Reviews in the Nick of Time: Many Things Go Crash

by wjw on January 5, 2012

This holiday season I’ve actually seen some movies that are still in the theaters! Great blistering barnacles!

First up was Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows.  Nothing wrong with this one except that I didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t care about Moriarty’s plot (which was stupid anyway), I was relieved when Irene died (because she was so awful), and I was in no suspense about the ending, because as soon as I heard the name “Reichenbach,” I knew what the ending was going to be.

Having established the characters in the first movie, the filmmakers let the characters coast on without changing them or finding new ways to make them interesting.  (In all fairness, Conan Doyle did the same thing.)  Jude Law is great as Doctor Watson, and it was a pleasure watching him, but Doctor Watson himself wasn’t very interesting.  And Holmes was clearly on the tail end of a month-long cocaine jag, and was a bit difficult to watch.  Coming to the theater and being confronted with a forty-foot-tall in-your-face coke fiend was an overly confrontational way to spend the holidays.  (Reminded me of Bill Murray’s performance in Scrooged, actually.)

The women were all wasted.  Losing Irene was no loss, but Mary Watson gets thrown from the train very early in the film, and while the filmmakers had the good sense to cast Noomi Rapace (formerly of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo— not ours, but theirs), they really couldn’t find anything interesting to do with her.

And the menace was just . . . silly.  To kill one MD and his wife on their honeymoon, Moriarty sends not one but two squads of assassins, one equipped merely with pistols and knives, and the backup team with rifles, bayonets, a tripod-mounted Maxim gun, and a basket of grenades.  You’d think that shooting up the Royal Scotsman and killing or wounding dozens of passengers would tend to call attention to the evil scheme that you’re trying to keep quiet, but apparently not.

(Moriarty’s scheme, by the way, involves kicking off World War I in 1891.  I leave it to the alternative history enthusiasts among you to work out how that would have gone with no Schlieffen Plan, no real German Navy, no Entente Cordial, no Territorial Army, and no dreadnought battleships.  [The Triple Alliance, however, was already in place.])

With no involvement with the characters or the story, I was left to admire the film’s technical achievements, which were considerable.  The action scenes— of which there were a great many— were consistently imaginative, well choreographed, and with enough CGI and flashy camera work and editing to keep them from ever getting dull.  The design of the movie is gorgeous, and their vision of 1891 was perfectly convincing.  (There were some anachronisms, but I don’t much care.)

I expect the third movie will feature some folks returning from the dead.  Holmes, of course, but we knew that.  Colonel Sebastian Moran was properly kept alive for the next feature.  We don’t know for sure that Moriarty is dead— mastermind that he was, he might have had a submarine waiting for him—  and we only know Irene is dead because Moriarty told us.  So expect some “surprises” along those lines.

Whoops.  Did I give away too much?

Don’t fret, go see The Adventures of Tintin. I should preface my remarks by pointing out that I’m barely familiar with the Tintin oeuvre at all, having read only a single volume of Hergé’s magnum opus.  But from what I could tell, the Spielberg film pretty well captures their spirit and charm.  Light adventure, nonstop action, and a knotty mystery.  Plus expertly-handled 3D, making this the third 3D film in the history of the medium that failed to give me a headache.  This film and Hugo show what 3D can do in the hands of an brilliant filmmaker.  Can we just make a rule that no one is allowed to use 3D who hasn’t been nominated at least three times for Best Picture?

Hergé’s “ligne claire” doesn’t translate well to film, especially 3D film, and except for a few shots (to show he can do it), Spielberg doesn’t try.  Tintin is rendered more realistically than his 2D original, not that this is hard.  The motion capture worked for me.  Even I recognized Tintin’s stalwart supporting cast: Captain Haddock, the bowler-hatted detectives Thompson and Thompson, and the faithful terrier Snowy.

TINTIN: (to landlady)  Call for help!  A man has been shot down on our doorstep!

LANDLADY: What?  Again?

We’re thrown into the action early, and we pretty well stay thrown for the rest of the film.  There are set-piece action scenes in London, on a ship, on an airplane, in the Sahara, in a Moroccan town, and on the London docks— plus a lengthy flashback battle scene between the two-decker Unicorn and a pirate vessel.  (As a former naval historian, I can only remark that the sea battle is not True to Period.)

Normally this much action would send me into fits of boredom— there’s only so much adrenaline I can take before I want to take a nap— but the action here is varied enough and ingenious enough that I stayed interested.  Though the Tintin strips are full of action— or at least the one I read was— a motion picture can just make it so much bigger than a picture drawn on a page.  The duel between two cargo cranes on the East End docks is particularly wonderful.

Spielberg is clearly having a wonderful time, and the movie is full of joking references to other films— I particularly appreciated the scene drawn from Jaws, with Tintin’s quiff standing out of the water like a shark’s fin.

All I can say is, if you’re heading out to see a movie about a detective, make sure he’s the one from Belgium.

Dave Bishop January 5, 2012 at 11:05 pm

I don’t know whether you’ve caught any of the BBC’s ‘Sherlock Holmes in modern dress’ programmes? They are written by ‘Doctor Who’ writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (I have a complete aversion to ‘Doctor Who’ [utter garbage!] but the authors have done something right here!).
Bendict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock H. and Martin Freeman is Dr. Watson – and their performances are pitch perfect.

The first episode of the new series was screened, on BBC1, on New Year’s day, and I was completely bowled over – an absolutely brilliant piece of television. I won’t give away any of the plot except to say that the writers audaciously broke the ultimate SH taboo and introduced a sort of ‘love interest’ for the great detective (!) The twists and turns of the plot, the acting and characterisation, the pace and the production values were brilliant (I’ve run out of superlatives …)

Somehow the writers manage to pay homage to the Edwardian original whilst, at the same time, being bang-up-to-date (smart phones play a crucial part in the most recent episode described above). The whole series is also very funny and deeply satirical (particularly for a Brit like me who understands most of the cultural references).

Highly recommended!

Kimberly Unger January 6, 2012 at 3:19 am

I will second Dave Bishop’s recommendation of Steven Moffet’s Sherlock. As an “old school” Holmes fan myself, they have done an excellent job of modernizing and expanding Doyle’s original work while still somehow staying true to the original. As a Yank (but an Anglophile), I probably miss about a quarter of the current in-jokes (had to look up what an ASBO was, for example).

I would love to hear your take on it!


Tengland January 6, 2012 at 4:50 am

As for Tintin, I thought the action went a tad overboard. But then the comics often went more than a tad overboard. Herge in his later adventures put more character into his characters, even going so far as to make one issue a study in character with little action (“The Castafiore Emeralds”). He got plenty of complaints for his pains, too. It was fun spotting icons from many of the other adventures (the rocket being particularly noticeable). But the movie fell down on Captain Haddock’s voice. Andy Serkis, motion-capture actor supreme, just does not have the the pipes for the Captain’s booming voice. “Billions of blistering blue barnacles!!!!” should be heard in six countries and halfway to the moon. I don’t know from naval history (the battle between the ships looked pretty exciting to me), but I do know journalism, and in none of the books (and now the movie) does “the famous reporter” Tintin ever actually sit down at a typewriter and pound out a story. He IS the story, something reporters — good reporters, old-school reporters — should never be. Ah, well, it’s just a story.

wjw January 6, 2012 at 5:08 am

Yes, I have seen the Cumberbatch Holmes when he was first presented on BBCA. And thought it was quite good, though all the jokes about how everyone thinks Holmes and Watson are gay got old in a hurry. What, two straight guys can’t room together now?

DensityDuck January 6, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Tintin’s Rocket shows up in lots of places. It’s kind of the European “Starship Enterprise”.

Urban January 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Thanks for the note about the 3D: I didn’t want to see this one dubbed into Swedish which is the only version shown flat here; So I went and saw it today. Good thing I did, because this was much better than waiting for the DVD. By the way, Steven Moffat co-wrote it.

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