Category: Movie Review

Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Sherlock Holmes stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes with Jude Law as Watson. Holmes efforts lead to the capture of a cult leader and black magic practitioner named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who has been on a killing spree through grotesque human sacrifices. At the same time, Dr. Watson is engaged and Holmes is doing his best to wreck the engagement to keep his much needed assistant at his elbow.

Before Lord Blackwood is executed, he promises Holmes that there will be three deaths that Holmes can’t stop that will change the world and drive Holmes mad. Watson declares Lord Blackwood dead, but then three days later Blackwood’s tomb has been found empty and the promised deaths begin.  Holmes has to unravel the puzzle and is plunged into a world of dark conspiracies and the occult as he searches for the truth. 

Perhaps the best way to describe the movie is to list some of its key deviations from traditional Holmes stories:

  • Holmes uses his fists far more than usual. True enough. In A Study in Scarlet, it does mention that Holmes is an expert boxer, but the thread seems almost to have been forgotten by Doyle in later stories. But in Sherlock Holmes , Holmes has as many martial arts moves as Jackie Chan. However, Guy Ritchie did a good job working Holmes thinking process into his fighting which made it easier to swallow.
  • He and Irene Adler are an item and Adler, rather than being a dancer who gets into a scrape with a Bohemian king, is an international criminal.
  • Holmes’ traditional portrayal as a drug addict is gone. And instead,  in this movie, we find Holmes having to guard against Watson’s gambling habit to make sure Mrs. Hudson gets the rent money.
  • Holmes is intentionally trying to sabotage the engagement of Mary Marston, not so in the books.

There are other differences. Holmes definitely doesn’t act like he lived in the Victorian era for one. Despite these issues, I found myself oddly enjoying the movie. Perhaps, it’s because there’s a long-running tradition of messing around with the character for dramatic portrayals going back to William Gillette who wrote the first dramatic adaptation. He asked permission from Doyle to marry Sherlock Holmes off and was told, “You may marry him or murder him or do whatever you like with him.”

And so it’s been. We’ve had all sorts of Sherlock Holmes films and television shows. There’s been a young Sherlock Holmes movie, there’s been an animated Sherlock Holmes Television series featuring Holmes in the 22nd Century with a robot Dr. Watson. We’ve had stupid Holmes and brilliant Watson movies, and of course our post-modern Holmes over on the BBC. There have been  pastiches that have taken the character in all directions.

Yet, the true Holmes of fiction is well known to most people, so while movies and television can play with Holmes’ character, they can’t really redefine it in the eyes of the public, just as Patrick Stewart’s King of Texas didn’t make anyone thing King Lear was really set in Texas.

Similarly, Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes could best be understood by bringing one of fiction’s greatest heroes to the biggest moneymaking arena there is: The Summer Popcorn movie.  By this account, Sherlock Holmes was a fine film. It was an action packed thriller with plenty of plot twists and engaging story that holds your attention to the end. If there’s any film I’d compare it to, it’d be be the Basil Rathbone vehicle The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes which was a solid action thriller for 1939. Sherlock Holmes show how much more Hollywood has amped up its performance and how much more action audiences demand.

Perhaps, the story’s truest touch was the its portrayal of the close friendship between Holmes and Watson.  While not as warm as the Rathbone-Bruce or Brett-Hardwicke portrayals, or even the Ronald Howard and Howard Marion Crawford performances from the 1954 syndicated Television series,  the Holmes-Watson interplay between Downing and Jude Law was better than the BBC’s vision from Sherlock.

Overall, the results of Robert Downey, Jr. and Direct Guy Ritchie playing with the Sherlock Holmes character turned out surprising well, even if they won’t make me forget Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0  stars.

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The Top 10 Perry Mason TV Movies, Part One

Having recently watched all 26 of the 1980s-90s Perry Mason Revival movies, I’ve decided to make a list of the best of them.

While these movies are not the equals of the original series, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale’s talents still made the films worthwhile and entertaining through each of the 26 installments.

Without any further adieu, here’s my top 10 list:

10) Perry Mason and the Case of the Reckless Romeo (1992)

Geraldo Rivera is perfectly cast as a trashy TV host who releases a memoir detailing his past escapades and dishing dirt on all of his lovers. It’s no surprise when he’s killed and suspects abound.

The mystery takes several turns with some great misdirection when Ken Malansky stumbles into two suspects who are in the witness protection program, but everything wraps up quite nicely.

 9) Perry Mason and the Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991)

Perry usually doesn’t take the case of hardcore criminals, but finds himself defending reformed mobster Johnny Sorento (Michael Nader) who has apparently settled down in legitimate business. There are quite a few red herring in this one that throw the viewer off the truth, but the ending  has an incredible twist as the outcome can’t be exactly what Perry’s client was hoping for.

 8) Perry Mason and the Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)

The movie begins with Perry giving an interview with a news co-anchor. The news anchor is on a power trip and kills the story, prompting an angry confrontation with his co-anchor. When the anchor turns up dead and the co-anchor is charged, Perry leads in the defense.

If there’s one theme that does recur in these movies, it’s talented people who become the top dog and step on everyone else around them. It’s rarely more plainly shown than in this installment.

This telefilm also includes more than your average bit of action as Ken Malansky has to go to more extreme measures than usual to corral a key witness.

 7) Perry Mason and the Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989)

Speaking of Ken Malansky, The Lethal Lesson was where his involvement with Mason began. In this episode, he ends up Mason’s client after he’s accused of murdering a fellow law school student.

This particular installment has a fun love triangle between Ken’s girlfriend (Karen Kopins) and his an ex-girlfriend (Alexandra Paul) who is telling everyone that she’s Ken’s intended. For the first half of the movie you think Paul’s character is bonkers, but by the end of the film you’re given a surprise whammy in the payoff.

The story is solid with the usual tension between Perry’s friendships and his duty to his clinets. But the introduction of Malansky makes this a fascinating study. With Malansky on-board, the series was on its way to capturing some real magic in the chemistry between the cast and that alone makes this a worthwhile film.

To be Continued…Next Week

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Movie Review: The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band


Does modern politics with its robocalls and attack ads have you down? Try politics in the 1888 with a musical score attached.

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band is a film that doesn’t get a whole lot of love in online reviews at least by people who post standalone reviews on their website. The 1968 Disney Musical is more often panned than praise. Yet, it was a favorite of mine growing up and I had an opportunity to watch it again and it deserves better than its gotten. So here goes.

In 1888, the Bauers are a musically talented family living in Missouri. The head of the house (Buddy Ebsen) is a soft-spoken Republican but his father is an outspoken Democrat (Walter Brennan) who wants to take the family band to St. Louis to perform at the Democratic Convention.  Much to her grandfather’s chagrin, the eldest daughter is in love with a young Republican newspaperman (John Davidson) from the Dakota territory who wants to move the whole family and as many other Republicans as he can out to the Dakota territories to justify the bid to have the Dakotas admitted as two separate states and then to assure those states remain Republican.

If you love American history, this film is a great look back at a little known chapter. Their portrayal of the Dakota Territory politics makes clear that passion and even pettiness is nothing new to American politics, although the issues were arguably not as hot or fundamentally divisive in 1888 as it was today. It also reveals the Democratic and Republican Parties of the era were vastly different entities from their modern counterparts, so it’s hard to charge the The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band with any bias. The movie is full of ironic political moments. At a rally, one man complains that Cleveland refuses to take action to reduce the government surplus. In the election night event, as befits, a Hollywood musical, the two parties held one election night party and Democrats and Republicans taunted each other in songs. In one memorable portion, proponents of one side sang about their candidate’s pledges and the other side proclaimed, “Ahh, that’s politics.”Then they recited their own candidate’s similar platform and declared, “That’s statesmanship.”

The music has not been praised by most, as the song have been viewed as forgettable. Indeed, it doesn’t measure up to the great musicals like The Sound of Music or even Disney’s earlier hits like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s also true that Grandpa’s tribute to Grover Cleveland goes on way too long.  However, the movie features the stirring song, “Dakota”  sung by Davidson. It’s a stirring tribute and it’s stuck with me through the years as one of those songs that will all the sudden pop in my head. Then there’s the delightful, “‘Bout Time” sung by Davidson and co-star Lesley Ann Warren.

What makes the movie great are the great performances by Brennan, Davidson, and Ebsen and the movie’s message.  As Grandpa, Brennan is at his cantankerous best, constantly stirring up trouble as the loudest Democrat in a Republican-dominated town. He’s sincere, well-intentioned, and patriotic.

Ebsen’s as Calvin Bower is a pillar of quiet strength. He respects his father, and goes along with his dad’s goal of singing at the Democratic Convention. When asked by a Democratic representative how he can be a Republican and want to come sing his father’s tribute to Grover Cleveland at the Democratic Conventions, Calvin replies that the song would not be well-received at a Republican Convention.

However,  Calvin  stands up to his father when his antics threaten his daughter’s happiness. And its Calvin who brings the town together at the end of the movie with a simple speech.

Davidson is great as a mix of romantic lead, a political firebrand, and also a respectful and noble opponent of Grandpa Bower’s political goals.  Davidson’s Joe Carder remains a noble and decent man who is still passionate about his politics.

This is a movie without villains, but with plenty of conflict. The Bower family pulls together despite politics and sacrifices for one another.  Calvin is ready to wait a year to go to Dakota despite the fact that good land will be gone to fulfill his father’s dream of going to the Democratic  Convention. His dad chooses to give up his dream for the sake of his children and grandchildren. For the Bower’s family comes before party politics. And at the end of the day, the movie ends with the town joining hands to work together once the Presidency and the Dakotas fate had been decided.

Such an ending probably seemed too idealistic and simple when the film was released in 1968. The assassinations of both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, as well as violence at the 1968 Democratic Conventions marred the election year. It may seem even more disconnected from our present reality when presidential elections lead to people either declaring the election fraudulent, suggesting that the United States be divided, or threatening to move to a foreign country.  But to me, the end leaves me a little nostalgic.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Tintin may be one of the most fun characters that most Americans have never heard of.  Tintin was the creation of the Belgian Cartoonist Herge over a period of nearly 50 years. Tintin is a Belgian investigative journalist who travels the world, getting caught up with one adventure after another, along with his faithful dog, Snowy and usually accompanied by his friend, Captain Haddock. The character came to Americavia HBO and later Nickelodeon through the BBC series which has the same name as the 2011 film, The Adventures of Tintin. 

In the Adventures of Tintin, our intrepid hero buys a model boat at an outdoor market. Two separate buyers are desperate to get the boat and offering top dollar, Professor Sakharine and an American named Barnaby. Tintin’s curiosity is aroused by their  and he begins to investigate.  The boat is stolen and Barnaby is murdered on Tintin’s doorstep but he finds the key clue, which is then lost to a pick pocket right under the noses of the ever-incompetent Scotland Yard duo of Thompson and Thomson. Not knowing the clue was lost, Sakharine has Tintin kidnapped and brought on board the SS Karaboudjan and imprisoned in the hold until he’ll reveal the location of the clue. Tintin breaks out of the hold with the help of his intrepid dog,  Snowy and encounters Captain Braddock for the first time. Braddock, an alcoholic who has lost control of his own ship, holds the key to the treasure that Sakharine’s after. Tintin and  Braddock must stay alive, stop Sakharine and find the treasure.

It’s rare that a movie made in 2011 will get a review here, but The Adventures of Tintin has a definite golden age feel to it. Much of the credit for that has to go to Director/C0-Producer Steven Speilberg. Speilberg has a great respect for the golden age of Hollywood and he’s able to tap into that to create works that appeal to modern audiences such as the Indiana Jones movies or Speilberg’s animated programs in the 1990s, such as Animanics.

The Adventures of Tintin could be best described as a new old movie. It’s brand new in it’s stunning performance capture animation, particularly if you were able to watch it in 3D at the theaters as my wife and I did last week.  The movie was a feast of visual effects and stunning animation.

But it also was old in the sense that there was no attempt to update the characters or plot lines. Captain Braddock still starts out as a drunk, Thompson and Thomson are still incompetent, Tintin remains his tough but virtuous self, and through the nearly two hour film, only one woman appears on screen. All this creates a sort of rollicking and bloodless adventure flick that’s become increasingly rare in recent years and was far more common in the 1930s and 40s. The only part of the film that seems more modern is a “believe in yourself” heart to heart between Tintin and Braddock, which was actually pretty well done.

Tintin lacks the rugged looks of Indiana Jones, with a very mild appearance, but he’s plenty tough when the chips are down. In one of my favorite scenes, Braddock and Tintin are caught in the middle of the ocean on the remains of a lifeboat when the villain sends an airplane after them to finish off Tintin and capture Braddock.

Tintin: I’ve got bad news! We’ve got one bullet left!
Haddock: Oh, great. And what’s the good news?
Tintin: We’ve got one bullet left.

Tintin then fires a perfect shot that brings down the airplane.

The Adventures of Tintin is somewhat overlong as the plots for three separate books were combined. This leaves plenty of time for Tintin to show its fantastic action scenes. However, given the films length, it was almost too much of a good thing. Speilberg has stated that  future installments will only be based on two books, so hopefully that will lead to more compact films.

Overall the movie was a lot of fun, a technical marvel, and a showcase of the Talent of Spielberg, and the enduring fun of Herge’s stories.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Telefilm Review: Appointment with Death (2009)

“Your appointment with death was always to be here…”

In Appointment with Death(2009), Poirot arrives inSyria to follow the expedition of Lord Boyton (Tim Curry), who is searching for the head of John the Baptist. While there, Poirot witnesses Lady Boyton’s unpleasant behavior towards everyone other than her husband and overhears two of her children talking about how she must die.

And die she does. She’s found stabbed to death from her perch in the sun above the excavations where she watched her husband’s team excavating. Poirot is asked to investigate, but there are more secrets being kept by members of the party other than murder. Poirot (David Suchet) must sort through them all to find the real killer.

Review:

The acting in this telefilm is superb. David Suchet is his usual self and is supported by a fantastic cast of supporting players including Curry who has a great scene with Poirot in a cave where the two retell an ancient fable that’s written on the wall. This foreshadows much of the rest of the story and forms a narrative that suggests that no matter how long evil is unpunished, judgment and death finally catch up with the perpetrators.

Suchet was spell-binding in a 23 minute wrap-up of the case in which he deals with all the “red fish” in the case and reveals all.

The story (while not at all faithful to the book it’s supposedly adapting) is compelling and well-written. The teleplay like the later adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express is a product of its times, as it focuses on Lady Boyton’s sadistic abuse of her children from childhood to the present, and is in many ways reflective of frustration with the pervasiveness with this sort of behavior and the seeming inability or unwillingness of the courts to punish it.  It is a very dark story, yet the writers do manage to work a few rays of hope into what is a very heavy ending.

Appointment with Death also features stunning cinematography, as well as a powerful soundtrack that makes it a solid mystery.

Of course, as mentioned earlier the film deviates so much from the original novel, it’s barely recognizable. It’s addition of characters, subtraction of characters, change of murder methods and murder motives, change of location has been documented by many sites.

Clearly, Christie fans who complain about the movies have a point as the changes from Christie’s original are extreme. Ideally, if you title a movie by a book title and say it’s an adaptation, the movie should keep to the book. And if you’re going to make something vastly different, it ought to have a different title just as the 1940s Sherlock Holmes movies which borrowed elements from the Arthur Conan Doyle Stories were titled completely different from the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories.

One also has to ask whatever to the cozy mystery series? The original series of one hour Poirot episodes was more genteel, while recent films have taken a more gritty turn. The changes seem to be the result of ratings pressure. Scripted television of any sort is in an endangered species and if a TV show is going to be shot as an expensive period piece, it better draw rating. So far, these grittier Poirots have succeeded as the series has drawn good ratings and been renewed and perhaps will generate interests in the original stories.

Despite its departures from the source material, Appointment with Death is a compelling story in its own right and one of my favorite mystery films of recent years.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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