Friday, December 30, 2011

Chris Gorak & Guy Ritchie: December Diversions (The Darkest Hour & Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows)

December is a month known as a monster in and of itself for its dirth of award-ready "serious" cinema. When something unapologetically genre as these two new pics, you sort of have to tip your hat. Keep the spirit of schlock alive! When a genre film as well done as Brad Bird's Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, true admiration is merited. Popcorn flicks such as Chris Gorak's The Darkest Hour and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows are the exception to the rule, movies so simultaneously mediocre yet fleetingly inspired or pleasurable.

Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor, Olivia Thirlby, Emile Hirsch, The Darkest Hour, Summit Entertainment, 2011.

Gorak's directorial debut is a fascinatingly simple yet preposterous B-movie horror-sci-fi yarn which basically follows in the vein of Romero's zombie-movie formula. Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella and Olivia Thirlby all appear to be slumming it as American tourists in Russia during a mysterious attack by an unexplained force coming through the electricity and disintegrating them. The script is a pile of cliches, some of the effects are cheeseball, but the hopefully intentional subtext of a catharsis to all those decades of Soviet-American interplay is extremely stimulating. Several sequences are alarmingly framed, and yet others are clumsily blocked. Hirsch gets some of the worst lines: "I'm freaking out on the inside!" is just one example. Tyler Bates' score is top-notch, homaging John Carpenter in its purity. The horror-buff in me was half-way appeased.

Jude Law, Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Warner Bros., 2011.

Guy Ritchie is up to his old tricks(again and again and again) with the sequel to his hyper-stylized blockbuster re-envisioning of Doyle's master detective stories. Robert Downey, Jr. And Jude Law return as Holmes and Watson. Downey especially has a ball with his part, getting all his money's worth. The original Lisbeth Salander, Noomi Rapace, is enticing and different as the gypsy love interest. Jared Harris relishes each and every word as Moriarty. The problem is, we've seen this one before. It feels rote, and only really comes alive in Ritchie's kinetic action set pieces. The shoot-out in the woods is especially memorable. Ritchie is a true artist in danger of calcification. His visual integrity and penchant for satiric crime dramas became a fixation, and has gone on for years. His best film was Swept Away, a deeply imaginative and empathic remake of Lina Wertmuller's 70s arthouse hit. That film was vilified because his wife, Madonna,starred in it. Aside from that, his frenetic masculinity evades me.

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