Tolstoy in the Movies

And by that I mean the actual flesh-and-blood Russian novelist, not his work.

Like to hear his voice? You won’t even have to open a Russian-English dictionary.



Posted in Acting!, I Have No Idea What You Just Said

I’d Avoid This Club if I Were You

Only thing missing is Bogie or Coop walking in, guns drawn.

H/T: my wife

Posted in "Entertainment", I Am Not Cleaning That Up, I Scream You Scream We Al Scream Because We're in Unspeakable Pain, I Think I Know That Guy

A Strange Review: “W1A”

Programme Name: W1A 2 - TX: n/a - Episode: Generic (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Jack Patterson (JONATHAN BAILEY), Will Humphries (HUGH SKINNER), Izzy Gould (OPHELIA LOVIBOND), Lucy Freeman (NINA SOSANYA), Ian Fletcher (HUGH BONNEVILLE), Siobhan Sharpe (JESSICA HYNES), Neil Reid (DAVID WESTHEAD), David Wilkes (RUFUS JONES), Anna Rampton (SARAH PARISH), Simon Harwood (JASON WATKINS), Tracey Pritchard (MONICA DOLAN) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Jack Barnes

Picture Shows: Jack Patterson (JONATHAN BAILEY), Will Humphries (HUGH SKINNER), Izzy Gould (OPHELIA LOVIBOND), Lucy Freeman (NINA SOSANYA), Ian Fletcher (HUGH BONNEVILLE), Siobhan Sharpe (JESSICA HYNES), Neil Reid (DAVID WESTHEAD), David Wilkes (RUFUS JONES), Anna Rampton (SARAH PARISH), Simon Harwood (JASON WATKINS), Tracey Pritchard (MONICA DOLAN) – (C) BBC – Photographer: Jack Barnes

“Hah?” is what you’re saying to yourself right about now, or “Huh?” or “Heh?” or “Where’s my avocado?”

So I was rummaging through what’s new on Netflix and came across this gem of a Britcom I had never heard of before, and if you know me, you know that’s strange, because I love and adore Britcoms and pride myself on keeping abreast of all the great stuff I haven’t seen yet.

W1A stars Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame, as the new “Head of Values” at the BBC. It seems that the Royal Charter is set to be renewed for the Beeb in 2016, but before that can happen the venerable institution has to figure out what it’s real purpose is in a digital age.

The dialogue is composed mostly of truncated vocables, half-sentences, unfinished thoughts, questions without answers, “Right,” “Brilliant,” all spoken, or spit out, by a lot of stressed-out producers and directors and interns who don’t know whether they’re coming or going if for no other reason than they’re constantly being interrupted by their cell phones, new reports they were supposed to have read via a new tablet-based super-app called Syncopatico, 11 years in the making, which, frankly, never works, and strategies no one can figure out because they are never fully thought through but nevertheless must be acted upon.

All the while there is a narrator setting the stage for that day’s source of conflicts, the who’s who among the nameless, and otherwise giving us backstory that, if you listen very carefully, amounts to nonsense like “This person’s still here.”

The Beeb headquarters is a U-shaped glass palace where small conference rooms are dominated by grotesque B&W images of former BBC stars like Morecambe and Wise, the two Ronnies, and don’t be surprised if you walk in on Salman Rushdie and Alan Yentob arm-wrestling.

And that was just the first 20 minutes of the pilot, a substory of which focuses on the network’s bad press regarding rank discrimination within its ranks, which is very bad. The people demanding justice and redress of grievances, of course, are the Cornish, only four of whom were represented in the 2012 London Olympics—and they all lost. (One of the spokespersons for the Cornish cause is a BBC news reader who believes she has been discriminated against because of her “West Country” accent, which she doesn’t have, because she’s not Cornish.)

The tone of W1A is sort of anti-Armando Ianucci (The Thick of It, Veep), which is to say, it’s not about a bunch of vicious, self-seeking, foul-mouthed cartoons making each other’s lives miserable as they claw their way to the nearest john to throw up their anti-depressants. The W1A troupe don’t seem to know what it is they are seeking and are trying very hard to work with each other to find out before they all lose their jobs.

Their number one obstacle to achieving this goal, of course, is a common language, which no one seems to understand.

I know what I’ll be binge-watching over the Labor Day weekend, and it will probably be Twenty-Twelve.

Posted in A Strange Review, And Then Everyone Died There | 3 Comments

Idris Elba and the James Bond Kerfuffle

291719_Idris_Elba_01_591wSo Roger Moore thought the erstwhile star of The Wire and Luther couldn’t play James Bond because Bond should be “English-English,” which is to say white. And the author of the latest James Bond novel who is not Ian Fleming thinks Elba can’t play James Bond because Elba’s too “street,” which I think is code for “too black.”

You know who first pitched the idea of Idris Elba as James Bond?

I did.

Behold: a screen shot from Mollie’s Twizzler feed, when she retwitted a twit from my now defunct Twizzler account, dated September 28, 2011.

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 10.30.33 PMBut do I get any credit? No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o. Now if Elba goes on to play the role, as he should, because the franchise is going to need to be shaken and perhaps even stirred once Daniel Craig goes the way of all Bonds, will I at least get an invite to opening night? How about a pass to a local showing? A coupon for when it comes out on Blu-Ray?


I would never say that anyone who disagreed about such casting was just racist. I don’t play those games. I would say, however, that anyone who disagreed was definitely lacking in imagination. Elba would be one of the coolest double-ohs yet.

Posted in Cinecitta | 8 Comments

A Very Strange Preview: Sergio Leone’s “The Siege of Leningrad”

Sergio_LeoneThe only stories I love to read more than “The Making of …” this or that film are stories about films that almost got made, kinda got made, never got made.

I recently treated myself to a popcorn book, The Greatest Movies You’ll Never See, and although I knew broadly about several of these would-be almost sorta films: Kubrick’s Napoleon, Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind (which actually was shot, just never completed), Jerry Lewis’s The Day the Clown Cried (which was not only shot but finished, but is so bad, Lewis has forbidden its release for another 10 years).

But Sergio Leone’s The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad was a new one to me.

Leone first travelled to the USSR in 1971 to gain their trust and cooperation, feeling he could not film anywhere other than Leningrad itself. However, it took the ascendance of Gorbachev in 1984, and the relaxing of restrictions, or Glasnost, to change Soviet inflexibility; Once Upon A Time In America was the first of Leone’s films to be allowed a release in the Soviet Union. Leone suggested a Russian writer, familiar with the conditions of the siege, work with him on the script, to which the authorities agreed. Leone envisioned the film beginning thus:

“I start with a close-up of the hands of Shostakovich. They are on the keys of his piano … The camera will be on a helicopter out of the house and close up will be taken through the open window. We see the hands seeking the notes of the “Leningrad Symphony”. And the composer begins. The music is repetitive. It begins with three instruments, then five, then ten, then twenty, then one hundred. … And my opening will be made ​​on this music. In one clip. A clip as it has never been done: the camera leaves the close up of the hands of the composer. It goes back. We discover his room. It comes out through the window. It is the street. Dawn. Two civilians out into the street. Everyone carries a gun. And they ride on a tram. The camera follows the tram. The music continues. The tram stops several times. Civilians take it. They are all carrying weapons. Finally, the tram arrives in a suburb. It stops in a small square where there are already several other trams. And beside them, there are waiting trucks. Trams empty. All the passengers were armed men … no women. Men climb into the trucks. The camera follows the truck. Always the music. Always the same plane. No cuts. No inserts. And we arrive at the front trenches to protect the city. Music is increasingly strong. There are trenches. And suddenly, the camera goes to the steppe. Huge. Empty. The music rises more. Until the camera has crossed the steppe to take in a row, thousands of  German tanks ready to fire. And from the first shots, mixed with music, I cut! Following plan: a curtain opens. This is the concert of Shostakovich. Five thousand people in the room. Hundred eighty musicians play. And then: CREDITS!”

Would it have been more Inchon than Apocalypse Now? We’ll never know.

Also on my shelves is The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made. Written in 2001, a lot of these films have now actually been made—Fantastic Four, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I Am Legend—but by different filmmakers, and with dubious results.

Oh, and while I’ve got your attention: director Ridley Scott originally wanted Dustin Hoffman to play Deckard in Blade Runner. (Don’t laugh—Hoffman’s so good an actor, I bet he could have pulled it off. Imagine a futuristic Lenny Bruce. Now imagine that he may or may not be a vice cop who arrests guys like Lenny Bruce.) And there’s a product-placement curse attached to the flick. What do Atari, Pan Am, RCA, Cuisinart, and Bell Phones all have in common, other than that their logos appeared in the film? That’s right. They dead.

Posted in A Strange Preview, Cinecitta | 1 Comment

Strange Quote of the Day: Ronda Rousey

“Honesty pays, but it pays very slowly, and doesn’t pay consistently.”

If you have a low tolerance level for locker-room language, I advise against clicking the play button.

Or, you may want to cut to the second half of the discussion, about the science of making weight, steroids in the sport, training routines, reading opponents, improvising in the ring. It’s less rowdy and a lot of fun if you’re into MMA, judo, boxing, or just kicking people in the face.

Rousey vs. Gina Carano can still happen: onscreen.

Posted in Strange Quote of the Day

A Strange Preview: “Concussion”

So Will Smith’s in the Oscar race, I’m thinkin’.

Based on the true story of a Nigerian-born neuropathologist who, after studying head trauma in NFL players, made the all-important link between repeated concussions and early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Needless to say, the NFL, like Big Tobacco, was in no rush to accept these findings that could conflict with the bottom line.

Great line: “You’re going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week!”

UPDATE: Seems concerns about blowback from the NFL may have resulted in Sony Pictures tweaking aspects of the story.

In the end even Sony, which unlike most other major studios in Hollywood has no significant business ties to the N.F.L., found itself softening some points it might have made against the multibillion-dollar sports enterprise that controls the nation’s most-watched game.

In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.

Posted in A Strange Preview