Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes

2009, 12, Directed by Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel MacAdams, Mark Strong
It may be difficult to fathom how Guy Ritchie went from directing gritty hits Lock, Stock… and Snatch to shooting an ex-washed up Canadian actor darting about a London back-drop playing pipe-smoking and wise-cracking literary figure, Sherlock Holmes. The more attention you pay to this attempt to fathom, the more you begin to question the outcome. Which speaks volumes about the first in an inevitably long-line of screen incarnations of Holmes – of course, played by Robert Downey, Jr., who of course proves he is the only one who could have contemporarily filled this role in such a way as he does. The sheer energy he exemplifies through the barnstorming action sequences that he and pal Doctor Watson (a grounded Jude Law) are propelled into in almost every other scene is second to none, showing that he can not only multi-task successfully, but remain extremely suave and level-headed also – as if he didn’t do that enough in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man films.

As far as the plot goes, Holmes and Watson are pitted against Mark Strong’s Lord Blackwood, an evil practitioner of dark magic. As far as villains go, he emerges as a pretty tame one, compared to say, The Joker from Christopher Nolan’s Batman series. In fact, comparing the two franchises, it is clear the route Ritchie is headed for; whilst Gotham upholds a mystique of darkness, Holmes' Baker Street abode is sat in a murky London where you somehow just know everything will work out for the better. However, for all the tongue that lies firmly in cheek, there is an underlying seriousness to proceedings, which is expressed through some left-field twists. It is unfortun ate thatthe film’s ultimate undoing is the reversal of these twists, leading the film to become tiresome and, when all is said and done just a bit too cheeky: it seems as if all the characters are savvy to everything, and simply withholding the relevant information from the watchful audience - all for the sake of extending the film’s running time.
As for Rachel MacAdams’ Irene, the word that springs to mind is – quite simply – unexplored. But with heavy reliance on the often hilarious interactions between buddies Holmes and Watson  (Holmes points a sword in Watson’s face, to be told ‘get that out of my face’. Holmes' swift response? ‘It’s not in your face, it’s in my hand’), as well as welcome stylistic action, Sherlock Holmes is not the disaster many people may have expected. And with a teaser tantalisingly placed near the film’s climax, the sequel – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – has just hit cinemas amidst plent of excitement.



15, 2011, Directed by James Wan
Starring: Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins

From the director of mammoth horror franchise Saw and producer of on-its-way mammoth horror franchise Paranormal Activity, you would be forgiven for watching Insidious from behind your hands with a large amount of trepidation. The plot follows stereotypical hokum horror pokum, merging slamming doors with things that go bump in the night, but throws the haunted house idea to the side by focusing on… a haunted son. When Dalton slips into a comatose state, it becomes clear that some angry spirits are hanging around in the dead of night. For the first 45 minutes, Insidious provides not only mandatory jolts, but genuine scares; spooky set-pieces with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it imagery that will have viewers reaching for the rewind and pause buttons. Additionally, at times the scares are so well-constructed you have an overwhelming sense you could be watching the horror film of the decade. It’s a crying shame then that what the film descends into is something that the original Saw and Paranormal Activity both scored miles above. Predictable, if contrived plot twists harmed by clichéd performances from the unfortunate cast (who do all they can - especially Barbara Hershey in Black Swan mode for her second spooky supporting role of the year). Some fear-inducing creations aside, it is the unseen potential of the project, not to mention the gimmicky contrived climax, that heightens the disappointment. However, rest assured – you will never look at Darth Maul in the same way again.


Monday, 19 December 2011

Midnight In Paris

2011, 12, Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel MacAdams, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hiddleston
Not since Vicky Cristina Barcelona has Woody Allen truly shown that he still can match his heyday offerings. A few passable inputs later (Whatever Works, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), and Allen is less focused on the cynical side of life than the charming and influential. Merging elements from what have become sincere classics, Allen’s trademark cynicism is expressed through nostalgia. Owen Wilson fills his shoes here as Gil, a struggling writer who is lugged around Paris with his fiancée and her overbearing parents. Taking a walk one night, the clock strikes twelve – and he encounters what life would have been like if he were to rub shoulders with his literary heroes. Such a daft concept is dealt with deftly and it is largely down to the player’s Allen has assembled that Midnight in Paris works. Tom Hiddleston charms as F. Scott Fitzgerald, with Scott Pilgrim alumni Alison Pill playing his estranged wife, Darla. It’s Wilson’s awestruck wonder expressed whenever he is introduced to yet another literary icon that separate this from pure fantasy (a highlight is when Gil, attempting to make the most of this unusual circumstance, asks Ernest Hemingway to have a read of his troubled novel). To name who else appears would be to remove the numerous cherries on top, but let it be said, Wilson is a knockout. 
Time-travel occurs in Midnight in Paris, but without mention of space and time; science-fiction technicalities have nothing to do with the point Woody Allen is trying to make (or the fun he is trying to have). The clock strikes twelve and a vintage car passes to signal the time change - it's as simple as that. As the film draws to a close, like Gil, you come to understand that whatever beauty is featured in the art surrounding us today will not manifest itself until this time is past. So for now, sit back and enjoy the ride whose charm will remain upheld long after the credits have rolled.  In an alternate universe, Midnight in Paris is actually a film about an aspiring director who converses with his idols come nightfall; Woody Allen will no doubt be among them. And yes, he is playing himself.