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sherlock holmes, broken embraces

January 6, 2010

Over the holidays, I’ve been to the theater for these two films.  Our family went to Sherlock Holmes as this year’s Christmas movie, and the theater was packed.  We saw it a Loew’s Waterfront, and the theater was large and comfortable, which was the best part of the experience.  Everyone involved in the creation of this film should be embarrassed.   What Guy Ritchie produced was nothing more than Holmes as a super-hero, and Watson joins him.  Holmes’s analytical skills become almost secondary to his fighting skills, which are all simply choreographed and special effects.  The CGI in this film is especially annoying.   We always realize that we’re simply looking at computer images rather than actual settings.  Especially in the climactic shot of Holmes and the female lead sitting on the partially constructed bridge.  We realize that they’re only sitting in front of a blue screen, or green screen, whatever.  I had hopes for the film when Holmes visited the villain in prison and the villain tells him that the two of them together will be creating the future.  But that never happens.  There’s no complexity in these characters at all. It’s simply good versus evil and good wins.  Big surprise.  Maybe, since the entire production was all surface, the villain’s meaning was that Holmes and he together were producing this garbage that is now going to dominate American commercial movie screens.  In other words, it’s working in a self-reflexive way.  That’s really the great evil here to me, and millions of people are buying it.  But, if that’s the case, and it may be, this film simply represents everyone involved thumbing their noses at all the viewers.

On the other hand, Mary Ann and I got to see Broken Embraces during our post-Christmas trip to Philly.  We went to a nice theater, the staff was friendly, and the price was only $6 each.  We didn’t realize that the city supports half-price night every Wednesday at all theaters and free parking (which I learned about after feeding $4 to the meter).  The theater was only about half as big as the one where we saw Holmes and only about half full.  Still, it was a good size crowd for a very cold night.  For the film, these  were characters we loved even though all of them are significantly flawed.  They struggle with their weaknesses and don’t always overcome them.   But the beauty is in their struggles, and Penelope Cruz is great, as are the rest of the performers.  I realize I’m getting far too much into cliche here, but I waited too long to write about this.  One key difference is in the self-relfective element.  This film is about a director who’s gone blind, and the action in the film takes him back to a project he had directed fourteen years earlier.  So there are many references to filmmaking and great international films.  The emphasis is on the value of film as all the characters learn from it.  They might react in destructive ways.  But those reactions aren’t the filmmaker’s responsibility.  The blind director has turned to writing scripts for his living and he envisions a screenplay about Arthur Miller, who had a Downs syndrome son whom he ignored for most of his life.  Then, while taking questions from an audience one night, Miller’s son came up to him on stage, hugged him, and said he forgave him.  The choice of forgiveness rather than revenge thus also becomes a major theme.  It may not be Almodovar’s greatest film, but it was a great movie experience.

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