Hounds of Baskerville: Sherlock Update

DATELINE: Classic Downgraded!

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The Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series episode from Season 2 precariously holds on, despite its updating of the original Conan Doyle. Deep down, there remains the essence and core of the tales and characters created by the good writer/doctor.

In re-reviewing the tale of the Hounds (now pluralized), all the original features are present, but not in the way you might expect. Holmes is being driven mad by an addiction to cigarettes, and he is willing to do just about anything to have a whiff of second-hand smoke. Even take looney cases.

When a wealthy Dartmoor man comes by to seek help for the mysterious death of his father 20 years earlier by some mythic hound that ripped him apart (and carted away the body) Holmes is customarily rude and agitated. His hyper-manner is hilarious as he displays (showing off, accuses Watson) his brilliant insights into a potential client. We are amused.

The lunacy of the modern update takes hold soon enough.

Baskerville is now a genetic research military compound dealing with bio-chemical weapons. The key may be an acronym as fanciful as any mythic, red-eyed dog-eared monster.

Cumberbatch and Freeman have their patter and interplay down better than Abbott and Costello (surprisingly referred to in the story as space aliens under wraps at the base).

Holmes takes his smarter brother’s keycode card to break into the base. Mycroft is now the highest-level military-industrial brain in England. This explains how Holmes can act with impunity and make money as a consulting detective too.

The script becomes increasingly incomprehensible, but flies by at breakneck speed to prevent re-thinking about the logical brilliance of Holmes.

In the Mark Gatiss (he plays Mycroft) version of Doyle, clever becomes chaotic, but it’s all in good fun as long as it is not put under the electron microscope. It beats Robert Downey’s American Sherlock on all counts.

Sherlock Meets Hornblower

DATELINE: Amazing Grace: The True Story

Sherlock meets Hornblower

Director Michael Apted put together a film called Amazing Grace in 2008 in which Sherlock Holmes would meet Horatio Hornblower. Well, not exactly, but Benedict Cumberbatch costarred with Ioan Gruffudd in the true story of young Wilberforce and young Pitt, British abolitionists.

 

The film was never embraced by the African American audience because it is plainly Masterpiece Theatre level Brit drama. It depicts the 20 year struggle of these English Members of Parliament to ban the slave trade in the British Empire around 1800.

Gloriously cast with actors with great faces, you can add Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Gambon, Albert Finney, and Rufus Sewell, into the mix. You have a masterpiece of English actors.

Though not exactly action packed, it creates moments of powerful emotion as these intellectuals, Wilberforce and Pitt, boyhood chums, take on the powerful economic force that enslaved people.

It is well produced, has the flair of the era and aristocratic settings to tell the tale.

When the story of the timeless spiritual, “Amazing Grace,” is a secondary subplot, you have intriguing history alive. Albert Finney plays Gruffuld’s boyhood pastor, a former slave ship captain who wrote the song. Indeed, in one compelling scene, Cumberbatch presents Gruffud’s impressive rendition of the tune.

The film fell through the cracks initially because it did not go through television as its main channel. If one of the cable stations had picked it up, it would have become a biopic miniseries about ten hours long.

Instead, we have a throwback to the great historical movies that came out of England in the 1960s.

Final Problems with the Series: Unhappy Ending

DATELINE:  Solution’s End

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Holmes boys—minus girl

There has always been a tendency to go overboard on flashbacks within hallucinations for the BBC update of Sherlock. And, trying to bring back Moriarty (wonderful over the top Andrew Scott), turned the final episode of Season 4 into a logistical pretzel.

The notion that Mycroft has locked up the homicidal sister of the Holmes boys is daring and ridiculous—and making her a girl with an interest in Jim Moriarty certainly allows for license. We fell into more plot holes during this episode than in the entire Holmes canon.

Alas, how the Holmes girl managed to escape her prisoner asylum island out in the middle of the nowhere ocean pushed the envelope and “note” clue from the Culverton Smith episode into a conflagration highlight of the last show.

Yes, she blows up 221b Baker Street and nearly kills all the stars. The residence will be rebuilt in a coda at episode’s end. However, overkill seems to have taken over, killing subtlety.

We really don’t want Sherlock to turn into the dreadful movie franchise with Robert Downey and Jude Law, utterly miscast lunacy. And, we are not amused to find the dreadful American TV series showing more intellect than this British counterpart.

Eurus is sister’s name.  It’s Greek for East Wind. Oh, we get it. Clever works, but pyrotechnics seem ready made for American TV ratings, not civilized British drama.

Mark Gatsiss finally has a big problem, not a solution.

The series likely will not return for two to three years, if ever. And it makes the “if ever” clause more attractive than anytime in the past four seasons.

The fourth season ends with conclusion that might suffice if production and stars never do another. It also sets a clean slate for future episodes with Holmes and Watson in Conan Doyle style again. Quien sabe?

Sherlock: Fair to Middle Episode

DATELINE:  Lying Down on the Job

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The middle episode movie for Sherlock 4 features Toby Jones, our favorite diminutive character actor, in rare form as evil. Moriarty receives a particularly snide stand-in named Culverton Smith in a ditty called “The Lying Detective.”

After the death of Mary, Watson’s wife, Holmes seemed crushed with guilt over failing to save her—and Watson seemed overwhelmed with mourning. Doyle skipped dealing with such issues for good reason.

Into this vulnerable mode, Sherlock has come face to face with a billionaire businessman/humanitarian who happens to be a serial killer.  It’s a year when billionaires do not fare well in film and television.

Having fallen back into his worst scenario of addiction, Holmes finds little sympathy from the man who writes the blog on their cases.

If there is a departure from the original stories, among so many departures, it is the importance of the women in the lives of Holmes and Watson. Irene Adler and Mary Marston Watson have become revisionist feminists. And Mrs. Hudson is the widow of a drug dealer.

If creative force Mark Gatsiss has his way, there may be other powerful women lurking between the lines of the original stories. Oh, no, not a Holmes sister??

Matching wits with a billionaire with unlimited resources may be a risky business for Holmes, but he has his reasons to leave himself so likely to be a murder victim.

Prodigious displays of his logical insights continue to be thrown away by Holmes, even in his most despondent, hallucinatory situations, induced by drug abuse.

Of course, the mainstay of the Gatsiss version of Holmes is that it always returns to canon, no worse for wear. We understand the need to avoid looking like Holmes picks his deerstalker wardrobe off the rack, but there’s no reason to put the stories on the rack.

 

Sherlock Returns in Cumberbatch Form

DATELINE: 3 New Adventures

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Sherlock’s Smarter Brother: Mark Gatsiss

The new, fourth season of Sherlock has reached American television at last with two bona fide movie stars as the main characters.

Martin Freeman’s Watson seems to be growing into the part more than ever. Benedict Cumberbatch has put his own indelible style on Holmes, but kept him true to form.

“The Six Thatchers” is a marvelous take on “The Six Napoleons,” keeping the sharp wit and moving with alacrity in its modern style. From the opening fast-paced, throwaway brilliance of Holmes, the TV movie travels into human tragedy, caused by Sherlock’s arrogant disregard for people.

Turning a flippant Holmes into an emotional rollercoaster rider both enhances Conan Doyle’s mythic figure and transforms the icon into something not usually seen on the small screen: intelligent, high-functioning sociopathic hero.

All the usual supporting characters are here again—from Mrs. Hudson to brother Mycroft and Inspector Lestrade. They cannot save Holmes from himself.

The modern world intrudes upon us with its technology. Highest levels of government are manipulating the media—and the worst evil of Holmes’s world, Moriarty, seems to be pulling the strings beyond life.

This season is extremely short—only three movie-length programs. However, there is nothing old deer-stalker hat here. To wait a few years between dollops of adventures seems well worth the prolonged, pregnant pause.

For those looking for something eventful in the vast wasteland of cable television and Golden Globe self-importance, the series written by Mark Gatsiss (Mycroft as actor) is brilliant and entertaining.

This Sherlock puts all the others, big and small screen, to utter shame.

 

Sherlock Returns to His Roots

DATELINE: Brides and Dogs

 

Since 2010 the revamped and updated Holmes with Cumberbatch and Freeman has taken on the true mantle of the Conan Doyle knighted revisions. Put aside those terrible movies with what’s his name, and the worse TV show with the female Watson.

Benedict and Martin are the successors to Basil and Nigel, Jeremy and Edward. This time, to show their mettle, the case of The Abominable Bride is set in 1890 or so.

To take the characters back in time levels the playing field with the past great adaptations—and puts this tandem into the canon with accolades.

The Bride case is one of those originally mentioned by Doyle/Watson as too shocking for the contemporary audiences of Victorian England. It is all rather mundane for the 21st century, but keeps the newest fans in ecstasy. This case is really Five Pips.

Holmes is still disparaging to Watson—and even Mrs. Hudson joins in, knocking those Strand stories. She notes she is barely in them. Holmes adds he was barely in the dog story. Watson incredulously asks, “Do you mean The Hound?”

Oh, the new old story is juicy, if not ridiculous too. It is played broadly, cleverly, and wittily. Holmes and Watson’s modern meeting is re-enacted in gaslight fashion without missing a beat.

Holmes notes how he is a man out of time—and the opening credits are the same as the series, only substituting silent newsreel footage of Old London for the new skyline.

Fans of the British series will be thrilled. Newcomers probably need to watch the earlier episodes to enjoy the parallels and references totally.

Sherlock has made Cumberbatch and Freeman movie stars of the first order—but they seem enamored of these breakthrough roles. We too are smitten.

Shameless PBS “Documentary” on Sherlock

 DATELINE: TV MASHUP

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Though we basically enjoyed watching the two “episode” commercial for the PBS series Sherlock, the documentary by PBS called How Sherlock Changed the World is nothing more or less than an advertisement for the PBS series with Benedict Cumberbatch.

The so-called documentary used the theme from the recent series to discuss the Conan Doyle stories. Instead of relying on another PBS favorite, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett that more accurately made the point that Holmes was the first CSI.

The current state of documentaries has deteriorated another level with this hackneyed attempt to sell a series by presenting a film that explores the impact of Doyle’s work over 100 years ago.

The repetition of the message over two episodes may be a kind of cognitive device to make sure dumb PBS audiences understand the key point. Talk about misjudging your audience.

To watch some of the most successful criminologists of our time compliment Doyle and Sherlock is indeed heady stuff as they use modern cases to prove how advanced the Doyle stories were. It’s true that Holmes may have looked like sci-fi in his day with blood trace issues and chemical tests of evidence.

The best part of the shows included scenes of Doyle being interviewed and explaining his inspiration of a former professor at medical school (Dr. Joseph Bell) who even posed once in a deerstalker cap for a laugh.

We love Sherlock, and we love documentaries that are genuine. We don’t love being manipulated shamelessly.

How Sherlock Changed the World is pleasant, but obviously it is a commercial effort to publicize the Cumberbatch series–and that grates.

Weakly Leaks Spring Eternal

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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Cumberbatch Impersonates Assange

The Fifth Estate tells the story of Wikileaks. However, if you are expecting All the President’s Men, you will be sorely disappointed.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s throat isn’t deep enough.

This is a tale of political technocrats, nerds of self-righteous anger. Laden with plenty of anti-American feeling and a holier-than-thou attitude, Julian Assange founds the Internet movement to spill the beans, come hell, high water, or moribund plot.

The metaphor opening the film hints that Wikileaks is on par with Guttenberg’s printing press and the Pentagon Papers.  It’s more like piecing together the Dead Sea Scrolls from a million fragments.

Benedict Cumberbatch again gives a striking performance, looking resplendent in his white wig. Most of the time he resembles like Andy Warhol’s lookalike lurking around Studio 54.

Laurence Olivier never felt comfortable in his acting until he had disguise. Cumberbatch acts with more color than his platinum hairpiece.

Drama from information and disinformation may not be the stuff of gripping conflict. In fact, the film tries to have its cake and eat it too. The privacy of Assange is assailed with more leaked secrets about his psychology than he likely cares to have revealed.

The movie is the ultimate tit for tat.

What’s sauce for the goose is a gander at Wikileaks springing its leaky-cum-mode on nations and their security.

Characters without any audience appeal are a tough foundation as protagonists and a worse sell at the box office.

We’ve always thought Assange was a political version of Bob Lazar who blew the whistle on UFOs at Area 51. This movie would have done better with a few unidentified flying secrets carried by little green men.

The war on invasions of our privacy should be one to prize, but this one is populated with booby prize material. Misdirection by Bill Condon doesn’t help.

Sherlock Holmes in America

 DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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Jonny Lee Miller with Aidan Quinn in Elementary

We resisted for as long as possible, but respected opinions convinced us to give Elementary a tryout as another incarnation of the Conan Doyle fictional detective.

The American television show runs simultaneous with the British Sherlock features Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes in contemporary New York. The two Holmes/Watson series contrast more than they compare. Yet, apples and oranges inevitably remain fruit.

Miller is not Benedict Cumberbatch. The Americanized Holmes is seen in the pilot show with a dominatrix (wasn’t that in season two of Sherlock?). He has tattoos, is introduced shirtless and wears trendy stubble.

Perhaps the most irksome twist is to make Watson a discredited doctor and a woman. Yes, Joanne Woodward played Watson forty years ago to George C. Scott’s New York Holmes (sort of, he was a deluded mental case and she his psychologist in They May Be Giants).

The more things change, the more we find that characters in Elementary all call Holmes “insane” after meeting him. Yes, he is a high-functioning sociopath, like the PBS version, yet the charming Cumberbatch is not quite the psychopath that Miller plays.

Clever ingredients and startling powers of observation remain hallmarks of the original reborn. Still, we feel like we are watching House (the other Holmes spinoff) transplanted in déjà vu..

Lucy Liu is Watson in exasperation mode, and Aidan Quinn shows up as Inspector Tommy Gregson, another Scotland Yard cop that the British version has eschewed in favor of Lestrade (Rupert Graves).

The American series is more than watchable—after all Michael Cuesta directed the pilot. It is also more linear than the British version and watered down enough for wide-scale American viewership. Too bad we can’t mix and match the best elementals from each series.

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Downey & Cumberbatch

Both new versions of Holmes are preferable to the Robert Downey/Jude Law crap that hits the big screen with a thud. It’s elementary, Sherlock.

Resurrected in Deerstalker Hat: Sherlock’s Comeback

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

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Downey & Cumberbatch: Will the Real Sherlock Please Stand Up?

Sherlock returned from the dead for American audiences this week.

The 21st century version, with all the clever homages to the original, took off on “The Empty House” with “The Empty Hearse,” to explain a two-year faked death.

Those with suspicious minds have spent the better part of the canon by figuring out the sexual tensions between Holmes and Watson. Mark Gatiss (who also plays Mycroft) writes this interplay with the aplomb of an Oscar Wilde comedy. Watson has nightmares about Sherlock kissing Moriarty.  Not elementary.

Watson has decided to marry a woman during the hiatus—much to the shock of everyone who felt he pined for his lost love.

Holmes may be the most shocked that Watson does not take kindly to being the victim of sado-masochistic sexual hijinks.

How Sherlock faked his death off a tall building in a single bound may be only slightly more ridiculous than surviving a fall off the Reichenbach Falls.

All the delightful supporting cast returns: Mycroft, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, Mary Morstan, and Molly, as Holmes must try to work with Watson’s alienated affections.

Perhaps the ploy to win back Watson is even more outrageous than the conspiracy to plot his own demise for Holmes.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (with a Watsonian mustache for some of the night) are more settled and more perfect in their depictions this third season.

If the show has a failing, it is too clever for its own good. But, it makes the re-watching all the more pleasurable. The season is only three movies, but they cram more into them than twenty episodes of that awful Elementary series or Robert Downey’s flaky movie franchise.

In this series Holmes is an antisocial media star in the 21st century.  Norman Jean Baker used to have to dress up to go out and be “Marilyn.”  Almost as funny is to see the put-upon Holmes put on his deerstalker hat and go out to be “Sherlock” for the enthralled media.

 

Movie Mashup and Alfred Hitchcock Freshly Showered may be two good books to read. Available on Amazon.com in softcover and paperback.

Holmes Returns to Baker Street in the 21st Century

DATELINE: SHERLOCK RETURNS

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Best Tandem Since Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke?

Not since Alfred Hitchcock decided to make seven-minute long trailers for Psycho and The Birds has there been a teasing preview like the BBC gives us. Its release on Christmas Eve is a sign that a bright star or two is overhead.

The new Sherlock Holmes (the modern one from England, not the bastardized Americanized one with the female Chinese Watson) will return shortly.

To whet the appetite of the devoted and obsessed, the producers that have not scrimped on clever and brilliantly deduced cases now bring superstars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman back as Holmes and Watson. When they started playing the roles three years ago, they were unknowns. Now they have starred in the biggest movies of the year (Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit).

When last we saw Holmes, he was dead in a massive fall off a tall building. Watson was bereft. Thank heavens they aren’t consenting adults or Watson would be using the needle out of grief.

Lestrade (Rupert Graves) refuses to hear the outlandish speculation that Holmes has survived death and been in the Orient solving crimes, over in Egypt helping the Cairo authorities, and in Brussels sprouting his line of crime solution.

Yet, he brings a few bric-a-brac to his imbibing doctor friend in his newly refurbished digs. Among the artifacts of Holmes that Lestrade has saved is a DVD addressed to Watson. It cleverly teases the good doctor—and the audience.

We know from Arthur Conan Doyle that Holmes survived his mighty fall, but what magic trick he used this time is still an open question.

Many Happy Returns is a short film that will bring joy to the devotees and leave lesser lights in the dark.

 

 If you enjoy Ossurworld’s comments, you can read his full book of movie critiques in MOVIE MASHUP or in ALFRED HITCHCOCK FRESHLY SHOWERED. Both are available at Amazon.com.

 

Out of the Darkness with Star Trek

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

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Chris Pine & Zachary Quinto as Legends Captain Kirk & Spock

 

Something remains comforting when there is no need for exposition. Star Trek into Darkness brings the mythology of 40 years together instantly.

The film, cleverly written, annotates the original series and the highly successful transition of an episode into Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan back in the 1980s. Now we have the younger versions predating the older action and thus giving us more information and more to savor.

Though the movie still contains much action and adventures, special effects and whatnot, no other movie can provide deeper emotional resonance with a lift of the eyebrow or a snide crack of the major characters at each other.

That is the beauty of having legendary status and national mythology mixed into our 20th and now 21st centuries. If the Greeks had Odysseus and the Romans Romulus, the American mythos may live as long and prosper.

The latest generation incarnates the central figures of Kirk, Spock, Khan, Scottie, and their immortal personalities.

Echoes of the terrorist attacks just recently seen in Boston and Benghazi seem to give an instant comprehension of what the future holds. It’s not much different than the present.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are again compelling (as is the rest of the cast), but a special kudo must go to the quirky Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) of modern incarnation now playing the role originally created by Ricardo Montalban. The characters are more British now (as is Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) from Star Trek II), but it feels like a reunion of ideas and idols.

Though the storyline is enriched by the knowledge of the entire oeuvre, viewers can still discover it anew and lock in like a tractor beam to the larger meanings.

It’s timeless and it’s intriguing. That’s why national mythology is important and lives forever.

Directed by J.J.Abrams, this latest film in the series contains a few surprises and many parallel homage moments to the Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan version.

If you enjoy unusual movie reviews, try MOVIE MASHUP or MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE. Both books are available on Amazon.com in softcover or ebook formats.