Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And so...

..."JournalSpace is no more." Luckily I'd already signed the lease on this studio apartment; this bachelor crash pad. Onward and upward.

This morning in the current mystery novel I came across an aphorism from my distant past, one that I used to quote fairly often: "When in doubt, do nothing."

This is slight misquotation from War and Peace, in which it is repeated as a French proverb by the Russian general Kutuzov, the unprepossessing schlump who fought Napoleon to a standstill:

"Well, what do you want us to do?" he repeated and his eye shone with a deep, shrewd look. "I'll tell you what to do," he continued, as Prince Andrew still did not reply: "I will tell you what to do, and what I do. Dans le doute, mon cher," he paused, "abstiens-toi"*- he articulated the French proverb deliberately.

* "When in doubt, my dear fellow, do nothing."
(That's Book 10, Chapter 16 in the sturdy old Maude translation; III/Two/XVI in the new Pevear/Volokhonsky version, in which it is rendered, more literally, as "When in doubt, abstain.")

This struck me partly because, just the night before, which is to say last night, I finally got around to watching Sideways, free on Hulu, which with great skill and pinpoint timing makes the case for a diametrically opposite approach to the turning points of life, for the advisability of doing something rather than nothing.

I'll spare you my deep thoughts on this fortuitous convergence. We'll get back to discussing Telegu action movies shortly.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

His word is his Bond

Admired blogger Christian Arthur Lindke has suggested that the crash of JournalSpace could be attributed directly to my failure to post as promised these cogent comments of his on the new Bond movie, "Quantum of Solace," offered originally in a heartfelt e-mail. If he is right, perhaps this rectification will bring about a miraculous recovery. Fingers crossed!

As you know, I was skeptical of most of the reviews that had been offered regarding this film. I was going to say "critical analysis," but I think that is largely dead when it comes to the modern film review. Modern film reviews seem to be "buyer recommendations" with a touch of what Sarris called the "Primal Screen." The modern review seems overly obsessed with what the writer thought of a particular subject as a child. This criticism includes everything from the way "comic fanboys" responded to Superman Returns to the way paid reviewers (I cannot use the word critic anymore) watched and said, "that's not Bond."

Thankfully these two groups share something in common. They are small populations that people don't really pay any attention to. The new Superman film had its weaknesses, chiefly that it was an awkward remake of the first Superman film, but it has some magnificent moments and captures the core of its character. As for the new Bond film, it is free of the flaw of repetition, has been grossly misunderstood by critics, and is among my five favorite Bond films.
  • 1) On Her Majesty's Secret Service

  • 2) Goldfinger

  • 3) Dr. No

  • 4) Casino Royale (Craig)

  • 5) Quantum of Solace (Craig)
There is naturally some play in this list. Sometimes Thunderball works its way up and sometimes I cannot forgive that it created almost every cliche in the Bond franchise (the men in pajamas mass gunfight finale among those crimes). I know that "You Only Live Twice" is equally liable (as is come to think of it, Dr. No), but that film has Ninjas which brings a lot of forgiveness due to my own Primal Screen.

There was a point in the late-90s when I watched Bond films only out of some sense of nostalgic duty. I had seen all the Bond films to date and was meeting my Bondly Obligations by attending whatever current Bond film was being released. It mattered not if the film was a bad remake of Goldfinger, I call The World is Not Enough "Black-Gold Finger," or a bad remake of Diamonds Are Forever like Die Another Day. I had liked Tomorrow Never Dies, as it seemed to bring something new to the franchise (Michele Yeoh for one and a discussion of the power of Media for another). This is also the time that I rewatched the Moore movies. I found them almost unbearable to watch. They were cliche for the sake of cliche (Live and Let Die being an exception). They were too wedded to the "Bond movie formula." I realized that, as weak as some of them were, that the Brosnan films were an attempt to bring some dignity back to the franchise. They succeeded in this goal, but they were still rarely able to capture the same wonder that Bond should bring. It was the Craig films that brought this back and made me believe in Bond again.

What is it about the Craig films that made me believe in Bond again?

First and foremost, they are serious. They are not camp.

Second, Casino Royale hired the most talented 2nd Unit director in the business to help them in the reimagining of how action was presented. Alexander Witt came in and did what he does best, set an undeniably powerful style for action. From Speed to Gladiator to Black Hawk Down to The Bourne Identity to Casino Royale to Fool's Gold, Witt does one thing enormously well. He direct action like no other 2nd Unit director. Not every film he works on is a masterpiece (Daredevil comes to mind), but the action is always compelling. That's why you bring him in. Watch the narrative flow of the action sequences in Bourne Identity and compare them to the other two Bourne films. They all utilize the same "style" of action -- quick cuts, sharp angle changes, desparate action -- but only one moves smoothly from frame to frame. That film is The Bourne Identity. The difference lies not just in the editing, but in the "coverage" of the action sequences which provide material for the editing. Witt provides sufficient coverage and beautiful cinematography -- Ridley finally gave him the full DP position in Body of Lies and thankfully so. The shift from first Craig Bond film to second is similar to that in the Bourne films, but lessened due to the underlying differences in the characters -- more on that later -- as the production company shifted from the A list Witt to the Witt jr. version Dan Bradley who was Witt's replacement when he turned down Indiana Jones. Bradley is essentially a version of Witt who comes from a Stunts background rather than a cinematographic one. Hence a slight scaling up of the stunts and a slight decrease in visual storytelling. I don't mean to make it sound like Bradley is a hack, far from it, just that his history affects the narrative feel of his action. Same "school" of action, different electives if you will.

Third, the action is believable. Bond feels pain. Bond doesn't look silly when he fights, etc. American films have learned a lot from their HK counterparts, and one of the lessons I am happiest they have learned is how to make non-martial artists look like martial artists. This has led many, erroneously, to compare Bond to Bourne (especially when you combine this with the fact that they share 2nd Unit Directors). But I were to make a version of The Manchurian Candidate they would probably feel the same way after they watched my remake of the famous Frank Sinatra "judo" scene. Sinatra's obvious incompetence pulls the audience out of the film, he's laughable. Better to be compared to Bourne -- even though the rest of my film would be relatively actionless -- than to be laughable. That's what is going on here with Bond as well. The new Bond film is a case study in what the modern fight scene looks like, a style that was first seen by "Western" eyes in Bourne, but that originated in films like Armour of God and Operation Condor. These are Jackie Chan style fights, I am in particular thinking of the fight between Chan and Benny Urquidez in Wheels on Meals, which has the appropriate desperation. American fight scenes have grown up, but that is where the Bond/Bourne comparison really ends -- more later.

Fourth, the stories are more plausible. Casino Royale was about funding terrorists and using terrorism to affect the stock market. Quantum of Solace was about exaggerating the effects of global warming by hiding water in aquafers which in turn creates regime instability in South American countries. No super lasers, orbital space stations, or underwater Utopias here.

If they keep this up, I'm in for the long haul happily.

Now for my thoughts on Quantum of Solace. If this film isn't Bond as Bourne, what is it? What motivates Bond in this picture? Why is he so harried and desperate? Is this a film about revenge?

This film does what I thought would never be possible, it updates Bond to the post-Cold War era. Most reviewers have presented the film as a quest for vengeance for the death of Bond's love Vesper. They are wrong. Certainly there are hints of that narrative, as it is offered as a red herring to the audience, but it is not the focus. Where Casino Royale was a fusion of Casino Royale and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this film is a fusion of You Only Live Twice (the vengeance aspect) a little bit of From Russia With Love (the infiltration by a terrorist organization into British Intelligence) with something new -- a threat for the 21st Century. No longer do we have SMERSH or SPECTRE. Now we have QUANTUM, an organization which "has people everywhere" and seeks control over many of the world's resources and leaders.

The film begins in media res with a car chase that ends with Bond having delivered a person of interest, who has be renditioned, for interrogation. The man laughs and says "we have people everywhere" at which point M's bodyguard of 12 years shoots the person of interest and takes a quick shot at M. This is the core of the film. Bond must find out who has infiltrated British Intelligence so deeply and what their intentions are. This is not a vengeance film, this is a protection film. Bond is reacting to the threat against M, a threat that could come from anywhere and anyone. He is preforming exploratory surgery throughout the espionage world to find the proper connections and to discover who this new global entity is. An entity that includes, as Bond finds out at a performance of Tosca, a chief advisor to the PM to whom M must report. M, like most critics, believes Bond is out for revenge. But when M says to Bond at the end of the film "I need you back James" and he responds "I never left," he is letting us know that everything he did was for M -- to protect a woman he loves. This is a film that portrays the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive action, on the personal level. It is quite compelling and desperate, and exactly the opposite of Bourne. Bourne hates his government and seeks the downfall of its assassination program. Bond loves his government and reacts to an internal threat instantly and without regard to its bureaucracy. He is relentless in his pursuit, takes vengeance when it is appropriate (he kills one person in a manner related to how they killed one of his "women'), but puts mission before everything...including protocol and procedure. This is Bond of the books. Sentimental and brutal at the same time. I recommend reading page 2 of On Her Majesty's Secret Service to get a sense of what I am writing about: "What a long time agon they were, those spade-and-bucket days! How far he had come since the freckles and the Cadbury milk-chocolate Flakes and the fizzy lemonade! Impatiently Bond lit a cigarette, pulled his shoulders out of their slouch and slammed the mawkish memories back into their long-closed file. Today he was a grown-up, a man with years of dirty, dangerous memories -- a spy." There's more to the passage where you get to see Bond's personality shift from reminscence to disdain for innocence. Powerful. The same is true of the movie Quantum. Someone threatened Bond's mother figure, M, a woman he "loves." He is relentless in his pursuit.

The only criticism I can offer is that Craig's Bond is a reactive character.


Friday, December 19, 2008

JournalSpace is down again

Reports here.

UPDATE 12/20:

"What happened is that both drives which hold the databases have failed. On Monday we'll be sending them to DriveSavers for recovery. Because of postal transit times and the holidays, journalspace will likely be down for most or all of Christmas week. We're very sorry for this inconvenience."
Not that this is likely to have much impact on my pulsating lifestyle, given how much and/or little I've been posting lately. But you never know.

Latest review. Third one down.

Everything from April to August was archived. Worst case, everything posted from August to December 2008 is no more.