DVD Tuesday: ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘An Education’

by W. Andrew Powell

Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes

Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes

This week in DVD Tuesday I take a look at the latest new arrivals: Sherlock Holmes returns to the screen in Guy Ritchie‘s action-packed adaptation starring Robert Downey Jr.; plus a look at the drama An Education, starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard, and the children’s comedy, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.

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 seemed like Ritchie was 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 signals something new for Ritchie, however. Starring Robert Downey Jr. as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great titular character, it’s immediately obvious that 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.

Blackwood has no intention of dying quietly though 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 work 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 it 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. They play their parts like brothers, even if the bond is not by blood.

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 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 overdrawn, and like we’ve been through one too many endings; one ending to close this chapter, and a second to needlessly set up a sequel that already seemed well established. The plot turn near the end also stinks of someone having a hard time figuring out what would be both maniacal, and serve as a decent plot device.

The Blu-ray release comes with a few great features, although not as many as you might hope. Included with the package is a DVD with digital copy, a feature called Sherlock Holmes: Reinvented, which looks at how the original stories have been adapted for this new film, plus Maximum Movie Mode with director Ritchie.

Like previous Warner Bros. releases, Maximum Movie Mode is the best feature of the lot, and gives viewers an exhaustive look at how the film was made with Ritchie as your guide. For those who don’t want to rewatch the entire film to get all these extras, there are eight “Focus Points” included as well that look at some of the key making-of moments.

Overall, an above-average movie, packaged up exceptionally well on Blu-ray.

Also debuting this week…

An Education
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper
Director: Lone Scherfig

Based on British journalist Lynn Barber’s autobiographical essay, An Education is a coming-of-age drama about a 16-year-old girl confronted with one of the first major decisions in her life; does she go on to become an Oxford girl, or follow the new man in her life and live a more interesting adventure?

Relative newcomer Carey Mulligan stars as Jenny, the promising young woman who has been cultured for the world of Oxford University since she was a child. When the much-older David, played by Peter Sarsgaard, appears in her life, however, Jenny is introduced to a new realm filled with music, art, and night clubs.

Now she must decide which path she will follow, the one her family has worked so hard to build for her, or the exciting life laid out before her by her new suitor.

With the screenplay written by author Nick Hornby, An Education was one of 2009’s most well-received dramas, and while the entire film has been praised, the majority of the reviews talk about Mulligan’s winning performance.

As Richard Corliss wrote for Time Magazine, “Mulligan is the film’s headline, pulse and revelation. In its blithely subversive way, her star-making performance is a co-conspirator with the movie. Both of them win you over with smart talk and pretty feelings, then kick you in the heart.”

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times was likewise impressed with the film’s star, writing in his review, “[Mulligan] makes the role luminous when it could have been sad or awkward. She has such lightness and grace, you’re pretty sure this is the birth of a star.”

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 sit the kids down to watch, if you can stand the noise and the inane jokes.

The film has received very low reviews on RottenTomatoes.com, ranked at 21% fresh.

Brent Simon of Screen International was one of the few positive critics, writing “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.”

The majority of critics sided more with Christopher Tookey of the Daily Mail who 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.”

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