Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best of 2014 So Far



Well, now that 2014 has officially closed, let's now look at what I thought were the good films, the ones that I thought elevated the year.  In the 40 films I officially reviewed, these were the ones that found themselves in my Top Ten of 2014 so far. 

NUM. 10

I figure I'm going to be trashed for this, but I'm one of the few people who really liked Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  I really don't get the hate it gets.  Yes, Kenneth Branagh was a ham, and Kiera Knightley wasn't the greatest, but truthfully I didn't mind one bit.  I'm told that I should hate it because it's a generic action film, but I found it much better and more interesting than something like Skyfall (a film so full of itself). 


NUM. 9
I'm not a technological person, and things like SOPA and online freedom are a bit lost on me.  However, after watching The Internet's Own Boy, I too was outraged at how an overzealous and malicious prosecution brought about the death of Aaron Swartz.  The film is unabashedly pro-Swartz, but it is open about it.  Despite what might be seen as bias, The Internet's Own Boy is a powerful indictment on how one man who worked to make a difference was brought down but whose death also inspires long after his death. 


NUM. 8
Fury is an intense, violent, war film, and whether it's pro or con is up to the viewer.  At times visually stunning, at times incredibly hard, Fury gets us into the down-and-dirty of combat, of what fighting men are like, and does it well.  It brings out great performances out of its cast, but it is still extremely hard to watch in regards to how the American fighting man is seen. 

NUM. 7
The Planet of the Apes series has had good films and bad films, and Dawn of Planet of the Apes I think is one of the best in the franchise.  The best science-fiction films work best when they tell two stories: the one on the screen and an allegory on current topics.  DOPOTA does this, as well as provide intense action and a remarkably human story of how mutual suspicions bring about great tragedy. 

NUM. 6
I went into Guardians of the Galaxy highly suspicious and dubious.  I know people, particularly comic-book fans, went wild for it.  However, I didn't know the series at all, I am not a fan of Chris Pratt (whom I consider less an actor and more a lunkhead who stumbled into film, someone who has always played himself), and yes, the talking raccoon thing was not helpful.

Well, well, imagine my surprise to find GOTG was fun, told its story well, and managed to make such implausible things like Rocket Raccoon and Chris Pratt possible.  I think that is what makes GOTG an excellent film: it's unapologetically fun.  I still can't say I'm a Chris Pratt fan in terms of him being an actor (I can't picture him playing say, King Lear), but Guardians of the Galaxy shows he at least can be entertaining (and I actually like him as a person).  

NUM. 5

I found The Maze Runner to be highly clever and exciting, two things I wasn't expecting from a young adult novel given the dearth of dumbed-down YA fiction rolling around.  Dylan O'Brien, best known for being the goofy Styles on Teen Wolf, shows he can be dramatic and action-oriented, and I would make The Maze Runner to be a star-making performance.  O'Brien is an actor to watch for, and despite a bit of a jumbled ending, I find myself eager for the sequel.  That is extremely rare for someone as sequel-phobic as me, so The Maze Runner really turned out to be much better than I thought going in.

NUM. 4

Belle is an interesting film: a costume drama that is also an exploration of racism and sexism.  The based-on-the-true story of the daughter of a wealthy titled sea captain and the slave-woman he loved,  who finds herself both a privileged lady and a social outcast due to her race and gender is a fascinating story that now will be more known (as it should be).  It's a pity that Gugu Mbatha-Raw has been lost in the mix of potential Best Actress nominees, for her performance as Dido Belle, the woman caught in this strange universe of being a noblewoman and a slave simultaneously, is a rich and beautiful performance.  The only plus is that Mbatha-Raw, like O'Brien in The Maze Runner, has given a star-making turn and I hope that Mbatha-Raw will be, like Dido Belle, better known to filmgoers.


NUM. 3

I'm not Wes Anderson's biggest fan, finding his film overtly and self-consciously cute.  However, I was won over by The Grand Budapest Hotel, an elegy to a lost time of elegance, a wry (if self-conscious) comedy, and a lovely confection of silliness.  Ralph Fiennes I don't think has been better in a film since certainly Schindler's List, and if you see the two one after another you cannot believe it is the same person.   It's good to be reminded that Fiennes is a really good actor, and that people like Fiennes and Adrien Brody can be in on the joke.   Granted, parts of GBH weren't to my liking (Anderson still being a bit of block to me), but I give the guy credit: he made a film perfectly suited to his world and stuck with it.

NUM. 2
When the X-Men films are good, they are very good (X-2: X-Men United being one of the greatest comic-book films I've seen).  When the X-Men films are bad, they are very bad (the less said about X-Men 3: The Last Stand the better).  X-Men: Days Of Future Past could have crumbled.  You have the cast of the original X-Men trilogy with the cast of the revived X-Men franchise, with only the now-iconic Hugh Jackman as Wolverine tying things together. 

The fact that they managed to keep this story relatively together, to tie in both groups from the two franchises without one making the other redundant, and to not require a great deal of knowledge about what came before is a credit to Bryan Singer.  We also have some simply great performances, particularly by this generation's Magneto and Professor X.  Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy make a terrific double-act, and for me, it is McAvoy (who in my eyes can't do wrong) who is the standout as Charles Xavier; like Dr. Manette in A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Xavier is 'recalled to life' through the angry Wolverine, who now must be something other than himself to help Charles be who he has to be. 

Few comic book films can be both so entertaining and so deep at the same time, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, is that. 

NUM. 1

Again, it's another loss that the push for Oscars is including the mechanical performance of an Eddie Redmayne, because I think in a just world, Bill Hader would be the man to beat for his performance in The Skeleton Twins.  This story of siblings who find they do love each other moved me emotionally.  I could see both Hader and Kristen Wiig as real people, with flaws and virtues that made them who they were.

I don't think it was a perfect film (sometimes the symbolism was a little blatant) but what impressed me was that Hader's Milo might appear to come close to being a gay stereotype but who was really a complicated, troubled human being who happened to be gay. It's a pity that people have forgotten about the complexity Bill Hader brought to the character over the physicality Redmayne brought to his soulless Stephen Hawking.  I at least take comfort that both Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are much better actors than their personas would suggest.

The Skeleton Twins was the only film so far to get an A from me, and both people who know me and long-time readers know how tough I can be on movies. 

The Skeleton Twins: 2014's Best Film So Far.

The Worst of 2014 So Far


This has been the smallest number of films I've seen since I started.  Officially, I have reviewed 40 films, which surprised even me. 

Part of it was school, which became harder this year than last year.  Part of it was a small number of screeners sent to me.  Part of it was that I didn't review some films I saw.  I didn't see 40 films the whole year.  There were films pre-2014 that I reviewed, and at least three films that I saw I didn't review (The Equalizer, No Good Deed, and Let's Be Cops). 

Now, as is the case let us now look at those ten films that I found at the bottom of my list.  Ten films that I found either failures or simply appalling. 

Let's just get this over with.

NUM. 10


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasn't a movie.  It was a damn two-hour-plus trailer for The Sinister Six.  You could have cut all of Paul Giamatti's embarrassing Rhino out of the film and it would have worked much better.  TASP2 had the same problem as Spider-Man 3: too many villains, which then creates so many story threads it soon overwhelms everyone and everything.  This was a movie by committee, a vain and blundering effort to create an instant Marvel Universe without any forethought. 

The only real good moments were between Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy (and by the way, cutting Shailene Woodley's Mary Jane was an equally dumb idea).   The fact that they are lovers in real life I figure helps, but boy was TASP2 a jumbled mess.  A couple of interesting revelations from the SONY hacking scandal were that a deal was in the works for a Spider-Man appearance in a Marvel movie, and that SONY was seriously considering dumping Garfield as Spidey.   It's not a big surprise given this recent high school graduate is 30 and that TASP2 was neither a critical or box-office hit (like the first two Tobey Maguire films).   Odd that I think Garfield makes a great Peter Parker but Maguire makes a better Spider-Man, so for me it's a case of I couldn't care less. 

I really disliked the movie, primarily because it simply could have been better if more thought and less villains were involved.

NUM. 9

The praise The Theory of Everything is getting is truly puzzling to me.  People seem to love it, and many of my fellow critics seem to love it too.   I'm told it's 'beautiful' and 'inspirational'.  I found it dull, self-important, and empty.  I never once saw Stephen Hawking in the film.  What I saw was Eddie Redmayne giving a naked plea to a.) be taken seriously as a 'serious' actor a la Daniel Day-Lewis, and b.) for an Academy Award.  Redmayne was mechanical, perfectly efficient in his performance, but he never got to the core of Hawking.  It was an impersonation, not a realization.  Further, The Theory of Everything is so dry and paint-by-numbers that you'd think the screenplay was from a template, not real life.  Personally, I think Redmayne's hammy, campy performance in the Jupiter Ascending TRAILER is better than this highly-vaunted performance.

Jupiter Ascending is scheduled to be released February 6, too late to influence Academy voters who will be swamped with "Redmayne is this generation's Day-Lewis or Olivier" tripe that might get them to vote for a biopic of a disabled British man.  I can only pray that both bad buzz about Jupiter Ascending and the ascension of another actor can throw Redmayne off the pedestal he's placed himself in.  Now, let me be clear: I LIKE Eddie Redmayne as an actor...mostly.  I just hated him in this, and I just hated The Theory of Everything as well.

NUM. 8
The first of two efforts to simultaneously cash in on and mock people of faith.

Noah was not a religious movie, if director Darren Aronofsky is to be believed.  That's pretty much a bad starting point when making a Biblical epic.  By turning a story about an obedient man of God into this hallucinatory tale of environmental apocalypse where our hero is a murderous lunatic bent on destruction, you simply aren't making anything close to the story of Noah and the Ark.  Why were they so afraid of using "God", putting in this "Creator" business?  God wiped out almost all humanity, if the Bible is to be believed, because of their sin, not because they cut down too many trees and were mining the Earth.  The Rock-Monsters made it look like a sci-fi film, and Noah, far from believing God wanted to destroy all humanity, knew God wanted to simply start fresh.

I have no problem accepting that the Genesis story of Noah may be symbolic and literal as the same time.   I do have a problem when the original is so altered it is unrecognizable.  Believers were mostly hoodwinked into thinking Noah wasn't going to, shall we say, take liberties, with Scripture.  Some were warned, but others didn't get the message. 

Even all that could be forgiven if the film was actually any good.  I did fall asleep for a few minutes, never a good sign, but apart from the pretty colors and nice music Noah sunk. 

NUM. 7

The second of two efforts to simultaneously cash in and mock people of faith.

Why, oh why can't Hollywood stick to the script?  I'm not saying that the people who made big-budget Biblical epics in the 1950s were of deeper spiritual fortitude than people today.  They had their drugs, their booze, their mistresses (and male lovers) while making films about the Redeemer and His work/workers.  However, at least they understood that you will never make a financial impact if you deliberately go out to ridicule your audience. 

Cecil B. De Mille understood that, which is why he gave audiences what they wanted when he remade his own The Ten Commandments.  Many cineastes may hate De Mille and think he made shallow films with bad acting and big sets, but if you look closer The Ten Commandments is a deeper film than perhaps given credit for, an allegory about the Cold War cloaked in Biblical robes.  That, and it was also entertaining and moved to where you never noticed how much time had gone.

None of this can be said about Exodus: Gods and Kings.  It was boring.  It was badly-acted.  It was lethargic.  It had a lead who thought Moses was barbaric and schizophrenic, which I'm sure wouldn't go over well with Jews, Christians, and Moslems who think him a prophet and a great leader/lawgiver.  Oh, and making God take the shape of a tempermental child rather than a burning bush (which was all a result of hallucinations on the part of the barbaric schizophrenic), all pretty much doomed Exodus.

Again, say what you will about De Mille, at least HE understood his audiences and gave them what they wanted, and did it well.  Which do YOU think will be shown on television next year, and every year henceforth?

NUM. 6
It's a shame really since the subject of The Monuments Men is really a fascinating story.  Pity that George Clooney drowned it in such airless seriousness.  Whether Clooney wanted to make an artistic Dirty Dozen or the more intellectual Saving Private Ryan I can't say.  I know he felt the failure of The Monuments Men deeply (thanks, SONY hackers!).  I think it was because it tried too hard, tried to be too inspirational, and only ended up boring.

Well, Clooney is allowed a few bombs.  Just try to make a film George, not a triumphant Academy Award-winner.  At least you were better than that which follows you...

NUM. 5

I have been one of the few people to defend the first two Atlas Shrugged films, though I argued that it would have worked better as a miniseries.   I thought the first two films were pretty good, though nowhere near the best films I've seen.

Part III, subtitled Who is John Galt?, was simply a disaster.  Bad acting to where it was comical, scenes that were unintentionally hilarious (John Galt and Dagny Taggart's consummation of their lusts elicited howls of laughter in the theater), and an inept series of montages that were suppose to explain things. 

What a mess.  Even Objectivists objected to the destruction of Ayn Rand's magnum opus. 

NUM. 4
I never understood the Marshmallows, this cult built around a television show that was never popular.  Bless them for keeping Veronica Mars alive, but this film was simply the worst way to introduce these characters to a non-Marshmallow. 

The story itself was boring.  I think it was because it was basically a television movie made larger, almost like the series finale the VM fans wanted.  I thought the characters, particularly Veronica, pretty stupid.  I certainly wouldn't have chosen the man she picked at the end.  The mystery wasn't all that interesting, and you needed to have a little knowledge about who and what the characters were if you wanted to get everything out of it.

Veronica Mars the movie didn't inspire a desire to watch Veronica Mars the series.  In fact, it did quite the opposite.  I just hope the Marshmallow-brains are satisfied and can now peacefully shut up about this show.

NUM. 3
I think Anton Yelchin is one of our better younger actors around, so seeing him in Odd Thomas was so sad.  I'm told that the Dean Koontz series is quite good, but the film adaptation of the first Odd Thomas book wouldn't show it. 

Odd Thomas played like a television pilot, with a dull story and almost bad acting save for Yelchin, who gave it his all and made it tolerable, almost believable.  I hope that films like Odd Thomas will be a hiccup in Yelchin's career rather than the norm. 

NUM. 2

My review for Godzilla was quite simple.  I fell asleep at it.  I know many people absolutely loved Godzilla and found it all so exciting.  They're free to think that.  I found it all dragged, waiting and waiting and waiting for Godzilla to finally appear. 

Seriously, how much screentime did Godzilla actually take up in Godzilla?  I'd venture to say at most, MOST, ten minutes (and I imagine I'm being generous by at least eight minutes).   For all the Strum und Drang the film pumped at us, Godzilla dragged.  I understand there will be a sequel. 

Maybe the King of Monsters will appear for at least three scenes.  BOY did Godzilla take itself so seriously...

NUM. 1

That Awkward Moment...when you realize a film is garbage.

We have two of the best actors around, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller, and reduce them to juvenile idiots.  Even Zac Efron, whom I am two minds of, deserved better.

There was no story in That Awkward Moment. There was no pleasant characters to which to hold onto and identify with.  The whole film is cringe-worthy in what it does, what tale it tells, and in its sorry and predictable way.  That Awkward Moment was empty, vapid, insulting and worse, thought itself witty.  It takes a lot to get some really incredible actors to do terrible things on-screen and to act badly.  If I were Teller or Jordan, I'd burn every copy of That Awkward Moment and deny ever appearing in it.

Congratulations, That Awkward Moment.  You are 2014's Worst Film.      

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Goodbye, Luise

1910-2014

Death comes to all, no matter how long or short or fair and unfair life has been to the individual.  After a very lengthy life, Death has come to Luise Rainer.

Luise Rainer has died at age 104, about 14 days shy of her 105th birthday.  I'm not going to lie: I've had issues with Rainer as an actress.  I've seen The Great Ziegfeld, and think her performance as Anna Held was extremely mannered, fluttery, not a leading but supporting role, and perhaps one of the worst choices in the Best Actress category.  The fact that she beat out Carole Lombard that year for My Man Godfrey doesn't help matters.  Lombard and My Man Godfrey are still remembered today.  Rainer and The Great Ziegfeld are not. 

Rainer's Anna Held came across almost as an idiot, and her 'great scene' where she bids a tearful goodbye to her first husband Florenz Ziegfeld is a curious bit.  It was used in acting classes, I'm told, but as an example of what NOT to do.  This scene gave her the nickname "The Viennese Teardrop". 

Then came the following year, where despite all logic, Rainer could win a second consecutive Best Actress Oscar for The Good Earth.  What makes it illogical is that we have an Austrian (complete with accent) playing a Chinese woman!  In fairness to Rainer I have yet to see The Good Earth, so perhaps she was good in the role (though again, it's an AUSTRIAN playing a CHINESE!).  However, let's look at who she beat out...

Irene Dunne for The Awful Truth
Greta Garbo for Camille
Janet Gaynor for A Star is Born
Barbara Stanwyck for Stella Dallas

She has a lovely face...


I have a feeling all those performances are better-remembered, though again I'm holding my final views until I see them all.  Dunne, Garbo, and Stanwyck were never to win competitive Oscars (Gaynor having won the first Best Actress Oscar, and Dunne being the only one of the non-winners not awarded an Honorary Oscar, though unlike the others, she was a Kennedy Center Honor recipient).  Dunne also has the unenviable footnote of having lost to the same person TWICE, matched only by Annette Bening, who lost two Best Actress nominations to Hillary Swank.

After her two-for-two wins, Rainer's career slowly ebbed away.  To her credit, she wasn't interested in being in a star.  She wanted to be a legitimate actress, and if it meant telling MGM boss Louis B. Meyer to stuff it (in her genteel manner), so be it.  I don't think she regretted not having a long film career, so long as she was true to herself.

That, if nothing else, should earn her a great deal of admiration and respect.  My hat's off to her for standing by her principles at the cost of movie stardom.

Now, again, I don't think Luise Rainer is one of the great actresses of all time.  Apart from being the first back-to-back Oscar winner, I doubt that people apart from those who love film and film history really could recall her name.  Even that may be due to her being more a curious historical footnote than for a wide variety of film-work. 

However, having said all that, Luise Rainer as a person can be praised.  There are no tales of her being a diva, of being imperious, of being anything other than what she appeared to be: a sweet, charming, Old World lady who was graceful, elegant, and well-mannered.  These are qualities that some of the greats did not have (ever hear anyone call Joan Crawford or Bette Davis 'sweet' or 'graceful') and that current stars would do well to emulate.  I've gotta admit, walking away from a career took guts, and Rainer had it. 

Again, I don't think she regretted leaving Hollywood, and she outlived anyone who might have thought ill of her (though I doubt that with the exception of Mayer, anyone did).  I think if I had met her, I would have found her charming, sophisticated, and oh so nice.  I figure I would have been so enchanted that I might not have told her to her face what I still think: she didn't deserve either Academy Award.

Then again, perhaps she might have agreed.  She never thought much of her Oscars, and I think even thought they were detrimental to her career.   As it stands, Luise Rainer has passed from the scene, and another bit of Hollywood history has passed as well.  That is worth at least a brief pause.

No, I don't think Luise Rainer was a particularly great actress. 

I do think Luise Rainer was a very fine lady.

I think she'd rather be remembered for that than for winning two consecutive Oscars. 

...God in His mercy lend her grace.

IN MEMORIAM

Nights of Cabiria: A Review



NIGHTS OF CABIRIA

I am a late convert to Federico Fellini. It took two viewing of 8 1/2 to convince me that he was truly an extraordinary filmmaker.  This isn't to say that on a certain level I still am not a die-hard unquestioning fan.  I still hold that probably after Juliet of the Spirits and definitely after Amarcord, Fellini became too self-indulgent in this visual esotericism, too willing to coast on his legend to make real movies in favor of being 'Fellini-esque'.   I came into Nights of Cabiria with less reluctance than I had with 8 1/2, and while I found it had a simply beautiful performance by Guilietta Masina, I also found it almost predictable in how the story was going to go.  Now, granted that might have been Fellini's whole intent, and I was emotionally moved, but I still felt that knowing how it would go kept me a bit removed from it.

Cabiria (Masina) is a happy hooker.  Plying her trade, she takes great pride in owning her own home (even if it is on the outskirts of Rome in an underdeveloped part of the continuously rebuilt city) and despite what life throws at her, she still keeps going.  We start with her boyfriend pushing her into the Tiber and running off with her purse, where she nearly drowns.  She is still mad even after her rescue, and not even her best friend Wanda (Franca Marzi) can get her in a good mood.

One night, she has a chance encounter with Alberto Lazzari (Amadeo Nazzari), a famous movie star who was dumped by his girl in front of her.  Partially out of frustration, partially because he needs someone, he picks Cabiria up and takes her to first a club, then his home.  She seems to perhaps found someone for her to go beyond turning tricks, but just as they are coming to making love, in comes the girlfriend.  Alberto rushes her into the bathroom, where she sleeps until she is able to sneak out with Alberto's help, declining his money.

She then tries to find faith in the Blessed Mother, but that's a bit of a wash when she finds she hasn't changed.  Finally, after taking in a magic show where she was hypnotized to talk about her great dream of marriage, she encounters Oscar D'Onofrio (Francois Perier), an accountant who was in the audience.  He tells her that her treatment on stage was terrible, but that he finds her enchanting.  Soon a lovely romance blossoms.  Oscar the Accountant tells her he loves her and wants to marry her.  Cabiria believes things have turned around at last.  She sells her home, bids a tearful goodbye to Wanda and goes with Oscar, only to find heartbreak, despair, but in the end, some hope...


Perhaps it was because at a certain point I sensed that this was not going to be a great romance, that we weren't going to get a true happy ending, that somehow history would repeat itself, that my desire to enjoy Nights of Cabiria ended.  I'm very conflicted about how the story turned out.  Part of me understands that we can't always have a 'happy ending', and that tragedy is part of life.

Part of me, however, so desperately wished that Oscar had turned out to be a genuinely decent man, or at least one that in the end, could not go through with the terrible plan he contemplated (pushing her off a cliff, which he didn't) and chose (taking the purse with her life savings, which he did).   It wasn't just because I happened to like Cabiria as a person: her sincerity, her unapologetic joie de vivre despite everything, or the fact that she longed for things prostitutes don't ever get: a happy home life as a wife and mother.   I WANTED a real happy ending for Cabiria, and perhaps Nights of Cabiria gave her something like that, as she found herself walking among revelers and smiling through her tears.

However, I found the whole thing sad, predictable, and so unfair. 

It brought to mind what my mother said about another Italian film, Life is Beautiful.  SPOILER ALERT.  Couldn't they let the father LIVE?, she asked.  Similarly I asked, 'couldn't she find real happiness?'  Why condemn such a nice, sweet person to such sadness?  It seems almost cruel, and while I figure that was the point I still felt quite bad.

I admire the beauty in Nights of Cabiria.  I admire Guilietta Masina's beautiful performance of our naïve hooker, who still finds joy in almost all situations, who still believes in love, who is at times prickly and unpleasant but who still wants to make her mamma proud.   Masina gives one of the most heartfelt and sincerest performances as Cabiria, this good girl in a bad world, whom you like and learn to love, whom you want to protect and make happy.

I admire the visual beauty in it, like when "Satan" leads her onto the stage for her to reveal her innermost hopes, or in the frenzy at the pilgrimage, or in the encounter she has with a man who feeds the homeless of Rome, living in caves.  I admire how Fellini led us to, if briefly, imagine the romance between the prostitute and meek accountant could possibly be real and true.  Yes, Fellini was a master, not just of the fantastical, but also of the Neo-Realism that the Italians were creating.

I think both Nights of Cabiria and I Vitelloni were his transitions from Neo-Realism to being Felliniesque (even if in my view he went overboard and was determined to be Felliniesque just FOR being Felliniesque, but that is for another time).

I found much to admire in Nights of Cabiria. It's certainly a beautiful film.  However, I could never get over whether or not I was suppose to know that Cabiria's nights were going to end in the cold light of day.  I am so conflicted on that that I could not bring myself to make it for me a true masterpiece.  I'm sure others will argue that it is, and I won't argue back.  However, I wish Cabiria could have had what she so longed for...

Who could resist that face?


DECISION: B+ 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Fury: A Review



FURY

War is an ugly business.  It's about surviving day to day, it's about killing someone, partially for self-defense, partially because you've been ordered to, and partially because they are on opposite sides.  Fury is interesting because unlike most World War II-centered films, it doesn't make the Americans particularly appealing.  In fact, it almost goes overboard in making the central characters almost as monstrous as the Nazis being fought.  I don't know whether it is due to the moral relativism in vogue today or to show how war destroys its participants I cannot say.  I can say that Fury is shockingly well-acted (given the cast), sometimes visually splendid, and a tough watch, but one well-worth the effort. 

In the final days of World War II, as the Americans push into Germany, young typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is put on the front lines along with a battle-hardened tank crew headed by Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt).  In his crew are Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena), and Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (John Bernthal).  Private Ellison is an eager little trooper but totally unprepared for the true horrors of combat.

He finds that the face of death is not pretty, that the troops have a particularly dark gallows humor about all things, and that the enemy must be completely exterminated.  Wardaddy forces Ellison to shoot an unarmed German soldier in the back by making Ellison hold the pistol and pulling the trigger, horrifying him.  The others in the tank, which is known as Fury, don't really care. 

Fury and the other soldiers take a German town, where they make quick end to the SS officer who had hung children for not wanting to fight.  There is also a long time where while the Americans are occupying the town, Wardaddy and Ellison are entertained, reluctantly, by two German women, Irma and Emma (Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg).  They serve the two of them breakfast, Ellison has a brief encounter with one of them, and thinks appear eerily civilized, until the other Fury crew shows up and become lecherous and vulgar in every way.

Well, no worries on that front (no pun intended): an Allied bomb blows up their house after they leave.  Such are the fortunes of war.

They move on, and then we go into a lengthy battle as Fury and the crew make one last stand against a larger German force, where all the crew save Ellison, now nicknamed "Machine", are killed one by one through the long dark night of terror.  They kept to their mission to hold the crossroads they were at, but with a high and bloody cost. 


Fury is a dark, violent picture, one that does not shy away from making war into a brutal business.  Fury's theme is a line that Pitt's Wardaddy tells the newbie.

"Ideas are peaceful.  History is violent".  I'm not sure that either is entirely accurate.  Islamofascism is an idea, and a most violent one at that.  The Czechoslovakian overthrow of Communism was called "The Velvet Revolution" because it was generally peaceful.  The eradication of Nazism in Europe was violent, but Fury on this point doesn't seem to figure that the violence was necessary for it was the only way to expunge it from the Earth before it destroyed civilization. 

I will cut it some slack only because the men prior to Ellison's arrival had witnessed so much death and destruction that it might make them come apart in their souls.

Fury is not a celebration of the mythical fighting man.  This isn't Saving Private Ryan.  In fact, Fury comes close to being the anti-SPR in its depiction of the Americans as, to quote Lawrence of Arabia, "greedy, barbarous, and cruel".    There is little to feel proud regarding the actions of the 'good guys'.  They are cruel, even vicious.  Their dreadful leering and suggestiveness towards civilians, their casual acceptance of killing unarmed prisoners of war, all makes me wonder whether Fury and writer/director David Ayers wanted us to feel that only the uniforms distinguished between the opposing sides.

I can see why some of my more pro-military friends found Fury a tough sell.  In the German town sequence, one didn't feel for the SS commandant that Wardaddy executed for his barbarism towards children, but the American occupiers came across as rather unsavory themselves.  They had no discipline, they had no restraints, they were almost casually indifferent to those dying all around them who WEREN'T American.

However, while Fury has the issue of moral relativism to contend with, it also has another problem that keeps it from really being the great war film Ayers wishes it to be.  The characters in many ways were stereotypes: the "Bible-thumper", the "backwoods hick", the "Mexican who lapses into Spanish".  I found them a bit comical in how they seemed to be one-note, with no complexity or contradictory way to them.  I take that back a bit: sometimes they were contradictory, as Bible was really as vulgar and uncaring as the more obscene Coon-Ass. 

We didn't know anything about what they were pre-war, but I figure we only needed to know that war had destroyed whatever moral compass they once had.  They weren't rampaging throughout the countryside, mind you.  However, I find it hard to believe and accept that American soldiers were as undisciplined and out-of-control as Fury paints them as.


However, there are other elements that push Fury to being an extraordinary film.  The film is visually stunning.  The final extended battle to the death with Fury making a last stand against hundreds of SS fighters looks like one is entering one of the degrees of Hell from Dante's Inferno.  The entire battle sequence was tense and extensive, and here Ayers really brings out what I think Fury wanted to tell us: war is literally hell.   Ayers never gives us a respite from the horrors and chaos and unwieldy nature of combat.  We are put deep within the tank with these somewhat loathsome men.  We are never allowed a moment of peace, reflecting how these men were similarly pushing on not for glory and honor but for survival and to destroy what would destroy them.

I also found that in at least two performances, we got really good deals.  One sometimes forgets that Brad Pitt can push himself to being a serious and genuine actor.  Fury reminds us that he can give a solid performance, as Wardaddy is perhaps the most complex of the men.  He can have Ellison, barely old enough to shave and with no combat experience, kill a man whom he reminds Ellison would kill him without remorse, but who is also aware that even his crew can be too cruel with terrified women caught in the brutality not of their making.  Wardaddy is close to being almost conflicted, and he does have a code where he decides to stay with Fury even after it has been disabled and the SS are on their way. 

Similarly, Logan Lerman is shocking in that he can at least here stumble into a good performance.  I'm open about how conflicted I am on Lerman: sometimes thinking he can act, sometimes thinking he cannot. However, I have to give him credit: as the naïve young man who slowly embraces the killing he is strong and reaches to you with his fears, his doubts, and ultimately his understanding of the sacrifice the Fury crew has made.  He is suppose to be our avatar, and his shocks are our shocks, his despair ours.  At least here, Logan Lerman shows there is potential within him to be a competent actor.

However, I'm still on the fence, for one performance doth not an actor make.

Fury is brutal, sometimes visually beautiful in the brutality it shows, and quite intense visually and emotionally.  The fact that it has such strong performances, such beautiful imagery, and that it is honest and relentless about the horrors of war lift it higher, though the nastiness of the Fury crew makes it a bit remote in how it again comes dangerously close to making our grandfathers as brutal as those who threw men, women, and children into gas chambers.  Still, Fury is a film worth seeing, if only to remind us that in war, the need to survive sometimes pushes everything else out.       

DECISION: B+

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Game of Holmes

Sherlock (TV Show)
Sherlock Holmes (2009 Film Series)
Elementary (TV Show)
Originally, I was going to write a Sherlock v. Elementary article, but now I have thrown in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films because...well, because I felt like it.   I will have some thoughts on Sherlock v. Elementary later, but I'd like to put in additional thoughts on the recent films too. For the purpose of this post, we will stick primarily with the television programs of Elementary (sometimes referred to as 'CBS') and Sherlock (sometimes referred to as 'BBC').  However, mention to the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films will be made, though this comparison deals mostly with the rival television adaptations.  
 
Is this what people want, a Death Match between CBS' Elementary and BBC's Sherlock (to say nothing of the Sherlock Holmes film series)?  Oh, how delightful this all is, this war between nerds from across the Pond (depending on your location of origin).  I figure there must be some British fans who prefer the American Sherlock Holmes adaptation.  I know several Americans who all but worship the British Sherlock Holmes adaptation.  The Sherlockians (those who think Sherlock is the Citizen Kane of Canon adaptations) and the Elementarians (those who find the American Canon version to be excellent, perhaps better than the British version) have been involved in some bizarre and fierce rivalry over their respective adaptations. 

Actually, I think only a small group of Elementarians and Sherlockians have been fighting it out, dragging the rest of us who think well of both shows into their petty Tumblr Wars, demanding that we select one over the other. 

Here is my take on all this.  Both Elementary and Sherlock work well within their own world.  I think both shows have positives to each.  I think Sherlock Holmes fans will find something to enjoy in both adaptations, and I think non-Sherlock Holmes fans will find something to enjoy in both adaptations.

I also think this 'war' is being created primarily though not exclusively from the Sherlock side.  The BBC series has a strong and vocal fanbase, one that apparently doesn't brook opposition.  In my informal poll at the 2013 EPCON I found many people who like Elementary and prefer it over Sherlock.  I can't figure why or would bother to guess.  It may be because Elementary has more episodes and there wasn't a wait for new stories like there was for Sherlock.  However, I found the Elementary fans to be a little less fierce than the Sherlock ones.

What's all this talk of Sherlock fans
taking things too seriously?

It is a sad thing when those who love something are the ones who push others away.  For the longest time I did not want to touch Sherlock.  Part of it did have to do with Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffat, who I believe is destroying Doctor Who.  However, another part, a larger part really, has to do with the Sherlockians, the Sherlock fans who have gone way over-the-top with their love of the series. 

If I read things correctly, there are some Sherlockians who cry at almost every episode of Sherlock.  The biggest tear-fest was at The Reichenbach Fall.  So much for that 'stiff upper-lip' stereotype of the British.  I for the life of me cannot comprehend all this crying.  To misquote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, "There's no crying in Sherlock!" (I'd say there's no crying in Doctor Who either, but some Whovians are simply too far gone to help).  I can empathize with having some emotional connection with the characters, but really, isn't this going a bit too far?

Sherlockians also have this bizarre belief that their show is THE definitive take on Sherlock Holmes.  Other actors who have earned legendary status among Holmesians (admirers of Canon), such as Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, and Vasily Livanov, are summarily dismissed by Sherlockians as "Not Benedict".  Ironically, in an Elementary episode, Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes dismissed all other NYPD detectives as "Not Bell", insisting only that particular NYPD officer would suit his needs.  

The Sherlockians I've talked to have made it clear that NO OTHER VERSION of Sherlock Holmes exists or could possibly exist.  They have even gone so far as to tell me that not only have they never read Canon, they have NO interest whatsoever in reading Canon.  One told me she won't read Canon because it's boring and couldn't possibly be as good as Sherlock.  She doesn't care one whit about Canon, which is basically irrelevant to her appreciation of Sherlock.  In fact, she couldn't care if the name of the character was or wasn't Sherlock Holmes, for she'd love the show no matter what the character was named.

She also stated she does not care if Sherlock Holmes' survival from The Reichenbach Fall is EVER explained.  She doesn't need it explained.  It's like a magic trick, she said.  Unlike us dumb Americans (who need everything spoon-fed to us), she is smart enough to appreciate the genius of Sherlock precisely because it won't explain how Sherlock both faked his death and came back to life.   It doesn't matter how he did it, only that he got away with it.

I leave it up to the reader to decide whether any of that makes sense.

Things like that goad me into favoring Elementary or even Sherlock Holmes knock-offs like The Mentalist or House.  The pomposity of Sherlockians who think they invented it gets on my nerves.  Their arrogance and condescending behavior really is more than I can stand.   However, again that is for another time.

Now, what I think I will do is compare the three most recent versions of the Canon adaptations: the BBC television show Sherlock, the CBS television show Elementary, and the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films to see how the all compare.  Another time, it will be a battle royale between Sherlock and Elementary

BEST THEME

I think it would be instructive to listen to all three themes, so let's start out in alphabetical order, and up first, Elementary.


Composer Sean Callery received an Emmy nomination for his theme to Elementary, losing to Bear McCreary's theme for Da Vinci's Demons.   He explained that he wanted to convey the many thoughts that would on inside Sherlock's head as the complex became simple to him, and the theme shows this with how it repeats over itself.  I think it works well and serves as an excellent intro to the show.

Now let us look on the second theme, that being Sherlock.


Interestingly, while Elementary appears cluttered with its theme, with a lot of music going on, Sherlock is remarkably simple.  The opening theme is built almost entirely of long notes, with there being shorter (though not short) notes at the end.  There is a busy undertone with the drums, but with the dominant theme, note that the notes are held for a long time (no pun intended).  The last note is held for four beats, the others a steady two.  I have no idea whether this is suppose to be symbolic of anything, but it is interesting that there is a simplicity, an elegance, to the music.  It strikes me as ironic that the opening theme is extremely simple and direct and the plots usually so crowded and convoluted (not complex, convoluted). 

Finally, the third theme, that of the first Sherlock Holmes film, called...Sherlock Holmes.



Sherlock Holmes received two Academy Award nominations, one for its Art Direction and one for its Score.  While it lost both categories I think Sherlock Holmes was worthy of its recognition even though I disliked the film (and thoroughly hated the sequel).  This version sticks squarely within its original setting, and the piano (deliberately out-of-tune, I'm told) reflects this as it sounds old and slightly out-of-place.  However, Sherlock Holmes is more an action/buddy comedy than a serious interpretation of Canon, complete with supernatural elements (which prove to be false, but still).  As such, the theme also has strong undercurrent of spookiness and action, and even a somewhat lighthearted tone. 

I like all three themes to Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes and Elementary.  I think both reflect their shows correctly.  Any good theme does so.  If one listens to the I Love Lucy theme, we see that it has a Latin feel (perfect for the Cuban Ricky Ricardo) and is an upbeat, jolly number, indicating people will find the show funny (and for my view, I Love Lucy is the Citizen Kane of television comedies, the standard to which all others are measured).  Similarly, The X-Files theme indicates a strange, spooky world, dark and otherworldly.  In my view, it is one of the most chilling opening themes ever written. 

As I've said, I think all three are excellent and work for their own shows.  However, if I had to pick one as the best, I'm going for BBC.  Why?  Simplicity, my dear readers.  Both Elementary and Sherlock Holmes are extremely busy, and while I have nothing against that I do prefer how elegant Sherlock is. What finally tipped it in Sherlock's favor was someone's work in doing a remix: one show's theme to the other's opening credits.  Here is Sherlock's theme to Elementary's opening:


It works so well and flows so naturally I could see how it would fit.  Conversely, when the opposite was tried (Elementary's theme to Sherlock's opening), I'm not sure it worked as well.  It isn't terrible, but somehow it doesn't flow as well as when Sherlock goes into Elementary.  That made me decide the way I decided. 



If one theme can translate well to the other's show, then that show I think has the better theme. 

POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 0, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 0



BEST MYCROFT


Mark Gatiss (Sherlock)
Rhys Ifans (Elementary)
Stephen Fry (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)


Here I can pretty much eliminate Stephen Fry's Mycroft.  First, while I shall always love Fry's Jeeves, I find Fry to be an insufferable pompous pseudo-intellectual.  This ex-con holds himself to be a genius on all subjects, but apart from being an anti-Catholic bigot who bizarrely blamed the Poles for the Holocaust he really is an exceedingly smug giant of a man. 

Even that wouldn't be a big bother to me if not for the fact that in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the sight of this old man's ass on a big screen is more horrifying than Linda Blair in The Exorcist.  After seeing Big Steve's big butt, I think if I were gay I'd suddenly have an urge to go straight.  Well, now to the serious reasons why I think Fry is pretty much a non-starter.

From my memory of A Game of Shadows, Mycroft didn't play a big part (odd given how fat Fry is...couldn't resist).  I never was convinced this Mycroft was Sherlock's equal, let alone superior intellect.  Should there be a Sherlock Holmes 3, I wish they'd kill Mycroft off. 

That leaves us with the television versions: Mark Gatiss as Mycroft in Sherlock and Rhys Ifans as Mycroft on Elementary.

Both Mark Gatiss and Rhys Ifans have good and bad qualities as Sherlock's older brother Mycroft. Both are correct in that they are older than Sherlock (Gatiss is ten years older than Benedict Cumberbatch, Ifans five over that of Jonny Lee Miller).  In terms of Canon Sherlock's Gatiss is closer than Ifans (the government functionary who works behind the scenes versus the MI6 operative).

However, if memory serves correct Mycroft is suppose to be a far more intuitive being than his younger brother and would have made a better detective if not for his lethargy.  Gatiss' Mycroft is not like that at all.   Certainly BBC is exceedingly intelligent, but he is also smug, uppity, and full of himself.  In short, no actual acting required for Mark Gatiss, who is essentially playing himself.  Also, BBC could easily be bamboozled.  HE certainly never figured Mary Morstan was a secret CIA agent, and HE certainly never figured that Irene Adler was very much alive (or that his little brother went to rescue her in Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever women are beheaded nowadays).  I think BBC is only superior whenever the plot requires him to be.

Ifans' Mycroft on the other hand was a major part of Season Two.  He wasn't being used as a prop to bounce ideas off, but was a real person.  CBS was secretive, manipulative, sometime playful, sometimes oddly human (though Joancroft is still a subject of fierce debate among Elementarians, let alone Holmesians).  However, when he is forced into the Witness Protection Program, I felt that despite their differences Rhys Ifans and Jonny Lee Miller's characters could be REAL brothers, brothers with REAL emotions who did genuinely love each other. 

Love, however, is something completely foreign to BBC.  This I think is why I have such difficulty with Sherlock overall, for it insists on treating the characters as emotionaless beings rather than as real people.  CBS treats its characters like actual people, with flaws and virtues.   If the situation that CBS had were placed on BBC, I don't think Gatiss' Mycroft or Cumberbatch's Sherlock would care at all about the other's fate.  The fact that I genuinely cared about Ifans' Mycroft and Miller's Sherlock, that I believed it, and that despite all the crying Sherlockians have over every episode I was more emotionally involved and moved with CBS than anything BBC ever gave makes my choice an easy one. 

POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 1, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 0





BEST MORIARTY

Andrew Scott (Sherlock)
Natalie Dormer (Elementary)
Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)

I think Harris was good as the bad professor.  Certainly he was never playing it as camp and made to look overtly ridiculous.  However, the material was not there for him.  That knocks him down a bit, though he's certainly still in the hunt.  However, I think we can trust that we have two, for lack of a better word, 'better' candidates.

Here again I would turn to Elementary as a better version of Moriarty despite the passion Sherlock's version elicits.   I think there is really no contest.

Andrew Scott's Moriarty never struck me as a criminal genius of any sort.  I think part of the enthusiasm for Scott's Jim Moriarty was that he was so deliberately camp, screaming to show he was insane, or at least allegedly Sherlock's equal, a consulting criminal.  I however never took to Scott, thinking him comical in his lunacy.   If I can't take the villain seriously, how will I take anything about him seriously?

I also am tiring of pointing out the ridiculousness of the whole "Richard Brook" business.  No one who thought on The Reichenbach Fall/The Empty Hearse logically could embrace the story.  Was there no one in Britain who had seen "The Storyteller" on DVD and thus vouch that this 'twist' was plausible?  No, Andrew Scott may be beloved by Sherlockians, but I always thought he was more idiot than master criminal.

This I cannot say about Dormer, who stunned me when she unmasked herself.  Now, the idea that Irene Adler AND Moriarty being the same person has divided Holmesians.  The majority of Elementarians embrace this twist, but the non-Elementarians are pretty much appalled (though less appalled than they are over Joancroft, but I digress).  However, for myself when I learned her true identity, I was shocked, and it's not often a television twist comes as a genuine surprise.  Dormer I think understood what Scott (and Sherlock) don't: a villain never sees him/herself as a villain.  As such, there was no need for Natalie Dormer to be over-the-top or idiotically 'evil'.  Her Moriarty was a cool, calculating figure, one who toyed with Sherlock in more ways than one but who had full confidence she was the smartest person in the room.

Season Two watered her down a bit by giving her a child and a mentor (which as far as I know we don't know anything about yet).   Dormer's busy schedule may also mean that her Moriarty may not return, and given another outlandish twist that Sherlockians will eat up there is no way Scott's Jim Moriarty should come back.  Elementary, for whatever faults it has, at least was smart enough to hang on to two Canon figures, even if they wrapped them up in one. 

I can believe Natalie Dormer's Moriarty to be a Napoleon of Crime.  I cannot believe that of Andrew Scott's Moriarty.  Maybe the Clown Prince of Crime...

POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 2, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 0.

BEST IRENE ADLER

Lara Pulver (Sherlock)
Natalie Dormer (Elementary)
Rachel McAdams (Sherlock Holmes)

I think we have three different takes on The Woman, and think that a knock-down drag-out fight is unnecessary.

I am puzzled why Pulver's Irene is getting wild praise.  She is a hooker.  You can dress it up (or undress it) any way you like, but at the end of the day, Pulver's Irene Adler is a prostitute.  A high-end one who caters to royalty and enjoys bondage, but a prostitute nonetheless.  How to make out that she's this master criminal when she is just a whore? 

Moreover, she is far from a strong woman.  She works for Moriarty.  She is "Sher-locked" (something so patently idiotic I had figured that out long before Sherlock did, because it was so obvious).  She is also in the end a 'damsel in distress', someone who needed Sherlock to rescue her from being beheaded.  That isn't The Woman I know.  She was The Woman because she was able to outwit Holmes, not because she aroused any great passions within him (apart from a grudging admiration).

Finally, she is the only Irene Adler on our list to be completely outside Canon in that she is not American.  No one seems bothered by this twist, and while I don't think it's a dealbreaker I am puzzled (again) why this is considered brilliant while other changes (noted above and below) are blasphemous.

Dormer's Irene Adler at least sticks to Canon in that she is American (or at least is suppose to be).  An art restorer/thief, she does show she is a master criminal.  Elementary is different from Sherlock in that in the latter, Sherlock is allowed to have emotions and passions, while in the former he pretty much is locked into being only a cold, logical thinking machine.  Holmes is that, but he does have capacity to feel. 

However, into this wild mix is one who I think is the best Irene Adler.  To perhaps the shock of the audience, it's Rachel McAdams' version.  First, she is American.  Second, she is an adventuress (a thief rather than the opera star from Canon), but one who appears to be able to outwit Holmes.  Third, she is playful and fun while being able to play all angles.  McAdams' Irene is someone who may be bad or good, depending on the situation.  Yes, she too was in cahoots with Moriarty, and perhaps she has been killed off, but I do hope that if there is a Sherlock Holmes 3, she returns, because she was a highlight of a bad series. 

In many ways, the relationship between Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler and Robert Downey, Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes reminds me of that between Catwoman and Batman: sometimes adversarial, sometimes flirtatious, sometimes united. 

I do believe we have a winner.

POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 2, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 1 

BEST DR. WATSON

Lucy Lui as Dr. Joan Watson (Elementary)
Jude Law as Dr. John Watson (Sherlock Holmes)
Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson (Sherlock)

Here I have no doubt as to who is the clear-front winner is, but more on that later.

It is clear that Sherlock stays closer to the Canonical Watson than Elementary.  It's eerily similar in fact.  Both Canon Watson and Sherlock Watson are Afghan War veterans, haunted by what they saw.  Both are military doctors, injured in the line of duty, and chronicle the adventures they have with Sherlock Holmes.

I think, however, that that is as far as the comparisons lie.  Martin Freeman is squarely in the Nigel Bruce mold of Watson, as a bumbling idiot who really has very little idea of what is going on.  His military record and post-traumatic stress disorder isn't a big part of the story nowadays, and most of the time he looks genuinely confused about everything.

One thing that haunts me from His Final Vow was that Freeman's Watson focused on the fact that Sherlock Holmes had a girlfriend rather than on the information Holmes was giving him about the adversary.  I don't understand why Freeman and Sherlock want to make their Watson into this blundering buffoon.  One Sherlockians told me that while she has no interest and/or knowledge of Canon, she was told that Freeman's idiot Watson was exactly like ACD created in Canon.

I beg to differ.  Canon Watson was never as sharp as Holmes, but he was not a moron. 

True, but odds are she can
kick his hobbit ass...

Lucy Liu's casting as a JOAN Watson outraged some Holmesians, and enraged Sherlockians who immediately suggested there would be a romance between Joan and Sherlock (an odd argument given how Johnlock, the erotic pairing of John and Sherlock, is a virtual Sherlockian requirement).   However, in the two seasons of Elementary I think Liu is one of the show's highlights. 

Joan started out as a 'sober companion' to help ease Sherlock into recovery from heroin addiction.  As the series progress she has evolved to being his protégé and his equal.  She is not a stooge to Sherlock, nor is she his lackey.  Unlike Freeman, Liu's Watson doesn't suffer Sherlock's arrogance gladly.  She isn't there to admire him and is more than able to hold her own, down to telling him when he's wrong.

It is rare for Freeman's Watson to point out where Sherlock is wrong (intellectually or emotionally).  He is perfectly fine to being almost shot more than once, almost being burned alive, and emotionally tortured, all because Watson holds Sherlock up to the pedestal Sherlock believes himself to occupy.  Liu's Watson, conversely, wouldn't tolerate any of that.  When she was abducted, the ramifications between her and Sherlock were addressed.  It was perhaps the final straw in her decision to look for a room of her own, to coin a phrase.

That really differentiates Lucy Liu's Joan Watson and Martin Freeman's John Watson.  The former wants to be her own person and break from Sherlock Holmes, not completely but be able to stand on her own two feet.  The latter appears in desperate need to be in Holmes' shadow and does all he can to be close to Sherlock.  There are other differences (such as that Joan Watson can put things together while John can't), but by and large Joan Watson is a real person.   John Watson is an extension of Sherlock and appears to have no life outside the Great Detective.



I'd like people to imagine Joan and John switching roles.  Do you think Joan would tolerate Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock: his arrogance, his casual cruelty, without at least slapping him once and telling him how full of it he was? Conversely, do you think John Watson would want to learn how Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock puts things together and WANT to solve crimes as a partner rather than his admirer? 

You'd think I would pick Liu, but for me, when it comes to the BEST Dr. Watson, for me, like the Highlander, "There Can BE Only ONE"...  There is only ONE Dr. John Watson who combines the best of all Watsons.  He is an intelligent man and a man of action.  He is one who loves life and loves women but also loves his friend.  He is one who considers Sherlock Holmes both his friend AND his partner, who tolerates his friend's outrageousness but can tell him off with equal sincerity.   He's sometimes the muscle.  He's sometimes the heart.  He's sometimes fun.  He's sometimes serious.  He's a loyal friend who also can call The Great Detective on his foolishness. 

Out of all the interpretations of Doctor John Watson, one stands high above them all...

Hey, Jude...
POINTS: SHERLOCK: 1, ELEMENTARY: 2, SHERLOCK HOLMES: 2

BEST SHERLOCK HOLMES

Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary)
Robert Downey, Jr. (Sherlock Holmes)
Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock)

Why don't you just ask me to name my favorite child. 

This one really is a toughy.  Each version I think has been excellent, and I'm hard-pressed to say one is better than the other.

Robert Downey, Jr. has the added burden of being an American playing British, but bless him, for he's doing a great job of it.  I think he is one of the best things in the series.  My only dislike about Downey, Jr. is that he sometimes makes Sherlock into an action figure rather than a man of towering intellect. 

Not JLM, but a remarkable simulation...

Miller had a disadvantage as well, in that he was seen as an interloper to Cumberbatch's Sherlock.  However, I think Miller has done extraordinary work.  He has made Sherlock more human, more accessible and more fallible.  This is one of the biggest strikes against Cumberbatch.   His Sherlock Holmes is TOO perfect, TOO correct in all his interpretations and unwilling to admit error of any kind. Just by the way someone wears his watch Benny's Sherlock knows whether the man has murdered someone.  This infallibility pushes Cumberbatch down tremendously.

Miller on the other hand, has flaws as Sherlock Holmes.  He's still prickly, arrogant, sometimes maddening, but he also has a heart, a need for people.  Miller's Holmes is one who makes clear he needs people, needs not just their applause and acclaim but also their support.  He respects people's skills such at of Detective Bell and Captain Gregson.   Miller's Holmes is not perfect and that is why he is so good. 

Ah, 'Mr.' Holmes, I presume?

This isn't to take away with what Cumberbatch has done as Sherlock.  In turns brilliant and almost comic in his inability to understand people Cumberbatch keeps a solid balance that makes Sherlock an enjoyable thing to watch.  Some of the best moments in Sherlock are when we get to see underneath the mask to see that there might be an actual human beneath his 'highly-functioning sociopath'.

Truly, I think each one is excellent, and while I believe there is only ONE undisputed Sherlock Holmes interpretation, I think all three have done excellent work and will not pick favorites.  Later on I will make a case as to why I think one of the two television Sherlocks is more believable, but I can't say one is 'better'.

FINAL POINTS:
SHERLOCK: 2
ELEMENTARY: 3
SHERLOCK HOLMES: 3.


BEST ADAPTATION



I can't say I LIKE the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films.  I like some things in them, but on the whole I find them a sad waste of great material.

If push came to shove I would say that Sherlock is better but Elementary is the one I like more.  Does that make sense?  Elementary is a police procedural, and I find nothing wrong with that.  I enjoy it because we do have more time for character development and because they, unlike Sherlock, aren't diving into outlandishness.

Elementary, for examples, would not 'kill off' Sherlock and then once brought back never offer a reason how he survived.  The Sherlockinan I talked to about this says  she doesn't care if it's ever explained.  Like a magic trick, she said.  Something about how Sherlock can be allowed to get away with leaps of logic, even within its own world, strikes me as insulting to my intelligence.

Elementary maybe a police procedural, but Sherlockians should admit that Sherlock is pure fantasy and not meant to be realistic, even in its own world.  Sherlock isn't logical, it isn't realistic, and truth can be fast and loose.  Sherlock is fantasy, and while it might be well-made at the end of the day I prefer reality over magic (to misquote Blanche DuBois).


In short, this long war between Sherlockians and Elementarians must end.  These are two different shows which occupy two different worlds and should be appreciated on their own merits.  I am not a fan of Sherlock and prefer Elementary, but see that Sherlock does have its positives.  Sherlockians refuse to see anything good about anything that isn't THEIR show.  It doesn't just go to Elementary.

They refuse to acknowledge that Jeremy Brett is good.
They refuse to acknowledge that Vasily Livanov is good.
They refuse to acknowledge that Basil Rathbone is good. 

Some refuse to acknowledge that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is good! 

Some Sherlockians hold that Canon can't possibly be as good as Sherlock, and I wonder why are they watching a show based on ACD when they don't care one whit about Canon.  I've been told by some Sherlockians that they will NEVER read Canon.

Their loss, and their arrogance.     


Sherlock fans fanatical?  Perish the Thought!
I do wonder why WOMEN who dress up as the male characters get angry when a woman is cast as Watson.

I hope that Sherlockians and Elementarians will see that both shows can be enjoyed. Besides, it's not like Elementarians are as crazy or fanatical as their Anglophile counterparts.  You wouldn't see Elementary fans dressing up like the characters....

I stand corrected...
I have my favorites, and think Sherlockians fanaticism is poisoning the well.  There were Sherlocks before Benedict Cumberbatch, and there will be Sherlocks after Benedict Cumberbatch.  Some that have come before are actually pretty good.  The Canon is pretty good too.

Sherlock, Elementary, and the Sherlock Holmes films can be enjoyed.  I have my favorites, and you have the right to your favorites.  Each has their pluses and minuses, and I hope that people are allowed to enjoy one, two or all three without others insisting their version is the ONLY version. 

Besides, hate to break it to you, but ultimately, I believe there to be only ONE Sherlock Holmes...






Actually, I'm the one amused...