Friday, September 04, 2015

Mr. Holmes

A non-zero number of folks are probably looking at this title, looking at the date, and wondering what the heck took me so long. Well, it did come out while I was in Montreal, watching a whole bunch of other movies, which meant that by the time I came home, it was kind of in an odd place - hanging around, but not necessarily at great times or great screens, but still enough that I could see it next week, until finally I was looking down the barrel of having to go to Lexington or West Newton at weird hours, so, okay, to Lexington at manageable hours on the last Thursday where that's an option it is.

Glad I finally caught it. It's amazing to me that this is probably just the third-biggest Sherlock Holmes film/TV thing this year, behind the restoration/release of the 1916 Sherlock Holmes and (perhaps) the Sherlock Christmas special, which will take place in the 19th Century and seems to borrow heavily from the Granada series. Interestingly, I felt like Carter Burwell's score for this was taking a fair amount of information from that show, which should never be surprising; it wasn't just Jeremy Brett more or less defining the role that made it great, but almost everything else.

I must admit, though, that I had the first line of this review in my head for the past couple of weeks, well before actually seeing the movie, and maybe that mindset was a part of why I put it off for a while. It took me a long time to look at the screen and see/hear Sherlock Holmes instead of Ian McKellen. Kind of unfair, I suppose, but I couldn't help it.

Another thing I couldn't help: Pulling out my copy of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes - a monster volume at 150 oversized hardcover pages, large enough to not actually be packed in boxes for the move - and checking to see whether the characters of this "last case" that Watson supposedly chronicled were part of "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" or "His Last Bow". They were not, which is a bummer, since there was clearly having a fair amount of fun in other places.

Anyway, sorry it took so long. This is still kicking around the second-run/suburban boutique house places, and comes out on video in November, and I don't think you have to be a particular Sherlock Holmes fan to enjoy this one.

Mr. Holmes

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 September 2015 in Lexington Venue #2 (second-run, DCP)

One of the interesting things about Sherlock Holmes is that, for as much as he is one of the most iconic and well-defined characters ever created, he rarely subsumes an actor playing the role - for as fine as their performances are, the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Downey Junior, Jeremy Brett, Peter Cushing, Basil Rathbone, and so on back, are all distinctly themselves as well as Holmes. Now, add Ian McKellen to the list of actors who don't disappear into the role, but are nevertheless part of an intriguing Holmes story.

The main action of the story starts in 1947, decades after Holmes has retired to the south of England to raise bees. He has just returned from a trip to Japan where he and correspondent Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) have been seeking the root of the "prickly ash", which Holmes believes will help to preserve his health and faculties better than the royal jelly he currently partakes of. He is re-investigating the case that made him quit detective work, when Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) hired him to get to the bottom of the odd behavior of his wife Ann (Hattie Morahan). He hasn't spoken to the late Doctor Watson in nearly that time, so his assistance comes from the housekeeper's bright son Roger Munro (Milo Parker), though his mother (Laura Linney) disapproves of how much time the two are spending together.

This particular mystery is not one that appears in "the canon", although it is treated as though it were published in Holmes's world, and even the Baker Street portion is in fact rather atypical of the stories Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. The case involves understanding the human psyche from the start, and some may feel that it sells the character short; for all that Holmes has always been an eccentric who solved crimes with forensics rather than by finding motive, he seldom displayed the sort of poor understanding of human behavior that is at the center of this story. Put that alongside how the screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher (and, presumably, Mitch Cullin's source novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind) seems to go out of its way to mention that certain cherished details of the stories are inaccurate, and there are moments when this starts to feel like the sort of "fan theory" that, in order to fill in a perceived gap, must invalidate some of the actual material.

Full review on EFC.

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