Dressed to Kill 1946 ****

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Sherlock Holmes is a character who has lost something in his translation to the modern world; older films do not focus on his prowess as a bare-knuckle boxer, or lead to a climax with sword-fights on top of a mid-construction Tower Bridge. There’s no computer-generated mind-palaces, and his calculations are not visually realised by a slew of animated diagrams. Back in 1946, the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce series of Holmes movies was coming to an end, but Dressed to Kill doesn’t show many signs of tiredness. In fact, the action is fast and spruce, packing plenty of action and investigation into a commendably tight 70 minutes. A trio of music boxes are being sold at auction; the owners are separately murdered, but not before Stinky Emery (Edmund Breon) has enlisted the services of Baker Street’s finest to investigate a break-in at his home. Although not listed from a specific Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, there’s an authentic flavour about the action in Dressed to Kill aka Prelude to Murder aka Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code. And it’s refreshing to see a strong female villain in Mrs Hilda Courtney (Patricia Morison), very much in the Irene Adler mode. Directors like Roy William Neill brought timeless characters to life with great acting, no-nonsense direction and crisp scripting; the lack of visual jazz makes each of the Rathbone Holmes films a pleasure to watch.

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Shaft 2019 ***

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Reports of franchise fatigue affecting the US box office miss one off-putting element; anyone who bought a ticket for Shaft, Isn’t It Romantic? Annihilation or many other titles must have felt sorely ripped-off when they found the film they just shelled out $20 bucks to see if freely available at home on HD. For major studios to cut their losses by selling the foreign rights to their films on Netlix can only create buyers remorse and disaffection with the cinema-going process in general. Of course, Tim Story’s rehash of elements from the past four Shaft films was always going to generate some unhappy customers; the late John Singleton’s 2000 version with Samuel l Jackson was awful, and unfortunately that’s the poisoned well that this 2019 incarnation draws most of it’s mojo from. Jessie T Usher is JJ Shaft, an FBI cyber-crime fighter who joins forces with his dad, and then eventually his grandfather (a spruce Richard Roundtree) to resolve the death of his friend. The gags are laboured, the action undistinguished, the music isn’t the original Shaft theme, and the locations are faked NYC. Roundtree is great, and the final shoot-out is worth the wait, but this version of Shaft feels like something of a con-job all round.

Under The Silver Lake 2018 ****

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Andrew Garfield has struggled to make a name for himself outside of his abortive stab at being Spiderman; it’s unlikely that his let-it-all-hang-out performance as a sex-starved stoner in this comedy/thriller from David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) will change that, but he’s actually pretty good here. Garfield plays conspiracy-theory loving slacker Sam, who bums around his LA apartment until Sarah (Riley Keough) moves in next door. She vanishes, leaving Sam to attempt to track her down while also looking into the case of the mysterious Dog Killer who is murdering local pooches. Sam’s investigation is shambolic, and digs up various bits of sordid ephemera including video games, prostitution rings and underground communities. Characters with names like the Owl Woman and the Homeless King suggest some kind of David Lynch netherworld, and that’s what Under The Silver Lake aims for; sprawling, obscure, obnoxious and deliberately alienating. But if you’re prepared to try something a little off-menu, there’s a lot to enjoy here, notably the creation of dark LA lore of interest to any fans of the city’s Gothic side. Like Southland Tales, it’s likely to gain a cult following, and Mitchell’s film deserves a second chance.

On DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK from Aug 26th 2019.

Mindhorn 2017 ****

mindhornSimon Farnaby writes and co-stars in this spoof of television detective’s, specifically BBC’s Bergerac. Julian Barratt from The Mighty Boosh plays Richard Thorncroft, an actor who has seen better days, mostly a TV tec Mindhorn, a chiselled, eye-patch-sporting playboy who solves cases on the Isle of Man. When a real-life serial killer starts taunting the police and demanding Mindhorn on the case, the actor is forced to join forces with the cops to fluch the maniac out. But Thorncroft, in an Ace in the Hole-style twist, realises that playing the role of Mindhorn might potentially revive his flagging career, and aims to prolong the investigation. Support from Farnaby, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey and Andrea Riseborough give some indication of the kind of comedy here; while there’s a silliness about the concept, there’s also a generous amount of laughs; adults who enjoyed the Paddington films will find the same level of wit in Farnaby’s script here.

So Undercover 2011 ***

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Miles Cyrus is Hannah Montana is Molly Morris is Brooke Stanbrooke is so undercover in So Undercover! So Undercover positions the teen behind the phenomenon of Hannah Montana as a small-time private eye in the Nancy Drew mould but like totes independent. She has dad issues, and when she’s hired by a man purporting to be from the FBI (Jeremy Piven), she also has undercover issues, because he asks her to enrol as Molly Morris at a Yale freshman house. With Kelly Osbourne across the room as her flatmate, Molly is embroiled in a plot involving stolen accounting ledgers. It’s hard to imagine fans of the star or the genre getting excited by a rote McGuffin like stolen accounting ledgers, and it’s kind of obvious from the generic quantity of the result that everyone is on a trial run for something else. That said, it’s not as awful as its straight-to-landfill release in the states might suggest and Cyrus has star quality, not well applied here.

 

Mr.Holmes 2015 ***

holmesSir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate did not take kindly to Mitch Cullin’s book about the late life of Sherlock Holmes; they sued as Bill Condon’s film came out. That’s a shame, as Mr. Holmes is more Sherlockian that most recent incarnations, which have tended to jazz up the great detective as an action hero/secret agent. Mr Holmes has a slightness that resembles the original stories; like Condon’s previous collaboration with McKellern, Gods and Monsters, this story takes liberties with real events, but with purpose. His memory failing, Holmes attempts to solve one final case, taking trips to post WWII Japan and visiting the cinema to see a Sherlock Holmes film along the way. Laura Linney immerses herself in the part of his housekeeper, and the solution to the mystery is satisfying; Mr. Holmes is a quiet pleasure for true fans of the detective genre.

Inherent Vice 2014 ***

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Like an episode of The Rockford Files directed by surrealist master Alexandro Joderowsky, PT Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s book makes a good fist of bringing a very tricky narrative to life. In a performance along the same tracks as Elliot Gould’s shambling Phillip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, Joaquin Phoenix plays Larry Doc Sportello, a detective on the trails of the Golden Dragon crime ring in 1970’s California, running across oddballs including Reece Witherspoon as a socialite, Martin Short as a perverted dentist and Josh Brolin as a policeman who moonlight as an actor and goes spectacularly off the rails when Sportello dodges a series of lethal situations. As wonderfully all-over-the-place as its hero, Inherent Vice is arrestingly slow, atmospheric in counter-culture detail and will induce meltdowns for anyone looking for a good story, briskly told. A running joke in which Sportello’s notes are revealed as amusingly deficient quickly drops the hint that the fun is in the salty details, not what they add up to.