Continuing with more Sherlock Holmes, movies from and about the 80s, and more.
The Spider Woman (1944) Roy William Neill
MPI Media Group Blu-ray
This seventh film in the Rathbone/Bruce series marks the halfway point of the pairing, showing no signs of slowing down. As The Spider Woman opens, Holmes has successfully faked his own death in order to secretly investigate a series of “pajama suicides” that he thinks are not suicides at all, but rather murders. Disguised as a wealthy Indian named Rajni Singh, Holmes visits gambling houses (all of the victims were heavy gamblers) until he finds a woman who may be responsible for the murders, a beautiful woman named Adrea Spedding (Gale Sondergaard, above). Spedding is as brilliant and as deadly as Holmes’s nemesis Moriarty, making her capture both difficult and urgent.The Spider Woman contains an effective story throughout, but the best scenes involve a strange child and a fairground carnival.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Stephen Frears
Criterion DVD (library)
The fact that My Beautiful Laundrette delivers a compelling story while exploring so many themes, yet never grows pedantic, is nothing short of a miracle. Young Omar (Gordon Warnecke, above center) is a young Pakistani man living in London, trying to find his way in the world. Right now he really just needs to find a job, which he does at his uncle’s (Saeed Jaffrey) car wash. Omar convinces Uncle Nasser that he could make Nasser’s run-down laundrette not only turn a profit, but also transform it into a thing of beauty. Omar enlists the help of his hooligan friend and lover Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis, above right), but Johnny’s local friends aren’t on board with this plan. Neither is everyone in Omar’s family, especially Salim (Derrick Branche), who helps finance the laundrette’s make-over, but at a steep price.
My Beautiful Laundrette manages to touch on issues of outsiders living in London – those of different races, classes, and sexual orientation. It also addresses politics, manners, social customs, Thatcher’s England, and much more, yet never forgets that its overriding purpose is to tell a good story.
The Scarlet Claw (1944) Roy William Neill
MPI Media Group Blu-ray
While in Canada attending a meeting of the Royal Canadian Occult Society, Holmes and Watson square off against Lord William Penrose (Paul Cavanagh), leader of the group. Lord Penrose is offended at Holmes’s disdain of the occult, preferring logical explanations over supernatural ones. When Penrose’s wife is found murdered in the village of La Mort Rouge (great name, right?), Holmes and Watson are intrigued. What’s even more intriguing is that Holmes receives a telegram from Lady Penrose, written just before her death, imploring the detective for help as she is terrified for her life.
With The Scarlet Claw, Roy William Neill delivers what is certainly one of the strongest films in the Rathbone/Bruce series, if not the strongest. The mystery is taut, the acting good, the secondary characters colorful without being too over-the-top, and the pacing steady.
Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) Robert Wise
Previously discussed here
Lucy (2014) Luc Besson
Streaming at my brother-in-law Dave’s
Anyone familiar with director Luc Besson’s other films such as Nikita, Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, Taken will know what to expect here: a visual smorgasbord of action, fighting, and science fiction. Most of the films mentioned above – maybe all of them – are better than Lucy, but as long as you know what you’re getting into and don’t have a problem with that, you’ll be just fine.
Besson takes the notion that humans use only about 10% of their brain functions and constructs a story around it. What if we could use 20%? 50%? 100%? Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) becomes a reluctant drug mule, having had a bag of a highly valuable drug CPH4 sewn inside her abdomen by a high-level drug lord. During an interrogation gone wrong, the bag leaks, the CPH4 gets into Lucy’s system, and her brain functions go through the roof. Before the drug can destroy her, Lucy seeks the help of neurologist Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman).
As Confessions of a Cinephile correctly points out, “The character in the movie uses a 100% of her brain by the end of the film which results in the film using 0% of its brain.” That pretty much says it all. As Lucy’s brain functions increase, the quality of the script decreases proportionally. (We even get on-screen percentage levels in case we can’t notice the increase in Lucy’s abilities.) Oh, you get plenty of mayhem, people getting shot and crap blowing up, but don’t expect much else. Watching Lucy is like having quick candy bar or maybe a shot of espresso: the thrill won’t last very long. But did you really expect it to?
Ping Pong Summer (2014) Michael Tully
Streaming at my brother-in-law Dave’s
Every now and then you encounter a movie and intrinsically know it doesn’t work, yet there’s something compelling about it. When it’s over, you don’t exactly feel as if your time’s been wasted. It’s more like you’ve had an itch scratched that you didn’t know you had. Not a big itch, and probably one that won’t come back, but it was there and now it’s gone and you can move on to the more important things in your life.
That’s the feeling I got watching Ping Pong Summer, a film that owes much of its quirkiness to Napoleon Dynamite, its plot to The Karate Kid, and its style to a lot of 80s movies with bad summer fashions.
Rad Miracle (I kid you not) is a 13-year-old kid forced to go with his family to Ocean City, Maryland every summer. Rad (Marcello Conte) is obsessed with ping pong, hip hop, and breakdancing, and he’s not very good at any of it. Rad meets a new friend (Myles Massey), falls in love with a girl (Emmi Shockley), encounters the local bully/ping pong champ (Joseph McCaughtry), challenges him, and finds an unlikely mentor in the weird woman next door (Susan Sarandon).
Ping Pong Summer is light, quirky fun, so if you’re in a mood for that – and a film that makes fun of the 80s and Ocean City (and if any city needs to be made fun of, its Ocean City) – it might be for you. What struck me most about the film was Lea Thompson playing Rad’s mom. It’s uncanny how much Thompson (now at 54) resembles her character in Back to the Future II projected 30 years into the (then) future of 2015.
(Photos: Daily Scribbling (twice), The Film Experience, The Movie Scene, Confessions of a Cinephile, The Hollywood Reporter)
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