Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Report: "The Final Problem" (Doyle, 1893)

“It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes as distinguished.”
Dr. John Watson, “The Final Problem”

Leigh: This story starts off as Watson saying that he's writing the last Holmes adventure ever. That's it. No more after this one. We don't know what happens but we know SOMETHING, something big happens between Sherlock Holmes and a man called Professor Moriarty. One can expect to have something important happen in this story and there isn't much of a lull between Watson's somber intro and Holmes walking into Watson's living room talking about air guns.

This story has to be my favorite of the set. There hasn't been a whole lot of action or adventure in this book and we've been stuck with mostly story time with the conclusion happening off screen. But this one is an adventure as soon as Holmes walks into Watson's home and asks if he can climb over the back garden wall. And we get a bit of a story when Holmes explains to Watson just the heck this Moriarty guy is but I loved it. I know we try not to mention it too often here, but I couldn't read this back and forth between Moriarty and Holmes without thinking of BBC's Sherlock

"This isn't Switzerland." "You really are a genius detective."

And then that ending. To me, the ending is the strongest bit of writing from ACD. It doesn't feel like a "I'm sick of this character, let's chuck him over a cliff," but it really felt like ACD loved this character but needed to move on. It's another time that ACD and Watson seem to be the same person. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In-Class Movie: Young Sherlock Holmes (Barry Levinson, 1985)

“It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.” 
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Naval Treaty”

Austin: Well, I can easily say I didn't expect that. All I knew going into this movie was that Steven Spielberg helped develop it and the sequence with the knight was one of the first breakthrough uses of CGI in film and was even created by the team that would become Pixar.

Looking at the poster for this and seeing who is involved, I imagined it was going to be a lot like the opening scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where through one awesome adventure, Indy started his life towards becoming a great hero. Young Sherlock Holmes is a bit like that but it wasn't as subtle as young Indy falling into a cart of snakes. 


This has Sherlock wearing the hat and getting the pipe and solving his first case, but it always felt more like a Star Wars prequel. Where the movie is constantly poking the audience in the ribs, "Look, look! See that? It's C3PO! Isn’t that wild!" instead of being an organic story. Whenever they make a reference to the mythology of Sherlock Holmes, momentum fades away from what already is a very uneven story. In this movie, Sherlock befriends Watson but I don't know why he would aside from knowing that they are friends in the future. 

So as an origin story, I felt this was too convoluted without ever earning its moments. As just a simple adventure.....this was goofy. I won't say anymore in case you peak at this email before watching it yourself, but how did the special-effects heavy first scene set the tone for you for the rest of this movie?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Book Review: "The Naval Treaty" (Doyle, 1893)

“A very commonplace little murder,” said he. “You’ve got something better, I fancy. You are the stormy petrel of crime, Watson. What is it?”
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Naval Treaty”

Leigh: This was a fun one, wasn't it? We have all sorts of things to talk about. 

First, we have another one where Holmes actually gets up and does something. This one felt a lot more like one from Adventures because Holmes decided to go out and do his own thing to solve the mystery and then report back to Watson. There is still a lot of story time, both with the original introduction of the mystery by Phelps and Holmes retelling what happened when he solved the mystery. But we have a bit more action than just sitting in room waiting for things to happen...Right?

"Never say, I just sit in an armchair..."

Second we have a bit of political intrigue. Remember, that stuff that I said would be boring last post. And I have to admit, I found it a little boring. Yeah, this guy's whole career (which he got because of his uncle) would be ruined if the treaty ended up in the wrong hands but 9 weeks or so after it was stolen, nothing had happened. There was no urgency in solving the mystery which made it feel a bit boring to me. You can't really have excitement if nothing has happened for 9 weeks and you don't really expect anything to happen. Sure, something COULD happen if the treaty was given to the wrong person but I just felt it was unlikely. I didn't remember a lot of this mystery so it was enjoyable to listen to almost for the first time but there was no reason why it needed to be found, I felt.

Third, is it just me or does Holmes act out of character a little bit. He seems oddly poetic at odd times. There's the moment when he's by the bedroom window and starts spouting off about flowers and stuff. Why? What's the point?

Fourth: Brain fever? Whut?

Monday, June 17, 2013

In-Class Movie: "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies" (2004)

"You wonder," said my companion, "why it is that Mycroft does not use his powers for detective work. He is incapable of it."

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Greek Interpreter

Austin: When Monk first went on the air, USA wasn't the network we know today. They had two big shows to put them on the original programming game. The first, The Dead Zone, had an interesting first season but never really fizzled in pop culture like Monk did. Monk became incredibly popular with Emmy victories for Tony Shalhoub and nine full seasons of the program. Essentially the success of Monk changed the entire game for USA because as other sci-fi shows failed (The 4400), their quirky mystery shows were a hit (Psych, Burn Notice, White Collar, the entire damn network.)

Early on, it's easy to see why. In the first few years Monk was a darker and grimier show with a pilot that literally had him in the sewers. The protagonist is one of the saddest people on television as an obsessive-compulsive detective with a murdered wife who is too unstable to remain a police officer, the only job he loved. The Sherlock Holmes parallels were evident due to the way that Monk saw the clues that nobody else could see. His Watson character was a sarcastic nurse named Sharona who knew him best but also wouldn't put up with some of his obnoxious habits.

"I swear to you, your eyes are now clean. We can go now."

I never finished the show because after five or six years, the show started to value quirkiness over mysteries or characters. What they were putting Monk was just cruel by never letting him evolve even a millimeter. Rewatching "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies" for the first time since it aired back in 2004 is making me think I need to rewatch more of this show. The introduction of Monk's brother Ambrose is so amazingly done that it makes me wish "The Greek Interpreter" was filled with family backstory like this one is.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Report: "The Greek Interpreter" (Doyle, 1893)

“The Diogenes Club is the queerest club in London, and Mycroft is one of the queerest men.”
--Sherlock Holmes, “The Greek Interpreter”

Leigh: If I had to pick one Sherlock Holmes story that didn't quite fit with the rest of them, it would be this one. Don't take this as a bad thing because this is one of my favorites. It just seems so DARK compared to the rest of the canon. Sure, the canon deals with murders and missing fianc├ęs and eventually a jellyfish (we'll get to that eventually) but this one. This one is different. It's like all of the darkest things from all the other stories combined into one (minus the jellyfish.) We have deception, kidnapping and imprisonment of three people, and eventually two stabbings. If that isn't a turn for the more sinister, I don't know what is.

And to top it all off, we get to meet Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's older brother. I quite enjoyed the introduction of his character because even Watson was like, "Dude, I thought you were an only child and an orphan. What the heck." And if I recall correctly, this is the most we learn about the Holmes clan ever. (This of course excludes highly regarded, yet non-canonical biographies.)  ACD's original description of Sherlock Holmes paints a man who is smart and uncharismatic and a bit on the ugly side (Not many men can pull off a "hawk-like nose and still be called "sexy.). Mycroft is described as worse in every aspect except the nose bit. He's round and lazy and smarter but also just as callus, if not more so. 

Hush you.

But my big question right now: Why introduce Mycroft at all? We are a good portion of the way through the canon and Holmes' family members have never been mentioned before, so why now? 

Austin: Welcome back Florida Traveler!

So why introduce Mycroft? It has to be avoiding staleness. As we get further into Memoirs, that means we are getting closer to Doyle throwing up his hands and saying he's done with Sherlock Holmes. (Spoiler: He's not.) Doyle was very smart in being vague with Sherlock's background because that means whenever he wishes he can add to that backstory. There is nothing to contradict and Sherlock's personality allows for that mysterious element to play out.

I've been used to a number of cinematic Mycrofts and none of them are really played off as ugly. This one is rather large, strange and unappealing. His laziness is strongly criticized by Sherlock and Watson. It's almost like the story is saying "This guy is even smarter than Sherlock, but but but he's lame. You don't want to hang out with him. Hang out with Sherlock! You like Sherlock!" The competition element is inherent with them which means we get a very fun ping-pong observation dialog between Sherlock and Mycroft much like we saw in The House of Silk

"Quiet Sherlock. Your thinking is annoying me." "I'm going to use that."

This dynamic is very fun to watch but like all Doyle stories, that now needs to take a back seat because a new character needs to walk in and give an absurdly long backstory monologue. Was that jarring for you? Or was this story worthy to cut away from Sherlock and Mycroft messing with each other?

Leigh: It's hot. And humid. I'm schvitzing all over the place.

I have to agree about the staleness. ACD famously wrote to his mother a lot and often complained about Sherlock Holmes and how he just wanted to write historical fiction. (A good portion of ACD's letters were compiled into a book called Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters which is a really good read if you enjoy that kind of thing.) And we have mentioned a little before that some of the stories seem a little repetitive. So what is the best way to add something new to a played out format? Add an obscure relative of course. 

"What do you mean? I've always been here."

But most importantly, did it work? I think so. Definitely so. I absolutely love the competition between the two as a competitive elder sister to a competitive younger brother. It's something that's familiar to me and gives us some proof that Holmes is human and not just an automaton. Sibling rivalry is something that many can relate to and if written correctly can be really fun.

Of all of the stories that had lots of backstory, this is the one that I minded it least in. (Please ignore that incredibly awkward sentence.) It didn't take up 3/4 of the story like others have (or have felt like) and instead gives us details that we kinda do need to know to get to the rest of the mystery. This is also the first one in a while that actually felt more like a mystery instead of just sitting around and listening to stories or reading the newspaper. This one seemed exciting and different! And not just because of the addition of Mycroft, although I could easily read a whole book of just Sherlock and Mycroft sitting in a room talking to each other about everything. I also liked that we had bad guys who weren't from America or had spent time in India but were actually British. It was a nice change of pace to what we've been reading.

But it sounds like you don't like it? Why? Why must you hate everything I love? /melodrama 

"This is how Leigh submits her half of the blog."
Austin: Because you love terrible things!

No, I don't hate this one. I just feel that I keep looking at this anthology in a misguided light. I look at it like a season of television and it's wrong to judge such an early outing of the genre in such regards. Yet, perhaps some of it is allowed in storytelling sense. In this story we introduce Mycroft Holmes. His way into the narrative is that he has a client for Sherlock. Then the client appears and it's just like every Sherlock Holmes case. This client just happens to be a neighbor of Mycroft. This case isn't very Mycroft-y, whatever that could mean.

Then it becomes into the routine I have with all of Doyle's stories. The backstory narration is problematic for me and then I get back into it when it's in present day. I rather enjoyed that aspect of this story because it had a chilly element to it, a bit of a horror feel. Also we have Mycroft tagging along, which didn't add to a whole not but got him out of the chair. 

Since I'm now going through the rest of these stories for the first time, I don't know if Mycroft pops up again but I hope he does. I don't want him to be an Irene Adler--an amazing foil for Sherlock Holmes and then disappears into that good night. 

We'll find out soon! But reading this story made me throw an audible. (It's a football term, Leigh. I'll explain later.) Reading about Mycroft's laziness made me think of a different interpretation of that character, one that uses that element in a different way. So we're watching an episode of Monk! Now Monk is not a direct adaptation, but the similiarites are there. In Season Two, we meet his smarter older brother in an episode called "Mr. Monk and the Three Pies." You can find the episode on Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, and any number of places. Do join us.

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

Leigh: Opa!