The Voice of Terror

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This week I watched The Voice of Terror for my weekly old movie selection. The Voice of Terror is a Sherlock Holmes film with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. In this film Nazi’s are predicting and broadcasting them minutes before they occur. Trains are getting derailed, factories are getting blown up, and the government is completely ineffective. Time to call in Sherlock Holmes.

While this 1940s film lacks the slick appeal of the new Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, it’s still highly satisfying. Rathbone is Sherlock and Bruce is Watson, a delightful one to boot. They have a good rapport and can be witty and compelling as a scene requires. I think you have to watch and think a bit more carefully to appreciate the humor here, but even if you miss it, you can enjoy this detective flick. There’s a memorable scene at the end that takes some lines from Doyle’s “The Last Bow.”

It was rather relaxing to watch an exciting drama that doesn’t need to take its viewers to the edge.

Sherlock: The Last Vow

A First: A Guilty Displeasure

Magnussen's data on Sherlock

Magnussen’s data on Sherlock

My vow after watching this horrendous Sherlock episode on PBS is not to watch again unless three highly esteemed friends insist writers Moffatt and Gatiss have regained their sanity and writing ability. The season 3 finale “The Last Vow” was a hokey train wreck.

The real crime seems that these writers have been kidnapped or possessed by zombies of some sort. You know how Sherlock’s able to delete irrelevant information from his brain. How I wish I could delete the experience of watching “The Last Vow.” It kept me up last night and was the first thing in my head when I woke.

This episode involved Sherlock in pursuit of uber-blackmailer, Charles Augustus Magnussen after the government official whose face he licked (talk about creepy to watch) enlists Sherlock’s help.

What follows is a mishmash of slick graphics and preposterous scenes that made my head spin. While many parts of the story were culled from Arthur Conan Doyle‘s original stories, it’s as if someone took pages of the stories, put them in a food processor, removed any sensible bits, stirred the remaining mess up, spit in the bowl and served it up to the viewers. I watched with my aunt and we kept saying, “How is it possible that this has gotten worse?” And the true sign of a terrible show: I kept looking at the clock to see how much longer we had to watch.

Ever the optimist, I thought the show would redeem itself at some point, but alas, it never did.

last bow

Observations

  • Sherlock’s a mastermind who can read people with incredible precision, yet he didn’t see that Mary was a spy and assassin when he met her. Are we supposed to believe that?
  • Though Mary Marston is connected with uber-villain Magnussen and shoots Sherlock, we’re supposed to buy that John staying married to her is a good thing. She has completely presented a false identity and we have no idea who she is and John’s not certifiable for wanting to stay with her? Isn’t not wanting to know who she really is the height of objectifying a woman? Since John gets so frustrated with Sherlock’s lack of empathy, wouldn’t Mary whose empathy is questionable at best and put on at worst, make her a terrible wife for John?Sherlock doesn’t have the logic to see this? Divorce is legal and acceptable in England.  In this case, i.e. fraud, annulment is in order. John can try to get custody of the child, which he’d get if Mary is in jail, where she belongs. Viewers realize that what’s deep down matters in a person and deep down, Mary is not trustworthy. She will kill when it suits her. How’s that for ethics?
  • I could do without the face licking, thank you very much. Could all screenwriters make a note of that?
  • Why wouldn’t Mary going to jail be more satisfying?
  • How long can someone who’s been shot walk around town solving crimes?
  • Why didn’t this woman who would have had to push her way to the top of a male dominated field, stand up to Magnussen?
  • There’s a reason cutting from scene to scene in a manic fashion is not listed in Aristotle’s Poetics. It does not result in good storytelling. Cheap flashy cuts just make viewers head’s spin.
  • Though I missed Moriarty, bringing him back through implausible means wasn’t want I wanted. I can live with the loss and as AV Club reviewer Genevieve Valentine points out, when there are just three episodes, we don’t need an overarching villain. Remember there’s something called evil in the world and that more than suffices.
  • It’s implausible that John has some highly tuned sociopath detector that sensed that Mary was a sociopath so he was drawn to her. There’s nothing in earlier seasons that showed the Everyman character was that far gone. What  does that say about everyone?
  • Packing multiple pieces of Doyle’s stories into one episode just doesn’t work. There’s no need to.

Questions

  1. Did the British audience take to this?
  2. Has or should Moffat issue an apology for this disgraceful writing?
  3. Did anyone else feel they needed a shower or some sort of medical attention after suffering through this?

Sherlock: The Sign of the Three

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Warning, readers: Spoilers below.

John Watson marries Mary Marston in this episode. Yet Sherlock in many ways overshadows the couple, as one would expect. While the secondary characters like Mrs. Hudson are excited for the couple most are worried about Sherlock. How will he handle this change in his friendship with Watson? I’d rather the big question surrounded solving a crime and capturing the criminal.

The episode did have its bright spots: the costumes were splendid as were the settings. I really liked the bright yellow walls in the place where the reception was held.

The episode started with Lestrade desperately trying to capture three elusive bank robbers. A series of scenes shows the police’s near misses over the course of a year. (Why wasn’t Sherlock brought in to help?) Just as Lestrade and his officers are about to make their arrest, he gets a text from Sherlock. “Help!” Though capturing these robbers is crucial to Lestrade, he decides to race over to 221 B Baker Street to help Sherlock. Since he thinks this plea indicates a dire emergency, Lestrade calls the station to send loads of officers over to 221 B.

But wouldn’t you know it was a big misunderstanding? Sherlock just needed a question about John’s wedding answered. If we hadn’t seen this sort of joke before it would be funny. The show’s done this before with John racing to Sherlock’s aid for a false alarm. While Sherlock’s behavior wouldn’t change, those around him would learn and would think twice before sounding the alarm or racing to him. Why didn’t Lestrade call first? He’s not an idiot.

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The show was uneven to me. Because of all the attention paid to the wedding and how Sherlock would cope, I felt the show was off kilter. The first crime we see involves the murder of a Royal Guard and that was undertaken mainly as a diversion to get the boys out of the house.

There were some scenes with Mycroft which seemed superfluous. Since the episode is entitled “The Sign of Three,” and does borrow characters’ names from “The Sign of Four, I’d hoped we’d see some version of the annoying, and humorous Abernathy Jones, whose in that novel. A modern Abernathy Jones could be hilarious or vexing and intrigue us all. We don’t need Mycroft in every story.

The crimes seem tacked on as if its a bother to deal with them, which shouldn’t be the case. They are the crux of the series. Jonathan Small, the murderer, has a personality and back story that’s paper thin. In the original there’s much more dimension to him.

The writers fill the time with sequences that wore out their welcome fast. I didn’t need to see a protracted stag party/pub crawl with Sherlock and Watson getting plastered. Sure, if you must, show them getting drunk, but do it quickly. The humor of the drunk stumbling around is of the lowest order. I can do without the cliché. Also, the wedding speech dragged on. Though it was interspersed with lots of flashbacks, it still dragged. The speech contained some touching moments and did provide some exposition, but it went on far too long.

After last week’s episode, “The Empty Hearse,” which was weighed down by nods to fans and fan fiction, this episode made me long for Jeremy Brett‘s Sherlock Holmes. While I’m fine with the idea of deviating from tradition, I do still want a good story and not a potentially good story hidden amongst easy gags. It seems like writers Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson, are drunk on the show’s popularity and have taken to writing to the giddier fans. I could excuse a fluffy episode like this if we weren’t limited to three Sherlocks a year.

Not to harp too much about the original, but in the novel, we do learn why John so loves Mary. He worries about whether he’s too poor for her as she’s the heir to a fortune. He describes her character and in the end he is able to propose. I have liked the character of Mary Marston played by Amanda Abbington does a fine job, but she doesn’t have much background. She’s a beautiful cheerful woman who doesn’t try to divide these friends, but there’s no sign of why John’s marrying this beautiful, cheerful woman rather than another. In the book, that was clear.

Sherlock, Jr.

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This week’s old movie* is Sherlock, Jr. with Buster Keaton. Though I’d heard Keaton’s name, I’ve never seen any of his films. The story is simple, Keaton plays a shy, awkward man. As the movie opens, the hero is proposing to his sweetheart. It’s all very proper. The funniest part is when she needs a magnifying glass to see the diamond. Soon this woe-begone fellow is overshadowed by a slick guy who drops by and wants Keaton’s girl. This guy frames Keaton making it seem like he’s stolen the girl’s father’s watch to buy the ring.

Later at work as a movie projectionist, the hero starts daydreaming as he watches the film he’s showing about a couple having trouble with their relationship. The story is simple and it’s a silent film so the strength is Keaton’s physical humor. There were several preposterous, hilarious scenes that are timeless. It’s a short film that still entertains.

*This is part of my New Year’s Resolution to watch one old movie a week.

Sherlock: Season 3, Episode 1

Sherlock Series 3

Finally, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have returned after a too long Sherlock hiatus. Like all Sherlock fans I was eager to learn how on earth Sherlock survived. My book club read “The Empty House” this month in honor of Sherlock’s return and I’ve got some thoughts on that here.

PBS has a thorough synopsis here so I won’t offer one. I will have spoilers so watch the episode first online if you can.

I did like the parallels I noticed in the modern “The Empty Hearse” episode. While in the original, Sherlock doesn’t fall all the way down the falls and his death is faked, there’s a modern equivalent solution. This modern fall was also faked for the same reason: Moriarty and his cronies had to see Sherlock was dead. The screenwriters Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss accomplish this with a plot wherein Molly Hooper gets Sherlock a body to use to replace his corpse and a set up of 13 eventualities that have Watson’s view obstructed and manipulated. It’s clever and does work.

In the original story in which Roger Adair is murdered in a room that seems to not have been entered by an murderer. In the television show the screenwriter replaces the unentered room with a subway car that is entered but mysteriously exited. The last train leaves one station with a sole passenger, but that man has disappeared by the next stop. Quite clever.

I was delighted to see Sherlock, Watson, Molly, Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson again. I welcome Mary, whom Watson is going to marry, as he was in the originals. However, there was one odd point in the story when she’s teasing John about shaving his mustache, which is just awful. The actress seems to take on Moriarty’s tics as she teases. It’s a bit odd and I blame the director – and I suppose the writer too.  I’d like to see Mary have her own career rather than just being Dr. Watson‘s assistant. It is 2013 after all. If John had the wherewithal to set up a practice and is bored with his work, he would have had the energy to date, maybe not the first year after Sherlock died, but later. So give him a girlfriend with her own profession.

I didn’t buy how Anderson, the forensic specialist who dislikes Sherlock, now has become a scraggly fan who leads a Sherlock groupies in conspiracy theory meetings. Also, I miss Moriarty. There will be a new villain, but Jim Moriarty was perfectly despicable and two seasons wasn’t enough.

I wish there was more time given to solving the crime and developing the character of this turncoat terrorist. He didn’t get so much as a line of dialog. A lot of time that was spent on jokes that winked at the fans could have been sacrificed to flesh out the criminal.

The scene on the subway when Sherlock and John must defuse the bomb was tense, but it whimpered at the end when Sherlock saved the day by simply flipping the off switch. Too far fetched for me.

The Empty House

English: Second of the four illustrations incl...

English: Second of the four illustrations included in the edition of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by AC Doyle published in 1894 by A. L. Burt in New York. (Source: Wikipedia)

Sherlock, season 3 begins on PBS tonight. In anticipation, I’ve read “The Empty House,” the Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD) short story that the episode is based on. It’s been years since I’ve read a Sherlock story. When I was in high school, I was in the Sherlock Holmes Society and read several. Doyle knows how to tell a good story. His style is direct and compelling. His hero, Sherlock is brilliant yet flawed and he captures the friendship between Holmes and Watson very well. They’re able to speak frankly, though Watson sometimes refrains from commenting because he feels he won’t be listened to or in other cases, is in awe of his friend’s mental prowess.

“The Empty House” was the first story of Holmes’ return or resurrection. Fans will remember that Doyle grew tired of his popular character. Apparently, ACD suffered more than Watson from being overshadowed by Sherlock. Try as he might, he wanted Sherlock gone, but the public clamored for more and after 10 years, ACD relented and wrote, “The Empty House” in which Sherlock returns to solve the case of the murder of Ronald Adair.

Highlights include Sherlock explaining how and why he cheated death and fooled Moriarty and Watson holding what might be the first literary intervention when he voices disproval of Sherlock’s use of (the then legal) cocaine. Like the modern Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the original Sherlock used stimulants to stave off the boredom of ordinary life.

I delighted in how often Sherlock quotes Shakespeare and recommend getting an annotated book like The Oxford Sherlock Holmes, which illuminates all the references and quotations.

Reading the story this time around, I was struck by how much screenwriters Moffat and Gatiss borrow from the original. I’m not complaining. In fact I applaud them for their faithful, clever adaptations.

Tonight American fans  see what the duo has done to explain Sherlock’s death. How could he fake his death so convincingly? The YouTube video above provides a thoughtful analysis. If it’s correct, Moffat and Gatiss would have closely followed what happened in the original story. Folks in the U.K. already know what happened. In North America we’ll soon find out.

Do read the originals. They’re well written and you’ll gain insight. For next week I’m finishing The Sign of Four.

Dear Elementary Writers

The Insominac's Choice Award

The Insominac’s Choice Award

Goodness gracious, where to start? I saw Elementary when it debuted and admittedly expected it to be bad, but was surprised that your new Sherlock Holmes show was actually boring. I figured you just needed time to better understand the genre and how to write a good script. I realize it’s hard to compete with the excellence of Sherlock and sympathize with you. Talk about pressure. Yet you are handsomely paid, so my sympathy’s short lived.

Last Thursday I tuned in again believing you had enough time to improve the show. I saw an episode called “M” and expected rightly that Moriarty would be involved. Boy, was I disappointed.

Like the first 1.3 episodes I saw in the fall, the story opened with a murder. The scene had a weird tone as my guess is that the vibe on screen is nothing like what a real murder would be like and it wasn’t like the usual (and better) murders shown on TV.  The beginning was rather boring and odd.

Next Sherlock appears and doesn’t deduce what happened and why there’s a pool of blood on the floor of the crime scene, he remembers a previous crime with the same pattern. Yep, Sherlock Holmes just remembered to figure out the case. Do you realize we don’t watch Sherlock to see how average thinkers solve crimes we watch to be bowled over by his astute thinking. Can someone on staff make note of that?

All the while Watson prepares to tie up her assignment. She’s feeling rather sad to be going as she confides to her shrink, who’s remarkably wooden. Only this lifeless Watson would continue to see such a cold shrink.

Writers, your homework is to watch some good psychologists like Paul or Gina on In Treatment or the guy from Numb3rs now on Newsroom. Even Bob Newhart might inspire you. Psychologists can have personalities and be objective. Joan Watson’s shrink suggests she go into police work if she enjoys it so much, but Joan rejects that sensible suggestion for no reason. She really doesn’t appear to be in love with Sherlock because she displays no emotion vaguely akin to love.

You mention Irene Adler in exposition. Irene evidently died (missed opportunity early on in a season). Granted, I missed that episode or the episode when it was revealed but present this with some drama so I CARE.

Then you had “M” plant a letter in Sherlock’s apartment. Ho hum. There’s a little tension here, but it’s minimal. We didn’t see it done. We don’t see “M” at all just his henchman.

Joan gets annoyed when she learns that Holmes has cameras in his own house. Yes, he could have told her, but they weren’t in her room and she is a hired gun. Get over it. There are no real tests of trust the way we see throughout Sherlock. Minor sniping and irritation doesn’t count. Perhaps you should steer clear (or steal) the elements that work so well in the hands of Moffat and Gatiss.

Eventually, the murderer acts again, but Sherlock intervenes. He somehow transports this hulking man to an abandoned warehouse that his father owns. How did he manage? Did he rent a car? Does he even drive?

Oh, yeah, he smashed that suspect’s car in the first episode, if that counts as driving. How would Sherlock, who’s no muscle man, manage to hang such a muscular, brawny chap up by himself? Actually, the episode was too boring for me to really want to know. In fact, I often considered changing channels and probably should have. You have not earned my attention.

Well, Joan and the Inspector do find Sherlock just after he’s learned from his victim that this guy is simply a hit man, that Moriarty, like the one on Sherlock does his work by proxy. During the episode we saw Joan ask Sherlock’s father to extend her time with him. I knew you’d have to somehow keep them connected since that was one of the weaknesses of your premise. She’s only supposed to work with him for a couple months.

The father said no via a text and she then lied to Sherlock about that. She’s decided to stay on for free. Since there’s no chemistry between the two this just made me yawn. Strange since lies usually beef up a story. Apparently, you’ve got reverse Midus‘ touch. You can take good characters and a popular genre, i.e. gold and make it into dust.

Read Aristotle’s Poetics. You’ll understand that when characters are closely related, conflict between them is more powerful. That’s why we see Mycroft in Sherlock. Hint: Bring the father in.

Do you realize how lucky you are that enough American viewers require so little in terms of entertainment. You are blessed by the equally anemic writing on other Thursday night shows. Sincerely, SK