Archive for Daniel Craig

Plenty of Time to Die

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2022 by dcairns

So, we actually LIKED the new Bond, NO TIME TO DIE. Probably enjoyed it more than any of this series since GOLDENEYE (but haven’t seen them all), the first Brosnan, which didn’t hold up particularly well over time but seemed like a great gain in confidence/competence back then.

The new one is by a proper director, Cary Joji Fukunaga, who made a fine film of JANE EYRE and helmed the first season of True Detective. So I was expecting an impressive long take, and was not disappointed.

Of course, the epic running time and delusions of seriousness and meaningfulness are a drawback. But the moviemakers have remembered to have some fun, too. The middle of the film gets lighter, and there’s an adorable turn by Ana de Armas as a novice CIA agent which really lifts the movie. Bond needs real people around him if he’s to seem human at all, and Lea Seydoux, the marvellous Jeffrey Wright (I want to see him given more starring roles), little Lisa-Dorah Sonnet, and Billy Magnussen all help enormously. Daniel Craig is a gifted actor, but I think he made a mistake, essentially, in starting his Bond off so dour way back in CASINO ROYALE. As the filmmakers’ pile trauma upon trauma, he seemed to have nowhere to go but down, into some masklike inexpressive roboticism… Giving him a proper, sort-of convincing relationship helps some.

The attempts to get some fun into it come with one hitch: Craig is given more quips than before. For whatever reason, this gifted thesp cannot sell a quip, not in character. There aren’t any good ones, they’re all dreadful dad jokes, but you never feel that this version of Bond would even attempt them.

The real humour comes from believable-ish (we’re always modifying our expectations according to this genre and franchise) professional banter from Killing Zoe’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I mean, I’m assuming she’s the author of the biological warfare lab gags, they totally sound like her. What’s amusing is that nearly all the film’s byplay is bitchy, feminine — and Craig does this well, along with everyone else. It’s only when he’s paired off against Ralph Fiennes as M that the dialogue becomes hypermasculine, in a rather hilarious way, like a certain Fry & Laurie sketch…

I mean, this is how men talk, right?

Anyway, the whole thing looks spectacular and beautiful. Maximum scenic value extracted from a range of locations, including my native land… I think it was probably a mistake to use a forbidden island for the climax, too much like that Sam Mendes one, whichever it was.

The other big flaw I think was in the baddies. David Dencik is a very enjoyable creep. But Christoph Waltz as Blofeld and Rami Malek as “Lyutsifer Safin” (pwahahaha) should have coordinated, to prevent them from giving the same rather flat perf. Neither can touch Donald Pleaasence’s unblinking, low-affect turn in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, which he did on short notice in just a day or two of filming. And the writer’s haven’t thought nearly enough about Safin’s motivation. The villain’s motivation in these kind of things is far more important than the hero’s — Bond just wants to do his job, maybe protect a loved one or two — Safin is out for revenge, but not after anyone in particular, it seems. Even in the very first sequence (the pre-pre-credit sequence, since according to this movie’s bloat we need two before the usual dreary song and overblown CGI titles), he’s a bit swithery. Can’t stick to his purpose. He talks a lot but he seems vague about why he’s doing what he’s doing. A good supervillain can have a plan that makes no sense, like Thanos, but if we believe it makes sense TO HIM the movie can just about get away with it. What does the Penguin actually WANT in BATMAN RETURNS? Something different in every scene, it feels like. That won’t do at all.

The movie walks into some hilarious cliches without flinching — there’s the megadeath weapon intended for peaceful purposes —

Thanks to regular Shadowplayer Simon Kane for nailing that one in advance.

And there are the weird quips, which don’t work with the new grim-visaged Bond —

Since nobody’s asked, here’s my advice for how they should tackle the next Bond:

They could call it 007. Why not? Instant brand recognition. The poster could say INSERT NAME HERE *IS* 007.

The character should start out lighter. You need someone compellingly tough to do the lightness well, the way Connery did. The quips could be black humour, a man dealing with an unpleasant situation, the way cops and paramedics use unpleasant gags to deal with the strain. As your series goes on and Bond gets abused and traumatised more, the quips can become grimmer, the character crueller. The efforts to extend a one-note character like Bond, giving him some kind of ARC, that extends through five looong films, has really been a strain. It might, actually, be nice to give up on the idea of an arc for Bond. Keep him consistent, let everyone else change (mostly by killing them, obvs).

The only successful Bond arc was Lazenby’s, and he only played the bastard once.

Connery’s arc was putting on weight and a toupee. He was definitely the best Bond though, for his first three or four outings: his machismo and grit gave an interesting underpinning to the flippancy. With Roger Moore you get ONLY flippancy, with Craig you get ONLY machismo (yet there are moments of physical humour in his performance this time… interesting). The series is never going to top GOLDFINGER. Partly because of the obsession with applying a character arc to such a one-note cartoon figure and universe.

Alex Cox used to express an interest in doing a Bond film, saying that the series was refreshingly free of the tiresome good-versus-evil paradigm. Bond is just a ruthless soldier, using technology and muscle and nerve against official national enemies. The movies can try to make the bad guys seem bad, but the hero is a professional killer… Then, they can have the villain claim that he and Bond are much alike (this goes back to GOLDEN GUN, and Roger Moore’s retort to Chris Lee, “When I kill it’s on the orders of my government…” is pretty thin as moral arguments go.

Actual line from the novel Goldfinger: “Bond had never liked going up against the Chinese. There were too many of them.” This is not great art.

I really hope Fukunaga doesn’t make another one — he’s proven he can do it. I hope this gives him the clout to make his own things. (He’s a writer on this one, though, so it’s not purely a job-for-hire.) I want to see what he wants to make next.

NO TIME TO DIE stars Benoit Blanc; Charlotte LaPadite; Freddie Mercury; Maria Rambeau; Lord Voldemort; Paddington Bear; Frances Barrison / Shriek; Lord Lucan; Roebuck Wright; Col. Hans Landa; Marta Cabrera; and Dr. Mabuse.

Quantum Menace

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on April 25, 2018 by dcairns

I once watched the opening of QUANTUM OF SOLACE on a plane. I was curious to see what kind of film could be made by people who thought that title was good. Now that Leith’s charity shops are selling DVDs for, at times, 25p, I thought it worth picking up a copy to see if it was as bad as I remembered.

If memory serves, this one went into production during the writers’ strike, and it needed a rewrite. So despite the complicated writer credits (three names, one “and” and an ampersand) it’s as close to a film without a writer as you could hope to see, or not to see. The director and star were trying to cobble it all together as they went along. So we should cut them some slack. Will we? Nah.There are two schools of thought about incoherent action sequences — one says that they’re fine as long as they’re stylish and create a lot of visual dash and confusion to keep our eyes darting about, and they simulate the chaos of being in a dangerous, fast-moving situation. Occasionally this is true. The other school of thought is that if something genuinely exciting is happening, it would be nice to be able to see it.

We open on a car chase. There’s some nice photography here — details of bits of car pulsing in and out of the light as they pass through tunnels at speed. We get glimpses of our man Daniel Craig, so we know he’s in one car. There are quite a few cars, so the likelihood is the bad guys are chasing him, but there’s no way to be sure of this. Not to worry, all will become clear.

Well, actually, no. Even when we get some wide shots where we can see several cars and the road at once, it’s not easy to tell who is where. Bond’s car gets impaled on a big spike that’s part of a truck, and it punches through the door, inches from him. He puts his car into a spin, tearing the door off, and freeing himself from the decelerating truck. I figured that out after watching it twice. The poor cinema audience wouldn’t have a chance, and all that expensive stunt work counted for nothing.

SMASH! OK, James Bond’s car definitely got flattened by a truck just then, definitely. Well, that was a short movie. Oh no, apparently that was one of the other cars that got hit.

Here’s an Italian cop helpfully broadcasting a recap:Ah ha! Bond is driving a grey Aston Martin and being chased by a black Alfa Romeo. That’s bound to help. Nope. Bond’s car looks black to me. I might be able to tell one vehicle from another if they were ever on screen for more that eight frames, though.

Still, if Bond’s now only got one pursuer, things should be clearer, and they are, despite an Italian cop car joining the chase. The cops soon get wiped out, rolling down a hill and across Bond’s path, the mangled vehicle and its blameless corpse occupants serving as a fleeting bit of additional jeopardy for our hero. Well, these films are supposed to be ruthless, I suppose.

Still, the editing is jarring — I can see they’re using it to keep the pace up, because every time we get a real wide shot it does looks flat, slow and boring. I think actually staying in tighter POV shots moving with the cars would be much better, imparting a real rollercoaster sense of rollick and swoosh.The sequence ends when Bond picks up a machine gun he had all along and shoots the other driver. And then doesn’t make a quip because the writers are on strike.

Yeah, pretty bad: there’s no INVENTION to it, it’s all in the hands of the editors, who hash it up, and the sound designers, who do create a very dynamic, starwarsian mix, but can’t help create clarity where none exists.

I’m also picking up discs of the BOURNE series, piece by piece… more later…

Coffee and Cigarettes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2011 by dcairns

I almost but not quite regard the time I spent reading Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy as time wasted. I’d been told that I’d find them compulsive page-turners, but in reality, the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, struck me as weirdly draggy, as the author described shopping trips, love trysts, business affairs, all pedantically spread out over a one-year cycle like a Harry Potter book. The series only started to get exciting on the second book, and I don’t know what led me to even give it a chance, but it did develop into something gripping as Lisabeth Salander’s own story started emerging. The third volume is just ridiculous, with its albino giant invulnerable to pain (I guess he’s a kind of caricature of Swedish Nazism), but pretty good fun.

I stopped watching the Swedish adaptation of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO after it became clear that it was just going to repackage the book into an endless series of micro-scenes, none hanging around long enough to develop any dramatic meat on their bones — movie as stripped-down spine. So I was kind of wary of David Fincher’s Hollywood remake, a movie which could theoretically be dismissed as redundant by anyone who can read subtitles. Would this be another bland PANIC ROOM, or worse, a BENJAMIN boring bastard  BUTTON?

It’s not, but it’s not a FIGHT CLUB or SOCIAL NETWORK either — I’d say it’s work-for-hire in which Fincher has been able to invest some real interest, not purely as a technical exercise in grafting Brad Pitt’s head onto a dancing baby. Like the novel, it’s a pulp potboiler with pretensions, but Fincher uses cinematic language considerably more deftly than journalist Larsson used prose, at least in translation. With its slick surfaces (dig the Ikea torture chamber with its colour-coordinated power tools!) and gliding camera moves (resisting, this time, the urge to fly ghostlike through a kettle’s handle or a night club bannister), the movie is consistently pleasurable to the eye, and the soundtrack, not just Atticus Ross & Trent Reznor’s buzzing, throbbing score, but the whole mix, with its fifty different kinds of wind, is a triumph — this movie wants very badly to be seen on the big screen.

It’s not perfect: Fincher’s tendency to include a cutaway insert every time somebody picks something up, puts it down or throws it away, is a Svankmajer-like tic than gets a bit annoying once you notice it (and arguably detracts from the power of the one key object discarded in the last scene). One the other hand, Fincher can do restraint: he includes numerous slick shots of Salander’s bike slicing through Nordic nightscapes, but holds off a POV of onrushing road until the last act.

Performances: while it’s nice to see Geraldine James, Steven Berkoff and Martin Jarvis (!), the actress playing Salander naturally gets the lion’s share of one’s attention. It’s to Larsson’s credit that he somehow made the quasi-autistic, kickboxing, computer hacking, physics genius, bisexual bike riding damaged goods into a vaguely convincing pulp fiction heroine. Admittedly I didn’t really watch Noomi Rapace’s origination of the role, but I did glance at it as Fiona was watching, and found her riveting — if the film had been able to keep up with her, it’d have been a wild ride. Fiona declares the new version to be even stronger though, so there you have it: Mickey Rooney Rooney Mara is an even better Salander.

Daniel Craig is quickly becoming the go-to guy for those who find Clive Owen just a bit too effervescent, Liam Neeson too irksomely perky. But he works here, as Larsson’s transparent self-portrait business journalist / loverboy. At least he doesn’t look like a baby potato. Robin Wright makes the most of her scattered moments of screen time… the only odd thing about the acting is that the Swedish accents, already an odd choice to my taste, are somewhat inconsistent. Craig doesn’t really bother with one, Rooney’s is exemplary, and everybody on the TV news programmes sounds like the Swedish Chef. Also, the written matter seen in the film varies between Swedish and English, seemingly at random.

Stephen Zaillian’s script is largely faithful to the book, but prunes away much excess and tightens ingenuously. “At least you’re not going to prison,” is a brilliant line that not only hacks away an unproductive diversion in the book, but lets us know in advance that this has been done. Intact are all the uncomfortable little references to Blomkvist/Larsson’s poor physical condition, prefiguring his tragic/absurd early death right before his books saw print. And Zaillian wisely jettisons the whole discussion about suppressing the killer’s identity and never revealing his victims’ fates, in order to protect the Wennerstrom family business. This distasteful scene rather gave the lie to the whole book’s thesis, about the wickedness of misogynists or something. We’re meant to believe that the hero believes business interests are more important than letting the victims’ families know what became of their daughters. We’re also meant to believe he has the right to make that call, despite being in business with the Wennerstroms himself. And we’re meant to believe that Salander, herself a victim of misogynist violence, would go along with it. That’s one smart script edit right there — the question of publicity simply isn’t mentioned, and we don’t wonder about it.