Two Movie Reviews: Sherlock Holmes and Where the Wild Things Are
Two film reviews
SHERLOCK HOLMES: Holmes’ famous catch phrase “the Game is Afoot” should be replaced by Full-Speed-Ahead in this kinetic adventure film, directed by Guy Ritchie. The cerebral Victorian detective has been transformed by Ritchie into a thrill-seeking action hero. Whereas the literary Holmes, created by Arthur Conan Doyle, would seek solace from boredom between cases by indulging in narcotics, this new Holmes is equally likely to seek out an underground fight club as he is a crack pipe.
That’s not to say that this new Holmes (Played by the always watchable Robert Downey Jr.) is lacking in intellect. We naturally get the requisite astute deductions based on trivialities invisible to anyone else. However, this modern Holmes has a Fools-Rush-In-Where-Wise-Men-fear-To-Tread mentality. He rarely thinks things through until after he’s waded hip deep into danger and mayhem. It’s only when he’s face-to-face with impending disaster that his magnificent mind kicks into action and starts plotting his strategy. For instance, when Holmes is going toe-to-toe with an opponent in fisticuffs, his great brain begins to pre-choreograph the battle. We see inside Holmes’ mind as he anticipates every blow, lists his enemy’s weak spots, calculates how long it will take for the bad guy to fall and how long it will take him to get up again. As soon as he’s satisfied with his pre-fight prediction, we see Holmes leap physically into the fray, which invariably ends just as Holmes anticipated.
It’s as if this version of Holmes needs to be under pressure in order to motivate his amazing deductions. He seems to be more in love with danger than with solving puzzles, as the classic Holes was. Downey’s Holmes is much more of a warrior than earlier versions of Holmes. He’s not the type to sit in his room, smoking his pipe until an epiphany hits him. This Holmes has danger as his muse. It’s hard to imagine Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (Who starred in the most popular classic film versions of Holmes and Watson) storming into a room full of armed thugs, carrying nothing but a walking stick and some Nun-chucks, and besting the baddies in a wild brawl.
And speaking of Watson, Jude Law makes a very dapper Doctor John Watson, and plays off well against Downey’s quirky Holmes. Watson is engaged to be married to Mary Morstan (We don’t know where Watson met Mary, since Holmes is only introduced to her after Watson has decided to marry her. Watson clearly didn’t meet her in Holmes’ case “The Sign of Four”, as Doyle wrote her) who has a very unpleasant introduction to Holmes. Holmes is clearly threatened by Mary’s relationship with Watson and does his best to sabotage it. (The scene where he uses a fake psychic to predict that Mary will become fat and grow warts is very funny). There is a subtle homo-erotic aspect to the Holmes/Watson relationship that today would be called a bro-mance. (They share clothes. Holmes doesn’t like Watson’s girlfriend.) But both men have their own love interests. Watson has Mary and Holmes has Irene Adler.
Irene (Rachael McAdams) flits in and out of the movie, tantalizing our hero with her feminine wiles. They have a Batman/Catwoman sort of relationship. Holmes is fascinated by Irene since she’s the only one who has ever outwitted him (As she does several times in this film) while Irene herself is working as the agent of a mysterious enemy, but her feelings for Holmes cause her to waver in her mission. McAdams makes a very pretty Irene (Who Holmes does not refer to as “the Woman”, the way he did in the Doyle cannon.) And—as you might expect—she has the requite scene where the pretty girl beats up a couple of large guys.
The plot: Holmes has captured the evil Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who is using ritual sacrifices to call up some unnamed evil. Blackwood predicts his own resurrection and sure enough, no sooner has Watson pronounced him dead from hanging than Blackwood is back, up to his old sorcerer tricks again. It’s up to Holmes to find out what the resurrected villain is planning before disaster hits England. Unlike the classic Holmes stories where our hero must save one or two lives, here Holmes is saddled with a Guy Fawkes type plot to destroy parliament and also to re-conquer the American colonies.
Downey’s Holmes often seems more like Hugh Laurie’s Greg House from “House MD”. He’s scruffy, witty, sarcastic and always messing up his best friend’s private life. (As many already know, House was based on Holmes, so Ritchie brings the whole thing full circle by basing the new Holmes on House.) The bantering relationship between Holmes and Watson certainly seems inspired by House and Dr. Wilson.
There are lots of little Easter-eggs and inside jokes for fans of previous books and films to catch if they’re paying attention. The standard Sherlockian trademarks are present, such as the disguises and the oft disdainful relationship with the semi-competent Inspector Lestrade. It actually retains more of the Doyle Holmes than the trailers and previews would make it seem. True, it strays very far from the source material and it may be hard for purists to accept Downey's unkempt urban warrior as the same character portrayed by Rathbone or Jeremy Brett. However, if you can overlook the inaccuracies, this is actually a fun action film. Think of it as a Victorian Buddy Cop/ action comedy and purists may enjoy it. As for people who don’t know much about the Doyle Holmes, they'll find Downey’s man-of-action version a lot of fun.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE***(3 stars)
Where The Wild Things Are: A cherished bit of nostalgia is brought to cinematic life by director Spike Jonze in this family friendly film. "Where the Wild Things Are" is a full length adaptation of the beloved 1963 children's book written and drawn by Maurice Sendak. The original picture book is 37 full-panel pages and the whole story consists of only 9 lines. Adapting the timeless classic into a 94 minute film is literally a stretch and others have attempted it but given up. (It has been adapted into an animated cartoon and an lite Opera, however.) Jonze and scriptwriter Dave Eggers manage to pull a workable script out of the brief book and it works for the most part but its not without its share of flaws.
The script is fleshed out to give the individual Wild Things distinctive personalities, rather than being generic beasts as in the book. The Wild Thing's are realized by a combination of costumes, puppetry and some digital enhancements. The creatures are essentially big Puff'N' Stuff like costumes but the faces are digitally altered to match the expressions of the voice actors.
The movie gives young Max (Max Records) more motivation for his tantrum and escape to the world of Wild Things than did Sendak's little tale. In the film, Max is a lonely kid, angered by his sister for not defending him when her friend's destroy his snow fort and further distraught when his mom (Catherine Keener) brings home a date (Mark Ruffalo). We previously had some scenes of Max literally laying at his mother's feet, showing the almost Oedipal attachment he has to her (HIs father is mysteriously absent) which explains his extreme over-reaction when Mom's date comes for dinner. Max goes wild and actually bites his mom. Confused, angry and a bit ashamed, Max runs away and comes across a boat which he impetuously hops aboard. The little boat sails away and Max is caught in a storm, ending up on the mysterious island of the titular Wild Things.
When we first see the Wild Things, one of them is having his own child-like tantrum. Karol (Voice of James Gandolfini) is angry that the Wild she-thing he's sweet on, KW (Lauren Ambrose) has made some new friends and Karol is jealous. It seems like a kid's problem, as are most of the dilemma's in this film. Everything here is, after all, a reflection of Max's anguished psyche. Some of the other Wild Things include wise Douglas (Chris Cooper), doubting Judith (Catherine O'Hara), hole-digging Ira (Forrest Whittaker) and huge Bull (Michael Berry.)
Although the Wild Things initially want to make a quick meal out of the little interloper, he convinces them that he has powers via some imaginative tall tales. The Wild Things are so impressed they decide to make Max their king, hoping that he'll fix all the things that are wrong on the island. "Can you keep all the sadness out?" one WB wonders. Max promises them a magic shield where no sadness can get in.
At first, the plan seems to work and the Wild Things enjoy their first night with their new king after he declares it rumpus time and everyone gets to run around like kids without supervision. They all fall sleep together in a big pile, with their king tucked safely in their furry midst.
This is basically where the book ends and Max decides to return home. Not so here. In the film, Max tries to be a good king to his people--and create a perfect place for himself--by building a fort where, as Karol puts it, "Nothing we don't want to happen, happens."
But looking after the unruly lot is harder than Max suspected. He comes to understand how hard it is to be a parent. Good intentions are not always enough and there's no invisible shield to keep the sadness out. As his subjects become more discontented, Max starts to realize that he wants to be a kid again, not a king.
The film is a nice look into the mind of a child, much as Sendak's original classic was. Sendak said that he exorcised some personal demons by writing his story, and the film is a revisit to the world as the child might see it. Max is frustrated by the real world and ultimately retreats into a world of Monsters where all his beastly friends act just as child-like as he does.
The film is very much centered on the concept of a child's sense of disappointment, both in the real world and in the inability to escape from it. In many ways, the film is a downer. There's no magic sadness shield and no place where only what we want to happen, happens. The film brings to life that sad moment of realization when we grow to realize that we have to face the world and we can't hide from it in our fantasies, as much as we might want to.
Although there are some charming moments, and the Wild Things are wonderful creations (very accurate to the great original artwork) the movie feels rather tedious at points. There are no real highlights and the film meanders along laboring its point. Its not clear who the audience is for this film. Kids today, reared on more kinetic films, might find the leisurely pace boring. Older folk who have fond memories of reading "Where the Wild Things Are" while growing up will get a nice nostalgiac thrill when the eponymous Wild Things first appear but will likely also find themselves losing interest as the story stretches beyond its literary conclusion. Its a nice adaptation but it would have been better as a short rather than a full length movie.