Mark Strong

February 16, 2014

DJ Simply Loves Robert Downey Jr.: Sherlock Holmes

PULSE

After Robert Downey Jr. put comic book films back on the map with Iron Man, I was thoroughly on the RDJ train.  Then I heard what his next big film role was going to be.  Another super genius with substance abuse issues.  A character who might arguably be one of the first ever superheroes.  The immortal Sherlock Holmes.  Despite everything Downey Jr. had accomplished with Tony Stark, I was still nervous about him tackling the world’s greatest detective.  Hell, how many American actors can you count that pull off a convincing British accent?  And Downey Jr. would be under the direction of Guy Ritchie.  Another man looking for a career rebirth after hitting a rough patch.  Then I saw the trailer for the film.  Holy crap!  That was all I could say.  It was everything I imagined in my head a Sherlock Holmes movie would be like, but with something extra.  An energy.  An excitement.  A PULSE.  A PULSE that Ritchie, in his early directing days, always delivered.  A PULSE in which Robert Downey Jr. thrives in.  Sherlock Holmes was the Sherlock for me.

As I’ve said in my review for the BBC show Sherlock, 2009’s Sherlock Holmes was a film that I could appreciate separately and equally with the other incarnations that followed.  As time has passed the difference between BBC Sherlock and RDJ Sherlock have grown.  RDJ Sherlock shares more similarities with the vastly underrated (Even by me) CBS show Elementary than it does with its British equivalent.  That is mainly due to characterizations and relationships.  Where Cumberbatch exudes stoic intensity, both Robert Downey Jr. and Jonny Lee Miller are playful to the point of annoyance and crazed to the point of concern.  Their brilliance seems more like the lasting side effects of some illegally imbibed elixir.  And that is what I like about them, Robert Downey Jr. more so.  Predictably, Downey Jr. brought to the forefront more of Sherlock’s drug issues.  His darker stuff.  And he brought back his physicality.  Physicality most people were unaware of at the time.  Some of the so-called Sherlock Holmes purists saw the trailer and quickly said it was a dumbing down and shoehorning of action into a Sherlock Holmes film.  Unbeknownst to them, Downey Jr. did his homework.  Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in several stories that Holmes had some fighting skill.  It is turned up in this film, however, it comes from a place of fact.  It more or less showed that Downey Jr. wasn’t sleepwalking through an action role.  He was totally making it his own. 

I put a picture of another actor at the top with Robert Downey Jr. because of his importance to Downey Jr.’s performance.  Jude Law’s portrayal of Dr. John Watson is one my favorites in any incarnation.  Downey Jr.’s humor is undeniable, but it works more so because of how Law plays off of him and sets him up.  On the BBC show and the CBS show, we are introduced to Watson and Holmes as they are introduced to each other.  In Sherlock Holmes, however, we meet Watson and Holmes in the middle of their relationship.  So, Law and Downey Jr.’s chemistry not only has to work but feel like its been working for a while.  A task Law and Downey Jr. completely did for me.

This film was also the first time I really began to recognize the awesomeness that is Mark Strong.  He kind of fell into the background of the large ensemble cast of the first film I saw him in, RocknRolla.   Strong here gets to play a villain that felt like a true threat to Holmes.  Lord Blackwood is equal parts creepy and entertaining.  It would have been easy to fire off the infamous Moriarty in the first film, which they do hint to.  However, I think it was more important to establish Holmes and Watson, while still giving them an enemy that is still a great foil.  Strong helps accomplish that.  The one place I think cast chemistry fails is between Robert Downey Jr. and Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler.  I’m not a McAdams hater, and I don’t think McAdams is horrible in this.  I just felt that McAdams’ energy did not and probably could not equal Downey Jr.’s.  It is more a criticism of casting than anything.  Adler is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes’ kryptonite.  McAdams just didn’t have enough charm or charisma to make me buy their relationship being an actual problem for Holmes.

I was so happy for Guy Ritchie after this film came out.  You have to understand, Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are two of my favorite films.  Watching him make the film Swept Away with his ex-wife Madonna was like seeing a close friend of yours date that girl you know is gonna f%$k his life up.  Revolver has a small cult following, but is an overly convoluted mess.  RocknRolla gave me hope that the Ritchie I loved was still in there somewhere.  Sherlock Holmes really got him to flex his cinematic muscles again.  The set pieces, the style, the humor, and the action scenes are terrific.  The criticism for their being so much action is akin to the criticism JJ Abrams received for his Star Trek films.  To me the action does not take away from the mystery Holmes is trying to solve at all.  Every action sequence is always in service to the story.  And the bit that Ritchie uses to show Holmes working out his movements before actually doing them was a clever touch that I had never seen before. 

Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, for some odd reason, gets a cynical bum rap that I wholeheartedly don’t understand.  Not only is his version of Holmes one of the most accurate to the books, the film is fun, entertaining, PULSE pounding, and underratedly smart.  There isn’t any time to waste then…widen your gaze…watch it…if you dismissed it…watch it again…then tell me I’m wrong.

January 6, 2013

Holiday Hangover: Zero Dark Thirty (DJ’s Take)

IMPORTANT

Zero Dark Thirty is not just a film.  To me, it is a bookend to one of the greatest American tragedies in history.  It serves as our first real glimpse into the events leading up to May 2, 2011.  Some may argue that Zero Dark Thirty, as a film, is overrated.  Some may argue that Zero Dark Thirty, as a historical chronicle, is inaccurate.  However, you would be hard pressed to say that Zero Dark Thirty is not IMPORTANT.

Zero Dark Thirty is a dramatic account of the decade long search and capture of Osama bin Laden.  A subject that IMPORTANT was a cinch to rile up a debate on how to properly portray it.  Some might expect a kick-ass, romanticized war epic leading to a balls to the wall Seal assault on that compound in Abbottabad.  Thirty isn’t that type of film at all.  It is about the slow, grueling process government officials had to go through in order to finally pull the trigger on bin Laden.  It isn’t romantic or fun.  It isn’t fast paced or action packed.  And as recent criticisms have suggested, it is controversially disturbing right from the beginning.  But that is the film’s point.  The steps our government and military take to accomplish their goals are almost unfathomable for a regular person.  Especially when you account for the small amount of fanfare or celebration they enjoy when a mission is actually accomplished.   The nuances of governmental decision making, puzzle solving, tactical strategies, and yes, torture, are the compelling pieces to this compelling film. 

The moment I heard the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, I knew a film about it had to be made.  And as more of the details about the mission’s circumstances surfaced, I knew how great of a film it could be.  My mind immediately went to hoping Kathryn Bigelow would helm it.  Bigelow had already made and been honored for her stellar film The Hurt Locker.  As chance had it, she was already developing a film about the search for bin Laden before he was killed.  And after watching Zero Dark Thirty, I can’t think of anyone who could have handled this film better.  Bigelow just knows how to shoot this material.  Much like the way Scorsese knows how to shoot gangster films or Tim Burton knows how to shoot…um…weird films.  She immerses the audience in this world and doesn’t give them room to flinch.  Every scene, every interaction between characters feels like she’s pulled the covers off of something we shouldn’t be allowed to watch.  The fact that she has already won an Oscar for directing the similarly styled Hurt Locker is the ONLY REASON she isn’t a frontrunner again for Zero Dark Thirty. 

Jessica Chastain is a revelation in this film.  Especially for me.  I had only recently been familiar with her work in Lawless and The Help.  However, my unpreparedness worked well for loving the main character of Maya.  She is a stone cold, no nonsense, sh*t kicker that takes everyone by surprise from start to finish.  It is so hard to portray that type of woman in a film and not come off as wooden or boring.  See January Jones for further evidence.  Despite Chastain’s cold demeanor, however, you can tell that there is still an angry, emotional wreck underneath.  Chastain allows it to peak out at just the right moments.  Even with a cast of constantly solid actors like Mark Strong, Jason Clarke, James Gandolfini, and Chris Pratt, Chastain shines the brightest.

As the award season approaches, Zero Dark Thirty is starting to pull away as a favorite in many categories.  Despite my praise, I don’t think it is the best picture of the year.  This is only due to entertainment reasons.  It isn’t paced or put together the way an audience might find traditionally appealing.  Though, Zero Dark Thirty is undoubtedly a must watch.  A film that we will look back on and debate for years as to whether it properly captured such an IMPORTANT time in our nation’s history.  Watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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