Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sherlock Series 3 - The Empty Hearse

(Spoiler warning!)

The game is on!

"How did Sherlock survive the fall?" Finally, the burning question has been put to rest. Not, beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt answered, mind you, but disposed of nonetheless. It appears there was simply too much pressure for the perfect, astonishing solution that was, in all honesty, impossible to find. And that is why we ever-loyal fans -- "the fans who waited" -- were treated to every one of our tiniest desires for the return of the world's greatest detective, save one.

Here are some of the delicious and brilliantly executed "how's" we do get answers to.

How does John cope for the long two years?
Very much like we have; with difficulty. And we find him on the verge of taking the leap that proves he's moving on -- marriage (and visiting Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) for the first time in two years). Even though we and the rest of the universe may hate the mustache, Martin Freeman is as loveable and as endearing as ever in the role of Watson, and we are completely on his side with the whole Sherlock-not-being-dead debacle. His fiance, Mary Morstan (played my Freeman's real-life long-term live-in girlfriend Amanda Abbington) is not only a welcome addition, but she suddenly seems a necessary member of the show. How did they manage the first two seasons so well without her? Can't answer that one.

Look at them. They so know they're part of one of the greatest television shows ever...

How has Sherlock been staying busy?
By hunting down the rest of Moriarty's gang around the world. (And he was so busy he didn't even have time to get a haircut.) Obviously (as he himself would say) Benedict Cumberbatch continues to instill awe through every miniscule detail of his performance as Holmes, and in the episode, comedy is his feature. Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) is his most consistent companion throughout the episode, they have some amusing (if hard to follow) scenes, and their being related is increasingly believable, as they have a serious discussion over a game of Operation, and then practically confide in each other under the guise of an argument, all the while trying to prove themselves to be the smarter one.

How does Sherlock break the good news to John, and how does John take it?
Short version: not dead. And, very simply, hilariously. This is probably the best sequence of the show -- Sherlock finally uses a disguise, and it's all fun and games until John notices what going on. We've all known we want John to just deck the offending sleuth ever since we knew this scene would exist, but who would have thought the result would be so thoroughly and hilariously satisfying? You want a punch? How about a headbutt? Above and beyond. We're going to get spoiled with these levels of awesome!

"It is, you might say, like a face from the past." "Great, I'll have that one please." "It is familiar, but with a quality of surprise." "Well surprise me." "Certainly endeavouring to sir."

How does the band get back together?
Well, the game is on, and there's a case to solve, my dear Watson! But while Watson is coming 'round, Molly (Louise Brealey) assists Sherlock, and it's unexpectedly cool. (DI Lestrade (Rupert Graves) makes an appearance, but is mostly insignificant in this episode, hopefully they'll make up for that later.) Eventually though the two man team is back, almost as if nothing had ever happened... for a while. As far as Sherlock mysteries go, this plot isn't at the top of the mind-blowing scale, but it was certainly acceptable, even for the high standards of the show, and within, held some aptly intense and impressive moments.

And I have never laughed more during a Sherlock episode. The restaurant... and the other restaurants, and in fact the whole episode was littered with successful laugh lines. Moriarty and Sherlock giggling together while tricking John in the Scottish girl's theory nearly had me in stitches from the ridiculousness, (before they took it too far). But the best, most outrageously brilliant moment has to be in Anderson's theory -- Sherlock swings though a pane of glass, ruffles the shards from his hair, and plants a kiss on Molly with proportions of cheesy suave that would make Agent 007 jealous.

"You have missed this, admit it. The thrill of the chase. The blood pumping through you veins. Just the two of us against the rest of the world!" Well, I know I have...

And what about that fall?
Three possibilities were shown, and only one was plausible (and not ridiculous) but apparently even that one isn't definitive. Not if you don't want it to be. Personally, I haven't spent the last two years in elaborate theorizing, so I'll accept it happily. It makes sense. It's simple and effective. It uses all the clues from The Reichenbach Fall. Still, no version will be without-a-doubt accepted by every obsessive Anderson without some serious convincing. If John believes it, that would be a good start.

So who knows, maybe eventually, John will be the last person on earth to wonder and suddenly say, "Hey, Sherlock, how did you do it anyway?" And Sherlock will smile and take a telling deep breath....

Monday, January 6, 2014

Man of Steel

In a summary, Man of Steel looks exactly like every other Superman origin story, but the hero has been fundamentally changed, and there's too much for me to want to explain in plot-summary, but rest assured, I'll hit (and beat) on it later.

I'll dive in with my two favorite things about this movie: Henry Cavill and Amy Adams. Cavill looks the part of Superman, no doubt about it, and he's surprisingly convincing as an alien, and I think a great choice to play a modern version of the character. As "Clark" he was enjoyable, but as Superman he sadly only gets to brood, so there a only glimpses of the Superman I've been wanting to see. He's got the potential though, and a play-date with Ben Affleck, so there's a little straw of hope to grasp at. Same for Adams; I couldn't say she was badly cast as Lois Lane -- partly because I don't believe it, and partly because I don't know the character enough to judge -- but she was mostly used as a plot device, and didn't reach her normal heights. But they do get a classic superhero style meet-cute, which is probably the most interesting scene in the film.

I know -- you can't see Lois in this picture, but hey, it's better than my only other option, in which they're about to kiss...

Zack Snider gets directing credits, so anything I dislike I happily credit to him. Even though I've only seen snippets of his other efforts, I understand his style, and it is obviously present in this movie -- the action sequences were uniquely stylish and had a comic book kind of flavor, but they were also overlong and completely devoid of anything compelling. They were overwhelmingly noisy, and with no emotional weight, they were only beautiful from a strictly technical perspective. And this was at least half of the two-and-a-half hour movie -- it goes on so long and so heartlessly, it eventually passes being simply boring and settles boldly on annoying. And the dramatic scenes were slightly better, but mostly dull as well. In a couple scenes, there were also attempts at comedy, but it invariably fell painfully flat.

I'm including this picture here to remind myself that it wasn't all bad. (No, actually, I'm putting this picture here because I want to put it somewhere and this is the only spot left.)

Warning: Spoilers in the next two paragraphs.

Superman's father, Jor-El, is played by Russell Crowe, and even though he's suspiciously convenient about appearing via hologram as a plot device, he's still at least as compelling as any other character... especially his human "counterpart" who did not get an ounce of sympathy from me. Jonathan Kent, played by Kevin Costner, is nothing but annoying, and doesn't know that "with great power comes great responsibility" (this isn't Marvel after all) -- he insists that a young Clark not show his powers whatever the cost. Fortunately, Clark doesn't listen when it would mean letting someone else get hurt. "What was I supposed to do, let them die?" he asks, and the reply is a pathetic, "Maybe..." Later Mr. Kent forces Clark to let him die, even though Clark could have easily saved him without drawing suspicion. And I get the idea; Kent is trying to protect him from the world, and the world from him, but come on; he's invincible, he doesn't need protecting, and why would the world will be ready in twenty years, if it's not ready now? It doesn't make sense, and Kent's death (and subsequent death of that idea) was relieving.

Keep it up, Mini-Man-of-Steel -- you obviously know what's what in spite of your dad acting crazy.

But that wasn't the only fundamental problem with this movie, the most popular being that Superman isn't supposed to kill people, but he kills General Zod (Michael Shannon). And while that does bother me a bit -- just because it was unnecessary and easily avoidable, and only done to make Superman darker like Batman, which is also unnecessary -- at least it was justifiable, and nothing compared to the innocent death count. Apparently, it's not interesting to have a indestructible, unbeatable hero who always saves EVERYONE, so in order to make an exciting movie, something has gotta give, and in this case... it's everything. Everything that sets Superman apart is gone. Even though we almost only ever see expensive-looking shots of crumbling buildings, there's no denying that countless faceless people die unnoticed under the rubble of hundreds of demolished buildings, and Supes is not super enough to save but a handful of them. Plus, he seems to only care about the death of characters with names, and apparently we are supposed to too.

"Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!" ... Nope, that's just me, wishful thinking.

I'm not much of a Superman fan -- I like the character, but not so much the movies -- but I was hoping this version would change that. Halfway through I gave up though, and from there, it grew continually worse, as it meandered destructively along, and the underdeveloped characters, and enormous plot holes, and uninspiring themes piled up disappointingly underneath all that expensive, lifeless wreckage. Super? Not today, Zurg!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Upcoming Movie Roundup -- January

Happy new year everyone! Last month I didn't see anything besides the one movie I couldn't not see -- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug -- and that one I saw twice. Saving Mr. Banks is patiently awaiting it's turn, which it should get eventually since it's living up to my predictions, and surprisingly my interest in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has grown slightly due to reading a few reviews praising it for being better than expected.

In the first month of 2014, there's no must-sees like the Hobbit, so if I do get to the theater it'll be more likely for a re-watch of Catching Fire, or to see Frozen, which I am increasingly desperate to see, than for anything like, oh, say, The Legend of Hercules. Yeah right. In fact only three new films have actually hit my radar so far.

The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box
Jan 10th (Limited); PG
This one's rather obscure, but it managed to catch my attention. Firstly, by having the word "adventurer" in the title, and then by being set in the late 1800's. I wouldn't assume it'd turn out to be a great film, or even a good one, but it's exactly the kind of not-great movie I'd like. (Or at least it has the formula for it.) A little research informed me that it's based on a book -- "Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box" (first of three in a series) by G. P. Taylor, whom I have attempted to read before with "The Shadowmancer" but couldn't get into it. But since the Mariah Mundi series is more for kids, and more action-packed, they seem like a great way to give the author another go. So while the film is still interesting, I must say it's mostly just made me interested in the books. If you've read them, I'd love to hear your opinion of them!

I, Frankenstein
Jan 14th; PG-13
This is a similar case as above. I don't expect it to be good (in fact I'd be very surprised if it was) but it does have it's draws. Aaron Eckhart as the lead, for one, and, now since I've recently started (and nearly finished) watching Chuck I see the appeal of Yvonne Strahovski, absolutely. Plus Bill Nighy, and Miranda Otto. The plot, of course, doesn't appear to have anything to do with anything that has anything to do with Frankenstein, except the name (given to the monster instead of the creator), and the stitching. I'm reminded very much of Priest, that super awful and cheesy vampire movie also based on a graphic novel. It was made horrendously, but I enjoyed it, mostly because of Paul Bettany and Karl Urban, and enjoyed laughing at it. If this turns out similarly, I might be very annoyed, because it might make me want to see it.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Jan 17th; PG-13
The reboot of Jack Ryan starring Chris Pine! Obviously, this won't be the greatest action flick of all-time or anything, but it certainly looks prepared to deliver some shiny, exciting, and implausible thrills, and that sounds good by me, especially with Pine at the lead, and Kenneth Branagh both directing and making an appearance with a Russian accent as the generic, but fun-looking bad guy. Kevin Costner and Keira Knightly round out the cast, and, even though I am not at all a fan of either of them, I am prepared to give them a chance for the sake of what should be an amusing escapade into the slick land of Action-Adventure. And who knows -- maybe it'll exceed my expectations.

What films do you have your eye on for the beginning of 2014?