Monday, 30 July 2012

Bond, Greek mythology and Madonna. Best not mixed.

Forty years and now twenty films and this one does it's best to kill the Bond franchise like clubbing a baby seal.  Die Another Day is Bond20 and apparently an homage to all the Bond films that have come before it.  Is Die Another Day, like Icarus, punished for it's ambition?  No.  In reality, Die Another Day is a horror show, an elongated car commercial with awful CGI and a script so clunky Brosnan almost chokes on the words.  You can't blame this all on hubris.  The director, Lee Tamahori, was well known for making commercials so was obviously right at home with $100 million worth of product placement (he has another 'George Michael' type claim to fame now).  Spotting the references to the previous Bond films is the most entertaining thing you can do and still watch Die Another Day, such is the appalling nature of the dialogue and set pieces.

Although the film drove Bond and Brosnan into a cul de sac that there was seemingly no escape from, perversely Die Another Day made an absolute fortune at the box office.  Even Roger Moore had a pop at it saying 'it just went too far'.  This really did feel like the end of Bond especially as The Bourne Identity had been released six months prior.  Maybe that's a bit harsh as Die Another Day only really falls apart when Bond gets back from Cuba.

If I curl my lip a bit they'll KNOW I'm angry
The Bond films are at their best when they have an impressive villain, see Red Grant, Goldfinger, Scaramanga, Blofeld, unfortunately, Rupert Graves is a poor mans' Stromberg equipped with some electricity.  It's when Graves becomes central to the 'plot' that Die Another Day crumbles.  It looks as though a Bond film was too big for Toby Stephens and his acting range seems to be a change in the severity of his sneer.

Die Another Day opens with a surfing skit in what is apparently North Korea.  Can you even surf in North Korea?  At least we've got a level of self awareness as there is no sign of The Beach Boys breaching the soundtrack.  Standard operating procedure resumes as Brosnan steals some sunglasses with a cheeky smile before he goes and blows some stuff up.  The twist comes after Bond drops a model hovercraft over a waterfall and delivers a half baked one liner.  He's captured and imprisoned, the story continuing over the opening credits and beneath Madonna's lame, schizoid theme tune.  Marvel at Bond's waterboarding and Kleinman's CGI fire and ice ladies.  Keep them in mind as they're the best special effects you're going to see in this film.

I'm going to hold my gut in til Ravi Shankar gets here
In between scorpion stings and beatings Bond becomes George Harrison before being traded by the Americans for the terrorist Zao.  Zao now has a shiny and probably very expensive face after the pre credits run in with Bond.  Things look promising as Michael Madsen makes his appearance.  Don't get too carried away though, Madsen agreed to do Celebrity Big Brother after all.  After Bond's return to Western hands he's informed by M that he's a liability.  A washed up excuse for an agent.  Brosnan admirably sucks his stomach in before escaping from the high tech hospital before taking a little swim to what is supposed to be Hong Kong.  This is all a ruse so Bond can have a shave before going renegade again.  Brosnan's playing the Dalton card in seek of revenge against the person who set him up in Korea or something.  It's hard to pay attention as Halle Berry's Jinx appears Andress like from
Figs. Better than Bond in bed
the sea.  This is the only homage to previous Bond films that actually works.  It's subtle compared to Graves' parachute and the scene with the new Q that just shouts 'OCTOPUSSY', 'FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE' at you.  Three minutes of hard flirting and Bond has got Jinx into bed although he seems to be losing his touch as she stops mid-coitus for a fruity snack.

A run around Scaramaga's updated funhouse is peppered with choreographed fights that would put Michael Flatley out of business and we work out that Jinx has to be CIA at least before she jumps in an atrocious CGI stunt from the top of the complex.  Bond is left behind with some diamonds that bring him back to London accompanied by The Clash.  Quite how Joe Strummer was convinced to let this happen is beyond me.  He must be spinning as British Airways have done it all over again recently.  Graves is introduced and you begin to wonder what exactly he has to do with Zao and the Koreans from earlier.  You don't wonder for too long as you are distracted by his appalling characterisation which is only overshadowed by his stealing of Blofeld's satellite idea.  What's more impressive is the scale of his Icelandic affair.  The Ice Palace is the biggest thing Bond has had to run around in since The Spy Who Loved Me.

Bond fannies around Iceland in a few scenes which are only set so that Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) can show off her body and kill time before the inevitable car chase.  Bond's 'Vanish' (I know) vs Zao's horrifically green Jaguar convertible.  Inexplicably Zao's Jag is armed to the teeth and the ice based chase looks like it was nicked from The Fast and the Furious.  Zao is dispatched in improbable circumstances yet all I can see in my mind's eye are computer generated ice bergs and Pierce Brosnan ageing before my eyes.

Brosnan; ageing and turning into McCartney
With Zao gone it's time for the removal of Graves.  By now we know that Graves isn't actually Graves and his father is none too pleased about what he's done with his face.  Graves does his Iron Man impression and removes his father from the equation.  The end of Goldfinger is rehashed and extended as Bond and Jinx battle Graves and Frost before Graves has a chance to destroy South Korea.  Graves is reduced to bird soup melange before a ridiculous escape by Bond and Jinx as the film draws to a close,  Forty years of legacy has been pissed on as the Brosnan era comes to an end.  Die Another Day creaks under the weight of an atrocious script, music video tricks and around twenty companies worth of priduct placement. I can't even be bothered to look at the laboured allusions to Madonna's character being a lesbian or the invisible car such is how cheap the shots are.

It's hard to see how Bond can recover from Die Another Day.  Although the last time there was such a ridiculous Bond film the producers came back with a serious effort in the form of For Your Eyes OnlyDie Another Day is undoubtedly Brosnan's Moonraker and he's contracted for one more.  Brosnan will officially stay as Bond until 2005 with Tarantino sniffing around to cast him in a black and white Casino Royale.  It won't happen though. All the promise of GoldenEye now seems such a long time ago as Brosnan's fall from grace is complete.

James Bond will return, this time he'll be blond and look a bit like Jason Bourne.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


The 70s are nearly over but there's still time for one more jolly with Roger.  This time we're all set for outer space.  The producers have gone zeitgeist shopping again and this time I blame George Lucas.  Star Wars has come along and changed films.  For the better? Well, Moonraker became the biggest grossing Bond film to date in 1979 and wasn't beaten until GoldenEye.  So there's that.

It's 1979 and unfortunate that the other space based film doing the rounds is Ridley Scott's Alien.  A tense and brooding thriller set in the used future.  Alien is dark and magnificent.  Moonraker is not.  That's a bit harsh on Moonraker perhaps but Roger's space race is a film of two parts.  Drax's nuclear missile of the novel is replaced by a space shuttle and as Bond investigates it's supposed crash and destruction it's actually quite good.  It's as if Eon saw The Spy Who Loved Me as a little too cheesy and tried to make Moonraker a little more serious.  But then we go globetrotting on a bizarre scale and Jaws comes back.

We begin with the RAF ferrying a US shuttle home for bed.  Yes, the RAF have replaced the Royal Navy of The Spy Who Loved Me and they're making such frightfully good time that they forgot to check the kitchen cupboards for two lurkers in black leather jackets.  Such is the movie shorthand that we instantly know that black leather jackets = bad guys. But why the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon walk?  The Moonraker shuttle is hijacked and assumed to have crashed much to the embarrassment of the British authorities.  As a result M recalls Bond from another mission.  This mission seems to be sleazing on a young girl aboard a small plane but the pilot has other ideas.  Jaws, quite literally, appears from nowhere and Bond is flying.  Parachuteless.  Mid air shenanigans follow before good ol' Shirley belts out another theme tune and Jaws ruins a circus.

M is driven into an almost fluster by the increasingly annoying and irrelvant Minister of Defence and so dispatches Bond to find out what happened to the Moonraker shuttle.  Where else to begin but California and the Drax estate.  We learn a couple of things from the Drax estate.  The main one is that only ladies fly helicopters in Moore's world.  At least this time she isn't removed by a Lotus-to-air missile.  It's also pretty obvious that Drax has some cash.  Well, quite a lot of cash.

Conservatory, pond, moonbase, garage.  All good homes need one
Drax seems to own Moonbase Alpha from Space 1999 and, of course, the Eiffel Tower.  However, Drax is definitely a bad guy as he's vaguely European and plays the piano like Hannibal Lecter plays the clavier. And he paraphrases Oscar Wilde. Dodgy.  He's also a little less than original as we soon find out he's basically stolen Stromberg's idea to create a new civilisation.  Little clues are dotted around, mainly in the form of Drax's odd habit of surrounding himself by pairs of pretty young ladies with various European titles.  Like the time when Mrs Noah went on her holidays.

Bond's investigation essentially involves a guided tour but when someone called Goodhead offers, you don't refuse.  We soon accompany Bond to a massive centrifuge.  'It's a trap!' we all cry yet Bond hops in eagerly.

Roger doing an impression of Harry Redknapp
A 70 year old can take 3 Gs according to Dr Goodhead. Moore (too busy trying to flirt) neglects to mention his advancing years and waits for some subliminal Q action to save himself from turning into Droopy.  Drax's evil henchman scurries away to change his pyjamas.  Sufficiently recovered from his ordeal Bond puts phase two of Moore espionage into operation.  Phase Two is 'shag the secretary' and doesn't it work well?  Bond learns he must now go to Venice.  The secretary isn't so lucky.  Corinne Dufour's death is very well done and all the more horrific for it.  Chased through the woods we know there will only be one outcome.  So far Moonraker hasn't been that bad.  Yes we've had some cheesy moments but there's been some genuine tension too.

Then there's Venice and the pigeon.  The fucking pigeon. We were doing so well until we got to Venice.  Then Bond hopped into his gondola.  Inexplicable Hammer horror extras chase Bond down the canals and all the good work is beginning to come undone.  A touch of Close Encounters of The Third Kind and Bond has found a secret lab, bumped into Dr Goodhead again and embarrassed his boss.  Nevermind all that we're off to Rio.

It's licorice, deal with it
Moore's wannabe Junkanoo skit sees Jaws reappear and a bimble up Sugarloaf Mountain.  The film is falling apart faster than that cable car control room and we're back into the realms of random villains appearing just to provide a chase scene.  The only punctuation is a casual British base in Brazil as we find out that Drax is going to kill everyone with flowers.  He may as well have given out maps as these flowers only grow in one place.  Now where could Drax be, I wonder?  This 'comedic' infodump is bookended by another chase.  This time down the Amazon.  Words fail me it's that bad.

Wait thirty seconds and Bond finds Drax's secret and very plastic base.  The polystyrene wobbles as Bond has a roll around with a snake (not like that, although that was probably in the script for a while).  For some reason this is all watched over by girls in togas.  The Grigori angels are less than please when Bond defeats the snake, however, Bond is soon captured and listening to Drax explain everything about his evil plan.

So that's where Petr Cech got it from
We're off to Drax's space station to see if Bond can stop the eugenics. And stop it he does, naturally.  With some cod psychology and a battery of Marines that the world just happened to have standing by.  The end battle of Moonraker is a rehash of The Spy Who Loved Me's rehash of You Only Live Twice.  Except this time they've borrowed some sound effects rejected by the Cylons.

Bond successfully manages to complete re-entry, which is getting more and more impressive as Roger gets older , and Bond's lost decade is almost over.  Moore's Bond started so well but began to peter out quickly.  The franchise has become almost happy to spoof itself.  Hopefully this trend will change in the 80s.

James Bond will return but will Roger?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Glang, glang-a-lang-a-lang, glang-a-lang

The most jingoistic titles ever?
Roger's third jaunt is Bond's tenth big screen outing. Except this isn't really a Bond film.  Having flirted with blaxploitation and kung fu in his past two outings Moore is now fully exposed to Carry On.... treatment.  At times this is a nonsensical sequence of set pieces loosely brought together by a tedious game of one upmanship between Moore and Mrs Ringo.  Looking back there's a horrible feeling that Bond is about to get left behind as summer blockbusters really take over.  We've already had Spielberg and Jaws and Lucas is about to spew out part one (four) of the Star Wars saga.

Alan Partridge might extol the virtues of The Spy Who Loved Me but to me it's the turning point for Moore's Bond.  And it's a turn for the worse.

The Spy Who Loved Me is a lighthearted faff around the desert and Europe which is in no ways taxing as Bond pursues the villains who have stolen a submarine tracking system.  If you close your eyes the pre credit sequence is practically a copy of You Only Live Twice. Have Eon and Cubby got so lazy, so quickly?  This, of course, comes before that parachute jump.  Hurtling towards the edge of the cliff you genuinely wonder what Bond will pull out of the bag.  The huge jump is breathtaking but, as now seems customary,  the tension is diffused with a tongue planted firmly in cheek as a massive Union Flag unfurls.  We'll let them off though as Carly Simon belts out a bloody great theme tune.

Right stop listening to Carly, one of our submarines is missing!  So Bond pops on his commanders' uniform and heads for M.  With the help of a roll of cling film, Inspector Wexford and the soon to be exceptionally annoying Minister of Defence, it's established that someone has mastered a way to track nuclear submarines.  Quelle surprise the indications are that the system will be sold to the highest bidder. But what's this? The Russians have lost a nuclear sub as well? Bummer.  Up steps Triple X.  The Russian equivalent of Bond is a lady and it just so happens we've already seen Bond dispatch her uber hairy lover.  It's not long before our competing heroes cross one another's path as they seek out the buyer.  After a run in with Jaws and a sleepy cigarette the two are put on a joint mission.

This is where Bond makes one of his classic mistakes.  He takes the train.  AGAIN.  Will he ever learn?  After From Russia With Love, after Live And Let Die here he is again on a choo choo.  I give it five minutes before it kicks off.  Oh look, Jaws was in the wardrobe (somehow he fit.)  The toothy bastard has hands bigger than Moore's head and yet still ends up out the window.  Nothing like a train based dust up to help Bond do away with foreplay.

We arrive in Sardinia as the pair target Stromberg and meet Q.  Or is it Q?  He's in the field and yet not wearing one of his ludicrous shirts and what's this? A Lotus Esprit?  It had better be decent or I'm going to petition for the Aston Martin.  Now we get into silly season.  The helicopter.  The massive War of the Worlds Martian base Stromberg lives in.  The inexplicable and endless supply of goons appearing from nowhere to chase Bond.  All completely devoid of tension.  Curt Jurgens tries to be menacing and a little sinister as Stromberg but it's hard to look passed the fact he just sits around a lot pressing the odd button.  It's as if he was cast for his voice more than anything else.

Goons submarines have to be yellow. Them's the rules
Turns out the Lotus can swim.  This can mean only one thing.  Baddies in yellow submersibles and a slow motion underwater fight!  Hurrah!  The updating of Thunderball, punctuated by Moore's bizarre 'brace yourself', is all a little tiresome.  Cue amusing drive up the beach.Punter checks his bottle of vino and kids queue up for a fish.  No sign of Mr Whippy just yet.

Mind you, we haven't had the fucking pigeon yet so count your blessings.

In all the splashing about you'd forget there was some espionage going on.  A buxom reminder is delivered as we find out that Stromberg's massive tanker has never put into port.  This can only mean one thing.  That big ship is eating submarines.  Is that being a little presumptuous?  No, I've seen You Only Live Twice so I know how this works.  If only there was a way for Bond to get aboard that tanker.  Why not drop in on an American submarine and see if it gets eaten?  Everyone needs a hobby.  Now we just need to storm the volcano lair.  Cunningly disguised as Stromberg's massive tanker the volcano lair is everything you'd expect. Chock full of random barrels of oil, fully equipped with an armoury to supply any and all imprisoned sailors or soldiers and including an impenetrable control room.  THERE'S EVEN A MONORAIL.  Many henchmen in Star Trek red are dispatched as Bond sets about foiling Stromberg's dastardly plan.  His plan to wipe out the world in nuclear holocaust and live beneath the sea is a little deluded.  Surely most of the nuclear fallout will end up poisoning the seas and making his new civilisation a prison?  Obviously details like this aren't high on a megalomaniacs agenda.

Bond has time for a quick game of Operation! before he rescues Triple X via jet ski.  Stromberg's demise is almost as pointless as the rest of his performance thus far, the last battle being left for Jaws.  Being mindful of his surroundings sees Bond triumph and Jaws plunge into a shark pool.  It's not quite a pressurised air pellet but then Jaws isn't dead.  Sarcasm dictates that I can't wait to see hm again.  I miss the days when the Russians and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. were the baddies.

Triple X is a woman. Do you get that now?

The Spy Who Loved Me has set the stall for the foreseeable future.  Bond films must now be full of gadgets and breathtaking, if implausible stunts. God forbid a story will help the franchise compete with Hollywood's cheesiest summer blockbusters.  Moore has definitely peaked already as Bond and the slide into torpor continues.  The 1970s really are becoming Bond's lost decade and they're not over yet.

James Bond will return, and it's ALL George Lucas' fault.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Roger, Pepper And Three Nipples

Two films in sees Roger Moore settling into his role as Bond and the franchise is slowly removing itself from it's own history.  Moore's debut was a blaxploitation flick. The Man With The Golden Gun is a kung fu jolly.  Enter The Dragon this is not. It's as if the producers saw David Niven in Casino Royale, thought it was a good idea and then went zeitgeist shopping.  Playing Bond for laughs is not a good look.  Eight films ago we had the tension and suspense of Crab Key, now we have Thailand and bad white wine.

The Man With The Golden Gun is a film that could have delivered so much more but all the promise is lost under the sound of a penny whistle.  The whole thing is as crooked as M's office on the part submerged Queen Elizabeth.  

Only one thing could improve this stunt.....a comedy sound effect!

We begin with Dracula playing a game of cat and mouse with a gangster from Diamonds Are Forever in a fun house in the Far East. Yes, it's as daft as it sounds. Dracula, now reincarnated as trick shot making Fransisco Scaramanga is said to be the world's best assassin and charges $1 million a job. Dr Evil would be proud. He even has a midget as a butler/companion. The 70s were so ridiculously un-PC.  The pre credit sequence ends with Scaramanga shooting the fingers off a wax work of 007. Such attention to detail of your supposed foe borders on fetish.  To stop us dwelling on these thoughts we have Lulu caterwauling the worst Bond theme so far.  Presumably Don Black had been watching Carry On films as lyrical inspiration.

Lulu's theme sets the tone for the film as we now see Bond abandon wit and charm in favour of smut.  M summons Bond to his office and confronts him with a golden bullet with 007 etched on it. Apparently Bond is now a target for Scaramanga. The background is rife with mumbles of an energy crisis and a missing scientist who has a Solex device that will create free energy and yet Bond is dispatched to Beirut where an encounter with a stripper is his first clue on the hunt for Scaramanga. I say 'stripper' with a shudder.  Her (only) charm is the golden bullet she keeps as a memento of one of Bond's colleagues. In tawdry fashion Bond recovers the bullet and returns to Q whose analysis identifies the bullet's manufacturer. This screams the question 'why not use the bullet sent to M, why go to Beirut at all?'  Q snootily and rather brilliantly identifies Lazar as the bullet's maker and Bond is off for a snoop around Macao as he gets a step closer to Scaramanga.  The missing link is Octopussy Andrea Anders. Anders is Scaramanga's resentful bit of stuff and is the real sender of the bullet to M.  Later we find out that she wants to be rid of Scaramanga and wants Bond to facilitate this.  In the meantime she's just a courier.

The story begins to come together as we see missing solar scientist Gibson get his outside a strip club. Scaramanga, it seems, is quite a good shot.  Scaramanga has been hired by the Chinese businessman Hai Fat to remove Gibson and keep the Solex agitator off the market.  Handily Hai Fat is believed to have never clapped eyes on Scaramanga by Bond. Quite how this logic works is beyond me. If I was splashing out a million I'd want to meet the bloke doing my dirty work.  The twisted logic allows Bond to attempt to impersonate Scaramanga in a meeting with Hai Fat. He just needs Q Branch to rustle him up a fake third nipple. Don't ask.

It turns out that Hai Fat has, in fact, met Scaramanga and is positively in cahoots with him. This results in Bond's disguise being rumbled. Hai Fat decides the best form of execution is to send Bond to a martial arts school and let him get roughed up by some kids. We scan the background the hidden lasers, poisoned darts, anything to no avail. Hai Fat seriously thinks a bit of kung fu will do the job.  The pathetic nature of this scheme is compounded by Bond's escape. He jumps out of a window and into a boat. The marine based chase echoes Live And Let Die right up to it's inclusion of Sherriff J W Pepper. Oh yes, he's back.  Is it just a cameo? Is it balls.

More realistic than the flying car
Bond tumbles into Anders again and agrees to lose Scaramanga in exchange for the Solex agitator.  Unfortunately, this leads to Miss Anders death and Britt Ekland's incompetence as her character, Mary Goodnight, gets locked in Scaramanga's boot.  Cue car chase. Oh, great. Pepper's back and this time he's going to be Bond's comedy sidekick.  Your heart rises and then crashes as Bond corkscrews over the river with THAT sound effect.  It's all a waste as Scaramanga flies away in his car. Yes, he flies away.

Wherever could Scaramanga have escaped too? Have no fear, Goodnight had a tracking device about her person. Naturally Bond homes in on this signal and follows it to the film's conclusion.  Scaramanga's private island has been converted into a solar power generator and he wants to sell the technology to the highest bidder. Oil companies will buy it to keep it off the market whilst governments will want it to provide free energy for their countries. Apparently.  Not content with completely renewable energy the solar technology also comes with a massive laser gun as a bonus.  Before he cashes in on the Solex he decides to challenge Bond to a duel.

The original premise that Scaramanga was Bond's criminal opposite and equal is used as The Man With The Golden Gun's conclusion.  Bond emerges victorious from this tension with a bit of speed dressing in the dark. Bond has to suffer a spot of dry ice and some more Goodnight incompetence en route to his escape back to normality.  The journey home is interrupted by an appalling fight with a midget and an excessive waste of wine before Bond can use Goodnight's name in vain.

It's telling that The Man With The Golden Gun is the lowest grossing film of the franchise and it's easy to see why. It rivals Moonraker in terms of appalling-ness and cements the 70s as Bond's lost decade.  You begin to wonder how much better Tom Mankiewicz's script was and how much strife was really caused off camera.  The film has it's good points and they all belong to Christopher Lee. Lee is great as the villain and you wish that Fleming had remembered to recommend him for the role of Dr No. His weapon of choice is also more than memorable.  A gun in several innocent parts. The next time you're in an office and fiddling with your pen and cufflinks you'll wish they were golden.

I want one, you know you do too

James Bond will return as Roger Moore attempts to better Connery's Jacques Cousteau impression.