Skip to main content

I look like I've been attacked by the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Mr. Holmes
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Ian McKellen’s prominent proboscis needs no adornment – after all, no one spurned Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock over his decidedly non-Roman nasal fixture – but one can at least appreciate that his Mr. Holmes prosthetic honk is a seamless, if superfluous, special effect. Much like the mystery at the heart of Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. The key to this nonagenarian incarnation of Holmes is his much caricatured emotional dimension (or rather lack thereof, as divested of all merit in Steven Moffat’s fatuously overplayed Sherlock version) and, as antithetical to the character as it sounds, the resulting film is a warm-hearted investigation of the processes of loss and regret.


As such, the actual trappings and regalia of Sherlock Holmes aren’t exactly irrelevant, but this would be as affecting a tale without such encumbrances. Numerous doodlings regarding the differences between the literary Sherlock and the real article are, semi-pertinently, included (I appreciated the “for aficionados” presence of Nicholas Rowe, Young Sherlock Holmes, as a big screen Sherlock, a nice little homage to a film that explored the polar end of the great detective’s life), as this Holmes is suffering the early stages of dementia and thus beginning to losing his certainty over which were facts and which mere literary inventions of his past.


Hatcher/Cullin (the latter also wrote Tideland, made into a film by Terry Gilliam) pick up on Holmes’ Sussex retirement as presented in The Last Bow and The Lion’s Mane (the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of which inserted Watson into the proceedings), although they don’t quite mesh with the idea here that Holmes retired after World War I; Holmes announces that if, he had brought the Kelmot case to a successful conclusion, he wouldn’t have left Baker Street (noting that he and Watson parted on frosty terms).


Some of the elements feel a little clumsy, signposting the passing eras (Holmes visiting Hiroshima). Although, in fairness, tying this into a quest for a retreat of his encroaching mental decline is reasonably sketched (the prized prickly ash). There isn’t really a puzzle to solve as such, however, and this isn’t ultimately quite as satisfying as the best Holmes fan fictions that take in his personal life (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Seven Per Cent Solution).


So too, Holmes deductive faculties lack any real dazzle; I feared the worst when precocious child Roger (Milo Parker, a ringer for a young Thomas Brodie-Sangster), son of housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney), intrudes on the aging sleuth’s routines. It turns out to be a surprisingly winning cross-generational friendship, though, McKellen modulating the gruff-kind-dotty characterisation expertly, and truly convincingly inhabiting a body entering decrepitude (and, thirty years earlier, one in relative vigour).


The signs of Holmes’ rudeness are in evidence even as he discovers the emotional ruin at his core (“Exceptional children are often the product of unremarkable people” he informs Roger’s mother), and there’s a rather stately, elegant race against time aspect to his desire to get to the heart of, and document, his last case before his faculties burn out completely (this imminent ruin appears to be dropped once the case is brought to a satisfactory conclusion). But the minor present mystery (what is killing the bees?), and its conflagration and pay-off, work much more effectively than the tortured trip down memory lane, simply because there isn’t enough substance apportioned to the lot of Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan) and her burdened existence.


We haven’t become invested in her case, merely informed of the full circumstances on a park bench, and – despite some notable distractions such the armonica as a means of contacting the spirit world, and Frances de la Tour’s cameo as Madame Schirmer, with an accent almost as ludicrous as the one she employed in the recent Survivor – so Holmes momentary culpability in her demise lacks resonance. The occasional line invokes Conan Doyle’s own later fascinations (“He doesn’t understand. The dead are no so very far away. They’re just, on the other side of the wall”), but Mr. Holmes is really most effective dealing with the emotional stakes of the here and now.


And on that level, Bill Condon’s film is a resounding success. This is his first reteaming with McKellen since his previously most acclaimed picture, Gods and Monsters, and they share a reflective tone in their aging, isolated protagonists. Condon has a patchy relationship with material, elevating The Twilight Saga (well, relatively) but coming unstuck with The Fifth Estate. He’s clearly not averse to big screen spectacle (His next is Beauty and the Beast for Disney), but this type of smaller, more invested affair feels like a better fit. Mostly, though, it’s just a great showcase for McKellen, who draws on a touch of Gandalf-ian wisdom in his compelling portrait of sorrow and decline.


There’s lovely summery scenery from cinematographer Tobias A Schliessler (this does seem like a beatific spot to retire, an apt conjuring of Conan Doyle fate for Holmes) and a gentle yet insistent score from Carter Burwell setting the picture off nicely. Mr. Holmes isn’t by any means remarkable, but provides an emotionally satisfying rumination on the heart of a man who professed to be all mind.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…