27 January 2008

Guest OLR: Blood Simple. (1984)

A mean, brooding vision illustrated through various scene-stealing set pieces which, unfortunately, make apparent the unbearable pacing upon repeat viewings. (6/10)

d. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

14 January 2008

OLR: Deadly Daphne's Revenge (1987)

The scumbucket brother of the main character was entertaining to watch, but it's way too serious of a legal drama to be a good Troma movie. (4/10)

d. Richard Gardner

10 January 2008

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1999-2002)

1999 - The World is Not Enough - Who would have thought that the guy who directed Nell would be a marginally better bet for the series than the guy who directed Turner & Hooch.

Only a one film gap and I sorely missed me some pissed off Bond. Not only that, it’s refreshing to see him doing actual legwork, figuring out the plot for us all. Nice chap. And it feels like it’s been forever since Bond has been tortured to the edge of madness.

I think this film where my ruing of Q-Branch gadgets came from. Seeing how InstaBall jacket works before it is utilized in the field doesn’t work too well. It’s Brosnan’s Goldfinger - a lot of ridiculousness that is more or less all in good fun, balanced out with some sudden serious moments.

Carlyle as villain was a good choice, but where’s the payoff of his master torture techniques? Sure, his right-hand man knows all about it, but when the main threat does nothing but throw punches at Bond, I am a bit disappointed. Bored. Bored is the word. The simultaneous strength and weakness is in the dynamic between the characters and not so much the action set pieces or the dialogue. It is cute that the film tries so hard - it is a shame that it fails.

The movie misses the boat on some opportunities to exploit their villain’s state of mind. The revelation that he can longer feel should have come right as we saw his inability to live up to Bond’s standards of sex with his partner in crime. The film also seems to forget this information during the climactic battle, having him flinch constantly with each punch. And then Wet Shirt (or whatever her real name is, who cares) says another poorly delivered line about nuclear stuff and then they save the goddamn day, only to have images of them having sex patched in to the British government. JAMES BOND WILL RETURN. Easy money.

This was the first Bond film I ever saw, and I do remember hating it a lot more. The chalk line gets pushed back with every hundred films. Uh, hooray?

“Welcome to my nuclear family.” (5.5/10)
d. Michael Apted

2002 - Die Another Day - After about ten million shots of Bond and his expendable partners surfing to the shoreline filmed on a studio backlot, we get to Brosnan’s last outing as 007, which would preferably be his opus, 20th film on the 40th anniversary and all, but keeping with tradition of actors sticking with the series one film too far, it befalls this one to be the soul-sucking entry.

Perhaps the biggest sign that the series is going downhill: diamond smuggling. Honestly with the diamond smuggling. It has never worked in the series, ever, and yet the writers keep revisiting it because they hate us. Coolest villain scar ever, though.

What a squandered story idea, 007 captured and tortured (to the edge of madness) for over a year, only to return to the outside world where everyone hates him and nobody will sleep with him. Why didn’t this work? Well, the short answer is that the torture scene is more effective in the Madonna music video. The longer answer becomes clear very soon, after it is revealed that Bond can stop and start his heart-rate at will, and then there’s a character with the actual name of Peaceful Fountains of Desire. I thought I had taken that ninja knife out…

Really, more time needed to pass, given M’s line “The world has changed while you were away.” A kind of broad statement there. Bond should have probably been captured for five years at least. Twenty would have been much better. You could have cast Connery in the role, he loves acting! Why aren’t I watching that hypothetical film?!

Bond has well-earned the right for his superiors to believe him, especially after the previous film. Hating him doesn’t make for compelling drama, it only makes for a useless side-note on a quest for revenge he is going to take anyway, and it also predicts the idea that he is being double-crossed by the most obvious character not played by the Oscar winner.

“First, we kill off your bone marrow.” You lost me. I get to be beautiful… with no bone marrow? Don’t I need that to, um, live? Is that what you guys did to Walken in A View to a Kill? Shouldn’t this have been over a half hour ago? Michael Madsen, what’s with you never helping the situation with your presence? You were great in Free Willy, why can’t you be good anymore?

Maybe it was the overly extensive use of special effects as opposed to real locations and real stunt-work, but perhaps Tamahori could try pulling the camera out of his ass. That could improve his “technique.” Except for Q-Branch’s scene, there are no cool moments in this entry. Even the chase in the ice palace, falling under neat set-piece category, fails to illicit any feeling of danger. The movie did have a cool glass-destroying ring, I’ll give it that.

Well, g’bye, Brosny. On your commentary, you sounded gung-ho for another outing, but sadly, your time is done. At least you managed to swing on a rope in every one of your Bond films.

“An hour in the Dream Machine keeps me sane.” (4.0/10)
d. Lee Tamahori

[Addendum: feeling a bit depressed that Brosnan wasn’t awesome more often, I fired up the ol’ Gamecube machine and played a bit of Everything or Nothing, a great emulation of the Bond series complete with highly impressive opening credits. You get to train in a virtual reality matrix superior to the one in Die Another Day, free-fall off of a cliff, pilot a mini-copter, get Bond Points, and save Shannon Elizabeth. And Jaws is back! What more could you want?! WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT?!]

02 January 2008

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1995-1997)

1995 - GoldenEye - Six years later. Most of the original Bond pioneers have either died or moved on to other projects. It’s now up to a younger group to restart the series with a new actor, a new director, and an entirely original script with little-to-no direct lift from any of Fleming’s novels.

How to pull it off: go back to square one. Quick and mean.

As customary when introducing a new Bond, his face isn’t revealed until the last possible second, and shortly thereafter, the camera doesn’t stop moving, the edits don’t stop coming, and the film quickly builds momentum until the hip, deeply detailed images of women doin stuff cause a kind of cathartic release upon the realization that Bond… is back. And damn is he cool.

The movie has a keen sense of danger and fun, throwing Bond into sudden situations and matching the breakneck pace and style of, yep, Dr. No, with much more backbone. Bond at the offset seems to be very much on his own, at odds with an agency that doesn’t know what to do with him. It’s a nice bit of subtle continuity carried over from Licence to Kill; Bond has to work to reclaim the status he once had.

Of course, the intelligence of the script isn’t bottomless. There are moments of shameless exposition, i.e. explanation of electromagnetic pulse yes yes we all know what it is GET ON WITH IT. And it takes some effort to forgive the rare moments where the villains keep the heroes alive.

What holds it all together is the attention given to the smallest elements, and not treating the viewers like brainless apes. One specific moment stands out in my mind: Bond and Natalya are running through a library, dodging bursts of gunfire and looking for an escape route. They find a brief reprieve and 007 takes the opportunity to rip off his belt and ready his grappling line. He doesn’t explain what it is, nor does he attempt to deflect the look she’s giving him with a glib remark; he simply smirks and says “Trust me.” Epitome of cool.

There are only two directors who have the ability to make the camera completely disappear. Martin Campbell is the one of them, making a series of static shots look interesting and putting together the film like a symphony. He appears to get Bond, the first time a director has since Terence Young. Not only does Campbell has excellent control of the medium, but he avoids sinking into the haphazard ‘let’s shoot the action handheld and hope the shakiness covers our tracks’ nonsense that seems to be popular nowadays. I would expect nothing less from the man who made Vertical Limit watchable.

GoldenEye is an asset to the franchise. After three attempts to reinvent the series, it is finally done correctly.

"This time, Mr. Bond, the pleasure will be all mine.” (7.5/10)
d. Martin Campbell

1997 - Tomorrow Never Dies - And then this happens.

“Well, we brought the series back once more. Now what?”

“Let’s screw it up again!”


No… it’s no GoldenEye, and Roger Spottiswoode is no Martin Campbell, insomuch that every shot is evidence of his vast under-qualification of directing job. He shoots as many angles as possible, explosions in slow-motion of course, and glues it together in the editing room, displaying a narrative but not a love for the material. Do we really need to see ten million different shots of Bond ripping a giant poster just because you filmed it that way? Thanks?

Far too much time is spent reminding us that Bond is cooler than anyone. This was well-established in the last film, yet we are treated to “He can drive a car by remote! He can be charming! He can get M on his side! He can make a cuckold of the military!” not to mention a sad waste of an opening sequence. “Seriously, Admiral, let’s be rational about this-” “NO THAT’S RIDICULOUS M LET’S CHARGE AHEAD FULL SPEED!!!” *Bond does something good* “OH NO EGG IS SURE ON MY FACE I’M NOT LEARNING FROM THIS THOUGH!!”

And Bond doesn’t really behave much like a super-spy, opting to disregard his suave skill and instead barreling into the enemy lair and showing all the cards immediately, endangering the lives of every inept supporting character around him. Jonathan Pryce then eats loads of scenery for breakfast, creates a stupid looking show that nobody would ever take seriously, and decides to be 100% sadistic with no hint of charisma, something that his character would surely possess if he were that high up in the social chain. Oh well, someone had to act like they wanted to be there. I sure didn’t.

“He’s my new anchorman.” (5.0/10)
d. Roger Spottiswoode

[Addendum: Commentary tracks have become this: "Here’s why I think my image of Bond works, blah blah blah blah, my entry is so good, I didn’t shoot this in slow-motion but made it that way in the editing room by blurring each frame, and it looks excellent." I fear for my sanity.
A note to DVD producers: If you can’t get the editor/assistant director/director of photography/any kind of producer in the same room as the director/writer/any of the stars, don’t bother recording an audio track specifically for them. "Here’s why I lit this scene this way" gets old really, really fast, and I don’t want to slice my wrists watching your film, unless your film is Waking Life.]