Saturday, March 14, 2015

Upcoming British Detective Shows, 2015, 2016

It's a truth universally acknowledged that if one is a British actor of mature years, it is pretty much inevitable that one will play a detective on the telly. This is the case for Martin Clunes, who is best known for playing the irascible title character in Doc Martin, and who is now, at last, taking up the magnifying glass to do a bit of investigating.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Clunes) is best-known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, but he was also quite a sleuth himself. In 1903, Anglo-Indian solicitor George Edalji was arrested and jailed for a series of brutal attacks on animals. Three years later he was released, but the taint of the crime remained. He enlisted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, after Kipling, was Britain's most famous author - to help clear his name. Along with his loyal secretary, Alfred Wood, Sir Arthur traipsed around the countryside, using his powers of deduction to track down the truth.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Music of the Spheres - Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett was a master of the art of British comedy. What's more: he was one of the great fantasy novelists and satirists of the 20th Century. In being all these things, he is - at least in America - often unfairly overshadowed by specialists in each. He created a famous black-haired, bespectacled young wizard who goes to a school in a castle, and then a young upstart came along and stole his thunder. A successor to Monty Python and P.G. Wodehouse, a contemporary of Douglas Adams, he was a bit more serious than any of them. The breadth of his invention rivaled Dickens, but then, he wasn't Dickens. And of course, Pratchett was far too funny to be taken seriously as a satirist.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities Dream Cast

A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite novel. So, even the whiff of a chance of a rumor that it may be filmed is enough to get me out dream casting. As it is, we're pretty sure that BBC4 will be adapting it soon. It's more than due, since the last TV version was in 1989, and it hasn't been on the big screen since 1958, if we don't count The Dark Knight Rises (which, given the cop-out ending, we don't). The new version is written by Alan Bleasdale, and Netflix might co-produce. There's also a feature film which has been on the shelf for ages. So who knows? Maybe we'll get two, which means there will be lots of thinkpieces from me.

To begin with some minor characters...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera - Grace and Truth

[Second of a series on female characters, feminism, and all that jazz. Previous: Agent Carter - Victimhood and Humility.]

It's very hard to take The Phantom of the Opera seriously when one was raised singing along to Riders in the Sky's Phantom of the Chuckwagon (I recognize, that by linking to that, I have probably sacrificed any credibility this post will have.) And sure enough, when I watched a performance of Phantom for the first time, it was easy to mock. Ostentatious, theatrical, melodramatic, shamelessly populist - it's a mishmash of 80s rock, Broadway musical numbers, and just a bit of real opera, all knitted together by the plot of a 1910 novel, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra. But there's something more than that - an honesty lacking from many such stories.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Agent Carter: Victimhood and Humility

[First of a series on female characters, feminism, and all that jazz. Haven't got it all worked out yet, but expect posts on The Phantom of the Opera, The New World, and more.]

When it comes to period drama, it's best to go British. Happily, despite the fact that Agent Carter is produced in America, it features the very British Hayley Atwell in the title role of Peggy Carter, which is nearly the same thing.
Taking up a few years after Captain America: The First Avenger left off, the first episode of Agent Carter finds Peggy (a luminous Atwell) struggling to readjust to civilian life. By what was surely some catastrophic bureaucratic error on high, Peg has been confined to an office job, serving coffee and pushing paper for a bunch of sexists. This has left her pretty depressed, feeling not only inadequate, but sorrowful, flashing back to her last moments talking to Steve Rogers. Thankfully, this morose introspection is interrupted when she's enlisted by Howard Stark (father of Tony, played by a delightfully mischievous Dominic Cooper) to help clear his name. Stark has been accused of selling weapons to the enemy - when, in fact, some super-sinister organization is behind it all.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

It's a Dangerous Business - Tolkien, Rob Bell, and Belief

Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday. I refer, of course, to the man who wrote the best novel of the 20th Century: The Lord of the Rings. And no, that fact is not up for dispute.

Or is it? Among the fantasy crowd, there's a stubborn set of naysayers who deride Tolkien's work as reactionary and cliched. There's some truth in both of these criticisms, but here's the thing: it's not really all that brave to be edgy. These days, it's more cliched to have a main character who is plagued by self-doubt, wrestles with abstract dilemmas, and is always seeking to "find himself," rather than a protagonist who is certain of anything. If they are certain of their faith, they're a religious nut job like Noah; otherwise we reshape Moses into a postmodern skeptic.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Gospel of Bono

In all the talk about how Bono may not be able to play the guitar again, the media has (shocker!) been missing all he says about Christmas. It's a pretty good way to start off the year.

At this time of year some people are reminded of the poetic as well as the historic truth that is the birth of Jesus. The Christmas story has a crazy good plot with an even crazier premise - the idea goes, if there is a force of love and logic behind the universe, then how amazing would it be if that incomprehensible power chose to express itself as a child born in shit and straw poverty.... 
But back to the Christmas story that still brings me to my knees - which is a good place for me lest I harm myself or others. Christmas is not a time for me to overthink about this child, so vulnerable, who would grow so strong... to teach us all how vulnerability is the route to strength and, by example, show us how to love and serve. 
To me this is not a fairy tale but a challenge. I preach what I need to hear... 

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