Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters and its TV adaptation

Long long ago I read this book series in Russian. Then I was able to find the TV series made on its basis. Alas, there was no Russian translation and that time my English wasn't good enough to understand everything in original, but nevertheless, I did watch all the series without translation. And I can say that that time I liked it.
About a year ago I decided to re read the book series, this time in English. Simultaneously with reading I was re watching the corresponding episodes of the TV series, and frankly speaking, this time I was greatly disappointed in it. It looks like the previous time my poor English played a nasty trick on me, depriving me of ability to understand what this or that hero was in fact saying. The other reason was that some time had passed since I had read the books and that is why their events didn't stand so clear and vivid in my mind. Thus though I still can say I like the book series, I can't repeat the same words about the TV adaptation.
Derek Jakobi as Brother Cadfael
The first difference between the latter and the books is that the books, in spite of their events happening in one of the darkest pages of English history, are "cozy". The Middle Age shown in them seems to be rational and even comfortable as much as possible, bright and nice, smelling of wood and fresh bread. The Middle Age in the TV series is filthy, bloody and dangerous. But such a difference it's not the main problem. (And I can't help but agree that the Middle Age was in fact not so cozy as it may seem from the books.)
The second problem is that some plots were changed, and changed significantly (I can say even 'maimed'). Names were changed, orders of the events were changed, in some cases even the main villains were 'switched'. Some scenes were deleted (and there even were some 'added'), there were many 'romantic' lines cut - Philipp Corviser and Emma, for example, or Sulien Blount and Pernel Otmere and even Hugh and Aline's story was rather shortened. (Aline wasn't shown after One corpse too many at all, and nothing was mentioned about them being together). Some books were omitted, including the latest one, Brother Cadfael's Penance. (May be it was for the better, because thus they didn't have a chance to 'maim' it ))) However, the events of the episode where Olivier, Hermine and Yves were shown, The Virgin in the Ice, fortunately were not modified (having little alterations only). 
And the main problem was in 'atmosphere'. Hugh and Cadfael, who in the books very quickly became soul mates, in the TV series had more than lukewarm relationship (in the episode Saint Peter's Fair Hugh even wanted to kill Cadfael when the latter didn't want to give him the letter). Abbot Radulfus, who was strict but fair in the books, seemed rather to have a dislike for Cadfael. And Prior Robert and Brother Jerome,  who just 'reservedly disliked' Cadfael in the books, in the adaptation openly hated the former crusader and made all possible to expel him from the monastery. Such an atmosphere of hatred and grudge was completely different from the one of the books.
So my verdict is - the TV series doesn't worth to watch. If you are very very interested - watch the best episode, The Virgin in the Ice, but do not  touch the rest.
PS Having finished the last book a question came into my mind. As far as I know Ellis Peters herself considered this book to be the last one. All lines are resolved etc. But Cadfael's grandchild, Olivier and Hermine's son (or daughter) in the end of the book wasn't yet born. Why? Why not allow this creature to come into the world and thus leave the readers in the complete certainty about its fate.
And the second question - why didn't Peters continue the story further, into the middle 1140-ies? Was she to ill to continue working? (This book was published in 1994, and the writer died in October of 1995.) There were at least two years more before prior Robert became Father Robert (this happened in 1148), and thus during these two years Cadfael was 'safe' enough in his 'adventurous' life in cloister (after that he'd better die or lie very quiet). Was Peters tired of her character? Did she think he had had enough adventures? All points to this except one fact - Hermine's not born child...

Thursday, June 8, 2017

American Léon VS Polish Leon

Do you know that the Poles were impressed by Luc Besson's Léon to such a degree that 3 years after its release they made "their own" version of the story (named Sara, Leon there is a name of the main male character, a former commando)?
I have finally re-watched both movies (or, more exactly, watched them wholly for the first time because before I had watched them both in snatches only) and now I am ready to share with you my opinion of them. Unfortunately, both Léon and Sara turned out to be movies making better impressions when watching them in snatches (though Léon in a lesser degree than Sara).

No doubts, Léon is very touching but if to look closely at the main male character - Léon Montana, the hitman - there begin to appear some shortcomings making him not so "professional" as it may be seen. (As for the main female character - 12 year old girl named Matilda - though her actions are sometimes very stupid nevertheless she behaves just as one can expect from a girl of such age.) First, he let Matilda into his flat when there was shooting in her own. Ok, he had his principle not to touch women and children and that is why he wasn't able both to leave Matilda helpless when her family was being killed and to kill her later, when she was sleeping in his flat. (Though a real pro would have done this.) But later, having rescued Matilda from DEA office, why didn't he leave town? Or at least his flat? And next morning he shouldn't in any case let Matilda leave the flat alone! Such an indiscretion led to his death (though he was able to kill a main villain and a lot of innocent policemen). So if before watching the movie I considered Léon to be a real pro then after my opinion of him has worsened. Being expert in killing people he was rather ignorant in usual life and his illiteracy (which was "cured" by Matilda) together with keeping all his saving in the pocket of Tony, his mafioso boss, adds even more to the picture. And I can even say that his ignorance was the thing that eventually killed him.
As for Matilda - her unwillingness to go to school was initially the thing that put her personally into this bloody drama. Had she been at school both she and Léon should definitely have stayed alive. And in the end Matilda had to return to the same school, with Léon dead (though all that happened might teach her something).
Summing up: Léon: The Professional is a touching story, indeed, but stupidity of its heroes takes away a huge part of warm feelings towards them. Was there something more good there? Yes, beautiful views of New-York, Roosevelt Island Tramway and Twin Towers still standing.  

In comparison with Léon Sara has a happy ending which, in fact, again makes it less touching. Together with the rest details of the plot (an adult man, a former commando, in love with a 16-year-old girl) this turns the movie into a kind of cheap melodrama. Anyway, the outset is catching enough (and I was rather surprised to learn that Poland did have its own "hard 90ies") but almost all the intrigue disappears when in one scene Sara is trying unsuccessfully to seduce Leon, her bodyguard, and in the next one they are already in bed. Why did the authors skip that IMHO very interesting psychological moment - a man passing from denial into acceptance of an affair with a girl at least twice younger than him and, in addition, the daughter of his boss?? Without these "omitted" scenes it's impossible to fully understand Leon's character and thus he looks like a plain hero of a typical soap opera.
The second third (from the scene in bed till the scene when Sara's father finally learns about her affair with Leon) has almost no sense load. There are some beautiful scenes (like tango in the restaurant) but they add nothing to the plot. The ending is rather dynamical (and sometimes rather touching, for example, when Sara's father's people kill Leon's father) but as I mentioned before this happy ending kills all the pathos. (Btw, in the long perspective the ending is not so happy as it may seem. I am not sure whether Sara and Leon would be as happy a couple of years later as they were in the end of the movie ...) So a person who knows only the beginning of the story and who have seen only some scenes (tango and some shooting) IMHO has a much more better impression of the movie that one who saw it wholly. But I am glad that thanks to Sara I "discovered" Bogusław Linda (he played Leon) and I hope in future to watch more movies with him.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Russia House

Long ago I promised you that there would be more posts in this blog on the topic of The Cold War. But having watched the next point in my list of movies, "The Russia house", I decided to read as well the book it was based on and it took me to finish it much more time than I had expected. Nevertheless, the book is finally read an
d I am ready to tell you my opinion of both the book and the movie.
First, it was rather unusual experience for me to read a book the movie is based on after after watching the adaptation itself. (As a rule, I read first and watch the adaptation only after.) That is why when I was reading I was seeing Barley with Sean Connery's features and Katya - with Michelle Pfeiffer's ones (though in the book Katya's hair was described as long and black). Also I think that the name given to the Soviet physicist-detector in the movie (Dante) suited this character much more than the name from the book (Goethe). These were almost all the major differences between the book and the movie. Almost but not all. The movie does have a happy ending - after Barley had "exchanged" "the shopping list" to Katya and her family's freedom the latter successfully came to him to Lisbon. In the end of the book Barley is still waiting for the USSR to release Katya and her family, he still has hope that Soviet's will allow them to leave the country. And though I like the movie's happy end the "open" one of the book seems to me much more probable. Even the fact that the KGB didn't arrest Katya after getting all the details of the shopping list from Barley seems rather improbable, not to mention exit visas for the whole family. From the other hand, the action was set not in the 1930-ies, and nor in the 70-ies but in the late 80-ies. The KGB's vigilance that time was not so strict as it used to be, and there was a probability that they decided to hush up Goethe's detection and not touching Katya was the part of the "disguise". And in the 1993 exit visas were abrogated and there appeared a chance for Katya to leave Russia for good.
That's all about the plot. As for the movie I can't help but mention that it was the first major American mavie filmed substantially in the Soviet Union - that is why the images of the Soviet life shown there were so persuasive and veritable. (This may be the additional explanation why the movie touched me much more that the book -  the soviet life shown in almost all the movies made before this one looked to those familiar with it unauthentic and even sometimes ridiculous.) And I liked the mature Sean Connery as usual (in the episodes of Bondiana he IMHO was too young; in my opinion he may be compared with brandy - the older he is the better ))), and I even liked Michelle Pfeiffer though I am not a fan of her. But nevertheless, I am not sure whether I'd like to re-watch the movie or re-read the book in the nearest time. And for the time-being I think I'll stop watching movies about the Cold War...

Monday, April 10, 2017

A street cat named Bob (the books and the movie)

First I wanted to write a post about the movie only but then I found out that I had never written anything about the books about Bob that is why the post will be devoted both to the books and the movie.
I had read the books of James Bowen about 4 years ago (when my English reading skills were not so great ))) and I remember reading them chapter by chapter, like a consuming a delicacy. Some chapters were funny, some - sad (the biggest part, IMHO), but nevertheless it is always pleasant to read how a person struggles out of difficulties. (And I am very happy for James that he had met such a great character as Bob who helped him to overcome troubles and to  return to normal life.) However, what surprised me most was the rehab program for people wanting to stop using drugs (and the rest of the people got in troubles). I had heard about methadone therapy before I started to read the first book, but I'd never imagined that people "in trouble" who don't have any dwelling to live in are given free apartments for themselves only, without any neighbors etc. Neither had I heard about "The big issue" magazine which was created especially to help very poor people to earn means of living.
The books, though written in simple language and describing sometimes not very happy events, were rather cozy and I having read the first one I was very glad to know that there was one more. And I would be delighted to read about Bob and James more and more, if James would have continued to write.
Returning to the movie... Its plot has been rather simplified in comparison with the books, but it was expectable. What I really liked was how they showed Bob there! (Btw he was played by more than half a dozen of cats, including himself.) He was so talkative meowing and purring like talking to James and to himself. Also it was an ingenious trick to show some scenes from Bob's perspective, like he would see them for his height and position on the screen. And have you noticed that James Bowen himself did appear in one of the latest scenes, playing a reader taking an autograph from Luke Treadaway's hero? ;)
And I'd like also to mention that I heard some stated that the book adaptation was wrongly given a genre of a family movie, because drugs, deaths and life on streets is not what children should see. As for me I completely disagree with the statement. Yes, this movie is not for young children to watch alone, without parents, but family movie means for me a film to watch by all the family. And it will do children good to look at consequences caused by using drugs, being homeless etc (btw in my opinion all the bad and sad parts were shown as mild as possible). And if something is unclear to children parents (watching the movie together with their kids) are always able to explain incomprehensible things to the latter.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I have suddenly realized that I had never written a separate post about Jodi Picoults books and that it why I decided to write this one.
I as have mentioned before the issues she raises in her books are rather acute, but having raised a topic she prefers to tie loose ends to have a happy end, whatever unbelievable. Had she left her books without happy ends, they IMHO would have been much more actual. (Else why to raise a problem if every time it is miraculously solved.) Another problem with Picoults books is that her "good" heroes are rather commonplace people towards whom because of this reason it's not very easy to feel so much sympathy as the author tried to force. (This is as well true about this particular book - I wasn't able to feel the wholly sympathy to the main protagonist and aversion to the main antagonist.)Continuing about Small Great Things - I didn't especially liked the book because of its integrity lack. There were three first-persons there: the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the dead infant. But IMHO this wasn't enough. First because the mother of the baby who died should have had her voice (because her experience of having and loosing a child is definitely different from the one of a father). Second, what about the nurse manager who had to make a decision to dismiss the black nurse from the white baby? This conflict touched her as well - she had to choose between the hospital policy, the desire of the client and the feeling toward the colleague (though, I agree, in this particular situation the impact on her was not very large). There might also have been some other people from both sides. (And the only person whose experience was close to the one of the writer was the female lawyer. Not being able to cover all the aspects of the story the writer should IMHO have written the book from the lawyer's perspective only, in this case the book would have been more credible.)
Another problem was unsynchronized time. Judging by how the main male character described the events of his youth and the timeline of the white power movement I thought that in 1990-es the hero was at least a teenager. But then it turned out that the main event that triggered his hatred towards the minorities had happened at the turn of the millennium. It looks like Jodi Picoult had planned to write this book very long ago, but when she finally wrote it she just moved the main events forwards forgetting about the previous ones. Furthermore, the whole book looks like its events happened at least 10 years ago, if no more. (The birth dates of the secondary heroes are the other evidence of such a possibility.) Because nowadays no one covers such problems as discrimination from the one point only. The problem is much more complex.But what I disliked most of all was the author's statement that all the white people have an advantage over the black people and that is why all the white people are guilty of the "passive racism". I completely disagree witht he statement. First, because nowadays there are rich black people as well and poor white people do still exist. So the advantage depends in fact not on the color of a person and his/her relative's skin, but from their native country, from the wealth and connections of the family etc. But anyway, it is not correct to call people having these advantage from the birth some kind of "passive -ists" (racist, nationalists etc)
PS I am neither pro nor contra white, black or any other human skin's color people, I am nor feminist neither antifeminist, I am nor homophile neither homophobe. I think people should be judged not by the color of their skin but by their deeds, that people should be hired not because of their social status but because of their abilities only.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"Seven days in May"

As I promised you I continue to write about books and movies on the topic of the Cold War. This time I'll write about the book "Seven days in May" written by Fletcher Knebel and Richard Bailey, and its movie adaptations. It's strange but my acquaintance with the book's plot started about seven years ago not with the book itself but with its Soviet adaption made in 1983. Having become interested I found and read a Russian translation of the book and forgot about the topic at all. Nowadays, looking for more movies about the Cold War I stumbled upon an American adaptation of the book. Before watching it I decided to re-read the book, and this time in English. Thus I have four things to compare - the original book and its Russian translation (yes, there is some difference between them) and both movies.
Let's start from comparing the book with its translation. I liked the original English book very much, till such degree that having finished it I immediately began to search other books of the same authors (or at least written by one of them only). (Unfortunately, I was able to find only their paper editions so it looks like I have to postpone meeting with new plots and characters of the authors for a while :..-(( ) And I wasn't able to understand why I had deemed the book to be rather dry when I was reading it in Russian. (Well, now I have an idea that the Russian translation might have been made so "dry" intentionally because it turned out there were some omissions in the Russian variant.) Heroes of the original, English, version seem to be real, vivid people, in whose existence it was very easy to believe. I liked as well how the authors described feelings of the President, that they showed that being a President is not so easy as it may seem from the outside, that it is a hard work with enormous loads of responsibility. And I liked the end of the book though it was open because even having "defeated" general Scott president Lyman had to face Russian cheating with the new plant in Yakutsk which they had begun to build ignoring the signed disarmament treaty.
As for the Russian translation - as I have mentioned there were some omissions there, and the majority of them were just about the above mentioned Yakutsk. The paragraph about Russian cheating was removed from the translation at all (btw, the translation was made in 1960ies, almost after the original book was published) so the question of what in fact was being built in Yakutsk was left open (leaving the USSR's tricks not revealed and with the same time leaving readers with some hope for the future of the universe in which the book's events had happened). Together with this most important omission there were smaller ones (frankly speaking I had expected them to be in some personal scenes, love scenes but they all turned out to be about politics), for example, the paragraph about perfidy being practiced by Russian for the last 500 years was completely removed.
Now a couple of words about the movies. The American version was made a couple of years after the book's publishing and the action time there wasn't changed (forgot to mention that the book was written in a genre of alternative history or even futurism because its events are happening 13 years after the year when it was written; in 1961 Knebel and Bailey thought that Kennedy's presidency would last two terms, and in their universe in 1968 a republican president Freizer was elected and after him came a democrat Jordan Lyman). Because it was a movie and not a TV series some book events were discarded. That is why the movie seemed to be rather "condensed" and even dashed off. And the accents of the movie were a little bit different. The was no question of the future with lying Russians (the topic of Yakutsk wasn't touched at all), neither there was a notion of how difficult it is be a President of the USA. The main topic was that democracy should be preserved, and if one disagrees with the President and even deems the latter to be the traitor all things should be done legally; to overthrow the president with a coup is a sheer insanity which will only weaken the country and play directly into communist's hands. This is almost all I wanted to say about the American adaption. The last thing I'd like to mention is that there turned out be be the scene shot but not added to it. In the book there was described a road accident in which senator Prentice died. For the film the same scene was prepared but with general Scott. And it seemed so logical that I just can't understand why they decided not to include it in the movie.
And now some (in fact, there will be many of them )))) words about the Soviet adaptation. (Btw, its name was different from the name of the book, the Soviet adaption was called "The Last Resort of Kings", rephrasing the Latin sentence "Ultima ratio regum".) First, though it was made in the beginning of 80ies, when the date of the events described in the book was already in the past, soviet  authors decided to keep the style of futurism ad set the events in the future as well. But in their "universe" Jordan Lyman became a president at least after Ronald Reagan (because the latter was mentioned many times). Second (and it was completely predictable) they picked up the line with Yakutsk and showed supposedly that the USSR wasn't guilty because the CIA information about Yakutsk was wrong and nothing military was being built there. And third, which is the most important, the movie (in fact it was a TV-series of four episodes) was full of propaganda. (The very "message" of the TV-series was that the Western politics is a dirty thing and all the American politicians are venal and corrupted.) For the sake of propaganda some lines were removed and even more new lines were inserted. Furthermore, there were kind of narrator comments, describing and "clarifying" some concomitant events. The strength of this propaganda was so high that even I, knowing the truth, was sometimes ready to believe in the "message" of dirty and corrupted Western world which was being crammed into the minds of the viewers during the whole TV-series.
Nevertheless, there were interesting and funny things about the movie which made it worth to watch. First, songs sang by ... unexpectedly... Valery Leontiev. (It's very strange that in such a serious adaptation there should be music but the music was very good and corresponding ))) Second, the actors had a definite charm and though the authors made everything they could for the heroes to look like scoundrels the latter nevertheless caused in me sympathy and even empathy. And the last - it was funny how the "capitalist word" was shown by the Soviet authors. Though by that time the remote controls were widespread in the Western world in the movie even the president still had a TV set without it. ))) But in the military sector there were shown things which still don't exist (a force field preventing cars and people to enter the guarded area). They showed the White house inside and outside, the military bases and TV studios but they almost didn't show houses and apartments of ordinary people (I don't know why, whether the authors of the film were afraid to show real ones because this might have dissuaded the soviet watchers in the Western standards of life or was it to difficult to create plausible decorations? Btw, even what they showed didn't portray the American life as gloomy and difficult as it was described in the Soviet times.) Still, I will recommend you to watch the TV series but only after reading the original English version of the book.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Strong, Jack Strong

Have you ever heard about Ryszard Kukliński? I have learned about him reading the book of Victor Suvorov named "Alfabet Wiktora Suworowa" (this book is in Polish and was published especially for Suvorov's Polish readers). The book consists of chapters devoted to different historical characters and Suvorov's opinions about them, almost about of all of them I had heard or read before (even about what might be the real background Pen'kovski's story) but I knew nothing about that there was one more "spy" in the Soviet block, and much more lucky than Penkovsky.
In Suvorov's book Kukliński's story was told though with all the necessary details but briefly, so I longed for more information and was very much surprised and glad to find that there is a movie named "Jack Strong" (Jack Strong was Kukliński's CIA secret-agent pseudonym) telling about Kukliński's "treason" and how he and his family were evacuated from Poland.
The real Kuklińki's passport with his photo (on the left) and Marcin Dorociński playing the main role in "Jack Strong" (on the right)
And I really liked the movie, especially how casting was done!
Ryszard Kukliński and Marcin Dorociński 

I don't know how Kukliński's wife looked like in her youth but Maja Ostaszewska looked very persuasive playing Hanna Kuklińska. Furthermore, the actress herself IMHO has a very rare type of beauty, which first doesn't arrest one's attention but then gradually reveals its full charm.
Marcin Dorociński and Maja Ostaszewska
What else was interesting for me in the movie were scenes of Polish life during 70ies. Though from the Soviet period of history of the country where I was born I can recall only 80ies, it was still interesting to compare what I saw in the movie with what I remember from my childhood and what I heard about the Soviet period of Polish history.
A New Year's party, snapshot from the movie
And one small but significant detail - though the whole movie was devoted to Kukliński's work for CIA and his escape from Poland in the last minutes of it there was shown (in outline, but it was enough) what happened with Kukliński and his family afterwards...
Ryszard Kukliński and Marcin Dorociński
Summing up, I can't recall any other historical movie I have had so much pleasure to watch for the last couple of years. And it touched me in one more aspect - I have felt sudden interest in movies and books about the Cold War. So it looks like I'll write more posts on the topic.