Archive for December, 2009

Sherlock Holmes Review

Posted in Randomness on December 26, 2009 by jaymallow

I have to be upfront about Sherlock Holmes, I’m far from a casual fan when it comes to Sir Conan Doyle’s master sleuth. By the age of eleven I had read EVERY Holmes story I could find and still count those stories as go to reading when I simply want to relax and read. At first when I saw who would be playing Holmes and Watson and noticed their wardrobe I was surprised but not outraged. I knew from the books that Holmes actually had only worn the iconic Deerstalker on one mystery (The Hound of the Baskervilles), and was for the time quite an “action” character. When it suited Doyle Holmes could box (Sign of the Four), shoot, impale pigs with Harpoons, employ a martial art, wrestle foes to the ground, and display an impressive amount of physical strength (The Speckled Band). When confronted with a crime scene Holmes would often display an unseemly level of intensity and agility in looking for clues. One could make the assertion that Holmes barely held onto the title of “gentleman” in Victoria era London. While not a Bond or a Jason Bourne by today’s action standards again for the time the Holmes mysteries were virtually action packed from a physical standpoint. This aspect of Holmes’ character was punctuated by Doyle himself when he created the character of Mycroft, Sherlock’s admitted superior in deduction but a “gentleman” who lacked the energy to “run about London”. So for the “haters” who prefer the cerebral, reserved, logical forerunner of Spock I would say they need to go back and read the books again. Sherlock was adverse to emotion but not devoid of it. Holmes had a flair for the dramatic and no one who has such a desire for a shocking reveal, or a taste for the sensational or “grotesque” is simply a calculating machine. It is one thing to hold a characterization up to the original and find it lacking, another to hold it up to another characterization and denounce it because it doesn’t fit the mold of someone else’s interpretation. (Especially when much that has become “iconic” for the character isn’t true to the original character)

Taking all the above into account Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey’s Holmes is believable, but not entirely. One of Downey Jr’s strengths as an actor is to take a character with obvious flaws and attitudes that would normally make the character at best annoying and at worst completely unlikeable and infuse that character with likeable charm. One of the difficulties with Holmes is that the character himself really lacks that charm. What makes Holmes likable as a character mainly is his brilliance and in the books it takes the much more relatable Watson to narrate and often impose humanity on Sherlock. In my opinion it is where Ritchie and Downey attempt to most follow Conan Doyle’s method that the character seems forced, Downey Jr’s Holmes seems to lose something when he explains himself. Doyle’s Sherlock seemed to revel in explaining his deductions, Downey’s Holmes seems exasperated that he has to explain anything. Perhaps it is a difficulty in one medium not translating well to another, to have to go back and explain what you’ve already shown doesn’t make for a good movie. However, the flashes of brilliance for this new Holms were brought out when Ritchie showed Sherlock’s deductions in real time. As far as the other aspects of Sherlock that were brought out I thought that Ritchie’s choice in the timing of Holmes and Watson’s partnership and even of Holmes’ experience as a detective were dead on. Ritchie choose a time where Holms was brilliant but not yet a master and was incredibly flawed. (I’m assuming it was only for a PG-13 rating that Holmes’ cocaine and morphine addiction were only hinted at) At times also seeming to be “needy” in the area of companionship and recognition, really isn’t too far out of character for Holmes in his relation to Watson.

It is here that I have to admit I was more than pleasantly surprised, Jude Law made a GREAT Watson. Law’s Watson was far from the bumbling, stammering, flustered, worshipful Dr. Watson. In fact one of the major character struggles for both Watson and Holmes in this movie is that Watson doesn’t really NEED Holms. It is one of the great points of the movie that Watson is torn, not so much in losing Sherlock’s friendship, but in losing an adventurous life Holmes offers.

As far as Irene Addler, McAddams barely filled the role. I’ll give a lot of grace to her as she played a “written in” character. (Seriously you could remove her from the movie and it really wouldn’t affect anything) However, McAddams presence simply doesn’t rise to Downey Jr’s. It’s a stretch to believe that this woman is not only Holmes’ equal but his better. That said, do I believe that Holmes could have an interest in Irene seeing her as a shadow counterpart? Yes I do. I would think however, that Irene would be supremely confident (i.e. smart enough to not get backed into a corner or have another angle), and not all that impressed with Holmes on the whole.

Concerning the movie’s “mystery” I defer more to the “pilot” rule of “it’s about introducing the characters”. On one hand the plot was a bit overblown (the whole “taking over the world” bit) but the inclusion of the nemesis and the ultimate set up make me forgive a lot.

Guy Ritchie in my opinion has achieved what he set out to do, he’s reintroduced great characters to a modern audience. He’s also done so while honoring a surprising amount of source material. (Holmes’ question to Irene, “How was the marriage?” Also the deductions Watson is able to make from a watch are because he owns a similarly marked watch) Even better, both Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. have presented a Sherlock that has room to mature and I for one look forward to seeing the next movie.


Underwhelmed by Avatar

Posted in Randomness on December 24, 2009 by jaymallow

There are movies that simply fall into the category of “experience” movies. There’s nothing like seeing Jurrasic Park on the big screen and feeling the Brontosaurus land with the weight of THX surround sound rattling your ribcage. There’s nothing, NOTHING like seeing the Star Destroyer fill the screen in the theater in Star Wars. DVD simply can’t convey the scope, the sheer magnitude of the cinematography in these films. Avatar falls in line as a movie that if you didn’t see it in IMAX 3-D you just didn’t see it. James Cameron has made a movie that should remind filmmakers what they should be shooting for before they count DVD sales numbers. It’s epic. It’s visually stunning. It creates a world that should only be properly be viewed on a several story tall screen. Too bad the story lets down the visuals to create an easily forgettable experience.

First the good/great: While not the gigantic leap forward that Cameron promised the CGI in Avatar is at least a step forward in the right direction. Also Cameron has found a way to use modern 3-D in a way to enhance the movie experience. The biggest plus in the 3-D experience is that Cameron used it to convey depth not just “shock” audiences with things seemingly coming at them. It would appear that Cameron actually thought about how to use this added dimension in composing a shot, mostly deliberately having the “action” happen “in front” of the screen while the actual screen provided the backdrop and enhanced the audience’s participation in the shot. It is one thing to look at a corridor another to have a sense that you are actually INSIDE that corridor and James has pushed moviemaking in that direction. Also the CGI character work is the greatest MO-CAP to date. The faces of the Navi and especially the work done with the Avatars are the first to truly blur the CGI/human actor line. Future filmmakers (and I’m looking directly at you Zemeckis) should take some time and study what Cameron has done here. Not since Gollum have CGI characters conveyed the intent and expression of their human actors. That I would bring up a four year old movie I think marks the problem MO-CAP has had and that Avatar side steps. Zemeckis perhaps has gone the wrong route in trying to make CGI look too human. However modern audiences are used to CGI characters and in a sense are ready to lose some “unreality” for the sake of expression. In Avatar the Navi are just enough “unreal” to bridge the “I know I’m looking at CGI” gap. The world Cameron creates is immersive and feels real even with the “unreality” of a foreign planet. Again all this isn’t a giant leap forward but a taking of the tools available now and using them to craft something unique.

However the uniqueness of the visual presentation is completely undercut by the monumentally underwhelming story and plot. For all the technical innovation Avatar’s storyline and even its characters are all too familiar. If you’ve seen 1492, Dances with Wolves, or even Disney’s Pocahontas you’ve seen this movie. Coming out of the theater you realize that as stunning and immersive as the movie was it was equally emotionally unengaging based on the simple fact that you knew where the movie was going and that there was absolutely no dramatic tension. That coupled with the fact that the main character really doesn’t experience any personal loss or have to sacrifice anything to succeed makes the personal “triumph” hollow. The word that came to my mind was “hubris” when I began to reflect on the movie. Both the arrogance to preach tired “white man guilt” messages about supposed American imperialism to an audience that’s heard the same messages time and time again (we don’t respect all living things, blah, blah, we shoot first, blah, blah) but to also assume that you don’t need to tell a compelling story because your medium is “unique” smacks of a certain kind of pride. Now I’ve read a lot of reviews that encourage viewers to “take the movie for what it is”, in that case the movie is a two hour theme park ride heavy on effects light on concept. (look for Avatar the 4-D experience ride coming next year) Just like a park ride you don’t mind spending the money, standing in line, and having an experience, but this rollercoaster isn’t too different from others you’ve tried, you won’t want your money back but you’ll think twice about going on the ride again.