16 December 2011

Movie Delights: Sherlock Holmes-Game of Shadows reviewed

I have done it.  I've experienced my first midnight showing in a movie theatre and, with the help of tea at around 10pm to keep me from yawning, I made it through a first showing of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The members of the fairly large, young audience was my first clue to what ended up being a night easily described as indifference, at best.  In the first film, I arrived not knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised.  I enjoyed myself!  This time, I knew what to expect and it was delivered...maybe even overdone.   

Varying portrayals or interpretations of Holmes and Watson are numerous.  With the recent 21st Century resurgence, the Baker Street boys have once again become part of our lives and the Warner Bros. film franchise has a lot to do with it.  This particular version focuses on Holmes as the man of action.  Guy Ritchie has Holmes (and Watson) get into more fights, hear more shots fired, have more things blow-up around them, and experience what seems like the type of mayhem that James Bond or even Batman and Robin would encounter.  It was strange to see the great intellect of Holmes reduced to only a few lightening-quick moments.

RDJ's Holmes is an action-hero.  Plain and simple.  The movie-audience-member part of me enjoyed seeing an exciting, fun movie, but these days the Sherlockian part of me missed the Holmes I feel I know so well from Doyle's canon (and Cumberbatch's Sherlock, but that's another discussion).  Sherlock Holmes, in this film, has lost the reflective intellect that make him a Victorian gentleman.  In only two moments in more than two hours, the action man slowed down and became the man of thought.  Holmes was a clean, well-dressed, Victorian gentleman, but this version is a complete opposite. The unkept, scruffy, almost un-hygenic appearance of this particular Holmes bothered me more this time around.

Jude Law's John Watson is a gleam of light in this darker, dirtier London.  He perfectly retains Watson's loyalty and bafflement to his eccentric friend.  Plus, he is able to take on the action just as much as this action-oriented Holmes.  And, he looks his part.  John manages to stay the soldier and doctor in manner and personality.  Downey and Law do play the friendship well, and despite Watson's marriage, we still feel that the doctor will miss his friend and their adventures.  Irene Adler was sadly disposed of quite quickly and Mycroft Holmes, "Sherly's" older brother, was played by the wonderful Stephen Fry.  However, the elder Holmes fit into the scheme of things a bit awkwardly.  I couldn't tell if he was the enigma from canon, or a comic relief element a la Nigel Bruce.

James Moriarty and Sebastian Moran, the baddies, played their part.  As ominous and powerful as the great M is supposed to be, this one was almost underwhelming.  Moran, M's Watson, was excellent as a baddie.  Sebastian certainly showed his colors and turned out being far more interesting than the Big Bad.  Combine that with the threat of war and Germans, it makes for an odd overall story.

There were a few clever references to canon, but on the whole Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is far from its roots.  For those that like a good action movie, then they will not be disappointed.  For this  Sherlockian, the first turned out better than the sequel.

28 September 2011

Sound Delights: The radio play and a box with no pictures

I can't remember, but I can imagine...gathering around a large, or small, box without pictures and listening only the sounds coming out of it.  People telling the news, sharing stories: simply communicating.  No, I can't remember the day when the radio was used for the primary form of information and entertainment.  My grandparents, certainly.  My parents, maybe.  But, not me.  I recall days without the internet, computers, and even remote controls, but my box always had a picture with it.  

Radio, as I know it, has been a source of entertainment and communication, but always in a particular, even limited way.  Various stations specializing in different music genres  for entertainment, and even news or informational shows are all that I knew radio had to offer.  However, I recently discovered the most hilarious and creative thirty minutes on the British radio waves and it's a comedy.  A comic radio show.  

Cabin Pressure: a BBC radio comedy
 The above is the recording of the below series.

I love Cabin Pressure.  It's a half an hour of silliness that abounds for the small (one plane) charter airline call MJN Air.  Starring only four main actors/characters, with the occasional guest(s), and being mostly set in an airplane cockpit the radio format is actually an ideal format.  Sounds and background noises cue the listener when scenery has changed and allows for the imagination to fly along with them.  For six weeks this summer, I gathered around my modern box (a laptop) to enjoy this modern radio sit-com, for lack of a better description.  There is nothing equivalent to this on the American airwaves, and I can't imagine there ever would be, or could be.  BBC4, the radio station that features readings of stories, interviews and reviews on literature and music and culture and everything in between, produces this (and other) radio plays that are quite entertaining.  

Comedies are certainly not the only genre that pass on the radio. Recently, the station took on the Russian novel Life and Fate as a serial.  Want to listen to the radio serial? Give it a shot.  It's better than an audio book. My interest peaked when I saw two notable British actors took on parts.  Cabin Pressure also has actors that have appeared in television and movies and it's a treat to hear an actor perform a character.  So,  this clip was of particular interest

Quick History Lesson

A bit ironically, radio dramas appeared to have had a start in the 1920s in the US.  That decade saw a surge of radio drama activity beginning with a brief sketch to Broadway musical comedies and their casts to weekly broadcasts of full plays with a regular troupe of actors.  In 1923,  original pieces written for radio were airing on radio stations across the country.  Serious study of radio dramas in the 1920s and 30s are limited, however.  And, with the arrival of television in the 1950s, it seems as if Americans have almost forgotten radio plays.  Today, it continues to thrive in Europe, particularly England and Germany.  XM Radio features radio dramas for US listeners as well as ACB radio (American Council for the Blind), but it can barely be found on mainstream US radio.
(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_drama)  

So, I find radio plays, particularly ones on BBC, to be another Anglo-delight.  My box may be able to give me sound, pictures, and access to just about anything; however, I am glad it can be used in the same fashion that allows my own imagination to soar just by good stories, talented voices and sounds.

31 July 2011

Deductive Delights: A famous detective's resurgence in the 21st Century-which is best?

It's safe to say that the world's most famous fictional detective, Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, Sherlock Holmes has been amazing the world's population since his inception in the 19th Century.  Readers in Victorian England were appalled when Holmes was "killed" in battle with his foe, Professor James Moriarty that Conan Doyle eventually brought him back.  Since then, Holmes has been present in various forms right up into today.

Confession of a 21st Century Sherlockian: Though I have been aware of the great adventures, I have never become more interested, fascinated, or passionate about Holmes, his "friend and colleague, Dr. Watson", or their adventures until a few years ago.  Since my discovery of the fictional American medical genius Dr. House--a character, whose creator plainly admits was inspired by Sherlock Holmes--I have been intrigued.  However, two of his most recent incarnations definitely may share his name and talent, but actually quite differ from one another.  After this quite long comparison, one will shine through as a clear winner for me, but others can reach their own conclusions.

I want to take a look at both of the current adaptations: one an action-proned sleuth, still set among the handsome cabs and Victorian guise. The other, a young, on-the-edge, self-described sociopath, set in our modern times.  Is one better than the other?  One has to decide for themselves.

Sherlock Holmes: A detective of action

The Sherlock Holmes Warner Bros. movie franchise was introduced to the movie-going public in 2009.  A film directed by Guy Ritchie, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson.  The movie saw our protagonists in  the somewhat familiar setting of Victorian London; however, this London was a darker, dirtier and grittier.  It almost seemed to be set within a Dickens novel itself. Perhaps I missed something, but being a reader of both Holmes' adventures and Dickens's novels I never found Conan Doyle's London to be so dark.  It was strange to see the heroes in this London as opposed to the I felt I knew from the Canon and Granada series.  London itself has always been a character just by Holmes' sheer knowledge of every street, however, changing the character of the city seemed to work for this particular interpretation. The story also added supernatural elements and a new foe to the familiarity of characters and places.

London was not the only character to change.  Holmes was transformed from the intellectual, lanky, gentleman to a muscular, action-bound sleuth, while Watson, essentially staying the familiar loyal friend and companion, gave Holmes as good as he got (the anti-thesis of the bumbling Watson from the amazing Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series).  It wasn't easy for me to get used to this more action-mannered Holmes, even though he was known to get in a few fisticuffs in the Canon, but the movie makers created such an interesting way to illustrate Holmes' thinking and process of deduction that I soon accepted this Holmes for what he was...and I liked it.

RDJ, who seemed to pull off a fairly good English accent (at least to the ears of this American, but what would I know), brought to life a new Holmes for a new generation.  Jude Law's Watson continues to return the character to his canonical beginnings.  David Burke along with Edward Hardwicke in the faithful Granada series showed the uniqueness and importance of the friendship to both characters.  The on-screen chemistry between RDJ and Law allows the friendship to shine through quite convincingly.  I will be the first to admit that I love this latest big screen adaptation--having flocked to the theatre in 2009, own the DVD, and will be one of the first in line to see the sequel next December--I can only comment that this interpretation seems to place a more action-seeking, 21st Century Holmes within a dark, 19th Century London.   That, for better or worse, is a combination that spells box office, movie success.

Sherlock:  Canon characters in a modern setting

 This YouTube fan video I decided to post in lieu of a clip or trailer is one way fans  
show their appreciation.  This happens to be one of my favorites highlighting clips of Holmes and Watson's adventures and friendship from the pilot and three episodes of the first series.

Co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have, in many interviews, told the story of the birth of the idea that is the BBC's newest incarnation of Sherlock.  Fans of the show (like myself) will know that the concept, conceived by Gatiss and Moffat on trains between London and Cardiff, of modern day Holmesian adventures taking place in 21st Century London was brought about from the mutual admiration of the Rathbone/Bruce series of films from the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Having now viewed and enjoyed the films that place Holmes and Watson in not only adventures against Moriarty, but also the evils of the second World War, it is no surprise why the newest modern, small screen, television interpretation has garnered the following and accolades in the UK and abroad.

This version asks (and illustrates), as did its creators, why can't Sherlock Holmes and John Watson live and function in a world laced with technology and modern multimedia devices at their fingertips?  In the span of the canon, readers can clearly see Holmes use every modern tool and resources of his time from telegraphs to telephones.  Rathbone and Bruce successfully showed that the friends could exist in the 20th Century with automobiles, now Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman do the same for television viewers.

With this version, everything is familiar.  London is the large, modern metropolis locals and visitors can recognize from its well-known gathering places like Trafalgar Square to modern-day skyscrapers.  It is a London today's viewers can identify with and understand.  Cumberbatch's Sherlock sends texts rather than telegraphs, uses a computer for research, and has a website.  Similarly, Freeman's John keeps a blog to tell their adventures instead of writing them up for publication.  In this familiar, modern London, it doesn't seem odd at all.  They are modern men in a modern time.

While being modern men, Sherlock and John are still the familiar friends that we know from the original stories.  Sherlock has returned to the tall, lanky, eccentric (who keeps a head in a fridge!), violin-playing man who annoys detectives at (New) Scotland Yard and gets information from London's street population.  While he can still give a good fight, he is not the action man the big screen portrays.  As in the original, John has returned invalided from a new war in Afghanistan and remains the steadfast friend and blogger, while showing his fascination and frustration with his friend. In all versions he exhibits courage in light of their crazy often dangerous adventures.  Cumberbatch and Freeman, two of Britain's hardest working actors, are less known to US audiences which, being a fan of Sherlock and now familiar with their previous work, makes me feel like part of an elite club.  Their on-screen chemistry is second to none save for maybe (and I do stress maybe) Jeremy Brett and Hardwicke.  In fact, I wouldn't be adverse to putting them on equal grounds as the four best actors to have portrayed the friends...granted in two different centuries.

So, what do these two modern, yet different interpretations do for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson?  No matter which version speaks to a viewer the fact is that it speaks to them.   Viewers of the modern versions and readers of Conan Doyle's adventures enjoyed great stories with great characters. I expect to feel equally shocked when my own Sherlock takes his fall, as implied in the title of the last episode of the next series...The Reichenbach Fall.  But, then again, I can always go back to the silver screen and see another adventure.  Even though neither of these versions fueled my initial resurgence in Holmesian stories, Sherlock is still the modern adventure that speaks to me as it provides a sort of bridge to another time, place and brilliant characters.  Which one can serve as one's own bridge can, in my opinion, only be determined by enjoying both versions.


19 June 2011

Movie Delights: Tintin trailer and Hobbit casting

A Belgian action-adventure hero brought to life by Americans and Brits: Tintin and his dog, Snowy (or as the Belgians and other French-speakers know him, Milou), will escape the world of bande dessinĂ©e and hit the movie screens with the aid of motion-capture, the more-than-animation, not-quite-live-action form that brought Tolkien's Gollum and many other characters to life.  I am quite thrilled at the prospect of this movie particular since two of my favourite British writers, Steven Moffat (brill writer on BBC's Sherlock and Dr. Who) and Edgar Wright, have had their pen in the ink for this adaptation.   Then the added bonus of acting favourites like Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, what can be bad about it: Rien.  Just look at the trailer...

Finally it is confirmed that Sherlock (aka Benedict Cumberbatch) will be joining his Watson (aka Martin Freeman) in Middle-earth as the dragon, Smaug!  Sir Peter Jackson has confirmed it on his FB page along with other casting news of Bard the Bowman and a new character who will be played by Evangeline Lily of Lost fame.  As Ian McKellan noted in his blog (and what made me come to my own conclusion that BC would be the infamous dragon) was the mention of being the third double-act in the precursor (not prequel) to The Lord of Rings trilogy.  It's elementary, my dear Baggins.  How could they be a double-act once again if it was Smaug pitted against Bilbo?  And, so it is and I can't wait!  Cumberbatch and Freeman work brilliantly well together.  I have no doubt that a Smaug vs. Bilbo confrontation will be just as brilliant as Sherlock and John's collaboration.
Sherlock and Watson transform into Bilbo and Smaug for The Hobbit.

So,  to the figurine travelers, you know who you are: how did you seeing fancy seeing yourselves in the trailer?  Dupont, I saw you behind that newspaper!  Travelers, look who turned up and has been missing the telling tales of your adventures...Snowy/Milou.  He very much regrets that he didn't get to go along and has to instead make due with facades and trailers...
Where in the World?
My report has been made,therefore, a return report is expected from Dupont or the Professor.  Your time is almost up.

03 June 2011

Delightful Travel...In British Columbia

For a self-proclaimed Anglophile,  British Columbia (BC-initials for many a good thing!) is quite a surprise.  How excited was I to see signs on the highway for Surrey and Westminster thousands of miles away from the originals!  But it seems the reference and resemblance to its colonial roots may end there.

Though a grey sky and fog sits on the waterfront and may indeed rival cold days in Britian, BC and, in particular Vancouver, can rival any American metropolis on the West or even East coast.  Last night saw an, what I gather was an unusual event in the city:  sports frenzy.  Like many Canadian cities, a pride of Vancouver is their NHL team the Canucks (I know I am spelling it wrong) and I managed to arrive just in time for it to show.
Upon arrival, one could already see the specks of blue and green (Canuck colors) spattered around the city dwellers and as the evening drew on and game time approached the specks became blobs and the blobs became masses.  Granville Street, a main city strand (and the location of my hotel) amassed itself in a sea of blue and green as hockey-goers filed into bars and out on the streets.  Even heard chants that made seem like a football (soccer) win rather than hockey...

Canadians celebrate after a hockey win (thanks to Katy for the pic)

Today the weather and the streets are calm, relatively.  I finish up my quick trip and head back down to the States.

22 May 2011

Telly Delights: After 152 years a 21st Century re-telling of classic detective stories wins accolades

On the 152nd birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world famous Sherlock Holmes and his loyal friend Dr. John Watson, the 21st century re-telling of the two unlikely friends has garnered two very big British television awards: the BAFTAs.  Sherlock's producing team took home the Best Drama Series award while Dr. John Watson (or as we know him Martin Freeman) was awarded Best Supporting Actor for his role next to Benedict Cumberbatch's brilliant Sherlock.

While the 21st century Watson won an award,  Sherlockian fans lost an icon when Edward Hardwicke (Dr. Watson to the great Jeremy Brett's Holmes) passed away this week.  The Granada series is, with good cause one of the best adaptations of Conan Doyle's original works.  Hardwicke and now Freeman have given the most true interpretations of a wonderfully written character, in my humblest of opinions.

As far as award shows go, beat the Emmys by quite a bit.  And, due to an apparent slip up, the internet is a buzz with the rumor of Cumberbatch joining the Hobbit.  No confirmations or official word, but the buzz is abound nonetheless. 

Article on the BAFTAs