September 1, 2012 1 Comment
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
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.