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Enjoying new Sherlock Holmes is elementary
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Sherlock Holmes Opening December 25

I'll admit upfront I was highly worried about director Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. The trailers made it look like some sort of Victorian Pirates of the Caribbean knock-off, with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's literary detective reduced to being just another comic book superhero quick-wittedly facing off against a banal series of supernatural bad guys.

Can I just say how delightful it is to having one's preconceptions proven deliciously wrong? Not only is this new take on the iconic character a rollicking good time, the screenplay by first-timer Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham (Invictus) and Simon Kinberg (Jumper) is surprisingly literate. In short, this movie somehow does Doyle proud, and unlike other revisionist takes on the detective gone horribly wrong (like 1985's Young Sherlock Holmes), this one gets so much right enjoying it is positively elementary.

It helps that someone, somewhere (and I'm guessing it was producer Joel Silver, of all people) managed to reign in Ritchie's hyperactive tendencies and force him to tell a cohesive tale from start to finish. Gone are the annoyingly flashy camera and editing tricks that marred recent efforts like Revolver and RocknRolla. In their place is a refined delicacy, allowing for the plot to flesh itself out organically and at its own measured pace. Even better, for the first time since Snatch, the director lets his actors act, giving them space to craft three-dimensional characters that are intriguing and engaging to the audience and not one-note figures wallowing in their own tiresome machismo.

The plot concerns 221B Baker Street detective Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his trusted aide Dr. Watson (Jude Law) as they investigate the mysterious resurrection of the villainous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a Machiavellian killer they helped send to the gallows. Making things interesting is the arrival of American thief Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), the only person to ever best the super sleuth at his own logical game as well as the only woman he's ever allowed himself to love. On top of that, Watson is on the verge of marriage, which puts the pair's working relationship in serious jeopardy.

Okay, I will admit seeing Sherlock Holmes as a man of action is a bit disconcerting, as his sudden skill with martial arts is something no other television or cinematic version has ever hinted at before. That said, Doyle's books do suggest his detective isn't incapable of standing up for himself physically, and his knowledge of ancient Asian arts are mentioned quite a few times. But those who think Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett are the actors who inhabited this character best will have trouble with the way Ritchie depicts him here - his efficiency with firearms and his fondness for fisticuffs are things old-school purists aren't going to appreciate.

For my part, had the script not been so intellectually centered, I probably would have been amongst those crying foul. Thankfully, Sherlock Holmes is very much a thinking person's action movie, and for all the explosions and gunshots (of which there are admittedly a few too many), the fact that the plot is so reliant on its heroes using their brains to solve the crime reduced my unease to virtually nil. Better, I love mysteries where the clues are all there for the audience to piece together themselves, and while answering the questions here aren't exactly difficult, doing so is still an immense amount of fun.

I will say that McAdams never registers as strongly as I would have liked her to, and the fact that Holmes' greatest adversary (next to Professor Moriarty, of course) is reduced in the end to a simplistic and cliché cowering female is more than a tiny bit annoying. I also think that there are moments of extraneous exposition not involving the detective that inadvertently slow things down a bit too much - the scenes of the conspirators hatching out their dastardly deeds are unnecessary.

But as problems go, these are relatively minor. Downey is just wonderful in the lead; he and Law have a playfully homoerotic chemistry that's positively marvelous. Strong makes for a good bad guy, never overplaying his hand and keeping Blackwood an intriguing enigma almost all the way to the end. As for the supporting players, both Eddie Marsan (as put-upon Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade) and Kelly Reilly (as Watson's prim fiancée Mary) make the most of their limited screen time, each making a far greater impression than I'd imagine anyone would expect them to.

I found Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes to be pure bliss. From Hans Zimmer's (Frost/Nixon) superb score to Philippe Rousselot's (A River Runs Through It) smoothly enchanting cinematography to Sarah Greenwood's (The Soloist) eye-popping production design, everything about this film reeks of class. But it is the combination of the literately engaging script and the full immersion of the actors into their respective characters that makes this effort sing, and if this is what it is going to be like for a game to be afoot in the new millennia, here's my vote for Warner Bros. to keep this case open.


A Single Man quite possibly the Gayest film ever
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

A Single Man
Opening December 25


In a W magazine interview with Bridget Foley, neophyte director Tom Ford said, 'I want to make sure that people don't think this is a Gay film, because it is a universal film.'

In an interview with Variety's David Mermelstein, lead actor Colin Firth said, "It's a love story, and love is love. George misses the love of his life, and that's that. It could be a woman, it could be a man. His being Gay is not the salient feature of what Tom wanted."

You see, despite the fact that the male lead character has been in a relationship with another man for 16 years, despite the presence of a glamorous fag-hag, despite the fantasy boy with impossible blue eyes and a tendency to remove his shirt, despite the perfectly tailored suits and '60s couture, and despite the exquisite art direction, don't be fooled; this is not a Gay film. I know this is not a Gay film because Tom Ford, Colin Firth, and everybody else keeps saying so.

At this point, you may think I don't like this film. If so, you are wrong. I love this film. I am not particularly ecstatic about how people associated with this film talk about it, but I love this film.

A Single Man, based on the Christopher Isherwood novel of the same name, is about George (Firth), a buttoned-down college professor who loses the love of his life after 16 years together. George drags himself through a day contemplating suicide, remembering his past, and loathing his future, a future without his beloved Jim (Matthew Goode). He is haunted by the suburban family next door, stalked by a flirty student (Nicholas Hoult), and comforted by his glamorous BFF Charley (Julianne Moore).

Get ready for some extremely Gay, and effusive, praise. A Single Man is close to cinematic perfection. Every scene, every element within every scene, is purposeful and relevant. The architecture, the interior design, and, yes, the costume design are aesthetically and narratively fabulous. The composition, the lighting, the overall photography, are all well-executed and pleasing. The editing is seamless and smart. This is a beautiful film to look at, and the visual elements hide secrets that are terrifically fun to uncover.

The story, while universal, is unique in its subtle honesty about the tremendous and overwhelming impact of loss. The basic elements of storytelling are executed with polished confidence.

Living with another person for 16 years is an odd proposition. For every romantic story ever told about falling in love and living happily ever after, there are a million couples who have failed in the seemingly simple act of sharing their lives. Even couples who find a way to make it work do so with a healthy dose of compromise, splashed with a hint of denial. A Single Man illustrates the incoherent world of a lover left behind.

The ending is perfect and unexpected - no easy task given the storyline. I couldn't wait to see how they tied things up. I suspected the writers had painted themselves into a narrative corner. However, in a deft move, the ending is surprising, real, and a tiny bit transcendent.

Firth isn't an extraordinary-looking man. He is quite average looking, in fact. This probably keeps him from getting A-list roles. It's nice to see an excellent actor get a chance to prove his mettle, and Firth makes the most of it.

George is repressed and hopelessly formal in that obsolete (even in 1962) English way. He comes to the world as an observer who feels slightly uncomfortable at the prospect of taking action. When he tries to take action, the results are fitful and mixed. Firth, with expert reserve, never lets George's circumstance become melodramatic. The power of his devastating loss bubbles up through the fabric of his impeccably tailored suit.

Julianne Moore, as always, is sublime as Charley, the beautiful gal-pal party girl just tipping past full bloom. Charley is in love with George and deals with her own sense of loss as she ponders her own life and what might have come from her youthful dalliance with her Gay friend, if only he hadn't been so Gay.

Nicholas Hoult is Kenny, the sometimes starry-eyed and sometimes wily college student whose game is tough to figure out. Hoult is best remembered by American audiences as the cute kid from the Hugh Grant vehicle About a Boy, but better known to teenage Brits as the morally ambiguous and sexually fluid Tony Stonem from the BBC hit series Skins. Hoult is a handsome young man and a solid actor whose character keeps us guessing to the end.

Have I covered all the bases? Have I explicated every way in which this film is superb? Probably not, but suffice to say, from the casting to the acting to the music to the art direction to the photography to the writing to the editing to the direction by fashionista-turned-director Tom Ford, the movie is done well. This is not a vanity project by the self-absorbed designer who saved Gucci; Ford is the real deal.

So to Ford and Firth and everyone else denying the Gayness of A Single Man, let me set you, uh, straight. You have taken a sweet and romantic tale of love and tragic loss and most certainly a universal story and you have turned it into a wonderful Gay film. Your movie is magnificently Gay from first frame 'til last. And not to go too Gertrude Stein on your asses, but your movie is regular in being Gay, it has little things that are things in being Gay, many little things that are things in being Gay, the movie is Gay everyday, it is regular, it is Gay, it is Gay the same length of time every day, it is Gay, it is quite regularly Gay (sorry, Gertrude). Mr. Ford, your movie is Gay, Gay, Gay, Gay, Gay. All the denial in the world will not change that. Gay.


Stellar cast anchors gorgeous Young Victoria
Stellar cast anchors gorgeous Young Victoria by Rajkhet Dirzhud-Rashid - SGN A&E Writer

Young Victoria
Opening December 25


Seeing Young Victoria last week and asking two of the other writers there if they thought the audience was aware of any of the history involved in the film (which is treated with delightful accuracy and even a bit of whimsy, but not too much), I was suddenly glad to have been a beat-upon geek in my high school days. I may have gotten the crap beat out of me or received threats that made me run home from school - even up until my senior year in high school - but I know my English and German history.

Still, even if you were one of the more popular kids and didn't pay attention to history, this film is just so damned good and so lovely to watch that you will most likely enjoy it anyway.

What myself and my life partner (who accompanied me) loved was how Emily Blunt played the role of young Victoria with an understated feistiness and winning childishness that made us believe this is how the young queen (who was 18 at the time she was coronated in the mid-1800s in England) probably behaved.

Not willing to let herself be used as a pawn in power schemes between the court of Belgium and those of her social-climbing relatives (including her mother, played with an Oscar-worthy sharpness by the inimitable Miranda Richardson), Victoria rose to a level of power and respect not achieved by many of her ancestors, especially the women. She chooses the man she loves (devilishly handsome Rupert Friend) - even though she knows this is part of the plan of her relative, the King Leopold of Belgium (Thomas Kretschmann) - and makes her own decisions.

The sweep and drama of English nobility and the undertone of court intrigue in the British court is put on delicious display in Young Victoria, and should thrill any fans of the royals. But at the heart of this court drama is the romance that grows between Victoria and the man she chooses to be her husband, Prince Albert (Friend), and this is delicately handled, given a kind of otherworldliness by director Jean Marc Vallee, who might get an Oscar nod in a fair world. The bottom line is that this is the perfect film for the holidays and should be on many "best-of" lists, including my own.


Nine rates an average five
by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Nine Opening December 25

Whenever a movie is based on a previous source, there is always comparison especially when that movie is based on a stage musical, which was in turn based on the semi-autobiographical Fellini film, 8 ½. This is the case with Nine, the latest from director Rob Marshall (Chicago). The movie boasts a bevy of stars in its lineup, but there is something lacking and it fails to capture the full impact of either incarnation of its predecessors.

The plot revolves around Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a movie director approaching 50 and dealing with a midlife crisis which finds him losing his inspirational vision. Despite the hype of his latest film, Italia, it hasn't even been written, and every relationship he's involved with is falling apart, including those with his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz), and his leading lady Claudia (Nicole Kidman). Seeking answers from two significant past influences, the deceased mother (Sophia Loren) who pampered him as a child and the local whore Saraghina (Fergie) who introduced him to his sexual awakenings, he realizes the root of his failures with the women in his present; he can't look at a woman without the church-officiated "Madonna/whore" complex. His recognition is too late; his wife and his leading lady have had enough and left, and his film backers have backed out. With the advice of a wise costume designer (Judi Dench), Guido must decide to either grow up or remain at the mental age of nine.

The cast reads like a who's who, but the film doesn't play out like one. Daniel Day-Lewis shows a good balance of a man on the verge of a breakdown, but he's not a likeable character. We don't envy or sympathize with his lack of morality enough to empathize with his behavior. Penélope Cruz as Guido's mistress is more neophyte seductress than experienced courtesan, and her "Call From The Vatican" comes across as vaudeville instead of enticement. In the stage production, Guido's wife is present during this call - giving an explanation for the "Vatican" lie - but the film changed that and there's no reason to be secretive, making the song's contribution irrelevant.

As the voluptuous Saraghina, Fergie's sexuality is evident. The song "Be Italian," the movie's unofficial theme, is seductive, and we can see why she influences Guido's life. The choreography is sensual, the costuming carnal, but the song didn't explode and that's because these things often don't musically translate onto celluloid. Judi Dench delivers solid work as Lilli, a costume designer on Guido's previous films and the ever-subtle force in his life. Nicole Kidman is Claudia, the leading lady in all of Guido's work. Her character is supposed to be tired of repeating the same role in the maestro's movies, but her character came across as just tired. Kidman has already proven she can sing, but her character's song ("Unusual Way") is a love song of regret turned into contentment and Kidman doesn't have the power needed to emote this properly. It's too breathy and the longer notes sound forced from her lungs. Marion Cotillard as the hurt wife Luisa is wonderful. Her character is believable from the start as she sees through each lie her husband explains away. It's only through her eyes that we catch glimpses of Guido's genius and it is for this reasons that we feel her pain.

The songs are definitely moody and dark, which is what's needed in a mental breakdown musical. The new songs are good, but they don't fit with the set mood.

Rob Marshall is brilliant to conceive of this mental, musical-fantasy style of direction. It's the only way to present Nine on the big screen, and it's directed beautifully and sensually. The technique was perfectly utilized when he filmed Chicago and it works very well again with Nine. Since he's used this technique twice now, I eagerly look forward to his next original film conception.

Fans of the stage productions will notice differences immediately. Changes range from subtle incidentals to major revisions, but not all of them work well. Those not already familiar with the production won't notice. Stage fanatics will have to be contented with remembering that the original 1982 production won the Tony Award for Best Musical winning over Dreamgirls. It starred Raul Julia and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, winning five. The 2003 revival starring Antonio Banderas was nominated for six Tony Awards, winning two, including Best Revival.


SGN Exclusive Interview: Haffi Haff rocks Seattle's New Year's Eve
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Le Faux Holiday Extravaganza raises $$$$ for SCCC students
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Transplanted Taproot presents Wonderful staged radio play
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Knights of Malta and Imperial Courts throw holiday benefit extravaganza
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Ledisi's dazzling show illuminates at Jazz Alley
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Holiday fundraiser held at Café Metropolitain
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Plaid Tidings old-timey fun
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The Lobby Bar opens at E. Pike St. location
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Arnaldo! (VIDEO)
Opening hearts and minds through music one cabaret at a time.
2008 NY Backstage Bistro Award Winner

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Phoenix delivers the year's best 30 minutes
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Enjoying new Sherlock Holmes is elementary
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A Single Man quite possibly the Gayest film ever
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Stellar cast anchors gorgeous Young Victoria
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WINDING DOWN 2009: Cake, Deck the Hall Ball
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Deep Inside Hollywood - Romeo San Vicente
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Nine rates an average five
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Book Marks
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Big Love takes a big Gay twist
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A Dyke About Town: Enjoying the arts for the holidays
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Seattle Women's Chorus delivers beautiful holiday concert
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