'Sherlock Holmes II' Pic, Release Date

Via itsTwitter feed, Universal Pictures revealed the release date for SHERLOCK HOLMES II : December 16th, 2011.
Here’s the first picture released, featuring Noomi Rapace (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) as a character possibly named Sim, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law returning Holmes and Dr. Watson.

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Click to Enlarge

No details yet, but the film is suspected to involve Sherlock Holmes encountering Professor Moriarty, rumored to be played by Jared Harris (THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON).
Other unconfirmed players: Steven Fry (V FOR VENDETTA) as Holmes’ elder brother Mycroft, and Rachel McAdams return as Irene Alder. 
Directed by Guy Ritchie from a screenplay by Kieran Mulroney & Michele Mulroney, based on the well-known characters by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Piture via Hitflix

'Naught For Hire' – SF Detective

Naught_PosterAccording to SFX , Ben Browder (FARSCAPE, STARGATE: SG-1) is set to star in NAUGHT FOR HIRE, a web series based on John E. Stith’s (Redshift Rendezvous) SF detective stories.
Nick Naught is a private detective in the relatively near furture, a 1930’s throw-back with a well-earned distrust of the semi-sentient machines that complicate his life and work.
Jennifer Sky (CLEOPATRA 2525) will play Annette Taylor, investigative reporter and Naught’s old flame . Juliet Landau (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) is set to voice Precious, the detective’s fiercely protective AI car/secretary, while Chase Masterson (DEEP SPACE NINE) will portray  Maxine McCormick, the CEO of the company that created the “smart chips” that make the technology self-aware —or close enough.
Producer Jeffery Berman (THE WRITE ENVIRONMENT)  says the mystery-comedy will shoot this summer, but no date has been set as to where and when the ccliff-hanging webisodes will debut.

“I can’t say too much about it just yet, but I like to think that if you put out a good product an audience will find it. What’s great about a project like NAUGHT FOR HIRE  is that it appeals to a large demographic. By airing it on the web, we don’t have to worry about a niche broadcast channel that only airs Science Fiction or Comedy or Drama. We can allow the story to dictate those choices, and not a network.”

The Nick Naught stories first appeared in Analog Science Fiction Magazine in the `90’s and two novelettes have been collected as a book, All For Naught, published by Wildside Press.

An earlier version of this article erroneously credited producer Jeffrey Berman with having worked on STAR WARRIORS, a direct-to-video film whose crew included another person of the same name.

"Never Let Me Go" Poster Surfaces

Following the trailer that we posted last month, a poster for NEVER LET ME GO from Fox Searchlight Pictures has come on the scene. Based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, this film about the mysterious happenings at a British private boarding school is said to be filled with intrigue and a surprise sci-fi slant.
The poster leaves us with just as many questions as the trailer did, if not more. Regardless, this is going to be a fascinating film, just based on what they haven’t shown us so far.

The Great Mouse Detective – DVD Review

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click to purchase

On Tuesday, April 13, 2010 Walt Disney Pictures re-released THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE on DVD. This one’s called the Mystery in the Mist edition, but it’s not quite clear why. Aside from the new digital transfer and a couple of new short features – granted, one involves solving a cookie jar theft (the misty mystery?) – there is little “new” under the sun. And you won’t find it on Blu-ray either. Frankly, aside from the digital transfer, it may almost be preferable for some to go for the 2002 DVD release instead because it offers several animated shorts that the latest version does not (and yes, the older release includes the ‘making-of’ documentary found on the new DVD).
So, why the relatively simple release and no Blu-ray edition? It couldn’t be because Disney figured the movie wouldn’t generate all that much interest, could it? All right, that’s just a subjective speculation, but for the sake of those who purchased the new DVD we hope that Disney isn’t planning some ultimate (Blu-ray) edition a year or so down the line.
Perhaps the aforementioned observation betrays a slightly negative attitude toward the movie that rests mainly with this reviewer rather than the majority of folks. After all, its standing on rottentomatoes.com has it resting quite comfortably at 80%. However, one should take a look at the number of reviews from which that statistic arises; it’s a mere 15.
Still, the film was received fairly positively during its initial release and it is said that its moderate success gave the then new heads of Disney enough confidence to go ahead with a more ambitious project called THE LITTLE MERMAID. Well, we all know what happened after that, so if THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (dubbed THE ADVENTURES OF THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE during a theatrical re-release) led to the precious slate of Disney releases that followed it, then I bow deeply to it on that count.
Yet, I must admit that the apparent charms of the film left me somewhat unmoved. It’s one I never had that much interest in during its initial release (thus, I missed it) and nothing really drew me to it over the years (so I never made an effort to watch it until this new digital release popped up). And to be wholly honest, I can see why. If THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE were produced – just as it is – today, then I would argue that it would find itself on the Disney Channel rather than in theaters. Aside from the current CGI movement, it simply doesn’t seem hold the punch necessary for a successful theatrical run. Oh, it’s a sweet enough little piece, I suppose, but it feels a little stilted when compared to today’s current crop of animated films. You may not call it fair to compare it with more recent animated projects, but remember, I had the same attitude toward it in 1986.
The whole thing feels a bit watered down. It may be that the fact that it had four directors and no less than 10 credited writers had something to do with softening its feel and pace. Too many cooks with their own particular palate to satisfy? It felt – and to some degree even looked – like a higher-end traditionally animated Rankin/Bass production more than it did a Disney feature. Now, that’s not meant to be too much of a slight. I like most Rankin/Bass productions. However, it does make THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE seem less…theatrical.
Here’s just one example of what I’m pointing out here: The very accomplished Henry Mancini scored the film, but his music is surprising listless. It plays more like simple background music and accompanies moments in which is not needed, which only adds to the feeling that it is more filler than anything else.
One might argue that this score came a mere eight years before his death and that he was winding down. But, in 1992 he would score TOM AND JERRY: THE MOVIE and that entry into his aggregate of work would be considerably livelier. So again, it makes one wonder whether there were too many cooks in the kitchen, requiring less spice in order to serve a more general type of viewer. At any rate, the Mancini point is indicative of the trouble with the entire movie.
Still, the idea is a cute one. Based on a series of children’s books by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone, it takes the world of Sherlock Holmes (that character known here as Basil of Baker Street and voiced by Barrie Ingham) and shrinks it down to the rodent arena. A young mouse (Susanne Pollatschek) witnesses the kidnapping of her father (Alan Young, sounding more than ever like his character in 1960’s THE TIME MACHINE) by a somewhat handicapped bat who works for an evil, power-hungry rat named Ratigan (who is the equivalent of Holmes’ arch nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, and is voiced by the always pitch-perfect Vincent Price). Soon after the game is afoot. The problem is that the game is rather bland.
Nonetheless, it served co-writers/co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker well; it and previous effort THE BLACK CAULDREN (which didn’t do well and received poor reviews) helped get their feet wet and honed their skills. Proof is in the pudding, as they say, because they went on to take leading positions on THE LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, HERCULES, the underrated TREASURE PLANET, and THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG. Burny Mattinson – one of the ten writers – went on to work on the stories for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, THE LION KING, the also underrated HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, MULAN and TARZAN.
Another interesting tidbit is that THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE was the first Disney film in which its animators incorporated computer-generated imagery into their traditional cell animation. The clock tower sequence involves a deadly chase through the gears of London’s giant Big Ben clock. The mice and rat are traditionally rendered, but the gears and the angles we see as the chase ensues through them are generated via computer, offering angles and a rollercoaster type of view that might not be possible otherwise. This technique would later be put to greater publicized use in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LION KING, etc.
Watching animator Phil Nibbelink describe the process and its effect in the ‘making-of’ short feature on the DVD is almost as fun as any scene in the movie itself. His “animated” demeanor and obvious excitement over the new creative tool is infectious. It’s a joy to watch his pleasure in connection to what he does.
There are a couple of other features on the DVD worth noting too. There is the standard Disney sing-a-long, of course, but there is also a nice history primer in relation to the profession of detective work. It’s a quick, fun way for kids to learn a little something.
The other tidbit younger ones will get some fun out of is the sleuth test video short. Again, it’s something that gives the younger set a chance to use some cognitive reasoning.
The Great Mouse Detective (1986)Of course, one is also subjected to the ads – uh, that is, coming attractions for other Disney product, specifically some Blu-ray releases. Of note to TOY STORY fans, however, is a nice trailer for TOY STORY 3. That oughta wet a few appetites; it did mine, anyway.
The final verdict: THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE is certainly no great work, nor is it as good as some others – notably the likes of Siskel & Ebert – have touted, especially in hindsight. Even the sound editing and sound transfer for the new disc were unimpressive. Nonetheless, it has its creative moments and even involves more obscure trivia connected to Holmes lore such as canine companion Toby, who showed up in Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes novel, THE SIGN OF THE FOUR.
And perhaps most meaningful of all, it allowed those involved to cut their teeth on it, and then move on to help make history with future critical and public favorite works.
THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (Walt Disney Pictures/Silver Screen Partners II; 1986; 74 min.) Directed by Ron Clements, Burny Mattinson, David Michener, and John Musker. Screenplay by Peter Young, Vance Gerry, Steve Hulett, Ron Clements, John Musker, Bruce Morris, Matthew O’Callaghan, Burny Mattinson, David Michener, and Melvin Shaw. Based on the “Basil of Baker Street” book series by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone. Inspired by the “Sherlock Holmes” book series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Produced by Burny Mattinson. Art Direction by Guy Vasilovich. Visual Effects by Dave Bossert, Mark Dindal, Tad A. Gielow, Ted Kierscey, Rolando Mercado, Patricia Peraza, Steve Starr, John Tucker, and Kelvin Yasuda. Music Composed by Henry Mancini. Edited By Roy M. Brewer Jr. and James Melton. Cast of Voices: Vincent Price, Barrie Ingham, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek, Candy Candido, Diana Chesney, Eve Brenner, Alan Young, Laurie Main, Shani Wallis, Ellen Fitzhugh, Walker Edmiston, Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, Melissa Manchester, Frank Welker and Basil Rathbone. MPAA Rating: G for everyone.

The Illusionist (2006) – Retrospective Borderland Review

Director Neil Burger effectively evokes a sense of mystery and magic, but the plot grinds too methodically to match the dazzle of the title character’s on-stage illusions.

At the turn of the 20th century, movies and magic were one and the same, thanks to early pioneers like magician-turned-filmmaker George Milies. Cinema was a modern magic lantern show, an almost mystical experience that conjured the illusion of form and movement where no substance existed. Not only could movies convey an absent reality, but – as Milies discovered – they could also create their own reality through camera tricks that changed a bus into a hearse, expanded a man’s head a dozen times its normal size, or (in the case of the 1902 short film) depicted A TRIP TO THE MOON.
Movies about magic are another matter – as Milies also discovered, when he tried simply filmming one of his magic performances. Placing the medium of camera-projector-screen in between the audience and the action destroyed the immediacy of the performance; the amazement that an illusion had been performed right before your very eyes was lost. Ironically, movies – which seemed magical in and of themselves – could take the esoteric and render it prosaic.

THE ILLUSIONIST’s writer-director Neil Burger seems aware of both the potentials and pitfalls of merging movies with magic. He works extraordinarily hard to presents his film’s illusions in a manner appropriate to the story’s period setting (a period that suggests Milies, even if the film never explicity evokes him). At one point, Burger even has his characters display a flickering few seconds of silent footage as an example of how a ghostly on-stage illusion may have been accomplished. The effect underlines – rather than undermines – the magic, impressing us with the skill and ingenuity used to dazzle audiences in the days before computer-generated movies. (Thankfully, the use of CGI is mostly proscribed here, although there is an unfortunate lapse or two.)
The result is a film that effectively seeks to evoke a sense of mystery, luring us into the illusion and challenging us to accept it – or deny it if we can. It is a good gambit, and it might have worked wonderfully as a half-hour television show; however, it stretches a little thin at feature length, as the mechanics of the plot grind too methodically to match the dazzle of the title character’s on-stage illusions.
Ed Norton stars as Eisenheim, a magician whose childhood love Sophie (Jessica Biel) is apparently murdered by Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Eisenheim accuses the Prince, but the semi-corrupt police, in the form of Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giametti) do not have the clout to arrest royalty, so Eisenheim stages a series of shows in which he seems to recall the dead woman’s spirit to the land of the living, where she makes veiled pronouncements that the suspicious populace interpret as accusations against Leopold, creating a political controversy. But is Eisenheim truly capable of raising the dead, or is it merely an illusion to attack the man he blames…?
THE ILLUSIONIST plays like a mystery-thriller in historical garb. The production design and cinematography capture the period wonderfully, but the intriguing premise is wrapped in a scenario that is neither very mysterious nor tremendously thrilling. The result is interesting enough to hold your attention without reaching the critical mass that pays off in a way to make you feel your interest has been completely rewarded.
[MINOR SPOILER] Perhaps the major problem is that the plotting is too contrived in its attempts to keep the auidence guessing while springing surprises on them. Even so, you need not be Sherlock Holmes to deduce the solution to this puzzle. Unlike a good magician, the filmmaker’s slight-of-hand is a bit to blatant with the details of the murder (we see Sewell storming after Biel, but we do not see him kill her, leaving skeptical viewers to wonder why something so important took place off screen – draw the obvious conclusion, and the mystery is solved).[END SPOILER]
Fortunately, the cast supply their own sort of magic, which almost sustains THE ILLUSIONIST, even if the story does not. Sewell is his usual professional self, turning in a subtle performance that makes Leopold interesting even as we grow to dislike and despise him. The big surprises are Biel and Giametti. Although a great actor, Giametti seemed too modern to work in a period setting; nevertheless, he pulls it off wonderfully (his expression at the end, as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place via a montage of flashbacks, helps sell what is otherwise a routine twist). Even more amazing is Biel, whose previous work (in junk like BLADE: TRINITY) gave us no reason to expect anything at all; she makes a thoroughly appealing and convincing love interest, when one would have expected her to come across like a girl playing dress up in old-fashioned clothing.
Norton gives another variation on his standard characterization: the tough guy who knows the score and is not too humble to let you know he knows it. It works in this context, because Eisenheim is playing a dangerous game, trying to bring down a prince in a time and a place where law and order exist only to serve the powerful. However, his all too apparent strength of will also weakens the suspense. There is no crack in Eisenheim’s armor, no Achilles Heel that makes us think he may overplay his hand and lose, making the conclusion of THE ILLUSIONIST a forgone one.
THE ILLUSIONIST is filled with mystery and magic. What it lacks is solid drama. The early childhood scenes, establishing the relationship that will re-ignite as romance in adulthood, are long-winded and treacly, and the first act takes its time setting up the situation before moving to the murdery-mystery plot. (Perhaps sensing this, the film begins in media res, to catpure our attention, before backtracking to the exposition.)
When Eisenheim finally sets his skills on bringing down the Prince, the story realizes more of its potential. But for all its magic, THE ILLUSIONIST is missing one big spark: the love story at its heart is undermined by the early disapperance of Biel’s Sophie, the character reduced to little more than a plot device (in the same way that Dirty Harry or Axel Foley needed to lose a friend/partner in order to motivate them to track down the crooks). You simply cannot create a tragic romance along the lines of ROMEO AND JULIET, if Juliet is is not around after the first act.
THE ILLUSIONIST (2006). Directed by Neil Burger. Screenplay by Neil Burger, based on the short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist” by Steven Milhauser. Cast: Edwward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan.

Copyright 2006 Steve Biodrowski