Your Premise was Outdated 10 Years Ago

I cannot believe Lucy is a movie actually being made today.

Now, maybe, if it had been made some ten or fifteen years ago I might have found it a thoughtful idea and been willing to accept the idea as a metaphor. But right now, today, after we’ve finally been able to study the brain this is ridiculous.

You already use 100 percent of your brain. OK? You do, I promise. It’s just that the parts of the brain have different functions. You don’t want them all trying to work at once because that is a seizure.

Why couldn’t they just blame it all on some magic system that over-revved brain activity? I’d rather like a plot that relied on young the brain power and the protagonist became able to influence others. Maybe even give other people heart attacks from the next room or something.

Tellingly, you’ll notice I’m not mentioning either throwing people around or stopping time.

Every time I see that movie’s trailer, I want to run screaming from the room or throw something. Or jump off the roof. Unless the Black Window is just trolling the mad scientist. That would be OK too.

Casually Watching The Glades

I may be somewhere in the … fourth season? I don’t know, it’s some marathon on A&E.

Main characters parents are getting a divorce after 42 years. He wants to continue working, meaning travelling to Brazil. Now that she’s on her own, she plans to move somewhere warm—Florida, to be near family—and also start travelling.

WHY doesn’t she just travel to Brazil with him now that she’s retired?

I don’t mind the effects of a broken marriage so many years on, but give me a reason other than MISSING the OBVIOUS resolution, please?

You are a Lying Liar who Lies!

 

Sorry to accuse, but I’m sure you can’t help it. You’re human, after all.

 

Unless you’re invading aliens, in which case you may as well skip this post, because it probably won’t help you out in your conquest, or even in translating humanity, at all.

 

Anyway, we’ve discovered the television in the living room can connect directly to Netflix, and I’ve been watching it much more often, and you know, I pay for it. So that’s good. It also gives me time to knit and I’ve nearly finished the back of my first top!

 

This time, my recommended tags include: Barack Obama, United States, Mitt Romney, Maryland, Stephanie Cutter, Joe Biden, People, and History.

 

 

I is amused.

 

Mostly because, though I am accusing everyone of being a liar, it’s in relation to the TV show Lie to Me, hence the reference to Netflix. It’s not a great show, honestly, but at least it’s fun to watch. Lie to Me has another Sherlock Holmes–style character, at least in that the character has been such an enduring influence on our culture. The idea is, he can automatically tell you’re lying because Science.

 

It seems to be about on the level of every other show using Science to solve crimes. Or Numb3rs. Yes, I like that show too. Sorry, scientists, the silly conclusions and far-reaching fantasy conclusions do not stop me from watching fake science crime dramas—at least I won’t watch the CSIs…except sometimes when they’re particularly funny.

 

Back to Lie to Me. It’s a little harder to talk about because, despite having seen six episodes, I don’t know any of the character names. Anyway, so you have the genius-jerk type character, his Girl Friday, the weird guy, the new girl, and the secretary. Secretary, her name is Heidi, hardly shows up, and the weird guy takes awhile to get screen-time during the set up, but now is a foil for the new girl. The new girl is fun, but surely can’t have decent relationships outside of work, even if we haven’t seen that at all, because she doesn’t seem very clearly with humanity, except for identifying emotions. I like Girl Friday, she’s got back story and fun quirks. Main character, as I said, is a typical genius jerk, snarky, ought to get sued for harassment, can quell any naysayer with just one quip. These shows never acknowledge how attached people are to their opinions whether or not they’re caught.

 

Hotch on Criminal Minds did it better though. Mostly because he’s not a jerk, but because calling out the lawyer in the courtroom played with concepts of hubris and poetic justice

 

 

Not that Lie to Me isn’t trying to do the same thing, but the main character is supposed to pull it off every episode, and it’s less impressive that way. Also, they telegraph the guilty party a lot, and you generally know the answer as soon as the character comes on-screen. The fun comes from seeing how they’ll tease out the truth. It is nice that just because they can see a lie, they can’t necessarily force the truth.

 

A little less inerrancy, perhaps, in drawing conclusions would be nice. The characters are always right when they interpret the ‘micro-expressions.’ I are aware that these things exist but it’s not a straightforward science and there are, or should be, more ways of going wrong.

 

No, instead they’re always right. And lying is bad regardless of situation or intent.

 

For instance, I recently read about a Japanese social construct tatemae. That particular website compared it to a ‘social reality:’ for instance, when you go through the grocery store checkout line and the clerk asks how you are, you say ‘fine,’ well, unless you’re particularly socially inept or just a selfish jerk. The article I read described tatemae as similar to the white lie, but without the Western connection toward a lie: in other words, a necessary truth for social life. When trying to find that article again, I also found another article that defined it as pretense and considered it problematic.

 

That second article does make a very good point on the social scale, but in discussing Lie to Me, I want to discuss the idea that whole-scale truth isn’t necessarily a good idea. For instance, there’s no need for the woman at the end of the first episode to admit she’s glad to have gotten another candidate fired, except to cause bad blood—as if the workplace needs any more of that.

 

Culturally, in the US anyway, I don’t think our problem is increased lying, but the lying is a symptom of our overall lack of..dare I call it ‘honor’. People don’t care about how their actions, for example, cheating, plagiarizer  lying, cause problems for others and are more willing to break social norms for personal gain. A consequence, I think, of our idealization of individualism. The problem comes down to lack of ethics, and not more lying. But I’m supposed to be talking about a television show where people have already started lying, and this fictional corporation has to determine the truth.

 

Which, is, in part, the reason for the awkward nature of the show. The main character apparently started this company, and every episode they’re hired to solve two problems, often criminally related. So they have no investment except to find the Truth. Conceivably, if the client doesn’t go alone with them, the human lie-detectors could just walk away. Also, I’m not sure how they’re paid.

 

I don’t know. Several how-to writer’s books insist the protagonist must have high personal stake in the plot, otherwise the reader will question why they don’t just quit when it gets hard. Aside from that not being a desirable trait, fictionally or otherwise, it’s a valid concern. Why shouldn’t the characters of Lie to Me not walk away?

 

Heh. It’s not a question that the show asks, and it definitely doesn’t support it. That’s just what happens when I go off on a tangent. It’s a fun show to watch though. As I knit more this winter, it’ll definitely be on in the background.

 

Not So Elementary

Last week, I watched CBS’s newest drama Elementary.

Then I went and read reviews, but only the next day when I was less…riled. Both the reviews I read—from within the industry I believe—however, both seemed to think it was a good show. They seemed to believe it would work for all but fans of Sherlock Holmes.

I’d like to argue otherwise.

Yes, I know the original Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read all the short stories and novels…actually, I just checked and I read most of them this year. I don’t obsess over the canon details, however. Doyle hated his character enough to (attempt) kill him off, he clearly wasn’t worrying about the consistency of details—which is why there aren’t any. Once at college, I checked out Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes and read it in two weeks. They’re catchy, but there aren’t many character details. And I most remember the theory that between the two parts of the series, Watson and Mycroft had the real Sherlock murdered and replaced him to make more money. I’d watch that show.

Cover of "The Great Mouse Detective"

Cover of The Great Mouse Detective

I am a fan of the permutations of the Sherlock Holmes ‘mythos’. Not just the remakes into movies and television shows (like the recent Downy, and Sherlock), but the more creative pastiches as well, like The Young Sherlock Holmes (self explanatory), Without a Clue (where Watson is the secret genius), and The Great Mouse Detective (come on, it’s adorable). Elementary really doesn’t break as much ground as it thinks it does.

What else is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche? House.

I suppose Elementary follows most closely in that vein, that attitude. This Sherlock is just as much a jerk as House (which is not a show I’ve ever gotten into). Not that Sherlock‘s Sherlock is nice (and even if he were kind, I don’t think he’d appreciate such a vacuous term), but he’s also a sociopath. Even so, part of his story arc is his consideration of others, especially as inspired by Watson.

Elementary‘s Sherlock, however…like Dr. House, there’s little redeemable about him outside of intelligence. Sure, it’s interesting to see him put the pieces together, but you wouldn’t want to run into him in real life.

More on him later, because I wouldn’t be as bothered by this iteration of Sherlock if it weren’t for Watson. I really wanted to like Lucy Liu, and had great hope (in spite of all evidence and common sense) for a female, American Watson. Instead. Well you can’t see me shaking my head, but I would have preferred anything but what we got. What’d we get?

A wimp.

Sherlock’s a jerk: that’s the consistent trait they give him anymore. This Watson, unlike  Law’s and Freeman’s, however, don’t just take it. At least they snark at him. The writers made Lui’s character a doormat. She just takes all of his shit. There are several sequences where Sherlock oh-so-sincerely apologizes, because Watson has what he wants. And she buys it! Does it ever end well for her? Of course not, and despite the fact he’s clearly as sociopathic as Cumberbatch’s character, it’s never acknowledged by the show.

Dr. Watson

Dr. Watson (Photo credit: Scott Monty)

In fact, I suspect he is supposed to be sincere (even though if he meant it, he would have changed his behavior), so that he and Watson can get it on.

Now the very first scene has Watson walking up to Sherlock’s apartment, passing a prostitute on the sidewalk that he’s just sent off—probably just to unnerve her (charming)—and Sherlock’s hanging out topless. That may have been intended as fangirl bait, but, ummm…I guess Miller just doesn’t do it for me, because my only thought was ‘ick!’. Sherlock just explains to Watson (as I said, just to make her uncomfortable) that he needs sex for his thought process, and this brings me to the fundamental problem I have with this show.

It is, at once, but completely unoriginal and entirely unrelated to the source text except for the names. As Sherlock proved, you can change all the details and still have something that has something of the spirit of the original. Elementary seems to get what canon details it has from all the time it’s riffing off Sherlock.

Even then, I don’t need it to be entirely faithful. Frankly, Jeremy Brett exemplifies the canon-Sherlock for a (mostly) canon adaptation. Brett also proved that Sherlock does not have to be devoid of all human qualities to be fun to watch. If nothing else is going to resemble canon, why not stray further: Sherlock likes sex, that’s fine, but if  it’s strictly for his mental process why not make him gay or bi? If Watson is a woman, why does she have to be a surgeon (a failed one, at that)? Why not make her a mortician? She knows all about death and can get information to Sherlock that he can’t get otherwise—and then she’s torn between her irresponsibility and detecting—conflict!

And why, oh why, is Sherlock even from London? It’s set in the US! Do it properly, and have him from New York City, and his arrogance even supports his back story (what, I’m from California, we can make fun of NY). And there is no reason whatsoever for the connection to Scotland Yard; I mean, why bother?

Especially since, for whatever reason, his primary police contact also met him at Scotland Yard. I may have to resort to smilies to express my full bemusement. For some reason, Sherlock bothered me less, but I can’t imagine Elementary‘s Sherlock getting away with this. For one thing, Britain is more accustomed to authoritative government and class differences, and Lestrade’s career is clearly damaged by association. Elementary hasn’t even touched it so far, and I can only imagine his cases going to court: “You let an addict find all your clues? Innocent!” For the record, I had an exceedingly similar response when I heard about TNT’s Perception.

Hopefully, I’ve shown my issues aren’t with Elementary‘s canon discrepancies, only that it’s so…Hollywood. And I do mean that in the most derogatory sense of the term. They go for all the easy answers and forgo any real creativity or risk. I suppose I’ll watch the next episode tomorrow. Maybe it only failed because they were introducing the characters, and I’ll get to see Joan punching Sherlock in the face. I will be a fan for life.

Review: The Woman In Black

Last weekend, my brothers and I watched The Woman in Black together. We’d been discussing this:

 …because wow.

And that’s how we started talking about watching the HP actors in different movies, and I remembered I had wanted to watch The Woman in Black since I saw Daniel Radcliffe’s interview with GMA back in…January, February? though I couldn’t remember why. As for me, it wasn’t on Netflix, which I have, but it was for rent on Vudu, which my brother does have. (The TV has an app for that.)

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. In fact, it might have gotten four stars from me (out of five, even if that’s not how you’re supposed to star movies) if it hadn’t been for the awful ending that made me question everything from the beginning all over again.

Which, yeah, it had a rather absurd beginning. Radcliffe, who is Mr. Kipps (although I kept thinking they were saying Mr. Gibbs and wanted an NCIS crossover) is a lawyer sent off to review the papers of a creepy, rich old lady who lives in the middle of nowhere. Yes, you’ve seen it before. Then you learn he’s ambiguously a father.

Really, movie, really?

Yeah, Radcliffe is just too baby-faced to be a convincing father; we wondered if he might just be an older brother.

The movie is overblown melodrama from the start. Every line is deep, every room is dark—every moment portentous. And every character that walks on screen is so dramatic it’s distracting…by the time relevant characters started showing up, I couldn’t tell, because they got the same amount of screen time and as little actual explanation as everything else had been.

Oddly, my favorite part of the movie, for the creep factor, was Kibbs exploring the haunted house. Aside from the fact that he kept hearing creepy things that are demonstrably haunting and then keeps opening the door anyway, I’d been genuinely startled several times. The sets are gorgeous. Every period detail is perfect. And the special effects fit right in without drawing attention to themselves.

Everything was aimed for the atmosphere of creepy. Not gore, not thrills, but the tension. That works for me, and I enjoyed it, even if it implies Kipps is a man of a tiny imagination.

“Maybe next time I open the door, it really won’t be a ghost!”

Then he fairly abruptly changes his mind, and convinces this rich not-neighbor, who gets a strangely intense narrative focus, to help him restore the peace.

Now, though you know I hate the ending, there were still questions that had already come up. When Kipps arrives in the required creepy hamlet, all the villagers fear him and try to run him out of town as quickly as possible. That’s also standard for this premise, but as I’ve said, everything in this movie gets the same amount of foreshadowing so I couldn’t tell if this was relevant or if every character in the movie was just nuts. And we never learn why the arrival of a stranger made the difference, and if it was just anyone who saw the woman in black:

Why didn’t they burn down the house?

Okay, so kids are dying. How is this at all Radcliff’s fault? They’ve apparently been dying for years. How did they not decide to just torch the place? Gaston got his village to march miles to burn down Beast’s castle strictly through rhetoric: “save your children and your wives!” Not even one dead kid. But in this village, no one apparently even chooses to move, though they apparently already know all the rules of the haunting.

It might have helped if clearer reason for villagers to blame him.

Now this mid-movie other male lead (Mr. Daley?) gained an awful lot of unexplained prominence near the end that didn’t make much sense. Well, okay, it made a plot point, but it was the plot point I hated. Why was he there, and why was his kid targeted? We never learned who saw what that set it off. I rather liked the wife, at least.

As for the Woman: what happened to her sister and husband? If they declared her insane and were imprisoning her, how did she get the house?

Like I said, the suspense of the middle of the movie held my interest enough to forgive the early schmaltz and the plot device Kipps-as-door-opener, and then, and then…

So Kipps has the idea to reunite mother and son, even retrieving the boy’s body (see? plot device). There’s some final ghost action, including dramatic sightings of the dead village kids, and all goes quiet. Kipps plans to leave right away, taking his son with him. Unfortunately, the Woman in Black will never forgive and pulls his son away onto the railroad tracks. Kipps reacts only at the last second and he and the boy are apparently run over while Mr. Daley or whoever he is watches in horror (I don’t know if the nanny noticed)—witnessing the crowd of dead kids again behind the train as it passes. Then we see Kipps and son meeting up with ghostly Mrs. Kipps and they all walk into the afterlife together while TWiB watches in anger.

And I say…

What did I just watch?

That ending just invalidated the entire movie. Not the death of Kipps, which could have been very effective, even including the son (for any other reason than pathos) if we didn’t get the stupid reunion. It’s just so trite and goofy. And apparently too similar to the final Harry Potter, which while I know quite a bit about, never saw: my youngest brother called it as soon as the train went by and then I went online and saw it everywhere else.

The movie has significant differences from the novel it’s based on, but they should have tried a little harder to connect the endings. Difficult, as in the book Kipps didn’t have a child until well after the main plot, but it’s only then TWiB gets her revenge. Much creepier for her to come back when Kipps thought he was safe. Sure, they thought they’d cleared the ghost, but it’s only been a matter of hours at most, Kipps should have been far more paranoid.

But what can I expect? I read the premise for the sequel, and next she’s going after WWII soldiers.

Wha—

That upends the entire premise of this movie, in that she is going after the children. That was kinda important to her character. My fault for expecting dedicated storytelling from Hollywood, I suppose. God forbid I actually try to think.

Winning Over Sherlock Holmes: with a Digression into Copyright

I just won The Consulting Detective Trilogy Part I: University!* Quite an unwieldy title, but it’s basically a Sherlock Holmes prequel (or possibly a prequel to another novel by this author, which I haven’t read). Hopefully what little I know about this story is enough to start with it, and I’m not a canon fanatic, so if it’s not strictly “accurate” (whatever that means in a fictional universe) I’ll still enjoy it just fine.

I love Sherlock Holmes pastiches. If ever there’s an argument for taking traditional copyrights from corporations and giving them back to lifetime of the author, I think Sherlock Holmes is it.

If the main stories hadn’t come into the public domain, we wouldn’t have BBC’s Sherlock, which despite its issues is a fantastic update. There wouldn’t be House and I know many of you love that show. There’d be no The Great Mouse Detective which is the best steampunk with talking animals I know. No Robot Watson!

Sherlock Holmes, whatever his creator thought of him, has inspired so much scholarship, so much creativity, it’s draining to imagine how much thinner our culture would be if current copyright length started before Doyle.

*Goodreads.com has a giveaway feature, where authors and publishers can offer free copies of their books to GR users for publicity.

Artificially Black and White

Reading yet another spork, I realized that almost every spork I’ve read recently has similar complaints about fairly standard elements of fiction, especially in the fantasy genre.

Let’s be honest: For readers to connect to a story, they have to identify it as a story—something has to be recognizable to the audience. A completely “original” story, if it isn’t built with the constraints of fiction and the human brain in mind, may well be incomprehensible. Which you might say is what happened in the modern era of Literature and is why no one reads anymore. But that’s a different issue.

Ultimately, it’s the execution that counts, that makes the difference that turns a cliché into an imaginative world. Because they may often have two similar plots, ideas, or even scenes.

Compare, for example, the Harry Potter series and the Inheritance Cycle.

A skilled author will convince her readers that they don’t need to question this world; while it doesn’t conform to ours, it has it’s own set of internal laws and limits of ability. I admit I couldn’t finish the later books of Harry Potter and have little interest in doing so, but couldn’t start Eragon with any integrity because so many readers lashed back against the only given law of “it works because I said so”.  And I accept their opinions because they coherently argue this conclusion with textual evidence, I’ve seen their other articles on works I do have familiarity with, and I can understand how their opinions skew—whereas many defenders of cheap, popcorn novels nearly always respond with “U cant say anything bcuz u dont publish” and I am being generous.

Now occasionally perfectly literate fans will confess that they enjoy those works, almost always with the caveat

I know that it isn’t very good objectively, but sometimes I just want to read pulp.

Since that spork, I think of the preview chapters of Bran Hambric: the Farscape Curse, I’ve been thinking about the “tropes” of fantasy fiction, and trying to come up with an argument to prove they aren’t necessarily bad—go back to the difference between idea and execution. Then I watched the newest fantasy-movie-based-on-a-book-so-it-will-be-a-blockbuster-and-make-lots-of-money, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole—the owl movie.

Whether it’s an issue with the film or it started in the books, I certainly can’t use this movie as an example of what works. First, because Godwin’s Law should not be invoked so easily, which I want to avoid so as not to completely invalidate the rest of my argument, but there’s no denying that the antagonists call themselves the “Pure Ones”.

Then again, even the king and queen of the guardians are snowy owls and the whitest in the movie, much like the queen of the evil empire—who *spoiler* flies off in the end so as to return for the sequels.

But, especially to emphasis this fight is against GOOD and EVIL, the movie relies entirely on tropes (in this case, we can validly call them cliché) to move the plot forward, shoehorning the characters into their roles with effectively no development whatsoever—the mystical blue-tipped Hedgehog even names them: Soren “the leader”, Twilight “the warrior”, the small female who first is spunky-damsel-in-distress but ends up contributing nothing including getting kidnapped “the token girl who isn’t a mother figure”. The nursemaid snake gets to be “the heart”. Also a snake as a nursemaid to owl kids? And they are to be the Nine Walkers—wait, “Five Flyers” to save the world.

And then poor Clyde (at least that’s what it sounded like and I missed the credits). He is the designated EVIL because he is OMG!JELUZ!1!!111! of his super-talented GOOD brother, Soren. Not that Soren ever seemed particularly concerned about what his brother was actually feeling or thinking—he’s completely oblivious. Clyde evilly tells him *spoilers* at the end “Then you don’t know me at all” (paraphrased). That’s never been said before, right? But he’s right…from this movie, Soren has never had the faintest interest in getting to know his brother.

Just as Clyde’s “you don’t know me” speech might ring just slightly familiar, so does much of the dialogue. There were a few gems; inauspiciously, none of which I can remember—and even more revealing is that I can write this review in the theater while actually watching the movie, I can follow so easily the characters and story because they are so familiar. Like a fill in the blank.

I will grant most of these issues are probably the medium. Not having read the books, I don’t know how much ground is being covered (too much). It’s more a summary than a story on its own terms—critical failure for a standalone movie.

Since the movie is never as good as the book, the creators should think of it as such.

It is a beautiful movie. If you don’t have a brain that automatically analyses everything to death, more power to you. Most everything is well-rendered (if the snake looked a bit odd) and the owls are gorgeously and generously detailed. They paid full price for every feather, and it works. Even I have to admit the fight scenes were actually cool, and fun to watch—and unlike the rest of the movie, how owls might fight (even with armor), because like Alpha & Omega, it was mostly a story about humans who happen to superficially look like animals. The fighting however was in “3D” and not just in terms of having to wear special glasses because I watched it in 2D and it still worked (movie-wise instead of story-wise). But the owls used right and left and up and down when fighting and not limiting themselves to one plane. That was fun to watch.

Also, I the soundtrack was generally strong, if at times it got a little generic. They also had the odd idea of using Owl City music for a scene and for credits. Beyond the word, one of these things is not like the other. This is a dark movie, with very dark themes and the sudden intrusion of Owl City’s cheerful optimism jarred. Keep your theme in mind next time.