Not your Basil Rathbone Holmes (Thank Goodness!)

21 07 2011

Copyright 2010 BBC/Masterpiece

In their down time from Doctor Who, current series head Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss set out to create a modern update on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes.  Season One of the joint BBC and Masterpiece production aired in the summer of 2010 with three episodes, each totaling 88 minutes in length.

The first episode, A Study in Pink (an obvious take-off on Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlett”), lays out the groundwork and exposition for the characters of both Holmes and his associate Dr. John Watson.  This episode also introduces the two to each other for the first time, and has them decide to be roommates at the famous 221-B Baker Street address.  Staying very true to the books, all the idiosyncracies of the characters and their backgrounds are in tact, just with modern updates.  For instance, Watson served in the recent Afghanistan conflict in this version, where he received the bullet that injured his leg.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Holmes and Martin Freeman plays Watson; they are both excellent in their roles.  I especially enjoyed Freeman’s performance as Watson; however, I am a bit bias, as my favorite character in the Holmes’ stories is generally that of Watson oddly enough.  I mean how cool would it be to be the companion of a mind like Holmes’s, a crack shot with a revolver and an expert medical doctor all-in-one?  Plus, you get the ladies and generally stand as a voice of reason to the sometimes aloof Holmes.

Not only does the series get placed in modern London, but they take expert advantage over the situation by incorporating many technological advances into the scripts.  Laptops, cell phones and other digital media devices are made use of in all three episodes extensively, sometimes even as key elements to the plot.  In addition, the producers came up with a clever way to visually present the use of such devices.  Rather than boring shots of a cell phone screen, they have animated text appear over the image to signify various text messages, etc.

The second series will be broadcast this fall in the same manner as the first, with three hour and a half long episodes.  I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s theatrical version of Sherlock Holmes (2009) and am looking forward to the sequel later this year, but, though fun, it wasn’t a great movie.  This modernized adaptation of the classic stories is a different story; I don’t mind at all admitting that it is a brilliant, fresh take on series.  I absolutely love it.

For all you Netflix users out there, all three episodes of season one are available on Instant Watch.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (2011) Review

15 07 2011

Copyright 2011 Warner Brothers Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

So, it’s 2:20 a.m. on early Friday morning here on the east coast.  I just got back from the midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II.  This is the second part of the two-movie conclusion to one of the most popular movie series of the decade, which, in turn, is based on one of the most popular book series of all-time.

Picking up from where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I left off, this film begins at the burial of the free elf Dobby.  Without going into too much detail on the synopsis, as I’m sure 90% of you have already read the books and just care if the movie is a good representation or not, the first 20 or so minutes is very much exposition.  It recaps a bit from what the previous installment showed and then continues to set-up the next major plot point, the search for another of Voldemort’s horcruxes at Gringott’s Bank.  The Gringott’s chase and escape sequence is relatively short compared to what I remember it being in the book.  Following this, Harry and friends apparate to Hogsmeade, meet Ableforth Dumbledore, Albus’s brother, and enter into the now Snape-headed Hogwarts.  I would say at this point you’re maybe 45 minutes into this two hour and ten minute movie, if that.  From this point on is the  final battle and showdown at Hogwarts.

The exposition is a bit rushed, but I was completely fine with it.  I mean, if you are going to split a massive book into two movies, give me the good stuff!  The final battle at Hogwarts and lead up to the showdown between Harry and Voldemort are epic and spectacular; there are many moments where you will find yourself on the edge of your seat.  Many popular characters that haven’t appeared in several of the latest movies reappear in this installment, and it’s exhilarating to watch such an grandly staged battle between good and evil for more than the last half of the film.

J.K. Rowling wrote the books intending for each book to become darker and for a more mature audience.  I will say that this entry in the movie series is by far the most graphic.  There were several scenes that were disturbing, even for an adult; so, for all you parents, be aware that this is definitely not wholly a “kid’s movie.”

The Harry Potter series has already become classic literature to some degree, and in only 14 short years.  It’s majestical storytelling, and in the films, well-acted, well-scripted and wonderfully shot, directed and produced.  To me, this installment in the film series was a fitting end to an iconic story.  I don’t think anyone will walk away from the theater disappointed.

Reversal of Fortune (1990) Review

21 03 2011

Copyright Warner Brothers

★ ★ ★

Reversal of Fortune, directed by Barbet Schroeder, is based on the true life events of wealthy socialites Martha “Sunny” and Claus von Bülow.  Sunny (portrayed by Glenn Close), who was the heiress to utilities magnate George Crawford’s and her mother’s family International Shoe Company fortunes, slipped into a coma in December of 1979.  Suspicious circumstances on behalf of her husband Claus (Jeremy Irons) were aroused, but she was eventually to come out of the coma a short time following.  Nearly a year later, she was found on the bathroom floor of her stately Newport, R.I. estate, again comatose with a deathly low body temperature and pulse rate.  She would never awaken from this second coma and suspicious activity again on behalf of Claus eventually led to his conviction of attempted murder by result of insulin injection in 1982.

Claus would subsequently hire famed Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz (who wrote the book the film is based on) to represent him in his appeal.  The appeal would be granted and during a second trial Claus was acquitted on all charges.  Sunny went on to stay in a persistent vegetative state until her death 28 years later at the age of 77 in 2008; Claus is still alive and well living in London as a staple of the wealthy social scene.  Due to Sunny’s massive wealth in comparison to his own and the multitude of suspicious circumstances in relation to the case, many still wonder whether or not justice was served (or averted).  Jim Cramer, of Mad Money fame, was one of the law students who helped Dershowitz during the appeal and has been on record saying several times that Claus was “supremely guilty”; either way, the only two entities that can really know the truth are Claus himself and Clarendon Court, the massive Newport estate in which the circumstances occurred.

To me, this film was an instance where the source material itself is much more enticing than the film presented it.  I think the case is extremely interesting and was very excited to look deeper into the circumstances surrounding the trials after watching the film; however, the film itself lost steam about midway through and meandered enough for me to drop it down in rating.  Both Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons did tremendous jobs in their respective roles which, for Irons, resulted in an Academy Award for Best Actor.  Ron Silver portrayed Alan Dershowitz with a certain level or vigor, but the performance sometimes went over the top and became a little melodramatic for my taste.

I thought Schroeder’s direction was handled well, though there was nothing stand out about any of the shot selections; all in all, it was fairly textbook direction for this type of film.  The one unique form to the story telling schema in my opinion was having a voice over narration from Sunny in the coma describing certain parts of the story in the beginning.  I thought this was an interesting and novel way to get the opinion of a character that otherwise had been silenced eternally.  There were also many different interpretations of events based on different character’s alibis and opinions throughout the film that at first was a nice touch, though these became a little drawn out after we saw the same events happen about 15 times.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the film decently and don’t regret watching it, but felt that the material they had to work with could have been presented in a more entertaining manner.  In relation to the actual events, it reminded me of why I decided to drop out of law school after one semester: I don’t want to be a part of any system where the truth can be altered to fit one side over the other on a technicality or fancy presentation.

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