January 28, 2013

Faded glory for a messed-up world.

 I have been asked to comment, but wait, let me first get the lamentations out of the way:

James Bond is misogynist and heteronormative.
Layered with racial and class stereotypes.
Skyfall is neither cleverer nor more sophisticated than its predecessors.

And so on and so forth!

Q: Age is no guarantee of efficiency.
Bond: And youth is no guarantee of innovation.
Q: Well, I'll hazard, I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.
Bond: Oh, so why do you need me?
Q: Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.
Bond: Or not pulled. It's hard to know which in your pajamas.

I can recommend Roger Ebert's review  “... I don't know what I expected in Bond No. 23, but certainly not an experience this invigorating...”


Skyfall is an exhilarating combination of new and old which remakes the franchise while somehow coming full circle and putting Bond back where he began proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Bond and M had to battle suggestions of both people and institutions being "too old" and "outdated." M's speech quoting Tennyson is nothing short of genius and it captures exactly the uncertainties of our age. 

“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

The movie is unashamedly positive about the necessity of defending and loving Britain. This is a Bond movie you should see if you have the slightest interest in the franchise. And if you do not, perhaps you will enjoy the soundtrack.

January 7, 2013

“The life we live and the life we choose.”

“Pilgrims are poets who create by taking journeys.” -Richard Niebuhr

The Way of Saint James — or, as it is called by the locals, El Camino de Santiago — is a roughly 800-km pilgrimage walk through northern Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela where, according to pious legend, lie the remains of St. James the Apostle. Pious legend is almost certainly faulty on this point, but nonetheless the Camino has been an important Catholic pilgrimage route for over 1000 years. I myself walked a portion of it — roughly the first 10% — in 2006, and I hope one day to return to complete what I have started.

On the way one finds people with every kind of intention. There are those who are on religious pilgrimage, of course, and in some sense they have pride of place, for they carry on the tradition that is the Camino’s raison d’etre. It is for them that the shrines, churches, prayers, and devotions associated with the Camino make sense. But naturally there are others too: people of other faiths, or none, walking the route for their own reasons.

In the movie, The Way, Martin Sheen plays Tom Avery, an American called to a small town in the Pyrenees to identify the body of his son, Daniel (played by Sheen’s real-life son, Emilio Estevez, who also wrote and directed the film). Daniel had been killed in a sudden storm on (what must have been) the first day of his Camino trek. Tom has never heard of the Camino before, and suspects the walk of being another of his unfocused son’s fruitless enthusiasms, but once finding himself there he decides to walk the Camino himself, scattering his son’s ashes along the route, as a way of honoring his final wishes. Along the way he encounters a number of other pilgrims, has a variety of adventures, and eventually does find his way to the magnificent portals of the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago.  The last act of the film from the arrival in Santiago to the closing credits brings the emotional arc of the film to a satisfying conclusion.

The theme of pilgrimage is a rich one, ripe with possibility. A pilgrimage is, by its nature, a living metaphor for the journey of life itself, and there would seem to be no natural limit to the potential emotional and spiritual scope of a film of this sort.

The Way is content to limit itself to what it is, essentially if unconventionally, a domestic drama of the troubled relationship of a father and a son paired with beautiful scenery and a gallery of minor characters. It is a film of modest ambition, which is fine, and it succeeds, which is even better. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it.

I am reading...

  • scribble, scribble, scribble, Simon Schama
  • Julia's Cats, Patricia Barey and Therese Burson
  • London, Edward Rutherfurd
  • I'll Drink to That, Betty Halbreich