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Clipping Sherlock’s Wings

Mr Holmes

I just caught the movie “Mr. Holmes,” which purports to be a story about the “real” Sherlock Holmes when he is in retirement. It has a wonderful cast, a beautiful production design, and sensitive direction by Bill Condon – and it’s a lugubrious piece of sentimental tripe. Sherlock Holmes is a superhero of logic and the human mind, but “Mr. Holmes” is a stealth attack against these virtues. Camouflaged as an homage to a beloved pop-cultural icon, it actually turns Sherlock into the Tin Man, and then gives him a heart, while taking away his brain.

“Mr. Holmes” gives us no fiendishly clever crimes or charismatic villains. Instead we get two rather drab little domestic tragedies, and one rather drab little domestic drama. Set just after World War II, when Holmes is about 90 years old and slowly losing his mind to senile dementia, the movie slowly cycles through the following story lines:

  1. Sherlock slowly befriends the son of his housekeeper, and teaches him how to care for honeybees.
  2. Sherlock visits Japan in search of an herb that can cure senile dementia. His host is a fan of the “fictionalized” accounts of Sherlock’s cases that Dr. Watson wrote.
  3. Sherlock strives to remember his last case, some 20 or 30 years earlier. Something about it caused him to retire from detective work. He does indeed remember, and the case involved a young wife in despair after two miscarriages.

Let’s start with that last case. It arrives shortly after Watson has departed to begin married life, when Sherlock is hired by a frustrated young husband. The man’s wife talks to her dead babies, and might be visiting a music teacher/medium who encourages that sort of thing. The intolerant young husband wants that to stop, of course. Sherlock discovers that the wife is not visiting the suspect teacher, but is rather planning her own suicide. He and the wife have one meeting, and one conversation. He tells her he knows what she intends to do. She responds with something like a marriage proposal, in which two lonely people can share – something. He gently declines, and though she seems to reject suicide and pours out the poison she has in her purse, she soon after throws herself in front of a speeding train. This causes Sherlock to sink into a depressive guilt so profound he retires and moves to the country. (!?!) Towards the end of the movie he comes to think he should have saved the poor woman by telling her some comforting lies. (?!?)

If you are gay, you’ve met, or know someone who has met, a guy who wants to move in and get married after one date. That’s a red flag, and the sensible course of action is retreat. But the addled mind of “Mr. Holmes” seems to believe that one good cry with a new acquaintance will solve the poor woman’s despair. It believes that Sherlock can merely pretend to accept her proposal, and save her without actually taking on the momentous responsibility that’s required. Need I say that this is bonkers? What’s more, the Sherlock Holmes I know would get this.

Onto drab domestic tragedy number two. The father of Sherlock’s Japanese host deserted the family some 20 years earlier. The man had been in England, and he had sent his son a copy of Dr. Watson’s stories about Sherlock. He also sent a letter that said after meeting with the real Sherlock, he had decided not to return to Japan. Now that he has the real Sherlock as a guest, the wounded man demands an explanation – and he gets the truth. Which is that Sherlock never met the man, and that the letter was the lie. As a tactless aside, Sherlock calls the father a coward. (Super smart people like Sherlock never have any tact, of course. They are too rational for it.) But once back in England, after his epiphany about lying to the despairing young wife, Sherlock writes his Japanese host a letter. In it he claims that he did indeed meet with the faithless father. He explains that the man had been volunteering for some sort of secret service to His Majesty’s Government, and thus unable to ever again see his family. (!?!) So at Sherlock’s suggestion he writes to tell them goodbye – without any real explanation. (!?!)

I am again non-plussed. Telling a Japanese man in 1946 that his father abandoned him for service to a foreign government would have been of dubious therapeutic value. So says I. For one, Japanese culture takes loyalty to the home team very seriously, and for two, it had just gone to war with Great Britain. Speaking of the war, guess where Sherlock and his young host search for that medicinal herb? Hiroshima! In fact, they dig up the precious plant within site of ground zero – no worries about radiation poisoning for them!

Why Hiroshima? I’m not sure, but I suspect the movie, and the book it is based on, want a cheap way to establish their moral seriousness. Hiroshima is an easy shorthand for “war is bad.” Yet the complicated history of that terrible tragedy is still a fraught subject, and “Mr. Holmes” does nothing at all to address it. Instead, we get a quick scene where Sherlock reacts in naive dismay to the sight of some radiation burns. Again, who is this man? Sherlock would have lived in England through two long, bitter, hard-fought world wars. I cannot believe this is the first time he would have come face to face with the ghastly damage they inflicted. And here’s another point – if Sherlock is kind-hearted enough to gasp at the wounds of a stranger, how come he brutally calls his host’s father a coward?

I won’t go into Sherlock’s friendship with the young son of his housekeeper, because while it is pleasant, it is pointless. Nor will I talk about the bee keeping, because I don’t know what the hell that was all about. Rather, I’ll zip forward to the final image, where Sherlock makes a little stone funeral arrangement to dead friends and relatives and starts praying over it – for now that he is approaching death and slowly losing his mind, now that he has humbly understood the importance of feelings over facts, he finally appreciates……God?

Post Script

“Mr. Holmes” is based on the novel “A Slight Trick Of The Mind,” by Mitch Cullen. I have not read this book, but after I saw the movie I suspected the author was a conservative Catholic – what with the undead unborn babies, the trauma over suicide, and the faith in the healing power of lies. Turns out I was wrong, because on a Facebook post where he (justly) rants against Kim Davis, Cullen says he isn’t a Christian. But he is an American, so perhaps his distrust of logical intelligence is merely cultural, and not religious. I also discovered that he and his partner (maybe husband) Peter I. Chang live part-time in Tokyo. This explains the mysterious inclusion of a Japan story line. Alas, it does not justify it. Still, I wish Mitch and Peter a happy life together!

 

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Dolce & Gabbana & The Italian Freakout

By Italian I really mean Catholic. And I am referring to the recent comments by gay fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana that “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one…No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.”  (This is a translation into English I found in an article at The Telegraph.) I’d support Elton John’s angry call to boycott the D&G brand, if only I could afford it in the first place.

So no boycott for me, but maybe there’s a chance for some self-promotion, as the D&G comments reminded me of a movie review I wrote some years ago! It is the Italian beefsteak epic The Giant of Metropolis from 1961, and it is practically a manifesto of the reactionary ethos that D&G remain loyal to. A bizarre re-telling of the Atlantis myth, it has evil king Yotar offending nature by attempting to transplant the brain of his father into the head of his 12-year-old son. This and other confusing schemes apparently leads to “Unforeseen developments in the orbiting of the planets have upset in a most serious manner the normal equilibrium of the forces of the inter-planetary scale!” We also have Obro, an amiable muscleman who gets captured and tortured by Yotar. This somehow convinces Yotar’s rebellious daughter Mercede that Obro is some sort of Christ figure who is everywhere, invisible, and invincible. So she sets Obro free, and at the first opportunity falls into his arms and pleads “Show me what it is to live Obro!” Which is he presumably does, after the fade out.

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To quote the movie itself:

…When the scientists of Metropolis attempted to penetrate the secret of death, nature rebelled, causing universal destruction…

…love alone triumphed…

…and remained the sole source of life…

And remember, they were this upset back in 1961, long before the concept of “gay adoption” was born! My review of the whole confounding movie can be found at The Monster Shack web site:

http://www.monstershack.net/sp/index.php/the-giant-of-metropolis-1961/

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An unnatural mass wedding ceremony held in Metropolis, before it is destroyed.

THE FALL OF JUPITER ASCENDING

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Poor Lana and Andy Wachowski. After the beating they took with Cloud Atlas, they’ve just dropped another bomb with Jupiter Ascending. Here’s a typical reaction, from Nick Schager writing for The Daily Beast, “Jupiter Ascending, from The Matrix masterminds Lana and Andy Wachowski, is a stew of sci-fi blockbuster cinema clichés drenched in high-tech razzle-dazzle.” I’ve written a lot of screeds against movie crap lately, but here I’d like to defend the Wachowskis, up to a point. Jupiter Ascending is a mixed bag to be sure, but I don’t think it really falls down until the last act. True, there are too many over-the-top chase/fight scenes that go on for too long, but that’s true of just about every Hollywood CGI extravaganza these days. Another common fault is showing us many gorgeous fantasy vistas crammed full of amazing detail, only to whisk them away after 2 or 3 seconds. Would it kill the Entertainment Complex to let us drink in the detail for another 3 or 4 seconds? Apparently, yes.

On the other hand, Schager sounds like too many American critics when he complains about “the monotony of lengthy chats about royal lineage, intergalactic economies, and other fairy tale nonsense” and “dialogue equally defined by ridiculously fanciful terms and leaden exposition.” How a filmmaker is supposed to present a rich fantasy world without fanciful terms or exposition is beyond me, and I’m getting tired of the stubborn inability of even educated and intelligent viewers like Schager to sit still and listen for a few minutes.

Besides, Schager’s “fairy tale nonsense” has a political edge that I think works in in the Wachowskis’ favor. For the villains are super rich one-percenters that harvest whole planets full of human beings in order to produce a fountain of youth serum. Such a cruel economy is an all too believable foundation for the deceit and the violence that fuels the movie, and the villains are not the problem. The problem comes with the heroine, and I’ll take brief walk through the complicated plot, spoilers included, to explain why.

Poor Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is a maid in Chicago who spends her time cleaning other people’s toilets. Her mom is great (she left Russia after house robbers murdered Jupiter’s father), but her family is obnoxiously uncouth, as only an extended ethnic family can be. And she doesn’t have a boyfriend. Not surprisingly, she hates her life. Happily, she is saved from this tedious hell when space aliens attempt to assassinate her: because she is then rescued by a handsome space bounty hunter named Caine Wise (played by dreamy Channing Tatum, who looks great. Even with pointy ears.) Through him, she learns that she is the exact genetic double, a “recurrence,” of a recently murdered space queen. As such, she is entitled to inherit said space queen’s property, which includes the valuable “estate” that is the planet earth. The problem with this rags to riches development is that the queen’s oldest son has no intention of letting Jupiter get her grubby little hands on all the goodies he murdered mommy for. (Oops – spoiler alert.) His name is Balem Abrasax, and he’s played full-out by Eddie Redmayne in a much derided performance that I actually enjoyed.

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Caine Wise. Part man, part wolf. All hunk!

Caine saves Jupiter from death again and again, and in the process kills or wounds about 332 opponents. So Jupiter falls in love with him. Usually I gag at this sort of thing, but I have a big crush on Channing, so I’m just as guilty as Jupiter here. I’m also OK with the fact that Jupiter is not an expert kung-fu warrior, so she needs to be rescued when professional killers are sent after her. Where I do have a problem is that she is such an aw shucks, down-home, just-plain-folks kind of girl that the big picture implications of her changed estate never dawn on her. All she can think about is Caine’s apparent coldness, so she has no brain room left for something as abstract as the fate of the planet earth. The tragic irony here is that he, of course, is in love with her. Only now that she’s a member of the power elite of the universe, how can he, a lowly bounty hunter, hope to win her heart? He can’t, and so he blows her off when she throws herself at him.

After many, many chase scenes, and an amusing satire on bureaucratic red tape, Jupiter officially claims title to her property. But she is then faced with a cruel choice, because Balem kidnaps her horrid family and threatens to murder them if she doesn’t turn over the property to him. At this point she knows what people like Balem do to the planets they own – so she races off, alone, to his citadel in Jupiter’s red spot. Surrounded by his henchmen and completely in his power, she is about to sign over her inheritance, when it finally dawns on her that he will harvest the entire population of earth to process more eternal youth serum. I’m happy to say that she then refuses, and is rescued once more by Caine. Belam falls off an exploding space platform and (probably) dies.

Now we come to the big, happy finish where a revitalized Jupiter realizes she actually enjoys cleaning other people’s toilets! I kid you not, she goes back to her old life. (I’m all for celebrating the worth of blue-collar labor, but really?) Her awful extended family seems to have been replaced by space clones, and they are now thoughtful and considerate. Even better, she now has a boyfriend – because Caine isn’t blowing her off anymore! We close with them light-heartedly zooming around the skyscrapers of Chicago using hyper-advanced space technology.

Wait, doesn’t that mean that thousands of office workers will see them zooming around? Yes it does, but earlier in the movie we learned that the super advanced space humans that “own” the earth routinely erase our memories whenever we witness their hyper-advanced technology. And now Jupiter owns the earth, so…Is this kind of twisted power play the real reason she smiles when she cleans the toilets of the rich? Your guess is as good as mine. But it’s right here that Jupiter Ascending finally lost me.

Hollywood giveth with one hand, and it taketh away with another. All the class-conscious political savvy of the set up is undermined by making Jupiter Jones such a dim bulb. This movie was planned as the beginning of a franchise, so maybe they delayed giving her an intellectual awakening for a future installment. Ditto any temptations or dark emotions. And so Jupiter as a character is dramatically inert, and her movie gets sucked into a gravity well of dopey sentimentality.

Ah, but she snags that dreamy boyfriend, and this is enough to win the movie at least some fans. As Hitflix.com reports, “Jupiter Ascending” has broken new ground by becoming the first cult classic sci-fi film that will be buoyed into infamy by young women… Every woman who ever wrote herself into her favorite universe via fanfic, every girl who created an amnesiac elven vampire princess and role-played in a chat room, every chick who ever wanted a blaster by her side and a submissive werewolf boyfriend at her back, every one of them whispered, “Finally. It is our time.” – Well, I wish they’d hold out for a better heroine, but it could be worse. Caine could be like the entitled billionaire “hero” in Fifty Shades of Grey.

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One’s a dreamboat. The other’s a villain.

Postscript: It would have been nice if at least one (non-villain) character in Jupiter Ascending was gay.

SOMETHING FISHY IN BRUSSELS

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I just gorged on a 2011 political thriller from Belgian television called “Salamander”. It reminded me of  post-Watergate thrillers like “The Parallax View,” but with the added twist that many characters share an earnest fear that the country itself might disintegrate if too much dirty laundry becomes public. I found this kind of shocking, and then I remembered that Belgium is made up of different ethnic regions. I guess they still have nightmares that what is now happening in Iraq could happen there. To which I would like to give this comfort and reassurance – you don’t have anything to worry about unless the U.S. invades because we want to “liberate” you. So go ahead and get a good night’s sleep.

Back to the TV series: it begins when 66 safety deposit boxes belonging to members of Belgium’s power elite get robbed, but the bank that housed the boxes, and the victims themselves, seek to suppress any police investigation. This doesn’t stop our honest, bull-headed, and idealistic hero, a cop named Gerardi, from plowing on ahead, especially when several related murders happen. Who is behind the robbery, and why are they going after these 66 people? And what is the special connection, besides wealth and power, that binds them together? The mini-series, which has 12 episodes in all, does a good job of dramatizing the various power centers that get involved, and in showing how they react under stress. Our hero is soon targeted by powerful forces that want to stop him, but the script gives him some creditable allies – as he would need, not just to succeed, but to survive.

This is a handsome production, and I enjoyed the mise-en-scene, not having seen anything produced in Belgium before. Director Frank van Mechelen keeps the pace brisk, but not frantic, which helps pull the viewer into the story. The entire cast is solid. But I do have some complaints (I always do!) – The forces of evil in stories like this always take out a lot of sympathetic people once they “know too much,” but I think this plot device is overused in “Salamander.” Several characters who have their guard up prove to be frustratingly easy targets. This series is also “Old School” when it comes to gay characters. That means no speaking part for a gay character – unless you count that loathsome boy-rapist who works in the orphanage. (FYI – he is NOT a priest!) Gay sex does appear, when it rears its shocking head late in the series as part of a blackmail scheme. Shocking! Finally, while the fascist ideology of the villains is nicely sketched in, a deep unease with the public learning the truth hobbles the script’s commitment to democracy. This is perhaps why the press plays almost no role at all in “Salamander’s” long and drawn out battle for the future of an entire nation.

Still, worth a look!

 

SHAMELESS REGURGITATION

I’m following a theme. Kinda. And that theme is “disaster.” My last post worried about what to do if North Korea invades the United States. This post worries how a disaster movie can survive its turgid second act. I have no original thoughts on this, but I do want to “quote” the mysterious woman Australian scientist behind “And You Call Yourself A Scientist!” blog.

“…the greatest hurdle that a disaster movie has to overcome is the question of what to do with its second act. Screenwriters usually have no difficulty figuring out how to set up a disaster, or how to resolve it; the problem is what to do with the middle part of the story. Disaster movies that fail tend to fall at this hurdle, resorting to character scenes that in context are rarely other than padding, the film twiddling its thumbs while the clock runs down. And while pointless “character stuff” may be tolerable when we’re talking about what people like John Wayne, Clair Trevor, Dana Andrews, Glenn Ford, Burt Lancaster, Myrna Loy and James Stewart could do, by the time it’s being dished up by the likes of Avery Schreiber, Jimmie Walker and Charo, we’re dealing with something that could rightly be condemned as a crime against humanity.”

See the full review of the 1960 extravaganza “The Last Voyage,” at….

http://www.aycyas.com/thelastvoyage.htm

And here is a web page with information on the scrapped ocean liner Ile de France, which was partially destroyed in the process of shooting the movie.

http://www.oceanliners.com/reading/reviews/last-voyage

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Should North Korea Invade…

If you don’t stay awake at nights worrying about an invasion from North Korea, the 2012 remake “Red Dawn” should set you straight. In the 80’s original it was the Soviets who invade, and are resisted by a group of sexy, white, American teenagers. That was far fetched enough, but North Korea?!? (Horrible government & nuclear program aside, they can’t afford to adequately feed a quarter of their own population, so I was amazed this film wasn’t a comedy.) None of the Member Reviews on Netflix I saw get into this, however, as that would spoil the fun. Below is the best one I came across. You’ll learn we have 2.5 military-style assault weapons that are “accounted for.” You’ll learn the relative merits of the M-16 and the AR-15. And you’ll learn that “99.999% of gun owners aren’t looking to kill any of their fellow citizens – just invaders or oppressive governments.” – Thank goodness all the gun massacres we have only come from that .001%!

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Here’s the review:

“…there are roughly 2.5 million military-style assault weapons (accounted for) in the U.S. alone. In the area they’re in, Washington State, I’d say they – if you include Montana and North/South Dakota, which you would if you had ever lived there…which I have – then you’re looking at a good third of those weapons. That doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of rifles, shotguns and modified semi-auto handguns and rifles that are off the books. I concede readily that the M-16 is superior weapon in that it can fire single shot, a 3 round burst, or full auto, but from everything I’ve read, pretty much any AR-15 (the civilian equivalent and just as powerful) can be modified to do the same. And just when you thought I was done….nope. We can also outfit our SKS’s, AR-15’s and AK-47’s with nearly every single mod that the military and police can, which is to say laser sights, flashlights, smoke grenades (yes, smokes grenades) and a number of other accoutrements. Final point being, those boys and girls shouldn’t have had to take out so many of the enemy just to get their weapons (or at least not have such a hard time doing it) since their parents were likely well-equipped already. And that, ladies and gentlemen is WHY we outfit our weapons like that – 99.999% of gun owners aren’t looking to kill any of their fellow citizens – just invaders or oppressive governments. Tanks or no tanks, unless they’re planning to nuke us – which our U.S. military is well-prepared for, I might add, a foreign invader seems much less likely to me than our own. Pshah!”