Quantum of Solace


Quantum of Solace

Bond's morning after is always so much more interesting than everybody's elses.

(MGM) Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Amalric, Gemma Arterton, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeffrey Wright, Jesper Christensen, Joaquin Cosio, David Harbour. Directed by Marc Forster

After Casino Royale, fans of the James Bond franchise were over the moon. Despite early misgivings, Daniel Craig had turned out to be a magnificent 007 – maybe the best since Sean Connery. A gripping storyline that adds more detail and background to the Bond mythology than any single movie ever has whetted the appetite of fans for more, but did the follow-up deliver?

Following the events of Casino Royale, the new one picks up literally minutes after the last one left off. Bond, who has captured Mr. White (Christensen), is being chased on the mountain roads of Italy by a cadre of thugs in black cars who can’t shoot straight. Bond eludes them and manages to deliver the banker to M (Dench) in Portofino, I think – it might be Siena. Somewhere in Italy, anyway.

It turns out that the organization that Mr. White works for (identified later in the film as Quantum, although nobody explains what this stands for – at least SPECTRE and SMERSH actually were acronyms that stood for something) has agents everywhere, including in that very room. A shoot-out ensues followed by a chase across Italian rooftops, ending up in a church undergoing refurbishment.

M is understandably shaken and pissed off. How could there be an organization so well-financed, so large with fingers in so many pies but MI6 doesn’t even have a clue about who they are? She sends Bond to go get some answers.

I won’t give a lot of the plot away because it really is unnecessary to. Nobody goes and sees a Bond film because of the plot. People want the same elements from their Bond movies – great action, beautiful women, clever gadgets and exotic locations. That’s it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to keep Bond fans happy, but they’ve gone and done that anyway.

Some of the changes are definitely for the better. The relationship between Bond and M becomes the most important relationship in the story. That’s a new twist for the series and one which I quite like. Dame Judi Dench need play a second banana to nobody, and she makes a fine foil for Craig. The chemistry between them exceeds that between Bond and Kurylenko as Camille, this edition’s Bond girl. Trust becomes a central theme to the film, which is bloody revolutionary for a spy film.

I also like that Daniel Craig’s Bond is cold, vicious and driven by the events at the climax of Casino Royale. First of all, a little continuity between movies isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Secondly, it lends a new edge to James Bond and while he does toss a quip out every now and again, he is all business. That has its pros and cons, but I don’t mind that we take Bond a little more seriously with Craig than we did with, say, Roger Moore.

Some of the changes, however, leave something to be desired. The action sequences should have an element of the unbelievable to them, a sense of scale; these are action sequences that are straight out of the Bourne movies (which is, I admit, a bit of an unfair comparison but it does make a useful reference point) and they are a bit rough, the shaky hand-cam which works in other action franchises just seems out of place here. The James Bonds of yesterday always seemed to get into brawls without so much as messing up their impeccably tailored tuxedo or immaculately coiffed hair, but this is a James Bond that gets dusty, bloody, filthy…he survives a plane crash and looks it. I kind of want my James Bond to step out of the wreckage, arch an eyebrow and loose a devastating witticism that gives you the comfort of knowing that Bond is going to save the day in about 20 minutes, and that the megalomaniac of the moment is going to get his comeuppance in a gruesome and deserving manner.

In short, I want to have fun with my James Bond movie and to be honest, I didn’t here. Despite the work of Daniel Craig who is as perfect a Bond for this era as Connery was for his, I didn’t feel exhilarated after watching Quantum of Solace as I usually do for other Bond movies. I felt I’d endured it, survived it but not enjoyed it.

That’s not to say that this is a movie totally without merit. I like some of the changes, as I said and I hope they continue to explore them. I might have liked a more vicious villain than Amalric as Dominic Greene, and a more urgent plot than to – horrors! – steal Bolivia’s water supply.

Unlike other critics, I don’t think that the franchise needs to be burned to the ground and rebooted again but some tweaking is definitely in order. Less grim, more fun I say. Now, I’m going to namedrop a little – I went to college with Bond executive producer Barbara Broccoli and actually shared several classes with her (we shared the same major) although we weren’t ever close. In fact, the odds that she reads my blog are about a hundred trillion to one, but I kind of hope she does. Not that I’m any sort of cinematic genius or anything, but if I had one word of advice to pass along to my fellow alumni of Loyola Marymount, it would be to ratchet up the fun quotient.

That’s the key. At the end of the day, I want to live vicariously through James Bond. I don’t want to see him shot, bloodied, beaten or bruised. If I wanted to be those things, I’d pick a fight with a NASCAR fan. I want to be pampered with the very best luxuries that the taxpayers of Great Britain can afford. I want to be with the most beautiful, seductive women on earth. I want to look great in a tux, use my license to kill and save the day. In short, I want to be stirred, not shaken.

WHY RENT THIS: It is James Bond, after all – the action sequences are second-to-none.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The reboot of Bond is moving a little too far from the original concept for comfort.  

FAMILY VALUES: There’s violence and sexuality but no more than any other Bond movie.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: For the first time, Felix Leiter is played by the same actor in two consecutive films.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: For a 100-minute movie, there are a ton of locations and a feature called “Bond on Location” discusses the logistics of all of them, as well as living up to the expectations raised in Casino Royale.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Iron Man 2

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Goldfinger


Goldfinger

Shirley Eaton is just golden.

(United Artists) Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, Harold Sakata, Cec Linder, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewellyn, Shirley Eaton. Directed by Guy Hamilton

There are many who consider this to be the ultimate James Bond movie and quite frankly, I’d have to agree with them. All of the elements come together and make this the standard against which not only all other Bond movies are measured, but all other spy movies as well.

James Bond (Connery) is in Miami having a little R&R when he receives a call from his boss M (Lee) to assist the CIA in observing Auric Goldfinger (Frobe) who happens to be staying at the Fontainebleau as is Bond. Felix Leiter (Linder), the CIA liaison, gives Bond the low-down; Goldfinger comes to the pool area every day to cheat at canasta, having a young beautiful blonde by the name of Jill Masterson (Eaton) report what his opponent’s cards are via shortwave radio to his hearing aid. Bond, being Bond, decides to mess with Goldfinger. He seduces Masterson, causing Goldfinger to lose. However, Goldfinger doesn’t take kindly to losing and sends a flunky named Oddjob (Sakata) to knock out Bond and repay Masterson for her betrayal by painting her gold, suffocating her skin.

As it turns out, MI6 has a big interest in Goldfinger owing to his smuggling of gold in and out of the UK. They’re wondering how he’s doing it and put Bond on the job. He follows the portly villain to Switzerland, where he has a run-in with Tilly, Jill’s sister. Oddjob murders her as well, making the score Oddjob 2, Masterson girls 0. He also captures Bond, which gives Goldfinger the opportunity to set up an industrial laser aimed for the Bond family jewels. It also gives Goldfinger to deliver the all-time classic villain line when Bond asks “You expect me to talk?” (For the record, the response is “No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die”).

Bond, thinking quickly on his feet (or on his back as it were), implies that he knows a lot more than he actually does. This forces Goldfinger to send Bond back to his Kentucky horse ranch under the watchful eye of his personal pilot Pussy Galore (Blackman), the dirtiest character name in the history of movies. There, he uncovers Goldfinger’s real ambition; to set off a nuclear device at Fort Knox, irradiating the largest gold supply in the world and making his own supply ultimately far more valuable. Can Bond stop the nefarious plot and overcome the seemingly indestructible Oddjob?

This was the Bond that essentially became the template for all the Bond movies to follow. It set the bar and quite high as well. For better or worse, all other Bond movies are measured against this one, just as all Bond villain are measured against Goldfinger, all Bond flunkies are compared to Oddjob and all Bond girls are compared to Pussy Galore.

The ultimate Bond car is the Aston-Martin DB5 that makes an appearance here. With its changing license plate, rocket launchers, oil slick dispensers and ejection seat, it was the ultimate spy vehicle. The car became so popular that two working models were built (complete with ejection seat) and toured the world in support of the film.

Like most Bond films of the era, the attitude towards women is pretty dated. While Pussy is a strong, independent woman, she is no match for Bond’s machismo; in fact, all it takes is a single kiss for her to see the error of her ways, a kiss that is forced upon her, I might add. In our more enlightened times, we might call that sexual assault.

It is the action that makes Goldfinger what it is, and that action is breathtaking. The assault on Fort Knox is one of the most awe-inspiring action sequences in the history of the movies. While some of the special effects look a little clunky, it still stands up 45 years after the fact.

I’m not saying this is the perfect movie, mind you. It is pretty darn close, however. It’s a reflection of its times, and that certainly needs to be taken into account, but it is timeless in all the important aspects of the movie. If you haven’t seen Goldfinger yet, your film education is incomplete without it.                    

WHY RENT THIS: By far, the best of the Bond movies. Frobe is one of the best baddies of all time and Connery was never better than he was here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Well, maybe you just don’t like movies made in the 20th century. Your loss.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surprising amount of violence, much smoking (remember, that was common for the era) but still pretty tame by modern standards.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the hoodlums gathered at Goldfinger’s ranch is played by an uncredited Garry Marshall, future director of Pretty Woman and Valentine’s Day, among others.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The new Blu-Ray contains a digitally enhanced print and there are a number of contemporaneous features about the making of the film. There are also some screen tests of some other actors who tested for the Goldfinger part, as well as a featurette on the phenomenon of the movie and one on the Aston Martin DB5, possibly the most popular movie car of all time.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

TOMORROW: You Only Live Twice

Dr. No


Dr. No

A debonair James Bond enters M's office for his next assignment.

(United Artists) Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Anthony Dawson, Regina Dawson, John Kitzmuller, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell. Directed by Terence Young

There are few characters in the movies more iconic than James Bond. The suave, sophisticated British superspy can karate-chop a bad guy into submission, or kill him in a particularly gruesome fashion and save the day with an urbane quip. He can seduce just about any woman nearly at will. He is the man every guy wants to be and every woman wants to be with, and no actor embodied him as well as Connery, even to this day.

In his first big screen adventure (a television version of Casino Royale had been made some years earlier, but it had been Americanized and has been mercifully lost to the mists of time), Bond is summoned to Jamaica to investigate the murder of an MI6 field agent named Strangways who at the behest of the Americans had been investigating mysterious radio interference of rockets being launched from Cape Canaveral. Bond discovers that Strangways had been looking into a sinister place called Crab Key, an island off the coast of Jamaica that the locals are afraid of visiting because of rumors that a dragon patrols the beach. Bond also discovers that Strangways had submitted some rocks to his bridge partner Professor Dent (Dawson) to examine.

Bond is aided by CIA operative Felix Lieter (Lord) and Quarrel (Kitzmuller), a local boatman who has assisted the CIA in the past. Several attempts are made on 007’s life before he finally heads out to Crab Key along with Quarrel. They meet the fetching Honey Ryder (Andress), a comely but no-nonsense seashell collector who has been taking shells from Crab Key to sell in Jamaica. The three eventually discover that the island’s owner, Dr. No (Wiseman) has an evil plan up his sleeve and is the member of an organization called SPECTRE, bent on the destabilization of the world.

Coming up on its 50th anniversary, the movie holds up surprisingly well in some ways. Yes, it’s hopelessly dated in its attitudes towards women, minorities and politics, but if you can get past some of the special effects (which are admittedly primitive but keep in mind that this was a low-budget production even for its time) and the dialogue which can be laughable, you’re left with some wonderful action sequences, amazing set design and of course Bond.

Here is the first appearance of the James Bond theme, the first time “My name is Bond, James Bond” is uttered. It’s the first appearance of the Walther PPK, the first time we see M (Lee), the head of MI6 and his wonderfully efficient but oversexed secretary Moneypenny (Maxwell).

The Hollywood conceit of a megalomaniac on an island is essentially established here, one that would be followed in many a Bond movie to follow as well as in other spy and action movies over the next half century. The urbane Dr. No would be a model for Bond villains; suave, sophisticated, brilliant and egomaniacal but ultimately done in by his own hubris.

It seems hard to believe now but United Artists was not pleased with the choice of Sean Connery as James Bond (and Ian Fleming apparently wasn’t happy either, at least until he saw the movie for the first time). The rugged Connery was not the picture of a sophisticated upper class Englishman (Connery is a working class Scot) that the books had suggested.

When watching Dr. No, you can’t help but be aware of the times in which the movie existed. John Kennedy was president (and a big fan of the Bond series, which was one of the selling points for the movie) and the Cuban Missile Crisis was in full bloom, making nefarious doings in the Caribbean all the more believable for nervous American (and global) audiences. The Second World War was twenty years in the rear-view mirror and the Cold War was at its peak. The space race was just beginning and the New York Worlds Fair was only two years away (the architecture of the fair was foreshadowed by the ultra-sleek lair of Dr. No). It was a time of great optimism yet a time ruled by enormous fear.

James Bond played into both. Yes, there was much evil in the world, and evil geniuses plotting to take over but with Bond on the case, the Free World could rest easy knowing that 007 was laying the smackdown on wannabe world dictators (the memory of Hitler still fresh in the minds of many). He conformed to the ideals of manhood of the time; virile, decisive, rough, smart and sophisticated, able to wear an expensive Saville Row suit at the baccarat table with a stunning sex kitten on one arm, a (shaken, not stirred) martini in one hand, his trusty Walther PPK in his waistband and impeccably coiffed hair barely ruffled after beating the crap out of a thug (and uttering a bon mot over the inert body of his assailant).

Times have changed and feminists no doubt cringe at the attitudes of Bond, but all the same he still holds a fascination that has carried him through nearly five decades of nearly continuous missions that still continue to this day. Bond was, at the time, unlike any other hero that had ever appeared on the silver screen and is unlikely to be duplicated ever again (Indiana Jones comes close). Dr. No stands up today not just because it was first but because it’s actually a very good movie, despite its flaws.

WHY RENT THIS: This is where it all began. Connery is electric as Bond and the action almost never stops.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hopelessly dated, some of the dialogue and effects are laugh-inducing.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surprising amount of violence, much smoking (remember, that was common for the era) but still pretty tame by modern standards.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ah, where to begin? It’s the only Bond movie in which Bond sings and doesn’t feature a pre-title sequence. Also, Bond’s armorer is known as Major Boothroyd (not Q as in later films) and is named after a reader who wrote Ian Fleming asserting that a true British spy would never use a Beretta as Bond does in the early novels, but a Walther PPK. Fleming concurred and the incident was actually used in a kind of backhanded way in the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The new Blu-Ray contains a digitally enhanced print that cleans up some of the graininess of the original and actually looks better than when it was released theatrically. There are a number of contemporaneous features about the premiere, and on-set featurettes. There’s a nice feature on the guns of James Bond and a piece on the restoration of the print.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Goldfinger