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Believe me, the missing question mark in the title of this episode is the least of this programme's flaws
»What's wrong with Norman?« would definitely be something I'd ask if Norman Bates was an orthodox TV character that had been introduced only two episodes ago. But since I'm referring to the Norman Bates that regards murdering residents of his motel in the shower and subsequently dumping them into a swamp as the essential constituents of a pleasant Saturday evening, making an unheralded tour through some bloke's house to recover a belt and then chancing onto what looks to be a sex slave is hardly worth a mention. Although, it actually kind of is, as Bates Motel uses it to demonstrate that it has remained the partially brainless programme we all remember not quite so dearly from its first two acts. I'll return to this subject matter in a twinkling, yet not to the question posed in the title of this episode because, believe it or not, there's this little flick called Psycho that explains it rather neatly.
Its prequel, Bates Motel, sensibly dedicates this instalment to character development in lieu of superfluous violence, which is especially exciting with regard to Norman, who is experiencing hallucinations of Norma conversing with him for what appears to be the first time. Blackouts, however, are evidently something that the young Mr Bates is familiar with, as is manifested through him being unable to recollect anything about making an effort to bump off his half- brother in the previous episode. In view of that, I can very well picture the programme revealing at some point that Norman is in fact behind the death of his father. That would elucidate his being so frantic when awaking at the beginning of the pilot before having actually discovered his old man in the garage, but would also change the concept of Bates Motel, which I took to be an explanation for Norman's descent into insanity, into simply showing a disturbed mind at work.
Until my hypothesising is proved veracious or fallacious, I'll limit myself to commending Freddie Highmore's acting, which noticeably improves with every new episode. Nevertheless, there is an unmissable qualitative disparity between the scenes set in the Bates household, for instance Dylan and Norman's tête-à-tête in the sitting room, and any other moment of "What's Wrong With Norman". I'm not dramatising; there is clumsiness to be found in either writing, acting, or directing at truly every other point of the episode, from Norman talking to his lady friends, Norma necking with Bad Pun Cop, to Dylan shooting pheasants with the guy crying at strip clubs.
Unsurprisingly, I'm not a devotee of clumsiness, but, and this is doubtful to cause significant fluctuations in the surprise department, I wholeheartedly prefer it over whatever it was that this programme was doing at the closing stages of "What's Wrong With Norman". This, let it be noted, excludes Norman's imagination ordering him to implement Operation Belt, and includes everything that takes place from that point on. Firstly, if Shelby cracking jokes as dreadful as "the air in Arizona" hadn't made him dubious enough already, there's the Detective Story 101 rule that the person about whom every feature seems to be wonderful is hiding a skeleton in their cupboard – or their hidden rape room in the basement, in this case. While this is also something I could've lived with (to be clear: I'm speaking of the lazy plot device, not the rape room), the pseudo-suspenseful manner, in which director Paul Edwards sets this really not very stately twist up eventually stopped me from granting the episode a positive grade.
"What's Wrong With Norman" then ends with a cliffhanger about as thrilling as the ones from Planet Earth, owing to the terribly restricted potential outcomes for Norman. The audience being able to rely upon characters retaining the degree of bodily soundness and aliveness that is displayed in the source material is just an unpreventable drawback of doing a prequel. But I shan't lose faith in Bates Motel that easily – after all, this episode did reveal a glimpse of how good it could still become.
Twelve cabins, eight notations: I'll go out on a limb here and assume that Dylan doesn't tuck a napkin into his collar when eating. If Bates Motel would ever want to get phenomenally self- referential, how about having Norman watch a film starring Anthony Perkins? Norma has a blue case for her mobile phone – how old is she? 15? Furthermore, how did she not see Bradley walking right next to her? Does she have tunnel vision? »You can't just walk into my house.« - »Actually we can.« - If nothing else, Sheriff Romero is made a bit less bland in this episode before it inevitably transpires that he is the 'good cop' in White Pine Bay. Unless you're ministered to in Pandora, blue-labial doctors are decidedly terrifying. »Mother?« - »Nope, it's just Chuck Testa.« In keeping with the mother subject, Dylan has become a hundred times more likable by being the first character on this programme to tell Norman how ridiculous he sounds when calling his mother that way.
Before either dreaming or dying, you should actually think of a decent plot.
Bates Motel offers a good deal of things to be grumbled about: setting the backstory to Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho in contemporary surroundings would be one. Embroidering the 1960 film noir's rather complete story in the first place, apparently for no other purpose than NBCUniversal holding the rights for it, another. Those I could reconcile myself to, but the programme falling prey to one of the most prevalent faults in present-day television is what disappointed and irked me, considering that however hostile you may be to the whole idea of this production, the Psycho 'universe' holds a potential for engrossing television.
This metaphorical blow to the face of viewers asking for more than just diversion I'm referring to is, of course, Bates Motel passing up the prospect of a pilot that properly establishes characters and situations in favour of one that hurls action and violence and surprises at its audience, regardless of that being most incongruous at such an early stage, in a desperate attempt to secure financially adequate ratings. There is justification for the existence of a standard storytelling formula involving a gradual build-up to a climax and, whereas someone as Alfred Hitchcock can use a non- observance of that practice - murdering his film's presumed lead early on - for a virtuoso plot twist, a less Hitchcockian director such as Tucker Gates or three less Hitchcockian writers such as Anthony Cipriano, Carlton Cuse, and Kerry Ehrin might not be able to.
Why am I saying 'might not'? They were not. The rape/murder scene taking place at about the halfway point of "First You Dream, Then You Die" is unfitting and unnecessary on various levels and poorly executed to boot. It did commence appealingly, but as soon as Keith Summers, the former proprietor of what now trades under the name of Bates Motel, stops by for a late visit that turns out not be for coffee and cake, the entire sequence goes down the tube. Honestly, if the writers decided to equip this man with a moustache to bring out a resemblance between him and Hitler, it would be compatible with the rest of his character in every respect, since he is depicted as quite the incarnation of evil. - Isn't it peculiar that I've never come to meet such a person in real life, yet I stumble across them all the time when watching sub-par films or television?
Be that as it may, this amalgamation of Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and Anders Behring Breivik then begins to abuse Norma, something that Gates and the writing squad were, for whatever reason, keen to show on screen, and the audience is put through to what feels as long as a minute of staged rape that is ultimately put an end to through a slightly tardy deus ex machina in the form of Norman. Adolf Bin Breivik is laid out, mother and son proceed to handcuff him (instead of using the manacles to bind him to the table, which would prevent any further bother), and Norma forgets to be angry at her son for having sneaked out of the house beforehand, even though he could have deus ex machinaed much more timely had he stayed. *mutters insults at the idiocy of everything that has occurred up until now*
As Norman simply leaves for a moment - making himself a sandwich or something, I have no clue Adolf Bin Breivik gets back up, which causes Norma to knife him to death, which in turn leaves the Bates family with two or three fairly urgent items on their to-do list. The approach that is arrived at is not to make the incident public (although Rape/Murder Motel would have been a more thrilling title for this programme, if you ask me) and the outcome is probably the first brick in Norman becoming a little mad sometimes later in his life.
There's more to "First You Dream, Then You Die" than this one sequence, but it clearly represents the general problems of Bates Motel. Intriguing moments – the foreshadowing in lines such as »As long as we're together, nothing bad can really happen.« for example, together with Norma and Norman's odd relationship or Norman's discovery and the final scene somehow related to it – can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and despite Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga acting very well, the pedestrian writing impedes the develop-meant of any connection to them.
Twelve cabins, nine notations: Teenage girls, do not offer a boy you've only just met a ride, he could be a serial – oh, wait Selfies within the first ten minutes– Hitchcock would have been proud. »I thought I was going to study, but they took me to a party.« – Extraterrestrials having abducted you would be a more credible excuse than that, Norman. Seriously, this young man needs to get his s h i t together. Parents of adolescents ought to show their progeny this episode, as it teaches them a lesson on what will happen if they secretly leave their homes. Their mothers will be raped. "The air in Arizona" – From now on, Deputy Zack Shelby will only be known as 'Bad Pun Cop' in my reviews. Why are the policemen switching on the blue lights when driving away from the motel? And, perhaps more importantly, why did they even go there? If there were indications to the disappearance of Mr Summers, I assume they'd ask some questions. Don't cadavers have a certain distinguishable odour to them? And wouldn't a Sheriff smell one that is lying right next to him? It seemed to me as if Norman was not vomiting but spitting out a mouthful of orange juice. Well, that is the least of Bates Motel's flaws, I guess. Is it normal for oxygen tanks to look like decorated metal umbrellas?
CSI: White Pine Bay
Combustion appears to be a motif of Bates Motel's second instalment: not only is the warehouse of Bradley's father put a match to in the opening minutes, which sparks (har, har) him being burned alive in his hot sports car (har, har) wearing a suit, which is remarkably high up on the list of the most bad-arse ways to commit suicide, only below overeating at a feast given in your honour (look it up, that genuinely happened), although I'm uncertain of the extent to which this will lift his inanimate mood, and I've just noticed that I've been maundering so much that I copulated up my entire sentence structure. Anyway, there's also Norma witnessing a burned body dangling about in the town centre in the final scene of the episode and the burning desire to switch off my television I felt several times during "Nice Town You Picked, Norma
Nevertheless, this is a perceptible improvement over the programme's extraordinarily chaotic pilot, especially so the first intimations that White Pine Bay is somewhat uncannier than it initially purported to be, the augmentation of the Bates family tree (I like how Dylan raises questions as well as Max Thieriot's performance, but how could the writers not take the chance of making his character a Frenchman by the name of Normand?), and most of the acting. The supporting cast may collectively not be anything more than all right, but Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga are two very good leads, particularly when they're on screen together (his brilliantly acted discomfort as his mother is changing in front of him gives me confidence that he could actually fill Anthony Perkins's proverbial size 13 shoes). Oh, and about that »I'm your mother. It's not as if it's weird or anything.«, Norma, that is precisely what makes it weird. And since I'm at it, licking your finger and then rubbing it into someone else's face would fall into this categorisation as well.
In view of all these positive qualities, it is simply astonishing how Bates Motel has failed to be more than a mediocre television programme thus far, due to thoroughly ludicrous writing every so often. In "Nice Town You Picked, Norma ", Freddie and Emma's expedition to the woods was the nadir. Sure, the guards of the marijuana field chasing the two wayfarers gave director Tucker Gates space to include some action, but what is warranting it from a storytelling slant? Bearing in mind that the plantation's about as hard to find as a two-year-old playing hide and seek for the first time and that there are people who take pleasure in hiking and might stumble across it, it seems to be a bit of an overreaction to pursue every single trespasser.
And if you're willing to accept this premise insulting the intelligence of anyone with a primary school level of education, wouldn't two fit adult men knowing this location inside out be able to capture two adolescents, one of them even having a breathing disorder, who are there for the first time? Nah, says Kerry Ehrin, and Tucker Gates gives his thanks by using the much revered technique of shaky cam – which is, incidentally, exactly the type of obnoxiously sounding name something like shaky cam deserves. And how about that scene, in which Norman, on the spur of the moment, decides to batter his brother's head in? A 26-year-old Norman Bates doing that? Fine, if you must. But a 17-year-old Norman Bates doing that? That's just stupid.
I shall give the writer/director duo at least some praise, however, for making Bates Motel a very enjoyable programme. And if the next few episodes contain a little more conversations in the style of Norma's inquisition of Emma and a little less shocking violence every quarter-hour, it could just become guilty pleasure without the 'guilty'.
Twelve cabins, six notations: I hadn't yet commented on the theme song (if one can even call it that) of this programme in my review for the pilot, believing it might change; however, it did not, and so we're left with these five seconds of bland unoriginality. I'm as much of an expert on the workings of fire as on the budgetary stability of the Talas region in northern Kyrgyzstan, but Bradley's father surviving is impossible, right? There are questions that would be considered conventional for mothers to ask the girl their son has invited home with him. »What is your life expectancy?« is not one of them. I'd say that the best moment of this programme's first two episodes was Norma telling Norman about her 'good-will mission' to meet up with Bad Pun Cop in town and him just grinning, as if to say, »I'm sure that mission will be heard through the walls tonight.« Oh, the irony of Norman snapping when seeing that his Brother has saved Norma under the name 'The Whore' on his mobile phone, but then calling him a son of a bitch in their argument. I'm quite glad that Emma discerned Norman's blatantly obvious lie about his injury. Otherwise, I'd probably have attempted to boo her away by flinging raw eggs at my flat screen and that would have been a nuisance to clean up.
Sherlock: His Last Vow (2014)
The BBC seems to have a message for Rupert Murdoch
Who'd have thought that a Scandinavian media magnate blackmailing political dignitaries as a pastime would be a compelling villain in a programme of Sherlock's calibre? Well, brownie point if you did, but that's not what matters. Instead, it's that "His Last Vow" managed to make me look forward to the return of Sherlock again after the third series only had me coming up with more and more imaginative synonyms for 'disappointment' thus far.
The affable mister I was alluding to goes by the name of Charles Augustus Magnussen and makes no bones about him having the characteristics of a bellend by his licking a woman's face to compare the taste and smell of her perfume and his mistaking the mantelpiece in Sherlock's flat for a lavatory. Sherlock and John start the investigation rolling, the episode gets gripping, the game is on. But around the 30-minute-mark, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss interrupt the extravaganza to bring you Mary shooting Sherlock. Excuse me for a moment, while I go ramming my head against a wall in utter bafflement of what has just happened.
Assessing this composedly, such a radical turn of BLOODY HELL, WHAT THE ACTUAL @$#*%! WAS THAT?
Ah hem, now, let me try that again: such a radical turn of events can easily fall into the category of surprise for nothing but surprise's sake, and I wasn't immediately convinced by Sherlock's latest tricking its viewership. However, with the help of flashbacks and mind palace visits, screenwriter Moffat quelled my confusion and scepticism and instead transformed it into admiration. In fact, I have come to consider it one of the most impressive about-turns in recent television history, making way for an astonishing jaunt to Sherlock's subconscious and the nearly perfect second half of this episode.
The ingenuity of Sherlock also lies in cuts as the one from John, Mary, and Sherlock's fiery encounter at Leinster Gardens to Christmas at the Holmeses', where Mycroft brilliantly comments his brother's recuperation with: »Am I happy too? I haven't checked.« Thinking about it, he would basically be Sherlock if his score on the prick/charmer scale were just a little more balanced. Apart from such fine writing that one has been able to bank on even at the programme's shoddiest moments, "His Last Vow" leaves many enigmas behind, something Gatiss and Moffat have evidently been fond of since creating "The Reichenbach Fall".
The mysteries aren't as colossal as faking a death, but there is no lack of small ones: was Sherlock really taking drugs or was Molly helping him yet another time to persuade John, Mary, Mycroft, and most importantly, Magnussen into believing he had? Has Sherlock taken Anderson into his employ, seeing as he's part of the 'drug bust' in 221B Baker Street, appears in his mind palace, and leads Mary to him? Does Janine hint at more than relationships when telling her ex-boyfriend "You shouldn't have lied to me. We could have been friends."? What's the story behind the third Holmes brother Mycroft so casually references at the end of the episode?
Such burning questions will probably make the wait for Sherlock's comeback sometime in 2016 quite a bit tougher than it were if the only plot point remaining unresolved after this series had been the name of John and Mary's offspring (I'm still advocating Hamish, by the way). Providentially, the programme demonstrates all of its quality before vanishing for yet another immoderately long hiatus, making use of an enjoyable villain that provides a welcome contrast to the psychopathic Moriarty, the ideal blend of suspense and humour, and an outstanding screenplay.
And if you haven't hurriedly turned off your television as soon as the first notes of Sherlock's theme were heralding the closing credits, you will have also had the pleasure of seeing one of the programme's best sequences of all time, a character resurrection making the transitory deaths of Gandalf, Harry Potter, Neo, Ethan Hunt, Lois Lane, E.T., and, yes, even Sherlock Holmes look like loo breaks: Jim Moriarty is alive. After two unsatisfactory episodes that lacked Andrew Scott's unequalled portrayal of Sherlock's nemesis, I'm beginning to think that he may be the only reason for Sherlock being as superb as it is.
My detective scribblings: With blokes like Bill, addict or hipster is hard to determine. I wonder if for Janine, it's also 'Charlie Magnussen' and 'Jimmie Moriarty'. The viewers who believed Sherlock's relationship with Janine know him about as well as Lestrade does (taking Sherlock's 'Help!' text seriously in the previous episode). Am I alone with discerning a resemblance between Sherlock's father and Mr Rogers? If Magnussen » never believed the drug thing for a moment«, how come it's among his pressure points for Sherlock? John's t-shirt collection now contains 'I don't shave for Sherlock Holmes.' and 'I don't understand.', just in case anyone was longing for that information. What good are the 'porn preferences' in Magnussen's archives if none of Sherlock's characters chalk up an 'abnormal' on it? Sherlock isn't punished for killing someone due to him being related to a senior government official who deems him 'needed'. That is either a subtle hint at corruption or profoundly slipshod writing. Again, a cliffhanger is resolved at the end of the series already. Again, it feels bizarre. Best quote: »I hope I won't have to threaten you as well.« - »I think we'd both find that embarrassing.« - I'd venture to name this Martin Freeman's best performance on Sherlock as of yet.
Sherlock: The Sign of Three (2014)
We need to talk about Sherlock
'Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat's Sherlock departs from its source material.' is a sentence with about as much informational value as 'Grass is green.' or 'Uwe Boll isn't the best film director of all time.', yet it remains remarkable how small a part the underlying Arthur Conan Doyle novellas sometimes play in the British duo's adaptations. "The Sign of Three" is one of those instances, in which a wedding just so happens to include a murder attempt because a bit of zest was called- for after Sherlock Holmes had held a speech for an estimated four days at a stretch. And although I enjoy Sherlock's humorous side, a little less of forgotten forenames and exposed bellies and a little more of suspense and Sherlock's genius would be an advantageous step for the programme - unless it is about to be rebranded as Sherlock: The Sitcom for its fourth series.
Presumably, the grounds for the Lilliputian presence of crime-solving in this episode lie in the writers' resolve to humanise Sherlock in this series. He does still openly ponder the ideal liquidation of the bride groom at weddings and is startled by the mention of 'mingling', but all of a sudden, the self-styled high-functioning sociopath also takes pleasure in ordinary activities such as dancing, considers John his best friend, and takes a vow to protect Mary, John, and their fetus (I'm confident that all parties involved would favour Hamish as its name, regardless of gender). It's an appealing objective considering his persistent buggeriness in social interactions, and Gatiss and Moffat manifest capability through realising it gradually and not without displaying the problems someone as – well – extraordinary as Sherlock Holmes has to come to terms with in the process, but it nonetheless affects the quality of Sherlock.
Though the connection between the two is tough to spot, an extra drawback of "The Sign of Three" resides in a twist as shocking as the end of The Passion of the Christ, viz. it being exactly the two cases Sherlock referred to in his aforementioned speech that become significant in the final third. Whereas that would be excusable, the simplicity in all of that isn't; more precisely: if I can identify victim and offender before Sherlock does, the screenplay of the episode is unlikely to win any awards. Further corroboration for the poor script are one-dimensional supporting characters, more storytelling clichés than wedding guests, and how haphazardly the tranquil reception transforms into a matter of life and death.
As an act of atonement, the episode's three writers (a number that is even more gratuitous considering that the paragons "The Reichenbach Fall" and "A Scandal in Belgravia" required merely one) have come up with excellent bits of humour that could easily prompt one to neglect the rest. Take John's stag night alone as an example, a sequence that had me launching into laughter more often than the majority of actual comedies. If only comparisons of such dimensions could be used to describe the writing and directing
My detective scribblings: »You're going to be incredibly useful.« - I have a hunch that there's more to Janine saying that than Sherlock finding her a proper fling at the wedding. Sherlock's efforts to grin seem to cause him more agony than the torture in "The Empty Hearse". Amanda Abbington makes the most out of her little duties as Mary: just her reaction to the wine is wonderfully amusing. Mark Davis's editing in the wedding dinner scene is stunning, his hasty cross-cutting as Sherlock and John arrive at the military barracks less so. The most disappointing element of this episode was unquestionably the misleading acting credit for Lara Pulver, who appeared in only one scene. There wasn't any evidence of Mr Lensman attempting to kill Major Sholto, and certainly, the New Scotland Yard can't apprehend someone for no other reason than Sherlock Holmes's words. Knowing that, no one intelligent enough to arrange a murder this meticulously would ever admit doing so, which makes this dénouement another illustration of the chaotic writing in "The Sign of Three". Best quote: »And we're having quite a lot of sex.« - I've just glanced through my previous Sherlock reviews and noticed that I haven't praised Louise Brealey's acting at any point, making it high time to do that, since she is absolutely magnificent as Molly.
Sherlock: The Empty Hearse (2014)
Many botched returns
If you choose to end a series of your internationally worshipped TV programme with its protagonist jumping to what looks to be ineluctable decease, orchestrate it in a way that contracts the credible possibilities to no more than a dozen, and then take a two-year hiatus to let innumerable amounts of blogs and websites speculate about how that character isn't yet pushing up daisies after all, you're going to have quite a bit explaining to do once you return. Sherlock's creators, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, were aware of that and did the best thing they could under such circumstances: choosing one of these much contemplated possibilities, while also factoring in that a good deal of the fans of their product will ten to one be disappointed with their decision.
The slightly insane former police officer Philip Anderson is the embodiment of all the uploaders of conjecturing YouTube videos, essayists of circumstantial analyses of "The Reichenbach Fall", and participants in online forums that scrutinise every shot from Sherlock's pilot onwards; and as Sherlock spells his complex scheme out to him, Anderson's reactions precisely mirror those of some of the programme's fandom. Gatiss and Moffat were bright enough to accept that, no matter what they did, they couldn't really confound their audience anymore, nor could they leave the mystery open without avoiding the loss of their entire viewership, bar the critics earning their living for watching their work. Hence, they opted to resolve their conundrum in a rather ordinary manner, while counterbalancing it with acknowledging just that – which, to my mind, is as audacious as it is clever.
However, if they've thought that a simple »We know it isn't perfect.« could stop me from picking holes in the explanation for Sherlock's survival, I feel obliged to quote Dr Cox for a second: »Good God in heaven, Newbie. There are just so very many ways for me to say this to you: Never. Not in a million years. Absolutely not. No way, José. No chance, Lance. Njet. Negatory. Mm-mm. Nuh-uh. Uh-uh. And of course, my own personal favourite of all time, man falling off of a cliff: Noooooooooo!«
Sorry about that. If you've understandably had enough of all the inspection that has been surrounding Sherlock ever since that one jump, I suggest skipping the rest of this paragraph, but to account for my merely semi-enthusiastic rating for this episode, here be the nit- picking: if Mycroft was able to 'get to' the sniper aiming at John, why couldn't he do that with the ones responsible for Mrs Hudson and Lestrade and thereby render all the fuss about Sherlock's fake suicide utterly useless? Did the Holmes brothers actually risk John finding out everything about their manoeuvre if he just were to move his fundament for a few metres or would have been able to elude the assailant on a bicycle? And last, though really quite the opposite of least: a doppelgänger? The only plot device lazier than that would be Sherlock genuinely dying, but a divinity stepping in to revive him for the reason of him 'having not yet attained his true mission'.
Just like writing wit clashes with the messy reasons for Sherlock's survival, "The Empty Hearse" as a whole is comprised of nothing but ups and downs. The introduction of Mary as a human and amiable character stands in sharp contrast to John's unduly aggressive response to the apparent resurrection of his best friend. Furthermore, the ensuing alliance of Sherlock and Molly is propelled by a lovely chemistry between the two of them, as the latter has finally moved on from Sherlock at least a bit, but all of that is at odds with a Hollywoodised and clichéd rescue sequence that slackly reunites Sherlock's two main characters for the last third of the episode. There, an enjoyable if not particularly noteworthy case is solved quite logically after both John and the audience were initially put on the wrong track (no pun intended), though the scene is roughly interrupted for the required clarification of Sherlock's Reichenbach fall, which screenwriter Mark Gatiss ostensibly couldn't fit anywhere else.
Charles Augustus Magnussen, the primary antagonist in this series, who here makes his first appearance in an intriguingly chilling final scene, would be better off rewatching the footage of Sherlock's previous episodes instead of this one's.
My detective scribblings: The episode tackles this only marginally, but how did the investigators ascertain that Moriarty was lying about Sherlock? And since they did, Moriarty's plan was entirely non-effective, since Sherlock not only didn't die, but wasn't disgraced either. As was demonstrated in the previous two series, John has had plenty of girlfriends during his time at 221B Baker Street, many of whom he brought there with him. So, sorry, but that running gag about him being gay just doesn't work for Mrs Hudson. Cinematographer Steve Lawes did a phenomenal job at deceiving the viewers into believing that Mycroft and Sherlock are playing chess in a scene that is also exquisitely written and acted. In fact, now that I've started thinking about it, I'm fairly sure that this is the best scene in "The Empty Hearse". »I like trains.« - Is that a cameo from the creator of asdf movie? Oh, a character mistaking an eccentric-looking character for another character in disguise. This is the very first time I've seen this! I've already touched on Gatiss and Moffat's ingenuity at playing with expectations in this episode, and a prime case in point for that would be John getting jabbed with the needle of a syringe during his abduction in a brilliant nod to one of the theories concerning "The Reichenbach Fall". Sherlock pressing his hands to his face when in deep thought is frankly fatuous. And the same goes for his atypical exclaiming of 'Oh!' after having found a solution.
Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall (2012)
This Sherlock is no more! It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its Maker.
»Every fairy tale needs a good old-fashioned villain«, Andrew Scott's Jim Moriarty informs Sherlock Holmes early on in "The Reichenbach Fall". It's an intriguing quote, but doesn't reflect their situation. No beautiful princess needs to be rescued, and no dragons are blocking the way. Neither is Moriarty a witch, nor an evil stepmother. This story is the psychological showdown of two geniuses and it's as good as television gets.
The reason for that is clear: Andrew Scott. Of the six episodes of Sherlock, the three in which he was provided with dialogue were outstanding, while of the other three, only one was. You could ascribe that to chance, but there is no denying that the confrontations between him and Benedict Cumberbatch are the very best thing this programme has to offer. In "The Reichenbach Fall", the consulting criminal and the consulting detective meet on several occasions, each of those scenes trumping the precedent with regard to its entertainment value. At the Old Bailey, the two share subtle grins, as Sherlock lectures the prosecuting barrister in properly questioning witnesses; during teatime in 221B Baker Street, they chat about Johann Sebastian Bach, how adorable ordinary people are, and how Moriarty could potentially throw the entire world into disarray; and on a taxi TV screen, 'Jimbo' Moriarty addresses 'Boffin' Holmes in his most certifiable appearance yet, cheerfully telling the story of Sir Boast-a-lot.
But then, there's the rooftop scene. Nearly ten minutes long and without a deus ex machina intervening, it's one of the cleverest and most engrossing head-to-heads between hero and villain in the history of moving pictures. For a long while, the two parties just talk – although 'talk' is quite an understatement in that sentence, seeing as Scott is equipped with right about the best dialogue an actor could ever wish for (»I read it in the paper, so it must be true. I love newspapers.«, »There is no key, DOOFUS!«, »Oh, just kill yourself, it's a lot less effort.«) and that Cumberbatch is truly sensational when leading his nemesis into believing to have the upper hand. Though once Moriarty suddenly shoots himself in a twist more shocking than all the hounds of Baskerville combined, it's more than words flowing on the top of St Barts. Now, Sherlock's got his go at kicking the bucket, something he elegantly does by plummeting off the building and confirming what Moriarty had previously said about him: he's on the side of the angels.
As a result of that fatal hop, Sherlock shows its dramatic side, and especially Martin Freeman plays a pivotal part in that turning out well, giving one of the best acting performances of his career when experiencing Sherlock's suicide, talking to his psychiatrist, and addressing his deceased friend via tombstone. Of course, the programme's protagonist isn't actually dead – the outcome of Arthur Conan Doyle's source material and the fact that the BBC has renewed their biggest accomplishment in years for a third series strongly suggest that. However, it still feels like a bizarre decision by screenwriter Stephen Thompson to prematurely solve the 'mystery' by showing the consulting detective alive and well at the end of this episode already. Someone should mail this man the link to the Wikipedia entry on cliffhangers.
I'm not driven up the wall by that, however, and Thompson has done an otherwise exquisitely fine job at devising "The Reichenbach Fall", combining humour and suspense and giving a specific purpose to every single scene. In my opinion, this is the best Sherlock instalment up to that point, and even if the third series unexpectedly made a muck of delineating its eponym's faked suicide, my stance on this wouldn't change a bit.
My detective scribblings: »In a twist worthy of a Conan Doyle novella, Mr Sherlock Holmes was yesterday revealed to be an expert witness at the trial of 'Jim' Moriarty.« - The fictional newspaper articles couldn't possibly get any better than that. Sherlock claiming to never have liked riddles is in a bit of a contrast to his profession, isn't it? Unsolved cases are a sort of riddles, if you ask me. Some excellent soundtrack choices at the beginning of this episode: firstly, the classical music playing while Moriarty stages his break-ins and then, a wonderful jazz song by Nina Simone in the moments before the trial. In this episode more than ever, Mycroft shows a lot of disagreeable character traits – indirectly contributing to his brother's supposed death, for example. But the final straw is really him reading The Sun. Also: there just has to be some way in which he is connected to Sherlock surviving that jump, since he is on the good side of characters after all. Sherlock having to kill himself in this episode obviously sets him thinking. For an easy way out, he should have just listened to the useful advice Inspector Lestrade gave to those worrying about the cabbie/suicide assistant getting to them in the pilot: »Don't commit suicide.« Best quote: any random sentence uttered by Moriarty.
It's not a bona fide rug-pull, but Sherlock does at least sway the mat with uncanny clandestine experiments and terrifying childhood traumas completely taking the place of the previous episode's light-hearted humour in "The Hounds of Baskerville". Moreover, this one establishes its main plot after only five minutes and, if you ignore the forced quarrel between Sherlock and John, stays fully focused on it for the remaining time, whereas "A Scandal in Belgravia" made its central storyline rather hard to pick out for quite a while. In essence, there's a plethora of differences between these two episodes and the all- important one resides in their quality.
I'm earnestly begging for this not to become a practice, but as yet, the monumental brilliance exhibited by Sherlock in the first and final episode of its series has, at the halfway point, consistently made room for a run-of-the-mill detective story with some of its title role's quirks added to the recipe. Remember "The Blind Banker"? That was precisely the same type of let-down, plainly above average when compared to all the rest that can be discovered on television, yet a potentially fatal drop in form for this programme. For all I know, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss used "The Hounds of Baskerville" to find out if an eerie and sombre atmosphere suited Sherlock - and, as it happens, the two and director Paul McGuigan succeeded in conjuring up some frights. The issues with this episode aren't in its style, however, but in Gatiss' script, to which he admits clichés (does the unknown friendly bloke showing up in the beginning always have to be the culprit?) instead of jokes or more than one individual trait for each of the newly introduced characters. Particularly Russell Tovey, portraying Sherlock's 'client' Henry, is badly off; his apparently not having paid the BBC licence fee leads him to be furnished with no more than alternately looking traumatised, screaming 'Oh God!', and threatening suicide.
Having vented all of these criticisms, a lot of positive attributes about "The Hounds of Baskerville" remain, first and foremost, how Gatiss and Moffat modified Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1902 novel to conform to this day and age, and how McGuigan realised it more chilling than anyone before him. As always, there's also some praise belonging to Sherlock's main acting cast, most of all Martin Freeman, who in this instalment proves to have performing flair outside the realms of comedy in a scene that sees him hiding in a cage. Along with the aforementioned suspense that surprisingly works, "The Hounds of Baskerville" are gripping 90 minutes despite being a second-rate Sherlock episode.
My detective scribblings: "I can tell from the angle she wrote at that she was sat across from you." – Or, he just handed her the napkin and she turned it around. I believe that would have been possible, Sherlock. There's a glaring lack of humour in this episode, but that one scene of Sherlock reacting to Henry's puffing on a cigarette by coming closer to him and inhaling the smoke just about makes up for all of that. "If I wanted poetry, I'd read John's emails to his girlfriends, much funnier." – I was just about to complain about Henry's stilted way of talking, but apparently, Mark Gatiss knew what sort of dialogue he was giving him and hence came up with this amusing piece of self- deprecation. "Thank you for smoking." – Cue Aaron Eckhart. Let's not overuse the 'outwardly insignificant case being turned down but later transpiring to be connected to the main story' thing, shall we, Sherlock? The ideal Christmas present for John would be "Behaviour in sinister places for dummies" and he could give "Noticing someone has left the group for dummies" to Sherlock and Henry as one. Hopefully, Sherlock's 'mind palace' will be incorporated some time again because that looked fairly impressive in this episode. So, you're telling me that for high-security intelligence, a major's password would be the six-letter sobriquet of a person with whom he has frequently had contact? "BULLS***" would have been a better choice, if you ask me. Best line(s) of dialogue: it's far too much to type down here, but Sherlock proving his abilities on 'the sentimental widow and her son' in the restaurant right after having seen the hound for the first time was fairly fantastic.
My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Marilyn Monroe receives an appropriate cinematic rendering, the people around her don't
Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn isn't exclusively a biography about Marilyn Monroe, instantly discernible by her name not even being the subject in the film's title. Curtis and his screenwriter Adrian Hodges deliberately decided against exploring her psyche and the ingrained reasons for her constant misery, but instead opted for a film about filmmaking and love that additionally provides a detailed look on a week in her life through the eyes of a third – quite literally a third, namely Colin Clark, third assistant director on her 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl. Since the Hollywood method of putting a person's life story on screen has become somewhat threadbare after a period of immoderate usage as of late, this course of action would seem to be the wisest option.
However, the problem with this approach is that all of the film's appeal emanates from Michelle Williams' astonishing portrayal of cinema's greatest sex symbol, conveying her charm and elegance as well as her despondency and personal problems in a performance that would unquestionably have won her an Oscar if Meryl Streep had taken some time off in 2011. Watching her idiosyncrasies and mannerisms is what makes My Week with Marilyn shine out, but as soon as Williams disappears from screen, there is a sense of voidness taking over. If only Hodges' script were more devoted to the supporting characters than I am to my morning coffee, who knows to which heights the illustrious cast would have been able to carry the film to?
That being said, My Week with Marilyn remains an entertaining and interesting film, illuminating some parts of the enigmatic life behind the celebrity Marilyn Monroe and doing so with the help of a superb actress at its core.
Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia (2012)
If you decide to resolve that big cliffhanger of your previous series simply by a phone call, normally, you ought to be prepared for a "witless use of clichés" tag on your work. But if it's Moriarty and his ringtone is the Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive, I just can't bring myself to hate it. In further compensating addition, the three of them staying alive also leads to the best one of the, as of then, four instalments of Sherlock.
Before the actual crime story commences though, Sherlock and John's status quo gets re-established: despite the fact that his writings are fairly bland, the latter's blog has made the detective duo an internet phenomenon, giving rise to droves of paparazzi pursuing them – mysteriously only doing so for as long as the plot requires it. Yet as it happens, I've always enjoyed "A Scandal in Bohemia" more than "The Adventure of the Creeping Man", so I appreciate writer Steven Moffat putting that thought to the torch. Then, after some amusing minutes of Sherlock – The Sitcom, "A Scandal in Belgravia" arrives at its crux, Irene Adler. Portrayed erotically and rememberably by Lara Pulver, a very welcome addition to the first-class cast of Sherlock, "The Woman" quickly joins in breakneck fast tête-à-têtes with Benedict Cumberbatch's ever brilliant protagonist, even causing the poker-faced consulting detective to mumble (though I surmise that her words weren't the only constituting factor in that).
The biggest plaudits here belong to Moffat, who has concocted the ingenious screenplay that lies at the heart of the episode and equips the cast with all the instances of quick-witted dialogue, while coming up with an intriguing plot and clever pieces of humour as well (the ambiance of Sherlock – The Sitcom never quite melts away). Not once in the episode's 90 minutes does a scene feel artificial or incongruous and even if the adaption of Arthur Conan Doyle's works has become less serious as opposed to the first series, there is the needed suspense remaining in big scenes. The foremost aspect of "A Scandal in Belgravia" naturally comes in the shape of Sherlock Holmes: his mind at work is a delight to watch and so are his relationships with John, his housekeeper Mrs Hudson, his brother Mycroft, and the aforementioned Miss Adler.
"A Scandal in Belgravia" further impresses with artful shots of London in the winter, skillful directing and editing, and a score that's particularly lovely with "Irene's Theme". Frankly, it's Sherlock at its highly enjoyable best.
My detective scribblings: During the slow-motion shooting at Irene Adler's residence, weren't you also expecting Sherlock to put on a pair of black sunglasses, jump in the air, and kick one of those Americans in the face? Also: is Irene Adler Spiderwoman? How else would she possibly have left Sherlock's flat? "Don't worry, she's just out cold." – "Well, she's used to that." – BDSM humour is reaching Sherlock and I can't say I disapprove. The scene with Sherlock in his bed is immeasurably funnier if you take it as him having had one over the eight for the first time. Sherlock is the quintessential person to say "You must be fun at parties" to and, as seen in this episode, that statement is a 100% correct. New in store: Sherlock Holmes playing your favourite holiday songs on the violin! "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", "Auld Lang Syne" – they're all included in this huge one-time-offer compilation! Best line of dialogue: "I always hear 'Punch me in the face.' when you're speaking, but it's usually sub-text." – We feel you, John, we do.
A Song of Ice and Snow
By now, if you aren't a three-year-old – in which case I would be puzzled to see you reading this –, you know what to bargain for when watching a Disney production: ravishing animations, a feel good story teaching morals, more or less fun for the whole family, but also a rather unoriginal script abounding with clichés.
Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee's Frozen preserves the modus operandi, but is one of the most exciting and entertaining features the film studio has forged in recent years nevertheless. This also applies for the music incorporated in the 102-minute-long retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, led by the lovely "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?", the comical "In Summer", and, of course, the film's powerful flagship "Let It Go", yet getting slightly hoary and tedious during other numbers. For a one- time view, the breathers in quality, such as a ridiculous stone troll family, a strained twist in the final act, or the cloying 'act of true love' stepping in as a deus ex machina, are pardonable due to an excellent voice cast and plenty genuine laughs for the young and the old. However, Frozen will hardly go down as a Disney classic in view of all these flaws.
If you seek a good family film, the men and women at Disney are who you can bet on to deliver and with Frozen, they've found the right mixture of fun, romance, and peril yet again. But that also makes it an archetypal Disney animation – yet again.
12 Years a Boy
A boy enjoying pictures of women in swimwear with his friends. A boy being devastated after having his mane cut off. A boy debating the necessity of Facebook with his high school girlfriend. In all honesty, Boyhood is a rather apt title for this film. But it could just as well hold the name of another picture currently running in cinemas: Life Itself. That simple yet profound thing is what lies at the core of Richard Linklater's unique 12-year-spanning story and makes it relatable for everyone, regardless of sex, age group, descent, social status, or character.
I, for example, have never experienced the American lifestyle, growing up with siblings, or the troubles of patchwork families, but was utterly overwhelmed by Boyhood nevertheless. There is something extraordinary about Linklater's directing, making his unspectacular, almost documentary way of dealing with youth what may quite possibly be my all- time favourite film.
Only once does the writer-director resort to the hackneyed Hollywood way of telling stories instead of his own amazingly realistic approach to the subject and as a viewer, one feels this detour like a splash of icy water piercing the steady, warm flow Boyhood otherwise is. A presumably Mexican yard worker, wised up about his intelligence and urged to continue school by the mother of the film's protagonist in a less-than- 10-second conversation, suddenly overturns his life and later meets his source of inspiration for a second time, to proclaim the glad tidings in a restaurant scene on the verge of overflowing in mawkish pathos.
No such issues emerge in the remaining scenes of this almost three hour long epic, however. Rather, Linklater lets his audience live through the fun and the pain, the love and the misery, and the excitement and the disappointment of his protagonist Mason with yet another wonderful screenplay in his repertoire. Leaving the cinema, it's hard to grasp one has just spent the better part of an evening in front of a screen, but at the same time, there's also a feeling of having relived your own adolescence along with Mason.
Upon its release, Boyhood never held attributes such as "most qualitatively promising feature of the year" and the concerns were simple: how would meeting up with aging actors for a couple of days every year for more than a decade result in a tightly-structured and cohesive film? I can't exactly respond to the how, but Richard Linklater is better at it than most of his colleagues are at the "regular" version. Counting in his talent at capturing everyday events through a beautiful lens and his picking of the soundtrack to accompany the images (I think we can agree that Garden State has just been thrust off a throne), the American should, without a hint of doubt, receive each and every film award for directing there is. Yes, even the sci-fi and horror ones, because with a film as spectacular as Boyhood – who cares about genres?
Death at a Funeral (2007)
Another one bites the LSD
Despite swindling in its title – naming the film Death at a Funeral without anyone actually dying – Frank Oz's black humour comedy is in fact quite an honest film, fusing realistic funereal incidents to a considerably less realistic whole and letting the audience experience it through the eyes of not all too clever, successful or likable Joe Publics.
However, Dean Craig's script will not be the one winning the prize for the wittiest, most intelligent or most amusing script of the century. Or of the year. Or of the opening weekend. Yet the British writer demonstrates flair in creating just slightly exaggerated characters that feel exactly like someone you've met yourself at some time. A top-tier ensemble cast is assisting him, especially uproarious with the likes of Alan Tudyk and Peter Dinklage, the duo primarily responsible for the burial going awry. But as other flaws, such as the archetypal comedy dialogue, the clichéd ending, and the unneeded scatological "humour" remain unresolved, the acting can't elevate Death at a Funeral to any more than average.
With good characters and slapstick gags, there is some fun to be had, but you'll need more if you aspire to shape a good film. Death at a Funeral opts against that and therefore doesn't furnish more than the occasional laugh.
Big Fish (2003)
There are plenty more films in the sea - I mean, cinema
And the moral of Big Fish is
well, what is it actually? That you should lie to your kids as often as possible because that will eventually make them like you? That you should raise your kids to be one of those morons in primary school that have got some relative doing that for every damned story there is? That you'll one day transform into the bloke you're pretending to be in all of your lies if you just tell them often enough? The answer remains unclear in this peculiar Tim Burton film – or, as specialists on Tim Burton films would say, in this Tim Burton film.
The audience experiences the father and son story through the eyes of the son (a character about as nuanced as the defecating elephant that also stars in the film) who visits his moribund old man after not having talked to him for three years. Upon this foundation, Burton and screenwriter John August create myriads of fairy-tale flashbacks, seemingly taking Forrest Gump as an inspiration, but never explain why all of this should be told to begin with – if not for some lads in the visual effects department amusing themselves by designing all sorts of unreal creatures and objects. The story is almost entirely void of emotions while most of the life lessons spouted by the father consist of him not being your usual fellow and that one can achieve quite a bit if mythical things happen in your life.
I'm not expecting every children's film to exhibit a life lesson or have a specified purpose for existing, seeing as two hours purely dedicated on entertaining can produce a wonderful time for cinema-goers. However, Tim Burton strikes me as being more driven to entertain himself than the people watching his films – something that isn't inherently counterproductive for his work, but gives it a sense of being rich on the outside and empty on the inside all too often. Big Fish thoroughly matches that description, boasting elaborate designs and colours for various locations and creatures, captured in beautiful cinematography, yet quickly loses this appeal, as there isn't any more added to it. To be fair, the romance at the centre of it is lovely to watch and the story arc in the town of Spectre a highly amusing one. But even if all little branches that come sprawling from the film's premise were that enjoyable and assembled more coherently, I'd remain underwhelmed by its premise.
Introducing a fully new plot point on a five minute basis, Big Fish is quite the antithesis of a dull film and shows the occasional potential of becoming a remarkable film for young and old. However, it turns out to be for neither of them: too frightening and violent for one, too absurd for the other.
Sherlock: The Great Game (2010)
Two brilliant characters meeting each other
With the season finale "The Great Game", Sherlock returns to the successful formula of its pilot and makes use of Paul McGuigan as a director, one of the two series creators as a writer, Rupert Graves and Mark Gatiss as supporting actors, and a villain worthy of receiving Sherlock Holmes' attention – and guess what? It works perfectly.
Reintroducing the world's only consulting detective as he interrogates a British murderer in a Belarusian prison and gets more irritated by the man's incorrect grammar and manner of speaking than his actual crime, "The Great Game" starts superbly already and offers one of the best pieces of writing to be found in it: "I'll get hung for this." – "No, not at all. Hanged, yes." What follows doesn't disappoint either and both the development of Sherlock and John's relationship and the crimes they try to solve are a delight to watch. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman show exceptional acting talent in their characters' snide repartee and their actually taking quite a liking to each other. However, there is someone dwarfing them: Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty. Although, when Sherlock's arch enemy makes his first appearance in one of the series's all-time best moments, he's just office romance Jim. The Irishman later returns for an even greater scene in the history of Sherlock and gives an unequalled performance that I'd be perfectly fine with if it were the only one I'd ever see again for the rest of my life.
And even if, as Scott stated himself, this swimming pool scene I was alluding to in the previous paragraph was rushedly written by Mark Gatiss, the result is brimming with witty writing and one of the best ideas the Sherlock creator have had for relocating the classic story into modern times. As has been established, he and Steven Moffat practice such re-writing of the Arthur Conan Doyle story on other occasions as well, and for "The Great Game", the two have come up with some jewels – "I'd be lost without my blogger" instead of "I'd be lost without my Boswell" or Holmes' network of homeless persons instead of the Baker Street Irregulars, to name a few.
The main plot underlying such little references is just as good, merging multiple entertaining cases into a bigger picture that culminates into what I'd venture to judge as a perfect final showdown. Yet all of the 90 minutes of running time are outstanding filmmaking, amusing and suspenseful, well-written and well-directed. One minor drawback of "The Great Game" are its scores of supporting characters, often but rudimentally evolved ones that echo the likes of less original television crime programmes.
This spectacular final episode of Sherlock's first season makes amends for its offering no more than three feature-length episodes and manifests the series as true high-quality entertainment. And though it truly is a finely crafted one, it's not that much the cliffhanger at the end that has your excitement for the second season go sky high, but what the series has accomplished overall.
My detective scribblings: Una Stubbs is such a lovely little cast member – her facial expressions when being ignored by Sherlock, John, and Lestrade are just wonderful acting and make you want to cuddle her, don't they? The thought of a woman just sitting in a car in the car park wearing a bombing vest is actually quite a spine-chilling thought if you contemplate it. Character information: John's lying and Sherlock's astronomy knowledge are about on the same, abysmally low level. "She was going places. " – "Not anymore." I was somehow expecting Sherlock to put on a pair of sunglasses and transform into Horatio Caine after that statement. You could argue that the planetarium fight scene John and Sherlock vs the Golem is plainly ridiculous, but I'm a big fan of it anyway: the cinematography, editing, and astronomy trivia heard in the background make it an ingeniously crafted scene and a lot of fun to watch, in my opinion. "Meretricious." – "And a happy new year." Lestrade has just earned himself an award. Making his hostage John say "gottle o' gear" makes Moriarty all the greater and really had me bursting into laughter. Exceptional editing by Charlie Phillips in this episode, I personally loved the transition between Sherlock and John at the train tracks and the two walking to Joe Harrison's flat. Best line of dialogue: "Stop inflicting your opinions on the world." – What a classy way to insult someone.
Man of Steel (2013)
Not among the most intellectual Superman instalments, but surely among the most enjoyable
Since Superman was too old-fashioned, Clark Kent too generic, and Kal-El too unmemorable, Zack Snyder brings us Man of Steel, the origin story of the classic DC comics superhero. The bombastic spectacle devours some 200 million dollars for its budget, which it utilises for lavish action scenes, Hollywood A-listers, and imposing plot holes, although I'm uncertain about the exact expense of the latter.
In its prologue, the two and a half hours long blockbuster is set on Krypton, the fictional planet not being designed too creatively or memorably, but set in the midst of a gorgeously coloured universe and forming the platform for well-directed fights, explosions, and debris coming from every cardinal direction. Kal-El is born during all of that commotion and it is only after fifteen minutes that the audience meets him again, now lodging in Kansas on planet Earth and being portrayed by Henry Cavill. The British actor doesn't consistently live up to the iconic role he's in, but depicts his torn feelings convincingly and, as the sixteenth man to slip into the character, gives Superman quite a likable yet not particularly exciting reinvention.
The strongest performance evidently comes from Michael Shannon, who easily eclipses the remaining cast for all the Oscar winners and nominees it includes and transforms Man of Steel's primary antagonist, General Zod, from a commonplace scoundrel in the script to a menacing nemesis on screen, especially awesome when reiterating his certainty of tracking down Superman while being frozen into a gigantic sex toy. Across the board really, it's not at all insufficient commitment on the actors' parts that leads many of the blockbuster's characters to appear clichéd and unrealistic, but little leeway in the one-dimensional David S. Goyer script handed to them. The American screenwriter partially makes up for that with a cleverly structured narrative that never feels rushed and at least provides exposition for Kal-El's motivations, ideals, and his unhuman powers via flashbacks and casual conversations only to then return to rob the plot of logic, consistency, and explanations on a stunning amount of occasions.
However visually appealing and skilfully wrought it is at times, the highly prevalent action is not a very effective offset and comes close to being overkill in a big-scale finale. As a result, Man of Steel is not among the most intellectual of Superman instalments, but surely among the most enjoyable.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Giving further insight and intensity to what we've seen on the news
Kathryn Bigelow is arguably one of the best war film directors of all time and with Zero Dark Thirty, her cinematic synopsis of the decade- long hunt on Osama bin Laden, she has realised yet another mesmerising portrayal of real-live events.
The film captures a timespan of almost ten years, beginning with actual recordings of the September 11 attacks over a black screen and ending with the killing of the Al-Qaeda leader and as such, it is understandably long – more than two and a half hours long to be precise. From a realistic perspective, this seems only reasonable if Bigelow wants to authentically recreate the many years of failure and despair in the famous manhunt through almost every shot lingering on for a couple of seconds and an immense lot of bureaucracy. From a filmmaking perspective however, trimming or excluding some parts and omitting at least a handful of the estimated 200 characters would have been very helpful. This didn't happen and therefore the result is nerve-rackingly boring at times, but Bigelow mostly manages to overcome this with a brilliant acting cast, several of them getting a chance to prove all their dramatic talent, and a phenomenal Jessica Chastain in the leading role.
What's additionally beneficial for Zero Dark Thirty is its way of handling the controversial source material: the inhumane "enhanced interrogation methods" by the CIA are fittingly dreadful to watch, as long as you aren't an uber-patriotic racist, you won't find solace or even joy in the ending, and none of the characters of both parties are likable. And then there is the action. Going out on a limb, I'd say that the raid on bin Laden's hide-out will become one of the most iconic pieces of filmmaking of the 21st century, as it is just so masterfully crafted. The sequence goes on for about as long as it did in reality, which is some twenty minutes, and Bigelow really makes you feel as if you were there. The downright perfect sound, editing, and cinematography create a mood that has its audience sitting on the edge of their seat, even though they all know only too well how it's about to end, which is one of the biggest cinematic feats a director can achieve.
Zero Dark Thirty is a highly important film – one that suffers from its length and sloppy exposition that doesn't always make clear what has just happened, but one that gives further insight and intensity to what we've seen on the news.
Sherlock: The Blind Banker (2010)
Maybe would have been better off receiving a second attempt at filming it, just as the pilot had been.
Though maintaining an engaging rapport between its two protagonists and an imaginative filmmaking style, Sherlock sees a severe step back in quality in "The Blind Banker", a generic whodunit follow-up to the phenomenal pilot. There aren't any exciting villains or really interesting supporting characters, as both Mycroft and Lestrade have gone AWOL, and the feature-length second episode has a pace and thrill problem in general.
Curiously, it takes quite some time for that to become clear, as "The Blind Banker" commences with a lot of witty moments and the type of brilliant dead-pan situation analysing I've already grown to adore about Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes. However, after some thirty minutes, screenwriter Stephen Thompson appears to have run out of supplies and in exchange opts for only re-writing the source material and including an awful lot of detective story clichés. Neither would I have been surprised nor disappointed by that – at the time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had been writing his Sherlock Holmes novels, these sorts of storytelling techniques hadn't been counting as clichés and this series is still an adaption of his works after all – hadn't the crime-solving part consumed such a vast portion of the episode, incorporating the development of John and Sherlock's relationship and the introduction of Sarah a bit sloppily just along the way.
For the crime story and its outcome itself, well, it's surely not on the qualitative upper end of all Sherlock Holmes stories and it will hardly be remembered for its clever or even genuinely threatening antagonists. And as if to secure that this episode is inferior to the whole rest of the bunch by an English-Channel-sized margin with all means available, there's also a colossal bouquet of plot holes to indulge in, along with some general oversimplifying, i.e. Sherlock and John ambling through the not particularly tiny city of London and encountering important hints for unravelling the murders as frequently as bookstalls. Then there's the ever-present prowess of Sherlock Holmes that does go beyond the boundaries of believability a handful of times in "The Blind Banker", but I guess that's something you've got to accept with such a series and its other instalments don't very much exclude it either.
"The Blind Banker" surely is a fun time to watch and benefits from passionate acting, excellent dialogue, and the basic idea behind Sherlock that is of course kept on with. However, whether it's viewed with a critical eye or not, this episode is simply subpar to all of the series's others and maybe would have been better off receiving a second attempt at filming it, just as the pilot had been.
My detective scribblings: Sherlock ex machina. I was really hoping not having to use that terrible pun when reviewing this series, but here I am, thanks to Stephen Thompson's lack of imagination. Smart reference to the source material with Sherlock just randomly fighting a robed figure in the beginning of the episode. Since he is right about the epitome of a socially awkward fellow, it's only been a matter of time until the series included Sherlock Holmes simpering and, well, here it is! What is with Sherlock's soft-focused establishing shots? It does provide them with a more distinctive touch, but I don't see it as a highly necessary thing to do. Otherwise, there are loads of good-looking shots in this episode. WHAT? Sherlock Holmes is using Internet Explorer? And I also do wonder what sorts of news websites he is visiting if they are listing things such as "Canine roller-coaster enthusiast" under their top news. General Shan creeping from the other side of the street really was a well-done suspension building move "The Blind Banker" would have needed more of. As if series creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss had listened to my criticisms about their pilot (and not minding the facts that I uttered these three years after this episode had already premiered), Sherlock's unneeded thought bubbles have been taken out for the biggest part. However, this has now led to him soliloquising here and there, which I don't really prefer over the on-screen writing. Best line of dialogue: "I said could you pass me a pen." Taking Sherlock Holmes as an inspiration, I'll start conversations with that phrase more often from now on.
Sherlock: A Study in Pink (2010)
The very best Sherlock Holmes adaptation there is
Sherlock Holmes has lived on to the 21st century: adapting to its technology, but not its society, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic conception gets refurbished all around by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat and is solving the same crimes he has already been solving more than a hundred years earlier in just a slightly altered fashion in Sherlock, a superb BBC series.
The three-part first series commences with "A Study in Pink" and introduces its titular sleuth in what is easily the most peculiar way of all Sherlock Holmes adaptations: flogging a corpse. Of course, that slightly disturbing start fulfils the mere purpose of solving a death and the next scene reveals that Benedict Cumberbatch's rather young Holmes is not that big of a sociopath. In any case, we have yet to see a more spellbinding and distinctive on-screen portrayal of SH (as he signs his text messages) than the charismatic Briton's and because of that, the changes of character traits in comparison to the novels don't concern me at all. His colleague Dr Watson, often narrowed down to a simple right-hand man in adaptations of lesser quality, is equally uniquely and lovably portrayed by Martin Freeman and the two are the perfect match for each other, delivering amusing pieces of black humour, exchanging small insults, and sharing homoerotic dinners. More first- class acting is to be found in supporting roles, with unexceptionally all cast members making the most out of a witty, funny, and not once boring screenplay written by series creator Moffat himself. Especially Phil Davis as the episode's memorable antagonist and series creator Moffat himself as Holmes's brother Mycroft are dazzling additions to the cast and impress as they are conversationally facing Sherlock's two protagonists.
This particular detective story itself is not among the greatest Sherlock Holmes adventures of all time, but is gripping until the end and expertly interwoven with the exposition and establishment part the series pilot logically brings with it. The cream of the crop is the dialogue though, trotted out at a breakneck pace and ever quotable. "A Study in Pink" is then topped off by technical grandeur, in beautiful captures of London and the characters, properly timed editing with not one scene being either too long or too short, a catchy score blending mysterious and funny musical aspects together, and wonderful set design for 221B Baker Street especially. My only issues with Sherlock are the opposite of grave and can be easily dismissed: for one, Sherlock's inner map of London and some of his deductions fly in the face of reason and for the other, his written thought bubbles shown on screen are fully unnecessary when explained just a moment later.
Otherwise, "A Study in Pink" is outstanding filmmaking on every level and brilliant at transferring the original story into this day and age, with Holmes an avid mobile phone user and Watson a veteran of the Afghanistan war. From this pilot onwards, I've considered Sherlock to be the very best adaptation of the Conan Doyle novels there is and one of the most entertaining TV series into the bargain.
My detective scribblings: "How can people keep themselves safe from these serial suicides?" – "Don't commit suicide." Inspector Lestrade, brimming with useful advice. I was quite surprised about not seeing Sherlock reacting to John's two different ways of pronouncing the word 'assume' within a matter of minutes. "I'm not his date!" More serious shows could profit from running gags. Sherlock Holmes receives almost universal disdain in this series and, as he casually mentions to pickpocket from Lestrade when he's annoying, one can somehow relate to that. What an absolutely magnetic sequence of Sherlock discovering the story behind the pink phone that is: flashbacks, cross-cutting, camera movement, and all the brilliant facial expressions by Benedict Cumberbatch make it by far the pilot's most impressing. Best line of dialogue: "I could be wrong, but I think that's really none of your business." John Watson, teaching kids how to courteously tell someone to bugger off.
12 Angry Men (1957)
A groundbreaking and timeless masterpiece of cinema
Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men is one of the very few historic features to uphold its high reputation when watching it today and really is a groundbreaking and timeless masterpiece of cinema, showing just how much can be achieved from a mundane premise. The story of the eponymous dozen of more or less agitated men, jurymen to be precise, gaining more and more insight into a seemingly certain murder verdict is one of, if not the best character study ever put on film and pulls off the sheerly unfeasible feat of gripping its audience over a time of an hour and a half with the setting never changing once.
The means by which this is achieved are a trailblazing storytelling style and twelve superb actors, each of them getting multiple chances to prove their talent by a brilliantly conceived script. The cast, including names such as Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, or Lee J. Cobb, has an absorbing quality to their acting, easily making one forget that the film is nothing but a couple of lads bantering for the entire running time. It's almost funny, how such a simple story can lead to such exquisite writing, as Reginald Rose equips the twelve angry men with a realistic past, relatable character traits, and pieces of dialogue fitting perfectly to those criteria.
Due to the lack of things to be gained when rewatching the film, it's not one of my all-time favourites, but 12 Angry Men is indubitably a classic and highly inspiring picture – regardless of your wanting to pursue a career as a director, actor, or screenwriter.
The World's End (2013)
Fully entertaining, yet full with flaws
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are truly passionate comedians and as such, they're of course testing new characters for themselves in every one of their productions. However, just as not every role the legendary Monty Python crew tried out in their sketches worked out to a phenomenal gag, the two talented Britons also have to experience that some of their creations are too exaggerated and weird from time to time. It's just that John Cleese, Graham Chapman et al. represented an innumerable amount of different characters in their day that made a couple of glitches easy to ignore, while Pegg and Frost carry one of those through a full-length film – and then, a one-off doesn't come in very handy.
One of these occurs in The World's End, the duo's sci-fi spoof that features a ton of indulgence in alcohol in addition. In it, Pegg is a dark-haired, arrogant, and alpha male alcoholic stuck in the 90's, while Frost puts on the outfit of a teetotal, contemptuous square that undergoes one of the least believable character changes in film history in the final third. They are assisted by a hardly challenged Martin Freeman (who on earth had the idea that his consistently uttering "WTF?" would be anywhere near funny), a forgettably uninteresting Paddy Considine, and an Eddie Marsan that is to terribly out of place in this film that it physically hurts me. The bundle is topped off by a lovely Rosamund Pike who, just as so many other well-known faces appearing here and there for a cameo, just doesn't have any tangible purpose for being in the picture. I couldn't care less about all that if they had been given witty or just merely amusing stuff to work with, but mostly, that just isn't the case in The World's End, a comedy with an admirable but dull lot of martial arts, head-bashing, and dramatic stand-offs, but a disappointingly small amount of jokes that work.
Exactly as it was with the first two films of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy this film completes, the gags are a lot better and more frequent in the first half of the whole thing, whereas they make room for seemingly never-ending combat of any kind in the latter part, merely there to give director Edgar Wright some fun in his admittedly creative directing of it. And even though I'm not a fan of that at all, I have to say that I fully enjoyed The World's End during all of its 110 minutes of running time because Wright and his crew managed to make it entertaining despite all its silliness, disproportionality, and lack of big laughs. In the end though, just as money doesn't equal happiness, a good time at the movies doesn't equal a good movie, leading to The World's End being at least better than 2013's other doomsday spoof (how I wish to forget having ever seen This Is the End), but not more than mediocre itself.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
Too silly for its own good, but still quite an amusing and entertaining follow-up to Shaun of the Dead
Trading a zombie invasion with a small town killing spree, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are still the ones to save the day in the Brit comedians' follow-up to Shaun of the Dead. But though maintaining a steady rate of laughs, Hot Fuzz doesn't continue all of its predecessor's filmmaking virtues and is not all too much more than an average comedy.
It's most obvious over all of the film's exorbitant two hours of running time that its cast and crew were having a whale of a time shooting the ridiculous action and dialogue scenes, between which the buddy cop spoof alternates, and that fun is transmitted to the audience in most films. However, Hot Fuzz feels silly and over the top in right about every frame and, no matter how unserious Pegg, Frost, and co. were when on set, the picture shown on screen doesn't seem like a parody at all, but like a comedy using all the idiotic elements of bad action or crime films for their own project and one, that doesn't sarcastically comment the moronic events happening but acceptingly lets them go by. In a picture of regular length, the imbalance between actual jokes and unwitty physical humour wouldn't have carried that much weight, only Hot Fuzz isn't a picture of regular length and, without any exaggeration, spends its complete final half of an hour on the latter sort of comedic entertainment, of which I am the least bit fond of.
When it comes to the real gags though, the second part of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy highly pays off and likely (I didn't keep a list) induces more snorts of laughter than both of the other two. Each and every one of the innumerable cameos of famous British thespians is superb to see and the film's running gags and grotesquely gruesome homicides are easily one of the best of their sorts of all comedies out there, and thus fully making up for the storytelling flaws and enabling a perfectly entertaining and intelligently funny movie night – just not a very perfect or intelligent movie.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
An original and thoroughly amusing take at horror parodies
At a time when idiotic, unfunny, and offensive horror movie spoofs à la Scary Movie were in prime bloom, who would have expected a genuinely amusing parody to come along? Well, probably nobody, and even less so in the case of it making fun of the zombie sub-genre. Against all odds however, the hilariously talented British comedy trio Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost took a try and did exactly that with the applaudably original Shaun of the Dead.
One reason for that is the gory fun refusing to be a stereotypical cinematic spoof and zeroing in on an at least mostly viable plot, a storytelling trajectory with an actual start and finish, and a realistic and relatable protagonist. Yet, the less positive side of these three arguments also includes that there are a couple of instances of over the top weirdness, spontaneous digressions in the central part, and clichéd supporting roles providing for nothing but laughs and that you wouldn't mind to see served as a midday snack for the undead lurking behind every corner. What makes Shaun of the Dead worth watching in the teeth of all these flaws is its dark and referential humour, even if the gags don't come at minute intervals and rarely are laugh out loud ones as they in return are subtle ones and sure to maintain their amusement at a repeated watch. In addition, the film is, quite surprisingly, superbly made on a technical level, making great use of quick and long shots, different camera angles, multiple forms of lighting, and believable bloodshed.
Shaun of the Dead is far from perfect, even when regarded as nothing more but a comedy, but has something exciting up its sleeve on every level of filmmaking – the pub shoot-out accompanied by Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" is a truly masterful application of music as a means to improve a scene, for example – and is lethally entertaining in every one of its 99 minutes of running time.
Depicting romance astoundingly accurate, but boring its audience close to death most of the time
Though lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off, as Natalie Portman's character informs the audience in one of the most brilliant quotes in recent film history in Closer, I intend not to do either of those things in my review for the 2004 drama, so let me be straightforward:
Besides all its impressing screenplay merits, the story about four realistically unlikable people constantly upsetting each other with the people they choose to bed, is quite the antonym of gripping entertainment. The absurdly long scenes screenwriter Patrick Marber has to fill with enough casual dialogue exposition to answer plot questions arising from some of the one-year-spanning time jumps that occur every now and then in Closer are difficult to pay attention to and even more difficult to enjoy. Parts of his storytelling and the main actors' performances are excellent at portraying the twisted feelings love brings with it, but for most of the time, all I got from this film was boredom.
Due to that and some peculiar plot points closer (no pun intended) to the end, the picture can depict romance with all astounding accuracy it wants to, it can't really get good anymore.
Ballet Shoes (2007)
An almost perfect viewing choice for a rainy Sunday afternoon
Ballet Shoes, a BBC television film adaption of Noel Streatfeild's novel of the same name, is, even if you're not a twelve-year-old girl disproportionately infatuated with the title-giving type of dancing, a charming and well-made watch, significantly improved by a source material detailed with its plot and characters.
However, that doesn't diminish the often rather sloppy filmmaking director Sandra Goldbacher exhibits in Ballet Shoes. In a counterproductive attempt to include each and every one of the novel's story lines in the 80 minute picture, she and her screenwriter Heidi Thomas both neglect the characters and also partly rob them of their likability by leaving out one or two needed explanations for some peculiar or touchy behaviour. Moreover, the great talent the three main young actresses prove to possess every now and then in Ballet Shoes, isn't particularly encouraged by Goldbacher, leading to many a scene being disappointing.
On the bright side, the story Streatfeild originally conceived preserves all of its loveliness on screen and is almost the perfect viewing choice for a rainy Sunday afternoon, a genuine feel-good flick with a considerable number of exciting actors and actresses in it.