Friday, July 24, 2015

Mr. Holmes in the Tri-Valley

Once again, I had a two day meeting in the Tri-Valley.  This appears as though it will be an annual occurrence.  I took the opportunity to visit the Vine Cinema & Alehouse for the second time to see Mr. Holmes which screened at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival.

Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen, Laura Linney & Milo Parker; directed by Bill Condon; (2015) - Official Website

Remembering last year's visit, I skipped food service at the Vine.  I had enough time to explore the downtown area which is about four blocks from the Vine.  I ended up at Spanky's Dog House more because I ran out of time than I wanted a hot dog.  I briefly considered taking the Atomic Chili Cheese Dog Challenge but figured I'm getting to old for that kind of stuff.

More befitting a man of my age, I selected the Reuben Dog with Bavarian Bratwurst instead of the hot dog.  A Saag's sausage with a more than generous amount of sauerkraut, 1000 Island Dressing and cheese was served.  It was so much that I couldn't eat it with my hands.  I had to use a knife and fork and left a fair amount of cheese on the plate.

I'm not sure if I would recommend the bare bones Spanky's to everyone but a more than adequate sausage combined with their perennial sponsorship of local Little League teams and cheeky merchandise is enough to draw me back if I am again in the vicinity.

There was a fair amount of people in the audience for Mr. Holmes.  I caught a 7 PM weekday screening and there was some sort of group event in the other screening room which drew a large crowd.  It seems as though the Vine is thriving.

Ian McKellen is an actor I'm not too familiar with.  Looking at his filmography, he has experienced considerable box office success with The X-Men and Hobbit film franchises.  I have not seen any films from those franchises in their entirety or at a theater.  I've long wanted to see Gods and Monsters.  Mr. Holmes is a reunion for McKellen and Gods and Monsters' director Bill Condon. 

My primary familiarity with McKellen is from his well known stage collaboration and friendship with Patrick Stewart and a memorable appearance on Saturday Night Live.  Earlier this week, I heard McKellan on NPR telling an amusing story of how he had to ask a straight man to draw him a diagram of heterosexual coitus as research for his role in Scandal (1989) opposite Joanne Whalley-Kilmer.

Mr. Holmes tells the story of Sherlock Holmes as a nonagenerian in the post-WWII years.  Not only is Holmes in his twilight years but he is suffering from advanced dementia.  No longer does Holmes live with Watson at 221B Baker St. (in this film they never did live at that address).  Instead he lives in a remote cottage on the English Channel (within walking distance of the White Cliffs of Dover).  All the other familiar characters are dead - Mycroft, John Watson & Mrs. Hudson.  Holmes now has Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) as a his housekeeper.  The widow Munro has a young son Roger (Milo Parker) whom she is overprotective of due to her husband's death during the war.

The film weaves together three plot lines.  Holmes can no longer remember the circumstances that lead to his self-imposed exile.  He recalls the case which forced him into retirement but not the details.  When he reads Watson's story about the case, he knows something is off but can't recall exactly.  As Holmes struggles to put his memories of the case to paper, he strikes up a friendship born out of necessity with Roger.  Holmes still has his beloved bees and apiary but needs help caring for them.  His last mystery to solve is the Case of Dying Bees.  Seeing Roger's innate intelligence, Holmes encourages the boy's curiosity.  Mrs. Munro is leery of the developing bond between Holmes & her son since she knows how fragile Holmes' health is.

Much of the film switches back and forth between Holmes investigating a case of a distraught wife and her obsession with a glass harmonica in pre-WWI London and the interactions with the Munros in post-WWII Dover.  The third plot line involves Holmes' recent trip to Hiroshima to find a prickly ash plant.  In this version of the Holmes mythos, the bees provide Royal jelly and the prickly ash is ground into a paste as both are reputed to have memory enhancing abilities.

McKellan's Holmes is a sad sight.  He must write the names of close acquaintances on his shirtsleeve cuffs.  Aware of his failing memory and health, Holmes still flashes the extraordinary powers of deduction which Watson has made famous.  In this version, Holmes does not wear a deerstalker hat or smoke a calabash pipe as those were fictional affectations created by Watson.  Much of the film deals with Holmes dealing with people's expectations of him which are based on fictionalized writings of the late Dr. Watson.

The plot is sufficient to sustain interest.  It deals with Holmes recalling the circumstances of the old case and his guilt/regret at his behavior.  He attempts to assuage his conscience with acts of kindness towards the Munros and his Japanese host in Hiroshima.

McKellen is given enough room to showcase his acting talents.  His interactions with Milo Parker are particularly rewarding although Linney holds her own as the dour Mrs. Munro.  All three of these characters are emotionally stunted and are looking for ways to connect with each other.

The plot gives a few sops to casual fans of Holmes.  It creates an interesting alternate biography of Holmes and Watson's face is always obscured to create mystery.  Ultimately, this is the story of an old man whose failing memory inconveniently does not allow him to forget his sense guilt and regret.

By any objective standard, I would rate this film as slightly above average but the story has some added resonance with me as it reminds me slightly of certain circumstances in my life at present.

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