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: