Bond Legacy: Quantum Of Solace

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Bond’s idea of a night on the tiles hadn’t gone exactly to plan.

Wow. Is it really only nearly two years since The Incredible Suit first had the idea of watching, and blogging about, a Bond film a month until the new one came out? That long ago, all we knew was that more Bond was coming, and we didn’t even know that it would be called Skyfall. Happier times. (Still don’t like that title, but seeing the film may change my mind. We’ll see.) When the twenty-odd bloggers embarked on their mission, many were providing their own take on the films in the form of a review; I sought the option to provide a different angle, so chose to look at the impact that the Bond films have had on both each other and on popular culture. But how do you assess the legacy of a film which only came out four years ago, when you haven’t even seen its successor yet?

Quantum Of Solace is a tricky beast, in that it not only bears the hallmarks of a history of nearly five decades of film making, but also that the legacy of that era was in turn now also starting to have an impact on Bond. The last decade had seen the emergence of two other high profile government agents with the initials JB in popular culture, and Jack Bauer bore all the same hallmarks of the Craig bond, but with the added ability to hack off people’s heads or shoot his boss if the need arose. It’s the other one, though, that had the most direct influence on this Bond, with second unit director Dan Bradley having also performed the same duty on the two Greengrass Bourne films, and here leaving his mucky paw-prints over all the action scenes.

That has, in the mind of many, left Quantum Of Solace feeling like warmed-over Bourne, when it’s actually just warmed over Bond in most respects. I really enjoyed Quantum the first time I saw it, and although that enthusiasm has waned over time, I can still see what drove it; Daniel Craig’s performance at the heart of the film remains as strong as it was first time around, and if anyone is going to be able to put together a run of consistent films to challenge the common perception that Connery / Dalton / Moore (delete as appropriate) is the best Bond, then Craig has two strong personal entries, in one excellent and one reasonable Bonds.

There’s still a lot to like, if not to love, including reasonable Bond girls and some exotic but gritty settings. The two weakest elements are the script and the bad guy, the former left horribly confused by the credited writer being on strike and by an uncredited writer performing re-writes on the day and the latter just a little weak and anaemic. If the Bond Legacy has proved one thing, it’s that your bad guys do need some distinguishing feature, even if it’s a personality.

Quantum Of Solace does tick off a number of firsts, including the first Bond not directed by a subject of Her Majesty’s Commonwealth, a Bond that premièred in India before the US, the first Bond film with an actual car chase in the pre-credits sequence and the first Bond released in a year that ended in eight. Mark my words, I predict there will be more Bond films released in years that end in eight. It’s also the first Bond to be a direct sequel, and I also feel that it mightn’t be the last. But what could the lasting legacy for Bond be from this, most recent, film?

1. All those vodka martinis finally take their toll

Bond had been nursing his martini since Casino Royale, desperate for a pint but not willing to let his image slip.

The one consistent element throughout all of the Bond films is his love of a drink. What we’ve not seen until Quantum is Bond actually starting to get a bit squiffy. I’d be fascinated to see this taken further in later Bonds, with a bearded, bedraggled Bond raging through the streets, Special Brew in hand, firing off his Walther at pigeons that look like they might be doing a double take. Or, possibly a more serious explanation of how a man who drinks this much hasn’t completely screwed his internal organs by now. Anyway, it was nice to see that enough cocktails can make even the great man a little worse for wear.

Next time: I’ll be taking a look into the far future, to examine the legacy of Skyfall. Before that, a review of the film itself and my breakdown of the Bond films, ranked into order.

Previous Bond legacy posts: Dr No / From Russia With Love / Goldfinger / Thunderball / You Only Live Twice / On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Diamonds Are Forever / Live And Let Die / The Man With The Golden Gun / The Spy Who Loved Me / Moonraker / For Your Eyes Only / Octopussy / A View To A Kill / The Living Daylights / Licence To Kill / Goldeneye / Tomorrow Never Dies / The World Is Not Enough / Die Another Day / Casino Royale

Go deeper for the full BlogalongaBond experience, courtesy of The Incredible Suit.

Review: The Hangover, Part II

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The Pitch: How can the same shit happen to the same guys twice?

The Review: I’m sure you recognise the pitch – John McClane expressing an almost fourth-wall breaking level of surprise at his predicament in Die Hard 2. The biggest curse that sequel found itself under was attempting to remain too many elements of its wildly successful predecessor, and the script felt the need to acknowledge the unlikeliness of a New York cop single-handedly taking down terrorists and saving his wife while battling police incompetence on Christmas Eve. Twice. But you know what? While you might only go on your own stag do once, or maybe twice these days, the possibility of everyone getting steaming drunk and getting into larks every time they go on one isn’t actually all that small. So the main surprise in The Hangover, Part II is not that Phil, Stu and Alan end up on another disastrous stag night, it’s that the events of the second stick quite so closely to the events of the orginal, with the main difference being that they’re in Thailand.

Thailand – sleazy land of ladyboys and seedy tattoo parlours, yes? Well no, I had my honeymoon in Thailand, four days in Bangkok and six days on an island, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. While that was six years ago, even Thailand during the recent unfortuate civil unrest looks more appealing than the one that director Todd Phillips and his crew have conjured up. Apart from the very nice looking hotel outside the city where the wedding is due to take place, this is a Bangkok that feels trapped in an alternate universe – one which is probably where the new versions of the characters have appeared from. Initially it’s hard to reconcile the bunch of unlikeable slackers that appear on screen with the people we know from the original, and it isn’t really until Alan appears that anything starts to be familiar.

Zack Galifianakis was one of the breakout stars of the original, and his brand of obsessive weirdness is back in force, giving the film a reassuringly familiar feel. After a while, though, you’ll be hoping for a little originality, as the beats of the original are played out in absolute strict succession. So begins a procession around Bangkok’s trashy underbelly, where the group steadily realise they’re in more and more trouble, and the stakes get raised that little bit higher. Of course, the humour as a consequence must get pushed that little bit further, and that’s when Part II hits real trouble – much of the humour relied on the surprise factor of the original, and the sheer predictability of the follow up means that even chuckles are now few and far between and the belly laughs are now non-existent.

The Hangover, Part II manages to be racist, homophobic, showcase a cruelty to animals and you feel it would be misogynistic if there were such a word that applied to ladyboys, and much of that might be excusable or at least watchable in a very dark comedy if it was in any way funny. Sadly the only real adjective that can be applied is lazy – there are a smattering of good Alan moments, most of which aren’t as good as the comparable moments from Part I and Stu does a great riff on a Billy Joel song while on a boat, and that’s really the sum total of what there is to enjoy here. When you see the Nick Cassavetes tattooist cameo and realise that the joke would have just been that it’s Mel Gibson / Liam Neeson in tattoos, then the complete lack of ambition becomes totally apparent. The Hangover, Part II takes a bunch of guys whose hijinks on their bachelor party gets out of hand in a good natured way, and pushes the concept past a tipping point where each of them becomes an unwatchably unpleasant reflection of the original and the good nature is replaced by a constant ill will. The abiding feeling is one of a dodgy Seventies TV sitcom that takes all of its characters on a package holiday and leaves the laughs at home in what must be the most ill-judged sequel since Babe 2: Pig In The City.

Why see it at the cinema: Apart from two or three tracking shots and the rooftop hotel restaurant scene, there’s very little to suggest that this couldn’t all have been filmed on a beach in Florida. There were a few people laughing at various intervals at my showing, but they were very much in the minority. If you’re really desperate to see this then do so with  as large a crowd as possible as it will maximise your laughing potential, which otherwise will be very limited.

The Score: 3/10

Review: Scre4m (Scream 4)

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The Pitch:  The real life events in Woodsboro that inspired Stab 8, as seen in 5cream. Probably.

The Review: Two years ago… oh wait, that was a different meta review. Fifteen years ago, believe it or not, the ironic, post-modern, nudge-nudge-wink-wink movie franchise was launched on an unsuspecting world. The three Scream movies, stretched over four years, brought two things to the world of horror that made them stand out; their killer, the Ghostface killer, is actually a different person each time, and is normally just one (or two) bitter mortals with a mask and a supernaturally efficient voice changer. It also established that there are rules to horror movies, maybe more so than any other genre of film, and if you know those rules and understand them, then your chances of surviving to the final reel or beyond are that much higher. There’s an unwritten rule about horror movies, that they never die; they just get rebooted if all the actors get too old or the series runs out of creative juices.

So in an attempt to milk as much money as possible out of a fifteen year old franchise seem fresh and inventive, Scream has rebooted its franchise with the same actors. Eleven years of constant pestering and faltering careers have finally convinced Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette that doing another one of these is a good idea. There were two other key players in the franchise as well: director Wes Craven, who’s been pulling these metaphysical, self-referential tricks since the seventh instalment of his other Nightmarish franchise, and writer Kevin Williamson, who gave us the movie-obsessed Dawson’s Creek as well as the horror movie-obsessed Scream films. It felt as if both had lost interest in Scream 3 a little, resulting in a noticeable drop in quality compared to the first two (Williamson didn’t even write the screenplay for the third entry), so their investment, maybe even more than the actors themselves, was key to getting anything substantial from the reanimated corpse of this franchise.

Oddly, though, what they brought to the original Scream films was that sense of knowing, and framed them into character-based whodunnits. Whisper it quietly, use a voice changer if you will, but the Scream films have never been that scary. There was certainly a death in each of the first two films, that of Drew Barrymore’s Casey and Jamie Kennedy’s Randy respectively, which shocked and traumatised, but Scream films have never been that terrifying – there’s plenty of attempts to make you jump, but that’s the cinematic equivalent of someone repeatedly leaping out from behind your seat and shouting “Boo!” So it’s the knowing and the whodunnit that actually make the Scream films most enjoyable, and there’s plenty of knowing here, almost too much in fact. It works best in the opening sequence, which has fun with audience expectations and is so self referential the only thing that the characters don’t do is turn and wink at the audience, instead allowing the script to do that for them.

There are rules of writing reviews as well, and one of those is to talk about the film in question, which actually I’ve done very little of. (Is that the phone ringing? Never mind, it can go to voicemail.) But there’s also a rule about the Scream films, which is that much of the fun comes from discovering what happens for yourself – the fun is pretty much all in the surprises, and I don’t mean the sudden jolts of people in a black cape and a Munch mask leaping into frame. So all I can say is that you’ll see the likes of Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, Rory Culkin and Anthony Anderson, and many more, because both horror franchises and self-referential whodunnit franchises need fresh meat, and Scream 4 ploughs through that meat like Freddy and Jason let loose at a horror convention. While it comments on horror trends, the main focus is the reboot, but actually Scream 4 feels most like the original; so much so that it’s almost like a cinematic comfort blanket, providing the same old thrills and pleasures in equal measure. It’s not up to the standard of the first two but is a stretch better than the rather dull third, and if you’re a fan of the series then there’s plenty to enjoy in the company of a similarly minded crowd. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must get that phone…

Why see it at the cinema: Scream movies are at their absolute best in a packed cinema, where you can guarantee being entertained by the one-third or so of the audience who do still jump every time Ghostface appears. Or, like me, you can use the cinema toilets afterwards and have the crap scared out of you when someone bursts in very suddenly.

The Score: 7/10