Category Archives: Geek

Quantum of Solace – how’s it looking 5 years later (or this just became my favourite…)

OK, so in the interests of full disclosure upfront;

1) I am a James Bond fan. Moreover, I’m a James Bond purist in the sense that I will always defer to the character created by Ian Fleming as the reference point, and not the cinematic Bond.

2) As a result of #1, my tastes are somewhat different to others. My favourite Bond film is the 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which seems to be the official fanclub’s favourite too), followed by 1989’s Licence to Kill (I don’t understand how Daniel Craig’s Bond gets so much praise and this film, which is a proto-Craig film, gets so much scorn). Previously the third placed film was Casino Royale, but this has changed.

3) As a result of #1, pt II – my favourite Bonds tend to be Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig, depending on the mood. I can’t stand Roger Moore; Sean Connery was great in the first two films but started to increasingly dial it in; I wish Pierce Brosnan had been able to play the Bond he wanted to play, and Lazenby could have been great had he not resigned after one film.

4) Yes, ok, fine, so I’m basically a 007 hipster. Whatever.

I recently discovered Nerdist.com’s James Bonding podcast. So tragic is my fandom that I’ve tweeted once and resisted the urge to tweet a dozen times over factual errors in the trivia they quote. Help. Anyway, I had a soft spot for Quantum of Solace despite not really liking it on first viewing (subsequent viewings softened my opinion) and their podcast on that film made me go back and review it.

(I will write up some of the podcasts I listen to shortly; I’ve neglected this blog so very horribly. It’ll grow up to hate me, I’m sure. But since I can’t read on my journey to work podcasts have become a life saver)

Quantum of Solace has overtaken Casino Royale to be my favourite Daniel Craig Bond film. Skyfall is pretty and all but the plot is astonishingly stupid as is the villain’s omniscient timing.

So why QoS? It’s regarded as dour and too serious, missing the light hearted quips that other films had. OK, let’s touch on this. The quips are a cinematic invention, used to soften the blow of what was, in 1962-65, very violent cinema. Case in point – Goldfinger (1964). Bond electrocutes a man in a bathtub (to be fair, it wasn’t just Bond being a dick; the guy did try and kill him) and leaves the room muttering “shocking. Positively shocking”. The quip is designed to mitigate the impact of what you just saw; you let our a sigh of relief, laugh, and don’t dwell. Easy.

Later, when it was clear Roger Moore wasn’t able to carry off Bond’s menace (watch him try in The Man With the Golden Gun; it’s pitiful) they made the quips and one-liners part of his character. It’s not really a 007 thing; it’s something Connery did out of necessity and with regards to the cultural norms of the time, and Moore carried over because it suited him.

For those who forgot the plot of QoS, it begins maybe 2 hrs after Bond shot Mr White in the leg at his Lake Como home on the edge of Lake Garda. Bond’s slate grey Aston Martin DBS V12 (goddam the car sounds sexy in this scene) is pursued by two Alfa Romeo 159s. Bond dispatches them, and arrived in Siena (which I think it what, 3hrs drive from Garda?) to get Mr White out of the boot. White is a member of Quantum, a SPECTRE-like organisation who were responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale. Bond tracks Quantum to Dominic Greene, played with the kind of jealous, petty insecurity one loves to hate by French actor Matthieu Almaric (who was also with Daniel Craig in Munich). Greene’s utilities company is a front for a plan to monopolise Bolivia’s water supply and give Quantum increased control over the world.

Quantum works well as a new SPECTRE (the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence,  Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). SPECTRE was dropped from the films following a lawsuit stemming from Thunderball and Kevin McClory’s input to a storyline; Wikipedia has a good article on this. But the idea of an organisation who use economic power over physical power to control matters is compelling, very modern and very Bond-esque.

The title, however, comes from a short story in the For Your Eyes Only collection. Bond attends a dinner in Nassau, where he remarks to his host that if he ever were to marry, it would have to be to an air hostess (this is before he married Tracy in OHMSS). The governor tells him of the story of a civil servant, Philip Masters, who also married an air hostess. They lived in Bermuda and she embarked on an open affair with the eldest son of a rich Bermudan family. Incensed and hurt, Masters work goes to hell and so does his health. Given an assignment in Washington to distract him, he returns to the Bahamas later and segregates the house into two portions where they bot reside, free of interference from the other. Eventually Masters returns to London, leaving his wife stranded and with unpaid debts; an act he couldn’t have performed months earlier. The Governor explains to Bond that when the quantum of solace in a relationship drops to zero,  “When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn’t care if the other is alive or dead, then it’s just no good”.

This is adapted to the film in the sense that Bond lost that quantum of solace. Vesper died and Bond, finding out he’d been betrayed, lost any respect for her and in effect, any caring if he lived or died. He felt Vesper, more crucially, didn’t respect him. It takes Mathis’ death, and the confession Bond extracts from Yusef Kabira at the end, for Bond to realise Vesper did love and respect him.

It’s true that this is a grimmer film. It’s true that it’s less fantastical than the others, and that Craig spends a lot of the film just getting through things. In that, he’s acting the shit out of this role, playing a Bond whose attempts to cover up the extend of his depression and fragility go further to extremes the more he’s pushed, and become paper thin before he figures out how to achieve that quantum of solace. Craig is at his best here, playing Bond like nobody has done before, even Tim Dalton.

Tosca opera scene.

There are other elements to love; the Tosca set in Bregenz is an amazing, astonishing sight to behold. The four major action set pieces are tied thematically to the four elements; the car chase at the beginning is earth (arguably so is the chase across the rooftops of Siena, with their terra cotta tiles and earth tones on display). The boat chase in Haiti is water; the fight with the DC3 is air. And finally, the assault on the hotel in the Bolivian desert is fire.

The song is astonishingly fucking awful. But the score? Excellent. David Arnold should have remained the composer – Thomas Newman might have done those magical piano queues in American Beauty (sampled by Jakkata in the song “American Dream”) but he didn’t capture the story as well as David Arnold does.

Hell, Olga Kurylenko’s Camille is a much more progressive Bond girl than we’re used to. Unlike the rest, who go to bed with Bond in the film, she never does. Her quest for revenge mirrors Bonds, but it drives a mentoring and protective side out in him. Bond counsels Camille on how to kill someone:

The training will tell you that when the adrenaline kicks in, you should compensate. But part of you’d not going to believe the training, because this kill is personal. Take a deep breath. You only need one shot. Make it count.”

You get the sense he knows she’ll get closure before he does. Camille does, and the beauty of their relationship is shown when she is paralysed with fear and Bond prepares to end their lives before they burn to death. She quotes his lines back to him (“Take a deep breath. You only need one shot. Make it count”) before a section of wall collapses and exposes their way out. Freed, after Greene is dealt with, Bond and Camille share a kiss. She says she wants to help him, but he’s battling demons and she can’t. This to me was a turning point – Bond realises he’s nothing to anybody until he closes that chapter, properly.

So rather than being a helpless serving of sexy cake for Bond, the “Bond Girl” is an equal of sorts. Not as used to killing as Bond, but still quite capable and more emotionally adjusted. She walks away from it all without looking back.

As I think about it… I’m more convinced that this film will age as OHMSS did, finding love from fans over time. It’s biggest sin on release, being a sequel to Casino Royale, is the expectation it’ll be Casino Royale Take 2.

Watch it again, tell me if I’m wrong…

Advertisements

News I don’t want to hear about the 24th James Bond film… (or, no! Bad Daniel Craig!)

In my RSS feed was an article I’ve not yet read. I’m putting it off, because the title alone is enough to cause me to resemble a boiling cauldron of rage. I’m worried the content might cause a spillage, if I can mangle that metaphor further.

“Daniel Craig wants to lighten up Bond 24”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/10271162/Daniel-Craig-wants-to-lighten-up-Bond-24.html

Bear with me whilst I read this…

OK, so it’s just journalists doing what they do best, which I assume is tripping balls and making stuff up because fuck else they are going to do? And they wonder why their profession has no respect.

What Craig actually said was he wants to reclaim some of the old irony of the films. He cites the scene in Skyfall when, after jumping into a half-ripped-open train carriage he adjusts his cuffs.

“He’s really hurt himself jumping on top of a train, and he just wants to straighten himself up. That’s what it’s about: to be more concerned about the way you look at the moment of crisis. The weirder the place [the humour] comes from the better it is.”

Daniel, are you fucking serious? You rescued the character from the abyss. You brought it back to Fleming and now you want to quip more?

Granted, the paper further proves that journalists are up there with trade unionists insofar as being useless relics of the past with this line; “he most recent 007 blockbuster culminated with Daniel Craig’s Bond transforming into an agent more reminiscent of the Bond played by Roger Moore, who was a master of the perfectly timed one-liner.”

Comparing any Bond favourably to Roger Moore is like attending synagogue to say “Oh, Hitler was a dick alright but the rest of them weren’t so bad.” It’s that evil! That serious! You musn’t do it, as Roger Moore was astonishingly awful as James Bond and if you like him as a Bond you should feel bad and immediately die in a fire.

(James Bond is serious business to me and I’ll do a big blog post on the various actors and films at some point. Promise. “Yay” you scream.)

Just for some history; the quips came into the Bond mythos as a way of lessening the shock of the violence audiences were seeing on screen. What seems tame by comparison now was quite confronting for audiences from 1962 (when the first film, Dr No, was released) to 1964 (when Goldfinger, the third film, really introduced the quip – during the pre-title sequence, Bond electrocutes a man in a bath and says “Shocking. Positively shocking”). I would probably submit the train fight between Robert Shaw and Sean Connery in From Russia, WIth Love was the catalyst for this.

It reached a creative nadir under the awful tenure of Roger Moore. In lieu of acting, Moore played an urbane bore and rapist, whose signature move was a shitty pun and a raised eyebrow. Idiot.

Timothy Dalton, a real actor and an unfairly maligned James Bond, brought the franchise back to its roots but Pierce Brosnan ensured it went straight back in that vapid direction (“Christmas comes once a year.” Fuck off). Though I will give credit to Brosnan for desperately wanting to film Ian Fleming’s James Bond; the producers were disinterested so he went off and made the Tailor of Panama to show his sinister range.

Every time the James Bond franchise tries to swallow its own head, the producers go back to Ian Fleming. Fleming didn’t have stupid quips in there, and as an audience I think we’re at a point where we’re beyond sensitivity to violence on screen. The Daniel Craig films – Casino Royale, the wonderfully underrated Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall, all succeeded without needing to temper anything by a quip or seven.

“Try not to cock it up”

After the fuss dies down – Affleck as Batman

ghnTm55

As I mentioned earlier, the Chris Reeve Superman films were a huge staple of my childhood and I still think the 1978 Dick Donner film is the best superhero/comic book film of all time. I appreciate that for many, The Dark Knight takes that mantle and given that it references my favourite Batman book of all time heavily (The Long Halloween) I certainly put it at #2.

Bearing this in mind, and after the lovingly made but uninspiring Superman Returns, I was pumped for Man of Steel and it didn’t disappoint. Like with Batman Begins, you have to take the long view with the film and allow it to establish a grandiose second installment.

I was on a train from Amsterdam to Cologne, listening to the Hollywood Babble-On podcast. It’s one of the podcasts from director Kevin Smith that I love (the other being Fat Man on Batman) and both hosts are huge comic book geeks. It was there that I learned that during San Diego Comic Con that director Zack Snyder had confirmed Batman would feature in the Man of Steel sequel.

As if that news wasn’t big enough, they announced it by quoting text from the seminal Frank Miller book “The Dark Knight Returns“:

“You’re beginning to get the idea, Clark. We could have changed the world…now…look at us…I’ve become a political liability…and…you…you’re a joke. I want you to remember, Clark…in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember…my hand…at your throat…I want…you to remember…the one man who beat you.””

It’s a pity Miller’s gone slowly insane because his work on Daredevil, on Wolverine, and on Batman (the other great one being Year One; even with the insight of Grant Morrison into Dark Knight Strikes Again, I can’t enjoy it) was so damn good it revoluntionised the characters.

Geeks and nerds, being what they (fuck it, we) are, were now faced with the task of finding a perfect actor to play Batman. Inevitably, the perfect actor would have to be Christian Bale or his genetic clone, and would not be any actor save Bale whom they cast. Factoring this in mind, Affleck was always going to encounter the angry spittle of internet rage from the get go.

It’s unfair on the basic level, because nobody has seen him as Batman (and he’s a huge Batman fan; Kevin Smith says the only reason he filmed Daredevil was because he didn’t think he’d get to play Batman and Miller wrote both characters so this was his chance). We’ve nothing to judge him on.

Secondly, it’s idiotic, because the entire premise of the nerdrage seems to be based on the shit films he made a decade ago.

The guy ate crow and came back with 4 films that deserve respect not because we’re happy Affleck went down a dark path and came back; but because they’re fucking excellent and if you haven’t seen them you should.

The obvious 3 of the 4 are Gone Baby, Gone, The Town and Argo. Directed all three, starred in two. Each showed a maturity and intelligence and the latter also showed a restrained, nuanced performance from Affleck. Mark my words – he’s the Clint Eastwood for this generation.

The other one is probably less seen but no less vital. In it, Affleck plays a tortured character who died under strange circumstances.

bAffleck-hollywoodland07

It’s called Hollywoodland, and it tells the story of George Reeves – the actor who played Superman on TV in the 1950’s TV serial. Reeves was a bit of a tragic figure; limited by the role and frustrated by how it defined him, he died in 1959 from a gunshot wound. Whether the wound was self-inflicted or not remains contentious and is explored in the film.

If you watch this and have any doubt that Affleck has the range to play Batman, then I’m not sure I or anyone else can help you. Clearly nothing less than Bale will suffice, which means you probably enjoyed the atrocious disappointment that was the Dark Knight Rises and equate Batman with throat cancer.

The Snyder take will be an older Batman, a slightly more jaded Batman, and Affleck can do that in his sleep. Watch Hollywoodland if you don’t believe it. Hell, watch Argo too – he handles the pressure of the role with understated cool. And what Affleck will deliver is Bruce Wayne, in spades.

Finally, though, haven’t the enraged fanboys learned a damn thing? When Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, fans were furious that the comedic star of “Mr Mom” was going to ruin a “serious” take on the character. Want proof? http://articles.latimes.com/1988-07-03/entertainment/ca-8663_1_batman-bob-kane-sam-hamm-script

Keaton was a great Batman and as someone caught up in the fever I remember what a cultural watershed that film was. Casting director? 1. (Pre-) Internet fan rage?? 0.

Remember when Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond? People were furious (ahem: http://danielcraigisnotbond.com). I wasn’t happy, and I’m a massive Bond fan (to be fair, I thought Clive Owen was a better fit and that’s all). Craig is probably the best Bond of the lot, tied with Dalton (I know people say Connery and I’m sure it’s a lot of effort for them to take the easy option, but I’ll elaborate on the Bonds in a later post) and has revived the franchise more than any actor before him.

Casting director? 2. Internet fan rage? 0

Heath Ledger as the Joker. A radical take on the character that showed how hammy and dialled-in Jack Nicholson was. As a swansong, it was a testament to Ledger’s creative genius as an actor and Nolan’s insight in casting him. Perfect.

Fans, knowing best, derided the choice and Ledger was awarded a posthumous Oscar.

Casting director? 3 Internet fan rage? 0

I’m pretty confident Affleck will be a good Batman, but I think it’s fair to judge when we’ve seen him in the role and not based on his performance in GIgli.

Obviously, Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms.

I fell out of love with Star Wars. Sorry. (Or: How George Lucas went all Josef Fritzl on our childhood)

OK so for the most part, I’m going to try and explain why I just stopped loving Star Wars like I used to. And believe me when I say I used to; I’ve probably spent more than the GDP of Timor Leste on merchandise over the years.

As tempting as it would be to foam the mouth and hate on George Lucas, I’ll try and keep it confined to analysis (but don’t worry, there will be a few dick jokes).

I grew up watching Star Wars. As someone born in 1979, it was one of three cornerstones of my childhood entertainment. The other two were the Superman films starring Christopher Reeve, and the Masters of the Universe cartoon.

My dad, bless him, taped Star Wars from Channel 10 when the overlay text confirming the station was a stodgy, thick yellow text and semi-readable logo. I vividly recall the message that the film was being “simulcast” on the FM 104.9 (Triple M) network. Dad had even paused the tape to ensure we didn’t get any ads.

For Empire and Jedi, he borrowed the neighbor’s VCR to tape copies of the tape.

This was the unaltered, pure as fuck version of Star Wars. It was goddam perfect, and you could thankfully get it again on DVD in 2007. Like any great work of art, it’s best if you don’t go back and tinker with it. Trust us on this, George.

In 1992, at a bookstore with my mother, I discovered that a “sequel” trilogy was planned in book format. It’s hard to conceive but before Star Wars novels became a lucrative market, pumping out mind-fuckingly awful fiction to an audience seemingly incapable to being discerning (or breaking the addiction), Bantam and Lucasfilm decided to write a sequel or sorts to the film. Penned by space opera veteran Timothy Zahn, this has become the only Star Wars books I’d ever re-read. Hell, they are better than the fucking prequels.

I’m taking you on this journey because it’s important to understand how long I lived with this franchise; but also, because I literally was riding the crest as it happened. I read all the books I could, played the computer and cough role-playing games (much <3, WEG), collected the merch… and yes, saw Episode 1 more than once on opening day in May 1999.

The other loves in my life, from a fiction standpoint, are James Bond and Indiana Jones. I’ve already touched on Indy, and with Bond – believe me when I say I could start and not stop talking about Bond. Total Bond expert. I still enjoy both as much as I did when I discovered them in 1987/88.

So where did it go wrong? Well, I don’t think many people would honestly disagree that Star Wars lost some of its magic. It’s natural, and if you could read the next bit in Don Draper’s voice it’ll sound much, much better:

Star Wars seduced us. It was a hint of a world or worlds unknown; unlike ours, but familiar enough that we felt we belonged. And seduction only works when you know nothing about what is seducing you. Take away the mystery, and you take away the glittering allure of the unknown and the risks and dangers associated with it.

End Draper voice.

As soon as we learned stormtroopers were all cloned Kiwis (not enough to steal our jobs, eh, you have to steal the Empire’s jobs too?!); that Boba Fett wasn’t an Eastwardian “man without a name” style badass but a super stormtrooper clone, and that Darth Vader’s tragic fall amounts to a bad day of particularly petulant whining, you’ve pulled back the curtain too far. Suddenly, instead of an ageless beauty you see now, in the light, a face heavily made up and not as appealing as it once was.

It’s a refrain we’ve heard before from some quarter, and it has divided fans; “the prequels ruined Star Wars”. To be accurate, I’d submit that the prequels ruined it by explaining too much and delivering too little. I could go further into how the fall of Vader was unconvincing and failed to elicit the intended sympathetic response, but I’m sure someone’s done a more eloquent and reasoned take on it. All I’d say is that when the fall of Arthas Menethil in Warcraft III is a better version of the Vader legend, something is not right.

(Don’t look at me like that! The Lich King is a perfect analogy for the Dark Lord of the Sith.)

The problem for me is that I can’t un-know what I know, and with the relentless over-saturation of the Star Wars brand I can’t have time to forget and consequently rediscover.

There are of course other reasons. Over-saturation is one – there’s the books, the games, the Clone Wars series (which had flashes of brilliance). But on reflection, the over-saturation adds depth to the universe and explains things, which ties into the seduction angle. 

Arguing the films aren’t as good just doesn’t cut it. Star Wars is excellent but not as good as Empire; and Jedi’s not as good as either of those two but I still enjoy(ed) it. No, the curtain was pulled back too far and what I saw I did not like.

What? Of course I’ll go see Episode VII on opening night.

Indiana Jones and the weight of expectation

This coming Sunday, I am going to the Hayden Orpheum at Neutral Bay to watch the Indiana Jones trilogy. It costs a paltry $20, and there’s a $100 cash prize for the best costume. A few years ago, at a work conference, I wore an Indy costume and I’ve never put as much effort into any collection of clothes, ever.

The Orpheum, a beautiful art deco building on Sydney’s North Shore, has wisely decided to play the films as a trilogy which is arguably how they ended. Indy, Marcus, Sallah and Henry riding off into the sunset? It capped off the series on a high note.

So, noting that it’ll be the first three films only, I went back and watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s a mixed bag of a film – certainly less offensive that Episodes II and III of the Star Wars prequels – that ultimately fails to deliver despite some excellent, very Indy moments. I’ll explain what I mean below.

Firstly, the film suffers from the passage of time and the effects that has on it’s creative team. Just like the Star Wars prequels, II and III especially, lost the wondrous innocence of their predecessors, so does the Crystal Skull. Having kids made Lucas and Spielberg more conservative, more fearful and less child-like themselves.

During the making-of, Spielberg claimed that Lucas supported the infamous fridge-nuke scene with evidence showing a lead-lined fridge would indeed survive a nuclear blast. This is annoying on several levels. OK, so if the blast didn’t penetrate the lead the heat would probably have an opinion. And there’s the pulverising of bones that seemed to not affect Indy at all.

But mostly, it shows that Lucas lost sight of what made Indy exciting. I have no idea how the trap in Raiders, triggered by someone passing through the light, works. Nor how Mola Ram in Temple could tip people’s hearts out. Or how the Walther P38 could shoot through five Nazis at once. Nor do I care; you have embodied the film with such conviction that my disbelief is hanging on a peg next to my fedora, my troubles, and my coat.

I don’t have to believe that Indy could have done something, if I stop and think hard about it. I’m happy to accept the film universe as it is if you believe in it too. Sure, that Nazi flying wing couldn’t fly, but who cares? I was too busy enjoying the hell out of the film.

So what works, then? For starters, silly gopher shot aside, the opening is pitch perfect, right up until the fridge. Ford was about 65 at the time of filming, playing a 58 year old Indy (Indy being born in 1899) and they worked with that. He’s still athletic, but not as precise as he used to be – I love the scene where he tries to swing into the back of Spalko (Cate Blanchett)’s jeep, only to misjudge it and crash into a pursuing, Soviet-staffed truck. “Damn, I thought that was closer!” he laments before knocking the Russians out of the track and taking over. Yes, he’s older, but he’s still thinking quickly and adapting.

The early scenes in Peru, where Indy and Mutt are trying to find Ox – also very Indy. And there are moments when Indy leaps from one duck to another to throw fists into Russians which are utterly joyful to behold.

And, the final fight with the giant Russian soldier around the ants. The ants were dumb, but the fight was evocative of the great brawl between Indy and Pat Roach’s bald mechanic in Raiders, only Indy’s older and things aren’t as easy as they used to be…

Unfortunately, there’s the bits that don’t work. The fridge has been done to death. There’s the sentimental bullshit with pictures of the late Denholm Elliot as Marcus Brody, and Sean Connery as Henry Sr, both of whom died (people have wondered how this was possible when Henry and Indy drank from the grail – the price of immortality is that you never crossed the seal. In crossing the seal, they have up their immortality). We get it, but you have to tell us anyway?

Most if not all the Shia theBeef scenes, in fact, are grating. After Ford leaps from one fast moving duck (amphibious jeep) to another, we get Shia fencing, straddling the two and having hits nuts whacked by plants. Ho fucking ho, Speilberg and Lucas. Pinnacle. WIt. You guys.

The ending with the aliens… Look, the premise was dumb, but you made it dumber. Must I say anything here?

And the ensemble characters. You’ve got Indy, Marion, Mutt, Ox, and Mack. Raiders and Temple both had a sidekick (Sallah and Short Round respectively) and a female lead whose job it was to get into trouble and get rescued. Last Crusade introduced a capable female who, because of her intelligence, had to be given a flaw so was a Nazi. Unlike Crystal Skull, the remaining cast – Brody, Sallah, Henry and Indy, once he’d gotten away from Elsa – in Last Crusade have personalities. Mack is generic, Ox is batshit crazy and the Marion love angle, whilst nice, is kinda… flat.

I really wanted to like this film. And I do like a handful of moments in there, but it needs to me more than the sum of its parts and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull just isn’t.

Bring on the trilogy then!