Friday, December 15, 2006

Leo D: Women want him, men don't want to be him. Have no idea how this came up at NRO, but Jonah's annoyed by him. I only mention it because I'll always remember his role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, as Johnny Depp's...ummmm....mentally challenged younger brother. A friend of mine once said, "For years I figured he really was retarded and he's just the best damn actor in the world in every thing else he does." That's just how I'll think of him, no matter how he ages as an actor or what movies he's in. Everything he does seems very overacted, and his portrayal of Howard Hughes gets worse just thinking about it. But standing atop the water tower, he made me laugh my ass off.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Johnny White's never closed: Radley has a piece at Reason about the infamous Johnny White's Sports Bar & Grill, the bar in New Orleans' French Quarter that never closed during Katrina or the aftermath. He visited the bar back in the fall and describes it well.

I snagged a picture of the quite unassuming sign outside the bar when I visited back around Labor Day, so I guess I was one of those tourists he describes, taking pictures outside of the places they probably know best from CNN or Fox News. Can't find the picture right now, but it's not much to see. Neither is the bar it hangs over.

That's one of the challenges with preserving/rebuilding New Orleans. Even before Katrina, the places most people were likely to see was not always very pretty. When I was taking The Skirt around town on our visit I found myself often pointing out some building of interest (to me) or driving down a street that I frequented, and saying yeah this hasn't changed at all. Many times she had just assumed this was neighborhood that had been devestated by hurricane winds and flooding. I mean, streets just aren't supposed to buckle like that under normal circumstances. And bars like Johnny White's would get shut down by the health department in almost any city. It would be easy to say, as a tourist, "Holy shit, this is what we're spending hundreds of billions to save?"

Anyway, I'm just rambling here, with little point, except that I wonder still what New Orleans will look like next month, next year and beyond. Would status quo ante be good enough, or is that even achievable? I don't know, but I keep watching. Occassionally there's a spot of hope, qualified as it may be. Here's one.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Casino Royale, With Cheese: Took a few weeks, but The Skirt and I went to see it last night. I read the book a couple weeks ago (I forgot just how short it, and most other Bond books, was) so I could nitpick it thoroughly. No point in doing that here, though, since Eno would probably still correct me on most of it, if he's still alive that is. I'll just give it the broad brush review, for posterity.

It's so close to being a good movie (Bond or otherwise) that I say it's definitely worth watching, if you haven't already. Daniel Craig pulls off the role just fine, and the reboot to a more authentic, more cold-blooded Bond is, as expected, refreshing. There's still a wry humor, and a vulnerability displayed in the book, that makes Bond more than just a killer, but make no bones about it, Double-O's ain't State Dept. careerists (or the British equivalent, I guess).

But the movie overdoes it considerably. In past movies, Bond is given every gadget imaginable, to the point where he can fly, quite literally. In this one, he may doesn't even need the gadgets. Surely any man with this much testosterone can fly by mere force of will, right? This is part of the modern action movie problem, though, that anything that can be done with stuntmen, camera angles, computers, closed sets and endless planning and rehearsal makes for a perfectly logical sequence. Forget the old action movie nitpicking (how many bullets are in that six-shooter, anyway), heroes these days really do live and work in "The Matrix", or so it seems. But that's criticism of the genre as a whole, not of Casino Royale in particular, so I'll let it go for another time.

The real question is, how true to the book, and Bond in general, does it stay. Well, for about two thirds of the second half it stays about 50% true to the general essential narrative concept, while by no means being all anal about getting the details right. And that doesn't bother me, necessarily, although I wish that where they'd deviated from the book they'd have at least gotten the details of the new bit right. For instance, I'm not bothered with the switch to Hold 'Em Poker from Chemin de Fer as the game central to the story. It's a modernized take on the story, and, for better or worse, Hold 'Em's the game today. But the mechanics of the game were off in many parts,, most importantly the climactic final hand. Le Chifre would never have pushed all his chips in under those circumstances. He believes he has the hand won, naturally, Bond has made his bet and Le Chifre must call. Two words, "I call," or simply revealing his cards and saying "Waddya got?" would have sufficed, and if he wins the game is over. There's no need to actually push the chips to the center of the table. Also, due to the other players in the hand, the dealer really should have made it clear what the side pots were and how much was at stake if they won. It's a pretty complicated final hand, and you better believe they would have been clear about the details at a real table.

The last 20 minutes feels like they crammed way too much in but were determined to keep from hitting the 2 1/2 hour mark. I understand they needed a final action sequence for the climax, but this was a joke. Again, modern action movie kripe, but my hope was that they'd gotten that out of the way in the first half. And the very end, well that was just stupid. Bond would never have sought revenge for Vesper's death, unless it was part of larger mission. It wasn't worth the risk, and besides, "The bitch is dead" pretty much sums it up. It's not "The bitch is dead, and now I'll go seeking out her killer to ease the pain in my heart." Fuck that, she betrayed him. She's not coming back, so why make apologies for her.

Another quibble - the gadgets. There aren't many, which is good, but the one they choose to highlight is about as lame a gadget as Bond's ever had, in any movie. I can barely mention it, because of how lame it is and not wanting to spoil it for those who haven't seen the movie, but let's just say this particular device, kept in the glove compartment of his Aston Martin, shouldn't be a part of James Bond's kit until he's a doddering old geezer, watching his diet and popping pills for high blood pressure. I mean come on, that's where buttons for oil slicks and smoke screens should be, not Bond's emergency medic kit. And it added a worthless 10 minutes to the movie, all to get one passably glib Bond line crammed into the game - "That last hand...just made me sick."

Despite all that, parts of the movie are a rush that make you chomp the popcorn in a way no Bond movie ever has. The opening sequence is fantastic, shot in black and white with short flashbacks to Bond's first "kill." Very cool. Bond as a character is as good as he's ever been, as tough as Connery without all the slapping around of his female co-star (hey, I said it was modernized, didn't I). The stunts are over the top, but dorky gadgets are kept out of it (with the one awful exception) so that evens things out. There's lots that's not in the book (like the first hour), but if you stick to the book's narrative entirely you're left with a 45 minute movie about a card game and a lot of ordering dinner with the fussiness Meg Ryan. Surely we can't be expected to sit through that in the name of accuracy. I don't know if anyone will ever get it right, especially since that means a lot of different things depending on who you ask, but this is the first worthwhile effort in many years.

Peter Boyle: RIP. The show Everybody Loves Raymond is pretty much unwatchable, but any zip that it has is due to Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts. But, I will of course remember him most for the role of a lifetime - The Monster!