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Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014)
Drunk on success?
Beware, Sherlock fans, if you didn't see last night's episode. Spoilers be here!
"SHERLOCK: The Sign of Three" then. What a train wreck. It ill behooves a series, written by two of the cleverest writers in the UK about two of the cleverest brothers ever plus their medical chum, to make schoolboy errors in plotting and pacing. (We know Mark Gatiss IS Mycroft so Steven Moffat must be Sherlock. Does that make Steve Thompson Watson?) Allow me to do a sort of reverse-Watson deconstruction of last night.
I doubt if even Nigel Bruce's bufferish Watson would have been as baffled for as long as Sherlock was but the problems started with Lestrade's subplot. First of all, Chekhov's famous dictum about a gun in act one. If you show brilliant gang getting away with it at the beginning, justice must come at the END. Just hinting that Lestrade's trap had finally worked as he runs to be with Sherlock is weak and confused. Then the leaving itself. Lestrade is a driven copper, a real one in the story. He would never leave the "collar" in his assistant's hands for so little reason. It was a cute gag but the gag was seen coming a mile off, like a weak American sit-com sting.
Then there was the interminable drunk section. First of all, why only two of them? They have enough male friends, especially from John's side, to go on a Stag. Why no Lestrade especially after last week's unexpected big hug? I appreciate we now have two big film stars headlining a series, their fame having grown since the series started. The drunk acting was, consequently, brilliant. A master-class. Very funny. Too LONG. Too self-indulgent. Gattis and Moffat. Kill your babies. This was flabby.
It also padded out a childishly simple plot. Oh my. Who might be the target in a room of wedding guests? If it isn't Holmes and Watson, might it be the battle-scarred soldier with his campaign ribbons whom no-one expected to show up but who gets "more death-threats than even you, Holmes?" Given part of the plot was the almost murder of ANOTHER soldier? Could it possibly be him? Given that, the drunk scene looks like smoke and mirrors to pad the mystery out by clouding Sherlock's intellect.
Finally, the humanisation of Holmes. Don't go there! The love was so palpable at the end I expected the Famous Four (Holmes, Mr. and Mrs Watson and the Watson baby (aaawwwwww) to laugh off the previous days of terror and freeze-frame like POLICE SQUAD.
There was hardly enough plot here for sixty minutes let alone ninety and now we really must address the Elephant in the Room. (See what I did there?)
Benedict Cumberbatch's old sparring partner, Jonny Lee Miller, is playing Sherlock in the American series ELEMENTARY. In that series, what Sherlock is and does has consequences. His Lestrade has suffered for his alliance with a high-functioning sociopath. Another supporting character was shot saving Sherlock and still can't forgive him as his hand is paralysed. His Watson is pulling away from him, growing both as a woman and as a detective.
My point is, Gatiss and Moffat, is that you are acting like Mycroft and Sherlock. You love the puzzles but your grasp of human motivation seems tenuous at best. You go for the easy laugh and expect your talented stars to hold the screen while you work out what to do next. Your brilliant creation is in danger of becoming a Fabergé Egg, scintillating on the surface but empty inside. Time to put Sherlock back into that cold and frightening space that is his and his alone. The operative word is "alone". Time to get serious about your writing.
PS: Yes, I'm aware that the third writer was Steve Thompson, responsible for two of the worst DOCTOR WHO episodes of the modern era but this series has your names above his. You are responsible. Fix it.
A sesquipedalian cornucopia.
Not since the golden era of THE GOOD OLD DAYS (a BBC variety show purporting to be set in a Victorian music hall) and the seemingly endless and convoluted vocabulary of its master of ceremonies, Leonard Sachs, has there been such a shameless wallowing in the obscure and fascinating sub-pathways of Victorian slang, in this case gay and sexual.
At times I was sure the writer was sitting with a dictionary opened to the most obscure and forgotten of terms for homosexuals and various sexual practices, striking out any that were still in common usage. Thus I heard "manticore" again and "mary-anne" and "rantipole" which shows just how impoverished our vocabulary has become recently. Why, there was even "gamahuching", a term I haven't heard since delving into a reprint of "The Pearl, A Magazine of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading" published in 1879 which I was perusing purely for research purposes (of course).
Actually it's extremely difficult not to slip into this style of writing after an episode of RIPPER STREET. The love of language goes hand in hand with a subversive political anger that powers every episode. All the characters have a curlicued style of speaking that comes straight from Victorian novels. Why, even a lowly GPO telegraph boy accessed a deep well of sexual slang in order to get arrested that made me think he had at some time been one of the panthers Oscar Wilde had feasted with and who had gained more from the encounter than a mere half-a-crown.
What distinguished this episode however was not just the immense erudition of the slang or the sensitive exploration of the Victorian gay underworld. It was the clever unfolding of a plot that exactly mirrors our current relationship with our broken and crooked financial institutions. People were ruined and many were murdered to keep a bank from crashing and every trick in the book from blackmail to extreme violence was used to save the reputations of the monsters at the top of the social ladder.
However, for all its wonderful attention to detail (everyone looks dirty!) and its historical accuracy (some GPO telegraph boys WERE notorious as rent boys on the side) there is a telling moment that tells you that RIPPER STREET is, in the final analysis, fiction.
In the end, the banker is punished.
That tips RIPPER STREET over from fiction to fantasy.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Asset (2013)
The Man From S.H.I.E.L.D?
Fans of MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. won't be disappointed with this week's third episode. Aside from some nifty "playing around with gravity" sfx you're going to see Agent Coulson get SERIOUSLY bad-ass in a way you might never have suspected from the quiet voice and the twinkly smile.
More and more this series seems to be moving in on THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.'s format, with Skye as a permanent "member of the public" draftee instead of U.N.C.L.E.'s guest star draftee gimmick.
Plus more hints about Coulson's death and resurrection. For some reason Coulson seems to be missing his muscle memory. Now why might that be, I wonder?
My review of ATLANTIS was going to consist of just one word.
However I will rouse myself from my torpor to add these other very good words: flat, uninspired, derivative, boring, predictable and seemingly written from precepts created from a computer programme. Just crass and desperately DULLLLLLLLLLLLLL........
With so much better fantasy on TV to study as a template and inspiration (DA VINCI'S DEMONS, GAME OF THRONES) why did the BBC waste time and money on this?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)
Hits the ground running.
For those of you in the UK waiting to see MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. on Friday, you can relax. I've seen the pilot episode and it is fabulous. In fact, I don't think I've seen a more confident and fully-formed first episode since, possibly, BUFFY and ANGEL. The Whedon DNA is all over it. It references AVENGERS ASSEMBLE and IRON MAN 3 and even features J.August Richards who played Gunn in ANGEL. It is clever, witty, has some laugh out loud moments and just the right amount of pathos (Richards' speech about being ground down by the recession is so now it hurts). All through I was thinking this is what TORCHWOOD was trying to be but never was. You'll see the parallels very easily but S.H.I.E.L.D. is the real deal. Hallelujah!
Pacific Rim (2013)
Just a 10 year old boy's sugar rush.
As Marvin the Paranoid Android might say "I saw it. It was AWFUL".
Nothing about this mess hangs together. These huge monsters rise so the obvious thing to do is construct giant robots to go Mano-a-Mano with them? Not drop a nuke on them? Come on.
When that starts to fail you build a huge wall that looks fab at the beginning of the film but then is never mentioned again, aside from the fact no wall would stop a monster climbing it? They're 250 feet tall!
What we have here is a 10 year old boy with ADHD crashing his Godzilla model and his Transformers together for TWO FREAKING HOURS! Crash! Crash! Crash! Take that, Godzilla! CRASH! Wham! Etc.
There is not a single cliché-free relationship in this film and, if the robots are made of steel, the characters are made of cardboard. In fact. the Jaegers have more personality than the actors, which isn't saying much, and the whole experience is like a huge sugar and popcorn rush in a kiddies matinée.
I can't believe this cynical pile of Kaiju excrement came from the director of PAN'S LABYRINTH or the HELLBOY films.
Who ya gonna call? Rooster Cogburn, apparently.
I watched RIPD last night and, even as I watched and knew it wasn't that good, I was also aware that there was a nice little idea in there struggling to get out.
Mostly it felt and looked like a low-budget rip-off of MEN IN BLACK and GHOSTBUSTERS so, allied with the very cheap-looking "deadie" creatures (OK, a little BEETLEJUICE DNA in there as well) it was as though I'd fallen through a time-warp and was back in the 80s.
Yet there's Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Mary-Louise Parker and Kevin Bacon taking it relatively seriously. Were they seeing a different film, in much the same way people see a supermodel and an old Chinese man when they look at Bridges and Reynolds in this one?
A curiosity, then, in which you can indulge nostalgic love for two (maybe two and a half) much better films and one which doesn't outstay its welcome at about 83 minutes. Worth it for Jeff Bridges channelling Wild Bill Hickock (or less charitably, Rooster Cogburn) mostly. Dead in the water otherwise.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
Hi Yo Silver......Hurray!
So what is about THE LONE RANGER that is so terrible? Why is this fun little movie vilified as worse than GREEN LANTERN, a bigger disaster than JOHN CARTER? Actually nothing.
At 140 minutes it's a little long for modern tastes but, on the other hand, it is trying to evoke a bye-gone era. Not the actual Wild West but the cooler 1950s when Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels were the biggest double-act on black and white television.
It was a more innocent, leisurely time where no-one asked why a white man was hanging out with "an injun" and he wasn't asked by everyone he meets "what's with the mask?" Yes, that's a running gag in THIS film because we're now post-post-modern, y'see, and Americans have discovered irony.
Even so it does not shrink from depicting the racism and violence directed against the Native Americans in the real West and the fate of two entire tribes is depicted with genuine pity.
Like most such retreads it's an origin story which makes a lot of sense because I'm pretty sure we never asked for or needed one on a 30 minute kid's programme, so we never knew how this team-up came to be. Everything from the mask to the silver bullets is neatly explained and actually links to the main plot. What more can you ask?
Armin Hammer is a handsome, charming yet believable good guy and Johnny Depp manages to keep his face deadpan for a whole film and is all the better for it. It's a knowing film which still manages to have a lot of love for the genre it's (very gently) ribbing.
It's from the producers of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and that's how you should think of it. It mixes a classic form with a modern taste for the occult and if you call it PIRATES OF THE WILD WEST you're not far off the mark.
It's so spot-on it even gets the William Tell Overture into the climax and still makes it thrilling rather than extremely silly. Go and see it but only when you have loads of spare time and are in a mellow laid- back, no-hurry kind of mood. You won't be disappointed.
Top of the Lake (2013)
Bottom of the Barrel?
Look. I really tried to like Jane Campion's new TV series TOP OF THE LAKE (a bad sign in itself as you shouldn't need to try) but I gave up after 50 minutes when I thought to myself "can I take another 5 episodes of this?".
It was beautiful to look at and the acting was excellent but the whiff of cordite that hangs over it from early 80s feminist battles is now very stale. Yes, there was a wry sense of humour in the feminist camp scenes but it was self-indulgence that predominated.
You know you're in trouble when EVERY SINGLE MALE in the series is, as one woman yelled at one point, "an Alpha sh**". All the male cops, the redneck family, even the Maori boyfriend of the dying mother - all violent, insensitive sh**s.
The world has moved on in writing for men as can be seen in the excellent portraits of sensitive and nuanced men we see in Nordic Noir dramas. This has started to trickle down to mainstream Brit drama like BROADCHURCH and THE FALL so there is no excuse for Campion's dinosaur sexual politics at this time.
The dialogue was functional at best and clunky most of the time especially when the story stopped to deliver a lecture on male selfishness which was the equivalent of the writer grabbing the audience by the lapels and delivering a loud and obvious harangue straight in the face.
When I lived in Australia (the closest I've ever been to New Zealand where TOP is set) they had a wonderful expression for something that smelled bad. It was "on the nose".
When I was learning to write dialogue from Americans such as Robert McKee they excoriated dialogue that was simply polemic or info-dump without subtext as "too on the nose" Now I can combine both origins and say, quite accurately, that Jane Campion's new series is "on the nose".
The Tourist (2010)
Like watching the holiday videos of a couple you don't particularly like.
I watched THE TOURIST last night with the luminous Angelina Jolie and a pudgy Johnny Depp. After an hour I was still waiting for it to start. Even when it did it was slow, humourless and seemed to be an excuse to watch Angelina being astonishingly beautiful in a variety of couture outfits around Europe. About as exciting as watching an all-day fashion shoot. The so-called twist I saw coming after the first 8 minutes or so (because of what she reads in the café) and the film seemed full of people half-heartedly going through the motions for the money and a holiday in Venice. It cost $100 Million to make this turkey! How? Definitely one to avoid.