Monday, April 29, 2013

In-Class Movie: The Hound of the Baskerville (1982)

“This is how it came about. I have said that the man was intelligent, and this very intelligence has caused his ruin, for it seems to have led to an insatiable curiosity about things which did not in the least concern him.”
--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Musgrave Ritual”

Austin: It's pretty much impossible to talk about this miniseries without talking about Doctor Who. So I'm not even going to try. Tom Baker was without question the most popular Doctor during the sci-fi series. Even today, Baker's popularity rivals David Tennant and Matt Smith depending on who you're talking to. He played the mysterious Time Lord for over seven years, ending his tenure in 1981. Baker loved playing The Doctor but it was his ego that ultimately had him part ways after a very successful run.

So this was his first big project after Doctor Who. Since there are only 15 British actors and filmmakers, more Who names pop up including Caroline John who played the Third Doctor's (best) companion Liz Shaw and in this she plays Laura Lyons, the LL woman. Also this was produced by Barry Letts who was the major producer for most of the Third Doctor's run and was actually the man who hired Tom Baker after Jon Pertwee left.

Friday, April 26, 2013

More Books to Read!

Hey Everybody,

First off, thank you so much for reading our fun blog. We're enjoying this adventure into the many worlds of Sherlock Holmes and hopefully you're having a good time too.

I'm making this quick little blog post to announce a new element we're adding to the blog. We had such a good time reading The House of Silk, that we wanted an opportunity to review more Sherlockian books not written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Now since we're already infamous for not perfectly sticking the landings to our schedule, we're not going to add these books to our sylabus.

Instead we shall be reading a Sherlock novel in our spare time and whenever we finish it, we'll email back and forth our thoughts and throw up a blog entry. Almost like bonus content. This won't get in the way of our typical weekly entries. If you follow us on Twitter, you'll know when we're close to completing one of the novels.

What shall our first book be? We've decided that it shall be one that we've always wanted to read....The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer. This is the story where Watson is concerned about Holmes' cocaine addiction so they travel abroad to get him some help where they stumble across a mystery and the famed psychologist Sigmund Freud. It's supposed to be wonderful and the filmed adapation is also well-receieved. Look forward to that....eventually.

Are there any other non-Doyle novels you want us to add to our To-Read list? Let us know in the comment sections.

Tomorrow afternoon you can expect our entry about the 1982 BBC adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Tom Baker where Austin will undoubtably ramble quite a bit about Doctor Who. Get excited.

--Austin & Leigh

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Report: "The Musgrave Ritual" (Doyle, 1893)

“ ‘It is rather an absurd business, this ritual of ours,’ he answered.”
--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Musgrave Ritual”

Leigh: Yet again we are presented with a story that doesn't involve Watson and showcases Holmes' early skills. Even though the “Musgrave Ritual” shares so many similarities with “Gloria Scott”, I liked this story a heck of a lot more.

The story starts off with Watson absolutely fed up with Holmes and his bohemian ways. I think both of us can sympathize with crappy roommates so this part amused me. Just when you think Watson is at the end of his rope, Holmes pulls out a box of old notes and souvenirs from past cases, before Watson was around. This addition of real life conflict like roommate issues added more personality to the story, even just the beginning. It made me more willing to continue it instead of just drudging through it. And the story itself was fun! It's a centuries old scavenger hunt that the family doesn't know is a scavenger hunt. 

I also think that this story is a perfect example of how different people can read the same thing and get different results or ideas. Not everyone reads things and gets the same message and not everyone finds the same meaning in things. One family thinks it's a useless ritual that gets you nowhere but Holmes finds the buried treasure even though they followed the same instructions. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Book Report: "The Gloria Scott" (Doyle, 1893)

“But why did you say just now that there were very particular reasons why I should study this case?”
“Because it was the first in which I was ever engaged.”
--Watson and Sherlock, “The Gloria Scott”

Leigh: So we have a different sort of story than we normally have. Instead of Watson relaying the story to the audience, Holmes is telling him this story. It's not a mystery that Holmes goes and solves before breakfast and then comes back to tell Watson all about the morning's adventure, it happened before they met. The audience gets to finally hear about Holmes' past! Not a whole lot of details but he went to school and was a bit of a loner and only had one good friend and that he was training to be World's Greatest Detective even while in school. 

"What is this beer pong you chaps are referring to?"

He goes on vay-cay to his friend's family estate and Holmes gets to try out his burgeoning detective skills on his friend's dad. This is when the story starts to pick up. His friend's dad starts to get a bit freaked out and not just because of Holmes but because a friend shows up and all hell breaks loose. Holmes leaves to go be an introvert and work on experiments for the rest of the summer vacation and then gets an urgent letter to come back to his friend's estate and when they get back his dad leaves the rest of the story in a series of diary entries/letters that are read to the audience for the rest of the story. The last half of the story is just reading a letter of what the father had done in a past life. I sum up the story this way to bring up the important question: Can ACD tell a story without a framing device like a letter or diary or long backstory told by a scruffy American?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

In-Class Movie: Murder By Decree (1979)

“Human nature is a strange mixture, Watson. You see that even a villain and murderer can inspire such affection that his brother turns to suicide when he learns that his neck is forfeited.”
Sherlock Holmes, “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk”

Austin: It wasn't until I started Murder by Decree did I realize that we have been in a bit of a rough patch, quality wise. A couple of oddball stories and a lousy TV movie has not made for the most satisfying of Holmes tales. Then this started and we have a nice sense of spooky style, shadows, the costume and I was drawn back in. 

We reviewed Christopher Plummer's first filmed attempt at playing Sherlock in the TV short film "Silver Blaze" and I really liked him even though it seemed like he had split performances. I really wanted to see him tackle this character again and I'm happy to report this is a much more consistent performance. In Murder by Decree he has darker material to cover, but he handles it with a cool reserve reminiscent of Basil Rathbone but with some true anger boiling underneath that we don't see until the final act. I wish he did another film because this was an interesting combination.

I am a Sherlock with such confidence that nobody questions why I'm wearing this silly hat.

Ultimately this is a movie that wants to be very dark and sophisticated and doesn't always nail that gravitas. Which is shocking considering this is the director who would go on to make Porky's and Baby Geniuses 2 and without being sarcastic, he did make the masterpiece A Christmas Story. Yet everything about this movie remained very curious as it tried to tie in Jack the Ripper with Sherlock Holmes and those damned Freemasons.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Report: "The Stock-Broker's Clerk" (Doyle, 1893)

“You understand the rest, then?”
“I think that it is fairly obvious. What do you say, Watson?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
--Watson and Sherlock, “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk”

Leigh: We're dealing with twins again! Or are we? Maybe? Possibly. No...?

We have a clerk who has recently gotten employment at this hardware firm with a ludicrous salary offer and then when he's told to just copy down ledgers he gets suspicious and calls in Holmes. This sounds a bit familiar to the Red Headed League if you ask me. We have a set up to get someone away from where they're supposed to be and then they're just left copying books. I'm sure they could've thought of another way to keep either of these men occupied but in a time before computers or copiers, handwriting and hand-copying things was a legitimate job, I am assuming. 

Today's task: figure out what this is.

And then the reveal is Holmes telling us some facts but then Watson is reading the rest of the reveal to us from a newspaper article. I know that this isn't a complicated mystery, especially since we've sen it before, but I was expecting something more.

Am I being too critical? Am I being too picky? Is it okay to recycle the same mysteries? Holmes does say that criminal acts are repeated so is it allowable to have a similar story happen again?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

In-Class Movie: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (2004)

“…but he looked upon aimless bodily exertion as a waste of energy, and he seldom bestirred himself save where there was some professional object to be served.”
--John Watson on Sherlock Holmes, “The Yellow Face”

Austin: Oh the agony. I look at the faces of children and I just......I'm sorry, pardon me. It's all just so sad. There are people out there who kill other people. I can't just take it.

Wow, I'm sorry. I just finished watching Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking and I'm still distracted by how melancholy Sherlock Holmes was in this story. There is no charisma, no intelligence, just lots and lots of brooding. He's more like a model than a great detective. He pouts, he looks forlorn, and even when he's in a (truly awful) costume the performance saps all the fun out of it. 

This not what I expected from Rupert Everett. I first saw him as the gay best friend in My Best Friend's Wedding and as the comical buffoon in Dunston Checks In. (I see everything, okay?) He's an actor who can easily be the life of the room, but in this he almost fades into the fog without any benefit. The presentation of the movie rests entirely on this performance. It's Sherlock, the mystery and the bad guy. That's what's holding up this movie and I think only one of those is any good.

This is a better performance.

I will go as far as to say this is the worst performance of Sherlock Holmes I have ever seen. The final confrontation is just embarrassing to watch because you have an acting contest where one is whooping the other without even trying. 

I could go on with more hyperbole about this too bland for comprehension performance but I really should check to see if we're on the same boat. Did you find something to latch onto with Everett's performance?

Leigh: It's almost as if Rupert Everett was told, "Pretend Sherlock Holmes is at a Vogue UK photo shoot  No smiling. No laughing. Brood, pout, realize the terror in the world." Maybe not Vogue UK because none of his clothes fit him at all. Unlike you, I don't see hardly anything. The only thing I know Rupert Everett from Inspector Gadget (I was age appropriate) and the trailer for My Best Friend's Wedding that was before some movie that I can't remember now that my playmates and I used to watch a lot. We were young and unimaginative and watched the same movies a lot. Don't judge. 

I'm sorry but this's just so.....excuse me for a moment.

While I didn't hate his performance as much as you did, I wouldn't say it's the best either. I did really enjoy this movie though, mainly because I got to play our favorite game, 15 British Actors. You might play it differently but when I spot an actor I recognize, I then try to name everything I know them from. I did this with multiple actors in this movie and it was the main reason I continued watching it. (Can you name the three actors who were also in Harry Potter movies?) 

I take it back, the main reason why I continued watching was to see how Michael Fassbender played into the plot. I figured since he has since become incredibly popular, he would play some important role in the plot. I was right. 

The plot itself was...interesting. It's definitely not like a traditional Holmes story but we've okayed others that were more modern takes. But this one seemed different. I think it's because the audience isn't allowed to try to solve the mystery. Every time there is a chance, Holmes or another character gets there first and tells the audience what is happening, aside from one key twist.

So the movie wasn't horrible. I'd say that Michael Fassbender made up for some of the flaws but what do you think? What do you think about that plot?

Austin: It was unfortunate for this movie that I watched the pilot episode to Hannibal the night before. The show was truly excellent because it hit all the right creepy notes within its respected subgenre. I didn't expect to see similar moments with Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock removing the titular silk stocking out of the girl's mouth was very reminiscent of The Silence of the Lambs. This was a plot that seemed to be responding to the increase in popularity of CSI shows and that didn't exactly gel with the Sherlock character.

You have something on your cheek. Stop screaming, I'm being helpful!

Ultimately Michael Fassbender is just a serial killer instead of a convoluted Sherlockian villain with a quirky plan. My words seem sarcastic for the latter, but those are way more fun to watch. The twist with (SPOILER) Fassbender being identical twins made my eyes roll, not just because it's overdone but because it's an easy way to write a mystery plot.

On the other hand, double the Fassbender made the last third entertaining. We did have to deal with Sherlock's godawful disguise--seriously it was stupid bad. Yet once we got beyond that sequence we get to have Fassbender acting way better than anybody else on screen. Yes, it was obvious that he was ultimately going to be the bad guy just like how I solved After the Thin Man when I noticed a young actor by the name of Jimmy Stewart. (Oh I guess spoiler for that one too....Whoops).

But if this was a movie that was so medically driven, why wasn't Watson better used? Also if this was a bigger success and they made more of these TV movies would you have continued watching?

Leigh: The twin thing is over done. I didn't like it with The Prestige and I wasn't a fan with Fassbender being the twin here. Like you said, it is a cop out. If it had been done interestingly, have one twin be the crazy one and the other have absolutely no idea at all that his brother is insane, then that would've added a more interesting spin to it. 

Watson is used at the beginning of the story to introduce the mystery to Holmes but then he's only ever used to see if someone is alright or dead. He wasn't even a good companion to Holmes. There's only one moment in the whole movie where Holmes and Watson actually seemed like friends and companions and it wasn't just Holmes bossing Watson around and Watson rolling his eyes at the whole ordeal. Watson was poorly written and underused which is sad because he's a good actor. 

Now your last question, would I have continued watching if they had made more? Maybe, if they had found their stride and Rupert Everett stopped posing and brooding all over the place. The one thing that this movie was lacking was the fun. At the end of a mystery, no matter how gruesome it is, Holmes has fun. It's his flaw, he enjoys the problems that most cringe at and are disgusted with. He doesn't have any fun in this movie and that's a problem. So if they had fixed that then maybe I would've continued watching. (Side note: They did make a Hounds movie with the same Watson and the actor who played the Duke from Moulin Rouge. I'm interested only because I love Moulin Rouge.) 

The song's afoot...

Next we deal with another set of twins and a sorta familiar plot.

And now Austin with the final word!:

Austin: Mopey!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Report: "The Yellow Face" (Doyle, 1893)

“Watson,” said he, “if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper ‘Norbury’ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Yellow Face”

Leigh: -pause-

-long pause-

-deep breath-


Why can no one talk to each other in Victorian England? Did they all have a curse put on them that prevented them from speaking their true feelings or were they SO "proper" that they couldn't even MENTION A CHILD THAT THEY HAD to their husband? This whole mystery would've been cleared up by a short discussion stating, "Hey, I know you want to marry me but so you know I have a child by my previous husband who was black." This is something that is kinda important especially if 1, you think this marriage will last and 2, you ever want to see your child again.

A friend of mine said once that not telling someone something because you think they'll be upset or it will hurt their feelings is basically saying that you can't tell someone something because you don't think they're mature enough to handle it. That's what this situation is. Effie has a child from her previous marriage and doesn't want to tell her husband because she's afraid he won't be able to handle the information. Even he's pissed that she didn't tell him that important detail in her life because he now thinks that his wife thinks he's a terrible person. 

Speaking of terrible people, let's talk about Effie. Has a child with her first husband. Hubby #1 dies. Child is sick. You know what's a great idea? ABANDONING YOUR CHILD IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY. That's worse than just leaving them at the mall or forgetting to pick them up from school. She knowingly and willingly left her child in a different country instead of staying with her sick child until she was better. And then, she basically locks the poor girl in a house, forbidding her to ever leave because she's half black. Effie sounds like one of the worst people in the world. 

I haven't seen this movie but I saw the trailer a billion times at my arthouse theatre to the point where I hate this movie and assume it's an Effie like situation. Watch the trailer; I'm not going to.

Also Sherlock Holmes doesn't do anything. 

So Austin, what's the point of this story besides finding out that some people are truly awful? And am I overreacting? (This is a very real possibility since I am currently hopped up on Easter candy. Get it? HOPPED up? BWAHAHAHA)

Austin: Oh this whole story is ridiculous. Thank goodness we had a few pages of Sherlock analyzing a pipe for a few pages that was pretty entertaining. I like to imagine that in this world Watson was really pressured for a new story in the Strand and Mary needed the money for something important so he quickly just threw together this tale where nothing really happened.

I don't hate Effie as much as you, but I do hate her dramatic way to doing things.

"I need $100."
"What? Okay, why?"
"You said you are my banker; bankers don't ask questions."
"Yeah, but people don't really marry their bankers..."
"I need the money."
"Seriously, that's not a big deal. I just would like to know why. This is 1888. That's like a lot of money."
"I do trust you. Honey, where does that private detective reside? The genius who can uncover any secret?"
"221B Baker Street. Why?"
"No reason."

That dialog essentially played out for majority of the story. It's one thing to keep a secret and it's another to keep bringing up the fact that you're keeping a secret. So many lies to the point where she even lies that her locket is broken.

Now we get to the point at the end where Sherlock is very moody that he didn't get to solve the case. His dramatic final line is what we'll use as our opening quote up top. My question to you is: is it fair that he didn't solve the case? If I asked Sherlock to guess what number I'm thinking of and he couldn't tell from my facial ticks that I was thinking 204,122,943.1 that doesn't make him less of a genius does it?

Leigh: I don't think Sherlock Holmes is at fault here. First, we know he's a super genius so it doesn't really NEED to be proved every story because this is something that is fact. The pipe examination at the beginning was a nice touch to show that Holmes can't really turn it off and does it mainly because he's bored. Second, this was not mystery, it was an omission of details. It was an important conversation that needed to be had between husband and wife, probably before they got married, that just didn't happen. I'm reminded of Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caufield hires the prostitute and doesn't do anything except talk. Just because nothing happened doesn't mean their roles suddenly change, and the same thing happens with Sherlock Holmes. Just because he was hired to be a super genius and doesn't have anything to detect doesn't make him any less of a genius.

"I want to buy you clothes, care for you and not sleep with you." "Why?"

But here we are blaming characters that don't exist when we could be discussing the author here. ACD really dropped the ball on this one. I think he was trying to show an example when Sherlock Holmes wasn't needed or was off-base and just got it wrong. Instead though, we just get a frustrating story where Holmes and Watson are background characters watching a daytime soap. All it needed was an evil twin or someone coming back from the dead to finish off the melodramatic tale. 

So is this just another episode of As the World Turns or am I missing some important literary nuances?

Austin: This would be my favorite story, my all time favorite Sherlock story, if this was a comedy. If there was this ongoing vibe between Sherlock and Watson where they are incredibly uncomfortable and they don't want to be there yet can't story ever. Especially after the melodrama keeps getting crazier, have Watson simply begging for the carriage to arrive. Then end with a silent ride back into London where Sherlock says "Never publish this, Watson."

Then again, Watson has had a lot of practice of being in awkward situations.

The only nuances I feel I'm missing is that I still like Doyle's writing. It was quick and enjoyable prose-wise. The pipe stuff was really's just a story with a really lame plot and a very strange revelation. Thankfully with a title like "The Yellow Face" this as racist as it could have been, but instead it was just race-awkward. Oh boy.

Anywho, this week we are watching yet another random Sherlock Holmes movie. I remember this one aired on PBS years ago and I'm sorry I missed it because it starred Rupert Everett (Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Holmes. Once again you can watch it on YouTube right HERE.

Now here is Leigh Montano with the final word...