Movie Review: Spectre

It was always going to have to come to an end. Bond actors don’t last as long as you think, though it’s been 9 years now that we’ve had Daniel Craig as the image of Bond – from his reinvention of the character as a gritty, conflicted type in Casino Royale, a vast gulf separating the reboot of the character from Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal through the 90s and early 2000s. Handily, the plot in Spectre serves much the same – a sense of an ending is present very early on.

Following the events of Skyfall, Bond finds himself in Mexico City, where he must kill a man – ostensibly, once again, Bond is on leave, but still appears to be doing his best to serve his country regardless. This is not a man that takes being off active duty very easily, it appears, and the assassination witnessed by a whole city celebrating the Day of the Dead doesn’t help him cover that fact up terribly well.

Back in London, the new M dresses him down for acting without orders, and is seemingly inevitable for Craig’s Bond, officially suspends him – this time ruminating over the fact that MI6 no longer hold special privileges with the era of digital surveillance and digital killing with drones quickly outpacing human intelligence.

Of course, as part of being suspended, Bond must visit Q, and so the Bond movie structure clicks into place. Gadgets are introduced, a reason to go off-book is brought up, and for the first time in Craig’s run of movies, I finally got the feeling we’re back in familiar Bond territory.

And that’s how this plays out – M disapproves, Bond gets Moneypenny involved, Q’s toys get to be Chekov’s gadgets, Bond finds the truth runs deeper, and there’s a race against the clock to prevent a mad plan from dropping into place – especially when the sinister head of Spectre, played with relish by Christoph Waltz, appears to ramp up the tension.

Between the plot, gadgets, cars, international (but more or less European) locations, girls (Monica Bellucci played far too short, Léa Seydoux played a little beyond her abilities), Bond’s meticulous dress sense that shifts from scene to scene, and the call-backs to earlier Bond movies, this is a departure for Bond as portrayed by Daniel Craig – this is Bond of old, Bond made un-gritty, in a way that could’ve seen Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan happily embrace the occasional silliness. The obligatory car chase in prototypes, the obligatory hair raising shootout in a fantasy location, the obligatory explosions which – in hindsight – don’t quite make sense but are spectacular nonetheless; it is all what the Bond franchise delivered for so many years.

Spectre is above all else entertainment; where Casino Royale sought to humanise Bond the character, where Quantum of Solace was driven and purposeful, albeit without plot, and where Skyfall was intensely personal for Bond, this one lets us back into the super-spy world – perhaps ironically given the plot talking about the end of the human pulling the trigger. It aims to tie a nice bow on the arc of the story which Craig’s portrayal started, and in a way it does – the first time in the Bond universe you’d have a plausible reason to watch back to back, which is its own novelty.

The performances are largely fine, with Craig possibly the weak point as you can see he tires of the role and its low dimensionality. Whishaw is excellent as Q, a much better every-man than perhaps would be expected, and Waltz’s villain gets steadily more pathological as the story progresses, working perfectly with the building plot.

Don’t go in expecting something as complex or empathetic towards Bond as Casino Royale – this is much more the Bond movie that you enjoy for the ride, without closely examining the details because the movie asks you to move on with steady pacing; if you do take it for what it is, you’ll be in for a good time.


The New Devil’s Dictionary

A guide to the terms of modern living:

tab (n.): Something opened, then closed, then opened again, then closed again, for eternity.

social (n.): An app or website that simulates what it might be like to interact with other people.

Instagram (n.): A persistent reminder that people you know can afford more expensive restaurants and better vacations than you.

So much to cringe and nod at.

Three Oh

Thirty years.

That sounds like… a lot.

It sure doesn’t feel like a lot – I guess? I dunno. It feels like time has passed, but it also doesn’t, in the sense that I still recall events from 20 years ago vividly should I choose to.

But then I get a sense of perspective when talking to younger people, and I share experiences from my past, and realise – really – I’ve done a decent amount and achieved a decent bit… but then there’s so much I’ve still yet to do and still want to do, and it’s not as though I’m running out of time, but I wonder if I’m the only one that feels like the hundred things I’d to get done are just things you couldn’t ever hope to do, but things like movies and social media make it seem like you should be able to get everything done… but it’s just not reality.

Sorry, rambling.

How’s this for some perspective: My heart has beaten 1 billion times in my lifetime. That is a lot.

Here’s to the next.

Patrick Rothfuss’ Thoughts on Pratchett

Patrick Rothfuss writes on Terry Pratchett’s passing – and interestingly, he’s writing as a fan, not a “fellow writer”:

Odds are, if you know much anything about me, you know I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for years. If you follow me on goodreads you’ve seen me write reviews so gushy that they border on the inarticulate.

I didn’t know him. Honestly, I didn’t even know too much about him. I saw him speak once at a convention in Madison, and got to meet him very briefly. I wrote about it on the blog.

He goes on to talk about the exact impact Pratchett had on him, because of this quote from Pratchett in an interview about why he writes in “fantasy” only:

Pratchett:  Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy… Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown.

This turns around Rothfuss’ view on his own work:

Even these days, people look down on fantasy. They think of it as kid stuff. They dismiss it as worthless. They say not real literature. People say that *NOW* despite the fact that Game of Thrones and The Hobbit and Avengers and Harry Potter are bigger than The Beatles.

Then I read that article, and it filled me with hope. With pride.

If there’s one thing I’ll say about this, it’s much the same connection – although I’m by no means a fantasy writer, or even a budding one as Rothfuss apparently was when reading the quote – that Fantasy is too easily looked down on as being somehow childish or escapist, when ultimately it is the fiction, the stories that have held through time for humanity. To escape into a world of fantasy is what we’ve done for millennia – and to look down on this is to deny the reality of where we came from.

So I’ll continue to read fantasy, without any pretensions to being more “mainstream”, because really, how would life be without worlds like Tolkien’s, or Jordan’s, or Martin’s to escape to, or wit like Pratchett’s to laugh at?

It’d be boring, that’s what.

Book Review: Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Yesterday, the NYSE went down for a couple of hours, and the fascinating thing was while it was out, stocks rallied… as soon as it came back, it plunged. Well, I guess “fascinating” is a word I can use because I’m not invested in the American market in any meaningful way, but for those involved, this kind of weird stock market behaviour makes for wondering as to what on earth is going on in the American market.

Which is where Flash Boys by Michael Lewis comes in. It’s pure non-fiction – Lewis (of Liar’s Poker fame) returns once more to the world of Wall Street to find out just what is going on, to find out how the market has changed in the last 10 years, and how we can get events like the above, or the “flash crash” in 2010 which saw billions, nominally, wiped off the collective value of companies, only to reappear not much later. Lewis takes his investigative eye to weaving a story of the people behind the scenes that make the markets tick now.

The story he tells starts with the construction of an optic fibre cable between Chicago and New York – something which appears to have no ostensible connection to the stock market – and he goes on to slowly fill in the definition and detail in the picture, weaving a story magnificently of how High Frequency Trading has changed the market since 2005, the impacts, and the people working to make things better. It does attempt to build some people into plucky heroes, and doesn’t directly involve the villains in telling the tale, but the message is loud as it is clear, and stuff like the NYSE system crash yesterday just jumps out at me now like “that was probably caused by HFT, damn!”

At certain points, it feels almost like a thriller – I just wanted to keep turning the pages and reading on. The book resonates with me particularly because of where I work in technology and finance, though I’ve never been directly involved with the specific processes at hand – but I’ve definitely seen the changes in the last 10 years as an “insider”, and so much rings true that there’s little doubt Lewis has the right end of the stick.

A magnificent quote that put into words what I’d been feeling about technology in financial markets is towards the latter stage of the book –

The markets were now run by technology, but technologists were still treated like tools. Nobody bothered to explain the business to them, but they were forced to adapt to its demands and exposed to its failures – which was, perhaps, why there had been so many more conspicuous failures.

Technologists being treated like tools – or more accurately, “cost centres” that are  money pits – when banks couldn’t operate in 2015 without technology is one of the most frustrating parts of my working life. Capital investment is a given in many industries, but technology is not viewed that way for far too many organisations.  That’s not even the primary message, but it’s an important one, and one I hope gets some momentum or at least recognition with people that are in important roles.