Thursday, 2 January 2014

Critical week: The game's afoot

I've been deliberately avoiding movies over the Christmas and New Year break, but there's been plenty of television to distract me. The most anticipated holiday show was obviously the return of Sherlock on New Year's Day for a third series - it's been a long two-year wait. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Rupert Graves are back for another brain-bender that's as engaging as ever, but feels more like a standard TV episode than previous seasons' movie-style instalments. It's also rather gimmicky and indulgent, so let's hope they calm down a bit for Sunday night's second episode.

Meanwhile, there was the annual Downton Abbey Christmas special. Last year they used this as an opportunity to essentially ruin the holidays with a horrific fatality. This year was much less momentous, merely entangling the soapy story-strands further while having a bit of fun with American guest stars Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti. Slightly more prestigious was The Thirteenth Tale, a moody ghost story that pitted acting veteran Vanessa Redgrave opposite the equally gifted Olivia Colman as a dying novelist and her suspicious biographer, respectively. A nicely made film, with another involving turn by Colman, but Christopher Hampton's script was undercooked.

I also finally got caught up with the American version of the rude comedy Shameless - I was behind by a whole season and managed to watch all of series 3 over the holidays. Superb writing, directing and acting from the entire cast pushed these characters much further than we ever would have imagined. Few TV shows can induce squirms like this one, bless it.

I'll be back on the screening circuit starting next week, with a number of interesting things in the diary, including Michael Cera in Crystal Fairy, the post-apocalyptic romp Bounty Killer, the British musical comedy Svengali, the horror romp Devil's Bargain, the Venice-winning thriller Miss Violence, the acclaimed documentary After Tiller and the Formula One doc 1: Life on the Limit.

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