Monday, 23 January 2012

Film Review - Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

tl;dr Did you like the first movie? If so, go see it, if not, don't. Simples.

The most recent spate of adaptations of Conan Doyle's iconic detective was always going to be a rather unusual affair, what with the way it keeps the setting and styles of the book's original context, whilst bringing highly Hollywood action blockbuster sensibilities to the table. But between Guy Richie and Robert Downie Jr., this is a film series with an incredibly strong sense of character.

In this, the second outing in the series, we see our inimitable Mr Holmes go up against the shadowy figure from the first film, his arch nemesis: Moriarty. Meanwhile, Watson is getting ready to marry, and talks about stopping his crime-busting partnership with Holmes. As the two chase down Moriarty we meet Sherlock's brother Mycroft, French gypsies and German bomb factories. Moriarty has plans - evil plans - and it's up to our mismatched couple to save the day. Can you tell I dislike summarising films?

Anyway, this second installment runs with a very simple philosophy: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We get more action, more explosions, more audacity and a plot convoluted enough to become enjoyable through it's innate silliness. With a tongue firmly in cheek and a disregard for any loftier ambitions than just entertaining the hell out of you, the second film is perhaps even an improvement on the first.

Character wise, there's certainly nothing new going on here. Holmes is as flamboyant and silly as ever, hyper-articulate and incredibly observant. Watson is still proper, upright and socially more concious than his erstwhile friend. Their passive-aggressive need for each other is still as fun as it was the first time around. The treatment of female characters here is far from stellar; the film isn't sexist, but it clearly isn't particularly interested in them either. The biggest success of the pool of characters here was Stephen Fry's Mycroft Holmes, whose comic relief is always a welcome addition to the story rather than a tone disrupting annoyance.

As a villain I found Moriarty to be a fun and well executed Hollywood villain who was a little bit blander than I feel one of the most iconic criminal masterminds in literature deserved. He was not as interesting or as fun as his counterpart in Holmes. This, perhaps, was part of the point - to make him far more straight laced and academic than the off-beat Holmes, but the result came out a little too beige. 

There's an irresistible energy to everything about this film, the way it shudders along like a train that is about to go off the rails. Richie's direction is sharp and, as already mentioned, helps to lend the flick a distinctive flavour. With a tight, funny script and tactical use of slow motion and flash forwards, this is a not inconsiderable film. The music is incredibly good too, Zimmerman turning in a score that has grandeur and excitement and more than little cheesiness mixed in.

There's lots of nitpicks to be had here: the female chars aren't well done, the plot is silly, Moriarty is a touch too bland. These are most definitely nitpicks however - this is a polished and highly enjoyable film that offers something a bit more colourful than most other action blockbusters out there. D'you like the last one? Really, that's the only question that you need to answer when deciding whether or not to see this movie.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Television Series Overview - Welcome to the NHK

This is your happy ending.

Wikipedia tells us  "in Japan, "NHK" refers to the public broadcaster Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai" - it's more or less the Japanese BBC. Sato, the main character of Welcome to the NHK, however, thinks it is more than just that. The NHK is also a conspiracy. Take a look at his life: he's unemployed, friendless and harbours an acute fear of even leaving his untidy apartment. All things which are exaggerated problems that come with being an otaku (Japanese geek), and don't the NHK show things like anime that drag people into such categories in life? Ergo, the purpose of the NHK is to turn people, most specifically Sato, into the urban hermit. One day he meets a girl and everything changes, but trust me: that sentence isn't what it sounds like.

Some more background is, perhaps, required: Sato's specific situation is actually a recognised sociological condition in Japan, affecting young men. They lock themselves away, don't seek out education or employment, and spend all their time gaming or on the internet. Romantically and socially they struggle, and often it overlaps with depression. Last year, there was an estimated 700,000 of them, wikipedia informs me.

Welcome to the NHK is an entry in the slice of life genre, a drama about the happenings of every day life of a man who suffers from this. In truth, it feels a tad disingenuous to call NHK a show about normal life: even when it's not taking into direct visual metaphors of Sato's very unusual mind, it deals with people who are suffering from rather extreme personal and social problems. Watching our maladjusted cast try to cope with life is more or less the entire premise of the show.

What the show does very well is to balance tones. Taking what is a pretty dark and cynical view on the world could have lead to a serious and frowny show, heavy with self-importance, but there's a manic energy to the show which counter balances the depressing elements. We get moments of absurdity, strange and perhaps disturbing viewings directly into Sato's mind; we get moments of comedy that give the show a sitcom-esque feel at times; we get moments of quite tenderness, where suddenly the show seems like romantic story; we get moments of drama that reveal the show's angst ridden characters. That all of these elements keeps the others in balance makes the show a real treat.

The animation and music are both top notch, and the writing is all sharp as far as I can tell - it being translated, I'm not really qualified to comment on the dialogue, but the story is certainly brilliant. The core cast are engaging in there oddness, and very much relateable because, although things are taken to an extreme, their insecurities are, on a fundamental level, something that pretty much everyone has to cope with at some point.  The perhaps predictable message that we are all screwed up on some level is well delivered and not at all forced. And the show does acknowledge that some people are definitely screwed up worse than others.

Welcome to the NHK is two opposing things at once: very cynical, yet oddly uplifting, and in that contradiction there is a humanity that is difficult to resist. It's an absurd, funny, dramatic, touching journey that is very much worth taking.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sporting Diaries - Bloodbowl

Hey guys, I'm looking to kick life back into my blog by doing a series of posts on a league I've joined: Blood Bowl!

For those uninitiated, Bloodbowl is a tabletop game based in the Warhammer world. Think American Football with Orcs and Elves and Dwarves and a rather more lax approach to violence. Hell, there are many teams whose entire game plans around stomping their opposition into the ground before the ball is even brought into the equation.

Part of the attraction of the game is the rich diversity of interesting and cool races that are available to players. Wanting to choose something interesting or different, but realising from a quick scan of the net that my team of choice (of those teams not already taken) was considered one of the worst in the game, I decided instead to elect to go the Amazons. My sparse research had not really turned up anything about them, so I was getting them without really knowing anything about them.

So as I've a team of Amazons, wearing the team colours red and green, and although the team has been named (each one with a mini-story behind them) I've yet to name the team. I'll write updates on each match and little backgrounds to each of my players as the season goes on.

If I go and see a movie tomorrow I'll get another review up too.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Time is a funny thing

I'm not old. By most people's accounts, I'm actually rather young. Still, time seems to have taken to be a silly bugger already. Something happened two years ago, yet the age I would have been two years ago doesn't correspond to the age I think I was when this stuff happened. I'm an absent minded guy at the best of times, but the fact that I've already been struck by the fluffiness of time is almost disorientating.

Ah well, here's to 2012! Hope it treats you guys well.