I’ve been watching: Tomorrow When The War Began

  • An unlikely group of teenagers from an Australian country town go on a camping trip. It’s a blissful weekend spent immersed in the bush, disconnected from civilisation, with only each other for company. They bond, they grow closer to one another, and some of their number even find love. When they return to their hometown of Wirrawee, they find their homes abandoned and the town occupied by invading soldiers (which are heavily implied to be Chinese). After seeing the detention camps the people of the town, including their friends and family, are being kept in, and almost being captured themselves, they spend their time lying low in the abandoned town and avoiding capture. That is, until they decide to turn guerrilla and fight the invaders.
  • It’s a thrilling film with an attention-grabbing, high-concept plot. The sheer novelty of the idea of contemporary Australia, in peacetime, being invaded by Asian forces is wonderful. The scenes of the Wirrawee detention camp, flustered ordinary Australians being intimidated at gunpoint by black-booted, black-uniformed Asians, and the aerial battle the kids witness, give Australian as well as other Western viewers a very real and chilling sense of what a hostile invasion of our countries would look like. Those sequences were surreal, because a foreign occupation of the familiar scenes of Australian suburbia and Australian country towns sounds like such a surreal and far-fetched prospect. We believe it could never happen. Not here. Not to us. That kind of thing doesn’t happen to us. But maybe one day it will. And this is a chilling simulation of what it will look like if and when it does.
  • It was a good idea to tell the story through the eyes of a group of teenagers who, through fortuitous accident, happened to escape the occupation and detention of the population. The scenes of them panicking and flustering around as they return to a ghost town were some of the most suspenseful in the film. And, frankly, teenagers just make the best protagonists for these sorts of stories. Teenagers are angsty. They’re emotional. They’ve got overexcited hormones and they’re still learning what it means to be an adult, and not a child. They’re ingenuous idealists whose view of the world isn’t yet jaded by experience. They (mostly) haven’t developed the egos of adults yet. In short, a guerrilla band of hormonal Australian teenagers makes for a much more interesting story than a guerrilla band of rational, cynical and probably ego-absorbed Australian adults.
  • But the characters themselves brought a variety of dimensions to the story. It almost seems like they were chosen to be as varied and as unlikely a group of friends as possible, Robyn, the sweet, demure Catholic girl juxtaposed with Homer, the serial law-flouter who proudly sports his “Fuck the police” t-shirt. At points the characterisation was poor. Robyn, Kevin and especially Fiona felt a bit like caricatures who lacked any meaningful depth of characterisation, and Corrie was almost a complete nonentity as far as I was concerned. Fiona in particular was seemingly written as a stereotypical prissy stupid blonde, and the single attempt to add layer to her character was weak and unconvincing.
  • On the other hand, Ellie, Homer and Lee were wonderful characters, so it’s not all bad on that front, although I think I’d have liked to have become a bit more familiar with Lee, who by the end of the film was still a quiet, dark, interesting introvert, albeit one evidently with a big crush on Ellie. Ellie, of course, was the single best thing about this film. Her character was written brilliantly, and Caitlin Stasey proved herself equal to such a challenging character. The scene where Ellie vents at Chris for falling asleep on watch and turns the gun on him was utterly spellbinding.

I’ve been watching: Riverdale

  • For those who haven’t been keeping up with the newest hit show to come out of Netflix, Riverdale is a teen drama based on the characters of the Archie comic books. As far as I can tell (having not read the Archie comics), Riverdale is only very loosely based on the comics, and the characters bear only nominal relation to their comic book counterparts. Still, I think Riverdale is a fantastic show in its own right, perhaps because it uses the source material as a springboard rather than a script—you don’t have to have read the comics (as I haven’t) to love it, and the fundamentals of the characters and the setting are used to create what is practically an original and interesting story.
  • I would describe Riverdale as high school teen drama meets 1950s/grunge aesthetic meets Pretty Little Liars style murder mystery. It’s an interesting combination, but it makes for really addicting viewing. It’s a good thing Netflix is releasing the episodes week-to-week rather than all at once (as it typically does), because otherwise I’d probably have binge-watched the whole thing in one or two days.
  • The murder mystery aspect of the story—the mysterious death of Jason Blossom—is obviously the focus of the plot, and intriguing mystery it certainly is, but the show would be so much less interesting if not for the absorbing characters and the character dynamics. Riverdale has a cast of fantastically interesting characters, particularly the eminently ship-worthy main group of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Cheryl. As a teen drama, obviously the character dynamics and the relationships and possible relationships between the characters is a huge part of the show, which has already cycled through more ships than I can count, and with such engaging main characters it’s difficult not to be swept up in the character drama and shipping fever.
  • The show explores some interesting themes, albeit themes typical of teen dramas (or at least the more intelligent ones, which I’m gratified to say includes Riverdale): most notably the extent to which children reaching maturity are defined by their parents or their families and the expectations of their families. Most of the main characters—Betty, Archie, Veronica, Cheryl, Josie, even Veronica’s mother Hermione—have to deal in some way with a conflict between what they want for themselves or who they want to be, and what their elders want for them/who their elders want them to be. It’s a common teen drama trope, but it’s a good one, and Riverdale explores it through its characters well.

Sherlock: The Final Problem

I began my reviews of Sherlock Series 4 by commenting on how far the show had evolved from its origins as predominantly a crime drama to now a show which revolves around character drama. Character drama has always been at the heart of Sherlock, and it’s one of the reasons, if not the predominant reason, that Sherlock has become the most popular TV adaptation of Conan Doyle’s stories ever. To put it pithily, people come to Sherlock for the crime-solving but stay for the absorbing and well-written characters. Over Series 3 and 4, though, the pendulum has swung decidedly in the direction of character drama and away from crime-solving, such that the crime-solving, once central to the show, is now almost superficial decoration for a show that is now predominantly a character drama about the life of an extraordinary man who happens to be a detective.

The Final Problem exemplifies the swing towards character drama more than any other episode yet, I think. It was all about Sherlock, about delving deeper into Sherlock’s past, into his subconscious even, in order to uncover the secrets of his past and help him and us understand him better. It was about answering the question put by John to Sherlock in The Abominable Bride, “What made you like this?” That moment was a little bit of foreshadowing for what we discovered in The Final Problem, because the John who asked that question was a figment of Sherlock’s drug-addled imagination—Sherlock, or rather Sherlock’s subconscious, was putting that question to himself, because Sherlock subconsciously knew how the events of his childhood involving Redbeard and Eurus had fundamentally shaped who was and who he has been ever since that fateful incident.

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Eurus was not a villain in the mould of Moriarty or Magnussen. She was a superhuman genius completely devoid of morality or human feeling, but she wasn’t here to destroy or conquer or seize, although I think there’s little doubt she’s capable of all of that. The episode was about Eurus’s obsession with Sherlock and, more fundamentally, the significance of Eurus in Sherlock’s life. Eurus made the Sherlock we know—or we thought we knew. At the same time, it was also about what made Eurus, and Sherlock’s personal significance in making Eurus. This episode was all character drama. That’s not a criticism, but a comment. I generally think it was done well, and the revelations about Sherlock’s past and how those childhood traumas shaped him were interesting, well-conceived and necessary. That part of Sherlock’s character had to be confronted at some point—the show couldn’t go on indefinitely without explaining why he is the person he is, and I think this was a good juncture and a very good way of doing it.

So what was it that we found out about Sherlock? That fundamentally he’s sentimental and driven by emotion. That much has always been obvious at some level, as we should have inferred from Mycroft’s comment in A Scandal in Belgravia that Sherlock had the mind of a scientist or a philosopher but elects to be a detective. Or by the unspoken ferocity of his devotion to his friends, above all to John. The emotional, passionate child that Sherlock was never really went away, but he was repressed in the wake of Sherlock’s trauma over Redbeard. We learnt that Sherlock’s emotions, repressed though they might be, made him the strongest and the most mature of the Holmes children, even though he was the least intelligent. At a very real level this episode was a tribute to the importance of human feeling and empathy, even—especially—in the most intelligent people. The cold, calculating machine that was Sherlock in the early seasons may have been fun to watch, but the Sherlock at the end of Series 4 is without a doubt the better person, and he’s the better person because he’s more in touch with his emotions.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as always delivered an outstanding performance (the scene with Molly was a dazzling highlight), but it was really Sian Brooke as Eurus who stole the show. I loved Eurus, and I loved what Brooke did with Eurus. She was unsettling, spine-chilling, enigmatic and unpredictable, and she was perfect for who she was supposed to be. There’s a case for saying that maybe Eurus was taken somewhat overboard with the dementedness, that perhaps she was too unhinged compared to the Eurus we saw in The Six Thatchers and The Lying Detective, but I think the point was that she was supposed to be unbalanced—and I think this was conveyed by Sian Brooke superbly—she was supposed to be deranged and crazy, thus the reason she was in Sherrinford. The point was that she knew how to be correct, but she’d never been taught how to be beautiful.

So Eurus was outstanding, but I’m not sure about the way the story was handled. Imprisoning Sherlock, John and Mycroft in Sherrinford and making them work their way through a series of puzzles for Eurus’s sadistic scientific interest? Am I the only one whom this strikes as lazy plotting? Apart from perhaps some of the more overtly character-driven scenes, like the scene involving Molly (easily the standout scene of this episode), this can’t have been one of the more difficult Sherlock episodes to write. I’ve seen it compared to The Great Game in the way it was plotted, but The Great Game was a much better-written episode than this one. I can’t help but think that the plot idea, a high concept one to be sure, sounded better in conception than Moffat and Gatiss were able to realise it in practice. Perhaps, if The Great Game was the model, it would have worked better to have followed it more closely, for example by keeping Eurus out of Sherrinford, which turned out not to be that interesting a place in the end. Additionally, the inclusion of Moriarty was pure gratuitous fanservice and really served no purpose in the story at all—Moriarty’s epic entrance perhaps excepted, the episode would probably have been better without him.

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Yeah, so my feelings are mixed about this one. There were aspects of it that I did really like—the revelations about Sherlock’s past, Eurus—but it’s not going to be anywhere near the top of my ranked list of best to worst Sherlock episodes. I would regretfully say that, if this is going to be end of Sherlock, as is rumoured, then I think we deserved better. It’s hard to blame the writers, because it’s obvious they were going for a big, barnstorming finale to Series 4, but the ideas and the conceptions they were clearly excited about perhaps didn’t translate as well into a final product. There are a lot of fans who are disappointed about this season of Sherlock, which, although it delivered its many moments of pure brilliance, has been one of the poorer seasons in the estimation of many fans. I’m inclined to agree with them—although, saying that, even a poor season of Sherlock tends to be high quality television. As I’ve said, though, I hope that Sherlock does not end on a divisive, disappointing note and that there is more Sherlock yet to come.

I’ve been watching: Psychout for Murder (1969)

  • Sometimes known by its Italian name Salvare la Faccia. This is a slightly obscure (for anglophones) Italian giallo thriller film from 1969, a representative of the sex-horror genre that was popular at the time. It stars Adrienne La Russa as Licia, a young heiress to a wealthy and socially-conscious businessman. Her lover, Mario, tricks her into spending the night at a brothel with him, and he uses pictures taken of her from the night to blackmail her father. Her father subsequently consigns Licia to an asylum to avoid scandal. When she gets out, she pretends to be crazy and proceeds to take revenge on everyone she feels has wronged her in the unfortunate business – her father, her lover, her sister and brother-in-law.
  • Most of the film follows Licia carrying out her ploys and machinations designed to destroy her victims. She manipulates, seduces and deceives them – and generally succeeds in getting her way. She’s a cunning and tenacious assailant. She’s an incredibly bewitching one, too, in the way she uses her very considerable sex appeal as another dangerous weapon in her arsenal. She’s really quite captivating to watch, and Adrienne La Russia does a great job with the role—you can tell she’s having plenty of fun playing the crazy, vengeful, sexy Licia. It certainly looks like a really fun role.
  • I was prompted to watch this because I’ve been seeing screencaps from the film on Tumblr as aesthetic images. It’s easy to see why the film would be popular among certain sections of Tumblr’s #aesthetic bloggers — all the way through it’s moody and surreal and atmospheric, and the beautiful but unhinged Licia makes for striking imagery. That’s not to say that the directing and cinematography was great — on balance the directing was fairly unremarkable, and this film wasn’t trying to be ambitious in that respect — but certain sequences are undoubtedly very moody and artistic, and La Russia really elevates the quality of every scene she’s in by her compelling performance.

I’ve been watching: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)

  • Like any good Millennial who remembers reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events as a child, I was thrilled when I found out that Netflix were going to make the novels into a TV series. I mean, who wouldn’t be super excited if they found out that one of their favourite childhood book series was going to be made into a multi-season TV show? The 2004 film was good, but it was just one 2-hour film and it only covered the first three books. A long-form TV series (it looks like it’s going to be about three seasons, given the current rate of 4 books per season) covering the whole book series is much better.
  • I have to say, though, while I like and appreciate that a TV adaption has given the writers room to develop each of the stories, I feel slightly underwhelmed by the result. I’m not sure precisely what it is, but one thing I can identify that I didn’t like was that the mood was all wrong. It was all a bit too flippant and whimsical for a series about tragedy and misfortune. Disconcertingly, all the characters apart from the Baudelaire children themselves were written like they were in a comedy—the Baudelaires were the only characters played straight, and it produced the jarring impression that everyone was in on a mean joke on the Baudelaires.
  • I mean, I get that this kind of dark humour was part of the novels, but I feel that the tone was still taken too far in the direction of comedy, which I felt trivialised the dangers and tragedies that befell the Baudelaires. I watched the 2004 film after I watched the Netflix series, too, and I thought the film got the tone much better. It still had comedy, but it felt darker and more somber, as it should. The constant cameos of the Baudelaires’ parents, frequent reminders that the Baudelaire orphans aren’t actually orphans and that their parents are coming for them, also detracted from what was supposed to be a tone of bleakness and misery.
  • I also thought—and I’m surprised to find myself saying this—that it was almost too faithful to the novels. Usually I’m one of the bothersome people who criticise screen adaptions of books for not being faithful enough to the text, but here I think it stifled the making of artistic decisions that might have allowed the stories to translate better onto screen, ultimately at the expense of the show’s pacing and writing. Again, I feel like the film, which took more creative liberties, succeeded better in this respect, despite cramming three books into two hours.
  • All that said, I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t like the show. I did like it, on balance. I watched it all the way to the end and I’m looking forward to the next season. I guess it’s just easier to talk about the things that annoyed you than to give praise. But one thing I will definitely praise is the acting of the three Baudelaire children (well, two, since one was a baby and wasn’t really acting). Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes were as good as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire as you could have asked for, and definitely two more young stars to watch out for brought into the limelight by Netflix, along with the Stranger Things kids. Neil Patrick Harris was also very entertaining as Count Olaf, but I do think he could have been much better if the writers allowed him to pull back on the self-conscious comedy.

I’ve been watching: The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants

  • What can I say? Chick flicks are my guilty pleasure. Come on, everyone loves an engaging, well-written chick flick with great characters. This film definitely meets that criteria. It follows four best friends who spend their summer in different parts of the world, and the “magic” pair of jeans they pass between them that summer which miraculously happens to fit each of them perfectly. It’s not really about the jeans—the jeans are a symbol of the girls’ strong friendship—as much as about the personal challenges each of the girls face while they’re apart and what they do to overcome those challenges. It’s a bit of a Love Actually style film that follows four different stories at once. It works really well, and the culmination of the film when the four girls are reunited is a great emotional payoff.
  • I struggled to discern a unifying theme between the four girls’ stories such to justify the prominent motif of the “travelling pants”, although I suspect the stories might have been more thematically connected in the original novel. The only thing in common between the four stories was that each of the girls faced personal challenges, and, in facing those challenges, matured in some way. When the four girls reunited they had each grown to some extent in their own way since they parted. That works, and the whole format of the film works, although in fairness each of the individual stories seem like they might have been weak on their own.
  • The strongest of the stories was easily Tibby’s, who befriends a 12-year old girl named Bailey who, it is later revealed, has leukemia. The friendship between Tibby and Bailey is quite unique and engaging, and very well-written, as is Tibby’s character development as a result of her friendship with Bailey. Each of the girls experienced meaningful and satisfying character development, although the stories other than Tibby’s were each a bit weak and clichéd, at least on their own.
  • As far as teen chick-flick films go, this is one of the better ones. It’s refreshingly well-written and intelligent for a film whose genre is such an over-saturated market. I won’t overstate its qualities, but frankly, for low-key, lighthearted Friday night viewing, it’s all you could want: engaging characters, a great script, good acting, and it definitely has its moments that will make you laugh and smile and cry.

Whither Sherlock?

Warning: spoilers for The Final Problem.

(My belated review of The Final Problem will be posted soon—I’m doing a Sherlock marathon at the moment and I’m going to write the review when I get to TFP 🙂 )

So the long-awaited fourth series of Sherlock has come and gone in a whirlwind of suspense, emotion, anticipation and controversy and it’s hard to believe, given how long the wait was, that it’s all already over. If nothing else, Series 4 was a feast for the fandom, an indulgent three weeks of event television lapped up by the fans which, for three suspenseful weeks, sent us into a frenzy of speculation and furious discussion.

Certainly Series 4 was divisive, and those in the Sherlock fandom on the Tumblrs or the Twitters would know that The Final Problem sort of triggered an all-out fandom war on those platforms. But even those whose yardstick of a quality series of Sherlock is how much time John and Sherlock spend kissing, and were thus disappointed by Series 4, would have to (reluctantly) admit that Series 4 was probably the most ambitious and momentous series yet. Mary got killed off, after her lurid backstory was revealed; the secret third Holmes sibling was introduced; and the hidden secrets of Sherlock’s past, Sherlock’s “origin story”, so to speak, were revealed.

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There’s a reason, maybe, that Series 4 was so big and ambitious. It’s been seven years, four series, and who knows how long in-story. The characters have developed in leaps and bounds and the narrative itself has come such a long way. Dragons have been fought and slain, and the characters have faced enough challenges and had enough adventures for a couple of lifetimes. Series 4 ended with a sense of completeness that wasn’t present at the end of any of the previous series, as though Sherlock and John’s stories have been told; there’s nothing left to say—the montage at the end of TFP communicated it all: they continue solving crimes, fighting bad guys, enjoying their dangerous, unconventional lives, being best friends and raising John and Mary’s child together. Moriarty is gone, Magnussen is gone, Irene Adler is safe, Eurus is tamed. Sherlock, through the friendships and relationships he’s formed since we first met him in A Study in Pink, most of all through John, is a better, stronger person, a “good man”, as Lestrade affectionately admitted at the end of TFP. There’s no more to say.

Indeed, that montage seemed to convey the writers’ sentiments that this may well be the last word on Sherlock and John—the end of Sherlock’s story, or at least the end of Sherlock’s story worth making into the cinematic event television that Sherlock is. The writers and the actors have speculated that this might be the end of Sherlock, and with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s professional lives increasingly busy, there might not even be the opportunity to keep making more seasons of Sherlock from now on. It’s Cumberbatch and Freeman’s willingness and availability to do Sherlock, after all, that determines if and when the show gets made, although Moffat and Gatiss have said that they would not be opposed to making more Sherlock if there’s a good enough idea and everyone wants to do it. The problem is finding an idea for more Sherlock good enough to justify making it, a difficult prospect when Series 4 felt so final.

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I’ll agree that if Sherlock were to end now, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad place to end it. And I’ll agree that it would be a hard ask to find an idea worth making into Series 5. But there’s clearly a hunger in, I’d say, the majority of the fandom for more Sherlock. There’s a feeling that this show could still do more and that there’s still more to tell in the story of Sherlock and John. That’s the way I feel, I think. No, I wouldn’t be disappointed if Series 4 were to be the end of Sherlock, but I feel that it doesn’t have to be, and that the show could still do more. I only say Sherlock shouldn’t need to end because I love it so much, and because I think if something is good, if something is working, and if you love it as much as the fans and everyone involved in Sherlock loves Sherlock, then there’s no need for it to end until it really has to. I don’t think Sherlock needs to end. At least not yet.

Moffat and Gatiss have said they would love to see Sherlock and John grow old together. I think I remember reading that either Benedict or Martin said they wanted to grow old with the characters. Why not? Here’s a concept: Series 1-4 are Chapter 1 of the story of Sherlock and John. Chapters 2, 3, 4 etc. are still to be told. That might mean we don’t see Sherlock and John again until the time is right. Let the show rest, give the characters and the narrative time and space to grow and develop offscreen, and come back to them in, say, eight years, and the show will be new again. The characters will be different people in a new and different stage in their lives. Sherlock will be closer to the more familiar, wiser, older, more venerable Sherlock Holmes of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. The events of Series 1-4 will be an increasingly distant memory, and the show would not be a continuation of the storylines of Series 1-4 as much as an entirely new chapter in the narrative, even a soft reboot of sorts.

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It doesn’t have to involve making progressive series of the show, as the show has done for the first seven years of its life. I would be happy with a special every couple of years which revisits the characters at appropriate intervals and show Sherlock and John growing and aging—straight crime-solving stories in the nature of The Hounds of Baskerville or A Study in Pink rather than the arc-heavy material that has dominated the show in Series 3 and 4: vintage Sherlock. That said, I really like the idea of doing a full series of Sherlock in the future by way of a big, multi-episode story similar to what Torchwood did in Children of Earth if the writers can find a good enough idea (and I’ve no doubt they can).

If there is to be no more Sherlock, though, if Series 4 is to be the end of Sherlock forever, then of course I’m happy with what the show has been and what everyone involved in the show has given us over the last seven years, and I feel privileged to have been part of this fandom when Sherlock was being made. Sherlock really is an extraordinary show, and I’ve no hesitation at all in calling it some of the best-made television ever. It’s given us some of the finest moments in television history, some of the most thrilling screenplays ever, and we, as fans, really can’t ask for more. It’s undoubtedly become a cultural icon, and is arguably the most iconic screen adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories ever (it’s certainly my favourite, and I’ve seen all the Jeremy Brett episodes). I’ll be sad to see it go, but happy to have had it at all. Everyone involved in Sherlock should be immensely proud of what they’ve made, including us, the fans, who’ve made the Sherlock fandom one of the most fun, energetic and invigorating to be part of.

So thank you, Sherlock. Thanks for the memories, and an emphatic and heartfelt goodbye—but hopefully not yet.