When I was growing up in the 1980s, “Hart to Hart”, starring Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers and Lionel Stander seemed to be on every bleeding day, and this when there was only six channels.
Running for five seasons from 1979-1984, and then ten years later as a series of TV movies, Hart to Hart held a special place for me. My parents marriage was actively disintegrating before my eyes, two people who had loved each other now swung from disdain for each other to loathing, all played out in front of me and my younger brothers.
Then there was Jonathan and Jennifer Hart. Even then I knew their smoochy childless marriage was too good to be true. Of course they were happy. They’d no kids, a nice dog, a gravelly voiced chef/driver/factotum named Max, and Jonathan was worth about $200 million, back when that was a lot of money. Watching their globe trotting holidays (where every bar, hotel and restaurant manager knew their name), I’d happily have put up with the fact that every week someone would try to murder them, Max, their friends or even their dog. To me the novelty was that here were two married people who still loved each other.
Having said that, the show was shockingly formulaic, with the following lessons constantly applying in HartLand:
1. Jennifer Hart was a lovely, beautiful, kind and well-read woman. She was also as dim as a bag of broken bulbs down a sealed well. She was forever getting kidnapped, more often than not escaping and then flagging down the car driven by the people who kidnapped her in the first place. In the opening credits, Max would announce that she was a “lady who knew how to take care of herself” That was a lie. She was rubbish at it, having to constantly be rescued by her husband. She also was incapable of detecting anyone sneaking up behind her with chloroform, a gun or even dressed as a f**king mummy. She’d just stare blankly ahead, never look behind her, and scream “Jonathan!”when someone would sneak up behind her and grab her. Looking back, I wonder was she just looking for attention.
2. You can’t help wondering if she married him, at least initially, for his money, given that every episode seems to involve the two of them on obscene spending sprees. Having said that, given that nearly every bed scene involved her letting out an “Oh Jonathan!” when the lights went out one suggests he might be one kinky bastard, and she just lies back and thinks of Tiffany’s. One shudders to think what he’d take out of the bedside drawer once the lights went out.
3. The Harts had a drinking problem, constantly quaffing champagne at inappropriate moments. Jennifer was constantly being “drugged”. If you watch the show from the point of view that it’s the drunken imaginings of a rich man’s bored wife at home getting pissed on gin, it’s a whole different show, always ending with her ever-patient husband “rescuing” her from her latest adventure.
4. Hart Industries seemed to make money, or at least Jonathan was constantly signing deals for mergers and the like. On the odd occasion you see what his companies actually make, it’s shite. HartToy Inc made, yes, toys, including a shitty version of Simon Says (that had a bomb in it. I don’t recall if that was part of it’s charm), and an even shittier robot which he was convinced was going to be a huge success, a plastic pony and a “Snake in a Box”. No, I’ve no idea either. Funnily enough, Jonathan was always terrified that other companies might be stealing his toy plans. Looking at this crap, you can’t help thinking that maybe he was drunk most of the time too.
5. Late seventies, early eighties California was a weird place. Solving the murder of rich people seemed to be beyond the purview of the LAPD who got irritated when Jonathan would ask them to solve a murder or yet another of Jennifer’s kidnappings. But then, one could hardly blame them. “She’s kidnapped again??? What’s wrong with you people? Have you considered locking her in the basement for her own good? Have you been drinking again Mr Hart? “
6. Additionally, every gun in California seemed to be adjusted to fire a bullet three feet away from whatever you aimed at. When the guy who played The Incredible Hulk tried to murder their dog on a golf course because the dog witnessed a murder (don’t ask, just keep going) they ended up chasing him in a golf cart at about 10 feet an hour, and he still couldn’t hit them. He should have stopped the cart and stood behind Jennifer. They’d never look there.
7. California also boasted the highest nationwide incidences of people bumping their heads and getting amnesia, evil hypnotists, and people who looked like Jennifer Hart only more evil and sluttier. In fact, Jennifer Hart seemed to resemble dozens of people from ancient Egyptian queens to the aforementioned slut.
8. Jonathan Hart loved jumping on people from a height. He could easily shoot someone from a safe distance (although those wonky Californian guns…), hit someone with a tire iron or just plain punch them, but no, he’ll climb on top of something and jump on them. It was his thing. And he had lovely hair. The man was trapped in a wind tunnel but his hair reset itself. Maybe that’s how Hart Industries made money. Their super hair gel subsidised all the other crap.
9. The Harts’ friends were mostly awful people, and a bunch of murderers. After the first twenty you’d think the Harts would start wondering how they surrounded themselves with these psychos. But then, they probably didn’t notice with all the drinking, sex, and Max constantly asking them if they wanted a sandwich, even when they were pawing each other on the sofa.
10. You were never sure whether Max was a higher functioning retard or not. He could drive OK, and was a pretty good chef, but seemed to be taken in by whatever passing fad was on the go at the time. You always wondered would they arrive home from some glamourous fundraiser to find him dead, hanging from a door with his belt around neck, trousers around his ankles and Freeway licking chocolate sauce from his balls. Max seemed the sort of guy who’d give anything a go.
“Of course,” They blurt out, like a verbal innoculation, “I’m not racist. I don’t care whether someone is red, yellow, black, brown or blue. But we need to look after our own first!” They then expand on their deep, deep concern about the homeless, poverty, and how, of course, we must help the Third World, but only after we have solved ALL our own problems first. Poverty, disease, cellulite, the length of time it takes to get a sandwich in O’Briens, once we have fixed all those problems, then we can worry about the rest. Curiously, the compassionate racist doesn’t have any time to actually donate to charities helping “our own.”
In fact, he, or more recently, she, tends to have had no problem stepping over the homeless until there were different coloured faces appearing on the streets, and now she’s concerned. She goes to mass, of course, and is a good Catholic, although not happy with rumours about the new parish priest being black. She’s no problem with that, just that she doesn’t think it would be “appropriate” for the area. If she’d ever met Jesus she’d almost certainly be onto the Garda National Immigration Bureau to report a scruffy looking Palestinian Jew who is certainly up to no good. I mean, look at all that bread and fishes he’s giving out? Who’s paying for that, hmm?
I recently finished the final episode of “Sons of Anarchy”, FX’s violent motorcycle gang as criminals drama starring Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman. It’s excellent drama, and I’ve constantly been almost recommending it to people as one of the most political TV shows on in recent years. I don’t mean in terms of political systems, but in terms of how relationships between many competing interests are managed. SOA was not as much about motor bikes as relationships between people and groups.
I say almost, because I have to be careful who I’d suggest it to. Sons of Anarchy is exceptionally and unnecessarily violent, to the point of being literally eye-poppingly gruesome, and it’s indicative of a problem faced by modern television drama.
I’m old enough to remember when some people complained that “The Professionals” or “The A Team” were encouraging young people to be violent with the casual amount of gunplay in each episode. As one of those young people I thought, and still think, that those complaints were just plain silly. But today’s level of violence, on the other hand, is reaching a stage where one has to question is it just becoming gratuitous? Even non-cable network shows which are much more restricted in what they can show on camera, like “Criminal Minds”, up the ante by featuring scenarios where families and children are regularly menaced or tortured in disturbing psychological ways.
I’m not calling for any form of censorship, of course. People can make and watch whatever they want. But surely the real challenge for creative TV writers now is to create shows that can create suspense without the easy fall back of horror?
Guy Ritchie’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” is “based” on the 1964-68 TV series. Based is a very loose word, especially when writing as a huge fan of the original TV series. Having said that, the movie deserves a review from the perspective of a non-UNCLE fan too, and in that context it’s very entertaining. The look and feel of the movie is very 1960s spy movie, more The Ipcress File than James Bond, and the soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton plays homage to the soundtracks of the period.
The cast carry the movie well, with Alicia Vikander in particular shining in a role that could easily have become the McGuffin object to be ferried around, rescued etc. It moves at a fair pace, the plot is pretty thin (who the baddies who want the atomic bomb are, and why is never really explained, although they seem pretty well resourced given they own a submarine). There are some quite funny moments, including a scene with an electric chair in the background, or Cavill sitting in a truck during a gun battle. Cavill and Hammer struggle to get past the slightly clunky tension of their respective CIA/KGB backgrounds but when they do, and they do, you do start to root for them as a team. Hugh Grant plays Hugh Grant, which is fine, because I happen to like Hugh Grant. Elizabeth Debicki has a nice screen presence, and could really have been given more to do other than waft in and out of scenes.
One criticism I’d have is that the set piece James Bond attack on the enemy base is almost wasted in a curious montage. It looks great, but you feel like you’d like to have seen more of it. On top of that, the movie ends curiously abruptly. The end credits, showing UNCLE files, contain a few interesting nuggets, and the movie sets up nicely for a sequel.
The usual Ritchie stuff, split screens, flashbacks to what REALLY happened, etc, are all there, and add to the entertainment. It’s not a classic. It’s no Snatch. But very enjoyable.
The UNCLE fan review. Warning: includes spoilers.
I’m not one of those fans who believes the original material is untouchable. There are people who have never forgiven JJ Abrahms for the Spock/Uhura thing, or refuse to watch Elementary because it’s set in the US and Dr. Watson is a woman. I’m happy to let each interpretation stand on its own feet. Having said that, I’m not sure if I were a huge fan of the Mission Impossible TV series I’d see much connection with the Cruise movies, as they miss the crucial self-sabotaging aspect of the original show. But that’s another story.
This movie was an interpretation of The Man from UNCLE, or rather, a view of UNCLE from such a distance that you can just about recognise a few familiar shapes. It’s an enjoyable movie, but could just as easily have been called “The Rome Caper”. Certainly, if it hadn’t been called The Man from UNCLE I’m not sure UNCLE fans would have recognised it.
Of course, you could argue that it is a prequel, and so obviously misses a lot of the original features of the TV show, and that would be a fair point. In addition, the UNCLE of the movie, a small team with east/west tensions is actually far more realistic than the TV show’s huge vaguely utopian organisation.
The one glaring difference between the show and the movie is Cavill and Hammer. Both physically impressive, (Hammer especially looks huge onscreen) are far removed from the Talk First, Then Fight approach of the original characters of Solo and Kuryakin. Also, making Kuryakin out to be borderline psychotic just isn’t the same character played by David McCallum.
It’s a different UNCLE, and I’d like to see a sequel to see where they take it. But I have serious doubts that there’ll be one.
Been to see some good movies recently. “Ant-Man” starring Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas is a slightly more comedy orientated visit to the Marvel universe. Being a bit of a comic nerd myself (a bit?) I loved the references to the other Marvel movies and SHIELD et al. Douglas is always worth watching, more so as he gets older, and Paul Rudd fills the title role nicely. Good fun.
Also really enjoyed Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. There’s a stunt at the beginning with an Airbus A400m which is spectacular given that Cruise actually did it. Truth is, Cruise could almost be Ethan Hunt.
But later this week it’s the movie I’ve been waiting for since I was 14: The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Can’t wait.
There’s a lot of loose revisionist talk about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Phrases like “war crime” get thrown around, and of course the fact that the horror of atomic warfare is something pretty much every nation today regards as the near-ultimate extreme act.
In today’s climate, having witnessed the outcome and suffering of the citizens of those cities, it’s easy to ask how could any decent human being use these awful weapons on a fellow human being?
Looking at it through today’s lens gives a false perspective. Look at it from Harry Truman’s point of view. Four years of war, and a military staff telling you that you have two choices: you can send hundreds of thousands of US troops to invade Japan, or you can use a wonder weapon of such power that it could end the war in days.
There are counter arguments: some say that the atomic bomb was dropped as a sign to Russia not to invade Japan. That’s plausible as a partial reason, but even if it were true, it raises an issue. If Russia had invaded Japan, when would the Russians have pulled out? About the same time they pulled out of East Germany? The US occupation ended in 1952 leaving Japan a stable democracy.
The other argument is that Japan was looking to surrender anyway. Again, there is some credence to this. But they wanted a guarantee that the Emperor would not be executed. If Germany had looked for the same for Hitler, would the allies have agreed? Here were the Japanese government willing to sacrifice their own civilian population in street fighting to save one man? The ending of the Living God status of the emperor was vital to making Japan a democracy, and that meant he had to be held accountable. As it happened, the emperor wasn’t executed in the end.
Another argument made is that the US should have detonated the weapon somewhere harmlessly but visible to the Japanese, perhaps even inviting the Japanese to witness it. But people forget how unreliable the first atomic bombs were. Supposing it hadn’t exploded? Secondly, grotesque as it sounds, the sheer horror of the two bombed cities was the message in itself. Think we’d regard atomic weaponry with the same horror we do today without the bombings?
Harry Truman made the best choice available to him. Today, we would not think of using an atomic bomb to end a conventional war, but that’s after decades of learning of the aftermath of the Japanese attack. But at the time, as president of a country that had already sent thousands of its sons to their deaths to defeat Nazism and the Empire of Japan, it is hard to see how Truman could have done anything else.
Every US presidential cycle we hear the same thing: that this election will be THE most expensive in terms of campaign fundraising. This then triggers huge debates about the influence of big money on elections. So, here’s a thought. Rather than constantly try to devise ways of policing it, which will be circumvented, how about you change the law and let candidates actually hand out cash to voters?
Think about it for a minute. Would it be corrupting? Possibly, but no more so than how that money affects politics now. The difference would be that the ordinary voter could actually benefit from the vast money. The voters know all about the enormous amounts of money being raised, and with the web could actually take advantage of it. Individual voters could auction off their votes, knowing full well how much other voters were being offered.
True, some swing voters in key primary states or swing general election states would make much more money as their votes would matter more, but wouldn’t that only force other states to start offering proportional voting in order to allow their voters benefit from the bonanza?
But that’s not the good part: the good part is that the secret ballot would remain, so it would be the candidates who would be on tenterhooks hoping that the voters kept their promise to vote for them. After the elections you’d see downtrodden candidates who had handed out hundreds of millions of campaign funds bitching about how they’d been screwed by the lying voters. Come on, don’t tell me that wouldn’t be fun!
BBC’s “The Game” by Toby Whithouse, starring Brian Cox, is a must-see if you like your spy drama closer to “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, even though it does have its action scenes. Set in Britain in the early 1970s, the six-part series follows MI5 as they desperately attempt to prevent a KGB operation which they believe will have history changing implications for Britain.
The cast is superb, with Paul Ritter in particular standing out as the repressed deputy head of MI5. Tom Hughes plays Joe Lambe, a top MI5 operative embroiled in the case. If anything, Hughes’ male model good looks provide one of the more unbelievable parts of the show. Would MI5 really hire someone so conspicuous? As a female friend of mine pointed out, every time he appeared on screen she couldn’t resist shouting out “You’re too good looking!” Having said that, his actual performance is just as good as the rest of the cast. No himbo he.
The show looks superb, managing to look both modern and 70s dated at the same time, with MI5′s tacky, modern and brutalist headquarters in particular of note, and the IPCRESSesque soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton is a cracker, especially the main theme.
There’s just enough hint of humour in it to endear you to the characters, and also, although it has that cynicism of all these sort of shows, the team come across as genuine patriots. The Soviet plot is big and gripping, and it is refreshing to see a spy show not bogged down by technology for once.
Seriously hope the BBC commission a second series. These are characters and a setting we’d like to see more of.