Tag Archive | "Controversy"

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OSCAR CONTROVERSY: “Alone Yet Not Alone” Removed From Oscar Contention

Posted on 30 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

BrucebroughtonWhen the nominees were announced for Best Original Song for this year’s Oscars, you might have noticed a small chuckle raising from the stunned, puzzled audience when one of the nominees was announced. That nominee was for the song “Alone Yet Not Alone” from the film, Alone Yet Not Alone. People began to wonder why a song from a film they never heard of would be in contention for the same award as songs done by the like of Pharell, Idina Menzel and U2 from films such as Despicable Me 2Frozen and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Some people did more than wonder. A public relations firm working for a snubbed rival hired a private investigator to see if the film itself was eligible to be nominated because it was not advertised in the Los Angeles area as per the Academy’s requirements.

The Academy decided the newspaper ads ran by the Encino theater that showed the film once a day for a week was sufficient advertisement. However, people who wanted to get the song removed from consideration would get their wish. It was discovered that the song’s nominated writer, Bruce Broughton, seen above, had e-mailed members of the music branch in order to make them aware of his submission. The Academy found this to be in violation from it’s standards and practices, and the song has now been disqualified from Oscar contention.

In a time where many trade journals are filled with “For Your Consideration” ads leading up to the nominations, this might seem at best a double standard. But what made Broughton’s campaigning a step over the line is that he was a former governor and current executive committee member of the music branch of the Academy. This takes his plea from a composer asking his peers for consideration to a man in a position of power asking the people who he works for for a favor. That apparently is an Oscar no-no.

“No matter how well-intentioned the communication, using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage,” said Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy president.

“I’m devastated,” Broughton said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “I indulged in the simplest grassroots campaign and it went against me when the song started getting attention. I got taken down by competition that had months of promotion and advertising behind them. I simply asked people to find the song and consider it.”

If Broughton can take some cold comfort for this, it that none of the accused competition will be able to reap the benefits from “Alone Yet Not Alone” being removed from contention. The Academy has decided to not replace the song with any of the other 70 songs eligible for nomination, and will just go with the four remaining nominees.

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Universal Backs Off Controversial TOWER HEIST VOD Test

Posted on 12 October 2011 by Rich Drees

Universal has announced that it will not be releasing Tower Heist to premium video on demand just three weeks after the film premiers in theaters as it previously planned to. The move comes in response to numerous complaints from theater owners that a three week window between theatrical release and on demand availability would cut into their potential profits.

Universal released a somewhat apologetic press release with the announcement.

Universal Pictures today announced that in response to a request from theater owners, it has decided to delay its planned premium home video on demand (PVOD) experiment in which Comcast digital subscribers in Portland and Atlanta would have had the opportunity to rent TOWER HEIST on demand just three weeks after its theatrical release on November 4, 2011. Universal continues to believe that the theater experience and a PVOD window are business models that can coincide and thrive and we look forward to working with our partners in exhibition to find a way to experiment in this area in the future.

Cinemark was the first theater chain to weigh in on the announcement earlier this week by stating that they would not book the movie if Universal insisted in going forward with their plans. Yesterday, regional chains Regency Theatres, Galaxy Theatres and Emagine Theatres also stated that they would not boycott the film as well. This morning, National Amusements announced that their 950 screens were also off-limits to Tower Heist, bringing the combined total of screens not available for the film at just over 5000, or 13% of the total number of screens in the US.

The National Association of Theater Owners issued their own statement on Universal’s change of heart.

In response to Universal’s decision to cancel its planned release of Tower Heist to the home on Video on Demand just three weeks after its theatrical debut, National Association of Theatre Owners president and CEO John Fithian stated, “NATO would like to thank Universal for responding to various theater owners’ concerns and cancelling the PVOD test it was contemplating. They have been engaged with individual exhibitors on this test, and while it was something that many theater owners could not ultimately support, the open and collaborative nature of the dialogue is appreciated. NATO recognizes that studios need to find new models and opportunities in the home market, and looks forward to distributors and exhibitors working together for their mutual benefit.”

While this battle may be over, I suspect that the war between theaters and the studios will rage on for the foreseeable future.

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Iranian Actress Imprisoned For Appearing In Film Without Head Scarf

Posted on 12 October 2011 by Rich Drees

Iranian actress Marziah Vafamehr has been sentenced to a year in prison and 90 lashes for appearing in the 2009 Australian film My Tehran For Sale without the headscarf that is mandated by for women by Iranian law. Deadline, via the opposition website Kalameh.com reports that the actress has been imprisoned since July.

In a sad case of life-imitating-art, the film is about an Iranian actress who is banned by the government from appearing on stage. The movie also depicts Iranian youths engaging in such illegal activities as going to underground raves, smoking hash and engaging in premarital sex.

It appears that the official reason being given for Vafamehr’s arrest is the allegation that the film was shot in the Iranian capital without the proper permits, a charge that both the film’s production company Cyan Films and Vafamehr’s husband, Iranian filmmaker Nasser Taghvai, deny.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has stated the Australian government was “deeply concerned” about Vafamehr’s arrest while Cyan Films has issued a statement expressing that they were “deeply shocked and appalled” by the sentence. Producers Kate Croser and Julie Ryan also stated, “We continue to offer our support to Marzieh and her family by respecting their wishes to let the case and the appeal follow the proper legal channels.”

Vafamehr’s lawyer has reportedly filed an appeal following yesterday’s conviction.

Cyan Films stated that the film was never intended to be distributed in Iran and it was only when it started to become popular on the black market that Vafamehr came to the government’s attention.

I suppose living in a country with a clear legal separation between Church and State makes it hard to fathom this story. But unfortunately, there are many countries where filmmakers find themselves in trouble with their governments for the art they create.

Earlier this week, Islamic protestors tried to burn down a Tunisian television station that aired the Oscar-nominated animated feature Persepolis, which is about a young girl growing up during the Iranian revolution.

Here’s the trailer for the film in question –

[jwplayer mediaid=”16628″]

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Indie Theaters Joining Cinemark’s TOWER HEIST Boycott

Posted on 11 October 2011 by Rich Drees

It’s looking like Cinemark’s refusal to book the upcoming comedy Tower Heist in response to Universal Studios’ plan to make the film available via Video On Demand services just three weeks after its theatrical opening might just be the opening salvo in a new battle between theater owners and Hollywood studios.

Yesterday, a group of independent theaters joined with Cinemark in boycotting the comedy which stars Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Galaxy Theatres, Regency Theatres, Emagine Theatres and a small number of cinema’s representing another 50 screens have all vowed to not screen the film.

“We just feel it’s a time to draw a line in the sand,’’ said Rafe Cohen, president of Galaxy Theatres, which operates 106 screens in California, Washington, Nevada and Texas. “This is virtually a simultaneous release that we don’t think will be helpful to anyone. We’re standing on principle that it’s best to preserve the theatrical window.”

For its part, Universal is only making Tower Heist available on a total of 500,000 homes in two markets – Atlanta and Portland,– at the price of $59.99 as part of what studio execs are calling “a test.”

But theater owners are seeing the move as just the first crack in a dam that, if burst, would entice audiences to stay at home and not head to theaters to see the latest releases. Theater owners have already expressed anger of a deal that four studios struck earlier this year with DirectTV to make certain titles available 60 days after their theatrical premier for $29.99.

I anticipate that there will be more theaters announcing their own boycotting of the film in the coming days.

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Cinemark Drops TOWER HEIST In Wake Of Three Week VOD Window

Posted on 07 October 2011 by Rich Drees

Movie studios and theater chains often have a contentious relationship. Recently we saw how Sony’s announcement that it planned on no longer providing theaters with 3D glasses for its films starting next spring lead to an angry denouncement from the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). Despite the protest, Sony is still planning on going through with their decision.

Another fight between the two sides is brewing following Universal’s announcement yesterday that it would release the upcoming Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy comedy Tower Heist to video on demand services just three weeks after it debuts in theaters. In response, Cinemark Theaters announced it will not book the film for any of its 300 locations. The company released a statement outlining their position –

Cinemark recognizes and acknowledges the changing technological landscape and related challenges that Universal and the other studios are facing in the in-home window. Cinemark has urged Universal Pictures to reconsider its market test of this product. If Universal Pictures moves forward with its ‘Tower Heist’ premium video-on-demand offering as announced, Cinemark has determined, in its best business interests, that it will decline to exhibit this film in its theatres.

Now it should be noted that VOD release is only going to happen in two markets, Atlanta and Portland, OR, and comes with the hefty price of $59.99. Universal is doing this more as a test to see what response they get. But it seems as if after a year of participating alongside other chains in negotiations with the studio over keeping VOD releases far enough away from theatrical runs to help insure maximum profitability for theaters and making little head way, Cinemark feels as if they have no choice.

Is Cinemark cutting off its nose to spite its face, though? Tower Heist looks as if it could be a big hit and what theater doesn’t want to bring in audiences who will be looking to buy popcorn, soda and snacks as part of their trip?

But even though this is only a test case happening in two markets, I can see that the theater chain is standing on a principal. Most distribution contracts are structured so that studios take a large percentage of box office receipts with the theater getting a smaller cut of ticket sales in the first few weeks of a film’s release. But as a film stays in theaters, that ratio will slowly start to shift towards the theaters favor. Big release films becoming available via video on demand just as distribution contract starts to tilt box office revenue in favor of the theater would very likely cut into their already shrinking profit margins.

Distribution should be a partnership between the studios and the theaters, but this is a rather underhanded way of studios trying to screw their partners out of their fair share.

Via LA Times.

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Thoughts On The New Rise Of Product Placement

Posted on 06 October 2011 by Rich Drees

Yesterday on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, they did a short piece on product placement in the media. And while the report focused on television shows and how, thanks to various methods that viewers now have to avoid watching commercials, advertisers are taking a bigger role in the production of certain shows to get their product and their message in front of viewers, it got me to thinking about product placement in film. Specifically, one example that sprung to mind was the furor that arose when a bottle of Coca-Cola becomes an important part of one scene between Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson in the comedy Volunteers. The film’s co-writer Ken Levine recently talked about the controversy on his blog By Ken Levine

In interviewing former Peace Corps volunteers we learned that Coca Cola was one of the things they missed most, especially if stationed in a hot jungle… We wrote that Coke scene in the first draft, 1980. It stayed in every draft and wound up on the screen. Originally the movie was set up at MGM. After a couple of years it went into turnaround, finally landing at HBO Silver Screen in partnership with Tri-Star. This was 1984. Tri-Star was a division of Sony, as was the Coca Cola company. No one from the studio ever asked that that scene be in. No one from the studio ever mentioned that scene period.

A year later the film was released and we walked into a major shitstorm.

Ironically, Coke ran came under similar fire over blatant product placement in the 1987 flop spy comedy Leonard Part 6, which, not-so-coincidentally starred the soda company’s longtime pitchman Bill Cosby. That time, though, the placement was indeed intentional. It should come as no surprise that Leonard Part 6 was released by Columbia Picture, a wholly owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola.

Of course, there are some directors who have created a work around by establishing their own fictitious brands for their films. Famously, Quentin Tarantino has Red Apple cigarettes while Kevin Smith’s films feature Nails cigarettes and the fast-food chain Mooby’s.

But for the most part, I don’t mind when real world products appear in films. Providing it isn’t too distracting or obvious, seeing brand name products can add an air of verisimilitude to a movie. Growing up in the 1970s, I started to notice that when anyone drank a beer on a television show, it was almost invariably from a generic, brown plaid can. This ultimately became more distracting than if they were popping open a can of Budweiser or Schlitz.

Now granted, things in film have not become as bad as it appears to have in television. While there is product placement, and as Morgan Spurlock’s film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold showed us, it is becoming too integral to the financing of a film to go anywhere. But as long as studios don’t start putting the cart before the horse, or at least are upfront about it when they do, I don’t see product placement ever being a real problem.

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Is Tommy Wiseau Actually The Director Of THE ROOM?

Posted on 13 February 2011 by Rich Drees

Sometimes when a movie turns out so bad, its director will apply to have his or her name taken off the film and replaced with a pseudonym like the well-known Alan Smithee. This is usually in cases when a studio interferes with the production to the point where the director no longer feels that the finished project no longer represents what they were trying to achieve. So it may seem strange that someone is actually trying to get recognition for directing a notoriously bad film, but that is precisely what is happening with The Room.

In the February 18th issue of Entertainment Weekly, not yet online, Sandy Schklair has come forward to claim that he has actually directed a sizable portion of the film that is currently making the rounds as one of the worst films ever made. Schklair claims that Tommy Wiseau, the film’s credited director as well as writer, producer and star, hired him in 2002 to serve as the film’s script supervisor but to additionally”tell the actors what to do, and yell ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’ and tell the cameraman what shots to get.”

Sounds like directing to us.

Schklair characterized the exchange as such –

Schklair – “Umm…you want me to direct your project?”
Wiseau – “No! I am director!”
Schklai – “Yeah, you’re the director, whatever. But you want me to direct your movie for you?”
Wiseau – “Yes, please.”

Schlair also contends that it was his idea to play to the script’s awfulness rather than try to make some sense out of it.

Yes we were making the world’s worst movie. But we knew it at the time. I embraced The Room.

Corroborating Schklair’s story is one actor from the film, who spoke to EW on the condition of anonymity, stating –

The script supervisor ended up sort of directing the movie. Tommy was so busy being an actor that this other guy directed the whole thing.

Of course, Wiseau vigorously denied the claim to EW.

I will never give this guy credit. He did not direct the movie. He was hired as a script supervisor. If he was my assistant, so be it. But direct? I don’t think so.

So what’s next for Schklair? Theoretically, he could petition the director’s guild for credit, but his case might not be that strong as Schklair quit the project after a month of filming.

The history of film is filled with films that are credited to one director where others did a portion of the work. This looks to be one of the more unusual chapters in that continuing story.

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PIRANHA 3D Producer Responds To Cameron’s Diss

Posted on 31 August 2010 by Rich Drees

We know that James Cameron isn’t really proud of his debut work as a film director, 1981’s Piranha II. True, he was fired mid-way through production, so you can be sympathetic to his feelings about the whole experience. However, his hatred for what happened  has now spilled out towards the recent 3D remake. In an interview that appeared this week in Vanity Fare, Cameron went so far as to say –

I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s, like Friday the 13th 3-D.

I think it’s interesting to note that Cameron doesn’t say that he saw the movie, so trashing Piranha 3D without a caveat either way seems to be a rather jerk move.

It looks like Piranha 3D producer Mark Canton thought the same thing and earlier today released the following statement/open letter to Cameron –

As a producer in the entertainment industry, Jim Cameron’s comments on VanityFair.com are very disappointing to me and the team that made Piranha 3D.  Mr. Cameron, who singles himself out to be a visionary of movie-making, seems to have a small vision regarding any motion pictures that are not his own.  It is amazing that in the movie-making process – which is certainly a team sport – that Cameron consistently celebrates himself out as though he is a team of one.  His comments are ridiculous, self-serving and insulting to those of us who are not caught up in serving his ego and his rhetoric.

Jim, are you kidding or what? First of all, let’s start by you accepting the fact that you were the original director of PIRANHA 2 and you were fired.  Shame on you for thinking that genre movies and the real maestros like Roger Corman and his collaborators are any less auteur or impactful in the history of cinema than you. Martin Scorcese made Boxcar Bertha at the beginning of his career.  And Francis Ford Coppola made Dimentia 13 back in 1963.  And those are just a few examples of the  talented and successful filmmakers whose roots are in genre films.  Who are you to impugn any genre film or its creators?

Having been deeply involved, as either an executive or as a producer, on Tim Burton’s original BATMAN and the first MEN IN BLACK, as well as 300, and now IMMORTALS, one of the things that has been consistent about all  of the filmmakers involved in these landscape-changing global films is that, in each and every case, all of the directors were humbled by their predecessors, their colleagues and by their awareness of the great history of film that came before them.  The enjoyment and the immersion of an audience in a movie theatre, as they had and will have with the above-mentioned films, and as audiences are experiencing with PIRNAHA 3D now, comes from the originality and the vision of the filmmaker, and not just from the creation of the technology.  You as much as anyone certainly knows that there are many pieces to the puzzle. Going to the movies still remains, arguably, amongst the best communal experiences that human beings can share.

My sense is that Mr. Cameron has never seen PIRANHA 3D…certainly not in a movie theatre with a real audience.  Jim, we invite you to take that opportunity and experience the movie in a theatre full of fans – fans for whom this movie was always intended to entertain.

Does Mr. Cameron have no idea of the painstaking efforts made by the talented young filmmaker Alex Aja and his team of collaborators?  Clearly, and this one is a good bet, he has no clue as to how great and how much of a fun-filled experience the audiences who have seen the film in 3D have enjoyed.  Those of us who have tried to stay in touch with the common movie audiences – the ones who really matter, the ones who actually still go to the theatre, put on the glasses, and eat the popcorn – take joy and pride in the fact that movies of all kinds, including PIRANHA 3D, have a place in filmmaking history – past, present and future. 3D unto itself is not a genre Jim, it is a tool that gives audiences an enhanced experience as they experience all kinds of movies.  I believe  Mr. Cameron did not see PIRANHA 3D either with any real audience or not at all. On opening weekend, I was in a Los Angeles theatre with a number of today’s great film makers including  JJ Abrams, who actually had nothing short of the fabulous, fun 3D experience that the movie provides. I am fortunate enough to have worked on, and continue to work on, evolutionary movies in all formats from just simple good story telling, which still matters most of all, to CG movies to tent-pole size 3D movies, and genre 3D movies like PIRANHA 3D.

What it comes down to, Jim, is –  that like most things in life – size doesn’t really matter.  Not everyone has the advantage of having endless amounts of money to play in their sandbox and to take ten years using other people’s money to make and market a film….like you do. Why can’t you just count your blessings?  Why do you have to drop Marty Scorsese’s or Tim Burton’s names, both gentlemen who I have personally worked with, and who have enjoyed great joy and success with movies of all genres and sizes well before the advent of modern 3D?  Then as now, they were like kids in a candy store recognizing, far beyond your imagination, the possibilities of storytelling and originality.

For the record, before you just totally dismiss PIRANHA 3D and all, in your opinion, worthless genre movies that actually undoubtedly gave you the ability to start your career, you should know that PIRANHA 3D had an 82% “fresh” (positive) ratting on Rotten Tomatoes on opening day – a web site that all the studios, filmmakers and the public use as a barometer of what makes a quality film.

We know that PIRANHA 3D has not achieved a boxoffice that is on the level of many of Mr. Cameron’s successes.  To date, PIRANHA 3D has earned over $30 million around the globe with #1 openings in several countries.  And, as the “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes indicates, critics and many, many others have embraced and celebrated PIRANHA 3D for the fun and entertaining – and even smart – movie-going experience that it is.

Let’s just keep this in mind Jim….you did not invent 3D. You were fortunate that others inspired you to take it further. The simple truth is that I had nothing but good things to say about AVATAR and my own experience since I actually saw it and didn’t damn someone else’s talent publicly in order to disassociate myself from my origins in the business from which we are all very fortunate. To be honest, I found the 3D in AVATAR to be inconsistent and while ground breaking in many respects, sometimes I thought it overwhelmed the storytelling.  Technology aside, I wish AVATAR had been more original in its storytelling.

We have to inspire, teach and mentor this next generation of filmmakers. It is garbage to suggest that any film or any filmmaker who cannot afford to work to your standards should be dissuaded from following his or her craft by not making 3D movies or not making movies like DISTRICT 9, for example, which probably cost the amount of AVATAR’s craft services budget, but totally rocked it in the movie theatre and in the marketplace. In that case, it was not a 3D movie.  But had it been, it certainly would not have been any less original or impactful. The enormous worldwide success of AVATAR has been good in all respects for you, your financiers, your distributors and the industry, as well as for the movie going public. Jim, there is a difference between Maestro which is a word that garners respect, and Dictator or Critic which are words better left for others who are not in our mutual boat or on our team. You are one of the best, it is reasonable to think that you should dig deeper and behave like it.  Young directors should be inspired by you, not publicly castigated by your mean-spirited and flawed analysis.

While we are all awed by your talents and your box office successes – and I compliment you on all of them – why don’t you rethink how you address films with which you are not involved?  You should be taking the high road that is being travelled by so many of your peers, and pulling with them to ensure that we, as an industry, will have a continuum of talented filmmakers that will deliver a myriad of motion pictures both big and small, with 3D or any other technologies yet to come that will entertain audiences throughout the world. That is the challenge that we face. That is the future that we should deliver.

It’s a shame that Cameron had to badmouth Piranha in this way. Along with the dance movie Step Up 3D, it is one of the only live action films presented in 3D that was actually shot for the format since Avatar‘s release. All the rest of the live action films have been post-production jobs that quite frankly looked pretty bad. Cameron should be applauding and encouraging any filmmaker shooting in 3D, not crapping on them.

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Ebert And I Agree- No Movies On iPhone

Posted on 08 June 2010 by Rich Drees

There’s a commercial for a smart phone service where the pitchman exhorts “I can stream Airplane! while at the airport!”

My response has always been the same- “Why the hell would you want to do that?” The idea of watching a movie, no matter what movie it is, on a screen that small is absolutely abhorrent to me.

And it appears that the idea is repugnant to film critic emeritus Roger Ebert as well. Yesterday, as news was bubbling forth about the new fourth generation iPhone and an app in development that would allow users to stream movies via netflix, Ebert took to his twitter feed to emphatically state –

Now some may dismiss Ebert’s (and mine) distaste for watching a film on a rinky-dink screen as mere fuddyduddy-ism. But there is some real concern about the practice. At least on my part. Compression issues aside, watching a film on a screen as small as the one on an iPhone or other smart phone just does absolutely no justice to the picture that so many craftspeople worked so hard to compose. You loose the detail and the subtly of the image. And with that, the filmmaker looses his most valuable storytelling tool.

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Will Gay Subtext Sink HOLMES Sequel?

Posted on 03 January 2010 by Rich Drees

Guy Ritchie’s new cinematic interpretation of Sherlock Holmes has certainly gotten fans of the Great Detective debating the last couple of weeks over whether the eponymous film is  true to the spirit of what author Arthur Conan Doyle created over a century ago. One person who is taken exception to how the relationship between Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) may have been portrayed is Andrea Plunket, who controls the remaining U.S. copyrights to the Holmes stories.

On a recent appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, Downey stated that there may exist a homosexual subtext to Holmes and Watson’s relationship. This idea does not sit well with Andrea Plunket, who controls the remaining U.S. copyrights to the Holmes stories. According to ContactMusic, she had this to say in response to Downey’s hint-

I hope this is just an example of Mr Downey’s black sense of humour. It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future. I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books.

(So Holmes fans, shall we parse that statement to mean that she had no other problems with the script- i.e., Holmes as brawler?)

Does Plunket have a serious concern here? I think not. Sure, the script has Holmes and Watson sometimes bickering with each other to the point where you expect a by-standing character to snap “Oh, get a room already!” But I think the same could be said about any pair of people who have been close friends for years, that they can argue in a very distinguishable tone and rhythm. Additionally, though, the tense bickering is there to underline Holmes’ sense of unease over Watson’s upcoming marriage and the dissolution of their partnership in adventuring. Holmes is not the most socially adapt person and Watson is seen as his tether to society, the one that keeps him sane when between cases. And while the pair’s dynamic on screen could be read as latently homosexual, I think to read it only in that light is to do a disservice to what Ritchie is really trying to illustrate.

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