Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bond and Bree

It's High Summer in Maine, and I have installed the air conditioner in my bedroom to prove it. Likewise, I've been indulging in the sort of films that feel appropriate to the season... that is, Low Entertainment: on the one hand taking the form of the early Bond films (because I just picked up the whole set, newly restored and remastered on Blu-Ray, and the obsessive Asperger's gene in me is forcing me to watch them all) and on the other hand in the form of Giant Japanese Rubber-Suit monsters (because somehow I landed on the first GAMERA movie from the mid-60's and found it so insanely entertaining in the most off-beat way that I felt compelled to track down all the early GAMERAs and the early GODZILLAs as well -- more on that "discovery another time).

THUNDERBALL has the best opening sequence of any of the Connery Bonds, and it still holds up today. I'll wrestle to the ground anyone who disagrees. But the rest of the movie is a bit slow and stately by today's standards, and in some ways (sexism, anyone?) the picture has aged more in the last decade than in the 40 years prior.

It is my third favorite of the Connery Bonds, after FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Despite all . the years and all the pictures that followed it, RUSSIA still holds its own as the best picture of the whole series: because without it, there never would have been a series.

Once again, the HD restoration from the original camera materials is the star of the Blu-Ray release: it just looks so unbelievably fresh and gorgeous. You see what the camera saw, including details in the costumes and settings and even the actors' skin that have always been unnoticeable until now. It almost has the effect of putting you in the same room with Bond, and that's the closest thing to Time Travel that I've seen in my lifetime. Just stunning.

Now, about the "Bree" in the title up there.

You might ask how I can watch the Bond movies without complaining about Bond's rough and undeniably chauvanistic character, attitude and bearing when I so vocally hated Bree Larson's arrogance and smug demeanor in [NOT MY] CAPTAIN MARVEL. At least, I asked MYSELF that question: and the answer came without a moments hesitation: 

It's because JAMES BOND IS NOT A HERO. I don't think anyone would argue that point with me: not even Ian Fleming, who called Bond "a blunt instrument in the hands of the government." If Bond sometimes finds himself in the position of saving the world, it's really of no concern to him. It's Just Another Mission: and (especially with Connery playing him) he tackles it with the same brutish efficiency that he would bering to bear if he were ordered to kill the child who would grow up to be Hitler.

CAPTAIN MARVEL is supposed to be a HERO. We expect more from a hero: including humility, good intentions and kindness. These are qualities that Bree Larson is utterly lacking, at least insofar as her approach to this character goes. Compare Bree Larson's CM not to Bond, but to Christopher Reeve's turn as Superman. There is no comparison. Larson comes off looking like a jack-booted thug, like James Bond in drag minus the sex drive. 

THIS is supposed to be a hero? Not in my universe, me buckos.

-- Thorn.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

"Are You Free, Mr. Humprhries?"

I pulled the plug on broadcast TV several years ago, and except for local news and weather (which I've recently been able to get in small quantities through my Apple TV device), I haven't regretted that decision at all. The single thing that I enjoy best about the twenty-tweens is the ability to act as the Programming Director for my own personal TV station. As you might expect, its imaginary call letters are station WDUK. 

Monday nights are Comedy nights, I've been able to balance new-to-me shows like COUPLING and BLACK BOOKS with old favorites like GILLGAN and ALL IN THE FAMILY -- and just recently among the mix I've been watching the first series of ARE YOU BEING SERVED? once again, after probably more than a decade since the last time it aired on my local PBS station. 

It was and remains an absolute classic, and a textbook (along with its cousin, ALLO, ALLO, by the same creators) on how to write comedy that is clean enough to pass any censor yet filled with filthy double-entendres that actually work both ways. Where modern shows are dragged down by in-your-face vulgarity, the writers of ARE YOU BEING SERVED and 'ALLO 'ALLO mastered the art of getting away with the dirtiest jokes by making them perfectly innocent. I will always fondly remember Mrs. Slocum's pussy.

Today I looked up the actors and was dismayed and saddened, though not surprised, to find that ALL the cast, even the youngest, have died -- they're all gone. Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) outlived them all, dying at the age of 92 in 2013. They were not in the upper echelon of British actors, but they were top notch at what they diid, one of the great ensemble casts of British television.

-- Thorn.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Omens May Be Good, But the Rest?

I have FINALLY slagged my way through all six desperately tedious hours of Good Omens.

Sheen and Tennant are wonderful and so is their story arc. But the rest? Ye gods and pickled catfish, not since Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies have I seen anything quite this bloated and torturous. On a weekly basis, I began to count on this series to knock me unconscious within the short side of ten minutes.

Y'know what? I have Adobe Premiere and I have this series all in digital format and I bet you ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY that I could cut it down to a two, two and a half-hour movie that was a million times better than the series.

The brainead witch-hunter played (poorly) by Michael McKeen and and his even more idiotic assistant? GONE. 

Anathama Device (who perhaps should have gone under her real name of Plot Device)? Equally useless and uninteresting -- so, GONE.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse? Well, they have to stay in, but you watch how much better this thing would be if they had all their insanely un-funny (at least as the actors delivered it) dialogue taken away from them. Some things are just "less is more." 

Bill Patterson is a wonderful actor but his character here is 100 percent padding and a complete waste. GONE. 

There's probably a bunch of other stuff that needs to be cleaned out, but I almost certainly slept through it.

I actually got into an argument of sorts, on Facebook, with SF writer Sharon Lee, co-author of the popular Liaden Universe novels. She felt that all these tedious characters whose parts I was so eager to chop played an important part in what she considered to be the main storyline, which concerns the impending End of The World. "Oh, no no no," I said. "The main storyline is NOT the end of the world -- the main storyline is about the rule-breaking friendship between an angel (played by Michael Sheen) and a demon Crowley (played by David Tennant). The end of the world is just the McGuffin that brings their friendship into focus. You can lose or combine any amount of those boring second-string characters so long as you have the materials to move the end-of-the-world plot device forward." 

At this point I was only up to about the fourth episode, and so had to admit that the series could still prove me wrong. But now I've seen the whole mind-numbing thing, and you know what? I was NOT wrong.

Neil Gaiman is on record as saying that he tried to preserve the book when writing the series. And right there is the problem. It maybe, probably, was a delightful book. I admire Mr. Gaiman and am an enthusiast of Terry Pratchett's solo work, and so I want to believe that a collaboration by the two could be nothing short of a classic. But Good Omens the series, although technically well-made, is not wonderful and far from it. 

Movies and TV are not books and the argument needs to be made that no matter what they do to a book in adapting it to film, THE BOOK IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE THERE. You can always pick up the book and read it. The job of a movie is not to replicate a book. The job of a movie is to be its own thing, and be the best version of its own thing that it can possibly be. Good Omens, as a miniseries, is the worst, dullest, most plodding and pedantic version of itself that it can possibly be. It won't be me: but SOMEONE needs to take a scissors to it.

-- Thorn.

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