Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Directed By: Guy Ritchie
Written By: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham & Simon Kinberg (based on the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Lin Pictures, 2009
PG-13; 128 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


Okay, well, I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan all my life. And I've loved Robert Downey, Jr. ever since he re-emerged for Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, so . . . This movie hits my sweet spot from the start. I just wanted to be up front about that, since I like to show my biases when applicable.

What really works in this iteration of Holmes--of which there have been many, Holmes being the most-played character in film--is the chemistry between the chief actors as Holmes and Watson. After all, even in the original stories by Doyle, the key was that Watson had an actual affection for Holmes (and a certain awe of him), and Holmes had, well, as much affection for Watson as he had for anyone really, which is another discussion altogether.

Now Law does not play Watson as the loyal, doggish Watson that many have come to expect. Instead, Law's Watson knows his Holmes well enough to call him out on things when no one else would dare to do so. Good for him! This departure from the canon can be applauded, as in modern cinema the Watson of old would hardly hold up. In Doyle's works it was one thing; Watson was the reader's filter, and so he was required to be awe-struck by Holmes so that the reader could be as well. But in a movie, that wouldn't make for much of a character, aside from the possibility of a bumbling, comic sidekick, and we've seen that particular kind of Watson often enough.

Certainly the Holmes in this version is different, too. Many writers and filmmakers have taken liberties with the character in the past. After all, a great character without a completely fleshed-out history lends itself to that kind of thing. But here Holmes is . . . Should I say, almost but not quite himself? It was the Holmes of Doyle with a dash of frat boy or something. An odd mixture. It made Holmes warmer and more likable than he might normally be, but there were flashes where I wanted to put the breaks on and say, "No, no, no, that's not right!"

Holmes' digs at Inspector Lestrade were probably some of the best moments; they showed exactly the kind of dry humor one should expect from the Great Detective. But his continual attempts to dissuade Watson from his amorous leanings were really beneath the Holmes I have respect for. That was where the frat boy came in. Holmes and Watson were portrayed, in part, like college roomies, and the situation suggested that one of them was growing up and moving on and the other didn't want to. That particular note, for me, was a sour one. After all, Holmes as Doyle wrote him--and yes, I understand that someone else wrote this Holmes, but he's still based on Doyle's character more or less--might not have cared one way or another; as I recall, he didn't seem to when Watson married and moved away in the stories. That was an emotional realm in which Holmes did not trade. And even if he did care, he never would have said as much to Watson, no matter how much [repressed] affection he had for his friend.

My final bone to pick is with Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler. Good Lord, what a mess. She had zero chemistry with Robert Downey, Jr. for one thing. And she simply did not pull off the sense of clever that Irene Adler requires. Adler is, after all, supposedly Holmes' peer, and that is why she is the only woman in which he ever invested any of his attention. He was able to look past her gender (Holmes was a noted misogynist) to her very sharp mind, one he considered as sharp--or nearly--as his own. Moriarty, then, would be the other point to that triangle of persons that Holmes had a sort of respect for, which is one thing that this movie did well, though we didn't really meet Moriarty, though we surely will in the next film. We hope! (There will almost certainly be another film, as this one did so well at the box office.)

At any rate, Adler should have been more a match for Holmes' wits. I'm not sure whether the fault here lies with McAdams, the writers, or both. I felt like Adler had been thrown into the mix because they felt like there should be a woman in the movie and Adler is the go-to when one needs a woman in a Sherlock Holmes situation.

However, all that having been said, the movie was fun overall. High entertainment value; what more can one really ask from a movie? An interesting enough plot, though I did lean over to my husband a few times and hiss, "Pyramid of FEAR!" (a nod to Young Sherlock Holmes, with which I was obsessed as a child--and which to this day still has a fab take on Moriarty . . . though Daniel Davis also did a good Moriarty on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I digress). Some minor issues with the obvious digital backgrounds in places, and with the scene in which they slog through the water only to be dry in the next moment, but whatever. (A friend also pointed out that the Tower Bridge is a ways down from Parliament, so the slog through the sewers must have been a long one.) Still and all, a good film and not the worst twist to Holmes that I've ever seen (or read), so I count it as a success.

Or my biases outweigh other factors. You decide.


Movie Review: The Hangover

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham
Directed By: Todd Phillips
Written By: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Warner Bros., 2009
R; 100 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)


Picked this one up On Demand (and in HD to boot); it wasn't as funny as I thought it would be, given all the hype about it.

Simple enough story: four friends--or three friends and a hanger-on (played by Galifianakis) who eventually morphs into a fourth friend--go to Vegas for a night of partying before one of the pals (Bartha, recognizable from his stint in the National Treasure movies) gets married. But apparently the [wolf] pack has so much fun, they can't remember anything the next morning, including where they left the groom-to-be. Hilarity ostensibly ensues, though not a ton of it.

Cooper stars as chief friend Phil, something of a jerk who thaws and softens a bit as things play out. The character development is really subtle here; you might miss it if you weren't looking for something more to the movie, which at times I desperately was.

Helms' character Stu has the deepest back story. He's a dentist with a bitchy and controlling girlfriend (Rachel Harris) that he plans to propose to at the upcoming nuptials. Phil--who says he hates his own life, which includes marriage and a child--berates Stu periodically for what he considers a terrible idea; namely, being at all involved with this harpy of a woman. Stu's plot line is the only one with an overt resolution, at least where this particular relationship is concerned. I won't say more because I don't want to spoil any additional plot points for those who haven't seen the movie but want to.

Galifianakis is generally considered the break-out star of this film, and rightfully so. His character Alan tags along with the others, as he is the bride-to-be's brother, a friendless sort of socially awkward weirdo complete with overgrown hair and a bad sense of personal style. But he goes from being cringe-worthy to somewhat warming as things start happening, and eventually emerges as a semi-hero.

One of the best things about this movie is that it featured--at length--a tiger. I love cats, big and small.

I was sorry that Bartha didn't have more to do, but as he's missing for most of the film . . .

In the end, I call the movie average, which is why it gets 2.5 stars. Decent character arcs but not nearly enough funny. Still and all, an okay flick for a night when you need some levity and nothing you have to concentrate too hard on.


Writing "Under the Dome"

I am currently reading Stephen King's latest, a rather large tome titled Under the Dome (full review to come, though I'll say I'm enjoying it). But as I considered the subject matter--a town finds itself isolated by an invisible force field--I found myself looking back at other of King's works and thinking that "under the dome" is the situation in pretty much any compelling narration, isn't it?

What I mean is: any good story is a situation involving contained people and forces. Whether it's the town of Jerusalem's Lot beset by vampires, the haunted Overlook Hotel in winter, or the whole of the USA after a virus leaves most people dead, the core of the story is set under a "dome" of circumstances that isolates them from the everyday, the normal, the mundane.

This goes for more than Mr. King's writing, but he's particularly adept at this slight of hand and mind. Reading his work is instructive.

I suppose this is also one of the reasons I really dislike the kind of mainstream literature so many academics tout; I find it dull. People living their lives and generally miserable--but without anything very interesting going on--doesn't make much of a story to my way of thinking.