Thursday, January 7, 2010

On the Holiday Movies

I usually don’t do reviews in my blog although I had discussed some of the comic movies previously. But two films out now seem to have been adopted by the comics community even if they are not derived from comics---although I found it ironic that Sherlock Holmes was promoted as being “based on the graphic novel” when it actually wasn’t. How’s that for spinning things in the opposite direction from a few years ago? Now, it’s a plus to be based on a graphic novel/comic. I used to be an avid Sherlock Holmes reader. I read all the original stories and probably over 100 pastiches and “source” books regarding Holmes. Although I still maintain my interest in Sherlockian lore, I don’t have the same passion for it that I once did. But I am still a fan. In fact, when my wife and I went to London, 221-b Baker Street was the first place we went. Yes, I knew it was an imaginary place of an imaginary character, but I still had to see it. I have purchased perhaps a dozen DVDs in my life and the only sets I have are the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes. So, I still have that Holmesian bug… I was not expecting much when I went to see the movie. My wife accompanied me, perhaps to offer solace if the movie was bad. We don’t go to the movies often, maybe 6-7 times a year. I had seen some of the previews and I was a bit worried about how they were going to treat Sherlock. Overall, I liked the movie a great deal. It was more action oriented than a typical Holmes tale, but I thought most of the action was incorporated quite nicely. Holmes was not a Nero Wolfe type who remained sedentary. In the stories, Holmes was always quick to get involved physically. I had heard a number of criticisms before I went about how the film destroyed the image built by Conan Doyle and that the movie departed from what made Holmes…well, Holmes. I don’t think those critics were at all familiar with the original stories as this story picked up a lot of references to the official canon. It was obvious that the scriptwriters knew their Holmes. It wasn’t a perfect movie. Rachel McAdams just didn’t seem enough to pull off being Irene Adler, someone who once bested Holmes. She wasn’t a bad choice, just not the right one. And it has nothing to do with her being non-British as even in the short story, she was listed as an American. Downey was good although I have a hard time letting go of Jeremy Brett as the vision for Sherlock Holmes. Jude Law was excellent. I though the overall “big crime” felt like a retread from so many other books-comics-movies. I had a gnawing trepidation when the supernatural elements began to build up in the story but even the mundane villainous plot was satisfying enough once the supernatural was explained. So, I’d give it a recommendation and high marks. Even my wife liked it and she is not a Holmes fan at all. I don’t think it was great but very good and would love to see a sequel. If nothing else, perhaps Jude Law’s performance will forever rid the image of Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of Watson as a bumbling idiot. I can’t even watch the Basil Rathbone films anymore because of the way they treated poor Watson. The second movie of the holiday season, and of the entire year, and who knows what else--- is, of course, Avatar. Most of the criticisms I heard centers on Cameron himself, it seems. People who hated Titanic were lined up to hate this one also. I happened to like Titanic…well, most of it. There were some major problems that I couldn’t look past but narratively, I though it was structured brilliantly. I made sure to see Avatar in 3D even though I hate wearing those glasses. I knew it was what they label an event film…something you have to see, but it had piqued my interest for quite awhile. I was worried that the idea of having an Avatar seemed so original some ten years ago was now becoming an overused plot device, especially since Surrogates had just been released. But who remembers Surrogates except some people in the comics market? People go to see movies for different reasons. Some like the big scenes…the battles, the car chases, the boom! Others like the story and characterization. If I told you that I thought Transformers was one of the stupidest things I ever saw and I felt like I wasted two hours of my life on it, you’d probably guess what I find appealing in movies. The special effects of Avatar…all of it…the designs, the color palette, the 3D, the careful consideration of the evolutionary trends developing on the planet…all of it was just fantastic. But you know what, it just doesn’t mean that much to me. When I see a movie, I go expecting that the effects are part of the background. I accept them for what they are, whether they’re the rich and lavish ones found in Avatar or the cheesy ones in a 1950’s horror flick. I just take it in as part of the package. I know that some people have compared Avatar (story wise) to Dancing with Wolves but I think the much stronger connection is A Man Called Horse. That was a Richard Harris movie and one of my faves when I was growing up. To me, Avatar seemed to be an updating of that film much more than Costner’s film. So, the special effects didn’t move me and the story was pretty pedestrian. I mean, after the first half hour, I think everyone in the audience could have recited what was going to happen. Maybe it was because I felt manipulated. Stirrings of Vietnam with the helicopters tied in with the obvious Native Americans suffering from the European colonialism. I think I was supposed to bring up pangs of guilt and shame for what happened in the past. Well, I don’t feel guilt or shame for the terrible tragedies in American history. Sure, I feel sorrow and am sympathetic but none of my ancestors were here, they all arrived in the Ellis Island era. I thought the characters were so one dimensional and very stereotypical. The motivations of the…well, just who were they exactly? Apparently it was some sort of corporation but obviously it was purely American and had U.S. marines. They were the perfect symbol of corporate greed and when the military commander took over, it was almost laughable in his logic, propped up by a terrorist speech. I get that Jake would find himself immersed in the Na’vi culture but find it hard to accept that he would go against his entire race to join them forever. Yes, I know he fell in love but it seemed too convenient for the story’s sake. Harkening to the pilot of Star Trek where he could be a whole man again by assuming a vision (i.e.-Avatar form) rather than remaining trapped in his broken body, wasn’t enough as it was indicated that with the right connections, he could be restored to his full human form. In A Man Called Horse or even in Costner's Dancing with Wolves, both men adopted their new culture...but they were still the same person. They could go back if they wanted to, even if it was just for a visit. Jake could not. I wonder how Jake will feel 5-10 years later while he’s eating the same fruit every day on how wonderful it would be to hop on a computer, watch a video, have a microwave pizza, or even go to a movie. So many people find the simple life alluring yet if you look at the past or even in foreign countries, those people are trying to get the modern toys that we have. There were a lot of puzzling questions as the movie was unfolding that bothered me. First off, when Jake initiates the defense, it sure didn’t seem like there was much of a plan. Offering a large percentage of only 2,000 natives as sacrificial lambs doesn’t seem like much of a leader. And why were there only 2,000 Na’vi? Were they a race headed for extinction? If a human body could be transferred like they attempted with Grace, why did Jake wait so long? When he didn’t do it immediately, you just knew his crippled body would be the culminating plot point. The whole transfer of the mind back to Jake when his avatar form slept seems like it would have caused all kinds of problems. Jake’s Na’vi form must have been comatose quite often as Jake was awake in his human form. Did he just hide somewhere? I know I’m perhaps nitpicking because actually I liked the movie. It wasn’t great, just bordering on good. I can’t rave on it and I wonder about those who claim it was the best film they ever saw…but we all have our preferences and I guess I can see how some people would find themselves immersed in it. I mean, look at how many people were so into the Lord of the Rings trilogy which I found boring and tedious in many spots. I’m glad for Cameron on one hand because I think he tried to do something daring and dramatic and I like to see him being rewarded for his gamble. But that’s not enough to say it’s a great film. It can rightfully claim to be a special film but that’s a big difference from being great.


Anonymous said...

I agree with your thoughts on Avatar. I thought it was somewhat a silly movie.

Anonymous said...

Mycroft Holmes invented Prof. Moriarty to keep his younger brother from killing himself.

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