REVIEW: Mr. Holmes

17 07 2015

Mr. HolmesSherlock Holmes has never been the most embraceable character, but “Mr. Holmes” takes his smug standoffishness to get-off-my-lawn levels.  In the opening scene, Ian McKellen’s more advanced Sherlock Holmes scowls needlessly at a child with whom he shares a railway car.  This detective acts superior simply out of habit, not out of a continually merited accomplishment.

Then, at the pace of a retirement home bingo game, Holmes mulls over three mysteries as he retires to an English countryside getaway run by an exasperated mother (Laura Linney) and her son.  One takes place in the around the time of the Great War, another in Japan in the time of World War II, and a final one unfolds in the present tense.  Triple the story hardly equals triple the excitement, though, as scripter Jeffrey Hatcher frustratingly delays connecting the dots and director Bill Condon never finds away to balance the storylines.

All the while, Holmes suffers from the loss of memory, and the mind once sharper than a trap must resort to writing details on a shirt cuff in order to recall them.  (To the film’s credit, the illness never gets played up for sensationalism.)  Quite frequently, “Mr. Holmes” took a toll on my brain too; it made me lose attention.

Thankfully, I did manage to hold on for the end, when the pieces do ultimately come together and provide a worthy reflection on the legacy of the Sherlock Holmes character.  Age may slow the fast-spinning wheels of reason in the head of this iteration of the beloved detective, ensuring that he would never be mistaken for the Benedict Cumberbatch or the Robert Downey, Jr. versions.  Yet with that experience comes retrospection, wisdom, and human intuition – traits often better embodied by his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson.  This discovery feels like something that Ian McKellen truly revels in, both as his character and as an actor in his own right.  B- / 2stars





REVIEW: X-Men: Days of Future Past

12 06 2014

Thanks to the patience and planning of Marvel that culminated in “The Avengers,” now every franchise is rushing to super-size their output by converging as many properties into one film as humanly possible.  Among these stuffed tentpoles, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is probably about as clever as we can expect them to get.  Bryan Singer’s latest entry in the franchise plays to its greatest strength, the strong ensemble cast, to help power what is otherwise a fairly average film.

In 2011, the series essentially rebooted with a cast of rising stars that included James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult as younger versions of the characters.  Not that the original cast was lacking in talent with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry.

Since their timeline never really ended (not that this stops the studios nowadays), what better way to bridge old and new than with a little bit of time travel?  And who better to be the intermediary than Jackman’s Wolverine, the only character popular enough to inspire spin-offs?  It all makes perfect sense.

“Days of Future Past” also manages to incorporate Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique into the proceedings quite a bit more.  That, of course, couldn’t possibly be because she’s the most loved actress in America at the moment.  It just so happens that she’s the key to preventing annihilation of mutants in the bleak future inhabited by the older versions of the characters.  Wolverine must travel back to the ’70s to prevent her from assassinating defense contractor Raymond Trask (Miles Finch himself, Peter Dinklage) and enabling the creation of the mutant-massacring Sentinels.

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REVIEW: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

5 01 2014

It’s a shame that it has not yet become en vogue for a deep voice to announce “previously on…” at the beginning of a film like they do at the start of an episode of “Homeland” or “Lost.”  This would certainly have come in handy for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the middle chapter of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation-cum-trilogy.  I will confess that I found the first entry, “An Unexpected Journey,” so forgettable that I spent 15 minutes reading the plot summary on Wikipedia  – and even longer trying to figure out how to remember or comprehend it.

Call me crazy, but I’ve always been rather immune to the appeal of Jackson’s Middle Earth epics.  While I admire the impeccable make-up work, the gorgeous cinematography, and the sheer amount of attention to detail apparent in the creation, the whole always feels less than the sum of its parts.  The plots never really engage me, and I find myself mentally exhausted by the end simply trying to both follow the chain of events and keep the characters straight.

“The Desolation of Smaug” seems about on par with its predecessor.  Neither have the same sense of urgency that propelled the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, thus making their north-of-160-minute runtimes feel more like a chore than an afternoon of entertainment.

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