Saturday, December 14, 2002

The Bond Project: The Spy Who Loved Me. This is a film that benefits tremendously from being preceded by The Man with the Golden Gun, an entertaining but rather slight film, and followed by Moonraker, an utter disaster. As such, I think it tends to be somewhat overestimated. Be that as it may, I think it's a very strong entry in the Bond franchise, and the first Moore film that didn't leave me pining for the early Connery films. Yes, with Roger Moore's third film, he finally comes to grips with the character and gives a performance every bit as good as Connery's best efforts. [I say "finally", but it took Pierce Brosnan four attempts before he could wow me.]

Ask any true Bond fan about this film, and they will tell you that it was the first Bond film not based on a story or novel by Ian Fleming. This is partly true. Fleming did write a novel called The Spy who Loved Me, but apparently it was a major departure from the Bond formula, and Fleming insisted that it never be filmed. So, the producers took the title and created the first wholly original Bond film. Except that it isn't wholly original. The story, broadly speaking, is liberally pinched from You Only Live Twice. That earlier film involved SPECTRE stealing space shuttles from the Americans and the Russians, attempting to provoke a nuclear holocaust. This film involves Carl Stromberg stealing nuclear submarines from the Americans and the Russians, attempting to provoke a nuclear holocaust. The similarities end there, but it is a little underwhelming for the first ever "original" Bond film.

Both films were helmed by Lewis Gilbert, but The Spy Who Loved Me is superior in every way. Moore's performance, hitting a new peak in the role, is vastly superior to Connery's, who was becoming visibly bored with the franchise. The tension and chemistry between Bond and Amasova is a hundred times more effective and more interesting than Bond's relationship with his nameless "wife". The villain's motivation is, although even more fantastic, a lot more interesting. And the set design... well, until this film came along, Blofeld's volcano-lair was the most spectacular film set in history. The set for the inside of Stromberg's Liparus is mind-blowing. Just watch those sequences toward the end and think to yourself that someone had to design and build this. [One of the best things about the DVD series is that the documentaries are able to put the focus on some of the unsung heroes of the Bond series, and after seeing the featurette on production designer Ken Adam, I believe that he deserves a tremendous amount of credit for both the initial success and the longevity of the franchise.]

The biggest problem with the film is Amasova. It's not that she's a bad character. She's actually quite good, and the unique relationship between her and Bond is one of the highpoints of the film. However, according to an interview with director Lewis Gilbert, she was apparently intended to be a Bond girl for the women's-lib age. More amazingly, the director seems to think that women should be proud of Amasova. This is utterly ridiculous. While Amasova could kick seven kinds of shite out of nearly every previous Bond girl, she is still utterly dwarfed by Bond. Bond shows her up constantly throughout the film. Amasova has two goons do her fighting for her, and Bond whips them both simultaneously. It gets worse from there. The idea that Amasova is a good match for Bond is just willful ignorance.

There are also more subtle expressions of Bond's superiority. Amasova gets jealous when Bond flirts with other women, but Amasova herself doesn't have eyes for any other man. The ultimate insult comes at the end of the film, when Amasova folds neatly into the adoring Bond girl mould, despite the fact that she now knows that Bond murdered her husband-to-be. This puts Amasova clearly out in front of Pussy Galore as Bond-girl least likely to sleep with Bond. The fact that she does, without any comment, is not only an insult but a dramatic cop-out. The fact that Amasova has vowed to kill Bond is what gives that final sequence its dramatic power, because Bond goes to rescue her anyway. In fact, without that element, the final sequence aboard Atlantis would have been tedious and dull, because Stromberg has quite clearly already lost by that point. Having such an effective set-up merely underscores how disappointing the resolution is.

Of course, this is Connery-era Bond, so there is some cheesiness. The music, for one thing. Still, that's nobody's fault, really. Jaws, on the other hand, is. He's a "classic" Bond villain in the vein of Odd Job. Unfortunately, he has absolutely no credibility, because he's utterly ridiculous. He is pretty cool, though, so he works for this film. His camp-factor gets blown out of all proportion in the next film, but he's not too bad so far. [Interestingly, his presence draws attention to an aspect of the series I never really noticed before... its squeamishness. Jaws kills people by biting them to death, but manages to do it without drawing much blood at all.]

The Bottom Line: More than entertaining, this film marks the first truly good entry in the [Moore]-era. It won't be the last, but the series takes a major downturn before we get back to quality.

The Bond Project will continue with Moonraker.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Of Mice and Men. The best laid plans of one particular mouse, the one called George W. Bush, have fallen to shit this evening. I call him a mouse because, after stonewalling for a year over the creation of an independent commission to investigate the single greatest intelligence failure in the history of the United States, Bush suddenly switched gears and appointed Henry Kissinger, a man who was guaranteed to bury any dirty laundry he might have found. So afraid that the American people might learn the truth, Bush appointed a man who was a master of keeping government secrets back in the days when W. was still snorting his way to chemical bliss.

But now it's all gone wrong. I don't have details yet, but apparently Kissinger has dropped out. It seems that Kissinger would rather protect his petty corporate interests than serve his country (exactly the charge Tucker Carlson levelled at George Mitchell when he dropped out earlier this week). Regardless of why Kissinger dropped out (though it isn't hard to guess), it leaves Bush with a very serious problem. Kissinger was in many ways the ideal pick, if your goal is a) making damn sure the American people never learn how badly the Bush Administration fucked up prior to 9/11, and b) picking someone the librul media will accept. There are damn few people who fit both of those categories, and Kissinger was perfect. Despite the fact that the man is considered a war criminal in many parts of the world, and he has a track record of lying to the American people, committing and covering-up criminal acts in the White House, and prolonging a pointless war, costing countless thousands of lives, Kissinger is still a respected member of the mainstream public official class. In fact, he routinely gets better treatment from the librul media than Jimmy Carter gets. [Both men received Nobel Peace Prizes... only Kissinger's was paid for in other people's blood, while Carter's was paid for in his own sweat.]

Now that Bush's ideal chairman is gone, he will once again have to walk that fine line: he has to appoint a partisan hatchet-man who doesn't look like a partisan hatchet-man. Now, Bush did get some criticism from the left for appointing Kissinger. If Bush politicizes this position again with his next appointment, the criticism will probably be a lot louder, and a lot broader.

Is anything going right for this White House? Economic turmoil, bureacratic roadblocks holding up the Holy War in Iraq, Trent Lott making the whole team look bad, Gore actually getting some decent press, Landrieu beating out Bush's handpicked candidate, it goes on and on. Since Election Day, I think just about everything has been going badly for this White House. Let's kep it going.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Wish Me Luck. My first ever law school final begins at 9:00am this morning. It's an open-book, take-at-home exam. I download the questions at 9:00am and upload the answers by 5:00pm. Crazy. It's nice, though. I'm sitting here in my bathrobe with my textbook, outline, and notes (all permissible resources for taking the exam), and I'm ready to go. Don't have to worry about traffic or getting on a train or any of that stuff. It's a breeze. As for the actual exam, well, we'll see.

Like I said, wish me luck, and one way or another, it'll be all over by 5:00pm today.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Lott's Infamous Comments. You've all heard this by now, I'm sure. In case you haven't, Trent Lott was speaking last week at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, and he said that Mississippi was proud to have voted for Thurmond for President in 1948, and that if other states had followed Mississippi's example, this country would have avoided some of the problems it has faced. In 1948, Strom Thurmond ran on a third-party ticket, calling themselves the States' Rights or Dixiecrat party. Lott's comments unintentionally unearthed the fascinating story of the historical development of the modern Republican party.

Back in 1948, when Thurmond ran for president, it was generally understood that white male southerners did not and would not vote for Republicans. Of course, today, southerners are very likely to vote for Republicans, especially if they are white men. The reason is, of course, that the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln. Lincoln freed the slaves and conducted the Civil War. Of course southern slave owners hated him, and they left his party for decades to come as a result of this.

The trouble is, by the late 1940s, it was becoming pretty obvious that the Democratic Party just did not support the interests of the white southern male. The Democratic Party wanted to end segregation. The Democratic Party wanted to allow blacks to vote. The Democratic Party wanted to give blacks full civil rights. That is not a platform that would appeal to your average white southern male at that time. But they were in a bind, because they couldn't vote for the party of Lincoln. Eventually, the Southern Democrats (white racists who weren't really Democrats, but said they were because they hated Republicans so much) would join the Republican Party. By 1994, they would control the Republican Party.

And that is how the party of Lincoln, who ended slavery in this country, became the party of Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott, who never wanted to end segregation.

Is Mississippi proud of voting for Strom Thurmond in 1948? I don't know. But if I were a New Jersey Senator in 2002, and my state had voted for Thurmond in 1948, I wouldn't be proud. I would be ashamed. Fortunately, New Jersey voted for Thomas Dewey, which isn't nearly so bad.