The Return of Manic Depression, Terrorism and the American Way in Homeland

Saul and Carrie – mentor and protege – sane and insane?

In the middle of its first season, I successfully turned key players in my family and several coworkers. Homeland was not a show to watch half-heartedly – you had to commit to the cause. I extolled the series’ virtues in the midst of season one when I presented Five Reasons Why You Should Be Watching Homeland. And people, once introduced to its brilliance, were willing to take up the banners in support. The show recently moved from cult status to mainstream success with its bevy of Emmy wins.

And as spectacular as that first season was, I had this feeling in my gut that this could become another Dexter. Like Homeland, Dexter was near genius in its inaugural season, wholly unlike anything else on television at the time, and shockingly entertaining. Yet I knew then eventually someone would catch Dexter Morgan, the serial killer who killed serial killers while working for the Miami PD as a blood-spatter expert. I mean how many serial killers could there be in one city and how dumb could the Miami PD be, right? And now that show is a parody of itself, ridiculous beyond belief, and limping through another ill-advised season far past its prime. Homeland, too, faces a similar conundrum. How long can Brody (Damian Lewis) keep this up? Won’t he eventually get caught? Won’t Carrie eventually remember “Isa!” or won’t someone in the government or someone in his family catch on that he’s working for terrorist mastermind numero uno, Abu Nazir?

But I forgot a key difference between these two shows. Homeland has balls. Continue reading

Elizabeth R You Free for Dinner?

Okay, Caveman, what will it be tonight? Bison steaks?

 

Would her Majesty care for a spot of tea after whuppin' Spain's Armada-Ass?

 

Go ahead and smile, Mr. Greene, I'll pour the scotch.

 
The concept is simple: You can go back in time and meet ten people (either in their prime or near their deathbed) and share one meal with them where you can ask them anything, and they have to give you honest answers. Who would it be? Who would you want to separate the myth from the fact and finally set the record straight? Whose head would you want to crawl inside and find what made them tick? Who do you admire and just want to spend some time with shooting the breeze?

The idea for this sprang from an unlikely place. To make a short story long….it all started with that damnable Netflix!

With a dearth of interesting new titles to fill my Netflix queue, I’ve relied on their recommendation algorithm to unearth previous works unbeknownst to me. Thus into my instant queue popped Elizabeth R – a 6-part BBC/Masterpiece Theater miniseries from 1971 starring Glenda Jackson in the title role. Continue reading

The Two Faces of Helen Mirren

Oscar-winner Helen Mirren is at the point in her career where she is an institution in the world of acting.  Actresses occupying this rarefied air (like Streep) generally will pick roles either for fun or to win awards (though they would never admit to that).  Whether doing it for fun or for serious posturing, Mirren’s name instantly adds a sense of class and gravitas to any film she stars in.  This past Labor Day weekend, movie-goers could see The Helen Mirren in two puzzling films, Brighton Rock and The Debt

Helen Mirren in BRIGHTON ROCK

 

Helen Mirren in THE DEBT

 

***POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD – Read With Caution***

First up is Brighton Rock.  Whether you view it as a remake of the 1947 quasi-classic (of which I wasn’t a big fan) or as a different adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic 1937 novel (which I loved and count among his best)…the film has no reason to exist, which isn’t to say it’s all that bad.  Director Rowan Joffe lays on the atmosphere thickly, and for the most part the film is engaging enough.  The seedy underbelly of England’s seaside resort town of Brighton is brought to life in grand fashion with nice production values, moody lighting and ominous waves crashing underneath the pier, though there is a rather oppressive music score to accompany it.  Continue reading

Revisiting the The Third Man – The Best Film of the 1940’s

“In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. “

More so than any other decade in the brief history of film, the 1940’s showed that with great tribulation came great inspiration.

Behold the following cinematic masterpieces created amidst a world at war:  Casablanca, Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath, Bicycle Thieves, Double Indemnity, Shadow of a Doubt.

In any given year in any given decade any one of these films could easily top anyone’s list.  Some of them are routinely bantered about as the greatest film of all time.

And then there is…THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME.

THE THIRD MAN.

If the 2000’s were emblematic of my generation, and the 1970’s belonged to the generation of my parents…then the 1940’s were where my grandparents’ generation left their indelible mark:  the decade of the Greatest Generation that clawed their way out of the Great Depression to rise triumphant out of the calamity of World War II.  Film mirrored this struggle with tales that showed the human condition is made up of trouble every day.  We saw some of the greatest book to film adaptations ever with David Lean’s Oliver Twist and John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath.  Speaking of wrath, Carl Theodor Dreyer delivered his bewitching Day of Wrath, while Hitchcock produced the film closest to his heart and mine, Shadow of a Doubt.  Clouzot was going tete-a-tete with Hitch across the pond in his native France with the allegorical Le Corbeau and the wildly entertaining police procedural Quai des Orfevres while the Italians were rising from the ashes with their neo-realism movement marked by De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Rossellini’s Rome Open City.

And beyond briefly mentioning, I haven’t even touched on Casablanca and Citizen Kane, two films deserving of their own full write-ups and tributes.   Yet even those films don’t hold a candle to Carol Reed’s descent into GreeneLand and ascent into film history. Continue reading

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Why, yes, Mr. Hitler, I do object.

Character driven historical dramas used as vehicles for acting showcases have long been the bread and butter of many an Oscar campaign.  The King’s Speech is one such throw-back picture, harkening to a simpler time when entertainment was good and pure.  It’s 100% by-the-numbers bread and butter…but it’s that really good bread, you know the kind that is crusty on the outside and warm and tender inside, and the butter, it’s like that really fancy kind infused with garlic and stuff. 

It’s the dawn of WWII in England, and the royals are still reeling from the Wallis Simpson scandal.  After his brother abdicates the throne, King George VI (Colin Firth – not looking, but certainly acting the hell out of the part) reluctantly takes charge while cowering in fear of a life-long stutter.  With the help of his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, still damn good when not stuck in Tim Burton films) he finds an unlikely speech therapist in the Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush in his wheelhouse) to help him overcome his stammering.  Continue reading

Of Canals, Lambertville and Nomad Pizza

There’s really no better way to spend a day off from work midweek than taking a long drive.  It’s especially nice on a beautiful pre-Fall day, and if it’s the first day your car has been out of the shop after an overnight stay for repairs, it’s even better.  I’ve long extolled the wonders of Bucks County, Pennsylvania with all of its wineries and covered bridges, but the towns running parallel to Bucks along the Delaware River on the New Jersey side offer their own rustic charms and often get overlooked.  Quaint historic towns running along the Delaware Raritan Canal in Hunterdon County and stretching across gorgeous wooded back roads into Mercer County (home of Princeton University) are more an extension of the small-town meets gentrified rural setting of Bucks County than they are a connecting strip to the New York-influenced North Jersey and Philly-influenced South Jersey megalopilises.

Last week I ventured up that way, stopping off at Washington’s Crossing State Park on the Jersey side before spending a few hours strolling through Lambertville. Continue reading

The Hook Brings Them Back

The calm between the storms: And just where do they plan on fitting another foot of snow?

They sure do like to rush the sequels these days.  Just barely 72 hours after Snowmageddon dumped 20 inches or more over most of the Mid Atlantic, the sequel was rushed into production and now we have Snowmageddon 2:  The Sleetpocalypse, arriving mid-week no less and snowing-in the same area (and then some) once again.   As Dickens would say…it was the best of times, it was the worst of times

But it seemed the perfect cabin-fever brew to stir up some inspired work on that novel…you know…the one I’ve been babbling about since — For the Love of Pete — April of 2008!  Though I have much of the outlining and research completed and even drafted a very rough first chapter, one thing I have been wrestling with is crafting that perfect, killer opening line.  They say you have to grab a reader’s attention instantly, and if you don’t hook them with the opening, then they are less likely to come back.   I decided to test that theory and thought what better way to procrastinate than to hit my bookshelves and crack open some of my favorite novels and current reads to see how the masters of their craft hooked readers with that opening line.  

I invite my readers and fellow bloggers to do the same and leave some of you favorite (or worst) opening lines to novels (or screenplays) in the comment form! 

Here are some of my findings: Continue reading

GreeneLand on Film

Fans of British novelist Graham Greene are said to live in GreeneLand, a place where I take up a happy residency.

While film buffs will always remember Greene for penning the screenplay to one of the greatest movies ever made, The Third Man, it becomes easy to overlook the myriad of film adaptations that sprang so effortlessly from his novels at the time of their publication and later. In fact, it was a recent mini-Greene-to-film-Renaissance that first introduced me to the man who would become my favorite writer. I would’ve never turned to his short stories and novels had it not been for the most recent film adaptations of The End of the Affair and The Quiet American. Many of the earlier film adaptations are unfairly forgotten or simply hard to find and deserve to be brought to light for classic film buffs and faithful GreeneLand residents alike.

The following is a ranking of the Graham Greene book to film adaptations I have seen. Continue reading

Summer Reading for 2009

Wondering what to read this summer?  Well here’s a motley lot of books that have found their way from the shelves to my coffee table with the potential to satisfy your desire for trashy (and gory) beach reads as well as your need for some substance and perspective.

JUST FINISHED:

Hater by David Moody28 Days Later meets Fight Club meets The Road in this bloody mess of a debut from Brit David Moody.  The novel is of special interest for self-published writers as Moody originally published the novel on the internet before selling the movie rights to horror film producer Guillermo Del Toro and subsequently landing a major publishing contract.  I have to hand it to Moody.  He’s ambitious, and his success is the type all writers dream of.  That being said, Hater isn’t terribly well written.  The first person narration is clunky and repetitive, the characters shallow and poorly drawn and even I know better than to write entire chapters in italics.  However, the premise is interesting enough and taps into some timely discussions on the culture of fear and paranoia that permeates much of our culture.  It’s easy to see why Del Toro thought this could be good fodder for a film, and with Juan Antonio Bayona (of El Orfanato fame) on board to direct, the movie actually seems promising if they take a more psychological approach to the mayhem than the book did.  We’ll have to wait and see, meanwhile, the second part of this alleged trilogy should be hitting bookshelves soon.

CURRENTLY READING:

The Best American Short Stories - 2008 edition, edited by Salman Rushdie.  If you’re like me and don’t have the time to scour through literary magazines for your short-story fix, you can sample the best of the best with this yearly compilation.  I’m maybe half a dozen stories in, and so far my favorite is Danielle Evans’ humorous and quietly heartbreaking tale of why young girls do the foolish things they do, “Virgins”, which originally appeared in The Paris Review.  Evans’ story is the type of sharply observed “slice-of-life” piece that makes fellow scribes wonder what the hell they have been wasting their time writing about for the past year.  Seriously, what the hell have I been writing?

Loser Takes All  by Graham Greene.  No list of mine can exist without an entry from Greene.  One wonders why I didn’t take to this gambling-themed novel sooner.  Just looking at the roulette wheel on the cover makes me want to hop in the car and hit the expressway to Atlantic City.  Alas, this is one of Greene’s breeziest and slightest works, but, it’s still Greene, my friends.  With him I never lose.

IN THE QUEUE:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  Yes, I know, I’m a few years behind the times on this one, and heck, I should’ve dived into this one a long time ago with my love of circuses and Depression Era stories.  Didn’t everyone read this in the summer of 2007?   Better late than never, I say.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Yes, I know, I’m waaaaaaay behind the times on this one, but no summer is complete without the tackling of at least one “big thick novel”.  I’m a huge fan of the John Ford 1940 film version, so I’m really looking forward to this Depression Era classic.

Written by David H. Schleicher

________________________________________________________________________________________

So what’s on your reading list this summer?  Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comment form! 

Happy reading!

The Best Screenplays of All Time

On Sunday February 22nd at the Oscars, Martin McDonagh will be competing for the Best Original Screenplay for In Bruges.  For me, this was one of the most brilliant scripts in years–darkly comic, heartfelt and compelling, expertly paced and chock full of quotable lines.  Sadly I don’t think it will win–oh, please prove me wrong, Academy–but it made think of all the great scripts from Hollywood’s past.   What films were memorable not just for their imagery, but for the writing as well?  What films contained amazing performances that were great because of the material the performers were given and the dialogue they spoke?

What screenplays are deserving of being considered the best of all time?

Well, here’s this writer’s list:  Continue reading