Cruising Altitude

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

by Hope Madden

Tom Cruise may have finally found a marriage that will work. His partnership with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has produced four of the actor’s most recent films.

McQuarrie wrote Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow (arguably Cruise’s finest film this century), and he wrote and directed both Jack Reacher and Cruise’s latest action extravaganza, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

McQuarrie inherited the series at its peak, Brad Bird’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol having brought the franchise back to relevance with talented new teammates, extravagant set pieces, and much-needed humor.

Rogue Nation picks up that same beat. The band’s back together: Cruise’s super-agent Ethan Hunt, skeptical wise cracker Brandt (Jeremy Renner), systems wizard Luther (Ving Rhames), and delightful hacker Benji (Simon Pegg).

Blessedly, the talentless Paula Patton sits this one out.

In her place as the beautiful woman who will appear in only one episode is Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious double (or triple?) agent Ilsa Faust.

Now disgraced and disavowed by their own government, what’s left of IMF must expose their underworld counterpart The Syndicate to reclaim their status and save the world.

McQuarrie keeps the pace moving with a gliding camera that not only captures the enormity of each sequence, but develops a graceful, controlled urgency about each event.

Truth be told, though, the movie succeeds or fails depending on Cruise, and Ethan Hunt is a great character for the beleaguered movie star. Cruise can show off his still quite impressive physical presence, the script’s use of humor capitalizes on the actor’s underused strengths, and let’s be honest – Cruise has a bit of the crazy-eye, which makes him more believable in the part.

The action sequences are not quite as breathtaking as they were in Ghost Protocol, but they are impressive nonetheless.

What McQuarrie does better than any previous director in the series is to imbue every scene with a bit of humor – enough to exploit the ridiculousness of the situation without actually mocking it. He finds the fun in the familiar old gimmicks and draws on the strengths of his cast to create a blast of entertainment.


Nothing But the Hits

I Am Chris Farley

by George Wolf

Just weeks ago, Amy proved that a documentary on the life of a troubled entertainer can move beyond the cliches of struggle, fame and burnout to reach a deeply poignant intimacy.

I Am Chris Farley doesn’t succeed on that level. In fact, it doesn’t even try.

Farley, like Amy Winehouse and so many before them both, was a giant talent gone too soon. But directors Brent Hodge and Derik Murray only seem interested in putting together a greatest hits package of Farley’s comedy coupled with wistful tributes from family, friends and colleagues.

Don’t get me wrong, those greatest hits are damn funny, and there’s great archival footage. You see some of Farley’s early stage work, and realize that he came to Saturday Night Live with classic bits such as “Matt Foley: Motivational Speaker” already fully formed and ready for prime time.

The laughs keep coming, and the interviews paint a picture of an all-around great guy who is still terribly missed to this day. The intentions of all involved seem truly sincere, but the entire project is polished with such a Hollywood sheen that it would have been better off as a Comedy Central special or SNL tribute show.

Annoying background music is everywhere, and there is a curious amount of time given to standup routines by Chris’s brother Kevin Farley. Meanwhile, the darker aspects of Chris’s story are given short shrift, and we’re reminded again how great and funny he was.

Not doubting any of it for one second, but a successful documentary has to cut more than just surface deep. I Am Chris Farley comes nowhere close.


What Are Nouns?

People Places Things

by Hope Madden

I dare you to dislike Jemaine Clement. Just try to – it’s not even possible.

Whether he’s the aspiring pop star of Flight of the Conchords, the sexy vampire of What We Do In the Shadows, or just the voice of the damn horse in those Direct TV ads, he is always memorable, likeable, and hilarious.

In People Places Things, Clement steps out of the shadows and takes on romantic lead responsibilities as newly single graphic novelist Will. Will finds himself lonely and directionless after longtime partner/baby mama Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) leaves him for a monologist named Gary (a very funny Michael Chernus).

Nothing really works out well as Will floats through many failed attempts at living – teaching the graphic novel, mentoring a talented student, dating her mother, spending more time with his (ridiculously adorable) twin daughters, finishing his book, accepting Charlie’s new life and impending marriage.

Filmmaker James Strouse has been writing movies about lost men for a long time, beginning with the under-appreciated Lonesome Jim back in ‘05. People Places Things is his most surefooted script, populated with appealing characters that are nicely realized by Strouse’s strong cast.

Clement can generate chemistry with anyone who walks on screen, which is no doubt part of his charm. This is particularly true with Regina Hall, who shines in a very different kind of comedic role than those she usually takes. The humor is sly and a bit quiet, but wonderful nonetheless.

Allynne succeeds with the most difficult role, delivering a believably neurotic counterpoint to Will, a woman pretending to be sure of herself and her future who is actually exactly as lost as he is.

In a lot of ways, the film serves up a traditionally structured if attractively indie rom-com, but the way the cast – Clement, in particular – underplays the drama and lets the comedy breathe a bit, you don’t feel manipulated. The film is somewhat daringly low-key, relying on a talented cast to unveil the longing and loneliness behind the laughs.

It’s a messy, sweet, funny look at self-discovery and relationships, masquerading as a romantic comedy.


Holiday Road Revisited


by Hope Madden

Reboots are too often tiresome and they frequently taint beloved childhood memories, but you have to admit that the trailers for Vacation are hilarious. Each different clip offers funny bits and clever dialog, but to be honest, they had me as soon as the kid in the back seat put a plastic bag over his brother’s head.

The writing/directing team of Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley bring the John Hughes/Harold Ramis road trip classic into this millennium. The now middle aged Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) decides to relive his childhood vacation by driving his own wife and children across the nation: destination, Walley World.

The cast is very strong. Helms, playing the mild mannered but lovable nerd he does so well, anchors the film and also immediately alters the tone set in the ’83 original. His wholesome dork of a dad delivers plenty of punch lines, but he does as much work as a set-up man, which affords the rest of the ensemble opportunities to shine.

Christina Applegate capably navigates the conflicted mate space, but it’s Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins who kill as the next generation of Griswolds. Stebbins’s psychotic bully of a younger brother is the single funniest thing about this movie, and Gisondo not only establishes a unique character all his own, he’s also an outstanding comic foil for Stebbins.

Charlie Day’s a riot in one of a dozen or more very funny bit parts, while Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth are a hoot as Rusty’s sister Audrey and her husband Stone. Aside from them, though, the nods toward the original only manage to slow the movie’s pace.

The writing feels scattered and leads toward too many dead ends, and though the humor often hits the mark, it’s far safer than what they were getting away with back in ’83. Like any road trip film, Vacation uses a highway to string together a series of sight gags. Some work, some fall flat, but thanks mostly to the very solid cast, there are plenty of laughs. That shouldn’t be a surprise, though.

Moose outside shoulda told you.


Fright Club: Best British Horror

We are thrilled to have Senior British Correspondent Craig Hunter of SCREENRELISH join us to look at some of our favorite British horror movies. From classics of Hammer to some of today’s most disturbing films, we count down the five best.

5. Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (1958)

In 1958, Hammer Films began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.

Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but its Lee who carries the film.

Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.

Still the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.

Ribald stuff for 1958!

4. Kill List (2011)

Never has the line “Thank you” had a weirder effect than in the genre bending adventure Kill List.

Hitman Jay (a volcanic Neil Maskell) is wary to take another job after the botched Kiev assignment, but his bank account is empty and his wife Shel (an also eruptive MyAnna Buring) has become vocally impatient about carrying the financial load. But this new gig proves to be seriously weird.

Without ever losing that gritty, indie sensibility, Ben Wheatley’s fascinating film begins a slide in Act 2 from crime drama toward macabre thriller. You spend the balance of the film’s brisk 95 minutes actively puzzling out clues, ambiguities and oddities.

As Kill List drifts toward its particular flavor of horror, Wheatley pulls deftly from some of the most memorable films of a similar taste. For those looking for blood and guts and bullets, Kill List will only partially satisfy and may bewilder by the end. But audiences seeking a finely crafted, unusual horror film may find themselves saying thank you.

3. Eden Lake (2009)

The always outstanding Michael Fassbender takes his girl Jenny (Kelly Reilly) to his childhood stomping grounds – a flooded quarry and soon-to-be centerpiece for a grand housing development. He intends to propose, but he’s routinely disrupted, eventually in quite a bloody manner, by a roving band of teenaged thugs.

James Watkins’s screenplay keeps you nervous and guessing with some clever maneuvers and horrific turns.

The acting, particularly from the youngsters, is outstanding. Fassbender’s bravado strikes an honest note, and Reilly’s Jenny is capable, smart and compassionate. More than anything, though, the film owes its unsettling ability to stay with you to an unnerving performance from the up and coming Jack O’Connell.

It’s an upwardly mobile urbanite nightmare, well made and crafted to stay with you.

2. The Descent (2005)

A caving expedition turns ugly for a group of friends, who will quickly realize that being trapped inside the earth is not the worst thing that could happen.

This spelunking adventure comes with a familiar cast of characters: arrogant authority figure, maverick, emotionally scarred question mark, bickering siblings, and a sad-sack tag along. And yet, somehow, the interaction among them feels surprisingly authentic, and not just because each is cast as a woman.

Writer/director Neil Marshall makes excellent use of the story’s structure. Between that and the way film and sound editing are employed, Marshall squeezes every available ounce of anxiety from the audience. Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)

Activists break into a research lab and free the wrong fucking monkeys.

28 days later, bike messenger Jim wakes up naked on an operating table.

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage and blood – it marks a frantic and terrifying not-really-a-zombie film. (They were not dead, you see. Just super pissed off.)

Danny Boyle is one of cinema’s visionary directors, and he’s made visceral, fascinating, sometimes terrifying films his entire career – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Millions, 127 Hours – but 28 Days Later is certainly his one true horror film. And it is inspired.

The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, and the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.

Listen to the whole conversation on the FRIGHT CLUB PODCAST.

Revenge of the Nerds


by George Wolf

So, in Pixels, Kevin James is the President of the United States.

I’ll pause and let you collect your thoughts.

President Will Cooper hasn’t lost touch with the common folk, especially his childhood BFF Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), who’s now a “geek squad” type techie at a box store. Back in the 1980s, the pair ruled the arcades with mastery on all the popular video games, and those skills come in pretty handy once a pixelated attack comes out of the sky.

It seems aliens got a look at a space probe from 1982 and confused some video game footage as a battle challenge from Earth. They may also be punishing us for making “Pac-Man Fever” such a big hit, but the point is, once the centipedes attack, it’s clear the military’s best option is to turn things over to the “losers who are good at old video games.”

It’s actually a pretty fun premise, sprung from a 2010 short film by Patrick Jean. Expanded by director Chris Columbus and the Sandler-friendly writing team of Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, it becomes an occasionally inspired 80s throwback with a couple of winning comedic performances.

That couple isn’t James and Sandler, who both sleepwalk through their roles with little interest and less comic timing. Peter Dinklage, though, is a gas as Eddie, a former video game champion refusing to let go of the past. With mullet and attitude straight out of King of Kong (please see it if you haven’t), Dinklage brings some welcome mischief, while Josh Gad is instantly likable as Ludlow, nerdiest of the grown-up gamers.

Left alone, Dinklage, Gad, and the alien video game battles would have gotten Pixels closer to the Ghostbusters reboot it aspires to be. But Dan Aykroyd’s cameo only reinforces how badly this movie needs a Bill Murray type-presence, and Sandler is not it. His lazy-off with James just dilutes the fun, and renders Brenner’s flirtation with a military weapons specialist (Michelle Monaghan, wasted) DOA.

Columbus does his best to fill the screen with blasts of 3-D love for the 80s, but it isn’t long before the gimmick of Pixels wears thin, and running out of quarters doesn’t seem as bad as you remember.




Punch Drunk


by Hope Madden

Hope is a tricky word in the hands of a writer. It is almost impossible not to assume the name Hope has been assigned a character for symbolic purposes. Certainly this can be done with finesse, but more often it’s as subtle as a punch in the face. (See what I did there?)

Such is the case with Southpaw, Antoine Fuqua’s by-the-numbers redemption tale about down-on-his-luck boxer Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), who turns to a grizzled trainer played by Forest Whitaker to help him fight his way back to the top.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen the movie. Hope’s on top of the boxing world until tragedy strikes. His wife is killed, his daughter is taken into protective custody, he loses all his money and has to find the true boxer inside himself to reclaim his life. It is every boxing movie you have ever seen.

Sports films are perhaps the most cliché-ready of any – boxing films more than most. Some find a way to do the rags-to-riches (or riches-to-rags-to-riches) storyline well: The Fighter, Rocky. Even Gavin O’Connor‘s 2011 MMA film Warrior managed to embrace the well-worn path and still find new and interesting things to say. Much of that credit goes to a rock-solid cast including the great Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte (Oscar nominated for his role).

Southpaw certainly boasts an excellent performance in the battered and ripped form of Gyllenhaal. Following the greatest performance of his life in Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal again delivers a deeply felt, sincere turn as Hope battles toward atonement.

The film opens with a bloody, manic Hope rushing directly toward the camera, his gnarled and dripping mug and howling mouth finally filling the entire screen. Fuqua – having proven an ability throughout his career to amp up otherwise familiar content with his particular flair with the camera – starts off promisingly.

Unfortunately, the filmmaker can’t deliver on that promise. All is well enough when the camera is on Gyllenhaal, who seems undeterred by the brashly formulaic story unfolding around him. His presence is almost alarming, and in his performance you see the intellectual, social, and emotional limitations this disgraced boxer has to battle.

It’s almost enough to overlook the brazenly derivative film around him.


Fright Club: Feminist Horror

Horror’s come a long way from the days of nubile, sexually wayward teenage girls being victimized and/or rescued by men. Strong female characters have become staples of the genre, thanks in part to a rise in female writers and directors, but likely just as much credit goes to an audience unwilling to accept ridiculous stereotypes. Today we are joined by Senior Feminist Correspondent Melissa Starker as we pay tribute to half dozen of the best feminism horror has to offer.

6. The Descent (2005)

This spelunking adventure comes with a familiar cast of characters: arrogant authority figure, maverick, emotionally scarred question mark, bickering siblings, and a sad-sack tag along. And yet, somehow, the interaction among them feels surprisingly authentic, and not just because each is cast as a woman.

These ladies are not Green Berets who, unlike the audience, are trained for extreme circumstances. These particular thrill seekers are just working stiffs on vacation. It hits a lot closer to home.

More importantly, the cast is rock solid, each bringing a naturalness to her character that makes her absolutely horrifying, merciless, stunningly brutal final moments on this earth that much more meaningful.

Writer/director Neil Marshall must be commended for sidestepping the obvious trap of exploiting the characters for their sexuality – I’m not saying he avoids this entirely, but for a horror director he is fantastically restrained. He also manages to use the characters’ vulnerability without patronizing or stereotyping.

5. The Woman (2011)

In horror movies, things don’t always go so well for the ladies. But sometimes we’ll surprise you, and your pervy freak of a son, as director Lucky McKee details in his most surefooted picture, the gender role horror show The Woman.

There’s something not quite right about Chris Cleese (an unsettlingly cherubic Sean Bridgers), and his family’s uber-wholesomeness is clearly suspect. This becomes evident once Chris hunts down a feral woman (an awesome Pollyanna McIntosh), chains her, and invites the family to help him “civilize” her.

The film rethinks family – well, patriarchy, anyway. Writer Jack Ketchum may say things you don’t want to hear, but he says them well. McKee has no qualms about showing you things you don’t want to see. Like most of Ketchum’s work, The Woman is lurid and more than a bit disturbing. Still, nothing happens in this film by accident – not even the innocent seeming baking of cookies – nor does it ever happen solely to titillate.

4. Ginger Snaps (2000)

Ginger Snaps picks at most of the same adolescent scabs as Carrie – there’s the underlying mania about the onslaught of womanhood accompanied by the monsterization of the female, which leads to a mounting body count.

Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and her sister Bridget (Emily Perkins), outcasts in the wasteland of Canadian suburbia, cling to each other, and reject/loathe high school (a feeling that high school in general returns). On the evening of Ginger’s first period, she’s bitten by a werewolf. Writer Karen Walton cares not for subtlety: the curse, get it? It turns out, lycanthropy makes for a pretty vivid metaphor for puberty. It also proves especially provocative and appropriate for a film that upends many mainstay female cliches.

Walton’s wickedly humorous script stays in your face with metaphors, successfully building an entire film on clever turns of phrase, puns, and analogies, stirring up the kind of hysteria that surrounds puberty, sex, reputations, body hair, and one’s own helplessness to these very elements. It’s as insightful a high school horror film as you’ll find, peppered equally with dark humor and gore.

3. Alien (1979)

Ridley Scott made a lot of great decisions with this film – the pacing, the look, the monster, and the casting. Especially the casting. Because the Ripley characgter was not specified on the page as a female – no character was – but Scott decided that a couple of these crewfolk would certainly be women by this point in human history. And history was made.

Ellen Ripley is just the next in charge. She’s just a solid, smart, savvy crewman. That’s what makes the film so special. In Aliens – an all around outstanding film – Ripley is out to save a little girl. She draws on her maternal instinct, which is a far more traditional and comforting reason for audiences to accept a female behaving this way. But in Alien, her gender really is not an issue. She happens to be the strongest, most ass kicking survivor on board.

2. The Babadook (2014)

A weary single mother contending with her young son’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior begins to believe that her son’s imaginary boogeyman may well be a monstrous presence in her house.

The film’s subtext sits so close to the surface that it threatens to burst through. Though that does at times weaken the fantasy, it gives the film a terrifying urgency. In the subtext there is a primal horror, a taboo rarely visited in film and certainly never examined with such sympathy. Indeed, the compassion in the film may be the element that makes it so very unsettling.

Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s film is expertly written and beautifully acted, boasting unnerving performances from not only a stellar lead in Essie Davis, but also the alarmingly spot-on young Noah Wiseman. Davis’s lovely, loving Amelia is so recognizably wearied by her only child’s erratic, sometimes violent behavior that you cannot help but pity her, and sometimes fear for her, and other times fear her.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jonathan Demme did the impossible. He took the story of a flesh eater who helps the FBI track down a flesh wearer and turned it into an Oscar magnet. How did he do it? With muted tones, an understated score, a visual focus on the characters rather than their actions, and a subtle but powerful use of the camera. The performances didn’t hurt, either.

Yes, it’s awesome, but how is it feminist? Mainly, through Jodie Foster’s character of Clarice Starling – our point of view character and the film’s hero. We are meant to identify with and root for this fledgling FBI agent as she navigates the horrifying mind of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (an epic Anthony Hopkins) in the hopes of stopping a serial killer (the under appreciated Ted Levin).

Usually, a director shoots a villain from below, making him look larger and more menacing. (It’s also not a very flattering angle, which doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to make someone seem mean.) The victim is usually shot from above, which makes them seem smaller, less powerful, more vulnerable, and cuter. When Starling and Lecter are talking in the prison, they’re shot at the same angle, eliminating that power struggle. They’re shot as equals. In this way the film as a whole affords Starling all the respect and credibility the character proves to deserve.

Thanks to Senior Feminist Correspondent Melissa Starker for joining us today! Listen to the whole conversation on our podcast FRIGHT CLUB.

Tale From the Dark Side

The Stanford Prison Experiment

by George Wolf

“Should we step in?”

“No..let’s see where this goes.”

“THIS IS where it goes!”

Imagine watching the ugliness of human behavior materialize in front of your eyes and realizing you not only lit the spark, but enthusiastically fanned the flames?

That very scene proves a pivotal moment in The Stanford Prison Experiment, a completely mesmerizing account of the legendary 1971 psychology study.

If you’re not familiar, the experiment was Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s attempt to study the effects of incarceration with a 2 week prison simulation in the Stanford University psychology building. Attracting volunteers through an offer of a $15 per day salary, Zimbardo and his research team assigned 24 young men to roles as either “guard,” or “prisoner” and monitored the events via video camera.

After 6 days, the guards’ behavior turned so depraved, Zimbardo shut the project down.

Wait, didn’t this movie come out five years ago?

The Experiment did, but that was a fictionalized version based on a novel. This time, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez draws from Zimbrano’s own book, as well as the actual transcripts from both the experiment and the exit interviews, to craft an unflinching look at just what we’re capable of.

In the years since it took place, the experiment has reappeared in pop culture numerous times – most notably during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. But while the possible conclusions drawn from the SPE continue to be debated, the film wisely keep its focus on the lives affected during those 6 harrowing days.

We watch events unfold through Zimbrano’s perspective, delicately delivered in a career performance from Billy Crudup. From innocent beginnings, through an angry defense of his methods, to the moment the doctor realizes what he hath wrought, Crudup is riveting, aided by a taut script from Tim Tabott that doesn’t tiptoe around Zimbrano’s culpability.

The stable of young actors in the supporting cast are uniformly stellar, led by Ezra Miller as the first prisoner to break down, and Michael Angarano as a power drunk guard who insists on imitating Strother Martin from Cool Hand Luke. Nelsan Ellis shines as an ex-con conflicted by his spot on Zimbrano’s team, and Olivia Thirlby, as Zimbrano’s girlfriend, effectively provides a badly-needed conscience.

Alvarez, in just his third feature, turns the screws with a precision that leaves you shaken by events you already know are coming. Though seemingly more trivial, his subtle flair with the period details bathes the entire film in a stark authenticity from first frame to last.

Did an “evil place win over good people,” did the situation attract sociopaths waiting to strike, or was the execution too flawed for any conclusion? To its credit, The Stanford Prison Experiment offers no concrete judgements, just a gripping, sadly relevant look at ourselves.







Riddle Me This

Mr. Holmes

by Hope Madden

The last time the great Ian McKellen donned the lead role in a film for director Bill Condon, he was rightfully nominated for an Oscar. In their collaboration Gods and Monsters, McKellen played director James Whale in his waning years, trying to remember for himself and articulate for others the difference between who he was as a man and who the world believed him to be.

Director and star tread a similar path with their latest effort, Mr. Holmes. A 93-year-old Sherlock faces his mortality and – worse still for the brainiac detective – encroaching senility. Attempting to battle enfeeblement, he tries to remember the details of his final case – facts clouded by the published story and subsequent film written by his longtime friend, Dr. Watson.

Though the film does stalk a mystery, don’t expect clues, lurid suspicions and a tidy conclusion. Rather, Condon’s effort, based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, puzzles over bigger questions about morality, fallibility, regret, and the regenerative power of storytelling.

The retired sleuth spends his waning years in a Sussex seaside farmhouse tending bees and basking in the admiration of Roger (Milo Parker), the son of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney).

Linney feels slightly miscast as the put-upon housekeeper, aware of her own intellectual limitations and envious of her son’s affections for her employer. Her accent is off-putting and her intelligence is perhaps too fierce to be believably buried inside this character, but she certainly finds the frail humanity beneath Mrs. Munro’s sturdy exterior.

The tale is a bit soft-hearted and not nearly as cerebral as fans of the sleuth might hope. Don’t expect the expected – there is no Watson, no deerstalker, no pipe. Sherlock’s deductive prowess does come into play now and again, but even as logic continues to form and inform his actions, he’s developing an admiration for emotion – even for fiction.

Condon’s pace is slow and his storytelling is not as crisp as it should be, but McKellen soars nonetheless. With effortless grace and honesty he delivers a turn full of fear, courage, regret, need, and joy. It’s a masterful performance.