“SPECTRE” (2015) Review

 

“SPECTRE” (2015) Review

Following the release of the 2012 movie, “SKYFALL”, my interest in the James Bond movie franchise had somewhat dropped. This was due to my negative reaction to the movie. In other words, I disliked it. When I learned that Sam Mendes, who had directed “SKYFALL”, would return to direct the franchise’s 24th movie, I did not receive the news very well and paid as little attention to the production of this new movie as possible. But . . . my family has never been able to resist the release of a new James Bond movie. So, we did not hesitate to rush to the theaters when “SPECTRE” hit the movie screens.

Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth; “SPECTRE” involved James Bond’s investigation of the global organization that had ties to the financial terrorist group Quantum, which Bond was pitted against in“CASINO ROYALE” and “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. Before the movie began, Bond had received a posthumous message from the previous “M” (Judi Dench) to The movie began with Bond shadowing a mysterious figure in Mexico City, during the city’s Day of the Dead celebration. He is there to kill an assassin named Marco Sciarra, who is plotting a terrorist attack with two other men. Although Bond manages to kill Sciarra and his two colleagues, he is suspended by the new “M” (Gareth Mallory) for conducting an unauthorized mission. Bond disobeys the latter’s order and continues his mission set by his former boss, by attending Sciarra’s funeral in Rome. There, he not only meets Sciarra’s widow, but also stumbles across a new organization called Spectre with ties to his former nemesis, Quantum; but also one Ernst Stravo Blofeld. While “M” finds himself engaged in a struggle against “C”, the head of the privately financed Joint Intelligence Service, which consists of the recently merged MI5 and MI6, who wants Britain join a global surveillance and intelligence co-operation initiative between nine countries called “Nine Eyes”. However, Bond discovers during his unauthorized investigation of Spectre that the latter might be the instigator of the “Nine Eyes” organization.

I read somewhere that “SPECTRE” was not as well received by filmgoers and some critics as “SKYFALL”. Especially in the United States. I had a few problems with “SPECTRE”. One, director Sam Mendes continued to shoot actor Daniel Craig as if the latter was a male model. I found this annoying in “SKYFALL” and continued to find it annoying in this film. The character Eve Moneypenny was criminally underused in the movie’s final action sequence set in London . . . especially since she was a former field agent. I was not that impressed by the Morocco locations chosen by the movie’s producers. I have seen desert locations in previous Bond movies that looked more attractive . . . including “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”, which was also filmed in that country. I had earlier pointed out Spectre’s ties to Quantum, the organization that Bond had battled against in both “CASINO ROYALE” and “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. However, the movie’s plot also suggested that the Raoul Silva character from “SKYFALL” also had connections to Spectre. Frankly, I found this somewhat of a stretch, considering that the 2012 movie never hinted any such connection to either Spectre or Quantum. In my review of “SKYFALL”, I had pointed out that I found its theme song unmemorable for me. I have to say the same about “Writing’s On the Wall”, this movie’s theme song, which was written and performed by Sam Smith. I would not be able to remember a tune from either movie . . . even if I tried. I have nothing against Léa Seydoux as an actress. But she and star Daniel Craig had very little screen chemistry. Worse, I found their romance rather contrived. There was no real hint of attraction between the two, until the last third of the film, when the pair arrived in Morocco.

Despite these flaws, I still managed to enjoy “SPECTRE” very much. First of all, this movie had a strong narrative with very little plot holes. I also enjoyed how the screenwriters tied the Quantum organization with Spectre. Quantum always seemed to focus more upon financing for warlords like Steven Obanno or military-political figures like General Medrano who needed cash to regain power in a country like Bolivia. It seemed very probable that it would serve as a branch for a terrorist organization like Spectre. In fact, the theme of this entire movie seemed to be about death and ghosts from the past – especially ghosts from Bond’s past interactions with Quantum/Spectre since “CASINO ROYALE” (in other words, Craig’s tenure). The movie’s pre-credit sequence opened with Bond in Mexico City, during the latter’s Day of the Dead celebration. The movie’s opening credits featured images from past villains, along with the late Vesper Lynd and former “M”. I may not have found it memorable, but I am glad to say that the movie’s theme song resonated strongly with the plot. Speaking of which, the screenplay also hinted a past connection between Bond and Spectre’s leader, Blofeld; which adheres rather well to Bond’s orphan past. But what I really enjoyed about “SPECTRE” was that Bond’s search for Marco Sciarra and discovery of the Spectre organization was due to a posthumous message from the former “M”. Apparently, the lady had decided to use Bond to finish what they had started back in “CASINO ROYALE”. How effective of her.

Another aspect of “SPECTRE” that impressed me was the movie’s style . . . especially its cinematography. I may have found the Morocco locations lacking in color, but I must admit that Hoyte Van Hoytema’s photography did most of them justice. Well, there were two sequences in which the Morocco locations impressed me. One of them featured the arrival of Bond and leading lady Dr. Madeleine Swann’s arrival in the city of Tangier. I was also impressed by Van Hoytema’s sleek photography of Rome, which was mainly filmed at night. But the one sequence that truly blew my mind was the pre-titled one in Mexico City. Despite being shot with a slight Sepia, the Mexico City sequence was filled with color and real atmosphere. I must admit that Lee Smith’s editing, Thomas Newman’s exciting score and the mind-boggling action greatly added to Van Hoytem’s work. Frankly, I thought it was one of the best shot sequences in the entire Bond franchise.

“SPECTRE” proved to be Daniel Craig’s fourth turn in the role of James Bond. And as usual, he knocked it out of the ballpark. A relative of mine once hinted the suggestion that Craig might be the best actor of all those who have portrayed Bond for EON Productions. I will have to give her comment some thought. But I must admit that he has been consistently spot on in his portrayal of Bond. But in this movie, his penchant (or should I say Craig’s penchant) for dark humor seemed particularly sharp. I stand by my opinion that the chemistry between Craig and his leading lady, Léa Seydoux, did not strike me as particularly warm. But Seydoux was not the first actress in the franchise who lacked any real chemistry with the Bond actor in question. Her penchant for sullen expressions and pouting did not mesh well with Craig’s screen presence. However, I cannot deny that the actress gave a first-rate performance as the guarded Dr. Swann, who turned out to be the daughter of one of Bond’s former enemies – Mr. White from “CASINO ROYALE” and “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. It was nice that the screenwriters explored her character’s own personal demons regarding her father – especially in one scene in which she viewed a video clip of his death.

Of the four (or possibly five) actors who have portrayed Ernst Stravos Blofeld, Christoph Waltz’s interpretation struck me as the most subtle. He did an excellent job of conveying his character’s malice, intelligence and penchant for sadism; while projecting a mask of mild amusement. Ralph Fiennes had a most unusual task as the new “M” and I thought he handled it quite well. His character had already been introduced in “SKYFALL” as Gareth Mallory, head of the Intelligence and Security Committee. But in “SPECTRE”, he had to portray “M” as someone who is new at his job, which has become under threat by “C” of the Joint Intelligence Service and Bond’s penchant for disobeying orders.

Naomie Harris returned as Eve Moneypenny and I found her performance just as entertaining and first-rate as ever. More importantly, her chemistry with Daniel Craig was as strong as it was in the 2012 movie. Another returnee from“SKYFALL” was Ben Whishaw, who continued his entertaining and sardonic performance as MI-6’s Quartermaster, “Q”. Whishaw also had a chance to act out a mild adventure in the Austrian Alps in which “Q” is pursued by SPECTRE agents. Jesper Christensen returned for his third appearance in the movie franchise as Quantum agent, Mr. White. As much as I found his appearances in “CASINO ROYALE” and “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” rather interesting, I was very impressed by his more complex portrayal as the dying former operative, who was willing to cooperate with Bond for the safety of his daughter. It was a treat to see Dave Bautista again, who portrayed SPECTRE assassin, Mr. Hinx. I found his performance effectively menacing and really added a great deal to the movie’s fight scenes. But a part of me felt slightly disappointed that he had only a few lines in the movie, especially since I found his performance in 2014’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” so impressive. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Rory Kinnear, Monica Bellucci, Alessandro Cremona and Andrew Scott, who struck me as particularly creepy as the head of the Joint Intelligence Service, “C”.

What else can I say about “SPECTRE”? The movie restored my faith in the Bond movie franchise. Despite some flaws, I enjoyed it so much that I would probably rank it among my top ten Bond movies, thanks to director Sam Mendes, the movie’s screenwriters and a cast led by the always talented Daniel Craig.

New Ranking of JAMES BOND Movies

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With the recent release of the new James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, I have made a new ranking of all the Bond films produced and released by EON Productions (do not expect to find 1967’s “CASINO ROYALE” or 1983’s “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN” on this list) from favorite to least favorite:

 

NEW RANKING OF JAMES BOND MOVIES

1-On Her Majesty Secret Service

1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) – The only film to feature Australian George Lazenby, this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel has James Bond’s search for master criminal Ernst Stravos Blofeld affecting his private life. Directed by Peter Hunt, the movie also stars Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas.

2-Casino Royale

2. “Casino Royale” (2006) – Daniel Craig made his debut as James Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1953 novel about Bond’s efforts to beat a banker for a terrorist organization at a poker tournament, in order to force the latter to provide information about the organization. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench.

3-The Living Daylights

3. “The Living Daylights” (1987) – Timothy Dalton made his debut as Bond in this partial adaptation of Fleming’s 1966 short story in which Bond’s efforts to stop a Soviet sniper from killing a defector leads to a revelation of a conspiracy between the defector and an American arms dealer. Directed by John Glen, the movie co-stars Maryam D’Abo, Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbe.

4-For Your Eyes Only

4. “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) – Based on two Fleming short stories from 1960, the movie has Bond searching for a missing missile command system, while becoming tangled in a web of deception spun by rival Greek businessmen and dealing with a woman seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. Co-starring Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover and Topol; the movie marked the directing debut of John Glen.

5-From Russia With Love

5. “From Russia With Love” (1963) – Terence Young directed this adaptation of Fleming’s 1957 novel about Bond’s efforts to acquire the Soviet’s Lektor machine, unaware that he is being set up by SPECTRE. The movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, along with Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw and Pedro Armendáriz.

6-Octopussy

6. Octopussy” (1983) – A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent’s death leads James Bond to uncover an international jewel smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used by a Soviet general and an Afghan prince to disguise a nuclear attack on NATO forces in West Germany. Directed by John Glen, the movie stars Roger Moore as Bond, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Steven Berkoff and Robert Brown in his debut as “M”.

7-Thunderball

7. “Thunderball” (1965) – Adapted from Fleming’s 1961 novel, this movie has Bond and CIA agent Felix Leiter attempting to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE for an extortion scheme. Directed by Terence Young, the movie stars Sean Connery as Bond, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi and Luciana Paluzzi.

8-Goldeneye

8. “Goldeneye” (1995) – Pierce Brosnan made his debut as Bond in this tale about the agent’s efforts to prevent an arms syndicate from using Russia’s GoldenEye satellite weapon against London in order to cause a global financial meltdown. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen and Judi Dench in her debut as “M”.

9-The Spy Who Loved Me

9. “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) – Taking its title from Fleming’s 1962 novel, this movie has Bond and Soviet agent Anya Amasova investigate the disappearances of British and Soviet submarines carrying nuclear warheads. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Barbara Bach, Kurt Jurgens and Richard Kiel.

10-Quantum of Solace

10. “Quantum of Solace” (2008) – Taking its title from a Fleming short story, this movie is a follow up to “CASINO ROYALE”, continuing Bond’s investigation into the terrorist organization Quantum, while dealing with the emotional effects of a tragic death. Directed by Marc Foster, the movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Olga Kurylenko and Mathieu Amalric.

11-License to Kill

11. “License to Kill” (1989) – Directed by John Glen, this movie has Bond resigning from MI-6 in order to seek revenge against the Latin American drug lord that maimed his best friend, Felix Leiter. The movie starred Timothy Dalton as Bond, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto and Don Stroud.

12-The World Is Not Enough

12. “The World Is Not Enough” (1999) – Directed by Michael Apted, the movie has Bond uncovering a nuclear plot, when he protects an oil heiress from her former kidnapper, an international terrorist who cannot feel pain. The movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle and Denise Richards.

13-A View to a Kill

13. “A View to a Kill” (1985) – Taking its title from one of Fleming’s 1960 short stories, this film has Bond investigating an East-German born industrialist with possible ties to the KGB. Directed by John Glen, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Tanya Roberts, Christopher Walken and Grace Jones.

14-You Only Live Twice

14. “You Only Live Twice” (1967) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1964 novel, the movie has Bond and Japan’s Secret Service investigating the disappearance of American and Soviet manned spacecrafts in orbit, due to the actions of SPECTRE. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsurō Tamba and Donald Pleasence.

15-Die Another Day

15. “Die Another Day” (2002) – A failed mission in North Korea leads to Bond’s capture, fourteen months in captivity, a desire to find the MI-6 mole responsible and a British billionaire with ties to a North Korean agent. Directed by Lee Tamahori, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike and Will Yun Lee.

16-Live and Let Die

16. “Live and Let Die” (1973) – Roger Moore made his debut as Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1954 novel about MI-6’s investigation into the deaths of three fellow agents who had been investigating the Prime Minister of San Monique.

17-Moonraker

17. “Moonraker” (1979) – Based on Fleming’s 1955 novel, this movie features Bond’s investigation into the disappearance of a space shuttle on loan to the British government by a millionaire with catastrophic plans of his own. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Lois Chiles, Michel Lonsdale and Richard Kiel.

18-Tomorrow Never Dies

18. “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) – Bond and a Chinese agent form an alliance to prevent a media mogul from creating a war between Britain and China in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher.

19-The Man With the Golden Gun

19. “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1965 novel, this movie has Bond sent after the Solex Agitator, a device that can harness the power of the sun, while facing the assassin Francisco Scaramanga, the “Man with the Golden Gun”. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee and Maud Adams.

20-Dr. No

20. “Dr. No” (1962) – Based upon Fleming’s 1958 novel, this movie kicked off the Bond movie franchise and featured Sean Connery’s debut as the British agent, whose investigation into the death of a fellow agent leads him to a Eurasian agent for SPECTRE and their plans to disrupt the U.S. space program. Directed by Terence Young, the movie co-starred Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman.

21-Skyfall

21. “Skyfall” – Directed by Sam Mendes, this film has Bond’s loyalty to “M” tested, when her past comes back to haunt her in the form of a former agent, who initiates a series of attacks upon MI-6. The movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Naomie Harris.

22-Diamonds Are Forever

22. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) – Based on Fleming’s 1956 novel, this movie has Bond’s investigations into a diamond smuggling ring lead to another conflict with SPECTRE and Ernst Stravos Blofeld. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Jill St. John and Charles Gray.

23-Goldfinger

23. “Goldfinger” – Based on Fleming’s 1959 novel, this movie has Bond investigating a German-born gold magnate, who harbors plans to destroy the U.S. gold supply at Fort Knox. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Honor Blackman and Gert Frobe.

“All Aboard the Orient Express”

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Below is a look at two major movies and a television movie that featured journeys aboard the famed Orient Express:

 

“ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS”

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of those who demand that a novel, a movie or a television production to be historically accurate. Not if history gets in the way of the story. But there is an anal streak within me that rears its ugly head, sometimes. And that streak would usually lead me to judge just how accurate a particular production or novel is.

Recently, I watched three movies that featured a journey aboard the legendary train, the Orient Express. Perhaps I should be a little more accurate. All three movies, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963) featured a famous route that came into existence nearly a year following World War I called the Simplon Orient Express. The original route for the Orient Express stretched from Paris to Istanbul via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Then in 1919, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits introduced a more southerly route, due to the opening of the Simplon Tunnel. This route stretched between Paris and Istanbul, via Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia. Writers Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming made the Simplon Orient Express route famous thanks to their novels, “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) and “From Russia With Love” (1957). And the movie adaptations of these novels increased the route’s fame.

Both Christie and Fleming’s novels featured the Simplon Orient Express’ route from Istanbul to Yugoslavia. There are reasons why their stories do not stretch further west to as far as at least France. In “Murder on the Orient Express”, the train became stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia and detective Hercule Poirot spent the rest of the novel trying to solve the murder of an American passenger. And in “From Russia With Love”, British agent James Bond and his companion, Tatiana Romanova, made it as far as either Italy or France. The 1974 and 2010 adaptations of Christie’s novel, more or less remained faithful to the latter as far as setting is concerned. However, EON Production’s 1963 adaptation of Fleming’s novel allowed Bond and Tatiana to escape from the train before it could cross the Yugoslavia-Italy border.

While watching the three movies, I discovered that their portrayals of the Simplon Orient Express route were not completely accurate. I can imagine the thoughts running through the minds of many, declaring “Who cares?”. And I believe they would be right to feel this way. But I thought it would be fun to look into the matter. Before I do, I think I should cover a few basics about this famous train route from Istanbul to Paris-Calais.

During its heyday, the Orient Express usually departed from Istanbul around 11:00 p.m. Following the rise of the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Orient Express extended it route to stops in Greece in order to avoid the Soviet-controlled countries. The only Communist country it passed through was Yugoslavia. When the train became the slower Direct Orient Express in 1962, it usually departed Istanbul around 4:15 p.m. I do not know whether a restaurant car and/or a salon “Pullman” car was attached to the Direct Orient Express when it departed Istanbul between 1962 and 1977. One last matter. In the three adaptations of the two novels, the Orient Express usually made a significant stop at Belgrade. It took the Orient Express, during its heyday, at least 23 to 24 hours to travel from Istanbul to Belgrade.

Let us now see how accurately the two “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” movies and the 1963 “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” flick accurately portray traveling aboard the Simplon Orient Express (or Direct Orient Express) on film. I will begin with the “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)

Following the conclusion of a successful case for the British Army somewhere in the Middle East, Belgian-born detective is on his way home to London, via a train journey aboard the famed Orient Express. When an American businessman named Samuel Rachett is murdered during the second night aboard the train, Poirot is asked by his friend and director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Senor Bianchi, to investigate the crime.

In this adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, the Simplon Orient Express that left Istanbul did so at 9:00 at night. The movie also included a dining car attached to the train. One scene featured a chef examining food being loaded onto the train. This scene is erroneous. According to the The Man in Seat 61 website, there was no dining car attached to the train when it left Istanbul. A dining car was usually attached at Kapikule on the Turkish/Bulgarian border, before it was time to serve breakfast. The movie also featured a salon car or a “Pullman”, where Hercule Poirot interrogated most of the passengers of the Istanbul-Calais car.

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According to the “Seat 61” site, there was no salon “Pullman” car attached to the train east of Trieste, Italy. Christie needed the presence of the car for dramatic purposes and added one into her novel. The producers of the 1974 movie did the same. At least the producers of the 1974 used the right dark blue and cream-colored car for the Pullman. More importantly, they used the right dark blue cars for the train’s sleeping coaches, as shown in the image below:

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In the movie, the Simplon Orient Express reached Belgrade 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. For once, the movie was accurate. Somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, the Orient Express ended up snowbound and remained there until the end of the story.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010)

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel first aired on Britain’s ITV network in 2010. The television movie started with Hercule Poirot berating a British Army officer caught in a devastating lie. After the officer commits suicide, Poirot ends up in Istanbul, where he and a British couple witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. Eventually, the couple and Poirot board the Orient Express, where the latter finds himself investigating the murder of an American passenger.

I do not know what time the Simplon Orient Express departed Istanbul in this adaptation. The movie never indicated a particular time. This version also featured a brief scene with a chef examining food being loaded aboard a dining car. As I previously mentioned, a dining car was not attached until Kapikule. The movie did feature Poirot and some of the Istanbul-Calais car passengers eating breakfast the following morning. In this scene, I noticed a major blooper. Car attendant Pierre Michel was shown serving a dish to Poirot in the dining car. Note the images below:

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Pierre Michel greets Poirot and M. Bouc before they board the train

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Pierre serves breakfast to Poirot

Why on earth would a car attendant (or train conductor, as he was in the 1934 novel) act as a waiter in the dining car? Like the 1974 movie, the ITV adaptation also featured a salon “Pullman” attached to the train, east of Italy. In fact, they did more than use one salon “Pullman”. As I had stated earlier, the westbound Simplon Orient Express usually acquired a salon “Pullman” after its arrival in Trieste. But in this adaptation, the producers decided to use the dark blue and cream-colored “Pullman” cars for the entire train as shown in these images:

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This is completely in error. As I had stated earlier, the Orient Express usually featured a dark-blue and cream-colored salon “Pullman” between Italy and Paris. But it also featured the dark-blue and cream-colored seating “Pullmans” between Calais and Paris. There is no way that the Orient Express leaving Istanbul would entirely consist of the blue and cream “Pullman” cars.

However, the train did arrive at Belgarde at least 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. Like the other movie, the train ended up snowbound between Vinkovci and Brod and remained there until the last scene. However, I am confused by the presence of the police standing outside of the train in the last scene. Poirot and the other passengers should have encountered the police, following the train’s arrival in Brod, not somewhere in the middle of the Yugoslavian countryside.

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“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963)

Ian Fleming’s tale begins with the terrorist organization, SPECTRE, plotting the theft of the KGB’s a cryptographic device from the Soviets called the Lektor, in order to sell it back to them, while exacting revenge on British agent James Bond for killing their agent, Dr. No. After Bond successfully steals the Lektor from the Soviet consulate in Istanbul, he, defector Tatiana Romanova and MI-6 agent Kerim Bey board the Orient Express for a journey to France and later, Great Britain.

While I found this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel extremely enjoyable, I found myself puzzled by the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s journey aboard the Orient Express. It seemed so . . . off. In the movie; the Orient Express conveying Bond, his traveling companions and SPECTRE assassin “Red” Grant; departed Istanbul somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. The train departed Istanbul around nine o’clock at night, in Fleming’s novel. Mind you, the novel was set in the 1950s and the movie, set in the early 1960s, which meant that its departure in the movie was pretty close to the 4:15 pm departure of the Direct Orient Express train that operated between 1962 and 1977. I do not recall seeing a dining car attached to the train, during its departure in the movie, so I cannot comment on that. But after the train’s departure, the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s Orient Express journey proved to be mind boggling.

The main problem with “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” is that Bond’s journey proved to be the fastest I have ever witnessed, either on film or in a novel. It took the train at least three-to-four hours to reach Belgrade, following its departure from Istanbul. One, it usually took the Orient Express nearly 24 hours to reach Belgrade during its heyday. During the first ten-to-fifteen years of the Cold War, it took the Orient Express a little longer to reach Belgrade, due to it being re-routed through Northern Greece in an effort to avoid countries under Soviet rule. This was made clear in Fleming’s novel. But the 1963 movie followed the famous train’s original eastbound route . . . but at a faster speed. After killing Grant, Bond and Tatiana left the train before it reached the Yugoslavian-Italian border. Bond’s journey from Istanbul to that point took at least 15 hours. During the Orient Express’ heyday, it took at less than 48 hours. And during the 15 years of the Direct Orient Express, it took longer.

Unlike many recent film goers and television viewers, historical accuracy or lack of it in a movie/television production has never bothered me. I still remain a major fan of both “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974 version) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. And although I have other major problems with the 2010 “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, there are still aspects of it that I continue to enjoy. Historical inaccuracy has never impeded my enjoyment of a film, unless I found it particularly offensive. But since I can be occasionally anal and was bored, I could not resist a brief exploration of the Hollywood and British film industries’ portrayals of the Orient Express.

“Being Pure to Ian Fleming’s James Bond”

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“BEING PURE TO IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND”

Lately, there has been a great deal of talk about EON Productions being pure to the James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming. Demands that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli adhere closely to the novels have increased on many Bond forums. And I cannot help but wonder what has brought about the increasing number of demands.

Certain Bond fans have demanded the following: 

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether.

*Bond should smoke on screen.

*M should be a man.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels.

There are probably more demands, but the above are the ones I tend to encounter on the forums. I have also read demands that the Bond movies should either stick to the fantasy-adventure elements first introduced in “GOLDFINGER”or should stick to being tight spy thrillers like “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. In regard to the style of the Bond stories, I personally prefer tight spy thrillers like “CASINO ROYALE”“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”and “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. However, if a Bond movie with a fantasy-adventure style of storytelling is well written, I can be very tolerant of it. In fact, there are one or two of them that are favorites of mine – “THUNDERBALL”“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” and “GOLDENEYE”.

Now, in regard to the demands I had listed earlier, here are my responses to them:

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether – Why? Why should the Bond franchise stay mired in the political incorrectness of the past? I have always had the impression that EON Productions made sure that the Bond films kept up with the times. I have no problem with James Bond remaining sexist. That is the man’s character. But I would have a problem if the movies maintained some old-fashioned view on women, non-whites or non-British characters. In 1962’s “DR. NO”, there is a scene on Crab Key in which Bond ordered Quarrel to pick up his shoes. Every time I see that scene, I wince. Even for 1962 that seemed a bit too much, especially since the Civil Rights movement was going on at the time. Hell, in the same year, “THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE” featured a black psychiatrist working with U.S. Army intelligence. Many Bond fans have a problem with a Bond leading lady being a secret agent or someone capable of being an action character. I find this idea laughable. Are these people threatened by the idea of a woman being capable of shooting a gun or martial arts? Do they feel that such a character in a Bond movie would threatened their sense of well-being or their view of Bond as invincible and one-of-a-kind? I do not demand that all Bond women be spies or some kind of action figure. But I do not see the harm that they mix it up every now and then. In the end, I would find the idea of non-British and non-white characters being portrayed as inferior characters or the idea of Bond female leading ladies being nothing more than eye candy and bed warmers for Bond in all of the movies, repellent and a good excuse to avoid a Bond movie in the future.  In the end, these sexist moviegoers got their wish in the recent “SKYFALL”, when competent female MI-6 agent named Eve became secretary Miss Moneypenny at the end of the movie . . . on the grounds that she could not handle being a field agent.  This act pissed me off so much that I almost felt inclined to throw a shoe at the movie screen in anger.

*Bond should smoke on screen – Again, why? Why does Bond have to smoke on screen? What is the big deal? Personally, I could not care less. Connery smoked, but not that often and I barely noticed. I can say the same about Lazenby. As far as I know, Moore only smoked cigars in his first two movies. Dalton smoked in one scene of his first Bond movie. Did Brosnan smoked? If so, I do not remember . . . and I do not care. And I do not recall seeing Craig’s Bond smoking. In other words, the idea of Bond as a smoker can go either way with me. I simply feel that it is a matter that is not a big deal.

*M should be a man – The United Kingdom has had a female monarch for the past sixty-one years. For a period of ten or eleven years, it had a female Prime Minister. And MI-6 – until recently – was led by a woman. Why in the hell should gender matter in regard to M’s role? Are those who are demanding that M return to being a man are telling us that only a man can be an authority figure? This is the 21st century! That idea is ridiculous! Hell, it was ridiculous when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England back in the 16th century as one of the country’s greatest monarchs. I have also encountered complaints about M (Dench) castigating Bond whenever he screwed up. They act as if she did not have the right to lecture him. What nonsense! Dench is not the first M to castigate Bond. Bernard Lee’s “M” did it in “GOLDFINGER” after Bond had screwed up his assignment in Miami. He was bitchy with Bond in “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”, following the conclusion of the latter’s revenge search for Blofield. And Lee did it again in “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” when Roger Moore’s Bond and Lieutenant Hip lost that solar power device – “Solex agitator”. Robert Brown’s M castigated Timothy Dalton’s Bond in their two movies together. So why have certain fans decided to complain about Dench’s M doing the same during her tenure in the Bond franchise? Was it because they could not deal with Bond being castigated by a female authority figure? And why on earth is it necessary for M to be a man?  Unfortunately, EON Productions heeded the fans and replaced Judi Dench’s M – in the most gruesome and politically incorrect way possible – with a male M now portrayed by Ralph Fiennes.  The Bond franchise has taken another step backward.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels – What in the hell? Why on earth is it necessary for Felix Leiter to be a blond, white Texan? Because he was one in the Fleming novels? So what? In the 44-year history of the Bond franchise, has the movie version of Felix Leiter EVER been a blond, white Texan? I certainly do not recall one. John Terry, who portrayed Leiter in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”, was born and raised in Florida, if that would help. But he certainly was not a blond. I do not even know if Rik Van Nutter of “THUNDERBALL” was a blond or simply prematurely gray. Neither Jack Lord, Norman Burton, Cec Linder or David Hedison were tall, lanky blonds from Texas. In fact, none of these actors have ever used a Texas accent in portraying Leiter. But they have all been white. Is that the problem? Are they upset that the latest actor to portray Leiter, Jeffrey Wright, was an American black? Well another black American actor, Bernie Casey, portrayed Leiter in the 1983 unofficial Bond movie, “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN”. I do not recall any outrage over his casting. However, I do believe there should have been one. Although good-looking, Mr. Casey did not strike me as a very good actor. Since Felix Leiter has NEVER been portrayed as a lanky blond white Texan in the Bond film franchise’s 50-year history, I see no reason why EON Productions should consider one now.

As for being a Fleming purist, I can honestly say that I am not one. Quite frankly, aside from a few titles like “From Russia With Love”“Thunderball” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, I am not a real fan of Ian Fleming’s writing. And I do not consider those three novels as the best example of action or noir literature. Although Fleming seemed to have had a talent for characterization and picturesque settings, I do not think that most of his narratives were that hot. In fact, his plots seemed to be the weakest part about his writing. I do not think that a Fleming plot is needed for a Bond movie to be great. As for the battle between the fantasy-adventure elements and the spy thriller elements, EON Productions have switched back and forth between the two styles. In fact, so has Ian Fleming. The switch between the two styles can be viewed as one aspect in which EON Productions has been “pure” to the novels.

And this all brings me back to this demand that EON Productions be pure to the Fleming novels. I am not saying that many of these “purist” fans stop posting complaints about the differences between the novels and the movies. Hell, they have every right to express their opinions. But if they are going to post these complaints for the world to see, then fans such as myself have the right to express why I do not agree with them. Just as these same “purists” have the right to express their disagreement with this article – which I suspect will soon happen.

I have one last question to ask – since when has EON Productions ever been completely “pure” to the novels? Was it in“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, the 1969 adaptation of Fleming’s 1963 novel? Well, there are some differences between the novel and the movie. One, the literary Tracy is a blond. The movie Tracy (Diana Rigg) obviously is a brunette. And in the movie, Bond is portrayed by an Australian actor, whose accent popped up every now and then. If EON Productions has never been completely “pure” to the novels – aside from changing back and forth between using fantasy elements and thriller elements – why on earth should it start now?

“SKYFALL” (2012) Review

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“SKYFALL” (2012) Review

Before I had sat down in a movie theater to watch the latest James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, it occurred to me that four years had passed since the last movie about the MI-6 agent. During those four years, EON Productions endured another round of legal entanglements regarding the Bond franchise, delaying the production and release of “SKYFALL”by at least two years. But in the end, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson came through and released the company’s 23rd James Bond film. 

“SKYFALL” begins in Istanbul, Turkey; where MI-6 agents James Bond and “Eve” go after a mercenary named Patrice, who has managed to steal a list of undercover NATO agents from the laptop hard drive of a MI-6 field agent. Their assignment ends in disaster after Patrice wounds Bond in the shoulder, and “Eve” accidentally shoots Bond, during his fight with the mercenary atop a moving train. Following the Istanbul debacle, “M” is pressured by Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory to retire. During M’s return from her meeting, the MI-6 computer servers are breached, resulting in an explosion at the building that kills a number of employees. Bond, who had used his “death” to retire, returns to London and asks to return to the field. Despite his failure to pass a series of physical and psychological examinations, M allows Bond to find the person behind the theft of the list of NATO agents and the MI-6 explosions. Bond’s investigations eventually leads him to a former MI-6 agent named Raoul Silva who wants to humiliate, discredit and ultimately kill M as revenge against her for betraying him years ago.

When I finally walked out of that movie theater, as the end credits for “SKYFALL” rolled, the first thought that came to my mind was that the movie was a piece of crap. I was very disappointed by “SKYFALL”. The more I thought about the plot and characterizations featured in “SKYFALL”, I finally realized that my feelings about the movie had not changed. I still believe it was a piece of crap and one of the worst James Bond movies I have ever seen.

There are certain aspects of “SKYFALL” that I found admirable. And before I delve into the reasons behind my dislike of the film, I might as point out these admirable traits. Unlike 2008’s “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”“SKYFALL” was not marred by an uneven pacing. Directed Sam Mendes did an excellent job of giving the movie a steady pace that did not leave me breathless or groggy. I also have to give kudos to cinematographer Roger Deakins for his sharp, yet beautiful photography of the different locations featured in the film – especially for Istanbul, London and Scotland. And most of the action sequences in the movie – especially Raoul Silva’s attack upon M at a public inquiry and the chase scene through London’s Underground system – struck me as very exciting and well shot, thanks to Mendes’ direction, along with Stuart and Kate Baird’s editing.

Looking back on “SKYFALL”, I noticed that it featured some first-rate acting, by a superb cast. Daniel Craig returned for a third time to portray 007. And as usual, he was in top form, capturing the British agent’s self doubts after being shot in Istanbul. After seventeen years, Judi Dench portrayed “M” for the last time in a plot in which her character plays a major role in the story. Many have been speculating about an Academy Award for her excellent performance. The only reason I am not jumping on this bandwagon is that Dench has been knocking it out of the ballpark as “M”, ever since she first assumed the role in 1995’s “GOLDENEYE”. Javier Bardeem seemed to have been inspired by Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance as the Joker in his portrayal of Raoul Silva, a former MI-6 agent who seeks revenge against “M”. In his way, the actor’s performance was just as colorful. However, I do not think I will ever consider him to be one of my favorite Bond villains. I found his performance a little too showy and not very original for my tastes.

Naomie Harris was in fine form as MI-6 agent “Eve”, who turned out to be the iconic Miss Moneypenny. I really enjoyed Harris’ performance, but I have something to say about her transformation from field agent to secretary. Bérénice Marlohe did the best she could with the small role of Sévérine, a former victim of the sex trade who became Silva’s representative and mistress. Ben Whishaw was a ball as a young and geeky “Q”, who seemed more like a computer hacker, instead of an arms quartermaster. Both Ralph Fiennes and Rory Kinnear gave solid performances as Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory and Bill Tanner, “M”‘s Chief of Staff. And Albert Finney gave a lively and entertaining performance as Kincade, the gamekeeper of the Skyfall estate that belongs to Bond.

But despite its positive attributes, in the end I found “SKYFALL” very disappointing. And I believe the movie’s main problems could be found in the script written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. The movie began in Istanbul with Bond and Moneypenny attempting to get their hands on the list of undercover NATO agents that had been stolen from another MI-6 agent. Unfortunately, the movie never explained how a field agent ended up with such a list on his laptop hard drive in the first place. Some fans have dismissed this plot hole, claiming it would have been unnecessary for the script to explain such a situation. I am sorry, but I refuse to dismiss it. For me, it does not make sense that a field agent stationed in Istanbul would have such a list in the first place. Only unusual circumstances could explain this situation . . . and the screenplay refused to do so.

The screenplay also failed to explain why Silva waited so long to go after the NATO agents on the list Patrice stole for him. A certain period of time had passed between the incident in Istanbul and the bombing at MI-6. What took Silva so long to go after those agents? And did “M” or the British government ever bothered to alert NATO that some of their agents were exposed? Judging by the ease Silva killed some of the agents, I gather not. I also found Silva’s plans regarding his revenge against “M” rather convoluted. From what I gathered, he wanted to humiliate her before he can kill her. If it was that easy for him to bomb MI-6, why did he have to resort to allowing himself to be captured by Bond, in order to get close enough to kill her? He could have flown to the U.K. and killed before Bond or anyone else was able to guess he was behind the debacles that dogged “M” in the movie. And how did he know she would be appearing before a public inquiry on the very day he busted out of MI-6’s new quarters?

I also found Bond’s efforts to save “M” very questionable. One, how did Silva managed to track Bond and “M” to the former’s Scottish estate so easily? Were Bond and “M” wearing tracking devices? Did Silva use their cell phones? How? And if Bond had expected Silva to track them, why on earth did he not recruit back up to help him? If Silva had men to help attack “M” at the public inquiry, surely Bond must have realized that the former MI-6 agent would have help in Scotland. Instead, Bond relied upon the aging Kincade. I do not know who to charge with incompetence – the Bond character or the writers that created this scenario. Speaking of Skyfall, the sequence there featured two graves with the names of Bond’s parents, Andrew and Monique Bond. One might ask “what is wrong with that?” This would have been fine . . . if Purvis, Wade and screenwriter Paul Haggis had not re-written Bond’s past in 2006’s “CASINO ROYALE”. In that particular movie, Tresury agent Vesper Lynd accurately surmised that Bond was a middle-class or working-class orphan, whose education had been financed by a wealthy benefactor. In “SKYFALL”, the writers used Bond’s literary background. In other words, his father came from the Scottish landed gentry and his mother, from Switzerland. So . . . what happened to the background established in “CASINO ROYALE”? Did EON Productions rebooted the franchise for a second time, during Craig’s tenure? If so, I find this very sloppy on the writers’ part.

Before “SKYFALL” was released in U.S. movie theaters, I came across a few articles on the Internet, claiming that the movie might be less sexist than the previous Bond films. They cited the expanded role of “M” as an example of this more politically correct portrayal. After seeing “SKYFALL”, I realized that this opinion of a more feminist friendly movie is a joke. This movie has set the portrayal of female characters in the Bond franchise back at least forty to fifty years . . . back to characters such as Honey Ryder, Jill and Tilly Masterson, Tiffany Case, Solitaire, Andrea Anders and Mary Goodnight. Here is a look at the four female characters featured in this movie:

*Clair Dowar MP – Helen McCrory portrayed the Member of Parliament who led the inquiry into “M”‘s leadership of MI-6. It was bad enough that McCrory portrayed the character as a screeching harpy. But during the inquiry, she was interrupted by Gareth Mallory, who “suggested” in a patronizing manner that she cease her rants and allow “M” to talk. And she did! Why on earth did the screenwriters allowed Mallory to get away with such behavior to a MP? The script should have allowed Dowar to order Mallory to shut his hole and continue her rant, before allowing “M” to speak. But no. . . the all knowning male, Mallory, is allowed to shut her up in a very patronizing manner.

*Sévérine – Bérénice Marlohe, who portrayed Raoul Silva’s mistress, claimed she was inspired by Famke Janssen’s portrayal of “GOLDENEYE” villainess Xenia Onatopp. Honestly, I do not see the resemblance. Onatopp was a badass and slightly psychotic former fighter pilot and killer. Marlohe’s Sévérine simply struck me as a world weary woman who turned out to be nothing more than a bed warmer for Bond and a long time sex toy and tool for Silva. One, she barely lasted longer than a half hour in the film. Two, Bond had sex with her, despite guessing that she used to be a part of Asia’s child sex trade. Even worse, he failed to consider that sex with her would endanger her life. But he screwed her anyway in a rather . . . tasteless scene and Silva ended up shooting her like a dog. In the end, I realized that Sévérine reminded me of all those female Bond sacrificial lambs, whom Bond got to screw before they got bumped off. Marlohe was really wasted in this movie.

*Eve Moneypenny – Poor Naomie Harris. I realize that as the new Miss Moneypenny, she will have a job with the Bond franchise, as long as Craig continues to portray 007. But honestly, the screenwriters really screwed her in this film. Are audiences really supposed to believe that her character was unsuited to be a field agent, after the debacle in Istanbul? After all, she told “M” that she did not have a clean shot, before the latter ordered her to take it. Yet, upon Eve’s reunion with Bond in London, he tries to undermine her self-esteem by claiming she was unsuited for such a role. And then . . . what happens? Eve is assigned to assist Bond in Macau and ends up saving his life. Later, she held herself well during Silva’s attack against “M” at the public inquiry. Yet, near the end of the film, she informs Bond that he was right and decided to leave the field and become a secretary. A fucking secretary? This is how EON Productions set up Moneypenny for the Craig tenure? Not once did the film ever really indicated that Moneypenny had any difficulty over what happened in Istanbul. I felt really insulted after that last scene between Bond and Moneypenny.

*“M” – “SKYFALL” was supposed to be Judi Dench’s swan song in the role of Head of MI-6, after seventeen years. And this was EON Productions’ idea of a send off for Dench? Transforming her character into an incompetent boob? They had her character making mistakes left and right. Even worse, they reduced this “strong woman” into a useless and helpless female, who needed Mallory to come to her defense during MP Dowar’s rant against her and Bond to save her from Silva. And yet . . . if she was really that incompetent, how is it that she was the only one who figured out that a former MI-6 was behind their troubles? If the portrayal of “M” was supposed to be an example of a proper female hero, EON Productions can keep it.

There were other aspects of “SKYFALL” that left me feeling disappointed. I am a great admirer of Adele as a singer. But honestly? I have no memories of the movie’s theme song performed by her. The song simply went into one ear and out of the other. I also noticed that certain moments in the film showcased Craig posing in a standing position. In other words, he usually stood in one spot – whether at the bow of the boat delivering him to the Macau casino, next to Sévérine at the bow of Silva’s yacht, on a hill overlooking his family’s estate or on the rooftop overlooking the London skyline – feet apart and well dressed. Here is an example of that pose:

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Before the movie ended, I could not tell whether I was watching a James Bond action film or a photo spread from a“GQ” magazine.

Ah . . . EON Productions. You really disappointed me this time. I had bought all of the claptrap about this being one of the best James Bond movies in years. Looking back, I now realize that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had overreacted to some of the negative press over “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, which I actually enjoyed despite its flaws. The fans could not deal with a dark and grim follow-up to “CASINO ROYALE”, and the two producers reacted by delivering a movie that could not make up its mind on whether it was a grim espionage tale or a typical Bond fantasy adventure. It tried to be both and failed in the end . . . at least for me.

“Daniel Craig and the Future of JAMES BOND”

“DANIEL CRAIG AND THE FUTURE OF JAMES BOND”

There have been a great deal of talk about how EON Productions will take the James Bond character in future movies. Many have also speculated on how Daniel Craig will approach the character – especially in the upcoming BOND 23. I have no idea how the Bond character will be treated in future movies, but I do a few things to say about Daniel Craig as Bond. 

First of all, I do not believe that “CASINO ROYALE” and “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” were unique in being the only Bond films that seemed like a slightly realistic spy thriller. Before Craig’s two movies, there was “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” and “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. We also had movies like “THUNDERBALL”and “OCTOPUSSY” with plots that seemed very probable in the real world (nuclear threats in the name of extortion or/and political manipulation). And there was “LICENSE TO KILL” that was gritty, but seemed more like a revenge story than a spy thriller. But I do believe that “CASINO ROYALE” was one of the best movies in the franchise. I also believe that “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was an exciting and gritty thriller, although not as well done as “CASINO ROYALE” In fact, I feel that both movies were well-written thrillers with complex and three-dimensional characters.

As for Daniel Craig, many have criticized his Bond for acting like a professional and experienced agent at the beginning of“CASINO ROYALE”, despite being a novice. I have to point out that in this version of “CASINO ROYALE”, Bond WAS NOT a novice spy at the beginning of the story. He already had experience as an intelligence operative for the Royal Navy and as an agent for MI-6. At the beginning of the movie, he had simply been promoted to the “00 Section”. He had already been serving with MI6 for some time.

Although I have enjoyed the performances of all six (or should I say eight?) actors who have portrayed Bond, Daniel Craig’s performance has appealed to me a lot stronger than the others. I am not saying that I believe that his Bond is the best. I simply prefer his Bond a lot stronger than I do the others. So far, Craig’s Bond has not been tinged by Connery’s lack of humanity, Lazenby’s inexperienced background, Moore’s cheeky humor, Dalton’s heavy angst factor or Brosnan’s mediocre scripts. This latest manifestation of Bond is a ruthless and athletic man with a sardonic sense of humor, a taste for good living, a penchant for taking chances and allowing his ego to go uncheck. But knowing EON Productions’ reputation for sometimes screwing up a good thing, who knows what will happen?

I have heard comments that Craig’s Bond had fully become the iconic figure of the last 44 or 45 years by the end of “CASINO ROYALE”. But others have pointed out that the character who had shot Mr. White at the end of the movie had become the same man who had chased Mollaka in Madagascar. I am more inclined to believe the latter. As his next film, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE” seemed to have attest, I believe that Bond’s character had slightly regressed, due to the heartache he had suffered over Vesper’s betrayal and death. Somewhat. After all, Bond did manage to bring down Mr. White without allowing his emotions, ego or trigger finger to get the best of him. He barely managed to keep his thirst for revenge in check. Although his refusal to face his feelings for Vesper formed a cloud over him. Hopefully, EON Productions will allow the audience to see Bond develop beyond the cold-blooded and brutal man that used women to avoid emotional attachments. I hope that by the time Craig shoots his last Bond film, his character will develop into a somewhat mature man who has learned to balance any emotional attachments he may have formed with the ruthless agent he has to be in order to do his job.

“QUANTUM OF SOLACE” (2008) Review

“QUANTUM OF SOLACE” (2008) Review

I am going to be perfectly frank. When I first saw the 2008 James Bond movie, “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, I  had hesitated to write a review.  Why? Because it had left me in a daze. Four days after I saw the movie I continued to experience slight feelings of confusion about it.  It was not until my second viewing of the film that I finally developed solid opinions of the film.

”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was a direct sequel of the 21st film in the Bond franchise, ”CASINO ROYALE”. The previous movie ended with James Bond’s (Daniel Craig) discovery that the woman he loved – an accountant for the British government named Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) – had betrayed him during his dealings with a banker for terrorist named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). Before she committed suicide during his fight against some thugs hired by the organization behind Le Chiffre in Venice, Vesper left Bond a name and telephone number that linked to a Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), a business middleman with connections to an organization that finances terrorism. By the end of”CASINO ROYALE”, Bond managed to capture Mr. White with a well placed shot to the latter’s kneecap. ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” picked up with Bond being chased by Mr. White’s associates on a road to Sienna, Italy. After eluding the thugs in a deadly road chase, Bond delivered a wounded Mr. White to a MI-6 safe house in the Italian city.

Due to Mr. White’s capture and unsuccessful interrogation, Bond and ‘M’ (Judi Dench) learned that the organization behind the prisoner – Quantum – has many spies planted throughout top-level government agencies around the world. One of those spies turned out to be ‘M’’s bodyguard, who allowed Mr. White to escape via an attack on ‘M’. Bond managed to track down and kill the traitorous Mitchell before he could question the man. However, a few banknotes found in the latter’s pockets allowed MI-6 to track down one of Mitchell’s contacts – a man named Slate in Haiti. This encounter with Slate led Bond to a revenge-bent Bolivian Secret Service agent named Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) and her connections to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) and Quantum. The rest of the movie focused upon Bond resorting to almost any means possible to learn more about Quantum, foil their plans to control the water supply in Bolivia, and help Camille deal with her desire for revenge against General Medrano (Joaquin Cosío), a Bolivian general responsible for her family’s death and who has a business/political arrangement with Greene and Quantum.

I have to admit that I found ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”to be a well written film. I believe the screenwriters did a first-rate job in creating a sequel to ”CASINO ROYALE”. Not only did they bring back characters like Mr. White, Rene Mathis and Felix Leiter from the last film, the script even continued the issue of Bond’s relationship with Vesper Lynd and his reaction to her death. Several scenes touched upon this continuation:

*Mr. White’s mention of Vesper’s death in Venice
*’M’ and Bond’s discussion at MI-6 Headquarters of Vesper’s French-Algerian boyfriend
*Rene Mathis and Bond’s discussion of Vesper during their flight to Bolivia
*Mathis’ insistence that Bond forgive Vesper for her betrayal and himself for being fooled before the former’s death
*Bond’s reaction to Camille’s revelation about her own desire for vengeance against General Medrano
*Bond’s encounter with Yusef, Vesper’s French-Algerian boyfriend and member of Quantum, who was hired to compromise her, at the end of the film
*Shots of Vesper and Yusef in a photograph
*A shot of Le Chiffre on a computer screen.

When I had first learned of rumors that Quantum, the organization behind Le Chiffre, Mr. White and Dominic Greene, would be on the same level as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. from the 1960s films, I nearly had a negative reaction to the idea. The last thing I wanted was for EON Productions to attempt to turn back the clock and rehash old storylines. Fortunately, Quantum seemed more representative of the present-day practice of socio-economy by multinational corporations than a criminal organization that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. represented. Yet, like many of these corporations, Quantum does not seem above using violence to achieve some of their means. One of my favorite scenes about Quantum featured Bond’s discovery of certain members of the organization holding a clandestine meeting during an opera in Bregenz, Austria. Another favorite featured a meeting about Bond’s actions between ‘M’ and the Foreign Minister (Tim Pigott-Smith), in which the Minister reminded ‘M’ that they live in times in which governments for countries like the U.S. and Great Britain have a need to cooperate with organizations like Quantum for declining natural resources.

Like ”CASINO ROYALE”, this latest Bond film is blessed with a first-rate cast. Cast members like Judi Dench, Jesper Christiansen, Jeffrey Wright and Giancarlo Giannini repeated their excellent performances. Not only did Dench get a chance to repeat her electrifying chemistry with leading man Daniel Craig, she and Pigott-Smith gave excellent performances in the scene featuring the tense meeting between ‘M’ and the Foreign Secretary. Jesper Christiansen returned in his role as the mysterious Mr. White. Only in this film, he is not as reserved as he had been in “CASINO ROYALE”. Still, I could tell that Christiansen seemed to be enjoying himself. The character of Mr. White managed to escape MI-6’s clutches after Mitchell’s attack upon ‘M’ and a few other agents. How he managed to achieve this with a busted kneecap is beyond my comprehension.

Not only was I pleased to see Jeffrey Wright reprise his role as Felix Leiter, I was especially pleased that Wright was given a chance to expand on his work from the previous movie. In ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, Leiter and a fellow CIA agent named Gregg Beam (David Harbour) are offering U.S. support to Quantum’s plans to help General Medrano stage a coup in Bolivia for oil leases. This situation allowed Wright to masterfully display Felix’s torn loyalties to what he seemed to consider as a distasteful duty and his newly established friendship with Bond. And it was great to see Giannini return as the wise and always witty Rene Mathis. After his arrest in ”CASINO ROYALE”, MI-6 realized they had been wrong and compensated him with a villa on a small island near Italy. Bond and Mathis make their peace before the former convinces the latter to help him deal with Greene and General Medrano. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Giannini and Craig gave beautiful performances in a scene featuring a heart-to-heart discussion between Mathis and Bond about Vesper aboard a Virgin Airline flight to Bolivia. Giannini had never been better.

Most of the supporting characters in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” turned out to be a mixed bag for me. I was impressed by Joaquin Cosio’s portrayal of the greedy and ruthless General Medrano, the Bolivian strongman who had murdered Camille’s family and wants Quantum and the CIA’s help to regain power in the country. Instead of indulging in the usual clichés of the archtypical Latin American dictator, Cosio portrayed Medrano with more restraint and some intelligence. David Harbour was effective as the smug CIA agent, Gregg Beam, who viewed Bond’s activities as nothing more than a threat to his agency’s plans to acquire Bolivian oil leases. On the other hand, I was not impressed by Anatole Taubman’s role as Elvis, Dominic Greene’s cousin and henchman. I had no problem with Taubman’s performance. The problem seemed to be that . . . his presence in the movie was useless. It added nothing to the story. I could almost say the same about Gemma Arterton’s role as MI-6 agent, Strawberry Fields. In fact, I could honestly say that I wish she had never been included in the story in the first place. Her presence in the film was a waste of time. One, she was an unpleasant reminder – at least to me – of those past Bond girls with the ridiculous names and who did nothing more than serve as Bond’s bed warmers. This is exactly how Arterton’s character served the movie. Even worse, the discovery of her body covered in oil brought about an unpleasant reminder of the 1964 movie, ”GOLDFINGER”. It was bad enough that the movie’s screenwriters felt they had to pay homage to a past Bond film. But that the movie in question turned out to be one that I more or less despise was a bit too much for me.

Fortunately, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” also featured an impressive Olga Kurychenko as the Bond leading lady, Camille Montes. The Ukrainian-born actress had to adopt a South American accent for the role as the feisty Russian-Bolivian woman who joined her country’s secret service to avenge the deaths of her family by killing General Medrano. I had first saw Kurychenko in ”HITMAN” with Timothy Olyphant. Although I found the movie rather mediocre, I was more than impressed by her acting skills and her energy, which she effectively infused in her portrayal of Camille. Camille must be the only Bond leading female who has not shared a love scene with the MI-6 agent. Mind you, Camille is not exactly the most impressive Bond girl I have come across. Her personality struck me as a little too impatient and not very skilled as a killer. But Kurychenko did an effective job of conveying this part of Camille’s nature. Ironically, this served the movie rather well considering that both characters were too obsessed in their goals to even consider romance with each other.

The prevailing view of Mathieu Amalric’s role as Dominic Greene, the film’s main villain, seemed to be divided amongst Bond fans. Some view the character as weak and others seemed very impressed. Count me amongst the latter. I had first been impressed by Amalric’s performance in the Steven Spielberg film, ”MUNICH” (in which Daniel Craig also co-starred). My positive view on the actor’s talent continued in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”. I realize that many Bond fans seemed to be more impressed by over-the-top villains. My tastes in villainy seemed to swerve in the opposite direction and I felt more than pleased that Amalric’s Greene strongly reminded me of more subtle villains like Georgi Koskov, Le Chiffre and Ari Kristatos. Amalric gave a skillful performance of a complex man whose witty persona hid a ruthless and cold-blooded nature.

Finally, we come to the man of the hour – namely Daniel Craig in his second outing as MI-6 agent James Bond. His performance in ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was just as superb and breathtaking as his debut performance. I have spent several days trying to find something wrong with Craig’s acting skills in this film. Honestly. So far, I have yet to find fault with his work. Craig effectively managed to continue Bond’s story by conveying the agent’s reactions to the events of ”CASINO ROYALE”. Burned by Vesper’s betrayal, Bond has become an angry man who is also grieving over the death of a woman he had loved very much. Although he tries to keep his anger in check and simply do his job in investigating and exposing Quantum, there are times when his emotions threatened to spiral out of control. And Craig did a superb job in projecting this stage in Bond’s emotional state. Once again, the actor gave a performance that certainly deserved recognition by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And I am quite certain that for the second time, he will be ignored by them.

As I had stated earlier, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” had a good, solid story that could have effectively served as a follow-up to ”CASINO ROYALE” thanks to screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis and uncredited writer Joshua Zetumer (uncredited). Remember when I had stated that the movie had left me in a daze? The following is the reason why. Despite the solid screenplay scripted by the four writers, director Marc Forster nearly ruined the story’s effectiveness with what I can only describe as a rush job with the help of editors Matt Chesse and Rick Pearson. There seemed to be a lot going in the movie’s plot. But Forster failed to unfold that story with a slower pace that would have served the movie in a more effective manner. Instead, the director filled the movie’s first half with a countless array of action sequences that almost left me as dizzy as the last two movies from the ”BOURNE”franchise. It almost seemed as if Forster had channeled Paul Greengrass’ worst directorial traits. This was especially true in the movie’s first two sequences – a mind altering car chase from Mr. White’s villa to Sienna and Bond’s pursuit of the traitorous MI-6 agent Mitchell through the streets of Sienna, Italy. By the time the movie shifted to Bond’s appearance at Mathis’ Italian villa, I was finally able to catch a breath and enjoy the movie without any accompanying dizzy spells. Another victim of Forster’s fast pacing was the story itself. The plot had nearly fallen victim to Forster’s attempt to be stylish and unique with his fast pace and editing.

Thankfully, not all seemed lost for the film’s action sequences. There were three of them that I found impressive. I enjoyed Bond’s deadly fight with Slate inside the latter’s hotel room in Haiti. I also enjoyed the finale sequence in which Bond dueled against Dominic Greene, while Camille struggled in her attempt to kill General Medrano. But the most effective action sequence – at least for me – turned out to be the aerial dogfight between Bond in a Douglas DC-3 propeller plane and Quantum pilots in both an Aermacchi SF-260 fighter and a Bell UH-1 helicopter. As far as I am concerned, Chesse and Pearson did their best work in this scene. And they were ably assisted by Roberto Schaefer’s excellent photography.

James Bond traveled to many locations in this film – Sienna, Italy; Haiti; Bregenz, Austria; back to Italy and Bolivia. Despite this dizzying array of locations, I must admit that I found most of them rather uninspiring aside from Haiti (filmed in Panama) and the Italian location that served as the backdrop for Mathis’ villa. ”CASINO ROYALE” had surprised the world with a very memorable gun barrel sequence, following its pre-title sequence. ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” did the same with a gun barrel sequence near the end of the film. Unfortunately, the latter sequence was not only very ineffective, but rushed . . . just like the movie’s pacing. One major controversy had arisen from the film. Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had decided to bypass Amy Winehouse as the performer for the film’s theme song and selected Jack White and Alicia Keys. White provided the song, ”Another Way to Die”, and Keys the vocals. Granted, the song is not that memorable to me. It was tolerable, but not memorable. And it is certainly not the worst Bond song I have ever heard. The song, ”Goldeneye”, still holds that honor in my eyes. And quite frankly, I preferred listening to ”Another Way to Die” over watching the horrendous main title designs created by a company called MK12. From what I understand, Marc Forster had been the one who wanted the company hired for the job, instead of Daniel Kleinman. That man has a lot to answer for.

In the end, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” was a memorable follow up to Daniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond, ”CASINO ROYALE” Was it just as good or better than the 2006 film? No. If EON Productions had hired a director more suited for action, remove characters like Strawberry Fields and Elvis from the cast and slowed down the movie’s pace, it could have been just as good. Instead, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” turned out to be a movie that I would rank as ”Very Good”, instead of ”Excellent”.