Sunday, March 1, 2015

Die Another Day [2002]

It's been a dark era for You Only Live Twice lately.  The two movies we covered most recently -- Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough -- scored very poorly indeed, which means that this blog's official stance is that they are two of the worst films in the series.
  
Regardless of my thoughts on the matter, those movies had been big hits, and Brosnan was generally seen as a very successful Bond.  The series was riding high in 2002, when the twentieth entry in the series was released.  Today, we all know that the resultant film -- Die Another Day -- is perhaps THE most reviled in the series, which means that this post is likely to be filled with contempt and snark.
  
Will it actually turn out that way, though?  Ever since I began digging into the Brosnan films, I've been curious as to whether Die Another Day would perform as I expected it to (i.e., rank either last place or very close) or if it would somehow manage to defy all odds and avoid cellar-dweller status.
  
Let's find out.
  
  




(1)  Bond ... James Bond




These past couple of posts have not merely been unkind to the movies but also to the performances given in them by Pierce Brosnan.  I think he's great in GoldenEye, but in the next two movies he's all over the map tonally; some of that is due to the poor screenplays and weak direction, but anecdotal evidence indicates that it's also due in some measure to Brosnan's desire to delve into Bond's psyche.  An admirable goal.  But those two middle Brosnan films did their delving in an incredibly herky-jerky fashion, so that you get (as a friend of mine recently pointed out) a scene in which Bond breathes in one last breath of the hair of his murdered girlfriend followed . . . by a scene in which he, mere moments later, delightedly pilots a car via remote control.
  
That sort of juxtaposition does not work.  Especially if the individual scenes are relatively weak in and of themselves, which they certainly are throughout Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough.  Consequently, not only are those two among the weakest of the Bond movies, I would argue that Brosnan's performances in them are THE two weakest Bond performances.  They simply do not cohere.
  
Good news!  Brosnan is back to fine form in Die Another Day, and gives what is easily his second-best performance as Bond.  Not only that, I think it's a good performance, period.  In a bad movie, one might reasonably argue; but a good performance nonetheless.
  
Part of the reason it succeeds where the previous two failed is that the screenplay -- ridiculous though it may be -- does not bounce all over the place tonally.  It begins in a relatively serious fashion, takes a few scenes to slowly transition into a goofier and more cartoonish style, and then stays there for the rest of the runtime.  In every single scene he's in, Brosnan gives a performance that is appropriate to the tone the writers and director are crafting; and as the film progresses, it makes a coherent effort to keep Bond's character arc logical and consistent.  Yeah, sure, there's a lot of stupid bullshit in the plot; but none of it impacts what's going on with Bond.
  
This was not immediately apparent to me.  I watched the movie something like seven times in preparation for writing this post, and the first couple of times I thought Brosnan was just as crap as the rest of the movie was.  But as I worked through the commentary tracks and took notes on various things, I began to notice that he was actually doing very good work.
  
By the end of the process, I'd come to the conclusion that whatever problems the movie has, Pierce Brosnan is not one of them.  I think it's a genuinely good Bond performance, and it makes me happy to now be back in the camp of feeling as if Brosnan was a strong 007 at least as often as not.
  
A few specific moments I like:
  
  • In the opening scene, when he takes Van Bierks' sunglasses, he gets an assholeish "I win!" grin on his face that is uniquely Brosnan-esque.



  • "Saved by the bell...," he quips after Moon falls to his supposed death.  You can tell he doesn't really think much of the line, but has decided to try and sell it with a good old-fashioned college try.  The joke then kind of becomes a "listen at this shitty joke" moment.  Works for me.
  • When the General tells the much-tortured Bond that he doesn't approve of what his underlings have been doing, Bond motions toward the Scorpion Lady and says, "Tell it to the concierge."  It isn't much of a joke, really, but Brosnan -- again -- manages to turn it into something.  This time, he makes it a matter not of being funny. but merely of being willing to joke at all.  It's like he's saying, "Look, I don't have a funny joke, but I've got a joke, and any joke is better than no joke.  So fuck you, jack; here's my unfunny joke.  Torture me into being unfunny, but you won't shut me up."  It shouldn't work at all, and maybe you think it doesn't; but it works for me.



  • When Bond is about to walk across the bridge as part of the prisoner exchange, but doesn't know that's what is happening and thinks he is about to be executed, Brosnan does a fantastic job of making it clear that Bond isn't too happy about the fact that he's about to die, but is nevertheless determined not to break.  Brosnan tried during all of his movies to work in moments for Bond to be relatably human; this is one of the most subtle and effective of them all.



  • Perhaps one of the great I'm-the-coolest-motherfucker-you-ever-even-heard-of moments in the entire series comes when Bond, clad only in rumpled pajamas and looking like one of Rob Zombie's roadies, goes strolling into what one presumes to be the finest hotel in Hong Kong and gets himself a room based purely on confidence.  There are a couple of other Bonds I can imagine pulling this scene off; but I'm not sure any of them would top how Brosnan does it.




  • During the fight with Zao at the clinic, an MRI machine becomes activated and grabs Bond's revolver (along with everything other metallic object nearby).  A few moments later, Bond deactivates it, grabs the revolver as it falls off the machine, and fires it.  That's slick as hell.
  • The scene itself is odd, but Brosnan is terrific in the "virtual reality" scene in which he experiences Q's new target practice simulator.  The scene is obviously designed to make one think of first-person-shooter games, which the Bond franchise had a rather large part in popularizing during Brosnan's era.  I don't know how to explain this, but the way Brosnan plays the scene really sells the idea of it being video-game-esque.  Something about the sharp, precise movements he makes, and the lack of hesitancy with which he dispatches his foes.  In plot and logic terms, it's a dopey scene; but in terms of its execution, I think it's one of the movie's standout scenes.  Brosnan is great here.
  
  





  • The movie was the twentieth in the series, and so everyone involved decided to pay many, many homages to other Bond films.  One such scene involves Bond and Q wandering around an old Q Branch storage room, in which one can see various gadgets from Bond films past.  At one point, Bond picks up Rosa Klebb's knife-laden shoe from From Russia With Love, gives it a sniff, and grimaces.  Droll and crass at the same time.
  • Say what you will about the invisible car, but I think Brosnan's reaction to it is pretty great.  When Q finally uncloaks it (as it were), Brosnan has a look of incredulity on his face which almost immediately turns into delight.  "Oh, very good...," he says, deeply impressed.  Now, look; I agree with the entire world that saddling 007 with an invisible car was perhaps several steps too far.  BUT, within the logic of the series itself, if Bond were presented with an actual, functional invisible car, then he would unquestionably think it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.  That's what Brosnan conveys in this moment.  Think what you will about it being a dumb and super-unrealistic plot point; within the context of the movie itself, Brosnan's reaction is not only appropriate, but kind of perfect.



  • The only time in the movie when Brosnan really goes into his super-serious mode is when Miranda Frost reveals herself to be the traitor who earned him fourteen months in North Korean military prison.  His reactions are excellent during this scene, and his seriousness is totally earned; we understand the reasons for it, and if we haven't totally given up on the movie by this point -- a big "if," that -- then we are 100% with Bond in these moments.
     
  
  • The car-chase across the frozen lake is dopey, but there is at least one terrific moment in it: Zao fires a rocket which causes Bond's car to flip over onto its roof; the car continues on its path on sheer momentum, and Bond opens the roof and fires the ejector seat, which flips the car back onto its wheels.  Chase continueth.  That's some James Bond shit right there; Brosnan plays it as though Bond is the coolest motherfucker to ever walk the face of the planet.  And who knows?  Maybe he is.

Points awarded: 004/007.  And I thought about making that a 005.

Uh-oh.  Is this post about to turn into an attempt to rehab Die Another Day's reputation?





(2)  SPECTRE

Main Villain:





Die Another Day marks what I believe to be the only time in the series when a major character is played by two actors within the same movie.  I rather prefer Will Yun Lee's brief time in the role to Toby Stephens', and I wish the movie had had some means of keeping Lee around for longer.





Stephens plays Gustav Graves as though he's completely nuts, but has somehow convinced the world that he's totally fine.  Sure, he never sleeps; so what?  Who needs sleep, y'all, amirite?  I'm too busy philanthrophizin' to sleep, what whaaaaat...!  Scuse me while I go build a hotel out of ice.




It doesn't really work for me.  I think Graves -- or Moon, or whatever you want to call him -- is a bit of a dud as a character.  His motivations are never all that clear; which is a problem, you know?  I mean . . . is he ONLY planning to take over North Korea, or does he plan to use that to take over the world?  This being a Bond movie, and a cartoonish one, I have to assume it's the latter.  But frankly, I could have used a juicy monologue in which Graves just spelled it right the fuck out for us.

Apart from that, I just don't think Stephens is all that good.  I can see how someone who really loves the movie -- and I'm sure such people exist, regardless of this movie's reputation -- would love his performance.  If I were talking to such a person, I'd find it easy to see where they were coming from; I just don't feel that way myself.  He's too snarly; too snappish; too "I'm suave like Bond is suave because I'm trying (and will ultimately fail) to beat Bond at his own game."  (Stephens has actually played Bond, by the way: in a series of BBC Radio dramas adapting Fleming's novels, of which there have been . . . I don't know for sure, but I think three.  I've heard none, but would like to one of these days.)

It's a hammy, over the top performance.  And it's probably an appropriate one, since the movie itself is so hammy and over the top.  But I just can't embrace it; even seven viewings couldn't get me to that place.

Question: Graves has what appears to be two bullet holes in his head (temple and brow); what up wi' dat?
  
Points awarded (Main Villain):  002/007.  I almost talked myself into raising the score a bit, but nope, not gonna do it.
 
Henchmen:





The main henchman here, obviously, is Zao, played quite well by Rick Yune.  Yune has had a few good roles (The Fast and the Furious, Olympus Has Fallen) but seemingly has mostly been ignored by Hollywood.  What a shame.  This guy looks and moves like a star, and appears to be at least a competent actor.  Why have better roles not come his way more frequently? 





Anyways, I like Zao before he becomes all suffused with diamonds.  After that...?  Well, that version of Zao doesn't make a lick of sense.  Why are the diamond shards stuck in his face?  They look like they could be plucked out with a pair of tweezers.  Just pull them fuckers right out of there, pal!  Don't be squeamish about it!
  
That said, Zao does look kind of cool.  It's a memorable design, provided you don't mind how silly it is.  He reminds me more of anything else of the sort of villain they might have had on James Bond Jr, and that makes me remember my somewhat-spirited defense of that show: that for some kids out there, it's bound to hold a soft spot simply because that was their entry into the world of James Bond.  You've got to figure that there are, similarly, a lot of kids who were introduced to Bond via Die Another Day.  Do those kids -- who are likely not kids any longer -- have a nostalgic soft spot for ol' diamond-faced Zao?





I bet you they do.  And when I look at him through those eyes, he works for me relatively well.  It's a dumb idea, but it's carried off capably.

My big criticism of Zao is that his name is lame.  He needed a better one, one which served as some sort of diamond-based pun.  Mr. Facet, perhaps.  Or Mai Ning, or something doofy like that.

Moving on...




You know, it occurs to me that Zao might not actually be the primary henchman of the movie.  You could make a claim that Miranda Frost deserves that title, couldn't you?

We'll talk about her more in the Bond Girls section, but like the femmes fatale before her, she clearly has to be considered in both categories.  As a villain, I think she works pretty well.  If many a child grew up afraid of Zao, I bet there have also been a fair number who are -- for reasons entirely beyond their understanding -- irresistibly attracted to icy blondes.





Well, who can blame them?

As a character, Frost is duplicitous, dangerous, and determined.  Also, her cool, unreadable exterior makes it at least somewhat plausible that she would be able to be a double agent, because it would be difficult for people to get a read on her.  Feels true.  True-ish, at least.  It's one of the movie's more successful elements, and a lot of the credits for that must go to future Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike, who isn't bug-eyed crazy like Toby Stephens but who has just enough lunacy behind her eyes that you can buy her as someone who would associate with someone like Graves.

And now, cheesecake:




    

Let's briefly mention three other henchmen who are worth a sentence or two.  First up:




That's Lawrence Makaore, who plays Mr. Kil.
  
Seriously?

In one of the movie's absolute worst moments, Mr. Kil introduces himself to Bond by saying, as soon as 007 steps out of his car at the ice hotel, "I'm Mr. Kil."
  
"Now there's a name to die for," says Bond, visibly pleased with himself for no good reason.


Bond has been in communist military prison for over a year, so maybe he's allowed to be a little lame.


The only cool thing about Mr. Kil -- apart from his death (more on which later) -- is that he's played by Makaore, who was Lurtz in The Fellowship of the Ring and got to kill Sean "Alec Trevelyan" Bean.

Next up, this guy:




That's Vlad, who is Graves' science guy.  Vlad sucks.  We're not going to talk about Vlad any more.

Finally:



  
That is the Korean guard who is apparently in charge of Bond's torture.  Lee Tamahori refers to her as "the Scorpion Lady," and she was played by Sarllya Tyi.  She doesn't have much to do except be on screen for a few seconds looking hot in a military uniform; and that's good enough to merit a mention from me here.
  
Points awarded (Henchmen):  003/007.  I wanted to go a point higher, thanks to Miranda and (to a lesser degree) Zao, but Vlad and Mr. Kil dropped that down to a 003.  I suspect a number of you will feel I'm being too generous by far, but I think it's fair.
 
Total points awarded (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.):  002.50/007

(3)  The Bond Girls

Main Bond Girl:




Where to begin with Halle Berry?

With this: I don't think she's as bad as people have made her out to be.  Sorry, I just don't.  In fact, I think she's rather good.  By no means would she rank anywhere near the top of list of Bond women, but she wouldn't be anywhere near the bottom, either.  She outranks atrocities like Brit Ekland, Mie Hama, Barbara Bach, and Jill St. John by a country mile.

To be fair, she does have a few weak line deliveries here and there.  But there aren't as many of those as I thought I remembered, and those are balanced out by the fact that unlike most of the other lady-spy characters the series has delivered, she actually seems like a bit of a badass.  She's not 100% convincing in that regard -- really, you want a Gina Carano for that sort of role (oh dear lord, if only...) -- but she's certainly more believable than Agent XXX is in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Not even close.

She also rights some of the wrongs done in Tomorrow Never Dies, in which, you will recall, Bond's primary ladyfriend was Wai Lin, Chinese agent extraordinaire.  There wasn't really all that much about her that was extraordinary, though, in my opinion; the film only gave Michelle Yeoh a few small moments in which to shine, and her lack of chemistry with Pierce Brosnan is a major problem.

The idea with Wai Lin as I always saw it was that you were supposed to feel like she was the star of her own action movie, and that Bond's movie just happened to intersect with hers on this occasion.  In such a fashion, the Bond series could be seen to be progressive in terms of roles for females.  Good idea!  I've certainly got no issue with that.  I just don't think Tomorrow Never Dies got the job done.

I think Halle Berry's Jinx Johnson is a lot closer to the mark.  I don't much care for the name "Jinx Johnson"; the screenwriters could have done better than that, surely.  And some of her dialogue is weak.  Add to that the fact that I've just never been all that big a fan of Halle Berry, and Jinx should handily be one of my least favorite of all the Bond girls.

This time around, though, I found myself warming to her.

I'm just as surprised as you are, believe me.  Allow me to briefly cover my personal history with the movie; I think it might be of use to do so, at least to me.

The movie's release in 2002 happened to coincide with what might charitably be called a dark period of my life.  I went to see the movie when it came out, and was too distracted by life to think much about it one way or the other.  I bought the DVD when it came out, and watched it a second time, and hated it.  Of course, by that time I'd read a bunch of stuff on the Internet about how terrible it was, and those comments mostly all banged on about the same things: the invisible car, the DNA-replacement stuff, Madonna's scene, Madonna's song, and -- of course -- Halle Berry.

I think that by the time I got to that second viewing, I was mostly seeing the movie through the eyes of the Internet, and I think I retained that mindset for the next ten years.  Writing these blog posts forces me to actually use my brain a bit, though.  Not to find any sort of critical truth, necessarily; that can be a part of what I'm trying to do here, but what I'm much more interested in is understanding my own reactions to the movies.

If I'm going to do that, then it forces me to pay attention to the movies in ways I might not have before.  And so it is that over the course of a couple of weeks in 2015, I noticed that Halle Berry is actually pretty good in most of Die Another Day.  She's beautiful, she's confident, she moves like a goddam lioness; she's got pretty good chemistry with Brosnan, and she really kind of does seem like she has her own movie going on and that it just happens to have collided with a 007 flick.

It's an interesting process, this You Only Blog Twice.  It's mostly yielded the results I expected it to yield, but it turned me into a fan of The Man with the Golden Gun to some extent, and it's done the same thing with Die Another Day.  And it reawakened my love -- not like, love -- of Moonraker.

Some of you will be shaking your heads in disgust.  Sorry 'bout that!  But it's true: I have come to the conclusion that Die Another Day simply isn't the atrocity it's generally held to be.  And a big part of that is because I think Berry is a much better Bond girl than she's been given credit for being.

And now, screencaps:


During this scene, Bond claims to be an ornithologist.  More like a hornithologist, amirite?




Hard to blame the guy, really.

I mean...Jesus Christ, are you kidding me?  Is it even possible to be that hot?  I guess it must be.

I like this scene.  Jinx kills this guy damn quick, and maybe it's just the silencer doing this, but something about her nonchalance and ease reminds me of Connery's Bond killing Dent in Dr. No.  This is nowhere near that cool (what is?), but it's cool nonetheless.

No woman will ever look over her shoulder at me like that.  Guess what?  Probably not at you, either.



It's not quite as well-staged as I would have liked for it to be, but the fight between Jinx and Miranda could have gone on for about half an hour and that would've been just fine by me. 


  
Points awarded (Main Bond Girl):  004/007.  I think the time has come for us all to ease up on Halle Berry and Jinx Johnson, guys.

Secondary Bond Girls:


Does she work for Psi Corps?  Is she giving herself a Vulcan mind meld?  Weird.

As of the time I am writing this, the 2015 Oscars are a bit less than a week old.  Among the nominees: Rosamund Pike, for Best Actress (Gone Girl).  The award went to Julianne Moore for Still Alice, but it wouldn't have done if I was in charge of the Oscars.  Nosir, if I was handing 'em out, Pike would have won, which would have made three Oscar-winning actresses to appear in Die Another Day.  Not a bad pedigree, that, and certainly one that can't be claimed by, say, You Only Live Twice.

Pike plays Miranda Frost here, obviously, and it's not at all unusual to find even vehement critics of the film setting aside a kind word for her performance.  Fair enough; she's fine.  I don't think she's better than Berry, or even necessarily as good; but she's good, and she's beautiful, and her chilliness is memorable in a way that brings to mind an irredeemable Pussy Galore.





I should probably have more to say about Pike and Frost, but I don't think this is an aspect of the film which needs either defense or explanation from me.

Apart from Frost, there aren't many secondary Bond girls this time out.  There's the fake masseuse, Peaceful Fountains Of Desire (what?!?); there's Scorpion Lady; and there's...



 
...Verity, the fencing instructor played for a few seconds by Madonna.  Does she even count?  She counts as much as PFOD and Scorpion Lady, I guess, which is to say not really.  But I took a screencap of her, and may as well use it, so there it is.

Verity sucks.  I think she's supposed to be a lesbian, which probably means Frost is actually working for her in some vague way; but this doesn't really come off, and thanks to the way Madonna plays the scene, there is a hint that maybe she and Bond share some sort of past.  Or not.  I honestly can't tell.  I'll defend some of the movie; I won't bother with this scene, because it's too vague for me to know, and too lame for me to care.

Points awarded (Secondary Bond Girls):  004/007.  I'm tempted to dock a point for Madonna, but I don't think I will.

Total points awarded (The Bond Girls):  004/007
 
(4)  "Oh, James..."

Action/Stunts:

One thing I noticed during the course of rediscovering Die Another Day is that the action is generally quite good.  A lot of it is silly, because the movie itself is silly; but so what?  Bond can -- and probably should -- get away with doing that every once in a while.  Good God, man...!  Roger Moore once piloted a fake alligator across a river!  This stuff can't be all serious all the time.

Anyways, the action in this movie is a rebound from that in the previous two films, and while it doesn't return to the heights of GoldenEye, it's solid in its own right.  Plus, director Lee Tamahori seems to have gone out of his way to deliver action scenes we hadn't seen before in a Bond film.

And so it is that the movie begins with a surfing scene:




Thing is, I know nothing about surfing.  Nothing, nada, zip, zilch.  So this scene in and of itself doesn't impress me all that much.  If you watch the behind the scenes stuff on the DVDs, though, it is clear that what is going on in this scene is a pretty big deal.  The production hired world-class surfer Laird Hamilton, took him and his crew to a spot in Hawaii called (amusingly) "Jaws," and got some footage of three guys riding a single wave.  This is apparently not all that easy to achieve, especially on this particular spot.  Jaws is, so they tell me, a VERY difficult place to surf.

This is all much more impressive in the documentary than it is in the movie.  I suspect that would be a different matter if I myself was a surfer and understood what I was seeing.  But I'm not, so it doesn't have an impact on me.  I will give everyone kudos for trying something fresh, though, and let's not worry much about the fact that it probably doesn't make much sense for 007 to be surfing his way into North Korea.

Next up, an explosion that screencaptured rather well:






I think they may simply have killed that guy examining the diamonds in the background of the first image.  Sorry, guy!

Elsewhere, we get a hovercraft chase; Zao escaping from the clinic in Los Organos; a pretty good swordfight scene; a fistfight that takes place while diamond-cutting lasers are swinging around the combatants; a cool moment in which Bond and Frost fall through a glass floor as it shatters; a daffy (but intermittently entertaining) car chase across a frozen lake and into and through a hotel made out of ice; a sudden airplane depressurization that makes the one in Goldfinger look rudimentary; and the aforementioned fight between Jinx and Frost.
 
Points awarded (Action/Stunts): 004/007.  The action in this movie isn't on par with the best films in the series, but it's solid, and I give them points for inventiveness.

Editing:

My initial plan for this subcategory was to award a 000/007 thanks to the fact that editor Christian Wagner throws in some really shitty speed-ramping moments.  I fucking HATE speed-ramping in editing.  In case you don't know what speed-ramping is, check out the car chase scene on the frozen lake.  You know those moments when the action speeds up real quick and then goes back to normal?  That's speed-ramping.  It's a device designed, I guess, to speed audiences past the boring parts of action scenes.

I'm getting agitated even trying to describe it.  Ugh, I hate it!  So yeah, based on its over/misuse here, I intended to award a 000/007.

Thing is, most of the rest of the movie is edited pretty doggone well.  I suspect that the only reason two of the big action setpieces (the hovercraft chase and the car chase through the ice hotel) work at all -- assuming you agree that they do -- is due to expert editing.  The editing of the fencing/swordfighting scene is very good; I like the way Wagner cut the scene in which Bond stops his own heart; the reveal of Frost in M's office is excellent.

It's true -- from my perspective -- that the speed-ramp stuff is garbage.  But I ended up feeling that if I were to be honest, I absolutely could not hold those moments against the movie too harshly.  The editing is, at worst, 85% good and 15% bad.  So with that in mind...

Points awarded (Editing):  004/007.  Sorry, guys.  I honestly did my best to hate this movie, and it worked for a while; but when it comes right down to it, I'm apparently incapable.

Costumes/Makeup:

I did a lousy job of screencapping with this subcategory in mind, so let's just be perfunctory and mention a few things:

  • Fourteen-months-later Bond looks relatively convincing.  In some ways, the long hair and beard look fake, but I think that's got more to do with the determination in Bond's eyes than with the actual hair and makeup; because Bond hasn't actually been broken, he doesn't really look broken, and consequently the hair and makeup are a bit incongruous.  But in actuality, I think they're fine; they work for the story, not against it.
  • Everything Jinx wears looks great.  I especially like the read leather catsuit.
  • Miranda's stuffiness is conveyed quite capably via her wardrobe.
  • So is Graves' attempt at being uber-British.
  • Zao's look is deeply silly, but you can't accuse the makeup team of failing to make it work.  It works just fine.
  • Bond's casual clothes in Cuba look great.  Bond dressed down isn't always a good thing, but it works like a charm here.

Points awarded (Costumes/Makeup): 006/007

Locations:

This isn't a particularly strong movie for locations, partially due to the fact that the production -- for obvious reasons -- couldn't film in either North Korea or Cuba.  The Pinewood backlot capably doubles for North Korea.
  
Meanwhile, Cadiz doubles for Cuba.
  
  
Screencapping people in motion can be a pointless endeavor, but it sometimes yields interesting results; here, I like something about the way Brosnan is juxtaposed with the motion-blurred woman on the right.  Accidental art, y'all!


I'm not a car guy, but that is a fucking rad car.



To my ignorant American eyes, this stuff is very convincing.  If it weren't for the DVDs, I would have simply assumed that they filmed in Cuba.

The most spectacular location is unquestionably the glacier field in Iceland:




You've got to love that.

Might as well throw in a nice shot of London, too:




Points awarded (Locations):  004/007.  Not a series highlight apart from the glaciers, but solid.

Overall points awarded ("Oh, James..."):  004.50/007
 
(5)  Q Branch


Bond's Allies:

I'm running out of stem and getting sleepy, but determined to make a bit more progress, so let's briefly discuss some of Bond's allies.  There's Chang of Chinese Intelligence; he's okay.  There's this guy:




He's pretty cool, but has very little to do.

There's R, who makes a second appearance and whom, by Bond's verbalizing it, manages to become Q.  John Cleese is fine; I wish the screenplay hadn't gone so out of its way to make him outright disdainful of Bond, but that's probably not Cleese's fault.




Michael Madsen shows up as Falco, the NSA operative who handles Jinx and is apparently more or less equivalent to M.




Madsen is okay, provided you like Michael Madsen.  For whatever reason, I kept wishing it had been James Gandolfini instead.  Ah, well.



  
Colin Salmon is on hand again as Robinson.  He never had enough to do in these films, but he's cool.  Rosamund Pike divulges on the commentary track that when she screen-tested for her role, it was with Salmon playing Bond.  I'd love to see those screen tests; I bet he's great.





Samantha Bond makes her final appearance as Moneypenny, and not only does she die a fake death in the virtual reality simulator, she later fake makes out with Bond.  That scene is one of the lowpoints of the series, for me.  Moneypenny has always struck me as being a woman who maybe has a thing for Bond, but not in any sort of unhealthy or unrealistic way; here, though, she's resorting to fucking a Bond avatar on the MI6 equivalent of the Holodeck.  That ain't my Moneypenny, guys.

The only upside is that Bond and Brosnan have mad chemistry during this scene; in fact, I think Brosnan has more chemistry with her than he has with all his leading ladies put together.  If you told me the two of them walked off set, found a broom closet, and humped it out immediately after filming this scene, I would not be the least bit surprised.

Finally, we have Judi Dench as M:








I think Dench/M is put to much better use here than in her previous two films, and maybe even better than in GoldenEye.  She's got that semi-adversarial thing going that M always has in the best Bond/M scenes, and the screenplay luckily doesn't pull any shenanigans in order simply to have Dench's role be larger.
  
Points awarded (Bond's Allies):  002/007.  I took it all the way down to 000/007 on the basis of the misuse of Moneypenny, but then gave a point back for Samantha Bond's hotness, and another for the good use of Judi Dench as M.

Direction:

Oh, boy.  Here we go...




Lee Tamahori has been getting raked over the coals by vocal factions of the Bond community for close to thirteen years now, and guys, I'm here to tell you: in my opinion, he doesn't entirely deserve it.

Sure, the movie goes WAY too far toward the realm of science-fiction.  Scratch that; it outright goes into that realm.  It's not the first time the series had done that, though, and even if it was, that's ultimately the choice of the producers; even if Lee Tamahori originated all the most ridiculous plot elements of the film, the producers signed off on them.  And that means that at worst, Tamahori could only be blamed for maybe 20% of the movie's problems; the two producers and the screenwriters would need to be assessed the remaining 80%.

Whatever you think of the movie's dopiness, though, when you begin to break it down and examine it in terms of what we typically think of as a director's functions, I think you will find that it works fairly well.  The shot composition is strong; the tone is consistent; the acting is (mostly) good; the editing is such that the action is easy to follow.  In short, Tamahori seems to have known what he wanted, and known how to get it; and then he got it.  Argue all you want over whether he should have wanted to get something else; if you're grading only the efficacy of what he got, then I'd say he succeeded WAY more than he failed.

I would especially make note of this: whereas both Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough look rather low-rent and cheap thanks to the inadequacies of their directors, Die Another Day returns to form visually and looks like the rich spectacle we expect from Bond films.  A lot of that falls on people other than the director, of course; but how the director chooses to film what's in front of him certainly counts for a lot of it.

I've never seen Tamahori's most lauded film, Once Were Warriors.  However, The Edge is a good thriller, and he did a really good episode of The Sopranos.  That ain't nothin'.  (He also directed three episodes of The Ray Bradbury Theatre, by the way.)  His career post-Bond seems to have been a bit of a mixed bag, and I wonder if the perception of the film hurt him more than its box-office helped him.  Who can say?

Ultimately, I find myself wishing he could have had a second go at the series; with a better screenplay and a reduction in silliness, I think he had the makings of a fine Bond director.
 

Points awarded (Direction): 004/007.  I think the good outweighs the bad here, y'all.  It feels weird to say that Tamahori's work on Die Another Day is underrated, but that's exactly what I'm saying.  Too bad he couldn't have kept Madonna out of the project, but that's probably not his fault.

Cinematography:

I can't lie to you; I paid only a bit of attention to the cinematography this time.  I feel certain that if I had I might speak to the visual "coldness" of the North Korea scenes, or the James/Jinx sex scene (and the "warmth" of the Cuba scenes in general).  I might even make mention of how the frigidness of Iceland comes across, even during the scenes shot in England.

Alas, I did a fairly shitty job taking notes on this category.  So instead, here are some screencaps which at least vaguely do my job for me:










Points awarded (Cinematography): 004/007.  That's probably too low, to be honest.  But let's assume it isn't and proceed.  Not, however, before noting that the film was shot by David Tattersall, who also lit The Green Mile, all three of the Star Wars prequels, the unbelievably gorgeous Speed Racer (not even joking), numerous episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and . . . Con Air.

Art Direction:

One of the elements of the film that is successful in a nearly unassailable manner is Peter Lamont's production design.  Check this out:




That's the Pinewood back lot doubling for North Korea.  Virtually the entire opening scene of the movie is a backlot exterior serving as a foreign country, and it looks impeccable.  (With the possible exception of the moment when Bond is on the beach, but even that is fine.)

Check this out:




That's not Iceland.  Nope; that's Pinewood again.  Guess what?  Every time you see Pierce Brosnan doing anything in the snow, that's Pinewood.  Numerous shots from the car chase on the frozen lake were done at Pinewood, too.  These are things that make sense if you stop to think about them; I mean, of course they aren't going to flip a car while it's on a frozen lake, no matter how thick the ice is.  But if you don't think about such things, your mind is very likely to 100% accept the illusion.

That's Peter Lamont, y'all.  (Also Lee Tamahori, David Tattersall, and Christian Wagner; but Lamont is making it possible for them to do what they need to do to finish selling the illusion.)

I'd also add that the interior of Graves' ice hotel is among the very finest sets the series has ever put on film.  And THAT is saying something.  It's a goofy idea; maybe even a stupid one.  But the bottom line is, it looks great.





I'm also a fan of the solarium or greenhouse or whatever you call it that Graves uses as his base.  Check out how big that set is behind Toby Stephens and Rick Yune below:




Pretty dang cool.  If somebody were ever to build a Bond theme park -- and there is precisely ZERO excuse for this not to happen -- then I'd be cool with this set being part of it somehow.

Finally, I'd like to mention how successful Lamont was at making the locations in Spain feel like Cuba; they are kind of run down and degraded and feel as if they are stuck several decades in the past.  Is that what Cuba is actually like?  Beats me, but it feels right on film.


Confession time: the primary reason I screencapped this moment has nothing to do with Peter Lamont and everything to do with this extremely attractive woman in a very short red skirt.  She's on screen for only a few seconds, but they are GOOD seconds.

You can't sell Cuba to me unless some Castro imagery is in there somewhere.


Points awarded (Art Direction): 007/007.  One of the best in the series, for my money.

Special Effects:

You know where I'm going with this, right?

Let's just get it out of the way:





I mean, there is no doubt about it: this is one of the worst moments in the entire series.  I'm not immediately certain what I'd say THE worst moment is.  Maybe the corkscrew jump in The Man with the Golden Gun?  I mean, it's an awesome-beyond-awesome stunt, but it is ruined by that horrible whistle in the score.  So if not that, maybe it's something else.  "California Girls" in A View to a Kill?  Also a great stunt ruined by music.

This shit scene from Die Another Day would be a pretty good choice.  I mean, at least that stunt from Golden Gun works if you mute the sound.  This CGI surfer-dude-Bond has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  I have no problem with CGI, and I feel as if it's a bit irresponsible of me to complain about that fact that CGI was used on a stunt, thereby keeping some bloke from having to risk his life.

My thing is, if we as a culture have come to a place where we've decided that it's no longer acceptable for stuntpeople to risk life and limb to put a bit of excitement into the movies, then okay, fine.  That means we have to be okay with movies not having action scenes in them any longer.  OR we have to be okay with movies being entirely driven by computer imagery, and in essence being animated films.  It's one or the other, though; don't hand me fake-as-can-be CGI stunts.  I do not want that shit, and I resent you for thinking I do.

Plus, I don't think the stuntpeople are ready to say their industry is defunct.  If they were, there'd be no more stunties, and that is demonstrably not the case.

I would also cite Jinx swan-diving off the cliff as evidence that the CGI stunt is shit on toast.  Do you want shit on your toast?  No, you want butter and/or jelly.  Maybe some cinnamon, or even cheese.  You do NOT want shit on it, and therefore you don't want CGI stunts, either.

See?  We're on the same page again!

Except the rest of the movie's special effects are really, really fucking good.  Up to and including the invisible car.  Hey, lookit, I'm with you; I think the invisible car was a silly idea, and a bad one.  But you can't fault the effects:






If you absolutely have to have an invisible car in a James Bond movie, you probably aren't -- at least in 2002 -- going to be able to do any better than that.

I also really like the lasers in the scene where Mr. Kil and Bond have their fistfight.  I didn't screencap that, but here's something close:








I also quite like the shots from Graves' plane of Icarus destroying the Korean minefield:





Points awarded (Special Effects): 005/007.  Based solely on the ice-surfing scene, I expected this category to earn a 000/007.  But, as I've said a few times now, when I began actually paid attention to the entirety of the film, I realized the special effects had a lot to be said for them.  Except when they didn't; and those moments helped ruin this film's reputation.  So I can't in good conscience go any higher than 005/007.

Gadgets:

There's a shitload of them:

 
  • the watch Bond uses to signal the diamond explosion
  • the dream machine, or whatever the gizmo is that Graves and Zao wear in the course of their DNA manipulation
  • Q's virtual-reality simulator
  • the sonic-agitator ring Bond uses to break the glass floor and the windshield of the Vanquish
  • the Vanish Vanquish itself
  • Graves' power glove
  • the "Switchblades" (those personal minijets or whatever that Bond and Jinx use to enter North Korea)
  • Graves' cyborg-suit control for Icarus
  • Icarus itself
And so forth.
  
Here's the thing.  Some of that stuff is undeniably goofy/stupid/adjective-of-your-choice; on a plot level, it really is difficult to defend the invisible car and the DNA replacement therapy.  And the progression of Graves' Icarus controls from a suitcase to a mech suit is . . weird.  And the virtual-reality shooting range -- which seemingly includes the option to fornicate with simulated allies and/or combatants -- is perhaps the most outlandish thing to ever appear in a Bond film.
  
BUT...
  
Man, I love that sonic agitator ring.  I don't believe for one second that it would actually work, but...well, no, that's not really true, is it?  I believe while I'm watching it.  And that is kind of all that matters.
  
I also really admire the effective simplicity of the watch which detonates the diamond-explosion.  I can believe in that, and I totally buy that Bond would use it.
   

Points awarded (Gadgets):  002/007.  The daffiness of some of them should probably cause me to go even lower, but did I mention that I love the sonic agitator ring?

Opening-Title Sequence:

This is one of the best title sequences of the series, in my opinion; certainly one of the best of the modern era, meaning the post-Binder era.  Daniel Kleinman was the guy creating it, for the fourth straight film; and I would argue that this was the moment where he stepped out of Binder's shadow for good.  I'd enjoyed his first three efforts, for the most part; but this one is just fantastic.

It's a different sort of sequence than usual, and it's probably the first time that the sequence actively advanced the plot.  Here, we see months pass for Bond; they are spent in excruciating pain, and we see images that reflect his will, his determination not to surrender.  Female figures appear dressed in ice or in flame, and they seem to represent both his pain and his release from it.  There are scoprions all over the place, and diamonds, and explosions, and it's all just great.

You've just gotta ignore the song.

But since Daniel Kleinman is in no way accountable for that song, we're going to opt to consider the sequence as its own entity without allowing the song to count against it.





CREEpy.



Hey!  I've got a cat named Don King!


These two images do not appear one right after the other in the sequence, but I couldn't resist lining them up so that the water droplets from ice-lady is causing the steam on fire-lady's face.  That's too good an opportunity to pass up, and I suspect that's what's intended to be happening anyways.


Points awarded (Opening-Title Sequence):  007/007.  Fantastic stuff.  I have nothing bad to say about this sequence.  If you do, feel free to tell me all about it in the comments.

Overall points awarded (Q Branch): 004.43/007
 
(6)  Mission Briefing

It must be remembered that Die Another Day was the first post-9/11 Bond film, which means that it was birthed into a world that was very different than that of Brosnan's first three films.  The ensuing silliness seems wildly inappropriate in that light.
  
Or does it?  The trajectory of the film is thus: Bond is on a standard mission, which fails (a rare defeat for ol' 007); Bond experiences fourteen months of incarceration, torture, and despair, none of which manages to break his will or his spirit; Bond is freed, only to be considered suspect by his own government; Bond escapes from them, is then given a sort of shadow sanction by them, and goes on an adventure to find out who cost him those fourteen months.  Said adventure is full of sci-fi-level goofiness, arguably pushing those elements as far as they have ever been pushed before.

Let's remember a couple of key lines of dialogue.  "While you were away," says M, "the world changed."  Bond replies, "Not for me."
  
If you are inclined to do so, you can see this as Bond -- and the Bond films -- washing away the darkness of the previous fourteen months by retreating into a world of cartoonish villainy, where the bad guys get DNA replacement and have diamonds in their faces, and where cars can be invisible when you need them to be.  Bond is still out there, having sex with beautiful women, preventing lunatics from gaining control over the world, and putting Q's gadgets to exceptionally well-timed use.
  
This is James Bond trying to do the world a favor by not allowing things to get too glum.  "The real world kinda sucks right now," you can imagine Die Another Day saying; "let's not worry about that for the next two hours.  Let's just have fun."
  
It worked, too.  Die Another Day was the biggest hit by far of all of Brosnan's Bond films.  There were lots of vocal critics, though, and their voices -- I may as well admit that it was our voices -- drowned out all others.  So in that sense, it didn't work, and so the producers opted for a different approach to the next film.  (More on that in a few weeks.)

But in that moment, it worked.  I watched the movie with a female friend who had never seen a Bond movie before.  "Are they all like that?" she asked on the way out.  "If so, I need to see them all now."  I assured her that most were better; I don't know if she ever watched any others, but I know she enjoyed that one.

The screenplay was by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who had co-written The World Is Not Enough.  They went on to work on every Bond film since (as of this writing, at least), not to mention Johnny English.  I swear to you, I don't know if they are great writers or terrible ones.  Could be either; could be both.  This is a silly screenplay, no doubt about it.  That either pisses you off or it doesn't, I guess; and I've found that it no longer pisses me off.  If nothing else, the silliness all feels unified.  And I think there may have been some purpose behind it, as I mentioned above.  Seen in that light, I find it difficult to bash Purvis and Wade too much.

Let's shift to bulletpoints for a bit.
  • Bond stops his own heart in order to escape from MI6 custody.  Okay, I can roll with that.
  • I'm not sure the timeline on Graves makes sense.  I think it's mentioned at some point that it takes nine months to complete the DNA replacement therapy.  That would mean that Graves -- "Graves" -- has only been in the world for five months.  And you're telling me he's already King Of The World to such an extent that he is being given a frelling knighthood?!?  I can't go for that; no, no can do.
  • The "video game" sequence in Q's VR simulator would have been a good way to start a Bond movie.  I wonder if that was an idea somebody had at some point.  It would have been a bit like a technologically-advanced version of the pre-credits sequence in From Russia with Love, where you briefly think Bond has been killed.
  • "New watch," says Q upon presenting said object to Bond; "this'll be your twentieth, I believe."  That walks right up to the line of being too meta for me, but it manages not to go across.
  • Not all the dialogue is as successful.  "I take it Mr. Bond has been explaining his Big Bang theory," says Miranda upon learning that Jinx is using writing for a space-program-focused magazine as a cover.  "Oh, I think I got the thrust of it," replies Jinx.  Jeez.  That's lame, guys.  Halle Berry sells it as well as she possibly can, but it's lame all the same.
  • Okay, honestly, who names anything after Icarus these past several thousand years?  Answer: the sort of guy whose video presentation shows an image of hands cupping a ball of light, and who then literally says, "Let there be light."  This stuff is walking riiiight up to the line of parody.  I leave it to you to decide which side it ends up being on.
  • During the Icarus presentation, there is footage shown to the onlookers of the satellite unfurling its dish.  WHAT IS FILMING THAT FOOTAGE?  Is there a second Icarus which exists solely to film the first one?!?
  • "Who sent you?" asks Zao.  "Yo momma," replies Jinx.  *sigh*  Okay, guys...?  How about we not go the "yo momma" route ever again.  Again, Berry does what she can with it; but not even Pam Grier could have made that work, I bet.
  • "You know, I've missed your sparkling personality," quips Bond to Zao, who then gutpunches him.  "How's that for a punchline?" asks Zao.  Nice.

Points awarded: 003/007.  Oh, I suspect most of you think I'm nuts now.  But I'm standing by it.  I think it's an efficient screenplay, and I think it has some nice touches.  Some awfully un-nice ones, too, sure; but I think this holds together better than The Spy Who Loved Me or Diamonds Are Forever or You Only Live Twice.

It's also worth mentioning that the screenplay tosses in a lot of nods toward the first nineteen movies in the series.  Not hugely obvious ones, either; stuff like an airplane depressurizing, where you might not immediately say "hey, that's like in Goldfinger!" but might notice it the second time through.

Also, this:


Love it.


(07)  The Music

Title Song:

Oh, brother.




This is universally reviled as THE worst of all the Bond songs.  But I may as well confess to you that I can't make myself hate it.  I don't like it, exactly; it's a frustrating, annoying song, but I do like parts of it.  For example, I like the first forty-five seconds or so just fine; the dramatic intensity of the strings and the flamenco-style stomping and whatnot works for me, especially when juxtaposed against the Daniel Kleinman imagery.  I also like the beat; it somehow suggests Bond being beaten over and over again.

But at some point around that 0:45 mark, the song loses focus and devolves into meandering nonsense.  All that "Sigmund Freud, analyze this" and the stop/start "uh...uh..." repetition crap just doesn't work at all.

For all of that, though, the song still gets close to earning a very mild thumbs-up from me.  The lyrics are nonsensical, and the production of the song is annoying, but there is also an air of determined defiance which has some resonance within the context of the title sequence.

If you are a glutton for punishment, you can find a copy of that maxi-single depicted above.  It's got remixes!  At least two of them can be heard in the movie, including over the closing credits.

A friend of mine at the time of the movie's release was -- and probably still is -- a big Madonna fan.  She knew I was a big Bond fan, and heard the song before I did, so she obtained a copy of it and brought it to me so she could find out what I thought of it.  We sat there listening to it, and I could tell she was a little apprehensive about what my answer was going to be.  I kind of dug her, so if I had hated it, I might still have considered lying about it.  But instead, I said, and very honestly: "Yeah, you know...?  Not bad."

Gajillions of Bond fans the world 'round would say that in that moment I was a liar whether by intent or not, and it's a fair assessment.  But the truth is, I've got a soft spot for that song, bad though it may mostly be.  But I don't think it's as bad as its reputation.  It's a lot like the movie in that regard.

Points awarded (Title Song):  002/007.  Seems right to me.

The Score:




This is a solid score which occasionally devolves into tuneless noise, like many of David Arnold's scores tend to do.  But even then, it's functional tuneless noise.  And there is some good stuff mixed in there, too: the hovercraft chase, Bond's escape from MI6 detention, Jinx's appearance out of the surf, the romantic theme for the final scene; all of that works quite well.

My favorite music, though, are the cues which signal Bond's arrival in Cuba.  That's very fun, and I wish that side of Arnold had been able to come out and play more often.

Final note: I suspect Arnold wrote a theme song for this movie which was ultimately rejected; there is a theme which pops up on occasion (examples: a low-key version that plays while a freshly-shaved Bond contemplates himself in his Hong Kong hotel room, and a more robust version that plays when he drives to Graves' ice palace) that, to my ears, seems like it is being used in a fashion similar to Arnold's use of "Surrender" in the Tomorrow Never Dies score.  But if this is the case, it seems to be a secret, because I've been able to find no evidence of it.  So maybe it's just my imagination.

Points awarded (The Score): 004/007

Total points awarded (The Music):  003/007



Double-0 Rating for Die Another Day:  003.63/007

The tally so far:

006.23 -- From Russia With Love
006.03 -- Goldfinger
005.58 -- The Living Daylights
004.84 -- Moonraker
004.76 -- Dr. No
004.42 -- For Your Eyes Only
004.39 -- Live and Let Die
004.36 -- GoldenEye
003.96 -- A View to a Kill
003.92 -- Octopussy
003.77 -- The Man With the Golden Gun
003.75 -- Licence to Kill
003.66 -- The Spy Who Loved Me
003.63 -- Die Another Day
003.09 -- You Only Live Twice 
001.43 -- Never Say Never Again
001.02 -- James Bond Jr
 
  
For the record, yes, I am saying that this is better than four other "official" Bond movies (as well as the two "unofficial" ones).

I suspect there are plenty of Bond fans who would be outraged -- outraged, I say! -- by the notion that Die Another Day is better than You Only Live Twice, but that's the result my math has come up with.  Granted, we've established long ago that my formula is far from perfect.  And anyways, math can't dictate emotion, which is what "liking" or "disliking" something is all about.
  
But I had an interesting experience with Die Another Day.  When I rewatched all the movies in sequence in preparation for launching this blog, I hated the movie.  I watched it again a couple of years later when the time came to actually write the post, and guess what?  I still hated it.
  
Then a funny thing happened.  As I began watching the behind-the-scenes materials and listening to the commentary tracks, I found myself growing more and more appreciative of certain aspects of the film (such as Halle Berry's performance, Lee Tamahori's direction, and Peter Lamont's production design).  The infamously troublesome elements (CGI surfing, "yo momma," Madonna, invisible cars) began to bother me less and less.
  
I watched the movie yet again as part of the screencap-harvesting and note-taking process, and I'll be damned if I didn't find myself actively enjoying it.  I noticed that Pierce Brosnan was giving a good performance; I noticed that the editing and the special effects were actually quite good except for the times when they were terrible.
  
In short, I noticed that this is actually a pretty decent Bond movie.  I think it's loads better than either Tomorrow Never Dies or The World Is Not Enough, provided you can accept how outlandish it gets.  It's all about whether you can buy into the movie at that level; if you can't, then yeah, you'd probably have to knock it down a few pegs.  But as I've dug into these movies, I've found that consistency of tone is a big deal for me; and this movie is much more tonally consistent than Brosnan's previous two films.  That doesn't count for everything; but it doesn't count for nothing, either.
  
And so, the You Only Blog Twice system has once again yielded unexpected results: I have found myself right on the edge of becoming a Die Another Day fan.  What a world!
  
You Only Blog Twice will return in . . . Casino Royale.  But not before I get rid of these leftover images.



















 
From here on out, the images come from the book Bond on Set :Filming Die Another Day, by Greg Williams.  Williams did the stills photography for the shoot, and he got some terrific stuff.  I found a few good ones online.


I'd'a have mud a comment on the picture here pictured, but my think is brokened and alls I can mange is GREAT GOOGULLY-MOOGULLY!!!!!



From this one down, the images were scanned by me from my copy of the book.  As always, I apologize for the quality of my scanner, which is shite.

Am I crazy, or does that clapperboard say "SPECTRE"?






God bless everyone who helped to make the movie Swordfish.


Halle Berry found out during filming that she had received an Oscar nomination for Monster's Ball.



Vic Armstrong and Lee Tamahori

These examples are just a small taste of Bond on Set: Filming Die Another Day.  Most of the best photos are (somewhat annoyingly) spread across two pages, and are therefore unscannable, at least by me.  Williams has also done books for Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall; all four are WELL worth having, assuming you can find copies of the first three, which are out of print.  When the time comes, rest assured that I will be showing you poorly-scanned examples of each.

15 comments:

  1. I don't hate this movie, either. It's not great but it has its moments. My ranking of it is probably pretty close to yours. A few things:

    Toby Stephens. He's all over the place in this movie. Given he had so much screen time, the only scene where I think he excels is when he kills his own father. You can see he didn't want to do that and the decision was difficult for him. Of course. as he allows his father's body to fall onto the floor he kind of grins a little. I think this one scene confirms the character's insanity. Stephens is a decent actor. I'm enjoying his role on the Starz series "Black Sails." I wish he had been given better dialogue and perhaps better direction.

    Most Bond villains have some form of physical deformity. Think of Dr. No's hands or Scaramanga's third nipple. That kinda thing. It's an element in most Bond movies. I think Zao's diamond complexion is just a continuance of that. You can also count Graves' new appearance, I suppose, as the ultimate physical deformity.

    The sword fight at the club was okay, I guess. Some decent action/stunt work there. Graves, outmatched by Bond, reverts to his old self, the man who needed anger management therapy in North Korea. He continually upgrades his weapon, even attacking Bond while he is unarmed. Not very sporting of a man who pretends to be sporty.

    Good god, Rosamund Pike is gorgeous! At that point in time she easily gave Halle Berry a run for hottest girl in the movie. I think Berry has aged better and is hotter now. But Pike is still extremely good looking. Did you see her in "The World's End"? Older but so what? So am I. Still hot.

    Ugh, the invisible car. Worst Bond gadget ever. If you didn't groan when that first showed up in the movie, chances are you were about 8 years-old when you saw it.

    Is it me or is Havana overrun with hookers?

    I had no idea Mr. Kil was also Lurtz. Learn something new every day.

    Bond's appearance at the Hong Kong Yacht Club was awesome, one of the best in the movie. I loved the idea of this "Rob Zombie roadie" mingling with all the super rich people, then being given the presidential suite by Chang. Good stuff there.

    Moon's father is right, by the way. His plan is stupid. North Korea invading South Korea would start another war, possibly nuclear. His whole plan relies on Icarus and apparently doesn't allow for the possibility that someone might steal, destroy or otherwise disable the thing. Frankly, I would have more faith in Stromberg or Drax pulling off their plans than for this one to succeed.

    Good blog. On to the Craig era!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "I'm enjoying his role on the Starz series "Black Sails." " -- I've heard good things about that show, but have never watched it. I don't particularly care for what Stephens does in DAD, but I'm glad to see he's got a successful tv show going for him now.

      "But Pike is still extremely good looking. Did you see her in "The World's End"?" -- I sure did. She's gorgeous, and she strikes me as one of those ladies who will stay gorgeous for the next few decades. Maybe not quite up to Helen Mirren's level, but who is?

      "If you didn't groan when that first showed up in the movie, chances are you were about 8 years-old when you saw it." -- I wasn't, and I did. I might have even facepalmed.

      "Is it me or is Havana overrun with hookers?" -- That's a good observation. I suspect that when these movies cast extras, they tend to use it as an opportunity to throw in as many attractive women as possible. Combine that with a desire to have Cuba look a bit run down and seedy, and that absolutely adds up to hooker-heaven.

      "His plan is stupid. North Korea invading South Korea would start another war, possibly nuclear. His whole plan relies on Icarus and apparently doesn't allow for the possibility that someone might steal, destroy or otherwise disable the thing." -- Absolutely. I mean, I don't want to be guilty of villainous-plot-shaming here, but you'd have to be a mostly-insane moron to think this would work. But Bond has been incarcerated for quite some time, so I'm glad he didn't get TOO taxing an assignment right off the bat.

      "On to the Craig era!" -- Damn right!

      Delete
  2. My dad always provides the best argument against this movie: A man who has used the same gun for decades, who sleeps with it under his pillow, and canonically knows how many rounds various guns hold, would know the INSTANT he picked up a gun with an empty clip.
    That being said, I have to admit that the evidence presented – including a recent viewing of the film myself – add up to something that is not nearly as bad as I remember, but which I still don’t think is very good. Your assessment of the individual parts is spot-on: There are numerous pieces of the movie which, on their own or in a movie without the flaws that this one has, would add up to something pretty good, even great.
    …I just don’t like it very much. I understand how weird that may sound, and maybe I am letting years of disliking it and hearing other people bitch about it color my perspective, but that doesn’t change how I feel. Do I agree that it’s probably a better move than TND or TWINE? Absolutely. I think you hit upon it best in talking about comparisons to “James Bond, Jr:” This movie feels like a cartoon or comic book at times, and I get the distinct feeling that’s what at least some people involved were going for.
    My disdain aside, you pointed out a few key elements that certainly deserve mention. First and foremost, Brosnan is a much better Bond in this movie, and a much more consistent Bond. There’s an air of arrogance, blended with just a touch of something that’s either a feeling of invincibility or a death wish; both could conceivably have been born out of his time while captured. I also like that his focus is personal; he wants to find out who burned him, and while that does draw him into the larger events, that’s not his focus for the majority of the film.
    The comparison of the VR sim to a video game is spot-on, and I hope to add a bit to that: While watching that scene, I was struck by how James seemed to know where each enemy was going to be almost as they appeared. While some might say “maybe he’s been through this sim before,” I think the better answer is that he, like an experienced gamer, could predict where the developer was going to put certain things. The calm, quick efficiency, and the precision of his movements, very much puts me in mind of playing certain games in genres that I am well-acquainted with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "A man who has used the same gun for decades, who sleeps with it under his pillow, and canonically knows how many rounds various guns hold, would know the INSTANT he picked up a gun with an empty clip." -- Your dad's argument is very sound. Maybe it was so cold in that room that Bond's senses were off. Nah, that's stupid.

      "…I just don’t like it very much." -- The older I get, the more I realize that this is the only standard of criticism which actually means anything to me. That's not to say that one shouldn't spend time exploring one's own thoughts and feelings; I think doing so leads to understanding, and understanding leads to consistency, and consistency leads to good taste. Is good taste important? Well, that's debatable, I guess.

      "There’s an air of arrogance, blended with just a touch of something that’s either a feeling of invincibility or a death wish; both could conceivably have been born out of his time while captured." -- The screenplay doesn't foreground the Bond-in-recovery-mode angle, but it's strongly implied, and is absolutely there if you want to see it. You make a good point about the arrogance and the (as I'd probably read it) invincibility; I hadn't thought about it in those terms, but absolutely.

      "I think the better answer is that he, like an experienced gamer, could predict where the developer was going to put certain things." -- You, sir, win the No Prize for the year! This is ABSOLUTELY what I was trying to explicate, but couldn't due to my lack of gaming vocabulary. I appreciate the input!

      Delete
  3. “Mai Ning!” Love it. I also love that car Bond’s driving in Cuba. Totally rad.

    Madonna was at that weird point in her career when this came out that someone like J-Lo is now. I don’t know how quite to describe it without sounding like an ass, but… aging one-time sex symbol thinking she can still dictate to the world how sexy and irresistible she is. Madonna got huge shoulders and kissed Britney Spears: embarrassing. Her role in this film is so ridiculous – it’d be as if J-Lo got herself in the new Bond movie. Which I wouldn’t be surprised one bit by.

    I realize the entire franchise is based on aging male actors who are hooking up with young hotties, etc. Double standard, sure. But what can I say.

    While I’m here, Halle Berry is (captain obvious) very attractive. Not one of my favorite actresses (probably not even a top 100 choice) but her beauty is definitely iconic. While I’m focusing exclusively on women’s bodies, I might as well keep going: did the producers take pains to minimize Rosamund Pike’s bosom? Her boobs seem tampered down or something, as if there’s some Bond rulebook about cup size on screen. Or not eclipsing the leading lady. Compare/ contrast to Jack Reacher. Curious. Of course she was much younger then and who knows. I’m not suggesting she got enhancements or anything. Just hey: boobs. Science and somedamnsuch.

    “let's not worry much about the fact that it probably doesn't make much sense for 007 to be surfing his way into North Korea.”

    That is something, isn’t it? Phwew. Ah well – Point Break is a helluva drug.

    Speed ramping is fourth only to bullet-slowdown and armor/costume CGI-ing around face-and-body and dumbass-computer-monster-screaming-at-scream-with-extended-jaws on my list of Good Lord Get the Fuck Off My Lawn You Ingrates…

    I’ll always have a soft spot for Lee Tamahori based on seeing Once Were Warriors and having no clue what to expect/ had never heard of it and being blown away. I watched it not too long ago and wasn’t as into it, but at the time, it made a deep impact. And I’m pretty sure I’m the world’s biggest fan of the movie The Edge. (Few films are able to toe the line between “this is a movie about surviving a bear” and “this is a movie where the bear can be a metaphor for literally anything; the script is airtight in this regard.”) I’ve got to track down these Ray Bradbury
    Episodes… anyway! I always felt he missed the ring. He was primed to be the biggest thing ever, it seemed, for a few years.

    Geez… I don’t remember this film being anywhere near as gorgeous as these screencaps. Kudos – good eye.

    Someone (I think at the Dissolve? I can’t recall) recently wrote something about how CGI stunts are ridiculous. It was well-written, and I was somewhat predisposed to that opinion in the first place. But yeah – I’m not saying you can’t weave your movie magic and make me think things are happening that are not, indeed, happening, but the example in the article used was the big fight scenes in the Hobbit movies. Everything just gets so cutesy, and it’s just not impressive to see someone shoot an arrow through fifty orcs or duck beneath giant fake hammers that smash giant fake castles, etc. Come on, now – I’m not saying don’t film/ program these sequences, I’m saying let’s not pretend they’re breathtaking the way any of the old Bond stunts/ mine-car Temple of Doom/ Endor speeder-bike chase were. Anyway, you put it as well here as I read it there.

    I love all the previous-Bond movie callbacks. Honestly, I think you've ranked it very logically. And like Joe wrote, on to the Craig era!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "aging one-time sex symbol thinking she can still dictate to the world how sexy and irresistible she is" -- More power to her, I guess. If I were her, I doubt I'd have done anything different. But I agree that if you try to push the sex-symbol thing too far past the point of common sense, it becomes parody, and that had happened to Madonna for sure by 2002. Thing is, if she hadn't been so intent on TRYING to be sexy, she'd probably have actually been sexy.

      You Only Blog Twice votes no to Jennifer Lopez appearing in a Bond movie. It votes no resoundingly.

      "I realize the entire franchise is based on aging male actors who are hooking up with young hotties, etc. Double standard, sure. But what can I say. " -- I hear you. For what it's worth, I agree, and would point out that it was fairly tasteless when Roger Moore was cashing his pensioner's check in order to have money to take out 25-year-olds, too. But he still had some panache. Madonna just looked kind of worn-out. "Spectre," however, is going to co-star Monica Bellucci, who is 51 and still hot as balls. BALLS, I say. There is zero reason on Earth why women can't stay smokingly sexy into their fifth, sixth, or seventh decade; it's just that Hollywood tends not to be all that interested in depicting it, which is a shame.

      Madonna didn't manage it, in my opinion.

      Delete
    2. "While I’m focusing exclusively on women’s bodies, I might as well keep going: did the producers take pains to minimize Rosamund Pike’s bosom?" -- It's possible. I don't think she's particularly busty, though. I don't remember for sure, but I think maybe she had just had a child around the time she filmed "Jack Reacher." So maybe she had new-mommy boobs.

      Good lord. I don't usually tend to be quite so mammary-focused in these posts/comments. But I suppose it's sort of unavoidable, especially given that scene of Jinx emerging from the ocean. Man alive.

      "I always felt he missed the ring. He was primed to be the biggest thing ever, it seemed, for a few years." -- Yeah, and it never quite happened. A shame; I think he's a talented guy. I'd really love to visit the parallel universe where Die Another Day was a big hit at the box-office AND with critics/fanboys, and see what the next three or four Brosnan movies in the series might have been like. I'd have also loved to see Tamahori take another crack at the helm. I think Brosnan could still plausibly be playing the role even today, and I also think Tamahori had all the makings of a superb Bond director. Ah, well!

      "I don’t remember this film being anywhere near as gorgeous as these screencaps. Kudos – good eye." -- This was a surprise to me, also. And frankly, I could have taken twice as many screencaps and turned up even more beauts; I just got lazy after a certain point. (When I'm writing these, I inevitably succumb to the desire to want to be done with it. And then, after about a day after publishing it, I want to go back and do it over and add a gajillion things! I've managed to avoid that temptation so far, but it won't last forever.)

      "Everything just gets so cutesy, and it’s just not impressive to see someone shoot an arrow through fifty orcs or duck beneath giant fake hammers that smash giant fake castles, etc." -- Obviously I agree, and the Hobbit movies are particularly egregious examples of this trend gone wrong. There is plenty of CGI in the LotR trilogy, as well, but many of the great moments involve old-fashioned stuntwork and/or action. Having a CGI Legolas slide down an oliphaunt's tusk is cool in a trashy sort of way, but it's not even a tenth as cool as seeing Orlando Bloom waste about six orcs in a row with his arrows in a single shot. I'm an open-minded guy when it comes to opinions and all, but anyone who thinks the digital is preferable to the real in this scenario is someone whose opinion on film is not worth my time. (And the Hobbit films were FULL of stuff like that, with very little practical work to balance it out.)

      Thankfully, the Bond movies have mostly avoided that sort of thing. There is the obvious example of the ice-surfing from this movie, and there are a couple of very poor CGI moments in "Skyfall," but otherwise, the producers obviously know what won't work for a 007 film, and are determined to stick to it. I salute them for it and hope their approach never fades away!

      Delete
  4. I have added a few images to the bottom of the post. There is a book called "Bond On Set: Filming Die Another Day" by stills photographer Greg Williams, and all of these come from it. (More specifically, they are what a Google Images search turned up.)

    It is out of print, but it is a GORGEOUS book, and well worth a few bucks. Williams did similar books for each of the next three films in the series; they are all similarly exquisite.

    I wish I could put more of these here, but the size and layout of the book make the photos difficult or even impossible for me to scan. So alas, you are stuck with the images I found via Google!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those b+w photos are fantastic. Thanks for adding!

      I'm 100% all-pro Monica Belluci in Spectre, and more power to all aging starlets and standards of beauty, etc. There's a way to age gracefully and then there's the way Madonna did it/ J-Lo's doing it. To be honest - with me - it has little to do with how they look and much more how they go about it.

      It's not exactly my hot-button issue or anything, just - while we're here!

      And probably mom-boobs on Ms. Pike's part, yeah. That's a whole other phenom: exhibit A: Salma Hayek. And exhibit B: Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia. This is not me saying "hey, MOM BOOBS ALERT!" but just pointing to the phenom.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, the Greg Williams photos are great, aren't they? As soon as I can find the time, I'm going to try to scan some of the vaguely-scannable ones -- when I do, I'll update this post and add a comment to that effect.

      "it has little to do with how they look and much more how they go about it. " -- Oh, absolutely. Because so much of that -- in my opinion, at least -- is less about the physical and more about the personality. A personality that says "I still think I'm 22 and so should you" does not appeal to me in any way. A personality that says, "I'm 45 and if you mind that then the hell with you, jack!" appeals to me in a great many ways.

      Delete
    3. Alluded-to scanned photos have now been added.

      Delete
  5. BB, I have to applaud you on the staggering amount of work that you put into these reviews! I reviewed "Skyfall" after its release, but it was nowhere near as detailed and multi-layered as your ones.
    I will admit that I haven't read all of yours, but that's something for me to savour as time marches forward.
    Now, about DAD, I think I'll have to re-watch it with a far less judgmental eye. However, I think I know why I disliked this film so much- I take my Bond movies fairly seriously, having begun reading the books when I was an impressionable thirteen year-old. It may be for this reason that DAD's silliness bothers me so much. While I like your view on Brosnan's performance in this film (again, I'll have to watch it again and pay a little more attention), I found Bond do some silly things.
    For example, there's Bond in the greenhouse and he's pointing a gun at Graves and as he begins putting the pieces together about Miranda Frost's treachery, she slowly turns and points her gun at his head. I don't care, Bond or no Bond, but did he really think he would be able to swing his gun around 45 degrees and fire off a shot at Frost without getting his head blowed off? Sure, she knew his gun was empty and that he posed no threat, but it still struck me as a dumb move to make if you thought your gun was loaded.
    I still think the script was clunky where dialogue is concerned. "Ornithologist. That's quite a mouthful" and Jinx saying in the helicopter that's about to crash-land, "At least we'll die rich." Her delivery just seemed off on more than one occasion. The plastic surgeon's line about how he views himself as an artist and her reply about how artist's works increase in value after they die.
    And I really detested the thug in Cuba who didn't need 'a wheelie-chair'.
    And Madonna doesn't like cock-fights.
    It's an almost endless list.
    I recall sitting in the cinema as Bond hung from the bell in the pre-credits sequence and I thought to myself; "don't say it, don't say it, don't say it" and then Bond said the 'saved by the bell' line and I think I groaned audibly.
    Throwing in The Clash's "London Calling" just seemed like an excuse, too.
    My God, I should stop now.
    As for Lee Tamahori, he had a slight fall from grace when he was arrested in Hollywood while dressed in drag and-...well, I'm sure you can Google it. This might be a family blog after all. Yes, I don't believe that either.
    An invisible Aston Martin! Don't even get me started on that one.

    And just to backtrack for a second; one thing about Denise Richards' outfit in "The World Is Not Enough"- I think it was meant to mimic Lara Croft's get-up in the early "Tomb Raider" games.

    Looking forward to what you have to say about "Casino Royale", BB. I did a write-up on "Skyfall" after it was released, but it's nothing compared to what you put together.
    And as others have stated, great screen-caps! If nothing else, DAD is a better looking film than I remember. Definitely have to watch it again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Most of the examples you cite are very good points -- and they are all things that bothered me about the movie at one point in time. But eventually, they began to seem like just part of how this movie is. I don't know; maybe I brainwashed myself!

      I knew the thing about Tamahori, but opted not to mention it in my post, as I felt it had no bearing on the movie. And hey, if the dude gets his rocks off that way, good on him, I guess.

      Good point about "Tomb Raider." Didn't Daniel Craig co-star in one of those movies?

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Delete
    2. You raised some good points, and it's caused me to rethink this movie.
      I only mentioned the Tamahori episode as a possible explanation as to why he hasn't done much of note since. Perhaps Hollywood is reluctant to hire him, although, as you say, it has no bearing on the film and shouldn't have any bearing on his subsequent career.
      And yep, DC was in the first "Tomb Raider" film. Did a rough American accent, too. Thank God he did "Layer Cake". I think that film was the resume that helped get him the Bond gig.

      Delete
    3. It might well have affected Tamahori's career as you suggest. Although goodness knows Hollywood has forgiven worse scandals than that one.

      Delete