Posts Tagged ‘007

11
Nov
12

Review: The Sky Really Did Fall

Missed a step? I’m still younger than Roger Moore was in A View to a Kill.

First, contrary to advance word, Skyfall is definitely not the best Bond movie ever. Yet, it is a game changer with some eye-popping moments never seen in a 007 film before so it’s definitely worth seeing for both fans and non-fans. (Incidentally, that little top 10 list I made yesterday? Chuck #10 and replace A View to a Kill with this flick.)

But, there is absolutely no way to have a frank discussion without spoilers so be warned. Turn back now if you haven’t seen it.

Let’s start with the negatives.

Inexplicably, they kill off Judi Dench as M. Unless she, as an actress, wanted to retire, that decision is completely ludicrous. Only she can pull off an Alfred Tennyson poem in the middle of a government hearing in an action movie. Ralph Fiennes is introduced as a bureaucrat monitoring M and by the end of Skyfall, he has taken her place behind the desk handing Bond confidential files. And the problem is, his character is nowhere near as compelling as Dench’s.

On the road to retirement.

In fact, there’s a lot of the sense that they are bringing in the new and tossing out the old in Skyfall. Much is made that 007 has “missed a step” and needs to be put out to pasture and M must retire. Didn’t they just reboot the bloody series a few years ago? If that’s the case, why not just hire Henry Cavill and start the whole thing over again. Again.

Director Sam Mendes (The Road to Perdition, American Beauty) finally dumps The Bourne Identity mimicking tone and while refreshing with some just plain jaw-dropping, sumptuous cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption), somehow it doesn’t work. Even though the most exciting action sequences: the opening train destruction in Turkey, the train destruction in London, a fistfight outlined in blue neon, the shootout in a courtroom, a helicopter crashing into an old manor at the climax… Everything seems to fall flat. There’s no punctuation to the violence. And when Bond and Silva finally have their final confrontation, it isn’t the competitive match we expect. At times, the pacing seems more like the recent Alex Cross, not a Bond movie.

“Pull my finger.” “What makes you think this is my first time?”

The soundtrack by director Sam Mendes’s frequent composer Thomas Newman is particularly disappointing, especially after the great strides made by David Arnold. The music is a tad too non-intrusive and we miss the eponymous Bond theme more than ever. Sometimes during the action scenes, even we find ourselves humming it on our own.

Adele’s theme song, listened to on its own seems subdued and derivative, but in the context of the film itself, it turns out to be absolutely perfect. Daniel Kleinmen returns for the opening credits and it’s the most visually compelling since Casino Royale. It’s a surreal, swooping, unnerving murky underwater nightmare of moving feminine curves and bleeding target range body-sheets that will look terrific on Blu-ray.

I giggle a lot because this isn’t really a tobacco cigarette.

Also beautiful is French actress Berenice Marlohe as the mysterious bad guy’s girl Severine. Slinking around in black dress and equally black goth make-up, she just looks gorgeously intriguing right up until the moment she is called upon by the screenplay to portray fear. Then, inexplicably, she has a case of the giggles. Without hesitation, Connery’s Bond would’ve slapped her back into reality.

Albert Finney has a wasted small part towards the conclusion as the gameskeeper of Bond’s old family estate and his presence is a bit unnecessary. Usually Bond doesn’t need amateur assistance, especially from a crotchety character straight out of a Dickens novel. Usually the job goes to the Bond girl to assist 007 during the final conflict. This makes Finney Craig’s Bond girl. Eww… Either that or the bisexuality theory just took an extremely fascinating turn.

Moneypenny is finally introduced in the form of Naomi Harris. It’s a subterfuge; the press releases and advance media portrays her as a Bond girl but by film’s end we learn her last name and find her behind a desk in front of M’s inner sanctum. Frankly, it all feels like a gimmick. And as we infer by the famous shaving scene, her and Bond did it. I know we’re re-inventing the series but Bond and Moneypenny should never oof—that’s just wrong. Their whole relationship is based on unrequited flirting. Prior to Skyfall, I always felt that Moneypenny should be gay; someone for Bond to mercilessly toy with. Oh well… These fill-ins just feel like gimmicks as opposed to organic elements added to the Craig canon.

The interrogation is gonna be THIS big.

But leading from homoeroticism, here’s what does make Skyfall work: at the top of the list is Javier Bardem as the evil, unhinged Silva. Arguably the best villain since Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill, he steps it up from his sociopath in No Country for Old Men and goes full-on into psychopath territory. Bardem is given so many great moments, more than Craig himself: his intro with the rat monologue, a deadly game of William Tell with old fashioned pistols, his revealing of a deformity due to a cyanide capsule gone wrong, and best of all, his sketchy, pervy “interrogation” of Bond… It’s the kind of classic jolts that we missed from the villains of the past. (And depending how you interpret Craig’s blech face once Bardem turns his back, could Bond be bisexual?!)

Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) is introduced as Q and he’s completely dorky and watchable even though, as an afterthought, he adds completely nothing to the story. He seems busy pushing a lot of keys on a computer but we really have no idea why. Hopefully he’ll have more to do in the sequels because his presence is refreshing.

Last but not least though is Daniel Craig, Bond himself. His portrayal continues to be sincere and appropriate, no small feat in this era of short-term reboots. While he doesn’t go Roger Moore on us, his subtle injection of humor is just what the series needs for the long term. From adjusting his cuff links after dropping into a train car via construction lift to his confident reply to Silva’s leg-rubbing pass at him: “What makes you think this is my first time?”, Craig proves that the part is his for as long as his muscular fingers want it; regardless if other characters in the movie deem him too old.

I’m actually a trust fund baby. You don’t think I can afford all this on a government salary, do you?

Every moment Craig is onscreen, it’s riveting. You can’t help but think that this is the coolest man on the planet, exactly what James Bond is supposed to embody. He does a tequila shot with a scorpion crawling on his wrist and even though the movie isn’t perfect, you feel you are witnessing the best portrayal of the Ian Fleming creation since…well…Casino Royale. There’s a great moment during a fight with a henchmen in a komodo dragon pit. (Yes, komodo dragons are involved.) Craig has the perfect look of MMA focus and surprised confusion as the slow lizard moves into the frame. And he’s wearing a tux in the scene as well. If he ain’t Bond, who is?

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10
Nov
12

Let the Sky Fall

It’s gratuitous but what the fuck, it’s James Bond’s 50th B-day and Skyfall is shaping up to be what critics are calling the best Bond movie ever. (Not that I would know. I’ve been avoiding the reviews like an airborne Moonraker virus due to spoiler-age.) Nonetheless, as a total geek to her majesty’s secret service’s most famous agent, here’s my top ten 007 flicks. And yes, in some of them, I got a lot of justifying to do but I have this funny feeling, the series is like your taste buds: as you age, things change. When you’re a kid, you hate spinach, but now it’s your favorite side-dish at Wolfgang’s. With a martini. Shaken, not stirred.

1. Casino Royale

Yeah this is totally sacrilegious. Goldfinger is supposed to be your favorite Bond movie but if you’re actually more of an Ian Fleming book freak, Casino Royale hued the closest to the source material in spirit. Not to mention, even beyond Sean Connery, blond and all, Daniel Craig most embodies the blunt, yet soulful, instrument that is essentially James Bond. Plus, that Chris Cornell song was a jolt in the right masculine-aggressive direction.

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2. Never Say Never Again

More sacrilegious blasphemy. This isn’t even an official 007 movie, but still… Klaus Maria Brandauer was the best bad guy ever—and yes, that includes Goldfinger. Remember when he kissed Kim Basinger and made that long spit-line before destroying his own precious heirloom which she was holding? See? He’s totally, believably nuts! And that tango with Connery and Kim Basinger? And Barbara Carrera as a ludicrously sexy femme fatale who wanted to shoot our hero in the balls? We won’t see completely Bond-ian moments like these until two decades later with Famke Janssen in GoldenEye.

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3. GoldenEye

When it was released, Bond was seriously due for a much needed revision and this entry essentially saved the series. The Nintendo game of the film gets the attention so people tend to overlook how much this movie understood the franchise while at the same time turning it on its head. The opening credits were almost brilliantly phallic with gun barrels in women’s mouths while Tina Turner purred lyrics by Bono and The Edge. Bond finally takes on another 00 agent. The banter with Moneypenny is now conducted with an ironic political correctness. But the sauciness is still there. Xenia Onatopp (how’s that for a villain name?) kills men with her thighs causing Bond to eventually point a gun at her and say, “No more foreplay.” If that ain’t improved re-invention enough, we get our first meeting with the chilly yet motherly Judi Dench as M.

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4. Goldfinger

Okay, it’s the classic that started the whole process and established the formula. But seriously, it’s actually pretty slow moving. Perhaps this is because we are all so inoculated with the movements that must have seemed original and thrilling back then; so in a perverse way, Goldfinger doesn’t stand the test of time simply because of the legacy it created. Still, everyone has their favorite moments and there’s so many to choose from. Of course, my preference: “My name is Pussy Galore.” / “I must be dreaming.”

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5. The Living Daylights

Licence to Kill (yes, they used British spelling) gets all the glory, but TImothy Dalton’s portrayal of Bond in this post Cold War thriller was the closest we got to the original Fleming until Craig. Heck, even the a-ha theme song was pretty farking cool. For some reason, during this era of Batman, Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, the world just wasn’t ready for the most cerebral portrayal of Bond ever. The most under-rated 007 film in the series.

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6. For Your Eyes Only

The one and only time Roger Moore was allowed to be something other than a doofus and it’s arguably his best entry. As a direct reaction to the stupidity of Moonraker, we see Moore actually act like a dangerous secret agent. The race on skis down a toboggan route, the out of control helicopter opening, the jalopy car chase, the cold-blooded kick that sends a bad guy off a cliff to his death… Especially after the over-rated The Spy Who Loved Me with Jaws and that underwater car, the cleansing effect is sobering. Extra points for the camp classic Sheena Easton song.

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7. Tomorrow Never Dies

Brosnan’s second entry in the series built upon his strengths as the character. More pathos, this time with Teri Hatcher as a former lover that hints to the possibility that Bond was in a serious long-term relationship, post-Vesper. (No way!) These are all things Craig gets credit for, but the Brosnan films really did try to push the envelope. Tomorrow Never Dies also discovered the best composer since John Barry for the franchise: David Arnold. His techno-flavored score—check out the remote-controlled BMW sequence—dragged the music into the 21st century while still paying the proper homage to the indelible theme.

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8. Die Another Day

The second most under-rated Bond film in the series. Yes, it had an invisible car. So what? That’s what we pay to see. (In fact, that’s the one thing missing from the Craig legacy: the crazy gadget-ridden car chases.) The villains were also Asian for the first time, the North Koreans. (Dr. No doesn’t count.) Even the opening titles took a chance, for the first time telling a narrative: Bond’s torture in the prison over the years. Madonna’s decidedly odd song probably didn’t help matters though. And keeping things low-tech, the epic sword fight between Bond and bad guy may possibly be the best edited and choreographed fight sequence ever in all 22 (so far) films. Yes, even better than Connery versus Robert Shaw in From Russia, With Love.

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9. The Spy Who Loved Me

Like Goldfinger, this one tends to be somewhat overrated simply because of the stunning ski jump opener and Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better,” but the rest of the movie is ridiculous. Most fans love the underwater Lotus, but that stretched it a bit for me, especially when Moore rolls the window down and drops a fish onto the beach. It also introduces Jaws. Again, fans love them some Jaws, but a lot about his character is just kinda stupid. But no stupider than a henchman with diamonds scarred into his face (Die Another Day). Even more brain dead is Barbara Bach. Granted, she’s gorgeous but out of all the women in the films, her stare was definitely the most vacant.

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10. A View to a Kill

And while we’re at the over-rating of the Roger Moore ouvre, A View to a Kill—after over two decades—isn’t that bad. Famously reviled as one of the worst Bond films, it features a balls-out nutso Christopher Walken as a maniacal Nazi experiment and slinky, panther-like Grace Jones parachuting from the Eiffel Tower; classic baddies. Then there was that game-changing Duran Duran song. Granted, the snowboard opening with “California Girls” was cringe-inducing and Moore looked pretty Jurassic by this time, but A View to a Kill is far from guilty of complete negligence.

In fact, all the films, even the worst ones, had its moments. Live and Let Die had crocodile jumping, the rocking Paul McCartney, the luscious Jane Seymour, and an inflatable death scene. The Man with the Golden Gun had Bond dueling Sarumon and that keen dismantling pistol. Even Quantum of Solace had… Well, I can’t think of anything memorable in that one yet. But upon re-watching it, I probably will. And that’s what just plain magical about this series.

What’s your favorite Bond film? Let us know in the comments.




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