Film Review by Jeff Falkingham
I've never seen a Will Ferrell movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. Many start out with a clever premise - which then gets beaten to death because the man simply doesn’t know when to stop pushing the envelope. Others quickly abandon the original premise in pursuit of others – none of which is ever fully developed. The latter takes trump (pun intended) in his latest endeavor, ‘Holmes & Watson.’
In many of his movies, Ferrell plays a pompous ass who believes he is smarter than everyone else in the room. That’s an apt description, not only of the political leader(s) that Ferrell makes fun of in this movie, but also of Holmes himself - as portrayed by a wide variety of actors throughout the years. Ferrell gets in his digs at many of them. There’s the Euclid geometry employed by Downey in a boxing match, the whiz-bang workings of Cumberbatch’s high-tech 21st-century mind, the condescension in Rathbone’s rapid wrap-ups, the cool detachment of Brett’s vacant stare, and more.
John C. Reilly, on the other hand, seems content in channeling Nigel Bruce in his ‘bumbling buffoon’ portrayal of Dr. Watson. Actually, that’s not quite true. Reilly’s Watson is NOT content in his role. He aspires, instead, to be recognized as an equal to Holmes - a ‘co-detective’ on this case, and throughout the Canon.
Spoiler alert: Sherlock’s failure to acknowledge his companion’s contributions arouses suspicions that Watson is, in fact, the villain in this case, out to sabotage and sully his partner’s reputation. The two appear to work out their differences in a song-and-dance routine late in the film, only to have Sherlock’s true feelings on the matter later revealed in the relatively puny plaque placed at the entrance to 221B Baker Street (one of the better sight gags in the film).
The development, or lack of it, in the relationship between the film’s two title characters is one of the more interesting themes here. Watson’s short-comings, and his frustration with them, are nowhere more evident than in a scene where the two visit Mycroft at the Diogenes Club. Who among us does NOT believe that the world’s two smartest men, who also happen to be brothers, would be able to share one another’s thoughts, without a single word passing between them? Funny!! But far too fleeting – which is true of so many notions in this film.
Beyond his brief encounter with Mycroft, Sherlock’s relationship with Lestrade is spot-on as well. Their diametrically-opposed theories about Moriarty had me thinking of Mark Twain’s ‘Double-Barreled Detective’ satire, where Sherlock’s deductions are all in error, leading to a totally wrong conclusion. Here, that tale is turned on its head: While Lestrade’s much more logical explanation misses its mark, Sherlock’s wild, hare-brained obsession with Moriarty proves to be fully warranted. (And, without giving too much away, the ‘link’ between Moriarty and Mrs. Hudson is a delicious twist!)
Twain’s ‘Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ is also mirrored (as in left being right, and vice-versa) in this film. Besides America’s loutish leadership, its citizenry also is stereotyped - by its obsession with guns and violence. And, of course, ONLY in America, NEVER in Victorian England, could a WOMAN become a “doctor” (in air-quotes, no less) - a shot at Lucy Liu’s Watson in Elementary? The only thing missing here is ‘that woman,’ Irene Adler. Maybe they’re saving her for the sequel? (Yet another idea on which Ferrell is likely to fail to follow through.)
There are many clever ideas in this movie. Unfortunately, none is given a chance to develop. Instead, the viewer is forced to slosh through buckets of vomit, vials of urine, handfuls of horse manure, scads of sexual innuendo, and an endless series of pratfalls and slapstick. In other words, exactly what one should expect from a Will Ferrell movie, eh? It just seems to me that Holmes and Watson, and their legions of fans, deserve better.
In summary: Victorian London is a labyrinth of dark, narrow side streets, where it’s easy to get lost in the fog. Will Ferrell needs a ‘lamp-lighter’ (in the form of a firm-handed director?) to show him the way. Otherwise, like the political leader he most loves to lampoon, Ferrell too often strays off script, getting himself into needless trouble, from which he can’t (or at least shouldn’t be able to) just walk away and move on to his next gig – or gag.
3. Cumberbatch ‘best' ever?
4. Flaccid Ferrell Foolishness
AN ELEMENTARY INVESTIGATION
1. According to Doyle
2. ‘Quintessential’ Downey
These are the 10 best Sherlock Holmes short stories, according to their author himself, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:
1. The Adventure of the Speckled Band (1892)
2. The Red-Headed League (1891)
3. The Adventure of the Dancing Men (1903)
4. The Final Problem (1893)
5. A Scandal in Bohemia (1891)
6. The Adventure of the Empty House (1903)
7. The Five Orange Pips (1891)
8. The Adventure of the Second Stain (1904)
9. The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot (1910)
10. The Adventure of the Priory School (1904)
Ratings & Reviews: Stories, Movies, Actors
Below are reviews and ratings for several Sherlock Holmes stories, movies and actors. The first one is by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. The others are by Jeff Falkingham.
1. According to Doyle
(His own favorite SH tales)
2. Downey the latest ‘quintessential’ Holmes
3. Is Cumberbatch the ‘best Sherlock ever’?
4. Flacid Ferrell Foolishness
Is BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch the “best Holmes ever!”?
(Blog by Jeff Falkingham)
In little more than a few short years, Benedict Cumberbatch has become the most popular reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes in decades. His worldwide popularity (especially among teens and young adults) far exceeds that of his contemporaries, Hollywood’s Robert Downey, Jr. and CBS television’s Jonny Lee Miller.
In fact, if you Google “best Holmes ever?” you’ll likely find the young star of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s “Sherlock” miniseries among the top two or three names in almost every poll! Only the BBC’s Jeremy Brett (who played Holmes from 1984-1994) can challenge Cumberbatch as a serious contender for the title once held firmly by Basil Rathbone (who made 14 feature-length Holmes films between 1939 and 1946).
In January , Cumberbatch will take aim at Rathbone’s crown. He’ll do it using a trick previously employed by Rathbone himself: time travel. Basil’s version of The Great Detective achieved its greatest popularity when the setting for his movies jumped from the Victorian Era of the 1890s to the Nazi-fighting days of the 1940s. Producers of “Sherlock” are doing the reverse, taking Cumberbatch and co-star Martin Freeman (who plays Dr. John Watson) out of their familiar 21st Century setting, and back to 1895, for a Conan Doyle-inspired tale called “The Case of the Abominable Bride” (to be shown January 1 on PBS, and in select theaters on January 5 & 6).
If the gambit succeeds, it will only increase Cumberbatch’s popularity – and ranking!
Published on Great River Authors Group blog (and LinkedIn) 12/1/15
Downey the latest 'quintessential' Holmes
(A Movie Review by Jeff Falkingham)
Sherlock Holmes has appeared in more than 200 films. It’s unlikely any of those films has been as heavily promoted as Guy Ritchie’s version. Does it live up to the hype? My answer is: Yes! In almost every way.
The sets, costumes, makeup and art direction are all Oscar-worthy. They capture perfectly the flavor of 1890s London, as the city and its inhabitants struggle to move from the Victorian Era into the Industrial Age.
The cinematography is outstanding! The film features a number of visual images that will remain vivid in your mind for days. Unlike the promotional campaigns of many movies these days, not all of those scenes appear in the trailers you see on TV.
The musical score, from Beethoven to Haydn to the Irish Rovers to several haunting original tunes from composer Hans Zimmer, matches the mood of the on-screen action in every instance.
The editing, as you’d expect from Ritchie, is fast-paced, almost frenetic at times. There’s rarely a dull moment.
Early in the film, a “pause” device is employed to show us how the great detective’s mind works. It is used sparingly enough to make it extremely effective, not to the point that it becomes an annoying distraction. Ritchie also uses “flashbacks” as they were intended to be used: as momentary flashes, rather than as extended episodes that interrupt the chronological flow of the story.
The story itself might be the film’s weakest point. It involves a scheme by a member of the House of Lords to take over England and restore the British Empire, including the reacquisition of former colonies “across the Atlantic.”
The story also dabbles in the occult. This may appeal to some viewers, but could turn off others, as it all tends to get a bit confusing. Of course, Holmes explains it all in the end; but he does so in such a flippant, rapid, matter-of-fact manner that it’s not that easy to follow.
There’s also a subplot involving Dr. Watson’s intention to move out of the apartment he shares with Holmes at 221B Baker Street and into a home of his own with Mary Morstan, his betrothed.
Morstan plays a surprisingly strong part in the film, especially considering the relatively few moments that she (portrayed by Kelly Reilly) is actually seen on screen. That brings us to perhaps the most controversial element of Ritchie’s film: the actors’ portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters.
Jude Law’s depiction of Dr. Watson is unlike any we’ve ever seen before. A former military man who became a surgeon, Doyle’s Watson was a man who did things “by the book.” His style, in writing as in life, was formal, precise -- one might even call it stuffy, or stodgy. He has been portrayed on film as everything from a loyal sidekick to a bumbling buffoon.
Law’s Watson is none of those things. He is cheeky, brash and confident. In other words, he is a perfect foil for Holmes! I’m not sure Doyle would have approved, but I think Watson would have been flattered. After all, though he was a fervent admirer of Holmes’ superior intellect, the good doctor knew that he, himself, was equal to (or better than) the great detective in many other areas, including social skills.
The Irene Adler in Ritchie’s movie is a logical extension of the character in Doyle’s Scandal in Bohemia. As portrayed by Rachel McAdams, it is easy to see why she was always “the woman” in Holmes’ life. By the way, though there are references to other Sherlockian tales in the film (there’s even a tip of the hat to Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven), it is not necessary to have read the books in order to enjoy the movie. The film contains more than enough adventure, intrigue, and even romance, to stand on its own.
Mark Strong as Lord Blackwood presents an adequate adversary. Even he admits, though, that Holmes will find a more fearsome foe looming on the horizon (or, more accurately, lurking in the shadows). Eddie Marsan is your typical Lestrade. Often viewed by Holmes as a hindrance, the Inspector occasionally manages to come through in the clutch, albeit a bit late.
Last but not least, we have Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes.
Since Eille Norwood portrayed Holmes in 47 silent short films in the 1920s, every generation of Sherlockians has had its quintessential on-screen Holmes: the 40s had Basil Rathbone; the 60s, Peter Cushing, the 80s, Jeremy Brett. We were long overdue for another.
I’m not sure Downey would have been my first choice. Downey’s Holmes is not as regal as Cushing’s. On the other hand, he’s at least as neurotic as Brett’s, and more physical than even the swashbuckling Rathbone’s. Not entirely by chance, I’m sure, Downey even brings a bit of Charlie Chaplin to the role in a couple of short but memorable scenes.
The actor’s timing, facial expressions and body language are all impeccable; his chemistry with the other actors is superb. In short, he worked for me!
I’m not sure we can infer that Downey’s Holmes will send a new generation of Sherlockians scurrying to the library in search of Doyle’s original works. But I’m confident in my deduction that many movie-goers will be eagerly awaiting the sure-to-come sequel. You can count me among them.
Published on Eden Prairie News website, 12/27/2009