Thoughts: Netflix, The Serpent, The Queen’s Gambit, Walter Tevis, The Hustler, The Color of Money 

I just watched the first two episodes of “The Serpent” and am happy to find another engaging Netflix series. It is somewhat based on a book called “On the Trail of the Serpent”, published in 1979.

In the quest for hit shows, Netflix writers are scouring non-fiction and novels for exciting (long forgotten) tales. For example, Walter Tevis was not a writer on my radar until I watched “The Queen’s Gambit”. Although I had a pirate DVD of the movie “The Hustler” based on Tevis’s first novel. I bought the DVD in China circa 2003. I’m not sure I watched it right through at the time. I was fascinated by Jackie Gleason’s face but didn’t have patience for the rest of it. Watching this film a few weeks ago, I was impressed with the cast of Paul Newman, Gleason, Piper Laurie and George Scott. I then read the novel which was good too. However, the movie is more gripping, Tevis’s book loses focus about three-quarters through. “The Color of Money”, was written as a sequel to “The Hustler”. The Martin Scorsese film version (1986) was made twenty-five years after the Hustler (1961). Paul Newman returns as the pool shark Fast Eddie, Tom Cruise is his young protege and Maria Mastrantonio the street smart girlfriend. It’s a much weaker movie than “The Hustler”. What happened to filmmaking in the 80s? It had deteriorated from the golden era of the 60s and 70s – but was still better than today. 

“The Queen’s Gambit” Netflix series, based on a Tevis novel of the same name, starts out great but by the last episode, I was waiting for it to be over. That seems to be Netflix’s way. They put a lot into the first and second episodes of a six or eight-part series. After that, they reckon you are hooked and they give the writers and directors less time to create the rest of the episodes. That’s my guess anyway.

I found the first two episodes of “The Serpent” interesting as they explored the hippie travel scene in Asia in the 70s. The street scenes of Hong Kong and Bangkok are either old footage or modern film put through a time warp filter. The portrait of a psychopath is also good but there are many shows that achieve this. My major gripe with “The Serpent” is the casting. Tahar Rahim as Charles the serial killing gem dealer is not bad. He might be French of Arabic background rather than half Indian, half Vietnamese, but he speaks French and English well and is suitably sinister. What I don’t get is the British Jenna Colemen cast as Charles’s Quebecois girlfriend. A lot of the dialogue between her and Charles is in French and she doesn’t speak French. She just learnt the lines for the series. And when she speaks English she has to affect a French accent. She does pretty well with the accent and looks the part, but was there no French speaker who could have taken the role? Another potential problem is Armand Rosbak playing a half-Indonesian, half-Dutch hippie backpacker. Is the actor actually mixed race? He doesn’t look it. Often I feel diversity is forced on us, but here it was naturally occurring. The Dutch and Belgium characters are played by Englishmen, I’ve got no problem with this, it is a BBC production after all. Actors doing accents is OK, but having a lot of dialogue in a language they don’t speak? Sometimes it’s necessary, like the “Passion of Christ“, but if not, why?

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