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Non-Review Review: Mr. Holmes

Memory is a tricky thing, particularly as distinct from history. History often occurs as a sequence of events, a laundry list and cause and effect and happenstance. Memory is the chord that we use to tie that all together, the narrative that we weave through these isolated events. Mr. Holmes is an exploration of the gulf as it exists between the two concepts, following an ageing Sherlock Holmes as he attempts to piece together his own faded memory from facts and evidence scattered around.

Adapted from Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind, writer Jeffrey Hatcher and director Bill Condon position Holmes’ famous deductive prowess as a clever metaphor. Holmes’ ability to effortless build random strands of information into cohesive theories and explanations is set against two rather unconventional targets. As his faculties begin to fail him, Holmes tries to reconstruct memory from the few details available to him. At the same time, Holmes struggles with his own difficulties understanding human nature as it exists beneath these subtle hints and clues.

Holmes for Summer...

Private investigations.

Although the publication of A Slight Trick of the Mind predates the development of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ cult adaptation Sherlock, there is considerable thematic overlap between both stories. As with the BBC series, it seems like the Sherlock Holmes of Mr. Holmes is more concerned with the mystery that is other people than with any individual case. The result is a surprisingly (and effectively) low key film that plays more as a meditation on the human condition than as a convention Sherlock Holmes mystery.

There are points where Mr. Holmes does feel a little too heavy-handed or a little too manipulative in its exploration of the eponymous character. However, Condon very clever grounds the film in a beautifully vulnerable central performance from Ian McKellen.

The long walk Holmes...

The long walk Holmes…

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Non-Review Review: The Fifth Estate

The ink is still fresh on The Fifth Estate, although perhaps that is too outdated a metaphor. The code is yet to be debugged might be more appropriate. History has yet to really decide what it will make of Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Cyber freedom fighters, the internet generation’s Woodward and Burnstein? Or reckless and disconnected kids failing to realise that writing on screen can have very real consequences? “Editing reflects bias,” we’re reminded early in the film, perhaps a concession that that the movie can’t get the necessary distance to offer a definitive (or even especially nuanced) take on Assange and his revolution.

The Fifth Estate comes down quite hard against Assange, essentially reducing Benedict Cumberbatch’s white-haired technological genius to something like a Bond villain. Director Bill Condon struggles to make typing code look sexy with laboured metaphors. And yet, despite that, there’s a willingness here to engage with something big and bold and important, however clumsily the script grapples with the implications of Wikileaks.

The result is something far more compelling that the dire Diana. Diana was a film so close to its subject that it couldn’t muster any enthusiasm or offer anything approaching a challenging opinion. The Fifth Estate is too close to its subject matter, and it clumsily stumbles into obvious bias and slant, but it’s still an intriguing attempt to parse a new media that it seems Hollywood doesn’t really understand.

He's Assange one, that one...

He’s Assange one, that one…

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Watch! UK Trailer for The Fifth Estate!

Entertainment One just sent of this latest UK trailer for The Fifth Estate. It is very similar to the trailer we previewed way back in July, running just five seconds shorter. Still, it looks like it should be one of the more interesting features of award’s season, exploring the life and times a personality whose story is still very much on-going. It’ll also be interesting to see how the movie addresses the controversies surround Assange. (And whether it will help cement Benedict Cumberbatch as the kind of actor who can anchor movies like this.)

Anyway, the trailer’s below. The US version is here. It is released in the UK on October 11th.

Watch! The Fifth Estate Trailer!

The summer’s barely over, but we’re in Oscar trailer season. Or, more accurately, Benedict Cumberbatch season. Yesterday we had our first look at Twelve Years A Slave. Today, it’s The Fifth Estate, the film looking at Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Cumberbatch is interesting here, with his bleached long hair quite a departure from what we’ve come to expect from the actor, and his Australian accent somewhat warping his recognisable deep voice.

The film itself looks interesting, if only because the material is so recent and so controversial. Given that popular culture has yet to make a judgement on Assange, it’ll be intriguing to see what Bill Condon’s biography offers. The cast does look superb, though.