Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Eugene At the Movies

Posted in General on January 1st, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 6 Comments

It is only a matter of time before “The Forsyte Saga” is made into a two-hour action epic set in outer space.  (Princess Irene is unhappily married to Soames Vader and runs off with his cousin Jolyon Vader.)  I recently saw “Moll Flanders” relocated to the Red Neck South.  Yes, that does seem like a clever idea;  but that was the limit of its wit.  The updated “Jolene” kept all the hapless heroine’s sexual misadventures but none of Dafoe’s bawdiness.  It was more anthropological than fun.  I gave up after 20 minutes, although that was enough for two nude scenes by Jessica Chastain.  (This film is recommended for teenage boys.)

So you can imagine my dread in viewing “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.”  How do you condense the complexities of a John Le Carre espionage novel into two hours?  Worse, now that the Cold War is ancient history, how do you edify an audience that watched “Lincoln” thinking the Civil War was fought against the Germans.  (That was only true in Wisconsin.)  Some 30 years ago, film makers considered the challenge of “Tinker, Tailor…” and resigned themselves into producing a six hour mini-series.  It starred Alec Guinness as the sly, subtle George Smiley.

Now, the story has been remade as a two-hour movie with Gary Oldman as the understated hero.  (I must compliment any Oldman performance where he doesn’t seem like Sid Vicious.)  Let’s see if I can describe the plot.  There is a Soviet double-agent in one of the top positions of British intelligence, and George Smiley has to find him.  No, don’t congratulate me for that succinct explanation; I only know it because I saw the six-hour miniseries.  There are four suspects; of course, the traitor turns out to be the only one who is likable.  Even his rationale for treason is somewhat endearing:  he didn’t think that he was betraying Britain but rather annoying America.

Of course, we annoying Americans might not appreciate that explanation, so the two-hour film chose to condense the answer from “those appalling Yanks”  into more of an existential shrug.  Somebody has to be a traitor; why not me.  That may be tactful but not satisfactory.  So I am offering an alternate script.

Smiley:  I do have a slight question.

Traitor (who also is the handsomest of the four suspects–but you’d expect that):  The Soviets do have a better national anthem than the Americans.

Smiley: Yes, the tune is much better, but the lyrics are absurd.  “Land of happy tractors, heroic beets…”

Traitor (who isn’t feigning a stutter in this role, and so won’t win an Academy Award):  There is an advantage to not speaking Russian.

Smiley:  If you determine your treason by the best national anthem, why aren’t you spying for the French?

Traitor (who you still picture as Mr. Darcy):  I did offer.  But French intelligence only wanted nude photos of Petula Clark.  I offered some pornography with Princess Margaret, but everyone has that.

Smiley:  At least, the Soviets respect Petula Clark.

Traitor (who really resents being confused with Colin Farrell):  It is not Russian morals so much as aesthetics.  They want nude photos of Margaret Rutherford.


p.s.  And here is the Soviet anthem:




Morte d’Author

Posted in General on November 18th, 2012 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

When the Old Hollywood tampered with the classics, it was to simplify and cheer them up.  Hamlet and Ophelia lived happily ever after!  Now, however, literature can’t be complicated enough for films.  Perhaps you could show the cold, hungry servants in “Pride and Prejudice.”  That would be historically accurate–but that  is an insufficient challenge to the director.  No, how about recreating “Pride and Prejudice” as if Emily Bronte had written it. You could have a bedraggled, blowzy Elizabeth Bennet showing her disapproval of burly Mr. Darcy by beating to death a cow.  If you think that I am joking, then you must have missed the 2005 film with Keira Knightley.  (The bovinicide may be my slight exaggeration.)

The idea of swapping authors turned out to be trend–or at least a contractual demand by Ms. Knightley.  She is now starring as “Anna Karenina”–at least the version that Anton Chekhov and Samuel Beckett would have written.  In this version, the Revolution is imminent and the story is set on a stage.  And here is a scene…

Anna:  Shall we make passionate love or just stare at the samovar?

Vronsky:  I wonder who will kill us first: the peasants or the audience.

Boris Pasternak:  This actually is how I wrote “Doctor Zhivago.”

Anna:  Yes, the movie was more interesting than your book.

Boris:  I could say the same about the first five versions of “Anna Karenina”.

Vronsky:  But not this one!

Boris:  But not this one….

Anna:  Let’s stare at the samovar.


Now we have to worry about the next transauthor interpretation.  How about John Le Carre’s “Wind in the Willows”?  Who is the Mole in MI6?  Since this is LeCarre, it probably is everyone but Mr. Mole.  (No, we can still trust Mr. Toad; he never learned anything at Cambridge.)  But there is not really a good role here for Ms. Knightley, although she certainly could pass herself off as one of the willows.

However, I can see her as one of the repressed daughters in an Edwardian family, eager to partake of the sensuous delights allowed her rakehell brother.  In fact, we are overdue for the D.H. Lawrence version of “Peter Rabbit”.



Sunday Sundry

Posted in General on March 27th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Five Hours Of Mildred Pierce on HBO

My prayers have been answered.  After sitting through the two hour Joan Crawford melodrama, I was left with an insatiable gnawing hunger that could only be satisfied with an additional three hours of overripe histrionics or at least a slice of one of Mildred Pierce’s fortune-earning pies.    (For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of Mildred Pierce, imagine if Marie Callender had married Claus von Bulow and was mother of Lucretia Borgia.)  Well, those clairvoyants at HBO knew what I wanted, and it premieres tonight.

The series actually has received good reviews. The New York Times complimented the historical accuracy of the stars’ full frontal nudity.  I don’t think that we need to elaborate….However, that would be a scholarly contrast to Showtime’s “Spartacus” where most of the topless actress have tattoos of motorcycle  gangs.  (But in their nude scenes on Showtime’s Anne of Green Gables, Anne and Aunt Marilla could feasibly have Harley-Davidson tattoos; the company was founded in 1903.)

Hollywood History

It took me two tries to watch the latest version of “Robin Hood”. No, I didn’t gag at its notion that Robin (Russell Crowe) ghostwrote the Magna Carta.  I went into shock long before that–during the show’s first three minutes.  The film opens with this title card introduction:  “At the turn of the twelfth century…”  The next line should have read, “None of our characters had been born.  In fact, most of their parents hadn’t been born yet either.”  However, the introduction proceeds with an explanation of Richard the Lion Heart’s absence from England and his brother John’s misrule.  Then the action begins–with an attack on both a castle and narrative consistency– with the surtitle:  France, 1199.

This film cost over 100 million dollars to make.  Russell Crowe’s salary alone was $20 million–although that breaks down to $5 million an accent he mumbles throughout the film.  A week’s catering for  the extras cost more than most of us will make this year.  (Megan Barnes–three times champion on Jeopardy–is the glorious exception here.)  So how much more would it have cost to have a proofreader for the prologue, someone who might know when the 12th century actually occurred?

You’re right.  I am asking too much.

The Young and The Restless

Posted in General on May 27th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 9 Comments

First, my tantrum

I thought that I was a satirist.  It turns out that I was a prophet.  Here is my recent musing on the new opportunities in historical fiction:  histortions. 

Since ”Spartacus” has proved a success, it no doubt will inspire other historical prequels.  I am going to suggest a series on Napoleon, but focused on his sophomore year at the Brienne military academy.  Of course, the dorm chambermaid will be a nymphomaniac, as well as his geometry teacher, music teacher, fencing coach, career counselor and the headmistress.  If HBO produces this series, we can arrange for Napoleon to have an affair with Abigail Adams, too.

“Fast Times at Brienne High” has yet to be picked up–although I imagine some Hollywood producers are discussing it now over lox burritos.  However, get ready for “Teen Caesar”:

Could Zac Efron be set to play Caesar?

No word yet if Zac Efron is set to star, but 17 Again director Burr Steers has been hired to direct a new historical teen drama entitled Emperor: Young Caesar.

The director will helm the adaptation of the first two novels in Conn Iggulden’s historical (and fictional) book series. The series follows the rise of Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar.

William Jarhead Broyles and Stephen Cleopatra Harrigan have scribbled the script, which apparently centres on Julius and Brutus as they join the Roman military. 

Says Steers:

“I’ve always had an interest in Julius Caesar and his formative years and am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of this project.

“There has never been a film that focuses on Caesar as a young man, and Conn Iggulden, Bill Broyles and Stephen Harrigan have a completely fresh, timely, and exciting take on one of the greatest historical figures of all time.”

Yes, the world has been waiting for a teen buddy movie about Caesar and Brutus.  Imagine the boys surfing down the Tiber. (It would be a lovely nostalgic gesture to have Frankie Avalon play Cicero.)  But there is a slight discrepancy in the age of the two kids.  When Caesar was 14 years old, Brutus was minus 1.  However, there is no reason not to portray Brutus as a wisecracking ovum.  Remember the success of “Look Who’s Talking”.  Fallopian sounds Latin to me, and the tubes might have good acoustics.

But now we resume our regularly scheduled pedantics:

May 27, 1541:  Beheading Behavior

In Tudor England beheading was considered a privilege. It was performed before a select audience in a upper class setting. In return, the victims were expected to behave with stoic dignity. Most did.  Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, definitely was the exception. The frail 67 year-old woman did not want to be executed and would not cooperate. She had to be dragged to the scaffold and would not passively place her head on the block. The executioner required assistance to hold down the struggling lady. She writhed and wiggled so effectively that the axeman missed her neck, slashing instead her shoulder. In the confusion, the Countess tried to make a run for it. She only managed to dodge around the scaffold and she was just one wounded old lady against an armed killer and his staff. The outcome was inevitable but she gave an unprecedented resistance.

Born in 1473, the poor woman had a miserable sense of timing from the start.  By the time she was four, she had been declared a traitor by her uncle King Edward IV–who executed his own brother and stripped the ensuing orphans of their property.  Her nicer uncle was Richard III, who restored young Margaret’s and her brother’s legitimacy and estates.   Margaret’s luck lasted two years–the same length as Richard’s reign.  Being a Yorkist heiress and a legitimate Plantagenet did not improve her prospects with the new king  Henry VII–who was not a legitimate anything.  Her brother Edward would spend the rest of his short life in prison; although mentally-retarded, that was a minor handicap for royalty and his pedigree made him a threat to the Tudors.  Edward was executed in 1499 at the age of 24.  Margaret was kept under a more comfortable confinement until Henry decided her fate–specifically which of his lackeys deserved a rich, young wife. 

The lucky–and unctuously loyal–groom was Henry’s cousin Richard Pole.  Pole married Margaret in 1494, and apparently he did not mind at all.  There were five children within ten years, and I would like to tell you that the Pole family lived happily ever after.  Well, Richard did; he had the prudence to die in 1505.  But Margaret and her children did not.  They  lived on into the reign of Henry VIII.

He was Margaret’s first cousin, once removed, and he took the removal quite seriously.  The Poles were staunch Catholics, and they would be providing executioners with steady work for the next two generations.  Margaret was never implicated in any plots, but her decapitation on May 27, 1541 was Henry’s way of congratulating her son Reginald for becoming a Cardinal. 

The Church beatified her in 1886.  Given her surprising dexterity, you’d think that a Catholic school would have named a gym for her.

Hollywood Bondage

Posted in General on May 17th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 8 Comments

My wife would like to send a sympathy card to Olivia de Havilland.  Last Saturday while we were playing television roulette with the remote, we alighted upon “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”  Karen had never seen the Errol Flynn classic before.  (You don’t ask a guy if he ever seen it; you ask how many times?  In my case, six or seven times.)  When Karen learned that the film was made shortly before “Gone With the Wind”, she felt such pity for Miss de Havilland, “Going from Errol Flynn to Leslie Howard.” 

Yes, on face value (and Flynn’s gorgeous face in particular) it would seem that de Havilland had a dismaying descent.  Imagine Maid Marion running off with Isaac of York.  However, Olivia was under contract, and in the Golden Age of Hollywood that contract was a gilded yoke.  She was expected to do whatever the studio ordered.  A musical comedy with Mussolini?  If that is what Jack Warner wanted….   

Between 1938 and 1939, Olivia de Havilland appeared in nine movies.  Four were with Errol Flynn; Warners Bros. knew a winning combination.  In addition to “…Robin Hood” and a trifle of  a comedy called “Four’s A Crowd”   together they won the West in “Dodge City” and she caught his lopped head in “Elizabeth and Essex.”  Miss de Havilland also made the  crime caper “Raffles” with a pleasant but still unknown British actor named David Niven.  And lest Katherine Hepburn have a monopoly on madcap heiress roles, Miss de Havilland played one in “Hard to Get” opposite the aging male ingenue Dick Powell.  (Powell hated his typecasting, and he actually looked forward to losing his looks and becoming middle-aged.)

She also costarred in two films with George Brent.  Mr. Brent was a popular leading man of the Thirties, and we have been wondering why ever since.  He has no allure or charisma, no dramatic depth.  Brent simply seems like a well-spoken middle-aged dullard.  You can imagine him playing a doctor in a Lipator commercial, but not as a romantic lead.  Today he is best remembered as Bette Davis’ costar in “Dark Victory.”  In that film, Davis passes up a charming rogue (Humphrey Bogart) and an adorable playboy (Ronald Reagan when he was still a Democrat) for this well-spoken, middle-aged drip.  Of course, her character was supposed to have brain tumor and it evidently effected her libido. 

And Miss de Havilland got to be in two films with him!

Suddenly, Leslie Howard doesn’t seem that bad.

Unintelligible Excellence

Posted in General on August 11th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Three years, I went to our local movie theater with the intent of seeing “The Wind That Shakes Barley“, an acclaimed Irish film that relates (read this with  a brogue) “The Troubles.” The owner and manager of this theater knows me to be a fan of fine foreign films–and a loyal customer, so he made a point of warning me about this movie. Yes, the film was excellent but its dialogue was authentically Irish-English and an unintelligible mumble. The manager said that he had seen the film twice and still could not understand half of the dialogue. Under normal–masochistic–circumstances, I would have braved the Gaelic din, but it seemed unfair to bewilder my wife. We saw another film–which I cannot recall.

However, if you wait long enough and pay a fortune for cable television, you will have the chance to see any movie that you missed the first time around. “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” was broadcast last week, and I finally saw–and heard–it. To be honest, I might as well have watched a silent movie. The dialogue defies comprehension.  Ten minutes before the film’s end I deciphered that the two main characters were brothers. Of course, many silent movies were excellent; and so is this. The emotions and the conflicts of Ireland in 1920 are powerfully conveyed.

Ironically, the dialogue is not completely unintelligible. The bad guys speak clear English because that happens to be their nationality. In fact, one Anglo-Irish aristocrat (and complete bastard) possesses such a melodious diction that you would want to hear him recite Shakespeare before he is so deservedly gunned down.

When kidnapped by the IRA, the aristocrat sneers that Irish independence would only lead to a priest-infested rule. If you know Irish history–or have seen “The Magdalene Sisters”–you might concede the truth of his comment. But if the Irish lived under repressive Catholicism, at least that was their choice. Self-determination allows a people to construct their society based on their own values and prejudices. Yes, they even have the right to be myopic, backwards or parochial, and it is not the prerogative of a more advanced society to impose itself. My Judean ancestors did not appreciate Rome’s “improvements”, and the Spanish rebelled against Napoleon’s Enlightenment.  I am sure that you can think of more recent examples.   The natives always prove ungrateful for the foisted gifts of the superior power.

That is one lesson that the “primitive society” teaches the civilized, but the civilized never seem to learn.

D-Day Musings

Posted in General on June 6th, 2007 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

June 6, 1944 should be remembered as Germany’s lucky day. With the Americans and British landing on Normandy, the Germans now had an enemy willing to take prisoners. The Russians were not so amenable; for some reason, they took their attempted annihilation rather badly and were quite vindictive. So, imagine the choice confronting Lieutenant Helmut Schmidt, Private Helmut Kohl and Private Josef Ratzinger. Should they surrender to 20 million Russians enraged with vengeance or 10 million GIs offering Hershey bars?

In films with a German perspective on World War II, I have observed a mathematical impossibility. In “Cross of Iron” there is only one Nazi in the squad. In “The Enemy Beneath” and “Das Boot” there is only one Nazi on each U-Boat. Just how many times did that one Nazi vote in order to elect Hitler.