Skyfall

81heMuS2MTL._SL1500_Title: Skyfall

Year: 2012, and in glorious 2D! The first of many brilliant steps EON took to assure Bond’s return from the brink of financial ruin would be a classic film firmly planted in tradition. Unlike the slice and dice action of 2008’s Quantum of Solace or the digital vomit of 2002’s Die Another Day EON ignored the current “hip” trends and celebrated 007’s Golden Anniversary on the silver screen with a gift to fans. Skyfall is nothing short of a celebration of everything we love about Commander James Bond. Watching it again six months removed from the release (Ed Note: This is the first Bond film I’ve seen in the theater since starting the project in April of 2010, hence …) it occurred to me that Skyfall is more of a reboot then Casino Royal (2006). The film is about stripping “James Bond” down to his core so he can then be built up again. And when I say “James Bond” I’m referring to not only to the 007 character but also his world. Bond has always been an idealized stand in for the UK but here Bond and England are truly one. When the crown falters, so does he. When the villain blows a hole in MI6, the absent Bond is wounded. He then must straighten himself out, return home, and save his country, even if she, in the form of penny pinching, pencil pushing bureaucrats, doesn’t realize she needs saving until it’s (almost) to late. In pulling himself back from the brink, Bond not only reinvents himself but his world. MI6 is physically moved to a new location and 007’s three pillars of support (two of which have been absent in the Craig era) M, Q, and Moneypenny are all reintroduced, reinvented and yes, rebooted. In breaking Bond down to build him up again the film is both rooted in the past while looking forward to the future. After Quantum and the MGM bankruptcy, it seemed our hero was finally done for, but as I’ve learned time and time again with this project, every time we count Bond out, he somehow comes back stronger. Skyfall is no exception.

Film Length: 2 hours 23 minutes

Bond Actor: Daniel Craig. Bingo. In his third film Craig not only pulls off the double backflip, he nails the landing. Whether he’s your favorite or you think him worse then Timothy, here Craig bleeds like Connery while adjusting his tie like Moore. He does both, by the by, right after ripping open a train car like Jaws tearing into a minivan. Hold on to your hats, James “not Jason Bourne” Bond is once again fun and Craig is having a blast. Not since Brosnan’s debut in Goldeneye (1995) have we seen an actor love being Bond like this. All I can think is the weight of the role must have finally lifted for Craig. His first go around he was too precise, what with all the world-wide-web denouncing him as the “worst Bond ever” before he was even issued his Welther PPK. “Don’t F it up” seemed to be the actor’s mantra and in avoiding mistakes he took no risks.

What? Keith worry?

What? Keith worry?

The next film had no script, an incompetent director, and Craig was left dangling in the wind. Now, after four years of “will there or won’t there be another film,” Craig finally realizes what he’s got, the best damn job in the world. (OK, second best job after play first base for the 1986 Mets.) Additionally, Craig is given the tools to deliver the most well rounded Bond since Lazenby pointed out “this never happened to the other fellow.” We learn for the first time that Bond does sleep in spaces outside of hotel rooms. He has a flat in London! However, we never see it because when Bond was presumed dead, the place was sold off and all his belongings were put into storage. “Standard procedure” though this maybe, one can’t help but imagining the folks from “Storage Wars” coming across that bounty. “Holy shit, look at all this Dom Perignon! And I wonder what happens when I click this pen …” We also spend the entire third act at Bond’s family home in the moors of Scotland. (Where I come from, New Jersey, they call em swamps.) We learn James, an only child, was born to Andrew Bond and Monique Delacroix Bond (French!) and the two were burred in a shared grave. Kincade, the butler, even gives us insight into the boy Bond when he revels that after his parents died, little Jimmy hid in a secrete cave under his house for two days. “He went in a scared boy, when he came out he was a man.” I’ve often made the connection between one Mr. Bond and Mr. Wayne in the past, but after seeing Skyfall, the house, the deal is sealed. Both men have impossibly rich tastes and a weakness for the ladies. They both have secret identities and fight for what’s right against eccentric weirdoes. They both have signature cars and gadgets and lab men (Q, Mr. Fox) to keep everything in working order. But now it goes deeper. Both bachelors were orphaned and after a childhood trip below their ancestral homes (run by understanding older men, Kincade and Alfred) into caves of discovery, both emerge with greater purpose. Yah, Bond is in some ways England’s Batman, but with better suits and a license to kill. (Ed. Note: My new punk band, Worst Then Timothy, will premiere this Friday at Gussy’s in Astoria. $3 at the door)

041Director: Sam Mendes. Indeed, the first Oscar winning director in the franchises 50 year history is not the first guy who jumps to mind when thinking Bond. After years in theater Mendes made a huge splash with his feature debut American Beauty (1999). However, the years since have not been kind to Beauty and by the time Mendes turned the Titanic couple of the 90’s into bickering symbols of middle class American dysfunction in Revolutionary Road (2008) the Englishman’s criticism of American suburbia was no longer welcome on these shores. A shame, for Away We Go (2009) was a delight. But in Blog James Blog’s not so humble opinion, the most criminally overlooked film on Mendes’ IMDB page is the period gangster film Road to Perdition (2002). Not only a clinic in nailing set design and atmosphere, Perdition boasts an incredible cast of Tom Hanks in the bad guy role, Jude Law coiled like a spring, Paul Newman in his last on screen performance, and an up and coming English actor, Daniel Craig. Craig and Mendes became fast friends and the two would often give each other career advice. Craig in fact called Mendes when first asked to take the Bond role at which point Mendes told his pal to run the other way, fearing Craig would forever be branded as Bond. A justified concern as only Sir Sean has had an A-list post Bond career. Years later, Craig bumped into Mendes at a LA party and offered his old friend nothing short of the directing gig for the next 007, something the leading man, a few drinks into the evening, had no authority to do. The next day while nursing a slight headache Craig called his Bond bosses to admit he may have F’ed it up. Wilson and Broccoli forgave their 007 and welcomed Mendes with open arms. For his part, Mendes became interested in helming a Bond film after watching his buddy in Casino Royale. Mendes said it occurred to him that it “was still possible to make a big fantastic escapist movie and at the same time say something about the world we are living in.” For anyone unclear what the role the director, cinematographer, and editor play in making a film, you’re encouraged to watch Quantum and Skyfall back to back and you’ll get some idea. The metaphor Mendes and Co. play throughout the film (and none to subtly, this is Bond after all) is that M and Bond are old England, and they are dying; one will reinvent themselves to fit into modern times, the other will not. This message is expanding upon with set design and atmosphere but Mendes also uses dialog as a connective tissue to keep the theme in the fore. Two phrases in particular keep popping up like something of a manifesto.

A Bond for America?

A Bond for America?

The first is “Sometimes the old ways are best” as in Bond discussing his straight razor, Kincade talking about the virtues of a knife in a gun fight, and Bond once again when he plants said knife firmly in Silva’s back. The other is “Of course he/she/it is” as in “Bond, Silva is now in disguise as a policeman” “Of course he is” and “Bond, Q is afraid of flying.” “Of course he is” and Silva commenting on how both he and M have their final showdown in a dark gothic chapel “Of course. It had to be here.” I read this as Mendes talking directly to the audience, he feels the older Bonds, as well as the older ways of filmmaking, are the best. And it is with that mindset that Skyfall goes to all those Bond places and hits all the classic Bond themes because it is a Bond film, so of course it has to.

Reported Budget: $200,000,000 estimated.

Reported Box-office: $303,460,000 USA and $980,000,000 worldwide. Now that’s a figure to make Dr. Evil bite his pinky. The biggest hall for a Bond film ever and every penny was earned. To pick on Quantum again, after learning that film was $200 million I wanted a full audit. Surly, someone took off under the dark of night with bags of cash because that certainly did not look like a $200 million film. Here, it’s all, as they say, on screen and more importantly, it all works to serve the films ideas. There is a motorcycle chase over the rooftops of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (of course) that was shot for real (the old ways are best) that must of cost more then I’ll make in three lifetimes. A fight scene in a Shanghai skyscraper is not only unlike anything I’ve seen before, but the story is served as the glass towers and LED lights of this modern city strike a perfect 031counterpoint to London’s old, grey, stone skyline. Even transition, like cutting from M in a small office talking about how the villain and Bond both operate in the shadows to the wide open gorgeous blue sky and water where Bond, standing on the deck of a sail boat, slowly and openly makes his way to the villains lair. The locations mean something here, as do the explosions and stunts and over the top sets. Mendes didn’t just use his budget as an excuse to go nuts; he went nuts with purpose.

Theme Song: “Skyfall” by Adele. I love Adele and simply assume everyone else does. Because how could you not. Add the fact that outside the late Amy Winehouse no other contemporary voice could bring us back to the classic Bond themes of yore and Adele, Brit to boot, is the obvious hire for the job. However, I must admit that I was not all that thrilled when I first heard the tune. It has since grown on me, like 90% of songs and albums I tend to love do, and I now think of it as a top shelf Bond theme. The build in the song sneaks up on the listener for a good three minutes until we hit the explosive final battle cry that carries us into the film, very Bond indeed. One more music note, the extras on the Blu-ray feature a quick piece about Derek Watkins. Watkins is a trumpet player who has played his horn for all 23 Bond films. He’s got to be the only person in the world who can say he’s worked on them all, no? Amazing. Further, while I was watching him play the score with 75 or so other musician it hit me once again how big and professional and organized and talented the cast and crew of these outlandishly huge films truly are. Anyway, live from the Kodak Theater in Hollywood California, ladies and gentlemen, Adele.

Opening Titles: As Bond sinks to “his death” we see his life flash before our eyes. That’s not just my interpretation; Daniel Kleinman created the opening title sequence to do exactly that. After Bond is shot and falls into the water the Adele theme kicks in and we enter a dream full of symbolism right out of Freud 101. Floating paper targets with Bonds face bleed out of the heart, the lava lamp blood then forms skulls and finally, Bond descends into his own grave. But Bond goes not gently into the light or this would be one short film indeed. So, along with the past we get glimpse of Bond future; Chinese New Year dragons, a quick shot of Silva looking on and finally Bond shooting mirror images of himself a la Man With the Golden Gun (1974) because you see, Silva is Bond gone bad. Further, the film looks forward and back and the credits do the same. I told you it was 101 but it’s all beautifully rendered and when coupled with Adele well … nobody does credits better.

DollsOpening Action Sequence: Yes, there has been quite a lot of “This is the best since that” already in this review but hot dog this movie has one doozy of an open. Perhaps the best since… dare I say The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)? Mendes said he wanted the open to be Russian nesting dolls with each twist revealing something new and unexpected. To quote my least favorite person this side of Tom Brady, mission accomplished. We first see Bond walking towards us, out of focus and distorted, looking like the alien emerging from the ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). As the figure comes into focus we know who it is before we see his face thanks to the horn blast that push him onto screen. It is he, our hero, returned from Chapter 11 hell. Bond stumbles into a dark room containing a dead body and a badly wounded Agent Ronson. “LEAVE HIM!” M barks into Bond’s earpiece. Our hero hesitates, not wanting to abandon his fallen comrade, but he must chase the baddie lest many more agents will fall. You see, the baddie has a hard drive containing the true identity of every covert MI6 agent. Also presumed to be included are addresses, bank account info, and Linkedin profile passwords. Bond steals one more glance into the dying man’s eyes before he bolts after the McGuffin. This tight, short sequence is the entire film boiled down to its core; what are the consequences of MI6 and/or M sacrificing the one to save the many? One more note; the agent left behind is named Ronson which sounds a lot like Brosnan who was in fact left behind when EON went with Craig. Am I reading too much into this? You bet! Anywho, Bond jumps into a jeep driven by an agent named Eve and off they go after the baddie who’s on a motorcycle. What follows is an amazing chase involving smashed up jeeps, hand guns with insane ammo clips, a rooftop motorcycle chase, a backhoe ripping up a train car, a cascade of falling Volkswagen bugs, Bond getting shot in the shoulder, and a more then a few tossed fruit carts. It all ends with Bond and the baddie on top of a moving train, which is on a bridge and quickly approaching a tunnel. Long time James Blog fans need not be reminded of my head over heels love of trains on screen and this charging locomotive doesn’t disappoint. On a near by bluff Eve has her high powered scoop and rife aimed in the general direction of the two men but she is unable to get a clean shot on the baddie. M, who has been monitoring the entire thing from the safety and comfort of her London office, asks Eve if she has a clean shot. Negative, she may hit Bond. Take the shot M commands. As the train fast approaches the tunnel Eve tries to steady her nerve. She takes the shot, but when she does the camera is not on her but Bond, who goes flying off the train as if someone yanked a rope tied around his waist. It happens so quickly, so unexpectedly, it is totally shocking in a “holy shit! Did that just happen?’ kind of way that blockbuster films rarely are anymore. As Bond hits the water far below Eve reports “agent down.” We cut to M’s office, as the most powerful spy in England looks out her rain soaked window over the grey wet London skyline. In that split second M lost her best agent and the hard drive containing the closest kept secretes of her agency. What are the consequences of sacrificing the one when you’re still fail to save the many?

Bond’s Mission: We pick-up post credits three months after Bond’s disappearance over the waterfall. M is receiving a tongue lashing from the head Nazi from Schindler’s List (1993), AKA Ralph “call me Rafee” Fiennes. It appears NATO is none to happy with the list of agent names being out in the world and M is respectfully asked to retire “with dignity.” “To hell with dignity!” she snaps back reminding us once more why we love Dame Judi. Even this simple exchange is a reference/twist on the Bond mythology. How many times have we seen this tableau with M behind the desk dropping the hammer as Bond is forced to play the “you don’t understand what I need to do in the field” card? While M is in London fighting for her professional life half a world away Bond is fighting for his very soul. It only took 50 years but thank the movie gods EON finally got Bond going off the grid right. Rock stars often talk about the rush of performing on stage being unlike anything in the world. But when the lights are off and the crowds are gone living their lives many try to recreate the rush artificially. Drugs, booze and sex are more then often involved and so it is with the superspy in seclusion. We get an amazing window into Bonds world as we watch him stumble out of his bed at sunset and shamble down the beach from his shack to the local pub, an open air watering hole suitable for Colonel Kurtz and his men, where Bond calls upon his trademark bravery, moxie, and tolerance for alcohol to eek out a living. At sunrise, Bond is the sole occupant of the bar where he slouches, still pulling at the bottle. Craig’s face lets us know this has been the daily grind for some time and I’d imagine this is exactly how a sex addicted, alcoholic, adrenal junkie who has seen every corner of the world would end up dying. So cut off from his former life is Bond that he now gains intelligence from Wolf Blitzer, who informs CNN viewers MI6’s London headquarters has been attacked by terrorist. Bond returns home to find he no longer has home. MI6 is now underground, his flat has been rented and M, Mom in every sense of the word, doesn’t welcome her son back with open arms.

Bonds drinking partner

Bonds drinking partner

He must first prove himself to her in a sequence that is more crippling to Bond then the beachfront debauchery. In order to regain his double 0, Bond must endure the indignity of reapplying. His trademark tailored suit is replaced by a tracksuit. His verbal jousts with maniacal world threating villains is replaced by a word association game with a third rate shrink. Even his gun, Hollywood’s go to phallic symbol, is rendered impotent leaving Bond, much like Austin Powers, robbed of his mojo. For a man who is always three steps ahead, the fall from grace is staggering. What’s that you say? You think this sequence of events is Mendes commenting on the Bond franchise’s fall into bankruptcy? Hummm, I hadn’t thought of that…

Villain’s Name: Raoul Silva. For Bond villains, like most things in life, it’s all about the entrance. The room, large enough to stage the pivotal number in a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers picture, is full of wires. The camera looks down this hall of circuits like Luke Skywalker staring down the trench of the original Death Star. At the end of the hall a door opens and slowly, methodically, with a hint of swishiness, the villain walks toward the camera. Any Bond villain worth his salt gets a least one good speech and Silva’s is a doozy. We learn he’s ex-MI6, spending ‘86 to ‘97 at Station H Hong Kong, and he became lost after M left him to die in the field, not unlike the stunt she just pulled with Bond. The attack on MI6 is what brings these two men back into the fold; Silva is responsible for it, Bond responded to it. In his return from the wilderness Silva went postal, bombing his former work place because he was done with “the old lady giving him orders.” The old lady is, of course, both M and England. Bond on the other hand came back to protect the “old lady,” and that is the nut; Silva lets his hate for M swallow his sole while Bond’s love England saves his. What Mendes does is show us how thin the line between the two spies is and how if Bond were a lesser man, he would be riding shotgun with this techno terrorist.

Island 1Villain Actor: Javier Bardem. The script, the director, and set pieces all but guarantee Silva will hold a special place in the Bond universe but it’s Javier who makes him truly a top shelf Bond villain. In his character’s introduction, occurring a good while into the second act, Bardem establishes his baddie as a cross of intellectual and sexual dominance in a scene that is off the charts sizzling with tension. I was shocked when some critics, like Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News, saw Bardem’s slow burn menace and, yes, sexual overtness, as a weakness, comparing him to farm team baddies Mr. Went and Kidd. Because he may be gay he’s weak? This is 2012 for f**k sake. In Javier we get in fact the very opposite of weak. 95% of past Bond villains are “the smart guys” and “the strong guys” working in tandem; IE Goldfinger and Oddjob or Stromberg and Jaws. Silva is both and indeed has Bond outgunned in both departments. Why do we believe this to be so? Because Javier, to paraphrase Jean Luc Picard, makes it so. Look as his face as he rumbles thought London, singularly focused on reaching M. Become uneasy watching his caged tiger in the glass tube imploring M to “Think on her sins.” Smile at his complete satisfaction in tossing grenades into Bond’s childhood home. Bardem is Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas (1990) he actually enjoys being bad.

Villain’s Plot: Outside of the big theme, Silva and Bond are equally matched opposite sides of the same coin, the plot is boilerplate move from one local to the next. Bond learns the guy who shot him in the opening sequence is an assassin who’s next hit is in Shanghai. The once and future 007 catches the next flight to Asia and in short order Bond is walking into the trap, but what a glorious glass trap it be. Bond follows behind the assassin as he breaks into a sleek, ultra modern, lobby floor to 86th floor glass office building. Bond admires the assassin’s moves and sees his younger self in his target. (This is never said, Craig’s face does the talking.) In the next moment the English spy is wishing he was indeed his younger self as he struggles to hold onto the undercarriage of an elevator as it carries the assassin skyward to the top floor. The image of Bond hung under an ascending elevator quickly brings to mind the shot in Superman II (1981) where the son of Jor-El flies under the Eiffel Tower elevator, pushing it upward. Bond is often thought of as a superman and here using a classic Superman image we see that he is indeed very human. It’s the elevator pulling him up, not the other way around, and 007 is holding on for dear life…barely. Once safely on the top floor, Bond is still the passive voyeur, standing by while the assassin kills his target in an apartment across the way. The only other occupant of the apartment is a woman who is not the least bit surprised by the dead man on the floor and therefore must be in on the hit. Bond and the woman lock eyes and she becomes the next link in the chain eventually leading Bond to Silva. Does this whole thing require Silva seeing the board nine chess moves ahead? Yep. Does it matter like so many “smart” people on the internet think it does? Nope, not a lick. In part because …

Ed note: The Miami Marlins have attendance issues this year.

Ed note: The Miami Marlins have attendance issues this year.

Villain’s Lair: An island! The Bond baddie lair is a freakin’ island! And a crazy impressive island at that. Bond has always been a travel log but here each location has it’s own distinct feel and atmosphere. For Silvia’s island we get an empty spookiness. If we are to believe our host, Japanese families once occupied the impressive concrete bunker like high-rises buildings that cover the small island. However, Silvia tricked them into believing the island had been contaminated in some way and overnight the island became Marlins stadium. What’s left are ghostly ruins and streets filled with abandon signs of humanity. Silva has the place wired with loud speaks which constantly play classical music, giving the whole place an out of time other worldly creepiness I can only compare to my first play though of Bioshock. Silva and music will come full circle in the third act when he once again sets out to destroy an isolate home, this time blasting the Johnny Lee Hooker perhaps too on the noise classic “Boom Boom.” (However, it’s not Johnny Lee in performing it in the film for some odd reason.) On top of all that, this island is much like the classic Ken Adam volcano lair of yore and unlike the publicly funded Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the 2012 GOP convention, in that they built it. (“They” in this case being production set designers and craftsmen and women employed to work on Skyfall who are also no doubt dues paying union members. Anywho… A F**KING ISLAND!!!)

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Mr. Green, the villain from the last entry, looks like the kind of guy you would strike up a conversation with while waiting for a drink at a Manhattan rooftop bar. Silva, on the other hand, has a look that would make you get off your train five stops early if he sat next to you. Like all good Bond villains, he’s got physical problems to go along with his mental ones. Before we even learn about his prosthetic jaw (coming up, it’s worth the wait) we can see this is a man who is altering his look. His eyes look to be in the wrong head, most likely thanks to a bad eyelift. His hefty frame is slightly off balance on his skinny legs. His blonde die job screams “this man in not right.” And then there is the verbal tick, the masterstroke in Bardem’s baddie. As Silva is rattling off all the bad stuff he can do with the click of a mouse he lists “Manipulate the market? Bluup done.” The “Bluup” is delivered in a higher register then his normal speaking voice and sounds like a cross between a Nintendo Game System sound effect and dripping faucet. The first time I heard it, I thought it was a flubbed line that somehow made it into the final cut of the film but then it comes back. “Nothing superfluous in my life, if I don’t need it, Bluup” The bluup is how he sees the world. If Silva needs something to happen, he bluup, makes it happen. Now for that missing lower jaw… Back when he was with Station H  (‘86 to ‘97 alert readers will recall) Silva was detained for five months. Though tortured terribly, he never spilled the beans on MI6 and when it became clear he would not be rescued, he bit down on the cyanided capsule in his molar. He did not die but everything inside burned. When he removes his false lower jaw his face drops, his eyes pop, and spittle sprays from his mouth. He is truly a monster, his insides burned out by M, and now he’s come home to get his revenge. Bluup

Badassness of Villain: Lets hold up the William Tell/ William Burroughs scene as exhibit A in the Silva is a monster argument. In a classic Bond Villain trope, Silvia plays host and escorts Bond around his lair for a grand tour ending in the abandon village square. Tied up in the middle of the square is the girl who led Bond to Silva’s island. She is also Silva’s lover because of course she is. With 1920’s big band music playing in the background Silvia and Bond drink from a bottle as Silva proposes a game. The first one to shoot a shot glass off the top of the girls head wins. Bond has the honor. With hands shaking, brow sweeting, Silvia cackling “The great James Bond can’t even shoot straight, what have they done to you?” Bond takes his shot and misses badly wide right (Sorry Buffalo), debris flecking off the girls face. “My turn” Silvia says as he raises his gun and shoots the girl in gut, causing her to bend over as the glass falls to the ground. “I win, what do you think?” “I think it’s a waste of perfectly good Scotch.” And that is just the tip of the Silva iceberg. So badass is he that he WANTS to be caught Coffeeby MI6 so he can get into Q’s computer, break out of his special Hulk S.H.I.E.L.D. cage, squash Bond under a downtown 6 train, and shot M while she is testifying before Parliament. The fact that only 25% of this works is well beside the point, it’s the shear act of attempting this bat shit crazy plan that make him badass. But the icing on the cake, Silva kills the longest standing symbol of Bond badassery, the original Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5. More on that to come …

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Patrice, as played by Ola Rapace, follows in the proud tradition of the silent assassins as stared by Oddjob (Goldfinger) and carried on by Chang (Moonraker (1979)) and Necros (The Living Daylights (1987)). Patrice, a man with no country of origin on record, gets the ball rolling when he kills Ronson and makes off with agent list. At one point during the pursuit he shoots at Bond with a handgun that appearance to have two round ammo clips attached making it look like an Al Capone era Tommy Gun. I have no idea if these clips are real but if not I’m sure Wayne Lapierre has his top men working to get them to market as we speak. The final battle between Bond and Patrice is an absolutely thrilling throw down that ends with a multi-story plunge for the baddie. Silva also has a dozen or so guys that follow him around totting various mean looking guns. If this were a 70’s Bond film, they would be the blue jumpsuit cats. They are incredibly versatile and pop up wherever needed, at one point dressed like police to give Silva a ride through London.

Car 02Bond Girl Actress: Berenice Marlohe. Born in Paris, the television actresses was little known outside her native France before being cast as the Bond girl, and to this I stand and applauded. It appears, so far at least, that the Craig era Bonds are returning to the tradition of hiring relatively unknown exotic women for the Bond girl unlike the jumping on the hot Hollywood actress of the moment calling card of the Brosnan era. Sadly, another old Bond tradition is brought back as well; that of the Bond girl existing only to look good, have sex with Bond, bring him to the baddie, and then get cast aside unceremoniously because we don’t want the little girl around gumming up the action now do we.

Bond Girl’s Name: Severine … kind of.  The real Bond girl in this movie is M. As a result, Severine is kind of placeholder who even by the admittedly low bar of Bond girl treatment, gets truly abused. Her intro is promising enough. After the dude dies in her apartment Bond visits her at a casino where she appears to be the calm, cool, and in control manager. However, halfway though an intimate drink at the bar Bond sizes her up and sees she is simply a pretty face, a front controlled by bad men. 007 also ID’s a tattoo on her hand marking her as a sex slave. It all goes spiraling downward from there for poor Severine until she is curly tied to a poll for the amusement of two men and then shot in the belly to set up a joke. Between these two points, things get rapey.

Bond Girl Sluttiness: At the bar, Bond promises to save Severine from this life servitude. She is skeptical but willing to give this dashing Prince Charming a shot. Meet me on my boat at midnight she instructs and exits. A few scenes later we see her sitting alone in her cabin at a table set for two, her dreams once again crushed. The yacht leaves port and resigned to her fate, Severine takes a shower. That’s when out of the shadows steps a naked Bond, who embraces Severine from behind, and the music swells as the camera makes a discrete exit. I don’t know about you but when I’m along on a boat, I remain totally calm when a naked stranger I’ve meet once joins me in the shower. Its this kind of stuff that rightly infuriates our friends over at Church of Bond. (Ed Note: Church of Bond is a newish site that takes a much more focused looked at the Bond cannon and adds wonderful feminist insight to the macho boys and their toys world of 007. The reviews are fascinating and I highly recommend you visit regularly to not only keep up with The Church’s take on the films but also for the screening drink and food intake of the Church goers.) This scene was so out of left field, so ridiculously out of step with the rest of the film, that I found myself grasping for straws. So much of Skyfall is looking at Bond archetypes and spinning them and playing with them in a 2012 context I thought perhaps Mendes did this purposely bad, to poke fun of Bond’s cheesy and dodgy past, much like Qs comments on not really going in for he explosive pen bit an longer? But even this falls apart because Severine is a person and not a pen. Additionally, the only backstory we have on this paper thin character is she was a sex slave who to this day is still being held captive by men. So our hero does what to her? Sneaks up to her in a shower, has sex with her without speaking a word, then uses her to take him to the baddie who abruptly ties her up and shoots her so Bond can make a joke? Severine treatment at the hands of both Bond and the filmmaker (Silva gets a pass, he’s supposed to be evil) is a shamefully inexcusable misstep in an otherwise smart movie.

Bond Girls (Villain) Best Pick-up Line: Silva, suggestively caressing Bond, who is tied to a chair “There’s always a first time …”

Bond may swing both ways? Double Oh my!

Bond may swing both ways? Double Oh my!

Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Who says it’s my first time.” One small step for James Bond, one giant leap for mankind. We are at a truly remarkable place in our culture. Bond, the symbol of all that is masculine and sexually desired by women is actually made cooler, smarter, more worldly, and indeed more powerful by admitting (all be it with a HUGE wink) to a homosexual encounter. Is he bluffing? Perhaps. Does it matter? I don’t think so. Bond was on the forefront of the sexual revolution in the 60’s and while he’s not exactly breaking ground here, it’s important to not overlook what has happened here. The ultimate ladies man, the guy who’s “had em all over the world,” may have had a funky night or two with some boys in Brighton. Bravo Bond, and hats off to yah.

Number of Woman 007 Beds: Three. While Bond is slumming it in his beachfront hut, we see he had some companionship. We also have the aforementioned shower assault with Severine. Nether of these are interesting or help us understand Bond in a film that strives to give us a look behind the double 0. And that is why the Eve encounter is fascinating. It’s at this point Blog James Blog will reveal Eve is Moneypenny. More on that below but what is important for this bit is how the encounter unfolds. A full 180 from the creepy, gross, disposable, bad porn film execution of the Severine encounter, this hook up has hooks. It’s shot beautiful and has beats to bring us in. The characters dance around each other, slowly coming to center, giving the encounter weight, beauty, and emotion. There is even an element of danger as the woman who previously shot bond is not holding a straight razor to his face. It’s all manages to be super sexy without showing us anything close to sex. In fact, the scene was handled with such delicacy that at first I wasn’t even sure our MI6 heroes did the deed. Perhaps they finished the bottle of wine and fell asleep on the couch snuggled in each other’s arms? This thought was immediately shatter when the next shot cuts to the night sky, full of exploding fireworks while Bond, standing erect on a long canoe shaped boat, is seen piercing through the mouth of a dragon. So much for subtle.

Number of People 007 Kills: 24ish. This is a violent Bond and the body count becomes murky from the get go. The open features those classic Hollywood “Get out of R rated violence” calling cards like dudes crawling out of overturned cars or getting up and shaking their heads after smashing a motorcycle into a wall. For all the shooting and crashing and fruit cart calamity I marking the open as a zero kill sequence. The first confirmed use of the double 0 would be Patrice and even this could be argued. Bond is holding onto Patrice preventing him from falling to the street way below. Bond, in fact, wants him to live so he will cough up his employer’s name. Alas, the grip holds not and humpty dumpty had a great fall. Not sure if this was by Patrice’s or Bond’s hand but lets put it in James’ ledger. The next scratch off marks the return of a wonderful Bond staple we haven’t seen in forever; death by exotic animal! I stand and applaud Mendes and crew for the dragon eating demise of the faceless baddie at the casino and Blog James Blog will officially go on record as saying “bring death by mauling back.” The climax to the second act features a shootout at M’s inquiry hearing but much like the open, bullets fly with no confirmed kills. 416In fact it’s not till the final shoot out at Jimmy’s childhood home, Skyfall, that we can say with a certainty 21 goons meet their demise. How do we know? Well, twelve came a walking across the foggy front yard and another 10 (nine plus Silva) arrived via helicopter. Bond took out three with a shotgun, another to save Kincade and still another to save M. Two go down with the ‘sploded copper (At Blog James Blog downed choppers = two dead). And then the house blows up taking care of any stragglers save Silva and that dude on the ice. The underwater battle that follows with the dude on the ice is Bond 101 but the leg stranglehold adds a nice new wrinkle.

Most Outrageous Death/s: Severine’s senseless offing would be the obvious choice but since we’ve pretty much covered that at this point lets go with how un-outrageous Silva’s death is. This is a series that has offed lead baddies by dipping them in radiated water, fill them with compressed gas, shoving them out an airlock into space, and in the case of the longest running and most notorious Bond nemeses, getting dump from a helicopter skid while sitting in a wheelchair into an industrial smokestack. By that measure, a knife to the back is down right pedestrian. But it works in the context of the film. Stabbing is one of the more intimate ways to kill someone; you’ve got to be close and get dirty. This is why knifes work so well for horror films. And this is as intimate as a killing can get; Bond is the good son protecting mom from the evil son. A knife in the rats back seems 100% appropriate. Leaving Silva in the desert to drink motor oil wouldn’t have done at all.

Miss. Moneypenny: Loyal reads know that Blog James Blog has long held a torch for the lovely, long suffering Miss. Moneypenny. Her absents in the Craig era was an unwelcome side effect of the reboot and Skyfall more then corrects this oversight. Moneypenny gets more screen time in Bond 23 then she had in the previous 22 combine. The Bond/Moneypenny flirting always hinted at a unknown past history, especial when it was Connery placing his cap on the rack, but we never learned exactly what the story was … til now. Moneypenny shoots Bond and for all she and the rest of MI6 knows, kills him. Think about that for a moment. We are not talking about showing up at work the morning after some questionable office Christmas party behavior. We are talking about reporting to MI6 after having failed the mission of recovering the most import secrete England has only to have to write the report of how you killed the number one agent. Then, the guy you killed returns and you both get another shot to right the wrong of that mission leading to the canoe trip into the dragon’s mouth, a euphemism I pray never takes hold. And as if that wasn’t enough, Moneypenny is reimaged as Uma Thurman in Kill Bill mode crossed with Wonder Woman and a healthily dose of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

Meet the new Moneypenny

Meet the new Moneypenny

She is every bit in brain, body, and brawn a perfect match for James, and as played by Naomie Harris she carries off the quip heavy flirting effortlessly. I can’t wait to see where Moneypenny, now perched at the desk next to the hat rack and across from the brown, padded door, and Bond go from here.

M: Skyfall is M’s movie and she wears it well. It’s bittersweet that we learn all about M only to say good-by but as a storytelling device it works wonderfully. By the third act we know how it’s going to end and when it finally does it’s still a gut punch. M is the Bond girl who requires saving from the baddie but as was the case with his last love Vesper, Bond fails. But first things first, this film gives us M and Bond in a more complex relationship then we ever could have imaged. After M gave the order that ends up with Bond dead she pens his obit, a piece James found “appalling” as she knew he would. When Bond finally comes in, he breaks into M’s flat and waits for her in a darken corner. You’ll recall she warned him never to do that again in Casino Royale lest he be shot. This time M asks 007 what took him so long. It’s these moments that raise the stakes in Bond and M’s relationship and by the time she fudges his test numbers to get him back on active duty, you know this is the deepest relationship Bond has had with anyone, his long buried natural mother included. Not for nothing do orphans make the best agents and when Bond says, “yes ma’am” it comes out sounding like “mum.” For her curtain call, M gets to do a bit of everything; quote Tennyson (lines learned from her late husband) and interrogate prisoners. She abuses her power and is humbled by her status. While Bond is drowning in a bottle of rum M is sipping bourbon fighting for her job, her department, and her country. When confronting the stuffed-shirt bureaucrats M is in fact arguing Bond films critics; Bond is still relevant, maybe now more then ever. And like every modern Bond girl, M gets her moment to kick ass and does so in an empowering and plausible way. When she finally leaves the stage she does so with class and dignity. RIP M, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” The new in this case is old again as Malory takes up residence behind the leather padded door at the dark mahogany desk where he passes off files marked “Top Secrete” to Bond. Yes, we were sad to see Dame Judy die, but the last scene, complete with Moneypenny and hat rack, made your faithful Blog James Blog, errr….. blogger, more excite about Jimmy B’s future then we’ve been in a long time.

Q: Q still has spots, James says so himself. This is to say he is young or not fully formed. He needs to cook a bit longer and mature. Unlike Moneypenny and M, and Bond for that matter, all of who are real characters in this film, Q comes across more as a billboard on which to advertise an idea. I can see this character, and Ben Whishaw, growing into something more but here he is half-baked. His opening scene is nice in that Bond instantly likes him and I enjoy the idea of some affection between Q and Bond. I also like Q as a young (Emo) tech guy because that’s what he would be in 2012. But when he spots off about not really going in for exploding pens any more, it feels like a blinking neon sign shouting “this aint your dad’s Bond.” Q isn’t a 563character, he’s a plot device. His purpose is to anchor the second act and kick off the third. Bond returns to find MI6 has passed him by and Q is his guide (literally in the case of the tube station) through this unknown word. But the teck world is flawed as the baddie uses Q tech savvy to his advantage and Trojan horses his way in and out of MI6. Q let the baddie go, all be it unwittingly, so Bond must go off the grid, return to the past where there are no computers for Silva to take advantage of, so we can have a old fashioned Rio Bravo showdown that ends with the two adversaries face to face, the last rats on the island. Again, as mechanics to move the plot it all works quite well and if it was another character, one we don’t have a history with and is just here for the film, fine. However, Q is on Bond Mt. Rushmore with M, Moneypenny and Jimmy B himself. I want more from Q especially since everyone else was given a chance to shine in this film. Hopefully future installments will give the gadget guru more to do.

List of Gadgets: If I don’t particularly care for beloved characters being reduced to symbols and plot points, objects work as perfect metaphors and such. So, since we all have James Bond G4 teck in our pockets, the film was smart to present us with an elegantly simple box containing a Welther PPK S 9mm (all be it with finger print ID, something the NRA will not allow the average citizen to have because freedom) and a wee radio. And that’s all MI6 has to issue. And no, I didn’t forget about that old grey auto in storage in Brixton.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: About that old grey car … it gets blown up. Yep, the ’64 Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 with the headlight guns, ejector passenger seat, and Homer Simpson cup holders gets sent off to the great junkyard in the sky. Bond is also present for the destruction and a tube stations and derailment of a speeding subway but I think we can bill Silva for that one. No, outside the car, Bond is responsible for very little government owned property destruction. Now, Moneypenny on the other hand? She busts up a company car (Ranger Rover?), shreds half the city of London (the reconstructions costs presumably coming out of English tax payer pockets), and shoots and nearly kills MI6’s most valuable human asset, 007, who then must be retrained at god knows what cost. No wonder this chick ended up behind a desk, she a menace!

Fruit destruction never gets old…

Fruit destruction never gets old…

Other Property Destroyed: I’ve become obsessed with the upsetting of fruit carts in Bond films. I feel Sam Mendes maybe similarly fascinated by this phenomena. The open features all kinds of vegetable stand, nut barrel, and fruit cart mayhem and that’s before we drive two motorcycles down the main aisle of the grand bazar. What is it about smashing into fruits, vegetables, and dry goods that is so satisfying? Is it the variety of color, shapes and sizes? Is it the wet, juicy insides going splat? Is it a cheep prop that can be used by craft services after the stunt is complete?  No idea, but much like fat guys riding motorcycles, the gag gets me every time. Less satisfying are the barrage of Beetles Bond knocks off the train as he opens a passenger car like a can of tuna. It was the only time in the film I felt I was getting hit over the head with product placement that had zero to do with anything outside of product placement. There are a few broken windows in Shanghai and we already discussed the London Underground (not his fault) but the destruction remains relatively light until the third act. Here, the Rio Bravo stand off explodes to Bondian heights with blowed up cars, helicopters, and finally Bond’s childhood home, “I always hated this place.” Mendes is in full on Filmmaker mode here using the setting and color pallet to expand the mood and tone. The stone house getting turned into Swiss chess by the helicopters happens as the sun sets on Scotland. The spotlight from the chopper creates shafts of light pouring thought the bullet holes in the home. The fire red explosions pop out from the dark blue backdrop of the swamp. It can’t be overstated how important and amazing it is to watch great directors take what could be a routine action sequence and make it more, using tools like symbolism and visual cues to tie the sequence to the greater whole.

... and neither does this

… and neither does this

Bond’s parents are burred here and this is where he will loose his surrogate mother. The past can be both grounding and inhibiting and here, in one night, both the baggage and the roots that made Craig’s Bond end up a pile of rubble in the fog of a swamp. Where will the future lead? Also, I wonder if any bananas were destroyed in that old houses pantry?

Felix Leiter: We get a look at Bond’s future in a little prolog featuring the new M. Since we don’t have Felix in the film, the first Craig entry in which the CIA man is absent, I will focus on Gareth Mallory, the new M played by Raffe “Don’t call me Ralph” Fiennes. I must say I’m excited about the new M as he looks to be bringing something new to the table. He starts off as a “by the books” guy but quickly shows he has more sides to him. Mallory has spent time in the field and is not unsympathetic to cutting corners or even breaking a rule or two in order to get the job done. However, he is now behind the desk and has sat in the inquiries where his predecessor was raked over the hot coals, so it will be interesting to see how the new M squares these angles and how that in return will affect his working relationship with Bond. Also, what’s his drink?

Best One Liners/Quips: Bond on M “She never tired me to a chair.” Silva “Her loss.”

369Bond Cars: Bond drives more cars then he sleeps with women in this film. I’m sure there’s a joke there somewhere, I’m just unwilling to find it. The motorcycle at the top of the film is a Honda CRF250R. This could be the Cadillac of motorbikes or the Honda; I have no idea. I do think its odd to say Bond and Honda in the same sentence. In Shanghai Bond speeds around in a sexy little beast known to those who know cars as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and to me as the one he drove that was not the Aston Martin. He also tools around in M’s Jag. That one I could pick off. The model you ask? Black, clearly. Oh OK Jaguar XJ. And then the classic Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 shows up complete with the front shooters, the eject button, and original theme music.

Bond Timepiece: According to the Omega website Bond sports the Planet Ocean 600 M Omega Co-Axial 42 mm in Skyfall however I don’t recall seeing his watch in the film.

Other Notable Bond Accessories: The classic hits keep coming, the trusty Welther PPK S 9mm short is the sidearm of choice. And I must ask, did he not look like the most badass chauffeur in the history of hacks waiting for Patrice in Shanghai? Finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, no one, not even Clooney, can wear the shit out of a suit like Craig. As the late, great Warren Zevon once sang “Uhhh, I’d like to meet his tailor. Ahhhhhoooooooooooo”

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: We have had rum soaked adventures in the past have we not Mr. Bond but this, old drinking buddy of mine, this takes the cake… and scars the liver. I can’t say definitively and at some point I will go back and count all the bottles of beer on the wall from each film but if I had to guess, this is the booziest of them all. And not just the drink this time as noted by the good doctor at MI6, “alcohol and substance addiction indicated.” Ohhh James. The first time we see Bond post “official” death he’s lying in a shack on the beach, one arm around a sleep brunette and the other clutching a half finished bottle of something. This being the beach, lets call it rum. I don’t know what he’s drinking at the bar but its clear and packs a punch. Not that it stops him from reach behind the bar for another when the sun comes up. Fear and Loathing in Las Bond continues at chez M where 007 confronts Dench with a bottle of the bosses Bourbon strengthening his resolve. He also looks like stir fried shit finally answering Ebert’s question; does James Bond ever get hangovers? Bond’s time with Severine is bookend by to belts of booze. When he first meets her at the casino bar it’s a shaken martini while right before her untimely demise on Silva’s island it’s a gulp of Scotch, a 50 year old McClain, a favorite of Bond’s or so Silva is told. The 1962 on the Scotch label stands out as a not so subtitle nod to the first time a Bond, a Scott named Sean, graced the big screen. 316Finally, we don’t see it but do you think Bond was sitting in that cold dark house waiting to get shot at by Silva without a little liquid courage? For his sake I hope not.

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Here is where I want more information. I love that Patrice was paid for the Shanghai job in a single chip and Bond’s the one who shows up to cash it. Talk about gambling! Then, he later encourages Moneypenny to put the full 4 million Euro all on red. Awesome. What I don’t know, and maybe someone can help me out, is what game is Bond playing when he gets up from the table at the casino?

429List of Locations: The end credits inform us that Skyfall was filmed at Pinewood and Longcross Studios London and on location in Turkey, China, Japan, Scotland and England. They save the best for last because if anyone, or anything, is the star of this film, it’s the UK. I’ve pretty much hammered this home at this point but Mendes had made a love letter to his home country, and in doing so makes Bond and England one, not unlike Richard Donner did with his first two Superman films, making the flying alien a surrogate of everything we want America to be. It was just four short months before this film that James Bond, not Daniel Craig, but Bond, had the honor of escorting The Queen to her Royal box for the ultimate show case of Great Britain, her people, and her culture, The London Olympic Games. So when Bond is bleeding, battered, and all together lost and purposeless, so is England. As a New Yorker, I spot bullshit in films that are “supposed” to be in NYC a mile away and as someone who’s never been to London, I know for a fact it’s a true London film. The double decker red busses maybe on tourist postcards, those who know London know the tube is the way to go, and so it is here. Not for nothing is the new MI6 in Churchill’s old bunker. And when we finally do leave the stony confines of the old city, we wind up a mountain road, not unlike the opening shots of the Shining (1980), in the most iconic Bond-mobile to ancient Scottish ground, where Bond will be reborn once again. The film ends not in the dark, fog covered church where M breaths her last breath but on a London rooftop, where Bond watches the sun rise of a new dawn for England, her people, and Bond himself.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: I love me trains. Spend a lot time on em and maybe as much time waiting for em. Most of time I read a book, or play games on my phone, or watch the rats scurry along the tracks avoiding the third rail. But sometime I just zone out and thinking about the trains. One of my long running fantasies that I return to often occurs when I find myself swiping my metro card and going through the turnstile as the doors close on my train and it begins to pull out of the station. I envision myself running beside the train, keeping pace at first but then it starts to accelerate and pull out of the station at a much quicker speed. I continue to run, inching my way closer to the yellow line on the platforms edge. As the final car pulls past me, I take a flying leap off the platform and grab the chains the run across the back door of the train and hold on for dear life as I pull myself up onto the little ledge, open the door, walk on the last car as even jaded New Yorkers look on slack-jawed, and I take my set as if nothing has happened. I can’t be the only rail commuter who’s had this thought, right? Well dear reader, no one less then James Bond himself had a similar idea and in this film he lived out my most extravagant subway fantasy. Got to love this guy.

Final Thoughts: Lets call it the three-year rule. When EON waits three or more years between Bond films … zang, lightning in a bottle. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), GoldenEye (1995), Casino Royale (2006) and now Skyfall (2012) are the only four films with more then two years between them and their predecessor. Obviously these aren’t the only great Bond films but with the larger then two year lead-time EON is batting 4 for 4. I understand demands of the marketplace, keeping talent in house, etc. but there does seem to be diminishing returns the further EON goes on with the two every year count. I guess what I’m saying is, slow it down man, great things to those who wait. In Craig’s third film he pulls of the trick he failed in his first. The idea back then was to get back to basics with Bond, reinvent him as a person with a soul AKA a double 0 for aughts. Casino got three quarters of the way but ultimately failed on this score thanks to the weak love interest Vesper. The five-story building sinking with her into the canals of Venice helped no one. Yes, we have Bond running out of an exploding building that sinks into the swamp here, but that building means something and the love interest he fails to save here, M, packs a punch Vesper never could. So when Bond comes out the other side, reporting to a new M behind the old/new desk, he is truly a changed man. CriticJust as important, the Bond beats are back. Abandon in the interest of reinvention were many of the wonderful things that make Bond Bond and here they are reimagined, old new again, proving just how durable the backbone of this mythology is. A full 50 years and 23 films later the Bond formula can still be fresh and faithful at the same time. I missed the quipping, confident Bond and here he is. I had less fun with Moneypenny on hiatus and now that she’s back, along with Q, flawed as he maybe, something seams right. And then there is the stuff that goes beyond what we have done before. Skyfall explores Bond’s past in way we’ve never seen, 007 finally goes rouge in a way that works, he is given a lady to save who is worth saving, on and on and on. Mendes did all this and more, giving us a thinking, surreal, lovely film with a head and a heart. And yet, upon its release last November, all of this somehow seamed to be lost among a group of folks who fancy themselves fans but in fact are anything but. I’m of course referring to articles like this one and there are many more, meaner ones where that came from. The whole idea of film criticism as I understand it is to take a look at what works in a movie and what doesn’t, give it some context, and try to figure out why things turned out the way they did. The idea is to learn something. These people are not criticizing Skyfall, they are, as the Brits say, taking the piss. To quibble over things like how did Silvia know Bond would be in that train station at that time to blow the hole and have the 6:43 to Kings Cross come down on 007’s head is missing the forest for love of snark. Why does it matter? This is a Bond film, so of course it happened. And please don’t every forget, this film was dead in the water two years ago and what Mendes and crew deliver from the ashes is nothing short of a Bond film ranking in the top five of all time. Does it have problems? Some big ones in fact, but that’s Bond. Does the Fort Knox plot of Goldfinger hold up under any scrutiny? Hell and no but 48 years later is that what we remember? Hell and no. We talk about Jill Masterson’s death by gold paint and Oddjob’s hat and Goldfinger’s crotch laser and Pussy Galore’s flying circus and the Aston Martin and tuxedos under wetsuit and on and on and on. Even one of the greatest albums of all time, Dylan’s Blond on Blond, has problems. But do you let that ruin the entire record? Hell and no. Every fan of the bard knows exactly how handle “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35;” simply pretend it doesn’t exist and free yourself to fall in love with everything else.

Martini ratings:

Quantum of Solace

Title: Quantum of Solace

Year: 2008. The year that brought us “Change we could believe in.” Indeed by the time the calendar flipped to ‘09 Bush was out, Obama was in, and it was blue skies, nothing but blue skies did we see. So yes, it was a very good year overall but ‘08 also brought us a few things we never asked for and sadly can never erase. It was year Sarah Palin and the “first dude” descended on the lower 48, we learned the word Twitter, the Phillies became World Champs, and we all took a long, sober look in the mirror and came to terms with the fact that Daniel Craig just might not be the Bond savior we hoped he was back in ‘06.  These were all inconvenient truths we need to deal with in our own way. As for me, I never got past the first stage of grief when it came to the Bond 22 debacle. Yes, it must have been denial or some bastardized version of it for you see, I paid my $12.00 (ahhh ’08, when movie tickets were still reasonable) to see Quantum and I can honesty tell you I didn’t remember a line, a scene, a character, the song; not a damn thing. Now, I have forgotten parts of Bond films in the past but not ones I saw less then four years ago and not the whole damned thing! How could this be? Selective amnesia? My mind blocking a traumatic event I was unable to cope with? Or was the film itself so forgettable, so ethereal, that it floated out of my consciousness two blocks from the theater, riding the wind off the East River, Flushing bound, and then out to sea, never again to take up precious space in the always overflowing movie chamber of my aging brain? As I sat down to dive into the second Craig film I had only a few synapse fire-off and they all agreed; all I can recall about this movie is it has a bad rep. Indeed, I think it may have even been hated upon releases. I never look at anything like a review or write-up on any of the Bond films before I post my thoughts on this blog but I did make my way over to Metacritic just to look at the overall score to see if I was in the ballpark with this foggy memory. Yep, while Casino Royale (2006) has a beyond receptacle, boarding on rave 81, Quantum received a weak 58. But could it be that bad? Were people expecting too much from Craig, much like they were expecting too much from our historic 44th POTUS? I was excited to find out. But as I recline on the chaise, plopping the laptop on my knees, and cracking open my Brooklyn Pilsner for maximum viewing pleasure, I must first address a nagging issue before I push play. The title. Quantum of Solace. It roles off the tongue like razor blades. It sounds like a romance novel written by Stephen Hawking or perhaps the next Roger Watersless Pink Floyd album. What in the holy hell are we to make of this? Quantum of Solace apparently originated with the late, great Fleming, the title of a short story with a plot that shares zero with the film. According to the Funk & Wagneall “quantum” is noun that is a quality or amount, a specified portion or the smallest amount of a physical quantity that can exist independently, especially a discrete quantity of electromagnetic radiation. On to “solace,” also a noun, that is define as comfort in sorrow, misfortune, or distress; consolation. So are we looking at the minimal that is required to not be bumming? Not very Bond; pining away while seeking a glowing ember to keep from drifting into darkness. If that were the case Jennifer Aniston would be the Bond girl. But it could also imply unsettled, raw emotions effecting judgments. Perhaps we are going to get a peak into Bond’s soul, what makes him tick, his conflict within, etc, etc. “Welp, here’s hoping” I say as half eagerly, half apprehensively, I presses the play button on the brand spankin’ new Blu-Ray player remote.

Film Length: 1 hour 46 minutes. Casino Royale was the longest Bond film at 2 hours and 24 minutes. Indeed the last outing received some criticism for dragging so perhaps that explains the sub two hour run time. But as we discussed then it aint how long the flick is, it’s how long the flick feels. The Godfather (1972) clocks in at 2 hours and 55 minutes with not wasted moment nor a viewer complaint. The other side of that coin, Quantum maybe the shortest Bond film ever by a bunch but it feels like the longest by double.

Bond Actor: Daniel Craig. Remember that whole “peak into Bond’s soul” thing? Well that got sucked out of the room five minutes into the film. Craig is not playing a character, in this movie he is an avatar. A place holding shell who hits his marks and moves through the plot points simply because someone has to and since the poster says James Bond, might as well be him. Bond was never the deepest guy in the Cineplex but he was person we knew. Here he is less then one dimensional. It just so happens that the day after my second viewing of Quantum for this piece I came across a Daniel Craig interview which answered my biggest question about the film; mainly, what the f**k happened? Craig told Time Out London that he was excited for Skyfall (2012) because the script was so good. The reporter went on to say that sometime scripts are second thoughts in action blockbusters. Craig replied “Yes and you swear that you’ll never get involved with shit like that, and it happens. On Quantum, we were f**ked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, ‘Never again’, but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not. Me and the director were the ones allowed to do it. The rules were that you couldn’t employ anyone as a writer, but the actor and director could work on scenes together. We were stuffed. We got away with it, but only just. It was never meant to be as much of a sequel as it was, but it ended up being a sequel, starting where the last one finished.” No kidding? That is a huge revelation that while not explaining everything surly clears up a lot. As they say over at AMC, story matters. I did some further digging and learned screenwriter Paul Haggis finished his final draft only two hours before the strike started. The film feels like a rushed, half-baked mess because that is exactly what it is. Why not just wait until the strike was over and get a better script? $200 million dollars movies, like huge ships at sea, can’t just stop on a dime; once these babies get rolling you best stay out of their way. This is a huge problem in many ways not the least of which is the Bond legacy. 20 years from now when a kid is discovering Bond all you can do is hope he doesn’t pick this one for his introduction. If he does, he will quickly drop Bond and move onto something else, perhaps never to return, and that’s truly a shame.

Director: Marc Forster. If the script is exhibit A in why Quantum is a mess of epic proportions then Mr. Forster, AKA, he who is currently sinking World War Z, is exhibit B thru WWZ. Like a cook will use a slew of spices and sauces to cover-up bland ingredients, Forster edits every single moment of this film to within a inch of it’s life, and then REALLY cuts the shit out of it, in the hopes that audiences don’t notice he couldn’t direct traffic at an intersection with a four way stop light. This is not an exaggeration. Based on this movie

Will write for food

Forster doesn’t know basic stuff like where to put the camera or how to frame a shot. Let’s start unpacking this thing from the top. The first scene, after the Lethal Weapon II (1989) cold open/pre-credit sequence, entails a few characters speaking in a room. Fearing the audience’s gaze may wander due to boredom in the very first seconds after the opening credits, everything is shot with hand held queasy-cam that can’t hold a shot for more then a second and a half before cutting to another angle. One of the angles gives us a shot from the ceiling, looking down on the tops of two people’s heads while they talk for a split moment, then we are back to eye level. This shot is not used to establish any kind of style, sense of space, or narrative idea. If it were in a student film the shot would be flagged as a mistake in continuity with the professor asking, “Who’s point of view is that meant to be?” Who cares! Here are more canted angles, more continuity errors, and the total annihilation of mise-en-scene. But don’t worry about it because we are off to the races, literally. The next thing we have are horses racing through the streets cross cut with Bond crawling through an ancient Italian sewer system. Reading that, you may think perhaps something was trying to be said about this being a new Bond, one who gets down and dirty while the old Bond may have been above watching the horses with drink in hand. No such luck, Harry Lime in the catacombs below Vienna this is not. This maybe the first, but certainly not the last time the movie had an idea that was promptly trampled in the interest of getting in more cuts per scene then the later Borne films. (Considering Dan Bradley, whose credits include The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) was hired as Quantum’s second unit director this observation is not completely out of bounds.) The film has no idea how to handle any bit of business that doesn’t include chases and explosions and even those are treated gracelessly. Again, this is not a “style” or a comment on Bond’s chaotic life or even a way to make a fast cut modern film. It’s a child with a box of crayons that not only can’t stay in the lines; he’s also scribbled all over the wallpaper and ate the “vivid violet.” There is simply no overall rhythm to settle into and each beat exists independent of everything that came before and anything that will follow. At one point on the extras disk Forest actually looks at the camera and proudly declares he is taking the movie “moment to moment” and thinking about what he’s “shooting that day. I’m not even thinking about the ending.” Well, in this way, the director’s vision, which is to say lack thereof, comes shining through. At no point do I ever doubt that Mr. Forest is working moment to moment, without a worry in the world where everything will end up.

Reported Budget: $200,000,000 estimated. This maybe one of, if not the worst, directed Bond films but in all truthfulness, it is not the worst “looking” Bond film. That dubious honor would go to the Tamahori helmed CGI nightmare Die Another Day (2002). While this movie is not fun to watch it does have a sepia tone, saturated look that gives locations, like the Mars looking landscape swallowing the hotel in the finale, an otherworldly quality that attempts to add some mystery. If we were feeling generous, perhaps we could even go so far as to give Forest the benefit of the doubt and say he worked with what he had, what with the script being incomplete and all that. Perhaps he slashed and hacked his film to bits hoping the audience would be so distracted they wouldn’t notice the glaring lack of story. But just when I think about cutting the director some slack I come up with two hundred million reasons to say good riddance to all that. “Working with what you have” and “lack of” anything should never enter the conversion when discussing a $200 million dollar picture. Sorry folks, but that’s the way the game is played. If you’re Alex Rodriguez you can take Steinbrenner’s $275 million, but if your numbers drop below fantastic to magnificent, be prepared to hear the boo birds. Deliver the goods or clear out for the 50 or so other talented players, or in this case, directors in Hollywood who can. As A.O. Scott told David Carr recently “This is not a progressive kindergarten.” No points for effort and the like; with great money comes great expectations, that’s the way it works. And believe me they spent the big bucks on this picture. “More time on location then any previous Bond!” brags the press packet. Large segments of the outtakes are given over to pieces about the new cameras and mounts that were invented for the car and airplane chases in this film. The unedited footage shot by these expensive cameras is fantastic stuff but one assumes they didn’t spend all that money to make nice looking DVD extras. None of the potential that is seen in these shots makes onto the finished movie. The movie is such a unholy cacophony of unconnected images that perhaps .05 cents of every dollar makes it up on the screen in anyway we can see. This has nothing to do with a script and everything to do with the production team lead by the director. Around the time this film was released Quentin Tarantino offered (at least through the press, who knows if he seriously sat down with EON) to make a Bond film for $50M, feeling the big money was killing Bond films. We can debate all day about how you feel about Mr. Tarantino (Me? Love the guy) but what you can not deny is were he handed a Bond movie it would (A) not look like it was edited with a weed-whacker, (B) the script would be water tight and (C) all on a quarter of the money to boot. Not that money was any concern, I mean, it’s not like MGM is going to go bankrupt or anything …

Battle Rihanna

Reported Box-office: $168,368,427 USA and $575,952,505 worldwide. Don’t blame the US of A for this one being the highest grossing Bond to date. We tried. American’s showed up early for the name on the marquee but bad word of mouth killed follow up business. No, it was the overseas market, so important now that films like Battleship (2012) open in Europe and Asia weeks before they premiere here so they can be deemed “money makers” despite bombing horribly domestically. So the next time you meet someone from Norway be sure to yell at them for Quantum of Solace and every “Rihanna joins the navy” film.

Theme Song: “Another Way to Die” performed by Alicia Keys and Jack White. Written and produced by White, this is the first ever duet for a Bond theme. Let me start by saying I absolutely adore Jack White. One of rock and roll’s last true believers, he is a genius as a producer, writer, label owner and performer. All that said, an argument could be made that “Another Way to Die” is the single worst thing White has done in his long twisting career. It’s also the perfect theme for Quantum. While Keys and White separately are masters of their respected genres, mashing them together creates a jarring sonic assault that actually repels the audience. Just like the movie! Another interesting note, Amy Winehouse was asked to perform the theme but due to previous commitments with drug dependency and self-destruction she was forced to decline. At the risk of carrying this all too far, the singer’s unavailability, like the film as a whole, represents a missed opportunity when you consider Winehouse would have taken the theme back to the glory days of Carly Simon and Shirley Bassey with a souring touch song. Alas, in her absents we get hands down the worst Bond theme ever, and no, I did not forget about Lulu.

Opening Titles: The first thing you notice in the opening titles, that is after washing three Advil down with some Jim Beam in the hopes of curing the headache you are guaranteed to be suffering courtesy of the opening sequence, is the font. The letters look like the CCCP on the Olympic Jersey’s worn by the Soviets and there are other obvious attempt here to recapture classic cold war Bond openers. (Look, the spinning fans from You Only Live Twice (1967)). But these nods to the past are burred under the sand crumbling Spider-Man 3 (2007) villains that populate the screen where shimmering nude women should be. Needless to say, White’s score helps to make the entire thing less enjoyable and instead of setting the tone for the rest of the film, the credits just kind of are. Which now that I think about sets the tone for the rest of the film perfectly. Worse, they end up raising unwanted questions, like why is the gun barrel saved for the closing shot of the film?

Opening Action Sequence: Indeed, not going with the tradition walking dots/gun barrel open for Casino Royale made sense, Bond was not yet 007 when that film opened. But here, I missed the familiar calling card and I’m not sure why it was scraped. Anyway, we get slammed into the middle of a car chase on a twisty lakeside road. The music? Pounding. The flash cuts between spin car wheels and wide shots of the water? Jarring. The cut, cut, cut edits that take us from lakeside to desert to Inca ruins? Disorientating. The Jeeps flying off cliffs and guns blasting this way and that and all the GOD DAMN NOISE!!!! Beyond annoying. We end up watching Bond screech into a town (Siena Italy according to the flourish font on the screen) where he finally stops, opens his truck, and looks down at a man from a trademark Tarantino camera angle. “Its time to get out” Bond says to the man in the trunk who we recognize as Mr. White from the previous film. This is all meant to draw us in to Bond world. “It crazy and fast and anything can happen at anytime! This will surly make the audience feel like they are Bond! The very language of cinema as established by Sergei Eisenstein in 1925? Forgetaboutit! This is how we tell stories today! Progress! Romney/Ryan/Rand 2012!” The hectic illogical mess of a set up does nothing to pull us in and in fact pushes viewers out of the picture, leaving us beaten and battered on the side of the road asking what the hell just happened. Audiences in the theater would have been forgiven for thinking they were not watching the film they paid to see but a trailer for the next Guy Richie abomination coming to a theater near them.

Bond’s Mission: Revenge is the idea in the first true sequel Bond film and instead of clarifying the Vesper character this film makes her relationship with Bond ever muddier, something I would have said was impossible to do after the weak third act of Casino. We will deal with Vesper, the 800 pound gorilla in the middle of the film, in due time. Meanwhile, a running diary taken from the notes of my first viewing of Quantum; at about 14:00 into the movie the wife says, “I have no idea what’s happing but its fun … I think.” I don’t respond because I don’t know what to say. At 15 minutes in Mr. White says “We (meaning his evil organization) have people everywhere” and M’s bodyguard of several years attacks the room with gunfire, missing everyone and Bond gives chase. This established that yet again the filmmakers want us to be on edge, have that knowledge in the back of our head that anyone at any moment could flip and be a baddie. But they handle it so sloppily that the wife was left asking, “Is M so dumb that she had been deceived for so long?” Indeed, did she not learn anything from the Vesper incident and all her lecturing to Bond about who you can trust? Or is this just a quick and dirty way to get into a chase, integrity of the main characters in these films be damned? At 19:00 in I write the following; “Bond walks into a room, I don’t know why but I know where thanks to the new font that tells me he is in Port a Prince. He is in the room for two seconds before, like a horror film, some guy burst through the glass and attacks him.” Again “see, anything can happen!” The problem is you need to establish rules for them to be broken to show anything can happen. When you just go to crazy town and throw everything on the screen with no context, nothing has impact because when anything can happen there are no consequences or stakes or, you know, reason to care. What you are left with is a geek show or an episode of the “Family Guy.” My note from 26:00 describes the film slowing down for lots of talk about nothing that makes sense. “What the f**k is going on?” I ask the wife who answers “F**ked if I know?” and so on and so on. Upon second viewing I picked up on quite a bit more….I think. Best I can tell Bond catches up with M’s former bodyguard Mitchell. Mitchell has some bills in his wallet that were traced to Le Chiffre. A Mr. Slate appears to be using some of the Le Chiffre money in Haiti so Bond is off to check this out. Now, if the Le Chiffre money was marked anyway, why do we need Michele to link us to Slate in Haiti? We don’t. It could have been “M, we are seeing some of the Le Chiffre money being spent in Haiti” and Bob’s your uncle. But that’s what this film does, take the simple and make it incomprehensible with hopes you will not notice that very little is going on. Somehow this all leads to Bond throwing his badge and gun on his pissed off Capitan’s before he goes out to right the worlds wrongs as a rouge cop. This brings us back to an overall issue with Bond films at large. EON can never get the “Bond is off on his own and this time it’s personal” theme right. It’s been attempted in various ways several different times during the near 50-year run of the franchise and it’s never quite executed properly. Why has this seemingly simple idea never worked?  I think it has to do with the fact that Bond has no home, no family, and exists only for the job, that of serving England. In fact, the stuff he enjoys, the strong booze, the fast cars, the one night stands in the fancy hotels, and yes, the gun play with many, many baddies, are all fringe benefits of the job. Bond exists only to be 007, a spy in Her Majesty’s Secrete Service. Take that away and he’s a lost soul with no reason for being. Even this darker more complex Bond can’t escape that one simple fact; without the crown to serve and protect, James is nothing. Meet the new Bond, same as the old Bond.

Bond villain or SNL alum?

Villain’s Name: Dominic Greene. Now there’s a moniker for you. Karl Stromberg or Auric Glodfinger this is not; Dominic Greene could be the back-up short stop for the Coney Island Cyclones. Greene seems to be in charge of the organization that is “everywhere” as described by Mr. White. Jesus, Mr. Greene, Mr. White; did screenwriters just get done watching The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) or playing a round of Clue? White is in fact much more interesting then Greene even thought he has limited screen time. There is something wonderful about a man who is shot in the leg and tied to a chair knowing he is still in control of the situation. Greene in some ways follows the tradition of Bond villains who are physically weak but yield power with words. However, he comes off more like a weasel of a used car salesman then a conqueror of kingdoms. In a stronger film that would perhaps be a comment on who the underground shakers and moves are in this post cold war, terror/narco-state of world affairs. Here, all I could think whenever Greene was on screen was how much he looks like Chris Kattan.

Villain Actor: Mathieu Amalric. I recognized him from the wonderful Kings & Queens (2004) and I remember the glowing notices he received for playing a paralyzed newspaper editor The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007), a film I’ve been meaning to watch but I simple can’t get into the right frame of mind to deal with. Amalric also appeared with Craig in Munich (2007) however I don’t remember him from the film. The hard working character actor, like everyone else in this film, is given little to nothing on which to build his character. He is strongest when making threats about deposing dictator but is not at all believable when making threats about throwing women off balconies. Amalric does what he can with what he is given, however I never really found him to be intimidated or interesting, characteristics classic Bond villains have in spades.

Villain’s Plot: Greene is high up on the food chain of an origination called Quantum, a loose network of terrorist, shady financers, and low level gun tooting ne’er-do-wells. Their latest endeavor sees Greene working to destabilize Haiti in order to get a new guy in power who will turn a blind eye to sweat shops or some such nonsense. Greene then moves onto cutting deals with the deposed dictator of Bolivia, General Medrano. Greene promises Medrano he will have his country back with in a week in exchange for a parcel of “worthless” (wink wink) desert land. Greene has also roped in the CIA who are helping him because they think they are going to get some oil out of the deal, even thought Medrano assures everyone there is no oil to be found. Or is it the diamond mine that also does not exist on this worthless land which piqued the CIA interest? And how exactly does the girl, who it is strongly implied was molested by the General, tie into all of this wheeling and dealing? I have not the foggiest. Turns out Greene and his goons are interested in the land so they can create a drought by hording water and selling it back to Medrano at a premium. Indeed, there are shades o Chinatown (1974) another film that is not easy to decode, but here is the thing; Chinatown is genius and Quantum is shit. I think the biggest reason Greene fails as a villain, and to a larger extent Quantum fails as a SPECTRE like outfit, is we are never convinced Greene and his gang can pull off any of this nation building because we never see any of it happening. It’s all meetings and talk but nothing in the world is every threatened. Yes, watching Blofeld lord over huge weapons of mass destruction from his grand hideaways is dated and cheesy to the modern eye, but you never doubted he was capable of doing what he said he would. “By God, that huge missile/laser/sun beam gun could crack to world in two! Bond better stop the feline stroking madman or else…” Here, we get one shot of a cave full of water and one shot of three natives around a dry spigot and that’s it. This does not serve to give us dire stakes. I appreciate Quantum conquering worlds with a suitcase full of money and well-drafted documents but even that is kept foggy. We never really see or understand what Quantum does, how they do it, or frankly, why they must be stopped.

the good kind of confusing

Villain’s Lair: Quantum is a loose organization that is everywhere and based nowhere. So, instead of grand meeting around tables in secrete lairs, the tuxedoed members craft plots while sitting in separate sections of the opera, communicating by radio. Since Bond is able to listen in we can concluded that an old school underwater fortress is the better, if not as economically sound, way to go. The other big set piece happens at a hotel in the middle of the desert. Built into the side of a mountain, the building looks to as if the sands are swallowing it and the exteriors could compete with the best of the baddie hideouts we have had in the past. The interiors are sadly lacking in such wonder and splendor.

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Need more evidence Marc Forster has zero idea of what a makes a Bond film? I give you this Mathieu Amalric quote I found on IMDb. “(Greene) has no scars, no eye that bleeds, no metal jaw. I tried everything to have something to help me. I said to Marc: No nothing? A beard? Can I shave my hair? He said: No, just your face….” Great chose buddy.

Badassness of Villain: OK so he’s not your dad’s Bond villain but he needs something more then bad shirts and an apple to crunch on. He shows the girl a drown body in the harbor but it didn’t exactly send chills down my spin. In fact, I think it was right around this point in the film I said to the wife, “I’m getting up to get another beer, don’t bother pausing.” To be fair, Greene does put an ax though a combatants foot during he final battle, but even this would have been a lot more badass if the foot was say Bond’s and not his own.

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Nope, none of these either because he himself is kind of a henchman. If EON decides to continue with this Quantum nonsense (and I sincerely hope they scrap the whole thing and bring back a mean, bloated, over the top, SPECTRE like terror origination) I can’t see Greene being the mastermind. Mr. White was more sinister and cunning then Greene and he was employed as a high-end errand boy. No, I think there are a few number ones, twos, and threes we have yet to meet hiding in an Abbottabad compound somewhere with underground tunnels leading to some nightclub where they hang out in the VIP lounge, feed the ravers extacy, and leave with the women of their choice. This of course is just a cover as they plot to blow up the London 2012 Olympics, having been invited to choreograph a huge opening ceremony dance party sponsored by their club. See what I’m doing here? Giving writers ideas for ANYTHING better then the deadbeat baddies we get in this film. And I’m just spit balling here fellas, this took me all of five seconds, surly you can bang your heads together and come up with something…

Bond Girl Actress: Olga Kurylenko. I’m a dude. I watch sports with a beer in hand. I have an all guy poker game where off color talk and behavior are the rule and not the exception. And yes, I love women. But dudes, especially when it comes to women, can be assholes. I have some friends, close friends, who are completely pigs and inappropriate with thoughts, ideas, and actions when it comes to women. One of the more common and in this writers humble opinion agonizingly immature behaviors these close friends engage in is to make noises like they are in pain and doubled over with food poisoning when they are describing how “hot” they think a woman is. “Angelina Jolie, Ohhh my freaking ahhhhh hufffff gark Christ!” I have no idea why this is done or what it really means but there you have it. Anywho, Olga Kurylenko is one of those women that reduce grown men to sounding like they ordered the raw shellfish special in Omaha. I don’t find her to be such but live and live I say. The whole point is that many people do find the Ukrainian-born model to be incredibly striking, which is typically an important trait for a Bond Girl. As he did with Bond and the villain, Forster incredibly, but not surprisingly, drops the ball with the Bond girl as well, hitting O for three for the film.

Bond Girl’s Name: Camille. Yep, Camille. It’s almost like Forster was trying to not make a Bond film. The name aside, things start out Bondesque enough when Jimmy B, just strolling down the street minding his own business, is interrupted by a car pulling up, a woman opening a door, and telling him to get in. Never letting plot get in the way of quick editing, a car chase breaks out immediately. Through the course of the film we learn Camille is working for Greene to get to General Medrano who killed her family when she was a child. She also works for the Bolivian government so she is working the case with both a professional and personal motive. Hey, just like Bond! How cute, but it also reeks of making the Bond girl modern and giving her a reason to be in the film beyond being the girl. You see, it never gels and become a coherent story. Worse, in making the Bond girl a “modern ass kicking woman” she is robbed of all her femininity. She is in fact asexual and not just because she doesn’t sleep with Bond but because the film neuters her in every way, the most glaring of which is saddling her with a completely unnecessary sexually abuse back-story. Forster somehow believes in order for a woman to be strong she can’t be sexy. Russ Meyer launched a proud tradition of cinema heroines who are hot and kick ass, an idea that has been embraced by the likes of Quentin Tarantino to great success. But Forest blows it from both ends, he takes away Camille’s womanhood to make her strong while at the same time making her weak for being a woman by having her traded like an object between Greene and General Medrano. Forest is truly the anti-Goldfinger; everything he touches in the Bond universe turns to shit.

Faster Pussycat Kill Kill and Kill again…

Bond Girl Sluttiness: Camille is given a revenge scene where she grabs the General’s crotch for a good twisting but that is as intimate as she gets. The other girl in the film is Strawberry Fields, played by Gemma Arterton, who at least gets a halfway decent name and yes, sleeps with Bond. She of course immediately pays for her sin, turning up dead before the film has a chance to forget about her.

Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: Camille to Bond “I wish I could set you free. But your prison is in there” she says while pointing to the double O brain. This is what passes as sexy banter between Bond and his leading lady.

Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: Bond and Strawberry Fields enter a suite and Bond bounds right for the bedroom. She suspiciously eyes him with the “and what do you think your doing?” look to which Bond replies “I can’t find the umm ….. stationary. Want to help me look?” This is the most human line in the film. First off, it’s aloud a set up and a landing without being chopped 15 ways to Sunday. It also shows Bond both desperately grasping for an excuse to get the chick into the bedroom while at the same exact time realizing it doesn’t matter what he says, she is either going to submit or not. It is far and away the sexiest and only humors line in the film.

Number of Woman 007 Beds: One. Strawberry Fields forever… until she dies of course.

Number of People 007 Kills: Gawwwchhk, even the kills in this film are confusing. Vesper’s boy friend is dead, wait no he’s not. Mr. White is dead, wait no he’s not. Mathis is dead, wait no well …  actually he is dead. And the head baddie? He dies off camera! That said the body count is on the high side at 19 plus. Two go driving off the cliff in the opening credits which brings me to a thought; I would wager a good amount that other then shooting, cars falling off cliffs would be the most common form of death for baddies in Bond films, seems to happen quite a bit. M’s bodyguard Mitchell was left hanging after some kind of faux Matrix flying kung-fu battle on some scaffolding for one of the louder fights Bond has engaged in. He takes out Slate with a knife to the neck in a hotel in Haiti. There is a big old boat chase in which I lost track of what was going on but I think one body was left floating around when all was said and done. At the opera, Bond kills a dude to get his goodie-bag and then shoots two or three others while escaping. Hans the bodyguard is tossed off a roof and when a plane hits a mountain. (Another rather common obit line for thugs in Bonds world.) I count that as two dead. Bond makes like Ice-T and becomes a cop killer twice but to be fair they were corrupt, killed Mathis, and vote republican so no ones going to miss them. Bond kills two in a Jeep when storming the hotel. He shoots two more (at least) and kills one more confirmed when he blows up the hotel but I’m sure there were more burning baddies that we simply didn’t see.

Most Outrageous Death/s: Which brings us back to dear Ms. Fields of Sgt. Pepper fame and not the cookie magnate. After committing the unforgivable sin of lying down with a secret agent who is not her husband she is killed. By who? Damn if I know but that is not the sticky part. Bond walks into his bedroom, the very same where he failed to locate the stationary, to find Strawberry on his bed face down, naked, and covered in oil. If you’re thinking “Hey, just like in Goldfinger only with ‘black’ gold!” right now then congratulations. Get up and pour yourself a drink. No really, do it, you earned it, and no Bankers Club either, open up that bottle of Kettle One, this is after all why you’ve been saving it. Got yourself all together? Good. Yes, you see Goldfinger was obsessed with gold so when he found out his partner in card cheating was in fact sleeping with the enemy he covered her in gold to send a message. “I know what your doing Bond, and I can get to you too.” So naturally, since Greene is all about water he covers his lady who betrayed him in H2O and … What a minute? Greene is into water, not oil so why dose the dead lady look like a Mexican Gulf seagull? And she wasn’t working for Greene so why kill her in such a way to begin with? She was a low level MI-6 employee with only a desk job. Then why the hell did M send her out to arrest MI6’s most powerful agent in the first place? The more we pull at the string the more this sweater unravels. It’s almost as if everyone involved knew this but they simply liked the idea of a naked chick covered in oil. A sight which, by the by, would have prompted Moore to say “How crude.” Come on, tell me you don’t miss Sir Roger even a little bit… So, why do I think EON knew this oil business was bullshit? Because they double down on the bet hoping the more oil reference they throw at us it will take us longer to realize oil has zero, zilch, nada to do with Quantum’s plans. Case in point, Bond drives after Greene who is running out into the middle of the desert. 007 then learns the name Quantum and in return gives the baddie a quart of oil. “I’ll bet you make it 20 miles before you drink that.” Bond drives off leaving the man alone to die. This is fine and would have worked. However, in the closing scene of the film, we get one of those lazy wrap-up’s where two people are talking, in this case Bond and M, and exchange lines that (A) no real person would ever say and (B) tie up all the loose ends in the film by telling, not showing, while (C) not really tying up anything at all. Remember how M kicked Bond out of MI6? M “I need you back” Bond “I never left.” Remember how the CIA was working with terrorist to take out Bond? M: “Your friend Leiter’s been promoted. He replaced Beam.” Bond “Well, then the right people kept their jobs.” Remember the whole revenge for Vesper thing that’s been going on for two freaking films at this point? Bond “Congratulations, you were right?” M “About what?” Bond “About Vesper.” See, everything taken care of, and roll cred… What? Oh you want some Greene closure too? OK. M “They found Greene dead in the middle of the Bolivian desert of all places. Two bullets in the back of his skull. They found motor oil in his stomach.” Now what in holy f**k does that mean? I get the whole giving him the motor oil as an old “I know you covered my lady in oil ha ha anit life a gas” gag, but wouldn’t Greene drop the oil can, like immediately, and begin walking? He sure as shit didn’t drink it himself? Nor would he be able to put two bullets in the back of his own head so, who killed him? Quantum? Why? If it’s because he screwed up then why make such a spectacle of the thing with the oil and what have you? Doesn’t Quantum want to not draw attention to them selves and let that trial just go cold with Greene? And again, if I may, oil has NOTHING TO SO WITH THE STORY! Jesus, here goes that unraveling sweater again…my head hurts, I’m going to get some more of that Kettle One.

Miss. Moneypenny: (Quietly weeping into my vodka cranberry)

M: Back in the days when M was a man he served two purposes in the Bond films; give Bond a mission and then get in his way of doing it. Except when he didn’t. The best bits with pre-Judy M was when he was cranky with Bond, not to be cranky, but because he knew he had to support his # 1 guy because James excelled at his job even if he carried out his work in away MI6 didn’t necessary approve. This chafed at M and made him behave like a boy eating his broccoli, indeed it’s good for you but you still don’t have to like it. This was M at his most human. In this film, Dench bounces wildly between all three modes, sometime in the very same scene, making her a plot device and nothing close to a character. All of this while at the same time being stupid enough to be duped by her body guard of 5 years and still having no idea how Vesper fits into the equation until that final button scene where all is explained including the secret to time travel (something about 1.21 gigawatts.) Like almost every actor who singed on for this movie, Dench deserves better. That said M’s executive bathroom is a marvel in production design.

Q: No Q. Much like in Royale, MI6 as a unit functions as Bond’s field support but to much less effect. Again, nice work on the neat maps following the money all over God’s green earth but at the end it advance the plot and Bonds mission forward less then zero. Also, are we even at MI6? There is no establishing shot and none of the surrounding are familiar so I’m sure where all this business takes place.

List of Gadgets: The earpiece in the goodie-bag at the opera? Sure why not.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: At the very top Bond’s Aston Martin get shot up real good. Perhaps this pissed the bean counters in the Ministry of Taxation off as 007 is sans car after the opening credits roll.

Other Property Destroyed: The good will built up in the last film is the largest casualty of Quantum but a whole bunch of other stuff is trashed too. In the open alone cars, trucks, cops and guardrails along with seemly half of the ancient wonders of Italy are laid to waste. In the next chase Bond upsets a fruit cart upsetting the fruit seller who I would swear is Martin Scorsese mom. Speaking of fruit carts, I challenge some enterprising individual out there to go back and track how many of the past 22 Bond films feature fruit carts being tossed. I would put the over/under at 14. The same chase also sees shingles sliding off roofs and scaffolding getting gutted by among other things a falling glass ceiling. Very little survives a boat chase in harbor in which good boats, bad boats, innocent boats, and shot continuity join the Titanic on the ocean floor. Planes fly into mountains, jeeps drive into walls, hotels are exploded … honestly, it’s really hard to care so lets just throw up our hands and say, hey, this production went to more locations then any other Bond and therefore destroyed stuff in more places then any other Bond. Cool?

Felix Leiter: Jeffery Wright. The Mets went fifty years without a no hitter. This is not just bad luck, this is a statically anomaly. Almost as amazing, in fifty years of Bond films, the same actor has never played Felix in back to back films, until now! (Extra credit for those who immediately said to themselves “That’s right. And David Hedison was the only other actor to play him twice in Live and Let Die (1973) and Licence to Kill(1989) but he could not return after that because a shark bit off his leg.”) Wright for his part plays Felix very differently in this film then he did in his first. Here Felix is partnered with the smarmy Gregg Beam, the kind of guy who still reminisces about the good old days in the frat and wears Dockers. He’s also corrupt as all get out. Felix, playing his cards close to the vest doesn’t let on he knows Bond and appears to be going along with Bean. But man, Felix is worn down by it all. He slugs around slowly with his shoulders slumped as if he is constantly battling 160 degree humidity. He’s not world weary, he’s world beaten, lacking the energy and drive to get up from his bar stool while the joint around him is getting shot into splinters. I guess you’d be the same way if you had to hang out with this jerk-off Beam. Anyway, there is something slyly humorous about

June 1, 2012 = History

the idea of W. Bush era CIA folks dealing with terrorist to make oil deals but the film doesn’t slowdown enough for us to take a good look at the idea. Felix basically functions as the “last man who trust’s Bond when he’s gone rouge” character and to that end he does his job. The other guy in that role would be Mathis. Indeed the last we saw of him he had been Tasered and was drooling on himself while getting dragged away to be integrated in an enhanced manner. To repay Bond for that experience Mathis decides to leave his beautiful retirement home where a woman half his age serves him wine and rubs his feet to go off with 007 on one last wacky adventure. For his generosity he ends up stabbed by police and thrown into a car’s trunk. He then ends up dying in Bonds arms and finally his body is discarded in a Dumpster. “He wouldn’t have carded.” I was sad to see Mathis go, he is the only character in the entire film that played more then one note and was anything approaching human.  Indeed, there is something touching about leaving Mathis in the Dumpster and Bond knowing him well enough to know it was completely kosher to do so. But before this all can sink in it’s onto the next chase and five minutes later you forget Mathis was even in the movie. Once again, the blockbuster is snatched from the jaws of humanity, which brings us back to where all roads lead in this disaster of a film, dear old Vesper. Her death too could have meant something and in fact, as Mathis lay bleeding out in the dark dirt street, the writers attempt to retroactively right that wrong and give Mathis some dying words in which he talks about how Vesper truly loved Bond and “she gave everything for you.” Horse pucky. And here’s the rub, this film knows it and doesn’t care. In the finally scene, we see a couple approaching the very same apartment building where Oskar and Eli lived in Let the Right One In (2008). Bond is waiting for them and it turns out that the man is the Vesper boyfriend that caused all the hand wringing in the previous film, who by the by we were told was dead in the beginning of this film. None the less, here he is charming up another lady, this time a Canadian spy. So this is this guy’s job; infiltrating foreign spy agencies for Quantum by bedding the help. Much like Bunny Lebowski, the boyfriend kidnapped himself. So what does all of this say of Vesper’s self sacrifice Jesus moment upon which all of Bond’s angst is based? It was a meaningless, hollow act based not on love but a lie. So our new dark Bond has been chewing on what was an elaborate plot to set him and MI6 up this whole time? In other words, the love of Bond life, this woman that he will carry with him till the end of his days was an accountant who didn’t understand poker, was manipulated by a guy who was sleeping with her just to get to get the money, she then turns around and sleeps with Bond to rob MI6 of the money but then while she is drowning everything comes into focus and ohh wait, I really love you Bond? And now the same thing is transpiring in Canada? This entire film not only destroys all the momentum of Royale in reestablish Bond as an action star for the aughts but it also undercuts all of his narrative motivation that film worked for two hours plus to build up. In short, Quantum of Solace is The Godfather III (1990) of the Bond films; it’s the one you delete from your memory and move on with your life always thinking we last left a younger, more bitter Michael looking out over the lake in Nevada.

Best One Liners/Quips: When Bond shows up at Mathis’s house, the host offers “I have pills for everything.”

Bond Cars: Aston Martin DBS. But only in the open. The rest of the time Bond is on motorbike or suffers the indignity of taking public transportation like the bus in Bolivia.

Bond Timepiece: He may have flashed a watch at some point but if so I missed it.

Other Notable Bond Accessories: The big guns. Lots of em. It’s worth noting that Bond starts the action with a machine-gun in hand. This is a shift; in the past he would pick up dead guys automatic weapons, video game looting style. Advancing downward we go. The other notable feature is the suit. I took note in this film how Craig wears a slightly different cut then previous Bonds. His suits are more angular and less “fitted” which I think complements his more angular face and gives him a “meaner” appearance. Hey, at least one thing in the flick worked; gold star for the wardrobe department.

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: To alcohol! The cause of and solution to all of lives problems. If you had to live in this nightmare of a movie, you would drink too. So it’s understandable when right off the bat Bond is knocking back some whisky with M. He has some cheep wine with Mathis because, we learn, Mathis only has cheep wine; again, he’s the most interesting character in the film by a long shot. Bond then proceeds to get absolutely shity on a plane. Mathis approaches and asks what Bond’s drinking. “What am I drinking?” “Three measures of Gordon’s gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Littet which is not vermouth. Shaken well until it is ice cold and serves with a large, thin slice of lemon” responds the Virgin flight attendant passing the Vesper test. “They are good. You should have one.” While shirtlessly lounging with Strawberry Fields Bond gets into a bottle of wine (no discussion on if it’s the good stuff) and he downs some Champagne with Ms. Fields at Greene’s party. Finally, he has a frosty one with Felix at the bar. Sadly he needs to flee gun tooting CIA agents before he has a chance to finish.

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: As if this film didn’t have 99 problems to begin with Bond never gets to lay a bet.

List of Locations: In yet another strange choice, every new location the film visits is announced via an on screen identifier, each city getting a different over the top font. The first place we touch down in is Siena Italy according to the flourish font on the screen. I quickly realized the fancy font is meant to give the locations some style and variety because the locations themselves are presented in a sterile antiseptic way; the quick cut editing does no favors to the Italian vistas. The Bond that “spent more time on location then any other Bond film” brought us from Pinewood Studios to Mexico (Stand in for Haiti) Panama, Chile, Austria (the Bregenz Opera House that looked a lot like The Jones Beach Theater to these New York eyes) and back to England. The most interesting place we travel is the Atacama Desert in Chile, the setting for the big climatic battle. The hotel is actually lodging for a observatory that was build in one of the driest and isolated deserts in the world were the evening sky is unpolluted by artificial light. In the pressers Daniel Craig described this film as “a classical Bond movie, with a touch of Ken Adam.”

Jones Beach

Through most of the film I had no idea why Craig reference the famed production designer of many of the classic Bond’s until we got to the hotel. With it’s catwalks and grand imposing walls it transcends the movie and in fact does stand out as an iconic Bond set.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Our hero remembered his Parkour from the previous outing and bounces off roofs, busses, balconies and bells like he’s Daffy Duck on crack. He steals a car, rides a motorcycle (onto a boat in open water), catches a 22 footer with an inboard motor and outruns a zodiac with a 120Hp strapped to it in a rowboat with a 40Hp outboard, and flies a cargo plane so close to the ground that worms were decapitated. In another clumsy attempt to recall better films Craig takes out two dudes in an elevator Connery Diamonds Are Forever (1971) style. Speaking of elevator takes downs, nothing will ever beat the move Ryan Gosling pulls off in the lift in Drive (2011). If you have yet to see the film, run, don’t walk, to your Netflix account and pull it up immediately. Finally, I thought the straight flush in Royale was the nuttiest thing we ever saw Bond pull off but here he tops it by pulling a low altitude jump out of a plane, so low in fact there is no where near enough time for the parachute to open. The solution? Simply thread the needle of a cave opening and descend into said cave while opening the parachute… in a cave.

Final Thoughts: But other then that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? I’m not sure what to say that has not been said already. Quantum of Solace is a disgrace. The poster should have a warning label stating, “Unfit for Human Consumption.” This film is so glaringly bad I could imagine Wilson and Broccoli took turns punching Forster in the face 15 minutes into the fine cut screening. “Where the f**k did our $200 million go you bastard!” But one assumes they were seeing dailies all along so who the hell knows what happened? Sam Mendes is about as far away as one can get from this camera flying chop and slash mess so one assumes EON was as unhappy with this movie as the rest of us, box-office be damned. Add the track record showing that given more then three years between films, Bond will comeback strong and we have every reason to expect Skyfall will right the ship. But for now we need to contend with Quantum. This movie made me feel dumb. On one level because I didn’t know what as going on but on a deeper level because I felt I’d been duped, like a rube who fell for the carnival barkers boasts. The name James Bond got me into the tent but once I paid for entry I was presented with nothing but smoke and mirrors. I recall there being some bad press at the time, not the lest of which was Daniel Craig was injured at least three times during the making of this movie included an injury to his face, which required four stitches, another to his shoulder, which required 6 surgical screws to be inserted in an operation and his arm in a sling and then his hand was injured when one of his finger tips was sliced off. In this day and age of internet reports from the set such bad mojo can taint the reviews of a film. However, in this case, the 58 Metacritic score seems high. In the 1960’s, Bond invented the modern day hero; smart, sexy, fun and funny. He’s had his ups and down since then, sometimes leading and sometime following cinematic trends and fashions but 007 has always maintained a sense of style. The films were always, in one way or another, effectively Bond. This is first film that is simply a poorly executed action movie with no Bond elements to hold on to. Quantum of Solace is a bad generic thriller coasting on franchise momentum and I think that’s the worst thing I have said about any Bond film in all of my writing. This is Superman 4 (1987), Alien 4 (1997), Indy 4 (2008); films with too much money, too many cooks, too many ways to loose the heart and soul of why the film is being made in the first place. The Daily Mail never reviewed James Bond novels because Ian Fleming had an affair with the wife of the owner, the second Viscount Rothermere. I wish I could take a page out of the Mail and try to pretend this film never existed by erasing it from the record.

Martini ratings:

Casino Royale

Title: Casino Royale

Year: 2006. The 21st James Bond film jumped on two of the biggest trends of mid-aught’s with both feet, poker and the Hollywood reboot and after the disastrous Die Another Day (2002) the worlds biggest film franchise was ripe for latter. The first time I came across the concept of “the reboot” was in comic books in the 80’s. A reboot was a way to wipe the slate clean and begin anew with characters we already loved. They could be given new origin stories, both friends and foes alike could be brought back from the dead, and if we were lucky, maybe some of them would end up in snazzy new costumes. This is why, say Wolverine for instance, has four different origin stories and over half a dozen looks. Add the X-Men movies, cartoons, toys, and video games and it would take all the Mormons in Utah to untangle his family tree. But that is part of the point, by constantly reinventing the wheel, or Adamantium claw, Marvel can keep bringing in new fans who don’t need to be bogged down in decoding years worth of mythology. The first time I remember hearing the concept applied to film was with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), a reboot of the Batman films that started with Tim Burton, ended with Joel Shitmaker, and where themselves a reboot of the campy TV series. Different from a prequel, which suggests some kind of continuity, or a remake, which implies a classic we loved as kids but with more CGI, Tim Burton, and Johnny Deep, reboots have become the hottest Hollywood buzz word since adaptation and full frontal nudity. Recent years have seen everything from 21 Jump Street (2012) to Star Trek (2009) to The Pink Panther (2006) get the “modern spin.” Countless 80’s slasher flicks from Halloween (2007) to Friday the 13th (2009) to Nightmare on Elm St. (2010) have been ghoulishly brought back from the dead. Some reboots have launched franchise were there were none before (I hear rumors of a third The Hills Have Eyes picture) while some, like The Warriors (1979) in Los Angeles, have mercifully, never made it past pre-production. Some are strange hybrids like Rise of Planet of the Apes (2011) which was a prequel to Planet of the Apes (1968) but also a loose remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) while simultaneously acting as a reboot of the failed attempt at rebooting the franchise with the Tim Burton remake of Planet of the Apes (2001). This is quite a bit of monkey around but when it comes to rebooting at the drop of a hat, superheroes have proven to be the worst offenders. This summer we will have The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), a reboot of the less then five year old trilogy of two great, one terrible Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. That whole Superman Returns (2006) reboot thing didn’t work out so here comes Man of Steal (2013). (Zack Snyder??? Really guys?) The most egregious of these has to be the big green guy. When Eric Bana didn’t work in Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) Marvel simply turned around and made The Incredible Hulk (2008). But when star Edward Norton and the studio had a falling out they brought in Mark Ruffalo to play Bruce Banner in this summers The Avengers (2012). Who cares who plays the mild manner doctor the thinking goes, the star is CGI anyway. All of this is a way of saying that the reboot has become a way to put a new quarter into the machine and start the game over. Studios love em because all past mistakes can be erased and the fashion of the day, be it snarky or dark or 3-D, can be grafted onto a character we as an audience what to watch. Take the three Hulks of the last decade. Lee’s “Thinking Man’s Hulk” was the dark, boarding, probing, questioning hero of post 9/11 America. Norton’s was much more action driven, a globe trotting man out to right wrongs and run over roof tops in Brazil during a chase that looked nothing at all like the roof top chase in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). (Just sayin’) If we are to believe the trailers (and that’s all we’ve got at this point) Ruffalo’s Banner looks to be the straight man to Downey’s sarcastic, quip happy Tony Stark. With that in mind, the James Bond character in Casino Royale is to Die Another Day as the Batman of Batman Begins is to Batman & Robin (1997). Another fantastic trick the Bond reboot pulls off is dropping Bond’s favorite card game, the now nearly forgotten Baccarat, and replacing it with the game of the moment, Texas Hold’ Em. In his 1978 book “Super System,” AKA The bible of poker, Doyle Brunson wrote that no limit Texas Hold’ Em was the purest form of poker even thought at the time it was little know outside of the American Southwest and Five Card draw was the preferred game of the day. Fast forward to 2003 when an accountant from Connecticut took a $40 buy-in and went onto win the bracelet and $2.5 million at the World Series of Poker playing Texas Hold Em. Poker exploded. Once a shady game played by hustlers and cutthroats in smoky back rooms now poker was played by celebrities on primetime television. From a TV standpoint it helped tremendously that the game of Hold Em was not only very easy to follow, it’s structured so that five of the seven cards a player is holding are exposed, making it the most visually appealing of poker games. So much so that an action film such as Bond could build an entire movie around the game, all be it with some machete attacks and a lethal poisoning throw in to keep everything interesting. Hey, it maybe a reboot, but it’s still Bond, James Bond.

Moneymaker, Chris Moneymaker

Film Length: 2 hours 24 minutes.

Bond Actor: Daniel Craig. In October of 2004, Pierce Brosnan told the world he would not be returning to make a fifth James Bond picture and once again the search was on for the new Bond. Rampant press speculation and vocal public opinion about who should get to fill Bond’s shoes have always been a part of the casting process, but EON was not prepared for the tsunami of coverage that followed their quest for 007 number 6. Thanks to shows like “American Idol,” viewers and fans now felt as if they were part of the process and thought they could actually vote actors off the island by simply making enough noise. They also, for the first time, had the tool to make their shouts heard and the internet exploded as everyone with access to a keyboard saw fit to add their two cents. In something of a wag the dog scenario the “mainstream press” played along and by the summer of 2005 it seamed like any actor with an English accent was up for the role including Ioan Gruffudd, Hugh Grant, Gerard Butler, Heath Ledger and Eric Bana. By October, just days before EON was to announce the new Bond, the BBC website had taken to posting odds in real time. The dark horses were Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Colin Farrell at 12/1, Clive Own had an outside shot at 10/1, Julian McMahorn was right in the mix at 4/1 but the odds on favorite at 1/3 was Englishman Daniel Craig. While not as well known internationally as Jackman, Farrell or McGregor, Craig had been a staple of English TV in the 90’s and stared in the acclaimed show “Our Friends up North.” Craig gained wider fame as Alex West in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and as Conner Rooney in Road to Perdition (2002), “a big baby who doesn’t know his thumb from his d**k!” (Not my words.) He went on to prove he looked great carrying a gun in the strangely overrated Layer Cake (2004) and the criminal underrated Munich (2005). In what should have been a career highlight, Craig was introduced to the world as the new James Bond after arriving at a riverfront press conference on a Royal Marine gunboat. All the actor did that day was get off the boat, walk onto the dock, wave, and say a few words. However, if you were to hear the shriek of harsh, ugly and in some case threateningly negative bile that immediately followed you would have though he pushed the Queen into the Thames. It is no exaggeration to say the backlash was by far the worst EON had ever experienced. SOME FANS THINK NEW BOND SHOULD BE SELLING BONDS the Columbus Dispatch declared and went on to criticize the actor for wearing a life jacket whiles onboard the bouncing, speeding boat. (The article failed to mention that the dozen or so Marines that escorted the actor were also wearing the safety devices.) “He looks more like a banker than James Bond.” the article concluded. BOND GONE BLOND?” asked several U.S. papers including the St. Louis Dispatch. Over on the nets, some enterprising twit founded www.danielcraigisnotbond.com and called for a boycott of the new film. Thousands singed up in protest. Daniel Craig actually received hate mail and threats from “fans” that had yet to see a frame of film. Things were so bad Brosnan felt the need to make a statement on the actors behalf. Sir Sean chimed in saying “Craig’s a great choice, really interesting – different. He’s a good actor,” but none of it helped. By the summer of 2006, just months before the film’s release, the story shifted gears and became about the blowback. On July 31, 2006 the WENN website reported that “New James Bond star Daniel Craig has been stunned by the bitter backlash he has received since replacing Piece Brosnan as the secret agent last year. Craig …was disheartened when thousands of fans called on film-makers EON to ditch him and bring back Brosnan – claiming the Munich star was “too ugly” for the role. The 38-year-old star says, ‘I didn’t expect this backlash. You take it in, you can’t help it. I’ve been trying to give 110 per cent since the beginning but after all the fuss, maybe I started giving 115 per cent.’” Good on Craig for taking the right attitude and good on EON for not folding in the face a torch bearing mob, it couldn’t have been easy. Then, in November of 2006, something funny happened on the way to a theater near you. Mainly, people actually saw the film and Craig went from zero to hero quicker then the public changed their mind on Mel Gibson in the summer of 2010. Overnight he became the best Bond yet, better then Connery! Casino Royale was the best Bond picture ever! Q and Moneypenny and Moore and Brosnan were suddenly relics from a forgotten time. This is all fun to look at in retrospect but we have seen it again and again and again on the internet. The truth is, the public was 100% wrong when attacking an actor before seeing his performance and they were equally wrong to dismiss everything that came before him after enjoying his movie. A moment to editorialize, it’s very much this “with us or against” (thanks a lot W) mentality that has come to dominate discourse in the first decade of the 21st century from politics to pop culture. Adding to the ugliness is the speed at which this all happens. We as a public now feel the need to own a thing, chew it up and spit it out, and then once we’re done with it, it’s on to the next hot thing people want to take ownership of. Whatever happened to reflecting on a thing, seeing in the context of history and as a larger piece of work? The sad truth is the public as a whole has become utterly stupid and completely entitled at the same time, a deadly combination that makes consumers of pop-culture reactionary buffoons with no rudder to stay on course. This puts the creators of pop-culture products in a position where they simply can not gage the quality of their work based on public reaction or box office numbers and the work suffers. The only thing a creative person can do is give everything to their performance or screenplay or whatever job they may have on a project and once it’s out there, 100% forget about it. Sadly, fewer and fewer people take this attitude and that is why we get nothing but “sure things” like action sequels, remakes, and yes, reboots. This is the state of Hollywood people complain about while shelling out money for the next Transformers film.

Director: Martin Campbell. Die Another Day (2002) felt more like a 40th anniversary sizzle-reel then a film, playing like a bloated parody of a Bond picture as opposed to the real deal. Now, with the past completely strip mined, EON could finally let it rest in peace and start fresh. In order to reinvent James Bond, EON decided to; if I may paraphrase Doc. Emmett Brown, go forward to the past. Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were the first to bring Ian Fleming’s spy to the big screen, but not the screen. In 1954 a television show called “Climax!” aired a 53 minute teleplay staring Barry Nelson as CIA agent Jimmy Bond in “Casino Royale.”

A few years later Fleming was able to sell all his books to EON save his first since the rights were still held by “Climax!” producers. So Broccoli and Saltzman just ignored the first book and kicked everything off with Dr. No (1962). After Bond became a global sensation in the 60’s the producers who held the rights to the first novel “rebooted” their television show with the Casino Royale (1967) film, a movie with seven James Bonds and zero credibility. Fast forward to 1999 when as part of a settlement with Sony the keepers of the Bond flame, Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, finally secured the rights to Fleming’s first book. After Die Another Day turned the smallest profit for a Bond film to date, EON decided to start fresh and not only reinvent Bond as a harder edged character, but for the first time tell his origin story. As he was called upon to do with GoldenEye (1995) director Martin Campbell was once again brought in to update and reboot James Bond. In watching the DVD extras it is strongly implied that Campbell, the man who directed Brosnan’s first Bond film, played a big part in getting Brosnan booted off this one. Once the decision was made to go back the beginning it made sense, the thinking went, to get a younger Bond as well as an actor not already associated with the role. Fair enough. Campbell, it must be said, has wonderful instincts. GoldenEye is the last gem in the Bond canon up to this point and let’s says right off the bat that Casino Royale is the best looking Bond film since the heydays of the 60’s. The colors just pop off the screen, the locations and sets are rich without going over the top, and everything has the hyper-reality look, from the cars to the women to the chips and cards on the table, that we want from a James Bond film. After the CGI melting planes and invisible cars of the last film this one feels rooted in the real. The fights are much more violent and we feel every punch. A torture scene features both actors dripped in sweet to the point where we smell the dankness of the room. A chase though a construction site and into an embassy leaves us out of breath. As he did with GoldenEye, Campbell once again gets to the core of what makes Bond Bond and the old agent is reborn in his camera lens. The first two thirds of the film move with the economy of a modern thriller but it’s never rushed. And the details, rich and correct, contribute a charm to this film is a huge way that I think was overlooked when the film was first released. Much was made of this being a “darker, no nonsense” Bond which is true in a way but this isn’t brooding hero like say Nolan’s Batman or the new Bond on the block, Jason Bourne. Dark is often meant to mean joyless but not here. In fact, the Bond of this film has just as much humor and I would argue more mischievous joy then any previous incarnation. Like a 16-year-old who just got a license to dive, Bond has earned his 00 and he can’t wait to flash it all over town.

Reported Budget: $150 million estimated, a nice round number and a mere $8 million more then the most expensive previous film four years previous. Bond films have always featured prominent product placement but since the three film deal with BMW for the first Brosnan pictures the corporate financing deals have become s favorite target for critics. In his film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011), provocateur Morgan Spulock focuses in on close-up shots of Ericsson phones in both of Craig’s outings and holds a “special place in hell” for an exchange between 007 and the Bond girl where she asks about his watch. “Rolex?” “Omega” Bond replies. “The fact you are having a conversation about a watch is ridiculous,” hissed Spurlock. If products are arbitrarily thrown into a film or if a plot point is inserted simply to include a product and not as part of the story then yes, call everyone involved out. However, I think Spurlock has his panties in a bunch over a whole lot of nothing in this case. The cell phone is an integral part of the plot in this film and never once did I notice the name on the receiver, big HD flat screen and all. As for the Omega conversation, it’s organic and goes by without creating a bump. There are much worse offenders, like the Q Dollar Car Rental guy selling the BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Spurlock needs to relax and go have another Big Mac.

Reported Box-office: $167,445,000 US and $594,239,000 worldwide. That is a big time number in the U.S. alone but still only good for #9 on the year. Once “The Franchise” in town, now Bond has nothing but franchise to compete with including the X-Men: Last Stand (#4), Superman Returns (#6), Ice Age: Melt Down (#8) and Disney’s little theme park ride that could, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Chest (#1). A side note, I enjoyed the first Pirate film and I would watch Jonny Deep read the phone book but that second one? What the hell was that? I have not seen any of the subsequent films so perhaps it gets better but man, that movie makes the 1967 Casino Royale look like a Merchant and Ivory picture.

Theme Song: “You Know My Name” by Chris Cornell, not to be confused with the Beatles novelty song “You Know My Name, Look Up the Number.” Cornell not only performs but also co-wrote the tune with a Bond theme vet. This song has the distinction of being the only Bond theme to not be included on the official sound track album. Cornell instead released it on his second solo effort, “Carry On.” A few things… first off, I’m old school when it comes to the Rock and/or Roll. I still feel that album covers should mean something. I remember being a kid and sitting on the living room floor to look at my dad’s record collection and just freaking out over Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Meat Loaf’s “Bat out of Hell” covers. They were windows to a different world and completely influenced the way I heard the music on the record. The scene where the kid finds the albums under his bed in Almost Famous (2000) gives me chills and makes my throat swell up. So, all that said, check out this album cover.

Sometimes you can judge an album by its cover.

Truth is, I’m not always right when it comes to music but I was onto this douche from day one. I’m a white kid from suburban New Jersey who graduated high school in 1992 with hair down to my mid back. When I wasn’t moping around the school’s halls I would watch crappy VHS copies of Clockwork Orange (1971) and Taxi Driver (1976) with my only two friends. In other words, I’m the poster child for Gen X alienation and grunge was targeted right at my soul. Thing was, I didn’t buy it. Of the “Big Four” the band I was most into at the time would have been the glam leaning Alice in Chains. I loved Layne Staley voice and you want to talk album covers; the “Facelift” jacket says it all. The band I did miss the mark on was Nirvana who I just lumped in with the rest as a joke until I saw them live in ’93 or ‘94. It was one of those deals where I literally ran out the next day to buy all their records. Again, I’m not always right. I haven’t thought about Alice In Chains for years and Nirvana is the only band out of that scene, other then Mudhoney, that I still listen to today. I could never stand the arena rock gods that were Pearl Jam, they always sounded like Jock Rock to me. And that leaves Soundgarden who I viewed as the bottom of the grunge barrel, floating around down there with the likes of Bush and STP. In the early 1990’s, Soundgarden was everywhere. You couldn’t walk through a parking lot without hearing Cornell’s ridiculously forced pipes belting out all his angst about a “Spoonman” or his Jesus Rock Star Pose. As a result, I actively rejected not only Pearl Jam and Soundgarden but there fans. My friend Mike and I took to calling any band labeled “alternative” by the name Stone Garden Pumpkin Jam. You know that Onion T-Shirt “Your favorite band sucks?” That was me pissing on Soundgarden fans ice cream whenever I had the chance. I was young and I was an asshole and it wasn’t a cool thing to do but I wasn’t wrong about the music. And did history not prove that Cornell is every bit the tool I always knew he was? Dose anyone on Gods green earth own an Audio Slave record? Did we really need a Cornell/Timberland project? Wouldn’t you happily give up six month at the end of your life if you were guarantied to never, ever hear “Hunger Strike” again? Well, just take a listen to this Bond theme.

Ummhummm. Can we please get the great Shirley Bassey back in the studio immediately?

Opening Titles: The best we’ve seen in ages. A perfect mix of traditional Bond titles injected with some much needed update serum. Just like the film, the vibe of the titles is looking back while going forward. The theme is playing cards, which fly around the screen like we are stuck inside a game of 52 pick up. Trim on the King of Heart’s robe extends off the card and curls around silhouettes of dudes in Man Men era suits. When the men get shot with heart shaped bullets they fall into a pile of diamonds. Cross-hair targets get spun into roulette wheels and a 7 of hearts gets two bullet holes blasted into it coming up luck 007. The art is in the distinct early 60’s style of say Dr. No’s titles or the Catch Me If You Can (2002) credits. At the end, one of the silhouettes comes into focus and staring out at us is the new blond haired, blue eyed Bond, unblinking and ready for action. Get your blinds in the middle and deal em up. Game on!

Opening Action Sequence: We open not with the familiar UA logo and gun barrel but a black and white MGM into Columbia logo. The B&W stock carries over into the film giving it an immediate back to basics, classical feel. The title card tells us we are in Prague, Czech Republic while the glass elevator and modern architecture of the building tell us we are in the present, despite the black and white. A man enters his office to be greeted by another sitting in the dark. “M really doesn’t mind you earning a little money on the side, Dryden. She’d just prefer it if it wasn’t selling secrets.” Dryden sits down, gets his gun ready, and explains the new world of Bond to us in a few short sentences. “Spare me the dramatics Bond. If M was so sure I was bent, she would have sent a double O. Your file shows no kills, it takes two.” Cut to a bathroom, a more saturated black and white, as we witness Bond drowning a man in a sink. This is a violent, hand to hand, close-up death. The look on Bonds face lets us know the kill means something. He is also a quick study. When Dryden pulls his piece and fires on Bond, the gun makes an anticlimactic click. Seeing in Bond’s eye that the first kill has been made, Dryden tries to impart some wisdom “Don’t worry, the second is…” bang! “Yes, considerably” the newly baptized 00 responds, establishing himself as the cold blooded bastard he will need to be. As the camera gives us our first good look at the new Bond, Craig’s face is closer to Connery’s then any other Bond. Pierce was pretty, Moore was stylishly handsome, Lazenby had a models face, and Dalton was a stuffed suit but Craig looks like a soccer hooligan, all be it a very good looking hooligan. He has the creases and rough and tumble face of a man whose been out in the world and raised a bit of hell. His fixed eyes tell you he’s not to be crossed. For his conformation, Bond turns to the camera and shoots down the black and white gun barrel as red blood drips down to fill the frame. Welcome aboard 007.

Bond’s Mission: Bond’s mission started with the fall of Paris in June of 1940. Just hours after the Germans marched down the Champs-Élysées, a young writer named Ian Fleming entered one of Paris finest restaurants and found it empty. The owner, facing the reality of living under Nazi occupation, broke out his finest wine and the two men sat, talked, and drank. A lot. Fleming later made his way to Lisbon and asked the locals where he could find the German officers. They sent him to the Casino Estoril where he watched as the men drank and threw their money around at the tables. “If only I could take them on” a young Fleming thought, “I could bankrupt the German army.” This proud patriot didn’t have the means or skill to do so that evening but he went on to create a character that could. “Casino Royale” is about a high stakes Baccarat game organized by a banker to the bad guys who needs to raise funds quickly and the spy who sits at the table with enough charm, smarts, and luck to take the banker’s lunch. For a franchise that has made it name on action oriented gadgets defeating world dominating villains, a card game may seem to be a rather dull affair. Enter another hip 2006 trend known as free running AKA Parkour. The newest 00 is in Madagascar tracking a bomb maker. You know the guy is badass, not because he crafts weapons of mass destruction, but because he spends his leisure time betting on mongoose vs. cobra fights. Take that Michael Vick. And speaking of mongooses, as a public service Blog James Blog offers this Chris Cornell palette cleanser, the Donovan ode to the most famous mongoose of all, Riki Tiki Tavi!

You’re welcome. Bond, being the rookie, has been saddled with a complete incompetent he calls Carter who not only blows their cover but falls into the cobra pit. Bomb guy runs and Bond gives chase first through the forest and then up, down and all around a high rise construction site. As the baddy moves, Parkour style, like a ballerina around objects Bond smash, crashes, stumbles and stammers ever forward like a drunk behind the wheel of a tank. He’s fast, he’s effective, but he is far from pretty. When the baddy jumps from a 25 story high crane arm to a 22 story high one below and then to a nearby roof (in one, glorious, continues shot) he does so with the grace of a gold medal gymnast. Bond jumps and makes it, but with the clammier and clanking of a bull in china shop. The chase, expertly shot and adrenaline pumping exciting also serves as a window into who this James Bond is. He is every bit the blunt instrument M calls him but is also full of those wonderfully youthful qualities, drive and ignorance. Our hero will never quit, even when he is clearly bested. How gratifying, after the gratuitous car chases and sunbeam races of the last film that here, a chase not only moves the plot forward but also develops character. In addition, there are great moments of humor, like when the baddy throws an empty gun at Bond’s head and gets it thrown back at him with double the force. Martin Campbell ladies and gentlemen. It’s also worth noting that Craig does in fact move incredibly well, and fast, and he is physical in a way Bond had never been. By the time the chases ends up in an embassy, Bond marches in like he has an appointment and gives anyone who gets in his way a good crack on the head. Craig reminded me of the Terminator in these scenes, his face showing no emotion, his eye focused and unblinking, as he marched forward leaving a wake of destruction in his path. For the coup de grace, Bond kills the bomb maker in the courtyard of his embassy, blows up the facade on the front of the embassy, and takes off with the bomb maker’s bag which contains a bomb and his cell phone. Killing a man while he is inside his embassy is like punching the mother of the bride in the face during a toast at the wedding reception, it’s simply not done and Bond just did it. All of a sudden the man we have spent all these years with and got to know so well is something he hasn’t been since Nixon was in office; dangerous. 007 quickly cements his unpredictably reckless streak when he breaks into M’s house. Before M shows up Bond hops on her computer to trace a text, the single word “Ellipsis,” he found on the bomb maker’s phone to a precise time and place, the Ocean Club in the Bahamas. When M returns home, none to happy to find Bond in her house after he appeared on the front pages for blowing up an embassy, the boss lady tells him to go bury his head in the sand. Guess what beach he chooses?

The .01% club.

Villain’s Name: Le Chiffre. Republicans typically regard the French with a sneering scorn but I think they would find a kindred spirit in Le Chiffre. A fantastic villain, Le Chiffre is not your dad’s Bond baddy. He is not building a weapon to take over the world nor is he hell bent on distorting it. In fact, he can best be described as an opportunistic middle man with no morals or scruples. In real life we call them hedge fund mangers and like a true Wall St. scum bag when the going gets tough he squirms and twists and runs for the gutter like the rat he is. I loved him. He is also the appropriate villain for Bond to take on at this point in his career, Blofeld would wipe the floor with this green agent, he needs to work his way up and where better to start then with the banker to the world terrorists. We first see Le Chiffre being introduced to a Ugandan war lord by the shadowy Mr. White. These terrorist, by the by, look just like what I would think terrorist look like, not a jumpsuit clad guy carrying a clipboard among them. Le Cheffre, an Albanian chess prodigy and mathematical genius, provides a rate of return and promises access to the money at anytime, anywhere in the world. He also enjoys poker and high risk investments, both of which will prove to be his downfall.

Villain Actor: Mads Mikkelsen. He’s fantastically smarmy as the slimy, sweaty, atypical Bond villain. Bond baddies are always in 100% complete control, until Bond does that one thing to yank the carpet out from underneath them at the eleventh hour. Mikkelsen’s villain is in a pickle that Bond helps to put him in but also of his own making and in trying to escape he digs his hole deeper. Mikkelsen is also Danish.

Villain’s Plot: Our man has a plan and he wastes no time. The second he has the Ugandan war lords money in hand he is putting it to work, shorting a major airline known as Sky Fleet. His broker recommends against such action since in days time the company will be unveiling the jet of the future at Miami International. “No one expects the stock to go anywhere but up.” Indeed, but Le Chiffre has some insider knowledge, mainly that the plane is going to explode on the runway. His first choice to carry out the attack was shot dead in front of his embassy but not to worry, there is a backup ready to come off the bench. Meanwhile, Bond is in full on detective mode and in the most logical A to B to C manner, ends up at Miami Airport with the password, “Ellipsis,” to get him on to the runway. After a spectacular chase on the tarmac pretty much everything at the airport but the new super jet gets destroyed. Bond saves the day and Le Chiffre looses one hundred and one million, two hundred and six thousand dollars of terrorist money; news the villain greats with a pull off his inhaler. Since these are not the kind of guys who take IOUs, Le Chiffre does what rich guys do when the screw the pooch, quickly try to leverage another bet using highly moneyed connections. How else could he so quickly arrange a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale with 10 players, $10 million buy-in, $5 million re-buys, and winner take all for a possible $150 million? Needless to say, Le Chiffre doesn’t plan on loosing. Meanwhile, turns out Bond is the best card player at MI6 and gets the gig. His mission; take the table. For those who don’t play poker and are used to world melting lasers the steaks may seem quite low. On the contrary, this is a chance to de-finance God only knows how many terror attacks and if Le Chiffre doesn’t win, who knows what baddies will crawl out of the wood work to collect. I also can’t stress how well structured and paced the build up is to the big game is. There are zero leaps in logic and Bond learns what’s happening as we do. Leading up to the main event the film is constructed as tightly and precisely as an Omega wrist-watch.

Villain’s Lair: There are all kinds of poker players and when you sit down at a public table you never know what kind is sitting across from you. The first time we get a feel for what kind of a player Le Chiffre is he’s hosting two others on board his yacht. While another player is deciding how to bet, Le Chiffre does one of the more obnoxious things you can do at a table, tell the other guy what he’s looking at. “I have two pair and you have a 17.4% chance of making the straight.” This is the height of arrogance and while it may serve to put an inexperienced or hotheaded opponent on tilt, it is also a poor strategy against more experienced players who will see thought the trick and pick-up tells while doing so. It worked here however as Le Chiffre’s opponent folds. Le Chiffre also has access to an old smelting mill right out of the Saw franchise where he engages in some homoerotic torture. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The homoerotic part that is … no torture is wrong under any circumstance. To clarify, homoerotic fine, torture not, despite what the Republican Party has to say on both subjects. Right, so Le Chiffre cuts a hole out of the bottom of a chair, strips Bond naked, and tries him to said chair. The room is a rusty, filthy dungeon and both men are so sweaty you can smell their body odor through the screen. One of the many genius things Quentin Tarantino does as a writer is have characters explain the horrific things they are doing or going to do. So, when we see it happen, we know exactly what kind of pain/agony the character is going through. Daryl Hannah reading the effects of Black Mamba poison to Michael Madsen as he is experiencing it in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004) or Eric Stoltz describing how the needle needs to be rammed through the breast bone in Pulp Fiction (1994) would be two easy examples. Here, Le Chiffre walks around swinging the rope and then gives a light tap to Bond’s under carriage. He screams and we all know what’s coming next and when it does, we feel it with Bond. This is the exact opposite of the North Korean torture scene from the last film. This is real. This is gross. This hurts. But boy oh boy dose Bond put up a heroic front. “I’ve got an itch, down there, do you mind?” Whack! “Ohhhhhhh, no no no, to the right, to the right!” Talk about quips! Eat your heart out Roger Moore.

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: The man cries blood. It’s a wonderful touch. Watching Le Chiffre calmly blot his eye as others look on in horror is simply fantastic. Don’t think so? Picture sitting next to this guy on the subway. He also has a platinum plated asthma inhaler which serves to emphasize this is not a physical guy. He is an intellectual villain in the proud tradition of Bond baddies but unlike others of his stripe, he has no muscle, no Jaws or Oddjob, to step up when the going gets tough. This is an oversight he will regret.

Badassness of Villain: Forgetting the whole poisoning opponent’s drinks, which Le Chiffre does do, I still would never want to play with this bastard. Not because he is all that good (and in what we saw of his play, he is not) but because of how he plays. Indeed, the telling other people their odds is a prick move but he out does himself at the Royale in what maybe the most obnoxious move you can make at a table. In one of the earlier hands we see Le Chiffre bet out $50 thousand on a 9,8,5, all hearts flop. Bond calls and forth street comes the 9 of clubs. Le Chiffre bets out $100 thousand and Bond smooth calls, all the while pretending to be distracted by a lady. The 2 of hearts comes on the river and the aggressor bets $200 thousand and Bond calls. Le Chiffre then “slow rolls” to show he has the best possible hand; a boat, nines full of twos. Bond throws his flush into the muck. The thing is, Le Chiffre was behind the whole time, bluffing, and caught a huge break on both the turn and the river. As my buddy Johnny would say, runner, runner, nothing funner. He was out played but got lucky. When that happens one should be graceful in taking the chips, humbling accepting the gift, and move on. However, Le Chiffre not only acts like he out played Bond, he “slow rolls” his hand. That is to say, he exhales as if he has lost, holds his cards so others can’t see them, then slowly reviles just one card, again to make it look like he has lost, and then reveals the second card to show the winning hand while saying “oops.” Violence at the table is not normally condoned however in response to a move like that, for that much money; I don’t think anyone would be too pissed if Bond punched Le Chiffre in the nose. However, Bond takes it in stride, having picked up Le Chiffre’s tell and makes his way to the bar for a drink. Better man than I. Le Chiffre also over plays/ slow rolls later when after kidnapping Bond’s girl and capturing a nearly dead 007’s on the side of the road, the baddy brags about how he got to him. “I’m afraid your friend Mathis is really my friend Mathis.” Again, no need to rub it in dude and besides, you still don’t havz da money Lebowski! Truly a sadist, I think Le Chiffre enjoyed whacking Bond in the giblets, getting the password for the money was a fringe benefit. All this adds up to make him badass, just not in the traditional way.

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: When Bond broke into M’s place, he found out the text the bomb maker received, “Ellipsis,” came from the Ocean Club in Bahamas. When Bond gets to the club he takes note of the security cameras, something he failed to do when he blew up the embassy. Our young spy is learning. He breaks into the security offices, pulls the surveillance tape with the date and time the text was received, and sees a man stepping out of an Aston Martin, sending a text. Next to reception where Bond tells the lady he is oh so sorry to report his door nicked an Aston Martin in the parking lot. Who owns it so he can make a personal apology? Why that would be Alex Dimitrios who lives right up the beach. This seamless flow from one piece of the puzzle to the next not only leads Bond to the baddy it also builds who Bond is to become. When Bond finally meets up with Dimitrios it is at a poker table where Dimitrios is loosing badly and behaving worse. When his beautiful lady comes over to give him a kiss he hisses “If that was for luck you are two hours late.” Nice, nothing better then taking your loosing out on your lady. So steaming is Dimitrios that he becomes blinded by his cowboys and ignores the ace that came on the flop. For reasons only EON can explain the betting goes backwards on the turn (a 7 of hearts) and Dimitrios puts out a $5 thousand dollar feeler. Bond bites as others clear out of the way and the river comes a K. With the whack-a-doodle hand once again proceeding clockwise Bond checks. Dimitrios, having made his set but short stacked can’t take full advantage and reaches into his wallet, another big no-no. “Table stakes only sir” the dealer scolds as Dimitrios breaks into a sweet. “Here, these were on the table” he says tossing forward the keys to his Aston Martin. “Sir” the dealer starts but Bond says he will allow it, “Give him a chance to win his money back.” Wouldn’t you know it, Bond’s got pocket rockets plus the A on the table and three aces is better then three kings every time and twice on Sunday. “The valet ticket please.” And just like that we watched Bond get his first Aston Martin, won in a card game. This character is beginning to take shape me thinks…

Bond Girl Actress: Eva Green. A show biz kid born in Paris, Green acted in several films before she became more involved in various other artistic pursuits. That’s all I got and for that reason alone I applaud EON for looking past southern California when it came to casting the Bond girl.

Bond Girl’s Name: Vesper Lynd. Ursula Andress’ Honey Rider will always be films first Bond girl but Vesper was the first to steal Bond’s heart, in the books at least. Long time readers will be familiar with Blog James Blog’s weakness for trains in film so the very fact that Bond meets Vesper on board a train is a promising start. Vesper is, as she introduces herself, “the money,” which is to say an accountant in charge of keeping an eye on the crowns $10 million buy-in and Bonds handling of it. She has also been authorized to give Bond the additional $5 million buy-in should he bust but it’s at her discretion. This, needless to say, becomes key. But for now back to that pleasant train ride. Bond and Vesper size each other up as only people in movies do, reading each other their resumes as a “get to know you” game of one-upmanship. It’s cute, I guess, but if it happened in real life it would be the most obnoxious business partner meeting in the history of business. This exchange also allows Vesper to play the role of audience members who may not be familiar with poker or are of the school that it’s “just a game of luck.” Because of this fundamental lack of home work on her part (would you not learn everything you could about where you’re investing your $10 million?) I found her to be a little cold. Bond however sees the nut as a hard one to crack and decides to push her buttons at every turn. In the car on the way to the game he informs her they will be in the same suite to keep up appearance as per their cover only to turn around and check into the hotel as James Bond promptly blowing that cover. To her credit she takes it and gives back just as good, particularly when the two pick out each others outfits for the big game. By the time they made their way down stairs I warmed to dear Vesper but Bond was already smitten; hook, line and sinker. By games end Bond realizes she is spoken for and being the true gent, pulls back a bit. A kidnapping, a ball beating, and an escape later and she’s all over him and he’s taking like a bad Hallmark card. “I have no more armor left” Bond confesses before making like the son of Jor-el in Superman II (1980). And it’s not just talk, Bond emails his one sentence MI6 resignation letter to M and from all I can tell seems 110% committed to becoming this woman’s house husband. And here is the rub, this is all just as clumsy as I just made it sound. I loved this movie but after my first viewing for this project I had a nagging issue, an uneasy feeling that something was seriously broken and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. With the second viewing all became clear; Vesper is this movies kryptonite. When Superman was willing to give up all his power for Lois Lane, I bought it. It was easy as pie to understand exactly why Superman would sacrifice everything he is for this woman. Why would Bond, who worked so hard to get his 00 and is just now having the larger world that his new status gains him opening up before him, give it all up? The problem is not that he would do so for a woman but for this woman. Lazenby’s Bond in love with Tracy? Hell and yes, who wouldn’t fall in love with her? Vesper, as presented here (I have not read the book), has been hot and cold and left and right and all over the place. But above all else she committed an unforgivable sin on both the professional and personal level that Bond, no matter how pulverized his manhood became in Le Chiffre’s dungeon, would never be able to overlook.

Bond Girl Sluttiness: From a recent entry on Roger Ebert’s blog:

Most movie orgasms are perfunctory. Often we start with an action movie, introduce a woman, and then it becomes semi-obligatory for the hero to have sex with the woman. Routine examples of this can be found in the Bond films. His sex must be devoid of emotional significance, or 007′s eyes would be deep, sunken pits after sleepless nights spent recalling the 30 or so women who have lost their lives after sleeping with him. Often a Bond movie will close with Bond and one of the women relaxing on an idyllic isle, but at the start of the next film these promising relationships have not survived. Possibly there’s something sexually flawed about James.

This film, being a new beginning, seems to want to change all of the above. They do so firstly by making Vesper the love of Bonds life, then making him truly feel her death, and finally by carrying her loss through to the end of this movie which implies that Bond 22 is going to be about 007 going on a kill crazy rampage to avenge his ladies death. All wonderful ideas, the only problem is it aint that easy to un-teach this new dog his old tricks. Everyone’s heart is in the right place but EON and Co. fumble play. To recover from the ball beating, Bond is resting in a wheelchair at some kind of hospice. This is a major departure in and of itself, I don’t think Roger Moore ever suffered as much as a hang nail. Vesper jumps at the chance to take advantage of this wounded man, first telling him you can have me whenever you want and then wiring the money to a false account. She showed no interest in bedding Bond until now when she needs to play him. Not understanding the bluff earlier in the film she now becomes the coldest heart at the table. Yes, she winces a little upon learning Bond used her name as the password, but not enough to say, “Hey, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and my own personal superhero, can we go rescue my boyfriend and that $150 million I just sent off to known terrorist? Thanks mate!” Yes, some boyfriend is why she sells our hero down the river. She only sleeps with Bond to deceive him into (a) loosing the money and (b) turning himself into an unemployed world traveling lay about. Vesper once again has an opportunity to correct her mistake when she herself withdraws the money. Again, she doesn’t make the play and coldly moves forward hesitating not a lick. We don’t learn she traded Bond’s life and the money in exchange for her kidnapped boyfriend until way later and the plot device is as thin as an inside straight draw. In explaining the boyfriend bit M says Vesper really did care for Bond which is bullshit because of her many chances to put things right. Maybe if we met this boyfriend at some point and he was just as fantastic as Bond but somehow I don’t think he is. This is a relationship where Vesper is willing to betray her county and Bond, the coolest guy in any room David Bowie is not, for some guy? And the true sticking point here is Bond. This is James Bond who despite all his boozing and skit chasing keeps the mission and his country as priory one. He blew up an embassy for Christ. Now, he is in love and willing to give up everything for a woman who hung him out to dry on his mission way before she stole the money? Back at the game, Bond busted out and lost his first $10 million thanks to a betrayal. He goes out onto a terrace to regroup and get his head together before going back in with his $5 million re-buy. Enter Vesper. Now ladies, the last thing you ought to do is lecture a man who just botched the biggest mission of his career when his full house got crushed by four Jacks. That goes double if you happen to be a co-worker who holds the purse strings for the re-buy. Shut up, give him the money, and let him save the world. But no, Vesper not only refuses to give him the cash, she patronizing to boot. Bond, correctly, snaps calling her a “bloody idiot.” And she is exactly that. She is willing to blow the whole thing and this is BEFORE the boyfriend is kidnapped! She shows no trust in Bond or the mission as laid out by her boss, M, before, during, and after the boyfriend kidnapping incident. Why on God’s green earth would Bond want to spend the rest of his unemployed life with this woman?

Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “How’s your lamb?”

Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Skewered. One sympathizes.”

Number of Woman 007 Beds: Two. Origin stories for characters, especially ones we already know, can be quite enjoyable. It’s a blast watching Tobey Maguire soar over the city streets learning the full extent of what is means to be Spider-Man. This is why the first Matrix (1999) succeeded and the next two failed. It’s a lot more fun and interesting to watch Keanu Reeves learn he is Jesus (whaaaooooh) then to watch him be Jesus (ooooooh). After winning Dimitrio’s Aston Martin, Bond pulls the car around to find Solange, Dimitrios wife, surprised but not shocked to find someone other then her husband behind the wheel. “That’s why he was in such a bad mood.” Bond invites her to his place for a drink. “It’s not far.” She hops in, they spin around the parking lot, and end up back at the valet for the Ocean Club. This whole thing is simply delightful, Bond learning on the spot how to take full advantage of his new 00 while developing what would become his modus operandi. This is his first baddy’s lady conquest and he opened the door with superior play at the poker table and an Aston Martin. This is the birth of Bond and Craig plays it, correctly, like he’s a kid in a candy store. Later, while rolling around on the floor of Dimitrios house with his wife Bond actually chuckles to himself. It’s as if he saying “this is my job!” He also pulls what would become a classic out of the Bond playbook. While engaging in liaisons with the lady he casually brings up the hubby, so where is Dimitrios now do you think? Solange, to her credit, knows Bond is using her to get to her husband but she is simply having to much fun to care and plays along. Learning Dimitrios is on the next flight to Miami, Bond hops up, tells the lady he is getting drinks, and out the door he goes, bound for Miami and one step closer to finding the mysterious money man. However, shit, as the kids say, gets real quick when your operating in the world of high intrigue. After thwarting the Miami bombing Bond returns to the Bahamas to find Solange has been killed; no doubt retribution for her betrayal. Bond takes the news that he’s become a black widow in stride and assures M the deceased knew nothing that could compromise his mission. When the next woman he beds, Vesper, also ends up dead he finds it not so easy to dismiss. In keeping up with the new improved modernized Bond, the ladies had much to cheer about in this movie as well. It was refreshing to see Bond, not the girl, have the emerging from the sea Ursula Andress moment. While the same reference severed to objectify Halle Berry in the last film, here it somehow has the opposite effects and humanizes Bond. It also made the wife quite happy as she sighed to herself and thanked the gods of cinema it was Craig, and not Moore, in the little baby blue briefs.

Number of People 007 Kills: Here’s the thing, before the sinking house, every one of these kills is felt and means something. As much as getting burned by his first love contributes to hardening Bond’s soul, these kills are violent, personal acts that do the same. Bond’s first kill, the drowning of a man in sink, was extremely violent and in Bond’s own words, did not go well. The second, the shooting of a corrupt MI6 agent, was easier, yes considerably, but killing one of your own isn’t a picnic. Now a full 00, Bond enjoys the rights of any Florida citizen under the “Stand Your Ground” statue; he can kill anyone at anytime for any reason. Except if the person you’re trying kill is seeking asylum with in the walls of their embassy in which case killing is strictly verboten. “Sod that” says Bond as he shoots the unarmed bomb maker/ Parkour expert in cold blood and blows the front wall of the embassy for good measure. If you’re going to break the rules, do so with some flair I always say. The next body Bond adds to the count is taken down at a Bodies exhibit for one of the more cinematically interesting kills in the Bond canon. Surrounded by a crowd of living people who are standing around looking at dead people engaged in various activity Bond ends up face to face with Dimitrios. The two silently push and a pull at a knife as passer-bys go about their business, failing to noticing the life and death struggle happening right before their eyes. Again there is a visceral, gut punch feeling to this kill, Bond is looking the man in his eyes, his face not two inches away, as he slowly jabs the knife in. The airplane bomber on the other hand falls to a perfect bluff. After the chase around the airport, Bond is cuffed and the baddy, from a safe distance, is about to blow up the plane, unaware that Bond clipped the bomb to his belt. As everything becomes clear a look of panic crosses the bombers face and we cut to Bond, face on the hood of a cop car, smiling to himself as we hear a satisfactory off camera cue, not kaboom as much as a pusffitt-poof; much more personal. It’s also funny. There is quite a bit of humor in this film, it’s just a darker humor, the kind of jokes homicide cops or emergency room doctors tell to keep the grim realities of their work at a distance. During a break in play at the Casino Royale, a few of Le Chiffre’s clients come calling, machete in hand, none to happy that he has lost there money. He assures them he has matters well in hand and will get them money to them at the games conclusion. Bond and Vesper happened upon two of these men in a stairwell and a hand to hand battle ensues. The combatants jump from flight to flight as the battle unfolds in such a basic yet revolutionary way its shocking no one has come up with this idea for a movie before. It all ends with two dead baddies at the bottom of the stairs, one of whom Bond strangles from behind while laying on the floor a la Anton Chigurh. Sadly, the rest of the kills are more standard action film fare. In Venice, Bond objects to being followed by a dude, a bullet to the head solves the problem. Then while battling in a sinking house, Bond shoots four dudes, push another under a falling elevator and takes out the head baddy with a nail gun bringing Bond’s kill total to 15. A quick note about that sinking building by the by, on the DVD extras the head special effects talks about a meeting he had with the EON brass before shooting began on Bond 21. He said they told him that there would be no Q, no gadgets, and no transforming cars. Well, this movies going to be easy he thought. Then, he was told he needed to come up with a set for a six story building that would sink into sea. He proceed to build the huge set on a gimble so it could pitch left or right and made it capable of moving up or down in the water up to 18 feet. He went on to say it was the most complex “gadget” he ever had to build for a Bond picture. The moral, even in a back-to-basic Bond, they can resist building a volcano lair.

Most Outrageous Death/s: The sinking building, in truth, does feel like another movie. It’s dramatic for sure and it’s not to say this film didn’t have outrageous stunts, but they were more nuts and bolts, the sinking house feels quite CGI and frankly, a little contrived. This all brings us to Vesper caught in the elevator. You know those ads for $19.95 gadgets you can by on TV that are products to solve a problem that doesn’t exist? “Don’t you just hate cutting vegetables” the VO asks as you see an actress handle a knife like she has five thumbs while struggling to slice carrots and you’re sitting there thinking “Just cut the carrots lady.” That’s how I felt watch Vesper in the elevator. She becomes a damsel in distress, someone who needs rescuing when all she needs to do is simply open the door. We know this because after the elevator cage plunges underwater, we see her lock the door and take the key so Bond can’t save her. I know this is meant to be a Jesus giving up her life for her sins moment and I know she saved Bond with the defibrillator and he giving her CPR, unable to save her, is meant to be a full circle moment but in a film that goes out of it’s way to make us feel every punch and make these people real why in hell come up with something so contrived. Again, I can’t stress this enough, all she had to do was open the damn door of the elevator! She proves to be, as Bond so accurately observed, a blood idiot. Anyway she drowns and Mr. White runs away with the money.

Miss. Moneypenny: No Moneypenny in this movie so let’s use this space to discuss Mathis. As Bond’s fixer for the poker game, Mathis earns his strips and then turns out to be playing for the other side, clueing Le Chiffre in on Bond’s read of his tell and therefore costing Bond his $10 million buy-in. Vesper for her part then refuses to give Bond the additional $5 million and its pretty much game over. Which got me to thinking, between Dryden’s selling secretes at the top and both Mathis and Vesper selling Bond out, how the hell does M vet these people? Maybe she could use an assistant…

M: Hey M, we were just talking about you. We first meet M as she is ready to kill her newest 00 in the wake of the embassy SNAFU. “In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he would have the good sense to defect, Christ I miss the cold war.” Again, this is really funny for a film that has the rep of “getting rid of all the humor.” Clearly Bond is different in this reboot and to Judi Dench’s credit, so is M, all be it in a more subtitle way. Here she takes on more of a mentor role then straight up supervisor. She feels a connection to her newest 00, partly because she took a chance on him and partly because Bond is willing to bend if not break the rules. She runs this ship but appreciates a little out of bounds play stating that even the PM has the good sense to let he do her thing as long as it stays out of the papers. This is the opposite of the 1970’s M, a boss who mostly just got in Bond’s way. I like this better, feels more like the way MI6 would be run. Even when she does fence with Bond, it’s for his good and the good of the mission. While he makes cracks about not expecting to live all that long, she makes sure he checks his emotions and keeps his eye on the ball. This leads to a very well done heart to heart about trust and how Bond needs to learn who he can and who he can’t rely on. By the end of the movie, so burned is Bond that he simply trusts no one and goes off solo, forever to follow the money. One gets the feeling perhaps he’s gone to far the other way… something for M to contend with the next go around. PS M does in fact have a home in which there is a bed in which there is a man. This is a nice touch, M can enjoy such comforts while Bond is getting burned seeking them.

… everyone’s a Captain Kirk!

Q: I’m surprised at what I’m about to say but I didn’t miss Q in this film. I think that’s perhaps because I know Desmond Llewelyn is gone, never to return, and I never had the chance to fall in love with John Cleese in the role. In the absents of Q and his gadgets we get a cell phone and a war room full of agents that act as support. Again, I really like this, feels real and it’s something we as an audience can relate to. We’ve all been on a business trip when we need to phone back to the office to get a contacts number or instructions on how to work the portable defibrillator.

List of Gadgets: Yes, the car has a portable defibrillator. Bond is poisoned during the poker game and as a result goes into cardiac arrest. He stumbles out to the car which is equipped with a secrete compartment for his gun and a portable defibrillator. As silly as this scene is on the surface I had no problems with it in the context of the film and it in fact works as an exciting Bond moment. It’s substantially much more realistic then what transpires at the poker table shortly after. Bond also has some kind of chip injected into his arm, a tracking device of sorts, so MI6 can always know his whereabouts. This is a useful thing until it’s pried loose from his arm by Le Chiffre’s knife. But the most important gadget Bond has in the film is the very same device that makes every single one of us a real life James Bond and Captain Kirk rolled into one; the iPhone.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: After a lifetime of watching car chases and crashes on the screen, from “CHiPs” and “Dukes of Hazzard” style pill-ups to artful pursuits in Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971) to silly but fun in Death Race 2000 (1975) and The Blues Brothers (1980) not to mention every other Bond film I thought nothing new could be brought to motorized vehicles following other motorized vehicles on film at any speed. Casino Royale delightful stomped on my seen-it-all cynic self with a stunt so basic it’s simply unbelievable no one thought of it before. It also happens to be the best single shot in a movie silly with great moments. It’s night; the baddies grab Vesper, pull her into a car, and take off down a country road. Bond jumps into his Aston Martin and gives chase. He is moving very fast over a poorly lit road with blind turns and rolling hills. As he comes flying around one corner we get a flash of Vesper, tied up, lying in the middle of the road. In desperation Bond yanks the wheel avoiding Vesper and sending the car careening off road where it proceeds to roll for what seems an eternity. As I always love pointing out the boys in shop did this one for real and sent an Aston Martin and driver flipping into the air at 70 MPH by shooting off an air cannon. The car flipped a world record breaking six times before coming to rest. It looks just absolutely spectacular on screen and I defy anyone, no matter how many times they’ve seen the film, to not give a winching “ohhhh” as the car cartwheels to a stop. This is just halftime of a brutal evening that has seen/will see Bond be poisoned, die, brought back to life, betrayed by Mathis, lose his girl, crash his car and end up naked and tied to chair getting his balls beat. But hey, at least he won the $150 million, hey? This is all a very long way of saying the car, he destroys the car. He also goes through a lovely tuxedo while playing the big game; ruined by machete and shower. The shower scene, happening shortly after his battle with machete, shows Bond holding Vesper with hands that have scratched up knuckles from the recent fight. Details, they make all the difference.

Other Property Destroyed: 007 may have started it all off with seven years of bad luck, smashing a bathroom mirror in carrying out his first kill. He takes a bulldozer to a construction site and runs through a few walls and knocks down a few girders for good measure. Then there was that incident at the embassy. In order to stop the bombing at Miami International he manages to take out a luggage truck, a flex-bus, a fuel truck, and the Bluth Family car.

The Bluth family car

All of these destructive chases are outrageous and over the top but proceed in a logical way and stick to their own physics. The sinking Vatican build is a little goofy as we discussed earlier but I think most fans are willing to forgive in this case. It is exciting, that’s for sure, and at the end of it Venice has one less landmark, thanks to 007. M doesn’t seem to pissed-off tough, just don’t blow up those building with diplomatic immunity and all will be fine.

Felix Leiter: Jeffrey Wright. Bond has just been told by his so called partner, Vesper, that she will not release the $5 million for him to continue playing in the tournament and therefore he has failed his mission. Half drunk and fully pissed-off Bond decides to take matters into his own hands when he sees Le Chiffre in the bar. Grabbing a dinner knife out of desperation Bond makes a B-line for the baddy only to be intercepted by one of the players at the table who identifies himself as “a brother from Langley.” Hey, the brother from Langley is a brother to which I say hell yah! Bond caught some racial flack for Live and Let Die (1973) which I didn’t entire agree with but the truth is, other then the Bond ladies who come from around the world, Bond has lived in a very white universe. Quite nice to bring in some color. (All that said, Vijay in Octopussy (1983) was one of my favorite Bond sidekicks.) Wright is probably most famous for playing the lead in the well received but I felt uneven Basquiat (1996). Since then he’s gone the character actor route and seen incredible success. Wright’s Felix, unlike Felix of the past, actually saves the day. Bond explains the witch with a B will not give him the money; money the American is willing to front Bond without a moment’s hesitation. Felix, being a good poker player, is smart enough to know tonight is not to be his and he saw Bond had Le Chiffre dead to rights. This is also an elder giving the young hot head a bit of good advice, don’t go off stabbing the cat, kill him with cards at the table instead. It all adds up to an amazing act of generosity and good faith and it 100% explains why these men would share a life long bond, even if Felix becomes, which is to say was, a complete imbecile in future/past missions. But hey, it’s a reboot so everyone gets a clean slate and after one film, Felix is aces in my book.

Best One Liners/Quips:  Now the whole world’s going to know that you died scratching my balls!

Bond Cars: When Bond arrives in the Bahamas he is seen driving a Ford. A rental I assume. We’ve all got to start somewhere and the truth is its much nicer then my first car. He then wins the 1964 Aston Martin and decides his days of Fords are behind him. He contacts M who makes sure he has a brand spanking new Aston Martin DBS V12 for the big game. And boy how she purrs. It comes equipped not with life taking weapons but a live saving defibrillator in the glove box. Ohh Ok … and a hand gun.

Bond Timepiece: It’s an Omega, not a Rolex. Get over it Spulock.

Other Notable Bond Accessories: Knowing nothing about guns I did notice that for the first time Bond seemed to be using silencers. After some research I found this to be true but the device is called a “suppressor” among those in the know. I also learned that the hand gun he uses throughout the film is not his trust Walther PPK (thought that is the model featured in the posters) but a “suppressed” Walther P99. As for the big guy that he shoots Mr. White in the leg at the end, that’s something called a Heckler & Koch UMP9 9mm, with suppresser natch. Hey man, they look cool and there is something more satisfying about the “Puuthump” of a suppressed fire arm as opposed the more traditional “Bang!” Bond started out the film a little more casually attired then we’re accustom to but he looks great in his suit sans tie when he touches down in the Bahamas. As for the tux during the game I will quote Vesper, “There are dinner jackets and there are dinner jackets. That is the latter.” On this point she is correct.

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: We here at Blog, James Blog would like to tip our caps and raise our glasses to one Mr. Craig who brings Bond and boozing to new glorious heights. Before sitting down at the table at the Ocean Club Bond gets a large Mount Gay with soda from the bar, I think … his order was mumbled so I’m not 100% sure. By the time he checks into his room at the Ocean Club Bond is quickly realizing everything is on the company’s dime so he orders a bottle of Bollinger…for himself! On the train he shares a bottle of red with Vesper and he has some champagne with Mathis as the two sit at a sidewalk café watching the chief of police get arrested. But Bond is only warming up. One of the rules most poker pros not named Scotty Nguyen stick to is “don’t drink at the table” to which Bond says stick it in your ear.

Breaking the law…

Feeling a little full of himself after winning a good size pot Bond decides to give the waiter a bit of the what for ordering a dry martini. “Wait” Bond says as the man turns to fill the order, “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Litllet, shake it over ice then add a thin slice of lemon peel.” An uptight gent at the table decides he’ll take one as well, as does another player and then finally Felix who asks that they “hold the fruit,” at which point Le Chiffre, being the kind of player he is, pulls yet another total dick move. After loosing a hand and seeing everyone is having fun he chides them for doing so, “Anyone want to play poker now?” When I’m at a table and some pulls that nonsense I typically shoot them a look and tell em they can switch tables anytime? “And who knows, maybe you’re luck will change” I like to add. That ether shuts em up, piss em off, or gets them to leave. Whatever the outcome, I’m happy. Anyway, this drink order opens the flood gates as Bond orders a second before the break. During the break the whole machete incident happens which prompts Bond to clean out his wounds and dull his pain with whisky. One for the cut – one for belly, two for the cut – one, two for the belly, and so on. Bond returns but quickly busts and makes his way to the bar. “Martini” “Shaken or stirred?” “Do I look like I give a damn!” Not getting the buy-in from your lady will do that to a man. His next drink is back at the table, thank you Felix, but this one has a little extra kick; the martini is in fact poisoned. Thinking quickly, 007 grabs a full water glass and pours in table salt inducing vomiting. None the less, he ends up dead only to be shocked back to life and despite now having two breaks in a row that are the equivalent of the trip to town in Wet Hot American Summer (2001) Bond once again returns to play poker and wins! How to celebrate? Why another shaken not stirred martini with dinner that now gets a name, The Vesper, because once you’ve tasted it, it’s all you want to drink. Despite my dumping on Vesper that’s a good line. L’Chaim dear Daniel, you’ve done your country proud with your poker prowess and incredible tolerance.

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Muhammad Ali, in his day, would use every opportunity he had before a match to talk his opponents to death, saying anything and everything to get in their head so “I would win the fight before I even stepped in the ring.” Bond subscribes to the Ali school when it comes to poker and from the moment he enters the casino he’s playing the game. By checking in under his real name, Bond is not only putting his card on the table he’s also saying I’m not afraid to play aggressively. When we finally do get to the table, it goes without saying that in grand Bond tradition the room is beautiful, the people are gorgeous, and everyone has something to hide except for me and my monkey. So, the game is afoot and the hands are a dealt and things happen and things happen and then we get down to the final hand. If you don’t care about poker please skip down to the List of Locations because even though Bond has barrel rolled over rivers, been shot out of a torpedo tube, walking on alligator heads, brought himself back from the dead, and crash landed a space shuttle, nothing he has done up to this point is more far fetched, unrealistic, or out and out bat-shit crazy then this final hand of poker. By way of setting this thing up, whenever I sit at a table, I quickly name all the players in my head either based on their appearance or play. In other words, the guy with the Yankees cap is Jeter, a tight player is The Rock, and so on; I imagine everyone does something similar when they play. With this in mind, the last hand of the Le Chiffre invitational is down to four players; proceeding from the dealer we have Ponytail, a grey hair gent with a silver ponytail going down his back, Big Luv, a rotund man in a loud purple suit, Le Chiffre and then Bond. The blinds, I.E. the forced bet or the anti, are at ½ a million and a million. We as an audience join the action already in progress, $24 million in the pot and 8,6,4 all spades along with the ace of hearts are already dealt out on the table. Le Chiffre, first to act, checks as all other players follow suit. Cagey play and so far so good. On the river Lemmy’s favorite card falls, the Ace of Spade. Once again Le Chiffre and Bond check into Ponytail who goes all in for $6 million. Big Luv nearly jumps out of his seat to get his all in, $5 million, pushed forward into the pot. Now Le Chiffre, who Hollywood’s a bit, which is to say he pretends he’s thinking about it, playing with his cards and chips, before doubling the bet to $12 million. Now it’s Bond’s turn to act some and after staring Le Chiffre down a bit he pushes in all his chips, $14.5 million, forward. Le Chiffre looks like Sylvester the moment after he’s swallowed Tweety as he looks down at his house, Aces full of sixes. Le Chiffre lets go of a gasp of a laugh knowing he is about to bust the entire table in one hand, “Well I think I will call you on that one” he says while pushing in all his chips. $150 million in the pot Mathis points out. Showdown. Ponytail is quite pleased with his A high flush to the Q, a monster hand that would win most days in Vegas. However, he couldn’t have been pleased that his last spade came an Ace and indeed here comes Big Luv with a boat, eights full of aces. Le Chiffre, as we saw, has the bigger boat, aces full of six which of course he slow roles as is his custom. So, Ponytail had only four hands that could beat him, Big Luv only two and Le Chiffre is next to the nuts. $1 dollar American to anyone who can predict what Jimmy B is holding. Much has been made of Bond hitting the straight flush (5,7 of Spades) in this situation, rightfully so, and we will get to that, but many things need to be unpacked here. Firstly, we learned there was $24M in the pot on forth street which was checked around. Then on the final round of betting everyone is all in with $6M, $5M, $14.5M and $14.5 respectively. If my calculations are correct, and I’m certain they are, that would be $64 million in the middle. I don’t know what kind of operation they are running at the Casino Royale but most of the places I play, if $86 million walked away from the table, someone would notice. But that’s not even the strangest thing. Fifth street is Ponytail all in for $6, Big Luv all in for $5, and then Le Chiffres raises to $12. Why in heavens name would he do that here? It leaves him with only $2.50. Looking across at Bond, he had to see that Bond had $14.50. Why not put him all in here? Or, just call the $6. You would never, ever in this situation leave yourself with only $2.50. It’s like emptying your gun except for one bullet and then saying, OK you shoot all of your bullets at me. If you think you have the best hand, and Le Chiffre dose, pull the trigger or slow play but don’t do a half measure, especially when you see that you and your opponent are evenly stacked. Which brings us to another huge point, are you telling me, after that much time, money, and play in this tournament that Bond and Le Chiffre, the two big stacks at the table, have the exact same amount in chips? The chances of this happening are about the same as getting hit by lightning while driving a motorcycle on the frozen Hudson River. Bond then beating two house and a flush with a straight flush is about the same chance of getting hit by lightning while driving a motorcycle across the frozen Hudson River with Diana Rigg on the back and Bill Clinton in the sidecar while all three of you are harmonizing on the second verse of “Up on Cripple Creek.” No matter how fun it sounds, it will never, ever happen.

List of Locations: Much of the movie was shot in the Prague, the beautiful old world capital of the Czech Republic. The Madagascar slums and construction site chase scene were filmed is the Bahamas as was the Ocean Club and beach scene. Montenegro, the location of the Casino Royale, looks like a story book fantasy and is a place I would live the rest of my life if I had the means. The Bodies exhibit exteriors were Miami and the airport chase was also Miami as well as three other airports. Pinewood did some set work and the finale was shot in Venice. The coda where Bond confronts Mr. White was shot in George Clooney’s beloved Lake Como. I remember exactly noting from Quantum of Solis (2008), a bad sign right off the bat, but I hope to continue where we left off. Lake Como is simply breathtaking and I want to know who/ what Mr. White is up to. Maybe he works for Blofeld and SPECTURE? Maybe Bond’s quest for vengeance will once again pull him away from MI6? Maybe I’m wishing in vein because while I don’t remember the movie, I remember many did not enjoy it. Oh well, we will cross that bridge when we get to it.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Not at first but 007 eventually gets a hold of this Parkour thing. At one point during the Miami fracases, he slides over the top cabin of a truck and flips over and into the cab via the hole where a windshield should have been. He also does some fancy bouncing in the stairwell during the machete fight. 007 has incredible quick draw abilities as displayed at the embassy. In all this time with Bond, I don’t think we’ve seen him do the quick draw thing; impressive. Bond also has a golden horseshoe firmly lodged into his ass as is evident anytime he sits down at a poker table. Then there is the typical list of vehicles, a jet fuel truck, a construction tractor, a sailboat while under power and a first, a wheelchair. See, still new stuff to explore.

Final Thoughts: The blurb on the back of my copy of Casino Royale comes from Josh Rothkopf of Time Out New York. “Daniel Craig is the best Bond in the franchise’s history.” I disagree but the line is also understandable. I find Rothkopf to be a very thoughtful critic who truly understand film history and I do not take his comment to be a tossed off platitude. I’m sure he meant it at the time. My question is, if I bumped in Rothkopf at Kettle of Fish tonight, would he still feel that way? I doubt it. Hailed as the future of Bond at the time, today Casino Royale fits quite nicely into the Bond cannon. Indeed, it is a step forward but no more so then other great Bond films of the past. Further, things like Parkour, the Bodies exhibit, the bombing of an airport, the shorting of stocks, the blink and you miss it Richard Branson cameo and even the central poker game are not necessarily dated but they do place this film in a time and place, just like every other Bond. And that’s as it should be. But I think at the time of the film release there was an over enthusiasm for everything about this movie, particularly the praise of Craig. I’m sure this was due in no small part to the pre-release backlash against the actor. Add the fact that it followed Die Another Day (2002), a bad movie that has aged worse then any Bond film not called Moonraker (1979), and I think people went a little nuts for Royale. All this is not to say it’s not a great film, the opposite in fact. 45-years-old when the film came out, the Bond movies didn’t get where they are without adapting and changing, sometimes going the right direction and other times not. This movie takes a leap into positive territory and ends up being one of the stronger entries. The number one reason for this, more important then Craig, is director Martin Campbell who with his two films has proven to be the best Bond director since Terence Young. Guided by his steady hand the film “gets real” and deconstructs one of film’s great heroes. Instead of going big and outrageous, things were boiled down and became a hyper realized reality. The story is a fantastic piece of writing that shows us new angles while reveling where some of James favorite moves come from. It’s back to basics for most of the stunts which are once again exciting and a blast to watch. The baddie is also brought back to earth but still a villain we love to hate as demonstrated in the torture scene. And Craig’s Bond is wonderful; he’s fun, smart, physical and handsome. Both he and Campbell give the character an arc going from wet behind the ears to arrogant and cocky to humbled and hardened. Yes, the poker is ridiculous but it’s also fun to watch. And isn’t that point? I’d bet my entire stack that 90% of the audience for this film wouldn’t know if a straight is better then two pair and that is fine. It really doesn’t matter. The game tonally fits in with the rest of the film in that its beautifully shot, it has significant tension, provides a tight storyline, and is above all fun and exciting. And that’s what it should do.

Back where it all began…

However, however…despite all the new inventions the rebooted Bond manages to fall into the same trap that has plagued 007 since he hit the big screen; the weak third act. Sadly, the lack of a satisfactory ending is enough to knock this film off the top shelf. Think back to Dr. No (1962), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), Octopussy (1983), The Living Daylights (1987), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and most egregiously Moonraker, and you will see good or great films that fail to stick the landing. Casino Royale is a cracker-jack thriller that frankly should have climaxed with Mr. White killing Le Chiffre. The next scene could be as it was, Bond left recovering from his injuries, wondering why Mr. White let him and Vesper live. The banker comes and we see Vesper deposit the money, but right after she gets a phone call. “Excuses me James?” She walks away. “Yes?” On the other end a voice asks “Is it done?” “Yes Mr. White, the money is in your account.” “Good, we will be in touch.” Phone hangs up; she looks back at Bond, the camera pulls out to a wide shot, the score hits and credits. I understand the story demands we deal with Vesper and her betrayal but that doesn’t mean it fits in with the rest of the film, at least not as written and told here. I donno, maybe the Bond/Vesper relationship is an impossible sell but I simply can’t swallow it and the last bit of the film suffers as a result. When I mention this movie to people inevitably they give some variant on the comment “I liked it, but it was a little too long.” Indeed, the running time is well over two hours but what they mean to say is the movie “felt too long.” That is because the pacing in the last act makes it fell like the movie is being dragging across the finish line. Add the sinking house and the entire tone is inconsistent with the tight, fun adventure in the first two acts. It’s a shame because I can not over emphasize how significant an achievement it is to reinvent the most recognizable character in film history and do so in a way that succeeds so incredibly. We will hold out on ranking Craig against other 007’s until we have a larger sample size but I can say he was presented with a nearly impossible task, a task that most wanted him to fail. Craig met the character and his critics head on and to quote my favorite guru Paul Crik, he killed it.

Martini ratings:

Die Another Day

Title: Die Another Day

Year: 2002. At one point in Die Another Day Bond and M are standing in an abandon subway station under London. “While you were away the world has changed,” M informs Bond to which he responds “not for me.” With these three words 007 is not speaking as Bond the character created by Ian Fleming but as “Bond” the one billion dollar film franchises created by Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. Four decades previous, Dr. No (1962) redefined what a popcorn action film could be in many ways, one of which was the “ripped from the headlines” plot based on The Cuban Missile Crises. While never references the incident itself, the film tapped into the ever-present fear of nuclear annihilation. In subsequent films, Bond would tackle everything from the cold war to radical environmentalism, the space race to petrol-politics, the war on drugs to the tensile strength of speeding fire trucks; always in it’s very own Bond world way. But in the first film following perhaps the largest worldwide political event of Bond’s forty years save the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bond had no idea how to respond. To be fair, in the immediate aftermath of September 11th 2001 no one in the entertainment industry knew how to wrap his or her head around the events of that day and some pretty crazy stuff was said. Some felt we would see a “new responsible way of making films,” were “violence would no longer be glamorized.” Others wondered aloud and in print if “anything would ever be funny again?” and predicted the death of irony. Ironically, it would be comedy that delivered the first, and incredibly appropriate, response. TV was showing nothing but up to the second news reports, that was if you could still get TV. I had rabbit ears on a small Sony at the time and since broadcasts in the city all came from the top of One World Trade, all I had was fuzz. This meant many trips to local bar to absorb the news while numb myself to it. With all conventional programing preempted, it fell to print, in the form of The Onion, to make one of the first jokes, and not a moment to soon. That now famous front page made it just that much easier for those of us who worked in tall Manhattan office buildings to step onto the elevator. On TV, the holder of the second highest elected office in America, New York Mayor Giuliani, famously appeared on SNL and gave people permission to laugh again, but he was in fact a little late to the party. New York’s twin towers of late night comedy, Letterman and Stewart, had already returned to the air and nakedly, awkwardly and beautifully fumbled with what was funny and appropriate after America’s greatest city, to paraphrase John Updike, got both its front teeth punched out. While New York was carrying on in the proud tradition of Broadway and declaring the show must go on, Jay Leno was still hiding in his bunker of a garage in Burbank, along with the rest of La-La Land. Another irony, the town that makes billions off distorting buildings and mindless killing thousands in action packed fantasies had no idea how to react to the real thing that so many described as “looking just like a movie.” Producers of Zoolander (2001), a comedy about New York’s fashion industry that was released on September 28th, rushed to digitally erase the twin towers from shots of the skyline, an act of vandalism Paramount still needs to square. A trailer featuring a baddies helicopter caught in Spiderman’s web strung between the towers was yanked from TV and theaters. Most hysterically, there was a loud cry urging Peter Jackson and Co. to rename his second Lord of the Rings film, even thought the book on which it was based, “The Two Towers,” was published in 1954. While New Yorkers ran toward the burning buildings to do what we could, Hollywood ran away as fast as they could. It took a New York filmmaker who was never warmly embraced by Hollywood to make the first, and to date best, film dealing directly with September 11th. Spike Lee’s near masterpiece The 25th Hour (2002) is the one of the only non-documentary movies to sift though the aftermath of that day with emotional honesty and in doing so becomes the exception proving the rule; big budget Hollywood style films almost always fail when attempting to tackle large scale horror head on. While Hollywood’s initial response of whitewashing the towers out of existence is inexcusable, that fact that the entertainment industry had the wisdom to tread lightly when taking on such large and at the same time nuanced subject was wise if not commendable. The truth is, most films shouldn’t even try, lest we have another Pearl Harbor (2001) on our hands. For projects like Remember Me (2010) or the Oscar bait Extremely Tasteless and Incredibly Exploitative (2011) it will always be “too soon.” (Ed Note: Full disclosure, I never saw Remember Me or Extremely Tasteless and Incredibly Exploitative and I never will.) Think about how many truly great films deal directly with the holocaust or Hiroshima. For every Schindler’s List (1993) there are 100 cynical train wrecks. You know someday some black hearted executive will release a tear jerker centered around the Japanese tsunami of 3/11/11, no doubt staring Ryan Gosling and Reese Witherspoon, but we can all rest assured it will be a bigger bust at the box-office then John Carter (2012). Indeed films work better in dealing with the incomprehensible through the prism of metaphor, parable, satire or allegory. Think about the Japanese film industry responding to the nuclear bomb attacks on their nation with Godzilla (1954) or Hollywood responding to the AIDS crises with Fatal Attraction (1987). A few years after the fact, with the benefit of perspective, Hollywood did in fact make powerful “post 9/11 films.” Movies like The Departed (2006), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), There Will Be Blood (2007) and No Country for Old Men (2007), not to mention the countless post-apostolic moves that have come out in the past few years, are movies filled with dread. They all convey a feeling that something evil is out there, it’s coming to get us, and we don’t know who/what it is or when it will strike. In these movies the good guys are compromised, violence can breakout at anytime, and in some cases (No Country, There Will Be Blood) the baddies gets away. Kind of sounds like the 21st Bond film that came out in 2006, don’t yah think? (By the by, with all these 2006/07 releases it would appear five years was the prescribed time to properly digest 9/11.) But for now, we are dealing with Bond 20, released 14 months after the attacks, thirteen months after a “coalition of the willing” hit the ground in Afghanistan and four months before Tony Blair would sully his legacy by jumping in bed with George Bush’s war on Iraq. In the three years James Bond was away, the world did indeed change, but not for Bond. Current events were going way to fast for 007 to catch up, so producers ignored the present and used this, the 40th anniversary and 20th film of the James Bond franchise, to celebrate 007’s rich past.

Film Length: 2 hours 7 minutes

Bond Actor: Pierce Brosnan. By Pierce’s forth film, it became clear that James Bond was trying to kill the actor. Bond had been working since 1995 to weaken Brosnan mentally, and the strain was manifesting itself in the physical. According to IMDb the official James Bond tailor in London reported that while Pierce started as the lightest Bond to date (164 pounds for GoldenEye (1995)) by the time he was getting fittings for Die Another Day he was the heaviest at 211 pounds. Once shooting began, 007 really got nasty. One of the first sequences to be shot featured a hovercraft chase over a minefield. During one of the stunts Pierce injured his knee so badly he was rushed to a California hospital for an operation. While he was recovering production was totally shut down for a few weeks, the first time a Bond film had ever done so.  “I feel guilt, I’ve blown it,” the actor said at time and I don’t doubt his sincerity. Perhaps as a result of the knee injury, Brosnan is much less physical in this film. In fact, the best scene in the movie, a sword fight, was the last thing shot in order to give Brosnan the maximum time to recover. Add the fact the shooting schedule was thrown into further disarray thanks to rainstorms in Spain and thin ice in Iceland and EON was looking at a chaotic production. Perhaps it was the difficulty surrounding the shoot that left a bad taste in Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson’s mouth or maybe other factors played a role but for whatever reason, Pierce was not invited back for the next Bond picture. Reasons as to why and how this happened are sketchy at best and I found only scant credible reporting. In an October 15, 2004 piece in the Toronto Sun, Brosnan implies he was fired. He told the paper that he was willing and eager to do a fifth and final Bond, adding that Broccoli and Wilson had asked him to return. “And then one day the phone rang–I was here (in Nassau shooting After The Sunset)–and my agents told me that the goalposts had moved and that they had changed their minds.” He added, “It was disappointing. It was surprising. And I accepted the knowledge (that his run as 007 was over for good) after 24 hours of being in shock.” He went on to say he harbored no resentment and handled the entire thing like the true gentlemen he is but the question of why he was the only Bond actor to date to be made redundant lingers. His performance is top notch, while the film itself not so much. In watching the past three movies I’ve come to think of Brosnan’s take on 007 as a prefect mix of Moore’s world wear humor and Connery’s steely toughness and here he has scene where the marriage of the two works wonderfully. Indeed, the film is incredible flawed and one of the weaker Bond entries but none of that rests with Brosana who at most points is better then the material. It’s a mystery indeed but I get the feeling, with no facts what so ever to back me up, that Brosnan fell on his sword and took a brunt of the blame for Die Another Day’s shortcoming for the good of the franchise; a franchise that let him go in a rather, if we are to believe Brosnan’s account, underhanded way. Whatever went down, the end result remains. Bond succeeded in his mission to eliminate Pierce Brosnan. Maybe he wanted to be a blonde?

Director: Lee Tamahori, hack for heir….mostly. Tamahori’s claim to fame is his widely love feature directorial debut Once We Were Warriors (1994). Unseen by me, the film takes place in Tamahori’s native New Zealand and deals with alcoholism and domestic abuse. When looking upon the rest of Tamahori’s filmography, it can safely be said that films like The Edge (1997), xXx: State of the Union (2005) and Next (2007) don’t quite reach the heights or depths of his first outing. This is fine, most directors don’t even have a good scene in them. Anyone with a great movie under his belt is to be applauded. Tamahori made his bones in the biz as an award winning commercial artist and while I cannot speak to Once We Were Warriors, I can say his films that I have seen sprang from that sensibility. Making TV ads is no easy thing. It takes a tremendous amount of skill and talent to hook someone and get a message across, even if the message is as simple as buy this, in a very short amount of time. One of the more common ways to do that is to produce a flashy self contained single concept piece that can be instantly understood. However, while 30 seconds of good looking people doing sexy activities is great for selling Budweiser, it tends to loose some punch when strung out for a 2 hour narrative. As a result, the Tamahori films that I have seen feel like a bunch of different “ad moments” added together. You get slammed into a set piece quickly, and while this works as a “hook” for ads it means sacrificing set-up in a film. Then it’s all wiz-bang with no context until we hit a big climatic finish, but we still have more then 9/10th of the film to go. Strangely, Broccoli and Wilson found this quality in Tamahori to be an asset. For the 40th Anniversary the keepers of the Bond flame felt the need to, as the DVD literature puts it, “Pull out all the stops.” The DVD extras have interviews where the two producers speak proudly about how any given action set piece in this movie would “be the center piece to any other film and we’ve got five.” This bigger is better thinking lead to some of Bond’s biggest disasters and this production has a Moonraker era “Look what we can do!” feel written all over it. It’s the worst impulses of the franchise and yet EON continues to fall into the trap. If you need further evidence that this film was a bloated boondoggle look no further then the “stripped down reboot” follow up Casino Royale (2006). Things are not helped by Wilson and Broccoli’s decision to embraces the worst film making trends of the day, mainly the frantic hack and slash editing style as seen in so many open big/gone next week action films of the time. Christian Wagner, the man who cut Bad Boys (1995) for Michael Bay, one of the worst offenders of the chop it to shit style, was brought on as the editor. Add Wagner’s pacing, or more appropriately lack thereof, to Tamahori’s “Cram it into 30 seconds” storytelling and shooting style and what you have is a big, loud, ugly film with three acts that exist nearly independent of each other. The icing on the cake is Tamahori’s fetishism for Matrix (1999) style camera moves and film speed manipulation. We gets shots of one of the baddies, wearing a wind blown trench coat natch, whirling around with guns blazing in a low angle slow mo that then speed-ramps into double time as the soundtrack assaults the viewer with Whoooossshhh and zipppppsss and lands with a clang! Add the Fast and the Furious (2001) neon car chase, the Richard Branson modeled villain and a Madonna cameo and the film feels more dated then any of the Moore of Connery movies. Die Another Day is just like 95% of action films we see today, the two-minute trailer plays as a better movie then the feature.

Reported Budget: $142,000,000 estimated.

Reported Box-office: $160,854,135 USA and $431,971,116 worldwide. These numbers tell two very different stories. On one hand, the $432 million worldwide is by far the largest take for any Bond to date. On the other, with the $142 budget taken into account this is the least profitable Bond to date, which probably played no small part in Brosnan being shown to the door. I also remember the publicity blitz at time and I’m sure marketing ate up millions if not tens of millions. Up to this point, James Bond was the highest grossing movie franchise ever, pulling in just north of one billion dollars. But the number 4 film at the box office in 2002, the $262 million grossing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, would be the beginning of the end of Bond’s reign. Today, eight movies and ten years later, JK Rowling’s boy wizard is top dog. But no worries, considering Potter has now graduated and Bond is about to release his 23rd film, it’s only a matter of time before Jimmy B is once again sitting on top the largest pile of money.

There’s no crying in football! Go home to Gisele and act like a baby.

Theme Song: “Die Another Day” by Madonna. The wife and I had a few folks over to watch the MMXII Superbowl. They weren’t really huge football people but they got into the spirit of the game because who doesn’t just absolutely relish every moment of Tom Brady get his ass kick while Boston fans scream they were once again robbed. Note to New England boosters, once (the Tyree helmet catch) maybe luck but twice (the Manningham sideline catch) and you’ve just plain got beat… twice. Anyway, throughout the first and second quarters our company was complaining about the up coming halftime show featuring Madonna. Now, I’ve never owned one of her records but I have always respected what Madonna has done for women in music. I also know that if nothing else, she is a consummate professional, who like a great athlete (and unlike Brady in his past two Superbowl appearances) ups her game for the biggest stage. So I found myself in a strange position of defending, at times strongly, Madonna to the point where I was very nervous that I might have oversold someone I’m not the biggest fan of. From the moment Madge entered the field seated on a golden throne being carried by 100 gladiators I knew I backed the right horse. Regardless of how one feels about the woman, nobody can deny her halftime show killed it on every level. She not only performed an A-plus set but in the year when Tim Tebow became a NFL folk hero and Rick Santorum is still somehow though of as a serious contender for the White House, Madonna brought gay culture into every living room in America. The best part, I’d bet you 99% of football fans didn’t even notice. They just keep on downing Coors Lite as they swayed along with Cee Lo. God bless you sister, after that balls-out move I respect you even more. All that said; this is easily the worst Bond tune to date. Madonna sounds like a malfunctioning robot performing at some kind of Blade Runner (1982) S&M club. It’s like a track from a 2002 club scene that never existed. Take a listen yourself as samples of Madonna asking “Sigmund Freud” to “analyze this” can barely be made out over the faux industrial clamor.

And the punch line; the theme song is far from the worst music decision in the film. Popular music cues in movies are no easy thing. The song choices must fit into the sealed universe created by the film and at the same time say something larger about the character, the story, the mood or the events that are relevant in the movie at that moment. And if I may paraphrase Carly Simon’s wonderful Bond tune, nobody does it better then Martin Scorsese. In movie after movie Scorsese picks the perfect piece of pop music to evoke the mood of a specific time and place. Take Mean Streets (1973). Think of the slow motion tracking shot of De Niro’s Johnny Boy walking into the bar, a chick on each arm, as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” plays on the juke. Johnny Boy is a neighborhood punk and the bar is a Little Italy dive but at that moment, Johnny Boy feels like Henry Hill walking into the Copa. Using the language of cinema, Scorsese shows us Johnny Boy feels like the king of the world, no need to have him raise his arms and shout it. Later, there is a completely different feeling when Harvey Keitel’s Charlie is off his face drunk, staggering around the bar to The Chips “Rubber Biscuit.” The hits keep coming; Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire” during Henry’s coke freak-out in Goodfellas (1990), “Give Me Shelter” in several films (ironically not Shine a Light (2008)) and The Clash’s “Jenny Jones” as Tom Sizemore and Nic Cage speed around Hells Kitchen in Bring Out the Dead (1999).  (Side note to Tamahori; also watch some Scorsese for an advanced class in how to use film speed manipulation to create mood and not as a gimmick. See also Pootie Tang (2001)) And hey, speaking of The Clash, exactly why the hell is “London Calling” in Die Another Day? First, some context; Bond has been exiled and is operating as a rouge agent. He is returning to London for the first time since being imprisoned in North Korea for 14 months. One shot Bond is in Cuba and the next we see an airborne 747. The plane whips onto the screen with a speed ramp and the opening cords of “London Calling” are heard. Cut to the plane interior, Bond orders a drink, (Note for geeks, the stewardess is played by Roger Moore’s daughter) takes a sip and the plane lands at Heathrow. Let’s get into why this idea fails on so many levels. First, the lyric “London calling” is too on the nose. The worse offender of this would be Zack Snyder’s miserable Watchman (2009). While we see two of the heroes flying across a windblown Martian landscape the line “two riders were approaching and the wind began to howl” from Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” is heard. In addition, can we all agree right here, right now, that “Hallelujah,” both the Leonard Cohen original and Jeff Buckley cover, while a wonderful song, be forever ban from film due to gross misuse and overuse? OK, moving on. See, when Alex kicks the shit out of a woman in A Clockwork Orange (1971) he doesn’t sing “Smack My Bitch Up.” (I know the Prodigy song wasn’t out when the film was released. Just roll with me, hey?) Why? Because he’s beating up a woman! We see that, we don’t need to be told in song. What Alex does tell us by belting out a few bars of “Sing in the Rain” is much more significant and offers a clear window into his dark, twisted soul. So yah, Bond’s flying back to London, no need for Joe Strummer and crew to spell it out for us, it cheapens the moment and the song. As we said before, the song must also expand our understanding of the character and here the use of The Clash is even further off the mark. James Bond feels that the only way to appreciate the Beatles is while wearing earplugs. 007 wouldn’t know The Clash if he was cracked upside the head with Paul Simonon’s bass. I know he’s English and The Clash are a seminal English band but so what? Annie Hall (1977) is one of the quintessential 1970’s New York City films but when Annie start messing around on Alvy we don’t cut to “Sheena is a Punk Rocker,” one of the quintessential 1970’s New York City songs. The only place where Joey Ramone would ever cross paths with Woody Allen would be at a kosher deli. The point is, I love The Clash and London Calling is on my top 25 records of all time list, but so is Blonde on Blonde and “Visions of Johanna” has no place in Bond film. A song should at the very least do no harm, but “London Calling” punches a hole in the Bond universe and leaves a vacuum much in the same way Gidea Park’s “California Girls” did in A View To A Kill (1985). I guess we should at least thank the gods we got the genuine article and not Rebel Truce.

Opening Titles: Well, I will say this, EON fires a shot across the audience’s bow from the get go. We are greeted by the familiar Bond stroll to center screen where he turns to face the audience and shoots. However, this time a digital bullet comes out of the gun and flies right at us. Progress marches on. Also for the first time, the opening action sequence bleeds over into the credits and pushes the plot forward. Large scorpions dance among several credit chicks that look like fire and ice demons from Mordor. All the while, shots of James Bond being tortured in a North Korean prison are inter-cut. Take a moment to digest that one because it’s a biggie. We’ve seen stuff like Bond strapped to a table while a laser close in on his mojo or James being punched in the gut and threatened with further violence if he didn’t talk. However, he is never truly hurt and it only lasts a few minutes. Before you know it, 007 has returned to his “cell,” typically a perfectly appointed five star room with a balcony overlooking a pool where Bond sips at a martini while planning his escape. Here, Bond is being water boarded and stung with scorpions in a gulag for what we learn is 14 months of pure hell. This is big, yet it registers zero impact. The connection to the violence is completely undercut by the fact that it’s presented as stylized flashes that are surrounded by an otherwise traditional Bond credit sequence. Indeed, it’s hard to feel what Bond is going thorough while watching naked dancing girls and listening to a pumping, headache inducing theme song. Actually, scratch everything I just said. This is brilliant tactic employed by the North Koreans. If I was tied down and forced to listen to Madonna’s “Die Another Day” stuck on repeat, I’d be spilling state secretes before dinner.

Opening Action Sequence: Can’t go wrong photographing the ocean at dawn. As the sea roars a barley visible black figure appear from behind a wall of wave, riding on a Hawaiian table. The shot is haunting, beautiful, and majestic. Then, a second surfer appears and then a third. The three ride the same tower of a wave (three riders were approaching and the wind began to howl) onto a heavily guarded beach. Much later in the film, as if deliberately trying to ruin a good thing, there is a scene where Bond is in an ice jet boat that’s dangling off the side of an iceberg which is being melted by a space laser. (Don’t worry about it, it just is.) Bond grabs a parachute and the engine cover off the ice boat. The engine cover becomes surfboard that he uses to ride down the sliding iceberg and then kite-surf the ensuing wave. The water looks faker then Mitt Romney talking about “cheesy grits” but never mind. It’s just such a clumsy and ugly execution all around that you cannot believe it exists in the same film as these true to life (shot in Hawaii) opening moments. This is just one small example of how this movie is a bunch of parts moving in every direction that never come together as one functioning whole. But back to the here and now as James Bond and his two bros are making like Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore and hanging ten into a hostile beach.

Kim Jong-il don’t surf!

Bond’s Hobie comes with some high-tech beacons which he uses to alert a helicopter to his location. The chopper lands and man dressed in the same beige field jacket as Bond emerges carrying a brief case. 007 knocks him out, steals his sunglasses, grabs his briefcase, and rides the helicopter to a North Korean base situated right on the DMZ. The briefcase, which Bond has rigged with some hidden C4 explosive, is full of conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone. The diamonds are being delivered to the corrupt Colonel Moon who uses a fleet of hovercraft to smuggle the contraband out of the country to God only knows where. His profits in turn are used to buy sports cars, which he proudly displays on the base. While not the sharpest trafficker in history the Colonel still manages to unmask Bond when a photo of the spy, secretly taken by one of Moon’s men, is electronically sent off to some intelligence folks who report back that 007 is MI6. Yes, Bond was busted by an iPhone. “You will not live to see the day when the world is ruled by the north Mr. Bond.” “Neither will you” and were off. The Colonel blows up Bond’s chopper and Bond blows up the diamonds and Moon’s cars and both end-up behind the wheel of two hovercrafts. (Is behind the wheel proper for hovercraft?) As even more hovercrafts give chase Bond and the baddie slide out onto the minefield, which conveniently has dirt roads running parallel to each other. This is good for when you want to hover side-by-side with someone while shooting at them. Mines blow up and so do the other hovercraft in a chase that is keep interesting because of the way the hovercraft slide and … hover. However we only get to see this in quick, short bursts as the editing will not allow us to focus on any one thing. Eventually Bond and the baddie end up on the same craft, which goes flying off a cliff into a river. Bond jumped off just in time to save himself from the fall but not half the North Korean Army who shows up under the command of General Moon, indeed the father of the dead Colonel Moon at the bottom of the river. The poor General is a little conflicted at the moment. Firstly his pissed at his kid for betraying his country and using the Army for his own personal gain, but he’s none to pleased with Bond for killing his boy. Above all, the guy is just perplexed. “Fifty years after the superpowers carved Korea in two and then you arrive. A British spy, an assassin …” In order to find out why Bond was in country, the General spends the 3 minute 30 second credit roll dunking 007’s head in water and stinging him with scorpions.

Bond’s Mission: So it turns out Bond was tortured for a little longer then the opening credits, more like 14 months if we are to believe the on screen text and length of Bond’s unkempt facial hair. Indeed seeing the always dapper gentleman spy looking like Robinson Crusoe (a role Brosnan played in a 1997 movie) should be more shocking then it is, but credit to Brosnan for trying to pull as much gravity from the situation as he can. When Bond is yanked from his cell and stands before a firing squad, Brosnan plays the scene with a perfect mix of defiance and fear in facing his death. However, the firing squad retreats at the last second and a disembodied voice tells 007 to cross a bridge that extends into a foggy void. Turns out, Bond is being exchanged for another prisoner named Zao who also happens to be the cat who opened the diamond briefcase with the explosives in it. As a result, Zao’s face is now bedazzled with a dozen or so diamonds. Why he didn’t adopt Diamond Head, no one’s favorite 80’s metal band, for his moniker is a mystery. Bond is being exchanged, against his wishes, because the United States had one of their deep cover men in Korea exposed, and they think Bond spilled the beans. The U.S. is willing to give up Zao, who killed four Chinese agents, to get Bond out so he will stop talking. We all know Bond would never talk and so should M but she has her doubts. Bond has his 00 revoked and although it’s never stated, I assume he was going to be handed over to the U.S. This is all very dense on exposition yet thinner then the 2012 NY Mets line up. Forget that Bond’s stunt in the DMZ would have caused a war, forget that the prison exchange makes zero sense and forget that Bond escapes the cell M is holding him in by stopping his heart. What, I didn’t mention that last past? Whelp, yah, that’s what he does. What makes this whole Bond being tortured for 14 months and disavowed by MI6 thing so silly is it has absolutely no lasting repercussions. Bond suffers no metal scars from his ordeal. Besides the stopping his heart trick, he learns nothing from his 14 months of hell and loss of the only livelihood he has ever known. Look I get that this is Bond, but after all he’s been through can he really so cavalierly go back to one-liners and banging babes? The answer according to Die Another Day is hell and yes. It is only through the flimsiest of plot devices that the first 20 minutes of the film have any bearing on the rest. So Bond escapes and goes rogue, hoping to learn who set him up to look like an informant. Bond going rouge seems like a no brainer but just like in Licence To Kill (1987) the great premise is fumbled, bungled and all together botched. The plot quickly becomes a quagmire that bends over backwards in attempts to string together a tale of revenge and betrayal, themes that are never able to cut through story points involving diamond smuggling, space weapons, billionaire playboys and plastic surgery. If a cynical person were to take a step back from the film, they may conclude this movie has no ideas of it’s own but functions as a highlight reel referencing memorable moments from previous films via inside jokes. Take the part where Bond is in his Cuban contacts office and he picks up a bird watching book. Savvy fans know Ian Fleming enjoyed bird watching from his Jamaican estate and he nicked the name James Bond from an author of an ornithology book. The joke is continued further when on the beach, Bond, James Bond introduce himself to the Bond girl as an English man on holiday, in town to observe the birds. See, bird is a British term for woman and Bond is poising as an ornithologist so this is funny. The Bond girl, by the by, emerges from the sea in a bikini with a white knife belt on her hips a la Ursula Andress in Dr. No. Another character makes his entrance into the film skydiving over Buckingham Palace with a Union Jack parachute recalling not only The Spy Who Loves Me (1977) open but also the jet pack fly-over of the villa in Thunderball (1965). Gone is the BMW replace by an Aston Martin and Q’s work shop it littered with everything from the fore mention jet pack to the knife shoe and briefcase seen in From Russia With Love (1963) to the hang-glider from Moonraker (1979) to the mini-jet from Octopussy (1983) and many, many more. In case we missed all of that, when Q gives Bond his watch he comments, “It’s your 20th I believe.” Perhaps with his lack of establishing shots and slash and burning cutting Tamahori was fondly recalling Spootswood’s Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) in which case good on yah … I guess.

Villain’s Name: Col. Moon or Gustav Graves. Yes, the British playboy diamond miner and the dead guy in the cliff diving hovercraft crash are one in the same. Turns out that after the fall the younger Moon not only lived to, shall we say die another day, but went on to live the most incredible 14 months in human history. I say that with full knowledge of Bob Dylan’s 1965-1966, a period of time during which The Bard wrote, recorded, and released three masterpieces (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde), plugged in and got booed at the Newport Folk Festival, toured Europe twice, was accused of being Judas and changed the face of rock & roll. While Bond was cooling his heels in a Korean prison Col. Moon (deep breath) faked his death, escaped the DMZ, made his way to Cuba, got a DNA transplant that turned the 5’ 9” Korean into a 5’ 11” member of the Shakespearian Acting Company, opened a fake diamond mine in Iceland, convinced his entire diamond smuggling ring to now go thought Iceland, joined the Blades fencing club, corrupted an MI6 agent, fixed the Sydney Olympics, built a greenhouse on a frozen lake, built a diamond infused sun reflector, launched said sun reflector into space and got it working perfectly, and gained the trust of the crown to the point where when we meet Gustav Graves he parachuting into Buckingham Palace to be knighted by The Queen. Ummm, hummm. What you got to say now Zimmerman? Moon’s 14 months “after” his death makes your ‘65-‘66 look like Axle Roses’ 1993 – 2008. Zao, he of the diamond face who was the prisoner exchanged for Bond, also goes AWOL from the Korean army and joins his now Anglo pal Moon in his bid to melt the world, not to stop the world and melt with you. Don’t confuse the two.

Villain Actor: Toby Stephens. This English actor would be right at home in “Downton Abby.” A capital “A” Ac-Tor, he based his Bond villain nakedly on Virgin mega-mogul Richard Branson. The Branson bit works fine but the character in the context of the film is quite silly. Stephens gets this and embraces the camp by going very wide. He also displays very impressive swordsmanship in his best scene in the film. But despite his perfect diction, Stephen’s not a miracle worker and try as he might, the character is just not well written.

Villain’s Plot: Graves uses his “from nothing to everything in no time at all” story to endear himself to the elite of the UK while behind the scenes he’s dealing in conflict diamonds and building a dooms day machine called “Icarus.” Students of mythology will recognize Icarus as a flying man who in his arrogance flew to close to the sun and burnt his wings. Why one would name his project to take over the world after someone who literally crashed and burned is not clear but we have much bigger fish to fry. Look, there’s no way around it, this villain simply doesn’t work. His journey from a corrupt Korean Colonel with daddy issues to a knight of the realm who speaks like Sir Lawrence Olivier is simply a bridge to far. The problem isn’t so much the absurd fiction of the thing; past villains have lived under the sea and in doormat volcanoes, the issue is the characters narrative arc has zero connective tissue. These two men, Moon and Graves, exist in two separate films. The Kananga / Mr. Big baddie from Live and Let Die (1973) was not perfect, but you could see this was the same man living two lives, both of which contributed to the same goal. He was essentially playing the supplier (Kananga) and distributor (Mr. Big) for the same company (Coke is Us.) In this movie, the diamonds are meant to be the connective tissue, but how? Graves set up his ring very quickly, do his partners know he is Moon or did they just trust this out of the blue Brit? Moon was clearly in the diamond biz to sell at a profit (hence the cars) where as Graves needs the diamonds to build Icarus. Was Icarus somehow in the cards all along? If so, how would he launch the satellite as Moon when North Korea has no space program? And what would Moon want with Icarus in the first place? Was his plan to sell it to the North Korean government? Possible, but then as Graves he kills his father, shooting the general in the head while we watch in slow mo. Was he planning on going rogue with the space weapon all along? Then why be so public about its launch, something he never could have done as Moon? This whole thing doesn’t pass the smell test. There is just no way both these men are the same person with the same goals unless, maybe Moon was going to become Graves the entire time and Bond just gave him a good way to disappear. But even that doesn’t work because Graves tells Bond he modeled this playboy character after the British spy, who he never meet till the day he was chased of the waterfall. Indeed, Die Another Day references nearly every past Bonds film in one way or another but Diamonds Are Forever (1971) casts the largest shadow. In fact, a solid argument could be made that Bond 20 is a remake of Sir Sean’s swan song. In the 1971 film Blofeld makes several clones of himself that result in false deaths and mistaken identities. Blofeld also kills off his former self to take on the identity of a seemingly legit businessman, casino mogul Willard Whyte. The legit business in turn is a front to smuggle diamonds which Blofeld uses to build a star wars death ray. In fact, all that’s missing from Die Another Day is a pair of deadly gymnasts (Bambi and Thumper) and a pair of homosexual hit men (Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint) and the two movies are nearly identical in terms of not only story but also, sadly, quality.

Villain’s Lair: I’m not sure Graves holds the deed but he has strong ties to a hospital off the coast of Cuba on the Isla Los Organos or the Island of the Bodies. Bond uses a pretty clever scheme involving a guard and wheelchair to work his way onto the island and discovers the hospital is a front for a gene replacement clinic. To hammer this point home the hospital is decorated with DNA helixes on rotating mirror poles. Graves also has one of these gene facelift doohickeys at his “mine” in Iceland. Built on a frozen lake, the mine is really a glass-doomed greenhouse that is full of planets, which apparently don’t require soil. Also built on this frozen lake is a huge ice hotel that looks like the Sydney Opera House with a gigantic octopus growing out of it. Everything in the hotel is carved from ice, which is very cool. (Thank you, thank you. Don’t forget to tip your bar tender.)

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Zao’s diamond face is rather creepy and is actually quite a good idea. The issue is the Zao character is little more then an earned boy for Graves. Zao is a hell of driver but mostly he just kind of walks around shouting orders as his face sparkles under the klieg lights. Besides being an Asian man trapped in a British body, Graves also never sleeps. Somewhat counter intuitively this leads to him having boundless energy. It’s later implied that his gene therapy robs him of sleep but this is never adequately explained.

Badassness of Villain: As Moon, the baddie is quite badass. We are introduced to him as he is practicing kickboxing on what appears to be a heavy punching bag. We quickly learn he is in fact beating on his anger management therapist in a sack. Speaking of sack, it takes a sold set of stones to be smuggling diamonds in and out of the DMZ right under both North and South Korea, not to mention NATO’s, noises. But once Moon becomes Graves he is no longer as much of a badass as he is a pampered punk. Indeed, wanting to melt the world is badass but we have zero sense of motivation. He might simply be bored as opposed to bad. And in the end when he shoots his father he comes off more like a pouting teen then a maniacal madman.

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Besides Zao, who has been well covered, there is Graves’ personal assistant Miranda Frost. One of the rules in Roger Ebert’s Movie Glossary is The Law of Economy of Characters. It states in part, “Movie budgets make it impossible for any film to contain unnecessary characters. Therefore, any apparently unnecessary or extraneous major character is undoubtedly the villain.” Blog, James Blog has praised past Bond films for their villain switch-a-roo’s; two Brosnan pictures in particular, GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough (1999), pulled off the misdirection so well that when we learned the truth it was an exhilarating surprise. Here, it matters not one bit that Moon and Graves are the same person so the revile means little. But there is another two-face in Bond’s world and much of the film is given to 007’s quest to learn who set him up. We meet Mrs. Frost at the Blades Fencing club where Madonna introduces her as an Olympic gold wining fencer. When Bond asks “didn’t she win by default?” the not at all currently doing HGH Madonna tells Bond Frost’s opponent “ODed on steroids.” A. No one has ever ODed on steroids and B. I’m not sure what steroids would do to give one an upper hand in the sport of fencing but here we are. Frost next turns up sitting across the desk from M, who brings up the fact that as an MI6 agent, Mrs. Frost has turned up zero illegal active on Graves despite being so deep in cover she has become his right hand woman. “As far as I can tell he’s clean.” Next, Frost hops into bed with James for the least sexy encounter in a Bond film to date (more on that to come) until she finally ends up pulling a gun on Bond while he and Graves stand in a greenhouse office. Please allow good old Gustav explain, “Her weakness is also mine, winning at any cost. So when I arranged for that overdoes of the true victor in Sydney I won myself my very own MI6 agent.” And there you have it. This character is so under written and shoehorned into the plot that an ill gained fencing title is all it took to turn a highly trained MI6 agent against king and country. We are not talking about a 10 in the floor exercise here people. The scene is made all the more silly since Frost is exposed as the third wheel on the baddie bicycle. We get a wide shot of Bond facing Graves, Zao and Frost, the three over dressed villains standing around like hanger on’s waiting for a table during fashion week. And to top it all off, when we get to the climax, Bond doesn’t even get to exact his revenge against she who betrayed him. No, Frost is done in by the Bond girl who kills the Olympic fencing gold medalist during … a sword fight! There is one other henchman of note and even though he gets little screen time he was my favorite. Vlad, a blond with a Dutch Boy bowl cut, is Graves’ answer to Q. He builds and maintains all of Graves little toys, like ice jet cars and the world melting Icarus. He even designed Zao his very own James Bond car with all the usual refinements. This idea is only touched on but it got me to thinking, an evil Q who somehow had counter-measures to Bonds gadgets would be a very cool character. Someone at EON should get on that.

Bond Girl Actress: Halle Berry. For the second film in a row the Bond girl is a Hollywood star (Dennis Richards in The World Is Not Enough) and once again it doesn’t work. First off, I know many people absolutely love Mrs. Berry but I must confess I am not among them. I have not seen Monster’s Ball (2001), the film which won Berry the actress Oscar, an award she left the Iceland set of Bond to collect, but I’ve seen her in many other movies and I find her to be rather dull. The first time I remember taking notice of her was as Vivian in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991). She was good as Gator’s crack-head partner but Samuel Jackson was transcendent, so much so that Cannes invented an award for his performance. Other then that nothing really jumps out. Her Storm in X-Men gets buried by the other team members which is nuts. During the period I read the X-men, mid to late 80’s, Storm was robbed of her powers and continued to lead the X-men while sporting a kick ass Mohawk to boot. Berry clearly needs a new agent after staring in bomb (Swordfish (2001)) after bomb (Gothika (2003)) after bomb (Catwoman (2004)). What has always been great about the Bond babes is their exotic, unknown qualities and nothing is exotic about A-listers who have every bit of their person life out in the open, especially if they gossip page favorites like Halle Berry or Dennis Richards. All that said, I think even Berry’s biggest fans would have to admit she not good in this movie. Her line reading is flat and lifeless one second, too flirty and over the top the next. But to be fair, Berry also had to deal with scenes like the one where she’s tied to a table, which is attached to a robot arm that goes berserk and is waving her around while several out of control lasers cut back and forth barley avoiding her. “Hurry up James or I’m going to be half the woman I used to be.” Not even Meryl Streep could make that work.

This is who Bond should team up with next

Bond Girl’s Name: Jinx Johnson. When Honey Rider emerged from the sea she was moving in real time, singing to herself, and startled to learn she was not alone. When Jinx pulls of a similar move 40 years later she does so in slow motion, with orchestral stings swelling, while over a dozen patrons in a Cuban beach bar watch. Exhibits A thru Z when defining less is more. Rider’s entrance was an innocent moment full of surprise and intrigue, Jinx’s is a voyeuristic display of a “girls of spring break” DVD. As for Bond, he didn’t find it at all odd that an American would be hanging out in Cuba and offers the lovely lady a Mojito. Turns out Jinx is a NSA Agent after the same prize as Bond, so the two keep bumping into each other until they decide to team up. To her credit, Jinx does kick some ass. In fact, she kills close to as many people as Bond this film including Miranda Frost. For the climax of the film, all the principles end up on a huge cargo plane that’s flying over the DMZ. From the plane, Graves is controlling the Icarus laser which is cutting a path of destruction across the DMZ and heading for an allied base. Bond shoots a hole in the plane through which everyone is sucked except Bond, Graves, Jinx and Frost. We then cut back and forth from Bond and Graves duking it out in the cockpit to Jinx and Frost crossing swords in the cargo hold. While all of this is going on, the pilotless plane flies through the Icarus sunbeam laser and starts to plummet earthward while melting/ falling apart. Still with us? OK, Frost is already sporting a Brandi Chastain sports bra so naturally Jinx removes her shirt as well. While the plane is plummeting, these ladies display impeccable footwork, parrying and thrusting amongst the flying sheets of metal. Finally, the film goes into some kind of blurry slow motion as the gold medal winner bellows “I can read your every move.” Jinx responds by grabbing a knife that’s stuck in a book and screaming “Read this Bitch!” while stabbing Frost in her ice cold heart. Ripley’s “get away from her you bitch” this is not. This entire scene was such an assault on the brain it hurts just recounting it. I can’t even bring myself to describe how Bond and Jinx escape from the crashing plane.

Bond Girl Sluttiness: Sex has always been strangely chased and rarely exotic in Bond films but here it’s outright bizarre. Tamahori has shown that little things like establishing shots and character development don’t interest him and nowhere is that more on display then the sex scenes. One of the jokes of the Bond films is how quickly women jump into bed with him and I fully support this, but to get to the punch line there must be a joke. The doctor said “Then don’t do that” is not funny unless you know the guy first said “Hey doc, it hurts when I lift my arm like this.” After telling Bond she is a Jinx “Born on Friday the 13th” Bond spends 45 second making bad bird puns and the two are in bed. It’s worth noting the strange jump cuts and the odd fadeout on the wine glasses. The barley sexual encounter looks like a second rate outtake from the Top Gun (1986) sex scene and is as exciting as sitting in traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel. It all feels as if Tamahori has no interest in this mushy stuff and is simply putting it in the film because he’s expect to. He’d rather get it over with as quickly as possible so he can get back to playing with the fast cars and big exploitations. For instance, when Bond is invited to Iceland by Graves, he turns to Mrs. Frost and asks…

Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Can I expect the pleasure of you in Iceland?”

Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “I’m afraid you will never have that pleasure.”

Number of Woman 007 Beds: But of course he does. The scene happens in the ice palace on a swan bed. The two enter the room talking MI6 business. They both disrobe in such a business like manner I truly thought they were quickly changing out of their evening wear to put on some black night raid gear and out the door they would go. But Frost, unprovoked, just kind of jumps into bed for the least sexy sex scene I can think of that’s not in a comedy or horror film. It’s literally just checking off the boxes. “OK Bond banged both ladies in the film, cut it, print it. Next set up please, let’s go people, time is money!”

Number of People 007 Kills: With all the bullets and minefields and plane crashes and ice racing and space laser shooting you would think more folks would have been killed but no, just a relatively tame 14 by Bond’s hand. (Jinx takes care of at least 6, which has to be an all-time high for a Bond girl.) Things start off in the minefield with a, ahem, bang. The hovercraft chase is actually cooler then I thought it would be. It has a lot to do with how the vehicles move kind of loosely unstable as they slide over literal landmines just below them. And when they do blow up, boy howdy. They flip and somersault and get caught up in trees and all kinds of stuff. Bond takes out at least 4 baddies before sending Moon over the falls to his “death.” Or did he? Much later in Iceland Bond runs over two snowmobile dudes. Dear old diamond faced Zao adds some bling to his grill when he ends up with a crystal chandler through his skull. However, given the record number of comebacks in this film, it is hard to be 100% sure that he was truly done in.

Zao may return in Bond 21 looking like this guy

Shades of Dr. No, a helpful computer voice announces the plane is loosing cabin pressure after Bond shoots a hole in the fuselage. Apparently the four men, including Korean generals and Vlad, getting suck out into the wild blue yonder wasn’t sufficient evidence. While Jinx and Frost cross blades below, Bond goes hand to hand with Graves in the wind tunnel of a busted up cockpit. Graves, who is wearing some kind of Ironman armor that controls Icarus, gets the best of Bond and is about to parachute to safety, but not before he makes the fatal mistake of hanging around to taunt his adversary. “Time to face destiny.” “Time to face gravity,” Bond retorts which is not entirely correct, it’s more like time to face suction. None the less, with the sharp quip and a quick wrist Bond pulls Graves’ ripcord sending the baddie and his open parachute out of the hole and into the jet engine. Since we first meet Graves sky diving over Buckingham Palace, I was reminded of the old saying, live by the parachute, die by the parachute.

Most Outrageous Death/s: I was going to go with the old laser-pierces-back-of-dreadlocked-head-and-comes-out-of-dudes-open-mouth death but upon my second viewing I reconsidered. By the way, in regards to dreadlock dude’s death, this happens in the same scene with the galloping bench upon which Jinx is secured. If anyone, anywhere, can tell me what was happening in the scene; IE where people were and what was doing what, then I will personally pay for your doctorate at the University of your choosing because you clearly understand spatial relations better then anyone else on this planet. (Ed Note: Offer not valid on this planet) Anyway, the most outrageous death in the film is James Bonds. After getting out of the Korean prison he is being held in an English prison. This is a very big upgrade, instead of receiving beatings 007 is now receiving medical treatment, but a golden cage is a cage none-the-less. Naturally, Bond wants out. While lying in bed and hooked up to a heart monitor we see Bond flashback to the Korean prison. It a foggy single image of prisoner Bond sitting cross-legged on the floor. This three second shot has a lot of heavy lifting to do. The grainy image is meant to tell the audience that while Bond was being held as a POW he learned to meditate to the point where he could stop his heart. This is the film that felt the need to underline the fact that Bond is flying to London with a music cue that says London calling. This is a movie where Jinx, suffering from hypothermia, is dunked in what was long ago established to be a hot spring as Bond mummers “Come on, come on, it’s warm in here. This is warm you up.” (I can only assume he is saying this for our benefit since Jinx is unconscious.) This movie doesn’t trust us to get the most obvious points yet we are to discern Bond can stop and start his heart at will with a three second flashback? OK, so Bond stops his heart, which makes the machine that goes ping go flat-line and nurses come rushing in. Bond then makes like Nikki Sixx and kick starts his heart, going from 0 to 60 BPM in 2.3 seconds. He then jumps up, subdues two doctors, escapes the prison, runs to a river, and swims to freedom. I know some yoga masters can bring their heart rates down to a near stop, but I don’t think they do a triathlon immediately afterward. By the by, Zao, like Bond, it seems can also jump up from 100% unconscious sleep on a hospital bed and in immediately engage in the highest level of hand to hand combat.

Miss. Moneypenny:  GAAHHHHKKK!!!! What the hell is it with these later Bond’s and Moneypenny? She has not had a decent thing to do since the late 1970’s. This is a strong, intriguing character that can give you a ton of storytelling points and in the past few films she’s been reduced to a bad punch line. That said, she has never had to suffer the indignities Tamahori puts dear Miss. Moneypenny though in this film. This is a new low. At one point Bond is sitting at his desk at MI6 (He has a desk? He has an office? This has never come up before…) when he hears a noise. He runs into the hall, draws his PPK, and starts taking out intruders dressed like cat burglars right out of the Batman TV series. As he moves from room to room we get a quick pan of Moneypenny, slouched in her chair at her desk, bleeding from the face, dead. Moneypenny is dead?!?!?! But no no no dear viewer, EON has tricked you. See, Q has a new virtual reality toy and Bond, sporting Men In Black style sunglasses, is simply going through a training exercise. This is a cheat, and a cheep one, but it’s also a set up. After the mission has ended and Bond has saved the world, he is presumed killed in a fiery plane crash. Moneypenny, writing 007’s obit, looks up to see him standing in her office doorway. She gets up, walks over to him, and the two embrace, kissing passionately. Bond then pushing everything on Moneypenny’s desk to the floor and the two start going at it in her office. They are then interrupted by Q’s voice and cut to Moneypenny with the virtual reality glasses on, laying on her back and rolling around while wearing a skirt in the middle of Q’s lab, moaning “OH James.” First off, this is 100% inconsistent with the Moneypenny character in both her feelings for James and her workplace conduct. It’s played as a joke but what is the joke? That Moneypenny was caught masturbating by a co-worker? Could this be any tackier? Why yes it could, we cut to a cabin exterior where we hear Jinx asking James to “Just keep it in a little bit longer.” “Well it has to come out sometime…” Yes, they are in bed but the conversation is about a diamond resting in Jinx’s navel. If this film has shown us anything, it’s that Tamahori has stranger ideas about human sexuality then Rick Santorum.  As for Moneypenny I wish she’d been shot, she would have never suffered through this cheap, undignified, and totally unnecessary shaming.

M: A real life moment here if I may. I adore Judy Dench as M. Like Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard, she brings a seriousness and dignity to a part that most other actors would view as slumming. That’s what makes both Picard and Dench’s M so endearing, they are sold as a rock and dependable every time, even when delivering subpar techno-babble dialog. So I was heartbroken when a few weeks ago I learned Judy Dench is going blind, to the point where she needs others to read her scripts to her. No doubt, this puts her future as M in jeopardy but on a more important note, Blog, James Blog wishes her the best of luck with her health in all respects. As for M in this film, she is backed into a position of playing the heavy; cutting Bond off and then pulling him back in when needed. M doesn’t sugarcoat it and explains her impossible position in such a frank manner that even if Bond doesn’t agree, he needs to respect her actions. She even gets a good jab in at Mr. Blonde near the end. Sold as a rock.

Q: John Cleese, no longer R, is now Q. Continuity between films, always a dice and fluid thing in the Bond universe, is quite odd here. Cleese’s character was introduced by his predecessor in the previous movie, so we know he is not Major Boothroyd. However, it is 100% understandable that he would become Q, the position at MI6, much like Dench became M even though she is not Sir Miles Messervy. All that said, Cleese is not the bumbling absent-minded professor of the last film but a sharped tongued Bond agitator in the exact same vain as Llewelyn’s Q. He has not the history with Bond nor the seniority to get away with such behavior but there you have it. And now that all said, Cleese can’t help but be funny. As an exasperated man trapped in a lab while Bond has all the fun with his inventions, the Monty Python vet is pitch perfect. Weather he’s calling Bond “double o zero” or telling Bond “I wish I could make you vanish” Cleese’s timing is perfect and he is a pure delight.

List of Gadgets: I dunno, perhaps I’m having an overly negative reaction to this movie but even the gadgets seem just kind of shoehorned in to serve a function but without the mystery or joy. I like the idea of hiding stuff in the surfboard, but really what do was have here? A pair of wire clippers and a radio? The binoculars Bond has on Cuba are more usefully as they serve two purposes, he can spy on the island and the “birds” at the same time. Bond dose get a neat ring which transmits a frequency that can shatter bulletproof glass. Then there are the switchblades. Let us break down the switchblade bit as just one self contained example of why the film on a wider level is a Frankenstein of poorly put together, incompatible parts that never comes to life. The battle of Hoth, I mean Iceland, is done. Bond rescues Jinx by jumping into the hot spring. When revived, Jinx asks “What took you so long?” This exact line, delivered by Bruce Willis when he saves Julia Roberts from a gas chamber at the last second, was held up in The Player (1991) as representing everything that is wrong with Hollywood movies. And here it is, 11 years later. The writers should be ashamed. Anyhow, try to keep up because here we go. We cut from hot springs of Iceland to a base in South Korea where Bond’s boss M tells Bond he needs to stop the “Icarus,” currently raining fire on the DMZ. It’s being controlled by Graves who is at a base in the north. Jinx’s boss Damian Falco tells her to tag along. Cut to the cargo bay of a plane where Bond and Jinx get on one-man glider things called switchblades and jump out of the plane. Cut to a shot of them flying. Cut to a shot of them looking through a chain link fence that would be better suited for a tennis court then protecting a military instillation. In .03 seconds they pick out Graves and see him boarding a plane. “We’ve got to get on that plane.” They start to cut the fence. Cut to them running down the runway of a North Korean airbase, catching up to the taxiing plane, and jumping in the wheel well. Cut to them in the cockpit about to take out the pilot. This all takes up about a minute of real estate. Why bother? It’s so clear the story matters not a hoot, it just about slamming us into the next action set piece. I can see the production meetings now. “Too much talking in this part, we might loose the audience. Cut it down to half a page.” Hitchcock once famously broke it down like this; four guys are sitting at a table playing cards. If the bomb under the table goes off, that’s action.  But if the card players don’t know about the bomb under the table and the audience does, that’s suspense. Die Another Day takes the four guys and the table, throws the whole lot out of a 60 story building, and while the guys are falling they get attacked by rabid hawks with laser eyes.  It’s not action, its not suspense, it’s a Red Bull induced fever dream determined to keep you so off balance you won’t realize nothing makes sense. So much of this movie plays like a hacks shortcut to film making, and it just plain stinks.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Nope, everything comes back in tip-top shape. Including the car that has been flipped upside down, skidded on ice upside down, been driven through a melting ice castle, smashed throw the melting ice castle walls and shot at by more projectiles then one gets bombarded with during the average Call of Duty session. To be fair, the windshield was broken but Bond did that to save Jinx and no, other then that, not a scratch.

Other Property Destroyed: For as much destruction as there is in the film; melting of major glaciers, annihilation of the entire North/South Korean boarder, the melting of a huge hotel, the downing of an enormous cargo plane, Bond himself was responsible for little damage. Before the credits 007 blew up Moon’s Jay Leno car collection and took out a few of his hovercraft and some jeeps. Indeed this incident alone would cause a war but please move along, nothing to see here. He blows several holes in the walls of the Cuban DNA hospital and in the side of a plane. However, it’s Jinx who sends the aircraft into the sunbeam from hell. This leave the fencing club which, as a dreadlocked attendant pointed out, “needed some redecoration anyway.”

Best One Liners/Quips: Bond: You know, you’re cleverer then you look. Q: Still, better then looking cleverer then you are.

Felix Leiter: The CIA man has been replace by the head of the NSA, one agent Damian Falco. We first see Falco, played by Michael Madsen of Mr. Blonde and Free Willy (1993) fame, standing on the boarder during Bond’s release from North Korean custody. “Look at him. You would think he was some kind of hero” Madsen moans, to which I reply “you got arrested for beating the shit out of your kid dude, so lets not throw stones hey.” I much preferred two other characters that functioned as Bond contacts, Mr. Chang and Raoul. Mr. Chang is awesome from the moment he comes on screen acting as a concierge at the Hong Kong Yacht Club. While the man behind the desk of the swanky establishment is turned off by Bond post prison Soundgarden roadie appearance, Mr. Chang recognizes 007 immediately and sets him up in the presidential suite with a bottle of Bollinger and a masseuse named Peaceful Fountains of Desire. The tone here is correct. The film takes an outrageous moment and makes it plausible because it’s done with everyone involved knowing it’s meant to be a lark. Moments later, 007 breaks the mirror in his room to reveal Mr. Chang and three other men spying on him. “You didn’t think I knew you were Chinese secrete service all along Chang.” To which Bond ads “Put your hands down.” Again, in this moment, everything is in the Bond universe we have come to know and love; Bond turning the tables, defusing the situation, and moments later is getting the info he needs, that Zao is in Cuba. It’s all handled with wit and charm, two elements that are rare in the film and completely absent by the time we arrive in Iceland. Bond’s man in Havana is Raoul, a Cuban out of central casting. We meet him drinking coffee and smoke a cigar while working in his open air roof top office that sits above a sweat shop. Then he speaks. Raoul deliciously rolls the cigar smoke around his cheeks as he purrs every line in a low, seductive, monotone. He sums-up his feelings about his communist county by observing “our heath system is second to none.” I wanted to spend the rest of the film with Raoul, watching as he and Bond jumped into a 1957 Chevy and went on a rum soaked adventure across the island. Someone at EON should get on that, along with the evil Q thing.

Bond Cars: While in Cuba, Raoul hooks Bond up with a convertible 1950’s shark-fin Chevy rolling on whitewalls down beach side highways. It’s by far the coolest car in a film that’s silly with high-end automobiles. MI6 also supplies Bond with a V12 that “Aston Martin calls the Vanquish” but Q “calls it the vanish.” Q goes on to explain that the car is made invisible with “adaptive camouflage.  Tiny cameras on all sides project the image they see onto a light emitting polymer on the other side” so “to the casual eye it’s as good as invisible.” It’s also got “all the usual refinements; Ejector seat, torpedoes, target seeking shotguns.” IE The works.  Zao also gets his very own James Bond car with the all the usual refinements on a green Jaguar XKR. I know these neon compact cars are all the rage as demonstrated in the Fast and the Furious films (Rick Yune, who plays Zao, is one of the series stars) but to me they lack the weight and substance of older autos and look like candy colored toys. At the risk of sounding overly negative I feel the need to once again pick apart an action sequence, this time the car battle on between Zao and Bond on the frozen lake. First off, Bond was already chased out on to the frozen lake by the Icarus sunbeam, a sunbeam that melted the lake we are about to go out onto again. But forget that for now. What we have is Bond running away from the ice hotel, returning (on snowmobile) and then running away again, and then return again. We get two chases in a row that narratively and literally go absolutely nowhere. On the DVD extra, much is made of the ice chase, as crew member after crew member, including director Lee Tamahori pat themselves on the back for this “car chase on ice. Something that has never been done before.” Since this is a film that is meant to pay homage to all past Bond movies I would have thought that Tamahori and crew would have done their research but apparently like the rest of the world they overlooked George Lazenby wonderful film. But even if there wasn’t already an ice car chase in On Her Majesties Secrete Service (1969) just because something has never been done doesn’t mean it should be done. I hold up Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011) as exhibit A. (That said, the first Centipede has it’s merits and is worthy of discussion.)

Bonds new car in airplane form

Anyway, the cars slide and swoosh this way and that as the camera does the same and film speeds change on a whim. Scenes like this boggle the mind from a film making standpoint. If I was a director, and I spent three weeks and god knows how much money shooting an elaborate case like this, I would want the audience to, you know, see it. We never see a shot for more then 2 seconds as it’s cut/cut/cut/cut and we have no idea what’s going on. The way this thing is put together EON could have saved a ton of time and money and just rented the rink in Madison Square Garden, stuck two cars on it, draped the stands with a green screen and it would have looked the same. By the time they are chasing each other inside the melting ice castle it truly doesn’t matter what’s going on, all semblance of film making has joined Elvis and left the building.

Bond Timepiece: His 20th as Q points out. It’s got a detonator for C4 and timer as well as a laser Bond used to cut a hole in the Icelandic ice to do some fishing. As for the watch itself, for the third film in a row Bond has his trusty Omega Seamaster Professional, the automatic variety.

Other Notable Bond Accessories: Once again, 007 uses glasses in the open to become another man. In fact, Bond sports several different kinds of sunglasses in the film leading me to suspect either the folks at EON think Pierce looks good in dark spectacles or they have a contract with LensCrafters. Bond is finally smoking again and how could he not; after all when in Cuba … Speaking of Brosnan’s good looks and Cuba, our hero looks simply smashing in his Havana shirt. For a guy who is always dressed up it was a delight to see him in comfy and looser island attire. Again, we should have had Bond & Raoul: Havana Nights.

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: When comes to booze I have zero issues with the 20th Bond. They even get a sly joke in at the top that involves the British doctors checking out Bond’s health after his 14 months of being held captive. “Liver not to good. It’s defiantly him.” While cleaning up at the Hong Kong Yacht Club, Bond enjoys his first post prison drink, a bottle of ’61 Bollinger. At a beach side bar in Cuba Bond has a Mojito. In the next scene while rolling around in bed with Jinx we see two champagne glasses on the dresser. 007 also has two martinis, both with a bad joke chaser. The first is served to him on a turbulent flight, bound for London if memory serves; making Jimmy B glad he ordered his drink shaken. The second Vesper Bond orders at a bar in the hotel made of frozen H2O. “Martini, plenty of ice if you can spare it.” We also see him with a drink in hand, some kind of whiskey I would wager, while sitting at his desk but since this turned out to be a “holodeck episode,” I don’t think it was real.

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: The late, great George Carlin had a bit where he declared that baseball, football, and basketball were the only three real sports. Everything else is an activity. He then goes on to list all the other activities we think of as sports and comes up with a reason to disqualify them as such. When he gets to fencing, he says it can’t possibly be a real sport because you can’t gamble on it. “When is the last time you placed a God damn fencing bet?” Bond being Bond, he proves there is nothing he won’t put money on, including fencing. Bond tracks down Graves at the Blades Fencing Club, named after a social club that appeared in the “Moonraker” novel. After some flirting with Madonna, the hero and the villain get down to business. It all starts out very friendly; $1000 a point, three points wins. As is the case every time Bond places a wager, the match takes place in the most gorgeous room imaginable; huge windows, wooden floors, impeccable furnishings and ceilings as high as the heavens. The two seem evenly match but Graves gets the first point. For the second bout, Graves comes at Bond in a much more aggressive manner when scoring his second point. “Two nil, do you wish to continue?” asks Graves. “Would you like to up the wager? Let’s play for this” Bond says presenting one of Graves’s diamonds. “I picked it up in Cuba.” We’ve seen Bond play this card many times in the past and every time it works. By putting something he has of the baddies on the line Bond accomplishes three things; he lets the bad guy know he’s on to him in no uncertain terms, he throws down the gauntlet to say “Hold on, I’m coming,” and he puts the baddie on tilt, big time. Bond drops his mask, game on. When the two go at each other this time, they are out for blood, literally. Bond swipes Graves between his glove and his sleeve, cutting his wrist. “Oh dear, you want to continue?” patronizes Bond. “Of course I want to bloody continue” an apocalyptic Graves shouts while grabbing two swords from a display on the wall. He tosses one to Bond, “We’ll do this the old fashion way, first to draw blood from the torso is the winner.” The two remove their protective shirts and go at. They move from room to room, smashing glass cases and slashing paintings, until they end up outside on a staircase, recalling Errol Flynn at his swashbuckling best. It all comes to an end when Bond strikes a cut across Grave’s belly, sending him flying into a fountain. At this point Frost breaks the two men up as Graves laughs it off, “Just having a bit a fun.” This is everything that makes Bond Bond. The build from fun to serious to deadly is perfectly paced (and look ma, no slow motion!) Brosnan and Stephens have the right amount of swagger and together they strike the perfect balance of humor and hubris. The villain, in a proud 007 tradition, underestimates Bond and then, once bested, laughs the whole thing off. Better still, the contest against Bond revolves around a privileged activity that takes place on the villains turf much like the pheasant hunt in Moonraker, or the tiger hunt in Octopussy, or equestrian steeplechase in A View To A Kill. This scene is by far the best in the film and is so steeped in the Bond tradition that it feels as if it were flown in from Thunderball (1965) or another classic. As for that bet, Graves makes good and hands Bond a check, the amount is not reviled.

List of Locations: The wonderful opening surfing was shot in Maui on Christmas day. The waves wait for no man dude. The Korean DMZ scenes were shot at a military training base in Aldershot, England. The part of Havana was played by Cadiz, Spain where terrible weather almost forced the crew to abandon the location.

The Ice Palace was modeled in part after the Ice Hotel Lapland Sweden

As I stated before, almost nothing works in the film once Bond touches down in Iceland and after learning the location of the shoot I know why. The crew spent three weeks shooting the car chase in Jokulsarlon, Iceland which also happened to the location for one of the all time worst images in Bond history, the iceberg boat in A View To A Kill. Indeed London called and Bond 20 answered with shots of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and an abandon underground station. The Blades Fencing Club was the Reform Club in London. Opened in 1841, the club became famous as Phileas Fogg’s starting/finishing point in Jules Verne 1872 classic, “Around the World in 80 Days.” Finally, Graves’ eco-diamond mine was based on England’s Eden Project, then the world’s largest greenhouse.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Bond makes like Brody in Point Break (1991) by night and para-surfs digital tsunamis by day. He may have piloted a hovercraft before but never one this big or through a minefield. Other vehicles include an invisible Aston Martin, a stolen snowmobile and a rocket iceboat that hits 325 mph.  He proves himself to be an expert swordsman and has now gained the ability to make like Lazarus and come back from the dead. All in a days work.

Final Thoughts: Die Another Day bends over backwards to remind us of the rich history of the James Bond character. The idea is the audience will see these moments and think back fondly on films we enjoyed over the past forty years. Fine, I’ll play. If we are meant to think of Ursula Andress entrance in Dr. No and the laser-meet-crotch of Goldfinger (1964) and the mini-jet of Octopussy, what are the signature moments we are to remember when recalling Bond 20? I’ll give you the foggy bridge during the hostage exchange was quite good and the sword battle is a true Bond moment but before I rewatched this film that’s not what I recalled. What really sticks out is an invisible car climbing a melting ice wall, an airplane melting away in thin air, and Bond surfing down a melting glacier while being chased by a sunbeam. (By the by, is it just me or doesn’t “Surfing down a melting glacier while being chased by a sunbeam” sound like the title of a long lost Donavan song?) We give Bond films quite a wide birth when it comes to suspension of disbelief but this film just goes to Crazy Town. No doubt the cast and crew had a ton of fun push everything to 11 but it’s simply not much fun audience. “Big” in and of it self is not bad, as we saw in say The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). However, the bigger the circus, the stronger the central pole holding up the tent must be or it will snap causing the entire thing to collapse. That central pole, no matter how nutty things are around it, must be based in reality. Back to the Spy Who Loved Me, the grounding force was the relationship between XXX & 007. What held the film together was watching these two professionals worked on a human level to overcome their difference, in this case political loyalties, for a shared goal … and having great sex while doing so! It’s a tale as old as the hills and it gave the audience something to relate to. Since we have a baseline understand who these characters are and what their motivations are the action sequence in turn mean something. The huge battle in the belly of a ship had purpose and weight because we are invested in the out come; we want to see these two people succeed. Without them, the battle becomes just a clip-reel of special effects, IE any Bruckheimer production.

A photo of Bond 20’s soul

Bond should be better then that, because we should care about him. Despite all his superhero qualities, he is still a person, an ideal of who we want to be. But not in Die Another Day. This is the Los Angeles of Bond films, there’s no there there. It has no identity as a movie and there is the paradox; in attempting to anchor itself in the rich forty-year history of Bond, EON has created perhaps the most ephemeral 007 picture to date. To put it another way, in trying to give the fans little bit of everything the movie ends up being a whole lot of nothing. I realize I get kind of hung up on theme, pacing, and structure when looking at these films, I mean it’s just James Bond right? Popcorn fun! The truth is, 20 films into this project, I have come to realize that these more “arty” and technical bits are the key component in separating the good from the bad from the ugly. As for this outing, there is zero connective tissue tying the “torture plot” to the “Graves framing Bond by using his very own MI6 agent plot” to the “melting the world with a sunbeam weapon plot.” These three things are totally separate stories speeding away from each other. All three are made all the more opaque by pointless action set piece after pointless action set piece. Think of how Harold Ramis and Bill Murray starting World War III with a Winnebago at the end of Stripes (1981) had zero to do with “I’m a lean, green, fighting, machine” and you get the idea of how separated all these ideas are. Like Madonna’s voice in “Die Another Day” everything in this film is artificial and forced. This isn’t a movie, it’s a collection of moments edited together, poorly. Brosana deserved a better send off. Bond is barely a character here. I really want tip my cap to Wilson and Broccoli for having the balls to torture their hero for 14 months but they botch the play terribly. Bond learns nothing from his ordeal and grows not a bit, keeping perfect pace with the film around him. Forgive me for pulling 9/11 back up on stage, but in the decision to turn a blind eye to the trauma of that event, it’s almost as if the film is afraid to look at what would happen to Bond after his ordeal. And if that is the case, then don’t torture Bond at all. We smell the dishonesty a mile away. The movie doesn’t need to reference 9/11 directly but the filmmakers need to understand that we as an audience were still very raw in 2002 and we knew something as traumatic as what happened to Bond changes a person. It must! But Bond keeps his head in the sand, destroying any sense that he is remotely human and by extension rendering the rest of the film bloodless and soulless. I am giving extra credit in the rating for the fencing scene, which was wonderful, but man-o-man I did not like this movie. Some people would argue that such a judgment is a matter of taste, which is correct; as in do you have good taste or bad. On the DVD extras Wilson talks about how Cubby told him to protect Bond at all costs. Whelp, you failed buddy. In paying tribute to past 007 films we are left with the least “Bond” of the Bond films yet.

Martini ratings:

The World Is Not Enough

Title: The World Is Not Enough

Year: 1999. Way back in 1982, The Artist Who Will Now and Forever Be Known As Prince (TAWWN&FBKAP) declared that 1999 would be the year the planet Earth would throw a worldwide party to end all parties. Who knew Prince was a profit? The dawn of the millennium was indeed a perfect occasion to celebrate the end an era and beginning of something new. Why not party? After all, the stakes couldn’t have been lower. True, we didn’t live in George Jetson houses with robot servants but it sure felt that way. The 90’s produced unprecedented growth in America and those under 30 viewed “work” as something their parents did. The Internet made it possible to make millions by not working; simply have an idea, the implementation of that idea be damned. For those poor souls who did have a job type job, “going to work” often meant showing up to the office in sandals to conduct meetings around a foosball table. I know more then a hand full of guys, and I swear this is the truth, who worked at dot com start-ups in the late 90’s who would charge a night of coke and hookers in Vegas on the company credit card. And why not? Capitalism won. With the evil U.S.S.R. long gone some pundits were going as far as calling war obsolete. Sure, we had impeached The President but not over something as sinister as Watergate, just a simple romp in the oval office. Yes, some dude named Newt Gingrich was shutting down the government because of his bruised ego but after he left DC in disgrace we knew we would never have to hear that guys name again. Everything was coming up roses. Mayor Giuliani turned Times Sq. into a mall for tourist from Nebraska. Who were we to ask where all the homeless people went? Sluggers the size of Paul Bunyan were smacking balls into stadium parking lots left and right. Why were they bigger, stronger, and faster then ever before? Why ask why? Drink Bud Dry. Just giggle through life like Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz on SNL. Join Cher and “Believe” in auto-tune. What could possibly go wrong? Yes, yes, some good hearted, God fearing folks thought the world was going to end when the calendar clicked over to 2K, but we laughed at them just like we do the jack-asses who assign meaning to the Mayan’s lack of planning past November of 2012. There were some dire warnings that the “Millennium Bug” would blast us back to the stone-age but this was mostly fodder for jokes, like the one Q’s assistant makes at the close of this film. It was a time when men’s fashion said hell with it! Sure you can wear that electric blue dress shirt with a pink tie and beige kakis, as Pierce so nicely displays in the third act. It was a time to make crass jokes at our President’s expense like when Bond hands Moneypenny a cigar and she replies “I know exactly where to stick this.” After two years of X rated headlines we knew exactly what she was referring to as we smugly giggled in the theater. It was out with the old and in with new so a young up and comer like John Cleese could replace the aging Desmond Llewelyn. It was time to look forward to the 2000’s with grand projects like London’s Millennium Dome, featured in the fantastic opening of this film.

2000 the dream

The fact that the stadium turned out to be such a colossal money suck it was renamed the 02 Arena in the hopes of erasing all memory of the boondoggle is not so much ironic as it is prolific. Indeed, in 1999 we were all at the dawn of a great new age and the world was not enough; we already had the world and we had it now with no inconvenient truths or pain in the ass consequences. But back to profit Prince who warned “two thousand zero – zero party over, Opps out of time.” In the first 20 months of the aughts we would see a presidential election stolen by an oil man’s son and experience unprecedented terrorist attacks, both of which would shake the very foundation of our democracy for at least the following decade. These two events in turn would result in two wars that would cost untold thousands of innocent lives. They would destroy our moral standing as the world learned of places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Our economy would collapse due in no small part to military spending and the unchecked brand of “capitalism” that was cheered on by the White House. And our environment would be pushed to the brink of destruction. To this day all of the above casts a cloud of doom that hangs over our country like the think, black smoke that hung over lower Manhattan and Brooklyn in the fall of 2001. And without taking any huge leaps, all of this can be traced back, in one way or another, to what one wise man called “our addiction to oil.” In 1999 Bond foresaw the killing, the terror, and the torture behind our addiction to oil and made an action thriller for the New Millennium. Rather forward thinking for a nearly 40 year old popcorn franchise don’t ya think? But all that stuff is a drag. And besides, look! Denise Richards in a tank top! “If you didn’t come to party, don’t bother knocking on my door.”

21st Century Rock Star

Film Length: 2 hours and 8 minutes

Bond Actor: Pierce Brosnan. “I feel we got a good one on our hands,” announced a reenergized Brosnan at a The World Is Not Enough press event. Sporting a more closely cropped quaff, Pierce had the look of an older and wiser man. Having done two Bonds; one one of the best and the other one of the worst, he knew what both sides of the Bond coin looked like. I’m sure he was also aware that two duds in a row could prove to be disastrous, what with the budgets for these films now equaling the GNP of a small country. Brosnan knew Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) was a bummer on the first day of shooting and in saying his third film was a “good one” his instincts are again proven correct. Yes, as I pointed out in my rather piffy rant above, 1999 was all gloss on the surface, the Backstreet Boys were selling millions of records for Christ sake, but for those willing to ignore the new coat of paint, the ominous writing was right there on the wall. This movie looked ahead and saw that world dependence on a product that came largely from the world’s most unstable regions was a ticking time bomb. The filmmakers took this potential for worldwide catastrophe and expertly wrapped it in a Bond adventure. Terrorism and torture are at the forefront of this film and indeed those topics would be at the forefront of our national conversation in the decade to come. There are a lot of shades of gray in this film and Pierce is given room to explore them. But these ideas, as well as other dark elements, are so stealthy introduced that they very easily could be missed. While a lot of that has to do with the expert writing, I think Brosnan’s natural charm keeps everything from getting to heavy. Bond kicks ass a plenty but he must also use his head in this one, playing to another one of Brosnan’s strengths. 007 connects the dots before we as an audience do, so when the twist comes, it’s a genuine surprise. The entire enterprise is made even stronger by the fact there are no cheats (until the very end, and that one is almost forgivable.) Bond uses the same information the audience has to put the bigger picture together. And while I’m sure all these smart elements are what had Pierce so excited, let us not over look the action which is absolutely first rate. Without it, this may have been a heavy slog but all of the weighty ideas spin like balanced plates as just one act in this extremely entertaining three-ring circus. I thought I was past the point of being surprised by a Bond film and in his 19th go around, Bond proved me wrong. Oh and I did I mention Pierce’s hair? Perfection.

Director: Michael Apted. The concept of linking international terror as related to the world’s oil supply and economy is rather forward thinking and I would wager Mr. Apted, one of the most forward thinking directors I can think of, saw this plot point as something could hang his hat on. Not known for blockbuster action, most Americans would be familiar with Apted’s successful dramas like Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980) (Ed. Note: I love Loretta Lynn) and Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and his terrible comedies staring big name comedians like John Belushi in Continental Divide (1981) and Richard Pryor in Critical Condition (1987). But to think of Apted as the guy who made the Jennifer Lopez vehicle Enough (2002) would be like thinking of David Bowie as “that guy who puts on make up.” Indeed, Apted has been president of the DGA (Directors Guild of America) since 2003 but his crowning achievement is what is commonly referred to as “The ‘Up’ series,” a series of documentary films that are not only unique but are ongoing this very day. In 1964, a 24 year-old Apted interviewed a group of seven-year-old English children, learning who they were and what they wanted to be, for a Granada Television program. He has revisited these same subjects every seven years, checking in to see how things have progressed in Seven Plus Seven (1970), 21 Up (1977), 28 Up (1985), 35 Up (1991), 42 Up (1998), and 49 Up (2005). Will 2012 see 56 Up? We can only hope. “This is not reality TV with its contrivances and absurdities, but a meditation on lifetimes” Roger Ebert points out. Watching these people grow-up and have children and grand-children of their own makes for riveting viewing. We also, in a way, watch film grow up as the footage goes from black and white to color to digital. Additionally, we see Apted mature as a storyteller making these documents all more fascinating. Perhaps the idea of following characters as they move through time intrigued Apted when it came to Bond, a character who has changed, while not changing, with the times. The title of this film has nothing to do with the plot and everything to do with James as a man. “The World is not Enough” was reviled as the Bond family motto in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and I think Apted was eager for the opportunity to play in a world with a character so firmly established over time. First things first, for a guy not know for action films, the set pieces in this movie are off the charts. From skiing away form flying snowmobiles (known as Para Hawks) to diving between docks that are being destroyed whirling blades to literally flying though the air while being chased by a fireball, this film ups the ante on stunts and action in a series that has made its name on both. Locations, another Bond staple, manage to be both magically exotic and lived in at the same time. With simple singular moments, like the masterful establishing shots of the Caspian Sea at dusk featuring industrial stacks climbing out of the water and belching smoke, Apted puts Spottiswoode’s Bond picture to shame. The image of the sleek, speedy, BMW knifing its way thought the baron, dead oil fields of Azerbaijan is an image I’ll never forget. Ditto a man in a white suit drowning in a tub of caviar. And was that Kuntz’s “Puppy” in the background? Indeed it was. And the open…. Oh the open. The entire film is directed with such confidence that only in the final battle did I loose my perspective, and then I would bet it was done on purpose for effect. Apted hits all the classic Bond notes and tastefully adds a few of his own. He even manages to take the stale tried cliché of a sinking sub and spin it, by putting the boat on a 90 angle to the ocean floor, and get true suspense, by having Bond swim outside the craft to reach another section. The sterile removal we felt from the last film vanishes and we are planted back in the exciting and exotic world Bond inhabits. And did I mention the open? Ohhh dear gods of cinema the open…

Reported Budget: $135,000,000 estimated. 1989’s Licence To Kill coast $32,000,000. What a difference 10 years makes. Bond budgets have entered what the Occupy Wall Street crowed would refer to as the 1% to be sure.

Reported Box-office: $126,930,660 USA and $352,000,000 worldwide. The American take wasn’t even enough to pay for the film but was good enough for #14. A quick look at 1999 shows a few cheaper films made more; the $33 million Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me made $206 (#4), the $63 million Matrix made $171 (#5), and the produced for the same price as a corn beef on rye at Katz deli Blair Witch Project made $140 million (#10). (OK OK it cost $60,000 or the same as a dozen cupcakes from Magnolia.) But this is the 21st century (almost) and it’s all about that international gross. Based on that number, EON claimed Bond 19 was “the most successful Bond yet.” One more box office footnote, Pierce Brosnan’s The Thomas Crown Affair remake came in at #31 and made $69 million which I would wager is the most successful “Bond actor side-project” to date as well.

Theme Song: “The World Is Not Enough” performed by Garbage. The jokes are just too easy with a band name like that so I’ll refrain. Truth is, I know next to nothing about rubbish, I was a little too old and set in my musical snobbery to take them seriously when they began making noise. In my eyes they were always one of those post-grunge poacher bands, which may or may not be fair but there you go. After doing a little research I guess Butch Vin and some other producers got together and tried to be Sonic Youth meets My Bloody Valentine which is exactly what producer types trying to be hip in 1995, the year of Garbage’s self titled debut, would say. Indeed, I hear none of either of those bands in this Bond theme. Too bad. It got me thinking about what a Sonic Youth/Bond theme would sounds like and I think they would have killed it. Alas, I will say lead singer Shirley Manson has some pipes and the song itself manages to avoid embarrassment even when including the films title.

Opening Titles: You know those oil rainbows you see sometimes on the street after it rains? They are odd things, both beautiful and sickening. Those colorful pools of pollution are the inspiration for these opening credits. Using a color pallet that makes the women look like New Order’s Technique album cover, the drippy thick liquidy look is both sexy in a T2 (1991) morphing way and gross in a seagull covered in gook on a Gulf Coast beach way. Oil is indeed the blood the runs through this film’s veins and if you don’t think those oil pumps like the ones you see on La Cienega Blvd when driving from LAX to Hollywood are meant to make you think of sex, well then you haven’t seen enough Bond. What, you take the 405 from the airport? Amateur.

Opening Action Sequence: There is a theory in comedy involving repetition. The classic example often sighted is the Sideshow Bob rake gag from an episode of The Simpsons.

The idea is the first two times Bob hits his face it’s funny. Then the joke keeps going until it gets old and isn’t really funny anymore and then it becomes down right annoying. Yet it keeps going “too long” and then it becomes absurd and therefore once again funny. This idea is similar to the Shooting the Moon theory I went into in the Final Thoughts on Moonraker (1979). It’s the idea of taking something so far that it goes full circle and reaches beyond what we as an audience thought was the farthest it could go to once again pull us back in. I think the open to The World Is Not Enough pulls off the Bond equivalent of the rake gag by pushing action, as opposed to comedy, too far. But first things first as we join James Bond, 007, license to kill, doing his best Clark Kent. By simply sporting eyeglass the hard core MI6 agent becomes a mild manned banker right before our eyes. We see the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” in the background so we know exactly when and where we are but when Bond enters a banker’s office all the beauty and art from outside melts away to be replaced by delightfully tacky quips and innuendo. Bond is here to collect some money that was in the care of a MI6 agent when he was killed. A lovely secretary hands him the brief case as heavies in suits look on. “Would you like to check my figures?” “I’m sure they are perfectly rounded.” Bond then takes off his glasses and becomes Superman, demanding the Swiss banker give him the name of whoever killed his colleague. “I’m offering you the opportunity to walk out with the money,” “And I’m offering you the opportunity to walk out with your life.” As the heavies pull out their guns the banker notes “the odds are not in your favor Mr. Bond.” “Perhaps you fail to recognize my hidden assets.” This is all handled with tongue firmly planted in cheek and everyone in the room knows it’s just a prelude to the inevitable ass kicking. An explosion here, a judo chop there and Bond has a gun to the banker’s head. However, just before he gets the name of the killer the banker himself is finished off by a knife in the back. A second man who gets the drop on Bond is shot by another unseen killer who takes the man out with a single bullet though the window. Sometimes the Bond films can feel like cop movies or strictly action films, but here, right away, thanks to the setting and mystery (Who’s money is it? Who killed the agent? Why is Bond being protected?) this feels like a European spy thriller. It also starts super fast. At the 3 minute 30 second mark the Bond theme kicks in and we are off to the races. Bond escapes thanks to a daring leap out a forth story window and an extremely strong Venetian blind cord. Before we can blink Bond is back in England at MI6 greeting Q who is working on some kind of jet boat, flirting with Moneypenny who makes the terribly tasteless cigar joke, and drinking with M who is back behind her customary desk. M is chatting with Sir. Robert King, the oil baron who’s money Bond recovered. However, after King leaves M’s office, Bond figures out the money has been booby trapped. Bond chases King but it’s too late, the money explodes killing who knows how many and blasting a hole in the side of MI6’s headquarters. This is a neat twist because at this point we don’t know if King was set up or if he’s a suicide bomber. Bond has no time to find out as he is nearly shot by an assassin on the River Thames. Since she is shooting at him through the gaping hole blown into the side of the building, we can assume she too is in on the bombing. Bond rushes back to Q’s lab, jumps into the jet boat and like Batman flying out of the Batcave, Bond blasts out of the side of the building, on to the water, and off down the river after the female assassin he goes. A reminder, this is just the open and already we’ve done more then some films get done by the close of the third act. That said, the brisk pacing is deftly handled and while the film is moving incredibly fast, it never seems rushed. Speaking of fast, Q’s little Bat-boat, despite his claims of it not being ready, moves down the river at a rather good clip. Much of the DVD extras are given over to the boat chase on the Thames and great detail is presented on how much work the seven week shoot required. It was all 110% worth it. Seeing famous landmarks fly past as the boats chase each other is a thrill. The scope of the chase is staggering as the two play cat and mouse by ducking into coves, zooming under the London Bridge, knocking over docks, and even getting mileage out of the tried drawbridge impeding a chase gag; since we are on the water, it’s a drawbridge being lowered that causes the obstacle. Bond’s jet boat has an assortment of gadgets, which are used to great effect (but miss the target) and Bond even gets to flip the watercraft in a 360 barrel roll before he looses the assassin behind an impenetrable wall of fire. A quick look on MapQuest shows Bond a shortcut he can take to cut off the baddie further up river. The only problem is this shortcut would require Bond’s Bat-boat to climb up locks in a cannel and travel over land for a good six blocks. And this is where the Sideshow Bob rake theory comes into play. Bond soaks some ticket writing cops and smashes through a kayak rental shops to bring his boat up onto the cobble stone streets of London Town. At this point I was thinking OK, we saw boats slide over land in Live and Let Die (1973) and that worked for me. But then Bond goes down an ally, turns up a block to avoid cops, and then outruns them down another ally. Jesus that’s a bit much I thought, I mean all they had to do is add one shot where Bond hits a switch and wheels pop out of the hull and Bob’s your uncle. Then he blasts through a fish shop and I’m calling bullshit. But, by the time he crashes through a restaurant, upends several tables, and breaks out of the back window to land back on the river in front of the lady assassin, well it was just so over the top surrounded by other outrageous moments that I was back on board. It’s James Bond for Christ sake; of course he can do that! Go James! Now facing his target, Bond launches two torpedoes chasing the assassin out of her boat, up onto a dock and into the basket of a hot air balloon. Bond jumps his boat up out of the water (a four second clip that took 6 days to film, explaining at least a part of the huge budget) and he grabs one of the lines on the balloon basket as he floats up over the Millennium Dome. I can not express how exciting it is to see Bond, for the first time, doing his business in his home town of London. It’s astounding it took this long but well worth the wait. By the time the balloon explodes thanks to a suicide bid by the assassin (she would rather die then disclose the name of her employer) and Bond goes tumbling down the side of the Millennium Dome we have hit the 14 minute 20 second mark and I was on the edge of my seat for almost all of it. And somehow, some way, for all its action and Rising Arizona (1987) pre credit length, I didn’t remember a beat of this open. And once I realized that, my heart soared because it occurred to me, outside of Denise Richards trying to act, I didn’t recall any of this film at all. And wow we are off to a smashing start.

Bond’s Mission: Turns out Sir Robert King was set up, the first of many surprises in this film as I assumed he was a baddie. Bond was saved while he was in the bank so he could deliver the rigid money to the target. So, it’s murder most foul and the game is afoot. Bond attends King’s funeral while wearing a sling, thanks to the nasty fall he took on the dome. This injury threatens to sideline 007 until be goes heels to Jesus with the good lady doctor in exchange for a clean bill of health. “Promise you’ll call this time James.” Don’t count on it sister. Back on the case, Bond researches King and learns his daughter, Elektra King was being held for a ransom amount equal to the amount of money lifted off 009, the agent who’s murder we learned about in the open and now were are back to where we walked in. M confirms King was going to pay the kidnappers off, against her advice, but Elektra escaped all on her own. 009 did manage to put a bullet in the kidnappers head yet he lived and in fact has become more dangerous. So, connecting all the dots, this baddie who bumped off King is most likely his daughters kidnapper and now that the father is gone and the daughter has inherited his oil business, logic dictates Elektra could be next on the hit list. This is a lot to unpack but it’s handled briskly and logically, setting all the parts moving in a satisfactory way. And now Bond is off to Azerbaijan where Elektra is overseeing the construction of a huge oil pipeline. Our hero is official meant to babysit and act as a bodyguard as he and MI6 hope to use the girl as bait to draw out the terrorist. “Remember James, shadows always stay in front or behind, never on top.”

Oh no, not Him

Villain’s Name: Viktor Zokas AKA Renard. Like the Joker or a masked Dom Deluise, Renard’s only goal is chaos. In a neat narrative choice, we learn everything there is to know about the international terrorist before we meet him. The KGB cut him loose because he was a liability which sounds a little like Steven Adler getting kicked out of GN’R for doing to many drugs. (Not to mention, NO ONE EVER LEAVES THE KGB!) We learn he set Bond up to kill the father of the woman he kidnapped. We even learn a superhero like origin story, complete with super powers, told to us as we stare at a three dimensional holographic image of his head which is four times human size. All of this effectively works so by the time we do finally meet the terrorist on screen he has become a Keyser Soze like mythic figure. For his introduction, he emerges from a cave surrounded by natural flames so it looks like something out of Middle Earth. It turns out Renard’s days are numbered (more on this below) so he plays his cards like a man who has nothing to loose. And boy is he nasty. He taunts Bond telling 007 he should have had Elektra back when she pure, before he broke her. This is rough business that backfires on the villain down the road but he is certainly one of the more bastardly baddies we have seen in a Bond film.

Villain Actor: Robert Carlyle. Fair or not, I will always think of the Scottish actor as “that guy in that movie about the dudes who get naked that I never saw because it looks so God damn terrible but was somehow popular.” So big was the Full Monty (1997) that when it came out on video my neighborhood video store plopped a larger then life size cardboard cutout of Carlyle smack in the middle of the joint to promote the movie’s releases. The actor would stare out at me from under his blond Denise Leary looking hair, freaking me out as I sifted through 50 copies of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) only to be told all two copies of 28 Days Later (2002) are out. (Thank Tebow we no longer have video stores.) Speaking off 28 Days Later, Carlyle is super scummy in a truly great way in 28 Weeks Later (2007) and while not as good as the first, its got zombies and I am a sucker for zombies. With a shaved head, a lazy eye and scars here and there, Carlyle’s brand of creepy is used to maximum effect as the ambitious yet reserved Renard.

Villain’s Plot: The plot of The World Is Not Enough is the most convoluted yet and that is saying a lot when considering the Bond series is legendary for thick and hard to follow stories. The nut of the thing boils down to control of the worlds oil supply. We learn that most of the oil exported from Russia, Iran, Azebaijan, Turkey, and Kazakhstan is sent to the Caspian Sea via three pipelines to the north. King is in the middle of building a pipeline in the south, threatening the monopoly of the other three. It’s unclear which of the interests Renard is working for at first but once his full plan comes into view, it’s a shocker. And like every Bond villain plot worth its salt, the plan involves a nuclear bomb and 8 million innocents as collateral damage.

Villain’s Lair: The Middle Earth fire and brimstone cave is cool but it’s more of a backdrop for a creepy intro, not where the bad man truly spends his time. He’s mobile for most of the movie, what with having to steal the raw ingredients for the nuke and then hijacking a submarine, but when he finally settles down it’s at a nifty spot called Maiden’s Tower. At first it appears to be a beautiful old stone lighthouse on the coast of the Caspian Sea. The attached building is stunning with huge windows, beautiful antiques, and a fully functioning dungeon. But what pushes this joint over the edge is the secret submarine dock hidden underneath. Now I know, “a secret submarine dock, have we not seen that 20 times before” and yes you have but! This is not you average 007 villain secret sub dock. As Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky explains, (yes, that Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky so lets us all rejoice) the Soviets had dozens of safe house along the sea during the cold war where the Commies could hide subs and kick the tires and change the plutonium and do whatever other general maintenance nuclear subs need. When the Soviet Union fell these bases didn’t just go away so there are a ton of places on the Caspian anyone could use do the same. This is the cloak and dagger European spy/intrigue stuff I love. It’s like knocking on the door in an empty Brooklyn ally and giving a password to a guy who looks out from behind a sliding shutter and then being let into a grand gambling hall. Not that I’ve done that … but if I did, it would be the stuff of great stories. What’s more, the sub base is in the same style as the lighthouse and surrounding building, which is to say, old stone. This isn’t Moonraker where Bond steps through a door to go from the inside of an Incan Temple to mission control at NASA. This is an organic spot that looks real and lived in. Is it real? Damned if I know, but it is 100% consistent with the look and feel of the rest of the film. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if on the coast of Istanbul stood just such a lighthouse.

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Rage Against the Machine had a tune called “Bullet In the Head.” Remember Rage? They were a band in the mid 90’s that had that video with the cute bee girl? Ohh, that Rage. Anywho, a line from a “Bullet In the Head,” “I give a shout out to the living dead” kept ahem… running though my head when it came to Renard the anarchists. M’s explains in her briefing, given while MI6 VIP’s are standing around a huge holographic image of Renard’s head, that while attempting kill the psychotic terrorist 009 put a bullet in his head. “That bullet is still there.”

All I can say is that Renard is pretty strange …

Indeed, there it is in the holograph, leaving a tunnel from his left temple into the middle of his brain which Bond thoughtfully sticks his finger in. Turns out the bullet has damaged the baddies noodle in such a way that his sense are dying, “touch, smell, he feels no pain,” and he can push himself harder then any normal man. “The bullet will kill him, but he will grow stronger every day until the day he dies.” How cool is that? Kind of a like zombie, no? “I give a shout out to the living dead” indeed.  This also gives us the ticking clock scenario turned inside out. The baddie must finish his mission because it is he who is racing against time and Bond’s job is to catch-up. This is super cool and it’s not even the coolest bit about the baddie. Renard, for all his superpowers and anarchist tendencies, turns out to be the least of Bond’s problems.

Badassness of Villain: Bond catches up with Renard as the villain is personally overseeing the theft of a nuclear warhead. Dressed as one of Renard’s men, Bond makes his way over to Renard, grabs him in a headlock, and sticks the business side of his Welther PPK on Renard’s melon. “I don’t miss.” But the baddie keeps on talking shit because, as he points out “You can’t kill me, I’m already dead.” This is as badass as badass gets but the ex-KGB man overplays his hand. Bond is about to pop him but he keeps yapping. “Normally I hate killing an unarmed man but in this case I will feel nothing, like you.” “But then again, there is no point in living if you can not feel alive.” At that moment, Bond pauses and everything comes into focus. I complained in the last film that we saw the events unfolding well before Bond and it made him look dumb. Here, he proves why he’s the superspy and we are just along for the ride. 007 heard that exact sentence before, spoken by one Elektra King. Could she and Renard be in cahoots? Bond’s suspicion are confirmed moments later when Renard, after turning the tables and now holding a gun to Bond’s head, squeezes the agents broken collar bone causing extreme pain. How did Renard know about the injury unless Elektra told him? Unless we were really paying close attention we have no idea what Bond has learned. He is two steps ahead of not only the baddies, but the audience as well. What Bond knows, and we will learn, is that Ms. King has been playing MI6 all along and Renard is in fact her stooge.

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Loyal readers know that we here at Blog James Blog enjoy watching Bond participate in Alpine sports and throwing chips around a card table above all else. (Drinking coming in at a not too distant third.) Well, the skiing sequence in The World Is Not Enough is a doozy. Yes, Bond’s skills on the sticks are impressive as ever (he even pulls a twisty backscratcher) but what makes the sequence stand out is the four biddies who give chase. As Bond and Elektra, still thought to be on the same side at this point, inspect a section of the pipeline reachable only on skis, four black “Para Hawks” appear on the horizon. Picture a snowmobile with a fan-boat back and a para-glider/ultra light parachute wing on top and you get the idea. These things are badass and their pilots even more so. Dressed in all black and wearing black helmets with black goggles they look like alien bugs piloting strange flying snowmobiles. Elektra’s personal bodyguard Gabor, played by American Gladiator John Seru, reminded me of Lobot, Lando Calrissian’s aside in The Empire Strikes Back (1981). Not so much in appearance, Lobot was a bald white man and Gabor is a dreadlocked black man, but in personality. Lobot never speaks a word but communicates with Lando through shared looks only the two of them understand. Ditto Elektra and Gabor who other then one spoken line (I’m assuming to justify Seru’s SAG card) just kind of hovers in the background until needed.

Bond Girl Actress: Ursula Andress, the original Bond Girl, once said “Bond girls don’t sweet, they just glow.” I wasn’t sure what she meant by that until I saw Sophie Marceau first appear on screen at King’s funeral. She not only glows, she radiates. Hot is one thing, beautiful is completely another, and never have I seen a woman who possess each trait quite like the native Parisian Marceau. The daughter of a truck driver, she got her big break at 14 and never looked back working as a actress, director and writer in both English language and French films. Smart, stunning and a striking screen presence Marceau can also act circles around most Bond women. She pulls off the role of Elektra King in a way where even after Bond knows she’s the baddie, a fact she never lets on and would have kept concealed successful if not for Renard’s slip by the by, she is still able to cast doubt with a few lines and an incredible convincing act of innocents. Then, once the cat is fully out of the bag, she keeps the same focus and intensity as she had previous, only now with an evil glint in her eye. She could have over played this and went full bat shit crazy as the baddie, but she lets Renard play that role, she just keeps going forward with her diabolical plan, convinced she can use her feminine wiles to talk her way out of any situation that comes up. Marceau makes all of this look effortless and gives one of the best Bond girl performances of the series. If Marceau is the glowing example of what Andress spoke then Denise Richards, the other woman in Bond’s life, is a dying florescent bulb, blinking and buzzing while casting a harsh, shrill light. Let’s start out as nicely as we can. I truly enjoyed the former Mrs. Tiger Blood Sheen in Starship Troopers (1997). While I’m not sure she’s in on what makes the film absolutely genius, her flat, vacant line reading is in perfect line tonally with the rest of the cast and fits the style of the film perfectly. I think she is in on the joke for Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), an unsung comedy gem with a very strong cast. She plays the over confident beauty queen who can say nothing that is not incredibly offensive and shallow but since she is so pretty no one ever calls her out. You could say typecasting and I will not argue but she hits the comic notes and makes the most of the role. That’s all I got. To put this as charitably as I possible can, Mrs. Richards is wildly miscast as nuclear physicist. Being in the same film as Marceau just makes this fact all more glaring. Next to her sexy and sophisticated cast mate, Richards looks like a child playing dress-up. In press conference on the DVD extra Pierce proves how much of a gentleman he truly is when he sticks up for his leading lady saying “those who don’t get her performance are missing the mark.”  I truly appreciate what Brosnan is doing here but the truth is, it’s Richards who is so far off target that her presence in the film, mercifully not coming until the second half, single handedly holds this movie back from being one of the all time Bond greats and knocks a full martini glass off the final rating.

Bond Girl’s Name: Elektra King. What’s in a name? In Greek mythology Elektra kills her stepfather and mother to avenge the death of her natural father. In Bond 19, Elektra contracts the killing of her father in order to regain control of the oil empire which was owned by her mother’s side of the family for generations, Sir. Robert got in on the action through marriage. So it’s kind of the same thing but with a modern feminist cum OPEC twist. Elektra is by far the most complex Bond girl to date. We learn of her kidnapping and escape before we even meet her. Then when we do, she is seen diverting her pipeline to save a historic church. As peasants cheer, she confidently walks among the oil drilling rough necks proving she is tough and compassionate at the same time. When the Para Hawk case ends with she and Bond huddled together under an avalanche her tough exterior cracks and her claustrophobia, no doubt brought on during her captivity, causes her to freak-out and cling to Bond like a lost girl. This further wins our sympathy; so much so that we don’t even notice all four Para Hawks chased Bond and left her alone. Bond has always had a weakness for the fairer sex and Elektra plays Bond like fiddle well before she disrobes. She matches him with her wits and seems to see though his hard exterior. “Who is afraid now Mr. Bond?” She is so sly in he misdirection that she pays-off Valentin to the tune of one million dollars in direct sight of Bond and manages to make it look like the act of a wounded woman not yet fully recovered from either her fathers death or her hostage ordeal. Even after Bond has her pegged she still manages to cast doubt, to the point where she is able to draw M right into a trap set in plan sight. This is a woman who we are told escaped the sinister Renard by seducing her guards, cutting off her own ear, and now has the man who held her for ransom working for her. This is a woman who blew up her own father in MI6’s headquarters with the hopes of killing M as part of the collateral damage. And you know what, I 100% buy that she is not only capable of pulling it off, but that she would do so without blinking. She is a ruthless shark, a woman straight out of a 1940’s film noire who sees all the angles and uses her body and brain to keep the private dick spinning in circles. She is the most fully realized Bond Baddie and Bond girl rolled into one package. It’s a work of quantum physics on a level that would confound Stephen Hawking that she could possible occupy the same film as Dr. Christmas Jones, who is as much as physicists as Dr. Demento. From the moment Jones emerges from a mine and steps out of a jumpsuit wearing green tank top, short shorts and displaying perfectly manicured nails its like we’ve been warped to an episode of “Archer.” This could have been a sly tongue in cheek joke but Richards is actress incapable of pulling such a complex idea off. Then, to make matters worse, she opens her mouth. Listening to Richard read lines is like hearing a second grader read the Gettysburg Address out loud in front of the class. She can’t even pull off the lowest form of humor, the pun, without coming across as clueless and crass. I literally groaned out loud at “I have to get that plutonium back or someone is going to have my ass.” Even Brosnan looks like he has no idea how to field that one. And man she looks just scared shitless up there on the big screen. Her eyes are always wide and blank, as if it’s taking all of her energy to concentrate on hitting her next mark. I don’t think I can overemphasize how out of place this character is in this film. Picture Rachel Maddow running for Vice President on the “Santorum 2012” ticket and your not even in the ballpark. It’s just beyond all reason that this woman would be cast in this role. All that said, the thing that Jones and Bond ride thought the pipeline on is cool. See, I said something else nice about her.

Bond Girl Sluttiness: In The World Is Not Enough, sluttiness and badassness ignore Egon’s important safety tip and cross streams in an unprecedented manner. Indeed, Pussy Galore started out working for Goldfinger but after a roll in the hay with Sir Sean she helps Bond fake the gassing of half of Kentucky, more then making up for her sassy talk on the Learjet. Thinking about Goldfinger (1964) got me to thinking about how far everything has come since the 60’s. Back when Bond was a baby, the sight of Andrees in a two-piece or the name Pussy Galore was boundary pushing, shocking stuff. So was the idea that Bond, a good guy, would kill, and sometimes even enjoy it. By the 70’s Bond films relied on increasingly complex action sequences and stunts to keep audience shocked and awed. By the 80’s and most certainty the 90’s Bond had lost his ability to truly shock us. That’s not to say the films didn’t dazzle, excite, and thrill, they just no longer shocked. Hearing the name Pussy Galore was shocking, hearing the name Xenia Onatopp was cute. To bring shocking back into the Bond universe it took a cocktail of sex shaken, not stirred with violence. Elektra King is in a room in her lighthouse lair. Bond is strapped to a chair, bound by four heavy metal clamps, one around each ankle, one around each wrist, and a nasty, thick leather strap around his neck. On the back of the chair is a huge wheel looking not unlike a large wooden wheel one would find at the helm of an old sailing ship. This is attached to a large flat-headed screw that goes into the back of the chair. When turned, the screw moves forward into the back of the neck of whatever unfortunate son of a bitch is strapped to the chair, forcing his esophagus up against the large leather collar holding his head to the back of the chair. Three full turns and it’s curtains for Bond. His face is red. He’s gasping, pleading, spitting and all together struggling to breathe as Elektra walks slowly around the chair, each pass tightening the screws. Her walk is seductive and she is clearly getting off on holding Bond’s life in her hands. Throughout the film, Elektra makes a point of let everyone know she is not above using her body to get what she wants, but you never get the sense she enjoys the sexual encounters. But here, with Bond bound, she’s truly getting a sexual rise on the power she has over this man’s life. At one point she straddles Bond while he’s on the chair and while it never said, it’s clear she now is using his body, thanks to erotic asphyxiation or hypoxyphilia. Sexualized torture in a Bond film? Indeed, and it’s shocking as shit.

Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: Since pick up lines are not Elektra’s style, we will go bizarro for the next two categories and make them “Bond/Bond girls WORST pick up line.” Without further ado, we give you Bond while trying to score with Dr. X-mas Jones in the former Ottoman Empire. “I always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey.”

Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “Why don’t to unwrap your present?” And if you not gagging yet, a Worst pick-up lines bonus round! Post coitus Bond remarks “I though Christmas only came once a year.”

Number of Woman 007 Beds: 3, all of which have been covered in one way or another by now so we will keep it brief. The MI6 doctor, who not only gives 007 a clean bill of health but notes his stamina, wink wink. (I also greatly appreciated the cutaway to a man playing bagpipes.) Elektra King in a between the sheets encounter that, at the time, seems out of place following a comment about how Bond couldn’t afford to play her high stake reindeer games. However, in retrospect I think this horizontal mambo was yet another calculated move on Elektra’s part. She saw her fish slipping way, so she set the hook and reeled him in. And finally Dr. Christmas and while the two participants display no dignity in the act, John Cleese, of all people, does when he pulls the plug on MI6’s infrared spy cam.

Number of People 007 Kills: 22, give or take. Despite all the shooting and exploding and boat-on-land driving and Millennium Dome tumbling, only a single soul is lost by Bond’s hand in the open, that of a stooge in the Swiss Banker’s office. Bond takes out all four Tie-fighter pilot looking Para Hawk dudes; two by collision with tree and two by collision with each other. Bond shoots Davidov, an Elektra and Renard go between, as guards with dogs patrol nearby. The dog got me to thinking; the proud tradition of Bond fighting everything from tarantulas to sharks to tigers to snakes to out-of-control horses has fallen by the wayside in recent entries. I say get wild life back into the picture, I miss Bond vs nature stuff. Bring on a pack of wild dogs. Have him go mono a mono with an angry ape. Hell, I’d pay to see 007 go 5 rounds with a boxing kangaroo. I want to see Bond killing something with fur or scales stat! Anyway, he shoots three of Renard’s nuke thieves in a tunnel, the second being a miraculous shot from behind a moving train car. At Valentin’s caviar harvesting facility Bond takes down two helicopters which I will assume had a pilot, a co-pilot and two dudes to operate stuff like guns and four story spinning buzz saw towers so let us say that counts as eight kills. Bond shoots Elektra’s dreadlocked bodyguard leaving the lovely lady exposed. She runs to the top O the lighthouse (in heels and a long dress, this woman can do it all) and even when Bond sticks a gun in her face she is still trying to work her magic. Standing next to a bed, she puts on her best come hither look as guards are heard preparing to move in. Bond hands Elektra the radio and orders her to call em off. When he sees this is not sinking in with the lady, he give her a look of his own, one that says you had me for a while, but sister, the act is getting old. “Call em off!” he screams and her face crinkles, she realizes he means business but this is a woman who has had an ace up each sleeve all her life and she makes one last play. “James, you couldn’t kill me” and she might even believe it as she shouts an attack order into the radio a split second before she gets a bullet in the head. (There’s that song from the bee girl band again!) M watched as one of her double O’s killed an unarmed woman and you can see in this moment, out from behind the desk and in the field, M learns to appreciate her #1 agents all the more. (Have we discussed how Judy Dench has taken the M character and completely transformed her?) There is a submarine battle for the climax in which Bond kills two guys and uses one as a human shield.

Most Outrageous Death/s: A loose translation of Deus ex Machina would be the machine blowing a gasket at the exact right time and that is literally what happens at the climax of this movie. Bond is trying to stop Renard from inserting the last rod into a gizmo which will make the nuke go boom. As the baddie slllooooowwwwwlllllyyyyy pushes the rod into place a pressurized hose bursts loose right in front of Bond. Also in front of Bond are several holes one could hook this steam shooting hose up to. Bond plays eenie meenie miney moe to find the exact right plug-in at the exact right second to put the exact right amount of air pressure into the exact right tube sending the rod exactly into Renard’s right ventricle.

Miss. Moneypenny: Samantha Bond needs to call her agent. After an excellent introduction in GoldenEye (1995) she has been reduced to making awful Monica Lewinsky jokes. Open letter to Michael Wilson, Moneypenny and Ms. Bond deserve better.

M: Judy Dench on the other hand gets the most involved and satisfying M plot yet in any Bond film. After nearly getting killed in the MI6 bombing, she reviles to 007 that “against all instincts as a mother” she recommend against paying off Renard for Elektra’s safe return. This is fascinating not only because it sets up a neat little morality play for M but it reveals she indeed has a life and family outside of MI6. That said, I do think the idea that Elektra went bad because M didn’t rescue her is a bit over played. “You made her this way,” Renard tells M at one point but I don’t buy it; M made her a man hating killer of her own father who is hell bent on controlling the world’s oil supply? That’s just a bridge to far. None the less, it is great to see M question herself and MI6’s policies. I’m also not so sure M would jump on a plane and walk right into what is so obviously a trap but perhaps she was feeling guilt when it came to the whole “let Elektra rot in a cell” thing. (Yes, she did send 009 to rescue her and all that but let’s stay in the moment shall we.) M is warned by Bond that Elektra is up to no good but by the time she herself sees the plot it’s too late. M is indeed imprisoned by Elektra in what is supposed to be a shoe on the other foot moment but M is way to smart for that. She immediately goes about plotting her escape, using her brains in contrast to Elektra using her body. It was very enjoyable to watch these two smart women matching wits and there is even a moment where M admits Bond is her best agent, although she would never tell him that. All of this enriches the M character and goes miles to explain the close yet distant relationship between she and Bond.

Q: There are countless studies that show when people retire they increase their chances of dying. No one knows why but the prevailing theory is if you have something to live for, a reason to get out of bed in the morning, it keeps you living longer. Desmond Llewelyn, who was born in Newport, Wales in September of 1914, did a lot of living. The son of a coal mining engineer he got his first taste of show biz working as a stagehand in high school. Upon graduation he wanted to be a cop but failed the eye exam. In his later years he would say it was in fact the test administrator who was not seeing straight thanks to a hangover. He went on to study ministry but after a week-long retreat he realized he no longer heard the calling. Next it was off to the Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts where he found his groove only to be interrupted in the mid 30’s by the Second World War during which Llewelyn served with distinction in the British Army. At one point he and his unit held off a division of German tanks until “eventually, the tanks broke through and many of us jumped into this canal and started swimming down it to the other side, figuring that our chaps were still over there. But the Germans were the only ones there.” Second Lieutenant Llewelyn was captured and held as a prisoner of war for five years. According to IMDB at one point Llewelyn and some other prisoners “had dug a tunnel and were planning to escape the next morning. Llewelyn was down in the tunnel doing some maintenance work in preparation of the escape when the Germans found out about the tunnel and caught him down in it, a crime that earned Llewelyn 10 days in solitary, which Llewelyn called ‘a blessing of sorts. After spending every day of several years sleeping in a room with 50 other people, the quiet and privacy was rather nice.’” I have visions of Q as the Steve McQueen character in The Great Escape (1963), throwing a baseball against the wall. All I can say about this is rock star. After the war, Llewelyn returned to London where he rejoined his wife, Pamela Mary Pantlin who he married in 1938 and who was with him till the day he died. As Major Boothroyd, Llewelyn has appeared in more Bond films then any other actor. Introduced as “Q” for quartermaster in From Russia With Love (1963) Q appeared in every Bond film save Live and Let Die (1973). His absents from Moore’s first film caused such a fan uproar producers were forced to bring the character back. For his part, Llewelyn, who regularly admitted that gadgets and technology were fields he knew nothing about, was also confounded by the popularly of his Bond persona. As he delighted in pointing out, his total on screen time in 17 films was less then 30 minutes. 84-years-old at the time the 19th Bond film was being produced, Llewelyn planned on The World Is Not Enough being his last. Indeed, Bond steals and destroys his retirement fishing boat in the open. I’m not sure what Q was planning on catching with all that weaponry; perhaps he was going to join Chief Brody and Capt. Quint on their quest for Jaws? (Not him, the other one.)  In announcing his retirement, Q hands over his duties to his successor, R. For the last shot of Q on screen, we see him sinking into the floor, giving advice to Bond. “Always have an escape route.” The World Is Not Enough was released on November 19, 1999. On December 19, 1999 Desmond Llewelyn was driving home from a book signing to promote his autobiography in East Sussex when his car collided head-on with another. I always thought that as I got older I would grow more cynical, but a strange thing has happened. I’ve actually gotten more romantic and sentimental. I will miss Desmond Llewelyn and his Q greatly. He was as much a part of the Bond films then the music and the opening gun barrel shot. Brosnan described Q as “the Merlin” of the Bond films, which I think is spot on. The next time I have a martini, I’ll toast to Q.

Q

List of Gadgets: Bond meets up with Q at the MI6 headquarters in Scotland which is inside a castle, naturally, where the gadget guru introduces “the young fellow I’m grooming to follow me.” Monty Python vet John Cleese is one of the funniest men on the planet and I can see the allure of making R an absentminded professor type. We will hold off judgment on this choice until the next film where R will, presumably, take center stage. In the meantime, R has a very funny bit where he is displaying the new ski jacket to Bond.  “Watch closely please 007. The right arm goes in the right sleeve thusly” and “the lower part of the zipper and insert it into here like so…” until Q hits the button and the jacket becomes an inflated ball trapping R inside. As for this weeks BMW it has “the very latest in intercepting countermeasures, titanium armor, multi-tasking heads up display and 6 beverage cups holders. All in all rather stocked.” Bond gets two sets of glasses this go around; the Clark Kent glasses from the open also function as a detonator and a second pair have X-ray vision. Making a return is the credit card skeleton key and his watch has a light bright enough to illuminate Las Vegas Blvd. Finally, Bond has a program on his computer that can instantly convert dollars into pounds, it’s amazing what these desk tops can do.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Pretty much all of the above, the jacket, the glasses, the boat, and the car which is sliced in half prompting Bond to lament “Q’s not going to like this.”

Other Property Destroyed: After Bond uses some window blinds and a table to escape an office in Spain, the Swiss banker will need to make a trip to IKEA. Not five minutes later Bond blows up 3 million pounds, all be it inadvertently. Thanks to 007’s complete disregard for no wake zones there is some riverfront property on the Thames that’s going to need some work including a kayak rental kiosk, a fish market and a swanky seafood restaurant. The would be assassin’s boat also has a few leaks. 007 recklessly shoots up a nuclear bomb storage faculty including a train car which is cut in half. He has a chance to disarm a bomb but says ahh screw it at the last second and takes out a good 50 yard section of a mercifully empty pipeline. Then there is the Caspian Sea caviar factory, which has to be in the top three most inspired locations to hold a shoot out. The facility itself is a series of wooden shacks and storage houses built on pillions in the middle of the sea. These buildings are connected to each other and to the near-by shore by a series of wooden docks and walkways, some large and strong enough to support vehicles and other simply two foot wide pedestrian bridges. Bond drives his BMW out to one of the buildings and goes inside where the floor has several cut outs giving free access to the water below. In some of these cut outs are large vats of freshly harvested fish row. Then the two helicopters show up, one of which has a pole with six or seven huge whirling saw blades hanging under its belly. This device’s out of the box purpose is to trim the top of tall trees but it’s also good for reeking havoc on wooden docks and warehouses. Bond swings, dives, swims and shoots doing battle with these two choppers while splinters fly everywhere in a truly fantastic action sequence that works because there are no cheats. It also delivers enough explosions to give Jerry Bruckheimer a woody. At the end, when Bond blows up the chopper with the saw blades, the saws come flying every which way imbedding themselves into walls and floor boards just inches from several of Bond allies. Bond also sinks a sub in a sequence that makes no sense and is full of cheats, the Deus ex Machina leading to Renard’s death not least of which, but somehow still almost works. Almost…

Felix Leiter: Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky and his limp return and we here at Blog James Blog say hell yah! I absolutely adore the Valentin character and here his role is much expanded upon from his debut in GoldenEye. It appears the Russian gangster is trying to put a ligament face on his criminal empire and has opened a casino. Since literally every single person in the joint is carrying a concealed firearm, I’m not so sure we can say his desire to go legit has been successful. When Bond makes his way into Valentin’s office (after threatening Dennis Rodman at gun point) he finds the ex-KGB man sitting behind his desk feeding caviar to two women, one on each knee. “Bond, James Bond! Meet Irnia and Varuska.” This guy gets all the lines. Bond visits Valentin to get the low down on Renard but it also turns out Valentin is doing business, as far as he knows independently, with Elektra King. The $1 million she drops in his casino is payment for what Valentin thinks is a “smuggling job.” Little does he know that his nephew, a submarine captain in the Russian Navy, is being set up to deliver and detonate a nuclear bomb. Bond puts it together eventually and confronts Valentin at his caviar factory. “I’m a slave to free market economy.” They are, of course, attacked by all of King’s men and the big battle ends with Valentin, in an all white suit, drowning in a pool of oily black fish eggs. As they say in those credit card ads, priceless. Did I mention Valentin’s number two, Mr. Bouillon, looks just like Dennis Rodman? Anyway, he’s also a little punk like Rodman and he sells Valentine out and tries to kill him. Valentin escapes and makes his way to Elektra’s lighthouse only to discover his nephew has been killed and Bond is strapped to a torture chair. Elektra then shoots him and with his dying breath, he shoots Bond free with the gun he has hidden in his cane. I was bummed to see him go but his dying act is to be applauded.

Best One Liners/Quips: Bond makes his way into the nuclear bomb cave by impersonating a famous nuclear scientist. He is doing well until he gets busted by Dr. Christmas Jones. “I talked to him, but he is not a nuclear scientist.” Neither are you sister.

Bond Cars: BMW Z8. The sporty convertible looks great, especially slicing though the oil fields of Azerbaijan. While poking around the internets I learned that Brosnan, in addition to whatever seven digit salary he was receiving for the films, got to take home the featured BMW for the last three Bond outings. So, in his garage he’s got the BMW Z3 from GoldenEye (1995), an 8-series BMW (instead of the 750iL) from Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and the Z8 from The World Is Not Enough. This is a super smart call on both EON and BMW’s part. After all, Brosnan is Bond and it simply would not due to have him tooling around London in a Fiat. This way, he gets a great car and every time he leaves the driveway he’s promoting his films as well. The jet boat featured in the open has a V8, which is insane; the tiny boat is not much larger then a V8. This sucker can reach up to 80MPH, go as shallow as 4 inches of water, and turn on a dime. If I were Brosnan I’d insist on hooking a trailer to the Z8 with this little baby on board.

Bond Timepiece: Omega Seamaster Professional. This is the same as the Tomorrow Never Dies Omega in that it’s automatic as opposed to the quartz number 007 had in GoldenEye.

Other Notable Bond Accessories: When Bond visits Elektra at the oil field he is already sporting a full ski outfit, he just needed to grab the sticks and go. This I can understand. However, later, when he is impersanationg the nuclear scientist, he is about to get on board a helicopter that will take him to the nuke sight. One of the baddies asks if he has “it.” Bond hands over a gym bag containing sneakers. This is good to get him onto the helicopter. I have no idea why and from the look on Bond’s face, neither dose he, but he simply roles with it. That’s why he gets paid the big bucks.

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: And once again, Bond’s borderline alcoholism pays off. As he sits with M in her office about to drink some bourbon, he notices a fizz coming from the glass. This alerts him to the bomb. How? Turns out that when he handled the money he got whatever explosive residue (you know, the stuff they swab your laptop for at the airport) on his fingers and that in turn reacted with the ice. So as always, drinking is not only good for you, it could save your life. A personal bourbon note, I was just in Louisville (pronounced by natives as Luh’vulll) for work recently and being Kentucky there was more good bourbon to be had then you could shake a stick at. That said, if you ever come across a creature called Kentucky Bourbon Ale I suggest you belly up and buy a pint. It’s one of the more incredible beers I’ve ever had in that it tastes like beer and bourbon in equal parts. Simply delightful. At Valentin’s casino Bond orders a martini, shaken not stirred, to steady his nerves after nailing a baddie to the bar with a knife staked into his tie. Bond then pays for the drink with the baddies gun. While lounging in bed with Elektra the two share some Bollinger.

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Jimmy B walks around Valentin’s casino but decides not to play. Perhaps the fact that everyone is armed dissuaded him from tossing a couple of chips around. Ms. Elektra King on the other hand has quite a bit of gamble in her. She strolls into the casino drawing the immediate attention of Valentin who is happy to extend her the same line of credit given to her late father who apparently enjoyed Blackjack. She declines but then for no (apparent) reason decides to put $1 million on the turn of a single card, high card wins. Bond, still tasked as her bodyguard, first attempts to protect her by making sure the first three cards are burned. Then, he tries to talk her out of this rash act. “You don’t have to do this you know.” “There is no point in living, if you can’t feel alive” she replies while drawing the Queen of Hearts. Got to feel pretty good about that one, only Kings or Aces can beat her with the other 3 Queens pushing the bet. In other words she is trying to avoid 11 cards out of 51 giving her a 78 and change percent advantage making her slightly better then three out of every four times a winner. She seems not a bit phased when Valentin draws the Ace of Clubs. Bond takes this as another act of a women completely damaged by recent events but he’s still on the ball enough to tuck the whole “no point in living” comment into his back pocket.

List of Locations: EON return to Pinewood for the first time since 1987’s The Living Daylights which explains why MI6’s home base of London is featured more spectacularly then ever before. The return to home base may also explain why this is one of the better looking Bond in terms of sets we’ve had in quite some time. All the locations are presented in a way that makes them both exotic and real, not an easy balance. As mention previously, MI6’s Scotland headquarters is in a castle and while I’m sure the interiors were soundstages the look quite castley. We also already pointed out the fantastic use of Bilbao, additional Spanish locations of Bardenas Reales and Las Majadas served as stand-ins for Kazakhastan and Azerbaijan but the striking oil field location actually was Azerbaijan. The fields were owned by the state in 1847 when a tobacco man drilled a well and this sight became the first ever oil filed. As seen in this film the landscape looks absolutely alien and demonstrates how our quest for oil has been raping the land for the first. The Istanbul Caspian Sea locations are real places and the skiing bits were shot in the French Alps in the same valley that hosted the First Winter Olympics in 1924 and is said to be where “Mountaineer” sports were born.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: This is the most physical Bond I can remember. The sequence in the nuclear bomb storage tunnel alone qualifies Bond for a spot on the Olympic decathlon team. Bond is just getting warmed up in the open when he flies around the Thames in a boat that is not done being built and he’s never driven while bouncing it over land. His outer limits skiing haven’t seen any decline in skill but all of this is to be expected. It’s later in the film where James truly outdoes himself when he runs up to the top of a lighthouse, pausing only to shoot a perfect shot to hit the lock on M’s cell door, and reaches the top without even break a sweet. Then, after he kills the lady he swan dives out of the top of the tower getting a 9.6 from the judges after the Russian’s 6.4 was thrown out. He also has to swim from one section of a sinking sub to another and holds his breath for what I think is about a half hour, give or take.

Final Thoughts: Timothy Dalton has often complained in his post Bond years that the audience didn’t accept his take on the character because it was too dark. I would argue this film is 10 times darker then anything Dalton attempted and 100 times more fun. In some ways this movie reminded me of Octopussy (1983) and not just because 009 gets wacked in both films. I found them similar in so much as they both work despite a convoluted plot that falls apart under any scrutiny. Because the action is so good and the characters are so well define and the individual moments work so well and the goings on are so fun and funny, I was willing to forget the big picture in both cases and just enjoy the ride. But the two films are also very different in that Octopussy had not a thought in it’s head where as The World Is Not Enough is one of the smartest Bond films to date. The big twist works because of the superb set up despite it also being absolutely ludicrous. In order for Elektra’s grand scheme to work she not only needs to be seeing 20 moves ahead on the chess board, but everyone one of those moves must go her way or the entire plan collapse around her. And you know what, I was fine with this because it was so smartly executed and it stuck to its own logic. Each event played on what happens before and after making a logical, tight and wildly entertaining story. Bonus points for giving us incredible insight into M and Bond’s relationship, the most complex Bond girl and baddie rolled into one character, and twisty-turny misdirection throughout. On top of that, it tackles heavy themes like terrorism, torture, and petroleum politics in the Trojan horse of an expertly executed Bond film. All super smart indeed. I think much of the credit needs to go to Apted who brings both a grace and a light touch that allows these characters to breath where we want them to but then when called for, he tightens the screws and bring the action-oriented “wow!” I love seeing Bond get hurt, I love seeing Bond navigate the shady underground, and I love seeing Bond match wits with intelligent women who are his equal, and we get it all here. This movie plays like a character driven spy thriller and rewards the viewer at nearly every turn. The elephant in the room is of course Denise Richards. At one point she and Bond are racing through the pipeline on a speeding platform they want to slow down. But they can’t because as Richards tells us “the controls are jammed.” Have you even been unable to stop anything from moving because the controls were jammed? Ever? What the hell does the controls are jammed even mean? While this film does so much so well every single time the Richards character, named Dr. Christmas Jones in case you forget, is on screen she acts as an anchor pulling the film into tried cliché. The worst part, her character is 100% superfluous. We could have gotten all the same info/hit all the same story points without suffering through “could you translate that for those of us that don’t speak spy?” She is this film’s Kryptonite. Back to Brosnan’s previous outing, I liked Tomorrow Never Dies a whole lot less than I thought I would. The other side of that coin; I liked The World Is Not Enough a whole lot more then I anticipated. The 19th Bond was a surprise in the best way possible and when placed in the Bond canon I think it fits squarely in the bottom of the upper halves middle.

Martini ratings:

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