Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows / 50/50

After far too many weeks with no cinema visits, I escaped from the house to catch three films back to back. And then had to settle for two as the first performance of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was sold out, which screwed up my entire schedule. Pah. My only real complaint with the Cineworld Unlimited card is that you can’t pre-book seats with it online or by phone. This is particularly annoying when you’re going with friends who don’t have a card as they can pre-book, and you then end up in the situation where youre group arrives at the cinema to find they have tickets and you can’t get in.

Anway. Films.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

“Be careful what you fish for.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Moriarty takes a far more visible centre-stage in this sequel to the effects-heavy first film as he threatens to destroy Europe

See it if you like: the last film

I quite enjoyed the first of Guy Ritchie‘s Holmes films, though I’m still not a fan of the World’s Greatest Detective as an action hero. Sure, know that Holmes was a great pugilist but it’s not something that shows up in the original stories too often. On the other hand, big explosions and fights sell more tickets than brain-teasing detective work.

Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law once again take up the mantle of the Victorian answer to the Dynamic Duo, this time with Jared Harris‘ Moriarty providing a more obvious villainous role. Also centre stage is Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s more annoying brother Mycroft.

The direction is very much Guy Ritchie with several set pieces cut into very short, close-up (sometimes internal) shots of mechanics with exaggerated sound effects. He’s been doing this since Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and it’s still quite cool although getting a little long in the tooth. Especially impressive is the forest scene with the cast running from a variety of gunfire. This scene features in the trailer, but the full version is an incredible piece of footage.

Plotwise, the story is far deeper than the first film. As a result it can be a little slow in places. I also found the humour a little darker and less frequent than I recall from the first. This does make it a little more satisfying for an older audience, but probably less suitable for the younger fans who just want to see the action sequences.

It looks gorgeous and the acting it top notch. Downey Jr seems to have found a niche playing aloof characters with a sense of self-superiority. Between Holmes and Tony Stark he has the market cornered.

For a chill out bit of popcorn cinema, watch the original. For an impressive bit of cinema which engages the brain a little more, go for this one.

50/50

“If you were a casino game, you would have the best odds.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Man with gutter-brained best friend discovers he has a tumour.

See it if you like: Well-scripted, very well acted social dramas which toy with your emotions

First up, I’m not a huge Seth Rogen fan. The man has one joke which he’s reeled out in every single film he’s ever been in. Basically, he talks about sex in  rather teenager-ish fashion and smokes pot. Not something to slate him for as such, but it gets boring watching someone play the same damn character in every film he’s in.

However, it was he who encouraged his friend Will Reiser to write a screenplay based on his real-life experiences. That, in turn, led to this film. And for that reason alone I will forgive Seth Rogen anything. Obviously, there’s no telling – short of interviewing the guys or perhaps waiting for the commentary on a DVD release – how many of the actual events in the film are exact representations of Reiser’s battle with cancer. I would suspect that the majority are perfectly possible if not likely, and that’s the strength of the movie. Nothing in it stretches the boundaries of belief.

Rogen plays Rogen, as I said. If you like him in other movies, you won’t have any issues with his part in this one. Centrepiece and absolute star of the show, though, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays Adam. He doesn’t make the part look difficult, and he doesn’t milk the “I’ve got cancer, see me suffer” thing. In fact for the vast majority of the film Adam handles things incredibly well, which makes the down points all the more poignant.

The supporting cast are all top notch as well. Some only appear briefly, others worm their way into the storyline. Anjelica Huston plays Adam’s mother and this ranks as one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from her. Strict, motherly, unshakable, domineering and loving. Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall join Adam in chemo. Two older guys surprised at the youth of their co-sufferer, yet embracing him into their exclusive little group.

It takes maybe 10 minutes for the film to get going and to realise it’s not simply another Rogen gross-out “comedy”. Perhaps it says a lot that I was nodding off a little during Holmes, an action film, and yet this film had my eyes glued open for pretty much its entire run.

Not one for kids, or those who cry at Lassie films. For everyone else – you simply have to see this film.

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Cinema Sunday – just 2 films

Nowhere Boy
Nowhere Boy

The day after Boxing Day meant Sunday parking rates (i.e. free) so I headed into Glasgow to catch two films:

Nowhere Boy

A John Lennon bio-pic starring Aaron Johnson as the central character. Pretty much the whole world will know who Lennon was (he did claim to be more famous than Jesus at one point), but how much do you know about his childhood?

Plot-in-a-nutshell: a young lad with an adopted family in Liverpool starts to discover a lot more about his genealogical past – and a taste for rock and roll.

There are two major things that you’d expect from a Lennon bio-pic which are missing – music and any mention of The Beatles. In fact, two other members of the Beatles are also introduced as the film goes on, but their surnames are never used. The focus is well and truly on young John.

Going by the Wikipedia article, the film sticks closely to some form of documented reality but does differ compared to other details. Having said that, I suppose there will be many differing versions of events at the time.

This is most definitely not a film about The Beatles. To a huge extent it’s not even about music – John only gets his first banjo lesson about halfway through. If you want a movie about music then you’d be better off with the older Backbeat movie (or Still Crazy, which I love).

Nowhere Boy is a kitchen sink drama. A tale about growing up in Liverpool in the 1950’s, not being good at school and with a collection of forgotten memoirs buried at the back of the family cupboard. It’s also very well acted and scripted, though interest does slip partway through before picking up again.

Not what I was expecting, but interesting nonetheless.

holmes
Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

From an adaptation of a “true” story, on to an adaptation of a fictional character. There has been outcry over the version of Holmes being introduced by Guy Ritchie for this movie. So how “bad” was it?

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Private detective and pit-fighter (I kid you not) Holmes gears up for one final case as witty, charismatic action buddy (again, no kidding) Dr Watson attempts to retire from the crime-fighting business.

First up, this is a marginally silly film. It’s got a great sense of humour, some cracking action sequences, wonderful chemistry between the leads, clever direction and absolutely beautiful sets and scenery. However… some of these departures, mainly from the characters featured in the Conan Doyle works, will understandably jar with hard core fans.

From a regular film fan’s point of view, I feel, it won’t matter. Robert Downey Jr is a very “cool” Holmes, though stands shorter than Jude Law‘s Dr Watson and is never seen wearing a deerstalker. Or smoking a large-bowled bendy-stemmed pipe. He does play a good version of Holmes, though. Quick-witted, often condescending, full of himself and so forth.

Dr Watson is where the problem lies for me, having read the books. The character from the stories was never much of an action man, partly due to a leg injury sustained in Afghanistan. Despite the limp he carried with him in the film, Law’s character has no problem bounding and leaping about. Generally in the written works, Watson is more of a biographer who sometimes follows Holmes around. Rarely is he as involved as the sidekick in this movie.

The thing is, ditch the “Holmes and Watson” tag (and the Adler one – she’s out of character, too) and wallow in the film as a standalone feature… and it’s pretty good. Ritchie has been let loose with a staggering budget as can be seen from the set pieces. I loved the backgrounds – even though they did look somewhat CGI – in particular the part-complete Tower Bridge (which the two chattering bints behind me decided after arguing was London Bridge).

If you liked Downey Jr in Iron Man (yay, sequel next year!) then you’ll have an idea of his Holmes. If you’ve seen earlier Ritchie films then you’ll expect the slow-mo scenes and the way certain segments are played through… and then rewound or fast-forwarded to explain them. A nice touch and not over-used.

It is a tad over-long, but it’s good Christmas fodder when there’s not a Bond film around. Closer to Lethal Weapon than canon Doyle (hey, that was clever…) but worth a watch.

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RocknRolla

RocknRolla
RocknRolla

After the success of Lock Stock and Snatch, Guy Ritchie went into a bit of a decline – around about the time he married Madonna and started putting her in his films. RocknRolla is his first film post-divorce and though it’s not a complete return to form it’s still entertaining.

As ever, it’s a series of interlinked plots and stories which all wind up affecting each other. It’s twisty and quite clever but simply doesn’t have the punch of the first two films. The main things missing are the clever camerawork and snappy dialogue. The humour’s just not up there either – I’d actually liken it more to the (superior) Layer Cake.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: two robbers end up indebted to a crime lord. They take on a job which pays that debt off… but inadvertently an unknown to them puts them in a bigger pile of **** with the same man. Add a wayward stepson, a dodgy accountant and some Russian gangsters and you have the kind of background you’d expect for a Ritchie film.

As for the cast, they’re all pretty solid and – to me – moderately unknown, a little like the first two films. The only exception is Thandi Newton and I am buggered if I can figure out how anyone can find her attractive. Even less so given that she chain-smokes her way through the movie. Will someone please feed her a large quantity of meat pies before she starves to death?

At two hours it’s pretty long but does keep the interest. However, it’s got a hell of a history to live up to and sadly it just doesn’t quite cut it as a classic. It seems the cast will get another chance, though, as the end credits tell us they’ll all be back in The Real RocknRollas. I’d be prepared to give it a whirl.

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