Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Skyfall, Devoid of Humanity

My mental image when I hear the song Skyfall. Guns are loaded, my black suit, gold shirt and tie are securely in place, and I am tossing matches over my shoulder as I walk through the burning buildings of DC. We can dream. Adele knocked that one out of the park. It is the theme to the 2012 Bond film Skyfall. This is an incredibly late review of the film, but this is British week. What else is Bond but distilled Britishness for an American audience. Bond films are foreign films, but this is marketed to Americans. They even tried originally to make a production with Bond remade as an American named Jimmy Bond. Terrible idea. Skyfall is particularly suited for our times, but in reflecting our times, it is missing a crucial element.

This movie is standard issue Bond, cinematic escapsim. For a quick recap, scrapping the realistic introduction "parkour" scene from Casino Royale for the more Bondish, cartoony impossible opening, Bond fights in motorcycles, trains and automobiles. Fighting atop a train, he is shot inadvertantly by a fellow field agent (the hot black chick from 28 Days Later). Bond falls to a supposed death. M looks sad. MI6 is then fiddled with by a hacker (from inside M's office, dammit man!) with an explosion that kills agents and reveals that NATO agents are at risk. MI6 is under attack, and M is under political attack. Bond, who was drinking and banging some hot brunette from an undisclosed Mediterranean looking area, feels the urge to come back. He is in rough shape, yet M sends him out to go after the guy from scene one, who Bond helps them track by pulling out the bullet fragments from his gunshot wound. Bond goes to Asia, fights bad guy, sees a hot chick. Bond then flirts with hot black chick again, goes gambling because of a chip the dead bad guy had, and meets up with hot wh/asian chick to get to head bad guy. On her boat, they have sex and Bond meets the bad guy at a deserted island. Deserted bad guy happens to be former agent and poof Silva (played well by Bardem). Silva is caught by MI6, but oh no, his capture was planned so he could escape and take a shot at M. M appears before some bureaucrats, takes flak, is attacked by Silva, but she and Bond make a run for it. The final fight is at Bond's family residence, Skyfall, and booby traps and shotguns take out a squad of well trained bad guys with automatic weapons. It all ends with Silva finding M, begging her to kill them both, and finally Bond throws a knife in Silva's back. Silva is dead, M dies in Bond's arms as he cries, the hot black chick is Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes is the new M, and Bond is back well dressed to take on eccentric billionaires with schemes to take over the world.

Sam Mendes directed this with good fight choreography that you could follow without getting a headache, beautiful shot selection to make the settings pop, great pacing as it is a long film but does not feel that way, and a constant theme of old world vs. new world. Bond represents duty to country, the idea of national allegiance (haha modern UK), old ways, old training, about banging broads the idea that human intelligence still matters in our world of NSA sigintel overload, face adversity but overcome it. Silva is a non-state actor, does what he wants usually for a price, no loyalty but to himself, technophile who is much savvier than Bond with computers, cynical beyond Bond, a gay guy, face adversity and become a bitter, angry person for it. At Silva and Bond's first meeting, Silva discusses Britain and M as if they are interchangeable, which is a nice piece of script writing to mix the concepts of Mother England and M herself. MI6 has to move to the underground lair of Churchill's days, which is pretty dumb that MI6 didn't have a predetermined back up command center but OLD WAYS rubes, get it. They bring back the Aston Martin for OLD WAYS. Silva can set up his base anywhere, and he just needs a laptop to win. Skyfall is Bond's ancestral home that he must return to use guile and tricks to defeat the modern, heavily armed Silva crew. Throughout the film, there is a steady emptiness or hollowness to it all. This actually reflects so much of the technological marvel that is our modern world, but also sets up the missed opportunity with the film itself. No humanity.

This was Dench's last spin as M, and the finale for her two decade performance. A missed opportunity through the Dench era was not having either Brosnan or Craig consistently call her "Mum" as a joke on her gender. Could have been a retort for the required "chauvinist pig" comments Dench was forced to say. The mother angle is here to see. Silva and Bond are her boys, Silva is open about M = mommy, and Bond's orphan status is mentioned. Bond comes back for her. He returns to her home. Bond takes M to his childhood home. These are popcorn action films, but if you wanted to add a dose of emotion and humanity, there was the surrogate mother-child issue at play with Silva-Bond-M. Preventing this might be American audience biases in play, where we want to see the stiff upper lip Brits, the cold Brits, and the proper Brits. When Bond returns, there could have been an emotional exchange about M being the reason, M being under attack, M not wanting to let go. In the highlands, Bond and M could've talked of M's affection for him. Silva claimed to be her favorite, and needed to see her eyes, which are the kind of things bitter children say when they get drunk at a family reunion and finally tell off Mom and Dad (or adult homosexuals who want to hurt their parents one more time). In her dying breath, I have no clue what M said, didn't matter. Could we have been given a little "I brought you back, for the same reason I first picked you, you've always been my favorite, I'll haunt you if you leave MI6", something along those lines. Give the little lady a heart.

Have you ever worked for a woman? Not a harpie or one who slept their way to the position. A sharp older woman who is competent. They exist. A woman who entered the business world in the Mad Men era and worked her way up. Think Peggy from Mad Men in old age, not Joan. A woman who might not have kids or just one and then treats younger, favored underlings like surrogate kids. They can play tough because they had to before 1990s sexual harassment laws, but they still have emotions, good and bad. They can break. That moment comes where something horrible happens at work, unrelated you take a personal call on your cell down in the garage and she's hiding down there maybe smoking a cigarette, shaking. You end your call, walk over just to check on her and she ends up hugging you, maybe crying, because she is still a woman. M mentions a husband who recently died but no kids. She's under attack on all fronts, and this is all she has. She isn't going to break down when Bond shows up? The government is trying to take away her baby, MI6, as it is all she has left? If you want to see frightening, watch a childless, old female executive after she knows she is getting the boot. Horrifying behavior no matter how cool they played it before. Couldn't M and Bond yell at each other at least? Was it not put in because we've stripped relationships out of work, and it's just do the job, get results, go home and play?

Some have made Moneypenny being black (demographically highly unlikely) and Silva being gay a little topic of discussion. Gays were killers in the past and usually the association was that to be gay was demented and a killer would be demented to kill. Only recently have we glorified gays in entertainment media productions. Hitchcock liked to use this connection as he had implicitly gay killers in Rope and Strangers on a Train, but yeah, they were gay. Norman Bates was a sexual deviant as well. In reality, the stunt casting is a trade, M goes back to being a guy, but we get a minority for Moneypenny. Naomie Harris had to be the pick since Zoe Saldana and Kerry Washington cannot pull off British accents. This feels off still. Part of the charm of Bond is that despite going to the far off reaches of the Empire, he is still a Brit and MI6's base is still his home. The exotic is out there to sleep and fight with, but he comes home to Mother England. Personally, I would've gone with that hot Indian chick from Slumdog Millionaire, and renamed her Ms. Manaypunani. If there is any casting regrets for the franchise's money making ability, it is that the Bond producers did not offer Christian Bale the role instead of Daniel Craig years ago. Progressivism requires the head nod to diversity and multiculturalism. Bond complies.

This is all why Skyfall is perfectly suited for 21st century westerners. We are surrounded by technological marvels but unhappy. Like Bond, we drink, pop pills and fuck our way through hedonistic, atomized lives. Emotionless. Can we even feel? Do we want to? Diversity and vibrancy is around us, beautifully personified by an exotic, hot wh/asian woman and a cute, competent black chick. Isn't that a bit of reality? You're an upper middle class or upper class white male, you go to an Ivy or have a high paying job, and eventually a Tera Patrick looking woman is going to cross your path and you will run into an affirmative action government lady official. This is popcorn entertainment, but the messages are there. You can let problems dent your psyche forever or you can reconcile and move on. You still need a human element to make anything click and work right. A drone pilot still needs ground intelligence to spot and "paint" the target. We can design technology, but we still need the human mind to synthesize it all. Some decisions still are gut decisions. Sam Mendes is supposedly on board for the next Bond film, so it might help to write and direct actors playing the people needed to make those tough, gut decisions, not cold robots. We are still people in the seats, looking for something real and relatable. We still need to be human and to feel, even if we're 007.


PA said...

"Have you ever worked for a woman?"

Interesting direction. I've had female supervisors in my professional life. From experience and observation, female supervisors fall into one of three categories:

1. Mama hen, who runs a department well, makes the higher-ups happy and is on top of every one of her direct-reports HR, IT, or any other need. She is usually very nice, but she will is more likely to foster niceness and comfort over inspiring her staff toward excellence.

2. The loose cannon bitch. They're actually quite rare. But God help you if you work for one. At her best she will push you (more via stick than carrot) to excellence. Use appropriately calibrated game on her or perish. She will destroy a beta male employee. She's usually a monster to her female employees too.

3. The sharp manageress. Combines the reasonability of #1 and standards-setting of #2.

As to women in the workplace and their personal life: childless women over 40 are trouble. Harmless if you're not reporting to them, but be careful. Bitterness, anger and drama either follow them, or are liable to erupt.

sth_txs said...

Skyfall was okay, but I did feel like there was some political correctness BS in it.

I think Helen Mirren would have been easier on the eyes than Dench,but I'm like seriously, a woman boss in an intelligence agency?

I always have an appreciation for women in the workplace who know how to talk to men. Most women however, don't get it.

Anonymous said...

"but I'm like seriously, a woman boss in an intelligence agency?"

Foolish oaf. Try Stella Rimington for starters.

Phillyastro said...

Weren't the assassins in Diamonds Are Forever gay too?

Anonymous said...

Here's another interesting Bond review:


Laguna Beach Fogey said...

The inclusion of the black chick was jolting and unnecessary. So was putting Q in an anorak and NHS specs.

PRCD said...

Morelike Skyfail.

PRCD said...

"childless women over 40 are trouble."