Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas In Connecticut - featuring: a SHERLOCK HOLMES Review!

Well, I left LA on Thursday afternoon, and as I checked my bags in the Burbank airport it was 70 degrees and sunny. Now, here I sit in Bloomfield, CT, where it's actually not exceedingly cold, but it is dark, and there is a thick, fresh layer of snow and ice covering the front yard and driveway outside my bedroom window. It's Christmas time in Connecticut.

So before I go any further, Happy Holidays to everyone reading this!

Anyways, I'm definitely suffering from a little blog-writing fatigue, as I finally wrapped up my Best Of the Decade series, which culminated in a giant-sized Best Movies of the 00's post. If you haven't read it yet, be sure to do so, and check out my previous Best of the Decade posts as well, covering TV, music, comics, and games.

Of course, my usual Best of the Year posts could seem a little anticlimactic in comparison, but, don't worry ... I think that 2009 has been a pretty fascinating year that warrants some interesting discussion. If anything, the Best Movies of 2009 lists that I've seen so far have been such a mixed bag ... I'm definitely eager to weigh in with my personal picks.

Now, as many know, Jewish tradition states that on Christmas, we of the Jewish faith are commanded to head to our local theater and see a movie. And so it was that on Christmas afternoon, 2009, my Dad, my Brother and I headed to Hartford to take in a showing of Sherlock Holmes. And here is my review:


- Many of us think of Sherlock Holmes as a dry detective, strolling around London with a magnifying glass and making droll observations to his faithful friend Watson. But, if you've read the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, you know that Holmes was, in fact, an early prototype of the pulp hero. He was a master of disguise, a trained martial artist, a recluse and a junkie, and he even had his own rogues gallery of villains, like his arch-nemesis Moriarty. So while some may see Guy Ritchie's action-packed Sherlock Holmes flick as something of a modernization, in many ways its less reinvention and more a return to the character's roots. As a film though, Sherlock Holmes was a fun cross between traditional Hollwood buddy-action movies and Guy Ritchie's usual brand of new-wave crime stories. The movie is simply a great time, and leaves you eagerly awaiting the inevitable sequel.

The heart of the film is really the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law really do a great job of making you root for these characters. RDJ is in top form, with his usual quick-witted delivery and comic timing in full effect. This is a film that was going to live and die by how well the leads pulled off its many rapid-fire exchanges, and luckily, both are up to the task. Like I said, RDJ is great - he makes Holmes eccentric and stubborn but also likable. Jude Law is a great sidekick as the straight-arrow Dr. Watson - Holmes stalwart companion who has hopes of settling down with his bride-to-be, but keeps getting pulled back in to Holmes' crazy adventures despite his better judgement. It's a fun dynamic between the two actors, and it keeps the movie consistently entertaining.

The rest of the cast is pretty decent, but there aren't any true standouts beyond the two leads. Rachel McAdams is serviceable as Irene Adler, the American femme fatale who is essentially the Catwoman to Holmes' Batman. McAdams is fine, but the character is more of a plot device than a fully-fleshed out love interest / rival. Mark Strong is pretty good as the villainous Lord Blackwood, but he never truly owns the role. He does have some fun moments though, playing a secret-society-spawned megalomaniac with evil ambitions.

What I really enjoyed though was Guy Ritchie's direction. His Victorian London is dark and thick with atmosphere. And I loved the way he got inside the mind of Holmes, rewinding and fast-forwarding certain scenes to show us the mental muscle behind the master detective's actions. Occasionally, Ritchie will pause the action to show us how Holmes mentally dissects his opponent in a fight - making the smackdown that follows all the more badass and rewarding. I also really liked how the movie sprinkles various clues throughout the film. I at times got frustrated during the film, thinking that Ritchie was leaving too many loose ends and too many plot points unexplained. I was happy to realize though that everything comes together quite tidily in the end, and you realize that the feeling of confusion was intentional. Holmes' subsequent mystery-solving is all the more impressive for it.

Again, I think the character moments between Holmes and Watson are really what make this movie click. RDJ is just plain fun to watch as Holmes. On the other hand, the plot is interesting, but rarely does it 100% grab you. And there are times when the movie starts to lose steam, as there isn't enough momentum in the script to really hold your attention. While the chemistry between Holmes and Watson is great, less so the chemistry between Holmes and Adler, or Holmes and the evil Lord Blackwood. More intriguing are the hints of a greater evil lurking in the background. If anything, the movie got me excited at the possibility of a sequel featuring the ultimate Holmes vs. Moriarty battle of wills. Hopefully, a great actor who can go toe to toe with RDJ is cast for that iconic role.

In the end, Sherlock Holmes was a really fun action-adventure-buddy movie with a bit of a detective-fiction twist. In many ways, it's a superhero movie, and I think Guy Ritchie shows that he has the chops to do films that fall outside his usual world of scrappy indie crime flicks. The action was fast and furious (although some iffy CGI pops up from time to time), and the witty banter top-notch. Sherlock Holmes nicely kicks off a fun new potential movie franchise, and has me excited to follow the further adventures of the original dynamic duo.

My Grade: B+

- Okay, I'm off. Keep reading for more, including my picks for the Best of 2009!

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