Vicarious quiz night

Cathy and her friends have gone to their school’s quiz night, for a laugh. The phone has rung several times this evening concerning a "famous movies" question – a set of pictures, with the task "name the film".

Q Mum, what’s Robert Redford’s most famous film?

A The Great Gatsby?

Q No, don’t think it’s that. Any others?

A Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

Q No, it is after they invented phones….he’s got a phone in his hand and a suit.

A [Thinks, obvious, why didn't she say?] The Sting.

We have also been questioned on: "number 13 and 14 winning a race" [Chariots of Fire]; Clint Eastwood looking young in army uniform [Where Eagles Dare]; "man in moustache with a plastic arm" [Dr Strangelove]; some famous old actor next to a car……very famous…..think his name is James someone [Rebel Without a Cause]; and Tom Cruise with long hair and a moustache [Born on the 4th of July - which I haven't seen, but have seen the publicity shots].

There were quite a few more in this ilk but these are the highlights. I don’t know yet how I did but having "old" (my era) movies described by a gaggle of uncomprehending sixteen year olds was probably better than actually being there.

Daniel Craig on a tea towel

Go here if you want a Daniel Craig tea towel: Alpha Mummy – Times Online – WBLG.

Well, actually, don’t. Although you can have a look at said tea towel by going to Caitlin Moran’s Times blog entry above, her link to the place for ordering it doesn’t work. Probably, by now, someone has provided the correct link in the comments. But before you get too excited at the prospect of Daniel on a tea towel, it is just words, no images — although I am a words rather than an images person, I would make an exception for DC on a tea towel — to me these particular ones lack the charm of the personification.

Caitlin Moran’s blog post is mildly amusing in another way — yet another one of those posts in which the blogger mentions someone’s inability to spell while themselves not spelling correctly.

To return to Daniel, I am sure he will make a good Lord Asriel, but honestly, it is a part made for Viggo. Definitely a missed opportunity there. I’ll forgive whoever made that decision, though, as Nicole Kidman is inspired casting for Mrs Coulter. (Viggo M and Nicole K have appeared together, in the film of a Henry James novel, Portrait of a Lady. Bit different from Northern Lights or, as we must learn to call it, The Golden Compass.)

Reviews of Beowulf

I have read several positive reviews of the new Gollum-style (motion-capture) film of Beowulf, and Crime Scraps liked the movie if not the cinema. Although I enjoyed the TLS review, by Carolyne Larrington, who writes that "Zemeckis’s Beowulf is in touch with critical debate about the poem" and also reviews a new translation, by Dick Ringer, in my opinion Henry Gee’s review of the film (on a "mere blog") is transcendental. Please do read it.

Herny re-read the poem before he saw the film (he makes that account a story in itself), then he summarises the story in his inimitable style, and continues:

"What the film does is very clever: it assumes that the poem that has come down to us is a bowdlerized propaganda version (which it assuredly is, having been through several scribal hands since its original composition) – and proceeds to tell us what really happened. In so doing the script exploits all sorts of odd foibles in the text, showing that Gaiman and Avary well those passions read, stamped on those lifeless things."

And there is lots more, Angelina, Keats, Tolkien (coming to a different view than the TLS on that last gentleman): just read it. Lovely.

All I have to do now is to decide whether I can face the hideous Odeon multiplex fleecing operation so soon after last week’s disappointing Elizabeth (only half the required number of beards), or if I can wait until the DVD.

Francis Drake was robbed

Elizabeth: the Golden Age was presumably better than Children in Need, but nonetheless disappointing. The acting was superb, particularly Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth) and Samantha Morton (Mary Queen of Scots). The first half was atmospheric, beautiful and involving, as Elizabeth fends off various suitors and Philip of Spain and Mary Q of S plot to remove her. But the second half is, well, weedy. The plot disintegrates into Elizabeth’s mooning over Clive Owen’s Walter Raleigh — a handsome rake indeed, but it doesn’t work to try to turn him into Johnny Depp/Captain Jack Sparrow and at the same time have him impregnate and feel obliged to marry a lady in waiting — a predictable event but not carried out with much enthusiasm on Clive’s part — he is much more convincing when he talks about the joys of sailing off to America. I don’t understand why the director and writer decided to focus on the love triangle aspects (boring and hackneyed) and skip over the aftermath of the failed conspiracy and barely feature the dramatic story of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Francis Drake hardly figures at all: he has a couple of late scenes in a ship’s cabin with map on table, saying "what shall we do, Walter?", while Clive Owen’s Raleigh is the hero of the hour, single-handedly directing a fireship into the advancing CG Spanish fleet (special effects worse than an episode of Dr Who) and hence repelling the invaders. Meanwhile, on shore, Elizabeth gets on a white horse and does an Aragorn-imitation speech instead of the (excellent) real thing.

Far from being a pale adjunct to Raleigh, Francis Drake was another bearded pirate much favoured by Elizabeth, who was only too pleased when these two gentlemen (and others) plundered Spanish trading ships or colonies and bought her the spoils. After the events shown in the film, Drake was the first Englishman to sail round the world; on his return the queen knighted him on his ship The Golden Hind. He was in charge of the navy at the time of the Spanish threat (Raleigh was, as the film shows, imprisoned in the Tower at the time, and it is possible that, as the film portrays, the reason was because Elizabeth was annoyed that he had married). Drake famously refused to do anything about the Armada until he had finished his game of bowls in Plymouth. When he was ready, he sent eight fireboats into the Spanish fleet which was anchored off Calais. This caused them to scatter and, aided by a convenient storm, they were easily attacked by the much smaller English ships. Spain lost seventy ships and England none: Elizabeth became a legend in her own time in this amazing triumph over the odds.

So why the film couldn’t have featured some of this instead of shots of Clive Owen and a white horse swimming in a tank, I don’t know. Yes, Clive is suitably bearded — though not quite as luxuriously as Sir Walter’s portraits — but just think, we could have had two pirates instead of one, two beards (in the movie, Francis is clean shaven! The horror!), lots more action — including the game of bowls, I was looking forward to that — and far fewer shots of rustling petticoats and yearning looks across the throne room.

(I wrote about Francis Drake off the top of my head, but here is one place where you can read more, and see the beard.)

The Painted Veil

Having recently bought you news of a film not to see (Amazing Grace, scroll down a bit), I can now counter myself by a positive recommendation: The Painted Veil (2006; out on DVD), based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Forget all the pyrotechnics and special effects, there is nothing like a movie based on a good book. (Atonement being a recent case in point.) The Painted Veil is produced by the two main actors, Naomi Watts and Edward Norton.

The title of the book is taken from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet "Lift Not The Painted Veil Which Those Who Live." Here’s a brief plot summary from Wikipedia: Shallow and lost Kitty marries the intellectual and passionate Walter Fane, bacteriologist, who is madly in love with her. Kitty has an affair with the "perfect" Charles Townsend, assistant colonial secretary of Hong Kong. When Walter finds out of their affair, he leaves Kitty with an ultimatum. Heartbroken, Kitty decides to accompany Walter to the cholera-infested mainland of China.

Viggo Mortensen’s promises

Link: Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg Team Up for ‘Eastern Promises’ – Fall Preview 2007 — New York Magazine.

As my kind friend Jenny Davidson points out, there is no beard (see link, which she thoughtfully sent me). But there is Viggo. I will watch Viggo in anything, and I’m fond of Cronenberg – earlyish Cronenberg, anyway. So I’m looking forward to their latest collaboration:

"Describing Eastern Promises, Mortensen also quotes Montgomery Clift, who said, “The only line that’s wrong in Shakespeare is that art is holding a mirror up to nature. You hold up a magnifying glass.” And sure enough, if the violence in A History of Violence was shockingly rough, here it’s absolutely hard-core, intensely magnified. A fight in a bathhouse will be one of the most talked-about scenes this year. “It all has such a strong impact because it’s done in real time, not in a fancy way,” says Mortensen. “It’s the forces of nature at work, like watching a snake swallow a frog.”  "

I think the review oversells "A History of Violence". It was a good movie, and extremely well acted by Viggo (not that I’m biased), but I wouldn’t agree that it was a shoe-in for the Oscars or the Cannes awards (which it also just missed out on). Certainly worth watching on DVD while waiting for "Eastern Promises". Or you could just be normal and have a life, without bothering much with either.

Julie Christie is blogging

If you are "of a certain age", as I am, and are English (or British), the chances are that Julie Christie is your favourite actress. As a young person (too young, but I was good at sneaking) , I watched her uncomprehendingly in movies such as Darling and Farenheit 451. I didn’t understand them, but knew I wanted to be there. Later, I adored her in The Go-Between, Dr Zhivago and Far from the Madding Crowd. Then there was Don’t Look Now, and "that" scene in addition to her usual brilliant, empathetic performance. In her Warren Beatty phase I saw awful movies like Shampoo, or "flawed masterpieces" like McCabe and Mrs Miller, just for her. And in later years, it was great to catch a glimpse of her in gems like The Railway Station Man (BBC Screen 2), as she came out of "retirement" the odd time to make the occasional film that appealed to her. Wonderfully, she revealed herself recently as a Harry Potter person, even though the role she took was the relatively uninspiring one of Madame Rosmerta in "Goblet of Fire". (Wonder if she will reprise the role for "Half Blood Prince"?) But even more wonderfully, she’s a blogger! See Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog – theatre: Cries from the heart: the role I just couldn’t refuse.

Marvellous. There are many film actresses I’ve admired since: Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Pfeiffer, Francesca Annis, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Keira Knightley and more, but who can hold a candle to the peerless Julie Christie? Nobody.

The fourteen million dollar movie

Link: DVD Dossier Blog: Amazon Glitch Prices DVD For The Rich.

Amazon.com is charging $14,049,429 for "The Gunrunner," a 1984 crime drama starring Kevin Costner. The website says that the suggested retail price for the film is $20,070,612. But if you pre-order you can cleverly save more than six million dollars ($6,021,183 to be exact), and also qualify for free shipping.

If you don’t believe me, there is a screenshot at the link above.

Print is dead!

"Print is dead!". How often have I heard this assertion? I’ve just heard it again, confidently emerging from the mouth of Howard Ramis, on being asked if he likes reading books. I am sitting at my computer while the girls are watching a DVD: Ghostbusters. Date of release? 1984.

Well, print has staggered on quite happily in the intervening 23 years. I trust it will continue to do so.