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Thursday 31 July 2014

Sherlock has upped his game

When it was first announced that the 2009 big-screen incarnation of Sherlock Holmes would be an action hero, played by the swaggering Robert Downey Jr and directed by Guy Ritchie, there was much humming and hawing among the Baker Street Irregulars. Holmes not only played by an American, but given to martial arts as much as mental ones and overseen by that beaten docket of Mockney malarkey Guy Ritchie? Nah, never work.

But work it did. Sherlock Holmes clocked up more than $500m at the box office, meaning that it wouldn't be a two-pipe problem to figure that a sequel was on the way.

Downey Jr is as swashbuckling as before, Jude Law is on more of an equal footing as his loyal friend Dr John Watson and a couple of inspired cast additions make A Game of Shadows a better movie than its predecessor. Set in 1891 as a wave of anarchist bombings takes place across Europe, don't bother looking for the plot in the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as Ritchie and his screenwriters have taken a handful of main characters, lobbed in an iconic confrontation from the Holmes canon at the film's climax and made the rest up.

Chief villain Professor James Moriarty, Holmes' nemesis, the 'Napoleon of crime', is played with relish by Jared Harris. Moriarty is every bit Holmes' intellectual equal and the pair engage in a cat-and-mouse chase in England and across Europe. On top of this, Holmes has to contend with Watson's impending marriage, arranging a comically disastrous stag night and ruining a honeymoon in the process.

Into this mix we also have Noomi Rapace (who played Lizbeth Salander in the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) as a gypsy fortune-teller who provides a link to the impending crime and, in a wonderful piece of casting, Stephen Fry as Holmes' older, smarter brother Mycroft, a shadowy figure in a British government organisation.

Ritchie does tend to overdo his favourite slo-mo tricks somewhat but he still manages to keep the action rattling along, not least in a breathtaking action sequence set on a train which forms a perfect end to the first half of the movie. With Downey Jr and Law working very well against each other and with a clever ending there's every reason to feel confident that the inevitable third instalment in the series is to be welcomed rather than feared. HHHII

BALLYMUN LULLABY Documentary. Directed by Frank Berry. Cert General

This low-budget Irish film is quite an achievement. The 72-minute documentary focuses on Ron Cooney, an inspirational music teacher in the classic mould, as he marshals his pupils while they put together their contributions to record the EP of the title, Daragh O'Toole having written the music itself.

Cooney is evangelical about the role music can play in tapping the potential of children in an area which would be seen as disadvantaged by many.

Charming without being sickly sweet and moving without being patronising, Ballymun Lullaby is well worth a look and, indeed, a listen. HHHII

ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS Comedy. Starring Isabelle Carre, Benoit Poelvoorde, Loretta Cravotta, Stephan Wojtowicz. Directed by Jean-Pierre Ameris. Cert 12A

You'll probably emerge from Romantics Anonymous and make a beeline for a chocolate shop as there are quite a few of the tempting treats on display in this frothy, old-school French comedy. In the lead roles are two fine actors showing their lighter side; Isabelle Carre as shy chocolatier Angelique and Benoit Poelvoorde as socially inept Jean-Rene, who happens to own a chocolate factory which is on its last legs.

Unaware of Angelique's talents, the smitten Jean-Rene asks her to a disastrous dinner and the pair stumble along into a relationship. It's all very by-the-book but Carre and Poelvoorde bring a breezy charm to proceedings. HHHII

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked Animation. Starring Jason Lee, David Cross, Jenny Slate. Voices of: Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney. Director: Mike Mitchell. Cert Gen

Watch out parents, the chipmunks are back! Playing around while aboard a cruise ship, the Chipmunks and Chipettes accidentally go overboard and end up marooned in a tropical paradise. However, they soon discover their new island is not as deserted as it seems.

Adults may find the squeaky voices, daft storylines and corny acting irritating but the Chipmunks and Chipettes are well animated and children love these furry creatures because of their attitudes and their songs. Parents should just make it through the 87 minutes. HHIII >Jonney English

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