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3915 reviews in total 
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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Mixed Audiences, 3 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

God I love this stuff.

What happens here: a playwright has a murdered wife. He assembles the suspects to read a new play, and this play concerns events that implicate each of them. Each of these suspects is placed under increasing pressure by what he seems to know until the climax where the murderer is revealed.

For background, consider two techniques. One is mentioned in the film: the play within the play of Hamlet, wherein the murderer sees his act played out and gives himself away. This is far more sophisticated, as we have many suspects, not one. And they each are forced to be actors in the play, not spectators. Moreover, they play themselves!

The second thing is the great innovation that Poirot brought to the genre. At the end of his stories, he gathers all the suspects, confronts each one with some damaging new insight and reveals the murderer. In this, we share the role of audience with the gathered suspects as they hear the solution. It is a way of folding us into the story, increasing our engagement.

I will not reveal the trick this film plays on us, other than to say that it is extraordinarily clever and turns these two dynamics inside out so that the effect of each is transferred to the other. Genius.

Murder by the Book (1987) (TV)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Double Folds, 3 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This isn't worth watching for what it is, but I count it as a notable example, more so because it is a cheap TeeVee production with low aspirations.

The overall story is about art forgery.

The structure is adventuresome. The story we see is written by the mystery writer who is the main character. Actually the main character is an on screen image of the writer's character from earlier stories. The same actor plays the writer and his character, and we have a lot of banter.

The character gives advice on what to do next, while the writer works to get control because he wants to write — to be — a different character.

The interesting thing is that any viewer would easily understand the folds here, well enough to get the humor that saturates it.

I have a project that studies folding, stuff like this. Often, you'll find this in experiments and serious projects. When you find this in silly productions for fun, it matters. It validates the sophistication of the average viewer.

Sluggo, 3 March 2015

Yet another appropriation of the Holmes character. In this case, they had 23 minutes to fill with enough attractiveness to sell stuff.

The form demands light banter, very simple plots and secondary characters, and lots of slugging.

Slugging is required. Among the episodes I watched was one where most of the resolution of the story had Watson and Holmes competing for good punches.

Like other appropriations of the Holmes character, only the affect is used, and none of the dynamics. This is Holmes just barely in name only, and the use of Watson.

Plot Mines, 3 March 2015

For the sake of completeness of my Holmes project, I watched a couple episodes of this.

The fancy is that Holmes is placed 200 years in his future. The future setting allows the animators to use all sorts of visual shorthand for sets and situations. The appropriation of Holmes allows the writers existing stories that can be reduced to skeletal plots. These two devices were likely important to the decision to go, as they would greatly reduce costs.

This was inspired by Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century (of the decade before), an even cheaper production with even more abstract notions of a future.

When characters and story structures reach this level of reuse, like Frankenstein, it is because they have such power that all one has to do is reference them by sketching, and the viewer fills in details.

The amazing thing is the ends of the thing. The production itself is the scantiest, cheapest thing possible and the external reference is one of the richest.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Boys and Brown Leaves, 2 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Very spooky, slow. Based on a Lovecraft story.

The trigger event has a meteorite landing and exhibiting inscrutable properties, diffusing into the air. It is the remnants of a craft. German scientists from the 30s — one of our most enduring stereotypes — cannot figure it out, but before it disappears, they make the mistake of breaking the sphere embedded within. A colored goo is released and joins the water.

A nearby farm family with three boys come under the influence of this 'color,' and it is this deterioration that we see in our spooky parts. The film is in black and white, effectively using devices that evoke the silent era. The goo is rendered in color when we see it and that worked less well for me.

The narrative structure is what sets this apart. It has story in three periods. The focus is the appearance of the goo and over a year the deterioration of the family as witnessed by a neighbor.

A later period has this neighbor returning from WWII and encountering a group of occupying US GIs. Though they have no reason, and are warned, the leader decides to investigate the cursed farm. They provoke the goo in the farm's well and see it assemble and fly away from the planet.

Decades later, the head GI has returned and we follow his adult son as he seeks him, encounters the now aged witness and hears everything we have seen. Meanwhile, a dam has newly been built over the infected farm and the water is rising. The son finds and gathers his now crazed father at the edge of the water.

What works is having the elderly witness tell us the story from the 30s and see it in terms of films from that era. Watching the sons through this period was tough and touching. We could have had more of this and less of the brooding wife.

What did not work for me:

— the extra level of the soldier after WWII. This seems to be there only to tell us that the goo is still alive and to give us someone to later tell the story to.

— But in this segment, we see what could be all the goo assemble into something like a spacecraft and leave. But then are we to think that some remains. The oft-murmered question of whether "it is over" is not powerful enough to affect me.

— The finding of the lost father could tell us the answer to that question. He seems altered by some remaining force, or was he just suffering from what came before. We don't need answers to every question; this kind of story is better off with mysteries. But the filmmaker owes it to us to not raise unnecessary questions.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Extremes without Connection, 2 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is James Whale in his prime, for better or worse. The film was lost for generations before being reclaimed and restored, and for that reason is celebrated beyond its merits.

What we have is a collection of stereotypical scenarios and characters. A stormy night. A collection of stranded travelers. A very spooky house, containing a family of deranged people and their even stranger butler.

In turn, each character performs the most extreme behavior we can expect from their roles. It is hard to know at this distance in time how much humor Whale intended with this. Everything that could be over the line of serious presentation is. And the list of what is brought up is long: incest, drunken violence, blasphemy, denial, three distinct kinds of madness, gold digging, lust, instant infatuation, class struggle and damage. Sex in four incarnations.

An interesting decision is that there is no hierarchy, no agent more prominent or in control than any other. The wheel spins and who is central at that moment is left behind the next. Even the character of the house is not exploited as many would. The set was actually shown off to better effect, I think, in a following film: Secret of the Blue Room. There the place had agency. Here it is just an accident of place.

There is considerable art here in suppressing the notion of a master agent. This is a mystery like many of the period, but with no crime, detective or solution. Just everything else. It is a horror film, but with the terror removed. Sexy but hollow in the spots we normally would leer. All waves and no beach. Likely, this is his most personal film and it makes me wonder if we will ever welcome filmmakers like this back.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fully Realized, 1 March 2015

Over the years, I have written one tirade after another about Clive Exton, the adapter of Christie for many of these Poirot mysteries. He just doesn't get the form, what makes the form of the detective story so captivating.

What he does is substitute character for discovery. The excuse, I am sure is that colorful characters can be cinematic and by design, Poirot's grey cells are always inferred, never seen. But I know that one can capture the process on film, because others have done it — even others within this long running series. So I pound my forehead when I see wasted opportunity.

But I do have to give him some credit, I think. This is the first in the very long sequence, years and years. Yet it appears fully formed, as whole as it will ever be. The characters have the same qualities they will keep. The locations, the dressing of sets and actors, and the percentage of populated street scenes.

All this would have been worked out in some detail, probably more preproduction work than any one episode would ever require. I assume that Exton played a role in this, because these are the hooks he exploits better than other writers on the team.

I disagree with his decisions. What works with the books is that there is a powerfully weaving mind in the body of a narcissistic pomp, not the other way around. But I do think he did a good job at what he attempted.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Environmental Agency, 1 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The detective film is an essential component in how movies work. I'm trying to abstract the components that work, what doesn't and why. And that is taking me through many detective films, and every Holmes film is a must.

Putting Holmes in perspective: he was just at that period where science was news, a period roughly from Darwin to Einstein. The caché was less the scientists as celebrities, but the tantalizing notion that at some time there will be an explanation for everything including human behavior. The author of the Holmes stories took this as far as his own science of spiritualism, complete with notions of the fourth dimension.

For these stories to work, then, we have to have two parts. We have the detective, the scientist. He has a collection of facts, a powerful ability to reason and an irrepressible desire to understand. This is not a detective that solves crimes by stumbling about valiantly, but one that collects facts and assembles them.

And we need, absolutely need, a second component, the world. Holmes tries to master an understanding of the world as it works naturally. He can deduce that a man is a one legged tailor because the world is so ordered that observations mean something. This world has to be following natural laws. People have to be doing what normal people do.

In other words, Holmes makes no sense in a world of unnatural dynamics, a world manipulated by powerful forces. There can be no conspiracy making things happen that naturally would not. You cannot have secret, all-powerful societies with grand plans that bend the laws Holmes works with.

This movie is based on just that premise. So Holmes cannot be the Holmes we know. He is PI Magnum, or Sam Slade or someone else. (Moriarty has complex plans, but he is a lone genius and all he — and Mycroft — add is the ability for Holmes to have someone like himself in the world he sees.

One thing they did do well, I believe. We are always getting the story that Watson writes after the fact. He is our representative in the story. They did well enough with this.

That story has to unroll in the way that Holmes and Watson encounter it. They didn't do this well.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fiddling Around, 28 February 2015

When you get something like this, you have to give allowances. No money was spent; friends did the acting. Production is brusque.

What you have to look for is the intent of the writer/director/main actor. If he could have, would he have delivered a film that mattered? Well, he started with Holmes, one of the best places to start. And he enters what already qualifies as a subgenre of Holmes solving the Jack the Ripper case.

But alas, the story template is rolled out from the many previous films with nothing new. The perspective has no folds, no irony, comment or annotation. It really seems as if he wanted to create a genuine Holmes detective story.

There is essentially no deduction here, only discovery. We see little of what develops in terms of cause; it is explained instead. This filmmaker is off to a poor start, I am afraid and is likely to an early victim of the business.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Children's Dreams, 28 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It has been some time since I was exposed to how these things work. A clever writer can start with anything and extend it toward a known formula so that it animates that formula with a new disguise. In this world, the writers are witches.

So, one can well imagine the challenge here: target the currently popular formula: brash small group battles (with fists and old fashioned weapons) an organized army of evil. Anchor it in something known that already connects with dreams and inner fears. Implement it with noise and bravado.

The only thing of interest here is how clever were the writers.

Good witch with red hair and nudity, and who falls (but not permanently) with the guy hero? Check.

A complicated, unresolved issue with parents? Check.

Lots of story mechanics about collaborating, trust and friendship, but which preserves the individual's claim to valor? Check, whether you are a teen guy or girl.

Things set up at the end for a franchise? Of course.

I'd say the witches won this round.

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