When I was a kid I was obsessed with two things: Sherlock Holmes and the dubbed English language version of the Japanese TV show, Monkey. Seemingly, these two things have nothing in common; one is about an aloof, analytical, brilliant English detective – while the other is about an Asian guy in make-up doing bad karate. However, it’s clear from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows that director Guy Ritchie has made a connection between these two, and the resulting film is exactly the kind of escapist nonsense that defined British television back in the eighties. Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is like magician David Blaine crossed with Chuck Norris, he’s a cross-dressing bohemian Kung Fu master who also dabbles as a sleuth.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously once wrote: There are no second acts in American lives. What he meant was that for him there was to be no second act. Because he was capable of shame (and he was an alcoholic). Compare his life with the life of, say…Mickey Rourke, and it becomes quite clear that there are second acts in American lives, provided a) you have no shame, and b) there’s a funny story to your initial downfall. F. Scott, poor lamb, felt guilt and shame that Tender is the Night wasn’t better. Mickey Rourke scarcely regrets making Another 9 ½ Weeks. That’s why one of them died, broken, aged 44, and the other is playing the villain, aged 58, in Iron Man 2.
Guy Ritchie’s true subject has always been London; the moneyed, brutish boxer’s fist that knuckles the Thames. London, that city of thieves, scoundrels and massively over-priced hotels, where the air turns your snot black and the weather drives a shiv into your bones. Like New York, but without the iconic silhouette, London is known more for its streets than its skyscrapers: Downing Street, Fleet Street; Carnaby Street. Even London’s most famous detective has a famous address: 221b Baker Street, home of Sherlock Holmes. In Guy Ritchie’s new movie, the cerebral sleuth returns to a city rank with wrongdoing. London’s tourists will know it well.
Contrary to what Terry Gilliam movies teach us, going mad is no fun. The only thing real madness makes you aware of is how you should prize sanity. There are no life lessons to be learned, sadly, from slipping out of your head. Real madness is a hell with no dimensions: ungraspable and unkind. There’s something especially pitiless about a disease that corrupts thought. The new movie, The Soloist, tells the true story of a schizophrenic Julliard-trained musician named Nathaniel Ayers. He is, by turns: loquacious, gentle, intriguing and capable of snapping your neck. He is not changed by the movie’s end, and the movie is better for it.
Is there a movie more parodied than Apocalypse Now? Something about that movie seems to speak to wags in the movie business. Maybe it’s because even the making of Apocalypse Now lends itself to parody; all the self-important madness of Hollywood condensed into one film: the egotistical director, the deluded star, spiralling costs and a set caught mid-Tet offensive. Ben Stiller’s new movie, Tropic Thunder, is a satire of war movies, and it features (lo and behold) a lot of images that may remind you of Brando and co. lost in the jungle. No-one lashes out at their reflection this time around, but most actors will recognise “the craft” in this mirror.
This movie is a love letter to blowing things up. It’s not unusual that way. American movies are mostly about explosions. Think of Bruce Willis in Die Hard 4, taking out a helicopter with a car (because he was “out of bullets”). Iron Man has a lot of that spirit; that hell yeah!-enthusiasm when it comes to guns. It’s a fun movie that wants to say no to war, but finds itself led astray by bright lights and loud noises. Robert Downey Jr (playing Iron Man wryly) is like a lot of us in his response to the movie’s jingoistic bombast, figuring irony makes him less culpable. Like a lot of us, he winds up enjoying the explosions. It’s hard to be ethical when you’re a vigilante robot.