I’ve read Ian Fleming’s original story, and I’ve seen the (really, really bad) Peter Sellers film version, so I was keen to cleanse my memory of that by watching the most recent movie adaptation.
A bad Bond at his best.
This is not like most other film Bonds. Bond is less gentleman and more psycho, and the plot has definite “love story” overtones. It’s a bit of a re-imagining of the Bond film, rather like Batman Begins gave us a new take on the Batman film. And also like Batman Begins, it gives us an insight into the origins of the main character.
However, this results in some strange “series” continuity issues, with this film set after the Cold War, but a prequel to the other Bond films that clearly occurred during the Cold War. This is made light of in the film, but requires a bit more of belief suspension that in your usual Bond film, particularly if you’ve seen most of them.
On the other hand, there’s a fantastic Parkour running-and-leaping sequence near the start. It seems pretty unbelievable, but it’s performed by Sebastien Foucan, so it’s probably real. Daniel Craig, who plays Bond for his first time, has a fair go at some Parkour moves as well. It’s very cool.
Craig (I can sympathise with someone having a first name as a last name) is a rugged, and not traditionally handsome, Bond. He’s as different from Pierce Brosnan as you can get without having a Scottish accent. Given the richness of his version of Bond, I think we’re going to consider it one of the classic ones.
We’re heading to India for a couple of weeks early in 2007, and trying to get a little into the culture before we go. And what better example than Bollywood, which has more viewers than the movies coming out of Hollywood? Not counting more Western-oriented films like Bride & Prejudice or Monsoon Wedding, I’ve never seen a Bollywood film, and this was my introduction to them.
Munna Bhai M.B.B.S.
A surprisingly entertaining musical romantic-comedy.
It’s in Hindi, it’s got music, it’s got dancing, it’s got laughs, it’s set in Mumbai and there’s romance. Can this be any more stereotypical Bollywood? Well, anyway, it was enormously entertaining.
It was quite long, at 155 minutes, but I enjoyed it all. Similar themes to any Western romantic-comedy, but enhanced by the Indian angle. And gangsters always help. Also, the male lead’s father is actually his father in real life, so the tension and emotion they display together has an extra edge.
The “M.B.B.S.” of the title is similar to the “M.D.” suffix in Australia, and indicates that the character is a doctor. Or is he a gangster? Can he change? Will he make his father happy?
Given the length, the rather flimsy premise used to set up the plot, and the unknown (to me) Bollywood aspect, I wasn’t expecting much. But, I loved it! Maybe I’m just a sucker for a romantic-comedy. Or maybe it was the gangsters.
This is distributed in Australia by MG Distribution who seems to be the major Bollywood DVD distributor here. I’ll have to check out more of what they’ve got.
When we go out to see a movie, Kate prefers not to have to sit through a heavy issues piece, and so we usually compromise on something more entertaining. However, as Kate’s out of town, I was able to easily go see a non-fiction film at the movies, and chose to check out Al Gore‘s call-to-arms on climate change. Better know for his U.S. vice-presidential role or his close loss to George W. Bush in the U.S. presidential race of 2000, here he takes on a humbler role trying to save the Earth one movie cinema at a time.
An Inconvenient Truth
A worthwhile film for intelligent, concerned citizens.
Al Gore has been presenting his views on climate change to audiences for the last 15 years or so, and this is probably his most effective presentation yet. It covers both the development of Gore’s personal devotion to this cause, as well as the scientific evidence that supports the claim that climate change has been caused by humans and now presents a real threat to our way of life.
I consider myself moderately well informed on this topic, having read Tim Flannery, Michael Crichton, and other less famous commentators, so the scientific material wasn’t new to me. However, it was presented very clearly and so effectively that most people would be left with little room for doubt on the issue.
One might be tempted to think that there was a team of researchers and writers behind Gore’s presentation. However, we only ever see him present, and there are many shots of him using Apple Keynote to develop the presentation, so we are obviously meant to think this is pretty much a one-man show.
That aspect, together with the very personal accounts of Gore’s life and development, tended to slightly shift the focus away from his message and onto him. It would not take much of a cynic to view this film as building a platform for him to take another stab at the White House. He himself says “political will is a renewable resource”.
If you are concerned about these issues, then you can probably skip the film and spend the time more profitably reading books that convey the scope and complexity of the problems. (Or better yet, spend time actually addressing the problems.) If you aren’t concerned about these issues yet, then you should probably see this film. Don’t worry – it ends with some positive things.
There is a good web site of the movie that also gives a taste of the material.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve never read any books that describe The Holocaust. That is, until recently when our book club chose this one. It just blew my mind – you would read something terrible and you’d think it couldn’t get any worse, but then you’d read on, and it would. It certainly helped put some of the international politics of the region in perspective.
Interesting philosophical views on forgiving the unforgivable
Now this is a good book-club book. Simon Wiesenthal writes about an experience that he had during World War 2 while a prisoner in a concentration camp, then a number of other people with relevant experience (including the Dalai Lama) respond to how he dealt with that experience. It’s relatively short, you don’t have to read it all, it comes with a selection of pre-canned opinions that you can choose to agree with or not, and discussion is sure to be heated.
It’s not an altogether pleasant read, but it isn’t densely philosophical or likely to be traumatic to read either. As the discussion revolves around putting yourself in the shoes of Wiesenthal, you need to get to grips with the environment of hopelessness and oppression first. He writes well, and although I doubt that anyone who hadn’t been through it could ever truly imagine it, you do get to a level of empathy. Some of the respondents that follow his story are not as well written, but it is easy to skip the ponderous ones.
Wiesenthal goes on to become a “nazi-hunter” later in his life, tracking down those who engaged in war crimes when younger. He has obviously come to his own conclusions about repentence, forgiveness and forgetting. Reading this book helped me come to some also.
The last couple of films I’ve seen happen to have been both good-natured, gentle, character-driven comedies. They’re a nice change from the recent trend towards unsubtle humour, of which recent examples are Borat or Nacho Libre.
Little Miss Sunshine
A quirky road-movie
Although this film is fundamentally a road movie, with a journey that is more important than the destination, and characters who make self-discoveries through overcoming adversities, the plot is not what this film is about. It’s really about the characters.
The family that jumps in a car together is not defined by their disfunction (a la the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation) but by their individuality. They are an improbably diverse set of characters.
There’s the average-looking girl that dreams of winning a beauty pageant (the Little Miss Sunshine of the title), the boy that doesn’t talk, the father who’s a motivational speaker, the practical housewife, the suicidal uncle, and the drug-addicted grandfather. It’s a totally delightful mix, and each is pretty well rounded.
Don’t expect deep insight, but the bizarre characters reflect back to us the bizarre nature of parts of modern American society. I enjoyed it.
A mockumentary full of toilet-humour
The central character of this documentary-style movie is Kenny, brought to us through the skills of actor Shane Jacobson, who also edits the film and is one of the writers. The other writer, Clayton Jacobson, is also the director, and also makes an acting appearance. So does Ronald Jacobson and at least one other Jacobson. It’s very much a family show.
The show is something like a week-in-the-life of a port-a-loo plumber. We get to experience his honest perspective on the everyday activity of using the toilet, while meeting his family and colleagues. Kenny feels fully rounded and believable. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the creation of a new Australian comic personality.
There are some fantastic lines, and many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s also a tale of family and acceptance. I hope we see Kenny again.
I’m a member of a book-club, and it’s quite fun. The peer-pressure that forces you to read something interesting but “not what I would have chosen” is a force for good. Apparently book-clubs are relatively common, and their popularity is growing. Perhaps this is my cynicism, but I suspect some authors are now targeting the book-club as the audience for their books. And I suspect this is the case with last month’s book …
The Shadow of the Wind
A mystery story that’s a little too wordy.
What alerts the reader that this book is targeted to book-group discussion is that it has a discussion guide at the back. I’ve seen this on a few books now, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing. If a book needs help to discuss it, then it’s probably not a good book-club book.
It is an interesting story, though. This novel tells the tale of Daniel, who is the son of a book store owner. He gets caught up in a mystery that has several bizarre characters and plenty of twists. Will books be his life? Will a book take over his life? Will a book take his life?
Set in Barcelona in the 1950s, the atmosphere of post Civil War recovery provides a rich stage for the characters to develop on. The book is originally Spanish, and the English language version is a translation.
I doubt it’s the translator’s fault, but the writing seems obsessed with its own cleverness and wordplay. It does seem to go on a bit. At over 500 pages, this book is probably also slightly long for the average meet-once-a-month book-club.
In the end, it was a pretty light read. There wasn’t much meat in the story to really discuss and argue about. I find the best book-club books are ones that people are prepared to get heated up over. This wasn’t one of those.
Next month we’ll be discussing Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower. It’s not light, but I think it will be an excellent book-club book.
It’s one of those books that you get recommendations on from many sources, but for one very important reason you never start it: it’s over 900 pages long. However, once you begin, you somehow finish it in a week.
Australian bad boy’s overseas adventure
Melbourne’s own Gregory David Roberts is a criminal, but a writer first. This is what allows the first paragraph to draw you in, and the first page to engage you with his story. And what an amazing story it is.
It falls into the genre of “fictional biography”. I guess this means that you can’t take everything he writes seriously, but this does detract from the power of the biography. I found myself wondering whether particular elements could possibly be true – a question you would not ask if it was either “fiction” or “biography”.
Certainly, Roberts seems to have more adventure in the few years he was in India that any one person deserves to have, and probably more than several people put together could even manage. And when you consider how many languages he learns, how many deep philosophers he encounters, and how he is somehow still alive, it stretches incredible towards incredulity.
I choose to believe that he really did do it all, or at least close enough to it. Others may not. But, it makes it easier to seriously consider the ethical positions he raises, analyses and resolves. I like that sort of thing.
Another thing I liked was how it gave me a bit of an insight into the life of someone like Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks. There are a couple of things that are common to them both, and Hicks is such a thinly represented character in Australian media that it can be hard to understand the motivations of such a person. This book provides a glimpse into the background required.
I think someone once said that the best literature is something like a shaggy dog story. I’m not sure this is the best literature, but it’s one of the best shaggy dog stories I’ve read.
It turns out that Roberts has now gone back to India. According to his book’s website, he’s now doing charitable work in Mombay.
I first heard about Steven D. Levitt on Triple J, when he was in the country promoting his book. Somehow I managed to miss reading it, despite most of my numerate friends raving about it. Finally I borrowed it (although the owner doesn’t know I’ve got it) and now I can rave about it myself.
A book to warm the hearts of statistics lovers everywhere
Steven D. Levitt has co-written this non-fiction book with Stephen J. Dubner, which is probably a good thing, as Levitt is an academic and Dubner is a journalist. However, this book revolves around Levitt and is rather admiring of him, with Dubner in the background. The hero-worship is slightly disturbing until you realise that Dubner’s previous book was called Confessions of a Hero Worshipper.
But once you get over that, there are plenty of interesting facts to enjoy. Some of the best non-fiction books are just interesting facts strung together, and this is that type of book. You really do come away with a feeling of knowing more about the world, and this book should be very useful to anyone who’s a parent, a politician, or a crack cocaine dealer.
It’s also funny. With the new-found knowledge Levitt provides, it’s easy to laugh at the illuminating history of the KKK and at the kids who have really, really stupid names. (Luckily, I’ve got a boring name).
One thing I was expecting was more economics. It doesn’t really go into the process of the research behind the facts, and instead jumps straight to the conclusions. So, it’s really more about statistics than economics. True, Spackistics doesn’t have quite the same ring.
I saw the shorts and I heard the raves about it. It’s a satirical look at political lobbyists and the smoking industry in the United States, directed by an American, based on an American book. (The American director is Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, no less). My scepticism and curiosity evenly balanced, I went to the movies and saw …
Proof that evil industries have their fun side
The film begins by introducing us to the “evil” smoking-industry lobbyist, Nick Naylor (played excellently by Aaron Eckhart), who promptly faces off against a child with lung cancer on a TV talk-show. We know who ought to win, but it’s great fun to see it from the other side. Throughout the film, we barrack for our hero, while trying to ignore the moral conflict that this presents.
However, the film sneakily brings the moral conflict to the foreground, through Nick’s conversations with his family about his job. It’s a comedy with an intelligent side. Although, the fact it is a comedy allows you to laugh away the keen philosophical points without really dealing with them.
Perhaps this is the sort of movie that improves with a repeat viewing, when the farce is reduced to expose more of the irony. This means you can choose to enjoy it for the laughs or for the points it raises about the implications of a free society, the meaning of integrity, and the idea of safety. Good stuff!
I tried to follow the principles I’ve outlined here in writing this review. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.
I’ve been digging into the history of the dot-com boom recently and a colleague recommended this book to me. It sounded really interesting, so it wasn’t long before I’d got myself a copy …
An informative read, but sometimes too awestruck by Google
John Battelle has subtitled this book “How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture”, and if you accept that premise then you’ll probably enjoy reading it. Or maybe that’s a little harsh.
Battelle does a great job of digging into the history of the search engine battles in the mid-1990s, and how advertising took off online and then within search results. I already knew much of the historical material, but it may be an eye-opener for those who weren’t around or paying attention at the time.
He also provides a detailed account of the origins and evolution of Google, warts and all. Since it is quite the media darling at the moment, this was fascinating, particularly the comparisons with Yahoo!’s internal culture.
Towards the end, I was getting a bit irritated by the continual praising of Google’s innovations and claims that everything comes down to searching. However, if you take that with a pinch of salt, then it’s still a well-researched, well-written historical analysis of the web search industry.
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