Tuesday, 29 October 2013

They're Making a New 'Little Women' Movie

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of my all-time favourite books and its 1994 adaptation is one of my all-time favourite films. As you can imagine the news that there's going to be another adaptation hasn't left me at all pleased! I'm trying to be open-minded but I just don't see the need for another movie! A TV miniseries could be great because then it could be longer and could include more from the book - but what's the point of another movie?! Does anyone else agree with me? Or disagree?

Thursday, 24 October 2013

'The Grand Sophy' by Georgette Heyer (1950)

Synopsis: Sir Horace Stanton-Lacey is a renowned and wealthy diplomat who's spent many years travelling across the Continent with his only daughter Sophia ("Sophy"). They've been following the British army in their pursuit of Napoleon. However, since the Napoleonic Wars are now finally over, Sir Horace is asked to take on a new role in South America. Sir Horace decides not to take Sophy with him because he feels that it would be good for her to settle down in London and marry. He asks his sister Lady Ombersley to take Sophy into her family's home at Berkeley Square and introduce her into society. But when Sophy finally arrives in London she shocks everyone. Sophy is a very blunt, direct and outspoken young woman and she cares very little for English customs and conventions. She also has numerous pets. She has a dog, a horse, a parrot and a monkey! However, Sophy is so kind-hearted that it isn't long before her relatives are won over by her. The only exception is her cousin Charles who finds Sophy so annoying that he longs for her to get married so that the family can be finally rid of her. But Sophy has no intention of leaving Berkeley Square any time soon because she's worked out that all is not well at her relatives' home. Charles is engaged to a woman who is so sanctimonious, stuffy and uptight that it's aggravating all of his worst qualities. Her cousin Cecilia is smitten with a man who is completely unsuitable and her other cousin Hubert is having dire financial problems. Sophy decides to stick around and sort these people's lives out.

I had very high expectations for this book because I loved Heyer's Cotillion and this book seems to be another big fan favourite but I was so disappointed. The only thing that I truly liked about this book was Sophy herself. She reminded me of both Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse and Cold Comfort Farm's Flora Poste. She's self-confident, independent, clever, kind and eccentric (for her time). She loves animals and she has a mischievous sense of humour. If this book had had a better hero then I would have probably rated The Grand Sophy much higher. But I couldn't stand Charles Rivenhall at all (hey, that rhymes!) Charles is so shouty, bad-tempered and uptight! All of my favourite moments in the book were the scenes where Sophy would wind him even though they only made Charles even more angry and shouty. What does Sophy see in Charles?! Okay so he does loosen up a bit as the book goes along but his temper is so short that I really can't help but wonder how he and Sophy's relationship is even going to work :S

Another major problem that I had with the book was Chapter Eleven. This is an extremely racist chapter in which Sophy meets Hubert's Jewish loan shark, Mr Goldhanger. It's awful and it left a really nasty taste in my mouth. I couldn't possibly recommend this book to any Jewish readers. Yes, there were a lot of Jewish moneylenders in the Regency era because of the lack of professions that were available to Jews. Unfortunately Heyer doesn't stop there. She gives an entire chapter of descriptions of Mr Goldhanger's greasy hair, ingratiating leer, "semitic nose", dirty home, and evil and manipulative ways. If The Grand Sophy had actually been written in Regency times then I could have dismissed this chapter as being a product of its time only it wasn't written in the Regency era. It was written post Holocaust. It made me so angry to read such prejudices in a novel that was published in the later half of the last century. It's led me to believe that Heyer was either anti-semitic herself or just being extremely culturally insensitive. A little consideration for the six million Jews that were wiped out would have been nice, Heyer!

I'm hoping that The Grand Sophy was just a rare blip and I'm still planning on reading more of Heyer's books.

Rating: 2/5

Monday, 21 October 2013

Because 'The Day of the Doctor' Trailer Deserves Its Own Blog Post

I wouldn't usually feel compelled to write a blog post about a trailer but dangnabit The Day of the Doctor trailer is so awesome that I feel I have to! It's amazing and a work of art! It's the most creative and interesting trailer that I've ever seen, it looks incredibly artistic and beautiful, the remix of the theme music is great, it has a brilliantly cryptic and tantalising voiceover from Matt Smith, it leaves you feeling hugely excited about the show's 50th anniversary, and yet it spoils absolutely nothing about the episode! Bravo BBC, bravo! I've watched this trailer over and over again during the past weekend and I still get the shivers - and so much love for the show has obviously gone into this thing. TV show-makers and Hollywood film-makers really need to pay attention to this trailer because we need far more like it in this world! In fact if this is the only trailer for the episode that the BBC releases then I'd be perfectly happy with that. A part of me is hoping that they won't show any footage of The Day of the Doctor at all now because it will add to the episode's mystique. Having said that, I'm sure that when the BBC inevitably releases some footage that I'll end up caving in and watching it with all of the other fans!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Sherlock (Series Two)

After falling crazily in love with Sherlock series one I became incredibly excited about seeing series two! I do try to go into films and television shows with low expectations but there are certain things that I just can't help but get excited about! So did the second series of Sherlock meet my high expectations? No, it exceeded them! Series two is if anything even more brilliant, funny and thrilling than series one! I'm still in awe of the fact that the writers have been able to update Arthur Conan Doyle's stories for the 21st century so successfully! One of the biggest reasons why I love series two of Sherlock so much is due to its wonderful character development. All of the major characters from the previous series are given more depth and development here, and their relationships with each become more complex. Sherlock's growing awareness of his own humanity and his affection for others is beautifully portrayed in this series, and I especially loved the relationship between him and John in this series. Their friendship evolves in such a realistic and touching way. Even though neither of them ever explicitly says to the other "I love you" it's obvious that they do. Their mutual love and affection for each other is so strong that they simply don't need to say these words! This is very accurate to the friendship between Holmes and Watson in the Conan Doyle stories of course. From this point onwards I'm going to discuss the episodes of series two in more depth and also talk a little bit about series three - so there will be some spoilers in this review. Don't say I didn't warn you!

In series two of Sherlock every single episode is directly based on a Arthur Conan Doyle story, and the stories that are adapted here are arguably his most famous. The three episodes that make up series two of Sherlock are A Scandal in Belgravia, The Hounds of Baskerville and The Reichenbach FallA Scandal in Belgravia is written by Steven Moffat and is based on A Scandal in BohemiaThe Hounds of Baskerville is written by Mark Gatiss and is based on The Hound of the BaskervillesThe Reichenbach Fall is written by Steve Thompson and is based on The Final Problem.

The episode that I enjoyed the least from series two was A Scandal in Belgravia. That isn't to say that I disliked this episode of course! I still found it extremely funny and entertaining for the most part, it's just that I didn't enjoy it as much as the other two. This is due to Moffat's portrayal of Irene Adler's character and her relationship with Sherlock. I thought I was going to really enjoy Sherlock's Irene Adler at first because I loved Lara Pulver's acting in the role. Also, the fact that this version's Irene thinks to take her clothes off in her first meeting with Sherlock so that he won't be able to deduce her from what she's wearing was a great move on Moffat's part. It brilliantly showcases Irene's cunning. However it does bother me that Irene - who acts completely independently in A Scandal in Bohemia - ends up having to ask Moriarty for advice on how to beat Sherlock. And it's suggested that Irene and Sherlock have romantic feelings for each other in this episode which also bothers me. To be fair, Moffat doesn't do this in a way that's blatant or OTT. Unlike the Guy Ritchie films, he does leave it open-ended. But even though the Guy Ritchie films' depiction of Irene and her relationship with Sherlock is much, much worse; I'm still not thrilled about the romantic suggestions in the episode. I know that Sherlock and Irene shipping is quite common within Sherlock Holmes fanfiction but in the canon there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Holmes had anything more than a deep respect and fascination with Irene. Also, I'm firmly convinced that Sherlock Holmes is an asexual (along with many other fans). However, it seems that Moffat would rather have Sherlock Holmes be a heterosexual. He did initially claim that his Sherlock Holmes is an asexual but he's since backtracked on this, and has said that the show wouldn't be as interesting if the character was asexual because then he's not abstaining from anything. And according to an American girl that I once spoke to, all of the references to Sherlock Holmes being a virgin in A Scandal in Belgravia were removed from its American broadcast (although she wasn't sure who was actually responsible for these cuts). This saddens me because Sherlock Holmes is a bit of an icon to the asexual community. BUT leaving these things aside I still greatly enjoyed A Scandal in Belgravia. It's often hilariously, laugh-out-loud funny and the cliffhanger ending to The Great Game is brilliantly and quickly resolved. This following scene is also one of my absolute favourite Sherlock moments so far! I love Sherlock's simmering rage when he finds out that Mrs Hudson has been attacked and what follows is absolutely hilarious : D

The episodes that follow are even better! Gatiss's The Hounds of Baskerville is now my second favourite Sherlock episode. It's an absolute delight and it doesn't get enough love! The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first Arthur Conan Doyle story that I read and it's still my favourite out of the Sherlock Holmes novels. I loved Gatiss's take on the story! It's creepy, scary, atmospheric and tense and the Gothic horror element of the original story is still firmly intact. Gatiss includes lots of subtle references to the original story but there's a different culprit and some very inventive new elements, so even though I'm already familiar with The Hound of the Baskervilles I still didn't know everything that was going to happen. There are stunning shots of Dartmoor in this episode and its rural setting makes for a very refreshing alternative to all of the London-based episodes that Sherlock has done so far. Also there's still a lot of humour in this story, Russell Tovey is excellent, and I very much appreciate all of those shots of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock looking sexily brooding and intense on the moors! :D

And then there's The Reichenbach Fall. Well, what can I say? Steve Thompson's episode is stunning, absolutely stunning, and my favourite Sherlock episode so far. This episode alone is worth the price of the TV license fee! This episode is so intensely suspenseful and thrilling that whenever I re-watch it I still find myself sitting on the edge of my seat with my hands pressed over my mouth! But this episode is also incredibly moving, emotional and powerful. Sherlock and John's final conversation, and the final scene with John at the cemetery, both leave me in tears - and I'm not usually a crier! But this is what the episode does to me...

This episode is truly incredible and I'm hugely excited by the fact that its director Toby Haynes will be directing the BBC's upcoming adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell! Katharine Parkinson - who I only knew from the sitcom The IT Crowd - also does a superb job at playing a bitchy Sun reporter and ever since I saw this episode I've had an overwhelming desire for Sergeants Donovan and Anderson to be horribly and brutally killed-off in series three. Actually, no. Anderson can still stick around for series three so that Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock can carry on insulting him. Donovan on the other hand... *sharpens sword against grindstone*

Another huge factor in the brilliance of series two in general is Andrew Scott's Moriarty. I have to say that I was a bit nervous when his Moriarty was first revealed at the end of The Great Game. I feared that his Moriarty was going to be just like John Simm's The Master from Doctor Who i.e. campy, far too OTT, and as annoying as hell. Oh, but how I was wrong! Andrew Scott completely won me over in the first scene of A Scandal in Belgravia alone and when he finally gets his chance to shine in The Reichenbach Fall he really, well, shines! Scott's scenes with Benedict Cumberbatch are amazing to watch in this episode. Their characters are both supremely respectful of each other and yet incredibly disdainful of one another at the same time. And I just love Andrew Scott's portrayal of Moriarty. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have both talked about how they didn't want to do a stereotypical "boring and posh" Moriarty. They wanted a villain who was genuinely frightening and an absolute psycho. Andrew Scott's Moriarty definitely achieved this! He's psychotic, menacing, brilliant, manic, stone-cold, manipulative and intense - and although he can be quite charming and funny at times he's very, very evil. Even when he smiles his eyes are completely cold! Andrew Scott completely deserved his BAFTA win for the role and I also think it's pretty cool that they actually got an Irishman to play the character. Moriarty is an Irish name after all.

Sherlock has deservedly become a massive hit - both in terms of its viewer size and its critical reviews. It completely deserves it! As you can probably imagine I'm now extremely excited about series three, especially since it seems that they're going to be adapting my favourite Sherlock Holmes short story! It looks like series three is going to feature adaptations of The Adventure of the Empty House, The Sign of Four and The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton. The latter is my favourite of the Sherlock Holmes short stories that I've read so far and it should be super interesting to see in the age of tabloid newspapers and celebrity gossip websites.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Sherlock (Series One)

Doctor Who writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss were once on a train journey from London to the set of Doctor Who in Cardiff. Along the way they began to chat about their mutual, life-long love of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Eventually they started to talk about how well the stories would work in a contemporary setting, and that someone should really do an adaptation that was set in the modern day. And then it occurred to them: why shouldn't they be the ones to do this?! And so Sherlock was born...

To be honest I was very disappointed when I found out that the BBC were doing a modern-day update of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I think I would have been a lot more optimistic about a modern-day Sherlock Holmes if I'd already seen Moffat's brilliant modern-day update of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but at the time I hadn't seen it. I only knew that I hated the thought of Sherlock Holmes texting and sending emails and using the internet to help him solve crimes! However, when I finally saw Sherlock, I realised that I'd been wrong. And not only had I been wrong about Sherlock, I had been WRONG about Sherlock! In fact this show has now become one of my favourites of all time! People, prepare for gushing in this review, a lot of gushing...

I was absolutely blown away by Sherlock. I couldn't believe how faithful it was! It's packed with subtle references and in-jokes to the Conan Doyle stories! Viewers who aren't familiar with the Conan Doyle stories will never be left feeling confused and alienated by all of these references but those viewers who are familiar with the canon will be feeling delighted! Despite the fact that Sherlock is set in the modern-day it's a far more accurate adaptation of the Conan Doyle stories than the recent Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes films. With Sherlock the writers have been able to stay true to the spirit, tone and essential details of the Conan Doyle stories whilst still being able to make everything fit into the modern-day. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson now call each other "Sherlock" and "John" instead of "Holmes" and "Watson". Sherlock sends text messages rather than telegrams. He still plays the violin. John blogs about Sherlock's adventures instead of keeping a journal. Their characters even meet in exactly the same way as their book counterparts do in A Study in Scarlet: Watson is an army doctor who comes back to London from Afghanistan after being injured in the war out there. *Hmm, some things never change!* He then meets Sherlock Holmes through a mutual friend and becomes his flatmate. Their flat is on Baker Street and their landlady is Mrs Hudson. One thing that is dropped entirely though is Sherlock Holmes' drug use. In their commentary for A Study in Pink Moffat and Gatiss give their reasons for this. They didn't want their Sherlock Holmes to take drugs because Sherlock Holmes doesn't even take drugs all that much in the Conan Doyle stories. The only times in which Sherlock Holmes takes opium in the Conan Doyle stories are those times when he's feeling bored and hasn't got a case to solve. Sherlock Holmes isn't an addict. Moffat and Gatiss weren't even convinced that a modern-day Sherlock Holmes would take drugs. Times were different in Conan Doyle's day. Opium was perfectly legal back then and you could even buy it at the local chemist! They even had cocaine in Coca-Cola! So instead of taking opium, the Sherlock Holmes of this TV show has an addiction to cigarettes and wears nicotine patches. Having said that, both A Study in Pink and the unaired 60 minute pilot for Sherlock imply that Sherlock Holmes has taken drugs in the past.

Again, the writing for Sherlock is just so, so brilliant. The plots are deviously cunning and mind-blowing. Also - although there's a brilliant scene in The Blind Banker where Sherlock casually battles a murderous swordsman like it's an everyday occurrence - the writing never tries to turn Sherlock Holmes into an action hero. And each one of this series' three episodes is clever, imaginative, brilliantly-plotted, suspenseful and thrilling. It's proof that you don't necessarily need to have loads of action in a film for it to be exciting and thrilling. Also, there is so much humour in the show! The writing in this show can be absolutely hysterical. The humour in this show is amazing and it's oh so quotable.

Now I've covered the brilliance of Sherlock's writing I can move onto the brilliance of Sherlock's acting. Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and he is absolutely magnificent in the role! Critics have praised him as being the best actor to play Sherlock Holmes ever since the late, great Jeremy Brett portrayed the character. *In fact it might interest some to know that Benedict Cumberbatch actually knew Jeremy Brett personally. Brett was a close friend of Benedict Cumberbatch's parents.* The role of Sherlock Holmes has made Benedict Cumberbatch a star. Cumberbatch was hardly a complete unknown when he took on the role of course. He'd already had roles in several big films such as Amazing Grace, Atonement and The Other Boleyn Girl. Having said that Cumberbatch wasn't exactly a household name either. But Sherlock has completely changed all of that and has made him a huge star. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a star-making performance in Sherlock. His Sherlock Holmes is arrogant, cold and sometimes rude and yet Cumberbatch still manages to make him extremely likeable and charming; his Sherlock has clearly got a good heart beneath the surface. His Sherlock is also mysterious, authoritative, energetic, socially awkward, brilliant, sometimes manic, fiercely intelligent, calculating, witty, intense, funny and sexy. There's even a tinge of dark menace to his Sherlock Holmes at times. And he has such a commanding screen presence and an amazing voice! And he has such an otherworldly look with those gorgeous, high cheekbones of his! And I love how he dresses in this series! Yep, Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely amazing in the role and everything I'd want from a modern-day Sherlock Holmes :) He's a truly fantastic actor and - mark my words! - he will win an Oscar nomination some day. And it's a crime that he hasn't won a BAFTA for the role of Sherlock Holmes already!

But of course no adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories would be complete without the character of Sherlock Holmes' loyal best friend John Watson. In Sherlock, John is played by Martin Freeman. I have to confess something here. Before I saw Sherlock I didn't think Martin Freeman was a particularly good actor. I remember being pretty unimpressed with his role in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I couldn't really picture him as John Watson. But I've been completely won over by Freeman now and he thoroughly deserved his BAFTA for the role. Freeman plays John extremely well and I love him in the role. His performance is also very similar to the Watson that we read about in the Conan Doyle stories. He excels at playing the ordinary, reliable, level-headed, relatable, humble and loyal character of those stories. You can definitely buy Freeman's John Watson as a trained soldier as well and I do love that the writers never do what the Basil Rathbone films did; which was to turn John Watson into a bumbling, annoying sidekick so that Sherlock Holmes looks even smarter by comparison. I love the relationship between Sherlock and John in this series so much. Sherlock pulls John out of his boredom and depression by giving his life excitement and fulfilment; and John gives Sherlock something to care about and acts as his moral compass. The friendship between the two of them is very touching and it gives the show a lot of heart. And it really helps that Cumberbatch and Freeman have such an electric chemistry between them! One of the big reasons why I'm so excited about the next Hobbit film is the fact that both of them will be starring in it, with Freeman playing Bilbo and Cumberbatch voicing Smaug. They'll be in scenes together! But they'll be enemies this time! I can't wait to see what this will be like!

And then of course there are all the wonderful supporting characters in Sherlock and the actors who play them. Sherlock and John's housekeeper, er, I mean landlady Mrs Hudson has a much more prominent role in Sherlock than she does in the stories and is very well-acted by Una Stubbs. As Mrs Hudson she's very maternal, warm, sweet and affectionate. The character of Lestrade is played by Rupert Graves. Lestrade's character is portrayed quite inconsistently in the Sherlock Holmes stories but Moffat and Gatiss decided to go with the Lestrade that we read about in The Six Napoleons. So Lestrade is a man who is often frustrated and exasperated with Sherlock but is nevertheless deeply admiring of him, and whom Sherlock considers to the best police officer in Scotland Yard. Lestrade might not be a genius but he's intelligent in his own right and is very much like John in this respect. Graves brings a lot of gravitas to the role and his Lestrade is very likeable. Sherlock Holmes' older brother Mycroft is another character who has a more prominent role in Sherlock than he does in the stories. In Sherlock he's played by Mark Gatiss who - as I've already mentioned - is a co-executive producer and writer for the show. Apparently Gatiss hasn't even considered himself for the role until his fellow writer and friend Steve Thompson suggested it. I think Mark Gatiss is a really underrated actor and he does a superb job at playing Mycroft. He's really well-suited to the role. He plays cold and disdainful really well and his conversations and jibes with Cumberbatch's Sherlock can be very amusing. Eventually I'd love for Sherlock to do a very Mycroft-heavy episode that really shows just how intelligent Mycroft is. There's also a completely original character in Sherlock called Molly Hooper. She's played by Louise Brealey (who also works as a TV writer and journalist). I'm probably sounding like a broken record now but Brealey is excellent in Sherlock as well and her character is very sweet and likeable. I suspect that for many fans she's the most relatable character on the show as well with her massive crush on Sherlock! Other notable actors who guest-star on Sherlock - and do a brilliant job - are Phil Davis and Bertie Carvel. The 5th Doctor Peter Davison also does a brief voiceover in the Planetarium scene during The Great Game. Oh and as for the character of Moriarty, no I haven't forgotten him. I'm going to talk about him during my series two review.

Mrs Hudson
Mycroft Holmes
Molly Hooper
I also love the production values of Sherlock. It's a very cinematic-looking show and all of its episodes look stunning. Sherlock is beautifully-shot and directed and it has some stunning lighting and cinematography. It doesn't look remotely cheap. The fact that text messages and emails appear as on-screen subtitles has also become a signature feature of the show. That is such a simple yet clever idea that I'm amazed that no-one's thought of doing that before! It means that they don't have to do awkward cut-away shots of the text messages on the person's phone! I wonder if that's going to become more common in future films and TV shows? Sherlock is also filmed on location in London. Actually, Sherlock is only partly filmed on location in London because of the cost of shooting there. Most of the show is actually filmed in Cardiff. However the show is still set there and it's so much fun to see Trafalgar Square, Chinatown, Soho and Canary Wharf on screen. And London plays such a vital role in the Sherlock Holmes stories that you just can't have an adaptation that isn't set there. Yes there are occasional stories where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson travel to other places to solve crimes but the vast majority of the stories take place in London. And I would love to live in Sherlock and John's flat in this show! It's beautiful and actually very Victorian-like. And finally, I love David Arnold and Michael Price's music for Sherlock as well.

Series one of Sherlock consists of three 90 minute episodes. A 60 minute pilot for the show was filmed and originally Moffat and Gatiss had intended to make six 60 minute episodes for Sherlock. However the BBC rejected this and told them that they wanted three 90 minute episodes instead. I heartily approve of this! I'm so, so glad that Sherlock doesn't consist of 45 minute length or 60 minute length episodes like the vast majority of BBC shows! Especially now that I've seen the original 60 minute pilot for Sherlock. It's not that that episode is bad but it's quite rushed. A lot of people, even fans, do moan about each series having only three episodes though and the fact that there's a long wait between each series. This long wait is because of Steven Moffat being the current showrunner on Doctor Who, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman having movie careers, and Mark Gatiss being a writer for Doctor Who and an actor himself. They all have other commitments. Anyway, I used to sympathise with this attitude from some of the fans but now I actually find it really annoying when people complain about these things. The Sherlock episodes are 90 minutes long! Every episode is a 90 minute made-for-TV movie! I honestly don't think the fans should be feeling hard done-by for having to wait every 18-24 months or so for three movies! And yes I do often wish that there were more than six Sherlock episodes but I'd take quality over quantity any day! My earnest wish is that Sherlock carries on for years and years. If the writers and actors only have to come back for a few months every two years or so then they'd be happier to carry on doing the show for longer because it would give them the opportunity to do lots of different things. And they could actually do storylines with the characters ageing just like the characters do in the books.

The three episodes of Sherlock series one are A Study in Pink, The Blind Banker and The Great Game. A Study in Pink is written by Steven Moffat and is directly based on the original Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet. The remaining two episodes aren't directly based on Sherlock Holmes stories but instead take plot elements and inspiration from a variety of different stories. The Blind Banker is written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's friend Steve Thompson. The Great Game is written by Mark Gatiss. All of these episodes are absolutely fantastic. The Blind Banker is often considered to be the weakest of the series one episodes - and I suppose it is - but it's still brilliant and I still adore it. I'm not going to give in-depth reviews of the Sherlock episodes in this post but I'd like to do that for another post some day.

I absolutely adore Sherlock. The characters, the actors, the writing, the production values... it's a wonderful, wonderful show. Sherlock is quite simply a must-watch whether you've read Arthur Conan Doyle's stories or not. WATCH IT! WATCH IT! WATCH IT! Oh, and before I wrap this review I feel I should mention that the special features for series one are excellent as well. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Sue Vertue (Moffat's wife and co-producer) provide a commentary on A Study in Pink; Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman provide a commentary on The Great Game. Both of these commentaries are genuinely very interesting and informative. I really wish that they'd done a commentary for The Blind Banker as well but oh well. I would also recommend watching the original 60 minute pilot as well because it makes for a very interesting comparison to A Study in Pink.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

To My Followers: Please Pick Which Musical I Should See!

Since I'm a massive theatre fan, and live just 80 minutes away from London, I go to see West End shows about three times a year. This year I've seen Wicked (for the second time) and a production of The Tempest at the Globe Theatre. In December I'll also be seeing Richard II (David Tennant's in it! Yay!) Next year I'll be seeing Miss Saigon and I'm planning on going to see Phantom of the Opera and/or Les Miserables again. I'm also seeing Tom Hiddleston, Mark Gatiss and Hadley Fraser in Coriolanus but only because they're doing a live recording that they're screening into cinemas. I couldn't get the tickets to see it at the Donmar. Oh and I'm very tempted to see Mojo. I know barely anything about the play but it's got Ben Whishaw, Colin Morgan and Rupert Grint in it! But in addition to going to the West End I also try to see any interesting shows that visit my hometown on tour. I'm seeing War Horse in a couple of weeks and in July I'll be seeing Wicked again. But in 2014 there are quite a few shows that are visiting my hometown that look interesting! The thing is, I just haven't got the money to justify seeing all of them. Anyway, that's enough preamble and I'd like some advice. Of these various shows which do you think is the best and which do you think I should see? I feel I can only justify seeing one - or maybe two - that are on this list.

Fiddler on the Roof - I still haven't seen the film yet and I only know the musical's most famous songs (If I Were a Rich Man, etc). But I do really like those songs!
Singin in the Rain - I've only seen the film once but I did love it and the West End reviews for the recent stage production were excellent. But in my scepticism I wonder if it will be as good?
Evita - It's been over 10 years since I last saw the film adaptation but I've been listening to the music on YouTube a lot lately and I really love a lot of the songs from it (Rainbow High, Don't Cry for Me Argentina, etc) The reviews that I've read for this current production have been really good. The story seems like a less interesting Elisabeth to me but I'm still intrigued. 
Cats - This musical seems to be one of those musicals that people either love or hate. From what I've gathered it doesn't seem to have much of a plot but people still rave about the music, the dancing and the general spectacle of it.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Les Miserables (Original London Cast Album)

The original London cast recording of Les Miserables was recorded in 1985 and very early on into the musical's run. The show was still evolving when this album was made. Therefore Les Mis fans who discovered the musical from the live show, other cast recordings, or the film will notice lots of little variations and differences on this recording. Many of the songs have a slower tempo. There's a bit of an 80s synth sound to it in places. Work Song has a different intro. Stars is placed before Look Down, it has a different intro, and the dramatic "Lord, let me find him" verse isn't on it. Gavroche has a longer and far more annoying version of Little People. Cosette gets a beautiful solo song called I Saw Him Once. Grantaire doesn't have that solo verse in Drink with Me, etc.

If it wasn't for the 10th anniversary concert I would call this album's cast the best that I've heard so far. Apart from one notable exception this album has a brilliant cast! I mean do I really need to point out how amazing Colm Wilkinson, Alun Armstrong and Michael Ball are?! Colm Wilkinson is a fantastic Jean Valjean on the 10th anniversary concert and vocally he's even better here. Alun Armstrong is still my favourite Thenardier because he's got a great voice and he strikes the perfect balance between being funny and being creepy/evil. Most of the Thenardiers that I've seen/heard lean too much towards one extreme or the other. And Michael Ball's Marius is just phenomenal. His version of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables is vocally still the best that I've ever heard - and by quite some distance too! In Victor Hugo's novel Marius is quite possibly my favourite character but I'm not usually a huge fan of him in the musical because he's too flat and drippy for my liking. Michael Ball and Eddie Redmayne are still the only two Marius's (or Mari-i!) that I really, truly love.

There are even more fantastic performances on this album. The BBC radio sitcom Cabin Pressure has made me love Roger Allam and now that I've heard this album Allam has jumped straight into "My Favourite Javerts" list. He's brilliant. I love his voice and, just like Phillip Quast, Allam brings a certain "sneery" edge to the role. It really suits Javert. Then there's Rebecca Caine who is one of my favourite Christines from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. Her Think of Me cadenza blows Sarah Brightman's version out of the water easily! Now Rebecca Caine is my favourite stage musical Cosette. It helps that her Cosette is the only one who gets to sing I Saw Him Once. But Caine has also got such a beautiful soprano voice. Her tone is just so lovely and pure. Her voice isn't grating and shrill like Tracy Shayne's on The Complete Symphonic Cast Album, and her voice is much more suited to the role of Cosette than Judy Kuhn's. And then there's Frances Ruffelle. Her Eponine tends to really divide Les Mis fans and a few years ago I absolutely hated her! I found both her voice and her interpretation whiny. It probably didn't help matters that my first Eponine was Lea Salonga either. Her voice is absolute perfection on the 10th anniversary concert and I really loved her strong, defiant and frustrated interpretation of the character. But much to my surprise Ruffelle's Eponine is now seriously growing on me! Her more wistful, quiet and fragile interpretation of the character is very different to Lea Salonga's for sure but it's equally valid. And although her voice isn't as beautiful and powerful as Lea Salonga's and Samantha Barks', I still think that Ruffelle sounds very lovely on this cast album and that she puts a lot of emotion and passion into the role. I won't go into how she sounds on the Original Broadway Cast Album. I'll leave that for another post. Ruffelle also puts on a cockney accent for quite a lot of her lines on this cast recording. The use of cockney accents in Les Mis tends to divide the fans as well. I can understand why it bothers some people but I can take it or leave it myself (because I think it works as a quick substitute for the Argot slang). In fact the only performance that I really dislike on this cast recording is Patti LuPone's Fantine. Yeah, yeah, I know she's a musical theatre legend and all that but as Fantine I still dislike her. Unlike Anne Hathaway, I get the impression that LuPone didn't think Fantine was a particularly great or significant role. Judging from a few quotes I've read I get the impression that LuPone didn't have a particularly strong attachment to the character, and on this cast recording it really shows. LuPone sounds utterly bored on this album and I felt no real passion or emotion coming from her. I wouldn't be surprised if she was painting her nails whilst she was recording her vocals!

The original London cast album should be an indispensable part of any Les Mis fan's collection in my opinion, along with the Original French Concept Album and the 10th Anniversary Concert. Firstly, because it has one of the strongest casts that I've yet come across. Secondly, because fans of the musical will be able to hear how the show first began. Again, I wouldn't say that this particular cast recording is better than the 10th anniversary concert recording. That version has the strongest all-round cast and it deserves all of the love and acclaim it gets. Also, there are some aspects to this particular album that I didn't like. I couldn't stand the longer version of Little People and I really missed Grantaire's solo verse in Drink with Me and Javert's final verse in Stars. I didn't mind the slower tempos on this album so much with the notable exception of The Confrontation. This album's slower version of that song means that it doesn't have anywhere near as much dramatic tension. But overall I still really enjoyed listening to this album. I wouldn't rank it as highly as the 10th Anniversary Concert but I enjoyed it more than the Original French Concept Album and the Complete Symphonic Cast Album. Another major highlight of this album is Cosette's solo I Saw Him Once. It's a beautiful song and it really didn't deserve to be axed from the musical! For your listening pleasure I've decided to include this song on my post :)

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Modern-Day 'Les Miserables' TV Show?

About a month ago it was announced that 20th Century Fox are currently developing a modern-day adaptation of Les Miserables. It came from Deadline (which is a reputable news website) and was later reported elsewhere. You can read the Deadline article here. However, all that's been really said about this show so far is that it will be set in the modern-day and that Rob Thomas (the creator of Veronica Mars) is behind it. Oh, and that it will be:

"... a primetime soap about a brilliant lawyer running a legal exoneration program who fights to evade the consequences of his own unjust conviction many years before. He must navigate high society, continue his mission of saving innocent people, and manage his tumultuous family and romantic life - all while staying one step ahead of a ruthless U.S. Attorney who refuses to let the ghosts of the past die."

When I first heard about this thing I was in complete shock and even now I'm still mentally shaking my head about it. Judging from the synopsis that's been released so far it doesn't even sound like it's got anything to do with Les Mis really. The synopsis that they've released suggests that it's only going to be focusing on the Valjean-Javert storyline. But there's so much more to Les Mis than this! What about all of the other characters? What about all of the politics and the social commentary that was going on in France at the time?

I'm sure I'll give this show a watch to see what it's like but to me Les Miserables is one of those stories that can only work when it's in the context of its original setting. I just don't see how they can change both the time setting and the country of Les Mis and still have it be Les Mis. I know that Rob Thomas made Veronica Mars and I know that that show is supposed to be brilliant but this upcoming Les Mis project sounds dreadful to me. Any thoughts?

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Because I love the musical Wicked so much I really didn't think I was going to enjoy Disney's alternative prequel to The Wizard of Oz very much. But the film turned out to be so much better than I thought it was going to be that I ended up feeling frustrated that it didn't manage to be far better than it was!

The story of Oz the Great and Powerful is almost completely different to the story of Wicked. Whereas Wicked has the "Wicked" West of the West as its main character, this prequel chooses to focus on the Wizard. In this film, the Wizard is a man called Oscar "Oz" Diggs (James Franco) who's working as a circus magician in Kansas. Oscar is also a shameless womaniser, but one day this womanising gets him into trouble and he's forced to flee the circus. He gets into his hot air balloon and is soon swept into the path of a tornado. He then finds himself in the land of Oz. The first person that he meets in Oz is a young woman called Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes that Oscar must be the wizard who is expected to fulfil a prophecy about defeating a wicked witch. Theodora soon falls in love with Oscar and offers to take him to the Emerald City so he can meet her older sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Oscar is delighted to become the ruler of Oz and to accept the pile of money that comes with it... until he finds out the part about defeating the evil witch. Nevertheless Oscar goes off on a quest, with a flying monkey servant called Finley (Zach Braff), to defeat the evil witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). He learns a few surprises along the way...

When this film is good, it's really good. I loved the opening credits and the first 20 minutes or so of this film are excellent. I loved the China Doll character. She's the most likeable character in the whole film and is extremely well-voiced by Joey King. Some of the conversations between Oscar, Finley and China Doll Girl are actually quite funny and provide many of the film's best scenes. There's some excellent CGI and Oz really does look like a fantastical, magical land. It's a beautiful-looking film. Danny Elfman provides some beautiful music in this film. A lot of reviewers have complained about James Franco's performance in this film and feel that he was miscast as the Wizard but I honestly didn't mind his acting. Of course Franco isn't the ideal choice for the character. Both Robert Downey Jr and Johnny Depp were offered the role of the Wizard before him but they each turned it down. Downey Jr turned it down simply because he wasn't interested. Depp was interested but he'd already signed up to do The Lone Ranger so he had to turn it down as well. Both of these actors are brilliant at playing loveable rogues and would have definitely brought more charisma and likeability to the Wizard. But still, Franco in no way ruined the film for me and he gave a solid performance. It was actually the film's sexism that spoilt the film for me. Just to warn you, in discussing my major problem with the film I'm going to have to give a spoiler away.

This film has been accused of sexism and now I've seen it I can completely understand why. All of the witches are very underdeveloped and two-dimensional in this film and are given barely any backstory. Their stories all completely revolve around Oscar and two of them fall madly in love with him. Evanora's character isn't quite as poorly-developed as the other two because of Rachel Weisz's portrayal. Although Evanora is still a very two-dimensional character on paper Weisz still manages to bring some sassy charm to the role. As a result Evanora was my favourite out of the witches. But I absolutely couldn't give a toss about Theodora or Glinda! In this film Theodora's character starts off as good but it then turns out that she's actually the Wicked Witch of the West. Theodora's abrupt character change halfway through the film wasn't at all believable. She goes evil just because the man she loves is in love with someone else! Oh, puh-leeze! Having someone go evil just because someone else has broken their heart is such a boring cliché. Also, Theodora is really annoying. She falls in a chemistry-less love with Oscar in less than a day and is already talking about marrying him before they've even reached the Emerald City! She then spends the rest of the film's first hour simpering after him. In the second hour she basically whines, glares at people, and gives earbleeding shrieks. And Glinda's character is completely bland in this film. She's nothing more than an insipid, wide-eyed damsel in distress and her character just seems so feeble and helpless. She even manages to get captured by two flying monkeys whilst she's holding onto her own wand! Even Oscar seems more capable than her! The witches in this film are nowhere near as well-developed as Elphaba, Glinda and Nessarose are in Wicked. Also how come Theodora and Evanora - who are sisters - have completely different accents? Theodora has an American accent and Evanora has an English accent. It's never explained.

Oz the Great and Powerful has a lot going for it. It certainly has its entertaining scenes and moments and I liked it more than The Wizard of Oz. I've never been much of a fan of that film. But having said that this film just can't hold a candle to Wicked. The female characters in that musical are much better-developed and far more likeable. Also, it has fantastic songs and the story is much more compelling and moving. It's one of my favourite musicals. Oz the Great and Powerful is still a charming and enjoyable film but it could have been so much more.

Rating: 3/5