Sherlock Holmes – A Game of Shadows

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Being a fan of the first Sherlock Holmes movie, it should be no surprise that I also like the second. If you’re a traditionalist, the reimaging of Sherlock may be troublesome.  I’m past that.  I’ve read all of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, I’ve seen many of the Rathbone/Bruce shows, and I’ve seen all of splendid the Jeremy Brett portrayals in the 1990’s. Rathbone brought a certain elegance to the role, and Brett a truer depiction of the idiosyncrasies of genius. In other words, Sherlock has been very capably portrayed already, so I’m not offended by a (not so) few liberties taken by other interpreters.

Which is what we have here.

There are three elements in A Game of Shadows which I’ll touch on – the plot, the presentation, and the relationship between Holmes & Watson.

First, it’s interesting that in terms of the breadth of Holmes material available, the two movies all but bookend the chronology of Doyle’s books.  The first movie set everything up and introduced a lurking greater evil in Dr. Moriarty.  The second follows up with that, jumping to the end game of Sherlock’s recorded life.  This isn’t to say more isn’t to come, but, essentially, they’ve avoided the frustrating halt found in the middle part of a trilogy.  That’s good.

On the other hand, Dr. Moriarty was never fully explained by Doyle.  A mastermind, yes.  The foil for Holmes’ intelligence, yes.  The director of London’s criminal activities, yes.  Here, though, his reach hints at European dominance before sidestepping to simple profit.  I was left unsatisfied as this being a worthy motivation for what should be as complicated a character as Sherlock himself.

Given a need to consider the impending nuptials of Dr. Watson, his necessary appearance throughout the story which might otherwise derailed by such an event, a motivating urgency to press Holmes’ actions, and a need for action in what is decidedly not a mystery movie, there is an overriding need for a plot device to make all of this happen.  However, to expect that Sherlock Holmes, in a tightly wound conversation with his ultimate nemesis, would attempt to define the the terms of combat with something akin to “I trust that Dr. Watson’s safety is outside the boundaries of our conflict” is silly.  In a movie replete with Chess references, Holmes surrendered his Queen at the start.  He’s smarter than that.  Sherlock knows that the boundaries of a conflict are determined by the party with the lesser morals.  The screenwriter did not.

The presentation is very similar to the first movie.  Robert Downey, Jr. carries on with his over-the-top portrayal of Holmes, Jude Law continues to redefine the Watson character as a sharp and capable partner, and Jared Harris casts the perfect foil – if only all movie villains were so well portrayed.  Casting… A+. 

Visually, computer generated graphics dominate.  Explosions, bullets shredding trees, fight scenes… Well, about that last.  Okay, Sherlock is smart, but can he truly predict the moment by moment sequence of events yet to occur?  On the one hand, it’s interesting.  On the other, it’s a heavy handed method to explain how this Holmes might be an expert fighter.  I’d rather he pull an Indiana Jones and shoot anyone who threatens with a knife.  In any case, it’s a really good looking movie, with enough action sprinkled in amidst the torrent of clue glimpses to move the pace quickly.

Costuming is particularly appealing to fans of Steampunk; there’s an abundance here.

The scene that struck us hoping that it was not a computer generated image was a Swiss castle, impossibly set on the face of a mountain and blanketed in snow whereupon Moriarty arrives in a horse driven sleigh…  Heck, like this:

Yeah, fake.  Sorry.  But the scenes had to be shot somewhere, right?  In merry old England, of course.   That said, it does provide a more picturesque setting for the climatic finale with Dr. Moriarty, certainly more so than:

Or, the real Reichenbach Falls, of which Doyle wrote in “The Final Problem” in 1891.

Finally, Holmes and Watson.  I sampled a few other reviews of this movie, and found a common trait, namely a homo erotic suggestion between Holmes and Watson.  Really?  There may be something to it for those who haven’t read Doyle’s books, but for those who have, this movie is consistent with their very odd friendship, one that defies Holmes’ very challenging nature.  When not out sleuthing, Watson is more of a caregiver, the healer for Holmes’ self-inflicted opium binges, self-absorption, and other manic depressive tendencies.  Holmes as a dance teacher?  Well, point taken.  But his need for Watson as a companion is consistent with the original stories, in which his disdain for his friend’s marriage is similarly depicted.

Earlier I mentioned Jude Law’s redefinition of Watson.  Watson is clearly the “every man” in this movie, the character with whom the audience can relate.  Nigel Bruce’s portrayal was more of buffoon, and David Burke/Edward Hardwicke’s portrayals in the series (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) was truer and more sensible.

Here, though, given his good humor, his intelligence, and his ability to get things done, the only thing that does work is a persistent dialogue thread that refers to past insulting remarks attributed to him by Holmes.  At each occurrence, I think of Nigel Bruce, not Jude Law’s Watson… and I think the screenwriter did, too.

All in all, I liked this movie very much, and I look forward to watching it again to better follow the clues.  And for those who take umbrage with the continual reinterpretations given to the Holmes story… you might at least join me in wishing The Three Musketeers would receive the same respect.

Simza: What do you see?
Sherlock Holmes: Everything. That is my curse.

4 of 5 STARS

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The Waterboys – An Appointment with Mr. Yeats

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An Appointment with Mr. Yeats is an oddly titled name for a CD, but in context, it’s fully appropriate. Mike Scott, leader and de facto owner of the group “The Waterboys,” has long admired the poetry of Yeats, notably including his poem “Stolen Child” which Scott set to music on 1988’s Fisherman’s Blues, their high water mark.  Yeats would continue to be an influence on some of Scott’s imagery and diction in later songs.  After a changing cast of band members, sporadic releases, various muses, and 23 years, Scott finally brings the sum of his songwriting and musical experience together for this “Appointment.” 

The CD includes 14 songs, the lyrical content all but verbatim from selected Yeats’ poems. To tackle Ireland’s most famous poet is a challenging task, particularly working with such phrases as “Man-stealer Niamh leant and sighed by Oisin on the grass” or “How can I, that girl standing there, my attention fix on Roman or on Russian or on Spanish politics?”. It’s not always so difficult, but the lyrics do offer the opportunity for Scott to accentuate his pronunciations, a penchant which are too often lost when Brits start to sing.

To be clear, these are not pop songs. Each requires a weighty hand of compositional experience, and Scott proves himself up to the task. “News for the Delphic Oracle” is delivered with an appropriate sense of theater. “Sweet Dancer” offers up a catchy adaptation that fits the poet’s central observation while belying the tragic undertone. “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is framed amidst a “fuzz fiddle” wildness surrounding Walden’s Pond setting.  Steve Wickham’s fiddle, by the way, is a blessing throughout this recording, as are the many other instruments that lend styles from Irish traditional to more conventional.

“Mad as the Mist and Snow” becomes somewhat repetitive in the refrain, but Scott gets it, allowing a brief jig to devolve into a rocker which speaks to the point of the imagery. Musical irony resurfaces on “September 1913,” featuring a bright piano and acoustic strum while lamenting the sacrifices of Irishmen for the current (circa 1913) state of the nation. Throw in “An Irish Airmen Foresees His Death” and you might understand a sense of the challenge.  Fortunately, Scott includes all of the poems, occasionally with notes, in the CD booklet.

Overall, this CD reminds me of the labor of love that Natalie Merchant captured in 2010’s Leave Your Sleep, itself a precious adaptation of children’s stories set to music. Mr. Yeats captures a similar love of the endeavor. 

Not all is perfect, though. “A Full Moon in March” was a difficult choice that eventually grows on you, vocalist Katie Kim’s beautiful voice is nevertheless blurry in the mix, and not every song necessarily keeps one’s attention. 

And that’s the challenge; this isn’t intended as background music. Like Merchant’s, this CD is best for an audience that wishes to concentrate on the artistry involved, both in the words and their musical interpretation, and to that end, it’s almost perfectly executed.

5 of 5 STARS

 

 

Note: Click HERE for Scott’s comments on each song.

 

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