This is Epth Nation

Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Miller Park -- Vacation, Day 5

Despite the fact that the baseball I knew as a kid has been corrupted so badly by the league and its droolingly stupid/Montgomery Burnsianly greedy players and owners, I went to see a baseball game over my vacation. I went with my brother-in-law Mark to Miller Park, the 3-years-or-so old stadium that my boyhood team, the Milwaukee Brewers, play in. I never got the chance to see a game there, since we moved to Dallas the summer it opened. But I was always curious -- was it the dump I'd always expected them to build?

Driving past it on Hwy 94, as I have several times the past 3 years, it looks mighty Gothamesque, as if it were lifted from Tim Burton's original Batman movie. It doesn't help that there's nothing around it but parking lots. But it is a giant steel monstrosity, towering over the dirt clods and roads around it like the death star towers over space. Not that it's possible to tower over space, but you get the idea. It's impressive, and not altogether unattractive, in an industrial sort of way.

A big part of the stadium's bleak industrial aura comes from its height. Because of the silly three-tierd "retractable" roof, and the fact that the seats come in 4 decks that basically go straight up from the field, Miller Park towers. It looks way higher than the other 2 "modern" stadiums I've been to, The Ballpark in Arlington and New Comisky Park. Those guys don't have the unnecessary roof, so they were free to design less vertically and ominously. And at Miller park, between the roof and the seats is a large window, so that you could turn around and theoretically see the industrial blight that is north and west of the stadium if you were sitting in the last row of the upper upper upper deck (4th deck). Why you'd want to do that, I don't know. If they would have built it in downtown Milwaukee, you could have faced the windows out to Lake Michigan and towards the Milwaukee skyline. But, they didn't, and it's not like you can just tear it down and move it, so there's no use crying over really stupid decisions that happened in the past and can never be reversed. I mean, think about Tony Mandarich. Or on second thought, don't. That's my point -- it'll just drive you crazy, and the bad thing will still have happened.

We drove into the vast parking lot -- perfect size for tailgating, I might add -- and parked where the people in the orange vests told us to. There are no convenient pole markers (i.e. A-1 or something) to find the car later, so you just have to remember where you are. Approaching the stadium on foot, I recognize a lot of amenities from the other modern stadiums: restaurants, gift shops, extra-curricular stuff to do, etc. I am struck again by how tall the thing is. We get in a short line for tickets on this Friday night and get $10 bleacher seats. It's a pretty steep price for a bleacher seat, especially since the Brewers are crappy. But now I'm just whining. We enter the ballpark.

The main cool thing about Miller Park -- besides Bernie Brewer and the Sausage Race, of course -- is the open-air feel you get when walking on the concourse. You can walk down either base line and stop and watch the game behind a railing or at some tables they set up behind the regular seating. There aren't tunnels to walk through to get to the action. This is extremely cool, although I don't know exactly why I think that. I guess if you're sitting in a section you don't like, you can get up and walk around for a while and look at stuff and still see all the "action" (putting that word in quotes because it's the Brewers) on the field. And you can walk all the way around the stadium, which in the history of Milwaukee baseball stadiums is an astronomical advancement (back at the old stadium the bleachers were a section unto themselves, sealed off from the "civilized" seating, probably because they didn't want somebody paying $5 for a bleacher seat and then moving to a $30 box seat later).

I'm serious, it's soooooo cool. Pretty much the whole concourse has a view of the field. Why aren't other stadiums like this? Maybe the super-new ones are.

So, we sat down in our bleacher seats after strolling around the park, and I discovered the 2nd vast improvement over County Stadium -- the bleachers have backs. And there I was, ready to have a sore back for a few days. Ahh, modern technology. Anyway, the bleachers were pretty packed with people, because people in Milwaukee have no money. The announced attandance was like 23,000 or so, which is about half full. So the 4 non-bleacher decks had people in them, but were not packed. The crowd was civil, and the cheering restrained. You could barely hear any enthusiasm as the home team was introduced. Now, this is something that may offend the sports fan, or "nut", but it's something that I totally understand. Let me explain:

When you cheer, you make an emotional investment in a team. And nobody wants to make an emotional investment in a team working on its 12th straight losing season with no hope of winning the World Series or even getting to the playoffs in the near future, much less right now. There is no hope. The Brewers fans are resigned. And without hope, there is no cheer. Or, to put it another way,
With Donald Fehr, there is no cheer, there is only beer.
With a Collective Bargaining Agreement designed to screw the fans, instead of cheering the they all work on their tans.
Ok, so that needs work. Or a complete overhaul. Kind of like baseball.

But Milwaukee fans especially have been burned so much by bad teams with high expectations -- see the 2001-2002 Bucks, for example -- that they only cheer when they know their team has a chance to succeed. Plus, most are reserved by nature. There's not a lot of heckling and yelling, unless the Cubs are in town. And in that case it's just a pride thing for them to be louder than the stinky Cubs fans that fill the stadium out. It takes so much effort to cheer. Tell the Brewers to do something first, and then we'll cheer, says the Milwaukee fan.

Behind us were a group of 3 of the class of human known as the "business jerk". Now, I realize that this is what many men aspire to be, but I must admit these people drive me insane. They went on and on about the quality of the women sitting around them, many of whom were clearly in high school. And I don't really mean "quality", I mean something much more hormonal. The word "piece" was used to describe what appeared to be a 15-year-old. The word "blackie" was used, though only to describe a teen who had died her hair black, as in, "whoa...look at that blackie down there." Charming.

And then he went on to talk about his wife wanting another kid, and at that point I think I ate my own arm, I don't remember. The three were fascinated by a woman with a mullet in the front row. They started to yell "mullet" at her because they were at heart soulless bullies, and I don't want to spend any more time on them, because in judging them, I become that which I hate. Namely, them. But one of them did have a funny bit where he would boo Brewer spare 3rd baseman Wes Helms, who sucks (but in fairness to him, it's the Brewers who should be booed for having a spare like him on the team) eggs. I mean, he's your starting 3rd baseman and he's hitting like .250 with 2 homers. That's the kind of thing that will keep you in last place for 12 years. And I understand the booing, the turning of Wes Helms into a symbol for all that is wrong with the Brewers. It's the no hope thing again. I started to feel sorry for this fan, this boisterous business jerk, until the next time he pointed out a girl who, if what he was contemplating in his mind were to have occurred, would have opened him up to some serious legal trouble, some of which may rhyme with matutory mape. But I'm sure he loves his wife.

The game itself could have come in a brown package labeled "Brewers Game" in black stencil lettering, it was that generic. 4-2 Brewers loss, no offense to speak of, the pitching was good except for a couple of bad pitches with resulted in home runs. One good thing about this sort of game is the brevity of it. It took 2:40 to get through, which I found amazing. That's about the perfect length of time for a baseball game. I'm used to Texas Ranger games, where at 2:40 you're wondering what song they're going to play for the 7th inning stretch. So, bravo Brewers. Your lack of offensive punch makes for a good baseball product.

The traffic after the game was nearly non-existent, because the parking lot is really well-designed. In fact, the city of Milwaukee's streets are well-designed in general, and that is helped by the fact that everybody who can is moving out of Milwaukee and into the suburbs. Having grown up in the suburbs, I can see why. My wife doesn't understand this, but I really love Milwaukee, even with its crappy economy and sports teams. This really deserves its own column, but there are things I took for granted growing up in Wauwatosa, and in Wisconsin, thatI miss here in the big dumb hot dry Southern city of Dallas. Miller Park is a pleasant addition to the city, and I hope to see more games there, even if they do involve business jerks and Wes Helms.

Final observations:

  1. The experience felt more like an NBA game than a baseball game, complete with wacky felt-covered mascot (Bernie Brewer) who did antics in the crowd; an enthusiastic blonde babe(who's belittling women now, me?) with an unmistakable Wisconsin accent who did reports from the crowd on the scoreboard (like birthday boys, contests, and other annoying things); a slinky dance team (!); and different intro music for each player.
  2. The fireworks and "Get Up, Get Up, Get Outta Here, Gone" sign (ripped from Brewer announcer Bob Uecker's famous home run call) are nice, but why doesn't Bernie slide into a giant beer mug? Are cost controls so tight that they can't afford this anymore? I tell you what, if I get rich, I'm making this happen.
  3. It would help (the business jerk situation) if teen girls dressed a little less like prostitutes. Oh, who am I kidding? "Blackie" was practically in a nun's outfit. Sorry. Just thinking out loud. So to speak.
  4. They have this contest where you can watch the game from a recliner right behind the first level of the bleachers. This is a sliced-bread-level invention -- it's that cool. They used to have a hot tub in that spot, according to bro-in-law Mark, which is an even better invention.
  5. What did people do before sliced bread, just tear some off? Unless they mean pre-sliced bread, like at the store. That must be it. See apology for no. 3.
  6. There is no number 6.
  7. <>
    The Sausage race is awesome. Really, TV doesn't do it justice. It's genius. People in giant foam sausage costumes running around the stadium. The thing is, one of them was so far ahead of the others -- it's not like those "dot races" or whatever that they have on scoreboards, where they keep changing whatever dot was in the lead. Here, the hot dog was a hot dog not only in costume but also in style -- he (she? it?) slaughtered the other 3 meats-in-sheepskin. It was over 10 steps into it. But it was still awesome.

    One cannot have a discussion of Miller Park without remembering how it got built in the first place. The story goes: Bud Selig, Brewers owner, wanted to build a new stadium using the Brewers own money in like the late 80's. This was before the stadium rush of the 90's, and for some reason the ball never got rolling. By the time it did, baseball's economic situation had started to become insane, and the Brewers figured out that in order for them to compete monetarily at all they would have to build a new stadium with luxury boxes, paid for mostly by the public. What a difference 5 years made. People were freaking out, saying no way, until slowly but surely Bud got community leaders and decision makers to support his plan. The most important of these was Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who was just popular enough to make it work at the state level rather than the county level.

    The amount of money the Brewers wanted -- over 200 mill. -- was huge by Wisconsin standards, and there was a huge fight in the state legislature about it. There was a campaign for the deal by Bud and Tommy and seemingly the entire Milwaukee media. John Norquist, the mayor of Milwaukee, had the one and only good idea of his entire tenure when he proposed they put the stadium downtown, and he was quickly silenced by the Brewers. The Brewers for some reason wanted the new stadium in the same place as the old one -- in the desolate flats of the menomonee valley. It made no sense, but this was a state deal, and Norquist had no power. There was much support for the deal in Milwaukee County, and a few of the surrounding counties, but the people in the outlying areas didn't want it, even though only 5 counties in Wisconsin would be paying for it. The people in Northern Wisconsin hate Milwaukee so much that Tommy Thompson had to go out there and give his famous "stick it to Milwaukee" speech to convince them to support a stadium that they wouldn't even be paying for. But the real trouble was in one of the 5 paying counties, namely Racine.

    A state senator named George Petak said repeatedly that there was no way that he was going to vote for it, because the people of Racine County didn't want a .01 increase in the sales tax -- no way, they said. So it finally came to a vote, and Bud got his stadium by a one-vote margin in the senate. They had stayed up until like 3am arguing about the plan, with people attaching riders to it and so on, and Tommy using his line item veto with great skill. Finally, one vote short and with no end in sight, George Petak himself switched sides (when nobody else would) and was the deciding vote for it to get through.

    Well, Racine, as you might guess, was ticked off like it never had been before, and they recalled his butt and in his place elected the most toad-like evil politician ever to grace Madison -- Kim Plache. It was at this point that my friends and I started referring to Racine as "Plachetown" (pronounced PLOCK-ee-town). But this is the way Bud Selig works, you see -- he gets amazing things done, but somebody always pays the price for it. Think of George Petak whenever you see the current Baseball Commisioner Bud Selig talk. I wonder if Bud ever thinks of George?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Lost in Translation: A Recap of Sorts

Lost in Translation: The Recap of sorts.

By Michael Pape

There are exactly 3 stars in the Sofia Copolla vehicle Lost in Translation – Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, and Japan. Murray and Johansson are magnificent, but this movie would have been boring as heck had there not been a Japan acting all weird in the background. Seriously – what is the matter with the Japanese that they decided to put the lights of Las Vegas together with the gross commercialization of New York and compact it into about 1/3 the space? Is it because they’re on that stinking little island? If so, does that also explain why they’re so weird, as a people? What’s up with their television programs, anyway?

So many questions, zero answers -- at least in this movie. The country that brought us into WW II just sparkles in the background, providing a catalyst for the malaise that our 2 despairing spirits find themselves mired in. These are 2 people that are unhappy in a specific way – married to people with whom they once were totally in love, but now not so much. At least not in the way they once were. They feel like their respective mates don’t understand them, and so they’re lonely. Being in bizarro world just brings that to the forefront.

The movie begins with Scarlett’s butt, as she is lying on her bed during the day. This introduces her malaise, which we will see in full force later on in the film. It moves on to the opening shots – Bill Murray arriving in Japan, seeing the insanity[1], getting out of the cab and being greeting by an obsequious cadre of hotel and hospitality people, and settling in his room. He is an actor, you see – maybe the kind of actor Bill Murray is in real life. His name is Bob Morris[2], I think, and he’s in Japan to make 2 million dollars[3] for filming a commercial for a particular brand of whiskey. Bill Murray is perhaps the best dude in the world for a role like this – one that has him being put-upon by Japanese directors, photographers, and a language barrier. You can see his suffering and confusion as he half-butts his way through a TV commercial and a photo shoot. Like he’s trying to try, but hates it so much he can’t stand it. Bill Murray is good, because that’s a pretty nuanced thing to get across, that you’re trying to try. Keanu could never do it.

He also has 2 children, one of whom had a birthday that he forgets at the beginning of the movie. This cuts him down a few notches in my eyes, and really, the film is all-too-comfortable in general with him being an absentee father. Now, I realize this is supposed to be a movie grounded in reality, and that absentee fathers exist, and need their stories told, but, come on. That’s way more important than some malaise he finds himself in. In fact, I could attribute his malaise more to the fact that he never sees fit to see his kids than with anything related to his wife being an overbearing hag who bombards him with carpet samples.

But that’s really an unfair criticism, because the kids are never seen in the movie, and Bob Morris clearly has some love for them. This story is about him, anyway. We don’t find out what happens to the family at the end, so I can’t judge too harshly. Maybe it’s just a phase he’s going through. Plus, I don’t want to sound like Dr. Laura. So, moving on…

Scarlett plays a 2-years-married hot young girl who came to Japan with her husband, a photographer. You get the picture that the love was once hot between these two but now marriage has settled in on them and he’s not compromising or altering himself at all and she feels herself growing apart from him. She feels herself thinking she doesn’t understand him, and he not her either[4]. It’s an all around sucky situation, and she does a great job of conveying the following things: boredom, intelligence, mistrust, aimlessness, curiosity. The main problem is she’s unsure of what to make of her life, and being married to a guy who loves his career more than her and not having a career of her own is killing her. But that’s just my psychoanalysis of a fictional character, so take it or leave it.

The great thing about this movie is the 2 characters are so fully realized you think of them as actual people rather than actors in a movie – no small feat, especially for the in-2-movies-a-year-for-the-last-20-years Murray. Also fully realized is the Japanese background, and the interplay between the 3 gives the film its warmth and humor. Murray and Johansson are so natural because that’s the way they’ve always been as actors. Putting them in a movie together was a brilliant move. Neither one of them ever seem as if they’re grandstanding or “acting”. They’re just having a conversation. And when confronted with crazy crap, they react naturally.

Which brings up another point – this is a totally adult movie. These are real-seeming adults dealing with real issues, and even when it gets crazy, people react in adult ways. This is not in any way sensationalized. People shoot at them, and they run. Nobody is badly hurt, there’s no melodrama or crazy camera angles or editing tricks. It’s just filmed and presented, and Murray and Johansson walk through it.

<>So, Anna Faris gets there and meets Scarlett’s husband (Giovanni Ribisi). Anna’s a Hollywood starlet in town for some reason, and she wants to get together with him, and wants only him to do her photo shoots. You get 2 senses from her: a) there’s a history between her and Ribisi that Scarlett doesn’t know about; and, b) she’s a total idiot. B) is played up later in the movie, when she goes out with Scarlett and Ribisi and a Rap Producer, and Anna’s talking about her dad being anorexic. You can see the smile form across Scarlett’s lips as Anna goes on and on about how he was in some prison or something. The message: Hollywood starlets are dumb. Hey, I can’t disagree. Look at Cameron Diaz[5].

Murray and Scarlett are the 2 people in the hotel who have trouble sleeping. That is their first connection. They meet in the bar a couple of times, including one where she sends a drink over to him a la the 70’s. Do people still do that? Anyway, they clearly like each other a lot.

So, Murray and Scarlett get together, have natural and fun conversations, and eventually go out on the town together as Ribisi goes away on a photo shoot and Murray is intrigued by her and has nothing better to do.[6] They laugh, get shot at, sing karaoke, and do all sort of other Japan things. The night ends with Scarlett putting her head on his shoulder in the ugliest hallway in Japan, and him putting her in her bed for the night. It looks like he has trouble deciding if he wants to stay with her for the night, but decides to go back to his room. That’s outstanding. The sexual tension is there, but not as important as the emotional connection. Plus, they’re both married and clearly not cads[7]. You can tell this film was made by a woman. Any guy would make Bob Morris a letch that Scarlett reforms.

The end of the movie happens when Bob Morris has to leave. He says goodbye to Scarlett a couple of times, sweetly but not really knowing how to express what she means to him when a) he’ll probably never see her again; b) they both have marriages to get back to; and c) he doesn’t know how he feels. They opt to not do a showy goodbye, but you can tell they’re both in pain. Bill then gets shuttled to the airport, and sees the girl walking down the street as he stops at what I presume is a stop light. He tells the driver to stop and goes and flags her down. They hug and he whispers 2 things in her ear. We don’t know what they are. They kiss and she cries, and he leaves. End of movie.

I love this ending – it ends their relationship on a satisfying note, without them living happily-ever-after. The audience cares about them if it has a soul, and we get to see them express how much they have meant to each other. Sofia has done a good job here.

I’m sure people who see this movie will want to visit Japan, because it seems like a place to experience insanity. My generation likes that. They may also want to go find themselves a Scarlett or Bill to hang out with there. But most of the guys will sadly just want to sleep with you, and most of the girls will be dumb as dirt. This movie just happens to have 2 extraordinary characters that seem real

[1] And a picture of himself smoking on a billboard. Fun.

[2] As opposed to Robert Morris, the “Big Tobacco” conglomerate. Or the College. If you wanted to, you could view the movie as some sort of metaphor with Bill Murray starring as the tobacco companies and Scarlett as the “Truth” people you see on TV pointing out what we have known for 30 years – that smoking is bad for you.

[3] Hopefully not yen.

[4] That did make sense, go back and read it again.

[5] Or Scarlett herself, seen sporting a “Howard Dean for President” button at some function. I mean, the dude’s clearly insane. I really don’t want to think of Scarlett as dumb, though. I’ll cut her some slack because she’s 19.

[6] It’s great, because they clearly have a “kindred spirits” attraction from the get go that they both recognize, but it unfolds in a way that’s so natural and gradual and non-hollywood, it doesn’t seem forced at all.

[7] I forgot about the worst bit in the movie, where Bill Murray gets drunk post-relationship-with-Scarlett and wakes up with the hotel lounge singer in his room, implying that they slept together. Scarlett shows up and hears her and gets upset under the surface. I suppose it’s to show that she really was in love with him. Unnecessary and out of character, I say. Turned him into a cad for a short time.

The Italian Job and You

The Italian Job

(Remake of another bad heist movie)

Ok, so I saw this one on Friday this time, at 5:30 in the evening on opening night. This film does not deserve to be seen on opening night, it should be seen at the dollar theater for a matinee. The point is, the theater was pretty full except for the eye-destroying seating up front. Smelly people even sat next to me, so it was the full-on American moviegoing experience. The woman 2 seats down from me smelled like she had been bathing in facial astringent. At least she was Oxy-cuted. She was also leaning forward during the whole movie, as if she was right at the maximum range of her glasses and needed to be a row forward but couldn’t fit. She was most likely just insane.

Since I don’t have the time or effort required to totally recap this movie, let me review it for you:

Despite the presence of fewer than 10 total real Italians in this movie, it is called “The Italian Job”. Why? Because the 1968 movie it’s a remake of had that name. It didn’t make sense then either. Here are some better titles for it: “Bad Guy vs. Slightly Less Bad Guys”; “Look at that Charlize Theron”; “Hollywood Heist Movie no. 14326”.

This movie is so light it practically floats. It’s very formulaic, which brings up the question of why formulas exist. Why does Hollywood make the same movie again and again? I mean, it’s one thing to have trailers that bring to mind other, better, more popular movies. It’s another thing to have a formula that creeps up in every movie of a certain genre. It’s moviemaking-by-numbers. It drives me crazy.

<>Putting aside for a second the fact that 90% of Hollywood movies are either actual remakes or sequels or prequels, what does a movie gain from following a formula? Movie-goers are conditioned to read this formula into every movie they see. So, it’s not only distracting, it gives away the ending. Why do they think we want to know the ending?

Example: A heist movie these days must have: 1) At least 2 super-clever heist setpieces, the final one at the end of the movie that they spend the whole movie setting up. 2) A thief who does “just one last heist”, who ends up getting killed, arrested, maimed, or has a generally bad time. 3) The thieves must be suave, cool, and generally lovable instead of Troglodytey like real thieves are. 4) In the end, there must be a twist that shows you how cool the cool thieves really are just when you thought they may not be that cool.

If just one of these formulas were broken, you have a potentially great movie. But Hollywood (and by Hollywood I mean money Producers who worship money and make art for money and only money) won’t even deviate from it a little bit. In this movie, The Italian Job movie I mean, they also give a lot of clues to what will happen at the end. Every line a person speaks is in service to a plot point. So, when lovely Charlize Theron says, “My father cracked safes by hand (whatever that means), but I use technology to streamline the process”, you know that technology will fail and she will have to crack a safe by hand. You also know that the good thieves will win out in the end, and the bad thief will get his comeuppance. Part of the problem might be the writers having an ending to a story in place when they write the middle. A good story flows from plot point to plot point, and the details filled in later. The details can’t drive the plot. When you drive the plot with details, and foreshadowing, and a set ending, you get situations where the audience has to suspend disbelief. It may seem cool to have the main character end up where he has to be by bicycling from rooftop to rooftop – but it’s unbelievable and kills your movie. All the movie can be at that point is just “escapist”. It can have no real meaning. It’s then judged by how good the special effects are and how good it makes the audience feel.

As for this Italian film, the pacing is good, there are cool cars and cool names for people all over the place, Seth Green is funny, Jason Stratham is cool, it’s fun to watch Edward Norton’s barely concealed disdain for the movie itself, it’s not totally stupid, Theron is still hot, Mark Wahlberg is blank but also hot (so I’m told), Mos Def is a little funny and the only black guy in the picture, and a gigantic Samoan called “Skinny Pete” shows up near the end. But as they say on The Simpsons:

“There is no moral. It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

There are no actual human beings in this movie, except possibly the people who were stolen from in the first place. But they probably deserved it, right? This movie is morally bankrupt -- so what? Pass the popcorn and kool-aid and bring on some Charlize.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Ranking the Bond Films

Die Another Day

(Random James-Bond-sounding Title)

(Bond vs. a Snooty Upper Class Nitwit)

In the 20th James Bond extravaganza known as Die Another Day, the filmmakers take the 19 previous Bond films and pastiche parts of them together. That would be interesting, if it were at all an intentional pastiche and not just plagiarism. The line between reference and homage and rip-off can be a very thin one indeed, especially when you are dealing with the Bond franchise – movies that are made with many of the exact same elements in them completely on purpose. If I were at all cynical, I might suggest that the writers (the brilliant duo that wrote the last Bond film, The World is Not Enough) watched every Bond movie, wrote down one of more things from each movie that they planned to put in Die Another Day, and wrote it like a family quilt, patching each plot element next to each other until they had a complete movie (and filling in the gaps with themes from The World is Not Enough). I mean, all Bond films resemble some of the earlier ones, but this seemed a little too familiar, as if they had run out of ideas. Maybe it is actually a homage to all the previous Bonds that came before it, and I’ll take it as such. To make sure you guys don’t feel left out, and because people love lists, I will now list and rate the 19 previous James Bond pictures.

But first, a little bit of my history with Bond must be revealed. In about 1995, so before the first Brosnan Bond picture came out, I watched the first 8 Bond films in one weekend, because my roommate had the first 8 box-set and I was bored. So I was introduced to the Bond universe, its archetypes, its rules, its fully realized style. I really liked it, so I decided to go on the next week and watch the rest. Well, I got about to Moonraker and decided the World is indeed Enough and stopped. I saw the rest, including the accursed Timothy Dalton Bonds, later on. So, my point is, you really don’t get what Bond is until you see the films in order like that. Then you can come up with the important aspects of a Bond movie (mostly involving how cool things are), and rank them accordingly. There aren’t too many Bond movies that are actual good movies in the real world – they’re all way too over-the-top and overblown, unrealistic and at the same time trying too hard to be realistically geopolitical. But you add the Bond style and cachet and universe to the thing, and all of a sudden it’s ok for our hero to kill people indescriminantly and have sex with every girl he sees and get captured but not killed by an over-the-top bad guy in his “secret lair” which looks like it cost about a billion dollars to build and use gadgets that if the British government could actually afford them it would still amount to a gross misappropriation of funds. The movies are bad in our world, but they are good in the world of James Bond. And it’s fun to go to that world once in a while. It’s escapist trash, but outstanding escapist trash.

Ok, so I see on the IMDb ( that in honor of the 40th Anniversary of the Bond movie, they purposely included references to every other movie. Interesting. No wonder it seems sewn together from bits of other, better, movies. That explains that. I guess I won’t gripe about it. For a pretty good list of references to other Bond movies go to the “Die Another Day” page at the IMDb, then click on “trivia”.

Now the previous 19 Bond films, ranked 19-1

19) Moonraker – Like a particular brand of macaroni and cheese, it is by far the cheesiest of the Bond films. The film is essentially a special effects film (like Independence Day or The Phantom Menace) that exists to look cool. But 1979 special effects do not still look cool today. The story is silly, boring, and derivative – even for a Bond movie.

18) A View to A Kill – How can you mess up a Bond movie with not only Christopher Walken but also Dolph Lundgren? Only saved from being no. 19 by the presence of Walken and the greatest Bond theme song ever, by Duran Duran. I confess, I’ve never actually been able to sit through this whole movie. I do know Grace Jones is in it. Bleah. The song’s video is better than this movie, as is the video for “Hungry Like the Wolf”. Roger Moore is old…

17) License to Kill – Bond movie or gritty police drama? You decide. As a B-movie starring Charles Bronson, this would be an OK movie. As a Bond movie, its alternatingly boring and shocking. It cemented Timothy Dalton as the worst Bond by far. This movie is no fun, and seeing (longtime recurring friend of Bond) Felix get partially dismembered at the beginning of the movie is unbelievable. It’s such shock value. This movie killed the Bond franchise for 6 whole years until Brosnan showed up[i].

16) Thunderball – Worst Connery Bond by far – the second half of the movie is unwatchable and seems to consist of shot after shot of Connery underwater, cutting the air tubes of SPECTRE agents. If you stop watching it for some reason 1 and a half hours in, this may shot 10 spots forward. But the anticlimactic and boring ending kills it. It seems like they were so happy about the underwater special effects they forgot how to make a good movie[ii]. Also features a relatively nondescript bad guy.

15) The World is Not Enough – 3 words: Dr. Christmas Jones. She ruined what could have been a fairly good Bond movie. What were they thinking, letting teenage-looking Denise Richards near this part? That, and the ending sucks. But that probably mostly has to do with Dr. Christmas Jones’ presence. Worst Brosnan Bond, I don’t care what the Bond purists say.

14) Live and Let Die – Great theme song, bad movie. The message of this movie seems to be “All black people are bad.” First Roger Moore Bond, and a hard movie to judge. On the one hand, it’s delightfully campy at times and has Jane Seymour in it. It also manages to actually pull some suspense out of us. Unfortunately, it has a ridiculous villain with a ridiculous dual-identity my grandma could see through. It also has the worst chase scene in Bond history – a boat chase that seems to last an hour. I don’t know. It could have been good.

13) The Living Daylights – Lamest Bond title ever, this one is ok. I don’t remember too much about it except that Dalton sucked. Average. I guess this would be the line between the bad Bond movies and the decent ones.

12) The Man with the Golden Gun – They brought back the worst Bond character idea ever, the southern sheriff that’s like a poor man’s Jackie Gleason from Smokey and the Bandit. Saved from crapulence by 2 great villains (Christopher Lee and Herve Villachaise) and one great babe (Britt Ekland). Story is so-so, but the ending at the Scaramanga house is fantastic.

11) Goldeneye – Brought back the idea that Bond wasn’t supposed to be a gritty cop, and did so with style. The plot was alternately lame (the Goldeneye device) and good (that other British agent being the main bad guy). Most importantly, it was fun without being totally stupid. But it’s not that great, even with 90’s special effects.

10) The Spy Who Loved Me – It’s got a great Bond girl (Barbara Bach) who can’t act, and a great Bond villain (Richard Kiel as Jaws) who became a recurring character. It’s also kind of a throwback to the later Connery Bonds, with the fun and over-the-top setpieces, but it’s not as good. The prototypical Moore Bond movie.

9) In[iii] Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Bond is played by male model and human chin George Lazenby, whose dialogue is dubbed(!). Therefore, it is the hardest movie to classify. Also, Bond gets married (double !). The woman he marries does happen to be the greatest of all the Bond Girls, Diana Rigg, and the plot involving a remote ice chateau with a bevy of babes is a classic. But it’s undeniably hard to watch the dubbed Lazenby skulk through the role. Also features Kojak[iv] as the cat-stroking evil genius that became synonymous with the Bond franchise, Ernst Blofeld.

8) Tomorrow Never Dies – I admit, I’m biased towards this film solely because it has a) Michelle Yeoh, the butt-kickingest Hong Kong Bond girl ever; and b) Johnathan Pryce, my favorite actor of all the Bond villains. But watch it again – it’s the most exciting Bond film since Octopussy. They got this one right. Watch it again.

7) From Russia With Love – 2nd Bond film, distinguished by its lack of bombast and its spy-thriller plot. If Goldfinger had never been made, this is what Bond films may have looked like – plot-driven, taut, and taking place mainly in one location. It’s actually exciting, but could appear a bit boring to current Bond fans. Features a swiss army shoe.

6) For Your Eyes Only – Moore’s attempt to make a minimalist Bond in the “From Russia With Love” vein, it works both as a Bond movie and a spy movie. Not quite a thriller like FRWL, but lacking the brainlessness and camp that distinguishes most other Bond films[v], it’s probably a reaction to fans’ negative assessment of the previous Bond movie, Moonraker. This movie is the line between the decent Bonds and the true greats.

5) Dr. NO – The 1st Bond movie, and it’s a good one. All the Bond archetypes are there (though many in crude proto-Bond form), and the story is intriguing and fun. All that, and Ursula Andress in a bikini coming out of the sea. What a revelation.

4) Octopussy – Despite the mental picture conjured by the title[vi], this remains by far the best Moore Bond movie. All the villains are cool (especially the dude with the giant circular death-saw), the story moves along great, and it has an army of beautiful babes in it. Q even gets to get out in the field. All the things that don’t work in Moonraker and Live and Let Die somehow work here. It’s essential for the Bond fan.

3) You Only Live Twice – All I can say is, a hundred ninjas rapelling down into a secret underground bunker to do battle with Blofeld’s army is the single greatest Bond scene ever. It’s just cool. The rest of this movie – Bond seemingly dying at the beginning, the Asian locations, Ernst Blofeld finally getting main villain duties, the crazy metallic HQ, the bombastic plot – is classic Bond.

2) Diamonds are Forever – Basically a campy Goldfinger, this movie is pretty stupid but is packed with so much undeniably cool stuff it becomes great. Best Bond villain ever, Charles Gray as the British condescending Blofeld who changed his looks to one of the good guys from “You Only Live Twice”. Also has an assortment of colorful villains/characters, from Willard White to babe assassins Bambi and Thumper, to the ambiguously gay hitmen Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, to loopy but super-hot Bond babe Jill St. John, who almost messes Bond up at the end of the movie. The movie succeeds where other failed because the action somehow remains riveting despite being totally over-the-top and often silly. It’s a remarkable achievement of filmmaking[vii].

1) Goldfinger – Needless to say, the movie by which all other Bond movies are judged, so fun and stylish it became cemented into our pop culture like few other movies before or since.


So where does that leave Die Another Day, which knowingly took elements from all these other movies to make a new one? It’s pretty good, and very much keeping in the tradition of the Brosnan Bonds, except for the fact that everything is ripped off from the earlier movies. It makes it almost impossible to judge. It deserves points for resurrecting the ice palace location from “Majesty’s Secret Service”, as well as providing 2 good babes (Halle Berry and the awesome Rosalind Pike) to ogle. The villains are so-so, the main villain (Toby Stevens) being the worst of the bunch. He’s the Keanu of Bond villains. But if you can get past the feeling you’ve been everywhere before, you can enjoy this movie. As of this moment, I’d put it in the 9-12 range – a solid Bond but not a gold Bond.

[i] Ok, I know, it was legal wrangling, the death of a writer, and Dalton’s wise decision not to play Bond anymore. But did you hear any clamor from the public for a new Bond movie after several turkeys in a row, including this one?

[ii] Much like Moonraker was so happy about its space effects.

[iii] Or “On”, it doesn’t matter.

[iv] Telly Savales, who to me will forever be just Kojak. He sucked at being Blofeld, having neither the slow-burn understated craziness of Donald Pleasence(You Only Live Twice) nor the high-class camp of Charles Gray (Diamonds are Forever).

[v] That is, except for the brilliant opening sequence where Roger Moore is visiting his wife’s grave and is attacked by a guy who he ends up killing -- who is not named (because of the Bond legal situation), but is obviously meant to be Ernst Blofeld (the cat-stroking is a giveaway). It’s campy and gives “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” closure. Which is more than you can say about most other Bond movies.

[vi] And the fact that Connery released a remake of the dreaded Thunderball at the same time, called Never Say Never Again, that got more press but sucked worse than the original ‘Ball, mainly because Connery looked 80.

[vii] No, really.

FYI: you can cut & paste footnotes in blogger

As I found out in the last post. I cannot come up with words to describe my happiness at this discovery. Ach. Ooch. It's great. A whole new world has opened up, albeit one that is localized to this blog.

And the preceding post was an example of something I started writing but then had to abandon in the middle of because I picked it back up too late. In this case, LOTR was a distant hazy memory, so I had to change this from a full recap of the film to what you just read.

Another example of this is my next post.

Four Myths about LOTR: Return of the King

Four Myths about LOTR: Return of the King that I have read in reviews.

MYTH 1: The film(s) doesn’t (don’t) explain adequately who Denethor (or Elrond, or Treebeard, or Grima Wormtongue) is, or why they’ve gone insane (or are important, or why he can talk, or why he loves Saruman).

What I don’t get is why lazy filmgoers who don’t take time to familiarize themselves with the backstory of a film complain that they don’t understand it. This is an adaptation of the most popular novel of this century – read the fricking book if you don’t know why Elrond is important. Better yet, just go to The Encyclopedia of Arda online and look his butt up. On top of that, most of the stuff complained about in the films is actually explained quite well in the film, the critics just weren’t paying attention[1]. Denethor went crazy with despair because he was trusting only in his eldest son to get them through the war, and Boromir died[2]. Duh. And if you don’t know who Boromir is, kick yourself in the nards right now. His part was in the first movie. Which brings us to:

MYTH 2: Taken as the third film in the Trilogy it’s ok, but taken on its own merits it’s confusing, muddled, too long, and not a very good film.

First of all, if you see this movie without seeing the first two, you’re an idiot. In fact, if you see any third film of a Trilogy without seeing the first two, you’re an idiot. What person would complain if he saw, say, episode 7 of the first season of 24 by itself, but none of the first 6 episodes? What person would say, “Ok, it’s technically good, but I don’t understand why Jack Bauer is chasing these guys. Therefore, it’s not a good episode.”[3] It’s the audiences’ job to see the first two films. I’m sorry if that seems like too big of a job for you, but you should do that if you want to enjoy this film. Stop fighting enjoyment! Plus, it’s a great film anyway, with really big elephants.

MYTH 3: There’s a homoerotic subtext between Frodo and Sam, feminist subtext behind the story of Eowen, or any number of other subtexts not meant by Tolkien.

Actual excerpt from a review:

“Interesting, too, is the inescapable idea that the only genuinely convincing relationships in the film are homosexual”

Inescapable, eh? Because of all the gay sex, eh? Pick a different word[4], for Pete’s sake.

This really ticks me off. Friendship is not eroticism. Just because the hobbits are affectionate with each other does not mean they’re gay. You know, in some cultures men hold hands with other men and it’s not viewed as anything remotely sexual. Anyone who even mentions in passing a hint of homoerotic subtext between any of these characters should not be allowed to view entertainment again until they grow the heck up.

Oh, and Eowen’s hot. Why did I mention her again?[5]

MYTH 4: This story is racist/elitist because the “White” “Northern-Western” “European” good guys face the “Dark” “Southern-Eastern” “Non-Euro” bad guys.

If you go to, and click on the one review of this film with a squished green tomato symbol, you will be treated to a feast of this myth. In fact, 90% of the things mentioned as negatives in these reviews are more personal attacks on Tolkien’s views on the superiority of Western Thought than anything else. Putting that issue aside for now, I want to know what race these people see the Orcs of Sauron as. How about the Elephant-Sombrero-People[6] (ESP)? What race are they? On the map (assuming the map is Europe), Mordor would correspond to roughly Turkey and Southern Russia. Does this make the Orcs an unholy combo of Communists and Muslims? One review suggested that the Orcs are representative of Africa and the ESP of Asia. I can honestly say these ideas never occurred to me. Are these people narcoticizing before they see films? You have to have quite an imagination for that, considering the Orcs are, strictly speaking, monsters. They aren’t human. And the ESP are pretty much the same as the gondorians, except for the fact that they have allied themselves with evil – a state of mind rather than a race – which Faramir so ably points out in the Two Towers by asking if the dead ESP next to him wouldn’t have rather just stayed home. A better question we should be asking is: Has it really come to this – blasting Middle fricking Earth because it doesn’t have enough black people, or women, (or latinos, or dwarves – oh, wait) in prominent roles. I guess it’s a backhanded testament to Tolkien, that this fantasy world from his imagination could seem so real that political correctness should have a place in it.

The story is really about the evil/good struggle within each person. To not understand that is criminal, considering the way Tolkien/Jackson practically scream it at us in every scene.[7] Unless you have an evil bias against Tolkien or England or ideas like sacrifice, love, bravery, honor, sanity, or harmony, you should have no problem with this movie.

[1] PseudoQuoting Ebert: “Gandalf is clearly an old man, yet he is leading the troops into battle. This makes it seem unrealistic.” He’s immortal, doofus. Yet another reviewer snipes that Arwen “seems to be dying for some reason”. Of course, the reason for her illness is explained in the film’s very next line of dialogue: “because the evil of Sauron is spreading over the land.” She’s a frail Elf, doofus.

[2] Which is why he was holding that split horn in his hands that made the audience around you gasp. Idiot.

[3] When the real reason it’s not a good episode is because 24 sucks.

[4] Besides homosexual, I mean. Although you probably could have said that about all the words in that sentence.

[5] The feminist subtext is more difficult to defeat, since Eowen defies the King’s decision for her not to fight, and then proves herself worthy (and piping hot) in the end. However, Eowyn is not a Feminist as much as she just really loves Aragorn and is inspired to fight for him, for his side. She wants to kick Orc ass. Jackson makes this CLR clear. Now, for information about the actual Environmental subtext of the films, see my forthcoming recap of The Two Towers.

[6] So named because I get confused about who they are. I think they are either the Haradrim, or the Easterlings, or both, but I’m not sure because there are just so many names and terms and peoples and places in Tolkien’s mythology. I, like everybody else, have trouble keeping them all straight. But lets not kid ourselves – I would have called them the ESP anyway.

[7] The most glaring example being Gollum’s scenes, where he has actual conversations with himself as if his good and his evil were 2 separate entities.

Do you ever wonder...

...why teenagers like to capitalize random letters? I do. It's writing that makes me want to vomit, literally. It's like being on a mental roller coaster. I just spelled "literally" as "letteraly". I must be tired.

"Super Baby Geniuses" -- worst movie ever?

I haven't seen a movie in a week, and I'm getting peckish. I'm really excited about this one. Tim from "The Office" as Arthur Dent. What a great idea.

Don't worry, I got a chance to go through a bunch of old stuff and covert it into something I can use. There will be some fun stuff here tonight or tomorrow. Plus, there will be more material when I watch some more movies. Maybe I'll watch one of my wife's chick movies. Nah, I don't want to waste time. I've got the idea that this is to be the most productive time of my life. So, here goes nothing.

And for those who were wondering, I fell way short of my goal of losing 14 punds. I settled on 4, which is better than 0, and way better than -4. So, my goal for the next 2 weeks will be to lose 14 more pounds. No, I never learn my lesson.

Maybe I'll tell you about my vacation, maybe not.