Sunday, November 30, 2008

And while we're at it ....

.... and the Tyrone Power controversy rages on, a little more Rathbone:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

And on the same subject ...

... Hollywood's greatest real-life fencer, Basil Rathbone, in a much more realistic bout with Tyrone Power in 1940's THE MARK OF ZORRO:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Random Readings, Vol. 6

This installment of Random Readings is courtesy of one of my favorite writers, Rafael Sabatini, and features one of the great opening lines in literature, from his swashbuckling 1921 novel SCARAMOUCHE:

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony. His very paternity was obscure, although the village of Gavrillac had long since dispelled the cloud of mystery that hung about it. Those simple Brittany folk were not so simple as to be deceived by a pretended relationship which did not even possess the virtue of originality. When a nobleman, for no apparent reason, announces himself the godfather of an infant fetched no man knew whence, and therafter cares for the lad's rearing and education, the most unsophisticated of country folk perfectly understand the situation. And so the good people of Gavrillac permitted themselves no illusions on the score of the real relationship between Andre-Louis Moreau - as the lad had been named - and Quintin de Kercadio, Lord of Gavrillac, who dwelt in the big grey house that dominated from its eminence the village clustering below.


Despite the archaicness of its style, that paragraph is actually a model of succinctness. It provides backstory, tone, exposition and character information all in a single graph. (Sabatini was one of Norman Mailer's favorite authors as well. In 1963, Mailer told The Paris Review "I never enjoyed a novel more than CAPTAIN BLOOD.... Some years ago, I was asked by a magazine what were the ten most important books in my development. The book I listed first was CAPTAIN BLOOD. Then came DAS KAPITAL.")

SCARAMOUCHE was filmed twice, once in 1923 with Ramon Novarro and Lewis Stone, and again in 1952 with Stewart Granger and New Jersey native Mel Ferrer, who died earlier this year at age 89. The latter film included one the screen's great duels, with Granger and Ferrer athletically crossing swords in a crowded theater. Realistic? Ehhhh, not so. But brilliant all the same.

Friday, November 14, 2008

QUANTUM mechanics Pt. 2 (spoilers)

Spoilers ahead for the new Bond film QUANTUM OF SOLACE, so if you haven't seen it yet, STOP READING...

After seeing an advance screening a couple weeks back, I posted that, although I enjoyed the movie and think Daniel Craig is the best Bond yet, I found the whole thing way too action heavy and lacking exposition that properly set up what was going on.

So here are my questions for those of you who've seen it:

+ Is M shot during the interrogation in Italy? It appears she is, but she then seems fine in the next scene. What happened?

+ After Bond engages Mathis' help, they're traveling overnight on what? A boat? A plane? How does Mathis - a CIA contact with a shady past - merit a private plane complete with sleeper compartments and private bartender?

+ Is Agent Fields naked under that trenchcoat when she meets Bond at the airport? If so, why?

+ What exactly is Greene's plan? Did the Bolivian government not know there was a huge lake in the middle of the desert? If not, how did the Quantum people know? And what exactly were they doing? Damming up the lake to reroute the water to where?

+ I get that the painting-a-woman-in-oil bit is an homage to GOLDFINGER, but in the context of this film, what's the point? What message are they trying to send? Why kill her in the first place? And why oil? And what exactly are the logistics of drowning a full-grown woman in crude oil, painting her with it head to toe and then successfully depositing her body in a room in a luxury hotel with no one seeing it, and no traces left of how she got there?

+ Why does that hotel in the finale go up like it's made of gunpowder and gasoline, all from a single motor vehicle accident in the underground parking garage? And what are those "Hydro" canisters on the walls?

And finally:

+ Who shot Mr. Greene?

Answers, more questions, and general opinions welcomed. What did you all think?

And as an addendum, this illustration, commissioned by Ian Fleming in 1957 and representing his vision of what Bond looked like. It was done as preparation for a series of London Daily Express comic strips adapting the novels, though this particular art was never used, and was dismissed by the eventual strip artist. John McLusky, as being too "outdated" and "pre-war."

Monday, November 10, 2008

The new economic blues

Composing my thoughts for a Friday posting on QUANTUM OF SOLACE, but in the meantime, here's a perfect little character-driven crime drama - with guitar - courtesy of the great Dave Alvin:

Sunday, November 02, 2008

QUANTUM mechanics Pt. 1

Although the new James Bond film QUANTUM OF SOLACE has opened throughout much of the world (and is breaking box office records in Britain), it doesn't open in the U.S. until Nov. 14. So although I saw it at an early screening last week, and have much to say about it - and questions for others who've seen in - I'm going to stay spoiler-free and hold off on writing about it at length until it opens here.

In the meantime, a few quick thoughts:

+ This is the shortest Bond film ever, at one hour and forty-six minutes. And though many of the films have suffered from bloated running times (the otherwise-excellent CASINO ROYALE being a good example), this one feels like it could have used another good 15-20 minutes of story. Not only are the plot and various location changes hard to follow, it's so packed with action sequences - shot in hyperkinetic BOURNE style - that you never get a breather. The action is almost non-stop, with characterization, style and humor sacrificed along the way (and just what is the villain's plan after all?). Most of the dialogue in the film is actually contained in the most recent trailer. And though the chases, fight scenes, shoot-outs, etc. are well-choreographed, the editing is so ADD-addled that it's hard to parse exactly what's going on, where the combatants are in relation to one another, and who's doing what to whom.

+ Daniel Craig is - again - great. And I say now without reservation, best Bond ever. Though he has little dialogue in this one, he seems weary and battle-hardened, as if he's feeling the psychological toll of all that's going on around him. With that battered face and laser-blue eyes, he communicates a lot while saying hardly anything at all.

+ It has one of the best main title sequences of a Bond film since the days of Maurice Binder,  miles above the one in CASINO ROYALE. The new title song, "Another Way to Die" from Jack White and Alicia Keys, is serviceable, although it still makes one curious what the Amy Winehouse track sounds like.

+ The Aston Martin DBS returns briefly in the opening chase sequence and, unfortunately, is left much the worse for wear by its end.

More soon.