James Bond Will Return

Bond producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have said: “Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development on Bond 23 indefinitely.”

It was the word “indefinitely” that made me wonder if anyone was really all that bothered. With all the talk of delays and the arguable dissatisfaction with Quantum of Solace comes the inevitable talk of rethinking the franchise. I was under the impression that the franchise had been rebooted quite successfully. It would surely take a lot more than one weak instalment to necessitate yet another back to basics reboot. I came to conclusion that I was bothered and that I just wanted the producers to make the next film better.

Quantum of Solace managed the impressive achievement of being the only official Bond film to date to not feature the character of James Bond in anything other than name. I’ve mentioned before that The International (starring Clive Owen, who was heavily rumoured to be taking the role of 007) was almost as good, and whilst it was a particularly unremarkable film it is comparable since both it and Quantum of Solace were heavily derivative of the Bourne films; both were directed by largely humourless German directors; both contained very driven protagonists similarly with no sense of humour, and both were concerned with evil multi-nationals using either the environment or the economy to propel the interests of terrorism. World domination, just not with sharks and frickin’ laser beams.

A little note at this point on Bourne. I can’t really continue without addressing the success of this franchise…The Bourne novels by Robert Ludlum, which I haven’t personally read, are by all accounts thrilling, gripping, can’t-put-them-down-they’re-so-fucking-good spy yarns. 2002’s The Bourne Identity was all of these things. Directed by one of my favourite filmmakers, the immeasurably talented Doug Liman (who had previously made Swingers and Go!) this film had intrigue coming out of its ears, a superb soundtrack; it was pacy, well edited, featured the ever-gorgeous Franka Potente and above all it reminded audiences that this genre could be presented in a way that made it all appear vaguely plausible. In fact it was so good that two years later they remade the film almost shot-for-shot. And again in 2007. As I’m writing this I can’t remember in which order The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum come. I know they’re both quite indistinct and directed by Paul Greengrass who fails to excite me on any level, and I know that the second one featured nearly all the exact same set pieces as the first film (including Bourne fighting a hitman in someone’s kitchen and a car chase through the streets of a major European city) done in a slightly less diverting way (was it supposed to look like a documentary?). After Bourne learns who he is the mystery was lost and by the time the third film came round my interest had evaporated.

The producers for Bond obviously didn’t feel the same way. They felt panicked enough to try and emulate the style of the Bourne films for some of Casino Royale which wasn’t necessarily a problem because they could use this style for the scenes in which it counted; namely the stunt sequences, fight scenes and other explosive bits. The rest of the film could then rely on Fleming’s original story and the sterling work the screen writers had done in getting all this on screen (such good dialogue) and also through Bond and Vespa’s relationship (Vespa herself is by far and away the most fully realised Bond girl ever – to the point where it’s hard to describe her as such). With Casino Royale there were two films in one and you almost don’t notice it because it was so well marshalled by Martin Campbell (who had previously relaunched the franchise with GoldenEye 11 years earlier).

When I heard the events of Quantum of Solace would take place directly after Casino Royale ends I thought this would be an exciting idea, even the suspect title didn’t especially bother me because it was taken from a Bond short story Fleming had written (even if James Bond features absurdly briefly) and it suggested that Bond would be caught up in grieving for Vespa’s death (and by “grieving” I mean “killing a lot of people”).

So what went wrong with Quantum of Solace? It was fairly slick; one of the shorter Bond films clocking in at 106 minutes (compared to the usual 2 hours), it had decent locations (even if a few were recycled from Casino Royale) and familiar characters. My prime concern as mentioned above was with those characters; Bond seemed weirdly absent, as though he could have been played by a stuntman. The villain was equally as anaemic and the Bond girl almost an utter non-entity, so much so it seemed this film was half the film Casino Royale had been. This was a desperate shame because there was room in Quantum of Solace for more character, especially of Bond. Daniel Craig proved that he could fully embody Ian Fleming’s spy in Casino Royale and now that this novel’s storyline has been thoroughly exhausted by both Casino Royale and its sequel let’s just move on…

…As long as the tone and flavour of the next film are that bit more inspired. As Casino Royale proved, there’s room for Bourne style antics inside a more satisfying story. It might not be a bad idea for Craig to leave some of the more dangerous stunts to the actual stunt men this time – although it’s great to know he’s game for leaping across roof tops, it does slightly limit what can be achieved, especially if the script originally called for something even more exciting. We’re all knowing viewers and are aware the actor might not have been dicing with death in quite the way the character seems to be (if a freak accident occurred it would be a shame to lose such a talented actor – an accident that might not happen if a professional were involved). Certainly I remember not being especially excited by the involvement of Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road) but then it’s been argued that Bond films are essentially director proof and it’s great news that Peter Morgan (who did such great work on political screenplays such as The Deal and Frost/Nixon) will be co-scripting.

Many bond films have demonstrated the thrills to be had with Bond using his initiative rather than novelty gadgets, e.g. Goldfinger’s electric heater-in-the-bath scrap, and although Quantum of Solace was good for this approach (with the sublime moment when Bond hurls a guy from his motorbike merely by over revving the accelerator) it shouldn’t be to the exclusion of fun, iconic gadgets such as the Aston Martin DB5 or “Little Nellie”, and some advice for you Campbell – if you are going to feature a gadget-laden car, don’t neglect to actually use it; how much of a let down it was in GoldenEye when the BMW Z3 drove off into the sunset without us having seen the wonder of the “Stinger missiles behind the headlights…” that we were promised or Bond destroying his Aston Martin DBS in Casino Royale having only utilised the defibrillator and the slightly-supped-up glove compartment…

Some of the best Bond films have proved that the villain doesn’t need to look freakish to be 007’s match for eccentricity or charisma; Roger Moore was particularly fortunate to get a lot of the best villains e.g. Scaramanga and Zorin and poor old Pierce Brosnan whose villains were larger than life, were arguably the least successful (many of the Brosnan era villains were undermined by something unfortunate: Xenia Onatopp had a ridiculous, carry-on name; Janus/006 had an unnecessarily haughty accent and staff who frequently wouldn’t obey his instructions; Elliot Carver was possibly the least threatening damp-squib of a megalomaniac ever…).

There are plenty of little touches you could inject to advance the series and yet make a nod or two to what’s worked in the past. The next theme tune might benefit from a return to vocals from Shirley Bassy – the mighty Propellerheads who reworked the theme from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” on David Arnold’s Shaken and Stirred collaborated with her to great effect on the supremely enjoyable “History Repeating” and her voice would create that instantly recognisable Bond vibe. The Brosnan era films did such a great job in making me realise the possibilities for quality title sequences and they could be conceptually developed well beyond projecting different coloured texts onto semi-naked women holding water pistols (well, the projections anyway).

It was immensely satisfying to be shown Bond’s apartment in both Dr No and Live and Let Die, the introductory films of the two actors who’ve played Bond most often on the screen, and to see a little more of the private life of Fleming’s character. These moments are always especially intriguing passages in the books: Bond tends to enjoy the brief time he has off between assignments frequenting “Blades”, his private club in Mayfair and his flat off the Kings Road in Chelsea, with the odd visit to the golf course thrown in. Our spy actually consumes far more whiskey than any other alcohol and is rarely seen without an accompanying cigarette; indeed it would be difficult to be seen any other way when you smoke 60 a day on average. More could be made of our character through behavior that was shaped at Eton, Fettes College in Edinburgh, The University of Geneva, and Cambridge. There are probably endless ways to enliven and broaden the franchise, which is why it was unforgivable that Quantum of Solace turned out the way it did. As the Bourne films have proved, there’s no mileage in their approach. If there is ever this level of debate about Bourne 23 I’ll reconsider, right now I just hope MGM find some cash from somewhere.

Something in the Air…

Returning to work this morning after being away last week, I expected to be immersed once again in the serious business of Intranets and Virtual Learning Environments, and I was. But not without being wrong footed by the slightly surreal atmosphere… Apart from the odd member of staff missing due to their being stranded in far flung locations, ranging from Dubai to Greece, I was struck by the eccentric nature of the e-mails that were sent last week. Certainly during the previous week of the Easter break the college was largely desserted and some members of staff might have found they weren’t experiencing the usual number of demands made of them, but I had no idea that this had lead in some cases to extreme paranoia and schizophrenia…

The first in an epic and gloriously irreverent thread began simply with the plaintive “Just sending an email in the hope of a response and confirmation that I am not the only person working today?

The sender turned out to be having issues with the college’s lighting which is designed to sense movement and so remain on (to allow work to be possible in the windowless bowells of college), except that last week there was no movement so they would periodically be plunged into darkness. Someone else suggested that they had heard “Reports of Gremlins in [the] new building going around switching off lights“. When it was suggested that the weekly badminton session be observed (despite only about three people working last week) it was someone else’s inspired comment “Maybe the gremlins would fancy a game too, you never know?!” that prompted this superb announcement and piece of photoshoppery:

Security have just informed us that the surveillance cameras in the main sports hall were mysteriously vandalised last night sometime after midnight. In an attempt to identify the culprits, security have released the following screenshots from the time of the attack“:

Gremlins

So far so daft. Quality use of time – morale is boosted. This was apparently not an isolated instance of slight madness and excessive creativity. A new member of staff made the questionable descision to ask a colleague for my whereabouts so that I could carry out a spot of training for the software I help maintain (Microsoft’s SharePoint) before receiving this rather curt reply:

I am glad that you are… ready to seek the ways of the enlightened.

The oracle of wisdom that you seek is James Leahy, the Sharepoint Administrator who dwells in the dark forest (aka the Quality Department). Enter the great white Tower block and there you will find the portal to the clouds. Press floor 5 and pass through the doors on this level. You must not turn left, no no, as this will take you to Performing Arts and this is a land of whirling dervishes and creatures so alarmingly different from other mortals you blood will turn cold. Do not look upon them for their spells may entice you to break out into spontaneous interpretive dance and then I fear you will be lost. No, turn right fair maiden and proceed through the gates of wisdom and into the realm of quality and assurance. Once you have passed through these gates you will encounter the gatekeepers. These are solemn, tired creatures feasting on stale coffee and biscuits (and maybe a cheese and pickle sarnies if on sale at Sainburys). The one you seek is behind the file cabinet to your right. He can be identified by the very pretty Mac computer that he greedily hoards to himself.

Raise thy hands to the stars and speak clearly ‘I seek the ways of Sharepoint!’ and he will set you free.”

Does volcanic ash have properties akin to opium? Possibly. It’s just excessively pleasing to return to work and yet, return to nothing like the standard day you were expecting. Thank you colleagues for brightening my day… You absolute weirdos 🙂

The Awful Truth

Tim Burton is a genius.

There’s no getting round that. The man is responsible for many of the most loved and admired films of the last few decades. Infact, he is so revered that people will not hear a word against his films, so enamoured are they with the worlds and atmospheres he has created for them.

So it came it came with some degree of difficulty that I had to finally accept recently, much as I hate to admit it to myself, much as I have denied it throughout the last ten years, that Tim Burton was a genius and sadly is no longer, in short: Tim Burton has lost it. If you haven’t reached that conclusion yourself, you’d best not read on because you may end up wanting to kill me (the adult equivalent of being told Santa Claus doesn’t exist might be too hard to stomach).

As far as his 25 year career goes, it’s still possible to divide his films into two distinct categories: before he started using the word “reimagining”, and afterwards. The last film of his I really enjoyed was 1999’s “Sleepy Hollow”, it’s far from his best film but it’s one of my favourites because, for me, it combines everything Burton does really well. The screenplay is confused and over complicated and bit dull in places but Burton managed to weave his magic so that on a first viewing, you somehow didn’t notice. As a viewer you’re too preoccupied with the amazing forest he conjures up; the performances; Danny Elfman’s score and other visual affects and make-up. His eternal-Halloweened world of eerie, dreary Pennsylvania-Dutch witchcraft is for me, truly spellbinding.

Then we witnessed the spectacular train-wreck that was Planet of the Apes (not even quality performers like Tim Roth could save this deeply ill-judged experiment). Big Fish now appears an attempt to rediscover that essential Burton originality after two Burton-isings of other popular stories (not everyone felt Sleepy Hollow was a success and obviously Planet of the Apes was roundly rejected). Infact this abortion turned out to be arguably the worst film Tim Burton has ever made. It’s twee, self important, meandering, inconsistent, bloated and diabolically saccharine at almost every turn – exactly the kind of film a young Burton, seething about everything he felt was wrong with Disney, would have never dreamed of making. Thinking back now, all I can remember is Ewan fucking McGregor (fresh from being deeply awful in Moulin Rouge!, deeply boring in Star Wars Episode 2 and deeply plastic in Down with Love) standing in a field of daisies, or sunflowers or something, proclaiming his undying love for the heroine. Eeurrggh.

Having established that Burton probably shouldn’t try an original story again for… ever, Charlie and the Chocolate factory sounded a perfect project for Burton to bounce to: “Great! What much loved Children’s story can Tim Burton work his magic on next? Roald Dahl’s classic about Willy Wonka, you say? Er, even though there’s an intimidatingly good version already filmed? Er, great, go for it…” Having found Mark Wahlberg and Ewan McGregor to be too dull to really front a Burton production the obvious move was to get Depp back (the formula has been good in the past, so seeking to recreate it made sense). Dahl’s story’s is already in place so Burton almost neglected to really shape a pleasing script and just concentrated on the weird and wacky world of his central character. It was a shame then that Depp’s Wonka had about 3% of the charm and charisma of Gene Wilder, spoke with a voice that sounded like a cross between Michael Jackson and Doctor Evil and whose appearance resembled Zoe Wanamaker.

The panic appeared to continue with another attempt to recreate the magic of a former success. Live action wasn’t doing it anymore so Burton turned to his first love – animation. Audiences who flocked to The Corpse Bride were expecting another Nightmare Before Christmas except not many people appeared to realise that the main person responsible for the genius of this earlier feature was one Henry Selick, its erm, director. Without Selick, the feature didn’t have the charming story or pleasing little touches that made Jack Skellington such an iconic character and the erm, the main people in Corpse Bride, (oh now… what are their names…?) so utterly forgettable.

Sweeney Todd…, despite being a musical, is in many ways the best thing Tim Burton’s made for a long time. I can’t really fault it, I just don’t like musicals. I found the songs distracting and a bit annoying but they were in keeping with the piece as a whole and much as I’d have preferred them to be stripped out of the film, it wouldn’t have worked without them. It was also nice to see Helena Bonham Carter in a decent role that exhibited her considerable talents well.

So to now. Like everyone else I was utterly, pant-wettingly excited about Alice In Wonderland – the images of the production design and costumes looked so outlandish and inspired that it could be no one other than Burton and – it could be the much longed-for return to form, to rival even something like Beetle Juice. The only note of warning was that Burton would now be working for Disney. His journey to the dark side would be complete. The only question would be whether our Tim could retain his filmmaking identity, complete with all that idiosyncratic genius, or would it be utterly drowned in feel-good schmaltz and put the service of Disney? The results; were disappointing…

Many of the elements were there and the film looks incredible. It’s well cast and I didn’t even mind that a few of my favourite characters like the Mock Turtle and the White Knight and The Walrus and The Carpenter weren’t included. It’s just that it isn’t very interesting. I was more enticed by the promotional stills of the characters than I was with what they say or do in the film and maybe this is because Burton’s job, even before the film was released, was already done. His name’s attached to the project and his ideas have been duly wrong out of him and conjured before your eyes and very little more is required of him for the film to make lots of money. Alice is potentially a more interesting character here than she is in the book but her journey, full of wonder and intrigue when explained by Carroll, is shallow and very un-involving here: the Burton magic is very much weaker now. And if it was strong on a difficult project like Sleepy Hollow, which was mired in development hell for years and only Burton could get it made, but weak here on a epic, heavily backed, Disney, 3-D, CGI spectacular, you’ve got to wonder where the director’s passion has gone (or how he allowed himself to be bullied by the studio). Burton-by-numbers has come to pass for Burton. It’s almost as if he’s parodying himself except it’s not because that would require some effort. If everything during the noughties were failed projects, or attempts to recapture his filmmaking mojo then that’s commendable. The man tried. Tried everything in his repertoire and truly cast about for something worthy of his earlier work. Alice… for me, feels like the first Burton (possibly of many, hopefully not) to be an admission of defeat, it’s almost been phoned-in.

As a devotee of TB, you remember the past greatnesses and convince yourself that this production is going to provide a similar experience and this time it’ll be better. Perhaps better to go back to Wonderland as it was then than to experience the updated “Underland”.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (although it might be available on-line…)

Read two very depressing articles today. Both concerned domestic recreational viewing habits. Each made blundering attempts to identify trends by gender stereotyping and failed to identify the main problem: 90% of TV is shite.

The first was a lazily written slice of home life where the writer explained about the “war” he regularly has with his daughter over what to watch. He is apparently so in love with football that it’s the only thing he’ll watch. I find most televised sport so mind-numbingly dull that I can see why his daughter might make a case for not watching it every evening. He then goes on to say that his daughter only seems to want to watch Britain’s Top Model which is a show that sounds so uncompromisingly unbearable that I can understand the father’s complaints about being subjected to the show’s narcissistic, self-promoting characters each time he wants to spend time in the living room (although he must see a few of those whilst watching the footie). Why can’t these people develop an imagination? They’re shows that exist on TV that are actually interesting, entertaining, informative, stimulating, involving and an absolute joy to behold. You might have to spend a bit of time reading a TV guide or the previews of coming shows but they’re out there. The writer might benefit from realising men are allowed to watch stuff other than football – and that’s O.K. (Mad Men, for example, is probably not made with a solely female audience in mind).

Because of the infrequent good programming, services like iPlayer or 4oD are very much the way forward (I found out recently you don’t need a TV license for anything that’s not being broadcast live) and DVD boxsets of the genuinely good stuff are really good value now. It’s just depressing that father and daughter have to undergo constant feuds over which is the lesser of two painful viewing experiences. Not to mention the other half of the family who can’t even bear to experience either!

The second article banged on about 57% of men between 18 and 44 preferring surfing the internet compared to 46% preferring TV and that “…the relevance of television is fading.”

I don’t think this comes as any shock.

“Some 73% of young males between 18 and 44 watch video-on-demand at least once a week, with nearly half watching full-length TV programmes.” – Now that anyone (women included) need not watch programmes at a regimented time slot we are free to plan our time better and an evening doesn’t have to revolve around a particular show. Also watching stuff on-line cuts out the majority of TV advertising which is often so loud and annoying that it can distract you from what you were trying to concentrate on.

We also prefer to get our news on-line as the internet allows stories to be updated as events develop. A good friend of mine says she doesn’t like to watch the news because most of the features are presented in a way that suits the (often limited) footage they have.

“More than 25% of young males living with their partners watch TV on a computer in the living room while their other half uses the main TV set.” This might well be true. My housemate watches TV in the living room and I escape to watch an episode of this or that. Anymore than 5 minutes of something that’s not well made or really holding my attention and I have to complain bitterly or (for better relations in the flat) just leave the room. A lot of people who complain to broadcasting standards groups or Points of View should follow suit: just change the channel or be brave and switch the TV off and do something else – if viewing figures were down on poor shows, they wouldn’t be able to justify making them. Although a season of Monkey Tennis might have achieved cult status…

My Top 50 Films of the Decade…

Always a more controversial one. Which is why I’ve NOT put these in order because somehow it’s harder to compare two films than two albums.

Please feel free to take issue and if there’s something obvious missing it might be because, for one reason or another, I haven’t seen it (I also spend my time away from my house or the cinema venturing in to the world and talking to other people).

1. 25th Hour (2002)
2. 28 Days Later (2002)
3. A History of Violence (2005)
4. About a Boy (2002)
5. Amélie (2001)
6. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
7. Atonement (2007)
8. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
9. Casino Royale (2006)
10. City of God (2002)
11. Code 46 (2003)
12. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
13. Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
14. Donnie Darko (2001)
15. Finding Nemo (2003)
16. Garden State (2004)
17. Gladiator (2000)
18. Gosford Park (2001)
19. Gran Torino (2008)
20. Grindhouse (2007)
21. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
22. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
23. High Fidelity (2000)
24. In Bruges (2008)
25. Juno (2007)
26. Layer Cake (2004)
27. Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)
28. Let the Right One In (2008)
29. Lost in Translation (2003)
30. Minority Report (2002
31. My Summer of Love (2004)
32. Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
33. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
34. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
35. Ratatouille (2007)
36. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
37. Sexy Beast (2000)
38. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
39. Sin City (2005)
40. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
41. Spirited Away (2001)
42. The Bourne Identity (2002)
43. The Constant Gardener (2005)
44. The Dark Knight (2008)
45. The Departed (2006)
46. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
47. The Proposition (2006)
48. The Quiet American (2002)
49. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
50. The Rules of Attraction (2002)