{film} two briefly + one

Saw Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) last night. I will very likely write a review at some point, but for now: suffice it to say, it was brilliant fun. It was all we have come to love from Guy Ritchie, and then a bit more. ie. If you recall the trailer with Sherlock (Robert Downey, Jr), Watson (Jude Law), and Simza (Noomi Rapace) running through the woods amidst a maelstrom of explosions/gun fire. The full scene was incredible. The camera work, the editing, the lighting, color…Bliss.

Was glad to see the talented Noomi Rapace of the Swedish Millenium Series, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), etc. in such a successful film/role with the release of David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) with the eye-brow-less Rooney Mara (which I am looking forward to seeing/hearing, btw).  Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty is very good, very convincing. The acting was solid throughout the cast. And what a pleasure Stephen Fry was as Mycroft. I loved their translation of the elder brother! and well, I love Stephen Fry.

Have yet to read this NY Times Review, but I’m sure it is good. It’s A.O. Scott, so…[okay, had a skim. He doesn’t care all that much for it; story-/character-wise anyhow). and well, Roger Ebert’s review–the same, yet read, but he is a wiz.

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The other day, we watched Cowboys and Aliens (2011) as directed by Jon Favreau, starring Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Adam Beach, Sam Rockwell, and Paul Dano. I was debating a review, because honestly, afterward, I looked at Sean and shrugged. Olivia Wilde had the privilege of working known talents, and Ford and Craig and Favreau, etc were as expected. However, Olivia Wilde’s character was so ridiculous, and disturbing. And the chemistry between her and Craig’s Jake Lonergan went from uncomfortable to a discomfort of a different kind. Then there is the slow chase to get their people back is a challenge all its own. If Daniel Craig and his character were less well-rendered, the film would have been impossible to stomach. I mean, I love Harrison Ford, but the script/plot was painful.

This is a film where “just go with it” is absolutely necessary. You will have more fun this way, especially if you like Western meets Science Fiction-Alien. It had a quality that transports the viewer to reminisce older Westerns, while recalling classic alien encounter cinema: vistas, dark & claustrophobic interiors; colors–earthy and yet heightened; great sound effects and chase on horseback. The explosions, the effects, the sets, are notably higher tech than say Joss Whedon’s Firefly–no suprise budget-wise, right? Regardless of tech and cast, Cowboys & Aliens comes across more B or C movie in result. {image note: fans of Daniel Craig’s physique will be very pleased by all the shots of his rearend. It was becoming embarrassing how the camera was objectifying Craig. Then, it didn’t have much to linger on with the waifish Wilde.}

again w/ unread reviews, but I like to link them. Ebert’s review. Manohla Darghis at NY Times, review.

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Have you discovered Kees van Dijkhuizen and his [the films of] series? Oh My but he is wondermous! I will post his [the films of] David Fincher and [the films of] Guy Ritchie, but follow the link and carve out a few hours. He is a gifted editor, his use of soundtracks are marvelous. He’s too good not to share, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to introduce him into a post a couple weeks now. Happy Holidays! enjoy!

 

sherlock, downton abbey, and luther

The following are three British television series Sean and I have recently discovered; made easy as they were available via Netflix streaming. I list them in order of viewing, Luther being newly arrived to Netflix.

I would also recommend Doctor Who and Torchwood as well. Torchwood is currently running a pretty intense season. And we can’t wait for the summer break to be over for more Doctor Who.

Sherlock (2010) :  the British television series as created by Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. James Watson are no longer confined to historical London, they’ve been translated into present-day context. Holmes is as savvy with technology as everything else. And Dr. Watson is a veteran of a different war, this one in Afghanistan. Dealing with internal and external wounds from the war Watson (Martin Freeman) needs work and a flat-mate, and something to occupy his mind. Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) rather carelessly offers to split a place and it isn’t long before he pulls Watson into his sleuthing–because really, who else can put up with him? And Watson is actually very intelligent, though much more quietly so.  Lestrade (Rupert Graves) is present, of course, and Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs). Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) appears thinner, and a sly comment is made toward his success in dieting. And Moriarty seems to be behind most of the mayhem, and in a wonderfully imagined way.

The mysteries are good, but it is in the filming and the acting that viewers are compelled to follow the series. I was pleasantly distracted by the transitions between scenes, each movement a well-constructed match in which to fade, or would blend be the better word, bleed?  The lighting, the tilt-shift, the angles, the cross-cutting. Brilliant editing work. The addition of text is a really nice touch and not over done. The text popping up like bubbles at the press conference is a source of humor and the text as mind-reader is a useful tool in reading what Holmes is reading when examining a dead body. The soundtrack is good–can’t let that go unsaid.

Benedict Cumberpatch and Martin Freeman

Cumberbatch proves more than capable as the arrogant “sociopath” (as he is now labelled). He pulls off the simultaneity of oblivious and all-seeing beautifully. I found Freeman the much more compelling actor, in part, I think, because I hadn’t seen him play the straight man. Watson has his own demons, his own worries and yet, even as he is bewildered by Holmes, he is intrigued by what Holmes does, he can’t help but be involved. Freeman is so sober and quiet and emotive in a way that charms and steadies the course of the series. Watson has ever been the means by which the story of Holmes is told, but in Sherlock he has a story of his own as well. Watson and Holmes relationship makes the series, it develops in a comedic and dramatic way that wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without the caliber of acting offered.

I really, really hope to see this series return. Yes, I know Freeman is busy with The Hobbit, which I have to say, I am even more eager to see, having witnessed how marvelous a range Mr. Freeman is capable of.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

Downton Abbey (2010) : British television series created and principally written by actor and writer Julian Fellowes. (wiki)

When the Earl of Grantham Robert Crawley’s “heir presumptive” goes down with the Titanic, life at Downton Abbey suffers unrest. A new heir will be named, an unfamiliar distant cousin. Robert Crawley’s eldest daughter Mary was to have married the previous heir and now her future is in free-fall. You see, her mother’s fortune (as a New York heiress) had become legally tied to the estate and title. All of her money would now go to a perfect stranger, leaving only respectable dowries for the three daughters–an unfair turn to Countess Crawley–and her mother-in-law, the Dowager. The servants are cast into uncertainty as well, and the arrival of a new valet for the Earl adds even more conflict. In this historical drama, events unfold on the grand scale, the suffragist movements, the threat of war, the decline of the aristocracy. The smaller scale dramas seem to play microcosmic role, while still entertaining their own intrigues.

Reasons to watch Downton Abbey:

Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: can anyone else portray absurd and dead-serious in the same breath this successfully? Oh, and the other actors aren’t too shabby either. I especially enjoyed Brendan Coyle’s performance as the valet John Bates. Truly, this is a well-cast show. Even as you hate the more villainous characters, you can’t help but appreciate how well played they are.

Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery (as Lady Mary) .

The costumes and sets. The clothing is easily one of my favorite reasons to watch this series.

It is easy to become invested in one or more of the characters. And it is lovely how the servants and not intertwine both in encounters that inform one another’s trajectories, but also thematically. The narrative would also cleverly keep the viewer on their toes. It was nice having the whole first season in one piece so as to not have to wait for next week! I am already on edge to watch this coming season.

Downton Abbey has become a phenomenal success for several reasons. I think it a wonderfully accessible historical drama with a something for everyone, not just its expected fans. I am sure you could find a reason to seek this series out, and I think you should.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

Luther (2010) : a British television series created by Neil Cross.

John Luther returns to his job as a Detective Chief Inspector for London Metropolitan Police Service’s Serious and Serial Crime Unit after being investigated for his part in a serial killer’s demise. Did he allow the killer to plummet to his death? Yes. Did Luther have a psychotic break? He certainly appears to still be reeling. His marriage disintegrates, the crimes are taxing, and he makes a very dangerous acquaintance.

Creator Neil Cross has said that Luther is influenced by both Sherlock Holmes and Columbo: the nature of Luther’s intellect and its application to solving crimes is comparable to Holmes’, whereas the show’s use of the “inverted detective format” (wherein the audience is aware of the identity of the criminals but not of how they will be caught, as opposed to the conventional format of the audience discovering the criminal as the characters do) was inspired by Columbo. (found on wiki)

Idris Elba as John Luther.

Luther is very good at solving cases; the only reason you can see his boss wanting him back and continuing to put up with him. And really, who doesn’t find Idris Elba attractive, even in the outright tormented figure that is John Luther? To say that Elba is riveting in this role is to sell him short. He carries off the strain of Luther’s existence in a confounding way. And Cross’ detective is as confounding as his story-line. It feels manipulative that you cannot anticipate the characters or the story-line (whether episodic or on the whole); and then you adjust as the drama enacted is really the reflective to Luther’s psychological planes. He isn’t predictive, which creates real suspense, and has the viewer returning with interest compounded. Luther creates a truly exhilarating experience. And then there are the cliff-hangers at the end of every show; with an incredible season finale to leave you hankering for the next season; which is a 4 episode summer run. Yep, we set to hunting it down immediately. If you like crime-police shows, are a fan of House, MD or Lie to Me, or Sherlock Holmes or Columbo…and if you would like to see what Idris Elba can do as the lead.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

three in one

With the television watching season ended for the most part, films become more a part of our evening. Or when L is alone and not feeling like going out, she scrounges for all the junk-ish food in the house and plops down the couch for a series of random picks from the end of the alphabet in the family’s hoard of films (to include Netflix Streaming).

This past Saturday evening while Sean was still in California at a Geek Conference and Natalya was settling into her first evening in Oregon for a week 1/2, I watched 3 films I had put off seeing; although one I had seen in parts.

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1–There Will Be Blood, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and Paul Dano.When this not so little film came out in 2007, I was eager to see it: the trailer was sehr haunting and well, Daniel Day-Lewis was in it (whom I believe is one of the greatest actors living). When it was available for home theater Sean and our friend Kevin saw it and I don’t know where I was, but they said I had to see it, I really did.

It was not what I expected. For one, the synopsis I’d read was awful. This one on IMDb is fair, “A story about family, greed, religion, and oil, centered around a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.” Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), with his “son,” H.W. (Dillon Freasier), are building an oil business and on a tip from a local finds a very lucrative site for drilling: a rural town where the land is cheap and the available oil is vast. The town is very religious and Plainview must have dealings with Paul Dano’s character Eli Sunday who is zealous to grow his Church of the Third Revelation. A play of power ensues amidst the drama of the business of drilling, which seems to require quite a few lies, risks, and one mad-hatter of a oil man.

The film opens to the discordant sound of horns and woodwinds, like an old horror film might, or even an old western when things have taken a terror-inducing turn. Daniel-Day-Lewis comes into view in the middle of nowhere in a mine/well where he is determinedly hacking away for gold. He says nothing for the first good length of the film and we get a historical lesson in the very beginnings of oil drilling, the primitive tech and the hazardous conditions. We also get the idea that Daniel Plainview is one tough son-of-a-gun, intelligent, resourceful, and sinister.

There Will Be Blood follows Plainview into old age, spending the most time filming his life in the aforementioned small town.  The conversation about Religion and Greed that enters the film some ways in comes to a head at the very end, as well as his strange relationship with H.W. who is as much a character in the film as Daniel Plainview. The strange feeling of a bio-pic would make a point of Plainview’s life and philosophy, or some point out of it. I am still flinching, however, at the violent ending, so the contemplation will have to wait (or require another viewing).

Rest assured, the acting is superb. Day-Lewis as Plainview is startling and unforgettable. I swear that man sheds his skin for a borrowed one with every film and this time even his voice was magnificently disguised! The cinematography is gorgeous. The music is strange (very Art film, or old) but fitting. It is easy to become enthralled for every minute of it’s 158 minutes. It is a great film, I’m just not sure I liked it–there is something about the narrative I am just not sure about, and maybe the director who happened to write the screenplay was a bit too ambitious with his content?

2-I followed with Salt, the 2010 film directed by Phillip Noyce, starring Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) used to be a field agent with the CIA, but now rides the desk after a traumatic capture and a promise to her husband. One evening a remnant of the old Russian comes in claiming she is a plant, that her identity was invented until such a time her creator would need her to carry out some murderous act against some American dignitary, etc. Needless to say Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character Peabody, who is essentially Internal Affairs, wants to keep Salt for questioning. Her boss and old friend, Liev Schreiber as Ted Winter, who is as conflicted as Salt is doesn’t know whether to intervene or put her in irons himself. Is she a bad guy, or is this some twisted ruse that would provide a distraction from a greater plot? Who is Evelyn Salt?

Angelina Jolie is lean here, and blonde, and terribly capable. The action scenes are fantastic. I was thinking a lot about The Bourne Identity while watching and Jolie makes for a very good Jason. The bad guys are holding her husband, so she has  no ime to waste with the bureaucratic Agent Peabody. She is resourceful and very bad-ass. And really, I was enjoying the idea that Salt might be a bit of a romantic film. Her lover raised hell to get her released from a North Korean cell, and she would move heaven and earth to get him back.

The film takes turns. It works hard to keep you off balance. This is good, and the action keeps you too busy to question the believability of the most recent revelation. The introduction of the premise by the Russian Informant is a bit corny (to my mind), but once passed it, you go along; and you just keep going when some of the choices are a bit hard-going. You arrive at a somewhat unexpected end, and whether you find it satisfactory is somewhat negligent. You watched the whole film, you didn’t bail at several possible exits. And you find an ending that could conceive a sequel, or a t.v. series–a Mission Impossible or a Charlie’s Angel.

Salt is reminiscent of so many of its espionage predecessors, but not; and I’m not sure as to whether the film suffers in the effort to say “but not.”  The film is well cast and while the camera work or sequences bring nothing new to its genre of film, Angelina Jolie’s character will. As blonde as the classic Femme Fatale, she is much more complicated a character than she first seems, or ever seems for that matter.

3) RocknRolla rounded out the evening. This 2008 film written and directed by Guy Ritchie pulls characters from his 1998 film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels to weave his multi-stranded storyline in RocknRolla. Ritchie juggles a large cast and plenty of hijinks to create marvelously amusing collisions along the way towards a fitting conclusion–of sorts. (Has anyone heard when the Real RocknRolla is actually expected?) The summary is a complicated one but I think it could be boiled down to: Property scams where timely payment is necessary to breathing, whether you are a low-level con or the leader of a Mafia (foreign or domestic), create and carry the conflict. Some intersecting paths are inescapable as more characters are drawn into death threats as money must be exchanged, a painting recovered, and one dead rocknrolla found. And go.

I’d seen this film in pieces as Sean loves Guy Ritchie’s films (with the exception of Swept Away) and has watched RocknRolla more than a few times. Everyone I know raved about this particular film in 2008, but who knows why I could never find a mood to watch this one until the other night, because I really do like the way Ritchie shoots his films. I like his openings, his colors, and his cuts in sequence are fantastic. The soundtrack is always good, and his actors are brilliant. Thandie Newton is lovely as the only female cast-member and chaos inducing trickster. Ritchie’s narratives may be a bit male–is that why I hesitate? Any patience required with a storyline is rewarded with perfectly paced comedy. He makes use of characters at will, so only expect a handful to find development. And who knows how someone might be used in the next film in those Ritchie’s written for himself.

You can start with RocknRolla if you’ve yet to see any of Ritchie’s films, but I’d recommend Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels first, then there is Snatch (2000) and Revolver (2005) before RocknRolla. Ritchie is intelligent, interesting, daring, and fun. If all else fails to interest (say, the London underbelly does not intrigue) you have seen Sherlock Holmes (2009), right?

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I wouldn’t recommend watching these particular films in succession. It made for odd dreams and a surreal experience overall. But I would recommend watching at least one of these, you know, for those nights when A Game of Thrones or True Blood* isn’t showing?

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*Sean watches these, but then, he isn’t behind on his film watching as much as I am, or in his readings of GRRM…And we caught up on all the earlier seasons of House, MD on DVD.