Mr. Holmes (2015): A Reflection on Mortality, Regret, Class and Empathy

Mr. Holmes

    Part of the problem of Sherlock Holmes as a character is that in his stories he never grows. He is the super hero who is static while those around him change, this is a problem with the Sherlock of “Sherlock” too as he never grows beyond his sociopathic tendencies or how he relates to others. This film answers the question of what it would take for Sherlock Holmes to grow and develop and what would happen if he lost the ability to use his mind as he once did before…it is beautiful, tragic and so much more. I will not be surprised at all if this makes my Top 5 Films of 2015 list at the end of the year, it tackles so many issues and does it through showing rather than telling us. What a way to end the first “Sherlock Holmes” week.

      “Mr. Holmes” was directed by Bill Condon, written by Jeffrey Hatcher, produced by Anne Carey, Ian Canning, Emile Sherman and is based off the book A Slight Trick of the Mind (which I really want to read now) by Mitch Cullen.

        The story involves a retired Sherlock Holmes trying to solve the case that made him retire as he is losing his memory and strength as he builds a relationship with the Monro’s (the mother and her son Roger) who are taking care of him and his bees out in the countryside.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning and captures the beauty and wonder of the English countryside. We see Sherlock when he was old and still active and it captures how broken he is as an old man and how for the first time, he truly has to depend on others for help…all this in how a scene is filmed. Tobias Schliessler did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Carter Burwell also did a great job on the soundtrack, capturing the very classic mind of Sherlock (the violin Motif in most Sherlock stories) and the moments of sadness are punctuated by the score.

The Writing – The writing is amazing and actions have consequences. Every scene leads into the next and we are given a story that does not know the meaning of static. Every scene is action which provides a masterful tale.

The Characters – There are only a few characters of importance (some small parts appear to give us new information) the core characters all reveal more about themselves and change through the course of the film.

Roger – Usually child actors don’t do a great job, but an exception can be made here. Milo Parker does a good job as Roger who begins to take on Sherlock tendencies. In this Sherlock keeps him curious and his desire to learn while his mother reminds him to feel for others and that he has responsibilities beyond himself. He has a good arc and is set up to eventually become Sherlock’s replacement as Sherlock teaches him his methods.

Mrs. Munro –  Mrs. Munro distrusts Sherlock for much of it until he shows emotion that he does care about Roger (after wasps attack him) and shows her that her son was a hero trying to protect the bees from the wasps (reason he was hospitalized near the end). It is a powerful scene and we see her want to learn from him after that and also him make her inheritor of his will, showing respect that he had never shown her prior. Laura Linney does a great job.

Tamiki – Tamiki is the man seeking his father and helping Sherlock face death (their time in Hirishoma seeing the victims of the bomb and the bomb site) which help Sherlock face death in the long run as he finds a way to honor the dead. Tamiki treats Sherlock with nothing but respect and sees him as somewhat of a surrogate father figure. it’s a good relationship and it’s great seeing Hiroyuki Sanada outside of “Helix.” He’s a fantastic actor who I want to see more of.

Mr. Holmes – Ian McKellan is truly a master of his art! We see him as classic Sherlock (detached, intuiting and solving cases), broken Sherlock (cut off from the world and living in regret) and a Sherlock losing his mind and body who has learned to live for the first time. It’s powerful and he truly this role. Ian McKellan is one of my favorite actors and this film would probably not be a favorite were it not for his performance as he shows a character who has never really gone through a character arc, go through a powerful one where he learns to empathize, face death, live and grow.

The Case that Broke Sherlock Holmes -In a side plot in Japan where Sherlock is getting the drug he needs to sharpen his mind. It is here he learns Tamiki said he knew Sherlock where Sherlock has no memory and that Sherlock became an adopted father in his stories that Watson wrote. It’s a powerful relationship and in the end we see Sherlock give the Tamiki the comfort he’s wanted since he was a child when his father went missing in his last letter to him.

Critique of Classicism – There is a subtle critique of classicism where Roger criticizes his mother for not being able to read and Sherlock calls Roger out on it (a nice call out on himself as in the books he was pretty classicist).

Growing to Empathy  – The main arc is one of growing to empathy as we see Sherlock learn emotional intelligence (what Watson always had in each case) and from here him to learn to comfort others and offer solace (even if it’s a lie). This is something that none of the other Sherlock’s has ever fully dealt with. Moffat’s kind of does but Series 3 forgets about it and “Elementary” seems to have the same problem of him returning to angry detachment and in the books he never progresses beyond detachment.

Remembering the Dead and Facing Death – The final scene involves Sherlock placing a stone as he saw a man doing at Hiroshima after World War 2 to honor the dead as he remembers all those he’s lost (Ms. Hudson, Watson, etc.) it is powerful and we see him facing death from the beginning as his home, body and mind are falling apart and it is a reality he must face every day and come to feel for himself and for those who have passed.

Okay: Pacing – In the first third of the film there were some slow moments but I won’t be too critical on this because it helps establish how the Munro’s and Sherlock live in the cottage, which sets up when things change.

 This is a film that pulls the heart strings in all the right ways. We see a man who never valued empathy coming to realize how much it means as he realizes just how alone he truly is. It is tragic and powerful as he takes actions to show the Munro’s how much he values them and in the last scene honors all the dead who were all apart of his life and realizes how very much he misses them all. Sherlock solves the greatest mysteries; how to die and how to live.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

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The Hounds of Baskerville (1959): Hammer’s Good Adaptation of a Classic

The Hound of the Baskervilles

     Hammer pulled off a pretty good “Sherlock Holmes” adaptation! What certainly helped was having Sir Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville and Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, but it wasn’t simply this either. This was one of the early color films and their use of cinematography creates very powerful images that drive the story.

     The film was directed by Terrance Fisher, written by Peter Bryan and produced by Anthony Hinds, Anthony Nelson Keys and Kenneth Hyman.

  The story involves Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and Dr. Watson (Andre Morell) being asked to come to the Baskerville Manor to protect Henry Baskerville (Sir Christopher Lee) and solve the mystery of the Hound of Baskerville and the Curse of the Baskervilles as they have been slowly killed off under mysterious circumstances.

The Pros: Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and I think this is reason this version of the story received critical acclaim. It is one of the earliest color films and this is used to create beautiful color contrasts, especially with the use of red in regards to blood or murders.

The Prologue – The prologue is haunting and realizes that the Baskervilles were people high on their privilege who used it to rape and beat those on their land…which bread resentment leading to the final end of what we see in the modern day. The scenes are haunting and beautiful as this is where we see the Baskerville’s on in red symbolizing their lust and hedonism.

Henry Baskerville – Christopher Lee is fantastic as this character who just wants to do the right thing! He is the guy trying to set things right and get away from what his ancestors have done. To this end he helps those on his land and we see him very aware of other people. This also makes him susceptible when the Stapletons exploit this to try and kill him so they can get the fortune as their as Baskerville bastards.

The Stapletons – Cecile the daughter is the one who almost kills Henry to get revenge on what was done to her ancestors by the Baskervilles of the past and her father is in on it too. They have a dog they have made feral that they set on Henry but are killed when Watson and Sherlock stop them and Cecile falls into one of the sink holes in the moor.

Sherlock Holmes – Peter Cushing is amazing at Sherlock Holmes! His is a very sharp and cold Holmes and one who is very much the manipulator…this is perfect as he plays up Sherlock’s detachment and skepticism making a very enjoyable performance. Cushing truly owns this role and is a big reason besides Lee why I enjoyed this film so much.

Okay: Dr. Watson – Watson is alright and he does have a great voice but he also is just kind of there. Andre Morell isn’t memorable and so far the only memorable Watsons have been Lucy Liu as Joan and Martin Freeman in “Sherlock.”

The Minor Characters – Henry’s friend is unmemorable as are a lot of the other characters who aren’t Stapletons…which is a shame as the world could have got fleshed out a lot more.

The Cons: The Soundtrack – It is very Hammer (horrorish in the classic sense) and just doesn’t work. I would have preferred they do something more original given what made this film work was how it was unlike a Hammer film and got away from a lot of their tropes and going for cheapness.

   This film is not a favorite but it is really good and it is one I’d recommend. Cushing as Sherlock and Lee as Henry Baskerville drive the story and the early color cinematography makes for creating amazing cinematography that captures the mystery and haunting nature of the moors on the Baskerville estate.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

“Elementary” Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot” – Addiction, Loss and Joan Watson’s Agency

Pilot Elementary

    CBS did a good job when they created “Elementary.” The only way it is in any way like BBC’s “Sherlock” is the fact that it takes place in the present…everything else is different. From Watson having agency and actually facing her past and helping Sherlock deal with his addiction, to us being given a show that tries to have individual mysteries that stand on their own. There is no arc as of the pilot, no villain is established…(unlike Moriarty established at the end of “Sherlock’s” Pilot and we see that the main people our characters are facing are one another and themselves. This is what truly makes it great.

    The “Pilot” was directed by Michael Cuesta and written by Robert Doherty.

      The story involves Joan Watson being assigned as the sober companion to Sherlock Holmes, per his father. Together they must deal with another and reach an understanding while solving a home invasion and disappearance.

The Pros: The Writing – The writing is awesome! Actions have consequences and we see Watson and Sherlock change over the course of the episode as they face issues within themselves and how they relate to one another.

The Soundtrack – Sean Callery created a beautiful soundtrack that captures the mystery of the show and also the stress of Holmes’s addiction. It’s a wonderful score and one I plan to use for writing later.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is amazing, just like in “Sherlock.” We get slow shots of action that show objects breaking as well as glimpses of scenes giving us a picture that is slowly put together over the course of the episode.

The Characters – Whether they are minor characters or major, all the characters in the pilot feel fleshed out.

Dr. Richard Mantlo – This guy is a great antagonist! He manipulates one his patients who has a sociopathic desire to kill red headed women and makes his wife change to fit the type…all of this so he can keep the money from the fortune. The man is just as disconnected as Sherlock which leads to a great contrast in how they relate to and treat others where Mantlo doesn’t care and Sherlock makes an effort.

Captain Thomas Gregson – Gregson is the American detective who helps them with the case and brings Holmes in as a consulting detective. He is a source of stability for both Joan and Sherlock as he is always laid back and is a calming present for both their anxieties. Aidan Quinn does a great job.

Joan Watson – Lucy Liu owns this role! In her we see that she is working through trauma too as she failed as a surgeon and that is what lead her to become a sober companion. Unlike other Watson’s she does’t put up with Holmes’s abuse and calls him out or leaves him which forces him to grow and change how he interacts with people so he doesn’t take them for granted. Holmes also helps her find confidence as she helps him solve cases through their conversing and she gives empathy to others that he only really gives to her.

Sherlock Holmes – Jonny Lee Miller plays a very intense Holmes. His Holmes took addiction to the fullest and is recovering from that. This makes him intense and rebellious (a very different but fun take) and leads to him having to relate to people as he doesn’t want to be alone after how he was burned in the past. To this end we see him learn to talk to others, specifically Joan Watson who he grows to respect over the course of the episode.

    This is a show that really did everything right. It took the essence of the source material and grew beyond it…it also remembered the core art of writing and the fact that actions have consequences and characters must change. There is no real problem with this episode but there is a greater problem I had with the series…after the Finale I tried watching Season 2 but I couldn’t get into the disconnected format, the lack of arc and with it the eventual filler that came is what turned me off from the show. In the future I will give the show a full watch and assessment, but for now I stopped watching it for a reason and I have no idea if Season 3 was able to become more solid and do less side quests.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. Only reason it isn’t higher is because it’s not really attached to the rest of the show, showing this series would have worked better as a mini-series not a 24 episode format.

“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” Pilot – Episode 1 – “A Scandal in Bohemia” – Respect for Irene Adler

A Scandal in Bohemia

     Having read all of the “Sherlock Holmes” stories, Jeremy Brett and the different adaptations of said stories or how I imagine them to be (except for how they present Moriarty). Watson looks like Watson, Holmes looks and acts like Holmes and the mysteries are very much of their eras and haven’t been adapted or embellished in anyway. Granada did a masterful job on this series and the pilot “A Scandal in Bohemia” though there are limitations in regards to the filming and a few other things that I’ll get into further into the review.

      The episode was directed by Paul Annett and written by John Hawkesworth.

       The story involves the King of Bohemia trying to steal back a questionable picture of him and Irene Adler so he hires Sherlock Holmes in order to do so. They soon realize that tricking Irene will not be so easy though.

The Pros: The Setting – I like Victorian England. It’s beautiful and the carriages and dark create an heir of mystery that helps offset the poor pacing and filming of the film.

Irene Adler – Gayle Hunnicutt plays a very honorable Irene Adler who doesn’t play those around her, she is genuine in her love and affection and a woman trying to take care of herself in a world where she has very little power. She only holds onto the picture because she wants to marry the man she is set too and it is a way to make sure she is left alone. She shows great admiration and respect for Sherlock too and realizes it’s him (sees behind his disguise) before he realizes she has…she also leaves him a photo, showing how much she enjoyed the battle of wills. What an awesome version of the character and shows the Adler of the books who beat Sherlock and forced Sherlock to change his sexist views.

Watson’s Narration – Watson’s narration is great as it shows just how great the adaptation is and capturing the fact that it was adapted from stories within a book, that in universe were written from Watson’s point of view.

Sherlock Holmes – Brett is Sherlock Holmes. He captures it more than any of the others as he is master of disguise, a gentlemen, an addict who needs stimulation as his greatest threat is boredom and one who is all about the case when he’s on it and the stimulation he gets from it. Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes.

Okay: Dr. Watson – Watson’s performance isn’t memorable but David Burke looks the part and he isn’t bad…but there is nothing that sets him apart or truly memorable in the role.

The Minor Characters – Much like how the minor characters in Sherlock Holmes usually didn’t get much exploration as the focus is mostly on Sherlock, the same goes here. They were just kind of present to be part of Sherlock’s plan.

The Cons; The King of Bohemia – The King is just a King and there is nothing memorable in the actor’s performance. He could have been played by anyone, which is a shame as there is a lot that could have been done as a King pretending to be someone else and dealing with his own hypocrisy when he hurt Irene.

Pacing – Part of this is how it is filmed, where there aren’t any unique shots but it drives down the pacing of the episode, which is a shame as Jeremy Brett and Gayle Hunnicutt are so on their roles that they shine in the dull pacing and filming.

    This was a good adaptation, though there were things that kept it from being great. These things were pacing issues, an unimaginative Watson and the very bland cinematography. These were the things that kept it from being great, ,though it was still good due to Gayle’s performance as Adler and Brett’s performance as Holmes. If you enjoy the books, check out the Granada series.

Final Score: 8 / 10

“Sherlock” Pilot – Series 1, Episode 1 – “A Study in Pink” – The Thrill of the Hunt and Dangerous Detachment

a study in pink sherlock

   “Sherlock” has become far greater than the show it initially come from as it has not only boosted Cumberbatch’s career it also brought about a resurgant interest in the character and stories of “Sherlock Holmes.” This is also the show that put Steven Moffat as a writer and director on the map and you can see his ideas in this show rub off him being the showrunner of “Doctor Who.”

    “A Study in Pink” was directed by Paul McGuigan and written by Steven Moffat.

     The story involves Dr. Watson’s return from Afghanistan and his attempts to get acclimated to life again as he is pulled into a mystery from a possible flatmate Sherlock Holmes in which a string of similar suicides are tied to something far more sinister taking place.

The Pros: Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! There is a dark tone over everything and it captures the isolation that both Watson and Sherlock feel as they are both outsiders in different ways where the thing that connects them is their thrill of the chase and the mystery in life’s game.

The Soundtrack – David Arnold and Michael Price did a fantastic job on this soundtrack! It captures the methodic feel of Holmes as well as the thrill that Watson and Holmes take in the hunt.

The Mystery – The mystery is fascinating as we have supposed suicides but as we learn more that it is based on a 50-50 chance of murder dying as well. From here it is how well a dying man does mind games on his victims and how others react to the bodies left behind. The clue that makes finding the murder possible is a lady pink not having her pink suitcase present which lead to the discovery that she planted the phone on the murder allowing Sherlock and Watson to find the murder.

The Cabbie – The Cabbie is a great threat as he sees himself as carrying for his children’s future as he lost his wife and is terminally ill. To this end he gets sponsorship from Moriarty and is willing to risk his own life each time as he knows each death means his children get more. His story is tragic and shows how desperation can change people.

Mycroft Holmes – Mark Gatiss is how I envision Mycroft to be, a brilliant, over-controlling man who at the end of the day wants to do his duty and protect his brother. Gatiss shows this in Mycroft perfectly and we get a fake out initially where he is presented as possibly being Moriarty but later we see that clearly is not the case.

Dr. Watson – Watson is a veteran from the war and his arc is finding the thrill in the chase again as the lack of stimulation makes him feel isolated in his return to England. He does not have friends which is one reason Sherlock is able to attach to him and vise versa, they are both people outside what is normally considered good and it makes them compelling to watch as they grow to like one another. Martin Freeman is great in the role.

Sherlock – Sherlock drives the story and he is a dick. We see him completely oblivious to people’s feelings towards him unless it is hate and he is constantly berating the police force for their stupidity. His arc is coming to treat others with more respect and having greater social awareness, Watson functions as his external conscience in this way as he is there to shoot the cabbie when Sherlock is about to play the game where he has a 50-50 chance of taking the pill that will kill him. Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic!

Okay: Ms. Hudson – She is a kind old lady with a string of unstable relationships. She is the mother figure to them and is there to remind them to be outside themselves as she is always present at 221B Baker Street.

Lestrade – Lestrade is the well meaning leader of the police who is empathetic and in over his head. I wanted to see more of the character as usually in Sherlock adaptations he is the faceless antagonist there to make Sherlock look good. This time he feels like an actual character just doing the best he can. Rupert Graves is good in what little he is able to do in the plot.

The Cons: Talking at Women – Whether it is Ms. Hudson, Mycroft’s assistant or others most of the women are talked at and are there to spit exposition at. This was annoying as they deserved to be fleshed out more and Sherlock, though he is a dick was usually always courteous in the books as he had to hear the person to learn.

Faceless Minor Characters – There are a few people on the police force who are antagonistic for the sake of being antagonistic and it struck me as petty and only there to make Sherlock look better by comparison. They serve no purpose but to be in the way to solving the case.

When the Police Became Stupid – There is one point where they are tracking the phone that we know the killer has and the police just stop looking for it and leave…this is after they came to Sherlock’s flat to get the evidence of the suitcase. This was plot stupidity as they should have followed up on finding the phone as they would have found the killer. There was no reason for this except to make Watson and Sherlock the heroes without any outside help.

“Sherlock” is a favorite show though as I have watched it more the problems in Moffat’s writing become more apparent…and I would rate “Hannibal” above “Sherlock” at this point, and not only because “Hannibal” had dignity enough to end. When you are dealing with human characters the story can’t be continuously rebooted as it is with “Doctor Who” and though I’m excited to watch more “Sherlock,” Season 3 was troubling in a lot of ways that I’ll get into when I review this show as a whole.

    For now, I recommend this episode as it is a great introduction to this show and Martin Freeman as Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes are two very amazing interpretations that are worth coming back too.

Final Score: 9  / 10

First “Sherlock Holmes” Week

24-sherlock-holmes.w529.h529.2x

   Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character and one of the few characters in literature to have so numerous adaptations that initially I didn’t really know here to start in going about tackling the different versions of him.

      This is a character who connects to the way we are the “Other” and also is more than human in how he is able to put things together and solve difficult puzzles that are placed before him. It is little wonder why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books have inspired so many versions and adaptations.

      The versions of Sherlock Holmes I will be covering will be Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock from “Sherlock”  and his pilot episode “A Study in Pink.”

        Jeremy Brett’s version (who to me has always captured the character best) in his pilot episode of “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

        Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock from “Elementary” and his pilot episode simply labeled “Pilot.”

     Peter Cushing and his introduction as the character in the Hammer Films in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for one of the said films and his first appearance as Sherlock.

      Finally, Sir Ian McKellan in “Mr. Holmes” the new film that is out to end it.

    Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters in fiction and what he has brought to the cinematic world can never be fully comprehended as so many greats (only a few named here) got their chance to play the great detective.