Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Best of Bond


  *Given that I actually watched Casino Royale about two months ago, well before I started this 007 marathon, some portions of this review will be taken from this review I published at the beginning of the year. Simply because I feel like that review almost perfectly captured my feelings on the movie, which have barely changed since. However, given that part of my objective with this, and with any, big marathon is to update one's views on a movie. Watching all of the 007 movies in release order has given me a unique perspective on them, which extends into Daniel Craig's era as well. So I have written fresh material for this review which delves into my thoughts on how this one stacks up against the others, what it takes from them, what it avoids, and why it's simply... the best.


  In the several year gap between Die Another Day, and Casino Royale, the powers that be decided that Bond would need to go in a different direction. The "Bond formula" so to speak, had become woefully predictable. The movies themselves weren't strong enough to shoulder the weight of the in-your-face innuendo, the incessant bedroom scenes, and the tired utterances of "Bond, James Bond". The very things that were at one point welcome familiarity, had become annoying cliches. With the Dalton movies, we saw the potential for a darker Bond. One that could maintain the image and the trappings of the MI6 agent we all know and love, but without being weighed down and held back by the cliches that were quickly turning into poison for our beloved 007. The Brosnan era movies had glimpses of that potential realized, but squandered it in the end with the laughable Die Another Day. Thus...

  Casino Royale was made. It was both timely, and on the money with it's depiction of James Bond and the world he inhabits. Everything is sharper and no-nonsense. It dispenses with the super-soldier angle of the Brosnan movies and introduces Daniel Craig as a proper, balls-to-bone spy. Not just any spy, but a spy in vein of Sean Connery's 007. The opening of Casino Royale is in black and white, but the more I see it, the more it reminds me of Dr.No. There's a scene in Dr.No where Bond has to shoot a traitor, and he does so in the most coldhearted fashion. All without rising from his chair. Craig manages to pull off an incredibly similar moment in the opening. The scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Craig is an old school spy. He kills in cold blood and can dole out even colder quips without it being funny in the slightest. Like Connery, when Craig quips... it's scary.

  He plays Bond well. Not just the suaveness and the swagger, but the blank stares and the detached attitude too. This is the Bond that movies like License to Kill and Die Another Day teased us with. This Bond is at home in the pervasive silence that briefly reared it's head in The World is Not Enough. Bond is here with vodka martinis and bloodied tuxedos. We see him hurt often, bleeding, and broken. Both physically and emotionally. It's no surprise that it seems emotional pain hurts him worse than anything else the movie throws at him, including a gritty torture scene. Yet Bond is Bond, and this is a 007 movie. It's all here, the beautiful women, the nail biting suspense, the flashy cars, and all his trademarks. What works about Casino Royale is that it mixes the best elements of all the previous Bond movies, in just the right measurements. It's most definitely a proper spy thriller.

  It's plot demands you pay attention almost more than even the action scenes do. Which is a pretty amazing feat considering the action scenes are some of the most grounded and impressive stuff to date in the franchise. From a fantastic multi-tiered foot chase early on, having Bond run down a bomb maker, to an explosive showdown at an airport, and a claustrophobic bloody brawl pitting Bond against two machete-wielding bad guys in a cramped stairwell. It's all insanely intense. It leaves you breathless. You'll notice though, it's not the same brand of action as the previous Bond movies. You won't find this Bond driving a tank through the streets of St. Petersberg, or spouting one liners in the middle of a fight. This is as grounded as it gets. Surprisingly, or not, I can't decide- Bond still works, and better than ever. He didn't need a plethora of gadgets, or several dozen scenes with him machine-gunning the bad guys. He certainly didn't need to bed every female that crossed his path, or make his getaways with a rocket pack.

  Casino Royale is almost a response to movies like The Bourne Identity. Another spy thriller that showed us that quick-thinking and brutality immediately trumps wit and gadgets. There will always be a place for wit and gadgets, but if you rely on them to make your movie, it will end up over-saturating. Which is what happened before Casino Royale. Nevertheless, Casino Royale does right and makes Bond a force of nature. After the most grueling ordeal... he can dust off his dinner jacket, adjust his cuff links, and act like he's only been away- freshening up. Not to say other Bonds haven't been able to pull this off to some extent, but Craig embodies it. What Bond is supposed to be like. Retrofitted for the modern spy game, for modern audiences, and for fans who are only capable of chuckling weakly at in-jokes and puns which have become drier than 007's trademark martini.

  With Casino Royale, we're not introduced to a Bond we've never seen before- only one we've forgotten about. Naysayers argue it's not true to form, yet I'd argue it's the truest. Side by side with Dr.No, they match rhythm so damn well. Bond is not a walking cliche this time. He's a character we're rediscovering as he's being introduced into this lurid mess of shady deals and licenses to kill. He lives and breathes the atmosphere, but he's a bit green. Casino Royale is the movie in which Bond cuts his teeth on. He becomes the 007 we all knew we loved. Which is why, at the end of the movie when the trademark theme slowly creeps up on us and we know what's coming- we're not ready with a weak chuckle, but a sense of excitement and anticipation. "Bond. James Bond." Words that had almost lost their impact, yet the movie behind them this time gives them new energy. Maybe they're not so relevant anymore, maybe people only need a hero like Jason Bourne... but Casino Royale itself is the perfect argument that Bond is still relevant.

  The other essential half of ANY 007 movie is the villain, which is what Dr.No did so well. Mads Mikkelsen plays Le Chiffre. A sinister man who's gravitas is staggering, in the presence of brutal south African war lords and devious socialites who could afford to buy and sell your very life a thousand times over.  His onscreen presence is simply amazing. Sitting across from Bond, merely playing poker, and he somehow manages to be more threatening than a power hungry dictator with his finger on a big red button, wired to something catastrophic no doubt. This is where I am developing a theory... A Bond movie is only good if you could market the entire thing around the villain. I mean... your hero stays the same. More or less, you know what you like, you're already sold. If you can pull off a marketing strategy that focuses almost solely on the villain, then most likely you have a hit. If not... you have a Quantum of Solace. Le Chiffre would steal the entire movie from a lesser character, and Mads would from a lesser actor. Craig and Mikkelsen, Bond and Le Chiffre... they are fierce opponents, more brutal in their methods than any the franchise has seen before.

  Casino Royale updates the character and the franchise for modern times. It does so better than GoldenEye did in the 90's. It recognizes that villains are much more than comic book characters to people in a post 9/11 world. Thus, the stakes are incredibly high, and more is on the line than just money or any one or two lives- but perhaps hundreds and thousands of lives. Because, see, in this universe of 007- it's not so much about a bomb about to go off, or a massive laser orbiting Earth, about to eradicate a whole country... it's about terrorism. Letting a terrorist financier go free would be disastrous, and more or less that's what Le Chiffre is. Those are the stakes. The movie asks us to think ahead, to consider consequences. Not just flashy special effects that blaze across the screen, or allow a car to look invisible.

  A fantastic part of this movie is also how it reminds us about the rest of what makes 007 movies so fun. Exotic locations for example. The movie is nothing short of globe-trotting espionage. It's a broader type of thriller than say... The Bourne Identity. It's not drab or bleak either, lurid for sure. Murder and death follow Bond everywhere. But look at where he goes. The Bahamas, Miami, Montenegro, London- it's all simply fantastic. The locations and the locale are interesting if not at the very least, visually interesting. This is something that's to be loved about the Bond movies. Classic sexy looking beach scenery is a must. Bright clear waters, golden sand, stunning blue skies- and yet... right around the corner someone is bound to get shanked in the back, or thrown out of a moving car, or shot, or punched, or... you get the picture. That sort of juxtaposition is really striking. Beauty with violence. Something 007 has revolved around since it's origins.

  On that note, this time, the Bond Girl so to speak, calls him out on it right away "you think of women as disposable pleasures-" and it's true. He does. So... he's not entirely different from the 007's of olden days. You can tell this is a woman who's not here just because she's pretty. She's not a typical damsel in distress, and she's not the opposite cliche either. She's not the sort to pick up a Kalashnikov alongside him and take out a few baddies. She's a real character, played by a real actress who was picked to be able to emote and bring life to this James Bond. It's funny how that works. Most Bond girls are eye candy, and Bond treats them as such. He's expected to. He's Bond. James Bond. Yet... this time, we have a character who seems like a real woman, and he begins to treat her and react to her like a real person. Someone who maybe shouldn't be called a "Bond Girl". The title is too kitschy for such a character. Bond grows to care about her. A statement that in and of itself seems kitschy, but the movie pulls it off in such a way that the inevitable tragedy that climaxes their relationship will forever shape him into the cold hearted secret agent we all know and cheer for. The difference now? We understand, and dare I say... we sympathize. It's a stone's throw from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but somehow pulls it off so much better.

  Is this too serious and droll for a James Bond movie? Not at all. There are poisoned martinis, car chases, foot chases, shootouts, fist fights (a machete ends up involved no less) and death defying stunts that still manage to make me gasp for air a little bit. Yet we actually care about this man, this... James Bond. Who while is so unlike the cookie cutter cliche his namesake had devolved into, he seems new. Fresh. Yet is on a journey which will make him cold and broken. Yet does that mean he has to be a boring character after this movie? Casino Royale promises: No. Because we can care about this character, and because he's wrapped up in such a well written story, airtight if you will- all the stunts and the action scenes and everything is that much more engaging. And the filmmakers' efforts to keep them somewhat grounded and semi-plausible help create this world that this Bond inhabits. It's not above supervillains, but maybe these supervillains play poker instead of rant about world domination... and maybe they're scarier like that.  Which is why this 007 works so damn well.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Leaves you cold


  The 20th James Bond movie should've been better than this. An all time low for the franchise, Die Another Day was an artificial farce. Full of fake looking CGI and some of the cheesiest moments since Moonraker. Halle Berry was awful, Brosnan wasn't given any good material to work with, and the villain looks like he wrapped himself in Nintendos by the end of the movie. I hardly know where to start, but I guess I'll start with the positives. The opening is... mostly great actually. Aside from the fact that Bond basically shows up as a surf ninja, surfing into enemy territory somewhere in Korea. He has a typical showdown with some bad guys. Stuff blows up. A hovercraft chase ensues over a minefield. Bond wins, bad guys die, he cracks a joke... and then the unthinkable happens. Instead of strutting away into the sunset, he gets captured by enemy troops. Then the opening credits start.

  Woah.

  Bond spends the next year and some odd months in a Korean military prison camp. 14 months of torture and near-death. All over the sizzling opening credits. Which are actually really neat. Even the pop song by Madonna is sorta catchy. The opening credits show Bond's torture and pain complimented quite nicely with in-your-face 'fire and ice' graphics, and scorpions. There's lots of scorpions too. Then he gets shoved in front of a firing squad... only to realize he's being traded for a war criminal named Zhao. No gadgets. No flash escape sequence. No one-liner. Bond is broken, defeated, and looks like hell. This was a fantastic way to introduce us to him again. He could've been a changed man, but no. He sets out to find Zhao and break the world record for most one liners and innuendos per minute. I haven't counted because I value my sanity, but I'm pretty certain he holds the title.

  The movie is relatively fine until Bond goes to Cuba and Halle Berry shows up, playing a character named Jinx? Jynx? Who knows. Who cares. Instantly she manages to be the most annoying person ever seen in a James Bond movie since Sheriff J.W. Pepper. Her lines are poorly written, and her delivery doesn't help. She tries to sound hip and cool but she just sounds like she's reading from a script written by a teenager who's idea of witty innuendo is something like...

Miranda Frost: "-I take it Mr. Bond's been explaining his Big Bang theory?"
Jinx: "Oh yeah, I think I got the thrust of it."

  It's dismal and ridiculous. The movie doesn't go more than a couple seconds without lines like this. But yes, I forgot, positives. Well, the first half an hour or so feels really solid. I was ready to revise my opinion of the movie. It's snappy and enjoyable. Bond grapples with those pesky things called 'feelings' but not for long. It's easier to make puns and whisper about 'getting even'. Which is fine but then Halle Berry shows up and it's all downhill from there. Bad music cues, terrible dialog, and laughable villains are just the tip of the iceberg, and I'm not even trying to make these jokes. Ice, as you might've noticed, plays a big theme in the movie. They seem to have taken a page from Diamonds are Forever, because the villain really has another diamond powered space laser. At one point, everyone is staying in an ice castle. Eventually the space laser slices a chunk of the ice shelf off... leaving Bond to improvise, and surf down some waves. Cue global warming pun. Ugggggh.

  The surfing scene has some of the most groan-worthy CGI ever. It's distracting and silly looking. Video games of the era were looking better than this. It's so hard to take anything seriously in this movie. People get in fights, Bond drives an invisible car- which looks ridiculous. There's lots of lasers and more bad puns and just... I could go on and on. But the sad fact of it, this doesn't even feel like James Bond anymore. It feels like any CGI-filled mid 2000's action movie. Charlie's Angels, xXx, et cetera. It feels generic and flashy. Camera movements snap and zoom and the movie blitz from slow motion into super fast motion. It's such an annoying gimmick, it feels like it belongs in a music video- not a 007 movie.

  Bond is finally a superman. Which is shocking because he's never been more grounded and more human than he was in the beginning of the movie. With no arc whatsoever, he's instantly back to being a wise-cracking ladies man with a martini in his hand. Whoever wrote this one had a serious boner for the Roger Moore era. So much of it is tongue in cheek that the previous movies, asking us to take Bond seriously again have been rendered moot. There's awkward fight scenes that start and end nowhere, lame jokes galore, and the boyish anti-charm of Halle Berry making everything that much more unbearable.  The whole point of revisiting the Bond movies, or any movie for that point, is to reevaluate it. Give it a second chance. Trust me, Die Another Day doesn't deserve that chance. Nor did it deserve to be Pierce Brosnan's last movie.

  I don't think Brosnan ever hit his stride as Bond. He came incredibly close with The World is Not Enough, but it was no cigar. Die Another Day misses the mark by more than a mile. It's occasionally fun, but in a very artificial feeling way. You're very aware of the movie itself and that it's all an elaborately orchestrated mess. You stop caring about the characters, about the plot, and by the time we're at the climax, and the villain is wielding dual Nintendo power gloves... and you just wish it was over. It isn't about to let you off the hook so soon either. The climax goes on and on and on and it's just... so overblown it circles right back around to being boring. Too flashy, too sci-fi, and too bad. It could've been better if they had an iota of restraint and grounded the movie. It's not one I'll ever be watching again so long as I have a say in it. Casino Royale can't come fast enough...

A mixed improvement


  After the trendy Tomorrow Never Dies, I think there was a serious push to add more classic Bond elements back into Bond. The plot was more complex, the movie focused more on Bond's character, and there were strong themes of revenge and betrayal. On that note, it was turning out to be a significantly more mature movie than it's mindlessly slam-bang predecessor. Not that I didn't enjoy Tomorrow Never Dies, it was exciting... but unfortunately it was also very simple in almost every way. The World is not Enough is not that simple, in any regard. It induces quite a fit of head-scratching when you wonder why they undercut their own seriousness with silly antics and antiquated innuendo. Although I'm beginning to think I'm one of the only Bond fans who isn't keen on the excessive innuendo. Alas...

  This movie has the 'spy thriller' feel back in place. Even though it's still a big action adventure, it doesn't quite feel like a Mission: Impossible sequel any longer. It feels like a 90's From Russia With Love, with a large contribution from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Granted, it's nowhere near as good or classic as those two, but it seems to take a page from the book that made those so successful. The World is Not Enough feels personal. From the get go both Bond and M are having to confront death and failures that are very close to them. It's a much more intricate and emotional take on a character who's been nothing but an action figure for a while now. Even though the movie departs from that feeling when it suits itself, the overarching themes hold steadfast.

  The action scenes serve the movie this time, not the other way around. They fold into the ongoing story and serve a purpose. Which is good for a movie that's taken the time to be so thoughtful. The action scenes are more like action sequences in this one. Much like the motorcycle/helicopter chase from the previous movie, the action sequences are creative and don't always involve fifty machine guns and dozens of expendable baddies. Most of the time Bond is trying to escape from some insane situation, pulling if off in the craziest way imaginable. From a high speed fiasco inside an oil pipeline with a nuclear bomb, to a skiing chase involving parahawks and a boat chase through London. The movie is exciting and engaging. More so than it's predecessor, but not entirely.

  The sad fact of the matter is that despite it's complexities and nuances, it's just not that interesting. Nothing really grabbed me about The World is Not Enough. It had good characters, good villains and a devious plot, but it had a completely vapid Bond girl following him around and being rather annoying. With acting so stiff, you'd be forgiven for mistaking her for a special effect. I'm thankful her screentime is limited, but the movie pretends like her and Bond have chemistry, but Bond would have the same chemistry with a plank of wood. It's sad too because I like Denise Richards... but she only really works when everyone is delivering their dialog in the same stilted, artificial way. (i.e. Starship Troopers) Hey, she's easy on the eyes though. She's easily one of the worst Bond girls in the franchise. The poster girl for everything that's wrong with the worst of the Bond girls. She may be a nuclear physicist but she feels so incredibly useless.

  She only seems to be around to wear short skirts and to spout  smart sounding stuff when necessary. Because of all that, it's so hard to believe that she's a nuclear physicist. Which just makes it worse. Having said that, I largely prefer her character, Christmas Jones, to Halle Berry's character in the next movie. I dislike Berry on principle. She doesn't have the look or feel of a proper Bond girl. However, I'll reserve my criticisms of her for the next review. In this movie however, a poignant farewell to Desmond Llewelyn as Q is one of the emotional highlights of the movie, undercut peripherally by his replacement's antics. John Cleese seemed like an ideal person to take over in Desmond's absense as the new Quartermaster, but his entire role here is wasted on the most inane comedy. It's so silly, and if the franchise hasn't learned by now, silly is not good. Thankfully Desmond's own irritable brand of humor outshines Cleese and saves the scene. Q is and always was a joy to watch.

  For all the emotions the movie generates, it ends in typical fashion with Bond getting laid with the Bond girl. It's so inert and hollow, it feels like a throwback to the Roger Moore era. Which... is not good. Having said all that, what The World is Not Enough does right, it does exceptionally right. Among which is the spectacular climax, involving a nuclear submarine sinking with Renard aboard it, ready to blow it up. Bond has to get inside the sinking sub and stop Renard from turning into a gigantic nuclear bomb. It's a great sequence that reminds us that a proper climax doesn't need a huge shootout. It relies more on spectacle and raw thrills instead. What the movie also does right is the other Bond girl, one Elektra King (Sophie Marceau). She plays her role with gusto. A role I don't want to give too much away about, but she's the core of the movie. Her and the villain, Renard (Robert Carlyle) are the two biggest highlights of the movie. You think the movie is primed to follow standard Bond formula, but the story between Renard and Elektra is unique and original. Refreshing enough to outshine the basic plot around them and give the viewer something complex and emotional to chew into.

  Elektra's dynamic with Bond is also quite unique. She ends up being quite the femme fatale, and one who's overly convinced of her charm. Bond responds, showing his cold detachment when it really counts. It ends up being one of the best scenes of the movie. Of which there are many. The World is Not Enough is full to the brim of exciting moments. If it wasn't for the pitfalls this movie gets trapped in, it could have maybe rivaled GoldenEye. It's a strong second regardless, infusing come essential Bond elements back into the franchise and into the character. As a result, Brosnan's Bond feels more complete in this movie than he has in either of the previous two. This is the Bond the 90's needed to make him last into the 2000's. He feels like a fully rounded person, complete with flaws and strengths, and everything needed to make a compelling character. If only the movie itself was as wholly compelling as he was, it would be one of the best.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Trendy, I'm sure.


  James Bond in the 90's never gets old. Well... maybe that's an exaggeration. It feels hopelessly dated this time around. Especially since the bad guy is a media mogul who's entire plot revolves around using his media empire to reach everyone in the world. Something which we take for granted these days with something called the internet. To put it in perspective for you, Tomorrow Never Dies came out in 1997. Google was founded in 1998. The villain's own ambitions would've been squashed in a matter of years with the impending advent of the internet's golden age.  Thus the plot of the movie seems sort of silly. The villain, Elliot Carver (Johnathan Pryce) plans to start a world war just so that he can have exclusive media coverage of it. In this day and age, I should be able to take that more seriously. Unfortunately, I can't. Nevertheless, that's just about one of the only unfortunate things about this entry into the 007 franchise.

  It's hard to say they 'dialed it back' a bit after GoldenEye, but I do believe they did. If only just. There's a scene early on in the movie, which has Bond mingling among socialites, and introducing himself as a banker. This, if anything, is classic Bond. Not that long after, there's a scene where he's recovering from a beating, taking vodka shots and attaching a silencer to his Walther PPK. It's a sullen moment, and has the sort of pervading quietness that GoldenEye was lacking. Brosnan's Bond is at times vulnerable and always complex. He needed more moments like this. More disquieting silences and bloodied tuxedos. I'm fine with him being less of a spy and more of a soldier, so long as he's not a superman. They nailed this feeling quite well in the Daniel Craig movies.

  The movie never gets so in-touch with this side of Bond again. The rest of the movie has him rocketing through the scenes and shooting everything that so much as looks at him cross. The opening is no exception to the franchise tradition of having an explosive and exciting introduction to the movie. Bond has to hijack a fighter jet amid chaos in order to save it's nuclear missiles from being prematurely detonated. Sounds simple enough? Much to the viewer's delight, it never is with 007. The creative opening sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Aside from some very very painfully standard fight scenes that seem cut and pasted from any other action movie of the time, where the hero punches, and the bad guy punches, and then the hero punches, and then the bad guy punches... and so on... and so forth... -aside from all that nonsense, the action scenes are incredibly creative.

  There's one ridiculously neat scene where Bond has to remotely drive his car, using a gadget phone,  through shootout... while crouched in the backseat. It's such a clever scene and definitely one of the highlights of the movie. What makes it even better is a a quick moment that shows Bond laughing, enjoying the moment. The concept is nothing short of show-stopping (in the best way possible..) Bond clearly is having fun with this. It's not something we see very often from him. We all know he appreciates a timely little gadget, but to say he ever gets caught up in the excitement of the moment like this? Never. It was a great little shot, followed up with him having to clear his throat, calm down, and collect himself as he eventually walks away from the scene. It's a nicely self-aware moment, and is the kind of witty humor that feels at home with 007. More please.

  The inventive action scenes don't end there, but I shan't spoil them for you. Tomorrow Never Dies is a sleek, gadget-filled action movie chock full of women and flamboyant characters.  However, speaking of supporting characters, Michelle Yeoh plays Bond girl, Wai Lin, a Chinese secret agent who ends up working with Bond to take down Carver. She's fantastic in the part. They seem to derail the fights a bit to showcase her martial arts. This was a big trend in the 90's. Especially with movies like Lethal Weapon 4 and such. It's not as distracting here, but the fact they kept overlaying this dorky vocal noises every time she did something was super annoying. Aside from that, she's a great partner for Bond. Capable and independent. She's a delight in the movie and a terrific onscreen presence. Her charisma occasionally even exceeding that of Bond's.

  She has a much bigger part than Teri Hatcher does. Despite the fact that on the posters and whatnot, they seem to have equal billing. Hatcher plays Carver's wife. A terrible sad and trapped woman who seemed fated to die since she shows up on the screen. I'd have to go back and check, but the villain's main squeeze seems to always die, and early on too. She seems much like the girl in gold from Goldfinger, yet her departure is nothing so iconic. She was killed by an interestingly chatty assassin, nicknamed 'the doctor'. He's only in the movie for a few minutes, but his moment with Bond is one of the best in the movie. Rather than a fight, him and Bond get a couple minutes of witty discourse. It's darkly comic, and you'd almost feel bad for chuckling at some of it... but it's so well done you can't help it. As is the movie itself so well done you can't help but like it.

  That's not to say it's one of the greats, it is content to continue the trend of Bond movies that seem to be little else but action movies. The climax is excessive and long. For once all the gunplay feels tired and overly stylized. I enjoyed it on a superficial level, as one enjoys a lesser Bond outing, but this climax almost felt helmed by John Woo. It's saving grace is Brosnan's stone cold gaze and his calm under pressure. He makes a great action hero. Although unfortunately, he never really got the room to be an even greater spy. He has all the potential, but the movies weren't tapping into it. Some may agree with that to an even larger extent, some may wholeheartedly disagree, but regardless I feel that the slam-bang action formula doesn't really fit the character. As I said in my review of GoldenEye, fantastical action scenes were and are undoubtedly a staple of the franchise... but they shouldn't overtake the movie.

  There should be a calm and deliberate pacing to an ideal Bond movie. Something which both GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies do not seem to have. Nevertheless, they do justice to the action genre and both movies are a rousing good time if you don't expect too much. Things blow up well and there's a witty one-liner around every corner. If that's what you like from 007, you won't be disappointed with Tomorrow Never Dies, even if it's only standard Bond fare.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Explosive!


  After an incredibly solid two-movie stint as the titular MI6 agent, Timothy Dalton dropped out of the role due to some lengthy legal disputes between MGM and United Artists. Thus the next installment into the franchise would be held up for several years. That movie, GoldenEye was also in need of a new actor to take over the role of James Bond for a new generation. That man was Pierce Brosnan. "You were expecting someone else?" Brosnan coyly asks the viewer in the first teaser trailer for GoldenEye. The truth is, Brosnan seems to fit the role like a glove. He may be more or less unexpected in the role, but silly us for expecting anyone else. He is Bond. He's a new Bond for a new era. A slick era, the age of rapid fire editing and the self-aware presence of 'cool' in music videos. Bond needed more than just a reason to exist in the 90's and beyond, he needed a style and a rhythm. GoldenEye gave him just that. It set the bar... and it set it really high.

  GoldenEye is a guns-blazing, high-octane action movie. It's arguably one of the most action packed of the entire franchise. Brosnan's James Bond is less of a spy and more of a super soldier. You'd be more likely to find him with an AK-47 in his hands rather than a Vodka Martini. He's still suave and sophisticated, even if the age old trademark innuendo hasn't been upgraded a single bit. Yet GoldenEye has Bond single-handedly taking on dozens of enemy soldiers with nothing but an assault rifle and his wits. It has him leaping off cliffs, swinging from ceilings, and blowing up anything that moves. Even the supporting characters are frequently in awe due to how much chaos and carnage revolves around Bond. He's a super soldier. Not that one could possibly mind in a movie like this. It's very self contained. You could watch this with no other knowledge of the Bond movies and have a great time. It's a rollicking action ride that doesn't mess around.

  It has all the best stuff of the franchise. Exotic locations, fantastic action scenes, beautiful women, colorful villains, a good plot, and decent gadgets. What's even better is that all these elements are put to proper use. A good portion of the movie takes place in Russia. The highlight of which is a collateral damage-filled tank chase through the streets of St. Petersburg. That's not even mentioning a scene in which Bond and Bond girl Natalya Simonova are trapped in a grounded helicopter that's just fired missiles... aimed to double-back onto the helicopter. Or yet another scene in which they're sealed in a train car that's wired to explode. Bond seems to only just scrape by right before something explodes. GoldenEye is a far cry from the franchise's origins. The spy genre had evolved by the 90's, and Bond had to keep up. This wasn't a bad thing on the whole, but it spelled doom for some aspects of the character and the franchise that desperately needed to stay alive.

  Bond usually had to mingle with two-faced wealthy socialites, or pretend to be an ally to the movie's villain just long enough to find out some key piece of information. He had time to explore the exotic locales, and formally introduce himself to the beautiful woman. It was a spy thriller, not an action movie. Although big flashy action scenes were a mainstay of the franchise from the get-go, it needed a different label to define it. It mixed suspense, sex appeal, and sophistication in equal measure with wit, humor, and violence. GoldenEye doesn't mix these things with equal measure. It's wholeheartedly an action movie. A sexy action movie at that. It's sense of humor is rather on the nose, and I never really found it funny, but thank god it's not the slapstick humor from Moore's era. Bond's wittiness in GoldenEye is largely relegated to one liners, but there's hardly time for anything else. It has a breakneck pace that puts the pacing of any Bond movie that came before it to shame.

  Mainly I believe that's why GoldenEye feels so different. The pacing is that of an action movie instead of a spy thriller. That's okay though. The 90's needed Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Even if he wasn't given the room in GoldenEye to inhabit the character the way Dalton was in The Living Daylights, he was still good.  Between the machine-gunning and the running, the pace of the movie is no joke. Brosnan keeps up and propels the action forward, taking the 'man of action' feeling from the Dalton movies and cranking it up to '11'. One wonders what he could've done with a slower, grittier, and smarter story. He might've rivaled Connery. As is, he's a sly mix of Moore on his best day and Dalton's take-charge attitude. It's not a bad take on Bond, but it feels only slightly lacking. Just slightly. It's easy to ignore when everything is blowing up in your face, but it's there.

  Having said that, when given a quiet moment, Brosnan makes good use of it. He has a detached intensity that I believe Bond should always have. He has the makings of a good spy, if only he had the missions to match the man. The movie isn't overly indulgent in it's wit and charm, and neither is Bond himself. There are parts in GoldenEye that seem to be aware of how actually messed up 007 must really be. Specifically a romantic interlude on a tropical beach, where Natalya asks Bond how he can be so cold and detached. "It's what keeps me alive.", he answers. Bond girls are usually content to swoon and say "Oh, James..." But, GoldenEye realizes that the time for that has passed. The characters have to be more, have to think, and have to respond to the ever-changing times. Even though the moments like this are small and fleeting, they were a massive step in the right direction.

  As a result though, GoldenEye tries to have it's cake and eat it too. It tries to make Bond out to be a new person, with real feelings and the like... yet it also indulges in far too many of the franchise's over-worn cliches. Namely the juvenile and rather dated innuendo, among other things. I don't mean to sound resentful of what GoldenEye is. It's one of my favorite Bond movies ever. In my top 5 even. It introduces Judi Dench's 'M' (my favorite) and it has a slick visual style to it that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. It's a gorgeous looking movie and a heart-stopping thrill ride. A point that the franchise was going to hit eventually. Where the machine guns and the car chases took over. It's not bad at all. It's just different. Depending on what you like in your Bond movies, your appreciation may vary. Regardless, it's hard not to like the villains. Sean Bean as Alec Trevelyan, agent 006, Gottfried John as Russian general Ourumov, and the irresistible Famke Janssen as iconic femme fatale, Xenia Onatopp. These are easily some of the most entertaining villains in the franchise.

  Trevelyan's story adds a semi-personal touch to the movie as Bond has to now face a former ally as an enemy. Bean plays the character with a sinister glee that you can't help but love. He's the villain Bond was inevitably going to find himself faced with sooner or later. Then there's Xenia Onatopp. As deadly and as beautiful as any seductress Bond has come across to date, she leaves quite an impression on Bond and the franchise. If you were going to play a psychotic, lust murdering, femme fatale after this, Janssen's performance was one to study. She's fantastic in the role. Unfortunately, this rather leaves Bond girl Natalya in the dust. She's a fun character who holds her own with Bond, but she's also the least interesting character in the movie. She's simple. Beautiful, but very simple. Everyone else is larger than life. She's simply trying to survive. Granted, she's a lot of fun, memorable even, but not very interesting.

  It's flaws are small and subjective, (like the jazzy score that I just can't get into) but overall it's a great movie under superb direction from newcomer to the franchise, Martin Campbell. Make no mistake though, Campbell wasn't done with Bond. He would return in 2006, over a decade later, to helm the fantastic Casino Royale. Brosnan himself was only getting started. He returned next in... Tomorrow Never Dies. All in all, if you're not on board with Bond's new pace and style, then GoldenEye might not hold much appeal to you. For me however, it's one of the best. One of my favorite movies period, and one of my favorite in the franchise. It's a gutsy and bold debut for Brosnan who etches his place into the franchise with gusto (and a laser watch). The 'exploding pen' might get slighted later on, but for it's time, as with every other quirk of the movie, it was great. From St. Petersburg to Cuba, GoldenEye is a big action packed 007 adventure that's wall to wall bullets, explosions. and well crafted thrills. You can't go wrong with this one.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Surefire entertainment


  It's hard to go wrong with Dalton as James Bond. Even though Licence to Kill isn't as good as The Living Daylights, that doesn't mean it's not a damn fine Bond flick in it's own right. It's a revenge thriller actually. In one of the most personal stories of the whole franchise, Bond's longtime buddy, Felix Leiter, an American CIA agent, gets married. However, a fiasco with an international drug lord paints a target on Leiter's back, resulting in his new wife's murder, and landing him in critical condition. Bond is outraged when red tape and due process prevent both him and the Americans from doing anything to investigate or retaliate. Nevertheless, It doesn't take Bond long to realize the only way Felix's attackers will be brought to justice, is by disregarding orders and taking matters into his own hands. Tendering his resignation from MI6, Bond sets out on his own to track down the drug lord, putting himself smack in the middle of a very dangerous business...

  Licence to Kill is a big departure from the average Bond formula. None of it was set in London, really. No megalomaniac villain. No trademark car. Bond doesn't really sleep around. Mainly though, the big thing is that the story revolves around a character that Bond knows. It's personal this time. When Felix is in danger, and his wife killed, it feels gut wrenching. This is a character who's been helping Bond since Dr.No, the first movie. I'd seen it before, but couldn't remember whether or not Felix ended up dying. Even though the bad guys are rather simple, their ruthlessness makes them stand out. Makes them memorable even. I should point out that Felix and his new wife were attacked on their wedding day. She was raped and killed (offscreen thankfully) and he was part-ways fed to a shark. As you could imagine... Bond was beyond furious.

  The villain is a drug lord. Not a drug lord with a crazy plot for world domination, or a drug lord who steals spacecraft, just... a drug lord. He's an elaborate drug lord, but still... just a drug lord. Bond is repeatedly told that there is more at stake than his own personal vendetta, but nobody else in the movie is remotely competent enough to see their objectives through. In the end, Bond's personal vendetta is the only thing that gets the job done. Everyone delivers their A game here. The acting ranges from great to flamboyant scenery chewing, but it's never stiff or boring. There's something hopelessly fun about Robert Davi's role as drug lord, Franz Sanchez. Even his name has a nice ring to it. It's the sort of name only a writer could come up with. It's great.

  Possibly even more interesting is a young Benicio Del Toro as Dario, Sanchez's personal henchman. He's loyal, like any good henchman. Yet there seems to be a little more than a boss/employee relationship between then. Instead it feels almost familial. Unfortunately his character is never developed much, as can be said for almost all the characters in this one. It stands in stark contrast to it's predecessor, especially with the Bond girl(s). We have two here, both I believe aren't really worth the mention. They feel like character archetypes, and at least one of the girls is responsible for the lion's share of stiff acting in the film. Bond himself is the anchor of the movie, grounding the action scenes, the humor, and the innuendo. Dalton juggles it all with a fiery intensity that the franchise needs more of.

  The movie is lacking Bond's trademark Aston Martin, but that doesn't mean there's any shortage of vehicular stunts. The climax involves two eighteen wheeler semi trucks in a chase down a mountainside. It's some downright explosive stuff. One of the most thrilling climaxes in the franchise up to this point. It's easy to enjoy the movie on the whole, seeing as it's stuffed full of high octane action like that, but it pales in comparison to it's predecessor. Licence to Kill is good, make no mistake, but it only just edges out above middle-of-the-road Bond fare. Come for the action and well made spy thrills, but stay for Timothy Dalton as Bond.  Given that this was his only other outing as Bond, I'm inclined to give it higher marks, simply because he's so great as Bond... but one can't help wondering what the franchise would've looked like if he had a few more movies after this one.

  Nevertheless, Licence to Kill is a great action movie that fits the era it was made in, to a T. The villains, the gadgets, the humor. It all works splendidly. Also worth pointing out is how Q's attitude towards Bond is different in this one. Gone is the casual disdain for Bond's antics, and it's been replaced by a grandfatherly concern and moderate indifference. It's a nice change, and fitting as well seeing as how Bond is not the irresponsible playboy that Roger Moore had played him as. I can't imagine anyone looking back on Timothy Dalton's movies as Bond with any sort of disappointment or ire. He was a great Bond who should've had the opportunity to make more. On that alone Licence to Kill is worth watching. In the vast middle ground of 007 outings, this one is one that manages to stand out as one of the better ones. It's not bad, it's not great, but it's good. Better than a lot of the Roger Moore movies, that's for sure.

Next up...

   GoldenEye.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Triumphant!


  After Roger's Moore's stint as Bond, the character was on the verge of running stale (and that's being generous, some would say it already had by the time he stepped down) there couldn't have been a better comeback than The Living Daylights. Timothy Dalton turns in the first all-around commendable performance as the titular MI6 agent since Connery. Lazenby had the good fortune of being in a good movie, but whether or not he was good... was and is, at least for me, debatable. Moore had a comfortability in his own notion of Bond that he wasn't eager to shake, even when the times called for it. Thus, we were graced with Dalton. Finally. In my humble opinion, for reasons I'll be sure to cover at length... The Living Daylights is one of the best 007 movies, hands down. Easily top 5 material.

  First and foremost, this is Timothy Dalton's debut. As far as debut movies go, his is probably the most thrilling thus far. Standing only second to the iconic status of Dr.No, The Living Daylights casts a rather large shadow over Live and Let Die and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Dalton plays Bond with an intensity that seems even more straight-laced than Connery. Bond is a new man here. Gone is the philandering playboy who's bedroom antics endlessly chewed into the run times, Dalton is the man of action that A View to A Kill so desperately needed. I'm sure that some fans missed Roger's laid-back approach to the character, but the movies were progressing and he wasn't. There is a time for everything and the 70's were Moore's era. Not the 80's. This is a James Bond that could survive in the era of Rambo and Commando.

  Besides that, Dalton plays a more serious Bond. Which is second only to how dark Daniel Craig managed to play the role. Sure, Dalton cracks wise here and there, but he doesn't keep the spoof-y game face on the entire time. He's capable of anger, and regret, a couple emotions that only found their way into Moore's movies maybe once or twice. This Bond is also much more of a thinker. The main plot of the movie involves Bond tracking down a Russian military defector who gets snatched back by the KGB. Bond ends up juggling several deceptions on all fronts as he slowly uncovers a plot far more sinister than just a botched defection. No matter what's going on, Bond is constantly thinking instead of just going through the paces.

  Of course it helps that Bond can multitask too because this one has a breakneck pace. Right away, the opening gambit has the double-o section engaging in a military efficiency game of sorts. They're tasked with penetrating a island fortress as part of their exercise. However, an enemy assassin with live rounds and deadly intent lurks on the island, systematically killing the double-o agents. Of course, James Bond is having none of this and chases the guy down, culminating in an explosive car chase with tons of glorious collateral damage and ending with a hell of a bang... and all this before the opening credits. It's one of my favorite openings out of the entire franchise. It not only sets the mood, but it manages to be a wonderfully exciting and self contained little action sequence that hardly needs context or knowledge of the franchise to enjoy.

  Even a non-Bond fan would be hard pressed to change the channel on this movie if he happened upon the opening on TV. The action gets rolling right away as Bond takes charge of an operation to oversee the defection of General Koskov. It's another thrilling sequence riding on the coattails of the opening, that only seems to lead into even more exciting scenes. The movie really doesn't let up. Even in it's 'down time', it's still moving forward. It's a 007 outing that belongs in the 80's action movie scene. In a good way though. It simply takes what we've loved about the movies so far, trims the fat, and streamlines it. It also doesn't try to include every single trope in the book. There are gadgets, sure, but they're practical (to an extent) and Dalton doesn't wholly rely on them either. They're sort of a last resort sort of thing. Except for the car... who doesn't want to see James Bond show off all the bells, whistles, and rockets in his brand new Aston Martin? Visually, one of the coolest looking Martin's in the franchise, second only to the DB5, and Dalton makes good use of it.

  I can't possibly go without mentioning Maryam D'abo as Bond Girl Kara Milovy. She's one of my favorite and most memorable in the franchise, in my opinion. She's less of a sexual object to be paraded around and swoon for Bond, and more of a real character caught up in this dangerous game of international espionage. She manages to balance fragility and naivete with a gutsy, take-charge attitude on par with Bond's. Maryam turns in a wonderful performance, that ends up both endearing and fun. Bond treats her like a person as well, we see him come to actually care about her, making every concession on her behalf and making an extra effort not to objectify her. Of course all this operates within the loose fitting confines of the typical Bond movie formula. A kissing session between the two was inevitable, yet it doesn't feel racy or salacious. It's, dare I say... romantic. The only downside to having such a character like this is that, as always, we know Bond's affection for her will only last for the one movie. Such a shame.

  The villains are intense, but are victim to the contemporary update of the character and his trappings. These guys aren't megalomaniacs or psychotics. They're greedy army generals and arms dealers. As far as bad guys go, they're well acted and fun to watch, but little more that pieces of the plot. Which in turn seems to exist only to usher in a slew of slick and well directed action scenes. This is not a bad thing really. With semi-lackluster villains like these, it's only fitting that the action itself compensate. Speaking of the action itself, all these sequences hold up incredibly well even in the face of eight more 007 movies, and any other modern day spy actioner. Especially the icy and explosive car chase with the Aston Martin. Nail-bitingly intense, and a huge big ball of fun- which can be said about the whole movie. The movie also has a slick and subdued sense of humor. It's comfortable with slight visual gags, but for the most part, the only funny thing about Dalton's turn as James Bond is that he only had two movies. Which is more of a bad joke than anything.

  Thankfully, the trademark wit and snappy discourse is still here, and aplenty at that. Dalton gives it his own brand, while managing to make it unmistakably... James Bond. In this movie, there's just literally no time to draw attention away from the action and espionage for silly jokes. Something which happened far too often in the Moore movies. Thankfully, it's all but absent here. The Living Daylights is a balls-to-bone action movie as only the 007 franchise can deliver. It's smart and quick-witted, but also full of excitement and thrills. As if that wasn't enough, it's well written, well acted and has Timothy Dalton as the best Bond since Sean Connery. You really shouldn't miss The Living Daylights. Public opinion of it and Dalton himself, at the time of it's release was mixed. As a result I feel like his movies never get enough appreciation. If you're interested in digging into the franchise again, or for the first time, The Living Daylights is an indisputable must-see.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Miscast... but fun.


  This was clearly a Timothy Dalton 007 movie. It felt like one. It played like one. The worst problem is... it had no Timothy Dalton. Instead we have Roger Moore, one last time. If his age was showing in the last couple movies, it's screaming out at us in this one. He somehow seems more awake and 'into' the role than he was in Octopussy, but he's hardly the star. He's just a face at this point, only good for closeups as the stunt team does all the fun stuff. It's so frequent and so obvious that it's hard to really get into the movie. Sir Roger handles the innuendo and the witty discourse as well as ever, but it seems like that's all he's handling this time. Having said that, the movie around him is rather great. With a plethora of honest-to-goodness thrills, A View to A Kill doesn't disappoint.

  Due in no small part to Christopher Walken as the sinister Max Zorin, the movie has a crackling energy to it whenever it focuses on the stunts and the action scenes. Walken plays a psychotic genius, who on top of being the CEO of a massive microchip manufacturing company, is an ex-KGB agent. Bond stumbles onto his plot to literally sink Silicon Valley so that his company will corner and dominate the microchip market. His plan is grandiose, but he plays up his part to such an extent that you can readily believe a mind like his could come up with this plan. His energy and insanity carry the parts of the movie that Moore simply couldn't.  However, with a large portion of the movie focusing on Zorin's horse racing interests, it's hard to connect the first half of this movie with the second half. They seem like completely different movies to me. The plot follows, yes, but the tone doesn't. Having said that, all the cloak and dagger business on Zorin's properties is quite entertaining.

  Henchmen have always been a staple of the franchise, and henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones) is no slouch. They may have exaggerated her physique a bit, but her presence more than makes up for it. She's so intense, you sorta believe she could lift a car just by staring at it. Nevertheless, I'm glad that wasn't a thing that happened. Instead, Jones is an assassin in the employee of Zorin, who also doubles as her lover. Both Max Zorin and May Day are very unconventional Bond characters, but they are a delight to watch nonetheless. Alas, there were the only 'updating' that seemed to really work. So much of the plot and style of this movie seemed to be trying extra hard to appeal to the younger and 'hipper' audiences in the 1980's. Which largely seems to backfire, as it was destined to with Roger Moore in the starring role. The term "dinosaur" comes to mind, but I like Moore. He may not be my favorite, but he always put on a good show and seems like a nice enough guy anyways.

  As I had been saying though, the stunt team is the real star here. From a ruthless car chase through the streets of Paris- ending on a barge no less, to the climatic nail-biting showdown between Bond and Zorin atop the Golden Gate bridge, the stunt team delivers. It's the best way to view this movie, as a showcase of technical prowess. The stunts, the action scenes, all of it... it's all fantastically done. Especially a scene in which Bond and Bond girl Stacey Sutton must escape from an elevator in a burning building, and again in a scene that has Bond being sucked into an impeller underwater. The movie doesn't skimp on thrills, and tries it's damndest to be original. I'd say for the most part it achieves that. Yet, it comes to a screeching halt whenever Bond must be called upon to practice his... social skills, mingling and conversing with Zorin's guests, and endlessly inquiring about horses.

  Of course this leads to a neat part where Zorin looks up Bond's file on the computer while Bond is in the same room and two are maintaining their guises. Walken's reactions to his file are priceless. As are his reactions to just about everything. Walken steals the show, and rightly so. He ends up being a very memorable villain, which is a breath of fresh air at this point. Most everything is on point with this one, except the fact Moore sticks out like a sore thumb. His humor, his innuendo, it all feels outdated by this point. He does what he's always done as well as he's always done it, but this wasn't the movie for Moore to do it in. This movie was begging for a darker James Bond to fit the times. Zorin was a dark villain, maybe too dark to pit against Moore. This was never more evident than in a shocking moment towards the end which I honestly didn't see coming. It made my jaw drop honestly. The acting, the music score, the action scenes... they're all a blast. Yet if I haven't made it clear enough, the movie is at odds with itself.

  It's calling for a more physical Bond, less of a lover more of an action man. Moore was 58 at the time of this one which is the movie's biggest detractor. That and a sense of humor that feels slightly off. Kind of like an aftertaste from the Moore era. There's a thrilling car chase involving Bond and Sutton in a fire truck being pursued by a bunch of SFPD cops. The sequence is thrilling, but sorta undone by how silly the cops end up looking. There's a limit to how serious and intense something like this can get when you're basically chased by the keystone cops. Nevertheless, there are enough positives to this movie for me to give it a recommendation. It's essentially a string of action scenes, each managing to outdo the last with gusto. It's spectacle, espionage, and on-location filming for another 007 outing. It's really fun regardless of Moore's age, but I can't wait to dig into Timothy Dalton's debut with The Living Daylights!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Swashbuckling


  Often called the 'Indiana Jones' one, Octopussy is a lot of fun, if little else. This 13th 007 outing has Sir Roger playing the iconic British secret service agent once again in a convoluted story involving an atomic bomb, an angry Russian general, a sisterhood of smugglers, the circus, and Faberge eggs. A lot of people deride this one for several reasons, all of which I'll get to in good time. Let me start out however, by simply saying, Octopussy is a big ball of hyperactive, snappy, witty, and ultimately complicated fun- but it is fun. Which is more than can be said for some of these movies. Thankfully J.W. Pepper is nowhere to be found, but the filmmakers insist on getting cheeky, applying a Tarzan yell as Bond swings from a vine to escape some enemies. I'm sure something like that would be cute for a five year old, but even my little brothers rolled their eyes at that. If the movie had persisted with silliness like that, I wouldn't be about to give it a positive review...

  However, Octopussy redeems itself, over and over. With fantastic action scenes, gorgeous scenery, exotic settings, and all sorts of fabulous eye candy. It's impossible to be bored with this one. It may be extravagant and even bordering on overkill, but it's surprisingly practical for the most part. Bond's gadgets are kept low key throughout the movie, with the exception of a few silly parts. It never gets out of hand like Moonraker did. Nevertheless, this movie feels alien to the James Bond franchise. People really aren't far off in saying this feels more like an Indiana Jones movie. If Bond had been chasing down an artifact instead of his usual espionage business, it would've been no contest. It would have literally been another Indiana Jones flick. Regardless, Octopussy has Bond running on top of speeding trains, being chased through the streets of Rajasthan, India, escaping from a palace, running through the jungles, taming a tiger, and surviving more assassination attempts than I could keep count of. It's just fun.

  Moore's age is showing though, and at this point I feel like his stunt doubles almost have equal screentime with him. It's pretty obvious he should've quit by this point. Undeterred however, Moore went on to do one more. Maud Adams as the eponymous anti-heroine/Bond girl, Octopussy, is a real delight. Keeping her out of the picture until halfway through was a puzzling choice, although it does build an atmosphere of mystery around her character, which is neat. She's the lavish living daughter of a spy who died in India, leaving her to use her smuggling skills to amass not only her own fortune... but her own private female army of acrobats and smugglers. They're incredibly formidable, and while a little tacky with some of the uniforms, they're actually a really neat part of the movie. They lend themselves to the swashbuckling nature of the movie. Given the exotic setting and tone of the movie, you half expect Sir Roger to unsheathe a scimitar. bellow out a heroic battle cry, and single-handedly save India from a horde of pirates or something. It's not a bad thing, but both Roger and this movie feel like they belong to a different era.

  There's also a great trio of villains here with General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan), and his lackey Gobinda (Kabir Bedi). Orlov brings the megalomaniac personality to the table in his outlandish conquest to lead Russia to world domination. He's in full scenery chewing mode, leaving nothing in his path un-masticated. He's loud, boistrous, and a fantastic Bond villain who might be more memorable if he hadn't perfected the same kind of role in Rambo: First Blood Pt.II. Kamal Khan is more of a classic Bond villain, a smooth talking, self assured, traitorous man with many henchmen to order around. His glares and sneers are the bread and butter of his performance, which is largely enjoyable. His chief lackey, Gobinda, is also quite fun. After 007 defeats and exposes his boss at a rigged game of backgammon, the dude stares down Bond while crushing the loaded dice into powder with his hand... nuff said!

  The villains, the settings, the sheer extravagance of this outing make it worth a watch or two. Yet it still feels like Moore is tired. Just when you think he's keeping up and putting his own punches in, you notice it's a stunt double. Which isn't hard to do when you're watching it in hi-def on a nice HDTV. The movie moves along at such a breakneck pace that it looks like Sir Roger is scrambling just to actually appear in his own scenes. The franchise was begging for a younger man at this point. Roger was already in his mid to late 50's. Nevertheless his sarcasm and swagger make him a delight to watch, even if the movie around him is a little odd. Which is probably the perfect way to describe Octopussy. It's just odd. From the story to the plot, and especially the circus ending. It's just odd. It feels like a flashy over-the-top spy caper, but somehow doesn't feel quite like a 007 movie. Especially not when Bond's heroic saving the day moment occurs while he's wearing a clown outfit. Makeup and all. As if he didn't look tired and sullen enough, that bright red frown painted on his face didn't help matters.

  I don't know if I really dislike Octopussy. I think it's too much fun to dislike. Yet with some painfully silly moments, an aging Moore, and a franchise running out of steam... it's strictly middle of the road fare, something to watch to scratch the 007 itch, nothing more - nothing less. It's an exotic visual feast, for sure, which often distracts from Moore's age, or the ridiculous story, but all in all, Octopussy was never destined to be one of the best. It's good, in a very old-fashioned and swashbuckling way, and it's fun... but it was ready to be outdone. Moore glides through the movie on charm and wit, but seems more like he should be doing retirement commercials at this point. I'll say this though, if retirement looked anything like his time in Octopussy, I can't wait til I'm his age. Sign me up for that old folks home. To quote Q...

  "-Double-0 seven on an island populated exclusively by women? We won't see him till dawn!"

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Classic!


  Finally, a 007 film that hearkens back to the Connery days. Feeling like a blend of From Russia With Love, Thunderball, and even the best parts of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this 12th official outing drops the sci-fi angle, drops the tacky humor and plays it straight. Well, at least the straightest of Moore's stint so far. This time, Bond teams up with a woman dead-set on avenging her parents death at the hands of a smuggler who's looking to sell a top secret device to the Russians. The device, called the ATAC, was recovered from a deliberately sunken British naval ship, it can redirect command codes from any of Her Majesty's submarines, and even issue false orders. This is clearly a major problem. Sure this device isn't so far off from the 'Lektor' but it's plausible and gels with the story. Subsequently, right off the bat there is a sense of urgency, thrusting Bond into action. I won't get too much further into the plot because for the first time in several movies or so, I felt it was worth paying attention to this time.

   Surprisingly, the movie reins in some of the wilder trademark aspects of Moore's 007. His time spent 'undercover' is probably less than any other movie in the franchise, thus far. That's not to say his sex appeal has been curtailed. He's still the suave secret agent we've all come to know and love. He cracks a witty one-liner to his female passenger, Ms.Havelock, during a quite intense car chase, and for once... she smiles and laughs instead of swooning. Carole Bouquet plays Melina Havelock, the "Bond girl" of this installment. She's a no-nonsense and highly capable partner for Bond, saving his life frequently, and even trading wit with him. Unfortunately, despite being immensely easy on the eyes, and incredibly handy with a crossbow, Bouquet's acting leaves something to be desired. When the context of a scene affords her the opportunity to react with a natural reaction, she's absolutely wonderful. Stunning even. Yet in certain scenes her acting seems like it's putting her to sleep, to say nothing of us, the audience.

  She's not bad overall, and at least the role is smartly written and the character is more interesting than yet another typical damsel in distress. God forbid we have another Mary Goodnight on our hands. I shudder at the thought. Melina is, at the very least, capable of holding her own in the action scenes and such, keeping up with Bond through car chases, shootouts, and other crazy sequences. Or maybe I should say Bond keeps up with her? His age is definitely showing, though not enough to stick out like a sore thumb or detract from the viewing experience. I wouldn't have minded this being his last movie. Three good movies out of five total isn't bad. Yet Octopussy and A View to A Kill were still on the horizon. Nevertheless, before I get ahead of myself, let me get back to the movie at hand.

  For Your Eyes Only has some fantastic action scenes. Being the third Bond film with a ski chase, I feel like this was the most intense and well choreographed so far. It makes good use of it's winter setting, creatively breaking up the chase into several parts, each eclipsing the last. It's intense and moves at a breakneck pace. As does most of the action in general. Havelock's introduction to Bond was highlighted by a fantastic car chase. Forsaking a gadget stocked ride in favor of a gutsy little Citro├źn 2CV, the filmmakers found new ways to excite, rather than simply falling back on oil slick and rockets much like Moonraker might have done. Those are just some of the more memorable moments, though I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention the scene in which Bond and Melina are tied up and dragged in the water behind a speedboat. The scene leaves you quite literally... breathless.

  These are the kinds of scenes that remind me of the Connery era. This stuff was a little brutal, a little edgy. It wasn't always super flashy, but it also didn't need to be. It had punch, and impact. The same can be said for the movie itself. It's far from flashy, and has a music score on par with the other one I didn't like, from The Spy Who Loved Me. Yet the movie is great. It relies far more on physical stunts and thrills instead of science fiction and absurd gadgets. That's not to say that the movie is without it's gadgetry, but it's practical stuff. Never having Bond over-prepared for every single possible scenario, we see him using his head, and thinking his way out of precarious situations. Something which was becoming rather scarce in these movies. With a cast of occasionally memorable, but wholly serviceable supporting characters, and a decent plot, For Your Eyes Only is a worthy entry in the series which heartily overcomes it's flaws and manages to be top notch entertainment.

  Unfortunately it's flaws include a terribly forgettable villain that would seem more at home in a made-for-TV movie of the week. He wasn't acted poorly, but it was just a severely underwritten part. Leaving him with nothing memorable to say or do. Surprisingly though, the climax takes place on top of a mountain, in an old stone castle fortress. A far cry from the steel walled underground complexes that seemed to me an unshakable mainstay of the series. As fun as those are, they wear thin rather quickly. Moonraker seemed only too content to have another one of those, but bigger and better than all the rest. It was visually impressive, but the switch up in this one was a welcome surprise that fit the tone of the movie. Making it all the better for it.  This 007 outing, while it has some flaws, and a reserved tone that might not appeal to fans of the flashier entries, is one that could easily rank with some of the best in the franchise.  Certainly a fan favorite of mine.