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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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Bring back “Sherlock.” May 28, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If there’s one thing that’s really aggravating, it’s when your favorite books finally are made into a series and then they just… vanish. Today, “Game of Thrones” fans are outraged because the producers chose to skip a Sunday showing over Memorial Day. Fans have to wait two weeks for the next episode.

But this is not a hardship compared to fans of “Sherlock,” who are apparently now going to have to wait until 2016—and, in case you’ve forgotten, it’s now 2014 and we last saw a season of “Sherlock” in 2013—for the show’s next season, thanks to star Benedict Cumberbatch’s hectic filming schedule.

Or fans of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries. Robert Redford took an interest and filmed three great PBS specials starring Wes Studi as Joe Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Jim Chee, the marvelous Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, the always delightful Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and the fantastic Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than filming a weekly series, Redford chose to release a single episode a year. For three episodes, total. No surprise when you have a bunch of busy actors and are trying to get them together once a year. But what a disappointment, since we know there will never be any more episodes with these beloved actors. Shame on you, Robert Redford! You had a great chance, great plots, and great actors, and you blew it.

Ditto for Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, starring Jill Scott as the beloved, compassionate, and wise detective Precious Ramotswe and the incredible Anika Noni Rose as her outspoken assistant, Grace Makutsi. The director died after just a few episodes were filmed, and the project was sidelined. For those of us who’ve read all the books and wait eagerly for the next tempting slice of the formidable Mma Potokwane’s famous fruitcake to be served up, this was and is a serious blow. Can’t blame the director this time, or the producers for not knowing how to move the series forward without him. But what a shame.

So, “Game of Thrones” fans, it’s tough to skip a week. But think of those of us who don’t get HBO and won’t pirate the series and are going to have to wait a whole year to get Season 4. Aaaagghhh!!! At least the showrunners are promising that they’ll take “Game of Thrones” through Season 7.

‘Til next time,

Silence

What will become of Mma Ramotswe? July 30, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Long-time readers will know how much I adore Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and anticipate each yearly addition to the series with enormous pleasure.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, the series involves the fictional adventures of Precious Ramotswe, the first lady detective in Botswana, and her associates, including the formidable Mma Potokwane, matron of the Orphan Farm and creator of the famous fruitcake, my favorite character; the hapless but lovable Phuti Radiphuti, proprietor of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop in Gabarone and suitor to Mma Ramotswe’s assistant, Grace Makutsi; and the evil Violet Sephotho, arch-rival to Mma Makutsi. Mma Ramotswe’s beloved tiny white van is as much a character as anyone in the series. Red bush tea, cattle, shoes, and Precious’s beloved Daddy, the late Obed Ramotswe, also figure prominently.

One of the really endearing things about the novels is that Mr. McCall Smith recognizes the importance of continuity, that he has created enduring icons that people come to love because he loves them and has delightfully brought them to life. So he carries them on into each succeeding novel. I, and I’m sure many devoted readers, would be horrified if the famous fruitcake, Mma Ramotswe’s “traditional” build, the tiny white van, Mma Makutsi’s talking shoes or her 97% certificate from the Botswana Secretarial College (the highest mark ever received from that institution), or Mr. McCall Smith’s beautiful closing tribute to Africa failed to make an appearance in any No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novel. And Mr. McCall Smith does not disappoint.

Admittedly, if I could ask the author a few questions, I certainly would: Why did you slap Mma Ramotswe’s suitor and eventual husband, Mr. JLB Matekoni, with chronic depression? Why did he abruptly adopt two orphans? Why did Mr. Polopetsi suddenly appear, then unaccountably turn into a fairly major player, only, as unaccountably, to pretty much vanish? Why did you dispose of Kremlin, one of the strongest, most priceless characters in the series, rather than bring him back with subsequent misdeeds and general bad behavior? And, most important, what possessed you to maim poor Phuti Radiphuti, one of the most likeable characters, even though you’d already loaded him with handicaps like stuttering and terminal awkwardness? What had he possibly done to deserve that? 

I’m sure Mr. McCall Smith had his reasons, even if I can’t fathom them. However, now I have more serious things to worry about than what on earth he was thinking or what the differences are between Botswana, Batswana and Motswana or whether Phuti and Grace will be happy or Mma Potokwane and her very persuasive fruitcake will appear in the next volume. Now I’m wondering if there will even be a next volume.

I’ve been worrying about this ever since I read the most recent novel in the series, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (Pantheon, 2011).  As an editor and author, I’d have said that in this novel, every loose end in the series is tied up: Grace Makutsi definitively triumphs over her old rival, the much sexier, unscrupulous Violet Sephotho, once and for all. Mma Ramotswe at last retrieves her tiny white van, better than ever, from its junkyard grave. Mma Makutsi and the apprentice mechanic Charlie bury the hatchet after he finally admits she’s not a warthog and she finally admits he’s not totally worthless. And, at the end, Mma Makutsi and her awkward but lovable suitor, Phuti Radiphuti, are married at long last. Every beloved element, from Mma Makutsi’s shoes to Mma Potokwane and a special wedding fruitcake, are brought into play. There really is nothing left to say after this entirely lovable wrap-up.

So what now? Was The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party Alexander McCall Smith’s gentle way of ending his series? And if not, where can he go from here?

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Good times for the traditionally built. May 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If, like me, you’re a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and its “traditionally built” heroine, Mma Precious Ramotswe, these are very good times.

Mr. McCall Smith has just come out with a new novel in the series, The Double Comfort Safari Club, and reviewers are all praising it as the best one yet. I just got my copy from Amazon yesterday, and am hoping that it contains larger roles for two of my favorite characters, Mma Potokwane, the redoubtable matron of the local orphanage and creator of the famous fruitcake, and Phuti Radiphuti, hapless proprietor of The Double Comfort Furniture Shop.

A new No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novel is always cause for rejoicing. But there’s more good news for cooking fanatics like yours truly: I discovered that there is now a cookbook accompanying the series, appropriately called Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook: Nourishment for the traditionally built. (Alert readers may recall that about two years ago, I e-mailed Mr. McCall Smith and begged shamelessly that he write one.) 

As it turns out, the book is actually written by Stuart Brown, though it carries an introduction by Alexander McCall Smith and apparently features lots of gorgeous photos of Botswana and its life and culture as well as of the food. Here’s what Amazon has as the product description:

“Pull up a chair and join Mma Ramotswe at the table as she celebrates the flavours of the bestselling series ‘The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’. Discover the favourite recipes of our ‘traditionally built’ heroine and her friends, accompanied by lavish photography—sumptuous stews for sharing, fabulous fruit cakes for eating under shady trees, with redbush tea of course, and the spices, traditions and culture of Botswana that make every meal together special. Welcome Precious, her friends and the sunshine of Botswana into your kitchen. It offers a traditionally-built feast for all the senses!”

Needless to say, I ordered a copy immediately. What fun! Unfortunately, it’s shipping from Britain, and is expected to take up to two weeks to reach me. But I plan to make good use of the intervening time. I’ll finish The Double Comfort Safari Club. I’ll watch the TV series, also called “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” and based (sometimes rather loosely) on the books, again. And I’ll also watch the delightful documentary,  “Botswana: In the Footsteps of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with Alexander McCall Smith,” again. It’s been too long since I’ve seen it. By the time the cookbook arrives, I’ll be ready for that cup of red bush tea.

If you want to join me in ordering a copy of the cookbook, better get a move on: Amazon has just 16 new copies available, and the used ones are way too pricey. Again, it’s Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook by Stuart Brown (Polygon, hardcover, 144 pages, 2009, new from $20.14, used from $65.07 on Amazon).

Never fear, I’ll give you a reveiew (as opposed to a preview) once I’ve had a chance to check it out and (gulp) try a few of those recipes!

              ‘Til next time,

                             Silence

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency on TV! March 28, 2009

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Silence Dogood here. If, like me, you’re a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, you’ll be thrilled to learn that these delightful books have been made into a TV series that’s going to be broadcast in the U.S. beginning tomorrow (Sunday) night at 8 pm. (I believe it’s already been shown in Britain; not sure about Canada.)

The seven-part series opens with a two-hour premiere on HBO. The whole series was filmed on location in Botswana, which should deepen our experience when we return to the books. I just hope they can do justice to the wise, indomitable heroine, Mma Ramotswe, the irrepressible Mma Potokwane and her famous fruitcake, the hapless Phuti Radiphuti, and the rest of the wonderful characters. But unfortunately, I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to find out. We don’t get HBO, and neither does anyone we know. I hope the series comes to Netflix soon. But meanwhile, if you watch it, please let me know what you think!

          ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

The Miracle at Speedy Motors May 23, 2008

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Silence Dogood here. I just finished reading the latest novel in one of my all-time favorite series, Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and I wanted to share the fun with you and urge you to read it, too.

The Miracle at Speedy Motors has it all: The principals, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency founder Precious Ramotswe; the formidable orphanage matron, Mma Potokwane (secretly my favorite character); the owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Mr. J.L.B. Matakone; and Mma Ramotswe’s right-hand woman, Mma Makutsi. All our favorite supporting characters, living and dead, are there as well: Mma Ramotswe’s beloved late father, Obed Ramotswe, her hero, Sir Seretse Khama, and her brutish first husband, Note Mokoti; Mma Makutsi’s fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, and her arch-nemesis, Violet Sephotho; the shy wanna-be detective, Mr. Polopetsi; the orphans Mma Ramtoswe and her husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matakone, adopted, Motholeli and Puso; the incorrigible apprentice mechanic Charlie. And, as faithful readers have come to anticipate, the largely inanimate cast that plays as great a role in the stories as the characters themselves: the tiny white van; Mma Potokwane’s famous fruitcake; Mma Makutsi’s large round glasses and talking shoes; the inevitable cups of red bush tea; cattle herds; and, of course, Botswana itself, last in this list but certainly first in the books.

(Incidentally, I have written Alexander McCall Smith via his website and begged him to write a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Cookbook, featuring the top secret recipe for Mma Potokwane’s locally celebrated fruitcake as well as Mma Ramotswe’s favorite dishes. I was told that his publisher had suggested this, too, so we may yet see a cookbook. I’ll definitely add it to my collection!)

Needless to say, plots and counter-plots abound, and I’m not about to give them away. I’ll just say that my favorite scenes both involved Mma Ramotswe, Mma Potokwane, the tiny white van, and the famous fruitcake. Ha!!!!!

I’ve loved the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series ever since I first stumbled on Blue Shoes and Happiness in my local library. Let me hasten to say that I’m no mystery fan. I love Sherlock Holmes, because of his marvellous character and the fact that most of his mysteries were intellectual puzzles rather than gore-dripping slaughterhouses disguised as books. I love Tony Hillerman’s mysteries because of his descriptions of the Southwest and the Navajo and Hopi lifeways. (And, okay, Jim Chee is hard to resist.) But usually, I pass mysteries by and wonder how people can sleep when they’re reading them. (Red Dragon, anyone?)

But the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is not about blood, guts, and mayhem. Its gentle mysteries hark back to Holmes, when a mystery meant a puzzle, not a murder. Its characters are memorable and lovable. Mma Ramotswe has a heart big enough to hold all Botswana. The stories are filled with gentle (and sometimes laugh-out-loud) humor. (Our friend Ben has said that he always knows when I’m reading one because he can hear me laughing.) Instead of celebrating violence, these delightful novels celebrate the few things that really matter: love, loyalty, friendship, family, gratitude, generosity, appreciation. The ability to take little and make much out of it, because the “much” is a state of mind.

If you’re already a fan of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, let me just say that, to my own delight, The Miracle at Speedy Motors is my favorite book in the series (so far). It’s always a thrill to see that a favorite author has made his or her series stronger rather than petering out as the novels continue. Thank you, Mr. McCall Smith! Go to your local library and put yourself on the waiting list right now, while you’re thinking about it. And if you’re not familiar with the series, you have a real treat in store! Check out a few of the earlier books, put on the tea kettle, and get ready to lose yourself, then find yourself richer than before.  

               ‘Til next time,

                          Silence