December 20, 2011
Sherlock Holmes 2

WATSON, HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?: An unhappy looking Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr., left) is witnessing the marriage of his faithful companion Dr. Watson (Jude Law, center) marry his bride Mary (Kelly Reilly). Little does Holmes know that soon he and Watson will be on a trans-European escapade trying to foil the evil plot of the nefarious Professor Moriarty (not shown).

Holmes and Moriarty Match Wits in Action Packed Sequel

Guy Ritchie has once again created an interpretation of Sherlock Holmes that will undoubtedly have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle purists squirming in their seats. Nonetheless, the movie is a cinematic treat that is both cerebral and visually captivating.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law reprise their roles as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, and Jared Harris is the pair’s diabolical archenemy, the evil Professor James Moriarty.

At the point of departure we find Holmes throwing a bachelor party for Watson who will be getting married to Mary (Kelly Reilly) the next morning. However, after the wedding, the newlyweds’ travel plans go awry due to a series of errors that result in the bride being unceremoniously thrown off the train. As a result, Watson and Holmes find themselves sharing the honeymoon suite aboard the Trans Europe Express.

It’s just as well, because Holmes has been the only detective who is able to connect the dots among a series of recent murders of, among others, an Indian cotton tycoon, a Chinese opium trader, and an American steel magnate, as well as some suspicious bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna. Holmes has figured out that it must be the work of his archenemy Moriarty, and that the maniacal madman is trying to create an international incident.

From this point on, a frenetically paced cat-and-mouse mystery unfolds in which the protagonists chase the professor through France, Germany, and Switzerland. Along the way, they are assisted by Holmes’ brother (Stephen Fry) and a gypsy fortune teller (Noomi Rapace), who has a proverbial heart of gold.

Prepare yourself for the stylized high impact fare for which director Ritchie is best known. Aside from the bravado and over-the-top derring-do, the movie also has intellectual interludes during which Sherlock and his Moriarty match wits.

Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for drug use and intense violence. In English and French with subtitles. Running time: 129 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.

December 15, 2011
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

PLAYING A DEADLY CHESS GAME: George Smiley (Gary Oldman) has been assigned the task of ferreting out the Soviet double agent who has infiltrated the highest echelon of Britain’s famed MI6 agency. To make the job even more difficult, he must work alone in order to avoid tipping off the mole.

Dateline: Budapest, 1973. It is the height of the Cold War, and British spy Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) has been sent behind the Iron Curtain on a covert anti-Communist mission. But when the operation is badly botched and blood is shed, there are consequences back in London at MI6 headquarters where both the head of the organization (John Hurt) and his right-hand man, George Smiley (Gary Oldman), are forced to resign in disgrace.

However, it isn’t very long before Smiley is secretly rehired by Undersecretary Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), the member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet responsible for overseeing the intelligence agency. It seems that there is good reason to believe that a Soviet mole has infiltrated the “Circus,” the government’s name for MI6’s highest echelon. As it turns out, Prideaux was in Hungary in search of the double agent whose identity has been narrowed down to four suspects referred to by their codenames Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds), and Poor Man (David Dencik).

It falls to the wily Smiley to match wits with a savvy and inscrutable adversary. What makes the task particularly perilous is that Smiley dare not risk suspicion by confiding in any of his contacts inside MI6. Instead, as a lone wolf, he must rely on a combination of experience and his finely-tuned personal radar to ensnare his elusive prey.

Is the traitor the ambitious Percy Alleline (Tinker), the unflappable Bill Haydon (Tailor), the rough-edged Roy Bland (Soldier), or the officious Toby Esterhase (Poor Man)? The result is a spellbinding espionage thriller.

It should be no surprise that the multi-layered mystery is so intriguing, because it’s based on the bestseller that many fans of the genre consider to be the best spy novel of all time. Author David John Moore Cornwell, aka John Le Carré, who wrote under a pseudonym as required by MI6 of its former agents, appears in a cameo in the picture as a guest at a Christmas party.

This adaptation is considerably denser compared to the miniseries the BBC shot in 1979 that starred Sir Alec Guinness. Director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has distilled the 400-page opus down to its essential elements while remaining faithful to the source material.

Excellent (****). Rated R for violence, profanity, sexuality, and nudity. Running Time: 127 minutes. Distributor: Focus Features.

December 1, 2011
Movie Review: "The Descendants"

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER: Matt King (George Clooney, center) has finally realized how much he has neglected his two daughters Alex (Shallene Woodley, left) and Scottie (Amara King) and has promised not to let it happen again.

Attorney Matt King (George Clooney) can trace his lineage back to the 19th century marriage of the last Hawaiian monarch to a European missionary. Today, as the family patriarch, he’s very busy managing 25,000 acres of prime real estate on behalf of his extended clan.

Sadly, he has neglected his wife, Liz (Patricia Hastie), and they have drifted so far apart that he’s unaware that she is having an affair virtually right under his nose. Her partner is the local realtor (Matthew Lillard) who stands to make a fortune in commissions if Matt follows through with his tentative plans to sell all the property in the trust to a developer.

Unfortunately, Matt has also grown distant from his two daughters. Ten-year-old Scottie (Amara King) has no qualms about disrespecting her father, and her teenage sister, Alex (Shailene Woodley), is using drugs and dating boys who are a lot older than herself.

Everything changes when Liz is left in a coma after a boating accident. Shaken out of the doldrums by the tragedy, Matt vows to be a better husband and father. But when the doctor’s dire diagnosis indicates that Liz is unlikely to emerge from a vegetative state, the best he can do is to try to repair his relationship with his daughters.

This is the point of departure of The Descendants, a drama based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ debut novel of the same name. Directed and adapted to the big screen by Oscar-winner Alexander Payne (for Sideways), the film stars George Clooney as a parent filled with overwhelming regret.

Unfortunately, Clooney fails to demonstrate the requisite gravitas to convince you that his character Matt has been deeply affected by his wife’s imminent demise or that his decision to spend quality time with his childrens is heartfelt. The problem is that, as narrator, he often merely informs the audience of his feelings via voiceover, as opposed to portraying the emotions with his facial expressions and acting.

However, even if Clooney is the picture’s weak link, the rest of the cast turns in such splendid performances that they make up for his shortcomings. As an additional bonus, the movie unfolds against the visually captivating backdrop of Hawaii’s island of Kauai.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity and sexual references. Running time: 115 minutes. Distributor: Fox Searchlight