Archive for September, 2020

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

Posted: September 16, 2020 in James Bond

It’s two years since Goldeneye reignited the franchise after a long layoff, and Pierce Brosnan is back with his second film as 007. It’s a film that divides opinion (few Bond films don’t divide opinion) but for me it’s his second-best film, thought it succeeds despite itself and has a fair number of problems. At times it feels like Brosnan carries the show on sheer personality alone, but when it works it’s very good, and while some deride it as a by the numbers Bond flick, it is at least an enjoyable by the numbers Bond, and frankly at times I wish Daniel Craig had had the opportunity to do something like this.

We start with another corker of a pre-title sequence at a terrorist arms bazaar on the Russian border. Bond’s on site and M’s back home watching via video, along with Geoffrey Palmer’s grumpy admiral (amusing for those who watched Dench and Palmer in the romantic sitcom As Time Goes By). Bond’s ordered out by the Admiral who lunches a cruise missile at the bazaar, but Bond’s spotted a nuclear torpedo, and when the cruise missile can’t be aborted (seriously, it has a range limit?) Bond does what he does best, attacks the bazaar single handled and nicks the plane carrying the nuke before the cruise missile hits. It’s a great action sequence, and Dench and Palmer bounce wonderfully off each other. Forget the M of Goldeneye who was somewhat cool on 007, this time she’s his biggest fan. “What’s your man doing?” “His job.” I love that bit.

Then it’s time for Sheryl Crowe…sorry, love, but KD Lang’s ‘Surrender’ is the far superior song, and David Arnold riffs it throughout just to rub salt into the wounds. At least we’ll get it over the end credits.

Following in a grand tradition of calamity befalling British navel vessels in Bond films (The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only) the HMS Devonshire is sunk, and the survivors machinegunned, supposedly by the Chinese, but we know it was really on the orders of crooked media baron Elliot Carver.

Geoffrey Palmer wants to go to war, M wants to investigate, and Julian Fellowes just wants to go write Downton Abbey so he tells M she has 48 hours to investigate. Moneypenny contacts Bond, who’s brushing up on a little Danish, arf arf, and 007 reports for duty. M knows Bond used to be in a relationship with Paris, Carver’s wife, and suggests he pumps her for information.

Bond flies to Hamburg where he encounters Paris, and her husband—with 007 playing it cool and not intimating to Carver that he’s on to him right from the off with a series of comments about being adrift and all at sea! I don’t know, I prefer it when the villain isn’t quite so obvious from the off.

Soon Paris has been murdered and Bond is running out of time to prevent all out war between Britain and China, luckily he has kick ass Chinese agent Wai Lin to help him, plus a BMW (sigh).

Okay, let’s look at the positives. Certainly with hindsight the fake news plot feels awfully prescient, albeit a story based on print media rather than the internet, but still, the manipulation of facts is a neat touch, and it’ll seem an even neater touch twenty odd years later, and some of the jingoism seems very Brexit as well.

There are some great action set pieces. The aforementioned pre-title sequence being just one of them. Bond’s infiltration of Carver’s HQ is nicely done, and yes while it’s irksome that Bond drives a BMW (what were they thinking) the backseat driving sequence in the multi-storey carpark is still wonderful, Brosnan’s sheer glee is the icing on the cake (Daniel Craig couldn’t pull that off.) Bond and Wai Lin’s bike/helicopter chase is pretty damn good as well, and then there’s Wai Lin’s battle with a bunch of bad guy Chinese agents (the second best fight in the franchise not to feature Bond after Necros and the MI6 agent in The Living Daylights) which is top draw and let’s Michelle Yeoh kick some serious butt.

So where does TND fall down? Well firstly it’s in the casting. As I said in my previous review, Goldeneye was something of a perfect storm in terms of its actors, everyone is perfect for their role and at the top of their game. In contrast the talent in TND is far more variable.

Pryce is a good actor, we all know that, but he isn’t one of the great Bond villains. Carver is a smidgen too much on the moustache twirling side, his high-speed typing is laughable and the least said the better about his kung fu antics (I hope he was truly embarrassed about that). He isn’t terrible, and does have his moments, the maniacal glee when he says “There’s no news, like bad news,” for example, but on the whole he’s an average Bond villain. Maybe it’s a case of great actor, substandard material (see also Christoph Waltz)

Teri Hatcher is similarly bland as a Bond girl. I liked Hatcher in Lois and Clark, but she isn’t given much opportunity to shine here (though supposedly a lot ended up on the cutting room floor because she wasn’t great). It’s a shame we didn’t get Monica Bellucci as a Bond girl 18 years earlier, but she and Sela Ward lost out to Hatcher.

Much better is Michelle Yeoh as Wai Lin, although watching the film again she struggles with not much of a character. Kick ass secret agent is about the best we get, but she is at least damn good at that, really she’s just a cipher to help Bond out. Shame as an actress that good deserved better. Still her fight scenes are awesome. That said, and to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to be captured by Herr Stamper once may be regarded as a misfortune; to be captured twice by Herr Stamper looks like carelessness!

Ah Stamper. A bog standard, taciturn blonde henchman who somehow makes more of an impression than he rightly should, maybe it’s the hint of glee in his eyes when talking about torture, who knows but Götz Otto was more memorable than I remembered, and clearly he was supposed to have the no pain gimmick that Robert Carlyle would end up with in the next film.

Of course the best villain in the whole damn film is also the one with the least screen time. In fact, as a comparison of impact to minutes of screen time, Vincent Schiavelli’s Dr. Kaufman might arguably be one of the greatest characters in the franchise. Renowned character actor Schiavelli is a pure delight here. Kaufman is over the top, creepy, dangerous, ever so slightly ridiculous, yet stays just the right side of camp. That he creates such a vivid, fully rounded character in under four minutes is testament to Vincent Schiavelli’s acting. We understand more of his motivations in a few minutes then we get from Carver in ten times the screen time.

He also gives us one of Brosnan’s best moment. “I’m just a professional doing a job” “Me too.” Bang!

Let’s talk Pierce. He’s great here. So comfortable in the role after just two film, he inhabits Bond’s skin seamlessly, and as already stated there’s a gleeful schoolboy’ness to his performance. This is a Bond who loves what he does, a child who never grew up perhaps, yet Brosnan does get some pathos, mainly over Paris’ death, and he even manages to convince that he genuinely loved her. That said the bit where he’s waiting for her while drinking vodka is somewhat ridiculous, unless he’s actually drinking water he should probably be on the floor given how much he’s drunk!

A Bond at the top of his game.

As for the rest, we get a decent amount of Dench, and nice to see first sight of Colin Salmon’s Charles Robinson. Moneypenny is given short shrift but at least Q gets an amusing sequence in Hamburg where he introduces Bond to his new…sigh…BMW. Five forward gears eh, wow! Llewelyn and Brosnan have lovely repartee here though.

Joe Don Baker is back as Wade, shame we never saw him again after this. Ricky Jay is slimy as techno-terrorist Henry Gupta, but if they were trying to replicate Boris they missed by some margin.

And that’s it…oh aside from the stellar cast of actors aboard various British navel vessels: Gerard Butler, Hugh Bonneville, Jason Watkins and Julian Rhind-Tutt!

Plot wise the film is something of a mishmash of other Bond films, with the odd bit of originality here and there, and I can see why people call it by the numbers, but despite a slightly ropey script, production problems and off kilter casting (what if we’d got Sir Anthony Hopkins as Carver?) it’s a film I really enjoy. Yes it doesn’t take chances, and maybe after pushed the envelope with Goldeneye they thought it best to go for a more generic Bond film. It’ll never trouble my top five, but if I’m in the mood for good popcorn entertainment that I don’t have to concentrate too hard on, Tomorrow Never Dies is one I frequently reach for.

Which is more than can be said for the next one.

The Outsider

Posted: September 6, 2020 in Book reviews, horror

By Stephen King

In Flint City Oklahoma a terrible crime has been committed. A young boy has been brutally raped and murdered, and Detective Ralph Anderson arrests popular teacher and little league baseball coach Terry Maitland for the crime. Ralph’s in no doubt that Terry did it. Eyewitnesses saw him lure the boy into a van, and saw him bloodied afterwards, not to mention the huge amount of forensic evidence placing Terry at the scene, including DNA and fingerprints.

There’s just one problem. There’s irrefutable evidence that Terry was in a neighbouring city when the crime took place.

How can one man be in two different places at the same time?

I’ve never read as much King as I should have, especially his earlier stuff, given he was doing for horror in the US what James Herbert was doing in the UK, but when I have read him my relationship with his work has at times been uneasy. I either love his novels, or I hate them. There never seems to be a middle ground.

Happily, The Outsider falls into the former category. This was a really enjoyable read and one that kept me gripped from the off. The first half functions purely as a police procedural, before it takes a sharp turn into something else entirely, which is good, because as much as I enjoyed the early stages of the book, for a while I thought this was just a straight thriller, and I was worried it was going to turn out Maitland had a secret twin brother who’d committed the crime. Thankfully, the explanation is much more interesting, and far more fantastical, and the novel shifts tone into something more akin to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with a band of plucky heroes seeking out the hiding place of a monster.

It isn’t perfect, it’s a trifle long for what it is, and the number of characters means some are more well-rounded than others, and sadly a couple seem to be there just to provide expendable targets for the bad guy, but some are more interesting, especially Private Eye Holly Gibney, a recurring character from some earlier King novels.

All in all, a great read, Yeah the monster isn’t exactly original but in King’s hands it hardly matters. Highly recommended.