Sherlock Holmes Looks Good in Contemporary Trappings

I finally FINALLY got around to watching the first episode of Sherlock (from BBC) on Netflix.  Those who know me know by now that I absolutely ADORE Sherlock Holmes and everything related to him, and I knew for a fact that I would love Sherlock.  It was just a matter of finding the time to actually sit down and watch it, and that certainly wasn’t going to happen during the semester.  But today I finally made some time and sat down during lunch to watch the first episode.

And let me just say, though I already knew I would love it, I was seriously impressed by how incredible it was.  The writers did such a fantastic job of updating the characters and the story without losing any of what makes Sherlock Holmes and John Watson so completely awesome.  The show was sharp, quick-paced, funny in all the right ways.  It helps that Steven Moffat was one of the creators.

I completely understand the appeal and obsession of Benedict Cumberbatch. I mean, I’d heard he was good, and I’d certainly seen enough pictures and commercials to know he was good-looking, but it was nice to finally see first-hand how well he handled the character of Sherlock Holmes.  His mannerisms and facial expressions were very well-done.  I loved his face when he the cops come to do a drug-search in his apartment, John tries to defend by saying he couldn’t possibly be the type to have drugs, and Sherlock is trying to get him to shut up.  HILARIOUS!  Also, on a random note, he voice was much deeper than I would have guessed it to be judging by his face.

And I already loved Martin Freeman, but now I absolutely ADORE him.  He was an inspired casting choice for John Watson.  He gave the character just the right balance of sympathy and vulnerability, with an intelligence that is clearly sharp but obviously not on par with Sherlock, and a bit of calm, collected, bad-ass soldier-ness to top it all off.

I also really liked Lestrade.  I was so glad they didn’t make him a total idiot, as some versions are wont to do with the character.  I mean, it’s always amusing when the Lestrade character is just a bumbling idiot, but in a modern-day police force it is not entirely believable for a detective to be complete moron.  He can be far inferior to Sherlock (and often out of his depth), and it’s still possible to be a capable police officer.  I’m glad the writers realized that.

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SPOILERS ALERT:

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I was a bit surprised that they made mention of Moriarty so quickly.  The big-boss bad guy is usually something you save for awhile.  But then again, considering the first season is only 3 episodes long (the British are so weird about their extra-short tv seasons), I guess it’s not so surprising after all.

I confess, however, that I was a bit put off by how slow Sherlock was to figure out the killer was a taxi driver.   The very first time he said something to the effect of: “who do we trust even though we don’t know them? Who can hunt in a crowded city without being noticed?” etc… I said out-loud: “a taxi driver, duh!”  I thought for sure Sherlock was just leading John along, trying to get him to come to the conclusion himself, but no!  He said he didn’t know.  Then they chase down a taxi and I think, for sure, Sherlock had figured it out, but no: he questions the passenger, not the taxi driver!  It didn’t click until the taxi driver is standing right in front of him half an hour later!  Come on! He should have had that figured out WAY more quickly than that.  I get that the writers were trying to keep the audience in suspense, but if I could figure it out that easy, there’s no way Sherlock wouldn’t have.

Anyway, I’m so glad I FINALLY got around to seeing this.  I’ll definitely be watching the next episode shortly.  Like, probably tonight…  It’s sad that Netflix only has the first season on streaming though.  I’ll have to find the second season somewhere else.

Sherlock Holmes is Still King

Free-For-All Friday: Sherlock Holmes is Still King

First off: I beg your forgiveness for neglecting to post not once, but twice this week.  I have very little excuse.  Mainly, my brain just sort of shut off over the weekend, and my mood took a dive off a cliff for a couple days.  All I did on Monday and Tuesday was stare mindlessly at the television.  I think my brain was protesting the impending Spring semester, which starts next week.  On Wednesday, I was actually out with my brother all day.  A sort of last hurrah before the semester.  We had a full day: breakfast at IHOP, shopping at Half-Price Books, a comic book store, a vinyl records store (where I spent $75… yeah…), lunch at a sushi place, wandering around an art supply store, and a matinee viewing of the Sherlock Holmes movie (yes, again)

By way of apology, I posted something yesterday, so if you missed that, check it out: “My Year For Reading Challenges.”   And now, here is that review of the new Sherlock Holmes movie I’ve been promising for more than a week (sorry it took so long).

Review of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I think most people are aware that I love Sherlock Holmes.  I think I was maybe 8 or 9 yrs old when I first started watching the Granada tv show of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with my mother.  A few years later I read the books for the first time.  In other words, you can probably guess how much I love the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes that came out in 2009, starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law.

Some “purists” didn’t like the movie and accused Guy Ritchie of messing with the true spirit of Sherlock Holmes.  I’m never sure if they think Holmes is supposed to be more dignified or stiff or not as gritty or not as much of a fighter or what… But I completely disagree, and would argue that Ritchie’s version actually gets closer to the real vitality and grittiness of Sherlock Holmes than most of the older tv shows and movies ever did (he was, after all, a drug addict and alcoholic, a boxer, and PLENTY gritty).  The only real complaints one can make about the Ritchie versions are 1: like everyone else he cast someone who is actually too old to be Sherlock Holmes (Holmes was in his late 20’s/early 30’s in the books, but they ALWAYS cast someone in their 40’s or even 50’s) – that does not, however, take away from the brilliance of RDJ as Holmes. And 2: they made Holmes’ relationship with Irene Adler a bit MORE (more substantial, more romantic, more everything) than it ever was in the books (she only ever shows up in the books TWICE).  But either of these small complaints do nothing to mar the awesomeness of the first movie.

Now, we get to the second movie.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (I’ve heard some people complain about the title, claiming its too cheesy or melodramatic or something, and to them I have to ask: have you ever actually READ the books?! May I point out: A Study in Scarlet. The Valley of Fear.  “The Crooked Man.”  “The Final Problem”!!!)  Ahem… where was I…?

Oh yes, so, A Game of Shadows opens some time after the first movie (its not clear how many months).  There have been a series of bombings in France and Germany attributed to Nationalists and Anarchists, but Holmes suspects his now-arch-enemy (the shadowy figure behind the scenes of the first movie), Professor James Moriarty – a man who equals Holmes in his brilliance but the complete opposite in morality.  Holmes’ suspicions are confirmed when he catches Irene Adler, who works for Moriarty, delivering a bomb meant to kill a doctor.

Thus kicks off Sherlock Holmes biggest adventure yet.  Holmes must save Watson and Watson’s brand new wife, Mary, when they are attacked by Moriarty’s men while on a train headed for their honeymoon.  Moriarty has targeted Watson and his wife as a retaliation against Holmes’ continued interference.  Holmes secures Watson’s agreement to help stop Moriarty after throwing Mary from the train while on a bridge over water (this scene is hilarious, folks!).  Then the two must travel to Paris to find the gypsy woman Simza (played by Noomi Rapace of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame), whose brother may hold the key to Moriarty’s plans.  All while dodging Moriarty’s sharp-shooter assistant, and more bombs.  And that’s all just the start.

Let me tell you, folks, the pace of this movie is intense.  There is a short lull during Watson’s wedding and right before all hell brooks loose on the train, and then the movie barely pauses to catch its own breath, let alone let you catch yours.  The action sequences are fast and well-planned and choreographed.  They benefit from Guy Ritchie’s unique style of shooting at strange camera angles, panning in and out, and punctuating the fast rhythm with freeze-frames and slow motion that would be out of place anywhere else but which are essential here to keep track of all the things happening almost simultaneously.  Sometimes action/fight sequences lose their cohesion and become just an indecipherable blur of movements the eye simply cannot follow (one problem with The Batman Begins, actually), but here Ritchie’s unique style helps to keep the eye focuses and gives our brains the time to keep up.

Perhaps even better than the action (maybe), is the humor.  In the first movie, the back-and-forth bickering between Holmes and Watson is absolutely hilarious.  This time, that’s all still there, and there is also an added sense of visual (almost but not quite slapstick) comedy that pops up off an on throughout the film.  A few examples: Watson’s hung-over stumbling walk to his wedding, Holmes running around in a wig and makeup throughout the entire train sequence, and Holmes bouncing around on a tiny mountain pony all come to mind.  I laughed through a lot of this movie.

Now, there has been a lot of discussion about whether this one was better than the first.  I’ve been very on-the-fence about this, because I absolutely adore the first movie.  But here’s the thing: this movie is AT LEAST equally as good as the first one.  All the stuff that made the first one so wonderful is still here.  Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law are still completely amazing as Holmes and Watson, with fantastic rhythm and chemistry.  The writing is still spot-on.  The score is still wonderful.  Equal, equal, equal.

And then you add in James Moriarty, played to absolute perfection by Jared Harris.  And when I say perfection, I MEAN perfection.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to see anyone else play Moriarty now.  Jared Harris was an absolutely INSPIRED casting choice.  And the character himself, the whole equal-but-opposite aspect of his relationship with Holmes, the strange mix of respect and hatred… THIS is what we’ve been waiting for.  And the addition of Moriarty, I think, pushes this movie over the top, making it just SLIGHTLY better than the first one.

But seriously, folks, don’t take my word for it.  Just go see it.  Even if you don’t agree that it’s better than the first, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Let’s Talk Sherlock Holmes

I’ve always loved the books and the late 80’s tv show (starring the incomparable Jeremy Brett), but it had been quite awhile since I’d really given the great detective much thought.  And then I FINALLY saw the 2009 Guy Ritchie-directed movie.  Due to grad school, time constraints, one thing or another, I was never able to see the movie in theatres, but I finally bought the dvd.  So now, of course, my love has been re-kindled, and I am re-reading the books with great enthusiasm, and watching the 80’s tv show (which I do, of course, have on dvd).  I’ve watched the movie three times in two weeks.  Suffice it to say, I definitely have Holmes on the brain.  (And, in fact, I’m watching it again right now as I finish writing this.)

There are many things I could say about Sherlock Holmes, in any of his incarnations.  But let’s focus on the movie for the moment.  I’ve been trying to keep track of news about the sequel, and I discovered (long after that fact, admittedly) that back in January Robert Downy Jr. (perhaps half-jokingly) made some comments on the Late Show with David Letterman about the possibility of a “homoerotic subtext” in the sequel – at which point the woman in charge of the U.S. copyrights for Sherlock Holmes threatened the pull the plug on the sequel.  Here’s the brief article I found on the subject:

The Escapist : News : Sherlock Holmes Sequel Threatened by “Homoerotic Subtext”.

Let me begin by saying that it is definitely, unabashedly, unapologetically, a reimagining of the characters.  These characters are not quite the same as they were in the books – Holmes is just a little bit scruffier and more sarcastic; Watson is a bit more aggressive and, frankly, cool.  But we all knew going in that this would be something alittle different.  Ritchie was completely upfront about his intentions to reinterpret the story from the get-go; one can only assume that Andrea Plunket knew exactly what she was getting into.  And let’s face it, literature as and/or more famous than Sherlock Holmes has been reimagined, reinterpreted, and adapted over the years.  Shakespeare has been presented in more ways than I could begin to name – including one version of Macbeth (in Greenwich village) with the witches performing vaudeville songs, and another version (in London) that included machine guns and a helicopter.  Authors have dropped zombies and vampires into the middle of Jane Austen novels, and turned Anna Karenina into an android.  Andrew Lloyd Webber made the Passion of the Christ psychedelic and disco.  And the 2008 movie Beowulf told us that Beowulf did not, in fact, kill Grendel’s mother (horrifying and despicable though she was), but instead had sex with her and gave her a new son – the dragon who would be Beowulf’s downfall.  This all should be some indication that no narrative is sacred and untouchable, and that everything is (and SHOULD be) up for reinterpretation.  And NEVER has any reimagining, reinterpretation, adaptation, etc EVER hurt, defile, or in anyway diminish the original.  EVER.  In fact, all such things have ever done is bring the original to a newer, wider, more diverse audience.

Besides which, I’ve got news for you Andrea Plunket.  The subtext was ALREADY THERE.  And I don’t just mean in the first movie – though it was definitely there as well.  I’m talking about the books as well.  Perhaps Doyle had no intentions of implying (or even imagining in the back of his head) that there was anything more than friendship between Holmes and Watson.  After all, “sodomy” was still extremely illegal at the time (though that certainly didn’t stop Oscar Wilde).  But an author’s intentions are not the sole, or even the most important, basis for the interpretation of a text.  And the books  (intentionally or not) leave PLENTY of room for a subtly homoerotic interpretation, such as the one Ritchie may (or may not, after all, all we have to go on are a few half-joking comments from Downy, Jr. to go) have had in mind.  I’m not going to enumerate the places that leave open such a reading here – it would take far too long – just read the books with an open-mind willing to see the possibility and maybe, just maybe, you’ll see what I mean.  But just consider a few of the major facts of the books: Watson is not only Holmes’s best friend, but essentially the ONLY person Holmes has any respect or affection for; despite efforts to make Irene Adler Holmes’ love interest, she is only in ONE story and Holmes only ever displays a professional admiration for her; the only time Holmes’s shows more than a modicum of emotion is when he believes Watson has been hurt.  Etc.  And obviously, others have noticed the possibility of subtext as well: I’ve done some “research” and found that fanfiction.net includes quite a few Holmes/Watson slash fics: many based on or inspired by the first movie, but also quite a few that were written long before the movie came out.  Even my mother (who is not exactly the most comfortable with homosexuality) said to me YEARS ago when we were discussing “A Scandal in Bohemia”: “Of course, you realize Holmes was most likely a homosexual.”  Straight-faced as you can be.  And when I directed her to the article about Andrea Plunket, she announced that the woman was obviously an idiot and a prude (an hilarious accusation coming from my mother).  If even my mother thinks it’s a legitimate, and in fact quite LIKELY, interpretation of the relationship between Holmes and Watson, then it can’t be that far-fetched.

I do not mean to say that this interpretation is the RIGHT one, or the ONLY one.  There is nothing saying everyone MUST believe the characters had a more-than-friendly relationship, and even if you’re willing to entertain that idea, that doesn’t mean you must believe their “more-than” relationship necessarily involved a physical relationship (it was, after all, highly illegal, and even if two men could admit to feelings for each other, that doesn’t necessarily mean they would have acted on them).  However, I DO mean to say that this interpretation is just as valid as any other, and should not be ignored or erased.

No, I don’t think the Ritchie sequel will have much homoerotic subtext in it (at least not anymore than was there in the first movie).  There hasn’t been a whisper on the subject since that article in January.  And no doubt Ritchie is not willing to risk losing his rights to the make the movie just to make a point.  But I think it would be very interesting if Ritchie DID push the line as far as I can without getting into too much trouble.