Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Movie Review: CITIZENFOUR



Originally released: 2014
Starring: Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill
Directed by: Laura Poitras
Based on: real life.

In January of 2013, Laura Poitras received an encrypted email from someone codenamed Citizenfour, who claimed to have documents proving a whole host of illegal spying was being perpetrated by the NSA, in violation of the US Constitution, domestically and abroad. Most of Citizenfour takes place over eight days in a Hong Kong hotel room, as the now-infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden divvied up NSA documents to different journalists and prepared for the shit storm that was about to be his life.

citizenfour


I had high expectations for Citizenfour, mainly because of Anachronist's review but also because it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary this year. I came away with mixed feelings on it. Is it an important documentary? Yes. But I was frustrated by the lack of concrete information.

My biggest issue with Citizenfour is that from the start, Snowden says he doesn't want this to be about him, he wants it to be about the information. Yet Poitras made a film that's basically all about him! And not just about him, but apparently designed to make him look as attractive and noble as possible. Do I admire Snowden? Yes. Do I think emphasizing the sacrifices he made in regards to his family and friends is important? Sure. Do I need the scenes where Snowden is swathed in white robes, all lithe and willowy and peering into the black screen of his laptop as if receiving messages from the great beyond? NOPE.

Furthermore, the information on NSA spying that Poitras is presumably supposed to be conveying in Citizenfour is vague at best. If you want to learn what was in the documents Snowden handed to journalists, and about the events leading up to it, best seek out Frontline's United States of Secrets and give Citizenfour a skip–or at least watch the former before the latter so you're already familiar with the context. And we're only fed the barest tidbits of information on the NSA spying. At the very least Poitras could have kept the camera on Snowden while he explained to Greenwald how to encrypt his emails ("It sounds really difficult but it's actually very easy") and then we would have actually learned something useful!

That kind of ties in to a small beef I have with all the reporting I've seen about the NSA spying, not just Poitras'. People say that Americans don't care the government is spying on them, but I don't think that's true. I think we just don't know what we're supposed to do about it, aside from living off the grid, and that's not going to happen. Keeping your information private online is overwhelming enough without throwing Big Brother into the mix. I'm not saying what Greenwald and the other journalists are doing isn't important and heroic in its own right, but I always get the impression their audience is other political journalists. Aside from concrete examples, like the US listening to every conversation on Angela Merkel's phone, this is not easily digestible information to the average person who just wants to play Candy Crush and check their Facebook timeline, you know what I mean?

Other thoughts:

  • I wonder how Snowden feels taking refuge in Russia, a country not exactly known for its human rights and free speech policies. The ironies of life are manifold, my darlings.
  • The connection between corporations and the government that's come out of the NSA's "program," if you want to call it that, is pretty chilling. To quote my American history prof, corporations will eat their own children if it means they get short-term profit out of it. Now, apparently, there's little to no line between corporations and the government. What a great combo.
  • I wonder if checking this movie out from the library puts me on the NSA's watch list. But then I was probably already on it for being a liberal independent who works in a gun store.
  • I didn't completely buy Snowden's explanation for why he decided to become a whistleblower. It seemed a little too simplistic and obvious. I wonder if the real reason was that he wanted to be like Marcus Yallow from the Cory Doctorow books (a copy of Homeland is prominently displayed next to Snowden's laptop–seriously, could this guy get any more adorkable??) but he didn't want to say that because he realized that was too geeky, even for him, so he went with, um, free communication and exchange of ideas is important and stuff. Yeah. That's it.


If there's one thing I came away with after watching Citizenfour, is that Snowden is a smart motherfucking cookie. I mean, I already knew that on some level, but Citizenfour really crystallizes it. If he'd just released all those documents online, he'd probably be rotting in a hole in prison somewhere like Bradley Manning. Instead he methodically planned out every aspect of the situation and sequence of events that he could in order to minimize the negative effects on the people involved–not just himself, but his friends, family, and reporters. Having the journalists vet the information instead of himself, in particular, was brilliant, and might be the only thing that allows him to return to the US someday (should he wish to). I do appreciate people who are thorough planners. He was also lucky, but mainly he was smart.

While I don't think Citizenfour succeeds as well as it could have in informing people about NSA spying, it is an important movie to watch, especially with an election coming up. This is definitely the most important issue of our time, and as a film designed to make people give a fuck, Citizenfour succeeds.



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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Snapshot for the Last Weekend in August

"Paint me like one of your French girls."

Currently reading:

The Lost Island by Douglas Preston and Lee Child: This book came up in the library catalog when I searched for "Ireland." It is sooooo cheesy and ridiculous and I'm enjoying the hell out of it.

The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva: The first book in the Gabriel Allon series. Much better than I was expecting.

Posted:

This week Anachronist was kind enough to do a guest review for me of Banquet of Lies by Michelle Diener.

My post on the bookish guests I really wish would be on StarTalk, Neil DeGrasse Tyson's talk show "where science and pop culture collide" also went up on Book Riot this week.

And last but not least, get your Sherlockian on with my definitive list of Sherlock Holmes travel destinations.

Movies watched:

citizenfour
Citizenfour, starring Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald

I'm planning to write a more in-depth review of this documentary later in the week, but suffice it to say that my feelings are mixed. If you want to find out about NSA spying, you'd be better off watching Frontline's United States of Secrets. If you want to learn about the glory and wonder that is Edward Snowden, on the other hand, this movie's your jam.

Subscription boxes:

wantable august box


I was super disappointed in this month's Wantable box. As you may recall, in my July Wantable box there was a bra that didn't work for me at all. So I sent it back with a note that I don't wear that style of bra. LO AND BEHOLD, when I opened August's box, the exact same style of bra was there, just a different color. I take that back, this bra was actually worse than the previous one–it made my boobs look like two flapping tongues on my chest. How attractive! I almost canceled Wantable then and there, but decided to send the bra back (again) and give them another chance. Currently, though, I don't feel listened to and, as anyone with even minimal observational skills knows, not feeling listened to is the kiss of death for subscription box services.

le tote


On a more positive note, I also got a Le Tote this week, and the two shirts are super cute. I love the necklace–so much so that I'm thinking about maybe buying it. It's fairly affordable at $24, but I'm intent on saving money. We'll see.

rocks box


My Rocks Box this week was okay. I really like the dagger pendant necklace, but I'm meh on the earrings and bar necklace.

Theme of the week:

We didn't like this movie, apparently.


Tuesday morning, the dogs chewed up a DVD I'd borrowed from the library, which kick-started a whole day where I felt like I was being punished for my sins. Ever had one of those days? In addition to numerous other things, I had to buy a new DVD to replace this one. Yayyy. Thanks, dogs.

Other than that, the week's been busy in a good way. I'm finishing up a feature article on street art that will appear in Artispectrum, working on artist profiles and press releases, and finalizing the details for the trip to Ireland!

Bonus:

judgey


This game is totally addictive: You judge book covers and then it matches your opinion of the cover with the book's average rating on Goodreads. I'm a SCOTUS-worthy judger of book covers, ha.


Have a great week!



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Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: BANQUET OF LIES by Michelle Diener

banquet of lies

Guest review by Anachronist of Portable Pieces of Thought.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A Secret Treaty and a Secret Life
LONDON, 1812: Giselle Barrington is living a double life, juggling the duties of chef with those of spy catcher. She must identify her father’s savage killer before the shadowy man finds her and uncovers the explosive political document her father entrusted to her safekeeping.
Posing as a French cook in the home of Lord Aldridge, Giselle is surrounded by unlikely allies and vicious enemies. In the streets where she once walked freely among polite society, she now hides in plain sight, learning the hard lessons of class distinction and negotiating the delicate balance between servant and master.
Lord Aldridge’s insatiable curiosity about his mysterious new chef blurs the line between civic duty and outright desire. Carefully watching Giselle’s every move, he undertakes a mission to figure out who she really is—and, in the process, plunges her straight into the heart of danger when her only hope for survival is to remain invisible.

My impressions:

I might surprise you with this statement but historical romances written by Michelle Diener have several serious assets. Firstly, as far as I know, every one of them is based around a Regency historical event, be it the assassination of the British Prime Minister, a French plot to bleed British gold out of the country or, as it was this time, a secret change of alliances between Russia and France in the middle of the Napoleonic wars. As a result (and secondly) the characters have something more to do than to attend parties, woo the people they fancy and defeat their romantic rivals. In my humble opinion it makes the reading far more enjoyable.

I also appreciate the fact that Diener’s romantic heroines are usually independent, intelligent women who usually have a set of interesting skills apart from just being pretty. In the case of Gigi, the female lead of Banquet of Lies, it was her cooking skills, especially when it comes to gourmet French cuisine. I admit I warmed up to her from the first chapter and I wasn’t surprised Lord Aldridge, her male love interest, was so taken with her instantly. Insta-cooking-love is far more palatable than any other kind of infatuation and the girl in question could cook and bake like an angel (or rather like a three-star Michelin chef) – who wouldn’t love to have such a wife/husband/partner?

Let me also say that the lack of any explicit sex scenes actually improved my reading experience: mainly because I wasn’t ‘treated’ by different artificially ‘historical’ terms describing male and female sexual organs *shudders*; I also found it closer to the beginning of the 19th century’s standards.

Still there were problems which decreased my reading pleasure.

It grated a bit that, despite well-rounded characterizations I appreciated and enjoyed so much, all main characters were just obnoxiously handsome and/OR pretty (I bet you can be handsome and pretty at the same time, right?). I am really sick and tired with a message most of romantic fiction books try to convey: esthetics means EVERYTHING; if you are nice to look at you’ll be loved, happy and successful. Alternatively you might be an illegitimate daughter of a whore, with the whole street of potential candidates for fatherhood, or a thieving son of a gangster but, as long as you look nice people will give you second, third or even fourth chance. SO. NOT. TRUE.

nope gif


My other issue concerned the way these Regency lords and ladies thought and behaved in this one. It was so strange to find out all of them had a quite modern mindset, not influenced by religion or any other prejudices so typical for those times. It reminded me of the fact that in Persuasion by Jane Austen, a Regency novel written actually in Regency times by a Regency author, it was a quite important issue for Anne Elliot, the main heroine, that her cousin who courted her for some time dared travel on Sunday and didn’t attend church. Well, in Ms. Diener’s Regency novels virtually nobody attends church or thinks about religion at all – go figure.

look at your life look at your choices gif


What's more? Here is a quite juicy tidbit: after Giselle Barrington's diplomat father is murdered at the beginning of the story, Giselle, a young girl, travels from Sweden to England with all her bags and whatnots completely unattended. Mind you nobody seems to care or notice that a respectable miss goes on such a long distance trip without a chaperone, a maid or a male relative in tow. What's even stranger, none of the super-duper kick-ass-and-kill-on-the-spot spymasters in this book has ever heard of ship manifests, let alone checked one to find out whether the girl actually left the countr. Hmmm...let me quote here Mr. Eastwood who expresses my feelings the best:

get off my lawn gif


Oh, and as I've already started to complain: I would love to learn more about Mr Edgars who had such a potential (underdeveloped unfortunately) that he could have overshadowed both bland Aldridge and the rest of secondary characters...

The cover: somehow bland. Show me your face, pretty lady, and then show me your cooking, not just your tits...ehem, bosom...

Final verdict:

Despite its shortcomings one of better historical romance novels I’ve stumbled across. If you like Regency England, secret plots, secret services and no-nonsense heroines you might want to try this one.



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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Snapshot: Blogger Seeking Amazing Books

Sofie trying on her sparkly shark costume. Rawr!

Currently reading:

A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson and The Red-Headed League by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Posted:

authors who hate edgar allan poe


My post on authors hating on other authors went up at Quirk Books Blog this Friday. If you think my reviews are harsh...

Movies watched:

bill cunningham new york
Bill Cunningham New York, starring Bill Cunningham

A documentary on the eccentric Bill Cunningham, fashion photographer for the Times. I liked it. Cunningham is seriously old, like in his eighties, and still out-works every other reporter at the Times. If you're interested in the NYC fashion scene this will probably be right up your alley.

Subscription boxes:

le tote box


I managed to move through my Le Tote box with fair efficiency this week. I didn't like the bag much–it was much more of a sack than I was expecting. I prefer smaller bags with more division to them so stuff doesn't get buried at the bottom. But I do have to admit it proved fairly useful for carrying around stacks of books, papers, sandwiches, jackets... anything, really. As for the other items, the black floral blouse was my favorite.

scent bird brit sheer


I also got my second perfume from Scent Bird, Brit Sheer by Burberry. It's okay, but I think I'm going to cancel this service. I wasn't excited about receiving this subscription at all. I'm just not a perfume person.

Theme of the week:

Instead of doing my usual paragraph on the stuff going on in my life, this week I'd like to talk about something that's been bothering me for months now. To whit: I have yet to read a single five star book this year.

In any other respect, my year in reading is going pretty well. I'm reading more books that I did last year (which was dismal, numbers-wise), and meeting my goals of reading more upcoming and new releases, as well as more graphic novels.

But that kind of seems beside the point when it's been so long since I fell completely in love with a book that I've almost forgotten what it feels like. A few books have come very close to five star-worthy, and at least a dozen have been thoroughly fun and enjoyable–I'm certainly not hating every book I pick up and honestly like the majority of them. But where's my 2015 version of The River of No Return, or The Chocolate Touch? Even audiobooks are letting me down–I usually find at least one audiobook in a six month period that's gush worthy, but this year? Meh.

I don't know what the solution is. I already DNF books that bore me or aren't working for me. Perhaps there's something wrong with my brain? Either way, I'm still on the lookout for that book that sings to me. Metaphorically speaking.

Bonus:

paul bocuse restaurant lyon

gusteau restaurant ratatouille


Guys, I think I found the real-life inspiration for Gusteau from Ratatouille! I was watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown this morning (my current binge watch), and he ate at Chez Paul Bocuse in Lyon. Doesn't the exterior of the restaurant remind you of Gusteau's? The similarity is even more significant when you get a look inside the restaurant. AND Bocuse wrote a cookbook whose cover is suspiciously similar to the one Gusteau wrote. The two men (well, one man and one cartoon character) even kind of look alike.


Hope you all having a great week!



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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Snapshot Could Use More Sleep


Currently reading:

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix: Probably not the best thing to read when you're pet sitting by yourself in a strange house.

You're So Money by Farnoosh Torabi: Obvious tips are obvious.

Movies watched:

leap year movie
Leap Year, starring Matthew Goode and Amy Adams

My boss kept bugging me to watch this movie, because Ireland. It wasn't as stupid as I thought it would be. Mind, I thought it was going to be a hot mess of painfully stupid. Still not sure how they took a "shortcut" from Wales to Cork and wound up in Dingle, but hey. Why look at maps.

austenland
Austenland, starring Keri Russell and JJ Feild

Really enjoyed this one! It was kind of obvious who the "Darcy" and "Wickham" characters were, but the movie kept me guessing as to how it would play out. Also, JJ Feild is kinda dreamy, like a low-rent Hiddles McGriddles. But then I should know that already since he played Mr. Tilney in Northanger Abbey. Swoon.

dracula untold
Dracula Untold, starring Luke Evans and Sarah Gadon

Fell asleep.

elysium
Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster

Fell asleep. I have to say this movie kind of lost me when they turned Matt Damon into a cyborg so he could rob someone... or something? The caper plot really needed some work.

battle royale
Battle Royale, starring Tatsuya Fujiwara and Aki Maeda

Hmmm. This movie is like Lord of the Flies meets Kill Bill, but with more gratuitous violence than the latter. I'm not sure I can say I *enjoyed* it, but it did keep me engaged. Worth watching when you're in the mood for blood splatter and bad English dubbing.

down with love
Down With Love, starring Ewan McGregor, Renée Zellweger, David Hyde Pierce, and Sarah Paulson

It's been a long time since I watched this one. I love the fashions and the dialog (Pierce and Paulson get the best lines), and the twist at the end. I just wish there was actual chemistry between McGregor and Zellweger. Oh well.

wimbledon movie
Wimbledon, starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst

I don't know what it is about this movie. It's like a medieval romance (literary, not genre) but with tennis. I love it to an unreasonable degree.








Subscription boxes:

ipsy august glam bag


I got my August Glam Bag from Ipsy this week. A bit disappointed I didn't get the Hikari lip gloss, but I LOVE the color of the nail polish. The bag itself is also very cute.

August marks my first full year with Ipsy. Unexpected benefit: I now know exactly how long I've had my makeup for and when it's time to throw it out.

rocks box


I also got my tenth Rocks Box (finally). This is the first silver set I've ever received from them! The studs are super-cute. The Y necklace, on the other hand, has an infuriating tendency to tangle.

Theme of the week:

So, so tired. There was a lot going on this week. I had my normal jobs to take care of, pet sitting (hence the multitude of movies I watched), and preparing for/executing my grandfather's moving/estate sale.

The moving sale was an interesting experience. My family does not do the whole garage sale thing–for one thing, they're usually over by the time we're dressed and ready to leave the house–so it we were all grateful that a neighbor offered to help us manage everything. The stuff people will buy is truly mind-boggling. But we moved out most of the stuff and made some money for my grandpa, so that's a good thing.

That said, I'll probably stick with avoiding garage sales going forward.

Bonus:

Here's an interesting article on the differences between French and American public libraries. I used to love hanging out in the library on Saturday afternoons when I lived in France. I'm obviously a total geek, but I wasn't alone–the place was always packed full of people reading.


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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sunday Snapshot for the 9th of August

The three amigos.


Currently reading:

The same. I finished The Sign of Four but don't have an audiobook I really want to listen to atm.

Posted:

I posted a review of the movie Mr. Holmes on Tuesday.

Movies watched:

jupiter ascending poster
Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum

Jupiter is a bizarrely attractive scullery maid who hates her life. But then, while selling her eggs at a fertility clinic (?), she's kidnapped by a de-winged wolfman named Hair Smeller McSnifferson. She quickly discovers she's the reincarnation of an intergalactic queen and the owner of the Earth. Problem: her newfound relatives want Earth for themselves.

Every criticism you've heard about this movie is entirely accurate. It's two hours long but feels more like six; it recycles every stereotype known to UF and space opera kind; the "action sequences" are a mess and go for way too long, etc. etc. Even Eddie Redmayne isn't enough to save this film. In fact, this might be his worst performance to date. I'd recommend it for hate watching, but I'm not sure it's even that entertaining.

Subscription boxes:

le tote


I got my third Le Tote box this week. I love this service so much. It's a great way to freshen up my wardrobe without actually acquiring more stuff and buying new clothes! I also love how the earrings and necklace go with all three clothing items. I definitely recommend Le Tote.

Theme of the week:

Uhg.

I've been helping my parents with the estate sale they're putting together for my grandfather it is not entertaining on either an emotional or intellectual level. HE HAD SO MUCH STUFF. Like there's an entire pile of individual steak knives he never took out of their packaging. Why would you keep all that? Why???

julia child snl


Also, to make the week even more fun, I cut the tip of my finger off slicing zucchini on a mandolin, and the damn thing bled for three days! Just typing this post has taken twice as long as it usually does.

Bonus:

Charlie byrnes book store


I was going to post this last week but I forgot: 17 Bookstores to Visit in Ireland before you die! I hope the people I'm traveling with like books, because we're hitting all of them (not really, we only have seven days).



Hope you all have a good week!


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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Movie Review: MR HOLMES


Originally released: 2015
Starring: Sir Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hattie Morahan
Directed by: Bill Condon
Based on: A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin

In post-WWII Britain, a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes is losing his wits, because oldness. Desperate to remember the case that made him quit detecting forever, he travels to Japan to find a cure for his failing mental faculties. But the only thing that really helps is spending time with his bitchy housekeeper's son, Roger.

mr holmes movie poster


As I mentioned in my Sunday Snapshot, Mr. Holmes is all over the place. It jumps from 1947 Britain to 1920-ish Britain, to Japan, and back again, and the transitions can be rather abrupt. As a fan of all things Sherlockian, I did not find this movie enjoyable, although it did have some interesting ideas.

I don't think Mr. Holmes betrays the Sherlock canon, but there are several points where I feel it went it wrong. First of all, there's no Watson, nor any Watson character–the story is told through Sherlock's eyes. BIG mistake. I love Sherlock, but there's no way he can be a sympathetic everyman. That's Watson's (or Mary Russell's, or whomever's) job. Holmes' job is to be weird and not boring.

Secondly, the mystery element is miniscule. I was expecting way more detecting than whatever the hell else was going on in this movie. And while I enjoyed the mystery, there were moments when it was head-slappingly stupid. There was a sequence where Holmes followed a woman through London and his only method of subterfuge was to peek around the edges of pillars and the like. While wearing a top hat and a three-piece suit and tails, no less, as if he's going to the Ritz! Wasn't Holmes supposed to be a master of disguise? C'mon, movie makers. Try harder.

I also found it ironic that Holmes complained Watson's books were penny dreadfuls with ridiculous plots when Mr. Holmes has more inconsistencies than any of Conan Doyle's works. For example (these are spoilerific, just FYI):


  • If he needs a brain/energy boost, why doesn't Holmes just take cocaine instead of traveling all the way to Japan for prickly ash?
  • I'm supposed to believe that Holmes, or anyone really, would let some random lady move in with them after knowing her for less than hour? Right. Totally. Not.
  • Holmes feels guilty for killing said woman, as if he failed to warn her about a bus veering down the road or something, but she didn't just die. She made the choice to kill herself. He was like, "Hey, don't kill yourself, you have a lot to live for," and she was like, "Oh, you're right, I won't," and then she decided to just go ahead and do it anyway. If anyone should feel bad, it should be her Awful Person husband. I find it very difficult to believe Holmes would feel so guilty about this that he'd give up detecting, even if the two of them shared some sort of instantaneous metaphysical connection. Which I think is improbable.
  • Throughout the whole movie there's a "mystery" about what's killing Holmes' bees. Then Roger gets stung and Holmes is like, "Oh, it must be wasps!" THE WASP NEST IS LITERALLY RIGHT OUTSIDE THE HOUSE. Like three feet, and it's freaking huge. He didn't notice a bunch of wasps flying around when he was out there ALL THE TIME?
  • The oddest thing in this movie is when Holmes writes to Mr. Umezaki to tell him that his father didn't just abandon him and his mother, but decided to become an asset for Mycroft and the War Office, where he served with distinction. This is, presumably, a fiction on Holmes' part meant to make Umezaki feel better. But would thinking your father left you to spy for the Allies who just dropped two atomic bombs on your country *really* make anyone feel better? "Your dad betrayed his country. Hope this helps!"


Visually, the Japan sections of the movie were the most striking, but they had zippo to do with anything else in the plot. Their main purpose was to underscore what I think of as the ungrieved-for dead–a term from Anne Roiphe's memoir Art and Madness that she uses to describe the zeitgeist that infused post-War America.

And everywhere in Mr. Holmes there are dead people, from Glass Harmonica Woman's dead kids, to the woman herself, to the housekeeper's dead husband (whom she talks about at length on randomly and apropos of nothing, e.g. Housekeeper: "Your dad wanted to join the RAF instead of working on cars." Roger: "Sorry I said you could barely read." Cool talk, bro?), to dead Watson and Mycroft. Holmes' challenge is just to remember them and acknowledge their loss.

The final scene of Mr. Holmes seems to draw a loose parallel between the woman who committed suicide and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, as well as Holmes' subsumed guilt over the act and deliberate (or perhaps self-preservational) amnesia. An interesting theme to explore, but why use Sherlock Holmes to do it? That's what really confuses me about this story. Holmes is a symbol of Victorian London. Why is he being employed as a stand-in for the War Generation? I honestly have no idea, but I think pairing Holmes with this theme was misplaced and did not serve either the character or the story. It would have been much more poignant and believable if he'd been an average old guy.

I will say on the positive side that Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, and Milo Parker were fantastic in this. McKellen really has that old man face nailed down. I was also relieved Holmes didn't die at the end–at least the filmmakers knew not to do that much.




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