Spared by fate

Jul. 28th, 2017 06:27 pm
selenak: (Branagh by Dear_Prudence)
[personal profile] selenak
...and I don't mean the latest attempt to repeal the ACA, because that particular sparing came through hard work by people who made phonecalls, Senators Murkowski and Collins putting people before party and McCain proving he has a sense for cliffhangers and drama.

No, I just discovered that back in ye early 90s when the first three Bernie Gunther novels were published, successful and thus considered for movie versions, the two actors in consideration for the leading role were Klaus Maria Brandauer (wrong accent and wrong size, but could see him having pulled it off, acting-wise)... and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thank the universe for small favours the world was spared that one. Nowadays, HBO has aquired the rights to the novels and Tom Hanks wants to executive produce (though again, thank you, universe, for favours, he's too old to play Bernie Gunther now except for the late 50s settings. Also, he's wrong for the part. Nothing against Tom Hanks in principle, but not in this role, at any age.

Since I believe in constructive criticism: I can see Max Riemelt (Wolfgang on Sense8) as Bernie Gunther, and since after the wrap-up movie (yay!), there will be no more Sense8, he's available. Advantages: actually German, actually from Berlin, actually the right age for Bernie Gunther in the 1930s when the series starts (and it's easier to age someone up than to age him down, especially if that actor has to play action scenes), and fluent in English which I assume (since HBO is producing) the series will be shot in. Also, he can do sardonic and increasingly self loathing.

(if it has to be an international movie star, Michael Fassbender would also do.)

(Going to actors who don't speak German and aren't at least half-German: Kenneth Branagh would be good for older Bernie, but just would not be believable anymore for a man in his 30s.)

Meanwhile, have two fanfic links in two different fandoms:

Spider-man: Homecoming:

Just a kid: Both a prequel and a fleshing out to and of canon - covers Peter from Ben's death to the movie. Great voices for all the other suspects, too.


Babylon 5:

The Book of the Dead: in which the Centauri afterlife turns out to be far different than what Londo had expected. Also features a great G'Kar, Timov and Vir!

Philip Kerr: Bernie Gunther Series

Jul. 27th, 2017 05:29 pm
selenak: (Watchmen by Groaty)
[personal profile] selenak
Reading the first Bernie Gunther novel has sent me into the rabbit hole, the marathon reading from which I now slowly emerge, having grabbed all the novels my local library had available and then buying the most recent one, Prussian Blue. By which you can conclude that these novels are addictive, despite or maybe because of their very dark setting and the way Kerr handles it. I didn’t always read them in order, but that works out better than usual in a series because Kerr writes them not always in linear order as well, and several take place in different eras simultaneously (one post WWII, one during the Third Reich), each filling out different gaps in his anti hero’s life. In fact, I’m glad I read, not by intention but coincidence of availability, “The Other Side of Silence” (No.11, probably the one most located in the 1950s, with just one flashback to the 1940s) before “The Pale Criminal” (No.2, set in 1938), because while both novels feature male gay characters, the ones in No.11 are fleshed out and for the most part sympathetic, and also not just one or two but four on page and a fifth one intensely talked about, whereas in No.2 they are solely a weak coward and a villain respectively, which for a novel set during a time when gay people ended up in prison and/or camps in Germany is a highly questionable authorial choice.

(Sidenote: not that you don’t have historical basis for writing gay villains in a story set among the Nazis. I mean, Ernst Röhm. But still.)

Reading the first novel had left me wondering how Kerr would justify Bernie Gunther’s continued survival as a (mostly) ethical P.I. in one of the most brutal dictatorships in history. Turns out, he doesn’t; Bernie gets drafted back into police service by Reinhard Heydrich in 1938, which means that when WWII starts, he along with the rest of the police gets absorbed into the SS, and while he manages to get a transfer into another unit, this doesn’t happen before being exposed to and in one case participating in mass shootings. While some of the novels feature flashbacks to the P.I. period, most therefore have Bernie as part of the institutions he abhors, which simultaneously deepens his moral compromise (and self loathing) but heightens the likelihood of his survival (while also providing the novelist with excuses for letting Bernie be present at some key points he couldn’t have been as a civilian, like the discovery of the Katyn massacre, more about that in a moment). I find this a fair authorial choice – if you’re going to produce a series of novels with a German detective set mostly in the Third Reich, keeping him entirely guilt free of the morass the nation was sunk into would have felt like cheating. I also was able to buy into the premise of various upper hierarchy Nazis – Heydrich, Goebbels, Arthur Nebe – finding Bernie so useful they would want to use him because he’s That Good at crime solving and occasionally even in a dictatorship you need to figure out who actually did the deed as opposed to finding the most convenient scapegoat. (The constant in fighting and rivalry between top Nazis also plays a role in Bernie’s survival, since a good detective is also useful for getting dirt on each other.) Another way Kerr plays fair is having Bernie constantly aware of the sheer insanity of it all – trying to track down individual criminals when the entire system around you has become criminal, and murder and thievery actually are the law.

Further ramblings below the cut )
selenak: (BambergerReiter by Ningloreth)
[personal profile] selenak
Having now read three of the four books the first two seasons of The Last Kingdom are based on, I find my original suspicion that Bernard Cornwell novels benefit from adaptions into other media because these take you out of the main character's head justified, though not always quite in the way I assumed. Because the novels are narrated by an older Uthred looking back, his narrating self can sometimes point out things his younger self did not yet see or realise, for example, that he wronged his first wife Mildrith, or that he underestimated Alfred early on because a chronically sick non-warrior valueing learning and feeling guilty about sex could not possibly be a strong leader in his young eyes. Otoh, older, wiser Uthred narrating still doesn't change the fact most female characters come across as more dimensional and fleshed out in the tv adaption than they do in the novels (Brida and Mildrith in the first, Hild and Aelswith in the second season - Iseult, alas, is a cliché in both versions).

The tv show cut or compressed various characters and slimmed down events, and given that they do two books per season so far, that's not surprising. But even if they took a longer time, I think some of the changes and cuts were to the narrative's benefit. For example: Cornwell has to come up with some pretty convoluted circumstances and far-stretched plots to have a teenage Uthred who is still with the Danes secretly present when Prince (not yet King) Alfred confesses about his carnal lapses to Beocca. In the book, he needs to be because he's the narrator and neither Alfred nor Beocca would have told him about this. The tv show dispenses with said circumstances and just has the scene between Alfred and Beocca, without Uthred secretly listening in, because he doesn't need to be in order for the audience to get this information about the young Alfred.

Mind you, dispensing with the first two times Uthred meets Alfred and letting their first encounter not happen until after Ragnar the Elder's death creates one important difference between book and show relationship that's worth mentioning. Book Uthred lies to Alfred (and Beocca) these first two times and point blank spies on them for the Danes, so the later "why do you keep distrusting me?" indignation rings a little hollow in this regard. Show Uthred does no such thing, so Alfred is accordingly less justified in his lingering ambiguity.

Another cut that somewhat shifts perception: the first novel has Uthred participating in a few Danish raids led by Ragnar, including one on Aelswith's hometown (though she doesn't know he took part). Now, in the show we go from Uthred the child to adult Uthred directly and adult Uthred is solely seen at Ragnar's home, with the deaths of Ragnar & Co. impending, but given adult Uthred later is shown to be already a skilled fighter, it stands to reason he practiced these skills. But I suspect the show avoided showing Uthred fighting against Saxon civilians this early on deliberately. Both show and books have Uthred loving the Danes but staying with the Saxons post Ragnar's death because various circumstances (and then Alfred's machinations) make it impossible for him to do otherwise. Only the book, though, spells out that Uthred doesn't start to feel any kind of identification/emotional connection to the Saxons until he sees them winning a battle (until then, narrator Uthred says, he hadn't thought Danes could lose, which makes sense given that throughout Uthred's childhood and adolescence, they were winning), when before he regarded them as weak and didn't want to think of himself as belonging to them. Which makes sense given Uthred is raised in a warrior culture and is a young, arrogant adolescent at the time, but again, I suspect the tv version avoids spelling this out in order not to make him off putting early on when establishing the character.

Otoh, the scenes the tv show adds in the two seasons where Uthred isn't present all serve to flesh out the characters in question more and work to their benefit, whether it's Alfred, Hild, Aelswith or Beocca. The notable exception is Guthred in s2, whose additional scenes make him look worse, not better than the novel does. Possibly, too, because in the novel Guthred is described having an easy charm that makes Book!Uthred forgive him even the truly terrible thing Guthred does to Uthred, and the actor playing Guthred on the show doesn't have that at all, and instead comes across as nothing but fearful, easily influenced and weak. (And show!Uthred while coming to terms with him doesn't forgive him.) I have to say, lack of actorly charm aside, given that Guthred does something spoilery to Uthred ), I find the tv version more realistic.

The push-pull relationship between Uthred and Alfred is there in both versions, but in the tv show, it comes across as more central. As my local library has it, I also read "Death of Kings", the novel in which, Alfred dies, not without manipulating Uthred one last time into doing what he wants him to do, and Uthred's thoughts on the man later, summing him up, are Cornwell's prose at its best:

I stood beside Alfred's coffin and thought how life slipped by, and how, for nearly all my life, Alfred had been there like a great landmark. I had not liked him. I had struggled against him, despised him and admired him. I hated his religion and its cold disapproving gaze, its malevolence that cloaked itself in pretended kindness, and its allegiance to a god who would drain the joy from the world by naming it sin, but Alfred's religion had made him a good man and a good king.
And Alfred's joyless soul had proved a rock against which the Danes had broken themselves. Time and again they had attacked, and time and again Alfred had out-thought them, and Wessex grew ever stronger and richer and all that was because of Alfred. We think of kings as privileged men who rule over us and have the freedom to make, break and flaunt the law, but Alfred was never above the law he loved to make. He saw his life as a duty to his god and to the people of Wessex and I have never seen a better king, and I doubt my sons, grandson and their children's children will ever see a better one. I never liked him, but I have never stopped admiring him. He was my king and all that I now have I owe to him. The food that I eat, the hall where I live and the swords of my men, all started with Alfred, who hated me at times, loved me at times, and was generous with me. He was a gold-giver.


Last Yuletide I added a Last Kingdom request at the last minute because I'd seen it had been nominated, and accordingly it was short, but this Yuletide I think I'll also offer, and will request in more detail and more characters. While the other historical tv shows I consumed during the last year were entertaining in various degrees, this was the only one which was also good.

Orphan Black 5.07.

Jul. 24th, 2017 02:22 pm
selenak: (Rachel by Naginis)
[personal profile] selenak
In which there's pay off for severa storylines, hooray! And flashbacks.

Who are you? )
selenak: (Default)
[personal profile] selenak
For once, I manage to write my book reviews on a Wednesday.

Sam Bourne: To Kill the President

It was to be expected: the first Donald Trump era thriller (that I've read). Which takes full advantage of the fact that when previously any critic worth their salt would have complained about the one dimensional characterisation of the villains and the lack of realism in the US voting someone like that into power and then the Republican Party falling in line, followed by no checks and balances from any institution after even the Supreme Court caves due to the stolen seat being filled by the new President's choice, now all this looks like, well, realism.

Spoilers from an age where reality beggars caricature )


Philip Kerr: March Violets.

This is the first novel of a mystery series which I heard/read about via The New Yorker. The article in question was enthusiastic enought to overcome my instinctive squick at the premise, to wit: hard-boiled/noir detective novel set in the Third Reich. Basically, what if Philip Marlowe was German? Wandering those mean streets as a cynic with an ethical core takes a whole new meaning if the authories aren't just corrupt but a dictatorship preparing for war and genocide. Our hero is Bernie Gunther, former policeman who quit the force in 1933 for the obvious reason given that the novel positions he has ethics, and became a private investigator instead. Kerr serves up all the usual hard boiled/ noir tropes - untrustworthy millionaire clients, corrupt cops, shady dames -, complete with Chandleresque language, and he did his research - the novel's setting is Berlin in 1936, around the Olympic Games, and in addition to the well drawn Berlin geography, there are some great nods to Fritz Lang's movie M via some of the supporting cast, gangsters (given that Bernie Gunther originally gets hired to recover some diamonds, though of course it turns out it's far more complicated and what everyone is after is something else altogether. The brief appearances by historic figures (Göring and Heydrich, to be precise) are drawn credibly, which is to say their vileness comes across without Kerr employing sledge-hammery moustache twirling; in fact, he uses Göring's bonhommie manners to make him chilling.

As opposed to To Kill a President, this actually is a good novel. But. I still struggle somewhat with the basic premise. This is the first novel of what according ot the New Yorker article I'd read are twelve so far, and already I'm having to suspend disbelief about Bernie's continued survival. There's no reason why Heydrich at the end of this first novel shouldn't have gotten him killed, for example. And since we're in 1936, Bernie would still have the possibility to leave the country, and given what happens to him in this novel, it's hard to wonder why he doesn't, given he has no dependants who'd suffer for it. Yes, the decision to emigrate wasn't as easy as hindsight would have it if you weren't rich and didn't have friends abroad, but again, some truly harrowing things happen to Bernie in this novel which would serve as an incentive to get the hell out of Germany if ever there was one beyond the general situation of the country.

With this caveat, I'll keep reading.

Spider-man: Homecoming (Film Review)

Jul. 18th, 2017 05:43 pm
selenak: (Henry Hellrung by Imaginary Alice)
[personal profile] selenak
Okay, that's it. As Civil War made me suspect, Tom Holland is my platonic ideal of Peter Parker, at least in his teenage phase. Also, while I had liked the first Raimi/Maguire movie and parts of the rest while increasingly disliking other parts of those films, and liked the first Garfield without thinking it needed to exist while extremly disliking the second one, this latest cinematic go at Spidey was a complete delight to me and I love it.

Ramblings beneath the cut )

Doctor Who and Orphan Black 5.06.

Jul. 17th, 2017 02:03 pm
selenak: (Missy by Yamiinsane123)
[personal profile] selenak
Spoilery Doctor Who talk about the big casting spoiler. )

On to Orphan Black. Which was a good spy hijinks hour that moved the plot forward.

Read more... )

Versailles (Season 2)

Jul. 16th, 2017 04:09 pm
selenak: (Max by Misbegotten)
[personal profile] selenak
Since the other Borgias left me in the mood for over the top historical melodrama, and since it was available, I marathoned the second season of Versailles. (My first season review is here.) Aka, the show with the general accuracy of The Tudors (which is to say more than than the all around anachronistic crack like Reign, but generally not that much, though the occasional clever use of historical fact actually happens), produced by Canal just as Borgia, with the main selling point to internet fandom that there’s canon m/m prominently featured, courtesy of Louis XIV.’s brother Philippe d’Orleans, aka Monsieur, played by the increasingly gorgeous Alexander Vlahos. The second season tackles the affair of the poisons, one of the most notorious events in the reign of Louis XIV., but just as it did in the first season with just about any historic event fictionalizes the hell out of it, including, mystifyingly, changing the name of the main supplier of the poisons in question. Instead of La Voisin (first name Catherine), we have “Madame Agathe”. (Otoh the black mass celebrating renegade priest gets to stay Father Etienne Guibourg, which means the first time he is introduced in a seemingly benign undercover identity, the more historically versed parts of the audience know who he is and what he’s infamous for.) In terms of historical characters, we also get introduced to the delightful Liselotte von der Pfalz, the Princess Palatinate, and may I say that I was hugely relieved the Versailles version is great, because the original is one of my favourite figures of the era, due to all those vivid letters she penned for the folks back home, and as Versailles’ first season unfortunately reduced Monsieur’s first wife Henriette to a very passive, agenda-less character, which the original definitely was not, I was a bit afraid something similar might happen to Liselotte, the second Madame. But no. She’s blunt, no-nonsense, determined to make the best of a bad situation, as all versions of Liselotte should be. (Mind you, this show still obeys the Hollywood rule of plain and beauty, so when Monsieur’s lover, the Chevalier de Lorraine, ridicules Liselotte’s fashion and looks, it’s not clear what he’s on about since the actress is pretty – whereas historical Liselotte cheerfully admitted to her plainness in youth and weathered stoutness in age, comparing her looks as a middleaged woman to a roasted pig – and so is her wardrobe.)

On to more spoilery musings beneath the cut. )

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