Category Archives: Sherlock Holmes

‘Mr. Holmes’ a bittersweet look at the legend

mr holmes

If I actually get around to writing all of this, the blog will seem very Sherlock-centric for a while. I’m reading a Sherlock Holmes book now – the second in a row – and I’m mightily tempted to watch some early “Sherlock” episodes on Netflix.

And then there’s “Mr. Holmes.”

I didn’t know quite what to expect from the Bill Condon film, starring Ian McKellen as an older, retired Sherlock Holmes, and I haven’t read “A Slight Trick of the Mind,” the 2005 book by Mitch Cullin. I had an impression the story was about a mystery deep in the retirement years of the world’s greatest consulting detective.

Holmes’ retirement years have been fertile ground for writers, most notably Laurie R. King, whose “Beekeeper’s Apprentice” books featuring Holmes and Mary Russell, his younger love interest and deducting equal, have thoroughly explored this world in a dozen books.

(I can’t help but wonder if writers like King aren’t ticked off when they treat an idea with such care and originality and see others’ treatments get turned into movies.)

“Mr. Holmes” unfolds in 1947, when 93-year-old Holmes – long after the death of everyone important in his life, including his brother Mycroft and companion John Watson – is living in his house in Sussex and keeping bees. His only companions are his housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker).

Holmes, in failing health, struggles to remember the case, decades earlier, that prompted him to quit detecting. WIth some prompting from Roger, he remembers the bittersweet circumstances. The realization affects him in a couple of ways, including his dealings not only with his surrogate daughter and grandson but with a Japanese businessman who seeks answers that only Holmes can provide.

If you’re expecting a version of Holmes that’s like the aging astronauts of “Space Cowboys,” that’s not what Condon’s movie is about. It’s a low-key affair, more bitter than sweet, about a legendary figure fighting with the loss of his greatest tool: his mind.

But it’s also about how Holmes, notoriously aloof and superior, comes to realize – too late, tragically so in one instance – that the need for companionship is felt by everyone. Even him. The bitter realization, played out in one of the film’s flashbacks, stems from a moment that seems out of the blue but is ultimately understandable.

McKellen is wonderful, of course. We’ve seen so many decades of good work from him that we shouldn’t be surprised that he can play at least three different versions of Holmes here – at his deductive peak, at his most confused and vulnerable and at his saddest as he realizes what might have been and attempts to solve the mystery of his life.


Cumberbatch in ‘Star Wars’ sequel? Doubtful, but cool art

benedict cumberbatch star wars

So rumors are going around the Interwebz today that “Sherlock” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” star Benedict Cumberbatch will be in “Star Wars Episode VII,” directed by his “Star Trek” pal J.J. Abrams.

Probably not the case.

But it’s reason enough to use the above illustration, originally from Entertainment Weekly, by artist Josh Adams.

Release the Cumberbatch!

My favorite TV shows of 2012

sherlock and irene adler

Summing-up articles: It’s what writers do at the end of the year.

I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts on movies, TV and books in 2012, the first full year of this blog, and have enjoyed getting feedback from readers. The blog had almost 100,000 page views in 2012 so obviously a few people are checking it out.

I’m not going to rank my favorite TV shows – or the movies and books that will hopefully come in later blog entries – in order of preference. I’ll note, at times, those that I thought really stood out. But I didn’t see enough of any TV and movies and couldn’t come close to reading enough books to say conclusively these were the best of the best. They were just my favorites.

FYI you can probably find earlier reviews of most of these by clicking on the tags at the end.

Here are my favorite TV shows of the year:

“The Mindy Project” is maybe the biggest surprise (and one I haven’t written about yet). Mindy Kaling left “The Office” and struck out on her own with a smart and absurdly funny series that makes me think of “Community” in its mix of smart, funny and strange.

“Mad Men” struck some people as somehow deficient last season. I disagree. The tensions at home and in the office, the relationship between Don and Megan and the awful, horrible, sad end of Lane Pryce added up to a very good season.

Likewise, I’m sure some preferred the first or second season of “Justified” over the third, and I can’t totally disagree. But the third had so many wonderful moments and wild card characters like out-of-town drug dealer Quarles. And there’s no cooler lawman on TV than Tim Olyphant’s Raylan Givens.

“The Walking Dead” is only in the middle of its third season but has improved greatly over the second, farm-bound season. The prison, Woodbury, Michonne, the Governor and the return of Merle. How could you not like that?

“Parks and Recreation,” “Community” and “30 Rock” are my favorite comedies on TV right now. “Parks” is just so consistently funny and goofy, like the scene showing how people drink from the water fountains in Pawnee. “30 Rock” is about gone and “Community,” after losing its creator, could soon follow. But the bizarre “Liz Lemon as the Joker” episode of “30 Rock” and the meta chaos of “Community” will live on in my memory.

Last but definitely not least, we were treated to another three-episode season of “Sherlock” this year. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are close to becoming my favorite portrayers of Holmes and Watson. And Lara Pulver as Irene Adler? Wow.

‘Sherlock’ takes a leap with ‘The Reichenbach Fall’

Anyone who has read the Canon — as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are known — knows the significance of Reichenbach Falls.

It was there, at the famous Swiss waterfall, that Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective met his end. In the 1893 story “The Final Problem,” Conan Doyle — sick to death of the notoriety and fame and, yes, stereotyping and literary ghetto-izing that the Holmes stories had placed on his shoulders — decided to kill off Holmes once and for all. (Reader demand led Conan Doyle to reverse the decision a few years later.)

Holmes pursued Moriarty, the criminal genius, the spider at the center of the web of crime for all of England and a good portion of the globe, to the falls. Holmes’ friend and biographer, John Watson, becomes separated from the detective and later finds a note from Holmes. He is about to grapple with Moriarty atop the falls.

Two sets of footprints ascend to the top. No footprints are seen coming back down. Even an amateur detective like Watson can see that.

Tonight’s episode of “Sherlock,” “The Reichenbach Fall,” plays on that theme. After a cat-and-mouse game in previous episodes of the first and second seasons of the BBC series — airing on Masterpiece Mystery stateside — Moriarty begins an all-out assault on Holmes in this story.

Moriarty pulls off three seemingly impossible crimes: He opens the vault of the Bank of England, unlocks the gates of an impenetrable prison and seizes the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

But instead of making off with the priceless baubles, Moriarty sits on the throne, be-crowned-and-sceptered, waiting for Lestrade and the other London coppers to arrive.

Holmes testifies at Moriarty’s trial and — being Holmes — irritates the members of the jury so much that they exonerate the criminal. Or is some other game afoot?

After the trial, Moriarty shows up at 221B Baker Street and begins “playing” with Holmes. It is a game that sees Holmes trying to find a computer code of Moriarty’s design that can unlock virtually any door, any secret, a code that makes Holmes a target of an international set of assassins.

Meanwhile, Moriarty begins chipping away at Holmes’ reputation until only Watson is still in his corner. And even Watson’s faith is a little shaken.

Although there are only three “Sherlock” episodes per season — maybe because there are only three — the series is uniformly high in quality and clever beyond compare. I’m guessing they’ll do more episodes this year and we’ll get to see them in 2013. I sure hope so.

Other thoughts about tonight’s episode:

I love the way the series plays with how Sherlock and Watson are perceived. Tonight Watson is irritated to see himself described in the press as a “confirmed bachelor” and constant companion to Holmes.

As a member of the press, I’m a little chagrinned about how it was portrayed tonight. But it is the British press, after all.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman continue to be among my favorite Holmes and Watsons of all time. Cumberbatch in particular isn’t afraid to play Holmes as unlikable for most of an episode.

Andrew Scott played Moriarty with just enough crazy. A little bit more would have been too much. If tonight’s episode, in the style of “The Final Problem,” proves to be his swan song, it was a good one.

Most of this show is attention-grabbing and attention-keeping. There’s some effort involved, of course, in keeping up with the quick-paced, accent-tinged dialogue delivery. But the riveting stories and scenes are another reason to keep watching the screen. The two main dialogue scenes between Holmes and Moriarty in tonight’s episode could not have been more mesmerizing.


‘Sherlock’ runs with the pack in ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’


Since it was published in serialized form in 1901 and 1902, Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” has become one of those touchstone Sherlock Holmes stories. As much as everybody knows (often wrongly) that Holmes was a “difficult” genius and that John Watson was always a step behind him, everyone knew that Holmes took on a huge, mysterious hound in this Conan Doyle novel.

So the makers of “Sherlock,” the BBC production airing on PBS’ “Masterpiece Mystery” series, had to do an adaptation and had to do something different.

In “The Hounds of Baskerville,” the second of three “Sherlock” episodes in this season, Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) take on the case of Henry Knight, who remains traumatized by seeing his father killed by a huge hound 20 years before. The two venture into the English countryside, specifically to the Baskerville military research base, to find out if giant glowing dogs with red eyes really do exist.

In the process, they have brushes with Sherlock’s brother Mycroft (the top-level British intelligence agent) and even James Moriarty, the warped genius who has become Sherlock’s nemesis. The ending of tonight’s episode forecasts the return of Moriarty next week.

Of course, Holmes and Watson also have the misfortune of running into that hound — as well as a couple of levels of conspiracy.

A few thoughts about the episode:

I loved that Holmes at one point notes that the CIA has a top-secret facility in Liberty, Indiana. That’s just down the road from me and I can assure you that if the Company has set up shop there, it’s pretty well hidden. Made me wish, for a moment, that they had chosen Muncie like everyone from “Tom Slick” to “The Simpsons” to “Hudsucker Proxy” to “Angel” has.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Not for the first time in the run of the series, someone mistakes Holmes and Watson for a couple. Cute.

Watson mockingly refers to Holmes as “Spock” after a scene in which Holmes is shaken by his failure to keep his emotions in check. Comparisons between the two have always been made and “Star Trek” episodes have obliquely referred to Spock’s ancestor Holmes (possible, as Trek fans know, because Spock’s mother is human). But for a joke that trumps all, Cumberbatch plays the bad guy in the now-in-production “Star Trek” movie sequel.

This Sherlock turns to cigarettes when he’s bored and anxious between cases, and not a seven percent solution.

Tonight’s episode had the misfortune of airing in the US following a couple of successful movies that had similar elements. The Baskerville hound looked a bit too much like the “mutts” in “Hunger Games,” while the idea of mind-altering gas released into outdoor settings echoed “Cabin in the Woods.”


‘Sherlock’ returns with ‘Scandal in Belgravia’

One of the unexpected pleasures of TV in the past couple of years — along with “The Walking Dead” and a handful of other shows — has been “Sherlock,” Steven Moffat’s modern-day updating of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian-age detective Sherlock Holmes.

There have been so many — hundreds — of stage, film and TV adaptations of the Conan Doyle books and short stories in the past century years that it’s hard to imagine crowning one as the best, particularly one that takes such liberties with the content of the canon. But “Sherlock,” a BBC production airing on PBS’ “Masterpiece” series (with two more installments to come May 13 and 20) is certainly near the top of the list.

In the series, set in the present day, Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) forge the offbeat relationship familiar to readers of the original stories. Holmes is a brilliant consulting detective, Watson a physician and soldier. Each man is troubled in some respects. Watson is recovering from physical and spiritual wounds suffered in Afghanistan while Holmes is, for all his British intellect and wit, a stranger in a strange land.

The updated series uses original Conan Doyles stories (and titles; tonight’s episode is a take-off on “A Scandal in Bohemia”) as jumping off points, mixing in high-tech touches along with Holmes’ old-school detective work. In other words, for every scene in which Holmes deduces someone’s life story by observing stay hairs on their pants or scuffs on their shoes, there’s another scene in which Holmes or one of the players is texting on their smartphone. Just as Conan Doyle’s original writing had Watson publishing stories about his exploits with Homes — much to Holmes’ bemusement — in the new series, Watson writes a popular blog about the detective.

Tonight’s episode, like the 1891 original, introduced Irene Adler, a woman who is Holmes’ equal in sheer, cool intellect. In “Sherlock,” Adler is a high-society dominatrix who, as the  episode opens, is being sought for the compromising photos of a member of the royal family on her cell phone.

Adler is, as fans know, “The Woman,” the female who greatly intrigued Holmes, who was very likely his perfect match … if not for her habit of lawbreaking.

In “Belgravia,” we get some choice “Sherlock” scenes, as Holmes stays one step ahead of the police and the bad guys even as he struggles to keep up with Adler.

All the key ingredients to the “Sherlock” series are here: Holmes and Watson’s fond verbal jousting; landlady Mrs. Hudson; even Holmes’ nemesis James Moriarty. The opening of the episode resolves the standoff between Holmes and Moriarty from the end of the first season.

“Sherlock” revels in its modern-day ingenuity — the use of technology and London’s cool blue exteriors give the series a properly detached feel — as much as it encourages us to focus on Holmes’ never-out-of-style intensity.

Cumberbatch and Freeman are among the best portrayers of Holmes and Watson ever. Cumberbatch gets a showy role but Freeman — soon to star in “The Hobbit” with Cumberbatch providing the voice of the dragon Smaug — is an understated delight.

“John Hamish Watson. Just in case you’re looking for baby names,” Watson mutters at some point when Holmes and Adler are striking sparks.

And what an Alder Lara Pulver is. I love Rachel McAdams, who plays Adler in the current Robert Downey Jr. Holmes movies. But Pulver makes McAdams look like the high schooler she played in “Mean Girls.” Pulver, who matches Cumberbatch in cheekbones and ivory skin, is gorgeous and dangerous. She’s utterly believable as “the woman” in Holmes’ life.

Next week, “Sherlock” takes on “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” I’ll be watching.

New book captures Sherlock Holmes well

Quite unintentionally, I’ve been on a British pop culture kick lately. After enjoying the BBC America show “The Fades,” I started reading David Moody’s “Autumn,” and end-of-the-world-with-zombies story that’s the first in a series. More on “Autumn” later.

In between, I fell in with an old friend: Sherlock Holmes.

My enjoyment of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic turn-of-the-19th-to-the-20th-century British detective series began when I was young. I loved Conan Doyle’s 56 short stories and, to a lesser extent, his four novels featuring Holmes, the world’s greatest consulting detective, and his stalwart soldier/doctor companion, John Watson. The novels, particularly “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” are fine, I should add. But a couple feel overly padded and drawn out. The character — at least in his creator’s hands — seems to work better in short-story form.

Since I tore through the stories as a kid, I’ve tried a lot of  the tributes and imitators. I loved what “Star Trek” film director Nicholas Meyer did with the characters in “The Seven Percent Solution” and “The West End Horror.” I likewise loved Mark Frost’s “The List of 7” and “The 6 Messiahs,” which took Conan Doyle on his own adventures.

Of course the various movie and TV versions, including the current, terrific modern-day “Sherlock,” have varied in quality. But the best among them have successfully captured the spirit of the stories and the characters: The aloof and driven detective and his loyal and capable companion.

I was looking forward to reading Anthony Horowitz’s “The House of Silk,” a new novel featuring Holmes and Watson, and was especially intrigued to realize that it was the first Holmes story officially sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate.

It’s not hard to see why.

Horowitz “gets” the characters. “The House of Silk” isn’t the greatest Holmes story ever told. As a matter of fact, I was kind of startled to realize I had figured out the mystery of the title almost immediately, a couple of hundred pages before Holmes and Watson do.

But Horowitz’s mastery of the detective and his friend and biographer is perfect.

One of the greatest complaints about many film and TV versions of the characters, of course, is that Holmes so thoroughly overshadows, even patronizes, Watson. The early Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce movies portray Watson as a fool, nearly doddering and more of a hindrance than a help to Holmes, who makes fond fun of his friend’s incompetence.

In Conan Doyle’s stories and in Horowitz’s book, Watson is accurately portrayed as the man he likely would have been: A doctor and veteran of the British campaign in Afghanistan, Watson was handy with a gun and his fists and wasn’t a dunderhead by any means. That he couldn’t keep up with Holmes’ deductive reasoning was no surprise. No one could.

Besides the characters, Horowitz spins a neat tale of intrigue involving an upper-crust art dealer as well as the “street urchins” that make up Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars. After something dire happens to one of Holmes’ youthful street-level eyes and ears, the detective feels compelled to right a wrong.

Horowitz hits all the right notes here, with Holmes as the master of disguise, an appearance by his brother, Mycroft, and even some love for Lestrade, the Scotland Yard inspector who was often Holmes’ antagonist.

By virtue of having written “The House of Silk” a century after the original Holmes stories, Horowitz is able to include plot developments that never would have been hinted at by Conan Doyle. There’s some pretty dark stuff going on behind the scenes, and Horowitz fits it into the story quite neatly.

One of the best elements of the book is the aura of regretful hindsight that Horowitz brings to the story. Watson narrates the story from years after the fact, and acknowledges what many of us feel: We don’t pay enough attention — and don’t acknowledge — the people in our lives often enough.

Horowitz has Watson noting, for example, that he didn’t relate to Mrs. Hudson, the detective’s landlady, enough. Saddest of all, Watson admits he didn’t even know Holmes’ birthday until he read it in the detective’s obituaries.

“The House of Silk” isn’t a mind-bending puzzler. But it is solid Sherlock Holmes fiction written for modern-day sensibilities. It’s a great addition to the official Holmes canon.