Mr. Holmes

Mr. Holmes is a new film about Sherlock Holmes in his later years. Ian McKellen plays the titular role. It transpires in the postwar 1940s. Holmes has retired ages ago, and lives in a cottage near Dover, England. His body and his memory are failing. He is attended by Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker). After losing her husband in the war, she struggles to carry on, urging Roger to not bother Mr. Holmes.

As the film opens, Holmes is returning from a trip to Japan. A gentleman he has been corresponding with offered to help him locate a special plant, which could help him regain memories and help him cope with his aging. He returns to the cottage, and Mrs. Munro urges Roger to leave Mr. Holmes alone. Being a child, he cannot, and goes through Holmes’ papers. Roger finds a story and reads it. Naturally, Mr. Holmes realizes this, and they start to talk. The story is not a story at all, but it is Mr. Holmes’ final case, the one that caused him to retire. It is unfinished, and he has forgotten many of the details, but is struggling to recall enough that he can finalize the recounting of it and find the truth. Holmes is invigorated by this, and remembers a little more more. Meanwhile, he has taken a liking to Roger, and starts to teach him about beekeeping, one of his hobbies that’s sustained him through the years.

This film is three stories in one. The first is ‘the present’, the second is the case, and the third is his trip to Japan, and his interactions with his host. We find that Watson was the storyteller who had a fondness for embellishing the truth, which irritated Holmes to no end. For example, the Deerstalker Hat and Pipe were creations of Watson, and so on. The case he’s trying to remember did not end in the fictional manner that Watson indicated, so he’s trying to resolve it before he passes on. The case itself appears throughout the story, as Holmes remembers it, and the third is his trip to Japan. It goes in an unexpected direction that I will not reveal.

This movie works well on several levels. First, and foremost, the casting is brilliant. Ian McKellen is exceptionally good. He plays the frailty of his years and the frustrations of his aging extremely well, good enough that it made me question McKellen’s actual health. He’s that good. Laura Linney is good, but it’s hard to tell if she was an American in England for the war, or a citizen of the U.K. with a modest accent. Her intensity makes up for that. Milo Parker is more talented than you’d expect for someone his age. He reminds me of Thomas Brodie-Sangster when he starred “Love, Actually”, but moreso. The rest of the cast, especially Hattie Moran as Ann Kelmot, are really committed to making the story work. The second is that the stories, on their own, aren’t all that strong, but the flipping between then strengthens their power. There are several turns of events that kept me guessing on the outcome.

This film has a melancholic tone, but the it slowly builds towards the finale. I expected the film to be decent, but it’s much more than that. There’s power in this drama, and it made me consider something about Sherlock Holmes that has only been hinted at in many of the various representations of him on screen.

I definitely recommend this film, and I’ve already placed it in my top ten movie list for 2015.

American Ultra

American Ultra is yet another summer action film that follows certain movie cliches you’ve seen before, but, coupled with some good performances from unexpected actors, work well as a whole.

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner who works at a convenience store. He has panic attacks whenever he tries to leave the area. The film starts with him and his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) trying to leave for a trip to Hawaii, where he intends to propose. However, he camps out in the bathroom, and they have to cancel the trip. On the way home, they’re pulled over, where the officer reminds them of the many times he’s been brought in for this petty crime or another. At home, Phoebe is irritated, but forgives him, while he debates his next attempt to propose. He decides to use fireworks, so he seeks out his friend Rose (John Leguizamo), a sordid guy who is his good friend.

Meanwhile, back at the CIA, Victoria (Connie Britton!), receives an anonymous phone call, saying that her Ultra project has been terminated, and the project will be deleted. She rushes to confront her former cow-orker, now boss, Adrian (Topher Grace), who says his Tough Guy project was superior and she should just accept it. She doesn’t, so she goes to warn Mike at the convenience store. Victoria finds Mike, says the trigger phrase, but he fails to recognize it, so she leaves, frustrated.

Adrian’s Tough Guy agents arrive, and Mike notices them vandalizing his car. He asks them to stop, but they attack, and that triggers the sleeper agent in him. He dispatches them quickly and abruptly. He freaks out, calls Phoebe and neither can understand what happened. By then, the police appear and arrest them for murder. Adrian is tracking Mike, and the agency concocts a bogus virus outbreak to lock down the town and finish the job. Of course, it’s never that simple…

There are some nice touches in the movie. Mike is a comic artist in his spare time. Some of the banter works really well, and I suspect there was a lot more of a story with Rose and his guys than made it to the screen. More than a few of the characters are pretty much one-notes, but, to me, it was a good mix. The action was a bit frantic, but fortunately it didn’t warrant Shaky Cam behavior (it was easier to follow). Some of the stunts weren’t entirely plausible when taken as a whole, but individually, they were visually impressive. The fights are a bit graphic, so be forewarned. There’s a bit of cringeworthy violence, but nothing too gory. Some of the plot points were a little questionable, but not completely implausible.

There is a decent coda to the story that brings it all together. There’s also an animated story around the credits that’s entertaining, and makes sense, in retrospect. When it comes to cable, I will probably watch it again to see how it ties to an earlier part of the story. There is no post-credits scene.


The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is a re-envisioning of the TV show from the 1960s. The movie takes place in the midst of the 1960s, when the Cold War was on the rise. I’ll state up front that I don’t really remember the TV show, other than the basic premise.

The movie starts off at Checkpoint Charlie, the border between the U.S. held portion of Berlin and the Portion of Berlin “managed” by the U.S.S.R. Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a CIA agent, crosses over to East Berlin, to see out Gaby Teller(Alicia Vikander). She is the estranged daughter of an important German scientist, who has gone missing. It is said he has discovered a way to generate enhanced Uranium faster and simpler than has been done in the past. Since he’s gone missing, Solo attempts to recruit Gaby to find her father via an uncle, who might know where he’s gone to. Before he can convince her, he realizes that he’s been followed by a KGB agent, but Solo escapes with Gaby, and they are able to make it to West Berlin after a quick car chase with the agent.

Turns out that neither the Russians nor the Americans know who’s taken him, and the only lead is via this uncle, who is now working for a shipping company in Rome. It is discovered that the shipping company has suspected ties to some undesirable elements. Knowing this, the Russians team up with the Americans. And thus, a partnership is formed between Solo and the KGB agent who was chasing him through Berlin, aka Illya Kuryakin(Armie Hammer). The two have to work together to locate the missing scientist, and any Uranium that has been produced. Gaby and Illya pose as an engaged couple, going to meet the uncle, and this shepherds the story along, and this is where the film gets into gear.

I did not have a lot of hope for the quality of this movie, as there hasn’t been much promotion of the film. Guy Ritchie co-wrote the film, and also directed it, so expectations were high. This is, essentially a buddy cop movie, but they’re spies, instead. Cavill plays Solo as cool, and elegant (almost an American James Bond), while Hammer portrays Kuryakin as the brawler with an extremely short fuse. Both agents work alone, so having a partner is something neither wants. The antagonism and camaraderie towards each other initially seems a little forced, but, as you would expect, they do end up working well together, but in their own ways. I did not expect the level of witty banter, though, and helped convince me they weren’t intending to be too serious about it – considering the movie’s from Guy Ritchie, it makes a lot of sense. There are a few action scenes that are done well. Some of them are in the style they used to do in the 60s, where the screen is split into several panels, each with their own sequence (and often muted). That was a nice touch.

I had some minor quibbles with the movie – a computer disk from the 1960s would be huge and hard to conceal, but what they use as a stand-in is some sort of tape cartridge instead. Also, Vikander’s trying to play German, and while she’s Scandanavian, it doesn’t quite work. Her English was dialect-free, as if she were just reciting her lines without a trace of any accent. Other characters did the same, but, as I said, it’s not really a complaint.

I recommend the movie.

During the credits, they show dossiers of the main characters briefly. There is no post-credits sequence.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the latest movie from the Mission: Impossible franchise. It was directed and co-written by Christopher McQuarrie, who has written for several other Tom Cruise films. Before I go on, I must point out that I have not seen the three previous films in the series, but fortunately, that’s not necessary.

At the core of this, the Mission: Impossible team (or I.M. Force) is a covert counter-terrorist group, overseen by “The Secretary”, a member of the US Cabinet. Back when it was a TV show, their mission (if they choose to accept it) was to go beyond normal means to gather information and/or thwart activities that threaten the safety of the United States and the world as a whole. That’s still true, because they operate outside normal rules and regulations, and cover their tracks as they depart.

M:I-RN starts with the I.M. Force trying to prevent chemical weapons from bring delivered. There’s a thrilling chase to get onboard a cargo plane by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his associates Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) assisting him. This cold open is much like what you’d see in James Bond films, and hits the ground running.

Of course, they’re in trouble with the CIA. They infiltrated the CIA in the past, and their director, Hunley (Alec Baldwin) wants them shut down. The I.M. Force’s inside man, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) tries to defend their actions, but there is no appointed Secretary, so he cannot and will not reveal any information about how the group operates, so Congress shuts them down, and they are to be re-integrated back into the CIA for other work. Ethan Hunt does not comply, because he believes there’s a foreign agency, called The Syndicate, that is the counterpart to the I.M. Force, and even without proof, remains hidden until he can prove its existence.

Everyone else is back under the CIA’s guidance, and efforts to recapture Hunt are continually unsuccessful. Turns out, someone else is after Hunt, and captures him first, but he manages to escape. This renews Hunt’s determination to find the Syndicate and eliminate it. Through a deception or three, he manages to get the band back together to accomplish that goal.

What follows is an elaborate shell game. That is the core of any Mission: Impossible movie – keep moving forward in the con game, and it will eventually work itself out. Plans work, some fail, but the deception goes on to the thrilling conclusion. You aren’t sure of anyone’s loyalties, right up until the very end. I do like a film where the plot isn’t entirely spelled out in the beginning, and this movie kept me guessing. The action scenes were appropriately frantic, the deceptions were thrilling, and you definitely have to check your suspension of disbelief at the door.

Really. I’m not kidding. Check it before you go crazy. There’s stuff here that just doesn’t make sense, from a practical standpoint. I’m convinced that they came up with the idea “Let’s have a stunt where this happens, and then we can wrap some bogus movie logic around it. People won’t notice. It’ll be great!” However, like I said, don’t think too hard about those things, and you’ll enjoy this film a lot more. I know I did. I do recommend this action movie for exactly what it is. You won’t regret it.

Some other remarks

  • This film was clearly sponsored by BMW
  • Look at the tail rotor as Luther gets out to meet with Brandt 🙂
  • A USB Stick is NOT a “disk”. Stop saying that!
  • You’d think they’d have a screen over that thing to prevent things from falling in.