Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Die Another Day


Sadie Mae Glutz's glamour photos amongst all the Barbie heads are absolutely stunning. I just know they'll get me into the Vanity Fair line-up for their Women in Hollywood issue this year. Somehow, Madame Rose, my publicist, keeps dropping the ball regarding that particular cover. While I do enjoy the occasional appearance on the cover of Infomercial Today or Turkey Hunting Times, those fine publications don't have quite the same circulation as something like Vanity Fair or Cosmopolitan. I really need to get my image more out there, especially as there's a huge publicity blitz just beginning for the film version of Chicago. I need to make sure my musical films ride the coat tails of that juggernaut.

I'm resting up at Chateau Maine this weekend following another busy week shooting interiors at the studio. Only two weeks left to go before the wrap party. As the holidays are on their way, I spent this weekend supervising the crew responsible for putting up my Christmas decorations this year. Johnny Carson, my next door neighbor, was not exactly kind about my displays last year so I have decided to be a little more subdued. I have had the drive lined with twenty-five foot high pink tinsel trees covered with white fairy lights. Each tree is dedicated to a famous Hollywood musical actress and decorated with miniatures of her costumes. The lines come together outside the porte-cochere where I've installed a thirty-five foot white tree made of fiber-optics strands. This one is mine and is covered with hundreds of pairs of my old tap shoes that have been gussied up with sequin appliqu├ęs. A photographer from the LA Times Sunday supplement was here taking pictures this evening. He told me he wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't seen it and I was sure to get a special mention in their yuletide kitsch article. I'm not sure what kitsch is, but if it gets me space in the columns, I'll invest in more.

After he left, my dear friend Nurse Lynn dropped by and we decided on dinner and a movie so off we went to the local Cineplex, where we decided to spend some time with everyone's favorite secret agent, James Bond, in his twentieth outing Die Another Day. There are actually twenty-two films featuring Bond but neither Casino Royale, a lame spoof, or Never Say Never Again, with an aging Sean Connery, is considered an official Bond as they came from producers other than the Broccoli family.

Die Another Day adheres to the successful Bond formula. It has a pre-credits sequence which features a spectacular chase, this time in hovercraft tanks; the credits sequence features a lot of naked women who morph in and out of other props (only this time, the credits actually have a plot function as they come from an imprisoned Bond's hallucinations and help mark the passage of time); there's a megalomaniacal villain, out to control the world (Toby Stephens as a Richard Branson type tycoon); there's the good Bond girl who seems bad (Halle Berry as Jinx); there's the bad Bond girl who seems good (Rosamund Pike as Miranda Frost); there's the henchman with the strange physical deformity (Rick Yune as Zao, who has diamond studded rosacea); the recurring characters (Judi Dench as M, John Cleese as Q and Samantha Bond as Moneypenny) get one good scene apiece; spectacular sets are destroyed in completely improbable explosions and Bond (Pierce Brosnan for the fourth time) gets to play with lots of high tech toys.

The actual plot, something about a satellite that harnesses and focuses solar energy and North Korea trying to invade the South, is a farrago of nonsense that exists only to hang all of the required elements, each in its proper place, sort of like the ornaments on my Christmas trees. The script is credited to Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who also wrote the last installment, The World is Not Enough. This British duo have been uneven in their output, having written decent films such as Let Him Have It and rotten films such as Plunkett and Maclane in the past. They keep the story zipping along with all of the requisite exotic locations, but don't have much luck with the verbal zingers and double entendres. What should be chic and savvy banter ends up dribbling down the chins of the actors.

Director Lee Tamahori, the New Zealand director who made his name with the modern day look at the Maori, Once Were Warriors, helms this film. The direction is perfunctory at best. There's nothing unusual and no personal vision or style. He keeps the actors moving and occasionally balances the human elements with the special effects and stunt work. He does blunder by allowing several obvious CGI sequences, especially one involving surfing off of a collapsing glacier, that are so fake and contrived that they're incredibly annoying.

Brosnan has a certain easy charm as Bond. He's not the actor that Connery was, but he also seems to actually be able to do more than walk, without calling in a stunt double (unlike the later Roger Moore efforts). He's starting to look a bit middle-aged and should no longer take his shirt off on screen, but we can forgive him a few love handles for his gorgeous eyes. In the supporting parts, Halle Berry is the best of the bunch. Her Jinx, first seen emerging from the sea in a bikini  (a homage to Ursula Andress in the first Bond, Doctor No) has fire and guts and can handle the more insipid dialogue without too much difficulty. Toby Stephens, as the villain, snarls and sneers his way through the role but comes across as an overgrown class bully, rather than a dangerous criminal. Mr. Stephens is Maggie Smith's son and, while he seems to have inherited mama's hair and teeth, he seems not to have gotten her impeccable sense of timing or ability to dominate a scene by underplaying. Madonna shows up in a cameo as a fencing instructor. Her half dozen lines are delivered with all the conviction of an eighth grade Shakespeare production, including a pseudo-Brit accent that sounds like nothing ever uttered on the sceptered isle. Her delivery of the title tune is better, but relies too much on the synthesized vocoder voice distortion system that became old right after Cher's Believe.

As Bond films go, this one is perfectly adequate. It has some fun moments, some eye popping stunts, and all of the familiar elements are in place. Is it a brilliant film? No, but it beats a lot of what Hollywood's been trying to foist off on us recently. Consider it a comfort food of cinema, sort of like Kraft macaroni and cheese.

Temple bell dangling. Exploding diamonds. Virtual reality hostages. Virtual reality sex. Gratuitous Rosa Klebb shoe. Buckingham Palace sky diving. Fountain fencing. Bikini knife belt. Exploding ice palace. Ultrasonic ring. Gratuitous swan bed. Disintegrating 747. Automobiles in rice paddies.

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