The movies' gift to you this Christmas Day: Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin as well as Heath Ledger's final performance, with backup from Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and - again - Jude Law. As for the films they're in...
Michael Atkinson in the Boston Phoenix on Sherlock Holmes: "In its own way an ideal holiday blockbuster for the moderately educated, the new light-footed overhaul of Sherlock Holmes is three parts self-satisfied mixer to one part hard storytelling, and if anything, the film's popular trailers should have deterred you from expecting strong drink. But everything's relative - in this case to CGI robots and aliens and tidal waves and Scrooges, compared with which Guy Ritchie's zippy meta-period thriller comes off almost eggheady. Almost."
Arthur Canon Doyle's Holmes, "who arrived in Victorian pop culture in 1887 (with the publication of A Study in Scarlet), has adapted since then to changes in taste and entertainment technology," AO Scott reminds us in the New York Times. "He was a proto-superhero, amenable to all kinds of elaboration and variation, and even a measure of mockery, as long as the basics of the brand were respected. For most of his existence he has lived at 221B Baker Street, smoking a pipe, playing the violin and sticking faithfully to bachelorhood and his belief in the functional elegance of the deerstalker hat. But Holmes has never been much for physical violence, and the chief innovation of this new, franchise-ready incarnation... is that he is, in addition to everything else, a brawling, head-butting, fist-in-the-gut, knee-in-the-groin action hero."
"On paper it sounds terrifying," Sean Burns will grant you in the Philadelphia Weekly. "A reimagination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective by Madonna's ex-husband who makes crappy gangster movies? I was worried.... But somehow Sherlock Holmes turns out to be a delight - the most pleasant surprise I've had at the movies since Star Trek."
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Brad Brevet (Rope of Silicon), Dave Calhoun (Time Out London), David Denby (New Yorker), Alonso Duralde (IFC), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), J Hoberman (Voice), Wendy Ide (London Times), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), James Marsh (Twitch), Drew McWeeney (Hitfix), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Mary Pols (Time), Anthony Quinn (Independent), Ben Richardson (San Francisco Bay Guardian), Tim Robey (Telegraph), James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York), Nick Schager, Ryan Stewart (Slant), Benjamin Strong (L), Jim Tudor (Twitch), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Interviews with Ritchie: Alex Billington (FirstShowing), Jeff Dawson (London Times) and Julian Sancton (Vanity Fair).
"The mountain of Sherlock movies is vast, but it makes for treacherous, often depressing, climbing," writes Nathan Heller, introducing a slide show at Slate, "The Case of the Weird Sherlock Holmes Movies": "Holmes appeared on film for the first time in 1900 in a short movie produced by Thomas Edison. Since then, he has shown up in more than 200 productions. Many are deeply weird. Despite being one of the most precisely fetishized figures in the Western canon - a true Holmes fan knows every small detail of décor in his fictional apartment, every chronological quirk in the fiction - the great detective's filmography is a long compendium of crimes against the character."
"It's Complicated was written and directed by Nancy Meyers, a Hollywood filmmaker who makes female-specific indulgences that, at their irresistible best, are testaments to the power of fairy tales," writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. "Like her finest film, Something's Gotta Give (2003), this new one revolves around a woman in late middle age, who, after years of going it alone in bed and out, suddenly becomes sexually and romantically involved with two very different men.... Ms Meyers and her interviewers like to invoke the comedies of Ernst Lubitsch (The Shop Around the Corner) as one of her inspirations. But watching a Grand Prix race doesn't make you a Formula One champion."
"I can't seem to bring myself to hate It's Complicated as much as I'm supposed to," confesses Slate's Dana Stevens. "This is the kind of film that critics tend to reflexively dismiss as sticky-sweet fluff or bourgeois wish-fulfillment." The story "is thoroughly ridiculous, of course, but when Streep and Baldwin are on-screen, it's delightfully so. As a couple with a long, checkered history and a shared gift for banter, they're as believable as Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story, or William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies. Fine, the banter itself isn't always up to George Cukor level, but it's not dumb either, and these two actors, utterly relaxed and in the groove, make the modest laughs and insights seem like something more."
More from Chris Barsanti (FilmCritic.com), Laura Boyes (Independent Weekly), Andrew Chan (L), Aaron Cutler (Slant), Alonso Duralde (IFC), Roger Ebert (Sun-Times), David Edelstein (New York), Scott Foundas (Voice), Michelle Orange (Movieline), Mary Pols (Time), James Rocchi (Redbox Blog), Nick Schager (TONY), Eric D Snider (Cinematical), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Armond White (NYP) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon).
Daphne Merkin turns a longish profile of Meyers into the NYT Magazine. Julian Sancton talks with her for Vanity Fair. In the current issue of the Atlantic, James Parker unabashedly argues the case for Meyers and Nora Ephron.
"The aughts haven't been particularly kind to Terry Gilliam," writes Jeff Reichert in Reverse Shot. "In the Nineties, when he proved his critical, commercial, and cult mettle with The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, he rebounded from the editorial and legal disputes that blunted the distribution and reception of his major post-Monty Python Eighties efforts, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It's tempting to view the crushing, quixotic struggles to mount his Don Quixote as a breaking point that explains away the muddled and (meddled-with) The Brothers Grimm and the abhorred Tideland - until 2009 his only cinematic output this decade. After the scuttling of his long-cherished dream project, one could excuse the man somewhat for withdrawing, producing distasteful, confrontational art, walking off a film in the face of fiddling producers. Unfortunately, his touted 'return to form,' The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, puts to rest any charity one might want to afford the director."
But for Fernando F Croce, writing in Slant, the film "is a galumphing bacchanal of illusionist clutter that's frequently unwieldy but rarely less than deeply felt.... [T]here are near-sublime images swimming in the film's digital ether, from a shimmering forest of cutout trees to Daliesque compositions of Easter Island heads and chorus lines of British police officers. Best of all is Parnassus himself [Christopher Plummer], who, with his Faustian deals and faith in fables before increasingly jaded audiences, emerges as not only the new incarnation of Gilliam's obsession with addled visionaries, but also as his most personal portrait of artistic endurance. Gilliam clearly identifies with the protagonist, yet his inquiry (voiced in a character's carny pitch: 'Do you dream?') is less self-romancing than generously immersive, ringing throughout this haphazard, moving film as both question and invitation."
More from Manohla Dargis (NYT), Alonso Duralde (IFC), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Paul Matwychuk, Tasha Robinson (AV Club), Jonathan Rosenbaum (Artforum), Nick Schager, Andrew Schenker (L), Ella Taylor (Voice), Kenneth Turan (LAT), Keith Uhlich (TONY) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
Gilliam interviews and profiles: Kathleen Bell (See), David Berry (Vue Weekly), Kyle Buchanan (Movieline), Fernando F Croce (Slant), Bilge Ebiri (Vulture), Steve Erickson (Los Angeles Magazine), Charles McGrath (NYT), Phil Nugent (Nerve), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Julian Sancton (Vanity Fair), Nick Schager (IFC), Drew Toal (TONY) and one to listen to: Aaron Hillis (GreenCine Daily). Kyle Buchanan interviews Lily Cole for Movieline.
The Great Dictator is opening today at IFC Center in New York for a week-long run. "It's easy to forget the sheer cojones Charles Chaplin showed when he attacked Adolf Hitler in this 1940 satire about a despot named Adenoid Hynkel and a Little Tramp-ish look-alike barber who's a stand-in for a population of persecuted Jews," writes TONY's David Fear. "Hollywood had already tentatively dipped its toes into antifascist waters (Confessions of a Nazi Spy had come out the year before; Frank Borzage's The Mortal Storm was released the previous June), but Chaplin was the first to use laughter as an assault weapon on national socialism." More from Michael Atkinson (Voice) and Paul Brunick (L).
Also at IFC Center this week is Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues. The stories behind its making, its success on the festival circuit, its run-in with conservative Hindus, its copyright problems and, eventually, its unique distribution model have all either threatened to overshadow its maker's creative accomplishment or brought her a whole lot of free PR. You decide. Or simply watch: "There are songs, bright colors and a story taken in part from one of the biggest, oldest epics in the world," writes the NYT's AO Scott. "But it is also modest, personal and, in spite of Ms Paley's use of digital vector graphic techniques, decidedly handmade.... And the ingenuity of Sita - which evokes painting, collage, underground comic books, Mumbai musicals and Yellow Submarine (for starters) - is dazzling. Not busy, or overwhelming, or eye-popping. Just affecting, surprising and a lot of fun."
More from David Fear (TONY), Noel Murray (AV Club) and Michelle Orange (Voice).
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