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

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

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…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

As I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was.

Dances with Wolves (1990)
(SPOILERS) Kevin Costner’s Oscar glory has become something of a punching bag for a certain brand of “white saviour” storytelling, so much so that it’s even crossed over seamlessly into the SF genre (Avatar). It’s also destined to be forever scorned for having the temerity to beat out Goodfellas for Best Picture at the 63rdAcademy Awards. I’m not going to buck the trend and suggest it was actually the right choice – I’d also have voted Ghost above Dances, maybe even The Godfather Part III – but it’s certainly the most “Oscar-friendly” one. The funny thing, on revisit, is that what stands out most isn’t its studiously earnest tone or frequent but well-intentioned clumsiness. No, it’s that its moments of greatest emotional weight – in what is, after all, intended to shine a light on the theft and destruction of Native American heritage – relate to its non-human characters.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Poor A. A. Milne. What a ghastly business.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
The absolutely true story of how P. L. Travers came to allow Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, after 20 years’ persistent begging on the latter’s part. Except, of course, it isn’t true at all. Walt has worked his magic from beyond the grave over a fairly unremarkable tale of mutual disagreement. Which doesn’t really matter if the result is a decent movie that does something interesting or though-provoking by changing the facts… Which I’m not sure it does. But Saving Mr. Banks at least a half-decent movie, and one considerably buoyed by the performances of its lead actors.

Actually, Mr. Banks is buoyed by the performances of its entire cast. It’s the script that frequently lets the side down, laying it on thick when a lighter touch is needed, repeating its message to the point of nausea. And bloating it out not so neatly to the two-hour mark when the story could have been wrapped up quite nicely in a third less time. The title itself could perhaps be seen as rubbi…

Everything has its price, Avon.

Blake's 7 4.1: Rescue

Season Four, the season they didn’t expect to make. Which means there’s a certain amount of getting up to speed required in order for “status quo” stories to be told. If they choose to go that route. There’s no Liberator anymore as a starting point for stories; a situation the show hasn’t found itself in since Space Fall. So where do they go from here? Behind the scenes there’s no David Maloney either. Nor Terry Nation (I’d say that by this point that’s slightly less of an issue, but his three scripts for Season Three were among his best).

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).