With what is likely to be the summer’s biggest box-office splash (Michael Bay’s latest Transformers outing), high-profile drama (Michael Mann’s Johnny Depp-led Public Enemies) and satirical (and likely controversial) comedy (Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno) looming in the near future, we actually have a solid collection of new releases this week, led by a pair of art-house gems and what looks to be a surprisingly effective romantic comedy.
The Tournees Festival of New French Films returns to Northern Kentucky University each Wednesday (at 3:30 p.m.) and Thursday (at 7 p.m.) through April 28. Sponsored by the French American Cultural Exchange and nurtured to the area by Dr. John Alberti, director of NKU's cinema studies program, the fest opens this week with Philippe Lioret's Welcome, which is described as “both a study of budding friendship and a compassionate look at the perils faced by illegal immigrants.”
There’s no denying it: The British TV drama Sherlock is popular — ridiculously popular. So popular that one could say that it’s what launched Benedict Cumberbatch’s status from actor to superstar. Thankfully, his talent is still intact.
But I’m not here to talk about Cumberbatch. I’m here to talk about Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes is, of course, a legendary character. Even if you’ve never read a book in your life, you’ve at least heard of this famous British detective.
A lot like the famous miser Ebenezer Scrooge, Holmes has had several versions of himself on the big screen. There’s The Hound of the Baskerville (1939) starring Basil Rathbone. Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars) starred in Hammer Film’s 1959 remake the same story. Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective (1986) had a Holmes-like mouse character named Basil of Baker Street (nice little reference to Rathbone’s version). Then, of course, there’s the newer films with Robert Downey, Jr. which are surprisingly enjoyable, plus countless others with many legendary actors portraying Holmes and his loyal friend Dr. John Watson. There’s far too many to list off.
But the one I want to highlight was made in 1976 by Herbert Ross — The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. The film tells of Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall) luring Sherlock (Nicol Williamson) to Vienna to meet the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin) in an attempt to kick Holmes’ cocaine addiction. But a kidnapping caper soon presents itself, and the trio joins forces to solve the mystery.
The mystery aspect of the film, while interesting, isn’t the main focus. This story concentrates on an aspect of Holmes stories that really hadn’t been explored often — Sherlock’s cocaine addiction. Through the books it is noted that Holmes did recreational drugs but, to the best of my knowledge, this film is the one version that takes a look at what made him do it.
At the beginning of the film we see Holmes become totally obsessed with trying to find a way to outsmart his arch-nemesis, Prof. Moriarty (Laurence Olivier), and catch him in the act. But here’s a twist: It turns out Moriarty isn’t the criminal mastermind the stories portray him as. He’s this aging and timid mathematics teacher. It’s this that gives Watson and Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (Charles Gray) the idea that Sherlock may need help.
That’s not to say that Moriarty doesn’t have a role in the film. He does, but that would lead to a big spoiler and I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
The detoxing of Holmes, while it does last a bit longer than it should, is a very impactful scene that shows this usually confident character in a different light. It’s nice change of pace from the typical Holmes story.
The film is also full of spectacular performances. One of the main reasons I wanted to check this film out was because I saw Robert Duvall played Dr. Watson, which, despite Duvall being one of my favorite actors, seems like bizarre casting. But he was surprisingly good in the role. Alan Arkin was more than perfect for the role of Dr. Freud, combining a stern professional persona and a man who cares about his patient.
But, as one would suspect, the guy who stole the motion picture was Nicol Williamson as Sherlock Holmes. He gives a performance that is so great it’s almost indescribable. Just check him out and be amazed by his spectacular portrayal.
Here’s interesting little connection between this film and Sherlock: In 2013 J.J. Abrams directed Star Trek Into Darkness, which featured Benedict Cumberbatch as the main villain Khan, who was also the villain in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). That film was co-written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, who also wrote the screenplay for The Seven-Per-Cent Solution which was based on his book of the same name.
What's up with David Fincher? After giving us only one film (2002's Panic Room) in the eight years following 1999's gleefully subversive, zeitgeist-capturing Fight Club, the notoriously meticulous filmmaker is back with The Social Network, his third effort in four years following 2007's excellent Zodiac and 2008's out-of-character — it's essentially a straight-up love story — The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. And he's not done yet: Fincher's American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is currently in production and will be out by the end of 2011.
Longtime film critic/historian Jonathan Rosenbaum has been staying busy since his departure/retirement from the Chicago Reader. In addition to his ongoing DVD column for CinemaScope, Rosenbaum recently wrote a lengthy piece on 100-year-old Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira (yes, he’s still making movies!) for Film Comment, he took part in a “Criticism in Crisis” panel at the New York Film Festival and unveiled his new Web site, JonathanRosenbaum.com.
Presented essentially in blog format, the site features many of his archived Reader reviews (with more coming every week) as well as new musings on myriad film topics, including an essay on cinema trends during the George W. Bush years entitled “Bushwacked.”
Incisive on a number of the levels, the piece — originally written for the latest edition of the Time Out Film Guide — discusses how our rapidly fracturing cultural sphere has impacted movies (and moviegoing) before moving into an investigation of how this development parallels President Bush’s own bubble mentality. (It’s a dismaying turn of events I like to call the Death of Context.)
Of course, Rosenbaum’s diagnosis is often dire, effectively linking Bush’s blissfully ignorant governing techniques with the rapidly changing landscape of serious film culture. Fittingly, he also writes about the various Iraq War-based films that have sprung up in recent years, most of which have garnered disinterest from the public at large while nevertheless providing a vital history the mainstream media has either glossed over or ignored altogether.
And, ever the contrarian, Rosenbaum couldn't help but get in another dig at No Country for Old Men, which he considers the most overrated film of 2007.
That last opinion aside, “Bushwacked” is essential reading.
I said almost because there are still a few weeks left (the season traditionally runs Memorial Day to Labor Day) and, more importantly, there are still a handful of movies I've yet to catch — from high-profile studio stuff (like Cars 2, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the latest Harry Potter) to smaller indie offerings (like Buck and Project Nim, not to mention a host of titles that have yet to open here — most notably Miranda July's The Future, Michael Winterbottom's The Trip, Azazel Jacobs' Terri and Raúl Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon).
A friend recently asked my opinion about what films the Academy might nominate for Best Picture this year.
“Uh, I have no idea,” I responded.
It's pretty late in the year to be saying that, but, of course, I rarely think about the Oscars until I absolutely have to. Then there's the fact that few of the films released so far this year seem to possess what typically piques the Academy's interest (note that anywhere from five to 10 films can now be nominated).