Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review - "Doctor Who: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS"

Warning: This review will contain spoilers. If you wish to remain surprised, make sure you see the episode before continuing

With a title like "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS," the episode sounds like a wild ride. It was promised that we should be able to see more of the Doctor's craft than ever before. Is this true? Does the episode live up to the fantastic title?

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) find themselves in more trouble than ever before when the TARDIS is captured by a salvage vessel. When Clara goes missing, the Doctor has only thirty minutes to find her and save the most valuable space ship in the universe.

"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was written by Steve Thompson. Thompson wrote the sixth series episode "Curse of the Black Spot" which I like, despite the overwhelming distaste for the episode. He also penned "The Reichenbach Fall," the series two finale of "Sherlock." With some pretty good credits under his belt already, I was looking forward to his treatment of this story. On a whole, it was quite good. The episode was handled well - the best element was the suspense factor. The fact that the Doctor only had thirty minutes to search through the entire TARDIS to find Clara was great. In addition, the monsters of this episode (yep - this episode's got monsters) were very creepy. We only see fleeting glimpses of them throughout the story which makes them even more disturbing.

As for the actual TARDIS, it was sort of a mixed bag. Much like Series Six's, "The Doctor's Wife," we see a lot, a lot of corridors, some hallways and a few more corridors. However here it works out well. It manages to make the TARDIS feel gigantic which is how we're supposed to feel I suppose. There were a few treats or fans such as an observatory, the much-fabled swimming pool and a magnificent-looking library. The Eye of Harmony, which played such an important role in the Doctor Who 1996 T.V. Movie, also plays a very important part here and if you listen closely you could hear Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston's voice in one scene.

As for the acting, Matt Smith was great as usual. He handles all of the Doctor's wide-ranging emotions well throughout the story. My only complaint with the Doctor's character here is how he bounces back and forth with his emotions throughout the story. One minute he's lost his cool and the next he's calm and collected. Jenna-Louise Coleman is great as Clara. She really is a wonderful companion, and certainly one of the very best. The guest stars of this episode weren't bad. I didn't feel very connected with them and aside from luring the TARDIS to their junk ship, they didn't have a whole lot of bearing to the plot. On the plus side, the cast was small so we get a lot of Doctor and Clara interaction - which is welcome since next week's episode is probably going to be Doctor and Companion-lite.

To recap - "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was a good episode. I wouldn't say it was spectacular and could have perhaps given us a bit more to see of the TARDIS. The suspense and horror elements were handled wonderfully and Matt and Jenna were great as always. I would award this episode a well-deserved 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Coming Next Time: Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax return to save the day - and the Doctor in "The Crimson Horror" (Click here for a teaser)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review - "Cat of Many Tails"

In retrospect, even though the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is by far my favourite "movement" in literature, I am not all that well acquainted with it. I have a good knowledge of S. S. Van Dine, Dorthy L. Sayers, Ellery Queen and others, but I have not actually read any their books. The extent of my love for the era comes from Agatha Christie and Agatha Christie alone.

The biggest problem was that a number of these authors were seemingly out of print, and seemed like I would never be able to read Van Dine, Queen or John Dickson Carr. Luckily, I discovered that the MysteriousPress has recently turned the original Ellery Queen novels in e-books, and I jumped at the opportunity to read one of these books. I decided to start with "Cat of Many Tails," the book for which I had read so many positive reviews. So, did I find this book as good as so many other reviewers did? Let's find out.

New York City is under attack. In the beginning of this book, five people have all been murdered - strangled with a length of cord by a multiple murderer known as The Cat. Inspector Richard Queen of the New York Police Department is promoted to taking charge of the case, and asks his son, Ellery, to help him capture the murderer. The most perplexing problem is that all of the Cat's victims seem to be unrelated. What is the connection between all of the victims, and will Ellery be able to bring the killer to justice?

This was my first encounter with Ellery Queen in the written word. For some time now I have been a fan of a the 1975-1976 television series featuring Jim Hutton and David Wayne who wonderfully portrayed the father and son duo. What I found most interesting about this book was the fact that this story was different from the  earliest Queen novels. This story is not the traditional puzzle mystery where the detectives round up the usual suspects to uncover the identity of the killer. "Cat of Many Tails" is a race-against-the-clock to capture the killer. What's more, this book can in some respects be viewed as a police procedural where the narrative comes to halt to describe the efforts of the NYPD to solve the case. I thought this was a very creative touch as the tone of the story can vary from chapter to chapter.

The city of New York is also beautifully described throughout the book. Other reviewers have said that the city becomes a character itself and I am inclined to agree there. New York is described in great detail throughout the story and the reactions of its people make up a large part of the book. Hysteria mounts throughout the story causing the tension to rise. At one point riots break out and mass hysteria sweeps the residents of New York - and although this may sound incredible at first, I can actually understand it. I likened it to the similar hysteria which broke out in the wake of the Jack the Ripper murders during 1888.

As to the actual characterizations, I cannot say too much since I have not read any of the Ellery Queen books. I have read others say that Ellery began as a bit of a snob akin to Lord Peter Wimsey or Philo Vance, but I didn't see any example of that in this story. Ellery and his father seemed like two very likable, if rather rough-around-the-edges characters. The only character who I really did not like in this story was a young newspaper reporter who becomes a major character doing some work for Ellery throughout the story. He got on my nerves endlessly and I cannot see what the leading lady of this story was supposed to see in a character like him.

Aside from that one gratingly bad character, there wasn't too much else which I didn't like about this story. My only problem is I don't know if I can really consider this story a mystery. In my mind there is a distinct difference between a mystery and a story where a detective appears. While the book was very enjoyable and did indeed have elements of mystery in it, there was no way that I could have solved this story myself. The solution to the book hinges on the psychology of the murderer, so this wasn't what I would call a fairly clued mystery novel. This could be somewhat disappointing since Agatha Christie's "The ABC Murders" also told about a serial killer bumping off seemingly unrelated people, but this was a fairly-clued story, with an enjoyable twist.

As an aside, I'd like to point out that the characterizations of Ellery and his father in this book are different than those in the '70's television series and while this wasn't a complaint, but something I did have to get over when I began. Ellery Queen of the television show was a bumbling yet lovable, slightly geeky, investigator. I didn't get that vibe at all. Instead, Ellery was far more refined here and much more humane. Ellery's father was also a bit more rugged than in the show, but nonetheless he was a nice character who I warmed up to.

In all, "Cat of Many Tails" made for a fine introduction into the world of Ellery Queen. I really enjoyed the book as well as the mounting tension and suspense. I would have preferred if this was a more fairly-clued mystery and that the solution didn't rely too much upon psychology. Nevertheless, this was a very well-done novel which I give 4 out of 5 stars. "Cat of Many Tails" is by no means my last Ellery Queen novel. I do have a suspicion of what book shall be next, but do you have any recommendations? I'd be very interesting in hearing any opinions.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review - "Doctor Who: Hide"

As usual, this review may contain spoilers. For those who wish to remain surprised, turn back now

Who doesn't like a nice ghost story? The latest episode of Doctor Who seems centered around that question as the Doctor and Clara seem to face a force of the supernatural. I for one love the episodes of the show which are a little more on the spooky side, so I looked forward to this episode - interestingly entitled "Hide" - with some interest. Did it deliver the thrills and chilled that I hoped it would?

The Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) arrive at an isolated manor on the moor. It seems as though a professor and a psychic are trying to contact a spirit named as the Witch of the Well who lives in the house. What does she want and will the Doctor be able to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion?

"Hide" was an episode with a great amount of potential, and for the most part it lived up to it. The early portions of the episode were wrought with suspenseful moments and a great deal of atmosphere. The setting of the mansion on the moor was wonderful and the constant rain, wind and lightning were very effective at building up the ghostly atmosphere. For the most part, I'd say the first half of the episode worked the best. It quickly drew me in and wonderfully built up the characters of Professor Palmer (played by Dougary Scott) and Emma, the medium (played by Jessica Raine). In addition, Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman have their best chemistry in these scenes. Kudos to Jenna - this was the first episode she filmed, but you can hardly tell it.

After this, the episode does fall apart a bit, but it's not without it's redeeming qualities. As the Doctor enters the alternate universe, there is some wonderful scenery which goes a long way to increasing the level of suspense and horror. Matt Smith is wonderful in these scenes, showing how the situation has gotten to him. But, the second part of the episode just cannot live up to the same level of quality as the first half did. Also, a trip in the TARDIS throughout various points in time is interesting, but it does feel a bit contrived coming in the middle of the story. Nonetheless, these are too detracting from the overall episode, which is quite good.

"Hide" was written by  Neil Cross, who also penned "The Rings of Akhaten" from earlier this season. Both episodes were good, but I don'd feel as though they were truly outstanding. Don;t get me wrong - "Hide" was a very entertaining episode and it receives a well-warranted 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Coming Next Time: "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" (Enough said - but click here for a teaser)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review - "Dark Horizons"

Despite the fact that I love "Doctor Who," I had never really gone beyond the television series or the Big Finish audio recordings. Finally, I decided to invest in some Doctor Who-related books and I started with "Dark Horizons" by J.T. Colgan which featured the Doctor as played by Matt Smith.

The Doctor arrives in the thirteen-hundreds and discovers he has more trouble on his hands than vikings. Arriving in a world that doesn't know what the colour blue is, the Doctor discovers that a small island community is being terrorized by flames - a fire which cannot be put out by water and seems to burn forever. What is it that is terrorizing this town and can it be stopped?

The premise behind "Dark Horizons" is a good one, and author J.T. Colgan is able to make the story very interesting. I had no idea what was causing the mysterious burning and the author is able to keep up that level of mystery. When the explanation does come halfway through, it's a perfectly suitable one and from that point on, the book comes a game of cat and mouse between the Doctor and a strange alien race. What's more, the book has a number of very dramatic passages, which are quite convincing. What in the wrong hands could have been laughably over-the-top, is restrained and quite exciting here. There are a number of scenes which take place on viking ships and under the water and this is all described in great detail.

The author's greatest success is the representation of the Doctor. There were times when I was reading this book when the tone and style matched Matt Smith's portrayal brilliantly and I could hear his voice reading in my head. There were also some hysterical laugh-out-loud moments provided by the writing, and I did have to suppress my laughter during certain portions of the book. On the other hand, Colgan was able to capture the sincere and very touching portrayal of the Doctor as well. The Doctor does not wish any harm to come upon the people of this book and he only wishes that he could get them out of their plight. While the book could be positively uproarious, there were some genuinely moving portions.

Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor
While the style of writing was for the most part well handled, it was not perfect. Some chapters opened with pages of unimportant details and it was quite jarring coming out of an exciting action set-piece. What's more, as the book progressed it did get rather long-winded and there were times that it seemed as though all of the action stopped and we are left with our characters standing around making small talk. These portions of the book become very repetitive very fast.

It would have also been nice to give this story some sort of placement in the Doctor Who universe. The Doctor in this story is travelling without a companion, so we are left to assume that this story took place after the events of Series 6, when the Doctor temporarily left Amy Pond and Rory, but that's never explained. Nor is the Doctor's presence in the 13th century. It's established on page one that he wants to play a game of chess, but why does his mind very naturally leap to the 1200's? I don't know, so I'll try to refrain from rhetorical questions.

All in all, "Dark Horizons" was an enjoyable book and in retrospect I am very glad that I read it. It has made for a great new jumping on point for more Doctor Who novels and only the other night I actually bought three more in this same series which features Matt Smith as the Doctor. Keep a look out for them coming in the future. I would give "Dark Horizons" a 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Avoid the Moor in those Hours of Darkness...

When I was arguing how Peter Cushing may be the definitive, immortal Sherlock Holmes, I gave very high praise to the 1959 version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in which Cushing starred as the detective.  Is it the best adaptation of Doyle's novel - no - but it's certainly one of the most entertaining and enjoyable film versions of the famed story.

1957 marked an important year for horror fans. Hammer Studios, a film studio in England, had decided to tackle Mary Shelly's famed masterpiece, "Frankenstein" - capturing the Gothic elements which were prevalent in the novel as well as the acclaimed 1931 film from Universal studios. What emerged in 1957 was "Curse of Frankenstein," starring Peter Cushing as the Baron Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as his creation. Both men give great performances, and they perform against a real blood-and-thunder backdrop, and this film introduced audiences to the bright red Technicolour blood which is now so famous among Hammer audiences. A year later, the two were reunited in "Dracula," where Peter Cushing starred as Van Helsing and Lee as the vampire count. A year later when it came time to find new material for Hammer to produce, it seemed rather obvious that the studio's next film should be based on Doyle's quasi-ghost story.

What I think is so great right from the start is that Hammer's film is simply oozing atmosphere. If there was ever a studio who could capture the Gothic trappings of Doyle's novel, Hammer was that studio. All of the scenes have a very gritty and dark feeling, and when the film shifts to the moorland setting, the atmosphere grows even more as our three leading men move through creepy sets wrapped in fog. What people seem to forget is that Doyle's original book, in addition to being a first-rate detective story, is a fantastic horror novel.

Sherlock woke up on the wrong side of the bed
But what of the performances? I have already given high praise to Peter Cushing, but I feel as though his performance in this movie is perhaps some of his best work. It's obvious that Cushing is coming from the perspective of a true Sherlockian fan, and he's performing as though he has Doyle's original word close to heart. I think the most fascinating part of Cushing's performance here is how rude and prickly this characterization of Holmes is. For some viewers, this may be a big drawback - but I really like it. Sherlock Holmes was always sort of a standoffish, prickly guy and I think that this side of the detective isn't explored enough. We've seen more of it recently through Benedict Cumberbatch's performance in "Sherlock,' but Cushing preceded the latter by 50 years.

The other stand-out performance in this movie is Andre Morrell as Dr. Watson. Morrell is one of the best portrayals of Watson ever, bringing a warm sensibility and levelheadedness to the role. Remember, until this time Watson was considered bumbling and blustering (thanks to the ever lovable Nigel Bruce) and now this performance was very different as we see how Watson was originally written by Doyle. Lastly, I'd like to touch on Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville. This performance as the baronet was his first real chance to play a humane character in a Hammer horror film, and he shows what a capable and versatile actor Lee really is.

The atmospheric French poster
While this version of "Hound" does not follow the plot of Doyle's original, it does make up for it in some very interesting ways. The script obviously is trying to add more elements of Gothic horror and to ramp up the level of excellent. For example, an early scene featuring Sir Henry and a large spider is genuinely creepy for those suffering arachnophobia, and it certainly adds a level of danger to the early stages of the film. As the movie progresses, we're treated to an attempt on Holmes' life in a mine shaft and the movie climaxes at an ancient abbey ruin. Obviously, these scenes were not in Doyle's book, but it does add to the horror element of the movie. These changes don't change characters just for the sake of changing things and it doesn't kill off characters unjustly (cough - 2002 version - cough).

In all, this 1959 version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" could be my favourite. The star's performances are all excellent and the atmosphere of the picture is so wonderfully done. The elements of Gothic horror are tremendously executed throughout the movie and I feel that any Sherlockian fan has to see this movie at some point in their lives.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Review - "Hitchcock"

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Nick Cardillo, the blogger here at the Consulting Detective and today I am sharing with you my thoughts on the 2012 film "Hitchcock."

Okay, well now that I got my Hitchcock impersonation out of the way it's time I actually get around to reviewing this. I should begin by saying that when I first learned that a film was going to be made about Alfred Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins, I was positively blown away. This sounded like such a fantastic premise for a film, and when the first trailer came out I couldn't wait to see the movie. Well, I finally got around to seeing it despite the very, very mixed reviews which I had read (including one from Patrick over at "The Scene of the Crime").

Anyhow, "Hitchcock" tells the story of Alfred Hitchcock and how is determined to bring the film "Psycho" to life. With his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), the director will stop at nothing to bring this project to life, facing a number of odds.

The film is purported to be based upon "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" by Stephen Rebello - a book which I have sadly not gotten around to reading yet, although I did purchase it a while back. Nonetheless, I am familiar with some of "Psycho's" production history and the trials and tribulations which Alfred Hitchcock had to go through in order to direct this film. On the surface a film like "Hitchcock" had great potential - and I have always liked the idea of a movie telling about the production of another movie. However, while the film had potential it didn't live up to it.

I'll begin by looking at the positives. First off, Anthony Hopkins is fantastic. He really does bring Alfred Hitchcock to life perfectly. His performance is probably the best in the film and there are some very clever moments which could warm the heart of any Hitchcock fan. The beginning and end of the movie feature the director addressing the audience directly and even plays the music "Funeral March for a Marionette" making these scenes feel as though they have been lifted from an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." Other praise must go towards James D'Arcy and Scarlett Johansson as Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh respectively.

In addition, the movie looks beautiful. The late 1950's is recreated in grand style. The production team should certainly be commended for their work. Furthermore, when the movie decides to discuss the production of "Psycho" it is actually pretty interesting. The fact that Hitchcock financed the project alone is interesting and his rather strenuous relationship with Paramount is intriguing. Sadly, the film doesn't go much more in depth on the production of the film than an outline. And this is the film's greatest downfall.
Hitchcock reading Robert Bloch's novel

Although the movie is supposed to be about the making of "Psycho," it simply isn't. This is the story of Alfred Hitchcock's relationship with his wife Alma and it simply happens to coincide with the filming of his most famous film. Instead we get far too many scenes with Alma working with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) as Hitchcock begins to suspect that Alma is falling for this other man. These scenes do not propel the story forward at all, and really detract from what could have a potentially interesting story about the filming of one of the famous movies of all time. In addition, we get a number of pointless scenes in which Hitchcock actually believes to be speaking to the real-life inspiration for Robert Bloch's novel, the serial killer Ed Gein. These scenes also go nowhere and add nothing whatsoever to the plot. The entire middle section of the movie is bogged down with scenes like this and really detracts from the overall enjoyment. It's only with fifteen minutes remaining in this film do we get more production history on the film - and eve then it's extraordinarily brief.

In my opinion, this film was trying to be too much at once. It was attempting to be a film about the production of "Psycho," a film about the potentially troubled life of Alfred Hitchcock and a film about the warped and disturbing life of Ed Gein. If the movie had actually decided to follow actual history and tell us about the production of "Psycho," this could have been a great movie which utilized the talents of Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren to their full. While there were some redeeming qualities (the scene where Alma asks Hitchcock why he wants to make the film springs to mind), "Hitchcock" suffers under the weight of a jumbled script which it couldn't improve. I therefore give "Hitchcock" a 3 out of 5 stars. It's certainly not a dreadful film, but it had so much more potential.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review - "Doctor Who: Cold War"

Warning: Again this review will contain spoilers, so take heed before continuing.

Of all the episodes in Season 7 Part 2, I was perhaps looking forward to "Cold War" most of all. This episode would reintroduce the Ice Warriors, a Doctor Who monster which had not been glimpsed in more than 30 years. And what's more, it was being written by Mark Gatiss, who has written some of the best episodes of NuWho. So, does it live up to my high expectations?

It's 1983 - the height of the Cold War. The TARDIS arrives on a sinking Soviet submarine carrying two nuclear weapons. The fact that the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) could drown to death seems to be the least of their problems since a creature known as an Ice Warrior is loose on the sub, and is prepared to do anything to reunite with his lost race. Can the Doctor save the crew members on the ship - and prevent world destruction?

I suppose I should give you some background before I continue the review proper. The Ice Warriors made their first appearance in the Second Doctor story, "The Ice Warriors" sadly lost today due to the BBC's junking policy. Since then, they only appeared three more times, but have remained a favourite of fans and criminally underused. Seeing their return was very exciting and it was made even more so since Mark Gatiss was handling the story. Gatiss is one of my favourite writers for television, having contributed greatly to Doctor Who and Sherlock. Gatiss was also the host of a BBC documentary special "A History of Horror," and it's evident that a love of horror films has had a great impact on Gatiss' writing.

An Ice Warrior
"Cold War" was a very entertaining episode, and it certainly met the high expectations I had had. The script is filled with great suspense and tension and the claustrophobic atmosphere of the nuclear submarine is superb. This story is perhaps a much more low key story, relying only on the suspense which can be created from the monster among the group of people. This would be a rather unoriginal idea, but having it set on a sinking submarine is original. The star's performance keeps the suspense going as well. Both Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman are great. By this time, Clara has been firmly rooted as a character. She is a key member of the TARDIS team now.

Sadly, the episode was not perfect. Guest star, David Warner, is rather underused in this story. Warner is a great actor, but I felt like he didn't have a whole lot to do in this story. And am I the only one who found it a bit jarring to have David Warner listening to Duran Duran's "Hungry like the Wolf?" That's beside the point though. Anyhow, I also felt like the solution was perhaps a bit rushed. There was a lot of brilliant, suspenseful build-up to the climax and then the Ice Warriors sort of just fly away and that's it. Clara convinces the creature not to kill them and it complies. This was surely an underwhelming ending to a great episode.

Luckily, I'm able to overlook the last few of the episode because frankly the rest of it was great, creepy, suspenseful entertainment. Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman were great and guest star David Warner was able to do the best with his somewhat underwritten part. Of the second part of Season 7, I nominate "Cold War" as the best episode thus far. I award it 4 out of 5 stars.

Coming Next Time: Whose afraid of the dark: (Click here for a teaser for "Hide")

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review - "Sleuth" (1972)

There are lots of tributes to the mystery genre. Some of them are good - some are less than wonderful - and some are quite bad. Nevertheless, every once and a while there's a tribute which is extraordinarily enjoyable and even flip the genre on its head. That's what 1972's "Sleuth" successfully does, making it a real treat to fans of mysteries and a good old fashioned thriller.

Laurence Oliver is Andrew Wyke, a mystery novelist known the world over. He has invited a young man named Milo Tindle (Michael Caine) to his stately manor in the country since Milo wants to run off with Andrew's wife. Surprisingly, Andrew gives his consent and even goes as far to stage a fake robbery so Milo and his wife can run off together with a good deal of money. However, Andrew double crosses Milo, pulling a gun on him and shooting him dead. And that's when things really heat up...

I won't divulge any more of the plot of this film since it is such a treat to be surprised. "Sleuth" is based off of Anthony Shaffer's Tony award-winning play, and it's quite evident in the film. The entire movie has only one setting and two characters. Everything is based off of these two men's performances but they carry it off brilliantly. Both Laurence Oliver and Michael Caine were nominated for an Academy Award for their roles in this film, and I really think that Oliver deserved it. While Michael Caine is good, he is rather out-shined by Oliver, who is tremendous. He carries off the role of Andrew Wyke brilliantly, bringing to life what can happen when we mystery enthusiasts go off the deep end. "How would you like to be found dead," Andrew asks Milo, "Slumped over a desk like so many colonels in so many studies or propped up in a log basket like a ragdoll? Which do you fancy early Agatha Christie or vintage S.S. Van Dine."

As a said above, in addition to be a beautiful homage to the mystery genre, "Sleuth" is a taught and suspenseful thriller. The deadly game which Andrew and Milo indulge in is brilliant, and with each passing moment the tension builds. I think that because the movie is done in a very theatre-esque style, this adds to the level of suspense and intrigue, as you imagine yourself in a live audience watching this unfold before you. I was actually lucky enough to see this show performed at a local theatre a few years ago, and it made me want to track down this famed movie version.

To the best of my knowledge, the movie is not available on DVD. However, at the time of this writing, the entire movie has been uploaded onto YouTube. I am not advocating piracy on this blog, but I do highly recommend jumping at the opportunity to see this fine, fine movie (if you don't mind what I believe are Russian subtitles). "Sleuth" receives a 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Immortal Sherlock Holmes - The Verdict

The votes are in and have been counted. You, the people of the Internet from across the world, have voted on who you think is the Immortal Sherlock Holmes. I have already looked at the three candidates in depth, and those three pieces of analysis can be found on this blog.

Anyway, the results have been up for a few days now, so I'll just give my feedback. I must say that I was rather surprised. Jeremy Brett had had the lead for quite some time, and at the very last minute Basil Rathbone swooped in from underneath and won by two votes. To the nine people who voted, I thank you.

Do I agree with your sentiment - I don't really know. Basil Rathbone was one of my very first Sherlockian encounters, so he does hold a special place in my heart. Nevertheless, when I pick up a pastiche or re-read one of Doyle's stories, Rathbone is not the face who I imagine. To be perfectly honest, I cannot describe the face of the Sherlock Holmes who I imagine. It's perhaps a strange hybrid of some of the greats. Together, they are all added together in the blender which is my mind and produce the ideal characterization. I think that Basil Rathbone was wonderful as Holmes. In his first few films when there was still a challenge to playing the detective, you could tell that Rathbone was on top of the world and having so much fun with it. That's why I cite the two films that Rathbone made at 20th Century Fox as superior to the one's at Universal. While they're all great, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" present us with an actor who looks like he is having a fantastic time playing the role of the detective.

When Basil Rathbone and company moved to Universal Studios, it became obvious after a while that Rathbone lost interest in the part of the detective. His last few turns as Holmes are very dull and he cannot breathe any life in the stories. I cite "Pursuit to Algiers" as a case-in-point. An already painfully slow and dull story, this film could have been saved if Rathbone was in top form as Holmes. However, Basil Rathbone walks through the part, making the movie seem as though it's twice as long as it should be. But, really who could blame Rathbone? He had been playing Holmes almost non-stop for six years. He needed a new challenge - something to actually stimulate him. He of course found that when he returned to the stage and won a Tony for his role in "The Heiress."

Great Detective or Chief Whip?
Before I talk about some of the others, I wanted to point out one in particular. Thanks to TomCat, who was the only person to answer the question I posed to those taking the poll, I can sum up the brief but impressive turn of Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes. I have written before of how vastly underrated Ian Richardson is as Sherlock Holmes. His performance is quite brilliant and he really dominates every scene in which appears. Much like Rathbone, he looks like he's having such a grand old time playing Holmes, even when's caught in the midst of some ludicrous situations (i.e. wrestling the pygmy in "The Sign of Four" or grappling with the hound in "Hound of the Baskervilles). Richardson is an overlooked star, and his two films - though flawed - are great fun for any Sherlock Holmes fan who has not yet discovered them. If you can track them down, I highly recommend both of them just for the pure entertainment value which they possess. 

Incidentally, Richardson had a wonderful career aside from Sherlock Holmes. He is perhaps best remembered by audiences today as playing Francis Urquhart, Chief Whip of British Parliament in the immensely successful "House of Cards" series. I confess that I have never actually seen the series in its entirety, however from what I have seen, Richardson is fantastic, cheekily addressing the audience, letting them in on his evil schemes. Richardson is also well remembered for (oddly enough) mustard. Take a look!

Lastly, but certainly not least is Jeremy Brett. Brett was winning in the poll for some time, which honestly did not surprise me. I think to fans of the canon, Brett is the epitome of Sherlock Holmes. No one before him had gone to such lengths in order to recreate the character so vividly. Jeremy Brett portrayed the character brilliantly - to a point. In my mind, "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" (1984) is perhaps hallowed ground. It is some of the finest Sherlock Holmes material I have ever come across, and I honestly cannot find any flaws with it. It's only in the later series do we see Brett's illnesses really begin to take a toll on him, and the quality of his scripts plummet. Take for example, "The Mazarin Stone" from "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes." Surely one of the more weaker stories, the Granada series decided to ignore a great deal of the plot and shoe-horned in the plot of "The Three Garridebs." Oh - Jeremy Brett is only in that episode for about two minutes. It's quite sad how far the Granada series sank in just a few years.

In all, I think it is quite interesting to see where Sherlockian's hearts lie. Perhaps someday to get a non-biased opinion, I'll conduct an experiment showing Basil, Jeremy and Peter side-by-side-by-side to a group of people unfamiliar with the three to see who chooses the most Sherlock Holmes-esque. But that's for another time. Until then, Basil Rathbone still reigns supreme here on the Consulting Detective.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Rise of the Hardboiled Detective and Film Noir

Here's my first non Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Who related post! Enjoy!

Perhaps it's not exactly the best thing to do, but I have always grouped the hardboiled detective and Film Noir together. Perhaps this comes from the fact that the stereotypical hardboiled detective really emerged during the Film Noir era when books such as "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" were first released.

To be frank, Film Noir was never really may favourite genre. It has recently grown on me, and I find the films of the time to be enjoyable in the extreme. Does that mean I like everything which has emerged in the Film Noir genre - good heavens no! I don't like everything which has been released in the Sherlock Holmes sub-genre. However, since I find the concept of the hardboiled detective and Film Noir to be fascinating I thought it would make for a nice introduction to my my new reviews of the mystery genre on a whole.

I suppose I ought to really start with the hardboiled detective since I think this character is perhaps one of the most interesting in the history of mystery fiction. As I posted quite a while back, I made the case that Sherlock Holmes was in fact the first hardboiled detective, and some of the similarities are uncanny, however in the hands of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, the hardboiled detective took on a completely different spin. In my opinion, the hardboiled detective is the epitome of the anti-hero and characters like this paved the way for more anti-heroes in the future (James Bond springs to mind).

Raymond Chandler
When I was first introduced to the concept of the hardboiled detective, I was not truly a fan. In my mind, a true detective belongs in a "fair play" mystery where they are gathering the clues together and eventually expose the murderer in the final chapter. So imagine my surprise when as a young lad, I found "The Maltese Falcon" and discovered this story featured very few of the characteristics of my preferred mysteries. I tried to cling to these preferences when I decided to try a Raymond Chandler novel. I decided to opt for "Lady in the Lake" because it was supposed to be the most Agatha Christie-like Chandler novel. To put it mildly, I was disappointed.

I'm inclined to agree with the general popular opinion that Chandler is a good writer. He managed to get the tough side of Philip Marlowe, his detective, across, but maintaining a likability about him. Even though Marlowe would not be a person I'd like a great deal if I met him tomorrow in a shop, I cannot help but think that Marlowe is a really good guy. But aside from Chandler's descriptions and characterization, I cannot really say that the rest of the story was all that good. To be perfectly honest, it was actually quite forgettable. I have not yet read "The Big Sleep" or any of Chandler's other work, since I have heard many conflicting opinions about his novels. I'm also not too keen on reading a book where even the author didn't know who committed one of the murders. Call me crazy, but I feel like the author of a mystery novel should know the outcome of his book.

While the works of Raymond Chandler may not be my cup of tea, that doesn't mean I put down all things in the Noir genre. In fact, I have made it a point to track down some of the most famous Film Noir movies. What's nice about this genre is that the stories vary greatly. Under the umbrella of Film Noir we have such diverse films as "I Wake Up Screaming," "The Bribe," "Out of the Past" and "Sorry, Wrong Number." These are just a few off the top of my head, and three of those four made a great impression upon me. "I Wake Up Screaming" was probably my first real Noir film which I sat all the way through and liked immensely. While the plot is pretty straightforward and utilizes a number of Film Noir tropes, it's still a very entertaining motion picture. If you're looking for originality, "Sorry, Wrong Number" is the way to go. Barbra Stanwyck is wonderful as a bedridden woman, who when she picks up the phone, hears her husband discussing her murder to a hit-man he has hired.

Some film historians debate over what is the best example of Film Noir, and while I cannot give a definitive answer, I can give my opinion to one of the more recent Noir films I've seen. "Out of the Past" (1947) is oftentimes cited as being the greatest Film Noir movie. Starring Robert Mitchum as a one-time gumshoe, he soon becomes involved with the woman he used to love (Jane Greer) and a dangerous crime boss (Kirk Douglas). "Out of the Past" features some of the classic tropes of the genre, but it makes the movie seem so enjoyable. Mithcum, Greer and Douglas are all brilliant in their roles and the film making is top notch. If you have any interest in Noir whatsoever or good film making, "Out of the Past" comes highly recommended from me.

There is honestly too much material to cover here all at once, so I hope to keep up with Film Noir in the future. My plans going forward with the hardboiled detective are somewhat vague. I have wanted to give Raymond Chandler his second chance, and perhaps get around to actually reading "The Maltese Falcon." I'll probably have much more respect for this classic film once I have read the book.

Notes: Another confession - I really got interested in tracking down Film Noir movies after I saw the 1982 comedy, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid." This very enjoyable parody of the Film Noir era features Steve Martin as a gumshoe and he is able to interact with some of the screen's most famous faces due to clever writing and some good editing. It's a very clever film for any fan of the films of the '30's and '40's.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review - "Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten"

Warning: If you have not seen this episode, make sure that you do so before continuing this review as it will contain spoilers.

Season 7 Part 2 has surely continued with style and great flair in "The Rings of Akhaten." After Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) wishes to see "something awesome," the Doctor (Matt Smith) decides to take her to the Festival of Offerings on the titular Rings of Akhaten. However, things don't go exactly as the Doctor planned when Clara runs into a little girl named Merry who has been chosen as the Queen of Years who shall be sacrificed to the ring's god. Can the Doctor save her in time before the god awakens...?

I for one didn't quite know exactly what to expect in this episode. It wasn't exactly the episode I was looking forward to most, but it did have some interesting looking scenes and the promise of plenty of aliens seemed interesting. Well, I certainly wasn't disappointed during this episode - it exceeded my expectations dramatically. While it did take a little while to truly get going, once it did I thought it was very well done. It was nice that we got some more background on Clara, although we are still no closer to discovering who she is and how she could have survived in two different forms.

Matt Smith was wonderful as usual in this episode - he didn't have a great deal to do in the episode's beginning, but as the story progressed he was up to his usual tricks as always. What's more, Matt Smith is given two brilliant monologues in this episode. The latter of which, as he is confronting the god of the episode, is positively brilliant and really gave me chills. Also to see the Doctor shedding a few tears is rather jarring and isn't all that common in the show. However, the real acting chops have to be given to Jenna-Louise Coleman who really stands in this story. She occupies the episode's middle and she really shows she has the potential to be a great companion. I have a feeling by next week's story, she will be firmly routed in her character and we can continue proper.
Mono a Mono

As I stated above, the episode does take a while to really get going. Despite an interesting flashback, the first portion of the episode is a little padded and the banter between the Doctor and Clara falls a bit flat. In addition, the "mummy" of the episode really doesn't have a whole lot to do. While touted throughout teasers for the season, the "mummy" doesn't do anything more than roar and break some glass before it goes away. That is an underused monster if there ever was one. It would have been nice if this creature actually had more bearing to the plot other than foreshadowing the arrival of the ring's god. In addition, those strange creatures which can be glimpsed on the episode's poster (see above) were extraordinarily underused when they had so much potential.

Well in all, "The Rings of Akhaten" really did exceed my expectations. Jenna-Louise Coleman continues to prove herself a worthy TARDIS traveler and Matt Smith is still at top form. Combining some nice cinematography with good writing, this episode was actually quite, quite good. I award it a 3.5 out of 5.

Coming Next Time: After 39 years, the Ice Warriors return in "Cold War" (Click here for a little teaser)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Big Announcement

The last time I gave a big announcement on this blog, I told the world that I would be be balancing Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who reviews and analysis. Well, I have come to a realization - this blog should cover more than two topics. Granted, my main focus will continue to be Sherlock Holmes, but just like some other blogs akin to mine, I will explore more than one or two things. Mysteries - here I come.

Perhaps I should be a bit more specific on this. From now on, when I get the chance, I will be reviewing other books in the mystery and thriller genre aside from the exploits of the world's most famous detective and everyone's favourite Time Lord. This means Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and others will now be topics covered on this blog.

I'm very excited and hope that you will continue to stop in on this blog. In the coming days you can expect my analysis on the hard-boiled detective and the Noir genre!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Question to All Those Taking the Poll

I would like to ask a question to some of those who are answering the poll. If you have not taken the poll yet, you still have three days to answer it, so please do! Anyway - one of the options is "Someone Else." If you have voted for "Someone Else" could you please leave a comment on this post with the specific name of the actor who you believe is the Immortal Sherlock Holmes?

This will be most helpful when it comes time for me to post about the poll and mull over the results in the next few days. Thank you!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sixth Doctor VII - "Timelash"

Back on 1 March when I reviewed "The Two Doctors," I wondered if I could survive "Timelash," the next Sixth Doctor adventure which has a reputation for being quite, quite horrid. Well, since it's been over a month, I assume some of you believed that I had not survived the Timelash. Well, I did, and after days and weeks of procrastination, I've finally gotten around to formally reviewing it.

The TARDIS becomes entangled in a time corridor. When the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) emerge unharmed, they find themselves on the planet Karfal. What at first seems like a peaceful planet is anything but since the planet is ruled by an evil dictator known as the Borad. When Peri is kidnapped, the Doctor is sent on a mission to recover a princess who has disappeared through space.

On a whole, the premise of "Timelash" isn't all that bad. The planet being ruled by an evil dictator is hardly new, but it's done in an interesting way here and the band of resisters is reminiscent of some of the earlier Doctor Who serials. In addition, Colin Baker is still in top form as the Doctor. He's a bit colder and meaner here than in the past - perhaps that's because he's been separated from Peri and therefore there is no one to melt the Doctor's heart(s) of ice. Nonetheless, Colin Baker shows that the Sixth Doctor is a pretty smart guy, and dabbles in a bit of inventing as the story progresses.

While we're looking at the positives of this story, I would like to point out the Borad in particular (whose visage is clearly seen on the DVD cover seen above). At a time when the special effects and makeup for the show were at an all-time low, the Borad actually appears to be quite menacing and extraordinarily evil. However, there isn't much more that can be truly considered "great" or "above average" in this story. While the concept of the Doctor meeting H.G. Wells and inspiring him to write "The Time Machine," is an interesting plot development in this story, it really doesn't go anywhere and doesn't stand up well when the idea is examined in more detail.

The acting (aside from Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant) isn't all that good in this story. It's dreadful, but certainly nothing fantastic. On a whole it's only mediocre. Much like "Mark of the Rani," I found this story to simple be mediocre. It's not that it is bad, but I simply wasn't impressed. Would I say that this serial deserves the title of worst Doctor Who story - no. Would I say that it is the weakest story from the show's 22nd season thus far - yes indeed. It's just an average, rather forgettable story and I really cannot say much more than that about "Timelash."

Coming Next Time: I have a bit more to say about "Revelation of the Daleks"

Notes: The idea of H.G. Wells travelling through time and space is actually a great idea. Since he wrote some of the most famous science fiction stories of all time, I feel like having Wells as a central character in a science-fiction story is grand. While "Timelash" isn't exactly the best example this, I willingly recommend "Time After Time." Written and directed by Nicholas Meyer ("The Seven-Per-Cent Solution"), this 1979 movie finds Malcolm McDowell's Wells travelling to present day San Francisco to catch Jack the Ripper (David Warner) who has escaped authorities in Well's time machine. It's a fun, creepy and very entertaining film.