Thursday, 26 November 2015
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Die Another Day hails from the unapologetically vulgar end of the James Bond spectrum. It's an arrogant, swaggering dickhead of a picture that has a lot in common with Moonraker, only with sludgier special effects. Die moves on hyper-caffeinated reflection, marking several notable milestones with a last case built out of fracturing identities.
As well as arriving just in time for the 40th anniversary of Dr. No's release, Lee Tamahori's film was also the twentieth entry in Eon's Bond series. Drunk on its own sense of history, Die doesn't avoid the tropes that Austin Powers had rendered radioactive, instead it embraces them, arriving at a film so exhausting it's no wonder the producers scrapped the entire, unwieldy idea of continuity when devising the following instalment.
Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade start with an imprisoned and potentially brainwashed Bond, one of the few Fleming plot points that hadn't already been cannibalised for sequels. Although we don't get anything as electrifying as 007 acting out The Manchurian Candidate, Die does at least proceed from something rooted in a primary text. Tamahori and his crew even devise a couple of shots that directly reference the strange functionality of the dust jacket illustrations wrapped around latter Bond novels.
Die takes the self-regarding autosarcophagy that has driven the last thirty years of Bond and makes it text. Rather than mask its intentions, the film actually invites the viewer to tick off the call-backs and visual quotes. Tomorrow Never Dies revolved around a Bond that was designed to simultaneously embody the best elements of every previous 007 actor. Since Die is already doing something similar structurally, it takes a different tact with its hero.
In deference to The Matrix's martial arts metaphysics, James Bond becomes a cosmic guru able to stop and start his heart at will. Somewhere in North Korea, between the endless poisonings and water torture, Bond concentrated hard enough to achieve a state of awareness that rendered his ego effectively null. 007 has literally been given power over life and death, he has himself become the ultimate gadget.
Bond's existence is no longer defined by moment-to-moment aggressions, he's above that now. Pierce Brosnan instead embodies the genre equivalent of a grey man, able to mount and conquer dangers born from of an entire, idiosyncratic continuity screaming in at him from every direction. The unflappable, self-important Bond has learnt to contend with an equally arrogant situation. His numbness makes him the perfect passenger for a film built entirely out of reconfiguration.
The self-immolation trend continues with an enemy willing to destroy his face to win. Moon is a North Korean colonel who has undergone radical gene therapy, transforming himself into Gustav Graves, a white entrepreneur who makes a tabloid splash by staging the kind of daredevil publicity stunts that Eon uses to promote its films in real life. Moon explicitly states that he's based his Seconds identity (there's John Frankenheimer again) on James Bond, meaning 007's final on-screen enemy is a rotting, augmented doppelgänger who sneers when he tries to smile. Die Another Day is the Bond concept imploding, a film series struggling with CG modernity, unable to find a workable hook outside of self-assessment.
Shakedown Hawaii is Brian Provinciano and Vblank Entertainments' delightful looking follow-up to Retro City Rampage. Hawaii delivers a Neo Geo style recalibration that promises destructible environments and a wildly increased colour count. The move to 16-bit architectural oomph also allows a driving model that looks straight out of Neo Drift Out as well as Metal Slug's highly detailed interpersonal injury.
Monday, 23 November 2015
The World is Not Enough is powerful evidence for the idea that the Austin Powers films thoroughly undermined the James Bond concept. Rather than push further into the realms of the unreal, World retracts, attempting a more novelistic approach to Britain's top secret agent. As a pitch World is wonderful, a sour reconfiguring of On Her Majesty's Secret Service that sees Pierce Brosnan's Bond thoroughly duped by his adversary, an heiress who greedily protects her oil fortune.
Under Barbara Broccoli's tenure the female roles in James Bond films have come on leaps and bounds. Sophie Marceau's Elektra King is the best yet, a master manipulator who has disguised herself as a willowy little rich girl. Marceau is excellent throughout, able to communicate several crucially different readings of the same basic character,
To Bond she's a genuine love interest, a beautiful, well-heeled equal who can ski her way out of danger. Elektra gives him exactly what he wants. In his eyes she's another Tracy, his doomed wife come again, demanding protection. An appreciative 007 gobbles her up, greedily. Judi Dench's M gets Daddy's Little Girl, a calculated attempt to exploit the bond between King's father and the MI6 taskmaster. King zeroes in on a maternal pang and ruthlessly applies pressure, causing M to wander into danger with open arms.
Robert Carlyle's disfigured anarchist Renard sees something else entirely. His mind clouded by a (physically at least) reciprocated love. Contrary to his stated beliefs Renard makes Elektra a Queen in his mind, subordinating himself to the role of dutiful serf. He's the gardener to her Lady Chatterley, a vulgar, physical little man who feels himself elevated by an aristocrat's affections.
Perhaps once Renard was working towards the complete destruction of the capitalist machine, now he's just a zombie, shuffling along at the behest of an oil magnate. The bullet 009 blasted into Renard's skull has made him into an unfeeling, broken thing. King exploits this flaw mercilessly, folding him and his private army into her own schemes as penance for his inability to summon up an erection.
Sex is always power in James Bond films, a strength focused around 007's indefatigable desire to fuck. World makes this his weakness. Even when Bond has a sense that King is rotten, he's reluctant to make that final conceptual push and recognise her as evil. He just doesn't want to. He'd rather rescue then mend her, use her to fill the hole that Irma Bunt blew through him on his wedding day.
When Bond finally does accept the reality of King, that she isn't being puppeteered by a KGB bogeyman, something inside 007 turns cold. King recognises this and flees, attempting to transform the preamble of her termination into a game of kiss chase. King's final appeal is that of an infantilized sexpot, an object that wants to be dominated and penetrated by master adventurer James Bond.
Unfortunately Marceau's grandstanding performance is just a cog in a bigger machine. King's death isn't even the finale, Bond has to stagger off and sink a submarine with Denise Richards' nuclear physicist-cum-wet t-shirt contestant in tow. Director Michael Apted might be able to coach an indelible performance out of Marceau but his action chops are non-existent.
Charitably, you could make the case that World's inert, bloodless denouement is a reflection of the head space Bond and Renard share. Their pathetic clashing symptomatic of the psychic damage that Elektra has done to them both. Watching the duo limply exchange kicks over a nuclear reactor may tally with this dramatic throughline but it's zero fun to watch.
World has all the raw ingredients to be one of the very best Bonds but Aped's assembly is slack and slow, full of broken men impotently jabbing at their enemies with guns they don't intend to fire. When Marceau is onscreen we're back in the 1960s, drinking in a fresh, vital young action series. When she's not we're stuck with the kind of punishing, mind-numbing boredom that sank that other missed opportunity, The Man with the Golden Gun.
Saturday, 21 November 2015
Star Wars Battlefront is out and picking up umpteen thinkpieces about whether or not its miserly map count represents good value for money. Economic concerns aside, Battlefront has already proven its worth, in my eyes at least, by allowing TheSandyRavage yet another platform to endlessly wreck the unprepared online gamer.
Thursday, 19 November 2015
After three films dealing with a vulnerable, somewhat human Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies reverts to type with an arrogant, self-impressed iteration that skews uncomfortably close to whatever Roger Moore was selling. Tomorrow is a victory lap, the trepidation that ensured GoldenEye's fresh take is tidied away to make room for a haughty Bond powered by test audience suggestions.
GoldenEye brushed off its BMW's concealed missiles because, really, who cares? That film was too busy trying to establish some sort of relationship between its two leads. Tomorrow revels in the added value alterations, mindlessly ticking off every little thing Q branch has promised. Similarly, Bond is now a complete expert in every aspect of life, able to drive his radio controlled product placement with pinpoint accuracy despite a cruddy looking touch interface.
Timothy Dalton's Bond floundered because two film's worth of filmmakers couldn't work our what to do with him. His grave, internal acting was eternally at odds with the stunt spectaculars he found himself in. Pierce Brosnan has the opposite problem, they're trying to do everything with him. Barbara Broccoli and pals insist he juggle the violence of Connery with the louche sexuality of Lazenby and the flippancy of Moore. It's too much. A tonal assault that only really settles down when director Roger Spottiswoode starts indulging his fully-automatic John Woo fantasies for the finale.
Brosnan then is a post-modern mutant, an amalgamation rather than a character. 35 years of baggage hurling itself at the screen every single second. 007's identity crisis allows Michelle Yeoh's Colonel Wai Lin to breeze in and steal the film. Although barely anything of a character, Yeoh invests her performance with a sense of trepidation that registers as an understandably human concern. It's not that she's uncomfortable around the invulnerable Bond, it's that she's aware that he's an assassin and, given the circumstances in which they meet, he might want to kill her.
Wai Lin subordinates Bond in a way Xenia never quite managed. She's so quiet and efficient that Bond regresses into a children's entertainer, cracking jokes and fiddling with gadgets whenever she's around. The audience isn't trusted to find two spies uneasily sharing space engrossing so 007 effectively becomes Wai Lin's comic relief. A shame the same courtesy isn't extended to Yeoh's martial arts set-ups. Impacts are numbed by a cutting practice that obscures collision and a blunt foley mix that has more in common with sitcom giggle prompts than punishing hyper-violence.
The further away we get from Tomorrow Never Dies, the stranger it looks. Prescient even. Jonathan Pryce's media villain Elliot Carver is a slightly more unhinged version of Rupert Murdoch, a megalomaniac who has traded celebrity phone-taps for nuclear-capable stealth boats. Carver is vile. Like all the Bond villains who seek to trap the secret agent in their social circle, he's never seen without a throng of well-compensated stooges. His wife, wise to the narcissism, is off flirting with younger, fitter men.
In light of the scurrilous rumours that surround Murdoch's most recent marriage, it's tempting to organise Tomorrow Never Dies as a kind of New Labour fantasy detailing Tony Blair's explosive extra-marital seduction of Wendi Deng. Cool Britannia working its magic to canonise Britpop Blair in a million-dollar shag narrative that finally allows the Prime Minister to openly, and contemptuously, stick it to the Dirty Digger by feeding him to a terrifying chainsaw rocket. If the Bond series are the dreams of Britain then Tomorrow Never Dies imagines a truly fantastical time and place in which the political elite don't have to bow and scrape around unscrupulous newspaper magnates.
Wednesday, 18 November 2015
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
GoldenEye clears the deck. Another soft reboot for the ageless secret agent that offers us a new Bond and a fresh set of MI6 handlers. Even resident director John Glen is jettisoned to make way for Martin Campbell, a director who made his name on television. Campbell had previously handled the interminable shoot-outs of ITV's The Professionals as well as Edge of Darkness, a critically acclaimed BBC thriller about a Policeman investigating the murder of his daughter.
Campbell's contribution is obvious, he suffuses GoldenEye with a sense of luxury, a quality long absent from the series. Campbell and cinematographer Phil Méheux steer 007 away from the airy functionality of Glen into a more sumptuous state of assembly. Licence to Kill borrowed ticks and tricks from the likes of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard without really engaging with why either film was so broadly popular. Simply, they are quality product, well-engineered scripts in the hands of directors who are able to draw out the spectral beauty of their ruin.
GoldenEye is Bond reaching for that level, a film designed to be a complete experience rather than a routine crawl through the formula factory. John McTiernan and Richard Donner's films are again present in how GoldenEye seeks to include qualities that might register with an audience that doesn't wolf down ice cream on their birthday.
If The Spy Who Loved Me is a film designed to introduce the idea of breasts to an appreciative adolescent audience, then GoldenEye is a deliberate alternative, a Bond film that attempts to elevate its moth-eaten formula by including female perspectives. Izabella Scorupco's Natalya is the convergence point, a potential fuck-target raised by Michael France and a squad of screenwriters to an active participant.
Natalya is an interesting character in the Bond pantheon because we're not only allowed a window into her motivations, we also see her forged. She isn't just shoved in from stage left in a bikini, we experience the sequence of events that mutated her from a comfortable cubicle dweller into an accomplice that fills a critical hole in James Bond's skill-set.
During a tense briefing at MI6, Bond watches her digital ghost drag itself out of a pit of fire and mangled machinery. Using a satellite camera, he zooms in on her, noting her importance. It feels like an anointment. 007 gazing across the world and finding what he lacks. Bond needs Natalya, he could not complete his mission without her.
Famke Janssen's Xenia is Natalya's flip-side, the femme fatale of the twin Thunderballs rescued from an early death and allowed to thrive. Xenia is defined by her consumptions - her love of smoking, fast cars and dominating sexuality. She's nothing less than a Soviet approximation of James Bond, Connery's Bond at that. A malfunctioning, bizarro clone that conducts itself with the same capricious cruelty.
Like Connery she's a sore loser used to the total access her looks provide. In a neat reversal she manages to survive a couple of foreplay altercations with 007, the British spy contriving to spare her rather than get his hands dirty. Xenia is the hero of her own story, a perpetual thorn in Bond's side, reappearing again and again to trap him between her pincer thighs. She's even blessed with her own set of morbid quips, delivered while she gloats over her latest merciless extermination.
Xenia represents Bond's unpleasant past. She is wanton, unchecked consumption operating with a sense of impunity. She tries to do to Bond that which he has done to countless women before her. She wants to trap 007 and use him up, an attempt to take a kind of metatextual revenge for everyone the British agent has bedded, then promptly brushed aside.
Xenia isn't just trying to kill Bond, she wants to subordinate him, transforming him into a tool that fulfils her desire to cum. This extravagance is her downfall. Unfortunately she's not facing any of the Bond's that minted this idea of rampant, unhinged lust. GoldenEye's 007 does not attempt to recruit her or even out-fuck her. Pierce Brosnan's model is instead a ruthless but monogamous take on the character, informed by Timothy Dalton's AIDS era adventurer. There's no dominance asserting grapple here. As soon as Xenia turns her back, Bond is using every underhand trick he can to press his advantage.
Natalya and Xenia are conceptually important to both GoldenEye and James Bond the never-ending franchise. Xenia allows the character to shed some unsavoury baggage while Natalya rounds him off, picking up his slack to form an unbeatable unit. Trapped in the liar of the treacherous 006, she resists capture longer than Bond, plonking herself in front of a computer to sabotage the billion dollar plot while the boys bicker. Natalya contributes in a way that Barbara Bach's Agent Triple X was never allowed to, she represents a future for Bond in which women have worth to him as something other than a disposable conquest.
Monday, 16 November 2015
Thursday, 12 November 2015
Licence to Kill has a great hook. What would happen if someone pissed James Bond off? How do we organically track 007 to the point were he's standing in-front of M, surrounded by MI6 goons, ready to hurl a kick at his superior's midriff? For the answer, resident screenwriters Michael G Wilson and Richard Maibaum dip into Live and Let Die, Ian Fleming's violent, guttural novel about consumption, dredging up an image of a chewed up friend.
Egged on by the success of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, Licence incorporates horror certificate gore to make its point. Thanks to Robert Davi's drug dealing supervillain Sanchez, an incompetent middle-man is obliterated in a pressure chamber and Bond's best pal Felix Leiter has his leg bitten off by a shark. We're sold stakes. Licence proposes a story run on this kind of damage, then quickly gets cold feet. The film moves with an isolated, vengeful Bond for the sum total of one act before piling on accomplices and diluting the hate with the kind of nonsensical gadgetry that the comparatively grounded The Living Daylights had largely avoided.
Vengeance implies a single-minded cause and effect, Sanchez hurts Bond so Bond hurts Sanchez. Mauling Felix, not to mention having his cheery wife gangraped to death, as an inciting incident on yet another tale in which 007 slowly picks at a villain's social circle feels like a waste. Timothy Dalton is more than capable of taking us to the dark, sullen corners of James Bond the character. This is the first film in the series since On Her Majesty's Secret Service to give 007 a reason to sit in the dark and drink, yet it doesn't. Unfortunately, the people financially and creatively backing Dalton are far more interested in delivering James Bond the easily digestible action product.
Wednesday, 11 November 2015
BOYvsVIDEOGAME specialises in playing games in deliberately strenuous ways. Our hero won't just crank up the difficulty to its highest setting, he'll handicap himself in some other irritating way too, like choosing not to level up his character or, in the case of this Fallout 4 video, by not using guns or melee weapons.
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
Roger Moore's ghost haunts The Living Daylights. The most ubiquitous Bond actor mutated the series, changing it from a succession of doomsday thrillers into light-hearted romps full of knowing winks and outrageous action. 007 was altered at a chemical level to better serve Moore's strengths and weaknesses. His charmless Bond was tidied away from the action, infrequently called upon to deliver his patented Simon Templar sneer in tension shattering close-up.
Still, the formula worked. Budgets and box office soared under Moore's tenure, so even though John Glen has Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton at his disposal, he's reluctant to really shake things up. Thankfully Dalton isn't content to tread the same water, he's here to work. The actor could sleepwalk through the role, pull a face and collect his cheque. Instead he invests his Bond with real steel, an impatient professional surrounded by suits and amateurs. Dalton's 007 skews tender when he has room to breath, violent and terrifying if cornered. Over and over Dalton stresses an idea of calculation and intelligence.
Dalton is so good he manages to spin the same dreadful old quips into frustrated, sardonic asides. He's got a great look too - roomy suits, eyes ringed by darkness, hair perfectly coiffed and sprayed, like a Paul Gulacy drawing of Dracula. Dalton's biggest obstacle to success is Glen. Although a dab hand with action, the director finds himself a bit lost when called upon to arrange dramatic moments. Glen abandons Dalton to large, airy rooms, projecting to nothing. Crucial moments in which Bond browbeats Art Malik's Osama bin Laden stand-in are distorted in the edit too, Dalton's agitated bullet point speech left to die by dead air and terminally late cuts.
Monday, 9 November 2015
Follow enough screeching YouTubers and you can immerse yourself in Call of Duty content all year round. The fallow, non-DLC months are the most interesting, with content starved vloggers digging into code minutiae or Agony Aunt-style personal experience in a desperate attempt to keep those views piling in. Not TheSandyRavage though, if the last couple of years are anything to go by we'll get about a dozen gameplay massacres before he gets bored and slouches off to something different. As if to prove my point, here's Sandals accidentally getting the highest denoted kill-streak bonus on Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
Sunday, 8 November 2015
Roger Moore's sub-series has settled into a pleasant groove under John Glen. The director organises two hour long action collages that only demand the odd close-up from its nip-and-tucked star. Once A View to a Kill has finished grinding joylessly through a toothless social intrusion, the film switches gears, transforming into a rolling hazard generator.
View's creaky old 007 is pitted against Christopher Walken's test tube Nazi Max Zorin and Grace Jones' steely, feline bodyguard May Day. Zorin is that rare Bond villain, a man who doesn't just see the extermination of human life in abstract terms. Zorin revels in the slaughter, snorting and giggling as he fills loyal, blue-collar workers full of lead. Like Schwarzenegger, he's another automatic Aryan, blazing through bystanders with aspirational Israeli weaponry.
View's first act may flounder but the back half is energised. Bond shuffles through a variety of prefab identities that keep him locked in the firing line while May Day's allegiances flip-flop after Zorin tries to drown her. Glen is game too, manoeuvring around his stiffening star to deliver his garbled take on en vogue cataclysm - armies of emergency vehicles are chewed up and spat out in a destruction derby that recalls John Landis' The Blues Brothers, lit to resemble Walter Hill's The Driver.
Best of all, a finale setpiece on and around San Francisco's immovable Golden Gate Bridge plays out with the same barbaric physics George Miller gave to Mad Max 2. When 007 lashes Zorin's portable dirigible to the invincible monument it doesn't just hang there uselessly, it drifts and buckles. Bond and Zorin's confrontation is given an extra layer of danger by this treacherous, collapsing stage. Glen's film may have the emotional depth of a puddle but the director goes out of his way to find new, terrifying places to strand his stuntmen.
Saturday, 7 November 2015
Friday, 6 November 2015
Never Say Never Again exists to settle scores. Alternate Bond svengali Kevin McClory was originally involved in an early, unsuccessful attempt to steer the character towards the big screen in the late 1950s. The bones of this pitch, a script entitled Longitude 78 West, was later rewritten by Ian Fleming into his eighth 007 novel Thunderball.
McClory's contribution was not credited, prompting him to take Fleming to court, scoring a heart attack for the ailing author and a slew of future filmmaking rights for McClory. Armed with The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner and $36 million, McClory and his partners at Warner Bros wrangled a 1983 release date to go head-to-head with Eon's Octopussy.
Sean Connery's involvement skews into spite. The star wanted to stick it to his ex-producer Cubby Broccoli by proving that he was more than just a muscle-bound prop. The actor agreed to return for this unofficial, Brand X Bond in exchange for greater creative input, a boon Broccoli was reluctant to grant him. Connery's notes ran from the ridiculous to the pretty decent. A mooted stinger involving Connery and his rival Roger Moore bumping into each other was mercifully junked but Connery's insistence that the project shell out for established acting talent does help smooth the re-telling.
Max von Sydow is a pleasingly pompous Blofeld. Although barely seen, he makes an impression issuing orders to a room full of psychotic monsters disguised as boring, middle-managers. Klaus Maria Brandauer's Largo is markedly different from Adolfo Celi's burly science pirate too. Brandauer and screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr's take is both fey and sexually dysfunctional, a peeping tom who treats Kim Basinger's Domino like a particularly well-bred dog.
Even when she's receptive to his advances he doesn't know what to do with her, nipping and tasting her hair rather than going in for a kiss. He's recognisably the kind of man who would risk putting his billion dollar plot in jeopardy just to score a few points over Connery's mucho macho Bond. Largo is desperate to prove he's the better man. It doesn't hurt that Brandauer resembles a genetic mix of Benny Urquidez and Christopher Nolan either, he's the personification of bored, moneyed Eurotrash.
Barbara Carrera is even better as Fatima Blush, a flamboyant SPECTRE assassin who dresses like a head-on collision between a harlequin and a Replicant. Blush acts like Wile E Coyote in heat, a jittery murderer who doesn't know if she wants to fuck or bury her enemies. She's wild and unpredictable, a much more exciting take on a featured female antagonist than Maud Adams' deathly dull Octopussy.
Connery was also adamant that Bond's age should be addressed. This 007 is initially positioned as anachronistic, failing a grandiose Central American war game thanks to his latent chivalry / sexism. Despite having a decade and change on his Diamonds Are Forever turn, Connery looks far sharper. He's tanned and trim, shorn of the boozy affectation that crept into his later secret agent performances.
Sean Connery instantly confers quality to the production. He's still cool as fuck, still able to effortlessly convey an almost bottomless sense of belligerence. So even though Never Say Never Again is both overlong and, one shark sequence aside, lacking the mad bastard stunts that power John Glen's James Bond films, Connery's mere presence reminds us of a time when these films were legitimate, credible thrillers rather than just drip-fed cartoons. Irvin Kershner's handsome take never really comes close to eclipsing the strange, alien cruelty of Terence Young's, but it is, at least, an interesting remix.