Monthly Archives: June 2012

A Scanner Darkly

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

1. Analysis of the Book. A Scanner Darkly is a science fiction novel written in 1977 by Philip K. Dick. The book is set in Orange County, California (the Los Angeles area) in a futuristic alternate 1994, and follows the drug addled decay of Bob Arctor aka Fred, a narcotics officer hot on the trail of an investigation of himself. (The narcotics officers in this alternate future maintain a hidden personal identity) The plot is further complicated by the fact that he is unknowingly being forced to spy on a rehabilitation clinic, “New Path”, which is the source of the drug “Substance D”. In the course of his investigation Arctor becomes an addict to Substance D. The story is a journey into the drug addicted lives of Arctor and his acquaintances. It parallels the life and experiences of its author.

2. Analysis of the Film. The film is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s book of the same name. It was released in 2006. The adaptation was done by the Richard Linklater. His interpretation of the film used an animation technique called rotoscoping. The technique is a hybrid a cartoon animation and film. It is very useful in conveying certain aspects of the film, such as the scramble suit worn by the narcotics officers, because of animations ability to successfully recreate the special effects described in the novel. Another example was the opening scene with the aphids. It would have been very complicated or even impossible to create that scene with special effects. Additionally, the rotoscoping use of color was mesmerizing and added a unique quality to the film.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. The adaptation is considered a relatively faithful interpretation by most critics. This is not surprising since the two share certain key similarities. Both are somewhat anti-authoritarian, and it is well reflected in the film. Linklater was previously known for his film Slackers which is similarly critical of society in its own way. Likewise, Linklater did not miss including Dick’s own anti-authoritarian critic of our own modern day kind of Orwellian police state. It’s like slackers of the future.


4. Online Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to A Scanner Darkly include: This site performs a breakdown of elements of the book. Additionally, it puts particular emphasis on the main characters struggle with reality. Actually, it looks at the novels attempt to philosophize the interpretation of reality.,42528 The link is a book club analysis of the novel which provides a number of powerful insights of which I was previously unaware. A great site that asks, “Is the real world ready for a Real Philip Dick Movie?”

5. Critical Analysis.
Is A Scanner Darkly an anti-drug parable, an anti-government parable, or both? What is the relationship between drug use and politics in the film?
A Scanner Darkly is both an anti-drug parable and an anti-government parable. It incorporates elements of both. The anti-drug parable is a reflection of the experiences of Philip Dick who used his own life as a model for the creation of the novel. It incorporates many elements of his own negative experiences with drugs and the drug culture, and follows the mental decay, paranoia, hallucination and ensuing difficulties of several characters in the film. It culminates with a mournful tribute to all his friends who have been lost to drugs. The anti-government aspect of the film is well represented, not only by Dick, but by Linklater’s own interpretation of the novel. As mentioned previously, both are somewhat anti-authoritarian, and it is well reflected in the film. It is a descending spiral of one person spying the other. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. Barris is spying on Archer, and Archer is spying on Barris and himself, and Donna is spying on them all, but no one knows that Donna is actually an agent. All the while, Arctor is actually being used to spy on New Path. It is a critical look at an authoritarian police state.



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No Country for …

No Country for Old Men (2007)
1. Analysis of the Book. No Country for Old Men is a novel written by Cormac McCarthy and published in 2005. The book is, for the most part, set in West Texas (aside from a brief stint across the river from Del Rio [Ciudad Acuña, Mexico]), and follows the events that transpire after Llewelyn Moss, the protagonist, discovers two million dollars in the remnants of a border drug conflict. Like many of McCarthy’s books, there is a large amount of consideration given to the concept of randomness versus fate. The books antagonist, Chigurh, relates a great deal of this conflict in hi dialogues.

2. Analysis of the Film. The film is an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same name. It was released in 2007. Unlike, most films it does not have any kind of significant soundtrack, and therefore does not manipulate the emotional tone of the film through use of music. It is left to the viewers own interpretation. The adaptation was done by the Coen brothers, and incorporates various elements of their own dark humor. It is considered by most to be a very faithful retelling of the novel.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. The adaptation of the film remains true to the book. In fact, it is undoubtedly the most faithful adaptation of any of the films examined so far. Yet, there are significant differences. For the sake of brevity I will not list all the differences, but please see the following for a more detailed description:,10236. (For example, the scene between Chigurh and Carla Jean is quite different, and the details of the kid who removes Chigurh’s gun from the car is omitted.) Still, the film version goes to great length to recreate the setting detailed in the book. On a personal note, as a former resident of Alpine, Texas (the same town as one of the victims), I thought they did a pretty good job of filming the setting.

4. Online Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to No Country for Old Men include:    This site has a fairly extensive analysis of the film. Phil, the blog owner, concentrates on the quote by Ed Tom’s uncle regarding vanity. It is one of the most important quotes in the film. I do not necessarily agree entirely with his conclusion, but I think it is better than most.,10236   provides an excellent breakdown of differences between the book and the film. Specifically, it outlines scenes not included in the film from the book.  This is not the usual kind of URL I would post, but it has an interesting debate over the ending of the movie with some very interesting comments.

5. Critical Analysis.

The character of Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men has been cited as an example of nihilism, a philosophy that holds life has no meaning and that there is no such thing as objective truth. Does this label fit Chigurh (does he have a value system?), or is he just a psycho-killer?
Anton Chigurh is not a nihilist. A nihilist wants to destroy everything, but Chigurh does not want to destroy everything. He kills all those who cross his path, but his destruction is tempered by a kind of moral code that allows the opportunity of randomness or free choice to remove the individual from certain death. Chigurh is something other than a nihilist. Anton Chigurh is more a force of nature. He is more than human in No Country for Old Men. He is a symbol, a force. He is more machine than man. Throughout the film he is seemingly devoid of emotion, compassion, and sympathy. In fact, he operates on a mechanical logic where random chance and fate play integral parts in his actions. Take, for example, the two times in the film where he gives his victims a chance to choose heads or tails over the flip of a coin. Additionally, his victims often remark, “you don’t have to do this,” but of course he does. He is not capable of choice. He is not real, but, rather, an exaggerated hyperbole.


June 24, 2012 · 8:47 pm

American Splendor

American Splendor (2003)

1. Analysis of the Book. American Splendor is a comic book series written by Harvey Pekar. Harvey Pekar is regarded by many as a kind of Mark Twain of the underground comic scene, and this is largely due to his work with American Splendor. The series is autobiographical, and dissimilar from most other works of the comic book genre. American Splendor is a story of the common man who fights the struggles of everyday life. There are no fantastic superheroes or fantastic powers. Instead there is only Pekar and Cleveland which serve as the center of the series.

2. Analysis of the Film. American Splendor was directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, and released in 2003. The film is based on the comic series, American Splendor, by Harvey Pekar. It was written by Berman, Pulcini, Pekar, and Pekar’s wife, Joyce Brabner. The film is a combination of many styles. Bette Gordon described the film as, “a hybrid, combining adaptation, biopic, animation, and documentary elements. . . . Interspersed among the scenes of his life are interviews and documentary footage offering glimpses of the real Harvey Pekar, as well as cameos by an animated version that invokes Pekar’s irreverent humor.”

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. The film is really only a partial adaptation of the comic book series. It is similar to the adaptation of Tristram Shandy (see previous review below) because it conveys the spirit of the original work, but is not a word for word transliteration from book to film. It is a very postmodernist film in that it breaks a number of the traditional concepts by incorporating the author, non-actors, etc. into the film, and by knowingly crossing back and forth between documentary and story. Additionally, the film uses a number of techniques such as thought bubbles, commentary, and comic book scene introductions to tie into the films comic book origin. Furthermore, the technique of adding thought bubbles and Pekar’s personal commentary made it possible to more fully understand Pekar’s feelings about the film. For example, when they (Pekar and his wife) watched the theatrical version of his life, he commented on the difficulty of watching other people portray aspects of his own life. This would have been difficult to convey otherwise. I doubt any other means of conveying that point would have carried the same weight, either. The commentary by Pekar gave the film an additional authenticity and endorsement that other films lack. It makes the film autobiographical instead of merely biographical.

 4. Online Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to American Splendor include: The website is a tribute to Harvey Pekar and American Splendor. The site does a fairly decent job of breaking down numerous elements of the film. For example, it offers a brief explanation of how the film is a tribute to the mundane. It also offers links to the various Letterman interviews. Fleming describes the film and explains why it is her favorite film. Chan discusses the film and why it is a fitting tribute to Gilbert Bouchard.

5. Critical Analysis.

Compared to Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Adaptation, how is American Splendor a postmodern, reflexive film?

Postmodernism was a reaction to the idea that any work should follow certain set dictates, and a reflexive film employs cinematic devices that make its audience aware of the fact that they are watching a film. In comparison to Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Adaptation, the movie American Splendor is an excellent example of postmodern reflexive work.

As previously mentioned (see above), It is a very postmodernist film in that it breaks a number of the traditional conventions by incorporating the author, non-actors, etc. into the film, and by knowingly crossing back and forth between documentary and fiction. It is for these same reasons that it is reflexive. There are many different Pekars. Likewise, the comic book had many different illustrated Pekars. The American Splendor comic series deconstructed the workings of comic books as the movie deconstructed the workings of film. Pekar challenged these conventions, and Pekar challenged the conventions of comics. The film does the same. “As Pekar realized, form does not dictate content: artists can play with these elements to make any kind of story they want.” (Suzette Chan)

In comparison to Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Adaptation it (American Splendor) is probably the best example of postmodern reflexive of the three. In the case of all three films there is a deconstruction of the boundary between film and reality. Yet, in the case of the first two films, where it is an attempt to analyze the creation of a film as an adaptation, there is no such premise in American Splendor. Rather, American Splendor reflects upon itself instead of the concept of adapting a film from book.




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Adaptation (2002)

1. Analysis of the Book. The Orchid Thief was written in 1998 by Susan Orlean. She uses a style of creative non-fiction to create a novel which relates the story of John Laroche in South Florida. Laroche is a poacher on the illegal hunt for a specific type of wild orchid. The book is based on an article she originally wrote for The New Yorker in 1995.

2. Analysis of the Film. The film Adaptation was released in 2002. It is loosely based upon the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. First, it attempts to provide a film adaptation of the book, and, like the book, centers around the theme of adapting to adversity and change through mutation. Additionally, the film is, like Tristram Shandy, a film about making a film about a book. In both cases, the film is being made about a book that can’t really be made into a film.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. The film is really only a partial adaptation of the book, The Orchid Thief. The title of the film alludes to its dual meaning of adapting a film from a book, and of natural selection (adaptation). The story centers around the theme of adapting to adversity and change (both in terms of overcoming writers block [Charlie] and overcoming life’s problems). Charles Darwin’s character is cameo’d a number of times in the film to allude to, and define, the process of adaptation (how we all evolved from a single cell organism, etc.). Spike Jonze alludes to it in several other scenes as well (i.e. the snippets of nature scenes, the primordial background Charlie attempts to insert into his screenplay). Furthermore, the film, in carefully citing the book, uses Laroche as a living example of Adaptation: He survives a car accident which kills his mother, uncle, and loses his teeth in the process; He adapts to the adversity – losing his wife to divorce; he adapts to the situation in which his home and business are destroyed by hurricane; he changes interests periodically to adapt to different emotional changes. In the end, he is a completely different person than in the beginning. The entire film is an allegory for adaptation or natural selection.

4. Online Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to Adaptation include:  This website provides an interview with Meryl Streep who plays Susan in the film. The interview offers some of her personal insights into the film. Additionally, it provides some details not otherwise available. A critical analysis of the movie versus the book reporter talks about his anxiety is relation to Charlie Kaufman

5. Critical Analysis.

At one point, Charlie tells his brother “there is no such thing as the answer.” How else does the film express this kind of postmodern relativism? And how do the characters strive against it, in an attempt to arrive at some kind of certainty?

Relativism, as denoted by Charlie’s statement to his brother, “there is no such thing as the answer,” finds expression throughout the film. The characters seem to strive against it, in an attempt to arrive at some kind of certainty. Three notable examples of this can be found as follows: 

1. Jough Dempsey pens in his review (As mentioned in the lecture) that “McKee writes that all screenwriters write in a genre, and that they must write in their genre and master it. This is the antithesis of Charlie’s postmodern ideals. Charlie believes that each film is unique, that there is no way to write a good film in a formula.” Charlie struggles with writers block throughout the film for this reason. It is the driving force throughout the film as Charlie searches restlessly to find a way to write the screenplay. In his attempt to find some kind of answer, some kind of solution, to his agonizing attempt at writing the screen play, the entire film plays out.

2. Even Charlie and his brother struggle at two different alternative answers in the types of films they produce. Charlie’s attempt is a kind of High art, and his brother’s is an expression of Low art. They are a metaphor for an argument that has continued throughout the history of any kind of art, and has no real final answer. Rather than one definitive answer, its continuing debate creates a means by which a myriad number of works is created. It is all relative with  no definitive answer. Only two relatives that provide many different solutions over time.

3. Laroche is another example of this struggle. He constantly switches projects looking for an answer, only to find nothing, but he keeps searching. It is a sub-theme of the film. It is an exercise in struggle against relativism.


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The Hours

The Hours (2002)

1. Analysis of the Book. The Hours is a book written in 1998 by Michael Cunningham. It draws a great deal from the book Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. First, it follows a similar stream of consciousness style of writing. Second, it follows one of the themes of the book: that a day is a microcosm which captures the beauty of an entire lifetime. The lives of three women, in three different time periods (1923, 1949, and 2001), and in three different locations (England, California, New York) are the focus of the novel. All three women are somehow tied to the novel, Mrs. Dalloway. In the case of Virginia Wolfe, she is overwhelmed both by the task of writing the novel, and with a debilitating mental illness resulting in her suicide. The other two characters are deeply affected by the novel, and, additionally, work through a number of emotionally debilitating experiences similar to what might be found in Mrs. Dalloway. All three women have to deal with suicide. The novel concentrates heavily on themes such as depression, lesbianism, gender, emotional dependence, love, friendship, death and suicide. The title of the book, The Hours is drawn from the original title for Mrs. Dalloway.

2. Analysis of the Film. The Hours is a film made in 2002 starring a very big name, high profile cast (Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, etc.). It is based upon a book (also titled The Hours) that, in turn, centers on another book, Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. The lives of three women (played by Kidman, Streep, and Moore), in three different time periods (early 20th century, mid 20th century, and current day), and in three different locations (England, California, New York) are the focus of the movie. The women, like the book of the same name, are tied to the novel, Mrs. Dalloway. In the case of Kidman’s character (Virginia Wolfe), she is overwhelmed both by the task of writing the novel, and her debilitating mental illness. The other two characters are deeply affected by the novel, and, additionally, work through a number of emotionally debilitating experiences, again, likes the book. The movie concentrates heavily on themes such as depression, lesbianism, gender, emotional dependence, love, friendship, death and suicide.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. The adaptation of the film remains true to the book. It captures an accurate portrayal of the various characters from the book (due in no small part to the acting of Streep, Kidman, and Moore). The film successfully attempts to touch on the novels themes of sexuality (lesbianism). Each of the women is “discovering” these feelings at different times, and for two of them, at times when such issues were not broached publicly.  The film also successfully addresses the issue of mental illness. It examines the same dilemmas for all three women, but looks at them through the perspective of different time periods. The film adapts the book well by utilizing flashbacks and cinematography to capture the feel of the novel. Furthermore, it accurately utilizes wardrobes from the period to imitate a feel for the time. Finally, the outfits it chooses for Virginia Woolf were wall chosen, and seem influenced by the pieces she wore in various photographs taken of her.

4. Online Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to The Hours include:   involves a fairly comprehensive analysis of the movie in comparison to the book. Actually, it begins as an analysis of the concept of time in both Mrs. Dalloway and in the movie The Hours. Yet, it transitions into an analysis of both books, The Hours and Mrs. Dalloway. The website has a great deal of relevance to the first critical evaluation question regarding the title of the film, The Hours, what it refers to, what is its significance and what theme or themes it suggests.  A quickquestion and answer about the title.  compares, rather unflatteringly, Mrs. Dalloway to The Hours (the novel).

5. Critical Analysis.

How does homosexuality (including lesbianism) function within the film? If you took out the gay characters and their concerns, how would that change the film?

Homosexuality (lesbianism) functions as one of the main themes of the film. The film demonstrates the different perceptions towards homosexuality in three different time periods. First, Virginia Woolf, was bisexual in both the movie, and in real life. Second, Laura shares an intimate kiss with Kitty which is a hint to an even greater, unexpressed longing and desire. Third, Clarissa is involved romantically with Sally, and was formerly involved with Richard who is gay. If you removed the gay characters and their concerns there would be no movie. In the case of Virginia and Laura their sexuality conflicts with the norms of their time period, and results, inevitably, in an irreconcilable set of problems that results in their depression. In the case of Clarissa, her sexuality is no longer as large a stumbling block to emotional happiness, but it is stifled by the complicated love with Richard. In all three cases, their sexuality is at odds with the relationships they each share with a man (i.e. Virginia and her husband whom she commits suicide to leave; Laura and her husband whom she abandons with their child; Clarissa and Richard whom she leaves for Sally).    



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Bride & Prejudice

Bride & Prejudice (2004)

1. Analysis of the Book. Pride and Prejudice is a classic nineteenth century English novel written by Jane Austin in 1813. The title immediately informs the reader of the theme of the book, and is derived from the fact that the main character, Elizabeth, needs to overcome her own prejudices, and the protagonist, Darcy, needs to overcome his own pride before the two can fall in love. The book follows their tumultuous journey to romance. In addition to following the romance of Elizabeth and Darcy, the reader is given an insight into the lifestyle, values, culture, etc. of the landed aristocracy in nineteenth century England.

2. Analysis of the Film. The film is a twentieth century take on the nineteenth century book by Jane Austin. Additionally, it is an attempt to create a Bollywood-esque version of the story set in modern day India. It is a multicultural concept for which Gurinder Chadha, the director, is well known (She previously directed Bend It Like Beckham). The film uses some very lavish sets, costumes and musical scenes to reproduce the Bollywood movie experience.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. In some ways the film is a difficult project to undertake. The task of adapting a nineteenth century novel to the twenty first century can present challenges, but the additional challenge of reinterpreting it as a Bollywood musical offers an entire realm of new issues. Chadha rises to the challenge of creating a Bollywood rendition by incorporating a number of musical numbers and well choreographed dance routines. Additionally, she adds a number of unanticipated musical elements such as a gospel choir and Ashanti to produce a multicultural film which combines a number of different cultural styles.

4. Online Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to Bride & Prejudice include a discussion of the movie: which involves a fairly comprehensive analysis of themes and film elements. It’s not a film review, but a film analysis which breaks down several elements of the movie. Additionally it offers considerable insight and perspective from an everyday point of view. Additionally, is a blog entry commenting on various parallels, or lack thereof, between it and Bollywood. offers the perspective of another guy, in another English class, doing the same thing I am.

5. Critical Analysis. Girender Chadha brings across several important elements from Pride & Prejudice, but also omits certain elements to create a unique interpretation which provides its own meaning and sense of purpose different from the book. Chadha incorporates the original plot into her film, and also conveys some of the Austen’s emphasis on family upbringing: Chandra gives the audience a fairly thorough understanding of the family background of both the main character (Lalitta) and the protagonist (Darcy). Yet, unlike the original novel, the emphasis is not centered as much on the Pride element of Pride & Prejudice as evidenced by the change in the title, and shifts its focus to marriage and prejudice. Additionally, Chadha’s film focuses more heavily on themes such as listening to your heart, a de-emphasis on the importance of material goods (Lalitta refuses to marry Koinor), and evaluates aspects of the institution of marriage in India. Furthermore, the film version does not offer the same insight into the 19th century English landed gentry. The importance of these acts of commission and omission is that it creates a film with a very different message and theme. Chadha’s film is not just a remake of Pride and Prejudice, but instead offers a number of insights and messages that are not necessarily present in the original P&P. It shifts its focus.



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Sherlock Holmes

1. Analysis of the Book. Sherlock Holmes is a genius. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is pretty smart too, but Sherlock Holmes is, hands down, one smart cookie. Holmes’ genius is one of the defining characteristics of Doyle’s series. Written in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the short stories and novels which comprise the Holmes series were known for their main character’s brilliantly deduced logic, fantastic cases, and amazing abilities (disguises, observational skills, etc.). The stories were set in Victorian England, and narrated by his close, personal friend Doctor Watson. The stories are reflective of the time period in which they are set,
and mirror many of the epitomized, asexual, gentlemanly ideals of Victorian society. Likewise, his relative asexuality, neatness, cocaine/opiate habit and gentlemanly financial independence lends a characteristic nod to the belle epoque era of which it was contrived.

2. Analysis of the Film. The film was created in 2009 by Guy Ritchie. Theses two aforementioned features of the film (its date of premier and its director) speak to the majority of its characteristic styles. First, Guy Ritchie is the same man who created Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. He is an action film kinda guy who likes, “to make cool movies about cool guys with cool stuff” (AO Scott, The New York Times). This film is no exception. What Ritchies created is, essentially, a steam-punk reinvention of a Victorian era story. (It would fit nicely with Wild, Wild West the series and Briscoe County Jr.) Second, every decade seems to seek to reinvent Sherlock Holmes in its own image. The last decade is no exception. Gone are the  epitomized Victorian values & stylings, relative asexuality, and cocaine/opiate habit. These are all replaced with the telltale action of our short attention span dictated times, and a sanitized anti drug (cocaine and opiate habit deleted) theme.

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. This is a non-canonical remake which is not based on any particular previous Holmes story. As previously mentioned, it is a steam-punk remake in many ways. The only real homage to the original Sherlock Holmes seems to be the Victorian setting with its stunning backdrops, imaging, and recreation of 19th century London. Guy Ritchie seems to have exchanged the elegance of Holmes for the brash cockiness of the modern era. Additionally, the scale of the mystery case seems well beyond the traditional scope of what you might find in most novels. In the movie he is out to save the world instead of some of his more minor cases in the original novels. The movie is much more massive, and lacks the suleties and genius that is Sherlock Holmes. It is not a faithful adaptation, but rather a hip, cool, trendy, yuppie remake with two trendy, bad boy stars (Robert Downey and Jude Law).

4. On-line Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to Sherlock Holmes include: which basicically pans the film and points out dis-similarities such as, “he wears clothes that do not fit and exhibits horrible manners, something an Englishman of his class and in that era would never do.” She discusses the fact that the movie is an action film, but that it lacks the substance of the original novel. Her observations concentrate o the differences between the novels and movie, and generally tends to conclude that it is not a faithful adaptation. which gives high praise to the innovative and imaginative retelling of a nineteenth century calssic. At the same time he points out the outstanding work done on the cinematography. This review concntrates heavily on the cinematic style of Guy Ritchie, and points out many of the scenes and styles in the movie which are characteristic of Guy Ritchie’s style.

5. Critical Analysis. We see twice in the film Holmes’s clinical application of violence. It shows two different sides of Holmes (equally) which were not previously exhibited in the original stories: Holmes’s brilliant intellect, and his masculine physicality. It show both equally well. First, the fight scene is one of the few parts of the film which illustrates Holmes amazing intelligence. It begins with his precognitive analysis of how to win the fight. This is a nod to Holmes analytical skill, and blends it with Guy Ritchie’s slow motion style. It is a very Ritchie-esque scene reminiscent of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. Second, the application of violence in both scenes lends a new depiction of Holmes as a masculine, lithe, energetic, and powerful masculine presence. This is in sharp contrast to the pasty physicality with which he was portrayed in the original novels. Both of these elements combine to create a very different representation of Sherlock Holmes. It is radically different, and creates a new interpretation.


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