Movie Review ~ Enola Holmes

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: When Enola Holmes-Sherlock’s teen sister-discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord.

Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Louis Partridge, Helena Bonham Carter, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw, Frances de la Tour, Susie Wokoma

Director: Harry Bradbeer

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  I think we can all agree that by this point, that sly detective Sherlock Holmes has had his fair share of the spotlight in movies and television shows.  If you run a search for Sherlock Holmes in IMDb you’re going to get a truckload of results…and that’s only those with his name in the title.  Think of the all the movies with Holmes as a leading or secondary character that take the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation into numerous different directions, some for the good (1979’s much liked Murder by Decree) and many for the bad (take your pick but 2018’s ghastly Holmes & Watson springs to mind).  The brilliant reimagining for the BBC in 2010 made Benedict Cumberbatch a star and the big-budget 2009 film and it’s gargantuan sequel in 2011 solidified Robert Downey Jr.’s A-List status in stone.

So if Sherlock was considered played out, how to further the Holmes lineage in new and interesting ways?  The answer came in the form of six books written by Nancy Springer that followed Enola Holmes, Sherlock’s much younger sister.  Raised solely by her mother after her father’s death, both Sherlock and his brother Mycroft were out of the house by the time Enola was born, leading the now teenage girl to grow up not really knowing her siblings.  Springer’s books were published between 2006 and 2010 and now the first one has been adapted into Enola Holmes, a film originally intended for release by Warner Brothers this past summer that was eventually bought by Netflix on account of the pandemic.  If this origin story and initial adventure is any indication, Netflix has scored a win with a promising new franchise on their hands.

On the morning of her 16th birthday in 1884, Enola Holmes (Millie Bobbie Brown) discovers that her ever-present mother (Helena Bonham-Carter, Cinderella) has vanished from their sprawling and overgrown country home outside London, apparently leaving no clue as to where she’s gone.  As Enola’s only companion, teacher, and guardian, this is a puzzlement as it’s not like her to just disappear without a trace so Enola sends word to her brothers in the city who arrive in short order.  Stodgy Mycroft (Sam Claflin, Me Before You) isn’t surprised their flighty mother took off, begrudgingly accepting the responsibilities for taking in Enola as his ward. The more laid-back Sherlock (Henry Cavill, Justice League) likely has already figured out where she’s gone and how tight her shoelaces were tied when she left but defers to his more tightly-wound brother in the decision-making process.

Enola, however, can’t wait around forever and when Mycroft attempts to ship her off to a boarding school run by a perilous headmistress (Fiona Shaw, Pixels, a brittle riot) she sets off on her own after making a hidden discovery that points her in the right direction.  Along the way, she crosses paths with the Lord Viscount Tewskbury, Marquess of Basilwether (Louis Partridge, Paddington 2) , a young runaway she assists in evading a treacherous henchman (Burn Gorman, Pacific Rim) dispatched for murderous purposes by someone close to the boy.  Not letting herself be distracted by another mystery when she has her own familial problem to solve, Enola continues to track the disappearance of her mother, which may have ties to the growing women’s suffrage movement.

With Jack Thorne’s (Radioactive) script often episodic in nature, the film tends to resemble the chapter book it’s based off of, with tiny little adventures or plot advances happening in small chunks throughout.  It gives the entire film, which is by and large entirely delightful, an ever so slight stutter and never lets it achieve a smooth ride.  Director Harry Bradbeer makes his feature film debut after years of building a respected career in television and he uses that history of handling short form storytelling to bring a liveliness throughout, even if it often lacks true connectivity.  It’s a handsome production, with the period recreated beautifully in the sets and reflected faithfully by the costumes.

With only Netflix’s Stranger Things and last year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters as the majorly significant items on her resume, I haven’t yet hopped on the Millie Bobbie Brown train yet but I’m willing to buy a ticket after this.  It’s a role perfectly suited for her and she delivers the right amount of spunk and heart, never making Enola too coy or aggravatingly precocious but finding the exact right balance that makes her come alive.  Much of the movie involves her speaking directly to the audience and it wouldn’t have worked as well if Brown didn’t have the right attitude, but whether it be a glance at the camera or lines delivered straight out to us, she really commands your attention.

Acting as a producer of the film as well, Brown has wisely surrounded herself with a nice array of talented supporting players, from Bonham Carter playing pitch perfect as her mother with a hidden life we only just start to skim the surface of to Frances de la Tour (Into the Woods) as the Lord’s grandmother who takes a liking to Enola.  Claflin’s role is rather humorless so he’s stuck with a bit of a downer part, the most villainous non-villain in the film and he’s playing the brother supposedly seven years older than Sherlock…even though he’s three years younger than Cavill.  Cavill is an inspired choice for Sherlock and while the film has made news lately for being named in a lawsuit by the Conan Doyle estate for showing Sherlock as “too emotional”, I didn’t find Cavill to be overtly emo more so than Cumberbatch or Downey, Jr.  It’s wholly Brown’s circus, though, and even Cavill playing the world’s leading detective can’t steal her spotlight for any amount of time.

At 123 minutes, this a long film and while it may entice younger viewers and parents might find the opening 80 minutes to be fairly light, there’s a dark turn as we get to the home stretch that I wasn’t quite expecting.  It is rated PG-13 and earns it in that final half hour when things get violent and scary in ways I’m not sure were entirely necessary, especially for a movie hoping to build into future installments that parents could confidently leave their children in the care of.  That being said, for mystery lovers in general and especially those that like the Sherlock Holmes film adaptations that strayed with cheeky humor from the original Conan Doyle tales, you’ll want to see the first adventure of his sister because Enola Holmes is just getting started.

Movie Review ~ Last Call

The Facts:

Synopsis: Shot in two true single takes, filmed simultaneously in two different parts of a city, this is a real time feature presented in split screen showcasing both ends of a wrong number phone call that has the potential to save a life.

Stars: Daved Wilkins, Sarah Booth, Matt Maenpaa

Director: Gavin Michael Booth

Rated: NR

Running Length: 77 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Released in conjunction with the recently concluded National Suicide Awareness week, Last Call is a clever new tiny Canadian drama showing in virtual theaters and arriving soon in on demand platforms.  You’ll likely hear about the film first because of how it was made (more on that later) but once you get acclimated to what you’re seeing, audiences are apt to find a movie boasting high stakes performances delivered with a strong, if at times a bit muddled, message that’s handled with a surprisingly delicate touch.

My advice to you before seeing Last Call is to make sure you’re ready to sit for the full duration without interruption because that’s going to be the best way to fully immerse yourself in the filmmaking experience as intended.  Clocking in around 74 minutes, it shouldn’t be a challenge…you can focus in and pretend you’re back in a movie theater.  I’d also suggest removing distractions as well because in all honesty there are points in the film where you’ll be tempted to check your phone quickly but, again, that would break the spell of the mood that’s being created.  Know that when you hit ‘play’ the film begins and doesn’t stop, with two continuous takes being shown onscreen.  Two actors were filmed at the same time in the same city in one continuous take and thought you may feel you’d be too wrapped up in paying attention to that fete of filmmaking it becomes secondary to the story rather quickly.

On one side of the screen is Beth (Sarah Booth), a single mother arriving to her shift as the night janitor at an adult education center she attends during the day.  Working there after hours to subsidize her own studies, she’s distracted because her eldest son hasn’t returned home after a night at the movies.  The other side of the screen has Scott (co-writer Daved Wilkins) who is polishing off his drink at a local bar before heading home for the evening.  For the first fifteen minutes of the film we watch these two people settle in for their evening plans.  Beth attempts to locate her son and tries to find coverage in case she needs to leave and track him down and Scott walks the several long blocks back to his home where he resumes drinking.

Then Scott makes a phone call and dials the wrong number.  That’s when he connects with Beth and two things happen.  The first is that our view of the situation literally changes and the second is that we become eavesdroppers on a real-time conversation between individuals that don’t know each other but are soon bonded over their emotionally revealing talk.  When it becomes clear that Scott thinks he’s called a suicide prevention line and if Beth disconnects from this man she has no way of redialing.  Without any personal information to go on, she continues to engage with while simultaneously using her resources to use what little clues he’s giving her to identify him and get him help.

Ok, this one goes out to all you theater nerds out there.  In the 1959 musical Gypsy, there’s a second-act show stopping number where three vaudeville strip-tease artists sing “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”.  It brings down the house and one line from that number rang through my head while watching Last Call:  “You gotta get a gimmick, If you wanna get applause.”  The film has a gimmick, there’s no getting around it, but it’s efficiently used and appropriately engaged.  Instead of teetering with high-stake chicanery, it’s not used as a cheap trick or garishly exploited to show off director Gavin Michael Booth’s bravura filmmaking technique.  It adds to the overall impact and assists particularly in the intense final act which may resort to some slightly overbaked histrionics but don’t affect the feelings toward the film as a whole.  It’s highly worthy of praise because it’s so masterfully done.

If there’s one questionable aspect here, I did start to wonder how much consulting the screenwriters and filmmakers had with suicide prevention counselors.  While there’s nothing disrespectful here or actions taken that raise red flags, some of the approaches employed feel quaintly pat and textbook, like someone just looked up what is the right response in a certain situation and copied it verbatim into the script.  I think there could have been a better way of handling some of these more serious and serious-minded developments of the narrative.

Wilkins is a bit of a tough nut to crack, which is likely the point, but there’s something to be said about being too obtuse for this kind of role that asks you to expose some raw nerves.  He could have taken a note or two from his co-star Sarah Booth (the director is her husband) because she’s often downright riveting to watch.  There were moments when the attention was meant to be on Scott’s character but what Booth was doing was so interesting even in moments of silence that I just kept watching her.  I almost have to think about what this would have been like if the Wilkins view had been excised completely, I think the intensity would have still been there, though the purpose of the two shots would have gone away.

Plenty of films and filmmakers have experimented with these long takes and one shot movies but I don’t remember one that has done something like this before and I think it’s by and large a success.  There are some long gaps where nothing much happens and there could have been some creative ways to fill in that space but it also added to the reality of the world of these characters to not have every minute of their lives spent talking to someone.  Last Call has a first rate concept and an important message, it has its gimmick and deserves the applause.

Movie Review ~ The Wall of Mexico


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A wealthy Mexican-American family decides to build a wall around their ranch to stop townspeople from stealing their well water, which is rumored to have unusual properties.

Stars: Esai Morales, Mariel Hemingway, Jackson Rathbone, Alex Meneses, Carmela Zumbado, Marisol Sacramento, Xander Berkeley, Moises Arias

Director: Zachary Cotler & Magdalena Zyzak

Rated: NR

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I’ve mentioned it here before but I think it’s worth repeating here: at film festivals, it pays to have good time management skills.  That’s really the only way you’re going to maximize your full potential of seeing as much as you can in the often short time frame that is allotted for screenings.  Apart from choosing your films carefully, you need to make sure you’re also selecting the right films at the correct time of day so your energy is matched with what you’re seeing.  It doesn’t always work as well as it should when you factor in availability and sheer unavoidable bouts of fatigue but when everything lines up you’re in for a gold star viewing experience.

At the 2019 Twin Cities Film Fest, I was having trouble making my schedule work and finding that I had a gap of time that went unaccounted for.  Then I realized that if I moved a few things around, I could start earlier in the day and add another film to my list, which is how The Wall of Mexico began as a simple gap filler but wound up being one of the more interesting and intriguing films I saw. Remember, this was back in October 2019 when all we had to worry about, pre-COVID, fiery protests, and the upcoming election were the harsh regulations being imposed against immigrations into the US.  So a movie with a title like The Wall of Mexico was bound to pique some interest at the outset and the good news is that writer/co-director Zachary Cotler rewards those who take the leap into the mysterious lives of the Arista family with a mostly unpredictable parable.

In an unnamed town running along the California border to Mexico, the Mexican-American Arista family lives an enviable life of privilege.  As the head of the family, Henry (Esai Morales) has provided well for his two daughters Tania (Marisol Sacramento) and Ximena (Carmela Zumbado, Need for Speed) who spend days lounging by the pool soaking up the sun and nights with a select group who party until they pass out.  Into this tranquil existence comes Tom (Jackson Rathbone, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), hired to work as a groundskeeper under the tutelage of Michael (Xander Berkeley, Candyman), the Aristas long-standing employee.  It isn’t long before Tom falls under the spell of the beautiful Tania and his crush on her doesn’t seem to surprise anyone, even when it strays into possibly dangerous territory.

If that were the crux of the story, Colter and his co-director Magdalena Zyzak might have had a fine if standard, film exploring the class differences between Tom and Tania but there’s something more on the agenda.  On the Arista property is a well, which seems to hold some sort of secret for the family in addition to serving as a frenzied curiosity for the townspeople that want to know what’s being kept hidden from them.  When the water level in the well begins to lower dramatically and it becomes evident someone is stealing the limited supply, Tom is assigned to help Michael build a wall around the Arista estate during the day and watch over the tank as an overnight watchman to catch the culprit.  As you can imagine, formally being walled out of something creates an even bigger uproar from the rabidly curious and increasingly irate townfolk, leading to a showdown with the town officials (led by Mariel Hemmingway in a brief cameo) and an eventual standoff.

With a run time of nearly two hours, Colter and Zyzak can’t quite sustain the energy or keep up the interest they’ve laid out for the entirety of the film but for a while there The Wall of Mexico gets a nice buzz going as you try to figure out, along with Tom, what’s truly going on.  Is the Arista well some sort of fountain of youth, aiding the Arista clan in their success, longevity, and glamorous looks? Or is it simply water and a valuable resource they choose to keep for themselves, which they have every right to do.  The questions are interesting and the answers feel resolved long before the movie wraps up

It’s good, then, that the cast is so worth watching and brings something more to the script than what was on the page, and that goes for everyone on screen from top to bottom.  Usually, the characters that enter a world foreign to them can be the dullest ones in the bunch but Rathbone finds some good moments throughout that feel special, giving the audience someone they can feel some kind of small relation to.  There’s also a bit of a kinship to Morales as the father just doing right for his family and protecting what he’s worked hard to cultivate.  A hard-working character actor for years, Berkeley is solid as always.  Playing the two wild daughters that take great joy in manipulating the men they love and loathe in their lives, Zumbado and Sacramento are of particular note because they seem to hold the greatest air of mystery for the longest amount of time.

While it’s not the politically timed piece it appears to be at first, there are so many underlying currents flowing through The Wall of Mexico and its left to the viewer to draw their own parallels between the events in the news and what transpires on the Arista estate.  Colter has crafted a neat little parable that reflects on our culture and today’s entitled society, it’s often right on the money and I’d imagine it’s a more uncomfortable watch now than it was when I first saw it nearly a year ago.

Movie Review ~ The Way I See It


The Facts
:

Synopsis: As Official White House Photographer, Pete Souza was an eyewitness to the unique and tremendous responsibilities of being the most powerful person on Earth. After leaving the White House, Souza transforms from a respected photojournalist to a searing commentator on the issues we face as a country and a people.

Stars: Pete Souza

Director: Dawn Porter

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Are we Facebook friends?  If we are, you may have seen some posts of mine regarding our upcoming election and maybe we agree on things and maybe we haven’t.  Perhaps you’ve put one of those angry face emoticons because you think I’m misinformed or are you one of those people who use the laughing icon ironically?  Maybe you just like my posts and forget about it…or wait, you’ve just muted me until after the election, haven’t you?  Remember, I’m not trying to change your mind…I’m just fact checking you.  Something we all should be doing, no matter what candidate you support.  Everyone needs to be responsible for telling the whole truth…and frankly that goes double for the candidate you are endorsing.

Like you, I’m ready for this election to be over with because it’s just dividing this country more and more.  Family and friends are being pushed further apart and while I appreciate hearing other people’s viewpoints, it honestly just does me no good to know that people I have great respect for are voting against the rights of so many.  It changes you, it just does.  Watching the documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy a few weeks ago, I was angry about the abhorrent voter suppression that has gone on in this country and still permeates often unchallenged throughout cities today.  Now having sat through The Way I See It, I find myself in a different state of grief…a grief for a country that has changed so much so quickly.

Photographer Pete Souza was a young photojournalist that wasn’t much of a political person when he was asked to apply for a job as the official White House photographer in 1983 during the Reagan administration.  The one thing he did know before he started that job was that he wasn’t a fan of Reagan and while they may not have ultimately agreed politically Souza speaks in the early part of this new documentary about a respect that developed over time for the actor turned politician.  Arguably the most famous Republican president (until recently) of all time, Reagan drew heat for his handling of the early days of the AIDS epidemic and the Iran-Contra affair, not to mention his tax reforms that we are still feeling the chilling effects of today.  What we see by way of hundreds of Souza pictures is a Reagan that was as personable and engaged out of the public eye as he was in front of the world.  To hear Souza tell it, Reagan and his wife Nancy showed up for the country in ways he found great value in.

The bulk of The Way I See It, though, is comprised of the eight years Souza spent as the official White House photographer during the Obama administration.  Starting to photograph him when he was a newly elected senator, Souza was there nearly every day with Obama, his family, and his staff as they traveled around the world representing the United States.  The pictures he took were stunning but it’s the stories the pictures tell that are the immensely moving wonders to behold.  Director Dawn Porter condenses Obama’s eight years in office to around 55 minutes of screen time and highlights the major events where Souza captured him at his most compassionate and naturalistic.  By showing Souza’s involvement with two Presidents one the opposite side of the political spectrum, audiences get an idea of how much he’s seen during his career and come to understand that he can speak from experience when discussing the qualities that make up a strong Commander in Chief and an honorable leader.

I have to admit it’s hard to watch The Way I See It and not get choked up on a number of occasions.  Even going back to the Reagan era, Porter provides so many reminders of the way the office of the President used to hold such honor, not just for the voters that elect the candidate into office, but for the person that takes on that crucial role.  Say what you will about the causes championed by either Reagan or Obama (or any of the others that came in between them or before) when they held office but there’s historical evidence (not to mention pictorial) to show that these men took the job, and the American people seriously.  Porter is surely taking aim at the current President but instead of making the focus squarely on him, she instead has historians and cultural critics describe the history of the office of the President and the qualities of what makes a great leader.  It’s an intelligent way of exposing the current weaknesses of the administration without coming right out and saying it.

What it also does, however, is make the documentary feel off kilter and rambunctious.  I never quite got the feel or overall theme of the piece  One moment it’s focusing on Souza’s transition from a behind the scenes apolitical staff member to a public defender of the legacy of the Obama administration and, to a larger extent, human decorum.  Then it changes angles to be about Souza’s tenure with Obama and about what he gleaned from his time with the 44th President of the United States. Finally, it seems to document Souza’s personal life from his upbringing to his wedding day, which is so special, I won’t spoil it here.  I understand there’s a lot to say but I wish there was a bit more conscious editing to help it flow better from one part to another.

The current official White House photographer does not have the same access granted to Souza or others who have held the same position.  Gone are the days where a photograph could be snapped catching the President, his staff, or his family in a candid instant of levity or finding a special behind the scenes moment where the country could see a human side to a group many find phony.  Now, the role is relegated to a glorified photo op curator, coming in to get a heavily staged shot that Souza points out is often not presented in its true form.  What was intended to capture the truth is apparently now another part of the machine of falsehoods and that’s unfortunate.  Before the photographer was there to preserve a piece of history, now it’s there to proliferate propaganda.

This is an important documentary for all those interested in history and the upcoming election to see, although I can imagine the conservative right struggling to find the same inspirational goodness that I found in the meditation on past Presidents.  As someone who respects government and the tenets on which it was created and as someone who held the office of the President in great regard, I was greatly moved by The Way I See It but also left a little hollowed out at the end too.  It’s just another chilly reminder at how sallow our nation has become in the last four years.