Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

The erudite detective Sherlock Holmes was first brought to life on film as a tall, serene, and hawkishly-featured British gentleman by actor Basil Rathbone in the 1940s.  His original onscreen adventure series was set in the late 1800s, culminating in a timeskip to the 1940s, when Holmes valiantly combated the Axis Powers during World War II.  As difficult as that is to imagine, Rathbone portrayed the character convincingly throughout all the eras – in my opinion, he was the spitting image of Sidney Paget’s illustrations in The Strand that accompanied the original Conan Doyle serialized stories.

original-sidney-pagetIf you go into Guy Ritchie’s 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie expecting a Rathbone-esque performance, you’re going to be disappointed.  I can’t tell you to lower your expectations; simply alter them.  Just as Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation got to step inside the shoes (and cloak) of the famous detective, it is time for Tony Stark to do the same.

You heard me right.  Robert Downey Jr. plays Holmes in this version, as a scruffy inventor and action hero who’s made up of both brawn and brain.  In all seriousness, it’s as if Tony Stark walked the earth during the Victorian era, and had deductive reasoning instead of a supersuit.

The story is slow to start.  The first forty-five minutes are disjointed attempts at exposition, perhaps trying to prove how Holmes is distinctly different and yet the still same old Holmes readers have known and loved.  He plays his violin, he has a lab where he conducts occasionally catastrophic experiments, and he has an affinity for boxing.  Perhaps it is the highlighting of these seemingly minute aspects of the character, and the way they are presented, that sets this iteration of Holmes apart from others. All these elements were always there, but they present themselves abrasively in an impish way.

By his side (reluctantly, it seems,) is Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law. (Remember the days when Jude Law was in everything?)  His Watson is refreshingly serious, and in my opinion, very respectful of his on-page counterpart.  Watson’s more than a puppylike sidekick and he’s certainly not solely there to be comic relief. (Holmes does that by himself.)

It takes a lot for Watson to lose patience with Holmes, but in this film, he finally does.  His participation in Holmes’ adventures is grudging, and he learns to be both blunt with and accepting of his flatmate as his character moves on in life.  He’s certainly the most traditional Holmesian character in this film; I have no complaints about this take on Watson.

Irene Adler’s also here; she’s the Pepper Potts of this film, honestly.  Can’t have a movie without a romantic subplot of some kind, I suppose.  Things are dysfunctional as ever between Holmes and the American con-woman, but at least they’re relatively PG-rated compared to Moffat and Gatiss’s interpretation of the character.  Again, this is an aspect of authentic Holmesian lore that was always there, but they’re being far less subtle about it.

Finally, the foreshadowing sprinkled throughout the exposition starts coming together.  We meet our main antagonist, Blackwood, who looks far more Rathbonian than our Sherlock … and is practically a vampire. Or a zombie.  Or (in the possession of) a very good alchemist.  You’re left guessing until the very end, though I’ll admit I was on the side of science the whole time. 😀

Much like the original Tomb Raider films, the antagonist of this film appears to be part of an Illuminati-like cult. Adding to the ooh, scary factor is their penchant for decorating their artifacts with Hebrew letters that spell out total gibberish. (I don’t know if I should feel amused, offended, or really anything at all about this.)

Once the action picks up, the movie plays out quite a bit like a puzzle game, where you are left to watch Holmes work through it at whichever speed the director desires.  There’s plenty that they try to show you to keep you distracted from the game afoot, but honestly, I’d figured out the resolution a long time before; it was a matter of confirming the direction this already controversial take on Sherlock Holmes was going.

The most satisfying part of the resolution, for me, is the hero’s monologue. (See, the villain couldn’t deliver it himself, he was … indisposed. That’s all I’ll say.)  It’s always satisfying to read about Holmes do that; seeing it was even better.

The very note upon which the film ends is a satisfying one, despite an “Oh wait, there’s more,” moment alluding to a future antagonist’s identity.  But for such a disorganized beginning, the story ties itself up nicely.

I’m not mad about the film from a Sherlockian perspective.  It tries to mess with you by being different, but I found these differences refreshing.  From a storytelling perspective, however, the plot’s flow is quite aggravating.  Nevertheless, I cannot deny that to me, it’s a unique but ultimately faithful telling of a Sherlock Holmes adventure.

First Impressions: RWBY Volume 6: Adam Character Short

First Impressions: RWBY Volume 6: Adam Character Short

 

Meesa back!

With RWBY Volume 6 on the horizon, Rooster Teeth Animations just dropped the Adam Taurus character short.  Perhaps one of the more underutilized characters of the post-Beacon arc, I was especially excited to see where this video would take us in terms of his origin story, character development, and where things stand as of Volume 5’s end.

But first, a word from Kerry Shawcross and another gentleman I don’t recognize, who want you to know that there’s a new webseries called Nomad of Nowhere.  (Well, to anyone who’s seen it, is it any good?  On a scale of RWBY to Camp-Camp, how does it score in terms of family-friendliness?)

The ensuing character short seems to take us through several different timeframes, though the transitions become increasingly ambiguous as events progress.  Some of the highlights of this video, in my opinion, are Adam’s apparent aesthetic evolution and the prominent appearances of Sienna Khan, chieftain of the White Fang (after Ghira, then deposed most unceremoniously by Adam in Volume 5).

The combat situations highlight Sienna’s and Adam’s fighting styles splendidly.  (Adam’s Moonslice semblance move still gives me painful flashbacks from Volume 3!)  Ilia’s contributions to the offense, however, reflect the Volume 5 animators’ seemingly bad habit of letting characters who aren’t currently in the spotlight just stand there, frozen, like sitting duck-faunuses (see 4:29 in the YouTube video).

Towards the end of the video, the footage shown starts to feel like recycled footage or deleted scenes from Volume 5.  Some of it adds context, such as Sienna Khan’s promise to Adam that if he keeps fighting the good fight, he’ll get to stand beside her throne.  Clearly, she knew that despite Adam’s protestations and declarations of fealty to the Faunus cause, he is motivated most by his lust for power.  Her mistake was thinking being second to her was enough for Adam….

One very, very obvious point that the animators hint at, at the beginning and end of the short, is the fact that we have never actually seen Adam’s face.  Heck, I’m so used to seeing Adam masked that it’s practically part of his face!  As the short closes, we see a defeated Adam (defeated by the mere sight of Blake angrily waving her hands around, I guess) stumbling away, his mask discarded on the ground behind him.

…Which oh, so subtly behooves us to ask: what’s the deal with Adam’s face?  What’s he been hiding behind that mask?  My guess is a perfectly normal pair of SILVER eyes and, oh, maybe a nose.

Or this. (Image source: “Calwings” – Know Your Meme)

 

As painfully unsubtle as they are when it comes to this sort of thing, Rooster Teeth are still the unsung conductors of the Hype Train.  (They could also teach Rian Johnson of The Last Jedi infamy a thing or two about subverting expectations.)  So whether or not it actually happens (*cough* Jaune’s semblance *cough*), I can conclude that they really want us to expect to see Adam’s full face in the upcoming volume.

Tom Raider (2018) starring Alicia Vikander

Tom Raider (2018) starring Alicia Vikander

Full disclosure, I’ve never played a Tomb Raider game in my life.  But I remember when the original movies came out; and I’ve been told numerous times that its protagonist, Lara Croft, is practically Lady Indiana Jones.  This film has piqued my curiosity ever since I started getting ads for it on Instagram. 😀

Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft

Recently, I tried watching the original 2001 Tomb Raider film with Angelina Jolie.  I found the first 20 minutes of it to be thoroughly unpleasant.  I ended up skipping over several uncomfortable minutes of straight-up objectification of Lara Croft’s unnervingly Barbie-like physique before I gave up entirely.  (She can look like whatever she pleases; what I take issue with is the objectification.)  This aspect of Lara’s presentation seemed to overshadow the archeological quest premise they were leading into — which sounded incredibly silly. The Illuminati, really?  Perhaps kitsch and camp are elements retained from the videogames; I wouldn’t know, but as a new viewer with a background in Indiana Jones movies, I wasn’t buying it.

 

The 2018 version made me feel a lot better. Tall, gangling Alicia Vikander strikes me as a much more respectable and respectful Lara.  By that, I mean she is portrayed in a way that respects women, and she is also a character who grows throughout the film to command respect.

The film introduces Lara as a young woman earning minimum wage as a bicycle courier in London; her father, Lord Richard Croft, been missing for the past seven years, but Lara refuses to presume him dead as the rest of the world has, thus depriving herself of a tremendous inheritance.  A series of unfortunate events convinces her to sign the papers acknowledging her father’s death and finally accepting her inheritance: the first item from it being an ancient puzzle box from her father.

This puzzle box unlocks a sequence of clues pointing to the circumstances of Lord Richard’s disappearance: his lifelong quest for the mythical tomb of the Japanese Queen Himiko, legendary for her ability to kill whole armies with the touch of her hand!  Lara travels the world to find her father’s last known location, find that tomb, and (of course) raid it.

The character lives on the wild side, but her initial, introductory exploits and conflicts seem more real-worldly.  Everything is so grounded.  This is clearly a serious adventure film, dare I say a grittier, genderbent Indiana Jones film — a delightful contrast to the pulpy content viewers accepted in 2001.

While Jolie’s Croft was apparently well on in her tomb-raiding years, Vikander’s Croft is young, naive, and vulnerable.  This is her origin story on a personal level just as much as it’s an introduction to this iteration of her character, so as a viewer I found her much easier to connect with.  In this Lara Croft’s character development arc, there are moments where I expected cinematic drama, but instead, events played out with a lot less pizzazz; with real-world emotional responses like subtle, numb shock when she is made to confront her father’s alleged killer.  Unlike the typical problematic “strong female characters” of the modern age, Lara is neither overemotional to the point of weakness, nor an overcompensating half-Vulcan.

Lara, with an iconic weapon: a bow and arrows

There are, however, plenty of other moments that played out like a videogame might, where liberties are thrillingly taken with the laws of physics.  Lara’s athleticism is explained away by an active lifestyle back home, working as a bicycle courier during the day and boxing recreationally.   But falling into a river from the height she did halfway through the film would probably kill someone!

Like a 3D model in a videogame, Lara only sustains so many superficial injuries as is aesthetically pleasing; and yet, there are moments where it’s clear she’s trudging on despite the obvious pain she’s in.  As this movie is based on a computer game, I’m not complaining too much.  Unrealistic physics is far better “fan service” to the gamer demographic than what the 2001 movie had to offer.

The movie ends on a very satisfying note, yet it leaves just enough room for continuation without sounding desperate.  What sets this Lara’s story apart from that of her male counterpart, Indiana Jones, is how her quest resolves itself in (pseudo)science, while Indy is shown that in his world, supernatural “hocus pocus” is real.  That was a plus for me, as I don’t enjoy supernatural, spiritual content in films.

Overall, I enjoyed this relatively wholesome film adaptation of a videogame franchise I’ve never played.  Alicia Vikander, to me, is Lara Croft as she should be for the new generation of gamers, geeks, and little girls who could use a more relatable globe-trotting hero to go alongside Indiana Jones.