Trailer: Mr. Holmes

Posted on March 13, 2015 at 8:00 am

Do you know which character has been most often portrayed in movies? Hint: there are now two different but both very popular television series about this character as well. Of course it is Sherlock Holmes. Yet another Sherlock Holmes movie is coming our way, starring Ian McKellen and Laura Linney, and I have to say it looks great.

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Posted on December 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm

All Sherlockians know that the only villain who could match the most famous and celebrated of all fictional detectives is the fiendish Professor Moriarty.  As we were promised in the postscript to the first Sherlock Holmes movie from Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law, this sequel pits the two masterminds against each other in a match to the death.

Watson is about to get married and this produces two responses in Holmes.  He feels abandoned and is jealous of Watson’s fiancée.  This emotion is mostly childish and narcissistic but, as in the first film, there is a frisson of homoeroticism as well.  But he does have moments of generosity and concern for others.  He fears that their association will put Watson and his new wife at risk.  In one of the high-octane film’s best and quietest moments, he visits Moriarty (played by Jared Harris, son of Richard Harris of “Camelot” and the original Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter movies) to ask whether they can agree to let Watson be free of any entanglement in the unpleasantness ahead.  But Moriarty does not play by any rules, which is what makes him so dangerous.

There are silly disguises and wild stunts.  We meet Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) — in the books a brilliant recluse, even more eccentric than his violin-playing detective sibling but here a rather foppish quasi-diplomat who calls his younger brother “Sherley” and walks around his home in the nude despite the presence of a young lady.  There is a brief appearance by Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler (“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman,” says Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia”).  Noomi Rapace from the Swedish “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” series is criminally underused as a gypsy woman trying to find her brother.  Director Guy Ritchie makes the most of the steampunk sensibility by matching analog gears with camera tricks that hyper-rewind and tricked-up slo-mo to show us Holmes’ observations and analysis.  He also draws some parallels to our time.  Anarchists were the terrorists of that era, technology was making possible more devastating destruction, national borders were dissolving, and, as always, money is the great motivator.  “Though politics may divide us, business will unite us,” says a character.

“Come at once if convenient,” Holmes says in a note to Watson.  “If inconvenient, come all the same.”  As we see in the meeting with Moriarty, this is an era on the cusp, the first World War just over 20 years in the future, and Holmes knows that Moriarty is not the only one who will not be willing to abide by a playing fields of Eton-style veneer of gentility.  Like the first film, what holds our interest is Downey, whose vision of Holmes, if not what Conan Doyle had in mind, is arresting.  Today he might be diagnosed as having sensory integration or autism spectrum issues.  “What do you see?” the gypsy woman asks Holmes. “Everything.  That is my curse.”

 

 

(more…)

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Sherlock Holmes on Screen

Posted on December 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most popular fictional characters of all time.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician who also write science fiction, romance, and poetry, but he is best remembered for his creation of the detective with the prodigious powers of observation and deductive reasoning.  The most famous resident of 221B Baker Street has been portrayed in movies more than any other character, sometimes old, sometimes young, sometimes in Conan Doyle’s Victorian era, sometimes in modern times, in movies from Disney to Billy Wilder, portrayed by Oscar-winners and unknowns.  He inspired many other hyper-rational, hyper-observant characters like Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, House, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo herself, Lisbeth Salander.  Reverend Desmond Tutu recently told Vanity Fair that Sherlock Holmes was his favorite fictional character.

As we prepare for the second film with Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role and Jude Law as his partner in crime-solving, Dr. Watson, it’s a good time to look at some of the best — and some of the strangest portrayers of the detective in the deerstalker hat and his doctor sidekick.  And let’s not forget O. Henry’s parody, Shamrock Jolnes and “Sesame Street’s” Sherlock Hemlock.

1. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce portrayed Holmes and Watson in 14 films released between 1939-46.  The early films are true to the books but the later ones update the characters to the 1940’s, with plots related to WWII.

2. Nicolas Rowe and Alan Cox appeared in “Young Sherlock Holmes,” an underrated origin story film that has our heroes solving their first mystery together while they are still in boarding school.

3. George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward In “They Might be Giants” a mental patient who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes and his doctor (she’s a woman, but she is named Watson) investigate the mystery of reality and what we call sanity.

4. Barrie Ingham and Val Bettin Disney’s animated “The Great Mouse Detective” is the story of mice who live on Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes (voiced by Basil Rathbone).  Inspired by their flatmate, they solve the mystery of a clockwork creation that was substituted for the Queen of the Mice.  The villain is portrayed by the silky-voiced Vincent Price.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=004282khD1E

5. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman A British miniseries updates the setting to the 21st century, with Holmes and Watson solving mysteries in the era of laptops and cell phones.

6. Nicol Williamson and Robert Duvall One of the most fascinating versions of the Holmes stories is “The Seven Percent Solution,” which has Watson doing an intervention and taking Holmes to consult with Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) about his use of cocaine.  Of course once he is there he gets involved in another mystery, the kidnapping of another of Freud’s patients.

7. Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke The popular British minseries is a perennial favorite on PBS.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX6a–uu6QM

8. Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely Legendary writer-director Billy Wilder co-wrote and directed “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” with a story inspired in part by Conan Doyle’s “The Bruce-Partington Plans.”  There is an excellent score by Miklos Rozsa.

9. Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman Douglas Wilmer and Thorley Walters play Holmes and Watson but the stars of “Young Frankenstein” have the lead roles in “Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother,” a wild comedy about “Sigerson Holmes” and his efforts to surpass his famous older sibling.

10. Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee Made-for-British-television movies show us an older Holmes and Watson in “Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady” and “Sherlock Holmes and the Incident at Victoria Falls.”

Special bonus radio version: Sir John Gielgud as Holmes, Sir Ralph Richardson as Watson and Orson Welles as Professor Moriarty.

 

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Sherlock Holmes

Posted on December 24, 2009 at 5:01 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, sedation
Violence/ Scariness: Action violence, hanging, martial arts, guns, poison gas, and various Victorian weapons, explosions, some grotesque and grisly images including corpses
Diversity Issues: Strong, independent, capable (if criminal) woman
Date Released to Theaters: December 25, 2009

Perhaps even the great detective himself could not solve the mystery of why Sherlock Holmes holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for having been portrayed on screen than any other fictional character, with more than 75 actors in more than 200 movies. And it would be hard to find any movie and television detective who does not draw something from Holmes’ mastery of the power of observation (“Lie to Me,” “The Mentalist”). There is something endlessly fascinating about the idea that someone could look at us and see what others are hiding from us, and even about the idea that he could see what we are hiding, too.

So here we are again with another Sherlock Holmes, this one from Robert Downey, Jr. and director Guy Ritchie. And that means an edgier, grubbier, somewhat younger Holmes. While stage and screen versions of the stories have generally focused on Holmes as a sort of hyper-controlled super-brain with little emotion or physicality, this version expands on a reference in the original Arthur Conan Doyle texts to Holmes’ being adept at “baritsu,” a form of martial arts and has a two-fisted Holmes who fights bad guys and even mixes it up just for fun. It also focuses on the books’ notion that Holmes was good at detection because he was bad at everything else and that unless he was completely involved in a case he considered worth his attention he does not have any other way to interact with the world.

Dr. Watson, portrayed as a bit stuffy and more of a biographer than a partner for Holmes, in this version is played by the not-at-all-stuffy Jude Law as someone who struggles with his own demons (a gambling problem) and loves the adrenaline rush as well as the sense of justice and the fun of fighting along side his talented friend. But things are changing. He has met a woman he wants to marry and that means moving out of the flat on Baker Street he shares with Holmes and less time for crime-fighting.

Downey is always at his considerable best with a character who has some boundary issues and his Holmes is as taut as the violin strings he plucks between cases. His eyes are the most expressive on screen since Al Pacino, large, liquid, knowing. Downey conveys the almost compulsive, almost Aspergers aspects of the Holmes character. In one scene, he waits for Watson at a restaurant, unable to stop noticing the dark, the sad, the painful at the tables around him. He seems to drink it all in through his eyes, ears, and pores on his skin. And his need to understand and conquer the worst of humanity outside him seems connected to a struggle within himself — and between him and Irene Adler, for Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle wrote, “the woman.” Here she is deliciously played by Rachel McAdams, suiting his description of Irene as having “the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men,” and fetching in bustle and boy-clothes.

Production designer Sarah Greenwood has done a magnificent job of creating Victorian London and part of the fun is seeing some of the now-iconic structures still under construction — always a handy place for a fight scene, too. Ritchie’s kinetic camerawork lends a muscular energy that keeps the story from feeling antique. And getting used to a young, energetic Holmes who can throw a punch is not as difficult as you might think.

But other parts of the movie do not work as well. Ritchie, whose best films celebrate the gritty underworld of big and small-time crooks, seems to be more comfortable for some of the mid-level thieves, arsonists, and hoodlums Holmes and Watson run into, and every time they leave the scene a little bit of the life of the film goes with them. Mark Strong is not given nearly enough to do as the villain (titled, of course) and the mystery is not clever enough to make the resolution satisfying. You don’t have to be a super-sleuth to see the holes in the plot. Downey is better detecting than he is trading odd couple banter with Law, but so would anyone. Who could have imagined that in a Sherlock Holmes movie the fight scenes replacing the deductions would ring truer than the dialogue replacing “Elementary, my dear Watson?”

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Victorian MVP: Mark Strong

Posted on December 17, 2009 at 8:33 am

I’ve been listening to a lot of carriage wheels on cobblestones lately, with three films set in Victorian London. And two of them feature one of my favorite actors, Mark Strong. You may not recognize his name. You may not even recognize his face because he appears different in every film. That’s not make-up; it’s acting. Here he is in the marvelous fantasy, Stardust:

He is truly astonishing in the scene shortly after, when he has to swordfight as a corpse manipulated by a sort of puppetry enchantment (trust me, it’s great). He was a silky Jordanian secret service director in “Body of Lies” (out-acting co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe) and a thug in “RocknRolla.” And now he is plays nemesis to both the teenage Queen Victoria (Sir John Conroy) and Sherlock Holmes (Lord Blackwood). It’s worth seeing both movies just to see how good Strong is when he is bad.

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