Charlie Chan: The Scarlet Clue

the_scarlet_clue-672x372

Since I still enjoy Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in their Sherlock Holmes films, I decided to try a Charlie Chan film for last week’s “old movie.” They are commingled in my mind as a local TV station used to rotate Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes films. I remember watching many Sherlock Holmes films, but had only vaguely remembered Charlie Chan. No I realize why.

Filled with stereotypes and wooden performances. Charlie is played by a white actor whom make up artists make to look Asian. While a Chinese immigrant would speak English imperfectly if he started speaking the language after age 14, this actor’s broken English was a bit much, very annoying. I’m glad we’ve moved to a time when this would be unheard of. The story was thin and weak though the means of poisoning the victims was rather clever. I won’t be watching more of this series.

The previous week’s “old movie” was It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic film that needs no introduction or review. I shared it with my students the last week of class.

Woman in Green

women in green

Last week I had trouble blogging as the Chinese seem to be keen on blocking VPNs. So I have been catching up on old movies for my New Year’s resolution, I just haven’t been able to blog about them.

I enjoyed The Woman in Green, a Sherlock Holmes movie starring Basil Rathbone ad Sherlock and Nigel Bruce as Watson. The pair set the standard for Sherlock and Watson and I appreciate a Sherlock who consistently shows his good humor towards his sidekick’s foibles.

In The Woman in a rich older man, Sir George Fenwick meets and alluring younger woman. After a night out with her he awakes in a cheap hotel room unable to recall how he got there. When he finds a severed finger of a woman in his pocket, he fears that he’s involved in a series of murders. He’s soon blackmailed.

The police are perplexed by the murders and call in Holmes and Watson, who happened to see Sir George out with a beautiful blonde. Sir George’s daughter brings the finger which she dug up after she saw her father burying something suspicious in their yard. When Holmes and Watson go to interview Sir George, they find him dead. Soon Holmes suspects Moriarty‘s involved.

The movie still entertains without getting quite as gruesome as a more modern depiction might. Rathbone portrays Holmes as a sophisticated genius, who may be a trifle arrogant, but has the social skills to smooth problems over as needed. It’s a classic mystery, still fun to watch.

     

    Voice of Terror

    sherlock-holmes-and-the-voice-of-terror-1

    This week I watched The Voice of Terror for my weekly old movie selection. The Voice of Terror is a Sherlock Holmes film with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In this film Nazi’s are predicting and broadcasting them minutes before they occur. Trains are getting derailed, factories are getting blown up, and the government is completely ineffective. Time to call in Sherlock Holmes.

    While this 1940s film lacks the slick appeal of the new Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, it’s still highly satisfying. Rathbone is Sherlock and Bruce is Watson, a delightful one to boot. They have a good rapport and can be witty and compelling as a scene requires. I think you have to watch and think a bit more carefully to appreciate the humor here, but even if you miss it, you can enjoy this detective flick. There’s a memorable scene at the end that takes some lines from Doyle’s “The Last Bow.”

    It was rather relaxing to watch an exciting drama that doesn’t need to take its viewers to the edge.

    Dear Elementary Writers,

    The Insominac's Choice Award

    The Insominac’s Choice Award

    Goodness gracious, where to start?

    I saw Elementary when it debuted and admittedly expected it to be bad, but was surprised that your new Sherlock Holmes show was actually boring.

    I figured you just needed time to better understand the genre and how to write a good script. I realize it’s hard to compete with the excellence of Sherlock and sympathize with you. Talk about pressure. Yet you are handsomely paid, so my sympathy’s short lived.

    Last Thursday I tuned in again believing you had enough time to improve the show. I saw an episode called “M” and expected rightly that Moriarty would be involved.

    Boy, was I disappointed.

    Like the first 1.3 episodes I saw in the fall, the story opened with a murder. The scene had a weird tone as my guess is that the vibe on screen is nothing like what a real murder would be like and it wasn’t like the usual (and better) murders shown on TV.  The beginning was rather boring and odd.

    Next Sherlock appears and doesn’t deduce what happened and why there’s a pool of blood on the floor of the crime scene, he remembers a previous crime with the same pattern. Yep, Sherlock Holmes just remembered to figure out the case. Do you realize we don’t watch Sherlock to see how average thinkers solve crimes we watch to be bowled over by his astute thinking. Can someone on staff make note of that?

    All the while Watson prepares to tie up her assignment. She’s feeling rather sad to be going as she confides to her shrink, who’s remarkably wooden. Only this lifeless Watson would continue to see such a cold shrink. Writers, your homework is to watch some good psychologists like Paul or Gina on In Treatment or the guy from Numb3rs now on Newsroom. Even Bob Newhart might inspire you. Psychologists can have personalities and be objective.

    Joan Watson’s shrink suggests she go into police work if she enjoys it so much, but Joan rejects that sensible suggestion for no reason. She really doesn’t appear to be in love with Sherlock because she displays no emotion vaguely akin to love.

    There was some mention of Irene Adler in exposition, but Irene evidently died (missed opportunity early on in a season). Granted, I missed that episode or the episode when it was revealed but present this with some drama so I CARE.

    Then you had “M” plant a letter in Sherlock’s apartment. Ho hum. There’s a little tension here, but it’s minimal. We didn’t see it done. We don’t see “M” at all just his henchman. Joan gets annoyed when she learns that Holmes has cameras in his own house. Yes, he could have told her, but they weren’t in her room and she is a hired gun. Get over it. There are no real tests of trust the way we see throughout Sherlock. Minor sniping and irritation doesn’t count.

    Perhaps you should steer clear (or steal) the elements that work so well in the hands of Moffat and Gatiss.

    Eventually, the murderer acts again, but Sherlock intervenes. He somehow transports this hulking man to an abandoned warehouse that his father owns. How did he manage? Did he rent a car? Does he even drive? Oh, yeah, he smashed that suspect’s car in the first episode, if that counts as driving. How would Sherlock, who’s no muscle man, manage to hang such a muscular, brawny chap up by himself? Actually, the episode was too boring for me to really want to know.

    In fact, I often considered changing channels and probably should have. You have not earned my attention.

    Well, Joan and the Inspector do find Sherlock just after he’s learned from his victim that this guy is simply a hit man, that Moriarty, like the one on Sherlock does his work by proxy.

    During the episode we saw Joan ask Sherlock’s father to extend her time with him. I knew you’d have to somehow keep them connected since that was one of the weaknesses of your premise. She’s only supposed to work with him for a couple months. The father said no via a text and she then lied to Sherlock about that. She’s decided to stay on for free. Since there’s no chemistry between the two this just made me yawn. Strange since lies usually beef up a story.

    Apparently, you’ve got reverse Midus‘ touch. You can take good characters and a popular genre, i.e. gold and make it into dust. Do you realize how lucky you are that enough American viewers require so little in terms of entertainment. You are blessed by the equally anemic writing on other Thursday night shows.

    Sincerely,

    SK

     

    Violence

    I really can’t take gory violence in any way, shape or form. Suspenseful, off-screen, more psychological violence is another matter. I do love cop shows: Law and Order, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett or even Basil Rathbone, Columbo, The Closer, and the extraordinary Sherlock and Luther.

    But there’s a line that’s been crossed and the idea of people accepting pain in a psychologically disastrous way is it. This season, sad to say, The Good Wife has crossed this line with their story of Kalinda, the investigator. She’s a tough woman and often saves the day. This season we’ve had to see her ex-husband return and mess with her. She tries to stay away, but she also toys with him and enjoys some of the masochistic activities he’s fond of. It shows her as partially liking them too and it turns my stomach. Otherwise the show is smart and engaging, but I can read or watch something else. To continue down this seedy path just isn’t good for my psyche or soul.

    I hope this storyline soon plays itself out. Then I’ll be back.

    I’m also struggling to watch two Asian films and the violence gets to me. The Korean film The Housemaid chronicles the story of a somewhat innocent, somewhat not woman who take a job as a housemaid for a very cold- hearted, rich family.  The wife is materialistic, vacuous consumer, the husband a heartless, womanizing consumer.  They’re both users, cold blooded users. The wife is pregnant with her second child. The daughter is about 6 or 7 and she’s like a little robot. There’s also a middle aged  stern woman who manages the household and eavesdrops for a cold hearted mother-in-law.

    The husband makes sexual advances towards the housemaid, who’s interested in him, though he treats her like a prostitute, like dirt. The mother-in-law finds out the maid is pregnant and “accidentally” kicks over a ladder the maid is on so she falls two floors. It’s manipulative, vicious and reptilian. Though the film is  beautiful and I thought a way to learn more about Korean culture. I paused it a week ago and can’t bring myself to watch more.

    After pausing The Housemaid, I started watching The Drummer from Hong Kong. The image on Netflix made it seem like it would be a film about a traditional drummer. Nope. It’s about a rock star who sleeps with a gangster’s girlfriend. The gangster finds them together and assigns the drummer’s father to bring him his hands.

    Yep, small world, the drummer’s father is a gangster, who works for the cuckolded king pin. The drummer goes on the run and his father tracks him down. The scene where the father goes to his daughter’s vet clinic and roughs her up, breaking a few of her teeth, was too much for me. Good Lord.

    I remember a conversation with a Chinese man who said in China violence is viewed as beautiful, like a ballet. Whoa. Now you’ve lost me. Just like a scene with a father beating on his daughter so she could tell him where he could find his son to kill him is too much for me.  And I’m fine with that.

    elementary

    As a Sherlock Holmes fan and a big admirer of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s hard not to view Elementary with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu skeptically. Well, they and all the production staff are adults and they must, one would think, know what they were getting into, so I make no apologies. I did tune in, right? What more could they ask?

    Alright so the show opens with a slick, choreographed attack and murder in progress, before it cuts to Joan Watson, former surgeon, now a babysitter for addicts, getting a call from the treatment center where her new client, Sherlock Holmes was staying. He’s escaped, one day early.

    Why bother if it’s just one day? Indeed. This Sherlock later explains he was bored. Seems that rehab and the group sessions would have been boring from the beginning. I guess the writers thought this was clever. I thought – hackneyed, obvious Hollywood trope.

    Joan and Sherlock get acquainted as she follows him around resuming his police consulting work in New York. Highly improbable, you say. Why would they let a consultant work on a case? Indeed. Well, Sherlock is acquainted with Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) who has no problem working with Sherlock. In fact, he’s pretty impressed by him. (These writers don’t understand the power of conflict.) One of the guys collecting evidence does balk at this Brit’s contribution, but he’s quickly silenced and ignored. Opportunity squandered. If the writers saw Sherlock, they’d learn something.

    So Joan lives with Holmes in his father’s most shoddy brownstone with wood floors and nice moulding. She’s an addiction companion or some such thing and predictably, they don’t take to each other. She’s got a secret reason for leaving medicine and you don’t have to be a genius to deduce that she killed a patient. Holmes does get more from her parking ticket, Google (yes, Google)  and her demeanor. She supposedly accidentally killed a poor person who’s buried in a potter’s field. Joan’s rather cold and humdrum so I didn’t really care.

    The problem with Elementary, which for me ties with the poor Robert Downey Jr film, is that while they throw in some quirks and references to Arthur Conan Doyle‘s characters and stories, the series is in inept hands. I wasn’t wowed with Holmes’ ability to deduce because his conclusions seemed contrived or obvious. I stopped caring about the murder.

    Holmes discounts the husband as the killer and they interview an acquaintance. The scene was ho hum, but the duo learn that the victim had plastic surgery.  We never hear the second suspect speak, another opportunity lost. Finding out through exposition, that he was a troubled rage-oholic guilty of attacking redheads, didn’t captivate as exposition usually doesn’t. By the time we find out who the killer was, I was tired of this Holmes who foolishly smashed the prime suspect’s car so he could get imprisoned. That wasn’t eccentric, it was foolish.

    Contrivance piled upon contrivance and the writers’ lack wit so the attempts at humor all failed me. Elementary follows the party-line of CBS shows’ formula to the letter learning nothing from Sherlock or the equally brilliant Luther.  I tried to rewatch to make better notes for this post, but it’s ghastly and I really couldn’t.

    If you do stick with the series, my money’s on the writers forcing the duo into becoming a couple. Liu brings nothing to the role, neither does Quinn, though I grant both have little in the script to work with. Miller is miles behind Cumberbatch, but since I saw him and liked him in Frankenstein, I think with better writers, he could be a decent, different kind of Holmes. It’s doubtful we’ll see that.

    Elementary reminded me why I watch so few programs on CBS. They’re all slick and flashy with anemic stories. No one at CBS seems to understand that the ante has been upped by the BBC.
    Tonight I’ll watch my Sherlock  DVDs or maybe an Outnumbered.

    Luther

    Idris Elba (L) as Luther; Warren Brown (R) as his colleague

    Nominated for 4 Emmy awards, the BBC’s Luther beckoned me from Netflix. I’ve just seen the first two episodes from season 1 and am hooked. Luther’s main character is a London detective who’s we see taunting a known pedophile cum murderer. Did John Luther allow the murder to fall to his death? His superiors, colleagues and ex wife all wonder.

    Like Sherlock Holmes and Columbo, the two inspirations for the character, Luther is brilliant. He’s also troubled. His wife has moved on taking a new boyfriend, who’s a much safer, centered cardigan-wearing kind of guy. Luther’s still very much in love and his wife could be too, but she’s just done with the intensity.

    Each episode takes viewers to the edge, Luther solves highly violent crimes though deduction and psychologically gets inside the heads of the criminals as no one on the force can. Yet by the end of the pilot episode the criminal, Alice, a genius who planned the perfect murder, starts stalking the cop as she becomes obsessed with Luther and his wife. The tables are turned and Alice pathologically enjoys toying with Luther throughout the series.

    Sherlock, Season 2

    Holmes and Watson on the Moor

    I won’t spoil the fun for Sherlock fans, but I just finished watching season 2 and have been blown away. American viewers will see the new Irene Adler, though I’d keep the kiddies away from this R rated characterization. This time around Irene’s a dominatrix. But anyone with a yen for thrillers and suspense will love what Sherlock does with “The Hound of Baskerville” and Moriarty‘s return in “The Reichenbach Fall.” Fabulous television!

    Sherlock and "The Woman"

    Now why is CBS going forward with an updated Sherlock Holmes called Elementary with Lucy Liu of all people as Watson? She was fine in Ally McBeal, but the woman has so little range from what I’ve seen. She’s good at annoying the audience, but that’s not what I want from a Watson. Elementary will be set in New York City. How mundane. Seems half the genre’s set there. I hope they don’t blow too much money on this. No lover of Holmes would ever approve these choices.

    Sherlock

    This update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories gets it right. This BBC series earns a place along the best of Holmes films. Set in modern times, Holmes has the same genius for deduction with the addition of cutting edge tech savvy. The perfect Everyman, Watson here has just returned from the war in Afghanistan and is drawn to Sherlock’s intelligence, while often annoyed by his new friend’s social inadequacies.

    The wit is supreme throughout. The suspenseful plotting is on par with MI-5. Even up to the last minute, the episode’s compelling. Too bad the makers of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows hadn’t learned something from this production.

    The trick is writing smart characters that compel, rather than mere kooks who repel.

    Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

    A Game of Shadows is a fitting subtitle as watching this Sherlock Holmes flick was more like watching a hyperactive computer game drag on than watching a film. As a lover of the Holmes character and detective stories in general, this onslaught of explosions, martial arts exhibitions and flamboyant costuming all thrown together and filmed annoyed more than entertained. I found myself wishing I were watching something else and creating a mental list of better things I could be doing while watching, then a list of better screenwriters, and finally a list of actors I’d cast in my new Sherlock Holmes film. Then I started hoping they’d tie up the story as soon as possible and thinking how they could end at various points.

    Since it’s entirely possible to create a new character and set him in Victorian England and make him something of an Anti-Holmes, I’d wish they’d done that. Then I wouldn’t have been duped into buy a ticket and wasting my time on this indulgence. I went knowing this would be Holmes on steroids, but I didn’t realize how steroids effect the brain in this case withering it to the size of a peanut. It’s also possible to successfully play with the tradition as Mel Brooks did with Sherlock Holmes’ Younger Brother.

    Someone should tell the studios that paid for this that Sherlock isn’t Sherlock if he isn’t over the top intelligent.Downey’s Sherlock is just weird and sort of intuitive in a very anachronistic way. The way in which he’ll explain how he came to a conclusion, which work so well in the books and other films, here just fill the seconds between explosions or highly choreographed fights. This Holmes was so annoying and obnoxious. He had little that impressed or was worthy of any admiration. The real Holmes had an altruistic streak, this Holmes seems petty, it seems like his aim is only to best a rival and that he has little concern for anyone but himself, which I’d say the original stories don’t bear out at all.

    The scenes reminded me of an computer game designed by the set designer at say the Lyric Opera. They were very cool, very glitzy and therefore constantly called attention to themselves rather than eventually receding to add to rather than dominate a story. The whole film seemed to be put together by a group of egoists trying to out do each other while watering down a successful tradition.

    I found the themes of the evils of industrialized, commercialized war preachy and obvious adding to the tedium.

    The best part was the end first I felt a sort of glee that “Yes, they are winding this down!” and the chess game scenes cutting to scenes with Watson outside worked.