A Curious DVD I watched: The Trojan Horse.

The Trojan Horse [DVD]I’m not really recommending this, as it was a bit slow and struggling to be profound, but worth mentioning because of  its curiousity value.

Basically, The Trojan Horse is a Canadian mini-series starring (And co-written by) Paul Gross, whom you may remember as the eccentric mountie Benton Fraser in the tv series “Due South” . It’s about a joint Canadian-EU plot to rig a US presidential election.

The series is actually a sequel to a series called “H20” where Gross played the Canadian prime minister dealing with a mysterious conspiracy.

The conclusion is unusual, and based on a real life event, but what is notable is a rant Gross gives during the movie about his vision of the world. Curiously, it is worded in such a way that would shock most Americans, yet as a European sounded quite reasonable!

Only available on region two with Dutch subtitles at the moment.

Great movies you should see: The Spanish Prisoner.

Mmmm! Hitchcockian!David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner is one of those hidden gems that you stumble across and wonder why you’ve never heard of it. Written and directed by the same writer as Glengarry Glen Ross, it’s a slow burning mystery drama that entices you in, littering twists and red herrings all the way to the end.

Campbell Scott plays the brilliant inventor of an industrial process (A classic Hitchcock McGuffin if there ever was one.) that is set to make both him and the company he works for an obscene amount of money, until he starts to doubt whether he’s been treated fairly or not.

Steve Martin puts in a straight performance which will have you wondering why he doesn’t take more straight roles.

A great Saturday night in with a Chinese (Meal, partner, or both) movie.

A Great Movie (and book): The Day of The Jackal.

Repost.

jackal bookFrederick Forsyth’s 1971 novel “The Day of the Jackal” has already secured its place in novel history. The concept, about right-wing French fanatics hiring a professional assassin to murder President de Gaulle in 1963 is daring for two reasons. The first is that it reads pretty much as a cold heavily detailed step by step almost journalistic expose of the plot rather than a thriller. The second is that we all know the outcome: President de Gaulle survived a number of assassination attempts, but died peacefully in an armchair in his home. In short, not as much a Who-Did-It as How-They-Did-It.

It shouldn’t work, yet it does, and brilliantly. So brilliantly in fact, that one finds oneself reading it again despite knowing the outcome and pretty much every twist in the story. Forsyth’s great success is his ability (honed as a foreign correspondent) to communicate great detail in a absolutely readable and enjoyable manner. For years later many believed it was a true story.

The book (and even more Fred Zinnemann’s 1973 masterpiece movie) also conveys nicely the Europe and France of its day. The shadow of the war still there, yet a continent on the verge of huge integration.

The movie is a stylish joy to watch. Cold and methodical, with minimal use of music, Edward Fox as the Jackal and Michel Lonsdale as the French police chief pursuing him steal the movie. A wealth of British TV stars of the 1970s fill the background.

Both the book and the movie are an absolute treat.

Great movies you should see: The Last Hurrah (1958)

Fianna Fail, Boston Cumann.

Yet another must for the Political Junkie’s DVD library, The Last Hurrah   has Spencer Tracy ( Now there’s an actor) at his finest as a charismatic old school Irish American mayor seeking re-election one last time.

If you want to know how the old Democratic machines locked up the cities, and indeed how Fianna Fail used to do it, this is textbook stuff. The party is everything, with loyalty, decency and just the faintest whiff of corruption keeping the whole thing together. Very watchable, especially the ensemble of yes men the mayor surrounds himself with.

Sadly, only available on Region 1 DVD, but really, isn’t it time you invested in a multi region DVD player. It’s not like they’re dear anymore.

Pay close attention for a reference to a certain Fianna Fail politician, by the way.

Review: “Cheers” on Paramount Plus.

I’ve recently been rewatching the sitcom “Cheers” on Paramount+, where the entire series is currently available. It’s easy for people under the age of 45 to not be aware of the show or how huge it was when it originally aired. Running from 1982-1993 for 275 episodes, and then occasionally resurfacing in spinoff “Frasier” crossovers which ran another 11 seasons, when the show finished in 1993 it was watched by over 90 million people in the US.

The show centred around Sam Malone (Ted Danson), a charming, womanizing, recovering alcoholic ex-professional baseball player who owned the bar, a below street lower middle class bar frequented by regular customers which provided a home from home for them. Whilst the initial seasons focussed on Sam’s relationship with haughty waitress Diane Chambers (played brilliantly by Shelley Long) the real source of the show’s eventual “Friends” like domination of the ratings was the ensemble cast, from kind but dim Coach and Woody, sharp-tongued waitress Carla, know-it-all postman Cliff and failed accountant Norm. When Long left after five years she was replaced by Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca Howe, Sam’s neurotic boss (he’d sold the bar) whom he constantly tried to bed.

Cheers is both genuinely funny but also charming, with a cast that regular viewers came to love as an extended family, all flawed but all lovable. Looking through today’s eyes Sam Malone would be a sex pest who would be either swamped with legal bills or long dismissed by his employer for inappropriate behaviour, but it’s fascinating to watch as a snapshot of the time, before mobile phones and social media, with plots based on misinterpreted phone messages and Cliff’s barside pontifications not being open to challenge (“You know Sammy, it’s a well known fact that…”)

One particularly interesting feature of the show is how female characters deal with Sam’s constant sexual advances. This was the post-1970s, where the “Women’s Lib” movement was petering out against the New Conservatism of Reagan’s America (Reagan was only 20 months in office when the show first aired) and the female characters tend to fend off his passes through sarcasm. Having said that, many of his lovers are as equally sexually aggressive and promiscuous as he is. You can’t help grimacing at his wandering hands, all the same. He’s never grabby, but can be overly touchy.

File under cosy stress-free nostalgic viewing, and keep an eye out for the many guest stars who went on to be much bigger, although none will be as big as Kate Mulgrew’s hair.      JanetEldridge - Twitter Search / Twitter

The US through a TV lens.

 

Previously published in the Irish Independent.

I was watching an episode of “NCIS” recently. You know “NCIS”, right? Actually, chances are you flicked through an episode if you were watching TV because it seems to be perpetually on one of the murder channels, yet have never watched it. 

A regular staple of American pensioners, “NCIS” can be watched as an intriguing insight into how mainstream middle America sees itself.

Every week is a collection of pre-baked tropes: a body is found, with some tenuous connection to the US Navy (NCIS is the Navy’s detective division). The victim used to be a marine or is wearing Old Spice or something.  

Special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs and his team investigate. 

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Review: “No time to die” and the future of James Bond.

Farewell, Commander Craig.

*SPOILER ALERT: YOU KNOW THE DRILL. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN “NO TIME TO DIE” STOP READING NOW!

OK? Right, we’ll continue.

I really enjoyed “No time to die”, despite some things that annoyed me. But first, the positives:

  1. This is Craig’s best performance as Bond. He comes across as a human being, and the realization that he is a father affects him. It’s also the movie where Bond has actual friends who genuinely care about him. When he and Moneypenny turn up at Q’s house, their comfort with each other (and Q casually outing himself to the audience) has a hint of Scooby Doo to it. Even M’s response on hearing they’ve been secretly working with Bond “Oh for fuck’s sake!” is more “I knew it!” than anger.
  2. There’s genuine humour in the movie of the non-clunky variety. I can’t help thinking Phoebe Waller-Bridge played a role in that. In particular the “I have something to show you.” “Is it another child?”
  3. The nods to previous movies were beautifully done. The portrait of Judy Dench evoked an “aww!” in the cinema I was in. Lesser noticed, but equally relevant, was the portrait of Robert Brown who had played M in the 1980s. The use of music from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a nice touch, as well as speeding on a road in homage to the final tragic scene in OHMSS (where Blofeld murders Bond’s wife Tracy). Portentous, as we all realize later. One other thing: the scene when Bond kills Felix Leiter’s murderer Ash by crushing him with a car harks back to a scene in Roger Moore’s 007 days in “For your eyes only” where he cold bloodily kills an assassin by kicking his precariously balanced car off a cliff.
  4. Lashana Lynch does a solid job as the new 007, even getting the prized Use The Movie Title In The Movie scene, but the real and unexpected breakout star is Ana de Armas as Paloma, Bond’s CIA contact in Cuba, who deftly mixes dizzy almost goofball comedy (“I did three weeks training!”) with superb action scenes. The producers should use both characters again.
  5. The scenery and the stunts are superb. I personally find car chases quite boring but the ones in this are genuinely thrilling, especially the one with a bike Bond steals and pretty much drives up a wall. I almost puked.

As for the negatives:

  1. The Billie Eilish song did nothing for me. Overall, whilst I really liked Adele’s “Skyfall”, my favourite Craig song remains the late Chris Cornell’s brassy “You know my name”.
  2. Rami Malek is a fabulous actor, but his character is just a McGuffin here. Even the bio superweapon is under-utilised as to what it could do. How or why he’s doing what he’s doing is very much of the “Will that do?” variety. I was always waiting for him to look into the camera. Also, his character is given that awful thing that appears in many modern thrillers of having these long ponderous scenes where he just talks meaningless psychobabble to make the character seem deep? The film to too long, and you could edit a lot of this out without ruining anything plot-wise.

And finally, we have to address the Octopussy in the room…

There were people crying in the cinema at Bond dying, and even I got something in my eye at that exact moment. The audience was in shock, keeping waiting for him to return, to pop out of the water, to do a Sherlock and peer from behind a tree, but he didn’t. He’s dead, and the closing scene of Madeleine driving and telling her daughter about her father to Louis Armstrong’s “we have all the time in the world” left rubbing my eyes. A beautiful ending.

There’s a lovely option here for the next Comic Relief of M welcoming Bond to Heaven with a “For fuck’s sake Bond. It’s all drama with you. We could have put you in a space suit and used an electromagnetic pulse to kill the nanobots.” And Felix having a Martini ready for him…

And the future for 007? You can’t just ignore that ending and reset at the next movie, ignoring Bond’s death. It’s true that “No time to die” is mostly set five years after “Spectre”, so there is a window to set a film there, although it would be a bit weird having a different Bond chronologically (although not for the first time). Alternatively, the producers could either reboot back to the 1960s with a new actor. Check out the French OSS-117 comedies starring Jean Dujardin to see what that could look like. Or go for the old fan theory favourite and have M decide that Britain needs a James Bond (as a sort of one-man Trident deterrent) and so recruits a replacement to literally take his place. It’s not as preposterous an idea as it seems, in fact, it was sort of the plot of the 1967 comedy Bond “Casino Royale”. Personally, I think it is an interesting idea. Especially if “James Bond” is essentially a distraction to allow other agents work in the background.

Of course, then you’re into the plot for….eh…”Remington Steele”…

House of Cards meets the Élysée: Baron Noir

If you’re not watching or haven’t watched French political drama “Baron Noir”, you can’t call yourself a political junkie. Whereas “The West Wing” did liberal political fantasy, and “Borgen” did liberal compromise, and “House of Cards” did cynical winning for winning sake, “Baron Noir” does political street-fighting with just a hint of morality.

The series centres on Phillipe Rickwaert, Socialist MP and Mayor of Dunkirk and chief crony of the Socialist candidate for President of France, starting on the eve of the first round. I won’t give anything else away other than the show is about the grubby compromises of politics. And yet… most of the characters, especially Rickwaert played by a brooding but charismatic Kad Merad have a moral centre. Politics matters to them. Nearly all are idealists (some lapsed) and all actually care about what it means to be in public office.

Rickwaert is an intriguing character, at home with the parish pump politics of his local fiefdom as with the battles over what it means to be a socialist in 21st century Europe. Genuine political issues from Marxism to Europe to secularism are debated throughout the show in a way unimaginable in a modern English-language political drama. It shows just how big the gap between Anglo-Saxon and continental politics is: unions still matter, and characters barely bat an eyelid when a prime minister openly advocates a United States of Europe.

There was a time when eyes were rolled at European TV drama in terms of accessibility and production values. No more. This is as good if not better than any political drama on US/UK TV.

All three seasons (it seems there won’t be a fourth) are on Amazon Prime.