By BOP Staff
April 12, 2005
Welcome to Shiny Things, where the BOP staff members take a little time to let readers know what's catching our attention this week. Whether it's film-related, a new musical group or a great book, we've got such an eclectic group that you're almost certain to find something that also suits your fancy.
Sherlock Holmes Mysteries
For a ten-year span - from 1984 to 1994 - the British TV production house Granada Television adapted a number of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories and novels for the small screen. Starring Jeremy Brett as the master detective, and David Burke and later Edward Hardwicke as his Boswell, the stories were hailed by Sherlockians for being largely faithful adaptations of the Canon (the Universal film series having been updated to then-present-day England). These productions are currently being run by The Biography Channel, and what a delight they are.
Of course, the key to any filmed version of the Canon is the portrayer of Sherlock Holmes, and here Granada found a winner. Jeremy Brett comes second only to the peerless Basil Rathbone as the personification of Holmes; in fact, Brett comes closer than any other actor save Rathbone to fitting not only Sidney Paget’s illustrations but to personifying the character of the great detective as chronicled in Conan Doyle’s writings. The second-most important piece of the puzzle, of course, is Watson, and while Nigel Bruce was hamstrung by inane writing, David Burke and his successor, Edward Hardwicke, are afforded the luxury of a Watson based on Conan Doyle’s template: a man who, while by no means a complete idiot, is still far outstripped by the mental prowess of his companion, and no shame in it.
Most of these adaptations are drawn from the 56 short stories Conan Doyle wrote, some of which have been expanded into movie-like lengths. Two of the novels have also been adapted: everybody’s favorite Holmes story to film, Hound of the Baskervilles, and Conan Doyle’s second Holmes adventure, The Sign of Four. In the last of the Granada series, Memoirs, Jeremy Brett’s ill health becomes increasingly apparent. The congestive heart failure that eventually took his life is evident not only on Brett’s face but in his voice, and his weakened condition creates the need for Holmes to take a lesser part in the proceedings, with not only Watson taking the lead, but Mycroft appearing in stories from which he was absent in the Canon. But for all his physical frailty, when called upon to appear as the great detective, Brett does not fail; he summons what must have been by this time his waning strength and projects the commanding presence that is so essential for Holmes.
If you enjoy Conan Doyle’s writings, you will definitely be delighted by these adaptations, and if you’ve never encountered the world’s first consulting detective and his faithful biographer before, Sherlock Holmes Mysteries is an excellent introduction to that London where it is always 1895. One brief note is in order here to those familiar with the Canon but who have not seen the Granada Television productions: don’t try and match the stories in these series to the anthologies listed. Although Granada drew its anthology titles from those of Conan Doyle, you’re as likely to find a story from Casebook in Adventures as you are to find one from His Last Bow in Memoirs. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)
The Burke series, by Andrew Vachss
I came across this series of books a few months ago and have been working my way though it ever since. Burke, bounced around foster homes and juvenile detention centers while growing up, is a professional criminal/P.I. with an intense hatred for those who abuse children. Burke is joined by a cast of characters including Max, a deaf/mute martial arts expert, The Mole, a Nazi hunting hermit who lives in a junkyard, and Michelle, the transgendered prostitute with a heart of gold. Throughout this series, Vachss, an attorney who only represents children, takes us into the underbellies of big cities and small towns in a hard-boiled style evocative of Chandler and Hammett. While it's not absolutely necessary to read these books in order, if you're going to pick one up, I recommend starting at the beginning with Flood. (Joshua Rice/BOP)
"Who are you?" "I'm the doctor who's trying to save your son. You're the mom who's letting him die." It certainly doesn't take long to realize that when you tune in to Fox's House, MD, this ain't yo momma's doctor show.
One of the amazing side effects of watching dreck like American Idol is that Fox beats the hell out of you with advertisements for every other one of their shows. In the past six weeks of Idol, we've
picked up watching 24 (which is every bit as good as advertised) and House, MD (which, with all due respect to Kiefer and Co., blows 24 away.) If I had a TiVo, House would be my newest season pass member, though I probably wouldn't use it because the show's so good that I want to catch it live.
Executive producers David Shore and Bryan Singer have decided to take on the age-old genre of medical drama and in doing so, they've taken shows like St. Elsewhere and ER and turned them on their ear. Hugh Laurie plays Dr. Gregory House, a brilliant doctor and diagnostician who's every bit as awful in bedside manner as he is genius in solving cases that no other doctor can. For him, actually speaking to patients is one of the necessary evils of his job. Laurie leads a fabulous ensemble that includes Lisa Edelstein, Omar Epps, Chi McBride and Robert Sean Leonard. As great as the cast is, it's the character of House that makes the show what it is. House is the straight-A
student who can't keep his mouth shut. He's the star quarterback who bad-mouths his teammates to the media. He's abrasive, rude and sarcastic and his attitude doesn't change if he's speaking to a
patient or the newly appointed Chairman of the Hospital Board. The only thing more impressive than House's wit and impeccable timing is his ability to solve cases and get the best out of his young team of medical experts.
The show is many episodes in and apparently doing quite well in the ratings. The only bummer for me is that I missed the first 11 episodes because I wasn't tuning in. You can darn well bet I'll be
catching reruns over the summer. You'd be wise to do the same. (Jim Vannest/BOP)
Lumines for the PSP
Perhaps the best way to describe the addictive nature of this game, a launch title for the recently released Sony PSP, is to simply link you to this comic from Penny Arcade. Do you see Tycho's eyes? They are, in fact, a perfect representation of how glazed you go while playing. Best described as a Tetris-style puzzle game with colored squares and boppy music, Lumines has various modes available for play, but I'm finding Challenge Mode to be the most enjoyable so far. That style of gameplay takes one through multiple levels in which the various colored squares must be placed in certain combinations in order to accrue precious points and new gameskins. The one word of warning I have is that if you do pick the game up, prepare to be immersed for an extended period of time as it takes a significant number of minutes to play through a round. As one of the songs that plays in the background says, it's "shiny and shiny and shiny and shiny and shiny and shiny…" (Kim Hollis/BOP)
This outstanding monthly online magazine covers the world of books with eclectic interviews, book reviews, and uniquely-themed columns. Just as an example, this month's offering includes a column on the movie adaptation of Sin City, an interview with Camille Paglia, a profile of autistic writer Temple Grandin, and reviews of 19 different offerings that vary from Francine Prose's A Changed Man to a Christopher Marlowe bio to a poetry from Noah Eli Gordon. Where the site really shines, though, is in its blog, where the two regular contributors, Jessa Crispin and Michael Schaub highlight goings on in the book and publishing world and provide a few laughs along the way. It's one of the few sites that is on my "must view" list every single weekday. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
I've had this for awhile now, but I'm just as in love with the Video On Demand service from Comcast now as I was when it was first offered. Being able to choose from hundreds of movies and shows any time you want is brilliant (sorry, just watched Coupling, one of BBC America's choices). While far from perfect, I long for the day when current network shows are offered; and being able to watch the Tea Leoni classic Naked Truth any time I want is a thing of beauty. Okay, I'd rather be able to watch Flying Blind, but it's a start. (Joshua Rice/BOP)
Trauma: Life in the ER
The vast majority of so-called reality TV isn’t. Most shows that lay claim to the “reality” title are actually game shows featuring non-actors, and with possibly the exception of first Real World, all the inhabitants of these shows are not only constantly aware that there are cameras present, but base most of their actions on what will play for same. So if you want a true reality show, where there are no actors and no one deciding on the outcome, you have steer clear of what many viewers consider “reality” TV and find shows that truly are real.
One such program is Trauma: Life in the ER. A Discovery Channel production currently appearing on Discovery Health, Trauma: Life in the ER focuses on, as one would deduce from its title, trauma units in various cities. But this isn't a scripted, everything-turns-out-all-right-in-the-end TV show; Trauma: Life in the ER follows actual cases, and much like real life, things don’t always go the way we might wish; which means that no matter how hard the doctors and nurses work, no matter what modern medical technology they employ, people die. Sometimes they make it past initial hurdles only to succumb to later complications; sometimes they don’t even make it out of the trauma unit alive. And sometimes, the cases that seem the most hopeless end up becoming what can only be called miracles.
Perhaps the even greater service of this program is its demonstration that sometimes, what appear to be miracles aren’t quite as miraculous as one might expect. Because in real-world medicine, sometimes a miracle just means a patient lived when everything in the medical texts said he or she shouldn’t. There may be deficits; there may be lots of hard work before the patient can even approach what they were before the trauma, and in some cases, it is clear they might never reach that point, but in Trauma: Life in the ER, it becomes quite evident that the fact they even have that chance is a miracle in itself.
Trauma: Life in the ER doesn’t always paint a pretty picture, but it always paints a real picture. If you’re squeamish or easily upset by blood and guts, then this definitely isn’t the program for you. But if you are fascinated by the medical profession, and with what the human body can endure and still survive, then this is a show you won’t want to miss. Just don’t be surprised if the doctors aren’t always the superhuman beings we’ve come to expect, and don’t always win the day. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)
Poker: The Real Deal, by Phil Gordon
The No Limit Hold 'Em poker craze has stopped showing signs of being a phase and now appears to be here to stay. ESPN’s Poker Club has proven so popular that their servers can’t handle all the stress and face frequent lag issues. Now is the time to learn how to play the game. Who would be better to teach it than multi-time World Poker Tour champion and Celebrity Poker Showdown host Phil Gordon? The 6’9” super-genius might have made his hundred million dollar fortune in the tech world, but it’s picking up tells that warms the cockles of his heart. His book offers a nice mix of introductory themes as well as some advanced placement poker skills. Gordon offers building blocks for the neophyte, but it quickly evolves into a much more detailed treatise on high stakes poker play. The savvy reader can go from zero poker knowledge to a solid understanding of how to steal blinds, make the most out of monsters and lay down quality losers after only 199 pages of reading. (David Mumpower/BOP)
People often ask me why I pay for HBO. "You've already seen the movies," they always say. And you know what? They're right. I've either been to the theater or rented almost every film that plays on HBO. So why pay for it? Because HBO has emerged as one of the best, if not THE best, creators of new series on television. I started with them on Oz. Then came Sex and the City, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Carnivale and now the crown jewel of TV series, Deadwood.
In the 1870s, gold was on everyone's mind as they headed west to seek their fortune. And chances are, if you were looking for gold out west, you ended up in the town of Deadwood. Up in the Dakota territory, the Black Hills, to be more specific, the town of Deadwood sprouted due to the fact that "thar's gold in dem dere hills." However, with gold comes every kind of lowlife scum known to man. And they all seem to get there before the law. This sets us up for what will surely be the grittiest, dirtiest western ever to grace the small screen, and maybe even the big screen. Al Swearingen, played masterfully by Golden Globe winner Ian McShane, essentially runs the town. He owns the biggest saloon, owns the best women and has essentially cornered the market on the faro and opium trades. If you come to Deadwood, you'll deal with Swearingen ...oh yes, you will. One of the things that makes Deadwood stand out from most westerns is that David Milch and the rest of the series creators have taken very good care to keep everything as accurate as possible. Some very famous folks made their way through Deadwood and we've seen some of them appear in the show. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Sheriff Seth Bullock all are integral parts of the first season of Deadwood. In the coming seasons, we should also get the pleasure of Wyatt Earp rolling through the hills of Deadwood on his way to Tombstone. In an effort to make the show as realistic as possible, the dialogue is one of the more interesting aspects. While making sure that everyone still has a bit of the Shakespearian English style to their language, the writers have also made sure that no show in the history of television will ever have more foul language. At first, it's a bit distracting, but after a couple episodes, you don't even realize that c*sucker has become part of your vernacular.
One of the staples of HBO series is brilliant ensemble casting, and Deadwood is no exception. Timothy Olyphant, John Hawkes, Powers Boothe, Robin Weigert, William Sanderson, Molly Parker and Brad Dourif make up a good portion of the cast. Any one of them could be noted for their outstanding performance on the show, if not for McShane's brilliance. Set on one of the largest sets ever constructed for a television show and featuring as many as 150 extras in every episode, Deadwood is easily one of the biggest productions in all of television.
The first season of Deadwood has been released on DVD. Now, HBO is also known for pricing their DVD sets as if they're made of gold...so I'd suggest renting the season for $2-3 per disc before shelling out $80 for the whole season. And after you watch the first season, please be sure to call your cable or satellite operator and order HBO, cause Season 2 is shaping up to be all that Season 1 was and then some. (Jim Van Nest/BOP)
Cynthia L. Webb's The Scan
Lost in the forest of technology news? Having a hard time keeping up with the latest developments in the telecom wars? Wondering what the newest product released from Google is all about? Each weekday, Cynthia Webb's online technology column The Scan delves into the latest from the information and technology sectors. Webb previously wrote a similar column called The Filter for washingtonpost.com until she branched out on her own this winter. Webb has a knack for cutting through the jargon that shrouds the industry and reporting on the latest trends and developments in concise, easy-to-understand language. Her clarity, wit and insight make The Scan bookmark-worthy for anyone interested in happenings in the infotech industry. (Tony Kollath/BOP)