Thursday, July 03, 2003

Italy's PM Berlusconi has stirred up a shitstorm by saying a German MEP would be good in the role of a concentration camp guard in a film. He claims he was using irony. I believe him: it is clearly ironic for a dude who leads a government which includes *actual* fascists to joke about that sort of thing.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Three quick thoughts:

1) I'm glad the US is suspending military aid to countries which refuse to let US troops live above the law of the world. I think the US should go on and eliminate ALL military aid to ALL countries: that'll show 'em! (Seriously: military aid is nothing but gun-running made pretty, and there should be none of it at all. This is happening now because the Bushies want carte blanche, but sometimes the gift-horse's mouth is not so important)

2) The new Sinbad cartoon apparently has altered Sinbad's ethnicity. Coincidence? I think not.

3) On Friday I have to climb into the belly of the beast. I hope I can get back out again.

I recently finished reading the first 4 of the Harry Potter books. I have Pottermania now, hence the decor of my blog (What? You can’t see it? I guess that’s because it is MAGIC decor!).

Sarcasm aside, I enjoyed the books. Actually, I enjoyed them to varying degrees.

I read the first one in May of 2002 (in one sitting: it ain’t Ulysses). I thought it was pretty good: I could definitely see why kids dug it so much, but I thought it was a little bit too kiddish for me to become a real fan. The second book didn’t do too much for me. I read it in August 2002 (again, in one sitting) and was disappointed that there seemed to be a formula emerging: Harry is with the Dursleys, miserable; Harry finally gets to go to school and see his friends; Snape and Malfoy harass him; Dumbledore and Hagrid are sweet to him; the school faces a threat; Harry (with help from his friends) vanquishes the foe and saves the day; Harry learns that it is really all about him; Harry goes back to the Dursleys and misery.

The third and fourth books I read last week and Monday. I liked them better. There are surprises (to an extent) in these books. I am particularly impressed at how the Rowling has managed to make very subtle changes in the way the kids talk and what they talk about as they age. I would imagine that it is difficult to write aging children believably, but I think she has done a good job (although the candy fixation is getting a little hard to accept: I certainly don’t recall getting all wiggy for candy when I was 13).

I know nothing about the plot of the fifth book and I don’t want to know until I read it, but I hope it is more like the last two than the first two.

I read, recently (in the Guardian, perhaps) an article suggesting that the world of Harry Potter is essentially conservative England. Maybe. It does seem to be class conscious (a nice thing for children’s lit), though: there are poor wizard families and rich ones; “old” families and less “respectable” ones; prejudice and spite and bigotry and corruption. Harry seems have fame based on merit, whereas some of the others just inherit their status. The Weasleys are clearly set up to be loved by the readers, but they are equally clearly presented as lower/middle class. Hermione’s parents aren’t even wizards and Hagrid is part of a loathed race. In fact, almost all of the baddies seem to be from a sort of aristocracy, and the goodies are either from the bourgeoisie or working class (except for some of the professors, who don’t all have a clear background). If anything, it seems to be pretty darned liberal (in the 19th century sense): the “old order” is prone to corruption and failure and very susceptible to evil, and the new class (represented by the heroes, who get help from some enlightened members of the establishment) are poised to supplant them.

Far be it from me to bash the Lord of the Rings, but it has long bugged me that bloodlines play such a prominent role (witness Sam’s relationship to the other Hobbits and the “return” of Aragorn to the throne). The Potter books are better in this respect: Tolkein created a mythical past and loaded it with social mores which were all but dead in his time, whereas Rowling is creating a fantasy present and is attacking, implicitly, those same social mores.

She did fumble an explicit allegory, though, in the fourth book: the plight of the House Elfs. That could have been a nice B Plot but turned into little more than a bad joke. We are left, at the end of the book, with a marginally-free Dobby, a screwed up Winky, and a reinforcement of the idea (repeated by several characters) that House Elfs don’t want to be free. Maybe not. She shouldn’t have brought it up, if you ask me, if that’s the way she’s going to leave it.

By the way: Dobby is Hugh of Borg and Harry Potter is his Geordi.

Also by the way: the Durmstrang school has a pretty clearly Germanic name but seems to be peopled by Slavs. Sup with that?

It is a bit of a shame that Rowling seems to have gotten tired of it all so quickly (I’ve read that she isn’t sure how much more, if any, she will write) because I think what she has on her hands is something approaching a Tolkein-like universe. There are, quite simply, limitless stories she could write about the world she has created. Backstory, for example, would be fun. Or something like “Hogwarts: the Next Generation”. She’s got a good handle on the subtleties and a very good imagination. Ah well. We shall see.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

I have been a big fan of the James Bond movies since I was a wee lad. I grew up in the era of Roger Moore, so I have a soft spot for his films (especially "The Spy Who Loved Me"), but I like all of the actors who played the role. So far the only Bond movies I am not enthusiastic about are "Moonraker" (which I think is a bit silly even by Bond standards) and "License to Kill" (the Timothy Dalton one where he goes off for unlicensed revenge). But I'll watch even those two again some day, just as I've seen them both several times already.

I should also say that I very much like Pierce Brosnan as Bond. I think he does the macho almost as well as Sean Connery (not to mention George Lazenby or Dalton) and does the suave/clever almost as well as Moore. Plus, he has aged well for the role (which, sadly, cannot be said of Moore or Connery [see, or rather, don't see "Never Say Never Again"]). I very much liked "Goldeneye" and I'm downright enthusiastic about "Tomorrow Never Dies".

When "Die Another Day" came out around Christmas 2002, I was unable to see it at the theater for various reasons. Part of it was just logistics, but part of it was that I had read some bad reviews that put me off a little. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to seeing it on video. I saw it last night.

Worst. Bond movie. Ever.

First the theme song: I love Bond theme songs. They are almost always really good and even the weakest ones have strengths. I ragged on Madonna's theme (on this blog, in fact) after I first heard it, but I have to say that I owe Ms. Donna a (back-handed) apology: her song is NOT the worst part of the movie (and neither is her cameo).

Brosnan is fine, the opening sequence is actually quite good (including what we see while we wait for the Madonna song to end), and the movie is generally pretty to look at. John Cleese has a nice little scene (which includes a clever shot of some of the old Q toys), too. Halle Berry may be a fine actor (I've not seen "Monster's Ball") but she had crap dialogue to work with in this, and Michael Madsen was wasted, too.

Basically the movie has too much of all the things that come in a Bond movie. There was WAY too much action, the plot was WAY too contrived, the gadgets were WAY too over-the-top, the dialogue was WAY too snarky (and poor Berry got most of the worst lines), and the music was WAY too loud and excited and there was too much of it.

Not that you care, but here's the plot as I understand it. Bond goes undercover as a guy trading conflict diamonds for weapons with a North Korean army colonel who has a taste for the good life. Bond is actually there to kill him, for some reason. The cover is blown, there's a big chase scene, the baddy colonel is killed (but not his baddy flunky), and Baddycolonel's dad (Baddydaddy) takes Bond hostage and holds him for 14 months. Bond is tortured and there is a hint (which is never followed up on) that he may have revealed some secrets while he was being tortured. He gets exchanged for Baddyflunky (who was captured by the Chinese (?). Bond wants to clear his name, and apparently he was betrayed by someone in the West, which is why his cover failed. He escapes from the hospital and goes after Baddyflunky (for revenge?). Baddyflunky is in Cuba (says a Chinese agent, who helps Bond for some unclear reason). Bond goes to Cuba where a Cuban agent helps him (for some unclear reason) find Baddyflunky in a funky hospital. Surveying the funky hospital, Bond meets Halle Berry (who is clearly an American spy, but it is never clear why she's there. I'm calling her Storm). They fuck. Bond goes to the funky hospital. Storm is there, sabatoging (why?). Bond dukes it out with Baddyflunky (who is there getting his face fixed, I suppose) but Baddyflunky (and Storm) escape. Bond suffers no repercussions for the destruction of the Cuban hospital (the guards literally ignore him), but finds that Baddyflunky left some diamonds behind. The diamonds link him to a British guhzillionaire who supposedly has a diamond mine in Iceland (!) and is getting a knighthood (for being dashing, apparently). The Icelandic diamonds seem to have come not from Iceland but from "Africa" (Bond knows this because the Cuban spy/cigar dealer knows such things). M has a change of heart and helps Bond (via Q). Bond goes to Iceland. Another British agent (Hotty McColdy) is undercover as the guhzillionaire's aide. There is a soiree in Iceland because the guhzillionaire is unveiling his new satellite, which can reflect the sun's rays to less-than-sunny places. Storm is also at the party and (for some unclear reason) is after the guhzillionaire. Surprise! Baddyflunky is there! We learn that the guhzillionaire is none other than Baddycolonel: he has had something like a body transplant. We guess (but are not told very clearly) that Baddycolonel is laudering African conflict diamonds through Iceland to finance his lifestyle and an Evil Plan. There is a big fight. Bond and Storm get away (narrowly) but not before learning that it is really Baddycolonel and that his fake sun is also a Frickinlaser. They also learn that agent Hotty McColdy is the traitor (after she and Bond fuck). How she betrayed Bond the first time is not so clear, but we know for sure when she turns obviously Evil (she doesn't grow a goatee, though).

Cut to North Korea. Turns out Baddycolonel wants to use his Frickinlaser to get rid of the land mines in the DMZ (unnecessary, given that early in the movie he makes it clear that he has been equipping his army with hovercrafts so that they can get across the minefield) so that the NKs can invade. Baddydaddy (the general) turns on him (he wants peace after all, it seems) and is killed. Bond and Storm are sent to stop Baddycolonel by M and Michael Madsen (Mr Blonde: apparently a CIA guy who doesn't trust Bond). There is a big fight. Baddycolonel has a really complicated Robocop outfit that doesn't keep him from getting his ass kicked. He dies. Storm kills Hotty McColdy. Somewhere in there Baddyflunky is killed. The Frickinlaser is stopped (at the last. possible. second.). Bond and Storm escape from a crashing transport plane via (this is really rich) a HELICOPTER (I don't know much about the way helicopters work, but my gut tells me that you can't start one while plummeting from a transport plane, but nevermind). They land safely. The film ends with them in a hut: we don't see what they are doing in there, but I'll bet they aren't playing chess.

Really, really bad.

Allow me to recap: Baddycolonel appears to be killed and Bond is taken prisoner and held for 14 months. Upon escaping, Bond goes straight to Cuba (let's give him a 2 weeks). Upon leaving Cuba, Bond goes straight to London, and from there to Iceland (let's say another 2 weeks). Bond and Storm follow Baddycolonel to NK (let's say another 2 weeks). That means it has been 15.5 months since the opening scene. In those 15 months, Baddycolonel has had a body transplant, "discovered" diamonds in Iceland, built his fortune, aquired an international reputation as a playboy superstar, gotten a knighthood, and built his Frickinlaser. Wow.

Did Bond clear his name? Did he really give any information under torture? What the fuck was that hospital all about? Why was Storm on the case? What was Hotty McColdy's angle? Why was Mr Blonde so crotchety?

As I said at the start, I have been a big fan of the James Bond movies since I was a wee lad. I know how to suspend my disbelief. I also know when a movie sucks.