Friday, October 31, 2008

spoiler alerts

Part of the James Bond Blogathon

Not here, but everywhere else.

I now know how other people around the world feel when a new American film comes out, waiting weeks, even often months, for a film that's out, that everyone on the internets is talking about, but that I cannot see for myself.

Quantum of Solace has opened in the UK, but will not be in the states for another two weeks. Very frustrating, even more so now that the film was moved back an extra week, from the 7th to the 14th (for some inexplicable reason I still don't understand--though supposedly Harry Potter's to blame).

It also gives a whole new meaning to spoiler alert--there's already a lot of stuff out there on the film, and I'm fighting the balance between wanting to know more to feed my anticipation, but not wanting to know everything, or even to know enough that the film itself would hold no surprises for me when I finally do see it.

I'm starting to fear that this distribution strategy somehow, someway, will ruin the experience for me. But I don't know how yet.

I was going to post a blogathon round-up at Mabuse, but I don't want to step on Scott's excellent Halloween post. So I will probably post something on Sunday (I will probably blog before then in response to Will's interestingly introspective first blogathon post as well).


Sunday, October 26, 2008

the (other) Best and Worst of Bond

Part of James Bond Blogathon

I admit I was intrigued by Will's post on ranking the best and worst films in the Bond Canon. Top 10 lists (or Top 25, etc.) lists are pretty silly, of course, but they sure are a lot of fun.

I think by the time I was 12, I had seen every Bond film up to that point at least five times, and probably more like 10-20 times for the ones I really loved. I was that kind of Bond fan. I watched them over and over and over. Of course, some of the ones I used to like as a kid, I don't care for as much, and vice versa.

Since the mid-90s, I've not devoted as much time to them, but I've still seen each of the last five at least three or four times.

If there were enough Bond bloggers out there, I'd be tempted to do an unscientific poll of everyone to see what folks think overall.

I suspect, of course, that Goldfinger would be number 1 easily, but its not my number one. On that note, here's my superficial rankings, quite different from Will's, so it worthwhile and perhaps provocative:

1) On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969): I have already said my piece, and too bad haters, I stand by it.

2) Casino Royale (2006): Quite possibly the best Bond film ever, or perhaps the best film that also happens to be a Bond film. A great Bond, a great narrative structure, an effortless manipulation and resistance to the Bond legacy. In 20 years, I may look back and say this really is the greatest one.

3) Goldfinger (1964): Not my personal favorite, but unquestionably the definitive Bond film, with everything in place--great Bond, great names, great villian, great car, great henchman. And truly iconic moments.

4) From Russia to Love (1963): The best Bond story from beginning to end, and quite possibly the greatest villain (Red Grant), perhaps the only true counterpart to Bond himself, though he doesn't often get enough attention for it. You could have built a whole franchise just around him and Bond.

5) Dr. No (1962): A wonderful mix of the incongruous elements that define Bond films--deadly serious nihilism with outlandish environments and characters. Bond films are at their best when they work within that schizophrenia, and do not attempt too much of one or the other. If I were making a Bond film today, Dr. Nowould be my narrative and affective model . . .

6) Licence to Kill (1989): Invariably, one's childhood plays a key role in an attachment to a long term franchise. And I suppose that was never more true with Bond for me than in my deep love of Timothy Dalton's work, given that he was the first Bond I saw in the theatre, and I can still remember all three times I did (I saw Daylights twice). But his work still more or less holds up for me. I think Licence to Kill is excellent for some of the same reasons that I noted with Dr. No above. Licence to Kill is bleak to be sure, but its also a much weirder film than it gets credit for. And I think that's good for a Bond film. Also its one of the few Bond films post-1960s to tell a meaningful story with resonance beyond just the isolated text with Felix Leiter.

7) Goldeneye (1995): Probably not deserving to be this high, but its the only Pierce Bronsnan film that still holds up well for me. Its greatest credit is that it took Bond back to the classic formula and didn't screw it up, while also providing a nice wink here and there to the changing times.

8) Living Daylights (1987): When I was 12, this was my favorite Bond film. A really damn good spy movie, featuring a great new Bond, for about the first two/thirds, and then it gets to Afghanistan and gets really silly, and even more so now when we think about the political climate there and then being represented.

9) Die Another Day (2002): Not as good on a second viewing, but I don't think its silliness gets enough credit. Its a true patische Bond film, not only in its over-the-top-ness but in its self-referentiality. And a welcome relief from the dreadful World is Not Enough.

10) The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Moore's best film, but that's not saying much. I used to love this one the most as a kid, but it hasn't aged well for me. Kind of slow and undercut constantly by Moore's foolishness. There's literally a moment in this film where he rolls his eyes at what's happening. It is okay for a Bond movie to not take itself too seriously, but if Bond himself doesn't take it seriously, the movie is a lost cause. I appreciate that Moore's overall work essentially cemented Bond's longevity beyond Connery. But his take on Bond is just unbearably cheeky (and not even funny). When people crack on the cliches of how awful the Bond films can be, I always picture Moore's work in the 1970s and 1980s and kind of agree with them. That to me is Moore's Bond legacy in a nutshell.

11) You Only Live Twice (1967): Not a bad Bond film, but Connery's and company on autopilot here. Redeemed only by the first full appearance of Blofeld, one of the best Bond songs (Nancy Sinatra), and the infamous Volcano lair!

12) Man With the Golden Gun (1974): Actually the only Moore film I like increasingly as time goes by. Not terribly good, but a lot of good Bond elements in place, in particular a great villain (Christopher Lee's Scaramanga) and a great lair. And Moore hadn't yet packed it in (in more ways than one--sorry that was mean).

13) Thunderball (1965): Used to be my favorite Connery film as a kid. Amazing how underwater scenes that used to be so awesome are, 20 years later, painfully boring. But it has its moments. The jet-pack. Q's greatest entrance. Decent villain.

14) Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): Like Thunderball, this one hasn't aged well. I used to like it more than Goldeneye--mainly I think because I used to really love the motorbike sequence. I still do, but the rest of the movie is pretty DOA now. I agree with Will that Rupert Murdoch is a great idea for a villain, and Price has his moments, but it don't quite work for me overall.

15) For Your Eyes Only (1981): No film has fallen further for me since childhood than this one. I used to love this one, but now I watch it and I find nothing particularly interesting. The revenge themes could be developed much more, as could the Cold War angle. Moore does some of his best work here, in fairness, but I find it overall kind of unengaging today.

16) Diamonds are Forever (1971): "Hi, my name's Sean Connery and I am here for my check." Actually, its not as bad as I remember, but still too silly (and more than a little homophobic). What does it say for the film when the only thing I find fascinating about it today are the cinema-verite-like moments of early 1970s Las Vegas--the moment right before it was transforming into the big corporate giant strip?

17) Moonraker (1979): This was the inevitable result of an actor and a persona that increasingly comes to resent itself and becomes more and more detached and campy. Just about the only time when the sheer silliness of Moore's Bond almost goes far enough to redeem itself. But not quite.

18) The World is Not Enough (1999): The kind of Bond film I guess I should like, but a textbook example of how awry a Bond film can go when it takes itself too seriously, but doesn't have an interesting enough story to maintain itself. My greatest fear for Quantum of Solace is that it will end up like this one (and look out because they do have the same screenwriters and they both feature directors who do not seem to be a good fit for Bond).

19) Live and Let Die (1972): Probably not as bad as some of these others, but the unapologetic racism of it--even by typical Bond standards--is unforgivable. Even worse when you think about the context in which it was made, particularly in America.

20) Octopussy (1983): "You Humans are all . . .

21) View to a Kill (1985): "...Stupid, Stupid, Stupid."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Further Thoughts on Quantum of Solace

Part of the James Bond Blogathon

Not every post of mine will be on the newest Bond film, Quantum of Solace (2008)--how can it be when I've yet to see it? In fact, probably very few of them will be. But I thought a good place to start might be with that which initiated the idea for the Bond blogathon to begin with.

My initial thoughts on the film were underwhelming. Among other reasons, part of the concern was because I think Marc Forster has never made a good film--and more to the point, has made films which were terribly pretentious, self-important and shameless Oscar bait. Moreover, being an auteur, if one fancies him as that, I do not even see a coherent visual or thematic logic to his work (other than the aforementioned Oscar bait projects).

The other big reason I was ambivalent about Quantum of Solace was because Casino Royale was superb and its follow-up, almost by definition, must be a disappointment (and because the law of averages with Bond films has to catch up, even with the peerless Craig in the lead role).

But in the last couple weeks, I have let go of those anxieties--I still don't think Forster will acquit himself as a great director with this film, and I still don't expect to like it half as much as its predecessor. But I don't think about that stuff much anymore (for the time being--once I've seen the film, I may rethink it), and have instead come to just be grateful that the movie was even made, given how the other ended, and that shortly I will get a chance to see it.

The initial buzz on the film is both deflating and promising. Deflating in the sense that most don't seem blown away by it, but promising in the sense that it does sound like they are staying faithful to the new vision of Bond as existing within a complicated narrative world that spills across several texts--rather than the old Bond films (with the exception of the 60s ones), which were autonomous stories from movie to movie.

Mr. White (above right) is the key--as long as he is alive, Bond will never arrive at where he's headed. Part of the trick of Casino Royale was that the film's real villain only made three, brief appearances. Unlike every other Bond film ever, the film's central "villain," LeChiffre, was only a ruse--made all the more powerful by his sudden, unexpected departure.

This was the primary focus of my contribution to Chris Lindner's collection on Casino Royale, which I also excerpted here. Part of what I enjoyed about Casino Royale was not just Craig's performance, or its sleeker, darker tone (whatever that means, frankly; I grew up on Timothy Dalton's Bond, so this isn't as novel as some seem to think), but the ambition and care that was put into creating a whole new Bond world, with reoccurring storylines and characters.

More like a finely tuned television drama, crafted across several seasons, than a cookie-cutter movie franchise (to invert that, this is also partly I think why I love the Star Trek films so much--particular #s 2-6--much more than any of the several television series; it is all really one epic story).

Aint It Cool posted two early reviews of Quantum of Solace--one good, one bad. Most of the news on the film is likely to leak from the UK over the next few weeks, as the film opens there on Halloween, two weeks before it hits the States. In fact, the internet will be rife with spoilers by the time we actually get a chance to see it for ourselves.

Ironically, I get the sense that these two reviews are talking about the exact same aspect of the same movie, even though they came to opposed conclusions. One reviewer said narratively the film was a mess, that Bond's journey seems to have no goals, no destination, no ultimate achievement or point. The other reviewer, meanwhile, believed that this was merely the second act in a probable trilogy--which if true would confirm that Bond wouldn't quite be getting to where he wanted to be. That such resolution is saved for the next film.

Forster was quoted recently as saying that the original final scene of the film was cut to leave the ending more ambiguous. The old ending clearly established the film as a bridge to the next one, and defined the next one, but he decided against it because he wanted to leave it to the next director or writer to decide where he/she wants to take the character (it also sounds like the original ending was a little too much like Casino Royale's ending, so it might have been good to cut it).

This leaves me optimistic that Quantum of Solace, whatever its ultimate flaws, will at least stay true to the narrative co-presence of drive and ambiguity which made the previous one so exciting in its execution and so thrilling in its conclusion.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

James Bond Blogathon (10/24-11/16); or, Cinephilias of Anticipation

Please help spread the word. I'm pleased to announce that Will Scheibel and I will be co-hosting a James Bond blogathon from Oct. 24th to Nov. 16th, in anticipation of the newest Bond film, Quantum of Solace, which opens in the UK on Oct. 31st, and in the States on Nov. 14th.

Will and I are fellow graduate students in the department of Communication and Culture at Indiana University. We are also fellow contributors to Christoph Lindner's forthcoming collection, Revisioning 007: James Bond and Casino Royale(Wallflower, 2009).

I have written on On Her Majesty's Secret Service before over at Bright Lights Film Journal. I've also blogged on Bond in the past here and here. I also offered tentative thoughts earlier on Quantum of Solace, thoughts which were far from laudatory.

Will meanwhile has blogged on Bond far more than I have. The reader may find particularly interesting as a starting point his ranking of the best and worst Bond films last February.

Anyone who blogs or wants to start is welcome to join in. I will be posting my initial blog posts here at my personal blog, Jamais Vu, whereas Will's comments will be over at his blog, Camera-Stylo. We will post links to those and all other Bond posts here on Mabuse at regular intervals.

All aspects of every Bond text and Bond Culture--films, books and other media--as well as negative and positive takes, are welcome. I look forward to it.