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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Johnny English Reborn / Real Steel / Contagion

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsNo cinema for about two weeks then three in a day. Well, I caught three. Because Cineworld buggered up a change in direct debit details, Gillian had to go home and ring them to re-enable her card which meant that she missed the first of our trilogy. Thanks a bunch, Cineworld.

Johnny English Reborn

“Dear God, don’t let me get killed by the Swiss.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: inept Bond-esque character makes a return only this time he’s not as goofy

See it if you like: Amusing comedy romps with a dash of slapstick which somehow still manage to shoehorn in a decent plot

We (re-)watched the original film the other week as Gillian hadn’t seen it before and, in honesty, it wasn’t as enjoyable as I remember. Still, I was looking forward to seeing Rowan Atkinson back on screen as the clumsy secret agent originally created for a series of Barclaycard commercials. It’s certainly better than another Mr Bean outing (shudder).

The film begins with English back in the bad books after something goes wrong in a job in Mozambique (more of which becomes clear as the story progresses). Stripped of his knighthood and his position with MI7 he is enrolled in a Tibetan monastery. Cue a rather amusing slapstick sequence where Atkinson gets to show off his legendary facial expressions, rubber limbs and comic timing.

The new head of MI7, Pegasus (Gillian Anderson with a posh accent) is forced to draft English back in when an informant insists on speaking only to him. English is partnered with junior agent Tucker (Daniel Kaluuya) who fills in the “sensible” role of Bough from the original without being the same character. Far less experienced and less prepared to pick up English’s mess. In fact, the opening (low speed and comically brilliant) chase sequence shows that the roles have very much been reversed. English with the smarts and Tucker obviously an inexperienced though keen agent.

There’s still a fair amount in the film that’s predictable – it’s that kind of humour – but there are plenty of good laughs that haven’t been spoiled in the trailer. The story isn’t bad, either, with a good handful of twists and turns. The action sequences are appropriately funny/ridiculous and also quite cool in places.

This is far from remake or rehash of the original. Atkinson has taken the English character in a new direction rather than just playing him out in another outing. This film is far better as a result.

Good laughs, great cast, family friendly and definitely recommended.

Real Steel

“You know you’re bringing him home in pieces, right?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: down-and-out robot boxer discovers he has a son. Robots get smushed. Bonds form.

See it if you like: the idea of unusual combinations of father/son dramas and boxing/sports films.

This was a great film. Exciting, innovative, funny, emotional, visually impressive, imaginative… We loved it and the kids a couple of rows in front were completely enraptured with the fight sequences.

Ex-boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) has fallen into debt with far too many people as he travels the country trying to win cash back as a robot boxer. People no longer box. The viewing public has moved on, wanting to see gigantic metal titans beat each other to scrap.

To add to his problems, Kenton’s old girlfriend dies and he finds himself lumbered with an 11-year-old son, Max (Dakota Goyo), for the summer.

The story then mixes Rocky (if you want to know how much, see the IMDB trivia page for the plot similarities) with a heart-warming drama where Charlie gets to know his son. Stars of the show are the robots, of course. Every single one was built both physically and digitally – and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between them.

When I look back, the story – certainly as far as the fights – was pretty much by-the-numbers. There are very few original stories left in Hollywood, the trick these days being in how well you tell them. This one is told particularly well. The stunning visuals really help, but the characters and plot are what’s important.

A sequel is mooted for 2014 and part of me is dreading it as this is a nicely-encapsulated story. It doesn’t need a sequel. This is a great movie in its own right.

Contagion

“It’s a bad day to be a rhesus monkey.”

Plot-in–a-nutshell: A virulent virus breaks out and the CDC/WHO are tasked with stopping it as it sweeps across the world

See it if you like: dark dramas with a realistic edge

Imagine that the last Swine Flu or Bird Flu panic wasn’t as blown out of proportion as it seemed. Imagine that the virus really was novel and changing to the point where it spread remarkably quickly, killed in days and was ridiculously hard to cultivate in a lab. This is the premise for Contagion, a dark present-day thriller from Steven Soderbergh.

This film divided Gillian and I. She found it too slow and with not enough accurate information. I found it dark and gripping with just the right balance. It isn’t a fast film, she’s right, but the pace seems to increase as the virus spreads and as the public get more and more out of control.

Focus is very much on the medical staff involved in the case (played by the likes of Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet), though there are side-steps into the lives of victims (Matt Damon) and the anti-capitalist brigade (led by an appropriately annoying Jude Law) who believe that the drug companies are withholding cures so as to make more money for themselves.

Nothing like this has happened to us as yet, but it could. Plagues in history have been limited by geography. The way we hop across the globe nowadays means this isn’t going to happen any more. The figures thrown around in the film – tens of millions dead – are scarily possible.

It’s not surprising the performances are good when you look at the number of award winners and nominees up there. Soderbergh has quite the track record as well, though this is the first of his films I’ve seen that I’ve really enjoyed. A shame Gillian didn’t think as much of it as I did.

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Indians, organs and dates

Repo Men Billboards with Red Laser Barcode
Repo Men are coming

Three pretty quick reviews as I’m dead beat and just want to crawl into bed – It’s A Wonderful Afterlife, Repo Men and Date Night.

It’s a Wonderful Afterlife

“Use guilt. You’re her mother. It’s your right.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Bonkers Indian mum is desperate to arrange a marriage for her somewhat chunky daughter.

Imagine a cross between Peter Jackon’s The Frighteners, Bend It Like Beckham (from the same team) and sorely under-rated Rowan Atkinson vehicle Keeping Mum. Of course, it helps if you’ve seen all of them. Each is superb - Afterlife plucks some of the juicy bits from them but doesn’t quite hit the winning formula. It’s still good though.

Mrs Sethi (Shabana Azmi) is a widow with two kids – an irresponsible son and a daughter who was engaged once, but (seemingly due to her girth) was dumped and now finds it impossible to find a new partner. In stero)typical Indian mother fashion, Sethi sets out to try to palm her off on anyone willing to take on a comfort-eating dump truck.

Thing is, she goes a little too far when some people turn her daughter down and… erm… kills them. Obviously, the police get involved – including Heroes‘ Sendhil Ramamurthy, who just happens to be a childhood friend of the daughter Roopi (Goldy Notay in a fat suit).

The two plot strands – marrying the daughter off and avoiding the police – are woven well, with four (to start with) ghostly companions following Mrs Sethi’s every move. The jokes are generally amusing, the acting very good and the special effects very simple and not showy.

The film does nod at a few other movies – the Carrie reference is actually more of a wild gesticulation with hands pointing and buzzers than a nod – so there’s the added fun of spotting the references.

Overall, fairly light-hearted given the subject matter and well-made. Given the fact that the cast and crew are predominantly Indian it does mean that they’re “allowed” to take the piss out of their own culture a little more than a non-Indian crew would, I feel – and this is great. If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at. I thank them for letting us join in.

Repo Men

“Can’t pay for your car? Bank takes it back. Can’t pay for your house? Bank takes it back. Can’t pay for your liver? Well, that’s where I come in.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: In a future where you can buy new artificial organs, there are a lot of people who default on the payments – and someone has to go and collect them.

Repo Men has little, if anything, to do with Alex Cox‘s 1984 cult classic Repo Man. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my opinion as I found that film to be rather… well… crap. As are many cult classics as far as I’ve found. But don’t take my word for anything. I thought Withnail And I sucked, so what do I know?

Jude Law plays Remy. Partnered with Jake (Forest Whitaker) they make the best repo man double team in the city. Anyone who buys an organ on hire purchase and defaults on payments for 96 days is automatically put on a list to have those organs retrieved. If they’re lucky it’ll just be one kidney. Or it could be a liver. Or a heart. Remy and Jake repossess them for The Union.

Thing is, Remy’s wife isn’t too happy that his job involved hacking people up and ripping out their metallic giblets. She gives him an ultimatum – quit and move into sales, or she’s leaving with their son. So Remy does “one last job”… which doesn’t go quite as planned.

Repo Men is quite bloody, given the subject matter this is hardly surprising, so if the sight of a bit of claret is likely to make you woozy then steer well clear. Also, if you’re into films with a deep and meaningful plot you might want to check out something else. Or indeed if you’re after anything that utilises the parts of your brain designed for piecing together great mysteries.

This is more of a schlock action film. There is a story and it’s OK. There’s even a twist but it’s pretty obvious what it’s going to be if you pay attention. What is does have is good action sequences and nice grisly effects.

No classic, that’s for sure, but if you want some gore and arterial spray to entertain you then this is one to catch.

Date Night

“He turned the gun sideways! That’s a kill shot!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A couple on a night away from the kids suffer a case of mistaken identity that leads to guns, gangsters, car chases, corruption and very sexy Israelis. Happens all the time.

Steve Carell is definitely a bit hit and miss in his choice of roles. 40 Year Old Virgin was superb. Get Smart was better than it had any right to be. Date Night plays like the latter without the spy stuff. Or most of the jokes. And less slapstick, shy of Tina Fey walking into drawers that have been left open.

Carell and Fey play Steve and Claire Foster, a married couple who find that life’s getting just a little boring. When their friends announce they’re divorcing due to their relationship going a little flat, the two decide to spice things up with a night out in a slightly more posh restaurant than normal. Only they can’t get a seat, so they pinch someone else’s reservation.

Obviously, the people they pretend to be are being sought by gangsters. Isn’t that always the way? Cue a night of being chased, shot at, hit and so forth.

In its favour, Date Night does have a couple of good laughs. The “boat chase” is very much a laugh-out-loud moment. Very well done. The car chase has a novelty element to it, so marks for originality (as far as my memory goes) for that. There’s even some tolerable dialogue.

However, it just plods along in places and overall it’s just not outstanding. The plot’s been done before, or at least it feels that way. The characters are cardboard and recycled from a score of previous films. The whole thing gets wrapped up ridiculously quickly towards the end.

I have seen far, far worse films but I still don’t understand why Date Night is getting such incredibly favourable reviews. It’s entertaining, but it’s not a comedy classic by any stretch.

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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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