Monday, November 10, 2008

James Bond, Quantum Of Solace

Saw the new Bond movie. Hit Play. (the official video)

A few notes.

First of all... it doesn't immediately come to mind, but once you think about it, while he was also born to do much more, Jack White was born, born, BORN to sing a James Bond 007 theme song. He brings the thunder and howl the franchise needs -- like the wailing wild horns in the Gold-finger theme, as well as the menace in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," and the swagger of the original theme. His duet partner hits it, too -- heck, I want (the amazingly talented) Alicia Keys to play a Bond babe now. The rhythm and wordplay of the lyrics -- seriously, the only recent Bond theme that comes CLOSE to being this memorable was Garbage singing "The World Is Not Enough" (another band born to do a Bond theme).  (other artists born to sing Bond: Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever), Tom Jones (Thunderball))

Honestly, beyond the fact that if you brainstormed all the stuff Guys want to see in a movie, you'd come up with James Bond (think about it: car chases, spy stuff, guns, hot slutty girls, and a badass hero who's the ultimate uberman for all seasons -- are we missing anything? That formula's never gonna run out), I think the thing that drives the James Bond movies, and has helped the franchise last for so long, is that the music for Bond ROCKS, and made Bond the spy movie that endured, instead of being Just Another Spy Movie from 1962.

There are five elements every Bond film contains, by which they can be measured against each other.
1. the action sequence before the opening credits (the Pierce Brosnan bonds were always strong here, but the last two are among the best ever)
2. the opening theme song (best: Gold Finger; worst: the ones by Madonna and Duran Duran; most surprisingly good: Live and Let Die: who knew Paul McCartney had it in him?)
3. the opening animations (would have to rewatch them all to say; don't feel like it)
4. the bond babe (best: Halle Berry, a handful of the early Connery Bond babes; worst: Denise Richards, didn't like Grace Jones, either.)
5. the villain (pick'em: this category depends a lot on what you like; I lean toward Christopher Walken in View to a Kill, though some of the early ones were awesome, too)
6. (i suppose) the actor for Bond

(7. if you want: the action sequences in general, though this one's hazy, because it could be divided into the car chases and the climactic sequences, and there are so many ways to categorize action sequences, that might just boil down to preference)

Previously you could have added
8. cleverness of catchphrase deliveries ("Martini, extra dry..." "Bond. James Bond", etc.)
9. cheesiness of puns
10. godawful cheesiness of closing line (Worst ever: ""I thought Christmas only came once a year." [the world is not enough])
11. silliness of the "Q" (and "R") gadget scenes (and the ridiculousness of the gadgets)
12. the car (and the goofy bells and whistles in the car)

Let it be known that I love the Bond franchise, because it's mindless popcorn action at its finest. One summer, I watched every Bond movie with my dad; he systematically rented two or three a week, and we got through all of them. Watching movies and TV shows has always been the way Poposeyo and I bonded. (haha. bonded). It's amazing how similar they are to one another, other than the elements above, and special effects technology of the era.

So, how does Quantum of Solace stack up?
1. The action scenes before the opening credits for the most recent two Bonds were more visceral and right-out thrilling than most of what we saw in the past: Daniel Craig actually sells the action much better than most of the other guys: no way Roger Moore could jump that far.  Daniel Craig jumping that far. . . maybe!)
2. Music: as I said: maybe the best Bond Theme since the '60s, in my opinion.  Whatever it is, it's got it.
3. Opening animations: good.  Very good.  Not world-changing, but the colours and style fit the music, and have a kind of throwback feel, with cool muted '70s colours and bullet-traces in wacky psychadelic contrasts to the backgrounds.
4. Bond Babe: Primary Bond babe Olga Kurylenko looks really really good with a dirty face (important for this Bond Babe, as she actually gets in on the action).  I'd put her above average, quite good, in fact, in the "Halle Berry's asskicking bond babe" mode, rather than the "screaming hostage in distress" mode we used to see.  Ms. Olga's pushing, but not necessarily in the top seven.  The secondary Bond babe (every movie has two) was kinda weak sauce, though, unless you have a thing for librarians.
5. Villan: again, kind of weak sauce.  Since the end of the cold war, it's been hard to come up with a really delicious bad guy, and the fact these new Bonds are trying to get away from the silly overkill of the underground-fortress-stuff kinda cock-blocks the writers from inventing a good, juicy megalomaniac.  Yeah, this guy's plan was evil and grandiose, but while I don't want to give away spoilers, let's just say that it didn't have the kind of "Sink all of California into the ocean" ambition that former villains did, and he wasn't very scary or menacing, either. Especially appearing so soon after Heath Ledger's Joker, a bad guy who dripped menace and the threat of unexpected, gleefully sickening violence at any second.  Sorry, Bond people.  Don't give your villains French accents, for a start.  Just stay away from the Romance language aisle entirely, if you're shopping for evil accents.

Soundtrack II: Gold Finger. Best Theme Ever. 

But here's the reason I like these new Daniel Craig Bond movies:

The absence of Bond Standbys 8-12.
See, after Austin Powers sent them up so deliciously, the REAL Bond people couldn't make any more movies cut from the old cloth, because now that Mike Myers lampooned those tropes, going back to that well again would have devolved quickly into self-parody.  You might have noticed (especially when John Cleese's "R" replaced Desmond Llewellyn's "Q") that Pierce Brosnan's Bond movies were heading in that direction, having no choice but to get sillier and sillier, just to come up with something you haven't already seen before in another Bond film.

These new Bonds, they lampoon some of the old cliches, and you see references to the old Bond films (for example, the Gold Finger tribute that any Bondophile will notice), but they don't go saying the goofy names directly, or making the kinds of "I just threw up in my mouth" puns that you waited for, but still cringed at, in the old Bond movies.

Finally, on the last two Bonds:
1. Roger Moore is the most divisive of Bonds; he's kind of a love'em or hate'em guy.  I liked him, but he hung on a bit too long, and he made two or three too many movies before he hung up his laser GPS radio cufflinks.
2. The problem with every Bond after Connery is that the best they could ever be is a pretty good imitation of Sean Connery -- if you're starting off trying to be someone else, you're never going to create something fantastic of your own.  Being the best Bond since Connery was previously like being the best runner-up for MVP in Baseball History.  
3.  Pierce Brosnan took old Connery Bond as far as it could go.  He was a very credible Bond, and he quit at the right time.  He rescued Bond in the '90s, and made a few very good films: I'd rate him as the second best Bond after Connery.  However, after Brosnan, there just wasn't anywhere to go, except either farther over the top (which would have ended up like Batman And Robin, going too far and nearly sinking the franchise forever...) or back to basics.
4.  Daniel Craig is the first James Bond who isn't mostly just trying to be Sean Connery.  He brings his own thing to Bond, and sells it.  He does still manage to look really good in a tuxedo, but he also looks better (at least, more convincing) covered in dust and grime than any of the other Bonds, and when he chases a bad guy down across rooftops or wins a knife-fight on a speeding motorboat, he does it in a way that you believe he actually could.  When people punch him, it hurts, and when he jumps from a moving car, he gets scrapes on his face.  Most importantly, his Bond actually has an internal life, rather than just being a cartoon puppet in either a tux or a t-shirt with a ripped pectoral, moved through set pieces in order to show the maximum number of either boobs or bombs per frame of film. 

But the main reason I think these are the best Bond films since Connery is that they've finally hired a really really good writer, and given Bond some dialogue as good as the music backing it.  The conversation in Casino Royale, when he first meets Vesper, Eva Green's character, was so well-written and clever that it played like a proclamation: "Hey everybody!  This is a different James Bond than you had before" and unlike when George Lazenby tried that, and the world wasn't ready for their icon to be flooped around, this time, everybody knew it was time.

I'd put both of these new Bonds in my top seven, frankly, and one of them (but not both) in my top five.

Now I'm gonna go download Thunderball (first or second best Bond ever; underwater fight scene: most thrilling Bond action sequence ever), before I get carried away and say Daniel Craig is as good as Sean Connery or something silly like that.

Update: Olya, the Bond Babe of the hour, has been accused by a group in Russian communists of being a traitor, for appearing in this film; they also think that the Bond people were insulting Russia by implying that Bond boned with her.  Smells like "we can get international attention if we criticize her" to me.


Anonymous said...

if you call him Daniel Quinn one more time I'm going to be forced to put one of *my* evil plans into action earlier than anticipated!

Roboseyo said...

my bad. amended

Roboseyo said...

Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn Quinn

Gomushin Girl said...

I'm sure that's an feint to taunt me, but I mock your feeble, childish attempts. Quinn yourself!

Roboseyo said...

Quinn Yourself sounds like an ancient Welsh form of torture, or maybe some kind of dirty act. . .

however, you shall not bait me into a comment war, the way richardson and expat jane have been having at it over at expatjane (you should go read it; it's quite epic, actually)

Becky said...

This was my first Bond movie that I've seen in a theater and it took a move to Korea to make it happen. I loved it! I'm not much into the suspense movies but it kept my attention the entire time.

This was also my first time in a Korean movie theater and except for the did you just whack me in the head with your purse incident, it was a lot of fun.

Gomushin Girl said...

I hereby suggest we start using the phrase "Quinn Yourself" and pretend that it means something dirty and/or painful!
I'll add it to my lexicon of "phrases only I use now, but will someday dominate world slang" along with "lurdo" and "bizzlwaithe"

Roboseyo said...

becky: hear hear!

action movies are way better on the big screen -- the only genre that improves MORE just by seeing it on the big screen is horror.

slapstick comedy is also better on the big screen, but dramas and intelligent comedy (oscar wilde adaptations, for example) may as well wait for the rental.

glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

it will be easy to make spoofs based on Quantum of Solace... every where he goes he breaks glass and he can't get a gallon of milk from the store without it turning into a chase scene

Unknown said...