Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

I am painfully aware of, and grimly resigned to, the fact that many of those among my friends and heavily Teutonic extended family are reflexive Francophobes.  But I would urge even those who are, and especially those who are not, if they are any true lovers of the cinema, to tune in to Turner Classic Movies this month for the second installment of their excellent new Friday Night Spotlight series, starting at 8:00 PM ET.  They’re featuring the work of François Truffaut, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, the former Cahiers du Cinéma critic who spearheaded the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) as the writer-director of The 400 Blows (1959) and the co-writer of the dreaded Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960).

TCM is showing all but two of the 21 features Truffaut directed, and if you do yourself a favor by dipping liberally into his oeuvre, you may find it more diverse than expected.  That’s the experience I had several years ago when frantically attending as much as I could of the comprehensive “Tout Truffaut” festival at New York’s Film Forum (which now won’t even deign to send me a printed schedule, and thus will no longer receive my longtime financial support, but that’s another rant).  Twenty-one features is a sadly small number for such a giant talent, and bespeaks both his criminally short life—he died at 52—and his productivity, averaging almost a film a year through Confidentially Yours (1983).

By way of encouragement, I’m taking the unusual step of enumerating TCM’s entire Truffaut schedule, and while it is beyond the scope of this post to editorialize on every film, I hope it will at least give you some idea of his impressive range.

They kick off on 7/5 with back-to-back showings of his semi-autobiographical Antoine Doinel series, in which we watch Jean-Pierre Léaud age 20 years as his alter ego.  Succeeding The 400 Blows are Antoine and Colette (a short that represents Truffaut’s contribution to the 1962 anthology film Love at Twenty), Stolen Kisses (1968, my personal favorite among his work), Bed and Board (1970), and Love on the Run (1979, both a continuation and a recap of the series, inspired by a marathon showing of the prior entries).  These are followed by the lesser-known but fascinating The Green Room (1978, inexplicably retitled The Vanishing Fiancee), a Henry James adaptation and one of several films in which Truffaut also acts, in which capacity he is best known to American audiences for Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

On 7/12, they focus on Truffaut’s noir adaptations, most notably those of Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish):  The Bride Wore Black (1968), featuring Jeanne Moreau and a score by Hitchcock mainstay Bernard Herrmann, and Mississippi Mermaid (1969), with Breathless star Jean-Paul Belmondo (feh) and Catherine Deneuve, which—like the steamy Banderas/Jolie remake, Original Sin (2001)—was based on Waltz into Darkness.  In between they’re showing his swan song, Confidentially Yours, a black-and-white homage to Hitchcockian romantic thrillers, based on a book by Charles Williams; it stars Fanny Ardant, who gave birth to Truffaut’s daughter Joséphine about a year before he died, and French legend Jean-Louis Trintignant (’nuff said).  Topping it off are Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (1972), a black comedy from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? author Henry Farrell, and his sophomore feature, Shoot the Piano Player (1960), which has celebrated signer Charles Aznavour in the title role and did double duty during last month’s Friday Night Spotlight segment devoted to noir author David Goodis.

TCM provides a mixed bag on 7/19, starting off with The Soft Skin (1964), a tale of adultery featuring Deneuve’s ill-fated elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, and two adaptations of books by Henri-Pierre Roché, both about romantic triangles:  Jules and Jim (1962), starring Oskar Werner and Moreau, and Two English Girls (1971), also with Léaud.  Next is a real rarity, A Story of Water (1961), a short co-directed with Godard, whose work—excepting Alphaville (1965)—I normally loathe; I have yet to see that or the next offering, The Woman Next Door (1981), with Gérard Depardieu and Ardant as dangerously obsessive lovers.  Finally, The Man Who Loved Women (1977) is one of my least favorite Truffaut films, a situation doubtless exacerbated by the reflected shame of the head-scratching eponymous 1983 Blake Edwards/Burt Reynolds/Julie Andrews/Kim Basinger remake.

Ending on a generally high note, 7/26 opens with Day for Night (1973), Truffaut’s love letter to filmmaking itself, in which he really stretches his range by playing a director, joined by Jacqueline Bisset and Léaud.  I’ve been slow to warm up to The Last Metro (1980), a tale of refugees and the Resistance during the Nazi occupation that stars Deneuve and Depardieu, but I loved The Wild Child (1970), the true story of a late-18th-century doctor (Truffaut) who tries to educate a boy raised by wolves.  As a perfect capstone, Isabelle Adjani—so luminous in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979)—impressively portrays the mental deterioration of Victor Hugo’s daughter in The Story of Adele H (1975)…which, oddly, is not the only film in which we see Adjani go spectacularly mad, e.g., Possession (1981).

The two films not being shown are, fortuitously, both in the Bradley Video Library:  Fahrenheit 451 (1966), his love-it-or-hate-it adaptation of the late Ray Bradbury’s classic SF novel, featuring Werner, Julie Christie in a dual role, and another Herrmann score, and Small Change (1976), a largely improvised composite character study of the children in a small French town, played by non-actors, which is better than it sounds (at least to me).  Meanwhile, inspired by this outpouring of Truffaut-Amour, I’m doing something long overdue, dusting off some of the tapes I made when TCM devoted a similarly thorough marathon to Akira Kurosawa to honor his centennial back in 2010.  In this, at least, Madame BOF is my eager co-pilot, and we’ve already traveled back to the beginnings of his directorial career with The Most Beautiful (1944) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945); on deck at the moment are my first viewings of Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945) and No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), plus One Wonderful Sunday (1947).

Addendum:  Film Forum did finally send me a printed schedule.  “Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles…”

Bradley out.

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Okay, I’m the first to admit that this is no big deal, but how often do most of us get to write these words?  “We were on TV.”

As you’ll see in this clip from WTNH-TV, we volunteers from First Church of Christ Congregational (Redding, CT) were caught on camera during the annual Thanksgiving Basket Brigade at New Haven’s Casa Community Center.  Under the inspiring leadership of our friends at Christian Community Action (CCA), groups from various churches and other organizations help assemble food for those in need into single-family grocery bags that are combined with donated turkeys for one-stop holiday meals.  Phase one involves sorting the vast mounds of donations into categories (e.g., vegetables, stuffing, pasta/rice, beverages); in phase two, “shoppers” take bags and make the rounds from station to station so that each item is represented, while the rest of us either supply them or resupply the suppliers…when we’re not unloading further donations from trucks.

As if it’s not enough that she co-chairs the fair that brings in much of the funding for our church’s outreach programs, Madame BOF also helps coordinate this effort with our associate minister, Jack Davidson.  (And sings with me in the choir every week, and cooks for the Dorothy Day soup kitchen in Danbury, and volunteers in countless other ways, and although she’d be mortified that I’m tooting her horn, it’s her birthday today, so I have no scruples about telling you how great she is.)

You can briefly see me crossing behind the stations starting around 0:41.  The guy being interviewed at 0:48, Jeff Braun, was Jack’s predecessor, who now has his own church in Cheshire, so there is a, shall we say, spirited but friendly rivalry between the two churches over how much each group can accomplish.  This year, I’m sorry to say that the lesson was “less is more,” because the Casa Community Center has so much less room than our previous venue that most of our time, especially during phase one, seemed to be spent trying not to step on other volunteers.

Be that as it may, while Jeff is speaking, you can see our awesome senior minister, Dean Ahlberg, chatting in the background to the left, and Madame BOF on the fringe—as I’m sure she would wish it—at right.  She is also visible, again at the right, around 1:06.  You can see the two of us talking in the background on the left at 1:18, and amusingly, I can tell from my body language that at that exact moment, I’m kvetching about how the surfeit of warm bodies actually reduced our productivity.  Fortunately, I’m looking a lot more benign when you get the best opportunity for M/M BOF viewing at 1:33.

As I wrote the preceding, two cats were dozing contentedly within inches of each other on the bed nearby, but the impact of that statement is lost without its proper context.  Ever since our shelter cat Mina died tragically young of unknown causes on the 4th of July, we’ve been worried that her sister, Lucy, would be lonely while we were at work all day; after all, avoiding that was the whole reason we got two cats in the first place.  So when Madame BOF heard from a co-worker about a feral cat that had wandered onto somebody’s deck and jumped up into their lap, we thought it might be time Lucy had a friend.

Sadly, the new arrival (whom we named Sally, thus repurposing Lucy’s name from that of a Bram Stoker to a Charles M. Schulz character) hasn’t gotten the memo yet.  Of course we heard all sorts of cautionary tales about how hard it can be to introduce a new cat into a household, and for the past few weeks we’ve been living the nightmare, with stalking and hissing that occasionally erupts into growling, yowling, and Tasmanian Devil-style tornadoes of fur.  They’re still not friendly, but today’s little encounter, which ended with no worse than a perfunctory, half-hearted hiss from Sally while Lucy amicably quit the field, at least gives us cause for continued hope and gratitude.

Because gratitude is what it’s all about:  gratitude that we’re well enough off to have time and money to share with others who have less, and great people with whom to do so; gratitude that we will have other gifts to share when we sing at the interfaith Thanksgiving Eve service our church is hosting this year, where the sermon will be given by none other than CCA’s own Rev. Bonita Grubbs; gratitude for our amazing daughter, Alexandra, who recently made us proud yet again with her appearance in a production of To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday by a new theatrical group in D.C., and will be joining us on Thursday; gratitude for my friends, who—like us—luckily made it inconvenienced but unscathed through Hurricane Sandy (which left all local family branches in the dark for varying lengths of time) and the follow-up snowstorm; gratitude for the continued presence of my 82-year-old mother, to whom we were able to offer, if not light, heat, or running water, then at least company and safety in numbers for much of her 11 days without power; gratitude for the rest of the extended family that surrounds us with love, even as poor Madame BOF runs the annual gauntlet of preparations for the holiday; gratitude that we can offer a “forever home” to these two beautiful cats, even if they haven’t learned to get along quite yet; gratitude that we’re both employed, even though Loreen’s hours are so demanding; gratitude that in addition to my day job, I have opportunities to pursue my real calling with things like my Cinema Retro article on James Bond (of which I still have yet to receive any copies) and my weekly contributions to Marvel University.

Well, you get the picture.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

And Happy Birthday to the love of my life.

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Richard Dawson–who shared Madame BOF’s birthday–is dead of cancer at 79. Of course, I knew him first for his role as Corporal Newkirk on Hogan’s Heroes and his hosting duties on Family Fued (brilliantly parodied with the Coneheads, and Bill Murray as Dawson, on Saturday Night Live back in my day), but I will always remember him for his guest appearance on The Odd Couple (“Richard Dawson? Richard Dawson feh!”) and his supporting role in The Devil’s Brigade (1968). He was also in episodes of The Outer Limits (“The Invisibles“) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Anyone for Murder?,” which we just saw), but I’d forgotten he had an uncredited bit in The Longest Day (1962). And of course Stephen King-fan Turafish will remind us that he parodied himself as an evil game-show host in The Running Man (1987). Seems his first wife was Brit bombshell Diana Dors, whose credits include Robert Bloch‘s notorious Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and the genre films Berserk (1967), Nothing but the NightTheatre of Blood (both 1973), From Beyond the Grave, and Craze (both 1974). Who knew? A shame.  Give ’em a kiss for us, Richard.

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Comme d’habitude, Turner Classic Movies will salute—pun intended—the sacrifice and bravery of our fighting men and women with its annual 48-hour Memorial Day weekend war-movie marathon, but this year, without even consulting me, they have scheduled six of my favorite films ever (not just war movies, mind you, but movies in general, as demonstrated by the fact that together they constitute 6% of the B100), back to back, for more than sixteen hours of World War II wonderment on Monday. Personally, I can think of no better way to spend the day, but I’ll be remembering in my own way with a visit to Alexandra in Washington, D.C., in the company of the two Mrs. Bradleys; luckily, I own all of these movies, and am already half-way through a pre-emptive strike with The Guns of Navarone. For those of you lucky enough to kick back with a big bucket of KFC and some TCM, here’s a handy-dandy viewing guide, with newly expanded versions of my B100 reviews, and as I look over this list, I guess it says something about me that almost none of these is a traditional flag-waver (Navarone probably comes closest)…but isn’t making you stop and think about war what Memorial Day is all about?

  • Where Eagles Dare (11:45 AM): Quite simply The Greatest Movie Ever Made. Okay, I’m kidding, but it is my personal favorite. Only Alistair MacLean could have concocted this complex tale of triple agents, centering on a commando mission ostensibly to rescue an American general, who knows the details of the D-Day invasion plans, from an inaccessible Bavarian chateau! (I’ve always loved my war movies tinged with espionage, and when he was on his game—which wasn’t always—MacLean was unmatched at that.) Only Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood (in perhaps his only true second-banana role, for which he reportedly requested less dialogue), and the ill-fated Mary Ure could play the stalwart leads, who massacre countless German soldiers with only one flesh wound among them! Only Ferdy Mayne (The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Vampire Lovers), Anton Diffring (The Man Who Could Cheat Death), Donald Houston (reunited with Burton from The Longest Day), and Derrin Nesbitt could play the nasty Nazi villains! Only Brian G. Hutton could direct the exciting action scenes, including the famous cable-car fight! Only Ron Goodwin could compose the rousing, unforgettable score; I even have the soundtrack album on both LP and CD! I also have a first edition of the novel (based on MacLean’s script, but published before the film was released, resulting in decades of chicken-vs.-egg confusion), and even the spot-on Mad magazine parody, “Where Vultures Fare.”
  • The Guns of Navarone (2:30 PM): Immortalized by the very youthful Alexandra as Guns Forever Known. Considering the subsequent and steady decline of director/boozer J. Lee Thompson’s career (e.g., the staggeringly inept Messenger of Death), this is astonishingly good, the first of the MacLean adaptations and one of those that holds up the best. It was, I believe, also the first of the big-budget, star-studded WW II films that were as much rousing adventure as searing drama (like, say, The Bridge on the the River Kwai), and I also think of it as a prototype for the specialized-manly-men-on-a-mission tales like Richard Brooks’s Western The Professionals. Stalwart Gregory Peck, formidable Anthony Quinn, and dubious David Niven join Irene Papas and commandos Anthony Quayle, Stanley Baker, and James Darren on the usual impossible mission on a German-held Greek island during WWII. Not many action films make me mist up, but this one has a beautifully reflective coda, featuring the softer side of Dimitri Tiomkin’s majestic score, that gets me every time. Despite being directed by Guy (Goldfinger) Hamilton, the belated sequel, Force 10 from Navarone (with Robert Shaw and Edward Fox highly unlikely in the Peck and Niven roles, plus Harrison Ford and The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Barbara Bach), is vastly inferior, I’m sorry to say, so stick with the original.
  • The Dirty Dozen (5:15 PM): Robert Aldrich directed this unconventional and influential war movie, based on E.M. Nathanson’s fine novel. Lee Marvin has the unenviable task of trying to forge twelve convicts into a viable fighting unit for a suicide mission in occupied France on the eve of D-Day. The superb cast is full of up-and-coming stars, and includes Donald Sutherland (“Never heard of it”), Charles Bronson (the only member of both The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven), Telly Savalas (unforgettable as the psychotic Maggott), Jim Brown (MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra), John Cassavetes (Rosemary’s Baby), and Clint Walker among the dozen, plus Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly), and Richard Jaeckel. Aldrich’s trademark genre-subverting style is in full force here, especially with the Last Supper homage, as he makes us root for these misanthropic misfits, and yet, as in The Wild Bunch, these criminals have their own sometimes admirable code of honor.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai (8:00 PM): No offense to Lawrence of Arabia, but I think this is David Lean’s greatest film. It swept the major Oscars (obviously excepting Best Actress) and deserved all of them. William Holden and Oscar-winner Alec Guinness are at their stellar best as, respectively, an American who leads a demolition team back to the Japanese POW camp from which he’s just escaped, and the British colonel who wages a war of wills with the commandant (Oscar nominee Sessue Hayakawa) and ends up taking too much pride in the bridge his men are building. Originally omitted from the credits in favor of Pierre Boulle (author of Planet of the Apes, oddly enough), who wrote the novel, blacklisted screenwriters Michael Wilson and Carl Foreman (The Guns of Navarone) received posthumous Oscars in 1984. The ending is somewhat different from Boulle’s but, not surprisingly, more cinematic. Holden has always been one of my favorites, especially here and in The Wild Bunch, and the ferocity with which he delivers his unforgettable speech to Jack Hawkins (“You and Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman—how to die by the rules—when the only important thing is how to live like a human being!”) still gives me a frisson. With James Donald (Quatermass and the Pit, The Great Escape), Hammer mainstay André Morell, and superb music by Malcolm Arnold (who seemed to quote it in every other damn picture he scored!).
  • The Great Escape (11:00 PM): Turafish considers this The Greatest Movie Ever Made. I won’t go that far, but it’s right up there. Director John Sturges, composer Elmer Bernstein, and cast members Steve McQueen (who, typically, demanded that his part be beefed up to include the famous motorcycle chase), Bronson, and James Coburn are reunited from The Magnificent Seven for this true story co-scripted by James Clavell. During World War II, the Germans decide to place all of their rotten eggs in one basket by herding their most troublesome prisoners into a single camp. Naturally, this leads to a legendary, albeit only partly successful, mass breakout led by “Big X” (Richard Attenborough). The theme song is unforgettable and the cast (also including James Garner, Donald Pleasence, David McCallum, and Gordon Jackson) is unparalleled. Not everyone would probably consider this a war movie, since the cast spends most of its time in a POW camp rather than in combat, but the point is made that by forcing the Germans to devote time and manpower to trying to round up the escapees, they’re keeping them away from the front lines. Besides, for many, being a prisoner of war is part of being a soldier, which is something we would do well to remember on this of all days. “Two hundred and fifty? You’re crazy—you, too.”
  • Kelly’s Heroes (2:00 AM): Eastwood was reunited with Where Eagles Dare director Hutton for this humorous caper film with a World War II setting and a Vietnam-era sensibility, filmed in Yugoslavia, where they still had lots of vintage military hardware available (future director John Landis was a young PA on the film). The members of Clint’s platoon have been getting the short end of the stick since they hit the beach at Omaha, so when they learn of a fortune in Nazi gold kept in a bank behind enemy lines in occupied France, they decide to do a little extracurricular activity (a plot borrowed for the Gulf War film Three Kings). With a stellar cast (Savalas, Sutherland, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor), excellent dialogue courtesy of the late Troy Kennedy Martin, an outstanding score by Lalo Schifrin, and a Leone/Wild Bunch parody. Along with The Dirty Dozen, this is clearly the most cynical of our little sextet, yet the cost of war is not ignored (I’m thinking in particular of the poignant aftermath of the minefield sequence, which always chokes me up), while those who enjoy slam-bang battle scenes will not be disappointed, and overall it makes some keen observations about the regular joes at the sharp end of war. Relax and enjoy.

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Although I am neither an expert on nor a particular fan of Dark Shadows, I would be beyond remiss if I did not note the passing at 87 of its star, Jonathan Frid; after all, creator Dan Curtis soon afterward became Richard Matheson’s most frequent collaborator.  I was going to say that I was unfamiliar with Frid’s oeuvre outside the genre when I discovered that, aside from his prestigious stage career, he didn’t have one:  of his five IMDb entries, three are manifestations of Dark Shadows (the original 1967-71 ABC serial; the slam-bang 1970 theatrical compression, House of Dark Shadows, which I heartily enjoyed; and a cameo in Tim Burton‘s imminent travesty).  The others are The Devil’s Daughter, a 1973 TV-movie from Somewhere in Time director Jeannot Szwarc that I have yet to see, and Seizure, Oliver Stone’s indescribably bizarre 1974 feature-film directorial debut, in which Frid co-starred with Martine Beswick and Hervé Villechaize (’nuff said).

Be that as it may, my experience with Dark Shadows was restricted mainly to catching occasional episodes when what was then the Sci-Fi Channel showed two every weekday morning in the early ’90s, at which time–to be blunt–I finally gave up because, no matter how many monsters it featured, it was still a soap opera, with all of the glacial pacing that entailed.  But I saw enough to know that no matter how shaky the sets, silly the scripts or amateurish some of the acting may have been, Frid was always a class act, investing his character of Barnabas Collins with a complexity rare in screen vampires.  As Curtis himself once said, “In most of my horror [stories], I try to find an additional dimension to the monster.  Sometimes you actually end up feeling sorry for him.  We certainly did that with Barnabas,” and that he was able to so successfully is, in many ways, a tribute to Jonathan Frid.

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In the Vortex

Anyone with the slightest interest in the original Twilight Zone should check out the blog The Twilight Zone Vortex, which offers an in-depth episode guide as well as articles on related subjects such as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Working their way chronologically through the series, bloggers Jordan Prejean and Brian Durant are still in the first season, and to date have covered the two episodes Serling adapted from Matheson’s stories, “And When the Sky Was Opened” and “Third from the Sun,” as well as Matheson’s maiden effort, “The Last Flight.” I have found Durant’s analyses to be consistently thorough, accurate, informative, and insightful; “Third from the Sun” also provides a wealth of background material about Matheson.

Full Disclosure Dept.: Am I biased by the fact that Durant endorses The Richard Matheson Companion and my introduction to Noir? Or writes that “I would absolutely recommend Richard Matheson on Screen as the definitive reference guide for anyone wanting to know anything about his work in film and television. It’s a fantastic book”? Or that Prejean calls Filmfax #75-76, the 40th-anniversary tribute spearheaded by Yours Truly and containing my interviews with Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, and Jerry Sohl “probably the single best issue of a genre periodical ever devoted to [the series]…highly recommended”? In the words of Cecil Turtle & Co., Bugs Bunny’s nemeses in Tortoise Beats Hare, “Eh, it’s a possibility!”

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Tailor Made

I had a lot of good food when the two Mrs. Bradleys and I visited my daughter in Washington, D.C., over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, where our whirlwind itinerary—with which the senior Mrs. B was hard pressed to keep up!—included the Washington, Lincoln, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and MLK monuments, plus one building of the National Gallery. Some of said food was prepared by Alexandra herself, at the apartment Madame BOF found for her and boyfriend Thomas on Connecticut Avenue, with which they’ve done wonders during their relatively brief time there so far, and where she finally introduced the Moms to one of her favorite films, Moulin Rouge! But the best meal I had was a delicious helping of crow called Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

I’ve long called the 1979 miniseries based on John le Carré’s novel one of the best adaptations of anything, anywhere, ever, inspiring me to read the book, one of my Top 10, and most of his other adventures of “incongruous spy” George Smiley. I’ve watched Alec Guinness as Smiley in both the miniseries and its 1982 sequel, Smiley’s People, countless times, and despite running times of more than five hours apiece, I found them utterly riveting, to say nothing of flawlessly capturing le Carré’s characters and plots. So when I heard that this satisfyingly complex Cold War thriller was being boiled down into a two-hour feature—even one starring the formidable Gary Oldman and directed by Sweden’s Tomas Alfredson, of Let the Right One In fame—I was utterly aghast.

But then I heard about some of the other casting (John Hurt as Smiley’s erstwhile boss, Control, and Colin Firth as Bill Haydon), and I got a little encouraged, and then I read some of those rave reviews, and I started to wonder if they could really pull it off. So, is it as good or as rich as the miniseries? No. Does Oldman incarnate Smiley-as-flesh the way Guinness did, so successfully that le Carré said he could no longer write him without seeing Guinness in his mind? No. Did a superb cast and crew—including Oldman—bring to life a script (by a couple of which the wife, sadly, died before its release) that manages to distill the essence of le Carré’s epic of espionage, in the process creating a breathtakingly excellent film that is top-notch on all levels? Hell yeah.

Here’s the set-up: Control sends Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Budapest to meet a Hungarian defector who will reveal the identity of a mole, or double agent, in the highest echelon of British intelligence (aka the Circus). The suspects are Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), Haydon, and Control’s right-hand man, Smiley. When the report comes in that Prideaux has been shot dead, Control and Smiley are tossed out in favor of Alleline’s gang of four, but after Control dies and AWOL Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) resurfaces with a story about a mole, the reluctant Smiley is brought out of retirement by bureaucrat Oliver Lacon (Simon McBurney), who oversees the Circus, to pick up the trail where Control left off.

Smiley recruits Tarr’s boss, Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), a protégé of George’s whom the Alleline regime had shunted off to a backwater division called the Scalphunters, and Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack), a retired Special Branch man he’d met on an earlier case. He calls upon the memories of similarly disfavored Circus vets Jerry Westerby (Stephen Graham)—an amalgam of the eponymous character and le Carré’s Sam Collins—and research expert Connie Sachs (Kathy Burke) to help him sift through the facts and lies. Among the casualties of the shorter format are George’s serial-adulterer wife, Ann (Katrina Vasilieva), and nemesis, Karla, neither of whom we see in full, although in general, the screenwriters preserve that which is most essential to the tale.

Those in our party who had seen the miniseries felt that the film might actually appeal more to viewers already familiar with the story, who would appreciate the foreshadowings and nuances, but of course it’s impossible for us to see it through virgin eyes. And, aside from the inevitable compression, it was interesting to see the choices they made, with this version depicting or even creating some things the original did not; I only noticed two notable instances of stuff that I don’t remember from either the book or the miniseries, but won’t reveal them here. As with the show, there were many unfamiliar names and/or faces in the cast, though I recognized Jones as the guy who played Arnim Zola in Captain America, mostly because he looks like a Jack Kirby creation!

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The Hole Truth

I don’t mean to turn this blog into a full-fledged promo for The Pete and John Show (although a worthier subject would be hard to find), but if you’re remotely interested in The Night Stalker or Marvel Comics, you should be reading It Couldn’t Happen Here… or Marvel University. And I say that not merely because of my own contributions to those two worthy sites, which will in fact be assuming inversely proportional trajectories from now on. Now that I have weighed in on the specifically Mathesonian aspects of Carl Kolchak’s career, I shall merely be chiming in with my little bon mots in the comments section, which always has quite a lively discussion, and whether you’re pro- or anti- a particular episode, you’re sure to find someone there who agrees with you.

Over at M.U., due to the holes in my collection, the number of issues/stories I can comment on varies from post to post; for example, yesterday and in the next two posts (which will be running on 1/18 and 1/25), I’m commenting on eight individual issues/stories apiece. But in the posts for 2/1 (for which I’ve already written my contribution) and 2/8 (which I’m working on now), I will actually be up to ten, so if you want maximum Bradley for your buck, you may look to those. As we progress, my collection will become more complete, and the number of titles that Marvel puts out will generally increase (except for their periodic contractions and cancellations), and so—for whatever it’s worth, if anything—the Bradley-percentage trend will continue broadly increasing.

A tantalizing tidbit: in November 1965 (to be covered on 2/15), after a frustratingly variable mix of Vince Colletta and Chic Stone, a seismic shift occurs in the pages of Fantastic Four when one of comicdom’s true legends, Joltin’ Joe Sinnott, takes over as inker. His tenure will last a decade and encompass the pencils of Jack “King” Kirby, “Jazzy Johnny” Romita (briefly, I presume, as his apotheosis over on Amazing Spider-Man was imminent), “Big John” Buscema, Rich “Swash” Buckler, and “Gorgeous George” Perez. A more welcome development cannot be imagined, and while it can be argued (say, by some at Bronze Age Babies) that his inks sometimes obscured the pencils, Sinnott provided continuity that gave the FF a uniform—and uniformly excellent—look.

There’s been a passel of discussions at M.U. over the fact that Fantastic Four, Marvel’s longtime flagship title (which they once immodestly billed, and perhaps still do, as “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”), didn’t actually live up to its hype initially, and of course everyone has his or her own theory about when the period of its true greatness began. In advance of re-reading those actual issues, I’m gonna nominate the advent of The Sinnott Era. Meanwhile, and I hope I’m not giving away any confidences, Peter tells me that, although the announced cutoff date of M.U. is still December 1969, he’s personally determined to take it right through the 1970s, which is my own favorite comics decade, so you know I’ll still be contributing, and I hope you’ll be reading.

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Allow me to offer a mix of holiday greetings and sincerest apologies for the extended silences around here, but since the other blogs that are kind enough to post my musings have far greater readerships than this one, it seems logical to reach as many readers as possible, and then direct you there; more on that in a moment. We have been de-emphasizing gifts lately in the extended BOF clan, so I don’t have a big haul to report, but my darling daughter and her boyfriend did get me two singularly suitable DVDs: an Eddie Izzard documentary and the Criterion edition of one of the great films, Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear. We had a crowd of 15 chez nous on Christmas, and between that and socializing with visiting family members since then, it’s been pretty hectic.

Madame BOF and I are not sorry to see the back end of 2011, with all of its natural disasters, but the changing calendar also highlights the transitions in our lives. Among the most conspicuous, in my case, is the shift in my area of current concentration from the James Bond books and films (themselves a welcome change of pace after 13 years devoted to Richard Matheson on Screen) to Silver and Bronze Age Marvel Comics, actually the resurgence of a lifelong love affair. Yes, my obsessions with Matheson, 007, and the nexus of film and literature continue dominating my life, yet maintaining a day job to support us in the humble style to which we are accustomed severely limits my writing time, so for now, you will likely find me more often over at Marvel University.

As mentioned, because I will be contributing to their regular Wednesday posts on a weekly basis, I won’t bother alerting you to those, but today they are featuring a solo piece (the first written for M.U. specifically), the latest in my series of Snapshots. I fear even these may be an endangered species, not only because of the considerable time involved, but also because as I look over what Marvel published while the ’70s drew to a close, I see less and less that excites me, so if I’m not feelin’ it, there’s no point in forcing it, especially for free. Luckily, I actually took the time over the past couple of weeks to excavate my comic-book collection, which I conservatively estimate at around 3,000 issues, thus giving me plenty on which to weigh in with those Wednesday posts.

Today also marks the long-awaited debut of It Couldn’t Happen Here…, the blog in which M.U.-meisters Peter Enfantino and John Scoleri will analyze an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker a day, just as they have previously done with Thriller, Outer Limits, and Batman. As if their own erudition and witticisms weren’t enough, they have solicited the daily contributions of Kolchak’s greatest chronicler, Mark Dawidizak, who is also a hell of a guy and was extremely helpful to me in the research and writing of RMOS. And, since I am not entirely unacquainted with the pair of Matheson TV-movies that spawned the series, they have kindly invited me to provide a spotlight article on each of those, which you’ll be able to read starting Tuesday…and yes, I’ll remind you.

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If They Ain’t Broke…

Madame BOF sometimes fulminates about the Internet being the spawn of Satan, but my own position is a little more, shall we say, nuanced, and I regard it as being, like most technology, a double-edged sword at worst. Case in point: the “October Surprise” made me miss this week’s episode of 2 Broke Girls, but as with the pilot, I was able to watch the entire episode on CBS’s official site, something I never would have dreamed of being able to do pre-Net. As stated, I’ve embarked upon two new sitcoms this season (rare for me), and it’s no surprise that both spring, at least in part, from a single mind, that of Whitney Cummings, the other being NBC’s Whitney.

On a side note, since I see so few sitcoms, I wondered whether these were typical of what’s on offer nowadays, although I did sample and immediately reject another new NBC entry, Up All Night. Further negative evidence was supplied when I recently chanced to see a single episode of How I Met Your Mother, the lead-in to 2BG, and just hated the whole thing, even though it’s now in its seventh season, and therefore must be considered a success. So I guess there really is something about Whitney’s sensibility that clicks with me, despite the fact that I sometimes take issue with the dynamic between Whitney’s characters, which brings me back to The Odd Couple.

On that show, which I consider the Holy Grail of sitcoms, the characters were polar opposites, so they often clashed, sometimes to hilarious effect, yet focusing too much on that aspect of the set-up can make one forget that they were also best friends. Jack Klugman always said that for him, the heart of any episode was the “love scene” in which Felix and Oscar are reminded of that fact, and over the years I’ve noticed that I consistently prefer those in which they are united against a common foe, rather than pitted against each other. Significantly, both the female antipodes of 2 Broke Girls and Whitney’s cohabiting couple are to some degree variations on this same pattern.

The frequent tension between the girls is more natural, because they only meet in the pilot, and are thrown together by circumstances, whereas Whitney and Alex (Chris D’Elia) have been in a relationship for years and, although disinclined to get married, they’re clearly committed. So to me it’s a bit vexing that seemingly every other episode shows them feuding instead of presenting a united front, as they did in this week’s ironically titled “Two Broke-Up Guys,” where Alex has a falling-out with best friend Mark (Dan O’Brien). But the personae of Whitney and her 2BG counterpart, Kat Dennings, keep me coming back for more, and we’ll see how things develop.

Addendum: I continue to be amazed at how sexually frank the dialogue in 2BG is; if you’d told me I’d hear the word “vagina” that many times in a half-hour sitcom, I’d never have believed it.

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