SPECTRE

Friday, October 24, 2008

The World Is Not Enough

#19If you study Shakespeare at all, you know that some of his works are categorized as "problem plays." The definition is vague at best, and seems to vary from commentator to commentator, but the common thread is that these "problem plays" do not fit conveniently into the tidy categories of tragedy or comedy. They seem to straddle both; they cover themes and events that seem too dark and morally ambiguous for Shakespeare's comedies; but they also have awkwardly and artificially happy endings, too much so for tragedy.

Which brings us to The World Is Not Enough, or Oil's Well That Ends Well.

TWINE has long been one of the most frustrating Bonds for me. I want to like it a lot more than I actually do. But for me, it's a "problem Bond."

In a number of ways, it tries to break the mold, to go in directions that no Bond has ever gone before. And I want to reward that type of originality in how I rank the films.

But, measure for measure, with nearly every original thing the film tries, it shoots itself in the foot in some with ham-fisted execution...and thereby hangs a tale.

Let's start with the teaser. I don't think any of us got what we expected, did we? After 007's tense (and somewhat confusing) confrontation with a Swiss banker, we get an adequate fight scene, and Bond makes an exciting getaway in front of the Guggenheim in Bilbao...and everyone in the audience was ready for the theme song to kick in...

What, we're not through yet?But wait...no theme song? We're back in England? Everyone's just standing around talking? What the hell is going on here?? What's happened to our teaser??

I think all of us were probably surprised by what was happening. And in that surprise, the movie, I think, got us paying a little more attention at that point than we were used to. It seemed like a shake-up of the old Bond formula. And even though we knew for a fact that Garbage was doing a theme song, while watching we began to wonder...have they dispensed with the teasers? Was Bond adopting the trend of giving the "opening" credits at the end of the film?

And then, for the first time, Bond demonstrably fails in the teaser...he brings in the bomb, he can't save King, he can't capture the Cigar Girl (note to the writers...it would have hurt you to think up a name for her? Ah, but what's in a name, anyway?), he ends up wounded and hanging on for dear life.

Was this a deliberate move to change the rules of Bond?

In a word, no. Rather than a bold experiment in changing the rules, we were viewing a somewhat panicked response to a non-problem. It turns out that originally, the teaser did end after Bond's escape in Spain. But test audiences were apparently underwhelmed by that--they expected something more...I guess, after the Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies teasers, they expected more stuff to blow up (for the record, I thought it would have been fine to cut away there...not the best teaser ever, but adequate to the task). So, instead of re-filming it, or adding anything new, director Michael Apted decided to bring the MI-6/murder of Sir Robert/Boat chase sequence forward, weaving it into the pre-credits along with the initial Bilbao scene.

The result: a "teaser" that is nearly 15 minutes long. And to keep it from running even longer, Apted had to cut away several minutes of the boat chase (yes...it was even longer originally), as well as several bits of exposition that might have been nice for the audience to know. So, instead of the teaser being a mini-movie that helps set up the main plot, it becomes a bit of a bloated yet truncated epic, that actually removed information that the audience needed to appreciate the plot. The teaser became a bit of storytelling Jenga...how many bricks of information can we pull away and still have the story standing intact, albeit wobbly? In the end, the bright quick things come to confusion, and it's nearly impossible to follow what is going on during a first viewing.

Now normally, I'm the guy who mocks mainstream movie critics when they whine that a given film's plot is "too confusing" or the story is "incomprehensible." 9 times out of 10, the problem is that said critic isn't paying attention, or is more likely just displaying a plentiful lack of wit and can't get beyond the "looks pretty" or "good acting" ideas in writing his review.

But today I'll open myself up to that same attack, because I'll admit that, for the first couple of viewings, parts of TWINE were virtually impenetrable to me. I was confused, dammit. Never had a Bond film gone to such lengths to not actually explain itself on a fundamental level, to create a world to hide its virtues in. Let's try to reconstruct what happened, based on what's actually told to us in the teaser, and what's not. (note: I've put things into chronological order, for "clarity").

Terrorists are attacking Sir Robert King's pipeline (happens offscreen...we get one line of dialogue). He buys a stolen report from someone that purportedly identifies those terrorists (Whom does he think he was buying the report from? Unknown. Stolen from whom? Unclear. Who stole it? Never stated.). It turns out that an unnamed MI-6 agent was murdered to get the report (this agent is never mentioned again, clearly a MacGuffin to justify MI-6 getting involved. Is the MI-6 agent the one who stole it originally? Who murdered him? Never dealt with). After he purchased it, Sir Robert found out that the report was really a fake, actually being a report of the Russian Atomic Department on the possible effect of Y2K on their reactors (the report is only identified in a deleted scene...the movie proper only identifies it as a fake. Why would an MI-6 agent be in possession of such a report in the first place? Did he steal it in the first place? Never discussed, even though he died for it. Why wouldn't Sir Robert or his representative actually glance at the report before paying 3 million pounds for it?) When he discovers the report involves nuclear issues, he turns it over to M (from a deleted bit...never mentioned in the movie proper). M or King (or both--the movie never attempts to tell us) somehow arranges a Swiss bank based in Spain to obtain a refund (Why the Swiss bank? Were they the brokers of the original deal? Unknown? Despite Bond's cutting remarks, does this Swiss bank really routinely serve as a go-between for crooks and billionaires? Do murderers who sell stolen reports routinely give refunds? I know this was part of Elektra's plan, but why in the world did M expect these unidentified bastards would have a customer service department? Does Sir Robert seriously believe that thieves and con men give bloody refunds?). Bond is sent to pick up the dough (in cash? Why wouldn't they just wire the funds to one of Sir Robert's accounts?) but he's really there to question the bankers about who killed the poor MI-6 red shirt. Violence ensues, Bond escapes, Bond and M give us (partial) exposition, things blow up, more violence ensues.

Nitpicks aside, look at how much information that they don't give us, or only give us fragments of, or in what order. No wonder people were lost. Not only is it a ridiculously convoluted way to murder someone (trick a man into buying a report, give him a fake one, when he demands a refund give him exploding money!!), but the movie acts as if they don't need to let the audience in on all the facts. The writers are saying "We know what's going on, and that's what's important!"

So, instead of an innovative re-working of the teaser concept, it actually turns out to have been a slapdash attempt to jazz things up that is marred by terrible storytelling. Which is pretty much the theme of the whole movie--interesting ideas, bizarre and confusing execution.

The story was by Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, with the screenplay by those two plus Bruce Feirstein. Which means, we have a group of writers who have very few writing credits outside their Bond films (and Johnny English!!), and I think some of that inexperience and greeness of judgment shows up in the construction of this movie. As they try to make the movie flow less like a "normal" Bond movie, it seems clear that they're not quite sure how some other type of movie SHOULD flow, and so rather than moving along, the plot just congeals, often stagnating.

Example: after the lengthy teaser, and the opening credits, we spend what feels like forever lolling around MI-6 Scotland. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but things seem to drag along mercilessly: exposition/meeting with M and the other Double-O's, Bond and Dr. Molly Warmflash (sigh), Bond and Q, Bond googling things (now that's riveting film!!), Bond breaking up a meeting to confront M, followed by yet another expostional briefing. Nothing wrong with any of that, but all strung together, it begins to play more like an informational filmstrip on how to run a modern office than an actual James Bond movie. After 15 action-packed minutes to start the movie, we're bogged down in non-action for a good while. Where's the balance, the pacing? The leisure has answered leisure, and the poor pace seems to feed upon itself.

And (partially) as a result of our newly meandering pace, we don't actually meet Elektra King until 30 minutes into the movie; we don't meet Renard until 49 minutes in; and we don't meet Dr. Christmas Jones (sigh) until an hour has gone by. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as other Bonds have taken their sweet time introducing characters to us. But the sheer leisureliness of TWINE is rather surprising, after the way the previous Brosnan kept things percolating at a pretty good pace.

Speaking of thinking with your balls...Another way this movie seems to be pushing back against the restrictions of the 007 format is by making M very much a part of the action. Far, far more than any other Bond movie, one of the "support characters" has stepped into the limelight, to become an actual supporting character. And hell, when you've got Judi Dench, it's a no-brainer...give her more to do, since she's so good.

Unfortunately, this is another innovation they are less than 100% successful with, because in order to get M involved, they seemingly drop her IQ by 50 points or so. We've become used to the no-nonsense, don't over-react, in control M from Dench's first two movies. And there's nothing wrong with her showing some guilt over past actions, or making mistakes. But really, do they have to make her such a damn foolish fond old woman to make that point?

She risks a top agent's life to essentially go run a banking errand for an old school chum...she's so guilty over the outcome of the Elektra King kidnapping that she locks the files so that no one can see them, even though the perpetrator is still at large...even though Renard should be an obvious suspect for the bombing, M apparently never thinks of it until Bond googles Elektra and confronts her...in Tomorrow Never Dies she can't even drive across the street in London without a two car/four motorcycle police escort--but she flies into the site of a terrorist attack in Kazakhstan with only 3 bodyguards (who really, really suck at their jobs)...and despite her declaration that Bond is "the best," she completely ignores Bond's warning about Elektra.

Again, none of these problems, in and of themselves, are crippling defects. But cumulatively, they diminish our view of M, which I believe was the opposite of the movie's intention. They made her "more human," but at the expense of making her someone we'd be less likely to trust with Britain's security. (None of this is at all meant to criticize Dame Judi, who does a marvelous job of running through the gamut of emotions the script puts her through). So once again we have a great idea--get M more involved--that is executed poorly.

While we're discussing support cast, Doctor Molly Warmflash?!? That makes Xenia Onatopp look like the height of literary erudition and subtlety. Sheesh...if you're going to insist on doing a suggestive name, couldn't you actually make it a good one?

Now telling God to 'pay attention'More seriously, every single day I am thankful that they decided to give Q a farewell scene here, and did it so perfectly. Desmond Llewelyn passed away barely a month after TWINE's release, an immense loss to everyone. Obviously, they didn't know that he would be in an auto accident at the time of filming, but given that the man was 85 years old, preparing the transition was a wise precaution, and fortuitous in that it gave us a chance to properly say goodbye to a much beloved character. Well done, people. And a hale and hearty farewell, Desmond. You're missed by everyone, and we shall speak you well in death.

Given that, let me defend John Cleese. I thought his casting was inspired. Yes, he's presented as a bit of a bumbler in his first scene, but frankly, that's so he won't eclipse Desmond's goodbye. In his last scene this film, and in Die Another Day, he's not only more competent, but he brings something new and different to the role. During our final scene, Old Q would have been blithely ignorant of what was happening with Bond and Christmas, making some innocent double-entendre while staring down at his equipment. New Q is worldlier, snarkier, wittier, more willing to joust with 007 on his own level. I like it.

Another area where the movie tries to innovate is by fooling us as to the identity of the villain. After spending the first half of the movie trying to make us believe that Renard is the villain and Elektra King the Bond girl, they pull the rug out from under us by revealing that Renard is merely her henchman, and she's the barking mad billionaire. And in this case, it mostly works. Of course, part of that is because the movie is so murky in its storytelling...but still, they manage to not overtly tip their hand. And this is the first movie in which Bond sleeps with the main villain (careful...that thought might bring disturbing images to mind).

I'm a sad hologramOf course, this approach does have a couple of drawbacks. First of all, it kind of neuters Renard. We start with the "world's most dangerous terrorist," the anarchist, the man who survived an assassination attempt by 009 (I ask you again--is Bond the only competent Double-O? Almost every time we hear of the others, especially in the later films, it's because of their failures...), the man with the unbeatable advantage of being unable to feel pain. By the end, though, he's reduced to a man twisted by love into following Elektra, into implementing her plans. The great anarchist, who taunts Bond ,"What do you believe in--the preservation of capital,"--he's now the lap dog of the woman whose plan is solely about capitalism and the accumulation of economic power. And the movie doesn't have the wit to comment on the irony of that transition.

He's still a pretty good character, and Robert Carlyle does a wonderful job at showing us Renard's emotional pain increasing as his physical sensations vanish. Renard's quiet menace with others, and his slavish devotion to Elektra, both are played with equal grace. He's determined to prove a villain, yet shows us how he's been changed (not for the better, sadly) by love.

But the key physical aspect, his immunity to pain and fatigue, seems to be a wasted opportunity. Part of the problem is how inconsistently it is portrayed. There are simply too many times during Bond's fights with Renard where we they show Renard wincing in reaction after a blow, when he's supposedly no longer burdened with the weight of pain. And frankly, other than his constantly bemoaning his fate, we never see ANY impact of his condition. Despite Dr. Warmflash's (sigh) briefing, we don't see him doing anything particularly superhuman, or showing any particular feats of endurance beyond that of a normal man. Frankly, he doesn't do anything that seems beyond Stamper, or Necros, or Jaws, or any number of previous henchman. A decent idea...but never well developed, and it has no real impact on the plot. As I said, a wasted opportunity.

Why are the gorgeous ones always insane and genocidal?Ah, but our villain...Elektra the mad, Elektra the gorgeous, Elektra...Here's on of the few spots in TWINE where intent is equaled by execution. Sophie Marceau is just so damned sensual, so damned electric, that she owns the screen. You can't tear your eyes away from her as she goes from poor-little-kidnapped-rich-girl to insane genocidal maniac...and makes you believe both. Her love scenes with Bond require a cold shower after viewing. Her taunting of Bond in her final scenes is delightfully mad. Madness in great ones must not unwatch'd go, as she compels our attention throughout. It's a riveting performance, and she easily would have been the best Bond girl of the Brosnan era...

...except, of course, she's the villain. She has her fathered murdered--a little more than kin, but less than kind--and she's ready to nuke Istanbul just so her pipeline will become more valuable than the competition. Her motivation does come across as the tiniest bit thin. We never get any real sense of why she feels that her father "stole the empire from my mother," with no elaboration given whatsoever. And yes, at M's advice, Sir Robert didn't pay the ransom, but since she never seemed to care for him anyway, it just seems as if she's using that as an excuse for her "sharper than a serpent's tooth" routine. And her "it's for my people" justification would have been much more convincing if she didn't let lots of her people die in Renard's attacks.

Of course, any critiques of her methods can be answered simply with "she's raving nutters, so of course it doesn't make sense." But I do have to complain about the stupidity of her basic plan. Her own pipeline won't be ready for months...we see that the two ends are nowhere near meeting, the detour around the ancient church will cost "weeks" more, and the destruction of a portion of the pipeline by "terrorists" with a "dud" bomb that was supposed to spew plutonium all over would certainly cost even more time. So why in the world blow up Istanbul now, since you're nowhere near ready to take advantage of the destruction? It would be like Stromberg launching his nuclear war before Atlantis was completed--completely daft. Plus, the intervening months will give the "competing pipelines" a damn good head start in finding new routes, and the oil hungry West to find new sources other than her precious oil. And despite her cries of "for my people," I somehow suspect the people of Azerbaijan would suffer much more than they would benefit much from the irradiation the Black Sea. (Of course, "Renard was dying more quickly than expected" could be one possible reason for the precipitous action, but that excuse doesn't make the plan any more likely to work by jumping the guns, does it?)

You call her Doctor Jones!!One drawback to making Elektra King so vivid, though, is that it even further shrinks the status of Denise Richards as--ahem--Dr. Christmas Jones. It's a lesser version of the Teri Hatcher/Michelle Yeoh problem from Tomorrow Never Dies...they spend so much time building up the emotional investment in the first relationship that the final relationship seems trivial by comparison. Whatever else we can say about her, it's not Denise Richards' fault that the script gives Elektra a detailed background, builds her character, and makes her sympathetic (and then hated!), while doing absolutely nothing of the kind for Christmas. The script doesn't choose to share a single fact about Dr. Jones with us, except that she's a nuclear scientist (snort). She's not really a character, she's an afterthought, after the writers realized they needed an actual Bond girl once Elektra was revealed as the Big Bad. There's nothing there: Cate Blanchett couldn't have done anything with the role. At least it gives us a memorable closing line...

That being said, Richards is fairly awful, a shallow thing, not of this element. She appears capable of portraying only 3 emotions: cranky, really cranky, and LOUD. The woman is flat out ultra-hot, but she's as much an actress as I am a major league second baseman. There is no chemistry at all between her and Bond, mainly because she's too busy "acting" confrontational and aloof to actually interact with Brosnan. Very lovely to look at, but then again, if I want to do that I can just pull out her Playboy spread. Lower tier Bond girl.

I've got some special ire for our director, Michael Apted. Whatever his strengths as a director are in other genres, he simply cannot direct action sequences to save his life. With the possible exception of the boat chase, every action set piece in the movie comes across as flat and lifeless, with no real sense of danger or tension. There's no "flow," and events are much too hard to follow.

Like Guy Hamilton, Apted's idea of a Bond chase scene is to have the bad guys take themselves out , without any special actions by Bond. Three of the four "para-hawks" take themselves out, running into trees or dropping grenades on their own people.

But more fundamentally, his "storytelling" ability during the action pieces is terrible. One scene follows another without reason...one cut leads to another in a confusing way that makes it nearly impossible to tell where the actors are in relation to another. During the interminably long and boring battle at Zukovsky's caver plant, watch for the shots of Valentine and Christmas: note how each time we see them or their reaction shots, they're in a place/position completely incompatible with the previous time we saw them. Watch the helicopter, which has been pursuing Bond relentlessly, hover in place for 30 seconds without firing while Bond gets a missile lock. Watch Bond mysteriously navigate between levels inside the plant, apparently teleporting at points. Watch for Zukovsky's mysteriously appearing and disappearing bodyguard. Watch the second helicopter, which has been pursuing and firing relentless, hover in place for 30 seconds without firing so Bond can light the gas stream with a flare.

Sadly, the submarine finale is just as bad. The problem is this: we're not familiar with the geography of the sub when it's level, so when everything is sideways, we have no idea where everything is in relationship to each other. And Apted does a horrible job of helping us out. We can't follow what's happening, because he doesn't seem to know how to show us. When Bond ends up mysteriously locked behind a (floor?) grate, we have no idea how this happens. When the hose pops loose from the "high pressure purging system," we have no idea why the hose popped loose, what it's for, where Bond is going with it, what he's attaching it too...the director never shows us, and seems to think that the audience is comprised of either nuclear technicians or people who've already read the script, because he never bothers to show us. As indecipherable as events in the teaser are, that was largely down to the script. This time, it's just as confusing, but it's the director's doing. Terrible storytelling.

Apted is fine--better than fine, actually--in many of the dramatic scenes. But when it comes to the action, he simply wasn't up to the task. Confusion now has made his masterpiece, and TWINE has lost the name of action.

Uhhh...ouchAs for Pierce, the script doesn't do him any favors. Perhaps it's because his shoulder was hurting, or he wanted revenge, or he was besotted with Elektra, but Bond is wildly inconsistent throughout the movie. Even though he has absolutely no idea of what's going on yet, he recklessly kills Davidov in cold blood...but just a few scenes later, he holds a twenty minute conversation with Renard rather than pulling the trigger, which seems inconsistent with his drive end the threat to Elektra. Within a couple of scenes he goes from trigger-happy to overly cautious. When he's certain that Elektra's involved, he confronts her...yet he ends up yammering like an idiot when she says "am not," and does nothing at all to investigate further. When she tells him that M is coming, why doesn't he call M en route and warn her of his suspicions?

But those aren't Brosnan's problem's, they're the script's. Pierce does a good job of selling what they've given him. His relationship with Elektra sizzles, and his anger and grief when he discovers she's the villain is palpable. When he kills Davidoff and Elektra in cold blood, you really can believe that he has a licence to kill, and a willingness to use it. Although his hair never seemed quite right, his acting was fairly spot on.

And as with a problem play, we have the awkward and artificially happy ending, which is not necessarily new for a Bond movie, but seems especially this time around. There are so many emotional and practical loose ends to tie up (MI-6 is in shambles, there's still the matter of an exploded nuclear reactor at the bottom of the Black Sea, Bond getting over Elektra pretty damn quickly, etc) that this ending feels especially tacked on and non-sensical. M flew all the way back to Scotland without waiting until Bond was found? The heat-detecting satellite doesn't show any other human bodies in a several block radius? What, were Bond and Christmas squatting in an abandoned warehouse district? The MI-6 crew figure Bond's general location by finding the car--wait a minute, the car was destroyed!! After somehow restraining themselves all movie, the Christmas jokes start to flow hot and heavy. Ha ha, after all this tragedy and grief, a forced and unbelievable ending...hell, this really is a Shakespeare problem play.

As I said, I want to like this movie better. Elektra makes for a pretty good villain, M is more involved, I really like Pierce's performance, and at least it seems as if they're trying to mix up the formula a little bit. But even vaulting ambition can o'erleap itself, when the execution falls short. And most damning of all, TWINE is a grim, humorless affair. There's simply not much FUN in this movie. Some people like to accuse License To Kill of being too dark and humorless, but that film is a regular Laugh-In compared to TWINE.

It's difficult for me to put my finger on, let alone describe...but the movie never really soars, never really crosses over into the one-foot-over-the-fantasy-line zone. There's never that transcendent moment when you look at the screen and say, "this can only be a Bond movie!" The set-pieces, the gadgets, the quips...the writing and direction never seem to shift out of third gear, never become the memorable scenes that come to mind when you think Bond. And so all we're left with is the dour emotional landscape, reflected in the dour location landscapes, and a film that tries so hard to be more than Bond that it forgets to actually be Bond.

And in the end, whereas Shakespeare could get away with a problem play, Feirstein, Purvis, Wade and Apted are no Shakespeares. And as for TWINE itself, oft expectations fail, and most oft there where it promises. A lot of potential, but not a top-tier Bond movie.

Next week, we find out what happens if you take every Bond movie ever made, throw it in a blender, and film what comes out. It's not going to be pretty...

SNELL'S RANDOM NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS

**Sadly, the decision to move the boat chase to the teaser cost us hearing THE BEST BOND LINE EVER. Seriously. From the DVD's deleted scenes, we have an expanded version of M and Bond's discussion of what was going on.
M (referring to King): He's a man of great integrity.
Bond: Who buys stolen reports for 3 million pounds?
M: Well, contrary to what you may believe, 007, the world is not populated by madmen who can hollow out volcanoes, fill them with big breasted women, and threaten the world with nuclear annihilation.
Bond: It only takes one.
Why in the name of God isn't that line in the movie?? (It is in the novelization, I'm told...)

**In Q's lab, a bagpipe machine gun:

Next, the flying roulette wheel!It's never a good sign when you're "borrowing" from Casino Royale (1967)...

**I mention this above, but what ugly, ugly scenery. It's nice to see so much of London, but the rest of the film is set in areas so devoid of beauty of interest that this just might be the ugliest Bond movie ever.

And people complained about the setting in LTK...**Oh, what a lost opportunity...we're in Istanbul, and not only do they not show us any of the sights of that city, but they fail to do something that seems so obvious--bring in one of Kerim Bey's sons!! Good heavens, why is Bond relying only on Russian intelligence and not Station T?!?


Where's Minnie Driver??**Speaking of Valentine...I love Robbie Coltrane, I liked the character in Goldeneye. But here, Zukovsky is merely part of the plot convenience theater. Just by coincidence, he's no longer operating in St. Petersburg, where Bond eliminated his competition--he's moved to within a stone's throw of where Bond's mission is!! If Valentine and Elektra don't do that completely ridiculous and unnecessary fake card game for the million dollars, Bond never finds out what's going on. If he doesn't tell Bond about the submarine, the bad guys win. If he doesn't miraculously survive the bombing and show up to free Bond with his dying breath, the bad guys win. He gone from being a character to being a plot device, because the writers couldn't figure out how to get from A to B without him (several times). It's not a good sign when your supporting character has to point out to the hero where to go at every plot crux.

**Speaking of plot convenience theater, there is absolutely no reason for Bond to stop, while under heavy gunfire and trying to stop a the bomb from being stolen, to rifle the pockets of the dead goon for the "locater card." What, people won't believe him when he says he say Renard removed it? There's even less reason for him to pull it out and show M, and less still for him to actually hand it to her. Of course, this is all painfully convoluted set-up so they have a way to locate M. But Bond is captured and taken to her. So all the rigmarole is just so Zukovsky can find them and show up to save the day. So an incredibly contrived plot device to set up another incredibly contrived plot device. I told you this movie was ambitious.

**Not only is the movie inconsistent when portraying Renard's affliction, sometimes they seem to confuse "cannot feel pain" with "invulnerable." The hot rock burns Davidov's hand, requiring bandage. Even if Renard didn't feel the pain, his hand would still burn and blister quite badly, as he held the rock for longer. But nope, his hands are fine later in the movie...

**Hey, look, a Blofeld kill!! It's been awhile!

Too bad Davidov buys it 2 minutes later...

**After Diamonds Are Forever, you'd think Bond wouldn't forget about radiation badges, thus blowing his cover...

**So, after the Swiss bank took out it's fees and costs, the recovered money exactly equaled the amount of ransom demanded for Elektra? Uh, how did they know how much the bank would take out? And even if that amount was prearranged with the bank, how did they know what the exchange rate would be on the exact day Bond happens to look it up (several days after he recovered the money)? Bond checks down to the cents...are we to believe neither the pound nor the dollar moved at all in that time??

C urrency conversion table are why we all watch Bond**I will confess that I've come to the conclusion that I underrated the theme song by Garbage when I did my rankings. Maybe it's experiencing how well it works with the rest of David Arnold's fine score, or maybe I'm just in a different mood this week. Still a couple of demerits: I think Shirley Manson's vocals get a little bit buried in the lush arrangements. And it tries so hard to sound like a Bond theme, that it sounds less like a Garbage song than a Shirley Manson solo song. Whatever your opinion of their songs, McCartney & Wings, Duran Duran and a-Ha still manage to sound like themselves during their theme songs...and why have a band do it if they're going to lose their identity?

Still, I can't get the damned song out of my head this week. I'm man enough to admit that I didn't give it enough credit. I would provisionally move it up, perhaps as high as #11.

**M's grief and dedication to the king family seems awfully deep. Did M and King do more than "read law" together at Oxford?? Just asking...

**Of particular interest, this movie gives us the first meeting of Double-O's since Thunderball!!

I'm so much better than these guysUnlike Thunderball, we can actually see their faces...and for the first time, a female Double-O!!! Sadly, I can't find character names or credits for any of them.

**When Robinson declares at the briefing that the murderer could be "anyone, anywhere" in King's organization...uhh, no...not unless "anyone" had access to Sir Robert's personal jewelry. I would think that kind of access would restrict the list a bit, no?

**I arbitrarily declare the inflatable vest the worst gadget ever. It looks just terrible and unconvincing both times it's deployed. Awful.

WORST. GADGET. EVER.**Why the dumb show at the casino between Valentine and Elektra? Seriously, all she ends up doing is signing a letter of credit saying she owed him a million bucks...which she already owed him. Since she's now the head of a billion dollar empire, why not just slip him the money in cash, secretly?? And since Bond had the dealer burn a few cards, how did they guarantee Elektra would lose? Would they just keep playing double or nothing until she did? Or did the dealer cheat so well that James Bond couldn't tell?

**uhhh...Christmas Jones...Why, exactly, does Elektra declare "take her to Renard?" They never really met, and we've established that Renard can't really enjoy the pleasures of the flesh...? Why does he need her on the sub??

**I lack the proper physics background, but doesn't it seem unlikely that Bond and Christmas would survive the pipeline explosion? I would think the fireball would suck all the oxygen out of the pipes, and they'd suffocate...not to mention the heat and flame.

**While I'm confessing my lack of knowledge, do nuclear subs really have their own "extruders" to make their own plutonium rods? I would have thought they had pre-made rods. Does that mean they carry around boxes or uranium/plutonium, just laying around? When they're out of uranium, do they just surface and head to Protons 'R' Us or something?

**Reason # 745 not to like Christmas Jones: "I have to get (the plutonium) back, or someone's gonna have my ass." Nice empathy for the possible death of millions there, Christmas...worry about your job first, others last. (Before anyone tries to defend it as a "joke"--well, if it was, it was the worst-delivered joke of all time)

**So the Russian Atomic Energy Department has their own para-hawks? Really?? Makes you wonder what the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission has in their garage...

**The bomb Renard has at the bottom of the elevator shaft makes no sense. He never has a chance to set it, as Bond is right on his tail. And at least two groups of people have been up and down since Renard arrived in the shaft. So why in the hell does the rising elevator pull the pin this time, but none of the other times?

The five second timer is pretty unbelievable, too**Bond Score: 3. Dr. Warmflash (sigh), Elektra, and Christmas in Turkey. Cumulative Bond score: 53.

And, as always

Twentieth time is a charmTune in next week, as James Bond scores with an Oscar winner, and almost starts a new Korean War in real life...

10 comments:

  1. In the early drafts of the script (and, if I remember rightly, in the novelization), the Cigar Girl was named Sashenka Firo.

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  2. I agree on nearly all counts. This is easily my least favorite Bond film. It has something that automatically places it under any other Bond nadir: It looks ugly. It is the only film of the whole series that I can honestly say looks ugly. All of the "exotic" oil locations could have been shot in Dallas and saved more money for the production team.

    Now you really nailed why I dislike the movie... it promises but never delivers. The main flaw is that you can see it is trying to be a dark serious film, yet the action sequences look like they belong in a completely different Bond adventure. Michael Apted had very little say in them as far as I know, and the movie does feel like it was directed by three different people.

    Overall, it promises to be a super-dark "different" Bond movie and in the end it's all of the same again.

    1) Oh, we finally have Bond suffering a severe injury in the PTS!!! Oh wait, it's only brought up again a few times in the film when the plot requires it and then has no impact on the action sequences whatsoever.

    2) M involved in the action!!! Wow!!! Oh wait, she is kidnapped in the THIRD ACT, placed in a cell and calls for help. That's all. The continuation novelists John Gardner and Kingsley Amis came up with far more effective scenarios for M/Moneypenny kidnaps and the screenwriters couldn't even rip that off properly.

    3) A female villain, yes, Bond's weakness. Oh wait, the writers do nothing with it. Elektra is an embarassing villainess: She is a complete snob who thinks way too highly of herself, her plan is plain dumb and incomprehensable, her motivations make her look like a whiny spoiled brat, Sophie Marceau hams it up to the last scene, and Bond has a pretty lame final confrontation scene with her where we get the obligatory politically correct "eye closing" moment.

    4) A villain who feels no pain, what a cool concept. Oh wait, the writers do NOTHING with it again.

    5) A dark film where the bondgirl turns out to be the villain and Bond is forced to kill her. What a dark ending. Oh wait, we can't end the movie that way. Remember OHMSS!! Let's create a babe with no purpose to be in the plot and only to end the film in a positive note (or with a bang).

    6) Bringing Valentin back, yay, what a good idea. Oh wait, just like Jaws and JW Pepper they overuse him to the extent of being the butt of very lame jokes. At least they kill him off, why couldn't they think of that in 1974 or 1979?

    7) Let's keep the villain's true identity hidden. Oh wait, it is predictable from the start and just makes Bond look plain dumb.

    So in the end: An ugly-looking film with a lame villain, a lame bondgirl, disproportionate action sequences, lame humor, poor dialogue, and an INCOMPREHENSABLE plot that would make Tom Clancy scratch his head. I have seen the PTS over six times and to this day I can't fully explain to new viewers what the heck is going on.

    Die Another Day might have been a poor Bond film also, but I am in the minority who at least found it a slight improvement over this mess.

    ...good music though...

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  3. I liked TWINE more than you, but I have many of the same misgivings. I really think that, Goldeneye excepted, the Brosnan films each could have used another revision at scripting time. What really would have made this movie powerful is if they had really had the courage of their convictions and not had any other "girl" other than Elektra. I always got the feeling during the Brosnan run that the producers wanted to go in a new, darker direction but never really had the guts to bear down and go there. Of course, if they had, we wouldn't have had the terrific Casino Royale, so, who knows.

    Looking forward to Die Another Day...I actually am among the minority who enjoy that movie for its general tone of goofiness, CGI excess aside, and it too tries to do some new stuff before chickening out and instead clogging its arteries with fake CGI, making complete the transition from Bond-as-superspy to Bond-as-superhero, which he should never be.

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  4. I like TWINE a lot, so needly to say I disagree a fair bit - though if I'm honest there's not much in what you've written that I'd say was downright unfair - though the plot makes sense to me.

    I will say that the "hollowed out volcano" line is a ghastly bit of writing and totally deserved its removal. (Both times - it was dropped from TND before shooting.)

    Purvis and Wade may not be credited, but they've been working for a long time - they were far from inexperienced. (It is the screewriter's curse to go uncredited for some work, or to write and get paid for a lot of material that never sees the light of day due to outside factors.) And Let Him Have It is a terrific screenplay by any reasonable standard.

    Finally, given that Warmflash's name is never spoken, it's hardly a crime on the Holly Goodhead scale.

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  5. I agree with Jaquandor, like I said in my note 5) the film did not need Christmas Jones. Bond has disarmed nuclear weapons in the past films. Can anyone imagine if in OHMSS Bond left Tracy's funeral and hooked up with a new rehabilitated Ruby in order for a happy ending?

    Idea for the blog: How about a post in which you rank the PTSs? Would be nice to see how you rank TWINE, which I feel is very daring as a PTS yet it damages the rest of the film by having the best action sequence happen at the start.

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  6. I've always wondered if this might have been the first Bond film to find inspiration in the post-Fleming Bond novels. A couple of years before this movie came out, I gave a couple of Gardner's continuation novels a chance. I don't really know whether this was a frequent thing of his or not, but in both of the books of his that I read, the Bond Girl turns out to be a psycho, and the true villain(ess) of the story.
    When I saw TWINE, I couldn't help but wonder if the writers were actually acknowledging the influence of the non-Fleming writers with their choice of (what seemed to me) a "Gardnerian" choice of villain.

    I'm somewhat on the "pro" side for this movie. I'd put it second after Goldeneye in ranking the Brosnan Bonds (with the one you're set to review next sitting dead last). Part of it is the fact that many people who dislike this one tend to be quite vehement about it, and vehement people are inherently silly, and my natural reaction is to be contrary to such people.

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  7. Sorry if I seemed vehement. Jack Norris, this isn't the first Bond movie to borrow from the Gardner/Benson novels.

    A View to a Kill is nearly an adaptation of John Gardner's first Bond book Licence Renewed, right down to Bond meeting the villain in a horse race track. Also The Living Daylights' climax with Bond fighting Necros in a cargo plane is very similar to Licence Renewed's as well.

    But yes, TWINE also borrows a lot from Gardner's novels. It can also be noted that the name TWINE was Raymond Benson's original title for one of his novels in the mid-90s but the publishing company vetoed it. I wonder if they gave EON a call right after...

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  8. Great review, I'm finally able to put my finger on a lot of the problems I had with this movie.

    Crazy Sophie Marceau is great, though - too bad they couldn't have made a better movie to put her in.

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  9. Kind Sir, while I very much applaud and enjoy your reviews, and also disagree on some issues that I would love to debate at some point, I recommend you to watch te movie again. Elektra is M's daughter, and that will explain a lot of M's, actions...

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  10. One tiny, five-years-late, nitpick: the ugly city you identify as Istanbul is actually Baku.

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