Category Archives: Movies

On to August

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted.  I wrote some drafts after George Floyd, but realized that I really shouldn’t write about race relations: whatever I might post could be used against me, to no practical gain.  The only thing that I think I can safely say is this:  When I was a kid growing up in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, I was sure that sometime in the future, say, 2020, we would be past fussing over race, and look at black and white as no different from blond or brunette, or tall or short.

That clearly hasn’t happened.

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No, we haven’t gotten sick: my wife, my son, and I are still very much alive and well.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I felt icky.  I was really achy, and excused myself from work ‘in an abundance of caution,’ although I could have toughed it out.  I went back to bed, slept a couple of hours, and felt partway better by lunchtime, and well enough in the afternoon to take my daily walk (2-3 miles, although sometimes longer).

There was no fever, no shortness of breath, no coughing: none of the things we were told to look out for in March.  But the symptoms of Covid have broadened to the point where anything beyond a broken bone is suspect.

I was not to go out into the field for work until I was tested.  I went for a test the next day.

“Was it as horrible as you imagined?” the doctor asked after sticking the swab up both nostrils.

“It was about 80% as horrible as I imagined.”  I think I’d prefer a blood test.

My wife went for the test at the same time.  She has been following what’s happened in Korea in response to Covid, and was wondering why there wasn’t a blood test, as is apparently standard there.  She was also frustrated that we had to wait a week and a half for the result.

The tests came back negative.

Next time, unless I wake up barfing up a lung, I think I’ll tough it out, even though the rules expressly forbid that.

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We’ve gotten through all four phases of Uncle Andy’s Four-Phase Plan in New York City.  Some things, like mass entertainments, were never in the plan, perhaps to be resumed when the public perception of the danger, rather than the danger itself, had passed.

Other things got tossed over the side, including:

  • Gyms:  I’ve worked around this by ditching the subway and taking a Citi Bike most of the way to and from the office (as far as I can get in 45 minutes) and walking the rest.  I’ve managed to resist what in some quarters has been called the ‘quarantine fifteen.’  The gym owners in New York State have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state; we’ll see how they prevail against Uncle Andy.
  • Indoor dining:  This may seem a bit of an extravagance, but ‘dining’ in this context also refers to places like McDonald’s.  You can get a bite there, but sitting in the air-conditioned dining room to eat it is not an option.  Restaurants have set up temporary seating areas in the sidewalks and curb lanes, and it’s really nice if the weather holds, but November is coming.
  • Movie theaters:  Perhaps it’s just as well, as there haven’t been any movies that I’ve really wanted to see in years.  (In the 1990s, there were a couple of worthwhile movies every month.)  But it’s a downer not to be able to duck out of the heat of the day for a bit.
  • Museums:  I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘let’s go to the museum today.’  But it’s a pleasant, contemplative alternative for an afternoon’s leisure.  I do miss it.  The Metropolitan Museum is planning to reopen on 29 August… if Uncle Andy says it’s OK, which seems unlikely.

At least one can escape the heat by going shopping, although my wife has remarked that Macy’s hasn’t updated their stock in the month or so since they’ve reopened.  I guess springtime clothing will still work in the late summer and early fall.

Ghostbusters 2016

Yesterday, my wife and I went to see the new Ghostbusters movie.  I’ve grown accustomed to present-day remakes and ‘reboots’ being a disappointment, but in that respect, the new version did well.  The characters fit the story, and the story flowed well.  I was entertained.  To its credit, the movie contemplates aspects of the Ghostbusters story that the original skipped, like the characters’ pasts, and the development of the tools.

To be sure, the movie turns, like most modern remakes, on overwrought computer-enhanced visuals rather than dialogue.  It has its funny moments, but lacks the sparkle and wit of the original.  I waited in vain for someone to say something like, “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say ‘YES!’!”  The scenes set in the subway were a bit lame, as well: I used to work for the outfit, and know how things are supposed to work.  But on the whole, I was enjoying myself, so these are minor quibbles.

What’s more distressing is in the details, where we see how the world has changed in the last 30 years.  It isn’t that the Ghostbusters are women this time around: it’s that they don’t know to call themselves ‘Ghostbusters’ until someone on television calls them that.  The original Ghostbusters entered the trade to ‘get rich,’ i.e. to make a productive living: the new ones don’t worry about that.  And the relationship between the Ghostbusters and the government is different: in the original, the Ghostbusters are left alone until an EPA bureaucrat decides they may be harming the environment; in the new version, they’re called before the Mayor before anything really happens, and are told to go about their business, even though they will be denounced as a fraud.

It’s a pleasant entertainment for a Saturday afternoon, but, alas, you can’t go home again.

Remembering Paris

A week ago Friday, Islamic terrorists associated with ISIS executed a series of attacks in Paris, at a sports arena, a music hall, a restaurant, and several other sites.  They killed 129 people and left over 300 wounded.

I was horrified, but not particularly surprised.  Two weeks before, ISIS planted a bomb on a Russian airliner full of tourists returning home from Egypt.  The plane dropped out of the sky, and all 224 on board was killed.  The Russians, more than us, have stirred up the ISIS hornet’s nest, and now we’re facing the consequences.  (Then again, we built ISIS, but that’s another story.)

The next day (a week ago Saturday), my wife and I went to see the new James Bond movie, Spectre.  One of the trailers was for London has Fallen, an upcoming action movie in which terrorists blow up, well, London.  It seemed in poor taste after the events of the previous day.  But I suppose that the show must go on.

Spectre was a pleasant afternoon’s entertainment, without so much emphasis on Bond’s personal problems.  But it’s consistent with the new generation of Bond films in that Bond’s adversary resolves into a non-rogue agent of the same government that Bond himself serves.  The plot revolves around a ‘Nine Eyes’ surveillance initiative by which nine countries would pool their resources and share surveillance data on all their citizens.  But, in real life, there is a ‘Five Eyes’ surveillance agreement between the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  It seems pointless for Bond to appear in a movie trying to thwart a plot that is already in operation in real life.

Saturday night, the Democratic Presidential candidates had a debate.  I watched some of it after the fact, and lost interest: the candidates are too much in agreement with each other.  But Hillary Clinton was called out for not wanting to say that we were at war with ‘radical Islam.’

On one level, I agree with her: it’s ludicrous to say that one is ‘at war with Islam.’  A religion is a set of ideas: software for the brain.  It’s almost like saying one is at war with Microsoft Word.   But the principles of Islam are a driving force for the terrorists.  That’s why I prefer to refer to our adversary as ‘Islamic terrorists,’ and what makes Hillary’s use of ‘jihadist’ evasive.

As I watched the evening news this week, and they regurgitated the Paris attacks, I realized that I was supposed to be frightened.  I don’t see the point: quivering in fear accomplishes nothing.  Even the Parisians understand that: they have been coming together at the Place de la Republique to talk, and heal, and move forward.

But our leadership is latching on to the event to tell us that we need yet more surveillance, and that those evil companies, Apple and Google, have released software that enables individuals to send encrypted messages that the government can’t read!  They have to be stopped!  And, by the way, you can blame this all on Edward Snowden, for spilling the beans about the NSA.

Well, maybe.  If the volume of data to be transferred is small enough, it’s easy to make an unbreakable code, with or without a smartphone app, because the party who would break the code does not have enough input to begin to try.  And no, the government does not have the right to read our communications in transit, any more than it has the right to read our paper mail.

Meanwhile, President Obama wants to bring at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into the US per year over the next two years, and perhaps many more.  He says that it’s in the American tradition of looking after the downtrodden.

Again, well, maybe.  Our Dear Leader sent out a graphic noting that in the past five years, we’ve accepted 2,000 refugees, none of whom have been arrested for terrorism… yet.  But now he’s proposing bringing in an order of magnitude more in a shorter time, and somehow things will just work out?

Moreover, we’re broke.  You might say that it’s only a few billion, and barely moves the needle in terms of the national debt.  But it still pains me to see our President playing Lady Bountiful, spending money he doesn’t have.

All of which has taken me a bit afield from what I started with, the terrorist attacks in Paris last week.  To be sure, it’s sad and horrifying, but life goes on.  I speak from experience: we had terrorist death and destruction in New York City not that long ago.

But more horrifying than the destruction wrought by the terrorists is the realization that, in both instances, our leadership brought the terrorists into existence to play some other geopolitical games, and they turned on us when circumstances changed.

We have to start doing something different.  And we need to start, as individuals, by not letting our leadership and the media fearmongers frighten us.

In Another Time…

In Back to the Future, Part II, Marty McFly traveled from 1985 to yesterday, 21 October 2015, to look in on his future family and possibly save his own son from a life of crime.  The subject has been done to death in the media this week, but I can’t resist plucking at a couple of the less-noted details of this fictive future.  I’m immensely relieved, for example, that double neckties never caught on.

Double Necktie

The movie also imagined that we would essentially be taken over by the Japanese.  When it came out in 1989, Japan was making ‘all the best stuff,’ but they’ve since wilted, perhaps victims of their own success.

We’re also not too far from 2019, the time frame of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man.  The notion of America as a poverty-stricken police state doubtless seemed laughable in 1987, but as 2019 approaches, the laughable seems to be becoming all too real.

The other day, I was watching The Hunt for Red October, the 1989 movie about a Soviet submarine captain who wanted to defect to the United States.  It was a cool movie back then, and still holds its own 26 years later.  But I’m compelled to believe that if Red October happened today, the American leadership would probably bend over backwards to return the sub to the Russians, and probably the captain as well.  Either that, or help the Russians to sink it.

And then there’s Tony Manero, the John Travolta character from Saturday Night Fever.  Back in the 1970s, it wasn’t outlandish to get an ordinary sort of job out of high school, and make a modest living at it.  But the little hardware stores that used to be a fixture in Brooklyn–and pretty much everywhere else–are going the way of the dodo.  And there was his boss, who paid him on Monday so he’d have money all week.  Sensible, but hopelessly quaint.  It’s hard to imagine Tony Manero working for Lowe’s.

Writing’s on the Wall

For the last twelve years or so, I’ve thirsted for good music, or at least what I think is good music.  I’m looking for something propulsive and exciting, that makes me want to get up and do something.

Earlier this year, I joined a gym to work off my middle-aged spread.  One of the things that keeps me coming back is their music mix.  I don’t like all the songs, but the music keeps me moving.  Once in a while, they play something that I’ve never heard before that I really like.  I then look it up to find that it came out perhaps ten years ago.  Nevertheless, it’s a discovery.

This year, I was looking forward to two events: the new Duran Duran album, Paper Gods, which came out last month, and the theme from the new James Bond movie, Spectre.

Paper Gods was a disappointment, but that will be a discussion for another day.

‘Writing’s on the Wall,’ the theme from Spectre, is music with the power and sweep of a proper James Bond theme.  On that level, it succeeds.

But the voice!  If it had been performed by a woman, it would work perfectly.  It might still work if performed in a lower register by a man.  But the song was performed by Sam Smith in a warbly countertenor that just doesn’t fit for a James Bond movie.

Let me explain: most of the Bond themes are sung by women.  When a man sings a James Bond theme, the music is necessarily very strongly associated with the character: one can (or should be able to) readily imagine Commander Bond taking the microphone at Karaoke Night in the MI6 Lounge (in the third sub-basement) and singing it himself.

‘From Russia with Love’ passes this test, although as the second Bond film, there was still room for experimentation. ‘Thunderball,’  ‘Live and Let Die,’ and ‘You Know My Name’ pass the test with flying colors.  ‘View to a Kill’ and ‘The Living Daylights’ pass as well, although they’re more difficult to sing.  But ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ flunks spectacularly.  How could such an insecure wimp be a master spy?

But perhaps it’s consistent with the mood of the ‘rebooted’ Bond movies.

We all have our inner demons.  We conquer them, coexist with them, or find a way to make them work for us.  And we talk about them, if at all, only to our closest friends and family, or possibly to trained professional help if they’re really troublesome.  We do not share our demons in our working lives.  (At least, that’s the way I was brought up.)

The pre-Daniel Craig movies present James Bond as a man at work.  He may have his fears and insecurities, but he sets them aside and presses on with the mission.  We don’t see them in the movies because the mission is not the time or the place to contemplate them.

In contrast, we’re aware of the ‘rebooted’ Bond’s personal problems.  He isn’t the stainless hero that we imagined.  Perhaps the producers imagined they were making him more human, and more interesting, but it took away the cool factor.

So perhaps our new Bond could take the microphone and sing:

A million shards of glass
That haunt me from my past
As the stars begin to gather
And the light begins to fade
When all hope begins to shatter
Know that I won’t be afraid

But it just isn’t the same.

The writing is, indeed, on the wall.


I went with my family to see Skyfall, the new James Bond movie.  We all enjoyed it.  It has all the Bond film goodies: Daniel Craig, for whatever misgivings I have about how his character is scripted, is an excellent masculine action hero; Judi Dench is perfect as ‘M;’ there’s a compelling story line and plenty of action without it getting tiresome.

And yet…

  • One of the things that made James Bond, and the Bond film, so compelling, was that I could realistically aspire to be Bond.  No, I’m not a spy, but some of my work involves behind-the-scenes derring-do.  The previous Bonds were generally in good shape, but not fantastically athletic.  I could readily imagine myself as Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan.  But I get tired just watching Daniel Craig sprint through the streets of London.
  • James Bond villains in the Daniel Craig movies are just not the same as before.  The classic Bond villain is a megalomaniac with vast plans for world domination in one form or another.  So far, we’ve had bankers in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and an ex-agent with a personal vendetta in Skyfall.  Which leads to:
  • I thought the title, Skyfall, referred to some kind of atmospheric mayhem that the villain was preparing to commit.  I was disappointed to find that it was the name of Bond’s childhood home.  (Almost as bad as finding out that the ‘Desire’ in A Streetcar Named Desire was simply the destination of the streetcar.)

The first Bond movie that I saw in a movie theatre was Live and Let Die in 1973: my observations about earlier films are necessarily after-the-fact.  But while the first two Bond films in the 1960s were good, it was the third effort, Goldfinger, when they finally got all the parts working together.  And so it is with Skyfall: the new franchise is finally firing on all cylinders.

I’m already looking forward to the next one….

Aurora, Colorado

Early Friday morning, during the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, a young man opened fire on the audience with a rifle, a shotgun, and two pistols, killing 12 and injuring another 59.  The commentary I’ve read about it falls into two categories:

  • This is yet another example of why we need yet more gun control in this country.  Better yet, let’s ditch the Second Amendment and make them all illegal.
  • This event would not have been so deadly if there had been an armed person in the audience who could have shot back.  While it’s relatively easy to get a concealed carry permit in Colorado, the owners of the theatre designated it as a no-weapons area, effectively disarming the audience.

More practically, it’s doubtful that an armed spectator, unless he had military or police training, could have done much useful: the event took place while the movie was being shown, and the perpetrator had thrown a smoke grenade and was wearing body armor: it would not have been an easy shot.

As far as gun control. while massacres like this are relatively infrequent, the rate of homicide by firearm in the US is the highest in the industrialized world.  But the Second Amendment right to bear arms is one of our essential civil rights.  Perhaps gun violence has gotten to the point where it can be considered a public health issue.  But are we ready to say that we, as a country, are too stupid to be trusted with firearms?

Meanwhile, the event raises other questions:

  • The shooter, in addition to his weapons, was wearing full body armor and a gas mask.  Did he arm and equip himself, or did someone help him?
  • He surrendered to police, and then warned them that his apartment had been booby-trapped, an assertion that proved to be accurate.  Why would he tell the police that?  If he booby-trapped his own apartment, wouldn’t his intent be for the trap to be triggered when the police visited it?
  • The radio transcripts reported in the newspaper show that at least 15 minutes after the initial reports, the movie was still running.  In another time, a movie theatre would have a projectionist, who, in response to such a disturbance, would have stopped the show and turned up the house lights.  Or is it all done by machines?

Up in the Air

The other night, I found myself watching Up in the Air on the tube.  The movie, featuring George Clooney as a traveling ‘career transition counselor’ (i.e. telling downsized employees that they’ve been fired) resonates with me at the same time as it bothers me.  Is this what American business has come to, that the hot new field is helping other businesses destroy themselves?

In my own business, I’m busy: that’s part of why I don’t post here as often as I’d like to.  But I’m compelled to wonder how long it will last.  And I watch George Clooney do demolition, one downsizee at a time, as he wonders about being his own happy life of air travel being demolished as well.

About halfway through the movie, my wife came home and changed the channel.  “Thanks, Ducky,” I told her.  “You saved me from myself.”

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Quickie Update: I did not need to wait for the rest of the summer for the Daily News to raise its price to match the Post.  It only took one week.

Atlas Shrugged Movie

When I was in my early twenties, one of my aunts recommended the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged to me.  It illuminated my life: it clarified my place in the world, and the power of one’s mind and of productive energy.

On 15 April. a movie version of the first part of the novel was released.  I finally got around to seeing it today.  It’s a little strange: it’s playing at a regular theatre, not an art house, but there is very little publicity about it: no newspaper ads, no TV commercials, not even a poster in the lobby.  In fact, if I hadn’t been for some random Web surfing a couple of weeks ago, I would have missed it.

It’s not spectacular: the production is clearly constrained by its budget, and in the interest of not making it too ‘talky,’ some of the wit in the original dialogues was dropped.  But it’s a good telling of the story, with solid performances.  I went today with my son, and will take my wife to see it next weekend, if it’s still open.

The popular perception of the movie is heavily politicized, but both sides are wrong.  Liberals see Ayn Rand as vaguely evil, with her warnings against altruism.  But it’s not that she didn’t believe in charity: it’s that she didn’t believe that it was the government’s job to subsidize people out of poverty.  And conservatives praise her as an apostle of free-market economics, which is true, but she was a champion of free enterprise without government help, which is very different from what passes for capitalism today.

In any case, it’s a good picture.  I enjoyed it, and look forward to Part II.

Captain of Industry?

My wife is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and as a result, we get advance DVD copies of movies so that my wife can watch the movies and vote in the SAG awards.  I had wanted to see The Social Network, but missed it in the theatre, so now was my chance.

I’m glad I saved the $25 that two movie tickets would have cost.

It’s not that The Social Network is a bad movie: it has a compelling script, is well-photographed, and has excellent performances.  The cast and crew have more than done their job in bringing the story of Facebook to life.  But I very quickly came to the realization: I don’t like these people.

I remember old movies about how great enterprises came to be.  Their founders struggled with practical problems, overcame them, and proudly succeeded.  But we see nothing about the practical problems of creating Facebook: instead we see how its founder promptly got embroiled in lawsuits.

In fairness, perhaps I’m biased.  Facebook, we’re told, is the social experience of college wrapped up in a Web site.  Alas, I had no social life to speak of in college: we were all engineering nerds, and what few girls there were in class quickly got snapped up by the guys who were better at that sort of thing than me.

But if Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is supposed to be what a modern captain of industry looks like, we’re all in deep, deep trouble.

You Can’t Go Home Again, Part 2

Yesterday I finally got around to seeing the new version of The Taking of Pelham 123, the story of a New York City subway hijacking.  The original 1974 version, with Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau, was one of the touchstones of my adolescence, and the first R-rated movie that my parents took me to see.

The reviews of the new version were all similar: it’s a good movie, but don’t compare it with the original.  Alas, such a comparison is inevitable: the new version sucks.

When the original was made, the Transit Authority was afraid that someone might actually try to hijack a train.  While much of the movie was actually filmed on the subway, a disclaimer at the end indicated that the TA did not render any technical assistance. Nevertheless, the movie presented an authentic view of the subway and its operation.

The current version was made with the full cooperation of the TA, and they seemed to go our of their way to get the details wrong.  If you ride the real subway regularly, the version in the current Pelham will seem ass-backwards.

Some of the biggest howlers come from the abject rearrangement of the city to fit the script.  There is no Federal Reserve Bank in Brooklyn, and the police car delivering the money appears a half-block from its destination (Grand Central Terminal) before getting wrecked on First Avenue.  And a train can’t go from the Lex line to Coney Island without backtracking.

While John Travolta and Denzel Washington put in good performances, they’re done in by the script.  Travolta is Ryder, a former Wall Streeter who was thrown in prison for embezzlement and now sports a tough-guy tattoo.  He is violent, but strangely philosophical when he talks on the radio.  The real Ryder (like the one in the 1974 movie) would have known to state his demands and shut up.  (But then, of course, there wouldn’t be a movie.)

Denzel Washington is Garber, a manager demoted to the Control Center because of an alleged bribe.  At least the scriptwriters tried to make him a realistic Control Center operator: he talks the talk and looks plausible through the made-up procedures.  But we lose him, too, when he turns into an action hero.

In brief, the charm of the original Pelham is that it feels real.  The new version does not.  The original turns on crisp dialogue, much of which has been replaced with psychobabble.  Perhaps if I had watched it in another frame of mind, I could have laughed at all their stupid mistakes. But as it was, I just found it annoying.

Nevertheless, I’ll probably get the DVD when it comes out, and keep it as a benchmark of how far we’ve gone down since 1974.

You Can’t Go Home Again

Last Sunday, I went with my son to see the new Star Trek movie.  Visually, the movie is a masterpiece, although some of the special effects seem a little overwrought for my taste.  But there was something missing, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

My son thought the movie was wonderful: “There seems to be more action, more fun.  The older Star Trek was tied up in procedures, and the Prime Directive and such.”

Aha!  That was what gave Star Trek its satisfying snap, and what was missing in this incarnation.  Starfleet, we imagine, had its origins in earthbound military forces, and the earlier versions were bound to military traditions of respect and discipline.  The current version, striving to be more like Star Wars, cuts loose from the tradition: the leadership is a bunch of old fogies, and rules are for sissies.

While the current movie establishes a basis for a new generation of Kirk and Spock adventures,  they’ll probably follow the same pattern.  The older movies presented serving on a starship as something to aspire to; now anyone can do it if they can bend enough rules.

Rather the same thing happened with James Bond: the previous incarnations of the character, through Pierce Brosnan, presented a man who lived and worked by his wits.  The Daniel Craig Bond, in contrast, is an Energizer Bunny who dances through machine-gun fire, but doesn’t seem to have much to say.

No, I can’t go home again, except perhaps on DVD.

Underrated Bond

For Christmas, my son bought me the last installment of the collection of original James Bond movies (Sean Connery through Pierce Brosnan).  The package included On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with George Lazenby as Bond.  I suspect that it didn’t do well at the box office, and Lazenby did not reappear in the next movie (Sean Connery returned in Diamonds Are Forever).  I saw the movie once on the tube as a teenager: the rest of the movie seemed OK, but the ending was a terrible downer.

After my recent experience with Quantum of Solace, it was time for a fresh viewing.  And if you simply disregard the last two minutes, it turns out that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is actually a good movie.  Among James Bond movies, it’s solidly in the middle of the pack, safely above the dogs: Thunderball, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy,  and Licence to Kill.

It’s even better than the current film, Quantum of Solace.  Telly Savalas is Blofeld, a villain with a real plan for world domination, unlike the business-school wannabes of Quantum.  There’s just enough violence to make us feel the situation that Bond is experiencing, unlike the newer pictures in which Bond is the Energizer Bunny, waltzing through machine-gun fire.  And the instrumental theme music kicks ass, even almost 40 years later, while the theme from Quantum is, well, mush.

George Lazenby is actually a good Bond.  He would have been better if the scriptwriters hadn’t confused James Bond with Derek Flint.  And unfortunately, he was saddled with what is probably the lamest Bond-movie gadgets ever: an automatic safe-opener that requires a half-hour to work, and a photocopier.  But he presents himself well.  OK, he still comes in last, but he’s in very strong company.  I wouldn’t have minded seeing him again.

But the ending (or more specifically, the end of the ending) is so bad as to be throughly stupid: one of the basic tenets of the old-school Bond film is that it ends on a high note, with Our Hero saving the world yet again, and running off with the girl.  The current generation of Bond films with Daniel Craig don’t follow this convention, but at least leave one with a sense of accomplishment.

So dust it off and watch it, but find something else to do for the last two minutes.

Happy Thanksgiving

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to whoever might be reading this.

It was another quiet Thanksgiving in our house.  We don’t go visiting relatives: my wife and I are both only children; our parents have all passed away; our other relatives don’t live nearby.

For many years, I didn’t have much to do with my relatives.  It wasn’t that I had anything against them, but later I understood that my relatives thought there was something vaguely wrong with me.  Or maybe it’s just that we have don’t have much in common.
So for Thanksgiving it was just my wife, my son, and myself.  I think I like it that way.

This morning, I made a traditional dinner.  I cooked the turkey according to the directions on the Butterball Web site, and it came out slightly overcooked.  Not terribly badly, but a little bit dry: it would have been better if I had taken it out of the oven about 20 minutes earlier.
I have to believe that the lawyers have figured out that nobody will sue them for an overcooked bird, but people will sue for an undercooked bird that makes them sick.  The published cooking times are therefore overly long for their protection.

In the evening, we went to see the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace.  The ‘rebooted’ Bond, in his second outing, has already gotten tiresome.  Whereas the old-school Bonds (Connery through Brosnan) got by on their wits and Q’s clever gizmos, Daniel Craig’s Bond is simply indestructible.  If you try to shoot him, he wil simply bounce out of the way.  It was clever at first, and now it’s just repetitive.

Quantum is, apparently, a secret organization of powerful men who hold meetings during live opera.  And their sinister plan for world domination is actually a part of the normal business-school curriculum (How to Screw Over Third-World Peasants).

So are they really villains after all?

Even the Bond-movie-as-travelogue disappoints: we’re told that Bond is traveling to Haiti and Bolivia, when in fact, the scenes in those countries are actually shot in Mexico, Panama, and Chile.

Perhaps I can’t go home again.

Knight of Darkness

Last week, as a birthday present, my son took me to see the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. He thought it a motion picture masterpiece, and has razzed me on occasion for not going to see action movies anymore.

So we took an afternoon off from work to see it in Imax. My son was overawed by the Imax presentation, but for me, it was just a movie on a really big screen.

In terms of execution, it was, indeed, a cinematic masterpiece. It was photographed beautifully, was rich in detail, with excellent performances. Heath Ledger, in particular, was chilling as the Joker, perhaps too chilling.

But, in brief, I just didn’t like it. Gotham City is a tired, corrupt place, where all the trappings of civilization are still there, but the underlying premise of civilization–that others have integrity and can be trusted, at least enough to maintain civil order and enable commerce and the exchange of information–has rotted away. There are what appear to be flaming non sequiturs where events simply don’t make sense, until you realize that someone was probably bribed.

And the Joker is a vicious madman. There are some things that I simply don’t understand, and the modern fascination with psychosis as a subject for motion pictures is one of them.  Part of me wonders if Heath Ledger took the character too seriously, to the point where he became the Joker, went mad, and killed himself. Oops: I’m not supposed to say that, for we know that Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose, having taken five different kinds of pain killers at the same time.

I don’t like movies whose main characters are criminals, unless they commit some extraordinarily clever crime, and I don’t like movies with vicious madmen. And now I wonder if our fascination with such characters has led to the death of a fine young actor.

Am I allowed to want? and other soggy sagas

For the last couple of weeks, my flaky Internet connection at home got even flakier, to the point where it was up for only a couple of hours in the middle of the night. “Call the cable company and complain,” my wife told me.

But then I’d have to dig up their phone number, and the account number, and wait for twenty minutes on hold, and then they’d tell me, “We’ll get right on it,” and then I’d probably have to call again. It was easier to simply live without it. Pointless Web surfing is a bad habit, except that I can’t update my blog.

A couple of days ago, the connection came back up: I guess someone else complained.

* * *

All of that is rather pointless, except as introduction to my current funk. If my mother saw me writing this post, and read the title, she’d knock me upside the head. “Stop your self-pity,” she’d tell me.

*     *     *

Yesterday afternoon, my wife called me at the office: there’s was a concert in Prospect Park, and she wanted to see it. As I read the description, it was a performance of music from the movie Powaqqatsi. I was mildly interested, so I agreed.

We got to the Prospect Park Bandshell, paid our admission, and I saw that we had a choice: we could sit on seats in the bandshell, or spread out beyond it, on the lawn. This is good, I thought: I had brought a ground cloth, and we could stretch out and relax, since the performance was not due to start for another hour.

Instead, my wife pulled me toward the bandshell, to the second row behind the seats that had been cordoned off for VIPs. I really didn’t want to sit in an uncomfortable metal folding chair for four hours, with no legroom, hemmed in by crowds so that it would be a major production to go to the can, but I’m the good husband, so I went.

Worse, I hadn’t brought my computer, or anything to read. But my wife had brought a play that she was studying for one of her classes, so at least I could read over her shoulder.

Powaqqatsi is one of a series of three movies about life and (although those responsible will jump up and down and swear otherwise) how modern civilization is screwing it up.  There is no plot, no dialogue, not even any visual references to specific places: we’re somewhere in Asia or Africa or wherever, but we can’t quite tell where. The visuals are a series of mostly dreary images from these exotic locales, of people doing the little things they do to keep their world going. These are interspersed with images of our modern world, chosen and edited for ugliness.

This is accompanied by grinding music that is somewhat related to the visuals, occasionally echoing the sounds that would have been present during filming, but mostly just grinding. Sometimes, the music evokes a feeling of triumph, but there is no triumph on the screen.  In fairness, the live music was the best part of the production.  It would have been stirring if it had been presented by itself, or with better visuals.

Perhaps the real art of Powaqqatsi is that it causes a group of people to assemble themselves, experience it, and feel edified.

*     *     *

And while I was writing the previous section, the Internet connection at my house went down.  About an hour later, it’s up again.  I had better finish this quickly….

I went to Powaqqatsi by default: it was my wife’s idea.  But if it was my decision, what would I have done?  I probably would have wanted to watch the tube for a bit, and then go to sleep.

But  what do I really want?  If all doors had stood open, and I weren’t tired after a long work week, what would I want to do?

Alas, I really don’t know….

Heroes of Independence Day

Last night, my wife and I watched Independence Day, the 1996 movie with Will Smith, in which hostile aliens from outer space start destroying major cities.  It was one of my son’s favorite movies when it came out years ago, and was a huge commercial success.  But my wife hadn’t seen it before.

She was impressed, and thought it was a very well-made movie.  As I watched it with her, I wondered why it seemed so wonderful.

“You don’t watch action movies anymore,” my son often says to me, and it’s true.  And it’s not just that I’m busier now, or that I more often see movies with my wife than with my son: the latest crop of action movies no longer appeals.  I couldn’t care less about the exploits of Spider-Man, Ironman, the Fantastic Four, Hellboy, or any of the comic-book superheroes prowling the screens today.

And when I watched Independence Day last night, I understood why.  Independence Day told the story of ordinary mortals who were pressed to become heroes.  And so it was with the James Bond movies, The Peacemaker, Armageddon, and the other action movies that my son and I enjoyed in the 1990s.  While sometimes it was the hero’s job to be a hero, in every case the hero was still an ordinary person.

I am starved for the sight of such a hero in the movies or television: an otherwise ordinary person who rises to a challenge, faces it with grace and skill, and prevails.

Last week, I went to see Get Smart with my son.  Maxwell Smart was never a hero: he was an amiable buffoon who happened to solve the problems at hand.  And while the movie tends more to action than the 1960s TV series did, it’s still more of a comedy.  So while it was fun, it didn’t hit my hero spot.

And then there’s Hancock, this year’s Will Smith movie.  Hancock is an otherwise ordinary guy with superhero skills.  But since he apparently doesn’t know what to do with them, he begins the movie as a drunken bum.

It was a truism where I used to work (a very large organization) that there are ‘no more heroes.’  In some quarters ‘heroics’ is almost a dirty word: it’s the way unsophisticated, immature organizations accomplish things.  The Disney animated movie The Incredibles took a tongue-in-cheek view, positing a world in which the superheroes were forced to retire under the threat of lawsuits.

Over 400 years ago, Sheakespeare wrote in ‘King Henry v’:

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;

In other words, the hero is there inside of us, waiting to be unleashed should the circumstances present themselves.

But if we’re told all our lives that there are no such things as heroes, what will we do?

Sex and the City

My wife and I went to see the new Sex and the City movie today.  All the reviews of it that I’ve seen to date considered it either wonderful or horrible.  My sense of it was somewhere in between: it isn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s a good light entertainment.  It would have been better if it were cut about twenty minutes shorter, but I can’t complain too hard: today was the first seriously hot day of the year in New York City, and it was good to sit in an air-conditioned movie theater.

My wife introduced me to the TV series when we got married.  If I had watched it when I was a lonely single guy, I would have hated it: how could I find a decent companion when women were like that?  But ensconced in a happy marriage, the women of Sex in the City seemed unreal: they lived under different laws of relationship physics than the rest of us, and their situations were entertaining when it happened to them, but in the real world, we wouldn’t do things like that.

The TV series got formulaic after a while, and came to a reasonable end in 2004.  The movie represents a continuation of the story a few years hence, and a chance to answer the one thing that I never understood:

What does Carrie see in Mr. Big?

Throughout the entire television series, Carrie Bradshaw, the lead character, is irretrievably attracted to ‘Mr. Big,’ but I could never understand why: Big is a self-absorbed asshole with a fear of commitment.

In the movie, Carrie and Big have been living together, and decide to get married so coldly that the theater had to shut off the air conditioning to prevent frostbite among the audience.  You might have thought that a few years with his true love would have softened Big, but no: he’s still a self-absorbed asshole.  If he were as unsure of himself in his working life as in his relationship with Carrie, he’d be a total loser instead of a bigshot construction executive.  Later, he backs out of his own wedding, and we’re not surprised.

In the end, it’s all resolved, and yes, Carrie and Big get married.  (I don’t think I’ve given away much: in this case, the journey is more interesting than the destination.)  But the groundwork is there for a sequel, say 3-4 years hence, when they get divorced….