Wednesday, January 16, 2019

I Spectre You To Die, Mr Bond

[spoilers follow]
So Spectre has all the stunts, beautiful women, hard men, action, blah blah that you want, yet I still didn't walk away thinking it was a good Bond film. Why?
First, it's just me, I think. I just couldn't connect with the film. I viscerally disliked the reboot of Spectre. I didn't like Blofeld as a character -- Waltz is terrible, chewing the scenery for all he's worth, and the idea that he's Bond's brother, which you suppose is meant to add emotional weight, adds nothing to him as a character or to a film that seems unmoored at best.
The action is excellent, of course, although perhaps it's all a bit stunt heavy. There are lots of callbacks to previous Bond films, including the fight on the train that featured in From Russia With Love. But I think that's part of the problem. This *feels* old, retreading previous ideas, and it just didn't power itself, the plot too lazy and the script underwritten. There's definitely a good film in there but it didn't emerge really. And don't get me started on the guy from Sherlock and whatever the fuck he's up to. It's just trying to say too much politically and doesn't tie in very well with Spectre. Had it posed more *threat* to Bond, it might have worked better. Also, that guy sucks. He can't act for shit and look, camp just doesn't express anything. You can't rely on it to convey sinister or arch or whatever it's meant to be. And very few films are actually improved for featuring a pantomime dame, particularly not Bond, where the strength is to pretend to be serious while actually being preposterous.
Okay, I'ma say C for this. There are many worse but it's not top echelon. The action is good but not innovative -- and watch this space because as I write this I'm watching the cold open of Skyfall and it's amazing -- so it can't lift this to anything higher. Craig is good but he does look worn out. Bring on Idris now, guys.

Skyfail?

[spoilers follow]
So after Quantum of Solace, many people, me included, were asking whether there was any point to the new Bond. Casino Royale had been promising rather than actually good and QoS was a bag of shit (yeah I'm looking forward to that one).
And in advance we knew that Skyfall would take Bond back to his childhood (yawn) and that he'd be an inch from the scrapheap (not very good when the competition is young, thrusting Matt Damon).
But then there's *that* cold open, one of the best if not the best. And the theme music, which says "this film will be epic". And by god, it is. I'd forgotten how good it is. Paced brilliantly, with heartstopping action and explainy bits you can't quite grasp. Great villian who hands out a lesson in creepy camp (the contrast with the Sherlock guy is in itself a masterclass in how to do it and how not). Awesome story. Sexy chicks including a new spin on Moneypenny (wasted in Spectre) and a nerdy new Q (wasted in Spectre as well).
Well, it just kicks arse start to finish. If you don't like Skyfall, you don't like Bond films. And that's okay. But I do and I loved this. Craig even does jokes and does them, well, grumpily but that's okay. I mean, it's fair to say that this film wore out his welcome and he'd never top it. The key is that Bond hates being Bond -- and the villain illuminates that "rat in a trap" feeling that Bond struggles with. It's the one aspect of Bond Craig really nails. You can see the lonely child underneath the sociopath but more importantly, you can see a sociopath who sees himself as exactly what Javier Bardem says he is: a twisted, dark soul keeping himself together with booze, fucking and mindless murder.
All in all, this is top-grade Bond. A/B. A for action, music, stunts, script, performances and just sliding into a B because it's a tad too long and probably takes itself just a bit too seriously. Still, from start to finish, one of the best action films of all time. Fight me if you don't think so but you're wrong

Quantum of Rubbish

[spoilers follow]
Why is it so hard to love Quantum of Solace? Daniel Craig is excellent throughout, there are hot girls, there's tons of action, it's gritty (almost beyond bearing). Surely these ingredients can be boiled into a good film?
Well, the problem is, you notice how good Craig is because of the rubbish he's involved in. The other actors are terribad -- what the hell is that villain? And my god, the Bolivian colonel is a parody of a stereotype -- the very thing I thought the new Bond was trying to avoid. The women actors are unwatchable. Olga Kurylenko is hot, sure, but there's something really unattractive about her and she can't act at all -- the best Bond girls are great actors, as we'll discuss when we get into Pussy Galore  Gemma Arterton is also atrocious. And bad acting is not the whole of it. The story is bad, delivered with a script that for once in a Bond film doesn't have enough words. It's just a trail of cliches banging into each other.
And even the action isn't all that. Look, I love the Greengrass style of frantic jump cutting but it has to be placed in the right context and this isn't it (contrast with the brutal fight in the cold open of Casino Royale, where long cuts are intermixed with closeups of Bond to really create deep action -- *that* is how you do it). From the bewildering cold open through fights that make little or no sense, it's all too frantic and ultimately too boring. Why make Bond into Bourne? And why make him into Bourne with not even the backing of a Bourne-level story (which isn't much)?
Worse, the director doesn't even bother trying to establish any chemistry between Bond and the women (or anyone else -- there's often a sort of homoerotic attraction between the villain and Bond -- Le Chiffre gets Bond naked and indulges in some ball torture; Souza clearly wants Bond to be his boyfriend; Blofeld has some childhood masturbation issues to work through). He barely gets a decent line to drop and they have no character at all. You have to feel a bit sorry for Kurylenko, lumbered with a terrible revenge arc that doesn't make sense as a plot motivator to say the least. Except that she should never had the role. She just isn't an actress the way Eva Green, excellent in Casino Royale, is.
The theme music also sucks, which is usually a bad sign. It's lazy and boring just like most of the White Stripes' output. The sound design on the whole is a bit meh. I remember watching this in the cinema and it didn't have that visceral feel that a good action film brings.
Okay, so this is at best C/D and that's only because Craig is an effective Bond if not necessarily a convincing action star. I'm glad they stepped it up for Skyfall though. I mean, I'm not exaggerating when I say that in its best moments this touches mediocre.

Casino Royal Flush

[spoilers follow]
As a fan of Bond, both books and film, I was quite nervous about the reboot that was to star Daniel Craig. I had my own view of how Bond looked and like most fans, I suppose I saw him as tall, broadchested yet trim, dark and aristocratic. Craig is more like a blond barrel so I was sceptical.
But I was willing to give him a chance and, as all Bond fans know, there had never been a good version of Casino Royale, so there was a possibility that they would be faithful to the book.
The cold open showed that Craig could do brutal and cold blooded. And by god, could he! But how would he fit the famous tuxedo? As it turns out, brilliantly. Craig in Casino Royale is quintessential Bond and the film is a fit setting for him. Faithful to the book (yay), even the upgrade to the more topical poker (hilariously badly presented) could not spoil what for me is the pinnacle of Bond. This is how all Bond films should be: witty, hard, exciting but not action led, brutal, coherent and just this side of taxing.
Craig is aided by what has to be the best Bond girl yet. Eva Green is dynamite as Vesper Lynd. It helps that she gets all the best lines but she doesn't flub them. She's astonishingly good-looking, of course, but not just a pretty face. She's easily Craig's equal as an actor. That's how you do Bond girl (and look, there's no way Olga Kurylenko could match that performance, even if QOS had given her the opportunity).
The action is top rate. There isn't a huge amount and to be honest, most of the better Bonds have been light on the action and made really good use of what they had. It was clever stuff: the defibrillator scene is sharp, the fights are shot to perfection, and the setpiece stunt scenes are thrilling. It absolutely pumps when it has to. And when it's not pumping, you can feel the tension of a film that's biding its time.
Key to a great Bond film is a great villain. It's no surprise that weaker films -- for instance, Sceptre -- suffer from having poorly written and poorly cast villains, and the stronger ones have great campy nutjobs who use just enough subtlety to shade their characters. Mads Mikkelsen is a smirking autist who cries blood (and us aspies make great villain material, obv.) -- and he has an edge of transgression that overflows when for someone reason he tortures Bond by stripping him naked (and pauses to admire his physique) and playing with his balls. You can imagine him masturbating between swings of the rope. You can *feel* the sexual tension. And he isn't all powerful or even particularly clever. He is on the back foot from the start, desperate to get square before he gets killed.
So yeah, the reboot worked. More than that. This is not just probably the best Bond film they have made. It was a genuinely good film. I seem to recall some talk of Oscars. And that would really not have been insane. It's that good. It's the only Bond film I can just say, A is for awesome, and I wouldn't even fight you if you disagreed. I'd just assume you didn't know a thing about films in general, or genre in particular. This is why I for one go to watch every new Bond film in the cinema. Because there's just the chance there'll be another Casino Royale.

Dying On Its Arse Another Day

[spoilers follow]
So for an hour, Die Another Day is just bowling along, a fairly typical Bond film. It has a nice edge of dark about it and Brosnan is even quite watchable. I have no idea what Halle Berry is doing but she's nice enough to look at. Hilariously, throughout the film, Berry's lines are ALL oneliners and wisecracks. She just spits cliches. At least she has the good taste to look fainty bored all the way through.
And this could have continued and we'd be discussing a fairly decent Bond film. But someone turned the needle to WTF and it just went off the hook. And when I say off the hook, I mean, not even in the same fucken room as the hook.
I mean, there's probably -- no not even probably, definitely -- the most lunatic whitewashing of a character you've ever seen. I have no idea why a North Korean becomes white but he does. And his sidekick is a British spy who betrays her country for no good reason whatsoever (Rosamund Pike -- who funnily enough I see as a possible future Jane Bond). There's an invisible car. Bond windsurfs down a CGI glacier and how do I know it's full-on CGI? Because no effort is made to blend Bond into it. He then prances around in a cardboard set that looks nothing at all like Iceland.
There's an ice palace. Which melts. Nearly drowning Berry. And that's relatively sensible. The last half an hour is totally incomprehensible. I literally had no idea not only why things were happening but also how. It didn't just beggar belief. It said fuck belief. It kicked belief out of the door and went. off.
Now I don't mind a film going off. I love Safe, where Statham murders a couple of thousand Chinese, and I'll even buy Expendables-level gunfights, and the stunts in Fast and Furious (my favourite stunt ever is the parachuting SUVs not even kidding). But where this ought to be thrilling, it's just bad. They spent millions on this nonsense but it looks cheap. It has the look of something directed by committee.
Oh wait, nearly forgot. Madonna's theme music. If you've never heard it, give it a try. Ha ha no. Only kidding. Make sure you in no way ever listen to that because it's like staring into the abyss. You'll question your own existence when you realise there are people who thought that was a good idea.
Right. What can we say? I was never a fan of Brosnan and he looks barely interested all the way through. He's better at the start and gets worse as it goes on. Most of the plot is incomprehensible and if you look away for a minute, chances are you'll have no idea what the fuck is going on, and that won't change. I missed a minute and suddenly the main villain had three henchmen I had no idea who they were and it seemed neither did they. There's a death ray. No idea how or why.
So yeah, if it had continued in the tracks it laid in the first hour... no wait, it would still have been shit. Because they invented gene therapy just so the main villain wouldn't be Asian. And he's*still* one of the worst Bond villains I've seen. And there are like three good oneliners in the whole film. Yeah that'd be good for Skyfall -- dark Bond -- and three more than Dalton did in his whole time as Bond, but when I tell you there are approximately seven hundred oneliners in the whole film, you get the idea how bad this is. There is too much action and it's too stunty. And that fucken invisible car. D for drag it outta here. Drag it. Drag. It.

The World Is More Than Enough

[spoilers follow]
Look, I admit, I'm not a Brosnan fan. But I think he earns it. He looks like a man who is thinking about what to have for supper. And that's not the only problem The World Is Not Enough has.
Where to start? The plodding action? Well, at least there's a lot less than there is in Die Another Day, and the film makes sense, even if it's hard to care about. Robert Carlyle's hilariously bad villain? Look. He was Begbie. We can forgive *some* shit. But it's a careerload now. Robbie Coltrane's hilariously awful Russian accent? It was the best bit of his character! That dude is the curse of death to any middling film or TV series, seriously.
Denise Richards? Worst ever? Or worst ever? You decide. Nuclear scientist inexplicably in uber tight shorts? Tits that should be billed separately? I'm not kidding. Those things do all the acting for Denise. And they're ridiculous. But not as ridiculous as her "reading off cards" rendering of her lines. Or her "this is my stern face" acting.
In contrast is Sophie Marceau. I have no idea why her career kind of died after this. She's excellent. She is *so* sexy you can believe she believes she's *so* sexy Bond won't kill her. And what the fuck, he does. Come on man. I mean, for him it's no big deal because he has lined up Denise Richards as his next shagpiece but my god. You don't just kill a villain as good as Sophie. You have to at least regret it.
So there's some balls about a nucular weapon and some other bullshit with M (and although I'll agree that Judi Dench rocks that role from first to last scene, everything she does in this film is nonsense). And cetera. I mean, I defy anyone to give a shit. If the action was a bit spicier... no, there's still that awful fucken scene where Denise Richards says something about unwrapping presents.
C/D. And tbh that's generous. It's mostly just shit. Not terrible awful except... then you start thinking about Goldie. Fucken Goldie.. And yes, it's terrible awful. Drag it out and shoot it.

Tomorrow Dies of Shame

[spoilers follow]
So I'm not a stickler for realism in an action film by any means but there's a point in a gunfight where you just can't care for characters who fire machine guns round corners or literally change hands while still firing their tommy gun.
Not that I cared much anyway. I think this is the biggest failing of Brosnan's Bond. I just don't like him at all. And not in that he's a psycho way you don't like Craig but in a "your'e not moving me at all" way. Tomorrow Never Dies is much better than the other two Brosnan Bonds I watched but I still haven't warmed to him.
My stream was a bit choppy so my interest wavered more than usual but I have absolutely no idea what was going on. Something about the media and something about China. The first was represented by Jonathan Pryce, who completely ignored the idea that he was supposed to act and went full pantomime dame; the second by indiscriminate Chinamen, whom Michelle Yeoh kicked into tomorrow.
I don't actually know what Yeoh was doing in the film bar looking cool in every scene, and I have even less idea what Teri Hatcher was doing. Luckily, neither seemed to make much impact on the movie, except for some sweet kung fu.
The action was all in all pretty good. The cold open is preposterous but fun and the motorbike chase with handcuffed Yeoh was exceptional. This is pretty much peak action Bond so I suppose plot and character take a back seat. And they do. Still, the stunts are decent even if not even close to credible.
We're going to call this a C. You'd maybe rate it higher if you just thought of this as a straight action film, but in that case, there wasn't enough kung fu. Its the golden rule, of course: once you go kung, you must supplly fu.
edit: Oh, oh, almost forgot, that theme song! I'm not an expert on music or anything but Sheryl Crow doesn't sound close to the notes she's aiming at. Have a listen and see what you think. If you can bear it.