Brilliance is elementary in ‘Sherlock’
Owls Head — Sherlock: Season Two (BBC, 2 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 266 min.). Here are another three TV movies in the brilliant re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes. Writers and executive producers Steven Moffat (“Doctor Who”) and Mark Gatiss (“The League of Gentlemen,” also acts and plays brother Mycroft Holmes here) have brought Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime-solving icon into the 21st century. For example, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman, also in the upcoming “The Hobbit” films) writes a blog about their adventures that proves to be quite popular. Also, Holmes decides to stay home and have Watson cover the scene of a death with a laptop video camera and microphone. The bit-antisocial Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumber batch (the films “War Horse” and the upcoming “Star Trek 2”).
In the first case, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” Mycroft, who works for the government, gets his brother involved in a case for the Royal Family to recover some incriminating photos taken by Irene Adler (a bewitching Lara Pulver), also known as The Woman (on her website) and The Dominatrix. The first encounter between Holmes and Adler is a classic -- “brainy is the new sexy” -- and the high-level of writing continues throughout the episode, which actually manages to pull together a dozen or so disparate strings. Initially, though, the episode repeats and picks up from the cliffhanger ending of season one’s third episode, involving Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott).
Amusingly, Russell Tovey, who played a werewolf in the excellent series “Being Human,” plays a man, Henry Knight, frightened by a maniacal dog or wolf in “the Hound of Baskerville.” Only this Baskerville is the site of an army testing base used for testing weapons and genetic experimentation. Early on, a bored Holmes is trying to find a case worthy of his intellect and among the possibilities is a young girl whose rabbit glowed in the dark before disappearing. Yes, it is linked to Baskerville. One terrific scene has the outside motion-detector lights at Knight’s home keep blinking on, increasing his terror. The third film is “The Reichenbach Fall,” which brings Moriarty front and center. It opens with Moriarty simultaneously engineering a mass prison escape and a bank vault robbery, while he himself is breaking into the casing housing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. However, Moriarty waits for the authorities instead of trying to escape., goes on trial and then proceeds to make everyone believe that Holmes is the true criminal mastermind, creating cases he can then solve for the glory. The film is another piece of brilliant writing and ends with another cliffhanger, only one to which the audience is given information the characters do not have.
Throughout the three films, there are running jokes about a deer stalker hat that Holmes is photographed in, after grabbing it to help disguise his face (and, of course, it is iconic for Doyle’s original Holmes) and the fact that most people assume Holmes and Watson are a couple. The Blu-ray disc comes with audio commentary and a 19:06 making-of feature, with actor and creator interviews and a look at the special effects. Grade: season 4 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
The Grey (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 118 min.). For a movie that starts slow, this turns into a very intense ride, one not for the feint of heart. Part of the problem with the opening is that it contains a lot of voice-over narration, which usually is a bad sign for me. In this case, it is Liam Neeson’s character of John Ottway, hired by an oil company to shoot predators, such as wolves, around the Alaskan work site. Basically, Ottway has decided to kill himself and is narrating his suicide note, with such lines as: “I move like I image the damned do. Cursed.” He refers to the ex-cons, fugitives and others who make up the work crews as “men unfit for mankind.” However, he then sees a wolf and kills it, and his chance to kill himself passes.
The next day, he is on a plane with other workers headed on leave, but it crashes, stranding the seven survivors in an Arctic wasteland. The crash scene itself is well done, with its inside the plane viewpoint. A pack of wolves -- typically they have a range of 300 miles and a kill zone of 30 miles from their den -- appear and pick off the man on sentry duty, and the survivors race to make a distant tree line before more of them fall prey to the wolves. The first creepy scene has the men in a stare off with seven wolves, who only can be seen by the light reflecting in their eyes. Then there is a wolf attack and a really creep night scene with various wolves howling. Director/co-writer Joe Carnahan has more than wolves in store for his less-than-hardy band of survivors, including a river crossing that ratchets up the tension. In fact, nothing seems to ever go right, as the film is intense and unrelenting from the crash onward. Note that there is one brief post-credits scene.
There is audio commentary by Carnahan and editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellman, but no making of feature, which would have been fascinating due to the use of wolves. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.5 stars
The Woman in Black (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 95 min.). Daniel Radcliffe’s first post-Harry Potter film has him playing a young, flailing lawyer in Victorian England. He is a widower with a 4-year-old son (Radcliffe seems a bit young for the part with this added detail). However, the real star of the film is Eel Marsh House, an old mansion that has seen better days that is accessible by a long narrow causeway which, like the famous Mont Saint Michel, is cut off twice a day by rising tides. The house is marvelously decrepit. Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps has been told he will lose his job, if he does not succeed with his mission, which is to go through all the papers left behind by the recently deceased dowager.
What Kipps does not know is that the mansion was home to a scorned woman, whom the villagers consider a witch that has cursed them due to the death of her 7-year-old son and his body never having been recovered from the marsh. Whenever this “women in black’ is seen, one of more children in the town die, often it appears by their own choice. Welcoming Kipps into this strange world -- indeed, everyone else is trying to hurry him back to London -- is Sam Daily (Ciaran Hinds), a wealthy man who owns the first car in the county. However, he and his wife (Janet McTear) have lost their own son, and now Mrs. Daily has places set for two little dogs at the dinner table.
The film is filled with creepy moments. The one I liked best is when we see the women in black next to Kipps, but then there is nothing there. Extras include audio commentary by director James Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman; a making-of feature; and an interview with Radcliffe about his role. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Safe House (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R. 115 min., available June 5). Directed by Daniel Espinosa, this film is almost constant action and a rousing good time. Ryan Reynolds plays Matt Weston, a rookie CIA agent whose year-long, boring assignment has been to man a safe house in Cape Town, Africa. He is bored and unhappy, and trying to get posted to Paris so he can be with his girlfriend (Nora Arnezeder as Ava Moreau). Suddenly, everything chances when rogue spy/CIA traitor Tobin Frost (played steely by executive producer Denzel Washington) turns himself in rather than be gunned down by some killers who are after the electronic data he has just gotten from MI-6 operative Alec Wade (Liam Cunningham). Once Frost shows up at the U.S. Consulate, he is hustled over to the safe house to be tortured/interrogated by Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick). However, the same men who are after Frost storm the safe house and only Frost and Weston escape. This part leads to an eye-opening, crazy driving sequence.
The outstanding action continues at a soccer stadium, with a very neat twist, and at the home of a document forger (Ruben Blades). Back in Washington, the CIA honchos are played by Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard and Brendan Gleeson, the latter being Weston’s direct boss. Joel Kinnaman (TV’s “The Killing”) plays the operator of another, less-tech safe house. Extras include seven behind-the-scenes features, the most of which plays up how the film used real Cape Town locations to good and varied effect. They total about 51 minutes. There also is a second-screen interactive feature that can be loaded onto a computer or tablet. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars
The Awakening (1980, Warner Archive, R, 101 min.). This little-known Charlton Heston film, directed by Mike Newell (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”) is based on “The Jewel of the Seven Stars” by Bram Stoker, who, of course, is most famous for being the author of “Dracula.” Heston plays Egyptologist Matthew Corbeck, who is determined to find the tomb of the unnamed queen., which he does in the first part of the film. Corbeck’s wife Annie (Jill Townsend) is pregnant and due in two months. She bought feels neglected by her husband and his quest, but also jealous of his close association with his assistant Jane Turner (Susannah York). When Corbeck and Turner find the tomb’s entrance, each time he pounds at it, his wife has a labor pain back at the village. It appears the warning left by “the nameless one” may be real.
The tomb itself is untouched and quite elaborate, with a lengthy staircase leading downward. It helps the film immensely that it was filmed at Egyptian locations. After the discovery, the film jumps forward 18 years. Annie has divorced Corbeck, who has gone on to marry Turner. Their daughter Margaret (Stephanie Zimbalist) has just had her birthday and wants to travel from America to see her father in England. It takes a while, by Corbeck eventually realizes that the dead Queen Kara wants to reincarnate herself in Margaret’s body. After leaving Egypt, the film goes downhill. It is never as scary as it should be and the pacing is atrocious. I was interested to see that jazz composer Claude Bolling composed the score. The film is available at www.warnerarchive.com. Grade: film1.75 stars
My Babysitter’s a Vampire: The First Season (Warner, 3 DVDs, NR, 379 min.). There’s more fun, and especially cute, than scares in this likeable Canadian TV series. And what I like about this set is it has the original film (81 min.) as a bonus feature. Directed by Bruce McDonald, the film sets nearly everything up … in a good way.
Ethan Morgan (Matthew Knight) and Benny (Atticus Dean Mitchell) are best buds, just entering high school as freshmen. At that school, the Drama Club kids act particularly weird … because they are vampires, it turns out. One night, Ethan’s younger sister wanders outside the house while he is supposed to be babysitting, so his angry parents decide to hire a babysitter. It was supposed to be Erica (Kate Todd), but she goes off with the vampires to their big party at the mansion. So, Sarah (Vanessa Morgan) fills in and, when the pizza delivery vampire arrives, reveals herself as a fledgling vampire (one who has been bitten but not yet tasted human blood; allegedly she has to complete the process within a month or die). Of course, the big party turns out to be a gathering of potential victims for the vampires. Their leader Jesse (Joe Dinicol) has a special need for a lot of human souls.
So Sarah heads to the party to rescue Erica, and Ethan and Benny follow when they see their nerd friend Rory (Cameron Kennedy) also is at the party. Stakes and mistakes follow. And while there is a lot of violence for this type of kids’ film, most of it happens just off camera. By the end, we learn Ethan and Benny both have special supernatural roles, as does Benny’s Grandma (Joan Gregson),which leads into the 13-episode first season in which Ethan, Sara and Benny have to confront zombies, demons, ghosts and, oh year, high school. The weakest part of the film is its ongoing, and too prevalent, satire of the “Twilight” books and films, with “The Dust Chronicles” everywhere and the third film, “Unbitten,” about to be premiered. Extras include very brief cast interviews (15:11 total) and a behind-the-scenes look (8:40), hosted by Kennedy, that covers props, stunts and costumes. Grade: overall 3 stars
Mimic: 3 Film Set (Lionsgate, 2 Blu-ray discs, NR and R, 276 min.). The second and third films make their Blu-ray debut along with a reissue of the Blu-ray of the director’s unrated cut of the first film (1997, 112 min., directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro). In the original, a disease carried by common cockroaches is killing children in Manhattan. So, an entomologist (Mira Scorvino as Susan Tyler) creates a mutant breed on insect that secretes a fluid to kill the roaches. Three years later, she learns the species has survived and evolved into a large monster that can mimic human form. The film co-stars Josh Brolin and Jeremy Northam. In “Mimic 2” (2001, 82 min.), it is a year later and the “Judas” bugs still survive. Finally, in “Mimic 3: Sentinel” (2003, 76 min.), residents of an apartment complex start to disappear. The first and third films are based on the Donald A. Wollheim short story. All the special features of the original releases are included, among them del Toro audio commentary on the first film and three featurettes. The first two films have deleted scenes, and the second and third have a featurette each. Writer/director J.T. Petty does audio commentary on the third film. The first film is very worthwhile; the other two are direct-to-video efforts. Grade: overall 3 stars