February 29, 2012

Film review: THE ARTIST

Is The Artist the "best" film from the last year, as the Oscars recently decreed? No. No its not. It is a surprise break-out hit from last year, garnering accolades and awards for its cast and writer/director as it played through festivals and limited releases.

By now, surely there are few people (reading this wee blog at least) that don't know about The Artist and the decision made for this film about the silent era in Hollywood to be almost entirely silent itself; as opposed to the classic and, frankly, better film about the transition from silent films to talkies, Singin' in the Rain. The Gene Kelly starring delight was in full colour, with toe-tapping songs, fun musical numbers and a star on the rise.

The Artist though is a black & white silent film about the downfall of a once-great silent era actor, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). Valentin stubbornly refuses to do talkies and spirals further and further into obsolescence and depression. As he is on his way down, the charming young bit-player Peppy Miller (Bernice Berjo), who briefly crossed paths with Valentin is on her way up. She becomes the new toast of the town, captivating the studio bosses and audiences alike. Throughout her ascent she remembers Valentin and goes out of her way to help him in unobtrusive ways: buying up his possessions when they're up for auction, keeping an eye on him in the street. And, as you've probably heard, there is a dog.

The film is somewhat in line with director Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin's previous collaborations, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 11: Lost in Rio. Both of those films were looking back to the aesthetics and style of a previous age of movies; in the case of the OSS 117 films the spy films of the 60's. They are goofy, self-referential, self-effacing and fun films. Dujardin is in similar form in The Artist, his big cheeseball movie-star grin lighting up and blasting through at a million watts.

However, I did begin to tire of Valentin's moping, that carries on past what is necessary. When he's at his absolute lowest, with his apartment and films burned to nothingness Valentin is taken in by Peppy Miller, the one person who still cares about him. She even still has all of things. But his idiotic pride continues, Hazanavicius continuing to have Valentin's foolish pride carry him through Hollywood.

There is a noticeable tension throughout the film; the modern tugging at the classic. The Artist uses the aesthetics but not the grammar of silent filmmaking. That is, the film is silent with characters mouthing their dialogue, with the occasional card informing us to what they're saying, but the film itself is shot in a resolutely modern cinematic style. Hazanavicius seems to show his interest lies more in the aesthetics (or gimmick if you're being cruel) than in veracity.

And, speaking of cruel, there has been a backlash amongst some critics against this surprise awards-gobbler. I come down on neither side. Whereas I believe Hugo more accurately and lovingly captures the silent filmmaking pioneers, The Artist is perfectly fine enough as a film from a filmmaker who set himself and his cast an ambitious goal. The conceit is intriguing, even if the story never fully held me. 

February 24, 2012

Film review: YOUNG ADULT

Since the release of Juno and her subsequent Oscar win, writer Diablo Cody has suffered something of a backlash. It started during the lead-up to the Oscars and reached its height come the release of Jennifer's Body. There was a slight whiff of misogyny about some of the criticism and people got rather in a lather about her stylised dialogue. These people somehow missed the point. And also, it's a sad truth that Hollywood is sorely lacking in female writers, strong & interesting female characters and intelligent & non-condescending femaleness in general.

Young Adult, her third feature-length film as writer, casts its gaze on the undeveloped female after a plethora of man-child films released. Charlize Theron is Mavis Gary, a ghost-writer for a once-popular Young Adult series of fiction. She lives her life in her self-contained apartment, falling asleep to trashy reality-TV shows and waking up hung-over, sucking down bottles of Diet Coke. She's a bit of an train-wreck of a person still stuck in adolescence. Unlike the often charmingly goofy man-children, Mavis is a character with no redeeming features. None; s
he has little interest in other people past using them for whatever she wants. She doesn't even bother with tossing them aside when she's done with them, instead just leaving them as she continues on her chaotic way. Mavis is the villain of the piece and I have to applaud the bravery of Cody, Theron and director Jason Reitman for making the character so unapologetically disastrous. 

After receiving an email from her high-school ex's wife celebrating the birth of their first child, Mavis decides she must "save" her poor ex Buddy (Patrick Wilson) from the unimaginable horrors of child-rearing and small-town life. And so, for the first time since she left, Mavis returns to her hometown and her old stomping grounds. And it is there, in one of the old bars she used to frequent, that she bumps into Patton Oswalt's Matt Freehauf. 

While Mavis is something of an emotional cripple, Matt is a physical one. He was beaten brutally, to near death by a group of jocks in high-school because they (mistakenly) believed he was gay. Matt walks with the help of a cane, brews his own whisky and cobbles together his own action-figures from pre-existing ones. He's bitter about his lot in life but maintains a more cheerful front. He acts as the (largely unheard) voice of reason for Mavis and is, intentionally, cast in the "asexual high-school sidekick" role. There's a lot of subtle work from Oswalt in building this character, keeping most of the pain just below the surface. 

This is a Diablo Cody film through and through; the stamp of authorship is in every character, every situation, every exchange and it is scathing and hilarious. Cody has a continuing fascination with high-school and the influence it casts over so many American's lives. The comedy is often black as tar, sparing few in the process and Mavis least of all. Everyone Mavis meets at home has moved on with their lives while she, who physically escaped, cannot bring herself to escape from her past. There is some justification given to her arrested development late in the film but it is far from redeeming. And Mavis continues on as per usual in any case. Come the end, Mavis is an unrepentant and unchanged character, once again leaving her home-town for Minneapolis.

Theron utterly owns the role of Mavis. Though the character is nothing short of a horrible, self-absorbed person (often forgetting her fluffy handbag-dog), you cannot help but watch Theron embody this characters and bring you along for her ride. She had a fairly normal, balanced upbringing and the sorry state of her life is entirely down to her own poor choices; from her failed marriage to her return home. Wilson seems to have the market cornered on the slightly emasculated modern male and here invests Buddy with a happy, down-to-earth sort of charm. Buddy is a man who has no grand ambitions but is pleasingly happy with his life as it is - which makes Mavis' plan all the more devious and destructive. 

Young Adult is brave, acerbic, hilarious, intelligent and engaging. It's more than refreshing, it's a slap to the face to wake you up. 

February 22, 2012


Alexander Payne has been gone awhile after his award-winning Sideways. But thankfully, after an absence from cinema screens of 7 or so years he returns with George Clooney and Hawaii.

Clooney is Matt King, a lawyer whose family owns a large swathe of land on one of the islands. 
The films begins with King's wife Elizabeth recently in a coma, seemingly lifeless. King, the back-up parent, must struggle to re-connect and guide his two young daughters while at the same time deciding what to do with the family's land. The land is held in trust, with King the sole trustee. However, the laws governing ongoing trusts are due to change and King & the cousins must decide who to sell their large swathe of untouched Hawaiian land to. It's a fair amount for any one person to juggle, and things are given an extra frisson when it is revealed to King that Elizabeth, prior to her vegetable-like state, had been having an affair.

Payne gives us a view of Hawaii not generally seen on screen. Past the beach-set poster and beach-casual attire of everyone, the film opens on life in downtown. Hawaii has cities just like anywhere else in the States; people struggle, people suffer and people die. There is no surfing here; this is no holiday in Hawaii to forget Sarah Marshall.

Instead King struggles to remember; to remember what his marriage was and not what he wanted it to be, to be remember how to talk to his daughters, to remember why his family are trustees of virgin, undeveloped Hawaiian land. For all those highly-charged emotions, there is a breath of comedy (often dark) that winds its way through the film. It isn't there to put the audience at a distance, but instead serves to humanise the events and the characters

There is a noticeable thematic strand that runs through all of Payne's films so far, in way or another: that of males confronting their own mortality (and generally fairly weak or weak-willed men). Whether it's Matthew Broderick's high-school teacher attempting to overcome Reese Witherspoon's over-achieving class presidential contender; Jack Nicholson's recently retired Schmidt taking off on a road-trip after a lifetime of safe simplicity or Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church carousing, drinking and navel-gazing around Californian vineyards. That continues, of course, in The Descendants with Clooney's King forced to confront the death of his marriage, and soon, the death of his wife.

There is not much here in the way of surprises, in that you are never really shocked by any character's reaction to an event or other character. But that is, in part, down to Payne's excellent character illustration and development; you find yourself unsurprised at their decisions because you get such a good feel for who these characters are. Clooney as the patriarch struggling to keep everything from his family to himself together has earned a number of critical plaudits already. And he is excellent, dialling down the usual "gorgeous George" charm to present someone smaller, a little broken. More human. Equally impressive is Shailene Woodley as King's eldest daughter, Alex. Alex is a slightly wayward teen, who has fought with her mother mainly because they are so similar. She has to help King with a lot of the heavy lifting, in looking out for youngest daughter Scottie and helping dad with tracking down the man who was sleeping with Elizabeth. There's a lot of conflicting emotions she has to deal with, a lot that has to be kept below the surface while she is outwardly outraged, and Woodley succeeds with the challenge.

The Descendants is a film I almost feel we're seeing less and less of: an intelligent, honest and relatable drama with imperfect, human characters. It can sometime seem we are bombarded with spectacle, whether it be blockbusters or awards-chasers, and so it is refreshing to have a film so seemingly intimate but with a lot to say. 

February 20, 2012


The interior of the El Capitan theatre in LA
A couple of things prompted me to compose this entry in my In Appreciation of... series. There is the constant state of flux the cinema distribution and exhibition industry seems to find itself in at the moment. There is the constant improvement of home entertainment options. There is the increasing presence of digital projection in cinemas and the decreasing presence of 35mm presentations. There is the screening of Hugo I attended, which is a beautiful re-awakening of the love of cinema. Recently there was an article by the Film Crit Hulk on what he loves about cinema, which was followed up by a similar article from Quint at Ain't it Cool News. And there are the numerous films that, every year, I am desperate to see on general release here in NZ but that instead head straight to DVD.

To me, absolutely nothing beats seeing a movie in a cinema. I have never downloaded a movie in my life. Not only because of the moral issues I have with it (and I do), but because I would rather see a film how it was meant to be seen: on a big screen, with an audience.

There is something almost indefinable and special about watching a movie in the cinema, with an appreciative audience. It is akin to experiencing a live concert rather than listening to a CD at home or attending a game or match instead of watching it at home on TV. There is something about experiencing an event - cinema, concert, game - with a crowd that makes it electric. These types of experiences go right to the core of something inside all of us; inside every person. The connection that seems to pass through a crowd, all sharing in something together; experiencing the same highs and lows. It can only be replicated to a smaller degree at home.

Yes, I love films. But I also love cinemas. 
Where possible, I avoid the multiplexes and this post is not focussed on them. No, they give the bare minimum of the experience with, often as not, barely competent staff, hollow & impersonal architecture and lousy texting & talking patrons. This is, of course, a gross over generalisation but one that I have found to be true time and again.

Ceiling detail from the Roxy Cinema
However, we are lucky enough in Wellington, to have a number of fantastic "boutique", "art-house" or "independent" cinemas. Each of them offer something different and altogether something more. Whether it be the largely art-house and independent fare at the Paramount (Wellington's oldest cinema); the big, beautiful screen and the newly refurbished downstairs bar area at the Embassy; the mind-blowing love and attention to detail poured into the Roxy Cinema in Miramar, which looks like a cinema you would find it Fritz Lang's Metropolis; or the welcoming cafes and atmospheres at Island Bay's Empire Cinema, Brooklyn's Penthouse Cinema or Petone's Lighthouse Cinema. These are all wonderful places to wrap yourself in the darkness and fall into the worlds on screen.

A night out at the movies used to be more of an event; it was something people got dressed up for, queued for and made an evening of. This sense of occasion has somewhat abandoned the movies, with the rise of the multiplexes and their blockbuster fare, not to mention the increased ticket prices and overall costs involved with having a night out. But I still love it - even if it is just to watch various things explode while munching down over-salted popcorn with a crowd of hyper-sugared-up teens.

All of this is a rather over-long way of saying, in this age of downloading (whether legal or illegal) and better home-entertainments systems & options I remain resolutely in love with a night-out at the movies. I love watching small, intimate films in a cinema as much as I love watching action-packed explosion-fests; the cinema screen is not just a way to watch explosions in the highest definition possible. You never laugh harder, scream higher or cheer louder than when you experience a film with a packed cinema audience, all of you responding to what's on the screen.

The vast, vast majority of my movie watching related memories are ensconced within the cinema. I'll happily watch 35mm prints that are showing their age and crisp new digital projections that ring clear as a bell. I can only sincerely hope these picture palaces are still around for me to share with any future generations. 

February 16, 2012


There have been any number of film and television adaptations of John Le Carre's celebrated work but, until very recently, I had never read one of his novels. Before watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy I finished The Looking Glass War - a dry, intelligent and involved work with no happy ending. An ending, in fact, that I could see coming from the beginning but that was no less effective in its bathos.

Le Carre's spies are as far away from the globe-laying, gadget carrying, running, shooting, jumping Bond archetypes as it is possible to get. These are far more believable, flawed, human characters, with the upper echelons peopled entirely with Old Boys -  no women or lower class people here thankyouverymuch These are spies that deal with intelligence, counter-intelligence, misinformation, disinformation and the blurred lines between them all. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy concerns the hunt for a Russian mole who has penetrated the inner circle of the Secret Intelligence Service, the Circus. George Smiley - recently forced out of the SIS along with John Hurt's Control after a botched attempt to flush the mole - is tasked by the Minister to hunt out the mole amongst them. Smiley is a spy, spying on the spies in an attempt to find the spy among them.

The film unravels at a perfectly measured and mesmerising pace. Not being packed with action scenes and shaking cameras, director Tomas Alfredson instead allows the characters to do all of the talking and heavy-lifting. It is a spy film filled with a lot of people sitting around talking. And it is absolutely riveting; I barely moved for the entire run-time, so absorbed was I.

It surely doesn't hurt any when there is a cast as accomplished as this. Gary Oldman, headlining as George Smiley, is a magnetic presence able to hold the attention of the camera with but a look. He speaks only when necessary and keeps everything beneath the surface. At first glance, Smiley is a buttoned down man; a typical English stuffed-shirt. But Oldman lets us see the fire and iron lying just behind the eyes when needed.

Tom Hardy as field-operative Ricki Tarr is the closest Tinker Tailor comes to the traditionally thought of cinematic spy. He's one of the men the Circus sends out into the field, to spy on foreign targets and eliminate or turn them as required. Ciarin Hinds, Toby Jones, Colin Firth and David Dencik are the men running the Circus, one of whom is the turncoat. Toby Jones' Percy Alleline is a weasel of man, with Hinds' Roy Bland seeming to serve as his right-hand man. Firth is the smooth talker of the office, easily hopping from office-girl to office-girl, the only man in the office exuding any sense of charm or charisma. And Benedict Cumberbatch is Peter Guilliam, the only man inside the Circus that Tarr and Smiley trust and who often finds himself in the lion's den.

Alfredson doesn't talk down to the audience, instead trusting them to keep up with the oft-confusing details as he sets the steady, steady pace and cold-soaked atmosphere. Tinker Tailor is a very English spy story, in a very English setting (with some influence from real events) and captured with an outsider's eye. The film, like the characters, can be cold and grey but there lurks a tension beneath it all. Come the end, mole or not, almost everyone is hurt or destroyed in some way. No-one comes out clean; no-one comes away happy or victorious.

February 15, 2012

Film review: CHRONICLE

I think it would be safe to say that the gimmick of "found footage" films are quickly wearing thin for me. Sure, it's been an interesting approach to make in a couple of horror films but, along with shakey-cam, I'm pretty much over the poorly framed, jerky, hard-to-watch camera-work. Not to mention the suspension of disbelief you have to enter into with each new found footage film; we're supposed to buy into the fact that someone is going to keep filming while a bunch of crazy-ass stuff is going-on around them and, more often that not, their friends are dying. Not to mention that each of the camera-wielding characters are preternaturally gifted at framing, lighting and recording amazing sound with shitty camera mikes.

It's a technique that has primarily been exposed in horror, with The Blair Witch Project famously kicking it all off back in '99 (though found footage films had been around for awhile before then). Each year seems to bring a new entry, from the Paranormal Activity and [REC] series to one-off films such as Diary of the Dead and The Devil Inside and any number of lesser known, low budget shit-fests. And, like I said, the gimmick is getting tired.

Then again... then again... There have been attempts in recent years to expand the "found footage" movie out of the horror genre where it has found itself trapped recently. Cloverfield gave us a found footage monster movie, while Troll Hunter was a fantasy-monster-adventure-horror flick. And now Chronicle is the found footage superhero movie.

Andrew initially begins recording his life because his mother is sick and dying, while his father is out of work on a disability benefit and often drunk and abusive. He wants to, I dunno, chronicle his sad little life and the abuse he gets from his father. Andrew's best (and, in fact, only friend) is his cousin Matt. Matt is on the opposite side of the spectrum to Andrew; where Andrew is socially awkward, withdrawn and suffers bullying, Matt thinks himself too smart and cool to be bothered with being smart and cool. Andrew is dragged along to a party by Matt in attempt to help bring him out of his shell. Instead, they and popular jock & all-round nice guy Steve discover a weird hole in the ground. This hole leads to a cave, which leads to a weird glowing crystal that zaps them and grants them all superpowers - telekinesis.

The three boys begin to learn how to use and control their newfound powers and find themselves getting stronger and closer to one another. They are all, somehow, connected. The movie never makes any big bones about this or tries to offer up an explanation for it, or any other aspects of their powers - which is a refreshing change from the over-explanation given in most modern blockbusters. These moments of discovery are easily the best moments in the film - when the trio learn to fly, they speed, loop and holler with joy through the clouds. This is also when the found footage conceit really works best, when there are moments captured you feel like you would actually capture yourself. The fact, too, that these guys enjoy their powers and have a blast using them - whether its flying or pulling pranks on unsuspecting folks - it feels far more real and honest than, well, any other reaction in other superhero films. I know if I ever gained superpowers and was able to fly around I would fucking love it.

Things begin to take a turn for the worse as Andrew, a confused boy filled with anger at the world and suffering abuse at home, begins to abuse his powers. In one of the creepier moments in the film, he uses his powers to dangle a spider in mid-air, before torturing and killing it. It's a powerful character moment and says more than any explosive demonstration could. Not even a sudden leap in popularity, helped along by Steve, does him any good. It all culminates in a massive psychic slugfest in downtown Seattle as Matt and Andrew go at it. It's a fairly knock-down, no-holds barred affair with the team making the most of their limited budget. It's a final battle that works as more than just pyrotechnics and noise, as there has been strong character work done by screenwriter Max Landis and the actors to bring us here.

However, as with the majority of these found footage films, is there some s
ort of unwritten rule that these characters have to be annoying dickbags? Andrew, the main character/villain/camera operator is a snivelling, friendless and largely charisma-free character. There are strongly established reasons for all of this, and Dane DeHaan is fairly fearless in the way he embraces the worst aspects of this character, but it really wore me down. I don't have to agree or like a protagonist but there has to be something there; some sort of reason as to why I should follow this person through the story. 

The found footage film is one that ultimately brings attention to itself, by having to explain why everything is being filmed and by having the characters continually address the audience, through the camera. You also have to believe in the innate and flawless skills of these (mostly first-time) camera-men. And in Chronicle t
he conceit is used fairly loosely - are we really supposed to believe that Andrew's dad wouldn't just simply smash the camera? One character is introduced simply for there to be another camera recording things when Andrew isn't around. Not to mention the fact that the entire conceit gets defenestrated come the final confrontation.

Chronicle is an interesting, intelligent and refreshing examination of the old superhero nuggets of power and responsibility but it never quite reaches as high as I was expecting. Part of that is down to the found footage aesthetic; perhaps if it had only been used sparingly and at certain moments I would have bought it more. 

February 10, 2012

Film review: HUGO

Martin Scorsese's first foray in to new territory - a 3D family adventure film - is nothing short of a cinematic wonder and further proof that Scorsese is a master of cinema working at the top of his game. Surprisingly, the film also serves as something of a call to arms for film history and film preservation; a fact that is all but excluded from the advertising material.

The opening few minutes of the film contain no dialogue, Scorsese telling us what we need to know through the visual language of film: a wide cityscape shot of Paris, the life of the city briefly becoming a cog in a larger machine, before sweeping through into and around the train station that plays home to the film and then (still on the same, long, single take here) close in on the peering eyes hidden behind one of the clock faces: Hugo.

Hugo is an orphan boy living in the walls of the train station, running from clock to clock and ensuring they all run on time. His father (Jude Law) was a watchmaker who worked a second job in a museum. It was in the museum he found the small mechanical man he and Hugo have been working to fix and it is also in the museum where he dies. This leaves young Hugo, and the automaton, in the care of his drunken Uncle (Ray Winstone), the man who cares for the clocks at the station.

The train station is patrolled with relentless and vicious determination by the prat-falling Sacha Baron Cohens Station Inspector; he and his 
Doberman hunt the station for thieving orphans, to pack away to the orphanage in cages. Hugo has to dodge him while stealing gears, cogs and more from the old toymaker's store. The toymaker catches him though, and is revealed to be all but forgotten cinematic pioneer Georges Melies.

It is around this point that the film becomes less about Hugo and his quest to complete his and his father's automaton and more about the lost work of Melies. The two are connected - it is soon revealed that Melies is the man who created the wondrous automaton and Hugo comes across Melies' god-daughter Isabelle, who carries the key to the automaton around her neck. It's a shift of focus I wasn't expecting but was wrapped up in nonetheless. 

There are no villains in this film; though Hugo comes up against Melies and, of course, the Station Inspector these people are less villains and more broken people. Baron Cohen is especially effective as the orphan persecuting Station Inspector with a shy affection for the pretty flower girl (Emily Mortimer). He was an orphan himself and badly injured his leg in the Great War - leading to bouts of physical comedy as he swings about the station and moments of quiet desperation as he attempts to approach the flower girl.

Grace Moretz as the bookish but adventure seeking Isabelle is a fizzing joy of a character, easily outshining Asa Butterfield's Hugo. She loses herself in the imaginary worlds of the adventure books she finds in Monsieur Labisse's (Christopher Lee) book-store; always wanting to have an adventure of her own but never taking those steps until Hugo brings her along. Sir Ben Kingsley as Melies himself is a commanding, sorrowful and broken performance.

I remember the first time I watched Melies' Le voyage dans la lune in film class. I was absolutely blown away. Floored. Here was a short film, from the dawn of cinema with no sound and no colour, that was a technological marvel and a wondrous film. It was a fantastical adventure with effects that left me gobsmacked - moreso than any number of computer effects in recent years. And one of the joys of Hugo is the opportunity to, within the film, witness Melies' films as they were meant to be: on the big screen. They have even been, interestingly, post-converted to 3D. It is a choice I am sure Melies, the magician and pioneer would have approved of. 

The 3D in Hugo is easily the best use of the effect/gimmick that I've seen. Scorsese knows exactly what to do with it, exactly how to use the effect to help tell his story. It is truly immersive and a tool wielded by a master movie-maker. But for all of it's technological gimmickery, it is a film firmly focussed on the past; on the ongoing need for the preservation of our film history. In Hugo, Melies is all but forgotten; a magician tired of his tricks and a man with no more stomach for the fantastic after the horrible reality of War. The majority of his films (and, indeed, many of the world's earliest films) are thought lost - destroyed, reconstituted, left to moulder and rot. Even the surviving film are films that may never again be experienced on the big screen, that may never hold the attention of an entire audience. As much as I love my Buster Keaton DVDs, nothing beats seeing The General and Steamboat Bill Jr. with an audience (and live accompaniment).

Hugo, despite some (very) minor flaws, was the first film this year to truly, utterly hold me. I was rapt from to start to finish, caught up in the adventure, the emotion and the sheer joy of cinema that exudes from every frame. Scorsese has crafted something beyond a "family adventure film", though it certainly works as that. It's a love-letter, a call-to-arms, an impassioned plea, a ride, an adventure, an entertaining history lesson. I loved Hugo

February 7, 2012


I LOVE that there's even an official
character poster for the frakkin' dog
My first choice for my next film was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, to complete the Benedict Cumberbatch triumvirate. However, A Game of Shadows maintains some sort of consistency to the pattern: Cumberbatch of course plays the famous detective in the recent BBC miniseries and A Game of Shadows also continues the World War I through-line begun with War Horse - SPOILERS! - as Moriarty's big plan is to start WWI some 25 years early.

I enjoyed the first Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starring Sherlock Holmes enough. It was no definitive edition of Doyle's famous sleuth, but it was a bit of rock 'em sock 'em adventure with a wonderful chemistry between the two leads; it was pulpy, a little silly but it had enough momentum to it to carry you through. Since that first film, however, I have gone back and re-read the original short stories and have become enamoured of the BBC series. Guy Ritchie's less nuanced approach to the Great Detective can only pale in comparison.

Jude Law's Dr. John Watson is soon to be married, while Holmes obsesses over a new, grand case involving many tenuous links, seemingly masterminded by one man: Professor James Moriarty. Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, is a villain who looms large not just over the Sherlock mythos but over literature in general and is one of the few people able to match wits with Holmes. He is an equal opposite number; the flip-side of the coin. Holmes is chasing him down and, once again, uses Watson in his deductive quest. A gypsy fortune teller in the guise of Noomi Rapace is also swept up in the cross-country gallivanting as Holmes et al chase Moriarty - as he travels about on a book tour no less! It all culminates, as we all knew it would, in Switzerland at the Reichenbach Falls.

There's plenty of running about in between, with Ritchie really pushing the use of speed ramping during action scenes. Because, I dunno, it's cool or something I guess. It's a technique that makes some story & character sense in the mental planning Holmes does before each physical confrontation - the audience can see precisely how Holmes goes about disabling an opponent. But when the action slows down and speeds up while shit explodes around the characters, it becomes more of an affectation with no real basis beyond looking cool.

The relationship between Holmes and Watson or, more specifically, the chemistry between Downey Jr. and Law seems decidedly more strained, more high-pitched than the previous film. Where in Sherlock Holmes you genuinely felt that these two were close to being a bickering old married couple who feel a closeness and affection for one another, in A Game of Shadows the feeling is more one of one-upmanship and yelling at one another. Rachel McAdams' Irene Adler makes a return from Sherlock Holmes, although really makes less of an impact than her character deserves while The Gypsy With No Tatoo seems to have just been brought along for the ride.

Both Holmes films have taken the "who" out of the central mysteries; there is never any doubt as to who is behind the dastardly deeds (Mark Strong in the first and Moriarty here), rather the mystery is in the "how" and "why". And, frankly, the "why" behind Moriarty's grand plan is really rather pedestrian and boring. Hell, he's just doing it all for the money. Woop-de-doo. It strikes me as really far too vulgar a reason for the greatest criminal mind in history to do what he does.

A Game of Shadows was enjoyable enough, with a number of nods and shout-outs to Holmes history. But it is a film I struggled to remember anything about a day or two after.