Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In-Class Movie: The Resident Patient (1985)

“Absolutely,” said I. “And now that you have explained it, I confess that I am as amazed as before.”
“It was very superficial, my dear Watson, I assure you.”
--Watson and Holmes, “The Resident Patient”

Austin: Let's talk a little behind the scenes for a moment. Both of us are happy users of Twitter. I like to think that I tweet a large amount, but that is nothing to what you tweet, Leigh. (We don't need to get into who has more followers.) I can't remember when--I think it was before our blog's creation--that you were live-tweeting a Grenada presentation of Sherlock Holmes. Previously I had heard good things but your many many tweets suggested it was an embarrassing affair wrought with over-the-top performances and pacing issues.

"And if I move my finger to the other side of my mouth, my hair parts the other way. Pay attention, Watson!"

So now we're finally watching our first Jeremy Brett episode. Brett famously played the Great Detective on ITV in the 80s and 90s to great acclaim. The episode we're watching today is from their first season of their show The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. (They later changed the name of the show to match different collections of Arthur Conan Doyle. So then why is this Memoirs episode in their Adventure set? Dunno. They probably thought the idea of changing the name of the show later on in the run.)

What did I think of this adaptation of "The Resident Patient"? I really liked it. It was filmed in a dynamic way that was missed from some of the Basil Rathbone adaptations. It had a creepy opening and a patience to the rest of the story that allowed for characters to take their time in unveiling the mystery (in the pure Doyle flashback fashion) and solving the mystery. I'm perhaps a bit torn on Brett's performance at the moment, but I'm curious to see more. It's a very human take, which is always a nice change of pace.

Now I must know. Do you hate this episode as much as whatever you ripped apart on Twitter? And am I questioning your critical integrity by asking if any wine was consumed before or during that first Grenada episode?

Leigh: I was sober! (I think. I'm pretty sure...Probably) I started watching Scandal in Bohemia, which is the first episode in that series, and so I guess it can be sorta excused for how bad it was. My biggest complaint is that the actress playing Irene Adler went to the William Shatner School of Acting and couldn't say a single sentence without it being...the...MOST...import-tant sentence. Ever. I know a lot of people are fans of this series and after two episodes, I don't really know why (which will probably get a bunch of fangirls yelling at me). Jeremy Brett seems to overact a bit, in my opinion. Sherlock Holmes to me should be a bit more aloof and less "THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT CASE OF MY LIFE." And once I realized it, I couldn't stop putting Mel Brooks in Watson's place. The actor who plays Watson looks an AWFUL lot like Mel Brooks circa Blazing Saddles. It made it hard for me to pay attention to the mystery.

"It's elementary, my dear President!"

Now, was The Resident Patient better than Scandal? Yes. Someone gave Brett the direction to not overact as much and his aggression was more appropriate for Holmes. The supporting characters were generally better too, although they all seem to have gone to the Guiding Light School of Dramatic Arts. Everything seemed a bit soap opera-y to me, which also cheapened the story. It's a pretty serious story full of deceit and bank robbery and murder. And yet the only parts that didn't feel cheap were the beginning with the creepy dream and towards the end with the murder. 

Am I being to critical? Do I expect too much? Will Blessington/Sutton's evil twin return to avenge him? Was he the one who sank the boat?

Austin: I will admit that tonally it is a bit strange. The dream sequence stands out to establish a darker feel than most Sherlock adaptations. Not gothic horror, but just a morbid feel. But then there are a few amusing scenes of comedy with the broadest being Mrs. Hudson's reaction to an extremely messy room. Then there is a very dry comedy scene at the end where Watson is slowly conflicted about what to call the mystery--with him trying to mentally figure out how deep Sherlock is manipulating him while finally succumbing to Sherlock's title of "The Resident Patient."

Perhaps one of the reasons you like Jeremy Brett more was because Sherlock is not in this story as much. I don't know if this is a regular thing with this series, but the flashbacks do take up a large amount of time. I feel that Trevelyn had more screen time than Holmes, which is a strange concept. In this, Sherlock does have a tough exterior. He's very grumpy and agitated--No, I'm sorry he' s just mentally playing an entire opera--which I think adds a more human element to him. In mysteries you have the light detectives and then the hardboiled ones who get so caught up in the case they have to drink all the time to calm their intense emotions. For a change of pace, it's fun to see Brett play Sherlock as the detective on the edge. Will it get a bit old if that's what he does every week without any difference? Sure, but right now I'm game.

Also we have a competent Watson which is what we always enjoy!

"I did win an Oscar for the screenplay of The Producers."

Can something be soapy and still be enjoyable? Sometimes that's needed for procedural shows. I know you watch more than I do, but when things are too light week to week I lose the need to watch. This series seems to have the gravitas right up front but it's not overly depressing like watching a season of Wallander in a day (which I've regrettably done.) There's no irony attached to this series so the seriousness plays better even though I don't believe "The Resident Patient" is the most important case in Sherlock's career. 

So asking a very genuine question, what makes this different than a season of Law and Order? I'm asking this because you've seen more of that show than I have....which means you've seen more than the pilot.

Leigh: I think the biggest difference between Law and Order and this episode of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is that when it comes down to it, Law and Order is about the crime and bringing the bad guy to justice. This episode at least didn't feel as much about solving the crime. I know that the story that it's based off of isn't the most action packed and crime solve-y but the whole feel of the episode wasn't so much crime drama/mystery solving but more of storytelling. Maybe the story itself is at fault here for again being a not so great mystery but this is one of the better ones. It could be more of the direction and the actors. Law and Order you can (sorta) believe that those actors are cops or lawyers but this Sherlock Holmes doesn't feel like a private detective. The doctor doesn't act much like a doctor. I think the only person who really gets the feel of their role is paranoid patient/bank robber/squealer, but in his defense, it is really easy to play a crazy person. It just didn't feel serious enough. We don't talk about a lot of production stuff but one thing that was constantly said to me in my Video Production 2 class was to make sure when we lit a set, it didn't look like a soap opera. There are a couple of times where the production looks a little soap opera-y on top of the melodramatic acting. 

The story was good though. It was close to the original so, there's that.

Next time we meet the other Holmes brother and realize that we don't speak Greek.

Is this really the best moving pop culture reference Austin could have made? Probably!
Speaking of next time, we're going to take a couple week break because I'm moving across the country! My boyfriend and I are making a 1000 mile move in a few days to a state that I haven't been to since I was still in diapers. So to make the move a teensy bit less stressful, we're gonna take a break. Posts should resume the beginning of June and we got a lot of cool movies lined up matched with a lot of cool stories so stick around and bear with us while I try not to completely freak out in the process. 

And now Austin with the final words!

Austin: But not in the name of the patient!
Honestly, Austin could have put a thousand more Doctor Who references during this entry. This is restraint.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Report: The Resident Patient (Doyle, 1893)

“Who are these two men, Mr. Blessington, and why do they wish to molest you?”
“Well, well,” said the resident patient in a nervous fashion, “of course it is hard to say that. You can hardly expect me to answer that, Mr. Holmes.”
“Do you mean that you don’t know?”
--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Resident Patient”

Leigh: First, I am amused by the fact that one of the bad guys is named Moffat.

Second, SHERLOCK HOLMES CAN READ MINDS. Most of the time when we come across something a bit unbelievable in this series, I just go with it because everything else is so good. BUT THIS? Sherlock Holmes can read minds. Maybe it's just Watson since he has lived with him for so long and maybe Watson's train of thought was pretty simple to follow but still, how on earth can someone follow someone else's train of thought when they aren't saying a word but simply looking at pictures on a wall? I know there are those "psychics" out there who claim to be able to speak to dead people but really they're just saying broad enough statements to cover anyone. This isn't the case. Holmes was naming exact details about what Watson was thinking about. Am I looking into this too much or is this completely plausible? Maybe I'm just having a hard time because my train of thought is never that linear, especially to the outside viewer. 

"Who do you think taught John Edwards?"

Now to the meat of the story. We have another one with a longer introduction and an even longer exposition but I still enjoyed it. Maybe because Holmes actually got to get up and walk around or maybe because we actually got to see him examine a crime scene again instead of having the story be resolved by reading a newspaper article. The audience didn't get ALL of the clues that Holmes did but I still feel that the conclusion was relatively easy to get to and not completely outrageous. But I am dissatisfied with the ending. It seems that there are too many stories where the bad guys get away but fate would have it that they all die on a ship that capsized and they just so happened to be on it. This seems a bit too convenient to me. I understand them escaping the law but the universe still serving justice but I want a bit more variety in the fatal vengeance. Surely boats can't have been that dangerous to travel on. 

What say you, Lugar?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In-Class Movie: The Strange Case of the End of Civilization As We Know It (1977)

“What had it to do with the crime?”
“That, also, is still obscure.”
--Watson and Holmes, “The Crooked Man”

Austin: One of my all-time favorite movies is Murder By Death, this goofy Neil Simon comedy where parodies of all the famous comedians are invited to a house to solve a murder organized by Truman Capote. It's a ridiculous spoof that ultimately doesn't make an ounce of sense where everyone gives a different ending and I think they are right. Or they're not. Who cares, Alec Guiness plays a blind butler.

I bring this up because The Strange Case of the End of theCivilization As We Know It has the same philosophy. There's no mystery, there's no logic and there's pretty much no reasoning. By the end, it's a crazy meta-explosion of the entire mystery genre. In modern day, the descendants of Moriarity is going to destroy the world in a few days until all of the continents agree just to give it up. So it's up to the descendants of Sherlock Holmes (John Cleese) to save the day.

So in order for any of this hour of silliness to work, the jokes have to be strong. Cleese remains a comedic genius so if you put him in a room, laughs are guaranteed especially if he is berating the impossibly dumb Dr. Watson. Scenes without him are a bit trickier because although there are some funny bits of wordplay, the tone is all off. Comedy directing is very hard to pull off and whoever was in charge of this made everything a bit too dark and dire when they're pulling off the political satire.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Report: The Crooked Man (Doyle, 1893)

“And you intend to ask him?”
“Most certainly—but in the presence of a witness.”
“And I am the witness?”
“If you will be so good.”
--Watson and Holmes, “The Crooked Man”

Leigh: Yet again we get a flashback that sends us to India. And yet again, someone is deceived while in India by someone they could trust. Convenient plot point or is it some sort of symbolism? "Don't go to India with your friends because they aren't really your friends and they will try to kill you/steal your treasure/steal your special lady." It seems when we travel to America, we lose something and that's why we go to England. But in India, we are usually deceived. Do you think this is more of a reflection of the time or just a happy coincidence or am I reading too much in to this at all?

The mystery this week starts off a bit differently because Holmes comes to Watson. That doesn't happen too often but it's a nice change of pace when it does happen. We don't get the fun of walking around with Holmes and finding the clues though because he already has most of them. The only clue we get to go and find with Holmes leads to the backstory in India. It didn't feel as much of a mystery to me as it did a more complex riddle. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this story because it was complex and fun to read but I didn't feel like it was a mystery. Am I wrong? What makes a mystery a mystery? And what is with the mongoose? What was the point of having it at all?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

In-Class Movie: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

“Was there any feature of interest?”
“I fancy not…”
--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Reigate Puzzle”

Austin: I adore Billy Wilder. When I was first getting into film, I kept stumbling upon some of his amazing films and only until later did I realize he directed so many of my favorites. His range was extraordinary to the point where it's hard to distinguish what is the "Billy Wilder touch." I always took it as precision to each genre he went after much like Danny Boyle does in his films. He's made so many incredible classics from Some Like It Hot, Witness of the Prosecution, The Apartment, The Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity and my personal favorite Sunset Blvd.

So what did he and his long time screenwriting collaborator bring to the Sherlock Holmes film genre? 

James Bond, homophobia, and the Loch Ness Monster.

"I'm sorry, what was that second one?"

Looking at his last films, it's sad to say that Wilder didn't close out with some remarkable hits. All of the ones I've seen are very unfocused like his political farce One, Two, Three and this hodgepodge movie without any point to it. There is very little detective work. Sherlock Holmes basically stumbles into a couple of locations and once he arrives other people tell him what's going on. Especially with the fake dragon and geo-political mechanics, this seemed just like the first James Bond movie Dr. No. Instead of the villain monologuing, it was Mycroft. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Report: The Reigate Puzzle (Doyle, 1887)

“You are here for rest, my dear fellow. For heaven’s sake don’t get started on a new problem when your nerves are all in shreds.”
Dr. John Watson, “The Reigate Puzzle”

Leigh: Please excuse anything that might sound abnormal. I have decided to catch a cold that has been going around work. By the way, have you ever tried NyQuil? It is amazing. I tried it for the first time last night and I think I am in love. (This is not a paid advertisement for NyQuil. I just really like the stuff.)

Anyway. We have a story that I know I've read before but I couldn't tell you a thing about it. I don't normally remember the names of these stories unless it's an important one like "Scandal" but even after I read the Wikipedia article on this story, I still didn't remember it. Usually I'll remember it because it has some important or unique detail but nothing jogged my memory. Even after listening to it, I STILL didn't remember ever reading it. So why is that?