January Variety Pack (3)

And, just in time, here’s the third and last variety pack for this month. We’ve been to the cinema a couple of times already this year, and while I wasn’t completely bowled over by any of the movies, it’s still nice to get the whole ritual: getting popcorn, sitting down, the lights dim, the curtain opens, trailers… It helps that none of the shows had a predominantly teenaged audience. (I’m slowly getting to the age where I get a warm and fuzzy feeling if I can still honestly say I’m one of the younger people in the audience.) So, what did we watch?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Oh, Sherlock. Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock. You’ve got a lot to answer for. My near-constant thought during the first hour of the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. sequel was this: “Sherlock does it better.” I sat there missing the smartness and the wit of the BBC series. Was the first Sherlock movie as much of a dumb actioner? I remember thinking at the time that for all of the rollicking action, the first film didn’t make me feel like I should have handed in my brains at the entrance. It wasn’t Proust, obviously, but it had a smart script and great chemistry between the leads. By comparison, Sherlock 2 felt for a long time like its subtitle should be Mr Downey Jr. Pays His Rent. The action sequences were long and overstayed their welcome. The plot took forever to get going.

A Game of Shadows fares better in its second half, and it does feature a few very nice scenes – I especially enjoyed the final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty, and Stephen Fry’s Mycroft Holmes is fun throughout the film – but it still fails on one crucial point: not only do I think I would have enjoyed most episodes of BBC’s Sherlock better, I don’t think I would have enjoyed rewatching the first film any less. And that’s rather sad, I think. Whatever works in the film (Mycroft, Moriarty, one or two of the setpiece scenes), it’s put to the service of a sequel that doesn’t for one second justify its existence.

The Ides of March

So, how to make myself feel smarter again? Shouldn’t a political thriller/drama directed by George Clooney, starring the current golden boy Ryan Gosling and based on a stage play do the trick? It should, but somehow it doesn’t. The Ides of March isn’t a bad film; in fact, it’s a handsomely made, nicely acted, reasonably smart film – the problem is that with those actors it should be so much better. Instead it is adequate. It is lukewarm. I enjoyed it well enough while watching it, but the film doesn’t add up to much other than yet another statement that politics corrupt. That idealism cannot survive in politics. Well, bugger me with a fish fork, who’d have thunk?

It would be unfair to say that all of the film is merely satisfactory. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance is strong, as always (but it’s such a monumental waste to have him in a film with Paul Giamatti and not give the two of them a good, juicy scene together), and Ryan Gosling’s character is interestingly ambiguous. Is he an idealist or is he smug, self-righteous and the most corrupt of the bunch? Is he changed by what happens, or does what happens reveal the rotten core underneath? Still, the film rarely becomes more than a finger exercise, Clooney showing that he knows his craft – and after I loved his first, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, I would have expected something more than that.

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