Before his breakthrough role (all less than 20 minutes of it) in “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991, Anthony Hopkins had been a successful if moderately well known actor. In 1971, he starred as British secret agent Philip Calvert in the film of Alastair Maclean’s “Where Eight Bells Toll”, which was intended to have been the first in a series of movies about Calvert.
The film is noticeable for being a very low-key thriller, a sort of modest budget 007 about Calvert investigating the disappearance of ships carrying gold bullion off the coast of Scotland. Hopkins, like Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer, plays the role as a tough but workaday johnny just doing his job. It’s a pity they didn’t do any more of the movies, as the character is actually quite likable. The late Robert Morley is superb as his boss, who expresses shock at the possibility of a member of his club being a baddie: “But he’s on the wine committee!”
I posted the above scene, which is the last scene in the movie (it does not really ruin any plot) because it highlights the character, and the theme tune which will bounce around your head for days afterwards.
Every few years we get a TV show that gets designated “the greatest TV show ever”. A few years ago it was The West Wing, The Sopranos, then Mad Men, and now it is either Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones.
All very fine dramas, and proof that this is in fact the golden age of television, when the medium realised its core movie-beating strength as the place for long form story telling.
Then, of course, there’s The Wire. Now, here’s a show that has received more hype than almost every other show, and I’ll be honest: I was sceptical. As I write this, in fact, I’m not even finished its final fifth season.
But I can still say this: the hype is deserved. The Wire is quite possibly the finest TV drama ever made. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for everybody. In fact, the first time I tried to watch it I gave up, finding it slow, turgid and very difficult to get into. It is the very definition of slow burning. But it is worth it, because as a means of telling a complex story, this is the text book.
What’s it about? Nominally, it’s a cop show, about an ongoing investigation into drugs, but in reality, The Wire is about how a modern racially-divided American city (Baltimore) works, warts and all. What’s interesting about it is that there are actually relatively few baddies in it, just people ground up by a relenting economic system forcing them to making choices between ugly options.
On top of that, the story goes from the lowest rung of the social ladder, from the story of a vagrant drug addict peddling tee shirts all the way to the mayor of the city, and how all are connected and seemingly equally powerless. It goes from the police to politics to education to the media. If it wasn’t called The Wire, it should have been called “The Web” because it is a magnificent picture of how modern society is so interconnected.
Finally, you can’t talk about The Wire without talking about the characters and the actors who portray them. I’m not going to name a single one, because that would do a disservice to the literally dozens of superb performances. But if we don’t see more of these superb actors around the place, there’s no justice.
This is the gold standard. That does not mean that everybody will enjoy it. It won’t be to everybody’s taste. But as television drama goes, The Wire is now the bar to be exceeded.
I’ve decided to do a review of the Gerard Butler headed “Olympus has fallen” not because it was any good, but because it was so silly that I wanted to forensically dissect the silliness. That said, it’s a perfectly entertaining leave-brain-outside movie, it’s just that it was so crammed with dopiness that I had to write about it.
So: spoiler alert! Don’t read on if you’re planning to see it, because I’m going to give away some key “plot” (word used very loosely) points.
First of all, cliche watch:
Square jawed president? Check. Two actually, with Morgan Freeman as the acting president. I think you can actually see Morgan Freeman’s paycheque blutacked to the camera in some scenes.
Annoying cute young “I’m scared!” presidential son who inserts clunky “cute” back story @like that time you ate all the ice cream, Dad!”? Check.
Tragic background (“It wasn’t your fault, Mike, and the president knows it too!”) that explains ex-Special Forces (they’re ALWAYS ex-Special Forces. Is there anyone actually left IN the Special Forces?) Butler’s Secret Service sidelining? Check.
Kickass no nonsense black woman in position of power (USSS chief Angela Bassett)? Check.
North Koreans as baddies? Check.
Moronically stupid Secret Service personnel who seemed to be queuing up to run into sustained automatic gunfire as opposed to actually taking cover and waiting for help from the US Army, which is 15 minutes away? Check.
Blowhard general (Robert Foster) who keeps falling for the most obvious terrorist traps, and decides that Gerard Butler is the main problem, not the terrorists? Check.
Pointless estranged wife who spends entire movie looking constipated and turns up at the White House at the end despite not knowing that her husband was in it? Check.
Then, there’s the ludicrous terrorist plot. Never mind the actual attack on the White House, which is quite a spectacle and relatively credible. The entire attack is based initially on the premise that the life of the US president is worth more than the US’s entire national security, which no one bothers to question throughout the entire movie. In fact, Gerard Butler seems to know more about the Korean geo-political situation than the entire National Security Council. And I mean Gerard Butler the actor, not the agent he’s playing.
Finally, the whole political premises on which the movie is based seems to be written by someone who has only ever seen politics through movies, and not even political movies. At one point, the president juts his jaw out (he does this a lot) and declares that “the United States does not negotiate with terrorists!”, which is something Hollywood screenwriters always thinks sounds good, but sounds silly because everybody knows it is not actually true. If he said “the United States only negotiates with credible terrorist groups we’re actually afraid of,” at least that would be honest.
Finally, there are also glaring plot holes (Or maybe I just missed them) where the terrorists get some vital codes almost casually having spent the whole movie torturing people for them. Then there’s the bizarre point where the US has a system to destroy nuclear missiles which accidentally launch by causing them to explode in a nuclear fireball, which surely defeats the whole point?
Curiously, I did actually enjoy the flick, and have a suspicion it could become a cult so-bad-it’s-good favorite. Butler is quite good, Eckhart is very underused, and the action scenes are fun. Rick Yune, the lead terrorist, seems to be the go-to guy in Hollwood for baddy Koreans these days, which at least guarantees him a decent living until that nut in Pyongyang overplays his hand.
If you like spy shows, politically incorrect humour and sexual vulgarity, Fox’s cartoon show “Archer” is for you. It’s based around brilliant but incredibly self-centred agent Sterling Archer, operative of ISIS, and his battles against the KGB, terrorists, his domineering nymphomaniac mother/boss, his fellow agent/ex-lover Lana Kane, and people who stole his Black Turtleneck Is Cool look.
Try it. But be warned. This is not one for the kiddies or the faint hearted. Think “The Man from UNCLE” but with a lot of dick jokes.
Wasn’t a huge fan of this 1987-1991 “teen” cops show, set around a special unit of young looking undercover cops. It wasn’t up to much, save for it being a breakthrough role for Johnny Depp. The theme song (sung by Holly Robinson, one of the cast) was very catchy, all the same.
Continuing the occasional series about the TV shows of my youth, “Quantum Leap” ran from 1989-1993, and starred Scott Bakula (a very underrated actor, I find) as Dr. Samuel Beckett (!), a scientist who builds a device that allows him to travel through his own life period but by swapping with the bodies of people during those times. He becomes trapped, and is unable to return, only “leaping” to the next person when he rights a wrong in their life. He’s accompanied by a hologram of Admiral Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), his boss and best friend, who remains behind feeding him information about the people he inhabits from Ziggy, a giant supercomputer that can predict the liklihood of events.
The series was dramatic, funny and occasionally uplifting, especially when Sam occupied the body of someone who would not normally have his intellectual or combat skills. Memorable episodes included him leaping into the body of Lee Harvey Oswald, and also encountering an evil female version of himself. The final episode was noted for its bittersweet ending.
For a bit of variety, an occasional series on the TV shows of my youth that really meant something to me at the time.
“Moonlighting”, set in the Blue Moon Detective Agency, ran from 1985-1989, and was a massive hit with its Breaking The Fourth Wall humour (remember the BMW horses?), witty banter, nonsensical plots and characters, and Bruce Willis as David Addison (in his breakthrough role) and Cybill Shepherd as Maddy Hayes. Also noticable for Mark Harmon (later Leroy Jethro Gibbs in NCIS, one of the highest paid actors in American TV today) as her love interest.
I used to think the theme song and opening credits were some of the most sophisticated things I’d ever seen on TV. And Cybill Shepherd? Wow.