You couldn't ask for two more disparate films than "Mr. Holmes" and "Amy."
Each, for wildly different reasons, merits seeing. Those who see "Mr. Holmes" may not like "Amy," and vice versa.
"Mr. Holmes" can be chiefly recommended for Ian McKellen as an elderly Sherlock Holmes losing his razor-sharp memory and analysis. There's lots of life and wit in the old gentleman, conveyed in a sprightly, nuanced and absorbing performance by McKellen.
Fans of the Holmes oeuvre will also enjoy the film, based on "A Slight Trick of the Mind" (2005) by Mitch Cullin, with a screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher ("Duchess," 2008; "Casanova," 2005; "Stage Beauty," 2004).
The interplay between McKellen and Laura Linney as Holmes' housekeeper and Milo Parker as her son brings warmth to the dispassionate film by director Bill Condon.
The film, set in 1947, is told in flashbacks having to do with a case that Holmes investigated years ago. A subplot, also set in the past, about a Japanese man (Hiroyuki Sanada) doesn't really go anywhere.
The countryside in and around Sussex, England, where "Mr. Holmes" mostly takes place, is lovely, as are the interiors of the simple country house and estate.
"Mr. Holmes" was directed at a lugubrious pace by Condon ("The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 and 2," 2011, 2012; "Dreamgirls," 2006; "Kinsey," 2004; "Gods and Monsters,"1998) that works against the tapestry of stories being told. Instead of knitting them together, the storylines unravel. What holds the film together is the centerpiece performance of McKellen, a likely Oscar actor nominee for this film.
"One shouldn't leave this life without a sense of completion," says Holmes. There's a certain stillness to the film that is meditative. "Mr. Holmes" is a quiet triumph.
"Amy" is the real trainwreck of the summer 2015 movie season. Anyone else is a pretender to the throne of dysfunctionalism where Winehouse reigned. Her troubled talent is on full display through an amazing amount of found footage, from home movies of her singing "Happy Birthday" at age 14 to news footage of her coffin being wheeled from her posh London house where she was found dead in 2011 at age 27 of alcohol poisoning. Thus, Winehouse became a member of "The 27 Club" (rock stars, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison who died at age 27).
Winehouse was on a self-destructive path well before she found fame. The documentary, directed by Asif Kapadia ("Senna," 2010), reveals that, in her own words, she "smoked weed all day long" as a teen, had trust problems ever since her parents divorced when she was age 9, and apparently could turn on and off the charm to manipulate people.
Winehouse, an undeniable talent not only for her big, facile, expressive vocal range, but also for her stream-of-consciousness, confessional and poetic lyrics, only released two studio albums ("Frank," 2003; "Back in Black," 2006) and was a multiple Grammy Award recipient. Her concert performances were remarkable for their abandonment and intensity. We see what drink and drugs wrought, as she disintegrated on stage before her fans.
No less than Tony Bennett, who dueted with Winehouse on her last recording, "Body And Soul," in March 2011, put her in a category of the great female vocalists, including Ella Fitzgerald. His praise makes the film even more difficult to take. "Life teaches you how to live it if you can live long enough," Bennett says.
The film seems to point fingers at many in Winehouse's life, including management, boyfriends, friends and family. "Amy" is the ultimate cautionary tale of not only the rock star life, but of the need to take responsibility for one's own decisions. The film is, after all, called, "Amy."
"Amy," MPAA Rated R. (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for language and drug material; Genre: Documentary, Biography, Music; Run time: 2 hrs., 8 min.; Distributed by Altitude Film Distribution.
"Mr. Holmes," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children.) for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking; Genre: Crime, Mystery Drama; Run time: 1hr., 44 min.; Distributed by Miramax Films.
Box Office, July 31: "Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation" brought Tom Cruise back to No. 1, opening with $56 million, keeping "Vacation" opening at No. 2, with $14.8 million for the weekend and $21.1 million since opening July 28, and stomping "Ant-Man" from No. 1 to No. 3, with $12.6 million, $132.1 million, three weeks; 4. "Minions," $12.2 million, $287.3 million, four weeks; 5. "Pixels," $10.4 million, $45.6 million, two weeks; 6. "Trainwreck," $9.7 million, $79.7 million, three weeks; 7. "Southpaw," $7.5 million, $31.5 million, two weeks; 8. "Paper Towns," $12.5 million, $23.8 million, two weeks; 9. "Inside Out," $4.5 million, $329.5 million, seven weeks; 10. "Jurassic World," $3.8 million, $631.5 million, eight weeks
Unreel, Aug. 7:
"Fantastic Four," PG-13: The Marvel Cinematic Universe is ever-expanding, with the addition of this new science fiction action-adventure take on the comic book superheroes, starring Miles Teller (Reed Richards Mr. Fantastic), Kate Mara (Sue Storm The Invisible Woman), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm The Human Torch) and Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm The Thing).
"Ricki And The Flash," PG-13: Jonathan Demme directs Meryl Streep as a rock 'n' roll star who tries to reconnect with her family. Kevin Kline, Mamie Gummer (Streep's daughter), Sebastian Stan, Rick Springfield, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt and Carmen Carrera co-star in the comedy drama with a screenplay by Diablo Cody.
"Shaun The Sheep," PG: The claymation family film is presented with no dialogue. It's your typical sheep out of water story as Shaun and his flock "flock" to the big city.
"The Gift," R: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Busy Philipps and Joel Edgerton, who directs in his big-screen feature directorial debut, star in the mystery thriller about a married couple haunted by the husband's past.
"Cop Car," R. Kevin Bacon stars in the thriller as a small-town sheriff who tries to track down two youths who stole his police car.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press website, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times News website, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6-6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, wdiy.org, where the movie reviews are archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ tnonline. com. Follow Paul Willistein on Twitter @ PaulWillistein and friend Paul Willistein on Facebook.
Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes