Sunday, November 26, 2006

Casino Royale

I went to see the latest Bond film yesterday evening.

It was certainly a step up from Die Another Day. No more hilarious technologies and ridiculous characters. This is a pared-down Bond film, and is much darker and more realistic than some of its predecessors as a result. Whether this made it a good film, though... the jury's still out.

The poker scenes tested my patience. As well as being clumsily cut, such that I didn't really know if the action had moved forward or not, it had Bond's associate "narrating" the game in a most tedious manner. Fair enough, for a general audience it couldn't really have been done any differently, or it would have been too opaque; but it's a good reason not to have a card game at the centre of a major film. At least it wasn't Shithead. I was looking forward to some double, triple and even quadruple bluffing, too, but in the end I was treated only to one fairly half-hearted and predictable double bluff from Le Chiffre. Which brings me on to another thing...

The characters were not only believable in this film, they were more than a little bland. Le Chiffre made a poor villain, in my opinion. He was uninteresting, even with the "special quirk" ubiquitous to Bond villains, in this case the crying of blood. I read White Teeth by Zadie Smith only a couple of weeks ago, where this trait is also used for shock value, so it did nothing for me. Nor did his predilection for "interesting" torture, in the form of some excessive testicle-bashing, "do it" for me. OK, he's a bit of a sadist weirdo... just like all the other Bond villains. Le Chiffre compounds his uninterestingness by inconsiderately getting himself shot in the head about three-fifths of the way through the film, and after that the entire film seems completely aimless.

On the plus side, Daniel Craig makes an interesting Bond. I don't think he'll outshine the others (except Lazenby), but it really depends on what you're looking for in a Bond. He reminds me a bit of Timothy Dalton, but less gentlemanly and more physically believable... but that could just be because Bond shows emotions again in this film, something that Pierce Brosnan never really got the chance to do, with the exception of a bit of righteous anger here and there. Whether this is a good thing or not... I'm undecided.

There were also two wonderful action scenes at the start of the film, which managed to impress even me, jaded big-screen adrenaline junkie that I am. So not a loss of an evening, all told.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

More chocolate, more trains

Hello everyone! I'm not going to apologise for not posting for three weeks. Well, I'll apologise for not posting for two weeks, but really, if I'd posted on the 4th-5th weekend I would have been incredibly boring, because nothing happened the weekend before and nothing much happened that weekend either. So I actually did you a favour by not posting. At best you would have got a rant, but it wouldn't have been a particularly impassioned one, as I didn't have anything much to rant about.

Last weekend was a different kettle of fish, though - and in fact the last two weeks in general. I've been so busy that in that time I haven't really had the energy to post until now. On top of my Dutch classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings, I've been going to a theatre group on Tuesdays, and I've met my Konversationsparterin twice, so a lot of long days. In the meantime, I've been accepted as a full moderator on Tazlure, and posting there has been taking up a lot of my time.

Last Saturday I hopped on the train to visit Lynsey in Giessen. I'd been warned by multiple people that it wasn't the prettiest place in the world, having been largely flattened in the war, and those people proved to be more or less right. It was however made a million times prettier by the fact Lynsey was there, and seeing a familiar face for the first time in two and a half months made me very happy. But I get ahead of myself.

Due to my long and exhausting week, I was hoping that the three-and-a-half hour train journey would allow me some time to rest and recuperate. It was, however, not to be. To my horror, the train was packed to bursting with people in silly costumes, drinking beer (yes, on the train, in large quantities, at 9am - many seemed to already be drunk) and singing loudly. A few seats behind me, some shameless bastard had brought a ghetto blaster onto the train, which was pumping out crappy German folk-pop anthems, and periodically a group or other would start to "sing" along and clap their hands. I later learned that that day, 11/11, is traditionally the start of Cologne's Karneval season, which culminates in February. Germans being (largely) the sober, rational lot they are, they don't stay pissed throughout the whole three-month period but mark the start and end with bouts of temporary and excessive bladderedness. Luckily they got off at Cologne, and I was left to find a comfy place for myself amid a garden of discarded beer bottles.

Exactly the same happened on the return journey, except that people were more drunk and more subdued. The German inability to queue was made even worse, as I found to my cost when trying to buy a sandwich at a bakery in the station (I had to change trains on the return leg). After three groups of people pushed past me in the queue and ordered by dint of shouting loudly and repeatedly at the guy serving, I finally lost it, and, I'm sorry to say, did the same myself. I wasn't going to get anywhere by doing anything else, and I had a train to catch. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em... or just beat 'em by joining them. :)

The whole experience made me realise how much I hated "festivals", "carnivals" and any of these events where people feel that it is their God-given right to stagger around being loud and drunk and disregarding the norms of basic courtesy in the name of "having fun". Even more sadly, I feel like I'm in the minority here. I just can't possibly have fun when there are people around me like that, and I can't do it myself. Singing loudly and tunelessly, being pointlessly aggressive in minor ways and drinking too much just isn't my idea of a good time. Maybe I'm simply betraying my weirdness here, but frankly it saddens me that people feel the need to act so brainlessly. Every now and then something will happen that makes me feel joyful about being a human being - usually it's seeing some great work of construction, like a magnificent railway viaduct or a great church or cathedral. But then I'll bump into a crowd of people like those I've mentioned, and it's instantly counteracted. It's a terrible thing to say, I know, but it makes me realise that I only really give a shit about - at a guess - 10% of the world's population. The active, intelligent 10%, the ones who try, and think, and move things forward. It says a lot for their efforts that in my mind they succeed in counterbalancing the ignorant, turgid uselessness of the other 90%.

It's an extreme view, I know, and not one that I hold the whole time - the exact ratio varies from day to day. ;) And what do I advocate doing about it? Well, on a general scale, nothing. We can't just kill them, or send them to Australia, or something. So my personal take on it is to avoid them as much as possible. Does that make me a bad person? I'm not sure. All I know is that I've grown up surrounded by "normal" people, and have ALWAYS wanted to get away from them as far as possible. That's why I've never been happier, on the whole, than when I'm in Cambridge. O' course, not everyone there's the kind of person I want to associate with... but there's certainly more chance of meeting such people there. At the end of the day, though, I'm satisfied with my choice. It's nothing more than a preference for friendship, and I don't and won't go out of my way to rubbish, ridicule and be rude to the others... even if they do it to me on a monotonously regular basis.

Aaaaaaanyway, me and Lynsey had a nice chat and a meal, wandered around Giessen for a while, and visited the Mathematikum - an interactive museum with lots of neat geometrical puzzles and stuff. A place for kiddies, really, but still awesome fun. :D On the way back I bought the book Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, because I'd been foolish and left my own books at home. During the long, dark train journey I burned through more than half of it. I'm still reading it, and enjoying it greatly. It's a wonderful book.

This weekend, yesterday, I took a trip to Cologne. Another bombed city, other than the cathedral there's not much exciting visually there either. The cathedral itself, although beautiful externally, was a disappointment from the inside. It was badly lit, and there was a service going on, and the entrance foyer for viewing was packed, so I didn't stay long. I headed on down the Rhine to a chocolate museum, a mighty institution with its own little chocolate factory where you could walk around and follow the whole process from crushed cocoa bean to packaged product. Lovely.

Gah. Without the Ritter ratings, I really don't know how to end a post. Maybe I'll just do it like this.