Skip to main content

You're drinking embalming fluid?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
(2011) 

The 2009 film was such a pleasant surprise that I had not a little foreboding about this. Everything about the publicity and trailers suggested a stir-and-repeat effort, attempting nothing new. I had low expectations for the original, and perhaps the same feeling this time did the film some favours. For the first 20 minutes or so, an interesting character development aside, this seemed to be really struggling. Labouring the goodwill built up last time by indulging itself in an extended sequence of Holmes-Watson banter and failing to muster any of the spark of the original.

Fortunately it kicks into gear following Holmes' first encounter with Moriarty, and an extended train sequence is replete with all the bro-mance and Guy Ritchie bombast that you'd expect, but also that flash of verve and excitement it so needed in the early scenes. Like the original, the plotting is at times a means to an action sequence, and the elements of deduction are very much sublimated to the need to keep things rolling. That said, a number of elements that are reused later are so deftly placed that when they are called back to you can't help but think they've been quite clever there. Noomi Rapace's gypsy is very much incidental, but this in itself is a positive as the filmmakers don't feel they need to overpower the plot with a love interest. I'd like to have seen more of Colonel Sebastian Moran, though, as his character was effectively used.

Of the regulars, Downey Jr is winningly energetic and Ritchie's camera work is very in synch with his take on Holmes. He and Law, despite the early sequences, have a fine repartee. I'm going to make a few Steven Moffat comparisons now; I think on balance I prefer this Holmes and Watson, because - as self-conscious in it's way as this depiction of the characters is - they're not weighed down with all the irritating tics and Moffat-every-voice dialogue. This is blockbuster cinema but it manages to retain an air of verisimilitude that the current TV series fails at.

Helping enormously in that regard is Jared Harris as Moriarty. If you'd asked who would come up with the best take on Moriarty, the BBC or a lowest common denominator brash Hollywood movie, you'd end up with the wrong answer (unless you'd seen the BBC version, that is, in which case there's likely superior home movie performances on youtube). Harris underplays his Moriarty superbly, completely the opposite of that little “I’m mad, me!”-voiced prat in Sherlock. And as a result you believe in the stakes involved. The final showdown between the two is vastly more satisfying than the TV series' Reichenbach "fall" because it combines all the elements of intellectual dueling between the two characters in a gripping, multi-layered scene. Which then out does itself by coming to a very snappy and satisfying resolution that is germane to the established style of storytelling.

While I'm on the subject of Moffat, two other points. What they do with Irene Adler's character here is extremely effective, and spotlights just what a low-rent, low-stakes media whore Moffat is in terms of the way he treats his characters. And Mycroft, as played by Stephen Fry, seems to cement the character as Holmes big gay brother in terms of modern takes; Fry's amusing in the role, but it feels like a "wheel on the guest star" turn; maybe in the US he's just seen as another supporting actor but Fry might as well have just stepped out of a QI filming session (albeit less attired - "Sherlie", indeed). Ironically, and though I'm loathe to say it, Mark Gatiss might have been a better fit.

But overall, far more enjoyable that the over-feted Sherlock -where every bit of dazzling inventiveness is then ruined by lazy characterisation and self-congratulatory dialogue. I'm looking forward to the third installment.

****1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli