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Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

Spy Vs. Spy

December 9th, 2012 No comments

The older I get, the more I think that I understand the disappointment of the previous generation. They see the world slipping away from them. For good or ill, their time has passed.

Our popular culture is codified by demography. Marketers endlessly chase 18-34 year-olds. They might invite the 35-49s to peer under the tent, but once one hits the big five-oh, the circus packs up and rolls on to the next cow town.

Which is a long and melodramatic way of saying that I’m a grumpy, old man who doesn’t care much for your newfangled James Bond.

Now, I know that you didn’t truly enjoy¬†Quantum of Solace either. But you thought that Casino Royale was the best thing since shaken martinis, and that the latest installment, Skyfall, was even better.

And what I have to resign myself to is that you and I just want different things. I want my James Bond to be less mopey. Ruminating about his mortality is something Bond should do on his own time, not mine.

I think that my dissatisfaction with what passes for a James Bond joint these days is exemplified by his meeting with the new Q. The young quartermaster hands him his gadgets for this adventure: a pistol and a radio. Granted that even Bond is disappointed. Q tells him that they don’t do exploding pens anymore.

Well, why am I watching, then? Bond isn’t Bourne, or that Mission: Impossible guy. What separates 007 from every other homicidal secret agent is that he’s the one with the magnetic wristwatch and the car that turns into a submarine. There are all manner of action heroes who don’t battle cat-stroking masterminds in volcano strongholds.

In their place, we get Javier Bardem as a former MI-6 agent gone rogue. He’s flamboyant enough to be a decent 007 villain, but his scheme is decidedly low-wattage. He wants to kill Bond’s boss, M. And…that’s it. Okay, he wants to humiliate her first. That’s something, I guess.

But everything else–exposing embedded agents, blowing up MI-6, getting himself captured–is all part of a needlessly-complicated plot with the sole endgame of putting a cap in Judi Dench’s ass. This isn’t a movie about a super secret agent saving the world. It’s about spies killing spies, with the rest of us caught in the crossfire.

The opening sequence–by far the best part of the film–is a thrilling chase through city streets, across rooftops and finally atop a speeding train. It’s endearingly over-the-top, climaxing with Bond recoupling the train using a convenient backhoe. For those few minutes, I had hopes that the franchise was at last emerging from the doldrums. Unfortunately, that was the action highlight.

Bond spends the next half hour or so being pissed off at M for ordering a fellow agent to take a risky rifle shot which hits him instead of the target. Pity he had none of that concern for the literally hundreds of innocent pedestrians and motorists injured during their damn-the-torpedoes chase.

The fact that (MAJOR SPOILER) Bond ultimately fails to save M renders even more pointless the lost lives of all those thugs, assassins, agent provocatrixes and unlucky security guards that fell along the way. (SPOILER ENDS)

Like the early Star Trek feature films, the major theme of Skyfall is age. I’m not certain that it’s a great idea to acknowledge that Bond is aging out of the moviegoing demographic. It’s not like there won’t be another actor in the role in five years or so. Besides, it begs the question of when in 007’s timeline this is taking place. On one hand, the beloved Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger comes out of mothballs for a final road trip, yet the film concludes with Bond being formally introduced to Miss Moneypenny, the secretary who appeared in every last one of the non-Daniel Craig 007 films, including four with Judi Dench’s M.

Perhaps James Bond is getting forgetful? He’ll be a grumpy, old man himself one day soon.

Categories: Movies Tags: , ,

2008 At The Movies

January 7th, 2009 No comments

Another year, another movie wrap-up. Here’s the list of all 2008 releases I tramped down to the multimegaplex to watch. As always, films are listed in terms of domestic box-office because I’m lazy and therefore cribbing from the yearly summary at Box Office Mojo.

  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • WALL-E
  • Quantum of Solace
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Get Smart
  • Tropic Thunder
  • Cloverfield
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  • Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • Baby Mama
  • Burn After Reading
  • Speed Racer
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars

That’s fifteen, two down from last year. And only five of the top 10, also down two. Maybe I should’ve seen Hancock and Madagascar 2? Eh, maybe not.

Going into 2008, a lot of folks–including myself–were seeing the potential for another 1982, a banner year for filmic geekdom. Certainly, there were a great many prominent genre efforts, despite Star Trek and Harry Potter being pushed back into 2009 for reasons known only to movie marketers.

I suspect that for many geeks and geeks-in-training, it was every bit as big as ’82. Theater clean-up crews are still wiping up the spooge deposited at screenings of The Dark Knight, the bestest movie EVER. Similarly, Iron Man had folks falling over each other on the way to the microphone to proclaim its sublime charms.

For me, 2008 was a little bet “meh.”

First, let’s get The Dark Knight out of the way. It’s telling that I not only didn’t run out and buy the DVD on its day of release (which you can damn well bet I did for Speed Racer), but I didn’t even put it on my Christmas list. Ultimately, I did receive a copy as a holiday gift, and I do intend to give it another whirl.

My relative lack of enthusiasm for The Dark Knight is for much the same reason as my muted reaction to the regenerated James Bond series: it just didn’t give me what I wanted from the franchise. Like Quantum of Solace, I respect the level of talent involved, as well as the need to curb the excesses of the past, but at the end of the day I guess I’m just not ready for a complete reinvention. For me, Dark Knight was only a superhero movie in that someone wore a cape; it was closer in feel to a modern crime drama or even a Silence of the Lambs-style thriller. And I’m sorry, but Heath Ledger is my fourth favorite Joker.

Iron Man was another one that had both fanboys and regular critics touching themselves, but again I struggled to see what the fuss was about. I did actually ask for this one at Christmas, and watched it a second time over the holiday break. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable film. Robert Downey Jr. is having fun, and it shows. On a second viewing, I still found it to suffer from a relative paucity of Iron Man; there are long stretches in which not much happens, and even the final fight is fairly brief. I actually found The Incredible Hulk a bit more satisfying as a superhero film.

The “meh” continued with Indiana Jones and Hellboy II. I enjoyed them, but neither knocked my socks off. I do think that public reaction to Indiana Jones was a bit harsh in that everyone seemed to be anticipating another Raiders of the Lost Ark rather than another Last Crusade. And all the indignation about “nuking the fridge” seemed more about trying to invent a new “jump the shark” meme than a legitimate criticism of a series that has always reveled in unbelievable moments. Back in the day, my dad complained mightily about Indiana Jones getting pulled under that truck in Raiders, and I recall similar audience reactions to Indy using a rubber raft to escape a crashing plane in Temple of Doom. The real problem with Crystal Skull was that damned crystal skull.

Another Lucasfilm release was Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which amounted to little more than a cash-grab culled from the weekly animated series. One thing that has become clear is that for as much bitching as we old-school fans do about the prequels, for today’s kids this is Star Wars, and they love it.

The other entry in the computer-animated space robot sweepstakes was WALL-E, which was a sheer delight, start to finish. I don’t go to enough movies to confidently claim that any of them is the “best of” a given year, but WALL-E was the best that I saw.

Long-time readers will of course know that I absolutely loved Speed Racer. And hey, there are at least two of us: Richard Corliss over at Time magazine put it on his top 10 list. It reminded me of another film I adored, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, not only because of its entirely green-screened sets and hyper-unreality, but because in both cases audiences just didn’t seem to care. A lot of folks who were perfectly okay with the likes of Transformers suddenly demanded complex plots and realistic characters from their popcorn flicks. Whatever. I think that blogger Chris Sims summed it up best when he chalked up its poor reception to people who actively hated joy.

Cloverfield was another movie made expressly for me. Despite my ongoing hassle with Hasbro over my duplicate Cloverfield monster, I really liked this modern take on the venerable giant monster movie subgenre.

I saw a few good comedies this year. Forgetting Sarah Marshall had a lot of good moments–especially the climactic Dracula puppet musical–but I could’ve done without having to see Jason Segal’s junk. Tropic Thunder was ridiculous fun, with Robert Downey Jr. once again the big draw, though no moment was funnier than one featuring Ben Stiller and his would-be adopted “son”. Despite my well-documented love of Tina Fey, I felt that Baby Mama went a bit flat, and wasn’t nearly as good as Mean Girls. Get Smart managed not to tread upon my affection for the original TV series, and I felt that both Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway acquitted themselves in the roles created by Don Adams and Barbara Feldon. Finally there was Burn After Reading, which alternated between hilarious and too weird for words.

Can’t say that there’s a lot I’m looking forward to in 2009, aside from the aforementioned Star Trek and Harry Potter (and it must be said that this is my least favorite story in the Potter series). Land of the Lost is on my radar, though the inclusion of Will Ferrell makes me wonder what they’re going for; at least it appears to include old-school Sleestak. Terminator: Salvation has my interest, if only because it’ll finally pay off the future war we’ve been promised since the original film. And the new Wolverine flick looks promising; while I don’t have the Wolverine love that most comics fans do, I’ll admit that Hugh Jackman was a lot of fun in the previous X-Men films. Oh, and Watchmen, assuming it actually comes out.

Shaky, Not Stirring

December 30th, 2008 No comments

I finally got around to seeing Quantum of Solace this afternoon. I’d actually intended to go the weekend that it came out, but we’ve been rather busy these past couple of months and I kept putting it off until it was down to playing only twice a day on a single screen. I’ve seen every Bond film from Diamonds are Forever onward during its initial theatrical run, and to break that 37-year streak was unthinkable.

Truth is, I wasn’t that excited about the flick, given its tepid reviews and my own partial indifference to the previous installment, Casino Royale. Yeah, I know, I know, that’s heresy. Casino Royale is the best Bond ever, reinvents the franchise, stone-cold killer, doesn’t give a shit about how his vodka martinis are prepared, yada, yada, yada. While I agree that Bond needed a 21st Century makeover, and appreciate the talent and care that went into the production, in the end I found myself missing some of the old Bond tropes.

Don’t get me wrong; I hate Moonraker as much as the next British spy fan. I despise the low points of the Roger Moore era*: the Tarzan yell, the Beach Boys surf song, the slide whistle sound effect. I’m not looking for a return to the bad old days.

On the other hand, I do come into a Bond film with certain expectations. There should be a megalomaniacal villain with an audacious plan (large scale model of a major landmark optional) and a visually distinctive henchman. There should be a couple of cool secret agent gadgets, and preferably a car with secret guns or rockets. And there absolutely must be a woman with an unlikely name suitable for a double entendre.

You see, while many decry The World is Not Enough for having Denise Richards play a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones, I love it for precisely that reason. In a Bond film, of course the nuclear scientists look like Denise Richards. (And if anyone wants to make an argument that this sort of thing undercuts the seriousness of a Bond story, I’ll remind you that it was Ian Fleming himself that came up with Pussy Galore.)

So, on to Quantum of Solace. Right up front I’ll say that it was pretty good, certainly nothing that anyone should be embarrassed about. Daniel Craig may not be my Bond, but I accept him as a Bond.

That said, I think the best thing these modern Bond films have going for them is Dame Judi Dench as M. She spends much of her appearance here becoming increasingly exasperated with Bond’s tendency to kill their most promising leads, and provides some much-needed humor in contrast to Craig’s tight-ass.

There are a couple of big action sequences right off the bat that would be thrilling if it were at all possible to tell what was going on. Edited into a montage of split-second, shaky-cam shots, I had a hard time following the characters’ spatial relationships to each other or even what cool stunts they were attempting to demonstrate. Honestly, guys, it’s okay to allow a shot to exceed .61 seconds. Fortunately, things do eventually settle down a bit, and I found later set pieces involving a boat chase and an aerial battle much easier to take in.

One welcome aspect of this film is that it introduces a new villainous organization to the Bond franchise, a collection of shady power brokers known as Quantum. (Bond’s previous nemeses, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and Blofeld, are unusable thanks in part to legal issues surrounding the characters, and also to Mike Myers as Dr. Evil, who has forever ruined the credibility of Nehru jacket-wearing, cat-stroking wickedness.) Quantum’s goals and ambitions are left somewhat vague, but there’s a good foundation there for future world-domination plots.

Unfortunately, Quantum doesn’t make the best showing here. Main baddie Dominic Greene is little more than a bug-eyed thug, and his cunning plan is to secure the water rights for a drought-ravaged Bolivia. Excuse me while I couldn’t possibly care. It ain’t exactly a diamond-encrusted laser satellite or a rocket that eats other rockets, is what I’m sayin’. I think that various shots of dry, dusty Bolivian peasants are supposed to get us emotionally invested in the scheme, but even after Quantum is thwarted and their artificially-created drought is ended, I still have no sense that the lives of anyone are likely to be any better; the film makes clear that it’ll be only a matter of days before the next dictator takes over the country.

And, if any further evidence be needed that this was perhaps not the Bond film for me, consider this: the one woman that Bond beds is named Strawberry Fields, and that fact is never once referenced. She makes a point of solely calling herself “Ms. Fields;” only the credits give her full name. I mean, come on, would the whole franchise come crashing down were we to hear one sniggering sexual pun? Not even “Let me take you down, Strawberry Fields?”

* Not to be unduly harsh on Roger Moore, who was my Bond during my formative years. I actually like most of his entries in the series, with the obvious exceptions of Moonraker and A View to a Kill. It’s just that even in the middle of a decent romp like Octopussy, you get a moment so fucking stupid (the Tarzan yell) that you want to sink into your theater seat and hope that no one saw you in the audience.

Categories: Movies Tags: , ,

Pearls Of Wisdom

December 20th, 2007 No comments

Yesterday, I attempted to argue with the readers of Kevin Church’s comics blog (click on the comments to read the exchange) that the depiction of the Joker in the Dark Knight trailer is lacking an essential Jokerly quality. What I subsequently learned:

1) Do not, even jokingly, be dismissive of the movie Casino Royale.

2) Spider-Man 2 would’ve been taken much more seriously if the filmmakers had ignored all those previous depictions of Dr. Octopus as a scientist with four mechanical arms and just made him a thug with some switchblades.