Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Gatehouse moonlit

When you read his work, there is always some poetry and magic in his writing. And then you come across a passage that hits you in the heart and the head at the same time, evoking feelings and images as none other can.

From Banshee (1984)-

”She had a face of snow, cut from that same white cool marble that makes the finest Irish women; a long swan neck, a generous if quivering mouth, and eyes a soft and luminous green. So beautiful were those eyes and her profile against the blown tree branches, that something in me turned, agonized, and died. I felt that killing wrench men feel when beauty passes and will not pass again. You want to cry out: Stay, I love you. But you do not speak. And the summer walks away in her flesh, never to return”

“I tried to look through her eyes and thought: my God, has it always been this way, forever some man in that house, forty, eighty, a hundred years ago! Not the same man, no, but all dark twins, and this girl lost on the road, with snow in her arms for love, and frost in her heart for comfort, and nothing to do but whisper and croon and mourn and sob until the sound of her weeping stilled at sunrise but to start again with the rising of the moon.”

From The Toynbee Convector (1988)-

“Stiles touched another button and the machine lit up like a cavern of spider webs. It breathed in years and whispered forth remembrance. Ghosts were in its crystal veins. A great god spider had woven its tapestries in a single night. It was haunted and it was alive. Unseen tides came and went in its machinery. Suns burned and moons hid their seasons in it. Here, an autumn blew away in tatters; there, winters arrived in snows that drifted in spring blossoms to fall on summer fields.”

One of these stories shows how a lie can be salvation itself.


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Recently my best friend Heather told me a little about a children’s book called Bridge to Terabithia. I was home sick for much of this week, but today I ventured forth and bought a copy. When I was at page 57 I tried calling her to thank her for ever so gently hinting that it was worth reading, but she wasn’t at home. That was an hour ago.

I just finished it.

Thanks, Heather.

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Last night I saw this new movie, based upon a novel by the great crime and mystery writer P.D. James. I came away moved, disturbed, and somewhat in awe. There was a lot to think about, and strong feeling were stirred and still need to be shaken out. Finally, this movie should be shortlisted for at least a few Oscars (and no, I’m not going to say which ones).

I don’t want to give too much away, and I personally think that many of the reviews I checked after watching Children of Men did just that. Here are a few comments that shouldn’t interfere with appreciating the movie.

P.D. James usually write mysteries and thrillers, and her characterization and dialogue are particularly noteworthy; of course, as a premiere mystery writer she is also good at plot elements, flow and suspense. In Children of Men she has shifted track significantly; the novel is science fiction of the near future, in which all women have become sterile, and the last child was born before 2010. It is “now” 2027, the world has gone to hell, and most people have lost hope for the future. As is usual in these situations, they don’t react well. Theo, played by Clive Owen, is a man who used to be politically active but who has lost all hope. He is then asked by an old friend to try and get someone out of Britain…

I’m not going to give any more details, but I will say that it moved me as strongly as, or more strongly than, movies like Schindler’s List or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is not to be taken likely, and parts are searing in their intensity; but it is great on more than one level. When I get up the courage, I’m going to see it again.

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I was just eating lunch and browsing the internet, and came upon an interesting blog entry by Charles Stross, a British Horror/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Smorgasbord writer. This article discusses some interesting points of view about certain books. For instance,

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

Son of Sammy wrote: “i just read this book. everybody like always talks about how great it is and everything. but i don’t think so. like, it’s been done before, right?? soooo cliched. omg.”

Some commenters hoped that this was a parody. However, here is another one that they wanted to disniss but couldn’t

L. Wright “Musett
e Wright” wrote (apropos Romeo and Juliet):

Not that I don’t like Shakespeare’s works, but his tragedies are terrible, especially this one. I can’t understand the language real well, so I have to grab one with the contemporary language so that it’ll be easier to understand. I just can’t understand this love tragedy at all! Here are some things that confuse me:

*How did this feud really begin?
*Why can’t this story end in happily ever after?
*Why does Lady Capulet have to be so stuck up on everybody?
*Why couldn’t Shakespeare have written in a language we could all understand?
*Why does everybody have to jump to conclusions?

I simply can’t understand why people love this play so much. It’s ridiculous! If you want a true love story, try reading “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. This one absolutely SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The second and fourth questions were the most surrealistic for me. The answer to the second is painfully obvious, and the answer to the fourth is just as obvious. He did write so that people could understand him, in plain yet beautiful phrases.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck:

Jef4Jesus wrote: “So, I’m only on page 478 of 619, but I’ve been disgusted at the amount of profanity. So far I’ve found more than 500 uses of profanity! On average every page (with relatively big writing, even) has more than one swear. Yikes! I’m never going to read Grapes of Wrath again, and won’t be recommending it to anyone. If you don’t like profanity, be careful.”

M. Landis wrote: “This book was 600 pages written purly about a bunch of hicks from Oklahoma starving. Thanks, but no thanks.”

The remarks by Landis were condescending, elitist, and uncaring, and all within a single sentence. He gets high marks for efficiency at denigrating people who were almost destroyed by forces outside their control.

The first sentence of the following review really caught my attention.

Do not, if you value your sanity, try this experiment on The Bible. This is one of the better ones:

I feel that this book started out well but lacked something of an ending. The writing styles change intermittedly and seem to lack something of a finesse, blatantly stating things that cannot be taken literally or figuratively well enough to purvey a superior understanding of the text. I found it about as entertaining as flipping through a T.V. guide but not owning a T.V. seeing all the shows that you could be watching explained in a summerized detail that never quite lets you know what it’s really all about. A true literary flop.

If the book had the predicted ending, I doubt he have been able to make that comment. On the second point, he should give a little latitude to the fact that maintaininhis is assuming that the critic reads and understandg a consistent style over thousands of years and a number of translations by the Jews, then the Greeks, then the Romans, then Middle English, and finally Modern English. This is assuming that the critic reads and understands Modern English. Also, while there was obviously a bit of ghostwriting going on, the ghostwriter had to work through a lot of people, some eloquent, and some less so.

Anyway, the comments generated were as funny and interesting as the original entry.

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Last night I went to see Casino Royale, at the recommendation of a friend. She wrote a glowing and insightful review of the movie. Given that, I’ll just cover some other aspects.

I didn’t recognise Daniel Craig by name, but after looking him up I realised that I had seen him a number of times. The first movie was Sharpe’s Eagle, when he was 25 and starting his movie career (from 16 he had been involved in theatre, first with the National Youth Theatre in London, then after a few false starts he entered the Guildhall School of Music and Drama at the Barbican in 1988). He played a very creditable nasty named Lt. Berry, and died with credit and a curse on his lips. Then he played Adam West opposite Angelina Jolie (poor sod) in the first Lara Croft movie (some of my female friend loved his “nude” scene). Then he did a fairly good job with Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition. Finally, I saw him do a really good performance in the excellent movie Munich.

My impression from these was that he was a pretty good character actor, and really good in Munich. But overall I hadn’t thought of him as being special. Casino Royale changed my mind. His acting was very nuanced, subtle, and clever, and all this in an action movie. Vicky mentioned his great control of his expression. I concur wholeheartedly. There was also something about his face and his expressions of emotion that really got to me.

His face is rugged and looks a bit battered, with an almost delicate chin and with large ears. It looks vulnerable and you sometimes feel a sense of yearning peeking through. Then he gets into a struggle or a chase, and through this visage you see his pale blue eyes like lasers, totally focused on attaining his goal, and a ruthless resolve shows though his clenched face. You feel he has been hurt, but by damn nothing is going to stop him. If you’ve ever seen seen the screwed up face of a sensitive little boy who has decided to go for broke, you get the idea. His strength of character, intelligence, and sensitivity shine through the wall he erects to keep others out. He also goes his own way, almost regardless of outside influences.

I think the reason that this wonderful actor is really shining in this movie is the support he gets from the script and the direction. I personally think the direction of this movie is the best of any Bond movie. Even when the cliches from previous movies and the Bond canon show up (not too often), they are treated in new ways and from new perspectives. Every one of the characters have depths and are not stereotypes, and the dialogue was exemplary. Judy Dench has been M in all the Brosnan movies, and was one of the strong points, but in this movie the dialogue and direction bring her to a new level.

The feel of the movie is different. There is a grittiness and a sense of reality that isn’t really evident in the previous Bond movies. A lot of the previous movies feel like post-adolescent carnival rides, where the escapism is so obvious that you can’t really immerse yourself into the flow. There is less of this in Royale. Gadgets, while cool, tend to be realistic for today. There is also a sailboat in this movie that I am still drooling over.

Finally, it has been over thirty years since I read Casino Royale. While I was watching the movie certain scenes and actions were bringing up twinges of memory and a feeling of deja vu. So today I acquired a copy, and have started reading it. I’m really hoping, and am almost certain, that they tried not to diverge too much from the spirit of the book in this movie. This was one of the reasons that I liked the Connery era; the first movies were pretty faithful to the books.

Thanks again, Vicky.

BTW, Craig has been chosen as Lord Asriel in the new movie The Golden Compass. Given the depth and intensity of his performance here, he could do a really good job. However, The Golden Compass is a book with subtlety and a carefully crafted atmosphere. There were also numerous characters with interesting personalities, depths, and often hidden motivations. It will take a very careful touch with direction, script, and casting to bring this one off. However, wild horses aren’t going to keep me away; I really was impressed by the His Dark Materials series by Pullman.

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Sorry to bother you again. I’m in numerology-geek mode.

I realised while writing the original post about Bond and money (interesting how these two go together, isn’t it) that to correctly compare the Bonds over time I’d have to account for the change in purchasing power of the dollar. This isn’t as easy to solve as it sounds.

You see, first you have to decide what is a good measure of purchasing price. After a bit of reading, I went with the traditional Consumer Price Index (CPI). It’s been fairly well agonised over, and the other measures I found were more related to corporate or government buying power. Then there is the problem of which country or countries you pick, and in particular how this matches up with the pattern of movie watching. Given that I don’t have an easy way of figuring this out, and I don’t want to merge the results of dozens of countries, I wimped out and used the Canadian CPI.

The Canadian CPI is easy to find, it is hopefully some weighted average of the US, Europe, and Asia, and it happened to match pretty closely the ticket price I calculated in the previous post. I found that last to be an interesting coincidence, and maybe it is like the correlation between the stock market and skirt heights?

When I applied it to the Jame Bond movies and the results for each major actor, the CPI changed the overall sales and budgets significantly, and changed some of the conclusions of the first post. However, it had no effect on profitability ratios, since for each year both the sales and the budget were in the dollar value of that year, so inflation effects cancelled. It is very important to note that all the results below have been corrected to 1992 dollar values, and that we are talking US dollars.

Okay, get that glazed look again.

Figure 1: First Twenty Movies


The new information here is that the Bond movies made more money in “real” (1992) dollars during the period of Sean Connery through Roger Moore.

Figure 2: Admissions and Ticket Value


Here I added a little information to make the tenure of the different actors clear. Also, the top graph of Figure 1 showing sales is much more in line with audience attendance as shown by the top graph of Figure 2. This is also consistent with the fact that ticket prices were highly correlated with inflation, as indicated in the lower graph. So you could say that the most popular actors (as estimated by attendance at the movies) made the most money (at least in ticket sales) for the franchise.

Figure 3: Sean Connery


The new thing here is that Connery had the two movie with highest sales, and that he did the best overall. He averaged $500 million per movie in 1992 dollars.

Figure 4: Roger Moore


Moore did second best in sales, but gradually weakened as time went on. Moore averaged $375 million per movie (1992 dollars).

Figure 5: Timothy Dalton


Dalton didn’t improve on Roger Moore’s worst movies. Dalton averaged $205 million.

Figure 6: Pierce Brosnan


Brosnan improved sales over Dalton, and was mid-range for Moore. He averaged $350 million per movie.

If using the Canadian CPI is somewhat plausible, these new results show that Connery was both the most popular and the most profitable in absolute terms. If you also assume they invested with even average success, what I have shown here would be exaggerated a lot. Roger Moore did pretty well, Dalton was the worst on both counts, and Brosnan started bringing it back.

I wonder how many billions of dollars have been made over the last 40 years, if you could account for everything? They made $7.86 billion in ticket sales, which translate to about $11 billion in today’s dollars. The movie budgets added to $972 million, which is about $1.35 billion. So just in ticket sales they have averaged a profit of 810%.

No wonder they can afford Astin-Martins (probably for their dish-washers).

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This blog entry was made with performancing, an add-on developed by Jed Brown. It is built directly into the firefox pages, and seems fairly fast and flexible.

Here is what the interface looks like:

This was done with a right click to the image.

Here is a Flickr example:
A Tramp Abroad

Here is another one, using the image link function:

This is a check on font sizes, not part of the rich-text editor in WordPress (of course you can add it using the html format option). The color feature is not integral to the WordPress editor as it is here.

The procedure is simple. Within a web page just right-click, then choose your options, including blogging a page, bookmarking the page, page text (what I am typing now), or FTP file upload.
It works well with a number of blogs.

The nicest thing I find about it is the flexibility and speed. It seems much less painful than editing within WordPress itself. One con is that you can’t add a new category, but you can easily add old ones.

Other features include image upload, FTP, and the ability to use performance to bookmark to del.ici.ous and to manage bookmarks within del.ici.ous. You can also automatically bookmark your posts. Technorati tags can also be added.

So far it seems promising. I’m looking forward to learning more.

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