The Unfettered Critic – June 2017

Shakespeare, we believe, was thinking of us, your humble critics, when he wrote these prophetic lines: “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

With May hard upon us, and the submission deadline for this June column nigh, Will’s rough winds shook plumes of pollen, yellow and deadly, toward our quivering nostrils. Thus started the sniffles. Which metamorphosed, mysteriously, into full-blown coughs, snorts, and ah-chooooos.

We’d planned on taking in a play. Or a couple of movies. And to review them with shrewd judgment and penetrating wit. Instead, we found ourselves at home, deep within the throes of that dreaded affliction: a pre-summer cold. Times two.

What was a desperate pair of critics to do? Why—Make It A Virtue, of course.

And so we considered home entertainment. Sure enough, there before us, precariously balanced near the edge of the TV stand, waited a stack of DVDs. We’d vowed to file them away, but we’d procrastinated. Now they represented the answer to our dilemma: a tasty repast of favorite films and television productions, quality entertainment that we could recommend to loyal readers—without the risk of sharing our malady.

So with no further ado, please allow us to provide a select list of cold comfort: our prescription for viewing entertainment that we hope you will find as therapeutic as we have:

Sherlock: BBC Television’s modern re-imagining of the adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective features some of the cleverest dialogue and sharpest acting to be found on the small screen. The show is so popular that it has transformed leads Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman into much-in-demand international superstars—making the prospect of a fifth season rather dicey because they’re so busy. Care to sample an episode? “A Study in Pink,” the series’ debut, will reveal everything you need to know about the show.

The West Wing: You may think this American TV show isn’t your political cup of tea, but watch an episode or two and you’ll find that creator Aaron Sorkin’s incisive writing rises to a level far above partisan polemics. Check out “In Excelsis Deo” for a very human tale about the death of a homeless veteran, or “Two Cathedrals” for Martin Sheen’s searing portrayal of the President dealing with his own vulnerability and the loss of a dear friend.

The Electric Horseman: Combine a classic romantic comedy with an old fashioned western, update the story to today’s sensibilities, add a beautiful racehorse, and you’ve found the perfect movie medicine for lifting your spirits. Robert Redford plays an over-the-hill cowboy who learns that a horse is being mistreated by corporate owners. So he steals it. Jane Fonda plays a television reporter who tracks him from Las Vegas to the panoramic desert and canyons of Utah. Yup, it’s about a man, a woman, and a horse. How could it not make you feel good?

Double Indemnity: This definitive black and white film noir stars Fred MacMurray as an unethical salesman who falls into lust. The woman in his sights, played by Barbara Stanwyck, feels a different sort of lust; she’s intent on killing her husband. The movie is filled with tough talk, sharp-edged shadows, and just enough talk about sex to have made the 1944 film board nervous. These characters exhibit troubles so dark that you’ll forget your own.

Rocky: Yeah, we know; you think it’s a story about boxing. Look again. The touching love story between Adrian and Rocky outshines and overpowers the fight scenes. We were lucky enough to have plenty of tissues handy.

Featured image: Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. Photo courtesy of BBC.