This holiday season, warm your families and hearts with a hearty media blow.
Quantum of Solace: As a follow-up to Casino Royale, exceptional; as a Bond film in its own right, merely rather good. More arty than any Bond film in recent memory – the intercutting between chase scenes and exotic locales gets a little dizzying. And I may not be the smartest man I know, but I should not have had as much trouble following the plot as I had. That said, the transition from laughable villains and plots to realistic threats refreshes me. Worth seeing in theaters.
The 33 Strategies of War: From the author of The 48 Laws of Power comes, well, another book in the same vein. Where The 48 Laws taught broad lessons through specific anecdotes, The 33 Strategies starts from a more abstract point. Very few of the book’s readers need help in conducting massive invasions; for us, war is a metaphor for control over scarce resources, rather than an actual practice. The 48 Laws are more practical; The 33 Strategies, more inspirational. Expect plenty of entertaining anecdotes about Lyndon Johnson and Salvador Dali.
High Noon: It’s certainly very good, and I understand why it’s a classic of the genre. But if I compare it to Rio Bravo – the film that John Wayne and Howard Hawks supposedly made as a rebuttal to High Noon’s anti-HUAC message – I have to give the Wayne film the prize. High Noon suffers from some shaky editing in the fight scenes and a distinctly dull music score. Those are minor foibles: the real-time tension and the use of outlaw Ben Miller as a MacGuffin are ahead of their time.
Now The Hell Will Start: Herman Perry lies about his age to enlist in the Armed Services after Germany invades France. Service anywhere overseas would be hard for a young black man like him – the Army continued to resist racial integration, out of the (plausible) concern that whites would not tolerate serving with blacks. But Perry drew a uniquely grueling lot – clearing 270 miles of malarial Burmese jungle to build a road to China.
Sent to the Ledo Stockade once for insubordination, he shot his commanding officer rather than be sent back. What followed was the greatest Allied manhunt of World War II. Perry fled into the jungle, living with the headhunting Naga tribes and scavenging supplies from GI convoys. His former comrades told tall tales of his prowess, calling him the Jungle King. He evaded several ambushes, appearing to dodge bullets as if by magic. All of it’s true.
The Monster of Florence: I made the mistake of starting this before bed – the true story of Italy’s most notorious serial killer, a lunatic who shot and maimed seven necking couples in the hills of Florence between 1968 and 1985. The Italian police stumble over themselves in tracking him, imprisoning one suspect after another only to let them go when the killer strikes again. Innocent civilians are captured and lauded by press-hungry officials, railroaded through trials with bribed witnesses and complicit judges. The notes and trophies that il Mostro sends to the press are the stuff of nightmares.
The story turns from Gothic to Kafkaesque at the halfway point, when author Douglas Preston moves to Florence and learns the story of the Monster from journalist Mario Spezi. Their investigation turns up forgotten clues, invalidates the official story and leads them to a face to face interview with a man very likely to be the killer. This also draws the ire of the officials who built their reputation on convicting the original scapegoat, who bring the full force of Italy’s corrupt judicial system to bear on the writers.
The Monster remains uncaught.