“It is a capital mistake to theorise without data…”

Finally saw Sherlock Holmes this weekend, as a farewell gift from a friend. And enjoyed it immensely, warts and all.

I have never quite understood the purists who insist on Holmesian externals as the be-all and end-all, that Victorian London be picturesque, cozy and uncomplicated largely because Holmes stands like a bulwark against evil: all-knowing, all-wise, calm and collected.

Well, no. The canonical Holmes is one of the most spectacularly unstable characters in all literature, a bundle of manic energies who depends on cocaine to keep up with them — that is, when he’s not digging through the lowest of London’s grime, propelled by the most grotesque crimes he can ferret out. He’s arrogant, impatient, selfish, sloppy, the despair of his poor landlady and rude to his closest friends.

In short, how exactly do you complain when he’s being played by Robert Downey Jr.? (Even the normally hyper-perceptive Roger Ebert falls into this trap — objecting because he sees Holmes as always ‘immaculate’. Uh-huh. I think Ebert has seen one too many Basil Rathbone movies.)

Yes, Ritchie’s film falls down more than a bit as an action-adventure. The ‘fierce reason against the baroque dark arts’ schtick is the laziest possible way to plot a Holmes movie, as evidenced by the fact it’s almost a direct ripoff — right down to the elaborately intrusive CGI — of Barry Levinson’s Young Sherlock Holmes, which… well, produced by Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus. In 1985. This is not the kind of source material you’d expect Mr. RocknRolla to be cribbing.

On the other hand, you’d also not expect him to have quite such an affinity for the internal Holmes. The heart of this movie is Downey’s incredibly charismatic performance. Where Jeremy Brett’s interpretation made a fetish of holding himself together in order to fend off vulnerability, Downey’s revels in eccentricity as a law unto itself; intellectual brilliance barely held in check by the needs of the body, let alone of civilised interaction. He hangs onto Watson not because he needs a foil but because he needs a link to reality, practicality — and he knows he’s not liable to find another such tolerant sidekick anytime soon.

Jude Law’s Watson, meanwhile, earns my undying appreciation by reacting to all this the way any sane, normal man would, which is to say exasperated by his very admiration. He does not make the mistake either of disdaining or of devoting himself to what he does not understand. Again, inexplicably bewildered critics: the canonical Watson is a handsome, athletic, intelligent, reasonably perceptive man, who gets involved with Holmes’ adventures to begin with because he’s bored out of his mind with civilian life. Bingo.

To my mind, it’s the most intimate portrait we’re ever liable to get of either man. This is a movie that assumes you’re watching it because you appreciate Holmes, not some phantom vision of Anglophile nostalgia. To that end, it refuses to insist on itself, which is a big part of what I think the critics are missing. There are no ‘OK, Watson, let’s pause to demonstrate my brilliance by using you as the dopey audience stand-in’ moments here; neither is there the need, beloved of more recent revisionists, to break Holmes down completely into his component neuroses.

The movie simply beats in tune with Holmes’ mind: fitful, fretful, never quite what it seems but always completely confident in itself. Which is, after all, what propelled Doyle’ otherwise silly pulp-magazine stories to legend in the first place.

Yes, some of the obligatory references are awkward, notably Rachel McAdams as a not-too-convincingly capable Irene Adler; then again some, like the re-instatement of the ‘bull pup’ (not to say the ‘patriotic V.R. done in bullet-pocks on the sitting-room wall’) are clever and lovingly subtle — signs we’re in the sure hands of an Irregular in good standing. Here’s hoping the inevitable sequel can build further off that affinity — The Sign of the Four is right out, obviously, but I bet this team could put together a rip-roaring Hound of the Baskervilles…

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Maybe if they’d brought in an *actual* spotwelding torch…

So I finally managed to slip the credit card out of Shoemom’s sight long enough to purchase the Bob & Ray movie. (On the principle of making hay while the sun shines I also bought the Not Always Right book, and am loving it, but that’s another post).

At any rate, yes, the B&R movie. An Award-Winning Film.… all twenty minutes of it. Plus a lengthy written insert by Keith Olbermann, video intro by Jeffrey Lyons, a Mary Backstayge episode set to a picture montage and — inexplicably, esp. given that the rights to all of their own TV series eps combined would probably have been less expensive — three Carson-era Tonight Show appearances.

Well.

[harrumphs slightly]

*****************************************************

I really should’ve known better. You know the interview avoidance technique described in this post? The post I wrote? Buy this movie for a live-action demo.

I was off in my initial impression; the filmmakers don’t want to crack their artistic code, they think it’s really cool that they haven’t. You can tell, because the first five-ten minutes — showcasing the duo ‘relaxing’ before an afternoon’s taping — are shot in that peculiarly Sixties art-house style, the one where the more random the conversation gets the more incredibly cool it must be. In this case: not so much.

Which would not be even as awkward as it is had Olbermann not recounted, in his excellent essay, being treated to a fine display of backstage charm not much later at WOR (Ray, on correct nautical terminology: "Don’t want to have them step on some whale ship. We can’t say that on the radio…").
And there are other indications in the current subject that they know exactly what they’re doing; notably a certain funny half-smile Bob gives the camera at one point, that’s mirrored in several of the still pics. Also Ray’s restless dark eyes, noticeably too sophisticated for a podgy middle-aged face. After awhile the viewer starts following them as the last best clue to why anybody thought this film worth creating…

Meaning that what we have here is a documentary whose major theme is that the subjects really didn’t care about being in this documentary. Lovely.

It gets better once they settle down to work — a couple on-the-fly promos, one Matt Neffer episode recreated from a script, and a rework of the Komodo Dragon sketch — inasmuch as the camera goes from unwanted to utterly unimportant, and the indifference becomes part of the show.
It still resembles nothing so much as a documentary I once saw on twins who’d created their own language. Worlds conjured up literally off a few muttered cues and the degree of slyness in a grin. There’s one really incredible sequence in which their producer (the guy whose mustache is bothering them in the YouTube clip) throws a bunch of non sequitur sounds into their scripted taping, and they’re just effortlessly caught up and twirled into the vortex.

…all of which, it must be said, essentially boils down onscreen to ‘two guys who happen to be very, very good at making each other laugh.’ You think we could get a bit of the larger picture over here, please? Creative, historic, what they had for lunch that day, whatever? Olbermann’s essay would’ve been a lot more effective as an interview cut into the film, along with any others they could round up.

The special features don’t help a lot. Some of the pics are cute, especially the oldest ones. Of the (undated) Tonight Show clips, one is the Slow Talkers of America, one is an obscure-but-deserving tale of a legendary pizza flipper… and in the third Ray looks distressingly ill, not to say a bit too realistically out-of-it. Major ‘the hell?’ factor happening here. Didn’t any family members check this thing out prior to release? For that matter, where are the family members? If they got Jeffrey Lyons, they could probably have pried Chris Elliott or his daughter Abby off the SNL lot.

Ah well. Reminders of imminent mortality excepted, not a bad waste of an hour. Definitely a waste of at least fifteen of the thirty bucks, but that’s OK, I’d probably have just blown it on Starbucks’ punkin scones anyway. Now, I get the scones and complete indifference from a couple comic geniuses. It works out.
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The Seven Days meme: Day Four

day 01 | a song
day 02 | a picture
day 03 | a book/ebook/fanfic
Day 04 | a site
day 05 | a youtube clip
day 06 | a quote
day 07 | whatever tickles your fancy

____________________________

I am thinking this would be an excellent time to thank Bad Movie mecca the agony booth for being the amazingly rich source of entertainment it’s been to me for so long. Love siterunner Albert Walker or not — frankly I’m a bit bemused by the way he runs his forum lately, which is why I’m not saying this there, despite being tempted many times after finishing a recap…

Anyway, he gets all kinds of points for running his site according to real-world literary standards, not Net ones. Not only is his grammar excellent, but his snark is consistently intelligent, insightful and damn funny. Same thing goes for the recaps others post under his supervision; inasmuch as I’m paying off old laffs I must single out Jordon Davis, Jet and Mark ‘Scooter’Wilson. Enshrining Mr T’s place in pop-culture history is a noble work and all, but — in the context of the Internet — the booth’s greater achievement  may be giving wits of their calibre a congenial place to shine.

Well, that and making it through that one Deep Space Nine ep where Quark gets a sex change…

Ooh, this hurts.

Topless Robot recently did a ’10 Most Ridiculous Things About the Original GI Joe Movie’ list, and lo, I was gleeful. Because I loved the original GI Joe series with all my little mindless-pop-culture-consuming heart, and that damn Cobra-La trifled with that heart like Aztecs looking for fun on Saturday night.

And then I read the opening paragraph, about the live-action movie remake. I had not known there was to be a live-action remake, possibly because my brain shut down and started going ‘nuh-uh! nuh-uh-uh!‘ whenever I tried to take it in. I mean, we can all agree there are inherent issues in recreating the Joeverse in living colour, yes? For one thing, just try casting Cobra Commander. "Er…yes, you do wear a totally face-concealing mask for the entire picture. But it’s shiny!"

Apparently, though, there are depths to which my inner child’s heart can still sink:

"In just a few weeks, the majority of us will be exiting theaters on the opening night of the live-action G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, either laughing till we puke or pummeling each other out of sheer, unadulterated rage. Between Schumacher-esque Joe body armor, Storm Shadow’s sneakers and Duke’s childhood buddy Cobra Commander, we all know we’re in for something painful–but whether it’s Troll 2 painful (hilariously bad!) or Love Guru painful (assisted suicide) remains to be seen."

Sneakers? SNEAKERS?

…’scuse me, I’ll be over in this corner weeping for a little bit…