The Beijing Diaries, Day 2: The Day Before the Day

November 10, 2012 in China, Travel by pacejmiller

What is Lebron doing in D-Wade’s jersey?

November 7, 2012

With a day to spare before the opening of the 18th National Congress, my second day in Beijing was supposed to be a relaxing one, scoping out the various venues I would soon be visiting on a daily basis. How naive I was.

When I woke up in the morning my initial impression last night that the cheap (US$46 a night) hotel was pretty decent took a bit of a hit. I must have been too tired to have noticed the broken cobwebs on the ceiling and it was way too dark, even with all the lights on, to see the stained walls and the chipped furniture. And when I wiped a bit of spilled water off the floorboards with a tissue, the tissue was all black. Yikes.

I began the day walking from my hotel to the hotel I was supposed to stay at (but got cancelled) to attend a small team meeting with the other reporters from my newspaper group. It was only 5 minutes by taxi but the walk was a long one. I didn’t mind it though because I got to go down Wangfujing, the famous pedestrian shopping street in Beijing. They say China has changed a lot and it sure has. Wangfujing has pretty much everything you could get at any other department store in the world. There was a Nike store, a Zara, branded luxury goods, and of course, an Apple store. The Chinese make most of their products anyway.

Yes, there is a Zara in Beijing

But first I needed to get a local sim card, which anyone can just pick up off the street from one of those dodgy looking grocery stores. In fact, I got mine from a little “adult shop”. It was only after I picked up my sim for 80 yuan that I noticed all the dildos next to it!

Anyway, the meeting was boring and pointless, as expected. We had a quick lunch at a nearby local restaurant which probably cooked everything with recycled gutter oil (it sure tasted like it) and I went off with one of my colleagues to Tiananmen Square, where a supposedly “more convenient” hotel was located. As it turned out, while it was very close to the Square and the Great Hall of the People, the hotel was a little on the expensive side for my cheap company’s budget, plus I would have had to travel quite a distance to get to the media center (where many of the press conferences are held). Oh, and I forgot to mention that they didn’t even have any spare rooms anyway.

So that was a complete waste of time. But after saying bye to the colleague I went through the big red gate (the one with Mao’s headshot on it) to visit the Forbidden City, and that was pretty cool. Interestingly there were lots of basketball courts inside. I don’t think people from the Qing dynasty played hoops, but perhaps the People’s Liberation Army cadets there make good use of them.

Nothing like a bit of pick up ball in the Forbidden City

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get into the Palace Museum because it was near closing time. Apparently I could have gotten in for free with my press pass (I hope so, or else it would be embarrassing to try and then get rejected). Mental note to visit the place again when there’s time.

I then tried getting over to the Great Hall of the People but was blocked by the guards, who said I needed some special invitation and not just the press pass. Whatever. I decided to walk back to the hotel, which took about an hour. I had been out all day and didn’t even have half a story to write, so I sent back some photos instead.

Later that night, I went out to dinner with my cousin’s husband who works in Beijing as an executive. He has his own personal driver and everything, which is pretty cool (I was impressed), and he and a colleague took me to a famous Peking duck restaurant. I’ll post some pics of that memorable meal shortly.

I was completely buggered by the time I got back to the hotel and I had to get up before 7 the next morning for the opening ceremony — so I just crashed.

I had a feeling then that this was going to be a very long trip.

Movie Review: Skyfall (2012) (IMAX)

November 10, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

The buzz surrounding Skyfall before I went to watch it was that it’s “the best Bond film ever.” I’ve never been a huge fan of the franchise, even though from memory Casino Royale, the first of the Daniel Craig era, was pretty darn good. Naturally, with 23 Bond films in the overall series, saying that it is the best ever is setting it up for unreasonably high expectations.

And I think it was my expectations for Skyfall that had me coming out of the cinema doubting the “best ever” claims. In fact, I don’t even know if it was better than Casino Royale.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Skyfall because I absolutely did. It had an amazing opening sequence — by far the best of any Bond film I’ve seen and probably the best of any film I’ve seen this year. The title sequence which followed was also sensational (I usually tune out during those opening credits but this one had me riveted) and the Adele-performed theme song might just be the best Bond song I’ve heard.

But after that blistering start, Skyfall slowed down and fell back down to earth a little for me. The plot is actually simple but feels overly and unnecessarily elaborate. A bad guy steals the list of the true identities of MI6 undercover operatives around the world. And he wants to make Bond’s handler, M (Judi Dench), suffer. Or kill her. Or whatever. Bond wants to stop him. People get shot and stuff gets blown up.

In other words, I didn’t think Skyfall had a very strong storyline or script. It was held together by the strong performances of Craig, Dench and Javier Bardem, the rugged realism of the action sequences and the confident direction of Sam Mendes (American Beauty), who infuses the film with many beautiful and memorable images (none of which I can or should spoil here). But to be honest I didn’t find the action or the drama to be particularly outstanding. Very good, occasionally exhilarating, but not outstanding.

The Bond girls this time around were underutilized in my opinion. Naomie Harris has little chemistry with Craig as a fellow agent and fades in and out of the storyline, never really finds her place. The sultry Berenice Marlohe excels during the splendid Macau casino sequence but her part of the story is never properly wrapped up.

One part of the film I did enjoy was its take on technology and Bond’s interactions with Q (Ben Whishaw). It asks the question of whether field agents like Bond are necessary anymore given the power of modern computers and the skills of hackers, and it also makes fun of those cool gadgets the Bond franchise is so well known for. It’s a sign that Bond is moving on with the times and may continue to evolve in the 24th and 25th films, which Craig is apparently signed on for.

Perhaps those who are more emotionally invested in the Bond franchise or character will have a different take, but unlike the critics who are heaping unqualified praise on the film, I personally foundSkyfall to simply be a very-well made film that impressed me more with its dazzling style than its substance.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: It used to be blasphemous to even suggest this, but apparently many now think Craig is the definitive Bond? I’m not sure, but I reckon he kills Pierce Brosnan.

PPS: I watched this film in IMAX. I don’t really get it. Bigger screen and louder sounds. Is that it?