Tag Archives: Mr. Holmes

Eight That Were Great: Underrated Gems of 2015

The lull between Hollywood’s big Christmas releases and the whirlwind start of Oscar season is a great time to catch up on flicks you may have missed in 2015.

Or maybe you’re just sick of watching “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” for the 20th time. (Who am I kidding? Go see it for the 21st time already.)

If you’re wondering what you should add to your Netflix queue, here are some underrated films from last year that definitely deserve your viewing time.

(And it wouldn’t be a year-end list from me if it didn’t include at least one vampire movie. This list has two. And zombies.)

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1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: I guarantee you have never seen a movie like this before. It’s a highly stylized German Expressionist/Western romance, directed by an Iranian woman (Ana Lily Amirpour), set in a fictionalized Persian town dubbed “Bad City,” starring a burka-wearing vampire (Sheila Vand) who is both adorable and creepy, and it was filmed in Bakersfield. If your mind isn’t already blown, it will be.

2. Maggie: On the surface, this thoughtful horror flick sounds like a bad direct-to-DVD thriller. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a concerned father whose teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) comes down with a zombifying illness in a plague-ridden U.S.A. This is actually one of Schwarzenegger’s best performances of late. It’s like “The Walking Dead,” if America managed to contain the outbreak before it consumed the nation.

3. Slow West: For its violent, punch-to-the-gut of a twist ending alone, this revisionist Western is worth a look. As leisurely paced as its name would suggest, it stars Michael Fassbender as a morally ambiguous wilderness guide facing one increasingly absurd dilemma after another in a striking deconstruction of the romance of the American frontier.

4. The Walk: You really should have seen Robert Zemeckis’ playful high-wire act when it was showing in 3-D. It was hands down, the best use of the format all year. The comedy-drama is still relevant, thanks to its mischievous, experimental vibe. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s terrible French accent aside, it tells the gripping true story of Philippe Petit’s epic stroll on a cable stretched across New York’s now absent Twin Towers. The 2008 documentary “Man on Wire” is still better, but this comes close to replicating its ebullient spirit.

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5. What We Do in the Shadows: The utter unlikeliness of the setting is the primary source of humor in this vampire comedy, made by and starring New Zealanders in the capital city of Wellington — not exactly a recipe for the sexy, darkly thrilling horror offerings audiences are accustomed to. The akwardly hilarious film was written and directed by Jemaine Clement, the goofier looking half of comedy duo Flight of the Conchords and it’s actually one of the most original vampire movies in recent years.

6. Mr. Holmes: Director Bill Condon’s exquisitely acted drama manages the seemingly impossible — contributing something new to the ubiquitous legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary British detective. And of course, the film stars Ian McKellen, at the height of his powers, reinterpreting the great Holmes as something we would never expect — an aging, embittered, beekeeping recluse haunted by past tragedies.

7. Z for Zachariah: Post-apocalyptic thrillers are all the rage right now, from “The Hunger Games” to “Insurgent,” but this drama explores the decline of civilization and humanity’s propensity to destroy itself from a much more adult, intriguing and quiet perspective. Margot Robbie demonstrates surprising versatility as the lone survivor of a wordwide nuclear disaster caught in an unlikely triangle between Chiwetel Ejiofor’s rational scientist and Chris Pine’s mysterious stranger. It’s like “The Last Man on Earth,” but all serious and stuff.

8. Crimson Peak: The films of Guillermo del Toro are an acquired taste and “Crimson Peak” is no different. Though it was lavished with publicity, it still managed to flop, but that’s probably because it’s not the type of horror movie mainstream audiences prefer. However, if you’re of a literary persuasion and prefer macabre tales steeped more in mood and mystery than cheap gimmicks, this sumptuously grotesque thriller will be just your bitter cup of tea. Or if you happen to love Hiddles … er, I mean, Tom Hiddleston.

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McKellen’s Holmes Is One We Haven’t Met Before

Mr. Holmes
Three stars (out of four)
PG (thematic elements, some disturbing images, incidental smoking)
104 minutes
For Antelope Valley moviegoers, the film will continue playing through next week at the BLVD Cinemas in Lancaster.

Few literary figures have existed in as many incarnations as the world’s most famous detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the shrewd solver of mysteries to readers in 1887. One hundred and twenty eight years later, Holmes retains a tenacious grip on our imaginations.

Benedict Cumberbatch is celebrated for his antisocial portrayal of the detective for the BBC, while Jonny Lee Miller plays a contemporary, post-rehab version of the character, opposite Lucy Liu as Watson, on the American series “Elementary.”

Meanwhile, there is apparently a third movie in the works to cap off director Guy Ritchie’s franchise featuring a manic Robert Downey Jr. as a Holmes engaged in comedic bromance with Jude Law’s Watson.

On television and in film, Holmes has appeared in countless variations, from iconic portrayals by Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett to Steven Spielberg’s “Young Sherlock Holmes.” He’s been played by the likes of John Cleese, Jeremy Irons, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, Rupert Everett, Buster Keaton, Christopher Plummer, Peter Cushing and John Barrymore.

So this brings us to the question: Is it possible to bring anything new to the great Holmesian universe created by Conan Doyle more than a century ago?

Hasn’t it all been done? Is it finally time for Holmes to hang up the old deerstalker?

The answer is “no,” judging by the detective’s most recent exploits in director Bill Condon’s thoughtful, surprising, exquisitely acted drama, “Mr. Holmes.”

Of course, it is an immense advantage that the famous investigator is played by Ian McKellen, who has made it his specialty to capture the volatile, enigmatic essence of men with keen minds and hidden demons.

At 76, the actor is at the height of his powers, and his seemingly contradictory gift of communicating playful, twinkly eyed wit alongside brooding cantankerousness is perfectly suited to a role this intimidating and irresistible.

McKellen, Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher (“The Duchess,” “Stage Beauty”) present to us a very different Holmes than the one we are familiar with. Gone are the instantly recognizable hat and coat, the pipe, the violin, the Baker Street address.

There is no sign of Dr. Watson or Mrs. Hughes, and there will be no disguises or uttering of such signature catchphrases as, “It’s elementary!” or “The game is afoot.”

Instead, we meet Holmes in retirement, sequestered in a picturesque but solitary cottage on the Sussex Coast, where he tends bees instead of solving riddles. The sunniness of the setting boldly belies the stereotypical image of a fretful figure peering from an upstairs window on a fog-bound London street.

It’s just after World War II and the former detective has returned from a secretive errand in Japan to the company of his begrudging housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her curious son, Roger (Milo Parker). (Both McKellen’s co-stars are excellent.)

Holmes likes to keep to himself, but Roger is fascinated by the cloistered celebrity who bears little resemblance to the sensational portrait depicted in a series of popular novels by his longtime companion, Dr. Watson.

When the detective catches the boy snooping in his upstairs study, an awkward friendship is sparked as Roger tries to coax the details of an unfinished manuscript from the reluctant Holmes, whose memory is showing signs of the disorienting illness then known only as “senility.”

Condon previously directed McKellen in the intriguing 1998 drama “Gods and Monsters,” earning the actor an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of horror movie director James Whale.

Watching “Mr. Holmes,” you’d never know he was also the director of the musical “Dreamgirls” and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn,” Parts 1 and 2. This latest film certainly marks a return to a more subtle form of cinema.

With the patience and discipline of a painter, Condon slowly and delicately — too slowly for some tastes, perhaps — applies layer upon layer of mystery, gradually revealing an emotional landscape as lovely as it is bittersweet.

One layer tantalizes us with the reason for Holmes’ self-imposed exile to Sussex, while another teases us with the explanation to his surreptitious quest to find a rare Japanese plant. Still yet another tempts us with the true story behind the detective’s final case, involving a haunting, grief-stricken young mother (Hattie Morahan) who dresses all in gray.

The film’s cunning structure actually allows McKellen to dazzle us with two versions of Holmes, the regretful, deteriorating old man and the younger, more debonair detective, glimpsed in flashback on the case of the “woman with the dove-grey glove.”

“Mr. Holmes” is at its best when Condon cleverly plays with ideas of legend and the divide between fact and fiction. The film’s most priceless moment occurs when Holmes sneaks off to the cinema to watch a fictional, black-and-white version of himself on screen. That actor just happens to be played by “Young Sherlock Holmes” star Nicholas Rowe.

Condon and McKellen have weightier things on the brain as well, heavy ruminations on mortality, loss, missed opportunity and memory, but the movie ends on an uplifting note with an idea especially pleasing to lovers of stories.

Facts and logic have their place but sometimes what life calls for is fiction.

Photo: spinoff.comicbookresources.com