Last week’s movies: 6 Underground & Enola Holmes

I saw Enola Holmes last weekend, and saw 6 Underground the week before. One I can’t recommend, and the other I’d recommend to nearly everyone.

First, 6 Underground was a very pretty mess. I haven’t looked up who was in charge of writing (Paul Wernick & Rhett Reese?), edits, effects, or anything else past Michael Bay’s role as director, but somewhere along the line a great deal of the movie fell apart. If you want a simplistic portrayal of regime change a la Batman, with minimally developed characters and frequent holes in the story—and the world’s continuity in general—then 6 Underground is for you. As per usual, Bay is extremely good at finding beautiful camera angles and showcasing big action sequences… but he mostly ignores the other stuff that movies are made of.

Sometimes I fear I hallucinated my enjoyment of Bay’s Pain & Gain, and worry that I should re-watch it to see whether it’s still worth holding up as a counter-argument to my usual dislike of Bay’s movies. I haven’t gone back to it yet. It’s hard to muster my enthusiasm, when I’ve just watched something else by Bay.

Thankfully, Enola Holmes (eponymously named for the main character) was delightful.

I like middle grade and young adult fiction. If you’ve followed anything else here for a while, I doubt that will be a surprise. Enola Holmes feels like an excellent translation of Upper Middle Grade / Young Adult storytelling into movie form, and I would love to see a sequel (which I understand is in the works, lawsuits from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate notwithstanding). Relatedly, I now want to read the book series this movie was based on, the first book of which is The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer.

A few choice tidbits in no real order… I’m a fan of the movie’s little historical nods, especially including suffragists (later called suffragettes) who really did learn jiujitsu in order to take on cops who tried to break up their demonstrations. The movie’s (and I assume, the book series’) extrapolation of the Holmes family’s dynamic is excellent fun, and I loved seeing the growth of Sherlock (in the background) in response to Enola’s prodding—heck, any time Millie Bobbie Brown and Henry Cavill were on screen together was fun. Honestly, putting Helena Bonham Carter, Millie Bobbie Brown, and Henry Cavill together in a movie is a pretty strong lure for me. I also can’t overstate how glad I am for a period piece like this to include the women’s suffrage movement, and to draw the traditional male protagonists’ attention to it without making those protagonists the focus of the story.

If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories or Middle Grade / Young Adult narratives, and don’t mind some fourth-wall breaking commentary from the main character, I strongly recommend Enola Holmes.

Pain & Gain: Avarice at its best / worst

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Muscles, money, melanoma. What more could you want?

For some reason, Michael Bay decided to make a Fargo-esque movie about a real storyPain & Gain is the “true crime” tale of three mid-90s Miami weightlifters who are too set on absolute success to realize that they’ve fucked up beyond their worst nightmares.

Unlike his film’s narrators, Bay seems to have succeeded.

Maybe he succeeded because there aren’t any giant robots, or maybe it’s because truth is stranger than fiction and this story is already good enough.  Or maybe it was because he got Mark WahlbergDwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Anthony Mackie to play his barely clued-in protago-villains (“Don’t worry, I’ve watched a lot of movies,” says Walhberg’s character on the topic of kidnapping, “I know what I’m doing.”), and then convinced Ed Harris and Tony Shalhoub to round out his cast.

I’m not saying that this movie is exceptionally good or a critical success.  I’m saying that it wildly exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.  The movie flunks the Bechdel test, sidelining the few female characters involved in favor of focusing on a plethora of detestable assholes who feel like they came straight out of a game of Fiasco.  Their fluctuating connection to reality coupled with the greedy entitlement of Wahlberg’s character pulls the movie along like a freight train, complete with ensuing train wreck.  Their musclebound, idiotically-genius antics exemplify the phrase “hot mess.”

More specifics after the break.

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