Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Martin Amis, Donkey Kong, Pretty Horses, and Bond goes Emo

1.) As I was watching television last night I saw a story on CNN about the new James Bond film entitled Quantum of Solace. The headline was "Bond gets emotional", and that got me thinking on a few things about the newest Bond film:

  • I don't hate the franchise, but they are getting less and less interesting as time goes by, so I was delighted to hear that Marc Forster was directing. He made the interesting and near perfect comedy-drama hybrid Stranger Than Fiction, the criminally underrated uber stylized Stay, and the okay but flawed Finding Neverland and Monster's Ball. I haven't seen The Kite Runner yet, which he also directed, but one thing is clear: Forster is interested in flawed and lonely outsiders. But is Bond so much of an outsider? That's what I am excited to find out. Casino Royale was the sign of the more grizzled Bond; along with suave and the swagger there was a mean streak audiences hadn't seen before, even if the film felt like it was three hours long. If there's one thing Forster can do well it is taking a microscope to characters who are unconventional (Finding Neverland), lonely and sad and slavishly dedicated to work (Stranger Than Fiction), and unlikeable (Monster's Ball), and seeing what makes them who they are and finding the best qualities about those people. So it will be interesting to see his take on Bond as I think the Bond character is a little bit of all those things. Yes, even unlikeable. Would you really want to be friends with James Bond? Think about it.
  • Daniel Craig is the perfect choice for Bond and I like the idea that the sequel takes place one hour after Casino Royale ends. If they are going to go with this more disgruntled Bond who fights with his demons, then Craig is the right choice.
  • I love the line I heard last night on CNN about how Forster said he was going to focus less on the gadgets and more on what makes Bond tick. This is wise seeing how the Bourne films have proven that the gadgets aren't what sell the spy thriller anymore. You need them in there, for sure, but they shouldn't be the focus. We are in an age where those kinds of things are not even as interesting as what kind of suit Bond will wear, where will his newest adventure be located, or what kind of car will he drive. So it's smart to move away from the gizmo's and more into the psyche.
  • I wonder if Daniel Craig will wear black eyeliner and a ratty old Smith's t-shirt?
2.) Also, I finished Martin Amis' House of Meetings last week, and all I can really say is that I am extremely impressed. The book is a classic Russian theme: two half-brothers both in love with the same woman and how the brothers deal with being held in an Arctic gulag while under Stalin's reign. The narrator, and unnamed Russian war hero is writing to his American step-daughter, Venus about what happened between him and his half-brother Lev, and the woman they both loved, as well as the events that took place within the gulag. Eventually (not giving anything away here, since it's actual Russian history) the gulags are abandoned and the prisoners set free and they must become re-acclimated to 'normal' life, and this is why he is writing the letter to Venus.

Becoming re-acclimated is not so easy however, especially after battling with some unique characters and terms that are pure Amis. This is a departure for Amis' fiction (he wrote a non-fiction book about Stalin called Koba the Dread, so he was in familiar territory with this particular novel) as there is less focus on the grotesque caricatures that usually inhabit an Amis novel and more focus put on classical, more formalistic elements. Throughout the novel, Amis (and his narrator) are evoking the grand sweep of a Tolstoy or the detailed family genealogy of a Dostoevsky along with elements of Gogol. Whatever the influence was, this is something that is an amazing feat as the language and the beauty of the words are so distinctly Amis, but the material is not. It just reaffirms that, for my money, Amis is on the shortlist of authors, cozied up with the likes of Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan.

Even if there isn't the usual (and somewhat expected) barrage of hilariously obscene Amis-isms, and even if he isn't being as playful by throwing the reader stylistic curve balls as when he last tackled a major historical moment (the holocaust) in his time tinkering novel Time's Arrow, this is still one of the best Amis novels.

3.) The other night Tieryn and I watched All the Pretty Horses, and I have to say that I was extremely disappointed. I had seen the film when it was released in theaters and I remember watching it once on DVD before, but for some reason it just didn't jive with me the other night. Maybe it was a long day and I wasn't in the mood to existentially cowboy up. I don't know, maybe it's just after seeing No Country For Old Men I was not as impressed with Billy Bob Thornton's Cormac McCarthy adaptation. I love the Western genre, it's probably my favorite genre, so the opening of the film didn't feel long to me, even though the film takes about an hour to really get going dramatically. The first hour primarily consists of some cowboy talk, some discussions about God and the afterlife, and some classic western music accompanied by rugged cowboys riding horses. Although Henry Thomas and Matt Damon don't seem that rugged, especially compared to 16 year Lucas Black who looks and talks likes someone who isn't trying to act like a cowboy.

The film is all set up for some bad goings-on in Mexico and of course a love affair that is forbidden. The plot and themes are as old as the genre itself, but the film still works on a basic emotional level, I just think that for the viewer who is not a fan of the Western genre (Tieryn isn't, she was about an hour into it) the film can drag. The ending is the highlight of the film as Damon's character has a chat with a judge played Bruce Dern. It is in this conversation that redemption for Damon's character can be found. The payoff is not overly emotional, but in typical McCarthy fashion, subtle and poignant. I still like the film, I just remember raving about when it came out, but haven't really talked about it much since, and now after years since first seeing the film, I can see why I have have become lukewarm towards it. Still worth checking out on premium cable or On Demand.

4.) Also, Kyle and I watched King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters the other night. This is one of the better documentaries I have seen as we get a glimpse into the geeky underworld of old school arcade game players. I won't get too much into the story, because too much exposition could ruin the suspense, and yes there is surprisingly a lot of suspense in this documentary, but the basics are this: you have the evil champion who refuses to compete in public and you have the challenger who has broken the record at home and sent in his score via video (the film explains the distinction between video records and live records). The challenger is a family man who has failed in a lot of competitive sports growing up, so naturally we root for him (plus it's pretty obvious who the filmmakers favor). What's fascinating about the film, after you get past laughing at guys that are too geeky for a Judd Apatow film, is that even though you are watching competitive Donkey Kong unfold, you become completely invested in these people. I almost typed 'characters' right there, because after awhile the drama is so real that these people feel like characters in a film. It is an amazing film, and even you don't like documentaries, you have to see this. The emotional investment the viewer put into these peoples lives reminded me a lot of how I feel about American Movie. And you if you have seen American Movie, then you know what I am talking about, and if you haven't, well you owe it to yourself to see both The King of Kong and American Movie.


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