Category Archives: Reviews: Music

Side Comments for the Month V

Side Comments for the Month V

There are spoilers for Iron Man 3 and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes in this post. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

Any excuse to use this photo is good enough for me. From Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes (2009).

1. So I watched Iron Man 3 like the rest of the world. I liked it a lot and I found it superior to Iron Man 2. Then again, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favorite movies, so anything that teamed up Shane Black and Robert Downey Jr. again was bound to hit my sweet spot.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 actually have many things in common: the seemingly pointless voiceover narration at the beginning, the red herrings, the lead character being a fish out of water, the holiday decorations, the bait-and-switch bad guys.

I read a few reviews online, and I can see how the film probably upsets some of the hardcore comic book fans. (I grew up reading more Uncanny X-men myself, and you cannot imagine my nerd rage with X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand. So I can sympathize.)

I digress, though. As someone who likes Robert Downey Jr. and the film that revived his career, I am willing to cut Iron Man 3 some slack. It’s not The Godfather of superhero movies but it’s an above average popcorn film.

Incidentally, this may be the second time RDJ’s been handcuffed to a bed frame. He’s beginning to make a habit out of it.

 

"Did you ever try to do embroidery with a gun in your hand?" Mrs. Hudson is a woman to emulate.

2. For the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970). I picked up the soundtrack, purely out of curiosity, from the classical music section of the Berkeley Public Library. I was actually looking for more Hans Zimmer when I found it. (Zimmer’s work on Guy Ritchie’s Holmes films—especially the main theme in “Discombobulate”—has been great music for writing.)

Since I liked the idea of song titles like “221B Baker Street”, “The Diogenes Club”, and “Watson’s Rage,” I gave The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes a good listen and it exceeded my expectations. I cannot claim to be any sort of expert in musical matters, but this particular musical score pleases me. I’m terrible at identifying musical motifs and themes, but I have no problem picking out the Sherlock moments as it recurred throughout the entire CD.

 

3. Due to my enjoyment of the soundtrack, I did not hesitate to borrow the film when I found a copy at the Mechanics Institute.

I’m not sure if I liked Robert Stephens’s conventional interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. (I confess that the idea that he was Maggie Smith’s ex-husband fascinated me more.) Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson was uninspired but I attribute this to the writing. When he started ranting at Holmes—for having started a rumor that they were gay lovers just to be rid of a client—was hilarious. Too bad Watson wasn’t given more scenes like that.

The Holmes brothers having a "friendly" conversation.

The idea of a young-ish Christopher Lee as Mycroft Holmes just floored me. My mental image of Mycroft Holmes remains that of a rotund man with rosy cheeks, like Richard Griffiths or even G.K. Chesterton. Christopher Lee seems better suited to play Sherlock himself, which he has done so several times.

A lovely French actress named Geneviève Page played the main female client. She’s definitely a throwback to all the dainty damsels in distress who seek Holmes’s advice throughout the canon. It especially pleases me, for obvious reasons, that Billy Wilder did not name her character Irene Adler.

It’s just too bad that the central mystery was child’s play—some of the clues were just too obvious—and better editing would have fixed the pacing. Despite these complaints, I still finished watching The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes because the dialogue was incredibly witty. Bon mots were distributed equally among characters—even Mrs. Hudson got a couple of quips.

As it’s usually the case with non-canonical adaptations, I enjoyed this for its fannish interpretation. Billy Wilder’s take on Holmes’s sexuality and his gentlemanly reticence is totally in line with more contemporary revisions of Holmes. Laurie R. King’s version of Holmes, for instance, is that of a consummate Victorian gentleman—a man who would never take advantage of a woman, even a naked amnesiac spy.

Maybe in the future, I will tackle the Basil Rathbone DVDs and content myself with Holmes vs. Nazis. When I think about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s penchant for secret societies and the footprints of gigantic hounds, I can’t really fault Billy Wilder for writing Holmes vs. the Loch Ness Monster. It actually makes sense… at least, more sense than Nazis.

My overall verdict: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is flawed but interesting. The music makes all the difference. Check it out if you can find it.

My, my. This has been a very Sherlockian entry, hasn’t it?

Side Comments for the Month II

Side Comments for the Month II

1. I am ashamed to say that my book backlog is piling up with no end in sight. While wading through research on nineteenth century history, I am also concurrently reading Jacqueline Raoul-Duval’s Kafka in Love and Jorge Amado’s The Discovery of America by the Turks. I’m studying for my finals, too.

In the midst of this mental over-exertion, I was lucky to receive a complete set of Dream of the Red Mansions for free. My copy editing class had a field trip to Sinomedia, a San Francisco-based publisher that specializes in Chinese and Asian titles. While touring their facilities, I had a nerdgasm because they had stuff like a hardbound boxed set of the complete Lu Xun.

So many books, so little time.

Chinese literature happens to be a frustration of mine since my university days, when I was unable to take the survey course on the topic due to scheduling conflicts. The literature department never offered the class again, either—for someone who took six units of Chinese language, it was unbelievably infuriating. (I decided on Chinese because all the hip cats were taking Japanese for their language requirements.)

Since those days I’ve managed to read some of the classics in translation on my own—Journey to the West, the Tao Te Ching, the short stories by Lu Xun, and a lovely poetry anthology edited by Wai-lim Yip. (I also have an anthology edited by Cyril Birch but I prefer Yip’s translations for some of the overlapping material.)

Despite these forays, my sense of self-education always felt incomplete because I hadn’t tackled Dream of the Red Mansions. Also known as Dream of the Red Chamber, it is one of the four masterpieces of classical Chinese literature. I felt that if I was worth my salt as a student of Asian literature, I just had to read it. (A similar moment occurred after taking the survey class on Japanese literature, when my professor announced we would not tackle the entire Tale of Genji. I’m proud to say I read that on my own too, even if some of the hip cats sneered at me for the effort. I was told by these well-meaning types that “real” Japanese kids don’t bother with it. I thought this was a ridiculous argument for being too lazy to even try.)

Good intentions aside, a complete, unabridged version of Dream of the Red Chamber proved difficult to find in Manila back then. So you can imagine my disbelief and excitement when I was presented with these volumes last week! Just receiving these copies ends an on-and-off search that started in the late 90s.

As soon as I can concentrate on it, I will definitely sink my teeth into these books. I hope I am up to this challenge.

 

A low-res shot from up front.

2. In more news of Things I Should Have Experienced Fifteen Years Ago, my sister and I watched the Toad the Wet Sprocket gig in San Francisco and it was a satisfying musical experience. I was happy that the audience wasn’t terribly geriatric, like the time I watched Brian Wilson (the Beach Boy, not the SF Giant.)

A local band called Luce opened for them and I think they were the best front act for me to encounter all year. Toad played through the entire Dulcinea album and I was ecstatic to hear Stupid, Nanci, and Windmills live after all this time. Even at the height of their popularity, I don’t think Toad even toured Asia. Back then I resigned myself to never seeing one of my favorite bands… and this was even before they broke up. It’s nice that they got back together again, and more importantly, they are in the middle of writing and recording new material.

If you wish to live vicariously, Toad recorded some tracks from their San Francisco gigs and it’s available for digital download over here. All proceeds from the EP will be going to Amnesty International, if you care about those things. So please don’t be an ass and try to pirate the EP, okay?

At the gig I picked up Glen Phillip’s Coyote Sessions. I’ve been following Glen’s solo career since Abulum and a new release is always a welcome addition to my iTunes. I’ve given the entire CD a couple of listens and my favorite tracks are “Still Carrying You” and “The Song is Still Here.”

 

3. On the anime manga front (can there be such a secret organization in existence… The United Anime-Manga Front? Instead of Internationale their theme song will be Fly Me to the Moon and its card-carrying members will wave red flags featuring the profiles of Hayao Miyazaki and Totoro? My imagination is running away with me on this cold afternoon…)

As I was trying to say before I interrupted myself, Adam and I finished Ergo Proxy and revisited Baccano!, courtesy of the official Funimation channel on YouTube.

A DVD cover for Ergo Proxy featuring Vincent Law.

Ergo Proxy was all sorts of confusing. Each subsequent episode left me slacked-jawed and mumbling strange things to myself. As far dystopian science fiction goes, it’s a competent, elegant series, as soon as I had all the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the plot firmly in my head. It’s not a series to watch in the midst of a debilitating depression or if you have the attention span of a goldfish.

Baccano!, of course, is famous for its skewered nonlinear storytelling — it hopscotches all over the place. Some people may argue that it’s a waste of time to re-watch a series, but Baccano! is one of those odd gifts that keeps on giving.

On a meta level, this time around nothing quite gave me the giggles as much as imagining Ichigo Kurosaki delivering Claire Stanfield’s lines. Graham Specter’s ridiculous declarations became more tolerable when I imagined Kyon delivering them to Haruhi Suzumiya, too. (Perhaps I should stop looking up voice actors and all the various roles they’ve had.)

Lastly, we are in the middle of watching the time-traveling series Stein;s Gate. I admit I got curious about this series due to this fan video. So far, the worst thing about it is its blatant misuse of punctuation in the title. Otherwise, the lab-coated main characters are adorably paranoid and madcap. I hope it continues to be satisfying.  Nothing is more infuriating than a good concept marred with a muddled, prolonged end (Eden of the East, I’m looking at you.)

 

4. I don’t know if I will find the time or energy to send postcards this year. In case I don’t write at length again in the coming days, happy holidays, everyone! I hope everybody I like (and a few I don’t) gets stuffed with food, drunk on spirits, and manage to do lots of silly things they will regret the next morning. That’s really the best I can hope for everyone.