Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sherlock: Series Four. An Overview


I’ve long argued that Sherlock, far from being this brilliant, intelligent, well-crafted adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of The Great Detective, was intellectually weak bordering on the nonsensical, consistently confusing ‘convoluted’ for ‘complex’.  A lot of Sherlock, if one looked at it removed from any sense of ‘feels’ or emotional investment, would not stand up under scrutiny.  There is a delightful irony that a show based on a character that was a cold, calculated thinking machine could build a fanbase made up almost entirely of people who measure how successful an episode was by whether if and how much it made them cry.

There are one or two Sherlock episodes that I thought were good, but by and large I have not been converted into a ‘Sherlockian’.  Quite the contrary: I find myself a lone voice in the wilderness, continuously crying out in the desert that Sherlock has no clothes.  Virtually every other critic lavishes Sherlock with praise.  It gets Emmy Awards, gets held up as this monumental work of television, and gets on my nerves. 

Despite my long arguments about how a great deal of Sherlock does not make sense, even in its own world, people continue to tout it as if it were practically perfect in every way; it is as if Sherlock is something to almost worship.  I cannot convince people that many Sherlock episodes, along with the characters’ motivations and behavior, is irrational to the point of being insane.  That’s not even touching the character of Sherlock Holmes himself, as he has described himself as a ‘high-functioning sociopath’ (though I would argue about the ‘high-functioning’ part myself).

There is a kind of hubris in Sherlock, its fans, and its creators, a sense that they cannot be questioned in their brilliance, that any dissenting voice is at best a naysayer and at worse an evil being.  For too long, all this acclaim, all these awards, all these cheering children at Comic-Con squeeing at how Sherlock and Moriarty keep coming back from the dead without becoming zombies has inoculated Sherlock from criticism. 

It has given the show more than a false sense of security.  It has made it believe it was invulnerable, that it could do anything and get rewarded for it.  It is at a point now where Sherlock co-writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat could have an entire episode take place on Atlantis and Sherlockians would take to Tumblr to speculate whether Sherlock was in reality Aquaman and how he could be Sherlock, Aquaman and Doctor Strange all at once.

Never mind that neither makes any sense, or that Sherlock Series/Season Four makes no sense.  The important thing about such a scenario is, ‘What part was the most emotional for you?’

At last, at long last, Sherlock Season/Series Four has finally brought about a pause to all this, at least to some but not all.  It is long past time to really examine Sherlock and find that it has left internal or external logic and slipped into farce.  Sherlock Season/Series Four is a smorgasbord of ineptness, unintentional comedy and simply daft leaps of logic.  Even whatever good there was in Sherlock overall: the supporting characters, the ‘Mind Palace’, were all abandoned to give viewers awful spectacle, bombast, and literal bombings to cover up that Sherlock has no clothes.

This series/season will probably be the end of Sherlock.  Part of that is due to the busy schedules of its two leads: Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  Part of it is also, in my view, due to the outlandishness of this series/season, one filled with such flat-out unbelievable turns and downright goofy moments that only thoroughly devoted Sherlockians would continue on the ‘Sherlock is BRILLIANT!’ road.

In the three feature-length episodes The Six Thatchers, The Lying Detective, and The Final Problem, I came across the issue of plot.  There weren’t any.  Of particular note in this aspect was The Six Thatchers.

As a side note, apart from Churchill I can’t think of any Twentieth Century British Prime Minister whose bust could genuinely exist in people’s homes.  The Six Blairs?  The Six Edens?  The Six Chamberlains? The Six Heaths? The Six Attlees?

The Six Thatchers lurched from one story to another, as if the episode needed gobs of padding to justify its length.  We start with what we think is an intriguing mystery: a young man who was in Tibet is found dead in his own car on his father’s driveway, with the added twist that he had been dead for a week.  What could have been an interesting mystery, one that might have tied in with what was the main story was dismissed with a few words and no sympathy.

He was never in Tibet, died suddenly while going through an elaborate hiding scheme in his car, and no one knew he was dead until a car crashed into it a week later.

I’m not touching the cruelty of the idea of a dead young man left in a car to rot, though I do wonder whether the stench would eventually have alerted someone that there was a corpse in there.  We can even gloss over how Sherlock himself was particularly unsympathetic towards the grieving parents, even for him.

What I find hard to accept is that Sherlockians, indeed anybody, would not notice how this seemed a bad way to get the main story about the title figures rolling.  Gatiss and Moffat could have just started out with an exhibition of Thatcher, or someone delivering said bust to this family as a birthday gift for our Conservative MP.  Instead, we get a tease for something that is quickly shunted out of the way.

Even more scandalous is how AGRA came to be.  I'm supposed to believe John Watson, dimwit that he is, doesn't know his wife's real first name is Rosemund, or that despite all sense he would ask the atheist, obnoxious, generally unpleasant Sherlock to be his daughter's godfather.  AGRA, this code name for a super-secret, super-elite hit squad, was built around the member's real names.

It's almost ghastly to think that AGRA couldn't be code names for these elites: Avon, Glastonbury, Richmond, and Ashford.  THAT makes sense, and we could say they came from each city.  Instead, we opted to make things so shockingly simplistic as to just go with their names.

With Series/Season Four, we also got a most fascinating trope in Sherlock: the ‘Sherlock is Smart or Stupid Depending on When It’s Convenient’.   This Sherlock, who can deduce the most outlandish things about someone by the scent of their soap, and be right in his deductions, could not figure out that Mary Watson was a professional assassin.  Mycroft, who is supposed to be smarter than his 'brother mine', fell for some pantomime tricks involving the clown from IT and apparently has the Penguin's umbrella collection. Neither of the Holmes Boys could figure out that there was no glass in their hereto unknown sister's Magneto-type cell or that she had bamboozled the entire staff, putting them under her spell.

Again and again, Sherlock loves to dazzle us with its sense of brilliance, but when this collection of geniuses are required to be absolutely, positively moronic, they will be so. 

I also note, with great dismay, how little Sherlock thinks of both John Watson and other supporting characters.  Inspector Lestrade was essentially a series of cameos, who thought Sherlock Holmes, the man who has spent years dismissing him to his face as an idiot, was 'a good man' because after four-plus years, Sherlock finally remembered that Lestrade's first name is 'Greg'.  Molly Hooper, irrationally besotted with Sherlock (unless of course she just wants his body, which is plausible), gets a 'big' moment when the unfeeling Holmes has to trick her into saying 'I Love You', but as soon as that's done, she goes back to wherever she goes when she's not pining for our favorite jerk.

It's John Watson who seems to suffer the most at the hands of a man who can pinpoint to the second two weeks in advance where Watson will be but who got his wife killed when Mary made her sacrifice for someone who has been unpleasant to the Watson family.  Maybe, after writing that, the Watsons are just lapdogs to any Holmes.

I never thought I'd live to see a Watson more moronic that Nigel Bruce's version, but I didn't count on Young Bilbo.  I have long argued that Freeman's Watson is generally a wimp and an idiot, and Sherlock Series/Season Four gives more evidence to this hypothesis.  He's shot at, again, chained up at the bottom of a well, and sees his wife killed in front of him, all as a result of his association with Sherlock Holmes.  Yet, despite all this, he still stays loyally by his side.

That isn't counting the other times he's been shot, kidnapped, drugged, and psychologically tortured by the man he thinks of as 'his best friend'.  At times, I think Jim Moriarty would treat John Watson better than Sherlock Holmes.  

The man is an absolute blithering idiot, forever flummoxed by the goings-on around him, and worse, he rarely if ever stands up to Sherlock.  For heaven's sake: he put up a balloon to take his place and Sherlock didn't notice for hours on end, and despite Sherlock's near-total lack of interest, John Watson still would follow him to the ends of the Earth.

As a digression, it's interesting that in Elementary, Joan Watson is if not Sherlock Holmes' equal at least his partner in crime-solving, able to reach conclusions with her own intelligence.  Sherlock's John Watson, conversely, is essentially Sherlock's admiring worshiper, who looks on admiringly while praising him often.  I never got the sense that John Watson was respected by his Sherlock Holmes, while Joan Watson was respected by her Sherlock.  One cannot imagine John Watson telling Sherlock off or deflating Sherlock's ego the way Joan could.

The worst of Sherlock is The Final Problem.  Not even Kyle Anderson at The Nerdist, who specializes in being the Watson to Gatiss/Moffat's Sherlock, could praise it like he normally does.  It's such a shambles, with nothing in it making sense. Here again, I have argued that a great deal of Sherlock as a whole doesn't make sense, but  I think too many have been so besotted with Sherlock, confusing as I've said 'convoluted' for 'complex' that they care more about feelings than logic.

However, I think even the most forgiving viewer took a step back when The Great Detective not only survived an explosion unscathed, but failed to notice there was no glass separating him from his Missy-type sister, whom he couldn't remember despite being only a year older.

I think so much of The Final Problem was so out there that no one could go along with it.  I also think that maybe, just maybe, those same critics who constantly sang the show's praises perhaps thought they were played for suckers, that maybe Gatiss and Moffat thought they could get away with anything and no one would call them on it.

I simply cannot believe that Gatiss and Moffat could have written The Final Problem and thought it was excellent.  The mind boggles at such notions.  

As I look back on Sherlock Series/Season Four, I think, how can so many people say that all this was a hallmark of excellence, something to aspire to?  I've never been able to shake off the idea that Sherlock is the most overrated, over-praised program: one that masks its serious leaps of logic, its awful characterizations, and its generally nonsensical storylines behind a posh exterior of elegant baritones and cocked eyebrows.  

Should Sherlock Series/Season Four be the last we will see of these two, even I, who have been steadfast in my criticism for the series, feel the show and its fans deserved so much better than it got.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sherlock: The Final Problem. A Review



I've long argued that Sherlock, far from being this great piece of television, something that is unimpeachable brilliant, was overrated, convoluted, and at times so outlandish and ridiculous that it was downright stupid and insulting.  I have long argued that most of the episodes don't make sense, are too over-the-top to be believed, and are generally atrocious.  Elementary, the U.S. counterpart on adapting the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, was perhaps not brilliant, but it was at least sensible versus the Sturm und Drang of Sherlock.

Many times, I was told how wrong I was.  Sherlock won Emmy Awards, hailed by critics, with a mad fanbase that mostly didn't care about Canon, so long as they cried over the adventures of the high-functioning sociopath and his lapdog.  I however, maintained my view that Sherlock had no clothes, that everyone was saying it was brilliant, a work of genius, because they were expected to say it was brilliant, a work of genius.

The Final Problem is my vindication.

The Final Problem was so awful, even Kyle Anderson at The Nerdist, a man for whom shilling for almost everything connected to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat is second nature, couldn't shill for. The Final Problem is, with the exception of Gatiss' Doctor Who episode Sleep No More, literally the worst thing I have ever seen that was made for television.  Cop Rock was more coherent.
The Final Problem is the worst thing I have ever seen connected to Sherlock Holmes, so ineptly bad that there were times when I was howling with gales of laughter at how anyone, let alone two people, could have written all this and thought it was genius.
The Final Problem was just wrong on so many levels, so tone-deaf, so full of itself...it actually ends up an accurate reflection of Gatiss and Moffat.

We start with a little girl on an airplane, terrified.  Everyone is unconscious save her, and the plane's 'driver' is also out.

At this juncture, let me state that I am amazed that a child would refer to the pilot as 'the driver'.

She hears a phone ring, and on the other line is none other than Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott), who is still either most sincerely dead or not.  He tells her "Welcome to the Final Problem".

Well, anyway we jump to Mycroft Holmes (Gatiss), watching a noir film until very spooky things begin happening, down to having Pennywise from IT pop out at him, driving him to the point of terror and unleashing the sword he has in his umbrella.

As a side note, does Mark Gatiss have some secret, burning desire to play the Penguin on Gotham?  I know both are gay, but still...

In any case, all this is just a rouse created by Mycroft's little brother, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), and his bitch, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) to get Mycroft to admit they have a hereto unknown little sister.  She's so unknown that Sherlock, who is a year older than said sister and Mycroft's eight years, literally forgot all about her.

So, this secret sister, Eurus (Sian Brooke), as a child made Sherlock's beloved dog Redbeard disappear.  She also set the Holmes family home of Musgrave on fire, and Mycroft later told his parents that she had died in another house burning.  In reality, she's been locked up at Sherrinford, a combination Alcatraz/Arkham Asylum for the most dangerous master criminals of all time.

It's at this point a grenade floats in via drone, one set off by movement.  Once the three realize Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) is safe, Sherlock and John jump out the second-story window while Mycroft races to save her and himself.

Moving on to sometime later, the three of them manage to hijack a boat and go to Sherrinford looking none the worse from their explosive escape.  At last, Sherlock sees his secret sister, and we find that she is dangerous.

We also find that somehow, Eurus and Jim Moriarty planned all these things five years earlier, when Mycroft, who ran Sherrinford as part of his work for the British Government, allowed her five minute unsupervised visit with our camp Napoleon of Crime.

Again, we see that despite Sherlock's near-godlike genius, he is stupid when it suits others.  While in the Hannibal Lecter-type cell with Eurus, he fails to notice that there is no actual glass separating him and Eurus.  Mycroft and Watson also discover that Eurus has some kind of hypnotic power over everyone, including the Governor of Sherrinford, to where they are all her slaves.

We also find that she is able to pop in and out of prison whenever she likes, including up to setting into motion a very elaborate, outlandish, and flat-out hilarious scheme of revenge against her elder brothers.

I'm pausing right now to note that the Legendary Legend of Legendness Herself, River Song from Doctor Who, pulled off the exact same trick of coming and going out of her prison at will.  It's simply appalling how Gatiss and Moffat essentially plagiarize themselves, to where it is just insulting to anyone save the Sherlockian/Whovians who simply have no capacity to reason.

She also bears similarity to 'Missy' or 'The Mistress', the transgender version of another Doctor Who villain, 'The Master'.  Both have generally bonkers plans that don't make sense and seem created for no rational reason.  Yet I digress.

Well, at this point Eurus, now totally in control of Sherrinford, puts the Holmes Boys and their lapdog through a series of 'elaborate' plots to get them to see how morality does not exist.  There's the previously mentioned little girl, whose voice they hear every so often, and then there's having to solve a mystery where three lives are at stake and the worse, getting Molly Hooper (Louise Breeley) to tell Sherlock, 'I Love You' or a bomb will explode.

Again, I pause at this juncture to point out that Sherlock Holmes, if Sherlock is to be believed, can willingly lose his virginity to someone he doesn't love to literally pump her for information but cannot actually say 'I Love You' to someone who has been pathetic in her besotted manner with him.  Molly, you can do so much better than Sherlock.

Ultimately, the three do get separated and Sherlock finds himself back in the ruins of Musgrave House.  John is down the well about to be drowned, but manages to communicate with Holmes that he found Redbeard, in a way.  It wasn't dog bones he discovers, but human remains, remains of a child.  Eurus wasn't the only thing Sherlock Holmes blocked out.

It seems Sherlock's best friend as a child, one Victor Trevor, and he were playing pirates.  Holmes was 'Yellowbeard', and Victor was 'Redbeard'.  Eventually, Holmes finds that Eurus is the little girl, locked in her own mind thinking she was going to crash.  A hug later, Watson is rescued from certain death when a rope is thrown at him.

How this rope will help him given his leg was chained to the ground we don't know.

Mycroft has to tell his unbelieving parents their daughter is still alive, and eventually all of them go to Sherrinford where Sherlock and Eurus play violin duets together.  In a prerecorded video, the dead (for now) Mary Watson (Miranda Abbington) tells her 'Baker Street Boys' to stay together.

From beginning to end, The Final Problem was just unspeakably bad.  Just beyond horrifyingly awful.  Not even in the diseased, deranged, delusional world of Sherlock, where all sorts of outlandish and idiotic things can happen because, well, the feels, does The Final Problem make sense.

Pick any point in The Final Problem, and you'll find something completely irrational to the point of imbecilic. 

Our genius detective, who can deduce within a second whether the retired Archbishop of Canterbury is a transgender white slavery mastermind who makes his Filipino concubines wear tutus while they lip-sync The Pet Shop Boys just by the number of dandruff flakes on his lapels failed to completely notice there was no glass between him and Eurus.

Mycroft Holmes, a man who has no emotion, could end up practically wetting himself like a little boy by a clown, a literal clown. 

The entire Holmes family never mentioned Eurus to anyone, with neither Papa or Mama Holmes having any pictures of Eurus or ever visiting a grave or memorial.

Little Victor Trevor's parents apparently had no problem never looking for their lost son, last seen at the Holmes' house.

Sherlock could confuse his best friend for a dog.  OK, on that one, given that he treats Watson like his bitch, maybe I'll give that one a pass.

Said bitch's rescue is a good one.  As he's drowning, he's rescued by having a rope thrown at him.  Exactly how the rope is going to rescue him when it was established he was literally chained up remains unclear.  His leg was bound, which is why he couldn't just float up.  His leg was literally chained up, which would require him to get a key to unchain him, but this magical rope could break the chain.


Three grown men were going to talk a little girl into landing an airplane.  Seriously, three grown men, two of them geniuses and one of them a completely wimpy imbecile, were going to talk a little girl into landing an airplane.

Three grown men miraculously and sans explanation survive a major explosion looking even better than they did before.  Not since Ben Affleck came back from crashing into the English Channel after getting shot down by the Germans only to return looking even more gorgeous in Pearl Harbor have I seen something so daft, so thoroughly idiotic as to astound with its silliness.  That movie had President Franklin D. Roosevelt standing up on his own power, and yet somehow that seems more plausible than just about everything in The Final Problem.

Scott's Moriarty was just there for dressing, but eventually, should there actually be a fifth season/series of this horror, they are just going to have to give up the eternal teases for him.  Again and again Moffat and Gatiss bring back Moriarty only to find that his various resurrections keep looking more and more outlandish and add little to nothing to the overall story.

I can say that the excessive sweetness of Stubbs' Mrs. Hudson so grating, the efforts of comedy so annoying (her listening to heavy metal while vacuuming), that I desperately wanted her to be blown up.  I wrote in my notes, 'KILL MRS. HUDSON!  KILL MRS. HUDSON NOW!!'

As is the case with all of Sherlock, both Holmes Brothers are smart only when necessary.  The Final Problem seemed rather Mycroft-focused, no doubt pleasing the raging egomaniac Gatiss, who is unshakable in his conviction that he is a genius (something to which he will testify to gladly).  If he's a genius, he is among the dumbest geniuses in the world: clueless that his sister has essentially hypnotized everyone to be her slave, though it begs the question, why couldn't she work her voodoo on him.

Eurus is a blank slate, with no emotion to her.  I know The Final Problem wants us to feel for her, to make her ultimately tragic and sympathetic.  However, as portrayed by Brooke and written by Gatiss and Moffat, Eurus was just a dumbed down version of Missy/The Mistress from Doctor Who: a bonkers criminal mastermind who comes up with outlandish schemes merely it seems to irritate our hero.

Eurus' great plans don't involve world domination or some master theft; no, that would be so trite and simple.  Her plans involve forcing our three dimwits to perform tasks to stretch out the episode, and despite her having killed four or more people, the important thing is to lock her back up in the same place where she left and came at will while her parents & siblings enjoyed seeing Eurus and Sherlock do violin duets together.

Freeman's John Watson is the wimpiest figure in television today: constantly abused physically and emotionally and yet coming back for more.  From the discovery that Eurus hadn't shot him but tranquilized him (again, exactly why she did this is unclear) to him running off with Sherlock to continue being his lapdog, one wonders whether he actually would function in the real world.  Cumberbatch too has nothing but his luxurious baritone to make him sound pseudointellectual, but he too was not interesting.  Rupert Graves' Inspector Lestrade had a cameo where he tells an officer that Sherlock Holmes isn't 'a great man.  He's a good man'.

Oh sure, Sherlock Holmes FINALLY gets his name of 'Greg' right after constantly forgetting it, and all of a sudden Holmes is a 'good man'.  How easily Greg is pleased.

The Final Problem had me laughing uncontrollably at many points, though the whole 'little girls killing children' thing was obscene.  Minus that, The Final Problem was a laugh riot: not noticing there was no glass, little girls flying airplanes, master criminals who pop in and out at will and can hypnotize all the staff to do their bidding without anyone else noticing.


One bit of dialogue caught my attention, and sums up The Final Problem and Sherlock as well as anything I can think of.  Mycroft tells Sherlock about their until-now unknown sister "She's very clever," to which either Sherlock or John replies, "I'm beginning to think you're not".

When it comes to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, many a true word.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Life (2017): A Review


Perhaps the most curious aspect of Life is that despite receiving third billing, Ryan Reynolds is killed off pretty quickly to where he might just as well been a guest star.  I figure they either must have paid him a great deal of money or his part was shrunk considerably either in the editing room or the script.  If IMDB is to be believed, it was scheduling conflicts that forced him to shift from main character to mere supporting.

Perhaps there was a blessing in disguise here, because he could escape from the boredom, the nihilism, the almost unbearable badness of Life, a movie that thinks is much smarter than it actually is. 

Out in space, a ship is heading towards the International Space Station before coming to Earth, bringing along a special discovery from Mars: a protozoan-type being that confirms life on the Red Planet.  The international crew is excited about it, as is humanity below.  There had been a contest, and a little girl has given the creature the name of 'Calvin', named after her elementary school, Calvin Coolidge (who should be better-remembered as one of our better Presidents, but I digress).

The chief scientist, British Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is stimulating our creature to slow life, while American wisecracker Rory Adams (Reynolds) makes wisecracks.  That's pretty much the extent of his personality.  There's the efficient and proper British Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), the American pilot David Adams (Jake Gyllenhaal), the Russian commander Ekaterina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and the Japanese engineer Sho (Hiroyuki Sanada).

Sho just had a little girl back on Earth, so we know he's not long for life.

Calvin appears almost sweet, until some accident appears to leave him lifeless.  Before you can say 'Alien remake in all but name', Calvin is shocked not just into life, but into being a murderous, monstrous creature.  He ruins Derry's hand, then the arguments break out between the crew over how to handle the growing crises (Sho for his part, if memory serves correct, stays generally out of things, with him just trying to keep things going).

Calvin soon makes quick meal out of Rory, then proceeds to essentially hunt down the rest of the crew.  Now, it isn't as if the crew doesn't try to stop Calvin.  It's just that they are horribly inept at it.  Ekaterina sacrifices herself to lure Calvin outside the ISS (which, I think, would have made a fine ending), but somehow that growing creature gets back inside.  Sho, Miranda, and David soon find themselves fighting a being that is much smarter than they are, for nothing they can think of can outsmart that growing blob.

Eventually, a capsule arrives, and Sho, who has become separated from David and Miranda, thinks its a rescue ship.  He leaves the safety of his pod to race to it, but Calvin beats him to it, devouring him and those who came not to save them, but to ensure they die.  Miranda informs David that in reality, the capsule was there to push them into deep space and prevent the creature from entering Earth, the secret Third Firewall.

David then hits on the idea of using the two escape pods: one that he will use to lure Calvin onto and go into deep space, the other Miranda can use to escape to Earth.  As things go, however, disaster strikes yet again.  Something causes David's pod to land on Earth and Miranda's to go off into deep space, dooming both and humanity itself, to a cold, cruel death.

Perhaps it was Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script that sunk Life from being as good as they thought it was.  Of particular note was the bleak and dour ending, one that gives us no sense of hope but of endless despair and misery.  It's a bit reminiscent, curiously enough, of a film where Ryan Reynolds was the sole star: Buried, which I had liked until we got another hopeless ending.

Unlike Buried, however, I didn't struggle to stay awake through this slow, dull, slugfest, where one questions why with the exception of Ekaterina and Sho, anyone would think to send this collection of morons into space, let alone give them such important tasks. 

Reese and Wernick should know by now that if you have a character see his baby being born, we can count on him not making it to the final reel.  I figure this was done to try and wring some emotion, some pathos out of his fate, but director Daniel Espinosa couldn't do it.  Espinosa appeared to be more interested I think in Life's look than in Life itself. 

Life does look beautiful at times, though the constant blues and black at times made it almost hard to see what was happening.  The graphics of the ship and the vastness of space also had an almost hypnotic look to them.

However, the pacing was so slow, so lumbering, one will find it hard to stay awake for so much of it.  The pacing I figure was an effort to make all this look serious and foreboding, to give it atmosphere so to speak.  It failed spectacularly.  There was no tension in Life, no sense that there was any real danger or menace.  It was certainly trying so hard to be tense and nerve-wracking, but Life itself and the characters seemed so remote and distant from us.  There was no valid reason to care about any of them.

There was also genuine puzzlement as to why creature was apparently smarter than all of them.  Calvin manages to track them down, learn all about the space station and outwit them at every turn while they keep arguing about whether to break procedure.  Early on, Rory opts to go in to safe Derry which requires him to open the doors, then appears shocked when David has to close the doors on him to contain Calvin.

I figure because they had never planned for a contingency that would require them to secure an alien that didn't involve literally getting them all killed. So be it.

Reynolds is relying a bit much on his Berg/Deadpool persona, and Gyllenhaal worked to make David sensitive but was more pathetic than endearing.  Ferguson was actually pretty strong as the more stoic Miranda, though she too wasn't immune from being at times dim.  Her delivery about the 'shocking' Firewall Three was rather disinterested despite the fact she was admitting that they had no chance to live.

Life tries for serious, somber, suspenseful.  It ends up with dull, depressing, and dour.  It's an empty Life, a meaningless Life, a Life not worth revisiting.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

No Time For Sergeants: The TV Adaptation


The story of No Time for Sergeants is a most fascinating one.  It began as a novel, then adapted as a one-hour live television play for the United States Steel Hour anthology program, then shifted to a Broadway play, and after that it shifted to a feature film based on that play, and ends up as a weekly television series.  In that long route, our first of two stops will be the United States Steel Hour adaptation of Mac Hyman's novel.

Will Stockdale (Andy Griffith), our narrator and protagonist, is a sweet, simple country boy who finds himself drafted.  He finds the military endlessly fascinating, taking on whatever is given him with a cheerful disposition.

He carries on, oblivious to how what he says or does drives his commanding officer, Sergeant King (Harry Clark) to distraction and horror.  King, convinced Stockdale is an idiot who can easily be pushed out of things, gives him the position of Permanent Latrine Duty, which Stockdale takes as a high compliment.  He's always willing to help, which makes sense since to Stockdale.  As he tells his commanding officer in the Air Force, "Air Force ain't nothing but helpers," having earlier been told by his only real friend, the slightly less dim but still bit crabby Ben (Eddie LeRoy) that the infantry is where the real fighters are.

King continuously tries to thwart Stockdale, especially since he thinks our simple country bumpkin will put his unit to ridicule.  However, every time King comes up with a scheme to make life hard if not impossible for Stockdale, our county boy always manages, inadvertently, to come out on top.  When, for example, he has Stockdale clean the latrine and paint the barracks, including the bunk beds, to keep Stockdale from being certified, it blows up in his face when the Captain (Alexander Clark), inspects the barracks.

Not only has Stockdale scrubbed the faucets so well he's rubbed off the "H" and "C" off, he proudly tells the Captain that Sergeant King had him do it.

King comes up with other schemes to berid himself of this meddlesome private.  He sends him to a psychiatrist, who is promptly driven crazy by Stockdale's oddball but logical answers: when asked about girls, Stockdale begins telling the psychiatrist a randy story told to him, then advises the psychiatrist to try going out with one and he wouldn't be so scared of them.

An idea to have Stockdale pass the eye exam and thus have him move on almost blows up in King's face when he asks Stockdale if he could see the female Captain.  Having been lectured by Ben earlier to not 'see' them as 'women' but by their rank, Stockdale roundly states he sees no women.  King is beyond despondent.

The final scheme involves getting Stockdale hopelessly drunk so that he won't make the eye exam and can be booted out.  However, like Rasputin, King along with two others are astonished to see Stockdale easily drink copious amounts of alcohol with no effect.  Making things more bizarre, he says that back home, the only time he came close to liquor was when he tried a relative's own concoction that included kerosene.  Asking for lighter fluid, he dabs some on his drink and says it 'tastes a bit familiar'.

End result: a bar fight and King and the two other troopers ending up drunk.  The three of them get so drunk they arrive late to an inspection, one where Stockdale, in his eagerness to please the Colonel, rigs a step to shower him with confetti while a phonograph plays Wild Blue Yonder and an Air Force Flag drops behind them!  The Colonel is shocked and scandalized by all this, but it isn't Stockdale who is held responsible, it's poor, flustered, frustrated King.  

In the end, King tells Ben and Stockdale that he's been demoted to Private for this latest fiasco, but Will Stockdale gives him words of comfort.

They will all soon be together in the infantry.

In perhaps other people's hands, Will Stockdale would have come across as either a complete moron or a bumbling buffoon.  However, Griffith makes Stockdale more a simpleton than an outright idiot, more naive and well-meaning than completely moronic.

Stockdale's total innocence is best summoned up by his willingness to tolerate the bullying behavior of Irving (Arthur Storch), one of the troopers who eventually was part of the scheme to get him hopelessly drunk.  He tolerates Irving because he believes him to have been ill.

"He had ROTC," he tells Ben, and he had it for a whole year.  That ROTC, Will reasons, is why they let him be in charge: out of sympathy.

Stockdale's guileless nature drives everyone crazy without meaning to, but it's Griffith's performance that makes Will endearing rather than insufferable. sweet without being an idiot.  What is extraordinary is that Griffith had little to no actual acting experience before No Time for Sergeants.  Prior to this, Griffith had been perfecting his corn-pone comedy routines for years in nightclubs, his most famous bit being What it Was, Was Football, a monologue where a country church deacon attempted to make sense out of a football game he'd seen and clearly didn't understand.

Griffith seemed to be expanding on his country comedy styling in No Time for Sergeants, but Griffith, helped by director Alex Segal, kept Stockdale from being a caricature.

Harry Clark was about the closest to a big-name in the teleplay, and he was strong, though not brilliant, as the perpetually perturbed sergeant.  It seemed a bit too exaggerated, but nothing horrible.  LeRoy's Ben played brilliantly with Griffith, forming a bit of a double-act.

In technical terms, No Time for Sergeants showed just how well live television worked.  The transitions between scenes flowed easily, most often by having Griffith address the camera directly as Stockdale while sets were changed and characters placed into position.  It was an extraordinary technical fit to have it all flow so smoothly, especially given that No Time for Sergeants had a rare live audience to perform to, as most teleplays did not do so at the time.

In a curious turn of events, it's almost unfortunate that the country bumpkin character Will Stockdale shared a surname with a genuine American hero who was portrayed as more stupid than the main character in No Time for Sergeants.  Admiral James Stockdale ran for Vice President on the Reform Party ticket in 1992 with Ross Perot, the only time in my lifetime when a third party candidate came close to challenging the two-party system.

Admiral Stockdale opened his statements at the only Vice Presidential debate with a witty comment about his sudden notoriety.  "Who am I? Why am I here?", he quipped.  This was the only bright spot for him, as he had a poor performance.  At one point, if memory serves correct, he had to have a question repeated because he had his hearing aid off.

Stockdale, unlike his No Time for Sergeants counterpart, was turned into a laughingstock, mercilessly mocked on Saturday Night Live.  As portrayed by the late Phil Hartman, Stockdale was made to look like a thoroughly senile old man.  Hartman turned his quip into not an acknowledgment of Stockdale's near-total obscurity, but as the statements of someone who literally didn't know who he was or why he was here.

Hartman's Stockdale would bark out "WHO AM I? WHY AM I HERE?" and look perpetually befuddled, almost as if he were slipping into dementia right before our eyes.  With a look of puzzlement accompanied by a dimwitted grin, Hartman was almost vicious in his Stockdale impersonation.

Admiral James Stockdale was not a mentally unbalanced person, but it's a curious thing that this Stockdale was made more idiotic than his real-life counterpart, while the character Will Stockdale in No Time for Sergeants appeared to be dim, but instead had his own logic that he followed.

No Time for Sergeants was funny.  You can't help laugh at the observations of a man unaware of the world but not stupid.  You can't help laugh when, upon being told that there was a women's Air Force, he replies in shock, "Women got an Air Force against OURS!?"  With a brilliant turn by Andy Griffith, strong performances by the rest of the cast, and Segal's smooth directing, it's a wonder more country boys don't join the Air Force, to be helpers.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Sherlock: The Lying Detective. A Review


Stunning is the best way to describe The Lying Detective, the second episode of Sherlock Series 4.

Stunning in how awful it all is, and more stunning in how much praise this piece of rubbish gets.  I genuinely struggle to understand how Sherlock, a show that is generally nonsensical despite its posh pedigree, can be considered brilliant.  I would qualify something to be brilliant if it makes sense, if it holds my interest, and if it doesn't have me rolling my eyes.

Times have changed.

It seems that Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) has gone insane, or at least gotten way back into narcotics.  Rambling, confused, incoherent (a lot like the show itself, but I digress), part of his issue may be his struggle with the idea of guilt over the death of Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington).  Mary's husband, John (Martin Freeman) is also struggling: with her death, his own guilt, and his anger at Sherlock over it all.  He sees a therapist to help him with his issues, but there's no time for such introspection, for there's a case to be solved.

Sherlock, with his mad powers of deduction, had deduced two weeks before John did anything where he would be, down to the exact time.  This is why Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs) was able to race her Astor Martin car to the therapist where John was in a middle of a session.  She manages to get Sherlock there too, in what appears to be a completely disheveled state.

Sherlock has made wild accusations against Culverton Smith (Toby Jones), a billionaire philanthropist, accusing him of being a serial killer.  He even has overcome his disdain for Twitter to do so.

As a digression, what kind of person is Sherlock Holmes, a man who would willingly give up his virginity to literally pump someone for information? I call him pathetic, but again I digress.

Earlier, Sherlock had received information about Smith's murderous desires from Smith's daughter, Faith (Gina Granville), who had fallen on hard times.  She tells him an extraordinary story about how her father essentially drugged everyone with something that inhibits the memory so he could confess without them really remembering much.  With this scant bit of information, Holmes is able to find that Smith, far from being a benevolent soul with awful teeth, is really a psychopath and a truly evil man.

Still, who is going to listen to him in his state?  Smith is also a touch clairvoyant, as he sends his car to pick up Holmes and Watson.  Watson goes somewhat alone, still seeing Mary whom he converses with (something that I saw used to greater effect on Due South, but again, digression).  Holmes goes via ambulance where his one-sided love Molly Hooper (Louise Breely) examines him and finds him in dreadful shape.

It looks like Smith is having a bit of fun with Holmes, taking him first to a studio where he films a commercial talking about how he's a 'cereal killer', then to a hospital where Smith contributed a wing. In Smith's 'favorite room', the mortuary, Holmes confronts Smith but again there's no evidence of anything, and Holmes becomes unhinged.  It's up to Watson to knock him out of it, taking the chance for a bit of revenge for Mary.

While Holmes is in that hospital, Mycroft (Mark Gatiss), who has been tracking his brother, dares to go to 221 B Baker Street and face off against Mrs. Hudson.  As she, Mycroft, and John all argue, they find Mary's video recording.  John races to the hospital, where Culverton Smith does confess to a beleaguered Holmes that he does enjoy the thrill of the kill.  Not only that, Smith wants Holmes to be the next victim, and Holmes wants to be victimized.

In the end, John Watson saves Sherlock Holmes, but who is going to save John Watson?  Back at his therapist, John makes a shocking discovery: the same therapist was really the false Faith who fed Holmes the story.  Not stopping while the going was good, the same therapist/false Faith also confesses to being the girl on the bus whom Watson flirted with, AND she also happens to be the lost Holmes sibling: Eurus, which means 'the East Wind'.  All this time Watson might have thought it was a Holmes brother, but it was really a Holmes sister.

I can tolerate a great deal, but sometimes, Steven Moffat really tries my patience, though mercifully he doesn't try the patience of many a Sherlock fan who never bother to question anything, so long as he makes them cry.

I remember when in His Final Vow, Mycroft talked about 'the East Wind is coming'.  Now I'm supposed to accept that Mycroft was signaling that their up-to-now unknown sister Eurus was headed their way.  Apart from the deliberately and nonsensical vagueness of this, I'm supposed to also accept this as some sort of brilliant storytelling.

Again, we have the Sherlock trope of 'Sherlock is smart only when necessary'.  Here we have another example of how Sherlock Holmes, who can deduce that the Faith who came to him lived in a small house and had lost her lover and had been harming herself for months could also not deduce that the woman was a fake.

We also have a bit of a repeat of the past, where Sherlock Holmes again accuses someone of being a criminal and that person appears to be incapable of being one.  In The Reichenbach Fall, Holmes accused Richard Brook, mild-mannered children's television host of The Storyteller, of being a criminal mastermind.  Turned out he was really Jim Moriarty, but I found the reasoning behind that so convoluted, tortured and idiotic I still find it amazing Moffat, co-creator Gatiss, or anyone else involved could get awarded for such inanity.

If nothing else, Moffat is a master of repeating himself.

We face in The Lying Detective not so much a case as a variation of The Reichbach Fall, and we also face some really far-fetched plans.  I'm going to cut Moffat some slack with the idea that Smith drugged people before confessing his crimes because that all might have been a rouse to get the ball rolling, but it does seem slightly unfair to present this to the audience when a less, flamboyant manner to disseminate this information might have been used.

Truth be told, I was hoping Culverton Smith would be innocent, and if he had been we might have had a deeper exploration of the themes Moffat was going for: guilt, regret, anger, loss, pain and all that comes with all that.  Seeing Holmes broken down while still keeping his powers, seeing him slowly enter the world of humans, might have been a fascinating journey.

Instead, we got what we always see: Sherlock Holmes' almost divine abilities.  Now he is able to predict the future with total accuracy.  Via the Ghost of Mary, we are given what is a pretty logical way of how Holmes narrowed down the therapists (although despite his almost God-like ability to know all, he couldn't figure out that the therapist was Faith was the flirty text girl was his long-lost sister).  We also take time early on to see how Holmes made all his deductions to the false Faith, though again one wonders how he is clever enough to know she was about to kill herself but not clever enough to know it was all a performance.

Sherlock Holmes is smart only when necessary.  When he's required to be totally clueless, he will be so, logic be damned,

What is most frustrating about The Lying Detective is how Freeman's Watson continues to be the eternally flummoxed, eternally dimwitted, eternally puppy dog-like figure to Holmes.  Despite all the psychological torture he's endured at the hands of his 'best friend', he still races to save him.  Freeman has made John Watson such a bumbling, wimpy idiot he actually makes Nigel Bruce's take on the character seem Descartes-like in comparison.

I also at one point wrote in my notes, "F--- off, Mrs. Hudson!", and that is due to this mix of 'she's sweet but also tough' manner.  I think Stubbs is horrendous as the coddling Mrs. Hudson who manages to get an Aston Martin while still looking over her little lambs.  The transgender Ms. Hudson on Elementary has more sense than Stubbs' version.

Guest star Jones played his part correctly: being obviously evil, hideous teeth and all.  While watching The Lying Detective I did hope against hope those weren't Jones' real teeth, and I figure there was a reason they kept focusing on them.  I understand Jones' character was meant to be some sort of Jimmy Savile-like character: outwardly fun and avuncular but in reality a monster of unparalleled hideousness.  Savile at least was able to fool people into thinking he was benevolent, but with his behavior, teeth, and obvious insincerity there was no way Smith could pull of that trick. 

He was just too obviously creepy.

As Watson observed, "Everything is about Sherlock", and as such, Cumberbatch got to have his 'character in health crisis' story.  He was fine in it; I can't find great fault, very perfunctory.  I did wish Watson or Smith had pulled the plug on him though, and is it a good thing when you are cheering for the murderer?

Moffat even included a few personal in-jokes in The Lying Detective, such as having a 'big fan' of Sherlock, a nurse, to comment that "Sherlock's blog" had gone down recently, a take on how often Moffat's Doctor Who scripts were criticized, I imagine (except for The Nerdist's Kyle Anderson, who almost always sings his praises). 

As we head towards the finale, I still marvel at how so many insist Sherlock is this piece of pure genius.  I find it all nonsensical, ridiculous, and illogical: three things I would never say about Canon.

If The Lying Detective is the best Sherlock can do, I shudder to think when we get an episode even Kyle Anderson can't shill for...

Holmes Family Portrait


Next Episode: The Final Problem

Friday, July 14, 2017

Robin Hood (1922): A Review

 ROBIN  HOOD (1922)

It is a sad fact that silent film stars are not as well-remembered now as they were then.  A case in point, I think, is Douglas Fairbanks.  Before sound took complete control, Fairbanks, along with his wife Mary Pickford, were the biggest stars in the world.  Even after the introduction to sound, neither Fairbanks or Pickford should have faded away.  Both had excellent voices and were trained on the stage.  However, perhaps they were too tied with silent films to have the careers in sound they should have had.

It would have been interesting to imagine Fairbanks recreate his Robin Hood in a sound film, since despite the popular idea that Errol Flynn made Robin Hood into the mirthful man of action, Flynn consciously or not owes a great deal to how Fairbanks played him.  Robin Hood was a romp, with Fairbanks giving what can only be called a robust performance as our noble outlaw.

King Richard the Lion-Heart (Wallace Beery) is going to go on Crusade.  He appoints Robert, Earl of Huntington (Fairbanks) as his second-in-command.  Huntington is a master jouster, general bon vivant, but unsure around women.  However, His Majesty plays matchmaker, and the Earl soon finds himself in love with the fair Maid Marion (Enid Bennett).  It's off to Crusade, but it was a poor decision, for the King's brother, Prince John (Sam De Grasse), along with his henchman Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Paul Dickey) have decided to take advantage of Richard's absence and steal everything that isn't nailed.

Prince John, Sir Guy, and another henchman, the new High Sheriff of Nottingham (William Lowery) are making England not so Merry.  In fact, they have made life miserable for the whole country, and in desperation Lady Marion contacts Huntington to return.  Huntington fears that if Richard knew the extent of John's treachery, he would cancel the Crusade, which he does not want.  He tries to get permission but the King thinks he wants to leave just to be with Marion.  Attempting to go anyway, Sir Guy deceives the King and has Huntington and his valet locked up.

Huntington and his valet, also known as Little John (Alan Hale), manage to escape from France and return to England, where they lead 'the Resistance' against 'Prince John's perfidery'.  Using the nom de guerre of 'Robin Hood', this outlaw thwarts John and the Sheriff at every turn, soon joined by Friar Tuck (Willard Lewis), Will Scarlett (Bud Geary), and Alan-a-Dale (Lloyd Talman).

The robbing of the Priory of St. Catherine proves fortuitous, as Robin discovers that Marion did not die falling off a cliff as her maidservant claimed.  Instead, Marian and her handmaiden have been hiding out at the priory, and the lovers are briefly reunited.

Things are going bad to worse for John.  First, Robin Hood is out there causing him nothing but trouble.  Next, Marion is still alive.  Worse but unbeknown to him, the Crusades are over and Richard not only is coming back but has learned the full extent of his brother's evil.  He also discovers that Sir Guy attempted to assassinate him, but Sir Guy is wrong when he reports to John that Richard is dead.  He had accidentally killed the Court Jester who was lying in Richard's bed.

Maybe we shouldn't ask.

Prince John's men retake Lady Marion, and Robin Hood races from the captured Nottingham to make a daring rescue, culminating in an epic battle which has a most happy ending.

I think if one looked at Fairbanks' performance as Robin Hood, a lot of people nowadays might find it bordering on laughable.  All that laughter, all that arm thrusting: I think the words 'boisterous' and 'enthusiastic' would be the best descriptors of when Fairbanks was Robin Hood.

I think it might look exaggerated, even silly through today's eyes, but I think Fairbanks was showing that as Robin Hood, he was full of life and fun, but using that as a way of masking the deep hurt he had at the loss of Marion.  The title cards I think read to say that he was full of fun, but a bitter grief too.

Putting aside the enthusiasm Fairbanks showed, Robin Hood also showcases that he had a great flair for wry humor and touching drama as well.  Early on, his clumsiness and fear of women was played for gentle laughs, culminating with him plunging into a moat to get away from his many female fans only to find himself facing a washerwoman.  "Another woman!" he says as he swims away.

The reunion between Robin and Marion, while extremely brief, showed a softer, gentler side to Fairbanks, and it is beautifully shot.

Credit to cinematographers Arthur Edeson and Charles Richardson, along with director Allan Dwan for creating some beautiful cinematic moments.  There's the aforementioned reunion, then there's the almost Expressionistic assassination attempt.  One particular moment that should be mentioned is when we see the effects of Prince John's tyranny.  We see surprisingly graphic images of dead men strung high up, with an old couple looking up in agony.  It's clear just by the images that the old couple are the parents of the dead man, killed by Prince John's men for unknown reasons, their agony palpable.

This is a rare moment however, as most of Robin Hood is lavish and extravagant.  From the opening joust match to the grandness of the sets and costumes, this film version of the legendary stories was full of life and vigor.

The mind does boggle a bit to think Wallace Beery could yuck it up as a more merry monarch, complete with pageboy hair, but Beery was quite entertaining as our mostly jolly Richard.  De Grasse was cool and appropriately wicked as Prince John, and Bennett was a typical 'damsel-in-distress', a bit fluttery for my taste.

Fairbanks, if nothing else, showcases his legendary athleticism in Robin Hood, making elaborate leaps that still astonish today, nearly a century later.  It was much part of his persona that Will Rogers, legendary comic and wit, made a spoof of Fairbanks and Robin Hood in a 1923 short, Big Moments From Little Pictures.    

The original release included a six minute intermission, part of the reason why Robin Hood over two hours long.  The length, plus Fairbanks' perhaps overenthusiasm as Robin Hood might be an issue watching the film today.   Still, on the whole Robin Hood has some wonderful moments of action, romance, and comedy, with a rousing performance by Douglas Fairbanks and great visuals that still attest to the power of our legendary outlaw's enduring popularity.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers. A Review


As much as I've tried, I simply have never liked Sherlock.  I don't think it's smart, I don't think it's the best adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work, I don't think it's well-acted, and I especially don't think it's well-written.  Too often on Sherlock, writers/co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss confuse convoluted for complex, making things so incomprehensible and illogical that Sherlockians and critics praise them for being excessively opaque.

Now, after watching The Six Thatchers, I can tell that they are up to their old tricks, never settling on one narrative when twenty will do, sacrificing logic and generally making things a total mess but getting praise and Emmy Awards for their idiocy.  I may be the only person who says 'Sherlock has no clothes on', but I call them as I see them and see no reason why I should celebrate something so utterly idiotic and just awful as Sherlock just because everyone else says so.

It's hard to give a plot summary because there are simply so many stories going on, which I figure is part of the pressure of having to write essentially a feature-length film versus a one-hour episode, but I'll do my best.  Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is brought back to London from exile after 'not' killing Charles Augustus Magnussen, Sherlock's brother Mycroft (Gatiss) reediting things.

Side note: this is a variation of Moffat's 'a character died but not really' bit, now suggesting that Sherlock didn't kill Magnussen when he most certainly did.  Moffat and Gatiss are masters at the art of rebooting things sans logic, but I digress.

Now with him back, Sherlock is having difficulty with the situation of John Watson (Martin Freeman) and his wife, Mary (Freeman's then real-life mistress, Amanda Abbington).  This is particularly true when it comes to their new baby, whom they name Rosamund or Rosie for short.  I would have preferred they name her 'Joan' as a nice dig at Elementary, but I'm not as clever as Mark Gatiss insists he is.

Despite all logic, John & Mary want Sherlock to be a godfather to their child, and he reluctantly agrees even though he sneers at both humans and the idea of a God.  After that, things get more jumbled.

Sherlock is called by Inspector Lestrade (Rupert Graves) to solve the death of a Minister's son who was found dead in his car when a week earlier the son had claimed to be in Tibet.  Making things more bizarre was that the son had been dead for a week when he was found after a car crashed into the boy's car when attempting to escape the police, causing the boy's car to explode (which is how they found the body in the first place).

That case is easily solved: boy was never in Tibet, died suddenly, father left boy's body in car and presumably would have left him there save for the unexpected car explosion.  It's another thing that intrigues Holmes, the smashed bust of Margaret Thatcher that the Conservative MP has.  Soon other Thatcher busts are being smashed, and someone has been killed in one instance.

Holmes sees a case, and somehow this case doesn't involve the Black Pearl of the Borgias, but a flashdrive that itself involves the secret past of former super-spy Mary Watson.  Her secrets are coming back to haunt her, when we find that this case involves her time in a super-elite assassination squad called AGRA, which cause her to try and flee.

John, perpetually flummoxed, is upset about all the secrets and lies of Mary, but he has a secret of his own.  He may be pursuing an affair with a pretty woman he met on the bus, though we don't see anything more than his desires and some text messages.  Eventually, after a few more twists and turns, we discover why AGRA was set up and who was behind the plot.  The real villain shoots at Sherlock but Mary jumps in front of the bullet to save him, begging him to take care of Watson.

It seems that seeing your wife shot in front of you is what finally breaks John's relationship to his 'best friend': not the psychological torture Sherlock has put him through, not the various times John's been kidnapped or shot at as a result of Sherlock's actions, not Sherlock's general haughtiness, rudeness, indifference and uncaring manner. 

Mary sends a video to him asking him to save John Watson, something that might be hard seeing that John wants nothing to do with him.  John, for his part, seems more interested in having a mistress to be all that focused on Sherlock.

The Six Thatchers is a big ball of rubbish, going on and on because Gatiss simply couldn't concentrate on one narrative.  We get false clues and leads, but we never actually get anywhere.

You think the case will involve the dead boy, but that was wrapped up in seconds, with a resolution that defies logic.  So, the father, who sees the son that came to surprise him for his birthday suddenly die, just decides to leave his beloved son in the car to rot?  I can understand grief being so great as to be devastating, but this is downright cruel.  Also, no one ever looked in the car?  Yes, I know we had this explanation that the boy was hiding behind a false seat cover (which again seems ridiculously extravagant) but if the boy pulled down the cover to show his face and then died, he couldn't have just pulled it up again to hide again after he drops dead.

Now, he could have died with the cover on without his father knowing, but that's not how it was presented to us.  As such, Gatiss wants to have things both ways: show us the boy dying but have the parents not know he died, and it just makes it not so much confusing as frustrating.

You think the case might involve the Black Pearl, a nod to the original Conan Doyle story The Six Napoleons,  but that is just a red herring, a bit of Holmesian fan service.

Most of this goes into Mary's past, and it's interesting that The Six Thatchers illustrates what I have long argued: that Sherlock Holmes is smart only when it's necessary.  When it's necessary to make him an idiot, Sherlock will have no problem making him so.  I argued that it was beyond idiotic to think that a man who can tell that someone is a cross-dressing child sex slaver based on the number of eyelashes he has on his nose or can tell if the Pope is a lesbian non-binary antiquities smuggler by seeing how many times he rubs his/her nose could not deduce Mary Watson had been a master assassin. 

Now for someone who figured out that the Thatcher busts were being smashed as a result of her past could not equally take precautions against her using paper spread with sleeping potion to knock him out.

We also have moments that astound in their idiocy.  This super-elite, super-secret squad was named AGRA for the first names of the members? Alex, Gabriel, Rosemund, and Ajay couldn't apparently be bothered to have code names, but were perfectly willing to have their first names known to anyone willing to hire the AGRA-Team.  Further, it's a terrible cheat to give audiences no clue about Mary's real first name of Rosemund.

It's also a highly convenient coincidence that the code word of "Ammo" for ammunition would be confused with the Latin word "Amo" for Love, and that "Love" be one of the code names for a particular Minister involved in the machinations of assassinations and other nefarious dealings.

Something about all that just didn't sound right.  Why would the real villainness use the Latin to a group of Georgian terrorists?  Why couldn't she use 'Love'?  The answer is that if she did, Gatiss wouldn't have had his misleading moment between "Ammo" and "Amo".

Side note: 'amo' in Spanish also means 'Master' as well as 'Love'.  Just a thought.

At times, The Six Thatchers plays like a 007 spoof, and there certainly were efforts to play a lot of things for comedy.  The 'laughs' start right at the beginning, when Mycroft is attempting to make a very serious presentation only to ask Sherlock, "Are you tweeting?" 

Sherlock's unusually chipper demeanor is explained as him being high but it also comes across as idiotic.  His continual tweeting while at the baptism, his inability to notice that John had replaced himself with a smiling red balloon, and a few moments when he clearly has no idea how to handle babies all try to make things funny.

I figure a lot of the Sherlockians thought it was all so hilarious, but I sat there wondering why so much comedy was forced onto situations that didn't need it.  Even when perhaps a little levity could have been introduced, it seemed all so forced, as if Gatiss really thought he was being clever.

The story goes on and on, because at a certain point there was nothing there, so Gatiss had to keep the ball rolling somehow.  We're given narrative after narrative: John's potential infidelity, Mary's past, the search for the six Thatchers, the dead boy in the car, the domestic hijinks of the Watsons.  It's so much going on but with nothing to show at the end of it.

Ammo vs. amo...I'm not buying a minute of this rubbish no matter how you dress it up.

That perhaps might be the only good thing in The Six Thatchers: some beautiful cinematography, particularly when we're at the London Aquarium.  Granted, some of this was undercut by the tons of graphics that overwhelm us (video screens and text messages that are now part of the Sherlock Canon), but some moments are quite visually splendid.

There isn't anything special about the performances in general.  Each continues to be submerged by Cumberbatch, whose efforts at hilarity in the beginning are almost cringe-inducing.  Freeman is still one-note, his Watson still the stooge.  Actually, I walk that back a bit: when Mary dies his growls and moans were hilarious and so false, I thought it among the worst performances of them all.

I confess to actually laughing out loud when I hear him emit whatever sounds he made.

Gatiss, I continue to insist, isn't acting but playing himself as Mycroft: a pompous, snobbish, elitist man who looks down on everyone and is convinced he's the smartest person alive.  I also sense it is his secret wish to play The Penguin on a Batman-themed show given his affinity for his umbrella.

Graves is still the idiot, who has no intelligence and essentially crawls to Sherlock.

Again and again, given how horrid Sherlock is, why do people still work with him, let alone associate with him? 

The Six Thatchers is a mess, rambling incoherently from one point to another, keeping up the idea that 'convoluted' is 'complex'.  It's just awful.

At the end of The Six Thatchers, after the credits, we see a quick shot of Mary saying to the camera, "Go to Hell, Sherlock".

Finally, something I can cheer about with regards to Sherlock.  That alone gets an extra point.


Next Episode: The Lying Detective

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Child Is Waiting: A Review


It was rare for Judy Garland to be given a straight dramatic role.  Apart from The Clock and Judgment at Nuremberg, Garland seemed to be pigeonholed in musicals and comedies.  Yes, she had a tremendous voice and was thoroughly charismatic in them, but one always senses that the true depth of her talent was never fully explored.  There were times when she was given dramatic parts where she also sang, such as her final film, I Could Go On Singing, but a straight-up drama?  Those were few and far between.

A Child is Waiting, Garland's penultimate film, is one of those rare dramas, as dramatic as one can get.  This story of retarded children as they were dubbed in 1962 used real disabled children to tell its story.  Appropriately melodramatic, a trifle condescending in the way only progressive ideas now discarded can be, it is a positive in bringing an important issue to the forefront.  It also appears slightly and unintentionally creepy and overwrought, a message picture where the message is no longer as strong as it once was.

Jean Hansen (Garland) comes to the Crawthorne State Mental Hospital looking for some meaning and purpose.  Though she has no experience in education or health, physical or mental, the head of the hospital, Dr. Matthew Clark (Burt Lancaster) hires her to be a music teacher given her musical background.

Crawthorne is a hospital devoted to the care of children who were in the parlance of the era 'defected' or 'retarded', what we would now call special needs children who range from those with Down's Syndrome to various levels of autism to severe mental retardation.  Hansen soon bonds with Reuben Widdicombe (Bruce Ritchey), a child who waits every Wednesday for either of his parents to come visit him.

Jean is very motherly towards Reuben, who appears to respond but who is still a bit remote, aloof from things.  Dr. Clark is not happy about this development and separates them, surprising both Jean and Reuben.  Dr. Clark also has to battle with officials at the state capital who don't see a great benefit to either the state or the children.  They want to know if Crawthorne will help students work within mainstream society, but Dr. Clark firmly rejects the idea that that should be their mission.

Jean opts to go over Dr. Clark and his advise and write to Reuben's mother Sophie (Gena Rowlands).  Thinking he's ill, she is disheartened to know it was a rouse to get her to see him.  Sophie tells them that she didn't come not because she didn't love him, but because she loved him too much.  Unfortunately, Reuben catches sight of her, which leads to him running away from the hospital.

Jean thinks she is doing no good there and tells Dr. Clark that she should go.  Dr. Clark won't stop her, but he also tells her that coddling people like Reuben won't help him.  Furthermore, he takes her to where mentally disabled adults live (the film doesn't clarify if it was at the same facility or not, but it's doubtful adults would be in the same hospital with children), warning her that if she does leave, Reuben may end up so disabled that he may end up here.

It's not what you can do for them, but what they can do for you, Dr. Clark scolds her, telling her this kind of thinking was wrong.  Jean returns and devotes herself to being the music teacher they deserve, and that does mean being firm with Reuben.  The film culminates at a Thanksgiving play, where Reuben's father Ted (Stephen Hill), who has struggled with Reuben's condition, finally sees his son, and sees him slowly speak in public.

Things end full circle, when Jean does what Dr. Clark did at the beginning: slowly coax a child out of the car and into the warm arms of the hospital.

It is interesting that A Child is Waiting, with the timespan of fifty-five years, shows now that what was considered progressive, even daring, now looks a mixture of condescending and patronizing.  At the time of its release, few if any films dealt with mental retardation, let alone featured people who had mental disabilities.  As such, A Child is Waiting is a strong step forward to bringing an issue that affected many out of the shadows. 

For too long, the issue of mental disability was kept hidden, something to keep secret.  While not overt, A Child is Waiting makes a very subtle mention of Rosemary Kennedy, the younger sister of then-President John F. Kennedy, who was mentally challenged and essentially hidden away in a mental hospital after her father had her undergo a disastrous lobotomy which rendered her permanently disabled.  Such things still were not openly discussed, and the mystery surrounding Rosemary, while not totally hidden, was still not the stuff of cinema.

However, A Child is Waiting is long before such things as the television series Life Goes On, which centered around the life of a family member with  Down's Syndrome (as a side note, Chris Burke, who played the Down's Syndrome-affected Corky, made some guest appearance as an angel on Touched By An Angel, something that I imagine producer Stanley Kramer would have found more surprising than his own ideas of his forward-thinking film).

And here is where A Child is Waiting runs into problems.  Despite receiving technical support from institutions and doctors, there is still this sense that the film is making wrong advocacy choices.  There is no distinguishing between those who have Down's Syndrome, between those who may have autism, or those who are severely disabled to where it affects them physically as well as mentally.  It lumps all of them into one group, which does a disservice to each group's specific needs.

It also suggests that hospitals like Crawthorne should not work to try and help integrate these three groups into mainstream society.  Rather, it would be better to help them by keeping them safe within the grounds of hospitals, among their own kind so to speak.  In the ensuing years since A Child is Waiting was released, there's been a major shift in thinking on the issue of mental disabilities.

Down's Syndrome-affected people now hold jobs, marry and work as well as possible within society.  Those with autism can receive medical treatment ranging from therapy to medication.  Those who are physically unable to care for themselves would get full-time care.  Still, despite the best intentions A Child is Waiting appears to think that someone with Down's Syndrome is in pretty much the same state as those who are physically disabled.  Today, I think that kind of mindset is rejected, so it makes the film slightly regressive.  It also would perhaps appear now to do what Dr. Clark said he didn't think should be done: coddle them to where they became totally dependent on others when they could do some things themselves.

I think the use of real-life special needs children worked for and against A Child is Waiting.  It worked for them to show that they were children who had the same curiosities and innocence of non-special needs children.  It worked against them because at times some of the images come across inadvertently as garish, almost frightening.  This is particularly the case when we go see the adults who are mentally disabled: the almost-documentary look has its positives, but it might be a bit too jarring for some audiences unaccustomed to these sights.

Part of me understands that it had to be done to get the point across, but part of me thought that by almost jumping into scenes like that with no warning would prove shocking and uncomfortable to viewers who might be struggling when seeing the children.  The adults shown might have been too much, especially since in the film, we practically jump from one scene to the other.

A Child is Waiting, beyond the promises and pitfalls of using children who had mental issues (one child obviously looked into the camera and responded to it, something that director John Cassavetes couldn't control), doesn't skimp on the drama.  The extended flashback sequence where Reuben's parents find their son is 'defective' (the father's words, not mine) has an echo effect along with the voice-over.  It's a way of doing flashbacks that I have not seen or heard before, and I found it quite impressive.

I did wonder about how Garland was photographed for the film, having a sort of glaze in her close-ups that Lancaster didn't.  Give credit to Garland, who worked so well with all the children.  She did have her usual nervous mannerisms as Jean, but one can see the caring, somewhat needy woman Jean was. 

Now, I've never been a Burt Lancaster fan, him almost always striking me as gruff, remote, even slightly arrogant.  However, for A Child is Waiting, I figure that was part of his character.

I also figure that the titled character could not have been played by someone with autism to the degree Reuben has (which is what I figure he was afflicted with).  He's called to be very still, unemotional most of the time, but screaming out in pain or rage when feeling abandoned. As such, it would require a professional actor, and Ritchey does extremely well as the waiting child.  You sense the hostility and anger within Reuben, of someone wanting to be loved, wanting to fit in, but not knowing how.  You also sense his distinct aloofness mixed with sadness at what he might see as rejection.  It's a strong performance.

It's at this point I'd argue Reuben is autistic rather than 'defective' or mentally disabled, which makes his time put away in an institution seem almost excessively cruel.  Rowlands and Hill don't make the parents, who divorce shortly after institutionalizing Reuben, into heartless people, well, at least Rowlands doesn't.  Hill is less sympathetic but one who also struggles with guilt about his son's condition.

Ultimately, A Child is Waiting is a sad film, but not one that leaves you completely hopeless, at least when it comes to Jean.  She's found her purpose in life, but whether it would have been better to have  helped those with special needs find their own purposes one leaves up to the viewer.

Rosemary Kennedy: