Wednesday, December 24, 2008

007: Moonraker

Grade: B+

I don't imagine Fleming wrote a better 007 novel. Three volumes in, he's now comfortable enough with the formula to deviate from it in inspired ways. Here, he shows a "typical" working week for Bond. He also stretches himself in his ultra-romantic depiction of espionage. He's still conflating sex with torture, indulging in monographs on high-stakes gambling and automobiles, & staging violent scenes of derring-do. But he also hints at the real dullness of spycraft (Bond spends Mondays going over govt. memos). And for the first time, he includes the truly absurd plots that the movies have propagated.

(Thankfully, Moonraker bears no resemblance to the 1979 film, which is arguably the worst in the series.)

The book begins with the humdrum office work, but quickly moves beyond. M asks Bond to bust Britain's top rocket expert for card cheating at his gentleman's club. Fleming loves cardplay, but this book's game of bridge isn't nearly as much of a knucklebiter as Casino Royale's baccarat. The plot revs up though, when Bond is tasked with investigating a murder that ties in with the prototype rocket itself. Turns out, the project is a front for unreformed Nazis, funded by Commies, who plan to nuke London!

So the book climaxes in a farfetched, highly entertaining bit of action, as well as the rescue of yet another comely ingenue. It all happens within a week in southern England; the novel benefits from this concision and unity. The arc from mundane to fantastical is tight, thrilling, &, given the genre, plausible . Fleming has found his stride with Moonraker. This is quality pulp fiction, probably Fleming's "masterpiece". It's rejuvenated my interest in the Bond books, & I'll give the next two a try.

date: 1955
writer: Ian Fleming

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Recent DVDs

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead – *** – A conventional crime drama: mismatched bros jack up their parents' jewelry store. Fine actors & workman Lumet execute the flick's zigzag structure & family dynamics w/ professionalism but not insight.

Tropic Thunder – *** – Stiller & co. sic the sacred cow of celluloid heroism. I only wish the plot (ego actors stumble into "real" Vietnam warfare) was as subversive as the approach. But blackfaced Downey is genius.

The Wire: season 5 – ***** – When a show is this superb, the occasional bum note is jarring but forgivable (ex.: the unsubtle newsroom subplot). It's a brilliant finale, bringing 5 seasons to a satisfying but downbeat conclusion.