Category Archives: films

Nervous in Havana? Stay cool!

Before the revolution, one had reason to be a bit nervous in Havana. Or at least Alec Guinness had reason to be. His beautiful daughter, you see, was being courted by a rather sinister security officer. And he needed funds badly. What he did will make you laugh and cry, not necessarily in that order.

The film: Our Man in Havana.

In fact, Our Man in Havana was originally a Graham Greene novel, first published in 1958. The film came out the next year. The story spoofs British intelligence services, and Greene knew what he was spoofing. He had been recruited to join up in 1941 and was assigned to  the counter-intelligence unit dealing with the Iberian Peninsula

… where he had learned about German agents in Portugal sending the Germans fictitious reports, which garnered them expenses and bonuses to add to their basic salary

Clever fellows! And here is something that you probably did not know

Remembering the German agents in Portugal, Greene wrote the first version of the story in 1946, as an outline for a film script, with the story set in Estonia in 1938. The film was never made, and Greene soon realised that Havana, which he had visited several times in the early 1950s, would be a much better setting, with the absurdities of the Cold War being more appropriate for a comedy.

Errr …. Estonia?

Fidel Castro allowed the film to be made in Havana, but did not like the final product. He felt that it did not do justice to the brutality of the Battista regime. Greene agreed, but felt that more accurate treatment was not possible in a light hearted comedy he had written.

And of course, the story now will be forever linked to the genius of Alec Guinness who played the lead role in the film — one of my favorites. There is something magical about Guinness’s performance. I cannot put my finger on it exactly. You just have to experience it.

This might inspire you to think of a trip to Havana. If you go, you might want to start off your excursion with some help. A local tour guide to get you into the city with its unique culture, history and food.

Go for it!

A quick follow – If you are interested in Alec Guinness, you might pursue that interest via some very fine books

Guinness wrote three volumes of a best-selling autobiography, beginning with Blessings in Disguise in 1985, followed by My Name Escapes Me in 1996, and A Positively Final Appearance in 1999. He recorded each of them as an audiobook. Shortly after his death, Lady Guinness asked the couple’s close friend and fellow Catholic, novelist Piers Paul Read, to write Guinness’s official biography. It was published in 2002.



Cary Grant’s Ultimate Date Night with Audrey Hepburn?

Charade is one of my favorite movies and there are a bunch of reasons. First, it  is set in Paris in the 1960’s. Who would not love that? And, it is a fun adventure story. The plot is just complicated enough to keep you interested. And the acting is superb. Not just the lead actors (I will get to them in a minute). The supporting cast is superb — especially Walter Mathau. And then there is the duo of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Their banter is so endearing you almost forget about the real world.

Here is a scene that “gives you the spirit of the thing” as Cary Grant says. Cary and Audrey are dining on a river boat cruising the Seine. She is trying to figure out who he really is, even as she is falling in love with him. Enjoy!

The Last Word on “The Last Czars”

My brother loved this article about a series that has Russians roaring with laughter. It ends this way

At a time of fake news, conspiracy theories and people trying to sow discord between world powers, the logical conclusion may be that The Last Czars has been financed by someone who wants to show we in the west are utter idiots. They invested their money well. If that investor proves to be Philomena Cunk? Well, then this is a work of genius.

This line got me going!

… as the real-life historians intrude and explain what is going on, you feel as if you have stepped into a documentary directed by Salvador Dalí.

Best read with coffee at a nice cafe in  Tartu.

Your Next Classic Film: My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Let’s assume that you have already seen the Hitchcock classic “Rebecca”. Hitchcock made the film in 1940 and it was his first major American film project. It was a monster hit at the time, and is still well worth watching for the Hitchcock visuals, the acting, and the story itself.

So if you have not seen Rebecca — do it now!

Rebecca was based on a novel by Daphne de Maurier. BTW

Du Maurier spent much of her life in Cornwall, where most of her works are set. As her fame increased, she became more reclusive.

She also wrote My Cousin Rachel. It came out as a film in 1952, 12 years after Hitchcock’s Rebecca. My Cousin Rachel was a vehicle for Olivia de Havilland, who had just won an Oscar for her role in “The Heiress.”. As an added plus, Richard Burton is her romantic partner in the film.

Related image

The conventional wisdom is that My Cousin Rachel is not as compelling as Rebecca. But it has very similar qualities. So if this sort of mystery/love story genre is your thing — check it out!

And you might check out the 2017 remake with Rachel Weisz!

Image result for My Cousin Rachel

Go for it!

Donald Trump, the Gaslighter!?

I saw this headline the other day and began to wonder

Donald Trump is trying to gaslight us on E. Jean Carroll’s account of rape

As with most stories connected to the Trumpster, it is just gross and I will not get into the details here.

But what about his “gaslighing” thing? What doe it mean “to gaslight” us? Wikipedia comes in handy to sort it out.

The term originates in the systematic psychological manipulation of a victim by her husband in the 1938 stage play Gaslight, known as Angel Street in the United States, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944.[7] In the story, a husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes. The play’s title alludes to the dimming of the gas lights in the house while the husband was using the gas lights in the sealed-off attic to search for jewels belonging to a woman whom he had murdered. The wife complains about the dimming lights to her husband, but he insists that she merely imagined it.[

Yikes!  BTW, George Cukor directed the 1944 film version, which starred a 29 year old Ingrid Bergman. She won an academy award for hat role.

Image result for Angel Street Ingrid Bergman

I would never have figured  that one out.

And is Donald Trump “gaslighting” us? Given the amount of BS ha he dude flings out, I would not be surprised.  But for the Trumpster it appears to be just another day in the White House.

Good Omens and Other Odd Relationship Stories

In a couple of hundred years, when our current issues are long forgotten, some people will still be curious what types of stories we obsessed about.

One genre that I think will endure is the comedic relationship story.  Wodehouse was the master of this genre of story, and Bertie and Jeeves provided his most brilliant setting. The contrast of a bumbling young aristocrat and his incredibly savant butler opens the door to a more happy world. One where we can rest assured that life will be entertaining and all will work out well.

More recently, we have seen a number of these play out in movies and TV shows.One of my favorites is the odd relationship at the core of he film “Sideways”. I also enjoyed the relationship between the two brothers in “Two and a Half Men”.

And we have the story “Good Omens“, which came out in book for in 1990.  The authors are Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

The book is a comedy about the birth of the son of Satan and the coming of the End Times. There are attempts by the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley to sabotage the coming of the end times, having grown accustomed to their comfortable surroundings in England.

Terry Gilliam tried to turn the book into a movie but was not able to pull it off.   But that is not the end of our story.

Now, at long last, Amazon has brought us a proper screen adaptation of Good Omens. Amazon’s version is not a film, but a six-hour long miniseries, with a screenplay by Gaiman and starring David Tennant as Crowley and Michael Sheen as Aziraphale. Directed by veteran Doctor Who director Douglas Mackinnon, it’s a funny, warm treat that fans of the book will find familiar and endearing, from the strong ensemble cast — Michael Sheen in particular shines as the fusty, fastidious angel — to the slightly kitschy production design, which flits between a litany of pleasantly clichéd English aesthetics, from P.G. Wodehouse to Harry Potter.

Check out the above link for a review. This, in my humble opinion is a must see!