"Back to Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes."—"Sherlock," Episode 3.1, "The Empty Hearse" From Rockford to House, television producers have made a fortune building programs around confident, engaging leading men. If comedy is about ensemble, drama is so often defined by its leading characters. When people think of their favorite shows, it's typically the names of the male lead—Tony Soprano, Walter White, Dexter Morgan—that come to mind before the title of the show itself. Of course, it helps when they're one and the same; look no further than the most interesting character on TV this month when "Sherlock" returns to PBS this Sunday, January 19, 2014 as a part of the "Masterpiece Mystery" series. With a slightly more sentimental tone, more reliance on visuals than the first two seasons, and a real lack of a villain until the third and final chapter, the 2014 episodes of "Sherlock" may throw some fans for a loop. However, what works about "Sherlock" has not been lost. The writing is still incredibly crisp, so smart, and never boring, and the deeper focus on relatable emotion, particularly in the definition of the relationship between Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman), could even bring in new fans to this international phenomenon. Stop worrying; "Sherlock" is still great. The final chapter of season two of "Sherlock," "The Reichenbach Fall," ended with the death of Sherlock Holmes. Watson saw Holmes throw himself from a rooftop and saw the bloodied body of his friend and partner on the pavement. And then, in a classic cliffhanger that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have loved, Watson gave a speech at Holmes' tombstone as the detective watched from a distance. For two years (episode 2.3 originally played in January of 2012 in the U.K.), the rabid fan base of this show has devoted an amazing amount of time and energy to trying to figure how Holmes faked his death. I would, of course, never spoil it here, but I can tell you that Executive Producer/Writer Mark Gatiss has crafted a beauty of a resolution in "The Empty Hearse," working very loosely from the Doyle story "The Adventure of Empty House." Gatiss and the team behind "Sherlock" have a blast in "The Empty Hearse" playing with audience expectations and hopes for what would happen this season. They present several possibilities of what might have happened that fateful day, almost as if they've read the fan theories posted online in the 24 months since Holmes' death and brought them to life. What might throw audiences is that so much of "The Empty Hearse" is built around the return of Holmes that the mystery plotting leaves a little to be desired. Holmes is brought back in because of a terrorist threat but it feels like an afterthought to the character drama for most of the episode. Surprisingly, there's even less straightforward mystery in "The Sign of Three," the second episode, which almost plays more like a comedy than anything else. However, that's part of the brilliance of "Sherlock" and why it has created such a loyal following—the defiance of genre expectations. I can't say much about the plot of "Three" due to what could be considered spoilers at the very core of the plot description but it takes such a subtle, seamless shift in tone from comedy to mystery that you can barely tell it's happening. You're just engrossed in it without even knowing it. The greatest mystery shows stay one step ahead of you, leading the way but never quite allowing you to see around the corner. It's so difficult to tell where an episode of "Sherlock" is going next but the confidence of the filmmaking is so strong that we take the journey. It helps to have two actors as ridiculously talented as Cumberbatch and Freeman, who are really allowed to explore the emotional core of the relationship between their characters this season in new ways. This is a more vulnerable Holmes and Cumberbatch clearly relishes getting deeper into the character. He's a self-described "high-functioning sociopath" and yet he's starting to learn how much he needs Watson and vice versa. Cumberbatch is the star but Freeman deserves praise, especially for the delicate work he does late in the first episode. You may even have tears in your eyes. Any tears brought upon by FOX's "The Following," returning the same night, will be over the waste of talent on display. Kevin Bacon, a talent that was so underrated for so many years in films like "JFK" and "Murder in the First," is just woefully underutilized here as FBI Agent Ryan Hardy, a man on the edge. Aren't they all? Hardy is an expert on serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who was blown up in a boathouse at the end of season one (yes, they actually went there), but, of course, he wasn't. (Not a spoiler, there's no show without him and he's in that publicity still above. His death was less believable than Sherlock's.) To start season two, Hardy still thinks something suspicious happened that night and still grieves the loss of his ex-wife Claire (Natalie Zea) at the hands of a Carroll supporter. While the madman may be out of the spotlight, his followers are not, and season two opens with a group of maniacs wearing Carroll masks who begin stabbing people in a subway train while shouting "Resurrection!" As with so many elements of "The Following" the moment lacks the inherent tension it should have, coming off as unbelievable and manipulative. The first season of "The Following" frustrated me but I went with a lot of it because I assumed that Bacon and writer/creator Kevin Williamson ("Scream") were going somewhere interesting. I've given up on that assumption. None of this show feels or sounds real. Not one beat. Not the plotting or the characters. In so many ways, it's the anti-"Sherlock." During Sunday night's premiere of "The Following," following the NFC Championship Game, you can expect to see roughly 14 commercials for Thursday night's FOX dramedy, "Rake," a remake of the Australian television series starring Greg Kinnear as a gambling, drinking, whoring attorney who can get his clients off but can't solve the problems in his own life. Of course, FOX is hoping that Keegan Deane becomes as popular as Dr. House in the anti-hero pantheon of the network. Despite Kinnear's best efforts, I'd say that's unlikely to happen in episode one. The first episode of "Rake" simply doesn't make enough of an impact, feeling like it's either trying to hard ("Look at how OUTRAGEOUS he is!") or not trying hard enough in terms of character (the clichés pile up to a David E. Kelley degree—quirky client, opposing attorney he knows, etc.) If the show does work or connect, it will be due to what Kinnear brings to it. He's charming enough and funny enough to make it work. If only the writing can rise to his abilities. A hero, anti- or otherwise, is nothing without the writing to back him up. We may remember the names like Tony Soprano and Walter White but we never would do so without the men like David Chase and Vince Gilligan who give them something interesting to say.
San Diego Comic-Con International is a celebration of cartoons, costumes and fictional and real characters. Recent years have brought increasing commercialization. Many of the panels are little more than tantalizing propaganda for upcoming TV programs and movies and the panels bare their wares as brazenly as the whores who used to walk the Gaslamp District before it became a hip place to be. But SDCC is also a venue for introducing and releasing movies that have a link to geek culture and SDCC hosts a Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival.
Marie writes: Once upon a time, a long time ago and in a childhood far, far away, kids used to be able to buy a special treat called a Frosted Malt. Then, with the arrival of progress and the subsequent destruction of all that is noble and pure, the world found itself reduced to settling for a frosty at Wendy's, at least where I live. Unable to support a "second rate" frosted malt for a second longer, I decided to do something about it!
● "Ironclad" (2011) ● "Black Death" (2010)
"Ironclad " is now available on DirecTV and other on-demand providers (check your service listings) and from Netflix (DVD and Blu-ray) starting on July 26th. "Black Death" is available on Netflix (streaming, DVD and Blu-ray) and Amazon Instant Video.
When I was a kid growing up in the Seattle suburb of Edmonds, WA (aka "The Gem of Puget Sound"), my parents did everything that good, sensible parents should do to shield their kids from violence, both real and reel. I remember being innocently intrigued by the furor over "Bonnie & Clyde" in 1967, but they would never have taken me to see it with them (to their credit, since I was only six). The same held true for "The Wild Bunch" in 1969, by which time the debate over movie violence had reached a fever pitch in our national conversation. Over the ensuing decades, that conversation has become a moot point as movie violence proceeded apace, from Sonny Corleone's death in a hail of Tommy-gun fire in "The Godfather" (1972), to the slasher cycle of the late '70s and '80s (when makeup artists Tom Savini and Rick Baker reigned supreme as a master of gory effects) and into the present, when virtually anything - from total evisceration to realistic decapitation -- is possible through the use of CGI and state-of-the-art makeup effects. That's where movies like "Ironclad" and "Black Death" come in, but more on those later.
If you're looking for a rant against milestone achievements in the depiction of graphic violence, you've come to the wrong place. To me, it's a natural progression. Movies and violence have always been inextricably linked, and once opened, that Pandora's Box could never be closed. A more relevant discussion now is how the new, seemingly unlimited gore FX should be used and justified. Horror films will always be the testing ground for the art of gore, and it would be a crime against cinema to cut the "chest-burster" from "Alien" (or, for that matter, Samuel L. Jackson's spectacular death in "Deep Blue Sea"). But it's the depiction of authentic, real-life violence -- in everything from the "CSI" TV franchise to prestige projects like HBO's "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" -- that pushes previously unrated levels of gore into the mainstream.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not praising this progression so much as acknowledging its inevitability. If you really love movies -- and especially if you've been lucky enough to make a career out of watching them -- you have undoubtedly seen a violent film that was unquestionably vile, unjustified and miles beyond the boundaries of all human decency. I've seen violent movies that earned my disgust because (1) the context of the violence was as abhorrent as the violence itself and (2) the intentions of the filmmakers were clearly indefensible. (Context and intention: More on that later.) Tolerances and sensibilities may vary, but every critic has seen a film that appeared to have been written and directed by sociopaths. Check out Roger Ebert's review of "I Spit on Your Grave" (the 1978 version) and you'll see what I mean.
Marie writes: the ability to explore an image in 360 degrees is nothing new, but that doesn't make these pictures any less cool. In the first of a series, the Observer's architecture critic Rowan Moore introduces spectacular interactive 360-degree panoramic photographs of Britain's architectural wonders. "You are put in the middle of a space, and using your computer mouse or dragging your iPad screen - you can look in any direction you choose: up, down, sideways, diagonally, in any direction in full 360 degree turn, in three dimensions."
Go here to explore St Paul's Cathedral, London, built 1675-1711.
Marie writes: They call it "The Shard" and it's currently rising over London akin to Superman's Fortress of Solitude and dwarfing everything around it, especially St. Paul's in front. I assume those are pigeons flying over-head and not buzzards. Ie: not impressed, but that's me and why I'm glad I saw London before they started to totally ruin it.Known as the "London Bridge Tower" before they changed the name, when completed in 2012, it will be the tallest building in Europe and 45th highest in the world. It's already the second highest free-standing structure in the UK after the Emley Moor transmitting station. The Shard will stand 1,017 ft high and have 72 floors, plus another 15 radiator floors in the roof. It's been designed with an irregular triangular shape from base to top and will be covered entirely in glass. The tower was designed by Renzo Piano, the Italian architect best know for creating Paris's Pompidou Centre of modern art with Richard Rogers, and more recently the New York Times Tower. You can read an article about it at the Guardian. Here's the official website for The Shard. Photograph: Dan Kitwood.