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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Streaming Update: Good Omens and Catch-22


Television has seen fit to do treatments on two of our favorite books with widely varying results. Neil Gaiman turned Good Omens, the cult classic he wrote with the late Terry Pratchett, into a wonderful labor of love; George Clooney took the 20th-century American classic Catch-22 , a tenderloin if there ever was one, and sliced it into chipped beef on toast. Guy S. Malone, Researcher and I critically review both efforts.
-- Yours, FilmZ and GSM,R

Good Omens streaming on Amazon Prime (6 episodes) -- a review by FilmZ

We are huge Neil Gaiman fans, and it all started when Morgan Rasputin, the godmother to our youngest, gave us Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophesies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, which Gaiman co-authored with his friend, brilliant British humorist Terry Pratchett.  This witty and loopy take on the Bible's Revelations is a soul-sibling to Monty Python, and it's no surprise that the authors sent it to Terry Gilliam for critique.  Gilliam did more than critique; he wanted to make it into a film himself.  For whatever reason, those plans fell through, and it took until now for the stars to align, sadly, four years after Pratchett's death. Gaiman has poured loving care into the series in honor of his great friend and colleague.  In addition, as talented as Gilliam is, the whimsical, nuanced story needed more room to breathe than a two-hour film could contain, and, as it turns out, a six-episode series is just about as nice and accurate as it gets.

In the beginning (couldn't resist), there was Adam and Eve, of course, and the Tree of Knowledge.  As we all know, the serpent--AKA the demon Crawley--tempted Eve, Eve took the bait, and the first couple was expelled from Eden.  Fearing their fate in the wild, the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), gave them his flaming sword, which God had entrusted to him.  Crawley, in a PR makeover, changed his name to Crowley (David Tennant), and he has been jousting with Aziraphale ever since.

Flash forward to 11 years ago and Aziraphale, who now owns a rare book shop, and Crowley, who hot-rods around London in a vintage Bentley, have become quite comfortable with Earth and mortals (as a superior says, they've "gone native").  So, when two dukes of Hell present Crowley with the Anti-Christ. to be placed with the family of--who else--American diplomats, the demon becomes understandably distraught.  He turns to his longtime angelic adversary and the two conspire to avert the Apocalypse, scheduled for the child's 11th birthday.  Complicating matters, the inept Satanic nuns who run the hospital inadvertently lost track of the Anti-Christ and placed him with a nice English family in the village of Little Tadfield.

In the ensuing years, Aziraphale and Crowley dodge the bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell, including the Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) and Beelzebub (Anna Maxwell Martin) and stave off the Four Horsemen--actually motorcyclists--led by Death (Brian Cox) as they try to locate the lost Anti-Christ, now named Adam (Sam Tayler Buck), who leads his own pre-adolescent gang, called Them.  At the same time, several humans are catching on.  Anathema Device (Adria Arjona), a witch and descendant of Agnes Nutter, also a witch, whose 16th-century prophesies are accurate but difficult to decipher, and they may save the human race; Newton Pulsifer, Witch Hunter Private, who falls hard for Anathema; Witch-Hunter Sgt. Shadwell (Michael McKean), a fanatic; and Madame Tracy (Miranda Richardson), a medium and part-time Jezebel.

If that sounds like a large cast of characters, it is, but Director Douglas Mackinnon and Neil Gaiman work hand-in-glove.  As the characters hurtle toward the End Times, we encounter inventive and outrageous occurrences and the actors seem to be having a blast in the process.   Good Omens' good-natured humor and thoroughly likable cast all serve to leaven its satirical bite, though backlash from some Christian groups is not surprising.  Some sensibilities have been offended by a Black Adam and Eve, and a female God (Frances McDormand).  To paraphrase Patrick Henry: If this is blasphemy, they made the most of it.
9.0 out of 10


Catch-22 streaming on Hulu (6 episodes) -- a review by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Catch-22 is our favorite book of all time.  Joseph Heller's classic anti-war satire is a one-of-a-kind novel; a critique of war, bureaucracy, and capitalism condensed in 400-some pages that swing from hilarity to tragedy.  Also, though we are George Clooney fans as an actor, as a producer and a director his results have been spotty, giving us the excellent Syriana and the Edward R. Murrow biopic Good Night and Good Luck, but also churning out highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing fare like Suburbicon and The Monuments Men.

In fairness, anyone who has read Catch-22 knows it doesn't lend itself to film.  Over 40 characters and the Moebius strip chronology Heller employed to portray the random chaos of both war and the military-industrial complex -- it's enough to make a screenwriter quit the business.  Credit Clooney's ego for taking on the task; discredit Clooney's ego and the writers, Luke Davies and David Michod, for artistic choices that defang the biting satire and bring order to the purposeful chaos.

Having also seen Mike Nichols' 1970 film treatment, we were optimistic when we learned Clooney and Grant Heslov had planned a six-episode series.  Nichols hired an excellent cast and he captured the surreal insanity of the novel, but the two-hour film could only provide a Cliff Notes version of Catch-22.  And yet somehow it better captured the soul of the novel.  Clooney's series is beautifully shot, the air raid sequences are jarringly immersive, and, in the #MeToo era, taming the novel's 1960s misogynistic moments was wise (though the misogyny was a product of its time and a device the novel uses to show the animal brutality of war, and Heller does vilify it).  The chronological layout of the series, however, and the sketchy characterizations leave us with a run of the mill story.  Christopher Abbott's portrayal of the protagonist, Yossarian, comes across as a sad-sack malcontent and suffers in comparison with Alan Arkin's on-the-nose frantic, desperate hero.

Other gripes: calling Yossarian "Yoyo" throughout when it's only a momentary diversion in the novel; underutilizing the estimable talents of the likes of Kyle Chandler as Col. Cathcart and Hugh Laurie as Major ___ de Coverley; bracketing the Snowden incident--the main reason for Yossarian's insanity--as a vague hint in the first episode to be addressed only in the last half-hour (whereas in the novel it is an ongoing stem, revealed by dribs and drabs, building tension until it comes crashing down emotionally at the end); arbitrarily introducing new--and inferior-- material while neglecting parts of the novel that gave the story its soul (Nately's Whore, Chief White Halfoat); and finally, completely changing the ending.  Incredible.  Watch Catch-22 if you wish, but please understand that you will not have experienced anything akin to the novel.
5.0 out of 10


2 comments:

Unknown said...

Very well written and I came away wanting to give Good Omens a chance and to place Catch 22 on the shelf. I've read both books and must agree that they're both at the very top of modern literature.

John DeFrank said...

Thanks, I'm glad you liked the reviews; I hope they are true your taste.

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