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Eragon

I watched Eragon yesterday. I’d recommend you not make the same mistake.

What surprises me the most is the talent in the film. Headlining are John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons, and Rachel Weisz. Why would they ever agree to be in this disaster? Something very significant must have changed between the time they signed on and the film was released.

What I can say in the film’s favour is that the production values are head and shoulders above the sword and sorcery films I watched back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, a bigger budget and slick CGI doesn’t make a film good.

Do yourself a favour and pass on this film.

Sherlock Holmes

Finally, I sat myself down to watch last year’s Sherlock Holmes. It did not go over well. As a movie on its own, it was fine. As a Sherlock Holmes film however, it was not fine.

I don’t know who it was that everyone kept calling Sherlock Holmes, because it wasn’t Sherlock Holmes! Goodness, Holmes is not a buffoon. For much of the film, he was such an idiot that it seemed the writers were confusing him with Lestrade. No, that’s unkind to Lestrade. Holmes is a gentleman. Yes, he’s eccentric, but he’s still a gentleman. The only time I’d expect him to look the least bit shabby is when he’s in disguise. The ‘real’ Holmes did sometimes say things that weren’t exactly proper, but he was still a gentleman. What this movie version did when he met Watson’s fiance would have been unthinkably rude and boorish. That wasn’t Holmes.

Watson is even more a gentleman than Holmes. He would not punch Holmes in the face. The idea is ridiculous. Although they were dear friends, Holmes was at a social level Watson would never reach. He knew it and acted accordingly. But in this film, they act like compatriots in a setting were there are no differing social strata. The writers took period window dressing and wrote largely modern characters. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams all fail to show any dignity of which their characters should have an abundance.

I was going to suggest that all three of the main ‘good guy’ characters were too young, but I realized that their age isn’t my gripe. It comes back to my point about their dignity. The characters don’t act like ladies and gentlemen. They largely act like we do today, and not like ladies and gentlemen of the Victorian era. This makes them seem younger, and disappointingly common.

In the Arthur Conan Doyle Story, A Scandal in Bohemia, Holmes says, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Despite this, Downey’s Holmes draws conclusions with hardly any data several times, even though he paraphrases this very quote. As an aside, A Scandal in Bohemia was the first Sherlock Holmes short story, and the first published in The Strand magazine. It was published in 1891, the year in which the film is set. It is also the only story to feature Irene Adler.

As Hollywood is wont, they made a royal mess of the established Holmes timeline. Although this isn’t entirely a surprise, it’s still disappointing.

The only solace I can find is no utterance of the phrase, “elementary, my dear Watson,” and no appearance of any deerstalker caps.

Taken in isolation, as a period fantasy with new characters, it was okay. But these were characters I know, and it utterly failed as a Sherlock Holmes story.

Avatar: first impression

Ryan and I went to see it this evening. Let me break it down into a few parts, okay?

The 3D. Cameron promised three-dimensional imagery like we’ve never seen in a movie. I think he delivered. It’s not perfect, however. The technology isn’t there yet. When it’s good, it is very good, but the images show artifacts often enough that you’re rarely entirely immersed. Another issue with the 3D is that it’s shot like a conventional 2D film. I believe 3D needs a different shooting style, but no one really knows how. Not yet.

The CGI. An incredibly large part of the visuals are computer generated. It’s better than we’ve ever seen, but the aliens still look plastic or rubber to me, most of the time.

Last, and certainly least, is the story. It was awful. Cameron had all kinds of technology to show us when someone in the back piped up and said, “But James, what story are you going to tell with all that visual finery? We need a story!” Based on the movie I saw this evening, Cameron must have fired the guy. As I said to Ryan after the film, it simply reminds me that there’s nothing new under the sun. There’s just too much in the mix … too many themes, none subtle, and we’ve seen them all before. There’s no room for a good story with interesting characters. No time for characters that we can genuinely care about, and that’s saying something for a 168 minute picture. So to get us to feel something, the film cheats and tries to shamelessly manipulate our emotions, and it doesn’t work in any meaningful way. It’s just tiresome.

Think of the film as a $300 million technological proof of concept. If you know this going in, you may enjoy it for what it is.


Marquee poster ©2009 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation

Two films

I watched two films today.

Directed by Sofia Coppola, Marie Antoinette stars Kirsten Dunst as the French monarch. This is the type of historical drama in which you know exactly what’s going to happen. It’s like the Titanic sinking. You know it’s coming and you enjoy it even more because of it. Marie Antoinette starts with the title character leaving her home in the Austrian court to be married off to the son of Louis XV. You know that later in the story, the Bastille will be stormed, the royal family will be taken prisoner, and eventually, both she and her husband will be victims of the guillotine. Before the French people decide that the monarchy has to go, it’s all prologue. Sure it’s somewhat interesting, but you know where the story is headed and you’re looking forward to it.

At least I was looking forward to seeing how they dealt with the event unfolding around them. I was disappointed, however. Coppola decided that the film was going to end before the storming of the Bastille. The royal family leaves the palace at Versailles, looking at the grounds out the carriage windows, and the credits roll. I couldn’t believe it.

With the disappointing ending and the dragging middle, I’d recommend you take a pass on this one.

Happily, Sorry, Wrong Number saved the movie day for me. Barbara Stanwyck is a rich but sick woman, confined to her bed. One evening, her husband, Burt Lancaster, is inexplicably late. She becomes more and more agitated as she’s unable to reach him. Calling his office again, she experiences some sort of technical problem and overhears a call between two men planning a woman’s murder to occur at 11:15 that night. As she tries to stop this from happening, things spiral out of control.

This 1948 film does share some features of Hitchcock’s 1954 film, Rear Window, but in many ways, they’re different animals. Most of the story is presented in the form of flashbacks, and at one point, a flashback contained another flashback! As awkward as this may sound, it all came together very well.

In a sense, this film also has an element of “you know what’s going to happen.” Rather than known historical events, it’s simply not difficult to guess what’s going to happen at the end of the film very early in the presentation. If I can see it coming, it’s pretty clear. Happily, this did nothing to interfere with my enjoyment of the journey to the end I was expecting.

If you’re in the mood for a film-noir mystery, Sorry, Wrong Number is a treat.

Party!

One of the discs I’ve recently borrowed from the library is called End of the World Party (Just in Case), by Medeski Martin & Wood. I first learned of MMW from my nephew. He’s got some very eclectic tastes and a few years ago, he passed along their Combustication release. I liked it, a lot.

Describing their music is difficult. One might say they’re a trio playing heavily improvisational jazz. The description seems to fit well, but I already know what they sound like. I’m not entirely convinced that you’d think of the same thing without already knowing their music. An additional reason they’re hard to describe is they’ve undergone significant change over time. MMV started with pure jazz but this album brings in flavours of all kinds of music to mix with their jazz foundation.

It’s surprisingly frustrating to me because I can’t even really describe this one album. The first track, “Anonymous Skulls,” for example, wouldn’t appear out of place on a movie soundtrack. It’s a moody evocative piece. The instrumentation is limited to drums, acoustic bass, and keyboards, but Medeski had a lot of keyboards. Other songs are more straight-up, but without exception, they all include outstanding performances. These guys are in fine form. Their music gets you into a groove and doesn’t let you out.

I’ve got four or five of their older albums, but as much as I enjoy them and appreciate the skills of the players, I haven’t really become involved with the music. It just hasn’t been accessible on an emotional level, you know? That’s changed with this album. I’m just crazy about it because it has ‘clicked’ with me, somehow.

If you can find your way to give it a listen, it would be worth the effort. Highly recommended.

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