Sherlock Holmes

April 16, 2014

Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway – Customary

It occurs to me that if you want to be taken super serious as a British actor there are two things that you can do; 1) Play Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes, or 2) Play some sort of British gangster with psychopathic tendencies who likes to drink, do blow, and say “cunt” a lot.  Don’t be offended by the c-word, it was used strictly for scientific purposes. This brings me to “Dom Hemingway” a film that seems rather customary for British crime cinema, for better and worse.

“Hemingway” stars Jude Law as the titular character who is fresh out of prison after 12 years for keeping the secret of a Russian gangster named Mr. Fontaine. After his release, he reunites with his associate Dickie and the two meet Fontaine at his house in the country to celebrate and for Dom to be rewarded.  Things don’t go as planned for Dom and by the end of the film he not only finds redemption, but a new lease on life, sort of.

As I mentioned before his is Law’s “British Crime Film” following in the steps of actors such as Ben Kingsley, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, and to a lesser degree, Daniel Craig. What sets Law’s performance apart,m however, is the way that he’s able to balance complete insanity with some genuinely tender moments throughout the film. Audiences might forget that Dom has not only lost 12 years of his life in prison, but also a wife to cancer and he missed his daughter growing up into the Mother of Dragons…..oops….sorry, I get my media mixed up sometimes.

This brings me to Emilia Clarke, who plays Dom’s wayward daughter Evelyn. One, it’s weird to not see her with long silver hair and speaking Dothraki, and two, maybe I’m just not a huge fan of her’s.  Yes, I said it! I do not like the Khaleesi! Do I think she can act? Maybe in the right role.  I think her take on Daenerys Targaryen is fine, despite the fact I don’t like the character, but in “Hemingway” I don’t think she brings much to the table. This could be due to the fact that “Hemingway” is truly a showcase for Jude Law through and through, but even in her limited screen time I feel like she is shoehorned into the film to give Dom added conflicts in his life.

This is where I have a problem with the film. From an acting standpoint, Law is fantastic and makes the film watchable, but the plot-holes and what seems like a film simply filled with vignettes masquerading like a lesser-Wes Anderson film, falls short. Maybe I expected too much from “Hemingway” but without much of a story to work with, and a certain lack of closure come the end of the film, the only thing I could take away is Law’s performance.

Directed by Richard Shepard, who was behind the vastly underrated “The Matador” you see a lot of similarities between the two films.  Mainly the way Shepard was able to take two likable guys, Pierce Brosnan in “Matador” and Law in “Hemingway” and turn them into scumbags with a lot of emotional baggage.  Shepard has the eye for the camera, but it’s, like I said, the narrative that fails the film in the end.

Despite its shortcomings, “Hemingway” is still entirely watchable if you can look beyond some of the issues it has.  Personally, I’d love to see Law in these roles more often.  We’ve become accustomed to him as either Dr. Watson in the “Sherlock Holmes” films, or as a whiny nerd in films like “Closer” but roles like Dom Hemingway are surprisingly in his wheelhouse.

Fun Fact: Jude Law gained 30 pounds for his role in “Dom Hemingway.”

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.

April 5, 2013

Simplistic TV: Hannibal, Season One Premier

Hannibal – Mulligan

When trying to adapt a specific character from another medium, say literature or film, to television, its always a tricky proposition.  Since the character is already established in said mediums you have to know the audience that already recognizes the character and make them believe the transition is seamless, while still exposing the character to a new market, fans, critics, etc.  One of the most recognizable characters in modern crime novels is Hannibal Lecter; the psychiatrist/cannibal that haunted our dreams through the words of Thomas Harris.  Even if you’re a “lament” you’ve heard of Lecter in some way, shape, or form.  Now we get to see Dr. Lecter on the small screen as he assists criminal profiler, Will Graham, from the novel “Red Dragon” to try and track down serial killers.  While the premiere episode of “Hannibal” was bumpy, at best, I’ll still give it a mulligan for what its trying to accomplish, at least for a few more episodes.

If you’ve seen, or read, “Red Dragon” or “Silence of the Lambs,” you pretty much know the deal.  There is a killer on the loose, in this case a killer impaling young girls on antlers, and on occasion one or more of their organs missing (see where I’m going with this).  Will Graham is on the case, commissioned by Special Agent Jack Crawford, played by Laurence Fishburne, to find the killer.  Crawford brings in another consultant, Hannibal Lecter, a respected psychiatrist from the Baltimore-area.  Graham and Lecter seem an unlikely duo at first with each one trying to outwit the other, but Lecter sense a kindred spirit in Graham with his ability to empathize with the killers he hunts.

Despite my misgivings about this show, the more I think about it, the more I want to see where it goes.  You know the end of the journey for both Will and Hannibal, but now its the journey of how they both got there.  It’s the cat-and-mouse game that will guide the show onward, which isn’t that bad when you think about it.  With so much fervor on origin stories about mythological characters (just look at every Marvel Studios Phase 1 film) “Hannibal” has a chance to succeed with an audience that wants to know; Why? and How?

While I’ve talked myself off the ledge about the storyline of “Hannibal” my main concern is the casting; namely Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter.  For starters, I like Mads, I think he is a solid actor who knows how to play a villain and steal scenes on occasion.  But I just feel that he is wrong as Lecter.  For starters, he LOOKS like a killer.  The thing about Anthony Hopkins playing Lecter, or even Brian Cox for that matter, was that he didn’t look the part of a psychopathic, narcissistic, cannibal.  He was a posh doctor with a penchant for opera, fine dining, and drawing.  Hopkins was the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Mikkelsen, on the other hand, is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. If I saw him walking down the street I would run the other way because I knew I was only a remark away from being served with a nice Chianti.  I also found myself struggling to understand Lecter when he spoke.  Since Mads has a pretty thick Danish accent, not all the dialogue came through clearly which isn’t great when you are trying to hang on to everything Lecter is saying to get deeper into his character and motives.

With that being said, I don’t blame the casting either.  If the creators are basing this version of Lecter on the novel “Hannibal Rising” it makes sense.  Lecter, by birth, was Eastern European, not British as some of us might assume.  While aristocratic, Eastern Europe, namely Lithuania, is vastly different than the British Isles.  Can Mikkelsen outshine Hopkins as a Hannibal Lecter for a new generation?  Well, we’ll have to see about that.

From a literary standpoint, the show sticks pretty close to the source material of “Red Dragon,”  which is good  in my opinion.  It sheds more light on Will Graham and his special gift for empathy, but it comes off as kind of a second rate Sherlock Holmes, more so the Benedict Cumberbatch version than the Robert Downey Jr. version.

Bottom line, I’m giving this show a mulligan.  I can’t judge a show that I have reasonably high hopes for by just one episode.  Sure, there are kinks to work out, and the show suffers from “a style over substance” problem, and if another network had the rights to Harris’ work, namely an FX or dare I say, HBO, maybe the show could push the envelope a bit more, but that’s not really the issue.  I think the biggest thing people are having a hard time wrapping their heads around are the casting choices and the overall mood.  We fear change, and we’ve been spoiled by the Hopkins’ Lecter for over 20 years so when this new, “exotic” Lecter comes along our first inclination is to bash him, and I fully understand why, but before we jump to conclusions, divorce yourself from preconceived notions of who Lecter was, and let this new incarnation do it’s own thing.

Fun Fact:  H.H. Holmes, who lived from 1861 to 1896, has been given “credit” as one of the first known American serial killers.  His crimes were an inspiration for the book, “The Devil in the White City.”

July 26, 2012

Simplistic TV: Sherlock

BRILLIANT

I am a big fan of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes films.  That may be because I think RDJ is my favorite actor working today.  However, the best version of the famous detective is definitely the BBC series Sherlock.  It is possible to be a fan of both the way I am because they do possess significant differences.  And not the fact that the films are set during the 19th Century and tv show is set during modern day.

For example’s sake, here is Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock.  And here is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock.  Robert Downey Jr. nails the manic and playfulness of Sherlock Holmes.  While Cumberbatch, an actor who will be a household name after next year’s Star Trek 12, nails Sherlock Holmes’s cold stoic BRILLIANCE.  Both work tremendously.  Downey Jr. gives Sherlock a bit of a giddiness at his own intellect when explaining clues.  Cumberbatch treats it more like an uncontrollable condition.  His delivery feeling similar to someone fed up answering a nagging five year old who constantly keeps asking “why?”.

Both Jude Law and Martin Freeman are equally great as Watson.  Law, mostly for theatrical sake, plays Watson a bit more over the top while Freeman keeps Watson’s frustrations with Sherlock more internal.  Though, we do see Freeman’s Watson at the beginning of his relationship with Sherlock while Law’s Watson is well used to him by now.

All that said, the most important thing in creating a great incarnation of Sherlock Holmes is getting the chemistry right.  And Sherlock does this as well if not better than the films.  While the films give you more style, the tv show gives you more substance.  Its mystery first and set pieces second.  Thats what puts this ahead.

The series does cheat its substantiveness a bit by having each season broken down into three 90 minute episodes.  They play like mini movies and are each enjoyably different while still connected through a ongoing plot thread.  Don’t be alarmed by the modern day setting either.  Sherlock fits into our world smoothly and creates interesting situations that 19th Century Sherlock couldn’t do.  Like interrupting a police press conference by texting all the reporters simultaneously the truth the police chief is leaving out.

That leads me to mention a storytelling device the editors use on the show.  To illustrate how Sherlock’s mind works, the show uses in scene captions to draw the audience to his conclusions instead of having him always explaining everything.  This is very well done, as apposed to how Tony Scott overuses it in some of his films…Domino comes to mind.

An American version of this modern day Sherlock Holmes is in the works now.  However, I am sure it won’t have the same quality acting, writing, directing, and teeth this show has.  You watch one episode and it’ll hook you.  Go ahead…watch one…I’ll wait…….still waiting……..see?  Tell me I’m wrong.

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