Sherlock: A Study in Pink 2010

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Story: The British police are baffled by a series of suicides until DI Lestrade hires Sherlock Holmes who shows them that they have a serial killer on their hands.

Detective: Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective the world has ever known, here interpreted as a modern man, but very faithful to Doyle’s original character.

Release Date: July 25, 2010

Writers: Steven Moffat

Source: Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet”


Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes, definitely.  He fills the screen and yet is true to the original character of Holmes.

Lani: Absolutely, although I think there might be some argument to be made that Watson and Holmes share the protagonist role in this one, although I’m not sure. More a question than a set theory.

Murderer as antagonist?

Jenny: Yes.  Once he knows Holmes is investigating, it becomes personal.

Lani: Absolutely. Holmes sees the murder as a puzzle, but the murderer is personally targeting Holmes, trying to get his attention.

Conflict created by murder?

Jenny: Yes.  Holmes is drawn into the story by the intellectual puzzle, and the rest of they mystery is played out almost as a chess match.

Lani: Yes. Holmes is already engaged in the murders right from the start, as evidenced in the taunting of the cops in the press conference.

Fair play with all the clues given?

Jenny: Yes.  In fact, the viewer may figure out who the murderer is before Holmes does because he’s particularly blind at one point in a way the original Holmes never would have been.

Lani: Moffat takes special care to add text clues on the screen for anything that might be vague; he is absolutely faithful to the viewer as participant.

Solved using deduction, not luck?

Jenny: Yes.  It’s Holmes’s specialty.

Lani: Absolutely. Although the cabbie got there and revealed himself, Holmes had him tracked down already with the phone GPS.


Jenny says: 5 Pops.  I’d give it 6 if I could.

Mystery: 5, Craft: 5, , Suspense: 5, Comic Relief: 5

Lani says: 5 Pops. I’m leaving the romance score in, because there’s a definite romance between these guys. It may be a just-friends romance, but it’s a romance all the same, and I’m loving it.

Mystery:5 , Craft: 5, , Suspense: 5, Romance: 5, Comic Relief: 5

Sherlock Holmes 2009

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Story: Someone is murdering young women in London, so the police call in Sherlock Holmes to solve the crimes.  Which he does in the opening of the movie, only to have the Big Bad escape which leads to him using his deductive powers to hunt him down again.  Plus Moriarty.

Detective: Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective the world has ever known, here given a manic intensity and sexuality by Robert Downey, Jr. not to mention making Holmes an action hero.

Release Date: Dec. 25, 2009

Writers: Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg

Source: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but not any one title in particular


Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes, definitely.  He fills the screen, albeit a little more flamboyantly than the original Holmes.

Lani: You bet.

Murderer as antagonist?

Jenny: Yes, definitely.  He practically cackles in his black heart, challenges Holmes to catch him, and continues murdering with impunity.

Lani: It’s very clear who the antagonist is, and he’s consistently the antagonist from scene 1.

Conflict created by murder?

Jenny: Yes.  Holmes is drawn into the story by previous murders and is spurred on by subsequent killings.

Lani: Yep; it starts with Holmes saving one girl, then trying to stop the antagonist before he kills some more.

Fair play with all the clues given?

Jenny: Yes, although there’s so much STUFF going on in this movie, it’s hard to find the clues.  That’s fair play, though: red herrings are pretty much a staple in the mystery genre.

Lani: Not really. There are clues like the smell of evidence, which are expressed by seeing Sherlock Holmes smelling things, but it’s not enough information that the viewer can solve the puzzle herself. While all the clues are shown, they aren’t really given, thus making it impossible for the viewer to actively participate, which is the element that I think rules this out as a mystery. I think a key qualifier for a mystery is that the viewer has everything she needs to solve along with the detective.

Solved using deduction, not luck?

Jenny: Yes.  It’s kind of Holmes’s specialty.

Lani: Yep.


Jenny says: 5 Pops (the four for romance doesn’t really count since that’s such a minor subplot)

Mystery: 5, Craft: 5, , Suspense: 5, Romance: 4, Comedy: 5

Lani says: 5 Pops (with the proviso that it’s not a mystery, nor is it a romance, and that’s where this story doesn’t work as well, but it’s not what it’s supposed to be; it’s an Action Adventure, and for that, it’s a solid 5)

Mystery: ~ (not a mystery in the way we mean it, although the howdunnit is excellent, so this would be a 5, but… not a mystery), Action/Adventure: 5, Craft: 5, , Suspense: 5, Romance: 3, Comedy: 5

Evil Under the Sun 1982

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Story: A group of people gather at a seaside resort where jealousy and hatred swirl around a famous actress, observed by the equally famous detective Hercule Poirot.

Detective: Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s fastidiously annoying little Belgian turned into a fabulously over-the-top big Belgian by Peter Ustinov.  (The entire cast of excellent actors pretty much follows him into camp excess as the chew the gorgeous Majorcan scenery.)

Release Date: March 5, 1982

Writer: Anthony Shaffer

Source: Agatha Christie’s 1941 novel of the same name, with significant changes.

Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Yes.  Ustinov’s Poirot is bigger than life, doggedly inquisitive, and in the movie version, on a paid investigation.

Lani: Absolutely. Although there is a minor blip in the beginning with a murder that seems unconnected, Poirot takes over as protagonist and is in conflict with the antagonist to solve his mystery from the (almost) start.

Murderer as antagonist?

Jenny: Yes, something that’s made clear in the big showdown at the end, complete with Poirot stopping the Big Bads as they head for the door.

Lani: Yes, even before s/he commits the murder, which makes for a solid antagonist and conflict all the way through.

Conflict created by murder?

Jenny: They’re all at each other’s throats before the murder which happens half way into the film, so the conflict looks like it’s being stirred up by the victim, but if you look closely, it’s being stage-managed by the murderers.  Still, as we said in the podcast, the murder is actually part of the find-the-macguffin/cover-up-the-theft-of-the-macguffin conflict between Poirot (hired to find the diamond) and the thieves who have come to the island to murder the only person who can pin the theft on them.

Lani: The problem here is the question, not the answer. During the discussion, we had some clarity on whether it’s the murder that creates the conflict, or the desire of the protagonist/detective to find answers, and the antagonist/criminal to hide them. I think this question needs to be about the conflict centered on the resolution of the mystery – protagonist yay, antagonist nay – and to that question, I answer a hearty, “Yes.”

Fair play with all the clues given?

Jenny: Yes and no.  The audience gets the clues when Poirot gets them, and he even lists them near the end of the movie, but they’re for only one partner in the murder, and they don’t lead to the key to the mystery, the motive.  It gets murkier on the second partner in the plot because the clues are weak and while prominently displayed on the screen, obscure.

Lani: I had some minor quibbles about playing fair; there are a couple of reveals at the end that are kind of there as clues, but not entirely. So I would say predominantly yes, with a couple minor exceptions.

Solved using deduction, not luck?

Jenny: There’s some bad luck on the part of the murderers–tossing the bottle into the sea and having it almost hit a witness, for example–but Poirot solves it by deduction.

Lani: Absolutely. It’s Poirot’s ability to distill the clues into a narrative that tells the tale which solves this mystery.


Jenny says: 5 Pops
Mystery: 5,  Craft: 4, , Suspense: 5, Comedy: 5, Fabulousness: 5

Lucy says: 5 Pops
Mystery: 5,  Craft: 4, , Suspense: 5, Comedy: 5, Fabulousness: 11 (did you see the polka dots?)


Question from podcast:
We were trying to remember who narrated the first scene on the moors.  The answer is nobody, it’s a series of quick cuts: woman running across skyline, runs into police office and says, “There’s a body on the moors,” police open the car door and tell her she needn’t look again, shot of body with marks on neck, shot of doctor estimating time of death (doesn’t mention cause of death.”  Entire sequence is two minutes.
Then there’s the scene in the insurance office which is another three minutes (and where we thought the story actually started).
Then five minutes in, the story switches to the hotel.


The Thin Man 1934

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Story: A former detective, now retired and married to an heiress, is reluctantly drawn back into detecting when an inventor’s mistress is murdered.

Detective: Nick Charles, abetted by his wife Nora, his dog Asta, and a lot of alcohol.  This is a very detective-centric story, and the movie version relies heavily on the chemistry of Powell and Loy which is legendary.  In fact, they were cast in this because the director noticed them bantering between takes on another movie.

Release Date: May 25.1934

Writer: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich

Source: Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name

Mystery Analysis:
Detective as protagonist?

Jenny: Nick Charles is definitely the protagonist, but the screenwriters wanted the victim and all the suspects introduced first, a mistake that Hammett didn’t make.  His novel opens with:

“I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-Second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from a table where she was sitting with three other people and came over to me.”

That’s the right place to start the story, with the detective, especially a mystery like this one that is almost entirely dependent upon the charm of its main characters.

Lani: Nick is the protagonist, not that you’d know it much, because he doesn’t really have a dog in the fight. I think a good protagonist—even a detective in a mystery series—needs to need to solve the crime, even if it’s just for the paycheck. The fact that Nick doesn’t seem to care much for the first half of the movie makes me care even less. Plus, it’s a great lesson in “Start with your protagonist.”

Murderer as antagonist?
Jenny: Yes, but the plot is so confusing that it’s hard to tell.  I’d read the book a couple of times before so I knew what was going on, but I think it’d be tough if you were coming to this fresh.

Lani: Well, at first Nick doesn’t want to get involved, and Nora pushes him into it. Then Nick does get involved, and Nora tells him it’s too dangerous. The people who point guns at Nick (and they are legion) aren’t the antagonist, nor are they sent by the antagonist. They’ve just all got dogs in the fight, which again, Nick doesn’t. His dog is very laid back about the whole thing. So, a protagonist is trying to do something (which eventually, Nick is trying to find the murderer) and the antagonist is blocking him (the murderer trying to get away with it) but until the final scene, it’s really just everyone running around like headless chickens.

I would say the antagonist is the murderer, but it’s kind of slushy.

Conflict created by murder?

Jenny: The conflict begins because Nick doesn’t want to be a detective any more and Nora and others keep pushing him back to his old job, but the movie plot is so loose and confusing that the conflict isn’t significant.

Lani: The conflict—everyone wants Nick to solve the mystery, while Nick doesn’t—begins before the actual murder takes place. There is a murder, and we do want to find out who it is, so there’s that, but I’m not sure I’d say yes to this question.

Fair play with all the clues given?
Jenny: Nick cheats by recognizing the skeleton and not cluing the audience (or the police) in.

Lani: What Jenny said. Plus, the clues we had were as pickled as the protagonists.

Solved using deduction, not luck?
Jenny: Yep.

Lani: I don’t know. There’s that moment in the end where Nick turns to Nora and says he has no idea who did it, he’s just laying it out to make the murderer nervous until he revealed himself. That seems like luck to me. Jenny thinks he was just kidding, and maybe he was, but based on that, I’d say it was luck.

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Jenny says: 4 Pops
Mystery: 4, Craft: 3, Suspense: 3, Romance: 5, Comedy: 4

Lani says: 3 Pops
Mystery: 3,  Craft: 2, Suspense: 2, Romance: 4, Comedy: 5



What We Learned From the PopD RomCom Series

This is a chat that Lani and I did trying to sum up what we learned from last year’s romcom series.  We wander around a bit, but I think we pretty much covered everything.  This is cross-posted on Argh Ink and the Lucy March site, too.

Jenny: So what have we learned from nine months of PopD, Lucy? First: character. Character, character, character.

Lucy: Character is sacred. Always.

Jenny: In a rom com, it’s because it sells why we should want these two characters to be together, and why we care desperately if they’re not. In It Happened One Night, you really want them together, especially after the scene in the motel where they pretend to be married. I think that’s key, making the reader really need for these two people to be together.

Lucy: Absolutely. And how is the humor handled. It should come from character, not from jokes. That’s a comedy with a romance tacked on.

Jenny: A shared sense of humor is one way to show they’re in sync. They’re laughing at the same things. Think It Happened One Night, Desk Set, Two Weeks Notice. That’s one way to keep the reader wanting them together: they’re not just working together, they’re fun to be with, both for each other and for the reader.

Lucy: Laughing at the same things – not at each other. No humiliation (Two Weeks Notice, I’m looking at you.) Continue reading