Of S-Men and missed opportunities:
A SINGLE MAN
Glad I caught this for a second time (this time seeing the first fifteen minutes). A beautiful, moving film with Colin Firth's career-defining performance at the center of it. As George, the British college prof mourning the death of his life partner (Matthew Goode) in 1960s LA, Firth is sad, funny, hopeful, pathetic. His silence says more than his words, though these, too, are spoken beautifully. Goode is great in an affecting role seen only through flashbacks; for if we cannot like Jim, why should we care about, well, anything in the movie? Luckily, we love Jim, and Goode's portrayal, alongside the screenplay by director Tom Ford and David Scearce, are the source of such affection. Equally brilliant is Julianne Moore as George's nearest, dearest, and saddest friend, Charley. From her first scene, we see that she's never given up on the idea of a future with George -- maybe tonight's the night he comes to his senses! -- while her second scene allows us to see her precise and sad beauty regiment.
Tom Ford, the designer-turned-director, does a truly remarkable job with his first feature. Everybody and everything is beautiful, from the clothes to the art direction to the effective cinematography by Eduard Grau (the way little things brighten George's day: beauty worthy of tears). Some choices, though, are a little hard to follow and risk pulling the viewer out of the movie. Quick cuts to eyes and lips, for example. While I understand that we're getting everything from George's point of view, at times the cuts came so quick that I was startled out of the picture. I was quickly brought back, of course, by Firth and Grau and the score by Abel Korzeniowksi, but there were a few times when the style threatened to overcome the substance. Hopefully, Ford's next feature will dedicate itself completely to the latter. Hopefully, Ford will have a next feature.
Well, I liked it. Like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it takes a romp to fully realize the age it's portraying. Surely this muddy, steamy, dank Victorian London is closer to the truth than the polished period films of Merchant-Ivory (much as I love them). Hans Zimmer's score is one of his most engaging, taking an unexpected zither route that works much better than you'd think. Unless you'd think it was the perfect choice, in which case you're right, so go you. I like the end -- as with the stories, the question is always "how", and there is little opportunity for the audience to solve it themselves. Holmes has always been blessed with knowledge that no lay person could possibly understand, and always withheld clues until the end. That's how the books were, and that's how the movie is.
Sorry if I sound defensive. I just really liked the movie. Robert Downey Jr. was a great Holmes. He's not your mama's Holmes, nor was he the definitive one (Jeremy Brett, ladies and gents), but he had all the smug smarts of the character. Mark Strong's villain is deliciously foul, and the hints at a sequel featuring Moriarty thrill me. Rachel McAdams, however, is dreadfully miscast as master thief/love interest Irene Adler. I couldn't help but think how I would have preferred a Maria Bello or, even better, Kathleen Turner in 1980.
Making up for it: Jude Law as Watson. When I was a boy, I always wanted to be Watson. Imagine my disappointment when he was generally portrayed as a buffoon. Here, fortunately, he's the Watson I grew up with: smart, tough, and sharp (though not as sharp as Holmes). Law and Downey have great chemistry together. Watson is dashing and fun, and although a bit of a stuffed shirt, you totally get the affection between these two men. I loved it.
THE LOVELY BONES
What a disappointing movie. It starts out promisingly enough, but by the time it gets to the strangest Susan Sarandon montage I've ever seen, it's all too clear that someone -- Peter Jackson? His co-writers? The Studio? -- dropped the fucking ball. It's still an all right film, but over-indulgent and lacking in any real emotion. Some scenes are so inappropriately juxtaposed that it is neither poignant nor ironically hilarious, just confusing. Saoirse Ronan and Stanley Tucci are very good, great even, but they are adrift in a sea of monotony. Heaven is beautifully rendered, at least -- but to what avail? Maybe Jackson should have spent more time on Earth with the themes and FUCKING TITLE and less in Heaven, the land of who gives a fuck.
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS
I'll just remember The Dark Knight as Heath Ledger's final film. Terry Gilliam went on about how Heath improvised most of his scenes, and everyone was thrilled at the results. Well, those "funny" improvs are some of the worst parts of the movie, along with an unevenly written protagonist (Christopher Plummer's trying, though) and an ending that drops the ball. Visually marvelous and with a fine performance by Andrew Garfield, Gilliam once again proves that he has a great imagination undone by an inability to know what to do with it. I liked Parnassus, but I also worked to do so. Mehhh....