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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows review

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

By Bob Garver

Did you know the title character of the television show "House" is based on Sherlock Holmes? Played by Hugh Laurie, House is a brilliant solver of mysteries who has an antisocial personality, a drug problem, and a number of annoying personal traits. It's no accident, we're supposed to be seeing how the greatest mind in literature would operate in today's society. Holmes himself is portrayed basically the same way by Robert Downey Jr., both in 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" and now in "A Game of Shadows". The portrayals are so similar that my mother saw the trailer for the original and asked if the actor was the one from "House" despite not knowing the deliberate connection. The actors don't look very much alike, they just take the same approach to the character. 

I bring up the "House" comparison because the show has rendered the films moot. Why make a big to-do about going to a see a movie when you get to see the same character in 24 new adventures a year from the comfort of your living room (not to mention for free)? About the only thing the films do to distance themselves from the show is set the stories in Victorian London. The most notable unique elements are fancy dress, cobblestone streets, and no cell phones. This is supposed to give the film an "authentic" look reminiscent of the books, but all the camera tricks and special effects take away from the classical feel. 

For this film, Holmes takes on his literary arch nemesis, Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris). We are constantly told of what a sharp intellectual Moriarty is and how he's a perfect mental match for Holmes, but frankly I'm not convinced. Having the resources to carry out an evil scheme (in this case egging on World War I so he can profit from the sale of weapons) doesn't make him smart, it just makes him rich and powerful. And he makes the ever-stupid villain mistake of bragging about his plans to Holmes so our hero can stop him just in time. I think the message we're supposed to take away from these scenes is that Moriarty is the original Bond villain.

Holmes is joined by his ever-faithful sidekick Watson (Jude Law). Holmes loves to annoy Watson, and Watson tolerates it because he sees it as some kind of sign of affection. Holmes puts poor Watson in danger just so he can earn his gratitude when he saves him. Watson is getting married, but the film still likes to be childish and tease that the two are more than just friends. Other characters include Noomi Rapace as a gypsy girl whose brother may be mixed up with Moriarty and Stephen Fry (an comedy partner of Hugh Laurie) as Holmes's brother. 

As with the original "Sherlock Holmes", "A Game of Shadows" has little to make it interesting or memorable. I'll admit that the film does have one cute trick where Holmes imagines how an entire fight sequence will play out before it happens, usually in defiance of Holmes's strategy. Otherwise it's an action movie we've seen a thousand times before. I have no doubt that the character of Sherlock Holmes can still be enjoyed, provided you can find an older film or better yet, some of the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But this surly version of Holmes, while fitting in very well on television in "House", has no place at the theater.

Two Stars out of Five

11:50 am est          Comments

New Year's Eve review

"New Year's Eve"

By Bob Garver

            "New Year's Eve" is a movie that if nothing else has a lot going on.  The film consists of multiple stories each with its own handful of recognizable actors.  The logic is that everything can't possibly fail at once and everyone should find something to enjoy.  It's a faulty logic because the variety of characters and storylines are all products of the same uninspired writing and direction.  What we want is a rainbow, what we get is multiple shades of grey. 

I'll just list the storylines and share a few random thoughts. 

A young professional (Hilary Swank) is in charge of the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square.  She's nervous and frets over everything, but she gets consolation from her security guard friend (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges).  In a highly predictable twist, the big ball malfunctions as the midnight deadline draws ever nearer.  Matthew Broderick has a cameo as her boss and we're supposed to laugh like hyenas over the fact that his character is named "Buellerton"

A courier (Zac Efron) helps a frumpy career woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) fulfill her past year's resolution list in one day.  It's all shortcuts (a quick stop at an Indonesian spa counts as "visit Bali"), but she's pleased with the results.  I didn't recognize Pfeiffer because she's a brunette in this movie and I didn't recognize Efron because he's an adult.  It's not a bad thing, just unexpected. 

A mother (Sarah Jessica Parker) wants to share the evening with her teenage daughter (Abagail Breslin).  The daughter wants to be in Times Square with her friends.  Mom won't allow it so she sneaks off.  Mom gives chase.  Yes, it's one of these storylines again.

An old dying man (Robert DeNiro) just wants to watch the celebration from the rooftop of his hospital.  His doctors (Cary Elwes and Halle Berry) are sympathetic but can't allow it.  DeNiro and Berry have their Oscar-winning charisma, but there's no saving the material from dullness. 

A rock star (Jon Bon Jovi) reconnects with his caterer ex-fiance (Katherine Heigl) who he abandoned and left steaming mad.  The only thing noteworthy about this storyline is that Sofia Vergara play's Heigl's assistant.  She's charming as always, but the film can't really find anything for her to do and she's an awkward fit in the story. 

A bachelor (Josh Duhamel) tries to get to New York to reconnect with a woman he met on New Year's Eve the previous year.  He experiences the usual collection of setbacks before hitching a ride with a quirky family.  Apparently the film thinks that the world doesn't have enough holiday comedies about transportation issues. 

A New Year's-hating jerk (Ashton Kutcher) gets stuck on an elevator with an aspiring singer (Lea Michele) who's booked for a gig with the rock star.  The audience at my screening booed Kutcher the second they saw him, which made me chuckle. 

In the film's most tolerable story, two couples (Seth Myers/Jessica Biel and Til Schweiger/Sarah Paulson) compete to be the first to have their babies arrive in the new year.  It's material that hasn't been mined to death already and the casting of German tough guy Schweiger (as a professional charm coach no less) is an interesting choice.    

It's not that "New Year's Eve" is a painful comedy, just a bland one.  Shifting from one predictable story to another isn't as bad as focusing on one of them for two hours, but it isn't a substitute for compelling storytelling.  I actually have no problem with the idea of the film crowding itself the way it does, I just wish the film would crowd itself with more creativity. 

Two Stars out of Five

11:48 am est          Comments

Muppets review

"The Muppets"

By Bob Garver

            Before I tell the happy story of how much I loved "The Muppets", I want to tell a sad story.  Earlier this year, my mother took my cousins (ages 7 and 10) on a trip to Walt Disney World.  One of the theme parks features a 3-D movie starring The Muppets.  Neither of my cousins enjoyed the attraction.  I couldn't understand what wasn't to love about a delightful romp starring beloved characters from my childhood.  Then a dreadful thought crossed my mind.  "Do you at least know who the Muppets are?" I asked.  "Yes", said one of them, "They're the boring people". 

In other words, no, they didn't know who the Muppets are.  I'm sure they're familiar with the Muppets of the Children's Television Workshop (a.k.a. the ones on "Sesame Street"), but they've had no exposure to the Muppets in their most classic incarnation: the Muppets of "The Muppet Show".  These kids deserve to grow up with harried emcee Kermit the Frog, diva to end all divas Miss Piggy, hacky second banana Fozzie Bear, wildcard whatever Gonzo the Great, culinary calamity causer Swedish Chef, bungling mad scientist Bunsen and his ever-victimized assistant Beaker (Beaker being my personal favorite), and the hip musical stylings of Electric Mayhem and their adrenalized drummer Animal. 

Fortunately I didn't have to wait vary long to see something done about the lack of classic Muppets in youth culture.  "The Muppets" brings them back in a big way, making up for years of neglect in one grand gesture.  It doesn't just rely on nostalgia for laughs, it has perhaps the funniest script of the year from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller.  It all adds up to a hundred minutes jam packed with glee.

Before we are introduced to our old favorites, we meet original characters Gary (Segel), Mary (Amy Adams), and Walter (a muppet).  Gary and Walter are brothers despite their obvious textural differences, which leads me to believe that maybe everybody onscreen sees Walter as a human until he makes a crucial decision late in the film.  Gary and Mary take a romantic anniversary trip to Los Angeles and Walter tags along so he can see the legendary Muppet Studios. 

Walter is saddened to find out that the old Muppet Studio is practically abandoned, and even more upset to discover that an evil oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) is about to buy the old Muppet Theater and tear it down.  Walter rushes to Kermit, only to be even more disillusioned when he learns that The Muppets disbanded years ago and a reunion isn't likely to happen anytime soon.  But with their old home at stake, maybe they can band together one last time for a benefit show. 

Okay, so maybe the "benefit show" plot has been done to death.  The story is still handled with an undulled comic energy.  The film does have surprises in the form of celebrity cameos and musical numbers.  The Muppets themselves stay true to form, it's the bad guys who try to force modernization.  There is only one rap number, it's not from a Muppet, and it's over before your eyes have a chance to fully bulge.  The only weak point of the film is the climactic telethon itself, where so many minor Muppets are forced onscreen at once that beloved favorites start to fall to the wayside.  In other words, the film could have used more Beaker. 

"The Muppets" is fun from beginning to end.  Even the sad scenes have plenty funny about them.  Actually, the fun starts before the movie even begins when you're treated to a bonus short starring the characters from "Toy Story".  I'm hopeful that the film will be so successful that it leads to a relaunch of "The Muppet Show".  At the very least I'm happy that a new generation gets to enjoy The Muppets. 

Three and a Half Stars out of Five. 

11:46 am est          Comments

Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1 review

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1"

By Bob Garver

            Since 2008, the "Twilight" movies have been one of my favorite annual traditions.  Not because of the movies themselves, which are drippy romances with endless lovelorn dialogue, but because of the reactions of the audiences that accompany the films.  The camera's obsession with the actors' looks is painful.  Hundreds of girls' obsession with the actors' looks is hilarious.  There is no sound in the world quite like a sold-out auditorium squealing over the sight of Robert Pattinson's face or Taylor Lautner's abs.  The storylines and dialogue are downright laughable, but it's such a genuine laughter that it turns out to be a positive reaction.  Thus, I leave the films feeling positive. 

            This chapter sees human Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) finally marry her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Pattinson).  The wedding is a perfect embodiment of everything fans love about the series, from the awkward interaction between humans and vampires to the eerily beautiful woodland setting to the heaps and heaps of love.  Then it's off to the honeymoon on Edward's private island off the coast of Brazil.  Of course the dreamy vampire with diamond-coated skin has a private island with its own villa.  But I question his choice of Brazil.  The series to this point has mostly taken place in cold, rainy Washington.   The disruption, even for an occasion such as a honeymoon, seems out of place.  I guess I'm just conditioned to expect Edward to hate sunlight, even though I don't remember if vampires hate sunlight in this series or not. 

            The honeymoon is as passionate as fans could hope for.  The romance becomes so intense at one point that every piece of furniture in the bedroom gets broken.  Bella is bruised in the course of the action, which draws immediate concern from Edward.  She laughs it off as collateral damage and insists that he isn't really doing anything wrong.  She wants him to keep doing it.  Proponents of the theory that the "Twilight" series is too easy on those who commit domestic abuse have a lot of fuel for their argument here.  Also, Bella quickly becomes pregnant. 

            The pregnancy presents an immediate dilemma.  Human women are not meant to carry vampire fetuses, they're too dangerous.  Most of the Cullen family insists that the baby will kill Bella, and she needs to have it removed prematurely in order to save her life.  Bella will hear none of it and demands to see the pregnancy through to the end.  This puts Edward and his family in danger as well.  Vampires have a peace treaty with their werewolf enemies which is voided if a vampire kills a human.  If Bella were to die as a result of the pregnancy, the truce would be broken and the clans would be at war.    

            Edward looks to an unlikely source for help.  Jacob (Lautner) is Bella's jilted former lover, a werewolf who hates vampires and would love a war.  But Edward knows that Jacob still has love for Bella and will do whatever it takes to see that nothing bad happens to her.  He is first enlisted to try and talk sense into Bella and the other werewolves, he eventually plays a major part in protecting Bella, the Cullens, and the baby. 

            The final moments of the film are much more intense than anything I expected, proving once again that the danger of vampires and werewolves is nothing compared to childbirth.  I have to hand it to director Bill Condon for putting a surprising amount of edginess into these scenes.  At a certain point the film is no longer ironically delicious, it's legitimately powerful.  What we have with "Breaking Dawn Part 1" is a "Twilight" movie that can be enjoyed on the usual silly levels while quietly turning out to be halfway decent otherwise. 

The Movie:  Two and a Half Stars out of Five.

The Crowd, as always:  Five Stars out of Five. 

11:44 am est          Comments

Immortals review


By Bob Garver

            The world does not need "Immortals".  We've have quite enough films with Greeks and gods and swords and sandals and cliffs lately. There's 2007's "300", a film filled with violence and twisted images that "Immortals" seems to be blatantly ripping off.  There was that lousy "Clash of the Titans" remake from last year, which I had happily forgotten about until now.  Even this year has already brought us "Thor", which got a bad year of blockbusters off to an ominous start. "Immortals" has little of interest or originality to contribute to the genre, and serves only to make it audience think twice before purchasing a ticket to an upcoming variation. 

            The story is one of the sloppiest I've ever seen.  From what I could tell, it's about a human named Theseus (Henry Cavill) who wants to stop the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) from taking over the world.  Hyperion intends to do so by freeing the otherworldly Titans from a prison that looks like a foosball table.  This will allow them to kill all of Greece's gods (a tall order considering they're gods and they imprisoned the Titans in the first place) and then I guess they're supposed to be so grateful that they put him in charge of Earth. 

            Rourke is scary and intimidating as Hyperion, but he's not a very bright villain.  He thoughtlessly makes an enemy of Theseus and then leaves him alive to seek revenge.  He also has the questionable goal of wanting to father the entire world.  This tells us that he's selfish and narcissistic, but it's such a logistical nightmare considering the populations involved.  Also, he sees to it that his own men can't father any children themselves.  He sees to it with a sledgehammer.  How in the world does he get men to follow him?  Sure he can threaten them with death, but I still can't imagine many men who wouldn't risk death compared to submitting to the sledgehammer treatment. 

            There's some nonsense with the gods and their willingness to interfere with human affairs.  They serve little purpose other than to justify the unique outfits depicted on the film's posters.  There's even more nonsense with an oracle (Freida Pinto) who is crucial to Hyperion's plan, yet he is successful without her.  She may ultimately serve little purpose in the story, but I think most audience members (especially males) will forgive her when they see her passionate love scene with Theseus. 

            The film mistakenly thinks that it's beautiful.  Long, loving looks are given to sets and scenery.  Not a minute goes by where we're not supposed to be awestruck by the film's cliffs, oceans, mountains, and heavens.  This is also one of those movies that treats its most violent scenes as elegant, and a lot of unnecessary emphasis is put on that.  I thought most of the scenes looked ugly and the special effects looked cheap.  But the film has been receiving praise for its overall look, so maybe I'm in the minority on this one. 

            I'll toss "Immortals" a half star for its love scene, but I found nothing else to like.  The film can't go very long without making a fool of itself.  The story in particular has been shamefully mishandled.  I think we're supposed to forget the story and just sit back and enjoy the action.  I've already forgotten almost everything about the story and the action.  "Immortals" is a forgettable film, a useless entry in a genre that lately has seen many useless entries.  I do remember one thing very vividly: how much I wanted to go home. 

One and a Half Stars out of Five.

11:42 am est          Comments

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