“MR. HOLMES” (2015) Review

 

“MR. HOLMES” (2015) Review

Arthur Conan Doyle created a force of nature when he set out to write a series of mystery novels featuring the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. His novels have not only provided a series of movie and television adaptations for the past century, but also the Holmes character has led to a great number of movies, novels and television series that featured original stories not written by Doyle. Among them is Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind”.

About a decade later, “MR. HOLMES”, a film adaptation of Cullin’s novel finally hit the movie screens. Directed by Bill Condon, the movie told the story of a 93 year-old Sherlock Holmes, who has returned to his Sussex farm, following a trip to Hiroshima, Japan in 1947. The aging retired detective had taken the trip abroad to acquire a prickly ash plant and use its jelly to help him improve his failing memory. Apparently, Holmes has been unhappy with his ex-partner Dr. John Watson’s account of his last case, which occurred over 30 years earlier, and hoped to write his own account. Holmes recruits the help of Roger Munro, the young son of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, to help him regain his memories and care for the bees inside the farmhouse’s apiary. Over time, Holmes and Roger develop a strong friendship. And Holmes’ memories of his last case prove to be different than he had expected.

When I had first decided to see “MR. HOLMES” in the movie theaters, I did not expect it would be a mystery involving crime. I felt certain that it would more or less be a character study about the famous fictional detective. Not only was I right, I was also surprised to learn that Holmes’ last case said a lot about a certain aspect of his personality and how much he had changed through his relationship with Roger Munro and his mother. The movie also focused on Holmes’ trip to Japan and the curious relationship he had developed with a Mr. Tamiki Umezaki, who helped him find the prickly ash plant. Holmes discovered that Mr. Umezaki had a reason, other than admiration for his past reputation as a detective, for helping him. The latter believes that Holmes knows the real reason why his father had abandoned the Umezaki family many years ago. Only Holmes does not remember.

Ever since its release in theaters, “MR. HOLMES” has been showered with acclaim from film critics, aside from a few who were not completely impressed. When I first saw the trailer for “MR. HOLMES”, a part of me immediately suspected that the movie would feature a mystery. But I also suspected that the mystery would have nothing to do with a crime. I was proved right when I finally saw the film. In the end, “MR. HOLMES” proved to be at its core, a character study of the fictional detective. But the movie is also a study of a man struggling with aging and the slow loss of his memories and faculties. Due to Holmes’ failing memory, the details surrounding his last case and the disappearance of Mr. Umezaki’s father served as the story’s two mysteries.

A character study of Sherlock Holmes. The last time I saw a similar narrative unfold occurred in the 1976 movie, “THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION” in which the detective struggled with cocaine and morphine, along with an unpleasant childhood memory. But the 1976 movie also featured a mysterious death and kidnapping. No crimes were featured in“MR. HOLMES”. The interesting aspect about “MR. HOLMES” is that the detective’s last case revealed an aspect about his personality that he had never acknowledge or recognized in the past. A personal shortcoming that led to the final failure of his last case. And this discovery . . . this failure led him to retire as a private detective in disgust. And yet, thirty years later, Holmes finds himself struggling to face that aspect of his personality again, due to his relationship with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro and her young son, Roger.

Overall, “MR. HOLMES” was an interesting and well-paced experience for me. I thought director Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher did a first-rate job in exploring not only Holmes’ personality, but also the other major characters featured in this movie. I also have to give kudos to both men for being able to maintain the story’s main narrative and unveiling the mysteries of Holmes’ past, while flashing back and forth between the detective’s past and present. And they did this without the movie falling apart in the end.

I also have to give kudos to the movie’s production values. Production designer Martin Childs did an excellent job of re-creating both London in the 1910s, along with Sussex and Hiroshima in the mid-to-late 1940s. There was nothing earth shattering about his work, but I believe it served the movie’s purpose. His work was ably enhanced by Jonathan Houlding and James Wakefield’s art designs, and Charlotte Watts’ set decorations. In fact, the movie’s entire production values seemed to be in a state of understated elegance, including Keith Madden’s costume designs, which ably re-created the wardrobes of the two decades featured in the movie.

I felt rather disgusted and disappointed that Ian McKellen failed to get an Oscar or Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the aging Sherlock Holmes. I was amazed at his ability to portray the same character in two different time periods, yet at the same time, reflect at how much that character had changed over the years. And remained the same. Another Oscar potential performance came from Laura Linney, who was outstanding as Holmes’ put upon housekeeper, Mrs. Munro. First of all, I thought she did a first-rate job of recapturing her character’s regional accent. And two, she did a superb job of conveying her character’s unease over the growing friendship between her son and Holmes. If Milo Parker can stay the course, he might prove to be an outstanding actor as an adult. He was certainly first-rate as the very charming and intelligent Roger Munro. He also managed to hold his own against the likes of both McKellen and Linney.

I have not seen Hattie Morahan in a movie or television production for quite a while and it was good to see her. More importantly, she was superb as the housewife Ann Kelmot, who was under investigation by Holmes in the past. The actress managed to effectively project an intelligent, yet melancholic air that nearly permeated the film. “MR. HOLMES” is probably the first dramatic project I have ever seen feature Hiroyuki Sanada. Well . . . perhaps the second. I have always been aware that he was a first-rate actor. But I feel that he may have surpassed himself in giving, I believe, the film’s most subtle performance. I was astounded by how delicately he shifted the Tamiki Umezaki character from an ardent admirer of Holmes’ who wanted to help the latter to the emotional and suspicion son, who demanded to know the whereabouts of his missing father. The movie also featured solid performances from Roger Allam, Patrick Kennedy, Frances de la Tour, John Sessions and a surprise cameo appearance of Nicholas Rowe (who portrayed the fictional detective in the 1985 movie, “YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES”).

As much as I enjoyed “MR. HOLMES”, I believe that it suffered from one major flaw. Some critics had complained about Holmes’ visit to Japan and more specifically, his visit to the Hiroshima bomb site. I did not have a problem with Holmes and Mr. Umezaki’s visit to the famous site. Personally, I found it rather interesting. On the other hand, I had a problem with the subplot regarding the mystery of Tamiki Umezaki’s father. I will not spoil the ending of this particular story arc. But needless to say, I not only found it disappointing, but downright implausible. Was this how Mitch Cullin ended the Umezaki story arc? If so, I wish Hatcher and Condon had changed it. There was no law that they had to closely adapt Cullin’s novel.

Aside from the Tamiki Umezaki story arc, I found “MR. HOLMES” very satisfying, engrossing and very entertaining. Director Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher did a top-notch job in adapting Mitch Cullin’s novel. And they ably supported by the subtle artistry of the movie’s technical crew and the superb performances of a cast led by the always excellent Ian McKellen.

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Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

“RUSH HOUR 3” (2007) Review

“RUSH HOUR 3” (2007) Review

Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan and director Brett Ratner reunite after six years to film the third installment in the “RUSH HOUR”. In the end, the trio produce a silly, occasionally flawed yet very funny sequel.

I did not harbor any expectations about this comedy. Why should I? It’s a “RUSH HOUR” movie. Like its two predecessors, it was another comedic adventure featuring Hong Kong detective Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and Los Angeles Police Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker). However, this movie starts with the assassination attempt of Lee’s former mentor, now Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma) from the first film, in Los Angeles. It seems that Han and the World Criminal Court have concerned themselves with the growing threat of the Chinese Triads. Han announces that he has knowledge of the leadership behind the Triads. But before he can say anything further, he is shot by an assasin who turns out to be Lee’s godbrother, Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada). The latter manages to get away before Lee and Carter can capture him. The pair eventually learns from the Kung Fu master of Ambassador Han’s now grown-up daughter – Soo Yung (Zhang Jingchu) that she, the Ambassador and French Ambassador Reynard (Max von Sydow)have all been targeted by the Triads. Their investigations also lead them to a Triad hideout disguised as a gambling club in Paris. With the help of an overeager Parisian cab driver named George (Yvan Attal) and a beautiful nightclub entertainer named Genevieve (Noémie Lenoir), Carter and Lee foil the plans of the Traids to keep their identities safe.

Like its two predecessors, “RUSH HOUR 3” is not perfect. The movie’s beginning – which featured the assasination attempt and Carter’s encounter with two L.A. socialites – seemed a bit lame in the humor department. In fact, the movie does not really pick up pace until the two partners find themselves at Soo Yung’s kung fu academy, where they encounter a rather “tall” adversary and Carter engages in a hilarious rendition of the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?”routine. One last aspect of the movie bothered me . . . namely the Parisian cab driver, George. At first, I found Attal’s performance very entertaining, as he conveyed the character’s distaste for Americans. But after Carter managed to convince him to embrace all things American – including Seattle’s finest coffee that he labeled “shit” – he became annoying. A bore. Not even his last minute rescue of Carter and Lee could change my mind about him.

But “RUSH HOUR 3” still possessed enough attributes that made it an entertaining movie. The fight sequences – especially the sword fight between Chan and Sanada – were excellent. Even Tucker managed to hold his own a lot more than he usually did. While Chan and Sanada were busy with their showdown, his character was engaged in fighting off four Triad minions. Many might consider this unrealistic, considering that Carter had barely been able to defend himself in the first movie. But the second movie conveyed that Carter had learned a few moves. And by the third movie, he had become an effective martial arts fighter. Aside from the movie’s first ten to fifteen minutes, the humor seemed just as snappy and hilarious as it had been in the first two movies. And as usual, it was the gregarious Tucker who provided most of the laughs. But what I really enjoyed about “RUSH HOUR 3” was the colorful Parisian setting. No one felt more happy than I when the movie shifted from Los Angeles to Paris.

If you are seeking a comedy that provides a sharp and witty look at our society’s ills, “RUSH HOUR 3” is not your movie. If you simply want a hilarious, yet silly movie with beautiful locations, I suggest you rush to the nearest theater that features this movie, turn off your brain and enjoy yourself. Trust me, you will.

“SPEED RACER” (2008) Review

 

“SPEED RACER” (2008) Review

When I first saw the trailer for “SPEED RACER” . . . I had simply cringed in my seat. Granted, I had been a fan of the Japanese cartoon when I was a kid. But looking at that trailer, my mind simply cried, “Hell no!” There was no way in the world I was going to see this movie. 

But the more I saw the trailer, old memories of the cartoon kept welling in my thoughts. Soon, I found myself filled with nostalgia for the cartoon. I eventually decided to go see the movie after all. It might turn out to be a pile of crap, but I had to exorcise the ghosts of my childhood. Well . . . I went ahead and saw the movie. And I must say that it turned out to be a hell of a lot better than I had expected.

At a running time of two hours and fifteen minutes, “SPEED RACER” is about a young 18 year-old American (Emile Hirsch) with natural racing instincts. His goal is to become a world-class car racer, in the wake of the tragic death of his older brother, Rex Racer (Scott Porter) during the Casa Cristo, a cross-country rally. Speed is loyal to the family business, run by his parents Pops (John Goodman) and Mom (Susan Sarandon). Pops designed Speed’s car, the Mach 5. The owner of Royalton Industries (Roger Allam) makes Speed a lucrative offer to join the company’s racing team, but Speed rejects the offer, angering the owner. Speed also uncovers a secret that top corporate interests, including Royalton, are fixing races and cheating to gain profit. After Speed denies his offer to join his racing conglomerate, Royalton wants to ensure that Speed will not win any future races. Speed finds support from his parents and his girlfriend Trixie (Christina Ricci) and enters the Casa Cristo Rally in a partnership with his one-time rival, Racer X (Matthew Fox), in an effort to rescue his family’s business and the racing sport itself.

I must admit that when I first saw this movie, the first ten minutes had left me puzzled. Although I enjoyed how the story introduced Speed Racer’s obssession with racing and the death of his older brother, Rex Racer; I must admit that I had been taken aback by the movie’s visuals. It looked very cartoonish and I have not seen such bold colors since Warren Beatty’s 1990 film, “DICK TRACY”. But my mind adjusted to this new visual style and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the story. In fact, by the time the movie focused upon The Casa Cristo cross-country race, I found myself marveling over John Gaeta’s visual effects and David Tattersall’s photography. Quite frankly, I also ended up enjoying Larry and Andy Wachowski’s screenplay. “SPEED RACER” must be one of the few movies based upon a cartoon that possessed a strong social message – namely one against corporations’ involvment in the sport. And I found it pleasantly surprising.

As for the cast, Emile Hirsch struck me as a little flat at first. But in the scene in which Speed rejected Royalton’s offer, Hirsch’s Speed Racer finally bloomed into life. Christina Ricci gave a fun and charming performance as Trixie, Speed’s girlfriend. Both John Goodman and Susan Sarandon were solid as Speed’s parents. And I do not think that Matthew Fox had never been as sexy and enigmatic as he was as Racer X – Speed’s rival and ally in the fight against Royalton. I especially enjoyed his fight against a ninja assassin. Richard Roundtree gave a surprisingly sly and funny performance as Ben Burns, a former racer who became a commentator. To my surprise, Roger Allam’s slightly bombastic performance as the corrupt Royalton did not bother me at all. In fact, his character’s over-the-top personality seemed perfect for the movie. The biggest surprise turned out to be Paulie Litt as Spritle, the youngest Racer sibling. Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Regis Philbin once described the young television actor as a 40 year-old in a child’s body. Perhaps he is right. But young Paulie was a bundle of energy with great comic timing.

“SPEED RACER” did possess a few imperfections. Either the movie is fifteen minutes too long or its pacing had dropped off a bit, following the Casa Cristo race sequence. And I was a little annoyed with the Wachowski Brothers’ interruption of the fascinating sequence between Speed and Royalton’s discussion about the racing scene with comic moments of Spritle and his pet monkey, Chin Chin, trying to break into the businessman’s candy storage. It just seemed out of place and it nearly ruined the marvelous scene between Speed and Royalton.

Judging from some of the reviews I had read, it seems many film critics had disliked the film. I suspect that “SPEED RACER”‘s unusual visuals may have been a little too mind blowing for them. Unfortunately, a good number of moviegoers ended up paying attention to those critics. Which is a shame, in my opinion. I feel that “SPEED RACER” is one of the most entertaining films I have seen this year . . . hell, in the past decade; and one of the most unusual I have seen in a long time. And it was a shame that it bombed at the box office.  Considering many moviegoers’ recent habit of avoiding anything unusual, perhaps I should not have been surprised.  But I was disappointed.  An unusual movie such as “SPEED RACER” deserved success.  At least I think so.