Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: The Intersection of Art and Entertainment (spoilers)

I imagine that few iconic characters have been portrayed more frequently and robustly over the last century than Sherlock Holmes.  Way too many for me to think of going into here.  In the 40's the number of films based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective and starring Basil Rathbone made it almost a serial.  Many of them are quite good too.  The Disney studio's affection for him was such that the loveable dog in The Great Mouse Detective is named Basil.  My personal favorite is the long running series starring Jeremy Brett as the famous detective.  One of his very best is The Hound of the Baskervilles.  All shot on location with English actors and excellent period sets and clothing.  The acting is generally very good.  Then, there's The Great Mouse Detective which I only got to see recently.  I thought it was fantastic.  Excellent artistically and story-wise.  The attention to detail and the focus on the mystery and the battle of wits between the detective and Ratigan are exceptional.  And it was done in an animation style that I'm very fond of.  It's similar to The Rescuers and Robin Hood. 

And of course there's Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes.  The first film drops you right into that world and it's all about the mystery.  The plot is strong and the wit is sharp.  I actually loved what they did for Watson's character.  He's general portrayed as standing around in amazement at Holmes.  But he is a war veteran and a doctor.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  My husband loved it to pieces.

Sadly, I was not as big a fan of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  I told my husband I thought the first film was far better.  He tried a little bit to defend it, but I stood by my assertion.  They made Holmes and Watson action heroes.  I feared this would happen from the first preview I saw.  The fight sequences were too long.  Holmes is practically a karate master.  The script lacked the original's rapier wit.  I mean the banter was ok.  And there wasn't much of a mystery to it.  My husband said he had it figured out in the first 25 minutes.  Now, there were portions of the film that perhaps lived up to the original's quality, but as a whole it just wasn't there.

So my conclusion is that Sherlock Holmes can support all kinds of changes, even modernizing him is ok.  He can get in on the fighting too.  It adds to the entertainment.  But in the end there has to be a strong mystery with a study stream of detective work.  And it has to be understandable how Holmes figures things out, even if the average Joe couldn't do it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bela Lugosi

Last night I watched an MST3K of Bride of the Monster.  It was shades of awful and hilarious.  It was directed by Ed Wood, famous for his exceptionally bad films.  It starred Bela Lugosi, who I've always been a fan of.  After the film I wondered aloud why he'd take such roles.  My husband explained about this raging drug addiction.  I hadn't known about that.  It really unsettled me.  I mean, he did look enfeebled in his late films.  Nothing like the dashing, powerful Dracula character from 1931.  I checked Wikipedia's article on Lugosi and it's quite comprehensive.  I'm not surprised that his type-casting greatly frustrated him.  It was unfortunately a common problem for character actors at that time, but his situation was even worse.  His accent type-casted him even more deeply into horror films, and frequently into "B" horror films.  He made a couple attempts to break out, but never succeeded.  It's really quite sad.

There is still some debate as to whether director Ed Wood took advantage of Lugosi at a stage of life when he could not say no to any role.  My husband tells me the film Ed Wood is highly sympathetic to both men.  It's undeniable that Lugosi needed the money.  Well, I consider the 1931 Dracula a horror film classic.  It shows Lugosi at his best, and it's a film that still effects the way we think of movie vampires.  His name didn't dwindle into obscurity, and that comforts me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yo Joe!

I finally bought the G.I. Joe Movie.  Not the recent film.  I'm talking about the cartoon from the 80's.  It was 50% more for the blu-ray version.  I went for it.  Before that I'd been watching a VHS tape of it that I bought for 8 or 10 dollars when I was twelve.  And I still have that tape.  I'd watched it so many times that the color was turning reddish.  So I'm a self-confessed fan of G.I. Joe and other popular 80's toons.

But why was it good?  I mean no one ever died, at least to my knowledge.  It wasn't as cheesy as the old serials where you'd see the hero fall to his death, only to learn the following week that he'd escaped the crashing plane somehow.  They'd shoot their "laser" weapons.  I mean they looked like normal guns but shot lasers.  They could hit vehicles and buildings and trees, but never each other.  If a plane got shot down, you'd always see the pilot escape.  And nothing really brutal ever happened, except for the occasional taking of human slaves by Cobra.  They'd all get rescued at the end of the episode or miniseries.

Well, there was still tons of action, especially for an older cartoon.  The characters were colorful.  And they showed as much of Cobra as G.I. Joe.  Many of my favorite characters are members of Cobra.  Every episode is some sort plot by Cobra to take over the world.  There was espionage and attempts at brainwashing and fighting over secret weapons.  Some of it was awfully silly.  Some of it was not so silly.  Most of it was well-written fun.  I admit that having re-watched the 2nd season, the second half was not as coherent or focused in its plots.  But even then it could still be enjoyable.  It was intended for children as entertainment.  So I guess I'm a big kid.

I've tried other visions of G.I. Joe.  There was the series in the 90's.  I watched it.  As a kid I never thought it was as good.  To be fair to it, I have not reviewed it since that time.  I've seen that it's out on DVD.  Maybe I'll watch some. 

For sure the recent movie was pretty bad.  It bore little resemblance to the cartoon series; actually to either the first run or the second.  And the idea that the Baroness lost her Hungarian accent, became a baroness by marrying some rich schmuck, and wasn't really evil?  Oh, that just ruined for me.  No, I don't mean to ruin the plot.  But spoiler: the Baroness is not really evil.  What?!

The other thing I watched was called G.I. Joe Resolute.  I'd say it was truer to the source material, but still not great.  It drained all the fun and warmth from the characters.  It needed to be "real" and "gritty".  I'm not saying it was bad.  It was watchable, but just not the same.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I've always felt there was a lot of untapped story potential in G.I. Joe.  We could have had internal squabbles in the organizations, occasionally hinted at but never deeply explored.  And we could've developed relationships, and deepened and flawed the heck out of the characters.  Oh, well.  I still sound the battle cry: Yo Joe!