Monday, December 28, 2009

movies in brief: Holmes, Zombieland, and "Karate Kid" trailer

I started writing this massive review of Sherlock Holmes last week, woven through with a rant about movie critics, but it got too long and depressing and I quit.

However, the comments section of my last post yielded some interesting fodder, and I do still have a thing or two to say about Holmes, so here goes:

Shirley wrote: "I heard very good things about Avatar from my friend in Seattle, slight political message aside. So I might actually go see that one in theater, since 3-D won't be as good, IMHO on a home screen.:

I agree, if you're going to see a movie renounced for its visuals, 3-D on a movie screen is definitely the way to go. I admit I wanted to see Holmes in the theater, in part because of its sets. But I think I'll give Avatar a pass; I've never been able to overlook story flaws in favor of whirligig visuals, and a couple sources I trust have told me things that suggest Avatar would annoy me.

SG wrote: "I am wondering what your take on "Zombieland" is, if you went to see it."

I did not "go" to see it, but I did watch it. I'm glad after all I did not "go" to see it. It was wearyingly lazy. There were a few chuckles, but the whole thing had an amateurish feel; characters and plot were stock. The trailer was definitely the best part of the movie.

Speaking of great trailers, did you know they've made a "Karate Kid" remake? This one is set in China, stars Jackie Chan and Will Smith's kid, Jaden, and presumably will involve Jackie teaching the kid kung-fu instead of karate. Internet chatter implies it will be called "The Kung-Fu Kid" instead, which is awkward but a relief to hear.

Nevertheless, the trailer makes all of this look fresh and exciting. I'm sure there is some kind of industry-given award for Making This Sow's Ear Resemble a Silk Purse, and the guy who pasted together this trailer probably deserves it.

Now, about Sherlock Holmes.

We were snowed in the day before Christmas. As a result, we had one of the nicest holidays ever: we spent four days in the house: reading, watching movies, and eating ourselves silly. In tandem with the gorging and soaking up heat from the wood stove, I read most of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (nine stories and part of a tenth), and then about half of A Study in Scarlet.

By Sunday, the roads were somewhat clearer and I felt suitably briefed for the movie, so we got into our tweeds, vests, and bowler hats and went to see Sherlock Holmes. (Side note: Going out in public in semi-costume is vastly entertaining. I wore my brown tweed vest and skirt with an ivory silk blouse that gives me a distinct 1890's air. Little girls love that outfit. Kids just stare and stare; their parents pretend not to see.)

In comments to my last post, Freyalyn said about the movie: "Very impressed, unexpectedly so. Looked fabulous, clothes and rooms and streets and big vistas. Women in far too much makeup though. Jude Law actually managed to act! And Tower Bridge was constructed correctly."

I have to agree with all of that, especially the part about the makeup on Rachel McAdams. Very weird to see her in all that eyeliner. Also didn't like the pink satin gown they had her in for a major sequence--hideous color. But when Holmes first spies her, she is in a red velvet suit that I would happily sacrifice small children for.

I enjoyed the movie quite a bit and will definitely add it to my collection in future. The characters are fun, the action is exciting, and the overall look of the film--the sets, costumes, and mood--are simply awesome. The story is tolerable: it all holds together in the end, but the SP and I agreed that the movie was lacking a sense of urgency: there was never a real sense of danger to our heroes or the world in general.

Now, having seen the movie and read a fair amount of the source material, I am more disgusted than ever by the vast majority of critics who don't seem to know what they are talking about.

"Moriarty" over at Ain't it Cool News is even more right than I imagined about the movie's adherence to canon, right down to Holmes shooting "VR" ("Victoria Regina") in the wall, which is lifted verbatim from "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual," which, moreover, begins with an account of Holmes' slovenly housekeeping habits.

The one thing in the movie which may not be canon--at least I have not yet found reference to it--was the implication that Watson had a weakness for gambling. But at this point I am not about to say that tid-bit is wrong.

So: I am disgusted with critics who cry foul without doing their homework. I should be used to that, it happens to me all the time when "peer" critters report on my work.

Then there are the critics who cannot separate their own biases from what is actually on the screen. Because they prefer the Basil Rathbone version of Holmes, they cannot judge anything new on its own terms. This, in my experience, also stems from willful ignorance (I know what I like ergo I shan't allow for other points of view, ergo everything else is wrong). This crew gripes about the martial arts in the movie (which, for the record, I thought were very well done), and Robert Downey Jr.'s slovenly appearance and manic tendencies. I will concede that Downey's casting was a bit questionable; Holmes is described many times in the stories as tall, thin, and hawk-nosed, whereas Downey looks rather like a dissolute leprechaun.

Thirdly, I am exhausted with critics who can't see past fashionable tropes to what is actually on the screen. I am specifically thinking of the repeated assertions that Holmes and Watson are gay.

Folks, men (and women) can be fast friends for their entire lives, and may even love one another, but that does not mean they are homosexuals. There is brotherly love, and there is the love for comrades-in-arms, and there is the intimacy that two roommates will have that is as close as any found between a husband and wife--and none of that need be sexual in nature.

On the other hand, same-sex friends may have a sexual relationship with one another and still not be "gay" in the sense that they want to share a life with that person. They still see themselves pair-bonding with someone of the opposite sex. It's impossible to categorize all the possible permutations of intimacy--both physical and emotional--between two people, and it's probably impossible for a 21st-century American to understand the bonds between two men of the Victorian Era, a time when close friendships with women was virtually impossible.

Furthermore, at several times in my life, I have been the sole female in a circle of male friends, and we all got along fine until I started dating one of them, at which point all the other males fell away in jealousy and resentment. Some of them wanted me for themselves; some of them merely resented the fact that two members of the former "gang" were splitting off without the others. People get jealous when their friends abandon them for new pursuits, and sex need have nothing to do with it.

All of which leads me to wonder if the finger-pointed and labelling of "gay" by certain critics is a reflection of our current times, when people like to have everyone categorized in neat little boxes, or a projection of the critics' own prejudices or proclivities. Mr. Critic, does it make you nervous when two men live together? Are you privately offended by the increasing acceptance of gay lifestyles and portayals in fiction? Or are you, yourself gay, and you are eager to find yourself role models in classical fiction?

Whatever. The supposed "double entendres and sidelong glances" were invisible to me. Roger Ebert even asserted that Jude Law was wearing lipstick when he promoted the movie on Letterman--what does that have to do with the price of tea? I guarantee Law and Letterman were both wearing makeup for the camera, but that is unrelated to the movie and certainly unrelated to the sexual orientation of the fictitious character played by Law in said movie.

Gah. This is getting long and depressing again. The movie was cool. It was a tad too long and too Hollywood-formulaic in structure; some of the fight scenes were pointless and should've been tossed. But I still would like to own it. Also, the Holmes stories are pretty good reading and I'll keep consuming them.

What I need to stay away from are critical reviews.

1 comment:

AJ Milne said...

Re Avatar, I'm not so sure I'd describe the political message as 'slight'...

As in: I found it positively didactic. And I'm not even entirely hostile to the message... I'd generally agree that there's a certain wantonly destructive, sometimes deliberately, calculatingly stupid arrogance to be found in certain quarters, and that saying so is absolutely appropriate enough...

But I found Avatar just too much, too polarized, too heavy-handed, too simple-minded. The industrial/corporate/military types were total and complete (yes, this is redundant--I am doing this in the spirit of the script) jerks. The chief baddie, naturally enough, is a baddie to the end, has to be dispatched (minor spoiler alert) with an appropriately brutal and absurdly improbable boss battle in which they have him do everything but kill a dog (Hollywood rule: you want the audience to hate a character, have him kill a dog)...

It actually kinda pissed me off, because the sheer let's-do-everything-at-150-percent-and-six-times-over gratuitousness of it all managed to wreck something that had a lot of promising elements. I've something of a fondness for yarns starting with the wounded, damaged grunt who you just know is gonna find himself on the way. And the notion of putting the POV under an incoming shock-and-awe bombardment, that's something I think was way overdue. But sadly, the whole is much, much less than the sum of its parts, here.

Dunno. I heard Cameron saying somewhere that he was trying to update Burroughs' Barsoom stuff--y'know--wide-eyed and ripsnorting sci-fi boys own adventure stuff--and so I guess I kinda get how it wound up this way. But however it happened, it was bad, overall.

Oh--but about the visuals. Yeah. Definitely memorable. Even insanely incredible. Wildly, hell. Saw it in 3D. I normally hate 3D. Something about the older tech always gave me headaches, besides looking annoying gimmicky. They made it work here--it's immersive, and the imagined world is just ridiculously gorgeous. I'm almost leaning toward saying: see it anyway. Phosphorescing 3D rainforests on a moon orbiting a gas giant. Surrounding you... So like I said: memorable.