Sunday, January 28, 2007

Casino Royale

Casino Royale is a rebooting of the Bond franchise. In comic book terms a new creation story, comic books often start with a hero fully formed. Later only after character is established is a creation story told. Casino Royale is the first Bond movie I have seen where we get to see how the hero comes to be. We even get to see his first two kills before the opening credits.

We meet Bond on the edge of his promotion. He is a corner of a dark office. A man, according to IMDB Dryden enters and recognizes Bond. The man takes out his gun, no magazine. Dryden attempts to browbeat Bond because has never killed anyone, Bond doesn't have the balls. We see a flashback of a messy brawl in a public bathroom. Dryden continues that it is a terrible thing to kill a man; it is hard, blah blah blah. Dryden, "The second is... "Bond drills him a new eyesocket saying "Yes... considerably". I am not going to describe any more of the plot because the movie kept surprising me, you should watch it yourself.

The fun of an origin story is that you can learn where all the hero's trait, habits, vices, and friends come from. You know the result but you want know the reason why and how. This is what makes the TV series Smallville interesting not because Superman is interesting but it is the process of an unfamiliar character becoming the one we know. As the story unfolds you wait for the character you know well to order a Martini, drive an Aston Martin, meet Felix Leiter, do a whack job. We find out in the opening scenes that Bond has just made been given his license to kill. I think however that his license might not be honored by all police everywhere.

Cliché alert, I have seen many crime, thriller and spy stories where the movement and transfer of attachés cases are important. What is in the cases varies between cash, drugs, bearer bonds and laptops of creepy Swiss bankers or something so important and impressive that we the audience never discover like in Pulp Fiction. There is commonality between all these stories in that the piece of luggage is almost always a silver hard bodied case like this. The problem is that walking around with that kind of case is a little conspicuous. The one time I can recall some one using a different kind of luggage for swag is when Vic and boys, the semi corrupt cops from The Shield, ripped off a drug dealer. Then Vic and company used big sports equipment bags to pack and transport the unbundled cash. If I was going to move around something valuable and illicit I would try to blend in.

Unlike the earlier films James Bond doesn't play Baccarat. Instead he plays poker seven card stud in a high roller game. According to wikipedia "the unabridged version of [Casino Royale] includes a primer to [Baccarat] for readers who are unfamiliar with it". This change is another part of the updating/rebooting of the story. Baccarat was the game because it was a popular high roller game on the Rivera. Now because of TV and the internet poker is more popular than Baccarat ever was. Poker doesn't have the same glamour of Bacarat that became almost a cliché of James Bond.

This is the best James Bond I have seen. Last year a local station ran all the Bond films in sequence Friday night. Some Bond film are very good, like Dr No, some very bad, anything with Roger Moore. The best ones had a cool cheesiness, the worst rancid cheese. This film is the first Bond film suitable for lactose free diets not just lactose reduced.

The usual characters and situations do not show up. There is no Q or Miss Moneypenny. There is no jokey tech briefing by Q. The electronics used instead are near off the shelf. There is little point in today's technological environment to show cool new gadgets when today's cool tech toy can be tomorrow's 8-Track. There are two points where the spyware verges into sci-fi. Cell phones are tracked not just to the cell but to the metre. Bond is implanted with a tracking device that can track him worldwide. Else wise Bond has a cell phone and an enemy's phone. The only tech he has otherwise is gun, knife, boot, fist.

Moral: A stranger is an enemy you haven't met.

Extra joke: One of the characters in the poker game is named Fukutu.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Children of Men

Children of Men is dystopic view of the world eighteen years after the end of human fertility. It is a story about the journey of a mother, Kee, and child to safety and the hero, Theo, who helps. Their journey is across a Britain reshaped by demographic collapse and mass migration.

The story begins with the youngest person in the world dying in Argentina. Our hero Theo enters a coffee shop filled with sad, shocked patrons and goes outside to Irish up his coffee, cafe explodes. He goes to his office filled with crying white collar workers, takes the rest day off, pleading emotional distress goes a visits a hippie friend in the woods. The next day on his commute to work Theo is abducted by terrorists, The Fishes, who want to talk and a favor. So begins a not very happy time.

Terrorists or freedom fighters are those types who see a virtue in direct action, armed struggle or other political motivated murder. The Fishes in the film is group that is for the rights and privileges of illegal immigrants. That is there avowed aim, that that and power. Eventually the Fishes get more and more direct with their action until they are fighting with the army.

One of the themes in the movie is the evil of immigration control. There are many people who rail against the injustice of not letting people having free movement to go anywhere and to settle anywhere they want. The same type people were also against colonialism when imperialistic powers went where they wanted and settled where they wanted with no control from the local governments. It is not a crime to stop people from entering another country. It is a crime to stop people from leaving. During the recent civil war in Somalia Yemen fired on and sank refugee ships trying to land in their country. This is extreme but not unwarranted.

The techniques and practices of law enforcement especially immigration law enforcement is put in the worst possible light. The level of police brutality is almost at a Judge Dredd level. Suspects are rounded up and placed in cages until moved to badly organized prison districts. The one cop that is humanized is also a corrupt dope dealer. As a side note this points out the problem of being a corrupt cop on your lonesome. Who are going to call if you get into trouble? If you are going to be corrupt you also need a gang for protection and backup. Historically the time times when police corruption is at its worst are when the corruption is systematically organized, see Frank Serpico.

There is a book by Brian Aldiss, Greybeard, that also covered the topic of demographic collapse. In Greybeard the story starts 50 years after the last generation was born. It depicted a society even more warped than the one in Children of Men. There was real depopulation and deindustrialization as people were unable to engage in farming or manufacturing into their 80's. The hero/title character in Greybeard is part of the last generation. In the book the character spends his time looking after his infirm elderly parents and relatives. But not one will look after him. There is still some hope for the world of Children of Men.

At one time futurism was optimism about technological possibilities. After seeing the improvements that aeronautics and radios made to people's lives many could hope for technology fixes for nearly everything. An airplane in every garage/hangar, robot butlers, cities on the moon were all reasonable expectations. Now the only technological improvement/change we can look forward to is better electronics and higher energy prices. Cheaper memory, faster chips, cool new electronic gadgets but no warp drive or other Star Trek tech that everyone from Hugo Gernsback has been telling us to expect.