Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Update: It's the most wonderful time of the year or at least that's what they tell me.

Hello reader.

You're probably expecting a post about a noble bachelor who lost his wife to her husband or at least something vaguely Sherlock Holmes related. Sorry, but this isn't that.

For many years now, Leigh has suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, general anxiety and depression. Winter is tough for her. So is Christmastime. This year is no different.

She is trying. Everyday is a struggle and every day seems like one of those cheesy prescription anti-depressant ads. She has her coping mechanisms that may seem silly to some but help her out. Showering every day instead of every other like normal. Drinking hot chocolate almost constantly. Playing dumb games on her phone including hours and hours of solitaire. She'll get through it. She's done it before and will do it again. It isn't easy, but she's one tough cookie.

You're probably asking what you can do, dear reader.

Be understanding.

Spend time with your family, whether blood related or adopted, and enjoy it, even if it takes a couple of margaritas.

Help anyone who seems like they might need help. Give them a hug or a word of encouragement or two or just tell them that everything will be okay.

If you are in the same boat as Leigh, everything will be okay. Maybe not today or tomorrow but things will get better. If you need someone to talk to but don't have someone, here you go: World Suicide Hotlines. Needing help isn't something to be ashamed of. Everyone needs help sometimes. It's okay. Leigh is very lucky to have a wonderful support system in her super understanding writing partner, a kooky but awesome group of friends and family and the best boyfriend a gal could ask for. She'll get through this.

Posts will hopefully resume after the new year. In the mean time, go and watch our next review, "The Case of the Christmas Pudding." I've heard YOU can find iT online if yoU look for it, baBE.

We both hope you have a great holiday season and have fun celebrating any and all holidays you and yours celebrate!

Everything is going to be okay.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In-Class Movie: "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (1977)

"'What is it, then?' I asked, for his manner suggested that it was some strange creature which he had caged up in my room." 

-- Doctor Watson, "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"

Austin: It only took a few months but I snuck Doctor Who into our syllabus. It's my favorite show and since it's been on for 49 years, of course there is a Sherlock Holmes episode. For all of you non-Whovians, Doctor Who is a British science fiction show about a mysterious alien named The Doctor who travels around time and space saving the day using cleverness instead of violence. Every time The Doctor is killed he regenerates into a new body with a slightly different personality. Since 1963, there have been eleven different Doctors. Today we focus on one of the most popular, the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker)

In the mid-1970s, there was a golden age of Doctor Who. Robert Holmes was writing fantastic scripts and Philip Hinchcliffe was producing the show with a cool gothic horror feel. One of the highlights from this time was The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

Instead of wearing his usual 14' scarf, The Doctor donned a deerstalker to investigate a mysterious string of disappearances in Victorian London. Along for the adventure is Leela, a warrior woman from another planet who grew up in a savage tribe.

In this six-part adventure they investigate the slightly-racist-more-uncomfortable Chinese magic show that is committing crimes for someone who claims to be an ancient Chinese god. Plenty of twists, clever dialog and awesome visual style makes this one of my favorite Tom Baker stories.

Yet as much I can rave about Doctor Who--AND I CAN--we need to ask the big question: is this a Sherlock Holmes story despite nobody says the name Sherlock Holmes for over two hours?

Sherlock Holmes and Watson
Leigh: I think for our sake and just to clear things up, there is a difference between "adaptation" and "inspired by." Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, begrudgingly Elementary, are, to me at least, adaptations. “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” is inspired by Sherlock Holmes. There is never a mention of Sherlock Holmes but the character of Sherlock Holmes and the pastiche that media has created of Sherlock Holmes is iconic. ACD said Holmes would never wear the deerstalker hat or an Inverness cape but here is Tom Baker, walking around "looking like" Holmes because of what the collective adaptations and inspirations have agreed Holmes looks like even though it differs from ACD's image of him. It may not be accurate to the stories but it is accurate to what Sherlock Holmes has become. This idea could get into a very interesting argument about who is correct, the creator or the consumer?

Another thing that I liked about the episode, and it was hard for me to get past the overt and uncomfortable but historically accurate racism, was the language. I haven't seen a lot of classic Doctor Who but the only other one I've seen is with Tom Baker (I couldn't tell you which one but K-9 was in it.) The dialog felt different. It didn't feel so much like a Doctor Who episode but definitely like a Doctor Who episode inspired by Sherlock Holmes. I could be incredibly off base here with my little experience of classic Who but from what I have seen of it and from my experience of the newer episodes, it felt more like a mystery than a typical episode with the Doctor. I think that if this episode were to be remade (with less racism) and Matt Smith were playing the role, it would still feel like a heavily inspired by Sherlock Holmes episode of Doctor Who

The characters that they added to make the Sherlock Holmes aspects more obvious were amusing to me. The Watson like character(s) and of course Mrs. Hudson. I feel like the writer Holmes took the two ideas of Watson and created two different characters. Instead of the bumbling Watson or the helpful one, we have both with Jago and Litefoot. This seemed to play off of the Doctor Holmes character really well. They helped with the mystery and still provided a bit of comedic relief. 

I know nothing of the Leela character except that for a warrior raised by warrior people, she was the worst warrior ever. For reals. 

So what do you think? Did you get Doctor Who in my Sherlock Holmes or did I get Sherlock Holmes in your Doctor Who? And if you want to tackle it, who gets the final say of interpretation, the creator or the consumer? 

Truer words were never before said

Austin: I would say that "Talons" is definitely inspired, not adapted. This time around, I caught a few more hints to their Holmes appreciation. The dinner was fixed by Mrs. Hudson. Near the end, The Doctor exclaims "Elementary!". It's
clear that writer Robert Holmes is playing with the tropes and it's fair to say that so is The Doctor. (He's a very well alien. (Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie are some of his favorites.)

I think it's fair to say the consumer has the final word on the art for they are the last one chronologically to take part in the process. An artist comes up with the art, creators create the art, the audience appreciates the art. Each one adds something new to it.

If we religiously followed the belief of Sydney Newman, the creator of Doctor Who, the show would be lousy. He wanted it to be an education program where the use of time travel was to teach children about different points in Earth's history. He didn't want any "bug-eyed aliens".

That mentality lead to some of my favorite First Doctor stories "The Aztecs", "The Romans") but it was the wild success of its second story involving metallic Nazi-esque aliens that made the show popular enough to last almost 50 years. ("The Daleks")

Anywho, this story is awesome. I say that Leela is a fine warrior. She stabbed her fair share of enemies. I do think that she could have attacked Weng-Chiang better when he came through the window. I'm glad you caught that about the dual Watsons; Jago and Litefoot were a ton of fun. They were only in this story and they are only together for two of the six parts. Yet their popularity has had them star in a couple of series of audio dramas produced by Big Finish in the past few years.

As for the dialog (I'm just jumping around), this is pretty par on course for Doctor Who. This didn't have as much techno-babble as some of his space adventures but this is common to Tom Baker's era, just maybe a little less screaming since they are in refined Victorian company.

Ultimately these two characters work because there are plenty of similarities between The Doctor and Sherlock Holmes. They both have an encyclopedic knowledge thanks to Sherlock's studying and The Doctor living over 700 years. The Doctor wasn't bragging about what he knows unlike when David Tennant played the role a few years ago.

Okay, I started this avalanche of comparisons. How else are Sherlock and The Doctor similar?

Leigh: I think the creator/consumer argument might be one of my favorites out there because every time I come to it or discuss it, I have a different opinion. It’s one of those that there is no right answer to, I feel. This time around, I think that while the consumer does have the final say of what the piece might mean, I think that the creator should have the ultimate say. It isn’t as easy now to go back and ask Dickens what he thinks about how high schoolers are interpreting Great Expectations, but we can ask Dan Harmon how he feels about the future of Community.  We can’t ask Fitzgerald what the billboard meant but we can ask J.K. Rowling about dementors and what they represent. Sure, the blue curtains might mean that the room had a depressive feel about it that matched the mood of the mourning household or they could just be blue because that’s what color the creator chose to make them.  The consumer can believe that the curtains are blue to show emotion but in the end they’re wrong because the author is the one who decided what they meant when he wrote it.

Now to go in a completely different direction, a bit about the chronology of my experience with Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes.  The first episode of Doctor Who that I saw was “The Impossible Planet” around Christmas time in 2006. I first started reading the Sherlock Holmes stories in the summer of 2010. When I was listening to them, I kept thinking, “Huh, this guy sure does remind me of the Doctor…” Because David Tennant will always be my Doctor, I use him as a comparison to Sherlock Holmes.

We have two impossibly intelligent people who use facts to figure out problems. They both try to stay away from violence unless absolutely needed. They have a lovable sidekick. They are both frantic at times and expect those around them to keep up. I think the only difference is that one is a 1000-year-old alien and one is a Victorian detective.  I don’t think that it is a coincidence that both the Doctor and Sherlock Holmes are so popular decades after their creation. They are very similar characters. Benedict Cumberbatch originally auditioned for the role of the Doctor and Moffat said, “You’re not quite right but I have another project you’ll be perfect for.” This shouldn’t surprise anyone. 

My only question is “why?” Why are they so popular? What is it about them that makes them icons in British Culture so many years after they were first introduced? Maybe this is something we can try to tackle at a later date.

Next time, we learn that communication in relationships is key and leaving someone on your wedding day is really crappy.

And now Austin Lugar with the final word:

Austin: JellyBabies!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" (Doyle, 1892)

(Please excuse the delay. Both of us were traveling this week and Leigh totally forgot what day it was until Tuesday.)

“And now, Doctor, perhaps you would kindly attend to my thumb, or rather to the place where my thumb used to be.”
– Victor Hatherley, “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb”

Leigh: This week we have a story about an engineer who is put under pressure then doesn't make the cut but the details of the story aren't what make this case interesting. Okay, this case is a really interesting one and in my list of favorites for being intense and unusual, but how the story is told is what makes this adventure stand out. Instead of the case coming to Sherlock Holmes and unraveling from there and then being solved, the audience is told the story as it happened to the engineer. Sherlock Holmes is a much a part of the audience as we are in this case. We've listened to other people tell their stories in the adventures and we've complained about it. After the engineer told his story, I almost forgot that it was a Sherlock Holmes story. Sherlock only interrupts to ask a question once and based on that one question, he figures out the location of the house. While the case itself is exciting and different, I don't think that Sherlock Holmes' part was really needed. The one clue that helps him decide where the events took place was all that he was needed for and in the end, I think that an average police officer would've figured it out, especially if they arrived to a house on fire. Personally, I think Watson was just as useful in this case as Sherlock Holmes was and that rarely happens.

And can I talk about something important here? The old saying goes "nothing but trouble happens after midnight." I've heard this more in relation to a girl going over to a guy's house to hang out after midnight but I think that it is entirely applicable here. Especially if the person inviting you says, "Don't tell anyone about this ever at all period." Also, why are some people so thick that when they are told, "Hey, you should leave. Now." they decide to stay? Seriously. I don't think that this was originally intended to be a "worse case scenario" for teen party-goers but I think it could be used now as one. If you go out after midnight and are told not to tell anyone anything, there is going to be trouble and you'll probably end up dead. If you are told to leave by someone at the party, you should probably leave before you make an ass out of yourself or you get your ass kicked/thumb chopped off. That is the main message I got from this story and that's what I'll tell my kids this story is about when I read it to them when they're going to bed. I'm going to be a terrible mother.

 Austin: Well when your kids ignore your advice and lose their thumbs in cruel irony not only will they learn their lesson but all of the kids in their school will know about the Thumbless Ones and what mischief can lead to.

This is an odd story. Not one of my favorites because Sherlock Holmes is basically irrelevant. As they started their carriage to the grounds, I couldn't help but notice there were very few pages left. The ending is almost a mocking of a Holmes third act.

"I think we should go west!"
"No, it's east! We must search east!"
"What do you think Holmes?"
"The house is on fire. End of mystery!"

Then it ends. We don't even know if they attached the blasted thumb.

Much less dramatic than losing an actual thumb.

That said, I did enjoy his story and would enjoy it more on a reread because I won't be searching for what to solve. They had their best hook yet to the beginning. Instead of sitting down and starting from the beginning and getting to the odd element of the mystery, we start off with a guy who lost his thumb and pressured the bleeding with a twig.

I think I know your answer but should we judge this story just as a story or should it be seen though the filters of a "Sherlock Holmes story" or even as a mystery? Can it be a good short story and a bad mystery? Is it even a mystery?

Leigh: My kids will have enough difficulty in life because I'll be raising them. Being thumbless would give them an awesome story to tell though and I'm all about having fun stories to tell at random parties or in elevators to complete strangers or to myself because I'm bored.

Now for your questions.

Is this a good Sherlock Holmes story?: No.
Is this a good short story?: Yes! 
Is this a good mystery?: No.
Is it even a mystery?: Eh, I don't think so. 

The story itself, I felt was interesting. If you cut out Sherlock Holmes and make it about a guy who goes to the doctor because his thumb was cut off, I think it would be a really neat short story. I don't think it's a mystery though. As we both said, there wasn't really anything to figure out. There was no mystery. It was a thriller, definitely! I think this is one of the most suspenseful stories we've read yet! But because the genre wasn't really defined in ACD's day, can we really fault him? We've brought up this question before. I couldn't tell you what I had said but I think right now we can't blame him for making a story that wasn't a mystery but we can blame him for making a story that isn't like his others at all. There is a difference between having a story be unique in a set but still fit within the set and then there is what we have here. We have a story that doesn't fit the rest of the collection that we've seen so far. I think that this would've been really successful as a one-off in an issue of The Strand. Or even just have the story be about Watson but never go to see Holmes. There was a time period where Holmes was missing (SPOILER ALERT! lulz!) and I think that this story would've been a nice "While he was gone" story. ACD didn't really know that he was going to try to kill off Holmes though so I guess that idea doesn't work...

Austin: In my mind the best reason for having Holmes there is so there is someone for Watson to compare himself to. The first few pages consist of him bragging about how amazing this story is and how he found it on his own.

I always enjoy the concept of an unreliable narrator. I don't think it's a radical theory to suggest that Watson restructured this story to make him look better. I bet in "real life" Sherlock did all sorts of clever things aside from ask about the horse colors. Watson just took creative liberty and made himself the hero in a story where our heroes don't do anything.

This was a fun odd all of a story that I plan on rereading before next week's adventure. Yet this week everyone should prepare to watch a Classic Doctor Who story that is undeniably awesome and questionably a Sherlock Holmes tale. Get excited!

And here is Leigh Montano with the last word.

Leigh: THUMB!

Friday, December 7, 2012

In-Class Movie: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

“Ah, me! It’s a wicked world, and when a clever man turns his brains to crime it is the worst of all.”
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”

Austin: When we reviewed Dressed to Kill, it corresponded with the Doyle story we were reading that week. Last time, Without a Clue served as a decent transition from Elementary in that they were both about Sherlock Holmes pretending to be smart.

Now we have The Hound of the Baskervilles on a week where we read "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." I was worried there would be a clear connection, but I was pleasantly surprised. They are both really awesome. All I knew about this version was that Peter Cushing was playing the famed detective. We can get to him in a minute, because the real star is Hammer Film Productions.

"It's elementary, Watson. Hammer beats rock." "That's not even close to how you play that game."

They were a group that has been around for decades, but were the most popular when they started to produce gothic horror movies. All sorts of Frankenstein and Dracula films that were spooky and sometimes a bit ridiculous. This is taking the most gothic Sherlock Holmes story and giving it to a group that thrived with that genre. From the first scene, this movie sets a standard showing this will not be another routine mystery.

In a story that has been covered more than any other Sherlock Holmes but every frame of this movie felt new and vibrant while still feeling like a proper Sherlock Holmes story. Perhaps because it's Hammer behind the wheel, this is the only Hound story where I felt there might just be a curse.

What say you, Montano? Am I building this up too much or is it that awesome?

Leigh: I watch a lot of British television. One might have gathered that from reading our blog or talking to me. One of my favorite shows is QI. I have easily seen every episode of series A-G at least 10 times each. Easily. One episode Alan Davies mentions this song: 

I cannot think of Peter Cushing without hearing this song. Made watching Hound of the Baskervilles very entertaining. The cold meds might've helped with that too.

There are a lot of perfect pairings throughout history, a bunch that I can't think of right now except peanut butter and jelly, but I think Hound and Hammer are one of those perfect pairings. Were some of the day-to-night shots done badly, yes. Were some of the sets cheesy, yes. Were some of the actors bad, yes. But overall, this was a fantastic adaptation. It's been a while since I last read the story so I don't remember some of the finer details but I feel that this was a great interpretation. It definitely helps that we have at least two very skilled actors here with Cushing and Christopher Lee, who I might add looked a lot less creepy when he was younger. 

One thing that is very important in an adaptation whether it be something like Harry Potter or something like Sherlock Holmes, is the feel. One of the main reasons an adaptation fails is because it doesn't *feel* like what it's trying to adapt. That's why the first two Harry Potter movies weren't as great. They didn't get that feeling of magic and wonder and danger that the books give you. (I'm watching through Harry Potter, can you tell?) This adaptation gives off the great feeling of mystery that all Sherlock Holmes adaptations should. It just feels right, like eating that last Oreo in the pack.

Hammer shouldn't get all of the credit though. Like every other actor playing Holmes though, we have Cushing putting his own spin on the Holmes character and it is wonderful. I love how spastic he is at times. He gets Holmes' urgency and seriousness without being a strict, stern character like some Holmeses are. 

Before I start writing love letters to Peter Cushing, what do you think? Where does he rank on your list of Holmeses? And what about that Watson? 

Austin: With those first two Harry Potter films, they had the look down but never the feel. Fans of the book were thrilled to see Hogwarts and Quidditch and the like depicted faithfully, but I'm not sure there is anything in those first two movies to make you become a new fan of the series. You need to have the right storyteller to make those visual components work with the story. 

With Hound it all fits. The final showdown is exciting thanks to the art direction, editing, score and dedication to the story. All of its imperfections work in its favor to the point where I know that this film garnered new fans to Sherlock Holmes. I believe this is my Memaw's favorite story. When she was working her way through BBC's Sherlock last month, she kept wanting to get to their Hounds episode because this was her favorite when she was younger. 

If this doesn't pan out, I hear they need some leadership on the Death Star.

But yes, Peter Cushing is awesome. I have only seen the first episode of QI so my first exposure to him was from that obscure 70s film called Star Wars. I really learned more of who he was when he sorta-not-really played The Doctor when the creator of the Daleks decided to update his classic Doctor Who episodes into movies staring Peter Cushing as Dr. Who. Cushing was fine, the movies were lame. 

In this, Cushing is a wonderful weirdo. He's mastered so much of the look and feel of Holmes, while just adding a tad bit to his eccentricity showing that nobody else in the country talks/moves like him. In a film with a specific horror feel where everyone should put you on ease, that's impressive to still be the oddest man out in such a subtle way. I'd say he's up there as one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes performances. Great confidence and strange heroics where you want to see him investigate more crimes, just like how Doyle wrote him.

Watson was just fine. 

Are you game to review more Cushing films in the future? Are you worried they won't live up to these standards without a story like The Hound of Baskervilles?

Leigh: I would love to review another Cushing starred adaptation in the future just to see what changes when different production companies change but the actors stay the same.

Cushing has definitely taken one of the top three spots on my list of favorite Holmes portrayals. It goes back to that ever abstract "feel" of Sherlock Holmes and Cushing makes me believe that he is or at least that Sherlock Holmes could've existed. He has to be unrealistically realistic, if that makes any sense at all. He has to be super intelligent but at the same time grounded. Would it be weird if I wrote "Mr and Mrs Peter Cushing" all over my notebooks because I think I'm in love. Maybe it has something to do with cheek bones...

I think that Watson needs some praise here. This might be my second favorite Watson. He played the role of sidekick well. He was the muscle when he needed to be, he brought clues to Holmes' attention like ACD's Watson does, he is there when Holmes can't be. He even starts questioning that one guy whose name I can't remember right now before Holmes shows up at Baskerville Manor. He isn't the bumbling sidekick that we have seen and he actually serves a purpose unlike other Watson's we've encountered. A well portrayed Watson is a requirement for my liking of a Sherlock Holmes adaptation and this one passes.

No, it can't be......ringwaiths!

I would also like to give a shout out to Christopher Lee. I know he doesn't need any more praise but he did a damn fine job acting as the new inheritor of the Baskerville curse. He made me want to care about the story a bit more because he was commanding of the screen when he was on. You wanted this guy to survive and I fell for the false death of him at the midpoint of the movie and was sad when he "died." (It's been a REALLY long time since I've read this one.) Watching this adaptation with two of Hammer's go-to actors has made me want to go out and watch the other movies that these two were in together. This movie at least made me a fan of Hammer Productions since I was already a fan of Sherlock Holmes.

Next we find out what happens when engineers are under pressure (pun intended) even if the story is relayed to the audience. 
And here is Austin Lugar with the final word.

Austin: Hound!