Superstars, Sherlock Holmes and a Brooklyn attorney: movies

Seeing the recent TV presentation of JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR (2018) on TV proves Ethan Mordden’s point that hearing a cast album is not the same as a live show. Although I’ve listened to the album dozens of times, I was really surprised how fast the early scenes before Jesus’ capture move. And I couldn’t tell just from listening how effective Judas’ suicide and Jesus’ ascension were onstage. That aside, the show was fantastic, full of energy, great songs and great voices as we watch the end of Jesus’ ministry in a grimy urban Jerusalem (if I’d had time, I’d have watched Godspell as a double bill for its more upbeat Urban Jesus). With John Legend as the Superstar, Brandon Victor Dixon of Hamilton as Judas, Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and Alice Cooper a rather uninspired Herod. “Always knew that I’d be an apostle/Knew that I could make it if I tried/Then when we retire, we can write the gospels/So they’ll still talk about us when we’ve died.”

For a more flesh and blood superstar, we have Joaquin Phoenix as a young Johnny Cash in WALK THE LINE (2005), playing opposite Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash. While the leads are powerful and the movie is well-executed, as TYG pointed out, it recycles the same cliches as countless other musical biopics (the struggle to make it, the struggle to survive fame, drink and cheating, and being saved by the love of a good woman). Watchable, but I’m not sorry I gave it a pass when it was in theaters.“Tell me, what’s the one song you would like to sing to him?”

YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985) is the story of how Holmes and Watson met as boarding school teens, discovers a sinister serial killing in the neighborhood and ultimately unmask teacher Antony Higgins (who later played Holmes himself in 1994 Baker Street) as the leader of an Egyptian death cult. This comes off too much a kids’ film and not enough a Young Holmes movie — I could have done without the wacky comedy of the experimental flying machine, and the school could as easily be Hogwarts (see the plucky but poor students triumph over the snobs!). Nor does it help that the cult come off as unreasonable opposing English rule as the natives in, say, 1940’s Drums of Fu Manchu (to say nothing of being led by the very non-Egyptian Higgins). And while the hallucinatory F/X still look god, they’re not terribly fresh. “A mere fluctuation in character is hardly grounds for an investigation.”

Because the murder method in Young Sherlock Holmes involves driving men to suicide, I turned for a double-bill to THE SPIDER WOMAN (1943) which uses the same idea to much more effect. One of the best of the Rathbone Holmes, with Gale Sondergaard as a cunning, formidable foe and incorporating elements from multiple Doyle stories. The only thing that stops it being perfect is the unsatisfying death trap Sondergaard sets for Holmes at the climax. Still, well worth seeing. “Nature provides the means — the Spider Woman merely uses it.”

MY COUSIN VINNIE (1992) is, of course, the legal comedy in which rookie Big Apple attorney Joe Pesci (“Nah, I didn’t pass the bar on my second time either.”) comes to the aid of two “youts” accused of murder in a small Alabama town, only to discover he can’t save them without insight from spitfire fiancee and ace mechanic Marisa Tomei. Very funny (TYG, watching for the first time, enjoyed it too) and very well cast, with Fred Gwynne as the straight-man judge, Lane Smith as the prosecutor, Ralph Macchio as one of the ill-fated kids and Austin Pendleton as a stuttering public defender. This one was a pleasure to rewatch. “I’ll do my best to make it a simple in-and-out procedure.”

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4 responses to “Superstars, Sherlock Holmes and a Brooklyn attorney: movies

  1. Pingback: Are monarchy and age differences becoming problematic? | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Zosimus the Heathen

    I’ll admit I quite liked Young Sherlock Holmes when I first saw it (way back in 1987) though that may be because I was a child at the time (as you say, it’s probably a kid’s film), and also the fact that the “Young [X]” formula seemed much more original at the time (although in hindsight, movies utilizing that formula were probably far from new even back in the ’80s). Rewatching the movie in my late 20s, I found I still enjoyed it, though that’s not unusual for me – it’s amazing how little my impressions of a lot of films have changed with repeat viewings, even when those viewings are decades apart. One of the hallucination scenes from YSH *did* give me a very sleepness night after my first viewing of that movie, though: namely, the scene where Elizabeth imagines herself falling into an open grave and then having her deceased grandfather bury her alive. While that was bad enough, the thing that *really* terrified me about that scene was seeing a bunch of laughing ghouls chiselling her epitaph – I only hope her actual death at the end of the film was a lot less traumatic!

    My Cousin Vinnie is indeed a good film, and one I only saw for the first time myself last year! What made me curious about that one was hearing that, despite being a comedy, it’s actually one of the more accurate films out there when it comes to depicting what goes on in a courtroom.

    • The excellent book on trial films Reel Justice rates it very well.
      Good point about YSH–Young Fictional Character did start becoming its own genre in the 1980s (I remember the Flintstone Kids and A Pup Called Scooby Doo from TV in that decade).

  3. But yes, it does go back a lot further–Superboy had been introduced by the late 1940s, for instance.

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