No Time to Die

Any of you who have visited this site in the past probably have a pretty good idea of how I feel about the James Bond Franchise. If you are new let me summarize, 007 is my favorite fictional character and I have a passion for these movies. The break between “Spectre” and “No Time to Die” was supposed to be five years, much too long in my opinion for we addicts. Then along came the pandemic, MGM and Eon pulled the film off the schedule, wisely seeing that the venues for films were being closed in many places. The movie got pushed back to October, then to the following April again, and then to a second October. It has now been 18 months since the originally scheduled opening of the film. I have been impatient and frustrated with each delay and now that it is finally available, I have issues.


I will preface my comments with an acknowledgement that there is not a 007 film I would not watch again in a heartbeat (except the 1967 parody Casino Royale), and that includes this new entry, the 25th in the official canon of Bond films (excluding “Never Say Never Again”), so take what I say to you now with that perspective in mind. I am disappointed. 


When the decision was made to follow up Daniel Craig’s first outing with a direct sequel, I was Ok with that. “Quantum of Solace” has flaws, and my reaction was muted. “Skyfall” on the other hand changed all that into a bundle of enthusiasm that I still feel nine years and two more films later. Although there were references to earlier Craig films, “Skyfall” felt like a stand alone 007 film and it worked incredibly well, providing a fresh story but also providing a good deal of fan service. In 2015, “Spectre” stepped back into making the Craig films into an extended narrative, and that was one of my initial reservations about the film. As time went by and I saw it more often, my attitude changed and I think it got right what “Quantum” was trying to do in keeping a story line in place. “No Time to Die” is an attempt to wrap all of this up but it trips over some of the traditional tropes of the Bond series. I much prefer the closeout that “Spectre” presented to us than the package we got this week. 


Looking at just this movie now, instead of worrying about the five film story arc of Craig’s run as Bond, the first strength that it presents is the mash up of two pre-title sequences. The callback to Madeleine Swann as a child, ties in nicely with a story she told in an earlier film. It is visualized very effectively and uses an overhead perspective in an interesting way that accentuates that what we are seeing is a memory. When Bond and Madeleine travel together on a pilgrimage to a grave, we get a nice travelogue, followed by a terrific action sequence and then the titles. So far so good. The Billie Eilish performed song is substantially improved with the title sequence behind it. That said, it is still not a dynamic song for the film to build it’s themes around. The best music cues in the rest of the film come from earlier Bond films, including “Casino Royale” but most noticeably, “On Her Majesties Secret Service”.  The title sequence begins some of the fan service call backs that we can expect from Craig’s swan song. Polka dots and silhouettes appear in the background, bringing the spirt of Saul Bass for a visit to a James Bond film. 


Now we get to the first main issue that weakens the film for me, the recruitment  of 007 for this mission by Felix Leiter in an off the books C.I.A. plot, that somehow runs afoul of MI-6. I will try to explain this without spoilers, but the mess that Bond is going to try to clean up, is a result of his own former service’s mistakes. In another tip to older Bond films, one group is playing another group against two other groups. In “From Russia with Love” the Soviet agency SMERSH is being played by SPECTRE against the British. Here, the Brits are being played against SPECTRE, who are being shined by a new unidentified group, and the C.I.A. is an accidental tool for pulling it off. How can this be? Well simple, “M” suddenly loses the moral convictions that guided him in the last film and the intelligence he had shown since “Skyfall”. Ralph Fiennes was one of the strengths of the two previous Bond films and now his character Mallory, is a liability. This shortcut to plot development also requires that Felix Leiter, as played by Jeffrey Wright, loses about twenty percent of his IQ.  Maybe the idea here was to tear everything down and start anew, but it feels like a fast way to get another plot going without developing the villain any more than you did in the first five minutes of the film. 


Second major flaw in the film is, as is way too true in all sorts of films, the Villain. Rami Malek is fine for what he is asked to do, the failure is not in the performance it is in the writing. Safin appears as a character in the first scenes of the film. His performance there is wordless and we get right up to a key moment when there is a jump cut to a point many years later. We never learn how he got from point A to point B, to become a nemesis of Spectre and a threat to the whole population of the world. When we get to the monologuing in the third act,  there is a lot of yammering in low key soft voiced menace, but there is no motivation whatsoever. There is no plan, or financial gain or philosophy behind his actions. The idea that the weapon can be isolated to killing only particular people was undermined by the fact that if they have DNA alleles in common, which would be a family connection, then the nanobot virus jumps. Six degrees of separation people, the world is connected genetically and there will be leaping. No explanation is offered as to who is supposed to be spared or why or how. This is a completely random plan, that is supposed to be targeted, but no targeting explanation is offered and they undermine their plan with this flaw in the DNA process that they are using for only an emotional plot point. 


The third thread of problems is the relationship between Madeleine and James. I can believe in their love, and that James has overcome his emotional complications with Vesper, but it gets wiped out by an inference that while reasonable, could also be dispelled with some investigation. His willingness to severe a commitment like this on his conclusion without looking into it further is out of character. Her acceptance of it and then inclusion into MI-6’s interrogation of Blofeld is after the fact odd (although it was a leap I was willing to take for the purpose of suspending disbelief). That she is being manipulated as a tool of Safin is shown, but not really explained. There is a good scene between her and Safin in her office, they interact in an interesting way, but it does not make her motivation clear. The incident between them a quarter of a century earlier is supposed to be the explanation, but it really does not explain anything. Bond and Madeleine rekindle their romance after he discovers a secret she has, and that makes a little sense, but this same plot device was widely criticized in a 2006 comic book movie, and I can see a similar response here. I don’t have an issue with it, except that it is being used as a manipulation of the characters to justify the conclusion of the film. 


Final acts are difficult, and the final act of this film, and the fact that this film itself is a final act in the story arc, makes it even more so. The resolution that they chose, undermines the emotional set up that was created to make a dramatic point. Safin has manipulated the DNA of the characters so that they can never be together physically again. That would also preclude a relationship with the secret character that has changed Bond’s perspective. Fine, that is a emotional gut punch that would make Bond have to suffer, but the solution that the writers came up with was to eliminate that immediately through a much more certain outcome. It was unnecessary, and if you are looking to finish with an emotional slap to the face, the DNA imposed separation would have stronger resonance. 


There are other points that are bothersome as well, but little things can be overlooked when everything else is working. Obviously, things were not working for me so a couple of things I might have let slide by, jumped out at me instead. How the greatest asset that British Intelligence has, manages to get the most sophisticated bionic technology in history, planted in his eye socket while he is under their control is beyond me. I guess “Q” had the weekend off when that surgery was arranged. As much as I like what they have done with Ben Whishaw’s version of “Q”, he seems to miss some opportunities to stop problems or to explain how a problem could be stopped. Case in point, the EMP watch that 007 uses in going after the island fortress of Safin. If it can blow out an electronic eye, would it not do the same to the electronic ear that Bond is wearing? Story consistency is an issue in a lot of places. 


There are a lot of things I liked in the film, I just wanted to get my reservations out of the way first. Ana de Armas and Lashanna Lynch are welcome to any future Bond films, although with the rebooting that will be required, I’m not sure how they will manage to do this. Paloma, the CIA?, contractor was a hoot in the Cuban sequence, and her action creds were established in a definitive and funny way. Nomi, the new designate for the prime number, was bad ass although she needed to do a little more as part of the insertion team at the end. M will need agents like her to cover for his future mistakes if they plan on keeping that character in his current mode. The chase scene though the Norwegian forest was very effective, I liked the subtle way Bond adjusts his choices given his passengers. I also thought the by play between Bond and Christoph Waltz as Blofeld worked well, that was a solid scene even if in the end it had little to do with what is happening in the story.


Okay. I am off to see it a second time right now. When I get back, if I have more thoughts I will add them here. 
Addendum/Second Screening


Well it was a good decision to go back for a second time, because my opinion of the film substantially improved. I’m not sure if my attitude was different because expectations were altered, or if some of the choices they made were clearer in hindsight. 


For instance, it is a lot clearer now why Madeleine cooperates with Safin’s plan for Blofeld when she and James meet up at the prison. Blofeld’s dialogue also makes more sense in hindsight, although how he obtained his information is still unclear.  


M’s motivations are a bit more focused when you see what is going on, although it is still very clear that his character’s ethical standards have shifted entirely away from the point of view that he had in the previous film. 


There are several characters I did not mention earlier that ought to get a quick note here. Logan Ash, the State Department CIA wannabe, is such a trope in the Bond Universe, it would have been more fun to go the opposite direction with him. As it is, the part contains no surprises and the only creative element to him, his fanboy admiration for Bond, doesn’t get as much use as it should. 


Speaking of not getting much use, Naomi Harris returns as Moneypenny, but she mostly sits in the office like in the old days. It would have made sense to give her some of the tasks that Q got shoved his way, and then her contribution would be more meaningful. 


Primo, who Bond dubs Cyclops, is your standard henchmen with a quirk. In line with Odd Job and Jaws, he has a physical distinction that is a minor part of the plot. I do think that the electronic eye gets used for comic relief more than anything else, and that also feels like a slightly missed opportunity. The link between him and Blofeld could have made it a stronger place to provide exposition, instead of making us try to figure out what is going on. Oh, there is another plothole here as well since he escapes the attack on Spectre in Cuba for no clear reason at all. As a member of Spectre and Blofeld’s prime surrogate as a walking Zoom call, you would think that Safin and Obruchev’s hijacking of the plan to eliminate Bond would have targeted him especially.  Speaking of comic relief and exposition, the ping pong acquisition of scientist Valdo Obruchev, worked for the most part. His secondary villain status reminded me substantially of Boris Grishenko from “Goldeneye”. The Russian accent probably accounts for that because the Frank Oz look alike they have in the part certainly appears different. 


These insights are a little random right now. I continue to try to avoid spoilers, so I will discuss some of the plot elements that will make this film controversial among 007 fans, in a post down the road. I at first thought the pacing seemed flat and that the direction by Cary Joji Fukunaga was off. There is probably too much quick point and shoot in the finale, James Bond should not be John Wick. On the other hand, the locations are beautifully shown, and it seems like they went a long way to allow Safin to get Bond’s toothbrush. Let me leave off by saying after my first viewing, I felt let down. Going a second time, probably for the reasons I mentioned, resulted in an encouraging shift in perspective. I still have reservations but …


“Never Enough to Say No”


So go see it now that it is here. 

Skyfall Revisit

I am particularly piqued with Great Britain today, they get “No Time To Die” now, and we have to wait a week. I suppose it is acceptable since Bond is a UK export, but since we have added 18 months from the originally scheduled release, I feel like I have been more than patient. Anyway, as it turns out, AMC noticed that we were being tortured so in an effort to put balm on the sore, they are running “Skyfall” for a week at a discount price. This is good news since “Skyfall” is the best Bond film since the early 60s.
There is so much to love about this film, regardless of what you might think of the story (which I think works great). The addition of Eve Moneypenny as an active part of the story may have been easy for most to spot, but I still liked the fact that they wait for the reveal until the end of the film. 

The fact that she nearly killed 007 makes for an interesting dynamic for future stories, and her active status makes her involvement down the road more believable.

 
When John Cleese was introduced as the new Q back in the Pierce Brosnan era, it was clear his persona would mimic that of Desmond Llewelyn, that of a prickly bureaucrat with technical know how. Ben Whishaw is still a bit officious as “Q”, but the humor is more a part of the story and less punchline delivery. His youth in contrast to Bond also makes some sense and adds some more places for natural repartee to exist. 

I also thought it was a clever move to show us how “M” could have gotten the job in the first place. Gareth Mallory starts off as the political hatchet man for the administration in moving the previous head of MI-6 out of her role. When he picks up the gun and starts shooting back at the attackers in the Parliamentary hearing room, it is clear he is not simply a political animal. Ralph Fiennes could have easily been the choice for 007 a decade earlier, at this point he was much more appropriately cast.

The real treasure of the film however is the redoubtable Judi Dench, who made Eight appearances in the role, including one after having vacated the position. This is the meatiest storyline for the character in any of the 24 films from EON. I liked that she never lost her sardonic tone, even when the character is besieged by politicians and the antagonist of this film.  

This film came out nine years ago, on the 50th Anniversary of James Bond on the Big Screen. Much was made of the fact that the gun barrel sequence did not appear until the end of the movie, but that was really just the exclamation point for the anniversary. There were so many things that were special about the film, it was nice to be reminded of them today. It may be a bit of fan service, but calling the Aston Martin DB5 back into action was a thrilling moment. The final act confrontation was very well staged and technically looked terrific. We also got a great 007 Theme song from Adele. 
For me, the final thrill is in the new office for “M”, when Moneypenny takes her place and Bond enters through the padded door that felt so familiar, and he addressed Mallory as “M”. I was ready for the next film that minute. It happened again today when my screening was finished. 

Somehow, I have to get through the next six days. 

Unboxing Video of 007 Box

I suppose it seems a little odd to give yourself a gift at Christmas. In truth, I’d ordered it as soon as I saw it and it just happened to arrive before the holiday. I waited until after the new year to really open it and examine the contents. 007 fans will enjoy, everyone else I hope you will tolerate.

1987 Movie Draft: Lambcast

This is the one you have all been waiting for, the 1987 Movie Draft on the Lambcast Podcast.

Four other Lambs and I compete to create the best slate of five movies from 1987. The show is a blast, as there is trash talk, reminiscences and general enthusiasm for this 30 year old time frame. You can listen to the show on the link below but more importantly, you can vote for a slate of films on the second link below that. Of course as a follower/reader of my site, I expect you to support my team. The only caveat is that I did include an outlier choice in “Ishtar”. Next week I will put up a mini-review page with comments for each of my selections. If you need to wait for that before you vote, I understand. Those of you who trust and love me however, should go vote now. My films are highlighted in the picture above. You cant go wrong with Robocop, Sean Connery and James Bond. “The Hidden” is a not so widely seen Science Fiction/Action film featuring Kyle MacLachlan. “Ishtar” is popularly thought of as a bomb, but it contains a lot of big laughs and an amusing attitude throughout.

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https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/8523741?autoplay=false

Voting can be done here:

LAMBCAST #385 1987 DRAFT: It’s time for another year draft! To celebrated Jay’s upcoming 30th birthday we’re taking the opportunity to look at films from his birth year, 1987! Jay competed against Dylan, T…

http://www.largeassmovieblogs.com/2017/08/lambcast-385-1987-draft.html

Lambcast Acting School 101: Sean Connery

MovieRob, the host of Acting School 101 on the Lambcast, invited me to join him for a discussion of the films of Sean Connery. Anyone who has been here before certainly knows that I think Connery IS James Bond so I was thrilled to participate. We countdown our own top five performances by Mr. Connery and have a good time talking about toupees and other acting tools.

Sean Connery Podcast

https://podomatic.com/embed/html5/episode/8521675?autoplay=false

In preparation for the podcast, I went through my laserdisc collection and put up a wall of Connery features. Four of my five picks can be found here. Try to guess what they are before you listen to the podcast. Have fun everyone.

Bond in Motion

So a few weeks ago, I visited Great Britain for the first time. We were meeting a cruise and had only a day and a half in London to do some sightseeing. When looking on-line to find places to visit, my wife came across the page for the London Film Museum. Their current exhibit is a collection of vehicles on loan from EON Productions, that have been used in the making of James Bond films for the past fifty three years. This was easy, count me in.

 The museum was at one time known as the British Museum of Transportation, so when we directed the cab driver to the location we wanted, that’s the way he referred to it. From the plaque above you can see it has in fact been re-christened.

The exterior is really just a storefront size space, you could easily miss it if you were not looking for the attraction, although like most tourist based locations, there is a barker out front occasionally, passing out flyers and encouraging pedestrians to enter.

We did not need the encouragement we had already purchased our tickets weeks before on-line. Actually arriving though got me all revved up again.As we entered the premises there is a large description on the wall of what the exhibit consists of.

The Upper mezzanine had a series of storyboards and a couple of props from early Bond Films, that’s where we started our visit after a ride in a small elevator.

We tried to look more like tourists but without putting on an Aloha shirt and a straw hat, I don’t think we could do a better job.

When we arrived on the lower level, the Vehicle displays began. In the interest of brevity, I will limit the photos to one per film, but believe me, I an loaded for bear on this trip.

 

 

 

 Goldfinger’s Yellow Rolls Royce.

The Rolls used in “A View to a Kill”, it was actually Cubby Broccoli’s personal car that he lent to the production.

Dolores gives some perspective to the mini jet featured in the opening of “Octopussy“.

 

 

 

 

For an invisible car, it was pretty easy to see this Aston martin from “Die Another Day“.

 

 

 

Tracy’s Thunderbird from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service“.

 

The speedboat from “Live and Let Die“.

 

 

 

 

The Lotus that doubles as a submarine in “The Spy Who Loved Me”. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The DB5 from Goldfinger and Skyfall.

The AMC spinning Hornet from

The Man with the Golden Gun“.

 

 

 

The amazing reversible Mustang from “Diamonds are Forever“.

An Aston Martin with skis, from “The Living Daylights

 

 

 

 

And this is SPECTRE’s Rolls Royce, that delivers Bond and Madeline to Blofeld.

There are many more images to share, I’m working on a video to post, but for now, eat your hearts out all you Bond fans who can’t make it to London. Maybe it will tour and then you can geek out like I did.

SPECTRE Reconsidered

There are very few films that I see in theaters more than once anymore. Except for the occasional classic, a return visit to a theater for a contemporary film is rarely needed. I have a subscription service through DISH and Netflix and Amazon give me plenty of opportunities to see recent films again, without having to make a trip. There are however exceptions and one of the film series that I will take in as often as possible in a theater is James Bond.

spectre

It is no secret if you have visited this site before that I am a 007 fanatic. I had a lot of fun last year coming up with 7 things I loved for each of the EON James Bond films. This was all in aid of the debut of SPECTRE, the most recent addition to the James Bond canon. As a fan there is always something satisfying about a new episode with 007, but it is also easy to be disappointed, especially in light of how great the previous chapter was. Inevitably, SPECTRE was going to suffer a little by comparison to the previous film. Bond’s ancestral home is destroyed, his Aston Martin DB5 is massacred, and his boss steps off the stage in a thrilling ending with a villain that was exceptional. It’s hard to find ways to make what comes next feel compelling. The screenwriters did find a hook to try and keep things at this heightened level, they make all of the events in the previous three Bond films the design of a secret organization with a strong hidden connection to 007 himself.

I suspect most Bond fans would have been happy to move on and start with some stand alone assignments. That’s exactly the way I felt at the end of Skyfall, we were at a new beginning. To quote Michael Corleone, “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in again.”  SPECTRE ends up with a Jerry rigged connection to the three previous Daniel Craig films. I originally wrote that this was my biggest problem with the movie. I did not see the film as a failure, but I was less enthusiastic than I might have been. There was however a beacon of hope that might alter my opinion a bit. As an enthusiastic fan, I’d purchased a special pass that came as a steel engraved card with my name on it and the SPECTRE Octopus logo. It entitled me to see the film once every day, in any format that it was playing in at a Regal Theater. I took advantage of my financial commitment and as a result I have now seen the movie more than a half dozen times on the big screen. This has given me a chance to adjust to some of the rapid character points and clumsy plot development that I was originally hesitant about. It also gave me the ability to see a couple of things that are actually important to the ability of the Bond films to continue to entertain.

spectre2bcard

Ever since the departure of Pierce Brosnan as Bond, the producers have tried to get Bond back to basics and turn the character into a more reality based character. Gone are the invisible cars and avalanche surfing days. They have been replaced by extensive scenes of torture and casual cruelty. Casino Royale features a grim Bond freshly minted into the 00 ranks. His opponent LeChiffre is a terrorist financier who manipulates the situation through a romantic mole. It turns out that there is a secret figure behind the plot that emerges at the end, Mr. White. In the follow up, Mr. White is a figure in a mysterious consortium called Quantum, and they have their fingers everywhere, including at the side of M. Suddenly, this organization looks like it will be the main opponent for Bond in future films. When we move to the third Craig film though, Quantum has disappeared and it seems like a rogue hacker that Bond is up against. According to the plot of the current film all of these are linked together under an umbrella organization, with a name familiar to Bond fans from the 60s.

spectre-film-review-1

The conspiracy gets deeper, the violence levels affecting the general population gets greater, and Bond and MI-6 are

like the boy plugging the dyke with their finger. At this point the series is getting murky and it begins to feel a little like an X-Files episode with the tag line “Trust No One.”  I don’t need a jet pack or submersible car, but I would like a little fun to go along with the adventure. In going “Bourne” the producers were at risk of losing much of what made James Bond fun for several generations. SPECTRE does not return us to the parody days of Brosnan and Roger Moore, but it finally does restore a sense of humor to the movie series. So let me spend some time praising the virtues a a little levity in the newest film.

The cold opening has a couple of moments that bring a smile to our faces. Bond stalks his prey behind a deaths-head mask and suit and has a local beauty for cover while he does so. When he gets her to the hotel room and kisses her, we might be expecting a romantic clutch but instead when she turns back to him after climbing on the bed, she is taken aback by his near instant transformation into a regular suit with an angry looking weapon at his side. He steps out and says he’ll just be a moment. Finally a laugh in a Daniel Craig film. [To be fair there were a couple in Skyfall but this movie is clearly more engaged in Bond’s humorous side.] He does get a Roger Moore moment when as the building that he shot into collapsed and then triggered a similar collapse in the one he is occupying, he ends up landing on a couch after dropping a couple of stories, with a sconce in his hand. A second laugh in the pre title sequence, this might be a laugh fest.

We also get a return to the traditional byplay with Miss Moneypenny. They don’t quite flirt but it seems as if they could. When she delivers material to his apartment at night, there is a subtle joke about his lack of effort at decorating. When he reaches out to her in the middle of a car chase, at three in the morning, he comments on her having a male guest at her place at that time of night. This is the possessive James Bond we knew from the old days, paying attention only when it suits him.

Bond juxtaposes his bad ass assassin facade with a jesters grin when he dispatches two killers sent to kill the widow of his first target. She claims that it will be a no use for him to intervene because in five minutes there will be another killer at her door. His response “Just enough time for a drink.” A little gallows humor to ingratiate himself with a key informant. Thank you Mr. Bond. When he boldly bluffs his way into a secret meeting of the phantom group, he  calls the screener an asshole as he introduces himself as Mickey Mouse, oh yeah, in Italian. When the head of SPECTRE reveals himself at the meeting to James, he does it with a little cuckoo call. The bad guys have a sense of humor as well.

Only one moment of humor feels exaggerated in a way that is similar to a Roger Moore Bond. During the car chase in Rome, Bond’s DB10 ends up behind a slow moving mini-Fiat. The driver comically remains in front of Bond until pushed into a parking spot and then the airbag goes off. That felt very clown like. Bond’s exit from the car before he parks it in the Tiber river is also a bit over the top, but only in the same way that the ejector seat was in Goldfinger.  Most of the humor in the film plays off of the way Bond expresses himself. He remains cool and cocky, even when being tied up to be tortured. They don’t go quite as far as to make a joke based on the bad guy scratching his testicles (like they did in Casino Royale) but there is a moment of levity before Christoph Watlz reveals his character’s new name. Bond speaks softly and greets the white Persian cat that walks across his lap in a casual way. No joke, just a moment of incongruous levity.

A second issue that I need to reconsider is the title song. When I first heard the Sam Smith tune “Writings on the Wall”, I was underwhelmed. His breathy deliver and wan styling seemed too soft for a James Bond film. When you watch the opening credits and see the nude silhouette of Daniel Craig, surrounded by faceless girls and octopus tentacles, it is almost laughable.

But once you get over the novelty of that image, it is both frighting and sad, and that’s what the story is ultimately about. The sadness of uncertainty, especially about love. The tune becomes a haunting reminder of all the losses for Craig’s Bond, and the fear that he can never have the real love and stability that he professes to want. A lot of people have said that they see this movie as a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They believe the relationship with Madeleine is doomed. If that is true, then the music has perfectly captured that notion. I’m not a 100% convinced but I am a lot closer to seeing this as a lesser Shirley Bassey effort rather than a miserable Madonna failure.

My final criticism in the original review was about the climax of the film. The damsel in distress card is played and that is such a conventional moment. It was also arrived at quickly and without much sense. Madeleine leaves Bond abruptly, disappears and ends up tied to the railroad tracks, oops, sorry, tied up in the building about to explode, and Bond has to find her. Their exit from the building is really solid however and the music score pumps up the boat/helicopter chase pretty well. I love the fact that M,Q, and Moneypenny have something to do at the end, but it is a little disconcerting that the new intelligence agency, that is supposed to be state of the art, has no alarms, guards or obvious security. The anti-terror squad shows up at a helicopter crash in less than a minute, but the head of the new inter-agency intelligence network takes a header 15 stories down into the lobby of the headquarters and no one shows up except our crew.

Finally, although it comes before the credits, there is a bit of a stinger and the producers know exactly where to hit a real Bond fan to make us want more. A miraculous resurrection is lingered over with a shot of the historically significant gear shift knob, and 007s oldest ally comes in to slap us awake at the exit. Cue the original theme played over the scene in perfect placement and now I want to see the movie again and I can’t wait until the next installment shows up.

SPECTRE

In case you had not noticed over the last few weeks, I am a James Bond fan. I may even be an apologist, since I managed to find things to like in all the Bond films, even the ones at the bottom of my list. From a critical point of view, it’s best not to let your passions interfere with your judgement, but as someone who has listened to a lot of argument, I can tell you that passion often trumps good judgement. A thoughtful idea is often no match for an instance of visual gratification or nostalgic touch on ones memory. I can’t really pretend not to have a prejudice in regard to these films and everyone reading this should be forewarned, this is an opinion influenced by fifty years of conditioning.

[Spoiler Alert] A plot point is discussed in the next paragraph that might reveal more information than you want on characters in the film.


“SPECTRE” is a solid action film, with the requisite 007 tropes, and several terrific sequences.  It was very satisfying in my opinion, but it does not rise to the levels of greatness it’s predecessor achieved. That it suffers in part from that comparison is largely the fault of the screenwriters who found it necessary to inject every Daniel Craig Bond film with a continuing story line concept. “Skyfall” is the Craig version of our hero with the least degree of attachment to the previous films, and one of the reasons it works is the stand alone nature of the script. “SPECTRE” reaches into the grave to pull a thread that suddenly becomes the link between all of these stories. There is an intriguing idea in having the greatest threat to humanity and humanities greatest protector be connected in  a very essential way, but it strains the story to make it work in the quick way it has to develop. “The Ten Commandments”, “East of Eden” and “Thor” all explore the same territory but manage to do it with more aplomb than can be mustered here. There is not enough time to go into Bond’s history again, and then make him the “Good Twin”. 


That having been said, let’s talk about the stuff that makes the movie worth your time and money. The Bond girl in this film is a bright psychologist who is half Bond’s age. She is also fairly self sufficient when it comes to some of the action bits. Léa Seydoux is a blonde innocent trapped in a world of venomous manipulators. The fact that she becomes part of the story is a result of one of those threads I mentioned before, being tugged at in a pretty effective scene. A recurring character is a victim of Polonium type poisoning, and his only desire is to protect his daughter. James is traditionally  a misogynist in the chauvinistic style of the past. He dismisses women and he treasures them simultaneously. The writers give Madeleine Swann enough to do to make her not be an impediment that Bond must drag around for the last third of the film. They do however fall back on the oldest of story telling shortcuts in modern suspense films and it is a bit tired.  Daniel Craig’s James Bond has been on a train before, but usually on the outside getting a beating as the scenery passes. In this film, his character finally gets to appreciate the romantic elements of train travel that made previous  versions of Bond so happy. Of course he does get the beating as well. 


Three characters get used more in this film than they have in previous films. “M” is a player in the story and not just a spear holder as as so often been the case. This is a continuation from the previous film that is welcomed. The political angle of the story is an opportunity for “M” to do something not just say things that advance the plot. Ralph Fiennes might have played Bond twenty years ago, now he is well cast as the civilized version of espionage, that the world will see. “Q” is the resident geek who gets a chance to make choices that will give Bond the ability to act more freely than he might have, and “Q” gets to work in the field a bit more as a consequence. Moneypenny is the least used character, but she does ultimately get out from behind the desk or computer and helps out as well. These are all improvements that a Bond fan like me will be glad for. They were the kinds of things I anticipated at the end of the last outing.  

Now when I saw a year ago that the title of the new film was going to be “SPECTRE” , it was inevitable that the head of that criminal organization would return in this re-booted universe. There was not really any doubt that Christoph Waltz was going to be that character. If there were a grand plan that the organization was responsible for and Bond was sent to stop it, I’d have been alright with that. As it is, we have a more insidious plot that draws on recent films to make us doubt our allies and ourselves. The paranoia factor is ratcheted up so high, it makes the quislings of Quantum seem like pikers. As it turns out, they and every other foe that our current version of Bond has faced end up being tied together in an unnecessary complication of previous plots.  Yet somehow, with the stakes as high as they are, it feels like this is a showdown between figures that really have not had a relationship before. The story tries to build a background but it is under done and unsatisfying. There are still some sequences though that make the mano a mano approach work anyway. When Bond boldly enters into a meeting trying to pass himself off as a member of the organization, the shadowy image and disembodied voice work at building some suspense and tension. There is also a good scene back in London, late in the film , which contains the viciousness of the organization and it’s leader quite well. The scene of torture in the desert is a bit anti-climactic but it turns out to be the penultimate confrontation rather than the final one, thank goodness. 

Waltz does not get as much screen time or character development as a villain probably needs. Le Chiffre and Silva in the two highwater marks of this iteration of Bond were the models of that kind of storytelling. Here it all relies on moods and asserted links to previous actions to make Waltz the bad guy. When he finally acquires a signature feature of the character, I thought the real plot was kicking in, unfortunately, this takes place in the last fifteen minutes of the movie. So the challenge that Bond usually faces is the formidable substitute, Mr. Hinx. David Bautista is a modern version of “Oddjob” or “Jaws”. He is relentless, tough and resilient. He also has enough charisma to pull off the silent role and get away with having a single verbal line in the film. Although Bond ultimately prevails over his enemies, they may not be down for the count permanently. I’d be fine with that as long as the story were more direct and the pacing a bit stronger.

All of this criticism might make you think I did not like the film, as I’ve already said, far from it, I enjoyed the heck out of it.

This is the unique ticket I bought from Regal Entertainment, it entitles me to admission to see “SPECTRE” every day that that it plays in a Regal theater. They only sold 1000 of them across the country, so it is a unusual souvenir and a threat to the financial foundations of that company, because I plan on using it a lot. The opening scene by itself might be worth a visit or two. There is a really solid car chase through Rome that provides some thrills and a couple of the humorous beats that a Bond film should have. The fight scene on the train is another few minutes that make a return visit worthwhile.  

I don’t care much for the Opening Song, it seems to lack a melody and there is never much drive to it. I have learned over the years though that some things can grow on you and I finally appreciate the Chris Cornell song from Casino Royale” so maybe this will work it’s way into a more favorable status down the road. The “Day of the Dead” setting in Mexico City was visually interesting and the lonely trek through the Austrian Alps to try and track down a lead was a solid moment of loneliness. There were some aspects of the secret desert lair that were also interesting, so I can say that the movie looks great. I just think it needs to be a bit tighter, and it would have benefited from starting a fresh adventure rather than dragging in parts of the past few films. Monica Bellucci was hailed as a breakthrough in casting a mature woman as a counterpart to Bond, but her part is brief . It did have an awkward sexual element to it but there was also the most sensual image of the film in one of her scenes so if you are a fan it might be worth it to you but it was frustrating that she was gone so soon. 

 

I may come back and offer a different view of the film, maybe after the tenth trip I take on my dime and Regal’s foolishness. For now let’s just say 007 fans will be satisfied and the world is safe for a couple of more years.

 

 

Double O Countdown: Skyfall

We made it to the end. I don’t know how my fellow bloggers who post on a daily basis manage to find time to do so. It has been an exhausting four weeks. Everyday I have been scanning the films, compiling a list, capturing shots, finding images to share and it was always so much because I wanted to look at everything. It has all been worth it. This post is going up the morning of the day I will be seeing the new Bond film “SPECTRE”.  I hope it has helped wet your appitiete as much as it has mine.

“Skyfall” is just about perfect in my mind. I have seen haters out there who have had the audacity to say it is a bad film, they have no idea what they are talking about. This movie is packed with things that action film lovers will want to treasure, that Bond fanatics like me will geek out over, and it has qualities that film professionals have honored in numerous ways. Here are the Double O Seven ways it did it for me.

001  Adele gives Shirley Bassey a run for her money.

The title song is lush, mysterious and romantic. It kicks in with a chorus that is dramatic and brings the intensity level up very effectively. That it is played over some spectacular title images adds to it’s luster.

002  Judy Dench Classes up the film like you can’t believe

This was the biggest role for Dench in the series, she plays it tough and has just the right amount of vulnerability in the key scenes. She gets to participate in the climactic battle at Bond’s ancestral home and she is completely believable. In the opening, she is unsentimental in risking Bond’s life in pursuit of the Macguffin.

When the HQ of MI 6 is attacked and a half dozen are killed, she is a isolated figure with the world against her.

She has to defend herself at a public hearing where she will be humiliated for political reasons, still she does not give an inch.

As she and Bond flee London to draw their nemesis into a fight away from others, she is not alone, but still feels the weight of the world and the isolation with 007 at her side.

003  Let’s Hear it for the Movie Magician Roger Deakins

He makes beatiful images even more beautiful, see the reds pop in this image.

The lighting and shadows in some scenes recall the glory days of post war film noir.

Shadows that tell the story as well as the pictures and words do.

Backlighting for effect and hiding the face of the character in the bright red light from a fire, awesome stuff.

Composition is another of the arrows in his quiver.

I know “The Life of Pi” was beautiful, but Roger Deakins was robbed at the Academy Awards this year.

004  Once again, the villain makes the movie.

Javier Bardem as the betrayed and bitter ex-agent Silva, is all quirky body movement and lilting articulation when he speaks.

The story he tells of his Grandmothers Island and the rats is creepy, but watch the way he tries to get to James by delicately manhandling him.

Of course Jame’s response was classic bravado with a twist of humor.

Even when he is captured, Hannibal Lecter-like, we know that he is a snake that is too dangerous to let live. A terrific character matched by a terrific performance.

005  Fan Service from Aston Martin

I’m only slightly kidding when I say I may have peed myself when the lights go on in the garage. “Goldfinger” is my favorite Bond film, but this one proves there is always a chance it could be replaced. At least as long as a car with Machine Guns and an Ejector seat is in the mix.

006  The New M

Ralph Fiennes is well cast as a younger but mature new head of the Secret Service. He also know how to handle himself as he shows in the attack on the public hearings.

He starts off in the film as an uptight prig but turns into the wise and knowing heir to the Evil Queen of Numbers.

As he and Bond meet in the very last scene, and Bond addresses him as “M”, my heart soared and I anticipated the new film every day for the last three years.

007 The Perfect Summary of 007

He kicks ass, chases the bad guys around town on every kind of vehicle you can imagine, shoots a bucket load of bullets, and still cares about how his clothes drape properly.

If you don’t jones on this shot, why are you reading any of this?

James Bond Will Return in “SPECTRE”