Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Today's Hot Questions: James Bond, Jesse Jackson, Chris Rose, Peter Jackson, Ryan Gosling, New Orleans and more

1)How did Ian Fleming's James Bond character so successfully capture the imagination of Brit and American males of a certain generation (or two)? Simon Winder tells all in The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond.

Michiko Kakutani calls it "entertaining and very funny" and leads her New York Times review with this: "The cars, the girls, the martinis, the exotic locales, the eye-popping gadgets — for a generation of fans, James Bond embodied the quintessence of British savoir-faire: the civil servant with a license to kill, the secret agent who saved civilization from a series of nefarious villains while staying in the world’s fanciest hotels and romancing a bevy of beauteous babes. "

Sinclair McKay, writing in the London Guardian, has this to say: "With supreme artfulness, he has taken what is little more than a debating subject for an evening in a gastro pub and masterfully turned it into 300 entertaining pages. What at first seems a rather threadbare premise for an entire book - that the ultimate fantasy British secret agent only succeeded because he consoled the British at a time when the nation was in inexorable decline - slowly unfolds into something more personal and, by the end, hugely amusing."

Nice PR synchronicity at work here, with the book arriving at about the same time as the well-reviewed Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig as the new 007.

2)Jesse Jackson, an American political king without a verifiable kingdom, is urging a boycott of the new Seinfeld DVD set, released Nov. 21, as a sort of punishment for Michael Richards' vile, racist outburst at an L.A. comedy club. He's also calling for a widespread, voluntary cease-and-desist of the use of the "n" word. Not a bad idea. But my questions are ... a)does that cease-and- desist request also apply to the African-American rappers and comedians whose use of the word is part and parcel of their acts? b) If those entertainers continue using the word, will the Rev. Jesse call for a boycott of their concerts and recordings? and c)Does Jesse really expect people to take him seriously on issues related to racist language? Isn't this the same guy who called New York "Hymie Town" once upon a time, referring to the city's large Jewish population?

3)What's the best way to visit New Orleans as a tourist without being tortured by feelings of guilt over the plight of so many people in that beleaguered city? Matt Gross and Pableaux Johnson offer a solution or two, and a tour of some of my favorite Crescent City spots (including the Maple Leaf Bar; Faulkner House Books; Frenchman Street; Cafe du Monde) in a package that ran in Sunday's New York Times. I like how Gross describes his encounter with Adrienne Lamb, a New Orleans poet who blogs about life after Katrina: "As she told us about her ups and downs ... I was reminded of the way New Yorkers like myself still find ourselves recounting our Sept. 11 experiences to total strangers. Now, though, I was on the receiving end, feeling conflictedly creepy for my curiosity.

4)Related to the above: If you're an English grad student and a fan of New Orleans music, can you go wrong with the coincidence that brings together the French Quarter Festival (April 13-15) and the College English Association at the same time? Nope.

5)Did New Line Pictures really believe that they could make $2.9 billion in box office receipts for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and then NOT hire Peter Jackson to direct the prequel, The Hobbit? Sounds like they have another thing coming.

6)Will it always be necessary to travel to New York in order to see single-artist film retrospectives? I'd love to jet there for a few days to catch the Rossellini series showing at MOMA. Hey, Tampa Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, why not do this yourselves? David Denby, writing about 1948's Germany Year Zero in the New Yorker, had this to say: "The theme is the abuse of innocence, but the movie's eloquence goes beyond indignation: the colossal ruble of Berlin is not just an analogue to the collapse of the social order but an amazing sight, and the movie makes you feel the weight of every smashed facade and fallen stone."

7)Has any actor given a more sympathetic, more complex or harder hitting performance this year than the one Ryan Gosling gives in Half Nelson? I haven't seen everything I need to see yet (for purposes of voting in the FFCC and SEFCA Awards), but ... I think not. Other male-acting highlights from this year: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland; Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin in The Departed; Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking; Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction.

8)Is New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose the finest newspaper columnist in America? I was knocked out by his initial post-Katrina work, collected in the book One Dead in Attic. And I was absolutely blown away by his tremendously moving account of a life-threatening bout with clinical depression, as recounted in a column that landed on the pages of the Tampa Tribune on Sunday. So, my vote, is, YES. The T-P, previously afflicted with the one-newspaper town syndrome (mediocrity), has really stretched toward greatness in the wake of Katrina, and Rose has led the way.

9)Did the American Association of Sunday and Features Editors REALLY give Rose (merely) a SECOND-PLACE award in the category of general commentary for this year's Excellence-in-Writing Awards? Yes. So what were they smoking, er, reading?

10)Does it always take at least 10 items to justify a list? Guess so.

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