Category Archives: Hollywood and Vine

Celebrities, the entertainment industry and other such frivolities.

Mr. Bond, Dr. Freud will see you now

“Oh please, James, spare me your Freud.  One might as well ask if all the vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you’ve killed.  Or if you’ve found forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women… for all the dead ones you failed to protect.” – Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) to James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) in GoldenEye

After four years of speculation, rumor, tabloid nonsense and the customary story about the Bollywood flavor-of-the-month who is “perfect” for the female lead and the “desperate” choice of the producers, the truth is out.  The 23rd James Bond movie, SkyFall, started shooting on November 3rd.  Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes reteams with Daniel Craig after their collaboration on Road to Perdition, and brings along for the ride the most incredible cast ever assembled for a James Bond movie:  Javier Bardem (Oscar winner for No Country For Old Men), Ralph Fiennes (Oscar nominee for Schindler’s List among other things), Albert Finney (four-time Oscar nominee and star of the Best Picture winner Tom Jones) along with Judi Dench and the two new ladies – French actress Berenice Marlohe and Pirates of the Caribbean star Naomie Harris.  Longtime Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins is the cinematographer and Stuart Baird handles editing.  The script is by Bond veterans Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Gladiator writer John Logan, based on a premise by The Queen screenwriter Peter Morgan.  With all that talent it would take an act of Satan himself to forge an A View to a Kill-style misfire.  Then again we haven’t heard who’s doing the theme song yet.  Is Shirley Bassey still available?

About the plot, little is known beyond the postage stamp synopsis released by the production team – basically, that Bond finds himself fighting to save MI6 after a dark chapter of M’s past comes back to haunt them both.  When Judi Dench was first cast as M for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond debut GoldenEye, much was made in the entertainment press of the idea that a woman was taking over as the boss of the most chauvinistic of all cinema spies (sorry, Austin Powers.)  However, throughout the four-film Brosnan era, apart from a few sparse touches the relationship between Bond and M was not played that different than it had been with Bernard Lee (or to a lesser extent, Robert Brown) in the past.  Beginning with Daniel Craig’s tenure, the producers have opted to treat the relationship differently.  Obviously with an actress of Judi Dench’s caliber you don’t want to limit her to sitting behind the office desk and disappearing after the first act.  In expanding the character of M, the producers have created a more maternal bond (pardon the pun) between her and her star agent.  Indeed, their relationship is unique in the 007 universe, as M is the only woman who does not see Bond sexually (the reverse being true as well.)  When Bond was broken in Casino Royale by his betrayal by Vesper Lynd, and set out to bury his demons in Quantum of Solace, his loyalty to M remained.  Indeed, when one thinks of Bond as doing his duty for queen and country, it is not necessarily Her Majesty Lilibet Mountbatten-Windsor he is thinking of first.

Bond movies can be a curious entity.  In many of the more forgettable entries there was little attention paid to character development or emotional engagement.  It was just a fun ride.  And that’s fine if that’s all you’re looking for.  Clearly it worked or we wouldn’t still be talking about it 50 years on and 23 films later.  As the second generation of Bond producers has gotten older and responded to the changing audience, and in particular seen Bond struggling to stay afloat in a field swarming with imitators of the genre it essentially spawned, they have come to realize that the character of James Bond has considerable depth worth exploring.  Who is he?  What drives the core of this man whom men want to be and women want to be with?  Consequently the producers have tried to craft plots that are emotional journeys inasmuch as they are excuses for implausible action scenes.  Sometimes with mixed results.  The World is Not Enough was the first real attempt in the modern era to make a character-driven Bond movie and the elements did not blend together well – rather like a martini where the proportions of vodka and vermouth were just slightly off.

Some Bond fans balk at the character-driven approach, suggesting, and not unreasonably, that not every mission needs to be personal.  But I’ve maintained that that resonance is the crucial meat and potatoes alongside the chocolate and the whipped cream.  We need to begin to care about the people on screen, about Bond, as opposed to just watching him do cool stuff.  That cool stuff will always be essential to Bond – one would not necessarily care to see him simply talking about his problems on a psychiatrist’s couch for two hours – but probing into his soul takes it from the realm of popcorn movie into that of real cinema and makes it a truly memorable experience.  I suspect that with the above-the-line talent who have been brought on to shape SkyFall, the producers are aiming for just that.  Of course they want to make a great entertainment, but let’s have a little something for the grownups too.  I think Ian Fleming would be ok with that (actually, he would have flipped out at the suggestion of a female M, but I won’t tell him if you don’t).

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Fun with words: What’s missing?

A dollop of fun today, a touch dissimilar to rants past.  Your mission, and I think you’ll find it amusing, is to scan my paragraphs and unmask what’s missing from my words that you would normally find abundant.  It is my task also, to suss out if I can do it whilst maintaining a gripping account for visitors to my blog.  Why do I do this?  Curiosity, mainly; to find if it is at all within my writing skills.  Do I fancy my output as wordplay on par with that of a craftsman such as, say, Nabokov?  Hardly.  Most vigorously not, in point of fact.  Triumph in this pursuit, or falling short, will signify nothing important, or lasting.  It is, truly, just for kicks.

Pray, what to talk about today?  Our world is a cornucopia, rampant with judicious topics:  a sampling might contain a follow-up to All Hallows’, political turmoil abroad and on our own soil, institutional ramifications of Kim Kardashian’s imploding nuptials, or sonic vistas from Coldplay’s album Mylo Xyloto.  Or my familiar go-to if nothing can catch my imagination on that day, Aaron Sorkin’s vast portfolio of writings.  Anyway, I’ll go for a story I find particularly irritating.

Much was said about Ms. Kardashian’s 72-day sham, mainly and rightly, that it is folly to proclaim in this day of our ongoing commoditization of stardom that any should look upon gay unions as a singular hazard to that most holy (said with sarcasm) institution of matrimony.  Is it not individuals such as Kim who turn such important rituals into ridiculous “shows” for cash who should catch our communal scorn?  Why do loyalists to a particular political inclination go on fighting to bar gay unions if straight Kim and company can flaunt what is so important to so many loving pairs with such disdain?  A high point of hypocrisy, I would think.  Not that it’s a shock coming from such sorts.  It’s always about “saving our morality,” a worn-out justification to attack things out of favour with a diminishing group of old right-wing layabouts.

A propos of our villain in this saga, you cannot totally fault Kim.  Truly, all of us must swallow our own wrongdoing in popularizing Kim’s antics and crafting a mass craving for additional clowning around; purchasing stacks of flimsy publications thanks simply to Kim’s mug only adds to this “famous-for-nothing” lady’s kingdom of public domination.  It will not stop until common man opts to turn his focus away and to topics of vital import.  Until that day, Kim Kardashian and ilk will maintain an unnatural hold on our discussion and grow rich, with a continuing sum contribution of nothing to civilization’s gradual growth (or stagnation).

I shall stop my rant at this point and ask you again to look back at this post and say what is missing.  For my part, it was good fun to craft.  You may submit your thoughts in our usual way.  Alas, naught but bragging rights to our victor.  Good luck though, and happy hunting!

So be it… Jedi.

Although giddy for the release of brand new, high-definition Blu-Ray versions of their favourite films, Star Wars fans were mostly horrified this week to learn that the Jedi Master of the saga of a galaxy far, far away, the relentless tinkerer George Lucas, had ordered some additional digital changes to his babies – the most egregious of which was the dubbing of additional dialogue for Darth Vader during the climactic sequence in Return of the Jedi where he sacrifices himself to save his son.  Where Darth had originally done the deed in silence, he now screams “No.  Nooooo!!!!” as he picks up the evil Emperor and hurls him to his doom.  No less a luminary than actor (and Star Trek star) Simon Pegg took to Twitter to denounce this latest re-edit, and the Internet nearly melted down from the resulting collective fanboy freak-out.  For Wars-ies still miffed by Greedo firing first in the 1997 Special Edition re-cut of A New Hope and the overall existence of Jar Jar Binks, it was one CGI tweak over the line.  With the backlash to the Special Edition changes and the general disappointment in the prequel trilogy still fresh in his mind, it’s a little puzzling why George Lucas would want to go back to that same poisoned well.  Surely the thought of being digitally burned in effigy across millions of chat boards can’t be a comforting thought to anyone, no matter how many billions of dollars they sleep on at night.  But it’s difficult for fans or anyone who’s even aware of the Star Wars phenomenon to remember that Lucas sees Star Wars uniquely and in a different way than anyone else.

Star Wars was made in an era before home video, when special effects could be just okay since they were only designed to be seen once quickly in the theatre, rather than pored over, rewound and scrutinized again on an endless loop – when the audience was meant to be so engrossed in the story they didn’t have time to notice the strings on the spaceship.  We know it as we first saw it, and to us, it was and always has been perfect.  When Lucas looks at it, he remembers only the pain of making it:  the threats from nervous studio executives, the embarrassment of the actors not understanding his dialogue, the frustration of the camera crew and their British union rules, the disappointment of the effects guys wasting money on useless shots, the overall feeling that he was ruining his career.  With that baggage, he hasn’t become emotionally attached to every nuanced moment or every cadence in a bit player’s delivery of their only line of dialogue that has managed to entrench itself in popular culture.  It is his creation, and he sees it with the eye not of a kid playing make-believe lightsaber, but of a craftsman where every compromised choice made under pressure of deadline and lack of resources sticks out like a hangnail on an otherwise relatively satisfactory manicure.  Lucas himself has said that “works of art are never completed, they’re only abandoned.”  It’s the same feeling that for those of us who are aspiring writers leads us to tweak endlessly, thinking that every nip and tuck of text brings us inexorably closer to that critical moment when the manuscript will be “ready” – an undefined day that lingers in an unreachable fog.

In the decades since the first Star Wars, we have entered an era where art has become communal – a shared experience where millions of others can take art, bend it, shape it, smash it to bits and reassemble the pieces, with varying degrees of skill and success.  Aside from the many mainstream Hollywood homages to and ripoffs of Star Wars, there is a Library of Congress’ worth of amateur art and fiction out there that draws inspiration from Lucas’ universe.  Indeed, whatever you are into, chances are someone who didn’t originate it and has no connection with those who did has either written about it, made a video about it, performed a song about it, drawn a picture of it or, eye-rollingly, made porn of it (see “Rule 34 of the Internet”).  We live under the impression that once art has been released, it belongs to everyone.  It is the hope of every artist, no matter how hipster they claim to be, that what they have created will be embraced by a large following.  It truly is a cry into the night hoping for a reply.  The ultimate measure of success then is to affix oneself into the zeitgeist as Lucas has done.  Star Wars has grown beyond him and become a force – pardon the pun – unto itself.  Much as the people of a country react poorly to proposed changes to their centuries-old constitutions, voices rise in anger – mostly in the form of Internet chatter – when George wants to smooth out what he sees as the rough edges in his work.  It doesn’t matter if we think it’s perfect.  He doesn’t, and no amount of anonymous name-calling will change his mind.  As much as we might hate him for “Jedi Rocks” or blinking Ewoks or Hayden Christensen’s ghost, if it were our creation, our universe, we’d reserve the right to do the same and we’d be frustrated by strangers getting sentimental and enraged about what we see as our flaws and personal failings in our work.  Whatever one may think of the methods or the results, George Lucas is always trying to improve his art, and there’s something noble in him not being willing to think something is just good enough.

Having said all that, I liked it better when Vader chucked the Emperor over the edge in absolute silence.  But that’s just me.

Connery. Sean Connery.

I’ve delved into some serious stuff in my last few posts – fate of humanity and all that.  I thought it was time enough for something a little on the lighter side.  And today’s the perfect day to do it.

Bet you didn’t know that today was “International Talk Like Sean Connery Day.”  In honor of Sir Sean’s 81st birthday, voicemails across the English-speaking world are offering up such bon mots as “Greetingsh.  I’m shorry I can’t take your call thish inshtant,” while the man himself probably relaxes at his Bahamas home with a good stiff drink after a round of golf.  He’s been out of the limelight since 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the throes of whose making upset the actor so much he decided to pack it in.  Interesting story about that movie, was that Connery had turned down roles in both The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings because he didn’t understand them.  When the script for League came along he confessed to not understanding it either, but decided to take the part just in case he might miss out on something spectacular.  Turns out he should have trusted his earlier instincts.

After an almost 50-year career in show business, it’s not like he had anything left to prove.  Coming from a poor background in a suburb of Edinburgh, working jobs like milkman and coffin polisher by day and honing his physique at the gym by night, this lad who his friends called “Big Tam” went in a few short years from one or two-line extra parts in British movies nobody saw to defining masculinity for an era as James Bond – setting a standard that tends to make the toughest of us look like effete pretenders.  He had the sense to walk from Bond before it got ridiculous, when he could still manage to carve out a career for himself in different roles, although some of those 70’s movies of his really haven’t aged well (and if you don’t believe me, try sitting through Zardoz.)  Artistic recognition came for him with his Oscar for The Untouchables, and he managed to get in a great line in his acceptance speech:  “I first appeared here thirty years ago… Patience is a virtue!”  Oddly enough it was the period that followed that offered up his most popular movies since the Bond days – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock – each a runaway boxoffice smash with Connery headlining the movie poster.

As the director Nicholas Meyer tells it, there are two kinds of actors in the movies.  There are those actors who pretend that they are the people they are playing, and actors who make you think the people they are playing are like them.  Someone like Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into his character (does anybody outside his immediate family know what Daniel Day-Lewis is really like?) while Sean Connery is always Sean Connery.  And that’s not a bad thing.  It’s patently ridiculous that a Soviet submarine captain should speak with a Scottish accent, but we buy it because of the presence of the man.  We like spending a few hours with him.  As men, he makes us want to stand taller, to puff out our chest and to stare down every challenge with unflappable swagger.  The old “men want to be him, women want to be with him” tagline rings true.  Go on – put on one of the old Bonds and see if you don’t find yourself walking a little differently after it’s done.

So here’s a good tumbler of Lagavulin to you, Sir Sean… hope your 81st finds you in good health and a few strokes under par.  We miss you, but thanksh for all the memoriesh.

The tragedy of Amy Winehouse

I didn’t know Amy Winehouse.  I wasn’t really a fan of Amy Winehouse.  I had only a tangential interest in Amy Winehouse, inasmuch as I knew that she sang “Rehab,” had a strange hairdo and made news for drinking, drugs and getting into a lot of trouble.  That would probably be a common answer if you asked any dozen people on the street to describe her.  So the news of her sudden death at the age of 27 this past Saturday would not come as a great surprise either.  She joins the pantheon of musicians unravelled by their demons – Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley.  What stands Amy Winehouse apart from this crowd is how her downward spiral became the focus of her fame.  Despite her talent, entire forests were whacked to instead provide embarrassing photos and salacious accounts of somebody who was clearly suffering a great deal – so much so that the sanctimonious among us can now say smugly, “it was only a matter of time.”

The first time I ever received morphine was during a brief hospitalization for a collapsed lung.  I remember thinking as the sensation of euphoria washed over me and cleansed away the pain, “ah, this is why people do drugs.”  (Clearly a world-changing revelation from a naïve 21-year-old who barely drank and never even tried a cigarette.)  Despite the morphine experience, I don’t have an addictive personality.  Most of us don’t, which is why we love jumping all over the latest celebrity drug abuse scandal.  It is incomprehensible to a non-addict where this need to smoke, drink or inject chemicals into one’s body for a temporary “high” comes from.  Things just can’t possibly be that bad, we say.  Just don’t take the stuff.  A lot of misguided drug policy has been formulated from this morally superior perch, because our brains aren’t wired the way an addict’s brain is.  And with a lack of understanding comes a lack of empathy.

Addiction, like any mental illness, is still a stigma.  If people don’t look like anything is wrong with them, then it’s assumed that they are perfectly fine.  People missing limbs, people wasting away from AIDS, people who have suffered disfiguring injuries are regularly celebrated as heroes, resolute in the face of their challenges.  But most mental illnesses are still equated with weakness, or worse, turned into punchlines.  Someone with bipolar disorder who needs to have regular electroshock therapy is viewed as “crazy,” much less courageous than the stalwart woman fighting breast cancer.  And raising money to fight addiction and mental illness isn’t as politically sexy as other diseases because many of the people who suffer from them are often viewed as the undesirables of society – far too often winding up in prison instead of treatment.

The tabloids loved to kick Amy Winehouse when she was down, which seemed to be regularly.  Plenty of stories ran earlier this year about her cancelling concerts, appearing incoherent and slurring her words on stage.  “Winehouse Behaving Badly” was no longer news – it was just expected.  Not having known her personally, I can’t attest to what was going on in her life, what kind of person she was, how she treated those around her.  All I know is that she didn’t get the help she needed in time, and her parents have now lost a daughter.  And I can’t help wondering if she had suffered a more visible illness, might she have garnered more sympathy?  If she’d died of leukemia or ALS, would people be saying, as was overheard in my office today, “well, she was clearly headed that way”?

Suffering doesn’t always come with a limp or a scar.  We need to stop assuming everyone with an addiction or a mental illness is crazy, or that it is something to be scorned.  It’s difficult to watch someone self-destruct, as it must have been for those closest to Amy Winehouse.  It’s harder still to continue to be there for them, to not let them go, to fight against the stigma and the public perception and the belief that it’s their weakness.  But we can’t let ourselves do any less.  Love is, after all, the most important part of Rehab.