Archive for James Bond

Monday Movie Review: The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) 8/10
Amnesiac superspy Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is on a quest to uncover the CIA secrets that will help him understand who he is. Meanwhile CIA agents including Noah Vosen (David Strathairn), Pam Landy (Joan Allen) and Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) are trying to find him.

The Bourne Ultimatum is a satisfying and thrilling action movie experience. It plays to most of Bourne’s familiar strengths: Grittiness, intelligence, and a smart anticipation of the enemy’s next move. Bourne is a behaviorally-modified agent, and so any skill he needs, he has, whether speaking Russian or Spanish, or knowing how to create diversions, or performing insanely good high-speed stunt driving. The film is weak in character development; at the breakneck pace it maintains from beginning to end, there is barely time for exposition, let alone exploration of individuals. The strong cast compensates a lot for that weakness; looking at Strathairn, I could tell that he’d done a lot of character work on Noah Vosen. Although the guy is just there to read the right lines, somehow he was fully embodied, and I was sure that Strathairn knew what Vosen had for breakfast, how he treated his wife, and what his dog’s name was.

I saw Damon on The Daily Show saying that the only bad review he saw was one that said “Someone should give Paul Greengrass a steadi-cam.” I have to say I agree. I love the veracity of the quick-moving camera, and certainly in a film that has spies spying on spies it makes sense for the camera itself to give the impression of spying. But so much of the movement was dizzying and hard to follow, that I felt a few conventional shots would have been welcome. One fight scene in particular was a blur; and clearly, it was a blur on purpose, as a directorial decision. Nonetheless, I kind of had to squint to watch it.

Bourne vs. Bond is practically a national pastime lately, but I have to say, I don’t see it. At least, I don’t see the part where people are saying that Bond “has to compete” with Bourne, or that Casino Royale “imitates” Bourne. Puh-leeze. Bourne wouldn’t exist without Bond, and Bond’s grittiness comes straight from Fleming‘s pen. I think it’s true that both Bourne and Daniel Craig‘s grittier Bond are a product of our times; movie audiences respond more to darker, edgier heroes. Craig’s Bond is similar to Timothy Dalton‘s, but the 1980s audience wasn’t as responsive (and would not have embraced Bourne either, I think).

I also don’t think Bourne is more realistic; gritty is not the same as true-to-life. A brainwashed superspy is, indeed, science fiction, and the stunts that Bourne performs are as outrageous as parachuting off a cliff while on skis. There are distinct character differences, of course; Bond’s on the inside, and has the support of his government, which includes gadgetry and the ability to move in fancier circles. As a thinker, Bourne is a chess player, anticipating move after move after move, while Bond is a poker player, getting into his enemy’s head while he bluffs and challenges.

The Bourne Ultimatum is a good movie but not an amazing one. It’s a roller-coaster ride that is, to me, less satisfying than its predecessors, which did so well at including people in the equation.

Fangirl Project

Via Amy, I found out about The Fangirl Project. I think it’s so cool that someone is noticing that many obsessive fans have vulvas. I’m delighted to learn that I’m their “first Bond fan” and will become a part of the project.

Any fangirls reading this site should click through and participate in the survey.

Monday Movie Review: From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love (1963) 10/10
In his second on-screen mission, James Bond (Sean Connery) believes he is helping a lovestruck Russian agent (Daniela Bianchi) defect. In fact, both sides are being manipulated by SPECTRE.

In The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book, I rate From Russia With Love as my #1 James Bond movie, and review it extensively. But this is different. I had the opportunity to see this wonderful movie on the big screen at the New York Film Forum.

What I knew when I decided to go was that (a) this is my favorite Bond film, (b) I’d never seen it on the big screen, and (c) it was playing on my birthday, so fab treat for me. What I realized when I sat down was that I hadn’t seen it at all in over a year, maybe two, and that it had been even longer since I’d sat down with it just for pleasure; not to take notes or double-check something in slo-mo (perils of being an author). It was the first time in years I’d seen it just as a movie, not as a Bond movie, in the context of the entire Bond franchise. So I felt very thrilled, sitting there in the tiny Film Forum theater, with a not-really-huge screen and an extraordinarily enthusiastic audience.

The audience is definitely part of the fun. It’s a combination of hardcore film fans and people who are just taking advantage of the wonderful variety offered by living in New York City. Few, though, appeared to be hardcore Bond fans (although I met up with fellow Bond fans “LeiterCIA” and “Cooper”). Arriving early and listening to the audience chatter, it was clear that many in the audience had never seen the film, or had seen it long ago, or had seen only bits and pieces on TV. So this was a fresh, unjaded audience, with fresh, genuine reactions. They laughed, gasped, and applauded.

What a magnificent film FRWL is! So easy to forget when you get thoroughly absorbed in the whole Bond “world,” how perfect, how stand-alone, the best ones are. FRWL is brilliantly constructed. There are some minor plot flaws to be sure, but it flows beautifully, so that a complex, intricate plot is clear and easy to follow. I was struck by the way in which every scene had a clear, readable establishing shot. You always know exactly where you are. That is so rare nowadays. The narrative clarity was excellent, and given that this is a story with a mysterious hidden villain, several henchmen with distinct and bizarre characters, Russian defections and fake defections, a “murder island,” a secret SPECTRE agent following a Bulgar killer who is following a Turkish spy who is protecting a British agent…well, without narrative clarity, you’re doomed.

The theatrical experience brings enormous pleasures. Things that are very subtle on TV—like Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) copping a feel of Tatiana Romanova (Bianchi) are very obvious at full size (the audience laughed when Klebb stroked Tanya’s knee). The beauty of the film is fully-realized. The North By Northwest homage sequence; Bond being chased over hills by a helicopter that is dropping grenades at him, is a masterpiece of dizzying camera work.

And the characters! FRWL is all about the characters, and somehow they’re even better when larger-than-life. Kronsteen, evil chessmaster, got big laughs from the audience, who loved his creepy, expressive face. Pedro Armandariz is always a crowd-pleaser, and how can you not love the expansive and delighted-by-life Kerim Bey?

From Russia With Love is a 10/10 movie. After seeing it on the big screen, it moved up to a better, bigger, shinier 10/10. If you ever get a chance to see vintage Bond on the big screen, Go-Go-Go!

Another radio appearance tonight!

Listen to me discuss James Bond on the Gary O’Brien show, WDWS-AM in Central Illionois at 4:15 Central Time.

Blog. James Blog.

I’m launching a separate blog for my James Bond writing: The Ultimate James Bond Blog. It seems reasonable to cross-post the Bond stuff in both places, but I think I have (or will develop) a fairly different readership for the two blogs.

So. Bookmarks at twenty paces.

Two radio appearances (one tonight)

Jack Evans WMBS-CBS: Wed, January 3, 2007, 5:10 – 6:00pm

Scott Sloan 700WLW: Fri, January 12, 2007, 10:00 – 10:30pm

Casino Royale Redux

Arthur and I saw Casino Royale again last night. Damn, what a great movie. Still, I may have to downgrade it from a 10/10 to a 9/10. How perfect can a movie be if it takes two viewings to understand it?

Oh, sure, it’s not as Byzantine as Octopussy, but it takes a lot of work to figure out what’s going on and why. I may do some kind of diagram for a future edition of my book (if there is one).

Delightfully, when you know what’s going to happen, you can see little hints dropped throughout. Unlike, say, The World Is Not Enough, you can actually see little acting cues that there’s something going on behind the scenes.

By the way, if you’ve seen the movie I highly recommend this spoilerific and interesting discussion of the medical facts surrounding a particular scene in Casino Royale.

Radio Update 2.0

James Bond related interviews:

Kevin McClory, RIP

I have just learned that Kevin McClory passed away on Tuesday, November 21st (Wikipedia has November 20).

McClory is well-known to Bond afficianadoes. Credited co-author of the novel Thunderball, he was the producer of the film of that name and of the “rogue” Bond film Never Say Never Again. The history of lawsuits is complex.

May he rest in peace.

Two radio gigs this evening

In addition to the one already scheduled at 5:10, Ill be on WKRS in Lake County, Illinois at 7:30 this evening.

Also, it seems my interview yesterday on Ontario radio was taped, not live, so I don’t know when it will air.