Bourne. James Bourne.

If I had to summarize the new James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” in three words or less, those are probably the three (two?) words I’d use.

With this film, director Marc Forster (better known for directing far superior films such as “Monster’s Ball” and “Finding Neverland”) has achieved the dubious distinction of creating essentially a clone of a Jason Bourne movie, but without the plot — a somewhat unsettling thing when one considers that the Bourne trilogy was fairly light on plot.

Here is a film that amounts to little more than an amalgam of chases (by car, but mostly by foot) and ass-kickings, with the kind of cut-cut-cut editing that we’ve come to expect from cheap thrillers and Michael Bay films.

Of course, there’s nothing cheap about “Quantum of Solace”; this is to be expected from a film with a budget of $230 million, much of which was apparently allocated for “things that go boom.” Everything looks beautiful, from the lovely scenery in what seems like every single country on Earth to the raging infernos that the lovely scenery is soon turned to. That’s wonderful. However, this movie is like a beautiful woman with nothing going on upstairs; she sure is stunning, yet you can’t help but wonder how great she’d be if there was some substance.

The storyline amounts to this: Bond (Daniel Craig, slick as a Bond ought to be, but darker than any other Bond has been), understandably upset over the betrayal and subsequent death of his girlfriend Vesper Lynd (you’re going to want to see 2006’s “Casino Royale,” if you can bear the mind-numbing final half-hour of it, before you watch “Quantum of Solace”), pursues the people responsible for forcing Vesper to betray him, which leads him to an organization called Quantum. Quantum is headed up by a fellow named Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who is apparently a very bad man with a master plot to organize a coup in Bolivia so he can, um, take over the water supply and make a lot of money from selling the water to the new government.

Yes, the Bond villain is an environmentalist gone horribly wrong. Unsurprisingly, it’s hard to care. Let’s put it like this: most everyone is all for people having drinkable water, but this man organizing a military coup in Bolivia so he can turn a neat profit hardly feels as though it threatens the very fabric of our existence, and to call his connection to the man who conned Vesper into betraying Bond tenuous would be an understatement. Apparently, we are supposed to understand that this man worked for Quantum, even though he is in no way involved in this storyline.

Oh, yes. There is a girl. Her name is Camille, and she’s played by Olga Kurylenko, who you may know from her very similar role (but, oddly, with more sex) in 2007’s “Hitman.” Kurylenko is certainly pretty enough for the role, but more importantly, Camille actually has some emotional involvement with the front-and-center storyline, which almost makes this film hers more than it is Bond’s. It seems that when Camille was a child, the general who Greene wants to install as the Bolivian dictator personally killed her father and raped and murdered her mother and sister before burning her house down. Also, we learn in passing, she’s some kind of secret agent for the Bolivian government, but apparently that doesn’t sufficiently motivate her to prevent this coup.

So, as you might expect, the film is roughly 100 minutes of Bond, occasionally with help, running and shooting and punching and stabbing and exploding his way to the top of Quantum, all while M (Judy Dench) makes a lot of displeased noises at all the killing and the audience wonders what in the name of Roger Moore this all has to do with Vesper’s boyfriend.

And the answer is: something. But you pretty much have to read the plot description to understand what, and even when you do, you won’t understand why the last five minutes of the film needed to come after the first hundred.

But at least it looks pretty.


Kevin Smith has made for himself a career of dirty comedy. Sometimes it works, as in “Clerks.” Sometimes it falls on its face, as in “Clerks 2.” This time, with “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” Smith has taken the “Clerks” franchise formula and applied to it the sweetness of a Judd Apatow production. The result is something less than success.

The gist of the plot is this: Zack Brown (Seth Rogen) and Miri Linky (Elizabeth Banks) have been platonic friends since high school and live together in near-poverty. Zack works at a coffee shop called “Bean-N-Gone,” which is Starbucksier than Starbucks itself. Miri works at, um, the mall. What she does there is anyone’s guess, since the film seems to only establish that fact to make sure you know that she does indeed bring home some bacon. Needless to say, neither of them earns a lot of money and both of them spend their money in the typical American way: on stuff they don’t need, like sex toys. The eventual result: their water and power are turned off.

It so happens that right around this time, Zack and Miri attend their 10-year high school reunion, where Miri unsuccessfully tries to seduce former classmate Bobby Long (Brandon Routh — yes, Superman), who is gay and dates a man named Brandon St. Randy (played by Justin Long, in the first time I’ve ever seen him as a character actor, to hilarious effect), a gay porn actor. It is from them that Zack and Miri learn that porn is lucrative, and also that they are the unwitting stars of a very popular YouTube video that features Miri in her “granny panties.”

Naturally, this leads to Zack and Miri deciding to enter dozens of sweepstakes make a porno so they can pay their bills. They settle on “Star Whores,” recruiting Zack’s coworker Delaney (Craig Robinson, who deserves a shot at a starring role) to finance the film and Zack’s hockey buddy Deacon (Jeff Anderson, of “Clerks” fame, playing what seems like a ten-years-later version of Randal) to be the cameraman. They cast a man with the charming name of Lester the Molester (Jason Mewes, the Jay of Jay and Silent Bob) as the primary “actor” in the film, and recruit a local stripper named Stacey (Katie Morgan, an actual porn acress), along with a woman named only Bubbles (Traci Lords, a former porn actress) and a guy named Barry (Ricky Mabe), whose presence in the film seems completely unnecessary.

This ragtag bunch actually does a ridiculously good job (considering the budget) with the set and costumes of “Star Whores,” only to have the whole thing come crashing down — literally. The whole building is promptly demolished, and the “Star Whores” dream is destroyed, leading the crew to embark on a new project, “Swallow My Cockuccino,” which they film after hours at the Bean-N-Gone.

The casting and filming lead, of course, to plenty of opportunities for sex jokes (and worse) that are, by and large, very funny. The jokes rarely miss their mark, but considering what the movie is, they’re too few and far between.

Naturally, there is a budding romance going on, and this is what keeps the movie too busy to make enough good dirty jokes. The big scene in the porno involves Zack and Miri sleeping with each other for the very first time. Needless to say, instead of “fucking,” if you will, they “make love” and fall in love, to absolutely no one’s surprise — seemingly not even their own.

The problem with all this is that Rogen and Banks have zero chemistry as lovers. None. There is really nothing there. As friends, they work; as lovers, it’s even more unbelievable than Rogen and Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up.” The whole manner in which they fall in love feels obvious, cliche and forced. The characters themselves are underdeveloped; there’s really nothing particularly new or interesting about either Zack or Miri. We’ve seen these characters before, and we don’t feel like there’s any particular reason to root for them to succeed, except that they seem to be fairly nice people, for the most part.

As with many mediocre comedies, it’s the supporting characters who carry “Zack and Miri.” Robinson’s Delaney and Mewes’ Lester are by far the film’s most entertaining characters, but they’re relegated to second-string as we have to watch Zack and Miri live out their boring lives with some boring melodrama.

Much as “Zack and Miri” has been hailed as a warm, romantic take on a Kevin Smith film, the warmth and romance ultimately ring hollow, and the film’s dirty jokes are funny, but not enough to carry an otherwise mediocre effort.

This is a beautiful day.

We have elected an impressive man to lead us, the sort of man that doesn’t just come along every day or every four years. We have elected a man who promises to go down in history not just for the barrier he has broken, but also for the work he will do.

America’s involvement in this political process has been nothing short of outstanding. More than 117 million people turned out to vote. By and large, they gave thought to real issues and made informed decisions. This is a great thing, too.

But if I can ask you anything, from one American to another, let it be this: Don’t stop here.

Political engagement doesn’t end with the election. When George Bush was elected, we were all either so appalled or so comfortable that we collectively closed our eyes and allowed events in Washington to proceed without involving ourselves or paying attention. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this attitude landed us in such a mess.

If Barack Obama has proven anything, it’s not that racism is dead in this country, because it’s certainly not, and it’s not that the American dream still exists, because it does for some and it doesn’t for others. What he’s proven is that if regular people who are just trying to make it through the week manage to find some time to get informed on what’s going on in our country, and get involved in the political process, they can make a difference. What he’s proven is that you don’t have to be a rich corporation to make a difference in this country’s political process.

You just have to be an American.

And so I ask you, America, and I wish more people would read this because this message needs to be heard: Stay involved. Keep on top of the news — and not just your local news, not just national news, not just news about Washington, but the much-neglected international news as well. America loves to close its eyes and hope that things will work themselves out. It’s the easy thing to do.

But if we want to make this country the beacon of hope and freedom that it’s supposed to be, we need to stay involved. The elections may be over, but neither we nor Washington should ever forget that the politicians still answer to us.


November 5, 2008

Barack Obama is the next president of the United States.

By golly, it’s enough to make me believe in my countrymen again.

Thank you, America. Thank you for giving Barack Obama the chance to fix our country.

I could cry right now.

On the eve of the election.

November 4, 2008

In these early moments of Election Day 2008, I’d like to offer some thoughts, perhaps some soothing to my fellow Democrats.

Most polls show Obama comfortably ahead, and we all know we can’t get comfortable, but there’s room for optimism.

Dixville Notch, N.H., population 75, is the first place to announce polling results in the United States. Dixville Notch hasn’t gone for a Democrat since ’68. Tonight, it went for Barack Obama, 15-6.

My friends (as John McCain would say), today is the day to believe in America. Today is the day to throw off the heavy cloak of racism that still haunts this country. Don’t be afraid, fellow liberals, of this “Bradley effect.” Believe in the power of the American people to correct the mistakes of the past eight years. Barack Obama is the last, best hope we have to fix this country, and no matter what attacks the Republicans throw at him, I think the American people know who’s gonna fight for them and who’s gonna just fight for power.

Barack Obama is the truth. Barack Obama is the future. Barack Obama is America. And so are you.