Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quantum of popcorn
Today Husband and I saw the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. First the good: Daniel Craig is very sexy, Jdudi Dench is a goddess, Jeffrey Wright is back as Felix, and there is a bit more (though not much) human than Casino Royale.

Now the bad: Some of the scenes were edited with such quick cuts that my brain couldn't register what I was seeing before the next shot came into frame. I know I missed things (especially the opening car chase and a scene of the famous Sienese horse race, The Palio), because I just couldn't grasp the shot before it was gone. The plot is as incomprehensible as most recent Bond films. (Something to do with water, a secret organization, personal vendettas, and lots of who can you trusts.) And there weren't any really cool gadgets.

I enjoyed it, but the one things that's missing from a lot of the recent Bond movies is that they aren't films I want to watch multiple times. The Bond classics, like Dr. No, You Only Live Twice, and Goldfinger I could see over and over again. But I doubt I'll want to curl up with Quantum of Solace because it's not much fun. Sure, it's a good action flick with lots of loud noises and macho shootings and stuff. But I miss Q, and the sly humor Bond used to have, and there wasn't even a good sex scene. Plus we seem to have regressed in terms of what Bond girls can do. Remember how cool Michelle Yeoh was in Tomorrow Never Dies? She was a woman who was completely Bond's equal and could literally kick ass as well as he.

Well the most recent Bond chick, in spite of being part of her country's secret police, needed Bond to tell her how to kill someone, fell apart at the end, and was generally wimpy throughout. Luckily Dame Judi (as M) was around to show just how strong and fabulous women can be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

God on Trial
So most of today's TV programming is total crap. But every so often something comes along to remind you of what a powerful medium TV is. One such event is God on Trial on Masterpiece Contemporary. It was on PBS earlier this month and I hope you haven't missed it because it truly does live up to the "masterpiece" billing.

The story is that a group of prisoners at Auschwitz put God on trial for breach of contract; basically breaking his covenant with the Jews. Whether or not this actually happened is still a debate but it's entirely plausible. How often, in times of crisis, do people ask "how could God let this happen?"

What makes God on Trial so amazing are the performances. , Stephen Dillane, Stellan Skarsgard, and Rupert Graves play the tribunal...a rabbi, a professor of law, and a young man at odds with his more religious father. The other prisoners cover all walks of life, from a Polish glove maker who wonders why his mother had to suffer to a French physician who argues against the existence of God from a scientific point of view. But it's the wonderful stage actor, Antony Sher (who I had the privilege of seeing as both Richard III and Shylock with the Royal Shakespeare Company) who makes the most dramatic impression. He doesn't even speak until over an hour into this 90-minute film but when he does you can't take your eyes off him. He makes the most brilliantly-written argument against a benign God that I've ever heard and his performance is passionately perfect.

God on Trial is not easy to watch. For anyone with a heart nothing about the Holocaust is. The fact that, at the end, half of these characters we've come to know and care about are herded off to be executed only adds to the sense of pain that you feel. But it's worth it. It's powerful, thought-provoking, and one of the finest things I've seen on TV in years. I'll be thinking about this one for a while.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Silhouette Masterpiece Theatre
That Wilhelm Staehle is one weird guy. Funny, too.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Meanwhile, back in the 1600's...
A "cousin" (the relationship is too complicated and dull to explain) went to the village in France where my ancestors are from. And, while there, received a copy of their genealogical research into our family. Another cousin (see previous parenthetical comment) gave me a copy and I now have my father's family back into the 1600's.

It's both fascinating and strangely anticlimactic. I didn't do the research, so I don't feel that sense of discovery. And the historian in me wants to know the documentation. It's just a list of name that I can't collaborate. I can't find records to substantiate the tree, so I'm not certain where the French cousins got the information. A family bible? A private detective. I suppose living there they have access to French records that I can't access from California. But I wish I had the evidence to back all this up.

There's a lot of information to copy onto my version of the family tree; a process complicated by the fact that I'm working from a copy of a copy of a copy and some of the writing is both small and faint. A magnifying glass (shades of Sherlock Holmes!) helps, but there are a few names and/or dates that are infuriatingly undecipherable.

But I'm learning a lot. For example, all of my male relatives seem to be named either "Jacques" or "Jean" and the women are heavy on the "Catherines" and the "Maries." They also seem to be impressively long-lived. Many into their 70s, which was unusual for that time. One of the things that really makes me wish for documentation is that the family tree lists exact birth and death dates for many of these long-dead grandparents. So how do they know that someone was born on July 17, 1684? I want to see the proof myself. (Maybe I'll just have to go back to France and this time actually get out of Paris.)

Husband got out the atlas and we found the series of little villages where they were from. They seem to be within a 30 mile radius, which makes sense as people didn't travel that far afield in the 17th century. All from the Pyrenees, not too far from the Spanish border. (Tour de France country.)

It's a fascinating set of documents that will take me ages to get through. In addition to the printed materials from the French cousins, the American cousins have hand-written notes from members of my grandmother's generation. These detail the family after they came to the US and are about as easy to read as hieroglyphics. Luckily I learned how to read hieroglyphics when I was a Classics major.

Anyway, it's a huge breakthrough in terms of family research. I wish I could have made the discoveries myself, but it's wonderful to have so much information going back so far. Apparently I have no famous relatives. I'm not the long-lost granddaughter of Charlemagne or Napoleon. (Husband has famous knife-wielder and Texas freedom fighter Jim Bowie on one offshoot of his tree.) But it's wonderful to know who and where I come from.