Sherlock Holmes

Stars:  *** out of Four

Summary:  An old-school, fast paced adventure that resurrects neglected elements of one of the most famous people who never lived.

If this reminds of the poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark, it's probably intentional.

If this reminds you of the poster for 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', it's probably intentional.

Review:  So my brother is this huge Holmes fan.  I’ve read a little bit of Holmes, I think only the first adventure and a smidgen after that, and I’ve always admired the character from a distance.  One of my favorite movies growing up was Disney’s strangely dark, animal version of Holmes, ‘The Great Mouse Detective’, which, come to think of it, would be fun to see again.  I also remember seeing a version of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ on the old Public Television edutainment show ‘Wishbone’, which was kind of creepy.  So I learned from my brother that the literary Holmes was not the self-assured, all-together character we know from the Basil Rathbone movies of yore (though Rathbone’s Holmes was pretty killer in his own right), but was a bit more like the protagonist of Disney’s rendition, who was irritatingly eccentric and just a little bit mad.  In fact, he would shoot holes in his wall, experiment with drugs (especially opium), and craved difficult cases in a similar manner.  He was a boxer, a martial artist, and a swordsman.

Then I went to go see Guy Ritchie’s new film, ‘Sherlock Holmes’, with ‘Iron Man’ star Robert Downey Jr. in the title role.  And now, in my own way, I’ve found myself an overall fan of the character, opium, bullets, and all.  Not only does Holmes himself get a truer treatment (though with the drug content toned down), but so does Dr. John Watson, who on screen has often been the unfortunate victim of being made something of a buffoon to enhance Holmes’ reputation as the genius.  Instead, like his literary counterpart, Jude Law’s rendition of Watson restores him to the military man who was wounded in action (if you watch the film carefully, you see him favoring a leg), and whose own wits and abilities are complimented and honed by his friend.  Ritchie, an action director, uses Holmes’ and Watson’s physical abilities to the limit, unleashing Holmes as a master of lightning quick fistfight stratagem.  Everything is amped up, just a little beyond what was canon in the books, but not far at all.  Really, it’s pretty grounded in the continuity and style Sir Arthur Conan Doyle envisioned.  The tone that the film strikes comes closer to the classic Indiana Jones adventures and their forbears, the thrill-a-minute serials of yesteryear, than basically anything in the past decade.  It’s a refreshing trip to the movies that I heartily recommend.  My critiques go to the villain, who I felt could have been just a little stronger, and to the pacing, which made the film a little hard to digest on the first viewing.  It roars by, so I suggest seeing it again and again to catch every little detail, which keeps it fresh.

A solid, though imperfect, beginning to what promises to be a fun franchise.  Here’s hoping they don’t make it a trilogy.

Classic Review: Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

Stars:  **1/2 out of Four

Summary:  Somewhat lackluster, it pales in comparison to its predecessor but managed to help get the franchise back into the status quo.

Wait, how can you miss him?  Hes RIGHT! THERE!

Wait, how can you miss him? He's RIGHT! THERE!

Review:  After Leonard Nimoy successfully lobbied for the death of his character, Spock, in ‘Star Trek II’, there was fan outcry that balanced out the very high critical reaction to the aforementioned movie.  Suddenly, it seems, Nimoy realized how much he enjoyed being a part of the ‘Trek’ phenomenon, and so the Sequel was made.

The results are… mixed.

Picking up right after ‘Trek II’ ended, the film has a fairly contrived – though not completely alien from the ‘Trek’ mythos – method of bringing Spock back.  The sad thing is, the subplots don’t connect well enough with the central premise, making the urgency feel forced.

Spock’s absence is practically tangible.  The other characters feel out of balance, and I was just waiting for the various obstacles to be over so that the ‘Trek’ universe could be set right again.  It’s a missed opportunity, that feeling, as I doubt I’m the only person who felt that way.  They could have capitalized on it more than they did.

The next thing that the film suffers from is low production values.  It uses less stock footage than its predecessor, but the new effects are fair-to-middling.

All in all, this film was a necessary step to restarting the franchise, but it didn’t add too much on its own.  Still, fairly enjoyable, with a good balance of humor, action, and drama.

Classic Review: Return of the Jedi (Episode VI)

Stars:  **** out of Four

Summary:  A thrilling, angsty finale for a classic trilogy, with the best effects and the best music, to boot.

This is a good poster, for a multitude of reasons...

This is a good poster, for a multitude of reasons...

Review:  Starting with the gleeful innocence and spectacle of ‘Star Wars’, going to the troubling middle chapter of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, and now into the dark, unexpected finale of ‘Return of the Jedi’, the Original ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy cemented the legacy of George Lucas in modern film.  The blockbuster and the summer tentpole were now the economic foundations of the film industry.

Before ‘Return of the Jedi’ was released, there were high expectations as to how Lucas could possibly wrap up the Trilogy.  After it was released, though it was still highly regarded and was a box office smash, there was some disappointment in the content, with some believing that the spirit of the mature middle chapter had been compromised and that Lucas was pandering to kids.  The reason being the Ewoks, a race of teddy-bear-like aliens, who manage to overwhelm Imperial forces on their home moon.  I find it ironic that this is considered a betrayal, after all, ‘Star Wars’ was intended to be escapist adventure.  There isn’t anything inconsistent in having something that seems ridiculous, as long as it follows the film’s internal logic, which it does.

The film does, in fact, take the darker nature of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and continue it, while keeping the spirit balanced.  The film opens with all of the heroes in deep trouble, and keeps that tone all the way to the end.  The Empire, in essence, continues to strike back.

The good guys head to the planet Tatooine, hoping to free Han Solo from the gangster Jabba the Hutt.  All of them fail, including, most famously, Princess Leia, who finds herself forced to become what is essentially a sex slave for Jabba, clad in only a gold bikini.  As revolting and seemingly unnecessary as this is, it does make the ultimate triumph of the heroes over Jabba seem more glorious.  Ironically, Jabba is strangled to death by Leia, using the very chains he used to control her.  The sexual aspects of this whole sequence are not particularly explicit, and it never leaves PG territory.

The Force, it seemed at the time, was fully elaborated on in this film.  The nature of the Light versus the Dark is now shown before us in the ultimate struggle, as Luke is tempted by the Emperor.  Where the real struggle lies, however, is in Darth Vader.  He is the Anti-Hero.  In my interpretation of the final conflict, Luke allows the Emperor to attack him directly, goading him, which triggers the latent hero in Vader.  This seems to make sense, but don’t take it as the definitive explanation.

Also of note is Luke’s dark wardrobe.  The implication seems to be that, although he is now a Jedi Knight, due to the revelation of his father’s identity he has unleashed a dark part of himself.  Aesthetically, it makes Luke appear more mature than the previous films.  Not only is he a Jedi Knight, he is a full-fledged hero, no longer in Han Solo’s shadow.

Dualism is the primary philosophy behind the Force.  Here, though, the Dark Side seems questioned; it is not as strong as Light, it merely thinks it is.  The Emperor claims the whole final battle, allowing the Rebellion to know the way to knock out the new Darth Star, is part of his plan.  This seems to be a defensive reaction to his own failure.  So what is Lucas saying here?  Is the Dark merely under the impression that it is stronger, or is it undone only by human error?  We are never told.

The artistic merits of the film seem the strongest of the Trilogy.  The music is in top form, with fully developed cues, and a new theme for the Emperor to distinguish him from Darth Vader.  The visual effects take us places we’ve never been before.  The battle around and inside the Death Star is no longer depicted with mere trenches, but with super-massive inner workings.  The lightsabers are crisp, and the resonant sound effects make Luke’s lightsaber a reflection of his own maturity.  Ewoks run at the feet of convincingly composited machines, and the sail barges on Tatooine are natural.

Performance wise, Mark Hamill comes out of the gate with his strongest portrayal of Luke.  Now that young Skywalker is a complete hero, it gives the actor playing him a chance to shine.  Ian McDiarmid, who plays the Emperor, was only in his 30s at the time, but you wouldn’t know it.

A rollicking good time with an angsty soul, this is my personal favorite of the Trilogy and the one that is the most unfairly derided, in my view.