Posts Tagged ‘james bond

16
Nov
15

Did ‘Spectre’ Stand a Ghost of a Chance?

spectre

Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, and Andrew Scottt.

Directed by Sam Mendes

ME: “Dad, what do you think of the new ‘Bond’ movies?”

DAD: “Well, the stories kinda suck.”

ME: “What do you think of Daniel Craig as Bond?”

DAD: “He’s good but I wished they had retired the character after he [Albert Broccoli] died.”

True conversation.

Not too far from the premiere weekend crowd I watched “Spectre,” the much-anticipated sequel/next-installment of the James Bond franchise, last Tuesday. Oh, boy. Is it entirely disappointing? Is it worth the price? Read on.

I can honestly say that I’ve grown up watching Bond but from the viewpoint of a different side of Bond: the post-Dalton/Pierce Brosnan Bond. While Timothy Dalton played a grittier, more “real” side of James Bond (far from the suave Roger Moore Bond) Brosnan’s Bond was one now having to compete with the feminist 90s giving him smart female counterparts that were either Bond girls or even M herself (Judi Dench took over the traditionally male role of ‘M’ in “GoldenEye”). Famke Janssen, Michelle Yeoh, Sophie Marceau, Halle Berry were all strong, independent female characters to the counteract James Bond and while the latter two Brosnan movies left a lot to be desired (namely a decent story) the actors and characters they played stood out and above the source material. However, “Die Another Day” was the death-knell for Brosnan’s Bond.

His successor, as you now know, was Daniel Craig. With the reboot/remake/origin movies being the way Hollywood was going it was only fitting that Craig start BEFORE “00” status as Bond “rough around the edges” Craig’s portrayal was a breath of fresh air for the franchise and washed out the bad taste in our mouth left from the fourth Brosnan feature. Here was a new Bond before being suave, using gadgets, guns, cars, women… this was the indoctrination of a character with over 20 films of history and we were more than glad to have him. While “Casino Royale” shifted the direction of the wind being blown to keep Bond sailing, “Quantum of Solace” was a dead calm of a “sequel.” The director and producers failed to learn the lessons of “License to Kill” in that James Bond is NOT a character out for vengeance but the “savior” of queen and country. Trying for a different wind director Sam Mendes was brought in for the third venture, “Skyfall,” which proved to be even better than “Casino Royale” and made us almost forget about “Quantum…” With the audience and critical acclaim of “Skyfall” Mendes returned for the latest venture, “Spectre,” and unfortunately succumbed to tripping the trope fantastic.

Warning. Spoilers ahead.

“The dead are alive…” are the first words greeting us as we pan into a crowd in Mexico City on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). James Bond (Craig) and a companion are masked and moving through the crowded celebration. Once behind closed doors Bond goes on “personal assignment” which ends in a building being demolished and an overly long fight inside a helicopter over the crowd. Back in England Bond answers to M’s (Fiennes) interrogation saying that he was on “holiday.” M is furious and puts Bond on suspension before having to face James Bond Trope #1: The not-so-secret spy agency is in imminent threat of being dissolved. Ever since “GoldenEye” someone working for the British government keeps asking “Why is Bond even out there? Isn’t the Cold War over? Do we even need spies?” etc. It never fails. The best response given was Judi Dench as M saying, “He’s doing his job!” Again, this has been going on for 20 years only this time M is finding that a new security agency, CNS, is bringing together all technology to be the eyes and ears of the intelligence agency without having to leave home and Bond’s vacation may have caused their time to be cut even more.

Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are secretly being utilized by Bond to uncover a massive, secret organization. His reasoning? Cinematic Trope #2: a character leaves the main protagonist information saying, “If something happens to me, then, this…” M (Dench) left such a message for Bond to hunt down and kill one Marco Sciarra (Allesandro Cremona). Bond sneaks out of England, finds Mrs. Sciarra (Bellucci), hooks up for the night (Bond Trope #3), and infiltrates a Spectre town-hall meeting before barely getting out alive. Realizing that he recognized the guy running the meeting we’re now taken to…

The residence of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), the most common thread of all of the Craig Bond films. Apparently Mr. White is on the outs with Spectre (unclear if it was a matter or conscience or being behind with dues) and gives up info on his daughter before “checking out.” Continuing the quest for vengeance we go to…

An upscale office building somewhere in/around the Alps were estranged daughter Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) works. Bond introduces himself, she gets captured (Trope #4) and even though she’s lived her life being the daughter of a spy/assassin she does little more than keep herself from being drugged via syringe. Wait, she saves Bond’s life a little later (Trope #5: Being knocked down doesn’t necessarily mean knocked-out) and they fall in love with as little chemistry as possible (Trope #6?)

Meanwhile, back in England…

The all-seeing, all-knowing new privately-funded security network is about to go live. The “00” program has been disbanded. Bond is now rogue and M refuses to help as CNS can here/see/read everything transmitted. Bond is rogue. And now we go back to the middle of the desert in North Africa were Bond and Swann encounter…

The villain’s secret lair (feel free to pronounce that a la Dr. Evil). Standing outside giant circle in the middle of the desert Bond and Swann are greeted and taken into the head of Spectre, one Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Waltz). James’s history is exposed as we find that when his parents died a man adopted him and he became the step-brother. The step-brother purportedly died in an avalanche as well as his father only to come back as Blofeld (mom’s last name). The avalanche was no accident; Blofeld killed his dad in retaliation for getting a step-brother. Rough.

That’s as far as I’m going with the story. You know James Bond is going to survive/win; nothing new under the sun there. My complaints are: checking off the tropes just to advance the story, action sequences that just ran too long, under use of Monica Bellucci, a boring story, and a lackluster movie theme, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall.” On the plus side when the humor works it works and Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw get to do more stuff. The opening segment is reminiscent of “Touch of Evil” and is one of the coolest Bond openings for Craig and company, if not overall. The beginning is good, the middle struggles and is drawn out, but the end was really good.

My grade: C

 

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25
Sep
15

With Bond, the ‘Writing’s On the Wall’

sam-smithGrammy Award-winning artist Sam Smith has now tackled his 2-year dream – making a Bond theme. Released today on Spotify is his theme, “Writing’s On the Wall,” for the new Daniel Craig James Bond film, “Spectre.” My thoughts? Well… while it keeps with the sweeping orchestration feel of more 70’s Roger Moore Bond movies it’s… okay. Not so much the “people out to kill you because you’re a spy”-theme or mentioning of guns, girls, and gadgets it’s okay. Take a listen for yourself via Spotify at:

And while I’m at it you can check out the latest trailer for “Spectre” here:

17
Nov
08

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

quantum_of_solace

 

 

Quantum of Disappointment.

 

Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric and Gemma Arterton. Directed by Marc Forster.

 

I sat during the credits, waiting for others to leave before I did. A guy and his wife sat a few seats to my right. I turned to him and asked, “Is it me, or was this largely plotless?”

He turned to me and replied, “I think you’re right.”

“I mean, what the hell was this about?”

He shrugs and his wife looks at me as if I may have an answer to my own question.

 

“Quantum of Solace” picks up where “Casino Royale” leaves off. Jason Bourne James Bond (Craig) is tearing down a road, being chased by guys firing at him with machine guns. We later find that he has kidnapped a guy we recognize from “Casino Royale” who had something to do with Vesper’s death. What we don’t know is that he’s part of an organization more powerful than the CIA, FBI, MI6, and any other Intelligence Agency known, so much so that before Bond can interrogate him, double-agents within MI6 stop him and run at breakneck speed through the crowd, blindly firing at Bond and taking out a few spectators. This leads to one of the best fight/chase scenes in the movie.

 

With MI6 now being compromised (“He passed background checks 4 times. He was my personal bodyguard.” -M) Bond takes it upon himself to find out who these people are and if possible, get revenge on the death of Vesper. Tracking down a lead he meets and greets (read: kills) he impersonates a guy who is supposedly a geologist supposedly sent to kill Camille (Kurylenko). This altercation leads him to Dominic Greene (Almaric), an extreme environmentalist running a program called Greene Planet. Greene is buying up “useless” tracts of land in order to own all the freshwater in the world. Maybe it’s me but if I were heading-up an organization so secretive that the U.S. and Brits have no earthly clue about it, giving funding to an environmentalist who wants to control the freshwater of the world would not be in my budget. But hey, maybe they have other, better nefarious villains. One would hope.

 

Bond then finds information about other lower-level villains. They’re all working together! M strips Bond of his funds and passports, which forces him to gain help from Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini). Together they fly to Bolivia where Bond is met at the airport by Agent Strawberry Fields (Arterton). Dressed in an overcoat and boots, it’s easy to see how she’s following the cover story of her and Bond being “teachers on vacation.” Yea, right. They all attend Greene’s party where Camille shows back up. Apparently, she’s still on her mission of revenge to kill the General Medrano (Joaquín Cosio), a Bolivian dictator who killed her raped her mother and killed her family, making her watch and then setting their house on fire. More people are killed, Bond is blamed and Camille joins him as they go out to Greene’s lair. There the film’s climax takes place (which at that point is anticlimactic).

 

Camille has her revenge, but Bond has to finalize his. Finding the apartment of Vesper’s ex, he excuses the Canadian Intelligence woman who is with the boyfriend (Canadian Intelligence? Where have you guys been? What do you do?) and proceeds to deliver vengeance. M and others show and Bond is now back on duty, leaving the past behind him.

 

The action scenes were great in a lessened “Bourne Ultimatum” sort of way. I like having medium and wide-angle shots for my action scenes over constant shaky-cam, sped-up camera shots. But maybe that’s just me. While “Casino Royale” had segments that I thought I would need a defibrillator because they were that engrossing, this movie whisks you from shot to shot to shot until the scene is over and you feel like trying to find a “rewind button” to watch it again. I don’t mind being in the middle of everything going on but there is a point where if I feel more confused than the main character seems, something is amiss. And this “Bourne Ultimatum” action-shooting only happens during the action scenes; never before or after.

 

What hurt this movie moreso than that was the lack of story material. This was the first Bond movie NOT to be based on a novel and it shows. It’s not just that fact that revenge movies are hard to do; the story was weaker than the parts making it up. Sure, some of the action was good but by the middle you stopped caring. It’s like the screenwriters began with a few really cool concepts (unknown spy agency, revenge on Vesper) then let it unravel to a mess in which they were searching for ways to tie the ending up.

 

It didn’t feel like a “Bond” movie. Yes, we loved “Austin Powers” for skewering the “Bond” franchise, and we loved “Jason Bourne” because he was the gritty, American “non-Bond” spy. But if Bond can’t be Bond, then what is he? I’ll give “Casino Royale” it’s points for re-igniting the franchise and starting to build Bond from the ground up, but no “shaken, not stirred” quips. No Q/R gadgets. And a Bond villain that makes Elliott Carver (Pryce) from “Tomorrow Never Dies” hand down his “Worst Bond Villain Ever” crown. And when the Bond girls seem to be thrown in to serve the story (yeah, I know, but still) England, we have a problem. Maybe I’m being harsh because I had hoped that these signature Bond elements would’ve at least shown some incorporation, instead of the producers feeling like they should capitalize on what made “Bourne” a great series. Again this is James Bond, not Jason Bourne.

 

And I know it’s petty, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the “Another Way to Die,” the theme song to the movie. I like Jack White (the White Stripes) and Alicia Keys I appreciate, and they do work well together, but I wasn’t overly taken. I know that getting creative on a Bond theme song is getting more difficult to do (referencing death? Check. Referencing women? Check? He’s a spy and he may die at any given moment? Check) but still, this theme is only marginally better than Madonna’s “Die Another Day,” which wasn’t even as good as “Beautiful Stranger,” the song she did for “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” Maybe Chris Cornell’s “You Know My Name” (the “Casino Royale” theme) is a hard act to follow.

 

One other small note: a theme in the movie was keeping tab on how many people were killed because of Bond. Was this necessary? M constantly nags about every single kill Bond makes. I don’t remember this happening in any other Bond film and it’s not so much a welcome addition. He’s a spy, there are bad guys who are shot and killed… was I the only one to get irritated by this? If you know that most of the ones getting killed were bad guys in the first place, why care? Maybe it’s me and movie logic, but injecting too much reality into a Bond movie turns it sour.

 

Here’s to my hopes that since vengeance has been dealt, Mr. Bond will find his way again.

 

My grade: C+/B-

31
Oct
08

November Movie Release Schedule

 

 

 

“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa” – Formerly “The Crate Escape,” those crazy New York Zoo animals try leaving the island, only to end up in Africa. They may spend some time kissing the rains… Opens November 7, 2008.

 

“Role Models” – Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd are energy-drink reps who get in trouble and are sentenced to community service via “Big Brothers.” Opens November 7th, 2008

 

“Soul Men” – Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson are the surviving members of a 70’s soul group called The Real Deal. They take a road trip to the Apollo Theatre in honor of their late frontman (played by Isaac Hayes). Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes were working on this film before their passing. Opens November 7, 2008

 

“Slumdog Millionaire” – An 18-year-old kid from the slums of India goes on their version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in order to find the girl of his dreams. Opens November 12, 2008

 

“Quantum of Solace” – Bond is back! Opens November 14, 2008

 

“Bolt” – The title character is a dog for a hit TV show that winds up –mistakenly- to New York City, where his adventure back to Hollywood begins. CG-feature with the voices of John Travolta and Susie Essman. Opens November 21, 2008

 

“Twilight” – A girl is sent to live with her father in the state of Washington. While there, she falls in love with a kid named Edward Cullen. Edward is a vampire. Opens November 21. 2008

 

“Australia” – Word War II period piece with Nicole Kidman inheriting a ranch the size of Maryland and Hugh Jackman as the guy she reluctantly gets to help her drive 2,000 head of cattle across the country. Hugh’s not the only one who would do that for her… Opens November 26, 2008

 

“Four Christmases” – Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon are an unhappily married couple who must go to four separate family Christmases. Let me know how that one ends… Opens November 26, 2008

 

“Milk” – Gus van Sant biopic on Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man voted into a public office. Opens November 26, 2008

 

“Transporter 3” – Jason Statham is back as the lead character. Opens November 26, 2008

 

18
Sep
08

New James Bond theme

 

 

Check it out! The new theme for the Bond movie, “Quantum of Solace,” as performed by Alicia Keyes and Jack White.

http://www.imeem.com/people/Gnuk1-O/music/PFQVHzx8/alicia_keys_another_way_to_die_feat_jack_white/

09
Jun
08

Five, Top Five: My Fave Bond Films

“Goldfinger” (1965) – Following “Dr. No,” “Goldfinger” was Sean Connery’s second outing as Bond in a film that, in my opinion, was far better. Bond deals with megalomaniac Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), who plans to contaminate the gold at Fort Knox, with the help of his assistant (with the razor Bowler hat) Oddjob (Harold Sakata) and private pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). Besides becoming the measure of Bond films and inciting homages/clichés, this film has one of the most memorable cinematic scenes: Bond is strapped to a lead table with a laser cutting towards his genitals. He exclaims, “Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger (walking away) stops and replies, “No Mister Bond, I expect you to die.” Classic.

Useless trivia: the replica of Fort Knox is currently house in the Patton Museum, located in Fort Knox. Also, Gert Frobe could not speak English. He mouthed/said the words to the best of his ability and someone else supplied the voice for Goldfinger.

 

“The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974) – Roger Moore was Bond this time around and like my previous selection, this was Moore’s second Bond film (“Live and Let Die” the first). Bond is sent to track down Scaramanga (my FAVORITE Bond Villain, played by Christopher Lee), an assassin who kills for a million bucks-a-pop with a single bullet made from gold with the target’s name on it. Although he has a third nipple, Scaramanga has done well for himself in keeping posh surroundings on a private island with midget security force of Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize). Bond travels to meet Scaramanga and their ensuing fight is in a surrealistic room.

Useless trivia: the room where Scaramanga killed his victims was designed by Surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

 

“The Living Daylights” (1987) – My favorite Bond movie of all time, “TLD” marked the beginning Bond movie for Timothy Dalton (whose Bond career would finish with “License to Kill”). When Russian agent Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) wants to defect to the West, he enlists the help of British Intelligence to get him out, asking for Bond especially. Bond is sent to kill an “assassin” who turns out to be Koskov’s girlfriend (Maryam d’Abo). Taking her along for the ride they cross continents pursuing Koskov and finding out that he’s working with washed-up American arms dealer General Whittaker (Joe Don Baker). This was hands down one of the best Bond stories. Favorite quote: “We have nothing to declare.” “Except this cello!”

Useless trivia: Timothy Dalton was originally cast for the role. He was working on “Brenda Starr,” and pulled out. Producers then went to Pierce Brosnan who wanted to do it, but contractual obligations with “Remington Steele” forbade him from participating. The Producers went back to Dalton who was delayed in working on “Brenda Starr,” which allowed for him to be able to film.

 

“Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) – Another example of an actor’s second Bond outing being better than the first. This time Pierce Brosnan was able to helm the superspy as he went against megalomaniac media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) whose plan for world domination was by controlling the news, and by inciting a war between China and Britain. Helping Bond to save the world is Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese secret agent who can hold her own and whose gadgets can go against Q’s any day. Throw in better action sequences than “GoldenEye,” Terri Hatcher as a “Bond girl,” and one of the best Bond themes (done by Sheryl Crow) this is another of the Best Bond movies (with the exception of the villain).

Useless trivia: This was the first movie produced by Barbara Broccoli, wife of Albert Broccoli. Albert passed away after the release of “GoldenEye.”

 

“Casino Royale” (2006) – Not to be confused with the 1967 “Casino Royale” (taking the title and James Bond name) but more in line with the 1954 TV version, Bond went blonde with actor Daniel Craig. Needing to “re-boot” the franchise after the failures of “The World is not Enough,” and “Die Another Day,” “Casino Royale” was the blood-transfusion the cinema doctor ordered. Craig played the pre-Bond: no gadgets, no fancy one-lines, non-suave, and definitely rough around the edges. He teams up with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) to prevent Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker to world terrorist groups, from winning at the Casino Royale. With non-stop action sequences (I almost needed an oxygen tank to watch it in the theater) and a great theme by Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame) I can’t recommend this movie enough.

Useless trivia: Daniel Craig is the only actor to play James Bond who was not alive when “Dr. No” was released. In fact, being born in 1968, he missed the releases of “From Russia With Love,” Goldfinger,” “Thunderball,” and “You Only Live Twice.” It is possible that his parents took him to see “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (w/ George Lazenby.