Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

With the popularity of detective shows such as CSI and Law & Order, it's not surprising that there would be movies based on the most legendary mystery series ever. His name is literally synonymous with 'detective.' But the timelessness of the books does not necessarily insure the success of the films.

Do you remember that boxing scene in the first Sherlock Holmes movie? Where he plans out his moves in his head and the camera speed goes from really fast to really slow a couple times? If you're familiar with that clip, you've already seen half of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The repeated use of this effect becomes a gimmick within the first thirty minutes of the movie. Every other scene is filled with dark, fast, and confusing clips.  I have to admit, the boxing scene in the first movie was pretty cool. I hadn't really seen anything like it before. But now it seems like they're only using it as an excuse to show every fight scene twice.

Trailers are very important and I'm not talking about those motor homes. A movie trailer has to make someone want to pay to see it without giving away all of the exciting parts. It's a very delicate thing that can make or break a movie. With this one, I felt like I already knew the secrets about every situation they were in. 'There's a guy in the rafters. It's Sherlock cross-dressing. Watson has to make the shot count. They're going to run through the woods.' The trailer gave away all of the little mysteries in a mystery movie.

Being based on a book series, the story was well-done. I must admit that I have not read all of the Sherlock stories by Arthur Conan Doyle so I cannot attest to the movie's faithfulness. But if the story was modified (which I'm sure it was) they did a fairly good job of making it compelling and interesting to the audience.

This storyline takes place in 1891. Why do they all have perfect teeth? White as a pearl and straight as a ruler. They're English for godsakes! He's not supposed to have Robert Downey Jr.'s celebrity teeth! It was very distracting.

In some cases, people say 'read the book before you see the movie.' In this situation, just read the book. Don't bother with the movie.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Black Keys - El Camino

Before I talk about the new Black Keys album, El Camino, I need to talk about The Ramones. When The Ramones were around, the music world was filled with disco. There was a lot of popular electronic music. The world needed something that was catchy but also raw and powerful. The Ramones fit the bill. They only knew how to play one kind of song. Listen to their greatest hits and you'll see what I mean. In retrospect, they weren't great songwriters at all but they were able to provide human, catchy rock that saved the world from disco.

Fast-forward to today. Eight of the top-ten songs on iTunes are based on synthesizers and computers. Kids are listening to dubstep. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great things in music that can be done with computers and electronics. But nothing can replace the humanity and roughness of rock. The Black Keys are what we need. They are The Ramones of today, saving us from the endless drone of robotic-tronica.

The comparison does not stop there. The Black Keys do sound a little repetitive at times. Blues-rock can only take you so far before you need to make some serious innovations and it wouldn't be a stretch to say that many of their songs sound the same. But that doesn't stop them from writing some seriously fantastic songs like "Little Black Submarines" which transitions from a slow acoustic ballad to a rolling jam. Definitely my favorite song from this album. The lead single, "Lonely Boy," is a fun pop song with an excellent guitar riff towards the end. It also has one of my favorite music videos of the year.

Producer Danger Mouse has done a great job once again. He also produced The Black Keys' last album, the very successful Brothers. The sound is tight, smooth and it plays great loud. This is the kind of album that you just leave in your car's stereo for two weeks because it makes you feel like a total badass when you listen to it while driving. It's a versatile kind of music that can fit any mood you're in. It matches your sorrow when you're upset and it makes you dance when you're happy. It can be a soundtrack to your rage and it can also improve your general level of cool when you're trying to impress someone. It's like a thermos. Hot stays hot, cool stays cool.

If you've been listening to them for years, it might be a just a tad boring. But if you're a new fan, this is the album to get. That and Rubber Factory.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Ladykillers

 Recently I've been trying to watch all of the Joel & Ethan Coen movies. I find them to be extremely creative and excellently directed. I'm also a big fan of dark comedies and the Coen's are pretty much the definition of dark comedy.

The Ladykillers is a 2004 remake of a 1955 british comedy. It's about a very smart professor (played by the legendary Tom Hanks) who has come up with a perfect crime in a small southern town. With his team of relative strangers, he intends to dig a tunnel through a basement to get to a casino vault. It's a flawless plan except for the fact that the owner is a church-going southern manners kind of woman who doesn't allow cursing or smoking in her house let alone felonies.

The cinematography is beautiful and uses many creative and innovative shots my favorite of which is a first-person view of a football player. Just like their 2000 hit O, Brother Where Art Thou?, the Coen's provide a very fitting soundtrack. This one combines gospel and a little hip-hop in a way that always makes sense with the events on screen.

The acting is very believable. The main character is played by Tom Hanks so there's obviously no problem there. Surprisingly, Marlon Wayans (Don't Be A Menace) is very tolerable in this film. I like to think that Hanks was giving him a few pointers on the set. His character is pretty classic Wayans but toned down to fit a darker film.

If you're in the mood for a dark comedy or a heist, I recommend this film. It made me laugh but also made me question whether or not a professor can outsmart a senior woman who follows God.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

I didn't have very high expectations when I walked into the theatre to see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. It's been a while since I've seen a good blockbuster spy movie and this one seemed pretty blockbuster. I also wasn't sure that Tom Cruise still had it in him. I was delightfully surprised to find that I was wrong.

Starting with the opening titles, it was apparent that this Mission Impossible movie was not aiming to be incredibly modern but nostalgic. "Light the fuse," says  Cruise. The opening titles follow a lit fuse and play the classic theme song, just like the TV show. While there are quite a lot of computers in this movie, it's not all about hacking like other newer action films such as Live Free or Die Hard. It still had the elements of a classic spy movie. Letter drops, disguises, gadgets, and Russians. Speaking of gadgets, did you know you can make a hologram wall using an iPad? It's amazing what you can do with product placements these days.

The plot revolves around the Russian nuclear launch codes being stolen by a crazed man who believes that the world will be stronger after a nuclear war (similar to Ozymandias in Watchmen.) There are several great action scenes including a car chase, the world's tallest building, and a parking garage with an automatic valet system. There were at least two gasp-worthy "oh shit" moments and countless instances of bone cracking.

Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) plays the humorous geek character very well. I hope that we get to see that Brit make more appearances in the next few years. I can't help but attribute this movie's awesomeness to director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and producer J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek.) There was also a subtle reference to Lost with the line "whatever happened, happened." Abrams doesn't appear to forget about his fans.

Cruise has still got it, Abrams has still got it, Pegg has definitely still got it and I'd say the franchise has at least one more strong film in store for the future.