Hildebrandt Rarity?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ranking The Bond Teasers

One of the most iconic parts of the James Bond series in the pre-credit sequence, also known as the teaser. Stumbled upon almost by accident, the teaser is now a locked in ritual, a (hopefully) fine and taut mini-movie that puts the audience into the Bond frame of mind before the credits and theme song kick in.

Sometimes it ties in directly to the movie's plot...sometimes it's completely unrelated. Hell, sometimes Bond is not even in it!!

So ingrained is the form in our Bond souls that we panic when we think they've tinkered with the format (TWINE) or don't start out with the gun barrel (CR 2006). The idea of Bond without a teaser is well nigh unthinkable by now.

(Hey, Sony/MGM, here's a brilliant idea. You've managed to takes heaps of our money by getting to re buy constantly upgraded VHS & DVD & Blu-Ray versions of the Bond movies...money which we've willingly and joyfully parted with. Well, here's another way to empty our pockets: how about a DVD compiling all the teasers? C'mon, you know we'd all buy it...)

So when sitting down to rank the teasers, I was a little bit surprised to see how few GREAT ones there were. In my mind, there is a huge gap between the top 4 or 5 and the rest. The problem in making a mini-movie, I guess, is that you have just as many things that can go wrong as you do in a regular movie, but in a much smaller space. And as a result, finding the right balance of action and gadgets and humor and romance and panache is more difficult than one might think. (And of course, they're being judged against other Bond teasers, so it's stiff competition)

So, with no further ado, my rankings of the Bond teasers. As always, it's a personal list, and your mileage may vary. Dr. No and Never Say Never Again had no teasers, so aren't included. Casino Royale (1967)...well, the less said of the, the better.

20) Live And Let Die. No Bond in Roger Moore's first teaser? Even worse, no story--just a much of seemingly unconnected white people being murdered by nefarious black people. Just terrible.

19) The Man With The Golden Gun. Again, no Bond (get a feeling that the Roger Moore era is going to hell for teasers?). I suppose it's a good intro for Scaramanga, but it's over-impressed with it's own cheap fun house gags and "action," going on far too long for something with no stunts and no 007.

18) You Only Live Twice. After some amazingly loooooooooong shenanigans in space, we catch up to Bond, only to see him "die" almost immediately.

17) Diamonds Are Forever. A mostly unseen Bond punching out people in close-ups, Bond strangling a woman with her own bikini top, and Bond drowning a fake Blofeld in mud. Uninspired at best.

16) A View To A Kill. Aside from the Beach Boys' song, not performed by the Beach Boys, a lot of snow stunts that had been done better in previous movies. Almost completely unmemorable.

15) For Your Eyes Only. Nice to see the shout-out for Tracy. Otherwise? The helicopter stuff wasn't particularly exciting, and by now you all know what I thought of Wheelchair Man.

14) Die Another Day. The surfing was, shall we say, unconvincing. The hovercraft chase was poorly filmed and edited, hard to follow. And the whole thing just looked soooo dreary...

13) Licence To Kill. Meh.

12) Octopussy. Not a lot to say here. Not much to recommend it, not a lot to condemn it. Demerit for being so silly at the end (what, you take this plane on a mission without a full tank of gas?).

11) The World Is Not Enough. I'd give it some points for innovation, but it wasn't really trying to be innovative. Some good stunts, but the plot they weave through it is baffling at best, and it's way overlong, turning what should be an appetizer into a main course.

10) Moonraker. Wonderful, wonderful skydiving stuntwork. Knocked way, way down in the rankings by having Jaws flap like a bird and survive by falling on a circus tent, which completely subverts any sense of danger the stunts might have had.

9) On Her Majesty's Secret Service. A good intro for Lazenby, but fairly unambitious.

8) Thunderball. Sean is suave and wonderful, good fight with S.P.E.C.T.R.E. #6. Sets up the theme of the movie nicely (Bond rocks, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. sucks). Not great, but understands the panache a teaser should have.

7) Tomorrow Never Dies. Exciting, fun, lots of great action, some great lines, good stuff for M. But is it too "Rambo" for Bond?

6) From Russia With Love. The first teaser, and even if it's not the real Bond, we don't know that. Good suspense, and sets up the main action of the film nicely. A teeny bit of extra credit for being the first.

The top 5 are all brilliant, and on a different day this order could be completely rearranged.

5) The Living Daylights. Fun with M, a logical set-up with an MI-6 training mission, climbing and driving and fighting and explosions. A brilliant introduction for Dalton.

4) Casino Royale (2006). Perhaps still early to judge it...but the noir take on Bond earning his Double-O, the brutal bathroom fight...and unlike TWINE, a deliberate attempt to shake up the teaser, in service of the movie's "Bond's early adventures" idea.

3) Goldeneye. A well-nigh perfect mini-movie, that more perfectly than any other teaser sets up what is to come from the rest of the movie--his relationship with Alec, and what a Double-O means. (But, like all the other Brosnan teasers, where's the romance??)

2) The Spy Who Loved Me. The Asgard Jump. The Union Jack parachute. Oh, James...not perfect, but its flaws are easily forgivable.

1) Goldfinger. The one that set the mold. The perfect blend, the silliness, the action, the fight, the woman, the death quip...if you were to have to put one sequence in a time capsule to explain what Bond was to our simian masters in the future, this would be it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The World Is Not Enough

#19If you study Shakespeare at all, you know that some of his works are categorized as "problem plays." The definition is vague at best, and seems to vary from commentator to commentator, but the common thread is that these "problem plays" do not fit conveniently into the tidy categories of tragedy or comedy. They seem to straddle both; they cover themes and events that seem too dark and morally ambiguous for Shakespeare's comedies; but they also have awkwardly and artificially happy endings, too much so for tragedy.

Which brings us to The World Is Not Enough, or Oil's Well That Ends Well.

TWINE has long been one of the most frustrating Bonds for me. I want to like it a lot more than I actually do. But for me, it's a "problem Bond."

In a number of ways, it tries to break the mold, to go in directions that no Bond has ever gone before. And I want to reward that type of originality in how I rank the films.

But, measure for measure, with nearly every original thing the film tries, it shoots itself in the foot in some with ham-fisted execution...and thereby hangs a tale.

Let's start with the teaser. I don't think any of us got what we expected, did we? After 007's tense (and somewhat confusing) confrontation with a Swiss banker, we get an adequate fight scene, and Bond makes an exciting getaway in front of the Guggenheim in Bilbao...and everyone in the audience was ready for the theme song to kick in...

What, we're not through yet?But wait...no theme song? We're back in England? Everyone's just standing around talking? What the hell is going on here?? What's happened to our teaser??

I think all of us were probably surprised by what was happening. And in that surprise, the movie, I think, got us paying a little more attention at that point than we were used to. It seemed like a shake-up of the old Bond formula. And even though we knew for a fact that Garbage was doing a theme song, while watching we began to wonder...have they dispensed with the teasers? Was Bond adopting the trend of giving the "opening" credits at the end of the film?

And then, for the first time, Bond demonstrably fails in the teaser...he brings in the bomb, he can't save King, he can't capture the Cigar Girl (note to the writers...it would have hurt you to think up a name for her? Ah, but what's in a name, anyway?), he ends up wounded and hanging on for dear life.

Was this a deliberate move to change the rules of Bond?

In a word, no. Rather than a bold experiment in changing the rules, we were viewing a somewhat panicked response to a non-problem. It turns out that originally, the teaser did end after Bond's escape in Spain. But test audiences were apparently underwhelmed by that--they expected something more...I guess, after the Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies teasers, they expected more stuff to blow up (for the record, I thought it would have been fine to cut away there...not the best teaser ever, but adequate to the task). So, instead of re-filming it, or adding anything new, director Michael Apted decided to bring the MI-6/murder of Sir Robert/Boat chase sequence forward, weaving it into the pre-credits along with the initial Bilbao scene.

The result: a "teaser" that is nearly 15 minutes long. And to keep it from running even longer, Apted had to cut away several minutes of the boat chase (yes...it was even longer originally), as well as several bits of exposition that might have been nice for the audience to know. So, instead of the teaser being a mini-movie that helps set up the main plot, it becomes a bit of a bloated yet truncated epic, that actually removed information that the audience needed to appreciate the plot. The teaser became a bit of storytelling Jenga...how many bricks of information can we pull away and still have the story standing intact, albeit wobbly? In the end, the bright quick things come to confusion, and it's nearly impossible to follow what is going on during a first viewing.

Now normally, I'm the guy who mocks mainstream movie critics when they whine that a given film's plot is "too confusing" or the story is "incomprehensible." 9 times out of 10, the problem is that said critic isn't paying attention, or is more likely just displaying a plentiful lack of wit and can't get beyond the "looks pretty" or "good acting" ideas in writing his review.

But today I'll open myself up to that same attack, because I'll admit that, for the first couple of viewings, parts of TWINE were virtually impenetrable to me. I was confused, dammit. Never had a Bond film gone to such lengths to not actually explain itself on a fundamental level, to create a world to hide its virtues in. Let's try to reconstruct what happened, based on what's actually told to us in the teaser, and what's not. (note: I've put things into chronological order, for "clarity").

Terrorists are attacking Sir Robert King's pipeline (happens offscreen...we get one line of dialogue). He buys a stolen report from someone that purportedly identifies those terrorists (Whom does he think he was buying the report from? Unknown. Stolen from whom? Unclear. Who stole it? Never stated.). It turns out that an unnamed MI-6 agent was murdered to get the report (this agent is never mentioned again, clearly a MacGuffin to justify MI-6 getting involved. Is the MI-6 agent the one who stole it originally? Who murdered him? Never dealt with). After he purchased it, Sir Robert found out that the report was really a fake, actually being a report of the Russian Atomic Department on the possible effect of Y2K on their reactors (the report is only identified in a deleted scene...the movie proper only identifies it as a fake. Why would an MI-6 agent be in possession of such a report in the first place? Did he steal it in the first place? Never discussed, even though he died for it. Why wouldn't Sir Robert or his representative actually glance at the report before paying 3 million pounds for it?) When he discovers the report involves nuclear issues, he turns it over to M (from a deleted bit...never mentioned in the movie proper). M or King (or both--the movie never attempts to tell us) somehow arranges a Swiss bank based in Spain to obtain a refund (Why the Swiss bank? Were they the brokers of the original deal? Unknown? Despite Bond's cutting remarks, does this Swiss bank really routinely serve as a go-between for crooks and billionaires? Do murderers who sell stolen reports routinely give refunds? I know this was part of Elektra's plan, but why in the world did M expect these unidentified bastards would have a customer service department? Does Sir Robert seriously believe that thieves and con men give bloody refunds?). Bond is sent to pick up the dough (in cash? Why wouldn't they just wire the funds to one of Sir Robert's accounts?) but he's really there to question the bankers about who killed the poor MI-6 red shirt. Violence ensues, Bond escapes, Bond and M give us (partial) exposition, things blow up, more violence ensues.

Nitpicks aside, look at how much information that they don't give us, or only give us fragments of, or in what order. No wonder people were lost. Not only is it a ridiculously convoluted way to murder someone (trick a man into buying a report, give him a fake one, when he demands a refund give him exploding money!!), but the movie acts as if they don't need to let the audience in on all the facts. The writers are saying "We know what's going on, and that's what's important!"

So, instead of an innovative re-working of the teaser concept, it actually turns out to have been a slapdash attempt to jazz things up that is marred by terrible storytelling. Which is pretty much the theme of the whole movie--interesting ideas, bizarre and confusing execution.

The story was by Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, with the screenplay by those two plus Bruce Feirstein. Which means, we have a group of writers who have very few writing credits outside their Bond films (and Johnny English!!), and I think some of that inexperience and greeness of judgment shows up in the construction of this movie. As they try to make the movie flow less like a "normal" Bond movie, it seems clear that they're not quite sure how some other type of movie SHOULD flow, and so rather than moving along, the plot just congeals, often stagnating.

Example: after the lengthy teaser, and the opening credits, we spend what feels like forever lolling around MI-6 Scotland. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but things seem to drag along mercilessly: exposition/meeting with M and the other Double-O's, Bond and Dr. Molly Warmflash (sigh), Bond and Q, Bond googling things (now that's riveting film!!), Bond breaking up a meeting to confront M, followed by yet another expostional briefing. Nothing wrong with any of that, but all strung together, it begins to play more like an informational filmstrip on how to run a modern office than an actual James Bond movie. After 15 action-packed minutes to start the movie, we're bogged down in non-action for a good while. Where's the balance, the pacing? The leisure has answered leisure, and the poor pace seems to feed upon itself.

And (partially) as a result of our newly meandering pace, we don't actually meet Elektra King until 30 minutes into the movie; we don't meet Renard until 49 minutes in; and we don't meet Dr. Christmas Jones (sigh) until an hour has gone by. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as other Bonds have taken their sweet time introducing characters to us. But the sheer leisureliness of TWINE is rather surprising, after the way the previous Brosnan kept things percolating at a pretty good pace.

Speaking of thinking with your balls...Another way this movie seems to be pushing back against the restrictions of the 007 format is by making M very much a part of the action. Far, far more than any other Bond movie, one of the "support characters" has stepped into the limelight, to become an actual supporting character. And hell, when you've got Judi Dench, it's a no-brainer...give her more to do, since she's so good.

Unfortunately, this is another innovation they are less than 100% successful with, because in order to get M involved, they seemingly drop her IQ by 50 points or so. We've become used to the no-nonsense, don't over-react, in control M from Dench's first two movies. And there's nothing wrong with her showing some guilt over past actions, or making mistakes. But really, do they have to make her such a damn foolish fond old woman to make that point?

She risks a top agent's life to essentially go run a banking errand for an old school chum...she's so guilty over the outcome of the Elektra King kidnapping that she locks the files so that no one can see them, even though the perpetrator is still at large...even though Renard should be an obvious suspect for the bombing, M apparently never thinks of it until Bond googles Elektra and confronts her...in Tomorrow Never Dies she can't even drive across the street in London without a two car/four motorcycle police escort--but she flies into the site of a terrorist attack in Kazakhstan with only 3 bodyguards (who really, really suck at their jobs)...and despite her declaration that Bond is "the best," she completely ignores Bond's warning about Elektra.

Again, none of these problems, in and of themselves, are crippling defects. But cumulatively, they diminish our view of M, which I believe was the opposite of the movie's intention. They made her "more human," but at the expense of making her someone we'd be less likely to trust with Britain's security. (None of this is at all meant to criticize Dame Judi, who does a marvelous job of running through the gamut of emotions the script puts her through). So once again we have a great idea--get M more involved--that is executed poorly.

While we're discussing support cast, Doctor Molly Warmflash?!? That makes Xenia Onatopp look like the height of literary erudition and subtlety. Sheesh...if you're going to insist on doing a suggestive name, couldn't you actually make it a good one?

Now telling God to 'pay attention'More seriously, every single day I am thankful that they decided to give Q a farewell scene here, and did it so perfectly. Desmond Llewelyn passed away barely a month after TWINE's release, an immense loss to everyone. Obviously, they didn't know that he would be in an auto accident at the time of filming, but given that the man was 85 years old, preparing the transition was a wise precaution, and fortuitous in that it gave us a chance to properly say goodbye to a much beloved character. Well done, people. And a hale and hearty farewell, Desmond. You're missed by everyone, and we shall speak you well in death.

Given that, let me defend John Cleese. I thought his casting was inspired. Yes, he's presented as a bit of a bumbler in his first scene, but frankly, that's so he won't eclipse Desmond's goodbye. In his last scene this film, and in Die Another Day, he's not only more competent, but he brings something new and different to the role. During our final scene, Old Q would have been blithely ignorant of what was happening with Bond and Christmas, making some innocent double-entendre while staring down at his equipment. New Q is worldlier, snarkier, wittier, more willing to joust with 007 on his own level. I like it.

Another area where the movie tries to innovate is by fooling us as to the identity of the villain. After spending the first half of the movie trying to make us believe that Renard is the villain and Elektra King the Bond girl, they pull the rug out from under us by revealing that Renard is merely her henchman, and she's the barking mad billionaire. And in this case, it mostly works. Of course, part of that is because the movie is so murky in its storytelling...but still, they manage to not overtly tip their hand. And this is the first movie in which Bond sleeps with the main villain (careful...that thought might bring disturbing images to mind).

I'm a sad hologramOf course, this approach does have a couple of drawbacks. First of all, it kind of neuters Renard. We start with the "world's most dangerous terrorist," the anarchist, the man who survived an assassination attempt by 009 (I ask you again--is Bond the only competent Double-O? Almost every time we hear of the others, especially in the later films, it's because of their failures...), the man with the unbeatable advantage of being unable to feel pain. By the end, though, he's reduced to a man twisted by love into following Elektra, into implementing her plans. The great anarchist, who taunts Bond ,"What do you believe in--the preservation of capital,"--he's now the lap dog of the woman whose plan is solely about capitalism and the accumulation of economic power. And the movie doesn't have the wit to comment on the irony of that transition.

He's still a pretty good character, and Robert Carlyle does a wonderful job at showing us Renard's emotional pain increasing as his physical sensations vanish. Renard's quiet menace with others, and his slavish devotion to Elektra, both are played with equal grace. He's determined to prove a villain, yet shows us how he's been changed (not for the better, sadly) by love.

But the key physical aspect, his immunity to pain and fatigue, seems to be a wasted opportunity. Part of the problem is how inconsistently it is portrayed. There are simply too many times during Bond's fights with Renard where we they show Renard wincing in reaction after a blow, when he's supposedly no longer burdened with the weight of pain. And frankly, other than his constantly bemoaning his fate, we never see ANY impact of his condition. Despite Dr. Warmflash's (sigh) briefing, we don't see him doing anything particularly superhuman, or showing any particular feats of endurance beyond that of a normal man. Frankly, he doesn't do anything that seems beyond Stamper, or Necros, or Jaws, or any number of previous henchman. A decent idea...but never well developed, and it has no real impact on the plot. As I said, a wasted opportunity.

Why are the gorgeous ones always insane and genocidal?Ah, but our villain...Elektra the mad, Elektra the gorgeous, Elektra...Here's on of the few spots in TWINE where intent is equaled by execution. Sophie Marceau is just so damned sensual, so damned electric, that she owns the screen. You can't tear your eyes away from her as she goes from poor-little-kidnapped-rich-girl to insane genocidal maniac...and makes you believe both. Her love scenes with Bond require a cold shower after viewing. Her taunting of Bond in her final scenes is delightfully mad. Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go, as she compels our attention throughout. It's a riveting performance, and she easily would have been the best Bond girl of the Brosnan era...

...except, of course, she's the villain. She has her fathered murdered--a little more than kin, but less than kind--and she's ready to nuke Istanbul just so her pipeline will become more valuable than the competition. Her motivation does come across as the tiniest bit thin. We never get any real sense of why she feels that her father "stole the empire from my mother," with no elaboration given whatsoever. And yes, at M's advice, Sir Robert didn't pay the ransom, but since she never seemed to care for him anyway, it just seems as if she's using that as an excuse for her "sharper than a serpent's tooth" routine. And her "it's for my people" justification would have been much more convincing if she didn't let lots of her people die in Renard's attacks.

Of course, any critiques of her methods can be answered simply with "she's raving nutters, so of course it doesn't make sense." But I do have to complain about the stupidity of her basic plan. Her own pipeline won't be ready for months...we see that the two ends are nowhere near meeting, the detour around the ancient church will cost "weeks" more, and the destruction of a portion of the pipeline by "terrorists" with a "dud" bomb that was supposed to spew plutonium all over would certainly cost even more time. So why in the world blow up Istanbul now, since you're nowhere near ready to take advantage of the destruction? It would be like Stromberg launching his nuclear war before Atlantis was completed--completely daft. Plus, the intervening months will give the "competing pipelines" a damn good head start in finding new routes, and the oil hungry West to find new sources other than her precious oil. And despite her cries of "for my people," I somehow suspect the people of Azerbaijan would suffer much more than they would benefit much from the irradiation the Black Sea. (Of course, "Renard was dying more quickly than expected" could be one possible reason for the precipitous action, but that excuse doesn't make the plan any more likely to work by jumping the guns, does it?)

You call her Doctor Jones!!One drawback to making Elektra King so vivid, though, is that it even further shrinks the status of Denise Richards as--ahem--Dr. Christmas Jones. It's a lesser version of the Teri Hatcher/Michelle Yeoh problem from Tomorrow Never Dies...they spend so much time building up the emotional investment in the first relationship that the final relationship seems trivial by comparison. Whatever else we can say about her, it's not Denise Richards' fault that the script gives Elektra a detailed background, builds her character, and makes her sympathetic (and then hated!), while doing absolutely nothing of the kind for Christmas. The script doesn't choose to share a single fact about Dr. Jones with us, except that she's a nuclear scientist (snort). She's not really a character, she's an afterthought, after the writers realized they needed an actual Bond girl once Elektra was revealed as the Big Bad. There's nothing there: Cate Blanchett couldn't have done anything with the role. At least it gives us a memorable closing line...

That being said, Richards is fairly awful, a shallow thing, not of this element. She appears capable of portraying only 3 emotions: cranky, really cranky, and LOUD. The woman is flat out ultra-hot, but she's as much an actress as I am a major league second baseman. There is no chemistry at all between her and Bond, mainly because she's too busy "acting" confrontational and aloof to actually interact with Brosnan. Very lovely to look at, but then again, if I want to do that I can just pull out her Playboy spread. Lower tier Bond girl.

I've got some special ire for our director, Michael Apted. Whatever his strengths as a director are in other genres, he simply cannot direct action sequences to save his life. With the possible exception of the boat chase, every action set piece in the movie comes across as flat and lifeless, with no real sense of danger or tension. There's no "flow," and events are much too hard to follow.

Like Guy Hamilton, Apted's idea of a Bond chase scene is to have the bad guys take themselves out , without any special actions by Bond. Three of the four "para-hawks" take themselves out, running into trees or dropping grenades on their own people.

But more fundamentally, his "storytelling" ability during the action pieces is terrible. One scene follows another without reason...one cut leads to another in a confusing way that makes it nearly impossible to tell where the actors are in relation to another. During the interminably long and boring battle at Zukovsky's caver plant, watch for the shots of Valentine and Christmas: note how each time we see them or their reaction shots, they're in a place/position completely incompatible with the previous time we saw them. Watch the helicopter, which has been pursuing Bond relentlessly, hover in place for 30 seconds without firing while Bond gets a missile lock. Watch Bond mysteriously navigate between levels inside the plant, apparently teleporting at points. Watch for Zukovsky's mysteriously appearing and disappearing bodyguard. Watch the second helicopter, which has been pursuing and firing relentless, hover in place for 30 seconds without firing so Bond can light the gas stream with a flare.

Sadly, the submarine finale is just as bad. The problem is this: we're not familiar with the geography of the sub when it's level, so when everything is sideways, we have no idea where everything is in relationship to each other. And Apted does a horrible job of helping us out. We can't follow what's happening, because he doesn't seem to know how to show us. When Bond ends up mysteriously locked behind a (floor?) grate, we have no idea how this happens. When the hose pops loose from the "high pressure purging system," we have no idea why the hose popped loose, what it's for, where Bond is going with it, what he's attaching it too...the director never shows us, and seems to think that the audience is comprised of either nuclear technicians or people who've already read the script, because he never bothers to show us. As indecipherable as events in the teaser are, that was largely down to the script. This time, it's just as confusing, but it's the director's doing. Terrible storytelling.

Apted is fine--better than fine, actually--in many of the dramatic scenes. But when it comes to the action, he simply wasn't up to the task. Confusion now has made his masterpiece, and TWINE has lost the name of action.

Uhhh...ouchAs for Pierce, the script doesn't do him any favors. Perhaps it's because his shoulder was hurting, or he wanted revenge, or he was besotted with Elektra, but Bond is wildly inconsistent throughout the movie. Even though he has absolutely no idea of what's going on yet, he recklessly kills Davidov in cold blood...but just a few scenes later, he holds a twenty minute conversation with Renard rather than pulling the trigger, which seems inconsistent with his drive end the threat to Elektra. Within a couple of scenes he goes from trigger-happy to overly cautious. When he's certain that Elektra's involved, he confronts her...yet he ends up yammering like an idiot when she says "am not," and does nothing at all to investigate further. When she tells him that M is coming, why doesn't he call M en route and warn her of his suspicions?

But those aren't Brosnan's problem's, they're the script's. Pierce does a good job of selling what they've given him. His relationship with Elektra sizzles, and his anger and grief when he discovers she's the villain is palpable. When he kills Davidoff and Elektra in cold blood, you really can believe that he has a licence to kill, and a willingness to use it. Although his hair never seemed quite right, his acting was fairly spot on.

And as with a problem play, we have the awkward and artificially happy ending, which is not necessarily new for a Bond movie, but seems especially this time around. There are so many emotional and practical loose ends to tie up (MI-6 is in shambles, there's still the matter of an exploded nuclear reactor at the bottom of the Black Sea, Bond getting over Elektra pretty damn quickly, etc) that this ending feels especially tacked on and non-sensical. M flew all the way back to Scotland without waiting until Bond was found? The heat-detecting satellite doesn't show any other human bodies in a several block radius? What, were Bond and Christmas squatting in an abandoned warehouse district? The MI-6 crew figure Bond's general location by finding the car--wait a minute, the car was destroyed!! After somehow restraining themselves all movie, the Christmas jokes start to flow hot and heavy. Ha ha, after all this tragedy and grief, a forced and unbelievable ending...hell, this really is a Shakespeare problem play.

As I said, I want to like this movie better. Elektra makes for a pretty good villain, M is more involved, I really like Pierce's performance, and at least it seems as if they're trying to mix up the formula a little bit. But even vaulting ambition can o'erleap itself, when the execution falls short. And most damning of all, TWINE is a grim, humorless affair. There's simply not much FUN in this movie. Some people like to accuse License To Kill of being too dark and humorless, but that film is a regular Laugh-In compared to TWINE.

It's difficult for me to put my finger on, let alone describe...but the movie never really soars, never really crosses over into the one-foot-over-the-fantasy-line zone. There's never that transcendent moment when you look at the screen and say, "this can only be a Bond movie!" The set-pieces, the gadgets, the quips...the writing and direction never seem to shift out of third gear, never become the memorable scenes that come to mind when you think Bond. And so all we're left with is the dour emotional landscape, reflected in the dour location landscapes, and a film that tries so hard to be more than Bond that it forgets to actually be Bond.

And in the end, whereas Shakespeare could get away with a problem play, Feirstein, Purvis, Wade and Apted are no Shakespeares. And as for TWINE itself, oft expectations fail, and most oft there where it promises. A lot of potential, but not a top-tier Bond movie.

Next week, we find out what happens if you take every Bond movie ever made, throw it in a blender, and film what comes out. It's not going to be pretty...

SNELL'S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS

**Sadly, the decision to move the boat chase to the teaser cost us hearing THE BEST BOND LINE EVER. Seriously. From the DVD's deleted scenes, we have an expanded version of M and Bond's discussion of what was going on.
M (referring to King): He's a man of great integrity.
Bond: Who buys stolen reports for 3 million pounds?
M: Well, contrary to what you may believe, 007, the world is not populated by madmen who can hollow out volcanoes, fill them with big breasted women, and threaten the world with nuclear annihilation.
Bond: It only takes one.
Why in the name of God isn't that line in the movie?? (It is in the novelization, I'm told...)

**In Q's lab, a bagpipe machine gun:

Next, the flying roulette wheel!It's never a good sign when you're "borrowing" from Casino Royale (1967)...

**I mention this above, but what ugly, ugly scenery. It's nice to see so much of London, but the rest of the film is set in areas so devoid of beauty of interest that this just might be the ugliest Bond movie ever.

And people complained about the setting in LTK...**Oh, what a lost opportunity...we're in Istanbul, and not only do they not show us any of the sights of that city, but they fail to do something that seems so obvious--bring in one of Kerim Bey's sons!! Good heavens, why is Bond relying only on Russian intelligence and not Station T?!?


Where's Minnie Driver??**Speaking of Valentine...I love Robbie Coltrane, I liked the character in Goldeneye. But here, Zukovsky is merely part of the plot convenience theater. Just by coincidence, he's no longer operating in St. Petersburg, where Bond eliminated his competition--he's moved to within a stone's throw of where Bond's mission is!! If Valentine and Elektra don't do that completely ridiculous and unnecessary fake card game for the million dollars, Bond never finds out what's going on. If he doesn't tell Bond about the submarine, the bad guys win. If he doesn't miraculously survive the bombing and show up to free Bond with his dying breath, the bad guys win. He gone from being a character to being a plot device, because the writers couldn't figure out how to get from A to B without him (several times). It's not a good sign when your supporting character has to point out to the hero where to go at every plot crux.

**Speaking of plot convenience theater, there is absolutely no reason for Bond to stop, while under heavy gunfire and trying to stop a the bomb from being stolen, to rifle the pockets of the dead goon for the "locater card." What, people won't believe him when he says he say Renard removed it? There's even less reason for him to pull it out and show M, and less still for him to actually hand it to her. Of course, this is all painfully convoluted set-up so they have a way to locate M. But Bond is captured and taken to her. So all the rigmarole is just so Zukovsky can find them and show up to save the day. So an incredibly contrived plot device to set up another incredibly contrived plot device. I told you this movie was ambitious.

**Not only is the movie inconsistent when portraying Renard's affliction, sometimes they seem to confuse "cannot feel pain" with "invulnerable." The hot rock burns Davidov's hand, requiring bandage. Even if Renard didn't feel the pain, his hand would still burn and blister quite badly, as he held the rock for longer. But nope, his hands are fine later in the movie...

**Hey, look, a Blofeld kill!! It's been awhile!

Too bad Davidov buys it 2 minutes later...

**After Diamonds Are Forever, you'd think Bond wouldn't forget about radiation badges, thus blowing his cover...

**So, after the Swiss bank took out it's fees and costs, the recovered money exactly equaled the amount of ransom demanded for Elektra? Uh, how did they know how much the bank would take out? And even if that amount was prearranged with the bank, how did they know what the exchange rate would be on the exact day Bond happens to look it up (several days after he recovered the money)? Bond checks down to the cents...are we to believe neither the pound nor the dollar moved at all in that time??

C urrency conversion table are why we all watch Bond**I will confess that I've come to the conclusion that I underrated the theme song by Garbage when I did my rankings. Maybe it's experiencing how well it works with the rest of David Arnold's fine score, or maybe I'm just in a different mood this week. Still a couple of demerits: I think Shirley Manson's vocals get a little bit buried in the lush arrangements. And it tries so hard to sound like a Bond theme, that it sounds less like a Garbage song than a Shirley Manson solo song. Whatever your opinion of their songs, McCartney & Wings, Duran Duran and a-Ha still manage to sound like themselves during their theme songs...and why have a band do it if they're going to lose their identity?

Still, I can't get the damned song out of my head this week. I'm man enough to admit that I didn't give it enough credit. I would provisionally move it up, perhaps as high as #11.

**M's grief and dedication to the king family seems awfully deep. Did M and King do more than "read law" together at Oxford?? Just asking...

**Of particular interest, this movie gives us the first meeting of Double-O's since Thunderball!!

I'm so much better than these guysUnlike Thunderball, we can actually see their faces...and for the first time, a female Double-O!!! Sadly, I can't find character names or credits for any of them.

**When Robinson declares at the briefing that the murderer could be "anyone, anywhere" in King's organization...uhh, no...not unless "anyone" had access to Sir Robert's personal jewelry. I would think that kind of access would restrict the list a bit, no?

**I arbitrarily declare the inflatable vest the worst gadget ever. It looks just terrible and unconvincing both times it's deployed. Awful.

WORST. GADGET. EVER.**Why the dumb show at the casino between Valentine and Elektra? Seriously, all she ends up doing is signing a letter of credit saying she owed him a million bucks...which she already owed him. Since she's now the head of a billion dollar empire, why not just slip him the money in cash, secretly?? And since Bond had the dealer burn a few cards, how did they guarantee Elektra would lose? Would they just keep playing double or nothing until she did? Or did the dealer cheat so well that James Bond couldn't tell?

**uhhh...Christmas Jones...Why, exactly, does Elektra declare "take her to Renard?" They never really met, and we've established that Renard can't really enjoy the pleasures of the flesh...? Why does he need her on the sub??

**I lack the proper physics background, but doesn't it seem unlikely that Bond and Christmas would survive the pipeline explosion? I would think the fireball would suck all the oxygen out of the pipes, and they'd suffocate...not to mention the heat and flame.

**While I'm confessing my lack of knowledge, do nuclear subs really have their own "extruders" to make their own plutonium rods? I would have thought they had pre-made rods. Does that mean they carry around boxes or uranium/plutonium, just laying around? When they're out of uranium, do they just surface and head to Protons 'R' Us or something?

**Reason # 745 not to like Christmas Jones: "I have to get (the plutonium) back, or someone's gonna have my ass." Nice empathy for the possible death of millions there, Christmas...worry about your job first, others last. (Before anyone tries to defend it as a "joke"--well, if it was, it was the worst-delivered joke of all time)

**So the Russian Atomic Energy Department has their own para-hawks? Really?? Makes you wonder what the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission has in their garage...

**The bomb Renard has at the bottom of the elevator shaft makes no sense. He never has a chance to set it, as Bond is right on his tail. And at least two groups of people have been up and down since Renard arrived in the shaft. So why in the hell does the rising elevator pull the pin this time, but none of the other times?

The five second timer is pretty unbelievable, too**Bond Score: 3. Dr. Warmflash (sigh), Elektra, and Christmas in Turkey. Cumulative Bond score: 53.

And, as always

Twentieth time is a charmTune in next week, as James Bond scores with an Oscar winner, and almost starts a new Korean War in real life...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ranking The Villains--Steel Cage Match Edition

Just in the interest of pure silliness:

Click on the image for a larger version, or just click here to see it in person. (Plug: it's a free site, you can make you own custom brackets for virtually anything...have fun.)

No, this did not entail any deep thought, and yes, I will do a more serious ranking in a bit. But some of the match-ups do make you think...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tomorrow Never Dies

#18Well, here I was searching for a theme for my review of Tomorrow Never Dies, and frequent commenter Jaquandor nails it for me. He describes TND as "a movie I like as an action movie, but not quite as much as a Bond movie."

Well, I guess that wraps it up, so we're done until next week...

OK, not. And while I basically agree with Jaquandor--although don't let me put any words in his mouth--TND is a decent Bond film that should have been a better one. It seems to be caught between two masters, serving both well, but neither as well as it should.

So let's leap straight into the teaser, because I think some of the movie's contradictions are nicely on display there.

We have great set-up: intriguing situation, Bond off screen being sneaky, M staunchly defending her man, lots of shots of Gupta (even though we don't realize this until the second viewing of the movie) to help set up the main plot, the snooty admiral getting his comeuppance...all work very well.

Eat hot lead, bastards!!But the rest of it? Some people accused Bond of "going Rambo" in Licence To Kill, which pretty much means they never actually saw a Rambo movie. But here, the complaint is a little more valid. In the teaser, Bond has virtually no dialogue; there are relatively few stunts, just running around firing machine guns (and bigger guns) and blowing things up; no real gadgets. It all works on its own level--all well filmed, and tense, and exciting. But somehow, it just lacks that James Bond personality, doesn't it? Just a little bit? There's nothing as silly as a seagull hat, or as sweet as the Asgard Jump, or audacious as the Bungee Jump, no panache of the parachute into the wedding or M's airborne office. As I said, all well done...but just a degree or so off from being Bond. Am I right?

Now, this isn't a fatal defect. In fact, the over-the-top Rambo battle sequences aren't something that generally bother me during viewing. It's afterward, upon reflection, that some nagging doubts start to creep into my head. During the movie, I'm carried along, the pacing and the characters and the tension sweeping us so fast towards the conclusion that it's only when we try to recount the set pieces, and we describe that film, that we start to wonder, "Is this Bond?"

It isn't as if this is the first "commando" Bond we've had. The Spy Who Loved Me, for example, had a battle to take Liparus that lasted just as long as the final battle aboard the stealth boat in TND, and consisted of Bond and his freed submariners using machine guns, grenades, and bombs to cripple the ship. But somehow that TSWLM sequence, while considerably more slackly paced and less satisfying, feels more Bond-like than the TND finale.

One of the problems, I think, is the lack of a proper meshing between the two personalities of the movie, the Bond film and the action film. Take these two juxtapositions, for example. After the credits, we see an entire British naval vessel sunk, the sailors viciously murdered. The next scene: Bond in bed with a professor, entirely played for humor. No transition, no cue to the audience that the movie will be shifting tones abruptly enough to cause whiplash. They're both very well-done scenes (hell, Bond's bit is hilarious, and the "don't ask don't tell" is the best line of the entire Brosnan era). But the script and the direction just force them together in a way that is almost too jarring--brave real-world soldiers brutally killed while our hero is indulged in hedonistic pleasure.

Ha ha my girlfriend was just murdered ha haAnother example...Paris is murdered, Bond has the fatal confrontation with Dr. Kaufman, Bond says a tearful goodbye to her body...and two minutes later he's laughing his fool head off and being playful with the BMW/garage chase. Again, both scenes are good, but they clash with each other, and weaken each other: Bond's sorrow for the great lost love of his life dying is weakened by the fact that he spends no time mourning, and the fun of the car chase is made a bit bitter by the memory of such an important death occurring just moments earlier. The audience can't help but think, somewhere in the back of its collective mind, "oh, well, I guess he didn't really care that much about her...look at him smiling and having a good time."

There's a lot of that unbalance in the film: serious, realistic, tragic scenes thrown up next to scenes playing up humor and absurd fantasy. Either one of these approaches is fine, and you can even have both in the same movie, but you've got to deploy great care in how you position the scenes, and how you handle the shifts in tone. TND does a poor job of that, which weakens the film.

A lot of this comes down to the script, which was apparently created by the 1,000 monkeys method. Bruce Fierstein gets the sole writing credit, but things were much more complex behind the scenes. Director Roger Spottiswoode wasn't happy with Fierstein's initial draft, and did some reworking of his own. He then had United Artists fly 7 screenwriters to London for a "brainstorming session," and eventually hired Nicholas Meyer (!) to do the suggested re-writes. Other hands worked on it, too, and then it was given to Fierstein for the final re-write and polish. With so may cooks, it's not surprising that the broth isn't entirely consistent.

And the script fails to develop so much that was promising. Despite the overblown finale, despite the overlong motorcycle chase, despite significant interludes watching military men do their thing, the movie is the first movie to slip under the 2 hour mark since Diamonds Are Forever. Which means that, had they chosen, they could have trimmed some of the bombast and had plenty of time for things like character development and fleshing out odd points in the plot.

So between that, and Spottiswoode (the director of Turner and Hooch!!) seemingly not having a firm vision of what he wanted a James Bond movie to be, TND ends up being a jack of all trades but master of none. Most of the parts are pretty good, but they don't cohere together well, and as a result TND ends up, to a degree, being something less than the sum of its parts.

As for the over reliance on big-ass guns, at the expense of traditional spy craft, a couple of points must be made. First of all, at some point this was something the series would have to deal with. In an era when inner-city youth gangs were armed with automatic weaponry, it was obvious that the types of villains Bond would be coming up against would be much more heavily armed. With Uzis cheap and plentiful, at some point the series had to come to grips with the fact that Bond could no longer be expected to take down dozens of heavily armed assailants when he's armed with a mere Walther (assuming, of course, that the series wanted to be realistic).

That doesn't mean they made the correct choice in this picture, or executed it well. There are ways to script yourself around these issues, at least partially. Casino Royale (2006) showed you can write a down and gritty Bond film without having to resort to huge gun battles. TND, however, shows no such restraint. Sure, Bond's blasting away with big guns in the teaser--that's cool, he wants to create as big a distraction as possible. Sure, 007 and Wai Lin are shooting assault rifles in Carver's Saigon HQ--they're escaping, they've got to use whatever they can take off the guards. Sure, they have to go machine gun crazy in infiltrating the stealth boat--their facing dozens of heavily armed goons. Sure--Bond has to go for the missile launcher...Do you see what they've done? They keep writing themselves into situations where the only sane response is for Bond to be crazy heavily armed. So gradually the movie becomes Delta Force 2 instead of Bond 18. Nobody had the wit or restraint to say, let's try something different here.

I think another of their problems was Goldeneye. There was some pressure from the studio to live up to Goldeneye, if not top it. As I mentioned last week, Goldeneye was pretty heavy on the explosions. But it was also pretty heavy on the character development and introspection. With a much bigger budget than Goldeneye, they felt compelled to try to out-do themselves. But they mostly focused on the "blow 'em up" side of things, which left TND a less-balanced film than its predecessor.

OK, I'm sounding overly negative at this point, and I've got to stop, because there are a lot of great things in the movie. With start with the plot, which may have been a decade ahead of its time. Back in 1997, "GPS" was probably a bit of technobabble to a lot of people...ten years later everyone has 3 or 4 devices using GPS, and the world has become much more dependent upon it. Heck, even by itself, that aspect of the plot--madman subverts GPS for evil purposes--would make a ripping premise for a thriller. And while they make some big mistakes with the science of GPS (see Notes below), they do a good job of explaining how the bad guys are using it, and making it accessible to the audience.

It's the next part of the plan that throws a lot of people. Back in 1997, a common complaint was that having an evil news mogul trying to manipulate the news for his own benefit was just too out there, and if you throw in the fact that he was trying to stage a nuclear war for his own profit, it was decried by some as ridiculous.

This was an odd time, in my opinion, to start complaining about madmen having thin motivations for nuclear war. In You Only Live Twice, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was quite willing to manipulate the U.S. and Russia into nuclear war for cash (and China for political gain). TSWLM saw a mad billionaire attempt to start a nuclear war just because he didn't like people very much. We've seen people willing to nuke cities for blackmail money (Thunderball), revenge and money (Goldeneye), and to enrich themselves (Goldfinger, A View To A Kill). So when people criticize TND because Elliot Carver is willing to blow up Beijing for "only" exclusive broadcasting rights in China for 99 years, you have to wonder a) how many other Bond movies they've seen and b) if they understand how many trillions of dollars such rights would be worth?

As to the evil media mogul, again, TND was ahead of the curve. This movie debuted a year before Fox News started up in the U.S. I suspect that after a decade of "Fair and Balanced, " Carver's manipulations of news don't seem quite so far-fetched. Not to mention a decade of governments manipulating media to justify wars, and a decade of media/internet companies violating every principle the claim to stand for (agreeing to censorship, turning dissidents over to the government) in order to maintain lucrative business operations in China. No, sadly enough, TND is only a half-step into the future. Far from being "the series' most unbelievable plot," as Steven Jay Rubin put it (really? More unbelievable than a madwoman ready to nuke Istanbul just to increase the value of her not-yet-completed oil pipeline? ), TND has more potential to become reality than any other Bond plot.

One weakness in the plot's development, though, is the complete lack of any Chinese participation, even though the entire plot is about an Anglo-Sino war. Carver's co-conspirator, General Chang, gets 4 seconds of screen time--literally--and not a word of dialogue or motivation. This guy makes General Orlov look like a well-fleshed out character! Other than Wai Lin and a couple of brief shots of a MIG pilot, the movie is bereft of Chinese involvement, which weakens the tension, just a bit. It wouldn't have taken much...some shots of an angry Chinese premier saber-rattling on a TV screen, M talking to her "opposite number" on the phone...hell, even a couple of stock footage shots of Beijing would have helped make the Chinese connection to the big boss's plan. As it is, "China" is just some big, formless bogeyman in this movie, and instead of witnessing two sides hurtling towards war, we just watch one side.

Hannity, or Colmes?Eliot Carver himself is a fairly controversial villain, as fans seems to either love him or hate him. A lot of that comes down to Jonathan Pryce's performance. I'll come straight out--I loved it. But I'll also concede that I can understand where you're coming from if you don't dig him. Pryce has the disadvantage of following a couple of much more "realistic," down to earth villains, and Carver certainly doesn't fit into the Sanchez or Trevelyan mold. Ah, but Elliot Carver is a Bond villain in the classic megalomaniac mold, and Pryce brings him to life perfectly. To hear him say “delicious” is to know subtle yet just nearly over-the-top menace. He's no Stromberg or Drax (thank God!). I think the role required some scenery chewing, and he chewed it well. Pryce plays him as a man who actually believes that all of the news is really all about him. Just watch his speech launching his news network--how magnificently egocentric and vile! His chemistry with Bond is good (sort of...more on that in a minute), and the movie is always more fun when he's on screen. A winning modern performance of an old-school type villain.

However, the script does undercut Pryce a bit, leaving the villain far too underdeveloped. Once again, we're in the shadow of Goldeneye, and Carver can't help but suffer in comparison to the far more fleshed out 006. After Carver's nice little speech about "why" being the key to a good story, the movie ironically neglects to give us ANY "why" to Carver, except "because he's nuts." That's not necessarily bad--Bond films have done that for decades--but Goldeneye left us expecting more. In 1997 we want some background for the character (there were a few lines cut out from M's briefing, but nothing substantial), as to why he is the way he is.

As a result, much of his character--and the plot--in just stenciled in. Bond shows up at his party, makes a couple of "could be harmless, could know too much" remarks, and Carver orders him beaten up? Heavens, why? There was nothing to their original meeting to warrant that. Nothing Bond said indicated he was an actual threat. Given this behavior, how many other people did Carver have roughed up that night? It's as if the writers knew the form such a confrontation had to take, but not the substance--let's have the villain try to kill Bond here...just because that's what is supposed to happen at this point in a Bond movie. Sadly, the whole film is rife with half-formed Carver motivations. He's jealous about his wife? Too bad they never showed us that he had any actual affection for her, any chemistry between the two. Pryce's charm covers a lot of those cracks, but not completely.

Even with a gun to my head, I can't actThe henchmen are a somewhat disappointing lot. This time out, Ricky Jay as Gupta is the techno-wiz, but he's no Boris. The script gives him nothing to do accept say "yes, sir." And even if it did, Ricky Jay is no actor. His wooden delivery gets swamped by Pryce's performance every time, and we're left with a boring technogeek, with nothing for the audience to latch onto. (In fairness, there are a couple of deleted scenes on the DVD that have Gupta throwing around razor sharp playing cards, which makes nice use of his magician skills, but they were pretty silly, and it's just as well they weren't used).

Now on Sprockets is the time we danceGötz Otto. I just like to type that...Götz Otto. Anyway, his Stamper is blond, and imposing, and Germanic. And that's about it. He doesn't really bring anything more to the game than, say, Necros did. When even Stamper's boss mocks him for the poor job he's doing of killing the heroes, you know he's not going into the henchman hall of fame. All imposing presence and talk, little actual action. (I should note that in Raymond Benson's novelization of the film, Stamper was born with a freak medical condition wherein the "pleasure and pain centers" of his brain were reversed, so things that would normally hurt a person actually felt good to him, making him formidable in a fight. I don't know if that was in one of the earlier versions of the script, or if Benson spun it out of whole cloth...but obviously someone was paying attention and partially recycled the idea for Renard in The World Is Not Enough). One more time: Götz Otto.

And the "so much for German efficiency" line is hilarious, so I guess that's in Stamper's favor.

Uncle Stavros??The late Vincent Schiavelli was memorable as Dr. Kaufman, but he only had a couple of minutes of screen time, which is too bad. He had far more personality than any of Carver's other goons, and while his death was well done, it does mean for the last half of the movie we're stuck with the boring Gupta and the unimpressive Stamper. What a waste to have such a fun henchmen, in a matching fun performance, brought on screen, only to have him immediately whisked away...

The movie's plot makes one more crucial, deadly mistake. After all the emotional investment they try to give us with Paris--"I've always wondered how I would feel," "Did I get too close?"--they go and kill her. Which means that, mere moments after the death of the great lost love of his life, they have Bond so completely over her that he practically begs Wai Lin to hop into bed with. Put into Bond terms, you can't kill Tracy Bond halfway through the film and expect audiences to still feel sympathy for the loss if, in the next reel, he's catting around with Ruby Bartlett. It just doesn't work dramatically, it undermines Bond's characterization, and it undoes whatever significance you were trying to give to Paris (not to mention risking that the audience will regard Wai Lin as a "second choice"). When you build Paris up to be THAT big a part of Bond's life, you can't have him acting as if it never happened later in the film.

The funny part is, Paris, as a character, is almost completely unnecessary to the movie. Bond's trying to prevent his country from going to war, so he doesn't need the extra revenge motivation. She's of no real help to his mission--the only info she provides, that there's a secret lab, could just as easily come from somewhere else. She's there as a sacrificial lamb because, once again, the writers felt that that's what was supposed to happen at this point in a Bond movie--someone Bond cares about dies, to spur him on.

(Also, as I mentioned above with Carver, I wish we had seen some reason those two were together...really, there's nothing at all onscreen between Paris and Elliot, and that only serves to make her look somehow like a gold digger who married the first rich guy she could find after Bond left her.)

They're real, and they're SPECTACULAR!Which is not to knock Terry Hatcher at all. She is as sexy as hell, her chemistry with Brosnan sizzles, her love scene with Bond is hot. I like her take on the character--a no nonsense American, practical enough to say "Shut up and take the information I'm giving you, James." It's not Hatcher's fault that the screenplay doesn't give her a lot to do, and throws her away as a prop.

And then there's the Yeoh problem. Remember all the time Goldeneye spent building Natalya's character, before she even met Bond? Contrast that with Wai Lin. Do we know a single thing about her? No. The film just throws her up there--competent Chinese agent, and that's it. No background, no characterization, nada. As a character, she's a complete cipher, which is a shame, because Michelle Yeoh is capable of giving us a lot more than that. But in the shadow of Goldeneye, and even more in the shadow of Paris Carver, Wai Lin is essentially a non-entity as a romantic interest.

My contract says that I have to kiss you, but I won't like itIt's not Yeoh's fault--it's not her doing that TND is structured so that she Bond's rebound love for the movie, and it's not her responsibility that after a scorching love scene between Paris and Bond, we have to wait all the way until the last 5 seconds of the film for a tepid kiss that, frankly, feels tacked on. But she and Pierce do seem to have very little romantic chemistry going for them, and it sure seems as if he's trying harder than she is. She's like Pussy Galore...competent bad-ass, but poor romantic match-up with Bond.

Which is not to dismiss her kick-assed-ness, because she rocks. For some reason, she never quite got the publicity as Babara Bach or Halle Berry as "a new type of Bond girl" just as competent as he is and liberated yadda yadda. But she acquits herself fairly admirably, and is a far better agent than the other two. The scene where she take down 4 goons with 2 bullets is righteous (although pro-tip: if you don't waste all of your bullets shooting up the engine control panel, you wouldn't be in that situation), and a good contrast to some of the rest of the movie's overkill. But she does need to be rescued by Bond twice during the film's final 15 minutes (apparently, the otherwise none-too-effective Stamper is her kryptonite)...and she does set off the alarm in Carver's lab, while Bond had managed to get in and out without doing so. Remember: you can be the most competent female agent in the world, but you're not allowed to outshine James Bond, because it's his movie, dammit!!

Every Bond is contractually bound to appear in Naval uniform oncePierce Brosnan has a tougher assignment this time out, as the screenplay is considerably weaker, and has his character jumping through so many tonal shifts that he must have gotten quite dizzy. He manages to be convincing in whatever the scene is asking him to do, but his performance feels weaker because the script doesn't give him a stable emotional through-line to follow this time around. Even if you like his performance, it's tough to watch him practically panting after Wai Lin the whole second half of the film, with no visible signs of mourning for Paris. There were press reports that Brosnan feuded mightily with Spottiswoode on the set, and I like to think that it was over the emotional inconsistency of what he was being asked to do.

This has been an odd review to write, because as Jaquandor said, there are two levels to judge it on. As an action movie, it's very successful, exciting, fun.

So when I spend so much time picking it apart, I feel that I'm doing the film something of a disservice. And in isolation, it's even a pretty decent Bond movie. It has a lot of things going for it, and given a choice between this and, oh, Live and Let Die, I'm going to watch this one 9 times out of ten.

But I've chosen to accentuate the negative here because we have a textbook example of how what should have been a really, really good Bond movie ends up a merely decent one. An obsession to justify a big budget and to"outdo" last time; no one in charge with the creative vision to look at what they were doing, and see how some parts fit the plan and some parts didn't; a paper doll approach to motivation and plot after we'd been spoiled by Goldeneye, forgetting that the care lavished upon the roles was what made that movie great, not the explosions. It's a clear case of the whole being less than the sum of its parts, because sufficient care wasn't used in assembling those parts.

They forgot to let Bond be Bond.

SNELL'S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS

**Let's talk about the entire GPS premise. On its face, the movie seems to misunderstand the concept. Everything in the film seems as if it's operating under the premise that disrupting one satellite signal will enable you to drive someone off course:

The male satellite quietly approaches the female from behind...But GPS uses a constellation of satellites, from 24 to 32. The GPS receiver takes signals from a minimum of 4 different satellites and triangulates the data...advanced receivers, as the military would use, will take data from every available satellite, for increased accuracy. From almost any point on the Earth, at least 6 satellites are in line of sight, and most of the time 8-10 are in range.

So if Gupta was able to override only one of the satellites, the one bad data point data would likely be rejected as an error, and the Devonshire's system would have used the other 5-9 satellites to calculate it's position. And even if he was able to get one bad signal through, it's unlikely that that one signal could be "wrong" enough to override all of the correct signals from the other satellites, at least to the degree shown in the movie.

But let's say that Gupta has the mathematical chops to use one satellite to move the Devonshire 70 miles off course. Or, let's assume that Carver was able to override several satellites, without our seeing it. That still leaves a big problem: what about everybody else? Every other airplane, ship, and military craft receiving that signal should have also been off course too, right? Using a Carver satellite, like they showed, couldn't possible ruin only the signal received by the Devonshire--it had to disrupt the navigation of everybody using that satellite!! Including the "U.S. Airbase" in the South China Sea that Bond visits later...wouldn't they have noticed they were getting screwed up GPS data? And to get a boat like that 70 miles off course, you likely had to feeding it bad data for several hours. So where's all the late and off course air liners and cruise ships? No accidents caused by this? What about the Chinese MIGs? There should have been dozens or even hundreds of reports of bad navigation, which should have bolstered M's case before Admiral Butthead.

**We're never told how the Americans "lost" the GPS encoder that Gupta buys. Given the security they require to even let Bond look at it, they really owe us more of an explanation than that. I smell a couple of Cletus' coming...(not to mention the fact that the British detected the "mysterious signal" on the GPS frequency while the Americans didn't?? Oy...)

**One last GPS note (I promise): An "exact satellite fix" is fine...but when enemy fighters are buzzing me and insisting I'm off course, maybe, just maybe I poke my head above deck and actually look, you know? Break out a compass? Or a sextant? Just to be on the safe side?

**The theme song is not amongst my favorites. Sheryl Crow's voice is thin and whiny, the melody eminently forgettable. The situation isn't help by the fact that the end theme, sung by k.d. lang and co written by David Arnold, is much, much better in every way. As always, it's telling when the end theme gets used in the actual score, and the main theme is ignored.

**Daniel Kleinman's opening credit sequence is a disappointment after last movie's...it's really just a lot of generic images, that seem to have nothing to do with the movie's plot or themes...nowhere as near as sexy.

Oh, and welcome, David Arnold. Nice to have you aboard. Your score is actually pretty good...but you're no Eric Serra (thank God).

**Best deleted scene EVER: you may have noticed then shot, when Bond is getting the BMW from Q. There's a cage in the background with a big cat. What was up with that?

Why the kitty kat??From the deleted scene on the DVD, we see that earlier Q takes Bond up to the first cargo container, announces "Pay attention, 007, your new car," clicks his thingy, the sides of the crate drop away, and surprise--the cage contains a jaguar, which roars at Bond. Trying to look nonplussed, Bond quickly, quips "A Jaguar?" Q grumbles "Wrong assignment...let's try again, shall we?"

I must be dreamingAside from being a good joke, there's two noteworthy things here. First, it doesn't come across on the screen at all, but Benson's novelization says that this was a deliberate practical joke by Q. Which is pretty rad...you go, Q.

But, secondly...Wrong assignment? This means that Q had another assignment, somewhere in Germany, involving a freaking jaguar. Think about that. I want to know more.

**This movie is all about what the Bond-M relationship should be. Admiral Roebuck doesn't believe Bond would get through to the terrorist "bazaar," and M lays an "I told you so" on him. Her steadfast support ("What's he doing?" "HIS JOB!") is on a par with Bernard Lee's absolute faith in Bond in Thunderball. And we've gone from "sexist misogynist dinosaur" to M ordering Bond to use his sexual wiles on Paris Carver...funny how the media didn't play that one up, eh?

**OK, OK, we get it--smoking is bad.

The Surgeon General says POWThe movie repeats itself, as Bond twice uses the "need a light" gambit to knock out a goon. Really? Twice in the same movie? You already ran out of ideas?

**Another repeater: Bond using a knife to cut off clothing so he can escape the Teutonic blond henchmen in their final battle. Did that in The Living Daylights already, guys.

**On the flip side, there are some good homages. Bond sitting alone in his hotel, drinking Smirnoff while waiting for a killer to show up, nicely echoes Dr. No, for example, without ripping it off.

Good enough for Bond, not good enough for Owen Gleiberman**Speaking of that scene...Owen Gleiberman is still an idjit. I'm just sayin'.

**The motorbike chase is very well done...great stunts, excellent choreography for the two-people-handcuffed-together-on-a-bike bit (OK, there is some clumsily obvious squib use)...but it just goes on a year and a half, doesn't it? Another spot where someone needed to step in and say, "let's make some trims here."

Thailand does fill in quite nicely for Saigon, though.

**Brosnan bash...takes down the goon with an ashtray. Gotta love the casual take down of goons with household items...

Hmmm...no towels, how about an ashtray?**Now wait a minute...Carver's goons used machine gun fire to try and break into the BMW earlier, right? With absolutely no success, right? Then how come, during the chase, both windshields get taken out by those same guns?!?

At least BMW gets their money's worth this time, unlike last movie...a grand car chase, even if spectacularly misplaced within the movie.

**The first 3 Brosnan films all have plot points that rely on the broken up Soviet Empire not being able to hang onto their advanced weaponry...the Goldeneye, the nuclear torpedoes in this movie's teaser, and nuclear warheads and a whole flipping submarine in TWINE. I know Eon shied away from making the Soviets overt bad guys during the Cold War. So what, we're making up for lost time now?!?

**Jack Wade is back, though it's hard to see why. This is not a dig at Joe Don Baker, it's just hard to figure why they thought this movie needed him. I guess the producers thought returning characters gave the audience some sense of continuity.

**Why in the world does Carver's missile have a 5 minute launch countdown?? Does that make any sense? You've somehow overcome the British arming codes, rigged it to fire from your cute little stealth boat...why in the world add a countdown, which we can be pretty sure it didn't have on the Devonshire?

Speaking of which, I usually don't too quibbly over countdowns matching movie time, and Bond films have actually been fairly good in this regard. But that 5 minutes takes about 10 minutes of screen time, the last 2 minutes takes over 4 minutes. C'mon, guys, if you're going to give us a countdown, at least play fair with it!!

**Lots and lots of cool gadgets in Wai Lin's safe house in Saigon...too bad she didn't actually use any of them while she was being attacked!!

**All right...M finally has proof that Carver is behind the plot. Now she has the information to stop the impending war. So what does she do?

She drives it over to wherever that situation room is.

Well, I lost my cell, and...Again...she drives it over.

Oh, sweet lord, maybe M doesn't have the balls for the job. WWIII is minutes away...you don't call, or fax, or email it? You drive it over?!? Why not just put a stamp on it and let the postal carrier bring it over?!? Sheesh...if she gets stuck in traffic, the war starts!!

Bond Score: 3. Professor Inga Bergstrom (the "little Danish"), Paris, and Wai Lin. Cumulative Bond Score: 50!! Congratulations, James!!

And as always:

Thankfully, Jack Wade shall notBe here next week, when I try to get away with comparing a James Bond movie to a Shakespeare play...and no, not the one you think.