Sherlock Holmes

Mr Holmes (2015)

The Second World War has recently ended and in a remote Sussex cottage lives a crotchety old man, who wants nothing in life than to live out his final years tending to his bees. His name is Sherlock Holmes.

There are numerous pastiches of Sherlock Holmes to be found in literature and film: There’s the steampunk revisionist adventures of Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law; The bawdy slapstick of Without A Clue saw Michael Caine pretending to the super sleuth; Young Sherlock Holmes stretched the patience of the heartiest champion of Doyle’s canon. In fact only this year, William Gillete’s 1916 feature Sherlock Holmes was rediscovered and given a home release. Yes, there are many portraits. Most of them sharing a common theme of Holmes in his prime. Which is what makes Mr Holmes immediately stand out from its forbearers.

Played by Ian McKellan, we see the once great detective now out to pasture. His once coveted memory failing, he takes to writing names of those people he forgets on his shirt cuffs. He hides himself away from the gawping eyes of those who recognize him from the stories by his late friend, Dr John Watson. As a tonic to the numerous fabrications he found in Watson’s work, Holmes has taken to writing up a case he feels was particularly egregious with the facts.

McKellan is simply exquisite as the sleuth. No longer going up against Moriarty, his greatest enemy is the onset of dementia and a feeling of guilt for a case long forgotten. Through the use of flashbacks, McKellan also gets to play Holmes in a manner we may be more accustomed to. Aging but still pompous, this ‘younger’ Holmes is in his element as he cracks the case of a missing wife. The conclusion of which now escapes him in his winter years.

It would be amiss to overlook the virtues of McKellen’s co-stars, Laura Linney and Milo Parker, who play Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs Munro and her son, Roger respectively. Their scenes together are beautifully written and acted as the mother tries to remind her son of a deceased father he’s too young to remember.

Like the book it was based on – A Slight Trick of the Mind – the second set of flashbacks that see Holmes travel to Japan after the Hiroshima bombing feel superfluous. Whilst Holmes’ interactions with Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) eventually tie into the film’s themes of forgiveness and loss, it feels like it overeggs the pudding.

However, we shouldn’t let trivial matters get in the way of the facts. Mr Holmes is a wonderful, emotional portrait of a character that will be dear to many people. The delicate touch of the screenplay and the strength of the performances on display are a testament not only to an iconic literary character but to the human spirit.

Sherlock – Case of Evil (2002)

With CBS’ Elementary, BBC’s Sherlock and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, it’s apparent we’re quite spoilt for interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth. Sherlock – Case of Evil arose a few years before any of the aforementioned were even a glimmer in Tumblr’s eye, and it could, if one was feeling fair, be said that it paved the way them. Well, it could if you chose to ignore the glorious films that came before it and, this is the important bit, believed that Case of Evil was actually any good.

Acting as a sort of Holmes Begins, we meet the young detective (James D’Arcy) dining out on the fame brought to him by killing the nefarious Professor Moriarty (Vincent D’Onofrio). Holmes is young and dashing. Not that he’s without sin. Namely, alcohol and threesomes with rosy cheeked wenches. Yes, indeedy, this is a sexy Holmes. A Holmes full of hope. He skips into the mortuary of Dr John Watson (Roger Morlidge) and the two become wrapped up in a mystery that suggests that Moriarty is still alive and basically being a cad and a shit.

As Case of Evil judders forward, it becomes apparent that the film is less concerned with Holmes tracking down Moriarity and more with providing a revisionist’s idea of how Holmes became the man we know him to be. A bit like Young Sherlock Holmes, but with more blood and breasts. What it really comes across as is a lightweight romp across the cobbles with numerous hideous Holmes references crowbarred in. It crams them in like battery hens. It’s as if there was a checklist of things they wanted to include. Drug addiction – this is how it happened. Mistrust of women – this is how it happened. By the time, Holmes is unceremoniously given his pipe and deerstalker, the game of interest is no longer afoot and well and truly over. There’s something rather insulting about believing that one whole adventure can provide all the intricacies one human can have.Trying to do its own things whilst adhering to the canon of Doyle is probably where it really lets itself down. In for a penny, in for a pound should have been their war cry. After all, it’s didn’t hurt the Asylum’s Sherlock Holmes which turned out to be lots of fun.

There’s also an embarrassing number of jokes in Case of Evil that we’re now referring to as Hindsight Jokes. You know the kind; someone in Mad Men will make a comment about one day being able to take your phone everywhere to which we are all supposed to stroke our chins and think, ‘Ha! He’s predicted mobile phones! Hahaha! I’ve forgotten about my parents’ divorce.’ Well, Case of Evil is chock full of them. Really bad ones. Ones that make you wish your head was made of glass so you could smash it. ‘Step into the 19th century!’ sneers Moriarty when presented with a Sherlock Holmes ready to swordfight.

All in all, we’re not sure if the world is crying out for a gritty, sexy version of Sherlock Holmes. If it is, then this is not it.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Guy Ritchie’s original movie, Sherlock Holmes, was greeted by many a bemused person who felt that he had lynched the good name of Arthur Conan Doyle by giving us a bohemian Holmes who was an ace shot, a crack swordsman and a bare-knuckle fighter. These same people having based their opinion of Holmes solely on Basil Rathbone movies. However, it was successful  and deliberately left itself open to a sequel. Here is that sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jnr) is spending an inordinate amount of time trying to track down evidence that can lead to the arrest and capture of Professor Moriarty, lecturer, author and criminal mastermind. Upon meeting a fortune teller named Simzi (Noomi Rapace), Holmes begins a case that could lead not only to Moriarty, but also to saving civilisation as we know it. Not bad for a man who has taken to drinking formaldehyde.

Seemingly learning from criticisms of the last installment, Game of Shadows dispenses with the overly-complicated plot and, taking it’s cues from The Final Problem, becomes a merry chase across Europe.  Whilst I’m a big fan of the original, I was pleased to see the plot simplified as the original does fall down like a game of ker-plunk if you analyse it too closely. The sequel is not without it’s fault, an attempt to cover up a murder is is presented as ingenious, when in actual fact it seems like a colossal waste of manpower.

Downey Jnr and Jude Law, as Dr Watson, bounce off each other superbly, retaining the love/hate married couple relationship that made them a joy to watch before. Jared Hill is superb as Moriarty and, in comparison to Lord Blackwood from before, brings a believable villainy to role without having to chew the scenery. His dialogues with Holmes are excellent and you genuinely believe them to be two men who share awe and loathing of each other in equal measure. It’s a shame about Noomi Rapace then. Forever to be known as that woman from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/Played with Fire/Punched a Train, Rapace becomes nothing more than window dressing and, at best, the Holmes equivalent of a Doctor Who companion. ‘What’s this Holmes?’, ‘Why that Holmes?’, ‘Look it’s the Ice Warriors, Holmes!’ etc.

Some of Guy Ritchie’s direction does grate a little. There are so many Lock, Stock moments of quick cuts it can become a tad disorientating. His overusage of slooooooooooooowing thiiiiings dooooooown before speedingupreallyquickly does become a bit of a headache, but it’s nice to see a cheeky nod to the almost infallible Holmes-O-Vision we were introduced to in Sherlock Holmes.

After the swashbuckling finale of it’s predecessor, some fans maybe disappointed with the wordy way everything is resolved in Game of Shadows. The film quite literally waves an ending in your face, before changing gears suddenly. However, I found it to be more line in with the original stories than crossing swords on top of an incomplete Tower Bridge.

A Game of Shadows will most definitely split people down the middle. It is not a film to tax your braincells, but rather a ripping yarn. Which isn’t really all that different to Holmes canon in general if truth be told.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)

In The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Dr John Watson (Robert Duvall) has begun to fear for Sherlock Holmes’s  sanity (Nicol Williamson) after he begins a campaign of victimisation against his old Maths tutor, Professor James Moriarty (Laurence Olivier). With the help of Mycroft Holmes, Watson manages to get Holmes to journery to Vienna, where he is committed into the care of Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin).

If you hadn’t already guess, this film is so far removed from canon that it makes the Asylum Sherlock Holmes appear to be by the very hand of Conan-Doyle.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution doesn’t really go anywhere. The opening premise that it will pull back the curtain on why Holmes really disappeared for three years after The Final Problem is probably only of interest to Sherlockians. Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of niche marketing, but then where does that leave the general public. Well, the movie seems to answer this by going ‘Sssh! Here comes a chase scene involving two trains, it’ll be really exciting, we promise.’ But it’s not, it just feels tacked on. In fact the whole things feels like it’s two movies spliced together. One, the dark machinations of a drug addled mind and the paranoia that comes with. The other, a bawdy romp.

Aside from the wafer thin script, the main problem appears to be the cast. Robert Duvall doesn’t really know how to play Watson. One minute stuffy and the other, stuff and nonsense. Laurence Oliver is wasted as the sought after Moriarty. His scenes adding up to nothing more than simpering and crying ‘that’s not fair’. Alan Arkin must have only flicked through the first half of the script, because whilst his eventual face off with Holmes is the stuff of a Victorian literature fan’s wet dream, Freud is eventually boiled down to nothing more than Dr Exposition. Arkin is a brave man when he manages to say ‘They’re not just horses! They’re the most intelligent horses in the world… AND THEY’VE BEEN TRAINED TO KILL!’ with a completely straight face. The only person who comes out with any credibility is Nicol Williamson who manages to bring life to Holmes despite spending most his time either with the DTs or fainting at inopportune moments.

Overall, it’s all a bit of a mess with a final twist that just seems completely unnecessary. Maybe one to watch when all other possibilities are exhausted.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother (1975)

Despite my vitriol rants to the contrary, I don’t like writing bad reviews. I certainly don’t like writing bad reviews about films I was full of hope about seeing. So, let’s not say this is a bad review. Let’s say it’s a mediocre review (both in critique and quality) and if anyone says otherwise, well, I’ll probably just stick my fingers in my ears and go ‘lalalalalalallalalalalalaaa! Blah, blah, blah! Can’t hear you’.

1974’s ‘Young Frankenstein’ is one of my favourite films. Everything about it works. Mel Brooks manages to get the tone right, the jokes are spot on and the lead actors, Gene Wilder, Madeleine Khan and Marty Feldman, are never beaten. In fact, I want it confirmed here that I think Madeleine Khan is one of my favourite comedy actors. She plays it straight faced with the best of them.

Anyway, I’m beating around the bush because what I’m going to say isn’t easy for me. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s Smarter Brother just isn’t that funny. Oh, it has its moments. Marty Feldman’s photographic hearing is a lovely little detail. Only being able to repeat what he’s heard from the very leads to a great scene as Feldman is constantly interrupted by Wilder making him a cup of tea. What could have been played with building frustration, is better for Feldman reigning it in and refusing to get angry at Wilder’s interruptions. Other highlights include Dom Deluise and Madeleine Kahn performing an opera in English and glouriously over the top.

The rest of the film suffers from the curse of zany equals funny. Too many jokes fall flat or go on too long. The ballroom scene, in particular, with Feldman and Wilder unaware their arse cheeks are hanging out should be funny. Arses are generally funny, but this scene, with added homphobia, just irks a little.

Having worked with him so much, it’s no surprise that that Wilder would emulate Mel Brooks in his directorial debut. Brooks even makes a tiny cameo. It’s just a shame this is more Dracula: Dead and Love It, than Blazing Saddles.

Sherlock Holmes (The Ayslum Edition) (2010)

The Asylum are clever little buggers. Their ability to snap up screenplays of concepts similar to the next big blockbuster is almost the closest thing to being an evil genius as you can get.

That said, since their inception, I have spent most of my time trying to avoid them. It’s nothing with them per se, it’s just there’s only so many ‘Sharkzilla vs Prawn-Tiger vs Penguin-Kafka vs Animal-Monster’ movies starring whatever 80s star has recently become as relevant as pop tarts, that I can take.

However, as I’ve been in the throes of a Sherlock Holmes binge for the last two months, I thought it was about time that I got in on their interpretation of ‘Sherlock Holmes’; a film starring no one of any particular fame, except that bloke from Torchwood who has managed to prove that fan campaigns like ‘Save Ianto Jones’ really don’t work.

Sherlock Holmes takes the original stories, puts them in a blender, throws in a couple of things that people like (dinosaurs are cool, right?), puts them on liquidize for ten minutes and serves up to the public. It shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t. They take massive liberties with Sherlock canon; Holmes suffers from an addiction to tabacco as opposed to his opium/cocaine binges and we discover his name is actually Paul.

Plus, the film makers have made no effort to disguise the fact that London is in fact Caenarfon in Wales. Well, unless I missed something and Baker street has always been next to a castle and Hyde Park has always been a forest near some mountains. I have been known to be wrong before.

Yet, that’s the film’s greatest asset is that despite all this, it is a genuinely good romp. The sort of affair one might watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with a box of Quality Street and a big mug of tea. If Doctor Who ever collapses under the weight of its own budget and internal politics, then it’s films like these that should be shown at Christmas.

Yes, it can be argued that this film is an insult to Conan Doyle’s original creation, but old Arthur was a spiritualist who believed that his friend Houdini had real magic powers, so who’s the bigger dick? Besides, is Sherlock Holmes piloting a hot air balloon chasing Spring Heeled Jack on a giant metal dragon any more offensive to Holmes canon than this…

Probably not… Good bye!