Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Good, the Bad, the Unbearable

Everyone's a critic. At least, in this cyber-age, every hack with a blog and access to a theater is. So I thought I'd throw my hack-hat in on the hack-hat-rack and join the party.

I saw three movies this week that I had been curious about. More accurately, I saw two movies and the first ten minutes of a third. As fate would have it, I saw the best first and then they got progressively worse.

Let's begin with a pleasant surprise: I loved Sherlock Holmes. Now, don't get me wrong, this is not a masterpiece of film. It is, however, a fun movie, and that is becoming surprisingly rare in a market whose very existance is built around entertainment. (Think about it, when's the last time you remember watching a movie and thinking to yourself, "Wow, I'm really having fun here"?).I enjoyed watching this movie. Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes really does steal the show. He's brilliant. He's eccentric. And like so many geniuses, his social skills and ability to relate to 'polite society' suffer for it. He is in many ways a tortured artist, a character doomed by his intellect. What is truly fascinating about the film though, is the way the director gives us glimpses into how his mind works. His inner monologues, the flashes of the images that small clues conjure in his mind, even the predictions he makes of fights he is in the process of fighting show what it is like for Holmes to live in a world where his mind works so much faster than the world around him. The concept of genius is explored to a depth that I did not anticipate from what I assumed would be a popcorn action blockbuster. I was happy to learn that Robert Downey Jr. has turned down a role in the upcoming Cowboys and Aliens to take up the pipe and magnifying glass of the famed detective of Baker Street in a Sherlock Holmes sequel, now in production.

The movie is in many ways a buddy flick wrapped in Victorian intrigue and mystery. Watson, played by Jude Law, is the other half of this dynamic duo, and he certainly pulls his weight better than Robin (perhaps because he was allowed to wear pants). No mere sidekick, Watson is a field medic and war hero, with formidable deductive skills of his own. Perhaps his greatest asset, though, is his ability to keep the eccentric genius of his partner grounded in reality. Though he won't admit it, Holmes needs Watson, and much of the intrigue is built around this tension in the relationship, with Watson ready to move on to married life and Holmes working to keep his 'old chap' in his life.

The one disappointment I had with the cast was with Rachel McAdams, who played the obligatory femme fatale/lady criminal Irene Adler. Her performance seemed out of place, her delivery forced and almost anachronistic. It was as if the character wandered in off of Red Eye, got a change of wardrobe, and decided she was Victorian England's new Carmen Sandiego. Perhaps the flaw was that her character was supposed to be the only person to ever outsmart Sherlock Holmes, but either the actress or the role lacks that aura of genius that Downey lends the detective. The romance between the two therefore feels contrived and almost superfluous, as if the writers felt a bit of romantic tension was required in any blockbuster formula.

First Batman and Wolverine joined forces to give us the thoughtful Prestige, then Iron Man took off the suit for Sherlock Holmes. Superheroes seem to flourish in Victorian England. Whether you see it as a dumbed down mystery or a thinking man's action movie, I am very much enjoying the trend.

SPOILER: Just as Batman Begins ended with a tantalizing reference to the Dark Knight's most iconic foe, I look forward to seeing the alluded-to battle of the minds between Sherlock Holmes and his most brilliant nemesis in the next film.

Sherlock Holmes earns 4 out of 5 smoking pipes, having come out of nowhere to surprise me with how much fun it was to watch.

I was pleasantly surprised by the depth in Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps this is the beauty of low expectations because my surprise was anything but pleasant at Miguel Artets's Youth in Revolt. Michael Cera reprises his standard role as the awkward, pale teenager pining for a quirky, cute girl that's clearly out of his league. Don't get me wrong, I loved the character when I first saw him in Arrested Development, and he hadn't worn out his welcome in Juno, but by now its starting to wear a little thin. Its a lot of ennui coming from someone who skipped Superbad, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and Year One (more on the last later).

The movie's disappointment cannot be placed solely on Cera's skinny shoulders. The quirky animated montages and 'look how indie my soundtrack is' background noise lends a haze of pretentious arthouse smugness to a movie that is is essentially a shallow, cookie-cutter romantic comedy. The movie begins with an interesting premise. Cera notices that, while in movies the nice guy gets the girl, in real life, the opposite is usually the case, with jerks ending up with the pretty girls and nice guys left out in the cold. He formulates an alternate personality, a bad boy to let him test the theory while he attempts to woo the girl of his dreams. Here was a chance for Cera to show a bit of flexibility and finally play a character diametrically opposed to his normal type-cast. Instead, we got Cera and then evil Cera with a pencil-thin mustache, who is still adorable despite his cigarette and occasional f-bomb. Its no more believable than evi Spock with a goatee, and even then does not get enough screen time to really develop. Instead we're treated to a bevy of two-dimensional supporting characters such as Slutty Mom, Dead-beat Dad, Overly Religious Parents of Love Interest, Stoner Brother, and of course, Zany Neighbor (who is literally introduced as the zany neighbor in Cera's narrative).

SPOILER: Because this is a cookie cutter romance, Cera does end up getting the girl, but not without -GASP- messing up first and making her mad at him. Fortunately, his awkward, stumbling apology "I wrecked two cars, got you expelled and nearly killed, but I did it all for you, because I love you and want to be with you" earns him, not a restraining order, but the girl's unabashed love and his ultimate goal: underage sex, (remember the movie begins with him complaining about still having his virginity at the ripe old age of 16, not his desire to change his facebook status to "in a relationship").

Anyone who knows me has heard my rant on 'chick flicks' and the distorted messages it sends to impressionable young girls about romance (if not, that will be the subject of a future blog). In Youth in Revolt, I have found a movie that is guilty of confusing impressionable boys with more lies. It presents two options: The whiny, doormat "Nice Guy" who feels entitled to the love of the hottest girl he knows and somehow slighted when she doesn't return the affection, as if he earned it somehow by being 'nice'to her (read: doormat). Or, alternatively, you can be the self-important, douchebag jerk who is mean to girls, playing off their insecurities and daddy issues until they leap into bed with you. Abusive or doormat, those are your two options, and guess what, only one of them gets you laid. Thanks, Hollywood, but I'm going to wager there's a middle ground somewhere that leads to healthy relationships with girls that aren't so full of self-loathing that they think they deserve to date jerks.

Youth in Revolt earns a very generous 2 out of 5 wrecked cars, and spends up the last of my once limitless goodwill for George Michael of Arrested Development.

Finally, I began to watch "Year One", Jack Black and Michael Cera's buddy/road trip movie through the Old Testament. This was largely against my better judgment, but I had seen funny bits in the trailer (such as Michael Cera being passive aggressive about spilled berries and the subsequent lack of fruit salad so 'everyone loses'). I enjoyed Jack Black in School of Rock, and find his band Tenacious D a brilliant parody of the whole concept of "Rock and Roll" while at the same time managing to rock pretty hard even in its satire. Awkward, dry humor from Cera combined with the over-the-top antics of could it go wrong? Easily, as it turns out. The jokes were juvenile, stale, completely lowbrow, even for cavemen. Their journey through the Old Testament could have had plenty of funny things to parody, but they aimed for the lowest common denominator (lol! Sodom and Gommorah! This calls for a buttsex joke for sure!) I got to the point in the movie where Jack Black and Michael Cera (playing Jack Black the Caveman and Michael Cera the Caveman) were exiled from the tribe and forced to begin their epic journey. At that point, I could take no more. I cannot know for certain if the movie redeems itself after the 10 minute mark, but judging from its Rotten Tomatoes score of 15%, I'm thinking it probably doesn't..

Year One gets 1 out of 5 ...I don't know...dinosaur bones or something. I really don't care enough to pick a clever rating system for this one. Were there dinosaurs later in the movie? We'll go with that.


  1. Dude, Sherlock Holmes was brilliant. Have you had the chance to read any of the books? It follows the iconic build of all of the novels, but with a fun twist at the end that satisfies the Sherlock canon, but with a surprise twist that the Holmes fans never saw coming (because they didn't happen in the books).

    My one complaint was Jude Law's obvious ego playing into the film. Watson was a goober. I mean that relative to the Watson in the film. He was a medical professional, yes, and he was a war hero, but he was simply the voice of the reader. He was a literary device used by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to serve as a benchmark to measure Holmes' massive intellect. I have yet to read one single story where Watson ever, ever, ever even got close to helping solve the puzzle. Not that he was stupid by any means, but the mysteries were so puzzling that nothing short of a genius could solve them. It jeopardizes the spirit of the Sherlock Holmes stories to allow Watson to be anything more than a faithful companion-observer.

    To provide Watson some spotlight in the film, they had to downplay Holmes' amazing personality and give him a strange psychological dysfunction that manifested here and there (shown in the film by his violin plucking and his reclusive periods). Holmes didn't have that flaws of that magnitude, and it was simply done to allow Watson more "awesome," no doubt due to Law's primadonna nature. I suspect he had a finger in the director/scriptwriting pie, and if not, they did it to attract a higher profile actor. Gay.

    I would also say that Rachel McAdams' character was supposed to be clever, but it was her womanly wiles that caused Holmes to stumble intellectually, not that she actually outwitted him. I don't know, though, I've never read about her character, so the only evidence I have is from the film. Did you not think so?

    Two more comments, then I'll wait your replay, frere. First, I applaud their use of Blackwood as the antagonist. He was an awesome selection since he represents the supernatural explanation a lot of the common detectives and/or clients used that conscripted Holmes in the books. Blackwood capitalized on that, so he kept the characters in the film (except Holmes) AND the film audience wondering if it was really some supernatural cause. Lastly, who was the villain alluded to in the end of the film? I don't recall.

  2. I'm eager to hear your take on how romantic comedies affect the idea of love in young women. I have my own opinions about this whole thing too. Will be waiting for that post!

  3. Metasapien: I actually haven't read any Sherlock Holmes books, which, as I realize this fact, surprises me, because they seem chock full of awesome. I know a bit about the author, namely that he's one of the few fiction writers who is actually more bad-a in real life than his fictitious hero of his novels.

    I think, not having read the books, the Jude Law ego trip didn't both me as much. I was vaguely aware of Watson's status as a 'normie' or even a bumbling tag along (if the Great Mouse Detective's take on him was any indication), but seeing him as a respectable character only made Sherlock seem all the cooler to me. Watson almost falls for (or does fall for) traps and overlooks things that Sherlock doesn't, so you realize Holmes is leagues beyond Watson, but when you see Watson in his own element or making the rare deductions that he pulls off makes you see that Watson is no slouch either. Its easy to look brilliant when you hang around with an average joe, Sherlock Holmes is brilliant in comparison to an intelligent, courageous military doctor. It just makes him that much more awesome, or at least that's the impression I got from the film. Besides, from what I could tell, this is supposed to take place at the end of a long career where the two of them have been solving mysteries together for years. Its only natural that some of those detective skills have rubbed off on Watson, old boy.

    Good points on Blackwood, it was brilliantly done, making even the audience start to wonder (Watson, the medical man of science, even concedes that the supernatural could be an explanation). Never Holmes though.

    Yeah I guess Irene is just too sexy for Holmes to think straight? Still, something about the character rubbed me the wrong way, I'm happy to hear she isn't in the books (leave it to 21st century sensibilities to add an obligatory 'girl power' character to a perfectly good story).

    The ending of the movie tells us who the next mastermind villain is going to be: Professor Moriarti (spelling?) himself!

    Madeleine: I'll definitely have to organize my thoughts into an angry rant. Pride and Prejudice will be featured heavily, as will its modern cousin, Twilight. Before I get to that post, though, I need to take some cheap shots at Sarah Palin.

  4. I really like sherlock holmes too. I thought it was a little dark at first, but then it turns out ok. We really enjoyed it.
    I haven't seen "Youth in Revolt" and I probably wont. And I'm ashamed to say we watched "year one". Well it was on as we did other things in the house. REALLY DUMB!
    Glad to see you didn't miss out on the one good movie in a lont time while you've been in FRANCE

  5. I loved Sherlock Holmes too, even though I saw it when I had a migraine the first time and felt like I was on a drug trip. I love the music.
    Also, I hated Rachel McAdams in that part. She was much better as Regina George. (I say that somewhat jokingly.)
    And Conan Doyle wrote some ODD things about Mormons in his first book. (I'm assuming you're Mormon, as you read that disgusting blog MBP.)

  6. Ha. Somehow, that doesn't surprise me. Mark Twain had some pretty odd things to say about Mormons too. Although, having lived in Provo for 4 years, I can totally see people thinking we're odd. Its a pretty weird culture when you think about it.