Friday, October 30, 2015

Double O Countdown: Tomorrow Never Dies

A middling Bond is better than most other films, but still it is less than one might hope for. "Tomorrow Never Dies" is not a bad film, it just seems to be missing some of the things I like so much about 007 films. The romantic angle does not really work. The Villain is not particularly interesting, and James seems to struggle to make his witticisms work. I enjoy this movie, but it is not one of the films that i have seen more than a dozen times (probably only ten or so). With that said, here are the Double O Seven things I did like best about the film.

001  The one bad pun that actually works. 

There is a horrible sequence where Bond and M are meeting in her car and they start trading quips. Moneypenny jumps in with a particularly leaden attempt to flirt and be clever. It is one of the most painful exchanges of dialogue I can think of in a Bond film. There is a much better piece of verbal humor later in the film. It still is a bit out of place, but it comes close to a line that I could imagine Sean Connery making work. As Bond and his Chinese counterpart are brought to the Saigon headquarters of media villain Elliot Carver, a giant banner with his image hangs off the building.
Bond's comment: "Another Carver building. If I didn't know better, I'd say he developed an edifice complex."

002  Back Seat Driving

I suppose we should be wary, knowing where all the fancy car technology will lead Pierce Brosnan to in his final appearance as James Bond,  still this tool seems plausible. The Q provided BMW that James drives in Germany, can be operated by remote control in his cell phone. That gives him the chance to escape from the bad guys in the back seat of his car.

He launches a series of weapons at his pursuers that slow them down or stop them in their tracks. Included in the arsenal are road tacks, miniature rockets, a cable saw and the like.

The thing that seems to give him the biggest kick though is the simple out maneuvering of the chase cars with his own vehicle. The expression on his face here reminds us that there is a funny side to Mr. Bond that is not just bad double entendres.

003  "The Future Mr, Gittes, the future."

Elliot Carver is a thinly disguised version of media mogul Robert Maxwell who had died mysteriously a few years prior.  The tabloid style and high tech trappings of the film are not too distant from some of the real life media demagoguery that we see these days. I enjoyed Carvers attempts to write and report stories, often before they happened.

The Future News Today. Carver as a character is blah, but the idea of media manipulation of the news is actually old school as he mentions William Randolph Hearst himself.

004  Joe Don Baker is back.

Big lug Jack Wade, Bond's new CIA contact is back for his second film in a row. Baker was also in "The Living Daylights" as a different character. That means he was in three out of four Bond films in a decade.
Greeting his uniformed, counterpart an American Air Base in Asia, you can see the way we Yanks are having our chains yanked. Bond id fit, with great posture and clothes. Wade is a good ole boy with a gut, an informal manner, and n Aloha shirt that would fit nicely in my collection.
Wade may not be the model of cool that we would hope for an American spy, but he provides a nice touch of humor for James, in a style that the rest of the cast would not have been able to carry out.

005  HALO Jump

This was probably my first time hearing of this technique and it was a nicely effective sequence in the film.

Bond gets prepped by American intelligence personnel, and we get to have some exposition of the HALO strategy. A five mile free fall in a high altitude suit at a speed above terminal velocity, and then a quick release of the chute close to the ground.

A similar stunt is done in the rebooted Star Trek movie twenty years later.

006  A Chase sequence that is a little different.

Trying to get away from carver's minions, Bond and Wai Lin, handcuffed together, grab a motorcycle and streak through the streets of Saigon. The varius cars that chase them fall away, but only as more and more eloborate escapeds are shot.

A helicopter joins the chase and the maneuverability of the motorbike suddenly loses much of it's advantage. After all, the sky has no alleys that it has to take to follow the spies.

Sneaking past a helicopter flyng low requires being high. Fortunately for the two agents, they ended up on top of a building right across from another building of equal height.

A very impressive stunt.

After going high, our two heroes have to go low to finally get the best of the pursuers. It's all a bit preposterous but it is a fun sequence.

007  Michelle Yeoh

The Chinese martial arts star is not much of a romantic counterpart to Bond, she and Brosnan just don't seem to have that kind of chemistry, but in the action beats of the film she is aces.

Wall walking like Batman, except she walks down the wall rather than up. A jaunty wave at the more earthbound 007 gives her a little more personality.

She is an accomplished Martial arts star, so naturally she gets to kick some ass.  The best bit in the fight is a Jackie Chan like move where she walks up a wall, flips over her opponent and reverses their situations.

It was a terrific moment that we needed more of in this adventure.

James Bond Will return in:

"The World is Not Enough"

Double O Countdown: Goldeneye

We enter the decade long reign of Pierce Brosnan as 007 with this spectacular reboot of the franchise after a long layoff due to legal wrangling. Maybe the anticipation of a new Bond film after six long years, or the final arrival of the heir apparent was enough to satisfy my hopes, but I think it really came down to a very good film. Unfortunately from my perspective, it was the high point of Brosnan's turn at bat.

001 The Opening Bungee Jump

For others it might rank higher, I think it is a terrific pre-title moment, but the one CGI shot at the end makes it just a little less than perfect for me.

The  pause before the leap, the way the cameras shift between viewing angles, and the stuntman reaching in for the piton gun as the jump is nearing the end are all perfect. And then this happens.
It's just fake enough to take you out of the moment. Still, it is one of the best openings since "the Spy Who Loved Me."

002  Two Great Character Actors who will Make Return Visits.

Robbie Coltrane as former KGB man Zukovsky, now a Russian mobster, fills the bill as a former adversary who becomes an uneasy ally in tracking down "Janus" the head of a rival Russian Syndicate.

Joe Don Baker, who was one of the bad guys in "The Living Daylights, comes back to the series as CIA man Jack Wade, a more workaday and slovenly Felix Leiter, providing a little comic relief and exposition along the way.

Each of these characters will join James in a future episode.

003 006 Traitor

Purists might not like the idea of a Double O turning on his clan, but admittedly, a Double O woill make a fearsome opponent for James Bond. After establishing some bona fides in the opening, Alec Trevalyn disappears but Sean bean is too big a name to be gone after five minutes.

Bond goes to meet the mysterious "Janus" and the two faced god turns out to be his old friend, a traitor with a grudge. For the rest of the movie they trade masculine put downs and engage in the kind of one upmanship we would expect from a couple of alpha spies.

Why don't you just die?
You First.

004  Xenia Onatopp

Another double entendre name and a fem fatale with bloodlust. The evil female side kick to the villain in this movie gets off on inflicting pain and death. The scene where she machine guns a room full of unarmed computer programmers has her facial expression as if she were arriving at a sexual climax.

So she is definitely a sadist.

She and Bond have several encounters of foreplay before their climactic scenes.

Sex was always the way to get the drop on 007.

Naturally, her demise will be a variation of her favorite method of execution, a squeeze that robs the victim of life. Her squeeze is provided by a helicopter and a tree.

005  Judi Dench "The Evil Queen of Numbers"

Bond is none too pleased to discover that the new "M" is a woman, and that as an analysit she depends on statistics to make her decisions. She is equally unhappy that she has to rely on a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, who is a relic of the cold war.

They establish a chilly truce, but you can see that loyalty to the cause will eventually warm up the relationship. Dench will be "M" for six more films.

006  The Hero of the Franchise Martin Campbell. 

 Campbell, who will return to the franchise to reboot it again ten years later, is a director know for action films and well paced scenes. This film is full of explosions, running and vehicular mayhem. He was the right choice to update the style of 007 in 1995.

007  Tank Ride through St. Petersburg. 

A muscular chase scene with 007 pursuing the rogue general and the girl in trouble, through the Russian city with abandon.

A building or a bridge is no match for a  piece of armoured equipment like this.
The film makers also wait until the start of this scene to unleash the Double o Seven theme on the audience. The result is action bliss.
 This was the Bond film that was needed to answer the question of whether Bond was still relevant.

James Bond will Return in:
 "Tomorrow Never Dies"

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Double O Countdown: Licence to Kill

The last of Timothy Dalton's time as James Bond is a nice piece of revenge drama, that feels like an 80's film starring Stallone or Schwarzenegger. Bond goes after the drug kingpin that mutilated his best friend and murdered his best friends wife. The British Secret Service takes a dim view of revenge and has basically disavowed Bond. The original title was to be "Licence Revoked" but someone at EON was afraid American audience would not know what revoked meant. 007 tracks down the kingpin and uses a seed of disloyalty to bring down his empire. The movie is filled with more violence and torture than the usual Bond film. This would never have been a movie that starred Roger Moore. Dalton's more cold blooded and realistic take on Bond is a perfect match for this gritty story, with one of the best Bond villans ever, Franz Sanchez AKA Robert Davi.

This entry in the series is extremely spoiler heavy. Proceed with caution if you have not seen the film.

001  Another Plot Point from the Novel Live and Let Die, adds to a film with a different story.

Felix Leiter has been Bond's CIA counterpart since the first Bond novel. In the movies he has been an underused character, but in this film, he gets a bigger role. Making a return to the part is David Hedison, who played Leiter in "Live and Let Die". Temporarily assigned to the DEA, Felix is tortured by Sanchez using a shark and a pulley system.
His mangled body is returned to his home where James discovers his dead bride and finds a sarcastic note with a twisted pun attached to his barely surviving friend.
Finally, a dirty DEA agent, who took a two million dollar bribe is cornered by Bond in the same shark tank that his friend was subjected to. As he hangs over the tank, trying to make a deal with Bond, James tosses him the money and tells him to keep it, of course the suitcase full of cash causes the treacherous turncoat to fall to his doom.

002  Secondary Bad Guy gets what is coming to him.

As I said, the movie is full of sadistic moments, fortunately most of them are turned on the bad guys. Milton Krest, the diving company owner who is partners with Sanchez, is framed by Bond to appear as if he is trying to steal from his partner.
First he is tossed in the decompression chamber used for deep sea divers on his boat.

Sanchez turns up the pressure and then suddenly breaks off the safety valve, causing Krest to basically explode.

Then he tells his men to launder the money was was hidden there, and he does not mean simply run it through their dummy companies.

003  Action Scene from Act 2.

John Glen, who was the director for all of the Bond films made in the 1980s, knew his way around the action scenes. His Bond films are filled with great stunts and this film featured one of the best. Bond sneaks aboard the Wavekrest, the ship used to guide all the smuggling operations, and discovers a whole bunch of information. His companion is killed and he has to make a venge filled escape himself. As he fights Krest's men under water, he shoots a spear-gun with a rope attached into the pontoon of a smugglers plane. It yanks him from their clutches and he performs a series of amazing stunts to get away.
He skies on the balls of his feet as he is dragged by the plane, and then whips around to grab onto the plane.
 Once the plane takes off the water, he has to get aboard still.

004  Robert Davi as Franz Sanchez

The Drug Kingpin Sanchez has basically bought himself a country to hide in, which renders him immune from extradition. Robert Davi plays Sanchez as a sadist with a smile. A smart guy who values loyalty, but who can be dragged down with suspicion.

He beats his cheating mistress with the tail of a stingray and has the heart of her lover cut out.

 He treats his pet iguana as well as most of the people who work for him, and he employs a sick murderer, played by a young Benicio DelToro, to do his dirty work.
Bond ingratiates himself into his camp and begins a campaign to take down the kingdom from the inside. Following the Godfather's advice, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. 

005  Uncle Q

Q has been in almost all the Bond films before this, often supplying 007 in the field. Here he takes a much more paternalistic interest in James. Having been abandoned by the Secret Service, Bond is persona non grata , but Moneypenny tracks him down and sends Q to assist unofficially. Desmond Llewelyn gets to play spy a little and have a grand adventure with James and not just chastise him for ruining equipment.

A fun piece of extra business, maybe it is fan service, but you got to keep the fans happy, and it did that for me. 

006  Revenge Death Number 3

Dario, Sanchez hired thug, recognizes Bond and blows his cover. Sanchez attempts to drop Bond into the grinder used to break up the bricks of heroin he is smuggling as liquid in gasoline. 
Of course at the last minute Bond gets hooked on the conveyor belt and hangs over the grinder, Dario decides he needs to help Bond along. 
Bond's CIA Contract pilot and requisite Bond Girl comes along in time to shoot Dario and then Bond reverses their situations.

The result is a blood soaked ending, similar to the snow plow in "OHMSS". I'm afraid I love it too much when the bad guys get the reward they deserve, This is the third villain to get his comeuppance on my list.

007  A Climax to a picture, that really is a climax.

Spoiler Warning

Bond pursues a caravan of gas trucks, loaded with liquefied heroin and mayhem results.
Taking over control of one truck, he manages to destroy or disable several others. Sanchez and his crew are alerted and wait for him with a stinger missile to end his plans. A clever piece of stunt driving defeats the aim of the stinger.

After dodging that bullet, the bad guys chase Bond but end up in a trail of fire, it is not hard to follow the trail of destruction Bond leaves at the end of a movie.
Their car flys off the road and just misses hitting the plane flown by Pam Bovier.
 At the bottom of a hill, the crashed truck that both Bond and Sanchez were on lays in ruins with gasoline poring on the ground. A soaked Sanchez raises his machete to do in Bond when 007 gets him to pause for just a second so he can explain why he has done all of this. He flashes a genuine Felix Lighter.
He flicks it engulfing Sanchez in flame.

Multiple explosions ensue.

James Bond Will return in: "Goldeneye"