Arthur & George, Another Sherlock Team

DATELINE:  Redoubtable Arthur!

Arthur Clunes as Doyle.

Julian Barnes, the noteworthy novelist, wrote his story about Arthur Conan Doyle and his real-life attempt to solve a crime about an Indian solicitor in England who was falsely convicted of animal mutilation, mainly because of racial hatred and class prejudice.

Arthur & George is a strange misleading title for a story in which Dr. Doyle showed his deductive reasoning to illustrate who really were the brains behind Sherlock. If you don’t know ahead of time, the title might lead to some bad book judging from the cover alone. Of course, that was Julian Barnes’ motive.

Julian Barnes in his original novel did not let on who the two men were until the story was well underway. That is completely lost in the movie version, which plays on the connection between Doyle and Holmes.

There has been in recent years a spate of this biographical tales dramatized about the author/spiritualist/doctor.

The BBC drama has all the top-notch production values and impressive acting you might expect of Masterpiece Theatre. The film is three parts of 45 minutes, probably could have been a one-shot film.

Martin Clunes is all you would ask for in a Conan Doyle figure, which contrasts greatly with the Watson figure of Charles Edwards—as Woody, Doyle’s servant.

Indeed, Edwards played Doyle a decade earlier and was miscast, especially against the grand Ian Richardson as Dr. Joseph Bell, his mentor and medical professor in the series Murder Rooms.

Also in this miniseries is Art Malik, the last of the stars of the granddaddy of epic series, the Jewel in the Crown. He plays a minister from India who is the object of prejudice and small-minded hate in a rural English shire. His victim son is George (Arsher Ali), a myopic limping solicitor.

These semi-true stories fit perfectly into the Holmes canon. And, Clunes as Doyle/Holmes features all the brilliant logic and bombast of his literary figure. This Doyle is more active and physical than Holmes, but he fits the tale perfectly.

 

 

 

 

 

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ABC Murders Agatha Christie

 DATELINE:  New Version of Classic Tale

old Poirot

Amazon Studio has produced a 2019 remake of the ABC Murders by the foremost crime novelist. Alas, this version of the classic story is libel against the author and defamation against Hercule Poirot.

Go back to watch last century’s episode with David Suchet.

This time we have John Malkovich with shaved head and imperial beard. This is not as offensive as the handlebar mustache of Kenneth Branagh recently in Murder on the Orient Express. It is, however, the victim of Just for Men:  yeah, Hercule colors it, sometimes.

This mystery is in three parts that grow increasingly distant from the Christie canon. You may well ask who is meant to be audience for such a tale:  it offends the millions of diehard fans who know what to expect, and it misleads new younger fans from what Christie is all about.

There is no humor, no clever twists, no plot maneuvers. here. By the third episode, you may well drift away. Worse yet, this is an aging Poirot in 1933 who has no Inspector Japp, no Miss Lemon, and no Captain Hastings, to help him.

Indeed, he must deal with a new Scotland Yard detective who is unsympathetic and hostile. Disrespect of a senior who was once glorified for his achievements may be an interesting idea, but not here.

The cast features Eamon Farren who has impressed us in previous roles as a most peculiar bad guy. Here, he is either suffering a brain tumor, or has played NFL football. It’s the 21st century—and you know what excuses murder nowadays.

We had no idea that there was so much kinky-dinky stuff in Agatha Christie, and neither did she.

Also aboard is Rupert Grint, though he has aged worse than Malkovich’s Poirot.

This Poirot is not fastidious, prissy, or clever. One character notes that he walks like he has sore feet, though we never see that foible.

What a disappointment, or do we mean travesty of the original story?

Invisible Wells Classic

DATELINE: Whale of a Film

Rains

When James Whale chose to do his next amusing gothic horror, it turned out to be H.G. Wells’ story about a mad scientist who becomes invisible. It has now become a trite metaphor, but this is the original—and therein hangs some fascination. The Invisible Man came out in 1933.

To play a man who won’t be seen for most of the film, Whale chose Claude Rains whose voice manages to carry his performance. And Jack Pierce’s makeup is the notion of a wig, fake nose, dark glasses, and a bandaged mummy wrap to hide the lack of face.

Rains would go on to become one of the most familiar of second-banana stars—stealing movies like Casablanca in every scene they gave him.

For a film made in the early 1930s, the delightful special effects of invisibility set a standard that today still cannot be achieved. There is something in the primitive, expressionistic style that gives the unwrapping of Rains to scare the locals with such hilarious and horrific power.

As Dr. Jack Griffin, Rains gives a couple of classic homicidal maniac speeches about murdering people for the good of science, while his lovely girlfriend Gloria Stuart (of Titanic fame about 60 years later) frets about. Whale nixed Rains as Dr. Praetorius in the Bride of Frankenstein because of on-set difficulties between them.

Henry Travers is the dutiful sober-sided scientist. Best known as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life, he is less befuddled here. As the loud, half-crazed tavern owner, there is Una O’Connor, shrieking whenever there is a chance.

We also saw Oscar-winner Walter Brennan in one of his earliest roles as the man with the bicycle. He does a wonderful low-brow Brit accent. Also there is John Carradine, father of Keith and David, as a minor character on the telephone.

Alas, Whale was saddled with many American actors whose regionalisms are completely out of place in a small English town. The village boys are decidedly American in tone.

Whales frequently films shorty Rains from the knees looking upward, giving him a frightful height, and the sets are spectacular and sumptuous, a sign that the budgets had improved for the director of Frankenstein.

 

Whatever its shortcomings, this remains an impressive achievement in cinema history.

 

 

Swan Dive on Trump

DATELINE: Wile E. Coyote with Orange Hair?

Pelosi Bronx cheer.jpeg Pelosi’s Bronx Cheer?

When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi applauded President Trump on finishing his epic State of the Union with 82 minutes of cram-packed disinformation, she added something to the lexicon of American culture.

We used to have the Bronx Cheer, a rather crude and effective means of making its recipient know how low he has fallen.

You cannot smell a Bronx Cheer, only hear it. You cannot smell a Pelosi clapback, but its visual image will resonate on Twitter and social media forever.

Now, when you want to skewer a blowhard, you point the middle fingers in your pointed hands and make little slaps like a jaw opening and closing on a fool on the hill’s neck.

Among hundreds of political observers—and Trump himself—and countless viewers and re-watching viewers, Mrs. Pelosi stuck it to Trump who had to stand there and take it. His mendacious speechifying was over. Now he had to look like the man with egg on his face or yellow feathers in his mouth. However, the canary just ate him.

Speaker Pelosi looked like Tweety Pie, sitting in the gilded cage, and about to tell us that, indeed, she saw “a Putty Tat.” Yes, indeed, like Sylvester, Mr. Trump just was given his quota of suffering succotash.

If she had been the Road Runner, she would have stuck out her tongue and beeped at him before dashing off and leaving the man and his moment conjoined forever as the biggest damned fool in history.

A picture is worth a thousand words, and the priceless expression of the Speaker is visible, and only the back of a head of fake hair comes from the Trump vantage.

If you believe in emblematic moments, you know that Marshall McLuhan is laughing somewhere in the universe.

Son of Frankenstein, Reel History

DATELINE:  Consenting Monsters?

consenting monsters Love after Death.

In the days before cable TV, let alone streaming movies, we last saw the Monster in Son of Frankenstein from 1939. So, we jumped at the chance to look at the star-studded horror classic.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes fits in well as Colin Clive’s son 25 years later, indignant that the small-town minds refer to the monster by his distinguished family name. He is bemused when Igor notes the Monster is his half-brother.

Bela Lugosi, as a Dracula clone, returns as the undead Igor. Yes, he was hanged, declared dead, and came back to life. It gives him a special aura, not to mention the hideous makeup that Jack Pierce laid on him.

Boris Karloff returned to play the Monster one last time. His wardrobe has changed enough that he now wears a sleeveless sheepskin pullover. Not to point out the obvious: he is a wolf monster in lambskin clothing.

One of the bigger surprises is Lionel Atwill as the inspector of the small town with his creaky fake arm that he postures in salute or to hold a cigarette. Our favorite scene is when he puts his darts on the forearm before throwing them. Mel Brooks, where are you? The best scenes in the picture are when master scene stealers Rathbone and Atwill lock wits.

The story has an insipid subplot featuring the good doctor’s toddler son, an American like his mother, and both are point killers.

We loved the moment when the son (Rathbone as Sherlock) deduces that Lugosi has a hypnotic effect on the monster. “Elemental, my dear Benson,” he notes.

If there is any shockeroo, it is that Igor and the Monster seem to be gayly consenting adults. Igor can’t keep his hands off the Karloff creature, and they are clearly soulmates.

 

 

Surrogates Again

DATELINE: AI Goes Bad

bee-strung surrogates Young Bruce Replicant!

It’s been ten years since one of the most clever and intriguing films about Artificial Intelligence in the future came out. Surrogates deserves another look because so little has superseded its message and style.

All the robotic replicants have bee-stung pouts.

This was another in a series of highly intelligent films made by Bruce Willis in the sci-fi mode. It may be the best of the lot.

Set in Boston in 2054, it tells of an era when the Supreme Court has allowed surrogate robots to replace you in daily work and routines while you lounge in a control seat.

You will be a fat slob, aging and ugly, but your surrogate will be a beautiful toy of whatever gender you choose. So, all the day-to-day people in the film are stunning and stiff, wrinkle-removed and smooth skinned. What’s amazing is that Bruce Willis looks like Baby Jane Hudson-young with his blond locks and handsome young physique.

We could not figure out whether he needed more makeup and special effects to be his middle-aged self, or his young replicant self.

He plays an FBI agent who must investigate the murders of surrogates and their masters—but he has to become a true gumshoe and go out on the street as his old self to do it, despite the agony and stress of being out in the “real world”. He constantly surprises his beautiful partner cop (Rahda Mitchell).

The notion that AI will legalize identity replicants is not so far-fetched, and the hilarious satiric barbs at “loaners,” and other modern problems is delightful. Intermeshed here is a murder mystery.

Yes, there is an obligatory and over-the-top car chase through the streets of Boston, though we have no idea how they did it in reality, so we presume it was all faked.

And the climax in which all surrogate replicants must be deactivated is a delight to see as they literally fall in place around Boston. It was a pleasant, summery diversion during an ice storm in Boston.

 

 

 

 

 

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power

DATELINE: Classic Bad Leaders

olivier Olivier as Trump?

Leave it to Curiosity Streaming to come up with a documentary on tyrannical leaders as delineated by the Bard. In this curt show of 35 minutes, the complexities of Shakespeare are also explained simply by down-to-earth experts, including Stephen Greenblatt (who wrote the scholarly book on which this is based).

You have here a film that exposes the foibles of criminal leaders in historical terms without ever mentioning the name of the “bloody dog” Trump. It’s called Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power.

Instead, there is a smorgasbord of scenes from Macbeth, Richard III, King Lear, including clips of a delicious Laurence Olivier as the evil king Richard, looking more like Vlad the Impaler than Donald Trump.

What do the experts uncover? Well, these Shakespearean monsters are all inveterate liars. They can’t help themselves. And, each one has a problem with women with power, from motherhood to wives. Heaven forbid a woman wants political influence. These bad guys are cursed with a childish sense of self-deception.

It only grows worse:  you will find they are delusional and humored by aides surrounding them for their own reasons. It is likely those aides will be betrayed, as the monster tyrant sees loyalty as a one-way street. He will send loyal workers to the tower in an instant.

The tyrant also uses and abuses children to his own political gains: tormenting them, killing them, locking them up, separating them from family and protectors.

Imagine, not once does the show mention the President of the United States in 2019. It does end with one of the great characters celebrating the death of the “bloody dog,” after his tumultuous reign. We should be so lucky.

 

 

 

Mr. Stalin, You Have a Lovely Daughter!

DATELINE: Defector by Heart

 

svetlana Alleluyeva to You!

The only daughter of Soviet mass murderer and megalomaniac, Josef Stalin, is subject of a fascinating Australian documentary, called forthrightly Stalin’s Daughter.

Being the object of a doting father who is a psychopath could prove daunting to most people. Maybe Svetlana was different.

Stalin extended his ruthless exercise of murder to those in the closest orbit personally. His second wife was Lenin’s secretary, which made her attractive for many reasons, but her independence irritated the Red Despot.

Though Svetlana’s mother gave him two children, a son and daughter, she was quickly alienated from her husband and found dead of a gunshot wound to the head. The official cause of death was appendicitis. Svetlana learned of this by translating an English magazine as a young girl.

She was thought to be a princess, but not as spoiled as Vasily, her brother. As a girl, Svetlana was faced with a father who disapproved of her boyfriends: they ended up in gulags, if not with their families executed.

She was a prisoner of the Soviet state, never having true freedom. When her father died, she took her mother’s name Svetlana Alleluyeva. It wasn’t enough to escape the stigma.

In the 1960s, she married a non-Russian and took his ashes back to his home country: India. There in 1967, she went to the American embassy and defected. The CIA vouched for her.

Thus began true American celebrity. First, no one believed who she was—and then she spoke English fluently and wrote a best-seller that made her millions.  A media darling throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, she became increasingly erratic, like her father.

Her sad story ended with poverty, a nursing home in America, and a forgotten end in 2011. Who knew?

U

Brooklyn Bridge to Serve as Mexican Border Wall

DATELINE:  Trump’s New Solution!

untitled

In the great tradition of American business, President Donald Trump will follow in the footsteps of Mae West and Bugs Bunny and will sell shares in the Brooklyn Bridge. He believes that, if enough Republicans buy shares, they can charge Democrats a large fee to use it.

At the least, he believes the Bridge can be shut down to keep undesirables out of Manhattan. He believes most of those who use the Brooklyn Bridge are illegal immigrants.

The idea was said to be floated by Sean Hannity and Lindsay Graham at a dinner with the President who noted during dessert of Baked Alaska about furloughed government workers: “Let them eat cake.”

Trump tweeted that “Number A, this is a great idea with a chance to make a huge profit for the American people.”  Trump went out to cite the purchase of the London Bridge by American investors some years ago. They moved it to Arizona.

Trump believes this is a template for the latest effort to take the Brooklyn Bridge, stone by stone, and move it to the Mexican border. Trump believes this will kill two birds with one stone.

Sean Hannity reportedly told the President that the Brooklyn Bridge was a boondoggle, built by corrupt Democrats and that his legacy will be affirmed when he tears down the bridge and makes it bigger than the Berlin Wall.

 

 

Neeson & Harris Don’t Run Fast!

DATELINE:  Oh, Daddy-Boy!

oh, daddy! Chip off the Blockhead?

Run All Night is a movie with Liam Neeson and Ed Harris. It’s the kind of movie that you will think is great if you never saw Citizen Kane, or ever heard of Ox-Bow Incident.

This film manipulates a certain audience of un-educated film fans who would likely tell you they don’t eat sugar and won’t ever “catch” diabetes. They live on empty starch and carbs, one way to describe this movie that stars Neeson and Harris.

If you think this movie is the best thing since sliced bread, you may also decry Hollywood morality. You may think that a border wall is what makes America great. In this film you will likely think mob killers are deep-down nice guys. This film is white bread all right, down to the empty carbs.

The plot has to do with honor and family, but this isn’t your Godfather’s crime drama. It is more like letting inmates run the asylum or control the federal prison or write a screenplay.

Fan reaction to the Neeson action movies is generally a belief that a great actor never can demean himself and elevates any tripe on which he puts his name. This is not Ed Harris doing A History of Violence.

You can like Run All Night, or Taken, as an occasional dollop of mindless entertainment, but if you eat a steady diet of mindless entertainment, you surely have lost your mind, if you ever had one.

We have sworn off comic-book superhero movies as things of childhood best put behind us, but voters still support Donald Trump and love this sort of movie stuffing.

Put action crime thrillers with antiheroic white men into the mix. Shake well and pour it into the mud pie. Yum, yum, eat’em up, and go back into your cave. Rub two sticks together whilst sitting on a powder-keg and watch it again.

 

 

 

 

 

Brazil, Where the Nuts Are!

DATELINE: Beyond the Twilight Zone

acting chops Whose Acting Chops?

If you thought nutcase movies are here today, you are about 30 years off. Brazil is a movie aficionado’s fantasy and nightmare, defying convention and logic. You just passed the signpost of Ipanema.

Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) went out of his way to make the Citizen Kane of kookoo-bird movies in 1985.

This was no small achievement as the film holds up as beyond modern and relevant. Its madness may yet to be realized in the future.

Like Blade Runner, the future is the past. There is an aura of 1940s film noir interspersed with superhero comic fantasy.

Jonathan Pryce is some bureaucrat by day and by night, in his dreams, some kind of flying circus performer out to save a damsel in distress. In the meantime, he works in mindless government agencies that are after Harry Tuttle (Robert DeNiro) in an early comedic performance as a heating engineer who is a wanted man for doing duct work without a license.

Pryce’s mother Ida Lowry is played by the youth-conscious Katherine Helmond in a face-stretching performance with Jim Broadbent, as her fey plastic surgeon, striving for tighter skin.

Included in the shenanigans are such familiar faces as Bob Hoskins, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, and Ian Richardson. If they wanted to kick off the unorthodoxy of their careers, this film is definitely the forerunner.

If you want a plot, you will fall into a black hole and likely be stretched to kingdom come.

You can ride the wave of this movie from one loony tune moment to the next, not bothering to connect the dots or the scenes. It’s like being in the Trump Administration: you just sit back and experience the Cinerama of movie magic to the mambo-jumbo notes of the song “Brazil.”

Heavens, or is that Land of Goshen?

Operation Finale, Fastidious & Fatal

DATELINE: Kingsley’s Bookend Performance

eichmann

The story of the capture of Adolph Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 is now the subject of an extremely compelling docudrama called Operation Finale.

If there is anything outstanding in the story about the man who was dubbed the Architect of the Final Solution and his kidnapping to bring him to trial in Israel, it is that Ben Kingsley (75 years old) plays the 56-year old Eichmann.

This performance comes toward the end of a long career that started with Kingsley playing Gandhi. These are bookend performances of resonance. From the epitome of goodness to the epitome of evil, Kingsley manages to make the banal fascinating and fastidious.

We were reminded of Laurence Olivier who also played much younger in flashbacks when he was in his 70s. Here, Kingsley is done up, perhaps from special computer effects, to look like his forty-something self.

His Eichmann is not a monster but manages to charm his Israeli Mossad captor, Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) in a compelling role playing the main protagonist (as well as film producer) and foil to Kingsley. He is witty with gallows humor hiding his post-traumatic stress over a sister lost in the Holocaust.

Two other notable actors seem to return to the big screen in minor roles:  we were surprised to find king of the TV miniseries of the 1970s, Peter Strauss, as a blind refugee, and that zaftig woman, looking so familiar as Eichmann’s wife, is amazing Greta Scacchi.

The film resonates in many ways, making it more than a precursor to Shaw’s play, the Man in the Glass Booth. We see Eichmann only in that display case for a few fleeting moments at the end of the movie.

 

 

 

 

Equalized by Denzel Again

DATELINE:  Inequality!

denzel as mcCall

Don’t infuriate The Equalizer, as played by Denzel Washington for a second time in Equalizer 2.

We loved the Michael Sloan series about “retired” agent Robert McCall on TV with Edward Woodward, and we really like the idea that he has retired into hiding, faked death, to work as a vigilante for hire to help the helpless. We do miss Robert Lansing as Control.

Here he lives in Boston, and the backdrop of the Hub is photographed with all kinds of reverence, from the Zakim Bridge to Roxbury. We also like the notion that to meet people, McCall now works as a Lyft driver.

An old familiar face plays a Jewish passenger. We were shocked to learn it is Orson Bean, whom we have not seen in 40 years.

The corrupt people at the Agency, the Company, or whatever you want to call that American secret spy group, going by odd alphabets, seem to be worse than ever. No wonder McCall wanted out. Now, one of the few people he liked and trusted, Susan, another retired agent (Melissa Leo), has met a mysterious circumstance.

When Denzel goes into full mode, the bad guys should cringe, though these kind of villains always think they can match the hero. Otherwise, there’d be no entertaining movie.

The moral questions about the right of agency’s to off people they deem bad guys, without proof, is at the heart of this film, which makes it a cut above the usual death-by-gruesome-means movies.

Director Antoine Fuqua is adept and amusing enough to set the climax in a hurricane, which certainly helps with the dispatching of bad guys.

 

Holy Relics: The Quest & Question

DATELINE: Shoddy Documentary

Pia's 1898 negative photo

Another French documentary tackles the tricky question of the history of relics associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.

With so many collectible and miraculous items over two centuries, it is hard to believe that no documentary has given itself time to debunk them all. Holy Relics: the Quest aims high, but we must confess that we are not happy with those who want to gut crypto-science by fallacies.

This show wants so badly to expose the frauds that it commits fraud in itself.

There is no shortage of Jesus relics: his shroud, the nails, the true cross,  the crown of thorns, his sepulcher, the lance that pierced him, even samples of his blood. They have all been saved and sold for profit and political gain by the faithful and the greedy.

Taking each in turn, the documentary presents false information: claiming the shroud is done by dyes and blood in Medieval times, the so-called Italian scientist fails to recognize that the tests done proved it was not a dye or paint on the shroud.

The film does explain “contact relics” which are items of nails, cloth, or wood , that touched the original. According to Vatican laws, these are as good as originals. So, there are over 100 known nails (only 3 were used on Jesus –featuring one spike for both feet, but the documentary claims 4 nails). Pieces of wood from the True Cross are innumerable.

There is even rare footage from inside the tomb in Jerusalem where the body of Jesus rested for three days. It doesn’t look too special. And, the stone slab on which the body of Jesus was washed is a proven replacement item. It does not seem to make any difference for worshippers.

Yet, in its brevity as a documentary, items are omitted: the lance that pierced Jesus’ side is given only a cursory mention—and there is no mention of a bloody cloth in Spain that was used to wrap around the face of Jesus.

So, the film has more holes in it than they even realize if their zealotry to debunk all religious icons.

As much as there may be a need for a catalogue of iconic relics on Jesus, this show is not it.

Big Papillon

DATELINE: Renewed Classic

Rami & Charlie.

Perhaps every 50 years or so, a movie needs to be re-made.

This gives a new generation of actors a chance at grand roles, and an audience unfamiliar with the original to see a version that is in tune with the times that half-a-century causes.

Take Papillon, the Devil’s Island classic tale that starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman so many years ago. Those who remember will tell you how great they were.  Those who see Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) in the recent version will not understand how these two could be surpassed.

Yes, this remake is brilliantly done: in ways that the other never touched:  such as the motif of bowels as hiding places. Money pellets are within the mess of diarrhea to be searched. This film is brutal in its sadism and disgusting conditions, perhaps even more appalling than the original.

Henry Charriere’s true story of a man battling the odds of prison condemnation is always a good yarn of hope and hopeless. Director Michael Noer manages to convey the power of a literary classic.

We particularly liked the sequence when the warden has a showing of 1933 King Kong while the repugnant, fat turnkey is in dalliance with a young whelp while Papillon plans his escape.

There is a chemistry between Malek and Hunnam that transcends the original pairing of actors who were stars for more distinctive, discrete audiences. These new young stars have rapport and remain in tune as their relationship blossoms. In a scene Malek plays a mime who performs for Hunnam in a Paris dream sequence.

Hunnam notes it is too soon for a “proposal” in one scene, but the fearless director makes his song of bonds between oddball men quite effective.