James Laurenson

The Shadow of the Tower (1972) s01e04 – The Crowning of Apes

This episode has a different director, Prudence Fitzgerald, and a different writer, Brian Rawlinson, than the first three episodes, which explains a lot of the stylistic differences. Rawlinson being a guy might also explain why Henry (James Maxwell) is cruel in a very different way than he ever has been before. It’s like Rawlinson can’t bring himself to make Henry appear kind to children twice in one episode; speaking of being kind to children, we’ve never seen Henry’s son. Not to mention the Queen not getting an appearance in this episode either.

Though it’s not a very ladylike episode; it’s all about the traitor James Laurenson going over and teaming up with—well, some other people. They’re in Ireland, they hate the Tudors. It’s War of the Roses stuff, Whites, and Reds. Like I said, I didn’t do this era of English history; I glazed over with it during “Game of Thrones” too. So Laurenson’s got this pretender king, an annoying tween, and he’s drummed up enough money for German mercenaries and the Irish are with him and they’re going to invade and take out Henry and company.

Here’s the thing. “The Shadow of the Tower”’s first episode is all about how Henry invaded and spanked Laurenson and company real bad and Henry became king. So these conspirators think they’re all of a sudden going to out medieval battle the guy who spanked them so severely a few years before. They’re idiots. History: entitled, mediocre White men have always been a problem. I mean, I’ve got four blogs, just look at me.

Anyway, once you realize—about a third of the way into the episode—how these guys are basically just dopes, it’s hard to get interested in their stupid plotting. Cobra Commander had better plans. Meanwhile, Henry and his guys are just freaking out about getting enough troops together because they’re broke. There’s some good stuff with Hugh Sullivan wanting to get to lead a company or whatever it’s called in the actual battle instead of hanging out in safety. It goes to informing Maxwell’s Henry rather well. A lot of the episode gives Maxwell solid work, actually, just not that last moment. There’s a good last section, after the battle, when Henry brings in all the traitors and assigns fates. Then it gets deep, then it gets bad. A kind of goofy, cruel bad, which doesn’t really invalidate anything but it does jar.

But, overall, a good episode. Definitely better than the previous one.

The Shadow of the Tower (1972) s01e03 – The Schooling of Apes

So the last episode ended with the Queen (Norma West) giving birth to a son, making the King (James Maxwell) feel more secure in his reign. Because now he had an heir and something something. British royalty nonsense. But Maxwell was overjoyed about it to the point it was disturbing to think about the actual guy in the 1490s being this craven a guy. Like he’s Steve Jobs or something.

Anyway, this episode has got nothing with it. West isn’t even in the episode. Maxwell doesn’t even mention the kid. He sleeps with his dog, who he doesn’t show any affection. It’s a sad life for a grown man, but whatever.

Instead, this episode is about another kid. Sort of. It’s about this plot from this bishop introduced in the previous episode who’s against Maxwell because Maxwell fleeced him at the end of the last episode. Morris Perry plays the bishop. He’s sort of really good. Especially for this episode. See, the plot is to introduce a child heir to invalidate Maxwell’s claim, only the child heir is in the Tower of London (hence the title?) so Perry comes up with the great idea to pretend some peasant kid is this kid escaped from the Tower and now returned to claim the throne. It’s pretty dumb stuff, but it does give “Days of Our Lives” and such a rather firm footing in reality. The imposter kid stuff doesn’t get resolved this episode, just some guy (James Laurenson) betraying Maxwell to join up with Perry. Because, again, Maxwell treated Laurenson like shit and humiliated him.

While it’s sort of funny to watch Maxwell never understand why people don’t like him, it starts getting a little trying this episode. Usually Tower is a lot more engaging; this episode, while yes, it does move some important players around, nothing actually happens. You don’t… learn anything. Other than you can’t execute a priest but you can torture him pretty bad.

For whatever reason, this show doesn’t do well with To Be Continued episode enders. Everything in it is To Be Continued, it’s history.

I might also be going hard on it because it’s got a cruel, questionably useful ending.

A House in the Hills (1993, Ken Wiederhorn)

A House in the Hills is, for the majority of its running time, pretty darn funny. It’s a romance novel run through a black comedy filter, with Helen Slater playing the lead. The film takes place in LA; Slater’s an actress and ends up being the one character the film never actually explains. It’s one of the many surprisingly subtle nuances to the script.

The mysterious stranger is Michael Madsen, who gives one of his best performances, who breaks into the house where she’s housesitting. In some ways, the script could be a play—it’s mostly the two of them sitting around for forty or fifty minutes, but there are these little comic moments, even when Slater’s ostensibly in danger.

It turns out, of course, there’s more than meets the eye to the situation they both find themselves in. One of the great parts of director Wiederhorn and Miguel Tejada-Flores’s script is how they get more and more backstory into the film as the action progresses.

As a director, Wiederhorn gets how to balance the humor and the reality of Slater’s character. The first ten minutes are excellent working actor moments. Richard Einhorn’s score, revealing the comedy, helps the film immeasurably.

The supporting cast—Jeffrey Tambor, James Laurenson and Elyssa Davalos—is strong, but Hills really depends on Slater and, to a lesser degree, Madsen. While they’re both good, she’s the essential component. She makes the role—able to be flustered but still calculating—believable.

It’s a smart comedy.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn; written by Wiederhorn and Miguel Tejada-Flores; director of photography, Josep M. Civit; edited by Peter Teschner; music by Richard Einhorn; production designer, Morley Smith; produced by Wiederhorn and Patricia Foulkrod; released by Live Entertainment.

Starring Michael Madsen (Mickey), Helen Slater (Alex Weaver), Jeffrey Tambor (Willie), James Laurenson (Ronald Rankin), Elyssa Davalos (Sondra Rankin), Taylor Lee (Patty Neubauer) and Toni Barry (Susie).


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