Thursday 24 May 2012

BlogalongaBond / GoldenEye:
When Sexist, Misogynist Dinosaurs
Ruled The Earth

Four years between Quantum Of Solace and Skyfall might seem like an inordinately long time to wait for fresh Bondery, but for some of us it's the blink of an eye compared to the aeon for which Eon Productions left Bond fans hanging between 1989 and 1995. During those long and desolate years, the entire world experienced cataclysmic change: communism in eastern Europe came crashing down; Timothy Dalton got bored and wandered off, and I discovered all sorts of things about girls.

Two of those things had a direct impact on the direction of the James Bond films, while the third just made me realise what a load of rubbish all that "Oh, James"ing was. Nobody's ever said that to me in the throes of passion, no matter how many times I've asked. Nevertheless, I maintained my 007 devotion throughout and spilled all sorts of excited juices in the run-up to the release of GoldenEye. I didn't really know much about this Brosnan guy but he certainly looked like he knew how to... uh... stand on some stairs.
The capacity for moody but inappropriately-attired banister-reclining aside, it turned out that Pierce Brendan Brosnan made a pretty good James Bond, even though it felt like he'd been genetically engineered to please everyone. Consisting of precisely 44% rugged Connery, 39% cheesy Moore, 6% funny-accented Lazenby and 11% ruthless Dalton, James the fifth effortlessly ascended the throne of Bond from the moment he hurled himself off a bloody great dam, challenging The Spy Who Loved Me for the title of most jaw-clattering pre-title sequence.

And if Brosnan appeared to have been grown in a petri dish to be everyone's ideal Bond, then the script was constructed with equally precise cold, mathematical precision. As undeniably enjoyable and exciting as GoldenEye may be, somewhere lurking beneath the surface is the clinical stench of Bond-by-numbers that's been mercifully absent since Roger Moore hung up his corset. That Brosnan and director Martin Campbell managed to make such an entertaining film is to their credit, but there are a few too many throwbacks to the Moore years for my liking. Clumsy cyclists, laboured sight gags in Q's lab and shit one-liners accompanied by over-animated eyebrows all feel like a massive step back after the majestic Age Of The Dalton.
At the same time as it rifles through a back catalogue of James Bond's Greatest Hits, GoldenEye's script also appears to be some kind of sixth-form dissertation on the cultural history of 007. Almost every character gets to have a pop at Bond's failings, as if the writers had ploughed through every BlogalongaBond post before starting work on the film. And while it's superficially clever scripting in terms of addressing the series' place in '90s action cinema, it feels forced and a little tiresome seventeen years down the line.

Lines like Alec Trevelyan's smart-arsed observations on the psychological reasons for Bond's liver-crippling martini habit and Natalya's remarkably presumptious judgement on what keeps him alone (she's known him for about 48 hours) might appear to offer the character some depth, but in truth they only pay lip service to the complexity that Licence To Kill so effortlessly conveyed. Once all the pouting and new-age self-assessment are out of the way it's not long before Brosnan's eyebrows are re-activated and he's carefully timing dreadful kiss-off lines like "She always did enjoy a good squeeze".

The least clanging attempt at all this self-referential navel-gazing is the one in which Brosnan is almost acted out of his Brioni suit by the untouchable Dame Judi Dench as M. Significantly wearing a Nehru-esque outfit with a mandarin collar that almost dares us not to think of Dr. No or Blofeld, M ostensibly takes Bond down a peg or two but actually gives a much more interesting insight into her own character, ensuring that we - and he - know that she's quite prepared to send him to his death if the mission calls for it. Sadly DJD's hard work is almost entirely undone by the script's insistence that she softens up and asks 007 to "come back alive" like a damp-gusseted schoolgirl, and all those withering put-downs are suddenly and tragically cancelled out.
Brosnasaurus Rex: sexy, misogynist dinosaur

So GoldenEye remains a curiosity. Turning Bond back into a superhuman in an OTT adventure ensured the brand regained its unique place in a world full of fallible, blubbing action heroes like Martin Riggs and John McClane, and consequently provided the series' most successful reboot up to this point. Had it failed to do so, who knows if we'd still be eagerly awaiting Episode XXIII in 2012? Deep down though, the script feels like it's aimed at the lowest common denominator, and while that worked to some extent it also quietly swept everything from six years before under the carpet, and to me that seems a shame.

The pre-title sequence
After six years with his feet up watching Trisha, James Bond had to come back with something pretty goddamn amazing, and he had to do it fast. Hence, exactly sixty seconds into the film, he leaps off Switzerland's 720-foot high (though extended higher with VFX) Verzasca Dam with little more than some knicker elastic tied to his ankles. It's an applause-worthy return for 007, though it's a shame Brosnan's first full-face shot is hanging upside down in a men's shitter. Still, the rest of the sequence is crowd-pleasingly brilliant, mixing subtle comedy (the squeaky trolley) with balls-out, jaw-dropping stunts. Although why Bond didn't shout "Must dash, I've got a plane to catch!" as he drove off the cliff is a mystery.
BONUS BONDFACT: The force on stuntman Wayne Michaels when he performed the jump was so great that his trousers disintegrated, according to this still from the GoldenEye Video Journal:

The titles
Maurice Binder came up with a great idea for the Bond film title sequences in 1965, then repeated it with minor variations for 24 years, creating an amorphous blob of writhing naked totty and wibbly effects that was well past its best by 1989. Fortunately Daniel Kleinman, having directed the Licence To Kill music video, was given the chance to reinvent the formula with GoldenEye, and he works wonders with his not-particularly-subtle (but plot-relevant) fall-of-communism iconography. Oh, and writhing naked totty and wibbly effects. It's actually the least brilliant of Kleinman's Bond title sequences but it's such a stylistic leap it would be an insult not to include it in GoldenEye's Amazing Things list. Want more D-Kleinz?

The score
'The GoldenEye Overture'

OK, I'm just going to put this out there: the score for GoldenEye is amazing. No, Éric Serra's largely electronic contribution isn't "traditional" Bond music, and yes, when it's rubbs it's rubbs, but it's massively atmospheric and incredibly bold, and when he does swap the synths for the orchestra he's perfectly capable of producing swooning, romantic themes. It's just that there aren't any, you know, tunes as such. If you really can't bear the sound of a set of saucepans bouncing around inside a zero-gravity squash court, John Altman's bits during the St Petersburg tank sequence (requested by shit-scared producers after hearing Serra's submission) are just as great in an old-fashioned way. Having said all of that, Serra's end credits song, 'The Experience Of Love', is so excruciatingly awful that my ears try to detach themselves from my head whenever they hear it.

Ксения Сергеевна Онатопп
Part Thunderball's Fiona Volpe, part Never Say Never Again's Fatima Blush, no parts A View To A Kill's May Day (thank Christ), GoldenEye's delightfully mentile erotophonophiliac Xenia Sergeyevna Onatopp is a Bond Girl for the ages. Possibly inspired by The Living Daylights' brief mention of Ula Yokhfov, a KGB assassin who strangled victims with her thighs, Xenia achieves sexual arousal from the faces P-Broz pulls when clamped between her vice-like femora. But then, don't we all?

The best Bond fight scene for 33 years
Somewhere in the middle of GoldenEye's final showdown between Bond and Trevelyan sit 45 seconds of some of the most ferocious fisticuffs we've seen 007 involved in since the rumble on the Orient Express in From Russia With Love. In fact, the fight - set inside a claustrophobic room somewhere in the inner workings of Trevelyan's massive satellite dish thingy - is a direct homage to the earlier film, even down to Brosnan mimicking Connery shielding his torso and face with his arms and getting roundly walloped in the guts for his trouble. 

And finally: I'm not sure if it's a cause for celebration or commiseration, but the references to Little James - which some may say were beneath Timothy Dalton - are back...

Bond and Xenia are playing cards in a Monte Carlo casino.

It appears we share the same passions... three, anyway.

I count two: motoring and baccarat.

Bond loses the hand.

I hope the third is where your real talent lies.

One rises to meet a challenge.

BlogalongaBond will return with Tomorrow Never Dies

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here

Monday 21 May 2012

Skyfall Teaser: The Inevitable Trailer Breakdown

For 83 seconds this morning, Bill Turnbull stopped talking absolute shit and sneaking crafty glances at Susanna Reid's hooters as BBC Breakfast exclusively aired the first Skyfall trailer. God bless the BBC and God bless Susanna Reid's hooters.

Well I don't know about you but FUCK ME. I spent every second of that with shivers that my spine couldn't accommodate and hence took over my entire body. I've almost recovered now, so let's have a closer, lo-res jpeg look!

FACT: You can see the building I work in in this shot. I don't think that's relevant to the plot though.

Bond appears to be undergoing some kind of psychiatric evaluation. It's possible that some kind of mental trauma was brought on by the wearing of a tracksuit, but it's more likely that at long last we get to see MI6 doing something about the fact that the guy has serious issues.

Watching the evaluation is Ralph Fiennes, doing a Bill Turnbull and sneaking a crafty glance at Judi Dench's hooters. If Ralph isn't M by the end of this film I will go out, buy a hat, eat it, sick it up and ask for a refund.

"Skyfall." "Done". BRRRR. Bond don't take no psych-eval shit from you, goatee man. Check out how obviously disturbed he is though; Craig's face has a googolplex times the emotion of Roger Moore's, and that's a lot.

Shanghai. Been there. Got a nice shirt made. Again, probably irrelevant.

This is James Bond firing a gun. Expect a lot of this.

M's Jubilee street party looks like a LOL riot.

This is our only look at Naomie "definitely not Moneypenny, no way, uh-uh, absolutely not, well maybe" Harris. If she says anything about Bond enjoying a close shave I will commit a heinous crime.

Skyfall innit.

This bit is more exciting if you've never seen Speed, Die Hard With A Vengeance or that episode of Coronation Street, but it's still exciting. It's also a relief to see that the train is Not In Service and driverless, so hopefully nobody was hurt. I'd hate to see people get hurt in a Bond film.

Here's the only glimpse of Javier Bardem in the whole teaser. He's been conspicuously absent from all the marketing so far, which means Sony are holding back something amazing here. I have it on good authority that he looks "proper Bond villain", so hopefully he's wearing a Nehru jacket, has a scar down his face, wears an eyepatch, bleeds from the other eye, is bald, is foreign, lives underwater, uses a golden gun, runs a media empire etc etc.

I don't know who this is and I don't know what "bi-something-ic communications" is. When I've seen the film I'll update this caption.

This is the best-looking Bond, like, ever. I confidently predict DoP Roger Deakins will get an Oscar for Skyfall, and I'm the guy who confidently predicted an Avengers movie would never get made.

I told you there'd be a lot of this. My God I'm good.

BEETLEMANIA! Ah, dearie me. *wipes eye*

This is from the Turkey-set, train-based pre-title sequence, and marks the exact moment in the film when my heart will explode out of my body. If you're in the same screening as me, wear a waterproof coat.

In America, maybe. Over here, October. FUCK YOU AMERICA!!! Not really. Sorry. Got a bit carried away.

So there you have it. 83 seconds of Bond porn that has raised my excitement levels beyond all reasonable expectations. Bond is back, and it's looking better than ever. BRING IT.

Thursday 17 May 2012

First Official Skyfall Poster Slightly Better Than The One I Knocked Up This Morning

Here it is then: the first official piece of marketing for Skyfall, if you don't count all those photos from the other week, which you shouldn't because you wouldn't want them up on your wall would you? Unless you want to look at Daniel Craig's arsecrack every day.

You'll be pleased to read that The Incredible Suit's official verdict is: I like it. Despite the fact that Craig is wearing that shirt with the stupid collar that makes him look like he's got a bicycle's inner tube round his neck, and despite the fact that it looks like he's either been miniaturised and loaded into a gunbarrel or he's just got lost in a particularly dangerous subway, I like it.

I like the way it incorporates the famous gunbarrel design in a new way. I like the reference to the tube tunnels that feature heavily in an important set piece. I like that it's in black and white, except for the gold 007 logo, signifying Bond's 50th anniversary. I like the typeface, although the slightly larger 'F' still confuses me. But most of all I like that it's got James Fucking Bond, front and centre, where the eye is immediately drawn to, not standing just out of shot casting a non-threatening shadow.

So well done whoever's responsible. I'll take twenty please, one for each wall in my house.

First SkyFall Poster Revealed at 5pm Today

Artist's impression

Friday 11 May 2012

The Raid

The Raid arrives in cinemas next week, although if all the hype is to be believed it doesn't so much arrive in cinemas as kick the door down, riddle the box office staff with bullets, blow up the popcorn counter, throw the manager down the stairs, kill every single customer in the building and launch itself onto the screen with a cannon.

What I'm trying to say is that it's violent. Try doing a Google image search for a still from The Raid where people aren't kicking the living shit out of each other: it's impossible.

If you've been paying attention though, you'll have noticed that while new superlatives are having to be invented for people to describe the violence, the same people are quietly referring to the script as "economic", "stripped down" and "efficient": all very polite ways of saying "barely existent". It really may as well be called Men Fighting. Laughable comparisons to Die Hard are being made all over the place (presumably because it's an action film set in a building), but The Raid has none of the wit, charm or invention of Die Hard, just fifteen thousand times as many fights.

That's not to say the fights aren't good, because by and large they are. Insane martial arts demonstrations choreographed to within an inch of their life and masterfully shot and edited, each bust-up is an impressive dance of violence between the good guys and the bad guys, every single one of whom is conveniently a master of Pencak Silat, the fighting style about which Wikipedia helpfully tells us "There can be no silat without pencak; on the other hand pencak without silat is purposeless".

Likewise, there can be no plot without action, but on the other hand action without plot is purposeless. What little there is in the way of a story is put on hold every few minutes for another foundation-shaking rumble, after which we're rarely any further on than when it started. And if you think you've got a handle on how many bad guys are left after each scrap, think again, because there'll be an entire other room full of them that's just been written into the script so we can have yet another fight scene, thereby rendering each kill dramatically pointless.

The Raid is perfectly passable mindless entertainment, and does at least feature cinema's new best fridge-nuking scene, but if you're after something with as much brain as brawn, you may as well stay at home and spend the evening kicking yourself in the face.

Gets boring after a while dunnit?