The World Is Not Enough

Title: The World Is Not Enough

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

2000 the dream

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

21st Century Rock Star

Film Length: 2 hours and 8 minutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no, not Him

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

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

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

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

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

All I can say is that Renard is pretty strange …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martini ratings:

Tomorrow Never Dies

Title: Tomorrow Never Dies

Year: 1997. Tomorrow Never Dies was a breakthrough artistic achievement that forever changed pop entertainment. It’s been called “a masterpiece,” the producer declared it could “never be recreated,” and one of the two writers said it’s like “the Dalai Lama chanting from a hilltop.” Wait a second, Oh man, I got confused. I’m talking about “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the last track on 1966’s Revolver that broadcast an end to the mop-topped Fab Four and established the Beatles as true innovators of music. My bad, Tomorrow Never Dies is actually the opposite of all that and is in fact a step backwards for the Bond franchise. Yah, sorry to get your hopes up but mine were pretty high for this film as well coming off the superb GoldenEye (1995). Tomorrow Never Dies is not as dreadful as its title (which is bad even by Bond title standards) but more like a stopgap film. Picture an odds and sods record put out to keep the fans quite and fulfill contractual obligations and you get the idea. All the things we want to see Bond doing are here, they’re just not done all that well. It’s almost as if everyone at EON took a great deep breath after proving Bond could be relevant in the 90’s with GoldenEye and decided to coast. As plugged in as he was in the last movie, here Bond is out of sync with the world around him. I’m reminded of another film about a man out of time that came out in 1997, and I only mention it because sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, because what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin about the Dude here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, or maybe His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. The running gag of The Big Lebowski (1997) is that The Dude, while appearing completely oblivious to everything going on around him, is in fact 100% tuned in, thanks mostly to keeping his mind limber. He is not the 60’s culture casualty that can’t function in the 90’s as he first appears to be (That would be Walter) but he is, as The Stranger said, a guy who fits right in there. And that’s the geniuses of the film, The Dude is so much a part of what’s happing while, Zen like, not actively participating that any lines between the character and the LA of the film are invisible. Dude and his world are in fact one while everyone he encounters is out of sync in one way or another and therefore become a complicated strand on old Duder’s head. The opposite can be said of the Bond character in Tomorrow Never Dies. He is a 60’s product who never feels like he’s part of the modern world he inhabits. 007 simply moves from point A to point B as dictated by the script. The plot, as it is, exists as an engine to move Bond forward while he is simply a passenger on the train, watching it all go past his window. This is the difference between “character driven” and “plot driven.” Both can be effective means of story telling. Hitchcock characters for example do what the plot demands because it demands them to, but if you’re going to go plot driven, you better have a damn good story. Sadly, for Bond’s 18th adventure, as Jackie Treehorn once lamented, “standards have fallen.”

Lebowski, Jeff Lebowski

Film Length: 1 hour and 59 minutes

Bond Actor: Pierce Brosnan’s early life is like something straight out of Dickens. Born in Ireland, Pierce moved to England at a young age (hence his accent) to live with his grandparents after his father left and his mother could not afford to keep him. When Pierce was 6, his grandparents died and the young boy floated between relatives and boarding houses until at 10, his mother was finally able to take him back. While a teen in London he became interested in acting and eventually moved to New York with Broadway dreams. He got some smaller roles and met his future wife, actress Cassandra Harris, who was in For Your Eyes Only (1981) and introduced Pierce to Cubby Broccoli. He then landed the lead on “Remington Steele,” a role that would make him known while costing him his first shot at playing Bond in 1987. Tragedy continued visiting Brosnan when in 1991 he lost Cassandra to ovarian cancer. (He was remarried in 2001 to Keely Smith.) Brosnan is undoubtedly an incredibly handsome man but he is far more then a pretty face. When called upon to do so, he can play hurt and vulnerable in ways that suggest he’s pulling from his difficult life. You got ta pay you’re dues to sing da blues and Brosnan has done so in spades. Tomorrow Never Dies gives him exactly one opportunity to do some dramatic acting and he makes the most of it. Circumstances are such that one of Bond’s old flames is now married to the main baddie. Having laid his cards on the table at a party earlier in the evening, Bond now waits in his hotel room wondering who will show up, the girl or an assassin. Or will they be one in the same? 007 sits in chair, facing the door, drinking straight vodka from a glass he re-fills with a bottle that rests at his side. This is not martins at a glamorous dinner; this is a man drinking for answers. When the lady does show up the two cut right to the case and old wounds are reopened. Pierce plays the scene as a man who has been hurt and has drank just enough to wash away the filters of politeness. This is not a shouting drunk but a confrontational one. Brosnan plays it perfect and it gives us a peak behind the Bond curtain. I wish we had more moments like this and as it turns out, so dose Pierce. That said, he’s a mixed bag for the rest of movie. He has a few great moments where he gives what I call the “Indy Smirk.” One of the best things about the almost perfect Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is all those little, subtitle smiles Indy allows himself in his prouder moments. Recall the “Throw me the idol, I’ll throw you the whip” scene. After Indy misses the jump over the pit he is hanging on the ledged when he finds some roots sticking out the ground. He grabs them, begins to pull himself up, and smiles. With this smile he seems to be thinking “Wow, I’m going to get out of this after all.” Then, the roots get pulled loose, he beings to slip, and the smile instantly becomes concern and panic. Ahhh, when Harrison Ford used to act. Anyway, there are moments here, like when Bond “returns” his rental car by smashing it through the front window of the Avis shop, where Brosnan embraces the absurdity of the moment gives himself the “Indy Smile.” But then there are other points where it is clear the actor is simply hitting his marks. Peirce was accidently hit by a stuntman during production resulting in a knee injury and a scar on his top lip. Perhaps Peirce was “playing hurt” but I think his flat performance is thanks to more then an injury. There is something about the role of James Bond that beats actors down. You can see it on Brosnan’s face in his interviews on the DVD extras for this movie. All the enthusiasm from the last film is gone. He looks worn out and answers the questions like he’s giving the correct answers at a job interview. After only two films, the shine has worn off for Pierce. That all said, after we watched Tomorrow Never Dies the wife declared Pierce is her favorite 007 and a far better action hero then any previous Bond, so what the hell do I know? To quote my friend Brian Pappis, “It’s good if you like it.”

Director: Roger Spottiswoode. Who? Let’s look em up … Yikes. To glance at his IMDB director credits is to see a man hell bent on destroying A-List actors’ careers. He got his start as an editor for the late, great Sam Peckinpah and like John Glen before him Spottiswoode should have stuck with cutting. His directorial debut was the second rate John Carpenter rip-off Terror Train (1980) which even stared Carpenter’s “queen of scream” James Lee Curtis. Spottiswoode went on to firmly establish himself as a hack-for-hire and Carpenter sloppy second aficionado by directing Kurt Russell in Best of Times (1986). He helmed Turner & Hooch (1989) with a pre A League of Their Own (1992) Tom Hanks staring opposite a dog, the very definition of carrier suicide, the unwatchable Air America (1990) staring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr., and he put the final nail in Sly Stallone’s career coffin with Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992). What did EON see in this cat? Martin Campbell was asked back but turned the job down not wanting to do two Bond films in a row. I suspect Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson weren’t necessarily broken up about his decision to not return. Everything I’ve read and seen about Campbell says he’s an incredibly strong personality with a stronger vision and not easily controlled. With Cubby gone, his daughter and her husband were now running the biggest and most profitable show in town, and I think they felt the need to flex their muscle. Take this quote from Brosnan. “That was always the frustrating thing about the role. Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson play it so safe. The pomposity and rigmarole that they put directors through is astounding…” Based on that and other things I’ve read, I’d imagine Broccoli and Wilson wanted someone they could push around and impose their own vision upon sitting in the director’s chair. All they needed was a guy who knew his way around a film set enough to not trip over the cables and deal with all that annoying “techie stuff.” Indeed, this is a Bond film with no vision at all except to promote “the 007 brand” and push products like BMW in the process. It a movie where the trailer plays better then the film. It hits all the marks but does so as an exercise in hitting the marks. OK, make sure Q makes the joke about getting the car back in one piece and perhaps we should make sure he says BMW again, just to make sure the audience gets it. I’m not sure how handcuffed Spottiswoode was but he’s managed to make a lower case “b” bond film. For a former editor its unreal how bad he is at creating a scene. Establishing shot is a dirty word to this man and pacing is non-existent. With few exceptions this is a film that gives the audience only what’s necessary, unless setting up a bad joke, and hurdlers gracelessly onto the next bit of business. I had no idea where I was or what was happening in the climatic boat battle. The set was black and everything is so dark that all sense of perspective is lost, a pity since everything is taking place on what is clearly a huge set. Stuff was just exploding everywhere, missiles were being shot into the deck of a boat, and yet not one leak was sprung. At other moments, in the middle of action, Spottiswoode would insert a slow-mo shot for no reason what-so-ever. I’m not taking about slowing the film down in an attempt to emphasize something; it was just random shots out of a sequence. This happens several times in the film with no continuity as to when or where it will happen. All I can think is the shots weren’t long enough to fill the hole so he simply extended them in edit. It’s like no one storyboarded this thing and if they did, they did so poorly or Spottiswoode didn’t stick to the game plan. The entire enterprise has a slapdash “lets fix it in post” feel, remarkable when you consider the budget. There are great moments in this movie and a few of the action set piece are quite well done but I can say without a doubt that this is the most poorly directed Bond film up to this point.

Reported Budget: $110,000,000 estimated. Wow, that would be nearly double the last film which was made just two years previous. This ridiculous jump, as far as I can figure out, was courtesy of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who had taken over MGM (for the third time) shortly after GoldenEye was released. Kerkorian’s dream was to get MGM listed on the NY Stock Exchange and he saw James Bond has one of his blue chip assets. In a move that could have been dreamt up by Elliot Carver, the billionaire media mogul baddie in this film, Kerkorian ordered that the new Bond film’s release coincide with his big IPO. Kerkorian threw money at the project to rush it along and with the 9 digit budget came immense pressure on Broccoli and Wilson to deliver on time. Shit, as they say, roles down hill and Spottiswoode was handed a compressed production schedule forcing him and his crew to work quicker then they would have like in order to meet the tight deadline. “Ars Gratia Artis” indeed.

Reported Box-office: $125,332,007 USA and $335,000,000 worldwide. I’m not so sure the investors were doing cartwheels over this one. To be fare, Tomorrow Never Dies happened to open on the same day as Titanic (1997) so that little movie sucked up a bunch of the box-office. Good enough for #10 in the US, Bond was also good enough to fight off other Bondesque entries like The Saint #28, The Jackal #33, and The Peacemaker #55. However, take away the Bond name and I feel this movie would be just as forgettable as those other offerings. This movie is about branding and product, which is fine I guess but if you keep adding water to the martini, people will eventually notice the lack of punch. 1997 also saw the release of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. A dud at the box-office (#36) the film gained a huge cult following on video and the rest, as they say, is history baby. Forget the two horrendous sequels for now, the first Austin Powers film is fantastic and a better made movie then Tomorrow Never Dies. That is to say, the Bond parody is better then the genuine article, providing the short and dirty answer for exactly where the Bond brand was in 1997.

Theme Song: “Tomorrow Never Dies” by Sheryl Crow. I feel for Sheryl Crow, I truly do. I’d imaging two days with Lance Armstrong would be the longest two months of your life. “Hi, I’m Texas born Lance Armstrong and your not. Let me first say I never did steroids. Indeed cancer ate away most of my lungs but I can still climb mountains and win Le Tour 37 times in a row. I, Lance Armstrong, am living proof you can beat cancer. If you want to help you can buy my armband to support cancer research and what? My girlfriend has cancer? Tell my press agent to tell Sheryl I’m dumping her. LIVE STRONG!” So yah, that’s terrible, truly sorry Sheryl. However, when it comes to Sheryl Crow as a performer I don’t particularly care for her brand of benign L.A. pop. I know she gets respect from everyone from Keith Richards on down but every time I hear her whine “All I want to do is have some fun…” I need to listen to Lou Reed’s “Berlin” just to cleanse my palette. So, with my personal taste in mind, this song sucks. Problem one is Crow who is doing her best torch singer impression and simply can’t pull it off. She also co-wrote the tune that I swear to God has the following lines “martinis, girls, and guns, it’s murder on our love affair. But you bet your life every night, while you chase in the morning light, you’re not the only spy out there.” It’s perfect in a way for this film; a checklist for dummies on what James Bond is all about. The end credit music manages somehow to be more embarrassing. It a remix of the classic Bond theme done by Moby which actually samples Connery saying “Do you expect me to talk?” and Goldfinger’s famous reply.

Opening Titles: Bond audience, meet CGI. Even the gun barrel looks all kinds of digital. The credits are kind of clever in that they embrace this new form of film making head on. The sequence starts with some binary code inside some circuitry that gives way to morphing women and black and white negative images. We get TV scan lines and x-ray images all layered one below the next implying we are going deeper, behind the tech, into the internet, pulling back the curtain to see what makes it all tick. Great idea but a false promise, the film that follows is all surface and gloss. Oh, and martinis, girls, and guns. Plenty of that.

Opening Action Sequence: Speaking of digital, the first DVD I ever saw happened to be this movie. My best friend growing up moved to Seattle and I went out to visit him. Let’s call him Tom. Tom had gotten a place in Capital Hill with another mutual friend who had been in Emerald City for a few years. Let’s call him Jonas. It was my first time in Seattle and it was one of those magical trips I’ll never forget. It had to have been 1999 because the Billy Bragg / Wlico record Mermaid Ave. had just been released and it became our non-stop soundtrack for the trip. Tom and I went out to The Comet and The Elysian my first night in town and proceed to limber our minds. When we returned to the apartment Jonas, who is one of the biggest movies guys I know, told me he had recently gotten a DVD player. Did I want to check it out? Hell and yah! He had a bunch of movies but said the best thing to watch to see the true superiority of DVD over VHS when it comes to both picture and sound was the latest James Bond. The opening alone he promised would blow my mind. The jump from VHS to DVD, and this was before HDTV, was truly life changing. When is the last time you’ve watched a VHS? The colors blur, blacks get crushed, any kind of background is non-existent, and the audio sounds like your listen to everything though a soup can string phone. As for the DVD, the shots of the missile screaming forward, the sound of the jet engine blowing over a jeep, the vivid red and orange explosions on the white snow covered mountain background; I couldn’t turn away. Needless to say the first two things I picked up when I returned to New York were a DVD player and Mermaid Ave. Thanks for the memories Tom and Jonas. As for that opening, Bond is spying on a “terrorist arms bizarre” which I picture would be something like “The Rockaway Flee Market” in North Jersey where as a kid I could buy anything from a butterfly knife to nun chucks to Chinese stars. M and her MI6 crew are watching the goings on from headquarters, which is nice because they can provide the commentary. Look, that’s the dude who was responsible for the Tokyo subway attack. And wow, that guy looks just like Ricky Jay, who according to MI6 “practically invented techno terror.” Henry Gupta is his name and he started as a radical at Berkeley in the 60’s now works for highest bidder which is perfect; he’s a sellout just like the rest of the baby boomer generation. Sorry Mom and Dad, you know its true; your generation ruined it all. I digress, turns out Gupta is spotted holding a missing American encoder which controls this new fangled GPS. Yes, there was time when GPS was a military tool and not a toy used to check into Starbucks on Four Square. Enter Admiral Roebuck, one of the most annoying characters in a Bond film since Sheriff J.W. Pepper. We will get to him a moment but for now he decided to blow up the flea market and take out half the worlds terrorist in one shot. M protests, he ignores her, and well after the missile is launched, Bond sends back photos of a Russian jet with nuclear warheads on it sitting right in the middle of the targeted zone. “Can’t your people keep anything locked up?” the Admiral asks a Russian who happens to be in the war room (But he’ll see the big board!!!) So, Bond must get in the plane and take off before the missile hits the sight. This involves him getting into the cockpit and destroying half the base before he even takes off. It’s exciting and well edited but it also never quite gets going because we are constantly cutting back to M and crew watching on the monitors like a room full of fans waiting to see if the game winning felid goal is good. Bond ends up playing chicken on the runway with another jet and the two take off, just missing each other, as the entire bizarre goes boom. It’s a good thing Bond knows how to pilot a Russian MIG because he instantly finds himself engaged in a dogfight having to not only deal with his enemy but also the surrounding mountains and Oh, that guy in the back of his plane who just woke up and is strangling Bond with some kind of lanyard. Making like Jack Nicholson’s least favorite waitress, Bond holds the yolk “between his knees” to keep flying while he fights the backseat dude. It’s around this time Bond remembers the “look at the birdie” scene from Top Gun (1986) and flies his plane directly under the second MIG. A quick hit of the eject seat and his passenger flies up into the other plane’s back seat and then the plane spins off and blows up. “Ask the Admiral where he’d like his bomb delivered.” If the writing here feels a little passionless and utilitarian that is by design, it’s what this sequences feels like as well. The open stands on its own rather well and works on an action level but it fails to bring us into Bond’s world. The GoldenEye open had amazing stunts but more importantly it transported us to the time and place where the action was happing. Here we feel like M, removed and just watching it all on the big screen. But damn does that DVD look good.

Bond’s Mission: We join the HMS Devonshire, a British frigate dealing with two MIG’s they believe to have hostel intent. Jesus, this is Top Gun. Anyway, the Chinese MIG’s insist the ship is in the South China Sea while the boat’s radar shows them to be in international waters. The Brits are mistaken but since they have a satellite fix telling them otherwise they continue to rattle the saber. See, if just one of these alleged “sailors” knew basic seamanship he could break out his sextant and put the whole matter to rest. Alas, standards have fallen in the Royal Fleet. Turns out Henry Gupta escaped the missile attack on the terrorist swap meet with his decoder (How? We have no idea) and is now helping an Aryan named Mr. Stamper screw with the GPS system on the Devonshire. Stamper and Gupta are not far off the bow of the Devonshire aboard a “stealth boat,” kind of a catamaran crossed with the Bat-plane. True, it’s the most astatically unpleasing mode of transport since the AMC Pacer but it allows the baddies to lurk about in the dark seas undetected. The stealth boat then launches a torpedo that looks more like one of those tunnel digging rigs with the several spinning rock cutters on the front and sinks the Devonshire. We are treated to all the Hollywood sinking boat shots that truly terrify me but amidst the exploding bulkheads and trapped crewmen drowning we get our first of the random slow-mo shots for no reason. Kind of sucked me right out, reminding me I was not on a sinking ship but sitting in my living room so I took another sip o Yuengling. Meanwhile these poor bastards are drowning and even worse they radio back the wrong position thanks to the tomfoolery with the GPS so any chance of being saved is erased. Not that it would matter; Mr. Stamper shoots and kills all the survivors with “Asian ammo,” whatever the hell that is, so that the Brits would think the Chinese sunk the ship and killed the sailors. Stamper works for a media mogul who set the Brits and Chinese against each other with the hopes of starting WWIII. Back at the Bat-cave, M has this all pretty much figured out, well at least the “who” bit, and here comes Admiral Roebuck. The first issue is the MI6 war room. So effective in the last film, here the space works against the M scenes. Throughout the movie Spottiswoode proves he has no clue how to shoot large spaces and since the MI6 room is very big and very dark the characters just kind of float in a limbo. The scene would be so much more effective if taking place in say M’s old office, with M behind the large desk giving the proper weight to what’s being disguised, mainly should they start WWIII. Instead the players look like four co-works standing outside a freight elevator taking a smoke break. So, England is on the brink of war and the PM has M, the head of MI6, and Admiral Roebuck, some kind of military muckety-muck, standing before him in this void of a space. M wants to investigate further and Admiral Roebuck wants to drop the bomb. We remember how well Roebuck’s “drop the bomb” strategy worked out at the terrorist bizarre five minutes ago but somehow no one in the film recalls the Admiral’s colossal blunder. No matter, the Admiral’s function in the film is to make the wrong decision every time. He is a useful idiot (useful as far as creating easy if unnecessary tension) who is one of the laziest of lazy plot devices. I became keenly aware of this character thanks to Siskel & Ebert’s review of Die Hard (1988). A split, Gene liked the film’s action well enough but Roger couldn’t get past the police chief played by Paul Gleason. Ebert’s point; how did this guy get to be in charge? All he does is make wrong choice after wrong choice putting everyone in further danger. He ignores Sgt. Al Powell, who’s been on the scene from the get go, and blindly plows ahead when all evidence suggests he ought to do the opposite. Now, it is true M can’t give up the name of the media mogul she suspects is behind everything because of his ties to the PM. I also like the idea of the military and MI6 chafing when it comes to dealing with an extremely volatile situation but none of those arguments are made here. Instead, we get chirping and snipping until the Admiral calls M out for not having “the balls for the job.” She and Bond just bailed you out ass hat! And besides, we got the M-doesn’t-have-balls-joke in the last film and that time it was, you know, funny. So now we have an exasperated PM delivering a line out of countless Dirty Harry rip-offs, “Tell your man he has 48 hours.” So, Bond has two days to prove M’s theory and stop WWIII. Giddy up.

Villain’s Name: Elliot Carver AKA The Emperor of the Air. The first time we see him is in an extreme close-up, only one of his eyes is visible. The other is hidden behind the reflection of a newspaper headline on his spectacles. Indeed, Elliot Carver is the kind of guy who doesn’t wear glasses. He wears spectacles. He is an all powerful media baron capable of “swinging an election with a single broadcast” and now he needs a big ongoing story for the launch of his new 24-hour news network. A war would do nicely. Much like Charles Foster Kane, Carver has the power to tell people what to think. Carver, like Kane, is said to be based on William Randolph Hearst who Carver even quotes at one point “You provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war.” Hearst said his famous line during the build up to the Spanish-America War, a war many feel was pushed along by Hearst and his main competitor Joseph Pulitzer in 1898. I remember when Tomorrow Never Dies came out one of the criticisms was a media CEO is not a diabolical enough villain for a Bond picture. I don’t think that’s the issue, I think the problem is Michael Wilson, to quote Admiral Roebuck, doesn’t have the balls for the job. To use a 100 year old war started by newspapers in the age of 24 hour news cycles is disingenuous at best when you consider the fact that a real life, living, breathing, Elliot Carver was controlling the media in the UK as the film was being made. Elliot Carver should be Rupert Murdoch. If anyone who was making this film was honest with themselves, Elliot Carver would be Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, in 1997 Murdoch’s FOX News had yet to sway the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election when candidate Bush’s first cousin, John Ellis, the “freelance political advisor” at FOX, called Florida, a state where his other cousin Jeb Bush was governor, a win for Bush when every other network had given it to candidate Gore or saw it was too close to call. Also true Murdoch had yet to be exposed for the vial phone tapping scandal that very well may have cost a kidnap victim her life. (The investigation is still on going as of this writing.) But in England, where Murdoch and his minions openly pulled the strings of members of British Parliament and had a standing invitation to 10 Downing Street, the head of News Corp. was known to be a villain, and a powerful one at that. Perhaps EON, like the PM standing before M in the war room, couldn’t take on Murdoch head-on. In fact, Michael Wilson casts himself in the film as one of Carver’s puppets (“consider him slimed sir”) making it almost too easy to see the producer as fearful of Murdoch’s wrath. This is a franchise that prides itself on up-to-the-minute ripper-from-the-headlines plot points (Bond was the first movie to ever show a laser!) yet here they go back to a war most people have never even heard of for their inspiration?

Fair & Balanced

Why go after someone that can really hurt you, much easier to pick on a guy who’s been dead for 75 years. The idea of Murdoch as a Bond villain is spot on, but Carver is no Murdoch and I can’t help but see the character as an opportunity missed. Taking it the next logical step, I can’t help but see the opportunity being missed because of a lack of courage … and balls.

Villain Actor: Jonathan Pryce. For me, Price will always be Sam Lowry lost and losing it in Brazil (1985). He’s a fantastic actor who does what he can with the role, like when he mocks an Asian woman’s kung fu, but ultimately he’s flat. I can’t pin it all on Price, the script doesn’t help and unfortunately for him, Carver is one of the less memorable Bond villains. Not because the idea of a media mogul is a bad one, but because the film refuses to pull the trigger and make him a compelling villain with true motives.

Villain’s Plot: Carver (like Murdock) is a newspaper man at heart. Even at his elevated position, Carver e is constantly writing and rewriting headlines. Now, he is launching himself into the 24-hour cable news world and that is given as his reason for starting the war. I don’t buy it. Yes, he wants eyeballs on his news network and indeed, ratings are nice. After all, the first Gulf War put CNN on the map in 1991. However, it’s not really about ratings for guys like Murdoch or Hearst or Carver, it’s about power. It’s not about delivering the news but shaping a worldview. I’m a Mets fan….done laughing? No really get it out, it’s cool. OK, so as a Mets fan I hop the 7 train to Citifield as often as I can. Like most ballparks there are a bunch of advertisements hanging all over the outfield. One of the ads is for FOX Business Network. The only other word on the billboard other then the name of the channel is POWER. Not information, not accuracy, not timeliness, but POWER, in huge letters right over Jason Bay’s head. Carver talks about ratings, saying he wants exclusive TV rights in China for the next 100 years so he can have one billion people watching and he stops there. This is 100% wrong. It’s the fact that those one billon people live in a closed society with a government controlled internet and will have no choice other then to believe everything Carver tells them. The China deal is about having a pipeline to control the country that controls the largest Army on earth. It’s about being a modern day Joseph Goebbels. It’s about having absolute power. The film only needed to go half a step further to say all of this. Shit, Bond films love to have the villain make grandiose speeches. All you would need is a little something like “Ratings Mr. Bond? Ohhh, I’m afraid you’re thinking too small. The problem with the press is we are given too much freedom. Freedom to say whatever we want! Freedom to control the message and to control the message is to control the people. Say, I want to cover up Golden Saks shady sales of toxic loans. Done and I get a little kickback for my trouble while the people do their business as usual. Or, say I want to suppress that nasty torture bit at Abu Ghraib, claim global warming is a hoax, or even declare evolution itself is a myth, all I need to do is say it enough times and people will accept it as fact. If I want people to think Kim Kardashian is happily married and doing charity work in Calcutta, so be it! I can make the sky green and the grass blue and everyone of those people out there will not only believe me, they act according to my whim whhahhahhha!” Done and done. With a little bit of dialog Carver is a king maker and a Kardashian defender; in other words a true threat to the free world.

Villain’s Lair: I have never seen a TV studio that looks like Carvers. He hold his opening party in space that is the most “set” looking set in a Bond film since Blofeld’s volcano in You Only Live Twice (1967). The place looks like a Euro-trash disco which is OK I guess, this is after all Hamburg, but later when everyone clears out Carver is in this space with absolutely no one. Have you ever seen a 24-hour news gathering operation? It makes those shots they show of traders on the floor of the NYSE in films look organized. In fact, no one works at Carver’s TV station, the paper, or anywhere in Carver’s empire, unless they are employed in security. It’s one more example of the film beginning lazy, not well thought out, and once again exposes our director as unable to handle the large sets that dominate Bond films. Take the other space where Carver spends his time, the stealth boat. The interior is again a dark, huge, soulless room but at least there are a few people turning knobs to give the appearance of a crew. By the by, we are told the boat can hit 48 knots which is 55.2 MPH. Not bad for a craft with no discernable propulsion system.

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: I like his smugness. He not only assumes he is the smartest guy in the room; he disregards everyone, including his wife, unless he can use them for something. His arrogance is boundless “I will reach and influenced more people on this planet then anyone in history save God himself, and all he managed was a sermon on the mountain.” That’s good stuff and something that Carver no doubt believes. Indeed, his company is not only run as a dictatorship, it looks like one as well, what with his image everywhere, looking down on his kingdom like big brother. It’s a little odd, I can’t picture Les Moonves draping a 20 story banner of his face on Black Rock but then again, he is the boss of the extremely Bond villain sounding company Viacom so it might happen one day.

Badassness of Villain: Citizen Kane (1941) is essentially about a quest to find out why newspaper baron Charles Foster Kane did what he did. Kane is a villain who ruined many lives but he wasn’t a bad man as much as he was misguided and empty. Kane didn’t realize he was destroying everything around him to fill the large emotional void left by his father until it finally destroyed him. Carver on the other hand is the boy running around on his sled. He’s got a toy, this media empire, and man wouldn’t it been neat to start a war. He does it because he can. We over hear him delivering an amusing anecdote at his party where he denies spreading the rumors of mad cow disease to get back at a beef baron who stiffed him 100,000 pounds at a poker game. However, he didn’t dispute that he received 1,000,000 from a French cattleman to keep the stories going for another year. I guess he’s saying he’s for sale for the right price? I’m not sure. He displays such detachment I don’t know if he is so much badass as much as soulless. He orders 17 British sailors to be shot as you or I would order a ham sandwich. He barely blinks after having his own wife killed and is more concerned with writing her obit. The only moment we see a hint that perhaps this man is human is when Bond breaks into his safe to steal the American decoder. There, locked up with this most powerful tool, are baggies of dope, a few syringes and some porn. What does this man do when he’s alone?

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Someone like Carver needs a good #2, a buffer between him and his evil deeds. Murdoch, for example, has Roger Ailes. I know for a fact that when Ailes had his office on the second floor of the FOX News building in Manhattan it was encased in bomb proof glass and was as accessible as Ft. Knox even for his own employees. (He has since moved to higher floors in the same 6th Ave. building.) The man has several security men as well as members of the NYPD walk him to his car parked in the underground garage and he is never, ever seen in public, especial in New York City. He fears not only al-Qaeda but, and I’m not making this up, the homosexual plot against him. If that’s not a Bond villain then I don’t know what is. Mr. Stamper is no Roger Ailes. He functions in the Jaws role as a henchman; an enforcer who gets physical while the villain waxes philosophical. He’s fine but not all that memorable. The other two henchmen on the other hand are by far the best things about the movie. The underused Ricky Jay, who is hands down the most interesting man in Hollywood, plays Henry Gupta. His credits and accomplishments are so vast I will not get into it here but only to say that in the same year this film came out he also played the porn film cameraman in Boogie Nights (1997). His bitching about the integrity of his shot and lighting to Burt Reynolds “there are shadows in life babe” is movie magic. Please allow me once again give an example of Spottiswoode’s complete lack of understanding of what makes a good film. On the DVD extras there are some outtakes. One of them features Ricky Jay, as Gupta, doing his famous trick where he throws playing cars so hard they slice fruit and even become imbedded in hard surfaces. The scene is a visual nod to Oddjob’s hat trick. It also adds a human level to Gupta, despicable baby boomer that he is. It lasted all of 15 seconds. It was cut…for time. Thank God for Dr. Kaufman played by Brooklyn born character actor Vincent Schiavelli. In a film allergic to detail and nuance, Kaufman embraces both. Dressed in a suit two times too big, wearing a wispy mustache, and speaking in a cartoon evil German accent, he is a hit man of the highest order. He enters Bond’s hotel room and sits in a chair. A dead woman is on the bed next to Bond. Kaufman killed her and now plans on framing Bond after he kills him to make it look like a murder/suicide. “I am an outstanding marksman’s take my word, yah?” Bond points out the hit man is standing in the wrong spot, it will not look as if Bond killed himself due to the trajectory of the built. “Believe me Mr. Bond I could shot you from Stuttgrad un still create ze proper effect.” Just then the doctor gets a call on the radio. It turns out Stamper and his goons are having trouble breaking into Bond’s BMW which contains the decoder. “Did you call ze auto club? OK, ya I ask. This is very embarrassing, they want me to make you unlock ze car, I feel like an idiot. I don’t know what to say.” It’s fantastic, a professional being thrown off his game by incompetent accomplices. Of course this gives Bond an opportunity to turn the tables and in short order he is pointing the gun at the doctor. “Please, I’m only a professional doing a job.” “Me too” says Bond as he pulls the trigger. Kaufman is only on screen for about three minutes but he absolutely steals the show and goes down in the annals as one of the best Bond villains.

Bond has his tux, Dude has his robe

Bond Girl Actress: Michelle Yeoh. I instantly recognized her as Yu Shu Lien from the wonderful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), one of the best films of that year. Already a star in Asia, this was one of her first English roles and as many times as I write that for various Bond women, I never tire of it. Bond films catch a lot of flack, more often then not deservedly so, for being misogynist. Fare enough, but then they must also be praised and given credit for going out of the way to cast different nationalities and different forms of beauty in the Bond girl role. At least a dozen actresses have waltzed through Hollywood’s front door on a red carpet thanks to being cast as the Bond girl. The other lady in Bond’s life in this movie is Terri Hatcher who unlike Yeoh is right off Hollywood’s A-list.

Bond Girl’s Name: Colonel Wai Lin of the Chinese People’s External Security Force outranks Commander Bond of the Royal Navy. In the press materials for every Bond film someone, typically the director or leading lady, says something like “This time it’s not your typical Bond girl.” This maybe the first time they are correct. Yes, Triple-X was a Major in the Russian military and Dr. Goodhead was a CIA agent but they always kind of took a back seat to Bond when the bullets starting flying. Not Wai Lin. She has a hand-to-hand combat scene all to her own in which she kicks some serious baddie ass before Bond waltzes in at the very end. She also has her very own Q lab, a Saigon bicycle shop that with a few key strokes on her Chinese character keyboard (red of course) turns into a spy’s paradise complete with a fire breathing dragon statues that could double as Benihana lobby décor, a fan that sprays deadly darts and more guns guns guns then the parking lot at a Virginia NRA convention. Much like 007 and XXX in The Spy Who Loved Me(1977), Bond and Lin are forced to overcome the political divide between their two governments and work toward the greater good. In one of the few displays of wit in the movie, Bond and Wai Lin spend a good portion of the film literally glued together at the hip thanks to a pair of handcuffs. The central set piece of the film involves the two escaping Carver’s men on a motorcycle. They are cuffed left hand to right so in order to operate the bike Bond has one hand on one handle while she controls the other. “Pop the clutch.” The motorcycle chase thorough the market streets of Saigon starts out exciting enough but by the time it was halfway over I started thinking about video games. Now, I hate when someone says an action sequence or a movie is like a video game. Typically what they mean by the criticism is to say the movie is all action and no soul. This is very unfair to video games as anyone who has ever played Portal or Bioshock or Red Dead Redemption or Mass Effect or countless other video games will tell you.

Big Daddies and Little Sisters

At this point, technology is such that video games are able to create worlds and characters as rich as any found in film or literature. When I say I was reminded of video games during the chase I’m referring to the “structure” and “build” of the sequence. Form the days of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong until now, video games have worked best when they incorporate some kind of leveling up as the player progresses through the game. Complete level one and the level two may be faster, the enemies may be more powerful, the environment may throw you a few more curve balls, or maybe all three. The idea is that as you advance, things get harder. This is done to avoid repeating the same thing over and over and keep the player involved. This form of storytelling of courses goes back to the Greeks, with each increasingly difficult trial the hero proves his worth and gets closer to the goal. Films build to the final showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist so this is not new. But this leveling up typically walks hand in hand with another video game staple, which is the game will provide the solution to any problem, always. Otherwise, you couldn’t finish the game, which is designed to be played and eventually won. (That is unless you’re playing Dark Souls in which case all bets are off and you’re on your own.) So, if you need a gun, look around the board long enough and you will find a gun. Need to cross that river, sure as shit you will find something in the environment you can fashion into a bridge. Back to the motorcycle chase, the whole thing happens on city blocks that look like they were designed for Mario Cart. There are ramps and levels and pop up obstacles that exist only to make Bond and Wai Lin deal with increasing difficult driving conditions. But whenever they need to get up onto a roof, there is a board perfectly positioned to act as a way upward. They need to jump from one roof to the next and there is a ramp for their convenience. When they need to take cover to hide from a helicopter, there is hut they can drive right into. All of this of course builds up to what in video game speak is called a “boss battle.” Everything you do in many games is a warm up to prep you for the finally show down with the baddest of badass baddies. This will at first seem to be an unwinnable fight, until you find the bosses weakness. There is always one. So here the motorcycle chase all builds up to the point where Bond and Wai Lin are trapped in an ally with nowhere to go. The helicopter is at the other side of the street and the two face each other like gunfighters in the streets of Tombstone. The helicopter pitches forward and starts to move in on Bond and Wai Lin, the blades making minced meat of anything they come in contact with. “Trapped” says Wai Lin, “never” answers Bond as they look around the environment and find the exact thing they need to beat the boss, a clothesline. Our two heroes grab the line, gun the bike toward the helicopter, slides under the blades and once safely on the other side, toss the line into the blades. As the chopper spins and explodes the environment once again proves the ideal solution, a washbasin large enough to fit two people. Our heroes jump in and hide safely underwater as the chopper explodes in a fireball overhead. To top it all off, none of this was necessary. Now in the clear, Wai Lin picks the handcuff lock with her earring, and she’s off and running. Like Dorothy, she had the power to go home the whole time. Then there is Paris Carver, I can only assume the long suffering wife of Elliot. She and James have a past that is wisely kept opaque. We do get a sold hint that way back when she was quite a handful. “He will have a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred…” “…and the lady will have a shot of tequila.” “Mrs. Carver will have some champagne from Mr. Carver’s cellar.” Perhaps they met on spring break. As discussed earlier, Bond’s best bit in the film is his drunken bedroom meeting with Mrs. Carver. But like almost everything in this film, what starts as interesting ends in cliché as these two talented actors have to deliver dialog like “Did I get to close?” as the music swells.

Bond Girl Sluttiness: This is one of the stranger films when it comes to Jimmy B’s sex life. First off, he not only sleeps with Carver’s wife, it’s an encounter that means something to both of them. They make love as opposed to have sex, if you will. Bond has banged the baddies babe before but (alliteration rocks!) sleeping with a man’s wife is a little different. Particularly if you care for his wife and you know he’s going to find out and more then likely kill her. Take For Your Eyes Only (1981) where Bond sleep with the baddies mistress, Countess Lisl von Schaff who was played by Brosnen’s future wife Cassandra Harris. She is killed by Locque and when Bond finally gets his revenge, he kicks Locque over a cliff in one of the more memorable moments in Bond history. Here in Tomorrow Never Dies, the grim reality of what Bond did and the outcome, a dead woman, is never dealt with in a direct way. Why not? Because that would require some work on the filmmakers’ part, so like so many other things in the movie, it’s glossed over and then dropped entirely. As for Wai Lin, she is all business and in a rather refreshing fashion, spurns every advance by the spy from the corrupt capitalist nation. Bond in fact never sleeps with his leading lady, which if I’m not mistaken is a first.

Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: Bond to Paris Carver when they first come face to face “I always wondered how I would feel if I saw you again…” smack to the face. “Now I know.”

Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: Paris Carver to Bond shortly after the slap “Do you still sleep with a gun under the pillow?”

Number of Woman 007 Beds: 2. Since he doesn’t get to have the Bond girl I guess they needed to throw in a blond at the top. The first time we see James after the open he is “brushing up on a little Danish” with his language tutor Prof. Inga Bergstorm at his alma mater Cambridge. Then there is the Paris meeting in Hamburg, which leads to her death. That’s it. True, after the stealth boat is distorted Bond and Wai Lin share a kiss while floating on wreckage but there is no position in the Karma Sutra that Bond and his marshal arts expert partner could pull of without end up at the bottom of the sea.

Number of People 007 Kills: In the days of yore, Bond had his trusty Walther PPK and we could keep track of where his bullets landed. Now, Bond prefers picking up a machine gun from a downed baddie and going to town. This is surely much more effective for the agent but its hell on the body count department. We will, in the interest of accurate reporting, do our best. In the open Bond gets into a cockpit and lets loose with both bullets and missiles. Many trucks, planes and crates of weapons are destroyed and our spotter counted three terrorist killed. Once airborne, Bond’s little ejector seat trick takes out two more baddies. After getting Paris killed, all be it indirectly but I think 007 bears some responsibility, he puts a single bullet into Dr. Kaufman. Bond breaks into Carver’s TV station where he gets his hands on a machine gun and shoots down at least one guy while escaping. This maybe a good place to note that Carver’s men have the aim of drunken imperial storm troopers on ice skates. Watching them shoot at Bond I was reminded of the scene in The Dead Pool (1988) where Harry and his lady are in a glass elevator, literally fish in a barrel. Two baddies with machine guns open fire on the elevator and unleash 300 or so bullets, not hitting either of the people trapped in the glass box. Harry then fires off three bullets to kill both men. We counted four guys in the chopper that Bond downed with the clothesline leading us to the climatic battle. While running around under the stealth boat (it’s like a catamaran) he knifes one baddie and once inside he once again gets an automatic weapon and takes out five. Another aside if I may, I don’t know much about guns. The last time I pulled the trigger on one I was 10-years-old shooting a .22 at Boy Scout camp. I was not very good at it. Anyway, my understanding is guns, automatic weapons in particular, have what is called a kick, or recoil, in which the gun moves backward with some force as the bullet leaves the chamber. This is why, I’m told, guns have a shoulder stock, so the shooter can steady the gun and absorb the kick with his body. Right. While ripping apart the stealth boat with bullets Bond waves the gun about this way and that as if he were Gene Kelly twirling his umbrella in Singing in the Rain (1952). Would this not at the very least hamper his aim and more then likely rip his arm off? Please feel free to comment if you are in the know. Anyway, when it comes to what weapons can do we should really be discussing missiles. Bond gets behind a missile launcher on board the stealth boat and starts to fire missiles at baddies who are on the boat. This causes them to jump off the catwalks they were perched on while large red fire balls flair up but no holes are ripped in the hull, no water comes rushing in, and in fact, the boat suffers little. Now, I know this is a movie but it must be consistent. Earlier we saw the Devonshire go down thanks to one projectile hitting it. We saw water rushing in and sailors getting blasted around thanks to the force of incoming water. Here, a piece of piping falls with loud clank. Mr. Stamper is undone by a missile but not as you would imagine. Bond traps the henchman behind a missile that’s about to launch and when it does Stamper disappears in a great ball of fire. Goodness gracious.

Most Outrageous Death/s: I couldn’t decide so we’ve got a tie. Turns out Carver’s got a huge printing press, not far from his TV studio which I’m sure annoys the audio engineers to no end. Bond is above the whirling LOUD machinery as reams of paper fly by underneath. He is struggling with a baddie who … $5 dollars to the one who gets it first! Right, falls into the press. The only reason this press exists, in a location it never would, is so we can see paper turning red with a man’s blood and hear Bond say “They’ll print anything these days.” For the other outrageous death we get the worst head villain demise since Mr. Big got really big in Live and Let Die (1973). Carver is on the bridge of his sinking ship. Bond physically confronts him and the two are struggling when Bond hits a switch to starts the tunnel digging torpedo a-whirling and heading for them. Both men turn around to see the torpedo coming. Bond holds Carver and himself in front of the approaching blades. “You forgot the first rule of mass media Elliot! Give the people what they want.” Bond then jumps out of the way of the torpedo, which is still coming. Cut to the torpedo still coming. Cut to a close up on Carver’s face as he looks at the torpedo, still coming. If the close up shot had been an extreme close up showing only one eye and the reflection of the approaching torpedo in his spectacles that would have been something. Not only would it reference the first time we saw the villain creating a nice little bookend but it would also indicate that Carver is so accustom to watching things happen on a screen that he is unable to react to events that are actually happening to him. A simple shot choice would have gone miles, however, no one involved with the production was thinking in cinematic terms so no, we get none of that. What we do get is Carver screaming, then raising his hands in front of his face, then another cutaway to see the torpedo finally reach him and cutting him up. We are left wondering why he didn’t step to the side.

Miss. Moneypenny: I really don’t enjoy continuing this negative tangent but here again I must. Moneypenny and M both are robbed of any humanity and function only as the plot requires. It’s incredibly frustrating because we’ve spent so much time with these characters at this point we want more from them then just function. Add the fact we have in Moneypenny and M two incredible actresses who are new to the series and showed such promise in GoldenEye and it all the sadder. Here poor Samantha Bond is reduced to chiding Bond over the phone for his sexual exploits. When she hangs up Judy Dench is standing behind her. “Don’t ask” says Moneypenny “Don’t tell” responds Dench. I can only imagine both women returning to their trailers depressed after that exchange.

M: M has one scene outside of dealing with the pain the ass Admiral and it’s a rather enjoyable one. Since Bond has only 48 hours to get his mission accomplishes he receives his briefing on the way to the airport. Bond and M get a full police escort through the streets of London which is super crazy cool. The two sit in the back of the car and discuss how to proceed as they wiz through the city, M with drink in hand. Awesome.

Q: Tomorrow Never Dies, the one where Major Boothroyd becomes a walking, talking billboard. He approaches 007 at the Hamburg airport dressed in a red Avis jacket. The gag, which wears thin before it even starts, is Q is a car rental rep. “Would you be needing collision?” horn blast in the sound track. “Accidents do happen.” “Fire?” Another horn blast. “Defiantly.”  And so on. When they reach the garage Q becomes a used car salesman on Northern Blvd. “The BMW 750, the finest in automobile technology.” And if you put 20% down right now I can throw in the headlight stinger missiles free of charge. Some other stuff happened but I missed it, I was to busy wondering why a caged tiger was in the background of the shot.

Phones ringin' dude

List of Gadgets: Phish once sang “with the right device you can make a pattern grow, or you can tune up your car.” Or in the case of Bond’s new phone, drive your car. Way before Steve Jobs dreamt up the iPhone, a device that makes everyone James Bond, 007 had a mobile with a fingerprint scanner, a 20,000 volt security system and “this I’m particularly proud of, a touch pad remote control used to drive the car.” At least that’s what Q shows us, but say Bond needs to pick a lock? There’s an app for that. Bond also has a lighter that doubles as a detonator for a magnetic grenade, which is pretty cool.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: The BMW 750, the finest in automobile technology.

Other Property Destroyed: At one point Ricky Jay is walking through Carver’s media complex and for no reason at all points to a satellite sitting in what appears to be a lobby. “That’s a $300 million satellite so be careful. You break it you bought it.” The plot’s ludicrous, you can guess what happens next. Bond fixes the cable? In the open alone Bond destroys more military equipment then in any previous film including one truck which he blows over with a jet’s afterburner, which I thought was inspired. Carver has a room in his TV station set aside to beat people up in which is actually quite realistic. Bond trashes the room much to the delight of several Carver News associate producers. Half of a neighborhood in Saigon is wiped out during the motorcycle chase including one block lost to a fire works mishap and a shopping district chopped up by a falling helicopter. Bond and Wai Lin also rip a 20 story banner that must of cost a small fortune right down the middle. He also blows up the stealth boat. Something of an error on 007’s part considering the Chinese and British governments were both hip to Carver’s scheme and working in concert to get him. Also, I’m sure Q would have loved to get a look at the stealth boat to figure out the technology. But you know, the villain’s lair must be blown up and so it is. There is also an Avis rental shop and parking garage in Hamburg, which we needs to look at more closely.

Bond Cars: BMW 750. Before he picks up the baby blue beamer from Q we get a glimpse of the classic Aston Martin. But it’s really all about the BMW and the car chase in the Hamburg parking garage. After Bond kills Kaufman he enters the garage to see half a dozen goons milling about the car. Her breaks out the remote control phone, drives the car to him, jumps in the back seat and navigates through the multiple levels of the garage while being chased. The idea of a car chase that goes nowhere is a good one. So good, in fact, that one of the greatest films of all time is about just that, the classic The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). I have never seen a frame of any of the other 27 Fast & Furious films and I hope I never will. That said, I could watch Tokyo Drift 100 times it still wouldn’t be enough. I’m not kidding, I adore that film. Anyway, back to the “Hamburg Slide,” a compromised second draft of the “Tokyo Drift.” The car chase is a microcosm of why this film is ultimately flat. It starts with a great premise; have Bond driving, from the backseat, getting chased in a parking garage. We see the gadgets that Q pointed out perform as we would expect, the missiles take out the baddies and the guns do the same. The spikes getting dropped out of the back, while not pointed out by Q, work in the grand tradition of the oil slick/smoke coming out of the back of the Aston Martin. But then when Bond ends up running over the spikes, his tires self inflate. Then, the baddies put a chain up in front of the car, which suddenly becomes a Swiss Army knife. Bond pushes a button and whala, the hood ornament pops up and a cable cutter is underneath. Back to the video game thing; throw an obstacle out there and the environment, in this case with no context, will provide the answer. What purpose other then cutting the cable would the devise serve? Did Q sit up late and night and consider what would happen if say a dead elephant was in Bond’s way? Just as likely a scenario. Everything in this film exists in the moment it is needed and has no context to the rest of the goings on. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to move Tokyo Drift to the top of my queue. After all, If You Ain’t Outta Control, You Ain’t In Control! Freaking geniuses.

Felix Leiter: Jack Wade is back and this brings a smile to my face. What started as a gag in the last film here becomes a running joke that I rather enjoy. That is, Wade just kind of appearing, unannounced, out of nowhere, ready to assist in anyway he can while at the same time taking pains to let Bond know he’s “not really here. The CIA has no involvement or official position in this matter what-so-ever.” It’s also cool that Wade’s wearing an even more obnoxious shirt then he had in the last film while Bond is in his dress blues. Wade and Bond quickly figure out the location of the sunken Devonshire, and since it’s in the South Sea of China, Bond has a little favor to ask Wade. In this situation Felix would have shook his head and said something like “ohhh no James, you remember what happened last time.” Wade on the other hand has our man suited up and jumping out of a plane in the very next scene. “He didn’t even say good-by.” I rather like Jack Wade.

Best One Liners/Quips: “I wonder if the CIA will be more upset that they lost it or that we found it.” M on discovering GPS decoder.

Bond Timepiece: Looks to be the same Omega model from GoldenEye which is handsomely displayed on the DVD cover.

Caucasian, shaken not stirred

Other Notable Bond Accessories: Nothing really of note but it’s cool to see Commander Bond in uniform on occasion.

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: After his vodka martini at the party he hits a bottle of Smirnoff in his hotel room for some serious soul searching. By the time Paris shows up the bottle is half empty so whatever the math is on that, there you go.

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Nope, and you can’t win lest you put your chips in.

List of Locations: In the open, the French Pyrenees stood in for the unavailable Afghani location. London plays London as well as the parts of Hamburg that were not shot in Hamburg, like the parking garage and the exterior of Carver’s media complex. One of the most interesting shots in the film shows the waterways of Saigon while Bond and Wai Lin fly overhead bound for Carver’s CGI created tower. Ho Chi Minh City fell through so producers used Bangkok as a stand in for the Vietnamese local. Indeed, we go to these places but it’s all perfunctory. None of the locations feel real or lived in. Instead, I feel like I’m on vacation with Clark Griswold. Kids, look. The Grand Canyon, OK let’s go.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: He can expertly pilot a MIG through the mountains while engaged in a dog fight and holding the stick between his knees. The fact that he can drive the BMW with the remote expertly on his first try is fine; the banter between he and Q while he does so is not. The motorcycle skills have been well covered by this point, which leaves the Halo Jump. Halo, or High Altitude Low Opening jump, is a way to get into a hostile location while avoiding radar. The jump is from 29 thousand feet, the top O Everest for those keeping score, and requires a 5 mile freefall during which the jumper reaches a speed of 200 MPH before opening his chute as close to the ground as possible. I don’t know if people do this for real but if so it’s very, very James Bond.

Final Thoughts: The finally credit on screen for Tomorrow Never Dies says the film was done “In loving memory of Albert Cubby Broccoli.” The old man deserves much better then this, one of the weaker entries in the Bond cannon. I found this film to be the most frustrating Bond film yet. All the pieces were in place, and yet it never worked. While writing the review I often thought back to an episode of “The Office.” In the episode, Andy Bernard was contemplating becoming a critic. “Perhaps I could be a food critic. These muffins are bad. Or an art critic, that painting is bad.” My intent was not to be negative for the sake of being negative, but to explore why this film didn’t work. The point of this blog from the get go was to look at Bond films, which more or less have the same ingredients, and figure out why sometimes they work and other times they fall flat. I think Tomorrow Never Dies is a failure with many architects. The movie is Bond paint by numbers, checking off the boxes listed in the song, “martinis, girls, and guns.” I often think about the people working on bad films, at what point do they realize they have a turkey on their hands? “I remember starting the first day on that film in an aircraft, flying a jet and it was 102 degrees, and I’m wearing a helmet and sweater, and then I’m being strangled over and over again, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this bloody character is going to kill me.’ The press tour for that film was 22 countries. When I did it I knew the movie wasn’t up to speed; it wasn’t as good as GoldenEye (1995) and you have to bang the drum loudly to get the attention.” I found that quote by Pierce Brosnan on IMDB. He had given it after he was more or less fired from the James Bond role so perhaps there are some sour grapes delivered along with the quote but I have a feeling he’s being 100% honest. I’m reminded of a story George Clooney tells about promoting his 1997 film, Batman & Robin. He was sitting backstage waiting to go on Letterman when he realized he had to go on TV and lie. He had to talk about how great the film was to promote a product he knew to be garbage. He decided he never wanted to have to stand behind a project he didn’t believe in again. Take a gander at his IMDb page post 1997 and while you may not love all those films, this is not the trajectory of someone making easy choices. This is someone doing what they want and what they believe in. However, when you’re the lead in something so much bigger then you, like Batman or James Bond, you’re at the mercy of a large machine that creates such an inertia that the show, as they say, must go on, regardless of quality. I believe even EON, like Brosnan, knew the movie was not up to snuff. Roger Spottiswoode is a one and done Bond director. The DVD extras, typically packed with great insight into the thinking and techniques that went into the making of the Bond film, are quite sparse for this outing. (But we do get a Moby music video, so we’ve got that going for us.) Maybe part of GoldenEye’s greatness can be attributed to the six years of prep time. This movie feels rushed and incomplete and perhaps the every other year schedule for Bond releases works against the creative process. Add the fact the studio brass was forcing the issue with an accelerated production schedule and the problem becomes compounded. The film simply doesn’t come together even on the most basic level. Bond had 48 hour to prevent a war, yet we saw many nights and days pass and more front page headlines; the Devonshire sinking incident, Paris’s obit, the “Empire Will Strike Back,” Bond’s obit, etc., then could ever be written in the given news cycle. Bond runs around at the climax trying to prevent what? The missiles have been launched and the British government and Chinese governments are working in concert to get Carver. Bonds job was done, yet he hangs around and almost gets Wai Lin killed in the process. Everything done in this film, with a hand full of exceptions, has been done better in previous Bond films. It’s one of the worst directed Bond films to date (that damn slow-mo!) and everything is backed by wall to wall, over the top, thumping music broken up by poorly written one liners.  I could go on and on but I already have. The movie has its moments here and there and is therefore not a total failure but to take a page out of Andy Barnard’s book, this film is bad.

Martini ratings:

GoldenEye

Title: GoldenEye

Year: 1995. GoldenEye finally saw the dark of the theater in November of 1995 putting an end to the longest hiatus between 007 celluloid adventures ever. This six year gap, like the longest previous gap of three plus years between The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), was due to legal issues. The CliffsNotes; in 1989 Danjaq, the Swiss parent company of EON sued MGM/UA over issues surrounding the licensing of Bond television rights. At the time ABC among others were still making big bucks airing Bond on primetime TV and EON/Danjaq wanted more of the pie. The upshot was a freeze on all further Bond films until the suit was settled in December of ’94 for a reported $13.5 million according to Variety. In the meantime, those jonesing for their 007 fix had to settle for a shot of 003 ½. I wish I were kidding. In 1991 Bond fans could turn on Saturday morning cartoons and catch the animated program “James Bond Jr.” Now, you may be thinking, “But Bond never had kids” and you would be right. I’ll let IMDb.com explain:

James Bond Jr. is the nephew of the famous international spy. Determined to follow in the footsteps of his famous uncle, James Jr. enrolls in Warfield, a prep school based on the grounds of an old counter intelligence training base in the UK. Along with his schoolmates IQ (grandson of Q) and Gordo Leiter (son of CIA agent Felix), James Jr. fights against SCUM (Saboteurs and Criminals United in Mayhem), an international cartel of terrorists and mad scientists.

Wikipedia has more:

James Bond Jr. is a fictional character described as the nephew of Ian Fleming’s master spy James Bond. The name “James Bond Junior” was first used in 1967 for an unsuccessful spinoff novel entitled 003½: The Adventures of James Bond Junior written under the pseudonym R. D. Mascott. The idea of Bond having a nephew was used again in 1991 as an American animated series for television in which the title character defeats threats to the safety of the free world. The series was mildly successful and spawned six episode novelizations by John Peel writing as John Vincent, a 12 issue comic book series by Marvel Comics published in 1992, as well as a video game developed by Eurocom in 1991.

Wow! So they didn’t just pull 003 ½ out of their anuses, he’s been around since the days of Fleming. Obviously all of this is absolutely absurd except the idea of SPECTRE being replaced by SCUM. That’s awesome. If only there was a song spelling out how James Bond Jr. has a job to do and he chases SCUM around the world. Let’s go to the videotape!

 

When a movie as disastrous as Licence To Kill (1989) is followed by a six-year gap only to be filled by 003 ½, well, that would be enough to kill a lesser franchise. Additionally, Bond had to contend with the events of November 9, 1989. On that day crowds of East Germans and West Germans took hammers to the most visible symbol of the “evil empire,” the Berlin Wall, and Germany once again became united as one country. The U.S.S.R., bankrupt thanks to over spending on military ventures in Afghanistan and the arms race with NATO, ceased to be. The cold war superpower once again became Russia and the satellite countries that made up the rest of the U.S.S.R. regained their independence and those living behind the iron curtain were now free to buy all the Levis their hearts desired. Elated to be free at last, free at last, Lord almighty, free at last, the former Soviet citizens took to the street of Berlin in a frenzied celebration cumulating in a concert given by David Hasselhoff. The Hoff, standing on the ruins of the wall while donning a jacket lined with Christmas lights, serenaded the crowd with “Looking for Freedom,” a song that became the unofficial anthem of the historic event. After the Hoff left the stage, many East Germans concluded that if this was freedom then they wanted no part of it. They begged for the wall to be re-erected and the strict media blackout to be once again imposed but to no avail; the wall stayed down and the ex-Soviets had to live with David Hasselhoff like the rest of the world. With the cold war officially over, unless some enterprising individual adopted a white cat and sat down in the long abandon #1 chair at SPECTRE headquarters, James Bond’s services were no longer required. But the redrawing of the world map wasn’t the only major change to pass Bond by, the world of film also shifted while he slept. Young Sherlock Holms(1985) featured a scene early in the film where a Mid-Evil knight etched in stained glass becomes alive, jumps off the pane, and walks down a church aisle. He was crudely animated, two-dimensional and only on screen for a few second but he was the first use of computer-generated imagery or CGI in a film.

That looks like a tasty burger...

Four years later James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) gave us the first fully realized CGI character, a morphing worm-like alien, and the digital genie was not only out of the bottle, he made Robin William’s Aladdin (1992) character an antique. In the following years moviegoers got to witness robots walking through steel bars in T2: Judgment Day (1991), dinosaurs plucking lawyers off toilets in Jurassic Park (1993), and a legless Garry Sinise being a total asshole in Forrest Gump (1994). In some ways I’ve come to terms with my personal CGI demons but the technology still gives me the fits. CGI is one of many tools in a filmmaker’s toolbox and should be treated as such. But it’s a terrifyingly powerful tool and as we all learned from dear Uncle Ben Parker, with great power comes great responsibly. Some can handle it (Peter Jackson with the Lord of the Ring trilogy) but most can not (George Lucas with the Star Wars prequel trilogy). What would Bond producers, they of the over the top stunt, do with this new gadget? Hollywood movies had also shifted in a more fundamental, story-telling way since 1989. The hippest heroes of 90’s weren’t globe hopping action stars but hard-boiled tough guys who ate your tasty Kahuna burger before shooting you in the face. Add it all up and you could picture Bond turning in his double O license and retiring to the Florida Keys where he would pass his days fighting off drug lords and taking the occasional PI case for the local ladies a la Thomas Magnum. But then again Glen and Co. tried something like that with the last film and I would rather watch “James Bond Jr.” on YouTube then witness James suffer such an undignified fate. Thank the movie gods Bond has EON in his corner. The last time it looked like Bond would be put out to pasture, Broccoli and Co. blasted back with the stellar The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the strongest Bond film of the 70’s and 80’s. That’s a lot to ask for once, could EON and 007 actually pull it off twice?

Film Length: 2 hours 10 minutes

Bond Actor: Interior EON Production offices, London. May 1994. Buzzzzzzz “Mr. Broccoli, Mr. Dalton is here for his 10 O’clock.” “Good send him in. Hi yah, Timothy, good to see you, come on in. No, don’t bother to sit down this will just take a second. So, I think it’s fair to tell you that we are going a different direction for the next Bond picture. We just feel the audience should, you know, like James Bond. And our research backs this up. Across the board we found that when people think of Bond, they want to think of him as someone likable, someone who is pleasant to be around, someone they want to spend time with. I’m sure you understand. Anyway Timothy, it was a good run and thanks so much. Talk to the girl on your way out, she can validate your parking, and remember, don’t call us, we’ll call you, or not. OK, good?” Buzzzzzzz “Yes, security, please escort Mr. Dalton to his car and make sure he’s off the lot in 15 minutes. Good luck Timothy, I’m sure you’ll land on your feet. Helen! Can you get me Pierce on the line?” That is made up. This isn’t “I thought Pierce Brosnan was a good choice. I liked GoldenEye. Timothy Dalton never got a handle on the role. He took it seriously in the wrong way. The person who plays Bond has to be dangerous. If there isn’t a sense of threat, you can’t be cool” and “Timothy Dalton has Shakespearean training but he underestimated the role. The character has to be graceful and move well and have a certain measure of charm as well as be dangerous. Pierce Brosnan is a good actor – he added some new elements to it.” Both of those are Sean Connery quotes and who’s going to argue with the man who invented to role? As for my thoughts on Pierce Brosnan’s Bond before I started this project, I didn’t really have any. I refer to the mid to late 90’s as my pop culture blackout period. I was a junior in college when this film came out and at that time I did not read any periodicals, I did not own a TV, and I could not listen to commercial radio. (Nor could anyone truth be told. The bliss of Nirvana and Pavement actually getting airtime on Top 40 radio was replace by 24 hours of Hootie and the Blow Fish and the Dave Mathews Band interrupted only by the Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes.” I’m not exaggerating one iota. Seriously, my private hell is FM radio in 1995.) As for other links to the outside world, my experience with that new thing called the World Wide Web at the time consisted of one room on campus. In that room were 12 computers with monitors displaying a green blinking cursor. The only function these terminals could perform was to send something called an “E-mail” which was “the future of communication” according to the sign on the door.

They may look different, but these two groups are the same band.

Yet, every time I walked past the room all I heard was typing and absolutely no one talking or you know, communicating. The irony was too rich for my 21-year-old mind so I swore I would avoid everything having to do with this “internet.” I guess what I’m saying is at this time in my life I was very focused on me and enjoying it. After spending every Friday night of my high school years at the record store and the local AMC 12 checking out the hot new releases, my head was now very much elsewhere/everywhere/nowhere. I took immense pride in the fact that I was willfully ignorant and cut-off from the rest of the world. “No, I’m sorry, I’ve never seen ‘Friends.’” (Still haven’t, not a single frame of a single episode.) I did still make my way to the cinema on occasion and I know I’ve seen all four Pierce films at some point. In fact, I think I caught GoldenEye in the theater over winter break, but Brosnan is by far the Bond I’m least familiar with/ have the weakest attachment to. So, it’s almost like I’m coming at the next four films blind (almost), which is super exciting. So, we’ve had a Scot, an Aussie, a proper Englishman and a Welshman. Now the Irish get their crack at it and after having the role snatched out from underneath him in 1987, Brosnan is beyond grateful for his second chance. On the DVD extras he is simply giddy when discussing the role. “My names Bond, James Bond! It’s a hoot.” His joy carries over to the film and shows in every frame. From the get go, this is a guy you want to hang out with. I never read any reviews of the Bond films until after I’ve written about them myself. It’s one of the ways I try to keep this as “pure” an experience as possible, but I do enjoy reading what other thought after I post. When I went back to read Roger Ebert’s review of The Living Daylights (1987) I was struck by his take on Dalton.  “He’s a strong actor, he holds the screen well, he’s good in the serious scenes, but he never quite seems to understand that it’s all a joke. The correct tone for the Bond films was established right at the start, with Sean Connery’s quizzical eyebrows and sardonic smile. He understood that the Bond character was so preposterous that only lightheartedness could save him. The moment Bond began to act like a real man in a real world, all was lost.” Brosnan not only has the quizzical eyebrows and sardonic smile but he flirts like Cary Grant, he’s as physical as Jason Statham, and he can wear a suit like George Clooney. In short, he is more then a breath of fresh air; he is a brilliant blast of helium. His joy is infectious and I found myself smiling like a fool at points in the film. Perhaps I’m over reacting slightly having just come out from under the wet blanket of gloom that was Dalton, but I don’t think so. I have hazy memories of invisible cars and Denise Richards in our near future so it’s quite possible the Brosnan era goes off the rails but for this film at least, Pierce Brosnan is Bond, James Bond, and it’s a hoot.

Director: Martin Campbell. The great purge continues behind the camera with a new director and for the first time ever, no Cubby Broccoli. Barbara Broccoli, Cubby’s daughter and her husband Michael Wilson, who has been increasingly involved since the mid 1970’s, are listed as the Executive Producers. They worked “under the supervision of Cubby” which I read to mean Cubby was present in name only. Indeed, GoldenEye would be Albert “Cubby” Broccoli’ last film as one of the men most reasonable for the Bond films passed away on June 27, 1996 at age of 87. Campbell, who was well known in the UK for his work on the BBC show “Edge of Darkness,” brought a modern sensibility to the Bond franchise. More importantly, unlike Glen, he is a capital “F” Filmmaker. On the DVD extras, the Kiwi director is painted as a precise craftsman and a tough love taskmaster. The cast and crew talk about how intense Campbell is on set and “There is lots of yelling…” is a familiar refrain but across the board everyone agrees he’s “sharp as a knife” and “keeps your head in it.” Pierce in particular talks about how Campbell pushes but keeps the energy up and can be trusted. Listening to this stuff reminds me of the classic baseball scenario where a “player’s manager” is sacked after losing 90 plus games to be replaced by a spitting-from-the-mouth-screamer who drops F bombs and throws the occasional chair. The players all snap to and in the end are a much better team for it. This is exactly what the lazy Bond franchise needed, a new guy to take over the clubhouse and kick some ass. The #1 best thing about this film, and this goes back to Campbell, is balance. The director seamlessly balances the classic Bond conventions we love with a new modern flare he brings to the picture. The humor and action play together like rhythm and melody in a well crafted pop tune. The use of the old school filmmaking, stunts, miniature models, and actual locations are mixed in effortlessly with minimal, tasteful CGI and quick cut modern editing. The film simultaneously plays out as a 50’s spy noir and updated post cold war thriller. The script even expands on James Bond character, dropping nuggets like the fact Bond was orphaned when both his parents died in a climbing accident. Most importantly the romance is back, and I’m not talking about Bonds relationship with women. I’m talking about the romance of going on an epic adventure with a spy who is out to save the world. From the get go, I couldn’t believe how much more juicy and enjoyable the action sequences were and how everything fit together organically, one moment rolling into the next with expert pacing and seamless ease. Add the numerous nods to James past and winks to long time fans and Campbell delivers everything you want in a Bond film and then some.

Reported Budget: $58,000,000 estimated. Shot in 110 days with a crew of over 500 almost all the money is, as they say, on the screen. At first glance, $58M is some big bucks. Not quite double the $34 million for Moonraker (1979), the most expensive Bond to date, but well over the $32 for Licence To Kill (1989). However, in the context of 1995 big budget films, the number is just about right. Other ‘95 films like Jumanji, Casper, Crimson Tide, Congo, Braveheart, Outbreak, and Nixon all had budgets in the $50 million range. Meanwhile, the big ticket items of the year were Money Train and Under Siege 2 ($60M estimated), Apollo 13 ($62M estimated), Judge Dredd ($70M estimated), Die Hard: With A Vengeance ($90M estimated), Batman Forever ($100M estimated) and one of the most notorious budget busting flops of all time which was also the most expensive film made at the time, Waterworld ($175M estimated). Now here’s the kicker; only two of the above films made more money then Bond.

Reported Box-office: $106,600,000 USA and $351,500,000 worldwide. Nothing will ever come close percentage wise to the 1960’s Bond heyday where seven digit budgets could turn into nine digit returns, but GoldenEye made more in terms of dollars than any previous Bond both in the US and abroad. (The record holder was Moonraker with $70,308,099 USA and $210,308,099 worldwide.) GoldenEye finished at #6 on the year in the U.S. beat by #2 Batman Forever ($184M) and #3 Apollo 13 ($172) while #10 Die Hard: With A Vengeance ($100M), #12 Waterworld ($88M), #52 Judge Dredd ($34M), and #100 Nixon ($13M) staring Anthony Hopkins who passed on playing a Bond villain to play someone much more sinister in Oliver Stone’s film, all fell short of the newly jump started Bond machine. Bond Forever, With A Vengeance.

Theme Song: “Goldeneye” performed by Tina Turner. I love Tina Turner. I could listen to her sing my grocery list. Her sultry, sex vocals work overtime here but the issue is the Bono and Edge penned tune. U2 was in the middle of their post-ironic Zooropa, Pop Mart, super hero costume period and I just don’t think it’s the right fit. Would something from the Joshua Tree or even Achtung Baby vintage have worked? Perhaps but Tina and the pounding, faux industrial lite “GoldenEye” work at crossed purposes. However, when the bridge threatens to collapse under the weight of the tune, Tina belts out “now I’ve got you in my siIIIIIIIIITTTTTTES with a golden EEEYEEEEEEEEEEEE!” to keep everything afloat. As for the clip, I think the stage setup speaks to just how huge a star Tina was at this point. Also, take note of the keyboard player who is clearly a hold-over from Tina’s previous big film soundtrack hit, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Take it away Tina!

 

And for the record, an avant-garde noise infused take on the Bond theme can be fantastic as John Zorn proves on his 1989 album “Naked City.”

 

Opening Titles: And the hits keep coming. Reimagined yet grounded in tradition, these are the best titles we’ve had since the early 70’s. Right off the bat, the high symbolism that is inherent to the Bond titles tie directly to films theme. Juxtaposed to the shimmering soft bodies of the every present “Bond credit women” are cold, heavy stone statues of imperialistic Russian leaders. So we see oppressive busts of Stalin and Lenin float past inviting busts. Yes, thanks to vertical gun barrels and sickles bulls eyeing hammers there are phallic symbols aplenty but everything here seems to speak to one whole as opposed to just tossing five or six naked dancing women on the screen and calling it a day. All the images finally merge about ¾ through when the women take the hammers and break apart the statues in an obvious nod to the tearing down of the wall. Bond is not running away from the fall of the Soviet Union, he’s embracing it head on and in his signature style to boot. Additionally, everything is shot with a gold tint as if one were observing all of this thorough a golden eye. By the time we get sucked back into the gun barrel (after violently being cased out by a bullet at the top of the sequence) GoldenEye’s credits have upped the ante considerably. When you look at the actual credits themselves; Famke Janssen, Sean Bean, Alan Cumming, Robbie Coltrane, and Judi Dench as “M”, it would appear that Bond 17 has the cards to win back anything 007 lost in his six year absence.

Opening Action Sequence: James Bond is running. Fast. Hauling ass really. We have seen Bond run many times, but never like this. This is not “actor” running. This is a man who is moving with purpose and actually, really running. He’s in black, with a rope slung over his shoulder, trucking out onto a narrow walkway with reckless abandon. If you, I, or any mortal human were to walk five paces out onto this wall of concrete wedged between two cliffs we would be spinning with vertigo. But Bond is running to the center at top speed.  The dam, the film tells us, is the Arkangel Chemical Weapons Facility, deep in the now defunct USSR. When Bond reaches the middle, he Carabiner clamps himself to the structure and in the first of many stunning shots in the film, he swan dives off the dam in one uninterrupted take. As his bungee cord brings him to near stop, he shots a grapple gun with a motorized winch to draw himself to the ground. Then he pops the hatch and into the enemy’s lair he goes. With the bungee jump, producers immediately demonstrate that this modern Bond is up to date on the latest trends. I recall a trip I took to Orlando in the mid-90’s and the skyline was dotted with crazy jackasses paying $50 a pop to bungee jump off construction cranes in what is now hopefully an illegal form of recreation. While jumping on this bungee trend (snicker), the film wisely avoid another, relying on CGI for everything, especially stunts. Following the proud Bond tradition of “doing it for real,” stuntman Wayne Michaels actually bungeed of the Verzasca Dam in Locarno, Switzerland. When we finally meet Bond up close he is still hanging upside down but not on the bungee. Like our T-Rex friend from Jurassic Park, he is about to take a man who is sitting on the toilet out. “Beg your pardon, I forgot to knock” is well delivered with just the right amount of smirking (upside down smirking for what it’s worth.) The kidding quickly become serious when out of the dark comes a gun, pointed right at James’ head. This establishes the humor/serious back and forth that will play out for the entire film and Brosnan handles the switch from comedy mask to drama mask effortlessly. And hey, good news! The man with the gun is just good old 006. “For England James?” “For England Alec.” As the two break into the main generator room it quickly become clear they have worked together before. Like a QB needs to be in complete sync with his star receiver in order to orchestrate a 2 minute drill, James and Alec work the room as tightly as a Swiss watch; that is until James peeks out to see Alec on his knees with a gun to his head and 50 or so Ruskie soldiers. “Come out with your hands up.” “How original.” It’s all pearls with this Brosnan fellow. Before 007 obeys the clichéd order he resets the timers on the explosives he and 006 planted from 6 minutes to 3. Make note of it, it becomes important later on. The man holding the gun to 006’s head by the by is wearing possibly the best police state military uniform since Ralph “don’t call me Ralph” Fiennes stomped around in Nazi boots in Schindler’s List (1993). He is General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov and his name says it all. Ourumov is a deliciously evil cartoon military tyrant who would fit seamless in with the cast of Dr. Strangelove (1964). Just to prove how nasty he is, he puts bullet in 006’s head when it didn’t quite seem necessary to do so. Make note of it, it becomes important later on. Like every room in warehouse looking structures in Bond films, this room is filled with vats of nasty chemicals and explosives but since this is a Chemical Weapons Facility I guess it’s understandable. Perhaps they ran out of room in the pantry and the just stacked the stuff on empty shelves, like the one above everyone to the left. A quick gun blast from Bond and the canister come pouring down upon all the soldiers’ heads. As the fire starts Bond blots out the door mowing down machine gun toting baddies like he’s a 15-year-old boy on Red Bull playing “Call of Duty.” As Ourumov and half the Soviet army chase him down, Bond jumps into a plane which is headed toward the edge of a cliff. At this point, we expect him to fly off into the night but the film, not for the last time, sweeps the carpet out from under our expectations. When Bond goes to toss the pilot out the door, the pilot grabs Bonds arms and pulls them both out onto the tarmac. Always a great improviser, Bond grabs a Russian motorcycle and jumps on to chase the pilotless plane that’s continuing down the runway to the cliffs edge. While Ourumov looks on with more admiration then disappoint at loosing his prisoner, Bond guns the motorcycle and like he did 18 years earlier on skies, jumps off the cliff into the void. Kicking the bike aside and turning himself into a missile, Bond, Superman like, flies through the air to catch up with the plane, makes his way into the cockpit, grabs a hold of the yolk, and pulls up before going head on into the mountain to cap off what is hands down the most exciting open since The Spy Who Love Me.

Bond’s Mission: After the credits we learn the events in the open happened 9 years earlier, and now we are in the present, 1995. We join James as he is engaged in some high-speed road flirting a al Chevy Chase and Christie Brinkley in National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983). The girl is still in a red Ferrari and the guy still needs to peer over a more conservative woman in his passenger seat to catch the red Ferrari girl’s eye however, this time the part of Clark W. Griswold is played by Bond, the green wood paneled family truckster is now the classic grey Aniston Martin DB5, and the flat highway of the American Midwest is replaced by a mountain road in the French Alps. The conservative woman in Bond’s passenger seat (on the left side of the car, though the girl in the red Ferrari is driving from the left. Europe is just crazy…) has been sent by the new M (who we have not met) to observe Bond in the field. She’s a one-dimensional prop who I immediately pegged as a misstep in the film. That was until Bond slams on the breaks to stop the car in the middle of the mountain road, produces a bottle of Bollinger (chilled), and gets an “Oh James…” all in 15 seconds. Ahhh, I get it now. This is silly and outrageous. With this 15 seconds all the ill will of the PC uptight Dalton Bond is erased and we are once again allowed to not take it all so seriously. Not for nothing is 007 in a grey Aston Martin; this is the return of the rakish hero we all know and love. The Bond who drives fast and chases skits is back and not a moment to soon. Need more proof? In the next few shots we see Bond in a tux, entering a casino, drinking a martini made to his liking, and playing baccarat with the girl in the red Ferrari, one Ms. Xenia Onatopp. “On a top?” The first 10 minutes of GoldenEye firmly puts us back into the proper Bond world of hyper-realty where the cars a little faster, the drinks a little stronger, the stakes at the table are a little higher and women …ahhh the women. If Bond’s your bag, you’re in clover. 007 movies generally work best as elaborate case films with twist and turns along the way. GoldenEye, like the classic From Russia With Love (1963), is essentially Bond and the baddies both trying to get their hands on the same technological dingus with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The MacGuffin this go around is the French prototype stealth helicopter TIGER. Not only is it invisible to radar, it can still fly after a magnet pulse from a nuclear blast, an event that would render every other electronic device useless.  Not two seconds after we learn how kick-ass the TIGER is Onatopp and her accomplice, General Ourumov, committing Grand Theft Huey. But in a classic film noire twist, the MacGuffin is a red herring! The real MacGuffin, like the Lektor before, is much more sinister and dangerous. Ourumov and Onatopp (not to be confused with Bonnie and Clyde) stole the TIGER to be used as a getaway car in the theft of the Goldeneye. The dingus, named after Ian Flaming’s Jamaican home, is a space-based magnetic-pulse weapon that simulates the shutting-down-all-electrical-devises havoc of a nuclear blast without all the messy fallout. You now see why they needed the TIGER. All of this business is handled in an entertaining and efficient manner that’s on par with mid 90’s pacing but also in a way than demands the audience keep up to speed. In other words, it’s a smart film that treats you, the viewer, as an equal, unlike its predecessor, which fed us garbage and told us it was a gourmet meal. Anyway, now the baddies have the Goldeneye and Bond must get it.

Villain’s Name: Alec Trevelyan. AKA 006. Well, I certainty didn’t see that one coming. I recalled the dam dive from when I saw GoldenEye in the theater but I didn’t remember this twist at all so I nearly jumped off my couch in a genuine “Oh shit!” moment when Alec emerges from the shadows to revile himself at the leaded of the Janus Gang. The first time Alec came out of the dark was at the Arkangel Chemical Weapons Facility where Bond was happy to see 006; this time James looks as if he’s seen a ghost and indeed, ghosts are all over this fantastic scene. It turns out, Alec Trevelyan was a sleeper double agent all along and he and Ourumov faked his death at Arkangel. Alec then went underground and after the fall of the Soviet Union rounded up Ourumov and Onatopp and a bunch of ex-Soviet loyalist not yet ready to wave the white flag and stole the Goldeneye. From a structural standpoint the Bond films are perfectly positioned to blindside audiences with this villain switch-a-roo (from Ourumov to Alec). After 17 Bond films we have been programmed as viewers to keep the opening sequences in its own box. Yes, the open can tie into the story or not, but we have come to accept that characters introduced in the open can stay there and not be referenced again, especially if we think that character was killed. Add the fact that nine yeas have passed since the events of the open and it nearly guarantees we’ve all forgotten good old 006 until like Lazarus he comes back to life. We have also become accustom to Bond shedding partners like Spinal Tap goes through drummers. Remember dear departed Sharky from Licence To Kill, Saunders from The Living Daylights, Sir Godfrey Tibbett from A View To A Kill (1985), Vijay from Octopussy (1983), and Luigi Ferrara from For Your Eyes Only (1981) just to name recent examples. Basically, if you team up with Bond and you’re not a woman or named Felix, chances are you’re the red shirted ensign on the away team. The unmasking of the true villain is also shocking thanks to the fact that General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov is so well written. The General could have just been placeholder keeping the chair warm until the big kahuna showed up but Ourumov is credible as the head baddie in both appearance and action. In the open, after he “shoots” 006 in the head, he orders his men to not shoot at Bond for risk of hitting the chemical drums. (Those damn chemical drums again.) Bond grabs a cart loaded with said drums and uses the combustible canisters as cover. The General cocks his head and smirks in wide-eyed amazement as Bond squeaks across the floor. He has a look on his face like a man who’s just flopped the nuts and simply can’t believe 3 players are betting into him. Later, when the tables have turned and Ourumov finds himself in the back of a car trying to outrun Bond, who happens to be chasing him in a tank, all the General can do is go between a nervous giggle and shear panic while pulling off a flask. It’s these little moments that I cherish because they are so simple yet go such a long way toward making movie characters real people. This shift in focus from one villain to the next, much like the shift from the TIGER to the Goldeneye, could have so mangled the plot as to destroy any of the pacing and flow. But in Campbell’s steady hands the shift from one focal point to the next is so expertly handled that it has the proper impact while remaining nearly invisiable.

Villain Actor: Sean Bean, a perfect choice to play Alec Trevelyan. As he proved playing Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) six years later, even when he is the good guy, he’s still got the coiled up intensity of a baddie. You just feel like he could jump over the line at any moment. I hear he’s also fantastic in “Game of Thrones” but I have yet to dive into the series. Hey back off, the wife is reading the books and wants to finish them first. Shesh. Gottfried John, who plays General Ourumov, was born in Berlin and after a quick glace at his IMDB page I think we can official name him the Samuel L. Jackson of Germany for his unwillingness to turn down any role offered to him. He is not pretty man but I just love his look. He looks like he would be at home in front of the local OTB picking up half smoked butts off the sidewalk and finishing them off. He would have no problem hanging out with those dudes who watch old boxing matches on the TV’s at Record Mart in the Times Square subway station. He has a face that just says Character. He’s seen it and you can tell just by looking at em.

Villain’s Plot: Alec Trevelyan planned this one out pretty well. As the head of the Russian space division, General Ourumov is above suspicion and therefore the perfect inside man to pull off the Goldeneye heist. Once he and Onatopp shoot almost everyone at the remote Siberian base that housed the Goldeneye, they use the super weapon to blow up the base and disable all the incoming MIG’s while they take off with the loot in the TIGER. A quick aside, to launch the Goldeneye weapon, two people must turn two separate keys simultaneously. This is a cold war film convention so common at the time as to be cliché, but I had completely forgotten about it. Seeing it again brought a nostalgic joy to my heart. But back to the grand plan, Ourumov, as the head of space division, heads up the investigation into his own theft which he pins on a band of separatist. Meanwhile Alec gets the prize and since he knows MI6 will send their best man after it, he gets revenge against Bond in the barging. It turns out that way back when, 006 didn’t not escape the Arkangel Chemical Weapons Facility unscathed. Thanks to Bond resetting the timers on the explosives from six minutes to three, Alec didn’t clear out of the room in time and ended up scaring the right side of his face. His gang is named the Janus group after the double-faced Roman God but he could have taken inspiration for the modern mythology of Bob Kane. Like Batman’s foe Harvey Dent, Alec is the physical embodiment of two faced; a man who betrayed Bond and MI6 and has the scars to show for it. So revenge is the motivating factor here, revenge against not only Bond but all of England.  Trevelyan descended from Cossacks, a group of Russians that sided with the Nazis during WWII and surrendered to the Allies after Berlin fell believing they would join the Bits in fighting the communist. However, England sent them back to Stalin who had them all shot, including women and children. “Not exactly our finest hour.” Bond declares but I think one Lt. Aldo Raine would disagree.

You're going to take that uniform off, aren't ya? That’s what we thought...

Anywho, with his parents dead young Alec worked his way into becoming a deep mole in MI6 with the idea of avenging his families betrayal at the hands of the crown. In a related note, the 3 by 5 index card application that asked for name, race, gender and birthday in way of a background check for getting into MI6 has been abandon for a more thorough process in direct reaction to what is now referred to as “the 006 incident.” Now, Alec plans on using the Goldeneye to electro-nuke London. And since he knows all of MI6’s tactics, he very well could get a way with it. See, I told you he had this well thought out. It’s also a brilliant workaround as a plot device. Filmmakers solved the end of the cold war issue by just continuing it. Much like the Japanese on Lubang Island who continued to fight well after WWII had ended, the movie gives us isolated Siberian dead enders who are still ready to throw down with those capitalist pigs. These folks are more then happy to hitch their wagon to this very sinister and calculating baddie who is playing both sides against the middle. It all works quite well thank you but… but… but for some reason all of this is not enough for old Alec, or for that mater, the film. Before he blasts London back to Stone Aged level technology, Alec plans on hacking UK banking computers and making off with all the money right before the Goldeneye erases the records of said money. Truth be told, the film handles this development rather well and it almost avoids feeling like a tacked on thread but it’s also wholly unnecessary. I know it’s a quibble but the whole robbery bit kind of undercuts the Alec character. In fact, Bond himself points this out by calling Alec nothing more than a common thief at which point I expected 006 to get all Hans Grubber and scream “I’m an exceptional thief Mr. Bond!” Not that there is anything wrong with being a thief. As Clooney and crew prove in the Ocean’s films, it can be a noble occupation affording one the opportunity to romp around with your mates while correcting the injustices of the world through grand larceny. But back the impending destruction of London at the hands of old Alec. In Alec, we have a villain of Shakespearian scope, a man who literally has spent his entire life planning and scheming to visit tragedy upon many innocents all in the name of vengeance. What more motivation do you need? To add bank robber to Alec Trevelyan’s résumé cheapens it.

Villain’s Lair: When we meet up with Alec again, it’s in a junkyard full of broken imperialistic Soviet statues. The symbolism could be seen as a bit too on the noise but I think it works. Here we have a dead ender still fighting the cold war among the decaying symbols of that war, his face a battered and broken as those of the stone Lenin and Stalin. When not stomping around the junkyard Alec lives on an old train that was used during the cold war to store missiles. The idea was with the train always moving, the West could never track down the warheads. Alec uses this steal tank of a train to hide himself in similar fashion. He hangs out in an over appointed car with all the refinements of a 5 star hotel room while another car holds a helicopter in case he needs to get off the train quickly. (Spoiler alert: he does.) I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, any movie with a train is a success on some level. Finally, Alec and crew manage somehow to take over a Cuban base containing the most advanced deep space tech on the planet, good for, say, controlling the Goldeneye bombs. This base is essentially one huge parabolic dish built into the side of a mountain and hidden under a lake. This is similar to the trick Blofeld pulled with the volcano crater in You Only Live Twice (1967) but Bond is still slow to recognize it. When Bond finally does uncover the base and sets about to stop the Goldeneye, there is a nice bit of fun in 007 stymieing the entire deal by literally shoving a pipe into the gear works; an old fashion low tech solution to disable the most advanced weapon in the world.

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait: Like all the classic Bond villains, Alec has a physical deformity but his was caused by Bond. The scaring on the left side of his melon has come to define the two-faced villain and it’s something he’s quite pissed about. 006 feels as if his old partner betrayed him when he halved the time on the detonators from 6 minutes to 3. This is a bit of the kettle calling the pot black since Alec was a double agent setting up not just Bond but all of England. And, let’s not forget that Bond thought he was dead; a death he faked to betray Bond. So yah, get over it jerk.

Badassness of Villain: General Ourumov, head of the Russian space division, betrayed and killed the best and the brightest under his command. He marched into the bunker where the Goldeneye was hidden and asked the man in charge to fetch the device. “I’m timing you” he announces as the poor bastard scurries off, grabs the dingus, and hand delivers it to the thief. For his trouble, he and (almost) everyone who works at the base get mowed down in a spray of machine gun fire. And Ourumov is just the opening act. For the main event Alec has mastered the mind screw. Both Bond and he were orphaned and adopted by MI6, so Alec is able to call out Jimmy B as only a sibling who is out for blood can. (To continue the analogy, that would make M the dad, regardless of gender, Moneypenny the mom and Q the crazy, drunk uncle.) Yes, Alec knows how to turn off Q’s hidden detonators but it’s when he calls Bond out for using martinis and one night stands to wash away the guilt he feels for all the men he’s killed that he hits a nerve. He is, in fact, one of the few villains to actually rattle Bond and it’s a thrill to see the unflappable 007 become flapped. All Bond can do is raise an eyebrow, curl his lips knowingly, and look to the ground as if to say “well played.”

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: Both henchmen are future X-men. This factoid has no doubt bridged the Bond/ Marvel universes in such a way that Daniel Craig’s 007 will report to Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury in The Avengers III: West Coast Avengers Assemble staring Ryan Goslings as Hawkeye, coming in the Summer of 2015 to a theater near you. Oddjob had his bowler, Jaws had his teeth, Necros had his walkman and Xenia Onatopp has her thighs. As Onatopp, Famke Janssen is deliciously campy and in full on femme fatale mode with the outfits and blood red lipstick to match. A black widow, Onatopp not only crushes her prey with her legs but appears to climax while doing so… unless she’s faking. In the wrong hands, err, legs, this could have been beyond silly and sucked us out of the film but here the gag is played with just the right tone as to be bizarre, a little hot, and in one scene, delightful fun. A dozen years before Viggo Mortensen’s rightly celebrated naked sauna brawl in Eastern Promises (2007), Brosnan and Janssen slammed each others heads off the title in a steamy Russian bath. Sadly, they are both wrapped in towels but it still registers as a violent and visceral scene, even if Pierce proves to be more of a gentleman then some of his predecessor and refuses to slap a lady around. Alan Cumming also goes balls out as the Russian computer nerd Boris Grishenko and while it works in some scenes, by the end he’s gone to 11 and it proves to be a bit much. That said Cumming is given an impossible role. With the invention of the internet thrillers have had to solve the problem of finding drama while characters type at a keyboard and stare into a monitor. See another film that came out in ’95, Sandra Bullock’s The Net (1995) for a master course in how difficult it is to make people working on computers exciting. Most directors solve the problem by having their characters scream at the screen like drunken football fans during the third quarter of the 4PM game. “Come on, down load GOD DAMN IT!!!!!” It seldom works. Cumming does all he can, spitting out “I spike dem, Slugheads” like a rabid weasel with Tourette’s and while it’s over the top, he is still entertaining at points, like when his jittery persona sets up a great gag involving his nervous clicking of a pen.

Bond Girl Actress: Izabella Scorupco. The Polish born actress immigrated to Sweden as a child and appeared in a few films before making her English language debut with GoldenEye. More beautiful then hot she is a throw back to the good old days of classic beauties playing Bond girls. The problem is she’s in the same film as Famke Janssen and well, when you’re up against Marvel Girl crushing men with her gams, you’re going to be runner up every time.

Bond Girl’s Name: Natalya Simonova, a handle even Bond has trouble getting his tongue around. The two at introduced in one of the better meet cutes Jimmy B has had. Bond has been knocked out and tied down inside the cockpit of the TIGER. He is awakened by Natalya, who is tied up in the seat behind him, screaming and kicking. “WAKE UP!” Again, we have seen Bond do so many amazing things we sometimes take the “smaller” moments for granted. So, picture, if you will, you’ve been knocked out and when you wake up your tied in the cockpit of a helicopter with a strange Russian woman behind you screaming and kicking your seat while the stinger missiles from the chopper launch, crisscross in a 180 degree turn, and are now haling ass right at you. Me personally? I would need at lest two cups of coffee before I could even consider my options. Not Jimmy B. He head butts the seat eject and that folks is why he gets the girl, every time and twice on Sundays. Well, not at first. Natalya gives him a swift kick in the shin the first chance she gets but she comes around, they all do. She is a computer programmer who survives Ourumov’s attack on the Goldeneye base and therefore knows the General and her co-worker Boris are with the Janus group. The scene is one more example of the film playing with the idea of technology failing. Surrounded by flames and exploding equipment, Natalya can’t get out of the collapsing base because the voice recognition lock is destroyed. She climbs the crippled satellite antenna, not unlike the survivors of the capsized Poseidon climbed the Christmas tree, to escape the base only to find herself standing alone, in only a blouse, in the Serbian night. She is saved by a decidedly low tech dog sled. As a skilled technician she is not the useless damsel in distress but she still falls into Alec’s clutches and needs to be rescued. However, this routine story point remains fresh thanks to the absolute creepiness of Alec. “You know James and I shared everything. Everything…” Gross.

Bond Girl Sluttiness: There is a scene on a Cuban beach that could have been something more. Natalya calls Bond out in a way no Bond girl ever has. He’s distant and she chastises him for not letting her in. Bond then feeds her a line about needing to keep his angst close and inside. “It keeps me on the edge, sharp, where I got to be.” Actually, that was Pacino in Heat (1995) which I’m sure was playing across the hall when I saw GoldenEye in the theater but you get the idea. And besides, Al says it better. Anyway, Natalya takes this macho posturing and throws it back in Bond’s face “No, it’s what keeps you alone.” This one exchange hits harder and is more “dark” then anything Dalton ever did with the character. Sadly, it’s also totally undercut by the fact that (a) Natalya enters the scene wearing a white bikini that (b) we see in a close up crotch shot. One of the few missteps in the film.

Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Now now, no more foreplay” says Bond while pointing a gun at Onatopp to end the Russian bath house fight. “Hummmfff” responds the disappointed and deflated lady.

Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: Natalya. “Do you destroy every vehicle you get into?”

Number of Woman 007 Beds: Two. We barely get settled into our seats and have yet to open our Milk Duds and Bond is boffing a babe in the middle of the road. (Cue the Beatles “No one will be watching us, why don’t we do it in the road?”) More notable on the location front, this make-out session is taking place in an Aston Martin. Now, I know Q has put some extra options on the car but dude, that’s a tight fit with an inconveniently placed stick shift. Bond and Natalya get off to a slow start, what with the exploding chopper and shin kicking and kidnapping and all but then after fleeing an exploding train Natalya proves that she knows Bond, perhaps even better than his late wife. She looks at 007 and asks “Do you destroy every vehicle you get into?” Bond turns and stares into her eyes as if to say “you understand me so well” and the two go at it for the first of three confirmed times. While in Cuba they engage in the Havana Mahna Mahna (Do do daaa do-do) at least twice. They try for a third before getting caught up in the proud tradition of getting caught. All the baddies are dead, all the bases have been destroyed, and Bond and Natalya are all alone in the jungle. Or at least that’s what Bond assures his lady until they are interrupted by the CIA and US Marines who insists the couple march off to be debriefed at the near by Guantanamo Bay Navy base. Wow, remember when Guantanamo Bay was nothing more than a place where Jack Nicolson was God Damn right he ordered the code red and not a living, breathing monument to our national shame? Ahhh, the 90’s what an innocent time.

Number of People 007 Kills: Classified. Or more accurately, the official Blog, James Blog spotter can’t confirm an accurate number. Such was the killing in GoldenEye that our official body count man not only lost track but curled up into the fetal position and begged for Ben & Jerry’s. Needless to say we wish him well and hope he recovers in time for Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). And with that, onto the carnage! In the open Bond gets his hands on a machine gun (you already see the spotters issue) and did in at least five Ruskies while running about with his finger firmly on the trigger. Then, after he jumps off the cliff to catch the plane to pull up and fly away the entire base explodes. We know Alec made it out with roughly 90% of his face intact but as for the others? Bond again gets a hold of an automatic weapon when fleeing a St. Petersburg jail and mows down at least ten more. He then manages to use the machine gun like a snipers rifle and shoot old Ourumov in the head while missing Natalya who the General was using as a human shield. He kills a helicopter pilot while someone is tied to said chopper (that someone to be revealed below!) and shoots at least three guards while escaping the Cuban dish base; a base that yes, gets blown up and unlike the Dr. No (1962) lair destruction, we don’t see any baddies running out before the big boom. So yah, countless folks met their end at James’ hand including one Alec Trevelyan. I’m happy to report that the final battle between 006 and 007 lives up to its billing as the title bout. The hand to hand feels tougher then some fights we’ve seen in Bond films which is to say when the punches land, they hurt. Yes, by the time the two combatants end up hanging on the end of the satellite antenna like Luke under Cloud City it’s a bit much and your right; Natalya showing up in the helicopter to scoop up James as Alec falls to his death is a huge cheat but since our official spotter had his face in a pint of Chunky Monkey by this point we missed it and just enjoyed the whole rig falling on Alec’s crippled body stuff. “For England James?” “No, for me.” Kick ass!

Most Outrageous Death/s: Bond actually opens his eyes twice to find himself in helicopter danger. The first time he is blasted into consciousness by Natalya kicking his chair. This time he wakes up to Onatopp kicking him in the face. She comes slipping down a zip line hooked to a helicopter that hovers overhead and proceeds to get all crushy with her python femurs. Bond gets out of this tight spot, which is to say between Onatopp’s legs, by getting a shot off. Not at Onatopp but at the chopper. Since his assailant is still tethered to the aircraft when it goes crashing down she goes flying up to be crushed between to huge tree branches. “She always did enjoy a good squeeze.” The other outrageous death involves the other henchman, Boris. Just as Natalya stood alone in the burning ruins of the Goldeneye base, Boris finds himself the soul survivor in the destroyed deep dish Cuban base. As he raises his hands in victory a bath of liquid nitrogen washes over him freezing him in his Rocky pose. Those damn chemical vats again. There are several circular and repeated themes that tie GoldenEye together and it just a delight to have someone behind the camera thinking about these things after the flat set up/action/switch location/repeat formula the Bond films took on for the 1980’s. After the Glen years I almost forget Bond films can be so well crafted.

Miss. Moneypenny: Samantha Bond. The latest Moneypenny has the correct look, demeanor, and yes, age. Caroline Bliss was a little too young and a little too hot. Samantha is a more sophisticated beauty and she has the wisdom to pull of the witty banter. “What would I do with you Moneypenny?” “As far as I can remember, you’ve never had me James.” That’s good stuff. Loyal readers know about Blog, James Blog’s soft spot for dear Moneypenny and while we think we will grow to like Samantha, she has too little screen time in her debut so the jury is still out. We hope to see more of her in the future. The other point of note here is MI6’s offices have been blasted out of the 60’s and landed squarely in 1995. Gone are the classic wooden desks and grand book shelves, replaced the sleek, sterile, teck look of Silicon Valley chic. While I will miss the warmth of the old office, this is 100% correct in keeping with the times. Bond has always been about technology when it comes to the gadgets and the British secret service office should be a buzzing war room full of the latest and greatest inelegance gathering gizmos. Thumbs up.

The first female head of MI5, Director-General Stella Rimington (1992 – 1996)

M: Dame Judi Dench. In a first when it comes to recasting in Bond films, Dench doesn’t seamlessly replace M. In the past when a new actor came in for James, Moneypenny, Felix and even M, that actor simply became that person. No one in the Bond world acknowledged the new face associated with the name. Felix was always just Felix. Dench does indeed come on board as M, the head of MI6, but she is not Sir Miles Messervy. Her M is Barbara Mawdsley and the characters in the film know she is not the same person who sat behind the desk in the past. Dench’s M proves to be the deepest and best established of the series in her very first film. In the past, hints of M as a person were given but basically he existed to (a) offer exposition and (b) harrumph and wring his hands when Bond Fed up. Dench’s M is a three dimensional real life boss and I have a feeling that Dench being cast in the role had a ton to do with the deeper direction of the character. She can act and carry the weight of anything she is handed and unlike past M’s, she has, in her words “the balls” to trade body blows with Bond. She kicks it all off with a wonderful entrance. While king douche Mr. Tanner is insulting her as the “evil queen of numbers” she appears behind him. The scene establishes her as a modern intelligence officer, one who analyzes the data and makes decisions based on research. She sees Bond as a “sexist,  misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the cold war.” Bond and M mistrust each other from the get go and even chafe on the most baseline issues. “Your predecessor kept some brandy in the cupboard” Bond offers as both a way of being polite and proving he knows the ins and outs of MI6. “I prefer bourbon” M shoots back. Touché. By the end of the exchange, M has verbally put Bond in his place and all he can do, like any good poker player, is fold, go out into the field, and hope to draw a better hand. This is a classic “Moneyball” conflict, new fangled smarts vs. old school gut reactions. I couldn’t be more thrilled. This is the kind of boss Bond should have, one who is just as smart and serves as a counterweight to his swashbuckling pirate. Goldeneye does so many things so well but this reimagining of M might be the masterstroke simply because it lays a foundation on which future films can build. Oh, and Dench, as always, is flawless. She even hits the humor with pitch perfect delivery. “Unlike the American government we prefer to not get our bad news from CNN.” If just for M alone, I’m beyond optimistic about the Brosnan era moving forward.

Q: When Pierce walks into Q’s lab it’s like Norm walking into Cheers after he’s been gone for two weeks. He looks around and exhales; even though he’s been gone everything is in place and as it should be. This is Desmond Llewelyn 15th Bond film and at 82 years old he is absolutely thrilled to be back after 6 years. Showing more energy then he has in years, Q jokes (“Sorry about the leg Q, skiing?” “Hunting”), makes like its 1964 and breaks out Goldfinger (1964) era lines (“I’m particularly proud of this, headlight singer missiles!”) and even turns his cranky character upside down. When Bond reaches out to touch a sandwich on a plate, Q scolds him as he would if Bond were about to touch an explosive device. “Don’t touch that!” He then picks up the sandwich adding “It’s my lunch.”

List of Gadgets: The winch/laser cutting gun at the top is not the sexiest gadget but it’s the unsung hero in making the extremely sexy bungee jump possible. Moments later 007 uses a keycard lock pick for a blink and you’ll miss it break in. After racing Onatopp down the mountain Bond takes her photo and with the push of button sends the image from his camera to Moneypenny at MI6 who faxes him Onatopp’s bio, a fax he receives on his car fax machine. This is another in a long list of Bond gadgets that were fantastic at the time but have becoming commonplace in the world of today. Q hands Bond a few goodies while he’s in the lab including a watch that can trigger a bomb and shoot lasers, a belt with a 75 foot repelling cord built into the buckle, (which gives us the opportunity to learn Bond has a 34” waist), and a pen that doubles class 4 grenade. Three clicks arms the four second fuse, another three clicks disarms it which plays beautifully into Boris’ nervous tic we mentioned above. Q also has a tea tray the doubles as a document scanner just incase you forgot this is after all England.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: Bond manages to get both cars, the Aston Martin and the Beamer back in one piece. However, the French owned multi-million dollar prototype TIGER does not make it back. This is huge lose when one considers the never previously, and never will again, develop a weapon.

Other Property Destroyed: Indeed, Natalya could have said “Do you destroy everything?” and left it at that. Yah, he drives a motorcycle off a cliff and blows up a base in the open but here is the larger question. To get to that base, he jumped off a dam. Now, I think it’s safe to say that when one explodes a chemical faculty attached to a dam said dam is not going to be in good shape. So, how much of the Russian country side ended up swimming around like Clooney and crew at the end of O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000)? In addition to the TIGER, Bond downs the Onatopp chopper and while it’s technically Natalya and Boris that blow up the deep dish Cuban base, Bond wreaks enough havoc to keep a dozen insurance adjusters busy for years. Then there is the historic city of St. Petersburg. Located at the mouth of the Neva River, this port city was renamed Leningrad in 1924 and like the rest of Russia was shut off to the outside world for most of the cold war. Then, in ’91 after the fall of the wall, St. Petersburg retook its original moniker and opened up its doors reminding the world that Russia’s second largest city was home to some of the most stunning architecture in all of Europe. Four years after that James Bond tore it all down. Natalya is kidnapped by General Ourumov. They take off into the streets of St. Petersburg in a government car and Bond grabs the only set of wheels, err, treads available, those under a tank. The first shot where we see Bond come crashing through a brick wall is in 2D better 3D then anything any director not named Martin Scorsese has ever done. Perhaps inspired by 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis’ famously wrong headed photo op, Bond proceeds to drive the tank with his head pop out of the top while wearing a suit. And just like that photo destroyed Dukakis’ presidential run, Bond destroys all of St. Petersburg. He barrels the 12 foot wide tank down six foot wide allies, he crushes car after car and wall after wall, until finally, in what is played for humor more than blatant product placement (although it is also that) Bond splits a Pierre truck in two sending bottles of water flying everywhere. And for his parting bow, 007 rams the base of a bronze horse statue in such a way that the horse becomes perfectly balanced on top of his tank until it’s knocked off, a la the double-decker top in Live and Let Die (1973), by a low bridge. But Bond still has one more trick up his sleeve for the encore. Ourumov and Natalya join Alec and Onatopp on board Alec’s iron plated missile train. Like Alec did twice before, Bond appears from the shadows to surprise his former comrade, only this time the shadows are the mouth of a railroad tunnel the train is rushing toward and the gun is the barrel of a tank. James jumps clear before the unstoppable train hits the unmovable tank and while not as thrilling at the train derailment in The Fugitive (1993), it’s a hell of a wreck.

Felix Leiter: I guess that whole having his leg bitten off thing sidelined the CIA’s man of lukewarm mediocrity. In his stead the US chose to send their latest medical and scientific break through, Agent Jack Wade. Agent Wade is the first and to date only known successful patient to come out of the super double secrete program known as Operation Zombie or Oz for short. This experimental and highly controversial program involves collecting the deceased from government assassinations; in this case the body of international arms dealer and all around nut-ball Brad Whitaker who was killed by British agent 007 in Tangier in 1987, and reanimating these once dead enemies as a CIA agent. You figure with this technology the US could just grow another leg for Felix but truth be told, Wade is just more fun. The man wears Hawaiian shirts for crying out loud, you know he’s a blast. OK, that zombie stuff is all bullshit (or is it?) Truth is, EON probably felt bad about saddling Joe Don Baker with the worst villain in Bond history and decided they needed to make it up to him. The Jack Wade character is basically the rube American Sheriff J.W. Pepper updated for the 90’s minus the slapstick and racism. And you know what; I like him, especially when he calls Bond Jimbo. In everyway the anti Bond, Wade drives a piece of shit car, he looks like a goof wearing the big Russian hat, and he has a tattoo on his waistline that says “Muffy.” And of course, just when you start to think he’s as useless as Felix, he comes though in a pinch and keeps Bond on the right track. Bond also has a contact in the Russian underground and in a film chock full of great names like Xenia Onatopp and General Arkady Grigorovich Ourumov, I must give the blue ribbon to Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky. As played by Robbie Coltrane the ex-KGB man lives up to his fabulous handle and before we even met him he’s a legend. When Wade tells Jimbo a man with a pronounced limp named Zukovski is his contact, Bond is none to happy. “You know him?” “I gave him the limp.” Bond visits the underground boss in his night club and introduces himself by … stepping out of the shadows and putting a gun to his head. (Man that happens a lot in this film.) Zukovski, without looking to see who is holding the gun, delivers a line for the ages. “Welter PPK. Only three men I know carry one and I believe I’ve killed two of them.” Ladies and gentlemen, if you ever find yourself in a spy film, you want that to be your first line. None to happy about the limp, Zukovski is even more reluctant to help Bond after 007 insults his mistress Irina’s singing. (Hey look! Irina is played by Minnie Driver!) I’ve touched on this in the past but anytime Bond hooks up with underground contacts I’m a happy guy, all the more so if there is a history. For a spy, Jimbo doesn’t do enough of this.

Best One Liners/Quips: Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky, mulling over why he should help Bond; “He stole a helicopter? I have 6.” “Three” Bond corrects him, “and none that fly.”

Bond Cars: Back again to this idea of balance. For every new update Bond gets in this movie Campbell wisely gives us a link to his past. Nowhere is this more pronounced then in Bond’s two cars. The first shot we see of Bond after the opening credits has him racing on a cliff side road in the classic grey Aston Martin DB5. My neighborhood of Astoria Queens is home to the largest population of Greeks in the world outside of Greece. Whenever the older Greek men and women walk past an Orthodox church they cross themselves in a sign of reverence and respect. I do the same thing when I see Bond driving a grey Aston Martin DB5. But this is also a 90’s Bond and along with that comes product placement. I remember when this film was in theaters much was made of the multi-picture contract BMW signed with EON. The blitz was huge and even featured Bond tie-ins to BMW ads in print and on TV. If I may for a moment, I watch a ton of sports. 85% of the ads during any giving sporting event are for alcohol products or cars. Now, when I’m watching the game and see an ad for say Jim Beam, I may say to myself, “Hummm, it’s been a while since I’ve had some bourbon. I think I’d like some now.” However, I can’t picture getting up for the seventh inning stretch and thinking “You know, maybe I will drop $45,000 for a two seated car that gets shit gas millage and can’t move more then two blocks if there is a flake of snow on the street.” I could be wrong about this, I haven’t owned a car in years and clearly companies wouldn’t be spending money on ads if they didn’t work but still, who the hell buys a car because they saw an ad for it on TV? Right, BMW Z3 Roadster, baby blue convertible with the Q adjustments that Bond never gets to use. Cool looking car. Maybe I should look into getting one…

Bond Timepiece: A handsome Omega Seamaster. What appears to be a black face is actually blue on this stainless steel cased chronographer with precision Swiss automatic movement and stainless steel interlacing band. It’s also got a laser.

Other Notable Bond Accessories: You mean other then his smile, his charm, and ability to turn every head in the room? Oh that Pierce is just dreamy…

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: … and he can drink! He keeps a bottle of chilled Bollinger in the armrest of the Aston Martin. You know, just in case. Not two minutes after popping the cork on that baby he’s tableside in the casino ordering a martini, shaken not stirred. He has a bourbon on the rocks with M and though we don’t see it I’d bet dollars to doughnuts he has a glass of vodka with Zukovsky.

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: And we get some baccarat! Oh be still my heart. Martin Campbell once again proves he’s done his homework by giving us a similar set up to the baccarat scene in Dr. No where Bond is playing against a sultry woman who he is simultaneously trying woo and beat. She takes the first hand we see and proposes rising the stakes. An agreement from Bond and a nod from the pit boss and the next hand is double or nothing. Bond takes the pot down and Onnatop storms off. Bond catches up to her and wonders why she’s so sour. After all, “One rises to meet a challenge.”

List of Locations: Unable to sit around dormant for six years Pinewood went ahead and rented out the 007 studio for a variety of productions. Hey, we all gots to pay the bills. When EON finally came calling the soundstage the Bond built was booked. Long time Bond set designers Peter Lamont found an abandoned Rolls-Royce factory at the Leavesden Aerodrome in Hertordshire, England and converted it to create, say it with me, one of the largest soundstages in the world. I think working in this new location was key in helping Brosnan feel like he could make Bond his. Extremely conscious of the legacy of past Bond’s, Brosnan talks on the DVD extras about the “factory having a good feel because there are no ghosts of Sean or Roger.” (Funny, he never once mentioned Timothy.) Shooting inside Russia for the first time, St. Petersburg is the background to the biggest set piece, the tank case. That said, several St. Petersburg streets were recreated on a back lot so the tank could smash walls without smashing real walls. Cuba however was still a no go zone so Puerto Rico stood in for the island nation. The deep dish base is actually a real dish radio telescope located at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Also seen in Contact (1997), the 1000 feet wide dish with a 500 foot transmitter is used to look for signs of alien life and is the largest radio telescope in the world. The Principality of Monaco, a country so small it could fit inside Central Park, is home to the Casino de Monte Carlo where Bond first meets Onnatop. The opening bungee jump took place at the Verzasca Dam in Locarno, Switzerland where tourist can bungee jump from the same perch as Bond if they are so inclined. MI6’s new exterior is the actual Ministry of Intelligence building on the River Thames which is just so cool. Finally, the train and tunnel bit was shot on the same stretch of track as the Octopussy circus train sequence. I thought I recognized it …

Capt. Sully, real life james Bond.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Let us get the driving bit out of the way shall we. He drives a boat, a Russian tank, and a motorcycle which he jumps off a cliff to catch a plane. Speaking of airplanes, at one point Jimbo is piloting a Cesena which catches on fire. So, Bond simply makes like Captain Sully and lands the plane in a creator lake.  He not only smacks the eject button on the TIGER with his brow but he uses his head in others ways. Thank you! Try the veal. After taking Onnatop’s money at the tables Bond figures out her game by picking up her Georgian accent and IDing the license plates on her red Ferrari as fake. This is no small thing since it’s this bit of info that prompts Bond to tail her so he learns she ripped off the TIGER which is linked to the Goldeneye which gets Bond in touch with Wade who leads him to Zukovsky who hooks him up with Alec which ends with Bond saving the world. It’s all in the details.

Final Thoughts: If Goldfinger (1964) is the high water mark by which all Bond films are judged then GoldenEye comes damn close. (And look, both titles are gold body parts!) The script is one of the best Bond has ever had to work with. It’s rich in detail and the twists and turns keep us (and Bond) on our toes. In many films, we as an audience know what’s going on well before the characters and it makes the hero seem dumb for not picking up on the dropped hints. Here, we learn everything with Bond, and therefore experience the same emotions he does. It’s a basic but fundamental element of the film that sucks us in and makes us care about Bond and everything going on around him. I’ve written at length about the balance and repeated themes that Campbell brings to the film and not since Terrence Young has someone so well understood both what makes Bond tick and what makes for an exciting Bond film. The subtle but ever present theme linking the fall of the Soviet Union to failures in their overreliance in technology and rigid ideals hits home more today then it possibly could have in 1995. Are we in The West not now seeing the fall of our society and culture due to faith in technology that gave us incomprehensible financial models and the ability to move billions of dollars in mere seconds? Are we still to this day not continuing to rocket forward with this failed system under the false idea that this is what capitalism is a about?  Heavy stuff for sure but this Bond movie has a thought or two in its head and as much as it tied to a time and place, the newly free Russia of the early 90’s, the timeless theme of governments collapsing under their own hubris then needing to reinvent themselves hangs over everything. So we have that, plus a rock ‘em sock ‘em, gadget filled, sexy, slick Bond film; everything humming along in perfect balance. In the past, I’ve complained about Bond filmmakers feeling the need to go big, and here, from the first shot, everything is big. The difference, it not just the explosions but also the themes and ideas that are big and thanks to the balance between all these moving parts, it all works. As for Pierce’s debut, I will say this; in GoldenEye, he gives the best Bond performance since Connery. I know I’m touching the third rail here but please understand, I am not saying Pierce is the second best Bond (working on the assumption Connery is the best), but simply that in this film, taken as a single entry, Pierce’s performance as Bond is better then any of the previous entries going back to the Connery days. Let’s put it another way. If a 12-year-old boy came up to me today and asked “Who is James Bond?” out of all the 17 movies up to this point, GoldenEye is the film I’d show him. Is it the best one yet? No. Maybe not even top 3. But the 17-year-old and counting GoldenEye still feels up to date enough to hold the attention of a kid raised on Harry Potter and “Halo” while also laying out all the classic elements that define Bond and Bond films. While watching the helicopters fly off into the sunset in the final shot, I did think of Pierce and Campbell and Wilson and Lamont and everyone else involved in this project as heroes. With GoldenEye, they made the movie that saved the franchise.

Martini ratings:

The Sky is Falling…

Welp, it’s happening, which is just fantastic news. Like Harold Camping, he of the “Open Forum” on Family Radio who has predicted the end of the world will happen on March 21, 2011 and then again in October 2011, Bond’s death has be nigh several times in the last few year, but the man with the license to kill simply will not die. As it so happen, Bond 23 will be coming out in November of 2012, a year that will mark the 50th Anniversary of Jimmy B’s marriage with the big screen. 50 years and 23 “official” films later and I can’t wait for the two to renew their vows. I will not make a habit out of posting every little news item that comes out regarding the new film because I have zero inside access. Between the twitter account, official press releases, the 50th anniversary celebrants, etc., I’m sure there will be no shortage of Bond news at other corners of the internet for everyone to feast on. However, when I saw the attached photo, proof that this thing is finally flying, I just had to say something. Speaking of flying, Skyfall? Yah? Blog James Blog agrees with the New York Times in questioning the wisdom of the title Skyfall. After the last films doggy title and the sky is falling hysteria around the MGM bankruptcy, well, it just seems a little too on the nose. But hey, Craig is back! We are getting a M centric story! Sam Mendes is the first Oscar winner to sit in the directors chair! Our friend-o Javier Bardem is the baddie! Adele is most likely recording the theme! It’s not a continuation of Quantum of Solace (2008)! And it is the Golden Anniversary, a metal that has been very good for Bond in the past. Well, let’s say on paper it looks like the stars are lining up. And then the photo above! It’s really happen, and for that we say to EON and MGM and everyone else who made this possible, in the immortal words of Prof. Joe Butcher, bless your heart.

Licence To Kill

Title: Licence To Kill

Year: 1989. The pop culture landscape in the last year of the 80’s was rather bleak. After getting the keys back from the autours at the end of the 70’s, the suits dumbed down the 80’s with a mix of overly commercial crap and vanilla politically correct dreck. By 89 films like Ghostbusters II, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Looks Who’s Talking were hits. The Oscar winner for Best Picture was Driving Miss Daisy, a film that was somehow meant to make baby-boomers feel warm and fuzzy about the Jim Crow south by having the late great Jessica Tandy stop yelling and learn to love the always great Morgan Freeman. Sigh. Number one albums from that year included Electric Youth by then Debby Gibson, Hangin’ Tough by a pre TNKOTB The New Kids On the Block, and Girl You Know It’s True by a duo who maybe one of the biggest F-you’s to fans ever, Milli Vanilli. In place of the true talent, fans were presented two pastel wearing dreadlock dudes who danced like drunken marinates. The record company was telling costumers who brought the Milli Vanilli record that while they may love the beautiful voices they heard, they couldn’t handle the less then beautiful people who produced those voices.   Hell, even the Grammys were fooled by these lip-syncing phonies. (Not the first or last time the RIAA would be dubbed; this is after all the origination that gave awards to Don Henley and Creed.) OK, I’m cherry picking a bit on the whole 1989 sucked thing; the still incredibly sharp and darkly hysterical War of the Roses was a hit and somehow, someway, Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction spent one week at #1, all be it bookended by three weeks of Bobby Browns’ Don’t be Cruel on either side. The point is in 1989 mainstream pop-culture wasn’t really about pushing boundaries. It was about playing it safe and dummying product down for the “mass audiences.” But the good thing about hitting rock bottom is there is no place to go but up. At the dawn of the 90’s the sign wave that is pop culture was about to take an upswing, and a radical one at that. I was lucky enough to know some college kids in 1989 who turned me on a records like Jane’s Additions Nothing Shocking (which was f***king shocking!) and Doolittle by the Pixies. (Thank you again Mike.) Something was happing here, and what it was wasn’t exactly clear, but it rocked in a way I never knew possible. Within three years, even the jocks would be wearing flannel. Something was happening in the world of film too. A young man named Steven Soderbergh wrote a screenplay in eight days. He then decided to direct it. After it was done, he screened it at little film festival in the far-flung cultural vacuum known as Salt Lake City. Two brothers from New York with no Hollywood cred what-so-ever liked Soberbergh’s little movie and decided to distribute the film thorough their upstart company. Made for one million dollars, sex, lies, and videotape went on to make $24 million on just over 500 screens, Miramax became the hottest production company for young talent, Sundance became THE place to be every January and the 1990’s indie film movement was born. The appeal of grunge, independent film, early gangsta rap, etc. was that audiences felt smart for listening to/watching/discovering this stuff. It felt like the artist were other fans making the art/product for us. It felt like we were being treated like intelligent humans and not being spoon-fed whatever the studios told us we should like. It actually felt like these movies and records meant something. In 1989, all of this was bubbling just below the surface, ready to explode. At first glance, Licence to Kill looks to be on the frontend of this wave. The poster, featuring the new no nonsense Bond promised “James Bond is out on his own and out for revenge.” EON took great pride in telling anyone who would listen that this was an adult Bond like none we had seen before. They took delight in pointing to the PG-13 rating, the first ever for a Bond film, as proof. One paper, there is much to be excited about here but understand this, Licence to Kill thinks you, loyal Bond fan, are an idiot. As faithful readers no doubt know, spelling is not my strong suit. When I picked up the DVD for Licence to Kill, I looked at the cover and knew something didn’t look right. I figured “licence” was a British thing; like “colour” or calling “Z” “zed.” So I did a quick flip through the Ultimate Edition’s handy-dandy booklet just to confirm. Yep, EON used the British spelling of “licence” which was kept even after producers changed the title. Cool.

Jane says sex is violent

What was the title before I wondered as I read on… Licence to Kill was the first Bond flick to not be based on a Fleming story hence it’s the first to have a title not supplied by the creator. The original title was Licence Revoked which given the story, makes much more sense. In the film Jimmy B get his 007 yanked and can no longer kill with immunity hence the whole “out on his own” thing on the poster. Awesome, so why did they change it to the confusing Licence to Kill, an item Bond doesn’t have for 85% of the film? I read on. The title was “changed to Licence to Kill when concern was raised that a small percentage of American audiences might not know what ‘revoked’ meant. The British spelling of ‘licence’, however, was retained.” I’m not sure I know where to begin. I guess MGM, 20th Century Fox, and EON should get some credit for having the balls to print that fact in their promotional material for the movie. But then again, no. What “small percentage of American audience” are we talking about here? Those under the age of six? Since this is the first PG-13 Bond, I somehow don’t think the kids were a concern. The thinking was such that American’s would be thrown off by the word “revoked” but license spelled with “c” was OK? I can’t come up with one good reason why “revoked” would somehow challenge Americans anymore than the words “diamonds” or “forever.” These are the people who released films titled A View to a Kill and Octopussy but having the word “revoked” in the title gave them pause? Are you God Damn kidding me? The same year this film came out a Christmas special aired on FOX featuring the cartoon family from the “Tracey Ullman Show.” “The Simpsons” went on to become the longest running show in television history and has seen countless brilliant writers walk in and out the front door. When Matt Groening is asked about the success of the show he often points to the fact that the writers never though they were smarter then the audience. They made the basic assumption that if they found something funny, their audience would as well. EON on the hand, thinks we American’s are too stupid to know what “revoked” means. Girl, you know it’s true, uh uh uh, the 16th Bond film hates you.

What does revoked mean?

Film Length: 2 hours 13 minutes.

Bond Actor: Timothy Dalton. The Welsh born Dalton trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts where he made his bones performing a ton of Shakespeare. As a young man he received raves for his King Philip in The Lion in Winter (1968) and his turn in Wuthering Heights (1970). Impressed, Cubby Broccoli asked the 25-year-old actor to replace Sean Connery as Bond. Thinking he was to young and feeling he still had important work to do, Dalton promptly turned down the plum gig. He then went onto leave his mark by dating Vanessa Redgrave on and off and playing Prince Barin in the best film ever made about a New York Jets quarterback, Flash Gordon (1980). As the 80’s progressed he donned period costumes in several roles but failed to realize his early promise. Thought it all he took his craft very, very seriously; almost to a fault. It’s just acting old boy, your not saving lives. No matter, when he did sign on to play Bond in 1987, his second or third contemporary role, he bent over backwards to treat Bond more like Hamlet and less like Superman. In press interviews for both of his 007 films, Dalton seems embarrassed to be part of a movie that is merely pop entertainment. He comes off as being above the material and all but apologies for having to hang off airplanes. Listening to him, you feel like Dalton’s a man who signed the EON contract and then immediately had buyer’s remorse. He never got past this feeling. In a 2002 interview with the LA Times, Dalton said “Everybody has their own take on how to play Bond. For me, there’s only one man who’s played it and is Bond to this day, and that’s Connery. He must’ve been blindsided. You have to be prepared to go through many doors because you’re not just an actor; you become the front man for this franchise.” All of this angst and frustration and self-loathing and contempt for the material shows in his performance as Bond. There were moments in Licence to KillI half expected Dalton to turn to the camera and scream “I will not be your action figure. I’m AN ACTOR GOD DAMN IT!” The Dalton era could have worked. He is the most physical Bond yet and it shows in the action sequence. During the open of this movie, while Dalton pulls of one stunt after the next, the wife said “Moore could never have done that” and she’s right. You believe this man could ride a cello case down a mountain or drive a truck though fire but here is the deal, when you’re doing stuff like that, you have to bring some joy to the action. Or at the very least acknowledge the ridiculousness of the situation. Both Connery and Moore understood this and dealt with it in their own way. Dalton never figured this side of Bond out. There is a ton of talk on the DVD extras about “returning to the spirit of the early films” and how they were “damn good mysteries and romantic thrillers” and how they wanted a “darker, meatier Bond” with a “harder edge.” Break this down and what they are really saying is they wanted the films to be more like Connery’s swinging 60’s movies and less like Moore’s lounge lizard 70’s films. I get it, the last few Moore film went too silly, but you can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Connery had his silly moments too. “My name is Pussy Galore” “I must be dreaming” is comedy gold…finger. The first shot of that film shows Connery wearing a fake seagull on his head for crying out loud. In this film, Bond is flying solo on a personal vendetta. The idea is to re-imagine Bond as dangerous rouge set loose on the world; a seething man pushed to the edge who’s always a hairs breath away from going absolutely ballistic. OK, maybe not as much room for funny in that but as Mr. Craig would prove in his stroll in 007’s shoes, dark doesn’t need to be a drag either.

'Nuff said

Dalton’s take is DOA. Again, he thinks he is above this martial so he never, ever commits to the idea. Instead, Dalton attempts to get power from the character by underplaying him like Eastwood as the Man with No Name. He fails for several reasons. First off, I know Mr. Eastwood and you sir, are no Mr. Eastwood. Clint can melt concert by simply starring out from under the brim of his hat. Dalton has nowhere near enough gravitas to pull that off so when he underplays it comes off a passionless and flat. Secondly, it’s the wrong approach for this material. This Bond is meant to be on the edge but it never feels like there is any danger of him going off the rails. Another Timothy has perfected the art of showing outward restraint while volcanically erupting internally. To watch Mr. Olyphant’s Sheriff Bullock simply walk down the main street of Deadwood is to witness a man seething with anger who is a hairs breath away from going absolutely ballistic. It’s written all over his face as he gives iconic looks from under his hat. And here is the kicker; it’s a blast to watch. Because Olyphant believes it, he sells it, and most importantly, he makes it look effortless. Dalton can do none that, even if he did have the chops, because he never fully commits. When he dose commit, Dalton can be a blast; think “I’m a slasher, I must be stopped” from Hot Fuzz (2007). But as Bond, Dalton is a total drag. Perhaps his worse sin is never realizing that playing Bond might be one of the most fun gigs in the world.

Director: John Glen is problem #2. Working from an original story Broccoli, Wilson and Glen decided to get on the same page as their leading man and go “dark” thus answering my major issue with the previous film. As the cliché goes, be carefully what you wish for. There is a misperception when it comes to pop art that “darker” automatically equals better. It’s like when a 17-year-old female singer thinks the way to become an adult is to take her clothes off. Becoming a slut doesn’t make you adult. Likewise darker or edger or grittier doesn’t mean better or more serious or more mature.

Not a girl, not yet a woman

Glen also makes the fatal mistake of equating “darker” with “humorless.” Again, I think this is part of the overall knee jerk to Moore’s “funny” Bond. Back to Olyphant for a moment, his Bullock proved it’s possible to pull of the trick of being dark and in moments funny at the same time. And let’s not even bring up McShane’s Al Swearengen, the darkest and most hysterical villain of all time. In the name of going “dark,” Glen sucks all the funny out of the film but strangely, not the camp. Lets start at the top, Felix and Bond as the groom and best man respectively, are on their way to Felix’s wedding when they get sidetracked. After a good amount of action the two end up parachuting onto the chapels steps. Already donning their tuxes, the two agents proceed to enter the church with their deployed chutes dragging behind like the train on the brides ground. This could be funny. This could be used as a device to show an agent’s work will always take priority, even on his wedding day. It should be both but in Glen’s hands it ends up being neither and the audience is left wondering what the hell just happened. Glen has progressed not a lick as a director and for his fifth (and mercifully final) Bond film it’s time to call him what he is; an excellent second unit man who should stick to that role. Outside of the big set pieces Glen has no sense of framing, irony, pacing, or storytelling. Sorry, the proof is in the pudding. And frankly, even the action bit is getting stale by this movie. The underwater sequences in Licence to Kill just made me want to rewatch Thunderball(1965) where they were 100 times better. The climatic truck chase while loud and big was all over the map with no scene of space or understanding of who is where doing what. Were their three trucks or four? It took me a second viewing to know for sure. At one point the Bond girl lands a plane in the mountains without the use of a runway. She gets out to see a big rig truck roll down a cliff to come to rest at her feet. Three scenes later, she appears out of nowhere at the exact right time after having somehow driven off the sandy cliff and back up on the road. That’s just one example. This film is full of things just kind of coming from nowhere, moving the plot along, and then disappearing. This is not going “dark,” this is lazy film making that sells fans short. Speaking of not appreciating audiences, I need to point out that on the DVD extras Glen says he felt the whole Americans not understanding revoked was silly. I would love to take the man at his word but I’m not sure I can. He also describes this as his best Bond (that would be For Your Eyes Only (1981)) and he contends that while the film didn’t receive high marks at the time, he is proud to see the new cult of Bond fans rally around it as it has grown in stature over the years. Ummm, I’m calling bullshit. If this segment of Bond fan is truly out there, please feel free to put up your supporting arguments in the comments section. Maybe I’m missing something, but Licence to Kill is mess. While groom Felix and best man Bond are engaged in the pre-wedding action, there are several ill-timed cutaways to the fretting bride and others in the wedding party. It’s strangely treated as more urgent and more important than the death defying action Bond and Felix are performing. Again, that could be funny or make a larger point but there is no irony here, it’s simply bad film making. The entire second half of the film plays like the instructions on your shampoo bottle; wash, rinse, repeat. Bond has gone rouge but a CIA confident and Q have come to help him on the sly. So, Bond instructs them to help with a task, they do, then he says go home, I work better alone. CIA confident and Q huff, then come rushing to Bonds rescue three scenes later. Bond gets bailed out, and then again says that’s it, really, go home. I shit you not, this happens five or six times. The pacing makes the entire thing feel strangely dated, more so then the Connery or Moore films. Making things feel all the more awkward, monumental events are treated as throwaways while a lot of time is spent on stuff that doesn’t really matter. Part of this has to do with Dalton having only one gear for the character but when ohhhhh, say Felix gets his leg bitten off and his bride is murdered, there should be a feeling of weight and consequence, not a tossed-off hospital bedside scene. Glen may want to go “dark” but he has no idea how to handle material with any weight. All of this adds up to destroying the Bond world. Seriously, if you take a step back form this picture, it plays like an episode of “Miami Vice.” However, it must be said Glen did get his pigeons in every film as he promised to do way back in 1981, so congrats John. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Reported Budget: $32,000,000 estimated. This too is an issue. To keep the budget about where it’s been for the last five or so films, producers were forced to abandon their beloved Pinewood Studios. New tax codes in England would have pushed the cost of filming up by an estimated 10%. So, the entire cast and crew relocated to Mexico where a majority of the surrounding country was used for location shoots and Churubusco Studios in Mexico City served as the sound stage and home base. While the last few films weren’t the run away spending spree that the earlier Bond films where, they never felt like they were cutting corners to make the film on the cheep. In the Licence to Kill, the lack of funds can be seen on the screen. This hurts the film in countless ways and further degrades what we have learned to be Bond’s world.

Reported Box-office: $34,667,015 USA and $156,200,000 Worldwide. These numbers are kind of astounding. American audiences abandon Bond like he was Mel Gibson circa 2010. EON more then made their money on the film thanks to overseas ticket sales but this had to be a major source of concern.

Theme Song: “Licence To Kill” performed by a Pipless Gladys Knight. Minus her back-ups, her vocals remain intact but the soul is absent. The lyric are also not up to Motown standards. When I heard Miss Knight belting out “Got a license to kill anyone who tries to tear us apart” all I could think was “really? That seems as if it could be used rather irresponsibly. I mean, having a license to murder anyone who might court you or your lover should be … rescind or voided or annulled or lifted or negated or nullified or recanted or expunged or retracted or invalidated or abrogated or abolished or … there has got to be another word for it…” In the meantime, because Gladys Knight is a pro and kicks-ass, the video here has 100% more balls then the studio version used in the film. Enjoy.

 

Opening Titles: I’m running out of stuff to say about the titles at this point so I’ll quote the wife. “It’s always naked chicks and guns. Who puts these credits together, Phil Spector?”

Opening Action Sequence: The first shots of Bond in the last film featured him all in black. His feet having barley touched the ground he went sprinting into action. The first shot in this film features Bond and two other tuxedo clad men sitting three abreast in the back seat of a car. The tuxes are a tip that a wedding is in the future. The fact they are driving on the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys is a tip that cars will flying off the bridge and sinking in the wet in the future. Indeed, its Felix’s wedding day and the three men are trying to get to the chapel on time when they are interrupted by Felix’s “partners at the DEA.” The feds have the notorious drug dealer Franz Sanchez in their grasp and they need Felix’s help to nab him before he makes it into Cuban air space. Felix jumps on their helicopter and brings James along “strictly as an observer.” However, he does give James a gun “just in case.” We then cut Sanchez, who has risked stepping foot on U.S. soil for a woman; a woman he finds in bed with another man. “What did he promise you, his heart?” Sanchez asks while his men hold the guy at knifepoint. “Give her his heart” Sanchez says as they drag the man out. He then proceeds to whip the woman with a stingray tail. This would be the most badass intro of a villain ever, except the scoring is so ridiculous as nearly ruin the scene. Nearly, but it still manages to work and in a bigger sense sets a precedent that will play out for the entire film. Mainly, the bad guys are the only thing in this movie that’s any fun or works well. Bond villains are always a blast but this is the first film where I found myself enjoying the villain stuff so much that when the film goes to the Bond stuff, I couldn’t wait to get back to the villains. Case in point, when we rejoin Felix and Bond they are screaming at each other in the copper to be heard over the motor. It is jarring and simply bad sound editing. Then, when the chopper lands we are presented with a shot that would be embarrassing in the Bad Boys 2 (2003) trailer. Felix, in his tux, carrying a machine gun, runs straight at the camera, flanked by DEA agents on either side doing the same … in slow motion. I literally couldn’t believe it but I swear it happened (I watched the film twice, I didn’t dream it.) I could be wrong, but I think this is the first slow motion shot in all of the Bond films, and yes, it further destroys the world of Bond. Speaking of, I love when Bond does outrageous shit that works within the rules we have so firmly established. Hell, it’s why we watch Bond in the first place. But nothing, nothing has set up a universe where a helicopter can catch up to a crop-duster plane, have Bond repel out of said helicopter and land on the tail of said plane, hook a cable to the tail, and the helicopter then takes off with the plane dangling under it like a cowboy that has just lassoed a bull. Well, that’s how they get Sanchez as he’s trying to escape and “oh look, it’s the wedding down there. And it’s yours Felix! What say we … drop in?!?!” I wish, but that would be too Moore. Now I want to pause at this point and make this about me, if you will indulge such a detour. I enjoy the hell out of this blog. It’s also a lot of work. It’s work I enjoy or I wouldn’t do it but it consumes a ton of time to come up with different angles and a bunch of tweaking of ideas to make them fit into the context of the big picture. Anyway, some stuff I think works OK and other stuff I’m really proud of. One of the things I thought was quite good and fairly witty was my parachute principal for Bond openings that I came up with for The Living Daylights. Well, Licence kills that idea. Bond and Felix parachute into the wedding and the band strikes up and oh man, it’s just too depressing. Thanks for destroying my theory one movie after I came up with it. We now return to our regularly scheduled program.

Another revenge film staring a Brit

Bond’s Mission: The tagline “James Bond is out on his own and out for revenge” is about right. Sanchez bribes sniveling CIA man Ed Killifer, “Sorry, ol’ buddy, but two mil’s a helluva chunk o’ dough,” who helps the drug lord escape in a sequence involving the Seven Mile Bridge and, as promised, cars going into the water. Now free from prison Sanchez goes after Felix, killing his bride and feeding Felix to a shark. When Bond finds Felix half alive with the note “he disagreed with something that ate him” pinned to his chest, Bond is not laughing. Bond takes it upon himself to go out and hunt Sanchez down, tracing him to a Key West warehouse owned by Milton Krest. Best I can tell, Krest is a highly paid mule who uses his fishing/hunting/electric ell business as a cover to smuggle cocaine into the US for Sanchez. Bond destroys the warehouse, which pisses off the DEA who’s been building a case that is now screwed up by Bonds cowboy act. Marched before M, Bond shows not a bit of concern for screwing up and has his licence to kill revoked. (Ed Note: Revoke <verb> – to annul by recalling or taking back.) Bond all but pulls a gun on M and takes off. Like Sara Palin, Bond is now a loose canon unleashed into the world, gone rogue. “I work better alone” Bond says to drive this whole lone wolf thing home but that’s a bigger lie then “I did not have sex with that woman.” Bond not only screws up the DEA’s case during his little Rambo without a jockstrap routine, he derails a CIA plot to nab Sanchez in a weapons deal and he blows the cover of a Hong Kong Narcotics operation that’s been working on Sanchez for three years. Worse, the three Chinese agents end up getting killed as a result of Bond’s actions. So does Sharky, the Bubba Smith looking dude from Felix’s wedding. So James Bond, one of the best agents in the world, single handedly manages to undermine the British, Chinese, and United States government all in the name of being pissed off. By working alone perhaps Bond meant don’t come near me, I’m King Midis in reverse and everything I touch turns to shit. Bond has always, no mater who’s played him, been kick-ass. He’s always been the smartest guy in the room. He’s always been at the very top of his game. Here, Bond is fumbling around in the dark until by dumb luck he achieves his objective.

Villain’s Name: Franz Sanchez. If you haven’t gathered yet, Bond sucks in this film. Thank EON for Sanchez. It’s only while sharing the screen with slippery snake that the Bond character is elevated to the Jimmy B we know and love. Our baddie is all you want in a Bond villain; he’s sinister, scary, shrewd and charming as hell. Whether he’s feeding CIA men to sharks, beating his girlfriend with a dead animal part, or schmoozing investors to get them to come in on his cocaine empire, he always has the same calm exterior that almost succeeds in obscuring his steal-eye intensity. While Bond spends the film flailing about and getting his friends killed, Sanchez is always in control, until he’s not. While the press material says Sanchez was based on Manuel Noriega but he’s more of a Pablo Escobar like figure, a man who is simply more powerful then the government of his nation. His coke operation basically makes up the bulk Isthmus’ GNP and he therefore has every pol, policeman, and peasant in his hip pocket. He ruthlessly rules through fear, intimidation, and insistence upon loyalty. The first two serve him well but it’s his high ideal of honor among thugs that proves to be his downfall and not coincidentally, the only hook in the film on which we can hang our hat. Take Ed Killifer, the CIA man who sells his buddy Felix out for $2 million. Sanchez uses such a man while finding him despicable exactly because he does sell his friend out. Then, he pays him anyway. Sanchez did after all give his word. The reason Sanchez whips his woman while his flunkies get all Mola Ram on her lover’s chest? Not because of the physical act of sleeping with another man, but because she was unloyal. This character trait is the only thing in the movie that allows Bond to shine and be Bond. In an expertly executed bluff, Bond, Jiu Jitsu like, turns Sanchez’s code of loyalty against him. By sowing seeds of doubt about his trusted henchmen, Bond twists Sanchez in to such a state of distrust that while Sanchez never gets high on his own supply, he still ends up just as paranoid as Tony Montana in Scarface (1983). And like Pacino’s South Florida coke baron, Sanchez ends up imploding and killing everyone he once trusted. (Side note: In another reference to Brian De Palma’s llello opera, one of the CIA guys figures Felix’s missing leg was thanks to a chain saw “They sell more then they do in Oregon down here.” Good stuff)

Villain Actor: Robert Davi. The scenes where Bond talks Sanchez into doubting his own men are some of the best in the film. It’s fun to watch Bond turn the screws but these scenes don’t exist in a vacuum and therefore ultimately don’t work. I think it’s because Davi is the better actor. Or maybe more actually, he is on much surer footing when it comes to understanding who Sanchez is then Dalton is with Bond. As a result, it’s a bit of a stretch to think Sanchez would be outfoxed by Bond Lite. (One can’t help thinking what Connery could have done with the scenes.) Davi, a tough guy character actor from Broccoli’s old stomping ground of Astoria, Queens, originally trained as an opera-singer and was headed in that direction until he damaged his voice. You can catch him belting out a few bars in Goonies (1985) where he and Joey Pants play the bumbling Fratelli brothers. He also made news later in his career for being one of the few in Tinsel Town to outwardly support the second Iraqi war. “There is a conservative movement in Hollywood, and we kind of stay amongst ourselves.” Conspiracy theorist can point to statements like that as the reason we haven’t heard much form dear Mr. Davi as of late.

Say hello to my little coke habit

It’s a shame too, in a Hollywood were Ryan Reynolds lands tough-guy roles, we could use a little more Robert Davi. (Honestly, you buy Reynolds for a second in the Safe House trailer? Hey speaking of the Safe House trailer, check out Denzel’s CIA agent run amuck. Now that’s how you go rouge babe!) )

Villain’s Plot: I like seeing Felix front and center and I like that the villain is more loyal then CIA guys, but the baddie in this film doesn’t really have much of plot. It’s not even like he commits the common sin of wanting too much and biting off more then he can chew (See “The World is Mine!” in Scarface). In fact, he’s just kind of doing what he’s always done. He just happened to feed the wrong guy to a shark and that gets Bond’s panties in a bunch. Meanwhile Sanchez hangs out in his casino while running business as usual until it’s to late. This consists of strong arming the president of Isthmus, setting the market price for coke via a television evangelist (a bit of geniuses we will get to in a bit) and smuggling that coke in vats of bait through the Florida Keys via Milton Krest. All in a days work. Sure, he’s trying to buy some weapons but what multi-national drug cartel isn’t? And yah, he almost gets nailed by the men from Hong Kong when he tries to expand into Asia but thanks to Bond, those pesky ninjas are exposed and dealt with. Top marks 007! While the lack of ambition is a nice change of pace in a Bond villain, the film also suffers from a lack of urgency and stakes because of it. Now, if Bond was really a loose cannon hell bent on bring this guy down despite the US and UK telling him to lay off, then the villain not wanting the world to be his would be fine. We could see Bond reeking havoc to the increasing frustration of the villain until the final mono-a-mono faceoff. But as it stands, we get none of the above and as a result, the final confrontation between Bond and the villain, while explosive (ha-ha) is rather ho-hum.

Villain’s Lair: Did we mention Sanchez is rich? Well he is. He owns the national bank of Isthmus as well at the casino next door; eat your heart out Steve Win. And then there is his seaside villa, a pad that would make the talent of South Beach, Mr. LeBron James, weep with envy. We are introduced to his palatial home via Bond’s eyes. After Sanchez’s men save Bond from the ninjas (I know you think that’s a joke, it’s not) Bond wakes up in an all white room with a bug eyed statue staring at him. He then walks though a dream like lair of waterfalls and wall-less rooms that wrap around an infinity pool that over looks the Isthmus harbor or as it’s known on Google Earth, Acapulco. There is something simply elegant about a baron of blow building a home where everything from floor to ceiling in bone white. Also, let’s take a moment and silently bow our head’s for the poor cinematographer who had to figure out how the hell to shoot this place. Cameras and white don’t get along at all and add the sun reflection off all that water…well lets just say I hope our DP has recovered from the stress nightmares that most certainly plagued him during production. Well done good man, and know it was worth it; the place is simply breathtaking. The same cannot be said for deep forest hideout. After all the talk of a new, dark, Bond that audience will barely recognize, Glen and Co. rely on the most tired and boring of all Bond clichés for the films third act. Everything comes to a head at the villain’s ultra modern over-sized lab (in this case, a coke possessing plant) that is hidden in an agent over-sized wonder of the world (in this case, a faux Aztec temple that is also the home to a Jonestown like cult) that inevitably catches fire and explodes moments after Bond, with girl in tow, escapes. At least in the past with the volcano lair de Blofeld, or Drax’s temple come lunching pad or Scaramanga’s sea side cliff/solar power plant or Stromberg’s octopus garden or even Dr. No’s shanty nuclear powered fishing wharf rocket jamming digs, we had a sense of the place. (Not so with Mr. Big’s voodoo shark aquarium but hey, the graveyard was cool!) Sanchez’s joint just seems to have random rooms that kind of pop up just to serve out whatever purpose the film demands. It has a TV studio with a lion head waterfall, an underground helicopter parking garage, a cocaine-refining assembly line, a huge trucking doc, and a soundproof rape room cheekily referred to as a “meditation chamber.” None of these locations has any relation to the other and the rooms aren’t even visually consistent enough to be close to existing in the same space. But it all blowed up real good, which I guess, is the point.

Villain’s Coolest Accessory/ Trait:  “Ummm, I like the way you do business” The Dude famously told Jackie Treehorn over a Caucasian and I like the way Sanchez dose his. There are countless examples I could pick from to demonstrate how this smooth operator errr operates but I will pick one. After trying to sell a bunch of Asian investors on his importing/exporting business, “drug dealers of the world unite!” Sanchez opens a set of double doors to reveal a room full of women, each with a drink in hand. As soon as they come into to view they are pairing off with the investors who forget the previous hardboiled negations in exactly 1.3 seconds. Well-played sir. Additionally, Sanchez has his skate tail whip and he gets a pet; Blofeld had his lap cat, and Sanchez has his shoulder lizard. The iguana, who I named Iggy, even gets to sport the Diamonds Are Forever (1971) collar.

Why is this man smiling?

Badassness of Villain: Pablo Escobar, possibly the closet thing to a real life Bond villain other than Rupert Murdoch, toyed with running for the President of Columbia (the country, not the university.) He most likely would have won but he reconsidered throwing his hat in the ring once he realized he was more powerful then the President of Columbia while not having to deal with all the bullshit that come with being a politician. I’m not sure when Pablo realized this but perhaps it was around the time the President of Columbia threw the drug lord into prison. A prison, and this is 100% true, that Escobar was permitted to build himself, on his own land, and have guarded by his own hired goons. You suspect Sanchez is the kind of guy who could build his own prison. When he tells the president of Isthmus “Remember, you’re only president for life” you know he is. Between the Felix shark feeding, the heart ripping out, the stingray tail whipping of a woman, and the calm and cool manner in which he does it all while cynically selling drug with a “700 Club” like television show, well, he may just be the most badass villain we’ve seen yet.

Villain’s Asides/ Henchmen: As if Sanchez didn’t have enough points already, his trio of henchmen are the most fun asides I can think of. No, they are not quite as memorable as Jaws or Oddjob but these three and Sanchez literally save an otherwise atrocious movie. Exhibit A: Dario AKA Benicio Del Toro. Save his part as Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-wee (1988) (not to be confused with the Tim Burton Pee-we film) this was his first time on the big screen. And while he’s not quite Fred “flip you for real” Fenster or Dr. “did you see what GOOOOOODDDDD just did to us man?” Gonzo, every single line he delivers rolls off his tongue like dew dripping off morning grass. “Don’t worry” he purrs to Felix when the agent, suspended over a shark tank, asks about his new bride, “we gave her a nice Honey mooooon” with his voice rising to emphasize “oooon.” Even his wardrobe, which looks like something one of the dancers from Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video would wear, he somehow makes cool. He’s the perfect man behind the man, always present and ready, but also fading into the background when not needed. Next we get Milton Krest who is the only non-reoccurring character in the film to come from Fleming’s pen (the short story “The Hildebrand Rarity.”) Krest is a rich American though how he made his money is unclear. Now, Krest earns a living using his fleet of boats and submarines as well as his Florida Key warehouse to smuggle Sanchez’s blow to a beeper carrying street level pusher near you. One more note about his warehouse, it holds every variety of aquatic life imaginable (sharks, electric ells) for no real reason and has a variety of containers that say ACME on the side. Perhaps Krest makes his money selling gadgets to Wile E Coyote? Anywho, as played by Anthony Zerbe, a character actor who has earned “Oh, that guy!” status, Krest is one smarmy guy. He gets one scene that is absolutely riveting and more frightening then the Sanchez woman whipping incident. In both scenes, Sanchez’s lady, Lupe Lamora, is in bed, this time on board Krest’s boat. Sanchez is not on board and Krest has been drinking. Because Zerbe plays the scene like he is truly inebriated and not like a cartoon stumbling drunk, he gives off the unsettling feeling that he is capable of anything, at any moment. So when his mood starts to sour Lupe is justifiably terrified. She attempts to defuse the situation by playing her ace and threatens to tell Sanchez if Krest touches her.  This backfires horribly as Krest moves in for the kill. “I’ve known Sanchez a long time…. And I’ve seen girls like you come, and I’ve seen girls like you go.” Mercifully, he is interrupted by the ships captain before things truly take a turn for the worse. I wanted to know everything about Milton Krest. Who is he? How did he get involved in this business? How did he and Sanchez meet? What’s his drink of choice? Who is his favorite baseball player? Before we can learn such things he ends up loosing both the shipment of coke AND the money and scratching his head looking for excuses when Sanchez comes calling. I have a feeling this will end badly for old Milton… Between Dario and Krest, we would have had two classic henchmen. But then we get, and I must admit, I somehow forgot he was in this film, Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton!!!!!!! Forget everything you know about this movie. Now, picture yourself sitting in a bar, waiting to meet a friend. That friend enters and says, “I just heard the craziest thing.” “What?” you ask. “OK, Wayne Newton just came out with a movie where he plays a character named Professor Joe Butcher. Professor Joe is a preacher who has a Pat Robertson’s like TV show but it’s really the front for a cult in Mexico somewhere. Everyone in this cult walks around in white robes. As initiation, all the women are taken to a sound proof room when Newton has sex with them. Oh, and Newton drives around this place in a golf cart. OK, to get money, he sells a book he wrote which has a photo of a half naked woman in a yoga posses on the cover and is titled “The Secretes of the Cone Power Reviled.” The other way he makes money is by selling cocaine over the air but only a few distributors in the states know this.” “Wait, what?” you ask. “Shut-up, I’m telling you” your friend answers. “Newton goes on his TV show and sets a goal for pledges. Like he will say on the air he needs to raise $18,000, and then that’s the price for the shipment of coke. So say you’re the Chicago supplier, you call in, pledge, send the check, and then that’s the payment for the coke. He then ships it out of his temple where he also processes the stuff. And here is the best part about all of this, it’s a Bond movie!” Wouldn’t you spit your Anchor Steam on the floor, throw a $20 on the table, and run out to the nearest theater to buy a ticket that second? Hell yes you would and I would be right behind you. And that’s not to all; Newton totally nails the part! I’m not kidding. At one point, the Bond girl shows up at the compound, dons the white robe and pretends to be a fawning follower. Prof. Joe takes her to the pyramid like bedroom, which is decorated with copies of his book, to make the moves. When she pulls a gun on him, is he upset? No. He loves it! As she is locking him in this room, a sound proof room (all the better for raping), he smiles at her and says “Bless your heart!” the same way he says it to the dups on his TV show. Even later, when his temple is blowing up and his entire lives work is literally going up in flames, he is fleeing with a bag of money, the last thing he has in the world. The Bond girl comes up behind him, riding in HIS golf cart, and swipes the money. He stops running and looks at her with a smile of deep admiration. “Bless your heart!” It is a part and performance for the ages and you know what, it still gets buried by this shit pile of film. Honestly, it takes a special kind of suck to blow Wayne Newton’s Professor Joe Butcher.

Bond Girl Actress: Carey Lowell. Most Bond girls are former models and so is Ms. Lowell but I must admit, this Huntington New York native just did it for me more then most. I understand this is purely subjective so many might not agree but I found her to be the hottest Bond babe since Barbara Bach and just a notch below my #1, Diana Rigg. She is simply stunning in the evening gowns she wears to the casino and she gets points for almost pulling off some of the terrible dialogue she’s forced to deliver. (almost…)  Post Bond she went on to have a regular role on “Law & Order” Dunnn-dunnn as A.D.A. Jamie Ross and in 2002 she married Richard Gere. Good for her and great for him.

Bond Girl’s Name: Pam Bouvier. Despite how stunning Ms. Bouvier is, Bond doesn’t recall the first time he met her at Felix’s wedding. At least when they meet up again at the ZZ Top redneck bar he doesn’t let on that he remembers. Strange. Bouvier is some kind of mercenary, its never really clear, who partnered with the CIA on the Sanchez missile sting. She can suck down a martini, handle herself in a barroom brawl and bails Bond out of trouble more times then I can count, including one hell of shot to take out Benicio who literally had Bond dangling over a barrel. Her thanks? Bond screams at her. At another point she somehow resists the temptation to smack Bond when three seconds after lecturing her about her professionalism, his getaway boat runs out of gas. “They must have shot the fuel line.” Uhhuhh, that’s what they all say. Yet, despite the fact that Bond treats her like yesterday’s papers through the entire film, like say when he takes too much pleasure putting her down in front of people while she is playing his assistant, she still falls for him. This isn’t the usually babe in the woods Bond girl who would be wowed by the spy. Nor does he give her the respect of treating her like an equal. So why would she fall for him? And this just adds to the Dalton problem, his Bond is a jerk, and not a fun one. And to a larger extent, the film as a whole is kind of mean to the women, perhaps thinking “dark” means “cynical.” How else can you explain Glen’s choice to make Bouvier weep when she learns Bond is messing around only to be won back after he throws her in a pool? Cynical.

Bond Girl Sluttiness: I’m not really sure. When a man in a tux jumping off a balcony at a formal party and throwing you into a pool makes you all weak in the knees, well, that some kind of kink I don’t understand. None the less, she and Sanchez’s woman don’t just sleep with Bond, they both fall in love. Kara Milovy fell in love with Bond in the last picture and it didn’t quite work, so for some reason Glen decides to double-down here. As a result, when Bond sleeps Lupe as a “field agent using every means at his disposable to achieve his objective” (Thanks Q) Bouvier’s heart is broken. Not that we spend anytime at all exploring this, they are after all just the women. Again, it’s cynical and no fun and sends the film down yet another road that’s abandon when no longer needed.

Bond Girls Best Pick-up Line: “Why don’t you wait until you’re asked?”

Bond’s Best Pick-up Line: “Well why don’t you ask?” Don’t worry, it makes no sense in the film either.

Number of Woman 007 Beds: 2. Lupe and Bouvier. But for some reason, Lupe gets more respect. At least Bond has the stones to tell her it ain’t going to work out. Bouvier just kind of gets strung along. I also think it must be pointed out that before Felix’s bride got crooked she and Bond seemed a little too familiar. They are all kiss, kiss and touchy feely and she cuts in to dance with him and then more kissing in front of Felix and I don’t know… this is your wedding lady. For a few minutes there I thought the first PG-13 Bond film was going to go in a very different direction.

Number of People 007 Kills: 11. Krest’s warehouse is like something out of the Final Destinations films; let’s see how many strange ways we can come up with to kill people. Well there is (1) the calamari to the cranium, (2) the electric ell tank, (3) the harpoon to the dude who killed Sharky and (4) Ed Killifer and his $2 million sleep with the fishes in the shark tank bit. (Cue the Pixies – ED …IS….DEAD! Huuuaaa huaa ED IS DEEEEEEEAD! Sorry, back to our regularly scheduled program.) Here again, the killing of Killifer is supposed to mean something in the context of the Bond on a vendetta thing. This is the guy that sold out Felix and Bond is burying not only him but also his blood money so to speak. But it carries no weight. Worse, for the umpteenth time in the film, I found myself thinking back to a previous Bond’s that pulled off the idea better. Roger Moore, of all people, the guy who Dalton treats like the red headed stepchild of the Bond films, did this so much more effectively when he kicked Emile Leopold Locque over the cliff in For Your Eyes Only (1981). Moving on, in a neat trick Bond (5) pulls an emergency door in a plane that a goon rides earthward and he then (6) tosses the pilot out for good measure. He runs a pick-up up truck off a cliff killing (7,8) two dudes and to complete the by air, by land and by sea trilogy, Bond (9) shoots a dude while getting away in his Cigarette boat. Although Banicio (sorry, I have to call him Banicio. It’s just cooler then Dario) was all ready shot and in bad shape thanks to Bouvier, I guess Bond gets credit for the kill by dropping Banicio and his oh so sexy clothes into (10) a circular chopper. It’s not quite Steve Buscemi in Fargo (1996) but it’s a decent “Ehhhuuuuuuu” moment. Finally, Bond and Sanchez, both beat to hell, are lying at the bottom of a cliff and covered in gasoline thanks to the leaking fuel trucks. Let me say I always enjoy seeing a beat up Bond and here he truly looks terrible, so that is something. Sanchez, gun in hand, looks down on the broken agent wonders why he betrayed him. “You could have had it all.” Bond breaks out the lighter Felix gave him and asks “don’t you what to know why?” before (11) torching the bastard. Speaking of “Ehhhuuuuuuu” moments…

Houston, we have a problem...

Most Outrageous Death/s: OK, there isn’t much to like about this movie so when something comes up you’ve got to embrace it. And the outrageous death is pretty outrageous, and something to truly be celebrated. After Milton Krest loose both the payment and the product, Bond convinces Sanchez Krest’s been ripping him off. After Sanchez finds some cash in a deep-water pressurized submarine chamber, his suspicions are confirmed. So, into the chamber with the cash goes Milton. “You want the money? You can have it!” While Sanchez cranks up the dial all poor Milton can do is presses his face up against the porthole. “It’s not my money!” he shouts until a year before Schwarzenegger’s eyes bugged out of his skull in Total Recall (1990), Milton’s melon goes pop in a nice, juicy way. The kicker?  Goon “Hey boss, what about the money?” Sanchez “Have it laundered.”

Miss. Moneypenny:  Caroline Bliss, for all she accomplished in the last film, is rewarded with a greatly reduced and mostly thankless role here. Back in the alcove of M’s office she find herself worried about James; a concern that earns her a tongue lashing from M. Moneypenny then serves her purpose in the plot by informing Q where Bond is and then the film is done with her. Much is made about the misogyny of the Bond films, particularly the Connery era ones, but Licence To Kill treats women perhaps worse then any previous entry.

M: Robert Brown. I always felt Brown was a dick as M and he absolutely confirms it here. In the past, M would “officially” dismiss Bond when the political heat was coming down and then support him on the sly. Not here. Universal Exports commandeers the Hemingway House, a fact I enjoyed immensely. While several six towed cats and armed men watched, M dresses Bond down for undermining the CIA’s case on Sanchez by going on his “personal vendetta.” The thing is, M is kind of right here. But now, see if you can follow this. Bond says he will resign if not permitted to stay on the case. “This is not a country club” M hisses at his best agent. I guess what he means by that is one can’t just walk away from being an agent, you know kind of like “No one leaves the KGB!” (I miss General Gogol) Fine, but then in the next breath M tells Bond to hand over his gun and 00 licence to kill. Is this some kind of “Oh you can’t quit because your fired” argument? I don’t get it. Then, Bond takes a swing at another agent, steals his gun, and jumps off the balcony. There are several MI6 dudes who have a clear shoot at this man who just committed treason against the crown. But then M tells his people “Don’t shoot.” If he said so because he trusted Bond or didn’t want his best agent to get killed or anything other then “there are too many people around” it might have worked. But here’s the thing, they are at the Hemingway House which is walled and cut off from the public. They could shoot all they want in the courtyard and the only causality other then Bond would be a few six toed felines. It’s 100% M’s fault Bond got away so what does he do? He takes it out on poor dear Moneypenny. “There are five typing eras on the first page alone” he barks before literally throwing the paper at Moneypenny. What a dick.

Q: Oh dear, dear Q. Other then Sanchez and his motley crew of henchmen, Q is the only bright spot in this slog of a movie. As loyal to Bond as Moneypenny, Q takes it upon himself at great risk to both his life and career to travel to Isthmus to assist Bond. God knows the ex-007 needs it and anytime Q is out of the lab and into the field it’s a good thing. Posing as Bond’s uncle, Q shows up in Jimmy-B’s hotel room with “everything a man would need on holiday.”

List of Gadgets: In his unassuming suitcase Q has an alarm clock bomb “guarantied to never wake up anyone who uses it,” plastic explosive in a toothpaste tube, a camera that “shoots” .220 high velocity “film” and a Polaroid camera that has x-ray vision and a laser beam flash. There were however, no bottles over 5oz. containing liquids so he had no problems with Heathrow Airport security on the way over. The .220 camera, by the by, has a neat trick in that it encodes itself to one hand, in this cases Bonds, so that no one else can use it. Bond also has a cummerbund that hides a rope (good if you need to say, attended the wedding of a CIA man) and one of the simpler but cooler gadgets to date, a wetsuit with wings that allows one to swim under the radar as one looks like a manta ray. Q himself even gets a gadget, a broom that doubles as a walkie-talkie. After Q uses this devise, he tosses it aside with a casual shrug. Perhaps now he will understand how hard it is to maintain equipment in the field.

Gadgets/British Government Property Bond Destroys: His career, future pension and possibly the James Bond franchise.

Other Property Destroyed: For a guy who is cut off from the British taxpayer and the endless budget they provide Bond is rather caviler with funds. He tosses Killifer’s $2 million in the drink with Killifer, he loads Krest’s pressure/ torture chamber up with cash and he giggles like a school girl as he throws countless Benjamin’s out of a broken airplane door. While doing so he does not, much to my disappointment, announce he’s making it rain. Bond also shows little regard for the street value of cocaine when he drowns kilo after kilo in the ocean, blows up the entire coke processing plant and then on his way out blows up four, count em, four tanker trucks full of gasoline and Bolivian marching powder. While destroying these trucks, he also takes out a number of jeeps and other vehicles including a car he crushes after pulling a Diamonds Are Forever side wheelie and coming down hard on the auto. In other news, demand for narcotics soared in Los Angles and New York after a sudden shortage sending the price of an 8-ball to an all time high.

Felix Leiter: Have you noticed how I’ve just kind of nonchalantly been bringing up the fact that Felix got his leg bitten off? This is not by mistake. When we first see Felix suspended over the tank still in his wedding day finest, it’s a rather jarring image, one that I somehow had forgotten about. So when they lowered the long time Bond confidante into the water and he screamed as a shark dined on his lower half, I was kind of taken aback. “Holy shit, are they going to kill Felix?” It was truly shocking and the film could have gotten some mileage out of it. It is, after all, why Bond goes supposedly bonkers and becomes a fugitive. But no, nothing. Glen truly drops the ball a few scenes later when we see Bond standing next to a hospital bed and a nurse comes in and says “He’s legs gone, we see about the arm, by the by did you catch ‘Glee’ last night?” OK not quite but it’s a huge plot development that’s just kind of dropped. Even worse, at the end of the film we see Felix sitting up in his hospital bed like a kid who just got his tonsils removed. He’s got a huge smile on his face as he talks to Bond on the phone. “Hey buddy, yah, thanks so much for killing that guy who took my leg. Solid. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, M’s trying to get a hold of you to give you you’re old job back so everything is as it once was, how swell is that? What? Oh my wife, yah I kind of forgot about her. Oh well, other fish in the sea and all that, see you back at the office and thanks again James.” And that’s it. All is forgiven and James is back in the MI6 fold and roll credits. Look, these two men now have both been widowed on their wedding day thanks to the violence that comes part and parcel with their chosen professions. Is that dark enough for yah? Think there are some larger ideas that can grow out of this? Do James and Felix form a bond over this incredibly traumatic event in both of their lives? Nahhh, they don’t even discuss it. Felix’s bride is given just enough screen time to smooch Bond and then get killed off so the plot can get rolling and then she’s forgotten. Again, I can’t decide if this film is just super lazy or so cynical as to not even care about her or Felix or the audience. I suspect all of the above. Felix by the way was played by David Hedison who becomes the first and to this point only actor to reprise the Felix role. For those keeping score, he was Moore’s NYC docent in Live and Let Die (1973).

Best One Liners/Quips: “Don’t be an idiot, 007. I know exactly what you’re up to, and quite frankly, you’re going to need my help.” Q puts it all in perspective and saves the day.

Bond Cars: No car but Bond does get a Cigarette boat, the cocaine cowboy’s transport of choice in the 1980’s. Q gets the wheels in the form of a grey Rolls.

Bond Timepiece: I saw a flash of a watch on Bond wrist, which was nice since he didn’t have one in the last film. However, it went by so quickly I couldn’t see what it was.

Other Notable Bond Accessories: One of the few good things that can be said about Dalton’s Bond is he smokes, as he, in my opinion, should. It’s one of the few things we can point to that gives this Bond something approaching a personality.

Number of Drinks 007 Consumes: One of the other things is Bond’s drinking. I tipped my hat in admiration when Bond checked into his hotel and ordered a case of Bollinger for his room. While depositing millions into Sanchez’s bank, Bond enjoys a glass of bubbly. He has another when touring the coke bottling plant with the Asian inverters. Bond orders his signature drink, a medium dry martini shaken not stirred, but he must leave before he gets to enjoy. No worries, Bouvier downs it in one slug. I also loved that while in the ZZ Top bar, Bond is served a Bud with a lime and he doesn’t even consider soiling his pallet with such swill. Flashes of the Bond we know and love.

Bond’s Gambling Winnings: Card players are a superstitious lot in general, but blackjack players take the idea of “mojo” to whole new level. I think the reason for this is blackjack, when played properly, is the gambling equivalent of knowing the times tables cold. Memorize the answers and that’s that, no thought required. So as sure as 6 X 8=48, you hit when you have 16 and the dealer is showing 7 but stay when you have 16 and they are showing 6. To play blackjack correctly takes zero skill if you just remember the answer for every card combination and since you are only playing the dealer and not the other players at the table, it’s not all that difficult to memorize all possible card combinations. (Ed. Note: This is assuming you’re playing with a multi-deck shoe, which all casinos do and that you’re not attempting to count cards, which all casinos consider a black bookable offence.) So, with no variables to affect play, gamblers start looking to other factors like “runs,” “streaks” and “luck” to explain why they are up or down at any given point in the game. I know guys who will only sit at certain tables and wait if that table is full and the next table over has an open seat. Other guys have “rules” for when they not only must leave the table, but the casino as well, only to walk to the card room next door and sit back down. While all blackjack players have their own individual quarks, almost all universally subscribe to the concept of a hot/cold dealer. One dealer could be at your table and everything’s coming up roses. The minute this dealer is replaced potential doom is right around the corner. So, the “luck” factor is what keeps blackjack interesting; that and the stakes, the higher the bet the bigger the thrill. Bond sits down at a private table, which means (a) he gets to play six hands at once and (b) he gets to set the limit as high as the house will allow. Playing the sucker, Bond puts his $2 million line of credit from the bank on the table and promptly goes about losing $5000 a hand until he is ¼ million down. He asks for higher limits and based on the fact he’s playing “like a real jerkoff” he is granted his request. In short order he is ¼ million ahead when the new dealer is sent in; the kiss of death. Bond looks up to see Sanchez’s girl Lupe and he knows his winning has come to an end. He did however achieve his goal, as not five minutes later he’s standing in Sanchez’s office baiting the hook. While playing for $10,000 a hand should be exciting, here it is not, because we never see it happen. Most Bond gambling scenes are exhilarating because we get to see Bond play and have a precise understanding of how he out plays his opponent. Perhaps because blackjack is so straightforward they don’t bother showing any of the action here. It’s a shame because hustling at blackjack is a rather novel idea. While tanking on purpose is rather straight forward, going on a $500,000 plus run is not easily engineered. I’m not sure how you can do it without cheating so I would have liked to have seen how Bond pulled it off. However, the only way we learn about what Bond is doing at the table is from other characters dialog breaking one of the cardinal rules of filmmaking; don’t tell it, show it. We have no idea of how Bond switched gears to go on a ½ million dollar positive swing simply because the film finds it unimportant. The blackjack game is an excuses to get Bond in a tux, two ladies in evening gowns and then it’s simply a bridge to get Bond though Sanchez’s door. As a result, this is the most disappointing 007 gambling scene to date.

List of Locations: The fictional country of Isthmus was played by Mexico. Both the interiors and exteriors of the Isthmus Bank, and impressive bit of architecture, were shoot at the Mexico City Post Office which stands as a monument to just how far the once might institution of “snail mail” has fallen. La Casa de Sanchez was owned by Cubby Broccolis “colourful and close friend” Baron Ricky Di Portanova. His sea side villa in Acapulco is not only stunning, but after Tangiers in the last film, wee now have two locations in a row that serve as Dylan song cues. Hemingway House, six toed cats and the Seven Mile Bridge were all shoot in the Florida Keys and the red neck bar fight was filmed in the very same Double Duce in Missouri where Dalton famously declared that “pain don’t hurt.” (Ed. Note: Part of the last sentence is a big lie, and not the part about the six-toed cats.) The final tanker truck chase was shot on a stretch of Mexican road that was closed after being deemed too dangerous. The crew spends entirely too much time on the DVD extras talking about how the sprits of motorist who died over the years on this road haunted their production.

They should make a movie about this guy... oh wait

It’s strange and kind of uncomfortable watching professional men wax nostalgic about being spooked by things they “just can’t explain.” It’s also the classic case of a crew having such a blast on location that they just assume the audience will enjoy it just as much. But we were not there and we don’t. Now if they had caught some of those ghost riders on film, that would have been something. Finally, this was the first Bond that I’m aware of that was not shot at Pinewood Studios in England. The sound stages of Churubusco Studios in Mexico were brought up to date for the production. I don’t know if this decision contributed to the cheep feeling of this film, but it does feel cheep.

Bonds Special Abilities Displayed: Barefoot waterskiing ain’t all that easy but doing it while being towed by a plane and while being shoot at and then jumping into the plane and taking out the gun man and the pilot and then flying off into the sunset … now that’s Bond, James Bond. Remember the scene in the first Indian Jones film where Harrison Ford works his way around the undercarriage of a truck while it’s speeding along a dirt road? And then he pops up, opens the passenger side door, gets into the cab and takes out the driver? Glen rips that off almost shot for shot for Bond to do, only not as well. But once Bond gets into the trucks drivers seat, he handles a road so deadly and dangerous it was shut down by the Mexican government like he’s Tom Kristensen at 24 Hours of Le Mans so take that Indy.

Final Thoughts: I found this film rather frustrating. So many things pile up to ultimately make the entire thing a chore just to watch. Bond needs to be effortless, and all you can see in Licence to Kill is how hard the movie is working. It’s working hard to be dark and different. Dalton is working hard to not be Roger Moore. Producers are working hard to get by on less money. The script is working hard in both direction; push Bond out on his own but dragging him back into Bond conventions. The movie is running in place so fast it digs itself in to hole and never gets out. As a result, Glen is left totally exposed as the hack he is. He somehow managed to get worse with each film he directed, like a Benjamin Button filmmaker he learned his craft in reverse. The first hour of the Licence To Killdefies the laws of space and time by both dragging and being chaotically all over the place at the same time. The film has no look what so ever and comes off like a third rate cop show on cable TV. Nothing is ever visually established or resolved. Maybe, maybe the lack of budget played a part but gone is the craftsmanship of the classic Bond films. Truth is, the care in the area of craft has been on the wane through out the 80’s but other parts of the pictures made up for it. Here it all finally comes to head. Even the good stuff, like Sanchez’s house, seemed to get short shifted. As great as the home is, it’s never fully explored. It’s like Baron Portanova said to Broccoli “yah you can shoot here but you only get the place for the weekend. The wife wants to throw a party on Tuesday. Oh, and stay out of the front two thirds of the house OK? I just had new white carpet put down.” And then there is the script, a failure on all levels. If Bond is going to go rouge he needs to go rouge. He needs to be pissed. If he’s cut off, make him The Dark Knight, a loan loose cannon out there reeking havoc. He comes off as a guy punching the clock whose only half good as his job. And that takes us to Timothy Dalton. Look, I’m not going to continue kicking him, I did enough already, but it’s clear that he either doesn’t get, or refuses to get, what makes Bond Bond. Granted, a better director and script would have done wonders but sorry to all you Dalton apologist out there, he is also a big part of the problem. Play this game, change Bond to Bob, drop the iconic score and remove all those laser projected 007’s from the opening credits. Is this Dalton any good? Or try this, keep Bond out of it, replace Dalton with a Jean Claude Van Damn or a Steven Segal or a Chuck Norris or any other B-level action star from the late 80’s, and keep everything else in the movie the same.

OK, Dalton is much better looking

Is this movie better with one of these guys playing Bob then Dalton playing Bob? They only reason we give Licence To Kill any attention 20 plus years later is because it’s a Bond film. If it were Timothy Dalton in the same movie called Out For Vengeance or something we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We would see it pop up on USA at 4PM on a Saturday, giggle because they just threw ninjas into the plot for no reason what-so-ever except to have ninjas, and we would then move onto to pull up “Breaking Bad” season 3 on our instant Netflix queue. Before I started this blog I kind of felt like ever generation got the Bond they deserved. Well, Licence To Kill is the Bond that late 80’s Hollywood sold us, but to our credit we rejected him. I return to the idea of cynical. EON goes to pains on this and The Living Daylights DVD extras to provide a revisionist history that boils down to “We were trying to go dark and do something different and you fools didn’t get it. But now, 20 years later, people understand what we were doing and we think these movies hold up rather well.” Nonsense. This is a terrible film, Dalton is a terrible Bond, and that is why Bond fans stayed away in droves. (By the by, pat yourselves on the back for that one Bond fans.) Remember, these guys blaming us are the same filmmakers that didn’t trust us enough to know what revoked means. This is a film that has a final scene where Bond jumps off a balcony while attending a cocktail party, lands in a pool, drags a woman in with him, and starts to make out with her while, and I’m not making this up, a 12 foot long concrete fish statue winks at them. This is too dark for audiences? This is what we didn’t understand in ‘89 but can wrap our heads around now? Just because you put 007 in the opening credits doesn’t mean we will just swallow what you’re feeding us. Like the NFL tries to make each Sunday an “event,” every Bond film is promoted and hyped to the stars. When you make those promises you must live up to the hype. Licence To Kill is the NFL equivalent of two 1-6 teams going at it in front of a half empty stadium. Think Bills vs. Lions before the 2011 season. But oh look at em now, these two teams could be facing each other in the Superbowl come February. (OK, probably not but they both should make the play-offs.) All it took was some new running the ship to bring new ideas and get the right personnel in place and suddenly, these two teams have returned to respectably. Well, we’ve got a long six years between this movie and the next Bond. And if memory serves, Bond 17 has one or two new names on the poster. I can’t wait. I was going to give Licence to Kill the sad distinction of being the second movie to receive the dreaded single martini glass rating. But upon second viewing (and I never want to see this film again) I really got a kick out of Sanchez, Krest, Benicio, and Prof Joe Butcher. I wish they had a better film around them because they are some of the more interesting villains to come into Bond’s universe. They were the only things that keep me going on this 2 plus hour ride and for that, thank you gentlemen, and bless your hearts.

Martini ratings: