Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Empty House" (Doyle, 1903)

“I am all right, but indeed, Holmes, I can hardly believe my eyes. Good heavens! to think that you – you of all men – should be standing in my study.”

--Dr. John Watson, “The Adventure of the Empty House”

Leigh: I don't mean to alarm you but Sherlock Holmes seems to have come back from the dead. This does indeed make him a zombie since he does not seem to have an affinity for blood or leather trench coats. I can only praise Moran for attempting to take out the zombie Holmes before he tried to kill poor, unsuspecting Watson. Really, when dealing with a zombie it is best not to follow them to a new location. Or is that a hippie? They really are the same things aren't they? Maybe that's why they're called Deadheads. This is all tangential because it is early and Leigh has had too much coffee and not enough food. 

"We need a cornetto."

Back to the story at hand.

Holmes seems to have returned from the dead and giving poor Watson a dead fright. We've seen this scene acted out in a few different films, where Holmes is disguised as someone else, meets up with Watson and then scares the living daylights out of him because I mean, who wouldn't be scared when they see someone who they thought was dead standing in front of him. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Slobbery Hound" (Wishbone, 1995)

“Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: ‘Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound.’”

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Austin: So we threw an audible this week and we're not covering the Peter Cook version of The Hound of the Baskerville because that link we set up earlier this week....wasn't the full movie. I'm okay with this because now we're reviewing the story from the proper point of view: a dog's.

Sadly, this isn't a parody movie where it's all from the giant hound's POV but instead it's from Wishbone. If you didn't grow up on PBS in the 90s, Wishbone was this short-lived family show where a Jack Russell Terrier recreates classic works of literature. The other half of the show is the same Jack Russell Terrier experiencing something in his warm small town that reminds him of that novel. It's a great way to introduce kids to these books and they always end with recommending the home audience to check out their local library. It's very cute and was a huge influence on me because I would take that to heart and read those classic stories.

This week we're looking at the episode "Slobbery Dog" where Wishbone is accused of knocking over trashcans and chewing on property. So it's up to this wise-cracking dog to clear his name. While that is going on, he takes the place of Sherlock Holmes as he and Watson investigate this crime.

This is a 30 minute kids show where not even that full time is devoted to the Doyle story. And yet they do some impressive things with it. They keep in the structural set-up where Holmes and Watson split up but this time we get it from Sherlock's perspective. They ultimately condense the entire complicated story to "That guy started the legend....that evil guy looks like him. SOLVED IT." And yet they still recreate the big showdown where they confront the hound in the dead of night. Despite this being a kid's show THEY SHOOT THE DOG DEAD.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Report: "The Hound of the Baskerville" (Doyle, 1902)

“At the same instant Lestrade gave a yell of terror and threw himself face downwards upon the ground. I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralyzed by the dreadful shape which sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog. A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen.”

--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Leigh: We've gone through a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories so far but this time we have to tackle probably the most well known and most loved story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. For those of you who are confused and might live under a rock that doesn't get Wikipedia, Baskervilles was written after Sherlock Holmes fell off of a cliff but takes place chronologically before that. It's really ACD's way of testing the waters to see 1, if there was still an audience for Sherlock Holmes (there was/is) and 2, if he actually still wanted to write Sherlock Holmes stories (he did.)

This one takes the best parts of all of his stories, I think, and makes one really great one. While I do like the short form stories a lot, the longer form ones allow more mystery to be built and more clues thrown out for the audience to try to solve. But a problem with the longer form ones is that the story time seems to exponentially grow like with Study in Scarlet. This one takes all of the mystery bits that we enjoy and seems to keep the story time to a minimum and doesn't try to shove it in random spots like with The Sign of Four

What the audience gets then, is a mystery about a centuries old hound from hell that has been sent by the devil to torment and punish the Baskerville family for one bad seed. The mystery comes to Holmes and Watson after Charles Baskerville, the current-ish descendant is found dead of a heart attack caused by being scared to death and clearly it was the Hound that did it. Holmes and Watson hear all about the mystery and the mission to protect the last descendant from this damned dog. But Holmes can't be bothered. He's too busy with other stuff so he sends out Watson to protect the last Baskerville and to collect clues in moors. 

So there is obviously a mystery in this story but Holmes doesn't appear in most of the novel. Most of the clues seem to be found by Watson or told to the audience in the epilogue. We've talked before about having Elementary change the character's names and it becoming an instantly better show because there isn't (weren't) a lot of things connecting it to the original Sherlock Holmes canon. What about this one? Would this story still work if it weren't a Sherlock Holmes story? Could it still be enjoyable if it were a mystery novel starring someone else? And what about that mystery? Confusingly convoluted or delightfully difficult?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

In-Class Movie: Elementary Season Finale Part 2

“A few words may suffice to tell the little that remains.”
--Dr. John Watson, “The Final Problem”

Austin: Now we've talked a lot about the story that has happened in these last four episodes of Elementary and often times it disappointed us. However, there is plenty of fascinating decisions they've made with the characters. Not only as modern examples of the Doyle creations but also what they've set-up.

Right away, I want to talk about how they're treating women on the show. From day one, we were very worried about Watson being a woman. At least one season in, I think they are firmly not romantic which is ideal. They respect each other as colleagues and as friends. I'm not sure it was well earned, but I did really enjoy the moment of Sherlock naming a bee after her. Yet that friendship still seems to be defined by what she isn't. It seems like they had that bee scene at the end because Watson was someone close to him that didn't manipulate him on a demented level. 

The most interesting part of the second episode was Gregson (randomly) trying to get Watson as a new job as a sober companion. On one hand I really liked it because early on in the show, they had a problem establishing why she was even helping with cases. So I liked a crossroads where she makes her decision that she wanted to be there. However, it's still up in the air on why she's doing it. Is she doing it because she is such good friends with Sherlock? Is that it? What I really didn't like about this crossroad decision was that it seemed to be to get her out of danger because she's a woman. I know that was brought up as dialog, but there's a difference between acknowledging it and it not being true. 

"This is just like the setting for Kill Bill." "Why do you bring that up?"

But then the really frustrating thing is that I thought that episode was set-up for Watson to be in danger and to solidify her role in this show. THEN SHE DOESN'T DO ANYTHING IN THE FINALE. She basically says "There, there" to Sherlock and has one table scene with Moriarty which really felt underwhelming since they just talked about Sherlock.

Friday, July 5, 2013

In-Class Movie: Elementary Season Finale Part 1

"[Moriarty] is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them."

Sherlock Holmes, "The Final Problem"

Austin: Buckle up ladies and gents, this is going to be a long ride. Leigh and I watched the final four episodes of Elementary Season One. ("A Landmark Story", "Risk Management", "The Woman", "Heroine") We haven't covered the show for a few months after being very disappointed by its refusal to move forward as a show and the underwhelming weekly mysteries. The last one I watched was the Super Bowl episode which I drunk-tweeted on our official Elementary Schooled account. That was such a non-event I don't feel bad that the random blackout pushed that into later in the night.

Yet TV critics I respect kept saying good things about the show. For most of the season, they kept saying it was a good procedural. (I disagree.) Then everyone really started speaking up about the finale. I was already curious because they cast the great Natalie Dormer (The Tudors, Game of Thrones, BBC Radio's adaptation of Neverwhere) as Irene Adler. Then I saw a major spoiler about the finale and they officially perked my interest. So we're back. For now.

Someone really needs to work on her choice of men

After watching all four episodes, I realized how much there is to cover. It's just too much. So we're going to split this into two blog posts. This first one will deal with the episodes as mysteries and how they were composed as episodes of television. The next one will discuss how the show is dealing with the Doyle mythology, the treatment of women on the show and the development of the characters. Aka, plot and then characters.

So after a three paragraph introduction, let's get into it. These are easily a step-up from what we've already covered. "A Landmark Story" is the best episode I've seen so far on the show. The show is best when it's able to incorporate the mythology on the show. Too often their mysteries feel fleeting and dull, but when they can be part of the bigger game then there is excitement. They're not always perfect because even though "Risk Management" seemed to be a good balance (Moriarity directly asks Sherlock to solve a crime) the case wasn't as well executed.  "A Landmark Story" was a balance of Moran's powerful screen presence, really solid puzzle-like deaths and a great ticking clock that someone else will soon be assassinated. I'm even willing to give them a pass for straight-up using a major plot point from Homeland Season Two.

Yet mythology is also a bit of the show's downfall. Plot is such a problem on this show. At this point, they have nailed the character of Sherlock Holmes thanks to an original take and a wonderful performance from Jonny Lee Miller. The show knows how to test him as a character and setting up an environment that pays off all of his backstory and gives a legitimate temptation to have him relapse. Nobody really thought Irene Adler was dead, but (now here's the big spoiler) having Irene Adler be that's impressive. That's all well-done but when we finally got to Moriarity's big season-long plan, it's really underwhelming. Moriarity's arrest was way too easy. 

Before I go on any longer, what are your thoughts on all of this? Did you like the Irene Adler twist? Were you nicer towards her master plan? Were these episodes a step-up for you or more of the same?

Leigh: I have to say that I actually enjoyed the last four episodes of the season. THAT'S RIGHT, KIDDOS, I actually liked it. Were they great? Meh. Were they fantastic? Eh. Were they fun? Yes. But why were they fun? That's the question.

I loved Vinnie Jones as Sebastian Moran. For those of you who don't know, like Austin, Vinnie Jones was a football player (soccer) before he became an actor. Vinnie Jones was known for being a "hard man" in football and holds the record for the quickest foul in a game ever at 3 seconds. He has also been known to start bar fights for being asked, "Hey, aren't you Vinnie Jones?" And he has one of the best scenes ever in Snatch. So his portrayal of the character I thought, was perfect. Having him be essentially a football hooligan that kills people for hire was fantastic. (Although I do wish they would've made him a Chelsea fan instead of an Arsenal fan since he played for Chelsea, but what ever.) His character death is also perfect. Head butting yourself to death? You can't get much harder than that. 

But the mysteries in these episodes? Bland. Boring. Better than what we've seen in this show but meh. Also, I'm sure this is the fault of the production crew, but two separate bad guys drove a Maybach 62, which is fine except that only 63 were sold in the US in 2010 and they've stopped production because of how few were sold so if Holmes would've noticed this, he could've connected the bad guys again because I'm sure that there aren't THAT many Maybach 62s in NYC. One of these bad guys was the guy who was snipered in the hotel room. How did Holmes find him? Because Holmes mentions that he found his alias and then found the hotel and tada! did Holmes find him. More often than not I felt that we were missing steps to the mystery and they just glossed over these holes. But this is something that this series has shown us before.

And what was Adler/Moriarty's master plan? Was it just investing all of that money in the Macedonian dinar and have the accession to the EU fail? Because if that's the case, it's all sorts of wrong. I don't know much about the EU but luckily, I do have a friend who specialized in the EU for his undergrad. He is who I go to when I have EU questions. I was first suspicious of this plot point when they brought up the fact that they'd have to go to the Euro. England isn't on the Euro so therefore, I was already questioning this theory (I didn't know they had a permanent opt-out for the Euro but was taught this last night). My EU specialist friend told me that even if Macedonia would be granted accession (which is highly unlikely even before their fictional dignitaries are killed by Greek nationalists) their currency would stay the dinar for a while until their economy met EU standards. Only once they meet these goals for their economy would they then go to the Euro. So her whole master plan wouldn't even work in real life. I know that this show is fictional but if you're going to have the plot based off of real life things like the EU and Macedonia possibly gaining EU status, then make sure the rest of it works. It doesn't. 

So why did I find it fun? Because I enjoy finding plot holes. I enjoy looking at details and proving the show wrong when it's claiming to be right. Now, don't think I'm picking on Elementary, 'cause I'm not. I do it with every show or movie. Friends and family have told me that they hate watching things with me. I've been told by my boyfriend that I need to relearn how to watch movies so I can "enjoy" them. I just found that Elementary had more of these instances than most shows I watch. 

And as for Irene Adler being Moriarty, I'll get to that later. 

You're the mystery guy. What did you think?

Austin: When looking at the mysteries I further realized the thing that could help this show in such a powerful way. Get rid of the police. All of them. Quinn's performance is so bad now I think he dozed off for most of the finale.

When Sherlock is able to go beyond the rules of police procedural it's more interesting. We missed an episode where he tortured Moran which looked pretty cool. Whenever he has to report back or Gregson is operating a crime scene, the show stops dead. They now are the worst kind of Doctor Who companion - the kind that just asks questions to advance the plot. "What do you mean, Doctor?" Watson fell into that trap a bit in the finale, but it was never near as bad as Bell. Is he just there when Quinn doesn't feel like coming to set?

"Sorry I'm late, just woke up from a nap. What'd I miss?"

Morarity's plan was incredibly underwhelming. It was convoluted and wasn't worth the miniature clues sprinkled for a few episodes. They needed a big "Oh shit..." moment like when you realize why Tyrian is collecting iron in A Clash of Kings or the mystery of Clara in Doctor Who. 

The "Oh Shit..." moment they successfully pulled off was the Irene Adler twist. Learning the full timeline of their twisted relationship made the premise work. When they made Sherlock a recovering addict, we sighed heavily. Yet when we find out that he was pushed to heroin by a criminal mastermind to distract him so she can accomplish more crimes...bravo. Same with faking her death and his move to America. That all works in fun TV logic with this twist. 

I was happy I knew the twist before hand because Natalie Dormer as Morarity was a much better performance than Irene. She's better at playing a woman with power.

The episode that had the most traditional setup was the second one and that's the episode I had the most problems with. It started off rather bland  but then I did start to enjoy the puzzle aspect of "How do you convince a man he murdered the wrong person?" Resolution wasn't great but what really didn't work was how much the two new characters SUCKED.

This is the show's problem with characterization when it comes to people not named Sherlock. A guy confesses to murder, something that is filled with emotional trauma for years. There is nothing in his performance that shows complexity and his dialog is just stilted information. Same with his wife! Just bland bland exposition. Why should we care about them? There was no emotional attachment to them or their situation therefore I couldn't care. The only thing I was interested in that episode was the evolution of Watson's role which we will get to later.

Also that episode sucked in the last five minutes. You have this great scene on the page of Watson joining the danger of the trap and them entering a mysterious mansion to find Irene is still alive painting beautiful works of art. How is it filmed? Without an element of style. Everything is so brightly lit and filmed without any fear or mystery. Perfect how-to not film a scene.

But no more hiding. Plot wise, what did you think of the big twist?

Leigh: I think that this show would benefit greatly from going from 24 episodes to 6. It would make the story lines tighter, it would force the writers to cut the extraneous crap and I think the story that they're trying to tell would stand out more. More shorter shows are becoming popular like Game of Thrones or Mad Men or Doctor Who because they prove that you can still tell a great arc in 10 or so episodes. I haven't seen an episode since episode 5 or 6 and yet, I wasn't lost at all. The only thing that I was a bit confused on was the Sebastian Moran part and the "Previously on Elementary" solved that for me. So that proves right there that you can cut 15 episodes from the season and it still work and still tell a complete story.

I still stand by the fact that they could get rid of Watson. Sure, she had a couple of "Sherlock, you missed this obvious clue" moments, which was nice, but the final two episodes she went back to being a caretaker. She didn't seem to care much about the mysteries at hand but more about whether or not Holmes was going to go get some drugs and sure, seeing an ex that you thought was murdered could very well be a trigger, the audience doesn't need to be reminded every time Watson and Holmes are in a room together. 

Now for Irene. 

I like Natalie Dormer. Her character on Game of Thrones has made it possible for me to pay attention to Joffrey at all. (Haven't read the books, no spoilers please!) 

Don't you just want to punch him in his stupid face?

She was great in the Tudors even if the rest of the show was a joke. But like you said, the "Oh shit" moment wasn't there. Every supervillian has to have a reason for doing all these smaller murders. We need to know that they robbed a bank to buy the other supervillians in the city's loyalty. We need to see that they stole a shrink ray so that they could steal the moon to ransom it. We need to see that they stole the Wonderflonium so that they could build a freeze ray cum death ray. We just saw a supervillian killing people in convoluted ways to get some money. That's boring. Especially since there are so many other ways to get money these days that don't involve killing lots of people. So Moriarty? While the character didn't lack imagination, she lacked logic which is bad when she's supposed to be the most logical person in the world next to Sherlock Holmes.

We talked about the possibility of Moriarty being a woman. I think it was during one of our text conversations off blog. You brought up the idea and I absolutely loved it and wanted it to happen. And it did. And I was disappointed but not that Moriarty was a woman. I was disappointed with the awful plot.

Now Irene as Moriarty. That's interesting. I was spoiled accidentally. I was looking at Wikipedia because I was curious to see what they had written up about Sebastian Moran/Vinnie Jones and right underneath his character is Irene Adler/Moriarty. I was intrigued. I wasn't upset and I was excited to see how it was revealed and how they went about explaining it. And I think they did a pretty good job. Holmes should've noticed that Irene's accent was a nondescript American accent with a hint of a Transatlantic accent, which gives away Brits posing as Americans almost instantly. They also tend to over-pronounce their "r"s but that's beside the point. The rest of this backstory was interesting but some of the plot holes still bothered me. Like, did Holmes see Irene's dead body or did he just presume she was dead? If she was murdered and Holmes was in love with her, I think that he would've gone to the ends of the earth to try to solve the mystery behind it, not instantly go to drugs. 

This show has it's moments when it seems to steal directly from other crime procedurals and other times when it seems like it's trying really hard to be it's own thing. I firmly believe if they cut any time when it just became another procedural and stuck with the interesting and original stuff that they could have a good show, if not a great show. Not fantastic and probably not in my top 10, but a show that I would spend a weekend watching if I had nothing else to do. 

And now Austin Lugar with the final word!

Austin: Ta-da?