24 July 2014 @ 08:10 pm

Yes, this seriously took me seven months to write. Well, in fairness... I wrote like a paragraph or so of my thoughts back in January and then actually started writing the rest of this a few days ago. But I at least thought quite hard about it for half a year.

Series three is so...complicated. I watched it and at first liked it, then hated it, then grew to enjoy it again despite myself. It's clearly a transitional series in a way that series two possibly should have been, but ultimately wasn't. It's hard to say if it's even good or not. But I will, as always, attempt to probe its depths and find out.

'Okay, but what you don't know is that I've brutally murdered thirty-three people for the CIA.' )
27 March 2014 @ 10:06 pm

WATCH THIS FILM. For the love of god, just do it. It's on Netflix and everything. Wonderful surrealism that makes you question everything you're watching, and maybe even reality (and certainly 'reality television'). It's such a fascinating movie. I would love to describe it in great detail, but it's actually quite difficult to do so! There's no plot, really. It's literally a day in the life of Mr. Oscar (portrayed by Denis Lavant), who apparently assumes different roles as different people--in different lives--to entertain faceless masses.

There are no cameras anywhere to be seen, however, which is slightly unnerving...and the people he interacts with are likely the stars in their own numerous shows rather than nameless background characters. He's driven to these roles by his driver, an aging woman who is perhaps his only connection to reality, and she's portrayed by the lovely Édith Scob. His car also functions as his changing room, allowing him to physically adapt to upcoming roles as he's on his way to jump straight into them. Even though the premise seems simple at face value, it's anything but. It's phenomenal and a fascinating look at how humans dream, actualize identity, and interact with one another. It's so pleasant to watch a movie and be reminded of why you love film and just what sort of thoughts film is capable of evoking as a storytelling medium.
Just letting out all of my feelings on some 2013 (and okay, late 2012) blockbusters.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, UK/NZ/US)

Could have been so much more, if only it were a little...less. I'll admit that I've probably only read 1/3rd of the Hobbit since I'm lazy. But that's fine, because I honestly needn't have read much further to have been up to speed with the entirety of the first film. Which is pretty weird, since the Hobbit really isn't a fantasy epic. It's a story that could have been told in a single film. Maybe, maaaaybe two, but certainly not three, good lord. I would question what Peter Jackson could possibly be thinking in doing so, but clearly it's 'money'.

It's entertaining, sure. Say what you will of Peter Jackson, but at least it's good for some laughs and has really well coordinated battle sequences. But nonetheless, he's trying to turn the Hobbit into a second LotR run, which just isn't possible given the limitations of the book and its very nature as a children's novel. I honestly haven't even the faintest interest in seeing the rest of the film series and I doubt anything of value will be lost there.

Iron Man III (2013, US)

Actually, IM3 seriously surprised me and exceeded all of my expectations. Despite the fact that I'm not even really into Iron Man as a franchise, I've somehow managed to see all three of its films in theaters under different circumstances.

The first was okay, the second one was probably terrible since I don't remember it at all, and the third, I have to admit, is my favorite and probably the best of the trio. It is wonderfully subversive and manages to not only play on the expectations of the viewers, but also the characters. Most importantly it plays on the values and worldview of Tony, who can't immediately wrap his head around the initial idea of the film's terrorist being, well, a white American.

So many things could have gone wrong with introducing the Mandarin as a villain, but instead of being lazy and appealing to mainstream comic fans who are probably largely okay with the Mandarin's racist origins, it did something quite clever and, frankly, even a little daring. Far different and better than anything I could have predicted, and I think it easily results in one of the best superhero adaptation films I've had the pleasure of seeing.

Catching Fire (2013, US)

Surprisingly okay. I have to admit that I enjoyed this one a little bit more than the first, but it's largely because the second film ramps up the political intrigue of Panem in a way that the first movie couldn't, due to the large part of its plot being wrapped up in the self-contained Games. The second film certainly features that as well--and is frequently as moving--but the showcase is definitely on the social unrest boiling and bubbling up past the tight lid the Capitol has firmly wedged over the poorer districts. Good stuff.
22 July 2013 @ 03:39 pm
Okay, I'll just come right out and say that Pacific Rim is absolutely wonderful. Certainly it's a little light on plot and character development. One might even be tempted to say that it's cheesy or silly, and both of those accusations stand pretty solidly. But it was never made to be a serious film; it's an homage to the Kaiju and Mecha films and series of old, where over-acted cliches and lots of explosions held precedent over cinematic subtlety. It's basically just a fun movie, and it's endlessly fascinating to me that such universally appealing films and film genres were born out of Japan's recovery from nuclear devastation and suffering.

Basically, ignore any criticism about how it's not meaty enough or doesn't give enough of its characters a comprehensive background, et cetera. It's not that sort of film, and if anything, it's better for it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with movies that are primarily just fun to watch and enjoyable to experience, even if you don't leave with a significantly different lease on life or new understanding of the human condition. It's giant robots fighting giant monsters, and that's awesome.

(Also really cool that Mako and Raleigh, despite being very close emotionally and physically, were just good friends. I'm glad, because it could have been very eye-roll inducing and kind of gross otherwise.)

Here are a few links of interest:

Gorgeous Alternate End Titles, and...

The Poster Posse Project for Pacific Rim

Bear with me, this is probably more of an essay than a review. I suppose if you know me--or at the very least, have taken a look at my favorite films listed on Facebook--you're aware of the affection I have for this film. More than affection, really, since it's probably one of my favorite movies of all time and certainly my favorite adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. And why?

It's mystifying, really. I don't necessarily feel that Robert Stephens portrays the best or most complete Holmes, yet he's still my favorite. Holmes has been re-imagined time after time after time, each adaptation giving us different glimpses of his enigmatic character and allowing countless authors to put personal spins on him and his world, all filtered through vastly different cultural lenses. He's been variously portrayed as heroic, antisocial, emotionally distant, endearingly gentlemanly, kind, callous, gallant, misogynistic, and many, many, many other things aside. They're all equally applicable to his character at different times and in various contexts, of course. Yet these ideas about who Sherlock Holmes really is have been consistently toyed with over the years to the point that Holmes has become no longer a simple literary character in his own right, but a cultural myth and something of a trope. The same can be said for Watson, as well.... after all, simply think about what comes to mind when you hear their names. "Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson."

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, maybe? The level-headed detective in a deer-stalker with a pipe and his bumbling but completely reliable assistant, Watson? None of those qualities are strictly canonically accurate representations of the two. People simply love to latch on to certain images and ideas regardless of whether they're wrong or right. All because they ring true to us or are comforting or palatable in some way, and because social norms inform every aspect of our media consumption. And until the 1960s or 1970s, what was palatable and acceptable in a literary hero like Sherlock Holmes were qualities like even-mindedness, a lack of emotional volatility, gentlemanly demeanor, and a straight-laced lifestyle. (Kind of odd given his very distinctly bohemian tendencies in the original publications.)

So while I don't feel that Wilder's Holmes is the best on-screen portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as a character, it's still my favorite because, until The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and The Seven Percent Solution and such came along, what I mentioned above was the status quo. What Watchmen did for the comic universe in the 1980s, adaptations like these did for Sherlock Holmes. They changed everything about what we thought Sherlock Holmes could be as a character and cultural icon. They suddenly and un-apologetically introduced as yet unexplored sides to a hero which were viewed as unseemly, politically incorrect, and intolerable. Suddenly, the genius detective was portrayed as having sexual interests, a drug problem, and underlying mental and emotional issues quietly buried under his logical exterior. And these sorts of things were seen at the time as completely unacceptable and even socially irresponsible to portray, at least on the part of Wilder, a famous film maker. Shortly after the movie's release, for example, Films in Review released a scathing indictment of its content: "Some of [the film's] sequences have no purpose other than to suggest Holmes was a sex pervert and his use of narcotics a legitimate relief from boredom. The deliberate utilization of a fictional character of worldwide popularity to promote or condone those two vices is reprehensible."

So Wilder gave us a different Holmes, a deviation from the slightly distant crime-fighting gentleman of good repute we've been culturally conditioned to associate with the character. In the film, Holmes is bitingly sarcastic and witty (sometimes caustically so), fends off boredom with drug use, and is amusingly camp. He's also at the peak of his detective career and his burgeoning fame is becoming more and more of an annoyance to him. Amusingly enough, one of the initial scenes includes him walking into 221-B decked out in deerstalker and inverness cape, frustrated that he's been expected to wear them in public to match the apparent description Watson has given of him in his tales published in the Strand. Watson, of course, blames the illustrator.

(It's clear that Wilder loved the material and was fascinated with the original publications, because only someone who really cares a good deal for their media of choice can so boldly take the mick out of it and turn it into a humorous, twisted shadow of the original in a way that's well-crafted, funny, and intelligent to both die-hard Holmesians and casual moviegoers.)

So we can immediately tell that we're being treated to an adaptation unlike any previous...this Holmes acts as a frequent mouthpiece for Wilder's observations and criticisms of the Sherlock Holmes series and how it's been received at large by the public. There's an incredible layer of metatextuality that pervades the entire film and one never knows just what to expect from the sparkling, hilariously funny script. (Trust that there are several laugh-out-loud moments.) The film itself is split into two different parts: the first deals with Holmes' attempt to extricate himself from a difficult situation with a Russian ballerina, who desires for him, as a man of great intelligence, to father her child. Holmes immediately refuses on the pretense of being involved in a gay relationship with Watson in what has got to be one of the most humorous, awkward half hours in a Sherlock Holmes adaptation to date (complete with a little throw-back to Some Like It Hot).

WATSON: "You may think this is funny, but we're in the same boat! We must take desperate measures....we must stop this talk! Maybe if we got married--"

HOLMES: "...then they'd really talk!"

Brilliant! The film then takes a different turn in its second part when, one evening, Holmes and Watson are very suddenly saddled with the enigmatic and beautiful Gabrielle Valladon. She is initially dumped off at their place by a cabbie and appears to suffer from amnesia. Further prodding reveals that she was coming to London to pursue the trail of her missing husband, Emile Valladon, who worked as an engineer and was involved with the British government. She intended to consult Holmes and Watson for help in unraveling his disappearance before being ambushed--as they all assume--by people trying to keep her nose out of whatever business in which her husband was involved. So the three of them, with Holmes disguised as Madame Valladon's husband, are lead on a bit of a whirlwind adventure to a castle in Scotland to discover the truth behind Emile's disappearance...and a few other odd mysteries, as well, all seemingly tied to Sherlock's coolly diplomatic brother. (Mycroft. Charmingly played by a young Christopher Lee.)

I should note that the film wholly markets itself as revealing some of Holmes' most humiliating or otherwise unmentionable cases, and this one is no exception. Holmes is deceived at every turn until the very end, and instead of being hurt or feeling a great personal loss of some sort, he actually seems to take great solace in his own defeat. Which must make his feelings towards Madame Valladon rather complicated... much of the film deals either directly with or has an underlying commentary on Holmes' supposed misogyny and distrust of women, much of which stems from supposed romantic or sexual encounters earlier in his life. Or so we think; after all, Wilder apparently regretted not making it more abundantly clear that Holmes' general outsiders' melancholy was a product of his actively suppressed homosexuality. It's entirely possible from Holmes' tone in his retelling of these experiences that they never really happened. Apparently some portions of the film which were removed from the final cut addressed these topics more explicitly. It's unfortunate that it's a lesser known film of Wilder's and that it was treated so shoddily by the industry... the final version of the film is only a fraction of Wilder's original creation, which originally included further stories, some of which were set in Holmes' younger years at university or involved other cases. Some of these bits and pieces have been restored and included on recent DVD releases, fortunately, but some will probably never resurface and are lost to time. But the final version released to tape/DVD is interesting enough as is, and pretty self-contained, even if it leaves you thirsting for more.

...I could also go on a bit about how Sherlock's faults as a fully-realized modern-day Holmes adaptation can be traced back to how heavily Gatiss and Moffat both borrow from Wilder's film, which has very 60s-70s aesthetics and politics, but that would take literally forever. So I'll just make note of this: the relationship between Mycroft and Sherlock in Sherlock, and really Mycroft's entire character in the series, is a direct call-out to Christopher Lee's run as Mycroft in The Private Life. Which is pretty cool.

For more fun reading on similar, check out these:

1971 Film Quarterly Review, on JSTOR

Michael Wood's 'Scentless Murder', on the London Review of Books (review of 'Conversations with Wilder' by Cameron Crowe)