MR HOLMES REVIEW

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Can one of Britain’s biggest screen icons take on one of the most iconic literary figures? The answer is elementary, my dear movie minions.

Sublime. From the moment, the stern sleuth corrected a child on his error for mistaking a wasp for a bee, I knew I was for in a treat. A superb performance from Sir Ian McKellen.

An aged, retired Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) looks back on his life, and grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman (Hattie Morahan).

I’m not the world’s biggest Sherlock fan. The endless entries and reboots in both TV and film, despite having two charismatic leads, in Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch were overlong, over-hyped and needlessly complex. Watchable enough.

However, this take on the man behind the myth made for good viewing. McKellen’s charisma really carried the film as Mr Holmes attempts to recollect the details of his last case. The case that he never solved and forced him to exile to the pastoral countryside.

If you’re expecting an affair like the RDJ movies and Cucumberbatch TV series, you may be left disappointed. This is very much a slow burning yarn as Holmes must re-evaluate his life’s work and come to terms with his own mortality.

They really made McKellen look old and haggard. I mean obviously the screen icon is 76 but it’s mad how a few more lines and a hunched posture can change everything.

The story line flicks back and forth. Each flashback a little disjointed piece of a bigger puzzle. The only niggle I had with the continuity is that McKellen only looks a few years younger when the case is supposed to be 30 years old. Tut tut tut. McKellen can act as spritely as he wants. He can’t hide those greys. But only a niggle.

The structure worked really well as each development of the case coincided with a development in Holmes’ condition.

The case appears relatively simple. A suspicious husband curious of his wife’s activities. BUT of course in typical Holmes fashion, not everything is as it seems.

Hattie Morahan (The Bletchley Circle) played the wife well. BUT the case, for all its anticipated mystery and suspense, was a little disappointing. The puzzle solving was fun enough. BUT the unravelling wasn’t really that riveting or as rewarding as I hoped.

I was left wanting. There was one sobering moment that did surprise me. BUT the fantastic supporting cast were not used to their full potential and that was down to their poor characters.

Frances De La Tour (Rising Damp) certainly did a better job at a German accent than she did an American one in Survivor. BUT for all her flamboyance, the character was merely a weak red herring.

Roger Allam (The Queen) did the best that he could with his stoic doctor role and Philip Davis (Vera Drake) was merely a passing cameo with his detective. Shame.

What did stand out for me was the myth breaking of the man. The jokes about his deer stalker hat and pipe were brilliant. Merely for McKellen’s reaction. “I don’t smoke a pipe! I like the occasional cigar”.

I did get a chuckle as the miserable mystery man laughed at one of his latest screen offerings at the local pictures. Tutting and sighing away at the stupidity and inaccuracy of it all. His constant complaining of Watson’s exaggerations on his appearance, cases and life were entertaining.

Holmes’ memory loss made for sombre viewing. Forced to write dots in a diary when he forgets a name, place, date. It really hit home when Holmes couldn’t even remember the name of the housekeeper’s son Roger (Milo Parker) whom he had grown fond of. Quickly looking to the name he had written on his cuff.

McKellen and Parker were brilliant together. A stubborn old man versus a deductive, energetic fan. Parker will certainly be one to watch for the future. A strong performance. I really liked their relationship and it lightened the tone of a very serious case. A surrogate Watson, if you may.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I was too impressed with Roger’s mother. Laura Linney’s housekeeper was a mixed bag. I loved her in The Big C and I certainly felt for her character as she struggled to keep up with her son’s developing intellect. BUT what didn’t help was that her accent was so muddled. She really couldn’t grasp it and you could tell. It really grated against me. Each line felt like the bellow of a strangled cat. Well, maybe not that bad.

The story did lag in places and dither into random tangents which did have me questioning, “Where was this going?”. A quest for a miraculous herb known as ‘Prickly Ash’ in Japan felt a little out of place. BUT it allowed for a harrowing, if brilliantly shot sequence as Holmes ventures through the aftermath of Hiroshima.

It also unearthed Holmes’ desperation to fight his ailing condition. Hiroyuki Sanada (The Last Samurai)’s herb finder role seemed too tame and a thin subplot involving his father didn’t seem to make much sense.

However, the final quarter was unexpected. And all the little questions I had soon fell into place rounding everything perfectly. I went in expecting nothing and was rewarded with something more. I just wish that Holmes’ last case was much more memorable for the cast and the man. BUT the closing moments were written brilliantly and acted to perfection.

McKellen is everything you could imagine. The cast did their best. The case left little for desire.

BUT I would still recommend.

3/5

MR TURNER REVIEW

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Well, this didn’t turn me into a fan but a stand out performance from Spall certainly kept me going.

Mike Leigh takes his paintbrush to the canvas to paint the last 25 years of the great, if eccentric J.M.W (Joseph Mallard William) Turner.

I loved Leigh’s earlier efforts; Life is Sweet, Vera Drake and Another Year. However, I still found them a little overhyped. Good examinations of family, class and society but a little long at the tooth.

From the elongated if haunting opening sequence, I knew what I was in for. One of Turner’s most famous works slowly materialising and consuming the screen.

This is followed by a slow burning but beautifully captured picturesque pastoral Dutch countryside sequence as we watch Turner paint a windmill.

A wonderfully shot but slow burning examination of one man’s genius. The cinematography by Dick Pope has been commended and rightly so. A feast for the eyes.

I was not familiar with the works of Mr Turner. Firstly, I’m not a big art lover. But watching the process that he took in mastering his craft was an interesting process.

But with such genius, comes many flaws. At first, I was frowning at Spall’s delivery. Reduced to grunting and grimacing for the first part of the film. I wasn’t sure whether I liked the man.

A social outcast if ever there was one. Loved by a housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) he takes for granted and occasionally exploits sexually. He isolates a family he fathered out of wedlock with a scene stealing turn, by regular Leigh stalwart, Ruth Sheen as Sarah Danby.

He virtually denies their existence and doesn’t even ask of their welfare. To be honest, there wasn’t enough of Sheen or enough conflict for me. Leigh paints a rounded portrayal of Turner, capturing him at his best (or most eccentric) and his worst; he actually had himself strapped to the mast of a ship so that he can paint a snowstorm.

His relationship with his father (Paul Jesson) was done well and it added a little humanity to this strangely alien painter; completely out of touch with etiquette. Painting a picture of an aristocrat and openly spitting on the canvas to provide a better finish.

Jesson and Spall were a great pairing. I rate Timothy Spall quite highly and despite the character, I couldn’t stop watching him. A sterling performance.

The props and detail were perfect. I’m not an art lover but some of the paintings were outstanding. The Victorian dialect was a little undecipherable at first but you soon get the gist. It helped that I had studied Victorian literature back in sixth form (Oohh err). Didn’t expect to have to remember that.

I didn’t realise that Turner was both celebrated and reviled by the public and royalty. The open mockery regarding his final works was incredibly harsh. People made plays questioning that he had lost his sight if he thought he could regard such a painting as art.

When Turner does get painting and shares his views of his work, you don’t see a cantankerous recluse with questionable morals, you see a genius with an eye for detail.

An interesting scene in which at the Royal Academy of Arts, Turner appears to ruin another member’s work by smearing a red spot in the middle of the ocean. However, once Turner finishes, you notice that he has painted a buoy.

One relationship I felt was also captured quite well was between Turner and the seaside landlady, Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey). Bailey and Spall had great chemistry and I felt for the pair. I didn’t approve of the fact that they had to live incognito in Chelsea.

Look at me. Didn’t approve. I’m more Victorian than I thought. A sign of the times.

The 150 minute pace was debatable. I felt that parts dragged and that the film meandered along the waves Turner painted.

At its best, a beautifully shot travel diary as a renowned painter travels, paints, stays with the country aristocracy and visits brothels.

At its worst, a meandering pretentious if rounded biopic on an eccentric Victorian womaniser. The cast do their best BUT with the people Leigh had at his fingertips, I just wish more was made out of them.

Renowned TV actors reduced to bitty ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameos; James Fleet (Vicar of Dibley), Karl Johnson, Ruby Bentall (both Lark Rise to Candleford) and Lee Ingleby (Inspector George Gently).

This really is an acquired taste. Very much like the works of Mr Turner. If you’re an avid fan of Mike Leigh, Timothy Spall and the artist Mr Turner, then this is for you.

But for newcomers of any of the above, this may not be the best starter.

3/5

MALEFICENT REVIEW

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A rehashing and re-working of a timeless Disney classic that delivers fantastic special effects, great acting but somehow misses the mark.

Perhaps the cynic in me reared his ugly head. This doesn’t normally happen with a Disney movie.

Jolie was perfectly cast as Maleficent. Her presence, her voice, the looks – brilliant. With those facial Lady Gaga implants, she looked creepily thin.

The film zipped along quite well. I certainly didn’t feel like I had sat there for 90 minutes.

The opening was sickly sweet. A little too corny and cheesy as a young fairy Maleficent soars around the woodlands. Beautifully animated and shot well. The 3D being used to its full capabilities. You felt like you were flying around the screen.

The water flicking out. The creatures jumping out of the screen. The very potential of 3D finally being used.
If you were expecting a full in-depth look into the origins of Maleficent, you may be disappointed. It is soon established by the narrator that she was a fairy. An abnormally big one. A human sized one, in fact.

All the other fairies are pixie sized or have to use an enchantment but not Maleficent. But then again, it’s magic. My main niggle was that apart from some nicely acted moments and some cracking CGI set pieces, there isn’t really a lot going on which gave my cynical mind time to wander and pick at this loosely joined plot.

I mean, come on, it’s a fairy tale. They are all ridiculous within their right by those grounds. BUT if you ever wondered what a villain was doing while the hero or, in this case, heroine lived their lives. I can tell you. Bugger all, really.

Jolie’s Maleficent literally sits on a tree and watches the young Aurora grow up. I mean the idea of her waiting to strike sounds menacing but it’s all done so light heartedly. I mean, duh, it’s Disney but the trailers (that horrible phrase) made the movie appear to be so much darker.

I mean all Jolie does is sit and fester or throw the odd prank on the pixies to keep her entertained. But this went on for 16 years? I mean, I understand that 16 was the age when Maleficent was scorned by her lover. And also if the curse said 16; why did Aurora’s father send her away for all those years?

Maleficent would have had plenty of time to find her. Especially when the pixies were right near her terrain.

Speaking of which the overly used CGI pixies (Imelda Staunton – Harry Potter, Juno Temple – The Dark Knight Rises and Lesley Manville – Vera Drake) were incredibly irritating and annoying.
Even their animated predecessors weren’t that bad. It was interesting to see Sam Riley in a normal role. Well, I say, normal. If you can call his anamorphic crow hybrid protagonist Diaval normal.

I mean for those who are still questioning why there is a spin off prequel to Sleeping Beauty, imagine what Disney could do with Maleficent and yeah you got it on the head. It is that predictable BUT also very watchable and doesn’t bore.

It was an interesting concept to provide a different dimension to a character that was just pure evil and had no redeemable features. However, the only problem this time around, Jolie’s Maleficent is not really that evil at all and you soon feel sorry for her.

BUT at the same time, it’s the same old scorned love story. Some moments surprised and near the end, I was cockily sitting there saying this is going to happen but was proved wrong. But it all ended the same way, near enough.

Sharlto Copley (District 9) was more menacing when given the screen time as the demented King Stefan. However, when given the screen time, all he was doing was sitting, grimacing and barking orders.

Elle Fanning was delightful as the dreadfully naïve Aurora. She worked well with Jolie. It was quite funny to see Jolie acting with her own daughter who played a younger Aurora for a brief scene. Jolie glaring and hissing, “I don’t like children. Go away.” Corny but nicely done.

It zips along, it’s good to look at. The cast are fantastic. The special effects are brilliant. But something about it just doesn’t sparkle, merely flickers for me.

3/5