Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows * * * *
Cert 12A, 128 mins
Two years ago Guy Ritchie, who hadn’t had the most glittering CV as a director, surprised many by revamping the Sherlock Holmes franchise in style.
And now he’s managed to continue to entertain us with a sequel. Perhaps it’s not quite as dazzling as the first film, and perhaps it suffers from comparison with the modern-day BBC drama Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, which returns on New Year’s Day.
But it’s still a well-made, witty and smart movie.
Returning are Robert Downey Junior as the super sleuth, Jude Law as Dr John Watson, Geraldine James as Mrs Hudson and Kelly Reilly as Watson’s fiancée Mary.
Blink and you’ll miss Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade, while poor Rachel McAdams takes an early exit as Irene Adler.
Instead we get a couple of very welcome additions to the cast in Jared Harris and Stephen Fry, and a rather superfluous one in Noomi Rapace. The Swedish actress, best known as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, doesn’t have much to do as French gypsy fortune teller Madam Sim.
Harris plays ‘the Napoleon of crime’, possibly the only man with a brain fiendish enough to outdo Holmes – his arch rival Professor James Moriarty.
And Fry is rather fun as Holmes’s brother Mycroft, who delights in calling him Sherly.
The year is 1891 and bombs are going off across Europe. Anarchists are blamed, but Sherlock suspects Moriarty is stirring up trouble between nations.
“Are you sure you want to play this game?” Moriarty asks Holmes, while warning him that Watson will be “collateral damage” in their battle.
The minute someone mentions a peace conference in Switzerland, an elementary deduction is that events will lead to a famous denouement at the Reichenbach Falls.
There is much to enjoy along the way, from Holmes’ ridiculous disguises to Watson’s stag night and wedding.
Ritchie uses the same slow motion technique to show the speed of Sherlock’s thinking and swift moves in fights, of which there are many – it’s very violent for a 12A certificate.
The script isn’t quite as laugh-out-loud clever as the first Sherlock film, and the sleuth can be a bit of an annoying know-it-all. He does have one weakness though, as he doesn’t like riding horses, creatures he considers to be “dangerous at both ends and crafty in the middle”.
Much of what occurs is frankly preposterous, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy watching it. RL
Alvin & The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked * * *
Cert U, 87 mins
Never underestimate the power of little squeaky things.
Alvin & The Chipmunks return for the their second sequel since Tim Hill’s original film was released in December 2007, and they are set to burst through the $1 billion barrier in ticket sales alone.
The first movie grossed $361 million around the world. Two years later in 2009, The Squeakquel introduced girl band The Chipettes and sales hit $443 million, with half of the box office generated in international territories.
Chipwrecked sees our furry friends setting sail on a luxury cruise. It’s neutral but familiar territory, as if the filmmakers are striving for even greater universal appeal.
Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) are joined by Chipettes called Britney (Christina Applegate), Eleanor (Amy Poehler) and Jeanette (Anna Faris).
Looking after them is songwriter Dave (Jason Lee, sounding ever more like Steve Carell), while Alvin’s former manager Ian (David Cross) is stuck in a pelican suit as the onboard entertainer.
While Dave catches up on some sleep, the chipmunks are literally blown off the ship – and on to a desert island. This is a chance to reinvent Tom Hanks’ Cast Away for minors, though not in a way that’s likely to lead to any Oscar nominations. Especially as stranded DHL worker Zoe (Jenny Slate) is so wooden.
The gags are mostly slapstick and, as such, are a welcome change from the smut of adult Hollywood these days.
The Chipmunks as an entity have an irrepressible energy and all children under the age of ten will enjoy watching them no matter what – if only some adults’ movies were as good at reaching their target audiences.
The squeaky voices, the comedy antics, the scenery and the fact that you never quite know which little stunt will be around the next corner make for undemanding yet entertaining viewing.
And there’s the usual array of musical numbers to pep up the script as and when. In the past, the series has used classics like I Want To Know What Love Is and Funky Town for its musical interludes.
This time there are more contemporary hits such as Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem, Katy Perry’s Firework and Florida’s Club Can’t Handle Me featuring David Guetta.
All of which makes the characters originally created by Ross Bagdasarian Sr for a 1958 novelty record critically bomb proof. GY
The Yellow Sea * * *
Cert 15, 140 mins
Showing at the mac on Sunday and Monday, this South Korean film is about a debt-laden cab driver called Gu-nam (Ha Jung-Woo).
Offered an assassination mission to Seoul by an underworld crime boss, Gu-nam needs to find a new sense of resilience within himself to survive.
He is also haunted by the fact that his work-seeking wife, who has moved to South Korea from Yanji City – between North Korea, China and Russia – has met someone else.
Although the central story is compelling, even fans of this ultra-violent genre might find The Yellow Sea (the water between China and Korea) is too long and dark, especially given the way the leading characters wear black at night.
Seeing new landscapes via World Cinema is a wonderful thing, this many knives less so.
But director Na Hong-jin (The Chaser) could have used them to chop 20 minutes off the international version without losing the thrill of the chase or the sense of impending gangland meltdown. GY
Another Earth * * *
Cert 12, 92 mins
Just like the moon appears in the sky next to a duplicate Earth in this movie, it’s a case of so near... and yet so far. Writer-director Mike Cahill’s ambitious feature is effectively all about how Neil Armstrong’s view of the Earth from the moon is one that we can now see from here as another Earth next to the moon.
Young astrophysicist Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the script) crashes her car into that of composer John Burroughs (William Mapother), changing their lives forever.
At the root of Another Earth is a brilliant idea, but it literally never quite manages to take off.
Burroughs’ future relationship with Rhoda is not very believable, especially as she is far too young and attractive by comparison.
But if you liked Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009), there will be plenty of mileage along the way in a film which offers more questions than answers about the nature of the human condition when it becomes isolated from the comforts of normality. GY
A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas * *
Cert 18, 89 mins
Stoner friends Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Karl Penn) were last seen escaping from Guantanamo Bay.
Now they are back for a third film, though the pair have drifted apart. Kumar’s life has barely moved on while Cho is married, trying to have a baby and working in finance.
They are reunited when Kumar takes round a wrongly-delivered parcel on December 24, and ends up setting fire to the precious 12ft Christmas tree that his father-in-law has been growing for eight years.
The pair team up to find a replacement and get into ‘hilarious’ scrapes, including getting a child high on drugs, nearly getting killed by a Russian gangster and dancing on stage with Neil Patrick Harris. Oh, and getting a lift in Santa’s sleigh, of course.
There are a couple of witty lines. “Hasn’t the whole 3D thing jumped the shark by now?” Harold asks – in a 3D film.
But it’s mostly unfunny, stupid and juvenile.
If you haven’t yet grown out of Harold and Kumar films, you’ll like this. Everyone else, avoid. RL