Summer Under the Stars: Edward G. Robinson

images

This Monday, Turner Classic Movies kicks off my favorite annual tradition: Summer Under the Stars. Each day for 24 hours, one star’s films are featured. This week and all through August each week I’ll be writing about a featured star. The first day of Summer Under the Stars has me so excited I can barely put it in words. But I’ll try. The star kicking things off is one of my favorites: Edward G. Robinson.

Robinson, though never nominated for an Oscar (an epic fail on the part of the Academy, although he did get a posthumous lifetime achievement award) was one of the most versatile stars of his generation. Most people probably known him from the film that made him a star: Little Caesar. While there had been gangster films before, none had been as gritty or powerful. While the 1931 film may seem a little dated in the story department, it endures because of Robinson’s tour de force performance. Little Caesar is absolutely ruthless in his quest to be the top gangster. He’s menacing right from the word go. But the key moment in the film is when he’s supposed to shoot his best friend Joe (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). As terrifying as he is, he can’t shoot his best friend. He cares about him too much. There’s a shot where Robinson says nothing, and it’s just a closeup of his face. You can see all the anguish and conflict of emotion without him saying one word. That’s acting.

While the gangster tough guy is the image most people have of Robinson, he also had great comic chops. In some of his best comedies he got to lampoon his bad guy image. My favorite of all of them is A Slight Case of Murder. Based on a Damon Runyon play, Robinson plays a former bootlegger trying to go legitimate with comic results. He’s being foreclosed on and suddenly corpses start turning up while his prospective son-in-law, who happens to be a cop (because of course) is visiting. But the plot summary doesn’t do the film justice. My favorite scene is the one where Robinson is test tasting his beer (he just sells what he used to, but under a new name). For years he hasn’t known how bad it tastes. His facial expressions in that scene alone are hysterical. But the whole film is just a riot and really gives him a chance to show off his comic acting chops. I should also mention a film e made called Larceny, Inc. It was remade by Woody Allen (his film was called Small Time Crooks). It’s about three ex-cons who buy a luggage store after they get out of prison to tunnel into the vault of a bank next door. They expect the store to fail, but it ends up prospering. It’s a hidden gem worth seeing.

In addition to being able to do drama and comedy, Edward G. Robinson proved himself to be a great character actor later in his career. His first real character actor role was a home run. It was playing  Barton Keyes in the film noir classic Double Indemnity. In a film that stars such great actors as Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, it’s Robinson who steals the show as a dogged insurance claims investigator. He doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but he steals every scene he’s in. While he gets a lot of laughs (Robinson does get many of the funniest lines), he’s also the conscience of the film. The murder plot, insurance fraud scheme, and relationship between Stanwyck and MacMurray are all important plot elements. But it’s the relationship between Keyes and Neff (MacMurray) that’s the heart and soul of the movie. That makes the ending of the film where Keyes finds out *spoiler alert!) that Neff is mixed up in murder and fraud all the more heartbreaking. You can hear it in his voice and see it on his face. Robinson turned in may Oscar-worthy performances, but that one should have at least earned him a nomination.

There are two other character actor roles I want to mention. One is The Cincinnati Kid, which I discovered last year during Summer Under the Stars. Robinson plays card shark Lancey Howard. The whole film builds to a poker showdown between established card player Howard and up and comer The Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen). *spoiler alert!* The predictable thing would have been for rising star McQueen to win the last hand. But Howard wins and goes out with one of my favorite lines in movie history,”you’re good, kid, but as long as I’m around, you’re only second best.” He looks McQueen right in the eyes and leaves.It’s pretty great.

Finally, there’s Edward G. Robinson’s last performance in Soylent Green. In it he plays Sol Roth. He’s the partner of NYPD detective Thorn (Charlton Heston). The two investigate the death of the CEO of the Soylent Corporation. Soylent of course makes Soylent Green, used to feed people in an overpopulated NYC with depleted resources. Of course, we find out later that Soylent Green has a deadly secret. Soylent green is people! But before we learn that, there’s a great dynamic between Robinson and Heston. The scene where Sol goes through assisted suicide (it becomes commonplace in the overpopulated future) is all the more emotional when you know it’s the last thing Robinson filmed. Ten days after filming wrapped, he died of cancer. He was brilliant right up to his last performance.

I could write volumes about my appreciation for Edward G. Robinson. He could play gangsters, menacing sea captains (see the vastly underrated film The Sea Wolf), comic variations on his gangster character in films like The Little Giant, a compassionate father (Our Vines Have Tender Grapes), a frustrated college professor seduced by a femme fatale (The Woman in the Window)…his range knew no bounds. Originally a stage actor and a very cultured man (he was a rare art collector and spoke seven languages), Robinson proved his versatility time and again on-screen. What he may have lacked in matinée idol looks he made up for with talent. As Robinson said,”I know I’m not much on face value, but when it comes to stage value, I’ll deliver for you.” Boy did he ever! Edward G. Robinson may never have been nominated for an Oscar, but he deserves to mentioned along with the likes of other greats like Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart, and Cary Grant. He’s that good.

Advertisements

Bond Blogathon Day 24: Spectre

spectre

Greetings, readers! This is the last day of my Bond Blogathon. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my takes on all the Bond films. It’s been an interesting journey through the franchise. So, without further ado, here’s my take on the most recent Bond film: Spectre.

You may recall that a few days ago I re-watched Quantum of Solace hoping it would be better upon second viewing. Sadly that wasn’t the case. What’s interesting is that Spectre was a film I liked initially, but not as much as Skyfall. The second time around, Spectre grew on

 

Bond is back. He is in Mexico pursuing a hit man. He kills the man but not after making a scene. When he returns to England his boss M (Ralph Fiennes) is not happy because a government man known as C (Andrew Scott) is trying to shut down the 00 network and replace it with a new surveillance system which will essentially put an end to privacy. M tells Bond to stand down and he has Q (Ben Whishaw)  inject him with a tracking device. Bond reveals to Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) why he was in Mexico. He asks her to help him by getting some info on certain people. He asks Q to make sure no one knows he left the UK and went to Italy to talk to the hit man’s wife. After talking to her he goes to a meeting of an organization and when he’s discovered they try to kill him but he escapes. Moneypenny tells him who the person he is looking for is and it turns out to be someone he knows. He goes to him and asks him to tell him about the organization. He initially refuses till Bond realizes he is in fear for his daughter (Lea Seydoux) so Bond promises to protect her. Which he tries to do but she doesn’t want him around. But when someone tries to grab her he saves her. And she agrees to help him.–IMDB

 

To cut to the chase, the villain turns out to be the supposedly dead Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). All the events in Bond’s life from Casino Royale through Spectre are connected. SPECTRE was behind all the evil schemes of the last few movies. Why? Because Bond has made life a living hell for them in his years as a 00 agent. It’s an interesting way to link the past and present films together and give us new insight into Bond himself. I just wish the screenplay had been a little more efficient. It’s overly complicated when it doesn’t need to be.

As I mentioned earlier, I did enjoy Spectre more the second time around. It’s not quite as good as Casino Royale or Skyfall. Thankfully it’s also not as big of a mess as Quantum of Solace. One of the problems I still have with Spectre is that it could have used the talents of Christoph Waltz better. There’s so much build-up to him in that early board meeting, and then…he just talks…a lot. Too much talking and not enough evil scheming for my taste. Sure he gets to screw with Bond’s head a little bit, but he would have been scarier with better dialogue and just more to do. Andrew Scott, who plays his henchman, is much more interesting.

On the bright side, Daniel Craig is solid. He does a good job of showing us Bond as a tortured hero. He doesn’t just brood all the time. He’s much more believably human. And in this film we also get lots of screen time for Ralph Fiennes as M. He’s supportive of Bond while also being a tough leader. I also like Ben Whishaw as Q. In this movie he gets to be more than MI6’s resident gear head. We see him developing a friendship with Bond much luck Desmond Llewelyn had when he played the role. Madeline was a decent enough Bond girl. It’s nice to see Bond in a relationship with someone who understands him. I just didn’t enjoy her as much as, say Halle Berry or Michelle Yeoh.

Bond does have a few cool gadgets: a watch that comes in handy when he’s at the mercy of Blofeld and an Aston Martin that has some fun features. The action sequences are of good quality, especially the opening in Mexico City and the finale in London where Bond and crew have to stop SPECTRE’s surveillance system from going online and ending the 00 program.

Spectre is a good but not great Bond movie. What it does it does well. But I wish the film’s pacing had been a little better, the screenplay a little less convoluted, and Christoph Waltz had been given more opportunities to shine. Director Sam Mendes delivers a good follow-up to Skyfall. But John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth could have tightened up their script more. While the action scenes were good, the movie could have used a little more. Thomas Newman’s score and Sam Smith’s opening song grew on me this time. Overall Spectre is a good Bond film. I just wish it had had the ambition and imagination of Skyfall.

That’s it for my Bond Blogathon! Join me in August when I’ll be covering TCM’s Summer Under the Stars.

Bond Blogathon Day 23: Skyfall

Skyfall-Poster-001

Greetings, readers! I’m almost done with my Bond Blogathon. I only have one movie left. Wow! Yesterday I wrote about my loathing of Quantum of Solace. Thankfully the next Bond film, Skyfall, succeeds in every way that previous film failed. It puts the series back on track. Thank goodness!

Skyfall’s plot involves a plot to out all MI6’s secret agents and get back at M. But there’s more to it than that.

When an MI6 hard disc with the identities of NATO’s agents is stolen, James Bond (Daniel Craig) chases the agent through Istanbul with the support of the local field agent Eve (Naomi Harris). M (Judi Dench) orders Eve to shoot the agent on the top of a train, but she misses the target and hits 007 that falls in a river and is presumed dead. When M’s computer is hacked, the MI6 building is blown-up and the agency moves to an ancient bunker that belonged to Churchill. Then, five MI6 agents have their identities exposed and three of them are executed and M has her authority and procedure questioned by her superior Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). Out of the blue, 007 reappears from the shadows and hunts down the responsible for the theft of the HD. He reaches Severine (Berenice Marlohe) and uses her to find the responsible for the actions, the former top-notch MI6 agent Tiago Rodriguez, a.k.a. Silva (Javier Bardem), who had been betrayed by M and now is seeking out revenge against the veteran leader of the MI6.–IMDB

After the last film where the screenwriters made it look like M had no clue what she was doing, Skyfall is a step back in the right direction. The story contains not just exciting action, but gets back to developing the characters we’ve come to know and love over the 50 years the franchise has been around. We learn a lot about what drives Bond (a difficult childhood), and see how making tough calls on the job can weigh on you and come back to bite you (just look at what happens to M). This isn’t just a mindless action movie like Quantum of Solace was. Skyfall loves the established Bond universe and embraces everything that makes the series great.

I’m pleased to say the acting all across the board is leaps and bounds better than the last film. Craig gives us a complex, and, at times, vulnerable, Bond. He’s still the gritty agent that started to come into being in Casino Royale. But in Skyfall, he’s given much more to do thanks to a much sharper screenplay. It’s amazing what a difference good writing makes. This movie isn’t 2 1/2 hours of Bond being a broody, one-note character. Skyfall succeeds in completely selling me on Craig as Bond. And Judi Dench…wow! This is her best performance in the series. While she’s always been stellar, Skyfall really allows her to showcase her range as an actress. She’s just as convincing being tough as vulnerable. And the ending of the movie, well, let’s just say what happens to Judi Dench got me emotional. When  you see the movie you’ll understand why. It’s one of the most emotional endings of any Bond movie. That’s because Skyfall takes the time to develop and make us care about the characters.

There’s a couple of other great performances here. Javier Bardem is nothing short of brilliant as Silva. He’s smart, menacing…I wouldn’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley. Silva is always one step ahead of MI6. There have been a lot of great villains over the years, but for some reason they’re even scarier when they’re one of MI6’s own. It’s terrifying to know evil has been right under your nose the whole time. Bardem doesn’t just shoot us evil looks and have a menacing laugh. He’s a very worthy adverdary for Bond. I actually was genuinely scared for Bond. That’s a testament to Bardem’s acting. Skyfall also introduces us to Mallory. Ralph Fiennes, always a good actor, is great as a person with the thankless task of trying to get M to retire. He’s not really a bad guy. He just has a terrible job. I also want to mention Naomie Harris as the new Moneypenny. I really enjoyed Harris and Craig together. It really pains her in that opening sequence when she’s aiming for the assassin and hits Bond by mistake. I look forward to seeing their relationship grow in the next few movies.

How about the action and gadgets? Skyfall has some real winners. There’s a chase by car, motorcycle, and train in Istanbul that opens the movie with a bang. The climactic scene at Bond’s childhood home in Scotland is pretty great as well when Bond and M go all MacGyver and booby trap the house to take out Silva. Bond has some good gadgets too, including a gun that only fires when it detects his fingerprints and a miniature radio he uses to bring the cavalry in to get Silva.

 Skyfall was brilliantly directed by Sam Mendes, whose other credits include American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Revolutionary Road. You don’t necessarily have to be an action director to make a good Bond film. You just have to be a good director period. The screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan is smart and efficient. Thomas Newman’s score, Adele singing the Oscar-winning title song, and the cinematography of the brilliant Roger Deakins all combine to make a film that’s a flat-out winner. Skyfall delivers.

Bond Blogathon Day 22: Quantum of Solace

Quantum Of Solace Poster 3

I am now on day 22 of my Bond Blogathon. Where has July gone? I only have two more movies to go after this. What a journey it’s been through this storied franchise. When something has been around for over 50 years, it’s bound to have its high and low points. Quantum of Solace, I’m sorry to say, is one of the low points. Let me spell out the reasons why.

It’s hard for a movie to overcome a story that’s just not put together well. That’s certainly the case here. Here’s a summary to get you up to speed.

Bond (Daniel Craig) and M (Judi Dench) sniff a shadowy international network of power and corruption reaping billions. As Bond pursues the agents of an assassination attempt on M, all roads lead to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a world-renowned developer of green technology. Greene, a nasty piece of work, is intent on securing a barren area of Bolivia in exchange for assisting a strongman stage a coup there. The CIA looks the other way, and only Bond, with help from a retired spy and from a mysterious beauty, stands in Greene’s way. M wonders if she can trust Bond, or if vengeance possesses him.–IMDB

That sounds like it could be a serviceable plot in the Bond universe. The problem is that the screenplay doesn’t do it any favors. I don’t need every element of a film’s plot spelled out for me, but it should at least be coherent enough that I appreciate the outcome when the end credits roll. I realize that in the Bond universe plots are not exactly the top priority. Realism isn’t the end goal.The movies exist for us to have fun sharing in the adventures of a suave, and when necessary, deadly secret agent. But  even when the movies have been preposterous in the past, they’ve at least been fun to watch. This is one of the few times I was genuinely bored by a Bond movie.

The best way I can describe Quantum of Solace is that it’s a cheap Jason Bourne movie knockoff. It doesn’t have any of the joy of the past 22 films. It doesn’t feel like a Bond film at all. Quantum of Solace takes a lot of talent and wastes it by being a by the numbers action movie. Casino Royale, the previous Bond outing, was a grittier Bond film to be sure. But it had the humor and charm that have been the hallmark of the series over the years. Quantum of Solace is a one-note movie. It’s Bond being broody for 2 1/2 hours. It picks up right where Casino Royale left off. Bond is still upset over his love Vesper. That element could have been part of a more involving story. Bond could have become more emotionally complex and made us appreciate how his character develops later in the series. But no. Quantum of Solace is too lazy to dwell on things like character development. If there’s one thing I hate more than a bad movie, it’s a lazy movie.

Daniel Craig does the best he can with what he’s given. There’s just no room for him to continue the strong character arc he started in the first film. What a waste! And Judi Dench, one of favorite actresses, is completely misused here. The story makes it seem like M doesn’t even know what she’s doing. She talks at one point about how she hopes Bond is a better judge of character than her. If you’re in charge of an intelligence operation, shouldn’t you be good at reading people? I think that would be one of the requirements. What an insult to a great actress and a character I’ve come to know and love since Goldeneye. Dominic Green’s villain is completely forgettable. And Jeffrey Wright isn’t given anything to do. All these people deserve a better movie.

Quantum of Solace was a real disappointment after the previous Bond installment. There’s no memorable dialogue, no fun gadgets, no memorable villain…it’s just no fun and it’s not a Bond film. I expected more from director Marc Forster. He’s turned out some great films in his short career so far: Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, Monster’s Ball…he’s a talented filmmaker. Quantum of Solace is poorly shot, written, and acted. Even the music is bad. David Arnold’s score doesn’t get good until we hear a good mix of the main theme over the end credits. The title sequence song isn’t a bad song, but it feels more like a run of the mill pop song than a Bond song. I really hoped I would enjoy this movie the second time around. Try as I might, I couldn’t. Quantum of Solace is a shoddy mess of a movie not worthy of the Bond name.

Bond Blogathon Day 21: Casino Royale

casino_royale_ver3

Yesterday I wrapped up Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond era. Today I started the tenure of the current Bond: Daniel Craig. I was resistant to his casting initially, but he’s grown into the part really well. Part of it for me was that I thought Brosnan should have gotten one or two more movies as Bond. Some of his scripts were not the greatest. But looking back now that I appreciate what Craig brings to the part, I’ve come around on his films, especially his debut: Casino Royale.

Casino Royale gives us a glimpse and Bond’s early days. It’s a solid prequel. The plot involves a high stakes poker game and the funding of an international terrorist organization.

Casino Royale introduces James Bond (Daniel Craig) before he holds his license to kill. But Bond is no less dangerous, and with two professional assassinations in quick succession, he is elevated to ’00’ status. Bond’s first 007 mission takes him to Uganda where he is to spy on a terrorist, Mollaka (Sebastien Foucan). Things go awry and Bond decides to investigate, independently of MI6 in order to track down the rest of the terrorist cell. Following a lead to the Bahamas, he encounters Dimitrios (Simon Abkarian) and his girlfriend, Solange (Caterina Murino). He learns that Dimitrios is involved with Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), banker to the world’s terrorist organizations. Secret Service intelligence reveals that Le Chiffre is planning to raise money in a high-stakes poker game in Montenegro at Le Casino Royale. MI6 assigns 007 to play against him, knowing that if Le Chiffre loses, it will destroy his organization. M (Judi Dench) places Bond under the watchful eye of the beguiling Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). At first skeptical of what value Vesper can provide, Bond’s interest in her deepens as they brave danger together and even torture at the hands of Le Chiffre. In Montenegro, Bond allies himself with MI6’s local field agent Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini), and Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) who is representing the interests of the CIA. The marathon game proceeds with dirty tricks and violence, raising the stakes beyond blood money and reaching a terrifying climax.–IMDB

The plot sounds complex, but all of it comes together in a very efficient script. Credit screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Paul Haggis for an excellent treatment of Ian Fleming’s novel. The movie has some good throwaway lines and the pacing is excellent throughout. It was one of the fastest near 2 1/2 hour movies I’ve ever sat through.

So, how does Daniel Craig rate as Bond? Right of the gate he’s excellent! Craig is the most hard-edged of the Bonds. Part of that certainly is because of Craig’s acting chops (see: Layer Cake and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to name a few). But something interesting I learned about Craig is that part of his preparation for the part was reading all of Ian Fleming’s novels. He’s the truest to the original vision of the author to be sure. Casino Royale does a terrific job of showing us Bond in his early days learning from his mistakes. Bond and M are at odds for the majority of the film, largely because M sees him as too reckless. But Bond wasn’t the best at his job right away. Casino Royale provides the character with a solid and involving backstory. Craig may not look like a secret agent at first glance, but his performance absolutely sells the material. By the time we get to the high stakes poker game he IS Bond. With Craig at the helm the franchise is in good hands.

Craig has a great supporting cast, particularly Judi Dench, who’s delightfully feisty as M. The real find in this movie though is Eva Green as Vesper. Her character is much more than she appears at first glance. The relationship between James Bond and Vesper is built gradually as the film goes on. They’re the most believable Bond couple since Bond and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. All of the character development gives the ending an extra emotional punch. There’s also Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. Wright delivers a solid performance as always. Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre doesn’t appear all that menacing at first. But once the poker game gets going and when he tortures Bond, he’s absolutely chilling. It’s a cold, calculated, brilliant performance.

Casino Royale is one of the best of all the Bond films. It benefits from Bond directing alumni Martin Campbell (he also directed the excellent Goldeneye). Campbell knows the Bond formula, but delivers a film that does far more than deliver a by the numbers Bond film. Casino Royale builds the Bond mythos from the ground up. Now, it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t just almost 2 1/2 hours of Bond being just dark and broody. There’s great action in this movie, including Bond’s kills at the beginning that elevate him to 00 status (beautifully shot in black and white by Phil Meheux), Bond’s attack on an embassy, and the climactic action scene in Venice with a building collapsing and flooding at the same time. And I have to mention the contribution of David Arnold. Now a Bond film veteran, he continues to deliver solid action music. Chris Cornell singing the title song is also nothing short of fantastic.

Bottom line: Casino Royale is a must-see! It brilliantly lays the groundwork for future outings with Craig. It’s a stellar debut for him in the title role. Craig is the sixth actor to take on the role and one of the best.

Bond Blogathon Day 20: Die Another Day

die-another-day-james-bond-007.19680

Day 20 of my Bond Blogathon brings me to the last of the Pierce Brosnan era. It’s Die Another Day from 2002. I think this movie set some sort of record for the most world issues crammed into the screenplay of a Bond movie. It makes for an interesting last hurrah for Brosnan as James Bond.

Die Another Day sees Bond getting betrayed, teaming up with an American agent who’s his equal, and dealing with everything from gene-altering therapy to conflict diamonds.

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is assigned to a rendezvous with a North Korean army officer, Colonel Moon (Will Yun Lee), in his investigation of a North Korean terrorist, Zao (Rick Yune), but the mission is betrayed and despite a spectacular escape attempt, Bond is captured and subjected to vicious North Korean torture, before being released in an exchange of prisoners. MI6 work him back to health but James is relieved of all duties because he is blamed for leaking information leading to several agents’ deaths while in custody. Determined to clear his name and avenge himself on Zao, James escapes and extracts information from a known Chinese intelligence officer on Zao, leading to Cuba and a meeting with a mysterious diver known only as Jinx (Halle Berry), and eventually to a meeting with mysterious British billionaire Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who has perfected a spaceborne mirror designed to beam solar light and heat anywhere in the world for peaceful purposes. But James uncovers mysterious genetic conversion equipment (people are given new identities with DNA transplants) and also finds the solar mirror is in reality a laser cannon that can destroy almost anything in its path on Earth. James now must rescue Jinx (who is conducting her own, identical, investigation of Graves) and learn the truth about Graves’ laser cannon, leading to a violent showdown as the weapon is fired onto Earth and begins slicing open a gigantic line of destruction.–IMDB

Like I said before, this screenplay throws in everything including the kitchen sink. So much packed into a story would make for a crummy film in lesser hands. But somehow screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade make it all work.

So, let’s break down the Bond film elements and how good they are in this movie. First, let’s talk villains. Zao is an interesting curiosity with diamonds literally embedded into his face. Rick Yune could have been a more memorable villain with a few better lines. But his acting chops make up for it. He does have the evil laugh and evil look thing down pretty well. Toby Stephens as Graves is decent as a villain who’s frankly a yuppie with too much time and money on his hands. But he’s a good villain for the early 2000s and the digital age.

And no Bond film is complete without Bond girls. Halle Berry’s Jinx is easily one of my favorites in the series. She’s a full-fledged government agent, like Michelle Yeoh’s character in Tomorrow Never Dies. I really don’t think Halle Berry gets enough credit as an actress. She can just as easily do action films like Die Another Day and the X-Men movies, and then pull off really heavy material like Monster’s Ball (drop everything and see that movie if you haven’t already). Berry is great here as Bond’s American counterpart. She and Brosnan make a great espionage tag team and couple. The other Bond girl, Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike) is good too. She’s a great femme fatale. The rule in Bond films seems to be there must be one good Bond girl and one bad Bond girl. Frost is a decent bad girl. But Halle Berry’s performance is stronger and her character is more interesting.

Bond films also need gadgets. This film has some pretty cool ones. Before I discuss them, I’d like to mention John Cleese takes over as Q from the late Desmond Llewelyn. He does a good job filling Llewelyn’s shoes. Cleese continues the proud tradition of showing off Q-branch’s new inventions and being crotchety when Bond doesn’t bring his new toys back in one piece. My favorite of Bond’s gadgets is the Aston Martin Vanquish V12. It fires rockets, has an ejector seat, and it has the ability to become invisible. Pretty nifty! Bond also gets a few cool watches. One comes equipped with a mobile detonator and the other can fire lasers. The technology game int he film is strong.

It also isn’t a Bond film without some great action sequences. The opening hovercraft chase in the DMZ is pretty exciting. There’s also a great sequences inside Graves’ ice palace. Bond and Jinx have to escape before the palace completely melts. Then there’s a showdown between the good guys and the bad guys on a military plane. Jinx and Bond have to stop Graves from using his Icarus satellite for its true purpose: its solar beam can cut a swath through the minefield in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Once the minefield is destroyed, North Korea will have a clear path to invade South Korea, Japan, and other countries. Icarus would also destabilize the western nations by destroying any WMD fired on North Korea.

Die Another Day also features another good Bond scores from David Arnold. His score for the part of the film where Bond is in Cuba, the opening hovercraft chase, and the ice palace sequence are my favorites. Madonna’s title song is solid as well.

Die Another Day is a good sendoff for Pierce Brosnan. I liked Brosnan and Berry together. I also appreciated all of the homages to Bond film history. There’s Halle Berry recreating Ursula Andress’ iconic entrance from Dr. No and Bond fooling around with the gadgets of past films in Q’s lab (look for the jet pack from Thunderball and shoes with a blade tip from From Russia With Love). The franchise has a history and here they do a good job of acknowledging it. My quibbles with the film are that the villains could have been a little more memorable and it uses a little too-much CGI, especially during a surfing sequence. But those criticisms aside, director Lee Tamahori’s Bond outing is an enjoyable one. It’s packed with action, has a story line that fits the time, and gives Brosnan an opportunity to shine as Bond one last time. It’s a fun ride!

Bond Blogathon Day 19: The World Is Not Enough

world_is_not_enough_ver3

Greetings, readers! I can’t believe I’m up to the 19th Bond film already. It’s the third of Pierce Brosnan’s four: The World Is Not Enough. While it suffers from an at times overly convoluted plot and a Bond girl who’s one of the weaker ones, it’s actually a rather enjoyable film.

So, let’s get to that convoluted plot. It involves a villain who can feel no pain and a person who wants to monopolize the world’s oil supply.

Oil tycoon Sir Robert King is assassinated in a bombing at M:I-6 headquarters, after recovering $3 million British pounds from a Swiss Bank in Bilbao, Spain. 007 (Pierce Brosnan) is injured in the line of duty trying to pursue the assassin who killed herself by blowing herself up in a hot air-balloon. Fearing Sir Robert’s beautiful daughter and heiress Elektra King’s  (Sophie Marceau) life is in danger, M (Judi Dench) assigns 007 to protect her as Elektra has inherited her father’s legacy and has taken over the business, and is constructing a new oil pipeline. Bond learns an evil terrorist known as Renard (Robert Carlyle), who has a bullet in his head cutting off his senses so he can’t smell, touch and feel no pain, was responsible for the assassination of Sir Robert. With help of nuclear scientist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) and former enemy, Ex KGB agent Valentin Zukovsky (Robbie Coltrane), Bond sets out to foil Renard’s plan as he plots to wipe out Europe with a nuclear bomb. –IMDB

The plot is a little too complicated for its own good. But I will take an ambitious movie over a lazy movie any day. It did provide quite a few good plot twists. A little editing would have helped overall so that we fully appreciate the ending.

Let me start by talking about the acting in this film. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond is very effective, as he has been the last couple of Bond outings. What’s interesting this time around is that Bond appears very human for the first time. He gets injured in the opening action sequence falling off a hot air balloon. Renard later exploits that injury. But it’s the first time Bond, who’s been an invincible hero for so many years, seems like one of us. It makes him more relatable and the movie more effective. Also in top acting form as always is Judi Dench as M. Of the supporting actors, my favorite is Sophie Marceau. People most likely remember her from Braveheart. She’s equally effective act being vulnerable, duplicitous, and ruthless. It’s a great performance. I also enjoyed Robbie Coltrane as Bond’s frenemy Zukovsky. Coltrane is always fun to watch. It’s interesting seeing him in his pre-Harry Potter career phase. Robert Carlyle is a decent enough villain. I didn’t find him as menacing as Elliot Carver in the previous film, but he has his moments, especially in the showdown on the submarine near the end. While most of the cast is stellar, there is one weak link. That’s Denise Richards. I didn’t buy her as a nuclear scientist for one second. And the chemistry between her and Brosnan didn’t do anything for me. She’s just very miscast.Richards is not one of the more memorable Bond girls by any stretch of the imagination. The character could have been memorable in the hands of someone with better acting chops.

On a special note, The World Is Not Enough marks the last appearance of Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Llewelyn passed away the year the film was released. He helped make the franchise what it is. The last scene between Q and Bond is even more poignant knowing that. When he says goodbye to 007, it’s a really emotional moment. He and Brosnan play it just perfectly. I love the last lines they exchange:

Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.

James Bond: And the second?

Q: Always have an escape plan.

That right there is one of the best moments in the screenplay.

Now, how about that action? This movie has great action scenes in spades! The opening sequence has one of my favorite Bond moments: an exhilarating speedboat chase on the Thames River. There’s also a thrilling ski chase (the Bond films sure like doing ski chases), a race against the clock inside part of the oil pipeline where Bond and Dr. Jones try to defuse a bomb, a shootout in a caviar factory where Bond’s car gets sliced in half by saws hanging from a helicopter, and a climax aboard a submarine. This has some of the most exciting action sequences in the history of the franchise. You get plenty of bang for your buck.

The last element I want to touch on is the score. David Arnold does a superb job of bringing the traditional Bond theme into the modern era. His score perfectly blends Monty Norman’s iconic theme and John Barry’s arrangement with modern  musical technology. The result is a very effective action score. I also greatly enjoyed the title song performed by Garbage.

The World Is Not Enough has its flaws, especially the screenplay that could have used some editing and the performance of Denise Richards. But those two things aside, it’s a really fun film. Michael Apted, best known for his Up documentaries, effectively brings all the traditional Bond elements together and helps the series get out of the 90s with a bang.