Saturday, February 11, 2017

Die Another Day


So now at last we come to the end of Pierce Brosnan's mixed tenure as James Bond.  Today's review is Die Another Day, or as I like to call it, "The Tale of Two Bonds."

"It was the best of Bonds, it was the worst of Bonds."

Yeah, let's just say this is a weird one.  Die Another Day is loathed by most people; many even consider among the worst of the franchise, if not THE worst of the franchise.  An emphasis on explosions, dodgy CGI and invisible cars were all symptoms of everything that was considered bad about the Brosnan era.  And half of the film really is that bad.

Unfortunately, it is the second half of the film, so people leave the movie with the bad taste in their mouths.  But the judgement on this film is not really fair, because the first half is actually not that bad. Actually it's pretty darn good.

And to be honest, Eon Productions needed Die Another Day to be good. Not only was the film the 20th in the franchise (which is quite a milestone), but 2002 was the 40th anniversary of Dr. No, the first film in the series, and the 50th anniversary of when Ian Fleming published the first novel.  The best way to celebrate such an achievement would be to go big and create one of the best films of the franchise.  Die Another Day even pays homage to all every single film that came before it - ranging from cute gadget cameos (Thunderball's jet pack) to Halle Berry's memorable recreation of Ursula Andress' first appearance in Dr. No. At one point, Bond even picks up a book called "A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies."  Ian Fleming, an avid birdwatcher, quite enjoyed the book - so much so that he decided to borrow the author's name...that name was James Bond.

Even separate from the multiple anniversaries, there was a tremendous amount of pressure to make Die Another Day good.   The World is Not Enough was financially successful, but the criticism from both fans and critics was harsh and there were lessons to be learned.  There were also actors like Vin Diesel who declared the age of the well-tailored super spy were done.  It was a new generation and Bond wasn't awesome enough. He put his money where his mouth was by producing and starring in the extreme sports/super agent movie, xXx, which literally kills off a tuxedo-clad secret agent in its opening scene. xXx was a big hit, and I remember hearing rumblings that maybe Bond was no longer "cool enough."

So, yeah, I think the pressure was on to make Die Another Day the biggest and the best.

The movie gets started on a strong note and finds Bond going undercover as an arms dealer in North Korea.  He plans to assassinate a rogue military chief named Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee) and his henchman Zao (Rick Yune), but somehow Zao is tipped off that the arms dealer is really a British agent and a fierce gun battle ensues. Immediately the action sensibilities of the director are felt, with Lee Tamahori (The Edge) delivering a knockout opening fight that is well-staged and exciting.  I felt like we were back in good hands again after the bland action of the previous film.  Bond gets his man, killing the colonel and wounding Zao, but is captured by the North Korean army.  And then something interesting happens.  Bond doesn't escape, nor is he rescued.  He is disavowed by MI6, thrown into a dark prison cell, and tortured with scorpions for over a year.

That was unexpected!  And already infinitely more interesting than anything in the previous film. Bond is eventually released in a prisoner exchange, and then goes off the grid to find out who betrayed him and avenge himself of Zao. The travelogue nature of the franchise takes him to Hong Kong (for a fantastic sequence with his Chinese intelligence counterparts), then to Cuba, where he meets American agent Jinx (Halle Berry), and then back to England, where the trail leads to billionaire philanthropist Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens) and his assistant Miranda Frost (Rosemund Pike).

There is a lot of exciting material in the first half of the Die Another Day.  It may not be perfect - Madonna's title song is atrocious and the scene where Bond and Jinx first meet is a terrible attempt at sexual flirtation that just comes across as creepy.  But all in all, we have some exciting material in the first half: Bond's anger over being disavowed, that Hong Kong sequence, Bond actually doing genuine spy stuff in Cuba, and an over-the-top but very entertaining sword fight. While watching the movie, a friend of mine who had never seen it, turned to me and said, "This is actually pretty good.  Why does everybody hate this movie?"

And then we hit Iceland.  And everything changes.

EVERYTHING.

Get ready for some spoilers below while I rant about the things I don't like about this movie. And it starts with that invisible car.  Look, I like the Bond gadgets.  There are some really cool ones out there, and it is an important part of the Bond formula.  But the invisible car brought us deep into futuristic sci fi territory and in a very stupid way.  And things get worse from there. 

Bond goes to a hotel made entirely of ice to see a demonstration of Gustav Grave's new satellite.  An ice hotel sounds cool, but it's really not.  He tries to sneak around to see what Graves is really up to, but needs to be careful because Miranda Frost is watching him closely.  Plus, Jinx is staying at the hotel on her own secret mission, though she basically just spends her time finding new ways of getting herself captured.  Bond eventually rescues her during a fight that involves over a dozen lasers in what was an attempt at honoring Goldfinger's laser sequence, but turns into an exercise in hyperactive stupidity.

It is almost like the first half and second half of the film were made by different directors, or as if the team didn't have faith in the first half of the movie and doubled down on what they thought was "cool" in the second half.  So the film is full of moments where the film speed is cranked up because that is what the "cool" movies were doing.  And let's have a whole lot of CGI!  Who cares if Bond is known for its awesome real-life stunts.  Kids today think CGI is "cool!"   I know, let's have Bond surf on a tsunami wave!!!!!  That will be amazingly "cool!"  For the record, even Pierce Brosnan thought surfing on the tsunami wave was ridiculous...

It's just bizarre because the first half of the film is so solid, while the second half is just a mess.  I didn't even get to the worse part where it is revealed that Gustav Graves is really the rogue North Korean soldier Colonel Moon!  That's right, in an extreme example of Hollywood whitewashing, he had an operation to literally make himself white.

The finale of the film includes a giant laser, an electric exo-skeleton battle suit, some of the worst one-liners of the series and a random appearance by Michael Madsen whose tiny role in this film amounts to sounding grumpy, barking orders and getting put in his place by Judi Dench.

Look, is the second half of the film all bad?  I guess there are small moments that work. I like Rosamund Pike, who I think is a solid Bond girl with a great accent and fun sword-fighting skills.  I just wish she were in a better movie.  Because by the time the credits roll, you really can feel it in the pit of your stomach, Die Another Day is just awful...and a terrible way for Brosnan to end his tenure as the character.

That said, at the time, I was still rooting for Die Another Day to beat the xXx in the U.S. box office.  Bond is the once and future king of the action film, and I didn't appreciate Vin Diesel's trash talking.  Die Another Day was a big hit, and made $160 million in the box office. XXX made $143 million.  So while that is not a beat down, I hope it at least showed Vin Diesel that Bond was still "cool" enough to win the box office war.

RANKINGS:

So where do I put Die Another Day?  What is fair?  It's too easy to say, "well, the first half is good and the second half is bad, so put it in the middle."  I can't do that because the second half is SO bad, it drags the whole movie down with it. It's an albatross that unfairly still weighs down people's opinion of Pierce Brosnan's tenure even to this day.  There is enough in this movie that I like that I just can't in good conscience put it with the worst of the worst, but I will put it right above that.  I think right under the stupid, but entertaining Diamonds are Forever is a good place for it...

1. Thunderball
2. From Russia with Love
3. Goldfinger
4. The Spy Who Loved Me
5. Goldeneye
6. The Living Daylights
7. Dr. No
8. Octopussy
9. For Your Eyes Only
10. Tomorrow Never Dies
11. Live and Let Die
12. License to Kill
13. Man with the Golden Gun
14. Diamonds are Forever
15. Die Another Day
16. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
17. Moonraker
18. You Only Live Twice
19. A View to a Kill

MVP:

Of course, I am tempted to say Rosemund Pike, whose icy performance makes for a memorable Bond girl.  But I might be biased because I just happen to like Rosemund Pike, in general!  I wish I could say Halle Berry, who is a great actress, but this film goes out of its way to give her the worst dialogue imaginable.  No, in the end, the true MVP is still Pierce Brosnan in his final hurrah as the character.  He is excellent throughout the film and always professional - even during the most embarrassing moments.  People look back on the Brosnan years with disdain now.  They were all hits, but they were products of an over explosive and indulgent time period, and even though they were all successful at the time, fans generally roll their eyes at the movies now. It's not fair because I think that without a doubt Brosnan was the best Bond since Connery.  He was born for the role.  The movies just let him down.  With the exception of Goldeneye, they never lived up to the potential that he brought to the role.  And there is no better example of that than Die Another Day, a film with so much promise that utterly wastes an MVP performance by Brosnan.

BEST LINE:

It's all in the delivery...a fun one-liner delivered in the classic John Cleese style.

James Bond: You know, you're cleverer than you look.

Q: Still, better than looking cleverer than you are.


TRIVIA:

Following the success of Die Another Day, there were plans for a spinoff movie featuring Halle Berry's Jinx character.  Unfortunately, the studios pulled the plug after a few other female-led action films like Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle failed at the box office.  That's a shame.  While I would have preferred a spin-off with Michelle Yeoh's Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies, I do think Barry could have carried the film.  Any problems with the character in this movie were not her fault, so I would have liked for her to have a second chance!










Sunday, January 15, 2017

The World is Not Enough


The World is Not Enough

In 1995, Goldeneye resurrected the 007 franchise, and the next film Tomorrow Never Dies showed that it would be alive and well for the long haul.  The world belonged to James Bond once again.  I wish I could make some cool pun here about the world not being enough for Bond because he was about to ascend to greater heights.  But alas, the opposite is true because everything was about to come crashing down.  The world, so to speak, was about to collapse.

Creatively, at least.  I'll just lead with the fact that The World is Not Enough was a huge hit, and the most financially successful film to that point (not adjusting for inflation, of course).  The studios had to be happy with the film's performance, but that doesn't change the fact that very few people actually liked it.  The World is Not Enough is a stinker, plain and simple - a dull, plodding film with multiple missed opportunities that could have truly elevated it into something cool.

But let's not dwell on the bad quite yet.  This movie has so few good qualities that I can actually list them quite easily!  Here we go:

The basic premise is actually solid.  After wealthy oilman Sir Robert King is assassinated, Bond has to solve the murder and also protect King's daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau).  The number one suspect is a vicious anarchist named Renard who had kidnapped Elektra years before.  Elektra managed to escape and Renard was subsequently tracked down by British agents and shot in the head.  He somehow survived and was now coming back for revenge on his former captive.  It sounds fairly basic, but on paper it's a solid plot, especially when you tie in the interesting politics behind Sir Robert King's attempts to build a pipeline in Azerbaijan.  There is some intriguing material here that they fail to capitalize on (more on that later).

What else is good?  Pierce Brosnan is good, but then he always is.

The title song, by Garbage, is a great song.

The cinematography is nice.  Adrian Biddle (who shot V for Vendetta and Aliens, and was Oscar nominated for Thelma and Louise) is a true pro and the film looks great.

There is a heckuva good scene late in the film, which I'll also come back to later.

What else is good?  Out of all his Bond films, this one gives Pierce Brosnan his best wardrobe.  He has some incredible suits in this movie, especially the white suit with the blue shirt that he wears during the climactic fight.  Wait a second, is this movie so bad that I am more interested in Brosnan's tailor than I am in what is happening onscreen?

Well, yes.  Yes, it is.  I can't think of anything else I liked in this movie.  And I am trying really hard. To be fair, it's not like the rest of it is outright awful.  It never approaches the stench of A View to a Kill, for example, but there just isn't that much to like.

I think the problem starts with the director, Michael Apted, who is actually a fine filmmaker.  He directed the fascinating Up series of documentaries and several solid dramas, including Nell, Coal Miner's Daughter, and Gorillas in the Mist.  If I were a producing a drama, he'd be on my list of potential directors. But I would be leery about hiring him for an action film, much less a Bond film. And as expected, he seems out of his element here.  The action scenes are just completely stale, and lacking of any sort of momentum, tension or excitement.  They are all just BLAH, as if no one had any interest in making them exciting at all.  Which doesn't surprise me because Apted seems to have zero interest in action films (this being the only one on his filmography).  When I watch The World is Not Enough, I just keep scratching my head because I can't figure out why they hired this guy.  I can only imagine Eon brought him on board to help with the female characters - but if he is able to add some degree of strength to Elektra, he completely fails with Dr. Christmas Jones, who is one of the worst Bond Girls of all time.

Let's move on to her for a moment, shall we?  About halfway through the movie, James Bond runs into a nuclear physicist named Dr. Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards (Wild Things).  Look, no one should take Bond films too seriously.  These movies are often absurd, but this casting decision just jumped the shark.  And this is not me being a film snob.  When Richards was cast as a nuclear physicist, the entire world gasped a collective "WTF?!"  Maybe in the crazy days of Roger Moore, she could have pulled his off.  But The World is Not Enough is a darker film, and for the most part attempting to be more serious, and Richards just looks lost.

In the end, I think the biggest problem with The World is Not Enough is that it is a film full of missed opportunities.  SPOILER TIME!  The villain Renard has some real potential.  When he was shot in the head, the bullet severed the nerves that cause him to feel pain.  So you can hit him, punch him, stab him, shoot him...makes no difference to him.  He can't feel a thing.  That is a neat concept, and a worthy character trait for a Bond baddie, and the movie does...absolutely nothing with it.  There are so many cool things they could have done with this idea.  Instead, the only time they really go into any depth into Renard's special ability is in badly written love scene full of psychoanalytical malarky, where he laments that while he physically feels nothing, emotionally he still feels SOOOO much for the love of his life, Elektra King.

Yep, that's right.  The woman he kidnapped, Elektra King, who actually turned the Renard over to her side by seducing him and then cooking up this master plan to kill her own father, is the true villain of the film.  This is an interesting concept - there are hints, a few throw-away lines, about hating her father.  Her mother had been from Azerbaijan, and Elektra always hated the fact that her father seemed to be stealing the legacy of her mother's people, an interesting statement on British Imperialism.  There is a lot more they could have done with this idea - killing her father (a symbolic representative of the Western world that she feels raped her homeland) was only the first step in striking at Europe itself.  That is a goal that could have made Elektra truly scary, but it is a motivation only lightly hinted at.  Instead, her primary goals seem to involve blowing up rival pipelines and destroying Istanbul - oh, and most importantly, getting back at daddy for not doing enough when she was kidnapped.  Can't forget that.  That's her character's defining trait, according to this movie, not all the interesting politics and the struggle over her cultural heritage.  Sophie Marceau does what she can, but she isn't particularly well-written, and there is only so much she can do with the role.  You do end up liking her performance by the end of the film...but I think it is because of the strength of one fantastic scene, and also because even in her worst moments, she is miles beyond Denise Richards.

What else was a wasted opportunity?  Why did they have to kill Robbie Coltrane's Zukovsky?  This was his second appearance (after a memorable turn in Goldeneye), and he could have really been a fun recurring character.  Instead, he's killed off, and in ridiculous fashion, too.  What a sad ending to a character with so much potential.

You know what?  I'm done.  I can complain about this movie for hours.  Looks, it's not as bad as Bond at its worst.  But it's also not any good.  Ugh, I'm done.  All the good will Brosnan engendered because of Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies was at risk.  For me, at least, a lot was riding on his next film.  Would Die Another Day deliver?

RANKINGS:

What to do, what to do.  I really don't like this movie, but it's definitely not as bad as the worst of the worst of the franchise, though it is close.  Maybe it's the best of the worst?  If that is the case, I should put it right below Diamonds are Forever, which isn't a particularly good film, but one that I still enjoy...

1. Thunderball
2. From Russia with Love
3. Goldfinger
4. The Spy Who Loved Me
5. Goldeneye
6. The Living Daylights
7. Dr. No
8. Octopussy
9. For Your Eyes Only
10. Tomorrow Never Dies
11. Live and Let Die
12. License to Kill
13. Man with the Golden Gun
14. Diamonds are Forever
15. The World is Not Enough
16. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
17. Moonraker
18. You Only Live Twice
19. A View to a Kill


MVP:

This is an easy one.  I could say Brosnan, who puts in his usually reliable performance, or Garbage, who performed a really terrific Bond song.  But instead, I am going to give the award to a specific scene - the one truly great scene in the film.  Near the end of the movie, Bond is captured and strapped to an old Byzantine torture device, one that will eventually break his neck as Elektra slowly turns a wheel - which she does, while straddling Bond very suggestively.  It's an odd sequence - sensual yet dangerous, sexy yet deeply disturbing...the more you think about it, the more uncomfortable you are about what Elektra King is doing to Bond.  Is she trying to arouse him while she is killing him?  It's a strange scene, and absolutely one of the only moments in the film that crackles with any sort of energy or excitement.  It's well-written, well-directed, and well-acted by Marceau and Brosnan, and it's easily the best part of the movie.  Shame Zukovsky shows up and ruins the scene and then dies a ridiculously death that sends the entire film spiraling down from really bad to almost unbearable to watch.

BEST LINE:

Here is a nice pun in the aforementioned torture scene...and what Bond intends as his last words before Elektra turns the screw one final time to break his neck.

James Bond: You meant nothing to me.  Just one...last...screw.


TRIVIA:

When the real MI6 learned that the film would shoot a scene around their headquarters, they immediately moved to block it because of the obvious security concerns.  But the nation's Foreign Secretary Robin Cook stepped in, saying, "After all Bond has done for Britain, this is the least we could do for Bond."

I thought that was pretty cool!





Sunday, December 11, 2016

Tomorrow Never Dies


Tomorrow Never Dies

Sometimes I wonder if Goldeneye should be viewed as a minor miracle. After License to Kill, the franchise seemed lost. I’ve already written how that movie is unfairly blamed for the series’ near demise when the culprits were really a combination of bad luck, legal woes and the fact that many of the principal creative forces either moved onto other projects, retired or passed away. But Goldeneye brought Bond roaring back. The film was a critical and box office hit and got people excited about the character again. With Brosnan a huge hit with audiences and young enough for a good run of films, it looked like smooth sailing was ahead for the iconic franchise.

Unfortunately, I believe a strange period of stagnation was about to kick in. Every film under Brosnan’s tenure was very successful, but time has not been kind to them. It’s sad to say the films never lived up to the potential that Brosnan had, but it's true. And most people I ask look back on those films and say, “Ugh, Brosnan. Those films were terrible…except for Goldeneye, of course.” Which is actually not fair to Tomorrow Never Dies, which is actually not that bad. The cracks are beginning to form, but overall it is a perfectly fine entry to the franchise.

Ambitious media mogul Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce, Game of Thrones) is launching a new 24-hour news network, and needs a great hook to snag audiences away from the other networks right out of the gate. What better news story to grab viewers’ attention than a war?  He is able to get his hands on tech expert Mr. Gupta who has a ‘Global Positioning Device’ and then starts wreaking havoc with Chinese and British military guidance systems in order to increase tensions between the two world powers. For good measure, he sinks a British warship and makes it appear as if the Chinese launched the attack. The ‘Chinese massacre of British sailors’ is a good story that explodes in the press, but British intelligence is immediately suspicious because Carver’s news outlet had the scoop hours before any other station heard about it.  Bond is set in to investigate – a search that is at times both helped and hindered by a Chinese agent Wai Lin (the always super cool Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).

In general, there isn’t that much to say about this movie. It is mostly perfectly fine. The acting is generally good. Brosnan and Yeoh are both great, and share a fun chemistry together.   It is interesting to point out that Agent Wai Lin almost got her own spinoff movie, and I would have welcomed that. Yeoh is a terrific Bond girl – looking comfortable with the spy work and certainly kickass in battle. Some of my friends complained about Jonathan Pryce as the villain, but I thought he was fun as the crazed media mogul. And I am happy the franchise tried something different, poking fun at our obsessive “everything now and all the time” media culture instead of settling for your standard megalomaniacal villain bent on world conquest. The same media obsession that drives Carver in this movie has only grown worse thanks to the explosion of the internet and social media, so let’s give the movie some credit for playing with that idea two decades ago.

The rest of the team does an admirable job. After flirting with a synthesized score in Goldeneye, the producers hired David Arnold (Stargate) who gave us a traditional, brass-blaring, old school Bond score. It's definitely good stuff. The movie looks really good, too, with Oscar-winning Director of Photography Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) behind the cameras. Director Roger Spottiswood (The Sixth Day) does a fine job balancing the humor and action, and he actually stages one of the better sequences of the Brosnan years – when Brosnan is trapped by a master assassin named Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli) in a hotel room while a small army of thugs try to break into his car in the neighboring garage. A perfect combination of thrilling, suspenseful and genuinely funny, it is hands down the best sequence of the film.

Unfortunately, there are just as many things to complain about in Tomorrow Never Dies. After the encounter with Dr. Kaufman, the movie heads downhill. It’s not a steep dip, but certainly a steady decline. There is a motorcycle chase through Saigon which is entertaining enough, but should have been much better considering they are being chased by a helicopter. And then the movie continues to get steadily worse and worse until it devolves into your standard fare action movie by the end…and not even really a good one. It’s more like one of those direct-to-video flicks that Steven Seagal and Jean Claude van Damme are churning out these days. It’s just…unremarkable. I’m not opposed to big action finales in the Bond films, but this one just smacks of the “we need to be bigger and louder” mentality that has plagued a lot of action films over the last twenty years. I suppose it is another example of Bond changing with the times, which has always been the franchise’s strength. But while the explosions kept the character relevant (and may have put butts in the theaters), I think the films took a creative step backwards. The spy work was becoming more and more subpar (and occasionally even bordering on ridiculous) and was turning into just a means to get to the next explosion.

There are a few other things to complain about – Teri Hatcher is wasted as the second Bond girl, Carver’s wife Paris, and the super big thug of the film, Stamper (Gotz Otto) is about as bland a super thug as you can get. But all in all, I don’t want to sound too negative. I really should emphasize that Tomorrow Never Dies is actually fairly entertaining; but we are beginning to see the cracks that are about to form into the earthquakes that were The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day. Ugh, I hate those movies.

Oh, I can't end the review without mentioning one of my favorite things!!!  I need to comment on how the film dates itself.  I love that Mr. Gupta's secret weapon is a Global Positioning Device...as in a GPS.  Every time he unlocks his special box and pulls out this cumbersome device, I look over at my phone and think, "wow, with my phone, I can reroute the guidance systems on Chinese jets.  Who knew my iPhone had that much power!  This isn't a criticism of the movie, and I am sure that in 1997, we were all in awe of this magical GPS device.  But damn, if it doesn't date the film when we're watching it now. It's actually pretty funny!

RANKINGS:

This is a bit tricky, actually.  And full disclosure, I think nostalgia is going to interfere with an objective opinion on this one.  I know that this movie belongs in the middle of the pack, but where is the question.  Is Tomorrow Never Dies a better film than Octopussy, For Your Eyes Only and Live and Let Die?  Yeah, very well could be.  But I would definitely watch those three before I put in Tomorrow Never Dies, so that makes the ranking tricky.  I think in the end, I will put it right above Live and Let Die.  There are so many things I love about Roger Moore's debut, but unfortunately there is also so much stupidity in there that I could not in good conscience put it above Tomorrow Never Dies, whose sins are less...well, let's call them painful.  So Brosnan's second effort will come in at #10.

1. Thunderball
2. From Russia with Love
3. Goldfinger
4. The Spy Who Loved Me
5. Goldeneye
6. The Living Daylights
7. Dr. No
8. Octopussy
9. For Your Eyes Only
10. Tomorrow Never Dies
11. Live and Let Die
12. License to Kill
13. Man with the Golden Gun
14. Diamonds are Forever
15. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
16. Moonraker
17. You Only Live Twice
18. A View to a Kill

MVP:
This is an easy one. While I really liked the addition of Wai Lin to the franchise and wished she had joined Bond in a few more adventures, this is still Brosnan’s party.  As I mentioned in my Goldeneye review, he was really the first Bond since Connery who is believable in all the character traits that make up Bond.  The man was simply born to play this character.  And he is terrific here. It's an easy pick for MVP.

BEST LINE:

Miss Moneypenny: You always were a cunning linguist, James.

TRIVIA:

I couldn't pick just one!  Tomorrow Never Dies has a bunch of fun trivia connected to it, and I really couldn't decide between these three.

1. Did you know Anthony Hopkins was actually cast as Elliot Carver?  But the production was so chaotic, with script rewrites happening daily, that he walked after only a few days on the production. He opted to make Mask of Zorro instead, directed ironically by Goldeneye's helmer, Martin Campbell.  Good choice, too.  I love Mask of Zorro and think Hopkins is fantastic in that role!

2. Before filming the motorcycle chase, the director pulled Pierce Brosnan aside and told him he was supposed to drive the bike.  He then pulled Michelle Yeoh aside and told her the same thing. The result can be seen on camera, as both agents run to the motorcycle and try to climb on at the same time.  Their bumbling confusion is real, and reinforced the idea of Agents Bond and Mai Lin always trying to outdo each other.  It also ended up being one of the more amusing parts of the movie.

3. For the first time in movie history, a film made its budget back entirely in product placements! There were so many sponsorships in Tomorrow Never Dies that the producers made a profit before the film even hit theaters.  That's pretty fascinating, and shows the power of the Bond Brand.  Can you believe the franchise was this powerful when less than 10 years earlier the industry was ready to declare it dead?  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Goldeneye


Goldeneye

"Bond is back!"  So proclaimed headlines across the country when Goldeneye was released in 1995. It had been 6 years since the last film of the franchise, License to Kill, had flamed out at the box office.  The following years were tortuous for Bond fans, as production on the next sequel was stalled because of legal woes with the studio, MGM. The franchise was hurt still more with the departures of Bond director John Glen and actor Timothy Dalton, and the deaths of Bond stalwarts, scriptwriter Richard Maibaum and title artist Maurice Binder.  But the worst blow of all came with the illness of producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, the patriarch of the franchise who had guided the films since the beginning.  It was beginning to look like Bond, the father of the modern action hero, was going to be gone for good.

Eventually, MGM's legal woes were dealt with and Broccoli's Eon Productions was able to get back into the business of making movies. And it was time for a complete makeover.  Cubby Broccoli was too sick to serve as anything other than a consulting producer, but he left the franchise in the capable hands of his daughter Barbara and stepson, Michael Wilson. There must have been a lot of doubt in the months leading up to production.  Would Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson be able to recreate the magic?  Did it even matter? Maybe nobody cared about Bond anymore.  The character only really seemed relevant during the Cold War.  He was now a man out of his time, a secret knight of a British Empire that no longer existed.  As an action hero, he had been eclipsed by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis.  What there a point to resurrecting the franchise?

The answer is a resounding yes.  With determination and perseverance, Broccoli and Wilson showed that Bond wasn't only still relevant, but still deserved to be in the upper echelon of badasses. Maybe Ian Fleming's Bond wasn't relevant in the new post-Glastnost world, but Eon Productions' Bond sure as hell would be.  I think part of the reason Goldeneye is so successful is because it tackles this lack of relevance head-on. In the film, Bond is called a dinosaur - both because of his old school sexist attitudes and because he might not have a relevant place in the new world order.  The former is a pretty brilliant move because it allows Bond to be Bond while having the rest of the world either look down on him (like the new M) or amusingly roll their eyes at his antics (like the new Moneypenny). And the latter - the idea of trying to find one's place in the post-Cold War world - becomes a major theme in the film for multiple characters.

There is a lot to admire about Goldeneye, but let's start with the crew.  Director Martin Campbell was a solid director who had already proved he could handle both action (No Escape) and tense thrillers (the original Edge of Darkness).  The script, by Jeffrey Caine (Oscar-nominated for The Constant Gardener) and Bruce Feirstein (Tomorrow Never Dies) was witty, exciting and genuinely original for a franchise that had been around for three decades by that point. And I have to give major credit to Broccoli and Wilson for one major crew change - a MAJOR upgrade in the overall casting.

Let's be honest, Bond films were not known for their acting. Of course, it was important to cast Bond and his main villain well, and occasionally, the Bond girl (though for every Diana Rigg, there is a Tanya Roberts).  But generally, this was not a franchise for thespians. And then Goldeneye brings on Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, Sean Bean, Robbie Coltrane, TchĂ©ky Karyo, Joe Don Baker, Famke Janssen, Izabella Scorupso and an amusing blink and you'll miss it cameo from Minnie Driver.  That's a major cast upgrade and they all come to play. There is not a weak link in this group!

But I ramble.  Let's move into story, shall we?   There might be some spoilers here so be warned! After a top secret stealth helicopter goes missing and a Russian research center is inexplicably destroyed, Bond moves in to investigate, only to find himself facing one of his oldest friends, a long thought dead agent named Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean).  Trevelyan has access to a nuclear satellite called Goldeneye and Bond has to stop him before he uses the satellite's power to destroy London. The story is entertaining throughout, and includes some great classic Bond moments, like a world record-breaking bungie jump, a thrilling tank chase through St. Petersburg, and a memorable romp in a sauna.

Let's focus on that sauna scene for a second, where Bond is seduced/attacked by the evil Bond girl, Xenia Onatopp, played with vibrant gusto by Famke Janssen.  This scene shows the Bond character at his best - he is charming, sexy, funny, ruthless and probably a little too over confident.  And what a great fight with Onatopp, a powerful woman who gets off on killing people (literally). Her preferred method of assassinating people is by straddling them with her thighs and squeezing them to death, a process she enjoys...er, maybe a little too much.  She is hands down one of the best Bond girls of the entire series, and she is just as sexy and ruthless as Bond, and absolutely bat shit crazy (even to the other villains).  She is matched with a great performance by her villainous boss, played by Sean Bean.  For one of the few times in the series, we are blessed with a villain who is definitely Bond's equal.

Which leads me to some of my criticisms of the film, which also has to start with the villains.  At this point, the franchise no longer had the rights to the Blofeld character (as detailed on in my For Your Eyes Only review).  So Bond needed a new arch-nemesis to pester him film after film.  And here, we have a golden opportunity to achieve that with an interesting character who can actually give Bond a run for his money, a former spy with a fascinating back story and a believable grudge against England, and played by an exciting actor, Sean Bean, who can hold his own on-screen against the charismatic Brosnan. And instead of using this character to fill the gap left by Blofeld's absence, they kill him off at the end of the film (and in an incredibly lame way, by the way).  Maybe this isn't so much of a flaw as it is a missed opportunity, but it continues to frustrate me every time I see the film.

Other problems with the film could also be considered pet peeves. As a fan of the crazy stunts in the Bond films, I loathe the scene where Bond jumps off a cliff after a plunging airplane, somehow falling faster than the plane, catching up to it, climbing in, running to the cockpit and then taking control of the plan to fly away and escape. Hell no.  That's just too much.  Even if the Bond stunts were sometimes hard to believe, you still had stunt teams figuring this stuff out.  It was real people doing real crazy stuff. We get a taste of the stunt team's expertise with the record-setting bungie jump in the movie's opening scene, but then we go off the rails into special effects land with the cliff dive. In this scene, the production team just went the easy route and used special effects to create an utterly unbelievable moment...something so ridiculous that it took me out of the movie...and these are the types of shenanigans that would only grow worse and worse throughout Brosnan's tenure, eventually leading to the invisible car and tsunami surfing in Die Another Day. That pain begins here, with the stupid cliff jump, folks!

So the film isn't perfect (I didn't even get into the atrocious score by Eric Serra!), but does it matter? Goldeneye overall is a really good film, and a terrific inaugural outing for Brosnan and Campbell.  Bond was back, and he was better than ever.  There was hope for the future!

RANKINGS:

This one is tough. I really admire Goldeneye, but I'm not sure I would put it in the upper echelon.  I think it will fit nicely in with Dalton's debut, The Living Daylights.  In some ways, The Living Daylights is better - it's plot is more intriguing and the fights are better.  But I think I have to give the edge to Goldeneye.  The big differences are the cast (especially Brosnan and Janssen) and because I admire how the film cleverly updates Bond and makes him relevant in the post-Cold War world. Most importantly, this is the film that saved the franchise.  And it deserves some major points for that!

So here are the updated rankings:

1. Thunderball
2. From Russia with Love
3. Goldfinger
4. The Spy Who Loved Me
5. Goldeneye
6. The Living Daylights
7. Dr. No
8. Octopussy
9. For Your Eyes Only
10. Live and Let Die
11. License to Kill
12. Man with the Golden Gun
13. Diamonds are Forever
14. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
15. Moonraker
16. You Only Live Twice
17. A View to a Kill

MVP:
We really haven't talked about the biggest change in the franchise - that there was a new Bond in the lead here.  So let's get into it, because Brosnan is the clear MVP, but had as much to do with revitalizing the franchise as anybody else.  He was young, fresh faced, and energetic.  And most importantly, he seemed to effectively embody all the different aspects of Bond's persona.  For the first time since Connery, we had someone who was utterly believable flirting and fighting, someone who could be intense when the occasion called for it, and then flip on a dime and throw out a joke immediately after.  He is definitely different from Sean Connery - I can imagine Brosnan as an upper class, prep school kid with oodles of charm and confidence who then joined the Secret Service and learned to fight.  He started with the polish and then learned to be gritty from there as he needed to.  I kind of have the opposite impression with Connery - who I imagine as rough and tumble neighborhood badass who learned how to be charming and elegant. But both of them are unique as Bonds in that they really have all the check boxes filled.  Would Brosnan ever be as good as Connery? Doubtful - Connery was the first and will always be the best.  But what Goldeneye showed us is that Brosnan had that potential.  He is terrific in this movie, and gets the easy MVP.


BEST LINE:

Bond: No, no, no.  No more foreplay.

TRIVIA:
Casting Bond has to be one of the most difficult jobs in Hollywood.  With the world's most iconic action hero, the amount of scrutiny and publicity that you have to deal with is massive.  Everyone has an opinion.  And one of the miracles of the Bond series is that for the most part, they've done a great job of casting the part. As far as I am concerned, there has only been one misfire, George Lazenby, though a lot of people even disagree with me on that.  Cubby Broccoli had his eye on Pierce Brosnan for a long time.  In the 1980s, Brosnan was the star of a hit show called Remington Steele, in which he played a thief who was very Bond-like.  It looked like the show was about to be canceled, and Brosnan would be available to play the role.  He was thrilled.  Bond was his dream role; it was the part he was hoping his career would lead to.  Meetings with Broccoli went well, the media was buzzing, and it looked like he was about to get the part. And then the network, probably trying to cash in on all the media attention, renewed Remington Steele, forcing Brosnan to return to the show. Brosnan lost the part, and the mantle was taken up by Timothy Dalton (though the quest to hire Dalton is also an interesting story as I wrote here!). Brosnan was distraught, but fate (and Bond) were not done with him!

I also have an Honorable Mention bit of trivia.  Remember that amazing sauna fight I mentioned? Well, the fighting/making out got so intense that Famke Janssen broke a rib!  The moment is when Brosnan slams Xenia into the marble wall.  Janssen told him to really go for it, especially since they thought the walls were padded. Despite the pain, she kept going with the scene like nothing had happened, and that is the shot we see in the film!




Friday, May 6, 2016

Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill

And now we come to the franchise killer, Licence to Kill.

Financially unsuccessful and generally derided, Licence to Kill is almost always ranked at or near the bottom of the canon.

And that is totally unjustified.  Certainly not without its major problems, Licence to Kill just isn't that bad, and it attempts to nudge the franchise in a direction that it wouldn't experiment with again until the Daniel Craig years.

There are a number of reasons why people don't like this movie.  Among the biggest complaints is the plot itself.  Bond neither takes on enemy spies nor is the squeaky wheel that ruins the nefarious plans of megalomaniacs; Licence to Kill has much smaller fish to fry.  There is a nasty drug kingpin named Sanchez (Robert Davi), and Bond is gonna bring him down.  But even if the world is not at stake in this film, there are very personal issues to wrestle with. Sanchez attacked CIA agent and longtime Bond ally Felix Leiter (David Hedison) on his wedding night, killing his bride and lowering him into a shark tank until his legs were eaten off.  Now Bond wants revenge.  M and his other superiors at MI6 tell him back off.  So Bond goes rogue, determined to take down Sanchez on his own.

Nowadays, the idea of Bond quitting MI6 doesn't seem like a big deal.  Pierce Brosnan abandoned MI6 in Die Another Day, and it seems like Daniel Craig has made a nasty habit of it in most of his movies.  But in 1989, this was pretty shocking.  Bond was the Britain's secret weapon, loyal to Queen and country.  He never loses his cool, and to have him desert his post to fight some feisty drug dealer was surprising and controversial to many.  It doesn't bother me, especially since Licence to Kill features Bond doing more genuine undercover spy work than Roger Moore did during his entire tenure. He works his way down to Mexico, infiltrates Sanchez's gang and sets out to destroy it from the inside.

There is actually a lot of interesting stuff going on in this film, and it has a lot of good qualities. Timothy Dalton takes the seriousness and sense of danger up another notch in this film, making his run in The Living Daylights seem almost joyous in comparison. He's cruel and dangerous here, and that is cool to see.  I think the rest of the cast also does good work, particularly Carey Lowell as Bond's new CIA ally Pam Bouvier, and Robert Davi and a VERY young Benicio del Toro as the villains.  Long-time Bond helmer John Glen's direction is assured and reliable (he is even quoted as saying this is his favorite Bond film), and there are some exciting stunts - including some ridiculous tricks with 18-wheeler trucks, which would be laughably bad if it weren't for the fact that they were really doing them!  That makes the absurd become something impressive!

On the other hand, I don't want to defend the film too much.  Licence to Kill is definitely not some sort of misunderstood masterpiece.  It has some serious problems.  This is a long film, and it could have used some serious stream-lining. And entire subplot with Wayne Newton really serves no purpose and is just a time-kill.  The film is utterly devoid of any humor at all, which is definitely a mistake.  I really do feel that a key component of this franchise is that Bond enjoys his job, and we enjoy watching him enjoy his job.  Licence to Kill is just way too grim.  A shark ate off Felix's legs, for crying out loud!

And of course, if I am listing the horrible thing in this movie, I have to reserve a space for Carey Lowell's bad wig in her first scenes.  Thank goodness they let her go with her natural short hair for the rest of the movie. Yeesh.

But the biggest problem is that there are stretches where Licence to Kill just doesn't feel like a Bond film.  Ultimately, I think the quality that had been Bond's greatest strength for two decades backfired this time around - and by that, I mean the ability to adapt with the times.  The late 1980s was the heyday of the rated R action movie, and stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone ruled the box office.  Gore and violence was in.  This was the age of Lethal Weapon, Robocop, Die Hard, Commando, Predator, and Rambo...and James Bond wanted to cash in.  There are some truly grisly deaths in Licence to Kill - shockingly so for a PG-13 movie.

The other way the producers bowed to the issues of the late 1980s was by making Bond monogamous because of the AIDs crisis - he only sleeps with Pam Bouvier in this film.  And while it is noble that they wanted to acknowledge what continues to be a very serious crisis, it is certainly out of character for Bond to ignore all the other women in the film.

I know the Daniel Craig films are also grim, and it must drive Timothy Dalton up the wall that Craig's tenure is praised for the very reasons that Dalton's tenure is derided.  But the simple fact of the matter is that by trying to pursue what was popular in the late 1980s, Licence to Kill loses track of what makes Bond so special and unique. It devolves into your standard late 1980s revenge flick, just with a better actor in the lead.  And that is a very serious problem, and certainly contributed to its under performance.

Licence to Kill took a beating at the box office for another reason - bad luck.  The film was released in 1989, which was a bonanza year for franchises.  It just got swallowed up by franchise films like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters 2, Batman, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Back to the Future II, Karate Kid 3, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and Star Trek V.  Wow.  No wonder the film failed to ignite the box office.

But here is where I need to defend the film's legacy.  It was not a disaster.  It did not kill the franchise. Yes, for awhile it did look like there would be no more Bond films, but that had nothing to do with Licence to Kill.  There was a run of bad luck. Ongoing fierce legal battles with a bankrupt MGM (the parent company of Bond's distributor, United Artists) left the franchise mired in lawsuits and tangled in development hell.  With the production seemingly delayed indefinitely, Dalton retired from the role (important to note - he left; he wasn't let go). After five films, director John Glen also decided to throw in the towel.  Then two of Bond's iconic team members passed away - open titles designer Maurice Binder and screenwriter Richard Maibaum, both of whom had been with the franchise since Dr. No.  Worst of all, Cubby Broccoli himself had to step back from the driver's seat, as he was struggling with serious health concerns.

You can't blame Licence to Kill, but for a few years, it really was starting to look like James Bond was dead.  Thank goodness for Goldeneye.


RANKINGS:

This was a tough film to rank.  Licence to Kill has its problems, but its not a badly made film.  I think it is going to rest nicely right below Live and Let Die...squarely in the middle of the pack.

1. Thunderball
2. From Russia with Love
3. Goldfinger
4. The Spy Who Loved Me
5. The Living Daylights
6. Dr. No
7. Octopussy
8. For Your Eyes Only
9. Live and Let Die
10. Licence to Kill
11. Man with the Golden Gun
12. Diamonds are Forever
13. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
14. Moonraker
15. You Only Live Twice
16. A View to a Kill

BEST LINE:

When Bond is arguing with M about seeking vengeance against Frank Sanchez:

M:  This private vendetta of yours could easily compromise Her Majesty's government.  You have an assignment, and I expect you to carry it out objectively and professionally. 

James Bond: Then you have my resignation, sir.

M (furious): We're not a country club, 007!

TRIVIA:

The scene where Bond confronts M and then resigns from MI6 was filmed in Ernest Hemingway's old house in Key West.  Hence the line: "Well, I suppose this is a farewell to arms."  Ah, you gotta love inside jokes...

MVP:

What is the best thing about Licence to Kill?  Despite my earlier criticism of Timothy Dalton's humorless take on the role, he is still clearly the best thing about the movie.  He's a consummate professional and he was willing to take the character to some truly dark and dangerous places, and that needs to be applauded. And I do feel bad that he gets slammed for some of the same reasons Daniel Craig is praised.  It seems hardly fair!



Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Living Daylights


The Living Daylights

Despite the fact that A View to a Kill is almost unwatchable in my opinion, the film still managed to be a financial success.  But it was clear to everyone that Roger Moore could no longer appear in the role of James Bond - most of all to Moore himself.  Change was in the air.  And it wasn't only the lead actor who needed to be a refresh.  The genius of producer Albert Broccoli is that he kept adapting the franchise to fit with the times.  While the essence of the Bond character stayed the same, the approach to the films shifted considerably over the decades.  If you didn't already know going in, it would be almost inconceivable that Dr. No and A View to a Kill belonged to the same franchise.  And now, in 1987, it was time to rock the boat again.  No more over-the-top baddies imbued with super strength by the Nazis and no more killer blimps.  It was time to bring Bond back to reality.

With the Cold War heating up again, Bond (Timothy Dalton, The Lion in Winter) is assigned to help Soviet general Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe, The Fugitive) defect from East Germany.  During the post-defection debriefing in a MI-6 safehouse, Kostov reveals that the KGB is launching an initiative called "Smiert Spionom," which translates to "Death to all Spies."  Basically, the KGB is going to target all Western spies to escalate tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.  Before he can go into more details, the safehouse is attacked by KGB operative Necros (Andreas Wisniewski, Die Hard).  After wreaking havoc, Necros kidnaps Koskov and escapes.  Deciding that "Smiert Spionom" is more important than recovering Koskov, M orders Bond to assassinate the head of the KGB (John Rhys Davies, Raiders of the Lost Ark) before international tensions turn into full scale war.

Of course, being a Bond film, there is more to the story, but why spoil it?  Instead of super villains and secret lairs, we are given a true Cold War thriller, and for the most part, it really is quite good.   The plot is interesting, the action and stunts are great, John Glen's direction is assured, and John Barry's music delivers the goods.  The villains, which also include an American arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker, Walking Tall), are all entertaining. Wisniewski is particularly effective as the henchman Necros, towering over Timothy Dalton, and participating in two of the franchise best fights since the Sean Connery days.

The movie certainly has its problems. Bond's allies this time are a bit less engaging than the villains. The main Bond girl Kara (Maryam D'Abo, The Browning Version) is Kostov's girlfriend and an accomplished cellist, and really does not belong in the movie after the first 45-minutes.  Her role in the plot complete, she is only there to serve as a distraction to Bond and the audience, and that is a bit annoying.  I also found the attempts at humor to fall a bit flat; a leftover feature from the Roger Moore years that seems at odds with the new tone being established here.  It does seem like everyone is working through the process, looking to see what works and what doesn't with their new approach. That results in a few bumps on the road - but only a few.  For the most part, this really is quite a good film and easily ranks in the top half of the franchise.

And what about Dalton?  The Welsh actor is considered one of the "lesser" Bonds, probably because he only made two films and the latter one appeared at one point to be the franchise killer (until Pierce Brosnan brought the Bonds roaring back).  In general, Dalton is dismissed with a "meh" and his films are considering forgettable.  I find this all very confusing.  First of all, Living Daylights was a well regarded success upon its release and Dalton's second film License to Kill is nowhere near as bad as people say. And as for Dalton himself - people seem to criticize him for doing exactly what Daniel Craig is praised for - bringing some darkness and danger to the character.  This criticism must drive Dalton crazy!  Overall, I think Dalton is really quite good.  He brings a new physicality to the role, throwing himself into fights and stunts that Roger Moore hadn't been able to do for a decade.  He is also utterly believable as a dangerous and cold-hearted spy. In fact, Dalton might get the "spy" piece of the Bond character better than any of the other actors who played the part; he is downright brilliant. Unfortunately, there are a few other important pieces to the Bond character than Dalton is not quite as good at. He is generally not very believable with the ladies; it's almost as if he is being forced to sleep with them.  And he is also mostly humorless, even more so than Craig.  A key part of Bond is that he enjoys being Bond.  Dalton's Bond is focused on his duty and doing what's right, but he is not necessarily enjoying himself in the process, and I don't think that was the right approach to take.  But all in all, I think that can be forgiven. He is a great actor and he is doing really good work in this role. He deserves to be re-evaluated!

Okay, back to the movie.  As I mentioned above, it's far from perfect. But The Living Daylights is a good and sometimes even great entry in this franchise.  Definitely see it!

RANKINGS:
Okay, The Living Daylights shoots right up to the top of the list - not in the upper echelon, but close.  It is certainly better than all of Roger Moore's films, except for The Spy Who Loved Me.  That's one of the classics and would be hard to top, but I think Dalton's first entry to the franchise fits comfortably just below it.

1. Thunderball
2. From Russia with Love
3. Goldfinger
4. The Spy Who Loved Me
5. The Living Daylights
6. Dr. No
7. Octopussy
8. For Your Eyes Only
9. Live and Let Die
10. Man with the Golden Gun
11. Diamonds are Forever
12. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
13. Moonraker
14. You Only Live Twice
15. A View to a Kill

BEST LINE:
Bond: Stuff my orders.  I only kill professionals.  That girl didn't know one end of her rifle from the other. Go ahead. Tell M what you want. If he fires me, I'll thank him for it...Whoever she was, I must have scared the living daylights out of her.

TRIVIA:
Bond casting is always an interesting source of trivia.  It really is a huge deal whenever the part is recast; you are replacing an icon and the world knows it.  A number of interesting choices have been considered for the part, everyone from Cary Grant to James Brolin to Mel Gibson.  In fact, Pierce Brosnan was almost cast in The Living Daylights (I'll save that trivia for my Goldeneye review) before the producers decided on Timothy Dalton.  Dalton was also almost cast on multiple occasions before finally getting the role.  When Sean Connery left the series after You Only Live Twice, Dalton was considered for the part.  I don't know if Broccoli and Saltzman decided to look elsewhere or if Dalton turned down the part, but I think this was the right call - Dalton was way too young at that point.  He never would have worked (even if he would have saved me the torture of having to watch George Lazenby).  He was considered again in 1971 after Diamonds are Forever, and again in 1981 in For Your Eyes Only, when it wasn't clear whether or not Roger Moore was returning.  In fact, he was actually offered the role for Octopussy and A View to a Kill, but turned them both down due to scheduling conflicts.  So Broccoli really, really liked Dalton enough to chase him for twenty years!

MVP:
For The Living Daylights, I am not going to say a person.  Yes, I like Dalton.  And I like the direction by John Glen and the music score by John Barry (his last Bond score, by the way).  No, the MVP for The Living Daylights is not a person.  It is a stunt.  Probably one of the coolest stunts I have ever seen!  Spoilers here: Bond's final fight with Necros takes place in the cargo hold of a military plane The loading door of the plane opens and both combatants slide out of the plane, just barely grabbing ahold of a cargo net to keep them from falling to their deaths.  And then they proceed to fight while hanging on this net.  And two stunt men really spent hours filming scenes of punching each other while being dragged around by a cargo plane. The closeups are obviously filmed on a set, but the wide shots were filmed pretty damn high.  That is just insane.  INSANE! And incredibly dangerous.  My hats off to the stunt team.  I have to say this is the best stunt in franchise history! And an easy winner for my MVP award.

Here it is if you want to see it:




Thursday, December 3, 2015

A View to a Kill


A View to a Kill

In 1983, Albert Broccoli found himself up against the fierce competition of a rival Bond film called Never Say Never Again, starring the greatest James Bond of them all: Sean Connery.  The news changed the way Broccoli's production company Eon approached their next film in the Bond franchise, evocatively entitled Octopussy.  Originally Broccoli was going to go with a new actor, most likely the American actor James Brolin, but now they couldn't take any chances.  They needed to ward off this new threat.  They needed a sure thing.  They needed the reliable Roger Moore to come back for one more film.  And even though he was a bit old for the part at age 56, Moore agreed to return for a final hoorah.

Though it has its problems, Octopussy proved to be a big hit, and outperformed Never Say Never Again. And overall, for Roger Moore, this was not a bad film to go out on.  After 11 years and 6 films, Moore could now retire from the role on an all time high (coincidentally the main song for the movie).  He was even given one of the great iconic Bond moments during the film's climax, when he slides down a palace bannister with a machine gun, mowing down down the bad guys.  It's a fun moment.  Check it out!


What a great way to start to retirement!

Except...that's not what happened.

Instead A View to a Kill happened.

Oh, dear heavens, the horror. The horror.

What can I say about A View to a Kill?

The movie begins in Siberia, where Bond is searching for the corpse of a fellow agent 003. But more important than 003 is a Soviet microchip he had stolen just before his death. After recovering the chip, Bond is attacked by the Russians. Bond quickly captures a snowmobile and when that is damaged, he takes off the front ski and uses it as a snowboard...he proceeds to surf down the mountain as the music switches to a cover of The Beach Boys' "California Girls." After a number of slapstick stunts to evade his pursuers, Bond makes it to his iceberg submarine where a nubile fellow agent is waiting to sleep with him.

Sound bad?  That's only the first six minutes.

The film just gets worse from there.  Bond's snooping eventually leads him to Max Zorin (Christopher Walken), a billionaire industrialist psychopath/Nazi experiment gone wrong, who is interested in breeding race horses and blowing up Silicon Valley.  On Zorin's side, we have his super strong bodyguard May Day (a towering Grace Jones) and silly cartoon German scientist Dr. Mortner (Willoughby Gray), who helps him with his genetic experiments.  On Bond's side, we have Sir Godfrey (Patrick McNee), a horse breeding expert, and state geologist Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts).

The less said about the plot, the better.  Just know that we are treated to a long and mind numbingly dull sequence where Bond and Sir Godfrey infiltrate Zorin's race horse breeding event. Then it's time for a slapstick car chase on a firetruck and a building fire where Stacey Sutton's shrill screams will make your ears bleed.  Oh, and let's not forget the thrilling action scene at Sutton's house. After 23 years of fights in locations as intriguing or exotic as the Orient Express, an ancient Greek monastery, an Indian palace, Fort Knox, and a secret volcano base, we are now treated to an extended fight scene in a big, empty room. Really?!  Come on, guys, you're better than this.

Almost no one comes through this mess unscathed, not even Roger Moore.  His performance is as assured as always, but he is just too old, plain and simple. He looks out of shape, it appears as if he's had some strange plastic surgery, and his eyebrows look long enough to hang Christmas ornaments from.  He just isn't believable any more in the action scenes and even less so in the love scenes. It's incredible what a difference only 2 years can make, since he was fine in Octopussy.  Even Roger Moore knew he was too old for the part and said so in his autobiography.  He was shocked when he found out he was old enough to be Tanya Robert's grandfather.  That was when he knew he had to really retire.  But it's not just Moore who suffers in the film.  Tanya Roberts, while easy on the eyes, is bland and monotone.  Christopher Walken overacts and is just trying too hard.  He's Christopher Walken, for crying out loud.  He's already awesome and weird as it is.  He doesn't have to try so hard!  John Glen's normally assured direction is slow moving, and even the always reliable John Barry sounds to be on auto pilot.  What a disappointment!

So is A View to a Kill all bad?  No, it has moments.  Grace Jones and Patrick McNee are fine; the former isn't required to do much but stare angrily at people and she does so convincingly.  And Patrick McNee is just as charming as he was in The Avengers TV show.  He also has a fun chemistry with Roger Moore which gives us the only truly amusing parts of the movie.  There is also a sequence in a flooded mine near the end of the film that is generally horrific.  And lastly, while John Barry misses the ball with his score, he did co-write one of the better Bond songs. The title song by Duran Duran is pretty awesome!

But that's it.  This movie stinks.  I'm done.

RANKINGS:
I remember in my earlier Bond reviews, I was explaining why I disliked On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice for very different reasons.  And in terms of ranking the films, I had to decide whether boring or ridiculous was the worse sin.

Well, A View to a Kill is both.  And it's going straight to the bottom of the list.  No further debate needed.

1. Thunderball
2. From Russia with Love
3. Goldfinger
4. The Spy Who Loved Me
5. Dr. No
6. Octopussy
7. For Your Eyes Only
8. Live and Let Die
9. Man with the Golden Gun
10. Diamonds are Forever
11. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
12. Moonraker
13. You Only Live Twice
14. A View to a Kill


BEST LINE:
Here is a line that is so bad, it's good.  It's Christopher Walken at his most Walken-y.
Max Zorin: More!  More power!

TRIVIA:
Here's a cool little fact.  A View to a Kill was Dolph Lundgren's first movie.  He was only in the film by accident.  He was dating Grace Jones at the time, and he was visiting the set.  Director John Glen needed a KGB bodyguard at the last minute and Lundgren happened to be in the right place at the right time.  He has all of maybe 5 seconds of screen time and no dialogue.  Can you imagine that in just a few months this guy would be killing Apollo Creed in the ring and taking on Rocky in a showdown for the ages?!?!?!?

MVP:
Though I am tempted to give the MVP to Dolph Lundgren, that would be petty.  Especially since there is a clear quality MVP winner here.  After four films featuring love songs and ballads, Bond is finally able to rock out again. The title song by Duran Duran is a great addition to the canon and is easily in the Top Five Bond Songs.  The song is more dynamic and exciting than anything in the film. This is an easy MVP pick.  And I think most of the world would agree!