“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is the sequel to the hugely popular 2009 action adventure mystery film. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law return as Holmes and Watson as does director Guy Ritchie. Unfortunately the uniqueness, humor, and charm of the first film are all but missing in the sequel. “A Game of Shadows” feels like it hits the same notes over and over and it certainly lacks the freshness of the first picture. It feels bland and generic and even the loud injections of explosions, gunfire, and fist fights can’t break the monotony.
That’s a pretty harsh way to open a review and in all honesty the movie is not all bad. The story pits Holmes and Watson against Professor Moriarty played wonderfully by Jared Harris. Moriarty is a man of great power and is involved in all sorts of criminal activity including terrorist bombings, assassinations, and corrupt business dealings. As with most villains of this type, Moriarty has a much bigger plan at work and the story takes Holmes and Watson through numerous twists and turns, some of which make almost no sense, in their efforts to stop their arch-enemy. The best scenes in the film are the one-on-one conversations between Holmes and Moriarty but sadly we don’t get many of them.
The movie has a few genuinely funny moments. When not bogged down with the sometimes bloated screenplay, Downey, Jr.’s kookiness certainly pulls in a few laughs. There are also a couple of more sequences that are quite funny. But there are several attempts at humor that just fall flat and at times feel out-of-place. Some of these attempts feel cheap and I especially grew tired of certain undertones than seem to run throughout the film. It definitely doesn’t maintain the humor of the first picture.
“A Game of Shadows” won’t do anything to endear itself to fans of the classic characters. But it not only takes the characters further and further away from the source material. I thought this version of Holmes and Watson were quite different from what we saw in the first movie. We get glimpses of the wacky relationship from the previous picture but not enough to drive the film. It overextends itself in so many directions that it seems to have forgotten what made the first film so enjoyable.
I liked the first Sherlock Holmes movie. It was fresh, funny, and quite entertaining. This second installment falls well short of the mark and even with it’s occasional laugh and pulse-pounding action sequences, I couldn’t get past the convoluted plot, cheap gags, and off-balanced direction. If they do decide to try for a third film in the franchise, I for one think they should look to another director. For me, Ritchie’s vision has run it’s course and I can’t see myself sitting through another film that offers as little as “A Game of Shadows”.
In most conversations about Alfred Hitchcock’s films, “Vertigo” often finds itself mentioned as the quintessential Hitchcock movie. It’s called a masterpiece and is considered by many to be one of the best films of all time. While I don’t personally agree with that level of praise, there’s no denying that “Vertigo” is a cleverly crafted and stunningly stylized psychological thriller. “Vertigo” can never be branded as shallow or conventional. It has it’s fair share of mystery and suspense while also delving into more disturbing subjects such as mental breakdowns and romantic obsession. It’s takes it’s time playing out, but it’s still quite rewarding for those who appreciate it’s complexity.
The great James Stewart plays Scottie Ferguson, a San Francisco police detective. Scottie struggles with serious acrophobia which ends up contributing to the death of a police officer during a rooftop chase. The incident combined with his ailment cause him to retire early from the department. That’s when Scottie is hired by an old acquaintance named Gavin to follow his wife who he suspects has been possessed. Scottie doesn’t buy the supernatural assertion but still agrees to help. This sets the movie down it’s first of many twisty, unpredictable paths.
It’s said that Hitchcock later stated he thought Stewart, who was 50 years old at the time, was too old and many critics initially felt he was miscast. Personally I think Stewart is fantastic here and it’s nice that over time his performance has garnered more appreciation. When first released, “Vertigo” was dismissed by most critics and Stewart became the easy scapegoat. The movie does have it’s flaws but it’s hard for me to associate any of them with Stewart’s performance. He’s grounded and believable and Stewart never loses control of his character even as things unravel around him.
Kim Novak plays Gavin’s wife Madeleine. She wasn’t Hitchcock’s first choice for the role but she ends up making the character her own. It’s impossible to talk about her character without giving away too much but Madeleine isn’t what she seems. A lot is required of Novak as her character branches out into several directions and for the most part she succeeds. She icy cold and mysterious yet we also see her as pitiful and sympathetic. She’s an essential character and while not as polished as Stewart, Novak’s performance works.
“Vertigo” is a technical marvel with some truly gorgeous camera work. Hitchcock keenly uses trickery and sleight of hand in several scenes to enhance the effects. The well-known vertigo zoom shots are still mentioned in most conversations about the film and the surreal use of lighting really dictate the tone of several scenes. I also love the wonderful locations. Hitchcock includes several San Francisco landmarks in the film and he uses the camera to accentuate the city’s beauty. Other small but effective devices include the use of reflections and clever elevated camera angles. It’s just an incredibly attractive film.
Some have described “Vertigo” as a meditation. Others have called it an observance. One reason these descriptions fit is because of the movie’s deliberate pacing particularly in the first half of the film. I felt it took a while getting it’s footing and the lackadaisical first 30 minutes could have been tightened up a bit. I was also a little surprised to see the timing of the big reveal. I certainly don’t want to give anything away but what I thought was the biggest red herring turned out to be no red herring at all.
For me “Vertigo” isn’t the perfect movie that many believe it is. That being said, it’s still a remarkable film that delivers despite it’s few flaws. It has the appearance of cinematic art with Hitchcock showing what skillful uses of a camera can bring to a movie. Stewart is brilliant and his performance immediately draws you into the picture. He’s the linchpin that keeps this dark but riveting film together. “Vertigo” has earned it’s “classic” label and it’s mandatory viewing for any fan of mysteries or thrillers. And while it’s not my favorite Hitchcock picture, it’s still a rock solid movie that satisfies with each viewing.
Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense thriller “Rear Window” is revered by many as one of the director’s finest films. You would have a hard time getting me to disagree. “Rear Window” is a voyeuristic mystery picture that takes place in one single confined location and is all shown from the perspective of the main character. It’s an interesting approach to storytelling but one that’s very effective. There are many recognizable Hitchcockian touches throughout the picture yet it retains a uniqueness that separates it from most of his other films.
The story is seen through the eyes of L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, an accomplished photographer who is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his leg while on assignment. He spends his time observing his neighbors through the window of his small Greenwich Village apartment. It grows into an obsession for him as he becomes infatuated with what he sees while peeping through their windows. Jeff is a man filled with insecurities and he seems more comfortable living out his life through the lens of his binoculars. In many ways he’s a sad individual who has so many good things within his grasp yet he lacks the confidence to reach out and take them. He begins to suspect a possible murder in one of the apartments and the second half of the film follows his attempt to either prove it or be disproved.
Hitchcock hits head-on the peeping tom mentality that certainly existed then but that’s even more prevalent in today’s reality tv-fueled society. Jeff crosses the boundaries of simple curiosity into full-blown voyeurism and we are right there with him. I found myself just as riveted by what’s on the other end of the binoculars as he was. Several people try to tell Jeff what he’s doing is wrong including his beautiful girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and his home nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), but even they fall victim to this creepy temptation. Yet it’s hard to look down on these three characters. Hitchcock exposes some levels of the same voyeuristic compulsions within the audience as we watch things unfold with the same curiosity-driven intensity as Jeff, Lisa, and Stella. Hitchcock causes us to ask if we’re really that different from them?
I was also intrigued with the way Hitchcock introduces and develops some of his characters. We get to know several people simply by watching them through Jeff’s window. There’s the beautiful Miss Torso, a dancer who occasionally practices in her undies and parties with several male suitors; Miss Lonelyhearts, a sad, depressed woman who has dinner dates with imaginary men; Mr. Thorvald and his bedridden wife; a struggling songwriter, a newlywed couple, and several others. What’s amazing is that we learn a lot about these characters simply by what we observe. It’s a beautiful method of storytelling that adds so much to the picture.
“Rear Window” was filmed on what was at the time the largest constructed set at Paramount. The entire picture takes place in this elaborate neighborhood and, with the exception of a small courtyard, it’s close-quartered construction gives it an almost claustrophobic feel. Hitchcock’s camera sleekly captures the characters as they move from window to window and down strategically placed hallways and alleys. Equally impressive is his skillful use of lighting combined with sound that’s centered around a natural ambiance. Simply put, “Rear Window” is a technically savvy picture that accomplishes a lot within a small compact environment.
For my money “Rear Window” is some of Hitchcock’s best work. It’s straightforward and mysterious at the same time and features characters that are more complex than they appear on the surface. It’s really a simple story that’s a little slow out of the gate but soon has you peeping over Jeff’s shoulder gazing into the living rooms of his neighbors. The intensity ratchets up in the final few scenes and the payoff is very satisfying. “Rear Window” is certainly near the top of Hitchcock’s resume and features a special brand of artistry that’s impossible to dislike.
VERDICT – 5 STARS