Three mysteries comprise this fictionalized biopic of the fictional Sherlock Holmes, starring the inimitable Sir Ian McKellan.
We know Sherlock Holmes is not a real person, but let's pretend that he did exist and now it's 1947 and he is 93. And it wouldn't be a movie about Sherlock Holmes without a mystery, now would it? Here we have three: one about a suspicious husband, one about a man in Japan and one about bees.
As the movie begins, Sherlock is 93, definitely a curmudgeon, and living by the sea. He retired from his detective work over 30 years ago and now he is tending his bees and falling into senility. He can't remember things so he travels to Japan in search of the prickly ash, which has supposed regenerative properties that Holmes hopes will help restore his memory or at least stave off senility. He has been in correspondence with a Mr. Umazaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Umazaki is going to help him find the coveted herb.
At home he has a housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and Holmes has taken a liking to her young son, Roger (the engaging Milo Parker). Roger clearly looks up to Holmes asking him to "do it," "it" being Holmes' ability to deduce where someone has been just by looking at them.
Holmes is writing a book about his last case, lamenting the fact that it was Watson who wrote the books upon which the Sherlock character and his movies were based. He never really wore that deerstalker hat nor did he smoke a pipe (he prefers cigars). "Penny Dreadfuls" but with good writing, he says. Now Holmes wants to tell his own story. Roger is encouraging Holmes to finish the book, but poor Holmes can't remember all the details of the case anymore.
Holmes' last case was over 30 years ago and was the one that he couldn't solve and the reason why he retired. It involved a husband whose wife had two miscarriages and had never gotten over them. The husband wanted her to forget about them so he hired a woman to give her lessons on how to play a glass armonica, but when the husband heard his wife talking to her dead children, he cut off the lessons. You see, the glass armonica is often associated with talking to the dead. Later he suspected she was still taking lessons behind his back despite her and her teacher's protestations, so he hired Holmes to find out what was going on.
Through a series of flashbacks and interwoven stories, the mysteries unfold. We find that Mr. Umazaki had ulterior motives for luring Holmes to Japan, we also learn why his last case has haunted Holmes for the last 30 years and did Holmes' bees really attack Roger?
Ian McKellan effortlessly and believably goes back and forth from 93 to 60 (when this film was made he was 76). It is a wonder to behold someone at the top of his game, whether that person is a doctor, lawyer, carpenter or musician. McKellan is at the top of his game as an actor and his portrayal here is a wonder indeed. The nuances of his expressions, his attention to detail, his bits of business (actor talk for working with props), how he relates to the other actors, all finely tuned and on point. Juliette Binoche is another actor at the height of her powers (see review below).
Laura Linney is fine as she usually is, though I have always thought she underplayed too much, ever since I first laid eyes on her in the PBS series "Tales of the City," all the way back in 1993. But what marred her performance here was her lack of an English accent. I couldn't tell if she was supposed to be American or trying out some form of a Welsh accent. Whatever she was doing, it wasn't working.
Directed by Bill Condon (he also directed McKellan in "Gods and Monsters" for which Condon won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and McKellan was nominated for Best Actor) from the book "A Slight Trick of the Mind" by Mitch Cullen, this is lovely story of an aging icon starring an aging icon. Condon makes the most of the lush Sussex countryside, and despite the many flashbacks and flash forwards, has made a Sherlock Holmes mystery that is comprehensible, unlike some. But in general, I would imagine he gave McKellan free reign to do what he does best: make us believe.
Rosy the Reviewer says...As far as I am concerned, whether McKellan is Gandolf or Holmes he can do no wrong. I think the Academy will agree and reward him with a Best Actor nod. You heard it here first, folks!
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
A famous actress prepares to star in a revival of a play that made her a star 20 years before. But this time she is not asked to reprise her part as the ingénue but rather play the role of the older woman.
Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) starred in the play and film "Maloja Snake" by Wilhelm Melchior as Sigrid, a young lesbian woman who is seduced by Helena, an older woman, and who then breaks Helena's heart and drives her to suicide. This part made Maria a star at 20. As the films begins, it is 20 years since "Maloja Snake," and Maria is on a train headed to an awards ceremony with her young assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to accept an award for Melchior, who she adores, but who is a recluse, only to discover he has committed suicide.
At the ceremony, Maria is approached by a young director to do a revival of the play, but this time as the older woman, Helena, with a young out of control Lindsay Lohan type starlet, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), who heretofore has made her name in a superhero franchise, playing the part of Sigrid. Though Jo-Ann is a YouTube and TMZ darling for all of her out of control exploits, upon meeting her, Maria is struck by the young woman's story and desire to be a good actress, reminding her of her own young self and the passing of time. Jo-Ann in turn looks up to Maria, could be jealous even, of her fame and the place she holds in the acting firmament. Remind you of anything? "All About Eve," maybe?
Maria reluctantly decides to do the play and also accepts Melchior's widow's offer to stay in their home in Sils Maria while she leaves to recover from her grief. During the course of their stay at Sils Maria, Valentine helps Maria with her lines. As they do the read-throughs of the play together, the lines between employer and assistant, friend and mentor and youth and aging are blurred. It's a play within a play, a film within a film.
The film explores the nature of fame, its fixation on youth and what it's like to be an aging actress.
Binoche is wonderful here, as she always is. We are talking an Academy Award role here. This is Stewart's biggest role since the Twilight series and she holds her own with Binoche, which ain't easy.
There is an interesting scene where Binoche and Stewart take off their clothes to swim. Binoche takes off all of her clothes (nice to see some pubic hair again these days), but Stewart remains in a bra and the biggest pair of granny pants I have ever seen. Juliette is 50-something and Kristen twenty something. Must be a French thing.
Speaking of French thing, does Juliette Binoche ever age? Must be that French women don't get fat thing. Does Kristen Stewart ever smile? Must be a bad teeth thing.
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, this is an intelligent, thought-provoking film, despite the rather unsettling and obscure ending, that lets us into the inner world of acting and the theatre. The cinematography is spectacular with the scenery of the Alps also starring.
The name of the play - "Maloja Snake" - comes from a cloud phenomenon in Sils Maria where the clouds roll through the mountains like a snake. And the clouds also seem to symbolize the ending of the film, which is cloudy and murky at best. I didn't get it, but that didn't harm my feelings about the film. It is one of those rare films aimed at adults that gives you something to think about afterwards.
Rosy the Reviewer says...for the thinking adult with the acting, script and production values all first-rate.
5 Flights Up (2014)
***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***
The Earrings of Madame de (alternate title "Madame de") (1953)
When Louise meets and falls in love with Baron Donati (Vittorio De Sica), he gives her a pair of earrings he bought in Turkey. Guess what? They are the very earrings she sold. However, not realizing that Andre already knows she sold the earrings, Louise pretends to find them, thus setting in motion a series of events that will lead to tragedy. The earrings now have special meaning to Louise because Donati gave them to her, but they also come to symbolize the power Andre has over Louise, the love she and Donati shared and ultimately, the tragic ending.
The dance sequences showing the passage of time as Louise and the Baron fall in love is brilliantly reminiscent of Orson Welles' deterioration of a marriage scene in "Citizen Kane."
Danielle Darrieux was a French actress whose career spanned 80 years - one of the longest in acting history - and she was one of France's most revered icons. Charles Boyer was one of the great French "lovers," most famous for his line in "Algiers," "Come with me to the Casbah," which he actually never said in the film, only in the trailer. However, it has become a phrase that hints at romance and seduction. It's also especially good when said with a French accent!
Why it's a Must See: "Madame de...is by turns brutal, compassionate, and moving. [Director Max] Ophuls delineates his world with Bechtian precision, yet he never discounts the significance of stifled, individual yearnings. Even as the characters writhe in their metaphoric prisons or shut traps on each other. their passions touch us:..."
Rosy the Reviewer says...This film stands up well to today's standards. These classic films need to be seen. It kills me to think that the current generation does not know who Charles Boyer, Vittorio De Sica or Danielle Darrieux were.
(In French with English subtitles, b & w)
***Book of the Week***
Model Woman: Eileen Ford and the Business of Beauty by Robert Lacey (2015)
A biography of Eileen Ford, who transformed the world of modeling and invented the "Super Model."
Robert Lacey has written extensively about England's Royal Family, Princess Grace and the Saudi kingdom. Here he focuses his keen eye on the world of modeling and Eileen Ford's imprint on it in this literate biography.
Ford had high standards and wasn't afraid to speak her mind, telling skinny modeling hopefuls to lose 15 pounds and then come back. But she was also a mother hen to her "girls," often letting them stay with her and her husband and warning off predator photographers, who if they displeased her would never again be able to work with her famous models.
She was great at picking talent, though she wasn't infallible. She passed up a skinny little English girl and a tall Dutch girl who grew up in Germany. Can you guess? Right. Those two girls blossomed into Twiggy and Verushka.
Lacey spent over four years researching his subject and has presented a fascinating inside look into the world of modeling and the famous models who inhabited that world.
Rosy the Reviewer says...Just in time for Cycle 22 of "America's Next Top Model" which starts August 5th.
He particularly couldn't help but take a poke at The Food Network and its many stars: he skewered Guy Fieri, said Giada was a little bird-like creature with a big head (most all TV and movie stars are really short and have big heads, didn't you know that?) and made some allusions to Bobby Flay's alleged philandering ways. He wasn't happy with the Food Network ("A Cook's Tour") or the Travel Channel ("No Reservations" and "The Layover") and is happy to now be at CNN, where they let him do whatever he wants ("Parts Unknown"). So I guess he won't be doing any more "Layovers," which I loved. (When I met him for my picture I asked him about "The Layover," and he said he hated doing that show because they expected him to do too many in a short period of time).
While praising "Top Chef," because at least the contestants were professionals and he got to try some decent food, he alluded to that "other show I did," where some of the food was horrendous. He must have been talking about "The Taste," which makes me wonder if that show is also no more.
"Why Have a Child?"
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