Category Archives: film reviews

The Grand Tour

Finished watching the last episode of the first season of THE GRAND TOUR on Amazon.

I have to admit I really enjoyed the show. I think my favorite parts were the Car Battleship game, the Eco-Car Challenge, and the Namibia episodes.

Anyway, if you happen to get the chance, watch the show. The highest compliment I can give it is that I actually put away my laptop and my Kindle to pay attention, which hardly ever happens when I watch TV or streaming video!

-JM

The James Bond Song

Watching some Sean Connery James Bond movies.

It’s interesting how in the modern James Bond movies, the theme music only plays when Bond does something really dramatic, like defeating one of the villains or engaging in a car chase.

But in the classic movies it sometimes plays when he does something innocuous, like checking his baggage for the plane or walking into the hotel lobby. Films really did have different pacing back then! 🙂

-JM

book Goldfinger versus movie Goldfinger

This summer I read the James Bond book GOLDFINGER, and over Thanksgiving I got to watch the 1964 film version of the story with Sean Connery playing Bond.

As much as it pains me to admit this as a writer, I think the film improved on the book in several key respects.

First, the movie version of Goldfinger is a lot smarter than the book version of Goldfinger. Several times during the book, Goldfinger refuses to kill Bond when killing Bond is the smart thing to do, and he even invites Bond along to hear the details of his evil plan. In the movie, Bond has to escape to hear the details of Goldfinger’s operation to steal all the gold in Fort Knox.

In the movie, Goldfinger doesn’t kill Bond because of the risk that Bond’s death with draw unwanted attention to his plans. Movie Goldfinger also kills all the mafia heads when he no longer has any need of them, while in the book Goldfinger lets them live despite the obvious danger of security leaks.

Second, movie Goldfinger’s plan is a lot better than book Goldfinger’s plan. Book Goldfinger plans to steal all the gold in Fort Knox, despite the obvious difficulties of moving 10,000 tons of gold bullion. Movie Goldfinger plans to detonate a dirty bomb inside the vaults of Fort Knox, irradiating the gold and rendering it too dangerous for humans to handle. The resultant worldwide spike price in gold would exponentially increase Goldfinger’s wealth…which is also much less work than transporting ten thousand tons of gold!

Third, the addition of the bomb made the final scenes much more compelling. In the movie, Bond fights a final battle with Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob in the vaults of Fort Knox while the bomb ticks down next to them. It’s an excellent fight scene, filmed without music, and makes it all the more satisfying when Bond manages to defeat the physically superior Oddjob through cleverness.

That said, I did like book Goldfinger’s motivations better than the motivations of movie Goldfinger. In the movie, Goldfinger just wants to enrich himself. In the book, Goldfinger is actually a Soviet agent, and the entire point of his scheme is to destroy the American economy.

Still, it was interesting how the necessity of adapting a book to a film resulted in improvements to the story.

-JM

how I wound up watching THE GRAND TOUR

On Facebook, a few people were surprised that I watched THE GRAND TOUR on Amazon, since I’m American and it’s basically a British car show.

I wound up watching it in a very roundabout way.

It’s always interesting to see how things that are popular in the UK sometimes get popular here in the US, often for no discernible reason. There are lots of people who are famous in the UK but are basically unknown in the US, but sometimes a show or a song catches on here. Downton Abbey is the most recent example, along with Sherlock and Doctor Who, and I’m sure you can think of other examples.

Anyway, I never used to pay any attention to British popular culture, but in fairness I don’t pay that much attention to American popular culture either. Then I started selling a lot of books on Amazon UK (which, incidentally, was how I realized there WAS an Amazon UK!). Like, in October 2016, 17% of my book sales were on Amazon UK. So  a couple of years ago I started reading some UK papers online from time to time out of curiosity.

Because of that, I read an article about Jeremy Clarkson getting fired from the BBC for punching a producer in March of 2015. I didn’t really pay attention to it, but a few weeks later I happened to see that there were some episodes of Top Gear on Netflix, and out of sheer curiosity I decided to give a try.

At random, I picked the episode where Clarkson, Hammond, and May built a hovercraft and take it on the river and inadvertently wind up terrorizing the local boaters, and it was magnificently hilarious, especially the part when their hovercraft went over the weir. After that, I was hooked, and I watched all the available episodes on Netflix.

So when I heard about The Grand Tour, I decided I was definitely watching it.

And in some ways it’s been a horizon-broadening experience, because Clarkson, Hammond and May love cars, and some of that has rubbed off on me. I’ve always resented cars because of the expense, and how it’s basically impossible to function in the world without one, but Top Gear made me appreciate them as both engineering feats and works of art. Like, I have no desire to own or even to drive a $1 million car…but it sure is fun to watch someone else drive one!

It is amusing how none of this would have happened without the Internet.

And on that bombshell, it’s time to end! 🙂

-JM

The Grand Tour


I just watched the first episode of THE GRAND TOUR on Amazon.

It’s hard to describe – it’s ostensibly a car show, but it’s combined with a travelogue and something that’s almost like a buddy comedy.

I have to admit, I really enjoyed it. I don’t even know all that much about cars. I drove my first car for 11 years and only finally got a different one when the first car would no longer start consistently.

That said, this is a thoroughly entertaining show, and I’m looking forward to the remainder of the episodes.

-JM

Star Trek Beyond

Watching STAR TREK BEYOND tonight. It only got so-so reviews, I recall, but I liked it – a good space opera adventure. I always think STAR TREK is at its best when it stays away from the heavy-handed moralizing and keep things fun, and BEYOND did a good job of not overthinking things.

My two favorite parts:

-The Franklin. Obsolete technology FTW!

-This line: “Is that…classical music?”

-JM

THE BIG SLEEP – book and film version

I’ve now read both the novel THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler and seen the 1946 film version with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Both are considered classics of their genre, and deservedly so.

I did think the movie did a good job of simplifying the book for the screen. THE BIG SLEEP is a very complicated book, and you need to pay attention to what is going on with the various lies and counter-lies the characters employ to cover their motives. The movie makes Eddie Mars the primary villain, and Lauren Bacall’s character more sympathetic than she is in the book, whereas in the book she is at least partly responsible for what happens, and the outcome is less cut-and-dried.

The character of Philip Marlowe is heroic in the book, but in the movie he is more so. What is interesting is that Humphrey Bogart also played the lead in THE MALTESE FALCON, another noir detective book that became a movie. The book version of Sam Spade, the FALCON’S protagonist, is far more of an anti-hero than the movie version. Humphrey Bogart’s version, however, is more heroic, and his more morally questionable actions are revealed as part of his plan to bring the villains low.

And of course some of the THE BIG SLEEP’s coarser scenes were toned down for the film, which also happened in THE MALTESE FALCON. The character of Carmen Sternwood is naked in several scenes in the book version of THE BIG SLEEP, which of course never happens in 1940s cinema (frankly I don’t think it should happen in modern cinema, either). Additionally, one of the villains in the book is a pornographer, and while the movie never says that, it does a very good job of hinting at his profession. (It was amusing how the movie version of Marlowe pretends to be a customer of the pornographer by flipping up the brim of his fedora, putting on sunglasses, and feigning a bad accent.)

I do think it is impossible to have a straight adaptation of a book to the screen – the best you can do is an excellent distillation, and THE BIG SLEEP movie did that well. Recommended!

-JM

Dr. No the prototype hacker

I’ve now read the original James Bond novel of DR. NO and seen the film version with Sean Connery. Both were excellent and well worth the reading and the viewing, though I liked the book version of the villainous Dr. No better than the movie version.

It is interesting to note that the book was unusually prescient. In both the book and the movie, Dr. No is able to sabotage the flights of American ballistic missiles by messing with their telemetry via radio waves.

Essentially, that means that Dr. No is a hacker, even though to my knowledge the term “hacker” did not enter circulation until sometime in the 1980s. It is interesting that Fleming used the basic concept of the “hacker” in DR. NO even though the idea of cyberwarfare was just barely in its infancy in the 1950s.

Nowadays, of course, cyberwarfare has become a standard tactic of conflict, and hacks and counter-hacks are a regular feature of the news. It is also interesting how the rise of information technology has changed the James Bond films. When I saw CASINO ROYALE for the first time, I was struck by how much effort Bond expended towards capturing the cell phones of his enemies, since of course the phones are troves of intelligence. For that matter, the main villains of both SKYFALL and SPECTRE were essentially hackers.

In medieval times, the wicked baron, the corrupt bishop, the cheating merchant, and the robber knight were stock villains of the fiction of the era. It seems in the fiction of the 21st century, the sinister hacker lord has taken their place.

Anyway, these are the kinds of things that I think about that lead to the plots for books. 🙂

-JM

 

James Bond Operating Systems

I’ve now seen all the Pierce Brosnan and all the Daniel Craig James Bond movies, and I’ve come to an important realization.

Successful Bond villains run Linux on their computers.

Silva in SKYFALL ran Linux, and he (basically) accomplished all his objectives.

Trevelyan in GOLDENEYE probably ran Windows 95, and he fell to his death off a giant satellite dish.

There is an important lesson here. Use Linux! Don’t fall off a giant satellite dish like Trevelyan.

TrevelyanFall

Though to be fair, Trevelyan was played by Sean Bean, and Sean Bean always dies in his movies.

-JM

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

I watched the BBC adaptation of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL this weekend and quite liked it. All the performances were excellent, and I liked how it brought an air of menace and danger to magic, especially in the person of the psychotic Gentleman With The Thistledown Hair. He brought to mind the Terry Pratchett quote about Elves: namely, that Elves are terrific, in that they bring terror.

Regrettably, it did not include my favorite scene from the book, but nothing can be perfect, alas. 🙂

-JM