Cagney by John McCabe More Yankee Doodle than White Heat

When I was a kid, I idolised James Cagney. To me he was not only an actor, but was an actor of short stature who came over on the screen as someone who was huge. He was a giant. I’m not talking about the old cinema screens of my youth that made anyone who appeared on them about 50 feet tall. He looked like a giant on the small television screen. He had power in his performances, an aura that made his characters bigger than life.

I did not even see Cagney on the big screen. I first saw him in a Bob Hope film called The Seven Little Foys (1955 from Paramount studios, three years before I was born), on television. Cagney played George M. Cohan, he was reprising his role in the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy; a biopic of the grand old man [Cohan] of American entertainment.

There is a scene where Bob Hope, as the equally legendary entertainment figure Eddie Foy, has a table top “dance off” with Cagney as Cohan. It is, as they say, a show stopper. Hope has always been a more than capable hoofer (dancer) and Cagney actually seemed to “tone himself down” in the scene. After I watched this film, I became almost fixated on this short dancer from New York who, I knew from my parents, had started playing gangsters for Warner Brothers.

In my youth it was not easy to see really old films (in my day that counted as films made before the 60’s). The VCR had not been invented yet and apart from “all nighters” that showed a wealth of work from any given actor, you just had to hope you could catch future screenings on TV by reading the TV Guide in advance.

“Top of the world, Ma!” As Cody Jarrett, White Heat 1949.

The next film of Cagney’s I watched was White Heat. There cannot be a film fan in the world who doesn’t immediately think of Cody Jarrett screaming, “Top of the World, Ma!” Surrounded by fire, his world is about to end in a blaze of irony. The two characters that I’d seen Cagney play were polar opposites and he sold each one, completely.

I have read about James Cagney over the years in various books, Hollywood anthologies, and other biographies of entertainers, but McCabe does a brilliant job of bringing this legend to life. Perhaps the fact that John McCabe was a personal friend of Cagney’s and as a result was able to see more of the entertainer’s humanity and lack of guile.

I always refer to James Cagney as an entertainer versus an actor because he started out in vaudeville as a song and dance man (where he met his only wife, Willie, who stayed with him till he died) and he never lost his ability to dance the feet off of most of his peers. *He used to say he could never come close to Fred Astaire.*

Cagney was born in an area of New York that was heavily Jewish (he learned Yiddish as a boy) and poor. Most of his boyhood pals wound up in prison or at the gallows. His tough Irish mother taught him and his brothers how to box. The amount of things that McCabe relays, with the help of Cagney, is astonishing.

He paints as thorough a picture of the entertainer as possible. He does so without being overly sensitive with the more “unhappy” moments in Cagney’s life. If you are a Cagney fan, this book will be a revelation. Printed in 1997, there are very few things not covered in Cagney’s career and personal life.

When I read actor’s biographies I always finish feeling slightly down. Most “celebrities” pay highly for their success in the entertainment business. Some, like David Niven, seem to have almost been punished by their success. (Don’t go by the two self-penned books by Niven, but read the other two books about his live by Sheridan Morley or Graham Lord) When I finished McCabe’s recounting of Cagney’s life and career I felt happy and uplifted.

Cagney, despite the ravages of old age and all the pain that it brings, was a deeply contented man, who wrote poetry, painted, raised horses and cattle and loved the same woman till he died. This same contented man entertained literally millions of people over the years by his portrayal of a broad spectrum of characters.

This book is one that I would call the definitive work on Cagney; his work and his life. One that shows how he became a Hollywood legend and adored by his fans the world over; this is a real 5 star book that you should not miss if you’re a fan of Cagney or film.

A grapefruit in the mush…as Tom Power in The Public Enemy 1931.

Walking Dead Fever…

So this year, Meg and I decided (in between everything else going on) to devote a huge amount of time playing video games as we’ve both been a bit slack in that area of fun for a while now. First on the agenda (or play list) was The Walking Dead: The Game.

I had been watching the developer’s on-line “diary” of this game as they updated on a regular basis what they had done and where they were in the whole process. Telltale Games, the developers in question, were trying to push the boundaries a bit and not only come up with a game that would resonate with the existing Walking Dead franchise, but, they were also trying to breathe new life into the old “adventure” game.

Walking Dead is a “point and click” game with echoes of role play ala Mass Effect. The gaming community received the games release with a kind of euphoric instant acceptance that appears to be more for the “subject” of the game than the actual game itself. The Walking Dead has been popular with folks first as a graphic novel series, then as a television program based on the novels for quite some time.

Just one snapshot of the ever changing group in The Walking Dead.

The game does not follow the telly program, which did surprise me a lot, but the next iteration of The Walking Dead game verse will. Fans of the books will be pleased with the game though. It looks like you have stepped into a volume of them. The art work screams graphic novel and it works extremely well for the game.

The game play itself is a bit of a mixed bag. In some ways it is simple and direct, but in other ways it can be stupidly frustrating. It was probably just me, but I had a hell of a time moving the R3 and L3 together for “easier” movements and object searches. In the area of shooting the infected, it was too easy. When you pulled your gun and got ready to send a “walker” to zombie heaven, all you were given was a “box” like aiming area, no cross hairs or aiming features like Uncharted for example.

This caused me no end of problems at first. I kept dying as I tried to aim at a walker head. It took me literally ages to figure out that as long as you kept the zombie in the box, you were going to hit it. Once I got used to it, however, I was despatching walkers with the ease of an Annie Oakley shootist. Of course, then it got too easy and the end consequence was that it lost a lot in enjoyment value.

Like other games that are flooding the market at the moment, The Walking Dead has more than its fair share of glitches. Most of them were downright funny. Lilly with her invisible rifle, Omid lying in mid-air, to name just two; but some interfered with game play and were infuriating. There was an apparent frame rate issue that slowed action (or stopped completely) changing the outcome of that particular challenge.

It frustrates me that a company like Telltale Games will spend so much money on publicizing their product but will so obviously cut back on expenditure of quality assurance checks to make sure the game play flows smoothly. Anytime that a glitch changes the outcome of an event in the game, the glitch then becomes non-acceptable from the player’s point of view; and player is spelt C-O-N-S-U-M-E-R guys.

My overall experience with The Walking Dead was positive. I enjoyed the game, the story, and the graphics. I did not enjoy the glitches and the obvious “copying” of the role play element that worked so well in the Mass Effect verse. And copying it most definitely was, the difference being that you really did not change any of the “important” elements of the game by your decisions.

*And before I get my head bitten off here, yes I know that ultimately, when you finished ME3 your choices did not count for squat either, but, originally that was not the plan.*

What does confuse me is how The Walking Dead garnered so many awards, accolades, and almost universal acceptance as being the crème de la crème of all the games released in 2012. I can only shake my head and wonder if it has to do with “cross-merchandising” between the novels and the television series.

I haven’t said a lot about the story, but really there is no need to spend a lot of time here. The main protagonist is Lee, who is on his way to prison after murdering his wife and her Senator boyfriend. After the officer driving hits a “walker” and crashes, you play as Lee and eventually meet and befriend Clementine. Once you two “hit the road” you meet the first of the many folks you will encounter on your mission of trying to unite Clem with her folks.

The group dynamics change and flow as there are power struggles and leadership questions. Just as changing are the members of the group, who die off either getting munched by one of the undead or by natural causes. Not really any different from any zombie apocalypse film you seen or game you’ve played or book you’ve read.

Stepping back from the game for a moment and looking at the entire “verse” of The Walking Dead, I think that the existing popularity of a fictional world that the public already laps up has contributed firmly to the high rating given the game. Which is why I think the next game in the “Walking Dead” franchise that is due for release in 2013 as a “prequel” to the TV series will be instantly accepted and raved about.

Pre-order you prequel now…

Regardless of its merits or glitches or game play, the 2013 version of Walking Dead will hit the ground running and not lose one step in its stride towards “Game of the Year 2013. It is so obvious that Telltale Games want to further cash in on the success of the TV show. Of course when the name of the “real” game is making money, you cannot blame them.

I’ll leave you with two things (or maybe three). Am I the only person who wants to see how Clementine (Worst choice of a character name ever, I hear that “Oh my darling Clementine” in my head every time I hear the kid’s name) turned out after the events of the game? And who else besides me, thinks that “actor Anthony Lam” is really Steve Buscemi?

Will these questions ever be answered? Who knows, but I do think that Clementine is already a pistol toting, zombie killing, little momma who will be able to shoot the ears off of any walker who gets too close.

I would have to give this game a 4 ½ stars out of 5 (if I did a star rating system) just for the fun, if not frustrating at times, game play and story.

“Go ahead, make my day.”

A great write up on a great game…

meginterrupted

When I was little, I remember running as fast as my legs would carry me around the playground in spring. My arms were outstretched as far as I could reach them. My eyes were closed tight. Occasionally I would bend my knees, dip and swoop my body as I streaked across the tarmac. Introducing a few spirited leaps and turns, the fresh air would coolly rush over my skin and through the spaces between my fingers; it would whip and snatch up my hair in its torrents. In my mind –and imagination- I was soaring high from the clear blue hues of daytime through to the pinkish wisps of cloud hanging in the dusk sky. I was flying. But what I remember most about this ‘pretend’ was the very real feeling that swelled up in my chest; it felt a bit like awe, only more… enlivening. I’m also a little…

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Headhunters/Hodejegerne (2011): Short Man Attitude…

At the risk of sounding like an old Carlsberg lager advertisement, Headhunters is probably the best film adaptation of a book…ever. With a screenplay by Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg based on the book by Jo Nesbo and directed by Morten Tyldum, Headhunters is a thriller of the highest order with more than capable acting from all involved.

The film stars Aksel Hennie as the 1.68 metre hero Roger Brown; Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the Dutchman Clas Greve (and if ever there was a man born to play Resident Evil’s Leon Kennedy it’s Nikolaj, he looks like he’s stepped right out of Resi 4 or Resi 6); Nikolaj will be better known by English audiences from his work on Game of Thrones. The two female leads in the film are Synnøve Macody Lund as Diana Brown and Julie R. Ølgaard as the scheming Lotte. Synnøve is not an actress by profession, she’s a journalist and this is her first film. That she acquitted herself so well is amazing.

I first saw Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the 1994 Norwegian film Nightwatch. Interestingly, this was remade in 1997 as a vehicle for Ewan McGregor who went on to work with Nikolaj in 2001’s Blackhawk Down. It is interesting in that both actors display similar virtues in their work, a subtlety and awareness that enhance their performances and make them stand out in a film.

For those of you who have read Jo Nesbo’s brilliant book, you will know the plot already. If you have not had the pleasure of reading Headhunters, I suggest you rush down to your local book seller or library and do so. In the mean time, you will have to follow my recitation of the plot.

Roger Brown is one of Norway’s best headhunters. He is married to Diana and he lives a lavish lifestyle well above his salary. To supplement this lifestyle, he steals valuable art work and sells them with the help of his partner in crime Ove Kijkerud (played with a certain comic deviousness by Eivind Sander, who looked maddeningly familiar to me). Despite Roger’s supplemental income, he’s running low on financial resources and Diana is desperate for a child after seven years of marriage.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie)

While attending his wife’s art gallery opening he meets Clas Greve via an introduction by Diana. Roger discovers that Clas, who is the ex-CEO of a multimillion dollar GPS company a priceless painting in his possession and that he would be perfect for Roger’s current client Pathfinder. A Norwegian GPS company searching for a new CEO.

When Roger (with the aid of Ove) breaks into Clas’s flat to steal the painting, he finds Diana’s mobile (cell) phone in the bedroom. The next time he sees Clas, he tells him that the company is still interviewing candidates for the new position and he tells Diana that he will not be recommending Clas for the job.

Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)

We see Ove going to Roger’s house to presumably pick up the painting. The next morning Roger goes to his garage to get in his car to drive to work. He discovers Ove apparently dead in the front seat of his car. Panicking, Roger shoves Ove into the boot (trunk) of his car just as Diana comes down to see if he (Roger) is all right.

Roger takes Ove’s body to a lake and fills the body’s pockets with stones and rolls Ove into the lake. As Roger sits on the lake shore catching his breath, Ove suddenly appears gasping for his breath only to sink under the water again. Roger jumps in and drags Ove out and takes him to his house.

Ove tries to shoot Roger and ends up getting shot for his trouble. Roger’s life had become a scary cat and mouse game with him as the mouse. Clas will not stop until he has killed Roger.

The locations are beautiful and the cinematography is superb. Despite the “creative license” taken with the book, the film works and manages to crank the suspense up just as effectively as the novel itself did. You still find yourself second guessing and because certain things were changed in the film, you hold your breath at the end, just in case it doesn’t turn out how you expected it to.

Askel does a brilliant job as Roger Brown, the short man with attitude. He seemed to me (looks wise) to be an odd cross between Christopher Walken and David Hemmings. His acting was spot on, morphing effortlessly from over-confident prig to terrified victim to desperate fighter. He rang all the changes necessary to sell his character.

Nikolaj has always made me think of Sean Bean, they could almost be brothers, and he has not disappointed me yet in anything I’ve seen him in.

The film can be viewed in Norwegian with English subtitles and I would highly recommend viewing it that way. It is very rare that dubbed versions are as enjoyable as the original language version. I always feel that a huge amount is lost by having another actor voice the lines. I would give Headhunters a whopping 5 out of 5 stars and class it as a two bag of popcorn film.

Don’t miss it and don’t wait for the remake, see it now!

Clas and his best friend on the hunt for Roger.
 

Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful…Not

How my garden should look right now...
How my garden should look right now…

Usually this time of year, we have cold and wet. If not in the form of snow and sleet the wet usually shows up in the form of rain. So okay, it’s a bit “drizzly” outside and the ground is a bit soggy; but…

Temperature wise it’s about a few degrees short of tropical.

In England??

At Christmas??

It is not just today’s temperature that is pushing the mercury up either. It’s been like this for the past week.

How my garden really looks...
How my garden really looks…

*Oh and in case you were interested it’s just reached 52 degrees Fahrenheit outside in “real” temperature or 11 degrees Celsius in pretend temperature.*

Hell, if it weren’t for the fact that I’m on blood thinners, I’d be wearing shorts, flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt outside on my Metro Health Marches. Granted that at 52 it is about 4 or 5 degrees cooler than it has been for the last few days.

I know that you are all nodding sagely and murmuring about Global Warming, but, is that really what is going on? Am I the only one who thinks that maybe…just maybe, this is linked to the Mayan’s somehow? Was their real message about the climate change that we are experiencing? Perhaps those scholars missed the odd carving in the calendar and did not realise that 21/12/2012 was actually the date that the world’s average temperature was going to start rising.

Seriously though, this is a little bit freaky. I don’t remember southern California being this warm at Christmas!

Sure we had a few days of “overnight” snow that was gone by about 10 in the morning, but it has been steadily getting warmer. It’s actually kind of annoying. Just when I’ve decided that half of the world’s scientific community were talking through their…hats about global warming and the greenhouse effect, the weather starts acting all…global warming-ly.

I’ve got flowers budding on the anaemic bush in my front garden, which I am pretty sure, should only be budding in spring. But then you could take everything I know about plants and put in a match-box and still have room for an over abundance of matches. Mr Green Fingers I am not.

My "out-of-season" flowers...
My “out-of-season” flowers…

It is unusual to see so many folks not bundled up like they are going for a walk in Siberia. Of course all the “older” folks are still bundled up; they are most likely on similar blood thinning medication to myself, not to mention the fact that “older” circulation leaves a lot to be desired. So the OAP’s are still “feeling” the cold but no-one else appears to be suffering.

Does this mean that age old tradition of giving sweaters that could keep an entire third world country warm will no longer be a standard Christmas present? The same with gloves and Mukluks and Parkas will they become presents of the past? Will scratchy uncomfortable woollen clothing items that have been the nemesis of unhappy children everywhere no longer exist?

Perhaps this is what the Mayan’s were warning us about. With their advanced calendar skills, they must have foreseen that from the 21st of December 2012 on, that cold weather was going to be a thing of the past. The world was not ending just excessively cold weather!

Wow! What an epiphany! I just need to put together a thesis and present it to some governmental agency with more money than sense and get a funded research project going. Of course the first thing I’d need would be tickets to Mexico and accommodation for the extended period of time I’ll need to prove my thesis. I will be able to save some money on the project.

After all, how much can shorts, flip-flops, Hawaiian shirts and sunscreen really cost?

Of course I will also need an all important Sombrero to keep the sun out of my eyes… Adiós Amigos!