Saturday, January 02, 2010

REVIEWS: It's Complicated/Sherlock Holmes

When I went to the movies Friday afternoon, I noticed a woman sitting by herself at a showing of It's Complicated and thought it peculiar she didn't drag a significant other with her. After the movie I heard her explain she went to see the new Meryl Streep movie because her family wanted to see Sherlock Holmes.

She got the better deal.

As I would expect from a film by writer-director Nancy Meyers, the chief asset of It's Complicated is the performances. Streep, of course, is excellent, but the men just about match her. Alec Baldwin has garnered deserved praise for his funny and poignant turn as Streep's ex who falls back in love with her, but Steve Martin is equally good as the architect who also falls for Streep. I wish he would get straight romantic roles more often; he's just as good here as he was in the underrated Shopgirl.

As too many of Meyer's films do, It's Complicated stumbles when it goes for physical comedy. I wish so much of the humor in female-centric films didn't revolve around "Hee-hee, we saw him/her NAKED" sniggering. A movie with writing that is otherwise sharp and insightful need not resort to such lowest-common-denominator laughs.

As far as so-called "chick flicks" go, It's Complicated is decent if not particularly distinct. It's certainly not as good as Julie & Julia or as affecting as Meyer's own Something's Gotta Give, but it's certainly better than, say, Sex and the City 2 probably will be.



Watching the previews for Sherlock Holmes, I could never summon that much enthusiasm for the movie. I like the character and very much enjoyed the one Arthur Connan Doyle book I read, A Study in Scarlet. Still, I wasn't all that interested in seeing him at the center of a Hollywood action movie. I'm not a Doyle purist who would choke on his pipe at the sight of Holmes in hand-to-hand combat, but this film turns the esteemed detective into a fairly standard action hero, and he deserves better.

It's not that Sherlock Holmes is a bad movie, it's just not a very good one. It's fairly entertaining, but the whole enterprise vaguely bored me. Even in the flashiest action scenes, my mind was thinking, "Kinda cool, but so what?" The movie never made me care about the characters.

Part of the problem is miscasting on both sides of the camera. Guy Ritchie is simply not that interesting as a director. Oh, sure, he has style to spare, but his lack of narrative skill undermines his visual flair. Ritchie can stage a decent action scene, but he's not a very good storyteller, and even a reinvented Holmes has to have a strong story.

I never thought I would say this, but Rachel McAdams is a drag on the film too. I nomally love her work, but she doesn't seem quite in her element. Emily Blunt might have pulled off her role better. And as fun as Downey is in the title role, his Holmes is simply too close to being Tony Stark with a British accent.

I have no problem with reinventing franchises, but it requires more imagination than this movie displays. Hey chaps - remember Star Trek that came out in 09? THAT'S how it's done.



Zack said...

I agree on both counts, though I think I probably liked IT'S COMPLICATED a hair less than you, and SHERLOCK HOLMES a hair more than you.

What I found particularly distracting about the former was that -- yet again -- Meyers' self-indulgent, whitewashed, rich, terminally well-adjusted world is on display, and it's starting to really grate on me -- especially when even freaking Roland Emmerich is acknowledging the growing disparity between rich and poor. That said, the movie is funny enough and sports such a super cast to be a charming enough distraction.

You're exactly right that Ritchie is miscast as director w/r/t HOLMES. His "style" was in such hyperdrive during the first half-hour that I almost walked out. Once it settles into the (convoluted) plot, I found some pleasure in it. But it's back to business as usual in Act 3, when everything must be explained, and Ritchie borders on self-parody when he employs a series of endless montages to do so.

Zack said...

By the way, Sir, where the heck is your top ten list? Coming soon, I hope?

Sir Critic said...

Actually, I don't so much mind the fact that Meyers' characters are well-off. For one, it's not THAT ostentatious,and for another, it hearkens back to what old Hollywood did during the depression, when the characters depicted were typically well-to-do.

As for my 10 Best List, that's coming very soon, I wanted to re-watch and just plain watch a few things before finalizing this. But I plan to post it within this week.

Randy O said...

Regarding Holmes, I liked the movie a little more than you, it seems. Best of all was Jude Law playing a Watson who wasn't a lap dog to Holmes. A few other observations:

1. You're so right about McAdams' miscasting. I felt like she had wandered in from the set of a Central Park light romance.

2. It is disappointing to see cerebral giants settling things with their fists (though Jeremy Brett did it with panache), but blame it on Conan Doyle. Holmes' resurrection from the Reichenbach falls, after confronting Moriarty there, was this: "Fortunately, I have some knowledge of baritsu, the Japanese system of wrestling..." (I'm quoting from memory, so may not be exact.)

3. I was disappointed to see the cliche character of the giant-sized bad guy, who flings the hero about the room until the hero finds a clever way to defeat him. The same character is in every James Bond movie, every Zorro movie, etc. Maybe it was parody but I didn't sense that.

4. Crowded holiday theater, including many middle-schoolers who quickly lost interest, reminded me why I so rarely see movies in theaters anymore.

Despite these quibbles, I thought it was an interesting and fresh take on Holmes and Watson.

Cathy said...

Happy New Year! My family (Mom, Dad & Grandmother) and I LOVED It's Complicated. We're anxious to see it again as we missed a number of parts due to the laughter in the theater. I'm interested in seeing Sherlock Holmes but will probably wait for it to come out on DVD.

Kim said...

I wonder how you would feel about Downey's Holmes if there was no Tony Stark? LOL! But you're right, it seemed a rather "formula" performance- and I typically really enjoy watching him on screen. I confess I have considered Holmes to be more classy and less - um - earthy - but I've never read the books so this could be more accurate for all I know. I did love the Jude Law version of Watson though. Overall I was entertained, but did come away feeling like it had potential that it didn't realize.
I loved It's Complicated. The performances definitely made it - I also loved the guy who played the angst filled son-in-law to be - very funny! And Zack - I had that same thought as you - I found much of the story to be real and "relate-able" - all except the part where they were ALL rich and successful. That did annoyed me a little - mostly because I'm jealous - lol! But I see Eric's point too - hearkening back to the Hollywood glam. Whatev. Definitely worth seeing - I don't remember when I've laughed out loud so much in a theater. Maybe it's cos I'm a chick - ha!