Quai d’Orsay

I watched this on the plane over to the U.S. last week. Thoroughly entertaining, it even made me laugh out loud several times (embarrassing on a plane), and took my Dad’s illness – which was why I was flying to the States – off of my mind for a little while. As such, it deserves a post:

How to characterize Quai d’Orsay? In simple terms, it struck me as sorta loosely a combination of, say, Yes, Minister and The West Wing. Like the former, it satirizes a shallowness in politicians. Similar to the latter, it’s fast-paced, with lots of rushed conversations while walking through hallways at a retreating camera.

You have to follow along [read the subtitles] closely, or you’ll miss lots. Forget it’s about France. (If you feel you don’t know much about French politics.) If you like well-written, political comedy on screen, you’ll probably like this.

The ensemble contains an actor now likely most famous outside of France for a closeness to the, uh, current real French president. Leaving that aside, she’s at times hilarious in this fictional role as an adviser on Africa policy. For instance, when, during a foreign policy crisis, she’s drafted into keeping the Maronite Patriarch busy for an hour, the expression on her face, and her reaction, is priceless.

Naturally it also has a decidedly French flair and cultural grounding. The fictional French Foreign Minister fancying himself standing up for France’s “grandeur,” sharing his pretensions to personal literary and intellectual prowess with a patrician pomposity (that is somehow not ultimately off-putting), and topping it off with an “I know best” glint in the eye – while it often also seems he is about to poke himself in the eye – would not readily fly written for a U.S. on-screen politician. I don’t think U.S. audiences would buy it.

Meaning I suspect it would be close to impossible to portray a U.S. Secretary of State in a manner similar to that French minister. Yet you have to believe someone in Hollywood has already optioned the rights to this (because *it’s French*) to try to concoct some U.S. version. And they’ll probably eventually produce some predictably weak, watered down film, over-straining to be funny.

The “Fifty Shades” Universal Trailer

Get ready. Uh, brace yourself. Variety:

On Thursday morning, Universal Studios debuted its first trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the highly anticipated film based on the erotic novels by E.L. James.

The movie stars Jamie Dornan (who appears san [sic] shirt) as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as his inexperienced lover Anastasia Steele….

We don’t know yet if the film will be “decent.” (If that’s the right word?) But the quality of the book and its film adaptation are not really the concern here; those are for others to argue about. I’ve not read the book and have no plans to see the film.

I will say this, though. While you might dream a novel you write will one day find itself a film, if it were to do so that film’s actual quality is mostly out of your control. I suppose the bottom line is if you found yourself paid (especially if you were paid “big”) for film rights, I suspect as a writer you would be thrilled to take the money and run. ;-)

But, privately (between just us here…. and the internet), I’d hate to see my book(s) theatrically ruined.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

If Only Liz Hadn’t Forgotten An Umbrella

We all know The Great Gatsby. It is rooted in a variety of its author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s experiences. Fitzgerald’s writing in general revolves mostly around the rich, decadence, and insanity.

“He wrote what he knew,” my wife noted as we discussed him. He had also lived for years in France, and had naturally once been an aspiring author. In Babylon Revisited we encounter essentially still more Fitzgerald autobiography wrapped up as fiction.

After his death, “Babylon” was adapted into the 1954 film, The Last Time I Saw Paris. We happen to have bought “The Last Time” among others in a DVD old film series, but had never actually watched the movie. Last night, on impulse, my wife suggested with a grin, “We need to, in honour of my mum and aunt.” So, at long last, we did.

A personal observation on U.S. expat stories. I find solid non-American characters are vital when a tale is set outside of the U.S. Otherwise what is the point?

Again, though, we have to remember this is based on Fitzgerald’s life, and I am not an authority on that. What we do see on screen is that this film is almost all Americans – except for brief appearances by Eva Gabor and Roger Moore (yes, really). Although it’s Paris, the French seem mostly for background. They hardly register as actual people, doing little other than uttering a few French words and providing necessary “local color” to remind us it isn’t London, or…. Sacramento. Save for George Dolenz, who plays the thoughtful, French brother-in-law, and the bartender (it’s a Fitzgerald adaptation so there is drinking throughout) and some individuals doing their jobs (doctors, nurses), there don’t seem all that many French in Paris.

So this film didn’t have to be set in Paris really. It could’ve been most anywhere. That said, here’s the crux of the tale, including certain of my own, uh, personal “margin notes.” Who needs Wikipedia?

***** WARNING: SPOILERS *****

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"I'm the money" - from Casino Royale, 2006.

A James Bond Moment

Sunday, after the World Cup final and the awarding of the trophy, my wife was channel surfing for something to watch next, and found a film on BBC America. (It’s one we have on DVD, so why bother with on TV, right? But don’t we often do that? Accidentally find something you like on TV and which you own already, and you end up watching it on TV anyway?)

I happened to be upstairs. So I was unable to see the television in the lounge. Hearing the movie’s distinctive score between scenes (but no dialogue), I still knew which one it was immediately and blurted out, “Casino Royale!”

She replied instantly, “I know you love this one!”

I may be in the minority on this, but I don’t care. I believe Casino is the “coolest” James Bond film since Sean Connery’s time. It’s my favorite.

From Chris Cornell’s crashing rock opening credits theme song, to the chase in Madagascar, to, uh, well, I don’t want to spoil anything if you’ve never seen it….

I will share this, though. The dining car scene between Bond and Vesper? That has to be one of the wittiest extended exchanges in any Bond film:

That post’s just a non-literary aside. I hate talking TOO MUCH about my writing on here. (Don’t we despise those who only yammer on about themselves?) We need a break sometimes – myself included!

Hope you have a good Tuesday. :-)

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When Americans Meet

Yesterday, I discussed romance at 39,000 ft over the Atlantic. Today, we return to earth. Uh, “foreign” ground, to be specific.

Since Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, oh, and John and Abigail Adams (geez, never leave out John Adams, or he goes volcanic), Americans in Europe have provided storylines in countless books and films. Tourists form one distinctive source. Expats another:

“You’re American, right?” she asked James.

He answered, “You’re an American, too.”

“We’re from L.A.,” she said. “My husband works in Paris, and we’re on vacation. He had to go to the States for a time by himself. I thought the boys would like to see Normandy.” She concluded as one of her sons gestured restlessly that he wanted to sit on her lap and she waved a hand trying to dissuade him.

I’ve lived in Britain for over 15 years. I’ve run into Americans now and then. A few years’ back I read somewhere that there are around 250,000 non-military Americans residing in the United Kingdom, of whom some 100,000 live in London. (But please don’t quote me on that.)

When we bump into one another, of course we never quite know “who” we each are at first. I’ve always had the distinct impression we sort of eye each other up decidedly more than if we had met in the U.S. It’s as if we are trying to ascertain, “Who are you really? And why are you here too?”

Perhaps the major reason we may be rather wary of one another initially is because back at home we are sooooooo nastily divided politically. That often translates on this side of the water into meeting Americans who may be quicker to attack U.S. policies than even the most fault-finding, stereotypically “anti-American” of Europeans, while simultaneously also admiring Europe more than even many Europeans. I’ve also stumbled on the polar opposite: the expression “What’s that in real money?” may no longer be heard, but there are still Americans for whom the U.S. can do nearly no wrong and Europeans almost nothing right.

Myself, I’ve always been “careful” over here. Some right-wing Europeans think I’m rather conservative. Leftists often think I’m more left-wing than I am. Very good. Keep ‘em guessing….

But regardless fellow American let’s not draw swords on each other about whatever is bugging you about back home and wash our dirty laundry among these non-Americans listening to us because many of them have not been to the U.S. so are looking at us to provide them a first-hand glimpse into what our country is because their usual insight into life in the U.S. is through the media prism provided by the likes of the BBC and Le Monde. Oh, I should take a breath? You can tell I’m from New York originally? Buy you a drink, friend? ;-)

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I also recall once meeting the proverbial “American in Paris.” Politics wasn’t his obvious interest; but a certain woman definitely was. Working there for a time, he had within weeks of arrival become infatuated with a French friend of mine whom he had met through mutual acquaintances. (Editor’s note: this was well before Robert met his future wife.)

Smitten by her? Well, what a surprise? As she introduced us at a party, I sensed immediately he also wasn’t exactly thrilled she knew me.

“This is Robert,” she grabbed my arm, “my friend from in New York….”

Yep, that’s right, dude, I am from New York. And I’ve known her a lot longer than you. And you are, from, uh, some town in some state no one in this room’s ever heard of. ;-)

The intra-Yank “tension” bubbled hotly just below the surface. Moreover she had already also told me she was not interested in him “that way” anyway. “And he’s Protestant. I would not go with a Protestant,” my Catholic friend had made quite clear.

Thinking back on it, I would characterize the scene as akin to an awkward bit we might see in a Woody Allen film. At some point years after, I came to think nonsense like that might serve as a launching pad for a little literary endeavor of my own someday. Yep, Henry James, watch out. ;-)

“Wow! Congratulations on your film deal!”

We spent much of the Bank Holiday weekend in Bristol with the friend (and his wife) I mentioned in the previous post.

He has been writing a book. The basics in Word are no problem for him; but he is also a self-proclaimed technophobe. So he and his wife (she handles the internet “stuff” in their house) asked me if I could orient him as to where to begin with independent publishing online.

Good friend that I am, I walked him through setting up a Createspace account, pointed and clicked as to how the process generally unfolds from there, and also explained how to get his book up on Kindle. He became so enthusiastic, we ended up getting his cover largely settled in half an hour. I told him if he had any further questions, he need only to drop me an email.

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Then, this morning, it hit me. His novel is “action adventure” – WWII American pilots, Nazi scientists, postwar contract killers, etc. I laughed to myself: yeh, he’ll probably end up selling, uh, like, err, a gazillion copies, and even get optioned for a major Hollywood film….

….and I won’t.

Hmm. You know, I bet she could handle a sword. Suddenly I’m thinking that, in the sequel, I may have to transform Isabelle into, umm, that glamorous vampire from another galaxy after all. ;-)

Bogart In The Early 1940s

The previous post on “Batman in Paris” got me thinking more about movies. Let’s have some more fun.

My affinity for Humphrey Bogart is one my wife doesn’t entirely share. She understands his appeal. But, she also likes to say, he’s not really her cup of tea.

Her favo(u)rite actor of the ’40s and ’50s is Cary Grant. I like Grant also. In fact, I think men grow to appreciate him more as we get older. We all should walk around wearing a tuxedo at home, shouldn’t we? Our women would love it! ;-)

Back to Bogart. Here are “five” of my Bogart “likes” from his “early-mid World War II” output. That coincides as well neatly with when he had risen to become a “leading man”:

1. Casablanca (1943): There is nothing I could write here that those far sharper and keener about films haven’t already. His weary American expatriate, Rick Blaine, who “returns to the fight,” is one of the classic figures in movie history. (I make a fictionalized reference to it in the book. Again slipped in something “below the radar” – although, this time, in a positive manner!)

A Casablanca film promo poster that was given to me as a gift. [Photo by me, 2013.]

A Casablanca film promo poster. [Photo by me, 2013.]

2. The Maltese Falcon (1941): While not a “war film” (it was released pre-Pearl Harbor), it can’t be overlooked here: it was Bogart’s first “leading” role. Watched in 2014, some of the private eye and “mysterious woman” banter between Bogart and Mary Astor may seem a little dated. But remember they were the trailblazers, and this one helped lay the groundwork for much of the “cop” / “private eye” stuff we see routinely today.

3. Sahara (1943): Well-acted and compelling. In it, interestingly, while women are discussed regularly, being completely a battlefield film, there’s not a single woman character. Its underlying theme that the Western Allies’ national, religious and racial diversity constitutes a major source of strength (as opposed to the Nazi hatred of “difference”), remains inspiring today.

4. Passage to Marseille (1944) The closest to a “real” Casablanca sequel that there is. If you know Casablanca by heart, but have never seen this, try it. It’s not Casablanca, but it’s still a pretty darn good film in its own right.

5. Across the Pacific (1942): It is a bit patchy, but a weaker Bogart film is still a Bogart film. Once again there is Mary Astor, and once again some great lines. “Remember the girl you dreamed about when you were 19?” says Rick Leland (Bogart, of course). “She’s it.” (If I’m recalling it properly.)

You ask, how could I not include To Have and Have Not? I know, I know; but I decided to keep my list here to five, as well as to confine it to early-mid wartime. (Have was released in 1945.) I also wanted to mention a couple of films – Passage and Pacific – that may not be as widely known today.

And this is a blog post, not an encyclopedia! :-)

“Batman in Paris?”

We got back yesterday from a visit to my parents. While there, the other night we all watched The Dark Knight Rises, starring Christian Bale. And, to be honest, we’re all still trying to recover from that theatrical experience.

I know many think it is a terrific film, but I must admit we’re not four of them. In my humble opinion, even Marion Cotillard couldn’t save what was essentially three hours of (as my father wickedly described it) Rocky (struggling with his own motivation, and having to face Clubber Lang) crossed with Les Misérables. “Jean ValBatman,” as he put it. He joked that at one point he had been waiting for a crowd to break into “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

We couldn’t help but agree. Moments after he had said that, as the film was concluding, a character quoted from A Tale of Two Cities. Given my father’s just shared appraisal, we all looked at each other and none of us could suppress a chuckle.

*****SPOILER: If you plan to see The Dark Knight Rises, skip these next 2 paragraphs.*****
As British men make excellent heavies in Hollywood films, similarly French actors do often seem to portray baddies or badly damaged types. As with the British, maybe it’s the accent?

The moment you see Marion Cotillard on screen, and regardless of how sweet she appears initially, you just know she will turn out to be huge trouble and perhaps even evil incarnate. And, ultimately, she is. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, you also know will end up being a “goodie.” (And, coincidentally, Anne Hathaway was also in the recent Les Misérables film too of course.)
*****SPOILER END*****

Marion Cotillard’s appearance caused me also to recall Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Then I remembered his two other “European travelogue” recent efforts: Vicky Cristina Barcelona and To Rome With Love. Which led me next to thinking on how Barcelona was probably (for me) the best of the three, and Rome the worst.

Thus how my mind, uh, “functions.” Midnight’s primary shortcoming (in my opinion) was its American leading man. However, if Wales-born Christian Bale had played the American it likely would have made it an even better film.

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Here’s an idea: if the “Batman” franchise is starting to run short of new storylines, they could next try, say, The Dark Knight in Paris? :-)

UPDATE: That “Fifty Shades” Post

I’m sure this short update will be the highlight of your Wednesday. ;-)

A screening of scenes from that film is reported in the Guardian today.

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Apparently it is looking like it may turn out to be, one might say, uh, Fifty Shades… of “Tame.”

Apologies: No Vampires

The Wrap tells us today (emphasis in bold is mine):

….A week after Cate Blanchett railed against the lack of quality roles for women in mainstream Hollywood films, new data proves the “Blue Jasmine” Oscar-winner’s point.

A comprehensive study by San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film determined that women represented only 15 percent of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films of 2013, 29 percent of major characters, and 30 percent of all speaking characters. Further, only 13 percent of those films had either an equal number of major female and male characters, or more major female characters than male characters, the study called “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” found….

As an author, it is worth pondering that issue. Of course I sought to write the best novel I could. I hoped also to write one appealing both to women and men as readers.

I did not set out aiming to achieve any particular “male-female ratio,” yet, overall, I believe I ended up with a pretty good – and realistic – balance. I open with a relatively evenly presented male/female relationship, and, along the way, as additional characters appear, many of them turn out to be women. Ultimately the number of prominent women probably outnumber prominent men.

I have just tried determining that “breakdown” for myself while sitting here writing this post. It’s not actually all that easy. Depending on how one counts, I would estimate Passports has rather more than half a dozen major women (of varied ages and several nationalities), and slightly fewer numbers of comparable men. I don’t think the novel perhaps having a few more women characters is exceptionally obvious story-wise either.

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Ahem. So big budget, high-powered, film producers out there take note: there are plenty of women’s major speaking film roles here! ;-)

I do apologize about one clear omission, though. There are no vampires. Sorry.