Advertisements

Tag Archive: Stephen Fry


Review by C.J. Bunce

While you are waiting for the return of the BBC TV series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as modernized sleuths, or even the third big screen entry in the Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law in their more classic form, you could pull off the shelf the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories to hold your attention.  Or there is another option:  Writer Guy Adams has seamlessly intersected the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau in his new novel Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau.  And he does this in a way that may be more accessible to modern readers than the original Doyle stories yet evokes the same voice, time and place.  Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreauis being released in bookstores this week.

Told primarily through the mind of Holmes’ classic partner in solving crime, Dr. John Watson, this story blends two classic worlds that actually find a good home together.  Because I am more of a fan of the modern TV and movie series over the other classic visual productions such as the Basil Rathbone performances, or even the original stories, I found myself inside the mind of Martin Freeman’s Dr. Watson throughout this novel, although transferred back in time from the 21st century to Watson’s earlier 19th century incarnation.  My vision of Holmes bounced around between Cumberbatch and Downey, and I saw as Dr. Moreau, Marlon Brando from the underwhelming Val Kilmer film.

The story itself begins with Holmes’ more intriguing brother Mycroft (played in my head here by Stephen Fry’s version of Mycroft).  A bit of a character you could see as an early version of M from the James Bond universe, Adams’ Mycroft is someone you are itching to leanr more of in future novels.  The original mad scientist, Dr. Moreau, is believed alive and operating an underground frankensteinian laboratory melding what he believes to be the inevitable evolution of man–hybrids of men and animals.  Political motivations bring Dr. Moreau from his original story to again attempt to alter perception and here, take down civilized society via an army of loyal, but horrible, creations.

Although horrific in concept, Adams’ story is pleasingly contemporary to the original stories and so this does not read as a modern horror tale, but more of a dark, lost story of science fiction’s past.  It also does not overtly address the original moral and ethical lessons involving the dangers of science as the original but stays lighter in tone, focusing on the detective story.

Adams’ Dr. Watson will be familiar to anyone who is a fan of any version of Sherlock Holmes.  Constantly trying to keep up with Holmes, Watson uses his medical knowledge and desire to measure up to Holmes to propel the story forward.  Early on in the novel we briefly encounter a nice tribe of characters from the Industrial Revolution fiction’s past:  Edward Prendick, the horrified narrator of Wells’ original Dr. Moreau story, has since gone mad and left notes that help Holmes and Watson track Dr. Moreau.  Professor Challenger from Doyle’s The Lost World has his own prequel here, arm-in-arm with the heroes of this tale to the bitter end, as does Professor Lindenbrook from Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, and a few other more obscure cameos.

But this is definitely a Sherlock Holmes tale, and Dr. Moreau primarily serves as a bit of a MacGuffin for the detectives to pursue for the bulk of the book since we only really deal with the evil doctor toward the end.  The spirit of Holmes and Watson is true and pure fun, worthy of the original.  A (literally) dog-headed character named Kane further helps to suck the reader into this fantastical, unthinkable world of the past.  The result is a sweeping and satisfying romp.  My only complaint would be the changing of narrators in the last two sections of the book from Watson to Holmes and then to all the team players by chapter.  It probably works here but I have never read such an abrupt point-of-view shift in a book that I would call completely successful, and so I think a smoother and more exciting end would have been possible without all the head hopping.  Still, the entries for Johnson and Mycroft at the end stood out as fun additions and the change in voice did not take away from this being a good read.  Adams has done a nice job of channeling familiar and convincing voices and recreating the world in and around 21B Baker Street.

 Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Doctor Moreau will be released August 7, 2012, at bookstores and online retailers, and is available for pre-order discount now at Amazon.com. Adams’ first Sherlock Holmes novel, The Breath of God, is available in trade paperback and e-book editions.

Advertisements

Review by C.J. Bunce

Guy Ritchie’s 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes partnered Robert Downey, Jr.’s Holmes with Jude Law’s Dr. Watson, and the result was a superb, entertaining action caper.  This weekend Ritchie’s sequel, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, although not as great as the 2009 film, is a satisfying follow-up and equally entertaining.

In addition to Downey and Law, Rachel McAdams returns as thief and on-and-off-again love interest to Holmes, Irene Adler.  Reprising their supporting roles are Kelly Reilly, as Dr. Watson’s fiancée Mary, as well as Geraldine James as Holmes’s landlady, Mrs. Hudson, and Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lastrade.

Also returning is plenty of Holmes’s slow motion fight scenes, both real-time and shown in flashback, to sort of rub our noses in the fact that no one, not even the viewer, can keep up with the preparation and advance planning done by our hero detective.  There may very well be even more of these scenes, even longer than in the 2009 film, because I found myself comparing Holmes and Watson to contemporary variations on the duo in each of the slow-mo battles.*

As foreshadowed in the first film, Holmes now takes on nemesis Professor Moriarty, who is set up as an incredibly brilliant villain mastermind, teaching at university while also orchestrating arms deals and terrorist attacks as part of a business case to become even more wealthy, regardless of whether he starts a war to take down all of Europe in the process.  Moriarty is played well here by Jared Harris (The Riches, Madmen, Fringe, Far and Away, Last of the Mohicans, Lost in Space, The Other Boleyn Girl, Without a Trace, Lady in the Water), who gets to show some good acting chops possibly courtesy of shared acting genes from his father, legendary thespian Richard Harris (the first Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series, as well as King Arthur in Camelot, Richard the Lionheart in Robin and Marian, and key roles in Patriot Games, Unforgiven, and The Guns of Navarone).  Harris plays Moriarty probably too subtly here, he hints at a dark side akin to Will Patton’s General Bethlehem in The Postman, but most of this is through the story build-up and not through his character onscreen.  We’re left wanting a bit for some more evil and brilliance to counter-balance that of Downey’s Holmes, who again here is perfect in nearly every scene.

Noomi Rapace (the lead in the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels), unlike typical casting of Hollywood model types, is well-cast as a gypsy woman, but unfortunately she only gets a few good scenes, both of them running from first Russian then German mercenaries and the resulting fight scenes and bullet dodging.

Game of Shadows, as a sequel, reminded me of a sequel like the non-stop action-filled Die Hard 3, and happily not like sequels that hit with a thud such as Downey’s Iron Man 2.

Key creative and impactful scenes include McAdams’s character encountering the full weight of Moriarty’s Godfather-like influence, Watson and his new wife’s train ride to their honeymoon, lots and lots of cannons, and Holmes’s fascination with what he calls “urban camouflage.”  There is a bit to say that doesn’t work in this sequel, the story skips around a lot, the plot itself is lacking and seems to be a bunch of stitched together scenes and you may question why they move on to the next location and think “maybe on re-viewing it will make more sense.”

But of all the positive in the film, nothing matches the introduction of a new character, Holmes’s smarter brother Mycroft Holmes, played beautifully and brilliantly by comedian and actor Stephen Fry.  Fry is an actor that seems to only get better and more brilliant every time he appears in a new film.  Known early on as part of a comedy troupe with Hugh Laurie (House, M.D.), he also had key roles in Peter’s Friends, V for Vendetta, Gosford Park, A Civil Action, I.Q., and A Fish Called Wanda, and he will be appearing next year as the Master of Laketown in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  As the “other Holmes,” Fry gets some funny, key scenes and hopefully will have even more screentime in future sequels.

*These included:  Hugh Laurie’s House and Robert Sean Leonard’s Wilson in Holmes/Watson roles on House, M.D., against their own Moriarty, Forman; on the TV show Psych, James Roday and Dule Hill’s Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster, particularly with Shawn’s observation skills; Jeffrey Donovan’s Michael Westen and his sleuthing spy work voice-overs on Burn Notice, the current equally superb BBC series Sherlock, and Batman’s detective stories, which are often written mentioning the original, classic detective’s influence on Bruce Wayne.

Growing up in the United States, I never quite understood British TV, not from a language angle, but from a choice of subject matter angle.  Long before BBC America, the only real exposure for decades was public television, which limited you to made-for-television Agatha Christie and Poirot or shows about priests or wacky but hard to decipher comedies.  To this day I still don’t see what’s so funny about Monty Python.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are tons of folks that see this as classic material.  But I won’t just dismiss any genre of comedy. I keep coming back for more.

“A wise man changes his mind. A fool never does.”

In light of the above maxim, I’ve re-tried Monty Python from time to time.  I just must not be ready for it yet.  I keep re-trying British shows, too—especially those that others view as classics.

Late night programming over the past few decades often exposed Americans to The Benny Hill ShowBenny Hill is bawdy and crude but he is funny at an LOL level.  There’s something Chaplin-like about Benny Hill’s antics.  So maybe Benny Hill is as good as any an introduction to British TV for newbies.

For some 40 years Americans have also been exposed to Doctor Who, in his numerous incarnations, again mainly thanks to public television.  For years I would flip on an episode to give it a try.  I just never figured it out.  I think the strange fashions on the show, particularly as worn by the Doctors, kept me away.  The rare friend liked a particular Doctor and would latch on for a while.  So for some, Doctor Who was a gateway to British TV.  My own getting to like Doctor Who is only incredibly recent, and a subject for a later date, maybe British TV 304: Why you should watch the Doctor.

I have tried A Bit of Fry and Laurie as I started to like Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry after seeing the movie Peter’s Friends, when Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson were the then-next big British invasion.  Fry and Laurie’s old show may make you feel like the guy in the room that doesn’t get any of the jokes. (These guys are both funny in other shows).

Then there was Masterpiece Theatre. Alistair Cooke.  Beyond the great trumpet fanfare theme music, what followed were melodramas and mysteries that for me just crawled.  I know a lot of other folks that weren’t so slow to gravitate toward British TV, so some people have gotten hooked this way.

If you like animals, All Creatures Great and Small is a good series that is quaint and still holds up after all these years. It’s the true adventures of a small town British veterinarian.  These shows, based on a series of good books by James Herriot, are a great introduction to British TV.

Another series worth checking out is Monarch of the Glen, a more recent series that takes place in Scotland and has a bit of humor and light drama, but, more than that, it serves as a great travelogue for Scotland.  The cast for this series was great, and the stories not complicated but fun.

So what’s the best introduction for someone who hasn’t quite gotten the bug for British TV yet?  My recommendation is that 30-minute sitcom with the two James Bond actors, that has aired live or in reruns since 1992.  Know which one I mean?

Before the details, I have to say that I think Judi Dench is the best thing that ever happened to British TV.  She is an actress who, at 77 years old now, is as in prime form as any actress in any country.  She was an actress known in England for years but seemed to catapult into the international limelight beginning with her appearance in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V in 1989. At least none of us on this side of the pond saw her before that.  Judi Dench, now Dame Judi Dench, should be credited with popularizing British TV outside of Great Britain.

If you only know Judi Dench as M in the current run of brilliant James Bond movies (she’s been both Pierce Brosnan’s and Daniel Craig’s icy and savvy boss), then you should check out her 1992-2005 ground-breaking series As Time Goes By.  Of all the programs ostensibly “about nothing,” there is no funnier show than the polite but determined banter of Dench’s Jean Pargetter and long lost but newly found mate Lionel, played by Geoffrey Palmer.   It is a show that is elegant in its simplicity, about characters who are plain folk.  As the action genre is concerned, you should recognize Palmer from the new Doctor Who, Ashes to Ashes, and as Admiral Roebuck in another James Bond flick, Tomorrow Never Dies.

Both Dench and Palmer have a stunningly long resume of roles going back decades. Yet both hit their prime when Palmer was 65 and Dench was 58.  By then, their experience, including a lot of professional stage work, allowed them to come across the airwaves and the Atlantic Ocean as relaxed and as down to Earth as any friend in your living room no matter what you do, where you live, and who you are.

What’s As Time Goes By About?  Before we meet the main characters later in life at the beginning of the series, Lionel and Jean were lovers during the Korean War.  They are separated by a misunderstanding—a letter that was sent but did not arrive—and they moved on in their lives marrying others and raising families.  Flash forward.  Lionel is looking for a secretary in Jean’s office.  He meets Jean’s daughter, then Lionel discovers Jean again from this encounter and they reunite.  In short, each episode is about the baggage they both bring to the relationship.  And it is not a lot.  But these little niggling things are always subtlely introduced and before you know it, and in the face of good intentions, almost always result in a major catastrophe, or more aptly, much ado about nothing.

The supporting cast is equally enjoyable—daughter Judy (Moira Brooker) and friend Sandy (Jenny Funnell) are real and accessible to viewers, British or not.  And then there is Alistair (Philip Bretherton), Lionel’s editor and Judy’s on-again/off-again love interest,  a breath of fresh air in every episode.  You can’t not like the guy who is always happy, always a glass half full kind of guy.

The ensemble is great not only for being a leading series with senior actors in the lead roles.  Every episode is funny with a type of humor that is light-hearted, never malicious, never about putting anyone down.  Dench’s Jean makes us laugh through her feigned naivete.  Palmer’s Lionel has a dry, deadpan wit.  It’s just about the funny things that happen to everyone.  And no matter what your age, despite flatly believing all humans are pretty much the same, if you ask yourself whether you really believe that, it’s still worth challenging the thought a bit.  The British and Americans have a common language, a common national history.  Yet we branched off a few hundred years ago.  Like someone was playing a game, maybe God: Let’s see what happend if we split them up…  You can just hear the voice of God like a TV show announcer:  What happens when you take these two countries, pull them a part and bring them back together 200 years later? 

In many ways we are very, very different.  But instead of looking at the differences, it is more fun to check out how we are alike.  To some, you might as well be watching British TV as watching the Spanish Univision channel.  It’s Greek to me.  Then you watch that one show, see that one response, or phrase, or reaction, and slowly get sucked in—we live in different places, our accents are different, but we all have bedrooms and living rooms.  We all have to get along with the guy next door, or even closer, the person in the next room.  Everything we watch and see helps us understand others better and that helps us understand ourselves.  This accessibility, this commonality of the human experience, is why As Time Goes By is a great program for anyone interested in sampling what this British TV thing is all about–to go give it the old college try.  And at some point you might find yourself proclaiming a British TV series as the best series, in any country, ever made.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

%d bloggers like this: