Reading About James Bond in the June 5, 2014 NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS

What treasures pack the pages of each copy of The New York Review of Books!

Self used to have a (20-year-old) subscription to the New York Times Book Review, but decided to discontinue it a few months ago.

To self, The NYRB is the far more interesting publication.

This evening, self is again plowing manfully through her ‘Pile of Stuff.’  She’s still experiencing Squaw Valley Writers Conference withdrawal symptoms (such as posting endlessly about it on her Facebook wall)

The Man is watching the 3rd or 4th Bourne (Matt Damon is the one and only, the né plus ultra of American action cool).

Self gamely tackles the June 5, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books and stumbles across an article by James Walton, called “Bondage,” which might also be fittingly sub-titled:  “Everything You Wanted to Know About Ian Fleming and His Most Famous Literary Creation, James Bond 007.”

  • Here is how Casino Royale, the first-ever James Bond novel (published 1953), began:  “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”
  • Ian Fleming came up with the name for the world’s most famous spy “because he wanted something plain-sounding and James Bond was ‘the dullest name I’ve ever heard.’ “
  • Hard to imagine, perhaps, but there is a sentence in one of the Bond novels that goes:  “Bond . . .  lit his seventieth cigarette of the day.”
  • President Kennedy was instrumental to the development of James Bond’s popularity in the United States.  In an interview with Life magazine, he named From Russia With Love as “one of his ten favorite books.”
  • Ian Fleming’s wife, Anne, referred to her husband’s Bond books as “pornography.”

There is tons more interesting tidbits from the article, but self must go back to reading Sebastian Barry (who is the most beautiful writer imaginable).

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

David Denby on Jack Ryan (The New Yorker, 20 January 2014)

How self loves an article such as this, the one Denby wrote on Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a review that seems to span all the great movie heroes of self’s life (excepting the science fiction ones like Neo and Ripley.  And mugging, self-deprecating ones like Indiana Jones.  And even puppy-ish ones like Luke Skywalker.  But, self, one cannot have everything.  If there’s a lemon meringue pie in front of you, stop pining for rhubarb because whatever)

So, self knows the Jack Ryan movie came out months and months ago.  Maybe even prior to Christmas. Cut her some slack here, dear blog readers.  Since December, self has:

Been to Claremont

Been to Seattle

Been to North Hollywood

And now she’s about to go to the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Ireland.

Not to mention, two writers groups meetings, driving around in a car that failed a smog test four times (white-knuckling all the way) falling into passionate love with fanfiction, applying to a summer writing conference, and writing poems/stories/novellas and anything and everything under the sun involving words.  And of course, madly taking pictures of her garden and so forth.  No wonder it’s taken her six weeks to get just a third of the way through The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed.

Now to the Denby article.

Chris Pine, he says, is “an enjoyably talented actor” who “gives a successful impression of a man frightened to death.” (And she knows exactly what scene Denby is referring to.  It comes early.  Self will not tell.  Rent the movie on Netflix)

When Denby thoughtfully summarizes the plot (Ryan is in Afghanistan, “his helicopter goes down”), self realized with a shock that she had absolutely no memory of any of these scenes.  She even forgot how Ryan and Keira Knightley’s character met.  But now Denby tells her that Knightley plays “a medical student who is holding out for a date until” Ryan “can overcome the excruciating pain and run like a track star,” which sort of reminds self of Katniss holding back her love until Peeta gets over wanting to kill her.  Ehem!  Kevin Costner is also in this movie (Again, self almost forgot).  Here, according to Denby, he tries “to look mysterious and dangerous by not doing much.” (Note to self: Examine Laurence Fishburne’s performance in the Matrix movies to tease out possible parallels?)

The movie “is set in the new Moscow, which, despite many cutting-edge skyscrapers and a glass-and-metal office of icy brilliance . . . ” (and which, self might add, is flooding the pages of The New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review with literary product, which means it will be years — even, decades — before writers from marginalized communities and 3rd world countries like the Philippines manage to break through) “is pretty much like the perfidious old Moscow that Clancy prized in Cold War days.”

And now, this being David Denby, some background on Tom Clancy:

Tom Clancy was an insurance salesman in Maryland when, in the early nineteen-eighties, he wrote a book, The Hunt for Red October, that Ronald Reagan, with a handsome public mention, turned into a best-seller . . .  He died last October.

Oh. Self didn’t know.

Somewhere in this review is the million-dollar question:  How do the Jack Ryan films stack up against James Bond and Jason Bourne?

James Bond, “no matter who plays him, and no matter what the actor’s age, always seems about forty . . . ”  In contrast, “Jason Bourne does age — his story, as recorded in the three movies starring Matt Damon, was consecutive and heart-wrenching.  Bond and Bourne, one playful, one serious, are both genuine franchise heroes.  Ryan is just a property.”

Denby goes through the list of actors who have played Jack Ryan:  Alec Baldwin (arguably the most handsome Jack Ryan), Harrison Ford (the sturdiest Jack Ryan), and Ben Affleck (Self totally forgot that Affleck even played Jack Ryan).

He also gives credit where credit is due:  to Paul Greengrass, the master of shaky-cam technique, who honed it to such great effect in the first Bourne movie and inspired a whole group of shaky cam practitioners like Doug Liman and Gary Ross. (Self knows there will never ben another like Paul Greengrass.  She saw United 93 in the old Bayshore Century 20, by herself in the middle of the day, and the last five minutes of that movie were as incoherent as food mixed up in a blender. And yet, she groaned. Not out of frustration, but out of sympathy.  Because that is probably what it felt like to be on a plane pointing straight down to the ground.  Anything else — a steady cam, say, with close-ups on the unknown actors who played the passengers — would have been grossly insulting)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Personal Library 2

This is the total # of books on the topmost shelf of the bookcase just to the right of the front door:

78 (mostly paperbacks)

A few titles:

The Stories of John Cheever; The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman; The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio (Penguin Classics Edition);  The Last Don, by Mario Puzo; The Hamlet, by William Faulkner; Italian Neighbors, by Tim ParksFast Food Fiction:  Short Stories to Go, edited by Noelle Q. de Jesus; The I Ching/ Book of Changes; Myths to Live By, by Joseph Campbell; The North China Lover, by Marguerite Duras;  The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam; Fugitive Blue, by Dani Shapiro (This one’s signed by the author); Cebu, by Peter Bacho; The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters, an essay collection by Wendy Lesser; Aimez-vous Brahms, by Francoise Sagan (An Ateneo schoolmate gave this to self on her 18th birthday); The Face of Another, by Kobo Abé; Dubliners, by James Joyce;  Celestial Navigation, by Anne Tyler;  The Powers That Be, by David Halberstam; Goldfinger, by Ian Fleming (Book begins:  “James Bond, with two double Bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.”); Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories, by Chekhov; Nickel Mountain, by John Gardner; The Interpretation of Dreams, by Sigmund Freud (Chapter 1 is divided into eight sections, each of which have their own section heading.  For example, “The Relation of Dreams to Waking Life.”  Or “The Distinguishing Psychological Characteristics of Dreams”); The Jewish Wife & Other Short Plays, by Bertolt Brecht (The Grove Press Edition); The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer; The Complete Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. 2.

17 + 78 = 95, Total Books Counted to date

Best Movies (Thus Far) of 2012: Self Digging Deep

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild!
  • Dark Knight Rises!
  • Magic Mike!  (Cheeky Tatum Channing cheeks evoke the most entertaining Manohla Dargis review in aaaages!)
  • Mirror, Mirror!  (Self has developed such a fondness for Armie Hammer!)
  • Moonrise Kingdom!  (If there were an Oscar for “Best Casting,” Moonrise Kingdom would win, hands down)
  • Skyfall!  (The best James Bond movie EVER.  All hail, Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, and Sam Mendes!)
  • Sleepwalk with Me! (Saw this with son and Jennie in Claremont:  FIVE STARS!  Bravo, Mike Birbiglia!)
  • Snow White and the Huntsman!  (Self is not repelled by K-Stew, she just isn’t!  Sorry, Niece G!)
  • The Avengers!  (Luuuv Tom Hiddleston!)
  • The Raid:  Redemption!  (Self was in Edinburgh, avidly describing this movie to an Indonesian student who had just taken the seat next to hers.  “OK, OK, I’ll watch it right away!” he promised self.  Dear blog readers, this was the best action movie of 2012.  No, wait:  the second best, after Skyfall!)

Much adjusting will be made in the next month or so, self is sure, dear blog readers.  After all, she still hasn’t seen A Late Quartet, Argo, Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis supposed to be just phenomenal in this one!) and The Details.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Glory Be! Self Has Finally Seen “Skyfall”!

The screen is from Cebu. Self found it in the Redwood City World Market.

Self is back in the suburban anomie of Redwood City, California.  The city where, despite the name, there are no redwoods.  Where teen-agers in scruffy jeans slouch through Sequoia Station.  Where the local See’s store knows just exactly how many peanut butter patties self limits herself to buying per week.  Where every day self is reminded that she does not know how to cook a turkey.  Where there are movies galore!

Oh San Francisco Bay Area, the nights have never seemed so cold, especially when juxtaposed against the velvety heat of Bacolod City.

Here are a few of the momentous decisions self must make within the week:

  • Will she renew her membership to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for next year?
  • Will she give anyone a gift subscription to the New York Review of Books?
  • Will she agree to teach two back-to-back quarters for UCLA Extension’s Writers Program?
  • Can she finish her novel in time to submit to various contests?
  • Is Argo a lock for Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations?
  • Will she have time to see The Late Quartet this week?
  • Should she get take-out from Su Hong?
  • When does Justified Season 4 start?
  • Who did she leave off her Christmas card list last year?

Self saw “Skyfall.”  It was amazing.  The fight sequences were so beautiful, especially one near the end where you forget it’s Daniel Craig and just think Bond!  Bond!  Bond!  He and his opponent appear in silhouette against a background of the most planchent midnight blue.  Adele sings the theme song.  “Q” is played by a wonderful, skinny whippet of an actor with geek glasses, finely sculpted cheek bones, an air of great chagrin, and dark, muppet hair.  SPOILER ALERT:  Judi Dench’s M floats serenely out of the scene, but not before she gets to say, “To hell with dignity!” Self will miss the sardonic twist Daniel Craig gave to the response, “Yes, mum.”  Dench’s place is taken by Ralph Fiennes’ Mallory.  There is a new regular, a woman with a superb bod, whose name just happens to be Eve Moneypenny.  And oh, what can self say about Javier Bardem?  When he has bad hair, he is just the most cheeky kind of villain!  Self thinks the scene where he prissily approaches Bond, as if on tiptoe, as if disregarding completely the fact that Bond is roped to a chair, as if he is addressing an equal, is such a madcap, funny/poignant/scary scene.  Bardem in the flesh (like in those tabloid pics with Penelope Cruz) is very handsome, but when he has bad hair (and not only is his hair bad here, it also happens to be blonde), his eyes bug out accordingly, and he looks like a goldfish.  A malevolent goldfish.  With rotting teeth.  In one scene, self swears one can practically smell the rot.  At the end, the packed moviehouse (Century 20, downtown Redwood City) clapped.  For once, self joined in the accolades.  She has never clapped before, not even at the end of Inception, when the audience engaged in similar effusions of praise.  Self must admit, she didn’t like Sam Mendes when Kate Winslet left him because of allegations he had fallen in love with Rebecca Hall.  But with this movie, he has redeemed himself.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

How Self Knows It Is Summer

  • It is hot.  As opposed to the fake summer of Scotland, the Netherlands, France, and London (Where it rained more often than not)
  • “The Amazing Spiderman” is out.
  • There are Wednesday night concerts in Stafford Park, two blocks from self’s humble abode.
  • The Los Altos Art & Wine Festival is this weekend.

There is an article in the The Wall Street Journal about a new show at The Barbican in London:  “Designing 007:  Fifty Years of Bond Style”

Perhaps the Bond movies are the first to successfully utilize “product placement.”

Exhibit A:  The Sean Connery Bond wore a Rolex.  And not just any Rolex, mind you. His was a Limited Edition Stealth MK VI ($17,000)
Exhibit B:  James Bond drove an Aston Martin DB5.
Exhibit C:  James Bond used a Walter PPK.

Dear Departed Dad had a James Bond fetish.  He bought himself a gold Walter PPK.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

M. LaSalle on “Quantum of Solace”/ Self on “Max Payne”

Self is perusing capsule movie reviews in the Chronicle Datebook of last Sunday, when she encounters Mick LaSalle’s review of “Quantum of Solace”:

After the heights of “Casino Royale,” James Bond falls back into routine, with this pretty good thriller, filled with lots of action, a hard-to-follow story and an easy-to-be-around Bond atmosphere. Craig is still the coolest man in the universe, and that helps, though this will not go down as one of the franchise’s finest offerings.

Self heartily begs to disagree. Any Bond movie that Craig makes will continue to shore up the series’ excellence. And, by the way, self feels the atmosphere in this Bond (Siena, Italy; Austria; Haiti; and Bolivia) is way more interesting than the atmosphere in the previous, absence of Eva Green notwithstanding.

Now, on to what LaSalle feels about “Max Payne:”

The movie is based on a video game — surprise, surprise — and everything in it looks shadowy and cavernous. Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) is a police detective who walks the night looking for the man who wrecked his life, but our respect for Max is instantly diminished by knowing inside five minutes who killed his wife and child. With its flat story, numbed-out protagonist and faux artistic lighting and set design, “Max Payne” seems a good half hour longer than its running time.

In self’s humble opinion, M. LaSalle is being way too kind. Does he have nothing to say about the absolutely ludicrous plot? Or the awful casting of Beau Bridges? Or the fact that the only interesting female gets offed within minutes of attempting to bed Max Payne? And that the best special effects — involving enormous winged creatures — turn out to be nothing more than hallucinations? Ugh. The only movie self disliked more this year was “Happy-go-Lucky.” Self still hasn’t decided whether it’s worth posting a rant about that one. Stay tuned.

Day After Thanksgiving 2008

Self’s been on her computer since 6:30 a.m. Today, she googled the author of one of her gardening books, landed on his website and learned that he is offering a 40-acre property in Tehachapi for sale (He is retiring and moving to the Seattle area from southern California). Self followed his links around to Larner Seeds, where she ended up ordering seed packets of California Asters, Douglas Iris, Coast Lotus, and Bee Plants. She’s never grown anything from seed before, so this is going to be an experiment.

Son didn’t bring his car up, which told self he didn’t plan to do much socializing. He has papers to write, exams to prepare for. Yesterday, he was home the whole day. He and his dad walked the dogs, and then self cooked the turkey breast roast she’d bought from Costco some weeks ago (basted in honey and lemon juice and crushed pineapple, results: outstanding!). After it got dark, hubby started a fire, while self started doing son’s laundry (In fairness, a much smaller pile than she’s used to seeing from previous visits).

There was a James Bond marathon on TV: all the Pierce Brosnan James Bond movies were showing, one after the other. Self got to see Judi Dench’s first appearance as “M.” She saw the best Bond girl of the Brosnan era, Sophie Marceau (What ever happened to her?) She also saw Michelle Yeoh, whippet-thin and kick-ass. The one Bond girl that self absolutely cannot abide, whose acting is so bad that every time self catches a glimpse of it, she wants to barf, is Halle Berry.

By night-time, son and hubby had had enough of Brosnan and decided to order “Casino Royale,” the 2006 re-make, from pay-per-view. Then he and son got to watch Daniel Craig’s excellent first outing in the Bond role, while self fell asleep, right out there on the couch in the living room (Why is self so amazingly tired these days? Yesterday was a vacation from her usual Thursday teaching schedule, but she did not feel particularly rested) Self woke up just in time to see the Vesper Lynd death scene. Self thinks Eva Green was a great Bond girl, almost right up there with Kim Basinger, Sophie Marceau, and Michelle Yeoh.

Son is hitching a ride back to San Luis Obispo on Sunday, with old Sacred Heart Prep classmate Finnesey. Finnesey started college on the East Coast, at his Dad’s alma mater. He didn’t like it and began wending his way back West, trying out a college in New Orleans before ending up in Cal Poly. Finnesey runs cross-country and plays the guitar. Self hasn’t laid eyes on him since son’s senior year in high school, and when he walked in with son on Tuesday night she was surprised to see that he now has a beard and long, shoulder-length hair and a leather bracelet; he would not look out of place in a movie set in the 60s.

Another of son’s high school friends, a boy who loved acting and who has gone with us twice to see Cal Shakes performances in the Bruins amphitheatre in Orinda, fell in love with a girl who dumped him, and then went crazy and stalked her and actually confronted her when he caught her with a new boyfriend and is now facing an eight-month jail sentence.

Yet another of son’s high school friends, Alex, is teaching in Addis Ababa.

Another high school friend, Phil, graduated in engineering from UC Irvine and is working at what sounds like a very boring job in Long Beach.

Son still doesn’t know what he will do after he graduates, next June. He talks of bringing some friends to Asia. They want to stay in brother’s fabulous Hong Kong apartment, but go to Bangkok and Australia as well. Self doesn’t know if she can go back home with him, and hubby is scheduled to go, but in October, for his mother’s 80th birthday. Self sincerely hopes Dearest Mum will not give son too much grief. In the meantime, self has this trip to Manila in January, and then two more trips: both to Chicago. And then who knows what 2009 will bring? Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

A Very Bond Thanksgiving

Finally, hubby got to fulfill his most earnest Thanksgiving wish: to watch the new James Bond movie. And to watch it at a time when it would not interfere with the great football games taking place Thanksgiving Day. And so there we were, hubby, son, and self, seated in the downtown cinema for the 6:30 p.m. show. Seated directly behind us was a whole row of young-ish men, who were having a “boys night out,” obviously, and chuckling at all the previews (They seemed to like Clive Owen’s “The International.” Self adores Clive Owen, but why is Naomi Watts in the preview for all of three seconds?)

Self is here to declare that all those people who derided this version as “not very good Bond” are talking through their hats. For this was indeed a very good Bond.  Perhaps not as good as the Bond/Vesper Lynd installment (Olga Kurylenko doesn’t have quite the acting chops of Eva Green, in self’s humble opinion), but still very good. There were a lot of slap-boxing fight scenes (reminiscent of the Bourne movies); there was a lot of fancy inter-cutting of scenes of local color with scenes of mayhem (a horse thingamajig in Siena, Italy intercut with fancy rooftop chase scenes; Austrian opera intercut with more chase scenes); there were a lot of really atmospheric shots of Haiti; and there was a hotel of surreal modernity (fantastic!) right in the middle of the Bolivian desert. A young woman named Gemma Arterton (22 years old) who was recently featured in Vanity Fair was on-screen for maybe five minutes. Tim Piggot-Smith of “Jewel in the Crown,” which Penny and self were so ga-ga over during our Stanford days, made a brief cameo appearance, and he was sadly fat.

Afterwards, since self was so exceedingly thrilled by the two hours spent ogling Daniel Craig’s biceps, she wanted to bite the bullet and plunk down $5 for a treat at Marble Slab Creamery. Alas, tonight of all nights, when self had girded her loins to plunk down the money, the shop was dark. So self had to settle for Beard Papa. They have a new type of cream puff called “cookie crunch” and, my, it was heavenly! Self could hardly wait to get home to begin noshing on it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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