Review of “Holmes and Watson”

Detective Sherlock Holmes (Will Ferrell) and his loyal assistant Dr. Watson (John C. Reilly) has just proven in court the man the police believe is the evil Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) is actually an imposter, setting him free and infuriating London police Inspector Lestrade (Rob Brydon). At a birthday party planned by Watson for Holmes and hosted by Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris) at Buckingham Place, a body is discovered in a giant birthday cake. With the body is a note threatening the life of the Queen and to rewrite history. Performing the autopsy on the body is American doctor Grace Hart (Rebecca Hall) and her companion Millie (Lauren Lapkus). Watson immediately falls in love with Hart while Holmes becomes infatuated with Millie. Clues from the body take Holmes and Watson on a twisted journey that leads Holmes to believe someone very close to him may be the leader of the plot and a killer, but who?

I am a big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes. I have read several of the stories and highly recommend a British television adaption starring Jeremy Brett in the title role. While the films starring Robert Downey, Jr. were entertaining action films, I didn’t consider them a true adaption of Doyle’s stories. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman portray the pair in a recent BBC series. There are other adaptions dating back to the beginning of film and stage plays prior to that. Now, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly take on the mantle of the great detective duo and, between the script and their portrayal, show they are not up to the task.

“Holmes and Watson” is a bad movie in so many ways, but I’ll only cover the most glaring examples. First, the movie isn’t funny. There are plenty of very talented people on screen with decades of comedy experience both in America and in the UK. Ferrell, Reilly, Rob Brydon, Lauren Lapkus, Hugh Laurie, Steve Coogan and many more in the movie have been in some classic and groundbreaking comedy during their careers. In “Holmes and Watson,” the cast is hamstrung by an unfunny script. There are a few laughs scattered about but not nearly enough to fill the 90-minute running time. Much of the dialog feels riffed. The sloppy editing sometimes shows the actor saying another line but there is no audio of the line. There is then a quick edit to another camera angle. This implies there were various bits of dialog and storylines that were left on the cutting room floor. Considering what shows up on screen, it’s difficult to believe this was the best of the footage shot.

The movie also can’t decide whether Holmes is a genius or a lucky moron, so he is shown as both. There are moments where Holmes is doing the mental math in his head to calculate whether his next move with be successful. Apparently, the character is smart enough to figure out angles and speeds necessary, so his plans will succeed. When things don’t go as planned, Holmes shifts from genius to moron and freezes in place. Ferrell drifts dangerously close to what I thought of him early in his film career: A little of him goes a long way. Playing one of the title characters means Ferrell is in nearly every shot and his portrayal of Holmes wears thin very quickly.

Then there are the little things. For instance, I thought I saw some familiar characters in the backgrounds of various scenes. Nothing is ever done with these characters, so I put them out of my mind. Only when I printed off the list of actors did I learn these background characters where who I thought they were: Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin and Sigmund Freud. They are never referenced, and nothing is ever done with them. I guess there were scenes including them in brief cameos, but they got cut from the final edit, yet there they are, loitering in the background. It’s clear the film makers probably shot enough alternate takes to cut together three or four movies. Since these were considered the best of the bunch, I hope we never get an alternate cut using all the stuff these didn’t use.

The physical comedy is so also unfunny. People get hit in the face, back of the head, beaten with a chair, a croquet mallet and more. Horse poop (hopefully fake) gets smeared all over Watson as a “disguise.” One character acts like a cat. A swarm of bees attacks, driving a character to jump out a window. As seen in the trailer, Queen Victoria gets hit in the face with an old-style camera. None of it generates more than a giggle, if that. It’s been a long time since the Three Stooges and physical comedy has progressed, except in “Holmes and Watson.”

“Holmes and Watson” is rated PG-13 for drug references, crude sexual material, language and some violence. Aside from the various bits of violence I described earlier, there is a knife thrown that hits a character in the side. There is also the implication that the body inside the cake is stabbed as Holmes and Watson use a sword to cut it. The sexual material is exclusively about masturbation. Holmes and Watson use cocaine. While we don’t see its use, we do see the effects. Foul language is scattered and mild, but there is one use of the “F-bomb.”

With all the very funny people, and Will Ferrell, involved in making this movie, it should have been funnier, and it should have made more sense. It isn’t, and it doesn’t. There is plenty to parody about Sherlock Holmes, from his drug use to his encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything. Why writer and director Etan Cohen chose to not focus on anything in particular is a mystery worthy of the master detective.

“Holmes and Watson” gets 1 star.

There’s only one new film opening this week. I’ll see and review the following:

Escape Room—

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Review of “Ralph Breaks the Internet”

After Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) creates a new race track in her video game Sugar Rush, Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) is trying it out for the first time. The human playing the game thinks it’s malfunctioning and accidentally breaks off the steering wheel. When arcade owner Mr. Litwak (voiced by Ed O’Neill) tries to reattach the wheel it breaks. Kids in the arcade check the internet on their phones and find a new replacement part on eBay that costs $200.00. Mr. Litwak thinks this is too much to pay and decides to unplug the game, leaving Vanellope and all the characters in the game homeless. Mr. Litwak has recently installed a wireless router in the arcade, providing wifi access to the internet. Ralph and Vanellope decide to go on the internet and get the part needed to repair Sugar Rush. Entering the World Wide Web, Ralph and Vanellope discover social media, an MMORPG called Slaughter Race and its lead character Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot), a search engine called KnowsMore (voiced by Alan Tudyk), video sharing site BuzzzVideo and its algorithm Yesss (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), pop-up ads and even the dark internet. The trip outside the arcade opens Vanellope’s eyes to the potential of something more than Sugar Rush while it strains her friendship with Ralph.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” does much of what “Wreck-It Ralph” did in being a nostalgic look at old school cabinet video games while also opening the world to the internet. There is plenty the audience will recognize of the internet in the film. Familiar names like Google, eBay, Snapchat and Twitter get ample screen time while other well-known websites, I assume they didn’t allow their names to be used, are referenced with similar sounding names and similar looking logos. The personification of pop-up ads, search engines, video-viewing likes and even viruses turns something we know about and use everyday into something we can visualize. “Ralph Breaks the Internet” brings to life the good and bad of the web while also telling a story of friendship that works for children told in a way that also entertains adults.

The voice cast of the film is terrific with much of the original film’s voices returning. John C. Reilly gives the oversized and under-brained Ralph a personality that is both grating and charming. Ralph always means well but doesn’t give as much thought to his plans as he should. His love for Vanellope leads him to make selfish mistakes that endanger her and their friendship. Reilly sells Ralph’s desperation and his insecurity in his voice acting and makes clear he still has a great deal to learn about being a good friend.

Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope is a sweet and enthusiastic character that runs counter to what we see of the real Silverman and in her standup. Vanellope loves Ralph and is thrilled to go on adventures in the other arcade video games with him, but as the movie progresses and the two venture onto the web, her eyes are opened to the bigger digital world and the possibilities it holds. Vanellope still cares for Ralph but she also wants more for herself. It’s like that old song about keeping the kids on the farm after they’ve seen Paris. Silverman’s high-pitched squeaky voice suits the look of her character perfectly. The actress’ smart aleck personality shines through and it adds to her vocal performance.

Another standout is Gal Gadot as the video game character Shank. Shank is tough and ruthless but has a streak of kindness in her. Shank appears to be designed to resemble Gadot and perhaps that combination is what makes the character so appealing. Shank takes on a mentoring role for Vanellope, giving her a sounding board to work out her confusion over her future. Godot’s warm voice, with a hint of her Israeli accent, makes these scenes with Vanellope that much more effective. If there’s a third “Ralph” film I hope Shank plays a big part in the story.

A big part of the marketing for “Ralph Breaks the Internet” was the appearance of all the Disney princesses. While it isn’t a huge part of the story it does provide a pivot point, sending Vanellope down a road of self-discovery. The gathering of princesses, old and new with the original voice actresses when available, is about as meta a moment as has ever been on film. That it happens in a Disney film is nothing short of a miracle. The scene calls out commonly used tropes in Disney films regarding female characters: They are frequently kidnapped, the focus of some sort of pursuit or persecution and most of them are orphans or lost a parent at a young age. The scene is played for laughs, and it works, but perhaps this signals a shift in how women are portrayed in Disney and Pixar films. Moana and Merida haven’t fallen into the common stereotype. While I’m probably giving the scene too much thought, it was enjoyable seeing all the princesses on screen together and not having to complete some epic quest.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” is rated PG for some action and rude humor. The action usually involves a character falling from a tall building. One character is nearly crushed and there is a car chase in Slaughter Race that puts a couple of characters in peril. There are other moments when a character faces being wiped out of existence. Rude humor consists mostly of references to “butts” and one use of the word “fart.”

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” manages to tell a story that is interesting to both children and the adults that brought them to the theater. There are laughs that also transcend generations. While seeing this film will be more likely to have an audience member marvel loudly at the presence of Anna from “Frozen,” it’s a small price to pay for a movie that is so colorful, so funny, so entertaining, so emotional and so good.

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” gets five stars.

There’s only one new movie opening this week. Why a horror movie is opening the week after Thanksgiving is anyone’s guess, but I will probably see and review it. It does look creepy.

The Possession of Hannah Grace—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in movies, TV and streaming. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @movimanstan and send emails to

Review of “Kong: Skull Island”

It’s 1973. An agreement to end the Vietnam War has been announced. Bill Randa (John Goodman) with the Monarch Project is trying to get a US Senator to approve an expedition to a previously unknown South Pacific island. Randa, and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), sell the expedition as an opportunity to discover new resources and to get to it before the Soviets do. Reluctantly, the senator agrees to piggyback Randa’s project with a survey by Landsat to explore the island. Also going on the trip is a military escort led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). He and his men are fresh from Vietnam and are diverted from going home to go on the mission. Others in the group include a former British Special Forces soldier named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to act as a tracker and hunter, and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a photojournalist that formerly worked in Vietnam. The island is surrounded by constant electrical storms that cut off communications with their base ship as they fly in on helicopters. To conduct the geological survey explosive charges are dropped from the helicopters and their vibrations through the ground are picked up by sensors. After a few charges are dropped the fleet of helicopters is attacked by a 100-foot tall gorilla. Swatting all of them out of the air and killing several soldiers and researchers, the survivors are split up and must survive in the jungle while dealing not only with the giant gorilla, but the massive insects and lizards that want to eat them for a snack. Conrad, Weaver and a few others run into a group of natives that live on the island as well as a WWII fighter pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) who was shot down by the Japanese. Marlow tells the group that the ape is named Kong by the locals and is treated like a god. He protects the natives from the other animals on the island that come from caverns underground. Lt. Col. Packard wants to kill Kong in retaliation for the deaths of his men and is willing to risk the lives of the other survivors to get the job done.

“Kong: Skull Island” is the second film in a series that plans on bringing giant monsters back to theatres over the next several years. The invasion of the giants began in 2014 with the “Godzilla” reboot and will culminate with a battle royale featuring Kong and Godzilla in 2020. In the interim we’ll see a second Godzilla film where he likely takes on other kaiju from his past including a giant moth and a three-headed monster. While fans of the Japanese “Godzilla” films weren’t thrilled about the latest reboot, the film made over half a billion dollars worldwide. Is the big, hairy ape reboot worth your hard earned money? Read on.

“Kong: Skull Island” delivers on the action front with several encounters between Kong and the numerous massive creatures on the island. We also get a very early look at Kong in a flashback that starts the film. While the CG is a bit flat at times (I saw the 2D version) the digital creations look amazing and the artists are able to keep Kong’s size consistent relative to his surroundings throughout the film. The other monsters on the island, including the big lizard that gives Kong the most trouble, are all creative inventions. Some are based on known animals while others are totally new. It was good to see some other creatures instead of the usual dinosaurs that are the bad guys on Kong’s home turf.

The various monsters are far more interesting than any of the people in “Kong: Skull Island.” Other than Samuel L. Jackson’s intense and insane Army man and John C. Reilly’s goofy marooned pilot, the characters are all pretty cookie cutter and interchangeable. Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Corey Hawkins and John Goodman are largely wasted in clichéd and underwritten roles that are mostly good for exposition and little else. While each gets a brief moment when the character is spotlighted none of it is interesting enough to make the audience really care what happens to any of them. The supporting players are mostly used as monster kibble so don’t get too attached to anyone even if some of them are far more intriguing than the top-billed players.

What is far more interesting is the struggle Kong has to survive not only his natural enemies but the two-legged variety that shows up uninvited. The audience is meant to root for Kong against the island creatures and it isn’t hard to take his side against the humans. Jackson’s Packard is a seething hate machine that is looking for redemption after the feeling of betrayal by politicians in Vietnam. He wants to fight a war he can win and believes he is just the man to cut the massive ape down to size. The fact that Kong is the only thing keeping the giant lizards at bay and possibly spreading over the rest of the world isn’t enough for him to end his fight. He’s obsessed and won’t let common sense or the fate of the world deter him from winning this time. I’m sure there’s a political statement in this character somewhere but I was too interested in the outcome of the final battle to figure it out.

“Kong: Skull Island” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence/action and brief strong language. While most deaths aren’t shown we do see Kong smash several people with his paws. The lizard monster consumes a few people. One character dies when impaled through the mouth. We see various creatures burned and ripped apart. Several human characters are shown with blood from injuries. Kong is shown with a large gash on his arm. Kong and another monster are shown being shot by machine guns. Several creatures are shown being cut apart by a sword. One character is carried away by flying creatures and is shown getting an arm ripped off. Foul language is widely scattered but one “F-bomb” gets dropped.

The climactic battle between two massive creatures was surprisingly thrilling despite it being two monsters completely created in computers. Both Kong and the giant lizard are made with very robust personalities. While they are just pixels molded and shaped by various talented artists and engineers they are also extremely well made. I actually cared about how the battle would turn out even though I had a pretty good idea which beast would come out victorious. Even though the human characters are mostly bland and forgettable, “Kong: Skull Island” has monsters with far more personality and they make the movie entertaining. I think next time it would be a better movie if it just had the monsters and used the puny humans as just extras to be crushed under foot…or paw…or claw…or tentacle…or whatever.

“Kong: Skull Island” gets five stars for the monsters and the fights, not for the people.

P.S. There is a brief bonus scene at the end of the credits. It teases what’s to come but should you need to go pee or whatever and miss it, it won’t be a catastrophe.

This week at the local multiplex it’s a tale as old as time along with survival of the fittest. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Beauty and the Beast—

The Belko Experiment—

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