Good old peas (and bees). May 17, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: genetics, Gregor Mendel, Mendelian inheritance, mendelian randomisation, Sherlock Holmes
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Our friend Ben was reading yet another article on the contradictions in modern medicine—this one showcasing a new study about the worthlessness of high levels of “good” cholesterol in preventing heart attacks—when I came upon this: “The paper used a method known as mendelian randomisation to compare heart-attack risk…”
Good old Gregor Mendel. It’s heartwarming for those of us who, like the gardening monk, enjoy the pleasures of the garden to know that he’s alive and well, at least in the realm of theoretical medicine.
For those whose high-school biology has gone the way of that whatchamacallit you know is somewhere in the garage, a little refresher, courtesy of Wikipedia: “Gregor Johann Mendel (July 20, 1822-January 6, 1884) was an Austrian scientist and Augustinian friar who gained posthumous fame as the founder of the new science of genetics. Mendel demonstrated that the inheritance of certain traits in pea plants follows particular patterns, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance.” Like one of our friend Ben’s heroes, Sherlock Holmes, Mendel was also a beekeeping enthusiast.
Our friend Ben encourages all you gardeners out there to work “mendelian randomisation” into as many conversations today as possible. It’s so satisfying to be annoying in a good cause. And if you want to celebrate by serving up peas and honey (not together, though, please) at today’s meals, I’m sure Abbot Gregor would be proud.
Sherlock is back! May 6, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: A Scandal in Belgravia, A Scandal in Bohemia, Anthony Horowitz, Basil Rathbone, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dr. Watson, Irene Adler, Martin Freeman, Nigel Bruce, Professor Moriarty, Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes, The House of Silk
We’ve decided that May is Sherlock Holmes month here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. Yesterday, Silence Dogood found a new Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Mulholland Books, 2011), at our local library. And tonight, the second season of “Sherlock” launches on PBS.
For Holmes fanatics like Silence and our friend Ben (who has actually penned a Holmes novel himself), this is very heady stuff. First off, Mr. Horowitz is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, and his novel has been authorized by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate, the first time they have ever leant their imprimatur to a non-family member. We’re looking forward to a wonderful read. And tonight’s episode of “Sherlock” brings the World’s Greatest Detective together with his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, and “The Woman,” Irene Adler.
Mind you, we had a few issues with the series’s first season. We really enjoyed the wonderfully-named Benedict Cumberbatch—a name straight out of Dickens—as Holmes (though we still think he’d better as Dr. Who) and Martin Freeman as Watson. And we loved whichever of the show’s creators (alas, we forget which one it was) as Holmes’s older brother Mycroft. We thought the way the show depicted Holmes’s thought process was nothing short of brilliant, and we appreciated the way they kept the element of humor that made the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films so entertaining, but this time made sure it wasn’t at Watson’s expense.
On the other hand, we found the Moriarty woefully weak—a fatal flaw in any Holmes effort—and the plots far too transparent. We’re hoping for better things from this season, though we have our doubts about the decision to turn poor Irene Adler from an actress into a dominatrix. Thing is, she was the actual victim in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” rather than the king who enlisted Holmes’s efforts at protecting his reputation from her. It will be interesting to see if the same holds true in “A Scandal in Belgravia”!
Holmes lovers, check your TV listings and let us know what you think!
A woman’s worst nightmare. March 8, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Cherry 2000, Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, James Bond, Katharine Ross, Lars and the Real Girl, Melanie Griffih, Nicole Kidman, Sherlock Holmes, The Stepford Wives, The Wicker Man
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Silence Dogood here. I was watching the 2004 Nicole Kidman remake of “The Stepford Wives” the other night, which of course brought to mind the 1975 original starring Katharine Ross. I realized that this (the original) just had to be a woman’s worst nightmare. Not “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Not Freddy or Chucky or Jaws or Norman Bates or even Hannibal Lecter. No disaster or horror movie could possibly be more disastrous or horrifying than this low-key little tale of life in a secluded Connecticut suburb.
The plot, as with any great horror movie, begins innocently enough: The heroine, an aspiring photographer, and her family move to the sunny suburb of Stepford. This squeaky-clean suburb is notable for two things: wives who look like models (with mannequin-level IQs) and act like they had been transported straight from the ’50s, and the creepy Stepford Men’s Association, to which all resident men belong. The heroine’s husband is persuaded to join this men’s club, and soon he’s asking his wife to record a lengthy series of words and phrases to assist in the research of the club’s head, who’s supposedly doing an analysis of speech, or more specifically, women’s speech.
As the film continues, the heroine happens on a number of unsettling discoveries, which lead to the realization that all the Stepford wives are actually beautiful, complacent robots, with the voice recordings of the real women. This allows their “husbands” to realize the fantasy of perfectly subservient domestic help and enthusiastic sexbots who still look and speak with the voices of the women they married, but with no personalities or thoughts or needs of their own to add stress to the men’s perfectly comfortable lives. If this reminds you of anything, from ancient Greece to the Taliban, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. But I digress.
What makes the original “Stepford Wives” a true horror movie is that it proceeds to its logical conclusion. This is also what made the classic cult movie, the marvelous Christopher Lee/Edward Woodward “The Wicker Man,” so powerful and horrifying. In both movies, the action is slow and, at least to us moderns, campy to say the least. It’s easy to mock them, make jokes, criticize, feel oh so much more sophisticated than the poor saps in those movies.
But we’ve all been inoculated with the idea of the happy ending. Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith save the world from aliens in “Independence Day.” Weak, pitiful Frodo Baggins defeats the all-powerful Sauron, Lord of the Rings. Luke Skywalker and The Karate Kid come out ahead, despite their obvious weakness. James Bond and Sherlock Holmes always get away, no matter the odds against them. Keanu Reeves is not consumed by the machines in “The Matrix.” Arnold Schwarzenegger transforms from villain to hero in the Terminator series. Harrison Ford and Donald Craig whup the alien ass in “Cowboys and Aliens.”
So it’s movies where the good guys don’t win that are the true horror movies. What if one of the Bond villains blandly pointed a gun at 007′s head and fired, rather than devising some elaborate torture-and-death scheme from which Bond inevitably escapes? What if the Clint Eastwood cowboy was gunned down and butchered, rather than riding off into the sunset? What gives “The Wicker Man” its horrific nature is that, after several hours of hysterical fun as Edward Woodward, the rigid police officer, attempts to deal with the freewheeling, unpredictable, and definitely unruly residents of a remote Scottish isle and bring them back to the arch-conservative fold, he is burned alive, screaming in agony. In “The Stepford Wives,” we expect the heroine to triumph. Instead, she is murdered and her lookalike robot takes her place, since her husband has seen how much more smoothly his life will go if he isn’t encumbered by an actual human being with thoughts, needs, and dreams.
What makes this a nightmare for all women is that the heroine’s husband is portrayed as a loving, caring person who genuinely adores his wife. But once the men of the Stepford Men’s Association point out to him the advantages of replacing his wife with a robot, he’s all for it. So what if his real wife has to die? A small price to pay for his lifelong comfort.
Would men, would your man, really prefer the ox-dumb but physically perfect, obedient mannequin to you?
Since the original film of “The Stepford Wives” came out in 1975, there have been several attempts to answer this question. One was the marvelous 1987 Melanie Griffith cult film “Cherry 2000.” In it, the hero’s supermodel-robot, the exclusive Cherry 2000, explodes during sex after touching water. Devastated, the hero is determined to replace her with another Cherry 2000, but finds that now they’re only available on the black market and require a very hazardous trip to the outback if you want even a remote chance of getting one. He hires a fearless pilot, a real, live woman (Griffith), to fly him out into dangerous terrain. Along the way, he comes to realize that he prefers the real, live, woman (Griffith), with all her flaws, to the perfect and perfectly boring robot.
In the Nicole Kidman remake of “The Stepford Wives,” the film attempts to redress the inequity of the original film by having the heroine triumph, the other wives revive after computer chips in their brains are deactivated, and the mastermind behind the whole Stepford community be revealed as a woman, a brain surgeon (Glenn Close). And Kidman’s husband, played by the always-marvelous Matthew Broderick, comes to see the error of his ways and that he loves his real wife, so he helps her sabotage the evil Men’s Association. Really? I certainly hope so, and I hope it mirrors real life.
Another recent film, “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007), chronicles the adventures of a disconnected young man named Lars who orders a lifelike sex doll named Bianca and persuades his entire hometown to accept the mannequin as his girlfriend. After a number of plot twists, he manages to transfer his affection from the sex doll to a real girl.
Gack!!! Every woman surely wants to believe that people in general, and their partners in particular, love them for themselves, not for how closely they fit some stereotype of perfection. If there’s a woman in your life, please take the time to reassure her that she’s the ultimate in your life. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.
‘Til next time,
The joys of jellyfish. August 7, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
Tags: jellyfish, jellyfish exhibits, North Carolina Aquarium, Portuguese Man'o War jellyfish, Shedd Aquarium, Sherlock Holmes
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“When was the last time you thought about jellyfish?” So begins an article, “Balletic Flowers of the Sea,” by Joel Henning in The Wall Street Journal (check it out at www.wsj.com). Our friend Ben would have to respond, within the hour. And not because of the article, either.
I’ve been interested in jellyfish since I first heard about them as an infant, and have been mildly obsessed by them since I was on our annual family summer vacation in Pensacola, Florida, at age six, and enountered a Portuguese Man o’ War on the beach. I’d been told that the sting of one of these jellyfish could result in an agonizing death. Gee! I just had to find out for myself. (Perhaps this early incident explains why our friend Ben has still not managed to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, despite years of ardent hinting and hoping.) Sticking my bare foot tentatively into the jellyfish, the youthful Ben waited to feel the sting. And waited. Nothing. Mind you, this might have been because the unfortunate jellyfish was already dead, or simply because it was beached topside up so I didn’t actually encounter any tentacles during my unsuccessful probe.
You might think this failure to endure an agonizing death would have turned our friend Ben off jellyfish, but not so. I have remained fascinated by them throughout life, examining them with obsessive interest whenever I’m fortunate enough to be on a beach where one has washed up, grateful to have the opportunity to observe it, but sad that its life most probably will end stranded just feet from its ocean habitat.
My interest in all things jellyfish multiplied exponentially after an ultraviolet encounter with some at the North Carolina Aquarium in Beaufort, NC. Watching the various species drift by, ghostlike, tattered shrouds trailing, illuminated like stars, in the night of the surrounding water, made an indelible impression. Their exotic beauty struck our friend Ben dumb, which, as Silence Dogood rightly points out, is perhaps the first and last time that will ever happen.
Returning to The Wall Street Journal article, which focuses on an exhibit of jellyfish at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, continuing through May, 2012. Our friend Ben has visited the Shedd Aquarium and it is fantastic; even without jellyfish, well worth a trip. But check out some jellyfish trivia from the article and you may want to visist the Shedd (or the North Carolina Aquarium, for that matter) for the jellyfish alone:
* Jellyfish can range in size from a contact lens to a bus.
* Jellyfish, described by the article as “living lava lamps,” are among Earth’s oldest creatures, having floated in our oceans for hundreds of millions of years, preceding fish, insects, and dinosaurs.
* Some jellyfish can double their weight in a day. (Thank heavens humans can’t duplicate that feat, the battle of the bulge is bad enough as it is!)
* The world’s largest jellyfish, the lion’s mane, with a bell (as its top is called) 8 feet wide and tentacles 100 feet long, even features in a Sherlock Holmes adventure.
I suggest that you refrain from sticking your foot into a jellyfish, should you enounter one. (You may not be as lucky as our friend Ben.) But you should definitely check them out at a beach or an aquarium near you!
When the movie is better. March 24, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Alexander McCall Smith, books, books made into movies, Jane Austen, movies, Sherlock Holmes, Tony Hillerman
Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are great readers, but we try not to be book snobs. People love to belittle movies by comparing them, unfavorably, to the books on which they were based. (The Lord of the Rings movie series comes to mind as a justifiable example of this, reducing a wonderful trilogy to a two-dimensional endless battle sequence worthy of a video game.) But sometimes the movies are better.
Perhaps it was the death of Elizabeth Taylor, possibly the most beautiful woman who ever lived, certainly the most beautiful we ever saw, that brought the topic to mind. Or watching the first episode of “The Pallisers” last night, or comparing the recent version of “True Grit” with the original. But whatever the case, we challenged each other to name some movies that were far superior to the books that inspired them.
First on our list was “The Running Man.” The novella that inspired the movie was little more than a two-dimensional sketch by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). For whatever reason, the scriptwriters managed to flesh the story out with real characters, lots of color, and actual depth. Ditto for Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun versus the Sean Connery-led film “Rising Sun.” Silence would add the Timothy Dalton version of “Jane Eyre” and both the Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale versions of Jane Austen’s “Emma” to the list. Certainly, “Gone with the Wind” and “The Godfather” were far better on film than on paper. Ditto most of the James Bond movies and the Conan movies. “The Commitments,” the marvelous fleshing out of a very slight novella by Roddy Doyle. And “Slumdog Millionaire,” the brilliant bringing to life of an Indian novel called Q&A, a first effort by Vikas Swarup.
Plays are not immune, either. “A Man for All Seasons” and “Amadeus” are two cases where the film trumped the play; ditto “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Sometimes, we feel that the film versions and book versions come out as a draw. We both love the Tony Hillerman mystery series featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. But we also really enjoyed the Robert Redford-produced dramatizations of the series. We feel the same for the movie “Smoke Signals” and the Sherman Alexie short stories on which it was loosely based. And we really enjoy both Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and its TV adaptation.
Then there are the film versions that fall short. Besides the Lord of the Rings movies, there is the issue of Sherlock Holmes. Silence and I love Basil Rathbone as Holmes and respect Jeremy Brett’s interpretation of Holmes as a twitchy, ADHD-bipolar genius enormously. But we are still waiting for the ultimate interpretation, the one that truly lives up to the stories and books. Silence enjoys the various interpretations of her favorite Jane Austen book, Pride and Prejudice, from the BBC version to the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth film to “Clueless” and “Bride and Prejudice,” the Bollywood version. But she still thinks the ultimate interpretation has yet to be done.
And of course, there are the books that should be made as films but are still waiting: Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne and Tigana; Joan Vinge’s The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen; Sheri Tepper’s Grass and The True Game trilogy; Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting; Mary Gentle’s Ancient Light and Golden Witchbreed; Wendell Berry’s Port William novels; Sharon Kay Penman’s Here Be Dragons and Falls the Shadow; Hope Munt’s The Golden Warrior. Directors, producers, scriptwriters, where are you?!!!
Readers, we know you have additions to our various lists. Please share them with us! And meanwhile, let’s take a moment to honor those often-invisible, overlooked entities, screenwriters, who can turn run-of-the mill text into great cinema.
Tell me why: Big Ben. January 23, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Ben Franklin, Ben Roethlisberger, Big Ben, Pittsburgh Steelers, Queen Victoria, Sherlock Holmes
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“Why do they call the clock in London Big Ben?” our friend Rob asked the other night over a bowl of Silence Dogood’s exceptional chili and some hot-from-the-oven cornbread. Now, it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to see why they called it Big, but the Ben part is another matter.
Of course, we knew why the question had come up: Rob, a rabid Steelers fan, was doubtless thinking of “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, the Steelers’ quarterback. At 6’5″ and 250-260 pounds, Big Ben has clearly earned his nickname. But what about that clock? Our friend Ben, never averse to researching anything related to the name Ben, headed over to Google to find out.
Gadzooks! Turns out, the name Big Ben is correctly that of the biggest bell in the clock tower, not the actual clock (correctly “the Great Clock of Westminster”) at all. Even the bell’s real name is “the Great Bell.” Wikipedia explains:
“The origin of the nickname Big Ben is the subject of some debate. The nickname was applied first to the Great Bell; it may have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw the installation of the Great Bell [and whose name appears on the bell itself], or after boxing’s English Heavyweight Champion Benjamin Caunt. Now Big Ben is often used, by extension, to refer to the clock, the tower and the bell collectively…”
And the clock and tower? According to Wikipedia, ”It is the largest four-faced chiming clock and the third-tallest free-standing clock tower in the world. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in May 2009… The clock first ticked on 31 May 1859.”
In 1859, Queen Victoria was 40 years old and had been on the throne for 22 years (there is an inscription on the clock itself, DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM, “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First,” linking it forever to the Victorian Age), and Sherlock Holmes was not even a gleam in his creator’s eye, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself was born on May 22, 1859, less than two weeks before the clock was set in motion. (Holmes first appeared in 1887.)
So there you have it. While Big Ben the bell/clock/tower may be the best-known and best-loved symbol of Great Britain and London, and our friend Rob may be hoping that “Big Ben” Roethlisberger will go on to become the same here in the States (or at least in Pittsburgh), here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the biggest Ben of all remains our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. “He snatched the lightning from heaven and the sceptre from tyrants.” Kinda hard for a mere tower, or even a quarterback, to beat that.
Would the real Sherlock please stand up. November 30, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Basil Rathbone, Holmes and Watson, James Frain, Jeremy Brett, Jeremy Northam, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Natalie Dormer, Sherlock Holmes, The Tudors
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All three bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, are huge Sherlock Holmes fans. We even agree on who’s the best Holmes to date, and sorry, Jeremy Brett fans, it’s Basil Rathbone. But we all feel that Brett’s interpretation of Holmes as a twitchy, gleeful bipolar addict has redefined the character in such a significant way that no other actor can take on the role without taking Brett’s interpretation into account.
This was the fault we found with Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Holmes in the recent BBC series “Sherlock.” His marble features gave nothing away. We felt that Mr. Cumberbatch would make an ideal James Bond or Dr. Who, but he lacked the high-strung, jumpy, Gollumlike quality that informs Holmes’s character. Holmes is not just smarter than other people; he’s faster. By the time you could blink, he’d have leapt up, dashed out of the flat and into the street, and be off in a hansom. His thoughts and emotions would flash across his face like lights on a radar screen. Those emotions might resonate more with someone with Asperger’s Syndrome—high-functioning autism—than with your average guy; but there was never any doubt that Holmes’s emotions were in play and at a very high level.
So who would be our pick for Holmes today? For years, Silence and our friend Ben have championed Johnny Depp for the role, since he performed it so brilliantly as Ichabod Crane in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” If you weren’t told what film you were watching, you’d naturally assume it was a Sherlock Holmes adventure. Richard Saunders suggests that Jude Law, who played Watson to Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes, could play a brilliant Holmes in his own right.
But today, Silence introduced a new contender for the role. She’d been watching “The Buccaneers,” a BBC series based on an Edith Wharton novel, and had been struck by the performance of James Frain as the high-strung, eccentric Duke.
“Ben! Remember James Frain as Thomas Cromwell in ‘The Tudors’ and how fabulous we thought he was? There’s our Sherlock Holmes!” Silence effused.
Our friend Ben certainly did remember Frain’s beautifully nuanced performance, going from sensitive theologian to torturer, and I had to agree with Silence’s choice. James Frain would make a fabulous Holmes.
But in that case, who would be Watson? Starting with “The Tudors” made the choice obvious. The perfect pairing would be James Frain as Holmes and Jeremy Northam as Watson. Jeremy Northam played Sir Thomas More in “The Tudors,” and Jane Austen fans may recall him as Mr. Knightley in the Gwyneth Paltrow adaptation of “Emma.” He is a consummate actor, skilled at playing good-hearted, down-to-earth characters, and would make a marvelous Watson to Frain’s Holmes.
Richard then pointed out that Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who starred as Henry VIII in “The Tudors,” would be the perfect Moriarty, Holmes’s evil arch-rival. Which of course led us to the inevitable conclusion that Natalie Dormer, who was so great as Anne Boleyn in the series, would be an ideal choice as Irene Adler, the woman Holmes admires most.
So please, directors, listen up: Let’s see James Frain and Jeremy Northam as Holmes and Watson. Talk about a dynamic duo! Add Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Natalie Dormer to the mix, and your Holmes series or film would be unstoppable. With these talented actors in the roles, the game would really be afoot!
Without a clue. November 8, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Ben Kingsley, Dr. Watson, Holmes & Watson, Michael Caine, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes movies, Without a Clue
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Silence Dogood here. Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts that our friend Ben and I are, we’re happy to watch any incarnation of the Great Detective, even if it’s just so we can complain endlessly afterward. Such has been the case with the most recent scripting of the Holmes oeuvre, “Sherlock,” appearing on PBS’s “Masterpiece” program here every Sunday night at 9 p.m. OFB and I have our quibbles, but overall, we’ve been enjoying the series (even though we feel that Benedict Cumberbatch is miscast as Holmes; see OFB’s earlier post, “Elementary, my dear Sherlock” for more on that).
But sometimes, we feel that a reinterpretation of Holmes can be more fun than the original. Such is the case with “Young Sherlock Holmes,” and such is the case with the marvelous and often overlooked “Without a Clue.” “Without a Clue” rewrites the Holmes canon in an unfortunately believable way: The real sleuth, Dr. John Watson, aka “the Crime Doctor” (played with great panache and humor by Ben Kingsley) has created a fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, to take the credit for his crime-solving so that he can get a prestigious appointment to the board of a conservative hospital that would never approve of his unorthodox sleuthing.
But Dr. Watson doesn’t get the job, and his public—his only source of income at this point—is clamoring to meet the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson does what any normal man would do: Hire an out-of-work actor to play Holmes. But he meets his match in the drunken, gambling,womanizing Reginald Kincaid (played delightfully by Michael Caine). Determined to rid himself of the bumbling, annoying, self-aggrandizing Kincaid, Watson attempts to persuade Inspector Lestrade (another great performance by Jeffrey Jones) and his clients that he is the real sleuth, to general ridicule. (Even his publisher at The Strand won’t let him reveal the truth, since it would destroy the lucrative Holmes franchise.)
So Watson is once again forced to accept Kincaid’s “help” as he battles his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty, to save the Empire from ruin. The result is elementary: A good time is had by all. “Without a Clue” is one of the best Holmes movies ever. We urge you to rent it from Netflix or your nearest Blockbuster; we think you’ll be hooked. The game is definitely afoot!
‘Til next time,
Elementary, my dear Sherlock. November 2, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Benedict Cumberbatch, Holmes and Watson, PBS Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Is anybody/is everybody watching the new PBS series, “Sherlock”? The first two episodes have aired (at 9 p.m. Sundays here on our local PBS station as part of their “Masterpiece” program), and of course, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood just had to watch them, rabid Holmes fans that we are. The premise is that Holmes and Watson live in contemporary London. The first episode was about how they met and became flatmates, as well as how Watson becomes sucked into the world of private detection; the second was a more conventional mystery.
Our friend Ben assumes that we all have our own picture of how Sherlock Holmes should look and act. Some might match him to an actor who’s played him: Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, even Christopher Lee or Robert Downey Jr. Some might match Holmes to an actor we wish would play him. (Silence and I are still hoping for Johnny Depp.) But our friend Ben and Silence would never have matched Holmes to the actor who plays him in “Sherlock,” a man with the marvelously Dickensian name of Benedict Cumberbatch.
Mind you, this isn’t because we found Mr. Cumberbatch bad or offputting. He’s quite a good actor, and it’s not his fault if he looks exactly like a young Mr. Spock rather than Sherlock Holmes. (Our friend Ben was unable to resist Googling him to see if he’d ever portrayed Spock. Alas, no.) But Silence and I both thought he’d make a better James Bond than Sherlock Holmes. His portrayal was more that of the nerveless agent, the man of action who gives nothing away, than of the high-strung Holmes who delights in his own cleverness and is both visibly excited and happy when announcing “The game is afoot!” Mr. Cumberbatch’s marble face was, to us, the antithesis of Holmes’s own highly expressive, mobile features.
Silence and I wish with all our hearts that the idiots who cast Daniel Craig as the latest James Bond would come to their senses and hire Benedict Cumberbatch instead. And future Star Trek films could certainly use his appearance and talent to advantage. Meanwhile, we’ll keep watching him in “Sherlock.”
Our friend Cole, who’d recorded the first episode so we could watch it, said we’d either love the series or hate it. (He loved it.) But, having watched two episodes at this point, we neither love it nor hate it. We enjoy some parts and regret others, but find it perfectly watchable overall. We’d recommend it to any Holmes fan. Here’s our analysis of strengths and weaknesses based on what we’ve seen so far:
* Holmes and Watson are portrayed as (relatively) young men, as their creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, intended. Benedict Cumberbatch is in his 30s, not early 20s as Conan Doyle depicted Holmes when the stories began, but it’s still a lot closer than pretty much every other depiction we’ve seen, where Holmes is middle-aged or worse.
* Mr. Cumberbatch fires off some truly wonderful one-liners as Holmes, either intentionally or through Holmes’s oblivion to the motives and feelings of others. They’re great and in character.
* The longsuffering Watson is given some great moments as he endeavors to come to grips with Holmes’s lack of normal human emotions. The second episode, in which Watson attempts to go on a date with a luscious female doctor, only to be thwarted at every turn by the oblivious Holmes and/or a cadre of Chinese mafia, is richly humorous. And Watson has the best line in the episode when he tells the kidnapped and terrorised woman, after Holmes manages a last-minute rescue, “Our next date won’t be like this.”
* Conan Doyle intended Holmes to be a sexless logic machine and Watson to be a normal redblooded man, but because Holmes’s charisma transcended his author’s intentions and because it’s rather difficult for us moderns to imagine a pair of men living together for financial convenience, people have long assumed that there was more going on between Holmes and Watson than the author conveyed. The series remains true to Conan Doyle’s intentions while squarely confronting other people’s assumptions about Holmes and Watson’s actual relationship, beginning with their landlady, Mrs. Hudson, who assumes they’re a couple.
* Our friend Ben can’t bear logical flaws in anything, and far less when a supposed master of logic like Sherlock Holmes is concerned. There are plenty to be found in “Sherlock.”
* Maybe it’s just us, but Silence and I can’t get used to everybody and his brother calling Holmes “Sherlock.” Maybe, just maybe, a 21st-century Watson would call him Sherlock rather than Holmes. But surely to God someone like Inspector Lestrade would call him Holmes or Mr. Holmes rather than the too-familiar “Sherlock,” especially since Holmes in the series always refers to him as Lestrade.
* And speaking of Inspector Lestrade. This is a minor quibble, but in “Sherlock,” the good inspector’s name is pronounced “LeSTRAHD.” This is good French, and many previous versions of Holmes have pronounced it the same way. Unfortunately, however, the Briton’s compulsion to maul all French names, to the extent of calling the French kings “Lewis” rather than “Louis,” applies here as well. The inspector would have pronounced his name—as would Holmes, Watson, and all the folks at Scotland Yard—”LeSTRADE.” A few versions have in fact pronounced it, ahem, “correctly,” at least as far as its owner and his contemporaries were concerned. Too bad this version didn’t follow suit.
As you can see, strengths outweigh weaknesses in “Sherlock” as far as we’re concerned. Please let us know if you’re watching the series and what you think. And if you’ve missed it so far, tune in next Sunday and tell us what you think! We’d love to hear.
The gold bug. June 8, 2010Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: bugs, Edgar Allan Poe, pirate stories, scarabs, Sherlock Holmes, The Gold-Bug
Silence Dogood here. Normally, when I think of gold bugs, either gilded Ancient Egyptian scarabs or Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story “The Gold-Bug” comes to mind. Poe’s story, first published in 1843, is considered to be an early “detective story,” a genre Poe invented in 1841 with the appearance of his amateur detective, Auguste Dupin, the predecessor of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. “The Gold-Bug” also manages to involve pirates and Captain Kidd’s buried treasure—Poe certainly knew how to work up an audience!—and inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island. But I digress.
Thing is, I was out this morning watering plants on our deck and I saw a perfect—and perfectly gold—fly on an agastache leaf. The fly, at most a tenth the size of a housefly, had clear, black-veined wings and a metallic gold body. It was so beautiful!
In general, my relationship with bugs* isn’t that great, as fans of my ongoing feud with the stinkbug army know. I prefer that bugs stay outdoors where they belong and refrain from eating any of my plants. (Monarch butterfly larvae that need to eat our milkweeds and zebra swallowtail caterpillars that have a craving for our pawpaw foliage are exceptions.) In the great outdoors, I’m happy to see bees, ladybugs, spiders, dragonflies, and other beneficial insects going about their business. I’m even happy to see tomato hornworms that have been parasitized by beneficial wasps (not a pretty sight by any means). Of course I’m thrilled to see earthworms. And who doesn’t love seeing beautiful moths and butterflies?
But if a bug gets into my house, it’s going back out as soon as I can catch it, unless it’s a spider, which I generally try to tolerate on the grounds that it’s eating everything else that’s coming inside. (The one thing I can’t stand about spiders is if I’m wandering outside and end up with a faceful of spiderweb. Not their fault, I know, but I always feel like the hapless dwarves in The Hobbit.) And if a bug gets on me, it’s war, unless I see, once I’ve stopped screaming, that it’s a ladybug or butterfly.
I know that in a world without bugs, everything else would die. (Except maybe the oceans, but it looks like we’re doing our best to wipe them out on our own.) But I tend to regard them as a necessary evil. Yet here was this perfectly gorgeous gold bug, minding its own business but allowing me to share the gift of its beauty. Maybe I need to rethink. I might even be able to do it… until an ant gets on my foot or I see a tick on anything. Still, the gold bug was a reminder that the world is full of wonders, if we just take the time to see them. I’ll take that over buried treasure anytime.
‘Til next time,
* For the purposes of this post, “bug” refers to all insects, annelids, and arachnids, not just true bugs.