Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Assassination Bureau...Limited

A few days ago I watched The Assassination Bureau again, this time on DVD. For those of you who don't know, The Assassination Bureau was one of those offbeat comedies released in the late Sixties. It was directed by Basil Dearden, whose best known movie (besides The Assassination Bureau) here in the United States may have been 1966's Khartoum. Its screenplay was written by Michael Relph, who also Man in the Moon and The League of Gentleman. It was based on an unfinished novel by Jack London, later finished by Robert Fish.

The Assassination Bureau centres on Ivan Dragomiloff (Oliver Reed), the suave, educated head of the Assassination Bureau Limited, an organisaition of killers who will take the job of assassinating anyone--provided there is a moral basis for doing so. The plot is put in motion when reproter Miss Winter (Diana Rigg) makes an offer that Ivan cannot refuse--a contract put out on himself! Ivan concludes that this will help rid the organisation of any incompetents and as a result finds himself on the run from his own Assassination Bureau.

The Assassination Bureau is set in the Edwardian Era, at a time when women's suffrage and European politics were still hot issues of the day. The movie makes maximum use of the period, with sumptuous sets and very well done costumes. Both Reed and Rigg give fine performances. Indeed, it looks like they had a very good time making the picture. As to the plot, it is fairly well thought out, save for one thing. I still have to wonder at Miss Winter's motivation for putting a hit out on Ivan. Granted, it would be the story of the decade, but then it seems to me that it would also be illegal... Regardless, The Assassination Bureau is a good deal of fun. The film possesses that wry, British sense of humour found in many films of the decade. Some of the most hilarious scenes even venture into the area of black comedy. The action scenes are also well done, with some solid fight scenes. Indeed, the climax aboard a zeppelin is priceless.

The Assassination Bureau is hardly a well known film and I assume most people have never heard of it. Regardless, I highly recommend it. Don't simply rent the DVD, but go out and buy it. This is a movie one will want to keep.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Another Rant Against Reality TV

When did reality become T.V.
What ever happened to sitcoms, game shows...
("1985" by Bowling for Soup)

I have become convinced that this cycle towards so-called reality television is the nadir of broadcast history. The other day I was watching the news and I saw an ad for a show called The Will. The concept of The Will is that a family of potential heirs will compete for the head of the household's fortune. Yes, that's right. It is a show in which family members will backstab each other just to get included in a parent's will. Now I am aware that this probably does happen in real life (not in my family, but it probably does in others), but at least it does not get broadcast.

What is worse is that The Will is only the latest in a long line of exploitative reality shows. The Biggest Loser appeared to have a somewhat noble premise. It followed a group of people as they sought to lose weight. Unfortunately, it was executed with the typical exploitation of most reality shows. In one episode they exposed the poor folks to a mountain of treats--something like exposing a recovering achoholic to a beer truck. In another the poor folks were forced to make cupcakes or some other treat that they were expressly forbidden to eat. Now I am not overweight and I don't love eating that much, but I have been addicted to cigarettes. To expose these poor people to the very temptations they are trying to overcome is nothing short of sadistic in my opinion.

The Biggest Loser aired on NBC, which also showed The 25 Million Dollar Hoax. The premise of this show was that a young woman had to convince her family that she had won a sweepstakes--the catch is that she could share any of the "winnings" with her family. If she pulled off the hoax, the family actually won a fortune. Maybe I am just old fashioned, but I cannot accept a show that encourages someone to deceive their family. Furthermore, I cannot accept a show in which relationships are strained because of a hoax.

As if these shows were not bad enough, they are only more in a long line of reality series that emphasise sadism or immoral behaviour. Temptation Island, Are You Hot?, The Ultimate Love Test...the list just goes on and on. In fact, the number of reality shows which do not engage in sadism, encouraging people to immorality, et. al., can probably be counted on one hand.

The good thing is that it seems to me that the reality cycle might well be ending. This season will see more reality shows air than any other. Usually a cycle peaks not long before it ends. It happened with the Westerns cycle of the Fifties and the spy cycle of the Sixties. If the reality cycle goes the way of most cycles, then, we might see very few to no reality shows on the air in the 2007-2008 season. I do hope that I am right.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Father Christmas Letters

I just finished reading The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien, not that it is a very long read. It is a collection of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children as "Father Christmas." They show, even before he wrote The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, the great creativity of the man.

As an Englishman, Tolkien reiles very little on the mythos created for Santa Claus by Clement C. Moore. There are references to reindeer and there are elves, but the Father Christmas of his letters is largely his creation. Father Christmas is the son of Grandfather Yule and is approximately 2000 years old. He is assisted in his duties by the North Polar Bear and the Snow Elves. Father Christmas' workshops and storage areas are under constant threat by Goblins. Father Christmas utilises Gnomes, sworn enemies of the Goblins, to drive them away from time to time. In his letters to his children, Tolkien created an entire cast of characters at the North Pole, from the Cave Bear to Father Christmas's secretary, the elf Ilbereth. Interestingly enough, Tengwar makes an appearance in the letters in message Ilbereth writes to the children!

The Father Christmas Letters are an absolute delight to read, showing the more whimisical side of Professor Tolkien. I would recommend it to anyone, particularly those with children, who would no dobut enjoy having the letters read to them.