\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

June 9th, 2017
,

I’m not sure why Hollywood keeps insisting on making King Arthur movies.  Is it the allure of a known name, in the way that studios chase after franchises and keep remaking and rebooting series with a recognizable title?  Personally, I have never been all that interested in the King Arthur mythos, and I have not actually seen too many Arthur movies.  The early trailers didn’t make this new version, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, look all that interesting to me.  But I enjoy the work of director Guy Ritchie, and though his films can be hit-or-miss, I am always intrigued to see what he has done with his latest project.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword creates a new mythology, casting the Arthur story as taking place in the midst of a conflict between mages (magicians) and humans.  Arthur’s father, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), is able to defeat the villainous mage Mordred.  But soon after, Uther and his wife are murdered by Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who takes the crown.  Young Arthur escapes and is raised in a whorehouse in Londinium.  He grows up to be a savvy and tough young man, able to carve out a comfortable niche for himself within the low-level crime taking place in the city.  But when he crosses a group of Vikings under King Vortigern’s protection, he comes under the King’s scrutiny and Vortigern soon discovers Arthur’s true heritage.  Though Arthur initially wants nothing to do with any sort of struggle for the crown, he is soon drawn into the fight.

While I can’t recommend King Arthur: Legend of the Sword as a great movie, neither is it as bad as I had heard.  I found myself entertained by the film, and engaged with the story.  It’s a perfectly fine, fun film.  But neither is it a film that seems to have much reason for existing.  Did we need yet another version of the Arthur story?  What does this film add that we haven’t seen before in other films?  True, this fantasy-epic version of the Arthur story does incorporate a lot of weird new ideas, but while these ideas might be new for the Arthur story, they feel rather derivative of so many other fantasy films from recent years, most specifically Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  (The giant elephants with villain fighters on their back from The Return of the King even make an appearance in King Arthur’s opening sequence!)

What is more genuinely new to the story is taking the fantastical and historical aspects of the story and wrapping it up in Guy Ritchie’s very modern, fast-talking, street-level-crime style of storytelling.  There are a few moments when Mr. … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

August 28th, 2015
,

There is nothing particularly revelatory about Guy Ritchie’s new film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a nineteen-sixties TV show now reinvented for the big screen.  Of the two films released this summer that are based on nineteen-sixties TV shows about spies, I definitely preferred Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  That’s a much larger-scale film, a more exhilaratingly fun adventure and also a story than manages to better balance tongue-in-cheek silliness with some actual narrative weight and stakes for the characters.  But while The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a smaller-scale film, it is not without its charms and doesn’t deserve to be ignored in this busy season of big loud summer movies.

TheManFromUNCLE.cropped

Though the film tries to pack in a lot of crosses and double-crosses, its basic story is fairly simple.  In 1963, with the Cold War in full swing, a handsome and debonair CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), and a tough as nails KGB agent, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), are forced to work together to stop a group of former Nazis from building their own nuclear weapon.

That’s a great hook for a story, and I quite enjoyed Mr. Cavill (who played Clark Kent/Superman in Warner Brothers’ recent Man of Steel and what looks to be a plethora of upcoming Justice League films) and Mr. Hammer (so memorable in The Social Network) in their co-leading roles.  Since this film opened with weak box office numbers, I have read some sniping on-line that neither Mr. Cavill nor Mr. Hammer were capable of carrying a film.  But frankly, I think the two men were the two most successful elements of the movie.  Whenever the two men shared the screen I felt the film came to life, while I got bored whenever the story strayed from them for too long.  Mr. Cavill certainly has the looks to play an American version of James Bond, and I enjoyed his sardonic line delivery.  Mr. Hammer, meanwhile, plays the film with a sort of crazy Rocky and Bullwinkle Russian accent, but it totally worked for me.  It’s silly, but just the right kind of silliness for a story like this one.

Alicia Vikander has been getting positive press for her work as Gaby Teller, the young woman whom Solo extracts from East Berlin in order to help with the mission, and rightly so.  She’s a lot of fun in the film and able to hold her own quite well with her two male co-stars.  I just wish that Gaby had more of a fleshed-out character in the film.  I liked the revelations about her that come in the second half of the film, and how they make Gaby a more critical player in … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I really loved Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film from two years ago, and so I was thrilled that they went into production on a sequel so quickly. (That the first film ended with such a delicious promise of further adventures didn’t hurt, of course!)

But, unfortunately, the follow-up installment, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, left me rather cold.

To be honest, I’m having a bit of trouble putting my finger on what exactly went awry. I still love Robert Downey Jr.’s manic interpretation of Holmes, and I thought Mad Men’s Jared Harris was terrific as Professor Moriarty. There are some big laughs in the film, and also some terrific sequences of action/adventure. The chase through the frozen woods, in which Holmes & co. are barraged by artillery fire, is pretty thrilling (much more effective in its entirety than it was in the film’s trailer, in which I thought those slo-mo shots looked pretty silly). And Holmes and Moriarty’s final confrontation — a chess game that moves into an intense battle of wills, all inside their heads — is genius, and probably the reason-for-being for the entire film.

So why did the whole thing leave me feeling somewhat empty?

Well, let’s start with Professor Moriarty. We’re told, over and over again, that the genius professor is an evil mastermind, and a mental match for Holmes. But except for one moment in the middle of the film, in which Holmes admits that “I made a mistake” and finds himself unable to stop an assassination, we don’t really see Moriarty as a genius mastermind until that final confrontation at the very end of the movie. I wanted a sense of urgency throughout this film. I wanted to feel, over and over again, that Moriarty was two steps ahead of Holmes. But I never felt that way at all. In fact, Moriarty makes a big mistake early in the film in which Holmes is able to rescue Noomi Rapace’s gypsy character, Madam Simza, from death. So right away we see that Moriarty isn’t infallible and, of course, Simza ultimately proves key in helping Holmes unravel Moriarty’s plans.

It’s not until that final battle-of-wills-to-the-death between Holmes and Moriarty that we’re really given a sense of Moriarty’s genius. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to save that mental duel for the film’s climax, but the result is that everything that comes before feels somewhat underwheming to me. This is a story-telling problem that, in my opinion, the filmmakers weren’t able to solve.

The result, as I noted before, is a film that I found to be rather lacking in intensity. Take the opening scene. (SPOILERS ahead now, my friends, so beware.) I was … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Sherlock Holmes!

Ever since Snatch back in 2000 I’ve been waiting for Guy Ritchie’s next great film.  Finally, just squeaking in before the close of the decade, it has arrived: Sherlock Holmes.

As you’re all probably very well aware, Sherlock Holmes stars Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson, and represents Mr. Ritchie’s reinvention of the Holmes mythos.  Though perhaps reinvention is entirely the wrong word, as in many respects Ritchie & his collaborators have stripped away a lot of the baggage that the character has accumulated over the years (and over many, many, many film and TV depictions) and brought Holmes & co. a lot closer to their original literary origins in the prose of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I am most pleased to report that this new film is an absolute delight.

Let’s begin with the cast.  Robert Downey Jr. is perfectly cast as Holmes.  The intelligence, roguish arrogance, and manic energy that Mr. Downey Jr. has brought to his best roles is in full evidence here.  His Holmes is a man just-on-the-edge of psychosis.  He thinks so much faster than the ordinary man that, when his intellect is not engaged by a difficult case, he hits a wall of boredom that borders on desperation.  Downey’s depiction brings this almost dangerous aspect of Holmes’ personality to the forefront — one never knows quite what this man is going to do next.

A lot of reviews have, I felt, needlessly spoiled the clever way in which Mr. Ritchie & his collaborators have brought to life Holmes’ faster-than-belief thought processes, so I won’t go into detail here.  I’ll just say that it’s an engaging device that serves as an excellent storytelling tool.  It also connects this version of Holmes to the world of the super-hero (I’m reminded of the visual method in which Sam Raimi illustrated Peter Parker’s faster-than-the-eye Spider-Sense in the first Spider-Man film) and this is not a complaint.  With his incredible intellect, Holmes is a super-hero in many ways, and the way in which Ritchie & co. don’t shy away from these pop connections is part of what makes the film so relentlessly entertaining.  But more on that in a minute.

Jude Law is also perfect as Watson.  I’ve always respected Jude Law as an actor, but frankly it’s been quite a while since I was really taken by one of his performances.  (I might have to go all the way to his standout role in the otherwise terrible A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.)  Law’s Watson is no goofball, no bumbling idiot as the character has often been played.  Rather, Law’s Watson is tough, intelligent, persistent, and incredibly loyal to his friend Holmes — a man … [continued]