At The Movies

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Directed by Guy Ritchie
A first opinion by Malcolm Maclachlan
It wasn’t really a Sherlock Holmes story, and the plot only made a tenuous sort of sense. That said, I actually enjoyed this bit of Hollywood nonsense. Not that I really cared. I was never much of a Sherlock Holmes fan in the first place. And Guy Ritchie made his name directing enjoyable nonsense (“Snatch,” “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”).

Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes is a wise-cracking, absent-minded, slightly effeminate, very zen martial arts expert. In other words, he does a great job playing Robert Downey Jr. Jude Law plays an eternally put-upon Watson. Really, the whole proceeding is about the bromance between these two, with the female leads either staying mostly off-screen or not actually getting involved with Holmes – who’s definitely not James Bond.

Nor, of course, is he Holmes in any traditional way. Rather than the very long explanations of how he figured everything out, this Holmes seems to see everything in psychedelic flashes of autistic savant insight, knowing things he has no right to know, given that there’s generally not much explanation of how he makes these leaps.

But these dreamlike sequences illustrate one of the film’s strengths – they’re beautifully shot in slow-mo. Most of the fight scenes suffer from too many quick cuts, but many of the (many) action sequences are very engaging in a post-“Matrix” way.  

These techniques are particularly effective in one extended sequence where the heroes are under attack by soldiers with automatic weapons and modern artillery. In a “Saving Private Ryan” sense, you really get a sense of the existential horror of these new weapons. In fact, the whole undertone of the movie and the setting – Europe in 1891, just before the age of modern industrialized warfare – is very effective. Though the pre-Nazi imagery gets laid on a little thick at times – for instance, the movie’s climax basically happens at Castle Wolfenstein.

Noomi Rapace, miscast as Lisbeth Salander in a mediocre trio of Swedish “Dragon Tattoo” movies (one of the rare occasions I’m actually looking forward to the American remakes over the European originals) shows that she’s more than a life-support system for a set of cheekbones. She has enough presence to not be a third wheel to Holmes and Watson, and good looks that are refreshingly unconventional compared to the endless cookie-cutter Hollywood beauties.

In short, I enjoyed this movie. But I don’t really see why it had to be a Sherlock Holmes movie. Create new characters, Hollywood, instead of endless regurgitating of the same names with new attitudes and character traits. Or rather, give new names to the new characters you’ve already created. Aren’t “Downey” and “Law” enough to sell your dang movie?

A second opinion by Tony Sheppard

Let’s be blunt here – it’s crap. More of the same crap we’ve been subjected to before. Just because it’s an action movie doesn’t stop an endless onslaught of frenetic action from being tedious. There are occasional glimpses of Holmes’ powers of deduction but just as many scenes that undercut any hint of suspense.  

A major flaw of superhero movies is the lack of real danger and here we get situations that ought to be a concern, except that the movie suddenly flashbacks several minutes to let us know how Holmes anticipated the problem and neutralized it, 50 steps in advance. So why ever care about the characters’ safety?

And the villain, Moriarty, is transformed into some Halliburtonesque corporate mastermind who’s eager for war because he owns arms factories and sells support services. That doesn’t suddenly make the film meaningfully relevant, it just makes the crap a little more topical.

The Women on the 6th Floor
Directed by Philippe Le Guay
Review by Tony Sheppard
This delightful little film was first seen locally at the Sacramento French Film Festival and now returns for a regular engagement. Jean-Louis Joubert and his wife Suzanne live a luxurious live in their Parisian town house, unaware of the living conditions of the buildings’ maids who live in the attic rooms above them. That is until a new Spanish maid introduces Jean-Louis to their world.

In sympathizing with their plight, he becomes a proxy for the audience and for society in this examination and comparison of the haves and have-nots of 1960’s France and the culture clashes between host populations and an immigrant-working underclass in any decade. But it’s worth watching, not just for its political subtexts, but for the engaging characters and amusing circumstances.

Other Film News
The Crest Theatre hosts “Santa’s Cool Holiday Film Festival” on Saturday and Sunday, headlined by 1964’s “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” And those crazy Trash Film Orgy folks are also back, with a more adult-oriented program later on Saturday night. The Crest also has the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” playing on the big screen, Dec 22nd-24th. Details at

In an unusual coup, the IMAX opens “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” five days before other theaters.  
The remake of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (mentioned by Malcolm above) will attempt to get a jump on other holiday releases by opening at 7pm on Tuesday.

Arthur Christmas
Directed by Sarah Smith
Probably best known for the “Wallace and Gromit” films, the latest from Aardman Animation is more mainstream in appearance but equally delightful in its delivery.  And it’s all about delivery in this story of how the Christmas family has managed for generations to get to every child’s home in a single night.  

That system has evolved into a massive Starship Enterprise-style vehicle and battalions of Mission Impossible-esque elves – but possibly at risk to the underlying philosophy of the season.  Which is where the idealistic but klutzy young Arthur comes in, working in the North Pole’s mail room, without much prior hope or ambition to take part in the actual fieldwork.  All of which makes for a cute and funny riff on the holiday story that’s on a par with the winning re-introduction of the Muppet franchise – both of which are worth a trip to the theater, with or without small children.

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