Monday, August 12, 2013

Movie Monday: The "Skyfall" Edition

I've been watching James Bond movies for decades now, since long before people were getting their panties all in a twist about the scantily-clad women and violence in those films that might be inappropriate for, say, an 8-year-old to see.

We had a family tradition of going to the drive-in every Friday night (and that meant every Friday night, since where I grew up in Southern California, the drive-ins were open all year long), and that included whenever a Bond movie came out. Well, in practice, we didn't get to go every Friday night, because my father had to work late some nights, but we made it there as often as we could.

Accordingly, I saw my first Bond film - it was either "Goldfinger" (1964) or "Thunderball" (1965) - when I was eight or nine years old. I can't recall for sure which one it was. At any rate, my parent's didn't seem too concerned that seeing what sex and violence were in those films would warp me for life. So, when they started showing the Bond films on network television accompanied by frequent warnings that some of their content might be inappropriate for children, it gave me a good laugh. I had seen them before there was any such thing as the MPAA ratings system, which went into effect on November 1, 1968, when I was 12 years old.

All of this made it interesting for me when I finally got to watch the latest Bond film, "Skyfall" (2012), that I noticed that the film was rated PG-13, which warns "Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some Material May be Inappropriate for Children Under 13", and that the reasons listed for this rating for this film were "for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language, and smoking."

Smoking? Yeah. Okay, we all know that smoking isn't the healthiest thing a person can do. But, "Parents Strongly Cautioned" because people smoke in a movie? It isn't as if kids don't see smoking in the wild, probably every day of their lives. Somebody is clutching pearls because some people are smoking in a movie? This, apparently, has been part of the ratings rubric since 2007 or so. Somehow, it seems like society at large, at least in the United States, might finally have lost all sense of proportion. Do they really think that showing smoking is as bad as showing people mowed down by automatic weapons that fire who knows how many bullets a minute with just one pull of the trigger?

Never mind. The ratings system has always been slightly strange. If you don't believe me, go watch a documentary called "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" (2006), that explores the US film rating system. But that's not what I'm here to write about today. Still, see this documentary if you're at all interested in how the ratings system really works.

But, first, see "Skyfall". It's really a good movie.

Besides all the action (read: shooting and subway derailments and fights on top of trains and chases and explosions and so forth) that are part of all James Bond films, "Skyfall" explores some interesting themes. One is accountability in the spy game, and what happens when, as M says at one point, when your "enemies are not nations, but individuals." Another is, what happens when a spy starts to get older and might not really be up to his or her A-game any more? These are fair questions, to be honest. To discuss this much further, or really, to talk about the plot much at all, would be to give away the game, and I don't want to do that even though I know I've come to the game with this quite late and that most of you have seen the film if you're going to.

I will say that Bond finds himself it a bit of trouble. Besides being shot, falling off a train on a bridge, falling to the water below and going over a waterfall (this is in the first few minutes of the film, so I don't think I'm giving away too much by saying this, especially considering that much the same thing happens at the beginning of every Bond film), James has been drinking too much and relying to heavily on pills to control his pain after all this. He isn't necessarily the crack shot he used to be.

I have to say, as the 23rd official Bond movie in a franchise that has been with us for half a century now, "Skyfall" isn't having the same problems that Bond seems to be having in the film. The film is at the top of the 007 game. Daniel Craig is superb as the seemingly aging Bond (although at 45, the actor is certainly not what you'd call old). He brings us a suitably cheeky Bond. Javier Bardem, as Raoul Silva, does a great turn as the latest Bond villain, bringing just the right tone to the role. Now, he isn't my favorite Bond villain - that honor goes to Klaus Maria Brandauer in "Never Say Never Again" (1983), where his portrayal of Maximillian Largo is sinister yet not as physically repugnant as many of the Bond villains; he's the only Bond villain where one gets the feeling that the women around him haven't had to be coerced to be there - but Bardem's Silva comes close. Although I really wish that Bardem would find some roles where he doesn't have such unfortunate hairstyles. This seems to have become a theme in his career that really isn't necessary. Dame Judi Dench is wonderful as M, as is Ralph Feinnes as Gareth Mallory, the head of the government committee that is investigating MI6. Q is back, this time in the person of the wonderful Ben Whishaw, who plays the role with just the delightfully perfect amount of geekiness, and an almost unrecognizable Albert Finney is perfect as Kincade, a figure from Bond's past.

There's so much more I want to write about "Skyfall", but there might be some of you who haven't seen it yet, and I really don't want to spoil it for you. I went in knowing very little about what was going to happen, and I think that's the best way to approach the movie.

Just take my word for it. If you like action flicks, and if you like James Bond films, this is the one you want to see.

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