Friday, September 28, 2012

No $#!+ Sherlock!: Elementary School

"..and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue."
- Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Well, I could say the same thing about Phillip Marlowe, but I'd rather talk about Elementary, the new CBS drama that premiered last night, starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson, respectively. It was a show pilot, setting up the show's premise - Sherlock Holmes moves to New York - and meets Joan. He also meets Captain Gregson, played by Aiden Quin (Tobias Gregson is a character that sometimes pinch-hit for Inspector Lestrade in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so, yes, London had more than one cop protecting the city). The mystery was routine - basic Law & Order/CSI/Monk/Mentalist stuff. What was really interesting was Holmes.

In recent years, adaptations of Sherlock Holmes lean toward him as acting like an aloof, misanthropic rock star - if you can't keep up with me, piss off - that kind of thing. Benedict Cumberbatch is like that, Hugh Laurie is like that (yes, I am counting House M.D. - I believe that's how the revival really began) Robert Downey Jr. has that same approach, with the sexual ambiguity thrown in (I'm sure all the mystery writers who thought making their detectives confirmed bachelors with no sex lives and  ridiculous-sounding names are all wearing ice bags on their heads in the afterlife - it used to be a school of thought that the bouquet of roses and magnifying glass were two separate worlds and the genre would be more "romantic psychological suspense thriller" than "puzzle-solving detective story" How could they have known that they couldn't have been more wrong?). At this stage, Gordon Ramsay and Simon Cowell could be Sherlock Holmes.

Anyway, Johnny Lee Miller does give his performance that same rock star vibe - I'm surprised they haven't thought of playing Sting's "An Englishman In New York" or maybe they're getting to it and I'm jumping ahead again - but he also comes off as a gentlemann - we haven't seen that in a while! That was Basil Rathbone's Sherlock - calm, composed and careful. There's also some of Jeremy Brett in Miller's performance - the scenes where Homes is going over the details of the various living quarters and draws inferences from how the layout influences how the people who lived in it would have moved about. And yet, he uses his gentlemanly demeanor to deliver backhanded compliments, so their is an edge beneath the surface. It'll be interesting to watch how he stands out from the pack.

As for Lucy Liu, I think this the first time she gets to really play a character who isn't emo or a prop of some sort. There are hints that she'll get to blossom acting-wise. We'll see, we'll see.

As for the production values, I would like to see them have more fun with the New York locations. It's shot the way most films are shot in New York - flat and grainy. Terry Gilliam made New York look like a Medieval fantasy world in The Fisher King.  London was Sherlock's playground in the BBC series, but it's actually smaller than New York. Think about it, guys, just think about it...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Silver Dollars: Ducktales at 25 Part 4

Time to play a game...or watch someone else play it HERE . I got a chance to promote Chris's blog and show both of the Ducktales NES video games at the same time. Yay me. That Australian commercial for McDonald's Happy Meal toys smacks of the 1980s! I assume it must have aired with an epsiode of "Mr. Belvedere" or "Growing Pains", followed by "The Facts of Life".

I'm happy to report that my NES still works. My Game Boy is a different story altogether. It's the strangest thing - you do your best to keep things in good shape...and entrophy makes sure that it still falls apart. Anyway, I was knee-deep in the Sega Genesis (and playing Quackshot, which is a kind-of sequel to Ducktales, really - there's no other way to explain it) to get Ducktales 2. Besides, I don't remember the first game being easy to find, anyway. I recall my mom brought it from one of those small toy shops that had backpacks hanging outside the entrance from the awnings. I remember smacking my head against the wheel of a low-hanging stroller once...

I also remember the issue of Nintendo Power that had Scrooge on the cover. And that I don't have it anymore. :(

The Ducktales game was a big improvement by Capcom after the hideous Mickey Mousecapade game...the less said about that, the better. Ducktales was actually an add-on to the pre-existing board for Mega Man, (not unlike how Ms. Pac Man was an add-on created by students at MIT and submitted to Namco) so there is a
fair amount of deja vu in the gameplay. If you've played the game before, or seen the footage provided, you can see the appeal of it. I think the highest compliment paid was an epsiode of Icons on G4 devoted to the NES - a few seconds of the Ducktales Game and title card appeared in a montage of the Nintendo Entertainment System's "Greatest Hits"/highlights. Nice.

Mickey Mousecapade - this made me run and hide behind the sofa...after my mom saw how this $50.00 game that her "intelligent" son made her buy looked on the tv.

Donald Duck in QuackShot  - I recall seeing a guy selling his Sega Genesis at a yard sale and this was the only game he offered with the system. Not Sonic, not Altered Beast. Quackshot. That makes a lot of sense to me.

To the surprise of many... Scrooge made an appearance in Kindom Hearts 2, but it was in pantomime. Squareenix made up for this egregious error by bringing back Alan Young (!) for this special appearance...

Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep ... I wonder what that series would have been like if it began with Sora teaming up with a certain tycoon from a town where life is like a hurricane, full of racecars, lasers and airplanes.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Lost "Last"/ Last "Lost" Tale...

I'm posting this link to one of the blogs I follow:

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of...: The Witches: The Real Deal.: BEWARE! SPOILER ALERT! The scariest film I ever watched as a child was Nicolas Roeg's The Witches (1990). There were many scenes in films...

I had commented that "The Witches" was one of the last projects Jim Henson worked on before he died, but in truth, it was one of the last he oversaw. Henson was a very, very, very busy man for most of his adult life. In some alternate reality, he's the guy on Ed Sullivan's show who spins dozens of dinner plates. There are a lot of things that never saw the light of day and exist only on paper in file cabinets. For example, "Tale of Sand", a screenplay for a feature-length film which he co-wrote with Jerry Juhl.  It was adapted into a graphic novel with art by Ramon Perez and won an Eisner award. It is not the last screenplay that he worked on, but it was "lost" for a while.

We do love discovering lost things, don't we? We all thought "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" was Dr. Suess's last book, but then his wife found "Daisy-Head Mayzie", "My Many Colored Days" and "Hooray For Diffendorfer Day!". We thought "Go Slowly, Sands of Time" would be the last Disney Duck tale written by Carl Barks, but then came "Hang Gliders Be Hanged", "Horsing Around With History" and "Somewhere to Nowhere". We thought "Curtain"  was the final Hercule Poirot novel, but then Charles Osborne adapted the play "Black Coffee". We thought "Shoscombe Old Place" was the last Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but then came "The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", which collected all the apocryphal material we never thought existed. We thought "Salmon of Doubt" was all the material Douglas Adams had left behind, until Gareth Roberts adapted "Doctor Who: SHADA" into a full-length novel that is required reading for anyone curious about Doctor Who now.There's always something "lost" - never "last", or "One of the last", or something to be rediscovered...

In the 60's Jim Henson directed, wrote and starred in a short live-action film , "Timepiece", which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short. The film is a series of jump-cuts to different sequences, all featuring Jim: Jim as a caveman running in the streets, Jim as a housepainter painting an elephant pink, Jim in a top hat and tuxedo jumping off a high diving board and into a pool, Jim as an escaped prisoner in stripes on the run, etc.. Then there's "The Cube" an hour-long drama that aired on NBC around the same time as Timepiece. "The Cube" is "Portal" without the portals - a man is stuck inside this white cell while others enter and exit freely, even interacting with him briefly. Both films have the potential to be pretty dark, but Jim seems to be enjoying it, so we're enjoying these meta-parables along with him.

"Tale of Sand" is "Timepiece" and "The Cube" for the widescreen. "a surrealistic comedy-drama", the introductory note describes, with most of the screentime set in the Southwest - the same battleground where Chuck Jones imagined those private battles between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. There's very little dialogue. The protagonist of "Sand" is Mack, an everyman who walks into a densely populated western town with the diverse townsfolk celebrating his arrival. He is drafted by it's kindly Sheriff into a quest: it is not clear what that quest is. He is given a map and a rucksack full of supplies, is instructed to follow the map, but don't trust it, then sent on his way.

Throughout the journey, Mack is pursued/bedeviled by "Patch", a tall, dark, suave, well-dressed, wealthy and better-prepared antagonist, who is always handy with a bribe and almost-always accompanied by a mysterious blonde vixen. Strange things happen: signs pop up, wild animals pop up, buildings that are smaller on the outside/bigger on the inside turn up. Mack meets more enemies than friends and his quest devolves into a chase. Toward the end, the tale unravels and we start to get answers...maybe.

Had "Tale of Sand" been filmed, it probably would have been filmed earnestly at a quarter of the budget it demands, yet come off as a camp psychaedelic experience to anyone who saw it - it would have been "a groovy trip" spaghetti western. As a graphic novel, we get a chance to taste the images more and look for the meaning of what's happening - that is, if you would like it to have a meaning. It's not casual spending and I'm lucky the library had a copy, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to read it (it's not in any comic shops I've been to). It's worth a look.