Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I learned something from my son the other day that I suppose I taught him, but one forgets and needs reminding from time to time. It is thus: Don't give up. You may not get what you want, but the discoveries on the road of action? (If I were a copywriter, here's where the million-dollar phrase would be "priceless" but Homie don't work for an ad agency, fortunately. At the moment, I do my saturnine satire for free.)

Here's how it shook down: Faithful readers of BlaiserBlog already know about the Weekend Bond Film Fest with Benjamin. I thought it had come to a close, having cycled through all the PG-rated Bond films. Au contraire.

Benjamin (completely unlike his father!) is a negotiator. Like the smart little colt that he is, he's learned the benefits of testing the fence for weaknesses and how to get a few extra oats of opportunity. That day, the schedule included tennis, shopping, library, film-of-some-type, dinner, ice-cream parlor--killer day for a Third Grader. Pretty sweet for adults, too.

I had been hoping for a film at the library, as NetFlix was in transit and I hate giving money to Blockbuster, where they are unctuous and have erected a gauntlet of super-sized candy bars on the way to the cashier--an obesity-encouraging toll plaza, where small is huge and Third-Grader-inappropriate DVDs play in the background. Curses: Weekend library hours...not so much. With better planning, I could have avoided the dastardly chain whose very name embodies what I think is wrong with the country. (If someone opens a video chain called "Humility," however, I'm totally there. We could line the aisles with organic local produce. Bill & Melinda, take note.)

At Blockbuster, they've reorganized their action flicks alphabetically by title, so naturally, I find all the Bond movies together under the character name Bond (ahem), and Benjamin longingly flips through the PG-13 titles that I've placed under the verboten status. The Living Daylights is one that he's had his eye on, and when he flips over the DVD case, low-and-behold, it's PG. "Daddy!! I can see this one," he crowed. This day just improved a notch. If I have to give Blockbuster $5, at least it's for another Bond.

So we navigate the outrageous snacks and when we get to the cashier, the bomb drops: The guy shakes his head--this must be one of the empty cases that a worker mistakenly shelved...Brickbouncer keeps the actual DVDs in the actual cases, unlike the library, or video places that pull your selection from behind the counter. But no.... that would be too simple...the guy explains that it even though there is a DVD in the case, Bombbreaker cannot rent it to us -- something about the computer not recognizing the bar code. Benjamin will not be deterred. "There's another one," he breathlessly calls out, and scoots back to the Action section. They have additional cases without the official movie art on the cover, just generic typography of the film title, but I've never seen one that wasn't just a placeholder. Triumphant, Benjamin arrives with cinematic grail in his fist, and sure enough, another DVD, this time whose right to exist is digitally recognized. Hallelujah--the Bond canon has not yet fired its last parental-guided shot.

Benjamin's diligence prevailed, and the guy at Blockbuster was actually very pleasant. For an encore, my boy traded his ice-cream visit in favor of bumping the showtime up two hours--before the shopping trip rather than after. And you know what? Timothy Dalton wasn't such a bad Bond after all. Also I had forgotten all about the hilarious ski-resort escape, as Bond and Bond-Girl-Du-Semaine Maryam d'Abo toboggan across the Slovak-Austrian border on a Stradivari cello. Additional fun comes in the form of John Rys-Davis as Russian General Pushkin, whom Bond respects but is ordered to kill, and franchise utility man Joe Don Baker, who's a bad guy in this one, but turns up as a good guy assisting Pierce Brosnan's Bond in the 90s.

I continue to question, a bit, whether these films are too violent. But Benjamin, nearly 9, is already throwing and catching strikes in organized baseball, and further, knows comedy when he sees it, and I found myself defining "camp" for him when we talked about it. Also, the filmmakers ride the PG line so well, there's only a few times I've had to cover his eyes. Mostly, he self-censors, routinely scurrying out of the room when the tension builds and someone's demise is imminent, in a one-on-one situation--always demanding that I narrate the action for him. But what he relishes is the 11th-hour Battle Royale, and The Living Daylights has a glorious one--complete with Afghan mujahedin vs. rogue Russians, and Bond scattering $500 million worth of opium out of a transport plane while fighting an Aryan Hit Man dude off the cargo netting at 5000 feet.

Timothy Dalton's Bond is comparatively dovish in this film--twice he ignores orders to kill based on his instinct. We were more lenient in the 80s it seems. Without detente, and with the severely lethal R-rated Daniel Craig pulling the trigger these days, the instinct is to kill more indiscriminately. And twenty years later, now the U.S. is tearing the crap out of the Afghan hills, instead of the Soviets.

Later that night, Benjamin sat in my lap and paged through the World War II coffee-table book I worked on during my time in publishing. He was serious, subdued, and it was clear to me that he understood the difference between largely tongue-in-cheek fantasy secret agents; the playroom wars he dioramas with army guys and Star Wars figures who mount anti-stuffed-animal campaigns; and the terrible reality of what happens when actual old men direct actual young men to kill each other.

Thanks again for reading, and try not to forget that sometimes it takes an Irish undergrad posting a fake French-composer quote to demonstrate to the world that Wikipedia is merely an agreement, not the best source of fact...

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