Holidays and Travel: Rome 2002

With lockdown making us all wish we could be somewhere else, I am reblogging this 2013 post about a short trip to Rome. David and Jude have seen it before, but it may well be new to most of you.

beetleypete

I had never been to Italy. Despite a lifelong interest in all things Roman, as well as a passing regard for Marco Polo, Garibaldi’s Redshirts, and a fascination with the nefarious exploits of Brigate Rosse during the 1970’s, I had never set foot on the land that also produced the wines I loved so much; Barolo, Barbera D’Asti, and Chianti.

Julie was well aware of my love of Roman History, and my somewhat morbid obsession with the arenas, and the gladiatorial combats fought within them. With my fiftieth birthday coming up, in March 2002, she arranged a ‘short break’ holiday to Rome, as her gift to me. It remains one of the best gifts that I have ever received, and this is the tale of our trip to the Eternal City.

Even the chosen hotel was to be a delight. The Art Deco Hotel, close to the Central Station, so…

View original post 1,262 more words

One film, two versions: Ringu

When I watch a scary film, I like it to actually scare me. Seeing a horror film or supposedly scary thriller, and not being horrified or scared is ultimately very disappointing. In 1998, I heard about a new Japanese horror film that was receiving rave reviews, so went to see it. I confess that I was expecting to see the same old predictable shocks, and well-telegraphed ‘scare’ moments.
I was wrong.

‘Ringu’ really scared me. It was creepy, effective, and just on the right side of making me almost cover my eyes. Bear in mind that I was a 46 year-old seasoned film-goer at the time, and that gives some idea just how good it is. The plot is simple, yet very effective. A VHS tape bears a curse. watch it, and you will be killed by something terrible, within seven days. If this sounds to you like a typical ‘teen horror’ film, I can understand why. But you would be wrong. The atmosphere is all in this film, with its sense of dread and impending doom all-pervasive. Not knowing any of the actors worked so well, as I was able to believe in all the characters. This is what a scary film should be. Scary.

In 2002, the film was remade in the USA as ‘The Ring’. It starred Naomi Watts, and British actor Brian Cox. It’s a straight remake, with few changes except the location. For those who had never seen (nor heard of) the Japanese original, it was well-received, and liked as a horror film. I reluctantly decided to watch it, if only to confirm my worst fears. They were confirmed of course. Familiar actors, and a reasonably familiar American setting, (Seattle) all contrived to lessen the scares, and make it feel a little too cosy. If you like to be scared occasionally, stick with the original.

It’s worth mentioning that this was one in a series of rather pointless remakes of some very good Japanese horror films. Other titles covered by the American film industry include ‘The Grudge’, ‘Dark Water’, ‘The Eye’, and ‘One Missed Call’. Seek out the films in their original format. You will be glad you did.

One film, two versions: Manhunter

In 1981, I read a great thriller novel by Thomas Harris. It was called ‘Red Dragon’, and about the hunt for a serial killer. I liked it a lot, especially the details of the painstaking forensic work and psychological profiling. A few years later, in 1986, I read that there was to be a film adaptation released, directed by Michael Mann, a film maker known for glossy productions on TV, and making advertisements. But it starred the reliable William Petersen, along with such great names as Dennis Farina, Joan Allen, and Stephen Lang. What’s more, Scottish stalwart Brian Cox had been cast as the evil cannibal serial killer, Hannibal Lecktor. (It was spelled that way then) I had to see it, even though they had not used the title of the book, calling it ‘Manhunter’ instead..

It was great. The locations and snazzy lighting so typical of Mann actually contrasted well with the darkness of the story. Petersen was on top form as the weary FBI agent, Will Graham, and Cox made the most of his short time on screen as Lecktor, the bete-noir. They stuck to the story in the book, and even though I knew the ending, I was along for the ride, in every sense imaginable. This was a modern crime thriller to relish, and had rarely been done better. Thirty-two years later, I still recommend it unreservedly.

By 2002, we had read and seen ‘The Silence of The Lambs’. Anthony Hopkins was now playing Lecter in the ‘franchise’, and it was making big money. Cue a remake of ‘Manhunter’, now with the title of the original book, ‘Red Dragon’. As expected, the A-listers arrived. As well as Hopkins, we got Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Producer Dino De Laurentis secured a massive budget for the time, and the resulting film made a small fortune at the box office. Great cast, stuck to the story in the book, and it was atmospheric to watch, undoubtedly.
Some people, many in fact, think it is far superior to ‘Manhunter’.
I don’t agree with them.

One film, two versions: Infernal Affairs

In 2002, an exciting police thriller was released. Made in Hong Kong, in Chinese, it was called ‘Infernal Affairs’. The film concerned the infiltration of a criminal gang (Triad) by an undercover police officer. It is a dangerous task, as only his immediate superior is aware that he is actually doing this, and he has to convince the other gang members that he is a reliable criminal, and a loyal friend.

As this is happening, the local crime lord inserts one of his young proteges into the Police Force, where he can act as an undercover informant on police activities. As time passes, the undercover cop becomes overwhelmed with the stress of his role, but the criminal rises through the ranks of the police, always able to help to foil any attempts to capture the crime lord. This was an unusual premise, and everyone involved plays their parts well, resulting in an exciting film that has real tension throughout, as well as some nicely-executed set pieces. Both the crime lord and police chief realise they have infiltrators, and make every effort to discover who they are, without suspecting the real culprits.

I really enjoyed this film a lot, especially the unexpected ending.

Just four years later, the distinguished American film maker Martin Scorsese made a remake, in the US. He gathered a formidable cast, including Jack Nicholson as the crime boss, Mat Damon as the protege, and Leonardo DiCaprio as the undercover cop. Throw in Ray Winstone, Mark Wahlberg, Matin Sheen and Alec Baldwin, and the A-listers are tight for space on screen. I headed off to an afternoon showing at a big London cinema in Kensington, wondering if it would live up to the rave reviews of the critics.

Well, it was certainly a straight remake, albeit set in Boston. It had a lot of tension, and although Damon looked a lot like Jason Bourne, he was solid enough. As any regular readers will be well-aware, I do not find DiCaprio to be convincing, and he didn’t really convince me this time, either. Take the same story, much the same events, and then insert Jack Nicholson, and you are asking for trouble. As usual, he overplayed being Jack Nicholson, relishing every moment on screen to appear to be as nasty and unpredictable as he could. The film became mostly about him, and the convoluted story suffered as a result, in my opinion. It won four Oscars, and everyone seems to think it’s a wonderful film. Except me. It even tops the lists of many fans of the director.

I’m sticking with the Chinese original. No surprises there, I know.

Lyrically evocative (2)

This is a more recent song that had me hooked when I heard the lyrics. Christina Aguilera is a powerhouse of a singer, belying her small frame. I have liked her voice ever since she hit the big time some years back, and this song took the combination of power ballad and lyrics to a new level, when it appeared on her album ‘Stripped’, in 2002.

Almost anyone anywhere on Earth can identify with the words and emotion in the song, ‘The Voice Within’.

Here are the lyrics.

Young girl, don’t cry
I’ll be right here when your world starts to fall
Young girl, it’s alright
Your tears will dry, you’ll soon be free to fly

When you’re safe inside your room you tend to dream
Of a place where nothing’s harder than it seems
No one ever wants or bothers to explain
Of the heartache life can bring and what it means

When there’s no one else
Look inside yourself
Like your oldest friend
Just trust the voice within
Then you’ll find the strength
That will guide your way
You’ll learn to begin
To trust the voice within

Young girl, don’t hide
You’ll never change if you just run away
Young girl, just hold tight
And soon you’re gonna see your brighter day

Now in a world where innocence is quickly claimed
It’s so hard to stand your ground when you’re so afraid
No one reaches out a hand for you to hold
When you’re lost outside look inside to your soul

When there’s no one else
Look inside yourself
Like your oldest friend
Just trust the voice within
Then you’ll find the strength
That will guide your way
You will learn to begin
To trust the voice within

Yeah…
Life is a journey
It can take you anywhere you choose to go
As long as you’re learning
You’ll find all you’ll ever need to know (be strong)
You’ll break it (hold on)
You’ll make it (be strong)
Just don’t forsake it because
(No one can tell you what you can’t do)
No one can stop you, you know that I’m talking to you

When there’s no one else
Look inside yourself
And like your oldest friend
Just trust the voice within
Then you’ll find the strength
That will guide your way
You will learn to begin
To trust the voice within

And here is Christina singing the song.

One film, two versions: The Quiet American

Today’s choice is a rare example of a remake that is so much better than the original, it leaves me recommending the modern version as the only one to watch. In 1958, Hollywood filmed the Graham Greene novel ‘The Quiet American’, starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave. Neither stars were the first choices, or even the second, and despite some filming taking place in Vietnam (where the story is set) much of it was shot in Italy instead.

If you don’t know the story, it is set in 1952, during the revolt against French rule in the country. A young American (Murphy) has arrived to work for an aid organisation, though he may secretly be a CIA spy, checking out the country for later US involvement in the region. He meets a distinguished British journalist (Redgrave) and falls for the older man’s beautiful Vietnamese girlfriend, taking her away from his friend. As a result, the journalist exposes America’s shady dealings of supporting the anti-communists in the country, and giving them arms.

The film outraged Graham Greene by changing the political emphasis, and making it appear that America was doing the ‘right thing’. And despite a classically understated and powerful performance from the distinguished Redgrave, Audie Murphy was woefully miscast in his role.

Then in 2002, another version was made, by Philip Noyce. This starred Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, with Caine as the journalist, and Fraser in the role played by Audie Murphy in the earlier film. By this time of course, we had seen the French defeated in Vietnam, and the long war that followed against the US and their South Vietnamese allies. Most people had some idea of the background, and the events that led up to it, shown in Greene’s novel, and the earlier film.

But crucially, the modern film stuck to Greene’s original story, and ending. The often clumsy Fraser stepped up to portray the American so well, and Michael Caine gave one of his best performances as the world-weary journalist, which earned him three nominations for Best Actor. The whole film was shot in Vietnam, with locations including Hanoi and Saigon. This was the film that should have been made in 1958, if it hadn’t been for casting errors, and the dark shadow of the McCarthy witch-hunts. If you have never seen it, I really recommend you do.

Significant Songs (158)

Fighter

Sometimes, the popular image of a young singer can make you forget just how good they are. In my case, this applied to Christina Aguilera. I didn’t take a lot of notice of her early hits. A pleasant pop song, a pretty American girl, that was about it. At least as far as I was concerned. She had been a child star, and like some others of her generation, her looks assured she got enough attention to keep her career going into her teens.

Then in 2002, still aged just 22, she released a new album, ‘Stripped’. As the singles were released from this, and I began to hear them played constantly on the radio, I had to completely reassess my opinion of her. The vocals were quite literally amazing. There was such power coming out, it was hard to marry the voice to that tiny frame. This was something special indeed, and with professional promotional videos taking the songs to a cinematic level too.

She continued her very successful career to this day. On the way, she managed (along with others) to do something rare. The cover of ‘Lady Marmalade’ with Pink. Li’l Kim, and Maya, took on a classic track, and equalled it. For some, it was better than the original, and the sexy, sassy video certainly made for great viewing. Here it is, as a bonus. Well done, Christina.

Significant Songs (154)

Cry Me A River

In 2002, I noticed a new version of the song ‘Cry Me A River’ was in the charts. It was performed by the American pop idol, Justin Timberlake. This 1953 song was one of my all-time favourites, especially the jazzy 1955 version, by Julie London. I was intrigued that a young man like Justin had recorded this vintage torch song, and keen to hear his take on it.

Not long after, I saw his promotional video for the song, and immediately realised that it was not a new version of the old classic, but a modern song with the same title, composed in part by Timberlake, and supposedly about his much-publicised break-up with Britney Spears. I was disapointed that I was not about to hear my much-loved old song, but stuck with it.

I surprised myself, by really liking it. The video was excellent, and the production first class. I was not the target market for that song at all, as I was 50 years old in 2002. But as I always say here, you can’t deny talent, and the song really got into my head, and under my skin.

It’s still there.