Tag Archives: sherlock

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows is a sequel to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, which starred Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law. It’s set in Victoria London, as opposed to Moffat’s retelling on television, and focuses on some of the earthier aspects of Holmes. His physical prowess is played up, for example, and his relationship with Watson is less staid than it is often portrayed.

The first film had its moments, but was largely unfulfilling. The second movie, sadly, continues in much of the same vein. Holmes is brilliant but there is precious little explanation of his deductions, rather a focus on his observation (picking up details that make the solution obvious are far less fun than actually using them as evidence that you still have to draw conclusions from and extrapolate) and a lot of scenes played for laughs. He is shown as a master planner, an acute observer, but not so much the detective.

The plot, such as it is, focuses on Europe on the brink of war. This seems to be a staple of adventures set in the late Victorian era and is, to my knowledge, broadly accurate. It doesn’t, however, stop it being a cliché and makes the villain’s motives rather predictable. Holmes, naturally, is attempting to prevent the conflict by thwarting the schemes of Moriarty. Moriarty doesn’t really strike me as particularly Machiavellian or psychotic in this, rather coming across as someone focused on minutae and rather pedestrian. It seems a waste.

There are, however, a few things that redeem the film. Firstly, the interplay between Downey and Law is enjoyable. Secondly, Downey is eminently watchable. Law makes for a far more capable Watson than we are sometimes shown, and his exertions actually form an important part of the overall plot.

And then there is the sequence in the munitions/weapons factory and the woods. It’s an honest to god well orchestrated action scene that manages to marry Holmes being one step ahead, Watson being surprisingly capable, slow motion action that is well orchestrated, a very real sense of risk and high stakes, destruction, aesthetics and special effects. One of my complaints about action films is how little most of them seem to have learned from the Matrix. Here’s a climatic set piece that borrows slow motion, moving cameras and infuses it with grace and excitement at the same time.

Unfortunately, one rather good set piece aside, A Game of Shadows is underwhelming and definitely doesn’t really appeal on an intellectual level. It passes the time but doesn’t really deserve the heritage of the Holmes name.

 

Sherlock – The Reichenbach Fall

The latest (last?) episode of Sherlock, The Reichenbach Fall, is as good as any from either series, and as good as television tends to get. Sherlock is infuriating and only human when he is under pressure and things are going against him, Watson is long suffering and reliable, Mycroft is pompous and aloof and Moriarty (for me, really, the only misstep in the show), by turn, fey, vulnerable, menacing, scheming and quite, quite mad. And the characters aren’t even the best bit: so much happens it is kind of dizzying and breathless, even during the quite moments that are there to ramp up the tension.

The program starts with Watson in therapy, but quickly flits back to 3 months earlier and Sherlock’s ascent into celebrity. From high profile cases to being requested to solve high profile cases, it shows how fame is achieved and both Sherlock and Watson have an adverse reaction to it, albeit for different reasons and manifesting itself in different ways. Watson makes a valid point that foreshadows things later in the episode.

Moriarty pulls off 3 simultaneous crimes, each audacious and spectacular. He allows himself to be caught, which is strange and goes to trial purely for the theatre of it. There is a very funny scene with Sherlock managing to antagonise a whole court room which steals a (very good) joke from My Cousin Vinny and the whole sequence shows the distaste Sherlock has for people, the way the police resent him, his kinship with Moriarty but also Sherlock and Moriarty and their personalities. It’s very efficient storytelling, dumping a lot of information, advancing the plot and being very entertaining in its own right.

The story then proceeds with Sherlock solving an unsolvable crime with the merest of evidence. Again, this causes resentment amongst the police. And even some suspicion. It is from here that Sherlock’s life begins to unravel as Moriarty manipulates those around him to believe the worst of him. As things unravel for him he heads towards a final confrontation with Moriarty with friends abandoning him and trying to place others out of harm’s way.

The writing is superb, the story hurtles along and nothing feels particularly contrived or forced. Everyone has great lines and poignant moments. Throwaway lines from the previous season and earlier episodes come back to resonate as important to the plot and Freeman is heartwrenching as Watson, a man of decency and faith. Cumberbatch is smug and aloof and slowly unravels as finally human and admirable. Moriarty, a character I had previously thought miscast and mishandled, is actually brilliant. I really can’t recommend the program highly enough. I massively enjoyed it.

Sherlock – The Hounds of Baskerville

Sherlock – The Hounds of Baskerville was the second in the current series of Sherlock and was written by Mark Gatiss rather than Steven Moffat. Although the episode was often very funny, and good overall, it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as Moffat’s work.

The reasons, I think, are varied: Gatiss’s dialogue isn’t quite as good, although there are some good moments. When Moffat writes he manages to sell you on insane ideas and has a very strong sense of tone. Gatiss has a little more trouble with tone and even gives us a histrionic Holmes and oddly flustered and bumbling Watson. I know one could argue that they were demanded by the plot they still felt out of place.

The source material is lacklustre. Although it is the most famous of the Holmes tales, it is far from the best. The television adaptation carries this over and has some of its own problems: the shoe horning of the supporting cast into the plot when he had no reason to be there, characters acting out of character because of the demands of the plot, Mycroft being lackadaisical and oddly supportive of his little brother, and a really obvious villain (If he had stood at the back cackling he couldn’t have been more obvious). There also wasn’t enough story to carry the full ninety minutes. There was maybe 75 minutes worth with some scenes that could easily have been jettisoned and others that could have been tightened.

This all sounds like I didn’t enjoy it. that isn’t the case: I did, I really enjoyed it. I think it was very funny in places (Holmes being his usual rude and dismissive self, mainly), I thought some of the scenes were strong (Holmes observing that someone had travelled by train and him working out someone was a fisherman) and the direction and acting were both good. The writing, too, was good. it just wasn’t excellent. The problem is the bar is set very high and missing it results in disappointment even when it also results in quality entertainment.

Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia

Broadcast on New Year’s Day on BBC1, Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia is the first in a series of 3 episodes (the second of which will have also been broadcast by the time you read this) updating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective into a more modern environment. That means putting Sherlock in the modern day, with the stories appropriately updated to reflect new technology, rather than casting a modern sensibility on existing stories.

The difference is subtle, but pivotal: a few years ago I watched an attempt to update Sherlock Holmes with Rupert Everett as the titular sleuth. It was still set in the Victorian Era but had modern psychology applied to the tale and a quite appalling ending where the police and ambulances arrived at the crime scene as the camera panned back. It was lazy in the extreme and put a period coat of paint over the most formulaic of cop dramas and tacked on the Sherlock Holmes brand. Thankfully it never succeeded. Guy RItchie, too, has recently updated Holmes. Taking the path of making the period pulp into a modern blockbuster, he has achieved more success but it is viscerally rather than mentally or emotionally fulfilling.

Sherlock is the work of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. It is really quite clever and features crackling dialogue. The New Year’s Episode was slightly disjointed, as a result of trying to cram a lot in without it appearing to be exposition. It was also surprisingly lean, with long term threads addressed but also tying seemingly throwaway scenes into the overall story.

The story was one of Holmes trying to extricate royalty from a scandal and falling over a plot that had much more importance to both the American and British establishment. It also featured a dominatrix, focussed on Holmes’ relationship with both his brother and John Watson, the relationship of those two, the importance of their landlady, a quick detour showing Holmes solving a suspicious death in an offhand manner and no short measure of humour. As ever, it was the dialogue and strength of the scripting that carried the story forward and made it quite so enjoyable.

Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and is suitably aloof, unable to relate to people in a normal manner and constantly bored and looking for a challenge that he believes is worthy of him. Watson is played by Martin Freeman as both a loyal and long suffering companion. He doesn’t quite convince me as the ex-man of action but does manage to be both human and long suffering.

The direction, too, is worth noting. There were some lovely shots, particularly in the morgue during the exchange between the two brothers. There is a lot of information passed to the viewer in a succinct (although sometimes gimmicky) manner and there is a lot of subtlety in both body language and subtext. Sherlock has quickly become something traditionally British and cleverly modern. I just wish they had picked a Moriarty I found less annoying.