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Brawn over brains: OK, it's Christmas Day, and you're dying to get out to the movies while your extended family prepares a feast, and Sherlock Holmes looks cool and you've had a crush on Robert Downey Jr. since Chaplin. So, does the movie deliver on its hype? Elementary, my dear reader. Downey is his roughish, charming self, but Iron Man is more entertaining. Director Guy Ritchie does a decent job behind the camera, but Sherlock isn't as cool as Snatch or Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. Jude Law is Jude Law, a guy who was interesting back when he had the market cornered on pained, sensitive men but who isn't nearly as cool since he slept with his children's nanny. Rachel McAdams is wasted, and because we never learn the actual identity of Professor Moriarty, Holmes' legendary opponent, it's obvious everyone's hoping it does well enough to necessitate a sequel. And I suspect it will, since almost everything else that's come out this holiday season has been a downer.
But here's my deduction: The new movie turns Holmes into more of an ass-kicking secret agent than a cerebral crime-solver, a Victorian Indiana Jones. Now, that really only matters if you actually care about the Sherlock Holmes legacy. The moments when Ritchie actually allows us into Holmes' thought process are interesting, but they're about physical, rather than mental, moments, explaining precisely how he's about to beat the hell out of some bad guy. This is a Holmes that's both physical and cerebral, which is an interesting take, but it's almost impossible to separate Downey from himself—though Holmes may be a master of disguise, you always feel as though you're watching the actor and not the character.
And from a story perspective, Sherlock Holmes is little more than a big-budget take on the standard TV procedure, as Holmes and Watson track down a secret society led by Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a Satanist, of sorts, determined to take over England and rule with an iron fist.
All told, it's overplotted, and the camera lingers on objects that, if you've ever watched CSI, you know will eventually be important. Yes, Sherlock Holmes benefits from the fact that most of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories end with our hero explaining exactly what went down and why by using the clues he found during the course of his investigation. But, come on, this is the new millennium, and we were raised watching the cast of Scooby-Doo do exactly the same thing. When the action scenes are clicking, it's entertaining, but is that what Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be about? The box office will probably say yes. Me, I say no. No shit, Sherlock.
35 Shots of Rum: French director Claire Denis' new film is about a train conductor and his gorgeous daughter forced to confront their past as each enters into a new romance.
A Single Man: Colin Firth delivers on the role of a lifetime in fashion designer Tom Ford's directorial debut. See our review on Page 16.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel: Another sign of the pending apocalypse.
Broken Embraces: The new one from Pedro Almodovar stars Penelope Cruz as the former mistress of a blind film director musing on his past.
It's Complicated: A romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. Yet another sign of said pending apocalypse.
Nine: Rob Marshall, the guy who brought you Chicago, goes back to the Broadway trough for Nine. And even though this film adaptation of a stage adaptation of Fellini's 8 1/2 stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a film director dealing with all the women in his life, it feels long, boring and lifeless.
The Young Victoria: The Devil Wears Prada's Emily Blunt stars as, well, a young Queen Victoria.
One time only
Home Alone: The perfect holiday movie, about a precocious child violently clobbering criminals. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
A Christmas Tale: Sure, the holiday will be over, but you can keep celebrating Christmas with this sprawling family holiday film starring Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric. Screens at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27, at the Whistle Stop in South Park. Free.
The Girl from Monaco: When a brilliant attorney heads to Monaco for a trial, he doesn't count on falling for a psychotic vixen who distracts him from his upcoming case. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 28, at the Central Library, Downtown. Free.
Unzipped: Part of the San Diego Historical Society's San Diego Style exhibit, this 1995 documentary sneaks a peek at Isaac Mizrah's '94 fall collection, from the planning stages to the runway. Screens at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29, at the Museum of San Diego History in Balboa Park. Free with museum admission.
The Women: Don't worry, this isn't the lame 2008 remake. No, this is George Cukor's 1939 version, which stars Joan Crawford as the shopgirl having an affair with Norma Shearer's husband. Screens at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 30, at the Museum of San Diego History in Balboa Park. Free with museum admission.
My Cousin Vinny: Seriously, what happened to Joe Pesci? Screens at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 30, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma. Free.
Avatar: James Cameron's sci-fi magnum opus is too long and has an inevitable love story. But, for once, when they say you've never seen anything like it, they're right. This is a film and a truly rendered alien planet that must be seen on the big screen and in 3D. See our review on Page 22.
Did You Hear About the Morgans?: Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant cash in on the lack of mainstream date films this time of year.
Rashoman: Gorgeous new print of Kurosawa's masterwork meditation on life, truth and justice.
Uncertainty: The relationship between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins is split into two different dimensions after a coin flip. Sliding Doors for the hipster set.
Me and Orson Welles: Christian McKay is fantastic as Orson Welles, who's in the midst of directing and starring in his legendary 1937 production of Julius Caesar in Richard Linklater's new movie. He's so good, though, that the rest of the movie flags when he's not in it.
Collapse: Of all the depressing movies this holiday season, this might be the heaviest. The feature-length interview with Michael Ruppert, a former cop turned investigative reporter, is tough to take, but his worldview is fascinating. If you don't think he's a crackpot, start stocking up on gold and seeds.
Invictus: You might think Morgan Freeman would be the perfect guy to play Nelson Mandela in a film directed by Clint Eastwood about how the South African rugby team, led by Matt Damon, united the country shortly after the end of Apartheid. You'd be wrong.
The Princess and the Frog: Two notable facts here: 1) Disney has returned to 2-D animation and 2) the new film, set in jazz-era New Orleans, features an African-American heroine. Both are admirable, but the new movie doesn't live up to the Golden Age of Disney films.
Serious Moonlight: When Meg Ryan learns hubby Timothy Hutton is stepping out on her, she duct-tapes him to the toilet. Directed by Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Up in the Air: George Clooney is at his charmiest (charm + smarmy) as Ryan Bingham, flown in to fire employees at companies he has nothing to do with and aspiring to little more than more frequent flier miles. He's a lock for a Best Actor nomination.
Armored: Laurence Fishburne, Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, and their buddies pull an inside job at an armored car company.
Brothers: When Marine and solid family man Tobey Maguire is presumed dead in Afghanistan, his black-sheep brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to look after his wife (Natalie Portman) and kids. That can't end well.
Everybody's Fine: If Bob Dylan can make a Christmas album, Robert De Niro can make a Christmas movie.
Fantastic Mr. Fox: Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story, which features stop-motion animation and performances from George Clooney and Meryl Streep, really is fantastic.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: Werner Herzog has been making weird and wonderful movies for more than three decades. This revamp of Abel Ferrera's definitive film, starring Nicolas Cage as a drug-addled workaholic New Orleans cop, is no different.
Ninja Assassin: The team that created V for Vendetta eschews a real plot for serious slicing-and-dicing.
Old Dogs: Robin Williams and John Travolta really haven't learned any new tricks.
Red Cliff: John Woo's epic look at Chinese history has been trimmed considerably for international audiences.
The Road: The last time someone made one of Cormac McCarthy's books into a movie, No Country for Old Men won the Best Picture. And this one, about a man and his son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic U.S., won the Pulitzer.
The Blind Side: The book this is based upon is about the economics of football and an enormous, poverty-stricken young black man—adopted by a white family—who has the potential to be a highly paid professional athlete. So, of course, they turned it into a Sandra Bullock movie.
The Messenger: Ben Foster shines as a young veteran assigned to the casualty-notification department after his return from Iraq. The scenes in which he and Woody Harrelson deliver the bad news are devastating.
Planet 51: Animated flick about invading aliens. The catch is that the aliens are us, in the form of Dwayne Johnson.
Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire: Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry helped produce this film about an obese Harlem teen in the 1980s, which is being talked up as a Best Picture possibility.
Twilight: New Moon: Either you dismiss the Twilight franchise as being for tweens and their moms or you've been drinking the blood-red Kool-aid.
2012: The guys who blew up the world in Independence Day take us down again.
Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day: The sequel to the cult classic. This time, with more guys getting shot!
Pirate Radio: Even with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, this look at DJs spinning tunes from a ship off the English coast during the '60s is all soft rock.
Disney's A Christmas Carol: Robert Zemeckis gives Dickens' classic the animated, 3-D treatment and hands the lead role to Jim Carrey.
The Men Who Stare at Goats: Even though it's got all the right ingredients, like George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey, this dark comedy about secret psychic warfare loses track of itself (which means it's not psychic, right?).
An Education: Nick Hornby of High Fidelity fame wrote the script and does a 180 by writing about a girl who desperately wants to grow up and thinks she may have found a shortcut in a good-looking charmer twice her age.
A Serious Man: The Coen brothers offer up an examination of faith that moves in mysterious ways.
Couples Retreat: Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell make a dumb romantic comedy.
Zombieland: Woody Harrelson. Zombies. Rated R. 'Nuff said.
The Hurt Locker: Kathryn Bigelow's tense new film focuses on an Iraq unit that specializes in defusing bombs. Well-made, well-written and well-acted—not what you expect for an summer action movie.
Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Space Theater: After undergoing significant renovations, the Fleet is re-opening its dome Imax theater, complete with a kick-ass new screen. Films vary week-to-week. Showtimes and prices can be found at www.rhfleet.org.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: No, it's not a time warp—the love-it-or-hate-it camp classic continues its midnight run in its 37th year of release. When the lead character of the film is a transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter, you know you're in for some seriously trashy viewing. And, of course, this is the one movie where you want the audience shouting at the screen. Screens Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theater in Encinitas.