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Thursday, June 29, 2017

007 In Dotage

Will James Bond Smile Again?

James Bond makes a homecoming to Scotland only to see his ancestral site blown up, then burnt down. Skyfall is another mournful Bond. He's the now-clichéd "rogue agent" for much of a first act, staying humorless for what's left of the inevitable long sit. I don't mind Daniel Craig as 007, but is he going to remain so sullen forever? I'd hardly expect to long for winking era of Roger Moore, but a little levity wouldn't hurt. Skyfall is the best of the so-far Craig's list if one must choose, but as always with modern thrillers, I'd pick the first ending out of four (at least) we get. Don't even kids get tired of watching things blow up? There seemed a break in having Javier Bardem as principal villain, but then came the accent and tarted up camp this otherwise fine actor for some reason applied. Did Bardem figure this was the 60's and he was doing a Batman feature? James Bond always rises or falls on the strength of his opposition, so I'd regretfully call this a thud.

I didn't recognize the portly old man in the third act before recalling the credits and thinking, Oh no, it is Albert Finney. What made it worse was having watched Tom Jones just a few weeks before. Senior players still working make me feel old because I remember them first-run when both of us were young. Did 50's counterparts react the same when Francis X. Bushman showed up in cameo mode? I must say, at risk of seeming cruel, Good Riddance to Judi Dench's M. She was always a sour apple and too much time got spent on gender politics re she and Bond. A positive note was struck with Ralph Fiennes brought in to replace her. I also like the geek kid who's the new "Q," indication that sometimes new ideas can work. One good thing about Skyfall is a story that I was able to follow, it having been several Bonds ago that narratives made sense to me. The action is also less rabbit-cut than usual. Cyber-terrorism seems to be crisis of choice in all actioners today, for good reason I'm sure, but that puts characters to clacking at keyboards in lieu of cracking heads. Bond gets a drop --- twice --- on heavy Bardem and I'm yelling, Shoot him! Now!, but no, this baddest guy gets away to commit more cyber-chaos. In today's most dangerous of worlds, Bond can hardly afford to give villains a least quarter.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"James Bond is Tarzan in a suit," I said in a High School English class. That led to all sorts of people shouting no until the teacher stepped in an said, "He's right."

I have liked the Craig bonds.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

And back when in TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD, the Ape Man was James Bond (in a suit) at the Mexican bull ring.

11:29 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Our good friend and correspondent Griff has some fascinating observations about "Skyfall" and Daniel Craig's James Bond (Part One):

Dear John:

Unexpected as it was to see Greenbriar assessing a movie released within the past five years, I must say that you are correct about SKYFALL in nearly every respect.

Remember reading how Woody Allen originally (and seriously) intended to title ANNIE HALL, his 1977 film, ANHEDONIA (definition: an·he·do·ni·a - noun - inability to feel pleasure), at least until UA gently talked him out of it? Well, this unused title inevitably comes to mind when I think of the Daniel Craig Bond movies. While I hold little brief for certain of the excesses of the Moore, Dalton and Brosnan films, at least I could appreciate and even revel in the idea that Bond was having something of a good time saving the British Empire from doom and destruction. I don't know of anything that gives Craig's Bond the least bit of pleasure in his adventures; he seems drawn, determined and mostly dour. Qualities I'd look for in, say, Richard Stark's Parker character, but not in James Bond. This glum, utilitarian Bond persona began to wear thin near the very beginning of CASINO ROYALE, continued to annoy throughout QUANTUM OF SOLACE (possibly the weakest of all official 007 movies, not to mention the worst title for any of the films) and became a real detriment in SKYFALL, when I practically ceased caring at all about what happened to this guy. The action climax -- or, better, the initial three endings -- of SKYFALL was for me only sustained by the presence of both Judi Dench and the strange transmutation of Albert Finney into a UK variation on Gabby Hayes. Dench's M* and, yes, Finney's bizarre whatever-he-was-supposed-to-be, were at least characters that mattered. Otherwise, the British Secret Service would have been well advised to simply drop a low-yield bomb on the whole area, eliminating Bardem (a great actor so far down the wrong path here that I don't even know how to account for it), his minions and, uh, our unhappy gentleman agent. The movie, while (as you note) probably the best of Craig's vehicles, is elaborate, loud, costly but terrible, and really took a toll on audiences. Did anyone leave the theatre thinking, "Wow. I can't wait until the next James Bond picture!" I just can't imagine it.

The picture's last ending is axiomatic of the film's ultimate failure of imagination and basic understanding of both drama and how the series works. When Bond meets with the new M (Ralph Fiennes), the encounter is both unmemorable and uneventful. We have seen the Fiennes character mock and basically submarine Dench's M throughout the movie. Now he has her job. When 007 meets with him, this was the moment for Bond to speak up, tell him that a brave and mighty figure had recently vacated that chair, and it will take considerable intelligence, courage and moxie in order to fill it, and it's probably gonna take a while for Bond to decide whether this guy's up to it. One of the Bond character's greatest strengths is loyalty -- to both the Crown and those who fight to defend it. A grace note, however impudent, reminding the new M of his predecessor's valor, was absolutely necessary here. This scene -- and the movie -- was a big failure overall. [SPECTRE, though, was a little worse.]

5:34 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Griff:

The main thing that I recall about SPECTRE was the impression that a good deal of Mexico City seemed to be destroyed in the opening -- to what end, I cannot remember.

My favorite detail about SKYFALL -- which you very succinctly nail, by the way -- is personal. Bond's meeting with... is it the new Q? what appears to be the Tate Gallery. They're seated in front of Turner's The Fighting Temeraire, my late father's favorite painting; we visited the Tate thirty years ago expressly to see this. This scene for some reason affected me deeply; I almost had to leave the theatre.

To amplify my thoughts slightly about the movie, I admired some things about it, I guess, but I didn't feel anyone produced the picture. The movie didn't have enough shape; maybe not any perceptible shape, anyway. It was crammed -- overloaded -- with production value, but all this distorted and obscured the drive of the story. [Of course, at least this picture had a story; QUANTUM didn't really have one.] I am always reminded of the stuff -- giant spider sequence, anyone? -- that Cooper and Schoedsack cut out of KING KONG and the swell numbers that were routinely excised from film musicals after initial assembly because they just got in the way, slowed up the story, made the movie too long or were simply too much of a good thing. The Bond picture wants to be moving and realistic in a way different from any previous film in the series, but it also wants to be gigantic and bombastic... Something had to give, and no one was willing to actually decide; I'm surprised there weren't five endings.

I liked what you wrote about Bardem as the villain -- I think about half of his time on-screen was just over-the-top actorish stuff. The balance of his performance was plenty florid for the whole movie, thank you. [For a "realistic" story, the guy (all right, arguably a great actor) was way out there; for one thing, his behavior made you wonder where he got his legions of expendable minions. I mean, the Joker and Penguin at least paid well -- this fellow isn't interested in cash!]

The climax at Skyfall should have been perhaps half as long -- shorter, it would have had greater effect in every way. It would also have been nice to see M make even a single correct decision in the picture; the movie does make her seem too old and incompetent. This bothered me a lot. Yep, I understand the business about how we live in a patriarchal society, but it seemed that undermining Dench's character in every way was a big part of the film. As I noted, the last ending, with Bond (having basically saved the world again) reporting to Fiennes as the new M, was sadly (and wrongly) missing an important character moment for 007. Known for speaking his mind, James needed to say something spiky along the lines (but better) of "I trust you're comfortable behind that desk. Your predecessor filled it well for many years, sacrificing everything for it." But the picture lacks any sense of such a note; the suggestion from all points in this movie, even from this Bond, who owed his career to Dench's M, is clear: she wasn't good enough. No class at all.

-- Griff

5:35 PM  
Blogger bufffilmbuff said...

Very different opinion, in fact I bought the blu ray of SKYFALL just last week. When it first came out I saw it on a 5 story IMAX screen. What struck me... and why I bought the blu ray... is the incredible Roger Deakins cinematography. Each location has a unique look. I like Craig as Bond, certainly more than Moore who always seemed like a stand in. I think the Craig Bonds are essentially 2 outta 4.... I liked CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL. The other two just did not work at all.

But then... Connery will always be Bond for me. No one else has come close. I love the Bonds of the 60's, including ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. Their dated technology and sexual politics notwithstanding, they remain the most entertaining and the best balance between humor and pure adventure. My first Bond was THUNDERBALL on the giant curved screen at Loews here in Richmond... with an audience of about 1000. For many reasons, that is an experience which cannot be repeated.

10:00 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

The perfect movie for a 12-year old to review, what with all the explosions, and crashes and such.

1:15 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Bond presumably gets credit for turning the character-based B series into the A franchise. Unless there are other candidates (The Thin Man films were As, but didn't appear as regularly).

2:40 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Don't understand why so many of today's movie makers feel their films have to be 140 minutes in length.

Recently watched two Kurt Russell's, both grizzly roles and he looked the same in each. Really liked both films, however...

BONE TOMAHAWK - More than subtle likeness to THE SEARCHERS, but very enjoyable. 132 minutes, should have been 110, tops.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT - Quentin stretched this one to 167 for the general release cut, 20 shorter than the roadshow. Even I could take the shears and snip it to 120 and not screw up the story.

Come on directors, more isn't always better. We golden agers are prone for naps, and I'd rather they not occur during the viewing of your movie.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Based on MARK OF THE VAMPIRE I know LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT will be a let down but every time I see an ad like the one you have posted I say a prayer a copy will be found.

7:17 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Length, it seems, has long been the bane of Bonds. Some would say that after "Goldfinger," they took on bloat of both reels and repetition. And talk of multiple endings --- I gave up counting ones heaped upon the Brosnans. It became less a matter of "James Bond Will Be Back" than "Is He Ever Leaving?"

Speaking to overkill, Greenbriar has three more 007 posts waiting in wings (a Connery, Moore, AND Dalton). Should I push the publish button now, or wait a decent interval?

9:57 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Push it now.

4:05 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

It's summer. There's no Bond film in sight. I say, bring on the 007 coverage!

[Not that the regular and usual Greenbriar offerings aren't always a delight, I hasten to add...]

-- Griff

4:09 PM  
Blogger bufffilmbuff said...

Yes.... more Bond

11:57 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Finally saw SPECTRE today. Liked it a lot.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

How come people are so nasty to Skyfall? The movie's a lot like the James Bond novels, and actually has Bond failing for once rather than just always winning. Plus, unlike any other James Bond film, Bond has to work at getting Silva, not just gadget his way to getting him. I fear that the effects of Moore's era have rubbed off way too much on what people expect from a James Bond movie, and that they can't endure a James Bond steeped in some degree of realism and consequences.

9:47 PM  

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