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Posts Tagged ‘Ian McKellen’

Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench

“ALL IS TRUE” My rating: B

101 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Aside from what’s to be gleaned from his plays and poems, we know next to nothing about William Shakespeare.

Kenneth Branagh’s “All Is True” attempts to rectify that by imagining the great writer’s final days.

The screenplay by Ben Elton informs us up front that in 1613 at the premiere in London of “Henry VIII” a prop cannon started a fire that destroyed Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  At that point the bard vanished from public life; he is not known to have written another play.

According to “All Is True,” Shakespeare (Branagh, almost unrecognizable with receding hairline, beard and prosthetic nose) retired to his native Stratford on Avon to be reunited with the wife and children he had kept at arm’s length for decades.

It’s not a joyous homecoming. His arrival is met with indifference by wife Anne (Judi Dench), who has more or less been a widow to her husband’s literary and theatrical career. (“To us you’re a guest.”)

Nor are Shakespeare’s two grown daughters all that thrilled to have Daddy back in the bosom of their family.

Judith (Kathryn Wilder) is married to a joyless Puritan physician (Phil Dunster) who regards his father-in-law’s profession as inherently sinful. Desperate to produce a grandson who will inherit Shakespeare’s comfortable estate (her husband may be firing blanks), Judith is having an affair with a local merchant. She may also have contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

Younger daughter Susannah (Lydia Wilson) is unmarried and carries a huge chip on her shoulder. She knows that her father still mourns the death of his only son, 11-year-old Hamnet, 20 years before. She’ll always be an also-ran in his affections.

Apparently Hamnet inherited his father’s writing talent (“wit and mischief in every line”) and Shakespeare, still grief stricken all these years later, decides to honor his dead offspring by creating a garden outside the family home.

The Shakespeare women are resentful of this male-centric obsession. (“It’s not Hamnet you mourn. It’s yourself.”)

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Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes

“MR. HOLMES” My raing: B- 

  104 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

 

Sherlock Holmes is one of fiction’s most enduring characters because of his fascinating idiosyncracies.  But smooth down those oddball edges and what’s left?

A bit of a bore, actually.

Less mystery than meditation, “Mr. Holmes” gives us Conan Doyle’s great detective in his dotage, retired for 35 years and living in solitude in a farmhouse on the Dover coast.

As envisioned by director Bill Condon, screenwriter Mitch Cullin (adapting his novel A Slight Trick of the Mind) and the great actor Ian McKellen, this is not the Holmes of the popular stories penned by his colleague Dr. Watson.

Indeed, Holmes has little regard for Watson’s fictions, which he dismisses as “absolute rubbish… penny dreadfuls with elevated prose.” This Holmes — aged 83 — maintains that he never wore a deerstalker hat — “an embellishment of the illustrator” — and was a cigar man, not a pipe puffer.

The fictional Holmes and the real man do have a couple of things in common. Both are deductive geniuses. And neither has any use for emotion, which only clouds the rational mind.  Facts may be strike us as pleasant or not, but at least they are neutral; cruelty and betrayal, on the other hand, are exclusively the result of human interaction.

But now Holmes’ life of the mind is failing him.  His memory is going. He may spend minutes staring aimlessly into space.

He’s tended to by his housekeeper (Laura Linney), a war widow — the year is 1947 — and her young son Roger (Milo Parker). As the film begins Holmes views these two as irritants.  Slowly, though, he and the boy hit it off, mostly over their shared enthusiasm for beekeeping.

The mother’s frustration that now she’s losing her boy to the old man isn’t eased by Holmes’ thoughtless observation that “Exceptional children are often the result of unremarkable parents.”

“Mr. Holmes” is about a case, but not a new one. Rather the film is filled with flashbacks to 1910 when Holmes was hired by a husband worried that his wife (Hattie Morahan) — distraught after repeated miscarriages — was maintaining a secret life. The erudite Holmes sleuthed out the facts of the matter but shrugged off the wife’s emotional advances, leading to consequences so disastrous he ended his career.

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Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Dec. 13)

161 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

I am happy to report that “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is a better movie than last year’s interminable “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Of course, this is a bit like congratulating grandma for outrunning great grandma.

Both movies are overpadded, meandering, and infuriating in their insistence on turning a whimsical  book for children into a lumbering behemoth of narrative and economic overkill.

Against their dramatic shortcomings, one must balance the undeniable technical creativity behind director Peter Jackson’s vision.

“Smaug” finds our Hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his band of waddling dwarves drawing ever closer to the mountain beneath which the dragon Smaug lurks with his vast treasure of stolen riches.

There are moments here that I recognize from my long-ago reading of “The Hobbit,” like the gigantic spiders that  wrap up the adventurers in the forest of Mirkwood, putting them into storage for future meals. Or Bilbo’s figuring out of a an ancient riddle that will open that secret mountainside doorway to Smaug’s vast underground realm.

But Jackson and his co-writers (Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens) have tossed in a lot of stuff that never appeared  in the book. Foremost among these is the reappearance of Orlando Bloom’s Legolas (a character from the “Lord of the Rings”) and the introduction of a lady elf, Tauriel (Evangeline Lily), who has been cut from whole cloth.

Tauriel and Legolas are an item, sort of, but she is inexplicably taken with Kili (Aidan Turner), the least grotesque of the dwarfs … could a bit of Middle Earth miscegination be our future? Stay tuned.

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