A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 553 – James Bond: Goldfinger

James Bond: Goldfinger – September 4th, 2011

When discussing what Bond movies to get to fill in my Bond education a bit, we decided on an earlier one and a later one. And let’s face it: Sean Connery is very much the classic James Bond. I know everyone has their personal favorite but without having seen much Bond, Connery is the one I think of when I think of the name. So! I figured a Connery Bond movie was probably a requirement. Faced with which one to get, Andy went with this one. And I understand why. It’s iconic, really. The gold-covered woman, the death-by-slow-moving-laser bit, it’s all been done and done again and done to death by everyone who wants to refer to a Bond trope. And now I’ve seen the source for all of that.

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it that much. Oh, I enjoyed parts of it, and I enjoyed the very young Sean Connery as Bond. Until he forced himself on Pussy Galore and the movie treated it like romance. Ick. Ick ick, a million times ick. For future reference, if a woman says no, and then says no again, continuing to kiss her will not make her actually want it. Acquiescing is not romantic. And it’s not consenting. I was aware that Bond’s a total player. I had not quite realized the womanizing went to this point. And to be honest? It ruined the movie for me. No matter what else I think when I look back on it, I cannot get that scene out of my head. As it happened I watched with a sort of dawning realization that it was not going to get better. She wasn’t playing at saying no to tease him. He wasn’t going to leave off and let her go. And then apparently he has a magic penis that makes it all okay. It’s presented as seduction, but it sure didn’t look that way to me.

I will try to put that scene aside for the moment and review the rest of the movie without its incredibly squickful effects in my head. Because without that scene? Or if it had been handled a little differently? I would have enjoyed the movie a hell of a lot more. It still wouldn’t be my favorite of the ones I’ve seen, but it wouldn’t be below the others and every single other Bond movie that I haven’t seen. Because it’s got a ridiculous over-the-top villain! And it’s full of ridiculous plots and Bond being suave and there are gadgets! Yay gadgets! And I like Pussy Galore and her eminently capable character. Honor Blackman is one of two Bond girls who was also in The Avengers with Patrick Macnee, making three Avengers main cast who’ve also been in Bond movies. And I’m totally up for that. Maybe it’s because I grew watching that show. Maybe it’s because I’m looking for touchstones here. And I will note that this movie is referred to in The Avengers episode Too Many Christmas trees, when Steed gets a Christmas card from Cathy Gale and wonders aloud about what she’s up to at Fort Knox.

It was an interesting experience, watching this for the first time through the past experiences of everything I’ve seen that’s referred to it, from Austin Powers to MST3K movies to Mythbusters. It was almost like overhearing a story, then seeing it play out in front of you later. I felt like I could predict the plot and its basic points regardless of not having seen the actual movie. What I didn’t predict was that Bond’s kind of a dick. And I don’t just mean the scene I mentioned above. As Andy noted later on, Bond spends a lot of his time just prodding Auric Goldfinger because he can. Goldfinger is the villain here. He’s a bombastic sort of guy, but not in the cheerful Brian Blessed way. He’s got a big temper and a big love of gold and he’s willing to kill a heck of a lot of people in order to get more and make it more valuable. The plot follows Bond as he taunts Goldfinger, tails Goldfinger, gets captured by Goldfinger, conspires against Goldfinger, thwarts Goldfinger, saves the day, then is kidnapped by Goldfinger again before Chekhov’s Handy Plot Point sends Goldfinger out the window of a plane.

Goldfinger’s plan is a novel one, or it was at the time I suppose. Really though, I kind of like how ostentatious it is: He plans on gaining manpower from a variety of different criminal organizations from all over the world by promising them money, convinces them to help him rob Fort Knox, then kills them off and keeps their dudes because his real plan is to detonate an atomic bomb in Fort Knox, making the gold untouchable until the radioactive cobalt and iodine aren’t radioactive anymore. Now, I’m not a nuclear physicist, but I suspect that the science here is a little wonky and about as reliable as the movie’s other scientific assertions. Unfortunately, while the Mythbusters have proven that covering oneself with gold paint won’t cause “skin suffocation” and that shooting a hole in the side of an airplane won’t cause a person to be immediately sucked out, I doubt they’ll be testing to see how long a cobalt and iodine bomb cause gold to be too radioactive to go near. It’s the idea of it that I like. It’s a nice twist on both a “let’s steal lots of money” plot and use of nuclear weapons as a threat.

I really do wish I could have enjoyed this movie more. It had some really fun moments and while it wasn’t gunning for my top spy movie, it was certainly holding its own in the middle range up until the so-called seduction. It was good to finally see a lot of the sources for things that show up all over the cultural landscape now, and I’m glad I’ve seen it in that it was definitely a hole in my pop-culture knowledge. It had a lot of positives. I just can’t forgive that one huge negative. And what makes it worse is that I can think of a few minor adjustments that would have changed the tone of the scene enough to make it less creeptastic. But alas, it was not to be. I probably won’t be running out to go buy more classic Bond, but perhaps it will be telling that when the next Daniel Craig Bond movie comes out I’m looking forward to it.

September 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 551 – James Bond: A View to a Kill

placeholderJames Bond: A View to a Kill – September 2nd, 2011

After we watched the two newest James Bond movies we decided we might as well get a couple of others. One Connery for the early stuff, one Moore for the later stuff, and that would do us just fine. Andy picked out what to buy, since I had no real preferences whatsoever. He bought this and Goldfinger. Now, I’ll get to Goldfinger eventually when we watch it, but we decided to do this first. And looking at the cast? I can totally see why Andy picked it. This is a cast that immediately sent me into paroxysms of joy. Who gives a crap about the plot? This movie has the stunning combination of Christopher Walken, Grace Jones and Patrick Macnee. It’s like it was tailor made to put a smile on my face.

Granted, the plot is ridiculous and there’s a lot of shooting and exploding and whatnot. And Walken and Jones are the villains and Macnee is doomed (what with being an associate of Bond, whom I still say is a Typhoid Mary), but it doesn’t matter. Not to me anyhow. It filled me with glee to see these people on the screen together. I don’t give a damn if they got along or not (apparently Moore and Jones barely spoke off screen). I just can’t help but be happy that they were there. And I genuinely can’t decide whether I’m disappointed or not that Walken was given the part of the villain because they couldn’t get David Bowie. Because I love Walken, but I love Bowie too. Like I said: Tailor made for my interests.

But enough about my obsession over the cast. For now. Let’s talk plot. It’s overblown and ridiculous, as one might expect. I wasn’t really surprised by that much. I mean, it’s James Bond, and I started out watching the newest one, in which a secret cartel is planning on hijacking an entire country’s water supply and then causing a drought. Overblown and ridiculous is not a problem here. And I’ve seen plenty of parodies and rip-offs. Movies that rely on the tropes and traditions the Bond series has put in place. I expect there to be super villains. I expect there to be big grand plans to ruin economies and steal trillions and poison cities and hold things for ransoms. The plot of this one involves villain Max Zorin planning on destroying Silicon Valley to get a monopoly on the manufacture of microchips. It is so beautifully 80s, I can barely stand it.

Zorin himself is a wonderfully over the top villain and I hope Christopher Walken had fun playing him. He’s a product of a former Nazi scientist’s medical experiments in the Soviet Union, a genius and a psychopath who was trained by the KGB. And now he has a palatial estate and races doped up horses and entertains wealthy guests and flies private jets and so on and so forth. That’s just the sort of guy he is. He’s a villain. There’s no mistaking it. And he has a sidekick, the sinister and oft-hooded May Day, played by Grace Jones. And okay, I’m going to digress again into cast talk, but I do so love seeing Walken and Jones as villains together. It’s a marvelous thing.

So, Bond looks into a dodgy horse race, gets himself invited to Zorin’s estate for a horse auction, snoops around, gets his pal Tibbett to snoop around, gets Tibbett killed, finds how Zorin is getting his less-than-perfect horse to win races, and then he goes to California. I do mourn the loss of Tibbett, who was played by Patrick Macnee. He’s actually Sir Godfrey Tibbett, and I sort of envision him as John Steed’s slightly less badass cousin. He poses as Bond’s driver and valet while they’re at Zorin’s and does a bunch of investigating for him (being less visible because he’s posing as a servant, not a gajillionaire) and he does quite well, really. He doesn’t get killed because he’s bumbling or anything. We’re not talking Upper Class Twit territory here. We’re talking about a guy who helped Bond out and when Bond said “Take the car into town” he did so, with May Day hiding in the back seat. Alas, poor Tibbett.

As super spy action movies go, overall this one is pretty standard, I suppose. Apparently Moore was of the opinion that there was too much shooting and exploding and whatnot, and I can see his point if he was more on the side of the spy stuff than the action stuff. At the same time, having seen some far more explosive action movies in my time, I can’t say I would have noted it otherwise. Maybe it’s an earlier Bond thing? I don’t know. I’m not really looking to go out and buy the entire Bond collection to find out and let’s face it: Quantum of Solace definitely did the explosion thing to a greater degree. Really, what I thought when I watched this movie was that it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It was a very period sort of action flick, but it didn’t stand out to me for anything other than the cast.

What did occur to me later on was the notion that Bond seems to be an interesting sort of display of the concerns of the time period. Bond’s been around for a good long while now, going through several decades. And by its nature as a spy franchise, depending on pitting its hero against international criminals whose actions would involve MI5, it will involve geopolitical issues. It’s not really all that surprising, therefore, if a plot here or there actually manages to reflect a true concern. They can’t all be gold-obsessed psychos bent on destroying Fort Knox. So even though this felt like an utterly ridiculous movie in many places, and the sheer volume of puns didn’t help there (though I admit they amuse me) it also feels like a reflection of its time. Which was the 80s. That plus the cast (and the theme song – I love Duran Duran) let me enjoy this movie, probably far more than most Bond aficionados do.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 548 – James Bond: Quantum of Solace

James Bond: Quantum of Solace – August 30th, 2011

Imagine my relief when we put this in and I realized that it was indeed picking up where Casino Royale left off. Andy had mentioned that he suspected that would be the case, but I wasn’t sure just how much would be carried over. Turns out the two are very closely connected, with some questions and issues from the first movie being answered and dealt with in the second. Alas, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but I will allow that an effort was made. I would also like to brag a little that I had this movie’s two plot twists nailed from exceedingly early on. These aren’t bad things, I’m just amused by them. Also, it helps that we’d recently watched Rango. And yes, that is relevant.

So we’re back with more Daniel Craig as James Bond, with more women and more car chases and more international conspiracies and more gun fights and more evil villains. More Bond, in other words. This time the plot is focused on the further machinations of the shadowy organization that was involved in Vesper Lynd’s death as well as an attempt on M’s life. They’re up to something and not just something small. They’re up to something big. Huge. Intricate. And, as they make plain by having M’s own personal agent try to kill her, they have people everywhere. The best part about this whole plot, and the part that really works for me on a “this is a super secret spy movie” level is that prior to the big reveal, no one in MI6 and likely none of the intelligence agencies across the globe knew that this shadowy organization even existed. Now that is a good conspiracy.

I’ve got a question about Bond: Does he normally have any angst? Because this Bond has a wee touch of it, which is expressed through his inability to leave anyone alive. In fact, his itchy trigger finger is a running theme throughout the movie. I have to hand it to the writers to set up a reason for Bond to kill everyone he encounters that doesn’t just amount to “That would make it too easy.” Because it would make it too easy. Who knows what sort of information Bond or MI6 would get out of the people he kills? And if he hadn’t killed them, M would have some proof that something was going on, which would make for less tension later in the movie. So of course he has to kill everyone and end up making it harder on himself. After all, he’s pissed off (and angsty). I don’t blame M for being ticked with him over it, but looking at it from outside the story, I’m both impressed at the whole question of whether he’s killing for revenge or just out of necessity and also a little skeptical, because really? James Bond is that angst-ridden over a woman? Right.

So Bond is off to find Vesper’s killer root out the source of this conspiracy, which takes him to places like Haiti and Austria and Bolivia, in that order. I guess there’s just a lot of travel in these movies. Which is cool. It fits the tone and all. But I can’t help but think of just how much time this is all taking. Trans-continental flights aren’t day trips, regardless of whether you have a private jet or not. Anyhow, most of the story takes place in Bolivia, where a shady supposed environmentalist named Greene (haha, get it?) is facilitating a government coup. Of course he has other aims than getting a new dictator in power, but they’re left unsaid for quite some time. This is what I was so pleased about figuring out and I will give the movie credit for it because it hints at it without saying it outright. Everything going on points to Greene and his secretive buddies trying to gain control of oil but it’s not oil that’s the resource at hand. There are clues to what’s going on, from the background dialogue of a cab driver to some otherwise unremarkable bits of landscape. And what I like most about it is that this plot isn’t as heavy-handed as it could have been. This isn’t a movie out to make a statement, but by not going out of its way to make a statement it ends up doing so far more effectively than if it had. Because it’s worked into the story and the plot is the important point. It doesn’t feel forced, so the danger feels real, so the non-message doesn’t make me roll my eyes. It’s also the sort of over-the-top manipulation that works for the world Bond inhabits.

So the story works for me, and Bond himself works, though I’m still giving the angst some serious side-eye. M is, as always, super fantastic, and Bond’s allies, Mathis and Felix, have some good moments even if they’re not present for a whole lot of the movie (I admit, I love Felix lots because he is so clearly Not Amused By Shenanigans). The villains are nice and villainous, and I do like that Greene is mostly a slimy bastard who never really gets involved in the action. All the best villains let their underlings get their hands dirty so the villains don’t have to. And that brings me to the ladies. There are two of consequence here: Fields and Camille. We meet Camille first, and she is every bit as kick-ass as I could want. Defiant and strong, with a touch of desperation that works for the character’s backstory. I like Camille. She brooks no shit from Bond or anyone else unless it suits her plans and she’s in a nice gray area for a while. Fields, alas, is more what I expect from a woman in a Bond movie. Pretty, decently capable but not kick-ass, generally perky in a not-necessarily-positive way, and ultimately doomed. Also? She falls for Bond at the drop of a hat. Were I in charge of training female agents who might ever come in contact with Bond, I believe I would devote at least a semester to lectures and workshops titled How To Avoid Sleeping With James Bond, Yes I Know He’s Suave, Really Though, Don’t Sleep With Him Because He Is a Typhoid Mary.

Fields aside, I was really rather pleased with this movie. My only remaining quibble with the movie is the handling of the loose lends left in Casino Royale. It’s not so much that there were loose ends as that I don’t feel that the holes I spotted were ever handled as holes. Yes, in this movie we do find out what happened to the boyfriend and we do get confirmation that Vesper was indeed duped. But we still don’t know what deal she made and whether she knew what the truth about the boyfriend was. And that’s never touched on. I guess I find it frustrating because I really liked Vesper. She was a good character and while Camille is certainly fantastic and I greatly enjoyed watching her in this movie, Vesper was clearly intended to be shown as a match for Bond. I don’t argue with her not sticking around. The series is about Bond, after all, not Bond and Lynd. But if she’s going to be such an integral part of two separate movies and the new Bond that Daniel Craig is playing, then I’d like to think her story would be treated well. Can’t have everything, I suppose, and in the grand scheme of things this really was an enjoyable movie.

August 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 547 – James Bond: Casino Royale (2006)

James Bond: Casino Royale (2006) – August 29th, 2011

I have an admission to make: I have never watched a Bond movie from start to finish. Cue the gasps of horror. I know. It’s one of those things I always mean to do and never get around to. I’d be most interested in seeing the Connery movies, because Sean Connery is fucking awesome and I love him. But while I’ve seen bits and pieces and I’ve absorbed much of the tone and concept and character through cultural osmosis, until this movie I had no sat down to watch a full Bond flick. I will say, I’ve also gotten some assumptions in my head about how female characters in said movies are treated, and that’s a bit of a turn-off, but I was game for this tonight.

Alas, I found my assumptions were still somewhat justified. While there were no naked female silhouettes during the opening credits, the female characters with lines were treated pretty much the way I expect. Oh, the female lead, Vesper, gets more than a few good lines and moments, but in the end we’re talking doomed femme fatales. And M. But I dare someone to try and make Judi Dench a doomed femme fatale. She would kick the ass of anyone who attempted it and I would cheer her on. Anyhow, I didn’t expect there to be any more than what I got and what I did get was much better than what it could have been, it’s just frustrating.

Moving on. The point of the movie is, obviously, James Bond himself, being awesome and kicking ass in a multitude of ways and getting the job done. A job with high stakes and lots of bad guys and guns and money and so on and so forth. In this particular movie the story is about terrorists planning bombings and Bond tracking down who’s responsible for funding them and what larger plans and conspiracies they have in place. And how does Bond achieve his goals of thwarting terrorism? By chasing people through crowded streets, sleeping with his target’s girlfriend, enduring torture and playing poker. If it wasn’t done as well as it has been and if it wasn’t one of the origins of the super suave spy, it would be amusing. All that, and he looks good in a tux.

So, there’s a lot of action, with chases and fights and Bond generally being multitalented and clever and skilled at all manner of actiony things, like shooting guns and driving vehicles and fighting hand to hand. And then there’s the card game. At one point earlier in the movie Bond establishes himself as a good poker player, winning a car off of one of the baddies in a game. At that point Andy mentioned “there is a lot of card playing in this movie.” Which yes, there is. After all, the title is Casino Royale. I sort of expected card playing, since you could only get so much mileage out of Bond sitting at a roulette wheel or playing slots. A high stakes poker game seemed much more likely, and that’s exactly what happens.

The poker game and the immediate lead-up to it really are what I consider the meat of the movie. For one, on the train to Monte Carlo we meet Vesper Lynde, our female lead. And I like Vesper, even if her story is convenient and lazily handled in the long run. She’s strong and smart and while she does warm up to Bond eventually, she’s not about to let him charm her from the get-go. She’s perfectly capable of holding her own against him in a battle of wits and in the end he only figures out what she’s up to because she set it up for him to figure out. Eva Green has a wonderful little smirk for much of her performance and in many other movies that smirk would be too much. But in scenes where she’s turning the tables on Bond’s attitude? It’s perfect. So with Vesper at his side, Bond heads to the poker table to face off against the villain of the movie: Le Chiffre. And the game itself is nice and tense. I’m sure I’d appreciate it more if I knew the game better, but I’ve never been terribly interested in poker. As it is, I was glad of the dealer showing the hands as they were revealed and explaining what was winning with at least a hint as to why. Nicely done for us poker-illiterate viewers! And along with that there was the game-interrupting poisoning scene, a scuffle with a couple of terrorists during a break and the revelation that another player at the table was working for the CIA. All in all, it was precisely what I expected and wanted out of the movie, which I could say goes for the entire film.

To be honest, what most shocked me about this movie was how varied the locations and moods were. It bounced around a lot. Black and white intro in a high rise, chase scene on foot in Africa, beachy resort with lots of quiet backstabbing and sex in the Bahamas, action chase scene in a fuel tanker at an airport in Florida, casino scene in Monte Carlo, torture scene, recuperation in a hospital somewhere, romance in Venice, then action in Venice. That’s a hell of a lot to fit into a single movie, which is probably why it’s over two hours long. The plot is winding, going from a planned bombing in Africa to another planned bombing in Florida to the Texas Hold’em game in Monte Carlo. And then it doesn’t end there. The game isn’t the end. It takes up a lot of time, but it’s not the end. After the tension of the game the movie just keeps going. Are all Bond movies paced like this? Slow then fast then slow then fast? Action, romance, action, tension, torture, romance, action? It just strikes me as strange, I suppose. A bit of a roller coaster, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it.

I do know that I’m frustrated by the end of the movie and by the lack of information on Vesper. It feels incredibly easy to have set her up to double cross Bond, then have M say “Oh, it wasn’t her fault. They were holding her boyfriend to force her to cooperate. And she’s dead now, so no mess!” For one, what happened with the boyfriend? I assume he’s dead. Vesper just sort of gives up on him mid-movie and switches her affections to Bond. And then M suggests to Bond that Vesper made a deal with the terrorists so that the two of them could go free. But if the terrorists already had her boyfriend, what more would they need from her? I can think of a few ways to resolve it (they’d killed the boyfriend but she kept working for them to save Bond, or perhaps she worked with them on making Bond lose in exchange for her boyfriend’s life, then made a new deal to steal the money in exchange for Bond’s life and her own?) but neither what I can think of nor any other explanations are ever offered by the movie. Which is a shame, because it wouldn’t have taken a whole lot more. Just another line or two of exposition from M. But the movie just doesn’t care. Which I find intensely irritating. I liked everything else about it and it went to the length of giving Bond some actual character development! It had action and clever dialogue and tension. And then a major character’s backstory and the key to her actions? Nah, no big deal. So I enjoyed the movie, but it did leave me rolling my eyes a little.

August 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment