Friday, November 16, 2012

For Your Eyes Only

This is really a weird little movie.  On the one hand, it’s clearly a deliberate attempt by the filmmakers to course correct into more realistic territory after the frighteningly outlandish (and mind-bogglingly stupid) Moonraker.  On the other hand, the series is not really able to eliminate enough of the excess detritus of the Moore years to make it into a coherent spy picture.  You’ve got two very distinct tones glommed on to one another, and they don’t always mesh.  I’ve got it right smack dab in the middle of my rankings, because there’s enough that I liked but too much that was a misfire.

The biggest problem, without hesitation, is Moore.  I’ve defended him up to this point – he was better than the material in the first two films, absolutely tailor made for the 3rd movie, and only one of many, many problems in the 4th.  But in this outing, he has become the weakest link.  He’s too damn old for the series now.  He still looks nice in a tux, and he’s able to deliver a quip reasonably well, but any time the movie feints towards adventure or action or (ugh) romance, his craggy face and slow, pudgy frame suck the life out of the movie.  This movie almost feels like it was made to be a reboot with a new actor, and then someone got cold feet and decided to stick with Moore.  This would have made a perfectly pleasant first outing for either of the next two Bonds, but instead it’s another rickety Moore vehicle.  Bullet points:

The opening scene is an absolute, no-doubt-about-it abomination.  Bond goes to visit Tracy’s grave and then apropos of nothing he is under imminent threat by an unnamed and only seen from the back Blofeld.  It’s some combination of “reminding people of the series’ history for this (should have been) reboot” and “showing Kevin McClory where he can stick it.”  And it’s not just the idea – the execution is just as miserably stupid, with Blofeld constantly quipping as he remote control pilots a runaway helicopter that Bond is on.  In the end, Bond gets his and drops a wheelchair-bound Blofeld down a chimney.  I wish I were making this up.

You could make the case that the theme song is good but I am so, so tired of ballads at this point.

The MacGuffin is some sort of Cold War-era code machine, a direct reference to From Russia With Love.  The stakes are big in terms of the Cold War but very small in terms of a Bond movie.

Bernard Lee, the actor who played M, apparently died during filming, but before he could shoot any scenes, so his normal exposition duties are farmed out elsewhere (but not a new M, just someone else).  It seems like a bit of an insensitive thing for the series to not at least acknowledge the fact that M had died, a la Mr. Hooper.  In the film, he’s just away on holiday or something.  It’s not like M, the character, couldn’t be easily replaced within the world of the James Bond flicks.

I want to save my thoughts on the Bond girl, Melina Havelock, for the end.

Roger Moore does get one cool moment of sheer fuck-you brutality, offing the main henchman of the movie by first taunting him and then kicking his teetering car down a cliff without a second thought.  It’s one of the cooler things that Moore’s Bond has done to this point.

Topol does his Topol thing as a shady smuggler who turns into Bond’s ally.  He has a mustache/hair combo that is absolutely top-notch.

Julian Glover plays the villain, because Julian Glover always plays a villain.  The movie dances around whether he’s evil for a while, but it really doesn’t leave much doubt considering what a Mirror Universe-esque goatee they saddle him with.

There are two secondary girls, one of whom is a Countess and the other of whom is an American figure skater who is obviously in her early twenties but who the movie implies is about 14.  The Countess is fine, a reasonably pleasant plot point of a character in the Bond tradition.  The figure skater is absolutely ghastly, both a terrible and obnoxious actress who forces Bond into turning down her advances because he is not a pedophile, probably.

A key plot point revolves around Bond getting a random piece of information from a parrot.

An inordinate number of winter Olympics sports show up in the saggy middle section including skating, biathlon, skiing, ski-jumping, bobsled and ice hockey (and I’m probably forgetting some others).  By the end, when Bond is being menaced by a team of ice hockey players for no discernable reason, it basically plays like an advertisement for the winter Olympics that no one paid for or wants.

There is a long stretch at a casino in Greece(?) and it is so, so swanky.  This scene alone probably bumps the movie up one place in my rankings.  Everyone’s in tuxes, Bond plays baccarat, orders luxurious food and drinks, and eventually beds a countess.  Given all the shitty action in this movie, at least the filmmakers made one really great use of Roger Moore’s biggest strength, how cool and at home he looks when he’s wearing a tuxedo and just generally being a connoisseur of all of life’s finer things.

The final battle is surprisingly low-key and quiet, with the two “armies” being just a couple of small groups of people, and Bond’s invading army, in particular, trying very hard to be quiet about what they’re doing.

The bad guy’s “base” is not a base and is not cool at all, except for the fact that it’s on top of a sheer outcropping of rock.  There is of course a climbing scene with Bond scaling it (our first, I think?) but the filmmakers have to edit it so heavily (because Moore ain’t getting on some rock-climbing rig) that it doesn’t really have any of the tension that they intend.  Decent stunt work here, at least.

The denouement has that same parrot talking to a facsimile of Margaret Thatcher.  Thatcher, of course, is wearing an apron and apparently in the process of cooking dinner for her doofus of a husband because this is still a goddamned James Bond movie no matter if the Prime Minister is a broad now.

So, Melina Havelock.  I will say without equivocation that she is my favorite Bond girl so far by about a mile.  Now, Carole Bouquet is clearly struggling with the English language, so her performance has a bit of the sort of staccato rhythms that you get when someone is not totally sure of the words they’re saying.  But.  Even with that, Havelock is so engaged in the story, and never gets compromised into a shrinking violet (she saves Bond at least twice, once very near the end of the film).  She keeps showing up in the film, unasked, not because the plot demands it but because she is determined to straight up murder some motherfuckers with her crossbow.  Plus Bouquet is just a devastatingly beautiful woman. 

Bond sleeps with her, and also with the Countess, but not with the skater, because she is way too young and also sucks.

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