Thursday, November 29, 2012

Skyfall: James Bond is a nihilist asshole

Alright, okay. I suppose I’ll ante up some proof to back up a ridiculous title like that. First I should clarify, when referring to “James Bond” I mean the Skyfall character. That’s it, that’s all. No books, no other movies, no churches will be discussed further.

Where to begin... many things about this film rankled me good. A lot of them point in the same direction though. Basically, James Bond doesn’t give a shit about anyone, anything, or anyplace – except for himself and his mummy.

He wreaks mass destruction wherever his loosely defined and poorly planned missions take him – no matter the cost, human or otherwise. And yes, this is essentially a boiler-plate action movie, and like every action movie, things gotta get blown up real good. But characters, especially lead, pseudo-heroic protagonists must be judged by the choices they make and what events/consequences those choices set into action. Blow up the baddies at the cocaine factory James, don’t kill the innocent people in the market!

Take the chase scene in Istanbul, Bond riding shotgun in a fittingly douchey Land Rover SUV. Sitting back in the passenger seat he lacks a certain measure of control while his female colleague takes the wheel in their chase through the city. And how does Bond’s inevitable choice to control the situation manifest? He grabs the wheel ramming their target’s car into a crowded market stall. Fruit and people go flying – equally important from this film’s pov. Then Bond starts shooting. I hope everyone ducked. He continues this chase through the city with a similar lack of concern for the public. But wait a second, I skipped the opening scene where he begs for a medical evacuation for his fallen comrade – so maybe he only cares about white MI6 agents?

James Bond is a bull in a china shop. A trademark I suppose of Daniel Craig’s Bond, physical and action-oriented, more brawny than crafty. But c’mon, he carries on this rampaging style of espionage throughout the film. I love an anti-hero, but after a while I started to look at him with derision rather than sympathy. Not exactly what they were going for, I don’t think.

Other moments where Bond’s apathy for human life shines through include... crashing through a passenger train with a backhoe, sitting pat while a security guard gets whacked for no reason, and failing to save his sexy lady fling from being murdered.

Oh Sévérine, poor Sévérine. Bond-girl number whatever comes off especially worthless and subservient in Bond’s eyes. Considering her character’s history as a sex slave this is especially troubling, or tacky to say the least. And excuse me if I didn’t find it romantic when he slinks into her shower unannounced. More like, creepy and exploitative. No long after she dies, and Bond remarks that her untimely demise “was a waste of good scotch.” Ambivalent in its tongue-in-cheek way, but considering how Bond operates in this movie, it’s frighteningly sincere.

So I was wrong to say James Bond doesn’t give a shit about “anything”. In fact, he cares about things more than people. Why bother with human breathings when there’s scotch, guns, and automobiles? Shiny, shiny cars. Bond is never more hurt in this movie than when his Aston Martin is destroyed. He hardly flinches when a (presumably people-filled) tube train comes crashing through into the sewer, but blow up his sports car and now you’ve made him angry! Heavens to Betsy man, the thing was already riddled with machine gun holes. Put a tarp over it.

That’s the clincher. After that, the dramatic resolution of his mummy issues pales in comparison to his outrage. Matricide < motorcide. Then again, he does shed a tear in the end for a real live human, so maybe he’s not a complete nihilist asshole, but he’s still no hero.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Jumping the Broom: No White Sharks

JOAQUIN PHOENIX: Yeah, but there's all of this horrible racism that white people don't even recognize. Did you see Jumping the Broom?
I’ve seen it now, Joaquin - thanks to you.

Jumping the Broom was already on my watchlist (along with some 600 other films), but Phoenix’s comments in Interview Magazine boosted it to the top of the list. Didn’t hurt either that pretty much the entire cast is head-shakingly gorgeous. Paula Patton, Meagan Good, Laz Alonso, et al.

The movie is a typical wedding-themed romantic comedy, but despite some 3rd act histrionics, it rises above most of the crap in that crop.

It’s easy enough to figure out the plot from the poster, but what surprised me was how refreshingly easygoing the movie plays. This has a lot to do with the fact that most of the the drama and comedy emerges from the characters, not ridiculous coincidences and misunderstandings. Not all, but most. And again, the cast is gorgeous, as well as likeable and often high-larious. Especially Mike Epps (I would’ve taken him over any of the nominees in the 2011 supporting actor category outside of Christopher Plummer).

Now let’s get back to why Joaquin loved it so...
I feel like all white people have to see the film just because I've never seen a movie in which most of the white characters in the movie were just working. It was fucking great. It was almost comical. There was a scene during the wedding reception, and there are, like, eight white people just carrying stuff. The main white character with some dialogue was the ditzy, stupid assistant. I enjoyed it so much because you never see that. 
Yes. Julie Bowen from “Modern Family” (and Happy Gilmore) fame plays the wedding planner. She’s an inept wedding planner, and throughout the film her character displays an outlandish curiosity in her black clients that usually results in her putting her foot in her mouth – musing about sisters with different skin colors or stroking someone’s weave.

It’s as if she’s in her own separate movie within the movie. To the extent that she is often talking to herself or is the only one on-screen after a scene has ended for the main characters. The filmmakers obviously had a blast turning the tables on the usual race dynamic, and they successfully make this white character “other” in a way we are not used to seeing in the movies.

This subversive twist lends a swiftness and comfort to the primary action in comparison to Bowen’s awkward bumbling. It’s a subversion that sticks out even more in such a conventional genre as the romantic comedy. Compare it, for instance, to the very similar ensemble piece This Christmas, where it’s lone white character is also isolated, but otherwise bland and insipidly at ease with her otherness.

I’m on board with Joaquin. All white people have to see Jumping the Broom. That or someone has to remake The Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries with all black actors and a lone white actor in the best friend role.