Saturday, July 30, 2005

Dinner Like Real People

That's what Mike said last night at the Buenos Aires: We're having dinner like real people.

And we were.

Once upon a time, the four of us would often have dinner and socialize as two couples when we all lived in the Capital Hill neighborhood of Seattle.

"Before we all moved out to the 'burbs," I said.

"Before we started popping out babies," my wife pointed out. Amy laughed and nodded in agreement.

My wife has popped out only one baby. Amy has popped out three. That's four between them.

Mike reminded us all that it had been five years since the four of us had dinner together without the kids in tow.

Sober nods of agreement; time was surely passing, wasn't it?

The Argentine restaurant was well-chosen. Mike and I had celebrated our birthdays together at the Buenos Aires in November, but our wives had never dined there.

A pocket of foreignness in the Pacific Northwest was how Mike described it. The atmosphere was removed, stylish without being trendy, lighting low but not dim, the aroma of succulent grilled beef permeated the room. The food was fabulous from the get-go. The chimichurri sauce (an Argentine salsa) served with bread set the stage for a mixed grill feast that was complimented by a well-chosen, full-bodied Malbec.

According to my wife, the highlight of the evening was watching a beautiful young couple (professional dancers, without a doubt) perform the tango not only throughout the restaurant but on top of the bar.

"When they jump up and start dancing on that bar," our waitress told us in her thick Argentine accent, "you don't want to miss that."

We didn't.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Readings: Convergence

I suppose I am officially on a couple of kicks at the moment, having begun reading Goldfinger, my sixth Ian Fleming James Bond novel this year (fifth in a row). The Bond books are easy reads and very enjoyable.

The other: my daughter and I are also reading our third book in a row by Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

And speaking of Dahl, I’ve also picked up a book of his short stories to read whenever the mood strikes me.

And besides juggling the reading of Fleming and Dahl books, I have numerous James Bond movies queued with my NetFlix service, and am watching the Bond titles after reading them.
The DVD of Ian Fleming’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, starring Sean Connery, arrived the other day in my mailbox.

Imagine my surprise to discover that, after having recently read five Ian Fleming Bond novels and three books by Roald Dahl, the screenplay to Ian Fleming’s YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was written by…

Roald Dahl.

Perhaps it’s time to move on to something else.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

More Readings

I recently read Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my daughter and we both enjoyed it immensely.

My wife had purchased a nice, hardbound edition that contained the original illustrations to the story. We are both anticipating Tim Burton's new interpretation of the story, and we like the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder. But we had never read the book until this month.

My daughter and I talk about Charlie and his golden ticket often. We have even made a date to go out and purchase another box of Wonka's Everlasting Gobstoppers. Those rock-hard, chameleon-like candies have become a favorite in our house. The great thing about my daughter's perspective on the book is that she has not seen the 1971 movie, and I do not yet know if the upcoming movie will be suitable for her. Her enjoyment of the book is pure, untainted by "Wilder vs. Depp" discussions. Or, which Oompa-Loompas are better: the 1971 Gene Wilder Oompas or the 2005 Johnny Depp Loompas?

The answer, for my daughter, are the ones in her head.

Last weekend my daughter and I went to the bookstore to pick out a new book to read and for no particular reason we settled upon another Dahl book, The Twits, which, like Charlie, I had never read as a child. Two days later I received a call from my friend Gary. "I have got a funny book for you and your daughter," were the first words out of his mouth. "It's called The Twits."

I received the call right after reading in a magazine that Monty Python alumnus John Cleese was working on a film version of The Twits.

The Twits is a very funny book. I had to assure my daughter that getting a bad case of The Shrinks is a purely imaginary condition. Otherwise she enjoyed it very much.

And it looks like we're sticking with Roald Dahl for the time being. My daughter wants to know more about the adventures of Charlie Bucket, and my wife just happened to puchase a nice hardbound copy of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Up and out.

Monday, July 11, 2005


“Good old Gleaner.” - Ian Fleming, The Man with the Golden Gun

In high school I had a friend named Blake who was a fan of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Fleming also wrote the children’s book Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, so there was more to him than just a preoccupation with espionage and the most famous member of the British Secret Service. But James Bond is without a doubt his legacy, and what Fleming will always be remembered for.

Blake loved the Bond movies, too, and he and I had actually watched a couple of James Bond flicks together at his house on videocassette. Blake was a Connery man, and he pointed out to me how different the Bond movies were from the Bond books.

Having recently read five of the Bond novels, and having seen DOCTOR NO on Spike TV seventeen times in the last thirty days, I realize how right Blake had been. The movie Bond and the book Bond were often very different characters.

I first read Fleming -- and Bond -- when I was in high school, and until this year I had not read him since. I had read a couple of James Bond short stories in 1985, which were published in For Your Eyes Only, a collection of five short adventures bearing no resemblance to the movie of the same name.

Anyway, it had been a while since I had read any Bond, and after Blake’s name came up in a conversation with another old friend a month or so ago, I decided to pick a James Bond novel as my next read. I chose Doctor No, a 1958 first edition which had been sitting on my bookshelf unread for a couple of years.

(I will interrupt myself at this point to note that, as I write this, McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” is being played on the radio. Ironic, no?)

I also find it ironic that my friend Tim and I managed to read Doctor No at the same time: me, in Seattle and while on vacation in South Carolina, and he while on vacation in Jamaica, which is where Doctor No is set.

As a gift, Tim brought back to me a copy of The Gleaner, "the Caribbean’s great newspaper" (Fleming's words), which has some relevance to the plot of Doctor No. The Gleaner is also the catalyst in The Man with the Golden Gun which leads Bond to his prey, Scaramanga, at 9½ Love Lane early in that novel.

In fact, Jamaica and The Daily Gleaner figure prominately in Bond lore. When Fleming first introduces James Bond in 1953’s Casino Royale, Bond is working undercover in a French casino, but we learn that he has been previously stationed in Jamaica, and that he is currently being run by a “control” who works the picture desk of The Gleaner in Kingston, Jamaica.

I am very pleased to have my own copy of The Gleaner.

Several James Bond adventures have been set in the Caribbean: Live and Let Die (1954), Doctor No, Thunderball (1961), The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), and the short stories “For Your Eyes Only,” “Quantum of Solace” and “Octopussy.”

Having recently experienced Doctor No both on the page and on television, I am torn between which I like more: the book or the movie. Normally the book wins out in these comparisons, but the movie has Connery, so the comparison is more difficult.

A Roger Moore man once pointed out to me that Connery was not an ideal movie Bond because Connery is Scottish and Bond was English. But in fact Bond was Scottish, and at the conclusion of The Man with the Golden Gun (Fleming's final Bond novel), 007 refuses knighthood by Queen Elizabeth on those grounds. “I am at home being a Scottish peasant,” he cables M. from his hospital bed in Jamaica, declining the honor, “and I will always feel at home being a Scottish peasant.”

So there you have it, Moore fans. Put that in your gun and shoot it.

I, like many Bond traditionalists, have always preferred Connery’s Bond to Moore’s. At least, I have thought so these many years. Roger Ebert agrees that Connery's Bond was best, and that man knows his movies. Yes, I would describe myself as a Connery man. But the irony is (more irony, folks!) that I involuntarily picture and hear Roger Moore in my head when I read James Bond books, try as I might to see and hear Connery in my imagination. Roger Moore has been in my head now five books running, and I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

You figure it out.

The Bond of the books exudes a calculated coldness that Connery captured well, but Bond’s cool-cat exterior masks inner-conflict fueled by indecision, missed opportunities and an aversion to killing in cold blood. The Bond of the books is often vulnerable and makes many mistakes. He’s much more human on the page than he is on celluloid.

Taking Bond’s humanity and vulnerability into account, perhaps Timothy Dalton was closer on film to the Bond of the books than any of the others.

And let’s not forget George Lazenby, who did one turn as Bond in the film ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. People are surprised to find out that it’s actually one of my favorite Bond films. People are often more surprised to discover that many critics consider it to be the finest Bond film ever made. It is, however, little seen, mainly due to the fact that nobody knows who George Lazenby was and no one particularly cares. But the film was solid and very entertaining. I find it interesting that the character of Bond actually married (anybody remember that?), and his bride was murdered on their honeymoon by agents of Bond’s arch-nemesis Blofeld. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE contains that tragic scene.

Little-seen, too, is a tepid Bond spoof from the 1960’s called CASINO ROYALE, which was the title of Fleming’s first Bond book. In it (the film, not the book) actor David Niven (who is incidentally mentioned by name in Fleming’s You Only Live Twice) plays an aging, retiring James Bond, and Peter Sellers is selected to succeed him as agent 007. The film, despite a stellar cast that includes Orson Welles, Woody Allen and Ursula Andress (who, coincidentally, played Honey Rider, Bond’s love interest in DOCTOR NO), is a mess.

And if it’s true that the Bond movies are different from the Bond books, then it is also true that there are Bond books that are different from the Bond books.

Earlier this year I read The Spy Who Loved Me, which again bears no resemblance to the film of the same name. The imaginative story, told from the perspective of a woman, follows young Vivienne in her quest for independence. She ends up working at a resort in the Adirondacks. As soon as the resort closes for the season, it is set upon by a group of mobsters and Vivienne finds herself in dire straights. In the last part of the book, a man shows up looking for a room for the night (it’s Bond, of course) and he ends up rescuing her from the gang of thugs.

That’s it. The whole book, part and parcel. No SPECTRE, no Blofeld, no Russians or cold war. No plans for world domination, no twisting, turning plot. Just the story about a woman who finds herself in a world of trouble in the Adirondacks and happens to be rescued in the end by a passerby who happens to be Agent 007 of the British Secret Service. He’s barely in the book!
Spy was the first of the five Bond books I have read so far this year.

Which brings me to a question that has occupied my mind since I finished the final chapter of Casino Royale a few hours ago: what next? More Bond?

I wonder what Blake would recommend?

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Back in May and early June I wrote a few blogs while attending the Seattle International Film Festival. But in juggling work, family, and some times three films a day, I never got around to posting them.

There does not seem to be much of a point in posting them now, though I will make a few quick observations, including notes about my cinematic choices for Memorial Day, which were rather appropo: MISSING IN AMERICA and LAND OF PLENTY.

- M.I.A. stars Danny Glover as Jake, a Vietnam vet who has retreated to Washington's Cascadia and lives the life of a lone survivalist. After a shaky start, during which Glover's dying war buddy strands his half-Vietnamese daughter with Glover at his remote mountain cabin, the film hits its stride as Glover struggles to cope with having a young girl to care for and with the backlash her presence in these woods has created by another survivalist vet played by Ron Pearlman. I found Glover's performance convincing and at times powerful leading up to the film's tragic end. There is one scene that takes place at The Wall which I found very moving. Linda Hamilton also stars.

- Wim Wenders's LAND OF PLENTY was a disappointment. Set in L.A., this post-9/11 drama about a lone, confused, self-proclaimed pro-American militant who sees terrorism brewing in the city all around him was heavy-handed and left me ultimately unfulfilled.

- Also disappointing was an early cut of a romantic comedy starring Julianne Moore and David Duchovny called TRUST THE MAN. Oddly, I like this film less and less every time I think about it. When it comes out this fall, I will surely despise it. Avoid it.

- I thoroughly enjoyed THE THING ABOUT MY FOLKS, a warm-hearted and very funny movie about a father/son road trip. The films stars Peter Falk, Paul Reiser, Olympia Dukakis, and is written by Reiser. In the film, Reiser's Ben Kleinmann takes a journey with this father, played brilliantly and hilariously by Falk, after his parents split up under dubious circumstances. The journey is one not just across upstate New York but into Ben's family's past as well.

- Of the low-budget indies I saw, there was one that exceeded my expectations. I chose to see NOVEMBER only because I wanted at least one thriller thrown into the mix of films I attended at the festival. It stars Courtney Cox, and frankly, going into it, anticipated some B-move, horror film wannabe. My skepticism was quickly displaced by an intelligent script about a random murder told via several perspectives. Think RASHOMON meets THE OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK and you'll know what I'm getting at.