(In French, On TV, December 2016) Stephen King’s Different Seasons novella collection was originally meant as a way to publishing four non-supernatural stories that King couldn’t sell, but it has ended up being the source material for three of King’s best movie adaptations. After Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption, here is Apt Pupil, which tells the dark story of a budding fascist teenager discovering an ex-Nazi living in his city. Things get worse when the two start jockeying for power over one another, eventually getting locked into a mutual destruction pact. Contrasting the sunny California setting with the darkest secrets within, director Bryan Singer doesn’t try to be subtle and the result is a fair thriller that allows a good actor’s duel between Brad Renfro and Ian McKellen, who’s particularly good here. The suspense set-pieces are well handled, and the film ends on a far more unnerving note than you’d expect … despite one or two big coincidences precipitating the third act. A solid thriller, Apt Pupil hasn’t aged a lot since 1998 despite ex-Nazis dying in droves since then.
(Video on Demand, December 2015) At a time when we’ve been served with no less than three recent muscular re-invention of Sherlock Holmes (from Sherlock to Elementary to the two Sherlock Holmes Guy Richie movies), it’s a noteworthy change of pace to see Iam McKellen play an elderly Holmes wrestling with early dementia and past regrets in Mr. Holmes. Directed by Bill Condon, this is a film about a very human Holmes (far less fanatical than his three recent counterparts) and it plays in minor keys: the caper to be resolved doesn’t depend on outlandish deductions, and the real mystery here is Holmes struggling to recall events from his own life. McKellen is a terrific Holmes, bringing both gravitas and vulnerability to the role. A thoroughly de-glammed Laura Linney is there to provide another point of view, further challenging our view of Holmes. It’s a fairly slow film, and one that may not hold your attention easily if you’re distracted by other things, but it does build to a finely-controlled finale in which Holmes accepts his place in life and the necessity of being close to other people. Given that at least two of the three other recent Sherlocks are struggling with the same thing, Mr Holmes does have something more to bring to the character and should be admired as such. Just don’t expect fist-fights, gun battles and ticking-clock deductions: it’s not that kind of film, and it’s probably better for it.