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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Recently viewed: "Foreign Correspondent"

Foreign Correspondent

Though I consider my a Hitchcock fan, I've by no means seen all of his movies.  I have always considered this one a "minor" movie, and never gotten around to watching it.  We finally took the time and caught it on Netflix, and I am very happy with it.

Joel McCrea (later a major star in Westerns) is an American reporter sent by his paper to Europe as their foreign correspondent.  Things are heating up, with war on the very near horizon (the movie was filmed in 1940).  McCrea (playing Johnny Jones, but given the dom du plume of Hadely Haverstock by his publisher) witnesses an apparent assassination of a Dutch politician, and quickly finds himself with information about a spy ring.  He's also falls in love with Laraine Day, playing the daughter of peace activist.

In a lot of ways, it's very typically Hitchcock, but as with much of his work, it's the details that make it shine.  There's a handful of marvelous scenes (the escape of the assassin through a crowd of umbrellas, the cat and mouse in a Dutch windmill).  McCrea is winning enough, playing a very "American" character, and Day handles her part well.  There's also several standouts in the supporting cast.  The action climax (on a plane traveling to America, under fire from a German battleship) suffers from the special effects, but is still effective. 

The ending makes it a piece of war propaganda aimed squarely at Americans, but what the heck, we were about to fight the Nazis.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Recently read: "Directive 51" by John Barnes

Directive 51

Directive 51

A John Barnes novel which examines the collapse of civilization, and how the US government would attempt to maintain some sort of continuity.  Modern civilization falls under attack by "Daybreak" which is a collection of every group that hates modern civilization for any reason.  It's not really an organized group, but more of a threat that emerges on its own.  Under a combination of nanoware (which eats plastics and rubber), fusion bombs and EMPs, it doesn't take long for our intrasturcture to collapse.  When the sitting US president emotionally collaspes, Directive 51 (a presidential directive which specifies continuity of government--this is somewhat at odds with the constitutional succession) is enacted.  After Washington DC is destroyed by one of the fusion bombs, the National Constitutional Continuity Coordinator (NCCC) decides that he can't allow the constitutional secession to take place (there's debate over whether the US is under an attack by a governmental/terrorist enemy or whether it's just a system artifact).  We end up with two "legal" governments: one, under the NCCC, controls the southeastern US (with it's center of power in Athens and Fort Benning) while the other, under the President, controls the Northeast.

In ways, this is sort of disaster porn, though Barnes at times appears to be almost too dispassionate about the destruction (most of the focus is on various government employees, particularly the Department of Future Threats, so they have as much technology and food as is available).  We don't seem to be getting the resulting feudal knight setups that S. M. Stirling gave us in his "Change" series, though it's still early (and there are "Castles", at least on the West coast, which are setting up their own local governments, but no knights on horseback yet).  I'm assuming the sequel (Daybreak Zero) concerns determining who (or what) is responsible for the attacks, and we get the remaining Department of Future Threats set up in Boulder as a sort of "technology bootstrapping" center.

Barnes does do something a little odd here.  The book is written with scenes (specific locations and times prefaces each scene) and usually there's a change in location, but at times the location is the same, with the time only slightly after, so I'm not sure what necessitates the "scene" change.

I'll get the second book, since I'm interested enough in seeing how the story plays out.