Monday, 15 September 2008

Her Name is Modesty

We haven't had movie night for two weeks due to Heckler's domestic arrangements, and we aren't having it this week, and probably not next week as he's off to Oktoberfest in Munich. Clearly, it's time for me to catch up with all the things I intended to write up and never did.

A week or so ago, I finally sat down and watched all the way through the TV Movie Modesty Blaise adaption My Name is Modesty. If you don't know who Modesty Blaise is, there are two not quite consistent versions - one in a series of novels and one in a comic strip. You can choose which version you want, or both, or neither. Both series began and are set in the sixties. Modesty is a retired criminal mastermind who uses her skills and contacts to defeat actually evil criminals and Bond-style villains.

My Name is Modesty is a Modesty Blaise origin story. It's set before, or as it turns out, as she begins her career as a crime boss of her organisation The Network. She is working as hostess in the casino of the leader of a gang, when her boss is killed and a group of thugs rob the place. Modesty has to keep the leader talking to keep the other casino workers alive, until the combination of the safe arrives; intrigued by her lack of fear he asks for the story of her life.

One problem with the film is that Modesty's origin was always kept in the background of the books. This meant that whenever Modesty needed a new skill or contact, it was revealed that during her time with The Network she'd done a job/deal that involved whatever was necessary. Putting her life story (up to the age of 19?) up on the screen just feels wrong. Another problem is that her partner-in-crime Willy Garvin doesn't appear as he only joins her when she's running The Network. The relationship between Willy and Modesty is one of the things that holds the books together. Lastly, the actress playing Modesty is just too thin; she need to stand up to men not just mentally, but physically as well.

As for what works, well, it feels very much like an episode of a 60s action/adventure where Napoleon Solo, or one of Roger Moore's characters has to keep a villain talking ll night. Interestingly, Modesty doesn't show off her skills at the start of the film. usually in an action film, we see our hero in action near the start (with the promise that they will be even more spectacular in the climax). Although it's revealed that modesty has been taught martial arts, we don't see that until the end. And it's that end scene - with Modesty ripping slits in her long tight skirt for some high kicking action - where she's most the Modesty Blaise I'm looking for.

Is Modesty Blaise Sci-Fi? The author, Peter O'Donnell says no, despite a variety of psychic powers cropping up in the stories (I, Lucifer being the most obvious example). Modesty is very popular in SF circles - I spotted a reference in S M Stirling's Dies The Fire recently.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


There was no movie night last week. However I've not blogged about movie night the week before, or Xbox games night the week before that. Why? Because I'm a useless lump. Heckler and Kochk - not reviewing anything as we're too busy and uninspired.

The good news is that we did watch something on Xbox games night to warm us up - the feature length pilot episode of Airwolf - the choice of V___. Here I will attempt to capture our experience using questions and answers and maybe stuff off the whiteboard.

Q. Is Airwolf Science Fiction?
A. It's a helicopter than can fly faster than the speed of sound. It carries weaponry useful for anything from blowing down a door, stopping a car right up to sinking a Knox-class destroyer. All this on the chassis of a Bell 222 helicopter. It doesn't get any more sci-fi than that?

Q. Isn't that just bad technical details in an action/thriller series?
A. What about the way the weapons disappear into the space the wheels take up? And the fact that it has far too much equipment and weaponry to take off, let alone do all the stunts? There must be some kind of folded space storage compartment on board. Plus it has a buttock activated cockpit[1].

Q. Hmm. Very well. What is the background of Airwolf?
A. I'm glad you asked. As the pilot episode explains, Airwolf has been built by "The FIRM"[2] in order to do all kinds of illegal stuff fight the Russians (as the Cold War is still on). However it's designer, Doctor Charles Henry Moffat steals it, blows up the research centre and wipes all the files on it and takes it to Libya where he does all kinds of evil stuff with it. Archangel, the FIRM's deputy director convinces Stringfellow Hawke, the test pilot, to steal it back in return for trying to find his brother, Saint John Hawke, who is MIA in Vietnam[3]. String and his helicopter business partner Dominic Santini[4] steal it back after some unconvincing covert operations and several exciting helicopter stunt scenes. Then they hide Airwolf and booby trap it, so the FIRM have to keep looking for Saint John. Archangel convinces String to fly missions for the FIRM and the first season is all set up.

Q. Is Stringfellow Hawke his real name?
A. Not only that, but he lives in a log cabin by a lake with his cello and a hounddog. From the board:

Catch me a trout - I'll be back for breakfast.
Who would train a dog to look up women's skirts?

Q. For some reason this question appears in my notes: Does Stringfellow Hawke wear underwear?
A. In the pilot, String clearly states that he does not wear underwear. Also from the whiteboard:

Strip out of your fightsuit please, we only have 16 minutes.

Q. Does Stringfellow Hawke have any tics or characteristics?
A. At moments when he wishes to impress people with his seriousness, he takes off his shades.

Q. Can Airwolf really sink a Knox-class destroyer?
A. It seems unlikely. However I note that, although originally classified as destroyer escorts by the time of Airwolf they had been reclassified as frigates; as small a US warship you're likely to find in the Mediterranean. In addition, they're mainly Anti-Submarine ships which suggests Dr Moffat has chosen the softest target the US Navy had. On the other hand, most Anti-ship missiles seem to be in the 4-5m long range - about a third the length of Airwolf (not half as Heckler's diagram on the whiteboard suggests).

Q. What is the best part of the show?
A. The theme tune. It's not that the helicopter stunts aren't good, but they only have one mid-air explosion, and far too many shots of Airwolf are recycled or sped-up. The ground-based acting is neither better nor worse than one might expect for a 80s action/thriller.

Q. Was there anything else on the whiteboard that you want to point out?
A. Why not?

"The odds you brother is alive are 10,000 to 1"
"[That Maneuver] doesn't have a name - you don't normally See that unless you've lost the tail rotor!"
Your cream cheese senator - it's pink! Only in California.[5]
"Use Extreme Prejudice"
Wings of Awahu!
"In the Desert a body like that would wither and die in a few hours." "After a few hours with such a body what would it matter?"

Q. In the real world, how would the US have responded to such delibrate provocation by Libya?
A. In the real world, in 1986, after disputes over Libyan territorial claims to the Gulf of Sidra, and Libyan supported terrorist attacks, a bombing raid, Operation El Dorado Canyon was launched. This caused somewhat more damage than Airwolf (no, really).

Q. Are there any youtube videos that could illustrate this post?
A. Yes there are. Sadly I don't have time to dig through them, so here's a link to the youtube Airwolf search page. I have a feeling Heckler had found a couple of amusing ones, so I'll ask him.

Q. thank you, you have been most informative.
A. Yes I have. And thank you for asking such enlightening questions.

[1] According to the whiteboard anyway. The first time Ernest Borgnine gets in, the cockpit lights up when he sits down. When he gets up it goes dark. What are we supposed to think?
[2] A thinly disguised CIA.
[3] Actually, they steal all his artwork, but let's not get too bogged down.
[4] From the whiteboard: And Ernest Borgnine as Dominic
[5] No, I'm not sure what this is about either.