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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ok, ok! I'll go see it....

Stellar review of Guy Richie's Sherlock Holmes by "Moriarty" from Ain't it Cool News. And by that I mean the review is stellar--descriptive, analytical, and informed. He makes his case convincingly.

Oh, yes... the action scenes. This is probably the most controversial choice made with this new run at the character, and it shouldn't be. After all, Conan Doyle himself wrote the ultimate confrontation between the genius of Holmes and the genius of his arch-enemy Moriarty as a fistfight above a waterfall. Doyle has always been clear about the fact that Holmes was trained in Brazilian martial arts and the rules of boxing, both Queensbury and street, which makes sense. Why wouldn't a genius who frequently puts himself in harm's way learn how to handle himself physically? And in particular, why wouldn't he learn martial arts, where how you think is as important as how strong you are?


Well said, my good man. Now I'm actually eager and hopeful about seeing this. And I may well pick up a Doyle book before I go. I'm ashamed to say, although I've always lived in a house that contained a Holmes adventure or two, I've never read one.

And for the record, I will humbly admit that my gorge-heaving reaction to the trailer was based on ignorance. Ah well--now I have more enticing research to look forward to!

Monday, December 21, 2009

it wasn't his child

By this time of year, most of us are full to the back teeth with Christmas music. We get treated to the same twenty songs over and over again, and every year the renditions get shriller, faster, and more mutilated. The smooth croons of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole have given way to back-beats and distorted warbling.

But this song still gets me. As with every other Christmas ditty, there are many, many covers of this song, but the one by Sawyer Brown was the first I ever heard, and the one I prefer.

I can't call myself a believer in anything these days. At best I can say I have an open mind. But the family dynamics of the Mary and Joseph story, the pure dirty bloody humanism of it, gets to me.

The little, uncelebrated ways in which people do good by each other: that's what I still believe in.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

sex and the kung fu girl

Despite the title this post is more theoretical and contemplative than sexy. If you are prudish or smarmy please go read something else.

For some years now I've been contemplating the relationship between Chinese martial arts and women's reproductive health. Even done a little research from time to time, although I came up with nothing conclusive. If you Google "women's kung fu" you get articles about how to become multi-orgasmic and my interest is a little less prurient and a bit more practical than that. So I've decided to simply write about my own experiences and cast them out into the aether, and see what kind of answering pings come back.

As my long-time readers know, my husband and I have been studying kung fu and tai chi with the same teacher for a number of years. I can confidently say that martial arts does good things for my health overall. I've been doing tai chi for 10 years now, and I still wear the same size clothes as I did in college. My blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall health are exceptionally good and look to stay that way for the next 10 years. I am usually strong, fit, and flexible for a woman in my culture.

The one health problem I've always had is with my menstrual cycle. I had terrible cramps when I was a teenager, to the point where I was basically immobilized for the first 6 or 8 hours of my period. This continued up until I was 25 or so--which also happened to be the year I started tai chi.

I don't think anyone will doubt that being physically fit is going to make your body run more smoothly. But I had been a daily runner for a couple of years at that point and it never seemed to make a dent in my cramps. The tai chi did. I can't say for sure how long it took, but after a year or so I realized that there was a definite pattern. I still got weak and crampy, but I was no longer incapacitated.

Also, it deserves to be said, about this same time I learned I could dose myself heavily with ibuprofen when I started bleeding and that would lessen a lot of the pain. Furthermore, that same summer I quit drinking soda. I was a Pepsi addict before that, downing at least 3 a day. They made my bladder burn. So I quit drinking them, and quit eating french fries, and lost 8 pounds in 3 months. I don't think I was exercising any more than previously. I probably was not running as much, because I always hated running and the tai chi was much nicer to practice in the evenings.

Furthermore, I discovered that when I *had* cramps, I could stand in a horse stance, do my qigong (chi kung) breathing, and the pain would lessen. So it wasn't merely an accumulative process, it was an active treatment.

After about three years in tai chi, I progressed to Chun Man Sit's class and started kung fu. This was more physically demanding than the tai chi. It involved a lot more kicks, lower stances, a faster pace. I began to notice my thighs and butt firming up, and my belly flattening. Billy Blanks had it right--martial-arts kicks are the best exercise a woman can do.

And the cramps lessened still more. Enough so, in fact, that I could and would still go to class when I had cramps. As long as I kept moving, I didn't feel too bad.

I'm sure it helped that around this time I started reading about low-carb diets, and took steps to reduce the amount of wheat and simple starches I ate. I have noticed a definite connection between what I'm eating and my PMS symptoms.

Eventually, karma being what it is, my classmate Tony and I started dating and then married. Since neither of us was the other's first sexual partner, and we were both in the best shape of our lives at that point, we were pleasantly surprised to discover each other's--shall we say--resilience and stamina.

Traditional Chinese medicine holds that the seat of health is in the kidneys, and one measure of health is a strong, fulfilling sex life. A number of the qi gong exercises I have been taught are intended to strengthen the kidneys. Whether they do or not, they certainly strengthen the auxilliary plumbing.

The horse stance is a particularly good example. It's common to virtually every martial arts style, and there are plenty of demonstrations of the horse stance on the web, so I won't rehash it here. But I will point out, when it's done correctly, the tailbone is tucked under, the lower back (lumbar region) is stretched and rolled outward, the hips are open, the belly is relaxed, and the perineum is taut. How can the pelvic muscles not be involved?

In other exercises, such as Six Healing Sounds Qigong, the anus is contracted as the breath is expelled. Sounds like an old-style Kegel to me!

Once I was discussing this subject with my mom. She confirmed that the horse stance felt very much like the Kegel exercises her doctor showed her. My mom is post-menopausal and she said the Kegels helped stop occasional urine leakage. When she told me that, I remembered that I, too, had had minor leaks when I was younger (during my too-much-Pepsi days!). I understand this is fairly common in women, but I haven't experienced it at all for many many years.

Another post-menopausal woman, a long-time tai chi teacher, repeated these observations--lessened menstrual problems, no "dribbling" and better sex--in connection with her practice. I even know of one woman who managed to conceive a baby--after years of disappointment--after several months of focused qi gong practice.

I wish I could create a wide-scale study of women to measure how their sexual and menstrual health might improve as a result of kung fu or tai chi practice. I suppose I should start with myself: my practice habits have been abysmal this year and, predictably, my PMS symptoms have worsened, I've put on a couple pounds and my libido has dozed off.

For now, I'll just release this post into the wild and invite other kung-fu babes to share their stories. Got an anecdote to share? Got questions? You can post anonymously, just know that I moderate everything before it goes up.

Related articles [added as I find them]: Adrenal Fatigue and Chinese Medicine