TV Review: Sherlock, His Last Vow

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So that’s it, our winter fling with Sherlock is over! But what a finale, “His Last Vow” has everything; intrigue, misdirection, revelations and mystery. After last week’s episode which received mixed reactions from fans, Episode 3 sees Sherlock back at the height of its powers.

We finally venture inside Sherlock’s mind palace in this episode in a dream sequence to rival David Lynch, the place where Sherlock keeps all his memories and knowledge stored away in rooms is not always the sanest of places. Here we not only encounter his younger self, but his childhood dog, a much more malevolent version of his brother Mycroft and most disturbingly Moriarty enclosed in a padded cell but very much alive and as mad as ever. This whole sequence takes place in the 3 seconds of consciousness Sherlock has after being shot, it is a brilliant mixture of science, humor and Sherlock brilliance. Stylistically it is great with Molly appearing as the scientific version of his psyche and Mycroft popping up to remind him how stupid he is being, all this is done with an effortless cinematography that reflects the erratic nature of Sherlock’s mind. His descent down the staircase of his mind palace intersperses these scenes and it is only when in the hospital, when agonizing each step back the winding Parisian flight of stairs corresponds with a heartbeat, that you can appreciate how hard Sherlock is willing to fight to save his friend John Watson.

To the biggest reveal of the episode and even the series … look away now if you have yet to watch it!

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There’s something about Mary. Mary Watson nee. Morstan is not what she seems; the clues were always there, she recognized the skip code, she has no family, and she can rival Sherlock keeping up with his weirdness. Even so, this was one mystery the audience was not really trying to solve. The writers have so cleverly introduced Mary into our hearts, she was perfect for John and a brilliant witty rival to Sherlock that it almost feels like she has betrayed us as we see her standing there gun to the head of Magnussen. We still don’t really know who or what she was, assassin seems the most logical profession given what Magnussen sees in his file but nothing is spelled out. The knowing and not knowing is used brilliantly to maintain and even increase our respect for Mary as she runs from this dangerous past life, had the facts been spelled out plainly it would lend her character a more controversial edge that wouldn’t really suit the tone of the program.

Magnussen is perhaps the biggest red herring the program has ever attempted to slip by us, and it worked! Built up as a Moriarty type figure, brooding in the background and controlling the attacks on Sherlock and John, but as it turns out he was simply fodder to bring out the amazing truth about Mary. While he is certainly important to the plot, he is mainly there as a distraction and a conduit for action. Clearly set up as a Rupert Murdoch figure, he is designed to be hated. With files on every important person in the country, Magnussen even has Mycroft running scared. It is with Magnussen that the shows real twists and turns manifest themselves, with          Sherlock gambling his freedom and the security of the state on Magnussen’s “vaults”.

While this episode was certainly high in drama, it didn’t lack comedy. Curve balls including Sherlock having a girlfriend, and perhaps less shockingly being found in crack den serve to lighten the tone of the show. The introduction of Sherlock’s thoroughly ordinary parents was a stroke of genius and Christmas at the Holmes’ is quite a treat.

“His Last Vow” has been known to fans for a while as “His Last Bow”, leading internet theorists to conclude this would be the final series but happily they were mistaken. With the reappearance of Moriarty on every TV screen in the country Mycroft his forced to call Sherlock back from his exile after the events surrounding Magnussen’s “vaults” setting us up nicely for another series.

This third series of the show came back with a bang, faltered slightly in the second third but then came through for a triumphant finish in a finale to rival “The Reichenbach Fall”. As usual every episode was brimming with English acting talent, comedy and drama and even Episode 2 which was commonly held to be a little below standard was brilliant compared to other trudging crime dramas. Just a year wait this time, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a long year with the mystery of Moriarty hanging over us!

 

TV Review: Sherlock, The Sign of Three

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The second episode of Sherlock focused more on comedy and the building of characters and character relationships than any episode thus far. Based around the wedding of Watson and Mary, the show has chosen to shake up its format slightly; rather than the linear storyline that we usually enjoy The Sign of Three is formatted around a series of flashbacks to previous cases all presented by Sherlock during his best man speech. While it is admirable that Stephen Thompson has the courage to try something new with a TV show that has such militant fans, he unfortunately fell a little short this week.

Somehow the flashback sequences weren’t strong enough to carry an audiences attention in the same way the usual story-arc can; the use of multiple short stories is definitely strong in the history of Conan-Doyle’s detective but these stories just didn’t come together in a clever enough way to countenance such a radical change in formula.

While the format was clunky there were some stand out sequences, particularly the stag night. Sherlock . . . on a stag night – it’s better than you could ever imagine. What starts out as a night driven by a mathematically worked out alcohol intake ends with Sherlock and Watson drunkenly out on the case of a ghostly boyfriend. Cumberbatch and Freeman are hilariously accurate as a drunken duo, their bleary eyed concentration matched only by the brilliant composition of the shots with half the screen often out of focus, fading in and out in line with the duos drunkenness.

Despite his self proclaimed “high functioning sociopath” status Sherlock rises to the challenge of being best man admirably: YouTubing napkin designs, arranging seating plans and interviewing (and intimidating) ex boyfriends. All of which is done which the usual Sherlock awkward brilliance.
The Sign of Three is one of the funniest episodes of Sherlock so far, so it’s a shame that the dramatic elements fell so flat with a frankly weak murder plot made even weaker by the fact that 40% of the people I watched it with got it way before Sherlock!

Mary Marston, however, really came into her own in this episode, Abbington’s flawless (and unsurprising) chemistry with real-life partner Freeman made the episode for me – perhaps overtaken by Mary’s effortless manipulation of both Sherlock and Watson, always in their best interests of course! Her easy charm and unflappable nature make her a more that welcome addition to the team.

Though episode two was more patchy than usual, a strong comic stream runs through the whole episode and the style of the whole piece is as innovation and intriguing as ever but the flashback formula just didn’t gel. While the seemingly inconsequential anecdotes Sherlock throws out in his best man speech do come together to form a bigger picture, the writer has perhaps not been clever enough neglecting to lay the breadcrumbs for the audience to follow. While the bigger, more obvious murder plot is playing on the audiences mind the less interesting ones fall away leaving the big reveal with a feeling of unwelcome familiarity – none of the information is entirely new. The whole episode was very much like having a McDonalds meal – thoroughly enjoyable while eating but twinged with a sense of disappointment after you’ve finished. While the episode was very entertaining, the unraveled murder plot left more than a few questions unanswered when looking back.

Film Review: The Fifth Estate dir. Bill Condon

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The Fifth Estate is a film of contrasts; the contrast between the controversial topic and the A-list cast; the contrast between Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl), between Wikileaks’ intention and the eventual reaction and consequences, but most importantly between traditional print media and online sources of information – the Fourth, and eponymous, Fifth Estate.

Almost manic in its delivery of information The Fifth Estate captures the hectic and sometimes chaotic atmosphere that appears to have surrounded Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The constant movement from country to country only emphasises the global impact of the organisation and of the story the film is trying to tell.

Based on a book published by The Guardian in 2011, The Fifth Estate attempts to bring the “unvarnished truth” to light, a task in which Assange believes they have failed. His categoric dismissal of the film is addressed in a particularly self-aware section at the very end of the film where Cumberbatch is shown, in close up as Assange, rejecting the validity of any “Wikileaks film”.

Cumberbatch’s brilliant character study is the key to the films success, while Brühl’s depiction of Daniel Berg is by far the more emotionally engaging performance; Cumberbatch’s Assange has the kind of manic intelligence, with a hint of instability that makes him captivating to watch. The subtle decline of his character from cool collected freedom fighter to reckless egotist is seamless and beautifully controlled.

Read the full review here

In Cinemas Now.

New Footage for ‘Into Darkness’ Released

A 30 minute screening of new material was shown to UK bloggers and critics on Friday.

Click here to read the Guardians take on the new stuff.

Unfortunately I am not important enough to go so we’ll have to take their word for it but if the trailer is anything to go by then it looks very exciting!

See my previous posts on Into Darkness here.

Release date: 17th May 2013