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Series that shouldn’t have stopped (plus). July 18, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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As we all wait…and wait…for “Game of Thrones” Season Five (and for “The Hobbit” and “Mockingjay” and… ), our friend Ben is picking up the theme from yesterday’s Silence Dogood post “Feel-good films.” There are some film series and TV series that Silence and I loved and feel simply shouldn’t have stopped, or should have swapped out leading actors. Here are a few that ended before their time, starred the wrong guy, or passed on the chance to star the right girl:

* The Conan movies. We love “Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer.” Rather than waiting until Ah-nold was too old for the role, then trying to revive the series with a younger man (Jason Momoa of Khal Drogo fame), they should have kept going while the going was good. (And kept Conan’s original sidekick rather than replacing him with that creepy little man.) Robert E. Howard wrote many Conan stories, so the filmmakers had plenty of material to work with. A missed opportunity for fun for all ages, more classic lines from Ah-nold, and campy entertainment for adults.

* The Tony Hillerman PBS “series.” Tony Hillerman wrote a shelf or two of Navajo murder mysteries featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, with a slew of great recurring characters, lots of Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni rituals and beliefs, and the breathtaking backdrop of the Four Corners as his setting. Robert Redford saw the books’ rich visual potential and filmed three PBS “specials” starring Wes Studi as Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Chee, and the marvelous Native American character actors Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than making a regular series, Redford made one episode a year, stopping after just three. He should have filmed all the books while the cast was together, rather than letting them drift and losing momentum.

* The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith’s series of novels that follow the adventures of the beloved Botswana detective, Precious Ramotswe, her assistant, Grace Makutsi, and a cast of gently humorous and unforgettable characters (shout out to you and your famous fruitcake, Mma Potokwane), calls out for a series. And it looked like it was finally getting one, with Anika Noni Rose giving a true star turn as Grace Makutsi, but it fizzled and died after just three episodes. No fault of the series or the actors—the director suddenly died. I’d have thought another director would have been brought in, but instead, the series ended just like the Tony Hillerman specials. We are hoping, hoping, hoping that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and the Tony Hillerman novels both get a second chance.

* Master and Commander. Russell Crowe and the ensemble cast gave such a strong showing in the film version of Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic seafaring novel, showcasing everything from warfare at sea to natural history and Regency-era espionage, that it seemed a natural for followups based on O’Brian’s subsequent novels. Instead, no more were ever made. Silence and I are still waiting.

Moving on to casting:

* Sean Connery in “Shogun.” James Clavell wrote the lead character in his blockbuster novel Shogun with Sean Connery in mind, and Connery would have been perfect for the role. (He proved his range beyond Bond once and for all in “The Man Who Would Be King,” and gave his greatest performance, in our opinion, in “Rising Sun.”) Watching the series, if you picture Connery in Richard Chamberlain’s place, everything suddenly makes sense. What a wasted opportunity, since everyone else in the series was so good, and Sean Connery would have made it perfect. But in this case, it wasn’t the producers’, director’s, or casting team’s fault. Whoever played Pilot-Major Blackthorne would have had to commit to filming in Japan for two years, and Connery wasn’t willing to do that. Chamberlain was.

* George Lazenby as James Bond. Speaking of Sean Connery, there have been a lot of Bonds over the years, but none were so perfect in our opinion as Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who was chosen to succeed Connery. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Lazenby proved virile, resourceful, intelligent, educated, and—in the only instance known to Bond—capable of actually falling in love. (Well, it was Diana Rigg.) You could totally believe both his 007 and human sides. This is a depth of character missing from most Bond portrayals, and, as Silence is constantly pointing out, he was very easy on the eyes, too. Yet he just played Bond in the one film. Why? Because his agent told him that being typecast as Bond would hamper his career. No doubt that great advice is why we all know him as an A-list actor. (Sarcasm.) I hope that agent is now supporting himself as a Wal*Mart greeter. We think Sean Bean, who played villain Alec Trevelyan in another Bond film, “GoldenEye,” would have made a fantastic Bond, too, so much stronger than Pierce Brosnan.

* Liv Tyler as Arwen Evenstar. Peter Jackson brought back Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, but passed on the opportunity to bring the gorgeous Liv Tyler back to Middle Earth in his film trilogy “The Hobbit.” She was, in our opinion, the strongest character in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (sorry, Sean Bean and Andy Serkis, we loved you, too), and since they decided to simply stuff Orlando Bloom’s Legolas into “The Hobbit,” not to mention Galadriel, we don’t see why Liv Tyler’s Arwen couldn’t be there, too. We do applaud the choice of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, though.

Speaking of “The Hobbit,” which stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon Smaug, we are very concerned that the series “Sherlock,” starring Cumberbatch as Holmes and Freeman as Watson, might go the way of the Tony Hillerman specials. As it is, you’re lucky to get three episodes of “Sherlock” every two years, and its stars, and even its co-creator Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the series and now the Banker of Braavos on “Game of Thrones,” are becoming increasingly busy with other projects. They’re promising a “Sherlock Christmas special” in December 2015 and three more episodes in 2016, but gee, that’s a long way off, and a lot of inertia and dispersion can happen between now and then. Hey, guys, show some pity! We could be hit by a bus between now and then and miss the next installment… if there even is one.

In an ironic turn, Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in all the Peter Jackson movies, is also playing Sherlock Holmes (at 93) in the upcoming movie “Mr. Holmes.” We look forward to seeing it!

Now it’s your turn: Tell us some we missed, or what you miss.

“Bond Girl” or Emma Peel? March 9, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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“Who wants to be a Bond Girl?” Silence Dogood here. This headline on the Yahoo! home page certainly caught my attention. I didn’t read the story, so I can’t be sure if they were being straightforward, as in which actresses are dying to play the part, or if their actual meaning was “Who’d want to be a Bond Girl?!”

Bond girls are basically boring. Whatever individual qualities the screenwriters and actresses try to endow them with—and there’ve been notable successes, such as Jane Seymour as Solitaire in “Live and Let Die”—they’re boring because we all know that eventually Bond will get the girl, then quickly leave her with all the other broken hearts in his wake. A trite formula can only carry you so far.

Turning a Bond Girl into a villainess, as in “The World Is Not Enough,” or a villainess into a Bond Girl, as in “Goldfinger” and “Octopussy,” does mix the formula up, but only a little. (I thought Sophie Marceau was marvelous in “The World Is Not Enough,” though Pierce Brosnan’s Bond was, as he always was, all pose and formula.)

There was just one time when Bond didn’t get the girl—when he married her, in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The “girl” in question was none other than Diana Rigg, playing Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, who is killed as the couple embarks on their honeymoon, leaving Bond—for once—heartbroken.

It seems to me that Diana Rigg’s legacy might show a way to breathe some life into the “Bond Girl.” But not because of her role in the Bond film, but rather, in the role that made her famous, as Mrs. Emma Peel in the British “spy-fi” series “The Avengers.” In “The Avengers,” Diana Rigg starred as the female colleague of John Steed, played by the marvelous Patrick Macnee. (Ironically, Steed’s first female partner was played by Honor Blackman, who’d played Pussy Galore in “Goldfinger.”)

There was great onscreen chemistry between Steed and Mrs. Peel. (The writers chose the name “Emma Peel” for “m appeal,” i.e., man appeal, so it’s clear what they had in mind.) Think “Moonlighting.”

But there was one little problem for Steed and Mrs. Peel: That “Mrs.” thing. It made Emma Peel untouchable for the ever-honorable Steed, whatever his feelings. It added a level of complexity to the series that the Bond movies lack. After all, the only women in the Bond movies Bond never actually hooks up with are M, a martinet in women’s clothing, and poor Miss Moneypenny, not exactly Playboy material, bless her heart. (Well, okay, there was that Nazilike woman, played so marvelously by Lotte Lenya, in “From Russia with Love,” and a few others of her ancient, reptilian ilk.)

I think a devastatingly well-matched but happily married and thus oblivious and unavailable “Bond Girl” might do wonders for the series. She could bring out Bond’s hidden, vulnerable side for the audience. We could all see him yearning at the end of the movie as she drives or flies away. It wouldn’t prevent him from the usual “I’m going to die tomorrow, so why not?” liaisons with desirable but forgettable women during the course of the film. And it would leave the door open for some future film when her unfortunate husband has been hit by a bus or dies of cancer and she and Bond are thrown together as colleagues once again. What will happen then? I’ll bet the audience would be very eager to know.

Bond writers, are you listening?

‘Til next time,

Silence

A woman’s worst nightmare. March 8, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was watching the 2004 Nicole Kidman remake of “The Stepford Wives” the other night, which of course brought to mind the 1975 original starring Katharine Ross. I realized that this (the original) just had to be a woman’s worst nightmare. Not “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Not Freddy or Chucky or Jaws or Norman Bates or even Hannibal Lecter. No disaster or horror movie could possibly be more disastrous or horrifying than this low-key little tale of life in a secluded Connecticut suburb.

The plot, as with any great horror movie, begins innocently enough: The heroine, an aspiring photographer, and her family move to the sunny suburb of Stepford. This squeaky-clean suburb is notable for two things: wives who look like models (with mannequin-level IQs) and act like they had been transported straight from the ’50s, and the creepy Stepford Men’s Association, to which all resident men belong. The heroine’s husband is persuaded to join this men’s club, and soon he’s asking his wife to record a lengthy series of words and phrases to assist in the research of the club’s head, who’s supposedly doing an analysis of speech, or more specifically, women’s speech.

As the film continues, the heroine happens on a number of unsettling discoveries, which lead to the realization that all the Stepford wives are actually beautiful, complacent robots, with the voice recordings of the real women. This allows their “husbands” to realize the fantasy of perfectly subservient domestic help and enthusiastic sexbots who still look and speak with the voices of the women they married, but with no personalities or thoughts or needs of their own to add stress to the men’s perfectly comfortable lives. If this reminds you of anything, from ancient Greece to the Taliban, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. But I digress.

What makes the original “Stepford Wives” a true horror movie is that it proceeds to its logical conclusion. This is also what made the classic cult movie, the marvelous Christopher Lee/Edward Woodward “The Wicker Man,” so powerful and horrifying. In both movies, the action is slow and, at least to us moderns, campy to say the least. It’s easy to mock them, make jokes, criticize, feel oh so much more sophisticated than the poor saps in those movies.

But we’ve all been inoculated with the idea of the happy ending. Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith save the world from aliens in “Independence Day.” Weak, pitiful Frodo Baggins defeats the all-powerful Sauron, Lord of the Rings. Luke Skywalker and The Karate Kid come out ahead, despite their obvious weakness. James Bond and Sherlock Holmes always get away, no matter the odds against them. Keanu Reeves is not consumed by the machines in “The Matrix.” Arnold Schwarzenegger transforms from villain to hero in the Terminator series. Harrison Ford and Donald Craig whup the alien ass in “Cowboys and Aliens.”

So it’s movies where the good guys don’t win that are the true horror movies. What if one of the Bond villains blandly pointed a gun at 007’s head and fired, rather than devising some elaborate torture-and-death scheme from which Bond inevitably escapes? What if the Clint Eastwood cowboy was gunned down and butchered, rather than riding off into the sunset? What gives “The Wicker Man” its horrific nature is that, after several hours of hysterical fun as Edward Woodward, the rigid police officer, attempts to deal with the freewheeling, unpredictable, and definitely unruly residents of a remote Scottish isle and bring them back to the arch-conservative fold, he is burned alive, screaming in agony. In “The Stepford Wives,” we expect the heroine to triumph. Instead, she is murdered and her lookalike robot takes her place, since her husband has seen how much more smoothly his life will go if he isn’t encumbered by an actual human being with thoughts, needs, and dreams.

What makes this a nightmare for all women is that the heroine’s husband is portrayed as a loving, caring person who genuinely adores his wife. But once the men of the Stepford Men’s Association point out to him the advantages of replacing his wife with a robot, he’s all for it. So what if his real wife has to die? A small price to pay for his lifelong comfort.

Would men, would your man, really prefer the ox-dumb but physically perfect, obedient mannequin to you? 

Since the original film of “The Stepford Wives” came out in 1975, there have been several attempts to answer this question. One was the marvelous 1987 Melanie Griffith cult film “Cherry 2000.” In it, the hero’s supermodel-robot, the exclusive Cherry 2000, explodes during sex after touching water. Devastated, the hero is determined to replace her with another Cherry 2000, but finds that now they’re only available on the black market and require a very hazardous trip to the outback if you want even a remote chance of getting one. He hires a fearless pilot, a real, live woman (Griffith), to fly him out into dangerous terrain. Along the way, he comes to realize that he prefers the real, live, woman (Griffith), with all her flaws, to the perfect and perfectly boring robot.

In the Nicole Kidman remake of “The Stepford Wives,” the film attempts to redress the inequity of the original film by having the heroine triumph, the other wives revive after computer chips in their brains are deactivated, and the mastermind behind the whole Stepford community be revealed as a woman, a brain surgeon (Glenn Close). And Kidman’s husband, played by the always-marvelous Matthew Broderick, comes to see the error of his ways and that he loves his real wife, so he helps her sabotage the evil Men’s Association. Really? I certainly hope so, and I hope it mirrors real life.

Another recent film, “Lars and the Real Girl” (2007), chronicles the adventures of a disconnected young man named Lars who orders a lifelike sex doll named Bianca and persuades his entire hometown to accept the mannequin as his girlfriend. After a number of plot twists, he manages to transfer his affection from the sex doll to a real girl.

Gack!!! Every woman surely wants to believe that people in general, and their partners in particular, love them for themselves, not for how closely they fit some stereotype of perfection. If there’s a woman in your life, please take the time to reassure her that she’s the ultimate in your life. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Where’s James Bond when you really need him? July 17, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here (again). Just when you think it’s finally safe—it occurred to me a few days ago that it had been weeks since I’d seen any of the hated stink bugs—something even worse happens.

If any of you remember one of my favorite James Bond movies, “Live and Let Die,” you’ll recall the scene on a train where the heroine, played by Jane Seymour, drapes one hand languorously from the berth and the villain, who has a steel pincer for one hand, reaches the pincer around her fingers with dread intent while she, oblivious, thinks it’s James Bond being affectionate. Fortunately for her (and her hand), Bond appears and creates a diversion just before the razor-sharp pincers can do their worst.

I was reminded vividly of this scene a few hours ago when I saw our puppy Shiloh nosing something in a dark corner of the living room floor. Wondering if she’d found a piece of stick (one of her favorites) from the kindling box, I was reaching for it when it occurred to me that it might be something much, much worse. Perhaps one of the cats had dragged a little souvenir out of the litterbox when they exited the bathroom.

Quickly withdrawing my hand, I turned on the nearest light, only to be confronted by a horror the likes of which I had never seen. An enormous dark brown beetle, nearly two inches long, was raised up on its hind legs and was threatening Shiloh’s nose and my fingers with two wickedly sharp, pincer-like appendages sticking out of its head. AAAAAAHHHHH!!!! I had almost grabbed that thing in the dark!

After shooing Shiloh away (I noticed that the cats were far too smart to come anywhere near the monstrous thing), I rushed into the kitchen, grabbed a dish towel, raced back, tossed it over the monster, and, grabbing the entire bundle, ran out the deck door.  Then I tried to shake the beetle off the towel and into the thick mass of plants growing alongside the deck.

Yeah, right. If you’ve ever tried to get a huge, horrific beetle to loosen its death-grip on a dish towel, you’ll appreciate the situation. There I am, shrieking and shaking the towel; there it is, holding on like grim death. All the while I’m terrified that it will decide to adjust position and take a death grip on my hand instead. Finally, after much flailing and screaming, I was able to get it off the towel and into the groundcover, at which point I beat a most undignified retreat back into the house. I don’t think I could have closed the deck door any faster if a grizzly had been after me. Yikes!!!

Looking up the monstrous mystery beetle later, after my heartbeat had returned to something resembling normal, I discovered that it was a common stag beetle (not “common” around here, thank God). Males can indeed reach over an inch and a half and have formidable antler-like pincers, thus the name. These beetles apparently live on decaying wood, typically in forests and woodlots. I guess this one had strayed onto our heavily wooded property looking for a meal, or maybe it had found our woodpile. (I’m just hoping it wasn’t our clapboard cottage it was eating.)

Well, all righty then. Now I know what the monster was. Shiloh still has her nose, and I still have all my fingers. So I just have one last question: Where is James Bond when you really need him?!!

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

James Bond or Jack Sparrow? November 28, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been experiencing a bit of culture shock while staying with family in Nashville this Thanksgiving weekend, and it has nothing to do with being back in the South. Instead, we’ve suddenly gone from having one tiny television in our entire house—a television that receives exactly no channels—to having an enormous television in the guest room where we’re staying that receives gadzillion channels.

Stumbling on a movie channel, we were lucky enough to catch a “Best of Bond” retrospective, with clips of the villains, stunts, Bond girls, gizmos, and other features that make a Bond movie what it is. Silence’s favorite part was when a fashion expert discussed the worst Bond outfits (“That yellow ski suit made Roger Moore look like a banana!”), especially the ludicrous sky-blue terrycloth beachwear that Sean Connery was wearing in “Goldfinger.” Later on we watched a bit of “Goldeneye,” one of our favorite latter-day Bond movies, followed by a little of the Davey Jones installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

This, of course, started us thinking. We love Johnny Depp, and of course love his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. (Alert readers will recall that we love all things piratical from our now-infamous “Pirate Week” posts.) We also love many of the James Bond movies and find them highly entertaining. (Our favorite Bond is Roger Moore, at least in his early Bond outings, because he approached the role with a sense of humor and irony sadly lacking in Sean Connery’s and, most recently, Daniel Craig’s Bonds. We also liked George Lazenby as Bond and were sorry he only made one movie. But we think the best Bond of all would have been Sean Bean, one of our favorite actors, who played the villain in “Goldeneye” and blew us away with his out-Bonding of Pierce Brosnan. But we digress.)

However, if we had to choose, not between the various Bonds, but between James Bond and Jack Sparrow, who would be our favorite? We discussed this for all of one second before (for once in our lives) reaching complete agreement. Can you guess? (Drumroll) Jack Sparrow, of course! He scored top points from us on fashion sense, attitude (we prefer his laid-back approach to life and enthusiastic sense of self-preservation to Bond’s rigid, holier-than-thou demeanor), even one-liners (by a hair; Bond also gets high marks there). And Silence finds bad boy Jack far sexier than bad boy James (this could be an age thing; despite attempts to modernize him, we’ve always found Bond a bit dated). She says she’d have a much harder time choosing between Jack Sparrow and Sean Bean than Jack and Sean Connery, though she did think Sean Connery got much sexier as he got older, post-Bond (and stopped wearing terrycloth beachwear).

But that’s just us. Who gets your vote, the pirate or the elite agent? Are you a never-say-die 007 fan, or a savvy admirer of Cap’n Jack? Operators are standing by to take your call!

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