Thursday, 23 July 2015


Transmission Films

"Fiction is worthless!" decries Sherlock Holmes, the famous (and fictional) sleuth, at one point in Mr. Holmes. What then would he make of a film (directed by Bill Condon) based on a novel (by Mitch Cullin) which imagines the retirement of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective?

Now in his ninety-third year, and relocated from his Baker Street London address to a house by the sea where he is tended to by housekeeper, Mrs. Monroe (Laura Linney), and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker), Holmes (Ian McKellen), who really needs a carer, is battling time and senility. But he is also battling the past.

In particular, the detective is troubled by his last case which he is struggling to recall; hoping to write an account of it to right two wrongs: the fictional and fanciful accounts of his other cases by long-time partner, Doctor John Watson (whose books Holmes declares as "penny dreadfuls with an elevated prose style"); and what actually transpired in that last case more than 30 years ago and which continues to niggle at the back of his mind.

But memory is not Holmes' friend. The sharp and perceptive mind which made him such a formidable detective -- his powers of deduction second to none -- is gradually giving in to time; slipping and fading. In his friendship with Roger, cultivated as Holmes teaches the youngster to tend to his beehives, Holmes is encouraged to continue writing; Roger as keen as his hero to know how the case was resolved. But memories of that final case come fleetingly to him, throughout the day and in his sleep.

Sherlock Holmes has enjoyed a pop culture resurgence in the last several years, with Robert Downey Jnr. bringing him back to the big screen, and both Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Jonny Lee Miller (Elementary) embodying modern-day television incarnations; each actor providing the sleuth with a mixture of arrogance and the autistic. At the very least, we can be thankful that Condon and McKellen have not given us an all-knowing egghead who sits somewhere on the spectrum. This Holmes is fallible, vulnerable. Human.

It is also refreshing to see Ian McKellen in a straight role for a change. For the best part of 20 years the British actor has either appeared on screen as the mutant super villain, Magneto (from the X-Men series), or as Gandalf the Grey, the wise but fair-weather wizard in Peter Jackson's adaptations of J.R.R Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

The last time McKellen did anything this dramatic was in another Condon film, Gods and Monsters (1998), which also scored the actor his first Oscar nomination. A reasonable deduction would suggest that awards aren't in McKellen's future, but his turn as Sherlock Holmes is an impressive one; shifting between the detective still in his prime, and the feeble old man who clings to his greatest possession -- his mind -- for dear life.

Linney is fine, too, in a small role and with a working class English accent, but it's Milo Parker who deserves second billing. The young actor as equally precocious as Roger, a kid with a mind ripe for learning and who wants so much more than his mother (and deceased father) achieved in life.

This trio of performances, the cinematography (Thomas A. Schliessler) and score (Carter Burwell) make Mr. Holmes an enjoyably watchable film, but one more polite than alive. The central mystery which Holmes hopes to recall is not all that intriguing, and a subplot involving Holmes' recent trip to Japan in search of prickly ash -- a plant regarded for its restorative powers -- is more distracting than anything. That said, Mr. Holmes is far from elementary.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015


Walt Disney Studios Films

After the excesses of Age of Ultron -- including a platoon of superheroes and a European city dropping from the sky -- Marvel Studios have decided to dial it back, and down, for their next outing. And although Ant-Man doesn't always live up to the adage that good things come in small packages, there's enough action and humour in Peyton Reed's film to ensure it's not the smallest contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

A prologue set in 1989 introduces us to scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who has succeeded in producing a serum and a super suit that can reduce humans to the size of ants whilst retaining their human-size strength. But falling out with Howard Stark (John Slattery), father of future Iron-man, and still mourning the loss of his wife, Pym hides his research away.

But the so-called Ant-man project needs to be dusted off when, in present day San Francisco, Pym's one-time protege and now owner of his company, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), comes ever closer to producing his own shrinking super suit; Cross prepared to sell to the highest bidder rather than aid a higher cause. Hank needs a hero, and much to the chagrin of his one-time estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), he decides upon Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).

A cat burglar recently released from prison, Scott is determined to go straight for the sake of his young daughter. But unable to hold on to a steady job, and with the constant nudging of his former cellmate cum housemate, Luis (Michael Pena), Scott is soon falling back on his old ways.

That brings him into possession of the Ant-man suit and eventually Hank Pym -- the scientist using a robbery as an audition to prove Scott's mettle -- and not before long the Pyms and the crim are in training for a heist to steal the rival suit from Cross. Cue a montage of Scott mastering the ins and outs of the suit, how to wrangle a selection of ants, how to throw a punch (and take one), and how to navigate the fraught relationship between father and daughter.

This latter theme adds a dollop of schmaltz to proceedings, making Ant-Man the most noticeably 'Disney' of the Marvel films to date. And while Reed (with thanks to original helmer, Edgar Wright, and co-writer Joe Cornish) manages to make it something different to the Iron-man, Thor and Captain America films, Ant-Man is by no means a Guardians of the Galaxy breakout. And Paul Rudd (with all due respect) is no Chris Pratt.

Indeed, Rudd's charisma, along with Scott's body, seems to have been reduced; reined in perhaps by the film's PG rating? An always affable, charming and warm screen presence, it's somewhat of a surprise that Rudd (who apparently had extensive input into the character and script) doesn't register in the same way that Pratt did in Guardians (and subsequently with Pena getting the majority of the laughs).

Signalling the end of MCU's Phase Two (for those keeping count), Ant-Man doesn't go out with a whimper but more a less-than-expected bang. The film is not so much sub-par as sub-atomic, if you will.