Tag Archives: Robert Downey Jr.

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

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‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Full of Fun Surprises

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Three stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction; suggestive comments)
141 minutes

Thor, Captain America and Iron Man may be the flashiest, most popular Avengers but they’re also, arguably, the least compelling members of Marvel’s superhero collective.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has fabulous hair, a big hammer and wrestles with Shakespearean family drama.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is decent and square and also kinda sad that everyone he ever knew and loved is now dead.

Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, is Steve Jobs with better hair, nicer clothes, more charm and an obsession with technology that is both an asset and an Achilles heel.

These guys are great and all, but they’ve each starred in at least two solo movies apiece. By now, we know pretty much everything there is to know about them.

So it’s an unexpected pleasure that “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron” devotes its attention to characters who spent a lot of time lingering in the background in 2002’s “Avengers.”

At last, we discover everything we’ve ever wanted to know about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the stoic archer who skulked through the “Avengers” in a Loki-induced trance.

We also find out just what is going on between him and lethal assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who piqued our curiosity with the tiny gold arrow she wore around her neck in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

The relationship isn’t quite what we expected and that’s half the fun of “Age of Ultron.” The movie brims with enjoyable little surprises, from cameo appearances by minor characters to clever winks to previous Marvel outings.

The Hulk finds romance. Black Widow gets to be vulnerable as well as spectacularly lethal. Maria Hill actually cracks a few jokes (only natural considering she’s played by funny-girl Cobie Smulders).

Jarvis the computer, who has always been one of Iron Man’s most sharply sketched personalities, thanks to Paul Bettany’s tart voice work, undergoes a delightful evolution.

If the Marvel movie franchise has become an almost impossibly tangled web, director Joss Whedon is a nimble spider, spinning off dozens of new plot threads, wrapping up neat, little moments for a vast ensemble of characters, deftly interweaving CGI spectacle and satisfying emotion. This is movie-making on an unprecedented, gargantuan scale. It’s no wonder the guy needs a break.

When it comes to theme, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t break much new ground. United, the Avengers stand. Divided … well, not so much.

The glories of the team’s combined might are illustrated in a prologue that sees the superheroes working in perfect harmony as they ambush a Hydra base in the snowy woods of the fictional Eastern European nation of Sokovia.

Our band of heroes emerge victorious with a new toy for Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to play with, containing one of the infamous infinity stones that Marvel villains are always after. They also acquire a pair of new enemies, eerily gifted Sokovian twins played by Emily Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

When Tony starts poking into the infinity stone’s properties, back at the shiny S.H.I.E.L.D lab — or at least the corrupted organization formerly known as S.H.I.E.L.D — he discovers alien technology perfectly suited to realizing his pet project: an artificial intelligence program powerful enough to enforce world peace.

Without bothering to consult the other Avengers, Stark talks the skeptical Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) into helping him create the super program known as Ultron. Apparently, these guys have never seen “The Terminator,” because the being they spawn is a malevolent, red-eyed robot who misinterprets his mission to disastrous effect.

Once again, the Avengers begin to doubt each other, especially as Olsen’s Scarlet Witch — a welcome new female presence in the testosterone-filled Marvel landscape — unleashes her witchy powers of mind control upon them, causing them to relive painful pasts and envision future fears.

Leading the clash of consciences are Stark and The Cap, whose dueling philosophies on power and peace put them deeply at odds. (Could this be the beginning of a certain Civil War?)

At this point, the Marvel universe has become so complicated — spanning multiple galaxies, planets, dimensions and eras — that plot almost ceases to be relevant.

While I enjoyed nearly every minute of “Age of Ultron,” I felt at times as if my grasp on the whole thing was slipping. Who could say exactly what was happening at any given moment?

I don’t think it’s just me and my sometimes foggy, sleep-deprived brain, either. My theory is that, at this point, only the Marvel script supervisors know precisely what is going on.

Still, there’s a familiarity that anchors us.

Elements of “Beauty and the Beast” can be found in the movie’s unlikely central romance, even if the coupling comes out of left field.

There are shades of the “Frankenstein” myth in Ultron, who proves to be one of Marvel’s more fascinating baddies, thanks to James Spader’s acerbic vocalization.

As lofty, and perhaps unachievable, as its ambitions are, it isn’t the money-shot action sequences that ground “Age of Ultron.”

The film is at its headiest and most thrilling when it puts the mayhem on pause for the sake of intimate interactions between its god-like heroes — trading war stories at a party, licking their wounds after retreating to a remote farmhouse.

The Avengers are most endearing when they are most human.

 

 

 

My Tortured Love Affair With Comic-Con

Dear San Diego Comic-Con,

We’ve had our good times, you and I, but over the last few years, we’ve had our differences too.

I’m not the bright-eyed, energetic pop culture junkie I once was. I’m older. I have a kid. I have responsibilities. I can’t be bothered with noise and crowds and inconvenience. I still consider myself a die-hard nerd, but you probably won’t catch me standing outside movie theaters at midnight with my lightsaber or Harry Potter wand anymore. I no longer have the stamina to part a sea of hygienically challenged fanboys, poster tubes strapped to their shoulders like samurai swords, backpacks full of munchies and Monster Energy Drinks.

I’m not the only one who has changed. You used to be this cool thing that only certain people knew about. Then suddenly, you were popular. You started off as a small gathering of comic book collectors in a hotel ballroom. Now you’re a juggernaut, sprawling all over the San Diego Convention Center and beyond.

Every media outlet, from Entertainment Weekly to the 5 o’clock news, is compelled to cover you. Your latest installment, kicking off tonight, is expected to attract a horde of at least 130,000. Attending used to be a relatively simple affair, as long as one was on the ball and made one’s plans early. It now requires an exhausting scramble for tickets and exorbitantly priced hotel rooms.

So several years ago, after much agonizing, I quit you, Comic-Con. But I have a confession to make.

I still miss you.

I miss ducking out of work early and rolling into San Diego on Preview Night just in time for badge pick-up. We’d check into our over-priced hotel and stuff our faces with Extraordinary Desserts while marking up the official Comic-Con schedule, formulating our strategy for the long weekend ahead.

After a night of terrible sleep, we’d rise early, tug on our nerdiest T-shirts, and hike the mile to the Convention Center. If we were in a hurry, we’d splurge on a cab so we could join the queue to gain admittance to that wondrous place known as Hall H, the cavernous room where early-bird movie buffs catch a glimpse of Hollywood’s most anticipated future flicks. We were lucky if we got to sit in the very back of the room, where giant video monitors saved us from squinting blearily at the celebrities on stage, whose heads appeared no bigger than pins.

Sure, there was the year we had to sit through the “Twilight” panel and listen to thousands of “Twilight” moms shriek over Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner. There was the time the hall went on lock-down after a guy in a Harry Potter T-shirt stabbed another guy in the eye with a pencil. And there was always that one slobbering idiot just waiting to ask Scarlett Johansson an incredibly inappropriate question during the Q-and-A session.

Still, I must admit I miss Hall H. I miss sitting in that massive room from sun-up to sundown, listening to actors and writers and directors talk about their upcoming movies and watching sneak previews, new trailers and footage fresh from the set. Somehow, it didn’t matter that it was going to be up on the Internet by the next day. We didn’t mind subsisting on hot dogs and cardboard cheese pizza or the delirium that kicked in about the fourth hour spent in that windowless prison. There was something electric about being there, about being one of the first people to witness it all.

That time the entire cast of “The Avengers” took the stage was pretty awesome. So was the time Harrison Ford showed up to promote “Cowboys & Aliens” and was absolutely flummoxed by the standing ovation he received. Anything moderated by Patton Oswalt or featuring Guillermo del Toro and his favorite word — it begins with an “F” — is always a good time. Impeccably dressed in a natty suit, Robert Downey Jr. is … well … he’s just the man.

Heck, I even miss standing in that endless, serpentine line for Hall H, which resembles something out of “The Hunger Games.” In that mass of humanity, you are guaranteed to meet a stranger who shares whatever interest floats your geeky boat, whether it be Harry Potter, “Doctor Who,” “Transformers,” “The Goonies,” “Star Trek,” “Firefly,” or some obscure anime series. Communing with like-minded nerds is a huge part of your sloppy charm, Comic-Con.

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Let’s not forget the cosplayers, a brave and astonishing species unto themselves, living out their private fantasies in public in a shameless parade of elaborate finery. Here’s to you, glow-in-the-dark “Tron” pajama guy, chubby Batman, baby Thor, and Slave Leia, bold enough to don the sacred gold bikini. Here’s to you, amateur Tony Stark, builder of the most awesome, fully functional Iron Man suit ever. Here’s to you, Stormtroopers, always kind enough to pose for a picture, and tiny Jawas with light-up eyes, and that dude dressed like Luke in the Dagobah training sequence, a baby strapped to his back, clad in a Yoda costume. You rock.

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As if that wasn’t enough, there is the exhibit hall floor, a veritable wonderland of geek culture, where fans jostle each other shoulder to shoulder in search of that elusive collectible or a must-have surprise — a T-shirt, an action figure, a bumper sticker, a handmade Harry Potter scarf, an indie comic book, a signed poster.

At Comic-Con, there are wonders waiting around every corner. You might happen upon Stan Lee in the hallway or the entire cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — sans Patrick Stewart, of course.

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I think what I remember most fondly about you, Comic-Con, is dragging myself through the Gaslamp Quarter at dusk in search of a watering hole where my friends and I could rehash the amazing events of our day, swapping stories and laughing over newly forged inside jokes. We’d head back to the hotel, dump the contents of our complimentary Comic-Con bags out on the bed and sort through our swag. Most of it would inevitably end up in the trash, but at the time it seemed like the most precious of treasures.

Then we’d settle down for another night of terrible sleep so we could wake up and do it all again the next day. It was the best.

I think that says it all, dear Comic-Con. Maybe one day I’ll return to you. I hope you miss me, too, just a little bit.

Affectionately yours,

Lavender

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Lavender Vroman and Kristy Rivas at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.