Wednesday, August 27, 2014

SMOAT (or SMAABH?) Single-Features #6.5!!! (Skyfall)

Summer Movies At A Beach House! Heck yeah! Well, one summer movie at any rate: the most recent installment of the venerable James Bond franchise, Skyfall.

I always tend to overpack entertainment items for vacation, and this year was no exception: I stuffed a backpack with two paperback novels, one non-fiction book, one massive short story anthology, a half-dozen good old fashioned dead-tree comic books, two Kindles and an iPad, two Netflix DVDs, one used DVD I purchased like a year ago and still haven't gotten around to watching, one movie on Blu-ray that I've seen but my wife hasn't, and one BBC series on Blu-ray. I ended up reading 90% of the first paperback and one comic, and watching one Netflix disc. The remainder stayed in the backpack more or less untouched (by me, at least; my wife read something on her Kindle and the little guy and little girl made good use of my Kindle and the iPad at various points). When I was a kid, family beach vacations meant that I was responsible for entertaining myself all day long for days on end, because watching television (my default auto-entertainment at home) was frowned upon and my parents saw the time off and away as their chance to unwind and relax, not organize outings or activities for me and my brother. And fair play to them! So I would tear through comics, Mad magazines, and cheap paperbacks by the armload during vacation, starting the moment I climbed into the tailgunner seat of the family station wagon. Old habits die hard, even though nowadays I'm the one driving the car.

Of course, I am notorious for having virtually no memory of my life before age, I don't know, let's say six or seven? At which point I was both a strong reader and perfectly capable of taking care of myself (to the point of being borderline pathologically antisocial). So I acknowledge it is unfairly apples and oranges to compare my experience with vacations right now to my parents' preferred approach in my memories, because I don't really remember how they dealt with me (or even Little Bro) in babyhood or toddlerhood. My kids undeniably need more direct supervision (forget stimulation) because they are all still at ages where they can too easily get themselves into trouble, or where they are legitimately helplessto help themselves. E.g., I probably could have finished 100% of the paperback and started the next or read a few more comics if an entire afternoon (Wednesday, I believe) hadn't been sunk by the bino going from "a wee bit constipated" to "call in the HAZMAT team" shortly after bring laid in his crib for naptime. The damage control was an intense two-person job for me and my wife, and I was dazed and shell-shocked for a while afterwards. Ah, parenthood.

At any rate, the way our family dynamics work at this point is that in the middle of any given beach day the bino needs a nap, the little girl needs quiet time (nap optional), my wife enjoys a siesta for herself, and the little guy can at least amuse himself screen-shopping for Legos on a WiFi device. This frees me up to soak up rays and read or whatever and get my ration of loafing. And then, by 8 p.m. (or so) each night, all three kids are supposed to be in bed, so the opportunity at least exists for grown-up diversions like adult movies. Not, you know, "adult movies" in the back-room-of-the-video-store sense (none of those in my backpack, I assure you), although that joke was duly made and run into the ground. Just more geared toward mature audiences than "Frozen" or "The LEGO Movie". Actually, those flicks are all-ages and have plenty in them aimed squarely at grown-ups. Movies inappropriate for children, I guess. But not that inappropriate. (See, the jokes just make themselves.)

So, Skyfall! I'm no Bond aficionado, but I like the concept of Bond (it's pretty easy to be conversant in the defining elements of Bond without actually sitting through that many movies) and I like Daniel Craig as Bond, and I agree with the critical consensus that Skyfall is Craig's best outing so far, possibly one of the best Bond films in the canon, period. It's clever, almost to the point of distraction, that a lot of the story wraps itself in ideas like the British government (and by extension, the people they represent) questioning whether or not they need MI-6, or need it in its traditional form including the double-0 agents, which of course parallels the question of whether Hollywood and/or the movie-going audience still want to go see James Bond films. And of course the answer provided within the movie is a resounding "Yes, now more than ever!" To be fair, it is hard to argue with Dame Judi Dench, so putting the thesis in M's dialogue was a smart move. In fact, it was also a smart move to make M so central to the movie and give her a chance to get out from behind her desk and have a big adventure. SPOILER!!! Meaning sorry, I guess that was a spoiler but also warning, there's more spoilerage to come. It was, by the same token, a shame that M had to die, but I suppose Dame Dench isn't getting any younger and if she wanted out of her contract then at least they gave her a rousing send-off, rather than having her die off-screen in an explosion to make the reel one body count plot point a little more personal. The only complaint, which my wife and I shared, was that M didn't really get to kill any bad guys herself. She rigged/triggered a booby trap or two, and got to make a joke about always being a lousy shot, but come on; in the end Bond backstabs Silva and Silva collapses to the ground after a some grimacing and staggering, would it have been so hard to have Bond backstab Silva so he lets M go, and then have M deliver the coup de grace, just before she succumbs to her own battle wounds?

Not that anyone should be watching Bond films for enlightened gender politics, of course, and if it's all the same to everyone out there I'll skip the deep meditations on whether the world is a better or worse place based on the generalizations one may extrapolate from any given fictional entertainment, even a series of them. (Just like I'll gloss over the oddity that, like all Bond movies of late, Skyfall is only rated PG-13, despite the defining elements of 007 being his license to kill and his tendency to make with the sexytimes. He just always does the latter in cinematically chaste fashion, and shootings and stabbings and other bloodlettings are not something we as a society of weirdly prudish violence-worshippers have a big problem inviting the kids to get an eyeful of.) My wife and I were looking for some semi-mindless popcorn movie fun, because we were on vacation and because said vacation house had a fairly nice home theater (no Blu-ray, though) with a ridiculously large-screened tv (which I couldn't figure out how to work via the universal remote, not exactly, and which I was forced to jury-rig with parts borrowed from the kids' travel DVD player in my car) and we got what we were looking for, with a little extra helping of "huh, that's interesting" on top of the requisite exotic locales and dramatic explosions. I pronounce Skyfall to be quite good, if you're into that sort of thing.

Incidentally, the other Netflix movie I brought along was Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel. If there had been a true Summer Movie double-feature over the course of the beach week, the theme simply would have been "relatively recent well-received movies that my wife had expressed interest in watching and I was fairly keen to see as well". But, as I've alluded to earlier, we made our own entertainment various other evenings and kicked back under the spell of the silver screen just the once. Fortunately it was a good choice for our sole movie night. And don't let the grumblings and/or the baby poop jokes fool you: all in all the vacation was a good one, too.

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