Sherlock: The Lying Detective – Season Four: Episode Two – Review [Spoilers]

We get nothing dramatically insightful from The Lying Detective. Watson persists in tiresomely blaming Sherlock for Mary’s decision to save Sherlock’s life. What a bastard that Sherlock is, how dare he have zero control over the instinctive decisions made by someone else. And sure, you might argue in defence of this abysmally forced conflict but if you consider the significant impact of including this problem, you’ll begin to realise that nothing substantial changes; the show’s structure is untouched, other than Watson’s infrequent bickerings at Sherlock (in that typical BBC, primary school playground levels of unadulterated meanypants dialogue).

In all credit to Moffat, he wrangles a fair amount of time out of delaying the investigation (you know, that thing we’re watching Sherlock for; y’know, the entertainment thing) as Mrs Hudson: a painstakingly, downright flat, uninteresting, novelty-worn, sickly sweet, over indulgent remnant of Sherlockian times missed and forgotten, laboriously convinces Watson to kick-start the plot and, at long last, do something. Had this episode opened with a picture of Watson’s therapist, with some text placed underneath that identified her character, nothing would be lost. Further still, we know they’re going to be friends come the final credits; after all, it’s what we came to see – we all know Moffat by now, he’s a sure thing to pander to the audience in the easiest way possible: example, the non-committal resurrection of a hallucinatory Mary. It’s a problematic decision; they want the audience to engage with the tragedy yet deliver no hard repercussions for killing her off – commit god damn it!

Then again, compared to the weak plot devices, Sherlock and Watson’s mindless beefing is considerably more destructive to the show’s main appeal; they’re detrimental to our enjoyment, to the fun of Sherlock (the shows balanced and saving grace, and its greatest appeal). Who enjoys watching two moping middle aged men reluctantly bearing each other – after the massive espionage plot, with the sidenotes of unrelenting fatherhood issues and an SMS cheating scandal, and they’re currently dealing with a hunt for a serial killer/Tv personality in addition to Sherlock battling his drug induced state which grants him this silly, god-like (better yet, deus ex machina) omniscience; does any of this seem to balance? Does it make sense to throw in a ruptured disconnect between the two characters at this instance? Together they excite the game-afoot; why else would we watch half baked dramas? We need the hunt; we need Watson, Sherlock, excitement and chemistry.

And another small point, since we already know that Moffat and Gatiss are provenly non committal to permanent consequences, aka Mary, we can place a pretty safe bet that Watson is also likely safe to stay: pre-emptively denying any false tension given from such a “frayed” dynamic. This is the age old case of ‘writers whom have exposed their hand, with no cards left to deal’.

What would a bare bones, last resort, generic playground drama be without a quintessential therapist trope; a therapist in the traditional screenwriting sense being: they who acquire the main character’s emotional baggage to immediately betray this easily given trust and scooby-doo themselves as “the real villain all along!”, to abuse and gratuitously manipulate the character in an impossibly specific situation. (Although I’m kinda trashing episode 3, I actually rather enjoyed the Arkham Asylum-esque framework the writers kinda-maniacally played on).

Moffat’s problem has always been exposition. He sucks at giving audiences information in a natural way; it’s always jarring, uncharismatic and typically quite shallow. Given the nature of season 4, the sporadic random plot points it’s continually chasing and how their main objective is to set up bigger, larger plots, regardless of logic (e.g. The Six Thatchers broken bust guiding Sherlock to a decade old conspiracy plot which happens to be directly related to Mary, Watson’s wife.), to suddenly include a new therapist in the cast would be like any episode of Coronation Street spontaneously adding a stranger to the roster and “wouldn’t you know it, it’s Vera Duckworth’s evil twin dead half brother!, or whatever.” When you’re playing by the rules of a daytime soap opera, you’re not really pulling wool over anyone’s eyes when you’re using the exact same set ups.

The Lying Detective is better described as daytime tv sci-fi fantasy melodrama. And don’t mistake my disappointment of this hybrid genre as a reflection on the genre as a whole, rather I’m troubled by Moffat’s ability to adapt the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and turn them into something so antithetical to his original tales (transforming them into sub-par gimmicky trope fests).

Ignoring the silly sci-fi fantasy, let’s examine at Culverton Smith. Now this is a delightful personality that I joyously revelled in. Sickly devilish, I cherished how the idea of fame and national worship managed to paint us, the audience, as resembling some kind of sect or cult; we might idolise and defend a murder who mimics his own murderous idols: a perpetual cult of murder and worship. To call a spade a spade, he’s a symbol for Jimmy Saville, and perhaps some may consider this representation to be rather on the nose, but I disagree. I consider Moffat’s portrayal of Culverton as being post-yewtree. We’re not looking at a man who may or may not be the criminal, rather we see this Saville figure from Sherlock’s perspective, therefore, Moffat suggests that we should begin to wonder how anyone could get into his position of power and how he could accomplish these crimes without ever coming under suspicion. My problem with achieving this is that it comes at a compromise. Without the Columbo narrative structure our firm opinion of Culverton would waver under suspicion of Sherlock’s mental deterioration. Meaning: the narrative absolutely needed this particular structure; even at the cost of Sherlock’s defining characteristic: logical deductions to unexpected conclusions – the excitement of the revelation (the act of scooby-dooing). Therefore Moffat decides, as a supplement for this compromise, that Sherlock should instead be a Nostradamus type figure who predicts situation outcomes by deducing them beforehand, through probability… so… yeah, what a load of shit.

However, this is all secondary to mentioning the show’s biggest bombshell: Eurus, Sherlock’s super secret never-hinted-before sister; aka the therapist; aka the flirty girl (that Watson just so happened to fancy); aka fake Faith Culverton – Eurus’ worst performance, and by far the most performative, like a last resort character she just threw in last minute. But sure enough, I was duped, and at the end of the day they accomplished their mission. Hand on heart, I didn’t recognise any similarities between the three performances, and that’s a pretty great accomplishment for the show.

Eurus is only in the episode for perhaps one real scene and so discussing her now would diminish further discussions of her character for the next episode, however, my main point with Eurus isn’t that she demonstrates absolutely no sympathy for a depressed, drug abusing Sherlock – none whatsoever; given the ending of episode three, where we discover her true motivation, I find this a little difficult to digest (but more on that next episode). Rather my biggest gripe with her character is that she pushes Sherlock into the world of Culverton Smith; making her the real case solver, Sherlock’s merely pushed in the right direction. So when you consider how this coincides with Mary’s request that Sherlock throw himself in harm’s way as a means to twist John’s arm into rescue him, I have to wonder: was this part of Eurus’ plan? It would seem that Gatiss and Moffat never considered this aspect since there’s no mention or attempt to address this situation. If Euris is a genius, “incandescent” mastermind then she clearly she isn’t that clever because she seemingly didn’t know about this (then again, she may not care, and she might’ve been none the wiser; once again, it remains unaddressed). Yet this doesn’t really account for how conveniently it does fit into Mary’s request (and how easily it coincides with Eurus’ game of emotional manipulation); so it was intentional? This seems like a writer’s paradox; where the end fits the story, but only through the convenience of two separate narratives. Eurus may or may not have known about Mary’s request, it may or may not have been a coincidence, Eurus may have goaded Sherlock into Culverton’s death trap and she may have simply wanted him and Watson to solve the case, no strings attached; and yet for all these questions, which I’m sure there will be plenty more with deeper inspection, none are answered and none are technically raised, they’re disappointingly left unconsidered.

Perhaps that’s the keyword for reviewing season 4: unconsidered.

 

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers – Season Four: Episode One

Death may be dodged, but not forever; sooner or later the inevitable happens. Sherlock: Season 4, Episode 1; the show’s final dodge from death. But first, the incoherence cover-up, dialogue delivered exposition poly-filler. Mark Gatiss, this episode’s writer, undertakes the troublesome, taxing task of filling in last season’s cock ups. Yet they go another step further by exploding the plot to ridiculous proportions in order to salvage their (originally) precious property. By exploding the plot in one episode we’re then left with two episodes free, hopefully to resurrect the Sherlock image. After seeing all three, I’d definitely promise that the bullshit dial is thankfully turned down a notch or two. Regardless of the latter 66%, this first third is a pure incomprehensive turd.

My only positive argument for The Six Thatchers is how it attacks dead threads with a ridiculously entertaining energy. And in my consideration, that’s kinda what Sherlock’s supposed to be; and not an overly convoluted, coincidence fuelled mess.

On a random case, Sherlock investigates the case of a Conservative politician’s missing son (supposedly on his “gap-yah”); while solving the minor yet quite affecting tragedy, Sherlock sniffs out an extremely thin plot thread: an absent bust of ex Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This then connects him to another murder, then another robbery, a lacklustre fistfight where he gets the oh-so-convenient usb stick of expositional knowledge, it contains all the dirt on Mary: an ex tactical assassin set up in an elaborate plot; (SPOILERS) that was all masterminded by the assistant to the English government whom we meet in the first scene where they give Sherlock his free pass. In all truthfulness, I had to Wikipedia the plot in order to fully understand it, and then I had to try and describe the mess as straightforward as I could; as you can see, even after cutting a bunch of crap from the description, it’s damn hard to explain what the hell is happening.

Shit story aside, the unnecessarily bland colour palette didn’t help; neither did the unimaginative storytelling. Sherlock has become a dour reproduction of a ghost. Season 4 feels more like a knock off of Sherlock than Elementary does. Everything that pops on the screen to conveniently convey information that people might conveniently access in reality but still remains awkwardly inconvenient to format of cinema: text messages, thoughts and deductions etc., it’s all just a haunting reminder that the shell of Sherlock is empty, we’ve cleaned the bowl and there’s nothing left to give. You got excited when you saw Sherlock’s text wave ping above the crowd of journalists’ heads in season 1. Where is that in season 4? Nowhere.

Even if the plot were fixed (and the storytelling), the characters are still shit. Sure, everything is resolved by the end of the season, but dear lord! what a joke. John now has beef with Sherlock. Sherlock is now reaching pie like levels of humbleness and Mrs. Hudson is at maximum irrelevancy. The “villain” is watered down to tap water levels of mundanity and the second secret villain might as well have been Mrs. Hudson for all the difference it would’ve made.

Gatiss and Moffat have thrown a lot of spanners in the cogs and to solve the problem they seem to unloading all their spanners in the hopes that once they run out of spanners they won’t have any more spanners to throw, kind of a good idea in both literal and figurative terms. Let’s hope and see shall we?

Operation Avalanche (2016) – Review

Without YMS’s recommendation I wouldn’t have sought out The Dirties. And without that seal of approval, plus the mere concept alone being a large selling point, I wouldn’t have found one of my favourite movies. So, in following the career progression of director, Matt Johnson, I now find myself watching Operation Avalanche. To put it frankly: I’m happy with Johnson’s latest faux-meta-verite-mockumentary-thing, but only to the point of simple satisfaction. While The Dirties felt like a film that needed to be seen, Operation Avalanche is a film that acts like you need to see it, but in reality you don’t.

The film is an exercise in titillating small pleasures: that cute satisfaction we get from seeing the plausibility in fictionalised truth. It goes without saying that everything is so securely locked, there really isn’t anything to break our suspension of disbelief; except for the inherent safety net of the unprovoking plot. Operation Avalanche would surely be an indictment against the American intelligence corporations; a couple of dimwits put together the largest cover-up in history (that we know of). But that’s the problem, the parenthesis should probably be a statement of it’s own, and the film shamefully doesn’t push that angle – the ending of Indiana Jones is more convincing than Operation Avalanche. There’s this box over the film, containing everything, prematurely wrapping the bow and ribbon, ruining the authenticity.

Believability-wise, everything is great; it’ll have you chuckling away at how incredibly supposable their wacky ideas can be, it’s quite the set-up for (yet obviously antithetical to) National Treasure 3 (or something of the likes). To the audience it’s exposing the lies. The film itself is a supposed “truth”. But within the film, there is creation; we see behind the expose and take a rare look into the creation of conspiracy – a rather fascinating perspective we often never consider. The film offers two forms of discovery, each satisfying and individual. The narrative works like a tape recorder: as one wheel of information unravels the mystery, the other wheel sucks it back in, keeping it out of the public’s eye.

However, The Dirties is a wrestle with its subject, Operation Avalanche is not. There’s no clawing, raw feeling to this filmic farce. There’s a delightful bunch of inspired moments, but that means nothing when compared to The Dirties, a plate which balances on thin wire. There’s no tension in these fearless, valiant patriots; they’re just too palatable; they’re a safe bet.

I adore Matt Johnson’s work, he’s a wonderful, intelligent film-maker, but he needs to shake things up in his future. His formula worked excellently in reality based narrative, and it gets a pleasant result when applied to fictionalised farce, but there’s nothing much to stretch it to beyond these goalposts.

That said, the expanse of plot is quick, slick and mighty impressive. You’re taken all over their world, and then right back to the centre before it explodes magnificently and leaves you a little shell-shocked. Operation Avalanche is certainly a fun ride.

Check this out if it looks like your thing, you’ll probably get exactly what you expect.

The Raging Moon (1971) – Review

A calm, steady observation on how people transition from one state of normalcy to another; what happens after the everyday life is fractured by trauma? My greatest praise for The Raging Moon is that the handicap isn’t overwhelmingly important. Still, the subject of disability isn’t passed without commentary; there’s a great deal to be said about the public’s notions on how we treat the disabled and how we assume they must feel. Rather, the essence of The Raging Moon is our journey of understanding; how we access the story of Bruce and Jill through their mutual situation.

An essential moment for understanding The Raging Moon is the church fundraising scene; occurring near the halfway mark between the duo’s story. The scene is: a bunch of rich snobs give pitying charity to the disabled as the wheelchair bound residents are paraded around for sympathy. Our couple, Bruce and Jill, decide to flip the script: what a freakshow it must be to walk on legs, what other tricks can they do? It’s a heartwarming moment that bonds the two, they comfort one another with their unity; meanwhile, the script doesn’t go heavy handed on the commentary, the first and foremost priority of the scene is to show that after the trauma, and the sadness, there comes normalcy again, life slowly resets to equilibrium and you can have it your way (maybe you can have more than you had before; who can be sure what to expect from the unexpected).

Now, the film isn’t a masterpiece, not even by the farthest stretch of the imagination, mostly because it’s fairly simplistic in its cinematic technique: the film starts, and continues, to feel like an English kitchen sink drama, except when it detours and reaches a little higher, but ultimately never surpasses their cinematic quality. Bruce and Jill’s character development is borderline cliche; he’s a little rugged, she’s a bit pristine: they compliment each other by learning self completion through the opposite’s best qualities. And sure you’ve probably seen it before, but the script is so well paced that you’d probably overlook these conventional tricks by praising McDowell’s performance and his endearing portrayal of what emotional recovery really is.

An unexpected joy. Sorrowful, semi cathartic, semi melancholic and an all round brilliant sleeper drama.

La La Land (2017, U.K.) -Review

I was enchanted in less than approximately 150 frames; even before the film properly began. Then the no nonsense musical number introduces us to a firmly placed genre flick; but that’s just the introductory point. What might surprise you is that La La Land has an addition core genre: drama; real, human drama. The tragedy of Mia and Sebastian is truly spellbinding, and while their paths might feel somewhat formulaic (like a simple foundation for the musical to exist. And I’m definitely ok with that), Damien Chazelle’s modus operandi weaves a tale akin to Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Singing In The Rain and even Fantasia; by planting the spellbinding: the musical, the fantasy, with the tragic drama: the reality of chasing personal fantasy. La La Land is clearly inspired; a very po-mo look at why audiences go to the cinema, and why some of us venture into the dangerous dream zoned career that is film, music, or art of any kind really.

But more than La La’s coyish, humbly sweet introspective look at cinematic fascination (deconstructing the musical genre on a two pronged approach; music, cinema), is Chazelle’s most valuable merit: his craftsmanship of the camera. Side note: my favourite, albeit trivial, trinket of the movie is a small rainbow flair a lamp gives in the park (“what a waste of a lovely night”). It’s barely noticeable, but these small filmic treasures give La La Land it’s sincere beauty. Chazelle’s force in controlling the camera gives me that knowing sense of accomplishment in seeing something executed to near perfection; from whip pans to pivoting tracking shot, he creates energy in pace and rhythm to the musical numbers – and more importantly, with the actors. And while many of the actors aren’t Astaire or Kelly tier performers, there’s a charm to seeing amateur(ish) performers give their biggest performance with a great success in making it feel as seamless as possible. I’d argue that works to the film’s benefit: the mixture of reality and fantasy, of drama and musical, earths their performances (depending on each character’s state of fantasy and imagination).

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I think that the planetarium number is the summation of their entire relationship together, at that single point in time, and wonderfully demonstrates the creative talent on display; oh, and it’s my favourite scene. I just adore how the phenomena of the universe is just a backdrop to these two lovebirds; he guides her through the expanse of galaxies, but all that’s important is how they dance with each other. There’s this sense of power: they’re bigger than the universe, they can face anything. It’s a moment of pure fantastical surrealist imagination – not too far removed from something out of a classic Disney animation. The cinematography is gorgeous, but not superficially so: there’s an intentional exhibition of the emotional impact each plot point has on the characters. Each scene hits hard with its tonal richness; it’s immediately consuming.

La La Land is an astonishing work of dramatic yet entertaining, creative, traditionalist, revisionist, and revolutionary film making. The screenplay isn’t perfect; bluntly stating the issues dealt by the film isn’t a call for celebration or even praise, but since it tackles these questions with such an unbelievably deft hand, I can’t help but forgive its minuscule weaknesses in favour of loving and honouring the thing as a collective of perfection. I can’t stop humming the tune to every song.

Onibaba (1964) – Review

This is how people are unknowingly their own horror stories.

Onibaba starts ominous, we look into the deep empty hole, wondering what dark entity exists far beneath the surface. The title smash cuts onto the screen; as though to create an association between Onibaba, ‘Devil Woman’, and the hole. And that’s the closest Onibaba gets to the horror genre; mostly everything else is just drama, perhaps the most thickly veiled sinister drama of all time, ripe with a unique, difficult dilemma and a harsh, stark character study. I discovered that when I grappled with the central plot I realised that the plot concerning the hole (and the samurai) is a reflection of their struggles; the whole story about the old lady betraying her daughter in law in order to live is not just a heart-twisting tale of tragedy and internal conflict as she fights to survive, it’s a fable about the greed of a woman so determined to live that she will force her closest companion (and only dependable source of help) to mercilessly kill as many passing strangers as it takes to keep going; by keeping her daughter in law from moving on, she’s condemning her to a life of sin, murder and a soulless existence. It goes without saying that the old woman is eventually punished.

From the start, I thought they we’re feeding a monster inside the hole; I wasn’t wrong, but not in the way I expected. Instead of feeding the literal, the film feeds on the interpretive: the monster being fed is the woman’s greediness to survive. I loved how her power dynamic changed as she played each hand throughout the whole movie; my focus was mainly drawn to her make-up and appearance. Her desperate need to eat feels like her version of the hole: constantly consuming; and like the hole’s infinite blackness, the make-up on her eyes creates an identical symbol of emptiness. When she puts on the mask, the night overwhelms her, darkness engulfs her as the light highlights her mask: the symbol of fear (and of the protection that offers final punishment). This attention to storytelling excites me, the layers of meaning given in every aspect of the story offers something so truthful to the characters that in their weakest moments they remain honest and true to the audience. Onibaba changes the way light works in movies; instead of light being a symbol of safety, it becomes a symbol of weakness, an expression of the true face of horror: that horror is fear to itself.

I could go on forever about how intricately every detail is painted in tightly wrapped layers, but I’d rather you go see it for yourself. Trust me; it’s gorgeous in every regard.

Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) – Review

A bait and switch works best when it’s delightfully surprising to discover; a moment of elevation, “oh, I did not expect that”; it doesn’t work if, while still technically unexpected, the plot switched to is less interesting than the film’s original state. It’s probably because Genevieve (the lead female) brings an indescribable amount of sweet, sugary colour to the world; once she leaves, the world becomes drab; she’s all that stops Cherbourg from seeming depressing: Cherbourg becomes the reality when the fantasy, Genevieve, leaves. I suppose it’s right to feel disengaged when she leaves, I can sympathise more with Guy (the lead male). Even so, the singing becomes irritating after awhile, especially post-Genevieve. Everything is set in this small town of Cherbourg, the camera never leaves, so the feeling claustrophobia sets in deep, and deeper as their world changes, so as the music gets sombre and their energy fades the scope of the film narrows around Guys words, and since he’s orphanly depressed the music begins to grate with every lyric, the name of music is tainted with every overly melancholy verse of Guy’s. You can argue these things as a positive to the film, or a negative; it’s a personal thing, I wasn’t of a fan of these decisions. But, overall, I admire the courageous concept and their execution of it.