Saturday, December 1, 2012

In-Class Movie: "Without a Clue" (1988)

“I have no doubt that I am very stupid, but I must confess that I am unable to follow you.”
Dr. John Watson, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”

Austin: When this movie started I had a blast because it was everything we were talking about in our blog. Holmes complains how it should be less about the mystery and more about the character. There are plenty of jokes about all the duo, the Strand and it even has its own ridiculous way to pronounce Lestrade. 

Without a Clue has an awesome concept for a movie. In Victorian times, there really is a Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson solving crimes in London. The truth is that Watson (Ben Kingsley) is the true genius but he didn't want to discredit his doctor standing so in all of his stories he made up a character who made of all his deductions. The fame of Sherlock Holmes spiraled so he had to hire an out of work actor (Michael Caine) to play Sherlock on all of the cases while Watson continues to secretly solve all of them.

"As you can see here, this is a pipe."

It's a very fun premise and the two actors have a blast lying and yelling at each other. It becomes even more meta because since Watson is the author of the stories, he starts to have parallels to Arthur Conan Doyle in how he wants to kill off Sherlock because that's all people know him for.

Everything setting up the premise is a blast but then once the mystery starts, it is as if they ran out of cleverness. It becomes every other mystery that isn't handled with the most attention. All of the fun picks up again when the plot is able to be thrown out again and it can just be Holmes/Watson up against the bad guy. 

This is my second time watching this movie so I could be a little bit more judgmental towards the middle. What did you think? Did you have fun with it?

Leigh: When I was watching this, I felt conflicted. The 7 year old part of me loved this movie because the 7 year old part of me loves pratfalls and America's Funniest Home Videos because what's not to like about a guy getting hit in the balls? But the Holmesian in me really didn't like it. About halfway through the movie, I think when Michael Caine was hanging by his coat, I realized that this was just a live action Scooby Doo movie.

That's what it felt like. It had the pretty girl, it had the handsome guy, it had the not so pretty girl, hell, there was even a dog. It was just a live action episode of Scooby Doo. And I think this is a bad thing. I really wish I had a friend who had a kid who was like 7 or 8 so I could sit them down and have them watch this movie and get their perspective. I think a younger audience would like this movie a lot more than the target audience of Holmesians and fans of Sherlock Holmes.

As for the story, I thought it was neat. After the season two finale of Sherlock, I had seen on the internet a theory that Sherlock Holmes was just a figment of Watson's imagination. I like how this movie took that concept and ran with it. The concept was neat and fun and there was a lot there but the mystery was a lot to be desired. We've seen this plot before with the only other non-Elementary movie we've reviewed. Is there only one plot allowed for Sherlock Holmes movie adaptations? Was there some law about this in England? (Oh, by the way, I loved the overt British Pride throughout the movie. It amused me.)

"Bloody hell, hadn't we already solved this one?"

Another thing I was disappointed about was the very limited use of Peter Cook. He is a comic genius and he was on screen for such a brief time and very few of his "jokes" were actually funny. Most of the jokes for the whole movie weren't really funny in my opinion. In fact, I got bored halfway through this movie. I started doing other things. 

List of things Leigh did while movie was playing:
1. Played a dumb game online
2. Messed with her knitting
3. Watched a YouTube video
4. Checked Twitter
5. Left the room out of boredom
6. Flew to the moon

I felt the exposition was too long, the middle third to be pointless and failed at making jokes, and the end to be a bit dumb. I mean, if I were in a room that was getting ready to explode and there was open water right next to me, instead of standing in a boat watching the explosion, I would've jumped in the water, but that's just me worrying about self preservation. 

Overall, I did have fun, especially if you include my other activities as part of this viewing experience. One thing that did interest me though was the roles that Caine and Kingsley had. They played Holmes and Watson, respectively...or did they?

Austin: So you're saying that you didn't like it...

No, you're right. The physical humor really doesn't work. Caine is a fantastic actor but he can only react so many times to a dog tackling him to the ground. Especially if it's edited in a way where he has to awkwardly stand there waiting for the dog to jump up on him. (Speaking of, the best goof in the movie is when Holmes is addressing the crowd for the first time and the stuttering guy has this extra behind him who is whispering all of his lines while clearly being in the frame.)

Most of the humor does not work in this movie and yet I still think that Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley were great. Kingsley announcing his new creation of "John Watson, the Crime Doctor" is done with such contained pride it always made me smile. I love watching these two because they are playing upon a few different characters in the canon. Kingsley is playing Watson who is truly Holmes and Doyle. Caine is playing Holmes but really is a Watson, but one of the bumbling incarnations.

To judge Kingsley as Holmes, I think he does a fine job. He is conscious about the fame because he wants the proper credit. I'm not sure if he wants to be famous, but he wants people to know how smart he is. Unlike other versions, he seems rather constrained in his intelligence. He can bring up observations that he's found but only if someone asks for it. I like his ability to sit perfectly still and ponder on the evidence. Reminds me a bit more of Hercule Poirot than Holmes, but it worked as a master detective.

Then you have Caine playing the caricature of Holmes who is very arrogant and a bit belittling. However since he doesn't have information to back it up, he can't be the one to brag the most. Yet him not being the one bragging makes Lestrade seem even more of a goof. Jeffrey Jones does a good job of that but they pretty much forgot about him for the second half of the film. Like Watson, Caine's Holmes does want to help out with the case as much as he can. He has to serve the purpose of "Oh this is obviously what's going on..." just so Watson/Holmes can say "No." He's dumb but always sincere. 

With Moriarty......he's just completely bland and it could have been any villain with ridiculous facial hair. The only plus from his presence was allowing Caine to scream in the fields about how he's in danger. I enjoyed that bit. Same with the Mrs. Hudson and Baker Street Irregulars, as expected, nothing too interesting.

Last very random comment, this movie was scored by Henry Mancini who is famous for The Pink Panther and Breakfast at Tiffany's. Yet I know him best as the composer behind one of the greatest films of all time....The Great Mouse Detective. It's hysterical how much he repeated the themes for both of his quasi-Sherlock movies.

Henry Mancini being drawn to compose another score....on the harp.

Leigh, try to keep your disappointment with the movie to a minimum as you breakdown what you liked and didn't like about how they treated our beloved characters.

Leigh: I didn't hate it! I liked it, it just wasn't my favorite adaptation out there. I think my email sounded a lot more negative than I meant it to me. Please excuse that. My mouth was still hurting from the dentist. There were lots of things I did like about it.  I liked the concept and I loved the actors. I felt even the supporting actors did a great job. And when you have two greats like Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, even if they're reading the telephone book (they still make those, right?) it's going to be good. Our lead actors did such a great job that it was believable. Michael Caine did a great job being a drunk womanizer, almost like he has played this role before, and Ben Kingsley is fantastic just standing still. When he was sitting on the train, thinking, you believe that he was actually thinking about a web of crimes that lead to a bigger criminal instead of just sitting and acting like he was thinking about these things. I think these actors saved this movie. The editing sure didn't help it.

What's it all about, Sherlock?

The expansion on the idea that Holmes is a figment of Watson's imagination works really well with these actors. You believe that Kingsley is smart enough to solve these cases and then even go so far as to set it up so that someone else looks as if they're solving them, although the British public must've been really dumb because Caine playing an actor playing Holmes was laughable. I wish that there were a couple of more moments like at the beginning when Caine asks the reporter about the windows on the front of the building. That is something that ACD's Holmes has said (or something similar) so it is easy for the audience to think that he is smart but the illusion is broken so quickly that I think it lost something. If Caine were smarter around others when he was pretending to be Holmes, I think it might've worked a little better. Instead of having someone act as if they're the greatest detective ever, we have someone who is bumbling his way through it and people are ignoring the mistakes. That's just not believable. Even Lestrade (by the way, I gagged every time they said "Lestaaade.") ignored Holmes' mistakes and you would think that he'd be the first to point them out, especially in the dynamic they created in this movie. 

How the movie switched the traditional Holmes/Watson roles was neat to me. Instead of a bumbling Watson, we have a bumbling Holmes. He really did act like the other Watson we've explored. He wasn't the brightest, he wasn't the most observant but he did try and he did care and he did want to help. Caine didn't just play a drunk who was getting paid to be someone, he played a character that wanted to learn so he could play his role better. I love the parallels that are made between Kingsley's Watson and Holmes/ACD. We have the fake death, we have the want to get rid of Holmes altogether (I would totally read a book called "Watson: Crime Doctor!") and we have that lack of modesty that Holmes is known for. Kingsley's Watson hated the fact that he had to apologize to Caine and it's something that the real Holmes wouldn't have done unless it was necessary. While the plot wasn't fantastic, the characters were incredibly well written and acted. But I'll watch either of them in anything...

Next time, we figure out just what that damn whistling is and yet again that it is wrong to trust step parents. One might think that ACD might have had father issues but that's a different blog entirely.
And now Austin Lugar with the final word.

Austin: Psalms!

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