Moment Of Silence

Another holiday-time pint of view movie critique of “Quantum of Solace”, the latest James Bond turkey.

The clumsy and ostentatious title refers to our hero’s hard-won emotional release, fought out in a special digital effects studio.  This is James “Another time, another place” Bond?  Yes, and he’s worse than George Lazenby.  He is seriously disturbed.

On the plus side, the opening title sequence is surprisingly stunning, with a dynamic Mercator map motif and, mercifully, a few female figures whose design recalls 1950s era European art photography—not surprising from a middle-aged Swiss director.  This is a welcome relief from the direction of the playing card royalty featured in “Casino Royale”.  The hip-hop song is infectious but not memorable.  This Bond is based, for better and mostly worse, on scenery and special effects.

Another plus are the female leads.  Unlike “Casino Royale”, where, unbelievably, the women were less interesting than the men, “Quantum of Solace” sports a wonderful pair of ladies:  a sweetheart “girl next door” in Gemma Arterton and the high wattage bombshell, Olga Kurlyenko.  Arterton’s so charming that her dalliance with the sour Daniel Craig fails to convince.  Otherwise, she etches a distinct portrait in her couple minutes on screen, a good film actress.  Olga’s character possesses a tragic background, a bit of nuance and much enjoyable screen time.  An alpha female, she looks like a cross between Isabelle Adjani and former Bond vamp Sophie Marceau.  In the laughably fake fight scenes, she manages to project real toughness, a bit like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2.  South America does indeed have a lot of green-eyed Russian beauties, so it’s inspired casting.  The remaining actors are either retreads from “Casino Royale” or insipid new characters.  “Quantum of Solace” hasn’t even a tiny fraction of the interest and sweep of “From Russia With Love” or “Thunderball”.  (For a refreshing contrast, watch 2006′s “Miami Vice”.)

What inspired the creators to change Bond from an intelligent and glamorous hero to a sullen, bitter, whining bore?  It’s startling.  Better to ask how it beat previous Bond opening box office records.  Yet it makes no sense:  Daniel Craig wears a new Turnbull & Asser wardrobe every few hours, but shows no sign of being a unique or special person.  Now he’s “human” and “normal”—like he’s in psychotherapy.  We’re supposed to relate to him as a “construct”.  Such tedium.  So, why then the flawless clothes tricks?  Can’t have it both ways; Sean Connery never did.

By these new personality-driven standards, Felix Leiter, played nicely by Jeffrey Wright, comes across as fascinating compared to Bond.  One wishes to know more about him.  Truly weird.  It occurred to me, while viewing, that Bond might be the true villain here, in an unconscious slip by the filmmakers.  Maybe Olga is the next Bond.  Maybe Felix?

The water shortage plot device is shallow.  Latin American military officers exploit helpless peasants.  The fake ecologist bad guy is played weakly and his role has none of the crazed brilliance given to magnificent actors like Michael Lonsdale, Lotte Lenya and Gert Frobe.  He isn’t even neurotic (maybe he’s the next Bond).  Strangely, too, they take a serious villain from “Casino Royale”—Giancarlo Giannini—and make him not just a good guy, but a bit of a punk.  What a waste of a great actor.  The Bolivian peasants are treated in a shockingly superficial way, as if they were in a Swissair travelogue.  The minimalist eco-resort in the climax is dull.  The bad guys have neither ideas nor imagination—they’re just mean; killing them doesn’t matter.  Speaking of devices, there are no gadgets.  “Anti-tech” means that the hero “moves more sleekly”,  as one reviewer praised it.  It means also “anti-good”.

Has the Bond franchise left the male fantasy playing field to Marvel and DC?  It seems so.  Unless you’re 10 years old, costumed super heroes have no credibility, much less interest.  They are completely unreal, which is their point.  The traditional Bond fan dislikes them—look at the ridiculous “Iron Man”.  Is the Bond fan now a young woman, dragged into the theater by Daniel Craig’s damaged allure?  Is the great 60s British spy hero—the “anti-Quixote”—all played out?  Perhaps Sean Connery was the exception to the rule—a pure man of action.  Yet, nowadays, one would think that after 9/11, in a world with a freakishly tall, cave dwelling terrorist, and hi-tech Somali pirates grabbing gigantic freighters, the Bond team would do better than a severely depressed sprinter in a beautiful suit chasing a short nature freak.

Perhaps it’s the running.  Men are running now.  Running away from the New Jerusalem (some of them) or toward it (a rare few) or just in circles, like around a track.  It’s the twilight of the baby boomers.  “Boomerdammerung”. To paraphrase Frank Zappa, James Bond isn’t dead, he just smells funny.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 at 10:02 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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3 Responses to “Moment Of Silence”

  1. Jane Langston said:

    Jeezaroo. A James Bond film review in a gardening blog. Cool! I’m new to your site the last thing I expected to see!

    Haven’t watched any Bonds in a long time. Great boy films, but my sons are grown now. For spy stuff with depth, try Graham Greene, I guess.
    Recently watched the original “The Quiet American” from the late 50s directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, featuring one of the all time oddball acting duos, Michael Redgrave and Audie Murphy. Filmed in Saigon, late 50s, Vietnam conflict just gearing up. Haven’t seen the remake. Generally I love older films the best, but did see “Good Night and Good Luck” and “Borat” at the theater; generally wait for video.
    Some people plant biblical gardens, other Shakespeare herb gardens; my dream is a cinema garden, with roses and other plants named after actors planted together if they were in a movie together, maybe also plants named after fictional characters coupled with the actors who played them. Still researching it. Short on $$$ but it should be better by spring.
    People who love gardening maybe also love movies too? Both indicate a delight in the visual. Somebody should do a study. Psychology has been way late in studying the cinema lover and realizing that cinema therapy is a viable way to self-treat one’s stresses (movies are competition for them, that’s why they can’t stand it!) Later. I’ll be checking into your blog archives. You sound like a real personality, sir. Thanks for sending this. Eagerly await the catalog also!

    Jane

  2. George said:

    Dear Jane,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your views of movies are fascinating. My gripe about “the new Bond” is now he’s just another boring, pseudo-literary character.

    If I want old clichés, I read Hemingway. I don’t care about the Fleming books—in fact, as a boy, I disliked them. Bond was scary, menacing and shallow. Why should 1950’s middle-class British literary tastes be important? Pointless. Therefore, bring back some of the flavor that’s been lost in this nostalgia for the hard-edged, post-war, OSS romance. Art should be interesting if nothing else. Quantum of Solace is a “monument of boredom” at least to this old-timer. As I say, perhaps they’re aiming for a female audience, which wouldn’t be surprising.

    One thing that was surprising that I forgot to mention on the blog, was the appalling practice in the Doylestown area of parents bringing 11, 12 and 13 year olds to this horrifyingly violent movie. I saw little boys and girls with their yuppie parents and it flashed, “ Too cheap to get a baby sitter”, but I wonder. At any rate, this sort of entertainment is absolutely not for children, and I found the PG-13 rating, and more so its abuses, shocking. Thanks again for your interest in Heronswood.

  3. Jane Langston said:

    Well, George, I’ve raised two sons, the youngest one became cinema-crazy around age 10 or 11, and that’s the age when smart kids begin to get tired of the kiddie swill and develop an interest in adult problem films, I found that kids have a way of signaling you when they become ready to bump the age level up. With Adrian, he was 12 and when he came for his every-other-weekend visit, he suggested that we watch “Clerks” together. He’d already seen it and wanted to share with Mom. It’s full of language mainly, and I was sorta blushing when we watched it. I thought “he’s 12, and we’re watching “Clerks” together. It feels strange, as I’ve assiduously selected kid-appropriate films to watch with him thus far”. I took it as a signal. But, having worked in retail, I recognized and found the humor in the film too. We watched a lot of classic noir and adult dilemma stories, lightened by comedy, musicals etc. A varied program. He led me through the Hitchcock phase, the Kubrick phase, and he particularly developed an obsession with Orson Welles at around 11 or 12.’Mom, is Orson Welles still alive?” He watched The Third Man and Touch of Evil and Citizen Kane repeatedly. I believe at around 13 he was using hankquinlan as his email name, when he wasn’t being “Johnny the Eunuch”. Kids at this age already know of human violence because they see and hear the news and because schools are full of bullies, especially to cute overweight smart kids like Adrian who was lugging biographies of Orson and the Graham Greene Film Reader around in the 8th grade. So I approved a program of gradualism in his exposure to the uglier sides of adult life, in films that is, but I had some limits. His Dad allowed him to watch “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” at 12 or 13 and this I would not have approved of in my house (his dad and I divorced, as you’ve probably surmised). And he was reading a lot of pretty noir graphic novels and getting ideas from those too. When things such as child molestation are graphically portrayed in modern films, it stirs up controversy but I see it this way: human violence predates the motion picture, going back to the beginning of history; to remove it completely from all media would not only be impossible but undesirable because even if all media were Disneyfied, adorable and violence-free, real-life violence would still be happening just like it always has (movies and TV don’t “cause” it) and if the victims of it never saw, heard or read about similar experiences of their own being portrayed, I think they’d feel even more isolated and crazy than ever because nothing in their personal experience is seen or validated in the media and they’d feel like they’re the only people on earth it was happening to and the world would not understand if they tried to tell, because it would be a sugar-coated world that did not mirror any of their life experience. That said, I agree that today’s cinema violence can be way overdone, the obligatory sex scenes have bored me with their predictability, the story interest is sacrificed to the CGI gang with their toys, etc. But this is just the thing kids get interested in at this age, the world of adults that they know they will enter. Way back in high school from 1969 to 1972 I had Dreiser’s “An American Tragedy” as required reading in English class ,it features attempted abortion, planned murder, trial and execution, also ‘A Streetcar Named Desire”, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and other works with considerable edge, so if they don’t get it from films, it’s there in 11th grade lit. None of the moralists made any fuss about these things then. I guess you could say I advocate showing kids the world the way that it is and has been-maybe it will get them stirred up to want to better it; but pretending the world is nothing but namby-pamby adorable will feel unreal to them, will make them feel as if we’re insulting their intelligence and lying to them ,as well as making them complacent. But I agree-not too much, too soon. James Bond is a fantasy figure, I think even kids understand this, and parents can’t point out any adults in their family’s real life who actually lives like this, but a little grandiose fantasy is OK. I fantasized about playing for the Red Sox and being the first woman in professional baseball when I was a kid. Did it happen? You know the answer. Take them to see Bond, then balance it out by telling them about real-life espionage stuff, like the breaking of the Enigma code or Moe Berg the baseball catcher working undercover for the OSS in Nazi territory impersonating a nuclear physicist.

    Keep the movie reviews coming, please George! BTW, my favorite film decade is the forties, for Brit as well as American films, and other countries like Japan and Italy were developing well at this time. But I may go see the latest Bond b/c it’s been a long while, and I’d like to see if I end up agreeing with you or not. Maybe Adrian, now age 23, will accompany me.

    See ya,

    Jane

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