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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.