Danger Mouse – Mission: Improbable Review

  • Series Title: Danger Mouse
  • Season: Mission: Improbable
  • Episodes: 7
  • Discs: 1
  • Network: CBBC
  • Cast: Alexander Armstrong, Kevin Eldon, Dave Lamb, Stephen Fry, Shauna MacDonald
  • Format: Color, Animation, Widescreen, PAL, R2

Danger Mouse was a much-loved British cartoon from the 1980s. Featuring a white mouse (Danger Mouse) with a black eye patch, his hamster assistant Penfold, and his boss, Colonel K, the series was fun, clever, and full of puns, cultural references, and silliness. This new series keeps the same characters, including the villainous Baron Silas Greenback and his assistants Nero and Stiletto. The new series also introduces Professor Squawkencluck, a female scientist who develops Danger Mouse’s incredible gadgets and acts as the scientific brain for the group’s missions. She’s basically DM’s Q – and she’s a chicken. No, she isn’t afraid of everything – she’s literally an animated chicken with a Scottish accent. Meanwhile, Colonel K also has a hologram copy of himself.

The new Danger Mouse has some very funny moments in these first seven episodes. However, poor DM is not a very clever mouse – and he’s pretty incompetent with technology – which irritates Squawkencluck, Penfold is the same old Penfold, sensibly scared by the situations he and DM find themselves in. However, Penfold gets to shine in two episodes, and his friendship with Danger Mouse is particularly strong in this updated version.

As one would expect in an updated modern version of a classic from the 1980s, the animation is better and more modern. DM’s science and tech is also more advanced. Yet, the show keeps the characters, including the villains from the original show. The episodes without Greenback are better (and that is the majority of the episodes on this collection). I also really liked Pandamonium – a giant panda who’s basically a big dummy, but lovable. He’s used by Baron Greenback in the first episode, then appears again on his own.

The episodes on the Mission: Improbable are:

  • Danger Mouse Begins Again
  • Planet of the Toilets
  • Danger at C-Level
  • The Other Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Welcome to Danger World!
  • Big Head Awakens
  • Greenfinger

Overall, though some of the episodes were very funny, I missed the puns and cultural references of the original series. This show was fun, but more aimed at children than the all-ages original series. It’s not awful, but it’s not as cleverly-written as it could be. A solid 3 out of 5 stars.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

  • Title:  The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug
  • Director:  Peter Jackson
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  New Line, MGM
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans and Stephen Fry.
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You’ve changed, Bilbo Baggins, you’re not the same Hobbit that left the Shire.” – Gandalf

“I started this!  I cannot forsake them.  They are in grave danger.”  — Gandalf
“If what you say is true, the World is in grave danger.” – Radagast

“What have we done?” – Bilbo

There is an innate problem with any trilogy, especially a trilogy of films – and that is, the film often has no beginning and no ending.  The beginning, background, and set-up is all in the first film.  The resolution will be in the final film.  And sometimes, the middle film is very hard to judge without seeing the final film.  This seems to be especially true with Peter Jackson’s trilogies based on JRR Tolkien’s works, because Jackson takes the approach they are three long chapters of a single work.  An approach that, in the end, especially when the extended editions are included, worked for Lord of the Rings.

However, for The Desolation of Smaug, I find it very difficult to review the film on it’s own.  I suspect that the extended edition (to be released on Blu-ray next Tuesday 11/4/2014), may affect how I view the film, and the third film, The Hobbit:  The Battle of Five Armies, which is due in theaters in December 2014, will change my opinion further.  But I will say this – I didn’t hate it.  Overall, I felt the theater-version of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug was “ok” to “good”, but not terrible.

Whereas, The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey emphasized that the Dwarves Quest was to return to their home, which made the film more universal and made it easier to emphasize with the characters and the whole point of the exercise; The Desolation of Smaug, rather like the book, emphasizes both adventure and a Quest for gold.  Often, the Tolkien’s works, Dwarves are seen as overly concerned with money:  gold, jewels, and treasures of the Earth.  This is certainly the case in The Desolation of Smaug, where Thorin seems to be not only motivated by returning to his ancestoral kingdom but by claiming the dragon’s horde of treasure to be found there.

The Desolation of Smaug is very episodic as a film; and each section often involves a lot of action, fighting, and special effects.  However, there seems to be little characterization amonst all the action, which is a pity.  In terms of characters, new ones are introduced:  Tauriel, a female Elf, who is a good fighter and who has a passion for hunting down Orcs (and possibly a crush on Legolas); Bard, a bargeman who’s raising three children on his own, and lives in Laketown (Esgaroth); The Master (played with relish by Stephen Fry) – the tyrannical dictator of Laketown.

The character of Tauriel, though completely non-canonical, I actually liked, especially the second time I watched the film, and on DVD.  She brings a freshness to the film, and I hope we see more of her in the third film.

Bard seems much more distrustful of the Dwarves and even seems to dislike them, once he figures out who they are.  However, he’s also interested in genuinely helping the people of Laketown, and seems to be the one in charge of attempting to rid the town of their rich and tyrannical Master.

Additions of new characters such as Tauriel, and the expansion of short sequences in the book into full-blown action scenes in the film, almost, at times, makes Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit seem like Fan Fiction.  I don’t mean that in a negative way.  But Tolkien created a very rich, and detailed world, and even, it’s said, felt it was OK for others to “play in his sandbox” as it were.  But regardless as to whether or not the author would have approved of the films – they really do feel like an expansion of Tolkien’s story and world.  This is especially true in the introduction of completely original characters, such as Tauriel, or the expansion of the roles of other characters, such as Legolas (who, as the son of King Thranduil might have been mentioned in The Hobbit novel, but he doesn’t have a major role.)  I love Tolkien’s books, especially The Lord of the Rings, so I don’t really have a problem with Peter Jackson’s additions.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Jackson had made The Hobbit first, and as a single film, prior to making Lord of the Rings, and how that might have gone, but we will never know.

The other aspect of The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug, that I found especially interesting – and I picked up on this more watching the DVD, than I had seeing the film in the theater a year ago, was the amount of foreshadowing of events in Lord of the Rings. Gandalf’s mission with Radagast to discover what is going on, and who the Necromancer is, leads directly into The Lord of the Rings, as does the marching of the Orcs.  When Bilbo briefly drops The Ring in Mirkwood and fights off a spider to get it back, then says “Mine,” as he grabs it – it is frightening because we know where that leads.  And even Bilbo, as he realizes what he’s does, seems startled by his own actions.  The spiders, also reference the confrontation between Sam and Frodo and Shelob (which is in The Two Towers novel, but in the film of The Return of the King).

Overall, the film was good – I did buy the DVD, after all – and I intend on buying the Extended Edition Blu-Ray (or possibly DVD if there is one).  And I certainly want to see the final film.  But I felt the first film of Jackson’s The Hobbit  trilogy was better.

Recommendation:  See It (for the spectacle at least).
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: The Prestige

Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows

  • Title:  Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows
  • Director:  Guy Ritchie
  • Date:  2011
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure, Drama
  • Cast:  Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Stephen Fry
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Oh, how I’ve missed you, Holmes.” — Dr. John Watson

“It’s so overt, it’s covert.” — Sherlock Holmes

“What better way to conceal a killing, no one looks for a bullet hole in a bomb blast.” — Dr. Watson

“They’re dangerous at both ends, and crafty in the middle. Why would I want anything with a mind of  its own bobbing about between my legs?” — Sherlock Holmes (on horses)

It isn’t often that an adventure film sequel is as good as or better than the original, but Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows is one brilliant film, just as good if not better than Sherlock Holmes. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films are proving to be crack to the SH fan — doing things any fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing has always wanted to do (Who hasn’t wanted to push Mary off a railway bridge? Or to not only have Watson see Holmes’ fall at Reichenbach, but to have a hint that he knew Holmes wasn’t dead?) Holmes and Watson were the original “buddy cop show” (though neither was a cop) and Holmes the original geek (used in the best sense, not the pejorative one) Ritchie’s films have come about at the most appropriate time, here’s hoping to a long and successful series.

In Sherlock Holmes A Game of  Shadows, we immediately see the close friendship between Holmes and Watson. They finish each other’s sentences, know each other’s moves, and have complete trust in each other when it really counts. Holmes doesn’t discount Watson’s abilities, especially as a soldier, or as a doctor.

This film introduces Professor James Moriarty, as Holmes’ equal and opposite. Their conflict is played out in a metaphor of chess, and both are very good at the game. But, Holmes probably wouldn’t have directly challenged Moriarty, even when he finds out, to his horror, exactly what Moriarty is up to, if it wasn’t for Moriarty’s murdering of Irene Adler, and threats against Dr. John Watson, and his wife, Mary. The film also plays with real historical events, including a series of anarchist bombings in Europe (which did happen, especially in Russia) and the prelude to World War I. Moriarty’s plan, in fact, is to use the existing alliances and rivalries in Europe to start a world war — twenty three years early. This, after he has bought-up every business that can profit from war from bandages (cotton) to bullets (weapons and chemical warfare). Moriarty owns cotton, steel, opium (used to make morphine – the anesthetic of the time), and the aforementioned arms. As Holmes points out when Moriarty is torturing him, “Now that you own the supply you intend to create the demand.”

The film also introduces Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother, played by Stephen Fry, as quite possibly more eccentric than Sherlock. However, it is to Mycroft that Sherlock trusts the health and welfare of Mary, after dropping her from a moving train into a lake to save her from Moriarty’s attack. Watson is quite distraught at Holmes’ cavalier treatment of his wife, until he realizes that Holmes was in complete control, timing things perfectly, and his actions were to protect Mary. Quite a lot of Holmes’ actions in the film are to protect Mary and John; John because he is Holmes’ only friend and Mary because she is important to John.

I, personally realized the film was doing “The Final Problem”, when Moriarty’s men attack on the train, but I still loved just how much Ritchie opened up that particular story and brought more to it. That Holmes sends John on an errand so he can sneak into Moriarty’s weapons factory in Germany speaks volumes of how much he cares. That John returns and immediately figures out how to rescue Holmes, not only shows his own intelligence, but his own feelings for Holmes.

The escape, with the gypsies through the forest was brilliant. First the  direction, using a stop-motion technique to freeze the action briefly, enabling the audience to actually follow it was brilliant. The complete chaos of the explosions, gunshots, and use of big guns (howitzers, etc) brings to mind World War I. There is also complete trust between Holmes and Watson, when at one point, Holmes twirls the stock of a gun, and Watson is right there to receive it as Holmes hands it off. It’s Watson who fires the weapon at Moriarty’s men.

After escaping, Holmes, who’s been tortured, Watson, and Sim, their Gypsy companion, are in a railway car. Holmes stops breathing and his heart stops. Watson beats on his chest (this is a little premature – I don’t think even a doctor would know CPR in 1891) but is unsuccessful. Then he has a lightbulb moment – and uses Holmes’ wedding gift — pure adrenalin, that Holmes had extracted in an experiment, and Watson had seen Holmes use to revive Gladstone (Watson’s dog) after the dog ate something poisonous. The adrenalin works and Holmes jumps up, babbling of bad dreams. But the entire scene is brilliant. Watson pounds on Holmes’ chest crying that Holmes, “Bloody well not going to die on me!” and shouting at him to “come on”. Watson’s brief devastation as he realizes that his best friend has died, before the light bulb goes off, perfectly illustrates his caring for Holmes.

Holmes, Watson, and Sim arrive in Switzerland and meet Mycroft, but discover the peace conference is still planned. Holmes dances first with Sim, and then with Watson. (Another perfect moment!) He points out that Rene has had his face altered by experimental surgery. Holmes trusts Watson to find Rene, Sim’s brother and stop the planned assignation that will touch off a war, while he goes to confront Moriarty personally. Holmes and Moriarty plan a chess game together, without even using a board, while Moriarty both threatens Watson and Mary, and tells Holmes there is nothing he can do to stop him. Holmes sacrifices his Queen in the game, to win. The two then fight, first in their heads (each plotting out moves and counter moves, before doing a thing). Holmes, knowing he is still weak from his injuries at Moriarty’s hands, grabs Moriarty and sacrifices himself, dragging them both over a balustrade into the rushing waterfall under the castle of  Reichenbach. Watson, having found Rene, and stopped the assignation attempt, opens the door, a smile on his face to tell Holmes of their success. But, his smile evaporates, as he sees Holmes and Moriarty fall into depths. We then hear Watson reading the end of  “The Final Problem”, as a voice-over, which then becomes Watson typing the story. Mary comes to him, reminding him of their planned honeymoon trip. However, Watson gets a strange package in the post, Mycroft’s oxygen breather. Watson leaves, and Holmes appears, having been hidden by his camouflage. He adds a question mark to the words, “The End”, at the end of Watson’s story, cut to credits. Simply brilliant!

Sherlock Holmes A Game of  Shadows is brilliant. The directing is perfect. I loved the ramped-up “Holmes vision”, which really gets into Holmes’ head and shows the audience how he thinks. Also, it makes Holmes seem less arrogant or untouchable/non-understandable by allowing the audience to see just how his mind works, rather than letting his deductions and actions seem almost magical or like some sort of trick. The friendship of Watson and Holmes was handled very well. I loved that they finished each other’s sentences, knew each other’s moves, but also, at their core, Watson cares deeply for Holmes and Holmes cares deeply for Watson. It is the male friendship that makes the pair timeless. And the plot was extremely well put together. Moriarty not merely as a master criminal, but an extremely crafty war profiteer, how appropriate. All in all, I really don’t think anything could have made this film better, I really loved it and highly recommend it.

Recommendation:  An absolute must see!
Rating: 5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  It Could Happen to You (a recent purchase) or Shrek (on list)

A Fish Called Wanda

  • Title:  A Fish Called Wanda
  • Director:  Charles Crichton
  • Date:  1988
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, Geoffrey Palmer, Stephen Fry
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I offer a complete and utter retraction.  The implication was totally without basis in fact.  And was in no way fair comment and was motivated purely by malice.  And I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you, or your family.  And I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.”  — Archie, apologizing to Otto, who is holding him upside-down outside a window

“Oh, right to call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people.”  — Wanda, to Otto

“Apes don’t read philosophy.” — Otto
“Yes they do, Otto, they just don’t understand it!  Now let me correct you on a couple of things, ok?  Aristotle was not Belgian.  The central message of Buddhism is not every man for himself!  And the London Underground is not a political movement!  Those are all mistakes, Otto, I looked them up.”  — Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda is an extremely funny movie, with a brilliant cast.  But it is extremely difficult to explain why it is so funny.  The film opens with a armed robbery of a jewelry exchange in London.  The four thieves get away with twenty million in diamonds.  However, after Otto calls the cops to arrest George, one of  the co-conspirators, and the guy who planned the whole thing, as he and Wanda planned, they discover George was too clever for them and he’s hidden the gems somewhere else.  The question is where?

Thus begins a great farce and character comedy.  Ken, the stuttering, animal-loving, assassin, get’s the key to a safe-deposit box, but doesn’t know where the box is.  Wanda, unbeknownst to Ken, steals the key and hides it in her locket.  Then Wanda decides to cosy up to Archie, George’s barrister, in hopes that he will tell her where the loot is.  Meanwhile, Wanda and Otto have been having a relationship, but Wanda’s only interested in Otto until the caper is done and she has the diamonds.  Wanda’s also holding Ken close to the vest.

The film snowballs, as any good farce does.  The characters are larger-than-life, yet still sympathetic.  As the film progresses, Archie, especially, becomes the put-upon good English husband who needs excitement in his life.  And that excitement arrives, in the form of Wanda, who initially simply wants to find out where George hid the jewels, but later falls for Archie anyway.

This is a very, very funny film, that needs to be seen to be understood and appreciated.  But overall, it’s extremely enjoyable and a good-time film.  Moreover, it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Trivia:  Cleese’s character is named Archie Leach.  Archibald Leach is the given or birth name of Cary Grant.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Flying Down to Rio