Friday, July 2, 2010

STORYTELLING RANT #5,399 - A Punch in the FACE!!

Visual Crack + Cartoon Characters + Gratuitous Gross Outs = CRAP!!!

What's the deal with what passes for stories these days?

I finally forced myself to watch the movie that purports to be about SHERLOCK HOLMES and it's a piece of crap. I had kept away from it for a long time because the reboot (read: modernization allegedly needed to make this character palatable to modern viewers/readers) revealed to me by the trailers for the movie showed a character called Sherlock Holmes, but one the was not even close to being Sherlock Holmes. Not the real one.

Okay. I admit I'm not the target audience.

I am not a disenfranchised teen or twenty-something suffering through the depression of becoming an adult and realizing that adulthood has a lot of crap attached to it - so life seems like a big bowl of crap.

It's not - but this movie is.

The gritty facade that backs up the visuals only serves to appeal to the depressed target audience. But Holmes and Watson are Shaggy and Scooby in terms of depth of character. Bad dialogue. Bad pacing. No narrative drive (all the drive comes from the visuals and artsy MTV video editing.)

You know, a movie that is classic appeals to all ages and has iconic qualities.

I use GRAN TORINO for my Visual Storytelling 2 classes. I show it to the students and they all love it. I love it. It has good characters, good pacing, good dialogue, good visuals and a real story.

SHERLOCK HOLMES is the exact opposite of this.

Can't we raise the bar (again, I appeal to you all) for what we watch and what we create to a level that tries for mass appeal versus a small, but profitable, niche?

I don't know. Why do you people like this piece of crap? I'd love to hear why.

Keep writing. Keep drawing.


futant_DNA said...

Probably because this is the same kind of crap the people who like it grew up with. With no real 'push' for good storytelling or a plot we are left to digest what popular media deems marketable (i.e. CRAP). Until more consumers DEMAND a higher level of craftsmanship we can only avert our eyes and wince as another "blow-em-up-curse-em-out-movie" comes out. I cringed the other day when I heard that they are making another "updated" Mad Max film....shudder

Drew said...

Haha, Tom, I knew you wouldn't care much for it.

Truth be told, I did enjoy it, but maybe that's because I'm starved for something that's even remotely appealing. I did go into it with the lowest of expectations, so that probably tipped the scales in its favor.

I'll grant this though - Guy Ritchie really only knows how to make one movie, and he's made it a few times now. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was his first, and it seems like he retreads it time and time again.

I'll give Ritchie his due though - He knows how to set up some appealing shots (at least to me.) And I think the man knows how to stage an action scene well enough, since that's his bread and butter.

Speaking of good movies, I hope you're showing those Vis 2 students 3:10 to Yuma. If you want to talk about a good film, that would be it. And it's a damn fine Western to boot, what's not to like about that? (I have to admit though, I have never had the pleasure of seeing the original, but the recent remake certainly wowed me.)

I have a question, do you ever show bad movies in your Vis 2 class to show what NOT to do, or maybe as a challenge for them to improve upon a scene? I imagine if you give an average movie like Holmes to them it'd be even more of a challenge, since it's not as transparently bad as some others out there and would give their brains some critical thinking on the matter.

I'd point out Iron Man 2 as another example of a bad movie you can show them sometime. There's no real plot movement in it, people move from point a to point b because we need to move along in the set pieces, not because there's an internal motivation from the characters.

Just some thoughts. Hope to see you next year at Heroes! John mentioned you couldn't make it, hopefully you're seeing out of both eyes now.

Tom Lyle said...

I don't know HOW you can't tell that the badness of this film IS very transparent.

I know nothing of real importance about either Watson or Holmes from the plot or the dialogue, yet we're supposed to give a crap about them because they're the "stars" of the movie - or so the title says.

Robert Downey is making a living off of making self-centered, unlikable characters seem okay. (Iron Man AND Sherlock Holmes!)

That means he's a good actor.

That doesn't mean it's a good movie.

Visually interesting. Alleged good fight scenes (stay in really tight and move the camera a lot - who cares if we can't tell where we are?). Grit. Grime. Grunge. All make it "COOL" for their target audience - which, again, can't be me ... I have eyes and can tell a story.

I really hate that storytelling is going down such a crappy path.

Look, I like some movies that are stupid and that don't take themselves seriously (DUSK 'TIL DAWN, for instance), but they at least have narrative drive and some characters that seem somehow to be connectable with.

Sue (my wife, if you're not paying attention) thinks the girls are all sidetracked by lots of bare abs from seeing that there isn't really a story there.


Btw, I haven't watched 3:10 because I love the original and I can't bring myself to compare the two - despite the fact that I love westerns.

More later.

Drew said...

Were I betting man, I'd certainly put money on that bare abs hypothesis. God knows how many times I've ranted about those stupid Twilight movies (and books.)

I haven't seen the movie since it's been released, so I think there's a re-watch due for it. So maybe in a more critical light it won't stand up as well?

Now that you mention that bit about not knowing who the heck Holmes and Watson really are, I can certainly see that. I reckon they decided to just go with the idea that most people know at least SOMETHING about Sherlock Holmes and Watson, so they figure they don't have to waste screen time on introducing them as characters.

From a storytelling standpoint, that doesn't make sense, and it IS lazy. That can't really be argued.

The rest of your points I'm afraid I can't make any comment on it, since it's not fresh enough in my brain (Might be a sign of that being proven right then, if it's so forgettable...)

I will say though that compared to when I saw Avatar, I would actually go see Holmes again over that.

Boring story. Completely uninteresting (and unlikeable characters.) Pointless and sometimes stupid decisions by the characters. The visuals, when I first saw them, were certainly pretty, but the designs were basically a greatest hits list of all designs we've seen recently in sci-fi movies.

Funny enough, I recently saw it again playing on an HDTV in Sam's Club. Good god did it look horrific. It was like watching a videogame cutscene.

I can also think of a few other movies that are easily crappier than Sherlock Holmes, off hand. Terminator: Salvation (or whatever the recent one was,) Hellboy 2 (and really Hellboy 1, for that matter.) Any of the prequel Star Wars movies. Any recent schlock put out by M. Knight (I had heard that the Airbender movie this weekend was wretched. Perhaps a sign of him finally being finished with movies?) Spider-man 3.

I guess the point I'm making is compared to some other stuff out there, Sherlock Holmes isn't as obviously bad (to me, at least,) as other stuff. Chances are, it'll hold up as well as Iron Man 2 will to me - initially a decent ride that I thought was fun, but on re-views becomes absolute trash.

(Should note that I didn't care much for Iron Man 2. It was alright, but there was a lot of "wtf" moments in it that were silly at best and stupid at worst.)

Paulina Ganucheau said...

I whole heartily agree Tom. I was bored the whole time. Waste of a ticket.

The bar does need to be raised.

Tom Lyle said...

Paulina -
I knew I liked you for a reason.



Aja said...

A question: Where was the gross-out part? Uh, was it supposed to be with the guy that was in the coffin? I guess that was the only real gross part...? I guess?

I for one really did love this movie, but that doesn't mean I didn't have issues with it. It still was one of the best movies that came out last year, in my opinion.

The character establishment was genius really. We're introduced to Watson, who is upstanding British soldier and doctor, who suddenly has to deal with bullet holes in adjourning wall because oh look, his flatmate is an eccentric. And their landlady is at her wit's end. That's the dynamic in the stories too. It was a quick neat way to introduce us to their relationship, Holmes' "black moods" and just to 221b Baker Street in general. Yes, Guy decided that it would be better to play up Holmes' Bohemian inclinations (which, while I don't agree with, he did have them in the books so okay whatevs). However, the rest? Yeah, that's Holmes. And I appreciate that Guy also gave Watson a BRAIN which is severely lacking in the Basil Rathbone versions of the stories. There's a reason Holmes has Watson around him, and it's not because he makes a hilarious sidekick. This is something that happens quite often in Holmes movies and frustrates me to no end. Seeing as Watson supposedly penned all of the stories (except 2), his readers know too that he is not an idiot. Watson, in the media of film, is given the bumbling sidekick card because it helps the writers create an illusion of Holmes' intelligence. In the new film, we don't have that situation, and Holmes still clearly is an intelligent detective.

A lot of the dialogue out of Holmes and Watson's mouths are direct quotes from the short stories, so some it may sound corny and cliched because we've heard it for over a hundred years now. There were a few times that I winced at them trying to fit something a quote in, but it was for the fans, I understand (and can appreciate them trying to think of us).

Aja said...

.. my continued comments...

But it's not all roses and buttercups in my corner when it comes to the movie. I think the biggest problems I had with the movie were:

A) Trying to fit Irene Adler into the plotline where she didn't really belong. Although they did make her character more interesting, it was clear she was thrown in there so the main hero could have a love interest, even though, you know, in the stories they aren't in love, were never in love, Holmes was just impressed because she outwitted him. It would also be awkward to just have Holmes being terribly upset that Watson was moving out, because dear lord he might care about him in something more than friendship! Le gasp! Clearly modern audiences won't understand their relationship so, naturally, a female is thrown in to divert any problems that a mass audience will have with Holmes being visually disturbed that Watson is leaving their life/friendship/partnership for a woman.

B) The ending. Because clearly movies cannot have a real ending anymore and we have to set crap up for a sequel. I rolled my eyes at the end the first time and would have left the theater pretty upset if it wasn't for the awesome credits.

I'm not going to really argue about the filming and choice of color pallet. We will have to agree to disagree (at least with the color), but Hollywood has been doing that waaaaaaaaaay too much lately and I wish they would stop putting everything through a filter. With this movie I accept it because it's supposed to be Victorian London. Which was very gray. But other movies that have come out, yeah not so much.

And while I suppose my demographic is where the movie was aimed, it kind of missed if it was trying to appease me my casting alone. I didn't really like Jude Law until AFTER I saw this movie, when he finally showed me he was more than a pretty face. In fact, before I saw Sherlock Holmes the first time, I refused to watch movies that HAD Jude Law in them. I also was never sure about RDJ being Holmes. I'm still not. There are parts of the movie where I love what he's doing with the character, and parts I don't. In my mind, Jeremy Brett will always be Holmes visually (although I hear Clive Merrison's voice), but I guess it's hard to erase that, hm?

Tom Lyle said...

All right , AJA-

You make some good points.

I, for one, despite the use of some dialogue from the books, did not think that the characterization was there.

Why should we like Holmes at all? Why should we care?

Because he's Shelock Holmes? Who cares?

Everyone has their limits, but I don't think the landlady came close to showing hers.

I really think it is like so many movies - visually appealing with all the narrative drive coming from the editing and camera work.

Fast cuts.

I'm not saying the Basil Rathbone stuff was great either, but he was at least likeable.

I think that to dwell on the parts of Holmes' life that Ritchie did serves to make him a very non-appealing and unlikeable character.

Btw, you KNOW the characters.

Imagine watching that film if you did not know anything about them. Would you follow the story?

Not as well.

I'm glad you liked it.

Unlike what Andrew supposed, I don't think it's the worst movie ever. I'm just at a loss to explain why it was liked at all.

I've got lots worse movies to hate, but I've gotta make a stand with something.

(Says the curmudgeon.)

Thanks, Aja.

I think you're well thought out. I hate the palette, too, btw. But grungy plays well to the target audience.

Hope you're well and thanks for the entry.

Tom Lyle said...

Oh, as for gross outs ... to dwell on all the stuff that they've started to thanks to CSI is not needed.

You guys are so immune to gore, though, that you don't notice it.

I do.

Aja said...

As a character, I don't think we really are supposed to like Sherlock Holmes, because unless one was blessed with the infinite patience that Watson has, um most people would have moved out in two days. It would be maddening to live with someone who would know everything you did that day just from looking at you, as well as your life history. Not to mention what you were thinking just from your expression. Plus there's the fact that he's a "calculating machine." That was one thing that I like about the Brett version and the new one (as well as the BBC radio versions), because they understand that and have Holmes being terrible and horrible. While the stories might be Sherlock Holmes solves so and so, really, the main character of the pieces could arguably be Watson himself, since the stories are all about Watson dealing with this intelligent friend he has that solves crimes and his own reactions. This is also why the few short stories that Holmes pens "himself" are incredibly boring because all he cares about is scientific facts.

Aja said...

Ooops, didn't mean to send it yet!

There are people however, like me, who are fascinated (and entertained) by Holmes being a jerk to everyone, and thus we like him? I mean, what he does to Watson in "The Dying Detective" is really unforgivable as a friend, and then there's the Milverton case, and how he treats his clients. In his opinion, they don't hire him to be sympathetic, they hire him to solve the case.

Tom Lyle said...

I think that Holmes of the novels is supposed to be quirky and irascible and maybe a bit weird - but the Holmes of this film is a self-centered drug addict. I don't find that to be very good for identification which I need to feel for a character for a story/film to work for me.

If you don't care about them, why would we read/watch the story?

You have made some great points, btw. I really appreciate it.

Derik Diaz said...

It looks like most of the important points have already been covered here but I thought I'd add my two sense anyways. I have to agree that the characterization of the heroes is absolutely unrealized. I'm no writer so I can say my work is much better, but I do feel that there is just a failure to create any sense of urgency for the viewer. Will Homes and Watson survive!? Who cares, because I don't know why I'm supposed to like them.
On the flip side I have to give any credit (if there is any to give) to Downey Jr. As you aptly pointed out he has a talent for portraying "okay-holes" If anything about the movie interested me it was in his performance as a hero type guy - masquerading as Sherlock. Sherlock is a detective, this guy was anything but. Once again my prowess as a writer keeps me from saying a whole lot, however, in a mystery setting my feeling is that the villain's scheme must be convoluted enough for me to feel that the hero is faced with a true challenge. The flip side of that being the hero must also follow the clues in an at least semi-realistic way. Too many mystery stores do the "ah-ha I've got it!" Without ever explaining how one would have conceivably followed the thought pattern from clue to clue without being omniscient. But what do I know?
As I've discovered working on my book, I'm am no writer by a long shot. If my characters have any depth its in their interactions with one another, if they have likability, its a result of their humor and desire to help people. But those are my shortcoming as a writer and I would expect more from an experienced professional. Unfortunately the case is that even my writing seems to have a better foundation than some of the stuff I see/read. That's just sad! I'm still learning!

Derik Diaz said...

Wow one little typo and it looks like I'm totally self absorbed! The above should read "I'm no writer so I CAN'T say my work is much better." And where I mention my "prowess" as a writer, it should read: Lack therof! Maybe I'm being had on myself but I know I'm a B level writer. I'm definitely a run-of-the-mill writer. Once again illustrating why I would expect professionals to do a better job. That said, we should acknowledge the Hollywood Machine and its tendency to all but obliterate what very well may have been a half way decent script before studio execs got a hold of it. The sad truth is often what we wind up with as a finished product in no way reflects the original intention set forth by the writer. I'd be willing to bet there's a vault worth of craptastic movies that were once promising scripts.

Derik Diaz said...

And finally to put my "why doesn't this guy stop talking" over the top - Gran Torino is an awesome movie. Glad to hear you're showing it to people as a solid resource for good editing/cutting/storytelling. Ok, I'll finally stop talking now!

John said...

I know this probably isn't the right place to ask this, but I didn't see another recent post..
Mr.Lyle, do you know if and when you might be doing some commissions at home?

Erin E. Peters said...

Hi Tom, it's Erin Petres!!! I was networking last night in a bar in downtown L.A. and I met a guy named Eliot Maggin (sp?) who said he worked with you. He wrote the Total Recall comic you drew. I don't remember if you did that or not, but he was very nice and I geeked out about his writing Superman for so many years.
I hope things are going well, hit me up on Facebook, I don't want to leave contact info here. Erin Peters, wearing a cowboy hat. I have blogspot page for eepeters, but it's just things I've edited.
Say hi to Sue for me! Miss y'all!
p.s. I liked Sherlock Holmes :P

Tom Lyle said...

Nice to hear from you.

I'll go and find you on FB and get in touch with you. Sue is doing fine and she'd love to hear from you.

I think I'm going to open a two week window for commissions starting on 8/30/10. Email me at and we'll talk if you are interested. I'll give you my rates there.