Film Friday: ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Nine’

by W. Andrew Powell

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in 'Sherlock-Holmes'

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in 'Sherlock-Holmes'

Opening this week just in time for Christmas holidays, Robert Downey Jr. stars as tough but wise Sherlock Holmes; Daniel Day-Lewis stars in Rob Marshall‘s musical, Nine; plus a look at Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, It’s Complicated, Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Up In The Air.

Sherlock Holmes
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Eddie Marsan
Director: Guy Ritchie

After the mess that was Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla, I didn’t have a lot of hope for Sherlock Holmes. For the last few years it has seemed like Ritchie has been stuck in a rut, recreating films that for all intents and purposes were rip offs of his first hit film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He still had a way with his cast, the action, and the dialogue, but not only was the spark gone, it seemed like something we had seen too many times before.

Sherlock Holmes, however, signals something new for Ritchie, and suggests he has a lot more in store for us down the road.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great character, Sherlock Holmes, we can certainly tell this is the Holmes we’ve known for so long, but he’s gone through a few changes since we saw him last. Gone is the quietly-reserved, stuffy demeanour and instead we have a rebel-rousing genius with a penchant for fist fights and getting into trouble as he tries to solve seemingly unfathomable cases.

Meanwhile Jude Law plays his sidekick, Dr. Watson, much more of a reserved man who can’t seem to hold onto his money, and frequently finds himself drawn into another case with Holmes, despite his intention to become something of a respectable man.

Right away the film shows us the dark side of Ritchie’s London as Holmes busts in on a sacrificial rite, saving a young woman from the clutches of Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong, a demented man who claims to be a powerful sorcerer. With that case solved, Holmes and Watson intend to go their separate ways, while Blackwood is sent off to the gallows.

However, Blackwood has no intention of dying quietly, and calls Holmes in as his last request. Telling Holmes that he will rise again, Blackwood promises that three more men will die before Holmes unravels his real intentions, and by then it will be too late.

The rest of the film is a slow unravelling of details as we meet Holmes’ devious but charming love interest, Irene Adler, played by Rachel McAdams, and the trio works to find out what Blackwood has planned, even as Blackwood re-emerges from the crypt.

Marked by Ritchie’s love of fast and frenzied action, not to mention dialogue, and an abundance of slow-motion sequences, the film is a brilliant new direction for Sherlock Holmes. It’s gritty, fun, and has everything you could want in an action film.

Downey and Law are also magnificent together, playing off each other, while investing the characters with just enough pathos and good humour.

I also have to give my praise to composer Hans Zimmer, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, editor James Herbert, and the art directors who contributed vastly to the film’s mood and focus. This film is great, but it’s made far greater with their contributions.

My only complaints with the film lie in the running time, which is a notch too long at just over two hours, and the silly plot. By the time Holmes has actually unravelled what’s going on, the film feels like it’s been drawn out too far, and like we’ve been through two endings; one ending to close this chapter, and a second one to needlessly setup a sequel that already seemed well established. The plot turn near the end of the film also stinks of someone having a hard time figuring out what would be both maniacal, and serve as a decent plot device.

As might seem already too obvious, we can expect to see more of Holmes and Watson down the road, the good news though is that it, even with a few faults, this feels like it will actually be well worth the trip.

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren
Director: Rob Marshall

Director Rob Marshall returns to the screen with yet another stage adaptation that he’s likely hoping will earn him more Oscar gold.

This time Marshall has helped adapt the Broadway hit Nine for the screen, with Daniel Day-Lewis as the obnoxious movie director Guido Contini, who is struggling to put all of the pieces together for his next big hit film. Looking for some inspiration from the women in his life, namely his wife, his mistress, his muse, and his mother, Guido’s life descends into chaos as he tries to make his art, without ruining his life.

Costarring Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, and Sophia Loren, the film has been adapted to be big and larger than life, however the consensus from critics is that it devolves into a terrible mess.

Kevin Maher of the Times Online wrote, “Someone call Geneva. Torture has a new name, and it’s called Nine. For there are few more agonising experiences this holiday season than squirming through the painfully misfired ambitions of this star-studded Rob Marshall musical.”

Also arriving this week in theatres…

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Starring: Zachary Levi, David Cross, Jason Lee, Justin Long
Director: Betty Thomas

Bad news, the Chipmunks are back for another film that will have your ears bleeding to the sounds of their ridiculously high-pitched screams. On the bright side, this is of course a family-friendly title you can take the kids to, if you can stand the noise and the inane jokes.

Brent Simon of Screen International was fairly positive about the film. In his column he wrote, “Alvin, Simon and Theodore deal with the pressures of high school in this modest, family-friendly upgrade from the singing-and-dancing chipmunks’ muddled debut feature.”

Most critics were not as positive though, and as Christopher Tookey of the Daily Mail wrote, “The world’s most irritatingly high-pitched rodents are back and noisier than ever, in this lobotomised rip-off of the High School Musical franchise.”

It’s Complicated
Starring: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski
Director: Nancy Meyers

Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin star in Nancy Meyers’ latest romantic comedy, It’s Complicated, the story of a divorced couple who end up finding themselves falling into a complicated new relationship.

On the one side of things, Jane and Jake, played by Streep and Baldwin, are divorced and yet they find themselves in the middle of an unexpected affair. But Jake is already married to Agness, played by Lake Bell, and Jane has something of a relationship started with Adam, played by Martin.

Like most of the other films opening this week, the reviews have not been kind.

“Cute and clever though the plot may be,” Todd McCarthy wrote for Variety, “everything is played out in the broadest possible terms without an iota of nuance or subtlety.”

Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Starring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law
Director: Terry Gilliam

Director Terry Gilliam finally debuts his utterly trippy, whimsical, and dark tale of Doctor Parnassus, a travelling showman who can guide the imaginations of the people he meets. Called up on stage, Doctor Parnassus can give members of the audience a trip into the unimaginable.

That’s not the only story here though as Doctor Parnassus actually made a bet with the devil a thousand years ago, and he won immortality. Much later in his life he then traded in his immortality for youth, but only under the condition that he would give up his daughter to the devil when she turned 16.

Desperate to save her, Doctor Parnassus makes a new wager with the devil, proposing a challenge that will see his daughter go to the victor.

With Tom Waits playing Mr. Nick, the devil, Lily Cole as the daughter Valentina, Christopher Plummer as Doctor Parnassus, and no less than four actors playing different version of Tony (namely Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell), the film is weird and wonderful to say the least.

Critics have not been gushing about the film, and many have claimed it just doesn’t carry the story to the end, but Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was one critic who had some good to point out in Gilliam’s latest film.

“Despite a shaky framework, the magic works,” Travers wrote. “It’s a chance to see Ledger one last time in the act of doing what he loved. Take it.”

Up in the Air
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey
Director: Jason Reitman

Finally, I wanted to mention Jason Reitman’s spell-binding new Oscar-worthy film again, which opens in more theatres this week. With a brilliant career-topping performance by George Clooney, the film is a funny drama with heart that is well worth checking out. For the full review, check out The GATE’s December 4 review.

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