Bond vs. Bourne

Bond and Bourne began as book characters who made a successful shift to the big screen. Bond has been around longer since the books on which he is based came out between the 1950s and ’60s while the Bourne books came out in the 1980s and 1990, at least those by Robert Ludlum. A new series was started with Eric Van Lustbader after Ludlum’s death in 2001.

The first Bond movie I saw in a theatre was Diamonds are Forever starring Sean Connery as James Bond, his last until he came back in the rather forgettable Never Say Never Again, which was not really part of the franchise but managed to squeeze in there somehow. I saw the rest of the Connery films (along with the solo flick by George Lazenby) on Betamax. Roger Moore took over from Connery and when he retired, Timothy Dalton took over, then Pierce Brosnan, and, currently, Daniel Craig.

Brosnan appears to have been the most spy-like. Craig is more a licensed thug although his run is the most coherent series, although the Austin Powers ending to Spectre was really awful and disappointing for a promising new twist to the old character. Connery was something of a cross between the two. Moore was the most suave, the quintessential Englishman but he was also the most compromised. I often wondered how he could still operate as a spy when everyone knew who he was down to his Walter PPK. Craig has the best choreographed fight scenes. Brosnan next but I guess this is expected with the development in filming over the years. We can expect newer films try to make their scenes more realistic. Compared to theirs, Connery’s and Moore’s fight scenes looked pretty antiquated where a single karate chop or kick is expected to knock a bad guy out. Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the most underrated Bond story.

Jason Bourne came out in the movies in the 2000s. It was miles from the original story in the Ludlum novels except for the amnesia and being picked up at sea. The original story was more like Aidan Quinn’s The Assignment, which came out a year or two before the first Bourne movie. Maybe this forced the producers to come up with a different direction because it could have still been adopted with a few tweaks for the 2000s. The original story had David Webb volunteering to go undercover as a terrorist named Jason Bourne in order to force the real terrorist called Carlos the Jackal out of hiding and kill him, which he finally did in the third book. Bourne of the movies is no spy. He is a killing machine plain and simple. He may adopt cover identities but he had one purpose: kill.

Parenthetically, Carlos the Jackal is a real-life terrorist whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez best known for a series of bombings targeting Jews in France in connection with his espoused aim of liberating Palestine. He has been captured and serving prison sentences in France. Here’s the thing, his nom de guerre was taken from The Day of the Jackal, a novel written by Frederick Forsyth, which was also made into a movie starring Edward Fox, the M in Connery’s Bond comeback film Never Say Never Again. Good movie by the way. The reboot, The Jackal, with Bruce Willis as the assassin is right there with Never Say Never Again as one of the most forgettable movies of all time.

Bond is more versatile; however, his tradecraft is pretty sloppy for a spy. At least Craig is. Moore too, of course. Bourne takes the effort to wipe his presence from a scene. Bond leaves it around. Worse, he left an electronic trail that Bourne avoids as much as possible unless he wants you to see it. Knowing that there was a CCTV in the hideout of Mr. White, alias The Pale King, Bond left the footage there for all to find. That placed the life of the daughter of Mr. White in danger, and was even used to torture her in a way. Bond also has a way of lingering at a scene — at times depending on the home government to straighten things out as if it was that easy to straighten out an international incident — whereas Bourne would just disappear. 

Bourne appears to represent an actual spy or operator: low-key, efficient and self-sufficient. Bond’s much more glamorous life isn’t really sustainable. It works for particular operations but over too much time, its value quickly dissipates. It’s more public, therefore, the spy would really have to keep his activities pretty mundane. That’s how you maintain your cover. Avoid publicity as much as possible. Just ask The Americans. I’m sure Ian Fleming knew what he was doing when he created Bond since he served wth British Naval Intelligence. The filmmakers maybe had Hollywood ideas that we know can be farthest from reality. Even for a movie.

Between the two, I prefer Bourne over Bond. I like the Craig series but, on the whole, I think Bourne is much more credible as a spy or operative. Both are lethal but Bond calls to much attention on himself. Bourne will strike from nowhere. Even if you know he’s there. Bourne has, to me, the best choreographed fight scenes in Hollywood. Fantastic storytelling even for Hollywood. That’s how you do a clandestine operation on film. The series definitely has plot holes; however, when everything is said and done, I find Bourne more believable than Bond. Craig is getting there with Skyfall but got derailed a bit by Spectre. Austin Powers as inspiration? Yeah, right. Bourne wins.


A Nation of Laws not of Men

If the recent spectacle in the US is anything to go by, then it should confirm everything we have known about Donald Trump from the beginning: he believes that his word is law, and everyone should obey him.

When he was just running for the presidency, we heard how he boasted that he would just grab a woman he fancies by the pussy because he believes he can, and for the most part, he was right. His victims were too shocked or scared to do anything about it. It is a totally predatory thing and indicative of his attitude in general, to women in particular. There was even that creepy clip where he greeted a child and said that he would date her when she’s eighteen. 

He fancies himself to be the ultimate businessman (let’s just forget all those bankruptcies he went through in the meantime). A great negotiator. THE man to be reckoned with.

Of course, not everything worked out as planned. He thought he can just ban Muslims from entering the US. The courts thought otherwise.

He wanted to change Obamacare with a single stroke. It didn’t quite work out that way. His first attempt was withdrawn even before it was ever considered by Congress.

Worse, his choice as Supreme Court justice could not get through and so he had to get his Republican lackies to change the rules for it to happen.

He bullied his way in the meeting with world leaders in Brussels and was ridiculed for it.

Now we see him trying to convince the head of the FBI to end the Flynn investigation. I compared that to a mafia don trying to tell a cop to look the other way. When he didn’t, the mafia don made him disappear. He must have thought he was still at the set of The Apprentice. “You’re fired!”

Unfortunately for him, like some of the mafia attempts to off someone that fails, Comey comes back from the dead to haunt him, and his testimony might take the don down.

The New York Times has an article that likened the attempt to have Comey drop the Flynn investigation to sexual harassment. Scary.

His seeming disregard for climate change and human rights are even more alarming. While pulling out of the Paris accord on combating climate change may arguably be a good thing because how can a man who thinks that climate change is a hoax convince the world to take it seriously, it also sends the wrong signal that a developed industrialized country will not help, or might even work against, fixing climate change.

Trump’s economic policy appears clear: make the most money with the least restrictions. Take away all the climate change concerns so big oil can do as they please, and coal can be big again — never mind that renewable energy is actually becoming cheaper and more efficient to operate. Now, they are taking down Dodd-Frank that was enacted to protect investors after the Sub-Prime Mortgage meltdown and the depression that followed in its wake. Chipping away here and there in the hope that money comes in. That’s his vision of a great America. 

Look at all that and you realize he is just about one thing and one thing only: The Donald; and he wants the Donald to have absolute power.

It is not surprising that he would be envious of people like Russia’s Putin and Xi of China because, in their respective countries, their word is law. Laws conform to the leader’s wishes rather than have the duly elected representatives of the people make laws that the president will then execute, which is how a democratic government should work. Trump believes his word should be law because, in his mind, he alone can save the US.

Unfortunately, the US Congress, filled with a Republican majority, is slowly giving him what he wants. There will be hell to pay. Maybe they think that Trump is still manageable and they can make him do what they want then dump him after one term — if not sooner removed by impeachment — or once they can come up with a suitable replacement. 

Here’s the thing, once you give power to a demagogue, and the people are drunk with illusions, it will be hard to reign him in and get the balance of power back among the three co-equal arms of a truly democratic government.

I could say the same of the Philippines with a president some quarters hail as a savior of the nation. His insistence on the supremacy of the executive arm over the others is troubling. His minions in Congress, particularly the speaker of the lower house, shares the view — at least, when the judiciary is taking a contrary view; otherwise, he would be pleading that the people respect the decision of the courts. It’s maddening.

Putin, Trump and their ilk want to have a nation of men, not of laws. There will be a point of reckoning when the people can no longer tolerate the abuses by such men. Even countries such as China know that there is a constant danger from those opposed to such a concept. It is their fear of such an uprising that makes them an oppressive state that belittles human rights allegedly for the sake of the common good.

This is no way to live out our lives living under the dictates of would-be Caesars. We cannot willingly forsake the freedoms that others have paid for with their lives for the covenience of short-sighted solutions to everyday problems. We need to live in a nation of laws where no man can ever be above it even if he is a duly elected president. Allowing ourselves to be lulled to sleep on our rights is not patriotism. It is nothing more than a surrender to absolutism. That is a price too high to pay for an illusion of peace.

We lived through such a hell once. Never again.


Wonder Woman: We should just let her kick ass.

Spoiler Alert: Do I think that Wonder Woman is the best DC movie so far? No, that honor still belongs to The Dark Knight. Wonder Woman is a good movie but it is just not that good. Here’s why:

1. The Plot. If everything feels familiar, then it’s probably because you’ve seen everything before. Where? Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger. The journey of discovery, rise to heroism, and ultimate triumph is a common thread in all origin stories but consider these: the unfortunate reliance on a shield (happily she did not bounce it around as Cap would – maybe in the future?); the participation of a ragtag group of commandos; death of a friend; an ultimate weapon; use of a plane, and the sacrifice play; and, the not-enough-time end to the love story. Admit it, these were all done before in a single movie. They really could have just shifted things to the trenches — that, up to the retaking of the Veld, was the best part — rather than drag the movie the way they did to all those all too familiar end scenes.

2. The CGI Ares. The finale was a let down. After the great, as in really great, assault in the trenches and the retaking of the town — the final showdown was absolutely the opposite. Ares, THE god of war, was out of shape. I mean, the disguise — I just want to say that for my own solace — was understandable for one who does not want to call attention to one’s self while walking in the world of men but when you go fight a god-killer, you want to be at your best. The full armor was ridiculous because we’re talking Greeks here not medieval knights. All that throwing things around using telekinesis or psychokinesis is just total crap. This is Ares! The God of war! Wouldn’t he take pride using his own hands to kill the god-killer? And what was that use of lightning? Ares?! C’mon! Among the pantheon of gods, not even Zeus was god of all the earth. Making Ares an elemental was totally screwed up.

3. The Look. Here’s the real killer. There was too much Zack Snyder in the film. Don’t get me wrong, the direction by Patty Jenkins was good. Maybe not Ant-Man — definitely not Deadpool — level but good, smooth and believable. The shots and effects however made me think it was too Zack Snyder and, sure enough, he was in the credits as screenwriter and producer. He’s not bad but a totally different take would have been welcome. I can imagine Patty wanting to go one direction and Zack nixing it for something more “traditional”. Of course, I don’t really know how much Zack’s hand was dipped in it but I felt it in there and wished it wasn’t.

4. Continuity. Did everyone see what she did to Ares? You wonder why she did not do the same thing with Doomsday in BVS. With the way they told their story, you even ask what really caused the Second World War and all the other wars the world has gone through ever since. I mean if she really killed Ares that is.

The love story was also rushed where “love” might just be “heat” but I won’t touch that further.

Despite all that, it was entertaining. Maybe not as interesting and well-put like The Dark Knight but as DC movies go, this certainly makes a good run with 3/4 of a film being so well executed. It was wonderful to see her kick ass with the lasso. They should just have stuck with that. I mean why rely too much on the shield? She is known for her arm guards, which she did use a lot in the movie — the alley scene was greatly executed — and the lasso. Like I said, it was a good thing she didn’t use her shield as Cap did but it still was a lot of deja vu for what was supposedly a different kind of hero. Only Wonder Woman has the lasso, and having seen what they could do with that, they really should have exploited it to the hilt. Maybe they wanted to make her different from Superman but in doing so, they lost a lot of what made Wonder Woman wonderful. The lasso. Use the lasso. Then she’ll really kick ass. You want a big impact ending — it was supposed to be a war between gods — this one just fizzled. Not my cup of tea.

I hope they treat her better in Justice League but based on the trailers, she’s back with the sword and shield. Wake up DC! You could do so much better, and coming from a Marvel fan, that says a lot.


My Fellow Filipinos

Marawi, in the island of Mindanao, was attacked by the Maute group, which is an ISIS-wannabe in the Southern Philippines. In response, the Philippine Government poured in troops to try to root out the group. Hostages have been reportedly taken and used as human shields by the Maute. Where they proved too well entrenched, attack helicopters came in to pound them into submission, or death. Marawi suffered from the attack that appears to have been compounded by the army’s seemingly scorched earth policy against the attackers. Back in the day, there was a shirt for sale that had the message: “Kill them all. Let God sort them out.” Yesterday is here again.

As if that was not enough, the Government declared martial law on the whole of Mindanao even if the fighting appears to be limited to Marawi. Then worse becomes worst. The president, in exhorting the troops to do all that is necessary to win over the Maute group, quips that if the troops rape anyone in the process, then that will be on him. The president, himself a lawyer and a former prosecutor at that, essentially publicly declared that if the troops commit any crime — like rape — during the campaign to defeat the Maute group in Marawi, then they will not be prosecuted for it.

Flashback to the beginnings of his drug war, and his declaration that any act by the police in pursuit of the drug war will be his responsibility. In essence, he is saying that any crime they may commit during the war on drugs will also not be prosecuted. To date, there are a reported 7,000 deaths related to the drug war. Around 3,000 of these is said to be the result of “legitimate police operations.” The rest are dismissed as random killings. When you read news articles from Al Jazeera and the BBC about how the operations are being conducted with kill quotas and payoffs for every pusher or user killed, then one thinks that while these may actually be police operations, whether or not they are legitimate is far from certain.

Let us be clear, between the criminal and the State, or a terrorist group and the State, we should support the State. Illegal drugs should be prevented from harming citizens, and terror groups should be suppressed. However, how we conduct our wars should also follow the rules laid down in law. When the government begins to wage state terror, the legitimacy of its wars quickly dissipates. We are a nation of laws, and the State should be the first to comply with its demands.

The Philippine experience on martial law was not pleasant. In the end, the abuses of those in power caused a nation to oust a sitting president. The current president declares that his martial law will be as brutal as the old one. If one is knowledgeable enough about how the old martial law was used to abuse the populace, then one cannot readily say that this new martial law will be promising indeed. Far from it.

The newest Philippine constitution — we’ve had three (3) so far — sought to prevent a repetition of this abuse by putting in place the mechanics for the declaration of martial law. It invokes the independence of the legislature to check on the executive. Unfortunately, both houses of congress, peopled as they are mostly by the president’s partymates, supporters, or wannabe-supporters, refuse to convene to study the president’s justification for the declaration of martial law. It is in the refusal of these so-called people’s representatives to do as they are legally obliged that dictators are born.

Article VII of the Philippine Constitution provides that:

“SECTION 18. The President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding sixty days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law. Within forty-eight hours from the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the President shall submit a report in person or in writing to the Congress. The Congress, voting jointly, by a vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session, may revoke such proclamation or suspension, which revocation shall not be set aside by the President. Upon the initiative of the President, the Congress may, in the same manner, extend such proclamation or suspension for a period to be determined by the Congress, if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it.”

Clearly, the Constitution allows the president to call on the army in case of lawless violence, invasion or rebellion. The attack by the Maute group constitutes lawless violence; hence, the president can direct the armed forces to destroy the Maute group as the commander-in-chief. However, in order to declare martial law, the constitution names only two causes: invasion or rebellion. Moreover, public safety must require it. In other words, it is not enough that there is an invasion or rebellion. The safety of the public must also be in danger before martial law can be declared. If a large Chinese force occupies a few islands in the West Philippine Sea within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone but no Filipinos are endangered, then martial law still cannot be declared. Since the Maute attack cannot be an invasion, it might be seen as a rebellion, which would then justify the declaration. Under the constitution, the president should have reported to Congress within twenty-four hours from the declaration to prove, first, that it is a rebellion, and, second, public safety requires it, that would justify his decision, and Congress may confirm, revoke or extend martial law…but it must convene to receive the report and pass upon said declaration.

As it is, the president gave no report, and Congress refuses to convene. That, my fellow Filipinos, is dangerous. Filipinos should be free to question its government. When the government is closed to scrutiny even from its own citizens, that is authoritarianism. When Congress, a key component for the system of check and balances, fails to act in accordance with law, it allows absolutism by the president, which the Constitution itself is against. The Constitution, therefore, is slowly eroding. That is something we cannot allow.

Patriotism is never blind allegiance. Patriotism puts the country first before personalities, even the president. To challenge the president is not unpatriotic. Adherence to the rule of law, especially the Constitution, the primary law of the land, must be every citizen’s concern. Holding the government to it, must be the primary duty of every Filipino. We do so not because we hate the president but because that is what the law requires. We are all Filipinos. Whether you are from Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao, all of us are Filipinos. We question the declaration not because he is a Mindanawon but because he did so as president, and in doing so is required by law to abide by certain conditions. To test his compliance with law is a very Filipino thing to do.


The Mystery of the Three Envelopes

I saw my dad this morning and he asked me what happened to the three envelopes he had last night. According to him, I, together with two of my brothers, Jo and Jim, had just pulled down the roof and, before having dinner, which I had brought with me, dad gave one envelope each to Jo and Jim. After dinner, dad gave me the last envelope to reimburse me for the cost of the dinner, and Jo left immediately after that. Surprised to see me this morning, he called me over and asked me what happened to the third envelope.

This, in turn, surprised me because, last night, I did bring home some dinner but none of the other things happened. Not last night. Not ever. Jo has been living in Davao for some years now and haven’t been around to visit for about a year. Jim has been living in Makati for about the same time. I haven’t seen Jim for about a couple of years. Maybe more. It’s been that long. Dad is living with me in Quezon City. The three of us never worked together on a roof. Ever.

My father, you see, has dementia. He sees things and people, and recalls events, that or who were never there, or happened. My first experience was rather hurtful. He accused my siblings and I of leaving him when he fell asleep after having Christmas lunch at a restaurant in a nearby mall two years ago. I denied it naturally. It troubled me but that was just the beginning.

At another time, I took him out for lunch, just the two of us, and while conversing, he asked me “kamusta tatang mo” (how is your father)? After my initial shock, I replied, “you are my father; how are you?”, he looked at me as if I was mad.

The hardest part is to see him get frustrated trying to work out what is real and what is not. Sometimes, he knows his mind makes things up. He realizes certain images are not real, which I get to reinforce. People beside him that disappear. Even guests or workers. When it’s me he is talking to, he gets to question what he sees. Unfortunately, there are times when he really believes that something or someone was there when there wasn’t. It is those times that he gets really frustrated because I don’t believe him, or having told him otherwise, he couldn’t understand how he could have been mistaken. He frequently asks about the children, which can only refer to my nephews from my third brother, Dan, with whom he was living before he transferred to my house. I have to repeatedly say they were with my brother in their house. At times, I have had to do so three times in a span of ten minutes.

It is difficult to see my father in this condition. He is a lawyer by profession and, as a lawyer myself, I know how much his mind means to him. Again, that may add to his frustration. To realize that your mind may be playing tricks on you must be truly hard. 

So, going back to the three envelopes, I pointed out to him that he gave each of us, Jo, Jim and I, one envelope each. Mystery solved! No, he says, why would he give Jim an envelope when he did not borrow money from Jim. However, I insisted that: first, he cannot change his story and introduce new facts that were not there before; and, second, he clearly repeatedly said that he gave each of us an envelope and, therefore, there was no missing third envelope. After much thought, he finally conceded that I was right. The three of us got one envelope each. What a relief!

As I turned to go, he asks “how much was in each envelope?” 


The World is due for a correction.

I was talking to my dad this morning and our conversation drifted here and there. Out of nowhere, he suddenly said “I have a theory: democracy will kill itself. Why? The objective of democracy is to make everyone equal. People will never be equal in one aspect or another. So, it will fall on itself.”

If we look at the world around us, then we can easily see what he means. The rise of the populists is a worldwide phenomenon that appears poised to engulf the whole world. 

The root of all of this might be traced to the recent troubles with globalization. The near collapse of the global economy brought about by the greed of the largest banks in the US. One can say that the principles of democracy that made the big banks free to do as they did caused the global financial crisis. That caused people to fear what democracy has wrought despite the fact that the global financial crisis was brought about more by the lack of effective regulation to curb that greed that caused all the mess rather than a failure of democracy itself. 

Then there were those who were not able to benefit from an inproved economy. If you look at the last six to eight years in the Philippines and the US, then you would note how their economies have improved over time. The problem is that not everyone have felt the effects of that economic upturn. 

From there grew the strangest, strongest opposition to our democratic institutions that led to the take over by populists. Powered by social media (including hacks and bots), and driven more by anger and hate rather than any clear program of action, populists have managed to take control over the Philippines and the US. 

Similar movements have tried to get ahead in other parts of the world. So far UKIP in the UK has failed to make any headway although it was, surprisingly, able to get the UK to vote for BREXIT, and it may now be paying the price for it.

Le Pen in France is already having a hard time at it and a European nation had rejected a populist party.

I suppose that the world have seen what populists can do to a country and decided to go against it. In the Philippines, a misguided war on drugs is blamed for the deaths of 6,000 men, women and children, while the US is grappling with a rising  nationalist agenda. The planned replacement of Obamacare was embarassingly pulled out and its anti-Muslim immigration executive orders have been slapped down by US courts. If this is how populists run their country, then it is a terrible future ahead for them and all those thinking of electing populists into office.

However, this is all part of what it means to be a democracy. The citizens were free to elect populists into office (let us put the issue of hacks and bots aside for now). One might say this is just a phase where nations try to press the reset button to get a reboot.

The hope is of course that after this terrible experiment, there is still something left to reboot. We get over that, then democracy will rise again. Perhaps, democracy will in fact kill itself as my dad says but it is quite capable of bouncing back into existence like a phoenix from its ashes. It is a dream I have…


Iron Fist the Wimp

After much hype, Netflix released a dull…I mean full…season of their newest Marvel series Iron Fist. After all that hype, you would have thought the series was at least as good as Daredevil but, no, it was in fact the worst of the four. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage being the other two. The absolute worst of the four.

Let’s start with the story. It was really nothing more than CW’s Arrow except that where Oliver Queen came out as a he-man, alpha male badass, Danny Rand was the boy who never grew up. Peter Pan minus the lovable character. The story is so warped and overstretched here and there that you can actually edit out a big chunk of the series and finish everything at half the number of episodes it took them to bore us. Why they decided to move away from the original story in the comicbiook i don’t know. It was workable and a hell of a lot better than being an Arrow reboot. A bad one at that. 

I mean this guy was supposed to have been raised by warrior monks. It’s just bad characterization that he would turn out so whiny and wimpy. Not only was he raised and trained by warrior monks from childhood but he actually reached the the peak of their training by becoming the Iron Fist. To do that, he actually had to defeat a dragon, and, despite all that, he turns out to be an overgrown kid? C’mon!!!

Then there’s the fight choreography. It was nothing we have not seen before. Well, fine, the iron fist itself is sorta new…no, wait, take away the light show and Jessica and Luke beat him to it already. Even the battle with the drunken master was so 1980s that it was absolutely laughable. They could have just watched old Jackie Chan movies and improved on it but, no, they just made a mess of it.

And the worst thing about the whole series is the cast. Aside from Rosario Dawson and Carrie Ann Moss whom we’ve seen in the other shows, there is no one that really stands out. I like the idea that Danny Rand wasn’t a muscle-bound military-type hero but Finn Jones was just a terrible choice. He can’t act-fight and he does look wimpy and certainly acts like it.

I did finish the whole season because i was forever hoping it improves but then it just ended, and i knew i had just wasted my money and time.