If you’re like me, you’ll find that in between writing essays, researching and generally doing what students do best, you’ll be pretty bored. And sometimes you can’t even go out because money isn’t really at hand. So what other options are there? My suggestion (seeing as I’ve done it myself) is to find a cheap but cheerful DVD that can not only kill an hour or two but give you something to think about, something to feel and give a temporary escape from the doldrums of studying. But what new releases are worth the money?

 

ACTION – Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Even though it did not receive as much critical or commercial success as its predecessor, A Game of Shadows was a rare occasion where the sequel completely dominates the first. This time around, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his trusty companion Watson (Jude Law) must prevent the villainous Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) from creating a global disaster in the form of a World War. Accompanying them this time is mysterious gypsy Symza (Noomi Rapace), Watson’s newly wed Mary (Kelly Reilly) and Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry). Despite the onscreen chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law and the exciting new action sets, it was the entrance of new villain Professor James Moriarty that really stole the film. Harris plays the calculating villain wonderfully against Downey Jr.’s eccentric but perceptive Holmes, causing a rivalry that is sure to become a classic in the upcoming years. Stephen Fry’s now world-famous nude scene also will not fail to bring a smile to your face, making a bit of break from the puzzle solving and the bullet dodging. But if you are a die hard Sherlock Holmes-of-the- novels fan, it must be advised to steer clear of this film (and the original) because, whilst he may have been labelled the very first action hero, Conan Doyle hadn’t quite intended it to go this far. If it could be my sole criticism, it’s that perhaps the film borrows from the novels in order to make it more Hollywood, instead of taking the character back to its sleuthing origins. The slow-motion sections may be impressive, but Holmes didn’t escape the Hound of the Baskervilles by slowly leaping over its head.

VERDICT – Visually impressive, excellently cast and the action scenes directed wonderfully but does little to please those who love classic Sherlock Holmes and the mysteries of the novels and short stories. But then, you wouldn’t see it for that reason, would you? ££££

 

COMEDY – Bridesmaids

Very few comedies nowadays are original. They tend to regurgitate used material in completely different scenarios and find different ways to act it out. Look at the Scary Movie series and you’ll see what I mean. But Bridesmaids, that is something else. In this film we see Annie (Kristen Wiig) vying to become the maid-of-honour for her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding over another woman Helen (Rose Byrne). Their rivalry begins to affect Annie and Lillian’s friendship to the point where the whole wedding begins to disintegrate. Joining these three women in the wedding of a lifetime are the brash Megan (Melissa McCarthy), the foul-mouthed Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and the soft spoken Becca (Ellie Kemper). Along the way, Annie must make several life changing choices including choosing between the arrogant Ted (Jon Hamm) and policeman Nathan (Chris O’Dowd) and how to live her lifelong dream of running a successful bakery. The actors within Bridesmaids are wonderfully cast (Melissa McCarthy being a particular highlight) and perform remarkable well when they are placed in situations that you really wouldn’t want to be in. Having diarrhoea in a dress fitting shop, being thrown off a plane for mixing drinks with tablets are just part of a whole host of scenarios which these women have to get out of. The only exception to this casting would be Maya Rudolph (portraying the ‘lucky woman’ Lillian) who is just annoying and too blinded to see who her true friends are until its too late. Giving it good marks for originality and acting is all well and good but when it boils down to its romantic scenes and serious dialogue, the film is somewhat lacklustre. In these scenes, everything is atypical and it really becomes a paint-by-numbers romcom. Still, if there wasn’t any romantic scenes at all, we would feel a bit cheated. The film also ends on a pretty abrupt and cheesy note which leaves the feeling of wanteing more (but obviously with less cheese).

VERDICT – Kristen Wiig has done an exceptional job of creating a comedy film with a large heart and aimed it for as wide an audience as possible. The acting is superb and each character compliments the other with the small exception of Maya Rudolph. But when it comes to seriousness, it can’t help but fall short and has the origins of  grinding itself into a traditional romcom. Fortunately, it manages to stay away just long enough to keep its original edge. £££

 

DRAMA – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

There are very few films like this around anymore. In a world where we trudge through sequels of sequels, franchises that have become stale and comedies that just aren’t funny anymore, we find this little, tiny, quiet gem of a film. Quiet because that’s how the film really presents itself. Gary Oldman (who, received his first Academy Award nomination for this role) is brilliantly effective as George Smiley, brought out of retirement to  investigate the allegations of a mole within the ‘Circus’ a.k.a. MI6. In order to figure out this great puzzle, Smiley must enlist the help of Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong). Under investigation is the new head of the ’Circus’ Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), his advisor Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Austrian refugee Toby Esterhase (David Dencik) and head of security Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds). Oldman as Smiley is brilliant, noting down every comment with just a slight adjustment of his glasses, a longing stare into the distance when remembering the damaged past. Yes, Oldman truly does carry the film. The supporting cast aren’t that bad either and despite the film being portrayed as dreary in a world of greys and blacks, the actors match it perfectly, each of them holding macabre secrets. And that’s the problem with this film. There’s so many other characters that are rushed through that one viewing is not enough. You seriously need to watch it at least three times. But its so enthralling and appealing that you’ll easily want to do it again and eventually, you even feel like a spy yourself. And that could well be the point of the film. Who is really spying on who? The fact that this is filmed in an unusual manner allows us to digest snippets of information and unravel the mystery ourselves. Going through the eyes of George Smiley allows us to do this even better and we even feel a part of the film, due to its recognisable features, its dark locations and its sympathetic characters.

VERDICT – This is easily one of the best ensemble of British actors and each are perfectly placed within the story. Gary Oldman deserved the Oscar, not just a nomination. The casting is that good. The film looks dreary but that is something which actually compliments the rest of the film, both in plot and in characters. But the characters are plentiful and can be a bit too much to handle. As a result, it becomes a bit too long-winded and not completely in control of its characters, but look past that (as you will need to on your second or third viewing) and it becomes a pleasure and entertaining to watch.  £££££

Written by James Smith