Movie reviews: Mr Holmes, The Longest Ride, The Burning
Paul Whitington reviews this week's big movie releases - Mr Holmes, The Longest Ride, and The Burning.
In his last Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle imagined the great detective spending his declining years tending bees in deepest Sussex and amusing himself by taking on minor cases. American writer Mitch Cullin ran with this idea in a 2005 novel called A Slight Trick of the Mind, and it's on that book that Mr Holmes 3* (PG, 104mins) is based. Sherlock (Ian McKellen) is now a hale 93, having outlived friends, enemies and even his beloved colleague Dr Watson.
He lives in a remote farmhouse with his long-suffering housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her young Roger (Milo Parker), and passes much of his time in his study poring over old records and reading his and Dr Watson's accounts of them. He's begun worrying about the rapid deterioration of his memory, and the details of a troubling case involving a man, his troubled wife and a music teacher.
And when he goes to Japan in search of a herbal remedy, the consequences of the half-forgotten spring horribly to life in his mind.
Ian McKellen makes a wonderful Holmes, and it would have been nice to see him take the part on when he was a little younger. In this nuanced and typically intelligent performance, he gives us a once brilliant sleuth whose self-confidence and intellectual vanity have severely dented by old age and the prospect of death.
But the mystery that surrounds him is much feebler than anything Conan Doyle would ever have written, and fails to sustain a pleasant but slight drama that feels more like a TV movie than a film.
One of the richest writers in the world, Nicholas Sparks pumps out novels like McDonald's do burgers. The Longest Ride (2*, 12A, 128mins), God help us all, is his 17th, and this film is the 10th movie based on Sparks' work. All his stories are slushy romances based on the kind of coincidences even Dickens would have balked at, and the mysterious workings of fate. This one is absolutely no exception.
Britt Robertson is Sophia Danko, a dreamy and refined arts student who's completing her studies in North Carolina when she's persuaded to attend a local rodeo. There she meets Luke (Scott Eastwood), a beefy bull rider whose southern courtliness and gentle ways win her over. But their differing interests soon become a problem: Luke has already been seriously injured and warned to stop riding, and Sophia plans to begin an internship at a gallery in New York.
Things seem hopeless until they stop one night to help an old man who's crashed his car: he is Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), and as he recovers in hospital he tells them a story that will give Luke and Sophia much food for thought.
It's total gibberish of course, but you can watch it without doing yourself harm.
Oona Chaplin and Jack Huston are quite good in a period flashback, and the young leads are easy on the eye, though at times Scott Eastwood reminds you so disconcertingly of his daddy that you think you've hit a time warp and are watching out-takes from Rawhide.
If The Burning (2*, 16, 101mins) were any worthier it would be on a fast track to canonisation. An eco-thriller set in the rainforests of Argentina, it takes the basic spaghetti western template and adds a heavy-handed and deeply unpalatable layer of mysticism.
A gang of thugs are burning down patches of forest and grabbing land from poor farmers: when they shoot one smallholder and kidnap his daughter, a mysterious, half-naked figure (Gael Garcia Bernal) emerges from the river to wreak vengeance on mother nature's behalf.
Despite its po-faced agenda, Pablo Fendrick's drama might have worked if it had been made with a little more subtlety, and attention to detail. But instead it blunders clumsily towards its inevitable conclusion, achieving little and teaching us nothing.