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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.

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Feel-good films. July 17, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I were talking just last night about favorite films, and OFB pointed out that many of my favorites were films that made me feel good. I agreed; I love films that cheer me up, that make me feel good, that give me hope, that make me laugh. So OFB challenged me to come up with my “Top Ten Feel-Good Films” list. I accepted the challenge, even though I was sure that I’d forget some of my favorites, and that there were so many more than ten that the list would necessarily be incomplete. But given those limitations, here are the ones that sprang to mind:

Bride and Prejudice. The Bollywood version of “Pride and Prejudice.” I love many adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, including Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Emma,” Ciaran Hinds’s magnificent performance in “Persuasion,” and Alicia Silverstone’s adorable “Clueless,” but the high energy, hijinks, and general color, lightheartedness, and mayhem of “Bride and Prejudice”—not to mention the gorgeous Naveen Andrews as Balraj (Mr. Bingley)—takes it over the top.

Young Sherlock Holmes. I love all things Sherlock, but for the ultimate feel-good Holmes film, I’ll take “Young Sherlock Holmes” any day. Alan Cox as Watson would be enough to make the film a classic, but the marvelous Anthony Higgins as Moriarty and the hysterical, campy Egyptian stuff really make it priceless. After seeing it, just thinking of the line “My name is Lester Cragwitch!” will make you roar with laughter.

Flashdance. This isn’t the most cheerful of films, but its ultimate message is so uplifting: Go for your dreams and never give up. The heroine, played sensitively by a very young Jennifer Beals, faces a lot of hardship and heartbreak on the way to reaching her dreams, but she succeeds (and her friends don’t) because her inherent optimism, kindness, generosity and drive attract allies that won’t let her down, no matter what. And there’s tons of energy in the music and dancing.

Blow Dry. Like “Flashdance,” “Blow Dry” takes us through the full range of emotions, especially since Natasha Richardson plays a woman dying before her time and we all know what happened to her. But this film is so full of humor as well as sorrow, so full of great actors (like Alan Rickman), so full of hysterical moments (Bill Nighy is priceless, as is his film partner, Louie, and the mayor of the small town in Yorkshire where the hair competition is held). Ultimately, it’s about the triumph of love, but it reaches its end with plenty of humor along the way. Best line: “He looks like bloody Sid Vicious!” Wait ’til you see who it is.

The Full Monty. This riotous film is also overflowing with humor, but the underlying message is uplifting, about the power that comes from sticking together. A bunch of very unlikely, unemployed men from the former booming steel town of Sheffield, England, decide to improve their fortunes—and love lives—by staging a Chippendales-style act of their own. After many misadventures, including being thrown into jail, losing their homes, losing a son through custody issues, a botched suicide attempt, grocery-store burglary, and so on, the guys get it together. And the attack of the garden gnomes during a job interview still makes me laugh so hard I cry.

Julie and Julia. Who doesn’t love Julia Child? Who doesn’t love Dan Aykroyd’s parody of Julia Child? Who wouldn’t love Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci as Julia and Paul Child? Not me. Seeing any of the above onscreen makes me feel good, especially the onion scene. Seeing Julia’s modern-day follower, Julie Powell, trying to make lobster thermidore while her totally adorable husband dances around singing “Lobsta killah, lobsta killah” is the greatest thing ever.

Smoke Signals. Based on Sherman Alexie’s novels of life on the Rez, this film brims over with laugh-out-loud humor and dry wit. The ultimate coming-of-age story and road trip rolled into one, it’s filled with great characters like Lester Fallsapart and the great Gary Farmer as Arnold Joseph, father of one of the protagonists, who ironically really does fall apart. But the true hero of the movie is Thomas Builds-the-Fire, a happy-go-lucky visionary who helps Arnold’s son Victor reconcile his relationship with his father, and with life, over the course of the road trip. As the Rez’s DJ says, “It’s a good day to be Indigenous.”

The Commitments. This movie about some kids in Dublin who form a soul band, “The Commitments,” is hilarious. Many of the best lines are provided by the Elvis-worshipping father of the protagonist, played just brilliantly by Colm Meaney, who has a portrait of Elvis hanging just under his portrait of the Pope. The adorable (and bizarrely named) Outspan Foster, played by Irish musician Glen Hansard, will win your heart, and Maria Doyle (now Maria Doyle Kennedy of “The Tudors” fame) is marvelous. Not to mention that the music is great.

Princess Caraboo. The movie that presumably introduced Phoebe Cates to her husband, Kevin Kline, is simply marvelous all-round. Catesby plays a servant girl in Regency England (the Jane Austen era) who runs away and pretends to be an exotic princess, named Caraboo. She is taken up as a novelty by high society and eventually even meets the Prince Regent himself before being unmasked by an investigative reporter, Gutch. But the film has a happy ending, as Gutch has fallen in love with the girl and arranges for her to make a fresh start in America rather than being hanged, and then joins her. Kline as Frixos, the Greek butler of the house that takes her in, is simply priceless, and a strong supporting cast, including Jim Broadbent, John Lithgow, John Sessions as the Prince Regent, and the marvelous Stephen Rea as the reporter, make this a total feel-good hit. Wait for Kevin Kline’s “Unfortunately.”

Last Holiday. Queen Latifah at her finest, playing Georgia Bird, a gifted cook who worships Emeril and longs to open a restaurant but instead is working in the cookware department of a department store run by a greedy, horrific monster who embodies every moronic, “hot” management trend, much like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss. When Ms. Bird is misdiagnosed with a terminal illness and told she only has two weeks to live, she decides to chuck it in and spend those two weeks at a super-elite hotel and spa in Switzerland, enjoying the delicious dishes prepared by their outrageously eccentric chef, played marvelously by Gerard Depardieu. When her horrid uber-boss shows up at the same resort, hilarity follows on a grand scale, and Georgia eventually triumphs. Don’t ever forget Depardieu’s secret to happiness: butter. (But he forgot salt.)

Independence Day. What red-blooded Earthling wouldn’t love this movie, where, as star Will Smith says, we “whup ET’s ass”?! Jeff Goldblum is simply priceless as the nerdy genius who saves the day, but it’s his onscreen father, played to perfection by Judd Hirsch, who steals all the scenes. At Hawk’s Haven, we watch “Independence Day” every Fourth of July. But I could probably watch it every week.

Honorable mention:

Scrooge. The musical version of “A Christmas Carol,” starring Albert Finney, is hilarious, and the music is fantastic. David Collings as Bob Cratchit, Karen Scargill as his adorable daughter Kathy, and one of Scrooge’s debtors, Tom Jenkins (Anton Rogers), a soup seller, are so great, and we’re treated to guest appearances by Sir Alec Guinness as Marley’s Ghost, Dame Edith Evans as the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Sir Kenneth More as the Ghost of Christmas Present. But it’s really David Collings who steals the show as Cratchit. My other fave is “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” which also has really memorable music. The reason these fall in the “Honorable Mention” category is simply because they’re seasonal.

Conan the Barbarian. Ah, gotta love the two Conan movies, “Conan the Barbarian” and its sequel, “Conan the Destroyer.” These films introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world beyond weightlifting and made him a household name, mainly because they were filled with great Arnold one-liners that came to define his subsequent film roles, such as another favorite feel-good film, “The Running Man.” (“See you at the 25th prison reunion.”) It was “The Running Man” that first gave us Ah-nold’s deathless line, “I’ll be back.” But it was the Conan films that gave him the opening to inject humor and laughs into what could have been just another pair of tedious muscle/fantasy films that took themselves way too seriously.

Bend It Like Beckham. I suppose I’d appreciate any film that allowed an ordinary girl to triumph over the bizarre-looking, anorexic Keira Knightley. The parents of both the heroine and her best friend (played by Ms. Knightley) are marvelous. And like all Jane Austen romances—of which I think this was a modernization—there are plenty of twists and turns before the star-crossed lovers are finally united with a kiss.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A gentle, delightful film about a bunch of British seniors who are, for a variety of reasons, forced to retire to India to spend their “golden years” in an affordable hotel. Plunged into an exotic culture and less-than-ideal accommodations, they discover who they truly are and even find late-life love and new careers. Meanwhile, the adorable proprietor of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel faces romantic and financial crises of his own, but amid considerable hilarity, all turns out for the best. Super ensemble performances, with standout turns from Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, and Dev Patel (as the proprietor). Impossible not to feel good by the end of this!

Cinema Paradiso. Some sad things happen in this Italian tale of a small town cinema’s rise and fall, but there’s such delightful interplay between a little boy, the man who operates the film equipment, and the village priest that it more than compensates. Lots of laughs and smiles along the way. And, in the end, two delightful surprises for the boy, now grown to become a famous director. Beautifully acted, great music, and totally heartwarming.

The Gods Must Be Crazy. This hysterical film pits a timeless, gentle, primitive culture against modern society, all because a pilot tossed an empty Coke bottle out of his plane. The Kalahari people on whose land the bottle falls at first believe it to be a gift from the Gods, but realize when it stirs up envy and enmity among the people for the first time ever that it is “the evil thing.” One man volunteers to take it away, and in the process has many misadventures as he meets more “advanced” cultures. At the same time, a hapless ranger has ludicrous, hilarious disaster after disaster, especially after he meets the woman of his dreams. Fortunately, all turns out well for the tribesman and the star-crossed lovers.

Sister Act. Okay, okay, I know it’s hokey, but it still cheers me up. Whoopi Goldberg may not be convincing as a casino act, but she’s simply great as a pseudo-nun in the Witness Protection Program. Dame Maggie Smith does a great job as her Mother Superior, and Whoopi’s fellow nuns are priceless, as she turns a hopeless choir into an irresistible act. I dare you not to sing along!

Okay, enough from me for now. That’s 18 movies that make me happy. Which films make you happy?

‘Til nex,t time,

Silence

Creating a catchphrase. October 12, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben noticed that today, three people had come on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, with the search-engine term (as WordPress calls it) “creating a catchphrase.” (WordPress, we love you, but please bear in mind that “term” is a single word, “phrase” more than one word.  In terms of catchphrases —if you’ll pardon the pun—Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!” would be a term, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be baaaack!” and Monty Python’s “It’s just resting,” from the famous Dead Parrot Sketch, are phrases.)

What is a catchphrase, anyway? To quote Wikipedia: “A catchphrase is a phrase or expression recognized by its repeated utterance. Such phrases often originate in popular culture or the arts, and typically spread through a variety of mass media (such as literature and publishing, motion pictures, television and radio), as well as word of mouth. Some catchphrases become the de facto ‘trademark’ of the person or character with whom they originated…”

Mr. Spock’s “Live long and prosper,” and “Beam me up, Scotty!” from the original “Star Trek” series, as well as Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s “Make it so” from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” are catchphrases. So are James Bond’s “The name’s Bond. James Bond” and “shaken, not stirred.” Yoda’s “Do or do not… there is no ‘try'” is a catchprhase, as is Dracula’s “I don’t drink…wine,” Seinfeld’s “Yadda yadda yadda,” and commercials’ enduring “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” and “Where’s the beef?!” 

Our friend Ben’s favorite catchphrase is from that Western classic, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” when a thug is terrorizing Eli Wallach (“the ugly”) while he’s in a public bath. The guy drones on and on (and on) about how long he’s been waiting for this moment. etc.etc. Eventually, Eli Wallach pulls a gun out of the bubble bath, shoots the guy, and blandly remarks, “If you’re gonna shoot, shoot, don’t talk.” Words to live by!

Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, we have dozens of catchphrases to choose from, courtesy of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. Whether your favorite Ben quote is “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” or “There never was a bad peace or a good war” or “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” old Ben had a bon mot for every occasion, and his sayings have stood the test of time.

If he could give you some timely advice for creating your own catchphrase, I think Dr. Franklin would say this:

  • Keep it simple and memorable. If people can’t remember or understand your slogan, they won’t repeat it. “Better dead than Red” captures anti-Communist opposition memorably, as opposed to something like “I’m concerned that Communist regimes are opposing individuality and human rights, and I plan to oppose them.”
  • Make people think, then make them remember. “Three men can keep a secret if two of them are dead” is a quote few of us are likely to forget. The drama Dr. Franklin put into this quote fixes it in our minds far more forcibly than “Most people can’t keep secrets; you shouldn’t trust them.”
  • Bring everyone into the now. Telling people to live in the moment is all good and well, but giving them a catchphrase like “Be Here Now” can help them far more than providing a treatise on mindful living that requires a doctorate to comprehend. Ben Franklin believed in keeping it simple; so should we. 
  • Remind people that now is all there is. So much of human energy is spent on regretting the past and hoping for the future, yet our only reality is now, this moment.This isn’t an esoteric concept, it’s just the simple truth: Now is all we have, all our time is now, all the time we’ll ever have is now, so make the most of it. Dance now, sing now, paint now, learn a new language now, write now, play now, cook now, visit now. Later may never be an option.

So, what’s your catchphrase? Think on this and let us know!

What did Ben Franklin most wish to do? January 21, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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As long as Silence Dogood is answering readers’ queries, our friend Ben would like to tackle one, too. Someone came on our blog yesterday with the question, “What did Ben Franklin most wish to do?” Bizarrely, our friend Ben believes that I can answer that question.

The easy out—which would not be wrong—would be to reply that it depended on what stage of Ben’s life you were asking about. To show how this works, let’s take a modern example whom our friend Ben and Silence both enjoy and appreciate, Arnold Schwarzenegger. At various times of his life, you might have quite accurately answered that Ah-nold “most wished” to be a champion bodybuilder, a Hollywood movie star, or the governor of California. Similarly, at various points of his life, Ben Franklin most wished to be a wealthy printer and publisher, a respected scientist, a successful diplomat.

But wait, there’s that little word “do.” What did Ben Franklin most wish to do? Again, you could say that at various times, he wished to found the most successful newspaper in the Colonies, convince Britain to respect the Colonies and recognize them as equal parts of the Empire, convince the Colonists that remaining British was impossible, convince the French to support the American cause, convince the delegates to the various Colonial conventions to ratify the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or leave an enduring scientific legacy, among many other options.

None of these answers would be wrong, but they all beg the question, which is, what did Ben Franklin most wish to do? Our friend Ben feels that the answer is not in any bio of Ben, or even in his own voluminous writings, but in a letter my nephew Paul sent to the Cardinal-Archbishop of Washington, D.C. early this month in preparation for his Confirmation this coming Easter season. Little Paul informed the Cardinal-Archbishop that he wished to be “a man for others,” like his patron saint, St. Francis, and others such as St. Dominic and St. Thomas More.

All his life, Benjamin Franklin, whose intellect so set him apart from his fellow men that it would have been all too easy to forsake them for the proverbial ivory tower, instead chose to devote himself to making their lives better. I have often thought that a towering intellect is so isolating that it made it inevitable that someone like Ben Franklin would regard the rest of us the way we view our dogs: lovable, maybe; funny, often; and sometimes really smart, for a dog. But Ben loved us anyway.

Ben Franklin spent his whole life in our service. The Colonial equivalent of a self-made millionaire who retired at 40, he could have bought a big house and enjoyed the high life, maybe even angled for a title. Instead, he devoted himself to establishing fire companies, hospitals, universities, public libraries, a functional postal service, tradesmens’ social clubs for fellowship and mutual self-improvement.

Franklin famously said, when urging his fellow convention attendees to sign the Declaration of Independence, “Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” But he might have chosen “we must all hang together” as his personal maxim. From his annual publication of Poor Richard’s Almanack, a Colonial bestseller second only to the Bible and packed with practical advice and down-home wisdom, to his use of his discovery of the channeling of electricity in the famous kite-and-key experiment to create lightning rods to protect people’s homes—an invention he never patented or profited from in any way, believing that universal safety was more important than personal gain—Benjamin Franklin was “a man for others.” He invented the Franklin stove that we might be warm, the rocking chair that we might be comfortable, bifocals that we might see. He invented social organization after organization to bring people together for their mutual good.

Ben Franklin recognized that it was our nature as people to be social, to want to get together in sociable groups. He strove to bring us together in the sort of group that would bring out the very best in us, whether we were helping put out a neighborhood fire or discussing philosophy or fighting for liberty.

So what did Ben Franklin most wish to do? He wished “to be a man for others,” to do good for his fellow man. Benjamin Franklin achieved his wish. Could any of us ever hope to achieve more?