Holmes v. Radio

Ever since my family stopped going to Mexico for the holidays (nine police beheadings finally convinced them) Christmas has become a time for theatres. Clearly an improvement, as far as I’m concerned. This year we basked in the Hollywood glory that was Sherlock Holmes and then Scott and I inhaled Pirate Radio.

There were so many things I hated about Sherlock Holmes that outweighed anything I really liked. Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes is charming, Jude Law as Watson is kind of interesting to watch, but then there’s that one girl whose generic face I can never place (Rachel McAdams, says the IMDB page) who plays…no one, as far as I can tell. There is no narrative point to her character besides the potential love story (which goes no where) and the mass appeal of a “badass” girl. And of course they wouldn’t have this woman (Watson’s girlfriend in the film) playing the “badass.” Too ugly. Or too interesting. Same thing. Likewise, I liked the idea of showing a slow motion, logical fight scene before speeding it up, but the film soon abandons that idea for the more conventional sped-up choreography. Then I loved the explanation at the end of the movie that takes up a good ten minutes…if only they could have completed the wrap up instead of leaving it open to an inevitable sequel.

But I think I’m being a little reactionary toward poor Sherlock because of all the great press it’s getting. This one and Avatar are both critical darlings, while movies like Pirate Radio are either picked apart or ignored. While I’m not sure any of them are actually better films (they are both kind of mid-level in their respective genres) I get the feeling that critics are much harsher on those “indie” films that make mistakes, just not conventional Hollywood mistakes. Yes, Pirate Radio is a bit of a mess. It’s a boys’ movie, with plenty of sexism and masturbation jokes. There’s not much of a plot, and the scenes are a hodgepodge of experiences…but that’s what’s so damn lovable about it. I get so tired of the “boy meets girl” (or in the case of Holmes: “boy vs. girl”) coming of age stories, that it’s is great to see that plot line thrown away and marked as irrelevant. Pirate Radio plays on the expectations we have in indie films, sets up long, conventional jokes, and then abandons them. And it’s hilarious. A historical fiction, with no claims of realism, the film washes over you like a collection of short stories, never giving you enough of a setting to question your faith in the filmmakers, but defining the 60s through mood. God, I loved Pirate Radio. Maybe it was the soundtrack, maybe it was my post-Christmas sentimentality…

But despite my own biases, I still think few people gave it a chance. When we write criticism through budget comparisons (what qualifies an “indie”), films like this get grouped with films like The Wrestler, and what’s the point of that? It seems to me that Pirate Radio is after the same kind of audience a big Hollywood film (like Almost Famous, for example) would be after and has completely different ambitions than an Oscar hopeful. But I think judging ambitions might be just as pointless. Why not just permit movies to make mistakes and judge them by enjoyability/importance/morality/etc? On their own terms?

If only I had a microphone for these rants.



Filed under Whitney

16 responses to “Holmes v. Radio

  1. brian

    did you ever watch those pbs (via the bbc) sherlock holmes shows? i think it was maybe a television series. anyway, that show had an interesting homosexual subtext between homes and watson. well, maybe not homosexual (at least not in the way rambo is), but at the least, a kind of counterpoint to heterosexist norms of masculinity. so i was curious how the new holmes movie dealt with it: by camping it up or removing/repressing it?

    but maybe i shouldnt even wonder about that. more likely, this sherlock holmes take place in an alternate universe where sherlock holmes bears (bares?) no resemblance to any of the earlier medial representations of sherlock holmes so it’s pointless to even compare them.

  2. brian

    also, i think the reason “indie” films are judged more harshly is that we maybe expect more from them. the problem is that the line between hollywood/indie films is so blurred that it may not even be possible any more to figure out where a movie would belong. or rather, “indie” films are just a sub-set of hollywood films meaning that they are both primarily movies that (will hopefully) make money. but we still go on pretending that “indie” films should mean more, be more serious, showcase better film qualities. but if phillip hoffman can still be considered to have “indie” cred, we know that “indie” movies today have nothing to do with the movies of cassavettes.

    related: when i walk past the broadway theater here in slc, next to the movies playing is a sign to support local establishments. however, when i look at the movies they are showing, they’re all movies distributed by major movie studios. so supporting local business also supports huge media conglomerates.

    so i agree, since there’s no difference between the two, we shouldn’t hold “indie” films to some higher or purer standard.

  3. michelle

    how much money do you think those huge conglomerates make off the broadway, brian? cause it’s not much. not to mention, spending your money there and tower doesn’t mean the money gets funneled back to the huge conglomerates, but into things like covering the operating cost of showing free movies. how do you think that down differently?

    also holmes has a big crush on watson in the movie and tries repeatedly to keep him from getting married, which they cloak in a veil of brotherly affection and professional necessity but nobody should buy that.

    also whitney, i liked pirate radio too. but do you think it would have been way cooler if everyone actually died in the end?

    • I’ve been thinking about that…and I think I’ve decided that I like the fact that they live. It seems like yet another big build up (the boat’s sinking) that just turns out to be irrelevant…or maybe the better joke would have been to kill them all and have the movie be irrelevant? It would have been hard to make a joke out of that, though, what with all the seriously lovable characters. What about you?

      • michelle

        i think they could have pulled it off because the movie so lightly treated subjects we usually consider a big deal (like the marriage between the ugly and guy and the mad men girl). so to end it with a light-hearted death scene would have been amazing, i think. but i also didn’t really, like, want them to die.

  4. michelle

    i mean how do you think that *should* go down differently?

  5. brian

    i was probably unfair to the broadway/tower. (i’m probably in a bad mood because my finger nail is falling off.) what i should have said is that when i watch a movie there, i’m minimally supporting huge media-conglomerates. (like, correct me if i’m wrong, the slc film society has to pay the distributors to show the movies or something, right?) my main point is that it’s hard to see differences between mainstream and “indie” movies anymore. in fact, what if the underground is the new mainstream? like we’re spending all out time (and money) rebelling, so, at some point, rebelling becomes the norm.

    i dont know how it should go down differently. lately i’ve been trying to imagine what a current cinema would look like that existed outside of the current movie mode of production. probably like home movies. maybe i’m only interested in home movies.

    • michelle

      yuck, i’m sorry about your nail. and yes, slfs does have to pay distributors for the movies they run. i’m not sure if they broker ticket sale deals with distributors or anything but (i’m interested so) i’ll ask.

      and, ideally, watching an independently made movie (regardless of who’s distributing it) should be like watching a home movie. shouldn’t it? an indie movie should be held to a higher standard because (by definition) it shouldn’t have the weight of a studio riding it’s back from it’s inception. but really, studio films have it way easy. they dont have to push envelopes for us to like them because we just dont expect them to, when it seems like they’d have way less to lose by being unconventional in ANY way at all than a movie made outside the studio structure trying to sell itself for national distribution. it really doesn’t make sense that big ticket movies get a free pass for being brainless.

      • brian

        but most independent movies (or rather most “indie” movies that end up getting distributed) are as boring and brainless as their major studio counter-parts. i would go as far as saying that of all the “indie” movies i’ve seen this decade, most are much more conventional (in that “indie” sort of way, like, once you’ve seen one sundance movie, you;ve sort of seen them all). further, if you have phillip hoffman lined up to act in your movie, you are not making it outside of the hollywood system. a movie like this is predestined for distribution, which means pleasing the distributors becomes one of the most important features of your movie.

        and home movies dont look like indie movies. a few months ago, alibaster bought this old video camera from a thrift store and it had a home movie already in it. that was probably the most interesting and unconventional movie i saw this year (next to dune) — the framing of the shots were almost unconscious, cuts would come out of nowhere, it was impossible to get a sense of time and there were some very funny moments (like when the 3 year old girl fell out of her chair on her birthday).

        • michelle

          that’s what i’m saying. indie movies have to market themselves, so i dont know why we’re so much harder on them than their big budget counterparts. yeah, ideally they would be like home movies, but expecting them to be means we set ourselves up to be disappointed. while on the other hand, we go so much easier on studio movies than we probably should because we’re somehow not supposed to expect anything from them. you liked twilight, i did too. also i like everything. also you didn’t see dune til this year?

          • brian

            but that’s my point (and i think whitney’s and your’s): there’s no difference between the two, so there’s no point in holding “indie” movies to a higher standard — they’re both mostly boring and stupid. it seems that i’m just as likely to (not) enjoy some random hollywood movie as some random “indie” movie.

            and i did (kind of) like twilight. and i did see dune (all the way through) for the first time like a month ago.

            i dont wish that “indie” movies were more like home movies. what i wish is that it was easier to find and watch home-movies, or even non-professional movies.

  6. Except instead of thinking most movies are boring, I tend to think most movies are awesome. I think I’m easily entertained. Sometimes I love high production values…there’s definitely a place for it (Ong Bak!) . And sometimes I love slow, low budget movies. I just don’t want them to be judged as completely different forms of narrative expression when they’re all pretty much the same (like you both have said).

  7. brian

    (secretly, most of the movies i hate and/or find boring, i still like.)

    i saw ong bak 2 a couple weeks ago and it was incredible. like apocolyptico incredible. and the part with the elephants are fantastic. especially the part where he flips off the elephant’s tusk and trunk to smash this dude in the back of the head.

  8. natali

    ugh sundance film festival. just another reason to leave utah in january.

  9. Pingback: Top 5 Unsung Male Performances of 2009 « dear jesus

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