“Mr. Holmes”—Not the Sherlock We All Know



“Mr. Holmes” is an imaginary and revisionist take on Sherlock Holmes as a 93-year old dispirited and retired detective, featuring the incomparable Ian McKellen in the title role. This 2015 British-American film , based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, takes place in Sussex two years after the end of the Second World War. This interpretation, among the many Sherlock Holmes we have seen, focuses on the lonely and contemplative man struggling to remember his last case, not the analytical mind associated with the world’s most famous fictional detective.

Holmes, in the first stages of dementia, retires to his remote country home in a Sussex village with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (the superb Carol Linney) and young son, Roger (played by the astonishing newcomer, Milo Parker, who is a standout in every scene with McKellen). The young boy and his dour mother are the only human contacts Holmes now has. Holmes’ memory isn’t what it used to be.

Soon we see that Holmes has forgotten much of his last case’s details as he tries to become accustomed to retirement. Holmes only remembers fragments of the case: a confrontation with a worried husband, a secret with his beautiful but unstable wife, and a puzzling side story about the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and a Japanese family. Having returned from a journey to Japan where, in search of a rare plant for dementia, Holmes has witnessed the devastation of nuclear warfare and seems visibly shaken. The little boy Roger gradually becomes his closest confidante and assistant in recollecting what happened to the woman in his final detective assignment.

What I loved about this film? It captures the nuances of aging, of losing the identity most treasured but now diminishing as dementia sets in. The pace, unfortunately, can be painfully slow , even for BBC. Multiple flashbacks do not help either, leaving the viewer to guess why these scenes are important, but often frustrating with plot holes (especially the Japanese subplot).

Although “Mr. Holmes” is not fast-paced and not to all tastes, it is a niche movie for those who like character-driven stories as the main plot. The layering effect of the years and lives and incidents in the story require close attention. “Mr. Holmes” is an introspective journey—into the rabbit hole of the mysteries of life and love, before it is too late to remember.

“The Humans” –A Family Thanksgiving for a Fearful Middle Class



Ticket to "The Humans"It starts as just another family drama on Thanksgiving. But family Thanksgivings can be horrific, chilling celebrative occasions for some of us. “The Humans” written by the Pulitzer Prize finalist Stephen Karam is just that. The aging dad worries about money, one daughter moans about her student debt, the other is heartbroken by her breakup with her lover, the mother’s Catholic values needle both of them: the younger daughter on the benefits of marriage instead of living with her boyfriend and the older daughter’s evil lesbian life. And we can’t forget Granny — called Momo – who has dementia and will probably not survive another Thanksgiving. This Off-Broadway play interweaves wit, tenderness and blistering brutality in the voices of six emotionally and physically damaged family members at the edge of the abyss.

The sixty-year old father and his wife are taking care of his elderly mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Though lower middle class, the parents have managed to provide a law school education for their older daughter and a pre-Ph.D. musical composer in their younger. Autobiographical bile gets ejected from all family members.


With a two-floor set design where we see at least two characters at the above level secretly engaged in gossip about the family members below, we clearly understand the troubles beneath the surface, the lower level metaphorically representing things unsaid, a family’s dark underbelly. Feelings shift and the upper level is just as unsettling and fractured. Nothing is as it seems. In the final scene the lights go out completely.

“The Humans” has searing emotional scenes — Aimee’s sorrowful phone call with her ex, eavesdropped by her father; a dinner-table reading of an email from Momo, written when she is aware of the early signs of Alzheimer’s; the mother fighting for dignity at her daughter’s belittling of her interest in a scientific article. There’s also comic relief: when Momo sings Irish lyrics in her solitary fog. It’s tremendously moving: the momentary illusion that they can still experience joy as a family.  Karam distinguishes himself in portraying this dysfunctional family.   This family  really is not so different, after all, from any ordinary family with its difficulties and setbacks. With warmth and compassion, even tenderness, the casual cruelty of some of the dialogue is funny, not because the words convey jokes but because the characters are communicating unimpeachable truths.  Cutting through a history of friction, misunderstanding, and support, every facial expression, non-verbal gesture, as well as dialogue, points to how much they need one another or think they do.

These are all themes and subplots I am fascinated with and also explored in my debut novel, Things Unsaid.

Note: The title of this post is taken verbatim from Charles Isherwood’s review of “The Humans”, NYT, Oct. 25, 2015. His title says it all.  “The Humans” moves from Off-Broadway to Broadway in January 2016 with the same cast.  The script is available on Amazon.

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“Master of None”—But Loads of Fun


Master of None

Could there be any comedic boundaries left following Amy Schumer and Louie CK? The answer is yes! Master of None, in ten half-hour episodes (a Netflix original), we see an extraordinary depiction of New York life created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang (both from “Parks and Recreations”). , I’ve only seen two episodes so far (the series premiered on November 6), and I’m hooked.

Dev (Ansari’s character) is a wannabe actor relegated to trying out for commercials. His friends are also grappling with jobs, love life, and trying not to be losers. In raw yet disarming dialogue, Master of None begins to eviscerate the vision of New York life for a thirty-something single guy of color.

In Episode One Dev and his meet-up, someone he barely knows, are Googling on their cell phones, to learn what to do since his condom broke. So much for the romance of the moment. Impressive in conveying anxiety, lack of experience, and decency, Dev and the girl friend, Rachel (the charming Noel Wells), navigate the awkwardness of the moment with an endearing concern for each other. Nobility of character—in a comedy.

Episode Two raises the question:   Do we ever really know our parents? As immigrants, the parents are even further removed: not only by age but by culture. But this episode is not just another “adult children think their immigrant parents are old codgers from the old country” story. In a touching, but not maudlin, restaurant scene we see, in self-assured writing, the Taiwanese parents’ of Brian, Dev’s friend, connecting with Dev’s Indian parents  (played by Ansari’s father and mother). Dev and Brian are incredulous at seeing this side of their parents.

In a series of flashbacks we see the hardships of the immigrant parents’ childhood contrasted in raw and unsparing scenes with their privileged sons’ New York lifestyle. These scenes are deeply affecting, not only for the first-generation/second generation experience but for how we all, in some way, are strangers to each other. And knowing that Ansari’s parents are playing the roles of Dev’s father and mother makes these scenes even more intimate and moving.

Not only immigration, but race, impacts the two friends’ daily lives. There is no beating around the bush. Ansari is particularly scathing about racial stereotyping.   And turns it on its head. In the first episode, when Dev meets Rachel’s grandmother, he is expecting her to be put off because he is of Indian descent.  She isn’t. When Ansari seems a bit surprised, the grandmother retorts: “You think because I’m an old white lady, I’m racist?!”

And “Master of None” continues being a lot of fun…without sermonizing but without letting us off the hook either.

Now on to Episode Three.