Reinvention of a legend

Vacation is a tragic showcase of comedic caricatures while Mr Holmes is a moving study of the detective in decline

Ian McKellen plays renowned detective Sherlock Holmes suffering from dementia.
Ian McKellen plays renowned detective Sherlock Holmes suffering from dementia. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Fumi Nikaido (above) plays orphan Hana, who develops an intimate relationship with her guardian.
Fumi Nikaido (above) plays orphan Hana, who develops an intimate relationship with her guardian.PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR
Vacation (top) is a mean-spirited comedy in the tradition of the National Lampoon Vacation series. Fumi Nikaido (above) plays orphan Hana, who develops an intimate relationship with her guardian.
Vacation is a mean-spirited comedy in the tradition of the National Lampoon Vacation series. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

Hot on the heels of Poltergeist comes a reboot of another 1980s hit, Vacation (M18, 99 minutes, opens tomorrow, 1/5 stars ), once again proving that Hollywood loves zombies, such is its eagerness to revive the corpses of franchises that ought to be dead and buried.

This unholy marriage of the National Lampoon Vacation series of six family comedies (1983 to 2010) with contemporary M18rated raunch emits a stench as horrid as the sewage pond in which the Griswold family takes a dip after mistaking it for a spring.

That pond scene, sold heavily in trailers, sums up just how nasty the movie is to the Griswolds - their humiliation is the source of nearly every joke.

Rusty (Ed Helms), pilot for a budget airline, gets his first kick in the tender areas in the opening scene, when a pilot for a premium carrier delivers a verbal smack-down.

He is the classic doofus dad of television sitcoms, well-meaning but impotent and therefore deserving of every indignity hurled at him. We know this because he gracefully ignores the insult from the other pilot instead of retaliating, like a real man.

He is naturally paired with an attractive and level-headed wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate) and two children (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins), whose eyes never rest from rolling at his lack of basic life skills.

They set off on a road trip to visit the Walley World amusement park in, what else, an Albanian-made car made for Albanians, filled with useless features that only foreigners enjoy. Foreigner jokes, gay jokes, paedophilia jokes, poop jokes and genitalia jokes are the low-hanging fruit picked by the writing-directing team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, both having left their thumbprints in the script for Horrible Bosses (2011).

Both Vacation and Bosses share the view that characters are punching bags, designed to be bullied and pitied in equal measure. Do you know what kind of people laugh at victims, while at the same time torture them? Sociopaths.

A dip in this mean-spirited comedy will leave you, like the Griswolds, in desperate want of a shower.

Mr Holmes (PG, 104 minutes, opens tomorrow, 4/5 stars) is how you should refresh characters known to the audience.

It is 1947 and renowned detective Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is 93 and in decline. Besieged by dementia and regret, he shuts himself away on a Sussex farm, his only company a housekeeper, Mrs Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker). Through flashbacks, the cause of his selfimposed exile comes to light. Up in his study, he races against time to write his history before illness erases his memory.

Sad, gentle and often very funny, this story of a man piecing together the truth of his life, after having it stolen by the public and a failing mind, is a masterpiece of construction.

Director Bill Condon (having worked with McKellen in the 1998 Oscar-winning biopic Gods And Monsters) and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher (The Duchess, 2008) juxtapose at least three timelines without loss of momentum or coherence.

In one thread, Holmes travels to pre-war Japan where he meets botanical expert Matsuda Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada), who claims to know the secret to halting dementia; in another, he meets Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan), the grief-stricken wife of a client.

While things are wrapped up a little too neatly in the final act, moving performances from Linney and McKellen drive this reflection on how myth gives meaning to human lives.

Another myth, that of the link between madness and creativity, lies at the heart of the satirical Frank (NC 16, 95 minutes, opens Saturday, 4/5 stars ).

Do you have to be insane to be a member in unpronounceable rock band Soronprfbs? New keyboard player Jon Burroughs (Domhnall Gleeson) thinks so. Childlike leader Frank (Michael Fassbender) never takes off his giant dollhead mask, theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) suffers from homicidal tendencies while the two remaining players suffer from excessive Frenchness. Even band manager Don (Scoot McNairy) appears touched.

Jon imagines that whatever it is that makes them weird makes them geniuses, and hopes that by sticking close he will be be visited by the same angels

Lenny Abrahamson, from Ireland, is a real actor's director, working with screenwriter Jon Ronson's (The Men Who Stare At Goats, 2009) funny, moving fable about a man's trip through the looking glass. Abrahamson finds a wider range of emotion from Fassbender's dollhead than other directors do from an ensemble of players.

The doll-like features of actress Fumi Nikaido are put to good use in drama My Man (R21, 129 minutes, now showing, 3.5/5 stars). She plays orphan Hana, a strangely impassive tsunami survivor placed in the care of distant relative Jungo (Tadanobu Asano),

In the deep snowdrifts that blanket their village in northern Japan, she grows close to her guardian. The pair develop a bond that goes beyond the familial (hence the R21 rating).

Based on a bestseller by novelist Kazuki Sakuraba, the story under director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri contrasts the beauty of the landscape's frozen, pristine whiteness with the suffocating interior of Jungo's home, in which live two people trapped, as much by their needs as by their secret sin.

Mostly, Kumakiri points his camera at the couple (played with unnerving control by veteran Asano and newcomer Nikaido), challenging the audience to look away.

Dialogue is sparse and emotions are kept on a low simmer; when they explode, the force is shocking.

  • My Man and Frank are screening only at The Projector, Golden Mile Tower, Beach Road. Schedules and bookings at
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2015, with the headline 'Reinvention of a legend'. Print Edition | Subscribe