April 2006 Archives
HBO has just announced that production has begun on the second 10-episode season of its magnificent series, Rome. I am delighted, although it will be a challenge to proceed without Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar, who (in case you missed ancient history) got stabbed in the Senate. If you want to read my full-fledged review of the first season, buy the current Claremont Review of Books. Or see ...
Not too long ago, I was addicted to 24, the suspense-on-steroids series about counter-terrorism now finishing its fifth season on Fox. Everything about 24 is over the top, including the futuristic surveillance technology and the Odyssean resourcefulness of the hero, Jack Bauer (played with frightening dedication by Kiefer Sutherland).
But while recovering from this addiction, I did occasionally wonder what counter-terrorism operations are really like -- when the threat is small to medium-sized, and the technology (and derring-do) is of human proportions. Perhaps that's why I tried MI-5, the British series known as Spooks in the UK, where it has run on BBC Channel One for three seasons starting in 2002. This one took longer to get its clutches into me, but when it did, the grip was tighter.
It's not a cartoon, for one thing. Unlike Fox's fictional Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), MI-5 is a real agency with a tangible connection to the society it aims to protect. And the plots (in both senses of the word) do not spiral upward in ever more stratospheric loops of improbable conspiracy. They seem concocted by terrorists not scriptwriters.
Or maybe I just admire British actors, especially when they are pretending to be spies pretending to be people other than themselves. This does not work well during the first season, when Tom (Matthew Mcfadyen) moons unconvincingly over his inability to live a normal life with a whiney non-spy girlfriend. But then it takes off, thanks to the brilliant acting of Keeley Hawes as Zoe, Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam, and (my three favorites) David Oleyowo as Danny, Nicola Walker as Ruth, and the one and only Peter Firth as the agency director, Harry.
Hoping that you will follow the full course of treatment prescribed here, I will not give away what happens at the end of the third season, except to say that it shocked me more than almost anything I have ever seen in a film or TV show. And it did so without whiz-bang special effects. All that happened was an unexpected, deliberate violation of my rights as a viewer -- in particular, my right to see my favorite characters prevail.
OK, this is a book review. But it contains a reference to the French director Eric Rohmer! I cannot resist sharing my review of American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, by Bernard-Henri Lévy, owner of the small feet. The big shoes belong to Tocqueville.
ONE THING TO AVOID, if you are not Sharon Stone, Charlie Rose, or Norman Mailer, is having lunch with Bernard-Henri Lévy. By all accounts he merely picks at American vittles: The Wall Street Journal reports him ordering nine raw clams and leaving them on the plate, which would be more impressive if they were oysters--or perhaps not, since this is a man accustomed to living, and lunching, in Paris. What he does devour, though, is American conversation. He gulps it down, can't seem to get enough of it--a consequence also of living in Paris? The trouble is, he sometimes takes home a doggie bag without paying for it ...
First, a gripe. The Motion Picture Academy should have given the 2003 Oscar for Best Foreign Film to Zelary, a marvelous Czech film that I recently discovered on DVD. The film is about Eliska (Anna Geislerová), a nurse in Nazi-occupied Prague who, when her Resistance activities are discovered, flees to a remote mountain village, where to survive she must marry a taciturn woodcutter named Joza (György Cserhalmi).
Filmed in the mountains of Slovakia, Zelary is stunning to look at, and the story of how this stylish city dweller grows to love her rough-hewn peasant hosts, is more emotionally powerful than a dozen Hollywood melodramas like Cold Mountain (which I mention because it came out around the same time and, despite being about the American Civil War, was filmed in Rumania).
To the American reviewers at the time, the setting and theme of Zelary were "overly familiar," even "cliched." What on earth did they mean? Has the U.S. market been glutted with Eastern European films dramatizing the social and cultural gap between urban and rural ways of life in the 1940s? Are we jaded about post-Cold War Czech films showing the rape and murder committed by the first wave of Soviet "liberators"?
Directed by newcomer Ondrej Trojan and based on a novel by Kveta Legátová, Zelary also has a terrific ending. I won't be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that it involves the amazing actress Jaroslava Adamová, playing an old peasant woman named Lucka, and that it reminds us, in one blazing moment, why human beings are ultimately irrepressible.