Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dark Knight Detectives

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014): adapted by Scott Frank from the novel by Lawrence Block; directed by Scott Frank; starring Liam Neeson (Matt Scudder), David Harbour (Ray), Adam David Thompson (Albert), Dan Stevens (Kenny Kristo), and Brian 'Astro' Bradley (T.J.) : Scott Frank's adaptation of one of Lawrence Block's great Matt Scudder mystery novels is a dandy modern hard-boiled detective/noir. Liam Neeson does marvelous, sorrowful work as Scudder, that dark knight of New York, as does Brian Bradley as homeless genius T.J., whose orbit intersects with Scudder's during an investigation of some horrible killings. That it wasn't the hit it deserved to be robs us of more Scudder adaptations from Frank and Neeson, which is a great, great shame. Highly recommended.

Mr. Holmes (2015): adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher from the novel by Mitch Cullin; directed by Bill Condon; starring Ian McKellen (Sherlock Holmes), Laura Linney (Mrs. Munro), Milo Parker (Roger Munro), and Hattie Morahan (Ann Kelmot) : Lovely, character-driven piece about Sherlock Holmes in twilight, bee-keeping in the country just after World War Two. McKellen does fine work as a memory-loss-plagued Holmes in his 90's and, in flashback, Holmes prior to his retirement just after World War One. 

Laura Linney and Hattie Morahan are fine as the main female supporting characters in the present and past, respectively, while Milo Parker is a refreshingly non-annoying child actor. Parker plays the son of Holmes' housekeeper Linney in the 1940's sequences, fascinated by the life and career of the World's First Consulting Detective. 

The narrative plays around with what we 'know' of Holmes' life from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories by playing with Doyle's own literary conceit that Holmes was a real person whose adventures were recounted -- and sometimes embellished -- by Holmes' friend Dr. Watson. The mysteries in Mr. Holmes aren't great ones. It's the film's engagement with memory, loss, and regrets that makes it so moving. Highly recommended.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt; directed by J.J. Abrams; starring Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), and Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke) : Still a zippy ride on the small screen, where the greatest strength of the film -- its terrific casting and direction of the new characters -- stands out more than ever. And BB-8. Can't forget BB-8. Highly recommended.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016): written by David S. Goyer and Chris Terrio; directed by Zack Snyder; starring Ben Affleck (Batman), Henry Cavill (Superman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor): A second viewing made me think that the movie might have been better had the entire section of Batman actually fighting Superman been excised in favour of a brief conversation between the two. I like the idea of a movie entitled Batman v. Superman that doesn't actually include a battle between Batman and Superman. 

With a nod to Chekov's gun, the Excalibur reference on the wall in the first Act goes off in the third. Hoo ha. At least it attempts to be a movie and not just another slab of Marvel Movie Product (TM). And Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman really is Da Bomb once she gets into battle. Still, it feels like Aquaman really should have showed up with that spear at the end. Recommended.

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