SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS. I didn't exactly dislike Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, but I can't say it left much of an impression on me, either. Like a lot of people, I enjoyed the fighting but had a hard time accepting Holmes as a street brawler. Plus I found the atmosphere oppressive and distracting. Fortunately, I enjoy Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law, and the experience was salvaged by their jovial antagonism.
The sequel finds all the positive qualities of the first installment firmly in place: Downey is pleasantly manic and obsessed, and Law reprises Watson with customarily stiff upper lip and reluctant amusement at his companion's antics. They're joined by a sterling supporting cast, including Jared Harris as calculating sadist-genius James Moriarty and the eminently likeable Stephen Fry as Mycroft, Holmes's politically entrenched weirdo brother.
Where the first movie felt like a loose assemblage of would-be set-pieces held together by "check this out" visual trickery, this follow-up is actually cohesive. It's still huge and sprawling, but those qualities actually serve the story, which involves a Machiavellian plot by Moriarty to shake the very foundations of Europe's political and economic stability. It's not a revelation in screenwriting, but there are enough little twists and turns and a meaty enough through-line to sustain the countless action sequences.
Ritchie seems to have realized that he was taking himself a little too seriously last time (his primary Achilles' heel as a filmmaker ... Revolver, anyone?). Shadows benefits from a much-needed dose of fun. It's still over-the-top -- production-designed and fight-choreographed within an inch of its life. But the movie's tone more closely follows the droll dynamic between Downey and Law. Even the overused device wherein Holmes anticipates an attacker's every move, then counters in slow-motion before replaying the whole sequence at full-speed, gets turned on its ear a few times.
Shadows is an unapologetically huge holiday blockbuster. Expensive looking and action packed, it gleefully romps through turn-of-the-20th-century Europe. I appreciate it on that level, and for improving on the formula. PG13. 129m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
YOUNG ADULT comes from a completely different end of the cinematic spectrum. Small and observational, this movie is as deliberate and focused as a good short story.
Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary, a self-destructive alcoholic narcissist who has achieved minor success ghost-writing a series of teen novels. Facing the imminent cancellation of her book series and the drain-circling routine of her daily life, Mavis heads back to her much-loathed hometown in rural Minnesota. Her goal is to steal her high school boyfriend from his loving wife and new daughter. To everybody except Mavis, this is clearly a terrible idea, but she soldiers on anyway because she's broken, lost and alone.
Along the way she reconnects with former classmate Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), an overweight nerd still trying to recover from a savage beating he took in high school at the hands of some bigoted meatheads. He and Mavis develop an uncomfortable not-quite-friendship, mostly because they both like to get drunk.
I had some reservations about Young Adult from the get-go, based mostly on my lukewarm feelings about Juno, the previous collaboration of screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman. I found that movie a little too hipster and cute for its own good. I don't despise it like so many people, but it isn't on my list to re-watch any time soon. And I certainly didn't think Cody earned her Oscar.
Having said that, Young Adult goes a long way toward convincing me that Cody has what it takes as a writer. This is a dark, methodical examination of arrested development and early middle age. The script takes a risky approach, relying on attention to detail and emotional honesty rather than plot or preciousness to move it along. In the hands of the wrong director, or miscast lead actors, this would be a tremendous failure.
But Reitman understands the material, and he directs with a light touch, focusing on performance instead of spectacle. And Theron is pitch-perfect as Mavis: not many gorgeous A-listers could carry off this mix of self-loathing and egotism without coming off completely contemptible. There isn't much to like about Mavis, especially when she's lashing out at everyone around her, but Theron plays it from a real, wounded place. She's so pathetic it's hard to hate her. R. 94m. At the Minor.
--John J. Bennett
Three films unwrapped their Christmas presents early by opening last Wednesday or even Tuesday night: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and The Adventures of Tintin. We trust you'll choose wisely. Opening on the more traditional Friday we have ...
WE BOUGHT A ZOO. Directed by Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) and aimed straight at Holiday Heartwarmer fans, this family drama is based on "the amazing true story" in Benjamin Mee's bestselling book of the same name. Matt Damon plays Mee, a dad who moves his two kids to a run-down rural zoo in the hopes that reviving it will help his family recover from the death of the kids' mom. PG. 124m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
And opening Christmas Day:
THE DARKEST HOUR. Five attractive young English-speakers find themselves stranded in Moscow, leading the resistance against some aliens who just blew up a bunch of buildings and whatnot using our own human power supply. Starring Emile Hirsch (Into The Wild), Olivia Thirlby (Juno) and 3D boom-booms. PG13. 89m. In 3D and 2D the Broadway and Mill Creek.
WAR HORSE. Steven Spielberg's second movie in as many weeks (with Tintin) opens Christmas Day. Set during the First World War, it centers on the friendship between a young man named Albert and the remarkable horse he trains (named Joey). When they're forcefully separated we get a horse's-eye tour of the Great War, Spielberg style. PG13. 146m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
The Arcata Theatre Lounge will take Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, then resume cinematic merrymaking on Wednesday, Dec. 28, with another installment of (cue echoey announcer voice) Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza Night-ight-ight! The final S-FPPN of the year features a true classic of the genre, Forbidden Planet (1956), starring Leslie Nielsen (of Airplane! and The Naked Gun fame), Anne Francis and introducing Robbie the Robot! This was reportedly the first film set entirely on another planet and the first to use an all-electronic musical score. It has been paired with Mission Stardust (1967), which is "so appallingly bad," says the ATL, that fans of the Perry Rhodan series of books upon which it's based "playfully deny its existence." 7 p.m.
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Spielberg transforms the early 20th century Belgian comic about a young reporter and his dog into an early 21st century performance-capture, mega-budget, computer-generated, 3D extravaganza. In 3D at the Broadway and Fortuna, 3D and 2D at the Mill Creek.
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIP-WRECKED. People actually go to movies like this, which is why the rest of us can't have nice things. G. 87m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
ARTHUR CHRISTMAS. Another 3D, CG-animation family film, this one about the high-tech operation beneath the North Pole where Santa's dysfunctional family orchestrates the Christmas Eve present-delivery mission. PG. 100m. At the Garberville.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. David Fincher's adaptation of the mega-selling crime thriller by Stieg Larsson follows a middle-aged journalist (Daniel Craig) and a mohawked computer hacker (Rooney Mara) as they dive into some truly demented shit. R. 158m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
HUGO. Martin Scorsese's 3D adaptation of Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret follows the adventures of an orphan boy living a secret life inside the walls of a 1930s Paris train station. PG. 127m. In 3D at the Broadway and Mill Creek. Starts Tuesday, in 2D, at the Garberville.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE -- GHOST PROTOCOL. Following a bombing at the Kremlin, the International Monetary Fund is shut down because -- oh, whatever. Tom Cruise running, punching ... explosion! PG13 133m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
THE MUPPETS. It's time to start the music. It's time to light the lights. It's time to get nostalgic with a new Muppet delight. At the Broadway.
NEW YEAR'S EVE. My word, look at all the pretty, famous people in this movie! They're pretty! And famous! And -- hurp! I just burped up some eggnog. PG13. 118m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
THE SITTER. Jonah Hill stars as a craven college student coerced into babysitting the bratty kids next door. R. 81m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN, PART 1. Teen girl marries hunky vampire, gestates spawn of his undead seed. Meanwhile, jealous werewolf pal fumes. PG13. 118m. At the Broadway.