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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Paul / Animal Kingdom / West Is West

Two nights, three films. Well, there’s lots out at the moment!

Paul

“Am I harvesting farts? How much can I learn from an ass?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: geeks find alien and go on a road trip with him.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost follow up a zombie film and a cop film with an alien film. They play a pair of nerds, travelling across the US to visit known UFO/conspiracy sites who come across an alien called Paul. Paul asks them to help him escape a group of “men in black” (led by somewhat psycho Jason Bateman) and to safety.

It’s a decent enough little road trip film with quite a few giggles, the majority of them low-brow. The CGI on Paul himself (voiced by Seth Rogan) is pretty impressive, but the characters themselves are more 2-dimensional.

I was really expecting great thing of Paul, much as I was of Hot Fuzz. Instead, I just enjoyed it (much as with the previous film). If anything, I had as much fun spotting the genre references – and there are many of them – as I did following the story.

Not the classic I was hoping for, but still not bad.

Animal Kingdom

“It’s a crazy ******* world.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Teenager gets involved in a world of crime courtesy of rather dodgy family members with silly accents.

This film was nominated for 18 awards in Australia, apparently. There are some great performances, but the story is sooooo slow it hit tedium point for me.

It’s set in Melbourne, from what I can figure, and tells of a young man who’s mother OD’s. As a result he ends up locating and moving in with his estranged grandmother and his uncles, who are all dodgy criminal types. As the family find themselves victimised by the police, Josh (James Frecheville) is pulled further into events he wants nothing to do with while Office Leckie (Guy Pearce) tries to use him to get to the family.

If it was a 60-minute TV drama, it would just about work. As it is, it’s just too long and drawn out. There are some tense moments and, as I said, some excellent performances (chief amongst these in my eyes is Jacki Weaver as the conniving granny). However, it just didn’t grip me or have me on the edge of my seat the way a thriller is meant to.

West Is West

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A domineering Pakistani dad takes his English-born son to “the homeland” to learn about his heritage.

Released 12 years after, but set 5 years after the original East is East, WiW takes the same family abroad to George Khan’s (Om Puri) homeland. Starting in Salford and moving to Pakistan, the film focuses on George’s relationships with his sons, wife and… erm… other wife.

Young Sajid (Aqib Khan) is struggling at school, mainly he’s being bullied at school for being a “Paki”. He blames his father for this, and dad decided that the best way to deal with it is to take the kid to Pakistan. After all, he has family there – Sajid’s brother who’s looking for a wife, and George’s ex-wife and daughters who he walked out on three decades earlier.

The first film, despite being a comedy and hilarious in parts, was a very good social commentary on Mr Khan’s attempts to make his mixed race, English-born kids grow up as “proper” Muslims. WiW follows in this vein without repeating the story of the previous instalment. The humour isn’t racial or racist in style and manages to bring across the problems that such a family may have faced back in the 1970s.

It’s also more of a drama and less of a comedy than EiE. Certainly the laughs are fewer and less intense, but if you take it as a different type of film then it does its job well. The cast are all great, British and Pakistani; young and old alike.

Not one I’d suggest rushing out to the cinema to see, but certainly worth renting when it hits DVD.

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