2009’s Sherlock Holmes found unexpected synergy in the pairing of Robert Downey Jr.’s impish charm and Guy Ritchie’s macho kinetic visual style reinventing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective for a modern blockbuster audience. The follow-up Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows employs the same winning formula while adhering judiciously to the Law of Sequels and its more-more-more dictates: more action bigger set pieces higher stakes and a darker more convoluted plot. But more as so many past sequels have taught us is rarely better.
Game of Shadows marks the emergence of Doyle’s most famous villain James Moriarty (Jared Harris). Glimpsed only in darkness in the first film Moriarty takes center stage in the sequel as Holmes’s foremost criminal foil a genius-level university professor whose extracurricular interests range from horticulture to homicide. Holmes has deduced him to be at the center of a wave of terrorist bombings as well as the seemingly unrelated deaths of various titans of industry but can’t quite discern just what the professor’s endgame might be. Composed and calculating to a menacing degree Harris makes for a promising counterweight to Downey’s manic verbosity. But as in the first film Game of Shadows’ best moments are found in the comic interplay between Holmes and his reluctant sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law) who is plucked from his honeymoon to accompany the detective on a trans-continental trip in search of clues to Moriarty’s machinations.
And it’s very much a boys-only trip. The female leads from the first film Rachel McAdams and Kelly Reilly are tossed aside – literally in the case of the latter – in Game of Shadows while the cast’s highest-profile new addition Swedish star Noomi Rapace (best known as the original non-emaciated Lisbeth Salander) is a curious non-factor in the role of a Gypsy (or Roma if you prefer) fortune-teller. The film maintains only the slimmest pretense of a romantic subplot between her and Downey. Rapace looking perhaps a bit lost in her first English-speaking role can’t hope to eclipse the Holmes-Watson traveling road show.
Ritchie’s technique with its signature blend of rapid cutting and slow-mo and super-high frame-rates – perfect for admiring the odd apple tossed in the air or a piece of bark shot off a tree – is once again evident in the film’s awe-inspiring (and occasionally coherence-defying) set pieces the most memorable of which is set in a munitions factory with Watson wielding a gatling gun like an early T-600 prototype. But some of the novelty of the stylistic juxtaposition has faded since the first film. Ritchie tries to compensate by ramping up the firepower to limited effect. Absent amid the hail of mortar blasts and automatic weapons fire is any real sense of intrigue or suspense which proves to be Game of Shadows’ most vexing mystery.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action revisits an age-old Tunes question: Why does the affable Bugs reap all the fame and glory while the egocentric Daffy gets shafted again and again? Our duck friend quite frankly has had it up to his skinny neck playing second fiddle to the carrot muncher. All Daffy wants is a little recognition from the studio but the brothers Warner (actual twin brothers as we come to find out) decide instead to let Daffy out of his contract on the advice of their no-nonsense VP of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman). Bugs however knows they're making a mistake. Even though Daff bears the brunt of the abuse Looney Tunes would fail without him and Bugs convinces the powers that be they need the nutty mallard. If the plot had only followed this thread--perhaps showing Daffy on the skids--then maybe the film wouldn't have spiraled into Looneyville. Unfortunately Daffy ends up hooking up with the hunky D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser) a studio security guard who finds out that his famous movie star father Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton) is really a secret agent hunting for a mysterious diamond known as the Blue Monkey a supernatural gem that can turn the planet's population into monkeys. The evil head of the Acme Corporation Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) wants the diamond for his own diabolical plans and he's kidnapped D.J.'s dad in an effort to get it. Now the gang has to get the diamond save D.J.'s dad and of course save the world.
It might be a little hard to act subtly around cartoon characters but these aren't your ordinary cutesy Mickey Mouse types. Bugs Daffy Porky Yosemite Sam and Foghorn Leghorn are pros at comic timing able to spar with the best of them throw out zingers without a second thought and slay you with a droll glance at the camera. It isn't really necessary for the human actors to match their madcap-ness; just reacting would have sufficed. Fraser comes off the best of the human bunch; since he's had practice (Monkeybone) he easily interacts with his animated co-stars and deftly handles the doubletakes and jabs at pop culture. Elfman on the other hand sputters and goes bug-eyed every time she encounters silliness. She looks uncomfortable doing the green screen thing especially when she's trying to look natural when peeling a distraught duck from around her waist. Martin's highly anticipated turn as Mr. Chairman turns out to be the biggest disappointment. The over-the-top character is reminiscent of Martin's hysterically funny Rupert the Monkeyboy in 1988's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels but Martin turns Mr. Chairman--an angry schoolboy with knee socks and matted-down hair who never grew up--into a caricature of ridiculous proportions and unlike Rupert who came in small hilarious doses Mr. Chairman gets very tiresome very quickly.
Back in Action's animation is well done more engaging and ambitious than its 1996 predecessor Space Jam in which the action mostly took place in Looney Tunes land; here animated characters go the Who Framed Roger Rabbit? route and Bugs Daffy and the rest coexist harmoniously with humans in the real world. But despite its aspirations Back in Action leaves out vital elements that made Space Jam appealing. While the earlier film stuck to a simple plot Back in Action guided by director Joe Dante (Small Soldiers The 'Burbs) tries too hard to keep things wild and wacky while incorporating elements of '60s heist pics and action-adventure scenes and in the process loses sight of the most important ingredient in any kids movie: the story. Tykes may have limited attention spans but if the story's good they will watch. Granted some individual bits are laugh-out-loud funny particularly the scene in the Warner Bros. commissary where a stuttering Porky Pig complains about being politically incorrect with Speedy Gonzales while an animated Shaggy and Scooby-Doo berate actor Matthew Lillard for playing Shaggy as such a bonehead in the live-action Scooby-Doo. These scenes prove that if any cartoon characters could pass themselves off as real celebrities in the entertainment industry the gang from Looney Tunes could but moments like these simply can't overcome a contrived plot and juvenile antics.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
A throng of celebrities will participate in the upcoming 16-part public TV show Freedom: A History of Us, which will air in January. The series will feature Julia Roberts, Anthony Hopkins, Angela Bassett, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crystal and Robin Williams reading from personal historical accounts, Variety reports. The series is based on the controversial textbooks written by amateur historian Joy Hakim in the 1990s. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will give the show an on-air introduction.
'N Sync band member Lance Bass has received informal word from the Russian space agency that he has qualified as physically fit to fly aboard a rocket flight to the International Space Station, Reuters reports. Bass, 23, is expected to start flight training on Monday at the cosmonaut center in Russia's Star City.
Sylvester Stallone's wife, Jennifer Flavin Stallone, has given birth to their third child, The Associated Press reports. Scarlet Rose was born Saturday at a Los Angeles hospital, weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces. The couple already has two daughters, Sophia, 5, and Sistine, 3.
Longtime Hollywood couple Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins may perform in an Irish production of a play based on the Sept. 11 attacks. According to Reuters, the couple has agreed in principle to appear in The Guys at Dublin's Peacock Theatre in late August. The play is based on the experiences of Anne Nelson, a professor at Columbia University's journalism school.
Elton John has resigned as chairman of Watford, a British soccer team, after a 25-year association with the club, Reuters reports. John said in a statement on the club's Web site, "With the huge changes taking place in [soccer], it is obviously necessary for the board to be led by a chairman who will be able to devote more time to the club than I have been able to." Watford finished in 14th place last season.
Former Law & Order star Angie Harmon has been cast as a trainer of teen spies in MGM's upcoming kids movie Agent Cody Banks slated for release next summer, Variety reports. The film will also star Malcolm in the Middle's Frankie Muniz and Hilary Duff of Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire.
In the Biz
British director Jonathan Glazer, who helmed Sexy Beast, has signed on to shoot the remake of the Japanese film Chaos for Universal Pictures, Variety reports. The film centers on a grifter drafted to stage the kidnapping of a wealthy businessman's wife. Robert De Niro and Benicio Del Toro are in talks to star in the project.
A half-hour reality series based on Anna Nicole Smith will premiere on E! in August. According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Anna Nicole Smith Show will take a glimpse into Smith's daily life and include her 16-year-old son, Daniel, her lawyer Howard K. Stern and assistant Kim.
The FX cable channel and Artisan Television are developing a two-hour TV movie based on American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh. According to Variety, the film, tentatively titled American Taliban, will attempt to explain what motivated Lindh to fight for the Afghan extremists. If the project gets greenlighted, it wouldn't bow until 2003 at the earliest.
It looks like Sharon Osbourne will host the VH1 broadcast of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee concert on June 3. The all-star performance will feature Sharon's husband, Ozzy Osbourne, plus Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin and Paul McCartney. VH1 will air highlights of the concert, which will take place in the garden of Buckingham Palace in London, on June 9.
Rocker David Bowie may be embarking on a world tour in the near future, but not this year. In a journal posted on his official Web site, Bowie said he is often asked about doing a full-blown world tour and commented, "I have a real need to keep writing this year, and I always go with my gut feeling for what is right. Next couple of years, though? Who knows?"
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was sued for breach of contract by former business associate Tim Duffy in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday, LAUNCH music reports. Duffy claims that, last summer, Ulrich forced him from his role as managing member of The Music Company, a now-defunct boutique label the two formed in 1996.
Mildred Wirt Benson, the original author of the Nancy Drew mystery series, died Tuesday at the Toledo Hospital in Ohio. She was 96. Benson wrote countless books and stories but is best known for creating Nancy Drew, a series that sold more than 200 million books in 17 languages and spawned a TV series. She wrote 23 of the 30 original stories using the pen name Carolyn Keene.