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.





My Favorite Doctor Who Episodes from Series 1-6 (2005 – Present)

14 07 2011

Above: Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston Middle: Tenth Doctor, David Tennat Below: Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. Copyright BBC Worldwide

As of two months ago I knew essentially nothing of Doctor Who.  I knew that it was a British science fiction show, that the main character traveled through time and space in a police box and that the show had been on the air forever.  After finishing a run of Twin Peaks for the second time in my life, I was looking for another television program to become involved in.  Because I generally really enjoy most science fiction and fantasy, I asked several people I know that watch Doctor Who if they thought I would like it and they all said, “Yes!”.  The second problem was where to begin.  There is a classic series that aired on the BBC from 1963 to 1989 which was produced in a serial format with each chapter being an amalgam of several 25 minute episodes.  The first seven incarnations of the primary role of The Doctor are contained within these 26 seasons of the show.  The Eighth Doctor, portrayed by Paul McGann, was part of a British-American co-produced television special in 1996, and, finally, the reboot of the television series arrived with Christopher Eccleston playing the ninth regeneration of the Doctor in 2005.  The reboot of the series is currently in their sixth season and Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith.

After much deliberation, I started the series with the 2005 reboot (though I have since watched some of the classic series as well).  Just yesterday, I finally caught up with the current production schedule with the series six mid-season finale that aired last month.  The series won’t continue series six until sometime in September.  I am so glad I started watching this series and can’t recommend it enough, it’s well-written, well-directed and well-acted.  If you have any geekiness in you whatsoever or an affinity towards science fiction or fantasy, you will love this show.  Of the 81 episodes I’ve watched of the reboot (including Christmas Specials), I’ve decided to elucidate on my favorite episodes of the series thus far:

As to not spoil the episodes for future viewers or people who’ve yet to get to these episodes, I will not include much of a synopsis in the descriptions.

1. Blink – Season 3, Episode 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

If you look around online, you will see that this episode constantly gets rated in the top of the series, and for good reason, because it is brilliant.  Season 3 is during David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor (my personal favorite!), but this episode is actually what the series calls a “doctor light” episode, as he hardly appears.  The real star of this episode is Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow and the amazingly creepy monsters, the Weeping Angels.  This episode was so good that writer Steven Moffat won a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and a BAFTA Craft and BAFTA Cymru.  It’s an amazing episode and probably my favorite of them all since I’ve been watching the series.

2.  The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances – Season 1, Episodes 9 & 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

This two episode entry into season 1 is by far the best story of that season.  It takes place in World War II and centers around an extremely creepy little boy with a gas mask on that continually haunts people, asking them, “Are you my mummy?”  Christopher Eccleston is portraying the Ninth Doctor in this episode and one of my favorite companions of the series so far, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), is at his side.  In addition, the hugely popular character of Captain Jack Harkness is introduced in this episode, who goes on to be one of the leads of the spin-off series Torchwood.

3. Human Nature and The Family of Blood – Season 3, Episodes 8 & 9 – Written by Paul Cornell

This is the two episode entry right before Blink, so you know you are in for a treat once you get to these episodes, because three amazing entries are to follow.  David Tennant is the Tenth Doctor in this episode, but for all intensive purposes is that of John Smith, as he has erased his memory and reverted to a human form to escape a family of monsters who are chasing him through time and space.  Unable to remember his past, his companion in this season, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), is presented with a very difficult task of watching over him and calling him back if needed.  When the blood thirsty family find Martha and the Doctor’s hiding location, things get very interesting.

4. The Doctor’s Wife – Season 6, Episode 4 – Written by Neil Gaiman

This episode by well-known science fiction and fantasy author Neil Gaiman was to come out during season 5, but was ultimately delayed for various reasons until season 6.  This episode is extremely interesting and entertaining because it does something that the show had never done before: it allows the Doctor and his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space – his time/space traveling police box) to speak to each other when the TARDIS’s time vortex is put into a human’s form.  The witty banter between Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith and his oldest friend in human form is brilliant, and seeing them have to work together to save two companions in the series is a real treat.

5. Vincent and the Doctor – Season 5, Episode 10 – Written by Richard Curtis

Series 5 was a bit difficult for me.  David Tennant had been my favorite incarnation of the Doctor so far and I was having a hard time getting used to Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor; however, I thought this episode was great, and it might be the episode that I finally warmed up to Matt Smith in the role.  The Doctor and his companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), go to Europe in the late 1800s because of something the Doctor saw in a painting by Vincent Van Gogh at the National Gallery.  They meet Van Gogh and have to work with him to tame a monster that only he can see.  The ode to the work of the great master and the beauty in which Tony Curran plays Van Gogh is exquisite.

6. Dalek – Season 1, Episode 6 – Written by Robert Shearman

The Doctor’s longest running adversary from all eleven regenerations is that of the alien race known as the Daleks.  This episode in the first season is the first time that Daleks are introduced in the reboot of the series.  The Ninth Doctor and Rose turn up in an underground bunker that belongs to an eccentric American billionaire who collects “space junk”.  His prized possession is that of a Dalek, though he doesn’t know what it is and it is currently incapacitated.  When the Dalek returns to full form, everyone’s life is in danger, not just in the bunker, but in the world.

7. The Waters of Mars – Autumn Special 2009 – Written by Russell T. Davis & Phil Ford 

There was no full series in 2009, only a series of four specials that rounded out the last episodes of David Tennant’s duration as the Doctor.  This was the third of those specials before the two-part finale and regeneration into the Eleventh Doctor.  The Doctor is by himself for this episode, exploring the planet of Mars, when he is captured by members of a space station in the mid 22nd century.  Once on board, he insists he poses no threat.  He then realizes who these members are from history, as a terrible thing had happened that killed them all.  When the wheels are set in motion, he must decide whether or not to interfere with a fixed point in time.

8. Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead – Season 4, Episode 9 & 10 – Written by Steven Moffat

In this two-parter, the Tenth Doctor is with companion Donna Nobel (Catherine Tate).  They arrive in a futuristic library that is literally a planet; it is the largest library in the world.  However, there are no people in the library, as something happened to them.  A strange little girl in a side story can see into the library when she closes her eyes, and the Doctor runs into a very important figure in his life, the character of River Song for the first time in this episode.

9. A Good Man Goes to War – Season 6, Episode 7 – Written by Steven Moffat

Starting to catch on that Steven Moffat is a pretty damn good writer on this show?  He is actually the current head writer, though several of these listed episodes he was just a staff writer under former head Richard T. Davies.  This was the mid-series finale for season 6 that is the most recent episode to date.  When one of the Eleventh Doctor’s close companions, Amy Pond, is abducted by a strange army, the Doctor calls on all his favors and goes to fight to get her back.  It’s one of the few times that you see the Doctor truly angry in this incarnation of himself and the ending of the episode leaves the audience with a HUGE surprise.

10. The Shakespearean Code – Season 3, Episode 2 – Written by Gareth Roberts

The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones end up in Shakespearean England after some strange occurrences have been happening under the title of “witchcraft”.  Not only do they arrive in Shakespearean England, but they actually must get involved with Shakespeare himself and force him to rewrite certain altered parts of his unreleased play Love’s Labor’s Won to prevent a great evil from being unleashed onto the Earth.  It’s a fun, historic romp and even has a Harry Potter reference thrown in the mix!

 

 





“Who am I? I’m the Doctor”

5 06 2011

Doctor Who logo - Copyright BBC Worldwide

Apologies on the sparse posting as of late.  I’m usually not much of a television fan, but have been engrossed in two shows over the past couple of weeks.  First, I’m still moving through the original Twilight Zone episodes; the reviews, which are updated regularly, are available on the Twilight Zone master guide page which is located here: https://notesonafilm.wordpress.com/twilight-zone-master-guide/.  I hope you’ll check it out and find some episodes that fit your taste!

The other show that has dominated my life, and much more so, as of late is the British science fiction classic Doctor Who.  I’ve long thought the series would appeal to me, but I try my hardest to avoid television programs (or programmes more appropriately for a British show) when possible because of the time commitments.  However, I have gotten myself sucked into yet another with this series.

Originally, Maddie and I were going to start with the original Doctor Who from the 1960s and try our best to move forward through the entirety of the series.  We actually did watch a few of the original episodes from the William Hartnell era and, though quality was not good because of magnetic tape storage, the stories were very interesting and held up quite well!  Being a show that has had almost 800 episodes, however, we soon decided to take a friend’s advice and start with the 2005 re-boot of the series by Russell T. Davies, which updates the viewer on much of the terminology and makes it so you don’t have to watch the previous 700 episodes to know what is going on.

Because of the BBC’s “cleaning tape” policy of the 1970s, many of the original episodes are unavailable.  Also, though the stories were intriguing, the dated sets and low production value of some of the early episodes were a bit hard to get through.  So, about a week and a half ago, we began the 2005 series which starts with the appearance of the ninth doctor, portrayed by Christopher Eccleston.  We just finished the first season and regeneration into the tenth doctor (David Tennant) and are decidedly hooked on this series.

The first season wasn’t the best looking because of being shot, obviously, on Digital Betacam in 4:3.  However, the stories, performances, direction and, for the time impressive CG sequences, really propelled the series and took the mind away from the video-like look of that season.  Having just watched the special Christmas episode and first episode of the second season, it looks like they made a huge jump in what camera they were using, as it’s 16×9 and 24p (still not sure if it’s SD or downrezzed HD, but looks WAY better).

In short, don’t be surprised if the posts are a bit sparse for a bit while I continue to navigate space and time in my living room.  Do check back frequently for Twilight Zone updates though and I will have a special post when I get the full first season watched and reviewed.  Thanks for your patronage and hopefully my eyes won’t bleed out of my head in the coming weeks from too much sitting in front of the tube!





Continued Twilight Zoning

26 05 2011

Season 1, Episode 9 – “Perchance to Dream”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Released on November 27, 1959, this episode was directed by industry veteran Robert Florey, written by Charles Beaumont, with basis on his short story of the same name, and starred Richard Conte.  Conte plays Edward Hall, a man who is afraid to go to sleep for fear of dying.  He enters Dr. Rathmann’s (John Larch), a psychiatrist’s, office for an appointment.  In questioning him, Dr. Rathmann finds out that Hall has been awake for 87 hours.  Hall explains that he has always had a vivid imagination, as well as a heart condition since he was 15 years old.  His imagination is so vivid that it causes him to see and believe things to be there that are truly not.  Recently, he began having recurring serial-like dreams in which a strange woman named Maya is forcing him to do things that might endanger his life because of his weak heart.  Will the doctor be able to save him?

I love the cinematography in these early episodes.  The bulk of the series was shot by George T. Clemens and the style he put forth in giving such an eery quality to the crisp black-and-white through lighting and in camera tricks is truly breathtaking.  Director Florey was said to strive for perfection on set and was deeply influenced by expressionistic filmmakers of the past like Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau.  This episode certainly evokes an expressionistic quality that works beautifully for the story.  Beaumont’s script, and short story for that matter, are very cleverly put together.  Unfortunately, Beaumont suffered from believed Alzheimer’s and Pick’s disease and passed at the young age of 38.  Conte’s performance is also very believable and exudes interesting subtleties in the character.  So far, this has been my favorite episode since beginning the series for review.

As an interesting six degrees of separation side note, Richard Conte’s son, Mark, is a film editor.  The film I worked on a few years ago that was shot here in the Piedmont, The 5th Quarter, was edited by Mark.





Entering the Twilight Zone…

24 05 2011

Copyright Cayuga Productions and CBS Corporation

Maddie and I have gotten a little lax on finishing Twin Peaks.  We only have four or five more episodes to go before finishing the series completely, but we have taken a decent amount of time ever since the Laura Palmer episodes ended in watching new episodes.  A full series recap will be forthcoming once we finish.  In the interim, outside of watching movies, we started to spark up some of the old Twilight Zone episodes (original series era 1959-64).

It’s been awhile since I’d seen any Twilight Zone episodes, so I was excited to see that Netflix has nearly 140 Rod Serling-era episodes on instant watch.  Whatever is not up on the instant watch, I’m sure I will be able to find in my brother Patrick’s collection.  He literally has every episode of the entire original series and, if I am not mistaken, has seen all of them at some point or another, possibly twice.  Anyway, since Maddie had never seen an episode of the show, I felt it only right to introduce her.  Last night we saw three episodes.  I was immediately entranced with the series just as I had been years ago when watching them late night on the Sci-Fi Channel, and Maddie really enjoyed the episodes as well.  As an ongoing feature here at the blog, I will rate the episodes as I see them.  Hopefully, as time goes by, you’ll be able to check back here and get a nice overall guide to the entire series.  Once all episodes are watched and rated, I will make a main page with chronological listing from season one through season five.

Of course, a large part of the fun in watching Twilight Zone episodes are the twist endings and surprises.  To not spoil the story and thematic representations of the individual episodes, I will only give brief overviews of the plot.  Hope you guys enjoy, and now for the first three:

Season 1, Episode 5 – “Walking Distance” 

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on October 30, 1959, this episode was directed by Robert Stevens, written by series creator Rod Serling and starred actor Gig Young (eventual Academy Award-winner for Best Supporting Actor in 1969 for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, whose career later ended in tragedy).  Young plays a middle-age advertising executive from New York, Martin Sloan, who is traveling back to his hometown on a whim for nostalgia’s sake.  When he arrives, however, he finds that the town is just the same as he remembers it and, eventually, realizes it actually is the same.  He has traveled 25 years into the past, where he runs into his mother, father and former self.

The direction of this episode and cinematography by series DP regular George T. Clemens is amazing.  The final scenes, with their dutch angles and atmospheric lighting, create an intriguing dream-like effect.  Time Magazine later rated this episode as the eighth best of the series.

Season 1, Episode 8 – “Time Enough at Last”

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Released on November 20, 1959, this episode was directed by John Brahm, adapted by Rod Serling and starred actor Burgess Meredith (probably best known as the coach in the Rocky series or Jack Lemmon’s father in the Grumpy Old Men series).  Meredith portrays bookworm bank teller, Harold Bemis, who is constantly in trouble at both work and at home for his insatiable reading habits.  While retiring to the bank safe to satisfy his desires, a Hydrogen bomb wipes out everything above ground.  Bemis exits the safe and realizes that he is the only person left in the world.

This episode is based off the short story of the same name by Lyn Venable and won director John Brahm a DGA award for excellence in television directing.  Meredith would go on to appear in several other episodes in the series and this episode is consistently rated as one of the best of the series.

Season 1, Episode 18 – “The Last Flight”

★ ★ ★ ★

Released on February 5, 1960, this episode was directed by William Claxton, written by Richard Matheson (of I am Legend, Stir of Echoes, Incredible Shrinking Man, etc. fame) and starred British actor Kenneth Haigh.  When Flight Lt. Decker (Haigh) gets lost over France during World War I in 1917, he lands his plane at an air force base.  Unbeknownst to him, he has landed at Lafayette Air Force base in 1959.  The Major General of the base at first thinks his outfit, plane and story are some kind of joke.  In the end, however, they realize he is not joking and this chance landing in another time is important in helping Flight Lt. Decker do the right decision in his own time.

Though not necessarily as flashy or well-revered as the other two episodes I reviewed today, I really liked the plot of this one.  It kept you interested from beginning to end and Haigh’s performance was perfectly on par.





Good Characters = Good Stories

15 03 2011

Photo Copyright 2007 Showtime Networks, Inc., a CBS Company

After Lost ended last year, I started watching Mad Men to fill my television void.  Well, when Mad Men season 4 ended this past fall and it looks like season 5 might be on hiatus for awhile, I decided to give myself a break from watching television shows.  I love a great show, but the time, energy and effort in watching what can be well over a 100 hours to continue and follow a story is daunting and difficult if you actually have a life to attend to.  My girlfriend decided to start watching a new show though and after an unsuccessful try with Heroes she settled on Showtime’s Dexter. I was determined not to get sucked in and didn’t watch much of the first season with her, but, alas, eventually I sat down for one episode which led to another which led to….well, you get the idea.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it is currently awaiting production of its sixth season and centers around Dexter Morgan, a blood splatter analyst for the Miami Metro Homicide division.  OK, what’s so interesting about that?  Well, he moonlights as a serial killer and not just a normal serial killer, but a killer of other killers.  Without giving too much away, he is a sociopath that was taught to control his “dark passenger” to some degree by a code his adoptive father put in place.  The code helps to satisfy his murderous desires, but helps turn his negative impulse into a slightly more productive thing for society.

Alexander Mackendrick, noted film director and scholar, said that more important than plot is the depth of character in a great story.  I think Dexter is a good example to analyze in this context.  It seems a little far fetched to think that a serial killer, a murderer without emotion, could be at all a likable protagonist. However, if you watch the show, there are many times that you find yourself rooting for his character and empathizing with his problems and concerns.  Whereas most protagonists seem to garner a high level of positive attributes coupled with a few crippling negative attributes that create conflict, the character of Dexter seems to possess a higher level of negative attributes with a few shining positive ones.  Not only does his anti-social personality disorder cause murderous impulses, but Dexter’s emotions seem very stilted and situations we would consider normal human interactions are often quite difficult for him.

This further complicates the ability for the viewer to relate to him, but still you do.  How?  Why?  It’s because Dexter genuinely wants to change.  As the narrative develops, there are multiple times where it seems that he wants to be “normal” and turn his back on the dark aspects of his life.  For Dexter, I think, it is like kicking an addiction, only in that the addiction is a defining part of his psychological makeup as opposed to an outside force like drugs or alcohol.  We, as viewers, relate to his need and want to change because we all have our own “dark passengers” that we wish we could hang in the closet; of course, most of the viewing audience’s addictions and dark sides aren’t nearly as bad or socially unacceptable as Dexter’s, but we can all relate to the desires of becoming a better person.

It’s that little bit of good in him that you want to see shine through and, as the series progresses, it seems that these little glimpses of normalcy become a more and more prominent part of Dexter’s life.  To take what would generally be considered a despicable character and help the average viewer relate and empathize with him is what is at the heart of a great narrative and I think Dexter is a wonderful example of character as a definitive part of the story process.








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