Friday, December 25, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

It looked like a blasphemous interpretation of the source material.  It looked like a bad action movie toting a well known lead character to draw audiences since everyone loves watching the same recycled things over and over again.  It looked like it could perhaps be made tolerable by the awesome actors they had in the lead roles, but I didn't have my sights set very high.

It was sooo much better than it looked.

This is not to say that it was a great movie.  It was fun, things exploded in a cool fashion, the script was never awful, the actors were great, etc.  Action movie done right.  But action movies done right are still rarely "A" grade material, more like "B+".  Sherlock Holmes followed these lines.  I walked out of the theater saying it was the "best mediocre movie" I'd seen in a long time, and I stand by that.  Maybe I even upgrade that a twinge.

Going in, the biggest concern of many people I knew was that it looked like a desecration of the Holmes of Doyle's stories.  Obviously there were changes - it's hard to make a main-stream blockbuster action movie starring a little old man who's basically just really smart.  The Holmes of the screen was a snappy badass, running around and through explosions, beating people up, and thoroughly bitter inside.  He always had the comeback, he always knew where to land the punch.  There was a boxing scene in particular that seemed bad to me.  What Sherlock Holmes ever beat the hell out of people in a back-alley boxing arena?

Apparently the Holmes of Doyle's work, according to my sister.  I consider her an expert of source material faithfulness in movies since she's such a stickler on the stuff that she likes, and she knows Holmes waaay better than I do.  Holmes is a boxer in the stories.  There aren't too many explosions in the stories, but that's just a concession it was necessary to make to the silver screen.  Overall, I'm told, Robert Downy Jr.'s Holmes is very faithful in spirit to the books; much to my surprise, my sister approved.

There's a moment about a minute into the film where we're really introduced to our protagonist.  He's infiltrating some sort of basementy area and there's a guard up ahead.  We hear Holmes narrate as we see each action in slow motion:
Head tilted slightly to the left, so he's partially deaf in that ear.  That's the first point of attack.  Next paralyze the vocal chords to prevent screaming.  Probably a heavy drinker, so punch to the weak liver.  Final blow to the kneecap.  Estimated recovery time:  two weeks.
Then we back up to Holmes behind a corner, and he executes everything we've just seen in slow motion but in full speed.  It all goes according to plan.

This is exactly how I expect an action hero Holmes to act:  he uses his intellect to efficiently and effectively eliminate his enemies.  At the time I felt uncomfortable with the idea that this character I knew as an old fart sitting around a fireplace snorting cocaine and noticing miniscule details would be out and about beating the crap out of people.  I'm still not totally comfortable with it, but I'm much more accepting.  And either way, the scene was awesome.

And that beggar in front of the carriage thing?  And the boxing match?  And the smoke from the fireplace?  All equally awesome.

The music helped with this transition, I think.  It was all fiddley-Irishy music at a quick pace as Holmes didn't punch, but slapped his opponents blows out of the way.  Light hearted, jumpy, prancing about like a rabbit, this made Holmes feel like a light guy who just knew how to fight rather than a totally ripped action hero.  And not just appropriate but a beautiful score, too, and timed wonderfully.

So I've accepted that this Holmes is faithful enough to the source material to deserve my recognition.  My big pre-movie concern satisfied.  But oh is there more to say.  There's so much more.

Let's start with the plot:  the big bad evil guy (not Moriarty) aka BBEG has been murdering people in an occult fashion around London.  Holmes captures him at the beginning, and BBEG is hanged.  Soon after that, he uses his "magic spells" (it's a matter of argument whether he's really using magic or not) to rise from the grave.  He resumes killing people magically.  Holmes starts tracking the guy down, meets up with the girl, and eventually uses his cunning to track him to the big finale where Holmes saves the day.  Pretty standard.

The most interesting thing is this plot's inclusion of magic, making it reminiscent of the Cthulhu / Holmes crossover adventure game I played with Danl and Paul a while back.  I never made it all the way through that game, but it's similarity in plot is worth noting.  People seem to love combining the logic of Sherlock Holmes with the impossibilities of fantasy.  It's a paradox that's very pleasing to the mind.  Neil Gaiman wrote a story in such a universe very effectively.  This combination of two opposites is a reliable way to make an intriguing premise.  Take note, all aspiring story-tellers.

Really, though, the magic is all a lie.  This ending is taken straight from The Illusionist, which is again interesting.  Has every twist been used before, or is this one just a fun one?  The idea that you would start the Sherlock Holmes movie franchise by introducing magic is silly since you're already going to piss a lot of people off with whatever you make.  I guess it makes sense.  Sherlock Holmes is all about reason triumphing over everything else.

This presence of "magic" had a very unique effect on the feel of the setting.  It felt distinctly steampunk.  Steampunk is becoming more and more mainstream, and has been for years.  I'm glad we're seeing more of it since it's one of my favorite genres.  There were similarities to memorable books everywhere I looked.  The bureaucratic society of wizards in London of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the weird magic stuff in the 1800s of The Anubis Gate, the CG look of the backgrounds that resembled so well The Golden Compass, the token anachronism in the form of the stun baton... I loved it all.  What was odd was how anachronistic the whole movie felt as a result.  This shouldn't come as a surprise - any modern action movie set in the 1800s is going to feel anachronistic, but it opened my eyes in a way that they hadn't before.

Many things felt very 2010 about the film - the seamless use of bullet time during fight scenes, the distortion of the whole audio track when an explosion or a gunshot went off right next to the camera.  It felt like you were actually there in a "new" way (I use quotes because I know this effect has been used before, but not as commonly as I'd like).  The whole movie is something that's all the rage right now in cinema:  take a beloved book, action it up, cast some well known names or attractive young actors, and rake in the dough.  They even added this whole magic thing to make it seem more like Harry Potter!  This is, like, the defining example of a movie from this time period.  It's so perfect.  Precisely mixing modern cinema with old familiar characters and stories.  It's beautiful.

I was reminded of Inglourious Basterds.  As with all of Tarantino's work, Basterds was as much about movies as it was about anything else.  One of the central themes was that "this is a movie - it doesn't have to act like the time and place it is set, nor does it have to pretend to.  This is a modern movie, and it is being made in 2009, and it is about 2009, and it is however the director wants it to be."  My favorite part of this was in the middle of a big gala full of powerful German leaders, titles in what looked like a hand-drawn font would pop up on the screen with arrows and point out the important people and who they were.  It's so out of place.  It's so wrong.  And it's exactly how it's supposed to be.  All at the same time.

That is how I felt watching Sherlock Holmes.  I felt like the writers / director / whoever were all keenly aware of what they were presenting.  The story was not set in the 1800s, it was set in what people in 2009 expect the 1800s to be like, with little patches of falsehood here and there to service the plot.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL!  This is all just build up for what is no doubt one of my favorite scenes in modern cinema.  Holmes has just finished a ritual he's gotten from BBEG's spellbook, and now the girl and Watson are on the scene.  Yes, it's now time for the first of Holmes's big reveals, in which he tells us everything he's discovered so far (but not what he's going to do next!).  He talks about how the murders have all been around the city in the shape of a pentagram, how each has represented a different animal that's part of the mythic Sphynx, how the next target is going to be parliament, and how we all must go now to save the day!  And what does he do?  The whole time he's giving the speech?  WHAT DOES HE DO?!


He uses a cane.


The Sherlock Holmes of 2009 is channeling House, a character DIRECTLY BASED ON SHERLOCK HOLMES.  Holy freaking shit is that meta.  That's so meta!  That's soooo meta.  It's so modern.  It's a complete anachronism.  It means the writers are consciously putting references to the modern world into their version of the 1800s.  It means they were using this other character as a basis for their character, but it's all actually just based on their original character!  It's exactly what Inglourious Basterds was telling us about.  It's so cool.

This modern feel doesn't end at House references and computer graphics.  The way the story is told is a modern way of telling a story.  There's bullet time.  There's a man hanged to death from a giant bridge by a metal chain - very hard core.  There's the presence of magic.  Everything about this movie is a 2009 thing, right down the raven that appears whenever a new death is about to be discovered.

This movie made my day.


Also, Rachel McAdams is pretty.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


No surprises here, kids.  If you've heard or seen anything about Avatar you should already know what I'm going to say here.

It looked freaking awesome.  Giant blue dudes falling through the jungle, raptors with wings flying through floating mountains, a mech warrior suit Matrix 3 style in a knife fight with a giant panther, amazing lights at night, crazy good motion capture effects, explosions, giant planets bright in the night sky, etc.  Hells yeah.  It was coolicoolicoolio.  At 2 and a half hours it gets a little long, but it's still probably worth seeing just for the effects.

Good thing, too, since the rest of it is trash.  The plot is bad and predictable.  The science is BS - case and point, the valuable mineral being mined on the wonderful new planet is called unobtainium.  I shit you not.  The blue aliens are tribal, stereotypical, and otherwise offensive whether you interpret them as Africans or Native Americans.  It doesn't matter; they've got headdresses and a deep resounding connection with their nature god either way.  Then there's the half-hearted attempt at a typical mother nature theme.  Basically it goes:  people who like nature - good!  People who blow up giant trees - baaaad.  My sister said she left the theater "offended as a person and a scientist".  She tends to get worked up about these sorts of things, though.  I mean, after all, the point is that it looked really cool.

The story reminded me of Princess Mononoke much more than it should have.  Mononoke actually has substance to its plot, but I felt like the message (if there was one) was predominantly the same.  Also, there were moments when it felt a little like Dollhouse.  I kept waiting for the avatar body to develop a consciousness of its own and start calling itself Echo.  Of course that'd be way too interesting for an action flick like this, so instead we just watched Jake "learn the ways of The People".  There were definitely traces of Star Wars Episode 2 where you got the feeling that the director should be in charge of every visual effect you lay eyes on for the next decade but that he needed to be tied up out back while someone else wrote a half-way decent script.

That's a lot of other source materials that Avatar felt like.  Maybe I'm becoming more well versed in movies, but I find it much more likely that Hollywood is just recycling the same crap it always has and that I'm just starting to realize that it's visuals too, not just plots, actors, and scripts.

EDIT:  Oh man, 2 things I forgot.  First, the planet is named Pandora, prompting me to wonder where all the skaags were (and more importantly Danl).  Second, that tree network giant computer ecosystem thingy was pretty sweet until I remembered it was just that Myst 3 world, again prompting me to wonder where Danl was.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Movie Trailers #8

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Cool effects?  Check?
Modern setting fantasy?  Check.
More cool effects?  Check?
Anyone starring except Nicolas Cage?  Ch...god damnit, this movie almost looked like a fun action flick.  I was all ready to maybe get a decent plot out of it but be content with just a fun setting, then they go and ruin it by casting Nicolas Cage.  I don't know, maybe if the guy had more than one tone of voice I'd respect him.  And it's not like everything he touches turns to dust; he's like Jim Carrey - capably of putting out the occasional great movie (Adaptation, The Weatherman, Matchstick Men, or in Carrey's case Eternal Sunshine), but usually annoying as hell.  With Cage, action movies are probably going to go the National Treasure route instead of the quality route.  I guess I liked seeing National Treasure with my family on Thanksgiving, though, so there may be a place for this movie, too.


I feel like I'll be a bit young to truly appreciate this movie.  I've repeatedly seen "shit, I'm getting old" movies done well, and I repeatedly like them, and I repeatedly feel left out of the loop.  Probably because, you know, I'm 19.  Still, as I said, they're often good.  Melancholy comedies are pretty much my bread and butter of favorite movies, I almost always like Ben Stiller, etc.  It'll be nice to see him as something other than this

or this

It sometimes seems like the guy only has two characters.  And I wouldn't like him so much if I didn't like those characters, but I know he's capable of more.  Or at least, that was my impression.  Maybe I'm wrong - I can't remember the last thing I saw him in where he wasn't either a nut-job or a bumbling romantic comedy lead.

Point is, I wah see Greenberg.

I guess that's all I've got for now; I wrote most of this a couple of days ago and haven't found any more trailers I care about in the mean time.  Bad romance / rom-coms are about it.  Next time let's check out the Christmas season movie options.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hot Tub Time Machine: New Trailer


Oh man, what (")great(") jokes.  What hilarious time travel shenanigans.  My anticipation grows with every moment.

New news:  the release date has changed to March 19th, 2010.  I don't know about you, but that's the first week of my spring break.  PARTY TIME?  I think yes.  Just gotta make sure Danl is on break, too.  If not, looks like I'll be in Iowa for part of spring break.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I honestly don't remember what this movie was about. I think it was pretty unnecessarily confusing, though.

Also, I've never liked that SAM'S VERDICT thing that I do. Probably time to stop doing that and just making people judge what I say by what I say instead of a one sentence summary. If I want people to read a one sentence summary, I'll write them a one sentence summary. What idiot made it a requirement, anyway?

PS: Dollhouse season 2 is super duper good. Like, super duper. Get on that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Blind Side

This is the one with Sandra Bullock doing a southern accent. Quite admirably, I might add. If you’d seen her in lots of other stuff it might be hard to adjust to, but it sounded natural enough to me.

The previews make this look like another bad sports story movie. Southern white woman takes in poor black kid, buys him stuff, fixes him up, makes him a football star, and then the cast of characters together overcomes whatever twist begins the third act. I’ll be honest, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The Blind Side follows this plot to a tee but turns out to be enjoyable all the same.

Hold that thought: it bothers me how much I seem to open these reviews with a paragraph like that one. I describe some stereotypical movie formula, say that whatever I’m reviewing fits said formula like a glove, and then follow that up with a “but it wasn’t that bad”. Apparently formulas work. That must be why Hollywood keeps using them.

Back to the review. Actually, do I even need to go back to the review? If you’ve ever seen a movie about a disadvantaged person coming from behind and overcoming obstacles to become some sort of hero, you know exactly how this movie will go. And holy balls is there a lot of movies about that. There’s a lot of books, comics, verbal tales, etc about that. That’s, like, one of the most basic story arch-types. It’s a good’un. This one doesn’t stick out much, but it does have uniquenesses(amases). Sandra Bullock’s character is great. It’s not a new character, but she plays a mean tough modern woman doing what she thinks is right. The story focuses a lot more on the home life of the characters rather than football, which I prefer.


On the flip side, there’s some probably racially insensitive black thugs, a really dumb excuse for the cops to get involved with our heroes, and some really odd “look at us, we’re in a southern movie; isn’t that wacky?” moments. Like, they hire this old woman to tutor the poor black kid when he needs better grades to get into college, and there’s this awkward moment where Sandra is about to hire her. The tutor lady goes “now before you hire me, there’s something you should know… I’m… I’m a democrat”. This is set up as a total *gasp* moment, which is kind of weird. I felt kind of offended for southerners.

Anyway, it was good.

SAM’S VERDICT: It’s the good version of exactly what you‘d expect from the back of the DVD box.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lars and the Real Girl

Nice.  Nice.

So Lars is an anti-social guy.  Kinda weird.  Actually, it turns out he's SUPER weird when he orders a Real Doll and starts insisting "Bianca" is his half Danish half Brazilian girlfriend.  Yeah.  There's a brother who's gruff and mad about the whole thing and who looks like Sylar.  There's a sister in law who's very maternal.  Actually breathing love interest at the office.  Creepy friend as a cubical roommate.  Kind old woman psychiatrist.  And so on.  The plot is predictable - every side character gets a scene or three depending on their importance in which they interact with Bianca and Lars.  Lars ends up falling for the office girl who has had a crush on him since before she appeared on screen, they go on a date, and eventually he finds a way to remove Bianca from the picture.

Lars and the Real Girl is marketed as a comedy, and I guess it is.  It's... light-hearted, I guess.  There are some funny moments.  I think it's less a comedy and more just a story.  A well told story, at that.  Whether or not you like the premise, and I think you do, it's a well told story.  The pace is oddly slow; the moments that could have made for an odd-ball million dollar budget shitty rom-com are instead played for emotion, and it shows.  By the end of the film, I was cheering for everyone even though most of them were pretty one or two dimensional.  The acting, the script, and everything else made me emotionally invested in the characters in a way that not many movies have in the modern day.  I didn't expect everything to work out in the way I do a lot of the time, I really wanted everything to work out.  Spoiler alert:  it did.

Okay, reality check, the premise is stupidly unrealistic.  Lars' "delusion" is weird and more a good gimmick for a movie than something that could actually happen.  Let's suspend our disbelief for that, though, and take one step closer.  If Lars did start dating a Real Doll named Bianca, I don't think the whole town would be so supportive.  Someone would be an asshole and shoot him down.  There's dozens of people working together to support his insanity in the film, and that just seems... not likely.

But maybe that's the message of the movie - people are willing to love and support each other like that.  Maybe we forget how much (most) other people are willing to help when we need them.  We forget how much they care, and how much we care about others.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether the plot is realistic or not, because I believed it enough as I was watching the movie.  The story was told well enough that I didn't notice or care about the plot holes enough to worry about them.  I was too busy thinking about Lars and the people in his life.  Most movies are ridiculously fake, and we go to them for the spectacle.  This is a movie that's just pretty fake, and I watched it to hear the tale and listen to what the writer had to say.  I liked what I heard.

SAM'S VERDICT:  Well told, optimistic, and cute.  Unless you have an aversion to that last one, you'll probably like it.

Also, what is up with these girls I keep seeing in the movies?  Evidently there's some pretty girl in every shy guy's life who is just not noticed by said guy but who would be perfect for him.  Have I always been that oblivious or has Hollywood LIED TO ME YET AGAIN?

...probably both.