Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" (Doyle, 1892)

“I am glad to have a friend with whom I can discuss my results. The matter is a perfectly trivial one” – he jerked his thumb in the direction of the old hat – “but there are points in connection with it which are not entirely devoid of interest and even of instruction.”
Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”

Leigh: Carbuncle. Say it with me. Carbuncle. Caaarrrbuncle. This is a fun word.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's discuss the matter at hand.

I don't think this was a mystery. Sure, it was kinda a mystery and there are aspects of it that are definitely mystery-like but I don't think that this was a mystery worth our time let alone Sherlock Holmes'. Nothing was too spectacular except the hat that started it all off. I mean, the hat was extraordinary, wasn't it? Why else would we spend 1/3 of the story talking about this hat? I feel that the hat did serve some purpose, it showed the readers that Watson is learning something and while he might not be AS smart as Sherlock Holmes, he can definitely hold his own and that he is learning and growing as a character (character development? GASP!). But at the end of the hat discussion, I just felt like it was another scene for Holmes to show off his genius. Boy keeps talking to me about this "modesty" thing and how I need to be more modest (I don't know what he's talking about. I'm the most modest person in the world). I think that Holmes needs to learn some of this "modesty" that I keep hearing about. Am I reading too much into this hat scene though? If I am it's only because there isn't much else to talk about I think.

I was thinking of this story the other day and remembering it and being really excited to read it again. I had remembered the mystery to be more complex and the story to be more interesting. This time, all I got out of it really was that geese are funny and I don't think I'd ever be able to kill a goose. Also, why don't we eat geese anymore? Turkey and chicken and even duck are all menu items but geese is rarely seen. How come?

The audience is shown again that Holmes believes himself to be above the law because he let someone who was obviously in the wrong, go free. I think that this was a bad idea. Sure, the guy was scared about going to jail (or if you listened to the same version I did, "gail" because Americans are ignorant sometimes and don't know how to pronounce words that are spelled the British way) but it could've been a show. It could've been an act. It could've been a temporary feeling. Next time this guy is down on his luck or is presented with another opportunity to commit some fantastical crime involving fowl, he will probably take the chance and go for it. The situation just reminds me of Bubbles from the Wire (I've only seen through episode 4 of season 2, don't spoil anything for me.) He wants to well and be a better person but as soon as he is presented the opportunity, he folds and goes for it. Maybe the thief is the same way. Maybe Sherlock Holmes is wrong. Maybe I'm just anxious about going to the dentist tomorrow and I'm taking my anxiety out on a fictional character and a fictional situation. Who knows.

So what do you think? Am I just being grouchy? Was this actually a mystery? Was Sherlock Holmes wrong in letting that guy go?

Austin: Carbuncle, carbuncle, carbuncle! "What is this bread, my nephew? "Carb, uncle."

I enjoyed the hat sequence because it was worthless. I don't even agree with all of his findings. The man must be intelligence because the hat size is large? I feel modern science can debunk that but I have no intention of looking that up. Fine, I shall look it up. Okay, it seems to be rather true but there are too many qualifiers that it shouldn't be a major consideration.

Basically, this was another example of Watson walking in on Sherlock Holmes. It's just after the holiday season and this is how Sherlock lives his life when he doesn't have an audience. He solves little mysteries with the same amount of scrutiny as a murder. This would be a man who would marvel when the remote is lost in the apartment because he can analyze dust levels. This whole thing would have been a few milliseconds in his life, but he has to spend time explaining it.

Clearly the breakdown analysis is one of the major draws to this series. It's like people getting a Malcolm Gladwell bit of insight on a regular basis. It's trivia in crime solving that they can try to replicate at a dinner party until someone annoyingly pipes up "Oh I love reading The Strand!" 

But does it work as actual storytelling. I feel that it could be utilized better. They could have continued this into a thread of Watson just hanging out with Sherlock in his house solving little non-mysteries. Play up the anxiety of him or even look at Sherlock in the holidays. Instead, it jumped into another little mystery involving geese. This doesn't gel together into a full story with any sort of theme. It's just idea, idea, idea, SOLD.

The moral dilemma at the end feels just as isolating. What was this story trying to achieve? Yes, I would say it's mystery because you have a detective detecting. Was it trying to do anything else?

Also I'm sure you'll be fine at the dentist!

"I suppose that I am commuting a felony, but it is just possible that I am saving a soul."

Leigh: As someone who loves terrible jokes, I approve.

I totally didn't believe that about brain/head/smartness correlation. I thought it was some Victorian Era science that had since been disproved. Guess I was wrong! *The more you know!*

One of my all time favorite movies is WALL-E. I love this movie so much. I have tried to put into words how much I love this movie and I can't. I have also tried to explain why I love it so much, but all the comes out is a bunch of squeeing and raglebragle (a new word I just made up to describe the sounds I make.) If PIXAR decided to make a full length movie of WALL-E just rollin' around and picking things up and looking at them, I WOULD WATCH IT A MILLION TIMES, NO HYPERBOLE. I feel the same way about Holmes solving these mini-mystery deals. I could read hundreds of them and never get bored and I would love every minute of it, IF that was the purpose of the story. I feel that this story had bigger intentions than to just be a "Day in the Life of..." story. I like that we stumble upon Holmes doing what he does when he doesn't have anything pressing to do. I would also have liked for this to be just a bunch of little mysteries that didn't have any sort of connection that Watson and Holmes figured out while hanging out in the study one afternoon. This story though seemed to be that and a regular mystery and a moral dilemma all at the same time and I think it failed. Miserably. 

"It is a question of cubic capacity"

I would love to read a Day in the Life of story about Holmes waking up, reading the paper, doing some drugs, reading the mail, trying to figure out who at the last piece of cake and who didn't refill the ice cube tray. I would read that story. This one I just feel like something is missing. Some sort of bigger meaning. If the guy Holmes let go free at the end turned out to be a future arch nemesis, that would be interesting! But as it stands now, I feel like we have a book version of an Elementary episode. THERE I SAID IT!

What say you, Lugar?

Austin: I have often said that Pixar needs to simmer down with these adorable Toy Story shorts and make five minute WALL-E stories that have similar plots to Curious George books. "WALL-E Goes to the Jungle", "WALL-E goes to Grand Canyon", "WALL-E Takes a Bath". Just let him be awesome and explore stuff.

I don't know if this failed as miserably at an Elementary level, but this wasn't one of the best. This was Doyle filler. Which is strange because maybe he just needed a bit of a recharge. Next week is possibly my favorite Sherlock Holmes story so it's not like he's out of ideas this early on. I think he's experimenting with what can be done with this story. I think you can use the whole "early days of mysteries" as a great excuse. Non-genre fiction enjoys to meander and describe a house for 10 pages possibly being a metaphor or just showcasing its captivating prose. Either way, nothing happened.

What I'm saying is, there isn't a typical mystery structure in place. I bet Doyle would say he is still writing "fiction" not "mysteries" because it doesn't have that genre. I'm not saying that one is better than the other, but nowadays if Harry Bosch is pondering about a hat for a third of the book you know for a fact it will be a major part in its resolution. This story isn't thematically satisfying but I'm not going to get angry about that. I'll save that for further down the line.

Ultimately, my major articulate criticism is the same rationale to politely ignoring the racist statements said during family holidays "It's okay; they're old." If you think that is an improper way to judge older material, that's what the comment section is for! I assume.

Anwho, the poll results are in and on Thursday Leigh and I will be discussing the 1988 comedy Without a Clue starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. It's a very funny twist on the Sherlock/Watson relationship. So rent that sucker and play along. 

And here's Leigh Montano with the final word.

Leigh: Carbuncle!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A General Update and Reader's Choice

As you might remember, Austin and I are taking a break while we regroup, reformat and relax after the latest debacle with Elementary. For those wondering, yes we are still going to continue the blog, it's just going to be a bit different than before. Instead of taking time out of our busy lives and yours by rehashing the same complaints over and over again, we are going to change things up. We are still going to read and discuss a classic Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle story every week. Since there are a lot of other of cinematic Sherlock Holmes adaptations out there, we decided to try and tackle some of those instead of complaining about Elementary.

Your reward, loyal reader, is to help us decide which movie to discuss first!

We have a classic Holmes adaptation starring Basil Rathbone who we have already seen once in Dressed to Kill. This time Mr. Holmes goes to Washington! The plot might sound familiar to those who are diehard Holmesians.

Next choice is a bit of a different take. Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine star in Without a Clue. Two beloved actors in a one off that turns the idea of Holmes on its head.

And your final choice is a blockbuster hit starring that dreamboat Robert Downey, Jr. (I can use dreamboat, right? This is still relevant lingo, right? I haven't gotten all of my slang from the Brady Bunch, I don't know what you're talking about.)

Those are your choices! If you have another idea of what we should review or something we should look at in the future, please leave us a comment! We've opened up a whole new world of possibilities and nothing is too weird or strange for us! (On our list includes animated television shows, movies, non-canonical stories, everything!)

So take your pick and let us know what you think!

For the Americans out there, enjoy your holiday! And to those who aren't American, I hope you have a good week, too! We'll be back next week with The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle to get us in the Christmas Spirit and then we'll have reader's choice!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

In-Class Movie: "One Way to Get Off" (S01E07)

It was difficult to refuse any of Sherlock Holmes’ requests, for they were always so exceedingly definite, and put forward with such a quiet air of mastery.'"
--John Watson, “The Man with the Twisted Lip”

Austin: Screw it; we're talking about it. We made a conscious effort to not talk about BBC's Sherlock when we started about this blog because we want to review Elementary on its own, not comparison.

Now it's time to compare them.

Really I don't need to pick Sherlock; I could pick Breaking Bad or Fringe or any show that focuses on a crime while really focusing on the characters. I'm picking Sherlock simply because we run a blog about Sherlock Holmes.

Tonight's Elementary was dull. Very dull. From Act I we knew Sherlock was right, we never suspected Gregson being corrupt and the case was standard fare for every other show on CBS.

This week I rewatched Sherlock Season One because I'm in Texas taking care of my grandparents and my Memaw has been wanting to see it. So we watch it every morning (at 7AM...). Since she can't see too well, the stories are a bit hard to follow as they jump quickly between locations, rely on faces and artistically blend scenes. Yet she loves it. Why?

Because there are characters at the heart of every scene. Watson is a full character who is intrigued by the exciting lifestyle but still can be practical. Lestrade doubts Sherlock but what he's saying would be the right answer in every other show. Every scene moves the story forward (Except in “The Blind Banker”) but they are all unique because characters respond organically off each other. The scenes are sparkling with dialog full of wit and warmth, not dry interactions of meaningless information. They are able to tell a story visually, not just put the camera is the same damn spot each time. I actually enjoy rewatching an episode instead of hating watching the first pass!

What is Elementary? Characters only serve a dull function and will only move forward if the show demands it, not if the characters have earned anything. This very, very much includes the new characters of the week. I'm catching up with Fringe Season Four and I'm so impressed by how emotional and nuanced can be about stories that started 40 minutes ago.

I'm about to pull the plug on this show. The "steps forward" with the Irene plotline was insulting and nothing mattered for the rest of the hour.

Bring me back Leigh or we need to bury this show and reformat the blog.

Leigh: After I read your email, I couldn’t help but remember a demonstration from one of my favorite high school teachers. He taught a variety of classes but this demonstration was in Economics. You made it sound like this episode of Elementary was among the worst yet (I’ll get to my opinion in a minute) so after the fantastic episode of a few weeks ago and the steady decrease in quality, I was reminded of the Dead Cat Bounce.  People who follow stocks or the stock market might know this term but for those who don’t, it is when a stock that is falling fast in price suddenly goes up before it crashes completely because the saying goes, “Even dead cats bounce.” To make sure that our class understood this theory, our professor took a baby doll that had been part of a student’s presentation (for what, I couldn’t tell you) and held it above his head and dropped it. It bounced and the image worked because to this day I remember this demonstration.

I think that is what we have experienced with Elementary to this point. It was going nowhere fast, had a great week then continued to spiral out of control.  The Dead Cat Bounce.

We’ve both been trying hard not to mention BBC’s Sherlock and it’s really hard not to especially since 1, this is a Sherlock Holmes oriented blog and 2, it is such a FANTASTIC adaptation. My boyfriend, who is lovingly referred to as Boy, mentioned wanting to watch season two since he still hasn’t seen it and it is now available on Netflix. Without hesitation I volunteered to watch it with him. I’ve probably seen these episodes four or five times each yet I STILL want to watch them again.  To prevent myself from going on and on about Sherlock, I’ll just say I agree with you.

The characters were a mess in this episode. Gregson didn’t even seem like the same character. He went from a cool, relaxed cop to one that doesn’t put up with crap from anyone and doesn’t trust anyone either. We went from having Lenny Briscoe to having Mike Logan. Sometimes having Detective Logan is a good thing, especially when you want to intimidate perps but when you’re trying to figure out a case, you want Lenny Briscoe (RIP Jerry Orbach).

Then we have Watson who I’m not sure went through all of the proper training to be a sober companion. Or at least she doesn’t listen to her own rules. The first episode Sherlock can’t be out of her sight and now she’s gone all day without even checking in with him. (Although I did laugh when Sherlock said that he had left urine in her room. That was amusing.) But that’s okay because Sherlock also didn’t follow the rules that the show has set up. First he’s all about solving cases and then he’s about finding facts. These are two different things especially when you get into moral grey areas like possibly corrupt police officers.


My biggest frustration (at the moment) is that there are so many other shows that are great examples of character development and mystery and plot and do everything we want in same amount of time. Sure, Sherlock is exceptional but even if we ignore it and just focus on other mystery/crime/dramas, there are others out there that know how to balance plot and character well. Elementary is somehow failing.

I don’t know what to tell ya, Austin. I tried. I was ready to come in and play good cop to your bad cop but half-hearted attempts at mysteries, characters that aren’t consistent with what has been presented to the audience and plot that is just boring, I don’t know how much more I can take.

Austin: This morning my Memaw watched Sherlock's "A Scandal in Belgravia." This is my favorite episode of that show as well as my favorite Steven Moffat script. I found so many more nuances about the state of caring and the vulnerabilities created from that. Such a rich episode that was a great showcase for Sherlock, Irene, Mycroft, Molly and in a smaller extent Watson.

There is love and care with those episodes. They want to make an entertaining and special 90 minutes of television. That is what's present in all of the shows I watch now. Doctor Who, Homeland, Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Treme, Game of Thrones, Fringe, Community, Justified, Happy Endings, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Archer, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, Childrens Hospital, NTSF:SD:SUV::, The Hour, Peep Show, Luther, Being Human, The Mindy Project, Don't Trust the B----- in Apartment 23, Last Resort, The Thick of It, Cougar Town, White Collar, Misfits, Spartacus, and yes, Sherlock.

I'm tired of watching a show that doesn't care about its viewers. You had Watson spend an entire episode learning nothing only to have Sherlock give the information for no reason, information that is clearly going to be reversed? Frak you, Elementary. This is a new age of television. Showrunners are subverting expectations with new structures and anticipating audiences reaction

Television is in a golden age right now as nuanced storytelling is thriving. There is still plenty of crap on the air and there is plenty of highly rated stuff that will be forgotten in a few years. Elementary will be a trivia question; people will be watching Sherlock for ages. The reasons why are incomparable. That said, I don't want to stop the blog. I spent yesterday searching the internet and on a full pass I found over 100 movies about the world's smartest detective. I say we should watch some of them! Maybe take a week off for Thanksgiving as we figure out what we want to cover first. Of course, The Great Mouse Detective must be high priority. What say you, Leigh? Shall we bury the dead cat?

Leigh: When I decided to make my trek into TV academia, I knew I was never going to be able to watch every episode of everything ever. It’s not possible. You did a thing where people suggested TV shows and you’d watch the first three episodes. I took this three-episode idea and now when starting a new show, if I finish the third episode and I’m not interested in it, I stop. I save time and I’m able to go start something new that I might like or I think might be useful later. We are well past the three-episode mark on Elementary and I have no interest in watching more. I will for the sake of other projects I have going on but I won’t enjoy it, dammit.

In our age of technology where feedback on tonight’s episode of what ever is instantaneous because of the Tweeter and the Bookface, writers and producers have no excuse to not know what audiences want. Sure, some shows are filmed in advance and have very few episodes so it’s harder to do that like with Sherlock and Downton Abbey, but Elementary doesn’t have that excuse. But I don’t think that the audience for Elementary cares. I think they’re happy with what they have. They’re fine with mystery of the week shows that give little to no plot development and wrap everything up in 40 minutes. They’re the same fans as NCIS and CSI and all their variations. The writers have found an audience. We aren’t that audience.

I absolutely love this blog. I love writing for it, I love finding dumb pictures, I love yelling at my TV about how bad something is, I love re-reading the Sherlock Holmes stories. I definitely don’t want to end it. We have thousands of adaptations out there from movies to TV shows to non-canonical books to even a ballet, if we can find it. As Calvin said to Hobbes, “It’s a magical world…Let’s go exploring!”

Let’s bury this dead cat.

Austin: Farewell!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: "The Man with the Twisted Lip" (Doyle, 1891)

"'Pon my word, it is a great thing for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are not over-pleasant."  --Sherlock Holmes, "The Man with the Twisted Lip"

Leigh: As a media studies person who likes to focus on television, I decided a while ago to try and watch some of the TV shows that were considered "the best" and I missed either because 1. I didn't care at the time, 2. I was too young/wasn't born 3. I was lazy (See Breaking Bad. I'm just waiting until it's all on Netflix.) Included in this list was Seinfeld. When it was on, I didn't get most of the jokes when I did watch it and was much more content watching Friends because Friends is awesome. Seinfeld is now a 20+ year old show. It shows its age sometimes. I feel that a lot of the episodes wouldn't be relevant today because of cell phones. A lot of the situations that became huge problems wouldn't even be a 30 second aside today because of how technology has evolved and how prominent it has become. The episode that comes to mind right now is the Parking Garage episode. Take a picture of where you parked your car and call others when you have inevitably separated when you do find it. Much like Seinfeld's plots being destroyed by simply reaching for our phones, I think that the plot of "The Man with the Twisted Lip" would've been wrapped up a lot easier if the man had just told his wife what he did for a living.

"If only we had an iPhone 5..."

I think this is a great example of how different the two cultures, Victorian era England versus us and now, really are. Now, we rarely go on dates without googling the other person to see what their likes and dislikes are, where they went to school, if they're married, etc. It really baffles me that a woman could've married a wealthy man without know what he did. Sure, he had "business." I have business with my bathroom a few times a day too, but that doesn't provide really any detail (and no, I won't tell you what I do in the bathroom. It's a secret that is strictly enforced by Girl Code. I would be disbarred if I told you that we really practice gymnastics when we go to the bathroom. OOPS! I've said too much!) But then, after the beggar/rich guy is arrested, he still refuses to tell the police what was actually going on. This seems to me like incredibly poor planning. He must've known that he wouldn't have been released from prison unless he told everyone what he was really up to. He could've been in Victorian era jail for a really long time and his wife might not have ever found out what happened to him because you know, sanitary conditions were terrible and death was common at the time. This whole situation could've gone from "normal day of being a beggar" to "years in jail because I won't reveal who I really am and will probably die from some terrible disease or something." 

So...Why? This was listed as one of ACD's favorite stories and on the surface it is definitely interesting and confusing and challenging but when you think about the details of the situation, it starts to unravel and become a big ol' "whuut?"

Why was the beggar a beggar? Why didn't he tell his wife when they got married? And then why didn't he tell the police what was up so he could go home and explain to his wife?

Austin: You tease with crazy Seinfeld statements and then expect me to focus on the twisted lip. Not going to happen! You really think this quartet would have the foresight of taking a picture of their parking spot if they had iPhones. They would be checking their Facebook and tweets when they parked and they would have less awareness of where the car was. I agree most of the episodes when they have to get information to each other could have been solved with cell phones, but not the legendary status of the Parking Garage episode.

Anywho, this story is very British. Despite my love of their TV shows, there is a certain aspect of British culture that drives me nuts. It's the uber-properness with class and appearance. People wish they could live in a Jane Austen novel or in Downton Abbey but I would go nuts because I'd be screaming "There is more to life besides bloody dinners!!!"
"What do you mean life is about more than dinner parties?"

What I like most is when British art plays against that custom. Their comedies are best at that because you take emotionally repressed people and find their awkward breaking point. To me, this story is Arthur Conan Doyle commenting on that properness into slight absurdity.

You're right. This could all be solved quickly. Very quickly. But it isn't because they are so British. This is best reflected in the great opening sequence when Watson finds Sherlock in an opium den and is truly flummoxed by it for the rest of the story. Sherlock is removed from the customs while Watson is very much a man of his time, if not a little bit older.

Is this a valid excuse for this odd story? Is this a look at its time or is it simply a dated story?

Leigh: But on the other hand, if they were too busy tweeting when they parked the car, surely someone would’ve said, “Totes just parked the car. Purple 12, who comes up with these things? Why not ‘your mother’s a whore?’” Done.

As Americans, we expect the British to be stuffy and socially awkward and blush at the sound of someone kissing their wife. But when the British propriety gets shoved aside and the audience sees something unexpected like a man in a dress or hears a character say something improper like “stick that in your pipe and smoke it,” we get to see humor work on higher level than Family Guy and dick and fart jokes, not that dick and fart jokes aren’t hilarious. Sherlock Holmes has been an iconic British character almost since his creation and that is because of situations like the opium den or the fact that they have proper ladies almost faint at the thought of a murder. These are some of the greatest examples of Victorian era propriety. Don’t mention a murder in front of a lady or she might just pass out in the middle of the room. Don’t mention anything remotely sexual like kissing and heaven forbid a wife ask her husband what he does for a living...

I think in this situation, the story is outdated. It is so outdated that it is ridiculous and now humorous, so I think it works. We have a situation that would never happen now unless it were a ridiculous sitcom and the husband-to-be needed a green card or the really dumb friend in the group agreed to a wedding proposal after the first blind date or something. This isn’t a situation that the average person would find themself in because people are curious and nosy. Eventually that dumb friend is going to go through her fianc├ęs wallet and try to find a business card or something and then she’ll find out that he was fired as a investor then see him on the street begging for change. I think I just wrote a plot to Happy Endings, no one steal this idea.

Even though it is outdated, can we still find this funny or would it just be improper to laugh at another’s misfortune?

Austin: You think George Constanza would let anybody tweet their parking location? I am revoking your academic scholar license for iconic 90s sitcoms.

Of course we can find this funny! In fact, during this story I imagined more of a Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes instead of a Basil Rathbone. He's a dirtier scoundrel this time a bit unaware he's outside of the norm. His eccentricities are in display with this one.

Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Scoundrel
 With this tone, I do wish the story had more to it. It has a premise but not enough logical twists to make this one of the best, at least to people besides the author. I'll remember this for the atmosphere but not too much beyond that. Alas!

And now Leigh Montano with the last word.

Leigh: Harrumph.