Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Sherlock Holmes Movie: Review

There has been a great deal of nonsense talked about the new Sherlock Holmes movie not being a faithful presentation of Holmes and Watson. In actuality, Jude Law is one of the great Watsons, adding to the virtues of his acting a face straight out of the Paget illustrations. It was eerie. Downey did a miraculous job of playing Holmes without playing any of his actor predecessors in the role. With help from the script, he even managed to convince one that the one factor that neither Holmes nor he could alter — height — was meant to be shortness, not tallness. It was a great pleasure to see him go to work, or rather, to see Holmes emerge, fully formed, from Downey. Downey and Law made a great team, a faithful depiction of the young Holmes and Watson having adventures.

(The only thing I would quibble about? The clothes and how the characters wore them. It was a little beyond the dabble in Bohemianism that would work for a couple of professional men. But of course, if Holmes and Watson had been scrupulous about not hanging around the house in their shirtsleeves, and wearing dressing gowns or smoking jackets to stay decently clothed around each other and Mrs. Hudson, modern audiences would have misread it, and Downey’s ressourcement approach would have run into Gillette again. Shrug. It worked. Except for one reviewer who saw this Holmes as a clothes horse. When he never wore a good clean boiled collar in the entire flick, and he was ruin on his hats, his shirts, and every other piece of garb that touched his body. Sure.)

Doyle made both Holmes and Watson good fighters, and taught Holmes several different styles of martial arts. So any reviewer who complains about this is a twit. Given that Doyle wrote an entire historical novel about the old bareknuckle boxing, blew up the house in the affair of the Engineer’s Thumb, raced steam launches down the Thames in The Sign of the Four, and had his big break by writing a novel claiming to be the true story of the Mary Celeste when that mystery was in the news, you can probably assume he’d have liked the action in this flick. So they can quit ripping on Guy Ritchie. Ritchie practically channels Stuff Doyle Would Like.

I loved the movie’s Lestrade, Eddie Marsan. Loved loved loved him. The toughness and determination, the irritation with Holmes’ gadfly ways, all presented in a man who misses some stuff but isn’t a bumbler. Constable Clarke is an original character, and he also is a lot of fun. (His name may come from Doyle’s historical novel Micah Clarke.)

Mrs. Hudson only appeared briefly, but Geraldine James played one of the best and most Victorian Hudsons ever. Mary Morstan lived up to her billing by Doyle, played as a kind, loving, and formidable lady of unusual beauty by Kelly Reilly. Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler was fun, although you have the typical costumer’s indecision as to whether they should constantly show or hide her curves when she’s running around in men’s clothes.

(She was perhaps the most criticized member of the cast in reviews, because she wanted to play Adler without chewing the scenery, and most people wanted Adler to be the woman of their romantic fantasies, oozing sex appeal and wuv at every moment. I’m not sure how they imagine their Adler not scaring Holmes away. Especially if she’d tried that when there was danger afoot. There’s even criticism that Adler isn’t souuuuulful enough. What?? The minority criticism was that she did have chemistry with Holmes, with those who prefer Holmes to have a strictly intellectual appreciation for The Woman. Well, folks, that’s not the option chosen by this movie; don’t blame the actress. Either way, what’s shown on screen is a good deal more chaste than what’s shown in movies following the lead of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a surprising moment of taste in our show-it-all times. My only criticism is that she’s not a contralto, but I still can work with that. But yeah, she probably needs to chew some scenery next time, or whatever it takes to bring out the opera diva in her inner Irene. Like that fight scene with Holmes that’s in the trailer but not in the movie.)

The movie showcased these women and others with a very Doyle (or Watson!) appreciation of them, each having their own strength and beauty and style. Just as with Doyle, we tend to get this depicted in short flashing scenes only. But in a world where actresses today seldom get to play any kind of decent role, I think these actresses feel lucky to have short bursts. We’ll see what happens next time.

The villains and non-heroes were interesting, as they should have been. One particular thug is allowed to be a real character as well as physically impressive; I hope to see his actor again. (And maybe this character too.) The main villain is played by an actor who obviously could have done a good Holmes himself. I think there were a few occasions where the filmmakers deliberately allowed you to realize this. 🙂

As for the movie, I must say that it was not as blowy-uppy as I had been told. It was a fun script and a clever one, with plenty going on. The gimmicky things about the presentation were not overused; they were played when fun, and kept back when not. I appreciated that. The action portions were lurid, but heck, Doyle loved a good lurid fight or chase or villainous scheme. Although the central conceit of the villain’s scheme was no secret to any anime viewer, it was kept adequately hidden. (In a way not quite a “fair play mystery” — but Doyle wrote before that concept emerged, and “fair play” began out of frustration with him.) But even that turned out to be cover for What Was Really Going On, and done for the benefit of other characters, not us. Frankly, every time I began to roll my eyes, the movie proved that it knew what it was doing. It was a lot of fun, and not stupid.

I could have done without London being quite so gritty. You can’t just show dirt without showing the struggle of hardworking Victorians (like Mrs. Hudson) against that dirt. (Just as you can’t just show Bohemian young Englishmen without showing that their generation was into morals and city reform.) But it was a valid choice, and set the scene that this was more a “Jack the Ripper” London than a cozy one. (Though I couldn’t believe the number of people who’ve claimed in reviews that nobody’s ever done a gritty Victorian London movie. Obviously not very versed in movies….)

I do have some accent issues. Other than Irene Adler, who is from New Jersey, and the American ambassador, everybody is supposed to be native English. Of course the English actors don’t have to worry, and Downey’s accent is fairly solid; but some of the actors slipped back and forth across the Atlantic from scene to scene. It wasn’t anything hideous or laughable, but it was noticeable.

The music by Hans Zimmer is a great pleasure. Any score that allows me to listen to cimbalom for long periods of time is a good score. The violin pieces were well-played, as is fitting for literature’s most famous amateur of the violin. There was also a brief but clever use of the Dubliners singing “The Rocky Road to Dublin” as a sort of soundtrack for London’s public culture. (I say ‘clever’ because that particular style of fast playing emerged from emigration to Victorian London, much as bluegrass emerged from various old-timey regional traditions being blended together by playing after work at northern factories.) It also works as a soundtrack to Holmes’ hyper side at work in that London, constantly on the hop but still under control.The music by Hans Zimmer is a great pleasure. Any score that allows me to listen to cimbalom for long periods of time is a good score. The violin pieces were well-played, as is fitting for literature’s most famous amateur of the violin. There was also a brief but clever use of the Dubliners singing “The Rocky Road to Dublin” as a sort of soundtrack for London’s public culture. (I say ‘clever’ because that particular style of fast playing emerged from emigration to Victorian London, much as bluegrass emerged from various old-timey regional traditions being blended together by playing after work at northern factories.) It also works as a soundtrack to Holmes’ hyper side at work in that London, constantly on the hop but still under control.

I don’t recommend the movie for young kids, because there’s a lot of scary stuff and rough fighting, and Irene does a lot of Implying that she and Holmes have slept together in the past. Also, some skin is shown, but not anything explicit. If you’re worried about magic in flicks and want the Occult shown to be a Bad Thing as well as Stupid, this is your movie. But you have to wait till the end for villains to get. And no, Holmes is not okay with Adler performing criminal acts, and no, the filmmakers don’t show this as something likely to end well for her. The same is true for a lot of stuff in this movie. Heck, Holmes in the stories is often a cautionary example. But no, they’re not going to come right out and say, “Gosh, all this is so self-destructive! Holmes, tell everyone not to do drugs or stay up late or sleep with crazy fast women who steal things!” If your kids have read the unabridged books and stories, though, they’re probably old enough for this flick. Use your judgment, basically.

This movie does set two conditions that are not adapted from the books; but they are not used haphazardly. It’s an alternate Holmes world, where “The Sign of the Four” has never taken place yet Watson met Miss Mary Morstan anyway. Meanwhile, Irene Adler has been running around as the kind of adventuress I thought “adventuress” meant when I was a little kid reading the first few paragraphs of “A Scandal in Bohemia”. (Her marriage with Godfrey Norton didn’t work out.)

(All fanfic by men about Irene Adler either kills Norton, makes him a brute who beats her, or otherwise makes her single again in jigtime. So don’t blame the poor scriptwriters. They too were caught in Irene’s allure.)

As for pretty much everything else not in the Canon of the stories and novels but proposed onscreen, you may look to the Writings about the Writings, the Great Game. In short, you may blame Sherlockians and Holmesians, and specifically the Annotated Holmes of Baring-Gould and the new Annotated by Les Klinger. So scroll down no further, if you don’t want to know.

The most important Sherlockian concept, and perhaps the best implemented, was the infamous deduction that Watson must be a gambling man, because he kept his checkbook locked up in Holmes’ desk. We do know from “A Study in Scarlet” that he tended to spend money freely, but there’s no real reason to blame gambling. It was London. There were shows and public balls and a thousand things to buy, as well as restaurants and pubs that a single man could use to get his three squares a day. Likewise, there’s no reason to believe that anyplace in the apartment had a more secure lock than Holmes’ desk, which was no doubt expensively protected for his work’s sake. But the actors and script used the gambling idea as a door into Watson’s character, to show that he was a man with failings and a craving for risk, as well as estimable qualities. It has never really worked in the body of fanfic, professional or otherwise; but here, it works.

The other inspired riff on the Game is the bullpup. One Sherlockian opined (nasty mans!) that the bullpup Watson was keeping (only mentioned once in A Study in Scarlet, and probably referring to a pistol) had been poisoned by Holmes in an experiment; and a dying dog is indeed finished off by poison in the stories. In this movie, the bullpup is a longtime denizen of the rooms at 221B; and while Holmes does include him in his experiments, he never does the dog any harm. Awww.

I liked this movie. It was fun and clever, with a good heart. It didn’t hate its subjects or the audience, and it didn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. It left the door open for sequels. And it even had awesome end credits, which I appreciated. (There was a lady on the crew named Windibank!! How Doyle!) I would like to see it again.

(The amusing thing is that, although many reviewers seem to determined to say nasty, clueless things about this movie, they still can’t resist telling people to go. The other amusing thing is watching reviewers warn Holmes purists against things that the real purists will love. Others claim to be fans of the books, yet object to situations which the books created, like Holmes’ dragging his feet against Watson getting married and moving out! Still, a surprising number of movie reviewers have revealed their Baker Streetcred.)


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The Tomb of the Notorious Tsao Tsao!

Tsao Tsao (aka Cao Cao, aka King Wu of Wei) is _the_ villain with style, in the famous Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, both skilled in war and Machiavellian power politics. He is famous for violating at least seven of the big fat Confucian principles of filial behavior, if I recall correctly. As the article notes, he was supposed to be not able enough to rule the world, but evil enough to destroy it. In real life, he doesn’t seem to have been all that evil a guy — just on the wrong side for the novel’s purposes. I don’t know enough about it to know if that’s just revisionism; but I do know that in the end, his dynasty won against the Han.

Anyyyyway, they just found his tomb! And his skull! And his queen’s skull! And some other very unlucky chick’s skull!

(Yes, early on, the Chinese were big on taking other people with them when they went. Wives and concubines and slaves and even soldiers faced a lot of pressure to go suffocate in the tomb with their dead lord, or kill themselves and get buried with them. And that was better than the other early option, which was that of not waiting for volunteers.)

Here’s Tsao Tsao in a typical scene of villainous doings from Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

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Koudelka Sisters? Is That You?

Other than the bad marriage choice, anyway.


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Women’s Hats to Flatter Your Head. (And Face.)

With pictures and diagrams and everything.

Yes, once again, you have to know what shape your face is. If you don’t know, there’s a link for that in the article. It’s got a lot more face shapes than usual, and uses numbers as well as geometry. Ooh, specialized.

And yes, this can be applied to veils, wimples, et al. What counts are the lines of what you put on your head, and what you emphasize and deemphasize with those lines.

Via Manolo the Shoeblogger.

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Go, Dutch!

That jerk on the Amsterdam/Detroit flight, who tried to blow up the plane on Christmas? The bank chairman’s son, who has nothing better to do than try to fall on a city full of abandoned buildings and poor people?

Subdued by a Dutch film director named Jasper Schuringa, who climbed over other passengers and jumped on him. (While other passengers and crew were dousing the flaming pants.) He then pulled the flaming package off the man’s leg and got rid of it, waited till the fire was out, and then escorted him away.

I find this oddly fitting. A little payback from Dutch film folks for the jihad murder of Theo Van Gogh — while also doing the jerk the favor of saving his leg from his own stupidity.

Audio interview from the BBC.

Jasper Schuringa on CNN. You can see that he got a tad burned, but it didn’t stop him from continuing onto the next leg of his flight to Miami. 🙂 May he never have to buy a beer ever again.

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Proof That Not All Irish People Have the Blarney.

I was reading a news story about the terrible fire on Christmas morning that gutted St. Mel’s Cathedral in Longford. Some Irish guy starts posting in the comments about how horrible Irish people are, for not recognizing the depth of the abuse problem.

Why, you ask?

Because when he went into pubs in Longford and started declaring that it was all because of the child abuse thing, people threatened to knock his block off.

Yeah. His fellow citizens were socially unaware, because they were upset to see their spiritual home, not to mention thousands of Irish pounds of irreplaceable old heritage, go up in flames. (Especially when it was stuff you couldn’t buy for any amount of Euros today. And it was his art heritage, too.) The fact that it took place on Christmas, after a year of many other sad and terrifying revelations, was supposed to make them feel better, not worse.

They didn’t even hit him; they just let him know, with forceful language, that they didn’t want to hear him speak upon this particular sad topic on this particular other sad day in their city’s history.

So then he’s careful to explain that he’s a proud atheist, and was saying all this stuff in a purposeful attempt to make Catholics feel bad. (No doubt other atheists are not proud of him.) Apparently he explained this to the people in the pubs, also. And still, nobody actually hit him — just threatened to.

It’s not just the amazing social ineptitude and meanspiritedness that strikes me. It’s his luck, and the pub people’s forebearance. He didn’t even get thrown out on his ear by the management. So the people of Longford, except him, must generally be the sweetest, gentlest people in the world; and he must have one heck of a hardworking guardian angel.

Either that, or he’s so obviously spoiling for a fight, that everyone saw it’d be more of a punishment not to give him one. 🙂

Here’s a good column about how people from Longford feel about the cathedral: “Defiance Built the Cathedral and Defiance Can Restore It”. It was built before and after the Famine, by the eagerly donated half-pennies of the poor. The Cathedral museum also served as the museum and archive for the whole of County Longford.


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In the Cold Hard Light of Four AM…

… I’m taking down my previous angry post.

The part of today that isn’t Sunday is St. John the Evangelist’s feastday. Drink wine, and go get your wine blessed.

I think I will go see Sherlock Holmes tomorrow, even if it does get a bit blowy-uppy.

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Well, That Was Scary. Scary Christmas.

Some crazy lady jumped the barriers inside St. Peter’s and knocked down the Pope and Cardinal Etchegaray. During the procession at the beginning of Mass. Suddenly the servers realized they were walking with nobody behind them, and the security guys from the front started sprinting down the aisle to come help.

Very scary.

The suited security men and Swiss Guards were Not Amused. The whole rest of the Mass, they were giving everyone the hairy hairy eyeball. Even the lectors.

But at the end of Mass, the Pope still stopped to bless the crowd and bless the manger scene inside the Basilica. No hurry, no worry, business as usual. Everything in its place.

Nobody gave him any looks that I could see. In fact, the one head security guy gave the pope a sort of apologetic bow.

I just thank God that our little pope is okay. He doesn’t mass much, physically. Of course, this may help him bounce a bit.

Anyway, in his homily, the Pope called upon us to wake up, so that we can hear God calling us and pay attention to what’s going on, outside our own little dreamworld — our own little prison of selfishness. He encouraged us to do like the shepherds — to hurry up to do God’s will. He urged us to be like the Magi and go however far we must, to answer God’s call. Then he urged us to let God’s incarnation make us really alive, not dead sticks and stones.

The BBC has video of the pre-Mass scare. They took down the raw video, though.

Father Z says Orbis Catholicus was at Midnight Mass toward the entrance of the basilica. Maybe he saw something… but I expect he won’t post for a couple of days.

UPDATE: Moved up.

I imagine everybody on the Internet has seen AmP’s coverage of this by now. Very scary exclusive video. And yes, it’s been confirmed multiple times that it was the same crazy lady as last year’s incident.

Orbis Catholicus was indeed there… and is advocating the return of the sedia gestatoria (the papal sedan chair). I dunno. If some crazy lady rushes a chairbearer, I’m thinking that would be a lot scarier way to fall!

He also has a good deal to say about the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the current group of Italian gendarmeria security guys (the men in dark suits). Read the whole thing, as it also reveals how Cardinal Etchegaray was injured.

As could have been expected, the Pope of course forgave his attacker, one Susanna Maiolo. But it’s fairly clear the woman needs help. She’s from someplace named Ticino.


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B’Nai B’Rith’s Postwar Report on Pius XII

Dug out by Orbis Catholicus, along with a lot of other interesting posts of material this week.

“A small glimpse of the work done, the incredible detail to be handled and the risks to be run, is obtained from a report prepared by B’nai B’rith long after the war. In the Bulletin of the Anti-Defamation League for October 1958 the report reads: ‘It is known today that, under Pope Pius XII’s instructions, 15,000 Jews received asylum in Castel Gandolfo. In convents and monasteries, canonical enclosure was lifted so that Jews of both sexes might find security under Vatican immunity. More than 180 places thus made available a secret asylum given to over 7000 refugee Jews.'”

-Shepherd of Mankind by William E. Barrett, c. 1964, p. 179.

The Anti-Defamation League is Mr. Foxman’s own organization. I guess he doesn’t bother to read the back numbers of their newsletters, especially if it might encourage him to praise some dead pope guy. Who only kept 15,000 Jewish people hidden in his house.

Sir Martin Gilbert, historian and Jew, on the Pope as resistance leader and rescuer of Jews.

At the Hermeneutic of Continuity, a look at how you can make a picture of Weimar Republic soldiers at Hindenburg’s birthday party, and of a chauffeur giving a respectful salute, can be made to look like Nazis doing Nazi things.

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Oscar Wilde Drank Frappucinos

From the good people over at Shrine of the Holy Whapping, quoting an Oscar Wilde letter from Rome in 1900:

“….I was outside the Caffè Nazionale taking iced coffee with gelato—a most delightful drink….”

But there’s more to it than that, so read the whole thing. (The funny thing is that you really can picture the Holy Whapping bunch having the problem mentioned!)

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What the Hymn Tune??

The Episcopalian hymn tune “St Mark’s, Berkeley” is credited as coming from the 1928 Irish folk hymnal Danta De.

None of the songs in that hymnal are anything other than public domain, and most of them came with names. If this particular one didn’t have a pre-existing name, you could even call it by its number in Danta De, or name it after the first line of the tune in the book.

But grab it and call it by the name of your church? Your church in Berkeley, California, USA???

Argh. My head hurts. A lot a lot.

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Fun Fact To Share If People Whine about an American Playing Holmes

The most famous actor in the part of Sherlock Holmes in Doyle’s day, and the most enjoyed by Doyle, was William Gillette, who was also the founder of modern “realistic” theater as we have it today.

He was an American.


Oh, and yes, I’m sure Robert Downey, Jr. is perfectly well aware of his position vis a vis theatrical history, and the great number of great actors who have taken on Holmesian roles. He and Jude Law seem just a bit… competitive. But in case you were wondering, Wikipedia notes that Downey has actually been put forward as an example of Gillette’s “illusion of the first time” — that Downey wasn’t speaking lines, but rather that his character was alive and coming out with words that had come to mind just that moment, as a regular person speaks.

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Everybody Go to Columbus Next Halloween!

The World Fantasy Convention, which moves about to different exotic destinations each year, will be in Columbus, Ohio on the weekend of October 28-31, 2010. It looks like it’s being chaired by a local bookdealer (fitting!).

The Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus is a pretty good-sized convention hotel, conveniently situated near highways and food, and about three-four blocks away from St. Patrick’s. The World Fantasy Convention is also a lot smaller and more convenient than the World Science Fiction Convention for meeting your favorite writers. So it’s probably going to be a really good deal.

(OVFF and the Deep in History Conference are both the weekend before this, and in different locations. In case you wondered, since this blog probably has readers overlapping with either or both.)

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“Guitar Accompaniment” in Today’s Celtic Music

The guitarist plays chords where people used to clap along. For non-Midwestern Celtic bands that don’t like people to clap along, it serves primarily as a preventative against handclaps. In bands with no bodhran player, it actually serves some percussive purpose; but is usually not nearly so nice or complicated as bodhran percussion.

(I don’t mind people who use their guitars as melody instruments; but percussive guitar is semi-useless at best, and Deeply Annoyingly Lame at worst.)


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