Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The first Sherlock Holmes film by Guy Ritchie was one of the most pleasant surprises of the 09/10 Christmas season. Robert Downey Jr's playfully eccentric take on the iconic Englishman might not have been to the purists' taste but few could deny it wasn't a lot of good harmless fun. So when the inevitable sequel was announced I must admit it got me genuinely excited. It's also worth noting that Sherlock Holmes has enjoyed a 21st Century renaissance by the BBC and portrayed wonderfully by the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch. Though is the world really big enough for two mainstream Sherlock Holmes? Yes it very much is...

The story picks up roughly where the last film left off with Holmes in meticulous pursuit of his elusive nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Mad Men's Jared Harris). All the while the good Doctor Watson (Jude Law) is finally marrying his girlfriend who featured in the last film, Mary (Kelly Reilly). When the wedding night goes horribly wrong, the original dynamic duo join forces once again to stop Moriarty collapsing the very structure of Western Europe and the outbreak of a world war.

Not much can be said about Robert Downey Jr's Holmes that probably wasn't said when I reviewed the first one nearly two years ago. It had all the elements of a typically brilliant comedic performance from the actor, albeit sporting a (fairly decent) British accent. Once again his chemistry with Jude Law was marvellous, giving the relationship between the two characters an almost 21st Century 'bromance', while also letting Watson himself stand on his own as perfect folly to Holmes' eccentricities.

I've always been a big fan of Jared Harris' work and was delighted to see such a versatile, hard-working actor cast as Moriarty instead of cashing in on a big name for the sake of it, like say Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt as was once originally rumoured. He was ruthlessly sinister and unassuming while playing off Robert Downey Jr brilliantly. If the whole film had consisted of the two of them playing chess, I think they could have made it work. Fans of the books will certainly smile at reference to possibly the pair's most iconic moment which I won't spoil here.

The other new additions to the cast were equally as glorious to watch on screen, the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (as she'll probably forever be known as) Noomi Rapace dazzled as the mysterious gypsy story-teller while the great Stephen Fry had some truly hilarious scene stealing turns as Sherlock's brother, Mycroft. Sadly there just wasn't as much room in the story this time round for Eddie Marsen's bumbling Inspector Lestrade and Rachel McAdams' beautiful Irene Adler.

Though the film largely retained all the elements which made the previous entry so enjoyable, it also carried over a few of the first film's faults too. Namely milking the back-tracking, slow motion, analysis sequences and over stylised set pieces which admittedly are signature to Ritchie's overall style as much as they are to this Sherlock Holmes' narrative structure. Unfortunately one particular scene involving Holmes, Watson et all running through a forest avoiding large gun fire did take the piss ever so slightly and if done in real time probably could've shaved half an hour off the film's running time.

Nevertheless the productive values were raised compared to the last time, the CGI far better and the steampunk technology, Victorian costumes and period set designs still beautiful on the eye. Hans Zimmer's score featured the playful theme from the last film and during the more action orientated sequences, some intense booming moments which are reminiscent of his more famous collaborations with Christopher Nolan.

Final Thoughts
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows doesn't deviate too much from the formula which made the first film so much fun. But as the old cliché goes, if it's not broke why should you fix it? Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law were tremendous once again as Holmes and Watson respectively, while Jared Harris gave some old school flare to the villainous Professor Moriarty. It's not the slow burning Sherlock Holmes adaptations your granddad grew up with, but in all honesty, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is in cinemas everywhere now.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

THEfilmBLOG presents... Top 10 of 2011!

Hey there everybody, it's been something of a roller-coaster 2011 for myself personally but in the cinema I've seen and reviewed (not nearly as many as I would've liked to be honest) some truly breathtaking films. Yes, it's that time again to do the obligatory Top 10 best films the blog has seen this year...

10. Tangled - It may have surfaced in the USA back in 2010, but it didn't make its way to the UK until late January 2011. Disney went back to the formula which made them great to begin with: a beautifully animated fairy-tale story full of romance, comedy, suspense, infectiously catchy songs and an undeniably likeable heroin. It took them over a decade but they finally knocked their best chums over at Pixar off their usual place in the top 10, but that being said, Tangled only did have to go up against Cars 2.

9. The Tree of Life - The controversial entry perhaps, but whether you like it or hate it (and trust me it'll either be one or the other) one can't deny Terrence Malick's soul searching, universe spanning, philosophical journey wrapped in a 1950s melodrama isn't a film which will be meticulously dissected and debated in the years to come. Film Studies students have a new movie to write a postgrad on...

8. Submarine - Taking cues from Wes Anderson quirky self awareness, debut director Richard Ayoade brings probably one of the sweetest and most pleasurable film experiences of the year, which also came with a wonderful breakout performance from Craig Roberts.

7. Super 8 - People say you get what you pay for with 'Summer Blockbusters', personally in recent years I think people have been grossly ripped off in most cases. With Super 8 JJ Abrams writes his love letter to 1980s/early 90s Spielberg films with a story which reminds viewers of a time when the Summer blockbuster was an event which was genuinely fun, imaginative, scary and full of gloriously choreographed set pieces. Take note please, this is how its done.

6. We Need To Talk About Kevin - Tilda Swinton was as always magnificent but Ezra Miller's Kevin is truly one of the most terrifying and unassuming performances of the year. Everybody loves a good scare, but if you don't believe in ghosts, exorcisms, demented serial killers from hell, then this might well be the scariest film ever because it (though unlikely it may seem) could be a conceivably real situation.

5. The Guard - Perhaps being Irish sways my opinion slightly but this is without doubt the funniest film of the year.

4. Hugo - One of the true masters of film-making, Martin Scorsese delivers one of the most heart-warming, visually beautiful and superbly acted family films of a generation. There are fewer examples in the world which demonstrate a man's passion, love and enthusiasm for his own craft than the love expressed by Scorsese to the art of cinema and to the works of the great George Melies.

3. Drive - I probably could've done a mini Ryan Gosling chart alone, which this would of course top. Nicola Refn Winding delivers an old school action film full of style, suspense and ultra-bonkers-violence. Not to mention the best soundtrack of the year full of synthy shoegazey goodness.

2. The Skin I Live In - Another of the true voyeurs of modern cinema, Pedro Almodovar comes back with a film full of more twists and pure "WTF" moments than you're ever likely to get or frankly ever need anywhere else, in this bizarre Frankenstein meets Bret Easton Ellis tale. Brutal, provocative, earth shatteringly brilliant.

1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - It was never going to be anything else for me. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film of which is truly magnificent in almost every conceivable way. Tomas Alfredson created a dark, meticulously authentic Cold War drama full of suspense, atmosphere and the best ensemble of British actors working today. All that and still not managing to butcher a literary classic or come across as a lazy big screen tribute to the iconic BBC TV adaptation.

And that's that! Still a couple of more reviews to see the year out next week but for now I'm crashing in front of the TV, cracking out my blu-rays and consuming my bodyweight in both food and drink!


Friday, 2 December 2011


Martin Scorsese has long since booked his place in cinematic history with uncompromising, gritty thrillers such as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and The Departed. Over the past decade though he's started to create films which have documented his love for classic cinema, be it The (excellent) Aviator, Gangs of New York and the almost Hitchcockian Shutter Island. Not to mention personally overseeing the restoration of the truly breathtaking 1948 Michael Powell film - often referred to as Scorsese's main influence for becoming a director - The Red Shoes.

However there's perhaps no better examples of Scorsese's undying love for cinema than in his first exploration in the family movie genre (yes, you read that right), with the adaptation of Brian Selznick's beautifully constructed novel, Hugo - full literary title: The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

The film tells the story of young Hugo (Asa Butterfield) as he dashes around a Paris railway station fixing and maintaining the clocks. All the while he starts to develop an unlikely friendship with an enigmatic and often disgruntled fixer of simple mechanical toys (Sir Ben Kingsley) and his articulate, over eager god daughter (Chloe Mortez). As the mystery of who the toy maker is unravels - cinephiles will squeal in delight - before the audience's eyes, Scorsese exposes us to perhaps one of the best tributes to cinema since Cinema Paradiso.

Everything about this film just made me smile from beginning to end. It was almost like watching a cinematic Christmas pantomime. The way the actors characterised themselves was wonderful. Asa Butterfield carried the film with such innocence and enthusiasm. While true legends of the big screen, Sir Ben Kingsley and a very much active Sir Christopher Lee added such weight to a film which was so visually stylised. so vivid and so technically brilliant.

Sacha Baron Cohen also deserves individual praise for his glorious tribute to stars such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton with his slapstick, almost Clouseau-esque, Inspector of the railway station. Outside of his theatrics he also had impeccable delivery with some genuinely funny one liners. Meanwhile Harry Potter stalwart, Helen McCrory was fabulous as Kinglsey's wife and, though underused, the likes of Michael Stuhlbarg, Ray Winstone, Jude Law, Emily Mortimer and Richard Griffiths just gave the film this extra layer of depth and class. And that's regrettably without even catching the film in 3D.

The amount of pain-staking effort Scorsese went to recreate the works of the truly ground-breaking auteur George Melies such as the Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) which features heavily throughout the film was truly magical - especially the scenes where the studio and his films were physically recreated. Also it goes without saying despite being such a sweet and at times tear-jerking story, the educational value this film has goes beyond some adults in the audience, never mind all the children. Not all 100% accurate (actually not even 30% of it is...), but hey never let facts get in the way of such a captivating story.

Final Thoughts
One can only imagine Martin Scorsese smiled just as profusely making Hugo as this blogger did watching it. The sights and sounds of 1930s Paris and silent French cinema are recreated beautifully in one of the most charming, hopeful, feel good films of the year. While a child's mind might wander at times, it'll certainly remind older members of the audience why we fell in love with movies, the cinema, the jaw-dropping imagination of not just directors, but true magicians of the big screen. Could be one for the ages, but if nothing else it's definitely one of the best films of 2011. Magical. Heart-warming. Glorious.


Hugo is in cinemas everywhere now.