Saturday, September 09, 2017

Review of A Rule Against Murder

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #4)A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great addition to Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache Series. Unlike most of the books in the series, this one is not set in the village of Three Pines itself (the villagers are spared a murder!, albeit temporarily), but rather at a nearby luxury hotel hidden in the woods. Inspector Gamache and his wife are celebrating their anniversary at the hotel, while the rest of the rooms are taken by Mrs. Finney and her extended family.

 It becomes clear that while her newly married name is Finney, her children from a previous marriage are all Morrows, including Gamache's friend artist Peter Morrow from nearby Three Pines, who is the last of the four children to arrive. His wife Clara, who is essentially the co-protagonist of the series, arrives with him, where they meet the others: oldest brother Thomas and his wife Sandra, older sister Julia, and younger sister Marianna. There's also a grandchild of undetermined gender named Bean, as well as Mrs. Finney's new husband Bert, who was himself a lifelong friend of Mrs. Finney's late husband, Charles Morrow. Several staff of the hotel are prominent, and a couple of the Three Pines regulars make brief appearances, but this story is primarily about the Morrows.

As a study of a dysfunctional, bitter family, A Rule Against Murder is brilliant. It is heart-rending to see all the siblings tear into each other while the matriarch dispenses little love combined with plenty of judgment. Inevitably one of the family is murdered, at which point Gamache takes over.

The murder mystery itself is neither terribly elaborate nor compelling. The method of killing the victim seems rather improbable, a fact that seems to increasingly be a feature of the Gamache series. But the reason to read this series if not for any Agatha Christie-style twists, but rather for the psychological insights of the author, that are primarily viewed and revealed through the eyes of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

History of "Centrism" in the Democratic Party

The main thesis of this post is going to be that the "centrists"* of the Democratic party are killing it with a combination of incompetence and an outdated model of voter behavior.  The incompetence relates to the usage of bad voting models.  Clearly, if the Party's intent is to use modeling to win elections, they are doing a horrible job.

*Yes, I use scare quotes around the word "centrists".  I don't think they actually represent the center of American political thought.  Economically they are pretty consistently right-of-center.  But our dumbed-down national media refuses to ever use the word "conservative" to describe a Democrat, so by default they are assigned the label "centrist".

Right now, the Republican Party controls
  • the Presidency
  • the Senate, with a 52-48 majority
  • the House of Representatives, with a 241-194 majority
  • Governorships is 33 of 50 states
  • control of both houses of the state legislature in 32 of 50 states (Dems have only 13)
The Democratic literally hasn't been this politically weak since the days of Herbert Hoover.  

By way of contrast, consider the situation in 1976:
  • Democrats won the White House behind Jimmy Carter
  • a filibuster-proof majority of 61-38 in the Senate
  • a massive 292-143 majority in the House of Representatives
  • 37 Governorships to 12 for Republicans
  • a huge advantage in the number of state legislatures controlled 
Yes, by picking the mid-70s as my initial point of comparison I've chosen a peak of anti-Nixon sentiment.  But 1976 wasn't a wave election for Democrats.  From the 1954 election through the Reagan wave in 1980, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, and while the Senate flipped a couple times in the 1980s, Democrats controlled the House until 1994.

So what happened?  Well the simplest explanation is that the Republican Party flipped the South. The Democratic Party was the party of the Confederacy, but as they also became the party of Civil Rights legislation in the 1960, they gradually lost favor in the South.  Southern Democrats became "boll weevils" and "Reagan Democrats" and then eventually just became Republicans.  

Starting in 1982, in response to the "Reagan Revolution" Democrats began to shift away from the more liberal stances of the 1960s and 1970s.  People like Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas, and Bill Bradley argued that the Party had become too anti-business for its own good, and started a movement to pursue business-friendly "centrism" as an alternative.  One name for this thinking is "neo-liberalism" which dates back to the 1930s.  As an example of this thinking, see A Neo-Liberal's Manifesto by Charles Peters.
Said Mr. Peters:

"If neo-conservatives are liberals who took a critical look at liberalism and decided to become conservatives, we are liberals who took the same look and decided to retain our goals but to abandon some of our prejudices. We still believe in liberty and justice and a fair chance for all, in mercy for the afflicted and help for the down and out. But we no longer automatically favor unions and big government or oppose the military and big business. Indeed, in our search for solutions that work, we have come to distrust all automatic responses, liberal or conservative."

Gradually through the 1980s the neo-liberals took over the levers of party power.  In 1984 Walter Mondale won the Democratic nomination for the Presidency and got crushed at a national level by a very popular Ronald Reagan.  Mondale was the last true liberal to get the nomination.  Mike Dukakis in 1988 was a "technocrat" and since then the Democrats have stuck to "centrists": Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.  (Note that not all of these people are equally "centrist".  Indeed, since his defeat in 2000 Al Gore changed his focus to environmental issues and became reliably leftist.  In 2008 Obama ran as a candidate to the left of Hillary Clinton and won the election easily, but his term as President could not accurately be defined as "liberal".

I've been sitting on this for a month.  Will post now and do follow-up when convenient.  Really aiming for a consideration of the "bell curve" model of the voting public.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Yes, there is something deeply wrong with the Republican party and we have to stop pretending this is normal

First in a two-part series, with the follow-up to be called "Yes, there is something deeply wrong with the Democratic party."

No, they're not the same thing.

The Republican party has become an entity run by sociopaths and anti-intellectuals.  They feed upon the cultural backlash of the very religious against the non-religious well-educated "coastal elite".  But of course, our networks can never discuss religion, so this entire aspect of our culture is simply ignored.

All the crap about "the Religious Right" was exposed as a sham this year, as the rallied behind the least religious Presidential candidate in the nation's history.

How did we reach a point where a failed casino owner, a racist deadbeat landlord, an internet scammer is supposed to be treated with "the deference due to the office"?  He's a horrible human being.  His appeal is anti-intellectualism, and let's be clear about that.  This is the culture war, front and center.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Wins Above Replacement - Is it taken too seriously?

For some sportswriters, the statistic known as Wins Above Replacement, or WAR for short, is viewed as the end-all, be-all of evaluating baseball players.  The basic idea is this: using the information from a large number of different hitting statistics (or including fielding statistics in the full version), determine the "number of wins" that a player contributes to a team, compared to an average player, over the course of a 162-game season. For a fuller explanation, see, for example, this description at FanGraphs.

The high-level formula is this:

WAR = (Batting Runs + Base Running Runs +Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment + League Adjustment +Replacement Runs) / (Runs Per Win)

This statistic is very favorable to players like Mike Trout.  Now Trout is an excellent player - let there be no doubt about that.  He's one of the best hitters in the league, is an excellent fielder, and a strong baserunner who can steal bases.  I just wonder if everything is calibrated properly.

Here's a snapshot from, showing the top 10 hitters in the American League, sorted by batting average.  (Aside: batting average has largely been replaced by on-base percentage in the thinking of modern sabremetricians, but it still is used as a default stat for sorting.)

What interests me here is the disparity in WAR between Trout, Betts, and Altuve versus other hitters who seem to also be having good seasons, like Pedroia and Ortiz.  I should make it clear that the WAR listed above is the total over hitting, baserunning, and fielding.   But curiously, very little of Trout's WAR is from fielding.  His OWAR ius 9.36, compared to Betts' 5.96 and Ortiz's 4.89.  Betts gets a lot of WAR from his fielding - 3.1-3.2, depending on what the round-off error is.  Trout has .6-.5, while Ortiz might get as little as .06 defensive WAR - an unsurprising fact since he only plays defense on the rare occasion that the Red Sox are playing on the road in a National League park  (and even then he takes some games off.) 

I simply don't believe that, as an offensive player, Mike Trout is worth twice as much in terms of WAR as David Ortiz.  Trout has a slightly higher OBP, but a lower slugging percentage.  He has 39 more runs scored, but 27 fewer RBIs, and is much lower in most power categories - fewer doubles and home runs.  Many more walks, but also many more strikeouts.  Trout has the advantage with stolen bases, but still, that's only 26 SBs - one per roughly every six games.  I view stolen bases as analogous to walks - just extra bases to be added to the total base sum.  

So - where does the huge number come from?  I don't know.  There are many explantions like the one above that indicate what WAR is supposed to mean, but I cannot find a closed formula for it that letss me plug in numbers.  I  have found a "Simple WAR calculator" at, but it doesn't produce the numbers I see above.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Dreadful primary season

This is really shaping up to be the worst election year in memory.  The Republicans are falling apart as a political organization.  They've been cultivating anti-government sentiment for so long they now are controlled by a majority that both thinks that they have some divine right to rule the country and that they should try to do their best to keep the government from doing anything.  Well, that's a bit oversimplistic, but the point remains that they've adopted a scorched Earth attitude towards the debt ceiling, towards foreign relations, towards keeping the government open, and, most recently, towards the process of keeping SCOTUS nominations going forward.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Last-minute Review of 2015 in Movies

I've actually seen six of the eight Oscar nominees for Best Picture this year, having missed Brooklyn and Room.  The Revenant is the favorite, according to whatever logic works is ruling the day in Hollywood.  IMO, both The Big Short and Spotlight are clearly better, as are The Martian and even Mad Max: Fury Road, a surprising entry into the category.  Other good films have been neglected, because apparently they are not in genres (comedy, horror) that can be considered.

So I've decided to review my movie-watching of the year, sorted according to various categories.

We'll start with Spy Movies, of which there were many:

Spy Movies

Kingsman:the Secret Service - a very enjoyable romp starring Colin Firth as a member of a British Spy Service fighting international terror in the form of Samuel L. Jackon's lisping villain.  Really good action sequences and a clever plot.  The Freebird/church fight is incredibly gruesome/hilarious.

Spy - Melissa McCarthy plays the lead in this spy comedy. Funny movie with decent plot to it - one of her better works.  Plot is actually pretty pretty well constructed.  

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation - hey, Tom Cruise has done another Mission Impossible movie!  The basic plot hasn't changed over the course of the series.  But the action sequences here are pretty good.  

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  - a spy movie set in the 1960s based on the concept of the old Robert Vaughn TV show.  Stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as the American and the Russian, along with Alicia Vikander as a German woman who works with them.  Love the period fashion of 1960s Italy.  Probably the best plot of this bunch.

SPECTRE - the latest Daniel Craig 007 movie.  Acting is really good, but the plot is pretty much non-existent.  It's all about how Christoph Waltz is the new Blofeld, the man behind all of Bond's torments.  I guess the idea is that he just shows up and is the Bad Guy, because, you know, he's Blofeld.  And Christoph Waltz.  A bit of a disappointment.

What gets me most about this category is that the two established franchises pretty much mailed in their screenplays.

Superhero Movies

Avengers: Age of Ultron - a good movie, but a big overstacked with characters by now.  Didn't have the impact of the first Avengers movie.  

AntMan - pretty generic origin story.  Well done but these are formulaic by now.  

Deadpool is better than either.

Space Opera

I don't like the practice of calling movies like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy "Sci-Fi" even when there's no science in them at all.  They are more properly understood as Space Opera - extended adventure stories that just happen to be set in space.  I'd say we had two this year:

Jupiter Ascending - I enjoyed this movie, though a lot of that is due to Mila Kunis.  Eddie Redmayne plays one of her homicidal family members and is great.  Sean Bean plays a solider who, bizarrely, doesn't die.  Chaning Tatum plays the love interest who has no chemistry with Mila.  Movie kind of bombed.

Star Wars: the Force Awakens - much better than the prequels.  Bringing back Lawrence Kasdan to write the screenplay instead of letting George Lucas do so was a great idea.  Harrison Ford is great.  The newcomes (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Isaac) are great.  People have complained that the plot was a mirror image of Episode 4, but that's only true if you only watched the last fifteen minutes, and even then it's not true.  Yes, it has common themes and plot devices.  Duh.

True Stories

Spotlight - the story of the investigative reporting of the Boston Globe's Spotlight division on the pederasty scandal of the Catholic Chuch.  A well-crafted and well-written movie.  Acting is very good, esp. Mark Ruffalo.  

The Big Short - a compelling recounting of how a small number of investors decided the real estate market was bubbling in 2007-2008 and decided to sell them short.  Really devastating critique of the industry.  And nothing has changed on Wall Street.  So we've got that to enjoy.

Bridge of Spies - enjoyable period piece with Tom Hanks as the man negotiating the release of captured U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.  Kind of the movie we expect these days from Spielberg and Hanks - enjoyable, doesn't really take any risks.  Mark Rylance is deservedly getting a lot of praise for his portrayal of the Russian spy Rudoph Abel who was traded.  Writing is good, as well as the acting, but as I said, the movie doesn't really take any risks.

Black Mass - Johnny Depp plays Whitey Bolger in this story about how he manipulated his police handlers to help him eliminate his competition in the organized crime business of 1970s Boston.
Between Black Mass and Spotlight I wonder how I ever got through Boston of the 1970s neither molested nor murdered. 

Everest - an IMAX feature (well, it was available on other screens, but really, what's the point?) about the tragic disaster in 1996 when a couple tourist groups got stuck in a storm on Mount Everest.  A gripping and sad story.  

Very strong year for this category.  I would not want to be required to pick between Spotlight and The Big Short.  Either would be a worthy Best Picture winner.


The Martian - I hope I don't have to explain why this is science fiction and Jupiter Ascending isn't.  The science of The Martian is exceptionally good, at least in how it treats the problems of how to survive on a foreign planet with no atmosphere and not enough food when the nearest transport is speeding off in the wrong direction.  Not only the best sci-fi of the year, but one of the best sci-fi pictures of many years.

Ex Machina - also a really, really good movie.  I only saw this on video because the marketing did not really capture how good this movie is.  It's another "genesis of a soul in AI" story.  Oscar Isaac is brilliant, again, this time as the high tech software genius, as is Alicia Vikander as the budding AI/robot.  BTW, Vikander is the breakout star of the year, and I only saw two of her three movies, when the third (The Danish Girl) is the one she just won an Oscar for.


Mockingjay: Part two.  Not really anybody's fault here, but Mockingjay just isn't enough of a story to make a great movie, esp. not when compared to The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.  The story is realistic, but it's just too anti-climactic.  But of course J-Law rocks.  I mean, duh.

Far from the Madding Crowd - Carey Mulligan makes a credible Bathsheba Everdeen in the first major movie version of this story since Julie Christie played the role in a classic performance.  The '60s version had a more bombastic cast compared to last year's understated version.  I think I prefer the newer version.  

Period Stories

The Revenant - this is supposedly based on a "true story" but I think the key there is "story" as my research of the tale of Hugh Glass is that it's a great fronteir story but it's authenticity has been called into doubt.  Those fronteirsmen were known to exaggerate a bit.  Certainly the real Hugh Glass could not have survived everything that happened to him in the movie.  Anyway, the acting here is great, though I find the themes a bit heavy-handed and the plotting a bit silly at points.  Worth watching for the landscapes.

The Hateful Eight - Tarantino's latest film.  And as was said, you can only compare Hitori Hanso swords to other Hitori Hanso swords, and you can really only compare Tarantino films to his other films.  The Hateful Eight is very enjoyable in a closed-room mystery kind of way.  The scope isn't as large as his prior two movies (Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchanged) but it's still a good movie worth seeing.  

Serena - a story about an industrialist woman played by J-Law.  One of her weaker films, though of course not her fault.  She needs to stop doing movies with Bradley Cooper.  I'm going to have to talk to her about this.

Mr. Holmes - Ian McKellan plays a 90-something retired Sherlock Holmes in this enjoyable mini-myestery.  A good story.

Animated Movies

Shaun the Sheep - an animated feature from Aardman studio that gave us Wallace and Gromit as well as Chicken Run.  Really great animated film  as we've come to expect from Aardman.  No dialogue! But the story doesn't suffer from the absence.

Inside Out - Pixar's offering this year, about how each of us is controlled by a quartet of personified emotions inside a bridge-like control room in our brains.  Pixar keeps putting out great movies, and this is as good as we've come to expect.  A movie about growing up and how we have to leave childish things behind.  And how we need not only joy, anger, and disgust, but how even sadness plays an important role.  

Minions - not much to say here, except that it was a great idea to give the Minions of Despicable Me their own movie.  

Saw three animated movies last year and they were all great.


Mad Max: Fury Road - really much better than I had hoped it would be.  Definitely the action movie of the year and it was great to watch on a big screen.  Tom  Hardy got top billing as Max but Charlize Theron really stole the movie as Furiosa.  BTW, it's winning a lot of secondary awards so far tonight.


It Follows - a low budget movie based on a very simple idea.  The risks of teenage sex include not only disease and emotional turmoil, but real existential danger in a monster that tracks down whoever the latest person on its victim list is.  Apparently its target list works like a computer science "stack" - when the person at the top of the stack has sex with a new person, the new person moves to the front of the line for the stalking monster's target list.  And if that person is killed, the stack moves up.  Great horror movies often have this kind of simple plot device - I was reminded of The Ring and The Grudge here.  When it comes to making horror movies, often having a small budget is a benefit.  With a cast of unknowns, the movie isn't constrained by star-centered plot expectations (you cannot kill off Janet Leigh less than halfway through the movie!  OK, bad example.  Certainly you're not going to kill off Drew Barrymore before the opening credits!  Another bad example.  But Psycho and Scream are the exceptions that prove the rule.)

Police/Action Dramas

Furious 7 - lots of stunts with cars.  RIP Paul Walker

Sicario - a really good police drama starring Emily Blunt as a DEA office, Josh Brolin as an enforcement "cowboy" and Benicio Del Toro as the guy who does "what is necessary" to fight the Drug War.  Really a though-provoking movie.  

With this category division in mind, my Best Film nomineees would be

It Follows
Mad Max - Fury Road
The Big Short
The Martian 

maybe The Revenant

Friday, December 25, 2015

Best of Bond, Part VI

The Pierce Brosnan Years

While Timothy Dalton gave the franchise depth and emotional darkness, the returns at the box office were poor.  After two films the franchise went into a hiatus for several years, to return with Pierce Brosnan as the new Bond.  Brosnan had been the first choice to replace Roger Moore, and he was a natural for the part of Bond.  With more charm and elan than Dalton, he helped re-popularize the franchise.

And the Brosnan years started well.  Goldeneye is widely recognized as a great Bond film.  But each of the following films was weak in some way.  By the end of the Brosnan run, the films were sinking into the same trap that ruined the Moore movies: an excess of silly gadgetry, too many recycled plots, and a few really awful casting choices.  But even the otherwise awful Die Another Day features great supporting work by Halle Berry - all of the films have some redeeming qualities.

Let's recall the criteria in this series of evaluations again:

  • Bond – who the actor is, how good he is, and what he brings to the role
  • the Villain- Mr. Big, Scaramanga, etc.  I judge the films on how compelling the villain is.
  • the Bond Women – some films have few, some have many, but I’m pretty sure all have at least one. The quality ranges from Denise Richards’s absurd nuclear physicist to, of course, Mrs. Bond herself, not to mention Pussy Galore
  • the Good Guys – M, Q, Moneypenny, Felix Leiter in his many incarnations and other sidekicks
  • the Henchmen on the other side like Jaws, Oddjob, and Nick-Nack.
  • the gadgets – not just judging how neat the gadgets are, but whether they were unwisely allowed to take over the film (as often happened with the later Roger Moore filims)
  • whatever else I happen to think of

The first (and best) of the bunch is


Goldeneye  opens with two MI-6 agents infiltrating a Soviet base at a dam in the area of Archangel.  007 opens with the film with a bungee cord jump off the top of a dam, presumably to set the tone. He meets 006 (Alec Trevalyen, played by Sean Bean), the inflitration goes bad, 006 is captured and executed by a Rusian officer, but 007 escapes by using a timer to detonate a bomb.

That's all pre-credits.

The main part of the plot concerns a laser platform named "GoldenEye" put in space by the Soviets.
Early in the movie the dish that controls the platform is destroyed by the rogue general we earlier saw "kill" 006, accompanied by psychotic assassin Xenia Onatopp (played by Famke Jannsen).

Alan Cumming plays the super-programmer Boris who works with them, while Izabella Scorupco plays the sexy young programmer Natalya who happens to hide while the rest of the staff is being slaughtered by the general's men.  The British notice the explosion from satellite and send in Bond to investigate.  They track the helicopter from the attack to a mafioso known only as "Janos".  Bond meets with CIA contact Wade (played by Joe Don Baker, who previously had been a baddie in The Living Daylights), who points him to another Russian mafia contact, a former enemy of Bond named Zukovsky.  Bond had shot him at one point.

Bond tracks down Janos who turns out to be his old buddy Trevalyan.  This leads to some action sequences in Moscow, with Bond at one point trapped in an exploding helicopter where he meets Natalya, who conveniently had been kept alive for a classic Bond "let's kill the hero in a complicated fashion which he might be able to escape" scenario.  Later there's a chase through Moscow involving Bond in a tank, and a standoff on a train.  Trevalyan and Onatopp escape while Natalya tracks Boris to Cuba.

The final sequences are at a secret radar dish, that surfaces from its hiding place under a volcanic lake.  (Homage to You Only Live Twice.)   For some reason, of all the people on the planet who could accompany Bond on this mission, MI-6 chose Natalya.  Bond has some cool fight scenes with Trevalyan. Natalya hacks the computer to mess up the satellite guidance system.  The pen bomb blows up everything except Boris, who stays alive long enough to be frozen by liquid nitrogen.

So we've got main plot #2 (seen also in Dr No, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds are Forever, and Moonraker) - a space-based conspiracy.

The story features Bond inexplicably driving a tank through Moscow at one point.

The final scenes have Bond and the programmer Natalya infiltrating the GoldenEye control dish in Cuba.

The general tone is lighter than the two Dalton  films.  Brosnan brings Bond back to his traditional womanizing ways.  Also - Baccarat!

Our checklist:

  • Bond – Brosnan is sharp as Bond.  He brings the charisma and flair we knew he had back in his Remington Steele days.  He's smoother than Dalton, not quite as aristocratic as Moore, and not as violent as Connery.  Possibly the smoothest of the Bonds.  For Bond fans who didn't like Dalton, and who thought Moore got too old, Brosnan was the first credible Bond since For Your Eyes Only.  

  • the Villain- Sean Bean is a good actor, but he doesn't really fit the role of a Mr. Big/Blofeld.  It's more like he's Bond's old school buddy who's gone bad.  

  • the Bond Women – the most memorable is Famke Janssen as Onatopp.  She's delicious as the psychotic killer.  Izabella Scorupco plays the charming young ingenue programmer Natalya.  Minnie Driver has a minor role as a tone-deaf singer working for Zukovsky.

  • the Good Guys – Judi Dench takes over the role of 'M'.  This is the first of seven movies with her.  She owns the role.  Her no-nonsense matriarch plays well against Brosnan's old-school sexism.  Desmond Llewelyn is back as Q for the umpteenth tim. Samantha Bond plays Moneypenny.  Michael Kitchen of Foyle's War plays Bill Tanner.  Joe Don Baker is back as CIA's Jake Wade.  Remember he played a villain back in The Living Daylights? 

  • the Henchmen - hard to say whether General Ouromov is a henchman or really in charge.  German character actor Gottfried John is very good.  Alan Cumming is fun as Boris the hacker. 

  • Other - Robbie Coltrane is a lot of fun as Russian casino owner Zukovsky.  

  • the gadgets – Q provides Bond with an explosive pen that is key to the plot.  Not a lot of gadgets this time.

  • I give GoldenEye a healthy 8.0. users give it a respectable 7.2.  Rotten Tomatoes certifies GoldenEye "fresh" with a 78% rating.

    The second is

    Tomorrow  Never Dies

    After the opening credits, we see a British ship hijacked by a "stealth ship" near Vietnamese territorial waters.  The ship is tracking some Chinese MiGs when the stealth ship attacks it with a bizarre penetrating torpedo.  The Brits think that the torpedo was dropped by the Chinese, so they retaliate by shooting a MiG down before they go down themselves.  This creates an international incident that is immediately seized upon by the main baddie, Eliot Carver, played by Jonathan Pryce.

    MI6 doesn't have much to go on except the fact that Carver's newspaper syndicate somehow got the story about British sailors being shot with Chinese air force bullets before the Vietnamese got the information themselves.  So Bond is sent to investigate Carver.  He meets Carver at a lash party in Hamburg, Germany, as does Chinese agent Wai Lin, played by martial artist Michelle Yeoh.  Bond also meets Carver's wife, Paris, played by Teri Hatcher.  Hatcher was a very big deal at the time this movie was released, as the star of Lois & Clark.  Of course Bond and Paris have a history.

    Paris lies to her husband, claiming that she barely knows Bond.  Carver's surveillance shows this to be a lie and after Bond humiliates Carver but shutting down his inaugural satellite broadcast, Carver threatens Paris.  She runs off to Bond's bedroom.  She tells Bond of a secret laboratory.  Bond later breaks in and steals an encoder, but when driving away, he gets a phone call from Carver informing him that Carver knows both about the stolen encoder and the encounter with his wife.

    Bond returns to the hotel to discover Paris is dead.  And one of Carver's thugs, a Dr. Kaufmann, played by character actor Vincent Chiavelli. Bond turns the tables, kills Kaufmann, and escapes in his souped-up BMW, which he controls via remote control from the back seat.  (It's really cool.)

    The movie transitions to SE Asia, as Bond skydives from an American plane, accompanied by our buddy from GoldenEye, Wade (Joe Don Baker). He dives to to wreckage site of the British ship, where he runs into Wai Lin again.  They surface and banter about, but her ship has been seized by Carver's thugs.  Bond and Lin are taken prisoner, brought to Carver's headquarters in SE Asia in Ho Chi Minh City.   They inexplicably escape before being killed (hey, why not?  We're an hour into the movie and this is already Bond's third escape.)   Next is a neat motorcycle chase while Bond and Wai Lin are still handcuffed to each other - one of the highlights of the film.

    After some bickering, Bond and Wai Lin decide to team up, and they find the stealth ship in the South China Sea, where it's again trying to stir up conflict between the British and the Chinese. Stamper captures Wai Lin as the two of them are trying to set explosives.   Much fighting ensues.

    It turns out that Carver has a cruise missile that he wants to use to start a war between China and Britain.   Bond starts shooting and "in the confusion" Wai Lin escapes.  Much chaos ensues, shooting, fighting, kicking, etc., as the bomb counts down.  Stamper captures Wai Lin a second time, Bond kills Carver after he gloats about how the plan cannot be stopped, and then Bond comes face to face with Stamper, who has Wai Lin in chains.  Stamper drops Wai Lin underwater, Bond fights Stamper, etc.

    Then everybody dies.  Just kidding.  Of course Bond manages to a) destroy the cruise missile, b) kill Stamper, and c) rescue Wai Lin before she drowns.  Oh, and d) destroy the stealth ship.

    Hope I didn't ruin the movie.

    This Bond film takes an interesting new direction, by having a media mogul as the big villain instead of just your run-of-the-mill psychopath.  Sure, he's trying to destroy Britain and have his stooge Gen. Chang take over China. (Really, General Chang? This guy?)

    Nope, not Christopher Plummer from Star Trek, just another baddie with the same name.

  • Bond – a good movie for Brosnan.  By now he owns the role.  He does well with the action sequences and with the moments the require more charm.

  • the Villains - Elliot Carver.  Jonathan Pryce is a very good actor and, indeed, this isn't a role that really challenges him.  He plays against type here, as we're used to him as a more mild-mannered fellow. 

  • the Bond Women – basically two in this one, Teri Hatcher as Paris Carver and Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lan. I feel that, if anything, Hatcher was under-utilized.  Her scenes with Brosnan are very good, but there aren't enough of him.  Yeoh is used more for her skill as an action star - her romantic scenes with Bond seem to be an afterthought and don't have half the chemistry as the scenes with Hatcher.  But, having said that, Yeoh is very good as a Chinese secret agent.  She brings a lot of credibility to her martial arts scenes.  

  • the Good Guys – most of the crew from  Goldeneye is back:  Judi Dench as 'M', Desmond Llewelyn as 'Q', Samantha Bond as Moneypenny, and even Joe Don Baker as Wade.  Colin Salmon is good as a new character, Charles "Robby" Robinson.  

  • the Henchmen - Ricky Jay is his usual understated self as Gupta.  Gotz Otto is yet another German brute.  Vincent Schiavelli is charming in his brief apperance as Dr. Kaufman. 

  • the gadgets – the most important is the BMW.  It rocks.

  • On the whole, a decent-enough film. Strengths? Hatcher and Yeoh and the plot. Making the media into the bad guy is an interesting twist. It's a nice change from the standard bad guy in a secret hidden fortress. Oh, and the BMW is great.

    Weaknesses? Pryce just isn't intimidating as the Big Baddie. Also, it feels like half the movie consists of Bond and/or Wai Lin either being captured or escaping capture. Not exactly written at a very high level.

    I give the film a 7.0. users give it a 6.5. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a mediocre 57% freshness rating.

    The third is

    The World is Not Enough

    The film begins with an assassination at MI6 headquarters in the Docklands of London. Sir Robert King, an international businessman, is taken out by some explosive fake money.  There's a great chase scene through the waterways of East London, featuring Bond piloting a special boat designed by Q (naturally) that is capable of diving under barriers.

    Anyway, that scene resolves itself with the (female) assassin killing herself rather than be taken captive and face the wrath of her unnamed boss.

    The main part of the story involves Bond's efforts to protect Elektra King (Sophie Marceau), Sir Robert's daughter and heir.

    She was the victim of a kidnapping several years earlier by a criminal named Renard.   M advised Sir Robert to not pay the ransom, but she was eventually rescued and her captor received a bullet in the brain for his trouble.  Funnily enough, the only effect of the bullet was to deaden Renard's ability to feel pain.  Oh, and the bullet is still moving and will eventually kill him. 1990s science - this was before CSI and greater demand for passable science in our entertainment.

    After Sir Robert's death, Elektra takes over the family business, which is involved in building a gas pipeline through central Asia.  While she is inspecting the pipeline, Bond insists on accompanying her, skiing over some snow-covered terrain.  A bizarre attack comes at them from a group of parachuting snowmobiles.

    Bond fights them off and finds evidence that Renard was behind the attack.  He goes to Robbie Coltrane's casino, where he finds out that Renard had been cut loose from the KGB.  After their tete-a-tete, Elektra enters the casino, to play a game of high-stakes High Card with Coltrane.  She loses a million dollars on the draw of one card.

    There's a sequence where Bond visits a nuclear facility in Kazakhstan, on the trail of Renard.  He meets American physicist "Christmas" Jones, played by Denise Richards.

    Renard manages to steal a warhead and put it in the King pipeline.  Bond confronts Elektra, accusing her of being Renard's accomplice, of having turned to his sign during the kidnapping as a result of Stockholm Syndrome. Elektra rejects the accusation.  And the events trigger M's desire to be "on the scene," joining Elektra and Bond in the area.

    While the whole crowd is in the pipeline command center, Bond notices the bomb is in the pipeline.  He volunteers to defuse the bomb and Christmas goes with him to do so.  They get into the pipeline and defuse the nuclear charge, but allow the trigger explosive to blow a hole in the pipeline.  This leads to Elektra thinking that they're dead, at which point she reveals herself to be a baddie and takes M hostage.

    The ending is somewhat anticlimactic.  Renard still has half of the nuclear material and intends to detonate it in Istanbul, destroying the city and forcing the world to use the King pipeline to ship gas to the Med.  M has a cool escape sequence.  Zukovsky's HQ is bizarrely attacked by an aerial saw carried by a helicopter.

  • Bond – Brosnan continues to provide what the audience needs as Bond.  He is smooth, capable of action sequences, and convincing as the charmer.

  • the Villains - Renard and Elektra.  Robert Carlyle is tough and strutting as Renard, but the real villain here is Elektra.  And Sophie Marceau is terrific.  She's at the peak of her beauty in this film, and has the acting chops to carry off the dual-natured role of Elektra.  If only the writing had been a little better!  Her actions don't always make that much sense.  Her loyalty to Renard really isn't motivated by the script.  Oh well.  

  • the Bond Women – in addition to Marceau who is excellent, we have Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist.  Richards is absolutely awful.  Quite possibly this is the worst casting decision in the entire series.  She's simply not remotely convincing as a nuclear physicist.  In the final third of the movie, it's really hard to not want her to meet some kind of gruesome fate.  But at least there's Sophie Marceau, who is arguably the best "Bond Girl" of the Brosnan years.  I would say she's the best actress of the bunch, though both Michelle Yeoh and Halle Berry bring a lot to their respective roles.

  • the Good Guys – Desmond Llewelyn makes his seventeenth and final appearance as Q.   Judi Dench makes her third apperance as M, and does her usual great job.   Samantha Bond continues playing the Brosnan-era Moneypenny.  John Cleese makes an appearance as "R", Q's successor.  He's decent at the role, but ultimately he didn't find these films terribly satisfying. Michael Kitchen has a small role as MI-6 operative Bill Tanner that doesn't really utilize his considerable talents.  [Aside: I highly recommend his series Foyle's War.]

  • the Henchmen - pop artist Goldie plays "Bullion", Zukovsky's right-hand man who is revealed to be secretly allied with Renard and Elektra.  He's amusing.  There's also Elektra's bodyguard, Gabor, a huge black guy who quietly lurks in Elektra's vicinity at all times.

  • the gadgets – well, there's the boat that Bond.  And the flying snowmobiles.  

  • ludicrous - pretty much any scene with Denise Richards in it.  

  • There are good aspects of The World is Not Enough, and bad aspects.  Sophie Marceau is great as Elektra.  Denise Richards is terrible as Christmas Jones.  The major plot twist has the effect of making some of the early sequences nonsensical.  (If Elektra is a baddie, isn't the entire aerial kidnapping scene illogical?)

    I give the film a 7.3. users are not impressed, giving it a 6.4.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a mere 51%, the worst since A View to a Kill.

    The fourth is

    Die Another Day

    It came out shortly after Halle Berry won her Oscar for Monster's Ball.

    Starts with Bond going undercover on a mission to North Korea.  He's selling conflict diamonds to a Colonel Tan-Sun Moon for a variety of weapons. Of course his cover is quickly blown by Moon's associate Zao.  He improbably steals a hovercraft (these Koreans use hovercrafts to travel around the minefields of the DMZ) and leads the Colonel on a merry chase.  The chase results in the hovercrafts going over a waterfall.  Bond is captured and Moon is believed dead.

    After 14 months of captivity (and the opening credits), Bond is returned to the UK as part of a prisoner exchange for Zao.  Colonel Moon and Zao had been betraying North Korea with the help of a traitor in the West, who also betrayed Bond.  MI-6 was happy to let Bond rot in prison until some intel appeared that led them to think that Bond had cracked.  At that point they felt it necessary to get him out before he did more damage.

    M grounds Bond and cancels his double-0 status. He's held captive in a hospital in Hong Kong, but escapes.  He wanders into a swank Hong Kong hotel and gets the Presidential Suite thanks to his connection to the manager.  Uses that connection to track Zao to Cuba. There his local contact points him to a surgical clinic on a fortress island. But first, the best scene of the movie.

    It takes these two about five seconds to hook up.

    The next day they go separately to the clinic (unbeknownst to each other), where Zao is trying to get plastic surgery to turn him into a German.  Jinx targets the doctor who runs the place and kills him.  Bond finds Zao and gets into a fight.  Zao escapes, Bond and Jinx discover each other there and slowly figure out that each of them is up to something - Bond when he finds the dead doctor and Jinx when she sees Bond carrying a gun shooting at the helicopter Zao escapes in.

    But Bond has taken diamonds from Zao before he got away.  He tracks the diamonds to German magnate Gustav Graves.  Graves has discovered a new diamond mine, but Bond suspects it's a front from conflict diamonds.

    On to London...Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) makes his appearance via parachute, greed by a mob of media as well as his aide Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike).  Then there's a fencing scene with Madonna (uncredited) as a fencing instructor named Verity.  And then Bond and Graves have a fencing match.  Starts with electric swords than switches to old-fashioned sabres, cutting skin, etc.  Essentially a pissing contest that doesn't fit in the plot very well.

    Next, Bond talks things out with M, and then there's a scene in which Bond is defending MI-6 headquarters, but it just turns out to be the most realistic virtual reality training session since the Holodeck. Courtesy of the new Q, as the role is taken over by John Cleese.

    New gadgets: ring with ultrasonic glass breaking capacity.  New watch.  Invisible car.

    Next, it turns out that Frost is actually working for M.

    Off to Iceland with Bond and Frost and Graves.  And of course Jinx shows up.  And Zao.  The plotting here isn't really all that smooth.  Turns out Graves is really Colonel Moon post-"genetic therapy to give him a new identity".  And he's got a secret weapon, a satellite platform named "Icarus" that brings extra sunlight to the planet.

    Bond and Jinx do lots of running around, investigating, getting captured, escaping, etc.  As an homage to Goldfinger, Zao orders Jinx sliced by a laser.  Actually, there are nods to all the previous Bond films in Die Another Day.  This site explains all of them.  The two most impressive are the into of Jinx seen above, reminiscent of Honey Rider in Dr. No, and the laser carving table.

    Jinx has a lot of corny lines.  Really a lot of them.

    So Bond escapes in Graves's ice speed racer, then comes back and gets his invisible.  At this point I feel like the plot is being driven by the devices, not vice versa.  Anyway, Bond and Jinx escape Iceland, as do Graves, Zao, and Frost.

    Quick segue to a huge crisis in Korea: somehow Graves has enough contacts in North Korea to start a minor coup, toppling his father the general.  His plan is to use Icarus to clear a path through the DMZ, allowing the massive North Korean army to an invasion of the South.

    At this point one has to wonder where the US Air Force is.  The movie seems to rely on the idea that a mine field is key to the defense of South Korea.  To say that is "simplistic" doesn't quite cut it.  It would be more accurate to say this plot device is "horribly unrealistic".  Oh well.

    So Jinx and Bond infiltrate Graves's command plane.  By chasing it down.  On foot.  Which is easy to do when a plane is taxiing at, say, less than 10 mph.
    Anyway, Graves kills his father with an electric glove, which feels like one gadget too many.  Jinx takes over the pilot's chair, but is confronted by Frost.  Somehow a sword fight happens.  Here it is (non-English, but you're not missing anything):

    Or skip to 4m10s in this video.

    There's not much more to say about this movie. It just has a weak screenplay: too many over-clever puns at ridiculous moments.

    Anyway, on to the checklist.

    • Bond – Brosnan is pretty good here.  He does the escaped prisoner bit well.  Wish he had a bit more chemistry with one of the female leads.
    • the Villain- Graves just isn't that compelling.  The weakest villain in some time.
    • the Bond Women – Halle Berry brings a lot as Jinx.  Her action sequences are very good.  And of course he's gorgeous.  But the dialogue they give her is often dreadful.  The writers cannot quite figure out what to do with her.  They have a small number of roles that they like: ditzy 1-night stand, bad girl rescued by Bond, or evil villainess.  Jinx should be, in theory, co-equal with Bond, but they don't quite do it right.  
    • the Good Guys – Judi Dench is still great as M.  Cleese gets one movie as Q.  Reportedly he thought the movie was silly.  Samantha Bond had a virtual reality fantasy sequence as Moneypenny.  Michael Madsen plays the CIA chief, Falco.  Mostly he walks around expressing sarcasm.  Colin Salmon is back as Robinson, but he isn't really used much.  
    • the Henchmen - Rosamund Pike as Frost is very good, though the ambiguity about who she is actually working for make one wonder how many of her inconsistencies are intentional.  A good early movie for an actress who's become A-list.  The other henchmen are pretty much forgettable.
    • the gadgets – way too many.  I can live with the ring and the watch, but the invisible car crosses the line to utterly ridiculous.  And the movie really didn't need the electric power fist.  

    Ultimately there was no guiding principle to this movie other than "stuff as much into it as possible" as well as "take advantage of Halle Berry".  And while she's fine (oh so fine), that doesn't excuse the chaotic plot and poor writing.

    I give Die Another Die a 6.1.  So do users.  And 57% from Rotten Tomatoes, which really isn't very good.

    Considering the Brosnan era as a whole, it started well, and Brosnan himself is great, but the later movies became unwieldy: bad writing, bad plotting, a lack of fresh ideas.  I wish there had been a bit more pruning of the bad ideas.  The movies made good money - much better than the Dalton movies, but nowhere near the Connery films when adjusting for inflation.  But even though Die Another Day set a new record for (unadjusted) revenue, it was not well received, critically.

    The Brosnan era also meant the transition from Albert to Barbara Broccoli.  It would be fair to say that she's done a good job maintaining commercial success in the aftermath of the Dalton era.  More about her when we finish this series by looking at the Daniel Craig movies.