Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1999)


19. The World is Not Enough

Pierce Brosnan had two successful runs as Bond under his belt. In 1999, his third go-around as the secret agent rolled onto movie screens. Peter Jackson and Joe Dante, who probably would have made very interesting films, were considered to direct. Michael Apted, director of “Nell” and “Gorillas in the Mist,” eventually got the job. Apted’s choice would start the tradition of directors better known for prestige dramas handling the Bond sequels. Several titles were considered, from the not-bad (“Dangerously Yours”) to the utterly generic. (“Fire and Ice.”) Eventually the much better “The World is Not Enough,” the Bond family motto as revealed in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” was chosen. The reviews weren’t much better then last time but the box office was great, the movie out-grossing any previous entries into the long running series.

A long-time friend of M's, billionaire oil baron Robert King, is killed at MI-6, his body exploding unexpectedly. A radical terrorist named Renard, unable to feel pain because of a bullet lodged in his brain, is connected to the crime. James Bond is sent to protect King’s daughter Elektra, a former target of Renard and assumed to be a future target too. Bond’s investigation leads him to an oil pipe in Turkey, Elektra’s bed, and a plutonium mine in Kazakhstan. An encounter with Renard leaves his trust in Elektra shaken, the spy uncovering a sinister plot. 

“GoldenEye’s” opening credits worked fairly well but occasionally bumped into camp. The opening for “Tomorrow Never Dies” leaped in full-force. “The World is Not Enough” probably features the best opening of the Brosnan era, even if I still have some reservations about it. The quasi-nude women dancers are present. This time, they are bathed in oil, an impressive image. When not doing that, the dancers form themselves into a rough globe shape, which is less impressive. Still, it’s a pretty good opening. Garbage, a band I like, provides the theme song. Shirley Manson’s vocals are a rough fit for the usual Bond style. However, she adapts nicely, her huskier voice bringing a sensual quality to the lyrics. The music is fairly forgettable though, the song feeling a bit like a B-side.

Over his previous two films, I’ve had a lot of problems with Pierce Brosnan’s take on Bond. His one-liners were lame and his delivery of them were too winking. The romances were one-sided and limp. Though excellent during action scenes, his Bond seemed to lack an inner life. “The World is Not Enough,” for all its flaws, is the first time I’ve really liked Brosnan’s Bond. His physicality remains a high-light, Bond nursing a battered shoulder throughout the entire film. The character is more involved in the plot, figuring out the double-crosses and parsing out the villains’ plan. Most importantly, Brosnan’s Bond seems really pissed off this time. He seems to take the betrayal personally. This brings a visceral quality to his performance, which makes his moments of cold-blooded murder even more impressive. For the first time, Brosnan seems to take the character’s status as a blunt instrument seriously, allowing him to finally rise above the glib action hero he played in the last two films. (The one-liners are still pretty shitty though.)

In the sixties, the James Bond series was the innovator. In the seventies, the franchise desperately chased popular trends. In the eighties, Bond mostly coasted on two decades of good will. In the nineties, each film is seemingly inspired by a hot-button political issue of the day. “GoldenEye” was about the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse. “Tomorrow Never Dies” was about unethical manipulation of the news. “The World is Not Enough” is about, drum please, oil! A few years more and that issue would have been even more relevant. Oil barons are quite a bit scarier then media moguls. However, the topic is just set-dressing for a usual bad guy scheme. Once again, the film’s villain intends to engineer a disaster that will benefit their business and make them filthy rich, at the cost of thousands of lives. This is, by my count, the fourth time the series has used that plot. It’s really making me miss the genocidal super-maniacs of the seventies.

The role of the film’s traditional Bond villain is filled by Renard. The character has a potentially fascinating gimmick. He’s an anarchist terrorist who, during a previous run-in with MI-6, got a bullet in the head. The bullet will kill him eventually but, for the time being, it has made him unable to feel pain. That’s right, “The World is Not Enough” could have been James Bond vs. Darkman. However, the movie mostly squanders Renard’s excellent quirk. His inability to feel pain rarely comes up. He even winces during the fight scenes, suggesting he can still feel a lot. The movie doesn’t even make much of his status as a man with nothing to loose. In the end, he’s just another brawny henchman for Bond to punch. Robert Carlyle had already played terrifying psychopaths in “Trainspotting” and “Ravenous.” So he’s well cast, even if the script doesn’t give him as much to do as those movies did.

The most interesting thing about “The World is Not Enough” is that its main Bond Girl and its main Bond Villain are actually the same character. Elektra King is first introduced as the traumatized victim of a vicious kidnapping. When Bond meets her, she is a strong businesswoman, determined to keep the social peace while pushing the company ahead. Though sent to protect her, Bond naturally sleeps with her. The two share real romantic chemistry, with King’s traumatic history making her a more complex character. However, turns out, she’s the bad guy, the mastermind behind the evil plot. In a surprising turn of events, she has been manipulating Bond all along. Sophie Marceau is equally adapt at playing a innocent victim, a purring sex kitten, and a sociopathic villainess. And she looks great while doing it.

As Elektra slides into the villain role, the movie has a more traditional Bond girl waiting in the wings. And that’s another major problem with “The World is Not Enough.” Denise Richards’ casting as Christmas Jones the nuclear scientist has been widely, rightly mocked. Richards has the body of a porn star which wouldn’t necessary be a problem if she didn’t have the delivery of a porn star too. Her line-readings are flat and disinterested. She doesn’t come off as a knowledgeable scientist. Instead, she acts like a petulant teenage girl. This is most obvious during her initial interaction with Bond. Her contribution to the plot is limited. The character is mostly a minor thought in the second half of the film. Compared to the electrifying Marceau, Richards sinks like a stone.

If nothing else, the Brosnan era of Bond is still full of great action scenes. The opening is devoted to a long boat chase over the river Thames. Bond, driving an experimental, rocket-powered jet-ski, dives under bridges and leaps over streets. The conclusion to that opening, with Bond dangling from a hot air balloon, is great as well. Because every 007 deserves one, there’s a snow-bound skiing scene. The villain pursue our hero in parachuting snow-mobiles, a neat idea. Renard locks Bond in a mine shaft about to explode. This forces a rushed escape, which builds some decent suspense and has a nicely exciting conclusion. Early on, Bond sees a helicopter equipped with a giant saw blade. As you’d expect, this same device is used against him later. The copters chase the spy around a dock, leading into some dynamic leaping, running, and igniting gas veins. It’s not exceptional stuff but it’s all decently entertaining stuff.

“The World is Not Enough” essentially features two climaxes, one far more compelling then the other. Bond is captured, as he is in every movie. For the first time in a while, he’s tortured too. King ties the spy into an execution-style garrotte. As she turns the crank, Bond seems in genuine pain, the character’s life in actual danger. All the while, Elektra mocks him. Once he escapes, he gives the femme fatale an especially brutal send-off. This is the true climax of “The World is Not Enough,” the film’s best aspects coming to a head. However, the master plan still has to be decimated. So Bond battles Renard inside a sinking submarine, the second time in a row the final fight has taken place over water. Having the sub sink, forcing both the hero and the villain to climb up the walls, is a nice touch and makes for a mildly creative fight scene. However, Renard is not as interesting a threat as King. The plot of nuclear detonation is not as directly concerning as Bond’s neck in a vice.

The use of gadgets is less prominent here then in “Tomorrow Never Dies.” In the first scene, Bond detonates a bomb via a switch in a pair of glasses. His watch shoots a grappling hook, that isn’t much help. An inflatable globe protects the agent from an avalanche, probably the silliest device in the film. The most visible gadget is, yet again, the cool car. Once more, it’s a BMW. This time it features a fold-out missile launcher, an admittedly cool touch. “The World is Not Enough” would be the final Bond film for Desmond Llewelyn, who sadly died in a car wreck not long after the movie was released. Fortuitously, the film includes a farewell to Llewelyn. He trades some barbs with Bond for the last time before disappearing down a secret passageway. It’s a fitting tribute to an actor who has been with the series since nearly the beginning, outlasting four Bonds, and always being a joy to watch.

The movie also introduces Q’s replacement. You’d think John Cleese’s introduction to the series would be a positive, considering the actor is usually charming in most anything. Disappointingly, Cleese is in clown mode, prat-falling around the lab and not setting himself up as a promising replacement for Llewelyn. It’s not the only ridiculous scene in the film. Brosnan and Richards slide down a oil pipe, connecting with a bomb also in the pipe. There’s no sense of speed in this scene. It’s apparent the actors are on a green screen, the scene filling fake and weightless. Robbie Coltrane returning as Valentin Zukovsky is actually a plus. He helps Bond out in a key scene and it’s nice to see the actor again. However, Coltrane running from CGI saw blades or swimming in a pool of caviar are not welcome sights.

So “The World is Not Enough” is an uneven affair. In its favor, Brosnan has finally started to grow on me as Bond. The action remains strong. The main villain is fascinating. Against it is a routine plot. The secondary villain wastes his potential. The main love interest is a total wash. Most of the attempts at comic relief are embarrassing. It’s an improvement over “Tomorrow Never Dies” but just barely. Both films feature many of the same problems. When compared, both are also fairly forgettable. [Grade: C+]

THE 007 SEVEN:

[] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1997)


18. Tomorrow Never Dies

“GoldenEye” was a great success, reestablishing James Bond as a blockbuster film franchise. A sequel was immediately demanded. Because that always works out so well, the eighteenth James Bond movie was rushed into production. Filming started without a completed script. There were last minute re-castings, with Anthony Hopkins bolting from the part of the villain just before production began. The title, originally “Tomorrow Never Lies,” was changed by one letter because of a faxing typo. Even the score and title songs were delivered late. The resulting film still made boco box office, though less then its predecessor. It also set an unfortunate precedence for Pierce Brosnan’s run at Bond: Forgettable, mediocre sequels.

007 interrupts an illegal terrorist arms swap in his usual explosive fashion. In the chaos, a notorious hacker escapes with a top secret encoder device. Elliot Carver, a media mogul about to launch a 24-hour news service, uses the encoder to force an attack on the British Navy by Red Chinese forces. Carver’s plan is for tensions to escalate between the two superpowers. The reasoning?: So he can have exclusive broadcasting rights to China, who have previously blocked his contract. Carver, however, fucks up a small detail, releasing unknown details about the attack in one of his newspapers. This gives MI-6 and Bond the hint they need. James investigates Carver, uncovers his crazy plan, and, with the help of a sexy Chinese agent, attempts to stop it.

Maurice Binder’s classic Bond openings were dated in their own way yet maintain a sense of classical, stylish cool. Alternatively, the opening credits for “Tomorrow Never Dies” are immediately dated. The expected sexy women dance inside and around x-ray images of weapons and bullets. Meanwhile, the layered surface of a computer motherboard raise around female dancers. There’s even some images of diamonds floating around the earth. The opening credits have always had a somewhat tenuous connection to the main film. Here, the images seem especially unrelated, while also revealing some of the obsession of 1997. The accompanying song by Sheryl Crow is… Okay. The music builds to a decent pitch. The lyrics explicitly call out Bond, which is fine. Crow’s delivery isn’t bad, with a certain cool, sensual style. However, the opening theme pales in comparison to k. d. lang’s “Surrender,” which plays over the end credits. Lang’s song is all you could ask for from a modern Bond song while keeping the classic style. It’s bombastic, powerful, catchy, and related to the film’s themes. I have no idea why it was passed over.

“GoldenEye’s” stab at relevancy was examining an old spy like Bond’s role in a post-Cold War world. “Tomorrow Never Dies” makes a similar attempt at up-to-date relevancy. The film was originally going to be about the pass over of Hong Kong back to China. Fearful this would immediately date the film, a change in subject was made. In 1996, both the Fox News Channel and MSNBC launched, both becoming controversial for their political bias. Similarly, technology moguls like Bill Gates were becoming hugely popular. So what if James Bond fought a (more) evil version of Rupert Murdoch? One who decided to take William Randolph Hurst’s philosophies even further? That media mogul ranks below even microchip manufacturer for intimidating bad guys never seemed to occur to anyone.

What of Pierce Brosnan’s sophomore run as James Bond? Let’s acknowledge something right up front: Brosnan sucks at one-liners. Pithy comments that Sean Connery or Roger Moore would have spun into gold become groaners. It doesn’t help that the best ones the script can come up with involve being a cunning linguist, backseat drivers, and people loosing their shirts. As a romantic lead, Brosnan continues to underwhelm. He never seems to have much chemistry with his female co-stars. There’s always something calculated or cloying about his love scenes. What Brosnan does excel at is being an action hero. His fight scenes are even more brutal then before. Brosnan beats enemies with lamps, tosses people through windows, and generally murders the fuck out of lots of bad guys. Moreover, when emphasizing Bond’s status as a cold-blooded killing machine, Brosnan truly impresses. The best example of this is when he coldly executes an attempted assassin. Basically, Pierce Brosnan is trying to be Roger Moore when he should be trying to be Sean Connery.

“Tomorrow Never Dies” also features the lamest Bond villain this side of Bambi and Thumper. The idea of an evil media mogul is not a terrible one. It’s not difficult to imagine Murdoch or Ted Turner instigating a global conflict, strictly for selfish reasons. However, the exact motivation behind Elliot Carver’s actions are laughable. Why does he want to start a war with China? Because they denied his news station access to the country. Couldn’t he have just been a war profiteer? Jonathan Pryce goes way over the top in the part, grinning, mincing, and preening like an evil peacock. His main henchman, a blonde German named Stamper, ranks far below similar henchmen like Hans, Necros, and Erich Kriegler. His informed ability of Chakra torture is brought up exactly once. And then there’s the bizarre casting of tubby, mature Ricky Jay as a computer hacker.

The villains might be a lame lot. “Tomorrow Never Dies” makes up for it by featuring a fantastic Bond girl. The film’s focus on Asia and martial arts was probably influenced by the mid-nineties explosion of popularity in Hong Kong action stars like Jackie Chan. Or Michelle Yeoh, who plays Wai Lin. Lin is a bad ass Chinese secret agent, in many ways Bond’s Asian equivalent. She rocks a leather catsuit, walks down a wall with a grappling hook, and sneaks throwing stars into her boot. Yeoh is so bad ass that the movie is not afraid to give her a stand-alone action scene. When ambushed in a bicycle shop, she throws metal rims, leaps around ladders, and kicks the living shit out of her adversaries. This is the most lively sequence in the film and it’s no wonder why. Yeoh is magnetic, goes toe-to-toe with Brosnan, and nearly outmatches him. And Yeoh looks fantastic while doing all of it. (The film’s secondary Bond girl, Teri Hatcher’s Paris Carver, can’t compare. Hatcher reportedly didn’t get along with Brosnan and didn’t like the script. Her displeasure shines through in the character’s bitchy demeanor and her distant performance.)

Another aspect that allows “Tomorrow Never Dies” to raise above its mediocre script is its action sequences. The opening scene features Bond sneaking into an airplane, taking out lots of bad guys with the jet’s machine guns. When the co-pilot wakes up, it nearly goes very wrong for the agent. After sneaking into one of Carver’s buildings, Bond has to grapple with some guards, tossing one into a printing press. The highlight of the film is an extended vehicle chase through the streets of rural China. Bond is handcuffed to Wai Lin as the two leap onto a motorcycle. They fight over the steering wheel, positioning around each other. A helicopter takes chase, circling around the town. The most impressive stunt here is when the bike jumps over the copter’s twirling blades. There’s other fun stuff, like a run over crumbling wooden stairs. Or the conclusion of the scene, where the bike slides under the helicopter, tossing a chain into its rotor. It’s ridiculous but fairly amusing.

Brosnan’s run as Bond continues to heavily feature gadgetry. This time, Q hands Bond two main devices. The first is a cell phone, which looks hilarious dated today, that also functions as a code breaker, a taser, and a keyboard. If that one seemed outlandish back in the day, imagine what the world made of a talking, remote starting car! In all seriousness, that car leads to another great action scene. It’s a tense run through a parking garage. Bond huddles in the backseat, steering with the phone’s remote control, bullets whizzing overhead. He blasts through walls with the car’s build-in missiles, dissuades pursuers by dropping razors, and cuts through a rope with a well-placed saw blade. My favorite moment here occurs when a missile is shot at the car and harmlessly passes through the busted-out windows. It makes up for Bond’s cool car playing a small role in the last film.

For the finale, Bond and Wai Lin sneak onto Carver’s admittedly pretty cool stealth war ship. Once again, the best action belongs to Yeoh. Recalling her Hong Kong days, the actress leaps through the air whilst firing two machine guns. She sneaks around, kills a guy with a throwing star, and is generally a total bad ass. Disappointingly, the movie nerfs her abilities by having the villain take her capture at the very end. Brosnan gets in a few moments though. He stuffs a grenade in a jar, a mildly clever plan. He takes over a missile launcher, firing it inside the boat. Generally, he tumbles around and blows away villains, in the style typical of nineties action flicks. What good will the generates in these moments is squandered when it comes time to kill Carver. Bond delivers an especially baffling one-liner (“Give the people what they want?”) and pushes the guy in the path of a drill missile. Yet the way it’s shot makes it look like Pryce had plenty of oppretunity to escape the slow-moving drill’s path.

“Tomorrow Never Dies” also features some campy, silly moments mostly unrelated to the rest of the film. Bond is stopped in his Paris hotel room by an assassin played by Vincent Schiavelli. Schiavelli speaks with a ridiculous accent, boasts about his ability, and generally contributes nothing to the plot. Why was that scene in the movie? A stunt that was heavily advertised has Brosnan and Yeoh slowing their fall from a building by grabbing a giant poster. Though cool in concept, the scene plays awkwardly in real life. Lastly, the random bike shop Yeoh wanders into turns out to be a secret base. With the press of a button, the walls turn around to reveal computers and weapon caches. It’s silly.

The Bond series is no stranger to product placement. These days, it practically relies on it. However, “Tomorrow Never Dies” is the first time it’s become distracting. Bond’s tricked-out car is a BMW, a fact that film repeatedly draws attention too. A mook falls into a crate of Heineken beers, at one point. A secret compartment is full of name-brand watches. Bond has used a Walther PPK for years. The movie notably upgrades him to the Walther P-99. Why? Because the gun’s manufacturer wanted to push their new product!

“Tomorrow Never Dies” is a disappointing follow-up to “GoldenEye.” Brosnan is still finding his footing, the villain is unimpressive, the plot is weak, and the film is hampered by some baffling moments. Only Yeoh’s dynamite presence and some well-executed action scenes saves it. The producers were seemingly aware of this because a solo series revolving around Wai Lin was briefly considered. Like all plans to spin a Bond girl off into her own adventures, this never came to fruition. Which is a shame cause I’d totally watch that. As it is, the eighteenth James Bond adventure is middling and forgettable. [Grade: C+]

THE 007 SEVEN:

[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

Monday, March 23, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1995)


17. GoldenEye

Following the underwhelming box office receipts for “Licence to Kill,” James Bond was caught up in a tidal wave of legal disputes between MGM/United Artists and the series’ rights-owners. The ensuing lawsuits would hold the franchise up for six years. In the interim, many of the series’ behind-the-scenes faces would pass away. The Cold War would end, robbing Bond of his adversary. The films had burned through more-or-less all of Ian Fleming’s material. Most pressingly, Timothy Dalton, despite being contracted for an adaptation of “The Property of a Lady,” would cut his tenure short and resign from the part. When the James Bond franchise finally reemerged in 1995, many things had changed. The character had a new face, a new production team, and was facing a new decade. The result, “GoldenEye,” would become a huge success, reinventing the agent for a new generation, and reestablish Bond’s pop culture supremacy. But does it hold up?

Back in the waning days of the Cold War, James left a fellow double-0 agent to die while raiding a Soviet lab. Nine years later, the spy is treated like an artifact of a bygone age. Meanwhile, the control card for a thought-lost Russian superweapon, an EMP-firing satellite named GoldenEye, is stolen. Sent to investigate, Bond discovers a mysterious woman, a stolen helicopter, and a crime boss known as Janus. Janus, Bond finds out, is Alec Trevelyan 006, the agent he abandoned years before. Teaming up with a female computer programmer, 007 must stop Trevelyan’s plan to use GoldenEye to cripple the world’s economy.

Without Maurice Binder, James Bond had to find someone new to design the opening credits sequence. Enter Daniel Kleinman. Kleinman maintains many of Binder’s famous trademarks. The silhouetted nude women and prominent placement for Bond’s gun are retained. Kleinman moves the opening credits into a less-arty, more music-video-style direction. Bond and his female companions walk around sickles while hammers fall around them. Meanwhile, female dancers hammer away at the symbols of Communism. It’s all pretty cool stuff, save for the image of a gun emerging from a two-faced woman’s mouth. That’s more bizarre then neat. Though the title song was composed by Bono and the Edge of U2, it is sung by Tina Turner. Turner’s sensual, purring, but powerful vocals make her a logical heir to Shirley Bassey’s throne. The lyrics, which seem to equally reference the film’s love interest, villain, and titular superweapon, are well chosen. The theme song is one of the series’ best and an instant classic.

Pierce Brosnan nearly took over the role of Bond back in 1987. With Dalton’s premature retirement, he was a natural choice to assume the mantle. I’ll be honest and say Brosnan is probably my least favorite actor to play the spy. Though he was the Bond of my childhood, I’ve always found his take on the part indistinct and sort of bland. Looking at his debut now, Brosnan does some interesting things. He brings a lot of humor to the part but is more self-aware then Roger Moore, always pairing his one-liners with a smirk. He’s not above the roughness of Connery or Dalton, judo-chopping at least one woman. He’s more physical and dynamically violent then either of the previous Bonds. Occasionally, he will give us a peak at the character’s interior life. His disregard for his love interests, violent history, and cold-blooded nature are touched upon. Briefly. Brosnan’s Bond is mostly a man of action and pop-corn amusement. In that mold, he does fine.

“GoldenEye” is the first post-Cold War Bond film and it’s all too aware of that status. Instead of ignoring the issue, the film embraces this idea. The fallout of the Cold War’s end informs the entire story. Bond’s status as a product of the Cold War is repeatedly brought up. M calls him a “dinosaur.” Meanwhile, Bond’s adversary is a hold-out from Soviet days, an agent much like Bond that has been soured by his service. The doomsday device that threatens the world originates from Communism’s heyday and is similarly driven by a general not eager to abandon the old ways. Though the war is over, old rivalries die hard. A short but important scene revolves around Bond arguing with the Russian defense minister. They should trust each other but they can’t. The world has changed but the heroes and villains are slow to catch up.

It’s also worth noting that “GoldenEye” attempts to reinvent the decades old series for the 1990s. “GoldenEye” features several signifiers that definitively place it as a product of 1995. Computer hackers play a prominent role in the story. But it’s the Hollywood version of hacking that is still mocked today, full of ridiculous interfaces and instantaneous programming. The action scenes are highly reminiscent of what was popular at the time. The bright muzzle flashes, chaotic shoot-outs, and highly choreographed action scenes all belong to that specific time and place. Then there’s the matter of the film’s musical score. Eric Serra’s electronic score sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s too soft and smooth, while also being too modern and computerized. It reminds me way too much of Yanni. Serra’s version of the classic Bond theme plays over the gun barrel sequence and it is seriously off-putting. It’s so off-putting that it's subbed out later in the film for a more traditional take on the material, which the audience welcomes.

Though definitely dated and with a less introspective lead actor, “GoldenEye” is still a pretty great Bond movie. One of the main reasons why is its awesome villain. The film had the novel idea of making the bad guy a dark mirror of the hero. Sean Bean, a one-time candidate for 007 himself, instead plays 006, Bond’s brother in arms. However, Alec Trevelyan has a dark history. He’s the child of Russian Cossacks, sent to their deaths by the British Government, and still holds a grudge against the crown for those reasons. He also has a personal grudge against Bond, blaming him for his near-death experience that left him with a typically Fleming-esque scarred face. Yet Trevelyan is partially motivated by greed, as he plans to rob the top banks in the world before wiping their records with the GoldenEye device. Though his master plan isn’t much different then that of your usual Bond villain, his motivation is more personal and complicated. Sean Bean is great in the part, packing the dialogue with as much venom as possible while arguably being cooler then Brosnan.

Izabella Scorupco plays Natalya Simonova, Bond’s primary girlfriend throughout the story. Simonova helps the agent out more then once, her computing skills coming in handy several times. The film focuses heavily on Bond’s romance with her, the two having several love scenes together. Scorupco is gorgeous and gets to show off in a white dress. She’s likable enough though the character’s ‘tude is sometimes forced and off-putting. More compelling is Xenia Onatopp, played by Dutch model and future Jean Grey Famke Janssen. The cheekily named Onatopp is Trevelyan’s main henchwoman. The character is an almost literal femme fatale, crushing her male lovers to death between her powerful thighs. More importantly, she’s sexually aroused by murder and causing pain, Janssen groaning in orgasmic glee while machine gunning innocent victims. That’s certainly an unforgettable scene and Janssen’s performance is fantastically over-the-top. It’s great to see a bad guy equal to Bond in a capacity for violence and sexual appetite. It’s even more refreshing that she’s a woman.

As an action movie, “GoldenEye” finds a nice balance between the comic book theatrics of the Roger Moore era and the grittier action of Timothy Dalton’s tenure. The opening even one-ups “The Spy Who Loved Me’s” opening. This time, Bond jumps a motorcycle off a cliff and free falls into the cockpit of a falling plane, grabbing the controls just before it crashes into the mountainside. Immediately afterwards, the Soviet base bursts into flames behind him. The stand-out action scene is smack-dab in the middle of the film. Bond and Natalya escape a Russian records facility. Bond slides around corners, gunning down goons with a machine gun. He races through the records room, barely avoiding bullets fire up through the grate flooring. “GoldenEye” was offered to John Woo and, with its creative shooting sequences, seems to have been influenced by the Hong Kong action auteur. The movie builds on this scene by having Bond jump in a fucking tank and chase his enemies through the streets of St. Petersberg. The scene is funny, when the statue of an angel lands atop the tank, but mostly its exciting.

There’s even some suspense. Brosnan’s strength as an action star comes from his willingness to play up his own vulnerability. He seems genuinely worried when trying to escape an about-to-explode helicopter. Refreshingly, his fights with Onatopp are clearly painful for him. You’re not certain the spy can defeat the psychotic sexpot. This is most notable during their final fight in the jungles of Cuba, where we see her spine-crushing technique up close. Even better is when Alec and James face off. The two dangle from the antenna of a massive satellite dish, hundreds of feet above the concrete bottom. The agent dangles from the ladder, wincing in pain, nearly falling when the villain stomps on his fingers. Of course, he wins. But because the enemy has human motivations, we actually feel Alec’s pain when he crashes down on the concrete. Brosnan may be super-cool when seducing the ladies and gunning down mooks. When really threatened though, his Bond sweats.

As this is a new era of Bond, the supporting cast is full of new faces. Most notably, we have a new M. And she’s a woman. Judi Dench’s M would quickly become a mainstay of the series. She’s hard on her best agent, not afraid to call him on his bullshit. Yet she also seems to have an almost-personal connection to him, showing her affection for him through effacing glances or small lines of dialogue. Moneypenny would not play as big of a role in the future of the franchise. Her brief appearance here, as played by Samantha Bond, has the secretary resisting Bond’s charms and pointing out that his treatment of her is technically sexual harassment. It’s socially relevant but not exactly charming. Felix Leiter isn’t in “GoldenEye” but the role that would usually be his is filled by Joe Don Baker’s Jack Wade. That’s right, the same Joe Don that played a villain in “The Living Daylights.” Weirdly, Baker actually works better as an ally of Bond then an adversary. His Wade is folksy, friendly, and amusing, providing some decent comic relief.

There’s one familiar face though. Desmond Llewelyn returns as Q. Llewelyn remains as charming as ever and gets to stretch his comedic chops here more then usual. The film is not super-focused on the gadgets but does feature a few cool ones. Most prominent is a pen that doubles as a bomb. This provides some decent suspense in the last act, after it falls into a bad guy’s hand. Bond, naturally, uses the device to destroy the evil doer’s lair. There’s also a belt that doubles as a grappling hook, which gets one notable use. Bond is given a cool car, a tricked-out BMW. Weirdly, we never see the car in action, it’s use mostly limited to a brief driving scene.

“GoldenEye” has a tight script, a fascinating villain, a fantastic main henchman, and features some great action. Brosnan, though he’ll never be my favorite Bond, adapts to the part nicely. The film proved that the long-in-the-tooth series could still be successful in the nineties, reinventing the character for kids who didn’t even know who George Lazenby was. The film usually comes in near the top on any best-of lists and it’s no wonder why. It also, of course, spawn a video game that everyone I ever went to school with played at least a hundred times. [Grade: B+]

THE 007 SEVEN:

[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1989)


16. Licence to Kill

“The Living Daylights” was fairly well received, making money at the box office and winning positive notices from critics and fans. It would appear that Timothy Dalton was on his way. Work immediately started on the next James Bond movie. The film would maintain the serious, grounded approach “The Living Daylights” took, with Bond taking on the then-topical threat of Colombian drug lords and Mesa-American dictators. Production, as it seemingly always is, was fraught. A writer’s strike hit in the middle of production. Poor reception to the working title of “Licence Revoked” forced a last minute switch to “Licence to Kill.” The film proved to be the end of an era in a number of ways. It would be the last Bond film for Timothy Dalton, Robert Brown’s M, Caroline Bliss’ Moneypenny, producer Albert Broccoli, title designer Maurice Binder, director John Glen, and writer Richard Maibaum.

“Licence to Kill” opens with James Bond during happier times. Felix Leiter is getting married and Bond is the best man. The wedding ceremony is interrupted when a Central American drug lord, Franz Sanchez, suddenly enters the country, forcing Leiter and Bond to team up to capture the guy. Sanchez doesn’t stay behind bars for very long, escaping via bribes. He murders Leiter’s wife and feeds the American agent’s leg to a shark. Enraged, 007 embarks on a quest of revenge against the drug lord. This is against the direct orders of M and MI-6, making Bond a rogue agent, infiltrating Sanchez’ drug empire and teaming up with an American agent.

As previously mentioned, Maurice Binder would pass two years after “Licence to Kill.” As his final James Bond title sequence, Binder’s work here isn’t bad. The relative low-key style seen on “The Living Daylights” continues. The titles incorporate cameras, casinos, and watery elements, in keeping with the film. The trademark silhouettes are downplayed in favor of fully visible women dancing in skimpy outfits. Cross-hairs and Bond’s trademark numbers flash over the images. It’s not the best thing Maurice Binder has done for the series but it’s not a bad swansong. When I first heard Gladys Knight’s theme song, I didn’t care for it. After the excellent pop song openings for the last two films, Knight’s R&B style seems like a backslide. The lyrics are nothing to write home about. The melody, which heavily samples Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” isn’t particularly memorable. However, the song has grown on me after multiple listens. Knight’s delivery is good and the song does have the classic Bond theme flavor.

“The Living Daylights” brought a sense of realism back to the Bond series after the extravagance of the Roger Moore years. “Licence to Kill” pushes the franchise into even darker, grittier direction. Bond isn’t fighting for queen and country. Instead, he’s working alone, going on a quest of personal revenge. The anger Timothy Dalton showed last time comes to the forefront here. Dalton is pissed-off and violent, reaping righteous vengeance against those who harmed his friends. Bond hasn’t been this focused and cold-blooded since the sixties. He outright ignores his boss this time, defying M’s orders. There’s no outrageous villains or plans for worldwide domination. Instead, Bond is up against a drug cartel who viciously execute their enemies. It’s an entirely different tone for the series, recalling the crime thrillers and darker action movies that were popular at the time.

That shift in tone is reflected in the film’s content. “Licence to Kill” is the bloodiest Bond movie in the series’ history. The machine gun fire tears bloody holes in the bodies of goons, along with knives and spear guns. Felix Leiter’s dismemberment via shark is shown in full detail, the bloody leg floating in the water. Bond returns the favor, feeding the dirty cop to the same shark. The bloodiest fate are reserved for the bad guy’s top henchman. One is tossed inside a decompression chamber, his head literally exploding on-screen. Another is dropped into a rock grinder, his face writhing in agony as he’s torn asunder. “Licence to Kill” was the first Bond film to receive a PG-13 rating. That it didn’t receive an R is even more surprising.

Despite its grittier plot and bloodier content, “Licence to Kill” doesn’t sacrifice the opulence the series is known for. A lengthy section of the film has Bond at a black jack table in a casino, wearing his tux and ordering a martini. Not longer after that, he’s ambushed by actual ninjas. He attempts to fight off the fighters but is captured, as is series tradition. This is revealed to be a cover, as the ninjas are actually working against the drug cartel. The bad guys hunt them down soon afterwards. The shadow warriors prove to be no match for tanks and machine guns. Going from goofy ninja action to violent machine gun murder makes for quite a tonal shift. “Licence to Kill” works great as a revenge thriller but it doesn’t always blend well with the traditional Bond elements.

In keeping with the darker tone, the film features the nastiest Bond villain seen in quite some time. Robert Davi, an Italian-American, plays the drug lord Sanchez. Davi plays Sanchez as a ruthless businessman, willing to murder anyone who gets in his way. His methods are brutal and his delivery is sadistic. Even his girlfriend isn’t safe from his wrath. After discovering her infidelity, he brutally whips her with a stingray’s tail, an element taken from the Ian Fleming story “The Hildebrand Rarity.” About the only things Sanchez seems to truly enjoy is money and his pet iguana. Davi, a character actor capable of steely intensity, is well cast in the part. Assisting Sanchez is his henchman, Dario, played by a very young Benicio del Toro. Dario is as sadistic as his boss, gleefully cutting out a man’s heart and cackling at Bond’s torture. del Toro also brings some of his trademark eccentricity to the part, making Dario a memorable Bond henchman.

“Licence to Kill” only features two Bond girls. The first we see is Lupe, Sanchez’ ill-fated mistresses. Talisa Soto is lovely in the part, dripping with sensual charm. She’s vulnerable enough to buy as a victim but still can’t resist Bond’s masculine wiles. Bond’s main sidekick in the film is Pam Bouvier. First appearing hiding a shotgun under a table, Pam is a capable agent in her own right. Thanks to a bullet proof vest, she even survives getting shot. She sneaks into the villain’s lair, pulls a gun from her garter, and assist Bond by swooping in with a plane. However, Bouvier also becomes jealous of Bond’s other dalliances, which makes her seem kind of petty. Recalling the days of Sean Connery, Dalton also manhandles her, throwing her on a bed and slapping her around. Both of these elements undermine her strengths as a character. Carey Lowell is likable enough in the part, and looks amazing in a white one-piece swimsuit, but isn’t the most memorable Bond girl.

The film may have a less outlandish story but it doesn’t skimp on the Bond-level action. The opening stunt, which features Bond grappling down from a plane onto another plane, is an impressive start. One of the best sequences in the film revolves around Bond sneaking onto the bad guy’s boat. After some fisticuffs and spear gun murder, he heads back into the ocean. This is a nice throwback to “Thunderball” and numerous other underwater adventures the agent has had. The film takes it even further, the spy dragged behind a moving airplane, sneaking on-board, and tossing the pilots out. A brawl in a barroom features creative use of a mounted sword fish, one of the few bits of comic relief in the movie.

The movie breaks from tradition in one way. 007 infiltrates the bad guy’s lair, his secret drug lab. He successfully destroys the place, improvising a bomb that starts a huge fire. However, since Bond went rogue, there’s no back-up from the army. He has to escape the villain’s lair and survive a small army of goons all by himself. The film’s true climax is an extended vehicle chase, involving tanker trucks. The sequence is tense enough, with Bond leaping between moving vehicles and pushing drivers out. A silly moment that is nevertheless amusing is when Bond gets the truck on one set of wheels, avoiding a launched rocket. Some gratuitously large explosion are thrown in as well. In keeping with the film’s violent tone, the main villain gets an especially brutal send-off.

Surprisingly, considering the grounded plot, the gadgets don’t get the boot. In actuality, Desmond Llewelyn’s Q is a major supporting character. He gifts Bond a case full of gadgets, like an exploding alarm clock, a tube of toothpaste full of plastic explosives, a camera/sniper rifle combo, and another camera that shoots lasers. Q proves his worth as a field agent here, helping 007 out multiple times. Llewelyn was getting up there in age but he seems lively and energized, having a lot of fun. Interestingly, the coolest gadget in the film isn’t provided by Q. Instead, it’s a lighter that produces a ridiculously huge flame, a wedding gift from Felix.

The strangest part of “Licence to Kill” is the small role from Wayne Newton, of all people. Newton plays a new age religion guru who raises money via televised charity events. This is, in actuality, a cover for Sanchez’ drug empire, another way for him to raise funds. Newton’s temple-style resort is also a cover for the villain’s drug factory. It’s an interesting subplot, one designed to criticize both new age religion and televangelists, two hot targets of the time. It’s an interesting idea though I’m not sure what it’s doing in a James Bond movie, much less one as serious as “Licence to Kill.”

After marathoning all the previous James Bond movies, “Licence to Kill’s” drastic difference in tone is refreshing. It feels less like a Bond movie and more like a violent crime picture, a damn good one too. Dalton was criticized at the time for his rage-driven take on the character, the same thing Daniel Craig would be praised for a decade and a half later. “Licence to Kill” was unlucky enough to open the same summer as “Batman,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and several other modern blockbusters. Bond got lost in the crowd, “Licence to Kill” bringing in noticeably less money then expected. This, combined with some legal issues and the deaths mentioned above, would force Timothy Dalton’s Bond into early retirement and send the series on a six year hiatus. This is a shame since Dalton’s Bond is one of my favorite. I consider myself a big fan of his contributions to the 007 legacy. [Grade: B+]

THE 007 SEVEN:

[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[X] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1987)


15. The Living Daylights

The time had come to cast a new actor as James Bond. Roger Moore’s long-lasting tenure as the character was up. As always, many actors were considered and auditioned. Sam Neill reportedly gave an impressive audition, future Bond Pierce Brosnan nearly won the role, and names as varied as Lambert Wilson, Christopher Lambert, and Mel Gibson were thrown around. In the end, the part went to an actor who had been considered before. Timothy Dalton passed on the part back in the seventies, saying he was too young at the time. Finally accepting the part, Dalton and his premiere film, “The Living Daylights,” were critically well-liked and successful at the box office. These days, Dalton and his short-loved run as James Bond tend to be overlooked. This is unfair as Dalton makes a great impression and “The Living Daylights” is the best Bond film in quite some time.

James Bond is sent to protect a Soviet defector, Koskov, from a potential assassin. Bond saves the guy but, after seeing the sniper is a beautiful woman, he doesn’t kill her. Koskov is stolen back by the Soviets during an attack on MI-6 headquarters. At least, that’s what it looks like. Instead, Koskow is working with an American arms-dealer named Whitaker. The duo plan on playing Bond against their Soviet boss, resulting in easier business for both of them. 007, smelling a rat, teams up with Koskov’s girlfriend, a cellist and the assassin he didn’t shoot. The two work together to unravel the scheme and take out the trash.

“A View to a Kill” had a break-out pop hit with its theme song. In hopes of recreating that success, a similar pop group was recruited to sing “The Living Daylight’s” titular song. A-ha is widely mocked as a one-hit wonder, at least in America. Their Bond theme is powered by marching synth and brooding vocals. The tone of the song is paranoid, which fits the darker style of the film. It’s a solid Bond theme and a likable pop number. As for Maurice Binder’s opening sequence, it’s simple but effective. Mostly, women in frilly dresses and long gloves pose with guns. However, the images are paired up perfectly with the music, making for a memorable opening.

Timothy Dalton tends to be a whipping boy among certain parts of the fandom. After seven films with the campy Roger Moore, Dalton’s more introspective take on the character rubbed some the wrong way. Timothy Dalton’s James Bond is indeed darker then Moore. He’s tougher with his enemies and prone to anger and outrage. He bristles under the command of his bosses, frequently favoring his own instincts over his orders. However, referring to Dalton’s Bond as just the “dark/brooding” one oversimplifies his abilities. Dalton actually, successfully, combines aspects of all the past Bonds. He’s serious about his work and willing to kill in cold blood, like Sean Connery. He’s also a romantic lead, charming the ladies in a very sincere way, much like George Lazenby. Dalton delivers one-liners worthy of Roger Moore, though they’re in a different, deadpan style. Yet he makes the part his own. These aspects combine to make Timothy Dalton a personal favorite of mine and the most underrated actor to play Bond. He also looks the part, with his heroic facial features, dark eyes, and mysterious good looks.

Dalton’s more intense approach to the character isn’t the only different about “The Living Daylights.” The film returns to the down-to-earth tone last seen in “For Your Eyes Only.” It is a serious Cold War thriller, full of actual spying and double-crossing. MI-6 is set up by the villains, being used by the bad guys to wrap up their loose ends. Bond, after the proper amount of investigation, discovers this subterfuge. Teaming up with the Soviet general Pushkin, he turns the table on his betrayers, tricking them into thinking he exterminated their target. It’s a nice touch that “The Living Daylights” features the British and the Soviets working together to defeat villains who profit off of war.

In another break from tradition, Bond only romances one woman throughout most of “The Living Daylights.” Kara Milovy is a true innocent being manipulated by her scumbag boyfriend. Bond is manipulating her at first too, pretending to be a friend of Koskov as to get closer to the girl. However, real sparks fly between the two. When it becomes apparent that Koskov has no attachment to her, Kara falls into Bond’s arm. In the last third, she even endeavors to save his life. The romantic relationship forms the backbone of “The Living Daylights.” Timothy Dalton has fantastic chemistry with Maryam d’Abo. The romantic encounters the two have, mainly a montage set in a carnival, are genuinely charming. You really want to see these two lovebirds run off together. d’Abo is pitch perfect in the part, being immediately likable but capable of hidden strength. It doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful too.

A real weakness of “The Living Daylights” is that it doesn’t have a single strong villain. Instead, the film splits the bad guy’s operation among three different characters. Jeroen Krabbe plays Koskov, the cowardly general who motivates the plot. Krabbe plays the character almost for comedy as a simpering weasel only interested in the bottom dollar. Though Krabbe is appropriately despicable, he doesn’t make for the most entertaining villain. His henchman Necros provides the film’s physical threat. Andreas Wisniewski shares a stern, Aryan appearance with many other Bond henchman. Necros, however, is especially brutal, strangling his targets with headphone cords. Though his ice cold expression don’t show it, he clearly enjoys taking out his targets. The mastermind behind the film’s plot is Brad Whitaker, the weapons dealer. Joe Don Baker would probably never be anyone’s first choice for a Bond villain. Yet Baker is weirdly well-cast as the all-American-gone-wrong Whitaker, obsessed with military history but with his own disreputable service record. He’s smug but desperate, motivated mostly by greed and his own inflated sense of ego. He’s the right villain for this sort of film.

Though “The Living Daylights” deviates from the expected Bond formula in many ways, it makes one serious correction. It brings back the Aston Martin. This time, 007 gets behind the wheel of the V8 Vantage. It’s outfitted with a number of weapons, like wheel-mounted lasers, hidden missile launchers, and a self-destruct switch that blows up real good. The chase takes place over the snowy country side, Bond outmatching the pursuing agents with his bitching set of wheels. A great moment comes when the car drives on to an iced-over lake. He looses a tire but cuts open the ice with the edge of the rim. Later, some smartly deployed skis and ice spikes lets the chase continues. Even after leaving the car behind, the chase scenes goes on. Bond and his love interest slide down the mountain side atop her cello, in what is one of my favorite stunts in any Bond flick.

The action in “The Living Daylights” is overall awesome. The opening action set-piece, when a Soviet agent interrupts a routine training exercise, shows how hands-on Dalton’s Bond is. He leaps onto the roof of a Jeep, slashes his way into the driver’s seat, and just barely escapes the vehicle before it explodes. A foot chase across the rooftops of Tangiers is a worthy moment. A smaller moment that is equally exciting is when Bond out-grapples some guards while escaping from a jail cell. That’s when his judo skills really come in handle.

“The Living Daylights” plays with the expected James Bond formula in many ways. However, it still features two armies coming to blows at the end. In a moment that now reads as historically uncomfortable, James Bond teams up with the Afghan rebels against the Soviet baddies. This leads to men on horseback shooting machine guns at guys in Jeeps and tanks. There are two bits of action that really stand out to me. The first involves a grenade tossed in a truck, which the driver does not escape in time. The second comes when a bulldozer is used to take out an encampment. Bond and Necros end their rival inside a cargo net dangling from a moving airplane, an especially exciting fight scene. That’s as good of a send-off that any Bond villain can ask for. Afterwards, the secret agent blows up a bridge and takes a dive out of a plummeting airplane.

In an interesting choice, the big action climax is not the conclusion of the film. After escaping the Afghan conflict, Bond tracks down Whitaker. The final fight between hero and villain doesn’t take place on the battlefield. Instead, it takes place in the cramped location of Whitaker’s personal room. Joe Don Daker hefting a cannon, equipped with a Plexiglas blast shield, is a quasi-ridiculous image. However, how Bond defeats him is especially satisfying. A device gifted to him by Q early on, a key chain containing a bomb, pays off nicely. Though the postmortem one-liner is a real groaner, I think Dalton earns it.

In addition to the new Bond, “The Living Daylights” mixes up the supporting cast some too. Robert Brown and Desmond Llewelyn return to their parts of M and Q. Llewelyn seems to be enjoying himself even more then usual here, trading quips with Dalton. With the exit of Roger Moore, Lois Maxwell retired from the part of Moneypenny. Moore flirting with Maxwell was fine but the age difference she shared with Dalton was probably too great. Stepping into the role is Caroline Bliss, a delightful and adorable actress who has a much spicier chemistry with this Bond. Sadly, Moneypenny doesn’t get much screen time this go around. Also played by a much younger actor is Felix Leiter. John Terry essays the role, playing Leiter as a young hotshot equal to Bond. Terry’s role is fairly smart and Leiter doesn’t even contribute much to the story. I would have liked to have seen him do more.

“The Living Daylights” is a successful first outing for Timothy Dalton as Bond. It cements the actor’s take on the character, one that’s more intense and complex. He’s also a great romantic lead, the film featuring one of the most endearing love stories in any Bond film. Yet the movie doesn’t sacrifice the sense of globe-trotting fun that characterizes the series. The selection of villains could have been better and the film isn’t as perfectly paced as other entries in the franchise. All things considered, it’s a great debuted for Dalton and a ripping adventure yarn. [Grade: B+]

THE 007 SEVEN:

[] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[X] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Series Report Card: James Bond 007 (1985)


14. A View to a Kill

As the eighties rolled on, Roger Moore returned for his seventh James Bond movie. This put just him ahead of Sean Connery, at least as far as the official series is concerned, for most appearances as the character. Moore had played the secret agent for over a decade. When “A View to a Kill” came out in summer of 1985, most everyone agreed that, at 57, he was too old to play the character. Unsurprisingly, it would be his last go-around as Bond. For this reason and more, “A View to a Kill” is regarded as one of the weakest films in the series. Even Sir Roger himself has trashed it. Does my opinion differ from the consensus in any way?

James Bond tussles with some Ruskies in Siberia, stealing a microchip back from a dead double-0 agent. The chip is traced back to technology industrialist Max Zorin. In order to parse out the connection between Zorin and the Soviets, Bond heads to France to spy on the guy. Bodies pile up, thanks to Max’s henchwoman Mayday, and the villain quickly discovers the agent’s intentions. In actuality, Zorin’s master plan is unrelated to the Soviets. He plans to set off a massive explosion in a mine he owns, destroying Silicon Valley in a massive flood/earthquake combination. His plot being dismissed as a natural disaster, Zorin will have a monopoly on the microchip industry. Teaming up with the daughter of one of Zorin’s enemies, Bond sets out to prevent this mad plot from succeeding.

Welcome to 1985! Maurice Binder’s opening for “A View to a Kill” features super models in day-glo body paint and facial accessories, all of them glowing brightly. Many of the girls have feathery, hyper-permed hair-dos. They hold similarly glowing guns, which shoot flashing laser beams. In accordance with the film’s snowy opening, most of the girls feature a skiing motif. At one point, a life-size ice sculpture of a woman puts in an appearance. It later bursts into flames. The opening is, of course, completely ridiculous. However, it’s certainly not forgettable. In its own way, it’s even giddily entertaining. The accompanying song follows a similar trend. The last four Bond themes were love ballads, a few of them overly sappy. Duran Duran was brought in to provide a hip theme song. Since the song was a number one pop hit, I’d say that worked. If you have a taste for the pop music of the day, you’ll probably dig it. The song’s synth lasers come off as ridiculous today. However, the melody is driving and exciting, the lyrics are dynamic, and the delivery is dramatic. It’s not my favorite Bond theme but it’s a great pop song. I’d certainly take it over Rita Collidge any day of the week.

The most problematic aspect of “A View to a Kill” is its inconsistent tone. The action genre had changed by 1985. This was the year of “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Commando.” The age of Arnold and Sly was beginning. Suddenly, movie heroes were hyper-violent, piling up bloody body counts. At times, “A View to a Kill” attempts to emulate the style of eighties action. The villain is a harsh psychopath, gunning down his own men with an uzi. The action is a little bloodier then usual, the tone slightly darker. Meanwhile, the plot, of a corrupt microchip executive, screams mid-eighties. Yet James Bond himself remains unaffected. Roger Moore continues to crack campy quips. The action is often self-consciously ridiculous. The times have changed but Moore is going about business as if it’s still the seventies. The result is a film that feels uncertain about its own tone.

The question everyone was asking about “A View to a Kill:” Was Roger Moore too old for this shit? Moore’s age was already beginning to show over his last two films. By this point, he’s more wrinkled and leathery then ever before. Moore is still trying, and arguably seems more interested here then he was in “Octopussy.” However, his stunt double seems to be doing a lot of work this time around. The days of Moore’s Bond kicking and punching his way out of trouble have passed, for the most part. Perhaps because of Moore’s advancing age, Bond spends a lot of time in “A View to a Kill” investigating horse doping. The age differences between Moore and his co-stars doesn’t go unnoticed. Was Moore too old to play James Bond at this point? Yeah, probably, but so was Sean Connery when he quit. Moore still has the charm and a way with the one-liners. His talent for the character hasn’t faded any, even if he’s gotten long in the tooth.

The best thing about “A View to a Kill” is its villains. Long before Christopher Walken was a parody of himself, he was an Academy Award winner with the ability to create mentally disturbed, intimidating, unnerving characters on-screen. Max Zorin is a odd character to begin with. (Playing up his eccentricities, the part was first offered to David Bowie.) His blonde hairs and blue eyes hint at an Aryan background. The film later confirms that Zorin is the result of Nazi eugenic experiments and has a weirdly close relationship with the doctor that created him. Zorin is also a cold-stone killer, willing to murder thousands to make himself rich. Moreover, he seems to enjoy the pain he causes. He grins with sadistic glee, chuckling evilly, while executing his own men. Christopher Walken is perfectly cast in the part. He creates a character distinct from the comic book supervillains of the last few Bond flicks. Instead, Zorin is a frighteningly plausible sociopath and madman.

Zorin also receives a memorable henchman. Or henchwoman, as the case may be. May Day is Zorin’s body guard, trainer, personal assassin, and possible lover. She takes people out with a hooked butterfly on a fishing wire and parachutes from the Eiffel Tower. Also, for no discernible reason, she has superhuman strength, tossing a grown man overhead. As ridiculous as that is, Grace Jones seems like she really could toss guys around. Grace Jones is terrifying, of course. Her figure is Amazonian, her bone structure is harsh, and she has an incomparable set of crazy eyes. Adding to this, the movie dresses her in bizarre, ridiculous outfits, emphasizing how intimidating she is. (When she jumps in bed with Bond, you honestly fear for the guy’s life.) The part is right in Jones’ wheelhouse, even if she ends up switching sides and heroically sacrificing herself.

Jones’ screen presence successfully overshadows all the other Bond girls in the film. Former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts, last seen on Film Thoughts showing off her lovely figure in “Tourist Trap,” plays Bond’s main squeeze. Stacy Sutton at first appears to be the spy’s equal. She resists her charms at first and appears to be plotting against Zorin. However, as the film goes on, Sutton reveals herself to be less capable. She freaks out over dropping some files and is mostly dead weight around Bond’s neck. By the end of the film, she’s been taken captive by the villain. Roberts is appealing but she doesn’t have the hottest chemistry with Moore. A little better is Fiona Fullerton as Pola, the Soviet agent sent to spy on Bond. She can’t resist his charms, of course. The conversation the two have in a hot tub rolls out decently and Fullerton is lovely. Disappointingly, the character doesn’t contribute much to the plot.

The uneven tone of “A View to a Kill” is most evident in its action scenes. For the third time in his run, Roger Moore has an action sequence in the snow. The beginning has him pursued on skis by Siberian agent. When he looses one ski, like in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Bond jumps on a snowboard. This is absurd enough but then “California Girls” plays over the soundtrack. A car chase through the streets of Paris begins well enough. However, the car is slowly reduced in size by collisions, until Moore is driving half a vehicle around. I’m pretty sure that’s not possible. After pissing off some police, Bond jumps in a firetruck, leading the local cops on a chase. This chase doesn’t add much to the plot and concludes with the bumbling cops attempting to drive up a folding bridge. About the only action scene that works is when Bond fights off some goons with a shotgun. It’s the only time in the film when Roger Moore is kicking, punching, and judo chopping his enemies. The campy, comedic tone of the action scenes defuse any tension the moments might have had.

By now, a Bond film isn’t complete without the agent falling into some death traps. A fairly ridiculous horse chase scene has Bond dodging various obstacles. Afterwards, he’s plopped into a car that’s dropped into a lake. He escapes by sucking the airs out of the tires. Later on, he gets stuck in a tube as a turbine whirls below, slowly drawling him towards it. Probably the best death trap occurs when Bond is locked in an elevator that’s been set aflame. It’s a decently tense moment, with 007 climbing out of the lift just as the cables burn through. These moments of peril are more convincing then any of the action scenes Moore participates in.

“A View to a Kill” features its fair share of gadgets. Refreshingly, they aren’t designed to get Bond out of specific scraps. The iceberg shaped submarine is the only example of that. The gadgets don’t add much to the plot at all, actually. There mostly used for – get this – spying. While camping out in Zorin’s chateau, Bond searches his room for bugs with a detector hidden in an electric razor. He zooms in on secret meetings with a pair of specialized sunglasses. He records conversations with the bad guy via a microphone hidden in a jacket button. The most visible gadget is also the least essential. Q has a little robot he directs around a few times. Its big eyes and antenna make it look like a robotic puppy. It’s cute but adds nothing to the plot.

“A View to a Kill” at least makes good use of its international settings. There’s a mildly exciting chase scene through the Eiffel Tower between Bond and May Day. Can you believe that 007 is just now making it to the Eiffel Tower? Most famously, the film’s finale takes place above the Golden Gate bridge. Hero and villain wrestling atop one of the bridges’ suspension cables makes for an unforgettable image. For that mater, the zeppelin floating above the landmark is a great image too. Though not a world-famous sight, the underground mine is a fairly clever setting for an action set piece. It’s surprising that, fourteen films into the series, Eon is still finding new places to stick Bond in.

I generally think “A View to a Kill” is slightly better then its reputation suggests. It’s got a great pair of villains and a mildly diverting plot. However, the action is step down from the series’ usual standards. The film can’t seem to decide what type of action movie it wants to be. As Roger Moore’s swan song, it’s less forgettable then “Octopussy” but comes nowhere close to the delirious heights of “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker.” I wish Moore had quit after “For Your Eyes Only.” That would have been a good note for him to finish on. His final round as James Bond is just above mediocre. While far from horrible, it’s nothing to kill for either. [Grade: C+]

THE 007 SEVEN:

[X] Destroys Evil Doer’s Lair
[X] Drinks or Orders a Vesper Martini
[X] Gets Captured and/or Tortured
[X] Introduces Himself as “Bond – James Bond”
[] Teams-Up with Felix Leiter
[X] Uses Judo or a Walther PPK to Dispose of an Enemy
[X] Wears a Tux

Bangers n' Mash 60: The Exorcist Series

I've been recording, editing, and posting episodes of the Bangers n' Mash Show for over three years now. For the first time in the show's history, I think we've finally reached the right balance between irrelevant goofiness, thoughtful film criticism, and proper reading of the text. And all it took was a demonic possession.



Yes, while discussing "The Exorcist" and its frequently misbegotten collection of sequels and spin-offs, I think we made my favorite episode of the show. That was unexpected.

I will just say that the original "The Exorcist" is a pretty great horror movie, though it's hard to know if it lives up to its reputation as "the scariest film ever made." As for it's sequels, they range in quality from "Interesting" to "What the hell am I watching?" It makes for a solid 49 minutes worth of audio, at the very least.

The James Bond Report Card will continue later tonight. I haven't given up, I swear. See you again soon.