Paramount Pictures release this sequel to the summer blockbuster of two years ago. Robert Downey Jr. is back as Tony Stark, along with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Don Cheadle as James Rhodes. This time, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell are along as the villains Black Widow, Whiplash and Justin Hammer, respectively. Jon Favreau again takes the director’s chair, working from a script by Justin Theroux, based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. The first IRON MAN was an excellent crowd pleaser, but the multiplicity of villains in the sequel is cause for concern: too often, they’re thrown in so that Marvel can sell more action figures, regardless of whether there is a place for them in the story. Release Date: May 7.
At Dealine.com, Mike Felming reports that Robert Downey Jr. is negotiating to appear in GRAVITY for director Alfonso Cuaron. Previously we mentioned that Angelina Jolie turned down a shot at WANTED 2 in order to take the female lead in the film, which is an outer space thriller written by Cuarón and his 28-year-old son Jonás. Jolie and Downey will play surviving members on a remote space station damaged by an exploding satellite.
SHERLOCK HOLMES is the big genre film laserblasting its way into video stores on March 30. Although the genres in this case are primarily mystery and action-adventure, the film follows in the tradition of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, flirting with an allegedly supernatural villain who claims he will return to life after being executed. The trailers made this one seem like a buddy movie, emphasizing raucous rowdiness over ratiocination, yet enough of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s concept for the great sleuth survives to make this one worthwhile for Holmes fans. You can now check it out on DVD and in a combo pack containing a Blu-ray disc, a DVD, anda digital copy for your computer/iPod.
The other theatrical release making its home video debut is I SELL THE DEAD, which appeared in a handful of art house engagements last year. This episodic horror-comedy doesn’t quite hold together for its entire length, but it is a good-natured throwback to the old-fashioned, atmospheric approach, with echoes of Universal and Hammer, mixed with enough modern mayhem to create an amusing off-kilter vibe. Now on DVD and Blu-ray.
Arriving a bit late to cash in on the theatrical release of the live-action Tim Burton film, ALICE IN WONDERLAND re-emerges from the Disney vaults, this time in a 2-disc special “un-anniversary edition.” Although well loved, this is not necessarily Disney animation at its finest. Still the brand-new bonus features should be worth checking out.
VAMPYRES is a ’70s Euro-trash item about lesbian vampires that promises “chilling atmosphere, shocking bloodshed, and…torrid sexuality.” Somehow, I doubt it will be as found as it sounds.
So obscure it doesn’t even qualify as a cult film is GIRLY (shortened in America from the British original: MUMSY, NANNY, SONNY, AND GIRLY). The title sounds like a sexploitation, and the marketing suggests horror, but this is really a quirky black comedy about a brother and sister who lure men back to their home, where adults Mumsy and Nanny cluck with approval over their “games,” which have lethal consequences for their guests. Director Freddy Francis (who helmed some enjoyable horror films for Hammer and Amicus in the ’60s and ’70s) considered this one of his best efforts, but it’s hard to see why. Although initially intriguing, the eccentric English humor goes only so far toward sustaining interest, and the plot (vaguely similar to THE BEGUILED with Clint Eastwood) needs stronger characters or more engaging performances to prop it up.
It’s Sunday, March 7, and everyone is wondering what the winners will be. Well, wonder no more, because here are the official winners of this year’s Cinefantastique Wonder Awards. Oh sure, other people are tuning into the Oscar telecast to see whether Sandra Bullock takes home an Academy Award, but for aficionados of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema, the Wonders are the awards that really matter, because they offer a chance to recognize great films that are often denied Academy Award nominations because of their genre affiliation.
Of course, this year is a bit of an exception, because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated two science fiction films for Best Picture, AVATAR and DISTRICT 9, along with one animated fantasy, UP. With several other Oscar nominations in technical categories, the genre has at least a fighting chance of winning some recognition from Academy voters.
Nevertheless, the Wonders are the true measure of achievement in the genre, voted on by experts with a life-long love of horror, fantasy, and science fiction – and more important, voted on by those imbued with that all-important Sense of Wonder.
BEST HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
BEST DIRECTION IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- James Cameron for AVATAR
BEST SCREENPLAY FOR A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchll for DISTRICT 9
- Pete Docter, Bob Peterson (story by Docter, Peterson & Thomas McCarthy) for UP
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- Saoirse Ronan in THE LOVELY BONES
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- Robert Downey Jr in SHERLOCK HOLMES
- Sam Rockwell in MOON
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- Vera Farmiga in ORPHAN
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- Jackie Earle Haley in WATCHMEN
BEST SPECIAL EFFECTS IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
BEST MAKEUP IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- MY BLOODY VALENTINE
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- Henry Selick for CORALINE
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- Mauro Fiore for AVATAR
BEST EDITING IN A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivki for AVATAR
BEST MUSIC IN HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
- Michael Giacchino for STAR TREK
EDGAR G. ULMER AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT BY A HORROR, FANTASY, OR SCIENCE FILM
Does Downey hit a “Holmes” run as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective?
Growing up in England and reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of Sherlock Holmes, scanning 1960s English comic books featuring Holmes-influenced characters, and watching the eloquently shrouded Holmes in umpteen TV shows and films, one can become attached to the Holmes that was. Comparing the original Victorian Holmes with the new DARK KNIGHT-inspired Holmes portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. in the SHERLOCK HOLMES is like contrasting the early Dr. Who portrayals by William Hartnell and Tom Baker (1963-1981) to the subsequent new millennium Dr. Who incarnations embodied by Christopher Eccleston, David Tenant, and now Matt Smith. As a traditionalist, I lean toward the originals, because those visions reflect an honesty of creation and character over glitz and glamour, without appeasing the convictions of the self and bowing to the weakness of ego.
Part of this contemporary shtick – a Holmes wrapped in scruff, filth, and addiction – consists of suggesting that Holmes and Watson are more than mere flatmates: their relationship includes hints of homosexuality – the cinematic clues are hidden within the riddled words of the gypsy soothsayer who ruminates to Watson and Holmes in a desolate back street of London.
SHERLOCK HOLMES opens with a display of somewhat macabre sensibility: as denizen of the dark arts Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) is about to perform the last of a series of ritualistic murders, Holmes and Watson (Jude Law) burst in to rescue the latest victim and defeat the black magic master. As Blackwood is about to bow to the broken neck fate of the hangman’s gallows, he warns Holmes that he welcomes death as part of his new life. In fact, Blackwood’s day of execution will further darken the soot-laden skies of 1890 London, which is just recovering from the ominous cloud created by another evil criminal, Jack the Ripper. When Blackwood seemingly makes good on his promise, his apparent resurrection panics London and confounds Scotland Yard (so named because it was built on land owned by Scottish Kings). In keeping with contemporary banter, the Yard calls in their, “Holmie.”
Although the look of SHERLOCK HOLMES captures the grittiness of 1890 London, Downey’s new fangled portrayal of the great detective abandons the traditiona, Victorian-English aspects of Holmes in favor of a brazen, impertinent and abrasively jealous take on the character. Also missing is Holmes’s signature quote, “Elementary my dear Watson.” At least Downey’s English accent was far superior to Kevin Kostner’s Robin Hood Nottingham lilt in ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991).
However, there is an interestingly novel element of SHERLOCK HOLMES that does derive from the literature but has rarely been fleshed out on screen. Besides being a habitual cocaine user, Conan Doyle’s Holmes was a practitioner of a mystical fighting art that was introduced in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” in which Holmes returns, apparently from the dead, and reveals that he did not go over the Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarty at the end of “The Final Problem.” Instead, Holmes escaped the death grip of his arch nemesis by using a self-defense system known as baritsu. It is interesting how veins of Fant-Asia have circulated into something that is seemingly non-Asian.
In case it may have slipped anyone’s mind, Fant-Asia was the term coined in the early 1990s to describe the genre of Hong Kong martial arts films made during the 1980s up to the mid-‘90s, which uniquely combined elements of sex, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror with high-flying wire work and over-the-top martial arts choreography. Since then, the term has grown to include just about any Asian genre film that has one or more of the aforementioned elements, whether or not it includes martial arts. To paraphrash one of Holmes’ famous sayings, “What is afoot here?” In other words, what is Asian about SHERLOCK HOLMES?
After the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun, Emperor Meiji opened Japan’s door to Western science, technology and military weapons during a period of Japan’s history known as the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). Baritsu is a martial art created in 1898 by Edward William Barton-Wright, a British engineer who lived in Japan for three years during the Meiji Restoration. Barton-Wright studied jujitsu and upon his return to England presented his knowledge as a new self defense system named partially after his Barton namesake and partially after jujitsu, thus “bartitsu,” later shortened in the press to baritsu by way of a reporter’s misspelling of the art. Apparently, Conan Doyle was so enamored of the fighting art, that he made Holmes a practitioner. Thus, in a sense, very British Holmes contains an element of Asian influence.
Conan-Doyle also subliminally included something rather Asian in his original conception of Holmes, something that could be seen as the foundation for the characteristic calm of the detective’s demeanor. It is rooted and hidden in Conan Doyle’s interest in the mysticism of India, specifically the meditative sound of “ohm.” The Cockney accent of East London would pronounce “Holmes” without the “H,” thereby calling the centered detective “Olmes.” How incredible it is it that Fant-Asia has been alive and well and lurking beneath the facade of Victorian England’s most famous detective since 1887, the year the first Sherlock story A Study in Scarlet was published.
Happy New Year everybody, a new decade of Fant-Asia is arriving.