Just to be a Little Selfish…

…I want to write about my own interests which as many of my friends and readers know, include along with other things I love, my avid enjoyment as a long-time movie buff.  From the earliest examples of silent film to the hight-tech, 3D Imax presentations so common today, I love them all…but have a particular affinity for the B/W masters produced in the 30’s, 40’s, and early 50’s.  And like most of my generation, that endearment came about through a steady diet of late-night television broadcasts common to the 60’s and 70’s.  Once the daily prime time ratings race and final newscasts had ended, all three of the channels my family’s TV was able to access devoted the balance of their air-time to these wonderful classics.  And even though highly edited and filled to the maximum allowed with commercials and local service messages, I almost never willingly closed my tired eyes until a picture of a waving US flag, along with the sounds of our National Anthem lulled me to sleep!

No, our family didn’t have money to spend on real “theater” entertainment…not back then…so for me, TV and the movies showed night after night, were the epitome of a true voyeur’s reality, and thus just as important as my real life experiences.  It took me to places I could never go, and gave me experiences I would never otherwise have.  And for a very long time, and for reasons I won’t elaborate on here, I honestly thought that the places I went and the lives I lived…thanks to all these films…might actually be the only way I would ever have such experiences!  If you can imagine feeling this way yourself, it’s easy to understand how and why I watched the old films over and over, never forgetting the lessons they taught me, and always surprised at something new…something I hadn’t seen or noticed before…something that made it a stronger and more relevant part of my life!

Soon I did grow up and began living a life of my own…one that as it must be no matter its direction…is certainly a lot better than any of the films I watched back in the day.  Yet I truly believe that were it not for the experiences that film provided me as a young boy, my life could not possibly be as wonderful or as meaningful as it turned out!

I feel the same way about all the books I read growing up.  They too have also played an important role in my life, though on quite a different and subtler level than film.  I can’t think of a “classic”…old or modern…that I haven’t read at least once.  Everything from the “Greek tragedies” to “Heinlein”, and from “Huckleberry Finn” to “Shakespeare”!  It’s all here inside my head along with the many films made from these great works…all here inside, helping to define who I am and what I do.

These two mediums do make a great combination. Most good writing is a non-visual representation of a real or imagined reality just as good movies are, and most great films are themselves taken from great books and/or screenplays.  They can be created and enjoyed separately of course, but when both are created as part of a whole, and then enjoyed in the same way, they become something much better than either one could ever hope to be alone!  They become more than entertainment, more than educational, and nearly as enticing and potent as reality itself!  Unfortunately however, when done badly, or when either of a matched pair doesn’t quite prove itself equal to its sibling, the combined result can be as worthless and unsatisfying as anything a miserable life might have to endure.  As such, badly composed and visualized efforts of negative quality cannot even pass as mediocre entertainment for most of us…or at least those of us who have learned to enjoy the many positive things that well written and filmed stories can provide. And it is just such an unusually bad effort that obviously uneducated and inexperianced…but well paid…critics have been pawning off as the best film and book in a long-standing, and much-loved series, that I have chosen to comment on this very month!

First I should tell you that I still am unable to enjoy movies in the well designed theaters they are for the most part created for.  I live at least fifty miles from the nearest theater able to present them with the high quality sound and projection systems they deserve.  So I’ve done the best I can with wide-screen HD systems and home theater sound, and if a movie I wish to see isn’t available in my area on DVD or blue-ray, my broadband cable/internet system is fast and accurate enough to insure my seeing them streamed to my system in all their glory as expected!  I can say without reservation that I haven’t watched an actual TV show or made for TV movie in years, reserving almost all of my entertainment time to movies broadcasted as they should be on TCM, streamed from Netflix and Amazon Prime, and played on DVD’s and Blue-Ray discs.  And when I’m not watching movies, I spend my free time reading old and new books, screenplays, and manuscripts just as I did when a boy…with the only difference being that now days I do all my reading via digital delivery systems like the Amazon electronic library available through my Kindle Fire HD.  No, there’s not a single decent bookstore within fifty miles of my apartment either!

It’s true that technology has changed…for the better I believe…the way we experience almost everything these days, allowing those of us who really want to experiance things on a more empathic level to do so.  But what and why we grok hasn’t changed at all!  And in the case of film, I still and will always expect and demand the highest values this medium can offer!  Just as it was when I was a boy, it matters very little if the movie producers have millions to spend on their work or if they expect their directors to do their very best on a shoe-string budget.  It’s the content, and how well it is transferred to the screen that remains the one and only consideration in the evaluation of its overall success and value, whether billed as entertainment or something else.  So I might as well say it now…I have a real problem with all these new horror movies…the majority of which are little more than rehashed versions of every zombie and vampire movie made before!  Oh sure, they are indeed much more extreme, bloodier than any Sam Peckinpah film festival, and sometimes even sexier than R-rated, late-night porno! But even movie goers with an IQ of 70, ( border-line mentally retarded )…of which there must be many more than we might think or movie producers wouldn’t be catering to them so much…MUST be getting tired of them by now!  For the rest of humanity they hold no value at all…not even as bottom line entertainment! If you love Vampires that much, try reading Bram Stoker’s original “Dracula”, the one and only best story ever written on that kind of subject matter.  And there are at least three movie versions, that although as different from each other as possible, still offer good entertainment, historical integrity, knowledge, and other values of interest.  But if it’s the lives of the undead that really shakes you up, well, you’re on your own.  I’ve yet to find a novel or film on that particular topic worthy of anyone’s interest!

But I’ve gotten a little too far off-line writing about zombies and vampires.  They are not what I ment this Blog post to be about. I really wanted to expound on the sad state of the “James Bond” movie serials!

I don’t believe I’ve ever met a man of any age who doesn’t hold at least some appreciation for this well-loved serialization.  As part of the Spy genre, they represent some of the best stories ever offered, and it would certainly be a less exciting world had this fictional character not been invented.  Even though the more fantastical and comical “Bond” movies made after “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, with Roger Moore playing the part of Bond, came close to losing the more subtle qualities of this great hero on more than one occasion, the series survived, introducing its fans to a more plausible Bond not as connected to the “cold war” era that was admittedly getting a bit old. And when Pierce Bronson took on the part later, we were happy to be reintroduced to the kind of Bond movies that Sean Connery starred in, and which first brought this great hero to life.

Taken together, not even one of the Bond movies up to this point could be called bad. They were fun, exciting, sexy, somewhat relevant, and always showed us those places around the world where most of us would never get the chance to see for ourselves.  And the production values of this movie serial were just as good as the writing that spawned them.  Acting, cinematography, sound design, music, special effects…they have always been and still are top of the line.  And to the credit of Barbara Broccollie and Daniel Craig, their first Bond effort as a team gave us an even harder and more realistic Bond than we had ever seen before. Combined with a completely new and well written version of “Casino Royal”, they gave us what I believe to be the very best Bond movie ever made!

That’s the sad part. That it will probably remain the best Bond movie ever made! Because the last two, although starring the same base cast, and being produced with the same loving care and everything else that made Craig’s first outing as Bond such a hit, are arguably the worst two Bond films EVER made!  All I can say about “Quantum Solace” is “BORE-ING”!  And that is quite enough for that piece of trash.  Still though, I forgave them for this one terrible entry.  After all, everyone has the right to a bad day once in a while.  So when “SkyFall” was released, and every movie critic around the world agreed that it was the most exciting, and very best James Bond film ever made, I assumed like everyone else that Bond was back!  Woe betide the religious zealots arming themselves for Armageddon or at least a good war or two against Democracy! Bond IS back, and he’ll put all those old, KGB rejects, back where they belong and can’t hurt anybody!  Oh yes!  I couldn’t wait to see “Skyfall”!

I think it was barely twenty minutes into the movie when I finally realized I could have waited a lot longer and not missed a thing!  It was that bad.  You have the right to disagree with me of course.  For as my own father never gets tired of reminding me, “We all have the god-given right to be wrong!”  But before you get the urge to respond and attempt to counter my error with your own opinion, let me tell you why I consider “Skyfall” to be the very worst Bond movie ever made! Besides, it’s always been a secret fantasy of mine to be a movie critic, and no one has ever been given that honor without first disagreeing with the opinions of the current majority!

I’ve watched literally hundreds of movies, and read an even greater number of novels.  And aside of a few of “Skyfall’s” intrinsic facts surrounding its story, I’ve seen this same plot more than enough times to be absolutly sick of it!  It reminds me of other equally redundant remakes that have often offended me. “Never Say Never Again” for example. An obvious remake of “Thunderball”! The only thing that made it bearable was the fact that it was Sean Connery’s last, late, high dive as the James Bond character.  And the two westerns, “El Dorado” and “Rio Bravo”.  Only the two fine screenplays, great actors, and of course, John Wayne himself, made each film equally good fare!

Tearing “Skyfall” down to its basic parts, what we have here is yet another revision of the same plot they revised quite recently for the second movie in the last “Batman” trilogy!  It’s easy enough for anyone to do!  You make up a nasty, and very weird villanous character, ( in this case a Martin Landau look-a-like with bad teeth, and an even worse back story that includes his being turned into an sub-oriental homosexual that MI-6 never would have made a double O in the first place! ), give him a jaded reason for hating his boss or some authority figure, then allow him to be captured on purpose by those too dumb to suspect such an over-used plot, which allows him to spring his own trap years in the making, so he can finally bring his psychotic wrath to bear!

How many times have we seen this plot in bad TV detective stories and equally bad movies made for the big screen?  They must have realized halfway through the production how overused this badly written screenplay plot was because you can see every convolution they tried to disguise it with at least five minutes before it happened.  And all the little, supposedly comic remarks they tried to add as an after thought, were so bad and again so over used, that try as I might I simply could not break even a quick grin.  Instead I just shook my head in amazement at lines that weren’t even funny when they were first written a long, long time ago!  Like when Bond looked to his pimpled quartermaster with the bad wig and asked if he could break the algorithm that was busting through MI-6’s own computer security.  “I invented it, the prepubescent wiz-kid retorted!”  Someone should have thought to add the equally ancient quip, “That was so funny I forgot to laugh!”

Admittedly there were a few things about this movie I did like.  Daniel Craig’s acting for one, and the fact that they finally retired, ( for good ), that stodgy old “M” and put a real bureaucrat in her place.  That should at least add a little more realism to the next film in this series.  And finally, I had a really good laugh as I watched the chinese version of Mata Hari blow cigarette smoke out between her teeth and nostrils like the dragon lady did in an old silent film.  I didn’t laugh at her or her actions, but at the sad fact that a woman of her young age and from her environment couldn’t possibly have known of this or how it was ment to be a satirical comment on her character.  In fact I’d bet even the actress playing the part didn’t quite understand it herself, otherwise she would have tried a little harder to get it right!

“Skyfall” is a good example of how money can be made by movie producers playing on the gullibility of their audience.  They already have the audience ready to pay before the script is even written based on past acceptance, so they throw a quick and badly written movie together with little or no thought on its own value, pay off the critics to build an even larger audience for them, and release a film that except for being a member of a well honored series, should never have been made!  And don’t feel bad if you now see this film in a different light then when you first saw and actually enjoyed it because of what I say.  They depend on a somnambulist public to buy their bad stock as much as they do our discriminating taste when offering films of real value.  It’s what they do, and what they do very well!

I honestly hope that the next “Bond” film is written and filmed with a lot more concern for their audience’s intelligence and memory, and that they don’t forget how important it is to insure this great character and his stories remain equal to the love and honor so many of us hold for the series.  If not, “Bond” will go the way of other beloved heroes like Sherlock Holmes, and the Saint!  That would be just too much for a movie fan like me to take!

Please excuse my seeming to have brought this subject up so long after the movie’s release, but as “Skyfall” just came out on disc a week ago, I thought my timing was very appropriate!