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Author Topic: Amazon Prime Video
Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Amazon Prime Video
on: September 30, 2018, 19:01
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There’s a 3-part series (caught it on Amazon Prime) about MI5 spooks. The first episode is Page Eight. It stars Bill Nighy (who is in all three) who plays a near comatose (aka “soft spoken”….really soft spoken) MI5 analyst who discovers that the PM may be mixed up in something big.

I like Bill Nighy but I’m not sure he’s done much with this character. He has more hot blood coursing through his veins playing the undead vampire, Viktor, than he does in this role as an MI5 agent. It’s a strange portrayal with little emotion or personality, as if he was in the acting equivalent of a sensory deprivation tank.

Still, you can kind of go with it. Episode one is pretty good, especially with the addition of Michael Gambon as his friend. Definitely watch this first episode even if you don’t watch the other two.

Episode two, Turks & Caicos, is riddled with plot faults and missing motivations, although the addition of Christopher Walken as a tough-guy adds some voltage to the episode, as well as the under-used (and almost unexamined) Winona Ryder who would play a great character had the writers not suffered from terminal McGuffinism. But when she is on screen she’s very good.

I almost didn’t watch episode 3, Setting the Battlefield, because I felt so cheated by episode 2. But I soldiered on and I’m glad I did. Episode one had plenty (for this series) of action in it. Episode two was a complete talkie, as was episode 3. But the political intrigue was much better in #3. Think “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” It’s that sort of series.

Ralph Fiennes plays the PM. Again, no problem with the actor, but I’m not sure this character is fleshed out to the degree is could have been. Michael Gambon gives the best of all the performances in the series, followed by Ryder and Walken. Ewen Bremner (yeah!…he’s a homosexual…and they’re very glad to let us know) plays a good behind-the-scenes friend of Nighy who gives him help when he needs it.

I should mention Helena Bonham Carter who shows up in episode two and carries over to 3. She doesn’t have the usual swagger that you’re used to. She’s a bit bland until the middle of episode 3 where she’s able to turn it on a bit. And although the series clearly has a left wing agenda, it’s not too obnoxious. Mostly this is a psychological thriller with a backdrop of left-friendly story. (The PM, trying to protect his country while most of the nation couldn’t care less, aids and abets the Americans who have torture camps spread around the globe.) Still, the PM is not presented in a totally bad light and there is an element where you could see Nighy as a traitor. But some of the lines are blurred as you’d expect in a spy thriller.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: September 30, 2018, 19:37
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There's a lot of British Americaphobia. I gather John Le Carré is rather inclined that way, and this clearly sounds like someone trying to make an anti-Bush film. (How big a problem this is may vary from person to person. I recall NR once suggesting that the "The Fool on the Hill" referred to LBJ, although the actual song sure doesn't sound like that. But my thought on reading it was -- if they were mocking LBJ, why should I care? Sort of like the reaction to the Russian UN Ambassador attacking President Jim-Boy in MASH Goes to Moscow, the book in which Radar O'Reilly's wife is made physically ill from talking with Democrats.) But if I want to see and hear hatred of America, I could just turn on CNN. If I could stand listening to those amatoxic newsliars.

Brad-
Nelson
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Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: September 30, 2018, 20:14
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I gather John Le Carré is rather inclined that way, and this clearly sounds like someone trying to make an anti-Bush film.

Yes, we can celebrate the homosexual and understand that the greatest threat to the West isn’t Islam but torture. Still, that’s all just a backdrop and there’s more to the story.

I have little doubt that this guy is a left wing nut, but what’s interesting is the much bigger theme in this which is that the establishment always wins. Nighy may play the lone idealist, but the rest of these left-wing politicians all clearly pray at the temple of Hillary-and-Bill. They are not shown in a good light.

And when you get to the end, the PM is shown in a plausibly good light. He makes a speech that “The ends might not justify the means, but real life is a whole lot more complicated than that.” He’s out for himself, of course, but you get the idea that every single one of these politicians would be glad to let England burn if it could advance their power or wealth. On the other hand, the PM does seem to be the only one genuinely concerned about his country.

So this isn’t a complete one-way left wing hatchet job. There are a couple women in this (Nighy’s boss and the MP chick who is after the PM’s job but plays nicey-nice with her party’s leader) who are hardly the soccer-mom touchy-feely sort. They are barracudas.

Most amusing of all (at least to me) is Nighy’s spoiled, snotty daughter. Nighy keeps apologizing to her for things he shouldn’t. It’s nut-driving watching this man acquiesce to basically his spoiled bitch of a daughter. Bill…it’s not your fault. It’s her fault. Don’t apologize.

I don’t know if the intent was to show this girl (similar to the spoiled brat who is Bosch’s daughter) in this light or not. I have to admit, it’s difficult sometimes to tell if these writers are being clever or just assume that this bizarre behavior of Nighy’s daughter is completely normal and justified and they might not thus see it as any message trying to be sent. I need another pair of eyes on this. Steve has Amazon Prime. Maybe he’ll be the Guinea pig.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: September 30, 2018, 20:30
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A late friend of mine once argued that The China Syndrome, if one observes carefully, isn't actually anti-nuclear. The nuclear engineer played by Jack Lemmon is pro-nuclear and reminds the Hanoi Jane character of how much of her electricity comes from his nuclear power plant (or maybe from all the local nuclear plants). And at the end, despite the seeming near-disaster, no harm is done. He had a point, but of course he's thinking logically and most people watching it would be emoting in response. I doubt his point would even have occurred to the movie-makers.

Brad-
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Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: October 1, 2018, 08:58
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The problem with nuclear power is that it is efficient, “renewable” (whatever that means…you can always dig more out of the ground), and actually works (outputs a significant amount of energy, unlike solar cells and wind farms). And, according to one Googled answer, if it replaces coal, it reduces greenhouses gases. (Reality: start pumping as much CO2 into the atmosphere that you can. Another ice age is on the way….not that increased CO2 levels will have much, if any, effect.)

The problem with nuclear power isn’t technological. It’s social. The hippies didn’t create it. Had there been no such thing as a nuclear power plant and there was a Zuckerberg of nuclear energy in the 90’s or later, it would be adored. We’d be hearing how clean and safe it was, etc.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen The China Syndrome but I remember the idea of nuclear reactors being front-and-center (for better or for worse, depending if you preferred Hanoi Jane or Jack Lemmon). In this spy series with Nighy, there is no impassioned plea against torture by Nighy. (It’s just not something the British should do.) No acknowledgment of the threat of terrorism. (He generally discounts it as a ginned-up thing.) There are no torture camps shown. No terrorist events shown and one event mentioned in passing. All in all, the centrality of the show is clearly a cat-and-mouse chase (of Nighy) as well as House of Cards-like (original version) political intrigue, perhaps with some deadpanned Yes, Minister thrown in, but there is certainly no humor in this series as all that I can recall.

I don’t know what a British viewer would get out of it. They have been so propagandized I don’t suppose they have the capacity for true thought anymore. But the political class is not shown in a good light, right or left (although it’s unclear if the PM is “right” in any real sense….maybe we’re talking liberal vs. more liberal).

[Small spoiler] And at the end of the day, Nighy returns to MI5 to work with his old boss. So what was all that running around all about? Like I said, there are some intrinsic weaknesses in the plotting of this. It’s not very well thought out in a lot of places. It’s unclear why Nighy is even on the run. Are they going to kill him? No. Put him in prison? There is no talk of that. The PM, whatever his faults, does not play a political mobster.

It’s all a bit of a cluster-you-know-what. But it is at least a sober spy series aimed (more or less) at adults. Despite a lack of thoughtfulness and creativity in regards to the sophistication of the plotting and characters, this was not a series produced for nose-pickers and the tattooed. So although there are some light liberal themes as a backdrop, this wasn’t a series produced for dolts.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: October 1, 2018, 09:37
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Realistically, in terms of the time frame of this issue, the PM would be based on Tony Blair (nowhere near as sensible a man as Eric Blair, though an improvement over most Laborites). Labor used to rule Britain for a few years out of every 20. They had an administration in the 20s (maybe jointly with the liberals), during which the pound was devalued from $5 to $4. Then they took over at the end of World War II (Attlee replaced Churchill while the Potsdam conference was in progress), during which the pound was devalued from $4 to $2.80. Then they took over in the mid-60s due to a Tory sex scandal (the Profumo Affair), during which the pound was devalued from $2.80 to $2.40. Gee, can't imagine why they didn't get elected more often.

Unfortunately, after that they became increasingly dominant until the Iron Lady came in. We'll see if we're heading back to the good old days when they only came in after the Tories had run things too long, or something more like the late 60s and 70s. For the sake of Britain, I hope it's the former. But in Britain as well as America, the addiction to freeloading is a powerful one. Especially in the "red Clyde" that dominates Scotland.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: October 1, 2018, 09:52
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If I were righting political thrillers, I might at least show two sides of the story. That’s what’s missing from this series: intellectual content.

Okay…maybe torture is bad. Maybe it’s not justified even if a little water-boarding can reveal where an Islamist has hidden a nuclear device in London. Maybe it’s far more important that Bill Nighy’s character have “clean hands” and be able to brag about how virtuous and civilized he is….while walking around the charred remains of London.

Yes, I was thinking all along that the PM in this series was modeled after Blair. But nowhere in this does Ralph Fiennes play the obnoxiously obsequious touchy-feely girly-man like Tony Blair. But at least Blair was able to recognize an enemy….something Nighy’s character couldn’t do. Or, rather, he saw the “war on terror” as overblown and a threat to British liberty.

Again, these themes are not explored. This is a story more about people, not politics. Politics is merely a vehicle to move things along. A thoughtful exploration of these ideas would have elevated this series considerably. But then, I don’t know if the British public has become such snowflakes that to question their core propaganda wouldn’t enrage them as it does the snowflakes in our own country. So basically what we get is this safe conflict of departments and personalities. And I found that to be just enough.

In the end, MI5 cranks on, Nighy cranks on, the PM cranks on, and just about everyone still has a job and is wielding power and making money. There are a few light casualties, but nothing major. What you get out of this series is what an amazing job Nighy did playing Viktor in the Underworld movies. Whether he’s trying his best to stay away from the character or not, I don’t know. But he plays an odd one. Sane. Careful. Intelligent. But so soft-spoken you want to take his pulse to see if he’s alive.

Brad-
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Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: October 5, 2018, 09:33
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There’s a 3-part series presently showing on Amazon Prime Video that is billed as “Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence”. Set in 1954, it shows the upper-class Argyll family headed by Leo (Bill Nighy). The matriarch of the family has been murdered (which we learn early-on).

A man comes to the house claiming to have an alibi for Nighy’s son, Jack, who was accused of the murder but was himself murdered in jail before the case could go to trial. If this new witness is real, that means the murderer is still loose.

This is a pretty dark series. Nearly everyone in this cast of characters is a horrible person. And the murdered mother was such a horrible person, you eventually don’t care if, like Murder on the Orient Express, they all did it.

The story is told heavily through flashbacks which are such a jumble they can be confusing at times. But it mostly works. Horrible (for me) actress Morven Christie (Amanda from the Grantchester series) plays the servant of the house. Other than her, Nighy, and perhaps Christian Cooke (who I might remember from a George Gently episode), none of the cast is familiar to me, although Anna Chancellor (the matriarch) is vaguely familiar and she did have a role in both the Shetland series and Grantchester. She’s suitably horrible in this (in a good way). The mother from hell.

The most intriguing performance is by Luke Treadaway as the young Dr. Arthur Calgary. He plays a distressed and slightly unhinged man. He does this so well that I found him to be a dislikable character (they all are) but perhaps for different reasons. Aside from the matriarch, most contemptible of all is the wheelchair bound Philip Durrant (played by Matthew Goode). If he isn’t murdered in this series (and what Agatha Christie story would be complete without a second or even third thrown in), it takes only a few scenes with him in it to make you think that he ought to be murdered.

Bill Nighy plays his usual role of trying as hard as he can not to vent even a morsel of Viktor from the Underworld series. He plays yet another character who is calm to the point of comatose. I’m not sure why he’s adopted this acting style. I can only guess.

All in all, I found this a bit dark even by Agatha Christie standards. Nearly all the characters are burning stereotypes of one sort or another. It can all get to be a bit much. But it somehow works helped out by a strong ending.

Brad-
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Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: October 6, 2018, 11:35
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There’s a joke in here somewhere about Sherlock Holmes’ smarter brother. William Wilder (W. Lee) is Billy (actually “Samuel”) Wilder’s not-so-smarter brother. Billy Wilder is know for such standards as “Double Indemnity,” “The Lost Weekend,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “Ace in the Hole,” “Stalag 17,” “Sabrina,” The Seven Year Itch,” “Some Like it Hot,” and “The Apartment.”

W. Lee Wilder, on the other hand, is known (if he is known at all) for some low-budget sci-fi such as Killers from Space. (I’ve never seen a 3.2 rating for a movie at the generally over-inflated ratings at IMDB.com. That should tell you something.)

But don’t let that fool you. 1947’s The Pretender is an above-average Noir/thriller/crime drama. If you have Amazon Prime, go watch it. This may be the one and only Noir I’ve seen that combines scary-movie music (specifically: the Theremin) with regular Noir shtick.

Go watch it afresh. But I’ll give you a synopsis of the plot which I found to be interesting: Kenneth Holden (played by Albert Dekker) is the trustee for the very rich Clair Worthington. But some of his own personal investments have gone bad. He owes his broker $70,000 so he makes a “loan” to himself from Worthington’s account. He does this a couple times in the movie and it’s clear this is a regular practice.

He begins to worry about this state of affairs so he decides that in order to cover himself, he’s going to convince Claire to marry him. (Whether this would legally cover him or not in the real world, I have no idea.) Meanwhile, while sitting in a shady joint with a friend having a drink, he overhears an accusation by one of the club owner’s dames that he had her boyfriend run over by a car.

Claire rebuffs Holden’s offer of marriage. She’s in love with another man, a Dr. Leonard G. Koster (Charles Drake — Commodore Stocker from “The Deadly Years” ). But that engagement falls through when the doctor takes a last-minute phone call before going out for dinner with Claire and winds up in surgery. Claire sees the writing on the wall — she will always play second fiddle to his patients — and ends the engagement.

Meanwhile, desperate to find a way to complete a marriage to Claire to cover his theft of her money, Holden decides to hire the shady nightclub owner to run over Claire’s fiancé (or otherwise dispose of him in whatever fashion). It will cost him $20,000 in cash which, of course, he “borrows” from Claire’s trust fund.

The shady night club owner doesn’t do the actual murders himself. He hires out for that. He asks Holden how the fiancé can be identified if Holden has no description or picture to give me. Holden tells him to just keep his eyes on the society page of the newspaper. They’re bound to publish a photo of the fiancé.

Soured on the whole doctor-as-husband thing, the steady and pampering Holden now seems like a good catch to Claire and she and Holden get engaged. News of this private engagement leaks out (one of Claire’s friends is a reporter) and Holden and Claire’s photos are printed in the society page as their engagement is announced.

Holden now realizes his danger. He’s hired a man to kill Claire’s fiancé based upon whatever photo of a man appears in the society pages as her fiancé.

Meanwhile (lots of meanwhiles in this plot), the shady nightclub owner who took $20,000 from Holden to do the hit is killed by the same dame whose fiancé he had run over with a car out of jealousy. She figures the shady nightclub owner did it and that it was no accident. (She’s right.) She confronts him in his office and winds up putting a bullet in him.

Meanwhile Holden is desperately trying to cancel the deal he had with the shady nightclub owner. He finds out the shady nightclub owner has been shot and is in hospital. He barges into a doctor’s office demanding information on the shady nightclub owner. The doctor makes a phone call to the attending physician and learns that the shady nightclub owner is just died.

Uh oh. How does he cancel this deal now when the only man who knew of the deal (and who knew the person hired to do the hit) is dead? The man (“Fingers”) who takes over the club from his old boss knows nothing of the deal.

This puts Holden into a paranoid spin. Meanwhile Claire and Holden have gotten married and are living in her mansion. He suspects the butler that Claire hired to be the hit man. Holden fires him. She rehires another. Holden will eat none of the meals prepared by the cook, suspecting that she could be the hit man (hit woman). He won’t leave the house and spends most of the time in his room.

As you might guess, this all doesn’t end well for Holden and we get a bit of a tacked on bad-scary-movie ending. But it’s all in good fun.

Apparently some of the quality of this film comes from what one reviewer calls the “consummate skill and gusto of German cinematographer John Alton before his career with the terrific director Anthony Mann”. Certainly you can feel W. Lee Wilder pulling this to a low-budget thriller. But the movie doesn’t sink into the abyss of kitsch. There are some laughably dramatic stereotyped “scary lighting” shots and a few other low-budget devices. But the acting, as well the the robust plot line, keep the movie interesting and from ever giving in to its low budget pedigree.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Amazon Prime Video
on: October 6, 2018, 12:18
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I recall an episode of some anthology series that had a similar plot point. A guy becomes convinced that his wife is having an affair with the local priest, who doesn't seem to be big on morality in his preaching. He hires a killer to get the priest, but nothing happens. Finally, one day he sees his wife going into the confessional and enters pretending to be the priest. He finds out, to his joy, that his fears are totally mistaken. And that, naturally, is when the killer (who apparently has never bothered to find out what the priest looks like) finally makes his hit -- killing the husband.

I think the first movie I ever saw that I associated with Billy Wilder (appropriately, given your beginning) was The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, based on the book (or maybe they novelized it) by the Hardwicks (who I think also wrote the screenplay). noted Sherlockians. Quite good. I had seen other movies by him, but I wasn't aware of him as a director before the Holmes movie.

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