Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Year and So Forth

The New Year started quietly enough -- I have a nasty sore throat and cough (yay me) that won't go away, so we went no where. Our good friend Joezer came up to spend the weekend with us, as he had no particular plans either. So, we spent a weekend watching movies, giggling a lot, and eating.

We made one excursion out to see Sherlock Holmes -- rare for me, as seeing movies in the theatre has lost much of its charm. However, with a good pair of earplugs and not getting anything to drink, I made it through without having to leave for the bathroom or due to the overloud sound system making my head ring.

I'm a long time fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I even took a literature class on the subject, and my Annotated Sherlock Holmes books are among my favorites. I hadn't formed too many expectations for the movie, except that I was very interested to see it. In fact, the movie drew heavily from the books, both in quotes and in subtext, but it ignores almost everything from any previous movie or TV production.

I enjoyed the movie, first off. It's an action movie, perhaps a little too much of an action movie. Consider it to be a "reboot" of the standard Holmes stories. That is, it incorporates much of the Holmes Canon, but it plays around with the original time line and creates a whole new story. (If you can't handle spoilers for movies, don't read any further). Also, this version is a new look in that it does not use Watson as a narrator. In the stories, Watson stands between the reader and Holmes, attempting at one time to reveal the truth while making Holmes "presentable" by Victorian standards. Doyle, via his mouthpiece Watson, is building up a myth, and in the character of Watson has plenty of motive to hide, disguise, or simply skip over whatever is not considered suitable for public consumption. Watson is not a completely reliable narrator. He has motive to make Holmes look as good as possible.

All that's removed in this movie. Here, the subtext is dug up, and the restraint and tidiness is shaken off.

What I liked -- Downey's interpretation of Holmes is quite different from most others (although I see some bits and pieces similar to Jeremy Brett's Holmes). Robert Downy, Jr., while not one of my very favorite actors, is certainly interesting to watch, and he really inhabited Holmes and made the character his own. He created a fascinating mixture of fragility, strength, genius and madness, which, while different from other, earlier depictions, seemed quite in keeping with the books. Jude Law's Watson is also very interesting and different, perhaps the smartest and most capable Watson I've seen since Ben Kingsley in Without a Clue. What's even better is that this Watson is far from the dull, respectable man so often depicted. He has flaws and faults and failings, as well as unexpected talents. Just as the written Watson builds up Holmes, he often downplays himself to highlight the contrast. That's gone.

The relationship between the two characters is complex -- the common interpretation of a homosexual relationship could be made, but I really didn't see it strongly. In this version, Holmes is a man without any friends aside from Watson. Watson is practically the only human being with whom he can relate, and he's very threatened by the idea that Watson's marriage will deprive him of this single friend. He's terrified. Watson is torn by the idea, too, but he's also in love. He's whipsawed between the two points who have (seemingly) set themselves in opposition.

I liked the steampunk version of Victorian London, in particular the skeletal outline of the looming London Bridge in construction bracketing the skyline. It was, as is fairly common in current historical movies, a grittier, dirtier, uglier version of London, but it suited the purposes of the movie. The color removal used gave much of the scenery a heightened intensity and a sort of super-reality. Mark Strong does an excellent job as the villain, managing to be entirely scary and competent and yet compelling.

The story/plot itself was good -- perfectly mysterious, laid out carefully, with a frosting of "magic" laid on to distract everyone -- characters and audience. Everything ended with perfectly viable explanations of the technology used to create "magic" (although a few things were left unexplained, I imagine because there wasn't enough time without lengthy talky scenes, which Guy Ritchie doesn't want to bother about.) In short, it worked well enough for me.

The little touch of giving the audience glimpses into how Holmes' mind worked were probably the smartest thing done. They remind me a lot of the "reveals" in the TV show Leverage.

What I didn't like -- I got a little tired of the fight scenes. Several of them were necessary to either the plot or to some expansion of the story, revealing Holmes' physicality as well as Watson's competence. However, at points it got gratuitous, fighting just because someone liked to film fight scenes. I felt like yelling "I GET IT!" at the screen. Also, rather than increasing the suspense, heightening the excitement, or pushing the plot, some of those minutes spent fighting just cluttered things up and slowed the movie down. I actually got bored. Luckily, those moments of boredom didn't last long.

Irene Adler's reinterpretation was acceptable, but I was not only unconvinced by Rachel McAdams' in the role -- for one, she is far too young for the experience and knowledge she is supposed to have, as well as far too young for Downey's love interest -- but I was bothered by how far they stretched the characterization for this reboot. In the original, she was characterized as an "adventuress", with nerves of steel and the intellectual powers of a man (a Victorian compliment), but also as a creature of great honor, whose word was inviolate. This Irene Adler lacked chemistry with this Holmes. I believed him more than I believed her, for certain. I think it would have worked better with a slightly older actress, someone I could accept has having lived long enough to learn the things she supposedly knew and done the things she had supposedly done.

In fact, the depiction of most of the women in the movie bordered on misogynist, or at least very irritating. Mrs. Hudson, far from being annoyed and irritated by Holmes, was fond of him despite his eccentricities and even helped with his cases on occasion. Irene filled the role of femme fatale, the untrustworthy woman, the woman of wiles. Even Mary, Watson's fiance, who in the books always encouraged Watson's involvement with Holmes and certainly never proved an obstacle, was given a rather sideways glance in her role as the overly emotional and reactive Victorian female.

Last, I am worn out with steadycam shots that sweep up, down, sideways, upside-down, and in circles. Dammitall, sometimes I'd like the camera to hold still and let me LOOK.

On the whole, though, the chemistry between Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr, was quite good and really opened up a lot of the story. So much of it was body language rather than dialog. The setting, the story, and the supporting characters (for the most part) held up well and did what they were supposed to do. Again, I have to consider this movie as a "reboot" in the style of this year's Star Trek (which I also saw this weekend), which takes liberties with the events and chronology while still holding to the essence. I'm looking forward to having this one on DVD, and I hope it has a ton of tasty extras.

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