suits

Suits: Season 3 (TV Review)

Television

There is little doubt that Suits is an entertaining show to watch. There is no arguing that perhaps Gabriel Macht (playing Harvey Specter) wears a suit better than anybody else (seriously…that guy can wear a suit). And there is also no arguing that there is always plenty of intrigue on the show, both inside the firm and outside it, as Harvey and Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams) have tackled all sorts of cases through the episodes.

suits3But I felt that at the end of Season 2, the show fell off a little bit, and got confused as to where it was going. They created an intense, but difficult-to-follow plot revolving around the power struggles within the law firm. Eventually this led to a merger, that become even more complex and convoluted. They slowly backed away from the cases that were happening in the real world, instead focusing primarily on the politics inside the luxurious offices of the law firm with the ever-changing name.

Therefore, I went into Season 3 with a little bit of hesitation, wondering which way the show would go from here. Get back into the courtroom? Or stay within the walls, and see how this whole mess shakes out?

In Season 3, they do a little bit of both, much to my relief. While the entire third season focuses only on one primary court case, there is the interest that comes from that. There are still many power games being played within the firm, with new wrinkles added, like Mike and Rachel hooking up at the end of the second year, but they seem much simpler to follow this time around, which makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience, in my opinion.

Aside from the fact that the whole premise for the show is, in fact, kind of ridiculous (are we really to believe that one of New York’s top law firms would be alright with having a fraud who never even went to college working for them? Not likely. It seems like it would be incredibly simple for someone to check in on Mike Ross and realize that he never went to Harvard, or any law school for that matter), if you buy into it, you will enjoy it.

While Mike is not the most interesting character of the group, his relationship with Rachel does provide some interest to his character. Harvey is still the star of the show here. He carries each episode, and even though he is kind of an anti-hero, he is the one that we will end up cheering for when all is said and done. We want Harvey to do well, even though he has had nothing but success in his life. Normally, we would want that type of person to fail, just so they know what it feels like, but we want Harvey to keep winning. At everything. During the third season, he develops a little more, and even shows some vulnerability, but at the end of the day, he is still the Harvey that we have adored for the first two seasons of the show.

suits2The secondary characters continue to grow in Season 3, as well. Specifically Donna (Sarah Rafferty), the fierce, but ever-loyal assistant of Harvey’s. She has always had a smaller role in the show, but seems to take on more in this season, and her moments are always some of the best ones. She is terrifying and incredible at the same time, and it is great to see her develop more as a character. We even get to see her engage in a romance during the season, which shows us a little bit about Donna outside of the office.

Louis Litt (played by Rick Hoffman) continues to annoy us, but in a good way. He, as usual, is caught deep in the shadow that Harvey casts across the entire office, and is always playing catch up. He has some of the funnier scenes in the season, and even gets to continue to develop a romance that he started before. There are light moments in the show, and they usually revolve around Louis. Such as a mock trial based on ownership of a cat. But Hoffman manages to continue to have us sympathize with Louis, and despite his numerous failings (and he has several this season), we want him to do well.

For those who have already enjoyed the first couple of seasons of Suits, there is no reason to stop now. Season 3 continues to roll along, and I may argue that it is superior to Season 2. If you have not yet watched the show yet, it is a good place to go to watch men pound their chests with their massive egos, and banter in the board room while wearing expensive suits, and fierce women trying to make their way in the male-dominated world of law. There is some humour, some quirkiness, but mostly, just some sound storytelling that has simplified itself and returned to the entertaining tales it originally spun.

sherlock5

Sherlock: Season 3 (TV Review)

Television

After burning through the first couple of seasons of Sherlock, I was excited to find out what would take place in the third. Specifically, as with most viewers, to find out how our hero survived his plunge off the building at the end of the second season, after the death of Moriarty. Sherlock leapt from the building to save his friends, and survived. But how?

This is just one of the mysteries unveiled in the third set of three episodes in the great British crime drama. And the writers went with unique ways of explaining, or not explaining, how it came to be that Sherlock is still alive.

The third season is not dissimilar to the first two, in that the structure of the show is the same, but it feels like season 3 offers something quite different. There is less focus on individual cases, and the writers used interesting techniques to tell the story. My favorite episode was S03E02, in which Watson is getting married. This causes great anxiety for Sherlock, as he is the best man, and needs to give a speech. His speech is, as one would expect, quite memorable. In this episode, there are stories that stop and start, some seemingly for no reason, yet everything is tied together beautifully at the end of the episode. It makes for a very fun, and entertaining wedding, all while hearing the stories of Sherlock and Watson, and solving a crime at the same time.

sherlock6The show remains serious, but fun. This can still mainly be attributed to the acting performance of Benedict Cumberbatch, who is still just as great as Sherlock as he always was. This is a role that he truly owns, and one would hope that it will continue for a few more seasons. We definitely haven’t got tired of him yet, or of his oddities and selfish shenanigans.

Not to spoil anything, but there is even a time when Sherlock gets himself a girlfriend! So, he is human after all.

While Netflix teases us saying that the third season is more than three episodes long, it really isn’t. There are three short behind-the-scenes featurettes that follow the main episodes of the show, giving it the appearance of a longer season. Which is too bad, because I wanted more, since there is a nice surprise twist at the end of the final third season episode. I guess we will be stuck waiting until Netflix releases whatever comes next for our heroes.

With such easily digestible seasons, there is no reason not to watch Sherlock. It can be equal parts fun, gritty, humorous, and dark, all guided by the wonderful Cumberbatch. For those who loved the first two years of the show, keep on going through season three. You will not be disappointed.

sugar

Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

Food, North America, Travel

For a long time, The Sugarbowl has been one of the most hyped up places in Edmonton. Located in the Garneau area near the University of Alberta, it has long been a place where students congregate for food and drinks to discuss whatever class they are taking this semester, or what class they are skipping in order to have food and drinks at The Sugarbowl.

It has been a long time since I have visited this Edmonton establishment, since I was one of those University students. We used to go there frequently for class during one of my summer courses. There were only five of us in the class, plus we had the best professor ever.

sugar3Going there again, it is nice to see that it is exactly the same as it used to be on the inside. For a sort of hole-in-the-wall type of place, it is actually quite nice inside, and has a pretty good patio out front, where they really cram in the tables. There is much more space inside, and you still get the outside feel with the large garage doors almost always open during the summer.

The Sugarbowl is like the grandfather of the hipster-style craft beer pub, simply because it has seemingly been around forever, while these new places (like Craft, Beer Revolution, Three Boars, The Next Act) are new to the scene that was basically created by the Sugarbowl.

This pub is known for its good food and extensive beer menu. Always has been. And still is. You can read the reviews on other sites, like Yelp, and see the generally positive recounts of time spent there.

The menu itself is minimalist, which is nice. There are only a few items on there, and they cook all of them extremely well. This is not a place where you have to scroll though a thick menu and struggle to decide what you would like to eat. There is a list of perhaps a dozen meals, and all of them sound pretty enticing.

sugar2As for the beer menu, it is indeed pretty extensive. Prices have gone up since the last time I was there, and now they are a little more in line with the other craft beer houses in the city, although I would argue, are still a little cheaper. There is perhaps a dozen beers on tap, but the real gems come from the lists of bottled beers that they have. There are a lot, and you could get pretty indecisive when it comes to making a choice here. There are selections from local breweries, as well as small breweries from other places, such as Portland (of course). I did pretty well at selecting some good beers to try. And the prices weren’t totally crippling, like they are at Craft.

The vibe inside is unique. During the day, it remains a place that is popular with families, as it is not a total bar, like some other craft beer places have become. There are definitely the “artsy” people who frequent the place, and it is a hipster joint as well. It is a nice blending of people here.

The staff are generally quick and fairly attentive, no complaints there. I had the bison chili, which was pretty delicious. It had a good amount of heat to it, but nothing overwhelming, and it was definitely hearty. I was full all day off one bowl of it. I would definitely eat it again.

I like this place, and would definitely go there again. My bill was about $60 for two people, both with meals and several beers. Not the cheapest place you will find in Edmonton, but something different from the standard chain restaurants that we too often choose. The Sugarbowl feels like a cool place that you would find in a bigger, cooler city than Edmonton.

A great place to grab some food and drinks. I agree with the hype, and the Sugarbowl is still a cool place to go.

millwoods3

Millwoods Golf Club (Golf Course Review)

Golf, North America, Sports, Travel

The City of Edmonton operates a few of their own golf courses sprinkled throughout the city, and while we may think of them as being run down, neglected courses, this is not the case.

The Millwoods Golf Club is a nice course inside the city, and one that is perfect for beginners, given its wide open fairways and lack of hazards throughout the course.

millwoods2The course is located just past the Millwoods Park, a popular destination for families in the area during the summer time. But the course is tucked away behind all the picnics and screaming kids, and offers a nice, secluded area to play for the day. The clubhouse is warm and friendly, housing a great staff that is very kind and helpful. It is nice to see a clubhouse where the people inside know things about golf, and care about the sport, making them able to either help you with any questions, or joke around with you. There were no surly teen workers texting away to be seen here.

The rates at Millwoods are very reasonable. I paid $56 for 18 holes and a power cart, which is a great price. I did receive a $10 discount on my green fees as they had recently aerated the greens (which ended up being fine, it did not affect my terrible putting one way or another).

At the first hole, there is a starter who is there to tell you when to go, and she did a good job of making sure all was in order. She will also offer you a complimentary bottle of water. This was welcomed, since it was one of the smoking hot days of the Edmonton summer in which we decided to play there.

As I said, the course is very wide-open, which is perfect for the golfer who wants to play, but doesn’t want to lose 10 balls over the course of the round. Even with my impressive hooked shots, I didn’t lose a single ball during the day, which is always nice. The rough is not too surly, and can be fairly forgiving if you are not dead-on with your tee shots.

millwoodsOne great thing about this course was that it wasn’t very busy. Granted, I golfed there during a weekday, but at one point, the beer cart girl told us that we were the only people on the back nine. This is always nice, allowing you to play at your own pace, and not feel the pressure from the people behind you. We started behind a foursome, but with the starter being sure to space things out nicely, we never ran into them again, and never needed to wait for them at another hole. This freedom makes for an extra relaxing day.

The views on the course are not the most beautiful you will find in the city, that is for sure, but this is a public course that serves the purpose of letting people play golf in a relaxed environment on a not-overly challenging course.

The greens were the roughest part of the course, as they had been recently aerated, leaving them hard and fast. As I mentioned, my putting is atrocious, but the speed of the greens often made them difficult to read. Aside from that, they are pretty straightforward, with very little break on the majority of the holes.

In all, for the price, Millwoods golf course is a great place to play. Higher end players will be able to put up some of their career best scores, and newer players will be able to play without absolutely lighting up the scoreboard.

I would definitely recommend Millwoods Golf Course, especially for those who live close, on the south side of town.

3

Three Day Road (Book Review)

Books

For too long, I looked at my new copy of Three Day Road, as it sat in the pile of books that I want to read over the summer. Over and over again, I read the back of the cover, interested in what it was saying, but never taking the plunge to opening it, and starting to read it. I’m not sure what was holding me back. It seemed like the book would be too heavy, or too intense, or maybe the blurb was just a tease about the story of the First World War.

Regardless, I finally did open Three Day Road, and only a couple of days later, I have finished it.

32Joseph Boyden has created a wonderfully crafted narrative that intertwines the story of three First Nations people before, and during the time of the First World War. The story in Three Day Road is engrossing, graphic, and tragic.

Two main perspectives are used to narrate the story: Auntie Niska, one of the last Cree women to live off the land in the old ways, tells the stories of her life while she paddles her Nephew, Xavier Bird, down the river after he has returned home from the Great War crippled, and addicted to morphine. Xavier provides the second voice in the novel, telling the incredible tales of himself and his best friend, Elijah Whiskeyjack, as they volunteered to join the war effort, and then go to Europe to experience some of the most horrific battles that the war had to offer. Xavier is haunted by what transpired in the trenches of Europe, of what he had to witness, and of what he saw happen to his best friend, Elijah.

The war tales are brilliantly written. They provide excitement and suspense, but Boyden does not hold back on his violent descriptions of trench warfare, or of the sniper warfare that Xavier and Elijah embark on. Their exploits lead them to becoming decorated soldiers, well respected among their peers, but Xavier is forced to watch as his best friend in the whole world deteriorates before his eyes. Riddled with addiction, to drugs, and to killing, Elijah transforms as the war wears on. Xavier must acknowledge these changes, and recognize them in himself as well.

Can people not only survive the war, but survive it with a part of their soul still intact?

Boyden takes us on a journey that visits the most infamous/famous battles of the war, specifically from the Canadian perspective. We go to the Somme, to Vimy Ridge, to Passchendale. Xavier and Elijah are a part of a very strong unit, one that is a victim of its own success, being continually sent somewhere new after doing well. The only reward for being strong soldiers is more work, which leads to more problems, and more death.

33The storytelling of the novel is a central way in which the plot is advanced. Niska tells stories of her youth to Xavier, in hopes of making him feel better upon his return home. Here we learn of the changing world in which these First Nations people lived. The birth of the residential schools, the atrocities that happened within, the separation of the old ways and the new. Niska is brave and strong, living off the land as her ancestors had done, rarely feeling the need for the city living that had been brought to them by the British and the French. In her tales, Niska also describes the childhood of Xavier and Elijah, the blooming of their friendship, and their lives together.

Xavier himself tells the stories of what lead them to the war, and many of the descriptions of the events that transpired during those terrible years. He tells these stories to the audience, but not to others, as he is the quiet one, often wanting silence more than anything, especially from the constant ringing in his ears. He also tells stories to Elijah to pass the time during the war. The stories of when they were younger, and more innocent men, before they had come to Europe to experience all of the terrible things they had to.

The final set of stories are those told by Elijah to Xavier, as he becomes more prone to sneak off in the night to hunt the Germans. He returns with stories that horrify Xavier, and lead to the slow downfall of the man, and friend, who is perceived as a war hero.

Three Day Road is a story that describes the savagery of the war in perfect detail. There is blood, and guts, and it is not pleasant. This is not a sugarcoated version of what transpired in those trenches, but an honest one. He does not restrain himself in describing the explosions of blood, or the random limbs found on the battlefield. It is how our characters are able to deal with these atrocities that truly drives this novel forward. There are the small things that the men cling to, in order to keep them human. And there are the things that are done that are barely human, but either keep them alive, or keep them sane, or make them think that they are staying the same.

This novel is about coping with brutality, and how to survive it.

It is also the story of the First Nations, and their forced transitions into the world of the Europeans, and of the army. There is the desire to be seen, to be respected, all while trying to maintain who they are, and where they came from. The traditions are thrown in direct conflict with the modern, and Xavier spends much time trying to strike a balance between the two.

This is a highly entertaining read, and one that is wonderfully written, and full of drama to keep you turning the pages. There is not just one solid story here, but three. The story of Niska, the story of Xavier, and the story of Elijah. They are all three very rich characters who are developed incredibly well by their actions, and by the stories that they tell.

I enjoyed this novel so much, that even before completing Three Day Road, I had already ordered another Boyden book, to read more about the cultures, and the deep characterization that he is able to create.

Joseph Boyden is already a great Canadian author, one who has piled up the awards and prizes for his work. Upon completion of Three Day Road, I can already understand why.

A definite great novel to put on your personal reading list. Just don’t let it sit for as long as I did.

sherwood2

Sherwood Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

Golf, North America, Sports, Travel

Sherwood Golf and Country Club is a 9-hole course located in Sherwood Park, Alberta, just off Wye Road on Range Road 233.

The first indication I got of the quality of this course was the very poor signage leading up to it. There is nothing on Wye Road indicating a course coming up, and I passed the exit I needed (also, I hate the road signs in Sherwood Park, so hard to read from a distance). Once you are going down the Range Road, you will come to a strangely placed roundabout, which finally provides the first indication of the course. The course itself isn’t viewed from the road, but the big, dusty parking lot is, and the shanty/clubhouse is sort of seen from behind the poorly organized cars in the lot.

Inside the plain clubhouse, the service is quite slow, as the employees seemed to get confused quite easily. While our tee times were approaching, the girl at the counter took several minutes to figure out that she didn’t make a tee time for the group in front of me in the first place, probably why she was having trouble finding it for them. So, eventually she decided to make them a tee time. Makes sense. It took a while for me to simply pay for my round. There was a distinctive lack of friendliness from her as I paid.

That was the worst part about the round. Poor signage getting there, and poor, very slow service inside. Aside from that, the round started promisingly.

sherwoodThere is a starter on the first hole, but he seemed equally as confused as to who was up at what time as the people inside the shop, so he was not exactly needed. We worked it out with the other players, and got our round underway.

The course itself it quite nice. The holes are generally well taken care of, and the greens were in great shape. There was a couple spots of standing water from the rains the day before, but nothing serious. There were also a couple of muddy places that really needed some work, but generally, the fairways were nice, the rough is definitely not too intimidating, there is a decent number of white sand bunkers along the way, and some nice rolling hills on a couple of the holes.

They really pack people in there with their tee times, however, which causes waits at nearly every hole. They should consider expanding the time between players, so you won’t need to have three groups waiting on a par-5. The player skill level, from what I saw, was not the highest at this course, so you could be stuck behind the group that takes three shots to get it past the tee boxes (not that my game is anything to write home about). This level of player probably comes from the very reasonable price of $26 for nine holes.

The difficulty on this course is not high. There are hazards, like some forest, many bunkers, and the occasional water that pops in and out of the course, but they are not crippling, and are generally pretty easy to avoid. I managed to play the whole round while only losing one ball, a rarity in my game.

There are definitely issues at Sherwood Golf and Country Club that could easily be fixed. Some signs, a competent and organized staff, a little more love on fixing the parts that need repair, a couple of extra minutes between tee times, and maybe a net that protects drives from the highway on hole #2. It doesn’t take much of a slice to send a ball screaming into the traffic, which is dangerous for everybody involved.

If you are a drinker, the advantage of a nine-hole course is that the beer cart girl is much more present than on a full course. During our round, she came by three or four times, which is great. She was very friendly. The marshall will typically do a couple of laps as well.

I don’t think that I would go running back to this golf course. It is decent, but I feel that there are better options out there, for a similar price. There are parts of the course that look really nice, and you can tell where they put all of their money in. The green on the ninth hole has a nice little bridge leading over water to it, which looks great. Many of the later holes are lined by massive houses, which gives the impression of the country club feel, and makes the course look that much more impressive. But, probably not enough to get me back.

mlb

2014 MLB Second Half Predictions

Baseball, Sports

With the season half over, I went back over my preseason picks for the order of finish in each of the divisions. Sometimes with deep regret (sorry for picking the Rays to win the AL East), and some with some satisfaction (dead on in the AL Central). Of course, it is impossible to know what will happen at the outset of a season, but there are always strong indicators.

If you want to check out my original article, the 2014 MLB Predictions, find it here: http://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/2014-mlb-predictions/

There is some wisdom in there, and some foolishness. Here are a few thoughts on what I had guessed, and ideas for the second half in each division.

mlb2

AL East

Preseason Prediction: Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees

  • I stated that I had considered picking the Orioles to win the division. Looks like I should have done that.
  • I still believe the Yankees could finish last here. Injuries are going to catch up to them, as are the underperformances of some of their big names. Sad to see Jeter go, however. As much as I despise the Yankees, he has been nothing but class for his entire career. Nothing bad to say about him, he is one hell of a competitor, and a great baseball player.
  • Do the Red Sox have it in them to turn around a terrible first half of the season? Yes and no. They will be able to make up some room, but I don’t see them getting back into it, even for the wildcard at this point. They are perhaps a third place team this year.
  • As usual, injuries are going to derail a Blue Jays season. So much promise, so little delivery. That’s what happens when you have a roster full of Band-Aids. Too bad, they can be a really fun team to watch when they are mashing like they can.

AL Central

Preseason Prediction: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins

  • So far, I have this division picked exactly right.
  • I don’t see much changing here for the rest of the season. The main question is if the Royals can push for one of the wild card spots and end a playoff drought that has lasted since 1985.
  • The Indians are a solid ball team, but they are just the picture of mediocrity. At .500 thus far, they will probably continue that pace until the end of the year.
  • I think everybody and their dog picked the Tigers to win this division again. The talent there compared to the rest of the division is miles ahead.

AL West

a'sPreseason Prediction: A’s, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Astros

  • Fairly surprised the Rangers are this bad. Sure, they are riddled with injuries, and that is impossible to predict. But they are just bad. Do they become sellers now?
  • The A’s are just a very good baseball team. Difficult to name a bunch of their players, but they make it all work.
  • A lot more competition from the Angels than I suspected. Trout is an absolute beast, and he is dragging the old guys along with him. Improved pitching has helped them out a ton. Who knew.
  • The Astros are going to be very good in a few years. They are a pretty exciting team, and there is an absolute ton of young talent there. Watch out for the 2018 Astros!
  • I think the A’s hang on to the division, and the Angels will now grab that wild card berth.
  • I love seeing the Mariners doing so well. It has been a long time since they have been a decent club. They will probably stay in the fight for the wild card until the end.

NL East

Preseason Prediction: Nationals, Braves, Mets, Phillies, Marlins

  • Well, my top two seem about right. I think the Nationals hang on and take the division. They are too good, there is too much talent there. I think the Braves will fade a little bit.
  • My order for the rest was messed up. I mentioned that the young Marlins had the potential of being really good, and I should have gone with that feeling.
  • It is impressive how inconsistent the Mets can be. They are definitely a third place team.
  • The Phillies are really bad at baseball at this point. So old. If I was their GM, I would be trading everything that wasn’t bolted down and loading up on prospects to build for the future. The Nats and Braves are going to be good for a long time, and Philadelphia needs to get on board with the youth movement.

NL Central

cardsPreseason Prediction: Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, Brewers, Cubs

  • I still think I could be right about this when it is all said and done. The Brewers were a huge surprise out of the gate, but I don’t think they can sustain that, and they will continue to fade as the year progresses.
  • The Pirates have started surging, and it is nice to see that they are now a team that won’t completely fold up when they have tough stretches.
  • This is definitely the toughest division, with the top four teams all within 3.5 games of one another. It will be tight right down to the end. There are massive benefits to winning the division instead of being faced with the one game playoff, but I don’t think the depth of the Cardinals will be beaten here.

NL West

Preseason Prediction: Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Rockies

  • Shame on me for picking Arizona to finish second in the division. They are terrible, and their manager is going to be the first one fired this season. The team is a mess.
  • I still think the Dodgers will prevail over the Giants in the division. They have a ton of depth, and they will probably do something ridiculous at the trade deadline to get another highly paid superstar. Maybe another pitcher. Would make them very scary in the playoffs.
  • Holy hot and cold, Giants. No way that they are as bad as they have been over the past month, but I don’t think they are as good as they were earlier, either. They will fight for the wild card.
  • This is a two team race. The Padres, Rockies, and D-Backs are out of this one.

Overall, I’d say I did alright with my choices. Could have been better, could have been worse. There were some serious blunders, but that happens to everyone, doesn’t it?

Playoff Predictions

nats
AL Wild Cards
: Red Sox and Royals. Nope and maybe? I’ll stick with the Royals grabbing one of them, with the other going to the Angels.

NL Wild Cards: Braves and Pirates. Hmm. I’ll stick with the Pirates, and go with the Giants getting the other one.

AL Champion: A’s. I’ll stick with the team with the best record in baseball right now. They do have questions, but they are just solid all around, and this could be their year. They will have serious competition from the Tigers and Angels, however.

NL Champion: Nationals. Hard to argue against the might of the Dodgers. But I will stick with the Nats.

World Series Champion: Nationals. Sure, why not?

Sherlock

Sherlock: Seasons 1 & 2 (TV Review)

Television

After sitting forever in my Netflix queue, I finally got around to watching the first two seasons of the always highly recommended by others, Sherlock. That may seem like a lot of TV watching over a couple of days, but as it is a British series, each “season” is only three episodes long (each episode is about an hour and a half, however).

Pouring through the first couple of years, I wondered why I had been so hesitant to begin watching this show.

sherlockLike other British crime shows, Sherlock offers more than the North American fare. Shows like CSI, or The Mentalist, have always lacked something, a certain depth that is too rarely explored on American network TV. Here, we all know that the good crime shows with the real depth are on the cable networks, like AMC’s The Killing. But there has been a boon of very strong British crime drama of late, and along with The Fall and LutherSherlock deserves its place among the elite.

The premise of the show is easy, and we all know about Sherlock Holmes. Here we are given the introduction between Sherlock and his dear friend Watson at the beginning of the series, and from there we are taken off on their crime-solving adventures. The show is set in modern times, but there are always good nods to the classic tales of Sherlock Holmes, like the occasional incorporation of the famed hat.

Our modern version of Sherlock isn’t a pipe smoking sleuth, he is a “high functioning sociopath” that is trying to quit smoking cigarettes, has no time for social niceties, and is an absolute genius. Our new version of Sherlock is able to process massive amounts of information, making him a formidable opponent for any criminal activity.

As the series progresses, we see Sherlock go from an unknown entity who simply helps out the police now and then, to being known as an incredible crime solver, thanks to the blog of his friend Watson. The blog brings him fame, and unwanted attention, as he must deal with becoming a bit of a celebrity while just trying to find cases that satisfy his massive intellect, and ego, and will keep him entertained.

This fame raises the show to its climactic events at the end of season two, which culminates the battle between Sherlock and his greatest criminal opponent, Moriarty.

With each episode spanning nearly an hour and a half, each one is like a movie. There is an opportunity to develop a complex plot, as well as move the characters, and their lives, forward. This is where we get the depth in the show, as we get to know them all better, and begin to understand them more. Throw that in with some classic British wit, and there is a winning combination.

Something else that is found in a large number of British dramas is the quality of the acting. They always seem to have top-notch people fill out the roles, from the top to the most minor of characters. The same can not often be said about US counterparts.

sherlock2The lead roles are played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (as Sherlock and Watson, respectively). And they are played especially well. Major credit goes to Cumberbatch, who truly owns the titular role, and makes the show as good as it is. Sherlock is a genius, and an egomaniac, straining all of the relationships he has with people. When he goes on one of his rants used to explain what is happening, it is great acting. Cumberbatch’s rapid fire speeches that remain eloquent in their own way engross the viewer, managing to explain so much, in such a small amount of time. He carries the show, as he should, and everybody else is a spectator in his life. Due to his mastery in the role, Cumberbatch has become a serious celebrity, and a fan girl’s dream. And, justifiably so. He truly is great here.

The mysteries themselves are always very solid in the show, some of them are completely engrossing. Certain episodes are simply great. The events of “The Hounds of Baskerville” are suspenseful and intense, the battles with Moriarty are great, and the inclusion of “The Woman” add a whole new twist to the show. Each episode is well thought out, interesting, and intense. It is a delight for viewers of mystery and suspense.

The show succeeds where I believe both Sherlock Holmes films failed. Despite the genius of Robert Downey Jr., those films were simply not great, in my opinion. There were simply put, dull. Sherlock avoids those trappings, and remains entertaining in each episode.

Everything about Sherlock is strong, from top to bottom. I have nothing to complain about with the series, and would definitely recommend giving it a watch, if you haven’t already.

It is great fun, seeing what will unfold from 221B Baker Street.

marilyn

My Week With Marilyn (Film Review)

Film

I am not a believer that Marilyn Monroe is a person worthy of the female worship that she receives on daily Facebook posts and updates. The quotes attributed to her demonstrate a strong woman, in constant control, aware of how the world is manipulating her image, and how she, in turn, manipulated it. In reality, Marilyn was a wreck. Crippling insecurity lead to failed romance and drug addiction throughout her life, leading to her early, and mysterious, death.

But this is not to say that Marilyn Monroe is one of the most fascinating people in Hollywood during the 20th Century. She was. She was the biggest star on the planet, the ultimate blonde bombshell, a great actress in her own right, and was able to develop the persona of Marilyn to become the most desired woman on the planet.

In My Week With Marilyn, we get to see all sides of her, in a wonderful film set during the height of her career, when she went to England to film a movie with the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier (played brilliantly by Kenneth Branagh). Here, we get the behind-the-scenes view of how fragile Monroe was, even in the earliest days of her marriage to famed writer Arthur Miller. She was a disaster on set, frequently being late, and always needing the advice of her acting coach on every small detail of the film. This drove Olivier crazy, claiming that it was impossible to teach Marilyn how to act. He would go into frequent rages, berating her, before he would try to placate her, in order to get he film done. He knew that the movie was a light comedy, and didn’t need the depth that Monroe was trying to put in to the role, as the tried to become the “best actress that she could be.” It wasn’t everyday that you could make a movie with the world’s biggest star, so he fought through until completion of the film.

With Marilyn in England, she is taken care of a determined young man (played by Eddie Redmayne), who worked his way from nobility, into the film business, as a third assistant director on the film. Young and with stars in his eyes, Colin Clarke gets to know Marilyn, and what he believes to be the real version of the woman outside of the film set. Here he, and we, are able to see her at her more human, and more vulnerable, as they tour around the English countryside, including a stop off at Eton, where she obviously creates quite a distraction for the boys. We can see how she could turn her persona on and off, being a real person one minute, posing up against a wall and shaking her hips for the crowd the next. She knew the Marilyn that people wanted to see, and part of her life’s drama was being able to distinguish between the two people. This also caused the issues in her love life, because men simply fell in love with who she was on the screen and in the papers, instead of the actual version of her.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYNThe entire cast of the film is very strong, and star-studded. The central role, played by Michelle Williams, is truly well done. While she may have caused second thoughts once it was announced that she would be playing Marilyn, she was able to bring her breathless beauty to the screen, as well as her intricate and often subtle mood changes, about perfectly. Williams truly embodied who Marilyn was, and she was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for the role, and deservedly so. It was Williams’ second nomination in a row, after being tapped for her role in Blue Valentine the year before. Michelle Williams, made famous for her role on the teen drama Dawson’s Creek, has really emerged as a strong actress. One thing I thought while watching this, and seeing her version of Marilyn smiling and having fun onscreen, was that it was nice to see Williams being happy in a performance. She typically takes sadder, more introspective roles, and it was kind of fun to see her glammed up here and truly performing.

All of the secondary characters live up to their star billing as well, giving smaller, but very good performances to keep up with the dazzling Williams. Emma Watson is strong in her small role as the love interest for Colin, playing hard to get and essentially losing a battle of hearts to the most desired woman on the planet. Dame Judy Dench also appears, as do Julia Ormond, Dougray Scott, and Jim Carter (who is still awesome, even outside of his Downton Abbey garb).

With a very strong cast, it covers up the fact that the plot of the movie is fairly simple and straightforward. Star comes to a new place, struggles to get film done, makes innocent boy fall in love with her, she teases him, she leaves. Boy feels that he got to know the true version of her, and is a better person for it.

marilyn2

Still from the original film, recreated perfectly in “My Week With Marilyn.”

But it is not the plot that we watch this movie for, even though it is pretty entertaining throughout, despite its simplicity. It is to spend that week with Marilyn, along with the other characters. To feel like we know her in the same way that the people in her private life knew her. And it speaks volumes about the performance of Williams, that by the end of the film, we do feel this. Marilyn is intoxicating, and it is easy to see how someone could fall for her immediately after meeting her. She could take you in with her beauty, and her charm, and her ability to make people feel as though they were the most important person in the world at that very moment in time.

I loved My Week With Marilyn more than I thought I would. It is a superbly acted film, brought together by incredible costumes, and all wrapped neatly by Michelle Williams’ great performance. If you are a fan of Marilyn, and want to see beyond the glitzy side that we all know, this is a great film. For others, it is definitely entertaining to be brought into the world of Marilyn Monroe, if even only for a week.

bling

The Bling Ring (Film Review)

Film

Before even starting this review, it needs to be pointed out that those who are expected a high-action, high-intensity caper flick, where a group of teens daringly rob the rich and famous, they are looking in the wrong place.

The Bling Ring is a Sophia Coppola film, meaning that it is an art film, meaning that it is making a statement before anything else, including a high action plot.

I am a massive fan of Coppola’s, and have seen all of her films multiple times. I love her sedate style, as she goes for the sublime, and she always attempts to catch the human condition at its most basic and pure. Lost in Translation is my absolute favorite film of all time, and perhaps this love of her work will skew my review of The Bling Ring, but so be it. I’ll try and give multiple perspectives on the movie.

bling2The true story is based on a group of fame-obsessed teenagers, who begin to break into and steal from celebrities in Los Angeles. They broke into the houses of well known celebs, such as Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton (on multiple occasions). The teens, known as “The Bling Ring,” were in love with the opulent lifestyle of the stars, and wanted their piece of it. They stole clothing, purses, jewelry, and cash. Nothing that would go noticed by the celebs, since they had so much of everything.

The group were driven by different things. Some thought that they weren’t good looking enough to fit in, or didn’t have the right style to fit in, or were simply greedy. They were the embodiment of our materialistic culture, and fell prey to the onslaught of magazines and ads that featured the importance of being rich. They were taken in by the celebrity culture, and in their own way, became celebrities themselves.

Our group of thieves were not particularly bright. They were definite amateurs, even though they were clever enough to know when stars were out of town, and manged to get in to their houses without breaking anything. For example, Paris Hilton left a key under her doormat, which is not entirely surprising, given that it is Paris Hilton. They never wore gloves, therefore littering the houses with their fingerprints. They never wore masks, allowing them to be caught on security footage on more than one occasion. And perhaps most damning was their insistence on taking a ton of photos, in clubs, holding wads of cash, and even in the houses themselves, and posting them to Facebook. Not great for when they inevitably got caught.

The purpose of this film, done in typical Sophia Coppola fashion, is to show why they needed to do this. As per most of her movies, she uses the visual more than the dialogue to tell her story. We get to see the amazingly rich places that these celebrities live in (including Hilton’s actual house), and the sheer craziness of their possessions. The kids looked up to the celebs as their fashion icons, and they wanted to be like them, and dress like them, without having the means to do so legally. Coppola makes a strong statement on our desire to live outside of our means, to be something that we are not, based on what we see in magazines, and on TV. We are told by celebs that their lives are better because of the things that they own, making us want to own those same types of things. It is a backwards way of thinking, but fame sells. And for the members of The Bling Ring, it had them sold to the point of committing crimes.

bling3Coppola uses many quiet shots, often just showing the characters rummaging through a house, looking for celebrity treasures. In a Coppola movie, you don’t always need a ton of rambling dialogue to let us know what it happening. Sometimes, we can simply sit back and watch. And she provides us with this voyeuristic viewpoint on several occasions, enhancing her point that we love to watch celebrity.

The actors in the ensemble cast are generally pretty strong. They range from being vapid and spoiled to generally damaged and troubled. The cast is led by Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, and Emma Watson (who completely nails her role as the most outspoken of the crime group, going full Valley Girl at points). None of the characters are given tons of depth, as would a character in a celebrity magazine. But they all have their issues. From simple greed, to genuine drug addictions, and desire to fit in and be a part of the crowd. With the minimalist dialogue in the script, the actors are still able to let us know who they are, and why they decided to do the things that they did, without having to talk about it endlessly. We could see the coldness in Chang’s eyes, the wildness and joy of getting away with something. We could see the deer-in-the-headlights look of Broussard, often just along for the fun, often the driving force behind the crimes.

As with another Coppola film, Marie AntoinetteThe Bling Ring is driven by its soundtrack. Part indie rock (as with all her films), and part hip hop lauding the celebrity lifestyle, the music helps to tell the story of these teens. Combined with the music, we see a lot, as Coppola allows us to understand the excess of Hollywood. Wandering through Paris Hilton’s house, we are shocked at her narcissism, and in awe at the volume of material goods she has. There is a room for purses. There is an entire wall of sunglasses. These are types of lives that we will never be able to experience, and Coppola is able to take us into that world, to allow us to be an up-close spectator for once, instead of simple being on the outside looking in. And that is what these kids were able to do. They went beyond looking at the magazines, and got up close and personal with the lives of the people they adored. There was something that they wanted, and they went out and took it.

I’ve read a few reviews about The Bling Ring, and they are as I expected. A lot of people complaining that the film is slow (duh), or that it is pretentious (duh again). Several review stated that Coppola was glorifying theft, making it look glamorous, but I disagree. The criminals ended up taking over $3 million worth of goods, but it never did anything for them. They would sell some items to make more money, to fuel their partying lifestyle and pseudo-celebrity status, but the things they kept had to be stored away in trunks, or hidden. They never really got anything out of it. Granted, they had some grand adventures in the houses of the celebs, but in the end, there is very little that is glamorous about it. Their lives were ruined by the choices that they made, even though at least one of them has been able to somewhat cash in on her acquired fame from the thefts.

For those who are not fans of Sophia Coppola, or will have The Bling Ring be their first experience with her work, it is a different kind of film. It is slow, it is not dialogue driven. It is driven by her overarching theme, and everything else plays a secondary role to this. The movie is about the downfalls of celebrity obsession, and the terrible lengths that some people will go to emulate people that probably shouldn’t be emulated in the first place. Do not expect some planned capers with high-tech equipment like in Ocean’s 11. It is not that kind of film. It is based on fact, and the fact was that breaking into these houses was far more simple and ordinary than that.

Coppola succeeds in this film in bringing out the feelings of sadness and desperation that a teen feels with their desire to belong, and to fit it. And she is also very successful at displaying what happens to someone when they get a little taste of something. Marc, the main male in the group, goes from being quiet and shy to an over-the-top party person, doing cocaine, spending massive amounts of money, and opening up his defenses to something that he knows is wrong. He breaks down his own walls, because once he has had a taste of the good life, he knows that there is no way he will be able to go back to being a normal kid again.

After my first viewing of The Bling Ring, I loved it. My instant reaction was to put it as my second favorite Coppola film, behind only Lost in Translation. Perhaps this will change, and The Virgin Suicides will retake its place in second, but I feel that The Bling Ring is superior to Marie Antoinette, in that it provides us with an even more updated story of similar themes: excess and the damage it does.

If you are already a fan of Coppola’s work, then this film is a must-see. It is fresh, and provides us with a little more substance than her previous effort, Somewhere.

While the merits of her films are constantly debated, I feel that she is a visionary filmmaker who understands what makes people tick. I believe that with her unique perspective of being Hollywood royalty, she can provide her viewers with a little bit of insight into the worlds that she describes in her films. There is always something personal in her work, which allows us to get to know her a little bit better every time around.

Love her or hate her, I think Coppola has created a definite winner in the entertaining and though-provoking The Bling Ring. See for yourself, and you decide.