Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Series – Before RDJ, before Benny C, there was Jeremy Brett, and to a boy who loved the Sherlock Holmes of the books, he was it: as accurate a Holmes as you could ever want to see onscreen. Like Heath Ledger embodying the Joker, however, Brett was so determined to get into the head of Holmes that he may have driven himself to mental illness, or at least exacerbated a propensity that was already there. Ironically, I always thought his weight gain in the last few episodes was simply him getting older and portlier, as people do; in fact, it was the medications causing him to retain water.
The thing is, as our modern interpretation has shown, Holmes would be mentally ill by today’s standards, and probably quite self-destructive in many ways. That’s undoubtedly why Robert Downey Jr. was cast to play him in more recent years. I had the great fortune many years ago to see Tom Baker play Holmes on the Dublin stage – it was a more satirical take, with Baker playing both Holmes and a surgically altered Moriarty, but even his spoof version was majorly bipolar.
It’s hard to know if Brett could have gotten more help if he didn’t insist on going so deeply method with Holmes, or if the role in fact sustained him through the craziness. We do know for certain he was damn great in it, but there’ll always be a slight tinge of sadness there underlining it all.
Transformers: Age of Extinction – This is the part where what little remaining respect you have for me dissipates like the morning dew, because I enjoyed the hell out of this movie in 3D Imax. (I don’t WANT to like stuff everyone hates. It just happens sometimes.)
Here’s the thing: if you hate all of Michael Bay’s movies, without exception, you may as well skip to the next entry on the list; if, however, you are of the mind that some Bay movies are better than others, stay with me, because I’ll tell you why this belongs in the former category. Bay is still Bay; his movies will never not be full of sunsets, explosions, over-sexified leading ladies, glorification of meatheads, military fetishism and broad humor. But Trans4mers suggests he can learn from some criticism – the editing, for example, is less frenetic and actually sustains some solid pacing. There’s an action scene involving the main characters climbing cables from an alien spaceship across to the Sears tower, and the way the scene is set and the tension gradually ratchets up is handled impeccably. (Compare Bay to Neveldine and Taylor, who insisted when they made Ghost Rider 2 that they were going to ignore the concept that you need to hold shots longer for 3D. What have they done lately?)
What’s more, Mark Wahlberg is a leading man better suited for Bayhem than Shia LaBeouf or Ben Affleck; he doesn’t pretend to be smarter than the material, because he isn’t. And the jeopardy is real – a significant human character meets a nasty death, and Ratchet is killed off in a brutal act of betrayal. Also: continuity! When we first meet Optimus Prime, he’s having a full-fledged PTSD breakdown, which somewhat retroactively explains how he turned so mean-spirited at the end of part 3.
Oh, but there has to be that patented Michael Bay racism everyone talks about, right? Not really. I surveyed people on Twitter when it came out on that topic, and only three things came up:
1. Mark Wahlberg repeatedly calls an Irish character “Lucky Charms.” Now, the gentlemen who was upset about this on Twitter took that very seriously, but it seems to me that if that’s your standard for racism, a movie like The Limey or the upcoming NWA biopic is off the table completely.
2. There’s a samurai robot with a Japanese accent. Played by a Japanese actor best known for playing a samurai: Ken Watanabe.
3. Wahlberg’s landlady is a black mother who yells a lot in her one big scene (and it’s not goofy sass – the character is justified in being mad). Now, I’ve seen enough Tyler Perry movies (yes, you may feel bad for me) to know that there is a trope of the angry black mother. I’ve also seen a not-insignificant amount of movies with angry Asian mothers, angry Southern mothers, and at least one with a Big Fat Greek angry mother. Point is, I don’t think you can cast anyone female of that age in that role and not have it recall any sort of type. Is the answer then that it must go to a man, in order to not offend someone?
So yeah, that’s a lot less of that stuff than you may have feared. In yet another plus, the actors who do provide the comic relief are TJ Miller and Stanley Tucci, both of whom are genuinely funny even if left to their own devices (Ken Jeong and Alan Tudyk, for example, can be terrible if handled badly, as they were in Dark of the Moon). The gratuitous “please the Chinese” stuff in which mainland troops come to Hong Kong’s aid, plays so over-the-top that it’s like a joke, which I suspect is the intention. And while the Dinobots aren’t in the movie a whole lot, they serve the plot; sandwiching, say, Blur and Rodimus into those roles wouldn’t have worked.
Look, I get how old-school Transformers fans feel; it’s probably much like I did when the only Batman in any media was Adam West, and I couldn’t wear a Dark Knight Returns T-shirt without hearing “Da na na na na na na na BATMAN!” all the time. Best for you folks to look at this as one of many alternate timelines and wait for the inevitable reboot. But if you can buy into the campy, ‘splosiony universe that these films make, it is probably the best of the four by quite a bit.
Oh yeah, and it’s a LOT better than that terrible Ninja Turtles remake. The Blu-ray includes several making-of featurettes, including one centered on Hasbro’s Grimlock action figure, and preserves the shifting aspect ratio for the Imax scenes.
Krull – No extras on this disc, as far as I can tell – I’m not even sure it preserves the DVD commentary, in which Lysette Anthony’s very English accent makes clear she was dubbed through the entire movie. But it’s ten bucks, and it’s a nerd essential from the ’80s, pitting the inhabitants of a medieval fantasy world against an evil alien with a teleporting fortress and laser-armed henchmen. But they reckon without a little bit of magic, and the power of a big, clunky ninja star called the Glaive! Look for Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane in early roles as bandits.
Leprechaun: The Complete Movie Collection – Some horror franchises struggle to keep continuity going, and offer surprise retcons, in order to maintain some semblance of a coherent storyline. Then there’s the Leprechaun series, where they just say “Fuck it!” and do whatever they want each time, with mixed results. The first one’s a hoot, with Jennifer Aniston and Francis from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, balancing camp and horror well. The sequels struggled to find a tonal balance until the fourth one, set in outer space, just went for sheer silliness with the Leprechaun bursting out of an astronaut’s crotch, Alien-style. The two installments set “in the hood” at least let you see Warwick Davis attempt rap music (badly), and the recent reboot (included here and available separately) apparently jettisons everything and starts completely anew with the Leprechaun as a cave monster.
The only ones I’d want to own are 1 and 4. Your mileage may vary.
Beware the Batman: Dark Justice (Season 1 Part 2) – A Batman cartoon that didn’t get the usual amount of support you’d expect. What little I saw of it seemed decent, though the CG look may have been off-putting to some. You could argue that Gotham‘s interpretation of Alfred is a direct descendant of this more aggressive version.
Interview With the Vampire: 20th Anniversary – I studied the script for this movie in film school, and it made more sense than the final movie; specifically, a sequence with Lestat following Louis to Europe and ratting him out clarifies a major plot ambiguity. I guess that was probably never filmed, or it would have been restored by now. Instead, the major new feature here is a featurette on Anne Rice as she talks about how her vampires influenced the ones we have now. In other words, you might get to hear her trash-talk Twilight.
Betty Boop: Essential Collection 4 – More classics from the Fleischer vault, including a red-headed Betty as Snow White.
24: Live Another Day – Before John Boyega saves the day in that galaxy far, far away, you can watch him cross paths with Jack Bauer, in a season that, given a lesser-than-usual number of episodes, should have been renamed 12.
The Matrix Trilogy – A cheap version on one disc for the more casual fan. Except that if you like the Matrix sequels, you are probably by definition not a casual fan, and you already have the far better boxed set.
One Piece: Film Z – I won’t pretend I know what this anime’s all about, but from afar it looks pretty cool.
Those are my picks. Aside from “the chance to bash Michael Bay some more,” what did I miss?