Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Elementary (Season One)

Elementary is an American crime drama and a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. It was originally intended to be an American remake of the BBC's Sherlock. The show airs on the channel CBS and was created by Robert Doherty. Elementary's Sherlock Holmes is a recovering heroin addict because of a dark incident that involved a mysterious woman. Sherlock is a former consulting detective to Scotland Yard but now lives in modern-day New York and in an expensive brownstone house that's owned by his wealthy father. To make sure that his son doesn't fall back on his old habits, Sherlock's father has also employed a former doctor called Joan Watson to be Sherlock's sober companion. Sherlock is now working as a consulting detective to the New York City police under the watchful eye of Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn). Joan soon finds herself assisting Sherlock in his cases.

I was very suspicious of Elementary when I first found out about it. A modern-day Sherlock Holmes adaptation coming out so soon after the BBC version?! It sounded like a cynical cash-in to me. When I found out that CBS originally wanted to remake the BBC's Sherlock before they decided to make "one of their own" I became even more suspicious of it. Then I found out that the show had changed John Watson's gender which gave me nauseating visions of Sherlock and Joan having a romance! Finally, the title of the show is lame and I wonder how many clueless viewers have been left confused by the show not being about a kindergarten class? :D

Now that I've seen the first season of Elementary I now realise that Elementary is a very different show to Sherlock. In fact it's so different to Sherlock in terms of its tone and style that I'm not even sure if it's fair to compare them. I'm going to make a real effort not to do very many Sherlock-Elementary comparisons in this post. Instead I'll attempt to rate Elementary as a Sherlock Holmes adaptation and as a TV show in its own right. In a nutshell: as a Sherlock Holmes adaptation I think Elementary is really bad and as a TV show in its own right I think it's only mediocre. I do understand that Elementary has quite a lot of fans so if you're an Elementary fan who happens to be reading this... I'm sorry, I just don't like the show. Now I'll explain why in some more depth so you might want to stop reading altogether.

To me, Elementary is a Sherlock Holmes adaptation in name only. There are Sherlock Holmes purists out there that think that any modern day update of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories at all is unacceptable whether it's by the BBC or the CBS. But Sherlock is still far more popular with the fandom because it's a show that's made by passionate Sherlock Holmes fans and you can tell. That's not the case with Elementary. I don't consider myself to be a purist these days but I have my limits. There wasn't a single episode in Elementary where I got the sense that I was watching a show made by passionate fans of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. References to the canon only show up occasionally. Only one of season one's 24 episodes is a direct adaptation of an Arthur Conan Doyle story (Dead Man's Switch is an adaptation of The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton). Also, Elementary fails to capture a hugely important aspect of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories: that they're not just mysteries. They're adventures! This is a hugely important aspect of the ACD stories that Elementary has completely missed. Instead Elementary is really more of an American procedural show in the style of The Mentalist. If I enjoyed procedurals then I suppose the tone of Elementary being so different to the tone of the ACD stories might not have bothered me so much, but since I've never been a fan of these shows this was a major deal breaker for me.

Elementary stars Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as John Joan Watson. Some readers might be interested to know that Jonny Lee Miller had prior connections to Sherlock Holmes even before he started playing the role. One of Miller's closest friends is Jude Law who plays the role of John Watson in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films. Miller also acted alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in Danny Boyle's stage production of Frankenstein. The pair of them alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature and won a joint Olivier Award. Jonny Lee Miller is a great actor. I love him in Emma (2009) and he was excellent in Frankenstein. I think he could have made for a great Sherlock Holmes with better material. Sadly the writing in Elementary doesn't help Miller at all and, to date, his Sherlock is the only one I've seen that I truly dislike. There are several reasons for this...
  • Elementary's Sherlock has a drug addiction. Sherlock Holmes isn't a drug addict in the ACD stories! He only indulges in opium on those occasions when he hasn't got a crime to solve. It's a means of assuaging his boredom. If Holmes has got an addiction to anything it's crime-solving, not drugs. But in Elementary Sherlock is a recovering heroin addict and it's all because he lost the love of his life who is... Irene Adler. *Groans* 
  • Elementary's Sherlock is far too emotional. The majority of the time it's actually Watson who comes across as the more calm and rational of the two!
  • Elementary's Sherlock isn't intelligent enough. The deductions that Sherlock makes in Elementary are the sort of things that all crime scene investigators are trained to pick up on e.g. in the Pilot episode when Sherlock says that one of the suspects can't be the killer because his feet are smaller than the footprints on the floor.
  • Elementary's Sherlock has sex with prostitutes. Did they really think a modern-day version of the character would do this?! 
  • Elementary's Sherlock Holmes comes across as a spoilt brat. Many Elementary fans believe that their Sherlock is "nicer" and "more likeable" than the BBC character but I completely disagree. Elementary's Sherlock complains about his father constantly - the man who gave him an expensive house to live in, paid for his rehab treatment, and provided him with a sober companion. He sleeps with prostitutes. He's sullen and doesn't seem to have the slightest sense of humour. He lacks charm and charisma. He isn't intense enough. He needs someone to look after him. When he's rude to people he's clearly being rude on purpose, and often without even the slightest provocation. The BBC's Sherlock can be rude at times but the majority of the time he doesn't seem to understand when he's being rude, and the BBC's Sherlock is kind and affectionate to the few people that he really, truly cares about.

Elementary has received quite a lot of attention because of its female Watson but it's not actually the first Sherlock Holmes adaptation to change the character's gender. CBS actually produced a made-for-TV film pilot way back in 1987 that featured a female Watson. Initially I was very much against the idea of a female Watson at first because it sounded gimmicky and I was afraid that they were going to turn Holmes and Watson into lovers. But in the end I was far more upset about the changes to Watson's backstory than the character's gender change. Like Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu does a competent job at playing her character - I think she gave the better performance of the two actually - but her character is just so different to the Watson of the canon. There are basically three intrinsic aspects of Watson's character that should remain intact in any adaptation of the story:
  1. He's a former soldier who fought in Afghanistan
  2. He's a doctor.
  3. He's a writer.
Elementary only just about manages to get one of these things right! Okay I suppose that they might be planning for Watson to take up writing later on but why get rid of the character's military background?! In the canon, Holmes can definitely take care of himself but Watson's military background was still useful to him. So why did Elementary choose to get rid of one of Watson's key skills?! We actually live in an age where women are serving in the military! It would have been awesome if they'd made Joan a badass ex-soldier! Instead they just give Watson a tragic, cliched past. In Elementary Watson is an ex-trauma surgeon who accidentally killed one of her patients and then chose to retire because of her guilt. Watson's uncomfortable reactions to dead bodies at crime scenes really bothered me as well. She was a doctor for crying out loud! Yes at one point Watson points out to Sherlock that seeing a dead body at a murder scene isn't the same as seeing a dead body at a hospital but still, she was a trauma surgeon. She would have seen victims of vicious attacks before. It doesn't make any sense for Watson to be so uncomfortable at murder scenes. I have the horrible feeling that Watson is only acting like this because the writers thought that's how any woman would react but imho it only made the character look weak. The writers also chose to up Watson's intelligence. Watson makes breakthroughs and often turns out to be in the right about the cases. Later on in the season Sherlock turns around and says to Watson "Hey Joan, you're pretty good at this detective stuff too! Now that you're no longer my sober companion why don't I train you up as a consulting detective?" But this isn't what Holmes and Watson's relationship is about! The reason why Watson isn't as intelligent as Holmes isn't because Watson is stupid, it's because Holmes is a genius! If the show wanted to have a female character, and for that character to be on more of an even footing with Sherlock intellectually, then they should have made Mycroft a woman. Finally, it also really bothered me that Watson wasn't English in this show. This is partly a personal reason - I am English - but I also feel that having Sherlock and Watson both English but living in a foreign city would have given the two of them something to bond over. In fact the tone of Elementary in general was just so... American. I guess this really shouldn't have been such a surprise to me! After all the show is made by Americans, is set in America, and has a mostly American cast. But since the ACD stories have such a British feel the American tone of Elementary felt really weird to me. Again, the show is really more of an American procedural show with the characters sharing the names of ACD characters.

One of the more controversial aspects of Elementary that I haven't even talked about yet was the portrayal of Irene Adler. She's played by Natalie Dormer. I love Dormer's performances in Game 
of Thrones
and Neverwhere. In Elementary Dormer does the best she can with what she's been given. I just hated what she'd been given! Most Sherlock Holmes adaptations really struggle with Irene's character. They tend to turn her into a criminal or make her Sherlock's love-interest. Even the Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia didn't portray Irene all that well imo. Irene Adler is an important character in the canon. She outsmarted Sherlock and made him realise that he shouldn't dismiss women. Despite Irene's scandalous past she was a woman of integrity. She didn't pine after the King of Bohemia. She married a better man and moved on with her life. Elementary's Irene Adler is the worst portrayal I've seen so far because the writers chose to make her Sherlock's lover and to make her and Moriarty the same person! Apparently even many Elementary fans thought this was stupid! Now I actually kind of like the idea of a female Moriarty. The character is supposed to be an evil criminal mastermind after all so a female Moriarty kind of makes sense in a weird way. People tend to think of criminal masterminds as male. An evil female criminal mastermind would be able to fool people into thinking they were good and harmless much more easily. They would be really dangerous. So I'm fine with Moriarty being female. I'm just not fine with Moriarty having a sexual relationship with Sherlock and also being Irene Adler! This is completely ridiculous! Oh yeah, Moriarty ends up being defeated really easily in this show too. Joan uses a simple trick on her that Sherlock had already used on a different villain earlier in the season. So much for Moriarty being a criminal genius!

I can see how viewers who haven't read the ACD stories could enjoy Elementary and I can understand how procedural fans could enjoy it. I'm done with the show though. It didn't work for me at all. I had so many issues with it and I doubt I'll ever watch it again. I still think that there's plenty of room for other Sherlock Holmes adaptations though, adaptations which are different to Sherlock but still manage to stay true to the ACD stories. I would welcome a version with a genuinely well-done female Moriarty. An adaptation set during the Great Hiatus would be really interesting. Most of all, I think I would love an adaptation on Moriarty's life as a consulting criminal that also focuses on his relationship with Sebastian Moran :D Or how about a Mycroft Holmes spin-off?! The possibilities are endless...

Rating: 1/5
Age Certificate: 15

Friday, 16 May 2014

Cinderella (2015) Teaser Trailer

This trailer gives absolutely nothing away but it's still got me excited, which is what a teaser trailer should do. I am so much more interested in Disney's live-action Cinderella than I am in their new Sleeping Beauty film (Maleficent). Kenneth Branagh is directing and the cast for this film is excellent. It's got Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Hayley Atwell, Richard Madden, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi and two Downton Abbey actresses (Lily James and Sophie McShera). I have a feeling that I'm going to love this film! :) Does anyone else feel the same?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Liebster Award

A blog tag :)

  • Thank and link back the person who nominated you. Thank you Monica over at Spilled Ink! :)
  • List eleven facts about yourself 
  • Answer the eleven questions asked by the blogger who nominated you 
  • Nominate 9 bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers (you can't nominate the blogger who nominated you)
  • Ask them eleven questions
  • Let them know of their nomination!

Eleven Random Facts:
  1. My blood type is O negative.
  2. I do sometimes use the term myself but I really don't like the fact that teenage novels tend to be called "YA" (Young Adult) novels now. It makes me feel old! 14 year olds aren't adults! I'm 26! I'm a young adult!
  3. I'm willing to read almost any genre of fiction. I won't read erotica or really gory horror novels but apart from that, anything goes. 
  4. I have a signed copy of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys.
  5. My favourite word is "Euphoria". 
  6. My favourite places in Britain are Edinburgh, the Lake District, York, London and Bath. 
  7. I love the Hiddlesbatch (Tom Hiddleston & Benedict Cumberbatch) and Fassavoy (James McAvoy & Michael Fassbender) bromances :)
  8. I really want to see Asylum's Sherlock Holmes! It's supposed to be the Sharknado of Sherlock Holmes adaptations and it looks it!
  9. I'm really awkward during phone conversations. 
  10. Earl Grey is my favourite kind of tea.

The Nominated Questions:

1. If you could be any animal for a day, which one would you choose?
Well, it would have to be an animal that's at the top of the food chain for sure. I'd be rather annoyed if I got eaten on my one day as an animal. It would be nice to be a dog for a day because people tend to like dogs and my old dog had a pretty great life - but what if I was a dog in South Korea?! I think I'd quite like to be a bird - like a parrot. I'd get to fly around and parrots are at the top of the food chain aren't they?

2. Yoda vs. Gandalf, who would win?
Yoda would beat Gandalf the Grey but Gandalf the White would beat Yoda :)

3. What are a few of your favourite songs?
Wow, where do I start?! Er... David Bowie's Heroes (which was used to wonderful effect in The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Ben E King's Stand By Me. The Verve's Lucky Man. The Smith's This Charming Man. Kate Bush's Cloudbusting. I'm going to just stop there but I could go on forever!

4. Favourite Holiday?

5. Sorry for all the 'favourite' questions, they must be *so* boring. XD Anyhoo, what are a few books that you really love?
*They're really not!* Les Miserables, The Lord of the Rings, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (I like big books and I cannot lie!), North and SouthAnna Karenina, Jane Eyre, The Princess BrideHarry Potter... I could go on and on and on. I have sooo many favourites! :D

6. If a total stranger told you to follow them, would you?
It would depend on the stranger - a policeman would be a stranger after all - but I'm thinking "no". 

7. At bedtime, do you go straight to sleep, or do you read a book or something first?
I usually try to read a book before going to sleep unless I'm feeling really, really tired.

8. Favourite composer?
I'm going to go with film composers for this question. Film composers that I love are Dario Marianelli, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Howard Shore and Yann Tiersen (I've only heard his Amelie soundtrack but it's gorgeous!) I also love Ramin Djawadi's music for Game of Thrones.

9. What time of day do you feel like you work best in? If that makes any sense. :P
*It does make sense* I think I work best in the middle of the day because I don't think I really wake up properly until 10 o'clock. I've never been a morning person and I don't think I ever will be!

10. Text speech - saving time or just plain laziness?
A bit of both, I reckon. I can understand the logic of shortening some words to save some space and time but when it gets to the point where no-one will be able to understand your message that's just lazy. 

11. What's the farthest you've ever been from home? Geographically speaking.
I went to Mexico on a family holiday five years ago. Until I eventually get to do my dream trip to Australia/New Zealand that will be the farthest I've ever been from home.

My Questions:
  1. What are five countries in the world that you really want to visit?
  2. Are you a tea or coffee person?
  3. Are you an oldest child, middle child, youngest child or only child?
  4. Who are your fictional crushes?
  5. Is there anything that you didn't used to enjoy but have grown to love over time? E.g. a book, a film, a song, etc
  6. What is your favourite word?
  7. What scares you the most? For example: I'm most frightened of bugs.
  8. What is your guilty pleasure? I won't change the radio station if Little Mix comes on and I like a few Katy Perry songs, hehe.
  9. Is there a hobby you'd like to take up?
  10. What are some of your favourite book-to-screen adaptations?
  11. What is the best thing about having a blog?
I now tag (although no-one has to do this tag if they don't want to):

Yes, I know that the rules state that you should tag 9 but all of the other bloggers I follow already seem to have done this tag and I don't want to bother anyone with it. But if anyone wants to answer my questions then go ahead :)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

'Longbourn' by Jo Baker (2013)

Synopsis: Longbourn is a reimagining of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice that focuses on the lives of the Bennet family's servants. The main protagonist of Longbourn is Sarah the housemaid. Sarah is attractive, bookish and of a similar age to Elizabeth Bennet but is obviously living a very different sort of life. The other downstairs characters include the teenage kitchen maid Polly and the married couple Mr and Mrs Hill. Mr Hill is the Bennet family's butler and Mrs Hill is their cook/housekeeper. The Longbourn servants have busy but rather quiet and uneventful lives. However, a new footman called James Smith then arrives into the Bennet household. James is a dark and handsome man with a very mysterious past. He soon finds himself falling in love with Sarah. Although Sarah is initially attracted to James she becomes suspicious of his reluctance to talk about his past life. As a result, Sarah's head is then turned by a very good-looking and dashing former slave called Ptolemy who now works for Mr Bingley. But what is it that James is trying to hide from Sarah?

Oh, Longbourn. I wanted to like you so much more than I did. You showed such potential but what a disappointment you turned out to be.

I don't think it would take a particularly dedicated reader of this blog to realise that I'm a huge Jane Austen fan. I love Austen's books because of her delightful prose, her fantastic characters, her comedy, her insightful social commentary, and her beautiful romances. I love all of her novels - well, maybe not Mansfield Park - but my absolute favourite is Pride and Prejudice. I hate to go for the cliched choice but it really is. The reason why Pride and Prejudice is the cliched choice is because it's most people's favourite Jane Austen novel. It's the most famous of her books and it's spawned numerous sequels, prequels, retellings and parodies. Usually I'm very wary about these various Pride and Prejudice spin-offs so when I first heard about Longbourn I wasn't remotely interested. But after I read quite a few positive reviews of it, and then found out that it had already picked up a film adaptation, I became more curious.

I feel so let down by Longbourn. At first I found the book quite absorbing but as it carried on I became more and more dissatisfied with it. Initially I was intrigued by Sarah and her romance with James but I soon became exasperated with them. Sarah came across as whiny, naive, stupid and resentful. She made some really bad decisions and I could find nothing to like about her. James was just boring. Mrs Hill and Ptolemy were the only interesting new characters but they didn't get very much page-time. The characters from Austen's book weren't any better portrayed either. The only Pride and Prejudice characters that I feel Baker actually managed to capture quite well were Lydia and (to a lesser extent) Wickham. None of the other existing characters from Pride and Prejudice had any dialogue that rang true. It certainly didn't help that Baker took so many liberties with their characters! Mary is passionately in love with Mr Collins and is inconsolable when he chooses to marry Charlotte Lucas. Mr Collins turns out to be quite a sweet man and not at all pompous or annoying. Mr Bennet has a skeleton in his closet and isn't remotely funny. The glimpses of Elizabeth and Darcy's married life are odd and unpleasant.

Aside from Longbourn's characterisations my other big problem with this book was how ludicrously melodramatic it became. Towards the end the book became downright laughable. We get an affair, an illegitimate child, a closet homosexual who dies after having sex with his lover outdoors, a lengthy digression on the Napoleonic Wars, an army deserter, a paedophile, torture, prostitution, and a hint that Wickham has given Lydia a venereal disease. I don't consider myself to be a strict book purist these days but all of these things really offended me. Not one of them has the slightest place in a Pride and Prejudice story and I got the impression that Baker was trying to be deliberately provocative or controversial.

The sad thing is that Longbourn had the potential to be a truly great book. Its premise is interesting and Jo Baker's writing is really, really good - excellent in fact. Her prose is descriptive and vivid. Baker clearly did her historical research for Longbourn as well. In the beginning I was genuinely fascinated by Baker's descriptions of Regency servant life. I loved learning more about this different world and way of living that I knew nothing about. I also really liked the scenes where Wickham was trying to ingratiate himself with the servants. These scenes made a lot of sense and seemed very in-character. Wickham's father was a steward after all. He was born into the servants' world and he'd know how things are run downstairs.

I'm very reluctant to recommend Longbourn because I found it such a disappointment but I do know that there are some Pride and Prejudice fans out there have loved Longbourn so - proceed with caution I guess!

Rating: 2/5