Friday, March 3, 2017

Parade's End ... the Cumberbinge continues

Wow! I just did something I've never done before. I had this post all written and done, save for the final polishing. But somehow (well, I know how - a combination of a new computer and switching between Mac and PC  keyboard commands) managed to highlight the whole and hit the delete key. Gone. For some reason I couldn't undo and of course, due to auto saving and the fact that I'm typing it online (dummy!), it was too late; the save was in, and the post was gone.

One to always imagine that things happen for a reason, I'm going to approach this event as more of an opportunity than a loss.

You see, truth is, I wasn't really all that happy with my post. It was brilliant, of course, but probably a bit too scathing. I sometimes think about this after I skewer a production (which really isn't all that often).  I mean, people do work hard on these things, and it must be a bummer that everyone's a critic.

My *poof, gone* post found a lot to hate and just a few things to like about Parade's End.  To me it was a disappointment.  I will stand by that. The gods may have given me another chance to think about what I say publicly, but I'm not going to re-evaluate my thoughts entirely.  Maybe I'll just cut it a bit nicer.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I said, far more eloquently, before:

The best thing about the production, hands down, is the cinematography. Sumptuous. Second would be the period details, especially the clothing; everything, from cars and telephones, to furniture, manor houses and roads is just so transporting. The visuals give a rich distinct flavor of a highly engaging time.

The rest? milquetoast at best. The plot, continuity, character arcs and (sigh) even acting were non-starters.

My cruel hunch is that this work was probably only put into production in response to the smashing success of another (much better) Edwardian era drama - Downton Abbey. I think the latter's success must have had something to do with Parade's End finding an audience that cared enough to watch, and enthusiastic enough to reward it with an IMDB rating of a 7.7, when it probably deserves something more in the 6 to 7 range.

Parade's End isn't terrible. (There, I guess this is a concession born of second chances). It's just not good drama. Good drama should have something to teach us; something to say. I really don't know what that is here.  And I don't know wherein the fault lies. I never read the book. (Yes, there's a book. Oh I forgot the year and the author --- do I have to go look that up again?  I think 1924 and the author was someone with 3 names where the first and third were the same. Like Forest Sawyer Forest. Yes, lets just go with that.)

I understand that the man taxed with writing the screenplay for Parade's End is highly acclaimed, so we'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the novel was just mediocre. (I mean Mr. Forest probably died 60 some years ago, I don't think his feelings will be hurt if we assign blame there). And, honestly, that probably is where blame needs to go. There is just so much plot detail that doesn't make sense in this piece. There are so many characters that change direction (back and forth) too often and for too little reason. No real continuity.

Oh! in the post I deleted you would have been delighted with my musings on Sylvia and her bizarre choices. How she changes motivating purpose at the drop of a hat and acts in a way distinctly at odds with what she claims she wants. But its not just Sylvia. Christopher's brother, played by Rupert Everett is another character who floats groundlessly along with the whim of whatever scene his is in at the moment. Is he hateful? Oh, no, loving. Whoops, hateful again. Makes no sense. And its not just the characters; but some plot developments are just way too convenient and/or over the top. I'm thinking about cancer, and the chopping down of trees, and relationships with commanding officers. The whole thing feels like a soap opera sometimes.

To the extent there is a plot here, it seems to turn almost entirely on the idea of adultery. While I gladly admit that adultery can be quite interesting (think English Patient), here it seems most an excuse to seem daring or confrontational. Characters are always hissing words like "mistress" around like daggers. What is odd is that the effect of the dagger seems to change constantly.

And although the ending is rather artistically done (from the standpoint of cinematography) we are denied a real moment of passion and resolution that we'd been waiting for while slogging though 5 hours of this. Unacceptable. Near the end, I kept anxiously watching the bar at the bottom of the screen for the remaining time and thinking: "come on now, we're running out of time! Get to a love scene! They managed to squeeze in the tiniest bit of resolution. But NOT satisfying.

And, oh, it pains me to say this but I can't think of any other period drama with such a lack of attractive male characters. Even dramas that are clearly geared toward men, like idk, Fury, still manage to have male characters that are appealing/sexy.  Here -- and please know how much I love Benedict Cumberbatch -- all we really get is Christopher.  Cumberbatch plays him with a weak chin, marbly mouth and doughy persona. It makes him a great actor. It does not make him a very appealing leading man.

Christopher's older brother Mark played by Rupert Everett - another really sexy guy in real life - is covered in facial hair and exhibits no charm. There is really no one else even worth mentioning. Especially in a picture that seems ostensibly to be about lust, don't you think they could have sexed up the male roles a bit?

Ultimately, it comes down to me not caring about these characters. Or at least not enough to invest 5 hours of my time on them. I would not recommed the production. The only reason I watched was that the Cumberbatch-itch needed to be scratched. And even though he was not particularly appealing here, you can't hide that charisma entirely away! There was enough of it peeking out to wait and see what happened. Now that I know what happens, it really wasn't worth it.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

I May Be Late to the Party, But I'm on a Raging Cumberbinge Now

A Benedict Cumberbatch binge just to be clear.  As another character cooed to him in the episode of Sherlock I recently watched, "smart is the new sexy."  This guy proves it.

I've been on a dry spell for awhile. Blame the abysmal state of the political climate. Blame my work schedule. Hell, blame the weather, but I haven't had anything that's really put me in a bloggy sort of mood for some time.

Enter Sherlock Holmes.

Obviously I've been aware of this program; it stares out at me as a 'suggested' title every time I go on Netflix; the algorithm that decides what's good for me seemed pretty sure about it. But I've always resisted.

Hard to say why, exactly. I think it's just that murder (and mystery) is not really my thing. I'm rather squeamish when it comes to death and intrigue. Maybe that sounds outrageous given my past obsession with Spooks. I mean, if I could watch 10 seasons of that, how wimpy could I be? Still, whatever the reason, I've walked on by.

So... hmmm, maybe we can blame this on Trump now too, but lately I've felt an extreme need to escape. After rewatching every Jane Austen adaptation available to me, I guess it was just a matter of time -- and a state of desperation -- before I finally crumbled and clicked on the first episode.

And that was all it took. Thanks Benedict for that icy stare and that cool detached intellect that won me over; now I'm wondering where you've been all my life.

Another masterpiece from across the pond that shows that you guys just really get how to do great TV. Here are two first-rate film actors acting in the lead roles -- not just Cumberbatch, but Martin Freeman alongside him. Here is a deeply talented and appealing supporting cast, including Rupert Graves, Una Stubbs, Jonathan Aris, and Louise Brealey to name just a few). Here is great writing full of subtle puns and tiny moments, as well as the over-the-top outlandishly clever deductions that must have taken some great minds to pack up and spill out. A moody Londony light permeates this whole production, making you feel as if -- though set in modern times -- the production is somehow tied to the turn of a prior century from whence the original book series issues.  Its an etherial, quirky mix of things. The dialog as sharp as Benedict's cheekbones and beautiful cinematography make this show irresistible. I mean, once one has finally stopped resisting.

Mostly, it is the way that the elements come together that makes the series work. I know that this is what makes for great drama, whether its about death, romance, or martians. Doesn't matter.  Because this "works", the viewer has no trouble suspending credibility to believe in the plausibility of this crime-solving duo and all their escapades.

As much as I appreciate the creative team, as always I am the biggest sucker for acting and actors. Hands down the element that sells this series is the incredible relationship between Cumberbatch and Freeman as Holmes and Watson.  There aren't enough adjectives to throw at their chemistry and charm. This casting was simply inspired. And everyone around them -- including themselves -- knows it. Thus the success of the running joke of their being lovers, despite all their protestations to the contrary. Because, lovers or not, they form the central love story that keeps us wanting more, and more.  This sexy and platonic bromance is on full display in the episode I just watched from season 3 ("The Sign of Three") where Watson is getting married and Holmes is the best man.  This is some of the best television I've ever seen and I've rarely been more entertained.  Deeply hilarious, poignant, tense and well-wrapped, this is television at its infinite finest. I'm as drunk on this show as Sherlock and Holmes were at their 'stag party'.

Now I have only to regret that they haven't made more episodes, and to look forward to watching the few remaining (including season 4 which I haven't seen at all) and to re-watching the lot many times over and again.