James Bond

James Bond 17: Goldeneye

The opening two minutes of Goldeneye contain some of the best stunts that I have seen, and while the rest of the movie does not maintain this level of action, I think it is one of the best Bond movies made.

I'm sure it is old news that Piece Brosnan is the new James Bond. From the trailers I knew that this was going to be a good thing, since I didn't think much of Timothy Dalton or George Lazenby. Brosnan has the look, the style, and the voice that James Bond should have (in motion pictures at least). He has in him some of the better characteristics of Connery (the walk and the sophistication) and Moore (the quick one-liners, the cheeky smile, and the furrowed brow), thus making an ideal Bond.

The movie is good mainly because it does not deviate significantly from any of the older Bond movies with Connery and Moore in them. The girls, the cars, the guns, the stunts, and the surrealism in the introductory credits are still there, as are Bond's old colleagues Q (Desmond Llewelyn) and Moneypenny (Samantha Bond).

However, M, the division head, has been replaced by a female (Judi Dench) who thinks of Bond as a "sexist mysogynistic dinosaur." But she needs him to to recover a device codenamed Goldeneye, which is a relic of the Cold War (among many others in the movie). The device, built by the Russians, destroys by detonating a nuclear device in space, resulting in waves of electromagnetic radiation causing damage to electronic equipment on the surface. In order to track down Goldeneye, Bond has to fight his old friend 006 (Sean Bean), who plans to use the Goldeneye device to extract revenge upon England, Xenia Onatopp (Femke Janssen), an ex-Russian fighter pilot with a literal lust for violence, and General Ourumov (Gottfried John), who wants to become the next Iron Man of Russia. On his side, Bond has Natalya Simyonova (Isabella Scorupco), a computer programmer who survived the first detonation of Goldeneye, CIA agent Jack Wade (Joe Don Baker), BMWs that fire missiles, pens that explode, and other Q inventions.

Sean Bean plays a great villain, and the chemistry between 006 and 007 comes off well. Femke Janssen also plays a great villainess, and together they represent a formidable opponent worthy of Bond. The story is typical Bond fare, and while some of the scenes are absurd, it fits in well with previous efforts. Contrary to popular opinion, the plot isn't really outdated---the dangers of devices created in the former Soviet Union during the Cold War falling into the wrong hands is a pretty real threat. The music is about the only thing I think which has been really "modernised", and I don't think it takes away too much from the movie. Tina Turner does a great job on the introductory song (written by Bono and The Edge). Goldeneye is an excellent action flick, and a great Bond movie.

James Bond 18: Tomorrow Never Dies

As has been repeated several times, the demise of Communism in the Soviet Union is one of the worst things to ever have happened to Hollywood. Dozens of plot devices were suddenly no longer available. Some writers, however, kept going, dishing out the same plots, only realising later that they could no longer bank on the anti-Communist tendencies that had been present in the general populace to carry the movie. However, a few movies in Hollywood managed to reinvent themselves. Fortunately for us, the James Bond series is one of them.

In the latest James Bond flick, Tomorrow Never Dies, not only do we see cooperation between the Imperialists and the Communists, but we also see a more confident Pierce Brosnan playing James Bond, and the contentment of knowing that the more some things change, the more they stay the same.

Brosnan is definitely the right person to play 007. Neither George Lazenby nor Timothy Dalton were very charismatic, and Roger Moore and Sean Connery are not as young (though it would be interesting to see a Bond movie set in the future (i.e., depicting an old or retired Bond), with Connery returning). To his credit, Brosnan appears to have settled into the driver's seat, making the depiction of James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies one of the best.

The plot in Tomorrow Never Dies is essentially the same as other Bond movies. The movie opens with a great action sequence, even better than the one in Goldeneye, which depicts Bond preventing a plane carrying nuclear weapons from being destroyed by a missile. The credits sequence is spectacular, primarily due to the presence of an "electronic figurine".

Soon we switch gears and learn of an evil media tycoon, Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), who seeks to control how information is distributed around the world. Carver is a character who literally is symbolic of people like Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch, but he reminded me of Bill Gates. Of course, the ultimate goal of this control is the epitome of capitalism: acquisition of wealth. How ironic then that a movie series that relied on anti-communist tendencies now relies on anti-capitalist tendencies to sell itself.

Carver's idea of information control involves being the source of information generated, so he can be the "first" to distribute it. To this end, he engineers a situation, through the use of his technology, where China and the United Kingdom are almost at war with each other. Bond is assigned to stop him.

As Bond goes about his job, he runs into Carver's loyal henchman Stamper (Gotz Otto), Dr. Kaufman (Vincent Schiavelli), one of the most humourous characters in the movie, Wai Lin (Michelle Yeoh), a Chinese agent who helps Bond fight Carver, and Paris Carver (played listlessly by Teri Hatcher), an old flame of Bond.

At this point, the burning questions are: how long does it take before Bond gets to sleep with Paris and Wai Lin? How many times does Carver try to kill Bond and Wai Lin? Who dies first: Stamper or Carver? And so on. For answers to these, you have to see the movie.

While it may seem like a lot has changed, but in some ways, the Bond movie series has still remained the same.

Brosnan and Yeoh are well-matched. I much prefer Yeoh, who is fairly charismatic and quite athletic, to many of the other ladies Bond has been paired up with. Pryce plays a brilliant over-the-top villain. One of the most amusing scenes in the movie is when Carver mockingly imitates Wai Lin's kicks and punches, ending with "pathetic!"

The main problem I had with the movie was the less-than-perfect production. Perhaps it was due to filming in a foreign country, but there's a lot of awkwardness among the extras, which indicates that not enough footage was collected, or enough attention wasn't paid in the cutting room. But since I like Jackie Chan movies, this is only a minor nitpick as far as I am concerned.

Other problems include a suggested conflict between M (Judi Dench) and a British general, which is never exploited fully, and the one-liners by Moneypenny (Samantha Bond), whose role entails little more than making little quips, irked me. Finally, there is little inventiveness (unlike in Jackie Chan movies) involved in how Bond gets out of the scrapes he gets himself in.

The premise of the movie isn't that far off from reality. Given the direction intellectual property laws are heading, nothing short of a police state will ensure that the so-called "owners of information" profit from every use of the information. And who said a Bond movie isn't thought-provoking?

James Bond 19: The World is Not Enough

The latest James Bond film, The World is Not Enough is an action-packed thrill-ride that delights and comforts in its predictability.

Once again, the plot is based on a mystery of international proportions. Oil tycoon Robert King (David Calder) is killed by a bomb planted in a suitcase of money that James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) bungee jumps of a multi-story building to retrieve. Bond is "assigned" to protect the life of the magnate's daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau). The primary villain is suspected to be Renard (Robert Carlyle), aka the Anarchist, a man responsible for kidnapping Elektra but who is now dying a slow death as a bullet from 009's gun travels through his brain making him stronger every day he continues to live.

But like in any Bond film, things aren't necessarily what they seem. Bond arrives in Kazakhstan and encounters Christmas Jones (Denise Ricards), a nuclear physicist, who is in charge of validating the former Soviet Union's extinct nuclear programme. Together they try to stop Renard from stealing plutonium and using it for his nefarious ends (i.e., world destruction).

There are some great chase/action sequences in the film, including the opening sequence where Bond jumps out of the window, one on the Thames river on motor boats which culminates in the explosion of an hot-air balloon, one where Bond and Elektra dodge attackers from the air and from the ground on skis, one where Bond and Jones tunnel through an oil pipeline, one where Bond is attacked by helicopters with buzzsaws (which cuts through his BMW before he gets to make much use of it) and the final sequence in a submarine that is stuck under water about to unleash a nuclear explosion. The gadgets that Bond has, such as the x-ray glasses and a jacket that becomes a large inflatable bubble, are a bit timid but provide comic relief. The exotic settings in Spain, Russia and Turkey are filmed extremely well and add to the sense of International intrigue that we've come to associate with Bond films.

Historically, this is an important Bond film because it is the final appearance of Desmond Llewelyn who plays Q (though his exit wasn't handled so well I thought); he is replaced by R (John Cleese) which should prove to be interesting. The opening sequence involving oil and oil rigs is one of the better ones I've seen in Bond films, and the theme song (courtesy of Garbage) is a comfortable one. Brosnan certainly has some great lines here, but I really felt sad for Richards. She gets the worst lines and the worst times to deliver them (considering saying "you're taking a big risk" when Bond decides to go out of a submerged submarine and enter via an alternate route). Renard as a secondary villain isn't one of the best. There is a lot of sexually innuendo in the film which does end up being amusing.

Brosnan certainly has what it takes to play James Bond, and with each film he just gets better and better. I would even dare say that he can lay claim to being the best Bond ever. This is great Thanksgiving eye and ear candy.

James Bond 20: Die Another Day

The latest movie in the James Bond franchise, released in time for its 40th anniversary, is one of the best Bond films, thanks to a confluence of factors. These include Pierce Brosnan settling into the secret agent role as well as Roger Moore or Sean Connery, the ability to convincingly conjure up yet another villainous megalomaniac bent on wreaking destruction, and a somewhat dark opening sequence that shows that even Bond is quite vulnerable.

The cold war may have ended but its impact on the world's psyche and day-to-day operation is as strong as ever. The problem is that there was a great weapons buildup and the superpowers, along with their crony states, are hard-pressed to keep the technology developed from causing death and destruction. It's a perfect opportunity for psychopaths to unleash their dreams of world domination... and for licensed-to-kill agent 007 to stop them while dazzling us with his charm, wit, and arsenal of cool gadgets.

The high-energy opening action sequence ends up with Bond being captured and tortured in a North Korean prison (the relationship between the Korean peninsula and the cold war is made explicit). Suspected of leaking information, he is traded for the spy he was initially after, Zao (Rick Yune). His license to kill is revoked by M (Judi Dench) and he is placed under observation. But he soon redeems himself, and equipped with the latest weaponry courtesy of Q (John Cleese), goes after Zao. The trail leads him to a confrontation with the diamond merchant Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who has innovative uses for the product he peddles. Bond is aided in his quest by Jinx (Halle Berry) and Miranda Frost (Rosalind Pike), who are quite formidable on their own.

For some reason, there are a lot of scenes (characters stating dialogue) in the film that seem really awkward, even allowing for the so-bad-that-it's-good comments made in Bond films. This suggests that the director (Lee Tamahori) wasn't able to set the right context for the actors (or that it's just a bad editing job).

But dialogue isn't that important in a Bond film anyway. The scenes are filmed competently, the settings are picturesque, and the over-the-top performance by Toby Stephens works well. The acting by Barry and Pike is decent, and Brosnan seems to be enjoying himself. The score by David Arnold featuring the famous Bond theme is quite good.

The film pays tribute to all the 19-odd Bond films by making references to them. It's a good marketing trick since I didn't get them all in the first viewing. Die Another Day is a fun movie to watch and I definitely recommend checking it out on the big screen.

Movie ramblings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org