Now that we’re in the pre-summer, post-Oscar doldrums, it’s time to check out what we missed on DVD or netflix. Here’s a movie that many critics dismissed. I blame homophobia:
I avoided this one for awhile. The recent Mission Impossible, so much like a Roger Moore-era James Bond but without the killer song, interesting henchman, or witty sex scenes, did not bode well for blockbuster reboots of old thrills. And the last version of this franchise was only medium-well done. And the new modernized Sherlock on the BBC is so much fun, why would anyone bother? Except there’s not a lot out there at the movies right now so I found myself renting a DVD of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. But with low expectations.
The look of the thing takes a bit of getting used to. It’s sooty, smudged. The black and whites are very high contrast, like charcoal on crisp paper, and the colors very low contrast, like sepia. An odd combination, but it wins you over. It suits the period. The camera movement and the editing, on the other hand, are ultra modern. Guy Ritchie likes his sudden slow-mo and his quick cuts between close-ups like a conman shuffling a deck of cards. So on the one hand it’s old, and on the other it’s new. Again, suits the material. Because they’ve managed to find new ways to make Sherlock and Watson more Holmorotic than ever.
They really play with the men’s marriage-like arrangement, with Holmes trying hard not to be jealous of Watson’s fiancée. He pouts. He rises above it. He tries to leave them be on their honeymoon but when the dastardly villian threatens the merry couple Sherlock’s quite relieved. He gets to go on the honeymoon after all, just to save some lives. The script and Downey make Sherlock gayer than ever, even without a deerstalking hat.
When he ends up in drag and losing his shirt, he’s the sweetest transvestite since Tim Curry ruled midnight madness showings of Rocky Horror around the universe. When the couple finally dances though, it’s Holmes who leads. You can never tell who’s top and who’s bottom.
Tom Cruise should watch this movie. His idea of great acting is to do one thing really really, really intensely. Downey shows that it’s really about doing four or five things at once, lighter than air. In his first full scene, he’s manic from too much cocaine and coffee, he’s flirting with Watson, bickering with Mrs. Hudson, pondering the intricacies of Moriarty’s villainous scheme, and attempting to poison and revive a dog. And it’s all tossed up in the air with a wink. He’s the Fred Astaire of crazy.
So, great-looking cinematography, witty script, superbly delightful acting, anything else? Yes. The music! It’s present in every frame, non-stop, and it’s stunning. It weaves in that gypsy-sounding theme (is it played on a cimbalom?) with nods to Mozart, Schubert, and actual gypsies. Plus, there’s some ghostly sliding stuff in the bass with emotional noises like the best moments from Bear McCarthy’s Battlestar Galactica and Lost scores. Maybe the art of the soundtrack is coming back and we can be done with movies accompanied by K-tel records–retro hits that have little do with what’s going on. Sincerely, the music drives this movie and takes it into popcorn heaven.
Jude Law is splendid in what might be a thankless role, straight-man to Holmes’ campy nutbar. He’s a real star in the old style and oozes charm without doing a thing. The women are great too. Rachel McAdams usually underwhelms me—she’s pretty enough, but never convinces. You can smell the acting classes on her. But here she’s good. What happened? She practically wrecked the previous instalment. Just when I was getting to like her she’s gone and there’s a new femme fatale to toy with the boys.
Noomi “Dragon Tattoo (Swedish Edition)” Rapace plays an actual gypsy, by that I mean one of the Roma people, with the grit and cunning of somebody who lives off the grid by the sweat of her brow. She’s smart and sexy even though the boys are too into each other to pay her much nevermind. Watson’s wife even gets her moments this time around. I think she was in the first one without making much of an impression. What happened to Guy Ritchie? Suddenly he likes women? Did something happen in his personal life that took a huge female millstone from around his neck? Who knows. He’s having a blast here. Literally, when the big guns come out.
Best for last: Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft and Jared Harris as the utterly brilliant uber-villian Professor Moriarity. This movie has two people smarter than Sherlock Holmes in it! That’s how you get drama. You’ve got to have your infallible hero in danger of fallibling, which means challenging antagonists. Mycroft is on the good side, but you wouldn’t know it half the time the way he teases his little brother. And if you thought Sherlock was socially inept, wait till you see Mycroft entertain Watson’s new bride.
Best bang for your dumb movie buck from last year! (For your smart movie buck, I’ll remind you of Shame, We’ve Got to Talk About Kevin, and Pina–look for them on DVD or Netflix or Pay-Per-View.) This one’s only a bauble. A shiny bit of nonsense. But in the best way. It left me giddy and smiling and longing for the next one!
Something (Else) to See
Our appreciation of a film is multilayered and dynamic. We have the moment-to-moment experience as we watch–films that don’t grab us at the start can gradually pull us in, and films that we’ve been enjoying can take a new direction and leave us behind. When the film ends, we do a recap for ourselves and make an overall judgement; this can be very different than just the sum of what we experienced while watching it. Ever been fairly engaged during a movie but when the lights came up felt yourself assessing, “That didn’t add up to much, did it?” (For me, last year, this was my experience of Haywire.) Ever been slightly bored, confused, or frustrated by a movie but when the credits roll you find yourself with a positive feel for it? ”Yeah, that makes sense now. It was worthy.”
Then there’s the days, weeks, and even years after seeing a film. Do you recall it? Does it stick with you? Is your sense of what it means to you changing?
These two 2011 films grew in my estimation after I watched them. Moment to moment they weren’t always satisfying, because they were unsettling and often appeared to be setting up some genre-defined expectations that they don’t follow-through on. But after the movie that I thought I was watching didn’t happen, I was left with what I’d actually seen.
Miranda July made a big splash with her debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005); it was almost universally acclaimed. This, her sophomore effort, came and went from movie houses making barely a ripple. If it wasn’t for the good folks at Netflix putting it in their on-demand line-up, I’m not sure I would have had a chance to see it.
It’s got elements of slacker comedy, domestic realism, sci-fi fantasy, and philosophical meditation. It also has a talking cat.
A couple have to wait a month for a cat adoption. Will it save their relationship? Will their relationship even last until then? They dislike their jobs. They’re a little bored. They can’t imagine the future. Time starts to go crazy halfway through. It stops. It speeds up. It splits in two.
It’s the sort of movie Melancholia could have been if Lars Von Trier paid as much attention to other people as his own egotistical ideas. It’s the sort of movie The Descendants could have been if it were good.
Guy Maddin makes films that look and sound vintage. They have scratches. They jitter in the frame. Their audio is tinny. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker’s entertaining and erudite movie critic, is reminded of an unscrupulous antiques dealer who scuffs up his wares and paints on the grime. As hilarious an observation as it is, it’s radically unfair. Maddin isn’t trying to pass his films off as the genuine thing. His films revel in their artifice. They wouldn’t be about incest, narcolepsy, or mountain villages where babies are pricked with pins to condition them not to cry (so as to limit the triggering of avalanches … from the first ten minutes of Careful).
In an era of increased international homogenization, his stubborn, purposeful weirdness is heroic and vital. He’s defiantly local (My Winnipeg); he’s brazenly transgressive (Careful is a pro-repression incest fantasy); he’s manically inventive (Brand on the Brain is often presented in its silent version with a live narrator and on-stage folio artists to create the sound effects). All of this would be for naught if he wasn’t heaps and heaps of crazy fun.
Keyhole stars Jason Patric, almost a real movie star, and Isabella Rossalini, who’s worked with Maddin many times. It’s a film noire version of The Odyssey. Criminal Gang leader Ulysses Pick has to make it through his house to get to his wife’s bedroom. It’s a domestic epic. The house is both haunted and surrounded by police.
It’s a dream movie with a surrealistic logic to it. If you want a comforting experience at the cinema, look elsewhere. If you want a wild ride, get on.
Everything by Guy Maddin is worth seeing, and I’d place this one near the bottom of his oeuvre, above Twilight of the Ice Maidens and The Saddest Music in the World, but below Cowards Bend the Knee and the three masterpieces mentioned above. But it had that quality I noted above, it stuck with me. I found myself returning again and again to its haunted heart. As a character says, “I’m only a ghost, but a ghost’s not nothing.” Underneath the homemade whimsey and psychotic melodrama, there’s a whispered longing that couldn’t be more genuine. It plants itself in you, takes root, and blossoms long after the movie’s over.