, yes, cheaper-in-the-long-run alternative with five distinctive modes and four high-performance nozzles to keeps the crevices between those pearly whites crud- and cavity-free. $60, Oclean.com

Flat Brim Wines

Bring a trio of varietals to the holiday table with Flat Brim Wines’ Not Series, including the 2020 “Not Tragic” Pinot Noir, 2020 “Not Basic” Picpoul/Roussanne, and 2020 “Not Extra,” which, if it were Opposite Day, two out of three would describe you to a T. flatbrimwines.com

Playcraft Shuffleboard Table

Playcraft edges out its at-home gaming competition with the Georgetown Espresso Shuffleboard featuring solid wood construction, richly stained accent features, and furniture-grade finishes that are a far cry from the warped, frat boy-abused tables dying slow deaths in dive bars everywhere. $1,595,  SawyerTwain.com

ChefWave Milkmade

Round up your favorite rice, soybeans, nuts and oats for homemade vegan milk alternatives that cost pennies on the dollar compared to pre-packaged versions of the same at your local supermarket. Just add water and a handful of your desired ingredient to churn out 20 ounces of liquid health in about 15 minutes. $200, MyChefWave.com

Cambridge Audio Evo 75

You may not regard London as synonymous with audio innovation, but you’ll change that tune after listening to your favorite artists streaming through Cambridge Audio’s Evo 75, the sleek, cutting-edge, all-in-one system pumping out crystal-clear sound quality fit for a queen. $2,250, CambridgeAudio.com

Wild Roots Spirits

Wild Roots Spirits’ five-times filtered, five-times distilled corn-based vodkas – in seasonal flavors like pear, cranberry, and apple-cinnamon – will spice up your soft and hard holiday seltzers and sodas for a little added zip on your lips. $30, WildRootsSpirits.com

Takumi by Yokai Express

Not only can the Takumi machine cook ramen, dim sum, rice, dumplings, pasta and more, but it also has the dubious distinction of being the choice ramen-making machine of Tesla’s offices – because of course it is: Elon Musk wouldn’t be caught dead microwaving Oodles of Noodles like the rest of us. $400, YokaiExpress.com

Oliver Charles Sweater

What do you get when Tibetan yak wool meets the world’s most advanced 3D-knitting machines? An antimicrobial, soft-as-cashmere, day-to-night sweater that instantly becomes one of the most versatile and comfortable pieces in your closet that rarely needs washing. $220, Oliver-Charles.com

Knitting Knowledge Starter Kits

If the summer Olympics taught us anything it’s that Tom Daley is a multitalented athlete poised to take knitting gold someday, and you can train for your spot on the team with Knitting Knowledge starter kits, including beginner socks, baby blankets, and beanies that include everything you’ll need – from yarn to needles to patterns – to complete the project with a perfect score. $18-$80, KnittingKnowledge.com

Electronic Bidet

If you’ve been on the fence about installing a backside-cleansing bidet in your bathroom, consider this: Toilet paper isn’t getting any cheaper, and it only takes a moderate COVID-induced run on the supermarkets before you’re forced to hunt it down on the black markets – again. $140-$650, Brondell.com

Stark Custom Kitchen Knives

Upgrade your store-bought block knives to a set of Stark Creations chef’s, paring, and nakiri custom knives, forged from scratch to complement your personality or overall kitchen aesthetic. $265-$515,  StarkCreationsUS.com

American Blossom Organic Blanket

Roast your nuts by an open fire during an in-the-buff cuddle sesh featuring your fave holiday flicks in American Blossom’s herringbone weave blanket made from West Texas Organic Cotton. $195,  AmericanBlossomLinens.com

Erica’s Tea Room Scones

Gild the proverbial lilies of your holiday breakfast spread with a selection of Erika’s Tea Room “Florida Famous” scones in comfort-food flavors like orange-cranberry, white chocolate-apricot, rum raisin, caramel-walnut, and piña colada, among other classic mashups. $36-$42/dozen, ErikasTeaRoom.com

RadRover 6 Plus

From a custom geared-hub motor that climbs hills 25 percent faster with more torque and extended range to all-new hydraulic brakes that provide superior stopping power, the best-in-class RadRover 6 Plus is basically the Range Rover of e-bikes – with far less depreciation per dollar. $2,000, RadPowerBikes.com

Hoppy Hanukkah Experience + Santa Clausthaler

Celebrate a “Hoppy Hanukkah” with Brewvana’s nontraditional advent calendar that conceals eight beers, one for the first night of the Festival of Lights and a full week after. If you’re laying off the hooch this holiday season but still want to participate in the spirit of it all, throw back a few non-alcoholic Santa Clausthalers, infused with cinnamon and cranberry for a cider-like refresher. $75, Brewvana.com; $10, Schofferhofer.us

Wildwood Candle Co.

Sick of pumpkin spice stinkin’ up the joint? Fill your rooms with more nuanced fall scents – like maple, sandalwood, cypress, and birch – available in a bundled seasonal foursome from eco-friendly Wildwood Candle Co. and inspired by the enchanting, well-traveled trails of Portland, Ore.’s Forest Park.  $88, WildwoodCandleCo.com

PrestigeHaus Decanter

Whiskey lovers who grab life by the horns will count this hand-blown, lead-free bull decanter among their prized possessions this Christmas while you enjoy the holly-jolly feeling of knowing that each purchase plants a tree. $80, PresitgeHaus.com
 

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Verhoeven returns with subversive tale of lesbian nun in ‘Benedetta’

Period drama delivers sex, violence, and horrors of the Black Death

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Daphne Patakia and Virginie Efira in ‘Benedetta.’ (Photo courtesy IFC Films)

There was a time when Paul Verhoeven was a big deal in Hollywood.

The Dutch filmmaker first attracted international attention during an early career in his homeland, with critically acclaimed movies like “Turkish Delight” and “Soldier of Orange,” which found an audience outside of the Netherlands and brought him greater opportunities in America, Once here, he adapted his style to fit a more commercial mold and forged a niche for himself with violent, action-packed sci-fi blockbusters, scoring major hits with “Robocop” and “Total Recall” before reaching a pinnacle with “Basic Instinct” – arguably still his most influential and iconic film.

Then came “Showgirls.” Although the Joe Eszterhas-scripted stripper drama is now revered as a “so-bad-it’s-great” cult classic, it was a box office bomb on its initial release, and its failure, coupled with the less-spectacular but equally definitive flopping of his next film, “Starship Troopers,” effectively put an end to his climb up the Hollywood ladder.

That was not, however, the end of his story. Verhoeven moved back to his native country (where he was hailed as a returning hero) and rebounded with the critically lauded “Black Book” before spending the next two decades developing and producing new projects with other filmmakers. In 2016, he assumed the director’s seat again, this time in France, and the resulting work (“Elle”) put him once more into the international spotlight.

Now, he’s back with another French film, and fans of his signature style – a blend of social satire, psycho-sexual themes, graphic violence, and near-exploitation-level erotic imagery that has prompted some commentators to label him as a provocateur – have every reason to be excited.

“Benedetta,” which receives its long-delayed (due to COVID) release in the U.S. on Dec. 3, is the real-life story of a Renaissance-era Italian nun (Virginie Efira), whose passionate devotion to her faith  – and especially to Jesus – sparks disturbing and dramatic visions. When young novice Bartolomea (Daphne Patakia) enters the convent and is assigned to her as a companion, it awakens a different kind of passion, and as their secret relationship escalates, so too do her miraculous episodes, which expand to include the physical manifestation of stigmata. Soon, despite the skepticism of the Mother Abbess (Charlotte Rampling), she finds herself heralded as a prophet by the other sisters and the local community, leading to controversy, investigation, and a power struggle that threatens the authority of the church itself.

Inspired by “Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy,” Judith C. Brown’s biography of the real Sister Benedetta, Verhoeven’s latest work is perhaps his most quintessential to date. In his screenplay (co-written with “Elle” collaborator David Birke), the Dutch auteur – who is also a widely recognized, if controversial, religious scholar – gives free reign to his now-familiar obsessions, weaving them all together into a sumptuously realized period drama that delivers copious amounts of nudity and sex, bloody violence, and the horrors of the Black Death while exploring the phenomenon of faith itself. Is Benedetta a saint or a harlot? Is she chosen by God or mentally ill? Are her visions real or is she a fraud, cynically exploiting the beliefs of those around her in a bold-faced grab for power and glory? And if she’s lying, in the larger context of a world held firmly in the grip of a church that treats salvation as transactional and levies its presumed moral authority to unlimited financial and political gain, which is greater evil? Though the film strongly implies the answers lie somewhere between the “either/or” of absolutes, it shrewdly leaves the viewer to contemplate such questions for themselves.

What concerns “Benedetta” more than any esoteric debate is a sly-yet-candid commentary on the various levels of societal hierarchy and the ways in which the flow of power perpetuates itself through their devotion to maintaining the status quo. As Benedetta’s perceived holiness carries her upward through the strata, from unwanted daughter of the merchant class to Mother Superior and beyond, more important than the veracity of her claims of divinity are the shifting and carefully calculated responses of those she encounters along the way. Fearing the loss of their own power, they ally and oppose themselves in whichever direction will help them maintain it. It’s a Machiavellian game of “keep-away” in which those at the top will not hesitate to use economic class, gender, sexuality, and – if all else fails – torture and execution as weapons to repress those they deem unworthy.

Inevitably, the above scenario provides plenty of fodder for Verhoeven’s movie to make points about religious hypocrisy, systemic oppression, and the way white heterosexual cisgender men keep the deck eternally stacked in their own favor – all of which invites us to recognize how little things have changed in the five centuries since Sister Benedetta’s time. That, too, is right in line with the director’s usual agenda.

Ultimately though, the signature touch that makes the movie unmistakably his is the way it revels in the lurid and sensational. Verhoeven delights in presenting imagery designed to shock us, and key elements of the film – from hyper-eroticized religious visions and explicit lesbian sex, to the prominent inclusion of a blasphemous wooden dildo as an important plot point – feel deliberately transgressive. This should be no surprise when one remembers that this is the director who brought us not only “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls” but also “The Fourth Man,” a homoerotic psychological thriller from 1983 still capable of making audiences squirm uncomfortably today; and while all this titillation may trigger the most prudish of viewers, it makes “Benedetta” into a deliciously subversive, wild-and-wooly ride for the rest of us. More to the point, it underscores the film’s ultimate observation about the empowering nature of sexual liberation.

Helping Verhoeven make maximum impact with this obscure historical narrative is a cast that clearly relishes the material as much as he does. In the title role, the statuesque Efira successfully creates a compelling and charismatic figure while remaining an enigma, someone we can believe in equal measure might be sincere or corrupt and with whom we can empathize either way; likewise, Patakia exudes savvy and self-possession, transcending moral judgment as the object of her affection, and the two performers have a palpable chemistry, which is made all the more compelling by their thrillingly contemporary approach to the characters. Rounding out the triad of principal roles is Rampling, a cinematic icon who brings prestige and sophistication to the table in a masterful performance as the Abbess; more than just a grounding presence for her younger co-stars, she provides an important counterbalance with a subtle and layered performance as a woman who has devoted her life to a belief in which she has no faith, only to find herself overshadowed by a charlatan.

“Benedetta” is not exactly the kind of film that’s likely to put Verhoeven back on the Hollywood fast track – it’s far too radical in its underpinnings for that. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome return to form from a unique and flamboyant filmmaker we’ve missed for far too long, and his fans – along with anybody with a taste for provocative cinema – should consider it a must-see.

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Arts & Entertainment

Olympian Tom Daley launches knitting line

A journey for me that started when I first picked up my knitting needles- fast forward 18 months & I’m so proud to introduce these kits

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Photo courtesy of madewithlovebytomdaley Instagram

LONDON – During the entire course of the Olympic games in Tokyo 2020 this past summer, audiences following the diving competitions were certain to see British Olympian Tom Daley quietly and intently focused in-between matches- on his knitting.

The Gold medalist diving champion only picked up his first set of knitting needles in March of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic first spread across the globe, strangling normal daily routines in its deadly grip.

Now, the 27-year-old British athlete has launched a company to encourage others to take up the hobby.

Photo courtesy of madewithlovebytomdaley Instagram

“It’s been a journey for me that started when I first picked up my knitting needles in March 2020. Fast forward 18 months and I’m so proud to introduce these kits to you all so that you can experience the joy I found learning to knit,” Daley said on his newly launched website.

“I designed these knit kits to help encourage you to pick up those needles, learn the basics, and fall in love with knitting at the same time – all whilst creating something to show off or pass on.

Ready? Pick up your needles, learn the basics and let’s have some fun!”

 

The website offers various kits for beginners, intermediate and experienced knitting and crocheting enthusiasts. One of the kits, a winter warmer hat already sold out but the collection ncludes a vest, scarves, cardigans, jumpers, stockings, and a blanket.

Kits include needles, biodegradable yarn made of Merino wool, and knitting patterns. 

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