52 weeks – 19 May, 2013

Book

Love Anthony-coverLove Anthony, by Lisa Genova. Genova is the author of Still Alice, a book about a woman developing Alzheimer’s disease and Left Neglected, about a woman with a brain injury.

Love Anthony takes on autism. I think it’s an extremely successful novel in its own right, in addition to shedding light on an often misunderstood medical  condition (which seems to be Genova’s chosen niche). Alternating chapters tell the stories of Olivia and Beth and then we also get chapters from the point of view of Anthony, Olivia’s son. As far as I with my limited knowledge of autism can tell, Anthony is a realistic creation. The chapters from his point of view describe the behaviour that we observe in autistic people and Genova makes some well-educated guesses at how the mind behind the behaviour works. For Anthony, order and calm are critically important. The clash between his world and the well-meaning attempts from people outside it to connect with him are poignant. But Olivia and Beth are also rounded characters with lives that intersect with Anthony’s in different ways.

MOVIE

Take This Waltz-PosterTake This Waltz, directed by Sarah Polley—her second directing stint after Away From Her.

The story is based on a far from unusual situation: Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) have been married five years and she becomes attracted to Daniel (Luke Kirby), an artist neighbour. The film transcends the simple plot because the characters are offbeat and the situations are quirky.

Michelle Williams gives a great performance as a woman who is happy and comfortable in her relationship with Lou but is sometimes aware that something is missing in her life, a common enough situation. Then she is blindsided by a sudden, uncontrollable passion for Daniel. We in the audience watch as she struggles with her mixed emotions. We know she is eventually going to succumb, and we know it’s not going to end well.

The music works well. Leonard Cohen’s Closing Time is perfect as a background to the big, noisy, family party. You will not get The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star out of your head for a long time. And Leonard Cohen’s Take This Waltz provides the melancholy, dreamy feel that is ideal for the montage in Daniel’s apartment, whether the scenes are intended as things that actually happen or as Margot’s anticipation of the life she will live.

I never understood the movie’s colour palette: saturated red, yellow and turquoise, but it and the old-style houses of Toronto’s Little Portugal district create a retro feel.

The supporting cast—Lou’s big, noisy family—is strong, especially Sarah SIlverman as Lou’s sister.

Food

Blueberry pancakesBlueberry pancakes for Mothers’ Day. Served, as is traditional in our household, with sausages, maple syrup, whipped cream, and fruit. This year, bourbon-infused maple syrup was also an option.

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52 weeks – 14 April, 2013

Book

Her Majest's Spymaster - coverHer Majesty’s Spymaster, by Stephen Budiansky. The concept of the book is interesting: it’s the life of Sir Francis Walsingham during the period he was mired in the intrigues surrounding Elizabeth I. The book is full of well-supported historical details of codes cracked, plots foiled, double agents managed, and perpetrators brought to justice (the fast and ruthless justice of the sort meted out in that period, anyway). Walsingham prospered in spite of the difficulties of supporting a ruler as capricious as Elizabeth, who did not always act on good advice and who never wanted to be seen making unpopular decisions.

I didn’t find it an easy book to read: partly because of the not-entirely-chronological structure and partly because of the density of detail. However, it helps a lot with an understanding of this period of English history. Walsingham is described as the first spymaster — maybe we can think of him as the head of an early combination of MI5 and MI6.

Movie

The Game-posterThe Game: a movie from 1997. It’s escapist fun. Nicholas van Orton (Michael Douglas) is an investment banker in his late forties: driven, married to his work, and clearly not having any fun. His younger brother, played by Sean Penn, gives him a 48th birthday present: a gift certificate for a game. Sceptical and dismissive at first, van Orton eventually goes to the company headquarters of Consumer Recreation Services to redeem the voucher. Here you have to start suspending disbelief, as he endures lengthy psychological questionnaires and undergoes a physical examination, all without knowing what it is for.

Then the game begins: strange things start to happen in his life. Again, you question whether you’re willing to invest some belief in the story. At this point, you will either eject the disk and do something else or settle back with a beverage and tell your analytical side to take a break. If you’re willing to do that, you may find it an enjoyable movie. There are gaping holes in the plot but the visuals are well done, the supporting actors are strong, and there are some interesting twists along the way.

Food

Pastries at Thomas HaasCoffee and pastries on the patio at Thomas Haas on Broadway in Vancouver. Each year, the first few times you eat outside on a sunny spring day make the months of grey skies and rain recede rapidly into dim memories.

52 weeks – 7 April, 2013

Book

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 10.10.26 PME. M. Forster: A Life, by P. N. Furbank. This is a book so stuffed with names and dates and facts that the casual reader like me is inclined to start skimming. I believe it is considered a valuable resource for the serious Forster scholar and it gives you lots of period detail, but I was just looking for a little more information to fill out my picture of the author. There is both lots more, in terms of the minutiae, and not much, in terms of getting a real sense of the man. He seems to have been wistful, timid, and more of an observer than a participant — although he travelled, in Europe, India, and Egypt, and had many friends and acquaintances, both in the literary world and outside of it. We now know that he was a closeted homosexual but presumably only a chosen few of his contemporaries knew about that. He spent much of his life hoping for a fulfilling love and physical relationship and never having enough of either.

Ironically, in his writing Forster demonstrates that he has learned a great deal about people’s emotional lives, though perhaps more about the sorrows than the joys. Hypocrisy and repression are recurring themes, as are the social tensions and racial tensions of the period. Not surprisingly, you learn more about his inner self through reading his novels than you do through reading whom he had dinner with and what he wrote to his mother.

Movie

Chronos - posterChronos, by Ron Fricke. This is a short (less than an hour) film of abstract landscapes and cityscapes filmed with time-lapse cameras to show both the passage of time and the play of light and shade. The scenery ranges from Egyptian pyramids and statuary to a busy street in an unnamed city. The movie has no soundtrack other than the music (composed by Michael Stearns). It is hypnotic and beautiful. You can gaze at it and be transported into a strangely peaceful state.

Fricke was the cinematographer on Koyaanisqatsi, which employed similar effects. He later made Sacred Site and Baraka.

Food

Tea and cookiesTea in my yellow cup and lemon cookies on my little square red plate. The tomatoes and apples just happened to fit right in with this colour palette.

52 weeks – 17 March, 2013

Book

Alys, Always - coverAlys, Always, by Harriet Lane. What a find! Harriet Lane is a superb writer. Reviews have likened her to Ruth Rendell, but I find that a bit misleading. Although Lane has the psychological insights of Ruth Rendell (when she is writing as Barbara Vine), this novel is not a mystery. It is a spellbinding story about a character, Frances, who initially seems very ordinary but who develops in some surprising ways. Frances starts out as an unreliable narrator, but as we get to know and understand her we can see which way things might go.

When the novel opens, Frances is driving. I was pulled right in by the atmosphere conjured up on the first page:

It’s shortly after six o’clock on a Sunday evening. I’m sure of the time because I’ve just listened to the headlines on the radio.

Sleet spatters the windscreen. I’m driving through low countryside, following the occasional fingerpost toward the A road and London. My headlights rake the drizzle, passing their silver glow over gates and barns and hedgerows, the ‘closed’ signs hung in village shop windows, the blank muffled look of houses cloistered against the winder evening. Very few cars are out. Everyone is at home, watching TV, making supper, doing the last bits of homework before school tomorrow.

I’ve taken the right fork out of Imberly, past the white rectory with the stile. The road opens up briefly between wide exposed fields before it enters the forest. In summer, I always like this part of the drive: the sudden, almost aquatic chill of the green tunnel, the sense of shade and stillness. It makes me think of Milton’s water nymph, combing her hair beneath the glassy cool translucent wave. But at this time of year, at this time of day, it’s just another sort of darkness. Tree trunks flash by monotonously.

Frances glimpses a light off to the side and is first on the scene of an accident. She does the right thing, staying by the injured woman’s side until emergency services arrive.

Later we discover that the accident was fatal. The dead woman is Alys Kyte, wife of Laurence Kyte, an author. Frances is on the lowest career rung at a publishing house, so when she hears about this her interest is piqued. The family asks to meet her to help them come to terms with the tragedy. And so the die is cast.

No one has asked me how long I’m planning to stay.

I’ve taken possession of this room. My clothes are lying in modest piles in the chest of drawers, on top of crackly sheets of ancient wrapping paper; or hanging in the wardrobe, suspended between cedar balls and lavender bags from which all scent has long since departed. I know the names of the books — their old covers bleached to palest greens or pinks by the endless cycle of summers — lined up on the shelf. I know that in the mornings the sun lies across the bed in a big gold slice. I know there’s a chip in the Blue Italian ewer that stands in its matching basin upon the windowsill, and if you angle it just so, no-one would ever notice.

In the mornings, I lie in bed and listen to the quietness outside: birdsong, wind easing through long grass.

I’m always the first to get up. I like the sensation of being alone downstairs, wandering through empty rooms while everyone else sleeps on.  In the mornings, I pass through the house and make it mine, pulling curtains, straightening cushions, collecting glasses, unlocking the doors onto the terrace and stepping outside with a cup of tea.

There is a subtle sense of unease below the surface as Frances edges her way into the lives of the Kytes.

The writing is a delight. I am hoping for lots more from Harriet Lane.

Movie

Searching for Sugar Man - posterSearching for Sugar Man. I first heard about this documentary on the (highly recommended) 23 Thorns blog in February of this year. Somehow I missed hearing about the movie when it was released in 2012, even though it won many awards. But — no problem, because you can now get the DVD through the library.

What a story! A blue collar worker in Detroit made two albums back in the seventies. While critically acclaimed by a number of music lovers, they sank without trace in the wider market. He experienced some success in Australia but not enough to alter the course of his life. Jesus/Sixto Rodriguez went back to working construction and along the way raised a family.

In the meantime, the albums became best sellers in South Africa. They sold at least half a million legal copies and of course there were many more illegal copies passed around. Rodriguez was a legend. But nobody ever went looking for him because it was believed that he had killed himself at the end of a concert in the U.S.

In the late nineties, some South African fans found Rodriguez and convinced him to return for some sold-out concerts. And then came the movie.

His voice is memorable and unmistakable. Here is Sugar Man.

Food

Black Bear yam friesI am on a quest to find the perfect yam fries.

Well, perhaps “quest” is putting it a bit strongly. Really, I am just interested in consuming enormous quantities of delicious yam fries.

These are the latest to achieve my award of excellence. They are served at the Black Bear neighbourhood pub in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver. They are soft inside and crunchy outside and come pre-seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper. The chipotle mayo is perfect.

Also receiving the award this month: the comparable yam fries at Havana Restaurant on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

52 weeks – 10 March, 2013

Book

The Dovekeepers - coverThe Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman. This is a big, sweeping book set in the Middle East, in the year 70 C.E. It tells the story of four unusual women who arrive in separate ways at Masada, a mountain in the desert, after Jerusalem has fallen to the Romans. Nine hundred Jews are besieged there for many months by a Roman legion.

The four women are: Jael, the daughter of an assassin and a mother who died giving birth to her; Revka, the baker’s widow; Aziza, who has been raised as a boy and has the skill of a warrior; and Shirah, a wise woman who is revered and feared for her witch-like skills.

The language of the book is heavily poetic and Biblical in tone, which works for this story of mysticism, violence, love and loss. Here is Jael as she was growing up:

When I became a woman, I had no mother to tell me what to do with the blood that came with the moon or escort me to the mikvah, the ritual bath that would have cleansed me with a total immersion into purity.  The first time I bled I thought I was dying until an old woman who was my neighbour took pity on me and told me the truth about women’ monthly cycles. I lowered my eyes as she spoke, shamed to be told such intimate details by a stranger, not quite believing her, wondering why our God would cause me to become unclean. Even now I think I might have been right to tremble in fear on the day that I first bled. Perhaps my becoming a woman was the end for me, for I had been born in blood and deserved to be taken from life in the same way.

I didn’t bother to ring my eyes with kohl or rub pomegranate oil onto my wrists. Flirtation was not something I practiced, nor did I think myself attractive. I didn’t perfume my hair but instead wound the plaits at the nape of my neck, then covered my head with a woolen shawl of the plainest fabric I could find. My father addressed me only when he summoned me to bring his meal or wash his garments. By then I had begin to realize what it was that he did when he slipped out to meet with his cohorts at night. He often wrapped a pale gray cloak around his shoulders, one that was said to have been woven from the strands of a spider’s web. I had touched the hem of the garment once. It was both sinister and beautiful, granting its wearer the ability to conceal himself. When my father went out, he disappeared, for he had the power to vanish while he was still before you.

I think The Dovekeepers could have been edited more tightly. The historical detail is at times spelled out at unnecessary length. Sometimes Hoffman tells us what we should be feeling rather than letting us feel it for ourselves. And the hushed tone of awe and mystery and portent occasionally gets a bit much. But, all in all, it is a worthwhile read and brings to life the historical facts of the fall of Jerusalem and the siege of Masada.

Music/Movie

Heat and Dust - DVD coverHeat and Dust is a Merchant Ivory production from 1983, based on the book by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Olivia (Greta Scacchi in her first major role), the new wife of Douglas, a colonial administrator, is bored by the life she is condemned to lead with the other memsahibs in Satipur in the 1920s. The other British expatriates are older and unsympathetic. The exception is Harry Hamilton-Paul (Nickolas Grace), an amusing companion who spends a lot of time at the palace of the Nawab (Shashi Kapoor), a charming scoundrel who is suspected of being behind various abuses of power and massacres.

Soon, Olivia is also spending time with the Nawab, thereby shocking both the other expatriates and the women of the Nawab’s palace. Olivia becomes fascinated by the India she sees under the tutelage of Harry and the Nawab. She has an affair with the Nawab and inevitably becomes pregnant, setting off an epic scandal. And then — she disappears.

I think this story could stand on its own; however, there is a parallel story set in the 1970s. Anne, Olivia’s great-niece, has come to India to investigate what happened to her great-aunt. Anne, played by Julie Christie, also eventually comes under the spell of India and takes an Indian lover. But there is obviously less shock value in the later story, so it is not as compelling. Anne’s tracking down what happened to Olivia is the interesting part here.

The colonial world of the Twenties is beautifully evoked, as is the feeling of the heat and dust that seem to echo the emotionally choked atmosphere. The Nawab is a bit of a caricature of an Indian prince and I didn’t see any real connection between him and Olivia, so their eventual affair wasn’t convincing to me. Greta Scacchi, however, is perfect in the role of the restless, bored young wife.

Food

StrawberriesLike most people who enjoy food, for many years I wouldn’t buy summer fruit out of season. It was always worth waiting for the short sweet local produce season.

For some things, that has changed in the last couple of years. The strawberries that used to be large and beautiful but tasteless are now more likely to be delicious and to give you that succulent taste of summer early in the year. Whatever dubious laboratory farming methods have achieved this, I am currently content to just accept the results as a bonus. And, after all, we may have one of those very brief local strawberry seasons again this year: last year, you would have missed it if you blinked. I think that’s enough rationalizing — let’s get out the vanilla ice-cream.

These are Driscoll organic strawberries from California.

52 weeks – 30 December, 2012

Book

Flight Behavior coverHaving enjoyed The Lacuna so much back in September, I was keen to read Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Flight Behavior. The setting and the characters are entirely different, but once again you are quickly immersed in a believable world. This time, Kingsolver gives us  the lives of poor farm families living in her native Appalachia (specifically, rural Tennessee) and the life-changing disruptions they experience after the outside world descends on them.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a young woman living a stifling life with her unimaginative husband Cub and their two children. Cub is willing to have his life controlled by his parents Bear and Hester; Dellarobia is less so but she goes with the flow for a number of years until she can no longer tolerate it.

In the early chapters, Dellarobia’s day-to-day life is pieced together like a quilt: childcare, work on the farm, dealing with her sharp-tongued mother-in-law, finding bargains at the outlet and second-time-around stores.  She finds Cub’s slowness and his acceptance of the limitations of their lives frustrating. Her one relief is getting together with her friend from high school, Dovey:

Dovey lived ten minutes away in a duplex owned by her brother in what passed for suburban Feathertown. This morning, she’d helped Dellarobia knock off a pile of year-end tax documents and two loads of laundry, with more to go, plus the deconstruction of the weird Christmas tree, which made the kids whiny …

Suddenly, Cub was at the back door, calling out from the kitchen. “Hon, do you know where my keys are at?”

Dellarobia bugged her eyes at the mirror. “No more sex till he quits ending every sentence with a preposition.”

Dovey crooned, “Do you know where my truck keys are at, bitch?”

“What’s funny?” he asked from the bedroom doorway. His face was unreadable, backlit as he was from the bright living room, but Dellarobia could see in his posture the reluctance to enter their zone. Cub was a little afraid of Dovey and herself in tandem, a fact she felt bad about but would never change. Their communal disloyalties were like medicine: bitter and measured, life-prolonging.

“You going over to Bear and Hester’s?” she asked. His key ring was on the dresser. She reached to toss them and he caught them out of the air one-handed, chank. He was surprisingly coordinated for someone who moved through the world as if underwater.

Dellarobia is the first to witness a fiery miracle that turns out to be millions of monarch butterflies changing their overwintering habitat owing to changes attributed to global warming. She seizes the opportunity to learn when scientists arrive on their doorstep and the biologist, Ovid Byron, puts her to work. He also, not surprisingly, starts to figure largely in her fantasies.

Kingsolver’s Author’s Note gives us information about the facts that inspired the background of the novel:

In February 2010, an unprecedented rainfall brought down mudslides and catastrophic flooding on the Mexican mountain town of Angangueo. Thirty people were killed and thousands lost their homes and livelihoods. To outsiders, the town was mainly known as the entry point for visitors to the spectacular colonies of monarch butterflies that overwinter nearby. The town is rebuilding, and the entire migratory population of North American monarchs still returns every autumn to the same mountaintops in central Mexico. The sudden relocation of these overwintering colonies to southern Appalachia is a fictional event that has occurred only in the pages of this novel.

Solar coverCoincidentally, the next book to hand also has global warming as a background theme — Solar, by Ian McEwan.

McEwan’s characters are often unlikeable but the richness of detail makes them three-dimensional and believable. Michael Beard is a physicist: he is a womanizer, a Nobel Prize winner, overweight, amoral, quick-witted. After becoming the head of the National Centre for Renewable Energy on the outskirts of Reading in England, Beard is coasting. He is sidetracked into concentrating on wind turbines for domestic use, although he is not excited about the project. He is resentful that his post-docs do not seem as respectful as they should be:

In all this time, not one of the six post-docs moved on to a better-paid job at Caltech or MIT. In a field crammed with prodigies of all sorts, their CVs were exceptional. For a long while Beard, who always had face-recognition problems, especially with men, could not, or chose not to, tell them apart. They ranged in age from twenty-six to twenty-eight and all stood above six feet. Two had ponytails, four had identical rimless glasses, two were called Mike, two had Scots accents, three wore coloured string around their wrists, all wore faded jeans and trainers and tracksuit tops …

And none of these young men appeared as much in awe of Michael Beard, Nobel laureate, as he thought they should. Clearly, they knew of his work, but in meetings they referred to it in passing, parenthetically, in a dismissive mumble, as though it had long been superseded, when in fact the opposite was true, the Beard-Einstein Conflation was in all the textbooks, unassailable, experimentally robust …

But it was worse than that. Some of the physics which they took for granted was unfamiliar to him. When he looked it up at home, he was irritated by the length and complexity of the calculations. He liked to think he was an old hand and knew his way around string theory and its major variants. But these days there were simply too many add-ons and modifications.

After a series of events including a domestic tragedy, Beard starts to use the work of one of the post-docs as his own. It’s all about solar energy now, specifically photosynthesis, and Beard works towards putting on a convincing demonstration in New Mexico. But past events, a lifetime of making bad health choices, and a lifetime of making bad choices in his private life are coming back to haunt him. It’s an entertaining read, with some compelling and convincing scientific background and lots of examples of the ways in which humans mess up for reasons of greed.

Food

Raspberry macaronsThe most heavenly sweet treats I have had lately are the macarons from Thomas Haas. It’s hard to pick a favourite flavour, but I think raspberry is the current front runner. Intense raspberry butter cream sandwiched between light almond meringues — a blissful combination.

Movie

Broken Wings DVD coverBroken Wings is an Israeli-made movie about a family coming to grips with the loss of its husband and father. The mother, Dafna, works hard at a local hospital and unintentionally neglects her children. The older son, Yair, has dropped out and spends his days wandering around town in a mouse costume, presumably being paid to advertize a restaurant. 17-year-old Maya is a singer/composer. She hopes to get a hearing from a talent scout but is constantly being called on to look after her younger siblings, Ido and Bahr. The family is deeply dysfunctional and it seems inevitable that disaster will strike again soon.

It takes a close brush with tragedy to change anything, but the family does cohere better by the end of the film.

Refreshingly, the characters are ordinary-looking, with an absence of Hollywood glitz and veneer. There is an attraction between Dafna (Orly Silbersatz Banai) and Dr. Valentin Friedman (Vladimir Friedman) and it appears they may share more of a relationship in the future but  there is no speedy romance — again, non-Hollywood, which is all to the good.

52 weeks – 2 December, 2012

Book

The Casual VacancyI finally picked up The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. I hadn’t been in a hurry to read it, because some of the early reviews had made me think of the term “faint praise.” Some people (American critics, in particular) didn’t seem to know quite what to make of it.

I enjoyed it a lot by the end, but it took a little while to get into it and to get a sense of the many and complex characters. The book definitely lives up to its billing as a tragicomedy. It’s set in England’s West Country, in a small town called Pagford which continually attempts to set itself apart from the dilapidated council estate known as “the Fields;” in fact, there is a move afoot to have the parish boundaries redrawn.

Local council politics heat up after the sudden death of parish councillor Barry Fairbrother. There is plenty of scope for drama with this rich cast of characters: in the competition for the vacant seat and the revelations that accompany it; in the marriages; and in the painful relationships among the high school students and between them and their parents.

The humour is often black or, more precisely, Rowling employs a specific kind of British humour. The only way I can think to describe it is that it assumes understanding of the varied kinds of lives lived and attitudes held in the United Kingdom (very similar in many ways but importantly not identical to those of a similar set of households in North America) and a certain wry attitude on the part of the reader.

The portrayal of small town life is anything but sentimental. You get the impression that Rowling sees a lot of the dark side of human nature, though she also shows multifaceted views of each of her characters. No one is entirely admirable, but few are irredeemably bad. Rowling doesn’t shy away from portraying drugs, prostitution, and various kinds of abuse as well as a sort of flexible, situation-dependent morality that seems to flourish in the middle class.

Samantha was jammed so tightly between Miles and Maureen that she could feel Maureen’s sharp hip joint pressing into her flesh on one side and the keys in Miles’ pocket on the other. Furious, she attempted to secure herself a centimeter or so more room, but neither Miles nor Maureen had anywhere else to go, so she stared straight ahead, and turned her thoughts vengefully to Vikram, who had lost none of his appeal in the month or so since she had last seen him. He was so conspicuously, irrefutably good-looking, it was silly; it made you want to laugh. With his long legs and his broad shoulders, and the flatness of his belly where his shirt tucked into his trousers, and those dark eyes with the thick black lashes, he looked like a god compared to other Pagford men, who were so slack and pallid and porky. As Miles leaned forward to exchange whispered pleasantries with Julia Fawley, his keys ground painfully into Samantha’s upper thigh, and she imagined Vikram ripping open the navy wrap dress she was wearing, and in her fantasy she had omitted to put on the matching camisole that concealed her deep canyon of cleavage …
The organ stops creaked and silence fell, except for a soft persistent rustle. Heads turned: the coffin was coming up the aisle.
The pallbearers were almost comically mismatched: Barry’s brothers were both five foot six, and Colin Wall, at the rear, six foot two, so that the back end of the coffin was considerably higher than the front. The coffin itself was not made of polished mahogany, but of wickerwork.

It’s a bloody picnic basket!, thought Howard, outraged.

Food

GlenfarclasThere is nothing like moist, rich fruit cake with a glass of 17-year-old Glenfarclas.  Shortbread and butter tarts are not bad with it, either.

This was post-Scotch-tasting. Also tasted: an Auchentoshan 12 year, a Bruichladdich 4x (with no barrel time and therefore colourless), a 10-year-old Bruichladdich, a Port Charlotte 9 year (59%), and an Octomore 5 year (64%). An evening of bliss ensued, followed by a rather quiet time the following day.

Movie

Skyfall posterNow that we have discovered the VIP movie theatre experience (assigned seating, wider leather seats, leg room, tables between the seats for snacks delivered by servers, not to mention the bar next door), it is rather tempting to never go back to the hassle of the average, uncomfortable movie theatre. Of course, it costs more and it is further away from home. But I notice fewer noisy groups, which has to be worth a little extra.

So, Skyfall. It’s the third time Daniel Craig has played Bond. In Skyfall, he is older and wearier and much less inclined to the classic Bond double entendres and man-of-the-world posing.

Nevertheless, the opening chase scene is as over the top as ever, with Bond sprinting and leaping, falling, crashing, and being viciously hit, punched and kicked just before a fresh bout of sprinting, leaping, and hanging on by his fingernails in a way that is presumably just routine for spies at his pay grade. When we watch a Bond, we are wise to suspend disbelief and just go with the flow. It’s a little odd, though, when Bond plays it straight, as he and Judi Dench do in all of their scenes together.

By contrast, the villain, played by Javier Bardem, is the usual over-the-top caricature of an evil, twisted mastermind who spends a lot of time talking about the hideous revenge he is going to unleash. Eventually. The new Q, played by Ben Whishaw, is entertaining. Eve (Naomie Harris), who is a hardworking agent at the beginning of the movie, is a far more interesting Bond Girl than the fragile, damaged Severine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), but she seems to take a demotion at the end as an excuse for a very brief scene with Bond.

The verdict: two hours and twenty-three minutes of entertaining escapism.